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In 1933 Cologne, Germany, a Nazi official forced Violinist Ernest Drucker off the stage while he was playing a Brahms concerto.  Eighty-Two years later, Drucker’s son, and Grammy Award winner Eugene, completed the interrupted work during a musical festival in Israel.  The elder Drucker was not present to hear his son; he died in 1993, having survived the Sho’ah.  For both Eugene Drucker and his audience, this performance of Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 7, was an example of virtuosity.  It was also a statement about determination and resolve.

Drucker was not the only Jew to have his life – not just his performance – interrupted.  Etty Hillesum was a Dutch woman of twenty-nine when she was gassed to death and cremated at Auschwitz.  She is sometimes called “the adult Anne Frank.”  Before her demise, she chronicled her life - her aspirations and achievements - in her diaries that were published in 1996 under the title “An Interrupted Life.”

Drucker and Hillesum are notable examples.  But in a way, all Jews today live interrupted lives.  Every year we suspend our normal routines for the three-week period beginning with the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and culminating with the Fast of the Ninth of Av.  (This year, July 5 through 26.) These two dates mark the dates of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temples respectively.  Together, they bracket a space of time in which no weddings are solemnized, no music is heard, and personal grooming is ignored.  Some will even restrict travel.  The tragic past in mourned in the present.  It is indeed the saddest period of the Jewish year.

Yet immediately after the Fast of the Ninth of Av is observed, the mood changes dramatically.  Hope is restored. (According to legend, the Messiah will be born on the Ninth of Av.)  The seven weeks leading up to the New Year are characterized by publicly reading passages of consolation.  Life returns to normal. 

There is a lesson here.  Sadness and gloom are never allowed to dominate our lives even though periods of sorrow may interrupt our lives.  Judaism is a way of celebrating life.  And although the celebration must sometimes be suspended, the celebration will always be renewed.

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Following sixteen hours of deliberation in the penalty phase of the Boston Bomber trial, the jury unanimously called for the execution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  For the U.S. government, the verdict represented a major victory in the biggest terrorism prosecution since 9/11.  But for some of the victims, the application of the death penalty is a matter of simple justice.  Bombing victim Sydney Corcoran who nearly bled to death and whose mother lost both legs is reported to have said: “Now he will go away and we will be able to move on…’an eye for an eye.’”

While many may sympathize with Corcoran’s emotions, no educated Jew can agree with his Biblical analysis. 

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Contemplating our own mortality is difficult, even frightening.  Hence, it is generally avoided.  But when someone close to us is about to die, our own lives become subject to self-scrutiny.  Consider the example of Moses and Aaron.

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According to Nahmanides (1194 – 1270), the wicked Bil’am was no prophet at all.  He was a mere magician and called such by the Bible (Joshua 13:22).  He had to have his “eyes opened” (Numbers 24:31) which emphasizes his own inability to perceive God otherwise.  The depreciation of Bil’am fits in with the Midrash that considers him one of the most wicked men who ever lived (Number Rabbah 20:9).  King Balak asked only that Israel be put under a spell but Bil’am wanted to curse Israel forever.  King Balak asked only to chase Israel away from his land, but Bil’am sought to remove Israel from the earth and from future life as well.  All of this follows the Midrash.  But RaShI disagrees.

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Words to live by

 

Don’t throw away your old shoes until you have got new ones.

-       Dutch Proverb