Mark Twain is among my most favorite writers. His wisdom and wit shine a constant light on truth and reveal the absurdities in which we so often find ourselves.
Ken Burns (his documentary on Mark Twain, by the way, is superb and can be found on Netflix) said of him:
“He was the Lincoln of our Literature. He imprinted us with our own identity. He was the original stand-up comic in America. After he lost everything and everyone he held dear [his immediate family all died in his lifetime] he had to be funny. He inspired laughter from a font of sorrow. His work alters our consciousness of the world.”
Mark Twain (i.e. Samuel Clemens) was born on November 30, 1835 and died on April 21, 1910. We are all the richer because of him. Everything he wrote is worth reading over and again.
Here are a few of his words:
“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”
“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”
“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”
“A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”
“All generalizations are false, including this one.”
“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
“Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
“Clothes make the man [woman]. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.”
“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”
“Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.”
“Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
“Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”
“Go to Heaven for the climate; Hell for the company.”
“Golf is a good walk spoiled.”
“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
“Humor is humankind’s greatest blessing.”
“I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.”
“I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.”
“I make it a rule never to smoke while I’m sleeping.”
“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.”
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
“When I was younger I could remember anything whether it had happened or not. My faculties are decaying now, and soon I shall be so that I cannot remember things that never happened. It’s sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it.”
“Before 70 we are respected at best and have to behave all the time; after 70 we are respected, esteemed, admired, revered and don’t have to behave unless we want to.”
“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
“I was born modest, but it didn’t last.”
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s like a cow’s tail going down.” (On getting older)
“The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated.”
Ever since Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony initiated the festival of Thanksgiving in 1621, it has been part of the American experience, belonging to this nation and to all “The inhabitants thereof.” It is envied by cultures around the globe, many who do not have as much to be thankful for as do we. While President Washington declared a national holiday on Thursday, November 26, 1789, the holiday was observed intermittently. Finally, President Lincoln made it an annual event on the last Thursday of November, and then President Roosevelt put it on the fourth Thursday, as an American holiday for people of all faiths or of no faith, and the property of none of them.
“Only the sensitive, the civilized give thanks. The brutish, the barbarous, take for granted. They take. They take from God. They take from nature. They take from humankind. They give nothing. There are people slightly less sensitive who give token thanks, verbal begrudging. There are people half-sensitive who give formal thanks, lest others doubt their breeding. And there are people, the sensitive, the civilized, who give whole thanks: with tongue, with mind, with heart, and with hand.” (Rabbi Ely Pilchik)
When Mark Twain was at the height of his career, he was paid five dollars a word for his essays. An admirer wrote a letter explaining his career plans and requested that Twain share with him his choicest word, and of course included five dollars with the note. Twain responded, “Thanks.”
Tradition teaches that we are obligated to say the word: “Thank you!” (Talmud, Berachot 54b)
An old Jewish proverb teaches “K’she-yehudi shover regel, hu modeh L’Adonai…When a Jew breaks a leg, he should thank God that he did not break both; and when he breaks both legs, he should thank, God that he didn’t break his neck.”
In the time to come all prayers of petition will be annulled, but the prayer of gratitude will not be annulled. (Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 9:7)
A chasid once was asked: “What is stealing?” He thought for a moment and then replied, “A person steals when s/he enjoys the benefits of the earth without giving thanks to God.” (Bechol Levavcha by Rabbi Harvey Fields, p. 94)
“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
“Ingratitude to a human being is ingratitude to God.” (Rabbi Samuel Hanagid, Ben Mishle)
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself. (Native American Prayer – Techumseh Tribe)
“I offer thanks to You, Sovereign Source and Sustainer of life, Who returns to me my soul each morning faithfully and with gracious love.” (The daily morning service)
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” Adolf Hitler
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Joseph Goebbels
“Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is to tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger, It works the same in any country.” Hermann Goering
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” George W. Bush
“Lies can run a mile before the truth gets its track shoes on.” Reverend Al Sharpton’s mother
“If you wish to establish a lie, mix a little truth with it.” Zohar, Numbers 161a
“Even a lie is a psychic fact.” Carl Jung
“A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.”
-Jimmy Carter, 39th US President, Nobel laureate (b. 1 Oct 1924)
2018 will be a pivotal year in American politics. It’s impossible to know what will be the mix of Republicans and Democrats in Congress after the mid-terms a year from now, what will have taken place vis a vis the special prosecutor investigating collusion and obstruction of justice charges in this White House, and whether the “year of the woman” will continue to evolve.
I came across this quote by Isaac Asimov today (today would have been his 98th birthday) that I want to share. It is prescient and truer than ever today:
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
-Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (born January 2, 1920 and lived to 1992)
The primary responsibility of the Jew during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is teshuvah.
I have posted here classic rabbinic text for study and contemplation during these days. I wish for everyone the strength and courage to confront that which prevents us from being close to the people we love, friends, community, the Jewish people, Torah, and God.
“Repentance must be preceded by the recognition of seven things: (1) the penitent must clearly recognize the heinousness of what s/he has done… (2) S/he must be aware that his/her specific act was legally evil and ignominious… (3) S/he must realize that retribution for his/her misdeed is inevitable… (4) S/he must realize that his/her sin is noted and recorded in the book of his iniquities… (5) S/he must be fully convinced that repentance is the remedy for his/her sickness and the road to recovery from his/her evil deed… (6) S/he must conscientiously reflect upon the bounties the Creator had already bestowed upon him/her, and how S/he had rebelled against God instead of being grateful to the Eternal… (7) S/he must strenuously persevere in keeping away from the evil to which s/he had been addicted and firmly resolve in his/her heart and mind to renounce it. – Bachya ibn Pakuda, Duties of the Heart 7:3
“What is t’shuvah? It is when a sinner abandons his/her sin and removes it from his/her thoughts, and resolves in his/her heart not to do that deed again. As it says, “Let the wicked person forsake his/her way, and the unrighteous one his/her thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:7) And so s/he repents for the past. As it says, “After I turned away, I repented.” (Jeremiah 31:18) And s/he will call the Knower of secrets to testify against him/her that s/he will never again return to this sin. As it does not say, “Nor shall we say ever again to the work of our hands, ‘You are our God’ (Hosea 14:4). And s/he must confess in words these things that s/he has resolved in his/her heart. – Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:2
It is very praiseworthy for the penitent to confess publicly and announce his/her sins, and reveal to others the transgressions he committed against his/her fellow. S/he should say to them, “Truly I have sinned against so-and-so by doing such-and-such. But now I am turning and repenting.” Everyone who is arrogant and doesn’t reveal but rather conceals his/her sins – his/her t’shuvah isn’t complete. As it says, “One who conceals his transgressions does not succeed.” (Proverbs 28:13) – Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:5
“What is complete t’shuvah? When one comes upon a situation in which s/he once transgressed, and it is possible to do so again, but s/he refrains and doesn’t transgress on account of his/her repentance. – Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:1
“Humility is the root and beginning of repentance.” – Bachya ibn Pakuda
“Rabbi Eliezer said, “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “Does then one know on what day s/he will die?” “All the more reason s/he should repent today, lest s/he die tomorrow.” – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 53a
“Great is repentance, for it brings healing to the world… When an individual repents, s/he is forgiven, and the entire world with him.” Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86b
“How wonderful is the moral perspective that arises from this great responsibility – a responsibility for all of existence, for all worlds. We have the power to bring favor and light, life, joy, and honor in these worlds. This occurs when we follow the straight path, when we strengthen and gird ourselves with a pure fortitude and conquer paths of life that are good and admired, when we advance and go from strength to strength…. YYet it is also in our power to bring pain to every good portion, when we debase our souls and corrupt our ways, when we darken our spiritual light and suspend our moral purity.” – Rabbi Abraham Isaac Cook, Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 63
G’mar chatimah tovah. May you be sealed in the book of life.
I recommend highly a little book first published in 1898 called “The Majesty of Calmness” by William George Jordan, an American editor, lecturer and essayist of the late 19th and early 20th century.
This 62-page treasure-trove of common-sense wisdom reminds me of the Biblical Book of Proverbs and the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. It was written in an elegant prose that exists in classical works.
This series of seven short essays is particularly appropriate reading during the coming ten days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “The Majesty of Calmness;” “Hurry, the Scourge of America;” “The Power of Personal Influence;” “The Dignity of Self-Reliance;” “Failure of Success;” “Doing our Best at All Times;” “The Royal Road to Happiness.”
I offer a few short passages from each of the essays that offer a taste of what you will find in this remarkable series of essays:
“Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-centered, self-reliant, and self-controlled.” (p. 1)
“Nature is very un-American. Nature never hurries. Every phase of her working shows plan, calmness, reliability, and the absence of hurry…Hurry has ruined more Americans than has any other word in the vocabulary of life….In the race for wealth, people often sacrifice time, energy, health, home, happiness, and honor, –everything that money cannot buy, the very things that money can never bring back.” (pps. 8, 9, 10)
“Self-confidence, without self-reliance, is as useless as a cooking recipe, –without food. Self-confidence sees the possibilities of the individual; self-reliance realizes them. Self-confidence sees the angel in the unhewn block of marble; self-reliance carves it out for himself.” (p. 23)
“Many of our failures sweep us to greater heights of success than we ever hoped for in our wildest dreams. Life is a successive unfolding of success from failure…Failure is often the turning-point, the pivot of circumstance that swings us to higher levels…Failure is one of God’s educators.” (pp. 33, 35, 36)
“Living at one’s best is constant preparation for instant use. It can never make one over precise, self-conscious, affected, or priggish. Education, in its highest sense, is conscious training of mind or body to act unconsciously. It is conscious formation of mental habits, not mere acquisition of information.” (p. 46)
“Happiness is the greatest paradox in Nature. It can grow in any soil, live under any conditions. It defies environment. It comes from within: it is the revelation of the depths of the inner life as light and heat proclaim the sun from which they radiate. Happiness consists not of having, but of being; not of possessing, but of enjoying. It is the warm glow of a heart at peace with itself.” (p. 53)
“Majesty of Calmness” can be purchased on Amazon for $4.95. Do yourself a huge favor. Read it once, and then read it again.
This week has yet proved another difficult time for the American dream and the dreamers.
I offer some thoughts by others as an antidote to the hard-heartedness of Donald Trump.
“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.” -Albert Schweitzer
“I learned compassion from being discriminated against. Everything bad that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion.” -Ellen DeGeneres
“The dew of compassion is a tear.” -Lord Byron
“The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.” -Thurgood Marshall
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” -The Dalai Lama
“Az mir hat nit kein rachmonis, farvoss zein zee a Yid? — If you have no compassion, so why be a Jew?”
It is now clear where President Trump stands – with haters, bigots, and violent thugs.
It’s sickening and disturbing to know that the man who occupies the Oval Office, a symbol of American exceptionalism, is an immoral, instinctively insensitive human being that represents the very worst of the human condition.
Trump and his campaign have brought the extremist and violent fringe into the mainstream of American life, and it is now up to all decent Americans of every race, ethnicity, religion, national background, and gender orientation, to stand up and say “Enough!”
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)
“One who condones evil is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.” (Dr. Martin Luther King)
“One who is able to protest against a wrong that is being done in his;/her family, city, nation or world and doesn’t do so is held accountable for that wrong being done.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b)
“We generations close to the Holocaust must be very clear that no interests of any kind can justify a shameful alliance with groups or individuals who fail to recognize responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust.” (President Reuven Rivlin, State of Israel)
“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)