As his Yom Kippur sermon this year, Rabbi David Wolpe shared with his congregation a letter he had just written to his father, himself a pulpit rabbi, who died seven years ago. Among other recollections, family dinners—always at 5:30, in case his father had to return to the synagogue—stand out:
If you ask what I miss most about my childhood it isn’t the field or the basketball court, it’s the dinner table. That’s when we would get stories—everyone from Samuel Johnson to Rebbe Naḥman [of Bratslav] to your teachers at the seminary. Just the other day I told someone your story about [the Jewish Theological Seminary’s distinguished professors] Alexander Marx and Louis Ginzberg and the elevator. How Ginzberg, whom you and your classmates called “the old man” and you always thought of as the greatest scholar you had ever known, invited Marx for Shabbat. And Marx realized that he lived on an upper floor so he asked Ginzberg if it was permitted to use the elevator on Shabbat and Ginzberg said “no.”
So Marx dutifully trudged up all the many flights of steps, only to see Ginzberg stepping out of the elevator. “I thought you said it was not allowed!” exclaimed Marx. “But I didn’t ask,” said Ginzberg.
You loved that story. But you loved so many stories, relished them, rolled them around your tongue. One would lead to the next. . . .
One thing I knew would happen and could not change is that every day there are things I want to ask you. Sometimes I think I might know the answer but would still like to ask you. . . .
And then there are sudden glimmers. How often since you are gone have I opened a book in my library and discovered your notes or underlining on the pages? It brings me closer to you, although it is agonizing sometimes that I cannot ask—what were you thinking when you wrote this? Why did you read this, and did you like it? And now every time I underline a book I wonder as well: will [my daughter] Samara have the same experience one day, open this book and wonder what I was thinking?