Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reason, Brooding Chaos, and Faith

When I was young, I thought that it was all going to be OK. Looking back now, I realize that I was right, but, but… it… wasn't about what 'would' be, after all, was it…? It was really about wondering 'in the first place' if it would be alright or not. Some would say that it was a lack of faith that drove that concept home and into my little brain, swirling somewhere in the Universe. I would disagree, vehemently… But, that is just me, now, going on 50 and sitting here in front of a computer screen, right smack in the middle of the Holy Land. I realize that I was duped in life. I was baited with a holy carrot, a supposedly universal truth, a truth that stated that, eventually, I was going to be OK… That is to say that… I am not OK, now; nor have I ever been…

So, who determines what is OK? Just look at the current state of affairs in the Middle East for instance. Iran is about to go deep, deep underground with their weapon's grade nuclear production facility that will need a 'bunker-buster' bomb to extinguish its production. Israel has about a month and a half to decide if it has enough faith in America to go past that deadline. America has the capacity to destroy, deep, down nuclear bunkers, but Israel, without the help of America, needs to act before the nukes descend, deep, deep, below their ability to touch. It is about time, you would think, for some faith, right? If Israel doesn't act soon, the one democratic island, smack in the middle of the Middle East, will have to rely on its big brother America and its current, seemingly anti-Israel administration to do it for them.

And, what if the Americans don't do it? Well, The Iranian President, Ahmadinejad says it best, "Israel must be wiped off the map…" So, it all comes down to whether Israel will have faith in the current American administration. Should Israel wait and see, putting every citizen, over 6 million men, women, and children on the table for potential annihilation, for being swept into the sea, complete oblivion? It seems that the Jewish people have been challenged like this before, haven't they? We should look at some history, just in case…
I know, I know, history is boring… So, let's just look at a specific piece of history of the region then, shall we? In 423 BCE, the first Holy Temple was destroyed by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar. The majority of the Jews that were living in the Land of Israel were exiled to Babylon and Persia, which is Iran and Iraq today. Fifty-one years later, in 372 BCE, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians, and in 369 BCE King Ahasuerus of Persia ascended the throne and ruled over 127 provinces throughout the region.
After three years, Ahasuerus threw a feast that lead to his wife Vashti's execution for refusing to dance naked for the king's guests. A beauty pageant was then coordinated, requesting the beauties from all 127 provinces to participate, in order to find a new wife for the king. Esther, the Jew, was chosen to be the new queen; Haman, the great, great grandchild of the notorious anti-Semitic entity, Amalek was named prime minister and in 357 BCE, the first 'Final Solution' was decreed,  orchestrated by Haman, against the Jews, who were, incidentally, completely trapped as a people within those same 127 provinces. So, how does the story end? Well, it ends with Purim, which happens to be right around the corner from now, just like the (would be) current Iranian 'Final Solution' for the Jews…
It seems that it is a lot about faith in life. I mean, how are we supposed to function? You either have to have faith or you have to embrace ignorance and hold it close if you want to remain sane. Yeah, I know, you are asking, "Where does reason fit in?" Well, the Rambam says that having faith without reason is as if saying that God doesn't run the world. Blind faith, or faith without reason, is akin to blasphemy in the Jewish tradition. Having been born into a Christian world, to a (Secular) Christian family, having learned some about Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern traditions, having learned about Islam and Animism, and yes, having converted to Judaism twice, I think about this kind of stuff, probably too much… You see, in Christianity, it is 'all' about faith. Reason is the Satan influencing thoughts. You are supposed to let it all go and just believe. Well, believe it or not, this type of system 'can' work in the world and does – just not for everyone – Jews for instance. A Jew is responsible for asking questions when things don't make sense. Jews have to read everything available, calculate the ramifications, incorporate philosophy, predict the outcome, and only then can a Jew reach out to the Creator with pure faith.
Since my personal life has taken a turn in a dark direction as of late and since the world seems to be reflecting that sentiment, I think that for Purim this year, I am going to have to embrace the chaos just a little harder, a little deeper, I am going to have to delve just a little farther into the 'reason' of it all and watch Amalek (may his name be erased) sprout its roots deeper into the world. It seems that, as a Jew, I am going to have to suspend my disbelief of the insanity in the world we live in. I am going to have to make an attempt to sort it all out, to create order out of the brooding chaos and maybe, just maybe, when I have submersed into the deep dark, I can look for a crack of light to seep into my consciousness. I can open the door to the idea that God will be there for me, having faith. Only then, it seems, can I truly know, once and for all that it is all actually OK.
Yalla Chavarim!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Death and Birth in the Garden

This week… I read a Facebook comment that one of my holy teachers, Mora Yehudis, made about Tu be'Shvat. "The mystics say (on Tu be'Shvat) to daven for a beautiful etrog (a citrus-like fruit for Sukkot) and that it is a special opportunity to be able to look straight into our dark sides and to be able to extract the gift hiding within them ("them" being our dark sides)."

This week…, at 2:30 am on Wednesday morning, I awoke to my cell phone ringing. My little brother was on the other end of the line and told me that he had just found out that our mother had succumbed to her cancer and died, sometime last Sunday.
This week, on Monday night, something sharp landed in my eye, right as I was bedding down for the night. I tried to wash it out, but it kept hurting, so I figured that I had scratched it. To try and sleep I had to press my eye into the pillow to feel some tiny relief; but, every time I rolled over I awoke from the pain.

This week… I considered going off of my cholesterol medicine. I started taking it a few months back, but because I ran out I thought I might give it a rest, maybe forever. I started to take the medicine because my wife and kids said that they wanted to keep me around for a while. Even though I am a true procrastinator... how could I argue with that kind of love-logic and pressure? So, with that in mind, instead of permanently going off of it, I just continued with my silent debate whether or not to continue taking it.
This week, on Tuesday, at work, I couldn't concentrate. My eye was killing me, so I decided to go see the doctor and maybe I could even fill my cholesterol medication as well... a real bonus for such a procrastinator, like me! I left from work early to walk to the doctor's office, and as soon as I got out of the door a gust of wind seared across my eye, which had been steadily leaking for about 20 hours, but this time, as I winced from the pain, the wind caused my eye to 'gush' with tears. Immediately, my eye felt better, but since I had already left work, I decided to just go to the doctor's office anyway and have her take a look.

This week, on Wednesday morning, I woke to my brother's phone call with the news of our mother's death. It was Tu be'Shvat, which is the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat and the Tree New Year. My understanding is that the significance of the new year for trees is based on a Torah verse (Deut. 20:19), in which the commentaries compare a human being to a tree. The Lubavicher Rebbe makes an analogy that a tree is made up of roots, tree, and its fruit. The roots, even though they are hidden under ground (in other words, signifying faith), are extremely important to the tree. The roots provide the tree with nourishment and essential minerals and they also stabilize and support the tree, protecting it from high winds and bad weather.
This week… actually started with a long hike the day before, on Shabbat. I had planned on going to Synagogue in the morning, but mid-stream I changed my plans. I emptied my pockets, since I was headed out of the Eruv and can't carry anything there on Shabbat, and took off into the woods near my house. It was a beautiful day, but very crowded on the trails. As soon as I found myself untangling my legs from an oblivious dog-walker-on-a-cell-phone's leash, I changed my plans again and went straight into the bushes, off-trail. I bush-wacked around the graves of Baron Rothschild and his wife, down the hill, and into the valley that the antelope sleep in, all the while avoiding trails and people. I took a quick break at the Roman bath house ruins, where I drank from a natural spring and tried not to notice the tourists crowding around, evidently wondering who had just emerged from the bushes, had drunk from the ground with a cupped hand, and then disappeared again, as the trees closed behind me. I bush-wacked down another valley and up a little mountain to a rock with a view of Judea and Samaria. I sat down, just me, the angels, and God… and then I cried.

This week, when I left work to walk to the doctor's office, an angel told me that I was supposed to live 'at least' as long as the cholesterol medicine is supposed to help. The angels had evidently put something in my eye and kept it there for a night and a day, just to get me, the eternal procrastinator and excuse-maker, into that doctor's office to collect my medicine. When I finally realized that I was only duped into going to the doctor's, ahead of my ego's schedule, I really felt God's hand supporting me, literally carrying me, helping me to get to the goal, my own goal.
This week… I think I saw my roots, slipping and squeezing through the dirt and nutrients that they reside in. I saw that my life is what I make it and that all I need to do is open my eyes to see the goal. I saw, for a brief moment, the inner workings of the world, until, inevitably, my mind was numbed over by physicality, confusion, and the mere possibility of Infinite 'potential.'

This morning… (is it Wednesday?), I gingerly opened my Tallit, unfurled it with awe and reverently hid beneath it. I unzipped my Tefillin bag, wrapped my 'Yad' with pure intention, concentration, and dedication, I placed my 'Rosh' with a vision floating in front of me of countless angels wrapping around a stadium, and then I prayed with all my heart and soul to the Creator of the Universe, right in the midst of the chaos that was 'supposedly' swirling around me. I thanked Him for everything, for absolutely everything, from the root of my soul, up through the wood of my trunk… my tree, and under my breath, I sang to the angels until my branches were laden with fruit, and once again, I cried.
Khag Sameakh and Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dogs, Devils, and the Razor's Edge

Crazy, living in the past is so… passé. We are so focused on potential future benefits, as they have been projected from our past forays into whatever, we just don't pay attention. I mean, it has 'all' been spelled out, for those of us that are ready to hear it. We just are too busy, I guess… My last post was a real shocker and, yeah, a downer too. Personal business is, as well, so… passé… Let's talk about the parsha ha'shavua, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), why don't we? It is about how Pharaoh, the god-king of Egypt, had finally agreed to let the Jews leave and God, in his Infinite wisdom, led the Jews to Israel on the most roundabout way and the 'longest' route believable. God, of course, knew that if He took them out on the shortest route, the Jews would get mixed up in the war that was brewing along the way. God said, "Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt" (Exodus, 13:17). Even though the Jewish people had just, personally, witnessed an awesome series of miracles, all plague-like and such, God knew that at the first sign of trouble, the generations of Jewish-slaves would want to return to Egypt and back to their lives of normalcy and, yes, slavery.

Normalcy, it seems, isn't all it is cracked up to be. Really, if you delve into the subject a bit, we are all slaves to something or other. We just find ourselves, one day, wondering how in the Hell we arrived at such an absurd junction, such a place of chaos… I often wonder, "What if each and every one of us could 'really' tap our potential?" We seem to think that it is all about power and money, but it isn't folks. It is about living the truth of who we were meant to be; which is: we were meant to be God-like, not the ego-maniacs that have evidently hijacked our own reality from right under our proboscis Pinocchio noses...

Speaking of proboscises, I remembered, recently, one of my first dogs. Her name was Nutmeg, but we just called her Meg. She was a Weimaraner; you know, one of those William Wegman dogs that are all shimmering purple, with floppy ears, and long noses? What a trip… Meg, my dog, was hit by a car in the alley behind my house. My dad tried to pick her up and carry her into the house, but, in the accident, she had broken her back and then bit him when he tried to lift her. They were both bleeding when they came through the kitchen door. I remember it vividly... I made a painting of it once. The whole thing was cartoon-like and very happy-pastel with tiny blood red drops, but right in the corner, I painted myself. I was also happy-pastel, but my face… my face… the size of a thumbnail, was squinched into a mask of anguish, confusion, and fury.

We all have our masks, our faces that we put on to deal with the reality at hand. At work today, I got into this really interesting philosophical discussion with my workmates. One is a real Jewish mom. The other is a real Christian dad. We each had our own opinion about how mankind is shaped by the Creator. The Jewish mom was primarily focused on her kids, which makes perfect sense. The Christian dad was primarily focused on his personal vision of belief, which fits. And I was focused on my personal vision of belief as it relates to my personal experience as a father, I guess… The conversation got a little heated when the Jewish mom and the Jewish dad didn't agree with the Christian dad that humans were born inherently bad. The Jewish mom said something like, "When I look at my kids, how could I think such a thing? They may do stuff that is not necessarily good, but, just look at them! They are bright, beautiful little beings!" It made sense, but it wasn't really philosophy; it was living reality.

The Christian dad then started to vent at how he didn't mean 'her' kids, he meant Humanity in general. That is when I chimed in with the whole Yetzer deal… "It is not possible, in the realm of… 'reality,' for a human being to be inherently bad. If a person has the potential to be bad, that does not make the person intrinsically bad. We all have the ability to choose, in every micro-second of every moment, to do good or not to. This is what makes us God-like, Betzelem-Elokim."  The Jewish mom agreed. The Christian dad seemed to feel that he had not been able to get his point across…

As of late, I have become much more aware that there are forces at work, forces that, even though I have studied them and learned about how they fit perfectly into a 'rationally' based spiritual world, are way beyond what I will ever be capable of understanding. The forces that hit the hardest are the ones that tend to peel off our masks, to expose the bleeding edge of our personal ego-trips. Ultimately, I have to remember that it is all a trip and that every moment, regardless of how trivial or uneventful, how horrible or how tragic, is a gift. I have to remember that we were designed to be givers in a world that promotes takers. I have to remember that God is on my side, giving me the challenges that I can handle and making me go the long way around when I just can't deal…

It's all such a trip…

Shabbat Shalom!