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Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  In his typically clumsy, inarticulate way, this Baseball Hall-of-Famer struck on an important experiential truth.  Life is defined by a series of choices made, sometimes taking what Dr. M. Scott Peck once called “the rod less traveled.”   That is also the conclusion of L. A. Paul, Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in her new book entitled The Transformative Experience.  She explains that the forks in life’s road that a person takes change that person’s emotional and psychological identity forever.   In other words, we are not the consequences of our genetic code or natural law but of our decisions.

And how we decide is a function of assessing whether or not we want to welcome the experience that would result from our choices.  To use David Brooks (New York Times, August 30, 2015) articulation, the current “You” is trying to make a decision without having the chance to know what it will feel like to be the future “You.”  Decision-making, then, is essentially asking the question: “Do I have the profound desire to discover what it would like to be this new me, to experience a new mode of living?”

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In the early 1990’s archaeological excavations at the base of the Western Wall yielded an amazing discovery.  In place were two huge stones: one measuring over twenty-seven feet long and weighing over an estimated 400 tons.  How these stones were quarried and transported and set in place at the base of the wall still remains a mystery.  Yet there is something else that is odd.

As mighty and as sturdy as such a stone (an ashlar, in technical terms) should be, there is a diagonal crack about a meter long across its face.  One enterprising scholar discovered that the story of the crack is actually mentioned in a parchment literary fragment recovered by Solomon Schechter from the Cairo Geniza.  Apparently, an earthquake one Pesah during the Geonic Age (between the ninth and the eleventh centuries), shook the foundations of the Temple Mount.  The crack is the result.  Most visitors do not notice the crack.  The massive stone is so imposing that the rack seems almost imperceptible.  Archaeologists know to look for the crack but most tourists overlook the crack.

Overlooking cracks is not just a description of the behavior of visitors to the Temple excavations.  It is an attitude that ought to be inculcated into the heart of every Jew.  And it is especially apt to consider this attitude during Pesah: the anniversary of that earthquake that created the crack.

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Buried within the middle of the imprecation against those who fail to follow God’s law is a curious verse.  Verse 42 of chapter 26 is curious for two reasons.  First, it stands out as the only hopeful statement among the negative ones.  And second, it inverts the usual and chronological order of the Patriarchs.  How may this verse be explained?

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The Mishnah (Nega’im 12:5) asks: “How is the house (suspected of being infected by leprosy) examined?”  And it responds with a quotation: “The owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying ‘something like a plague has appeared upon my house.’” (Leviticus 14:35).   But the Mishnah does not stop there.  It adds a further dimension: “Even an advanced student who is certain the house is leprous should not say decisively ‘I see a plague in the house’ but, rather, he should say ‘ It appears to me that a plague is in the house.’”

Certainty is very hard to come by. 

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Words to live by

 

If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.

-  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia