From ‘Einstein,‘ by Walter Isaacson, read by Edward Hermann

(buyable on Amazon Audible. Five stars!)

Albert Einstein bristled at all forms of tyranny over free minds, from Nazism to Stalinism to McCarthyism. Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity. The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit, he said, requires a freedom that exists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice. Nurturing that should be the fundamental role of government he felt, and the mission of education.

There was a simple set of formulas that defined Einstein’s outlook. Creativity required being willing not to conform; that required nurturing free minds and free spirits, which in turn required a spirit of tolerance. And the underpinning of tolerance was humility — the belief that no one had the right to impose ideas and beliefs on others.

The world has seen a lot of imputant geniuses. What made Einstein special was that his mind and soul was tempered by his humility. He could be serenely self-confident in his lonely course, yet also awed by the beauty of nature’s handiwork. “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble,” he wrote. In this way, the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort.

For some people, miracles serve as evidence of god’s existence. For Einstein, it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence.

“The fact that the cosmos is comprehensible, that it follows laws, is worthy of awe. This is the dalbert_einsteinefining quality of a God that reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.”

Einstein considered this feeling of reference, this cosmic religion, to be the wellspring of all true art and science. It was what guided him. “When I am judging a theory,” he said, “I ask myself whether ‘If I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way?’ ” It is also what graced him with his beautiful mix of confidence and awe.

He was a loner, with an intimate bond to humanity. A rebel who was suffesed with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.”

Rachel and Jacob meet at the well.

Rachel and Jacob meet at the well.

When Rachel met Jacob at the edge of the well,
in that moment of their salty union,
did she divine that like the well,
there would be now be no bottom to her pain?
The love.
The hate.
The separation each fortnight like the shearing of a lamb? The sons that would grasp and clamp in terror as they slid down her womb, leaving her gait forever off-kilter; like a clay plate that the Cosmic Potter could never again make lie flat.

Oh Cosmic Potter of my youth; I think you forgot to warn me about the pain.
Remember? That last time we were together in the back seat of that yellow Buick LeSabre, turned brown by all those years of dangling children and muddy soccer cleats? That was the last time my soul still imagined it knew of where to find you.

But your salty lips, too, stayed silent. Of course you could not have warned me. Losing my dream of you was the last act, and then, the grand entrance, to adulthood.

The heart is weak.
It can lose but one sweet fantasy at a time,
lest it break completely.


+ genesis 29


As dawn broke, the angels urged Lot on, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two remaining daughters, lest you be swept away because of the iniquity of the city.’

Still he delayed. So the angels seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two daughters – in God’s mercy – and brought him out and left him outside the city.

When they had brought them outside, one said to Lot, ‘Flee for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away!’

But Lot argued with the angel, ‘Evil may take hold of me if I flee to the hills,’ he said. ‘Look — there is a small town nearby. Let me go there and save my life!’ The angel relented. ‘Go quickly,’ the angel said, ‘for I can do nothing until you get there.’

As the brimstone and fire then rained out of the heavens onto Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked behind him and became a pillar of salt.
(Genesis 19:15-26)



I confess, I have always had a certain affection for the woman in the Bible we know only as “Lot’s wife.” Any way you look at it, she got the raw end of a really raw deal.

For starters, she was married to a dolt — and even that descriptor is too generous when you look at just how incompetent Lot really was.

First, in Genesis 19:8, he offers his two virgin daughters to the men of the town to “do with as you please.” It is only thanks to the intervention of the angels that the young women are saved. Then, in verse 20, when the angels urge Lot to take his family and flee the city before it’s too late, he dilly dallies so long, the angels have to physically take his hand and lead them out of town.

Once outside, the angels urge him again to flee, and what does Lot do? He stands his ground and argues with them! “It’s too far!” he complains. “Can’t I just go to that town over there instead!?!” The angels acquiesce again, holding back the brimstone and fire until the family has reached safety.

Then, in a final act of irresponsibility, Lot fails to tell his wife and daughters the warning one of the angels had given him in verse 17 — that crucial piece of information about how, if they look back at the destruction, they too will be swept away. The text states clearly that the angels warned him — “al tavit achareycha” — in the masculine singular. These crucial words of warning were only spoken to Lot, not to the rest of his family. And Lot, being the kind of guy Lot was, never relayed them. We all know how this tragic series of events ends. Lot’s wife looks behind them and turns into a pillar of salt.

The question that has been occupying rabbinic commentators ever since is: Why did she look? Some have answered generously.

Writing in 12th century Egypt, Maimonides said Lot’s wife was looking behind her husband to see who might be following him, acting as a rear guard for all his household, who were hurrying to be saved.

The  late 14th century agaddic collection Midrash ha-Gadol says she felt concern for her married daughters, whom they had left behind, and she was turning to see if they were following.

Other commentators, overlooking the crucial fact that she had never heard the angels’ warning, concoct far more damning explanations. The 3rd century midrashic collection B’reishit Rabba said she had once refused to give salt to a poor person, so being turned into salt was a punishment ‘measure for measure.’

Jacob Chinitz, rabbi emeritus of Beth Ami Congregation in Philadelphia, now living in Israel, imagines that she looked back only to delight in the destruction of her townspeople. “She could not resist enjoying their failure and her success even though it was only her good fortune to be married to Abraham’s nephew,” the USCJ explains.

Good fortune!?!? Being married to this schlemiel was good fortune!?!

To my thinking, the question isn’t why did Lot’s wife look back — it’s why wouldn’t she!?

Here she is, the world literally raining down on her in flames, and her future, her fate is entirely dependent on this man who has proven himself paralyzed by indecision. And when he finally does make decisions, they are disastrously bad ones!

Lot’s wife may very well have been looking back out of concern for her other daughters, or out of sorrow at the destruction of the people she knew. We can never know because the text doesn’t give a clue about her inner life.

But what I do know is that I would have looked back — if for no other reason that to make sure we were on a safe path, that we weren’t being pursued, that flame and fire were not lapping at our heels. I would have not only looked back, I would have looked forwards and sideways too, to check, and recheck, that this course of action was the right one. To make sure my inept husband was not leading us into disaster.

When you are tethered, without recourse, to an unfortunate man, you can never be too careful.

I respect Lot’s wife for not following her husband blindly. I admire her for being cautious in a perilous situation in which she had no power. I love the woman depicted by 20th century American poet Shirley Kaufman, who offered this to say about a person so brave and so resolute, whom our history-writers never saw fit to even name:

But it was right that she
looked back. Not to be
curious, some lumpy
reaching of the mind
that turns all shapes to pillars.
But to be only who she was
apart from them, the place
exploding, and herself
defined. Seeing them melt
to slag heaps and the flames
slide into their mouths.
Testing her own lips then,
the coolness, till
she could taste the salt.

Original artwork by Charles Dickinson.

On Friday, the twilight of a summer day

While the smells of food and prayer rose from every house

And the sound of the Sabbath angels’ wings was in the air,

While still a child I started to lie to my father.

“I went to another synagogue.”

I don’t know if he believed me or not.

But the taste of the lie was good and sweet on my tongue

And in all the houses that night

Hymns rose up along the lies

To celebrate the sabbath.

And in all the houses that night

Sabbath angels died like flies in a lamp,

and lovers put mouth to mouth,

Blew each other up until they floated upward,

Or burst.

And since then the lie has been good and sweet on my tongue

And since then I always go to another synagogue.

And my father returned the lie when he said:

“I’ve gone to another life.”

Yesterday, I had the delight of fulfilling a couple’s wish of incorporating some quotes from Star Trek: The Next Generation into their wedding service.

Who says weddings should be all serious and no fun?

As someone who once had a life-sized cutout of Jean Luc Picard in my living room, this was one request I was all too happy to fulfill. After a few hours googling around the vast terrain of famous Star Trek quotes online, I settled on two that worked perfectly for their love story.

First, some background information: Rob and Lynn were married at a hotel ballroom in King of Prussia northwest of Philadelphia. It was a 25-minute marriage ceremony built around the traditions of an Irish Handfasting ceremony. After a variety of readings (by me and others), sharing from a cup of wine, and a homily sharing how they met and their love story, we ended with a ring exchange and fasting of hands. In the midst of all this were our two chances for a little laughter:


Jean Luc overlooks his home village in the episode “The Inner Light.”

1) While giving some brief advice for their newly married life, I offered this wisdom from Patrick Stewart’s character, Jean Luc Picard, who said: “Seize the time. Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again!”

It was a happy coincidence that this line comes from one of the best ST episodes EVER: Called “The Inner Light,” the story centers on Jean Luc who is knocked unconscious by some sort of space probe. When he wakes up, he is on another planet, living the life of an elderly grandfather and master flute-player. His home world is about to be destroyed by its own star, which is going super nova.

(To learn more about this episode, read here.)

While he lives this other virtual life, Picard becomes a literal time capsule for this dying planet’s entire culture — he is what survives. A beautiful folk melody he learns while living this alternate life was featured in a later ST episode; he plays the song with a fellow musician in a Jeffries Tube on the Enterprise. It is this later rendition clipped from YouTube at the start of this blog post.

This was way too much of an insider reference to explain in the wedding, but it was all the more cool that in this episode, Jean Luc learns what sounds to be like an Irish folk song. I chose the quote because of its content — it was the perfect sentiment to say at that moment in the ceremony. But it literally gave me goose bumps when I started looking into which episode the quote came from, and to find out it happened to be from the one single episode in 15+ years of ST episodes that had an Irish theme to it. The couple who got married found me to be their officiant because I was the one person they could find who had an understanding and love for the Irish handfasting ceremony.

It’s as if the stars all aligned in the universe to say: “Yes, these are the words meant for these special people at this special moment!”
I love it when the mysterious workings of the world reveal themselves!

2) The other ST quote I used in the Irish Handfasting wedding was this one, which required a little framing. In explaining how the groom, Rob, fell in love with Lynn, I said: “In other words, as our friend Lt. Commander Data would put it, ‘Your neural pathways had become accustomed to her sensory input patterns’ — and that is no small thing!”

~~ pause. wait for the chuckle. ~~

It was fun. While officiating a wedding, it is always fun to say something small, and silly, that nudges the audience a little bit out of their loop! :)


It has been several years since I had the invitation to get zany in a wedding ceremony. The last time I had this chance was for a lovely couple (who now has a beautiful baby!) to incorporate their super hero, Indiana Jones, into their traditional egalitarian Jewish wedding ceremony. Here is how I was able to do that during the “love story” portion of their ceremony:

“Jacob and Sarah, although you two have only known each other a few years, you have taken to heart the motto of your hero, Indiana Jones, which he shared in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage!” From co-ed softball and kickball teams to hiking trips to canning eight batches of applesauce in one summer — you have become an integral and supportive part of each other’s lives. Your love story is a reminder of how ordinary, and yet how extraordinary, true love really is.

Going forward, you will, no doubt, face new challenges and lessons. As Indiana Jones said to his students in the Last Crusade, “We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot.” You will have to blaze your own trail into the wild unknowns of the future — be it career changes, health challenges, and the greatest challenge of all — parenthood.

But nurtured by the love you have cultivated for each other,  the patience, kindness and attention you have shown, you will no doubt be able to reach places in your own individual lives that you would never have reached on your own.


Hebrew school 2Are you looking for an alternative Hebrew school? One that is less time commitment, very small classes, and that will get your child launched into reading basic Hebrew, learn the basic songs for the holidays, and master the central prayers of holidays like Passover (the four questions) and Hanukkah (the candles blessings)?

I’m beginning a home-based Hebrew school for my daughter, age 6. We will begin with “Hebrew Letter Boot Camp” – learning the Hebrew letters, and forming basic 2- and 3-letter words. The goal is basic reading, in ultimate preparation for her bat mitzvah (in whatever way you imagine that to be.)

I am graduating in a year from rabbinical school after 8 years of study. I have taught supplemental Hebrew school for 12+ years at many age cohorts. My home is at the nexus of Havertown, Wynnewood and Penn Wynne. We straddle Montgomery and Haverford townships.

School Starts Soon! We will meet on Mondays from 3:45 – 5:15 pm. (Most kids end school at 3:30, so we’ll begin once everyone gets over here after school, and then run the session for 1.5 hours.) Parents are welcome to wait here at the house and relax, watch TV, work on their laptops or do whatever! Or, you may drop off and come back later to pick up.

The schedule is:

Monday Nov. 3

Monday Nov. 10

Monday Nov. 17

Monday Nov. 24

Monday Dec 1

Monday Dec 8

Monday Dec 15

Monday Dec 22 (final session)

Monday Dec 29 (makeup session, if needed)

If the group chooses to continue into second semester, we can begin Monday Jan. 6.

hebrew school

So far, we have three children enrolled in the class. The cost for the eight sessions is $240. Payment for the course is due on the first day of school.

We do have room for one or two more kids. Please pass this info along to any families with 6- or 7-year-old kids who are Hebrew-reading ready, and who might be interested. Thanks!

Call Joysa: 610-642-2420

Text (c): 267-902-7752

Email: joysa@aol.com




This is for you, all the dear couples I have met over the years — or whom I will meet over the next years to officiate your wedding.

For any couple looking for a little inspiration as they plan the wedding event of their dreams, I wanted to share this tear-jerking performance by a famous operatic singer and children’s choir in Israel. It is a photo montage of the whole wedding, but clues with dress and so forth can tell us this is a modern Orthodox wedding in Israel. (Such clues include separate gender seating; only male voices singing; the groom and bride’s father signed the ketubah, not the bride herself; and the bride’s dress gives at least a nod of modesty by having full-length arms and neck covered with lace.)

Before I go further, I should add one important caveat: This wedding appears to not be a bona fide wedding. It is a staged wedding, and the montage has been put together for performance and marketing purposes. It will warm your heart nonetheless.

(If you are planning a wedding in Israel and, I presume, have a generous budget, you can reach these musicians at muzickids@gmail.com.)

About the song’s performers: The “musickids” is a children’s choir conducted by Tal Vaknin and Yossi Yossi Azulay, two nationally renowned singers in Israel. This wedding performance was done in Havat Ronit (Ronit Farm) with a song called “Boi B’shalom“. The clip doesn’t share the name of who this incredible (adult) operatic performer is.

Now here, to me, comes the interesting part. What is this song exactly? What are its origins? Initially, I thought the lyrics to Boi B’shalom may be based on the 7th of the Hebrew blessings that are chanted or recited during a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, often by the rabbi. The blessings date back to the Middle Ages. If true, this song is an innovation on the melody of the traditional blessings; the blessings did not originate in operatic Italy after all!

The lyrics of the traditional 7th blessing are the following: “Boi b’shalom ateret ba’alah, gam besimchah uvetzahalah toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, boi, kalah; toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, shabat malkahBoi beshalom ateret ba’alah, gam besimchah uvetzahalah toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, boi, kalah; toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, shabat malkah.”

A translation: Blessed are You, God, who lights the world with happiness and contentment, love and companionship, peace and friendship, bridegroom and bride. Let the mountains of Israel dance! Let the gates of Jerusalem ring with the sounds of joy, song, merriment and delight – the voice of he groom and the voice of the bride, the happy shouts of their friends and companions. We bless you God, who brings bride and groom together to rejoice in each other.


Now, if you take the time to follow those words closely and watch the video simultaneously, you’ll see there is only a partial match. So like most Jewish questions, there appear to be multiple answers. Here is a second answer: I’ll leave it to you, readers, to compare the two possible source texts and draw your own conclusions.

(Also, I welcome any Jewish musicologists to weigh in right about now!)

Answer #2: The refrain in Boi B’shalom is the last verse of Lakha Dodi, which has also traditionally be sung at Jewish weddings. Here is the verse and its translation:

Boi b’shalom ateres baalah gam b’simcha uv’tzahala, toch emunei am segulah, boi challah, boi challah, (shabbas malkesa).

בואי בשלום עטרת בעלה גם בשמחה ובצהלה, תוך אמוני עם סגולה, בואי כלה, בואי כלה, (שבת מלכתא).

Come in peace, crown of your husband, with rejoicing​ and with cheerfuln​ess, in the midst of the faithful of the chosen people: come, O bride; come, O bride (the Sabbath Queen).

Now … if you went back and did a lyric compare to the Youtube song, you’ll see this doesn’t really match up either. Well, the one sentence matches up. But where have the modern artists come up with all the other parts of the song?

In short: I don’t know. But enough high-browed thinking. Now it’s time to just sit back and soar with the music that must surely have come down on eagle’s wings.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!