DAY 1275: The Mass Appeal of Jewish Wisdom

December 27, 2015
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1275: The Mass Appeal of Jewish Wisdom


Dear Hevreh

Some of the most exciting moments for me as a rabbi occur when I encounter Jewish wisdom in unsuspecting places. For instance, I was reading an article in Esquire about Jimmy Fallon when I came across this nugget in describing how Jimmy Fallon is simply trying to be his best self:

In Tales of the Hasidim, [Martin] Buber tells of Rabbi Zusya, who stood before the throne on Judgment Day worried that God would ask, Why weren’t you oses? Why weren’t you Solomon? Why weren’t you at least Maimonides? But is Creator simply asked, Why weren’t you Zusya? (Esquire, Dec/Jan 2015/16, 120).

What I find so remarkable about this passage isn’t the teaching itself. It’s a nice little nugget, certainly not the deepest in our vaults of wisdom. But what was thrilling was that this story from our tradition was used to illustrate a larger point…about a comic! That is to say our wisdom has a voice in the larger body of knowledge that is pop culture.

And this is critical place for our wisdom to exist. Few of us know much about crime, intelligence gathering, or early 20th century in aristocratic Britain. What we do know (or at least what we think we know) comes from the Law & Orders, Homelands, Downton Abbeys and similar productions that inform as well as entertain us. Just think about what the Broadway show Hamilton has done to help educate the American public about our (mostly) forgotten founding father! We can’t all be scholars, sitting and learning primary texts. We need the various forms of media, whether it’s on our screens or in our shuls, to help teach us something important and informative, even if that’s not its raison d’etre. ¬†That is why our Jewish wisdom needs to be spread over as many platforms as possible. For some, our world is educated in an ivory tower, but for most it is consumed through the bytes and snippets of mass media. If we want Jewish wisdom to be as relevant in the future as it has been through its glorious past, then the more references in Esquire and the like the better.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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