Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Why We Still Love Fiddler on the Roof After 50 Years

As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question.


Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold.

Since that first experience, I have been I love with this story. I’ve seen the musical four times and the movie at least half a dozen. It’s one of my favorite resources for classes and sermons on Jewish tradition and history.

And I am not alone.

50 years after it first opened on Broadway, Fiddler on the Roof remains popular. It is even beloved in Japan, where very few Jews live.

What explains this universal appeal? What makes a musical about a small Jewish village in Russia in the 1890s speak to millions of people around the world in the 21st century?

1. It’s a story about change and loss: Fiddler on the Roof illustrates the slow collapse of a traditional way of life.

The end of the nineteenth century, much like our own times, was on of fundamental change. The small villages of Europe began to lose their residents to the lure of the bigger cities and the golden shores of America.

Modern ideas began to upend the traditional beliefs and practices. Trade and military service brought people into contact with those they never would have encountered a generation ago.

Change always creates a feeling of loss. No matter how old we are or where we live, we experience change. We can relate to what happened in the Jewish village of Fiddler, even though we never lived there.

2. It’s a story about family bonds: We can all relate to generational conflict. It is as old as humanity. It is even more pronounced in times of great change.

We know people whose marriage defied their parents wishes. We know people who became a teacher when their parents may have hoped for a doctor. Perhaps we are those people. 

We struggle to maintain family bonds amidst such change. We feel the father’s pain as his daughters move away. We feel their mixture of excitement and fear as they leave their hometown.

The story of Fiddler on the Roof is both universal and unique. It is the story of one family, and it is the story of all of us.

3. It’s a story about human yearnings: Amongst Fiddler’s most treasured songs is If I Were a Rich Man. Dancing around his modest cottage, Tevya imagines the huge house, the adoring friends, and endless privileges he would have.

He pictures the leisure time, the special seat in the synagogue and the different clothes he and wife would enjoy.

Who among us has not dreamed of a different life, at least for a moment? Who among us has not walked through  first-class cabin on a plane—or walked by a lavish fancy restaurant—and not thought it might be nice to sit or dine there?

Like Tevya, our yearnings are not simply financial. We yearn for a return to simpler times. We yearn for meaningful relationships. We yearn for a more perfect world.

At its core, yearnings represent the sacred impulse within us. The world as it is is not yet the world as it should be. As long as this is so, Fiddler on the Roof will continue to touch our hearts and souls.

Learn More About Fiddler on the Roof with Rabbi’s Free E-Book

The Secret to Healing From Pain

sat with the two children of a mother who had just passed away. They were recounting her life for me in preparation for the funeral.


As we spoke, the mother’s long-time caretaker came into the room. She began to speak about their relationship. Though her English was not perfect, the three of us sat spell-bound.

A Sad Journey

She described how she moved to Chicago from Belize after her youngest son died. She came to find work and had to leave her two older daughters at home.

She found work as a caretaker for the mother. The two of them instantly clicked.

They were both in profound pain: the caretaker at the loss of her son, and the mother at the loss of her health.

How Healing Happens

Each brought a measure of healing to the other. The caretaker showed the mom unabashed love.

She listened to her stories. She treated her with dignity. The two surviving sons admitted that the caretaker did things for their mom that they never could.

And the mom gave the caretaker a listening ear. She gave her a lifetime of experience. She gave her a person to care for and love.

Part of the process of healing is leaving the shell of our own pain.

Part of the process of healing is leaving the shell of our own pain. We do not forget or ignore it, but we avoid letting it become a cloud that envelopes our entire body and soul.

Pastor Rick Warren described this truth beautifully when he spoke to a group of ministers about the suicide of his son.

Your greatest ministry,” he said, “will come out of your deepest hurt. We mistakenly think that the world is impressed by how we handle prosperity, but the fact is the world is impressed by how we handle adversity.”

Holding Our Finger Up to the Sun

A great hasidic rabbi once said a finger held up to the eye can block the sun. In other words, our own pain can cloud out all the light shining around us.

When we reach out to help another—when our pain become a catalyst for our heart—we lower that finger and let the light shine in.

Get More from Rabbi Moffic here.

Do You Know What Hurts Me? A Story



A great rabbi went into a bar. He overheard a conversation between patrons.


One said to the other, “Friend, do you love me?” “Of course I do,” the second man replied. “We’ve known each other our whole lives.”


“Then tell me, friend,” said the first man, “What hurts me?” The friend had no reply.


The first man continued “How can you love me, when you don’t know what hurts me?”



Does Religion Cause War?

Courtesy of the New York Times.

Courtesy of the New York Times.

Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end.

This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just promote division or hatred? Is it because of its religious significance that Israel remains a place of tension? Or is faith, at its core, a force of peace?

 If we listen to most voices in the media and pop culture, we would answer this question without hesitation. Religion is bad, primitive, and dangerous.

We would agree with late writer Christopher Hitchens, who said “The Bible contains a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre.”

We would say religion needs to end before peace can begin. But the simple answer is usually wrong. Consider the following:

False assumption 1: Most wars are religious wars.

This argument is simply not true. The Encyclopedia of War (yes, it exists) says that of the 1763 wars, 123 have been caused by religion. That’s 6.98 percent. Hardly a primary cause.

To the contrary, history suggests that the most violent groups tend to be anti-religious. The most murderous regimes of the 20th century—Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—were explicitly anti-religion. They forbid traditional religious expression. They replaced it with politics and nationalism.

The religion of Nazi Germany was the state, and the religion of Stalinist Russia was socialism. Mao Tse-Tung in China and Pol Pot and Cambodia also disregarded their culture’s traditional faiths.

Religion puts a check on political power, and tyrannical regimes suppress it.

False assumption 2: Religion causes people to hate each other. 

This argument has the advantage of having some validity. People have hated and killed others in the name of religion. They continue to do so today.

Yet, people also love in the name of religion. Just look at those who devote their lives to service. Just look at the social service agencies and hospitals established by different faiths.

[callout]If we say religion causes hate, we can equally say religion causes love.[/callout]

The truth is that, as the Jewish sages taught, we are all born with dual inclinations—to love and create, and to hate and destroy. At its best religion fosters the former and quells the latter.

False assumption 3: Religion divides us between believer and nonbeliever. 

Once again this argument has some validity. Religion does draw lines between people. Some religions do so more starkly than others.

Speaking from the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, we can religion also presents a soaring vision of human equality. The opening chapter of the Bible tells us every human being is “created in the image of God.”

Without faith we might not arrive at this sublime truth. Nature favors the strong over the vulnerable. Politics favors the powerful over the weak. Faith makes us equally sacred before God.

Religion does not cause conflict. People do. And religion is the only force that has a prayer of stopping it.

Want to Learn More Jewish Teachings on War and Peace? Here’s a free e-book.

Previous Posts

What to say to your Jewish Friends on the Holidays
While speaking at a church recently, I received an urgent question: “Is it okay for me to wish my Jewish friends ‘A Happy New Year’ on Rosh Hashanah? “Absolutely,” I said. The questioner then asked what was appropriate to say on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when many Jews

posted 5:47:52pm Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

A Prayer for Chelsea Clinton's New Daughter
When Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinksy married, I wrote about the religious choices they would have to make. Those choices come into sharper focus now that they are the parents of a beautiful daughter, Charlotte. Those choices are not clear-cut or absolute. Having worked with hundreds of int

posted 4:02:02pm Sep. 27, 2014 | read full post »

How To Make Peace With Your Regrets
This is the text of the sermon I delivered on the morning of the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. You can Click here to get the MP3 audio recording of  my delivering the sermon The most popular musical in the country when I was in college was Rent. Perhaps you saw it. It was not as edgy as

posted 8:32:03am Sep. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Hearing God's Alarm Clock: What You Need to Know about Rosh Hashanah
On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means "Head of the Year." What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primi

posted 7:58:49am Sep. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Why We Still Love Fiddler on the Roof After 50 Years
As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question. Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold. Since that first experienc

posted 6:59:14pm Sep. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.