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“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”

Moshe Unger - Columnist
Posted 8/27/20

Some years ago there was a conference on “Science and Religion” with prestigious speakers including the late Dr. Robert Jastrow and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Refson.

Dr. Jastrow was an Astrophysicist …

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“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”


Some years ago there was a conference on “Science and Religion” with prestigious speakers including the late Dr. Robert Jastrow and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Refson.

Dr. Jastrow was an Astrophysicist and a NASA scientist. Rabbi Refson is dean of the Neve Yerushalayim school in Jerusalem. He is a leader in the Ba'al Teshuvah movement. This movement is of many unaffiliated Jews who embraced observance.

Dr. Jastrow was the first speaker and he began his speech by saying, “I don't know much about religion, but I think it can be summarized by basic reciprocal ethics.” The next speaker was Rabbi Refson and he started his speech by saying, “Well, I don't know much about Astronomy, but I think it can be summarized by “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!”

Dr. Jastrow really liked that and the two became very good friends thereafter. As an aside, Dr. Jastrow was not an atheist.

Religion and, in particular, Judaism, cannot be summarized into one sentence. It addresses many different situations and phenomena in life, and it expresses many different faculties and talents.

There is Torah study for the mind, prayer for the heart, and good deeds for the action faculties. In my opinion, religion and, in particular, Judaism is one of the most complex and sophisticated ways of living. There is so much to do and so much human development.

Judaism can be simple and simplicity is also part of its complexity.

Simplicity is very important but it is not all that religion contains.

In the Jewish Calendar we are rolling now into the High Holy Days. We came from weeks of consolation and we are beginning preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year and the Day of Judgement. These weeks are not holidays, but they are periods in the Jewish Calendar.

In the weeks of preparation there is a lot of introspection and repentance. Repentance sounds like a heavy word. It sounds like taking blame and being sad in confession. Actually, repentance can be very sophisticated, refreshing, and enlightening.

When a person regrets a past decision there is shame and discomfort with a part of the past. However, when a person repents they reclaim that part and it can become overturned from a shameful past to a source of inspiration.

Repentance involves taking responsibility for that action by acknowledging fully that it was a wrong decision. It is normal to make bad decisions and the circumstances at the time made it very difficult to make the right decision. However, the person still takes responsibility because the decision was still in their hands.

There are two ways to learn in this world, either by realizing the good and bad in something before doing or by experiment. Once a deed is done it's much easier to determine if it was good or bad. A wrong decision can become a learning experience. Sometimes it's a painful one and, for sure, a regretful one, but it was still a learning experience. Taking all these points together, a person approaches their past negative deeds by understanding the difficult situation that they were placed in and still taking full responsibility and acknowledging the wrong. And, with a certain celebration of the fact that now he or she knows the depth of the wrongdoing and knows crystal clear what should have been done.

These feelings reclaim the past as part of who the person is. This experience, however regretful it is, shapes what the person is now.

Hence, the person reclaims the past with the regret and turns the shame into a source of learning and inspiration.

I hope this makes sense...


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