Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Of Cavemen, Politicians, and Regular Folk

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was a beloved student of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was the spiritual guru during the Bar Kochba (Ben Kosiba) revolt in 135 CE against Rome and the only one of the four sages that entered the “Pardes,” which means Orchard in Hebrew, and came out whole, both mentally and physically. Pardes is also an acronym for Pshat (simple or plain), Remez, (hints or deep), Drash (inquire or seek), and Sod (secret or hidden), which are the four levels of Torah learning.

Rabbi Akiva passed on orally to his student, Rabbi Shimon, the Pardes of the Torah including the hidden level of Sod. Because Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was a student of the spiritual guru of the revolt against Rome, bar Yochai was relentlessly pursued by the Romans and their politicians (it didn’t help that he hung out with Rabbi Jose and Rabbi Judah, whose parents happened to be proselytes; I need to be careful here... My ego might get offended...).

The story in the Talmud goes like this:

Rabbi Judah commenced the discussion by observing, "How fine are the works of the Romans! They have made streets, they have built bridges, and they have erected baths."

Rabbi Jose remained silent.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai responded, "All that they made, they made for their own benefit. They built market-places, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; and bridges to levy tolls."

Judah, the son of proselytes, spoke of the talk that they had, which eventually reached the politicians in the government. The politicians decreed: "Judah, who exalted us, shall be exalted. Jose, who was silent, shall be exiled to Sepphoris (Tzippori in Hebrew, located in the central Galilee). and Shimon, who dissented against the Roman Empire, shall be executed."

Rabbi Shimon and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hid themselves in the Bet Midrash (study hall), and Rabbi Shimon’s wife brought them bread and water to eat. When the decree became more severe... they left and hid in a cave.

A miracle occurred and a carob-tree and a wellspring of water were created for them to eat and to drink. They would remove their clothes and bury themselves up to their necks in sand and spend the whole day studying. When it was time for prayers, they came out of the sand, dressed, prayed, and then took off their clothes again and submerged into the sand once more, so that their clothes would not wear out. They spent twelve years in the cave.

Elijah the Prophet then came and stood at the entrance to the cave and proclaimed, "Who will inform the son of Yochai that the emperor is dead and his decree annulled?" So they emerged.

Seeing a man plowing and sowing, they exclaimed, "The people forsake eternal life and engage in temporal life!" and whatever Shimon and Elazar cast their eyes upon was incinerated immediately.

A heavenly echo (Bas Kol) then came forth and announced, "Have you emerged to destroy My world? Return to your cave!"

So they returned and lived like before for another twelve months and when they said, "The punishment of the wicked in Gehenom (Hell) is limited to twelve months," A Bas Kol came forth and told them to, "Go forth from your cave!"

Now wherever Rabbi Elazar harmed with his look, Rabbi Shimon healed. Rabbi Shimon said to his son, "My son! You and I are sufficient for the world."

On the eve of Shabbat, before sunset, they saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtle and running at twilight. "What are these for?" they asked him.
"They are in honor of the Sabbath," he replied.

"But, only one should suffice for you?" they asked.

The old man replied, "One is for remembering the day of Shabbat (Exodus 20:8) and one is to guard the Shabbat (Deuteronomy 5:12)."

Rabbi Shimon said to his son, "See how precious the mitzvot are to the people of Israel?" With this, their minds were put at ease.

During those years in the cave, when Rabbi Shimon studied with his son both the revealed Torah and the hidden or secret levels of Torah (Torat HaSod), also known as Kabbalah, Rabbi Shimon wrote down the material for the first time, in a book called the Zohar, meaning Splendor or Radiance. This mystical tradition was kept alive by the Ramban with his commentary on the Bible and came alive again in the sixteenth century with the Ari, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, and their followers, in Tzfat, Palestine. Later, in the eighteenth century, Israel ben Elazar, the "Bal Shem Tov," embraced these mystical traditions again in Eastern Europe.

So, what about the bonfires on Lag baOmer? The story that I heard was when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died, sometime between 170-200 CE, he was in a house, communing with G-D and the heavenly court, when the light and power of that which was revealed became so unstable in this world that the house exploded in flame. Bar Yochai died in the flames and his final teaching to his devoted students was "Now it is my desire to reveal secrets...The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." the domain of light—of the light of Torah! Bar Yochai handed the Zohar to his students and passed, as a Tzaddik, into the next world. The Zohar, which some also say was begun by Abraham Avinu in a book called the Sefer Yitzirah (Book of Formation), was finally published in its current form by Rabbi Moshe de Leon sometime before 1305 in Spain.

All I have to say is what a lot of work to figure this all out and, in the end, I am still confused... I guess the secret level of Torah is destined to remain secret, despite the modern craze for Kabbalah and its self-help spin-off droppings, landing in a town near you!

Chag Sumeach and Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Inspiration, Paradise, and the Promised Land

Inspiration... That is what it is all about, isn't it? When I was in art school, I began to search for the reason that I would eventually move to Israel. For a long time I thought that it was all about how I was going to be recognized by others for my achievements, so I was so happy when news articles were written and shows organized around what I had done. But in the end, when the paint dried and all that I had to show for it was a few bucks and a hole where I thought there had been a child—I was empty.

Inspiration was not, evidently, enough to hold me in the long haul. Or maybe it wasn’t about the inspiration as much as what the inspiration was about. I was moving from high to low and back to high, like I was taking a drug. When I look back on that place in my life, I realize that it was self inflated and artificial. It went in circles and never really had an end. I kept thinking, if I could only get into that gallery, if I could only speak to the right art dealer at the right time... I remember when I was in a group show at L.A.C.E. in L.A. I thought, “For sure this will be it!” Then the show came down and nothing...

That happened a few times until I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. I was trying to force it in the direction that I deserved, not the direction that I needed. In Hebrew the word for wheel gal-gal (גלגל) is a very rare word that has a root that repeats itself. Isn’t it funny that a word that just, in its essence, goes around and around is written like this? Hebrew is like that—and so it turns out, was my life. Instead of staying in L.A. and going around and around until I finally got to the end of the 'my own loop'... um... you know what I mean, I began to form a line or direction, a kivun (כיוון), to follow. (Yes, there is lots of meaning in the word kivun as well. Just think Cohen, ken (yes), and serving G-D.)

When we build ourselves we have to find a path or kivun to do so, but the important part is what we are building. I moved to Boulder, Colorado after I became so empty that, from the inside, I was just begging for an excuse to get out. That excuse was miraculously provided when the Rodney King riots rang through the streets with racial tension, violence, and martial law. This move was not inspiration based; it was an attempt at saving my own life. I knew that any more time spent riding the gal-gal would surely do me in. The night I left I was woken up in the wee hours of the night from the ground under me shaking. The moving truck was packed and waiting for me to get up and drive it to Colorado. I was sleeping on the floor of my old apartment building in Santa Monica, California and the Northridge Earthquake struck. We scrambled and stumbled about until we felt safe to grab whatever we had, race down 15 flights of stairs, and start life anew. I was so empty that I apparently needed one last little shove to get me going.

Boulder was depressing. I missed my artificially inflated world of self. I spent 3 years doing nothing. Eventually, I got inspired again and started making art, woodwork, and eventually began to write a little. I searched a little in Judaism, but it was not speaking to me. Art was fun, but it was really not speaking to me either. Running my woodworking business was also interesting and challenging, but it was not speaking to me, the way I needed.

Then I met my second rabbi, Rabbi Goldfeder at a Jewish Community Center gathering. He had peyote... I like peyote, you know, the side-lock-curls that you see on Orthodox Jews. From Rabbi Goldfeder I learned that Judaism was something so much bigger than I ever expected. It was an endless amount of growth that I could start filling my empty hole with. I realized that I didn’t have to make it up at all. It was all there for me to discover, each delicious piece at a time! I was living in Boulder, Colorado. It was a place that most everyone else considered paradise. So, since I had finally learned that endless snow boarding and mountain biking was fun but really just running around and around on the gal-gal of life, it was inevitable that I would find my way, my own kivun, to the Promised Land and really start to live.

This blog is thanks to an old friend that wanted to catch up on why I moved to Israel. Thanks, it is questions like these that really get the wheels rolling!

Shalom le kulam

Friday, April 23, 2010

One Jerusalem!

Study of the Foundation Stone  © DTNoll 4-16 דורונול
Did you ever wonder what in the world is going on in Jerusalem and why is it such a hot-spot on the planet? Let’s look at a little history to see if we can figure it out. It all starts way back, but let’s just begin in 1948 when a convoy of 78 Jewish medical personnel, on the way to Mount Scopus on the eastern side of Jerusalem, was attacked and the personnel killed in an Arab ambush in which the bodies of the fallen nurses and doctors were mutilated and left as a message to other Jews. After this massacre, Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital both closed their doors on Mount Scopus and moved locations to the relative calm of western Jerusalem.

One month later, during the defensive war that the fledgling state of Israel fought with every single Arab neighbor in the region, the Arab Legion captured the police station on Mount Scopus, isolating it from the rest of Jerusalem. The Jordanians occupied eastern Jerusalem until Israel won it back in another defensive war in 1967, reuniting east and west Jerusalem, and Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital both moved back to their facilities and reopened on Mount Scopus.

Jerusalem has been the holiest city and the capital of the people and land of Israel for over 3,000 years. Our sages tell us that the name Jerusalem (Yerushaleyim in Hebrew) is a combination of two words: "Yireh" and "Shaleyim."

In Genesis 14:18, the Torah states that when Abraham returned from warring with the four kings, he was greeted by Shem, the son of Noah. The Torah refers to Shem as, "Malki Tzedek, King of Shaleyim and that, at that time, was the name of the city of Jerusalem.

Later in the Torah (Genesis 22:14), when G-d told Abraham to bring his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Mariah, which is where the Holy Temple was later built by King Solomon, Abraham named the place "Yireh"; "And Abraham called the name of the place Hashem Yireh"—The Lord will see (Genesis 22:14).

Combining the names of Yireh and Shaleyim, we arrive at Yerushaleyim. Shaleyim in Hebrew is the word for complete. It is also the exact root (שלם) of the word for peace, Shalom. When we interchange Shaleyim with Shalom, the word Yerushaleyim means G-D will see Peace and Completeness.

I think it is safe to say that it is our job to make Jerusalem complete, something we still seem to be working on, and to make it peaceful. We are partners with Hashem in this and until we stop messing around with the politics of human beings, we will be doomed to fail. It's time to unite and to work together...

Next year in Jerusalem!

For more artwork, please visit me at www.doronoll.com

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Glue that Binds Us and the Land of the Lost

As a seeker of truth, I have spent probably too much time learning as much as I can about how the world works. Subjects such as archeology, anthropology, history, religion, culture, social movements, politics, philosophy, physics, sociology and on and on, just to try and understand the universe and its inner workings. All this has led me to an understanding that, ultimately, each individual when operating on his own and by him/herself, is doomed to be lost.

What is ‘lost’? ‘Lost’ means alone, afraid, and without recourse for changing the circumstances. ‘Lost’ is a way of being without a plan and without any direction. I often feel lost in the world, which, if you look around seems pretty normal for everyone… So why is it that when someone speaks out with a plan, we seem to trust what they say? Maybe we all sense that we are lost too and just want someone to give us directions. Don’t you wish there was some kind of spiritual map-quest? We could plug in our coordinates and pick a destination and, chik-chak, we are there!

Hmmm... I guess then we wouldn’t really have to make any real decisions. Part of the process seems to be having to rely on each other. I have been getting the sense that everything is connected somehow—like cause and effect that ripples through our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual environments. When I yell at my neighbor for being a real (&%^*), that act reverberates through not only every person that is in his life and mine, but every person that witnessed the event in someway and everyone in their lives as well. The ripple just moves out from there. Based on the law of averages, my poor behavior has the ability to directly affect every single human being on the planet, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in some way. Most likely, this extends to animals, plants, earth, and air as well...

We go about our lives like everything we do is our business, like we are justified in our actions and reactions. I wonder if we would do the same thing if we could see the reverberations spreading out from our words and going on and on until we see them reverberating back at us from all sides, like rings in a pond. I believe that maybe, if we pay attention, we can see the pond rings chopping up the calm of our souls. I think that I should start visualizing the pond rings as they chop through the universe. Maybe then I could catch myself in time and hold my tongue when all I want to do is kill with it.

Author Douglas Adams once said, “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”

The glue that binds us is all around us, all the time. All we need to do is add the catalyst for perfect, everlasting peace for everyone.

Can I get an Amen...?