Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Raining Frogs, Mini Earth, and the Downhill Sesh

And the storm raged on… here in the Holy Land recently, lasting for about 3 days and flattening anything that was mildly at rust or untended, trees, buildings, signs, and cliff faces collapsed or just plain disappeared. Flash flood warnings in the Negev desert were in high effect and we all buttoned up our houses with whatever we had on tap. The fires that had just swept through the north were still smoldering and the ash of the ruin of many people’s entire lives hadn’t even begun to settle; all of this, and yet... we were happy —  the rain was finally coming. The crispy ground covering the Holy Land has been parched for years from a severe draught. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), where much of our water comes from, has been going down, down, down, and is in its 7th year of decent; it is now 85 cm. above the ‘black line,’ the line that we dread. The black line is below the lowest ‘red line,’ which we passed a while ago. Sinking below the black line means that we will not only no longer be able to pump any water out of the Kinneret, but will mean increased salinity and seaweed growth in the Kinneret, choking off its aqua-life and maybe permanently damaging the lake itself. The latest predictions from the national water company, Mekorot, tell us that the Kinneret will reach the black line by this summer, unless there are significant amounts of rain fall this winter... and considering the current khamseen (heat wave), that is just not happening yet. Eretz Israel, the Holy Land, is a very unique place on Planet Earth. It looks a lot like Southern California where I was born and raised, but also contains terrain that reminds me of the whole United States and even remotely like many places around the entire planet. The North looks like a combination of Seattle, Washington and Moab, Utah and the center of the Holy Land is a bit like New York, Chicago, Missouri, and Tennessee. Israel has mountains that descend into the sea, rivers that flow (sometimes), and deserts that bloom like Africa. There is a theme park in Israel called ‘Mini-Israel’ that is a model of the greater Israel that you can walk through... very cute. In this context, Israel reminds me of a kind of ‘Mini-Earth’ theme park. It seems to have everything from tropical beaches to snow packed mountains and wide open plains to water-shaped desert canyons; but, all kind of miniature. Our ‘Mini Earth’ theme park also has something that the rest of the world doesn’t. Our theme park includes the lowest ‘physical’ land on Planet Earth, the Dead Sea Basin, and this is shadowed, literally, by the heights of Jerusalem, which happens to be the highest ‘spiritual’ place on Earth, the place where Hashem dwelled His Presence and left His Thumbprint (the Torah) for us to ponder... The Dead Sea, like the Kinneret, has been shrinking down to nothing as well. It has shrunk enough to erupt all kinds of ‘save the whales’ plans to refill it, like canals from the Mediterranean and now from the Red Sea, which were planned, but still unexecuted. Water, it seems, is the true ‘gold’ in the Middle East and the bodies of water in Israel are fueled by only one source… rain. So, how do we get some more of that ‘gold from Heaven?’ The answer to this question is consistently explored in many ways and in the end we seem to always be left with only one answer: pray harder... Here, let me explain: The Israelites, while living in the Holy Land, had to rely completely on Hashem for both their spiritual and physical wellbeing. They needed to make the effort to connect to Hashem spiritually in order to receive the rains that sustained them physically. Water, in Judaism, is synonymous with Torah and spirituality. Hashem, Himself, Personally, not an angel or other force of nature, does three specific things in the world. He opens the womb, He opens the grave for when the time of the Messiah will come, and He opens the heavens to make the rain fall. Back in Egypt, water was perceived as coming from a different source altogether and this sent a very different message. In Egypt the water comes from the Nile and during the wet season, it floods its banks to water the surrounding crops. In Egypt, they prayed to the Nile god (whichever animal that was: crocodile, fish?) for water. That is probably why they got frogs from Heaven instead of rain. I know, I know, I am getting off track… You see, the reason I started to think about this whole deal was in this week’s parsha, Va’eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35), the plagues have begun… It started me thinking about worldwide reports of frogs actually falling from the sky in Australia, Europe, Africa, North America, and other continents around the globe, frogs have been known to randomly fall from the sky, in the middle of nowhere and sometimes by the bucket-full! In 1997 in Culiacan, Mexico, motorists reported frogs dropping from the sky around 11 p.m. In June of 2005 in Serbia; the Belgrade Daily Blic reported that during a strong wind, witnesses reported that frogs rained down on them from above. "I saw countless frogs fall from the sky," said Odzaci resident Aleksandar Ciric, who then reported that the frogs survived their ordeal and were hopping around looking for water. The Scientific American, in 1871, reported that frogs fell from the sky during a storm, covering Kansas City, Missouri. In 1901 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a large storm, the residents said that they found a variety of frogs piled three inches deep over an area of more than four city blocks. In 1981, the citizens of Naphilion, Greece woke up in the morning to find small native to Africa green frogs falling from the sky, which was later explained by the Greek Meteorological Institute that the frogs had been picked up by a strong wind (what a wild ride that would have been). In 1995, Forteam Times Online reported that a family from England, while on vacation in Scotland, said that they were driving along when a rainless storm started to dump frogs, which fell in buckets from the sky, pelting their car like hail. Even I have a frog story. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, in the year 2005, when I got to work and opened the front door to my woodshop, there were hundreds of frogs jumping around inside! I don’t know how they got there, but I had to chase them all out one at a time! Now that we have had a little history lesson on the "falling frog effect," I feel that I need to counterbalance that reality of absurdness with some absurdness of reality. My friend Elan just got a new long-board and asked me to go out with him for a spin. Luckily, the rain that pelted us for 3 days washed a whole years worth of slippery oil and grease off of the roads, because we were slamming through layout slalom turns and, in general, just carving it up! I often forget about this little detail and get so frustrated (sometimes a physically painful ordeal) when my board won’t stick a turn, so whenever the rainy season comes, I try to find some more fun terrain to skate down, but this year it was a bit of a wait. Now, since we haven’t had anything but heat-waves since the storm, I can see in my mind’s eye the layers of slippery muck building up as I write this blog. I pray for rain every day, “Mashiv ha Ruach u Moreed ha Geshem,” but it doesn’t seem to be working so well. I guess that I am just not concentrating enough or I don’t have enough company or something… I heard a story about one of the great tzaddikim who lived in total poverty, but was always a happy guy anyways. When he was asked how he managed to maintain such an optimistic attitude with such a difficult set of circumstances, he replied: "Each day I pray to Hashem to provide all of my needs. If I am poor, that means that one of my needs ‘is’ poverty. Why should I be unhappy if I have exactly what I need?" To be on that level is impossible for us to even consider, however we can still put out the effort to develop faith and trust in Hashem. It is kind of like learning to ride a bike. In the beginning, we are always worried that ‘Dad’ is going to let go while wobbling down the street. In the end, when we find ourselves racing down the road a lot faster than Dad can run, we realize that we could have done it by ourselves all along; we just lacked the confidence... and then we look for a soft place to land... The Rabbis teach us that the Plagues that ravaged Egypt were sent in that specific way for a very good reason. Hashem could have wiped out Egypt in one go, but chose to spread it out over many years and in smaller increments, each plague building on the last. The reason, the Rabbis teach us, is that it afforded the Egyptians the possibility of doing tchuvah (returning to Hashem) and reaching out to develop a relationship with the Creator. If they had reached out, like some of the Israelites did, they might still be around like the Jews are today. Since they didn’t, they went the way of the frog’s ancestor, the dinosaur. So that leaves us with a tricky question… ‘Why isn’t it raining?’ Do you remember that black line I was talking about? Well, I am thinking that it is really a kind of spiritual barometer telling us when we need to work harder at reaching out to the Creator. Now, that is something tangible to consider! It is kind of like checking the weather to figure out what to wear before going out, or even like paying attention enough to your environment to ensure your wellbeing by not getting caught in the storm, or being hit in the face with flying frogs. Well, since we are still just hovering above that black line, that must mean that we need to do a lot more connecting with Hashem… that black line is approaching faster than we think and at some point, the Kinneret is going to dry up, leaving a physical void behind the spiritual void that we created in the vacuum of our relationship with the Creator. I guess, if that doesn’t guilt me into trying harder to fill that spiritual void, then at least I should do it so that I can carve down the hills again on my long-board... um, that is, without worrying about flying frogs slipping under my wheels… Ribbit, and Shabbat Shalom!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How Strange, another One...

How strange... Growing up in a secular, Episcopalian home, I always wondered when I would stop thinking about this time of year... you know, family... as a kid, waiting for the Big Labowsky in a red suit to squeeze down the chimney and deliver all sorts of goodies, some desired and some dreaded. I have been running for 25 years to get away from that, all the while secretly desiring the closeness that I remember in my family. Dad loved it. Grandma came. Mom was beside herself. Grandma came. Uncle came. He is only five years older than I am. I always liked that... I work at a Christian Zionist Kibutznikeem Factory run by Germans that don’t really celebrate Christmas because they are Mennonites... I think. I asked my work mate in Graphics about it and he wouldn’t part with anything juicy to post here. When I was in Sales at the same factory, I asked my coworker about it and he wouldn’t part with anything either. When I was working in the Woodshop at the same factory, no one would part with anything either, either... I guess it is all for the best; you know, to prevent me from uttering Lashon Hara (Evil Speak), the fastest way to descend into a living Energizer Bunny variety of Hell.

I don’t really know if I am ready to explore this topic yet. It is really buried deep and connects to so many complex issues. Issues like identity, guilt, faith, life, death, and sickness, mental and otherwise...

Let’s just call this a ‘Mini-post’ and leave it at that... besides... I am going to get a few beers with my bud now, so...

Astalavista baby! Shabbat Shalom!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Rorschach Underbelly under Our Noses

When the latest round of Middle East peace talks began… again…, I thought to myself — hmm… what’s happening here? There isn’t any ‘peace’ on the horizon that is any different from the last time the sunrise set over the evaporating ozone rainbow. These supposed ‘talks’ are just the usual talking heads of state, desperately trying to reflect the rainbow that had already disintegrated into tiny holes left from the secretly squeezed blackheads that now pock the night sky. When the interviews and commentaries began to dribble out of the sides of their mouths, I knew (actually we all knew) that it was only a charade of flimsy tinsel set design, intended to lull us to a deeply disturbed sleep. Yet, we all slogged forward; we were hopelessly hoping that it would become the normal daytime drama TV show that it conjured itself to be, defining and refining our intellects with smooth jazz, scratching out of elevator speakers, buried somewhere beneath the acoustic panels that we wore as a hat. You would think a saying like ‘under our noses’ would mean ‘it was so obvious that it was impossible to see.’ I mean, it seems to me that we just couldn’t stomach inhaling even a whiff of the fecund puppet show that was desperately trying to become a real boy, all the while dodging the mucus dripping from beneath the collective shadow of our frantically snivelling noses.

It reminds me of Pharaoh in this week’s parsha, Shemote (Exodus 1:1). Where was that guy when his daughter scooped up a ‘Jewish’ child riding in a tarred little basket, bobbing down the Nile? Pharaoh’s daughter even called the child Monios, the Egyptian word for ‘withdrawn from the water’ (Moses in English). I mean, where did Pharaoh think his daughter’s new son came from, squeezed from a pimple on the crocodile god’s chinny-chin-chin? When Moses was a tike, you know that every time Pharaoh yelled at him to clean his room, it went something like this: ‘Hey Monios! (Name translation = Jewish kid pulled from the Nile while I [Pharaoh] was tossing them in by their ankles upstream.) Get in here and pick up your little idols before I step on them!’ Not only his name gave away his origins, but every time that Pharaoh saw the little stinker getting his papyrus diaper changed, he had to know that Moses, the circumcised within the womb Jew, had been scooped from the Nile by, according to the Midrash, the first Inspector Gadget-Gumby arms in history when the princess’s hand maiden reached out to snatch the floating child from certain death in a hand basket. Pharaoh must have been too busy throwing Jewish babies into the River to notice. That is all I can think... Kind of like us, I guess, listening to elevator music emanating from our stylish and ‘oh-so in-fashion’ acoustic panel hats... The puppets are dancing on the stage in front of us, their noses growing into wooden clubs jockeying like swordsmen, while we sway to the metronome of desire and disdain, and the band plays on with sporadic out-of-tune bleating of the cornucopia of consumerism, honking comfort from a psychedelic pastry tube.

What, you didn’t notice? I think you did... We are all so busy with the things that we ‘think’ we have control over, we just let the show go on around us. I mean, how can I change the world? It is way too big to comprehend how to overturn that wrecked semi-trailer of humanity that landed in the middle of my driveway, blocking my access to everything that I define as ‘Me,’ so I will just go around it and let the grinding metal and plastic spew out smoke and steam until it disappears from my mind’s eye. Eventually it will be consumed by the landscape that I perceive all around me — I will even wonder, one day, just how it got there in the first place. Of course there was no driver... it was just how the world was made... and I am wasting my time thinking about it, so... back to the grind...

Now, while ensconced in my cocoon of grind-mode, I can safely wonder if Pharaoh knew that he was hedging a midlife Middle East crisis, a crisis that gave birth to them all. I can wonder if he saw it coming. I can wonder about how it all has been brewing and stewing, growing a hot air conscience and is now becoming calamitous, ready to POP, or so the talking heads tell us. I can even wonder about why, meanwhile back in my driveway, I am still waiting for that semi-trailer of truncated chemical humanity ooze to sink below the surface, where I cannot see it, and to disappear forever. I keep waiting for Pharaoh to notice the Jewish kid that lives under his gold egg hat. The extra kid under foot that Gumby arms snatched from the jaws of the river god, the circumcised member of the uncircumcised tribe, the one he keeps swearing at for leaving his tops and toys strewn about the palace of the one true demigod. And now... finally, I can wonder, once and for all, why the jagged edges of my perceived reality are not blending with the music bleating from under my hat — I can even wonder about why it just isn’t working... at all... again...

So, where does this story end? I am going to propose that we know the answer already. Somewhere, at the end of this page, there will be a clever little line to clue us all in. Somewhere, where we usually find the jet black numbers of the overdue bill circled in a blood red inkblot that has bled right through to the backside, the underside, the underbelly, we will be presented with a choice. When we see there, what our options are, we will feel both glee and horror, like a slasher film gone as campy as a carnival worker’s yellow pokadot bowtie. We will know that the play we had witnessed, the play that we took part in, wasn’t all for naught. We will still have a choice to make, but... alas... no time left to make it.


Friday, December 17, 2010

The Existential Threat to My Left Thumb

The first principle of existentialism, according to Jean Paul Sartre is, ‘Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.’

He goes on to say, ‘The first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders. And, when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.’

It appears to me that this is exactly what Hashem had in mind when he made the world. The problem is that it puts me square in the middle, in the center of Creation, and puts all of my faith in only one hand. Faith is an important element to understand in this dynamic. Having faith in ‘me,’ to make the right decisions, to do the right thing, is challenged daily by the thought, ‘who am I?’ Losing faith in ‘Me,’ causes the scale to tip to one side only; this is paramount to suicide of the inner self, ultimately leading to the potentiality of the real thing.

This is the line that we straddle when faced with everything from difficult life-altering decisions, down to everyday choices like, should I smoke that cigarette, eat that piece of cake, wear that outrageous hat, or avoid brushing my teeth. So, how do we arrive at ‘faith?’ In some traditions, it is felt that faith should be handed over completely to a higher being, as if this will absolve our responsibility for what we have done or even may do. This system works, but only to a point. The problem is that in that specific moment of conscience, when we ask ourselves in a split second if we are to blame or will be to blame, we still have to rely on ourselves to make the decision. Presuming to give it over to a higher power in that fraction of a moment is only an escape valve for the ego. What do I mean by that? I mean that if I am so pious that I can summon what I believe to be ‘my relationship with the Creator’ at will, I am essentially summoning my extremely tiny, little understanding of the Creator, and in doing so, I elevate my ego to be on par, in my own little mind, with that Creator, justifying (beforehand) any decision that I may ultimately make, and effectively denying my own free will process.

Looking at it from the other end, by saying that everything emanates from ‘Me,’ and as Jean Paul Sartre put it, ‘Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself,’ the ego is the Creator and is responsible for everything in one’s life, as well as in all of mankind. Every individual is absolutely responsible, alone, for everything that happens to every person in the entire world. The problem with this strategy is that it is entirely too overwhelming to even start down that road; so, we rarely do, if at all. This, as well, effectively denies that same freewill process. Life is just too big to comprehend at either extreme of the scale and hence, we don’t, won’t, and can’t, leaving us with the distinct feeling that if we don’t think about it, it might go away, but it never does....

So why do we have these uncompromising extremes keeping us from following the one true path to peace, harmony, and enlightenment? Because, quite simply, we were made Be’Tzelem Elokim (in G-Ds image). We were made to be godlike. If we had evolved from animals, our sole purpose would be to survive and procreate. Since we are smarter than most (if not all) animals, we should be able to do that better than any animal on the planet. This, to some extent is true, however when does an animal contemplate either its Creator or the lack there of? When does an animal sacrifice itself for the sake of that Creator or become overwhelmed with depression, attributed by many to be, a lack of connection thereof? These are the extremes that we balance with every decision that we make. These are the extremes of living and this is the paradox of life. We are living in a constant state of flux between the two extremes and that process is what makes us Be’Tzelem Elokim.

Did you know that inside every cell inside your body there is DNA coding that is exactly the same as every other cell? That means that the same code that is in a cell of my right incisor tooth is in a cell of my left thumb. So, why don’t I have a thumb in my mouth and a tooth on my hand (G-D forbid!)? When, exactly, does the genetic coding decide to make a thumb or a tooth? Scientifically, we can’t answer that question. There are no markers that tell us how this works, even though we can see inside the nucleus of the atoms that make up the double helix chain of our DNA, we cannot figure out how this is even possible; and still, we live our lives every day as if it is the most normal thing in the world, to have a thumb and a tooth exactly where they belong. Sounds a lot like faith, don’t you think? We wake up every morning to find that we are pretty much the same as the night before. We rely on that fact, just to keep having faith that there is a ‘Me’ in the world.

Imagine that you wake up one morning, reach up to scratch your eye, and end up with your toe stuck up your nose. That would shake up your faith a bit, wouldn’t it? For that matter, how do you even know that your thumb is really a thumb? I had a discussion recently with a friend that revolved around the idea that molecules, throughout our world, are constantly trading particles back and forth. I heard specified once that it takes about two years for every molecule in your entire body, with the exception of a few bones that take longer, to be completely replaced. So, this now begs the question, ‘Who am I?’ When I eat something, it transforms to matter and energy. When I wake in the morning, I am no longer the same thing as when I went to sleep. All I can carry with me is ‘faith’ that I will still be what I think of as ‘Me’ in the morning. All I can carry with me is that when I look at my left thumb, it is what I ‘believe’ is my left thumb.

So, really, my perception of ‘Me’ is all there is of me. We walk that line, balancing from one non-existent leg to the other, and have faith that we are heading in the right direction. Sometimes we use our ego, and sometimes we give it over to a higher power. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we want to be reassured that we will wake up in the morning pretty much the same as we were when we went to sleep. We will stop at nothing to prove to ourselves and to the world that we exist, if only to be somewhat comforted as our true selves ride out the fleshy prison bake sale that we have agreed to inhabit for a finite period of time in this finite world. Just have some compassion, please, and don’t tell my left thumb that it isn’t really there. I would hate for it to disappear on ‘Me.’ There is no telling where it might wake up…

Shabbat Shalom! (because Shabbat may be the only thing that we know really exists in this world…)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sometimes, You Need to Leave Your Brain at Home…

Since the coming of the New (Secular) Year is right around the corner, I thought that I would look into the history of calendars around the world... a bit. Of course, the first thing that popped into my mind was the Mayan calendar and its apparent evaporation into nothingness in the year 2012 (and now it’s a major motion picture!). I have not seen the movie yet, but when I started researching calendars, I saw a funny little video review and that is where I got the title of this blog from! I guess the whole idea behind the movie is that the world is coming to an end and there was really no purpose at all for it to have existed in the first place… or, something like that.

Um… I beg to differ. I mean, how does that make any sense at all? The ‘official’ text that describes the movie goes like this: The end is nigh in this apocalyptic disaster film that mixes Christian values, Mayan mythology, and scientific theories about polar shifts. When four strangers journey into Mexico in 2012, they are drawn into ancient mysteries that foretell the coming of the End Times. OK, so the ‘Mayan mythology’ sounds good and ‘the scientific theories about polar shifts’ also sounds interesting, but I am not sure what it’s talking about with the ‘Christian values.’ What are Christian values, anyways? My understanding is that they are based on Jewish values (I could easily be wrong about this) and that is why they say, ‘Judeo-Christian’ values. Let’s just skip right to ‘Jewish values,’ so I am less likely to stick my ‘proverbial – end of the world’ foot in my mouth!

Calendars are an amazing thing that we don’t really give credit to for how we look at the world on a daily basis. I remember when I was in school that the calendar was dated BC and AD, meaning ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (Anno is Latin for ‘in the year’ and Domini is Latin for ‘of our Lord’). I guess they hadn’t discovered the zero yet, so the year AD-1 immediately follows the year 1-BC. Nowadays it is not PC to use these abbreviations and they have been changed to (quite pompously, as if they were always that way) BCE and CE, ‘Before the Common Era’ and the ‘Common Era.’ To me, that is kind of a joke. In essence, it was a way to take god-notions out of the schools and our lives, engineered by the secularists, separatists, atheists, and PC activists of the world. Why didn’t they just say something like, the year, 4.54 billion? Or even, 4.54 × 109 years ± 1% if you want to be more accurate? I mean, according to the ‘almighty’ Wikipedia, the age of the planet is based on (empirical) evidence from radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples. What more could you ask for when looking for a calendar?

I learned a story about Russia, when it was still the USSR, that when they were first building their country, they tried to change the calendar to a 10 day working week. Talk about Metric! Suffice it say, it didn’t work. Their concept was to completely take the idea of a god out of the picture, leaving only the ‘State’ in its place, and since the western world only used a 7 day work week, based on the Jewish concept of Shabbat of course, it had to go. Productivity was supposed to rocket through the roof like an ICBM, but instead, it went south like Cuba, so they changed it back. I guess they didn’t know about the 10 plagues or the 10 commandments or the 10 men in a minyan, or the 10 sayings of Creation, or... on and on...

So, while we are on the subject of Shabbat (the seventh day), the Jewish calendar happens to be based on the number 7 too. Day one started when G-D said, “Let there be light,” and day 7 (metaphorically) begins in about 229 solar/lunar years from now on the Jewish New Year(Rosh Hashanah and Adam’s birthday), which will be the year 6,000. I know, I know, maybe you are asking, “What about the time that came between day 1 and when Adam and Eve were born, day 6, in the Bible?” You might also be asking, “What about the 15 billion years that science says that the universe has been around?” MIT physicist Dr. Gerald Schroeder has offered this explanation from his book, The SCIENCE of GOD:

“The approach that the ‘six days were really six epochs’ has scant biblical basis. Ancient commentaries, those written millennia before the discoveries of paleontology and cosmology disclosed any hints that the universe was billions of years old, state definitively that the six days of Genesis were twenty-four hours each, the total duration of which was ‘as the six days of our work week.’” OK, that means that the ancient commentators all agree that a day is a day is a day! So, now Dr. Schroeder goes on to explain, “To measure the age of the universe, we look back in time. From our perspective using Earth-based clocks running at a rate determined by the conditions of today’s Earth, we measure a fifteen-billion-year age. And that is correct for our local view. The Bible adopts this Earthly perspective, but only for times after Adam. The Bible’s clock before Adam is not a clock tied to any one location. It is a clock that looks forward in time from the creation, encompassing the entire universe, a universal clock tuned to the cosmic radiation at the moment when matter formed. That cosmic time-piece, as observed today, ticks a million million times more slowly than at its inception. The million millonfold stretching of radiation since bohu (formlessness) caused that million-million-to-one ratio in this perception of time.” And then Dr. Schroeder goes on to show the math formulas that show the exact stretching of space-time since the beginning of the universe and how we perceive that time here on Earth, or in other words, 15 billion years of universe space-time = exactly 6 days on Earth! I guess you got to read the book...

What is interesting to me is that more people don’t know this... It seems to solve a lot of discrepancies between science and theology. Well, now we are broaching another topic, the topic of freewill, and I will save that for another time. What I want to do is to tie this into the parsha of the week, Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26). I was reading something today about how Rashi explains that Jacob, when blessing his sons, in his final blessing included every son in each other's blessing. So all the brothers, explained the example I read, would be blessed with Judah's blessing of the strength of a lion. The Maharal of Prague goes on to say that Jacob's final blessing didn’t make the brothers equal in every area; but, each was strongest within the area that he was originally blessed with. So, what does this mean for us humans and our calendars? I think you are getting it now... Each culture has its own special qualities, but we all share the desire to understand the universe and our place in it, whether it be by measuring space-time, radio-carbon dating rocks, reading the ancient masters significant works, following our leaders with pious faith, watching and interpreting the stars, or pondering the beginning and maybe the ending of time in evermore unorthodox ways. Deep down, we are all looking for meaning — accept maybe the Hollywood Mayans. Or, I guess they could have just run out of chalk... actually, darn it, I think I might have left my brain at home again!

Shavua tov!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Burning Bush and the Naked Wiki Truth

Last week, on Thursday evening, when I saw from my office window that the out-of-control, burning bush fire was flaming up over the ridge, glowing in the night sky, like an evil locomotive coughing out bitter smoke at the western horizon, I had no idea that I would soon get a glimpse of something much deeper; a brief window of understanding, a blink of an awareness that the world had finally begun its inevitable turn towards the unity of human kind and beneath that, the long awaited clinging by an ‘almost’ collective humanity to Hashem. At the time, the world had been in a hopeless morass, sinking into the muck of the ‘WikiLeaks’ scandal and everyone on Earth, including myself, seemed to have an opinion, looking deeper into the matter, in order to validate their 15 minutes of fame and prove their own unique philosophy, undeniably correct. There were people advocating the unprotected sharing of the whole truth behind the secrets and lies that were told by our elected officials. There were people that were happy to see the ‘powers that be’ fail and fall, letting chaos and the rule of ‘right-for-me’ prevail. And there were also the people that advocated locking the ‘WikiLeaker’ up and condemning what was done as anarchism, terrorism, despotism, or fundamental left-wing fascism, with Julian Assange being no better than Osama Bin Laden, Sadam Hussein, or Kim Jong il. And most recently, in a campaign declaring the start of a ‘cyberwar,’ hundreds of internet activists began a ‘retaliatory’ attack on the websites of multinational corporations and other organizations that ‘they’ have deemed hostile to WikiLeaks! Meanwhile, the fire continued to consume the Carmel Mountains through the weekend and beyond, eventually turning to ash: some 12,000 acres, over 5 million 50 to 100 year old trees, 250 homes (including a friend of mine’s), Hashem only knows how many birds and animals, and to date, at least 42 human beings. Most people in my neck of the woods switched their satiation of choice from ‘fear-of-Wiki’ to ‘fear-of-bushfire;’ I know I did. The news conglomerates broadcasting from around the world seemed to switch immediately and all of a sudden; WikiLeaks and its leaker had become completely obscured by the smell of real smoke, instead of funhouse mirrors, and ‘true’ fear was now floating across our collective consciousness. It is entirely possible that the nature of the transformation may have had something to do with the nature of the word ‘wiki.’ A couple of years ago, in a technical writing course, my instructor told the class that the word ‘wiki-wiki’ is a Hawaiian word for ‘quick.’ So, if this is indeed true, then the nature of WikiLeaks must therefore be: to ‘come quickly’ and then ‘go quickly’… I guess… or, the quick transformation could have been because the world had already known the ‘truth’ that WikiLeaks proclaimed to be releasing as ‘secrets of the state oppressors.’ Or… I may be barking up the wrong tree... entirely. Think about this – is the ‘truth’ really so important? Our collective society seems to think that it is, the exception, of course, is when we want to keep something a secret or to protect a secret by telling an outright lie. I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial Museum) in Jerusalem this week with a good friend that was visiting from the US (hi Barbara!). When going to Yad Vashem or any Holocaust Memorial, I always try to understand a little more about the genocide that was committed, but in doing so, ultimately I understand a lot less about the big picture of life; this time, however, I walked out of Yad Vashem with a new piece of the puzzle to ponder. I had known that Pope Pius XII let the Jews burn, knowing all along what was going on in the death camps, not raising a finger to prevent it, and essentially sending the entire Jewish population of Rome to their collective decimation. What I didn’t know was that the Americans (yes, the US government) also knew early on and had multiple opportunities to stop the largest genocide of all time by bombing the death camps and/or the cattle-car tracks leading to them. There is still debate about it all, just like in the case of the Pope; however, when you get right down to it, I think that we all see that the facts on the ground, not the excuses flying around, point to the difficult realization that America, like almost the entirety of the rest of the world, let the Jews burn... After plunging through the spiraling descent of images, stories, and gruesome realities lying in wait beneath the thin veneer of humanity’s arrogance, I passed though the organized Jewish resistance room (a very popular section in Israeli society) and walked into a little display of ‘righteous gentiles.’ These were the nations, cities, neighborhoods, and individuals that put themselves in harm’s way, as the Nazi death machine rolled across the face of human civilization, to save a few feeble souls from the grinding molars of the Holocaust. These were unique pinpricks of light, blasting forth through an otherwise dark and smoke filled reality. Because catastrophes such as these are virtually impossible to understand from any rational perspective, we are often forced to categorize them within a mystical context, something like cosmic battles between darkness and light. We do, however, have a misconception that there is anything other than you and I controlling the darkness. The shadows in the world are our own creation, as we eliminate the light by holding our collective ‘hand of ego’ over the brilliance of Hashem shining down upon us. Virtually every nation on the planet contributed either directly or by indifference to the energetic darkness of the modern industrialized genocide, the Holocaust. In contrast to this, in Eretz Israel where the flames were burning, maiming, and killing everything and everyone in their path, many of the nations of the world stopped thrashing about within the collective ego of mankind and rose to become righteous gentiles by sending aid to extinguish the brush fires that were raging outside my office window and across the Carmel Mountains; mankind, it seems, has turned a corner. The nations of the world, including many of the sworn enemies of Israel, put down their machines of destruction and joined the ‘one’ human race in order to fight a larger, more truthful villain. This was a villain that did not discern between the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, or the politically correct and the powers that be. If you look at it in one way, as hard as that is to stomach, it could be seen that this terrible villain might have been sent to teach humanity humility, oneness, and to foster a combined – higher purpose. I learned recently that there is at least one place where G-D tells a lie in the Torah. When angels told Abraham’s wife Sarah that she was to be blessed with a child, she mocked the prophecy when she claimed that her husband was too old to become a father. Then, when G-D repeated what she had said to Abraham, He changed the story; in Hashem’s version of events, Sarah takes the responsibility unto herself by saying, “I am too old to bear a child.” This was not true, but was kind to say to Abraham. So, from this story, the Sages conclude that it is acceptable and even necessary to lie in order to maintain peace, especially within the home, as opposed to telling the truth and hurting unnecessarily. Likewise, as Rashi explains about this week’s parsha (Genesis 45:1), there is a time and a place to reveal the truth. When Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, the Torah tells us that Joseph could not restrain himself any longer and had all the Egyptian servants leave the room, so as not to embarrass his brothers in front of them for selling Joseph into slavery. Embarrassing his brothers would have been hurtful and unnecessary, regardless of what they had done to Joseph. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in his first acknowledgment of the damage done by WikiLeaks, said in a public interview that, “(It is) extraordinarily embarrassing for the United States.” So, from a Torah perspective, the embarrassment caused by WikiLeaks is counterproductive and damaging to any US national; however, if we look closely at the communications, it is possible to see what is ‘really’ being revealed by WikiLeaks. What comes to light is the darkness in the world. We see the trouble makers, the cancer-like amorphous nation-blobs, like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Libya, and Sudan, all of which are ruled by self-styled revolutionary regimes from across the political spectrum, right-wing, left wing, religious fundamentalist, and secular wacko. On an interesting side note, the younger brothers and sisters of these cancerous nation-blobs also had some dark things to say about the catastrophic forest fire in Israel and its relief efforts. Here are a few samples from Arab media outlets – just in case your local media didn’t cover it: “May Allah punish all Arabs who helped put down the fire.”“O Allah, destroy them (the Jews) and all the enemies of Islam.”“This is the right time for Iran. If one fire has caused panic in the Zionist entity, where are Machmoud Achmadinajad and Hassan Nasrallah? And where is Syria? One rocket could set thousands of fires.”“To Hezbollah, Hamas, and all Arabs: This is a golden opportunity to get rid of Israel. The sea and fire are in front of the Jews and weapons are behind them.” “Allah Akbar! This is an effective weapon. We call on our Palestinian brothers to set fire to all forests.”“Thank God for this new Holocaust and shame on the Egyptian authorities (that) rushed to save the Zionists while continuing to lay siege against our brothers in the Gaza Strip.” After leaving the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the monument to 6,000,000 slaughtered Jews and 3,000,000 slaughtered Gentiles... 9 MILLION HUMAN BEINGS...!, after ascending from the darkness depicted within the monuments bowels, we slowly made our way up the bleak concrete ramp that carried us up into a fading triangular sky. My wife, then, looked me in the eye and asked me a question. It was a simple question, which enjoined with a deep and complicated answer. She asked, “Why would you want to join the Jewish people, a people that has been (and is) persecuted so thoroughly throughout history?” I answered the only thing that I could. I answered, “Because... I want to stand up for the truth in the world. If that means that I have to be persecuted as a member of a persecuted people, then so be it. I am just glad I live in Israel, the safest place on Earth for a Jew to live.” So, what is truth anyways? We already know, based on our insight from above, what it isn’t – it isn’t the ‘opposite of a lie.’ Truth, then, can only be one thing – truth is light. The dark places in the world can have a life of their own only as long as we feed them with shadows based on our actions in the world. Once we reach out to the light, to Hashem, the light will always find the cracks, pushing into the dark places, like water melting deep blue crevasses into an ancient frozen glacier. The trick, it seems, is to know when to tell the truth and when to bend it for the sake of compassion and kindness. In summation, all I can say is, “May the next WikiLeaks be instead WikiTruths; may we bend our actions and behavior, bringing cascading sheets of kindness, compassion, and light into the world; and may we be blessed to see the Carmel Forest bloom, once again, in our lifetimes…” To help, contact JNF by clicking – http://www.jnf.org/ – and plant a tree in Israel! Shabbat Shalom!!!