Sunday, August 11, 2013

What I Believe

What I Believe

  • God holds all in His hands, upholding, enabling every moment.
  • We truly receive all from God's hands.
  • Like Milarepa, we can and must learn from ALL things.
  • Chafetz Chaim is right, we need to truly watch our tongues every moment of every day and not use them to ridicule, disparage or embarrass anyone.
  • We are loved. We are God's children. We are sanctified. All people, all life.
  • Humility before wisdom, before Scripture is true wisdom.
  • We need a Halachah to help us understand our role as receivers of the gift of life.
  • Since the "Torah is not in heaven," we have a duty to create chiddushin (novel interpretations), to continuously interpret from within the tradition with complete reverence and humility.
  • We are here to learn, grow and give.
  • Like Ronald Johnson's Ark, we must bring everything into the poem that we create of our lives.

What would you add?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

From "Hurrah for Euphony"

"Conjured from eye, ear, and intellect, words are best when they push and jostle, sharpen wit, condense wisdom."

"The task is to thread the labyrinth, rattle the Minotaur of truth."

"Condense everything into a ball, and throw it."

"Walt and Emily are the twin fonts of American poetry. And Protestants, like our founders, in the sense of protest against status quo — both grounded in scripture but bound for rapture. They redefined the world around them, Walt wanting to create a voice for the Nation, and Emily hugging inner horizon."

"Don’t worry, if you read, books will find you."

"Another path is to simply see as much as possible, be sentinel for incidence."

"Perhaps our beginning was the painter Degas remarking to Mallarmé he’d always wanted to write a poem, but could never get an idea for one. Mallarmé’s answer was “Poems, my dear Degas, are not made out of ideas, they are made with words.” I would add, yes, but ideas are their armature, the unseen engine, what makes the merry-go-round go round. Learn to use words first — later you’ll have ideas."

"I believe in form and make up my own rules."

"Olson warned against adjectives as leaking energy from matters at hand, and on the whole he is right — distrust anything which impedes the flow."

"Blake insisted all art, visual or verbal, should have a “wiry bounding line.” He said we should take an abstract and give it form and human sinew, voice. He believed the perfect world was the imagination. You have only to connect with it, the more you see, the more you can, led to another Eden."


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Rav Rosensweig, Yevamos and me

To be honest I was not excited when I realized that this year at YU they are studying Yevamos, which is the tractate on the topic of yibum, in which the brother of a man who died without children has an obligation to marry the widow.

It is one of the tractates that during the daf yomi cycle I studied a bit and in some ways to me exemplifies the seemingly trivial and overly complex nature of Talmud study.

At first I had decided that I would not try to follow along with Rav Rosensweig, but after listening to his
introduction, I am re-energized. As always he did an amazing job in beginning to explain the overall importance of yevamos.

History of the Torah She'be'al Peh (Oral Torah)

Just finished this 7-part series History of the Torah She'be'al Peh by Rabbi Hershel Schachter. He did a great job in exploring the history, while also explaining most of the Hebrew terms as we went through.

He also helped me want to dig into the book,
The Path of Torah, by the Netziv, which I did not realize was the Netziv's discussion of Torah She'be'al Peh.

The whole Oral Torah tradition makes me appreciation the creativity of Judaism and the immense honor and respect the tradition gives to the study and explication of Torah.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great Hans Urs von Balthasar resource

I believe I have seen this page before, but it has definitely improved.

Lots of wonderful Hans Urs von Balthasar articles and resources.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rav Kook on universalism

Now one might receive the mistaken impression that the Torah endorses this attitude [that nations compete against one another] whereby we should assign a greater value to our own people’s good than to the welfare of others. After all, the Torah commands the Children of Israel to conquer the land from the indigenous nations. But this is clearly unacceptable! How could God, Whose mercy extends to all His creations, oppress His own handiwork?! How could the Most High command that we remove from our hearts the well being of the entire human race for our own selfish good?! Therefore, at the time the covenant was first established with our ancestor Abraham, a divine protest was lodged: The very thought of nationalism is despicable to God, for He equates all mankind. The goal is to seek the true success of all God’s creations. True justice means that one views with equal concern the advancement of the entire human race.

Where then does the the notion of the “Chosen People” enter? The Jews were elected to work at uplifting the entire human race; to bring humanity to the goal the Almighty expects of it. Israel were set aside as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” A kingdom of priests ministers to the other nations in order to morally perfect them. So the separation from the nations is itself the greatest unification, in order to benefit the human race. However, if Israel will desert the good, which is the holy Torah, then its nationhood and its territorialism are an abomination before God. It is inconceivable that for the sake of a people’s natural self-love, other nations should be displaced. All are God’s handiwork. Israel must know that no permission was granted to displace a nation for the sake of national self-aggrandizement. There is one form of justice, whether it be on the individual or collective level.Therefore, several times over, the Torah links the giving of the land to the observance of Torah. Without the raison d’etre of Torah, the setting apart of one nation, would be considered an injustice.

(From the book 'In the Desert – A Vision') Parashat Vayishlah

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rav Amital on the Fear of God

Rav Amital:

The basic level of the fear of God is a similar feeling. We nullify ourselves in the face of His great exaltedness as our Creator and as our Father, because of whose abundant love we are called His sons, and upon whose loving-kindness we rely in every step that we take. Thus, there arises within us a feeling of absolute commitment to God, to obey Him and accept His commands as self-evident, and to do whatever finds favor in His eyes.

Obviously, this feeling requires constant nurturing, and it is our obligation to take steps to intensify this feeling of commitment. It must be emphasized, however, that we are not dealing here merely with a decision to accept commitment, for our goal is that this sense of commitment be transformed into a natural feeling that is constantly with us, this being the fear of God. The more deeply we experience this feeling, the closer we will come to loving and fearing Him.

The Alter of Slobodka:

The Torah is not describing life that is restricted or petty, a life of crude and cheap desires that run about in man's heart and confine him in narrow and suffocating straits. A Torah life is illuminated by God's light; it opens up wide expanses before man, broadening his heart and soul. His eyes will see all the worlds, and his thoughts will encompass eternity. A life of Torah is so pure and pleasant that it does not contain even the slightest unpleasantness – spiritual or material.


By Harav Yehuda Amital

LECTURE #1b: The Fear of God in Our Time Part 2 of 2

The Vibrancy of the Conversation

I can't believe that it has been almost exactly ONE year since I have posted anything to this blog.

Over the last year my explorations have taken me deep into Lutheran theology and I have gotten a profound sense of the trust and faith that the Lutheran tradition has in God's "promise" of the forgiveness of sins and justification. It is that sense of trust and faith as well as the humorous and down-to-earth nature of the professors who I have loved to listen from Concordia Seminary on iTunes. Their overall sense of humor and joy is truly infectious.

I have also turned to the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in DC, which offers graduate classes that often refer to one of my true spiritual guides: Hans Urs von Balthasar. Sadly, the Institute does not provide any MP3s of their classes, so instead I have read a number of works from their professors. Most recently, I have been reading Being Holy in the World, a collection of essays on the work of David L Schindler. What I find inspiring is Schindler's commitment to the ontological reality of love and relation as exemplified by the triune relation of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how they in fact affect all of reality: physical, mental and spiritual.

And then there is Torah! As I am sure I have commented many times within this blog, since I am not Jewish and certainly not Orthodox, I always wonder what brings me back to sites like:

The simple answer is the Vibrancy of the Conversation!

I am someone who loves study and loves God, and at times can get bored with one approach or one direction. The thousands and thousands of shiurim that are available on Gemara, Chumash, Jewish Thought, Halachah, etc. provide a partner to learn from and even argue with.

As the new school year begins at Yeshiva University, I look forward to engaging with many of the new shiurim and joining the conversation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thoughts from the road . . .

My wife and I went to visit some friends in Geneva this weekend and while she drove (she is a much better driver than I), I wrote down these thought on my Blackberry:

Recently I have been reading and listening to a lot of Lutheran theology from the Missouri Synod and the Australian Lutheran Church. Both of which are conservative interpretations of the tradition.

At the heart of what I have been studying is the notion of "inaugurated eschatology" or "proleptic eschatology". This is a wonderful notion that the Kingdom of God was actually begun or inaugurated by Jesus. And while the full eschaton or end times will be far more wonderful, the change has already begun, though as Dr Voelz says, "not without remainder."

Therefore, the world has not been totally transformed, but in some way the transformation has already happened. This thought challenges me to see myself, others and all of creation as fully loved, fully one and fully whole with Christ; justified as the Lutherans would say.

It is a wonderful way of understanding how our prayer and meditation is not dependent on us and our "getting it right", but instead it is a matter of "receiving" what is always flowing toward us, due to union with Christ and the Holy Spirit that came to us at baptism. I am attracted to this notion of the very everydayness of our dialogue and union with God, since I have always struggled with meditation and prayer.

It is with this view and understanding that traditional Lutherans read the Scriptures, both the Jewish and Christian. This perspective also enables one to interpret the people, incidents and institutions within the Jewish scriptures as "types" that point to Jesus and the New Testament. Lutheran interpreters do this (at least in the Concordia Commentary series) with much love and respect for the texts themselves, as well as for the God, who lives and speaks throughout the texts.

Then today I have been reading the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which as the subtitle says is "The Code of Jewish Law". The sections I have been reading are about Shabbat. And as anyone who knows anything about Jewish law can imagine, the discussions on what one can and cannot do on Shabbat are incredibly involved and complex, even about "simple" things like asking a non-Jew to fix the wick of a candle to improve the light, and on and on.

Of course, I do not have to live these rules and from outside it feels like one could become easily paralyzed trying to decide what is the right thing to do.

However, I LOVE the profound attempt to understand and live in a way that fulfills God's wishes. In fact, many of the laws are actually not in the Bible, but were defined by Rabbinic decree to put a "fence" around the Biblical laws to protect folks from even getting close to breaking a commandment.

As I was reading about the rules for Shabbat today, I couldn't help compare this Orthodox Jewish approach to living a religious or spiritual life with the Lutheran conception of how Christ came to set right what had gone wrong and the Lutheran challenge to us to understand and live in a way that recognizes our justification and has eyes to see the foretaste of the Resurrection of all of creation that Christ inaugurated.

Could they be more different?

And while I am not ready to accept the "yoke of the Torah", I must admit I find the concern for and love of Hashem's Torah awe inspiring, even if the reality is that there seems like there is often much conflict and bitterness between different groups of Torah-observant Jews.

The Lutheran message is also wonderful in its challenge to us to see with new eyes, but it also feels too easy to allow it to be a nice slogan without it actually affecting our lives (of course this is a gross generalization). While the Torah tradition seems so in your face that one cannot live without it affecting one's life, though perhaps one could go through the motions without it affecting one's heart.

Both are profound traditions that ask much of their members, not like some of New Age or "prosperity" spiritualities that are popular today. In fact, as Rav Rosensweig often discusses, the Torah asks for a "maximal" response or commitment. Today, many might equate a maximal commitment with some type of fanaticism, but instead I find it a call to love God with one's whole heart, soul and strength . . . what a beautiful ideal to live up to!

And if we accept the idea that if for one moment Hashem/God would withhold his presence and love from creation then everything would immediately cease to exist and that we God's beloved creatures made in God's image, is a maximal commitment and response of gratitude and obedience too much to expect? We are given so much (in fact everything), can we not give much in return?

Today, I began to listen to Rav Rosensweig's begin shiur on the second chapter of the Pesachim tractate and immediately realized how little I could follow even though I have been listening to him off and on for years. What that made me think is that perhaps the Lutheran message of all being given and the need to "merely" respond and receive that I hear in the book by John Kleinig in his book
Grace Upon Grace is the most empowering and truly "maximal" message, because it puts the maximal power and effort into God's hands -- challenging our maximal response to be one of openness and receptivity. The radical simplicity of this message is perhaps too easy to dismiss and ignore as I search for something to do other than receive the "grace upon grace" that God is giving.

These words from Kleinig's book summarizes much of what I have written:
"The teaching of Jesus on meditation does not concentrate on what we do but on what He does as we meditate on His Word; the emphasis is on what we receive from Him and His heavenly Father as we let Him and His Word occupy our hearts. By meditating on His Word we receive what He has to give us through it."
What needs to be made clear is that for Rev Kleinig "His Word" does not simply mean the words of Jesus or just those of the New Testament, but the also encompass the Hebrew scriptures as well, which is made clear by Rev Kleinig's commentary on Leviticus that he wrote for the Concordia Commentary series. Both scriptures are the Word that point to the triune God who loves us beyond our imagination.

Another passage from Rev Kleinig that speaks to me:
"I assume that I don't know how to pray or what to pray for; instead, I look for guidance from God's Word and the Holy Spirit. Praying, then, comes as a gift rather than a demand."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A "rule" that I found

A few years ago I was very interested in monastic rules (Carmelite, Benedictine, etc.). Today as I was moving a whole variety of texts onto my iTouch to read I found this. I know I have not lived up to it, but I can try.

A Wild Rule – The Vows

  • To be open life’s mystery
  • To experience life with awe and wonder
  • To dwell in the paradox of understanding and uncertainty
  • To bless all that life brings
  • To feel the presence in the present of the gift of God
  • To experience holiness everywhere and at all times
  • To recognize that life is simply full of meaning
  • To experience each moment as a miracle
  • To know that everything and every moment is a teacher
  • To dwell in emptiness
  • To strive to be my mission
  • To welcome messengers/angels
  • To repair the world
  • To continually yearn for God
  • To hunger for Spirit
  • To love
  • To recognize the importance of humility
  • To surrender to the need to surrender
  • To be open and ready for change
  • To continually transform
  • To bear the Cross
  • To speak meaningfully
  • To protect life
  • To speak supportively
  • To rejoice in others’ success
  • To love God with all my heart, with all my soul and all my strength
  • To study, contemplate and reflect
  • To pursue the beloved everywhere
  • To be fully truthful
  • To stop all negative thoughts
  • To be aware of the inevitability of death
  • To pray constantly
  • To practice the art of giving and taking

Monday, May 24, 2010

Current explorations

I have not posted anything for months. One reason may be that I have been very busy at my work (probably working harder than I ever have). But I have also not had a clear focus in my study. This blog has always contained my Talmudic/Jewish reflections, but recently I have also been drifting toward John Russell Brown's writings on Shakespeare here, here and here, a book on Everyday Aesthetics, even the Concordia Bible Commentary, but never with much focus or passion.

In fact, I haven't even been listening to many shiurim; instead I have been listening to audiobooks from

A couple blogs that I have been following (which couldn't be more different) are:

Dr. Alan Brill's The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: notes on Jewish theology and spirituality. Rabbi Brill taught at Yeshiva University (you can still download a few of his classes from there. He is amazingly well read and has a profound interest in meditation and Jewish theology and has recently published: Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding. His blog is a wide ranging reflection on the contemporary religion scene with some focus on the divergences and similarities between Evangelical Christianity and Orthodox Judaism.

The other is Gil Baille's: Reflections on Faith and Culture. Bailie is the author of Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads, a profound reflection on the work of Rene Girard. Gil's blog, as the title states, looks at today's society and finds many issues to raise. While I find him too conservative at times for me, I respect his concern and his appreciation of one of my favorite thinkers, Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Friends from the past

My old classmates from grade school (1973) have found each other through Facebook. It has been fun to reconnect. Quite a group and perhaps since I grew up in Los Angeles, it is not surprising there are actors and producers and Disney and Universal execs in the group, even a winemaker (how cool is that), as well as folks like myself doing work we enjoy, but certainly wouldn't call a vocation.

And the kids! Everyone seems to be more fertile than barren me. It does make me sad in some ways, for all I have missed; but I also know that I appreciate the life I live and the experiences it provides.

Sadly two of our classmates have passed away, and one of them Steve Bolla was a good friend. I guess after 37 years, it is not surprising, but it doesn't make it any less of a reminder to appreciate the time we are given.

There is a reunion planned for August that I will be missing, but I am sure it will be a blast.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A wonderful phone call

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I am big fan of – it has tens of thousands of shiurim/lectures online and downloadable for free. One site that the YU site has led me to is – another resource of Jewish learning, which you have to register at to download MP3s for free.

Well, last night at around 9:00 PM our phone rang and I thought it had to be someone from the States. I answered and heard someone introduce themselves and say they were from calling from Montreal – at first I didn’t really understand and then I thought that they are just looking for money and probably be put off that I am not Jewish.

Well, 30 minutes later after a really fun and engaging conversation, we concluded and agreed to stay in touch. I think we were both surprised by each other. He seemed inspired and grateful for my knowledge and respect for traditional Judaism and learning. And I loved his enthusiasm and openness to me. While we hope to keep in touch, he said he is quite busy since he has 11 children!

A lovely call.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Disarming ourselves

I read this the other day and loved it. It comes from a favorite book of mine: Testimony of Hope by Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. It is a quote from the Great Patriarch Athenagoras:

We need to succeed in disarming ourselves.
I have fought this war. For years and years.
It was terrible. But now I’ve disarmed.
I am no longer afraid of anything,
because “love drives out fear.”
I am disarmed of the will to overcome,
to justify myself at the expense of others.
I am no longer on the alert,
jealously grasping my riches.
I welcome and I share.
I am not attached to my opinions, to my plans.
If other better proposals come to me,
I accept them willingly.
Or rather, not better, but good.
You know, I have given up comparisons. . . .
That which is good, true, real, wherever it is,
it is the best for me.
Therefore, I am no longer afraid.
When you no longer possess anything,
you no longer have fear.
“Who can separate us from the love of Christ?”
But if we disarm ourselves,
if we divest ourselves,
if we open ourselves to the God-man
who makes all things new,
then it is he who cancels our evil past
and gives back to us a new time
where everything is possible.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Centrality of Mitzvat Shofar even on Shabbat Rosh Hashanah

Rav Michael Rosensweig's most recent shiur published on is Yom Teruah and Zikhron Teruah: The Centrality of Mitzvat Shofar even on Shabbat Rosh Hashanah

In it he discusses why even when the shofar is not blown (when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat) that it still holds a foundational place for the day and in fact helps define and set up the approach to the rest of the year.

In this shiur he writes:

Finally, the piercing sound of the shofar is a catalyst for introspection and renewed halachic commitment. The Rambam eloquently captures this theme in Hilchot Teshuvah (3:4) with his stirring depiction of the shofar’s message of “uru yesheinim mi-shinatchem” (awaken from your spiritual slumber) galvanizing man to combat and overcome insidious spiritual complacency. When Klal Yisrael’s zichronot are imparted by the shofar, they provide an ambitious framework for halachic renewal and maximalism
What always strikes me about Rav Rosensweig's shiur is how often he can bring back a topic to the notion of a maximalist halachic lifestyle. I have written about it before here. I love this sense that we are all challenged to live such a life -- a life of maximal care and affection for our neighbor, for God and the world around us.

Yet, I never hear in his words of encouragement any sense of ridicule or blame for those who may slip up and do not live up to the challenge. Instead, what I hear is a constant and regular drum beat of reminders and words of persuasion.

In fact, if you want to listen Rav Rosensweig present his ideas on this same topic you have two opportunities:

Rosh Hashana 5770 - Given at: Young Israel of Jamaica Estates on Monday September 14, 2009
Gizeirah Dirabah and its Impact on Shofar - given at: RIETS on Thursday September 17, 2009

If you listen to both, as I did, you may notice that Rav Rosensweig perhaps was able to tighten his message over the week. It is interesting to note that the first shiur is 1:15 while the second is 52 minutes (this of course also had to do with the time slot he was working in). What I did notice once I read the Torahweb shiur is that in the shiur at RIETS, Rav Rosensweig seemed to be able to more clearly and effectively emphasize the connection between the blast of the shofar/Rosh Hashanah and how it is a tone setter for the entire year. As he says, "I like to say that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most unusual days of the year, particularly Yom Kippur. But also the most relevant days of the year." And as he closed that shiur he encourages his listeners to use these days to recommit to a wholistic halachic life.

Clearly, I know I need to be constantly awakened from my spiritual slumber and I am glad Rav Rosensweig is here to help.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Teshuva as a response to 9/11

As both the anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of Rosh Hoshanah are approaching, I thought I would highlight a talk by Rav Rosensweig that he gave on September 11, 2002. It is entitled, "The Teshuvas of Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur; Teshuva As a Response to 9/11"

In it, particularly the last 1o minutes, he makes a strong case for the need for teshuva -- "repentance - literally return" as a response to suffering, whether it is ours or the world's.

I find these words and this message to "return" to God, to return to Hashem, to repent for all we haven't done, to look within, as a powerful approach to changing the world within and without.

He says,
The Rambam is telling us that we have to act as if we are responsible because while we cannot always control what takes place in the world, we can always have input into the way in which we respond. And if we can refashion ourselves spiritually, reexamine our priorities, try to assess what is significant and meaningful about life, from our point of view the life of Torah and mitzvos. When we feel vulnerable and challenged to remember what it is that we live for, what are our objectives. If we can do that, then a) perhaps we will deserve better protection, b) perhaps we will uncover flaws that may contribute, but more important than all of that c) whether or not any of this specifically was responsible for our plight, we will have used tragedy as a catalyst for self-improvement. And while that does not necessarily lessen the pain, it is a positive and constructive response.
Yom Kippur is coming. It is time to reassess our priorities, to make sure they are in line. It is time to refashion ourselves. ... It is time of taking stock. It is time for self-improvement. It has nothing to do with only or it is not limited by only trying to figure out why it happened. More important to take the constructive step to make the tragedy a catalyst for spiritual growth.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Excerpts from John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, ' 28-34; 84-94

Here are some excerpts from the first reading and a few of my reflections:
28. ... the essential elements of revelation in the Old and New Testament with regard to moral action. These are: the subordination of man and his activity to God, the One who "alone is good"; the relationship between the moral good of human acts and eternal life; Christian discipleship, which opens up before man the perspective of perfect love; and finally the gift of the Holy Spirit, source and means of the moral life of the "new creation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).
Our subordination is in return for God's gift, our gift of self for the gift of being, of love, of life . . .

Questions that need to be asked and answered:
What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of our life? What is good and what is sin? What origin and purpose do sufferings have? What is the way to attaining true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? Lastly, what is that final, unutterable mystery which embraces our lives and from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?[50] These and other questions, such as: what is freedom and what is its relationship to the truth contained in God's law? What is the role of conscience in man's moral development? How do we determine, in accordance with the truth about the good, the specific rights and duties of the human person?
Yes, these are questions I am constantly asking and why I am excited about exploring the answers from Benedict & Balthasar.
Summed up in the fundamental question which the young man in the Gospel put to Jesus: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?"
Eternal life -- here and now and after death...
Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes... Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.
Yes, following one's conscience can easily become a path to narcissism.
The question of morality, to which Christ provides the answer, cannot prescind from the issue of freedom. Indeed, it considers that issue central, for there can be no morality without freedom: "It is only in freedom that man can turn to what is good".[56] But what sort of freedom?... "Genuine freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man. For God willed to leave man 'in the power of his own counsel' (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God".[57] ... "Conscience has rights because it has duties".[59]
Yes, we do need freedom to make choices and only with choice is there morality.
"Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2).
I do not really know my Paul -- this is a lovely line.
In a particular way, it is in the Crucified Christ that the Church finds the answer to the question troubling so many people today: how can obedience to universal and unchanging moral norms respect the uniqueness and individuality of the person, and not represent a threat to his freedom and dignity? ... The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom, he lives it fully, in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom.
Yes, this is the challenge for today -- holding both together. A gift of self, what else can we, must we give.
... Charity should make you a servant, just as truth has made you free... you are at once both a servant and free: a servant, because you have become such; free, because you are loved by God your Creator; indeed, you have also been enabled to love your Creator...
Surrender and freedom -- those are the poles I strive to hold on to and embody.

Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. A word, in any event, is not truly received until it passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one's whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6). It entails an act of trusting abandonment to Christ, which enables us to live as he lived (cf. Gal 2:20), in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters.

Yes -- communion, encounter, trusting abandonment -- words to put into action.

In this witness to the absoluteness of the moral good Christians are not alone: they are supported by the moral sense present in peoples and by the great religious and sapiential traditions of East and West, from which the interior and mysterious workings of God's Spirit are not absent. The words of the Latin poet Juvenal apply to all: "Consider it the greatest of crimes to prefer survival to honour and, out of love of physical life, to lose the very reason for living".[147]

Definitely not alone and so essential to keep in mind the very reason for living - our gift of self to others and God.

Classes Begin: Yeshiva University & John Paul II Institute

In some ways these two institutions of higher learning: Yeshiva University & John Paul II Institute couldn't be more different. An Orthodox Jewish university and an institute dedicated to the study and evangelization of the ideas and writings of Pope John Paul II. The institute describes it this way:

A longtime philosopher-friend of Karol Wojtyla once said that Wojtyla had always been occupied with understanding the human person in terms of love. The mission of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, in a profound sense, begins here, in this abiding conviction of the Holy Father that love reveals the meaning of the person and, through the person, of all 'flesh'—the whole of creation.

However, they are two organizations that I am interested in and whose classes I often feel I would enjoy taking.

On Thursday, August 27 Rav Michael Rosensweig's Talmud shiur for this school year began. It will be covering the third chapter of Bava Basra, which primarily covers what is called, chazakah. This term covers the issue of disputed ownership regarding both articles or land. As I began listening to this first shiur this morning I was really excited because, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I greatly admire Rav Rosensweig. And beginning something new is always a great joy.

What is interesting is that I also received some information about a class at the John Paul II Institute in which I was interested. It is called "Truth & Freedom in Benedict and Balthasar" -- that is of course: Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Urs von Balthasar. I had seen the book list for the class and since I owned most of the works and they were works that I would love to dive into more deeply, I am very happy to receive the syllabus. It describes the course this way:

This course begins with an exploration of the root presuppositions and theological implications of contemporary "currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth" (Veritatis Splendor, 4). Drawing on the writings of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, this course will argue that an adequate response to the "crisis in the history of freedom" requires (i.) a renewed understanding of the ontological roots of freedom in light of the transcendental properties of being, (ii.) an account of the unity of theology and anthropology within the Person of Jesus Christ; and (iii.) a reflection on the unity of truth and freedom within the Trinity.

So, I have a dilemma. Which class do I try to follow and keep up with? I can't honestly do both. The Rav Rosensweig shiur is at least 4.5 hours of MP3s (3 x 1.5 hours) of very involved, Hebrew-rich lectures every week covering vast parts of the Talmud. While the Benedict & Balthasar class covers a number of quite complex writings of both men, though sadly no MP3s.

As I was saying to my wife this afternoon, though I love to listen to Rav Rosensweig, I often am just letting the words flow over me, since I cannot understand very much of the Hebrew AND of course, no matter how much I admire the tradition, I am not Jewish and have no plans on converting.

On the other hand, there is the Benedict & Balthasar course. Over the years I have read 4 out of the 7 books already (though not necessarily understanding or integrating everything I read) and it is ALL IN ENGLISH, and it is the tradition I have been raised in. While I certainly have some conflicts with certain teachings of the Church (I do as well of course with Orthodox Judaism), I am feeling like it is a moment in my life (50 years old with much time on my hands), that taking the time to "surrender" to the depths of my tradition and to two thinkers whose work I greatly admire (I remember when I first read Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's work, who at my rather liberal graduate school and church where I worked was seen as the Enforcer, etc., how much I enjoyed and respected his style and message).

Therefore, as I write this post, it is clear to me that I will commit myself to the Benedict & Balthasar course and see where such a commitment leads.

I will keep you posted.