© 2020 Drew T. Noll

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Was there a Plague of Mud?

At the end of last week, Yom Shishi (Friday) started great! I opened my eyes, said the Moday Ani Prayer for the first time (I just memorized it the day before at work), and started the laundry. Don’t worry, this is not another I lost my phone in the mechona ha’kvisah (washing mashing) story, however it does involve my bike. You see, since I am now Shomer Shabbat I can’t ride my mountain bike on Shabbat. Why you ask (for those of you non-Jews or non-religious)? Don’t ask, it is a long story that maybe I will tell another time. So, I needed to get a mountain bike ride in that day, on Yom Shishi. And it didn’t matter that it had been raining for a few days prior. I got all geared up for the rain and the cold. I had 2 liters of water, a banana, warm leggings, gloves, and a rain jacket. I stuffed everything in the Camel-Back tarmiel gav (back pack), jumped on my bike and headed up the street with Dude the dog in tow.

Well, I guess I should back up a little. You see, after my blog about my bike damage when I fixed it Israeli style with just some duct tape, I decided to get a little high tech on it. At work, I went over to the Binian Alou (the Aluminum Building) and found a section of aluminum pipe that when I cut it and bent it a bit, I could apply epoxy to it and snap it down right over the frame damage. It seemed to work great and after some cleaning, tweaking, and bike tuning, my bike now has a new name, ‘The Opheniminator”! (ophenime in Hebrew is bicycle) anyways, now I am back on the trails… or would like to be, if it wasn’t for all this rain and darkness on my free time. Which makes it all the more important that on Yom Shishi I get a good ride in.

With that in mind, the Parsha of the week was Va’eira and was about the beginning of the plagues in Egypt that began the Israelite’s mad dash to the border of Israel and the Promised Land beyond. These plagues started with foul dead fish water and a bloody Nile. They went through frogs (or crocodiles depending on the translation) that were not only in everything but were inside every Egyptian (eewww!), lice (you remember ‘keeneem’ the Boulder breakfast cereal sounding plague from an earlier blog), wild beasts that rampaged through every home and all the Egyptian lands (think Jumanji), the sickness and death of all of the Egyptian livestock, and the fiery hail storms that struck down every living thing in its path.

At the time, I hadn’t had time yet to read the Parsha of the week, however while on my lovely little tee’oul (trip) on my bike on Yom Shishi it started to drizzle a little. “Oh,” I thought, it will just blow over and besides, I am prepared for everything! So, I continued on, around the construction site near my house, down the hill and through the other giant monstrosity of a construction site called Holomote Zichron (Zichron Dreams), more like a nightmare if you ask me… And then, to the trail head where it was so amazingly fun to bounce over these little rocks and through the sand and then the mud…for about 10 seconds! My bike was fine, but the mud was very sticky. I got up the hill, half pushing and at the top my bike stopped completely. The mud was so thickly packed into every crevice of my bike that neither wheel would spin. I had to carry it down the mountain and at the time, had some pretty terrible thoughts about my new lifestyle…

These thoughts lasted for also about ten seconds before a sublime knowing crept into my awareness. This story from the Torah Fax that I get tells it all.

Rabbi Schneur Zalmen had a Chasid who was a wealthy wine merchant. Once, the Chasid was notified that two hundred wagons of wine were confiscated by Russian officials at the border.

Upon hearing this he fainted. He had invested everything he owned in this transport and now it was in danger of being lost. Each time the merchant regained his senses; he remembered his misfortune and fainted again.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalmen heard this, he said, "Tell the merchant not to worry. His wine is safe."

Indeed, when Chassidim went to look for the wagons, they found them safe at the side of the road near the border.

The Chassidim then said to the Rebbe, "You claim that you don't perform any miracles, yet we see that you knew that the merchant's wine was safe! Isn't this a miracle?"

The Rebbe answered, "Our sages tell us that G-d never gives a person pain or tests which they cannot handle. When I heard that his suffering was beyond his endurance, I knew it was a mistake and his wine must be safe!"

The same was with the Jewish people in Egypt. When G-d saw that their pain and suffering was so great and beyond tolerance, that they didn't even listen to Moshe who brought the news of their redemption, G-d immediately told Moshe to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the children of Israel out of Egypt!

Isn’t that perfect! It even ties in the Parsha of the week!

Shavua Tov Kulam!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

War of Soul

Last week, at a Shabbat lunch with friends and family, a momentary flash of understanding hit me and as powerful as it was for me, it left with only a trace of what it had been. I had remembered something from the Parsha of the week, Shemote, and somehow had a realization of how it connected to something insidious and entwined within our natures. In hindsight, as I recall, this flash had been building and had come from a few sources. The first source was and is, of course, an ongoing battle within me; namely, ‘What is our nature and why do we fight so much?’ Does this go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, the original sin, and the freedom of choice, or is it just selfishness about who gets to eat the biggest portion? The second source was the Dvar Torah by the Rabbi at Beit Knesset (Synagogue) on how the second book of the Five Books of Moses, Exodus, started with a list of names which indicated that it was about the people of Israel as opposed to the Fathers of Israel like in Genesis (at least that is one of the ideas that I was able to glean from the sermon in Hebrew). But with this in mind, at Suda Shniah (Shabbat lunch), when Haim Chizzali said that there was a moment in the Parsha when Moses learned that the Jewish people already knew about how he had struck down a cruel task master in what he thought was a total secret, I had this flash. Now I am having trouble finding it. I knew that these things were all connected in some way, but finding the links was, and is, something else.

This brings me all the way to Saturday night, after Havdalah, when we decided to go to a movie and just as the movie started we heard the news that two young men were killed while hiking in the desert near Hebron by Arab terrorists from the, officially sanctioned by the West’s, Palestinian leader Abbas’s group Fatah. My wife got a phone call while in the theater and as it turned out, had worked with one of the boys that had been shot and killed in cold blood in this most contemptible West Bank version of a drive by shooting. Both boys that were killed were Kipat Sruga (knitted kippote) and were on leave from elite army units. we didn’t find out in time to go to the funeral… there deaths were a tragedy. The first news article that I saw called these brave boys just Settlers. Then, after the news started to come in about it and the world began to learn the truth of who they were and also the Palestinian involvement in it, the Palestinian Authority said that it was just a business altercation. Right… and what about the last time the guns that Mr. Olmert gave the P.A. were used to kill Jews… just a few weeks ago…

O.K., back to the point; the knitted kipa group in Israel is very interesting. They seem to be mostly made up of Sephardim (Jews from historical Spain that when evicted during the Spanish inquisition settled all over North Africa and the Middle East), Jewish immigrants from North America, and Jews that live in the Stachime (Territories), the Settlers. Most Israelis seem to enjoy and even honor the knitted kipa group in Israel proper; however, the settlers are something all together different. They are looked down on all the time by many Israelis and westerners for that matter. They are considered trouble makers by many in the Israeli government and I have an experience where this pervasive attitude trickled all the way down to a little old lady that was in my ceramics class and made a big politically motivated sculpture of a Settler throwing a rock. The Haredi (ultra orthodox) don’t like the Kipat Sruga so much either, but for different reasons. There are problems with the Chiloni (Secular) and the Haredi. There are problems with the Ashkenazi (western Jews) and Sefaradim. There are even problems with the Jews from the Diaspora and Israel. (This seems like a good place to insert the reason the Holy Temple was destroyed, Hatred amongst Jews) And then it all extends from there to the World and its history of Anti Semitism.

As an inherent peace maker at heart, I have really given myself a challenge it seems. The first of which was to join a religion where the world seems to hate its members for no reason in particular. Then to not only leave my little sleeping cocoon of Boulder, Colorado and live in the Middle East but to make the choice to ‘go religious’. It has brought up all sorts of challenges for me that maybe I will share at a different time. Anyways, this is all a process for me, as you can probably tell, and I hope to get spit out somewhere good; maybe a little closer to Hashem and closer to myself as well.

So, back to the point; In the Parsha Shmote, the Jewish slaves in Egypt not only knew about what Moses had done, they taunted him with it. Two brothers were fighting, amongst themselves, and then they threatened to turn on Moses too! Now, what can we make of this you ask? Do you see where I am going yet? Well, think about it this way; what if those two Jewish brothers didn’t fight about what ever it was that they were fighting about? (Remember that Pharaoh was working and was starving them to death and they had plenty to argue about) Would there still be a Jewish people if Moses, G-D forbid, had been killed by Pharaoh before he had time to go to Midian? And if there weren’t a Jewish people then where would the Moslems and the Christians have come from? Yikes!

I think maybe it is starting to come together again… that illusive little flash of insight was attempting to put together the idea that not only do we grow from struggle, but that there is a big plan as well. It doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the tragedies like senseless murder, governmental whitewashing, and baseless hatred amongst Jews and between peoples but… no buts, and now is the time to see the real enemies, the enemies that work from within and from without. The enemy is in us all and maybe, it is there for a reason.

Baruch Hashem kulam.