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The Parenting Chatzitza: A Lesson in Letting Go

Recently I had the honor to be on a Beit Din overseeing the conversion of a new born. Clearly the main role in this ritual is verifying the parents intent to raise the child in a proper Jewish household. Are the parents committed to educate the child to be upstanding , observant, and devoted member of the Jewish people. There is also a technical element of the ritual. We need to make sure that the child completely submerged into the mikvah. The child needs to immerse completely without a chatzitza. This is a foreign object or even the body itself in an unnatural position that interposes between the body and the water. If someone has a chatzitza on their on her body when they go to the mikveh in order to purify themselves the tevilah is ineffective.

As is the case with of a conversion of a minor, one of the parents went in with the new born. We inspected the child to make sure they did not have a chatzitza. A new born does not know to close their mouth when going under water. So we instruct the parent to blow in their face to startle them. They will inhale, then they can dunk the child without risk. Just before the parent did the ritual, another Rabbi on the Beyt Din said to the parent, ” When you do that, you will need to let go for a second.” In this case, the parent of the child is himself a chatzitza. Regarding the tevilah if the parent did not let go it would have been ineffective.

I paused for a moment realizing the profundity of what he was saying. The act of parenting is the act of supporting, connecting, loving, and cleaving to a child. And at the same time the act of parenting demands that we learn to let go over time. As I learned from my teacher Dr. Betsy Stone, pediatrician and parent-infant therapist D. W. Winnicott, wrote:

While it is hard to imagine this being the case for a new born in a pool of water, this is complexity of parenting. How do we support and frustrate our children so that they grow? When we pause to think about it, we are but young creatures awash in a galaxy in which we could easily drown. There is a depth of realizing that even those that love the child most might be a chatzitza, a barrier to their growth and development. We cannot be helicopter or snowplow parents. We need to prepare the child for the way, and not the way for the child. Gradually we need to let go so they can fall but not fail. In the process of they will adapt, tolerate the frustration, learn to swim, and emerge pure.

-See resource I made with Dr. Betsy Stone –Eating Makes Us Hunger: Yearning for More in 5783

-See related source sheet – Chatzitzah: Lesson in Parenting

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My Father’s Yahrzeit and Stan Rogers: Who Will Know?

Tonight is my Dad’s 4th Yahrzeit. Since his passing I have come to understand that I know very little about him. At some point along the way over this past four years I have started the practice of listening to the music of Stan Rogers in his memory. My father introduced me to his music. Rogers was a Canadian folk musician and songwriter (November 29, 1949 – June 2, 1983). Rogers was noted for his traditional-sounding songs which were frequently inspired by Canadian nautical history. While my father had no connection to Canada, he was in the Navy and loved to sail. In many ways listening to Rogers’ music has been a mediation on my father and a means to exploring the man he was.

On this occasion I wanted to share a reflection on his song Bluenose. Ironically it is a song I only found recently and my father never played for me, but really reminds me of him. In the song Rogers sings about the celebrated fishing and racing ship. The gaff rigschooner was built in 1921 in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Under the command of Angus Walters, the Bluenose became a provincial icon for Nova Scotia and an important Canadian symbol. The ship served as a working vessel until she was wrecked in 1946.

Rogers sings:

So does she not take wing like a living thing
Child of the moving tide?
See her pass with grace on the water’s face
With clean and quiet pride
Our own tall ship of great renown still lifts unto the sky
Who will know the Bluenose in the sun?

Here you get a sense of Rogers’ and Canada’s love and admiration for this boat. Likening the boat to a bird, child, and a graceful woman, he laments that she is gone. “Who will know” her?

Listening to this song I connect with my dad’s aesthetic. My father really enjoyed the serenity of sailing. His otherwise frenetic mind was at peace on the water.

Sadly, this also reminds me of my father’s shortcomings. He was a great man who did great things, but he had a limited capacity to express love. It seemed to me that it was easier for him communicate his love for inanimate things like the law, ideas, or even sail boats, than the people in his life. This still makes me sad, both for my and also for him. I know that he loved me, but it was so hard for him to say it. I loved him, but I am still left lamenting that I did not really know him. And now that he is gone I cannot. Who will know him in the sun?

Maybe listening to this song will lift his soul, if not your own. May the memory of James Joseph Orlow be for a blessing.

Throw the Jew Down the Well: The Banality of Evil

Years ago when Yadid was six-years-old he started to go to Jewish school for the first time. A couple of months into school they learned about the story of Esther in preparation for Purim. That year at the Purim Seudah, festive meal, Yadid shared with me what he learned about Purim at school. In his kindergarten, Haman’s punishment ( for attempting genocide) was having to walk behind Mordechai, who was riding on the royal horse, and pick up the poop. Yadid added with a smile that this is his favorite part of the story. Even years later, the banality of evil sticks with me. At what age do we tell our children that it normal to hunt Jews? At what age will they learn that there is nothing normal about anti-Semitism?

I was thinking about this recently when there was a story reported about construction workers breaking ground in 2004 on a shopping mall in Norwich, England. Amidst their excavation they found 17 bodies at the bottom of a 800-year-old well. The identity of the remains of the six adults and 11 children and why they ended up in the medieval well had long vexed archaeologists. Unlike other mass burials where skeletons are uniformly arranged, the bodies were oddly positioned and mixed which was likely caused by their being thrown head first shortly after their deaths.

It was in the news because scientists were recently able to extract detailed genetic material preserved in the bones. Thanks to recent advances in ancient DNA sequencing they were able to understand more about how these people died. The genomes of six of the individuals showed that four of them were related — including three sisters, the youngest of whom was five to 10 years old. Further analysis of the genetic material suggested that all six were “almost certainly” Ashkenazi Jews.

The researchers believe they all died during antisemitic violence that wracked the city, most likely a February 1190 riot related to the Third Crusade. This was one of a series of religious wars supported by the church as described by a medieval chronicler. The number of people killed in the massacre is unclear.

“I’m delighted and relieved that twelve years after we first started analysing the remains of these individuals, technology has caught up and helped us to understand this historical cold case of who these people were and why we think they were murdered,” said Selina Brace, a principal researcher at the Natural History Museum in London and lead author on the paper, said in a news release.

So, yes the science is remarkable. But like the story of Purim as told to a 6 year old, it is shocking that the long history of antisemism is taken for granted and notably not remarkable.

This news story gives added depth (pun intended) to the brilliant satire of Sasha Barron Cohen. If you have not seen it, enjoy ” Throw the Jew Down the Well”:

Sadly, when it comes to the Banality of Evil, still so many of us just sing along.

-Original post about the Banality of Poop

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Never Sleeps: Learning and Living with Chaos

Recently I came across The Devil Never Sleeps by Juliette Kayyem. This is an urgent and transformative guide to dealing with disasters from one of today’s foremost thinkers in crisis management.

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The future may still be unpredictable, but nowadays, disasters are not. We live in a time of constant, consistent catastrophe, where things more often go wrong than they go right. She asks, “So why do we still fumble when disaster hits? Why are we always one step behind?”

In The Devil Never Sleeps, Kayyem lays the groundwork for a new approach to dealing with disasters. Presenting the basic themes of crisis management, she amends the principles we rely on far too easily. Instead, she offers us a new framework to anticipate the “devil’s” inevitable return, highlighting the leadership deficiencies we need to overcome and the forward thinking we need to harness. It’s no longer about preventing a disaster from occurring, but learning how to use the tools at our disposal to minimize the consequences when it does.

Filled with personal anecdotes and real-life examples from natural disasters like the California wildfires to man-made ones like the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, The Devil Never Sleeps is a guide for governments, businesses, and individuals alike on how to alter our thinking so that we can develop effective strategies in the face of perpetual catastrophe.

When thinking about these ideas I found myself going back to my favorite earworm by the Shira Choir. I dare you to listen to Im HaShem LoYivneh Bayit without singing it all week.

The lyrics come from two verse in Psalms. There we read:

אם-השם, לא-יבנה בית–    שוא עמלו בוניו בו
אם-השם לא-ישמור-עיר,    שוא שקד שומר הנה לא-ינום, ולא יישן–    שומר, ישראל

If the Lord did not build the house, they labor in vain that they build it
If the Lord did not keep the city, the watchman are awake in vain (Psalm 127:1)

Behold, God the protector of Israel does not rest or sleep  (Pslam 121:4)

If we want to be agents of good we need better systems to protect human life. And at the same time we must understand our limitations. Kayyem’s depiction of a Devil not sleeping to cause evil is similar to the Psalms’ depiction of a God that “does not rest or sleep” to protect us. Ignoring the predictability of the Devil, or relying blindly on God to watch over us, both do not set us up for success. We need to prepare for disasters before they happen. This needs a different kind of leadership.

I was thinking of this when reading Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read, ” See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse.” Leadership needs the vision to understand proactively the implications of choices. We have blessings and curses in front of us. Will we choose the blessing of being agents of a watchful sleepless protector, or try to ignore the Devil at our peril? This kind of work and this mode of leadership is truly divine.

Plenilune of Av

Rosh Chodesh and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new month and new year are notable in that they are celebrations of the new moons. They are not plenilune, the time of the full moon, but rather a time marked by the absence of a moon.

In that today is Tu B’Av, the Jewish Valentine’s Day, is the 15th of the month, I pause to explore the other plenilune celebrations on our calendar. We have Sukkot, celebrating our sojourn in booths in the desert after escaping Egypt. We also have Shushan Purim, Passover, and Pesach Sheni each a month from each other. Each of these is also a celebration of liberation. First not being killed in Haman’s genocide,then from slavery in Egypt, and then those who could not celebrate Passover. Another notable 15th full moon is Tu B’Shvat the New Year for the Trees. This is a celebration of nature, the advent of spring, and marks the liberation from the winter months. What do all of these celebrations on the 15th have in common?

In light of today being Tu B’Av, it is tempting to frame the full moon as an expression of our hearts being full with love in the air. But I wanted to offer another frame for these plenilune celebrations. What is a full moon?

The full moon is the lunar phase when the Moon appears fully illuminated from Earth‘s perspective. This means that the lunar hemisphere facing Earth—the near side—is completely sunlit and appears as an approximately circular disk. The full moon occurs roughly once a month. We see it as full because the light from the sun is reflecting off the surface of the moon unobstructed by our shadow.

There is a depth to thinking about these celebrations of love and liberation in a context of seeing things reflected in the world in their fullness without the weight of your pekelah on it. Our nature is to be self-centered and only look at things in the shadow of our needs. At the same time we are inherently limited to see things from our unique perspective. We need to strive for a balance between seeing things for our perspective and trying to also see the reality in its fullness. To experience love and liberation we have to deeply understand that we share this rock called earth. Merry plenilune of Av.

Alone vs Private: Exploring Tisha B’Av and Tzniut

Tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, but because it falls on Shabbat, the annual fast day commemorating the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and our subsequent exile from Israel will be observed on Saturday night and Sunday. Through it all Tisha B’Av seems to be a day of isolation.

At the start of Eicha we read:

How does the city sit alone, that was full of people! How has she become as a widow! She who was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!  She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Yehudah is gone into exile because of affliction, and because of great servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest; all her pursuers overtook her within the straits.

Lamentations 1:1-3

Jerusalem is alone with none to comfort her. We as a people are in exile. This theme tracks through the course of Eicha and the customs and traditions of Tisha B’Av. We are alone individually and as a nation.

It is noteworthy that this isolation of Tisha B’Av seems almost prescient of the CDC requirement for the social isolation protocols meant to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the newer variants. Above and beyond getting vaccinated following these guidelines is supposed to save us. At the same time being alone in isolation can be devastating and we have seen the impact of social isolation on our MESSH needs. At the same time doing everything under the ever watchful and unforgiving eye of social media can be equally damaging. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

This theme of social isolation reminded me of a great midrash. There we learn:

Eikhah-How does the city sit”, three prophecised in the language of eikhah-How, Moshe, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Moshe said, “ How can I myself alone…”(Deut. 1:12). Isaiah said, “How (is the faithful city) become a harlot!” (Isaiah 1:21). Jeremiah said, “How does the city sit alone” (Lam 1:1). Said Rabbi Levi this is analogous to a matron who had three grooms.  One who saw her in security, one who saw her in recklessness, and one who saw her in disgrace.

Lamentations Rabbah 1 (Vilna)

Moshe’s eikhah comes from Devarim, this week’s Torah portion. The people seemed to be in the security of being with God in the desert. Moshe is complaining that he is alone in carrying the burden of the people. Isaiah is depicted the city as a harlot and she is seen in her recklessness. The city is exposed to not being alone at all. She is with her customers. And Jeremiah’s eikhah is what we learned above. The city sits alone as a widow morning the loss with no one to console her.

In thinking of this theme of isolation and Tisha B’Av I go back to what I wrote last week on the thinking of Jonathan Haidt. This will clearly be a longer effort in my life of exploring Tzniut as a 7th Moral Foundation.  We translate this word Tzniut as privacy or modesty. But modesty has a certain element of shame connected to it. Clearly we see this shame on Tisha B’Av. But, that is not the point. The question I ask is can we cultivate a value around creating moments of connection and intimacy between people? Not everything needs or should be done in public. Instead of running in fear from social media, we need to curate experiences of privacy and deep human connection to fortify ourselves. In these tender moments of intimacy we might be alone, but there is no shame or humiliation. Tisha B’Av seems to be an object lesson in the devastation of publicly being revealed to be alone. This commemoration of isolation makes us realize the value of connecting the rest of the year.

In this exploration of Tzniut as a 7th Moral Foundation as a counterweight to the destructive potential of social media it makes sense to look at it through the prism of the midrash quoted above. What can we learn from these three eikhahs?

How do we cultivate experiences that support our security? When we use these free platforms we have to understand that we are the product being bought and sold. They are not interested in our safety or security. These companies are only interested in the value we provide them and their share holders.

How do we leave room for us to do teshuvah when we are recklessness? Once we put something online it is there for everyone and for all of time. We all make mistakes. The permanence of this public record makes it very hard to ever recover and repair from our misdeeds.

How do we make sure that we are not party to platforms that work to disgrace people? There is so much clickbait in the world. Things get “likes” because it hurts people. The anonymity of the internet makes us a threat to ourselves and others. How do we condition ourselves to not fall into that trap? ( See here the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza)

Indeed the questions are eikhah– how? how? how? There might be hope for us as a society if we show a little Tzniut. Choose to send one less tweet, post one less FB update, and sit alone to reflect for a moment on ending senseless hatred. The world will only be rebuilt when we invest in actually finding ways to meet people privately one-on-one and face-to-face. This is a lesson of Tisha B’Av. The isolation of the day is supposed to motivate us to make connections every other day of the year.

Haidt and Shabbat: Exploring Tzniut as a Moral Foundation

This week I had the good fortune of getting to hear Jonathan Haidt speak at conference run by the Maimonides Foundation. He is a social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality and moral emotions. I have been a big fan of his work for some time. In his talk he decried the coddling of the American Mind and the shaking of the foundation of our cultural values. These trends map on squarely with the rise of the smart phone and social media. It seems that so much in our world is broken and not getting better. It makes you wonder, is the smart phone actually a smart?

At this conference we also had the occasion to explore Moral Foundations Theory. Outlined in Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, this theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations for which we think the evidence is best are:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

You can find out your own moral foundations profile at www.YourMorals.org.

In thinking about these Moral Foundations in the context the current challenge of the rise of the smart phone, I got to thinking that we might need to explore a seventh Moral Foundation to repair our society. But what would that be?

This question got me thinking about a Gemara in Beitzah regarding the gift of Shabbat to the Jewish People. There we learn:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: All the mitzvot that the Holy One, Blessed be God, gave to the Jewish people, God gave to them in public [parhesya] except for Shabbat, which God gave to them in private [b’tzinah]. As it is stated: “It is a sign between Me and between the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:17), meaning that in a sense, it is a secret between God and the Jewish people.

Beitzah 16a

Surely one of the gifts of Shabbat is the opportunity to put away our smart phones. But, on another level, the essence of the gift is Tzniut itself. We translate this word as privacy or modesty. But modesty has a certain element of shame connected to it. That is not the point. Can we cultivate a value around creating moments of connection and intimacy between people? Not everything needs or should be done in public. Instead of running in fear from social media, we need to curate experiences of privacy and deep human connection to fortify ourselves today. This Shabbat I will be giving more thought to what Tzniut might look like a 7th Moral Foundation. I invite you to do the same. Shabbat Shalom.

A Modern Orthodox Reader: First Draft

When it comes to parenting, ” We plan and God Laughs”. We have planned and tried to raise our children to live as Modern Orthodox Jews, but who really knows what will happen? We can just do our best to model, educate, and curate experiences for them.

Near the end of his Senior High School Yadid came to me and said, “Aba, I do not think I am an Orthodox Jew” I responded, “But you have been excited all year about returning to Camp Stone this summer. How is that anything other than a Modern Orthodox camp?” He replied, ” Well I am going to camp, if you want to send me articles to read this summer- we can talk about it throughout the summer.”

Wow, what a great request? It was a great process to explore what were the shortest and most critical article and resources. I vividly remember when I was not much older than Yadid reading Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein‘s article Does Jewish Tradition Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakha? This piece was critical to my own identity formation. Reading this I was able to imagine a philosophical underpinning for the existential significance of Halacha without rejecting other world views or falsely claim Jewish supremacy. So, what would I put on the reading list?

In the process of answering Yadid question I asked a bunch of people. I got a torrent of content, but mostly books, and not articles. I will share the fruit of that labor at another time. I drafted to a curriculum of critical readings on Modern Orthodoxy. I even have done some editing since I sent a hard copy of it off to camp with Yadid. While our talking about the articles has not worked out so well- his phone broke twice this summer- the process of putting it together it self was compelling. Regardless I wanted to share with list of articles that one might find formative to Modern Orthodox identity and practice. I would love your thoughts, feedback, and input on this list. What did we miss? What other questions would you want to ask? I will update the resource over time.

The Secret Sauce of Duality: Being Jewish for Micah and Today

This week’s Haftarah comes from the book of Micah. Micah’s messages were directed chiefly toward Jerusalem. He prophesied the future destruction of Jerusalem and Shomron and then future restoration of the Judean state. He rebuked the people of Judah for dishonesty and idolatry. The Haftarah starts off by saying:

The remnant of Jacob shall be,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like dew from the Lord,
Like droplets on grass—
Which do not look to any man
Nor place their hope in mortals.

The remnant of Jacob
Shall be among the nations,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like a lion among beasts of the wild,
Like a fierce lion among flocks of sheep,
Which tramples wherever it goes
And rends, with none to deliver.

Micah 5:6-7

The recurring language of “remnant of Jacob” in these two sentences is striking. Will this remnant be enough? Will we the Jewish people survive? It seems to be our question throughout history, from Micah’s time until today.

While the language here is parallel, it draws attention to the contrast in images. In the first is an image of “droplets on grass”. In the second one we have an image of a fierce lion. While the dew is giving nutrients to its environment, the lion is fighting for survival/dominance.

This juxtaposition is as relevant now as it was for Micah. He is pointing out the duality of the Jewish condition. Is our survival wrapped up in our capacity to sustain the world around us (like the dew) or our ability to be defensive and protect ourselves (like the lion)? Is the secret to our longevity our commitment to universal causes and our investment in the larger ecosystem or is it dependent on our particularism and our fiercely looking out for our own?

To resolve this question I go to one of my favorite essays by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s on Ger v’Toshav. His thesis is derived from the duality in the language Avraham uses when buying a burial plot for Sarah. There is says, ” ‘I am a stranger and a resident with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.'” ( Genesis 23:4) What is he telling them? Is he a stranger or a resident? The Rav points out that the nature of being Jewish is holding this duality as being true. We are always strangers and residents. Like Micah we are always dew and lions. We are resident committed to nurturing the universal cause around us and strangers who are fierce like lions looking after our own. The secret sauce to our surviving and thriving if our dual commitment to continuity and contribution.

Being Mortal and Moral: Gawande and the Red Heifer

In 2014 Atul Gawande wrote Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End addressing end-of-life care, hospice care, and his reflections and personal stories. It is one of those paradigm busting must reads.

Being Mortal is a meditation on how people can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness, and approaching death. Gawande calls for a change in the way that medical professionals treat patients approaching their ends. He recommends that instead of focusing on survival, practitioners should work to improve quality of life and enable well-being. Gawande shares personal stories of his patients’ and his own relatives’ experiences, the realities of old age which involve broken hips and dementia, overwhelmed families and expensive geriatric care, and loneliness and loss of independence.

I got to thinking about this in the context of reading Chukat, this week’s Torah portion. There the Israelite people are instructed to bring a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid to sacrifice. The critical ritual involved the ash from this perfect cow. There we read:

Another party who is pure shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle on the tent and on all the vessels and people who were there, or on the one who touched the bones or the person who was killed or died naturally or the grave. The pure person shall sprinkle it upon the impure person on the third day and on the seventh day, thus purifying that person by the seventh day. [The one being purified] shall then wash those clothes and bathe in water—and at nightfall shall be pure. If any party who has become impure fails to undergo purification, that person shall be cut off from the congregation for having defiled God’s sanctuary. The water of lustration was not dashed on that person, who is impure.

Numbers 19:18-20

While Israelite society was much more at home with death than our own, there is an interesting notion that there is no room for death in God’s house. Just as Gawande points out, there is a taboo of death that we are struggling to make sense of in their lives.

Gawande also points out how this dynamic impacts how generations deal with each other. This comes into focus when we think about the exceptional and rare case of actually finding a perfect red cow as we learn about in our Torah portion. In the Gemara we learn an amazing story about Dama ben Nesina. There we learn:

Rav Yehuda says that Shmuel says: They asked Rabbi Eliezer: How far must one go to fulfill the mitzva of honoring one’s father and mother? Rabbi Eliezer said to them: Go and see what one gentile did for his father in Ashkelon, and the name of the son was Dama ben Netina. Once the Sages wished to purchase precious stones from him for the ephod of the High Priest for six hundred thousand gold dinars’ profit, and Rav Kahana taught that it was eight hundred thousand gold dinars’ profit. And the key to the chest holding the jewels was placed under his father’s head, and he would not disturb him. The next year the Holy One, Blessed be God, gave Dama ben Netina his reward, as a red heifer was born in his herd, and the Jews needed it. When the Sages of Israel came to him he said to them: I know, concerning you, that if I were to ask for all the money in the world you would give it to me.

Kidushin 31a 

Gawande offers us a lens to see our distance from death and an older generation. Like Being Mortal, the ritual of the Red Heifer gives us a window into how we might reconnect with our own mortality and morality.

Other posts on Gawande:


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