Tuesday, August 11, 2020 -
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Life comes in fractions

SOMETIMES life comes in halves. It took half my life to notice, compile, save — and remember I saved — these examples.

When Groucho Marx was told that a country club he applied to denied membership to Jews, he asked: “Since I’m half Jewish, can I go into the swimming pool up to my knees?”

Marketing experts know that if you do nothing, nothing happens. But what to do is sometimes a guess. As one advertising guru said: “One half of my advertising dollars are wasted — but I don’t know which half.”

A 13-year-old, not lacking in self-confidence, sought entrance to the famed Volozhin yeshiva, telling its venerable head, “I can answer any question in half of the Talmud [over 2,700 folio pages].”

“Which half?” came the skeptical reply.

“Whichever half you prefer.”

The lad became the “Rogatchover Gaon (Genius).”

Baseball’s professor of English, Yogi Berra, said: “Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”

Marketing. Advertising. Talmud. Baseball. Let us turn to medicine.

Dr. Charles Sidney Burwell, dean of Harvard Medical School from 1935 to 1949, said that by the time students finish medical school, half of what they learn is no longer true.

Upon which a subsequent Harvard medical dean Daniel C. Tosteson commented (The New York Times, June 3, 2009): “This troubles me, but what troubles me more is I don’t know which half it is.”

IF life sometimes comes in halves, at other times it is doubled.

Take solitude. It is not just being alone, because, as Scipio the Elder said, a person is “never less alone than when alone.” Hannah Arendt explained that the reflective mind is “never altogether without a partner and without company.” She amplified in The Life of the Mind (1978):

“Solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about when I am alone without being able to split up into the two-in-one, without being able to keep myself company.”

Life, two in one.

That’s not schizophrenic; that’s double.

To take another example: life as two ten-thousands in one.

Rabbi Boruch Gradon, head of the Lakewood kollel in Los Angeles, reports that he received a $10,000 donation at the end of 2009. A mistake, he thought. He will have to send the check back. The donor pledged $10,000 annually and had already sent in his check. Then, Rabbi Gradon saw this note attached:

“To Whom This May Concern:

“As you can see, you are receiving an extra check this year. Due to the incredibly stressful economic conditions, I have decided to ‘open the coffers’ and write numerous extra checks. I expect to be able to do this now and again in 2010.”

Inspired by this donor’s view of life in double, Rabbi Gradon recalled the wisdom of King Solomon, ‘The wise of heart will capture good deeds (mitzvos).’”

Halves, doubles — and thirds.

Former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told former Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir that first he was an American, second a German, and only third a Jew.

With rapier wit, Meir riposted:

Do you divide yourself into thirds horizontally, or vertically? And if horizontally, which third is the Jew?

HALVES, doubles, thirds — and plain, ordinary one.

The UN partitioned the much disputed Land of Israel into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, in 1947; Arabs rejected that, Jews accepted that. Then, after the rise of the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization, Jews rejected a Palestinian state, leaving only one Palestine: Israel. Now, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu accepts the idea of a Palestinian state, making two Palestines again. But the Arabs are balking again. How many Palestines are there?

In 1920, the matter was perfectly clear. The British military governor in Palestine would not turn over the reins of power to the first civilian High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, until he signed on the receipt.


“Received from Major General Sir Louis J. Bols, K.C.B. — One Palestine, complete.”

I didn’t make this up — except, well, the one became five thousand. Years later this receipt was sold at auction in New York for $5,000.

Multiplied up or divided down, life often comes in fractions.

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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