Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Art and theTorah (me too...)

Since I am an artist, both by training and by, Baruch Hashem, G-D given artistic genetic coding (we can just call this G.g.a.g.c. for short) I have lived my entire life with the goal of indulging the creative process. Since my third grade class with Mr. Gillespie, I have been producing above average artistic extrapolations from the world around me and from my own inspirations. Throughout the later stages of this process (about the last 20 years) I have wondered deeply about the dichotomy that seems to be present in the Torah regarding this. It wasn’t until recently when I read the first part of this apparent dichotomy again in Parsha Yitro, in which the fourth of the ten commandments which were given stated, “You shall not make yourself a carved image nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the water beneath,” that I began to really get a little nervous about this G.g.a.g.c. deal.

I asked around a little and looked up some different translations as well. One translation was given as, “It is forbidden to worship an idol by means that is unique to it.” Another translation was, “do not represent (such gods) by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, ext...” a literal translation is “Do not make.” A later commandment (20.20) also states that we are not to make anything representing something that is ‘with G-D’ such as Angels and replicas of articles from the Mishkan (Tabernacle) such as the Menorah. One of the more strict explanations that I was given was that if G-D tells us not to do it, we don’t, and if G-D tells us to do it, such as with the construction of the Mishkan, we do it. Well, that doesn’t really solve the problem of what ‘it’ is and what about all that raw G.g.a.g.c. that Hashem doled out? What is that for anyways? Well, I am getting a bit ahead of myself now.

You see, in the last two Parshiote, we read about Betzalel. We read about how his G-D given inspiration (or maybe G.g.a.g.c.) would enable the Israelites to design and build the Mishkan. We also read about how the Israelites made a golden calf and proceeded to worship it (avoda zora, idol worship), causing many to perish. It seems that these Parshiote along with a few around it are all about art and craft both of the most high and the lowest of lows. Hashem goes into incredible detail about how to construct the Mishkan and then gives divine inspiration to a few to lead the others in the crafting of the greatest masterpiece ever produced by man… a home for G-D. By the way, he also tells us again to rest on Shabbat right smack in the middle of all this, but that is another story…

So where do I go from here? At the moment I am as mystified as I was when I started writing this. We seem to have been given all the tools to sort this out and yet, I keep getting all kinds of different ideas and interpretations about how to deal with this apparent dichotomy and we know that there are no real dichotomies in the Torah, just inability to completely decipher G-Ds words. Maybe I should just stop trying so hard and start painting again; put some of that G.g.a.g.c. to use. Yaaa, that sounds like the right path and don’t worry, I’ll stay away from images of you-know-who and everything ‘with’ him. I have a really great Post Modern, Deconstructionist, Minimalist idea that I inadvertently got from the same guy that gave me the very literal advice about how to read Hashem's commandments. (Via the G.g.a.g.c. network delivery system I am sure) Now I'm feeling it... (Can you sense the smile on my face?)

Lahetraote kulam

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Rabbinate, singing in the halls, and the ‘being Jewish’ crash course

I thought I would try another free-flowing, multi-tasking, oratorical with a cool title type of blog. You see, life is starting to become normalized for us Nolls in the Middle East and I find that my mind is much less on the things that most people would think of as bizarre or unique. These things are starting to become just, normal. For instance, since I started working at the German, Christian, gas mask making factory and Kibbutz of Beit El, I have gotten used to the German people just breaking into song for no particular reason; like the other day when I heard this amazing voice echoing through the hall and stairwell. In the States, if someone was singing in public and was caught at it, they would probably stop immediately with a sheepish grin and a reddened face. Here, this type of thing is so normal that the drive-by-singers aren’t phased a bit by on-lookers. This woman was cleaning the bathrooms and was evidently enjoying the sound of her voice as it bounced around the tiled rooms. I don’t remember the song but I do remember that it was in English and had that kind of 70’s folk sound to it. The Mechanic sings sometimes when he works in the basement, and one of my coworkers started today with a song that seemed to be running around in his head and itching to get out. I guess I am still American because when they start, I always cringe a little. Maybe like they might not have known that I was there and could hear them singing. On the other hand, sometimes even when I know that I am not alone, I sing a song or two left inside my head from Shabbat. And speaking of Shabbat…

We went to the Rabbinate to open the Teek (means bag, don’t know why it is called that) for my official conversion to Orthodox Judaism. The building was in Haifa, about an hour from us away. We got great directions and had no problems finding it… until we parked. The parking lot was barricaded off so we needed to find a spot on the street. No problem, that was all in the directions. It got weird when we walked past a crumbling concrete apartment building that looked damaged from the last war, across the barren parking lot with the burnt skeletal remains of a few couches, and up to the door of a building that just couldn’t be the Haifa Rabbinate. It was a metal where house looking door with big rivets and graffiti that spread its way across the whole building. We stopped and stood for a second. Adele and I looked at each other and both uttered, “Is this it?” I heard Adele say, “No, I don’t think so…” and then I looked up and saw the little brass sign that said ‘HAIFA RABBINATE’. Ok, but where was the door knob? Anyways, it all worked out in the end. We got in, found where we needed to go, met with the Rabbi (who by the way had the largest beard I have ever seen), and am now on the way with an official ‘teek’. Wish me luck (mazal in Hebrew, like in mazal tov), actually luck is not a Jewish concept and I have always wondered about that. Mazal actually means constellation and that is definitely a no-no. Lots to learn…

The last segment of my fancy title is ‘being Jewish crash course’. This refers to a very unfortunate event that occurred at work the other day. You see, one of my co-workers is mentally un-healthy. He has been having episodes more frequently and had one the other day with me. You see, sometimes we get to talking and I enjoy it because it is great practice for my Hebrew. Usually our talks go well but that day it went real bad, real fast. we were talking about how so many people have been sick this year and he chimed in with there was a lot of pigs that got sick too. I thought, pigs? There really aren’t any pigs in Israel. What was he talking about? Then he said in Germany. Oh, I hadn’t heard of anything. And then he said that it happened during the Second World War and all the pigs died. Now my ‘being Jewish’ antennae went up like lighting. Then he said it. They had Juden-Swine written on their clothes and they were in a concentration camp. I told him that I didn’t want to hear anymore of what he was saying and that it was not ok to speak that way… ever. It was kind of like talking to a child. I told my boss and he spoke to him about it. Later the co-worker came to me and said that it was all a misunderstanding because of the language barrier (he speaks German, I speak English, we communicate in Hebrew) but I know it was something else. The poor guy is mentally ill, and German, and living in Israel with Jews. Ay yaay yaay… so, as far as the crash course, I figure, since I didn’t grow up Jewish, (even though I have lived a Jewish life for more then half of my life) I need to develop some Jewish survival skills… maybe just persecution complex, ya ya ya… I don’t know. All I do know is that I was ready to walk out of that place right then and the only reason I didn’t was that my boss told me some stories of his family during the Second World War. Many of his relatives were forced to fight on the front line because they were not supporters of the Nazis. They were all killed. So here I am, in Israel, converting to Orthodox Judaism, working at a German, Christian, gas mask making factory, that supply the Jews in Israel with protection against the new enemy, Hesbollah, Hamas, Iran and Akmadinajad, and all the radical Islamists in the West Bank under the direction of Abbas (former crony of Arafat). Am I Jewish yet you ask? Neereh…

Shabbat Shalom kulam!

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Words Within

Well, I guess I need to start this one with… the other day at work, I got to thinking…

Naw, that’s just not gonna work. You see, this story starts a little further back then that.

We went to Ephrat for Shabbat a couple of weekends ago. Ephrat is in the stachime (west bank) well, it is really about 10 minutes from Jerusalem so not really in the big bad territories if you know what I mean. My sister in law lives there with her husband Norman and her two sons Ben and Baruch. Both boys are in the Israeli army now and were home on leave for the weekend. They were completely bushed and slept most of the time so that left Norm and I to run through the much needed rain to Shul, pray, and most importantly talk about the prospect of living from the Torah. It was great… so, what about the line, ‘the other day at work you ask’?

You see, when I was davening Shabbat morning, towards the end of services, I noticed something very eye-opening for me. The Rabbi was a typical looking guy (Rabbi) with a long grey beard, piercing eyes, and a gentle smile. He was reading from a sefer (book) that when he said the name of Yitzchak (Issac) he would laugh in a very imperceptible way. I asked Norm about it later and he said that he didn’t notice. Could it just have been me? You see, in Hebrew, Yitzchak means laugh. When I asked Norm about the idea of taking in a word to such a deep level that every nuance of it resonates with the soul of the speaker he said that this is possible. He said that there are some very deep souls that when they lain (read) from the Torah, they do it so slowly that every word is absorbed and lived in the moment it is spoken.

So, of course, this thought lead me to an even deeper thought. Hashem created the Universe with only words. Words are the essence of everything. the Sages tell us that even Adam was able to name all the animals because he saw their names when he looked at them. What if we were to break down every single thing into its component atoms (no pun intended)… would there be words, linked together into small, little meanings, which then linked together into larger ideas, and finally ending with what we see around us? As I thought about this, my head spun and my stomach began to hurt. But I didn’t care; I kept probing deeper into this intoxicating idea.

What is a word anyways? Is it just ink on paper? Or maybe it is light and darkness in a computer screen? Words are not something that we can readily identify. They are something that enables us to communicate, but really are never the same to each person. We attach our own experiences and ideas to each word we hear. The Torah is made of words but when they are linked together in other ways besides in the pashute (simple) way, ideas are born and are grown to amazing levels. The Sages tell us that we all come to our lives with our own Torah. Not something physical, but something within us. It is the way that we extrapolate our environments and processes it through our very special and unique filter, which enables us to really move in life.

All that aside, I keep thinking about the Rabbi at the Bema, reading from a sefer and laughing from the core of his being when saying the word Yitzchak. To be in a state where the world could be a mass of entangled light and darkness, forming not only words but ideas in every minutia of every nuance of energy, would be so overwhelming that I might ask to be put into some kind of a physical shell and given some peace from it all. On the other hand, if I had the ability and the power, I might like to see and to live in that space of light and words, if only for a moment. Maybe I need to start painting again…

Lahetraote kulam.