Nothing belongs to me

I just came across this neat article on Chabad.org on “Why Don’t Jews Write ‘This Book Belongs to…’?”

Here’s an excerpt:

There is a common custom not to inscribe Torah books with “From the Library of John Doe,” “This Book Belongs to . . .” or similar Hebrew equivalents. Instead, the name itself is written with no preamble. Some have the custom to preface their names with “LaHashem haaretz umeloah,” “The earth and all that fills it belong to G‑d,” or the acronym lamed, hay, vav.

The custom is attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid (“the pious”) 1150-1217, who writes in his ethical will that people should “not write in a holy book that it is theirs. Rather, they should write their name without writing it is theirs.”

Some explain that this custom is a fitting reminder that nothing truly belongs to us; it is only entrusted to us. Accordingly, one should follow this practice not just with regard to Torah books, but with all personal belongings.

What a remarkable attitude of detachment in recognition of God’s sovereignty and generosity.

Imagine extending the approach more broadly: The earth and all that fills it belong to God. This MacBook, this iPhone, this winter jacket, this meal, etc. belong to God. And I am ready to hand it over to whoever is in need of it when my stewardship of it should cease.

“And fear not them which kill the body”

This evening I have been reflecting on the life and legacy of Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most influential Catholics of the twentieth century who died on this day at age 84 in 1979.

In 2011, I read his autobiography Treasure in Clay, which is really splendid. Tonight I was reminded that he dictated parts of it shortly before his death “from his sickbed as he clutched a crucifix.”

I want to share with you an excerpt from a brief piece by Fulton Sheen titled “Dying to Live“:

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“He died in the fullness of years.”

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has recognized 27,921 Righteous Among the Nations. That’s the number of non-Jews who risked their lives to help and save Jews during the Holocaust that Yad Vashem has been able to ascertain with evidence.

These are remarkable stories of personal risk, self-sacrifice, living in truth, fidelity to conscience, charity toward neighbour, and the unshakable determination to live honourably in the sight of God.

Consider that number: 27,921. If you learned the story of one Righteous Among the Nations each day, it would take you 76 years.

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The Valley of the Dry Bones: Genocide and Resurrection

This is a throwback post to my Reflections on Rwanda Genocide Study Trip in May 2012

In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.

Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.

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Strategic Dying

While we’re alive, we have a lot of workshops, education, and professional development on how to do things more strategically.

But, when is the last time you considered a strategy for how to die better?

The other day, I came across this great podcast episode by Dr. Yosefa (Fogel) Wruble on precisely this.

In it, she reflects on how Moses is an exemplar of dying well.

Here are three intriguing reasons she gives, which continue to be instructive and resonant today:

1) Appoint your successor

“One of the biggest gifts that a leader can give to his or her followers, to his or her community, is the clear – very clear – appointment of a successor. We know so many Hasidic sects and groups and different political parties and there’s so much history surrounding the lack of appointment of a successor and whenever I read the number of passages in which Joshua is appointed, it always makes my heart so happy because it’s one of the most basic lessons of leadership: When you’re a leader, learn how to delegate and when you’re done leading, when your time has come to a close, make sure that you find someone who can take your place and who can bring the institution or this group of people into their next era.”

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“And she laughs at the last day.”

There is a very interesting verse in Proverbs 31 about which I had taken note until it came up in a talk recently.

In describing a woman of valour, there is this line in verse 25 which says:

“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.”

Other translations say that the woman laughs: at tomorrow; at the coming day; at the future; etc.

In a Jewish translation of this verse, it says:

“Strength and beauty are her raiment, and she laughs at the last day.”

The commentary by Rashi offers that “at the last day” suggests “On the day of her death, she departs with a good name.

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Jordan Peterson: “Part of you must therefore die.”

Rule Four of Jordan Peterson’s new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life is: “Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.”

In this chapter, Peterson discusses how choosing to take responsibility is fundamental to being useful and leading a meaningful life. As usual, he weaves a range of sources together from the Hebrew Bible, to Egyptian myths, to Pinocchio and Peter Pan.

The section of this chapter that especially interested me is about conscience. Since conscience is a word that does not have a great deal of resonance in our contemporary culture, Peterson patiently expounds upon what conscience is and how it works.

Here is the relevant excerpt:

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Death as gratitude

I love Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writing so much.

It has that confident aphoristic quality to it that elicits attention.

Such is the case with his short essay entitled, “Death as Homecoming.”

Right at the beginning, Rabbi Heschel proposes that “in a way death is the test of the meaning of life. If death is devoid of meaning, then life is absurd. Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon in the face of death.”

Still, Heschel is keen to note that the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition do not stress “the problem of dying” so much as they stress “how to sanctify life.”

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“You will not always have me.”

In the long gospel reading for Palm Sunday, we hear the story of the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany.

Of the entire Sunday gospel reading from Mark, this section really struck me this year.

The woman anoints Jesus with a costly ointment from an alabaster jar that she bursts open in order to pour the ointment on his head.

The action provokes anger among observers over the ointment having been “wasted” instead of sold so that the money could be given to the poor.

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Martyrology before Meals

During the summers of 2016 and 2018, I attended seminars hosted by the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies. These seminars take place in Norcia, Italy and provide participants with an opportunity to experience the liturgical life of the Benedictine Monks who live there. The seminars include study sessions on Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on a particular book of Sacred Scripture as well as leisurely, convivial multi-course Italian meals.

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