Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

ARE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE? It’s who we CAN be, not who we are

June 27, 2009

In Torah studies I cam across this quote. It’s meant to send us into ourselves to field the question of “what is the right thing to do?” For me the right thing is to abandon safe ideology (where I can avoid some real thinking and introspection) and look at the world in peril and ask what I can do to make a difference. Abraham Lincoln said that the likelihood that we might fail should not deter us from a worthwhile goal. Abraham from the Bible tells us to do what we think is truly right even if it is far outside our comfort zone.

Today’s world has evolved more and more to a simplistic view of “them” and “us.” Adversarial relations are hardly surprising within that context. What if we looked at our world as a holograph where each piece, each person, each process, each event was a part of us? How could we then close our eyes to the suffering of others? How could we ignore the injustices of our society? I seek a world where we feel the pain and glory of others with appropriate empathy and pride. I seek a world where laws are the basis of civilized, compassionate conduct rather than a tool to subjugate people already in unfortunate circumstances. When my neighbor’s house is on fire I seek a world where we all come together to put it out, not only because the fire might spread, but because it is within our power to make something right after it has gone wrong. I seek a world where blame is replaced by learning, where conflict is replaced by a common commitment to right action.

How can this ideal be accomplished? One day at a time, one person at a time, setting an example for our children, creating a safe zone for people in our lives, and setting kindness in motion such that the next person is just a little more likely to “pay it forward.”

“ARE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE? Abraham achieved greatness doing acts of kindness, but his real change and growth came from his challenge with the binding of Isaac, an act that was the opposite of his character trait of kindness. Similarly, we need to constantly focus on what our accomplishment and contribution to the world can be, based on our talents and abilities. Yet at the same time, we need to be ready at any moment to abandon what comes easy when the time and opportunity arises and we’re faced with a situation that requires the opposite character. We need to be willing to do what is uncomfortable.”


Affluence to Effluence

April 19, 2008

Secular Link:

There is an illusory difference between the traditional believers (“fundamentalists”) and those who subscribe to more liberal views of the scriptures, Torah , Mishnah and Talmud. This has led them to be at odds with each other when the clear opportunity is for them to join hands seeking the same goals. traditional believers serve a purpose in our society by reminding us of fundamental realities of right and wrong. 

Sometimes they carry it too far, with our consent, and allow coronation of individual men (mostly) who proclaim their own divinity over the godliness of their fellow men and women. Look at the FLDS compound, and for that matter FLDS as a “religion” teaching the subjugation of women and children to the whims of men driven by sexual lust and power. (A little research into Joseph Smith will reveal the flawed approach pandering to the weakness of men’s sexual fantasies.)

The more liberal interpreters of the masters and the scared writings allow themselves to convert the “final” word on right and wrong to suit their immediate convenience, thus allowing their own predilections for money, power or sex to drive their lives at the expense of their souls and the lives of future generations.

Nachmanides expresses a similar idea, as he mentions that our Sages (in Torat Kohanim) explain the statement “Be holy” as “Be separate.” The Torah permits pleasurable physical activities – eating kosher meat, drinking kosher wine, intimacy between husband and wife – yet someone who is driven by lustful passions may overindulge in these activities while thinking that he is still within the bounds of Torah law. Such a person is called a “glutton” (see Proverbs 23:20). Thus, after Parshat Acharei Mot lists all the specific prohibitions regarding immorality, Parshat Kedoshim teaches us generally, “Be holy.” We must separate ourselves from overindulging in permissible activities, curbing our appetites in order to maintain dignity and holiness.

Nahmanides was born at Girona (hence his name “Gerondi”) in 1194, and died in the Land of Israel about 1270. He was the grandson of Isaac ben Reuben of Barcelona and cousin of Jonah Gerondi; his brother was Benveniste de Porta, the bailie of Barcelona. Among his teachers in Talmud were Judah ben Yakkar and Meïr ben Nathan of Trinquetaille, and he is said to have been instructed in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) by his countryman Azriel.[1]

Nahmanides studied medicine which he practiced as a means of livelihood; he also studied philosophy. During his teens he began to get a reputation as a learned Jewish scholar. At age 16 he began his writings on Jewish law. In his Milhamot Hashem (Wars of the Lord) he defended Alfasi’s decisions against the criticisms of Zerachiah ha-Levi of Girona. These writings reveal a conservative tendency that distinguished his later works — an unbounded respect for the earlier authorities.

In the view of Nahmanides, the wisdom of the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud, as well as the Geonim (rabbis of the early medieval era) was unquestionable. Their words were to be neither doubted nor criticized. “We bow,” he says, “before them, and even when the reason for their words is not quite evident to us, we submit to them” (Aseifat Zekkenim, commentary on Ketubot). Nahmanides’ adherence to the words of the earlier authorities may be due to piety, or the influence of the northern French Jewish school of thought. However, it is thought that it also may be a reaction to the rapid acceptance of Greco-Arabic philosophy among the Jews of Spain and Provence; this occurred soon after the appearance of MaimonidesGuide for the Perplexed. This work gave rise to a tendency to allegorize Biblical narratives, and to downplay the role of miracles. Against this tendency Nahmanides strove, and went to the other extreme, not even allowing the utterances of the immediate disciples of the Geonim to be questioned.

The tendency of humans to allow themselves to overindulge and to stray from our own dignity and holiness is nowhere more apparent than in our stewardship of the Earth — Al Gore’s moral imperative in an “Inconvenient Truth.” For the last 250 years mankind has embarked on an experiment to use the world and control its resources in manner that strikes down our dignity and deprives us of access to holiness. 

Despite the cost to our current health and happiness, we continue to rely on “economic indicators” to tell us we are happy and content when we are not. It is neither truthful nor real to tell someone that employment conditions are good when they have dropped out of the marketplace in despair, or taken a job far below their potential or have recently been fired, only to be told that they lack skills and education  to perform in the new marketplace. For them a decline in unemployment figures or jobless claims is meaningless and reinforces their isolation, unhappiness and depression in a society that is supposedly founded on hope.

Despite our desire to see our children grow up to be productive good citizens we continue to value monetary transactions that economists use to measure economic activity without reference to the contribution  made by a good parent who successfully instills morality, good sense, and motivation in her/his children. It may not be PC to say it, but the lack of educational motivation of students, teachers, administrators and government can be traced in part to the fact that as a society, we treat a good mother as an underground activity that doesn’t matter and isn’t measured in our reporting of economic/societal activity. So we end up with under-educated children who resort to bullying rather than reason. 

And most importantly, despite the obvious costs to our health and the current condition of our planet in peril, we continue to consume things we don’t need or want or need, spend money we don’t have, and from all this “activity” produce an effluent of indifference to civil liberties, loss of species (including our own), and worship of “money” in lieu of worship of a higher  power or source that could give context to the meaning of our lives. Affluence has become Effluence for most people.

Sabbath Reading and Praying

October 20, 2007

Reading the Torah is an act of faith in itself. Why take the time from your busy schedule and competing needs of others to attend to the words contained in a book — even if they are the words of a God you don’t understand and probably never will?

I read the Torah not because it tells me what to do but because it tells me how to improve my thinking, my intentions and my goals in life. I spend the time every Saturday morning reading the Torah, praying and thinking and meditating, because it gives me a balance and meaning.

Whether your personal philosophy is to believe that the words must be taken “literally” or symbolically, the process of the mind and heart is engaged. The words of the Torah, translated into English are someone else’s interpretation of the Hebrew inscriptions, without benefit of knowing all the context of life when the first words appeared and without benefit of knowing the context of the life and knowledge of the translator. Thus the words of the Bible require me to consider their meaning regardless of whether I seek to follow their literal meaning or symbolic meaning. 

The great epiphany here for me is a recognition of the awesome size and contour of uncertainty. Regardless of what I decide the meaning is for me, the person next to me can have at least some differences considering the context of his life, education and experiences. The recognition of this vast unknowable space is rather like the physicist’s search for the “beginning” of the universe, which in turn has led to wondering if this is the only universe and what all that dark matter is that takes up 2/3 of our “universe.”

It is a recognition of something larger than ourselves, of forces greater than our personal decisions, and submitting to the inevitable power of something greater than our understanding controlling our very life and death. And in submitting to that greater power or force or God, we become empowered beyond our rational understanding. This is what drives me to be a better person and to leave the world a little better off than the way I found it.

Intro to the Good LIfe

October 13, 2007

Torah Tales

For people who actually do it, reading the Bible, the Torah, the Koran or whatever serves as basic scripture of your faith, is both useful and helpful in the sense that it gives our life more meaning, provides focus to our thinking, our statements and our actions, and leads us into the path of the “flow” — that force greater than ourselves that moves objects, energy, and matter the universe, and presents us with events that benchmark what we choose to believe as our history. 

On a more mundane level, but equally important to those of us blessed to live in the imperfect political world of the United States, frequent reading of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution would serve a similar purpose — in that these are the foundation “scriptures” of our society. 

I have often said that it seems that everyone has an opinion of the Bible but few have actually read it. Fewer still have thought about it very much after reading any part of it. And still fewer have actually analyzed it enough to come to their own opinions, beliefs and perceptions about life’s meaning and what that means for them — how they will act  , speak and perform in our society. The same is true about the documents written by the brilliant founders of our country, although they too were imperfect people who created a masterpiece, yet not perfection. A reading of the Declaration would reveal many similar conditions today that were recited as grounds for breaking the bonds of political relations and assuming a new government. 

A reading of the constitution today would settle many heated arguments — because the answer to many vexing issues is resolved fully and with finality — like guns in the 2nd and 9th amendment, and the rights of unborn children in the 5th and 14th amendment. Simply stated, the founders made it clear that they wanted the people to have the right to bear arms in a military sense. They said so. 

I don’t like guns or the proliferation of gun related violence in our country but if I want something different I either have to leave for another country where guns are not permitted, or get the support of enough people in this country to amend the constitution. It is the Supreme Law of the Land. 

I don’t like the whole idea if termination of pregnancies, nor meddling in the private bodies of women I don’t know telling them what they can or cannot do. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that with my body. But the rights of the fetus do not exist under the constitution. It says so very clearly that only a person actually born in the Untied States or to a person who is a U.S. Citizen is entitled to call themselves a citizen. And only citizens have the rights of “people” described in the constitution. As with guns, the battle cry of pro-life people should be to move to a country where or create one where pregnancy terminations are illegal or to get the support of enough people to amend the constitution to make terminations illegal here.

There are many more mundane example of earthly application of reading, meditation, thinking, meditation, analysis and uncovering what is in your heart and how you can live in an imperfect society. And just as the founding documents of our great country are the supreme law of the land, even if they do not perfectly represent our conception of how a perfect society should operate, so too is the bible of your faith the supreme word of a force or forces greater than yourself as to how to exist in the real world and how to seek change by doing good deeds.

Considerable effort has gone into the completely irreconcilable question of whether the bible is literally the work of a God who created the words, the scrolls and every letter, or the work of Moses who committed it to writing as best he could, or the work of multiple personalities over centuries. The latest archeological evidence points strongly in favor of Moses being the author of the Torah. Just as the latest archeological evidence also points to the fact that a man named Jesus existed and his teachings had a powerful effect on the rest of human history.

And as with our country’s founding documents, people have tended toward spending their money and time investigating things that are actually irrelevant. We spend an inordinate amount of effort deciding the ways things should be rather than determining the way things are. 

Thus we argue over who wrote the bible rather than what is in it. We speculate about what the author of the bible meant when we can decide what it means for ourselves, without some “leader” telling us. We argue over who the messiah is or will be rather than examining our own lives and whether we are acting within our concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. 

In our politics, our religion and even our economics, we ignore the elephant in the living room and go about proving ourselves right on agendas that don’t matter now and will be long forgotten in less than a generation. We align ourselves with others to be part of a collective rather than to perform acts of charity and goodness. We form political parties and organizations of religions as though the organizations themselves were the point rather than acting in accordance with natural moral law. 

This work, published for now over the Internet, seeks to change the dialogue from man’s search for power and people’s search of proof they are right, to the moral issue of creating meaning in our lives and meaning for our species, lest when we are shaken off by the process some call evolution and others call the will of God, we are relegated to a historical fact that some other species might or might not discover in a few million or a few billion years.

In short, I seek to stimulate the pursuit of a goal — to find out how we live love, if we will love one another in the year 2500, 3000 or 3500 A.D. or if we will exist at all having destroyed ourselves in the collapse of a grand or minor experiment created by the forces of evolution or the will of God.