Posts Tagged With: hebrew

Kabbalah…Do or Don’t?

There is a lot of interest in Kabbalah these days.  From Madonna to Hasidic Jews, it seems at times as if the whole world (or at least the alternative world) is captivated by Jewish mysticism in one way or another.  In fact, a lot of the time, it seems like it has become so mainstream that people don’t even know its Jewish mysticism, and instead think that it is either a completely new religion, or that it is not religious at all and is just a type of “spirituality.”  My wife’s late grandmother (not jewish or religious in any way), may her memory be a blessing, even spoke of kabbalah lessons during the last year or so of her life.  This I see as one of the dangers of kabbalah, but the reason for the danger is thicker.

Imagine, if you will, a person who learns that there is a thing called an automobile, and that it is something that can carry a person down the road.  Then, without even having a clue about how to drive, he goes out and buys the world’s fastest and most expensive sports car and hits the streets of San Francisco.  This is about the same thing as one who delves into kabbalah without having first the proper knowledge and practice in torah to utilize it properly.

To put it another way, kabbalah is like the frosting of a cake, and torah is the cake.  One who eats only frosting is bound to get sick.  So too, a person who learns and practices only kabbalah will end up with a spiritual bellyache.

It is no wonder that kabbalah is as intriguing as it is.  For many disenfranchised Jews of the last 40 years kabbalah has shown them that the very spiritual experience that they sought out in disciplines like Buddhism, and Hinduism was already present in the Judaism of their ancestors.  Such a comfort was this, that many of these Jews have come back to Judaism, with a heavy influence on kabbalah.  Unfortunately, most of these jews were not raised in torah judaism, and so the foundation for such practices was not well formed, and learning since their return to Judaism has either been incomplete or tempered by kabbalistic views.  This can often have the effect of diminishing importance of torah learning and observance as such things take a back seat to the excitement and clear ethereal nature of mystic practices.

So, what then is the problem with such things?  As jews, our contract with the Almighty is to keep torah, and although there are certainly mystical teachings that may be drawn from torah, the observance of torah is to be done in the physical world, in the natural rather than the supernatural.  Without the strong grounding in such observance that is provided by years of learning and practice in torah, kabbalah threatens to keep one’s head in the clouds without keeping their feet on the ground, and turns torah observance into a question of subjective morality and relevance.

This, perhaps, is the reason that the sages from ancient to present have stated that it is ill advised at the least, and forbidden at worst, to teach kabbalah to a jew that is less than forty years of age–and this is considering that said jew has always been torah observant.

So what then is my suggestion for one who is interested in kabbalah?  Be patient.  Learn the foundation of torah, and how to implement it.  We all can probably agree that getting a credit card without income, let alone the knowledge and discipline to keep it up to date, is a bad idea.  In the same way, kabbalah isn’t inherently bad, or evil, but it is a further tool of a much larger spiritual discipline.

If you are interested in learning further, I suggest learning torah from Rambam (Maimonides), whose very straight forward and practical teachings are a mainstay of torah learning for application.  I also suggest the book The Gerus Guide, the only step-by-step guide to orthodox conversion in the world, which can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=the+gerus+guide&categoryId=100501  Whether you are a non-jew interested in conversion, or a jew interested in furthering observance, this book is a very, very good guide for you, which does not expect that you can jump in all at once.

For Rambam, consider Mishneh Torah, which can be purchased with english translation on amazon or at any online jewish bookstore such as:

http://www.feldheim.com, http://www.artscroll.com, http://www.eichlers.com

First and for most though, one should be well versed in the tanach (hebrew bible).  A good translation can be had in the Stone Edition tanach, which has commentaries as well to explain some of the classic teachings of the text.

If you have any questions, I can provide more links or give personal advice on good places to look or start.

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How To Build Jewish (or Any) Community

As i have written about before, there is a mounting problem in non-orthodox (which for clarity I refer to as reform) judaism, of a dying community.  In many synagogues around the country, the average participant is 50+.  Now, let me make it clear, that if this is your life I’m referring to here, I am not passing judgement in any way, only displaying what I see as the facts of the situation.

In a discussion I was having with a friend, and in my thought process as I was writing another post here, I began to realize that there are a few problems that exacerbate this dilemma:

  • Basic disinterest- The majority of young Jews these days, seem to have inherited a lack of interest or atheism from their parents.  As a bit of perspective, we must remember that for many in their 20’s and 30’s, their parents were the first generation after the shoah (holocaust), in which their parents–if they had a love for any of it to begin with–often completely gave up on G-d.  This is, of course, understandable.  After all, why would one in such a situation not believe that G-d had abandoned him, and therefore conclude that there must not be a G-d or that it was all a waste.  Basically, these young jews lack the 3000 year old fire of the Jewish people, because they never knew it existed.
  • The draw of the goyishe world.  For most young jews, it seems as if the only thing that the jewish world has to offer is old people, dusty books in another language, and gefilte fish; while the goyishe world offers fancy and exotic foods, parties, art, and culture.  Or, in a religious sense, there is the draw of christianity that sways many because there is actually interest in the christian community.
  • In contrast to churches, where the guest of honor at every service is G-d, Jewish congregations often let G-d be entirely relative, or unnecessary.  To make things even more difficult for some people, G-d in judaism has no form whatsoever.  For many people this is confusing at least, maddening at most.  Christianity, on the other hand, has a physicality to their god, which lends tangibility.  Never mind that to the Jewish mind this is absolute heresy, this seems to more easily build understanding and devotion, in much the same way that most modern people, it seems, are more devoted to their boss at work, or fearful of their mother at report card time, than they are of G-d.
  • Churches also have a sense of obligation.  The congregants are obliged to attend, and participate.  Judaism takes exactly the opposite approach in reform circles, and any religious aspect is left up to the individual instead.
  • There is little to no activity at synagogue, or within the Jewish community outside of weekend services.  If you want people to take part in activities, it seems a given that there must be activities to take part in, yet many–if not most–reform synagogues lay idle 90% of the time.

There are, of course, many other problems, but these seem to be the main ones to me.  Now, what could possibly be the solutions?

I think that there are two main factors that must be addressed before anything can get better.  First, there must be a universal understanding as to the existence and nature of G-d.  For some, this may sound very forceful and dictatorial, but what company runs without knowing what its purpose is?  If you want somebody to take part in the works of a religious institution, those who do must be on the same page at least as far as this basic goes.  If people don’t want to be a part of this, thats fine.  That is what the community already exists of, however, and the reason that young people would rather not be involved.  Jewish community has to have something more to offer besides bagels and lox, and guilt from bubbe over not marrying “a nice jewish girl.”  There has to be a reason to do this, and it starts with the supernatural.

The second factor to the solution, as I see it, is obligation.  Everyone must have the obligation to participate.  Every spoke is necessary for a wheel to function properly, and in the same way a community cannot function without the participation of every individual.  We need you to live!  You make us better just by being a part!  Also concerned with obligation, is some sort of halacha (jewish law), even if it is what the community chooses.  Now, I would much prefer that everyone at least work toward full torah observance, but lets get real here; the vast majority of reform jews operate on the supposition that halacha is completely personal, and that its fine to keep none or (almost) all of the classic halacha.  If that is always the framework, community will always struggle.  Parts of a machine cannot decide what they want their job to be because it suits them.  Employees at a  company cannot decide which company policies are relevant to them, and discharge all the rest.  Drivers on the road cannot decide, each for himself, whether or not to stop at stop signs or for pedestrians.  All of these people are a community of sorts, and there is absolutely no logic to the notion that they could decide for themselves what is right or wrong and still remain a functioning engine, corporation, or rush-hour commute.  Why then is it assumed that this would work in jewish community?  Therefore I say, even if it is not full halacha, there must be halacha that is universal, expected, and practiced in the community if the community is to survive.  AND, this is not something that happens overnight, with anybody, so there should be the understanding that although it is expected it must be built up to–but it is not relative.

Third then is opportunity.  There should always be opportunity to learn, to participate, to develop.  There is no reason whatsoever that any synagogue should ever have an incomplete meal on shabbat, but instead, every week there should be cooking classes or groups that prepare for the congregation on shabbat.  There is no reason that anyone in a jewish congregation should not learn hebrew, in fact, this should be one of the obligations and there should be classes available to teach it.  There should be homework groups, movie watching groups, music groups, music classes, even pull in group Krav Maga lessons!  “Mitzvah day” shouldn’t be something that is done only one day a year, but something that is stressed every waking moment.  At every synagogue, the door should be open every day, and there should be something to come in and do.  This is the way things are at the Boys and Girls Club, and at many churches and community centers.  The truth of the matter is, if the door is closed, there is no potential for community.

Open the doors to your synagogues, and start treating them as living organisms, and they will become such.  Keep them closed, and they will continue to wither and die.

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Duck Dynasty Narrowness

There is a lot of hubbub surrounding the lead from A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty today.  From people offended by his remarks in a GQ article, to proponents of free speech (note: I think it has less to do with “free speech” and more to do with stereotypical republican values), everyone seems to have an opinion.  Rather than let everyone else have all the fun, I figured I’d join in.  This post heavily excerpts the article from whence it came.  If you’d like to read the original first, here is the link:

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson

I would like to start off by saying that I do believe that people should have the right to free speech and that it shouldn’t be censored by the government.  That is, by the way, what free speech is all about.  It has nothing to do with whether a television network decides whether or not to air a program because of something that it feels is insulting, nor is that constitutional right referring to the printing of interview comments that it considers offensive.  Because of this fact, organizations that are editorial based–like it or not–are giving an endorsement to what they print or air.  Even if something is being published because they consider the person to be an idiot, they are endorsing it in the same way that we all vote with our purchases.  If you don’t want to watch the show, and don’t like what the man says or thinks, then don’t bloody watch the show!  I don’t have tv stations, or any interest in watching this show.  I never even knew it existed until a couple of months ago, and I thought it was a hunting show!

I would also like to say that some of my comments may be offensive to a christian audience.  If you don’t think the way that these comments address, or if this is not the type of christian you are or the christianity you practice, then the comments are not directed at you.  If these comments do address you, I invite you to take the time to open up your minds, and learn how to actually live your religion.  Learn about it, and not just from christians.  Jesus was a jew, after all, and your bible exists of more than just the letters of Paul and Revelation.  I suggest that you learn hebrew, and study a hebrew text of the hebrew bible (what you call the “old testament”), starting at page one.  Do not look to christian theologians for interpretations, as this is not their book, it is the book of the jews; and jesus was a jew, you know.  He thought jewishly.  He lived jewishly.  This is completely different theology and ideology.  If it is possible, try to learn this section of the bible without christian colored glasses.  If you are stuck, and you surely will be at times–consult the internet.  I suggest http://www.aish.com, http://www.simpletoremember.com, http://www.judaism.about.com, or http://www.jewfaq.org.  You can also feel free to ask me questions, and I will answer them to the best of my ability and/or find out what the answer is.  I’m not saying “don’t be christian.”  If it works for you, that is awesome, and I am truly very happy for you.  All I’m saying is to learn more about jesus and his people.

Begin article breakdown.  There is so much ground to cover here, and there are so many possibilities for critique.  What I have done is take just some of the more ridiculous things, excerpt them, and respond. Here we go.

 

“After the flood, he said, ‘I’m giving you everything now. Animals are wild.’”–um…is that verbatim?  G-d does say, “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours as food”Gen 9:3, but does not say it in a way that implies “humans can do whatever they damn well please” as western man has interpreted to mean.  It does not say “animals are wild.”  It DOES say not to eat the limb of a living animal, which means that no humans are meant–according to the torah of G-d–to remove the limb of a living animal and eat it.  This includes even chickens which are boiled (to remove the feathers) alive because they moved and weren’t killed by the slaughtering machine in commercial plants, and lobster or frogs that are boiled alive.

Referring to blacks in the south before the civil rights movement–“They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”–except of course for those who were, literally, singing the blues. Maybe you missed that day in Musical Theory 101…or never listened to a radio.

“They plunder beehives. They blow up beaver dams”.–so they can live up to this excerpted ideal from earlier in the article, I guess, “what he calls a “pristine earth”: a world where nothing gets in the way of nature or the hunters who lovingly maintain it.”  Good old uncle Esav was a hunter too.  There does seem to be resemblance here.

“Just inside the front door, a giant flat-screen TV shows Fox News on mute at all times,”–you don’t say. I expected Power Puff Girls.  Seriously though, if you are going to have the TV on at all times, and muted, Korean soap operas are much more fun to make up dialogue to.

“Phil On Why He Voted Romney in 2012
‘If I’m lost at three o’clock in a major metropolitan area…I ask myself: Where would I rather be trying to walk with my wife and children? One of the guys who’s running for president is out of Chicago, Illinois, and the other one is from Salt Lake City, Utah. [Editor’s note: Romney is from Boston, not Salt Lake City.] Where would I rather be turned around at three o’clock in the morning? I opted for Salt Lake City. I think it would be safer.”’–what a coincidence. I ask myself: if I’m out at 3am, should I breath paint fumes like this guy; or air like this guy?

“America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.),”–tell that to the natives, the blacks, the homosexuals, hell, just about anyone!  This is a place where knowing the hebrew actually helps a lot, by the way.  The actual phrase in the ten commandments is, “do not murder.”ex 20:13

“He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.”–that’s because he’s getting rich off this stupid crap.

Asked what is immoral behavior–“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.“–but not eating foods that G-d says not to eat. Oh, and “love your neighbor as yourself” is really prevalent in his preaching too, as he rails against anything that he deems to be immoral–including, it would seem, being japanese or muslim.

“During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. 
I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent—if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.
“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.” Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him”— this is the really convenient part of much Christian theology: you don’t need to make up for being an asshole, just put it behind you. That guy you killed? That car you stole? That marriage you ruined? That child you violated?  Just “put it behind you.”

“That’s the unspoken red-state appeal of Duck Dynasty. They’re godly folk. “Real” folk.” –umm…I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

“It’s why Willie Robertson can walk out of work on a regular Thursday afternoon and be greeted by a cheering crowd that seemingly stretches back to the horizon.”–and here I thought it was because they had their own tv show, and many americans are whores for celebrity. I was WAY off!

“Willie has just come back from Washington, D.C., where he accepted an award at the Angels in Adoption Gala. (He and his wife, Korie, adopted a biracial child named Will and are dedicated advocates of the practice.)”–3 to 5 odds the kid is gay as the day is long. Actually, I hope not–for his own sake.

“Let’s face it,” he says. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”–really!!!??  Do we really have to wait that long?  I guess it will be to no gain; they’ll just take the next group of idiots they find and put them on tv.

“I ask Jep Robertson later on if the second generation of Robertson men shares Phil’s views on sin and morality. “We’re not quite as outspoken as my dad, but I’m definitely in line,” he says. “If somebody asks, I tell ’em what the Bible says.”’–you don’t KNOW what the bible says, you know what you want it to say!  Or need we revisit the quote from genesis?

“For the sake of the Gospel, it was worth it,” Phil tells me. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”–right, because there were no communists, shintoists, or “Islamists” before eighty years ago. It all started with WWII. And let’s conveniently forget about Jews, Buddhists, Bahai, Sikhs, Hari Krishnas, etc, etc.  Would they be without morals to you?  What about catholics?  Methodists?  Apparently though, Mormons are fine–after all, he’d rather be in Salt Lake City at 3 AM.

“If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?”–just as long as you aren’t gay, or do anything that is “wrong” according to you?  Or maybe, you can do anything you want–like not even apologize for a savage beating you gave a couple– but because you were “saved” that makes up for everything. The lack of accountability in this type of theology is what has always deterred Jews like me, and many others from committing to the religion, yet with others has made Christianity such a popular religion–from simony, to vicarious atonement (something G-d says is not even possible in Ezekiel), to not having to make atonement to the people you’ve harmed (which contradicts the teachings of jesus, btw)–“just believe” and “every little ting gonna be awright”

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Is Israel an Apartheid State?

No.

 

What?  You were expecting a bit more, were you?  Why don’t we start with the definition of apartheid.

From Mirriam-Webster:

Apartheid:  racial segregation; specifically :  a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa

Lets assume for the moment, that the reference to South Africa is due to the fact that the term was coined in response to the affairs there, and that apartheid is not something specific to that region.  Apartheid describes, “racial segregation,” including, but I’m sure not limited to, “political and economic discrimination.”

This would suggest, that in an apartheid state, one racial entity would have total control, with the other or all others having no presence in politics, medical care, or economics.

Pushers of the “Israel is an apartheid state” credo often state as well, that Israel is participating in “ethnic cleansing,” and further that “Israel is the same as,” or similar to, “Nazi Germany,” in its relationship with the Arabs there.  Unfortunately for those who levy this argument, nothing could be further from the truth.

What are the facts?  Without a pro-Israel bias, a few of the unadulterated facts of the situation are this:

-Israel is a multi-racial state, in which equal rights is not only the law but is also the norm, in every facet of society.  Sure, individual racism occurs–as it does in all societies–but there is no stance condoning such acts in the government.

-There are Israeli-Arabs.  In fact, 20% of the Israeli population is Arab.

-Israeli-Arabs are present in the Supreme Court, Knesset (Parliament), University (as both students and professors), medical, commerce, and even in the IDF where–although their service is not mandatory–many serve with distinction.

Considering these facts, plus the numerous others, no logical comparison can continue to be found between an apartheid state and Israel.  And in order to conclude that Israel is like Nazi Germany, we would also have to see the round-up and wholesale slaughter of innocent arabs–which is impossible to see unless you have your eyes closed.

But what of the “occupied” territories of “The West Bank and Gaza?”

In 1947, after the arabs rejected the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine proposal of an independent arab state, and an independent jewish state, the region was gripped in civil war.  The Jews were able to turn the tide in their favor, and 250,000 arabs either fled, or were expelled from these territories.  250,000 would be a very significant number, if it weren’t for the fact that between 1922 and 1948 and estimated 300,000 arabs immigrated to these lands.  Why does this make it less significant?  The argument that is levied is that the jews must return the ancestral homeland to the refugees who fled the region during this time.  Considering that the fleeing of arabs was immediately preceded by the immigrating in higher numbers, it is not difficult to believe that they are not able to provide documentation for their ancestral ownership of these lands.

To complicate matters further, in 1948–immediately after Israeli statehood was declared–TransJordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq invaded Israel in a war of aggression.  When peace was reached between israel and her aggressors, TransJordan occupied and annexed the territories now known commonly as The West Bank.  Egypt occupied the Gaza strip.  To put it bluntly, the palestinian arabs have never had self-determination in these lands, and the implication that they were ever a sovereign state is simply misinformation.

In 1967, Israel was once again attacked by her neighbors, and once again was able to turn the tide in her favor.  By the time peace was reached between the parties, Israel had fought her way through the Gaza strip and the West Bank, and captured both Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula.  All of the territories that Israel’s opponents call “occupied territories,” are these lands that the state captured in defensive combat against multiple foes.  In an attempt to retain peace with the occupants of these areas, Israel has maintained a military presence there for the last 40 years, in exactly the same way that the U.S. military has retained a presence in every area it has fought.  And yes, those settlers that everybody hears about so much, they are Jews who are building neighborhoods in these territories, but they are building them on lands that are either purchased from arabs, or have no owner.

The next item of business that is often cited as “proof” of “Israeli apartheid,” is the building of the wall separating Israel from “The West Bank.”  The wall was begun in 2003, and the three year period following its beginning was marked by an 84% reduction in suicide attacks from the three years before, resulting in a 79% reduction in fatalities from such attacks.  The wall is inconvenient to many arabs who live on the Israeli side (in places, the wall places parts of the west bank on the Israeli side), but there is no denying that it has been a significant factor in the reduction of such heinous crimes.

I would like to talk about the Boycott Divestiture and Sanction (BDS) movement that is being urged on by so many celebrities, but it is already too late, so I will save that for another post.  I would also have liked to talk about the practice of apartheid in South Africa–where the term was coined–so that there could be an honest comparison, but that will likewise have to wait.

Most opponents of Israel simply repeat that which they’ve heard from people whose opinions they consider valid, even if these people know nothing about what it is they are talking about and are just riding the groundswell.  The next time that somebody tells you that Israel is an apartheid state, think of the jewish patients who receive care from the arab doctors, and the arab patients from jewish doctors; think about the tolerance within the Knesset even for radical arab members who openly call for the destruction of Israel; think about the arabs and jews who work together or adjacent to one another in business, or those who fight side by side in the IDF; or think about the restaurants, bathrooms, theaters, and swimming pools where arabs are welcome alongside jews.  Then think for yourself.  Don’t even be quick to formulate an opinion based upon this short treatise, but don’t condemn a nation you are unfamiliar with on the testimony of those who argue without facts.

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Smartphones, Dumb People?

There is a running battle within me.  Part of me loves having my iPhone and, at times, can’t envision productive life without it.  I have a universe of information at my fingertips!  With the wealth of apps available, many for free or very cheap, I can write job bids for everything from siding repair to a complete remodel, look up real-time prices at Home Depot or Lowes, and study Torah with a tap of a finger.  But here is the problem: with the wealth of apps available, many for free or very cheap, I can write job bids for everything from siding repair to a complete remodel, look up real-time prices at Home Depot or Lowes, and study Torah with a tap of a finger.

Sometimes I really wonder if the trade-off is worth it.  My phone has an eight mega-pixel camera, which totally blows away any camera costing less than $2000 a decade ago.  I can shoot HD video, edit it in-phone, and upload it to the internet within minutes (something I actually did earlier today).  Then again, because of all this, I use my DSLR camera less.  I don’t hesitate to pull out my phone, six days a week, to take a picture of my daughter with her clothes stuffed, and acting like a sumo wrestler.  But do I really enjoy these moments as much as I would if I were focused on experiencing them?  Perhaps, when there was no alternative, we paid a lot more attention and committed more things to memory.  A small example of this may be found in the fact that we don’t memorize phone numbers like we used to.  In fact, this is becoming such a dying art, that the mere idea of knowing phone numbers is preposterous to most modern children!

The dependence upon technology does seem like a necessary evil, especially when you consider how far things have progressed–technologically speaking–in the last few decades.  There is no denying that technology will only be increasing in societal saturation in the years to come.  It is awfully frustrating at times, especially when my kids are home from school and have to use a computer to do their homework.  For many of my classes, I have no choice but to use a computer for my homework.  Sixteen years ago, when I met my wife, I had never even been on the internet before.  I absolutely loved the manual typewriter that I had which typed in cursive!  I would take it here and there, like some kind of antique laptop, hauling with me the paper that I needed, and cussing myself for each typo.  Now, I can talk into my phone, and have it type out everything I say (with reasonable accuracy).  Yet, I come here to write, and write I do.  Perhaps “writing” is being a bit daft, most of the time I seem to just vomit out words through my fingertips.

I have been trying to figure out a way to enjoy the benefits of my smartphone, without suffering from the zombification that comes along with it.  I have considering deleting the Facebook app from my phone, and disabling the email app.  Sometimes though, I wonder why I should bother to keep it at all.  It is great to have the wealth of information available, but it seems like it could have an effect on decreasing wonder–although it doesn’t seem to have done this for me.

Maybe the answer is to become more like the Amish.  Instead of totally spurning technology though, I think I just need to be able to be stronger in terms of resisting the urge to open my email or Facebook when I have a free minute.  Maybe I need to just spend less time with earbuds in.  Perhaps the answer is to become a bit “Jewmish.”  The Amish make up about 2% of the American population, as do Jews.  But the hard part is that whenever I consider increasing my luddite nature, I can’t figure out where the line should be drawn.

I don’t really think many people are reading my blog yet, it has only been a week, so perhaps one day people will be combing through the archives, but if any of you have any suggestions, I’m open to hearing them!

 

Note:  shortest–regular–post yet!!!  Yippee!!

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You Don’t Look Jewish….

There is a joke, that I’ll paraphrase.

A rabbi from New York is invited to visit a synagogue in China.  He isn’t sure what to expect, but he is delighted to witness a service exactly like those that he is used to, but it is still a bit strange because everybody there is Chinese.  After the service, he meets with the rabbi of the shul, and thanks him for the wonderful experience.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he says, “but it was just beautiful!”

The rabbi smiles and says to him, “Thank you!  Its strange though…you don’t look Jewish….”

What does it mean to, “look Jewish?”  If you can tell me, definitively, what this means, I will give you a gold star.  There are Eastern European Jews, Spanish Jews, Mediterranean Jews, Italian Jews, Asian Jews, Indian Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, Arab Jews, North African Jews, Black Jews…you get the idea.  There are Jews whose ancestors have always been from the children of Israel, and there are Jews who are the descendants of converts–or are converts themselves.

Yes, that’s correct, a person CAN convert to Judaism.  In fact, conversion to Judaism has such a long and rich history, that several times the practice of circumcision for the sake of conversion has been outlawed on pain of death by whoever was the governing people of the time.  Still not sure you believe me?  King David’s grandmother, Ruth was a convert.  You can read all about it in the book of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) which bears her name.

I have heard the remark many times that, “Jews don’t have red hair,” but King David himself is described as being red haired.  If you look in any Yeshiva (school for learning torah) you will probably see–very orthodox–Jews with red hair.  Some Jews have curly hair.  Some jews have straight hair.  Some Jews have no hair!

I think you get the point:  There is no such thing as “looking Jewish,” or more in particular, there is no such thing as a person who, “doesn’t look Jewish.”  I actually enjoy when people ask me the question of, “is Jewish a race, a culture, or a religion?”  I look at them and grin a little bit as I respond, “yes.”

It is a little bit like being human.  Sure, all humans aren’t Jewish, but just as there is not enough clear and simple description of what it means to “look Jewish,” all people are people!  I saw a video earlier today, from the show, “What Would You Do?”  They had three actors in a barber shop in Harlem: a black, female stylist; a black male customer; and the girlfriend of the black customer…who was a white girl.  They had the stylist playing the role of the racist woman who can’t stand to see a nice young black man with a white girl.  The object of the show was to capture the reactions of the other customers in the shop, who weren’t privy to the plot.  There were a few customers who really lashed out against this racism.  The basic part of the arguments was, “People are people!”

I don’t care if you’re black, purple, polka-dotted, whatever…you are a person, and you deserve to be treated as such.  That is the cliche part of what I’ll say here.  The non-cliche, and possibly controversial part is this: we are not all the same!  Some of us are tall, some short, some fat, thin, athletic, academic, math geeks, language geeks, uneducated, PhD’s, speak english as a second language, speak english as one of five languages.  And yes, not only are some of us white, and some of us black.  Some of us are Jews, some (well most, really) of us goyim*.  And–brace yourselves–some of us are men, and some of us are women!  And thank G-d for that!  For all of it!

We are not the same!  This culture of false equality that we are inculcated with is one of the things that is harming our society on a daily basis.  There is no reason that a woman should be expected to be–in all ways–equal with a man, and vise versa.  And that goes for every single one of the classifications listed previously.  This isn’t to say that a woman can’t do the same things that a man can do, or vise versa, but it is to say that there are things that each one of us are better at doing, and that’s just the way it is.  There is no excuse for subjugation resulting from differences, and I think that is why there is such a hard  push for total equality.  Unfortunately, because there are people who do subjugate others under the premise of these differences (I think these differences are just scapegoats, by the way, for those who are hateful or power hungry), we miss out so much on the beauty embodied in these differences.

Each one of us being different is what makes this world a beautiful place.  If each person were simply treated as a person, and appreciated for both our strengths and weaknesses, this world would be so amazing.  If everybody ceased, tomorrow, from subjugating others, we would have peace on earth.  That is the climate that we will witness when Moshiach (the messiah) comes.  That will be as close as possible to Heaven on Earth.  In fact, this would be a return in thinking.  A revolution in terms of coming full circle.

Whatever you think about the veracity of the story of the garden of Eden from the book of Bereishit (Genesis), there are quite a few things that we can all take away from it.  The story of the garden can be seen as allegory for the human race, and for each human individually.  Adam and Eve live a carefree existence.  Every need is provided for them.  They do not feel cold, or heat.  They do not know hunger or thirst.  The only stipulation, is that there is a tree (not an apple, by the way) that they are not to eat from.  When, after being tempted by the serpent, they eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they pass from this state of innocence to the world beyond, where they have to work for everything.  Now, they must worry about competition, jealousy, embarrassment, blame, sin, and atonement.  Before, they were children.  Now, they are adults.

There is a remaining philosophical question in this, regarding whether a person can actually be wholly human and be innocent like this.  One of the things, after all, that makes us human is that we not only have the capacity but also the necessity to reason logically, and to think about all of these things.  Nakedness doesn’t only refer to articles of clothing, but also to psychological openness.  In fact, it is much harder to be emotionally naked in front of another person than it is to be physically naked. If we can build a world where man and woman can look at each other naked–in the most difficult sense of the word–“and feel no shame” as it is written, then we can realize a world in which Moshiach has come.  Then it will be as a return to the Garden of Eden, a return to the purity of youth when it didn’t matter if you were black, white, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Asian, arab, Jew, or goy*…or, man or woman.

*Note:  I cannot stress this enough, I do not use the word “goy” or its plural “goyim” as a derogatory term.  It is the opposite of saying “jew” and carries with it no inferiority from its antonym.

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Time, Humans, God.

IMG_0215

My posts have been very long.  I am usually quite wordy when I write something, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or not.  I have been up way too late recently, sometimes writing blog posts, sometimes doing other things, but I need to get to sleep earlier.  In that vein, I am going to attempt the impossible: to write a post in under twenty minutes so I can still get to bed before midnight!  It is 11:38 right now.

The night before last, I heard some noise from the loft in our house (where my fourteen year-old sleeps).  I called up, “Patrick?  Whatcha doing?”

“I’m getting dressed.” He responded, in a bit of a snippy tone.

A pause.

“What time is it?” He asked, sounding frustrated.

“11:15 at night.”

“Nevermind.”  He said. “I’m not getting dressed.”

Another story:

A few years ago, I spent the beginning of pesach (passover) in Brooklyn.  We had just finished services at the yeshivah, and I went into the coat room to get my coat.  A man was in there, mid fifties I’d say, great big black beard.  With him was another man who I assume was his father, who had a great big white beard.  The younger man said to me, “It is so nice to see you again!  How long has it been?”

“Many years.” I said to him, with no air of sarcasm.

The older man then said,  “What is time?  A year is but a month, a month is but a week, a week is but a year.”

As we walked back to the house, I told the rabbi and his son what had been said, and they looked at me a bit sideways when I related my response.  “I was meaning in terms of a few thousand years…since we were all at Sinai.”

In Jewish tradition, the soul of every Jew–dead, living, yet to live, and even those who would convert–was present at Sinai.  Every Jew heard the declaration from Hashem (G-d), and accepted the covenant there.  In a way, it had been only a month, a week, a day.

What is time, anyway?  Time doesn’t really exist, except in our minds.  Time is a system of measurement that gauges our productivity in this world.  In fact, if not for the fact that we live within a society that demands that we give our time to it, we would have no need for it.  My son, when he awoke in the middle of the night, heard me awake downstairs and assumed that it was time to get up for the morning.  He had been a little under the weather the previous day, and so he had already slept a lot.  When he woke up, he must have been fairly rested, therefore it must have been morning.

Where does time come from?  Where does our need to set time come from?  In Judaism, the earliest example of time known to man comes from the dictate from G-d to set holy days, and to call off the seasons and months.  We are to usher in rosh hodesh (the head of the month) with trumpets.  Rosh hodesh, in fact, is a minor holiday in Judaism…something that most jews–I think–either forget or never knew.  We are also commanded to bring offerings at particular “seasons” of the day, if you will.  There is a dictate to bring the morning, afternoon, and evening offerings.  Our prayer times are set around these three offerings, and the dictate to twice a day recite the words of the shema, “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your capacity,” etc, in Vayikra (Leviticus) and Devarim (Deuteronomy).  This is to be recited, “when you lay down, and when you rise,” and so there are certain times to do this which correspond to the appropriate times to bring the offerings of morning and evening.

What did this man really mean with his question, “What is time?”  Perhaps he was referring to the way in which Hashem experiences time.  We believe that Hashem (G-d) is outside of time, omnipresent.  If Hashem is omnipresent, then the past, present, and future must all be blended–a synergy of time–and so time does not really exist.  A year truly is a month, a month a week, a week a day.  When Moshe Rabbeinu AHS (Moses our teacher, peace be upon him) meets Hashem for the first time, and Hashem tells him to go to his people and bring them out of bondage, Moshe says (paraphrased) “What’s your name?  When I go to the Israelites, who shall I tell them is their G-d?”

Hashem replies saying, “I will be that which I will be.” Again, Moshe asks, and Hashem responds with a curious word as a name.  This name is so holy, that we don’t even speak it, though many have tried to decode its pronunciation.  He takes the words for “was,” “is,” and “will be,” and squishes them together into one word, the ineffable name of G-d.  What is he telling Moshe at this point?  I think that what he is saying is, “I exist outside the realm of your comprehension.  I exist outside of time and matter, yet intrinsically intertwined with both.  There is no name that can apply to me.”  Further, he seems to be saying, “You can’t put me in a box.  You humans think you are so smart!  First you name something, then you can subjugate it, then you can rule it.  But I cannot be named!  I cannot be ruled!”

The Hasidic Jews of the Breslov movement have a way of describing this that may not immediately make sense in this context.  They say, “I am nothing.  You are nothing.  Only Hashem is.”  In other words, everything that we see.  Everything that we count as being “real,” is really just temporal existence.  All matter will change, all beings will die.  The earth will someday cease to exist, but still the essence of the universe, the mysterious energy that animates all atoms in it, it will continue to be.  Why?  Because that which we cannot see, touch, taste, measure, or quantify, that IS.  Everything else “is nothing.”

So what of time?  Time cannot be seen, touched, tasted, smelled.  Time can be quantifiable–is quantifiable–yet we can never make more of it.  In fact, it is such a finite resource for us, that we often feel loathsome toward the prospect of “burning” time.  But how can we be so concerned with losing time, that we drive ourselves insane?  Perhaps it is because we have attempted to take that which is inconceivable, and ineffable, and put it in a box.  But with all our gears, and levers, the only thing that we can actually measure is our place within time, as it wends its way around our collective consciousness.

It is 12:37 now.  I am 38 minutes “late.”  I have not made my goal of time.  I have not, however, finished late.  Neither do I ever finish my tasks early.  I finish precisely when I am meant to.

Torah of Time

By: Natan Zalman
Is time as it seems?
What is a thousand years to a soul?

It is not as it sounds. A thousand are but a hundred,-a hundred

but a dozen-a dozen but one; a year is but a month-a week-a day-an hour-a second frozen

in cryogenic suspension.

 

My soul does not lack for patience,

it does not even know the necessity for such things.
A heart is but a pound of flesh. What is time to the heart?

Exactly as it seems. A second,       an hour,                 a day——all are excruciatingly

long as a thousand years.”

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T-minus Two Months and Counting!

This morning I was sitting with my fourteen year-old son, and I had a revelation.  “Today is the 11th of December.  I’m leaving for Israel in exactly two months!  Holy crap!”  For years I have dreamed of going on a trip to Israel (or just about anywhere, as I’ve never been out of the country) but it just never seemed to be a possibility.  I live in East Tennessee, currently, and tickets from here are often in the $1100-$1400 range.  In addition to that, we have four kids!  All of us going just isn’t an option, as it would cost almost half of a year’s pay for the whole trip (once you consider food, lodging, et al), and I didn’t envision a scenario in which I would be able to go by myself.

Last year (2011), however, I made the decision to go back to school.  My wife had gone back already, and was in her second year of her associates of sciences program.  With the fact that we are low income, and have so many dependents, there is a lot of government money to help us out with tuition, so I figured now was the time!  I was sitting in orientation, and they began to talk about the study abroad program.  I wasn’t eligible, since I hadn’t completed enough hours of schooling yet (they pay for half the tuition, so they want your investment first, I guess), but my wife was eligible.  I called her, and said that it was something that she should do, to which she responded that she had thought about it but never thought it was a possibility because of the kids.  I reminded her that they are my kids as well, and she may never get another opportunity like this again.  To make a short story long, she went on the program, spent three weeks in Paris.  I stayed home with the kids–that is, until my mom flew out here from California and we all loaded up in the car to embark on a cross-country road trip.  With my wife having the opportunity to take this trip, we decided that it was fair that I could take a trip too.  Well, I decided, and she didn’t argue at least.  My wife doesn’t exactly get excited over a lot of things, so….

This last summer, I was keeping my eyes peeled for info on the best times to fly, best carriers, and best cities to fly out of, in terms of rates.  To my amazement, I found that DC was the cheapest airport to fly out of, and during November and February were the cheapest times of year.  It was now in the realm of possibility, being $400-$700 cheaper than flying out of our airport.  How to pay for the trip though?  I could use school money left over after classes were paid for, but I’d rather not deplete those funds so much.  I decided to start a GoFundMe fundraiser, and see if anyone would be interested in helping an “older” guy (34) pay for the trip that he is too old to get for free through the organization Taglit Birthright.  If you don’t know about Birthright, it is a not for profit organization that sends young jews (18-28) on two week trips to Israel to help build their jewish identities.  It is a really great program, but it is limited to those age groups, so I was ineligible.  If I engineered my own birthright trip though, I could get it done for a lot less, and be able to see things that I want to see–which may or may not be what Birthright would have me see.  In addition, I would be close to Italy, so a round trip ticket to Rome would be affordable.  By going to Italy, I could not only see historic sights and eat some great pizza, but, I could also journey to Gaeta, Italy, and search for my ancestors records while enjoying the very same streets they called home!

The GoFundMe project was a partial success, raising about 20% of the $2500 I figured the trip would cost.  More would be great–and if any of you would like to donate even $10, I would be most appreciative–but B’H/thank G-d it has been a success so far!  This brings me to the point I am at now.  I have purchased my tickets to Israel, I will be staying with a friend in Netzrat Illit for part of my time in Israel, possibly visiting a man and his family in Har Hevron, and am still working on people to stay with or places to rent in Tel Aviv, and Yerushalayim/Jerusalem.  I still need to procure my tickets from Tel Aviv to Rome, and arrangements there as well.  I’m not worried about any of it too much, I know that everything will work out fine and that G-d will provide the answers, but I do need to get off my keister and get some of this legwork done.  Two months will have gone by before I even know it!

Some of the things that I would like to do or places to see in Israel:

-Surf!  February is supposed to be a good time for surfing in Israel, and I can’t wait!

-My friend Ofer wants to take me to the Golan.  He says it is his favorite part of the country!

-Visit the Kinneret/Sea of Galilee.

-Visit the Dead Sea.

-Zichron Ya’akov, a cute seaside community.

-Tel Aviv.  I’ve heard that Tel Aviv is a lot like New York, just with more jews!  For many, this might not be a good thing, but I’m excited!

-Jerusalem.  Old city, new city, arab quarter, the Kotel (western/wailing wall), temple mount (if at all possible), the shuk (outdoor market), and anything/everthing else I can possibly take in!

-Hevron, the biblical territory of Caleb son of Y’funah (כלב בן יפנה)

-Masada, the hilltop outpost where  our ancestors fought off the Romans before ultimately killing themselves/each other so as not to be seized by Rome once the siege was complete.

-Visit Ma’ale Adumim, or one of the other settlements.

-Take thousands of photographs!

These are just the things that I can think of, off the top of my head that I would like to accomplish in Israel.  With G-d’s help, may I merit to achieve all of this and more within the tight span of two weeks!

Once again, if you would like to help out with some of the costs, I would be most appreciative.  I have set up a tier of rewards for those who are generous enough to assist me in this endeavor.

http://www.gofundme.com/4ilnto

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