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AUG 29, 2023 -12 ELUL 5783

08/29/2023 03:19:33 PM

Aug29

If you attend services at CBI, you might have gotten the idea that popular songs from Broadway and the years between the World Wars pop into my head regularly. They do, like elevator music that intrudes. I’m lucky it’s not acid rock, which would be more intrusive.

These older songs resonate because they speak to the inner life of mind and emotion. Last week, for instance, the playback loop stuck on Edith Piaf’s Rien de Rien. Here are the lyrics:

Non, rien de rien

Non, je ne regrette de rien

Ni le bon qu’on m’a fait

Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal

No, absolutely nothing

No, I regret nothing

Not the good things that have happened

Nor the bad, it’s all the same to me.

Featured in a film in 1960, the song tells a life story, perhaps Piaf’s own, which was far from easy. So, you might ask, why does it stick with me? Why does it bubble to the surface in the preparatory weeks before the days of awe?

There is a big difference between the two cultural mindsets at play. Piaf’s dissolute life, of lovers discarded and Ill-chosen liaisons are well documented. My task is not to simply lay the past aside, nor think m’shaneh makom, m’shaneh mazel — change locations to find better luck. My task is to recount what has happened and learn of my contribution to the events in preparation for the future.

I take it quite seriously!

One element of that seriousness is strictly theological. If I accept the boundaries of my influence and control in life, even if I follow science, logic and research to the outer limits of thought, I cannot fully fathom or remove doubt. That unexplained area, no matter how small remains. My sense of life’s calculus calls it infinity. Traditional theology might call it Eyn sof, a substitute name for God.

A second part is human psychology. Seeking to understand why I act as I do— my drives and passions, my choices good and less so — the occasions to consider my place and possible contribution arise regularly. What can I direct? Is there a better way to achieve my goal? Is there a time to act, or one not to act?

These psychological approaches are ageless and timeless. Halacha—which has a vote but no veto in my thinking—suggests that we differentiate between kum v’aseh and shev v’al ta’aseh. That means, first decide whether to act/interfere, then choose a course of action tradition could find sacred.

And third, human sociology asks me to consider the context of each situation. Even strict halachists allow breaches in urgent matters. I read of one recently: if you are reciting your prayers, it taught, and the local authority walks by, although one is forbidden to interrupt that prayer, in this case do so: in short, sin now that another opportunity can arise to properly complete the obligation.

That sin will have consequences. And fortunately, we are given the chance to atone. It makes sense to me, though it is better not to need to offer an apology. On an ad hoc basis, we choose life.

May your inscription be for good. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784