What He Said

Shoulders up, hands spread apart, the jeweler offered an as-we-say-in-Jerusalem bit of wisdom to my mother as she wavered over a pair of earrings.

If not now, when?

Through many years of wearing those earrings, she never tired of re-telling that story. The exuberant love of life that is a major strain in Jewish culture found an echoing chord in her.

Life is good, so enter into it enthusiastically. If not now, when? Carpe diem, as *we* say.

This week a Jewish Harvard law professor who holds Trump in considerable disdain tweeted this:

I join in the chorus of those who wish a speedy and full recovery to President Trump, the First Lady, Hope Hicks, and all who were exposed to them in recent days. This is no time for cruelty, schadenfreude, or any other form of small-mindedness. ““ Laurence Tribe

What was the professor thinking? As they carried on with hate-ful comments, most commenters clearly thought this was exactly the time.

If not now, when?

This saying is not just a Jewish cultural mindset: It’s from Hillel the Elder’s teachings as recorded in the Talmud and is often cited as one of his most-important teachings.

He [also] used to say:
If I am not for myself, who is for me?
But if I am for my own self [only], what am I?
And if not now, when?
Pirkei Avot

The “And if not now, when?” bit isn’t really about carping the diem in any self-indulgence sense: It’s about getting on with what we know is right, right now.

And Professor Tribe was right.

This is no time for cruelty, schadenfreude,
or any other form of small-mindedness.

Indeed. There is no such time. And when I am tempted to forget that, as I surely am from time to time, I hope I’ll remember my mother’s story and its broader meaning, and do the right thing, right now. Because letting go of cruelty, schadenfreude, and small-mindedness is always the right thing.

And if not now, when?


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6 Responses to What He Said

  1. Tom Watson says:

    More Hebrew words: L’chaim!
    To life. Not tomorrow, today.
    If not now, when?

  2. Lorna says:

    Beautifully written. Thanks Isabel.

  3. Thanks for the goodness in your advice, Isabel, even if it does fly in the opposite direction from many of the sentiments in the Psalms. On the other hand, I know a thing or two about Trump’s underlying ear, therefore, immune, problems and wish I could tell his expert medical team that they are not helping him with a steroid. Nor is my confidence in that team heightened with their obviously political willingness to obscure the facts, backtrack, and leave out vital information for people qualified to make a reasonable appraisal of the President’s condition. Recent developments have the tones of a *danse macabre*.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I’d say the Psalms don’t always speak to our better angels, but they speak honestly to and of our human feelings and experience for sure. We might well find comfort in them from knowing “it’s not just us” without taking them as prescriptive for behaviour. As for the President and his team, I find it a challenge to keep a generous heart *and* a clear head on this topic, but I find that same challenge arises for me with the Democrat power-brokers too.

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