Wednesday, February 15, 2017

If Not Now, When?

I feel like I am missing something in my daily life if I don't do my random readings.  Am I addicted to reading and thinking?  Should I check myself into an institution?

Oh, wait, I am already at one--a higher education institution ;)

A joy in reading is that wonderful nuggets appear from nowhere.  The serendipity is awesome.  BTW, did you know that the word serendipity has its origins in modern day Sri Lanka?

It started with a link to an interview with Steven Pinker.  I have plenty of references to Pinker and his work--like in this one.  So, of course, I had to read it.

It was not a serious intellectual interview, but more along the lines of getting to know a celebrity.  Well, the intellectual that Pinker is, the replies are not anywhere like what you might hear on the current president's old reality show (as opposed to the current show in which he stars and tweets.)

One question that Pinker was asked is this:
What is your favourite saying?
Go ahead. Give it a thought.  What is your favorite?

I am drawing a blank.  I don't have any profound words to offer.

But, Pinker is no schmuck.  The guy offers this:
From the 1st century BC Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
What a profound one, right?  What the hell am I, indeed!

Naturally, I wanted to know more about Rabbi Hillel.  Which is when I came across this:
A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah, the five books of Moses, while standing on one foot. And Hillel did. What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That's the whole Torah, he said. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.

If only a rabbi would explain this to the current president and his adopted political party!  For that matter, if only a rabbi would explain this to the prime minister of Israel who is visiting with the president--two birds in one stone!


Ramesh said...

I knew that Serendipity came from Sri Lanka decades ago, thanks to reading Arthur C Clarke. He had taken to living in Sri Lanka. He's even written a book - The view from Serendip ! See there are benefits to reading Science Fiction instead of Nabokov :)

By the way, disappointed with Rabbi Hillel's summarisation of the Torah on the negative side. Is that all it is - Do no harm. How about Do some good ?

Sriram Khé said...

Interesting, right, that Hillel condensed the teachings into that "negative" statement?
Guess what?
The resource from which I excerpted that about Hillel continues with that very question that you raise:
"So if Hillel had insights on how to be a good person, even the fact that he defines Judaism in a negative formulation what's hateful unto you he doesn't say love your neighbor as yourself, because love your neighbor as yourself is so hard to incorporate. Does it mean you should give away half of your possessions? Maybe it does, but nobody's going to want to do that.
But what he - and the Ten Commandments even reflects that idea in its own way. It doesn't say in the Ten Commandments be truthful. It says don't bare false witness. It doesn't say be honest. It says don't steal. So he wanted to give him a principle he could immediately incorporate into his life."

The old man Hillel knew exactly what he was saying, and he even knew that people like Ramesh would ask such a question ;)

btw, that resource is a transcript of an interview, which is why the sentences sound awkward, and even have typos. The person interviewed, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, "has written many books about Judaism, had a new book coming out about Hillel called "Hillel: If Not Now, When?"

Most read this past month