Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lurking Hulk and the Truth of Effort

Dude catapulted off the top of the fence and ran away last Shabbat... Every time that I see him, wagging his tail and groveling on his back in the street in front of the house, I want to scream at him and, really, I loose myself with it. Buried deep down, I know that he is the cutest when he does that, but I just can’t seem to get the notion out of my head that he is destroying the fence just for ‘me,’ which of course ignites the inner, lurking Hulk that is also buried deep down. This is the problem in my life... Dude the dog. How ridiculous is that? I have been challenged with this test before, especially with my dog Cody in Boulder. He would shred himself trying to get away from lightning. I was constantly fixing fences and, in the end, put metal plates under the wood of the gates. It didn’t help... So, I have to wonder, ‘Why am I being tested with this special issue?’ I mean, am I just not getting something here?

On another related topic, this week we are still watching the crisis affecting the Muslim world and wondering how the makeshift helmets will fall across the Middle East. Have you seen some of these guys and what they think is going to protect their heads from flying rocks and bricks? Well, just in case you haven’t, I will pepper this blog with them for you! The reason I am thinking about all this is, yes... because I live in the Middle East, but also because of this week’s parsha, Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38). One of the things we learn about this week is ‘effort.’ It all starts with Rashi when he says that after the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was finished, they couldn’t stand it up because of its tremendous weight and since Moses didn’t actually have a share in its construction, God wanted him to have the honor of erecting it. So, God told Moses to try to lift it and then the Mishkan would stand up by itself.

This reminds me of how Bruce Banner, in The Hulk (TV version) was so upset about how he couldn’t save, I can’t remember either his wife or kid, from under a car wreck and was obsessed with how sometimes people can have super-human strength and in his moment of need, he couldn’t tap into that energy. The story goes that this is what started him on his quest for strength, a quest that went horribly wrong, causing irrational anger to burst forth into the manifestation of the Hulk and a really great comic character too! Recently, my mom told me a story that brought this whole Hulk memory to life for me again. She told me that she was able to lift a 2,000 pound ATV off of her husband, who had taken a turn a little too fast and ended up pinned on the bottom instead of riding on the top. My mom was able to lift and roll it just enough so that her husband could slide out from under it after being pinned there.

It takes a lot of effort to move things, like cars and the Mishkan, alone with our bare hands. So, how is the current Middle East crisis a matter of effort? Democracy is a huge effort. Look at Libya. Muammar Gaddafi doesn’t even have a title like president. He is the ultimate ‘self-styled’ dictator and his little North African country has been a leading member of the Human Rights Council and the, now defunct, Human Rights Commission for years. During this turmoil all over the region (accept for Israel) The Muslims (including Gaddafi’s people) are clamoring for democracy and what does Gaddafi, the highly active ‘Human Rights’ Council participant, do? He orders the army to shoot them. Then, when his army refuses, he brings in African mercenaries to do the job. I would have to say that a lot of effort is being made by a lot of people. Just take a look at some of these guys with helmets in the side margins!

So, why was it that my mom was able to lift the ATV, Moses was able to lift the Mishkan, and the mythical Dr. Bruce Banner was not able to lift the car, ultimately ending in the very popular comic strip character, the Hulk? Let’s look a little deeper into the mindset of the Hulk to illuminate this a little better... Like me when I am seething at my dog Dude for ripping down fences and running away, the Hulk has a small quiet voice, buried deep inside, that he is utterly ignoring. This small quiet voice, in the Hulk’s case, is set off by his desire for the woman he loves when he is Dr. Banner and in my case, the small quiet voice is set off by my deeper awareness of what is real and what is not real in the world — or in other words, my love for the Creator. So, I think we can understand from this that it is not effort to achieve a result that we are yearning for in that catastrophic moment. It is effort to connect to the truth, to connect to the Creator, which actually makes a difference. We seem to put it backwards and think that if we pray hard enough, we will get rewarded for our effort by receiving what we prayed for. The reward is not what we are praying for; the reward is the praying itself. The reward is connecting to the source of everything, the truth in the world, that the Creator is everything and that He loves us.

So, the next time that my dog Dude scales the fence displaying ridiculous levels of super dog cunning and strength, I am going to listen a lot harder to that small quiet voice telling me that he is really cute when he grovels on his back wagging his tail at me...

Shavua tov!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hey Dude, it’s Shabbat!

Every week, as I begin to look deeper into who I am (and what I am supposed to be doing on this amazing inter-dimensional Planet Earth space ship), I often pull out the parsha of the week to derive some inspiration. As is quite often the case, I cannot get any farther in my reading than a few paragraphs before something grabs me with an iron fist and won’t let go. This week, it is Shabbat. In the very first sentence of Vayakhel (the parsha of the week), Moshe says to the Israelites, “On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” Then Moshe moves right into building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), as if there is some intrinsic connection between the Sabbath day and building the Mishkan… Hmmm, I wonder….

Well, we know that Moshe was speaking to the Israelites (the Jews) and not to the nations of the world when he was telling them what God said about the observance of the Sabbath and, so, we also know that the Jews are not supposed to work and it is to be a complete day of rest for only Hashem (as it relates to the Jews)… right? So, based on this translation of the Hebrew text, the Jewish People are not supposed to light a fire in any of their dwellings on Shabbat and God does ‘all’ the work for 6 days and the Jews ‘need’ to let Him rest on the seventh day or they will be killed.

Speaking of being killed, I am about to send Dude, my dog of infamy from the blogs, 'Hey Dude,' 'Dude, Swim for It,' and 'Dude, Where's My Sukka?’ to another realm entirely… For months now, he has been scaling my 6 to 10 foot fence, hovering on the top of it while (according to a neighbor that witnessed it) he whines and pees on himself, and then jumps down about 15 feet on to the other side. All of this, mind you, to chase the stray cats that like to egg-him-on from the perceived safety of the other side. As I add pieces and patches, my fence is starting to look like the fence bordering the demilitarized zone between Israel and Lebanon. At least he hasn’t gone Gazan yet and taken to digging under the fence, like the border between Gaza and Egypt, where they are smuggling in saleable items for profit and missiles from Iran for death and mayhem (like the GRAD missile that just hit Beersheva in the South), but I digress...

So, we still need to define a few things to try and understand what God wants for us on Shabbat. We have established that the Sabbath is different for Jews and non-Jews. We have established that God Himself wants to rest on Shabbat and we, doing the Jewish thing, are not to presume to make him work on any level. And, we have established that making a fire of some sort is forbidden to do (for Jews only) on Shabbat. So... what is ‘rest’ for God, what is ‘work’ for a Jew, and what is ‘fire’ in general and as it relates to being a Jew? Yeah, you guessed it... this could go on all night before we arrive at some satisfactory understanding of what Shabbat is all about and how we should observe it, both Jew and Gentile alike.

I think I am just going to skip to the chase, but first I want to get back to Dude and the fence problem. There is this idea called ‘Kaffa Kele’ in Jewish thought. It is a word that means ‘Sling Shot,’ you know, like the one David killed Goliath with. As it turns out, there is a very special place in Gehenom (Purgatory) for wasting words in life. The whole purpose of life is to build ourselves. We are given this opportunity by the Infinite Giver, Hashem, to work on ourselves and if we waste it by non-productivity, we get to ride in the sling shot... Sounds fun, right? Well, imagine that you are just finishing a roller coaster ride and as you get to the end of the ride and begin to slow down, instead of stopping and getting off the ride, you shoot forward again, and around again, and around again, and around again you go...That, my friends, is Kaffa Kele and believe me when I say, “It is not an ‘E’ ticket ride...” The whole point is that there is purpose to life and every moment has a reason to exist within it. If we aren’t tuned in, we are wasting our lives. So, when Dude, the Destroyer of Fences, continues to evade my efforts at patching the fence, causing me all kinds of ‘extra’ work, starting from the beginning again each time, I am essentially riding the sling shot. I fix the fence on one side and it slings out the dog on the other, you catch my drift?

The only time that I don’t have to worry about, much less fix, the fence is on Shabbat. The reason is that on Shabbat (yes, I am finally cutting to the chase) I do not have to create anything. I am not allowed to ‘work’ and Hashem is supposed to ‘rest’ (essentially the same thing, since Hashem does ‘all’ the work anyways), giving me the chance to take a breather. Since all the ‘work’ during the week is really Hashem presenting me with challenges for potential creation and me ‘not’ doing anything accept meeting these challenges by doing a creative act or (God forbid!) the inverse, which is to waste my opportunity to create, I am free on the Sabbath to reach out to God, to really be one with the Universe, with the Infinite.

I know this is a poor excuse of an explanation about why Jews HAVE TO walk, instead of driving, and why they CAN’T turn on and off lights on Shabbat. It’s complicated! Just remember that it has something to do with building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and putting, yes, you guessed it, ‘fences’ around the commandments so that we Jews don’t err and, Heaven forbid, disturb the well deserved ‘Nap of the Infinite!’ (I think this may be where the ‘building a fire’ scenario comes in too…)

Well, if you are reading this and are not Jewish, I gotta tell ya, you really got it made! Take it from me (as a one-time Gentile); it isn’t easy to keep 613 commandments when I could have just stuck with the original 7... (Um, and you thought there were 10, didn’t you?)

Hey, Dude! Where’s my fence!

Never mind... Shabbat Shalom!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Globalization Demobilization and Shadows of the Maker

Last week on Shabbat I was sick. I had already been sick for a few days before and took some time on Shabbat to recuperate a bit. I slept in, prayed at home, and even tried to read the newspaper. While reading all about Egypt and how Facebook and social media in general was considered the spark point of unrest (or some such holier-than-thou ‘Social Media’ is the new deal nonsense), I stumbled across a really interesting article about an art and design exhibition that was exploring how a new generation of creative thinkers from around the world, having grown up in a globalized context, were looking at the world from a fundamentally different place then the rest of us old-timers that remember when it was a really anticipated event for movies (you know, from the movie theaters) to play on our TVs. These kids always had instant messaging, the internet, and anytime-anyplace access to movies, music, and online reading of any kind, just about anywhere in the world. The exhibition was positing that the latest trends, the cultural movements that will be defining who we are for years to come, will be emanating from members of a kind of ‘global village’ with its participants living and working from indigenous, and even remote, locations around the planet (no more traveling to the ‘big city’ to make it, I guess).

What attracted me to the article in the first place was this great image of a sumptuously carved wooden chair that’s back ascended up, becoming a ladder that served as legs for another sumptuously carved jug, about to pour its perceived contents upon the as yet unknown person seated in the chair. It reminded me of my days in graduate school, learning about Urban Art and Graffiti, Minimalist Sculpture, Earth Works, and art that seemed to penetrate to the core of any issue, as easily as gliding down a silicone trash heap with banana peel shoes…

We are introduced to the prototype of artists and craftsmen, Betzalel, in this week’s parsha. He was charged by Hashem to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) with his assistant, Oholiab. Hashem gave them all of the creative juices and inspiration that they needed to build the House of God, as the Jews traveled through the inhospitable desert wasteland of the Sinai Peninsula. If we look closer at the name Betzalel, a striking concept comes to mind. In Hebrew, the word ’be’ means ‘in,’ the word ‘tzal’ means ‘shadow,’ and the word ‘El’ is one of the 70 names of God as they appear in the Five Books of Moses. I have heard a teacher make the claim that ‘in God’s shadow’ really means ‘in the image of God,’ but as an artist, I would like to get lower than that.

You see, within God’s shadow lays the creative forces in the world. It all started (from a theo-philo-sophical perspective) back in the Garden of Eden when the world was created with only ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood.’ Everything was either pure light or pure darkness. Eating from the Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil brought shadows into the world. The shadows were created by man and things like doubt, opinion, and subjectivity were introduced and have been clouding the collective mind of humanity ever since. So, when Betzalel is ‘within God’s shadow,’ what we are saying is that this shadow is the world before the gray existed. This shadow is not the one sewn by Adam and Eve. This is a shadow of truth in the world, the antimatter of matter, this shadow isn’t visible, but we know deep down that it is there. When Betzalel and Oholiab were given access to this vast unseen realm, of course they made art with it!

The word for artist in Hebrew is ‘oman’ and the word for craftsman is ‘uman.’ Both words are spelled the same, but with different vowels for pronunciation. ‘Aleph, Mem, Nun-sofit,’ is also the root for belief or faith. The word ‘amen’ (אמן) in Hebrew means we have faith, we agree. An artist or craftsmen uses the dark, unseen realm of the world to perceive hidden truths and then to express them. By bringing out the inner dimension of something, whether it is an idea or a finite object, the artist is revealing it, essentially birthing it, into the sensatory spectrum of the finite world. To do this, an artist needs a kind of Emunah (אמונה) or faith, just to be able to navigate these hidden paths within the dark half of the truth.

So, when these young artists are now making art in little South American villages and in the snow covered wastelands of Arctic Siberia, and still travel around on the airwaves or in airplanes to attend exhibitions, gatherings, and other art-happenings around the world, they have essentially made the entire globe a village, our village. I have yet to see the exhibition, but the one thing that seemed to be missing from the article I read was, well, you see, it described all of the globalization demobilization, but was missing something... like; it was missing a kind of spiritual depth. All of the artists seemed to be referring to cavemen and dinosaurs in some way and the article itself even co-opted the same gray-zone thinking and acceptance that mankind has, without a doubt and never should be questioned, evolved into these blossoming brain beings from lower animal creepy crawly life forms… end of story.

To me, if that is truly what the show is about, it must just be another brainchild of a Post-Darwinian self-evisceration of the black and white truth… Go directly to the gray zone and don’t pass go... type of show... Maybe I’ll bring my portfolio. You never know. The show may need a little black and white truth, sucked up through one of those crazy straws, from the deep black shadows that are hiding out of sight somewhere in the Garden of Eden... just to tie the whole concept together, I mean...

Click here for link to exhibition website.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Plugged In

Did you ever wonder whether or not there was an intrinsic interconnection between everything in the perceived universe, like ripples in a pond rolling out across the surface of existence that cause everything and everyone to bob and roll in time with them? We keep hearing about how we need to ‘go green’ for instance. ‘Our environment can’t take much more of this abuse,’ the scientists tell us. The politicians also seem to be getting on board with this agenda, if only to collect votes in the upcoming election, but this is a good thing, right? I guess that when I really think about how much impact I have on the world, I can’t get away from the idea that, no matter how much I try, I will always be leaving my boot prints strafed across the landscape in my wake. It all seems to be a matter of how fast I run, while attempting to put distance between my footsteps and me. The problem is that the faster I go, the more dirt flies, so I start to invent ways to preventively cover them up. I pass regulations and legal acts to circumvent the damage that my existence, an apparent cancerous growth, is afflicting upon this pristine universe — the place that I call home.

I think that this might be a little bit bass-ackwards… I mean, what if the Universe was created for a reason? What if it was up to me to learn how to ride those ripples, instead of damming them up or ignoring them completely? What if it was up to me to take responsibility for creating those ripples in the first place, even mastering how those ripples intersect with the ripples of others and understanding, ultimately, where those ripples came from in the first place, understanding the real me? If I could operate on that level, I think that I would really ‘be,’ I would be, in essence, plugged in...

Think about a seed, for instance. In English, the word ‘seed’ has the meaning ‘potential of life.’ In Hebrew, Zarrah (זרע), the meaning is similar, but incorporates much more. It is not only the potential for life, but encapsulates death as well. Think about it. Before a seed can sprout into life, it needs to become essentially nothing. It needs to disintegrate completely and after that process of decomposition occurs, at the exact moment of annihilation, life begins. I was referring to the seed of a tree, but this can also be understood in reference to a seed before it fertilizes an egg, an egg that destroys itself while dividing into cells, and again and again. A fertilized egg is considered a potential life, not a life, until the life that emanates from it crowns and a section can be seen with the naked eye about the size of an olive. That is the moment that the actual ‘life’ enters the finite world, our world, and becomes part of the human race, with all its laws and moral obligations. Before that, there are a different set of moral obligations that govern our behavior towards this potential life. This is a big debate (you know Pro-life and Pro-choice) in the States, (when does a life begin?) but getting off subject... The idea is that understanding this process, the process of life and death, is all about learning to ride those ripples across the pond.

Something I read in a lesson on this week’s parsha, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), started me thinking about this idea. Essentially, Moses was referred to as ‘You’ in this parsha, unlike any other time Moses is mentioned. His name was simply erased. Ultimately, there is a lot of knowledge and deep understanding about how all of our actions in this world have an absolute effect on us and the world around us, but it is way to complex for me to give over here.

I will say, though, that the Zohar brings down that when the Torah states in Exodus 32:32, (Moses says) “Now, if you would, please forgive their sin (the golden calf deal). If not, ‘You’ (Hashem) can blot me out from the book that ‘You’ (Hashem again) have written.” Why is the name ‘Moses’ used every other time and why was he erased from this chapter? That is what I am going to leave you hanging on, so that you can look it up for yourselves...

Here is a link to get you started: The Missing Moses

Now get busy plugging in and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Under the Magnifying Glass

Now that jetlag is waning and I have begun to settle in to my life back in Israel, I am reminded of the idea that it is hard to live while perched, bracing into the Ruach (Hebrew for wind and for spirit) on the spiritual highland of the physical world. I often feel like there is a giant magnifying glass poised above Eretz Israel (The Land of Israel), causing the molecules that imbue us all to vibrate and bounce off of each other at a much higher rate than is normal elsewhere on our Planet Earth spaceship. Just the way that Israelis are capable of multitasking (however annoying it can be to wait in line while the clerk is answering 3 questions, typing on the keyboard, and talking on a cell phone, all at the same time) is evidence of this idea. Virtually as soon as I got off the plane, I was bombarded by action and reaction of social, political, religious, and spiritual natures. An acquaintance of mine is being torn down by the press and by others as well, the international terrorist organization, Hezbollah, has taken control of Lebanon to the north, Egypt, to the south, has been embroiled in mayhem that, with ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood rising in the pond, could easily become the next Iran with American weaponry and even, based on what I have heard Hillary and Obama saying in the press, American support. The Palestinian terrorists from Hebron that murdered a friend of mine were finally caught, with little to no fanfare in the world press (click here to read the blog written about searching for her after she disappeared), and while I was away in the States, the structure that I have been imposing on the marketing communications at work began to unravel (a sure sign that I have a long way to go). And on top of all that (and there is a lot more), now that I am home again, I have to try and navigate though life in a foreign language and culture… Oy! I would have to say that the molecules are vibrating pretty fast right about now…

I had a discussion with a couple of coworkers at lunch the other day. One couldn’t fathom how I could have left America. Everything is so easy and comfortable there, even for an Israeli, much less a born American. The other coworker agreed with me when I said that living in Israel isn’t easy, but is that really the goal in life… to have an easy life? I mean, what is life really all about anyways? Should we be seeking creature comforts and just try and get by with the least amount of discomfort? I explained to these guys that when I moved to Israel, I really didn’t have a choice. In addition to Hashem guiding me from deep within, I needed to fill my life with something that I could step back from and say that I had accomplished. After searching for enlightenment through fine arts, though the development and honing of my skills as a craftsman, and all along though searching religions and faiths from all walks of life, I just decided that I needed to walk the walk… Jerusalem is where it all started, so why not look there too, which brings to mind a story that I heard while heading into Mincha (afternoon prayers) while at work.

On the way into the bomb shelter that we pray in, I ran into my boss and we struck up a conversation. I had a few minutes to wait for the Minyan to show up, so he began to tell me a story that he heard while attending a Bar mitzvah. He is a German Christian Zionist and that means that he was born in Germany, is a Christian by religion, and is a staunch supporter of Israel (the country) by ideology. So, he starts with a story of how a poor farmer, probably 100 or more years ago, was considering leaving Eretz Israel from the hardship of living life. He was sitting in Rav Kook’s waiting room in Jerusalem to ask the rabbi if he should leave the Holy Land in order to make a better living, have a better quality of life... you know.

There were a lot of people waiting, so while sitting there, he fell asleep and began to dream. In his dream, he ascended on the wings of an eagle up to Heaven, where he went before the magistrate. Two boxes were presented to him, one large and black as coal, and another small and shiny like gold. The magistrate explained to the farmer that the dark box was filled with all of the farmer’s forgotten and broken commandments from over his lifetime. The golden light package was filled with all of the commandments that the farmer had kept, things like good deeds, charity, and keeping the Shabbat. Needless to say, the farmer was stricken with panic. He was ready to beg and plead for a place in the next world, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw a large pile of platinum colored boxes. He stopped freaking out and asked about the pile of boxes and the angel Michael answered him, “Those contain all of the effort and suffering that you have gone through while farming in Eretz Israel. For every stone you moved and every weed you pulled, you have been collecting these,” as he pointed with his giant wing at the pile of boxes. The angel Michael then placed the boxes on the scale along with the golden light package. Just then, the farmer was roused from his slumber by Rav Kook. He opened his eyes, very wide, and a large grin spread across his face. The rabbi said, “It looks to me like your question has been answered already. Is there something ‘I’ can help you with?”

So, beyond the obvious answer that we already possess, burried deep within, the knowledge that we are seeking in this world, we understand from this story that working hard, especially in the Land of Israel, is more than meets the eye. I run into Israelis all the time like the guy in the lunch room that ask me why I left America for Israel. “Life must be so comfortable there and it is so much harder to live in Israel...” This story now comes to mind whenever I hear that line. The opposite of pleasure is not pain, it is discomfort. Being comfortable in America, for me, is void of the pleasure of living reality in Israel, regardless of the suffering that goes along with the inevitable growth. This is what I tell myself now when I can’t get anything done from the bureaucracy, or when I almost get run over by a ‘soccer mom’ while trying to cross the street, or when a maniac with big Iranian missiles has just grabbed power in a land no more than a couple hours drive to the north.

It all goes back to the parsha, which begins the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) this week. The Mishkan is a house that God had the Jews make for Him. He gave us the plans, dimensions, and instructions all within, what essentially adds up to, about 40% of the Book of Exodus, one of the five books that are considered the entire plan for the Universe (that, my friends, is saying way more then a lot about how important it is...). God looked into the Torah (Torah = Five Books of Moses) and then He created the World... The Talmud relays a metaphor that explains the connection between the Mishkan or Holy Temple and how it connects us back to Hashem. It starts with saying, ‘There was a (man) who walked around saying, "When the love between my wife and myself was strong, we could have lain together on the blade of a sword. But now that our love has faded, a bed sixty cubits wide does not suffice us."’

In Kings I 6:2, it says, "The House that King Solomon built for God, its length was sixty cubits..." In this way we can understand that as we loose faith in our relationship with Hashem, our love fades. As our love fades, we move further away from the Creator. The Mishkan and both Holy Temples were a physical and spiritual symbol and manifestation of our connection to the Creator and when we lost them, all we were left with was the essence of where they once stood, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I heard an analogy that the Temple Mount today, including the Western (retaining) Wall, is like a spilt bottle of perfume. The perfume has long since evaporated, but the scent, if you concentrate and reach for it with enough focus, still remains. This scent is all we have left. It is essentially what we understand as spirituality now. It lives just under the surface and is easy to ignore, yet if we seek it, it can blossom in full regalia and, if we really allow it to, it can change our lives.

Shabbat Shalom from the Holy Land