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Running on Jewish Time

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Brand New History

One of my favorite Pesach Questions:

Does a convert have to bring a Korban Pesach, his anscentors didn't leave Egypt?

Of course, he does. He's part and parcle of all of Israel and therefore has an obligation like any other to remember when he, himself was taken from Egypt.

Better question yet:

Does a convert, who completes his conversion between Pesach and Pesach Sheni, have to bring a Korban Pesach on Pesach Sheni?

What is Pesach Sheni for? For everyone who for various reasons missed Pesach the first time around. Like being burying a relative etc.

So we're going to excuse the convert because he was prevented by fact he happened not to be Jewish at the time? Nu, what's so specail about that. Okay so he didn't have an obligation, fine.

Better still is the Rav Hirsch who says, a convert is not a person who until now has been a Non-Jew and from now will be a Jew. A convert is someone who is Jewish, for all time, future and past. Which is why we don't speak of the person who inhabited that body before conversion, they don't exist anymore. They have a brand new history.

So if this individual has always been Jewish, nu, where's their Korban Pesach?

So You Want to be a Jew

It happened, as was almost inetivable.

I meet a friendly, relaxed Jewish Studies major and was midstream of a interesting discussion when a ice berg loomed out of the mist of midrashic interpretation, and shattered the conversation.

How does one respond to an individual who wants to convert? Moreover when her boyfriend is Jewish and she is more interested in Judaism than he is.

With full consciousness that some reading this blog may in fact be Non-Jewish, I will restate what I said.

Orthodox Judaism doesn't recognize Reform conversions and does not encourage conversion.

The attitude is very different from the warmth and affection that a lost sibling of ba'al teshuva receives, or the quiet acknowledgement and admiration that the new born soul of full-fledged convert is given.

It's reserved, severe, and brutally honest. All the details of the laws are displayed, the strictures, the boundaries, the never ending, ever more exacting demands. Jewish guilt, in its all-encompassing glory. The constant state of striving, the continual confrontation with perfection.

All the things that we are supposed to be and have yet to attain. The harsh crackling of the burning Temple in background of any generation who does not see it built.

How very easy it is to be a Non-Jew and 'a good person.'
How very hard it is to be a good Jew.

I don't know if she'll show up again. If what is drawing her becomes more powerful than all the comfortable qualities of her current life. If its merely the persistent curiosity of a scholar for a long and powerful tradition or if it is a Jewish soul trying to go home.

If it is, welcome home.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Being a Stupid Idiot

A true friend is the one that tells you when you're being a complete idiot, again and again even if they know that you won't listen.


[Edited 25 March]

Remember, kids, don't gripe and blog.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why is that people in the greatest need of compassion are those whom we least want bestow it upon?

The people who arouse it most easily are the cute yet plucky heroes who are so busy they don't even have time to register that our compassion before they bustle off to help those who...
need compassion the most, the unloved children turned into unlovable adults, with vocal chords grown into organ pipes to blast out praises and grievances in alternate breathes.

It's hard to look thirty odd years into the past to see the ungainly, wistful child that grew into this awkward, demanding adult.

Harder to speak to the haunting refrain of loneliness beneath the abrasive, bitter melody.

Hardest to wrestle against twenty odd years of habit, knowing that the mess we clean up today, they put right back again tomorrow.

So how do we bear to go back and help them again?

We don't do it succeed, that's beyond our control, it's up to them. We do it because we can't bear to be the reason why they don't.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Class in the Life of a Substitute

Tze U'lmad.... Go out and learn...

Questions produced by fifteen seventh graders and one hagada
  1. So did Lavan and Pharoah, like, conspire to kill all the Jews?
  2. Why did Lavan go down to Egypt?
  3. Why is Lavan such a bitter nasty goy who wants to kill his own family?
  4. What does Ya'akov have to do with leaving Egypt, He's dead!
  5. If G-d is the King of the Universe why are the other kings, like Pharoah and stuff?
  6. So if G-d knows everything we'll do, then why did He even bother to tell Lavan not to do anything to Ya'akov?
From completely confused to fundemental questions about the nature of the Universe in forty minutes.

[Smile]

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Who Invented Mercy Anyway....

Spring Break is here and green open spaces are calling, but a thought for anybody who drops by:

The good are innocent so they ask for justice.
The bad are guilty and that's why they ask for mercy.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Nothing Wrong About Being Wrong

Everyone knows the sort of conversations that you get into at the library with foreign students, about the differences in American culture and the 60's and the whole 'what does it mean to be American?' thing. Jews, paradoxically citizens and strangers in a land not their own, usually have a lot to say about it.

Then I cracked a joke, "America is a nation of rejects." The student laughed and someone across the table did not.

Excusing herself into the conversation, she said," You know, there are some students that sound like they know what they're talking about, but they don't. I'm not offended but it seems like you are making some gross generalizations... and what you're saying is discriminatory... and maybe you should take some courses on this..."

and off she went for a good two pages.

Not entirely sure how I provoked such a lesson on the fallacy of casual arguments. I asked her quite bluntly, "Please, if what I have said is wrong, either in tone or content, tell me how."

and off she went again, dancing around and around and around some point eventually coming to the assertion that "There's nothing wrong with being wrong but..."

Nothing Wrong with being wrong?

There is everything wrong with being wrong. What's the point of asking the questions, if there is no answer to be found? Or if my current assesment of life is as 'not wrong' as what I would come up with afterwards.

For the love of truth, if you can't expect the average college student to be able to take being wrong and then argue back, we might as well close down the university.

Was my assertion 'America is a country of rejects' correct?

Probably not.
But is there an element of truth in it? Probably yes.
Most of this country came here fleeing either starvation or persecution, populations that couldn't survive where they were, effectively left in the dust behind the juggernaut of civilization.

If a person refuse to let can't be wrong, can't be told, "You've forgotten about X,Y & Z, idiot" how are they ever supposed to get it right? It's doing no favors.

At least give me a chance to correct myself rather than ascribing my assertions to everything from particular faculty to gang mentalities.

If there's nothing wrong with being wrong, then even blatantly idiotic statements must be considered seriously.

No wonder she doesn't have a sense of humor.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Small but Tough

Just Watch.

[warning: deeply ironic and twisted humor might be necessary for enjoyment]

Added 16 March 2006:

The first time I saw the video, I was shocked. The faces are clear, calm and unknowing as death glides by on black wheels. The target, some small cafe, some nameless - nearly faceless people.

I learnt long ago that more heroes ride away on buses than galloping into sunsets, but finding evil arriving in a compact car makes me watch suspiciously vehicles flying past.

We are voiceless observers to a planned massecre.

Holding our breath, a faint frown of concentration crosses on the bomber's face, as he presses the button.

Then a gasp as the explosion rocks the car, and silence. Nothing. No one dead. No one hurt.
A second between life and death.

Like the blink of an eye.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Wife of The King

[A small little idea that I stumbled over listening to Megillah tonight.]

Where is G-d in the Megillah?

Everywhere it says "HaMelech"- The King.

So listen to what The King did....(translation is my own)
"And The King's servants said to him, The King should seek young virgins, who are good to look at. Let The King appoint ministers in all the provincies of His Kingdom to gather together every young virgin of good appearance to Shushan the capital to the House of Women, under the control of Haggai the officer of The King, guardian of the women; and they can have all the makeup. Then, let the girl who pleases The King reign in the place of Vashti...."
What is this saying about G-d? That He is looking to replace Vashti, but what does Vashti represent and all the maidens?

This is in the midst of the first exile, national rejection we have ever encountered, what is G-d doing seeming to look elsewhere.

It has the ominous echo of
"... and it will happen that in the place, where it will be said to them 'You are not My people' and there it will be said to you, "Children of a Living G-d'".... (Hosea, 2:1)
because at the end
"And The King loved Esther more than all the other women"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

First Think, Then Talk

I had a chat with my professor(who also happens to be the chair of graduate admissions) about some topics in the class, then he started complaining about admissions, criteria, letters, GRE scores etc.

He looks over at me said, "You know, the graduate orientation in on Saturday." He laughs and continues, "I suppose someone could come in Thursday and then if you don't have to write then you'd be fine"

Before any brain cells could engage, my mouth replied,"Yeah, but who wants to waste a Shabbos like that."

I'm just glad the professor laughed.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Motto for Artscroll Biographies

"There is no tzaddik in the world who does good and does not sin"
So why do we still read these books?

Okay, maybe you don't, but I do. (Okay, just Rav Yaakov and Rav Hirsch.)

Because being righteous is hard.
Because there are no good deeds without any sin mixed in.
Because the battlefield of the soul shifts from the words tripping off the lips in Shomnei Esrei to controlling thoughts wandering through the head. From the amount of money in the hand outstretched to a poor man, to the width of the smile across the face he sees. Asymptotic approach, closer and closer, and never quite there.

Because as good as you get, it only gets harder.

And these men were very good. So good that most of us never knew that they struggled. That they seemed perfect and serene. So good that whatever they struggled with was so internal, so private.... We never saw them.

But that didn't mean it wasn't still there.

I can't learn anything from angels, from perfect people who never desired evil, who never tasted the bitter sense of failure. Who never sinned.

I have no interest in the impossible. It far too late for never having sinned, or spoken a harsh word or forgotten a mincha. But it's not too late for everything.
But these men sinned also. That puts their level in range, far distant range but on the scale of possible and therefore interesting.
"A tzaddik falls seven times and gets up."
Everyone falls, everyone sins, what makes someone a tzaddik?

He gets up after biting the dust for the seventh time.

and that is something worth learning.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Miss Shtein and Neon Green Sheitels

[Note: a bit of nostalgia incurred by my little sister's high school production]

How many of our high school selves have eyed some poor seminary girl of a teacher with the intention of creating another recess in our 10 hour school day? The kind of teacher that gets parsha or biur tefilla or perkei avot, one of those fake short Friday classes. They are so idealistic, enthusiastic and blithely throwing themselves straight into the maw of jaded teenage indifference

Let's call her Miss Shtein.

It wasn't that we didn't like Miss Shtein, on the contrary, we always felt sort of sorry for her, like a cute chipmunk in the path of an 18 wheeler. Just not sorry enough to actually do any work or let Miss Shtein get through an entire lesson.
"Oh, Oh Miss Shtein, what if I want to write my own shmonei esrei?"
"Miss Shtein, ummm...... so like, G-d..... doesn't He already know what I mean, so, like, why say it?"
"What if Mashiach doesn't come, Miss Shtein, we will all....like, die?"
The reactions varied, some tried to brazen it through, kept teaching through all the interruptions, which only meant that we eventually wandered out of class. Some gave us mussar shuzzen about kavod hatorah and ahavat hashem and all that sort of thing, which were okay too, because they never showed up on any tests.

Some actually tried to answer the questions. That was cute.

Because, well, we never took Miss Shtein seriously. Wearing her cute little suits and perfect blow-dried hair, the perfect image of a bas melech, she had to say the things she did. We could see her face contort as she tried to dreg up the appropriate answer. The number of 'mamish's and 'emes's in direct proportion to the tightness of her hands as she almost winced at our questions. Because well, that's what the Torah says, right? We shouldn't have to ask that, right?...... Right?

So much for Miss Shtein. Then there was Mrs. Shtein

Mrs. Shtein was older and married and had no issues with irrelevant questions. She seemed almost revel in them. Her face glowed as suddenly a question designed to provoke a rant on bitachon and hashgacha became a discussion of the nature of miracles as exhibited by..... exactly what we happened to be learning.

Mrs. Shtein wore a neon green sheitel all of Adar. Mrs. Shtein got us interested enough to research and write an essay the midah of the Plishtim. Mrs. Shtein brought in a physics teacher to teach about light in order to understand what it meant that David Ha'Melech had multi-colored eyes.

Mrs. Shtein would smile at our canned responses and say 'That's so frum. Think girls! Someone give me a real answer.'

What did Mrs. Shtein had that Miss Shtein didn't?

Emunah.
Not the sort of stale emunah that hear and parrots. Real, Homemade, Fresh from the Oven of Intelligent Argument, Emunah.

The kind that is willing to question because they actually believe there is be an answer. So let's go find it.


 
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