On “The Good Place” Chapter 7 is the classic lying episode, and on the podcast Rebecca Rosenthal and I jump off from the Talmud’s analysis of white lies to talk about truth and relationships, how and when we tell people important truths, and how truth emerges between people not just by telling.
(Also the Klingon death ritual....)
The new episode is published!!! Listen and read the show notes here!
Rabbi Dan Ross and I co-host once again. On “The Good Place”, Eleanor tries both to keep and not keep her promises to Michael — and on the podcast, Dan and I trade stories of dog-watching gone wrong and explore why promising is such a big, Yom-Kippur-level matter in Judaism. (That's Dan below!)
Leslie and I experimented with the readings for a short opening unit on how to study America. I advocated the first year for excerpts from the political philosopher Michael Walzer's Interpretation and Social Criticism. Walzer articulated the idea of the "connected critic", someone who was inside a society enough to be committed to its people and its narrative and its articulated values, and able to criticize in the name of those values and out of shared commitment. It's when Rev. King said that his dream was "deeply rooted in the American dream", even as he called out America. For Walzer, the alternative is the disconnected critic who might not care enough about fellow citizens and/or who speaks a language entirely foreign to the society the critic hopes to change or improve. Another alternative of course is someone so identified with things as is that they cannot criticize at all.
I wanted our students to see themselves as connected critics of America. It was a bit easier to articulate for American Jewish students, for whom inside-outside is already set up.
"Connected critic" is always a position of built-in tension. It's a challenge to nurture your own connection and your critical outlook. Particularly when you are just learning about your own history, and the history of your own society.
In the past few years, the "connected critic" view of founding American ideals has been called into question, and I am hoping for a way to vindicate it nonetheless. Does Thomas Jefferson's slaveholding mean that "created equal.... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are bankrupt? I accept the challenge of those who answer yes. I have to consider the alternative, and/or come up with an account of the citizen as connected critic that does not whitewash anything.
That's Rabbi Sari Laufer, my partner for Chapter 5 of Tov!
"To Measure or Not to Measure" -- on “The Good Place” Eleanor is excited when she is polite for the first time without thinking, Tahani’s philanthropy doesn't score enough points with her parents or the algorithm, and Chidi doesn’t find pleasure in doing the most good. So on the podcast Jon has his first stomach ache and Sari Laufer (new rabbi on the team) helps us think more about where measuring goodness does and doesn’t make sense. Oh, and where intellectual vs. sensual pleasure fits in!
Check it out here or wherever you get podcasts!
On “The Good Place” Michael tries to guide Chidi and Janet toward new things, but it’s Eleanor who finds unexpected inspiration because of Tahani. So on the podcast, Jon Spira-Savett and Audrey Marcus Berkman explore reincarnation Jewish-style and who the teacher you need turns out to be.
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If you're a fan of "The Good Place" and at all connected to Jews or Judaism, try out my new podcast that I'm creating with a bunch of colleagues!
Tov! is on all the major podcast platforms, and it will be a fun and interesting way to explore some Jewish texts and ideas. Check out the website for episodes and show notes, or search for it in your app and try it out!
It's launching right as we begin Elul, the month in the Jewish calendar leading to Rosh Hashanah. This is the time of year when we're all Eleanor Shellstrop, trying to improve our lives as though everything is in the balance.
Posted at 11:06 AM in Calendar, Education, Ethics, Foregiveness, Gossip, Harry Potter, High Holidays, Holidays, Hope, Jewish Education, Lashon Hara, Leadership, Middot, Rosh Hashanah, Soul, Study, Talmud, Television, Teshuvah, Tikkun Olam, Tzedakah, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Yamim Noraim, Young Jewish Adult, Youth | Permalink | Comments (0)
I'm going to dip my toes into Clubhouse this week, and talk with anyone who shows up about the D'var Torah I promised to complete when I spoke last week. If you're on Clubhouse find my room "Help Me Write My Shabbat Sermon!" Friday at 1pm eastern time. Or feel free to read this and add your comments here.
I want to continue to delve into this passage from the Haggadah:
אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן־עֲזַרְיָה הֲרֵי אֲנִי כְּבֶן שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְלֹא זָכִיתִי שֶׁתֵּאָמֵר יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם בַּלֵּילוֹת עַד שֶׁדְּרָשָׁהּ בֶּן זוֹמָא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ הַיָּמִים. כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ הַלֵּילוֹת. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ לְהָבִיא לִימוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ:
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said:
Look, I am something like 70 years old -- or, I am as though 70 years old
And I didn't merit to understand -- or, I didn't merit to persuade others that the law should be
That the Exodus from Egypt should be said at night, until Ben Zoma derived it from this verse:
"In order that you shall remember the day of your leaving the land of Egypt all the days of your life"
"The days of your life" means the days; "All the days of your life" adds the nights.
And the Sages [as a group] say:
"The days of your life" means this world; "All the days of your life" means to bring/to include the days of the Messiah.
So, who was Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah in his time, and how old was he really, and what is the difference between seeing the Exodus as a daytime or a nighttime story or memory.... These are literary and philosophical but also very political questions too. Thoughts?
This is the note I sent out to our congregation on Friday, March 26, 2021 as we get ready for Pesach to begin.
I have a short Pesach agenda to share with you below, but first: I realized a couple days ago how much I want Pesach this year to be like Chanukkah.
There's no way, at least for me, that everything meaningful is going to happen in the few hours of the two Seders. Chanukkah is something we anticipate, we prepare for, and it's not over all at once. We come back for something each day; we do something each day.
Actually that's been a theme of the Jewish year of 5781. I wanted to teach you to think not about just Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but about the season of Elul and Tishrei. I put out a dozen daily teachings before and after Purim last month.
Truth be told, I've been having trouble planning my Seders this year. This year there's so much to reflect on through the lens of the Exodus story and rituals. So much to teach the next generation. And that's compounded by the disappointment of not being able to have Seders the way I love to yet again, and the complexity of orchestrating the usual conversation around my Seder tables at home and at the synagogue.
What unlocked me, finally, is realizing that Pesach is not just a day or two. The Seders can plant some spiritual spring seeds for each of us to tend and nurture during the whole week of Pesach. Here are my suggestions for the coming week:
1. Whatever you do for Seder this year is what you are supposed to be doing.
Whether you're Zooming, or gathering with a small group safely, or having a quiet meal and reading something meaningful to yourself, it will be special because you're able to do it.
If you'd like some help, our Pesach page is full of resources that literally lead you through a Seder, by audio or video, whether it's for half an hour or a couple of hours.
2. However you mark the Seder, keep in mind the people who are having Seders differently.
In Egypt on the night of the very first Pesach, people were separated into households or maybe ate with one other family. But they knew they were part of a whole nation doing that, and that they would see everyone else in the morning in a great march.
We are a community, and each of us is somewhere different on the long path to physical togetherness. Have other people and groups of us in your awareness, however you yourself are doing the Seder. We will one day march together, hopefully soon.
3. Learn and think this week about some nuance in the original story of the Exodus.
If you haven't done this in a while, take some time during the weekend or the week to read chapters 1-4 and 12 in the book of Exodus, the most important book in history. You will for sure find something that startles you -- about a character, a twist in the narrative, a motivation. You'll wonder why something is told in just this way. So much about our world and our own souls today is revealed in the wording on these verses.
4. Reflect on life during the pandemic in light of the metaphors and symbols of Pesach.
Remember when leavened products were hard to come by a year ago -- flour, pasta, bread? Each of the symbols of the Seder plate and many aspects of the Exodus narrative are a prompt to bore into some aspect of the pandemic experience. All you have to do is pick one of them and ask: how does this relate? How does this help me clarify something important in my life or my ethical philosophy?
5. Think about Exodus and something happening in the world now.
It’s been a remarkable year since last Pesach in terms of our awareness of issues of justice, oppression, freedom, and suffering. Who in the wider nation and world is profoundly in Egypt? Who in the world is most profoundly a Miryam or a Moshe right now?
* * * * *
Pesach is a great gift to us, and through us to our community and the world. The Seder nights whets our appetite with the Exodus story, and the week keeps us chewing on it.
Wishing you a zissen Pesach, a sweet Passover festival,