Thoughts to Ponder 115

Some remarks made at the presentation
of the publication of “Thoughts to Ponder”
Rabbi Lopes Cardozo
in the Orthodox Union World Center in Jerusalem
11 June, 2002

“With tongue in cheek”

Dear friends,

I am sure that you have all heard about Sir John Lubbock, (1844-1913) banker, statesman and historian but above all the man known for starting the list of “the hundred most outstanding books of the year”.

He was also indirectly responsible for the “ten year plan”. He and others suggested that every human being should read at least 16 books a year for ten years. These 160 books would provide all one needed to know in order be considered well versed and thoroughly educated!

As the people of the book, we Jews have our own thousand most outstanding books of the year and I am presenting you tonight with the second one on this year’s list. Indeed it’s only the second one, since I admit that I was not able to beat the first one often called “Chumash”(1). This is a well known work written by a mysterious Author who has not yet been seen and who seems to dwell in higher spheres unknown to man.  Thoughts to Ponder is however the most outstanding work of this year written in the lower world.  It is both ingenious, provocative, it uses suburb English and makes nearly all other Jewish literature fade away into oblivion.

In fact it is known in “higher” circles that it is a candidate for the Pulitzer prize and if you ask me, it is clear that one day the author will receive the Nobel prize for literature for it, although he has already informed the King of Sweden that he will refuse to accept this prize as long as fellows of the even lower world such as J.Arafat spoil its reputation for accepting this prize for their explosive work in the field of mismanagement.

So, don’t be upset when you never hear about its author being asked to appear in front of the king of Sweden. This has nothing to do with the superb quality of the book but with the stubbornness of the author.

Now let me tell you something about this remarkable book. Why did I write it? Well, I have seen too many people sitting in their front rooms reading books they really do not like to read. The only reason they read them is because these books are so “warmly recommended”.

Most people are perhaps still able to resist such recommendations but if their bookshop afterwards informs them that indeed no human being can survive without having read these works, they feel they have to plunge into them because otherwise they are really not “one of the boys”. And so tens of thousands of people sit in their armchairs reading books they have no interest in. They would have liked to read something else but they are ashamed to admit it and keep their outlandish thoughts to themselves.

It is for this reason that I wrote this book. Let me explain.  You will really enjoy this book. Why? Because it does the reverse of what other books do. Most people are told that they should read books because they should remember and learn something. But this is really a great mistake. We should not read so as to remember something but in order to forget something. Our need to read is the realization of a desire to live “somewhere else”. We want to live for a moment in a much better place. One where things really make sense, where black is black and white is white. After all, this world of ours is a hard place and we need to escape and want to enter the Garden of Eden.

So here is the problem: We want to read about Buffalo Bill and Old Chatterland, Harry Potter and Robert Ludlum, but what are we told to read?  Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante. Indeed, we want entertainment and we get serious stuff like Dickens and Schiller. This is most absurd and unacceptable.

On the other hand, we Jews have a problem, we are reminded that there is something called bittul zeman, a prohibition against wasting time. So Harry and Robert won’t do. Because they really are a waste of time.  What we need is serious entertainment.

And this is what Thought to Ponder has to offer. It is a collection of essays which were sent by email to about 25.000 people who seem to have been bored and were looking for kosher and serious entertainment. Stuff, including fairy tales and other rarities, which would make them think outside the box, see new perspectives and provide a good laugh.

The book discusses topics such as the deeper meaning of Krepelach and Bissli, Asteric and Obelix, Sport, Johan Sebastian Bach, all the Jewish festivals, Parashioth Hashavua, heretics such as Jesus, Amalek and Spinoza and even the precarious situation in Israel

But let me not elaborate but get to the main issue concerning this book and that is where to place it in your bookcase. This is indeed a crucial question.

Have you ever looked at your friend’s bookcase? Have you ever realized how strange his bookcase really looks? On the first row stand those famous works which he must posses if he ever wants to be taken seriously by his friends. And if he does not, he knows that he will be considered a dullard, shlemil and shlemazel. So which works are there on the first row? Shakespeare, Dickens, Dante, Goethe, obviously being accompanied by a Shas (Talmud), Mishnayoth, Mikraoth Gedoloth, Chovoth HaLebaboth etc. (Torah im derech eretz!)

But how interesting!

Look a little closer at Goethe and Shakespeare’s collected works. You may remember that you bought them by the square meter: three meters long and sixty centimeters high. And so it seems did he! The volumes are totally undamaged, they shine and nothing is bent. They look entirely new. Which is exactly what they are, new, nobody ever touched them. In fact the special volumes of footnotes are still unopened since he forgot to take off the plastic which covered them when he bought them at a wholesale price.

His Shas is a little bit more damaged, as are his Chumash, Mishna and Tzenne Renne, (2) but it is clear that none have been overused.

So where are the books he really reads and learns all the time? 

Where are the Wild West stories, the cowboys thrillers, the science fiction works, the Sherlock Holmes stories? Where are his Jewish first aid books such as: “How not to fall asleep in shul”, “Where to hide the afikoman”, “A quick overview of the parshe of shabbes”,  “Chassidic  stories” and above all “wertlich” (3) for  the shabbes table if he forgot to prepare because he did not get out of  bed in time.

They are on the second row! Just behind Shakepeare, Goethe and the mishnayoth.

Just put your hand behind all these classic works and you will know what your friend is really reading! That is where his real library is! The first row is nothing but a cover up, a kind of curtain behind which the real world is to be found. It is the second row which tells you the real story about your friend!

True, he does not want you to know that. He wants you to believe that he has a chavruse (4) in Shakespeare and in the Talmud. But that is all a delusion. It is the second row where life really starts.

And that is where I want you to place my new book. Then I will know my book gets really read, used. When I come to your home, tell me to put my hand behind Dante and Dickens.  If I find my book there on the second row then I will feel really blessed and know that my labor has been bearing fruit.

May the good Lord bless you all .

I thank you.

Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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