Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Missiles, Schmaltz, and Mashiach

Well, this has been a doosie of a week, hasn’t it? Technically, of course, this week began on Friday with last week’s blog post; so, I’ll start there. When we woke on Friday morning, right up to our arrival in Beersheva two hours later to visit our son at the base, we weren’t sure that we would be able to even see him due to the terror that was afoot – well, unless you ask the United Nations, which will ‘not’ condemn the entire episode as ‘terrorism,’ after Lebanon's representative rejected the measure. He said that Lebanon would endorse a condemnation of the (terrorist) attacks if the council condemns Israel, as well, for killing the ‘terrorists’ who planned the attack. Um... isn’t that circular logic? Actually, I have no comment on that idiocy... But, no surprise there, really, since it is no coincidence that Lebanon – the only member of the Council that blocked the measure – is ‘itself’ controlled by Hezbollah, a Palestinian terrorist organization. By the beginning of the week, Hamas (the terrorist rulers of Gaza) declared a ‘cease fire’ from the violent terror that had claimed at least 8 innocent people (including woman and children shot at point blank range), at least 30 innocent injured people, and over a million innocent people in the south, who were traumatized to one degree or another, my entire family included...

So, what do you suppose all of ‘this’ hubbub is about, anyways? Maybe if we employ the Jerome Glenn (a recognized expert and speaker on Future Studies) Futures Wheel, we can work backwards to predict the cause. You see, to every ‘change’ there are ‘consequences,’ second, third, fourth, and so on. We can often see the consequences, (like waves that have travelled far and wide) but it is sometimes difficult to track backwards to the initial changes. This entire approach is intended to ‘see’ the future, but we are going to try to use it to ‘see’ the past instead. Let’s look at this current wave of ‘consequences’ and see if we can find the ‘cause.’

The consequence, within this case study, is the terror that is plaguing all of mankind, with the focus on the world’s hotspot, the middle of the Middle East, Israel. Let’s try and see if it is something intrinsic to Arabs in general; you know... the death and mayhem that has followed their existence throughout the last 12 centuries of Islam?

Maybe it has something to do with the beginning of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan began only a couple of weeks ago. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and having sex during the daytime. This abstinence from physical pursuits is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility, and submissiveness to God... Well, considering that we should be seeing a heightened sense of social responsibility, this must not be the initial cause.

Here is another possibility though: Maybe the cause is related to the events that led to the latest Zogby poll (Arab Attitudes in 2011), which has revealed that President Obama’s ongoing appeal to the Muslim world has utterly failed. His speeches promised to restore America’s international reputation, but now the Arab world hates America more than it did under George W. Bush, who was dropping bombs on them. Now, since Israel is the first stepping stone to the West and happens to be located in the center of the Islamic Empire... you get my drift.

No, as annoying and stupid as this is, this last scenario is probably just another level of ‘consequence.’ I think we need to look further back. Actually, I learned that the cause could actually be a sort of Arab anniversary celebration of the Jerusalem and Hebron Massacres, which began on Friday night in 1929 (83 years to the day), before Thursday afternoon’s terrorist attacks in the south. The story goes that after the Arab neighbors went on a rampage, inspired by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem – Hajj Amin El Husseini – and Hitler’s genocidal Palestinian partner, the bodies of the murdered Jews were laid out in a Jerusalem morgue for Shabbat. On an interesting side-note, upon entering the morgue to begin the mass burial at the conclusion of Shabbat, a small cry was heard. Shmuel, a one year old, had only been unconscious after having his eye gouged out by the frenzied Arab neighbors that had rampaged through the town, killing his mother and killing and maiming scores of others. The following day the madness continued in Hebron, while the British police stood by doing nothing, until the slaughter began to overflow to threaten ‘them’ and was stopped with ‘one’ bullet fired into the air...

Somehow, as plausible as this story is in explaining the cause of the current terrorist mad-dogs prairie-dogging their ugly heads up, I think it must be deeper than this as well. Let’s look into this week’s parsha, Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17), which means the command, ‘to see,’ and let’s just ‘see’ if we can shed some light on these shadows. Here, Deut. 13:2 - 4 warns the Israelites against becoming fryers (suckers) to ‘miracles’ performed by false prophets, "If there should rise up among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams and offer a sign or a miracle. And that sign or miracle should then occur of which he has told you, and he says to you, 'Let us go after other gods whom you do not know and worship them,' do not listen to the words of this prophet or dreamer of dreams because it is God who is testing you to know if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

This sounds like the schmaltz to me... Yep, we are finally getting to that one. Schmaltz is made from chicken or goose fat, to keep ‘kosher’ laws by replacing butter or pork lard, which was the common method in Germany and Europe for cooking. Traditionally, Jewish cooking oils were always olive oil and sesame oil, but that was when Jews lived primarily in the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin, thousands of years earlier. Anyways, ‘the schmaltz’ is a good way of describing how the Jews stayed together for thousands of years as one people, keeping one set of laws, and adapting to their varied situations and locals, while still connecting to God every day in a tangible and meaningful way. If anyone started to follow a false prophet, the entire people could become fractured and fall into oblivion.

God (via Moses) even told us, in this very same parsha (Devarim 14:1-2): “Do not slash yourselves nor make a bald patch between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God...” How does this relate to fracturing as a people? Yes, we should understand from this verse that we should not mutilate ourselves because of a loss, but the Sages see something else. In Yevamos 13b, it is written, “Do not slash yourselves — do not form factions.” And, not so coincidentally, this is exactly what happens when a false prophet begins to convince people to ‘see’ the miracle and ignore the ‘truth,’ ignore the Torah or change it in any way. This is why, way back in the 7th century C.E, when Mohamed was strafing the land seeking converts or killing everyone within striking distance, the Jews died by the thousands. Ultimately, the Moslems let the Jews live in a lowered status called Dhimmi. The Jews were strong as a people and held to their convictions, something that the Arabs respected.

There is an old Arab proverb that says: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse. This ‘strong-horse’ view of power is dominant in the Islamic world, which relates back to Obama. He is considered a weak horse for bowing down and apologizing for American power. This is an affront to the Arab ‘strong-horse’ view of power and we are seeing the ramifications of this attitude all around us today. This, however, is still only a ‘consequence,’ not the source or the ‘cause’ of it all, but it is getting closer, don’t you think?

OK, so, let’s go back to the schmaltz. We already learned a bit about it, but now we need to sink down into the fat of it all; we need to learn how it is made… Step number one is to cut the chicken or goose fat into small pieces. Then you melt it inside a sauce pan over low to moderate heat. Oh, and one more thing; don’t forget to add the onions! Now, after the majority of the fat has been extracted from the goo-yummy concoction, you need to strain the glistening, melted fat through cheesecloth into a container to store it for all your later cooking fantasies. Now, the stuff remaining, wadded unceremoniously into the cheesecloth — the stuff you may be tempted, (because of its powerful odor) to throw immediately into the garbage outside of your house — is all the leftover brown, crispy bits of skin, onion, and whatever and this, my friends, is the gribenes…

The gribenes is the result of the cause — to create kosher cooking oil in a non-kosher world — and we can make interesting parallels with this to our dichotomous world of the physical and the spiritual. The spiritual is definitely the schmaltz, the stuff that goes on to live another day. The gribenes is, well... to put it plainly, both loved ‘and’ despised.

This brings us back to the feeling we get when learning a certain Midrash. It says that, as we approach the ‘End of Days,’ initially religions other than Judaism will be answered by God. Other faiths will prosper and seem to be on the path to the One, the Creator of the Universe. It will appear in the world as if the Jews had it all wrong, all along...

This reality will cause the ultimate fear in the hearts and minds of the Jews. It will be an awesome fear that burrows to the core of everything, becoming an ultimate test of faith in the Torah. In the end, Judaism will be vindicated, but this will be the true turning point for all of mankind. We will ‘all’ see, once and for all, Who runs the world.

There is another Arab proverb that says, “A falling camel attracts many knives.” Weakness, it seems, makes Arabs want to stab the falling camel. That means that bowing down, apologizing, or just being indecisive in their eyes is, essentially, a death wish. They are not going to stop and as we can see from the Midrash, it may appear to very intelligent people that they are correct when all they are really seeing is the leftover gribenes. The true ‘cause’ is our own ineptitude. The true ‘cause’ is our inability to stand together, as one race of Human Beings, and know Who runs the world. The schmaltz of it all is, we are all on the same boat, riding the same ride, living the same reality. Maybe if we just start to work together, we could actually accomplish something good, something right, something real. All I can say is, ‘If you want to ‘see’ the future, all you need to do is to ‘listen’ to the past and then DO something about it!

May Mashiach come in our time and during our days!

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Burn Rate and Blockage

The world... It sure seems to be speeding towards some final epithetical something-or-other… I have found myself, over the last few weeks, waiting to see what slimes its way out of all the unrest that is vomiting around the planet; you know, with the starving in Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and down the block, the war zones in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan (the list goes on...), and down the block, and the social unrest and fracturing that is affecting places around the globe... yes, and down the block. Usually, when writing one of these blog entries, I wait to see what percolates to the moss at the top of my awareness, but this time around, it feels like that wave, last week, that I punched a visceral hole out through the back-door of to escape its clutches... maybe never let me go after all. Maybe part of me never made it out the back-door at all and I have been roiling along with it all this time, in an inevitable journey all the way to an unforgiving volcanic-rock precipice that has been steadily waiting for me — with teeth bared — on the imaginary shore of ‘my’ lost paradise…

Roiling... Spiralling, sprawling, tumbling in the dark, cold water, it seems to me that we must be given only a certain amount of fuel (like air) to use up in this life and when it is done, so are we. Obviously, the problem is that we haven’t really learned how to read the fuel gauge. I mean, when we step on the gas in our lives, we are only really looking a few feet in front of us. We rarely look at the foreseeable horizon, much less to the vanishing point that is looming directly beyond our engorged-with-hot-air wisdom.

The gas gauge... You know, this is like searching for the Fountain of Youth or something. Why is it that the youth always seem to get stuck with social frustration and social unrest... wait, what is that anyways? The other day, I found myself thinking about the tent towns in Tel Aviv and how they compare to the rampaging, murderous violence that has plagued London as of late. Both societal groups of people, regardless of what our semi-elected political mouthpiece spout-festering... people say, come from all walks of life, old, young, students, workers, middle class, and lower class. They are made up of immigrants and natives, locals and foreigners and there really doesn’t seem to be any one factor that can group them together... except maybe their youthful zeal to protest the ‘unobvious’ to us all in the first place. Maybe it has something to do with the economy, which is still tanking, regardless of the bright, hopeful helium balloons rising into the political and economic stratosphere, if only to rip our attention away from our down-trodden game of footsie as we plough through the mud and silt of the last and latest generation’s flatulents.

Flatulents... Recently, I was reminded of a prayer that I say every morning, called Asher Yetzer, due to a personal tragedy in progress. Plugged-up platitudes also come to mind in relation to my current personal slow-burn epidemic of evaporative sanguine-ness, but, yet, I need not go there. No, that is too harsh. Let me just write down the prayer, so that you may glean what I am waxing wantonly, wanly... about... here:

Asher Yetzer... "Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings (holes) and many hollows (cavities). It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them (the aforementioned ‘holes’ and ‘cavities’) were to be ruptured or if one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to (yes, here is the punch line) ‘stand’ before ‘You,’ even for a short period of time. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously."

Ruptured or blocked... This kind of reminds me of the balloons that I mentioned earlier. You know, the hot air filled balloons that make us feel good, in terms of the economy, our investments, and stock-market-pseudo-reality land, just like the movie, “The Red Balloon,” that caused me to cry as a kid. A balloon is small and unobtrusive until it is filled up. It has a hole and it can fool us all as to how far it will expand. If the hole is blocked, you better hope that it is not too full of hot air or collides with something sharp and unpleasant; it might go unexpectedly boom...

Sharp and unpleasant... I know, this is totally unhelpful with regards to an explanation of my earlier statements, but that is the proverbial $&*#-house for you. I guess that the idea is directly from last week’s blog entry, “The Big Ride.” The ripples are coming at you from every conceivable direction and in every size and duration. You know that the pond is only going to get more and more complexly contrived from our own exacerbations and all we can do is tumble it all out, hoping for some air and little to no jagged rocks at our inevitable conclusion.

Inevitable conclusion... OK, moving on... this week’s parsha, Ekev (Heel) (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25), informs us that we should, "Take care lest you forget the Lord, your God ... and you build good houses and ... you increase silver and gold ... and everything you have will increase ... and you will forget the Lord, your God, who took you out of ... Egypt from a house of slavery..." It also informs us that we should, "Keep the commandments of God, and walk in His ways," but more on that later.

Ekev means Heel... This just about covers it all, doesn’t it? # 1: Don’t forget why you have it so good. # 2: Live and build your life on a solid foundation with a good roof overhead. # 3: Become wealthy and satisfied. # 4: Watch as your efforts multiply. # 5: Forget God, since it is all coming from ‘you’ (and not God) anyways...

Coming from me... When I was a kid, my brother and I used to steal candy and balloons from the dime store. All the kids did it. We had a great system of unrolling our towels after playing at the beach all day, right in front of the candy rack. We would meticulously roll our towels up into a nice neat little tootsie-roll holder, candy all buried within. One day, my brother was caught. I waited for him outside the store, a ways down the block, but he didn’t show. So, it was time to man up and go in to see what had happened. Of course, I had to hide the balloons that I stole somewhere, so I took a couple of rubber bands and captured the packages between them inside one of my socks. Thinking about it now, that is really a contorted way of hiding them... I guess I didn’t want to put them in my pockets or was worried that if I hid them in a bush or something, they might get stolen. Long story short, I spoke to the manager and told him that we would tell our parents about my little brother’s indiscretion if he didn’t call them. Of course, I never said that I also stole balloons when we told our parents about it. I learned that day that society is only interested in what we are caught for. I got off scot-free, and thus, didn’t get punished, even though I had committed the same act. Society rewarded me for getting away with it...

Getting away with it... I am trying to figure out how “Walking in His way” can shed some light on this. It is now 1:33 pm here in Israel and I just found out that the Palestinians have been launching an attack all morning long, killing and maiming civilians, tourists, and children again, in multiple consecutive attacks in the South. These attackers appear to be Gaza locals that have been travelling freely back and forth from the Sinai in Egypt and back to Gaza again. The attacks originated from Egypt, Gaza, and also from within Israel. I guess this must be that ugly ‘peace process’ lurking its rotten carcass up above that foreseeable horizon that I was talking about earlier. The Palestinians want a state of their own, which doesn’t seem to rule out ‘at the expense or annihilation of the Jews’ and the Europeans are helping them do it. The UN plans to pass a unilateral agreement in September, confirming an independent Palestinian state. This is the way to peace, they say — by enabling the Palestinians to become... whatever they seem to be becoming. Even the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority has recently stated that, if ever it gains control of Jerusalem, it will build an Arab housing complex on top of the Western Wall Plaza, the second holiest site in Judaism (right behind the Temple Mount where Muslims have complete jurisdiction now). Does that sound moderate or even peaceful to you? Maybe from the side of the Jews...

Walk in His ways... Do you suppose that God had a reason to ask us to keep His commandments first and ‘then’ to walk in His ways? I have some ideas but I am out of time, so I will work on that one later. All I can say now is that sometimes, when we are blinded by the roiling dark water that is spinning out in all directions from our own egotistical, unabashed thrashing as we grind into the perceived rocks on the shore of our lost paradise, we may just need to regroup, tuck into a ball, and float up to the surface. We may just need to have enough faith to try and stop rationalizing every little thing. This Shabbat, let’s try to make true and ever-lasting shalom, bringing peace to us all by walking in His ways.

Shabbat Shalom...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Big Ride

The day before the 9 days began (more on that later), I went surfing with my son and nephews. I am sorry to say that I have been a bit remiss in my surf management as of late. You know, when there are waves you are supposed to drop everything and head west, that kind of thing... Recently, I managed to bring my long-lost long-board back from California to the Middle East and since I ‘have’ been so remiss, this was the first time that I took it out. The day before we went, I saw that the waves were cranking, but on the day that I finally ‘did’ inaugurate my long-board to the Mediterranean Sea, it was just about flat. We all had a great time though. My son used the fun-board (a long-board for big waves) and my nephews both shared the fish, a board that I almost expect to see a couple of semi-hidden eyes on one side, like a flounder. By the end of the day, we were all tired, including the dogs — they played with all the strays running up and down the miles of sandy beaches the entire time.

Since there were no ‘real’ waves to speak of, I had plenty of time to sit on my board, thinking, and while waiting for the next set of Mediterranean ripples to come my way, I began to think about how storms brew, “Maybe somewhere off the coast of Greece or Italy, the wind whips up the waves and then sends them traveling all the way down the length of the sea to the shores of Lebanon and Israel…” As I sat there, twirling my feet in the clear blue water, I started to form an idea about how the entire world is made of matter, which when added to energy, causes waves to roll out into the universe. I revisited the idea that the solid foundation under our feet, the ground that we take for granted day in and day out, is really just a flimsy shell, constantly moving and reacting to energy and forces that we cannot see. I also began to explore the very ‘real’ concept that those ‘waves’ emanating from all matter, waves that we may or may not be able to see, also emanate from our physiological-spiritual centers, forming the makings of a really neat and complicated kind of algorithm potential...

Not that I know ‘anything’ about math, but this week, after experiencing a little earthquake at work, I started to look up whether or not these kinds of things are predictable, mathematically speaking of course — and, to some extent, they are it seems. This particular earthquake was only a tiny little excretion of an earthquake that, while sitting at my desk at work and crunching key-words for a website, caused my wheeled chair to roll back and forth, ever so slightly. I looked up and the plant in my office was also shaking almost imperceptibly. There were other people around the office that started to freak out a bit, but it was normal for me. You see, I grew up in California and one of my earliest memories was, while the Selma earthquake was knocking down freeway overpasses, about 250 miles away, I was thrown from the top bunk of my bunk bed, only to freefall and crash onto a hardwood floor. I remember dreaming all the way down, 6 feet below. It was slow motion falling, until I woke with a start, my face, elbows, and knees all registering the siren of some kind of trauma as they bounced off the floor. Those ‘land waves’ had traveled all that way, just for me, just to give my day a kick-start in the wee hours of the morning.

I have been though other earthquakes as well. Probably the most recent ‘large’ quake I experienced was the Northridge quake, in which I had just packed up my belongings to move from the ‘Rodney King riot’ torn city of LA, where martial law had been declared, creating a ‘wave’ of panic and eventually scaring many of the yuppie-like white people to higher ground (in my case all the way to the Rocky Mountains). At the time of the earthquake, I was sleeping on the floor of a 15th floor rented apartment on the beach in Santa Monica in a sleeping bag and woke, once again in the wee hours of the morning. All my stuff was waiting for me in a moving truck with a tow-trailer for my pickup truck attached, so I just rolled up my sleeping bag, took the stairs down to the parking lot, and high-tailed it out of town, even before the Sun had risen…

A little tidbit that I picked up along the way, through my adventures on the ‘maybe-soon-to-be’ island of California, is that in a high-rise building, the waves that are generated during an earthquake whip and vibrate up it, evidently maximizing at every 9th floor to the full extent of the wave cycle. I also learned that the first wave that emanates from an earthquake epicenter is a ‘back-and-forth’ type wave, which can knock buildings off their foundations. The next wave that rolls in is an ‘up-and-down’ type of wave. Now everything that had shifted off its foundation gets rocked back and forth, eventually, catastrophically, causing the top to summersault over the bottom.

This phenomenon is very similar to riding a giant wave on a surfboard and having to bail out, as the crest builds up over-head, leaving only one access of retreat — right through the wave and out ‘the back door.’ On one memorable occasion, this happened to me while surfing in San Diego after a large forest fire had emptied its carbon into the skies, giving the day-time sky an orange-brown Armageddon feel. I took off on, for me, a giant wave — maybe a 12 foot face — and it totally closed out on me. The power of the wave shot the lip out over my head, I rode down its face and made a back-side bottom turn, only to look up and see the brown sky getting darker and darker. There was no place to go and as the lip of the wave reached down and sealed itself closed onto the shallow, sucked-out, bottom of the ocean, everything went brown-black, like being on the dark side and watching the closing of a door to a semi-lit room. I remember standing there, with plenty of airspace above my head and, yes, my jaw hanging slightly ajar. I had to find the back door quickly, but time had just stopped. That wave has stayed with me for my entire life. It didn’t just end as I frantically punched a hole through the back of its extended, primeval intestines, this wave moved with me in time as well.

Waves work like that, wherever they find themselves; in the water, the air, the earth, within light or sound, and the list goes on. Take for instance Tisha be’Av, the day of mourning that just passed this week. This is the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, which culminates the 9 days that I spoke of earlier. Looking at this day throughout history is an easy way to see how waves go out into the Universe and even ‘time’ is no exception to this phenomenon. Let’s start with the remaining ripples of this calamitous event, since these are the waves that we can still see to some extent, and work backwards in time:

One of the last visible ripples that we can see in history from Tisha be’Av was in 1942. It was the ‘first’ mass deportation of Jews in cattle-cars from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka Death Camp.

Before that, in 1914, World War I broke out on Tisha be’Av, which set the tone of racist policies toward the Jews, economic hardship on the German people, and ultimately concluded with World War II and the Holocaust.

In the year 1290 on the ninth of the month of Av, King Edward I expelled all the Jews from England to keep from having to pay back loaned money.

On Tisha be’Av… in 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue (whose ‘first’ language happened to be Ladino – a mix of Hebrew and Spanish), the expulsion of the Jews from Spain at the conclusion of the Spanish Inquisition occurred.

In 135 CE, the Roman Emperor Hadrian crushed the Bar Kochba revolt and 100,000 Jews were slaughtered.

On Tisha be’Av, next in our historical lineage, the Holy Temple Mount and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman General Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city and renamed Aelia Capitolina, Judea and Samaria were renamed Palestine after an extinct people, and all in order to attempt to wipe the Jews from the map of mankind.

In the year 70 CE, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, causing the Diaspora when Jews spread around the planet to inhabit just about every corner possible.

In 586 BCE, the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar, ushering in a time without the Holy Ark of the Covenant and beginning mankind’s treacherous slide away from God.

And all of these waves, large and not so small, go back to one cataclysmic event in the year 1312 BCE, during the time of Moses, when the Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 12 Spies, and a decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel for 40 years. God told them that every year, on this date in history, they would cry…

As you can see, the waves extend out in time as well as space. We remember something and as time unfolds, we can see the relevance as all these incidents run together, creating a set of catastrophic ripples that emanate from one cataclysmic event, like a meteor hitting the ocean and sending out its reverberations all throughout time and space.

In this week’s parsha (Deut. 6:4-10), we read one of the most important things to remember of all time. We learn how to ride the mother of all waves — we learn, from the Shema, how to ride life: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is ONE; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates...”

So, how do you control the direction of the waves you are constantly making? First and foremost, you should be acutely aware of the waves that are already around you, the waves that you are riding. Remember, some of those waves were created centuries ago and some of them were also created in your own childhood by your parents and surroundings. This is why we are instructed to teach ourselves, over and over again, and to teach our children, from generation to generation that God is ONE. We don’t really exist beyond God and it is our responsibility, our part of the partnership of ONE, to jump in the water and paddle out, no matter how big the surf seems to be.

Humanity is so full of itself, its science, and its collective ego, that all along we have been blinded to the incredible wave of life that we were fortunate enough to have caught. We haven’t paid attention to the swells jacking up on the horizon and we definitely haven’t been paying attention to the waves that have cascaded out with horrific force from our own wake. Riding a wave is being able to react in a positive way, in a proactive way, to anything that comes along and this is no different than the ‘wave of life’ that we are all gliding down the face of, just praying that we can make that bottom turn and ride it out, maybe all the way ‘inside’ to the warm soft sand on the shore of paradise.

One last thing: Just remember, if you do get stuck in a murky dark tube with no real exit to speak of, no place obvious to go, God will always provide a back door for you to punch through; you just have to have the ‘guts’ to have the ‘faith’ to do it!

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wilderness, the Gates of Silence, and Life

When I was growing up, I was afraid of my Dad. He was a giant of a man, at 6’ 6” (2 meters) tall, and had the same deep, booming voice that I now have. He had a large beard, rippled muscles, and piercing blue eyes. He was also one of the most gentle and humble men that I could ever imagine in existence. He put his nose to the grindstone when necessary and when not, he continued to dwell within himself, deeply. His presence preceded him, not only because of his size, but also because of his demeanor, his nature. He had such a presence that all the neighborhood kids would run when he yelled out my name. We could all hear it echoing around the wood and stucco houses. The kids in the neighborhood would look at me with genuine fear, and a hint of compassion, in their eyes. They knew that I had to face him, to stand before him, and find out what had woken him from his introspection.

When his voice would boom down the block, threatening upheaval and chaos, we would all wonder what calamity would soon befall and grudgingly, I would head up to the house to collect my fate; I can still hear the echo of his booming voice in my head, “DREEEWWWWW!!!” To be on the safe side, I would haltingly slink around corners, trying to avoid a full frontal assault with the hope of collecting any vitally needed information from an alternative source. 9 times out of 10, however, when we did meet, he would just smile at me; sometimes with only his eyes and sometimes just with his mouth. I would be relieved to find out that I just needed to pick up my clothes from the floor, put my dish in the sink, or that it was time for dinner, that I was not in trouble for anything at all.

Enter Moses in this week’s parsha, Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), “These are the words of Moses...” According to the Vilna Gaon, the four previous books of the Chumash came directly from God and were dictated, word for word, by Moses. The book of Devarim is the words of God through Moses' own comprehension, just like all of the later (and lesser) prophets. Within these first words of Moses, we are taught, there is a veiled threat to the Israelites. Why veiled? Rashi points out that the following verse, “...concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab...” makes reference to places where the people angered God. We learn that “in the Wilderness” is not just a nostalgic going over of the cosmic road trip of the Israelites in the desert, but a reference to the places where we failed — in the Wilderness.

The Wilderness in Hebrew is Bemidbar (the Desert). If we break down the Hebrew of this word, Bemidbar, we get ‘Be (in),’ and ‘Medaber’ (speaking). If we break it down further we get ‘Me’ (from) and ‘Davar’ (word). Another meaning of Davar is ‘thing.’ So, if we put all this back together, essentially we get ‘While in a desolate region that does not support life, every possible ‘thing’ of sustenance is spoken into existence for our benefit by a higher source, by God. The Israelites were about to leave the Wilderness and enter the Land of Israel and they were going to have to start relying on themselves. According to Hirsch, the book of Deuteronomy was the People of Israel’s introduction to the new life they would have to forge in the Land of Israel. They had to learn to build a society and Moses had 5 weeks to teach them, like a father would teach his children, how they would succeed in life and how they might fail.

I remember once, while installing custom windows into my childhood home, my dad, my brother, and I got into a heated debate on how to create suitable moldings in order to let the water drain properly. These were plate glass windows that we were custom milling the moldings for on a table saw in the garage. My grandfather was a cabinet maker and my dad had only picked up a few tricks from him, so when this particular problem came up, he was stumped. I remember he and my brother, who was like my father in many ways, were arguing about the best way to do it. My brother had a good idea, but it didn’t seem to mesh with my father’s vision. In the meantime, I was standing on the side, just waiting for an opportunity to interrupt the squabble. I tried to be as patient as I could, but believe me, it was frustrating. They really seemed to enjoy the debate as well.

You see, I had already solved the problem in my head. When I finally found the moment to insert my plan into the discussion, my dad listened and then just stopped speaking. My brother stopped as well. They both stood in silence for what felt like an eternity to me, evidently visualizing what I had conjectured. Then, my dad looked at me and smiled, with both his eyes and with his mouth. From that day on, I was a woodworker. Even while in art school, while learning to oil paint, I would find myself sneaking into the woodshop to build something amorphous that had been floating around in my mind. I did go on to run a custom woodworking business and I credit that moment, while I was standing with my brother and my father, with the initial stirring of inspiration to do so.

A parable comes to mind that I read, originally derived from the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, that goes like this:

A father and his child are in dialog together. The child has many questions and the father answers the questions of his child gladly. They are very happy together; they are in a joyful dialogue.

Then the child asks a particular question. The father, in order to answer his child properly, must think very deeply. He must think, not only of the answer, but to think deeply enough to reach the essence of this answer, so he may bring it into full light, into complete truth, to the world of his child. For a long time the father is quiet, thinking.

The child is patient at first, but then the child becomes anxious and starts to whimper and then to cry out, "Father, where are you? Why don’t you talk to me anymore? Why have you abandoned me for your own thoughts?"

Then, the father begins to speak, but this time the words are from the depth of his mind and the words flow with ease into the mind and into the heart of the child. This flow is so deep that it will also, in its inception, create a father from the child.

The child in this parable is us. The time of silence is, for humanity, now.

So, when Moses held back his chastisement of the Israelites and only mentioned the places in which they all knew that they had gone against the ways of God, he was allowing them to take in his words and learn from them. If he would have rubbed their noses in it, what do you think would have happened? Moses was their leader, their prophet. Just standing before him would have been akin to the neighborhood kids standing before my giant of a father, waiting for his judgment.

When I was standing in front of the window project, waiting for an answer from my father, his answer, when he finally gave it, went right to my core. He stood in silence, just long enough for me to start to wonder, just long enough for me to begin to cry out on the inside, “Maybe he thinks it wont work, maybe he doesn’t really love me as much as my brother, maybe he doesn’t even like me, maybe (in order to protect myself from the pain) he can no longer exist for me.”

The parable from above concludes like this:

When man’s spirit is dark, when the flow gates from above seem all but sealed, prepare for ultimate liberation.

I think we can see that this is an idea that is both ‘micro’ and ‘macro,’ affecting both the individual and all of humanity. So, what is “ultimate liberation?” To society as a whole it is the Messiah. To you and to me, individually, the Messiah can also be those moments that define us, those moments of true connection to something greater than us, to something amazing that has raised us up to our full height, to our full potential, and to something that imparts upon us the honor of carrying on the legacy of life.

I am thinking of you Dad; rest in peace.

Shabbat Shalom!