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The Rabbi Is Plugged In

The world is a blackberry and other Hanukkah reflections.

By David Berner 27 Dec 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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Shedding light on big questions

Ask the Rabbi of a Tuesday morning in late December, "How is Sharon doing?" He knows without further inquiry that you do not mean Sharon Purlmutter or Sharon Futterman or any of the other fine Sharons you may have grown up with or met along the way.

There is only one Sharon worthy of discussion this morning, and it is, of course, Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel. And when you ask how Mr. Sharon is doing, the Rabbi also divines that you mean two questions in one, for this is at the heart of the Jewish Experience - to ask two questions in one and for the hearer of the question(s) to know what you mean.

In this case, the first question - because it is always the first question from Jew to Jew - is "Is he breathing Is he still of this life as we know it? Has the Enemy taken him? Has been taken by G-d?"

The answer as we go to press is "Baruch Hashem (G-d be praised), he has recovered from his mild stroke, he is working and he is eating. Oy vey!"

The second question-within-the-question is "How is Sharon's new centrist Kadima party doing?"

And the answer as we go to press is "Surprisingly well. He may steal 30 or 40 seats from the Likud!"

Wired for answers

How does the Rabbi know such things? How does he know them so swiftly? Glad you asked. The same way he knows the answer to more fundamental questions. Last week, we asked, "Rabbi, where is the first place in the Torah where killing is mentioned?" "A great question," he answers. He always says, "A great question," because he is so happy that you are still open to learning and asking question. He also says, "Great question," because he is the living embodiment of kindness. "A great question. Why do you ask?" He asks, "Why do you ask?" because the first answer a Jew always gives to a question is, of course, another question. But you knew that, yes?

We had been discussing euthanasia at the time. When the Rabbi phoned earlier in the week and said, "We missed you at class last week. We are discussing euthanasia," we replied, "Oh, I'm sorry I missed it. I think the young people of Thailand and Singapore are wonderful!" The Rabbi has a sense of humor, but as he can never be sure we are kidding, there are usually two or three beats before the laughing starts.

We had been discussing euthanasia, and the reason we wanted to know about the first mentioning of killing in the Bible was that killing per se seemed to be a given. It was understood by the very debate that murder was part of the human condition. If so, and if all is G-d-given, where does it first manifest and why? This is how Jews think.


Well, the Rabbi knew exactly and without hesitation the answer to this great question. But knowing and proving are two very different propositions, and it is always the Rabbi's intention as a great teacher - and trust me, he is that and 20 times more - to show the proof. The proof is always, of course, in the Torah, the Old Testament.

But one doesn't schlep around invaluable, priceless religious scrolls to Lunch and Learn sessions in the boardrooms of downtown office buildings.

So how does the Rabbi show the proof? The same way he brings you the split-second update on Ariel Sharon. His Blackberry, of course! You had to ask?

On Commercial Drive, the addicts and the dealers are as plentiful and as deadly as they are at Main and Hastings. And if you own a shop and you are madly trying to run a legitimate business, often with the help of your wife and children, and you strive to serve legitimate paying customers (shoes, gelato, pottery, electronics, cheese), then these addicts and drug dealers are a major distraction, a certain peril.

Calling the police is futile. They are too busy, too few in number, too numbed by the courts' leniencies. So the knowing, the clued-in, the street-wise, call the Hell's Angels. That's right. The Hell's Angels. And while the police may, in fact, turn up, cynically and without passion, four hours after your hapless call, the Hell's Angels materialize almost as you are setting your cell phone back in its hip carrier.

Two better than one

And how does the Angel deal with the nuisance of some out-of-line, in-over-his-head small time dealer? Well, he talks to the poor slob, of course. And scares the larceny out of the guy. Of course. But first, he consults one of his two Blackberries! The Angel is 42,000 times better equipped and modernized than the cops, which is why, of course, that crime pays and the Bad Guys are winning.

Now, one is loathe at this time of Peace and Goodwill on Earth to All Men to link, however tenuously, the Rabbi and the Angels. But, here they are, joined by modern technology, doing Good and doing Not So Good. Consulting their Blackberries, their I-pods and their e-mails to spread their distant gospels.

Never forget that G-d and the Devil are in The Details. Happy Hanukkah!

David Berner is a writer, an actor and on weekend afternoons hosts a radio show on CKNW.  [Tyee]

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