For Further Learning

In Discussion, Book Clubs, Teaching, etc.

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  1. Quotes

How do these quotations from The Tragedy Test strike you?

What do they imply and what questions do they raise? How might you respond to them? Contemplate singly or discuss in groups.

There are, of course, no “correct” answers—only thoughtful ones!

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  • “I knew that faith relied heavily on metaphors. I did not know that so many of them would fail so spectacularly.” p.12 

  • “The case for faith may be relatively easy to make, but keeping faith alive and real is not so easy . . . People of faith, some-faith and no-faith alike are given to wonder, “What God can possibly be behind all this?” p.16

  • “Many of us had a difficult enough time with high school physics, which was child’s play compared to the metaphysics of misfortune. . . Even today, endless mysteries great and small remain.” p.26 

  • “Expecting life to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian. . . Misfortune can strike even the best people for no reason. A living faith needs to account for this. p.43

  • “God sat out the Holocaust — but you expect him on your side for the big game?” p.48

  • “For Rosie, who didn’t believe a word of this.” — Bookplate inscription, The Five Books of Moses p.54

  • “Any God worthy of the name cannot be petty.” p.72

  • “The fact that dots appear connected from time to time does not a law of the universe make. Especially when we take into consideration how often the dots don’t seem to be connected at all.” pp.81-82

  • “In our world and in our universe, accidents happen. They happen for no reason other than the laws of physics and nature determine that they do.” p.101

  • “The fact that acting rightly, and often enough, brings blessing remains no less true after a loss than it was before.” p.124

  • “There is no meaning to life’s absurdities—other than the meaning we give them.” p.171

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2. Epigraphs and Epigrams

How do these lines from The Tragedy Test, speak to you personally, spiritually, or religiously?

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  • “Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.”—John Keats 

  • “God sat out the Holocaust but you want him on your side for the big game?”

  • “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?”—Title of Snoopy’s book on Theology

  • “We plan and God laughs.” Shalom Auslander: “If this is true, then God is a punk.”

  • “For Rosie, who didn’t believe a word of this.”—Bookplate inscription, The Five Books of Moses, Keys Jewish Community Center, Tavernier, FL

  • “Truth is that which works.”—John Dewey

  • “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” From the movie, A Few Good Men (1992)

  • Charlie Brown: “Admission to Heaven is graded on a curve.” Linus: “How do you know?” Charlie Brown: “I’m always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.”

  • “There’s no script in baseball.”—Tony LaRussa

  • “May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.”—Bob Dylan, Forever Young

  • “The door to happiness opens outwards.”—Søren Kierkegaard

  • “The way to be happy is to make someone happy and make a little heaven down here.”—Sunday school song

  • “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”—Leonard Cohen

  • When I was younger, I believed the mystical teachings could erase sorrow. The mystical teachings do not erase sorrow. They say, here is your life. What will you do with it?—Yehoshua November, Hasidic poet

  • “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”—The Beatles, The End

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3. Source Texts

Each of these source texts appear in The Tragedy Test.

Review them and discuss their ramifications. Consider how they might bear upon your own personal faith. 

These texts can be especially suitable for chevruta learning—in pairs or small groups.

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From Part I—CHALLENGE

  • If you save one life, it is as if you have saved an entire world. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 37a)

  • Evil, and the injustice that stems from it, is either wrought by nature, by other people, or is self-inflicted. (Note that God is missing from the equation altogether.) Maimonides: Guide for the Perplexed, III:12

  • “When you are my witnesses, I am God; when you are not, it is as if I am not God.” (Sifrei Deuteronomy, 346)

  • “There is death without sin and suffering without wrongdoing.” (Tosafot, Berakhot 46b)

  • The Bible contains two kinds of beliefs: true and necessary. (Maimonides: Guide for the Perplexed, III:28)

  • Vain prayers—tefilot shav—are those that ask God to change what has already been determined. (Mishnah Berachot, 9:3) What prayers that you offer, regularly or not, might be considered vain by the Mishnah?

  • Keine Hora”—discuss the notion and the practice.

  • “Because you drowned others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you will themselves be drowned.” (Hillel the Elder, Pirke Avot 2:6) This is an expression of the Rabbinic belief that divine justice follows the principle of middah k’neged middah—measure for measure.” In your view, does the world work this way always, sometimes or rarely? Again, how does your answer impact your faith and belief?

  • “The race is not necessarily to the swift nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

  • “We who are faithful may not ignore that which human intelligence proves. We may not lie to ourselves and call that which is false, true nor that which is true, false.” (Rabbi Mordecai Breuer, 20th century)

    From Part II—RESPONSE

  • “I Will Be What I Will Be.” (God’s Name, communicated to Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness; Exodus 3:14)

  • “The world is governed by its rules.” (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 54b)

  • Prayer can be listening for “the still, small, voice within.” (I Kings 19:12)

  • “This is the fast I desire: To loose the chains of wickedness and undo the bands of the yoke to let the oppressed go free . . . It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.” (Isaiah 58:5–7)

    From Part III—ACCEPTANCE

  • “Wisdom is found in the house of mourning.” (Ecclesiastes 7:4)

  • “It is a great virtue (mitzvah gedolah) to be happy at all times.” (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, 1772–1810)

  • “It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it.” (Mishnah Avot, 2: 21)

  • “Do justly, love mercy, and walk with humility.” (Micah 6:8)

  • A lesser extent of goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Nevertheless, I will dwell in the house of God forever. (Psalm 23:6; translation suggested by Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot, 9:14b)

  • “Charity saves from death.” (Proverbs 10:2)

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4. What to Say—and What Not to

Discuss words or phrases that you may have heard—or used—

to offer comfort to someone who has suffered a loss.

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What are some of the phrases that might be more readily received with gratitude?

What are some that might be less so?

How come?

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