Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

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!