Blog: August 2013

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

An unexpected conversation

Many years ago, when I was starting to become religious, I asked Micha Berger (who would later become a rabbi) how one made sense of the mitzvot -- why were we doing these particular things, how should we understand the purpose of individual mitzvot? He said something to the effect that understanding is over-rated and that if you do something enough, you may come to understand -- but it doesn't work so well the other way around.1

Yesterday I was the torah reader, meaning I also led the torah service, read the haftarah (in English), and gave a d'var torah (a commentary). I do that fairly often; that's all normal. (I am woefully behind on actually posting my divrei torah, in part because, more and more, I'm speaking from detailed outlines so there's still work to do to properly write them up.)

Yesterday's haftarah reading was from Isaiah 66, which has some evocative imagery in it about Israel's redemption and restoration. After the service a congregant, one who also started caring about religion later in life, came to me. That was beautiful, she said, but how are we supposed to relate to it when that can't possibly happen? I asked her if there was anything that God couldn't do. She looked unconvinced, and I -- I, who have real trouble with the idea of yearning for the moshiach -- said that I thought it was talking about messianic times and when we get there it'll be through God's action, not ours. Human nature being what it is we may never earn such a thing, but our job is to move in the right direction, in our small way to help bring it about, and that would have to be enough.

Blink. Where did that come from?

The oddest things can serve as prompts for conversations sometimes. I don't really spend much time thinking about messianic times; I figure it'll happen or it won't, but there's not much I can do about it anyway and as I said, I don't actively yearn for it (which is my own failing, I suppose). And yet, it's obviously not something I'm completely distant from either, because I don't think I was just spouting comforting nonsense either. How...odd. Usually when people talk to me after services on one of "my" days it's to talk about something I said in my d'var.

1 I'm trying to strike a balance between giving due credit and not mis-stating something I remember incompletely and don't have in writing. R' Berger, if you're out there and feel I'm misrepresenting you, please let me know so I can correct matters.

There's lots of discussion in the comments, including an inverse-dayeinu thought.


Yesterday I and a fellow congregant approached Forbes and Murray while walking home from Shabbat services. The all-way red light was on and the big obvious walk signals were active. We watched a car come toward us on Forbes, turn right despite the pedestrians crossing Murray -- one of whom had a guide dog -- and then proceed to blast her horn at them, more than once.

No one was hit, fortunately. We (and several other onlookers) hastened to the car to confront the driver. Did you not see the red light? Did you not see the "no turn on red" sign? Did you not see the crosswalk with the big white "walk" signal? Did you really think it was the (presumably) blind man's job to get out of your way?

She looked annoyed, not embarrassed, and because I tend to think of the right thing to do only after the moment has passed, I did not lead the crowd in blocking her car until the police could be summoned. So she drove off, and will probably do this sort of thing again, and none of us even got a photo of the car. :-( (It being Shabbat, I wasn't carrying a cell phone.)

The driver's attitude disgusts me, but I am pleased that half a dozen people stopped what they were doing to get involved. Those are the kind of people I want in my neighborhood.

Pennsic 42

This was my 32nd Pennsic. As best I can recall, we had the best weather I've ever had at Pennsic. That is the opposite of what I was anticipating; late July in western PA is usually hot and sticky, except for brief interludes where downpours turn dirt roads into mud (but with no lasting relief from the heat and humidity). And yet, the weather was nearly perfect -- highs mostly in the 70s (sometimes low 80s), lows mostly in the 50s (maybe upper 40s one night; you did bring blankets, right?), a little rain but nothing severe or that killed a whole day. Nice!

Several friends I enjoy hanging out with didn't attend this year for various reasons, and I never managed to connect with my friend Yaakov (who was there) and his family. Drat!

Attendance was just under 10,000 this year, for the first time in (I'm told) almost 20 years. Between being a week earlier and being truncated (see later in this post), I'm guessing that people for whom it's a significant effort or expense decided that this was a good year to skip.

There were some fun moments and "quotable quotes" in camp this year, all of which I am currently failing to remember. Maybe later. Read moreā€¦