This is, of course, the time of the year for reflection and self-examination. Amongst the things I ask myself is why do I keep on writing my weekly pieces?
It has been ten years since I started sending out weekly comments on the Torah by email. That morphed into weekly essays on Jewish topics, and then turned into what is now called a blog. I have been at it ever since. Some of what I have written I am proud of, some of it happy with, and some of it embarrassed by. I can see how uneven it has been, ranging from the angry to the whimsical to the frustrated to the amused, to the sad and the happy. The overwhelming emotion I have is that it is fun. I enjoy it. Otherwise I would not do it.
I am not commercial. I am not selling or representing any institution or movement. I don’t publicize myself or sell myself. I am here for those who are interested. So what am I trying to achieve?
I do not fit easily into any box or category, religiously, politically or socially. My blog posts are not conventional comments on the weekly reading of the Torah, although occasionally I do refer to them. There is a glut of such weekly offerings on the internet, ranging from the good to the bad, the rational to the mystical, the popular to the academic. I continue to do some of this, but rather as lectures that can go on for longer and go into the subject in greater depth and can be tailored to the specific cultural and religious contexts of whomever the audience happens to be.
Similarly, I choose not to write academically because there too one needs more space and time. Besides, the academic world, Jewish and otherwise, has its rituals and technicalities, its terminologies, its disciplines, and its fundamental assumptions. Only a career academic or an academic manque would be interested in being circumscribed by them.
The same goes for the Torah World. It would hate to be compared in any way to the academic, but it too has its conventions, its nostra, its styles and its disciplines.
Anyone who fears for his job in the rabbinate or his career in Jewish communal life (won’t even touch the ghastly world of Jewish politicians), and many do, is always conscious of who might be reading and what the consequences of offense might be. It may surprise you, but I have often been criticized for not being aggressive or combative enough. But I do not try to offend or to be controversial for controversy’s sake. I am a free-booting maverick and have always delighted in my freedom of conscience, thought, and expression. I realize how privileged I am to be able to think and write whatever I fancy.
I am also taken to task for levity. I write in a light vein for a very wide range of people, mainly Jewish, who live all round the world. Originally most of my readers were English; this is now no longer the case. Hence my adoption, with great reluctance, of American spelling! I want to entertain and stimulate and present my idiosyncratic ideas, events, and experiences that I enjoy and think might be interesting. This blog of mine is a way of bringing these issues to you laced with other stuff so that it doesn’t get too boring, predictable, or didactic–though as a teacher I always try to teach.
In fact everything I write is related in one way or another to my religious commitment. I try to see a spiritual dimension in whatever I come across that arouses my interest or, alternatively, offends my values. It all can be related to what we call God, one way or another, even if the offenders are apparently His faithful followers.
As a Jew, I am surprised and sad to discover how much Jews are still so hated by so many. As a religious man, I am upset by the constant abuses of religious authority. As a supporter of the Jewish right to self-determination and a historical homeland, I am upset by the tensions, violence, misinformation, errors, and stupidity on all sides in the Middle East. And as a citizen of the world, I am aghast at the political corruption, lies, deceptions, and blindness that characterizes all political systems, even if some are less obnoxious than others.
I know there are others like me, who love life but feel disenchanted with systems and hypocrisies. I see my task as offering solace, companionship, and reinforcement to those who, like me, cannot stand humbug no matter how many others seem willing to lap it all up. I know I have given support and encouragement to some of my coreligionists who feel isolated, perhaps lonely, and definitely out of sympathy with the extremes of fundamentalism on the one hand and of assimilation on the other.
I am a chronicler. Perhaps one day some historian might look back and find my work an interesting comment on our transient times. I know I cannot change the world. I have failed to change my religion.
As the Talmud puts it with regard to this time of the year, there are a few saints (tzaddikim) and a few really evil people (rashayim), but most of us are in the middle. We are the beinonim. That’s where I belong and that is the world I am addressing and expressing. That is the free, independent viewpoint, the quiet still voice amongst all the noisy shrill salesmen pushing their products.
Fast well–I mean productively, cathartically–and meditate rather than recite!