Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Thursday, October 28, 2010

“The Matter Stemmed from Hashem”

When I met my beautiful and amazing wife, I had no idea that I would be spending the next (up until now) 24 years with her. I had just moved from Orange County, California, the place that I grew up, to attend collage at UCSB in Santa Barbara. I was an artist-surfer with big plans. I was going to make it big in the art-world. I was going to be famous. I was headed for stardom. You see, since the third grade, I knew what I wanted to be. I didn’t necessarily know what incarnation it would take, but when I received that first place award for the class art project, I knew it had something to do with exploring the inner depths and expressing it for the world to see. What I didn’t know was that art was only a step along the way to something so much larger. My life had taken a turn that would, seemingly, send me on a journey to the end of my days and to the end of the soul that I had been given on this Earth. Surfing, art, and the spiritual quests that developed from those pursuits had plowed the road of the paradox of chaos and perfection that I had known since I was a young child. I had just begun my quest to attempt to plumb the depths of the universe, from inside to out, from the past to the future, and from this side to the other one.

My mind began to spin in this direction last week, as I retold to my son Josh about how I had wasted so much time when I was young and chasing girls. I wasn’t taught much by the world I lived in; accept that maybe I was better off being alone than being the dog that was able to eat the other dog first. I explained to Josh that I wasted so much time going up and then going down, and I mean all the way down, that I could have been using to practice something, learn something, and grow something that would last. The common argument is that I needed practice for when the time was right, for when I met my Basherit (my other half and wife to be). I can tell you that I learned nothing that I didn’t have to relearn completely over again, deeper and more intensely, when I finally did meet my beautiful and amazing wife.

In this week’s parsha, specifically Genesis 24/50, Eliezer is sent by Abraham to find a wife for his son Isaac. When he finds the girl, Rebecca, he goes to speak with her family. Lavan (Mr. White) and Ethuel who both announce at hearing Eliezer speak of his journey that he followed Hashem’s lead to find Rebecca. They said, “The matter stemmed from Hashem,” which according to the Sages is a direct clue that, if we are meant to have a soul-mate in this life, Hashem leads us to the proper person. Even the Talmud says that, “Forty days before the formation of an embryo, a heavenly voice announces: So-and-so will marry so-and-so.”

I guess, ultimately, this must all go back to the Garden of Eden. In last week’s blog, I described the event when the Proto-Adam was born and then split into Adam and Eve. We are often confused that Eve was a piece of or even a rib of Adam. In Hebrew (according to Hirsch) the account (Genesis 2/21) is properly translated like this, “G-D then caused unconsciousness to fall upon the Man as he slept, and He took one of the Man’s sides (note: there are two of those and Hashem took ‘one’ of them) and closed up the flesh in that place. Then G-D formed the side that He had taken from the Man into a woman and He brought her to the man. And the man said: ‘At last, this one is it—bone of my bone and the flesh of my flesh!’” Ooh baby!!!

A few years later on, somewhere in California, I decided to go to Orange Coast Junior Collage for two years to start my career as a famous artist. I could live cheaply, I had a full time job working in a liquor store, and I only had a 45 minute bike ride to school. After a couple of years of art, surf, and wasting more time with the ups and downs of relationships with girls, I traveled around the States a bit and then around Europe for about a half-a-year or so, then went to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB. I had my Ford pickup with a camper shell to sleep in, a camp stove to cook with, and my surf board strapped on top of the whole shebang. On the first day I got there I went surfing. On the second day I went to the local job-board to look for a place to live and once I found the cheapest place, I called the number and set up a meeting with the landlord. She told me on the phone how to get to the apartment and when I arrived, wearing my ripped up and paint stained jeans, my favorite old army coat, and a happy grin that I still sport on occasion, I knocked on the apartment building’s plain and simple door. When the door opened, all I remember thinking is that, ‘She is so beautiful... Is she the landlord?’

The sages tell us that when Rebecca and Isaac met for the first time, Isaac was reciting the afternoon prayers out in a field, floating above the ground—so intense was his relationship to the Creator. Rebecca, seeing her Basherit for the first time actually fell off her camel in pure shock and wonder. (The word for fall that is used is ‘Vateepoal’ or a quick, intentional descent.) This is the natural response to truly seeing yourself and finding yourself for the first time. When we spend our lives looking and wondering and dreaming of what truth is, of what existence means, when we see the missing half of ourselves, it can be quite overwhelming. My wife tells me that when she opened the door to interview the ‘next’ guy that wanted the cheapest room in town, the sun was directly behind my head. I remember her squinting a little when I looked at her. She said that she could just make out my face, glowing around the edges, like a halo in some exotic Caravaggio painting. I remember seeing just a hint of a smile as she stepped back, inviting me in.

The rest is an amazing 24 years of history that in reality goes all the way back to a very special garden, where life as we know it became a lot more interesting!

Shabbat Shalom!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Embracing the Paradox

Think about this:
When G-D made Man, Man was One with the Universe. The Angels, according to the Midrash, even had a problem telling the difference between Man and G-D. Then what happened? It seems that G-D took pity on Man, saying, “It is not good that Man be alone,” and made man and woman from the original Man. This was the first cell division and from there, it has been a series of cell divisions, leading to more, and more, and more. We are now divided in so many ways that you have to wonder, did G-D intend for us to have degenerated so far when He made that first split? Having been made in the image of G-D, we had the free will to decide to eat from the tree and that caused the second split—when we were expelled from the Garden and forced to split by the ‘stress’ (generally mistranslated as pain) of child birthing and rearing and by the stress of the toil of the earth to survive. Then we split again when Cain killed Abel. Then we split again and again and again, all because Adam was... pitiable?

This must be that darn pesky paradox thing again. How can we say that G-D made Adam whole and then, after He noticed the pitiable nature of the separate-from-G-D-being that Adam was, He decided to split Adam some more? I know, I know, Hashem is beyond understanding. All we can see is the results of Hashem’s actions in the world. So, why already, did Adam have to be split into two? Why, already, does the world seem be a constant spiraling downward spin into... WHAT!?

I know... It sounds like I have a beef to pick with Hashem. Let’s just take a moment to calm down and talk about a seemingly paradoxical element to this week’s Torah reading, Va’yera. Abraham was one of the most significant people in human history, the father of Islam and of Judaism, which begot Christianity. He was known for his righteousness, sense of justice, and also for having an intimacy with Hashem that was not seen again until Moshe. When G-D approaches Abraham and tells him that the wicked people of Sodom are going to be destroyed for their evil ways, Abraham passionately argues with G-D, appealing to His sense of mercy and justice to save the people. Remember, these are people that Abraham knew were bad, didn’t really even know them personally, and still he barters G-D down: save the city if there are fifty innocent people, forty, thirty, and so on.

So, then we come to the Binding of Isaac, when he is to slaughter his own son on an altar. Abraham just says... OK. He does not say a word to save the life of his own son, the miracle child of his old age that he loved above all others? Abraham is universally noted for his silence at this point. Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t Abraham stick up for himself against a seemingly unfair decree from G-D? It is not because he feels ashamed to question Hashem. It is not because he is not capable of sticking up for himself or for others—we learn this from Sodom.

In the end, Sodom is destroyed regardless of the effort that Abraham made, and Isaac is spared, regardless of the silence that enveloped Abraham. Now it sounds like it doesn’t matter what we do... It is always going to end up going the way G-D wants anyways.

Or, maybe we can make a difference. Maybe the response that Abraham gave in both scenarios was what Hashem was looking for all along, maybe it isn’t always about what we ‘think’ we want.

Now think about this:

What would you do if you received ‘inside information’ that something bad was going to happen to someone you hated?

Is justice a universal phenomenon, or is justice different for you than it is for others?

When you judge yourself, do you judge more severely or gentler than you judge other people?

And last, is it OK for innocent people to suffer for the greater good?

I have got some deep thinking to do if I am going to be OK with this seemingly paradoxical reality, before I can ever try to understand why we were split in the first place... Well, let me just add that when G-D created the universe, everything was good up until one point. God finally declares “It is not good,” when He saw that Adam was by himself. Biblical commentators also add that this verdict was meant to give qualification to all the previous positive verdicts. All the things G-D created are good, but only if they are shared. It seems that ‘Man’ was created as a social animal and had to become ‘man and woman’ in order to share life with its full meaning. It takes two to tango, so to speak... That must be another reason that the Torah starts with a Bet at the beginning of Bresheet (Genesis). A bet is the number two and gives us all an inherent choice to make, “Should I be haughty, selfish, and alone, or should I be selfless, loving, and together with others—ultimately One with the universe?”

Maybe that is why Isaac’s name in Hebrew is Yitzchak (to laugh). He had to have noticed, first hand, the cosmic joke of the paradox of the universe as his father’s knife was descending to slice his throat.

OK, you can stop laughing now, (you know who I am talking about)...

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Joy of Life and the Challenge of Living

Well… My boys are the inspiration for this blog. We all know that Zach has been working very hard before the army, working out like a maniac, and he just made it over the first large hurdle. He had to do a very physical and mental test and, suffice it to say, I am very proud of him. What is interesting though, is that he tells me there was a moment, right at the beginning of this day long test, when he was about to give up. They were giving the boys grueling exercises to do and many of them were dropping like flies. Zach had a moment of, “I can’t do this anymore; what am I doing here” (like all of us have said once or twice in our lives), and then he made a deal with himself to just finish the day. As soon as he shook his own hand on it, the exercise was basically over. He passed his own test and that, my friends, is what this week’s parsha is all about!

The part that I am referring to goes like this:

G-D appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty G-D. Walk before Me and be perfect" (Genesis 17:1).

So what is the connection? I will get to that in a moment. First I want to tell you about a recent event involving my other son, Josh. About the time that Zach was arriving home from his grueling, yet amazingly centering experience, Josh was crossing the street near my house and got plowed down by a car… The car was driven by an old olive picker that was scrounging the neighborhood for ripe olives to harvest. There are olive trees all over Israel, in the community and private spaces alike, and the olives are picked and pickled by all sorts of industrious Arabs and Jews living in Ha Aretz (The Land). Don’t worry; Josh is OK. He received some scrapes and bruises, but otherwise is just a little wiser than he was before. He explained it like this:

“I wasn’t looking and he wasn’t looking, so we hit each other…”

I think that about sums it up, don’t you? Actually, it is a bit of an understatement… look what happened to the car! Josh, it seems, also had a centering experience, accept this experience blind-sided him. He made a conscious decision, after the fact, to see the inherent reality of his challenging situation, while Zach decided beforehand to see the inherent reality that he could rely on himself. In both cases, my boys learned something invaluable about themselves and what they are made of (Seemingly iron or even steel!).

This is what G-D is telling Abram when He says, “Walk before Me and be perfect.” It is another way of saying, “Strive to be like Me by knowing and trusting yourself.” No human can be truly perfect; however, if we aspire to be perfect like G-D is, we ‘will’ achieve a degree of perfection. G-D did not say “Be perfect,” He said, “Walk before Me and, thereby, you will be perfect.” Just by trying to live by a higher standard, having faith in our abilities, and living according to Hashem’s divine teachings, we can elevate our understandings of ourselves in the universe and enjoy life in its purest possible form. We become enlightened, in the true sense of the word.

A quote of a quote from Rabbi Twerski explains it just a little better than I can:

‘Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that the Hebrew word for 'walk' in the above verse is not 'telech' but 'heshalech,' which implies, "Go your way in spite of opposition, not making your progress dependent on external circumstances, but being led from within yourself: Let your movement proceed from your own free-willed decisions."’

In that moment, when we ‘know’ ourselves, it is like being born over again. We have a new lease on life and can really breath it all in. Zach wants to start calling Josh ‘Iron Man’ from what he did to the poor olive picker’s car. I can hear the sounds of clanking metal, “Bong, Clank, Dong…” as he rebounded off the car's fender and windshield. What Zach didn’t say, but I know he knows it about himself, is that he has also become an Iron Man. In my humble opinion, he has just graduated from caterpillar to butterfly. Now he just needs to learn how to fly, iron wings and all…

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Digital Universe, Mashiach, and You!

‘There is a new master of the digital universe, YOU!’ or at least that is what I read recently from Yahoo as I logged onto my emails. What is the digital universe anyways? We are all quite aware that we have become inundated with technology and that all aspects of our lives seem to revolve around it in some way, but how has technology developed into a universe unto itself? Technology has traditionally been viewed as another set of tools to complete some task a little faster or easier. So, now we can be the master of the digital universe, we have to wonder... Are we the master, or is it?

Technology has a history of association with the darker side of human interests as well. Remember Tipper Gore and the parental advisory extravaganza? I remember that in the end, my friends and I all just passed over the music albums without the ‘Tipper Sticker’ because we wanted to sample some of the forbidden fruit from the dark side of Gan (Garden) Eden. It seems to be human nature to straddle that razor’s edge, the void that we breathe into life as we make our moral and ethical decisions that define our paths through the world, sometimes touching down on the one side… and sometimes on the other.

Speaking of Gan Eden, last week's parsha was Bresheet (Genesis) and, up until the time that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge between good and evil, the way Bresheet is written is in the secret or Sod level. After that most pivotal of void straddling occasions in human history, Bresheet skips right through the middle levels of understanding, Remez and Drash, and is written directly in the Pshat or Simple (Literal) level. It seems that, after waking up with a hangover from the spanking that G-D gave Adam and Eve when He kicked them out of Paradise, we are told about how the first human beings outside of Gan Eden became inventors, utilizing technologies, in order to harvest, herd, build, make musical instruments, and even develop science with the advent of the ancient miracles of bread and wine.

The technological prowess continues to grow right into its ‘toddler phase’ when we arrive at this weeks parsha, the story of Noah, who is responsible for building the Ark that can hold the seed animals, plants, and humans, to begin again after the mabul (catastrophic flood) that washed away the dregs of humanity and everything around them. The story of Noah is pivotal to our understanding of the digital universe in a most surprising way. In a text that was authored almost two thousand years ago, the Zohar brings to light the idea that the development of technology is conducive to spiritual growth and, believe it or not, it is the prelude to the coming of the Mashiach! How can this be you ask? Well, to understand this a little better, we need to look at a quote from the story of Noah itself:

“In the six hundredth year of the life of Noah,… all the wellsprings of the great deep burst forth; and the windows of the heavens were opened.”

Since water and wisdom are synonymous in Torah, the Zohar equates the natural wellsprings that gush forth to create the Mabul with the flood in the future that will be a down-pouring of wisdom in the world. The six hundredth year of Noah’s life is equivalent to the six thousandth year of the world’s existence since Creation. Just like there are six days a week to work and one day not to work, there are six thousand years of existence in a working (soul-building) world, and one thousand years of existence in a world where the wisdom of G-D is known deep within and there is no room for any work whatsoever on the soul.

How this idea ties into technology is the next question. The six hundred years of Noah's life allude to the sixth millennium of the world's existence, right? Now, more specifically, the six hundredth year of the sixth millennium, when aligned with the Gregorian calendar, is in the 19th century—exactly the year 1840, the year that is generally accepted as the approximate date of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, give or take a few years. The Zohar brings down to us that "The wellsprings of the great deep burst forth…" is an allusion to the scientific development and innovation that emerged from human ingenuity during the Industrial Revolution and continues to ‘flood the earth’ at an ever quickening pace.

Also, in the early 19th century, a massive cultural revolution was taking place within Jewish society in Eastern Europe, (“And the windows of the heavens were opened”). A century earlier, the Baal Shem Tov had begun what is known now as the Chassidic Revolution. By the early 1800’s, the deepest spiritual and mystical teachings were being studied and the mystical secrets of the universe became available to all of Jewish society, and not just held exclusively by a few enlightened scholars.

In the early 19th century, the world had become embroiled from two directions, from down below with the technological advances and from up above with the new found availability and relativity of the spiritual and mystical underpinnings of the universe. A torrential flood of knowledge began to fill the world with both upper and lower wisdom and today, it is only increasing in its speed and enormity. The Zohar concludes that both the upper and lower wisdom will come to prepare the world for the seventh millennium, the Messianic Era, when, "The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑D as water covers the ocean bed." Both the upper and the lower knowledge will become one knowledge—the unassailable knowledge and wisdom of the one true G-D.

Whew… that was a mouthful! So, this morning I went on a bike ride on one of my favorite trails near my house. I call it the Ain Sof (No End) Loop Trail. It is called Ain Sof because it incorporates a ridiculous climb that slightly curves around a corner the whole way up so that you cannot see the end of the climb. I never even made it to the beginning of the (No End) climb. On the way down to the start of the Ain Sof part of the loop trail, there is another section that I call Eveneem be”Shinieem (Rocks in your Teeth)... and for good reason. This is the Zichron Outback we are talking about and not maintained in the least. The Israel Trail actually follows this section of trail for a while, but that is another story. In this story, I got a flat tire and found that my pump was dried out and couldn’t pressurize the air when I tried to fix it. So, I walked about 3 kilometers back, pushing my bike back up over the rocks and boulders that I had just flown down.

I tried to keep a cool head and just enjoy the moment, because you never really know where enlightenment will come from, and as I reached the top of the boulder field, it began to rain. This was the first rain that I had experienced since we started praying for rain again after Sukkot. I stood there for a moment, looking up, and had an epiphany that the heavens had actually opened. I remembered really thinking about rain when I prayed that morning, saying “Mashiv haRuach uMoreed haGeshem” (Who makes the wind blow and the rain decend), and now, the heavens were gushing forth, right on my head as I walked and carried my bike across the rocks and boulders. A huge smile broke across my face—and then I started to laugh and to cry at the same time.

The Rabbis teach us that there are only 3 things that G-D does without any assistance of other agencies in the world. One is to open the womb when a child comes into the world. Two is to open the grave when we are resurrected from the dead, after Mashiach comes. And three is to bring rain down on our heads. Everything else is done by Angels and Koach or the Force (will of G-D), but rain is brought down only by the Hand of G-D? To understand this better, think about how the crops were watered in Egypt. The Nile just flooded its banks. In Israel, when the Israelites arrived, they had to rely on G-D for their sustenance, both spiritually and physically; this sustenance, the rain from the clouds and the rain from the heavens above, is the same rain we experience today, via the Hand of G-D.

When I was standing there with the rain on my face, as it started to soak into my heart, I realized that the rain is Torah. My full suspension mountain bike, built from aluminum and titanium had conspired with the rain. The technological wisdom from below had met the mystical and spiritual wisdom from above and the meeting that took place resulted in only one conclusion—G-D runs the world. Well, there is that little issue of me being the master of the digital universe. I have a sneaky suspicion that this has something to do with straddling that razor’s edge, as I try to step on the right side of the void...

Shabbat Shalom!