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Parashat Shoftim and pursuit of justice

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

Torah and its focus on the rule of law


This week’s portion is called Shoftim, or “Judges” in English. The first three verses speak about appointing judges and how they should act. And, in these verses, is one of the most famous and often quoted phrases within the Bible:
You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Eternal your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Eternal your God is giving you.
The famous phrase is: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof — Justice, justice shall you pursue. This is an interesting and unusual Hebrew construction that almost demands interpretation because it is so unusual. You see there is verb construction in Hebrew that intensifies the meaning of the verb. The absolute infinitive is paired with the conjugated verb to intensify the meaning. OK, forget the grammar lesson; let me just give you an example. In the Garden of Eden, God says to Eve eat from any tree in the garden, except for that one because if you do, mot tamut, you shall surely die. “You shall surely” verb, that’s the construction. But here, it’s a repetition of a noun and that’s kind of special, so it has to be interpreted.
Interpretation number one: Rabbi Ze’ev of Zbarzh believed “justice, justice shall you pursue,” as excessive righteousness, being holier than thou, you shall chase away. Just as we can sin by disregarding what is just, we can also sin by being overly scrupulous.
Interpretation number two: Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa interprets the phrase as “with justice you shall pursue justice. Even the pursuit of justice must employ only just means, and not falsehood.” That is, the ends don’t justify the means and we can’t have true justice if we lie or cheat to achieve it.
All of these instructions for setting up the rule of law are not some theoretical musings on the ideal justice system. Rather, we do all of this for the very practical purpose, as it says in our section, “that you may thrive.” We are blessed to live in the United States where we enjoy, however imperfect it may be, the rule of law. And we are prosperous in part because we live by the rule of law.
The counterexamples are all out there. If you don’t have judges with one set of laws, you end up with Somalia, where the strongest warlords impose their capricious rule. If judges are subject to bribery, influence, or patronage, you end up with Russia. In Russia, it’s not what you know as much as whom you know, that determines if you can get ahead. Or, once you’ve gotten ahead, whether you can keep your place.
We are blessed to live in the United States under the rule of law. Let us pursue and establish justice, that we may continue to thrive.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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Siegfried Marcus invented the ‘auto-mobile’

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

The 1800s German Jew introduced a liquid-fuel breakthrough


It sure is amazing. I just saw a TV report showing a self-driving car safely navigating the streets and eventually parking itself. So, can you imagine people’s reaction, way back in the late 1800s, when they saw one of the first cars on the street?
The person who generally gets credit for inventing the very first road vehicle is Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a French military engineer, who in 1769, built a steam-driven three-wheeler designed to pull artillery. Other inventors followed with steam-driven and coal gas models, but most engineers describe the first true car as “one driven by liquid fuel.” Fulfilling this breakthrough was Siegfried Marcus, a German Jew and prolific inventor, who spent most of his life in Austria.
Starting as a 12-year old machine-shop apprentice, Marcus blossomed in the telegraph industry, eventually improving telegraphic relay systems and gaining recognition as an “up-and-coming engineer.”
One of his most well-known inventions was the T-handled plunger device used by mining and construction companies, which safely detonated explosives. By the 1860s, money from Marcus’ successful inventions allowed him to build his own research laboratory, where he could experiment with whatever he chose.
While using liquid fuels for ignition purposes, Marcus understood the force that developed when sparks ignited, enabling him to build a two-cycle engine. He mounted his motor to the rear wheels of a four-wheel cart, providing the basis for a motor-driven cart.
Finally, in 1888, Marcus announced his much improved car. Sporting a four-cycle, gasoline powered engine, the “auto-mobile” reached a top speed of 10 miles per hour.
For a brief time, Siegfried Marcus was celebrated as the inventor of the first automobile. However, when he was to be honored by the Austrian Auto Club, he surprisingly declined to attend, stating that the idea of the auto was a waste of time. And, interestingly enough, he made no further effort to perfect and market his car. I suppose once he accomplished what he set out to do, there was no longer a challenge.
Thirty-five years after Marcus died, and soon after Hitler came to power, evidence of the inventor’s achievements disappeared. Blueprints, files, and patents of Marcus and other Jews were destroyed. The Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of Jewish achievements, including a monument honoring Marcus at the Vienna Technical University.
In 1950, Marcus’ second car was found where it had been hidden: bricked up behind a false wall of a Viennese museum by employees to protect it from Nazi destruction. Siegfried Marcus’ second car is now on permanent display at the Vienna Technical Museum.
While the Viennese support Siegfried Marcus as the inventor of the first car, most auto historians give credit to Gottlieb Daimler (1885) for the first modern engine and Carl Benz (1886) for the first gasoline-fueled car.
But Marcus, the Jewish inventor, also deserves to be remembered as one of the first inventors of the automobile.

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Forgiveness is not age-restrictive

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

The month of Elul has begun and with it, we prepare for the holidays. “Preparing for the holidays” means so many different things to different people. However, beyond the new clothes, and who is coming for dinner, and what will the rabbi talk about, is the inside work that we must begin. We begin the process of forgiveness which is so much more than “saying sorry.”
As we prepared for preschool at the J, we reflected on this concept for young children. Together we read and discussed a wonderful article by Michelle Woo titled “What to Say to Little Kids Instead of ‘Say Sorry.’”
Here are the steps
1) Bring the kids together.
2) Tell the child who caused the accident what happened and be specific.
3) Describe what you see; model empathy for the hurt child.
4) Take action, and make a guarantee.
For children, we must model and talk through each of these steps, but how does it work with teens, young adults, older adults and even those who think they are too old to change? The hardest part is coming to the person to start the apology. We must come together to understand what we have done that is hurtful, to see the impact of our action or words. We must be empathetic, working to feel what the other feels.
What about actions to make things better? What if there is no “thing” that we can do? The final step is the hardest — commit to not doing it again, and finding a way to remind ourselves not to do so.
Of course, there are all sorts of hurts we feel sorry we have inflicted, or that have been done to us. In an article from the Sefaria website, Sara Wolkenfeld shares a story from an Auschwitz survivor:
“On Jan. 27, 1995, at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I stood by the ruins of the gas chambers with my children…while I read my document of forgiveness and signed it. As I did that I felt a burden of pain was lifted from me. I was no longer in the grip of pain and hate; I was finally free. The day I forgave the Nazis, privately I forgave my parents, whom I hated all my life for not having saved me from Auschwitz. Children expect their parents to protect them; mine couldn’t. And then I forgave myself for hating my parents. Forgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free; it works and has no side effects.”
While most of us do not have to carry such a burden of hate, we can understand what this woman is saying, on many levels. Asking for forgiveness is important, not just at Yom Kippur, but whenever we have hurt another. Yet, the process helps both sides of the hurt and possibly the hardest act of forgiveness comes in forgiving yourself.
May this month of Elul bring plenty of reflection, forgiveness and change.

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Why Jews point to matrilineal descent

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

Writings indicate that mothers determine Jewish status


Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have a friend who is presently a practicing Methodist minister. He asked me to find out for him why the religious status of a Jew is determined by the mother, not the father. Could you please help me with this?
Marshall L.
Dear Marshall,
Let us analyze the source of matrilineal descent in Judaism.
Although the determination of which of the 12 tribes one would belong to depends upon the father, the essential Jewish status, itself, depends upon the mother (Talmud Tractate Kiddushin 88b).
Before the transmission of Torah at Sinai, the definition of belonging to the Abrahamic lineage was patrilineal, as we find that many of the sons of Jacob married outside the family. The principle of matrilineal descent was introduced at Sinai, when the Abrahamic nation technically became Jewish.
Furthermore, the Torah states: “You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others…” (Deuteronomy 7:3). The question is, why is the Torah only concerned that “he,” the son, will sway your grandchildren away from God, but not that “she,” the non-Jewish mother, will do the same?
The Talmud infers from this verse that only the non-Jewish father could sway your Jewish grandchildren away from Judaism, as he is Jewish if his mother is Jewish. But, if the mother is not Jewish, then it is too late to worry. The grandchildren will be swayed away as they are not Jewish to begin with, as the Jewish status depends upon the mother, not the father.
We were not given an explanation in the Torah, explicitly, why God established this definition of a Jew. I understand it as follows. We are, as humans, not just bodies, but bodies and souls. We received our spiritual handbook at Mount Sinai. The Kabbalistic writings tell us that the Jews at Sinai were endowed with unique, expanded souls, as a receptacle for all the amazing spiritual energy about to be unleashed. We continue to receive those expanded souls throughout the generations, to continue to hold all the energy of Sinai, and to emit that energy to illuminate the world as a “light among the nations.”
The Talmud says that the soul is endowed in the fetus on the 40th day from conception, while in the mother’s womb. According to this Talmudic teaching, where the baby was on Day 40, i.e., whose womb he or she is in, is the key determination as to which type of soul they will receive, a Gentile soul, or a Jewish one. (Location, location, location!)
Hence, the Judaism of the child depends upon the mother, as the fetus rests in the mother’s womb. Although there’s much more to discuss on this matter, those are a few points in a nutshell.

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Appreciating the light of knowledge

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

A focus on Pitt’s special ‘Lantern Night’


I have made yet another trip back to my hometown, Pittsburgh. It was for a happier occasion than the other recent three: two for visits to my dear Uncle Irwin during the illness that finally claimed his life, the final one for his funeral and shiva. In contrast, this one was for a celebration at my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh.
Every year, Pitt has a special ceremony to welcome its entering freshmen women. Called “Lantern Night,” it’s held on the evening before the day fall classes will begin, and starts in daylight but goes on until well after dark. Every girl — 1,300 this time — gets her own lantern, pre-fitted with a candle. All gather in a huge tent outside the school’s (non-religious) Heinz Chapel to wait until after the various welcomes and such are over, then enter, 18 at a time, to face 18 women with tall tapers, nine on each side of the main aisle, and formally receive “The Light of Knowledge.”
It’s a gorgeous sight when all these young women are joined outside by those who have come to witness this event, to sing with the men’s choir the “Alma Mater,” in the shadow of Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, under night skies lit only by those newly acquired lamps of learning.
This was the 99th year for Lantern Night, Pitt’s oldest unbroken tradition. I went back to take part as a greeter of guests and to watch, because I never got a lantern myself! You see, I entered the university at the midterm, when there was no such ceremony. My first college day was in January 1951, and I graduated in June 1954 — 65 years ago. And, when someone in “high places” heard about this, I was invited to come and be a part of this year’s evening, and receive a much-belated lantern of my own!
It was amazing to sit in the back of the chapel, as those young women entered, carrying their lanterns. They were of every size, shape, height and color, dressed as they pleased, with skirts, pants, dresses. A few hijabs identified some, but for the rest — no way to know anything about their beliefs, or lack of same. For on that one night, each was just her unidentified self, an individual ready to begin the next morning on the educational adventure of her life, no matter what course that life might take.
I myself didn’t walk in that seemingly endless line to have a candle lit. But as I watched the parade, I offered a silent prayer: that for all of these marchers, the light of knowledge would shine bright, and that at the end of the longer journey each was beginning, she might find — as I have — that my alma mater gave me everything I needed for a productive and fulfilled life: by recognizing my ability to write, and by encouraging it; fine-tuning it in classrooms, on publication staffs, and through one-on-one conferences with people who truly cared. For giving me the skills and confidence to make writing my career, and finally, to use it in sharing what I think, and know, and believe in, with those who read what I write: people like you!
I came home richer for this belated experience — for watching what I never had myself as a freshman — and for the privilege, as a very senior alumna, to claim my own lantern, which will always be with me as a symbol of the glorious Light of Knowledge that has so fully illuminated my life.
It all ended when one of the staff planners said to me, “I’m going to carve your name on the Pitt Walk of Fame! I have a penknife, and I know how to use it!” We both laughed. But I wasn’t kidding when I told her, “This is no joke. God willing, I’ll be back next year, for Lantern Night Number 100!”

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Finding communication amid clutter

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

I have long since forgotten who gave me the tastefully gold-lettered sign that’s been rooted on my workspace for years. “A Cluttered Desk Is the Mark of Genius,” it says. Of course, it is securely planted amid the everlasting clutter, sometimes rendered almost invisible, lost among folders, boxes, books and piles of paper.
Among the latter, I often find bits covered with impossible-to-decipher notes that once must have meant something – maybe even something important. No matter how often I neaten things up, no matter how diligently I purge the accumulations, no matter how often I promise myself I won’t let the desk get into that shape again, it always does. That sign remains at the center of things, endlessly reminding me of its comforting half-truth, half-lie A cluttered desk? Yes! A sign of genius? Not so much.
One of my worst habits is making quick notes on small scraps of paper, that just as quickly become parts of the workday rubble, later to be found as lost futures that have already faded into the past. When I unearth them, they are like strange treasures encountered during an excavation, all needing similar research. Why didn’t I jot down a name with this telephone number, since I have no idea whose it is? Where is the announcement of the forthcoming book review I’ve made a note to attend, and when? And, what is the book in question?
It’s amazing how quickly some “current events” stop being current, and how unimportant some heavily underlined future events become after I missed them. But, it’s also amazing how often I unearth a forgotten gem that I can once again reread with the great pleasure it gave me originally – which I why I saved it: Because it makes me think. Here’s one I have just found, penciled in my own handwriting, on a nondescript square of scratch paper, source unknown.
“It does no harm, just once in a while, to acknowledge that the whole country isn’t in flames. That there are people in this country besides politicians, entertainers and criminals. And they do really good things. And maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all.”
I have no idea who said this, or when and why, and how it took up residence on my desk. But it’s a good message, and I’m glad I wrote it down. I would like to thank whoever said this, but I don’t even have an unidentified phone number for this one.
Here’s another: “I fear a day when I will not remember you…No longer see your face, or feel your touch…” This reads like the start of a poem written after a very personal loss. Written by whom? This is scrawled, in my own handwriting, of course, on a scrap of paper less than half the size of the one mentioned above. There is a clue of sorts: The handwritten note is below what is obviously the printed head of a longer piece of paper. It says, in blue letters, “A Note for You.” Am I the “You?” Whose note is/was this, anyway? I have very recently marked five years since the passing of my husband, and am definitely not the owner of this “fear.” But, where did I get this? And why? And how? And from whom?
Clearing off my desk to once again reach “ground level” is among many projects that can be postponed, and too often are. But this one shouldn’t be, because I know I will always find some forgotten treasures, such as the ones noted above. Good words, important words, words worth passing on. And, when I finally start to do it, I also know I’ll have that same “clean” feeling I get after unloading the dishwasher or the washing machine. Even better, because the desktop makes promises of hidden treasures to be found, reread, appreciated – maybe even the gifts of true geniuses with equally messy desks!

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Understanding the spirit — and letter — of Jewish law

Posted on 28 August 2019 by admin

Deuteronomy 12:28 reads: “Safeguard and hearken to all these words that I command you…when you do what is good and right in the eyes of Hashem your God.”
A basic question we may pose is: Isn’t it sufficient to obey all the words of the Torah? What, in addition, is being asked of us by stating that we must also do “what is good and right?”
There is a need to state this to countermand a lifestyle that, while religiously observant, is empty in terms of inner beauty and spirit.
One could simply “go through the motions” of Jewish life, but not connect with one’s heart and soul. Rather, one must act with goodness and righteousness even when complying with mitzvot. The Torah is communicating to us an overview of both behavior and attitude to permeate a person’s approach to God’s commandments.
It is not possible or desirable for the Torah to list every possible human action or interaction. Rather, the Torah gave us representative laws and then their guiding principles, what we can call meta-halacha. This goes beyond the law, and addresses itself to the spirit of the laws that should never get lost in our compliance with the laws themselves.
There are two faces to the law: the outer one, called the letter of the law, and the inner one, called the spirit of the law. Nahmanides teaches us that we are to obey mitzvot, but also do them for the right reason. If one ignores the spirit of the mitzvah, you fulfill only one part of the Torah declaration: “Do what is good and right.”
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 83a) provides a powerful example: Rabbah bar Bar Chana was a scholar and wealthy individual. He hired porters to transport barrels of wine. The workers were negligent and broke the barrels. The rabbi wanted payment from the workers for the damages and lost wine. He took their clothing in lieu of payment.
The porters went to Rav to stake their claim. Rav ruled in their favor and their garments were returned. Bar Chana asked Rav, “Is this the law?”
Rav affirmed his ruling, citing a verse from Proverbs (2:20): “In order that you may walk in the road of good men.” Technically, the porters were at fault, but Rav dealt with them, according to a higher spirit of the law.
The porters were still unhappy. They had worked all day and wanted to be compensated for their labors (though they had damaged the barrels). They complained that they were hungry and needed their pay to purchase food for themselves and their families.
Again, Rav ruled in their favor. The astonished Bar Chana again asked: “Is this the law?”
Rav affirmed his decision quoting the end of that same verse from Proverbs: “And you shall guard the path of the righteous.”
Rav explained that based on strict law, he would have to rule in favor of Bar Chana, who hired the porters. But Rav took into account all the circumstances of the case: wealth, poverty, scholars and laborers.
Rav said the facts have to be tempered by the situation. Ethically, the porters were dependent on their daily wages for their very sustenance. So, Rav went lifnei me’shurat ha’din — beyond the letter of the law.
The Torah requires us to do what is both good and righteous, to keep both the letter and spirit of the law. If an individual concentrates only on one, it causes a shift in the delicate balance of things. One could end up dangling dangerously off the side. When we balance the two together, we reach physical and spiritual heights. We can then walk on a high wire without fear of falling.
We thereby formulate a religious balance and harmony.
That is precisely what we should seek, as we begin the month of Elul, one month preceding Rosh Hashanah.
Shabbat Shalom.
Chodesh Tov.
Rabbi Wolk is community chaplain of Jewish Family Service and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Tefilla.

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Embrace learning as a lifelong activity

Posted on 28 August 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
For most children, school has begun, though young adults are waiting for the start of college classes. For adults, learning opportunities are available, from college campuses to online classes. Jewish learning is also available for all ages and stages — but this means reaching out and committing to continued learning, and continued growing. You are never too old, or too young, to learn.
In Judaism, learning is one of the key values that has kept us alive and vital through the generations. Here are a few quotes and commentary (my own). Take these, talk about them with family and friends, and then find a learning opportunity that works for you.
“Only learning that is enjoyed will be learned well.” — Judah HaNasi
This idea of enjoying learning is crucial for all ages We must especially send this message to all who teach children. Adults can vote with their feet; if they are not enjoying a class, they can leave it. Children, however, do not always have the choice, so we need to remember the words of Judah HaNasi.
“A student should not be embarrassed if a fellow student has understood something after the first or second time and he has not grasped it even after several attempts. If he is embarrassed because of this, it will turn out that he will come and go from the house of study without learning anything at all.” — Shulkhan Arukh
This is a challenge as we grow older. We think we should know something, and are embarrassed to ask if we don’t understand. Don’t let embarrassment or fear stop you from learning and asking questions.
“Much wisdom I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, from my pupils most of all.” — Maimonides
As a teacher, this is my favorite quote. I have learned so much from my students of all ages.
”Say not, ‘When I have leisure I will study.’ Perhaps you will have no leisure.” — Pirke Avot 2:3
And, here is the mandate to use to take the time to learn.
I would not be doing my job as a Jewish educator at the Jewish Community Center if I did not plug our classes, films, books and other activities. Opportunities to learn exist at every synagogue and Jewish organization. Find what interests you and begin your journey. And, I would love to learn with you, and from you, at the J.

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Explaining population size: Jews versus Muslims

Posted on 28 August 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In Genesis 21:9, the Lord said for Abraham to “look at the stars, see if you can count them. As many stars as there are up in the heavens, so many will be the children of your family.” The Lord also promised that Ishmael would have many children, and God would make of him a great nation. Today, there are 12 million Jews (from Isaac) and more than 1 billion Muslims from Ishmael. If Isaac inherited the covenant, why is there such a huge difference in the numbers of descendants today? Why are there so many more Muslims than Jews?
Joel B.
Dear Joel,
I don’t think you are asking me to explain the sociological reasons the Jewish nation is so small in numbers; those reasons include persecution, murder of the Jews, assimilation and so on. Rather, I assume you are asking why God would allow those factors to persist if He truly wanted the Jews to be as abundant “as the stars of the sky.”
Truthfully, the Torah itself elucidates this strange fact of history. “Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did God desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of God’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers did He take you out with a strong hand…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). We see that God, Himself, considers us “the fewest of all the peoples.” How does this fit with “like the stars”?
The commentators explain with an example of fruit from a tree. The farmer grows a tree for its fruit, but the fruit is very minuscule in comparison to the roots, trunk, branches, leaves and peel. All of this exists for what the farmer loves most: the succulent fruit. Although the tree is vastly greater than the fruit it produces, in the mind of the farmer, it’s about the fruit.
The Jewish people are charged to be a “light unto the nations.” This, in short, means that we are to be the ambassadors of God’s teachings at Mount Sinai, where He revealed the purpose of creation. In that way we, the Jewish people, are like the fruit, while the other nations are like the larger tree. In other words, the Jews are built upon quality, not quantity.
Mark Twain put it so well: “…the Jews constitute but 1 percent of the human race…the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of…extravagantly out of proportion to his bulk. His contributions to…literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers…” (Harper’s Magazine, September 1899).
To prophetically receive the tremendous spiritual energy carried by the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish nation was endowed with an expanded soul, which could contain all that energy. Hence, that expanded soul excels in other areas of study as well.
The contributions of the Jews to the world, their positive impact is “as numerous as the stars,” similar to a nation of hundreds of millions. Despite such small numbers, some 30 percent of Nobel Prizes have been won by Jews. In contrast, the Muslim nation, with over a billion adherents, holds nary a Nobel Prize in anything but “peace”!
Until, perhaps, the future messianic times, when the count will be literal, the meaning of the Jews’ numbering like the stars takes on a different meaning. Consider a star; it looks like a minuscule point of light at night, but we know that as we approach the star, it is a massive light and heat source almost beyond comprehension. So, too, with the Jewish people. As much light as we are able to radiate unto the nations, is simply a tiny point of light compared to how we will shine when the “cover comes off” and our full illumination will be felt, beyond our comprehension today.

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Finding communication amid clutter

Posted on 28 August 2019 by admin

I have long since forgotten who gave me the tastefully gold-lettered sign that’s been rooted on my workspace for years. “A Cluttered Desk Is the Mark of Genius,” it says. Of course, it is securely planted amid the everlasting clutter, sometimes rendered almost invisible, lost among folders, boxes, books and piles of paper.
Among the latter, I often find bits covered with impossible-to-decipher notes that once must have meant something – maybe even something important. No matter how often I neaten things up, no matter how diligently I purge the accumulations, no matter how often I promise myself I won’t let the desk get into that shape again, it always does. That sign remains at the center of things, endlessly reminding me of its comforting half-truth, half-lie A cluttered desk? Yes! A sign of genius? Not so much.
One of my worst habits is making quick notes on small scraps of paper, that just as quickly become parts of the workday rubble, later to be found as lost futures that have already faded into the past. When I unearth them, they are like strange treasures encountered during an excavation, all needing similar research. Why didn’t I jot down a name with this telephone number, since I have no idea whose it is? Where is the announcement of the forthcoming book review I’ve made a note to attend, and when? And, what is the book in question?
It’s amazing how quickly some “current events” stop being current, and how unimportant some heavily underlined future events become after I missed them. But, it’s also amazing how often I unearth a forgotten gem that I can once again reread with the great pleasure it gave me originally – which I why I saved it: Because it makes me think. Here’s one I have just found, penciled in my own handwriting, on a nondescript square of scratch paper, source unknown.
“It does no harm, just once in a while, to acknowledge that the whole country isn’t in flames. That there are people in this country besides politicians, entertainers and criminals. And they do really good things. And maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all.”
I have no idea who said this, or when and why, and how it took up residence on my desk. But it’s a good message, and I’m glad I wrote it down. I would like to thank whoever said this, but I don’t even have an unidentified phone number for this one.
Here’s another: “I fear a day when I will not remember you…No longer see your face, or feel your touch…” This reads like the start of a poem written after a very personal loss. Written by whom? This is scrawled, in my own handwriting, of course, on a scrap of paper less than half the size of the one mentioned above. There is a clue of sorts: The handwritten note is below what is obviously the printed head of a longer piece of paper. It says, in blue letters, “A Note for You.” Am I the “You?” Whose note is/was this, anyway? I have very recently marked five years since the passing of my husband, and am definitely not the owner of this “fear.” But, where did I get this? And why? And how? And from whom?
Clearing off my desk to once again reach “ground level” is among many projects that can be postponed, and too often are. But this one shouldn’t be, because I know I will always find some forgotten treasures, such as the ones noted above. Good words, important words, words worth passing on. And, when I finally start to do it, I also know I’ll have that same “clean” feeling I get after unloading the dishwasher or the washing machine. Even better, because the desktop makes promises of hidden treasures to be found, reread, appreciated – maybe even the gifts of true geniuses with equally messy desks!

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