Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Six Years and Paradoxical Perfection

Today I celebrate having lived in the Holy Land for 6 years; that is exactly 6 times that the Earth has revolved around the Sun (give or take approximately .24 of a day x 6). These last 6 years, while riding the steady gyrations of Planet Earth from the middle of the Middle East, my life has changed in ways that I can 'only' reflect on now, meaning: there was absolutely no ability to have any foresight whatsoever on any of it. When I was fresh off the boat and strolling resolutely upon the banks of Ben Gurion International Airport, it had been the end of about one and a half trips around the sun, in which I underwent a kind of process to shed what I had built before, recreating an empty sphere of potential, very similar to the one that I was once born with almost 50 years ago. With this sphere of potential, I learned a new language, a new culture, a new religion, and a new profession. I even got married again to the 'same' wonderful woman! It was definitely a rebirth into the world, as my lips briefly caressed the tarmac after making Alyiah, climbing up to the heights of potential by emptying my ego and all that I believed that I was… before.

Many still wonder what drove me and my family to move to the heart of the Middle East and many more don’t even want to know, which at times can even include me. All I can recall is that I felt driven from the inside, somehow. There was no ‘Let’s move to a nicer place, a better place, a safer place, a more open place, maybe up on the big hill…” There was only the nagging feeling that I was in the ‘wrong’ place and time was running out… quickly. It made absolutely no sense at all! I lived in Boulder, Colorado! I had my own business and a 200 square meter studio! I rode my full suspension mountain bike to work, pulling a trailer carrying my three-legged dog and a laptop on my back! My kids were in the 'best' schools in the country! My wife had a thriving business of her own – run from the house, no less! Life was good, really good, but we all felt something was not right… something needed to shift.

It could have just been a midlife crisis, but that doesn’t account for my 11 and 14 year old son's feelings on the subject. The 11 year old was following suit, to some extent, but the 14 year old was leaving 'all' of his hard earned friends and 'all' of his dreams of what was to come – far – behind. I remember when he met me at Ben Gurion Airport on his bar mitzvah trip that, ultimately, sealed the deal for us all a year before. He ran to the airport entrance, as I arrived, and gave me a big hug, saying, "Dad! We love it here! We are going to 'move' here!!" Now, looking back through the rear-view mirror, I see that it must have all been meant to be. I am sitting here right now, writing a blog post that I could 'never' have attempted in Boulder. Yeah, I still have the woodworking bug and crave a perfectly air-dried chunk of Black Walnut or Bubinga to sink my freshly hand-sharpened Marples Chisel into… and I still visualize the home-made custom / combo Damar Varnish oil glaze as it stretches across a perfectly prepared and painted wood panel, only to eventually crack, ever so subtly, revealing the wonder of time, space, truth, and pure art in the world, but it was not to be… forever.

It must be kind of like living at the edge of dusk on the 6th day of Creation. It feels like that, anyways. Everything is fuzzy and shadowed. I can't quite make out what is moving towards me at, what I am attempting to perceive as a high rate of speed. All I can see is a blur, while the world goes black and then strobes to white-light and rousing truth. I am riding a sphere, standing in the middle of the Middle East. Six years have passed and I am a new person, not perfect, but trying. The cosmic blades of grass are whipping past me, sometimes slicing and sometimes caressing my rosy-red cheeks. Perfection is waiting, just on the other side of Paradox. I am waiting too, just like us all. We are waiting for the truth to reveal itself into the reality that we call ours. We are waiting for it, but… not really.

This week's parsha is Korach (Numbers 16-18), where the Earth opens its fiery jaws, gulps, and swallows the haughty down to the depths of Sheol. We learn that even the mighty (read holy) can fall… and fall harder than the rest of us. We learn that to live at a higher spiritual level can bring tremendous highs and that failure, while living on that level, can bring ultimate defeat. We also learn that, to the very end, we have a chance to succeed in our connection to the Truth – we can leap into the stratosphere and embrace the wonder of Creation. We can embrace God within the paradox of us. We can be… Truth.

I wonder what the next 6 years will bring. $&*#... I wonder what next year will bring… Life is moving 'so' fast nowadays that I can barely even remember the 15 years that I spent in Boulder, Colorado. Yeah, it's mantra time, "From Paradise to the Promised Land… from Paradise to the Promised Land… from Paradise to the Promised Land…" That about covers it; but, we all know that in the end, the real paradox is to understand the difference… the difference between the perfection of paradise and the promise of perfection.

Yalla Chavarim and Shabbat Shalom!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lighting up the Darkness and the Smog Check Place

Tzipori Mosaic
I decided not to go to the wedding. It was at 3:30 on Friday afternoon for Heaven's sake… I mean, what were they thinking? How was the Rabbi even going to officiate the whole deal? Then I realized… This was not going to be a 'religious' affair; so, in my very special brand of finite wisdom, I conveniently forgot about it and made other Friday plans, which, happened to be ultimately (and rudely) interrupted by the appointment that we had… to get a smog check on our old car. Sheesh… the previous week, after waiting for about an hour and a half in the hot sun and spending about 300 shekels, it had failed… We were instructed by the guy at the garage to put this special German engine cleaner stuff in the tank and run it up and down the hills around here; we had only one day left to pass it — Friday. So, I put my plans on hold, crossed my fingers, and drove like a bat-outa-hell to get the last drop out of the German engine cleaner stuff before they plumbed the tail pipe with that alien probe thing.

Rewind to the week before:

While trying to navigate the sequence of eventual events at the smog check place, I walked up to one of the Arab technicians that worked there on the tell-all smog machine. As I was asking him where I should go to process my (oh-so-Russian style) paper-work, the other Arab worker guy in front of him started to back up a car with a rev, rev of his engine. I thought, "Is that guy going to stop?" You know how it works: first you have a flash of a thought, then a realization, and then it really sets in, then you watch it happen right in front of your eyes. The Arab got pinched between two cars, one of which was traveling at a 'really' high rate of speed, the other with the hood propped up. I knew I was going to watch the guy get cut in two… I just knew it. In that moment, as I was trying 'so' hard to navigate the corridors of existence in my life here, I was forced to let out a scream of terror. I yelled out at the top of my lungs, "Heeeeeyyyyyyy!!!!" The car stopped, just as it pinched the Arab's trousers. He couldn't move and began to protest the other Arab's driving, but in such a weird way that I thought this must be totally normal, like this was exactly what happened every single day at the smog check place…

Fast forward to the following Friday morning:

On the way to the smog check, my wonderfully accurate and timely wife began to tell me about the wedding that I had conveniently forgotten about. I, regrettably (and in-the-moment style innocently), had a flash of rage and confusion. I even 'pretended' that I didn't remember it; but, I knew right then that I had only covered it with blindness. I apologized to my wife, but was still steaming on the inside and began to sink deeper into the seat of the car. Now all my plans were ruined and on top of that, I had to go to this pseudo-wedding, this sham of reality here in the Promised Land. (Sometimes I can be such a putz…) So, we got to the smog check place and this time my wife had a plan to get the car to pass, in case the alien tail-pipe enema didn't go so well. She was going to flirt with the guy to get him to pass the car. I continued to melt into the seat and watched as she sauntered up and (really looking great) started to small talk the technician. Long story short, he neglected to probe the tail pipe completely, he smiled at my wife, then at me, and we drove away wondering what had happened. We were 'off' to the wedding.

Fast forward to about 3:30 that same Friday afternoon:

After about a 45 minute drive away to an ancient city called Tzipori, we arrived at the wedding. It was held at a private ranch, resplendent with all the frills. We parked the car and walked the rest of the way and upon entering the reception area, were greeted by an over-arching sign saying "Wellcome!" Yeah, it was misspelled… The whole place seemed to be styled after some kind of American / Texas ranch. Suffice it to say, it was not a typical Israeli wedding. We made our way over to someone that looked official and asked him if the food was kosher… no surprise there, so I went to the bar to order a beer (beer is kosher, for those of you that didn't know). The young women behind the bar were all scantily clad, hiking their miniskirts back down at every turn. After receiving a tall Tuborg, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Immediately I got nervous and felt I needed to explain that, "Beer was kosher" to the short bald guy that had said something that I didn't quite understand… I was thinking, "What is an Ed?" Oy, the guy was the father of the bride and they wanted me to be a witness at the wedding!

All I remember is hearing my wife say, "Well, you look like the only Jew here," I assume since the Rabbi and I were the only ones wearing a kippah. I ducked as a maître d' type raised a stanchion and admitted me into the private sanctum where only family and close friends were allowed. We arrived at a group of tables, one of which was covered with half eaten sausages and beer glasses. Me, the father of the bride, the father of the groom (and owner of the ranch), the groom, and the other witness (who had a cowboy hat on that the rabbi insisted he wear for lack of a kippah) all sat down and began signing the kettuba (wedding contract).

About this time, I realized that there was a hulking figure wandering about in the shadows behind us. He had long black dread-locks, hair everywhere, and looked vaguely familiar. I kept looking at him and catching his eye, as if he was waiting for me to recognize him. Yeah, as it turns out he is quite a famous musician in Israel – Mosh Ben-Ari. He played the wedding march and I assume, since the entire place was decked out like a concert hall, a rock concert later that night, which we couldn't stay to see… bummer…

We left, neck-in-neck with the rabbi, after 10 minutes under the Hupa (wedding canopy), as all the quests began to make their way over to the sumptuous roasting meat on spits that surrounded the gourmet tables at the edge of the stage. I was absolutely blown away by the wealth, but even more so at how little anyone there knew about the holiness of the event, the reason for the gathering in the first place. We were all surrounded by extreme beauty and affluence, smack in the middle of the ancient Holy Land, and I was confused at the lack of knowledge, the inability to see the true depth in life; but, it wasn't until I read a commentary on the parsha, Be'halot'cha (Numbers 8-12), for this week that I truly understood what had really happened.

Fast forward to yesterday:

I read: "When you kindle the lights, toward the (face) center of the Menorah shall the seven lights shine." The commentary went on to explain that the Menorah had seven lights, one in the center that pointed straight up and three on each side of it that pointed towards the center. The Sages explain that the three lights on the right represent those who are totally committed to spirituality and Torah, while the three lights on the left represent the people who spend most of their time dwelling in matters of the world. As well, instead of the Torah using the word "Lehadlik," meaning to kindle, it uses the word "Be'halot'cha," which literally means: to elevate. By pointing all of the lights toward the center, the Torah is teaching us that no matter whether a person is on the left or on the right, no matter whether a person is dwelling in this world or reaching for the next, what is of utmost importance (and really all that ultimately matters) is that each one of us focus our attention toward the Creator, who is at the center of the Menorah, who is at the center of the Universe, who is ultimate Truth and at the Center of each and every one of us.

What's the bottom line…? Well, I guess I just have to say it then… "We're all One baby!"

Shabbat Shalom!!