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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Dangerous phrase, popular as it may be, contradicts everything we know about the human experience

By Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb


Open minded idea from Bigstock



A philosophy worth embracing derived from one of the most misunderstood -- and maligned -- portions of the Bible


JewishWorldReview.com | There is a phrase that one hears quite commonly nowadays: "It is what it is." There is something that has always disturbed me about that phrase.

To me, the phrase seems to be stating that things will remain as they are and that there is no possibility for change. It conveys a sense of resignation and suggests that one must accept the status quo. The implicit lesson is that one should not expect circumstances to change for the better or, for that matter, for the worse.

In spite of its popularity, the phrase contradicts everything we know about the human experience. We know that things change. People change, circumstances change. Our social surroundings, and even our natural environment, change all the time. Heraclitus was certainly correct when he said that one cannot step into the same river twice.

I would not bother to protest the statement, however false I think it is, were I not convinced that it is more than untrue—it is quite dangerous. I base this conviction on a fundamental distinction which goes back to the early traditional Jewish works and reflected in the Greek philosophers as well.

I refer to the distinction between actual and potential. This distinction is especially significant when we assess ourselves or judge other individuals. We can consider what we or they are today, overlooking the fact that there is potential for us and them to develop into quite different sorts of people.

I sometimes ponder this distinction when I consider contemporary military situations. For example, the State of Israel today faces a serious military threat from Iran. Today, at this very moment in time, there is little, if any, actual danger. But the potential for very great danger certainly exists. It is the potential, in this case, which might very well justify a preemptive strike against future capacities of a hostile Iran.

The moral justification of a preemptive war necessitates that we reject the implications of "it is what it is," and instead imagine what things might be like if the current potential became actual.

In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), we encounter an example of a preemptive strike not against a vicious enemy, but against a mere child. Just several verses from the beginning of our parsha, in verse 18, we read of the ben sorer u'moreh, the "stubborn and rebellious son, that will not hearken to the voice of his father, nor the voice of his mother, and though they chasten him, he will not hearken unto them."

Which parent has not encountered some stubbornness and rebelliousness in even the best behaved of his or her children? But the son who is described in this week's Torah portion goes a bit too far. He raids his mother's purse or his father's wallet, steals some money, and purchases a small quantity of meat and consumes it, and a half measure of wine and imbibes it, perhaps becoming a bit tipsy in the process. Are we not astonished to read that this young boy is to be stoned to death, that the evil he represents is to be eliminated from our midst, and that we all must learn the lesson of his behavior and its consequences?


Of course, we are astonished, as were the rabbis of old. They responded with two teachings: first of all, this boy's punishment is not the result of his actual behavior, but rather because of the inevitable potential that he would one day "become a bandit, and lie in wait at the crossroads and steal from wayfarers."

They further insisted that the entire passage of the "stubborn and rebellious son" is totally hypothetical. "It never happened and never will happen." They instruct us that the passage was written just so that we reflect theoretically upon its implications, but not that we actually administer such harsh punishment.

If the "stubborn and rebellious son" provides us an example of how we must take a person's potential for evil into account, the story of Ishmael provides an opposite lesson, namely that we must assess a person in terms of his current behavior and not anticipate his potential.

Thus, in Genesis 21:17, where the young Ishmael is about to die of thirst in the desert, his mother Hagar is assured by the angel that God has heard his prayers and that he will survive: "…For the Divine has heard the voice of the lad where he is."

Our rabbis note that despite the fact that Ishmael was destined to become an arch foe of the Jewish people, he was judged as a young boy dying of thirst in the wilderness. He was judged "where he is," in terms of the actual Ishmael, and not in terms of the potential one.


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Numerous commentators, Chizkuni and Rabbi Obadiah Sforno among them, have offered explanations as to why the "stubborn and rebellious son" was judged in terms of his potential for evil, whereas Ishmael was given the benefit of being judged in terms of his actual innocence. These commentators suggest that Ishmael demonstrated, by the honor he gave to his mother Hagar and to his father Abraham, that he possessed potential for both good and bad, whereas, in the words of Sforno, "the very rebelliousness of (the wayward son) removed all hope that he would one day change his stubborn ways."

The biblical texts discussed above are open to various interpretations. As we saw, the sages of the Talmud instructed us to reflect well upon the lessons of the "stubborn and rebellious son," but they did not clearly enunciate what those lessons are. That they left for us to ponder.

From a pedagogical and parental perspective, it is clear that we must always consider the potential that our students and children possess. That master pedagogue, who preached in the darkest days of the Warsaw ghetto and eventually perished at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust, Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, would meet with his young adolescent students as they entered his yeshiva and encourage them to envision who they might be in a year, in two years, and in five years. He would then gently tell them that he would not be dealing with them as they were then but, rather, as they might be in the future.

Sadly, in his case, both the master and the majority of his numerous disciples did not survive long enough to realize the potential that they each envisioned. But we, children and grandchildren of survivors, can take the lesson to heart.

When dealing with others, we must forget about the slogan "it is what it is." It is a false and invidious slogan. I offer an alternative slogan: "It is what it could become."

Comment by clicking here.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, PhD is currently the Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union.


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Previously:



Material success carries theological weight?
Is it appropriate to practice religion only for its health benefits?
When I didn't so 'humbly disagree'
The Inspired Loner
Words of Fire
Redemption
When the utopian idealist met the hardnosed realist in the park
Worrying about idolatry
What Moses knew about motivation
Commuting and Commenting: Conversations of a Life in Motion
Unanswered prayers force unlearning lessons
Dogs, too, have pedigrees
Count Me In
Open Eyes, and an Open Heart

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© 2013, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

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