© 2019 Drew T. Noll

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Knuckle Dragging my Way Home


After leaving my mother’s hospital bedside last week, I traveled south to visit my dad. I hadn’t really visited him since his funeral in October of 1996. We had some trouble finding his gravesite, as a marker was never installed… I sat on a bench, after finding the location of his grave, and talked to him about his wife, my mother. You see, she had decided not to be buried in their duel plot. She wanted to be in the mountains, closer to her ‘new’ life and her ‘new’ husband. I called her on the phone from the gravesite, looking out at the green fields covered with plaques and flower pots, and asked her again what she wanted to do if she was not to make it out of the surgery that she was due to receive in a day or two. I still don’t really understand her decision.

Growing up, most of my friends, having come from broken homes, considered ‘my’ family the perfect family unit. I told my mom that she was going to have to explain her decision to Dad when she met him on the other side. I cried and apologized to my father for everything. I have no idea how everything got so twisted. Even though I always felt, while growing up, a lacking or a kind of fog that had descended upon my head, I still believed what my friends were saying. I mean, when I looked around, things for everyone else seemed ‘really’ messed up and I had nothing to complain about.

One of my best friends, for instance, was a White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant surf rat like me and had a father that was known to wear six-shooters on his belt. He was a treasure hunter and quite eccentric. I will always remember the day he was arrested for walking into a bank with his guns strapped to his hips. I guess that is illegal in California… We hung out with another one of our best friends, a Vietnamese refugee. He is a Buddhist, but was taken in by and lived behind a local Episcopalian church with his family. He had some stories to tell, and still does, of a world absolutely upside down, stories of last minute escapes from a war-torn land and leaving an entire life behind.

Another good friend of mine, who was a Jehovah’s Witness that happened to introduce me to the Hare Krishna temple, was diagnosed with cancer when he was a young child. Children’s Hospital wanted to amputate his leg, but his mom took him to Mexico instead for a special diet and a year of holistic treatments. He survived his cancer and would do these dietary fasts throughout my relationship with him, where you could see his eyes getting bluer by the day, as he exfoliated through his pores and orifices all the toxins that he said had built up in his system. I lost track of him and can’t find him on Facebook or Google, so I don’t know if he is still with us. He was an amazing artist, even way back then…

Another good friend of mine’s father, a German professor, was caught cheating on his mother, a French Catholic housewife, with a Chinese graduate student. The father was disgraced after the divorce and moved back to Germany, where he died alone. I also had a Pilipino neighbor that was a chef at a local Hawaiian restaurant. Evidently they were Muslim before immigrating to the US, but had cast it all aside in favor of secular values like the rest of us. I understand that the father lost everything due to gambling and alcoholism.

One of my best friends when I was in grade school ended up in Juvenile Hall with his older brother for breaking and entering and theft. Their mom grew marihuana amongst their tomato plants right in front of their trailer house behind the school. We went there for lunch sometimes. Nobody knew, including me. I haven’t been able to find him or his brother either…

There are many more stories about how my entire generation was seemingly doomed to disintegration, so I always thought that my brother and I were some of the lucky ones to have escaped such pitfalls and depravity in the world. When I speak to my old friends, they are always amazed and how things could have changed so much. They would even visit my parents, while my dad was still alive, just because they were remembered as a source of stability, I guess.

So, being this time of year, right before Rosh Hashanah, I shouldn’t be surprised to still be feeling the ground pulling at me. I tried to do the right thing with my mom, by encouraging her to dig deep with the little time she may have left in the world of action, and to make her decisions in life mean something lasting for her and for us all, but I left feeling that she was probably incapable. It was like that fog had just consumed what was left of her, as she headed into surgery to have the muck of cancer removed from her innards. It was like years of the sludge of built-up toxic waste had accumulated and was now overflowing into all of our lives, especially hers, I guess...

As you can probably sense, I am not telling the whole story here. Maybe someday I will share it with the world, but for now, I am going to try and cling to the light in the world and not dwell on the darkness. As a case in point, while traveling back to my home in Israel, I had a layover in Amsterdam for a day. I thought, “I should go to a museum or visit a café. I could wander around and see Amsterdam again.” I was tired from the long flight, but thought I could do it anyways. I thought that maybe I could even visit the synagogue where the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ben Lutzato) prayed with his family. He had been banned from Padua, Italy for being dangerously close to the light, a real Mechubal, in a time that was still reeling from the escapades of Shabtai Svi, a false messiah that led the world into darkness in the 17th century. The Ramchal wrote some amazing books that explain our purpose here on Earth, as well as outlining the entire spiritual world and all its denizens.

So, I had a plan. I was going to find the Van Gogh Museum, find a little café, and visit the Ramchal’s synagogue. I got off the train and made my way to a tourist shop to purchase a map. I found the Van Gogh Museum on the map and began to make my way there. I was immediately assaulted by drug paraphernalia and sex stores along the street. I tried to cross the street and tripped on a train track, tumbling to the pavement and ripping holes through my pant-legs and into my knees. My knuckles dragged across the rough pavement and my glasses flew out of my shirt pocket, sliding to a stop a few feet away. I recovered, somewhat, stood up, and ran out of the way of an oncoming bicycle. I stood on the other side of the street, bleeding profusely from my hands and knees, while someone helped get my glasses from the path of oncoming traffic. I then wandered aimlessly, blood soaking my shirt and pants, until I finally found a beautiful public restroom to clean up in. I went into the men’s room, which glistened and gleamed, and attempted to relieve myself. There was no door and while urinating, I watched as people strolled up and down the promedade. The young woman in charge of the restroom kept circling behind me, stocking the toilet paper, as I tried to go. I was still bleeding. I washed up and left, tried twice to attempt a recovery of my Amsterdam plan, but ultimately, disgruntled from the darkness all around, caught the train back to the airport and fell asleep on the floor in a corner, waiting for my plane home.

I am very happy to be back home, in the land of light, even though I am still quite jet-lagged and my fingers can't type so well. So, just to finish up this year's commitment to tie each week's blog entry into the parsha, this week’s parsha is called Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32) and for obvious reasons, I have no idea what it is about. Maybe I will read it over the next few days and let you know next week…

Gamar Chatima Tova,


Shana Tova,
And Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Far, Far Away and Letting the Flies In

It is Wednesday and I am sitting in a hospital room in Fresno, California. I have been in Fresno for almost a week now, running around, trying to catch up on all the pieces that have been floating about and, yes, sitting. This is a really weird place. Everything is flat for miles around. It is hot like the desert, but has lots of agriculture spattering the landscape between hotels, run-down ranch houses, and fast-food restaurants. Everything is really big here too, which is probably similar to the rest of America; I just don’t always remember it until I get back here and experience it for myself. Even though I have been under a lot of stress as of late, being here feels like having a fogginess that has descended upon my head. It could be jetlag, but I don’t think so. It seems to me that with comfort, plenty of room to move and to breathe, and lots of space, personal and otherwise, we just tend to expand out and fill it all up, just becoming kind of spiritually-psychologically less compressed. This idea, as well, seems to be intrinsically related to the amount of effort we are prodded into making, just to move forward in our lives. The more space we have to roam, the easier it is to deny, both, who we are and the reason we exist in the first place.

Maybe, because Israel is so small and, at the same time, contains so much culture and history that have affected the entire world, this helps to explain why Israel is such a hotspot on the planet. Take this ridiculous Palestinian statehood UN bid for instance. There are plenty of ‘legitimate’ peoples on the planet that have been denied a state, like Tibetans, Kurds, and Tamils, but aren’t trying to create a homeland by smashing through the backdoor screen, letting all the flies in. I mean, the Palestinians have never had a currency of their own, a government body of their own, a ruling party or elected officials of their own, or even any known history throughout ‘all’ of time. The Kurds have been assaulted by their neighbors, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey from ancient times, all the way up to today with an assortment of modern chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. The Tibetans have been denied an entire country by China, which had existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years and I don’t see the Dalai Lama trying to punch a hole in the UN’s backdoor screen. The Palestinians, including every single one that I (personally) have asked, come from Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, or Syria, not the so called Palestinian Territories, which by the way includes all of modern day Jordan as well (Jordan has been historically populated by the ancient Hashmonean People: basically Bedouins and not Arabs).

Having asked people here in Fresno about Israel, you know... what they know and do they have any experience with it, results mostly with wide eyes and empty stares, which seems to fit nicely into this idea of compression resulting in action, producing the phenomenon as to what and why we are always hearing about Israel. The Fresno-ians know what they have learned, which is not much and mostly from their respective faiths and, of course, the News is first and foremost. Some have said that they heard it was quite beautiful, which ‘is’ true. They just haven’t had to endure the same level of ‘compression’ that others may have had to. I am sure that there are other places in the US that provide that kind of compression, places like New York and Chicago maybe, but on the whole, this is most likely the case throughout the entire USA. It is the land of opportunity for Heaven’s sake...

Speaking of Heaven, there is an idea that I heard once that describes the act of Creation by God and how acts of creation that ‘we’ do emulate this same process. It goes like this: Initially there is the light that comes from somewhere unknowable. This is the filling of an, also, unknowable space. The light then retracts, leaving something that is void and formless, a vast ‘void’ space filled with the finite potential of manipulating the ‘formless’ materials that are contained within it. If we look at any act of creation, this is the exact same process. First we have the idea or conceptualization, which blows up the balloon of potential. Then we have to organize the potential into actable pieces and work to manipulate the materials into a form. This is the world of action. If we act without a plan, we run in circles, really accomplishing nothing. If we have a plan and never act on it, we also accomplish nothing.

I bring this idea in because it seems to me that the more compressed we are, meaning the more raw materials that are present in a confined space, the more we are intrinsically forced to act. It is the nature of life. The 'Torah' of life is how we choose to act. In America, there may be a lot of resources to manipulate in the environment, but there is an incredible amount of space to do it within. It took me five hours to drive to Fresno from LAX for instance. It takes six hours to drive from the northern end of Israel to the Southern end. The space in America is vast, which I am postulating here makes it easier to be comfortable to roam, not compressing to action. Now, keep in mind that I am speaking in generalities. The United States of America is an amazing place and a ‘great’ country on Planet Earth. It is just that I can’t help but notice the difference between the US and Israel, no matter where you look. Israel is compressed, where the US is not.

In this week’s parsha, Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20), we are told that “It (the Torah) is not found in Heaven” (Lo Be’Shamaim Hoo). To understand this, we have to understand the difference between Heaven and Earth. In Heaven there is time but no space, where as on Earth there is both. Space is the raw material, the ‘form’ in the ‘void.’ In Heaven, there is no form, only void, which means that we are unable to ‘do’ anything to manipulate our environment. Earth, in Hebrew, is called Eretz from the word for run, Ratz. This is movement or action and it is only in time and space that it is achievable. With this idea, we can see that the more we are challenged to act in life, the more we are manipulating our environment and the more we are actually creating within time. If we have an abundance of resource and an abundance of space, we are not challenged to move, therefore making creations that have a lot of waste and that don’t last or have long-term value.

When I look around Fresno, I see a vast space that is chocked full of resources. I also see a population that is accustomed to the comfort of those resources, as they entertain themselves from one fast-food restaurant to the next, interspersed with a favorite TV show and another enjoyable outing to whatever tickles the current fancy. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t working, creating, and growing, just that it is not forced from the outside, quite the same way as it is in Israel. So, sitting here in the hospital in Fresno by my mother’s side, I wonder to myself about the meaning of life. Facing the potential possibility of death, facing the ending of the world of action, it makes a person wonder if they have accomplished all that could have been or should have been in life. It makes a person wonder whether or not they have ducked the lies that are circulated in the world through insidious weaknesses and trip wires, such as laziness, arrogance, and discontentedness. In the end, it makes a person wonder if they have acted with 'Torah' in the world or have instead, selfishly tried to shortcut reality from an irrational sense of fear and loathing by ripping a hole in the back-door screen, letting all the flies in, and ‘artificially’ compressing the world just a little bit more.

Refua Shlemah to my mom,

Looking forward to having the fog removed from my being by returning to the ‘naturally’ spiritually-psychologically compressed land of Israel,

And Shabbat Shalom to everyone around the planet!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Prophesapathy


The other day, as I was praying, I looked out the sliding glass and saw one of the Arab workers, building a wall for a neighbor, across the street. We caught each other’s eye and looked briefly at one another, but right to the core. I realized, in that moment, that a whole world of ‘hidden to the naked eye’ information was flowing between us. My Tallit (prayer shawl) was up over my head with only my Tefillin (phylacteries) showing from under it. I knew that this man, this Muslim who was working across the street, saw deep into the nature of what I was attempting to do, that I was attempting to commune with the Creator of the Universe. He, after all, believes that there is ‘one’ Creator of everything too.

In the second that we locked eyes, a praying Jew in the Holy Land and an Arab construction worker somewhere in the Middle East, it reminded me of a story I heard once about how in the 1700’s, the Vilna Goan, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer of Vilna, was accused of assisting a Christian in abandoning his faith. The story goes that the Vilna Goan just sat there in a courtroom during the entire proceeding, reading a book and saying nothing to defend himself from the accusations in the face of threats of years of imprisonment in Siberia. It wasn’t until his students tried to rally their teacher into saying something in his own defense that they all noticed his Tefillin, which had been covered by his Tallit. The Vilna Goan then pulled back his Tallit, exposing his Tefillin, and the entire courtroom began to tremble. The court members were paralyzed with fear and then immediately adjourned the court, telling the Vilna Goan that he was free to go.

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8), we read, "All the nations will see that God's name is called upon you and will fear you." The Talmud says that this statement refers to the Tefillin of the head, which is called the Rosh, and this line in the Torah predicts exactly what happened in that courtroom with the Vilna Gaon. What, you don’t believe me? This is actual history, not some fantastical whimsy concocted for our amusement. OK, here is another example of predicting the future from the parsha of ‘this’ week: "God will bring upon you a nation from afar as the Eagle flies. A nation that you will not understand its language, a brazen nation that will show no pity on old or young." (Deut 28:49)

Nachmanides relates that the nation mentioned here was Rome, whose symbol was the eagle, who came from afar, who spoke Latin, and was a nation that had no compassion on their subjects. What, that isn’t enough for you? How about this then: "Until the walls and fortifications that you depended on all fall down" (Deut. 28:52), which became a reality in 1967 to 1973 with the ‘Bar Lev Line.’ This ‘perceived’ line was only a ‘fairy tale of security’ that utterly fell in 24 hours during the Yom Kippur War, when it took Sadat only 24 hours to cross it. Interestingly enough, this same myth of fortitude and security was obliterated in America when the September 11th attacks occurred, which, coincidentally or not, happened ‘exactly’ 10 years ago this week.

What, still not enough? OK, now we have to get a little gruesome. In Deuteronomy 28:26, it says, "Your corpses will be food for the birds and beasts, and no one will chase them away." Roman Historian, Josephus Flavius describes this phenomenon exactly in The Jewish Wars when he writes about the cruelty of the Romans during the destruction of the Second Temple, when they left the bodies of the murdered Jews to rot in the sun, forbidding them to be buried.

Yes, there is a lot more: "And you shall be a proverb and a byword among all the nations that God will drive you there." (Deut. 28:37). This is anti-Semitism, plain and simple... Anti-Semitism is different than all other forms of discrimination, since it has lasted for thousands of years. It has absolutely no logical explanation either, not that any discrimination does. Anti-Semitism is, however, the mother of all discriminations and it is alive and well in the world today; just look at the Arab Spring flings going on around the Middle East. Last Friday’s attack on Israel's embassy in Cairo was caused by a crowd that was whipped into a frenzy by clerics attending Friday prayers, causing them to tear down the building’s security barrier and then to ransack the entire place.The personnel stationed there barely escaped with their lives.

Or… what about Iran, which had a ceremony on Monday to inaugurate the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr nuclear plant? The mullahs of Iran (same type as in Egypt that whipped the crowd into a violent frenzy) claim it will be used for peaceful purposes, but we can’t forget the statements made by their president to ‘wipe’ Israel off the map, now can we? And, I might add, in terms of anti-Semitism, this is just what we read about in the papers…

So, how does all this relate to our Moslem construction worker friend? Well, it means to him, and to the entire world, that the People of the Book, the Jews, are waking up and coming in droves back to the Holy Land, the land of their birth. It also means that the responsibility to fix the world relies solely on the righteous. What do 'I' mean? Well, there is a concept in the Talmud that relates the following:

In Ezekiel 9:4 it is written that, “God said to the angel, ‘Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and mark the letter 'tav' on the foreheads of the people who sigh and moan over all the abominations that are done in its midst.’”

The Talmud then goes on to say that a conversation ensued between God and the angel Gabriel: “Go and mark a 'tav' of ink on the foreheads of the righteous, so that the angels of destruction should have no power over them; and on the foreheads of the wicked a 'tav' of blood, so that the angels of destruction should have power over them."

Said the Attribute of Justice (the angel Gabriel) before God, "Master of the Universe, what is the difference between these and these?"

God replied, "These are completely righteous and these are completely wicked."
Justice than argued, "But the righteous had the opportunity to protest and they didn't protest!"

God replied, "It is revealed and known to Me that if they had protested, the sinners would not have accepted it from them."

Justice then argued, "If it is revealed before You, is it (also) revealed to them?"

You see the dilemma here, don’t you? Well, actually there are two dilemmas; one is that an angel is questioning God in the first place and the other is, just because God knows the future, that doesn’t mean that everyone else should know it. The first dilemma I will leave to minds ‘much’ brighter than my own (something along the lines of ‘social justice’ and social ethics changing the world I think), but the second dilemma fits in nicely here. You see, God ‘did’ change his mind and He killed the righteous first. The righteous had the responsibility of at least trying to compel the others to turn to the good, but they didn’t. They sat in the comfort of the knowledge that they, personally, had made the right decisions, but what they forgot is that they, each and every one of them, also had the ability to change the world… Hey, that sounds like the first dilemma…

No matter; the world has been descending into collective apathy for an entire generation now. We fool ourselves into thinking that we ‘can’t’ make a difference. We fool ourselves into thinking that it is not ‘my’ fault that the world is the way it is. That Arab across the street understands that this is the way we are all operating and it is only a brief glimpse, a momentary connection to something deeper, that can compel him to a true understanding. When he witnessed me, the Anglo Jew, ‘trying’ to commune with the Creator, he was momentarily shocked out of his stupor, but only momentarily. I, as well, was shocked out of my self-righteousness, as we locked eyes that morning. When the moment was over, I dulled back down to my meat-like self and the Arab across the street narrowed his eyes and the spark left its momentary resting place, as he returned to making dust and noise, seemingly trying to send a shock back out to an apathetic world.

I gotta long ways to go now; so… Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Parts of One and the Hole in the Backyard


On Sunday morning, after an amazing bike ride through the Roman ruin covered hills by my house, I threw out my back while trying to get into the car to go work. I usually walk to work, as it is a nice 30 minute walk for me, but I got a late start, so my wife offered to give me a lift. I could barely sit all day long. I should have stretched a little I guess. Well, it could also have been the weekend warrior syndrome from the days prior to that morning’s ride, just being generally out of shape, maybe the looming UN unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, or it could have been the stress of my mom being in the hospital for the last few weeks. Looking back on it, I think it must have been all of the above.

Last Friday, my back had ‘already’ started to bother me as we drove down south to visit my son at the base in Beersheva. At the time, I figured that it was because of being stiff from digging a hole with my younger son and his friend in the backyard (yes, weekend warrior syndrome). My wife and I bought some little fruit trees to commemorate our 25th wedding anniversary, which was ‘also’ this week, and found that the spot we wanted to put the prize tree, a Leachy, was used as a dump when they built the house 10 years ago.

Why would someone do such a thing? Initially I thought that maybe it could be related to the idea that the primary construction force in Israel is from the Arab sector. Remember when the (ongoing) construction freeze in the West Bank happened and a large majority of the locals living there were upset about it? I am talking about the Arabs, not the Jews, as they were all losing their construction jobs in the wake of the ‘Western’ peace process pressure. Then again, maybe it is just a ‘Middle Eastern thing,’ to dump trash and bury it on the property. After all, I am pretty sure that the ‘Jewish’ builder that built my house was ‘also’ privy to the little backyard dump, maybe even ordering it done in the first place. They just covered up the cement blocks, plaster, stucco, and the plastic hosing and buckets with some nice looking topsoil just for ‘me’ to have to poke at with a shovel 10 years later.

After digging most of the trash from the hole in the backyard, we had to order new dirt from the local hardware store. We followed the forklift, loaded with two giant hauling bags full of topsoil, though the little 150+ year old hybrid farming / tourist town that we live in, and then, by the shovelful, moved it all to the backyard to fill in the whole… hole. We worked late into the night, as the little Leachy was wilting in anticipation. We did have one small triumph at the end of the night though. Once the little leachy was tucked in for the night, we topped off our evening by ordering pizza from ‘American Pizza’ and sucking down a beer or two... just like old times...

Looking back on one of those ‘old times,’ well, actually when I was a kid, I remember my dad digging out garbage that ‘he’ had dumped and buried in his backyard in order to plant a tree. Evidently, burying the stuff you don’t know what to do with (or just want to hide from) in the backyard isn’t an Arab thing ‘or’ a Middle Eastern thing. It must just be a normal human behavior type of thing – to bury the trash ‘out of sight and out of mind’ (for now)... Yeah, that is a real problem in our natures, but the bigger issue here is that the more we hide, the more we are just burying it for later, even for our own children to stumble over — think inflation, out of control borrowing, and soaring debt…

Our health seems to work like this too; for instance: neglecting my health for the last few months, not riding my bike like usual and not keeping fit (now that I drive a desk for a living)... Health, it seems, is something we tend to bury in the backyard... um... right… My mom, for instance, has been in the hospital on the other side of the planet for a few weeks now. It has been really hard to get any real information, which is strange, because this week I have a friend here in Israel that also ended up in the hospital. And it was ‘also’ difficult for him to get any information, as he doesn’t speak much Hebrew.

While sitting there in the hospital with my wife, talking to him and trying to communicate to the nurses and doctors, I kept thinking about how my mom was in a hospital, very much the same, only she was halfway around the planet. Here in the Middle East we had the difficulty of cultural differences and language barriers, but getting information here was so much more successful than it has been speaking English over the phone, all the way to the USA. It is a ‘huge’ divide in time and in space for me. OK, maybe I am just burying it in the backyard of my own mind…

Moving along... In the backyard of my childhood home, 25 years ago and ‘exactly’ on the spot where my dad had dug out the garbage to plant a tree, I got married to my amazing and beautiful wife. I don’t know if Rabbi Cohen knew how well the whole story was going to loop together, while we stood under that Huppa, but the roots from those trees we planted last week (on this side of the planet) to honor our anniversary are already (seemingly) going a lot deeper than we ever thought possible. You see, we were married in the month of Elul, which is an acronym for Ani ledodi vedodi li (I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me) from Song of Songs - 6:3. The time of Elul is a time of special closeness between the Divine Groom and His bride, between God and Mankind.

The month of Elul has the astral sign of Betulah (Virgo – virgin). This is the female aspect of Hashem that, in some unknowable way, broke off from the Creator when Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil. This is also the time when Man and Woman diverged, relinquishing their prior ‘Oneness’ to a world of effort, struggle, and even pain.

What… You think that the whole Garden of Eden thing is just a nice bedtime story? Well consider this:

Archeological records show that Homo-sapiens lived for hundreds of thousands of years on the planet, right? Well, the record also shows that it wasn’t until about 5,000 years ago that the trappings of civilization were born; yet, throughout this transitional period, the skeletal remains of Homo-sapiens remained exactly the same. We see from this that we didn’t just suddenly grow bigger brains — something else ‘entirely’ is responsible for the sudden surge of cultural evolution within Humanity. As it happens, this is exactly the same time that the Torah tells us that Adam was born in the Garden. So, it would appear that we are the ‘spiritual’ descendants of Adam and Eve, two halves of the same spiritual being, ‘as well’ as their genetic descendants.

Speaking of intrinsic, geneticized spirituality, in a marriage, each one of us Homo-sapiens is charged with bringing back together the ‘Female’ aspect of the Creator to the ‘Male’ aspect of the Creator. A woman is intrinsically connected to the Female aspect and a man is, likewise, connected to the Male aspect. When a holy union is made, on a spiritual level, the woman holds on tight to the Shchinah or Female aspect of the Creator and the Male reaches out through prayer to the Male aspect of the Creator, Hashem. When a man and a woman join in holy matrimony, they are fixing the world, bringing these spiritual forces in the world back together again and that is why the month of Elul (remember… “I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me”) is so important and that is also why this week’s parsha, Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), gives us a perfect example of bringing opposite extremes together again, making them whole... as ‘One.’

I am going to be brief, since I am about out of time. There is a commandment in this week’s parsha called Shiluach HaKen to send away a mother bird... I guess before taking her eggs to make an omelet: "You should send the mother bird away and take the young for yourself — in order that it will be good for you and that you will have a long life." This commandment is not about compassion; in fact, it is the exact opposite, seeing as you have to forcibly part a mother with her nest of young ones. We learn from the Torah that long life is achieved by keeping both this commandment and one other as well. In Exodus 20:12 it says, “Honor your father and mother. You will then live long...” This particular commandment is ‘all’ about compassion, as anyone who has cared for a sick parent can testify to. The Vilna Gaon explained that the completeness of a person in serving God is only possible when two opposite character traits are brought together, in this case: ‘compassion’ and ‘harshness.’

This bringing together of opposites is the same idea as the joining of a man and a woman in holy matrimony, bringing together Mankind and God in a completeness that finishes the creation of the World, and this is exactly why, when the UN tries to launch a Palestinian state without working through the issues in a diplomatic way, it is just like trying to plant a tree by digging through buried garbage in the backyard. The process is going to be nasty, it will take a heavy toll on everyone involved, the ground is going to be unfertile and filled with poisons, and the tree that we spend so much time dreaming about, planning for, and nurturing to grow into something amazing... will eventually wilt and die a horrible, smelly, and depressing death.

Refua Shlema to my back, which is feeling better now,

Refua Shlema to my friend, who is home from the hospital now,

Refua Shlema Gedolah to my mom, who is still struggling valiantly,

And Shlema Gedolah to the World... may we have true, complete, and everlasting peace in our days.

Happy anniversary to my very special link to the Shchinah too!

Shabbat Shalom!!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Death in the Garden, the Green Machine, and Elul

I read that a 55 year old surfer died while surfing Hurricane Irene off of New Smyrna, Florida. He was found face-down, floating. He had hit his head, receiving a large gash, and was later pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Reading this article, I was reminded of a video that I once saw of a guy that actually made it on one of those hurricane waves in Florida; it is pure adrenaline to even watch something like that, much less ride it. Not that I could ever even consider it… but, there was that one time when I was a kid in California when I decided to take my 6’ 8” self modified pintail-gun out on a day that was way too big for me. You see, surfing becomes ‘kind of’ an addiction, causing a sort of deluded mental hysteria, and the bigger the waves, the more hysteria. Did you ever hear the word, ‘stoke?’ Yeah, that is just a buzzword for ‘adrenaline,’ as it pumps throughout your body, giving you a rush-buzz-stoke or whatever. The more your brain wants it, the easier it is to listen to your ego and deny your soul its opportunity to soar. Yes, the soul definitely responds to the stoke, that is, if the ego doesn’t hog all the glory. Ultimately, the deeper down that the soul gets stuffed by the ego, the easier it becomes for the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) to compel the 3-D’s out of you: Distraction, Distrust, and… Disaster.

Distraction: That day when I was a kid, I checked out the waves and I saw a guy sitting on his surfboard out there in the white caps, beyond the break zone; so, I thought, “If he can do it, then I can too!”

Distrust: Of course, by the time I made it out through the breakers, the guy had just enough time to tell me (while paddling by me on his way back inside during the same lull in the waves) to go back in, that it wasn’t worth it. I, of course, had to see for myself…

Disaster: And he was right. I was trapped out there by the monstrous surf, alone in the universe, freezing in the wind and head-high white caps for about 45 minutes, before I got up the nerve to paddle back between sets, trying to avoid the sharp volcanic rocks on the shore of Rock Pile, my local surf spot.

Disaster (barely) averted: My ego shrunk back to its rightful place, I lost the battle with my Yetzer Hara, but this time, thankfully, I lived to fight it another day...

After a big storm like Hurricane Irene, you always hear about the deaths that occurred. The news agencies seem to count off, state-by-state, all the gruesome details. For instance: Paramedics said that a man was killed outside his home when he was hit by a falling tree limb, a motorist died after driving into standing water and then hitting a tree, a child died when a tree fell on an apartment building, and a man died, as well, when a tree fell on his car. All these stories have one thing in common (besides death of course) — they all involve trees, which (based on the next ‘logical’ step) makes me wonder: ‘Why wasn’t there a Tree of Death in the Garden of Eden?’ I mean, there was a Tree of Life, wasn’t there? There ‘was’ that pesky Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil, but that isn’t really ‘death,’ is it?

What is death anyways? We could probably all agree that, whatever it is, it is the end of something ‘finite.’ You know... finite, meaning final, the end, nada, zip, no more of whatever ‘it’ is. We are now finishing up the Jewish year of 5771 as, this week we celebrated the beginning of the last month of the year, Elul. This begins a time of introspection and personal accounting for how we have behaved with each other and with God over the past year. For the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), we celebrate Adam Ha’Rishon’s birthday in the Garden of Eden. Yes, and it is also when God and all His angels will assemble in the Spirit World, up on High, open the Book of Good Life, the book that records how we will be challenged and rewarded in the year to come, and ‘wait for Mankind’ to announce that it is actually Rosh Hashanah in the first place. Yes, this whole ‘life’ business is a partnership between Mankind and God. ‘We’ get to say if it is Rosh Hashanah or not; now, granted, we have a window to work within, but if we declare the new moon did not rise for the beginning of the new month, God has to pack up the whole kit-n-kabutal and return with the angels the following day.

So, since the last year is now coming to an end, a kind of ‘death’ if you will… OK, so you don’t necessarily get it… Let’s just say that it is possible for ‘death’ to be construed to be the ‘end,’ like the ‘end of the year,’ what we are really saying is that there can’t be an ‘end’ without a beginning (or a middle for that matter). Death, therefore, can really ‘only’ be defined by life! I mean, you may be able to have life without death (i.e., the afterlife), but in order to be dead, you have to have life first, no?

Speaking of death… and of trees too, in this week’s parsha, Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9), we learn that, "When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it and to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them, for from it you will eat and you shall not cut it down...” We can derive from this that God is giving us an opportunity to abide by our mutually beneficial contract, our contract of ‘living.’ The sages interpreted this law, called Bal Tashchit, to bring down to us that, ‘We should not waste a resource if we can find a way of accomplishing the same task, but without anything wasted, squandered, or misused. Since God made us partners in His world, we can deduce that He wants us to take responsibility for our end of the deal. God could easily grow the slashed and burned rainforests back, put the depleted ozone back into the air, or replenish the overfished oceans with fish, but He won’t. Part of our task in this world is to respect and appreciate His creation, caring for it along the way, in order that we grow (like children) in a moral and ethically responsible direction.

I have to say that: Advice from God, interpreted into law over 2,000 years ago by our Sages, to care for our world and respect it, is much more reliable that what our slide-show-award-winning-pseudo-scientist-ex-V.P., Al Gore has been saying. I mean, he may have good intensions, but come on... Just go to the source already! There is no need to defend a pseudo-scientific method for political correctness against the principle of tried and true independent peer testing. I mean, without getting too deep into the compost pile here... in his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” 15 of his major points have already been shown (by independent peer testing) to be outright false, misleading, or distorted.

What am I trying to say here? Well… it seems that from both sides, we just don’t need all the opinion pandering; it doesn’t help us on any level. We don’t need it anymore than we need the pantheon of environmental extremists, who were lining the streets with their soapboxes before Hurricane Irene, saying that the catastrophic storm was caused by global warming and that it is all (their now deposed hero) President Obama’s fault. All kinds of editorials have floated from the wreckage after the storm blaming everyone else for everything — Republicans, Democrats, big business, big government, economic doomsayers, and climate alarmists, one-and-all. This is way beyond bipartisanship in the buff. This is pure chaos. But, what I am having difficulty understanding is, “Why all the fuss?!” We already know what we are supposed to be doing. Just look it up in the world’s number one best seller already!

King Solomon put it nicely in his book of Proverbs (3:18), when he wrote, “It (the Torah) is a tree of life unto those who grasp hold of it.” OK, so how do you grasp hold of the Tree of Life? This is the real question, as even Adam Ha’Rishon couldn’t manage it, way back in the Garden. The Sages tell us that, after Adam was born on Friday afternoon (yes, Rosh Hashanah), if he were to have waited until the evening of Shabbat, and then partook of the Tree of Life before he partook of the Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil, he would have lived forever, communing with God in the Garden, in Paradise. So, why did he do it? Another quote from Proverbs (14:8) may help to explain it: “A clever wise person will understand his way.” This quote relates back to the Yetzer Hara, which has just one mission within finite reality; to guide a person’s hand over the self-destruct button and either to encourage each of us to push it or to stick out a friendly foot for us to trip on. So, it is not enough to be ‘wise,’ but one needs to be clever as well. We have to see beyond the normal or expected. We have to see beyond the obvious and the hidden as well. We have to know that the Yetzer Hara will tempt us with what ‘exactly’ matches ‘our’ specific weakness.

Adam Ha’Rishon wanted to be closer to God. He wanted to do it of his own free accord, not with the 50/50 chance of success that God thought Adam could handle. Adam wanted to tip the scale, to start behind the designated start-line, to be the first Ba’al Tchuva, the first to return to the Creator; but, this action, we can see, was driven by pure ego and the Yetzer Hara saw its opportunity and struck.

As the world gets more churned and the edges begin to blur, we can see that it will become more and more difficult to find our way through the muck and confusion. Opinions will become so righteous, that there will be little possibility to listen, much less hear the other side. We can plainly see this phenomenon in politics (as per the Left / Right schism that is driving us all into the ground between them), but we can also see it spilling over into other human endeavors; endeavors such as science (as per the Al Gore’isms above), art (this one will need another blog or two to explain the ‘Pre Mashiach Post Modernist’ movement we are experiencing throughout our collective cultures), sport (as per our story of the unfortunate surfer above and his struggle with the Yetzer Hara – and by the way, also the lunatic ranting and violence that has been pervading the world’s sports arenas), and philosophy (as per the asymmetrical, irrational, intelligent and ‘not-so intelligent’ ranting of the likes of everyone ‘Intelligentsia’ from Richard Dawkins to Steven Hawking. As we plot our course through it all, influencing the fallout and being influenced by it, let’s make sure we pay attention to the inner voices that are with us always and remember what drives them.

Maybe some 3-D logic is in order here:

“Each of us has deficiencies, but as a whole we are complete. Each one is perfected by his fellow, until we make a perfect whole.” ~ Chabbad Rabbi, Tzvi Freeman

Our deficiency is ‘Distraction.’

“The main thing is not learning, but action.” ~ Ethics or the Fathers (1:17)

Our inability to do something, without ‘knowing’ the outcome is our ‘Distrust…’

"God said to Cain, 'Why are you so furious? Why are you depressed? If you do good, will there not be special privilege? And if you don’t do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it.'" ~ Genesis (4: 6-7)

Our inevitable succumbing, to one extent or another, to the Yetzer Hara is our ‘Disaster…’

May we all beware the Yetzer Hara, as it attempts to distract us from our (Elul) soul searching, with distrust and egoism, only to invite disaster and mayhem, as we argue amongst ourselves about which road to take before we slam into the wall of finite reality and the ‘end’ of our ability to choose, to act, or to move at all...

May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Good Life!

Shabbat Shalom!!

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