Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pesach, Particle Physics, and Regular People

It is that time again... Pesach! And that means searching, uncovering, removing, and the elevating of each little moment in life from the past year. Because I am a regular person, just like everyone else, I can’t remember every single moment of fluff and hot air that I stuck under my hat, I am just going to do what the other regular people do... search around until I find some Chumetz (that hot air filled fluffy risen bread like stuff that makes me think I am really something special in the world) and obliterate it with a passion!

In the big scheme of things, the Chumetz that we are supposed to uncover, we will inevitably be able to find. Hashem only tests us as far as we can handle it, so we never find something too large to deal with. This idea reminds me of when I was just a little tike and me and all the neighborhood kids (picture The Little Rascals with skateboards) built a double-decker fort in the backyard. We styled it out with rock-n-roll posters (not quite triple-x, but close), wall to wall shag carpeting, a double mattress on the second floor, and multiple secret hiding places in the walls and floors for our treasures. The problem was that we didn’t really give it an adequate roof-job and, lo-and-behold, when the rains came, we stopped meeting there.

The double-decker fort just became an occasionally thought about memory, until the sun came out again a few months later. I was warned by my friend one morning that I needed to see something in the fort. He said it was something alien and didn’t want to tell me more about it. I just knew that whatever it was, it scared him. We got my little brother Trent and another friend that helped with building the fort and slowly opened the door. It was wet right through and left a film on my hand when I let go of it. A waft of musty fluffy old hot air stuff hit me in the face. I peered in, not knowing what to expect and didn’t see anything at all. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the gloom and... still I didn’t see anything.

I thought at the time that it was just a big joke and someone was going to jump out at me or push me in so I backed off a little. But when I saw my friends’ faces, I knew that it was real, whatever it was, so I looked again. This time, I looked down where my friend told me to look, insisting that it was there... my eyes adjusted and I saw something. It was the color of a kelp ball, kind of snot yellow, just like the seaweed that emerged from the deep and onto the beach after a big storm. As my eyes adjusted further, the alien thing began to take shape. It was about a meter long and was ruffled at one end, while smooth and round at the other. I didn’t know what to make of it—it looked alien, whatever it was.

Interesting enough, I thought of this story today as I was cleaning the Chumetz out of my stove. I have this weirdly designed stove top that has these flanges that you can never clean under. So I got my screw-gun and unscrewed the things to get under them. When I removed them, I found something really quite disgusting. Food had been gathering in one little corner for probably a year, since the last time I looked for the deep dark Chumetz strewn places. It was also an alien thing and seemed to pulse with a life of its own. It had been absorbing everything that had been spilled on our stove-top for the past year and did not want to move. It liked its moist little hiding place.

Seeing this alien thing, growing on my stove-top, I thought how, on Pesach, we all cover everything with tinfoil. It seemed to me that this is really backwards. We should cover everything with tinfoil all year long to prevent the Chumetz from getting into those deep dark places and then, for Pesach, we could uncover everything and, walla, we are Chumetz free! The problem is that we are just regular people and the whole idea is to find the Chumetz in our lives. We can never prevent it from sinking in and grabbing hold, waiting for the life giving moisture that allows it to grow and sprout and develop into something pompous and self-appreciated... the Chumetz of our lifes.

The alien growth inside our double-decker fort gave me the chills when I saw it. I thought that it must be a joke and was just some kind of a chunk of seaweed. Nobody wanted to go into the fort and see what it was, so I manned up and did it. I had to duck to get through the door and when I stepped inside, the smell was overwhelming. It was like a deep dark hole in the ground with growing and rotting things everywhere, returning to the earth and sprouting anew. The floor of the fort was old plywood that had rotted and crunched and broke under every step, revealing the under belly of the place where the alien thing seemed to emerge from. With my feet, I found the rafters that we had put under the plywood and balanced on those so I would not step into one of the dark holes I was making with each footstep. As the alien thing got closer, I could see the light glint off its shiny surface in a perfect outline of the door behind me (my only exit) and as the outline of my silhouette grew when I approached the alien object, one careful step at a time, I had to let go of more and more to proceed any further.

My friends were all peering in through the opening, yelling at me to tell them what I saw, but I couldn’t tell what it was yet. So, I kept going and got right up close to it. The sweat started to drip off my head as the moisture from the dark hole gathered on my skin. I reached out my foot to touch it very slowly and at the moment of contact, it crumbled and disintegrated, right before my eyes. It must have been some kind of strange fungus that had grown from under the rotten plywood floor of our double-decker fort and had nothing but moist, fecund air inside of it. The chills I had earlier, now were overwhelming me, so I stumbled backwards and tried, in vain, not to fall in the footstep holes that I had just made. We all ran as far as we could get away from that fort and didn’t return until the next day, when we discovered that the alien growth was totally gone. Nothing remained of it and we all began to wonder if there really was an alien fungus to begin with. The physics of those fungus particles had insisted that they deflate and return to the unknown nothingness that they had come from.

Pesach is a time of personal accounting, a time of artificial ego deflating, and a time of release and freedom into the world. We spend all year trying to figure out who we are and fill in all of the deep dark places of our minds, bodies, and souls, with the fluff of that search. Then, all of a sudden, we have to quickly pack only what we need for our lives’ journeys to continue, can only take the bare minimum of our possessions, and only what is absolutely necessary. Mitzraim means two things in Hebrew. It means Egypt and it means ‘place of narrowness’. In order to get out of that place of narrowness in our souls, we need to cut loose all of the hot air that we have gathered, and just like the alien fungus on the floor of the double-decker fort crumbled and disappeared at the slightest touch, the hot air that we have gathered will crumble, as soon as it realizes that it no longer has even the pretense of a foundation to grow in.

Freedom and liberation from all of the hot air filled fluffy risen bread like stuff to everyone!

Chag Sumeach le Kulam!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Palestine or Frankenstein

With all of the hubbub about peace talks or proximity talks (or whatever), illegal building in Jerusalem, and the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, I thought I would throw in my two cents (or agarote as may be the case) on the issues. The way I understand it, these are the core issues for peace talks relating to the modern Holy Land:

1. Security for Israel
2. The Status of Jerusalem
3. The Fate of Palestinian Refugees
4. The Boundaries of a Future Palestinian State

Of course, a Palestinian Arab would reverse the order of these issues so, as a Palestinian Jew, I will address them in that order as well…

4. The Boundaries of a Future Palestinian State

This comes up in the news all of the time. The issue is that the Israelis (Palestinian Jews) are building settlements on the land of a future Palestinian (Palestinian Arab) state. This will prevent the Palestinian Arabs from having a contiguous state or even a state at all. The argument is that if the potential Palestinian Arab state becomes too small, it will not be viable as a state.

First we need to look at the actual borders of the land called Palestine. When the British named it after they carved up the Middle East with the rest of the European Colonialists, they took the name from the Roman Conquerors from 2000 years earlier when the Romans, in order to conceal their shame and anger with the Jewish rebels, tried to erase the Israelites, Samaria, and Judea, off the map by using the term ‘Palestine.’ Thousands of years later, Arab settlers moved in accompanying various Arab empires from around the Middle East and eventually (in 1948 at the founding of the state of Israel) adopted the name of the ancient Mediterranean tribe, the Philistines, which in Hebrew means ‘Invaders,’ to portray themselves as indigenous.

The same land that the Romans included in their designation ‘Palestine’ included all of modern Israel and Jordan. It was called by the British, Trans-Jordan. This was the ancient homeland of the Israelites with a little strip of land along the coast that was the ancient homeland of the now extinct culture and people of the Philistines. The British then drew arbitrary lines in the desert sand and called one piece Jordan and one piece Palestine (the future Jewish state). The whole area (Trans-Jordan) was filled with people that basically considered themselves Palestinians because of the name the Romans gave the region that they lived in—some were Jewish, some were Druze, some were Arab, some were Christian, some were Bedouin, and some others were there as well. Essentially the majority of the Muslims ended up in Jordan and the mixed multitudes that remained ended up in what the founders of the modern Jewish State called Israel.

When this happened in 1948, the Arab countries that surrounded Israel (whose borders were also designated by the same European colonial powers) didn’t like it at all. They attacked and what remained when the dust settled was what we see now on the map. Gaza, Samaria, Judea, and the Golan Heights, all fell into Arab hands. They went about destroying any remaining Jewish or Christian remnants, just like when the Israelis evacuated Gaza recently, and the Gazan Arabs destroyed all the infrastructure essential for a viable economy and populated, or polluted (Hamas) as the case may be, the land.

In another series of self-defensive wars, Israel won back the territory that they had lost, including the Holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, and East Jerusalem including the ancient grave yard on the Mount of Olives where my father-in-law is burried. Any other country on Earth would be rightly entitled to the land that they shed blood over in a defensive war, but now we have a new people on the planet called the Palestinians! Um… am I missing something?

All I have to say about this is—don’t we already have a Palestinian State in the Middle East that is made up of 70% to 80% of self proclaimed Palestinians, a country that has been associated as Palestine for 2000 years, a country that the British colonialists called Jordan?

3. The Fate of Palestinian Refugees

OK, I am going to take it that by ‘Palestinian,’ the powers-that-be mean the Palestinian Arabs that were in the part of the land of modern Israel when Israel won it’s defensive wars and either fled, were kicked out, or stayed in Israel. For sure they couldn’t mean all so-called Palestinians because that would mean the Hashmonean-Jordanians, the Palestinian-Jordanians, the Christians throughout the region, the Druze, The Jews, and on and on… They mean a very specific group of people that (in the surrounding Arab states) have been kept in refugee camps until today. In Israel, these so-called camps have been small cities for decades. They have grown and prospered and many of the so-called refugees have become real Israeli Arabs (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron). Israel even has Israeli Arabs in its parliament.

So, how many refugees could there be anyways? Even if you were to add the kids of the kids of these refugees, it surely couldn’t be the same amount as the Jews that were forcibly ejected from almost every major Arab country in the Middle East and Africa when Israel defended itself in the 1948 (defensive) war of independence. Let’s just have all the Arab countries that violently forced the Jews to leave their borders without their valuables pay back, with interest mind you, all that they stole from the Jews and in return, the Palestinian Jews will let the so-called Palestinian refugees back in, with all of their children and their children’s kids too…

2. The Status of Jerusalem

Oy… This is going to take a book. Let’s just trim it down to how many times that Jerusalem is mentioned in the Holy Book of the Koran… 0… that’s right, 0. How many times is it mentioned in the Torah, the Holy Book of the Jews? 622 times. If you add that number and the number of times it is mentioned in the Christian Bible you get a total of 792! The Koran talks about Mecca and Medina but not about Jerusalem. The Muslim claim to Jerusalem is based on a dream that Mohamed said he had where he flew a white horse like creature to the farthest reaches of the kingdom and prayed there with all of the Prophets. Jews and Christians had been living in Jerusalem for many years before any Muslim set foot there, even in a dream of some far off land. Jerusalem was made the capital of the Jews 3000 years ago. I’d say that is good enough for me when it comes to final status talks…

1. Security for Israel

Seems easy doesn’t it? If another country invades, you either fight back or surrender. What this government does this time around is anybody’s guess. That is why this is such a mute point. If we just did what G-D told us to do, we would already be at peace with the world. No Goldstone reports, no Hague accusations, no human rights abuse claims, no media whitewashing. Now we are getting into tricky territory because at what price does peace come? Keep Shabbat? Oh no! I would rather have the constant violent interactions in the news and around the world and consider it someone else’s problem! If I can just watch my TV on Shabbat and follow really closely all the idiots running the planet-wide nonsensical political extravaganza, I will be happy—and maybe one of those grape popsicles and a Maserati in my driveway too. Ya... that would be good. I would be happy then.

I will just leave you with a quote from the Jerusalem Post that I read recently that, if you read into it deeply enough, explains it all—both the Jewish perspective and the perspective of the rest of the world too.

“Pay no attention to malicious slander,” Metzger said. “All we are doing is resurrecting the Hurva, which was destroyed more than 60 years ago. We have no intention of rebuilding the temple, not this week—unless Almighty God sends it to us from the heavens.”

Shame on Ishmael’s descendants,
Shame on the descendants of Esau,
Shame on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s descendants too for waiting for Hashem to do both his part and our part of the deal that we made together, so long ago...


Friday, March 19, 2010

Shmuel, Dudoo, and Zachariah went Camping

Shmuel, Dudoo, and Zachariah went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, they all ate humus and falafel, smoked a nargilah for hour or so, and then they fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Zachariah woke the others up and said, “Havre, look towards the sky, what do you see?” 'Dudoo, whose grandparents were enlightened European Jews that all miraculously survived the Holocaust, said, “I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?” asked Zechariah.

Dudoo, after pondering this philosophical question for a minute, replied, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. It makes me wonder what it all means.”

Shmuel, whose real name is Samuel and made aliyah to Israel from the United States when he was 18 for the army, then said, “Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo and theologically, Hashem is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What's it tell you, Zachariah?'

Zachariah, whose parents fled from Arab tyranny in Iraq in 1949 and left everything behind to immigrate to Israel when the Jewish state was founded said, “You guys are dumber than I thought... It means someone stole the tent.”

Let's just hope that we don't get our tent stolen from us, from right under our noses. Come on guys... we got to work together on this one!

Shabbat shalom le kulam

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

'Kef' is not a Hebrew word...

In the words of tractate Yoma 19b of the Talmud, "you shall converse in the words of Torah and not in other things," the Talmud explains "other things" as referring to idle, meaningless things.

The Hebrew language (you know, the one that was used to create the universe) has words that mean rest, play, relaxation, and pleasant activities, while it has no word for "fun" (the word kef is Arabic). A "fun" activity has no goal, as is implied in the colloquial expression, "just for the fun of it." In other words, the goal of the activity is within itself, and fun does not lead to or result in anything else.

This concept is alien to Judaism (you know, the religion that grew out of the language that was used to create the universe). Every human being is created with a mission in life. This mission is the ultimate goal toward which everything must in one way or another be directed. Seemingly mundane activities can become goal directed; we eat and sleep so that we can function, and we function in order to achieve our ultimate goal. Even relaxation and judicious enjoyable activities, if they contribute to sound health, can be considered goal directed if they enhance our functioning. However, fun as an activity in which people indulge just to "kill time" is proscribed (um... what does proscribed mean anyway?). Time is precious, and we must constructively utilize every moment of life.

Furthermore, since people conceptualize their self-worth in terms of their activities, doing things "just for the fun of it" may in fact harm their self-esteem.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
Yikes! I better get busy with something!!!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Purim, Murder, and the Other Side of the Coin

When I woke up on Friday morning, I didn’t have any idea what was in store for the next few days of my life. Life is an important element in this story because it involves the tragic ending of the life of someone that I didn’t know well enough. She was described as a crazy flower and lived her life spreading that wonderful energy around, wherever she went. She was a teacher at a school for peace between Arabs and Jews nearby, was a drama teacher at a local elementary school, and had a beautiful daughter with her husband that she miraculously had met later in her life than is normal and expected.

On Friday morning, I was in the middle of putting on my tefilin and the home phone rang. After a brief discussion, Adele warned me that I might not have time and I should check my messages. When I did so, I was left with such a huge question from one of my dearest friends: it only said, “Please call urgently.”

The next thing I knew, I was packing a survival pack with food, water, outdoor equipment, and rain and warm weather gear. I was to be picked up shortly in order to help with a grass-roots volunteer effort to locate a missing woman that had gone to a retreat for quiet, forest, and meditation, at a monastery near Beth Shemesh named Beit Jamal.

On Wednesday afternoon, the same time that the missing woman had arrived at the monastery, I had just returned from work and was puttering about the house. The computer in our living room runs a slide show when not in use and I looked up as I passed it and a picture of Neta Blatt Sorek appeared on the screen. She was happily kissing the cheek of her husband Amotz at a Purim party from the previous year.

Purim this year, coincidentally, was just around the corner when I saw the picture. Because this time Purim was to fall out on Sunday, in order to fast for Ta’anit Ester, it was necessary to move the fast-day to the Thursday before Shabbat. Fasting is not permitted on Shabbat, the day that we spend half in the physical world and half in the spiritual world, and if we were to fast Friday, the day before Shabbat, we would be ill-prepared for Shabbat, so we fasted on Thursday. This was the same day that Neta was noticed missing by the Nuns at the monastery. She wasn’t showing up for anything around the monastery, so when they tried to locate her in her room, they ended up breaking down the door to find her things neatly put away and her bed un-slept in.

I didn’t think it to be strange at the time, when I stopped to contemplate Neta’s picture on the computer screen, but I remembered it the moment that I found out who had gone missing. After racing around the house to remember all the things I might need to help someone that was hurt or lost in the woods, I was picked up by a couple that were fairly new to the neighborhood and another friend, Bruce, that I have a very long and interesting history with (but for another story).

The four of us raced down highway 6 in the rain to try and help. Many of my friends, including my brother-in-law Gal, had been looking since 12 Midnight the night before in the cold and rain. When we got there in the morning, they were all very tired and wet. The four of us joined some other friends and then split up and went out into the wilderness in a downpour, thinking about all kinds of horribly potential fates that could have befallen Neta.

We searched for most of the day in the rain, hail, wind, and lightning. We tramped up steep slopes and found refuge in ancient structures from the wrath of the heavens upon the earth. Caves, pits, and tunnels became our refuges, but only until we realized that Neta could be hidden in the dark, somewhere. We wanted to get out of the storm and dry up and at the same time we wanted to find Neta; she could be hurt or dying in the cold. Every time we entered, we were both relieved and repelled by the possibilities. I am still caught between these feelings of self preservation, anxiety of finding her, and relief from not knowing what had happened to Neta.

At the time, I had momentary understandings of how this was exactly what Purim is about. G-D is not evident in the world. We have to work to see G-D. I mentioned Shabbat earlier and this is exactly what life is all about. Shabbat gives us a chance to experience and to practice for the next world; the real world. I know that sounds weird to some, but when you think about it, life here on this little planet Earth is so insignificant compared to what we know about the rest of the universe. G-D... is hidden in the world.

When we drove back from Beit Jamal, we got a flat tire. I heard a weird sound coming from behind me and said something about it. Yonotan, the driver, listened and pulled over. Shortly after fixing the tire and setting back out on the road we got the call that told us what had happened to Neta. Someone from the group that replaced us found her. She was lying hidden, murdered in a pit, not far from where I had been looking with Bruce.

As we approached Zichron Ya’akov, Yonotan’s wife Paula said that she hated Purim. She said that Purim is always like this... I wanted to answer her with philosophy, but couldn’t. It just was not appropriate at the time. What I wanted to tell her was how Purim was the other side of the coin. On Shabbat we celebrate the whole coin. We celebrate the physical and the spiritual and it is all entwined in one day. On Purim we celebrate the side of the coin that is the opposite of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. So does that mean that Purim is the most unholy? Actually it is the opposite. On Shabbat we celebrate the idea of bringing the spiritual to the physical. This is a total incarnation of Judaism and the purest form of worship of G-D that can exist in this world. We live in a physical world and our assignment from G-D (should you choose to accept it) is to bring the spiritual into it.

On Yom Kippur we elevate ourselves to the spiritual world, becoming angels for a short period of time through the denial of the physical. We spend the whole day in Synagogue praying and fasting. We don’t sleep, eat, make love, or wear leather shoes (sounds weird I know but think pain and suffering, a very physical thing). On Purim... we party. We live as deep as we can in the physical. We explore the depths of this world and bring our spirits with us. We elevate the physical by maintaining our awareness of G-D, even though we are drunk with wine and full to the brim with meat in our bellies. We hide ourselves from everyone under masks and cavort around the streets, all while Hashem is watching. We get so drunk that we cannot tell the difference between Haman (evil) and Mordechi (good). Rabbi Elyahu Kitov wrote, “If one attains holiness through affliction, and another attains holiness through indulgence, who is greater? It may be said that the one who attains holiness through indulgence is greater, for the attainment of holiness through indulgence requires an infinitely greater degree of striving and effort.” Yom Kippur literally means ‘day like pur (lot - as in drawing lots)’ Purim literally means ‘lots.’ That means that Judaism’s holiest day of the year is... a day (ONLY) like Purim!

So what should I have said when I heard the words, “I hate Purim”? all that I can say is that Neta’s murderer was Amalek, Haman, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Spanish, the English, the Nazis, the Muslims, and the Arabs... the list is larger than this and will most likely go on to include many other people, nations, and cultures. Purim is a day of joy that we are still here and it is a day of sorrow that... we have had to suffer so much just to still be here. The physical is a place of pain and suffering, a place of joy and wonder, and a place of doing and being. The spiritual is a place of peace and idleness. If we can bring that sense of peace to the world, our job will be complete. Until then, we have to make do with G-D being hidden in the world.

Blessings to Neta, Amotz, and Noga (Neta’s 11 year old daughter); May you all find peace.

Shabbat shalom