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Crushed for the Light
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There are lives that are lessons. The late Henry Knobil’s was one. He was born in Vienna in 1932. His father had come there in the 1920s to escape the rising tide of antisemitism in Poland, but like Jacob fleeing from Esau to Laban, he found that he had fled one danger only to arrive […]
Why We Value What We Make
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The behavioural economist Dan Ariely did a series of experiments on what is known as the IKEA effect, or “why we overvalue what we make.” The name comes, of course, from the store that sells self-assembly furniture. For practically-challenged people like me, putting an item of furniture together is usually like doing a giant jigsaw […]
The Power of Empathy
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William Ury, founder of the Harvard Program of Negotiation, tells a marvellous story in one of his books.[1] A young American, living in Japan to study aikido, was sitting one afternoon in a train in the suburbs of Tokyo. The carriage was half empty. There were some mothers with children, and elderly people going shopping. Then […]
The Bond of Loyalty and Love
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In the course of any life there are moments of awe and amazement when, with a full heart, you thank God shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazeman hazeh, “who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day.” Two that particularly stand out in my own memory were separated by almost ten years. The […]
The Longer, Shorter Road
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At the end of his new book, Tribe of Mentors, Timothy Ferris cites the following poem by Portia Nelson. It’s called ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’: Chapter 1: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost… I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes […]
The Story We Tell
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It remains one of the most counterintuitive passages in all of religious literature. Moses is addressing the Israelites just days before their release. They have been exiles for 210 years. After an initial period of affluence and ease, they have been oppressed, enslaved, and their male children killed in an act of slow genocide. Now, […]
Freewill: Use It or Lose It
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In parshat Va’era we read for the first time, not of Pharaoh hardening his heart but of God doing so: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” said God to Moses, “and multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 7:3). And so indeed we find in the sixth plague, boils (Ex. 9:12), the […]
God Loves Those Who Argue
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I have become increasingly concerned about the assault on free speech taking place throughout the West, particularly in university campuses.[1] This is being done in the name of “safe space,” that is, space in which you are protected against hearing views which might cause you distress, “trigger warnings”[2] and “micro-aggressions,” that is, any remark that someone might […]
What it Takes to Forgive
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Joseph forgives. That, as I have argued before, was a turning point in history. For this was the first recorded act of forgiveness in literature. It is important here to make a key distinction between forgiveness, which is characteristic of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and the appeasement of anger, which is a human universal. People are constantly […]
The First Psychotherapist
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The phrase “Jewish thinker” may mean two very different things. It may mean a thinker who just happens to be Jewish by birth or descent – a Jewish physicist, for example – or it may refer to someone who has contributed specifically to Jewish thought: like Judah Halevi or Maimonides. The interesting question is: is […]