Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Ten Commandments of the Rabbinate - Words of Wisdom for My Successor

1.       Genuinely love your congregation with all of your heart and soul, like a father loves his children. Don’t stand aloof at the sidelines and don’t be afraid to experience or show raw emotion. Celebrate with your congregants in times of joy, stay up all night worrying about them when they are in crisis, make your presence felt in their lives when they are sick, down in the dumps, or lonely, and cry for them at their funerals. If you don’t love every member of your community, including your critics, then you’re in the wrong business. Get out of it as soon as possible.

2.       Not all of your congregants will love you back. This is a reality that you must accept or you will be forever frustrated and demoralized by your inability to win them over.

3.       Never dismiss, belittle or ignore a congregant’s concern or fail to respond to a congregant’s question, need, phone call or email. This will be perceived as the ultimate disrespect and will come back to haunt you in the future.

4.       Don’t give up on any congregant for any reason. You’re their rabbi and their last hope and it is your job to find a path to reach them. If their rabbi doesn’t believe in them, nobody will.    

5.    You will form close relationships with certain members of your congregation who will one day distance themselves from you for reasons you don’t or can’t understand. This is extraordinarily painful, but fear of this should not prevent you from building these intimate personal connections in the first place. And make sure to be patient and cautiously optimistic and to leave the door open. Eventually some of these individuals will reenter your life as suddenly and mysteriously as they once disappeared from it.

6.       Be yourself and be real. If you like hip hop, opera, Karaoke, or Steven Seagal movies, there is no shame in that and no good reason to hide it. These qualities and quirks are part of what make you an approachable, normal human being and revealing them will endear you to the majority of your congregants.

7.       Never use email as a medium to communicate about contentious issues or to settle arguments or disputes. No matter how well-reasoned, logical and persuasive your email is, and no matter how smart, witty or skilled a writer you think you are, it is guaranteed to backfire and you will lose EVERY SINGLE TIME. I speak from experience.

8.       If you absolutely cannot resist the temptation to use email to communicate your thoughts and feelings, then by all means, compose the most non-confrontational, intelligent, conciliatory and convincing message possible. Don’t send it right away; instead, save it as a draft overnight. The next morning, open the draft and reread it. Then delete it forever. Or file it in a folder entitled “Stupid Mistakes I Almost Made.”

9.       Listen to the advice of those wiser and more experienced than yourself and consider it carefully. In the end, you must always act in a way that you think is best for you and your congregation. But looking back I have learned that the counsel of veteran rabbis was almost always what I would have thought was best had I been able to see the situation as clearly as they were able to see it.

10.   In those tense moments when you find yourself in conflict with members of your congregation, keep in mind that you are still their spiritual leader and you have a sacred obligation to teach them by example and to sanctify God's name. Avoid succumbing to the temptations of pettiness, gossip, vindictiveness, anger and sarcasm. Speak kindly and constructively, carry yourself with humility and grace, and behave in a manner that you know will ultimately make you and your community proud. Then, even if you are defeated, you will have won in all the ways that really count.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Hanukkah's Eternal Message

A brief shiur on the Rambam's introduction to Hanukkah that I delivered at UMJCA's Bet Midrash in Great Neck, NY.

Monday, October 07, 2013

HaRav Ovadiah Yosef Z"L

I'm too distraught at the moment to fully formulate my thoughts...So I will surely have more to say about this tragic event later. In the meantime, let me remark that Rav Ovadiah Z"L was without a doubt the greatest Sephardic scholar of (at least) the past several centuries. He possessed a legendary and encyclopedic mastery of Jewish Law and was deeply sensitive and compassionate in his leadership and his halakhic decision making.

An awe-inspiring luminary who towered above and commanded the respect of Ashkenazic and Sephardic rabbis alike, Hakham Ovadiah Z"L enabled us (Sephardim) to take pride in the customs, traditions and Torah scholars that are uniquely our own. He was the architect of a renaissance of Sephardic learning and culture of which we have all been the beneficiaries and his legacy will impact countless generations. May his memory be a blessing.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who Wrote The Book of Life?

This is a piece I wrote that was published in the Washington Jewish Week a couple of years ago. Although the High Holiday season has passed, I was reminded of the article and present it here:

The liturgy of the High Holidays abounds in sublime and majestic poetry. Among the richest and most memorable images presented to us on the High Holidays is that of the Book of Life that is opened before the Creator on Rosh Hashana, only to be sealed at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. We are told that the fate of every individual, community and of the world at large is somehow indelibly inscribed in the pages of this fearsome Book each year. We wish one another “ketiva vehatima tova” – a good inscription and sealing – which is based upon this powerful depiction of G-d’s absolute and irrevocable judgment.

 It goes without saying that an omniscient Creator has no need for a book to keep track of records or lay down His judgment. The Book of Life is a metaphor adopted by our Sages to offer us a glimpse into the mechanics of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It cannot be taken as a literal depiction of the manner in which God evaluates our merits or determines our fate. How, then, does the image of a grand Book filled with inscriptions, signed and sealed On High, help us appreciate the cosmic significance of the High Holidays? How can we move beyond the simplistic picture of a heavenly bureaucracy and access the deeper meaning of this parable?
I believe that the key to understanding the “Book of Life” properly is recognizing who, in fact, is the author of the book. Contrary to popular belief, it is not God who records our deeds in the pages of some mysterious tome. Indeed, in the words of the Talmud, three books are “opened” before the Almighty on Rosh Hashana. One book lists those who are righteous, one book lists those who are wicked, and one book lists those who are in between. We must ask ourselves, if the judgment has not been passed yet, on what basis were we assigned to our respective books? Apparently, it is not God who is classifying us as righteous, wicked, or “in between” – He is merely examining books that are already written! So who is responsible for the actual content of these Books?
Sephardic Jews have an ancient and beloved custom of rising early in the morning to recite Selihot from the second day of the month of Elul through Yom Kippur – a total of approximately forty days. Sephardic Selihot are filled not only with prayers but with beautiful poetry that is chanted aloud in traditional melodies.  One of these pieces, authored by Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Balaam of the 12th Century, includes these lines:

“How can he complain or protest, what can he say to justify himself? He who is but a creature of clay whose body will one day revert to fine dust! What can man give to You, whether he be righteous or wicked? Behold, his words and deeds are written in the book of his days.”
In this passage, Ibn Balaam provides us with a totally new perspective on the “Book of Life” that is such a big part of our High Holiday lexicon.  Our words and actions are not of consequence to God because they affect Him. The Creator of the Universe has no need or inclination to transcribe or peruse our personal histories. The Book of Life is written by us – we are the authors of our own histories, and it is these very histories, set down, as it were, in our own cosmic autobiographies, that will form the foundation of our destiny whether we like it or not. Through exercising our freedom of choice we have already written ourselves into one of the three Books that will be presented -
opened" - before the Almighty, and it is up to us, if we so desire, to write ourselves into a different one before it is too late.

This approach gives a whole new meaning to the central theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – personal growth and repentance. The reason we are inspired to repent and improve ourselves during this time of year is not because we want God to be impressed with our efforts and reward us with great bounty. The reason why we are moved in the direction of positive change is because we recognize that we alone - with God’s endorsement, assistance and support - are the ones responsible for our own future. The decisions and commitments we make now, the words we inscribe in our Books of Life today, will determine the course of the year ahead.  As songstress Natasha Bedingfield put it,
“I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned
Staring at the blank page before you…
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten.”

True, we cannot hope to erase the chapters of our life stories that have already been composed and submitted to the Divine Editor for publication. Nor can we anticipate with any certainty precisely what the details of the next chapter’s plot will look like. However, as long as the current chapter of our Book of Life is still a work in progress, we have the power to conclude it in a way that will ensure that the tone set for future chapters is a positive and blessed one. And we do so with the confidence that God will seal and deliver those chapters as promised.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Wisdom in Consolation

In Chapter 14 of Avot DeRabbi Natan, we read a fascinating story about consoling mourners in their time of bereavement. Specifically, we are told how Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai, the spiritual leader of the Jewish people in the wake of the destruction of the Holy Temple, lost his son and how his students attempted to comfort him:

When the son of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai died, his disciples came to comfort him. Rabbi Eliezer entered and sat down before him. He said to him, "My master, do you wish for me to say one thing before you?" [Rabban Yohanan] responded, "speak." [Rabbi Eliezer] said, "Adam the first had a son who died, and he was able to be consoled. How do we know that he was able to be consoled? Because it is written, 'And Adam again knew his wife, etc.' You too should be consoled!"

Rabban Yohanan said to him: "Is it not enough for me to be upset about my own tragedy that you mention to me the suffering of Adam the first?"

Rabbi Yehoshua entered and said, "Do you wish for me to say one thing before you?" Rabban Yohanan said, "Speak." Rabbi Yehoshua said, "Iyov (Job) had sons and daughters and they all died on one day, yet he was consoled for them - so too should you be consoled! And how do we know that Iyov was consoled? As it is written, "Hashem has given and Hashem has taken away; may the name of Hashem be blessed."

Rabban Yohanan said to him: "Is it not enough for me to be upset about my own tragedy that you mention to me the suffering of Iyov?"

Rabbi Yose entered and sat before him. He said to him, "Do you wish for me to say one thing before you?" [Rabban Yohanan] said to him, "Speak." He said, "Aharon had two great sons and both of them died on the same day, yet he was consoled for them, as it says 'and Aharon was silent', and silence can only mean consolation. You too should be consoled!"

Rabban Yohanan said to him: "Is it not enough for me to be upset about my own tragedy that you mention to me the suffering of Aharon?"

Rabbi Shimon entered and said, "Do you wish for me to say one thing before you?" Rabban Yohanan said, "Speak." Rabbi Shimon said, "King David had a son who died and yet he was consoled. You too should be consoled! And how do we know that King David was consoled? As it is written, 'And David consoled Bat-Sheva, his wife, and came to her and lay with her, and she gave birth to a son and he called him Shelomo.' You too, my master, be consoled!"

Rabban Yohanan said to him: "Is it not enough for me to be upset about my own tragedy that you mention to me the suffering of David?"

Then Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya entered. When he [Rabban Yohanan] saw him, he said to his servant: "Take a vessel before me to the bathhouse, for he is a great man and I cannot stand before him." He [Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya] entered and sat before him and said: "I will offer you a parable - to what can this matter be compared? To a man to whom the King entrusted a deposit. Each and every day the man cries and shouts and says, 'Woe is to me, when will I part from this deposit in peace?' So it is with you, my master. You had a son. He read Torah, Prophets, Writings, Mishnah, Halakha and Aggada, and he left the world without sin. You should be consoled that you returned the deposit intact."

He said to him: "Rabbi Elazar, my son, you have consoled me in the manner that human beings console."

There are many noteworthy details in this account that deserve an explanation; however, for now, I'd like to focus on two basic questions that trouble the reader about this narrative:

1) The first four rabbis who offer words of comfort seem to approach the issue with similar methodologies. Each highlights the suffering of a famous Biblical personality and encourages Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai to be consoled just as that historical character was consoled. What led them to adopt this approach to begin with, and, once it was rejected by Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai the first time, why did each subsequent student insist on trying variations of the same rejected theme?

2) What was the essential difference in the way that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya addressed Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai's suffering, and what can we learn from it?

I believe that the premise of the students was a simple one: The experience of suffering is emotional and essentially irrational, and the key to coping with suffering is rising above it, escaping from the grip of the pain and taking refuge in philosophical ideas that neutralize it. Let us see how each student attempted to facilitate this transition in Rabban Yohanan:

Rabbi Eliezer cited the example of Adam. In doing so, he suggested that from the dawn of human civilization parents have lost children, and yet they maintained their resolve to perpetuate the human race regardless. If we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by tragedy, human civilization as we know it would come to an end. In other words, Rabbi Eliezer was encouraging Rabban Yohanan to stop focusing on his personal tragedy and focus on the humanity and the imperative to perpetuate our species, the proverbial "big picture" of what is "truly important". Rabban Yohanan was not consoled.

Then Rabbi Yehoshua cited the example of Iyov. Iyov recognized and accepted that tragedy and loss is an inescapable part of human life. To live and to love is to expose oneself to the pain of death and mourning. "Hashem has given and Hashem has given away, blessed is the name of Hashem." If we are to partake of Hashem's blessings, we must also be prepared to endure His withdrawal of blessing. We can't have one without the other, and so we shouldn't be overwhelmed when tragedy strikes. This philosophical idea did not console Rabban Yohanan either.

Next, Rabbi Yose mentioned the case of Aharon, who lost two sons on the day that the Tabernacle was finally dedicated. Despite the horror of this tragedy, the service of God went on, Aharon and his remaining sons set aside their inner pain and continued their faithful implementation of the Divine Will. Rabbi Yose's point was that Rabban Yohanan, as well, should not allow his feelings of despondence to overwhelm him and interfere with his study of Torah and observance of Mitzvot. He should remember that the continuity of the Masorah, our sacred tradition, is a paramount value for the sake of which all other concerns must be sacrificed. The service of God is greater than anything in our personal lives and must be perpetuated! This, too, did not console Rabban Yohanan.

The fourth student to enter is Rabbi Shimon, who cites the case of King David.  Although King David lost a son (actually, a few sons!) this did not undermine his commitment to the Jewish people as their political leader and the forger of their destiny. He ensured that a stable monarchy would be established regardless of any personal suffering he experienced along the way. So too, argued Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yohanan needed to look beyond the loss of his son and consider his obligations to the community as their leader and the source of their stability, as the man who was laying the groundwork for their future as a nation. This idea also failed to satisfy Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai.

Finally, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya enters and offers his brilliant allegory, which succeeds in comforting the ailing Rabban Yohanan. What was so different about his approach? Rather than try to move Rabban Yohanan's mind AWAY from his inner turmoil and sense of loss, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya infused the loss with great meaning. Instead of distracting Rabban Yohanan from his experience of suffering or downplaying its significance relative to the "ultimate truth", the allegory deepened his perspective on the experience, affirming that it was, indeed, significant.

There is a profound lesson for all of us in this narrative. When offering comfort or consolation to someone, philosophizing is not the way to go. No one wants to be "talked out" of suffering, distracted or told to move on because there are greater or more important things to live for or to focus on. The key to helping someone cope with loss is not to downplay it but to enable them to find meaning within the tragedy, to help them develop a perspective on their experience that is deeper, healthier, and more adaptive.

In fact, the word for consolation - נחם - in Hebrew comes from the same root as "to change one's mind", because its essence is not getting one's mind off of tragedy but transforming the way one keeps one's mind ON the tragedy.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Sabbath: A Cornerstone of Judaism

I just rediscovered this essay, which I believe I wrote when I was about seventeen years old (approximately twenty years ago). There is a lot here that I would rephrase/edit/add/subtract today, but I resist the temptation to revise history and therefore present it to you in its original form.

                                      The Sabbath: A Cornerstone of Judaism

             The Ten Commandments, revealed to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, contain the fundamental principles of religious belief, morality, and ethics by which every devout individual guides his life. The commandments to believe in God and honor one's parents, along with the injunctions against murder, stealing and adultery are all included in the famous and time honored code. Beliefs and practices such as these are clearly essential components of the lifestyle and philosophy of any religious person.

            When examining some of the Ten Commandments, however, it is much more difficult to perceive their profound significance. Belief in God and abstention from unethical and immoral activity are certainly cornerstones of any religion; however, they were not the only commandments etched into the stone tablets.
            The fourth commandment, that of observance of the Sabbath, is clearly neither a fundamental belief nor a rule of ethical or moral conduct. The Sabbath is a ritualistic institution, a commemoration of God's creation of the Universe. As the Torah explicitly states, "For in six days God made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them and He rested on the seventh day; therefore, God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it."[1]
           The question arises quite powerfully - why has a relatively insignificant rite of commemoration been placed among the ranks of "thou shalt not kill" and "thou shalt not steal" - laws of the utmost importance, foundations upon which all of civilized society rests? The question of the apparent overemphasis of the Sabbath's importance does not stop here. In Exodus 35:2 the Torah prescribes the most severe death penalty, that of stoning, for the Sabbath violator. The Talmud states emphatically and unequivocally that "anyone who willfully violates the Sabbath is considered to have worshipped idolatry."[2] These statements clearly contradict the commonly held opinion that the Sabbath is a relatively unimportant ritual, a mere celebration of the birthday of the Universe.[3]

            In order to resolve these difficulties, one's idea of the nature of the Sabbath must be clarified considerably. On the Sabbath, it is true, we commemorate God's creation of the Universe by refraining from all creative activity (melakha). In reality, however, the significance of the Sabbath extends much further than a mere "commemoration."
            On the Sabbath, we are given an opportunity to approach the Universe in an entirely different manner than we are accustomed to during the week. Sunday through Friday, we manipulate God's creation in accordance with our wishes - changing things to better suit our desires, improving things to better satisfy our needs, and creating things to help us accomplish our tasks more efficiently. On the seventh day, we step back from any creative involvement in the Universe and attempt to appreciate it objectively - not as a tool for accomplishing our needs and desires, but as an awesome manifestation of the infinite wisdom of the Creator. We contemplate the perfection and grandeur of the Universe, and we are compelled to realize what an insignificant component of it we truly are.[4]
             Indeed, despite all of our thoughtfulness and creativity we remain helplessly subject to the unchanging laws of the magnificent Universe of which we are but a small part.[5] Jewish law demands that we partake of three meals during the Sabbath so that we are physically satisfied and emotionally prepared to enter the world of abstract thought. The practices of lighting candles, bathing, and donning fine clothing prior to the Sabbath all serve to emphasize the honorable nature of the day's pursuits, and to create an atmosphere ideal for and conducive to intellectual activity. In fact, according to the strict legislation of Jewish law, one is required to refrain from any discussion that does not pertain to the acquisition of knowledge or that may distract one from involvement in its apprehension.[6]
            On the Sabbath, we approach the Universe with our minds rather than our hands, and we relax, free of the troubles of everyday life, to enjoy the most delightful beauty we are capable of perceiving - the profound wisdom manifest in Nature. As the Psalmist states, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament displays His handiwork."[7] Our Sages teach us that human perfection and true happiness can be achieved only through the acquisition of knowledge. In the words of Maimonides, "when a person ponders His great and wondrous works and creations and recognizes thereby His wisdom that is immeasurable and infinite he immediately loves, praises, and extols and is filled with a great desire to know the Supreme Being...And when he contemplates these things he is immediately drawn back with great reverence, realizing that he is a tiny, insignificant, unenlightened creature standing with his frail intellect before He Who is perfect in knowledge."[8] [9]
            Similarly, he writes: "the commandment to love God requires that we analyze and gain an understanding of His commandments, statements and actions until we acquire true knowledge of Him and experience by way of this knowledge the ultimate enjoyment...Thus I have explained that through contemplation you will arrive at true knowledge and experience the aforementioned enjoyment, and the love will of necessity follow."[10]
           This concept is constantly reiterated throughout Scripture,[11] [12] the Talmud and the writings of later sages. In the Ethics of the Fathers we are taught that "an ignorant person cannot be righteous."[13] Our Sages believed wholeheartedly that the laws of the Torah were fashioned purely for the purpose of guiding all of us toward true wisdom and understanding.[14] The Torah itself expresses this in Deuteronomy,[15] "For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the people, who will hear all these statutes and say, surely this great people is a wise and understanding nation."[16] The Sabbath, a day set aside for thought, contemplation, and honest appreciation of the wisdom inherent in the Universe, is the clearest expression of our unique philosophic system in which the acquisition of knowledge is viewed as the ultimate goal for mankind.[17]

            Idolatry, however, stands in absolute contradiction to this approach to the Universe. Faced with the daunting grandeur of God's creation, the idolater is gripped with an overpowering sense of helplessness and despair. As a child, he had been sheltered and provided for by his parents. Even during the most difficult times, he had been able to find comfort in the knowledge that his parents would always be there for him - to feed him, clothe him, and protect him from all harm. Now that he has attained maturity, the feeling of security which had sustained him since childhood has been torn from him mercilessly. Peering out at the vast Universe, he witnesses the wonders and the horrors of Nature: life-giving rainfalls and destructive floods, plentiful harvests and widespread famines, the miracle of birth and the mystery of death. The anxiety and feeling of utter defenselessness before Mother Nature is too much for the primitive individual to handle.
           Thus, the idolater "creates", by way of his imagination, myriads of forces, spirits, and deities whom he can manipulate to fulfill his desires. Once again he is safe, shielded from harm by "gods" who are greater than he and who regulate and direct the laws of nature. Dominated by his physical needs and desires, he is compelled to deny the absolute and unchanging system of the laws of Nature anytime that it conflicts with his wishes. Imprisoned in shackles of self-centered emotion, he is unable to perceive knowledge and to enjoy its beauty and profundity. Whenever the idolater meets with difficulty in the satisfaction of his instincts he appeals to his gods through prayer or sacrifice,[18] begging them to assist him by causing the Universe to operate in accordance with his will. With a little imagination the idolater has restored the peaceful situation of his childhood.
            Einstein, in observation of this phenomenon, wrote "Now what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the word?....With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions - fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices, which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation...makes them well disposed toward a mortal."[19] Sigmund Freud wrote along similar lines, "It can clearly be seen that possession of these (religious) ideas protects him (the idolater) in two directions -against the dangers of nature and Fate, and against the injuries that threaten him from human society itself."[20]
             The idolatrous personality cannot conceive of the Universe outside of the framework of his own needs and desires. In his philosophy, the Universe's very existence is only valuable in so far as it provides him with the tools to pursue and satisfy his instincts. Thus, the concept of a Sabbath is utterly alien to the primitive individual. In his mind, an attempt to relate to the Universe with anything other than one's animalistic drives would be unheard of, even objectionable. The base, sense-perception oriented philosophy of idolatry is diametrically opposed to any system of thought which would produce a Sabbath. A day for contemplation of abstract beauty and objective appreciation of the Universe has no place in the lifestyle of the individual steeped in idol worship.[21]

            It now becomes clear why the Sabbath is so essential to Judaism, as well as why desecration of the Sabbath is considered by our Sages to be tantamount to idol worship. Violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath is equivalent to a rejection of the philosophic principles upon which it is founded; and it is the rejection of these principles, as our Sages rightly observed, that constitutes the very essence of idolatry.
            Observance of the Sabbath clearly distinguishes Judaism, a religion based on knowledge and created to facilitate intellectual perfection, from the pagan religions, all of which were formed in attempts to provide false security to primitive mankind. Belief in idolatrous religious principles is truly destructive to human beings, causing them to deny reality, convincing them to shun wisdom, breeding ignorance and demanding blind faith. For all intents and purposes, the idolater conducts his life like an animal, obeying his instincts and retarding his intellectual growth.
            The Sabbath, on the other hand, brings one who observes it properly the truest form of human happiness, that which results from the acquisition of knowledge and understanding.[22] [23] It expresses quite clearly the unique philosophy and value system of Judaism. In the poetic words of the Sabbath prayer service,[24] "those who observe the Sabbath with joy will forever possess glory...those who love its ideas have chosen true greatness."

[1]Exodus 20:11
[2]Tractate Chullin 5a, as well as Maimonides' Laws of the Sabbath 30:15, and numerous other places in the Talmud.
[3]The Prophetic books abound with praise of the greatness and importance of the Sabbath. For example, in Isaiah 58:13-14, we read "If you restrain your foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing your business on My holy day; if you refer to the Sabbath as 'a delight', to the holy day of the Lord as 'honorable'; and you honor it, by not pursuing your business or speaking of worthless matters, then you shall delight yourself in knowledge of the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth..." Statements like these are made quite frequently in the book of Isaiah as well as in other books of the prophets.
[4]In the words of King David (Psalms 8:4-5), "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You have established - what is man that You should take notice of him?"
[5]This is not meant to imply that Judaism rejects the concept of Divine Providence. On the contrary,it is a fundamental tenet of Jewish philosophy that God extends a measure of His Providence to individual human beings which is in proportion to the degree of perfection which they have attained. As Psalms asserts (91:14), "For he has yearned for Me and I will deliver him, I will elevate him because he knows My name." Our Sages teach us that God's "name" refers to His wisdom as it is expressed in His actions, i.e., the laws of nature. (See Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, Book One, Chapters 61-64,  where this topic is dealt with in its entirety, as well as the commentaries of Rabbi Obadya Sforno and Ibn Ezra on Exodus 3:14-15 and 6:2-3 and the commentaries of Ibn Ezra and Radak on Zechariah 14:9.)
[6]Tractate Shabbat 113a as well as Maimonides' Laws of the Sabbath 24:4-5 and Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Berurah and Tur Shulchan Aruch Section 307.
[7]Psalms 19:2
[8]Maimonides, Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, Chapter II, Law II.
[9]Compare Albert Einstein, "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe, a spirit vastly superior to man and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble."(Albert Einstein, The Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, p.33)
[10]Maimonides, Book of The Commandments, Positive Commandment III.
[11]In fact, two books of the Bible, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, are devoted exclusively to praise of the life guided by wisdom.
[12]Note the statement of King Solomon (Proverbs 3:13-18), "Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who acquires understanding. For the value of it is greater than the value of silver, and its gain than that of fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all things you may desire are not to be compared to her...Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who hold fast to her; happy are those who rely upon her."
[13]Ethics of the Fathers, 2:5
[14]Maimonides discusses this point at length in his Guide for The Perplexed, as do Gersonides (see, for example, his introduction to his commentary on the Bible and his comments on Genesis chapters 1-3), Rabbi Obadya Sforno (see, for example, his introduction to his commentary on the Bible and his comments on Genesis chapters 1-3, as well as his introduction to his commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes), Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, the Chinuch (see, for example, his explanation of the philosophic basis for the commandment to fast on the Day of Atonement), the Meiri (see, for example, his introduction to his commentary on the Talmud), Rabbi David Kimchi (also known as the Radak; see, for example, his introduction to his commentary on the Bible as well as his introduction to the Book of Joshua), Rav Saadiah Gaon, Rabbi Bachya ibn Pekuda, Rabbi Joseph Albo, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (refer, for example, to his work entitled The Way of Wisdom), and many later authorities.
[16]Similarly, the Psalmist declares (Psalms 19:8), "The ordinances of the Lord are trustworthy, making the simple one wise."
[17]Compare the words of King David (Psalms 92:1, 2 and 5-6), "A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praise to Your name, O Exalted One....For You have gladdened me through Your deeds, when I perceive the works of Your hands I sing glad song. How great are Your deeds, O Lord; exceedingly profound are Your thoughts."
[18]For an explanation of the concepts of prayer and sacrifice in the highly sophisticated and rational framework of Judaism, see "The Role of the Sacrificial Service in Judaism" by this author.
[19]Albert Einstein, Religion and Science, 1930. Found in Ideas and Opinions.
[20]Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927.
[21]The stark contrast between the world view of the idolater and that of the Jew is the basis of the Talmudic adage (Tractate Kiddushin 40a), "Anyone who accepts idolatry is considered to have rejected the entire Torah, and anyone who rejects idolatry is considered to have accepted the entire Torah." Along similar lines, Maimonides stated in his Guide that "the principle objective of the Torah is the extirpation of idolatry."
[22]Einstein expressed his unconventionally religious love for and devotion to knowledge in the following manner: "To know that what is impenetrable for us truly exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties , this knowledge, this feeling...that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense....I rank myself among profoundly religious men."(Albert Einstein, The Man and his Theories, Hilary Cuny, P.149)
[23]Maimonides writes (Laws of the Sabbath, 30:10), "...This was the custom of the pious men of old on the Sabbath day: they would pray the morning and additional service in the Synagogue, then return to their houses to eat the afternoon meal; after this they would go to the House of Study..until the afternoon service.." Similarly, the Jerusalem Talmud states, "The Sabbath was given to the Jewish people only to provide them with free time to engage in Torah study." See also the Meiri's introduction to his commentary on the Talmud, the Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 31 and 32, Maimonides in his final letter to his son,  the introduction of Abraham son of Maimonides to his work The Guide for Worshipers of God, the commentaries of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, Rabbi Obadya Sforno, Rabbi David Kimchi and Gersonides on Genesis 2:3 and Exodus 20:8-11, the Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Berurah and Tur Shulchan Aruch 290:2, and Midrash Tanchuma Vayakhel.
[24]Siddur, Additional Prayer for the Sabbath (Mussaf)