Cómo entablar una conversación con tus hijos después de la escuela.
“¿Cómo te fue hoy en la escuela?”. En mi casa, esta pregunta por lo general recibe como respuesta un encogimiento de hombros y un murmullo indescifrable. Es por eso que te presento aquí ocho preguntas mejores para formular a los niños después que vuelven de la escuela y entablar una conversación con ellos o ellas.
1) ¿Formulaste hoy una buena pregunta en clases?
Esta es la pregunta que la madre del Dr. Isador Rabi le formulaba cada día. El Dr. Rabi, un físico mundialmente reconocido que ganó el Premio Nobel en 1944, recuerda: “Mi madre me convirtió en un científico sin tener la intención de hacerlo. Después de la escuela, todas las otras madres judías en Brooklyn les preguntaban a sus hijos: ‘¿Cómo estuvo la escuela?’. Pero mi madre siempre me formulaba una pregunta diferente: ‘Izzy, ¿formulaste hoy una buena pregunta?’. Esa diferencia (formular buenas preguntas) fue lo que me convirtió en un científico”.
Preguntarles a nuestros hijos cuáles fueron sus preguntas del día, señala que su curiosidad es importante y que vale la pena cultivarla.
2) Cuéntame una cosa (pequeña o grande) que hayas aprendido hoy
La maestra de cuatro grado de mi hijo sugirió esta pregunta, y funciona. Describir todo el día puede ser abrumador para un niño, pero concentrarse y conversar sobre una pieza de información que aprendió durante el día es menos amenazante.
3) ¿Cómo ayudaste hoy a alguien?
Esta pregunta da fuerza a los niños y puede llevarlos a pensar de sí mismos como personas que ‘dan’ y ‘ayudan’ a los demás.
4) Si tú fueras el/la maestro/a, ¿qué harías?
Esta pregunta puede dar paso a muchas sugerencias emocionantes. Después de pasar por el inevitable: “¡Recreo todo el día!”, los niños pueden transmitir algunas ideas sorprendentes que te brindan una ventana para entender cómo ven su escuela.
Esto también alienta a los niños a pensar en sus maestros como personas reales, que tratan de hacer lo mejor por sus alumnos.
5) ¿Cómo lo manejarás la próxima vez?
A menudo, los niños temen el fracaso y no siempre saben cómo enfrentarlo. Preguntarles respecto a estrategias para actuar mejor la próxima vez, les permite entender que no hay ningún problema en fracasar y que lo más importante es lo que aprendieron de sus experiencias.
6) Si llegara a tu escuela un monstruo gigante con lunares, ¿a qué hora te gustaría que entrara?
A veces, a través de bromas y juegos es la mejor manera de lograr que los niños se abran y hablen sobre otras cosas.
7) Cuéntame una cosa buena que te haya ocurrido hoy
Pedirles a los niños que recuerden cada día experiencias positivas no sólo es una forma de comenzar conversaciones, sino que los estudios demuestran que también mejora la salud mental.
El Dr. Robert A. Emmons de la Universidad de California y el Dr. Michael E. McCullough de la Universidad de Miami, le pidieron a voluntarios que pasaran cada semana cierto tiempo pensando y escribiendo sobre eventos que les ocurrieron en esa semana. A algunos voluntarios se les pidió enfocarse en eventos positivos, otros repasaron eventos negativos y un tercer grupo escribió sobre temas neutros. Diez semanas más tarde, los resultados fueron sorprendentes: aquellos que dedicaron cada semana tiempo a reflexionar sobre experiencias positivas eran mucho más optimistas y se describieron a sí mismos como más felices con sus vidas. También habían hecho más ejercicio y experimentaron menos problemas médicos que aquellos que reflexionaron sobre experiencias negativas o neutras.
8) ¿Qué hiciste hoy en gimnasia/arte/música?
Puede ser tentador prestar más atención a las materias académicas al hablar sobre la escuela, pero preguntar por las materias electivas, tales como arte y música, puede dar lugar a grandes conversaciones e incluso puede alentarlos a ser más creativos y exitosos en la escuela y en la vida.
Esta es la conclusión del profesor Robert Root Bernstein de la Universidad del Estado de Michigan, quien examinó las vidas de científicos extraordinarios ganadores del Premio Nobel. En comparación con otros científicos, estos genios eran más propensos a expresarse también de otras maneras fuera de lo académico. Los ganadores del Premio Nobel tenían 22 veces más probabilidades de destacarse en las artes, 12 veces más probabilidades de escribir ficción, siete veces más de crear arte y dos veces más de tocar o componer música.
Al preguntar sobre las clases de arte o de gimnasia no convertiremos a nuestros hijos en ganadores de Premios Nobel, pero les transmitiremos el importante mensaje de lo importante que es la autoexpresión.
Book of Job—named after its chief protagonist, Job, or Iyov in Hebrew—explores
the morality of Divine justice through the experience of human suffering,
primarily the suffering of Job himself.
Who Was Job?
Talmud and other early rabbinic works present multiple opinions
as to the identity of Job (with a minority opinion characterizing his narrative as a
Although there is no clear consensus as to who he was or when he lived, the
dominant view places Job’s birth at the time of the Jewish descent into Egypt
and his passing at the time of the Exodus, making for an extraordinarily long
lifespan—210 years.2 This
opinion seems to be in harmony with the Talmudic teaching that Job was, in
fact, one of three royal advisors to the Egyptian Pharaoh who deliberated over
the plot to murder all the male Jewish newborns. Upon learning of the proposal,
Job was indifferent and did not protest the decree, and it was because of his inaction that G‑d later brought immense
suffering upon him.3
place him during the era of the Spies (“meraglim”), the Judges, the returnees from the Babylonian exile,4 the era
of the Persian king Achashverosh, the kingdom of Sheba, the kingdom of the
Chaldeans, in the days of Abraham,5 or
Jacob, each citing Biblical support for their position.6
most intriguing opinion cited in the Midrash is that Job did not actually
suffer the tragedies attributed to him but did live at some point. The Torah
intends to communicate the sheer fortitude of Job’s faith in that even if he
were to suffer the overwhelming misfortune described throughout the book, his
faith would have sustained him throughout.7
writes that regardless of which view
we embrace, the episode describing Job’s submission to Satan at the opening of
his book is a metaphor containing fundamental aspects of the Jewish system of
righteous Job, blessed with enormous wealth, is suddenly subjected to
staggering misfortune. In a single day, he loses all his children,9many
of his servants and livestock, and the remaining animals are captured and
stolen.10 All this, at
the behest of Satan, the adversarial angel, who
persuades G‑d to test the robustness of Job’s faith.11
Indeed, Job reacts with faithful clarity and sobriety. “I came out of my
mother’s womb naked,” said Job, and “I will return there12
naked. G‑d has given, and G‑d has taken away. May the Name of G‑d be blessed.”13
point, “Job did not sin or speak senselessly against G‑d.”14
But as Satan is permitted to intensify Job’s suffering, striking him with
severe boils over his entire body, a shift in Job’s emotional posture is
observed. Job would not “sin with his lips,”15
says the Talmud, “but in his heart, he did.”16
Yet Job still assails his wife’s arguments to “Curse G‑d and die,” saying,
“Will we accept the good from G‑d and not accept the bad?”17
friends arrive to console him, a spirited debate ensues as they explore the
issues of theodicy and the morality of Divine justice. “Happy is the man,” they
told Job, “whom G‑d rebukes.”18 But Job
prefers to die instead. “My soul prefers strangulation; death rather than these
begins to question why Divine Providence would concern itself altogether with
insignificant mortals.20 “If I have
sinned, what effect can I have on You?” Job asks.21
“G‑d must be unaware of my righteousness,” he complains bitterly; “He destroys
both the faultless and the wicked.”22
inquiry into man’s moral choices—His interaction with worldly events and the
justice of those interactions—remains the central point of contention between
Job and his companions.
admonishes Job directly,23 driving home
the inadequacy of man and his inherent inability to grasp the wisdom of the
Creator. “Where were you when I founded the earth?” says G‑d, “Speak up if you
recognizes his error and begs for G‑d’s forgiveness.25
He prays for his companions,26 and G‑d
restores his fortune and increases it two-fold.27
Job’s later years are characterized by phenomenal material success, until his
passing at a ripe old age.28
Righteousness and Charity
Job righteous? He is
described as a “sincere, upright and G‑d fearing man who shunned evil”29–
qualities that rival those of Abraham.30 Clearly, in relation to the righteousness of ordinary non-Jews of
that era, Job is viewed quite favorably, as the Midrash teaches, “There was no
one more righteous than Job amongst the nations of the world.”31
learn much of his benevolence and compassion for people. He was generous with
his wealth32 which
had the providential blessing of bestowing prosperity upon all who benefitted
from it. “No person,” says the Midrash, “who received charity from Job even
once, had to ever receive charity from him again.”33 Job emulated Abraham by
designing his dwelling with four entryways, facing all directions, so that
guests could enter into his home with ease.34 He would extend financial
assistance to those in need, clothe the naked, visit the sick, provide
financial support for the widowed and the orphaned,35 and engage in similar philanthropic
is also said to have been a staunch advocate of justice, serving as a judge who
bravely preserved the rule of law.37
Jewish Law Deduced from Job’s Saga
The imperative to treat those we employ with respect and dignity is a value
gleaned from Job. He declared, “Did I ever spurn the just claim of my
manservant or maidservant when they made a complaint against me?” The law is
thus encoded by Maimonides:
We should not embarrass a slave by our deeds or with words, for
the Torah prescribed that they perform service, not that they be
humiliated. Nor should one shout or vent anger upon them extensively. Instead,
one should speak to them gently, and listen to their claims.38
2. The obligation of a judge to thoroughly investigate any
relevant evidence and testimony is deduced from Job’s conduct as well. “If I
did not know the truth behind a claim,” says Job, “I investigated it.”39 This
is enshrined in Maimonides’ code for the high court, based, in part, on Job’s
A person who is haughty when rendering judgment, and hurries to
deliver a judgment before he examines the matter in his own mind until it is as
clear as the sun, is
considered a fool, wicked, and conceited. Our Sages commanded: “Be patient in
3. The narrative of Job also serves as one of the sources for
the laws of mourning and bereavement. The verse, “And Job stood up and rent his
informs us of the practice of keriah where a mourner rends
his garment while in an upright position at the most acute moment of mourning.42
in the presence of a mourner, it is also appropriate to remain silent until the
mourner opens the conversation. This practice is demonstrated by Job, as the
verse states,43 “Job then opened his mouth,” implying that he was the
first to speak.44
Let us conclude with a prayer that no one be tested in the way that Job was, and that we all experience only goodness and kindness all the days of our lives.
1. Some authors (Sefer Ha-Mefoar, Parshat Behaalotecha) interpret this not as an embrace of the metaphoric caricature of Job, but to mean that G‑d’s sole intention in creating Job was to impart his book’s ethical and moral messages, and in this respect his identity is merely a metaphor. Others (Rabbi Shimshon of Astropol, Dan Yadin12) see the Talmud’s statement as conveying mystical truths about the origin of Job’s soul (“He was a metaphor” is understood as a reference to the spiritual stature of his soul which originated at a most inferior level). 2.
2. Seder Olam Raba (ch. 3). See Chaim Milikowsky, Seder Olam, Critical Edition, vol. II p. 60. The book of Job concludes (42:16): “Now Job lived thereafter one hundred and forty years, and he saw his sons and his sons’ sons for four generations.” This implies that Job was blessed with an additional 140 years after the period of his trials and tribulations. His initial 70 years (during which he experienced immense suffering) were repaid twofold (Rashi, Bava Batra 15b, s.v. Eima). In sum, Job (in this view) lived for 210 years. Cf. Ibn Ezra (Job 2:11).
3. Sotah 11a. According to the Zohar (vol. II, p. 33a) Job advised Pharaoh to confiscate the Jewish wealth and then enslave them. In response, G‑d visited the very same predicament upon Job himself.
4. See also Bereishit Rabbah 57:4.
5. Bereishit Rabbah ibid.
6. Bava Batra 15a-b. Maimonides in his Guide to the Perplexed (vol. III, ch. XXII) points to the vast number of opinions about when Job lived as bolstering the view that Job was merely a metaphorical figure. See, however, Chida, Ein Zocher sec. 40:18, where he demonstrates that only when a story is told in the Talmud of an anonymous protagonist with no identifying features (such as the name of his father, the name of his city, etc.) ought one conclude that the story is merely metaphoric. In the case of Job, the Talmud explicitly points to his father’s name as well as the name of his city of origin.
R. Meir Arama’a (Meir Iyov 1:1) argues that Job was not merely a mythical figure and disputes the position of Maimonides. See, however, Yefe Toar (Bereishit Rabbah 57:3), s.v. lo haya velo nihyeh, that because many of the ideas expressed in Job appear to contravene classic Jewish thought, it would appear that the narratives themselves are of a prophetic nature and are merely attributed to Job and his colleagues.
20. R. Yosef Albo (Sefer Ha-Ikarim 3:18) explains that from Job’s perspective, the transcendence of the Divine and G‑d’s disregard for the events within human reality, speaks to the greatness of G‑d, whereas G‑d’s involvement would minimize His awesomeness.
26. The notion of praying for the good fortune of one’s fellow emerges in the narrative of Job’s confrontation and subsequent reconciliation with his colleagues. The Midrash teaches that so long as Job was at loggerheads with his friends, the Divine attribute of judgment cast its long shadow upon his fortune and suffering. But when Job appeased them and sought Divine mercy on their behalf, G‑d returned to him and awarded him wealth in greater measure than ever before (Pesikta Rabbati 38, Midrash Harninu).
29. Job 1:1. See also, Shemot Rabbah 12:2 where Job is identified as the one referred to in the verse (Exodus 9:20), “He who fears the word of G‑d among the servants of Pharaoh.”
30. Bava Batra 15b.
31. Devarim Rabbah 2:4.
32. Megillah 28a.
33. Bereishit Rabbah 39:11.
34. Avot d’Rebi Natan 7:1. Still, the Midrash points out the advantage Abraham had over Job in that he would leave his home to seek out guests, whereas Job would wait for and accommodate those who arrived on their own.
42. Moed Katan 24a; Rashi ibid. Although it is incumbent upon those present at the moment of death to tear keriah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 339:3), it is customary to wait until immediately before the funeral procession, in order to ensure that all members of the family have arrived and can perform the keriah properly (Gesher Hachayim vol. 1, ch. 12, p. 109). In the event that keriah was not performed then, it is ideal to tear keriah before the interment (Divrei Sofrim, Yoreh Deah 340:8)
The Disney film tackles the conflicts of self-doubt, actualizing potential and escaping reality.
Disney has been releasing live action versions of their animated classics recently and this year’s slate will have some of its heaviest hitters; including The Lion King, and Lady and the Tramp. Butperhaps the most ambitious will be the remake of 1992’s Aladdin. Aside from the music, the hilarious ADHD genie, and still impressive animation, the real gem of the film is the poignant and universal struggle of the title character that drives the story. When a lowly thief falls for a princess, will the magic of a genie make him worthy?
The film tackles the conflicts of self-doubt, actualizing potential and escaping reality, all inner conflicts each and every one of us wrestles regularly. There are three specific moments in the film that distinctly illustrate this theme.
A Diamond In the Rough
When we meet Aladdin, we’re introduced to a poor thief employing advanced acrobatics and a lyrical rhyme scheme to evade Agrabah guards and obtain a loaf of bread for breakfast. But as the musical number One Jump Ahead informs us, Aladdin is regarded as; “riff raff, a street rat, a scoundrel,” and “has clearly hit the bottom.” Despite these labels, Aladdin seems to let insults roll right off of his back. Then we get a glimpse of another side of Aladdin when after all his efforts, he gives his stolen bread to two starving orphans. No wonder Jafar, the sorcerer and film’s main antagonist, divines that Aladdin is in fact a diamond in the rough.
It’s this duality between the way people see us and our capacity for greatness that we know exists inside of us that resonates with our own profound struggles.
Prince Ali, Fabulous He
When Aladdin survives the cave of wonders fiasco, he comes away with the exuberant genie and can request anything his heart desires (save a few restrictions.) With the wish to become a prince, Aladdin is now eligible to court Princess Jasmine. But the wish grants him more than a title, as we’re shown in the song Prince Ali. The song details just how much stuff Aladdin now has: “Seventy five golden camels. Purple peacocks, he’s got 53.” Yet, even with all this wealth and luxury at his disposal, Princess Jasmine rejects him.
It takes Aladdin sweeping Jasmine away on a magic carpet ride to win her over while they share a serene moment. It’s there Jasmine tricks Aladdin into slipping up, revealing he was indeed the impoverished boy from the market after all. Even though he has proven himself in the personal intimate setting, he is unable to be vulnerable and expose his true identity. He has everything he needs but is blind to recognizing it. Aladdin could come clean completely but instead makes up another lie.
Be Careful what you Wish for
Having “won” Jasmine’s heart Aladdin is on top of the world… for about 2 minutes of screen time. A new crisis arises when he learns that once he marries Jasmine, it won’t be long before he will become sultan! “No they want Prince Ali to be sultan.” Aladdin feels trapped, a victim of his own success and way in over his head. Because of his lack of confidence, he breaks his promise to the genie that he would use his last wish to set him free. In doing so he allows the lamp to be stolen by Jafar, giving the villain nearly unlimited power and making his own problems exponentially worse.
Living in Reality
To recap, we have three problems. 1) Feeling we are greater than how people treat us or the way we see our station in life. 2) Pumping ourselves up, pretending to be greater than we are on a superficial level. 3) When we do get some recognition, feeling we’re not worthy of the responsibility and not capable of solving the challenges that come with them.
In Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom (Way #41) he gives us a clear strategy of how to deal with these issues. We need to live in reality. It may frustrate us that others look at us “less than we are”, but are other people’s perceptions reality? A marketing expert might say yes, but the truth is you can always decide how you act and react. Even though Aladdin may be living in slums disregarded by society, he still gives his food to the children that are less fortunate than he is. It’s because of this moral character he is, in actuality, the diamond in the rough. When we engage with people authentically, that speaks far more profoundly than putting on the show of what you think they want to hear.
The next step to understanding reality is to know what you really want. When most people are asked what is more important, money or happiness, they will answer “happiness!” But what do most people spend their time pursuing? Money. When we understand ourselves, we understand what our desires are really all about. Why do I need expensive clothes and cars? I want to be respected by my peers. Why is that respect so important to me? So I can do the type of work I want to do. Why do I want that work? So I can feel secure. Is there a more productive way to feel secure?
If Aladdin understood himself better, he’d recognize that Jasmine was most attracted to him when he opened up and shared himself with her. His white robes and elephants made very little impact.
The last and probably most difficult step for understanding reality is keeping a sane mind when things get difficult. Aladdin is overwhelmed when he realizes a mountain of responsibility is about to be heaped upon him. “I can’t be sultan.” Whether you’re getting promoted or becoming a parent, everybody doubts themselves at one point or another. Even Saul, first King of Israel, had a freak out and hid in a closet before his coronation. But when we understand reality, that God is running the show, it means that we are exactly where we need to be at all moments.
Our problems are far scarier in the abstract. When we look at and break them down step by step, it’s much easier to tackle them. If we freak out and run from them, that’s when the problem gets worse. We have to stop, know that the Almighty has put us in that situation for a reason, and do our best.
Anything else is living in a fantasy world and no amount of wishing is going to bring us to that happy ending.
The holiday of Shavuot is different than any other on the Hebrew calendar.
Shavuot, commemorating the date on which we received the Torah, is the only festival preceded by a lengthy count down. For 49 days we take note of how far we have already come to reenacting the most momentous event of our history. Just as for our ancestors of old, the journey from Passover to Mount Sinai takes seven weeks of seven days, the holy number of seven representing sanctity squared.
And the significance of that count has a fascinating contemporary parallel.
Newspaper accounts in the past few weeks record the remarkable phenomenon of thousands of adventurers from around the globe taking part in the grueling attempt to scale the top of Mount Everest, highest mountain in the world. While once a feat achieved by only the heartiest and rarest few, the top of Everest’s tip has now been described as being “like a zoo.” Climbers push and shove each other to take selfies. People by the dozens wait hours in line – with temperatures where even an extra hour or two can mean the difference between life or death – to reach the summit. And indeed, for the unlucky ones, this has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest with at least 10 deaths.
Yet the dedicated thrill seekers remain undeterred. “I was not prepared to see sick climbers being dragged down the mountain by Sherpas or the surreal experience of finding dead bodies,” one of the successful conquerors of Everest was quoted as reminiscing. But all the difficulties were, in retrospect, insignificant. He had read about explorers as a boy and said he had always “wanted to get to the one spot where you can stand higher than any place else on earth.”
What is it about climbing mountains that can inspire such devotion?
Mountaineer Greg Child movingly said that “Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery of why we climb.” It is the climb that tests our resolve, it is the climb that is the challenge, it is the climb that provides the answer to the limits of our potential and possibilities. As Sir Edmund Hillary put it, “It is not the mountain that we conquer but it is ourselves.”
Mountain tops are geographic locations. In a more profound sense they are visual representations of life’s ongoing trials. Even children are able to grasp this in the words of the simple wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “Today is your day, your mountain is waiting. So get on your way.” And who is not familiar with the way Martin Luther King put it, in his most famous sermon delivered shortly before his death:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
King almost certainly was referencing the line in the book of Psalms with its allusion to the mountaintop: “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his Holy Place?” (Psalms 24:3).
Climbing mountains as a symbol for scaling the heights of spirituality is an ancient biblical idea. Commentators offer beautiful insights into the comparison’s deeper meaning.
Every mountaintop is within reach – if you just keep climbing.
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
The experienced mountain climber is not intimidated by the mountain – he is inspired by it.
The best view comes after the hardest climb.
And if you think you’ve peaked, find a new mountain
Of course God could have given us the Torah in a valley. But the spot He chose was Mount Sinai. Why not Mount Everest? Perhaps God also wanted to reassure us that the climb is not really that difficult.
And for the Jewish people who continue to rule their lives by the revelation on Mount Sinai we know of a certainty that the truths of Torah taught on that spot allow us “to stand higher than any place else on earth.”
The canonization of the Hebrew Bible into its final 24 books was a process that lasted centuries, and was only completed well after the time of Josephus
The Hebrew Bible is a collection of 24 ancient Hebrew books considered holy by adherents to the Jewish faith. But how did this collection come about? Who decided which books would be included, and which wouldn’t be, and when did this happen?
This process, known as canonization, did not take place at once, or at some great council meeting. It was a protracted process that took place in stages. These stages correspond to the three major sections of the Bible, and during them, the holiness of at least some of the texts was fiercely disputed.
The first stage saw the creation of the collection called The Torah (“the teaching”), with its five books. Only later was the second section, the Prophets with its eight books, created. And only then was the third section, the Writings, created too, resulting in the Hebrew Bible we know today, with its 24 books.
The Torah: Taking shape over centuries
The Torah consists of five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Genesis describes the creation of the world and the ensuing history until the sons of Jacob go down to Egypt (in more than one version).
The second section, Exodus, describes the story of the Israelite bondage in Egypt and the story of their liberation under the leadership of Moses. The remaining three books, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, describe the Israelites’ wandering in the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land including the all-important revelation at Mount Sinai, along with various lists of religious laws.
For centuries untold, people believed that the five books of the Pentateuch had been written by Moses: the Talmud even says so. Leaving aside the historicity of Moses himself, clearly the Torah wasn’t written by a single person, given the differences in style and language, and contradictions in the texts, among other things. The Torah is evidently a composite of earlier books long lost in time.
Scholars disagree on how exactly these books came to be, but all agree that it was a complicated process that took many years and involved multiple writers and editors. An important stage in the production of this collection must have taken place during the reign of King Josiah of Judah in the second half of the seventh century B.C.E.
In II Kings 22 we find the account of a chance discovery of “a book of law” in the Temple itself, during renovations. From this account, which was likely written during the reign of Josiah itself, evidently the Torah as we know it didn’t exist yet.
The contents of the book that was allegedly “found” (but was most likely written by Josiah’s own scribes) was clearly unknown at the time, as Josiah claimed to be compelled by its contents to reform religion in his kingdom. As he put it, speaking to his officials: “… great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book”.
Based on the description of this reform, which is recounted in the next chapter, scholars generally agree that the book ostensibly found in the Temple was an early version of the laws appearing in the middle section of Deuteronomy, since these not only command that the actions Josiah took be taken, but actually do this in a language very similar to that used by Josiah’s scribes to describe his reform.
The next time the Bible says anything about a “book of the Torah” is in Nehemiah 8, where people led by Ezra the Scribe returning from the Babylonian Exile, probably in 398 B.C.E., hold a ceremony in which “the book of the law of Moses” is read – “the book,” not “a book” this time:
“…and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.”
Like when that book was discovered in the days of Josiah, the contents of the book read by Ezra are a surprise this time around as well. We are told that the contents of the book needed to be explained to the people, and that they learned from it that they need to build tabernacles for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot. Apparently, the Torah read by Ezra was unknown to the people of Jerusalem, and must have been brought by him from Babylonia.
Though this likely means the Torah was edited during the Babylonian Exile, it does not exclude the possibility that the texts incorporated into it predated the Exile, as many scholars think.
The Torah must have gone through some additional editing and some sections (such as those describing Yom Kippur) were definitely added to it during the subsequent years.
But the process must have come to a close quite soon after Ezra came to Jerusalem. We know this because the period following Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem saw a schism between the Judeans and the Samaritans, and since both communities have the same Torah to this very day, it must have taken its current form before the two went their separate ways.
Based on this, we can say with some certainty that the process of canonization of the Torah started in the second half of the seventh century B.C.E. and ended sometime during the fourth century B.C.E.
Did the Prophets see Alexander coming
The Prophets consists of two sections, each with four books. The first section is the Former Prophets, which contains the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.
The “Former Prophets” section describes the history of Judah and Israel, starting with the time of the conquest of the land by the Israelites, through the rise of the monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel, its separation into two kingdoms – Judah and Israel, to the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians in 720 B.C.E.; then the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah at the hand of the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.
Most of this Former Prophets section was probably written by scribes in the reign of King Josiah in the end of the seventh century B.C.E, who probably integrated material from earlier books that are now lost. These sections were definitely edited and supplemented by later scribes during the Babylonian Exile in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. and possibly after it as well.
The second section, “the Latter Prophets,” consists of four books as well: the three major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, which were written during the First Temple period (eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E.); the period of the fall of the Kingdom of Judah (around 586 B.C.E.), and the beginning of the Babylonian Exile respectively (roughly the same time). All underwent emendations and were added to during and probably after the Exile.
The age of Prophets ends The final book, “The Minor Prophets,” is a collection of 12 short books, each containing the words or deeds of its eponymous prophet. Some of these are pre-Exilic (e.g., Amos and Hosea) and some are post-Exilic (e.g., Haggai and Malachi).
At some point someone collected these various books into a fixed collection, which we call “the Prophets,” but when?
Unlike the Torah, which Jews and Samaritans have in common, the Prophets is not accepted by the Samaritans as a holy text. So it is likely that the collection was canonized only after the schism between the groups, which took place in the fourth century B.C.E. On the other hand, we can reasonably surmise that the canonization of the Prophets didn’t take place much later than that, since it seems pretty clear that the collection was canonized before Alexander the Great destroyed the Persian Empire in 330 B.C.E., leading to the subsequent ascendancy of Hellenism.
This can be assumed based on the fact that no prophet is said to prophesy these important events. Had the collection still been fluid, a prophesy foretelling them would have probably found its way into the collection. Another clue is the utter lack of Greek words in the collection, and one or two would have probably made their way in were the Prophets still being supplemented.
Taking this into account then, it seems that sometime in the middle of the fourth century B.C.E, the belief that the age of prophecy had ended became accepted. This belief is even evident in the book of one of the last prophets, Zechariah: “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive” (13:4).
Thus, following the example of the canonized Torah, a collection of books believed to have been produced in the age of prophecy was collected, almost certainly in the Jerusalem Temple. This closed official list of prophetic books was likely created as a safeguard against the growing number of allegedly prophetic books that were produced and circulated in Judah at the time.
And now a word from Josephus
The final section of the Bible, the Writings, is a miscellany of 13 very different books: three poetic books, the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job; the five scrolls Song of Songs, Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Book of Esther; and Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
Scholars largely agree that these books were written during the Second Temple period (538 B.C.E.- 70 C.E.), though they include to a varying degree texts that had surely been written at an earlier time, before and during the Exile. It is pretty clear that this section started to take form after the Prophets became a closed canon. Otherwise it’s hard to explain why Daniel and Chronicles weren’t included in the Prophets.
The earliest evidence we have of a third section of the Bible beginning to take form is in the non-canonical Book of Ben Sira, which was written in the early second century B.C.E. In his book Ben Sira makes reference to three sections of the Bible corresponding to our Torah, Prophets, and Writings:
“On the other hand he who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High (Torah) will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients (Writings), and will be concerned with prophecies (Prophets)” (39:1).
Ben Sira’s grandson translated the work into Greek in about 132 B.C.E. and wrote a short prologue to the work, in which he too makes reference to this tripartite division of the Bible: “the Law and the prophets and the other books of our fathers.”
These references make it clear that a process of collecting these latter books into the collection we call the Writings had begun, though it had no fixed name at the time. We also learn that the process continued for a long time after that, and had not yet taken the final form we know today. This is clear from the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus in his book “Against Apion,” probably written in the very beginning of the second century C.E. In this book Josephus clearly states that the Bible contains “but twenty two books.”
The first mention that the Bible has 24 books is in the apocalyptic extracanonical book known as 2 Esdras, which was written sometime between the end of the first century C.E. to the beginning of the third century C.E.:
“…the Most High spoke to me, saying, ‘Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people’” (14:45-6).
Clearly, two books not seen as canonical by Josephus must have been added to the Bible sometime during the second and early third centuries C.E.
These final two books to make the cut were almost certainly Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. We know this because the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic teaching redacted by Rabbi Judah the Prince in the beginning of the third century C.E., records a debate taking place in the Galilee after the Bar Kochba Revolt during the end of the second century or the beginning of the third.
According to the Mishnah (Yadayim 3:5), the leading rabbinic authorities of the day participated in the dispute, which rather strangely is not framed as a discussion on whether the two books are holy scripture but rather on the question of whether they “defile the hands.” But saying that a book defiles the hands is tantamount to saying it is holy scripture, as is made clear by Judah the Prince’s decision to preface the discussion with the statement “All holy scriptures defile the hands.”
Yes. The rabbis for whatever reason decreed that touching holy scripture makes one’s hands ritually impure. Why they did so is unknown.
The Mishnah says that Rabbi Judah (not to be confused with Judah the Prince) advocated that the Song of Songs defiles the hands, but Ecclesiastes was in dispute. Rabbi Yose, on the other hand, said that Ecclesiastes definitely did not defile the hands but the status of Song of Songs was in dispute.
Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai contributed to the dispute, claiming that he received an oral tradition that the rabbinic council in Yavne, about a century before, decided that both books defile the hands. Rabbi Yohanan ben Joshua seconded this opinion.
To these opinions, Rabbi Judah the Prince added the authoritative ruling of Rabbi Akiva, who had already been killed by the Romans by this time, putting the full weight of his authority behind the canonicity Song of Songs: “The whole world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the writings are holy but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies. If they had a dispute, they had a dispute only about Ecclesiastes.”
The Mishnah then finishes the discussion saying “so they disputed and so they reached a decision.” The decision of course was “the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands.”
It seems then that at this point the canon was set as it is today, with 24 books. This does not mean that further discussions did not take place after this though, just that the status quo was kept to this day. For example, the Talmud (Megillah 7a) provides a detailed discussion on the question of whether or not the Book of Esther was scripture, eventually coming to the conclusion that it is, based on the flimsy evidence that the author of the book makes statements that he could not possibly have known unless instructed by God (apparently the possibility that the writer just made these statements up did not cross the rabbis’ minds).
The status of Ben Sira’s book seems to have been in dispute as well in Talmudic times. It is quoted as if it was scripture quite a bit in the Talmud, but it seems that eventually the opinion expressed in the Tosefta “Ben Sira and all subsequently written books do not defile the hands” (Yadayim 2:5) prevailed, and it remained out of the canon.Books deemed not to be scripture were suppressed when, in the second century C.E., Rabbi Akiva forbade their reading in no uncertain terms, claiming a Jew who read them was barred from entering “the World to Come” (Sanhedrin 10:1). Fearing the loss of this prize, Jews stopped reading them, didn’t make new copies of them, and eventually they were lost.
Well, almost lost. Many of these books were translated into Greek, and these translations were read and copied by Christians, who didn’t care what Rabbi Akiva had decreed. These books made their way into the many different Christian canons and were thus saved from oblivion. These include the the several books of Maccabees, the Book of Jubilees, and many other important books of the Second Temple period.
The Holy of Holies—the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Yerushalayim—was an area that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and only once a year, on Yom Kippur.
Yet even the Holy of Holies was occasionally in need of repair. To provide for such an eventuality there were openings in the upper chamber leading down into this sacred area. Artisans, who were Kohanim, were lowered from above in tevoth (boxes). Each box was open only to the side of the wall so that the men could do their job but “could not feast their eyes on the Holy of Holies” (Middoth 4:5, Pesachim 26a).
In Chassidic thought, the above tradition was given an allegorical meaning. In Hebrew, tevoth does not only mean “boxes” but also “words.” As such, the words of Jewish learning are seen as ways to enter the Holy of Holies, that is, the heart of every Jew, so as to repair and revive him spiritually. But just as in the Temple the repairmen in their tevoth could touch nothing but the wall’s surface, so the tevoth of the Torah can touch only the outer layer of the human heart. For them to penetrate into the inner chambers of the heart requires much work that demands enormous effort. Through the words, man can grasp the perpetual, holy murmurs from a world beyond, but nothing more. What lies deeper can be accessed only with repair work to open the channels of the heart, which are often wounded. Man’s walled heart allows no access to a ladder upon which he can climb to reach the knowledge of God. It is the soul alone that can penetrate the heart. As in the case of music notes, which are simply a vehicle through which the music itself is touched, words, too, are merely the channel through which something deeper is felt. Only when the soul is involved can there be a chance for the words to become a song.
Jewish education is in need of radical repair. We are living in times when the Jewish religious imagination seems to be exhausted. We no longer know how to lower ourselves, via the tevoth, into the Holy of Holies of the human heart.
We have fallen victim to a sociological and anthropological approach, which has led to the vulgarization of Jewish education. We ask whether the Jews constitute a race; a people; a religion; a cultural entity; a historic group; or a linguistic unit. But we do not ask what we are spiritually; who we are morally; what we owe the world and what our mission is. We may be busy repairing Judaism, but we are descending from the wrong upper chamber into an artificial temple, one of secularity.
Jewish education today deals with a great amount of information but forgets that it is transformation we are looking for. We are told by our Sages that just walking in the Temple created “new” people, for they were astonished and amazed by the many miracles that took place in its confines. It was not Jewish continuity that the Temple guaranteed but a radical re-creation of the Jewish spirit, which made souls grow wings and fly. It served as a protest against the stale and the obsolete.
It caused man to be so taken in by the spiritual power of the Torah that he was able to see God everywhere, like the Chassidic Rebbe who would walk in the forest to see the tall, swaying trees davening shemoneh esrei (1). As if they were performing a transcendent dance, reaching towards Heaven.
Jewish education must be just like a work of art, which is capable of introducing us to emotions that we never cherished before. It is boringunless we are surprised by it. Every thought is a prison if it does not evoke in us an outburst of amazement. We must be wary of spiritual minimalism. The words of the Torah are not allowed to be stationary; they have to astonish.
We must realize that we either ascend or descend. And never forget that at the core of each one of us there resides a tzaddik.
This essay is inspired by the writings of R. Abraham Joshua Heschel
Praying the “18 benedictions”—the central prayer in each of the daily services—called by that name because it originally contained 18 blessings. It is recited silently, while standing in great concentration, often accompanied by swaying of the upper body as if in ecstasy.
My name is Nathan Lopes Cardozo. I was born in Holland in 1946 and was raised in a half-Jewish, totally secular family, which for decades watched the European Song Festival with great joy. We were always very proud when our country, Holland, won the contest, as it did last Saturday night. Today, I live in Jerusalem with my family.
After many years, I discovered Judaism and threw in my lot with this unusual nation. Although I observe Shabbat and many other Jewish precepts, I’m not sure I have the right to call myself fully religious. I still have a long way to go.
Many of my readers know that I cannot be accused of falling in line with the religious establishment. I have suggested that moving this beautiful country forward sometimes requires the violation of Jewish law, including some Shabbat laws when the problem is of national urgency and clearlyinsurmountable, and when Jewish Law would actually encourage us to do so.
This brings me to you and last Saturday night’s song festival. I heard on Israel radio, and have read in newspapers, that you observe Shabbat and that you refused to rehearse last Saturday in honor of this holy day. I hope it’s true; if so, more honor to you!
In fact, I am also very proud of the extraordinary Shalva Band, which I have been told would probably have won the contest but refused to come to the rehearsal last Shabbat because its members believe that one needs to live a principle-centered life. For them, as for me, that includes the need to preserve the holiness of Shabbat.
The same is true of South African born businessman Kivi Bernhard, who has become a world-famous, sought-after speaker and was invited by Microsoft some years ago to deliver the opening address at an international conference, which was to take place on a Saturday. Mr. Bernhard refused, as it would require him to violate Shabbat. Microsoft offered him enormous sums of money, but Mr. Bernhard did not budge. He told them that no money in the world would entice him to violate Shabbat. Finally, Microsoft gave up and moved the conference to Sunday. When Bill Gates heard about this, he remarked: I can buy any airplane, yacht, or building that I want. I can even buy outstandingly talented people. But I cannot buy one Shabbat of an observant Jew.
It is for this reason, Madonna, that I turn to you with a request.
As history has proven over and over again, we Jews are not a conventional people. Our long history is by definition one of existential oddity. We are nearly 4,000 years old and have outlived all of our enemies, from the Egyptians to the Nazis. Even today, our enemies have no way to destroy us. As sociologist Milton Himmelfarb stated, “The number of Jews in the world is smaller than a small statistical error in the Chinese census. Yet we remain bigger than our numbers” (Jews and Gentiles, 2007, p. 141).
No other nation has overturned the destiny of all humanity as much as the Jewish people have. It gave them the Bible and the greatest prophets. Its spiritual and moral laws still hold sway over all of humankind, influencing entire civilizations. It gave birth to Christianity, Islam and many secular moral teachings. It provided humankind with a messianic hope for the future and endowed human beings with dignity and responsibility. In his book The Gifts of the Jews, non-Jewish author Thomas Cahill said: “We [gentiles] can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice are the gifts of the Jews” (1999, p. 241).
After 2,000 years of exile, and after the inconceivable cruelty of the Holocaust, we returned to our homeland. This is sui generis, without precedent.
The Jew must pay a high price just to remain a Jew. And history has constantly asked us why we are still prepared to do so. After all, being a Jew seems to be an utterly heart-rending experience. The only answer is expressed by Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Our existence is either superfluous or indispensable to the world” (God In Search of Man, 1976, p. 421). And we need to decide on which side we want to be.
Since the days when God called on Avraham, the first Jew, it became clear that we took on ourselves a holy mission to be a “light to the nations” and to promote a way of living through which all of humankind would be blessed. And so we became indispensable and God’s stake in history.
That gave us the power to overcome all our suffering. We believed in ourselves and, against all odds, considered ourselves privileged to serve mankind.
We should therefore never forget that we finally came home to our country, not as Israelis but as Jews. Otherwise, there is no land to return to.
There’s little doubt that one of the main reasons we became an eternal people was the institution of Shabbat. The oft-quoted statement “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews” remains as true as ever. Once we give up on its holiness, we are guilty of self-destruction. Modern Jewish history has proven this over and over again. Jewish assimilation began the same day that Jews forgot their Shabbat.
Shabbat is the day on which we are asked to put aside all the profanity of clattering commerce and the fury of greed; of trying to convince ourselves that we are the absolute owners of this world. It is a day of protest against all the external pomp, glitter, and power. Its purpose is to turn the world into an island of tranquility in the stormy sea of worldliness, for one day each week.
But it is not only Jews who need Shabbat. All of humankind should have the merit to celebrate this holy day. Without it, the world collapses under its own weight. And it is the task of all of both Jews and non-Jews, to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
The secular renowned Jewish thinker and psychologist Eric Fromm (1900-1980) wrote: “The modern Sunday is a day of fun, consumption and running away from oneself. One might ask if it is not time to re-establish the (traditional) shabbat as a universal day of harmony and peace, as the human day that anticipates the human future.” (To Have or To Be, 1976, p 58.)
What happened last Saturday is very tragic. I’m happy for my people to have all the fun in the world, but never at the expense of their Shabbat, their mission, integrity and pride. It worries me terribly when a large number of our citizens, who are otherwise fine and proud people—some of them even religious—seem to be so mesmerized by so much dazzle and glitz, which sometimes lack the basics of all modesty and inner human beauty.
True, every Jew has the right to decide for her or himself, whether or not to observe Shabbat, but on a national level we cannot afford to openly desecrate its holiness, even for rehearsals or other work to make the event succeed. There was no urgency or unsurmountable need for this. Israel should have refused to stage this event unless it would have complied with the holiness of Shabbat. Jewish pride is more important than the European Song Festival, especially when it could have sent a message to the world that there are values in life which are more important than fame and dazzling performances.
What is perhaps even more tragic is the fact that there wasn’t even the slightest manifestation of anything Jewish. How great it would have been if a special Havdalah ceremony and prayer to say farewell to Shabbat had been sung in front of millions and millions of viewers throughout the entire world. It would have embodied such Jewish pride!
So here is my request to you. Perhaps you, together with Shalva Band, Kivi Bernhard and Bill Gates could do what we traditional and religious Jews and our rabbis are seemingly unable to do: Convince our fellow Jews and non-Jews of the privilege of observing Shabbat; of how unique it is to be Jewish.
After all, the road to the sacred often runs through the secular.
There are, it is sometimes said, no controlled experiments in history. Every society, every age, and every set of circumstances is unique. If so, there is no science of history. There are no universal rules to guide the destiny of nations. Yet this is not quite true. The history of the past four centuries does offer us something close to a controlled experiment, and the conclusion to be drawn is surprising.
The modern world was shaped by four revolutions: the English (1642–1651), the American (1776), the French (1789), and the Russian (1917). Their outcomes were radically different. In England and America, revolution brought war, but led to a gradual growth of civil liberties, human rights, representative government, and eventually, democracy. On the other hand, the French revolution gave rise to the “Reign of Terror” between 5 September 1793, and 28 July 1794, in which more than forty thousand enemies of the revolution were summarily executed by the guillotine. The Russian revolution led to one of the most repressive totalitarianism regimes in history. As many as twenty million people are estimated to have died unnatural deaths under Stalin between 1924 and 1953. In revolutionary France and the Soviet Union, the dream of utopia ended in a nightmare of hell.
What was the salient difference between them? There are multiple explanations. History is complex and it is wrong to simplify, but one detail in particular stands out. The English and American revolutions were inspired by the Hebrew Bible as read and interpreted by the Puritans. This happened because of the convergence of a number of factors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the Reformation, the invention of printing, the rise of literacy and the spread of books, and the availability of the Hebrew Bible in vernacular translations. For the first time, people could read the Bible for themselves, and what they discovered when they read the prophets and stories of civil disobedience like that of Shifrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, was that it is permitted, even sometimes necessary, to resist tyrants in the name of God. The political philosophy of the English revolutionaries and the Puritans who set sail for America in the 1620s and 1630s was dominated by the work of the Christian Hebraists who based their thought on the history of ancient Israel.
The French and Russian revolutions, by contrast, were hostile to religion and were inspired instead by philosophy: that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the case of France, and of Karl Marx in the case of Russia. There are obvious differences between Torah and philosophy. The most well-known is that one is based on revelation, the other on reason. Yet I suspect it was not this that made the difference to the course of revolutionary politics. Rather, it lay in their respective understandings of time.
Parshat Behar sets out a revolutionary template for a society of justice, freedom, and human dignity. At its core is the idea of the Jubilee, whose words (“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”) are engraved on one of the great symbols of freedom, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. One of its provisions is the release of slaves:
If your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, do not work him like a slave. He shall be with you like an employee or a resident. He shall serve you only until the Jubilee year and then he and his children shall be free to leave you and return to their family and to the hereditary land of their ancestors. For they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves… For the Children of Israel are servants to Me: they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt – I am the Lord, your God. (Lev. 25:39–42)
The terms of the passage are clear. Slavery is wrong. It is an assault on the human condition. To be “in the image of God” means to be summoned to a life of freedom. The very idea of the sovereignty of God means that He alone has claim to the service of mankind. Those who are God’s servants may not be slaves to anyone else. As Judah Halevi put it, “The servants of time are servants of servants. Only God’s servant alone is free.”
At this distance of time it is hard to recapture the radicalism of this idea, overturning as it did the very foundations of religion in ancient times. The early civilisations – Mesopotamia, Egypt – were based on hierarchies of power which were seen to inhere in the very nature of the cosmos. Just as there were (so it was believed) ranks and gradations among the heavenly bodies, so there were on earth. The great religious rituals and monuments were designed to mirror and endorse these hierarchies. In this respect, Karl Marx was right. Religion in antiquity was the opium of the people. It was the robe of sanctity concealing the naked brutality of power. It canonised the status quo.
At the heart of Israel was an idea almost unthinkable to the ancient mind: that God intervenes in history to liberate slaves – that the supreme Power is on the side of the powerless. It is no accident that Israel was born as a nation under conditions of slavery. It has carried throughout history the memory of those years – the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of servitude – because the people of Israel serves as an eternal reminder to itself and the world of the moral necessity of liberty and the vigilance needed to protect it. The free God desires the free worship of free human beings.
Yet the Torah does not abolish slavery. That is the paradox at the heart of Parshat Behar. To be sure, it was limited and humanised. Every seventh day, slaves were granted rest and a taste of freedom. In the seventh year, Israelite slaves were set free. If they chose otherwise they were released in the Jubilee year. During their years of service they were to be treated like employees. They were not to be subjected to back-breaking or spirit-crushing labour. Everything dehumanising about slavery was forbidden. Yet slavery itself was not banned. Why not? If it was wrong, it should have been annulled. Why did the Torah allow a fundamentally flawed institution to continue?
It is Moses Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed who explains the need for time in social transformation. All processes in nature, he argues, are gradual. The foetus develops slowly in the womb. Stage by stage, a child becomes mature. And what applies to individuals applies to nations and civilisations:
It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is therefore, according to the nature of man, impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.
So God did not ask of the Israelites that they suddenly abandon everything they had become used to in Egypt. “God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying.”
In miracles, God changes physical nature but never human nature. Were He to do so, the entire project of the Torah – the free worship of free human beings – would have been rendered null and void. There is no greatness in programming a million computers to obey instructions. God’s greatness lay in taking the risk of creating a being, Homo sapiens, capable of choice and responsibility and thus of freely obeying God.
God wanted humankind to abolish slavery, but by their own choice, in their own time. Slavery as such was not abolished in Britain and America until the nineteenth century, and in America, not without a civil war. The challenge to which Torah legislation was an answer is: how can one create a social structure in which, of their own accord, people will eventually come to see slavery as wrong and freely choose to abandon it?
The answer lay in a single deft stroke: to change slavery from an ontological condition to a temporary circumstance: from what I am to a situation in which I find myself, now but not forever. No Israelite was allowed to be treated or to see him or herself as a slave. They might be reduced to slavery for a period of time, but this was a passing plight, not an identity. Compare the account given by Aristotle:
[There are people who are] slaves by nature, and it is better for them to be subject to this kind of control. For a man who is able to belong to another person is by nature a slave.
For Aristotle, slavery is an ontological condition, a fact of birth. Some are born to rule, others to be ruled. This is precisely the worldview to which the Torah is opposed. The entire complex of biblical legislation is designed to ensure that neither the slave nor their owner should ever see slavery as a permanent condition. A slave should be treated “like an employee or a resident,” in other words, with the same respect as is due a free human being. In this way the Torah ensured that, although slavery could not be abolished overnight, it would eventually be. And so it happened.
There are profound differences between philosophy and Judaism, and one lies in their respective understandings of time. For Plato and his heirs, philosophy is about the truth that is timeless. For Hegel and Marx, it is about “historical inevitability,” the change that comes, regardless of the conscious decisions of human beings. Judaism is about ideals like human freedom that are realised in and through time, by the free decisions of free persons.
That is why we are commanded to hand on the story of the Exodus to our children every Passover, so that they too taste the unleavened bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery. It is why we are instructed to ensure that every seventh day, all those who work for us are able to rest and breathe the expansive air of freedom. It is why, even when there were Israelite slaves, they had to be released in the seventh year, or failing that, in the Jubilee year. This is the way of evolution, not revolution, gradually educating every member of Israelite society that it is wrong to enslave others so that eventually the entire institution will be abolished, not by divine fiat but by human consent. The end result is a freedom that is secure, as opposed to the freedom of the philosophers that is all too often another form of tyranny. Chillingly, Rousseau once wrote that if citizens did not agree with the “general will,” they would have to be “forced to be free.” That is not liberty but slavery.
The Torah is based, as its narratives make clear, on history, a realistic view of human character, and a respect for freedom and choice. Philosophy is often detached from history and a concrete sense of humanity. Philosophy sees truth as system. The Torah tells truth as story, and a story is a sequence of events extended through time. Revolutions based on philosophical systems fail because change in human affairs takes time, and philosophy has rarely given an adequate account of the human dimension of time.
Revolutions based on Tanach succeed, because they go with the grain of human nature, recognising that it takes time for people to change. The Torah did not abolish slavery, but it set in motion a process that would lead people to come of their own accord to the conclusion that it was wrong. That it did so, albeit slowly, is one of the wonders of history.
 See Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2010).
 Ninety-Two Poems and Hymns of Judah Halevi, trans. Thomas Kovach, Eva Jospe, and Gilya Gerda Schmidt (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), 124.
 Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, III:32.
A rabbi’s unusual argument for convincing a mourner to give his mother a proper Jewish burial.
Karen Marsh* had attended Rabbi Epstein’s programs for many years, and her children had grown up learning about the depth and joy of Judaism from Rabbi Epstein and his talented staff. Karen’s 96-year-old mother had just passed away and she immediately called Rabbi Epstein with the news.
“Karen, I am so sorry about your mom. I’d be happy to help with the funeral and burial arrangements.”
“Thanks, Rabbi. It’s already been handled. Mom was very specific in her will.”
“Great. Where will she be buried?”
Karen cleared her throat. “Mom will be cremated, Rabbi. It’s what she wanted.”
Rabbi Epstein was speechless.
“Karen, are you aware that cremation is against Jewish Law?”
“I know, Rabbi, but there’s nothing to discuss. My brother Bob went over the will with me and it’s crystal clear – Mom wants to be cremated and have her ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean, not far from Bob’s home in San Diego.”
“Karen, it may be that your mom had originally intended to be cremated. But now that she’s passed away, she is with God and has full clarity. She would definitely want to be buried in accordance with Jewish tradition.”
“Rabbi, I agree with you, but my brother Bob would never allow us to violate the terms of the will.”
Rabbi Epstein thought that if the children appreciated the great value of a Jewish burial, perhaps they’d take this into account when paying last respects to their beloved mother who, through no fault of her own, had next to no Jewish education. Bob also had no understanding of Jewish tradition.
“Karen, can you please give me Bob’s cellphone number?”
“You’re going to call him?”
“Look, Rabbi, it’s a total waste of time. Bob made his position very clear. In fact, I mentioned the idea of burial and he told me it’s a non-starter.”
“I’d still like to reach out to him. It can’t hurt, can it?”
Karen gave him her brother’s phone number and later that day Rabbi Epstein gave him a call.
“Hello, this is Bob.”
“Hi, Bob, this is Rabbi Epstein calling from the east coast. I’m your sister Karen’s rabbi and I’ve been close to her family for a number of years. I heard the tragic news about your mom and wanted you to know how sorry I am at your loss.”
There was a moment of silence on the other end.
“Thank you Rabbi for your condolences.”
I know what Mom wanted. She made it clear. Cremation, followed by the scattering of her ashes over the Pacific, near San Diego. Period
Rabbi Epstein cleared his throat. “Bob, I wanted to understand your objection to a traditional Jewish burial. I think it’s what your mother would have – ”
“Let me stop you right there, Rabbi. I know what Mom wanted. She made it clear. Cremation, followed by the scattering of her ashes over the Pacific, near San Diego. Period.”
Bob went on to give the Rabbi a piece of his mind for the next 10 minutes. He was agitated about his mother’s passing and not happy that his sister wanted her to be buried instead of cremated. Rabbi Epstein listened, letting him pour out his heart.
Once Bob was done, the Rabbi said, “Bob, I hear where you’re coming from. Can I take a few moments and explain to you some concepts about Jewish tradition?”
“You can, but I’m not really interested.”
“Fair enough. I won’t take up much of your time. Do you have a soul?”
“Ummm…I guess so.”
“Not exactly,” the Rabbi said. “You are a soul. Your soul has a body! Your soul lives forever. It gets assigned to your body at birth. The body/soul combination is what life is all about. The two work together to create free will, with the goal to bring holiness into the world by elevating everything physical. This explains why we are commanded to take care of our bodies and never do anything to harm or disfigure them. They’re a gift from the Almighty.”
“I follow you, I think,” said Bob.
Rabbi Epstein continued, “Cremation is actually considered a disfigurement of a holy body. It also bypasses the burial process which our mystical sources teach is tremendously important as part of the spiritual purification process the soul undergoes once separated from its body.”
Bob said, “Look, rabbi – I’m not religious, so this means little to me.”
The rabbi considered this for a moment. “Ok, I get that, Bob. I’m curious: will you be saying Kaddish for your mom?”
“I suppose so.”
“That’s great. It’s considered a great merit for the deceased when a child says Kaddish. Jews throughout history have said the initial Kaddish at the gravesite of a loved one. By burying your mom in a Jewish cemetery, you’ll have the chance to visit your mom and say Kaddish at her grave. Not only that, you have a chance for a meaningful family gathering which will evoke special memories of your mom and her impact on the family. Cremation takes away that chance for the family to congregate and pay its respects way into the future.”
Bob didn’t say anything for a while. Rabbi Epstein waited patiently.
“Rabbi,” he sighed, “I appreciate what you’ve been saying. But I’m going through with the cremation. Thanks for your time.”
Rabbi Epstein was crestfallen. He had given it his best shot.
I guess I wasn’t able to convey our traditions properly.
Just then, he had an idea.
“Bob, I understand exactly how you feel. And it makes total sense to me. But I need to tell you…that I’m a little upset with you.”
“Huh?” said Bob. “You’re upset with me?”
“Yup,” said the Rabbi.
Bob was getting irritated. “And why is that?”
“You stole Manny Machado from me.”
There was stunned silence on the other line.
“What?!” said Bob, finally.
“You heard me,” continued Rabbi Epstein, expecting Bob to hang up on him at any moment. “He was the Orioles’ only hope, our favorite third baseman, and now, you guys in San Diego stole him for $300 million for the Padres! So yes, I’m pretty upset with you, Bob!”
Bob was thunderstruck.
“Rabbi,” he said slowly. “You…you’re into baseball?” he asked incredulously.
“I sure am!” The conversation suddenly shifted into an in-depth study of different major league teams and their prospects for a winning season. Twenty minutes went by, in which Bob and the rabbi traded good-natured barbs against each other’s teams. The rabbi easily matched Bob’s deep knowledge of baseball.
“Rabbi,” said Bob, “Now I get why Karen and her family like you so much. If I had a rabbi like you I might be closer to my Judaism today.”
“Thanks Bob, that’s so kind of you. I wish I had the opportunity to get to know you better as well.” Rabbi Epstein realized he had one final chance and decided to go for it.
“Bob, like I said, I’m mad at you about Machado. So I’m offering you a choice: Either give me back Machado, or let me handle the details of your mom’s burial in accordance with Jewish tradition and the ultimate in dignity for her last remains. What’ll it be?”
There was silence on the other line. Rabbi Epstein held his breath.
“Rabbi, I’ve made a decision. We’re keeping Machado. You can bury my mom.”
Hardly believing what he had just heard, Rabbi Epstein said, “Bob, I can live with this choice. I’ll go you one better: I plan to be in San Diego later in the year. Let’s get together over a couple of beers, and toast your mom while we walk along the beach.”
“Sounds good, Rabbi. I appreciate your concern for my family, and look forward to meeting you.”
Karen’s mother was buried two days later, with full adherence to Jewish tradition and the highest standards of respect for the dead.
*This story is true. Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
Eichmann fue responsable de la eliminación sistemática de millones de seres humanos. Actuó más allá de su propia perversidad: lo que hizo, lo pudo haber hecho la mayoría de los alemanes de su época
En 1963, dos años después del juicio contra Adolf Eichmann, que cubrió como corresponsal de The New Yorker, Hannah Arendt publicó uno de los libros más importantes de la segunda mitad del siglo XX: Eichmann en Jerusalén.
La importancia última de este libro, sin embargo, no atañe al proceso legal que el Estado de Israel llevó a cabo contra el encargado de la solución final ni deriva, por complicado que sea de asimilar, de la singularidad, en tanto acusado, del propio Eichmann, quien terminaría siendo sentenciado a la pena de muerte por medio de la horca.
Y es que durante el tiempo que transcurrió entre el día en que Arendt se sentó en su silla de corresponsal —tras escuchar al ujier del juzgado gritar: ¡beth hamishpath!, dando inicio al proceso— y la tarde en que logró ponerle el último punto a su libro, cuyo subtítulo sería Un informe sobre la banalidad del mal, la filósofa alemana comprendió que aquel hombre al que se había juzgado era mucho más que un “pozo de maldad”.
Efectivamente, Eichmann había sido responsable de la eliminación sistemática de millones de seres humanos y había buscado, en todo momento, la manera más eficiente y terrorífica de cumplir su cometido, lo cual no tenía perdón. Sin embargo, aquel burócrata alemán había actuado con base en motivos que iban más allá de su propia perversidad o crueldad: lo que había hecho, lo podría haber hecho cualquiera otro burócrata nazi, así como la mayoría de los ciudadanos alemanes de su época.
El individuo Eichmann, gracias a la crónica de Arendt, que terminaría siendo un estudio de las condicionantes que imponen los regímenes políticos al ser humano, se convirtió en el arquetipo Eichmann: un ser ansioso por conseguir el aplauso de sus superiores, un hombre incapaz de cuestionar su condición de engranaje al interior de la maquinaria del Estado, una persona vencida por la conciencia de su época: “Lo que me tranquilizaba era no encontrar a nadie que se opusiera al exterminio”, un ciudadano que se limitaba a “cumplir con su deber, no sólo obedeciendo órdenes sino siguiendo a pie juntillas la ley”.
Iluminada por su increíble inteligencia, pero también por su asombrosa humanidad y por su deseo radical de comprender al otro, incluso si éste encarnaba a los verdugos de su pueblo, Arendt entendió una de las claves sin las cuales no seríamos capaces de leer el mundo que habitamos: sobre todo, Eichmann era un individuo imposibilitado para la relación con sus semejantes, un hombre atomizado por el totalitarismo que lo rodeaba y lo aplastaba, un ser humano del cual había sido arrancada toda capacidad de discernir sobre el bien o el mal que conllevaran sus actos y en quien el único imperativo categórico que quedaba era el siguiente: “Compórtate de tal manera, que si el Führer te viera aprobara tus actos”.
En su momento, la tesis fundamental de Arendt en torno a la banalidad del mal: hay situaciones en las que el actuar de los seres humanos responde, fundamentalmente, a las reglas impuestas por el sistema al cual pertenecen, fue recibida con polémica, por no decir con rechazo. Por suerte, la filósofa alemana siguió adelante, demostrando que las situaciones extremas, es decir, los regímenes totalitarios —sean más o menos explícitos y muestren el rostro que muestren— generan siempre situaciones de desconexión y aislamiento entre los seres humanos, desconexión y aislamiento que no generan sino indiferencia y soledad, la misma indiferencia y la misma soledad que engendran seres sumisos.
Sesenta y cinco años después de que Arendt publicara su libro, la idea de la banalidad del mal no sólo ha sido aceptada de manera generalizada, sino que se utiliza, como la pensadora alemana quería, como una herramienta de advertencia, es decir, como una forma de alerta ante la maldad reconvertida en maquinaria social. ¿Pero qué pasaría si invirtiéramos el último término y habláramos de la banalidad del bien? Es decir, ¿qué pasaría si fuéramos más allá del territorio explorado por Arendt y empezáramos a advertirnos sobre la bondad reconvertida en maquinaria social? Finalmente, como se asevera en Eichmann en Jerusalén, el individuo atomizado, indiferente y sumiso es incapaz de reconocer el mal, pero también el bien que conllevan sus actos.
¿Sería, en este sentido, la banalidad del bien una herramienta de advertencia sobre otra forma de totalitarismos? ¿Es posible que el bien, cuando no responde a la personalidad sino a una determinada maquinaria social, elimine el espacio entre los hombres, haciendo que éstos no se comuniquen entre sí ni se distingan de manera real, a pesar de que crean que se están comunicando y que se están distinguiendo? ¿Cuál es la posibilidad de que el bien, en tanto valor impuesto y en tanto búsqueda del aplauso y aceptación de la conciencia generalizada de una época, esté o ya haya abonado el terreno en el que los seres humanos dejaron o dejarán de interesarse en su vida y en cualquier otra vida concreta?
Pensemos, por ejemplo, en las redes sociales y en los avatares que ahí generamos, es decir, en la duplicación de la atomización, el gran paradigma de nuestra era, la era de la individualización al cuadrado: ¿no se elimina ahí, a través de una bondad vacía de sentido pero compartida por todos, el espacio entre los seres humanos? ¿Y la eliminación de este espacio, en tanto la bondad no nace en uno sino que es impuesta desde la máquina, no está generando una masa obediente, ciega y desconectada? ¿Una comunidad que no debe, como la sociedad nazi, sacrificarlo todo porque ya lo hemos hecho, sin enterarnos?
Teóricamente, el bien de nuestros actos nos acerca a los demás y genera, entre hombres y mujeres, reconocimiento, solidaridad y empatía. Esto depende, sin embrago, de que el bien nazca de nuestros actos. Pero hoy en día el bien parece ser, únicamente, una convención que responde, como el mal, a las reglas impuestas por el sistema al que pertenecemos. Sobre el bien, hace tiempo que no nos preguntamos. Convencidos de estarlo habitando, hemos dejado de construirlo.
Igual que el ser sometido por el mal, el ser-masa del bien, como demuestran, por ejemplo, los curas pederastas, sufre de falta de lazos reales, tanto físicos como emocionales, con todos los demás, incluida su gente cercana, es decir, sus amigos, su familia o su pareja. Y esta condición, nos demos cuenta o no, también insensibiliza, también nos vuelve sujetos conducidos y también nos reduce a la obediencia.
La banalidad del bien ha reducido el imperativo categórico a la frase: compórtate de tal manera, que si la masa te viera aprobara tus actos. ¿De qué otra forma nos podríamos explicar, si no es así, lo que sucedió en los días siguientes al secuestro en Iguala y a la posterior desaparición de los 43 estudiantes de la Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa?
Es decir, ¿cómo, si no a través de la banalidad del bien, justificamos que, mientras se buscaba a los muchachos, cada vez que aparecía una fosa y la autoridad anunciaba: no son ellos, la gente celebrara, en lugar de preguntarse: de quiénes son esos cuerpos?
Es momento de que la banalidad del bien, como sucedió con la banalidad del mal descrita por Arendt, deje de ser nuestra condición y se convierta en una advertencia.
Una advertencia que, por ejemplo, nos haga dudar: ¿a quién le sirve decir: “el pueblo bueno”?