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Running on Jewish Time

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

One who enters Adar....

....had better be far drunker or more tired than I am to do justice to it.

but in attempt to do otherwise,

anyone have a good perush for megillat esther?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Chana , a Woman Awake In the Night

"Give to Your maidservant the children and I will give him to Hashem all the days of his life.[Shm. I 1:11]"
He is the"Lord of Hosts of Heaven and Earth... [ibid]"
Does He need another servant? "....Is it hard for You to give me one son?[Brachot 31b]"

"...Roeh, Tireh... You will surely see the pain of Your maid servant...."
Is there anything He does not see? "See my pain, or You will see when I drink the mei sotah and You will have to give me a child[ibid]"

"....Remember me and don't forget..."
Has He ever forgotten anyone? "Give to me a child, and then continue to give me more children.."

"...Give to Your maidservant the children and he will be given to Hashem all the days of his life.[Shm. I 1:11]"
It's not a bargain. It's a statement of fact. Her child will be one who can be dedicated to G-d all the days of his life.

Who is Chana?
"And she saw her merchandise was good, and at night her candle did not go out [Mishlei 31:18]"
She knew her own greatness and did not despair.

Who will Chana's child be?

"The candle of Hashem was now extinguished....(The sun of Eli set....)
...And Hashem called to Shumel, and he said, 'Heneini' [Shm I 3:2-3]"

As night falls, Chana's candle burns bright.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Other Face in the Mirror

[Note: Had enough analysis of the quantitative form today.... This is a decided indulgence]

Catching a reflection in a mirror, we peruse our face casually, barely noticing the imperceptible differences. The sharp lines, the taunt skin over bones no longer smoothed by baby fat, the eyes clouded by too many thoughts and feelings.

Do you ever notice the other face in the mirror?
You don't need a mirror, just another person's face. Look at them closely, past their pasted on smiles, their sweet words, the planes and angles of their face. Stare at their eyes, those windows to the soul, the heart exposed to the world, look past the white, the colored circle to the black dot.

Do you see it yet?

There's a face there. Wide open, laughing or crying, full of energy or emotion. A person whole and entire. There's nowhere to hide it in the eyes.

Do you recognize it yet?

Do you know who you are looking for when you search someone else's face?

Sometimes all we can see in others is what we think of ourselves.

Monday, February 20, 2006

On Being Good PR

[Note: More of the continuing contemplations of graduating]

Every once in a while, one of my scholarships requires that I go off and be PR for the college. Smile and talk about the great classes, challenging majors, and opportunities of this great university.

So I do it.

But I don't want to be here.

I came to college for one simple reason. I promised my parents. Standard deal.
I got four more months of Israel.
They got four years of an accredited college.
I still think it was a bargain.

So is this all so much hypocrisy?

I'm not sure.

I don't lie, the classes are good. The library is fantastic. The professors are really quite decent and for the vast majority of these high school kids from everywhere in the country, it's not a bad place at all.

So what about the Jewish kids?

Well, what about them?

Why shouldn't this be a good place for them? It's got a big Hillel, big Jewish population in general, somewhere is the thousands. The Jewish life is active, very active. A Jewish couple from my old shul was on the front page of the school newspaper, today and the lead article was about being shomer negiah. (I couldn't make this up even if I wanted to.)

So what am I selling to the Jewish kids as I stand there in my long sleeves and skirt discussing majors and scholarships and the joys of academic research. Some sort of Torah U'Madda? Frum and cool? Educated and learned? You too, can survive and thrive in the college environment.

It's true, in a caveoted sort of way.

Even if they can't see the invisible boundaries that I've drawn through my life, the apartment my roommate plastered with pesukim and my beloved bookshelves. Even if they don't know the difference between the Masmida in seminary and as she is now.

So am I a hypocrite?
I'm still not sure.
But perhaps this is G-d's way of forcing me to find the good in my own unwanted education.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Learning to Walk

[Note: In the midst of reading One People, Two Worlds by Hirsch and Reinman, a interchange between a Reform and Orthodox Rabbi, respectively. Any book in cherem by definition is worth reading ]

Hirsch alternately is deeply appealing and downright infuriating. His moving paens to Jewish unity and brotherly love are well written and relavent. But his theological arguments and discriptions of his position are wide ranging and poetical, bearing greater resemblance to a popular author's discription of quantum mechanics to the actual math and measurment that is Jewish thought.

The whole Reform position strikes me as one who would wish to run before he can walk. The attempt to extract wide ranging universal philosphilical insights before he has studied deeply logic or the nature of man. Of one who would build brigde the Hudson and ends up painting the Japanese Footbrigde. Beautiful, insightful but will not be supporting any major traffic anytime soon. Of one who would wants the results without ever doing the work.

In my own personal studies, it is a perpetual struggle to learn the actual material on the page. It is far easier to extract some similar peice from my mental library and impose on the pasuk, the ma'mar, and stretch here and there until it fits. But then I have learned nothing new and distorted that which I have learnt.

How can an answer be given if the question is not known yet? But to find the questions requires effort and the willingness to acknowledge ignorance and find uncertainty.

"What does the pasuk say?"

The simplest, most elementary question posed to every six year old in an Orthodox school. Translate and ask questions, like a perpetual Haggadah, the whole Torah is there to make the children ask, to make the adults ask again.

Love thy neighbor as thyself

What is 'Love'? Who is the 'neighbor'? Does 'as' mean 'as much as', 'equal to', 'except when he gets in my way'? How can emotions be dictated? and so on.

Before these questions are answered, all deep seated, beautifully composed sentiments on the love of humanity are facile and moreover, ignorant. It is like attempting to praise a man, having only seen his face and never spoken to him.

The infuriating aspect of Hirsch is precisely that he formulates profound thoughts without through aquaitence with his basic material. Without ever pausing on the question of 'What does it mean' before rushing to the issue of 'How do we understand it.' The onus is not on the Torah to be relavent to our lives but on us to work and labor is comprehend its... His intention not our interpretation.

This is the mismatch between Reinman and Hirsch. In some ways the disscusion bears more similarity to a phyicist and writer dicussing the nature of reality. One is explaining the world from first principles, is absorbed in the comprehension and detailed explaination of all sort of phenomena, large and minute. The other wishes to draw the world in broad strokes, a image to be redraw and reinterpreted with every change of light.

My bias is obvious. I have learnt that all the grand flourishes and phrases in the world cannot redeem an idea which simply contradicts the material it is based on. That the feet must be firm on the ground before building castles in the air. This is the one and truely only superiority that Orthodoxy can claim. That we are persistant in our attempt to understand and follow the whole Torah, not merely that which is 'relevant'.

A person who will not reconcile the meaning of the pleasent verses with the brutal ones and discarding the latter, is not interperting Torah, or explaining it, he is eviscerating it.

And it is this gutted and dried wisdom which is taught. Can anyone wonder that those who are taught how to fly without ever learning to walk, often find themselves tiring of their heights and landing on the ground, only to find themselves, crippled with their borrowed wings broken and no means of building new ones, no way to walk, no halacha.

Learning to walk is hard, is unromantic, opens the world one laborious step at a time but it is the only way to journey across this narrow bridge of life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Experiments in the Experience of G-d

There is a wall through the center of my brain. One side there is the mind that quotes Shakespeare and casually discusses the probabilistic nature of the universe. The other side finds messages in the random shuffling of my mp3 player and talks to G-d quietly in the middle of the night.

These two sides have very little to say to one another. G-d is G-d and gravity, gravity and arguments against either are met with the same incomprehension.

How does the rock fall? At an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second. Don't believe it, fine, go measure it. Who cares where the rules can from, that has no bearing on what the laws are.

Why does the rock fall? Because G-d wrote laws for His Universe to dance to. Don't believe it, fine, go ask Him. What difference does it make what the laws actually are, He can change them at will.

The two are so very separate operating according to different standards or proof and truth and investigation. It is a struggle to imagine where they might meet, of

"...Running an experiment. I'm trying to be a Navi [prophet]" the little girl sits stiffly, intensely scrutinizing the road for unexpected behavior. Her rigid form in stark contrast to the peaceful
summery day.

" A what?! Why?"

" Because the rabbi said that there aren't any neviim now. So I'm testing if he's right or not." her gaze unwavering, expectant.

" ... by being a Navi." I hadn't heard that right.

" How else do you test it? I waiting to see if my vision comes true." I guess not.

" Ummm. What do you think a Navi is, exactly?"

" Someone who can see the future. So I've imagined the future and now I'm waiting." her hands tighten around the edge of the bench. Oh dear. What now?

" Chabebe, a Nevuah is an experience of G-d. of perfection, of inifinity, of being as close to Him as humanly possible. and sometimes, Hashem gives them knowledge that they have to transform from the pure idea into a vision. It's not a crystal ball."

The little girl's hands grow white knuckled as she leans forward, frowning fiercely at the road. The silence lengthens and deepens. Holding my breathe, I didn't mean to crush her dreams... it's just that, who does this kid think she is?

" Alright." she wrenches herself from the road and focuses on me with a frightening intensity, "How do I do that then?"

" Errrr... Um. Well. You have to have a certain ability to visualize the abstract." Somehow I did not

think this would a problem for this kid.
"You have to know all of Torah, perfect your midot, be recognized by a Navi Muvhack." words half-remembered tumbling out of my mouth until the torrent finally ground to a halt under the scrutiny of that clear, cool gaze. Another silence expanding like a blushing rose of embarrassment.

"Where can I find more of this?" Words sliding through the silence.
That I knew.
"Yad HaChazaka, Rambam, Sefer Melachim, but look it up in the Sefer Mitzvot first, though." Okay. Let's see if this scary child can hack the real stuff.

With a tilt her of her head, she opens her mouth as a brown van pulls up and a voice wafts out, "Sorry, I was late. I hope you've been keeping yourself busy."

The little girl frowns, "The results failed."

" Come on, sweetheart, get in. We have to pick up your brother at school and we don't want to be late."

Right. Okay. So if scary little eleven year old can try and merge the two, let's see what I can do.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Beneath the Ice.

Winter's come just in time for spring, crushing hopes that perhaps this year he might have forgotten us on his yearly round. With infinite paitence and dignity, he has made himself a blanket on the lawn, doodles in the windows and left his trail of black ice everywhere he walked.

Beneath the heavy cold, there is something stirring, waiting.....

"Adam Etz HaSedeh... and today, he wakes up."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Innocence Lost

[Just too tempting]

It seems that the standard for a shtark girl has become her skirt length, more than any other criteria.

Part of me wonders what has happened since our parent's generation where being frum and shtark meant kashrut and shabbos, minyan and hair-covering.

Are these expectations some artificial standard created by too much 'frummer than thou and thy parents'? Of labels so prolific and so specific.

A month ago, for reasons unnamed, I found myself at the same table as Rebbetzien Feldman of Ner Yisroel. A younger woman sat next to her, earnestly explaining her general situation
...My friends say I'm modern black."
The Rebbetzien looks up,
"Modern black! What is this modern black? You keep shulchan orech, you're a frum girl!' she repeats, shaking her head,"Modern black!"
I could have hugged the Rebbetzien for joy. So, nu, why aren't we held to that standard? Even given that I still fall short of that very lofty standard, (I dare not claim to keep every line of something that I have never read through) it seems to be far more honest than the vagaries and intricacies of the tides tzenuis that ebb and flow just as fashion does.

It seems for every barrier that the fashion of the outside world throws down, the Jewish world is intent on building three more. But for all the walls thrown up around us, something still seeps in. The awareness.

Sunday, my great aunt, sitting next to her husband of fifty odd years, leaned forward and told me very seriously.
It's important to date many different types of guys. It gives you experience, opens up human nature. In my day, you went out on Friday, and then on Saturday and on Sunday. And not all with the same boy, necessarily. And it was perfectly normal.
and then my great uncle leans forward,
But a kiss, mind you, that's something else entirely
There was something so charmingly innocent about these products of a time when my great uncle said he would call and my great aunt, waiting at the phone, was startled to find him knocking at the door.

All the sensitivities, all this awareness are a signs of innocence lost. When a date is not a chance to gain insight into one's fellow human being, but implies what my aunt calls 'all of this business.' Even we sheltered in our little bubbles of Jewish schools and communities, feel how expectant, how aware the rest of the world is.

When the question of "how is your social life?", whether from a rebbetzein or a college student, is not a question about your group of friends' plans for the weekend.

Modest women are the ones who speak and act with modesty. Who are innocent enough to talk simply without pretension or self-consciousness. Who doesn't mistake what needs to be done with the desire to make it known to the world. A modest woman talks to a person, not a 'date', to what they are and lets them unfold themselves in their own time.

So is modesty a fair and honest standard? Don't know. But keeping all of shulchan orech might be easier.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The History of the Jews...

Anyone know a good one?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Boy who Glowed

[Note: Number 5 of the Jew and the University, earlier installments consist of various vignettes describing elements of college life. A bit more self-searching.]

It is a widely known fact to all seminary girls and yeshiva bachurim that anyone in college is a immediately spiritually asleep or at least under heavy sedation. It is also known that while the nations may have the deep and subtle appreciation of the physical world that created the Sistine Chapel, for example and the sort of power and grandios ambition that attempted to build a wall around the world, in China or in England, the sophisticated and profound spiritual world is one the Jewish people tend to have entirely to themselves. Particularly in a Western World divided between fundamentalist literalism and secular existentialists.

So armed with such assurances, I set off into the secular world confident that philosophy and physical education requirements would pose much greater challenges that any form of spirituality that I might encounter.

So the shock I received as I turned around to deal with some inane comment on the brotherhood of the children of Abraham was not from the force of the argument but most simply stated...
The boy glowed.
No blazing halo above his head, just a simple clear radiance, a serenity, a peace.
The luminescence of shabbat candles and the faces of very young children, of purity.

How? Where did it come from? What had placed that radiance there? A quality that I had only learned to see and love in Isreal. How could it be that someone had acquired it here, in America and still possessed it on a college campus? And such a person was a goy!

... And I was barely hanging on to what I gained in Israel and my friends doing little better.

I cannot say I was brave enough to stay and talk to him and find out for myself; frankly I turned tail and ran.

Who was he? A devout believer in the ability of all the children of Abraham to join together, to understand one another, in rational discussion and the basic good of mankind.

The challenge he posed. Why can't this product of 14 years of Jewish education glow? Believe in the rational mind and brotherhood of all men.

Aside from the naivete that slowly cracked and fallen to shatter on the marble floor beneath my feet, as I counted my friends as they returned trembling, whispering bringing with them girls who were too shell-shocked from a bomb created by a person who wanted to kill us, the ordinary people, the ordinary Jews... but I digress.

Perhaps it was because I was hanging onto Israel, firm in the belief that
One who lives outside the Land, it as if he has no G-d.
That in college, it was impossible to grow, to be holy, to be a little glowing light.

All the more fool was I.

Where had all my teachers grown up and the books that I so loved been written and the songs that I hummed under my breathe been composed? Even the Torah was given elsewhere.

So what was the glow?
Chen is when G-d lets the soul hidden within each human body shine through. It's a gift. A person with Chen is not objectively better or worse, his soul is visible to all the world. The soul is always whole, always pure, always glowing.

For most of the world, the soul is a distinctly different realm than the body. The spiritual and the physical as far as the borders of the Universe and the ground beneath our feet. But what makes our people different is G-d told us,
Tehu li Mamlechet Kohanim v'Goy Kadosh.
You shall be for a me a nation of Kohanim, a people separated for a holy purpose.
A nation of Kohanim of those who prepare the physical world to receive spirituality. A nation who can turn eating, satisfying a physical desire into a spiritual act with matza and pesach, shuirim and kavana. Who look beyond the gross reality of a three-quarter ton of steaming bull to the transcendent reality known as a korban.

We have to be able to look and find the spiritual in that which does not have it yet. To make everything a service, a means to pull ourselves to closer to G-d. Recognize every glowing spark of His throughout world.

So the question is not so much how did the boy glow? G-d gave him the gift of a such a clear face that his soul shines right through. But how was it that I could walk the halls of my college, seeing hundreds of bodies every day, and not a single soul?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

This Blow is from My Father's House

Israeli Forces, settlers clash at W. Bank outpost

I wish this was a shock, something unthinkable.

I don't want to look at pictures. I don't want to let it hurt. But how can I sit here in America, calmly, callously working when my people are tearing themselves apart.

This isn't shalom. This can't lead to shalom.

Shalom is peace,
is harmony,
is 'shevet achim gam yachad.'

I have no intelligent comments, no political analysises, no insightful thoughts. This is a time to hurt and realize that among all the nations of the world....

No one.
No one in the whole world can hurt the Jewish People like one of our own.

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