Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestselling book Outliers, demonstrates how so much of our success is a result of factors beyond our control. While in many areas—place of birth, our genetic makeup—this is obvious, he demonstrates the truth of such even in areas where we may not expect such. Factors such as our year of birth or even our birthday can have huge impact on our success.
"Three signs are there for this nation: they are rachmanim, merciful; bayshanim, have a sense of shame; and gomlei chasadim, perform acts of kindness" (Yevamot 89a). The distinguishing mark of the Jewish people is not our observance of Shabbat, kashrut, and a host of other mitzvoth. Important as they may be, they are reflections of the values that are (or at least should be) the true hallmark of the Jew: mercy, shame, and kindness.
“Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: lulav, seven; and sukkah, one” (Sukkah 45b). So begins a discussion as to how often we are to make a bracha on these mitzvoth. Shmuel, the Gemara explains, is of the view that since there is one continuous mitzvah to sit in a sukkah for seven days and nights, “all seven are like one long day”; and hence, a bracha is recited only once. However, the mitzvah of lulav is applicable only by day, and not at night; and thus, each new day requires a new bracha.
G-d's greatest gift to man is that He created us in His image. As heretical as it sounds, man and G-d are, in effect, opposite sides of the same coin. Flowing from this is the notion that all aspects of our relationship to G-d must be reflected in our actions towards man, and our actions towards our fellow man must be reflected in our relationship to G-d. This can best be seen in the aseret hadibrot, which can be read both vertically and horizontally.
Our tradition has long taught that it is a great mitzvah to do the right thing, even if for the wrong reason. “A person should, leolam, always be engaged in Torah and mitzvoth even if sheloh lishma, not for its own sake; as from doing them not for their sake, one will come to do them lishma, for their own sake” (Pesachim 50b).
"Two verses that contradict each other, until a third verse is found and reconciles between them". This 13th and last of the interpretive principles of Rabbi Yishmael highlights the many contradictions inherent in the Torah. Torah mirrors life, and recognizing the complexity of both is so important that our rabbis placed this message into the daily siddur.
Language plays a crucial role in national identity. Those of us living in Canada know how sensitive issues of language can be. Theodore Herzl devoted his life to the Zionist movement, yet—as hard as it is for us to imagine—he envisioned German as the language of the Jewish state.