Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Dwell in Booths under the Clouds of Glory Day!

Sukkot is upon us. I haven’t had time to reflect properly for a real blog, so I am just going to give a synopsis... type blog.

Sukkot is about unity. We can all learn from each other how to be together as One by being really good listeners. We all want to tell our story and the best way to do that is to listen. When we listen to others, we are allowing their story to meld into our own story, ultimately becoming One. This season of joyousness, when we are all dwelling in our funny little booths, remember that there are some that may not have an actual Sukka to dwell in. Remember those that have not experienced dwelling in a Sukka and invite them in; and if not into the Sukka itself, then into the Sukka of your hearts!

A Sukka is a place where the Devine Shchinah descends down upon our heads, like the clouds of glory did for the Israelites in the dessert. It is a blessing and a mitzvah to dwell, as One, with the Crown of Glory resting upon and within us. It is possible to observe that, with the insanity pervading the world today, all of humanity could use a break. This Sukkot, enjoy each other’s company, enjoy the Devine Presence floating above us, and most of all enjoy each other, as we listen to each other’s hearts cling to Hashem and tell our stories. With the Devine Shchinah floating above us all, each and every one of us is sharing dwell time in the Cosmic Sukka of Life. This Holy-day season, I am going to try to embrace the peace and harmony of us all floating on a funny little ball in space surrounded by the Shchinah, like cinnamon spice wafting on the periphery of our minds, and share every last detail of our unique and beautiful stories with each other.
With all my heart: Chag sumeach le kulam!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peace and the Yom Kippur War

In 1973, in the days leading up to the tragic Yom Kippur War in Israel, I was in California, just entering the 4th grade. A transition occurred for the students between 3rd and 4th grades when we all moved from the lower grade teachers to the upper grade teachers. Since the students were separated into two distinct groups, I went from being the big man on campus, to the small one. I remember it being a little scary, as the 6th graders roved the campus looking for a little newbie to pick on. This was paramount in my mind, as you can imagine, but I also have a vague memory of my dad watching the news in the evening and wondering out-loud about the Middle East and its chaotic state. I don’t remember what he said, as much as the feeling that he exuded into the atmosphere. He was at a loss as to why the world was like it was. It just didn’t make any sense. I mean, even today it doesn’t seem to make any sense and the world is still enmeshed, smack in the middle of the chaos of the Middle East. Everyone is still saying that they want peace and everyone is still saying that if everyone else would just do what they say, there would be peace. And now that the world stage is engaged in another round of forced dialog for peace in the Middle East, I can’t seem to get away from the idea that all these players seem to just want the lime-light in order to claim their 15 minutes of fame. And all ‘the little people’ you ask? They are all left feeling helpless, like 4th graders on the playground, ducking for cover and pretending that the 6th graders don’t exist, just to feel a sense of peace, however brief.

At the same time that I was entering the 4th grade, a discussion was taking place in New York. For many years, Israelis had been familiar with a sage in Brooklyn who, in the words of IDF General Ariel Sharon, was "interested and well versed" in the Israeli military and "deeply worried" about the current situation in Israel. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (of blessed memory) was, at the time, the current head of the Lubavitcher Chasidim movement and according to some, destined to usher in the age of the Mashiach. The Rebbe’s approach to the, then and still, escalating conflict in the Middle East was that fierce, preemptive military action, along with elevated spiritual focus asking G‑D for mercy in order to minimize the impending loss of life and injuries in Israel, was necessary. His thoughts and ideas went mostly to deaf ears, as we all know that the Israeli top brass at the time were busily engaged in all sorts of nation building efforts, leaving national security on the sidelines in many respects.

Let me illustrate:
Prime Minister Meir had traveled to France for the Council of Europe, as if everything was sailing smooth in the Middle East. Israeli Intelligence had predicted that a war would begin around 6pm on October 5, 1973, and that the country should prepare for it. A ‘C’ alert was in effect, the highest alert just short of war, and the military on the ground felt that immediate deployment of all reserves was essential. Then, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan refused to deploy the entire combat reserve, agreeing to only 50,000 to 60,000 men. By 6am the morning of Yom Kippur, most in the army felt that an immediate need for a preemptive air strike was vital. General David Elazar had been arguing for a preemptive air strike against Syrian airfields with Prime Minister Golda Meir, believing that a preemptive strike would save many lives.

The prime minister is said to have thought for a few moments before announcing that there would absolutely be no preemptive strike; and this was after she was personally and secretly warned by Jordan's King Hussein that the Syrians were in a “pre-jump-off position” for war." The Syrians had, by the way, already positioned their most advanced surface-to-air missiles opposite the Golan Heights and transferred more ammunition to a central depot at the Golan border. The Egyptians had told their soldiers to break their Ramadan fast and then deployed more boats to the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal. The Soviets had, in the middle of the night, evacuated the families of their citizens, most of whom were assisting the Egyptians with military exercises and training. Yet, the political apparatus (the Israeli Government) continued to believe that war was not imminent, regardless of what the military apparatus (the IDF) said.

Meanwhile, back in the 4th grade, I was sitting on the bench with my three best friends when four 6th graders swaggered up to us. We chose a spot to sit at the far reaches of the playground, where we thought we would be out-of-sight, which really just made us a target. We moved our location periodically, looking for a place with peace and quiet, but these boys always knew where to find us. The ring leader of the group had a special affinity for me. He would always approach me first, with his friends giggling behind him, and ask me something like, “So, who won the races?”

Of course, not having heard that one yet, I said I don’t know, and bam! He would yell, “Charlie Horse!” as he smashed me in the thigh, causing reluctant tears to flow down my face… The big kids would saunter away, self satisfied and laughing at me and the little kids would grovel and feel sheepish, even with each other.

On the other side of the country, in Brooklyn, The Rebbe had begun a program to encourage parents to teach their children additional Torah during the summer months. He cited the verse from Psalms (8:3), “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, You have established strength because of Your adversaries, in order to put an end to the enemy and avenger.”

On July 12, 1973, the former president of Israel, Zalman Shazar visited the Lubavitch World Headquarters for a chassidic meeting and met with the Rebbe. We don’t know much about their discussion, however Ex-Israeli President Zalman Shazar shared afterwards that when the Rebbe encouraged the extra Torah learning for children, he had a specific danger in mind that was looming over Israel. It seemed strange to Shazar that there was no prediction of any danger; on the contrary, based on the status quo of the political apparatus (described above), everything seemed quite normal in Israel, (you know, just like today with all of the infighting and stiff-necked…ness).

Shazar asked The Rebbe what had happened to prompt such a prediction of imminent danger in Israel and The Rebbe didn’t respond. Shazar said that, "He (just) looked at me with a very serious look and tears began to flow from his eyes." The Rebbe continued to encourage an increase in children's Torah learning and prayer throughout the summer and on September 21st, the same time that Israeli intelligence was receiving even more warnings of the impending war, the Yediot Achronot newspaper reported that, "Tens of thousands of children will travel up to Jerusalem on Sunday for a special prayer service, following the call of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to his disciples in the town of Kfar Chabad. The Rebbe called for boys under the age of 13 and girls under the age of 12 to travel up to Jerusalem, to organize for a special prayer and to give charity near the Western Wall."

When I was 13, supposedly joining the ranks of manhood, I got really tall. My dad was 6’ 6” in his prime and a little of that height seemed to rub off on me. By the time I was in High School, I was over 6’ and climbing. One day, while walking across the street, I spotted the bully that tormented me in elementary school. He was coming towards me and I noticed that, evidently, his father was not as tall as mine and I began to gloat and puff up, dredging to the surface all of the pain that I had stuffed down over the years. As we approached each other, I could see him recoil as he recognized me. He tried to make a wide birth, subtly veering out of my way, as I determinately strode forward and barreled down on him. His eyes got larger as I approached; evidently sensing what was to come. In the last second, he tried to pass by me, but I would not let him. All the stored-up pain was now coursing through my veins and I channeled it out through my arms, reaching out and shoving him out of my way as I crossed the street. I kept on going and when I looked back, I saw him give a furtive glance in my direction. It felt SO good… But, it was SO not a good thing.

Here... Let me explain:
There is a mysterious encounter between Hashem and Moses on Mount Sinai described in Exodus 33:18-22. According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory, it goes like this:

“Please let me have a vision of Your Glory,” begged (Moses).

(G-D) replied, “I will make all My good pass before you and reveal the Divine Name in your presence. (But still,) I will have mercy and show kindness to whomever I desire.”

(G-D then) explained, “You cannot have a vision of My Presence. A man cannot have a vision of Me and still exist.”

G-d then said, “I have a special place where you can stand on the rocky mountain, protecting you with My power until I pass by (“all space is under my domain,” (Rashi; Baaley Tosafot) or, “there is a way of reaching up to me,” (Moreh Nevukhim 1:8). I will then remove My protective power and you will have a vision of what follows from My existence. My essence itself, however, will not be seen.”

As you can see by the Hebrew (even if you are a fluent Modern Hebrew speaker), it is not easy to understand what is being said here. Moses seems to want to see Hashem—to see the inner dimension of Hashem, and G-D says that He will pass all His goodness in front of him. You have to remember that this mysterious dialogue takes place right after the giving of the entire Torah on Mount Sinai (See Maimonides, "The Foundations of the Torah" 9:1.), so what did Moses want? It could only be some inner secret or depth of the Torah that he already had received, but didn’t understand. We are much the same in this regard. We cannot see Hashem; we can only see Hashem’s ‘power’ in the world, and just like Moses, we have to reach out to Hashem in order to attain a deeper comprehension of the Universe. So, Hashem states it quite simply, “I will have mercy and show kindness to whomever I desire.” This is the inner dimension of Torah. We cannot see it until G-D’s hand (power) has played it out; like the old saying, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ Once we have seen G-D’s hand in the world, we can see the result and make a determination like, ‘it is for the best’ or ‘if we only knew.’

Much later on, in the land of Israel, the Yediot Achronot newspaper reported that an "impressive gathering of thousands took place yesterday... The children arrived at the Western Wall in tens of buses, trains, trucks and private cars. With precise organization, the children filled the plaza before the Wall and the paths to the Wall, to capacity."

Torah verses that were selected by the Rebbe were recited at the rally at the Kotel. Every child received two 10 Agarote coins, one as a gift from the Rebbe (accompanied by a ‘suggestion’ to give it to charity), and the other with a ‘request’ to give it to charity. The paper reported, "(The) Bank of Israel prepared tens of thousands of shiny new coins for the occasion, amounting to several thousand Lirote." There were, evidently, similar gatherings that occurred around the planet.

So, while thousands of children around the globe were reaching up to Hashem together and praying for the protection of Israel, I was crying on the playground. I can’t help but wonder that if I had let it go for all those years and not let it get to me so bad, maybe I wouldn’t have reacted so poorly in the street years later. In that moment, when that bully was crossing the street towards me, instead of demanding justice from him, what if I had walked up to him and engaged him in a dialog. I could have said, “Hey! I remember you! How are you doing?”

He might have replied, “Um, yeah... I remember you too!? What are you doing these days?”

And I could have said, “Da-da-da-da-da-da...” You get my drift. I would have given him the chance to say sorry to me. I would have had enough compassion to know that he was also in pain when he did those things to me. I would have been able to tear down a wall (with his help) that we both built and in that brief moment of time, we would be One. Hindsight is 20/20...

This is the inner dimension of the closest place that we can even fathom, much less get to, of Hashem. It is a place where we are all One. We understand each other and have ultimate passion for and compassion with each other in that place. If the Rebbe knew and tried to tell us, and the politicians didn’t know and tried to listen, and we all stopped worrying about what we have and who is right or wrong, and ultimately, we all had total compassion for each other, regardless of faith, race, income, social status, belief in Hashem or not, or whatever... we would have peace on Earth.

After the war, The Rebbe wrote many letters to widows and to wounded soldiers, sighting their amazing sacrifice for the nation of Israel. The Rebbe also wrote letters to IDF generals and, as well, encouraged his followers to try to boost the morale of the troops. There were 3,000 plus dead Israelis from the war and many more wounded. It was a national tragedy similar in time frame and numbers to the World Trade Center collapsing into a heap of ash laden pain and sorrow from a terrorist that was looking for his 15 minutes of fame.

In the end, all we have is our faith and beliefs, our family, our friends, our countrymen, and our species. Peace is compassion and compassion is treating your neighbor like you would like to be treated. It all sounds so simple... doesn’t it?

If you fast and pray on Yom Kippur, may it be easy and productive for you.

Gamar Chatimah Tova!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Reflection in the Window and the Last Blast of the Shofar

Daylight savings time is getting close for us in Israel. The time is due to change this coming Sunday at 1:00 am (remember, spring forward—fall back). I just read about a movement that is trying to stop the times from shifting back and forth every year. They say that changing the times back and forth costs money and creates road accidents unnecessarily. I am sure there is truth to this; however, I just can’t get over the idea that what they really want is related to making it harder for people to fast on Yom Kippur.

I know, that is a bit of a leap forward (or fall backwards, depending on your viewpoint), so let me explain. You see, the Rabbinate purposely designated the time change to align with the Yom Kippur fast, so that the Jews living in Israel would have a reprieve with nightfall coming an hour earlier. This makes it easier for people that may not be inclined to fast, people with poor health that want to fast, and in general, makes it easier for all of us fasters. Of course that would mean that the people who do not want to fast may resent the rabbis sticking their noses into their business.

Being perfectly capable of calling their own shots, these people must feel put-upon by a collection of stupid and pointless rules that were left over from a time that Jews ought to be embarrassed about. After all, humanity and the Jewish people have moved way beyond the antiquated behavior and justifications of those bygone generations. We are a sophisticated species of human beings, developing and evolving, and we are perfectly capable of directing our own lives. Authority just limits our freedom and we want what we want. It must be especially annoying for these particular people that this particular authority also happens to be an authority that is obviously so ridiculously irrational…

I heard an analogy the other day about a window that looked out onto a beautiful garden. When it was light outside, and the window was not smudgy, you could see the plants and trees swaying in the wind and the animals flitting about. Looking through that window made you feel as if you were connected to the Infinite—like being an integral part of the garden on the other side of the glass.

When it began to get dark outside, the garden became harder and harder to see. The movements and colors of the trees and animals began to fade into the blackness and at the same time, your own face began to reflect back at you from the glass pane. When your face solidifies in the window, it starts to become easy to forget about the beautiful garden. You start to focus on your blemishes and on your prowess. You forget your connection to the garden and the Infinite and your whole world begins to revolve around your reflection in the window, as if there was never really a garden at all. When the window is dirty, clouding the view to the garden, the disconnection to reality is all the more acute and distorts your reflection into what you most desire, or most dread. In the end, all you see is your own distorted image staring back at you and start to wonder how the world got this way.

This is how the ego works. The more we think that we run the world, the more we see our reflections. We become entranced with the possibility that we are really the center of it all and the more disorganized and messy our minds are in terms of reality, the easier it is to fall into that pit of ego. Once the garden is obliterated by gluing our distorted reflections across our consciousness, we can then say that anyone that does not emanate from the same ‘place-of-self’ is a fool and, yup, obviously, ridiculously irrational…

We are, however, all still attempting to clean the grime off that window in order to see reality. Sometimes we get it a little clean, but its dark outside, so we believe we see the nature of reality and really have only tidied our inner-self somewhat. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the garden and, regrettably, it scares us away from our soul polishing. What I am most concerned with is that when we finally do get our false-images out of the way and peer through the glass into the light filled garden, it may be just a little too late.

The air-raid sirens in every city, the muezzin on every mosque's minaret, and the emergency broadcast systems around the world, are all in place and ready to shatter those dirty window panes right now. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and tsunamis will ravage the planet, sending plumes of smoke and ash into the skies, seizing international traffic of any kind, and washing away the edges of humanity, desperately clinging to every continent.

The infrastructure has been in place for decades, even centuries, for the battle that will begin to rage. The armies of the world, lead by the world media and the silent politicians, will focus on the conscience of the world, the Jews and the Jewish State. Israel and the whole world will be overrun by the colliding conundrum of storms, human and natural.

Then, in a brief moment of silence, when every person on the planet is listening for something to change, for an answer to the challenge that has been rising from humanity for centuries, the sound will blast—the unworldly sound of a single Shofar will screech out over the seas, riding on the ash laden winds, amplified and terrifying, the sound of the Shofar will permeate to the core of every last bastion on the planet. Every human being alive on the surface of the planet will know, as the core of their soul oscillates with the cosmic Shofar blast, that G-D is known in the world by each and every one of us. The windows will shatter and we will no longer have the choice to stare at our distorted, grotesque reflections in the dirty glass. We will no longer be able to ignore reality.

Gamar Chatimah Tova and enjoy your apples and honey,
Shana Tova!