Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hey, up in the Sky… Hey Man!

Have you been challenged recently? I have… I think it started a few months back when my mom was diagnosed with cancer; well, I guess that is really more of a challenge for her than for me... Anyways, she has been undergoing chemo and I am due to visit her back in my birth country, SoCal, fairly soon; but more on that later down the page. Another challenge that I have been dealing with recently is, at work, I have been trying to iron out a bit of a communication problem. This is the kind of communication problem that affects the company’s whole marketing concept and there are a few opposing departments that are butting heads (with me smack in the middle). I am kind of the only marcom guy there and I have been trying to implement a style guide, as well as sweeping reforms to the branding concepts, and to organize the way that information is stored, labeled, and accessed for later retrieval. The guys I work for are Christian, Zionists from Germany ― very ‘yashar’ (straight), accept that they are also kibutznikeem. You may not know what that is, but suffice it to say that it can be about as opposite as you can get to yashar; hence, some of the ‘personalities’ there tend to clash a bit like titans...

Anyways, the reason I bring this up and the real issue here is how ‘I’ am being ‘tested’ with these challenges. There is a great idea that I heard called ‘the Superman version of G-D.’ This is the idea that I can manage my life just fine, do all the things that I want to in the moment, and really just be the center of my own little universe until I need some ‘supernatural’ help. Then I put out the word and Super-Hashem swoops in and saves the day! The great part about this style of belief is that if Super-Hashem doesn’t swoop in, I can blame Him for my troubles, giving me, once again, the solace of being the center of my own universe! The problem is that if I need saving from something that seemingly goes beyond my ability to cope with, there is a high possibility that I will sink into a deep depression, ultimately hating G-D (G-D forbid) and myself, as well, in the process...

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, may he rest in peace, told a story about a muscled, grizzly old guy with tattoos all over him that attended one of his classes. At the end of the rabbi’s lecture, the guy came up and said to him, “Me and G-D are tight like this,” as he crossed his fingers for Rabbi Weinberg to see. He went on to tell the story of how he had been riding his motorcycle on a curvy mountain road, and on an outside turn, with the cliff descending down below him, he became trapped by a truck that was barreling down on him from the opposite direction. He had no place to go accept directly into the truck (death for sure) or off the cliff. He chose the cliff option and as he was sailing through the air, he knew that his time was up. The next thing he knew, however, is that he had landed in a bush and received just a few scrapes and bruises. Ever since then, he said, he will always know that G-D is not only with him, but on his side and ready to bail him out if need be.

The rabbi thought for a moment and in reply said, “Very interesting! How amazing to have such a wonderful connection with Hashem to draw from! I just have one question... Did you ever wonder who pushed you off the cliff in the first place?”

This, it seems to me, is the real question... ‘What is the purpose of the test in the first place?’ I figure that if we can answer that, the actual test will be a piece of cake! In the Tanach (Bible), there are a few places where G-D tests the forefathers in a very specific way. In each case, when the forefather responded in the proper way, the Hebrew letter ‘Hey’ was added to their name. Abram (Avram) became AbraHam, Yoshua (Joshua) became YoHoshua, and in this week’s parsha’s story Yoseph (Joseph) becomes YoHoseph. (technically it is a whole convoluted story that starts in last week’s parsha when Pontifar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but takes us though Psalms 81, the Mounts of Blessings and of Curses, the writing of the Torah on the stones in the 70 languages, The origin of language in Genisis, the confusion of language at the Tower of Babel, this week’s parsha, Mekitz, and ultimately the 50th letter, the Hey in Josephs name that is inscribed on the Ephod (breast plate) of the Big Kahuna (Kohen Ha Gadol or High Priest), and ultimately, ultimately… the perfection of mankind and the coming of Machiach…!).

Oy… so what is with the Hey anyway? Does the Hey have some kind of magical powers, able to give its owner the ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, to lift life’s troubles far above its owner’s head, to give the owner of the Hey the ability to tap into the inner superhero? That, my friends, is precisely what an additional little Hey does. Even the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton, the unmentionable name of G-D, the impossible to understand name that I visualize as a spinning, floating, and white hot flaming group of block letters when I say the prayer ‘The Shma’ has two Heys in it!

Now, it appears, I am just spinning out of control… Hey, up in the sky; it’s a bird; it’s a plane, no… Hey, it’s a Hey! I know you want a Hey for your very own, don’t you? Well, this is how to get it:

Let’s start with the story of Hanukah. Well, let’s really start with the story of Yehudit, who was an exceptionally beautiful woman living in the time of the Greek invasion of Israel a couple of millennium ago. She asked to be introduced to the Syrian/Greek General Helifornos, who was ‘impressed’ with her beauty and her wisdom as well. When they met, she offered him aged and salty cheese and gave him strong wine. The story goes that the cheese made him thirsty so he drank too much wine and conked out into a deep sleep. Saying a silent prayer asking G-D for strength, Yehudit beheaded Helifornos with his own sword, put his head into a basket, and returned with it to Jerusalem (ewe... stinky). When she got there, the Maccabees stuck Helifornos' head on a spike and raised it high up in the air for everyone to see. When the enemy soldiers saw that their general was dead, they ran away ― scared right out of their socks. And that is how Yehudit, in an act of bravery and cunning, contributed greatly to the victories of the Maccabees.

You know, I think I am just avoiding dealing with talking about my mom and the cancer that is attacking her. There seems to be a lot to get in the way of dealing with the truth at hand. Life is kind of like that – I guess. When we can’t deal with the responsibility of the meaning we happen to stumble upon in our lives, we make life a lot more complicated than it needs to be and then just blame the Big Guy when it stops going our way. When it does go our way, we, of course, are first in line to collect the credit... So, how do you get a Hey? It would appear that you just need to know that everything is a test and all you need to do is know that and act on it in the moment. No hindsight, no wishy-washiness, and no saying, ‘It’s a good thing that I am so great at... whatever, and no saying, ‘It is not my fault that... whatever bad thing happened.’ My mom is currently fighting Helifornos with anything she can muster, including stinky cheese I hope. G-D willing, she will find the strength to cut off his head and scare away his army. In this season of miracles and light, we should all pray that we find the strength to fight off our demons and do it the right way, by reaching out to the Creator! Or in the words of Matisiahu (the singer, not the Maccabee), “Give yourself a chance to be a hero! Most of us give up because we tell ourselves, ‘Who am I to do this? Let me be the way I am. Let me drag my feet through life, oppressed by habit and quiet desperation.’ You can rebel! You can be free to choose to live your life for the truth!

The ego is a terrible thing to waste; hey, I have an idea. We could use it to get our very own Hey! Here’s a blessing, just to get you started:

‘Hey... You!’

So… Hanukah Sumeach, Shabbat Shalom, Amen Selah, ve Refu’ah Shlemah le Eema... Hey!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dreaming of Zombies and Vertigo Paradox

The night of Motze Shabbat (Saturday night), I had trouble sleeping. All night long the dogs in the neighborhood were barking and yelping. Once in a while, I could also hear the calls of the jackals that run in packs in the wilderness near my house. Something, it seemed, was not quite right in the neighborhood. Eventually, after finally falling asleep, I woke with a start from a dream into which I had descended. It was a gruesome dream, a dream that scared me wide awake in the dead of the night. When I sat up in bed, there was a silhouette, still afloat in my subconscious mind, of a zombie ripping the flesh from a woman’s neck with its pointed yellow teeth. In the dream, I had been trying to save her and her family from the raging creatures while driving like a bat-out-of-hell, screeching around corners, looking for other people to help escape the zombie mobs. The front cab of the pickup truck that I was driving had been organized to accommodate as many people as I could fit in and I remember wishing that I had the shell on the back of the truck to protect the survivors that were clinging for their lives there. We raced into the night, plowing right through the mad creatures, headlights glinting off their ghostly faces, as they flew to either side of the pickup truck, screaming laughter like stalks of shriveled corn in a farmer’s field.

Once I awoke, I tried to calm down and enter a new, more rested sleep phase, but the dream kept coming back, time and again. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, when the recurring dream loop finally stopped, I began to dream of a house on top of a mountain that my wife and I were looking at to rent. The real estate agent showed us the amazing view out the back door and I noticed a path that lead down the cliff-face from the deck that perched over its edge. I couldn’t help myself and began to explore its depths, climbing down the rickety ladder. The path was slippery and unsafe at the bottom, so I decided to return, but when I started climbing the ladder, I became gripped with a paralyzing fear. I clung to the ladder, as it creaked and pulled from the rock face with grinding acceleration. I looked down into the bottomless chasm that I was precariously hanging above and the whole image began to spin and go out of focus. I shut my eyes, willing myself to climb. Slowly… I ascended the rickety ladder, still creaking and pulling from the cliff, until, at the top, I was hauled by my shirt and shoulders over the upper most edge of the cliff face and sprawled onto my belly. I groveled some and then slowly crawled into the house, rolled up into a fetal ball on the hardwood floor, and wept.

Once again I awoke with a start, as my dream sobs translated into a sense of breathlessness. Usually I don’t have such lucid dreams that I am able to recall so vividly in the morning. Maybe it was something I ate on Shabbat. Maybe it was work stress or something like that. Or… maybe it was something that was meant to mean something, something I should listen to and interpret into my life somehow... I do remember that upon awakening, I immediately recognized character traits from inside my ‘dream’ state that are very much alive and kicking inside my ‘awake’ state. According to Hirsch’s commentary on this week’s parsha, Vayishev, he states that, “Our Sages speculate about whether there is any significance to dreams (Berachos 55a) and conclude that Devine Providence uses this half-conscious state to plant thoughts in a person’s mind and thereby to devise a whole series of events.” So, what events should I be pondering based on my relationship to zombies and vertigo anyways? I have had experiences with vertigo, like when I had to crawl along a knife edge ridge while climbing a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado. Or the time when I got stuck on a scissor lift, swaying back and forth 30 feet in the air, while rigging for an art exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

I haven’t, as of yet, run into any zombies (other than my boys on occasion after too many hours playing World of Warcraft on the computer!), but I have had the opportunity to sacrifice my own safety in order to help others that were in danger of drowning under the rapids of a river in Colorado... um… but, I’m not going to get into that, since I was the one that put them in danger in the first place, so it is a bit embarrassing ‘and’ it doesn’t really count... let’s just say that the more I think about the back to back dreams that I had, the more I realize that they were connected. Even though they represented completely different scenarios – in the zombie dream, I was the hero… sacrificing my own safety to save others from a world gone mad and In the mountain-top house dream, I had to rely on others to save me from my own irrational fears, to save me from myself – what I learned is that we all have a responsibility to care for each other ‘and’ to care for ourselves. We spend so much time on one end or the other that we never really see how interconnected we all really are. We are one human race on one planet, our spaceship flying through the vacuum of outer-space. We don’t know where we came from and we don’t know where we are going. All we know is to either embrace the paradox of life or not to. All we can glean from the world is that there are many ways of understanding ‘who’ and ‘what’ we are; and at the same time, we know that we are all human, one species, one organism, with one purpose: to understand ourselves on whatever level is possible, individually and as a group, just a little better when we finally ‘arrive’ at our destination then when we started out on our journey.

We are instructed by the Sages to keep one piece of paper in each front pocket. On the first should be written, “I am but dust and ashes,” the words of Abraham in Genesis 18:27. On the second piece of paper should be written, “The world was created for ‘my’ sake” (either Sanhedrin 37a or 38b depending on which source I looked up). The trick is to know when to reach into which pocket. Each of us share being human, yet each human being is completely unique, possessing an absolutely unique combination of traits and circumstances. There is one thing that brings the two extremes together though and this one thing also lets you know which pocket to reach into – humility. This is the one thing that transcends the paradox, making these opposite ideas whole. By both believing that I am only ‘dust and ashes’ and understanding that the world was ‘created’ for me by Hashem, I keep my ego in check. Rabbi Noah Weinberg once said, “The higher a person becomes spiritually, the more humble that person becomes.” I would humbly add that, ‘In life, the more humble a person becomes, the more ‘whole’ that person becomes both in this life and the next one too. Yeah, there is a next one (actually more than one), but I will leave that for another time.

So, the next time you find yourself falling from a mountain or fighting vicious zombies to the ‘oh-so-gruesome’ death, just remember, ‘you have a choice how to view your predicament and in every moment that you exist on our little blue spaceship, you have a choice from which pocket to pull yourself: ‘I am nothing’ or ‘I am everything, but nothing compared to Hashem.’ I have it on good authority that they are both excellent places to be in!

Embrace the paradox baby... and have a good week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Facebook and the Bomb

Recently I was abruptly interrupted from my childlike stupor, which had ensured me that reason would eventually prevail in the world. What happened… you may ask? Well, I have always felt that, when it comes down to it, people will be reasonable and rational, even if they have a few hiccups along the way. It all started about a month ago, on Facebook, when I received a friend request from someone that I didn’t know. As usual, when this occurs, I sent him a message asking him how he found me. He replied that he liked what I wrote on the status of a Dali Lama post. I don’t remember what it was now, but probably something that differed with Mr. Lama’s assertion about compassion for our fellow human beings, in and of itself, as a way to true and everlasting peace in the world. I feel that without a higher source, we will always get lost in the fluff of our egos, but more on the ‘ego’ thing later. Once this guy and I were ‘Facebook friends,’ I commented a few times on his posts, which were mostly things about how we are all headed for some kind of a new ‘human’ experience that he called an ‘awakening.’ I liked reading what he had to write, even if he really didn’t lay out a path to get there and he often ‘liked’ my comments, which made me feel good too. We had become ‘real-Facebook friends.’ You know— the three Sh’s; Short-term, Shallow, and… well you catch my drift.

So, the other day I opened my inbox and lo-and-behold, a large Palestinian flag and the words “Free Palestine” were written there. I have seen all that propaganda before, so it was nothing new or special, but it was on my personal Facebook wall! When I want to read about how the other camp is manipulating the issues, I will (and I do) go find out for myself. When I use Facebook, I want to maintain my childlike stupor and pretend that the world is really not all that bad and that we can rely on things like reason to solve the world’s woes. Was I being naive or what?

Well, this wall spammer was not a Palestinian, an Arab, or even a Muslim. This guy was a real American. He seemed like a normal sort of bloke. He seemed to love Obama, he was very interested in the democratic process, he even seemed sensible. So, when I wrote him a discrete, non-challenging, private message, trying to inform him that someone had spammed his wall, thus... spamming my wall, with these obviously false accusations about an Apartheid Palestine, a Palestinian people that were under the oppression of Jews, and even outright inciting to racial hatred against Jews based on absurd and false pretenses and accusations, I was shocked to learn that he... disagreed. I sent him a link to a Palestinian journalist’s (Khaled Abu Toameh) writings that really do an amazing job of exposing the truth of the real problem that the ‘Palestinian’ people are suffering from — oppression by their own leaders and other Arab countries… and my new Facebook friend didn’t care. I tried to explain that historically there was never any people called Palestinians anywhere on the planet and that the Romans invented the word ‘Palestine’ 2,000 years ago in an effort to wipe the Jews (Israel) off the map... and he didn’t care. I tried to explain that no autonomous country, besides Israel (twice over), has ever stood on that spot in the Middle East in the history of the world... and he didn’t care. It seemed to go against his world view to admit that there was such a thing as the Jewish people; and that they had lived in the Land of Israel for over 3,000 years. He didn’t even care about all of the media blackout issues with regards to the truth of the pretty amazing quality of life that the people of Gaza seem to enjoy (Have you seen the new Gaza Mall and the Beach life there?) They even have a thriving middle class ― no doubt from all the foreign ‘aid’ money that keeps pouring in… He chose to believe the mainstream media that pipes all those slanted, biased, and just plain made-up stories into every American’s home. In the end, he chose his own ego over the democratic process and the real plight of the people. In the end… he chose to align himself with Esau and the power of the west.

I guess this is where this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, comes in…

Jacob, after living as an indentured servant for 20 years, working for Mr. White, begins his 2 year long trek home to Eretz Israel. Along the way, he discovers that his twin brother Esau is plotting to kill him with 400 soldiers. (400, by the way is equivalent to the ‘Evil Eye’ or Ayin Hara, but that is kind of another story.) So, Jacob counters this threat by, first, praying, then sending gifts to his brother, and then by preparing for battle. Rabbis from the time of the Greeks and Romans, all the way up to modern day prime ministers of Israel, have been sought out to consult with when a Jewish leader was required to speak or negotiate with a potentially dangerous leader of Goyim (non-Jews) in the world and this parsha’s lessons were taught to them all. According to Rabbi Hirsch, “Just as Jacob and Esau oppose each other here (in this parsha), so they continue to stand opposed to one another unto this very day.”

I know, you want to know how it works, don’t you? OK. First, Esau becomes Edom. The Edomites then become Rome through Antipater of Edom and his son King Herod, when they invite in the Romans, who take over Israel and after the Great Revolt, rename it Palestine. The Romans have pretty much taken over the western world by then, but between the years 306 and 337, Emperor Constantine of Rome converts to Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church then spreads through the western part of the Roman Empire, becoming the ‘not-so-Holy,’ ‘not-so-Roman,’ and ‘not-such-an-Empire,’ Holy Roman Empire and this solidifies Esau in the seat of power.

learning about these events in history, it is possible to see that every step of the way, power and might are crucially involved in order to create the next transformation of Esau, and it all started, way back in the parsha of the week or two ago, with Isaac’s blessing to Esau: “See, your dwelling place will be of the fatness of the earth and of the dew of heaven from above. You will live by your sword and you will serve your brother; only when you will humble yourself will you loosen his yoke from your neck.”

So, how do we see this today you may ask? Keep in mind that according to the Rabbis, there is a spiritual underpinning to everything that happens in the world. We all have responsibilities and Jacob’s responsibility is to learn and then teach the world about Hashem, bringing light unto the nations. Esau’s responsibility is to burry his ego, humbling himself enough, so that he can hear Jacob and understand who actually runs the world ― Hashem, not a bank account, a car, a job, an idol, or a man. Hashem is not only the Creator of the universe but the sustainer of the universe, directly involved in every instant that happens in the world.

I read the other day about how Obama has decided to give Israel 20 F-35 Stealth Fighter Aircraft for free... well not for free really, in an effort to convince the Netanyahu government to impose a three-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank. My first thought was, “Yeah... that sounds good to me!” But, then I thought about it some more. Aren’t we supposed to be giving the Goyim gifts and offerings? And aren’t they supposed to be humbling themselves to the power of Hashem? With Iran scheduled to begin five days of nationwide air defense war games this week, I have to wonder what Netanyahu is thinking. The word on the street is that Israeli defense officials are saying that the arrival of these joint strike fighters is of critical importance for the security of the State of Israel...
All I can say to that is, ‘in the words of Rabbi Abraham Twerski, “Sometimes our appetites are insatiable; more accurately, we act as though they are insatiable. The Midrash states that a person may never be satisfied. ‘If he has one hundred, he wants two hundred. If he gets two hundred, he wants four hundred’ (Koheles Rabbah 1:34). How often have we seen people whose insatiable desire for material wealth resulted in their losing everything, much like the gambler whose constant urge to win results in a total loss?”’

Iran with a Bomb won’t even need to use it in order to destroy Israel. The only truly safe haven for Jews around the world is Israel and has been that way since the modern state of Israel began on the heels of the Holocaust, when 6,000,000 Jews and 3,000,000 disabled, gay, or otherwise ‘undesirable,’ people were slaughtered by fascism. If Iran gets a bomb, it will no longer be safe for Jews in Israel, driving them away and around the world. Obama knows this and it seems to fit right into his plan of one world government for one world people, making everyone the same, and, in his mind, making peace on Earth (just like my former Facebook friend). The Iranians and the Muslims also want peace on Earth and they will conquer and subjugate everyone in order to arrive at that goal; and they are very patient. The Jews are also seeking peace on Earth, but a peace that revolves around knowing who the real Boss is and where we human beings really stand.

What have I learned? Well, it seems that true freedom seeking has become an underground movement. It seems that we are no longer able to meet in public and voice our opinions, unless they fall in line with the status quo. What is the status quo? Be politically correct or else face censorship and moral indignation (on Facebook no less!). I have always been a center-left thinker and when I see my own principles turned on me by my own camp, all I can say is that, ‘I refuse to be brain-washed by any fascist regime, whether it calls itself the voice of the people, the democratic process, or rational realism for a one world order or even some kind of awakening.’ We all have the ability to look deeper into the facts with an open mind, without shutting down out of fear of reprisals, financial loss, or even loosing a few Facebook friends...

I have learned that blind idealism is Fascism, plain and simple.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dreaming of Ladders and the Folding of Space Time

Did you ever have the experience of dreaming such a vivid dream that it was absolutely real, like your dream life was the real life while the life that you enjoyed when in a conscious state was only a vague and distant feeling, like a dream inside your dream? I have. I once had a dream that I drove my car backwards over a cliff. As I fell, looking up at the beams of my headlights that were bouncing off of the slowly receding cliff-top, I was absolutely aware that I was falling into the sea. I fell for a long time, as if time began to slow down, and then my life flashed before my eyes. I saw my family and friends and all my close relationships as they paraded across my ‘conscious’ mind. I was going to die and I knew it. When the moment of my death arrived, time came to a complete stop; I opened my eyes and realized it was all only a dream. I had this strange feeling, though, that lasted for a few minutes. I wasn’t quite sure which state was the dream and which was reality.

In this week’s parsha, Vayeitzei, Jacob has a dream. It is no ordinary dream, as we find out in the narrative, but what is so interesting to me about it is that it spans multiple dimensions. Here, let me explain: First, we can get the easy part with the spiritual world and the physical world. Jacob is dreaming of a ladder going from this world to the next that has angels climbing it. Something I read in the commentary of my handy pocket Chumash got me thinking about the other dimensions. I have always loved that dream story, but never really knew that when the Chumash says, ‘Upon which you are lying,’ it really means lying on the entire land of Canaan. It goes on to explain that Hashem folded the entire country under Jacob, so that, in effect, he was lying on all of the Land (Chullin 91b). Essentially, Jacob was in more than one place at the same time, which brings to mind amazing things like teleportation, time travel, and even black-holes, wormholes, and the folding of space time!

Yeah... still only a theoretical concept, the folding of space time and wormholes, however, do continue to bolster healthy debate and discussion in the scientific community. The noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking once gave a lecture in which he stated that, “If you can travel from one side of the galaxy, to the other, in a week or two you could go back through another wormhole and arrive back before you set out.” So, theoretically speaking of course, we could not only go back in time, but we could teleport from one location to the next in no time at all. If we could do the same thing multiple times, we could, in fact, exist in multiple places at the same exact time. Are you following me? The bottom line is that when you put it in the proper context, what Stephen Hawking is saying is that it took a few thousand years for science to catch up to what the Rabbis have know all along (and Stephen is an Atheist too!)

OK, OK... getting back to my dream… when I died in my dream and in ‘reality’ woke up, I was straddling dimensions of a sort. Just a moment before I awoke, I knew, without any doubt, that I was going to crash into the waves at the bottom of the cliff and die. I even had the ‘mandatory – lifetime flashing before your eyes scenario,’ but then I woke up. The Rabbis tell us that this is a perfect example of how we know that the ‘reality’ that we live in is really just an illusion. The ‘real’ world is the one we wake up to, after we are finished ‘slumbering’ our lives away. This, at least to me, is a great way to understand life. If I can be so sure that I am alive and living, and then wake up to find that I was only dreaming, I am pretty sure that this ‘reality’ is only temporary.

In case you are thinking, ‘What a bunch of bull*&#%,’ most people don’t know that time travel has actually already been demonstrated. Scientists who studied passengers on the space shuttle proved that, because of the shuttle’s high speed, time moved more slowly for those on board. But..., ‘How does it work?’ you may be asking. Let’s put it this way. If you were a two dimensional being living in a two dimensional world, like a dot on a piece of paper bumping around on one plane, and the god of the piece-of-paper world folded the piece of paper in two, what would happen to you? You would end up right next to the dot-guy from the opposite side of the piece-of-paper world. That would be a dimensional jump through space and time. What that is doing is introducing the third and fourth dimensions to the second dimension. We happen to live in the third dimension, so in order to do the same thing in our spongy little world, we need to introduce the fourth (time) and fifth (let’s just call it La-la Land) dimensions. Simply put, masses (think black-holes) that put pressure on different parts of the universe eventually come together to form tunnels or wormholes and making what the Rabbis explained centuries ago, a cup of morning coffee as we put the real world behind us and continue to kid ourselves that we understand anything about the nature of the Universe.

Are we awake yet?

Good night!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Humanity Is Melting as We Pour the Red Stuff down Our Throats

What’s the red stuff you may be asking…? Well, I will get to that later. First I want to talk about the Ethiopians in Israel. There was a little get-together that was held at my house this week, in which two tall, thin Ethiopian gentlemen discussed their experiences, culture, and difficulties both moving to ‘Jerusalem’ from Africa and living in ‘Jerusalem’ as well. I say ‘Jerusalem’ because that is what they call Israel... ‘Jerusalem.’

Back in Ethiopia, there were Jews, Christians, and Muslims all living together in neighboring villages and in a neighborly way too. This is how these gentlemen described their lives in Africa—that they shared what they had with each other and lived in peace… once upon a time.

History tells us that the Jews of Ethiopia were once made up of half of a million people. They ruled the mountain highlands of Gondar that surrounded Lake Tana and called themselves Bay’ta Israel (the house of Israel). The heights of Jerusalem have, for centuries, inspired their prayers and their memories, all in the divine spirit of the Torah. They lived in their thatched roof mud-huts, a remnant of bygone princes and kings and their neighbors called them Falashas, the alien ones or the invaders. For hundreds of years, civil and tribal warfare racked their communities, ending in starvation, violence, anti-Semitism, and political and social oppression.

The Ethiopian Jews are said to have arisen from many origins; including, the lost Israelite tribe of Dan who were the descendants of Menelik-the-First (the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba), converts from Christians and pagans, Jews that fled from the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, and/or all of the above. Regardless of their origins, when they fled their homes in Ethiopia, they had long since lost the Oral Tradition (the Mishnah and Talmud) that Jews around the world follow to explain and understand the Written Tradition (the Five Books of Moses). They always, however, wanted more than anything to make Aliyah to Jerusalem. As these beautiful gentlemen told their story of schlepping everything they owned, hiding from pirates, murderers, and terrorists, walking through deserts and mountains without food or water, and losing most of their family, outright, to tragic and violent deaths, I began to wonder how I ever thought that moving to Israel was difficult in the least little bit for my family. These people have been longing and yearning for Jerusalem for thousands of years and I just decided to get on a plane, pack all my stuff in a big metal container, and move into a beautiful villa on the Mediterranean Sea…?!

When I was still in Colorado I had just about everything that I ever wanted. I had a growing business, I was up to date on all the newest fashions, books, and movies, and could eat so many different kinds of cuisine in so many posh restaurants that even bulimia had become an accepted, albeit hushed, cultural norm in my society. I drove a Toyota Tundra Double Cab pickup truck to work (when I wasn’t riding my full-suspension mountain bike with a laptop strapped to my back) and I had a 2,000 square foot woodshop with a custom paint-spray booth and every tool you could imagine. We were living large both at work and at play. I took my Toyota to the local mountains, plowing though rain and snow, to snowboard until I could barely stand up, only to drink myself to sleep at the local ski-bars. What was the point? That is exactly what I was asking myself when we came to ‘Jerusalem’ for my son’s bar mitzvah and decided to stay. What was the point of all that convenience, comfort, and ultimately directionless living?

In this week’s parsha, Toldot (Genesis, 25/19) we read about Esau and Jacob duke’in it out in Rebecca’s womb and beyond. Esau becomes a big, hairy, red oaf of the field and Jacob grows up to be a little, complicated, and intelligent dreamer of meaning in the world. The story goes that, one day Jacob makes a stew and when Esau comes in from the field, he says to him, “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff, because I am exhausted!” What a bizarre thing to say! The Rabbis explain that Esau, having come into the world first, is due his birthright up until this point. When he lowers himself with this base level of communication, he is essentially inventing himself anew. He already gave away his birthright before Jacob uttered a word about any deal to become the inheritor of his father’s blessing. When Esau opened his mouth, he had already descended into the materialistic desires of the physical, to be comfortable, and at the expense of his true self, his soul. This is the nature of power in the world. To maintain the feeling of power, a self appreciating environment needs to be nurtured and supplied with reminders of its self-importance. When we have materialism around us, it bolsters our false sense of whom and what we are. We ‘feel’ powerful, like we are in control; except that the feeling is only temporary, which drives us to collect more and more.

Guess what color my fancy Toyota pickup was? Yup... it was red. I had existed perfectly fine for years with hand-me-downs and junkers, all of them white. Sometimes I was challenged with break-downs, but besides that, I had a lot of fun and adventure. Why, all of a sudden, did I feel the need to spend a ridiculous amount of hard earned cash and $367.50 a month on the payments for G-D knows how long, just so that I could drive around in this big red machine, sucking up gasoline, and wasting my most precious commodity, my time?

I will tell you why. Humanity has given itself a plague of insatiability. We are in constant search of the next thrill, spill, chill, or pill and ultimately we experience these thrills at the expense of our true selves, our souls. The more we look for the next distraction, the less we feel real. If we could only be thrilled by wisdom and knowledge instead of possessions, thrills, and materialism, we could turn the tide on humanities plague—as King Solomon said, "If you desire wisdom, as if it were money and buried treasure, then you'll find it!"

Humanity has been steadily melting into Esau for eons and driven by a lust for power, money, and comfort, all we seem to be aware of is the wax that we were once made of. As we melt together, becoming one mushy mess of self appreciating goop, let’s try to, instead, see the brilliant candle that burns from our souls, from the soul of humanity and that truly describes who we are. Maybe then we will be able to appreciate life, in all its intricacies, and really start to live. I think humanity has a lot to learn from these tall, beautifully simple Ethiopians. I can only speak for myself when I say, “I wish that I hadn’t wasted so much time trying to impress myself...”

Shabbat Shalom!