© 2019 Drew T. Noll

Monday, December 28, 2009

Standing Room Only


My favorite band of all times is coming to play in Israel! They are coming to an ancient Roman theater in Caesarea where 2,000 years ago, they used to do all kinds of unspeakable things… But next month, I am going to see Led Zeppelin! I had great plans to get the best tickets that I could but… ended up not getting out of bed early enough to stand in line. You know how it is, the alarm went off at 2:00 in the morning and it was soooo cold out! I figured that I could stay in bed until 5:00 and still get really good seats. Then at 5:00 in the morning, it was still really cold, so I figured that I could just get up at the normal time and still get in. I knew that I wouldn’t get the best seats but, hey… it was cold!

When I got to the ticket booth the line was wrapping all the way around the Coliseum and down the gravel road a bit… oy! Well, I waited for about 4 hours and eventually the line started to move. In the end, I got standing room only tickets on the far side of the theater up in the back. Well, at least I got in; there were a few people behind me that couldn’t get in at all! One of the guys was talking about how maybe he could get a job sweeping or cleaning the bathrooms or something, just so he could at least hear them playing.

I’m imagining what it will be like when I walk in to the Roman amphitheater. They let people in down by the stage so, I will be able to see all of my friends sitting in the front row as I walk up, up, up, all the way to the back... I am not looking forward to that. I spoke with one of my friends and he was really disappointed that I didn’t get up on time. Oy, I am disappointed in myself! I had one chance at it and I blew it... What was I thinking anyways?

So, the concert is this weekend and now I am almost dreading going. The closer it gets, the more dread I feel. Maybe I should just not go at all. I bet I could scalp my tickets out front on the night of the concert, but then I wouldn’t even get to see anything! STOP.....

For those of you that think it’s still possible to see Led Zeppelin in concert, I am just telling you now that it isn’t. This is an exercise in thinking ahead; you see, this is what it is going to be like when we move on to the next world. Just for the purposes of this little metaphor, Led Zeppelin is G-D. Because I slept in when I should have jumped at the chance to be as close to Hashem as possible, I get to sit way up in the back and I can’t even complain about it! What am I going to do, ask Robert Plant if I can come closer to the stage so I can see them play? “It’s not fair! All my friends are right here in the front and I have to be so far away. Why are there even seats so far away that you can’t even see anything?” Then I thought about the guys that were willing to clean the toilets, just to be able to hear a muffled murmur as it echoed around the tiled walls and paper strewn floors of the bathrooms.

What is the moral of the story? If you know it is the right thing to do, just do it! Don’t wait, don’t vacillate, don’t judicate, just do it! I knew it was the right thing... and when I decided to sleep in because it was cold; I listened to my most trusted advisor. You know, the one that is always whispering, “You deserve it. You have it coming to you. It will all work out in the end. Go ahead, take what you want now. Life is short; live it while you can.” Now I am in standing room only... in the back.

All I can say is, “Thank G-D I figured it out with enough time to (just maybe) make a difference!”

Shavua tov le kulam!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hell if I Know...


Did you ever want to know if Hell is exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

First, let’s just assume that there is a Hell and that Hell is bound by the finite quality of time but not of space. This being the case, we need to know how the spiritual mass of Hell is changing within time. So, we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. To do this, we need to analyze the world’s religions. To start with, since Atheism is technically a religion and agnostics are technically considered to be on the path to acquiring religion, we have to assume that there are no truly secular people and that all people are religious enough to be a member of a religion.

With this in mind, the vast majority of religions in the world believe that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, according to most religions, no souls are leaving Hell. There is only one tiny religion in the world that says that every soul will only stay in Hell for an appropriate period of time before leaving Hell and going to Heaven.

Furthermore, most religions in the world state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell and only one religion, the same tiny one from above, says that every soul, from every religion, is welcome in Heaven but, every soul first goes to Hell in order to clean it up and make it presentable for when it arrives in Heaven. Since there is more than one religion in the world and since people do not belong to more than one religion, and since the only religion that says every soul goes to Heaven also says that every soul first goes to Hell, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With this understanding and with birth and death rates increasing exponentially as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially as well.

If we apply Boyle's Law to this problem it would state that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.
This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until—all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until—Hell freezes over.

So, is Hell exothermic or endothermic? Let’s consider that last night in my house, without going into all the gruesome details, all Hell broke loose. That would mean that Hell must be exothermic. On the other hand, since Hell breaking loose in my house eventually ebbs and turns into stony silence, it would appear that Hell can freeze over, which means that Hell is also endothermic.

So, which is it then?

I know, I know—if I am not careful I might just end up slipping on thin ice and sliding right out of the pan and into the fire!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Death is Something that We all Fear and Dread


Death is something that we all fear and dread, like it is there but never going to happen, all at the same time. When my father died, I was so overwhelmed with the concept of death that I really didn’t know how to deal with his passing. It was like he was going on a vacation and I would see him when he returned. He hasn’t come back yet… or so I thought.

Recently, Hashem has been introducing me to death again for some reason. It started with a trip to Tzfat and Meron on Rosh Chodesh Kislev (my anniversary) with Adele and included a crazy bunch of Sephardim (Jews of Middle Eastern decent) to visit the kevarim (graves) of some of the greats in Jewish history. The bus ride was full of song and laughter and when we got there, it was raining. Some of the men chose to hike to the Mikveh (ritual bath) in the Tzfat cemetery and others went to recite Tehilim (Prayers) at the kevarim.

It was spooky. All the graves had little solar powered candles that collect light during the day and at night, twinkled in the rainy blackness. We hiked up the hill, past all the old gravesites, past the makeshift rail systems to hoist the dead to their eventual resting places, and past some of the wackiest structures you could imagine. They were right out of a Frankenstein movie with additions having been made over hundreds of years to shield the candles and honor the dead.

The most famous of the rabbis buried in the Tzfat cemetery is Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the ARI. The ARI came to Tzfat in 1530 from Egypt. He was one of the most famous Kabbalists of all times, and while in Tzfat, the legend is that he learned new Kabbalistic insights while studying with Elijah the Prophet in a cave in the synagogue located above the cemetery. Next to the ARI his son is buried, Rabbi Moshe Luria. There is a tree that grows out of Rabbi Moshe Luria's grave and a tradition has developed to hang plastic sacks on the tree containing visitor requests, asking for Rabbi Moshe's intercession with the Divine regarding some aspect of their life. While we were there, a woman had her daughter on the other end of the phone who wanted to ask for a whole host of things (she was admonished for asking for a new cell phone, “That is not the kind of thing we ask the Rabbi for!”).

Near the ARI’s kever is the kever of Rabbi Moshe Alsheich, who was best known for leading the movement of reaccepting Jews that had been forcibly converted to Christianity. Also next to these great Rabbis is the kever of the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, who is known for composing Lecha Dodi (Come my Beloved), which is sung every Friday night to welcome in the Sabbath. He wrote Lecha Dodi in line with the Kabbalistic belief that, during the week, each one of a Jew's actions creates an angel. On Shabbat, these angels join the person, in order to bring in the Sabbath Queen.

Below the ARI's grave is that of Rabbi Yosef Caro. Rabbi Caro is known for writing the Shulhan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. He wrote the Shulhan Aruch to make the laws of the Torah easier for Jews, who because of the expulsion from Spain, were being dispersed throughout the world, complicating the observance of the 613 Mitzvote (Commandments). Tradition has it that Rabbi Caro wrote the Shulhan Aruch with the help of an angel in the place where the Yosef Caro Synagogue now stands.

The Tzfat cemetery is also known as the burial place for Jews who lived thousands of years ago. Some of the oldest kevers that are known are those of Hosea the Prophet, Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair (father-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is credited with writing down the Kabbalistic Book of the Zohar in the 1st century A.D.) and, some believe that Chana and her Seven Sons (of Chanukah fame) are also buried there.

The next visit that I received to introduce me to death was a funeral that I attended for Pinchas, a little old man that went to my Synagogue. He must have been 80 or 90 years old and we were all expecting that he would pass on at any time. I saw him on Shabbat, about two weeks before he died. He was moving very slowly and I think that day he had his last Alyiah to the Torah. His son died in the Yom Kippur War and we had just attended Kadish for him on the day before Yom Kippur. When Pinchas died, we all found out the same day and left work early to attend his funeral. We stood in front of the Synagogue and when the van arrived with his body, the guy from the Havera Kidusha got out. He was a guy I had seen before, grizzled and old, with a long white beard and clothing that placed him from Eastern Europe about 200 years ago.

The body was placed in front of the Synagogue and we listened to stories about Pinchas’s life, how he was a founder of the Synagogue, and how he was always there early, waiting for everyone else to pray. I remember when, on the way home from morning minyan at the big synagogue in town, I saw him walking with his cane. This was about a year ago and I pulled over to ask if he wanted a ride. He didn’t but, to humor me, he got in anyways. He used to sit in the corner of the little Synagogue that he co-founded, right next to the Rabbi.

On this particular day, he was wrapped in a cloth under a burial shawl—and then they loaded him into the van and took him to the Cemetery. We all convened at the grave-side, said some words, and prayed; then the old Havara Kidusha guy climbed into the hole in the ground and disappeared in order to prepare Pinchas’s body for burial. The family members cut their clothing with a yellow utility knife and then dumped about 15 garbage pails of dirt into the hole. That was it; the life of Pinchas.

Early this week, I was asked by the CEO of my company to write a letter to send to a bereaved friend that lives in the US. His wife had passed on and we needed to send something that expressed our condolences. It got me thinking about how to be with the bereaved. It is really hard to know what to say. I remembered after my dad died and how difficult it was to feel or even know how to feel.

Then the next day at lunch, I found out that someone that I had met, someone that was a work friend of Adele, someone that was a real heroic type, and too young, died in a freak training accident in the army. He lived in Zichron Yaakov across the street from my sister-in-law. The death of Gal Azoulai was a real tragedy for the entire country. This funeral was totally different than the funeral for Pinchas, which was intimate and was expected by the community. For Gal’s funeral, the graveyard was packed. It was one of the saddest things I have experienced. Gal’s fellow soldiers were just barely able to contain the emotion, and some couldn’t. I will be haunted by the image of his mother, as she appeared to be trying to crawl out of her skin while leaving the cemetery.

They fired a 21 gun salute, right over the heads of the yeshiva students that had gathered on the roof next door. Everyone was there, from the big brass to the tourists like me. It was such a public event... unimaginably tragic for the family.

As we all know, death is hard for the living. When a dear friend, Barb from Antarctica, asked me recently, “what do you say to someone that is bereaved?” I didn’t know what to tell her. I thought I would look it up and then...didn’t. In the mean time, one of my greatest teachers, Morah Yehudis wrote something at the passing of the Bostoner Rebbe that stirred my interest again. “Baruch dayan ha’emet,” which means, Blessed is the judge of truth—the idea being that even death makes moral sense—it’s just that we, in our current state of life, are mostly incapable of fathoming that level of truth.

Shabbat Shalom le kulam

Monday, December 7, 2009

Heet-bod-da-doot and a Club Brained Root-a-toot-toot Too


I am feeling a little self conscious now, with these sudo-words and all... I don’t know if I can really use them in something as serious as a blog. Well, let’s give it a try anyway.

Root-a-toot-toot is a word that my mom used to say to me. I think it had something to do with a train—maybe from the little train that could story that I remember. Root-a-toot-toot, right up over the last pass and down into the little town, or something like that.

Heet-bod-da-doot is another story that, regrettably, I was not able to discover until my life was almost 50 years over. It goes crudely like this: if I talk to Hashem in my prayers, why can’t I talk to him as if he were my friend, walking next to me? That is the general idea that comes down from Rebbe Nachman of Breslau. I am sure I am butchering up the idea since I have such a casual relationship with this subject... actually, I guess that is the point, isn’t it?

So, on the way home from work the other day (I seem to be using that lead-in a bit too often), I had a chat with Hashem. It felt weird at the time to call him Hashem, you know... ‘THE NAME,’ so I ended up just skipping ‘the name’ altogether. I found out that when I asked a question, I got an answer... and then another question too. When I answered the question, I had another question to ask, and so on. I figured out why it took me half of my life to figure out that there was something I was supposed to figure out, instead of just asking why all of the time. I also figured out what true enlightenment must be. I know, I know, it sounds sooooo.... corny!

So, if we were able to use more of our brains, since each of us only uses a fraction of it as it is, we would be able to store vast amounts of information in our heads—way more than any super-computer. If this were possible then I would be able to, not only notice, but to know why something like a little black and tan bug with one missing leg was sitting on a leaf of a plant just outside my house and across the street. That bug would have a reason for its existence in my universe and I would be able to understand what it was trying to tell me. This idea would expand out to every single thing within my perceptual reality. Everything would have a specific purpose that I was to learn and grow from, exponentially...

As it is, I feel like a cave-man with a club. All I notice are the things that I trip over as they, in slow motion and one at a time, bite me in the butt. As well, I only notice them as I am stumbling to regain my footing while trying to scrape up the leftovers of what I was supposed to have learned. I can only imagine what it would have been like for some of the great Torah scholars or even people like Albert Einstein. I think he used a bit more of his brain than most of us and seemed to, not only notice but, understand a bit more as well. He was still looking for the math to substantiate a universal theory, or something like that, when he moved on to the next world. Universal—everything is connected—everything has a purpose...

Ultimately, I was always meant to be here at this time. If I hadn’t screwed around so much when I was a kid, I would have known things like why I met my wife. As it was, I was still reeling from screwing around so much and had to make up for lost time. I spent about 15 years asking why... all the time. Now I am almost 50 and am starting to realize how much I missed and am going to have a hell of a time trying to catch up!

The more we know, the more we know that we don’t know,

The more we know that we don’t know, the more we want to know,

The more we want to know, the less we need to know...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Esau, Ishmael, and Barak Obama


According to the 132 volume text that is the basis of modern Shiite Islam, Bahar al-Anvar (meaning Oceans of Light), imam Ali Ibn Abi-Talib prophesied that at the end of times, the ultimate savior of Islam, a "tall black man will lead the government in the West." He will command the strongest army on the earth and the new leader in the West will carry "a clear sign" from the third imam, Hussein Ibin Ali. The tradition concludes that, "Shiites should have no doubt that he is with us."
In a strange coincidence, Obama's first and second names, Barack-Hussein, mean "the blessing of Hussein" in Arabic and Persian. His family name, Obama, written in the Persian alphabet, reads O Ba Ma, which means, "he is with us.”
This is a scary thought, especially considering Obama’s short and transparent track record with Iran (click here for more details on Obama's Muslim connection), however the good part is that Muslim tradition in general seems to be made up of a hodgepodge of unrelated events in history, chronologically mixed up, and thoroughly interpreted and even doctored to fit whatever the current politics of the region are.
The bad part is that the Torah relates that Ishmael will be the father of a great nation and that he would be a wild ass of a man. Ass, as in the word donkey or in Hebrew, Chamor—the same word for material. Ishmael and his followers would go on to conquer a vast portion of the Middle East and beyond, including the major oil reserves on the planet... Chamor (material).
On the other hand, the nations of the West are a direct descendant of Eisav (Esau) from the Edomites–Romans–Christians–and then to the nations of the West, which according to most, are currently led by Barack Obama.
Esau is representative of the power or might in the World.
Ishmael is representative of the material or physical in the World.
Jacob is representative of the intellectual or spiritual in the World.
The Torah relates that in the end of times, Esau and Jacob will meet. When this happens, the physical will be subdued by the might of spirituality and usher in the time of the Messiah. I think maybe that the Bahar al-Anvar (Oceans of Light) forgot about a little sea of light, smack in the middle of their world view. Jacob is still here...

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My String


There is a string that attaches to the cell inside my mind that is responsible for the next essence of an action that I will make. That string extends from there outwards as it is tugged by the forces in the Universe. To be really smart, I just need to pull back on the string and force the forces in the Universe to my will. The problem is that in order to pull the string, first, I need to know that it is there. Second, I need to know that it is possible to pull. Third, I need to know how to pull it. And fourth, I need to pull it with the right intention.

It is all a matter of who the puppet is and who the master is. I operate on a daily basis as if I were the master; however, the real master is most often the string. I tell myself that I am justified in my thoughts and actions and that I can pull the string anytime I like–which is really the string pulling me... So, I guess I know the string is there. Next, I need to find the end of it. This is something like looking for my Tzitzis in the morning before I say the Shma. They are always wrapped up in my Talit ends and clinging to my back. I have to pause to find them and then I forget what I am doing. I do a kind of spiritual stutter and try to pick up where I left off, but it never really is the same moment.

So when I figure out where I think I was, then I can really pull the string. I tell myself that I am really pulling the string and then, the Universe is going to move. Nothing–I am left standing with tassels between my thumb and fingers wondering... maybe it is possible to pull the string. Then, without warning, I get a post-it from Heaven. The whole time that I was trying to find the string in order to pull it, the forces of the Universe where coaxing me in the right direction and trying with all their might to push the physical string into my physical hand.

I guess this is the intention part. When I am finely tuned enough, I can seek the proper help in order to pull the string of the Universe and bend it to my will. If my will is good, the result in the world is good. When it is not, the result is not. Now we have a whole new problem. What is good and what is not?

Let’s explore an experience that I had on the way home from work the other day. I was walking up the hill next to the fields and I heard a rustling in the bushes across the street. I stopped and looked for just a moment and was just in time to see a pack of jackals emerge from the other side of the road and jet towards me. Two saw me immediately and returned to the cover of the bushes but two continued until the middle of the street. They both saw me then and one decided to continue on the same trajectory, passing about a meter in front of me. I could see the individual hairs on its back. The second jackal, after seeing me, stopped abruptly by leaping about a meter and a half straight into the air while doing a summersault and at the same time returning from where it came, all in a fraction of a second.

Is this good? Is this not good? It is hard to say. I find it easy to make sense if I substitute the word good with the word truth. Now I can say, is this truth? Is this untruth? The jackals were really there, even if no one else around me saw them, so, it must be truth. Recognizing truth is good. So now I can define what good is. Good is the knowledge of truth. So my intention needs to be the seeking of truth in order for me to pull the string that manipulates the Universe. The more lies I tell myself, the more the Universe has its way with me. I will leave you with a small story about a rabbi and a student.

One night, when Yehudah Aryeh, the future author of the Sfas Emes, was a young boy, he studied Torah the entire night and did not go to bed until just before dawn. He slept only a short while and then woke later than usual. His grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur, reprimanded him for not waking early to study. The young Yehudah Aryeh absorbed the rebuke in silence. A friend who knew the real reason asked him: "Why didn't you explain to your grandfather why you awoke late?"

"What!" said the young Yehudah Aryeh. "And miss the opportunity to hear my grandfather reprimand me?" At a that young age, Yehudah Aryeh understood the profound wisdom brought down from King Solomon, who repeatedly stresses that the wise actively pursue building character while fools avoid it. Our character is like water to a plant. Abundant attention to personal traits promotes growth of character, just as water promotes the growth of a plant. Yehudah Aryeh realized that he could easily have justified getting up later, and perhaps might have even received commendation from his grandfather for his diligence. He knew, however, that while praise may be pleasant, it is not as conducive to growth as reprimand is, even though the latter may be unpleasant.

The truth is out there, somewhere at the end of a string. Now if I can only figure out a way to find my Tzitzis without stuttering...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Um... Where did I Leave Off?


Oh yeah, picking up the pieces from all night, scantily clad, squeegee fun, brain-dead computer zombies gnawing at my entrails, and precious green mold gently deriving nourishment before becoming pulverized into oblivion along with whatever was left of my mind.

Zach texted me the other day while I was at work. He wrote that I should not throw away the mattress because it needed to dry out. So, what goes through your mind right about now? I thought immediately that there was another flood. Then I thought that his bed never really dried out from the last flood. Then I thought about the old stinky wet queen-size mattress that I had seen up the street in the garbage. Guess which scenario it was? I texted him back that he was not allowed to have a big bed in his room. Yeah, I know... “But Dad, all my friends have a big bed... What is your problem? My bed is too small!”

Mayhem ensued, of course. Adele said that she didn’t agree with me about the big bed thing but, in the end, she agreed to support me because it was stinky and from the garbage. So now the mattress has been moved around the corner, but still in front of the house, sitting in the sun—on the good side, Zach was accepted into the officers training course for the Navy. If he makes it through boot-camp, he will then spend the next 5 years as an officer on a boat and get out with a bachelors degree in... something. I told him that he can have a big bed when he is in the army to which he replied, “You said I could when I was 17!” Yeah, yeah, yeah, it is still my house and my rules. I can change my mind anytime I like. (I am just fooling myself that I have any say whatsoever in anything anyways so don’t you say anything!)

Josh, after a particularly severe melt-down (we are talking a 2 year old variety with a 20 year old vocabulary) with regards to computer time management, decided to really get us. We locked him out of his computer and he decided that the best way to get it back was to appeal to our sense of empathy as parents. He crashed his skateboard into the curb and broke his ankle and big toe (or so we were led to believe). He spent the next two days hoping around with, no school, no computer, and NO CRUTCHES! We are such bad, bad parents!

Yeah, more mayhem ensued... eventually we were guilt-ed into finding a place here that is like a medical library where you can check out things like crutches. He was so happy to have the crutches and we spent the next couple of nights adjusting them and detailing them out with cut tennis balls for traction and everything. You should have seen him when he went back to school. He was just shining as he hobbled down the path to meet the bus. Eventually he was driven to another town for x-rays and when we all found out that there was no break, he was happy as a clam just to walk around like it never happened to begin with. So what should I have done when the school nurse called me today to tell me that he was accidentally sprayed in the face with pepper spray?

Let’s just move on to mold... actually, I am feeling a lot better now, Baruch Hashem!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Precious Green Mold of my Life


Disgruntled Alien Commuter ~ www.doronoll.com
I hate rules... When I was young, I tried everything to beat the system. I tried lying, cheating, and even stealing. When I was caught, I just developed better ways to lie, cheat, and steal until eventually; I just decided not to play. It was a lot easier to just live inside my head, creating my own narrative, while hiking around the hills or the beach. I walked for miles along the beach. I walked from one town to the next... and then back again, all the while inside my head.

The biggest narrative that I developed was about how I must have been placed on planet Earth as an experiment created by aliens sitting around a board room table. I couldn’t relate to anyone or anything and even when I played by the rules, I was totally alone; you know, be cool, have all the right stuff, be witty and say all the right things... I thought the aliens just wanted to see what I would do in a world full of rules, but void of engagement. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that this was not so far from the truth.

I am not saying that I believe in aliens or anything; just that, the experiment actually existed, and believe it or not, still exists. So who are the aliens? No; not Hashem. No; not some force of nature. I am. I am the great experimenter of my specially created experiment: me! And the whole world is my petri-dish to explore my actions and reactions; to boldly go where I have not had the pleasure of being before.

So why do I keep getting bogged down in the thick gooey corners of the dish? Every time I have a break-through, some fatal flaw kills off any headway with the sound of a wrecking ball, crashing through the delicate glass container that once held the precious green mold of my life. It can’t be that I just don’t know how to conduct my special ‘ME’ experiment, can it?

The Talmud tells us that over every blade of grass that is growing in the world today, an angel stands there and hits it in order to encourage it to grow. I told my wife that once and she said, “How rude! Why hit?!” I said I didn’t know. Maybe it is because hitting is a very physical expression and something the physical understands. Which brings me to the point; maybe my little experiment needs a wrecking ball in order for me to pay attention and read the results properly...

Look out!!!!

And shavua tov too

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shitaphone Ve Oad...



Yup, if you remember from a while ago the shitaphone, you know it isn’t good... We just had to do it again, didn’t we? When I went to bed on Friday night, I was feeling pretty good. I was really getting into Shul and was feeling real connected to Hashem and my community as well. We had just come through the High Holidays and I felt really great! I, maybe for the first time ever, really explored the inner recesses during Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah was also very inspiring. I was ready for the next year with all kinds of zealousness and zeal. I even did tashlich in the little mayan that feeds the Roman bath house ruins by our home. Sukkot!!! We were in J-town for the festivities and I davened at the Carlibach minyan in the Old City too; just for good measure but, I digress.

So, we have all been praying for rain and this year we were answered with quite a storm. This was a storm that not only wet the parched ground, but filled the coffers a bit too. I wasn’t really expecting it but when it hit, the storm was, in hindsight, more than just water. The energy was intense. OK, OK... Let me just share a little about my life here recently in the Promised Land.

Josh...

We are really trying hard to sort out the whats, ifs, buts, and maybes with that little tike. It started with frothing insistence on having my credit card for the appropriately named, WOW, online game World of Warcraft. Because Zach decided to start playing on the Israeli server with all his friends here, He changed the (shared with his brother) membership. This meant that Josh’s characters, that he had spent all kinds of time and money creating, were no longer accessible! So, rightly so, Josh wanted my credit card to purchase his characters back on the American server, where all his friends have been playing. At least that is the story that I can piece together from my, advanced in years and not experience,... experience.

I ended up giving Josh the card and the boys worked out some kind of a share the expense deal (yeah, I am still paying for both accounts but, maybe we will get to that a little later). Things were going fine for a while. The kids were just finishing Summer and starting to get back into school, which doesn’t really start until 2 months after it starts; don’t ask...

It was time to put the clamps on to encourage the most perfect of joints, the dovetail! We found it necessary to purchase a program that measures and keeps track of all that blurry eyed computer time! We were going to dovetail it all together and get things moving in the right direction, right out of the gates.

It was pure hell. And then it seemed to get better; but only seemed to. Josh downloaded a program to hack the password and then proceeded to... well; let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

Speaking about our life here in the Promised Land,

Zach...

We went to bed on Friday night, full and content, and were woken in the middle of the night by Josh (he does that fairly recklessly and consistently), “There is a flood!” We roused ourselves, as usual, and discovered that... there was a flood! I threw on my underwear and went racing around the house to see where it was coming from. I followed it up the stairs and into the bathroom. Nope it wasn’t the bathroom so; I knocked on Zach’s door. It was locked. I knocked again. “What...” came from behind the door.

“There’s a flood, open up,” I said. The door opened and Zach turned on the lights. Standing in my underwear, I looked up and saw, surrounded by a sea of floating flotsam and jetsam, a semi clothed girl retracting up under the blankets into the corner of Zach’s bed. I couldn’t deal... I ran out onto his porch and found the culprit of the shitaphone. The leaves had blocked up the drain, again...

We spent the next couple of hours trying to squeegee the water out the doors. I was soaking wet from the downpour of rain and wading through ankle deep water on the merpeset, Zach’s room, the hall, and all the way down the stairs and right through the living room.

Talk about a shitaphone, (flood or crap-call, depending on your mother tongue).
And what’s more, I hate it when Israeli’s say, “yeheah beseder...”

How about, “hang in there baby!”

Yalla

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bikes, Blood, and the Boss Upstairs

Shavua tov le kulam,
It appears (based on popular demand) that I have neglected the blogsite for too long...

I guess I will just have to start by filling everyone in on what I have been thinking about as of late. I have been exploring, yeah you guessed it, the meaning of the universe again. I am really getting into Derach Ha’Shem ( The Way of G-D) by the Ramchal. He was an amazing guy that lived a few hundred years ago in Italy that learned just about all there was to know by the time he was 14 and then started to learn Kabala. Did you ever want to know what happens after you die? Or why you were ever born in the first place? There are answers... The hard part is listening when you get them, like the other day:

I had just come from davening and learning the Parsha in Shul on Friday morning. I was very exited about what I had learned and decided to do a bike ride and listen to the new Matisiahu CD. You know, it is really weird, I was singing along to it in my sleep the night before and when I woke up, it was just there, in my head. So, I got my bike and Ipod out, raced out of the house and through the gate that leads to the trails next to my house and then up the hill. When I got to the top, I noticed that my hand felt weird and sticky. I looked down at it and it was all covered with blood! Oy... I had shredded my finger going through the jury-rigged gate so; I turned around and went home to wash it off. After tending it with a band aid, I raced back out on my bike and realized I forgot my gloves so I turned around and went back again. I was now very anxious to ride and got my gloves and raced, once more, down the hill to the gate where the trails begin except on the way there, I zoomed down a little ravine, that I have navigated about a thousand times before, and while I was going over the rock at the bottom while ducking under the tree overhead, my front tire seemed to slide back down into the ditch and at the same time, I continued, quite suddenly, up the hill and into the dirt! Just like that I was face down, wondering what had happened. At first I was in shock at my new predicament, but then I just started laughing, blood dripping down my arm and side and everything.

You see, when I went through the gate, I realized that I was having bad thoughts about someone I won’t mention, for obvious reasons you will soon see. When I forgot my gloves, I was thinking about ME with capital letters. And last but not least, when I was riding down into the ditch, I was thinking that I was so in control; I had prayed to Hashem, I had learned Torah, and I was a really good bike rider (mouth full of dirt... sputter, sputter...). I just needed a gentle reminder that Hashem runs the world...

While I was laying there in the dirt, I had to decide to either continue on the ride, or to stop and go home with my tail between my legs. In the end I decided to continue since I seemed to have gotten the lesson, for the moment anyways. For the rest of the ride, at every technical section that I rode through, I repeated the mantra, "Hashem runs the world, Hashem runs the world,” Sometimes it is a good thing to be so totally self aware that you completely forget about yourself!

Thank you Ramchal

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Blueprint of Life

Imagine designing a building, where the plans need to include all the usual things like site-plans, materials-lists, and structural-specifications. Now imagine that the building plans need to include, as well, things like where the building will be, who is building it, and from who and from where are all the materials are being supplied. After this is tucked neatly into your mind, we have a pretty good idea of how to build a building.

Next is the hard part. The building we want to build is also going to last for a specific amount of time. We need to plan when construction will be finished, how long people will occupy it during its lifetime, and how and when it will be destroyed when its life is over. We also need to account for any natural disasters that affect it, the socio-economic status of its community during its entire lifespan—from inception to demise, as well as a detailed description of all of its inhabitants and anyone affected by it directly or indirectly, throughout its lifetime.

Now we are ready to put it all down on paper… right? We need a plan for our building so that all who come in contact with it will know how to interact with it. Of course, we can put signs in the stairwells and over exits, but we need to provide information for people that really want to know about the building beyond the basic level. Electrical schematics, plumbing plans, emergency procedures, remodeling guidelines, management structures, and community regulations, are just a few of the things we need.

So, after we have gathered everything together to write it all down on the big plan, we need to make sure to translate it into all the relative languages, dialects, and sub-dialects of the people that are directly or indirectly affected by the buildings birth, life, or death, as well as individual translations accounting for both the respective ages and all the cultural changes of those people throughout their lives that will occur over the building’s lifetime.

Now if you can imagine that (it would probably be enough paper collected to fill the whole building and then some), our job is to condense it down into a book, or five books to be more precise. This is the Torah. The five books of Moses tell us the entire creation, lifetime, and ending of the entire universe. Hashem had to condense everything down into the most important information so that a young child could understand what he/she needed, and the greatest scholar in the world could understand what he/she needed too.

That is Torah. That is why there are narratives and that is why there are codes and deeper meanings to explore. The entire history, from beginning to end, of the world and its people is encrypted into those pages—did you ever wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes?

Shabbat shalom le kulam!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Torah Li’Shma


When I was young, I learned about G*D and the meaning of life from the, translated to English by who knows who, Christian Bible, I learned about G*D from my Dad, who had a unique and individual perspective, and I also learned from various books that I read on the subject. I explored Eastern philosophies such as Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism, Hawaiian cultural perspectives, and ancient African and American Indian animistic beliefs. I even learned a little about Islam’s Pillars of Faith and its history. In the end I decided to look to a faith that, after more than 3,800 years, still exists today, and has become the root religion of about 2/3’s of today’s (secular and religious alike) World population. This faith has existed continuously in the World since a guy born in the cradle of civilization, named Avram, began to tell the World about G*D in the year 1,800 BCE. This was 300 years before the beginning of Hinduism, which is generally accepted, however inaccurately, as being the oldest active system of belief on the planet. I was looking for the source, for the meaning of life, and I had no idea that it would take me more then half of my life before I would finally start to understand how to approach tapping into that source.

Avram was teaching to the World that G*D was One. He was teaching the World that G*D was everything and Avram was doing it after understanding the whole of Torah about 400 years before it was even given on Mount Sinai to Moshe and the Israelites. Later Avram’s name was changed to Avraham and even later still, in the English language, he became known as Abraham and his children went on to become conceptual and ethical fathers to 2/3’s of the World’s population. How is it possible, you ask, to teach something that was not given yet? The answer is in the message, not merely the text itself.

Shavuot is around the corner and we will be celebrating the giving of the Torah to Moshe by staying up all night to learn. This is to try to make up for sleeping in when Moshe brought the Torah down after receiving it from G*D. We try to merit having the Torah by showing our enthusiasm... this time. What’s more, when Moshe came down from Har Sinai the first time around, we were dancing around the golden calf and instead of quickly gathering our stuff and heading for the Promised-Land; we got waylaid with spies and 40 years of wandering around the desert.

What if we hadn’t blown it with the golden calf? What if we journeyed right into the Holy Land and set up shop, Holy Temple and all? Would we then just have 2 or 3 Devine Books from G*D instead of 5, or would we have the Book of Joshua starting the last half of the Chumash (5 Books of Moses). Since the Chumash is a manual that gives us all the rules we need in order to live properly, we would need to have the other half of the Chumash in order to understand all the rules (not that we all understand them now or anything). G*D would have had to give us the rest of the rules in the Book of Joshua and so on. This idea illustrates that the text itself is not as important as the ideas that the text contains.

Torah Li’Shma is to learn Torah with so much desire to be close to G*D that nothing else matters. Every other thing in the Universe is contained within that Love of G*D and Torah. The rules, the codes, the simple, and the complex readings, all fall into one category: Love G*D with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your might! Really, since G*D is everything, you are really loving yourself anyway...

I will just leave you with this little parable by the Baal Shem Tov;

A King wanted to indulge his son with the royal pleasures of the palace and all that’s involved in his regal stately world. True to human nature however the prince became spoiled with all of this overabundance. The king’s only option was to send the prince far away from the palace both in terms of distance and in terms of lifestyle. With the passage of time, the prince became thoroughly convinced that his lowly friends, cheap food, disgusting habits, miserable values, aspirations, and outlook, were all the best that life had to offer. He severed and forgot his royal roots thoroughly. The desperate king searched fruitlessly for someone to help him bring the prince back to his senses. Finally a wise man offered his services. After earning the total confidence of the fallen prince by establishing a mutual friendship based on unconditional love and acceptance, the wise man began a dialogue with the prince about the pleasures and values of life. Of course the sage expertly spoke the prince’s lowly language based on the lowly perspective of the prince. Sure enough with patience and gentle guidance the prince was eventually persuaded to wholeheartedly rejoin his jubilant father.

Chag sumeach le kulam!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does Life Begin at... Going on Fifty?


The great thing about living for half of a century is that you have lots of experience to draw from. I won’t be 50 for a few years but I figure that I better start preparing now for the inevitable. Come to think of it, having a mid-life crisis seems to play right into recent choices that I have made. Well, I’ll be lucky if it is really mid-life for me based on everything... so I decided to pick up the blog pen again because of a few friends and acquaintances that wondered what I was up to here in the Holy Land. I think I will just give an accounting since my last blog “My Dad and the Beit Din.”

After I passed the Beit Din and started my new life as Drew the New Jew, I started a course in technical communication (writing). It was a 6 month course that tested both me and my family to the edge of patience. Numerous times I was ready to walk away from the class, not because of the course material but, because of the quality and abrasiveness of the teaching. Let’s just keep this course as a backdrop to the rest of the last six months and remember when you read on that I was working full-time at the factory. On Fridays I got up at 6:00 to take the train to Tel Aviv for intensive TC theory and computer training until returning to quickly clean and prepare for Shabbat, which entered sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 in the evening. (For those of you Non-Jews, it is like Christmas Eve. and Day, every week and without a car or the ability to turn on and off lights or a stove or anything like that.) The rest of my week was 3 to 5 hours of homework a night, which I mostly got yelled at about and the occasional Torah learning session with a friend or two. (no surfing, no cycling, no skateboarding, no hiking, and no nothing...), and I think that there was a war on with Gaza then as well.

Remember the blog entitled “Cowboy Up, Butthead?” That was about the turning point when I decided to take a new career direction and signed up for the TC course. It was great for a few weeks but then I missed a day of class to get married to Adele, (and you all thought we were already married... well, technically we were, however that is too long a story to explore here). We got married in Jerusalem, overlooking the Temple Mount! This time around we really did it for real. You know, sheva brachote (seven blessings) and the whole bit. I don’t remember everything accept for a few things like Adele’s beautiful face under the veil, a tish (contract signing at a table with lots of speeches and singing) that lasted about 2 hours, The view of Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) from Abba and Pamela’s rooftop (thank you, thank you!), and drinking and dancing all night long in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. So, after missing that day of class, the teacher said that it would be possible for me to still succeed in the class... What? Still succeed? Oy, it was down hill from there. I went from being at the top of the class to next to the bottom, and stayed that way all the way until the end of the course.

About halfway through the course, as I was shriveling up for lack of life, I was approached at work by the Managing Director of Export, who I had spoken to periodically over the last year and a half about transferring to a different department like graphics or computer drafting. He said that he wanted to open up a position for me in his department; in Export! He said that they could really use my help there and that I could start in about a month and a half! They didn’t even know about the course I was taking. All I could think about was telling my teacher that I already got a job and didn’t need to put up with her B.S. anymore. Well, that didn’t last long. That Friday she really let me have it. I made a simple little mistake and she must have been having a real bad hair day because... never mind. Let’s just say that she felt the need to apologize afterward and that is definitely not in her nature. I found myself sinking another level down... Oy. I did let her know about the job a few weeks later and she really didn’t seem too happy about it. I later found out that she was and is still dealing with so many really hard things that I would never want to be faced with. So just remember, “It is not always about you know who...”

I met with the department heads in Export and Personnel, finished building and organizing the woodworking storage room, had a few holidays like Hanukah, Purim, Passover, and Holocaust Remembrance Day, and then met with my teacher to make up the other missed day of class work that I unfortunately acquired, the day of my final exam. You see, Josh developed mononucleosis (the kissing disease) and had to be hospitalized. I spent the day with him there, instead of in class taking my final exam, so my teacher, after receiving my final project (a user manual and a website), said that I might be able to pass the class if I take an oral exam detailing the 10 golden rules of technical communication and the principals of how to apply them.

In the mean time, my new job in MARCOM (Marketing Communication) has been going really well. We will be receiving representatives from around the world next week to show them our wares and also around The Holy Land. I have also been recruited as a guide in the Arab Market in the Old City which should be fun and interesting. Recently my work has involved developing presentations and documentation for the representatives to better understand and to promote the sales of our products (NBC, TIC, ROTA, and CO, filtration systems for army vehicles and tents) in Europe, Asia, and the America’s. After learning all about our products I can safely say that we really have the best systems around (in case any of you are army generals in need of nuclear, biological, and chemical, warfare protection). I think I am going to get a system for the bomb shelter in my house. With guys like Achmadinajad out there, you never know.

So, in the end, after I got a new culture, country, and language, I got a new house, I got a new car (it is really old and small but works), I got a new soul (you know, the Jewish thing), I got a new religion, I got a new marriage (again), I got a new job (driving a desk instead of a forklift), and I got a new career! Now I just want to go surfing and make some art already. Tomorrow is Independence Day (by the way, Zach (hyperlink to related blog) just received a 97 on his army entrance score, which is basically like 100, because they take off 3 points for circumcision or something like that. At this point, he can be whatever he wants in the army; maybe a pilot!), and I have the day off of work to spend at the beach!

Bonsai!

Chag Sumeach too!

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