Friday, December 26, 2008

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Miketz 5769 - Redux 5763 - Assimilating Assimilation

Always a good discussion around Hanukkah time, since the Yosef story raises some of the same issues as the story of the Maccabees.

Assimilating Assimilation

Vayikra Paraoh sheim-Yosef Tzafnat-paneiach....Pharaoh gave Yosef the name Zaphenath-paneah. (Gen 41:45)

Vayikra Yosef et-sheim hab'chor Menashe ki-nashani Elokim et-kol-amali v'et kol-beit avi. V'et sheim hasheini kara Ephraim ki-hifrani Elokim b'eretz mitzrayim... Yosef named the first-born Menashe, meaning "G"d has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home, and the second he named Ephraim, meaning "G"d has made me fertile in the land of my affliction." (Gen 41-51-2)
Yes indeedy. Yosef was having a grand time being vizier of Egypt, wearing Egyptian clothes, adopting Egyptian customs.

Assimilation. Almost seems like a four-letter word, an obscenity. At this time of year, as we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees in their guerilla war against the Syrian Greeks, fighting against the assimilation of Jewish culture, it is brought even more into focus as something that Jews should loathe.
The latest Jewish population study adds fuel to the fire of those who rant and rave against the scourge of assimilation. Our numbers are dwindling, they cry, and we must guard against the evil of assimilation which will reduce our numbers even further. (Of course, this entire argument is wrapped up in the "who is a Jew?" debate. It would seem that both traditional and liberal Jews are beginning to realize that rules of strict matrilineal descent may actually be a hindrance to Jewish survival. And there is now great discussion about whether one can define a Jew by birth or by praxis. Personally, I side with those who favor praxis, but with some misgivings. One may be a Jew by descent, but if they practice nothing of the faith, do we count them as a Jew? However-what level of praxis becomes the definition? We have secular Israeli Jews who claim no religious practice yet often keep kosher, light Shabbat candles, etc. Perhaps living in the promised land itself is enough to qualify them, especially with the sacrifices that requires these days?

And so now I must ask the question-is assimilation the evil it is portrayed as?

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary ( ) has these definitions for "assimilate":
1 a : to take in and appropriate as nourishment : absorb into the system b :to take into the mind and thoroughly comprehend
2 a : to make similar b :to alter by assimilation c : to absorb into the culture or mores of a
population or group

And gives its etymology as being from the Latin assimulare to make similar.

Cells assimilate nourishment, and thus are able to survive. The same can be said of cultures and religions. Assimilation may not be the great evil, and could even be a savior or redeemer instead.
Judaism has surely grown and benefited from assimilation over the years. There is even the radical suggestion that the Jews actually borrowed the idea of monotheism (or at the very least monolatry) from the Egyptians during the brief reign of Amenhotep, which overnight transformed Egyptian religion to the worship of one deity (only to have the whole idea thrown out by his son and successor.) Moshe gets some of the underpinnings of the legal and Judicial system from his father-in-law, a high priest of Midian. The Jewish ideas of hasatan, an adversary, and of mechatei hameitim, the resurrection of the dead, and messianism may have assimilated their way into Jewish culture from Zoroastrianism and other belief systems of the ancient near east. Who knows what we assimilated into Judaism while in Babylonian captivity that we now think of as normative for Judaism. Gobs of important Jewish scholars and texts were influenced by the Islamic cultures of their times. We were certainly nourished by that bit of assimilation. In more modern context, we have the Chasidim who still insist on wearing the coats and hats of Polish nobility, the Chabadniks who sing a niggun based on Le Marseilles. We have Yiddish and Ladino. We have things like the Center for Science and Halacha. And, being partial to contemporary Jewish music, look how much great new music (and great old music) is the result of assimilation from contemporary cultures. Technology, the internet, the web, computers et al. Even the most orthodox of Jewish communities has assimilated those pieces of modern society.

Judaism has adopted pieces of modern psychology, and of self-help programs. (Needless to say, as I've often pointed out in these musings, modern psychology, self-help and twelve-step programs have certainly liberally assimilated ideas from Judaism as well.)\

Whether for good or bad, we've certainly assimilated a fair share of capitalism and American-style democracy into Judaism. Similarly with the idea of rabbonim being preachers from the pulpit. Somehow, the once-a-year sermon model we used to employ might be favored by many!

No doubt, there is lots in contemporary culture that we might not benefit from assimilating. The Jews in the time of the Maccabees would likely have not benefited from the forced assimilation of Syrian-Greek religion (but who's to say that they wouldn't have benefited, and indeed, did benefit, from other aspects of Syrian-Greek culture? Not every assimilationist
became apostate.)

And I'll raise one point which is likely to raise some hackles-but I'll say it anyway. As liberal Judaism seems to have failed to retain it as the traditional communities do, and seems disinclined to borrow from our traditional co-religionists, perhaps we ought to assimilate more of the fellowship, camaraderie and haimishness found in the communities of the dominant Christian culture here in the U.S. In a funny way, we'd be assimilating back something we probably lost through assimilation into a society where the Kitty Genovese story can happen, where people don't talk to each other in Subway cars and elevators, and where so many people are out for themselves first and foremost!

And what has all this to do with parashat Miketz? Well, a good part of the Yosef story is about Yosef living in and adapting to Egyptian culture. He survived assimilation with his Judaism intact. And we can do the same. What sustained Yosef was his faith, his belief in Gd. This he never abandoned, just as Gd never abandoned him although his brothers surely did.

If Yosef can do it, so can we. We can assimilate the best of modern culture into our lives and keep our Judaism alive-if we can keep our faith alive. (The question of secular Israeli Jews who still maintain some elements of praxis without subscribing to the particularistic trappings that Jewish religious practice demands raises an interesting conundrum and may challenge my idea. They may profess no religious faith. If they assimilate, can they maintain their Judaism, thus showing a flaw in my theorem? Perhaps. I don't want to develop this argument more fully yet-though my earlier reference to the special nature of simply being a Jew living in eretz may have something to do with it all.)

I think fear of assimilation may be overblown. Stopping assimilation may be no panacea for Judaism's dwindling numbers. There is much that I admire in traditional Judaism, and much that I believe liberal Judaism has foolishly cast aside. Yet I think traditional Judaism's fear of assimilation may be their undoing. By the same token, there is the possibility that some liberal Jews have embraced assimilation altogether too much, and that may be their undoing.

There is a middle ground. It is the path blazed by Yosef and so many others. By assimilating that which from our surroundings can truly nourish and enrich us, while maintaining in our deepest core that essence of faith that keeps us Jewish. Yosef knew that it was G"d, and not Yosef, who could truly interpret Pharaoh's dreams.

Together we can face assimilation by embracing it, controlling it as a useful tool, rather than fighting it as inherently evil. Making it such an evil gives it more power than it really should have to defeat us. Let us be wise, as wise as Shlomo (Solomon), whose wisdom is portrayed in the traditional Haftarah for a 2nd Shabbat in Hanukkah, I Kings 3:15-4:1 (and which Reform sadly abandons for the articulate and detailed description of the dedication of Shlomo's temple. That's a change I'm still trying to figure out.)
So let us be wise. Let us assimilate assimilation into who and what we are, as we have done so often throughout our history. Like Yosef, may we be the richer and more successful for it. For it is through faith in G"d that we will be sustained. As Zechariah wrote, and as we read in last week's Haftarah: "lo b'chayil v'lo b'koach k'im b'ruchi... Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit..."

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Urim Smaeiakh,

©2002, 2003, 2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, December 19, 2008

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Vayeishev 5769 - Herding Cats

Eleven years ago, I found myself focusing on a seemingly unimportant part of parashat Vayeshev, which I'd like to revisit now. In Bereshit 37:14 Yaakov (Israel) sends Yosef to see how his brothers and the sheep are doing. Not just to check on his brothers. Not just to check on the sheep. But to check on both. Clearly, Yaakov values both his sons and his flock. Well, of course he does. His sons are of his flesh and blood. His sheep are his livelihood. It's a pretty interdependent relationship.

In today's topsy-turvy world, I see far too often situations in which people either worry about only the sons, or only the sheep (or sadly, not worrying about either.) I have been in board and business meetings where the only concern is the money (the sheep) with little or no regard for the people. Rules are rules, policies are policies. The bottom line is all that matters. People are treated like sheep-whoops-well, actually, no, they're not, in the modern sense of that turn of phrase-because if they were Yaakov's sheep they would have been looked after. Funny how all of a sudden the way we treat sheep has become an example of negative treatment in our society. What a beautiful irony. It's a real commentary on how our values have changed over time. And it highlights a certain foolishness on our part. Herding people must be as difficult as herding cats, yet we still live in a world where people try to herd other people like sheep. But, like cats, we are pretty difficult to herd. Or are we? The GMs, IBMs, Microsofts, Googles, Apples, Archer-Daniel-Midlands, DeBeers, Wal-Marts et al of the world seem to owe a lot of their success to their ability to get people to herd more like sheep than like cats (or people.) Without this ability, mass marketing would be for naught.

Nevertheless, as I opined 11 years ago, balance is necessary. I've seen many situations where we focus so much attention on the people (the sons) that we forget the livelihood (the sheep.) That's not such a good idea either. The workplace is rife with businesses and institutions following the latest management fad. And, like the good Dilbert-Principle based places they are, they spend all this time on employee morale and treatment and completely forget the product. And how many times have we each found ourselves in a circumstance where we are making decisions that ultimately are good for neither the brothers or the sheep because we are afraid of hurting the brothers' feelings? Most of us (hopefully) have difficulties with having to give someone a negative evaluation, fire them, lay them off. Well, it won't make it any nicer a task, or any easier, but we can learn to take into consideration the needs of the sons and the sheep.- the employee and the company, the doctor and the patient, the customer and the clerk. If the brothers and the sheep aren't a good match for each other, it doesn't make much sense for them to be together.

In our current economic morass, it's easy to blame management or labor, big business or unions, lobbyists or lobbyists (let's face it, even the socially responsible causes need and use lobbyists.) In this case, I'd say we are all part of the problem-and the solution.

When we go out looking after things, we should remember to look after our brothers/sisters and our flocks. It's a good lesson in balance and in perspective. It's a lesson in finding the middle ground that benefits all. I'm sure the sheep and the brothers can be used a metaphors for some aspect of many different situations. I've only cited ones that happen to be on my mind.

This Shabbat, why not look to identify the brothers and the sheep in your life, and teach yourself to look after both. The next time you find the "brothers are most important" camp fighting with the "sheep are the most important camp" why not remind them of the simple lesson this one verse from Torah can teach us.

To all of you and your loved ones a

Shabbat Shalom,

©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, December 12, 2008

Random Musing before Shabbat-Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder

Eight years ago, I wrote about how this quote from A. J. Heschel's "Man Is Not Alone" can be somewhat helpful to me when I'm trying to deal with the many difficult passages in the Torah (not to mention all of life's difficult passages)

"Wonder, rather than doubt, is the root of knowledge."

This quote seems to

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have worked its way deep into my psyche. I find it cropping up often in my own thoughts, and also quite often I share the quote with others in a discussion. It happened again just the other day. I was involved in a discussion about being in a place of not knowing, of being unsure. It seems only natural for us to be fearful of "not knowing."

"Not knowing" isn't always the same as having doubt. Doubt, perhaps, can be thought of as "not knowing" if you are certain about something. One can have doubt about something whether or not they actually know of or about that something.

In 5761 I wrote that I first came upon this quote from "Man Is Not Alone" while searching for ways to deal with my troubled feelings regarding the horrible acts committed by Shimon and Levi in this week's Torah portion. My though process led me to see that while doubt is a negative, wonder is a positive. So, in examining such difficult passages such as the rape of Dinah, subsequent mass murder by two of her brothers, and Yaakov's indifference to all but his reputation, I began asking more "why did..." rather than "why didn't..." questions.

Looking back, I recognize this can be naught but a semantic exercise. What really is the difference between asking "why did x do y?" and "why didn't x do z instead?" Both are speculative. Why would one be a superior approach to the other? However, when it comes to "y" we know that "x" did it. When it comes to "z" we have no evidence-we have *only* speculation. In the former case, we have both knowledge *and* speculation. So perhaps it isn't just a matter of semantics. Working from a fact and speculation is surely better than simply working from speculation, isn't it? Or perhaps you *doubt* that? Maybe you should trying *wondering* about it instead.

Eight years ago I wrote: "This scientific age of reason that we live in seems to predispose us to be doubters. Yet, when one examines the works of the truly great scientists, one realizes that their motivation for seeking knowledge is indeed wonder. Much of what we do in this modern age has been corrupted into matters of hubris. Of proving we can do things (like send people to the moon.) This is a response to doubt. As sure as someone doubts a thing can be done, someone will accept the challenge. Should one climb Everest or K2 to prove it can be done, or because of the wonderment inherent in what you encounter on the way up and down, and at the top? (Or, apropos to my last musing, perhaps I should say ups and downs?)

Consider the difference in these statements:

I have doubts about the existence of G"d.

I wonder if G"d exists?

The former might result in you or someone trying to prove or disprove G"d's existence - something that science simply cannot do. The latter leaves you open to a realm of possibilities. Doubt creates only uncertainties. Wonder creates possibilities.

Appropriately enough, the film version of John Patrick Shanley's play "Doubt." opens today. In the stage version, which Shanley deftly subtitled "A Parable," there's a wonderful line delivered by one of the main characters, Sister Aloysius in responding to a complaint from one of the other nuns who has been having trouble sleeping: "Maybe we're not supposed to sleep well," she says.

While I think the character of Sister Aloysius has a point - one that I often make myself in referencing all of the apparent inconsistencies and troubling texts in the Torah - I think what it is that is keeping you up at night matters. I think I'd much prefer to lose sleep from being in an state of awe and wonder than from being in a state of doubt or uncertainty.

Of course, Merriam-Webster proceeds to blow my whole approach out of the water, as if defines the verb form of wonder thus:

1 a: to be in a state of wonder b: to feel surprise 2: to feel curiosity or doubt <wondering about the future>

So now I'm beginning to doubt that whole wonder thing. (Or am I wondering about it?)

The whole story of the rape of Dinah is in the Torah for some purpose. Perhaps that purpose is to simply discomfort us, to cause us to lose sleep, to doubt about the certainty of our moral choices. There's no *doubt* I'm going to be *wondering* about that this Shabbat. I hope you will too.

Shabbat Shalom, Adrian

P.S. - My apologies for the awful pun in titling this musing. I just couldn't resist.

©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Monday, December 8, 2008

Random Musing AFTER Shabbat - Vayetze 5769 - Going Down and Loving It!

In a hurry to get packed and head out of town this weekend for a special occasion, I  neglected to send out my weekly musing on the parasha. In many ways, this turned out to be a fortuitous set of circumstances. I traveled out of town to attend the service and celebration attendant upon the son of a family friend becoming a bar mitzvah. This exceptional young man offered a d'var Torah on Saturday morning that took an angle I don't think I would have ever considered on my own. My thanks to Mischa Cohen Rothko for this amazing insight.

In his dvar, he was examining the well-known question of the order of verbiage of the direction of travel of the angels in Yaakov's dream - going up and down. His own personal interest in a particular  subject is responsible for a different take on this question. That particular subject is roller coasters-something that also has ups and downs.  He recalled being puzzled by the expression "the ups and downs of life" because the "downs" always seemed to be referred to in the negative. Hid experience as a roller coaster aficionado is quite different.  It's the going down that is the high point, the point of greatest exhilaration and happiness. The going up, on the other hand, is full of trepidation, uncertainty, and is, often, a boring and unsatisfying aspect of the experience.

He further suggested that if we think of ourselves as the angels,  then the going up part-the part where we are going to meet and connect with G"d and get our instructions would be the part more fraught with peril. Coming down, we are joyfully exuberant with our assigned tasks.
For angels, perhaps, coming *down* to earth from their comfortable heavenly abode might be a bit of a let-down, so they might be quite eager for the ascent rather than the descent. For we human beings, the ascent seems scary, difficult, for some not even possible. We don't know what's "up there."  We're scared of what we might find (or not find.) Yet, if we can make the arduous upward journey, the reward of the descent can be truly great.

In these difficult times, when our perilous ascent to the top of the financial volcano has reached the summit and we are now plummeting down, we might do well to consider that this might actually be the best part of the ride. Hold on tight, or throw your arms up in the air, but find a way to enjoy the ride - and remember that it's the energy of this descent that will power us through the next series of ascents and descents. I hope president-elect Obama can build a sturdy chain-lift (or, being a man of the 21st century, maybe a newer coaster technology like a linear induction catapult) to get our coaster up the hill.
This is, at best, a brief summation of a much longer dvar Torah, and I hope I've gotten the basic interpretation being suggested right. Thanks, Mischa, for your inspired out of the box thinking. You may yet stand the world on its head. I couldn't think of anyone better to accomplish the task.
Shavua Tov to all,
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester
Remember, you can always find my musings on my website,, or at my blogs or

Friday, November 28, 2008

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Toldot 5769 - There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This

It's been a while since I've written a truly random, stream of consciousness style musing.  I'm not sure that even I can follow my train of thought, but, nevertheless, whatever tracks I've jumped, I wound up at some station somewhere. Enjoy. - AAD

There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This
Eight years ago, I wrote of Rivkah's (Rebecca's) lament as twins struggled in her womb:
"Im kein, lama zo anokhi" - (Gen. 25:22)

Literally "if thus, why this I?" It gets poetic reshaping in translation. The JPS editors say "If this is so, why do I exist?" Fox gives it a slight alteration - "If this be so, why do I exist?" The NRSV committee settled on "If it is to be this way, why do I live?"

She goes to seek an answer from G"d, who gives her the cryptic response:
"two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger." (25:23)

I guess this answer satisfied Rivkah. For more thoughts on this situation in context, read my 5761 musing "Is This All There Is?

Today, I want to take the liberty of struggling with Rivkah's words out of context, or, more properly, in a more personal context. Personal for me, perhaps, but just as personal for any of us. Have not each of us experienced a time when we asked  "Im kein, lama zo anokhi" ? (If not, I'm sure you will.)
Life has twists and turns. Life has good moments and bad moments.  Like the dance hall girls in "Sweet Charity" we can find ourselves dreaming that "there's gotta be something better than this," whatever "this" is.

There is plenty of wisdom on both sides of this dilemma. Platitudes abound. On the negative side we've got the ever popular "life sucks and then you die" or that one about the sandwich made of poop. Brth, death, taxes. On the positive side we have platitudes like  "Into every life a little rain must fall" or "things always look darkest before the dawn." Or more annoying ones like "behind every cloud there's a silver lining" or "when G"d closes a door G"d opens a window." Then there are other "sides" like the "personal responsibility/effort side" as demonstrated by Tom Lehrer's "Life is like a sewer-what you get out of it depends on what you put into it."

There is the well-worn story of the rabbi who teaches a family to be content with what they have by having them invite all their animals into the house to live with them. There's the whole Joseph saga with it's tireless "good ends can come from bad beginnings" theme.

None of these answers alone is the answer. If we're all always just trying to be happy with what we've got, is that necessarily a good thing? Continual contentment might not be the blessing it appears to be. You might really be getting screwed over. Someone might really have it in for you.  Your skin color, your religion, your funny laugh, your tick-whatever-someone out there could find a reason to dislike you and make your life miserable. Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't following you. Or, your life just might really suck! (Or it really might not be anywhere as bad as you think it is. Or you might really be paranoid. Or this bad moment in your life will lead to something better.)

Cynics on every side are ready with retorts. A little wry irony to combat the Polly-Anna platitudes. A  Tinkerball to confront the doubters. A great turn-around success story, or a great rags-to-riches (or riches-to-rags) story. I myself have spoken about people living in abject poverty who are happier than most of us. Yet is that really the case?

There's nothing like a little reality to take the wind out of the sails of any platitude-positive or negative. And that, my friends, is the point. We can't rely on platitudes to get us through life. We do have to take the bad with the good and the good with the bad-but we don't always have to be happy about it.  Kvetching is permitted. Not to excess, of course, which, for Jews, can be difficult. But everyone needs to complain once in a while. If we shush them with platitudes, we negate their pain or discomfort - and it is not up to us to judge another's pain. We all need to learn to take each others' kvetches at face value.

Forgive the use of a platitude here, but it seems to fit: "feelings are just that-feelings."
OK, so we have permission to kvetch. But what has all this to do with what Rivkah said? What Rivkah asks may be in response to what she is experiencing. Nevertheless, her words are general enough that anyone could use them in almost any difficult situation.

Here's the point of my little diatribe. Rivkah didn't really need a response. Perhaps that's why she was silent in the face of G"d's answer. She just needed the cartharsis of asking this universal question.
Our world is full of fixers. (G"d, perhaps is/was one of them.) We rush to respond to complaints and try and fix them. I'll bet that a good percentage of the time we don't even really know what the underlying problem is. We're never going to find out if we respond to each and every kvetch assuming we know what's wrong and how to fix it. We also won't find out if all we ever answer with is platitudes.
Did G"d telling Rivkah what G"d told her really make her life any better?

So what's the answer? Listening. Just listen. Let people kvetch every now and then. (Agreed that, if they are a perpetual kvetcher, that's a problem.) Don't try to make them feel better. Don't commiserate with them. Don't try and fix them.

That's one of the nice things about G"d, at least in these times. Either G"d isn't responding, or G"d is responding in ways that aren't apparent to us. Yes, there's that third alternative - that there is no G"d to respond. Well, you know what? You don't even have to believe, if that's what works for you. Still, you gotta admit it's nice to have someone to kvetch to who won't respond. Sometimes, just the kvetching itself helps. Thanks, G"d, for not responding to my every kvetch. Maybe You finally learned from your response to Rivkah that sometimes no response is the best response.

Hey-here's an odd twist of thought - the ultimate tzimtzum. Admitting a tendency to be to responsive, to being a fixer, and knowing that we human beings grow easily dependent, maybe You willed Yourself out of existence (or at least out of our plane of understanding what existence is) for our own good.

But there's a fly in my ointment. It would be nice G"d if, every once in a while, You stopped back in for a visit to see how things were going.

What? What's that? Oh. OK. I hear You-after all that kvetching in Egypt and after we got out of Egypt, You'd had enough, huh? And every time You came back for a visit more kvetching? We wanted a king? Crops were failing? We were being persecuted? Your laws were too hard to keep? Nu, so when will moshiakh come already?

OK, Big Kahuna. What if we promise we won't kvetch so much? Yes, I know I just wrote that we should permit ourselves to kvetch. If I tell everybody to hold off on the kvetching during Your visit, will You come?

What was that you said, G"d? I couldn't here You. Was that an "Ov vey" I heard? A sigh? Perhaps a kvetch?

[the earth trembles beneath my feet]

What? What was that? What were You mumbling just now?

And that kol d'mamah dakah--that still, small voice whispers in my ear: "Im kein, lama zo anokhi?"

Shabbat Shalom,

©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Pope Says No to Inter-Religious Dialogue - Windows & Doors

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield posted this to Beliefnet the other day.

Pope Says No to Inter-Religious Dialogue - Windows & Doors

I have always disapproved of the "namby-pamby-let's-all-find-our-commonalities-and-ignore-our-differences-and-sing-kumbaya" style of interfaith dialog, as it isn't, as Hirschfield says, real dialog.

To deny that for some, faith requires a belief that one understanding of the Divine is superior to others, is to be disingenuous. If we point that , as the Pope has suggested, in parentheses, then we really have avoided engaing each other on the very heart of the matter. Either we are all expressing different understandings of the same G"d, or we are worshipping different G"ds -- or G"d really does have a preference -- G"d does have a religion -- or G"d is telling everyone little white lies of what they want to hear. If the reality is that we aren't expressing different understandings of the Divine mysteries, then we have a real problem.

Migdalor Guy (aka Adrian)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Google Apps Gmail Users Screwed Over Again

According to this article:

Google's Gmail Gets Dressed Up In Themes -- GMail -- InformationWeek

we users of Gmail via accounts on Google Apps, a service for which we pay, won't be getting the new Gmail Themes option anytime soon. Not all Google Apps users are Enterprise clients. Many of us are just plain folk like me. Since we PAY for the privelege of GAFYD service, we ought to at least have the choice to turn themes on and off, and the rollout shouldn't be delayed.

The other kick in the teeth is that, although Themes may not be being rolled out to Google Apps Gmail, there have obviously been some changes, because the great "Gmail Redesigned" skin that's part of the Better Gmail 2 Firefox add-on no longer works (and the timing is just too coincidental to the themes rollout announcement, which also mentioned other changes to the basic mail interface. So, if these changes were rolled out to GAFYT Gmail accounts, why not themes?) To make matters worse, the servers for Gmail Redesigned's creator, GlobexDesigns, have been down due to a severe electrical storm, so, even if they have created a fix, it's not accessible yet.

This isn't the only issue. Many individual users like me, who already had regular Gmail accounts were lured into creating Google Apps for Your Domain accounts by the promise of guaranteed uptime, and certain features not available to Google's many free users. We all quickly discovered that we couldn't use our Google Apps accounts to access many features normally available to the free users - like iGoogle, Google Reader, Blogger, Picasa. We also couldn't connect or link our free and Google Apps email accounts. This problem still exists today, and hasn't gotten any better.

Not than I'm any great fan of Microsoft, but I haven't noticed any issues using my Hotmail account to access all the new services and features (Windows Live, Office Live, Mesh, etc.) Hard to believe MS is actually doing something ebtter than Google. Maybe what Google needs is something similar to MS's premium accounts - which is something between a free Hotmail account and an Enterprise account. Yahoo offers similar service. So why not Google? Nope, they made us all sign up for Google Apps to get premium services, and but didn;t give us all the free content already available to us. Get with the program, Google. Or many of us just might be switching over to Live, or Yahoo.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Hayyei Sarah 5769 - Looking for Clues

Last year at this time, I wrote about the played-out ritual negotiation between Avraham and the Hittites for the cave of Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah.

This year, I had intended to focus on yet a different aspect on the parasha. Once again, life intervened.

Wednesday afternoon I was teaching a class of seventh grade religious school students at one of the three synagogues where I am currently teaching. Last week, we had discussed at length parashat Vayeira, and the story of the Akeidah. Picking up the story this week with the story of Avraham's acquiring of the cave at Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah, I asked the class to consider why things transpired as they did. I did share with them some of my own thoughts on that question. Last week, I had also shared with them elements of my "Family Guy" retelling of the akeidah. I had also posited for them my theory that after that incident, Yitzchak ran off to live with Hagar and Ishmael for a while (some day I am going to write that story.)

Without my having to note it for them, the students seemed to catch on to the fact that Yitzchak was conspicuously absent from  the narrative after his apparently aborted sacrifice - the text doesn't even have him coming back down the mountain with Avraham and returning home with his father and the two servants.

The class had also been exposed to the alternate theory, based on the use of the word "takhat" that Yitzchak had indeed been sacrificed, along with the ram, not "instead of" or "in place of" but "under."

So I guess I should have not been surprised that when I asked the class why Avraham was entering into this prolonged burial site purchase ritual that one bright student suggested that "Avraham did it out of guilt --- because he killed Sarah, too."

Well, there was a fresh idea. I pushed the student and the class to elaborate. "Well, he was willing to kill his son..." "Maybe Sarah was so upset when she heard what Avraham had done that, even though Yitzchak was spared, her passionate reaction led to a fight in which she was killed..."  "If he really DID sacrifice Yitzchak, maybe he had to kill Sarah to shut her up..."

The class was willing to entertain any number of possible scenarios which led to Avraham killing Sarah. In a way, I was a bit disturbed by how willingly they accepted that possibility. Maybe it is part of their conditioning in this era of violent games, a world being raped literally and figuratively, where Presidents declare war and kill tens of thousands on a whim, etc. The violent explanation seems the more likely one.

Not particularly comfortable with their train of thought, I felt obligated to throw in an alternative explanation that mixes several theories, but time ran out before I got the chance (though I did manage to suggest it to a few students afterwards.) "What if," I suggested, "Sarah was so grief stricken to learn what Avraham was so willing to do to Isaac, that she died of a heart attack, or something else brought on by intense brief."  Too that I would add to consider the additional complication of Yitzchak not returning home with Avraham, and Sarah having only Avraham's word that Yitzchak was still alive.

A friend of mine argued that the entire idea was nonsense, because Yitzchak must have been at home, because he was there when Rebekkah arrived. I reminded my friend that Yitzchak was described as just having returned from Beer-lahai-roi, where he had been "settled" when he observed Rivka's arrival. (See 24:62.)

I've posited in earlier musings the whole "Beer-lahai-roi" connection (see my 5760 musing for Hayyei Sarah, "Call Me Ishmael")

Of course, if Yitzchak was indeed away from home whilst daddy sent his servant Eliezer to obtain a wife for Yitzchak, we have a whole other series of questions to ponder... There's no clear indication Yitzchak was around for Mom's funeral. That's for sure. And we all know about the speculation that Keturah, Avraham's second wife, was actually Hagar. Was there a plot afoot to restore Hagar to Avraham's side. Hmmm. Maybe Ishmael and Yitzchak murdered Sarah, Ishamel to get payback for his mother and possibly get her restored, and Yitzchak to punish his father. Plausible? I don't know.

The Torah is rather vague about time spans around these stories, constantly using "sometime later..." so we don't really know how much time passed between the time of the akeidah and Sarah's death. Even if it was a long time, grief is pretty long-lasting, and can still ultimately kill someone even after years, perhaps decades.

In any case, something, or someone, killed Sarah. Directly or indirectly responsible, Avraham had good reason to insist on paying for the burial site, and not accepting it as a freebie (even if that all was just part of a ritual negotiating dance.) Guilt is a powerful motivator.

Ah, now I understand why all the students in my class were making references to the game of "Clue" throughout our discussion. Maybe there really is a murder mystery here to be unraveled. A rather complicated and convoluted one at that.

Anyone wanna play Jessica Fletcher or Sherlock Holmes?

Shabbat Shalom,


©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, November 14, 2008

Random Musing Before Shabbat Vayeira 5769 He's a Family Guy (?)


There's a short scene from the TV cartoon comedy "Family Guy" in which Peter Griffin says to his daughter Meg that he was going to stop treating her badly "cause I'm a worse father than Abraham." Then there's a cutaway to a scene of Abraham and Isaac walking down a mountain, after almost sacrificing his son, and Isaac says: "You wanna tell me what the f**k THAT was!? (Season 6: Episode: Peter's Daughter)

As irreverent as that is, in a way, it almost sums up my current take on the akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, which we read near the end of this week's parasha, Vayeira. And it is not only Isaac who asks this question. It is all of us, when we encounter this troubling text. We rationalize it in all sorts of ways. "It was a test, just as the Torah says." If G"d was indeed testing Avraham, did Avraham pass or fail? There's no unanimity on that answer.

G"d rewards Avraham for his faithfulness. "Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, Your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore." This would seem to indicate that Avraham passed the test, but can we be sure?

Why was Avraham rewarded? Was it for blindly obeying G"ds request? Was it for ignoring his own inner conscience? Was Avraham troubled by what G"d was asking of him? There's no such indication in the text. Was Avraham so sure in his heart and mind that G"d would not require him to go through with this act?

Perhaps G"d's purpose in this test was to see if Avraham would develop a crisis of conscience. Perhaps G"d was seeing if Avraham could put aside selfish and personal feelings.

Perhaps G"d was just being mean, toying with Avraham.

Perhaps G"d was naive.

So imagine another cutaway scene from Family Guy (or the Simpsons, or whatever your favorite irreverent social commentary cartoon is.) (If you're not familiar with the show, you might miss the inside jokes, but what the hey.)

G"d, talking to self: OK. OK. Let's see. I need to test this Avraham to see if he is the right one of My creations to bring knowledge of me to the world. He's already baffled me. When I asked him to just pick up and move, he went. when I revealed my plans to destroy S'dom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, he argued. which is the real Avraham? The blind obedient one, or the one who cares so much for his fellow human beings that he would argue with Me? I need to find out. What could I ask him to do? Kill his wife? After all, she did scoff at my power to make Avraham's seed potent enough to get her pregnant. Wait-that's it! His seed. I'll ask him to kill his son Isaac for me. Will he do it? Will he argue with me, beg, plead? This could be interesting.

G"d: Hey, Abie baby.

Avraham: Yo, present.

G"d: Take your son...

Avraham: I got two. which one You mean? Pick one.

G"d: Your favorite son

Avraham: Hey, I love both my sons

G"d, to self: Jesus H. Christ! Hey, there's an idea....oh wait, where was I. Oh yes. Explaining the obvious.

G"d (to Avraham:) Yitzchak (under G"ds breath "you twit!")

Avraham: Yeah. OK. Gotcha. Now what?

G"d: Go to the land of Moriah...

Avraham: Y'know, I heard they call the wind Moria...

G"d paces, throws arms up in the fair, pounds self on head.

G"d: I'll do the punning around here, buddy. Now, as I said. Go to the land of Moria (pause, waiting to see if Avraham will interrupt again)...and offer Yitzchak as a burnt offering on a high place I'll show up.

Avraham: Oh, are we back to that "I'll tell you when you get there" sh*t again?

G"d stomps off, frustrated.

Cut to new scene.

Avraham is shown saddling his ass.

Voiceover-Peter Griffin: (laughing.) His ass!

Avraham (to Yitzchak): OK, we're going on a little trip

Yitzchak: Where?

Avraham: Don't you give me that smart-mouth "where?" crap again. Just grab yer stuff and let's head out.....for some fishin'. OK? There, I said it. We're going fishing.

Yitzchak: Sounds fishy to me.

Avraham: Look, just bring me an axe, will you?

Yitzchak looks puzzled, but goes off and returns with an ax which he gives to Avraham. Avraham splits some wood, and gathers it up into a bundle.

Avraham (to servant:) You! Boy! You're coming with us.

Dirty Old Man from Family Guy: And bring your handsome young friend over there, too

Avraham: What? (shrugs) Whatever.

Avraham makes several attempts to get on his ass. Finally, atop his beast, he says: Asses ho!

Avraham, Yitzchak and two young male servants head off. Cutaway to scene of Dirty Old Man following along behind sneakily.

We see another scene of Avraham, Yitzchak and the two servants traveling, followed by the Dirty Old Man.

Narrator: On the third day, Avraham looked up and saw the place from afar.

Scene shows a distant mountain with a huge, flashing finger-pointing sign in the heavens pointing down at it reading "This Is It"

Voice of Stewie Griffin: Wait a minute. How did Abraham know this was the place?

Voice of Brian Griffin: Well, obviously G"d must have told him.

Voice of Stewie Griffin: But the Bible doesn't say that.

Voice of Brian Griffin: What do I look like, a rabbi? Just shuddup and watch.

Avraham dismount from his ass.

Avraham (to the two servants): You stay here and watch my ass!

(servants giggle)

Avraham: I'm just gonna go up there with my son and we're gonna....uh......worship, yeah, that's it worship. (spoken quickly) And then we'll be back.

Avraham to Yitzchak: Yo, Yitz, follow me.

Yitzchak dismounts, Avraham walks over to him with the wood and straps it on to Yitzchak's back.

Yitzchak: Hey! I thought we were going fishing!

Avraham (dissembling): Well, first we ought to say "Thank You" to the Big Kahuna, and pray for a good catch, right?

Yitzchak (hesitantly:) Uh, I dunno Dad.

Avraham: Be a man, my son!

Avraham tries to give Yitzchak a big swat on the back, but his hand hits the wood, hurting him. Overly prolonged scene of Avraham writhing in pain.

Then, just as suddenly, Avraham stops, stands up and says to Yitzchak: OK, let's go.

Avraham and Yitzchak head out up the mountain. Cut to Dirty Old Man viewing from a distance. He moves a little towards the servants, slightly hiding himself behind a tree.

Dirty Old Man: Oh boys! Come here. I've got an ass that needs saddling too!

The two servants exchange glances, shrug, and run towards the Dirty Old Man.

Cut to scene of Avraham and Yitzchak walking up the mountain.

Yitzchak: Yo, Dad! I got the wood, and you got the knife and the firestone, but where's the sheep for the offering?

Quick cutaway to scene of sheep that were grazing suddenly looking up, then back to Avraham and Yitzchak scene.

Avraham: Don't you worry 'bout a thing. (clearly thinking fast) Uh...(then an idea strikes him, and he slyly says: G"d will provide for the sheep my son.

Yitzchak: Whatever!

Cut to scene back at Avraham's home. Sarah walks in to an empty room.

Sarah: Abie? Yitz? Now where have those two gone off to now? Oh, well. While the hubby's away, the wifey will play.

Cutaway to a scene of Sarah playing the Egyptian game Senet with some of the female servants.

Cut to scene on top of mountain. Yitzchak is already there. We hear panting in the distance. Slowly, Avraham comes into view, slowly dragging himself up the mountain.

Yitzchak: C'mon Dad. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can

Avraham (under his breath); Oh, you just wait until I get up there....

Yitzchak continues to goad and Tease Avraham. Finally, Avraham arrives and collapses. Fade to black.

Scene from Abraham's perspective lying on the ground - his eyes flicker open to see Yitzchak standing over him with a knife, as if he is about to strike.

Scene shifts to normal perspective. Yitzchak helps Avraham up and says: Here Dad, you're gonna need this more than I.

Avraham (under his breath:) Shows what little you know.

Avraham and Yitzchak gather stones and build a little altar. They put the wood upon it, and lay the firestone and knife nearby.

Yitzchak: Nu? where's the sheep Dad.

Avraham turns and grins broadly at Yitzchak.

Yitzchak: Dad? (getting nervous) Dad? Dad!

Avraham tackles Yitzchak, gags him, and with (overly-prolonged and) great effort, lifts him onto the altar. He stops, breathes deeply. Lost in thought for a moment, he asks himself "I wonder what Sarah's up to at this moment?"

Cutaway to scene showing Sarah running around an ancient biblical supermarket, buying all sorts of treif products.

Back to Avraham and Yitzchak scene.

Avraham: I can't believe I have to do this frickin' thing. Somebody, give me a sign.

Cutaway to Evil Monkey from Family Guy pointing at knife, then back to Avraham.

Avraham: (with nervous giggle, as he picks up the knife) Uh, are there any other signs out there? Cutaway to scene of sheep again-they were all looking up, and now quickly start grazing again, heads down. Then back to Avraham.

Avraham: Oh crap! Guess I gotta do this thing.

Avraham raises the knife and prepares to strike Yitzchak. Just then, a voices cries (in a stage whisper): Avraham. (pause, then repeated a little louder) Avraham. (pause, then screaming) Avraham!

Avraham (drops the knife:) Oh crap! Yeah, I'm here. Who's that?

Voice: Do not raise a hand against the boy...

Avraham: Can I start the fire now?

Voice (screaming:) Don't do anything to him, you idiot! (regaining his composure) For now I know that your fear the Lord, since you have not withheld your son, your favorite son, from Me.

Angel steps into scene.

Avraham: Hey, didn't I see you back at Lot's place?

Angel (sheepishly): You got me. That was me! (Angel walks over and puts his arm around Avraham.)

Avraham (to Angel): So lemme ask you something? Are an angel, or are you G"d? I'm a little confused about that.

Angel: To tell the truth, I'm as confused as you, brother. But never you mind that. Look up.

Avraham looks up, see nothing unusual.

Avraham: What?

Angel: See that?

Avraham: See what?

Angel turns to look at where sheep should be caught in thicket and says: Oh crap. Excuse me a minute.

The two old-timey Gay-90's guys in their barbershop quartet outfits and their piano pass through the scene playing that silly little melody.

The non piano-playing Old Timey Guy says: Just killin' time folks, just killin' time.

Cutaway to scene showing Angel dragging a very reluctant sheep into the thicket.

Cut back to repeat of the old-timey guys.

Cut back to Angel and Avraham:

Angel: OK. Now look up.

Avraham looks up, and applauds and makes silly childish noises.

Angel: Well? (pause )

Avraham: Yes

Angel: Well? (pause)

Avraham: where? I could sure use a drink.

G"d's voice: I said I'll do the punning

Avraham (nervous chuckle) Sorry.

Angel: (clears throat) (pause) (clears throat louder) (finally, in exasperation) Go get the sheep, stupid!

Avraham: Oh. Oh. Yeah. Right.

Avraham goes to get the sheep. In the background, the Angel unbinds Yitzchak, who runs off. Avraham puts the sheep upon the altar. Cutaway to scene of other sheep putting the hooves over their hearts in salute, then back to Avraham scene.)

Avraham, while the sheep burns, starts to look around.

Avraham: wow. I never realized what a nice view it is from up here. Sheesh! Look at that. Just beautiful. Y'know, I think I'll call this place Adonai-yireh, which, as you know, means "scenic view."

Angel: (off camera) By Myself I swear, the...

Avraham: Whaa? who said that?

Angel's voice: It's me, Abie baby.

Avraham: Ah, I knew it. You are G"d.

Angel's voice: I is what I is, baby.

Avraham: Cool!

Angel, now in G"d's voice: Because you have done this, and not withheld your son (pause) your favorite son (pause) (releases a breath) I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore."

Avraham: Cool! (starts walking off)

Angel: And your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All......(notices Avraham is heading away) Hey, wait a minute, there's more.

Avraham: Gotta go.

Angel/G"d: (very fast, in one breath) All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command."

(Underneath G"d's dialogue, Avraham is saying "Yeah, that's nice. Gotta run., Very nice. Thank You. See ya. etc.)

Narrator: And so Avraham returned to his servants

Voice of Stewie Griffin: But where's Yitzchak? Didn't he go back with Avraham?

Voice of Brian Griffin: It doesn't say in the bible. Nobody's really sure.

Voice of Stewie Griffin: Hmm. I wonder what happened to him

Cut to a scene in a cave. Yitzchak and Ishmael are sitting around smoking hookahs. They 're obviously high. Very Cheech & Chong-ish in style.

Yitzchak: An then, and then, (laugh) get this, get this...daddy tries to kill me?

Ishmael: Get outta here! No way man!

Yitzchak: Way, man. Way!

Just then, Hagar walks in.

Hagar: Boys, I gotta surprise for you! Oh, just look at the two of you. Smoking those hookahs again. Fat chance either of you two fathering a great nation!

Ishmael: Funny, ma! So what's the surprise?

Hagar: Well, you know how, Avraham (under her breath) May he die the death of a thousands plagues...(resuming) he always talked about welcoming the strangers and travelers? Well..

Dirty Old Man (peeking through curtain at entrance to cave:) Hello, boys....

Blackout. Roll credits and theme music.

(With apologies to Seth McFarland.) ----------------------------------------

Silly? Yes! Irreverent? Yes! Thought-provoking? You be the judge.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day-Families, Culture, and Marat Ayin

As a professional Jewish educator, I recognize the dilemma we all face in that we have too little time to teach too many things to our children. As a member of our modern society, I recognize that many people have to work on national holidays, that many businesses choose to remain open, and many of is take advantage of that fact.

I am not one who subscribes to the idea that religion must, perforce, be counter-cultural, although that is a role it often can and perhaps should fill.

I am one that believes that synagogues, and other religious institutions, should be supportive of families (whatever their makeup) and should encourage opportunities for family togetherness. Legal holidays are often such opportunities,

Lots of synagogues, including some I work for, are fully open today, November 11, 2008 - Veteran's Day. Some are having religious school classes, some are not. Some are conducting regular business, some have their offices closed. Some are having business meetings, some are not.

I'd like to suggest that, for the reasons outlined above, perhaps several others, and one other very important one, Veteran's Day ought to be a day that all American synagogues treat as a holiday.

Closing synagogues on Veteran's Day can be counter-cultural, and supportive of families. So many other businesses choose to remain open, that it could be a symbol and statement to congregants and employees alike that the synagogue values and respects this American holiday. (On the other hand, it could also feed in to the predominant culture and its penchant for simply treating Veteran's Day and so many other holidays as an excuse for shopping orgies.So perhaps, instead of closing, or operating normally, they could hold programs for families and others, and nothing else, on this day-except for regular services as is their custom.) For those families lucky enough to find both parents and children with a day off, it's a wonderful opportunity for family time and family activities - perhaps something centered around remembrance and recognition of veterans.

Now, as a very dovish person, I too, have some disdain for a holiday so closely tied to war. On this day, I pray that there should never again be another war, or the need for any more soldiers to become veterans or casualties. Nevertheless, I cannot, in good conscience, dismiss completely the idea of thanking and recognizing veteran's for their service. After all, my father was one of those who served.

There is yet another reason why synagogues ought to consider either being closed or only having special Veteran's Day programming-and it is one that can be important to the Jewish people. It is the concept of marat ayin, how it looks in the eyes of others. If it's a good enough reason to not eat poultry with dairy, it ought to be a good enough reason to recognize Veteran's Day. How does it look to people, Jews and non-Jews alike, who hold Veteran's Day as a sacred and special day in their hearts, who consider it a patriotic act to recognize and remember those who have served, to observe that the organized Jewish community does not hold this holiday in the same regard?

In our history, the question of the loyalty of Jews to the countries where they live has often been used as a tool to foment hatred against us. Why give those who would do such things another opportunity to libel us?

So do it to be counter-cultural, do it to support families, do it so it appears right in the eyes of others. However you slice it, as American Jews, our institutions ought to find a way to show appropriate respect for Veteran's Day as a normative Federal holiday. It should be a holiday for employees, and an opportunity for programs at the synagogue. (If that seems like an oxymoron, it is. However, as a synagogue professional, I would willingly give up the holiday off to engage in programs at the synagogue that are apropos to the holiday.)

Migdalor Guy

Friday, November 7, 2008

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Lekh L'kha 5769 - Of Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees

I have written much about this rich parasha before. I commend to you many of my earlier musings, to be found on my website

This year, I was stopped dead in my tracks by two peculiar pieces of text.

Both are in Chapter 15. G"d again comes to Avram in a vision, telling him to not fear. Avram replies with a lament that as he has no blood heir, and asks who is to reap the promised reward. G"d tells Avram that his own child shall be his heir. Then , in verse 5 we read:

He (G"d) took him (Avram) outside, and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars..."

Let's try that again.

He (G"d) took him (Avram) outside...

G"d did what? Oh wait, it's just a vision. The Torah isn't being anthropomorphic-Avram is, for imagining this in his vision, right? But wait, if G"d implanted the vision, does G"d control the content? Apparently, either G"d or Avram wanted (needed) this conversation to be sort of buddy-buddy. Can you imagine in your mind that you and G"d, in some anthropomorphic form, are standing around inside your house talking, and G"d puts his hand on your shoulder, and escorts you outside and says "Hey, look up and try and count the stars..."

This seems a rather intimate form of vision. Is that a problem? I wonder if it is only from our modern mindset that we find it thus.  Our understanding of G"d is, for lack of a better term, more global. G"d is everywhere. G"d is One. So to us, the idea of strolling through the garden with G"d feels odd. Would this have been odd to Avram? Early religious stories abound with direct contact between anthropomorphic gods and human beings. (In our own tradition, we need only look back on Chapter 9, and the whole nefillim thing.)
This desire to personalize G"d, to anthropomorphize G"d, to imagine person to person contact and intimacy with G"d is all pervasive. Is that a possible explanation for the success of Christianity? For Jews, intimate contact between humans and an anthropomorphic G"d are not the norm, yet such stories still pervade our literature and sacred texts. A pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire, and G"d's heiny are as close as we ever really get in "real life."

Although Christianity maintains the ethereal, incorporeal G"d, it throws in a little piece of corporeal G"d. Do people really find that easier to wrap their heads around than an unknowable, undefinable G"d?

The text proceeds apace on to my next puzzling piece.  G"d tells Avram that his descendants shall be as numerous as the uncountable stars. G"d tells Avram that this is the land he is giving them for an inheritance. Avram, still somewhat unconvinced ask how he shall know that this honor shall be his. G"d somewhat odd response is to ask Avram to offer up a cow, goat, sheep, dove and a baby bird - which Avram does. Then, as the sun begins to set, Avram falls into a deep sleep, and feels a deep dread. Then G"d foretells the bad news that his descendants shall be strangers in a strange land, enslaved and oppressed for 400 years, but that G"d will set them free and give them wealth.

Still, supposedly, in this deep sleep, Avram then sees, when the sun has set, a smoking oven, and a flaming torch which passed between "those pieces."

What pieces? what is all this? What is the symbology?

But wait -this is all a Bob Newhart show ending, isn't it?  It was all a dream. Even the dream was a dream within a dream or vision. That explains it all, right? Nothing to worry about here. People just sometimes envision strange things in their visions, including dreams with even strangers things in them. Right?

Perhaps. Still, I wonder-why is all this here? Why do we need this level of details about Avram's vision, and of the dream within that vision? The text could just say "G"d told Avram "don't be afraid. You shall be rewarded. Though childless now, you will have an heir, and the inheritance of your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. So trust me. We don't need all this corroborative fiddlestick (thanks you, W.S. Gilbert.) Yet the story is embellished with snickersnees.(For you non Savoyard types, let's just say "embellishments.") The point, as it is made in G&S's "The Mikado," is that things are bad enough, they don't need any embellishing of what is already a big lie. Just tell the lie simply, and perhaps it will be more believable.

Now, I'm not implying that the Torah is telling a lie. Yet I am wondering why, like so many other places in the Torah, we have details that don;t seem critical to the story. Now, for lots of those, we don't have a problem-our sages have figured out the deeper, hidden meanings. Why, our sages explain the whole "count the stars" thing,from their point of view, as not literally meaning that Avram should count the stars, but that the stars represent astrological predictions which Avram (and thus all Jews) should not believe in. That is to say, though the stars may have foretold that Avram was to remain childless, he shouldn't put his trust in the astrology.

OK, I sort of get that. But the sages didn't seem to put much time into explaining either the "He took him outside..." or the smoking oven and flaming torch vision. Guess it baffled them as well.

Oh, I'm not that learned. I'm sure if I dig deep, I'll find some rabbis explanation somewhere for both of those. Not sure I;d buy them, however. And I'm still stuck with the "what does this add to the story?" question. Guess I'm still stuck with those. And now, so are you.

Shabbat Shalom

Migdalor Guy (Adrian)

For the text of "The Criminal Cried" from the Mikado, see and some later dialog to place my comments into perspective

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Worst Jewish Education Keynote I've Ever Heard

Yesterday, I attended a regional workshop conference for Jewish Educators. The conference itself had four decent presenters, and though I could only choose to attend one of them, I gather that the other three sessions were also well appreciated.

The entire conference experience was marred, sadly, by a truly unfortunate choice of opening keynote speaker. While I'm sure the speaker was quite earnest and sincere, even passionate about Jewish education, his comments were not particularly inspiring, and some of them were down-right troubling.

The speaker shared his own personal journey in Jewish education. I'm sure it was quite meaningful for him. For me, it was more like a grand tour through everything that is still wrong with Jewish education, and the institutional Jewish world in the US today.

I jotted notes as he was talking. I couldn't note the actual remarks or context, but I suspect that from my responses, you can get a feel for what I heard.

I scribbled these notes:

  • Kids need convincing about Jewish learning? Convincing? They don't need convincing, they need compelling reasons!!
  • We need to learn from the kids is a radical new idea? Huh? That's Talmud AND Rodgers and Hammerstein.
  • Benchmarks? We need benchmarks? Oy, this sounds too much like NCLB (no child left behind.)
  • Too much education and not enough learning? WTF does that mean? It's edu-care - to lead out. Learning often requires education.
  • Jewish learning should not be just about self-perpetuation of the extant institutional structure!! Stop co-opting stories about out of the box thinking to the service of self-perpetuating your increasingly irrelevant institution. You need to re-invent yourself if you want the continue to exist!
  • Since when is a generation monolithic and homogenous?
  • What DO we believe is very important to teach? Do we (can we) all agree on that?
  • No, these things are not obstacles or challenges, they are OPPORTUNTIES!!

Basically, I think this speaker missed the boat entirely when it comes to what Jewish education, what Jewish continuity, requires. He lectured us on what he thinks we need to do, based on his own limited experiences (and his compelling need to keep the extant structures afloat in an increasingly indifferent Jewish world.)

So as not to embarrass the speaker publicly, I've not mentioned his name or his position, but I will note by way of explanation that he would clearly have a keen interest in the survival of the extant Jewish communal/institutional structure.

I'm happy this speaker found what he needed to have a meaningful Jewish life. I don't think, however, that he is a good source for inspiring us to teach the next generation how to do the same.  Next time, find a real out-of-the-box thinker who can inspire us and carry us through our depression over the current state of things in Jewish Ed.

Migdalor Guy

Concerned about the Republican Jewish Coalition? You Should Be.

Today in my email was an advertisement sent from and paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition, whoever they are. The subject of the email was "Scared about Barack Obama? You should be."

The message is a scare-mongering, fear-mongering specious attempt to convince Jews to not vote for Obama because it says he is naive in his views, and will endanger both America and Israel.

What will it take for these dunderheads to learn that a tough stance only engenders stronger opposition. Why else would the terrorists want McCain/Palin to win?

A U.S. with an olive branch is not a welcome thing for the world's suppliers of hate and violence. A U.S. with an olive branch is a reassuring sign for those of us who feel we are adrift on dilluvian waters yet again, awaiting a sign of hope.

This Republican Jewish Coalition represents neither the best interest of the state of Israel, nor those of the Jewish people, or those of the U.S. Show them how wrong they are by giving Obama/Biden an overwhelming victory tomorrow.

Migdalor Guy

Friday, October 24, 2008

Random Musing Before Shabbat - B'reishit 5769 Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors?

As a modern, liberal Jew I sometimes look at the fences the rabbis erected around the Torah and shake my head in wonder. Is this a natural tendency of humankind? Given that we now see warnings on coffee cups that the contents is hot, I must consider the possibility. Perhaps it is the natural outgrowth of our intelligence that, rather than always resorting to the fight or flight response, we seek other ways to insure our safety. If this is something that, if done even slightly wrong, might offend the gods and bring us misfortune, then we'd better stay as far away from it as we can.
Close examination of the text of B'reishit reveals that it was the progenitor mother of us all herself, Chava, who, perhaps, decided that if one inch of distance is good, then two are even better. Or maybe the idea was planted by Adam? Or maybe, it came fromt he serpent itself?
When Chava is being accosted by the serpent who asks if G"d really did tell them not to eat of any tree of the garden, we have our first discrepancy. G"d . In 2:16-17, G*d says to Adam that he may eat of any tree in the garden except  for the tree of knowledge of good and bad. Chava replies that yes, G"d did so state-however, she embellishes. She adds to G"d's words to Adam that not only must they not eat of the fruit, they must not even touch it.

Now, at no point does the text say that G*d also told Chava, who was created after G"d and Adam had that little talk. So we must assume that it was Adam that told Chava. Was Adam the source of the embellishment, the extra safety measure, the slightly higher fence?
All this plays into my thought that the whole "forbidden fruit" thing was either a deliberate setup, or the act of an inexperienced creator. Everyone knows that telling a child "don't do this" is likely to produce the opposite result. If G"d knew this, then perhaps it was deliberate.
So why the extra "don't touch" that Chava added? Did Adam or Chava already mistrust G"d at this point, even without the knowledge of good and evil? Did they mistrust themselves? Yet without knowledge of what is good and bad, how or why might they come to distrust G"d or themselves?  Was Chava merely trying to stiffen her resistance to the serprent, as she might have suspected the serpent's motives? Again, I ask how this could be so before they ate of the fruit?

The "Etz Chayim" commentary raises an interesting point in this regard. It's an example of what the commentator labels the "dangerous tendency of religion to multiply prohibitions to safeguard the essence of the law. When the law becomes too onerous, people may disregard them and come to disregard the basic intent of the law itself." The comment ends then with this quote from Genesis Rabbah: "Make a fence too high and it may fall and destroy what it was meant to protect."
Funny things is, I must have read through that same comment in the Etz Chayim numerous times in years past, glossing right over it. What an earth-shaking thought, especially considering the source. The wisest of our sages and poskim through the ages and today recognize the danger in being overly restrictive. I can only assume that, in creating what is now halakha, this principle was always taken into account. Yet, if this is so, then how much more onerous might have been the fences under consideration. Many of the fences that exist today are onerous enough. They were onerous enough in the early days of the Jesus movement that the fisherman from Tarsus decided that they couldn't sell Jesus to the goyim without dropping all the onerous mitzvot. Today, we have Jews who ignore them outright and deliberately, those who struggle with them daily, and those who like the big tall fences.

Why did Chava (or Adam) build that fence just a bit higher?
It's hard to know for sure. There are those who say the fences are what have enabled our survival as a people through all that we have endured, and that they must remain intact. There are those who say the fences grew too big and have toppled over onto us, destroying our unity, our peoplehood.

Do fences really make good neighbors? Does G"d want us hiding behind fences for fear of offending G"d? Or does G"d want us to "tear down the walls" in our continuing effort to be closer to G"d?
To find out, I think I'll climb to the top of a few fences and see what I can see from there. Care to join me?

Shabbat Shalom,


©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, October 3, 2008

Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayeilekh/Shabbat Shuvah 5768 Cows and Roses (or Cows and Cranberries II) (A Massaged Musing from 5765)

(When I wrote the original musing upon which this was based, for Vayeitze 5765, that Shabbat was in proximity to Thanksgiving, and I mused more about that connection, which is why it was called Cows and Cranberries. Somehow, Cows and Roses seemed more suited for this adaptation.)

One of the two special haftarah readings for Shabbat Shuvah is a subset of the haftarah normally read for parashat Vayeitze, which we'll be reading again this November on the last Shabbat of the month.

It's from that ever troubling prophet, Hosea. Luckily, for Vayeitzei and Shabbat Shuvah we  get to skip over all that lovely "marring a whore" metaphor stuff in the beginning of the book of Hosea.

As I have mentioned before, in previous musings for Vayeitze, there is a curious little problem appearing in 2:2-3 of Hosea, in the form of a syntactical puzzle. It hinges on a word and a word grouping.

At the start of this haftarah, in Chapter 14 verse 2&3, we read-

2. Return, O Israel, to the Eternal your Gd, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.
3. Take words with you, and return to the Eternal and say:

That's the first half of the verse. Verse 3b, has some syntactical problems with the Hebrew, which reads:

Kol tisa avon v'kach tov, unshalmah parim s'fateinu

One translation of this is :
Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips.

And another:
Forgive all iniquity and accept the good; and we shall offer the fruit of our lips.

And yet another:
May you forgive all iniquity and accept good [intentions] and let our lips substitute for bulls.

In their struggling to translate and understand the text, scholars have disagreed on one word-the word parim. It does mean, in Hebrew, bulls. But scholars could not understand exactly the construction of those last three words. Because it would seem to mean "and completed bulls lips" which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So many translators have chosen to render
it as if meaning that what passes from our lips (prayers) shall be offered in place of sacrifices (bulls.)

It's a nice read, and I personally like it, because it is one of the earliest indicators in Tanakh that the Jews were evolving past the need for animal sacrifices.

Yet the Septuagint and Syriac version of the Torah both translate the words as "fruit." In Hebrew, "p'ri." (The Septuagint is a translation from Hebrew to Greek purportedly assembled by 70 scholars who all agreed on the translation.)

Remember that the Torah has no vowels. So the first three letters of the word now being rendered (and rendered by the masoretes) as "parim" could have been p'ri at one point, when someone accidentally added a final mem to the word as a scribal error, and this was the version that was passed down to us. Considering the translations from both the Septuagint and Syriac, this seems quite possible--that the word was originally just pey-resh-yod, without the final mem.

So why does all this matter? Well, for one thing, offering the fruit of our lips is quite a different sentiment from giving the offering of our lips in place of bulls (for sacrifice.) The former is about intention, the latter is about methodology.

And it's all so appropriate, on Shabbat Shuvah, for us to consider what it is that G"d wants from us when we engage in the self-evaluative exploration that is "doing t'shuva."  We are taught that repentance at this time of year atones for sins between humans and G"d, but does not atone for sins bein adam l'khavero" between one human being and another.

Consider how often, in our society, people are tempted to atone for sins against another by making up with gifts (like flowers for the spouse when you've something to confess.) To me, these gifts are no better than the bulls. It is what we offer with our lips - our apologies, our repentance. And, in a way, it is also what we offer with our "fruits," that is, the fruits of our labors to try and do better this new year. I find either of these ultimately superior to a sacrificial bull. In fact, a sacrificial bull is just that--sacrificial bull! A meaningless gesture. Yes, in an agrarian society, giving up an unblemished food animal is, indeed, a significant sacrifice. But what does G"d need with meat? Let's be honest-it probably was all a system to keep the kohanim and levi'im fed (or at least it evolved into that once we settled in the land.)

Sure, it's nice to buy flowers for Shabbat. It's nice to offer gifts to others. Yet, when it is an apology or amend that is due, I'd recommend the "sacrifice from your lips" or from the fruits of your efforts to be a better person.

BTW, speaking of cows, as an extra little aside-an exercise I often give to my students for extra credit. In modern Hebrew, the word "ladybug" is "parat-Moshe Rabbeinu" - the "cow of Moses our teacher." There's some very interesting etymology to this modern Hebrew word, and you might enjoy doing a little research of your own to find out the story behind it.

Shabbat Shalom , Tzom Qal, and G'mar Lhatima Tovah


©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester. (Portions ©2004)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Settling In

It has been a while since I've written. In the interim, I've moved to Amherst, MA with my partner Lori and her 8-year-old daughter Abigail. The Pioneer Valley region of Massachusetts is a very different place than urban, suburban, and exurban DC, where I had been living since 2001.

I really like the area. It lives up to its reputation as extremely progressive and liberal, with a host of aging hippies blending right in with all the other eccentric and "regular" people (if there is such a thing.)

One thing I do find odd is the existence of a geographical boundary. Just as folks in Northern VA and DC/Suburban Maryland have created this artificial boundary I like to call "the Potomac Ocean" (sure, it's a bear to cross from one to the other in rush hour, but at other times, it's a cakewalk) here there seems to be "the Connecticut Ocean." Folks in Northampton, on the west side of the Connecticut River seem to find crossing the bridge and driving the few miles to Amherst an anathema. In a horse and buggy, maybe. And yes, there is a bit of "traffic" (and I use quotes purposefully) at peak times when UMass/Amherst College/Hampshire College and Smith College are all in motion, but the delays are nothing at all like DC Beltway traffic.

Everyone is telling me to be prepared for winter, but with ten years in Fargo, ND under my belt, a New England winter doesn't scare me at all.

Now, it has been about a month and there are still dozens of unpacked boxes filling up the basement and assorted other corners of the house, but that's to be expected-especially when moving the accumulated stuff of two adults with years of previous relationships and households behind them.

In between doing all the things we need to do for our new jobs, taking care of Abigail, and routine house care, slowly but surely, a bit at a time, we'll get everything in its place. Even without that, the place is really starting to feel like home.

A new home, a new community, new work environments. Exciting and exhausting. And worth it.

Adrian (aka Migdalor guy)

P.S. - MA limits vanity license plates to 6 characters, so I can't get the MigdalOr plate I wanted. Sigh.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Post CAJE 33 Post

(cross-posted from my blog on

A few thoughts on CAJE 33.

CAJE 33 was a good conference. One of the better conferences, on the whole. Good, solid programming. A great campus, and the University of Vermont staff must be the friendliest people on the planet. The dorms were nice, and the food was quite good as well (that is, for CAJE.)

The keynote speakers were inspiring. (Kudos to Joel Hoffmann for substituting on opening day when Dennis Ross couldn't make it.)

Joel Hoffmann and Melanie Birger-Bray and the entire Mazkirut can be justifiably proud.

As usual, I was so busy doing other things that I didn't get to anywhere near as many sessions as I would like to have. I particularly missed not being able to go to the "Blogging Cafe" with Ester Kustanovitch (of My Urban Kvetch.")  (She, like many others, was delayed in arrival due to the many storms that interrupted air travel last Sunday.)

The new Davis Center at UVM is an incredible space-a real model of what the "Student Union" ought to look like for the 21st century.

Jeremy Poisson from Behrman House and I led a session on getting comfortable with technology. It was an eye-opening experience for both the students and the teachers. More on that in future blog posts. As a result of what I noticed at this session, and another presentation I gave as part of Carol Starin's annual "Five Things" extravaganza, I'll be hanging up a new shingle in the area of providing technology consultation and training services for Jewish Education and Educators. I've already found a great name. In Hebrew, the word consultant is yo-eitz, so I'm calling my company "YoEitzdrian." Yeah, I know. Groan. Again, more in a future post.

Joel Grishaver and Josh Fixler from Torah Aura led a fascinating discussion on Jewish Education as a Conserving Activity.

Helene and Michael Kates had the always unenviable task of organizing the evening entertainment. A host of vatikim along with some up and coming artists made for a well-rounded program. The venues at UVM weren't the best, but the staff for MJ Productions did their best to make things sound decent.

I heard a few grumbles about how popular performers were programmed against each other, but, knowing first hand how difficult this is, having been Evening Program chair or co-chair three times, I'd say it's simply unavoidable.

This year, I had the good fortune to accompany Fran Avni, storytellers Janie Grackin and Dante Gordon, and a service led by Ellen Dreskin.

I was honored to emcee performances by Peter and Ellen Allard, Jeff Klepper, Sababa, and Stacey Beyer.

The Kusitz Mafia (we will NOT be shushed!) was back in full force. Yours truly, along with many others, kept the music going all night long (on Weds. nite, they were still going when I left at 5:30am) in the lounge of University South dorm. At one poiint, I think there were fifteen guitars being played (along with percussion, violin, madolin, and, of course, chicken.)

CAJE Rising Star was back, again hosted by Sam Glaser. Though not as well attended as last year (except for the final  evening)  we were treated to lots of talented CAJE-niks. On the final evening, hosted by yours truly as Sam had to leave CAJE early three talented performers competed: Seth Zimmerman, a teen from Charleston, SC; Todd Herzog; and Ross M. Levy. Ross was the eventual winner, but all three gave great performances to a very large crowd. While the large crowd waited for the results to be tabulated, they were entertained by comedian Yisrael Campbell. Unbelievably, Yisrael held the crowd both captivated and in stitches for an hour! How may comedians can do that?

Before the final night of CAJE Rising Star, all of CAJE 33 traveled off campus to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Burlington. It's a beautifully restored vintage cinema/vaudeville venue.

Doug Cotler organized the closing program, and he has set a new standard for CAJE Closing Programs. A host of CAJE artists-vatkim as well as rising stars performed, and the audience got to sing along to lots of songs as well --all accompanied by an orchestra!

I'm told that a highlight of the show was Doug singing "Manischewitzville" with EJ Cohen signing. Yours truly was backstage running the Powerpoint slides with all the lyrics and didn't get to see a thing, but from the laughs, it must have been hysterical.

At the closing, we were introduced to another rising up and comer-Doug's own son Kyle rocked the house with his absolutely AWESOME Oseh Shalom complete with air guitar solo performed by the audience.

Jeff Klepper and Mark Bloom led the CAJE Chorale through its paces in fine form.

The speeches were kept to a minimum, too.

All in all, a great experience. Looking forward to next year in San Antonio (yet again.)


Random Musing Before Shabbat - Va'etkhanan/Shabbat Nakhamu 5768

I've just returned from CAJE, and in just 4 more days, the moving
trucks will be here and I'll be on my way to Amherst, MA. The "good"
folks at Comcast were true to their "Move" promotion - it was easy to  ASK to have my internet/digital cable/phone services transferred. It's another matter to have them get it done in time. I'm likely to be without internet and local phone service in my new home until August 28!

With all the hubbub, there's little time for me to muse (though I
could argue with myself that making time to muse on Torah should be  more important than getting packed, etc.) so I offer up both a redux Parashat Nakhamu musing from 5764, along with, as has become traditional, my continually updating musing for Parashat Va'etkhanan, originally started in 5759, entitled "The Promise."

Spurred by comments offered at CAJE by Rabbi Ed Feinstein, I'd like to take this opportunity to thanks each and every one of you, my readers, for allowing me to share my thoughts with you, and for sharing yours with me.

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Va'etkhanan--Shabbat Nakhamu 5764--Mah Ekra?

Our solemn day of mourning, Tisha B'Av, is over, and the rabbis
cleverly present us with this first Shabbat of Consolation, Shabbat
Nachamu, taken from the opening words of the haftarah from Isaiah

Nakhamu, nakhamu ami, yomar El"hekhem
Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your G"d.

This passage from Isaiah is replete with well worn quotations. But
this year (5764) in reading the passage again, a phrase I had often
overlooked before caught my attention:

Kol omeir k'ra, v'amar mah ekra
A voice rings our: "Proclaim!"
Another asks, "What shall I proclaim?" (Isaiah 40:6a)

Isaiah goes on to provide an answer to this question. And it is not an unexpected answer. Yet it is one that bears repeating over and over, for I submit that we have, indeed, lost our perspective over time (and lost our perspective in time.)

In today's world, we're more likely to proclaim our great
achievements. Civilization, medicine, science, and more.  Each nation proclaims for itself those things it holds dear. Nazi Germany
proclaimed Aryan superiority. The Soviet Union proclaimed the virtues of communism. Yet because this country has outlived those two historical developments, we proclaim our triumph over them.
Religions proclaim their superiority. Some within the Christian
community still proclaim supercessionism. Some with the Islamic
community proclaim its supercessionism. Judaism proclaims its
longevity and endurance.

Yet, whether we measure in decades, centuries, or millennia, our
perspective remains localized in what is a rather insignificant period
of time consider the age of the Universe. And even more so considering the perspective of a Divine presence that, at least according to Jewish tradition, was around before the universe came into being, and will be there after it is gone.

The lesson Isaiah teaches us is one we find repeated many centuries
later in Shelley's poem "Ozymandias". Here's what the great and
powerful Ozymandias proclaimed:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Yet all that is left of this once mighty person are mere ruins, in a
vast wasteland.

If we have the same hubris, the same haughtiness, then Ozymandias' legacy might be our own.

Perhaps we should heed the words of Isaiah, who answers the question "What shall I proclaim?" thus:

"All flesh is grass,
All its goodness like the flowers of the field.
Grass withers, flowers fade
When the breath of the L"rd blows upon them.
Indeed, man is but grass.
Grass withers, flowers fade--
But the word of our G"d is always fulfilled!" (Is. 6b-8)

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us, Gd fulfills in Gd's time.
Isaiah continues to drive home the point in subsequent verses.

"The nations are but a drop in a bucket..." 40:15
"He brings potentates to naught,
Makes rulers of the earth as nothing..." 40:23

Yet, some ask "Where is G"d today? What has G"d done for us recently? Where is G"d's compassion, G"d's love, G"d's miracles? Why should I proclaim G"d? Perhaps I should proclaim the death of G"d, or the non-existence of G"d"

Sadly, more and more these days espouse that viewpoint. And even more sadly, more and more of us refute these proclamations with the weak and hackneyed fallback on Gd's ineffability. The "Job" answer. Where were we when Gd fashioned the earth?
Others argue that the "our perspective of time is limited" apology is
no better than ineffability.

If we are true believers, then we must confront these challenges
rather than side-stepping them.

In this post-Shoah, post Hiroshima, post 9-11 world, we need more than ever to proclaim G"d and heed G"d's messages to us. The world needs to heal, to get past the conditions that allowed the Shoah and other atrocities to occur--our response to the religious and ethical
failures that underlie these horrible events should not be a rejection
of faith, but an embracing of those very ethics that had to have been rejected or ignored for them to occur. (An argument I gleaned from the words of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg.)

What are you going to proclaim?

Shabbat Shalom,
© 2008, portions ©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester

And now, as promised, "The Promise."

Random Musings Before Shabbat- Va'etkhanan - Redux 5759ff:

The Promise

What a stunning prediction. If we don't keep G"d's commandments we shall be scattered among the nations, there to serve man-mad gods of wood and stone. (Silica isn't exactly stone, but I wonder if the computer gods we are serving kind of fit that description?)D'varim 4:26-28

And here we are. We didn't keep the commandments. Now we are scattered among the nations. And we serve man made G"ds of wood and stone. Oh yes, we keep the ancient faith alive as best we can, but I sometimes wonder if even the most pious among us are meeting the ethical and moral standards set forth in G"d's commandments?

What a depressing scenario-what a depressing situation for us. But the answer is right there in the following verses (29-31.) Even if we
search for G"d in the midst of our scattered lives, we can find G"d.
For G"d will keep the promises, G"d is compassionate and will not fail us.

I don't know about you, but when I look about the world today, and
consider all the horrible mess we have created, keeping these verses
in mind is almost a pre-requisite to being able to cope. Now, some
will claim that G"d has abandoned us, that G"d no longer responds to
our searching. To them I would remind them of the second half of v.
29, which tells us that G"d can be found even in the midst of our
diaspora, but only if we seek with all our heart and soul.

I am reminded of a discussion we had one night on Erev Tisha b'Av. The question was raised, as it often is, why we modern liberal Jews would mourn the loss of the Beit haMikdash when indeed it was that very event that precipitated the formation of portable Judaism, rabbinic Judaism, that has enabled us to survive all these years in galut.

Before the Beit haMikdash was destroyed (both times) G"d sent us
prophets to warn us that if we didn't get our act together, we'd lose
out. Both times we ignored the warning and suffered the consequences.

And here we are, almost two millenia later, and we're still not
getting it. And so we rail that G"d has abandoned us, when it reality
it may be we who have abandoned G"d. Despite all the tragic events,
the persecutions, we're still around. If we're not finding G"d amidst
all this, we're just not looking hard enough.

We mourn the loss of the Beit haMikdash to remind ourselves of the
folly of our still failing to heed the message. And to remind us to
look for G"d, even among the ruins of what once was. This anamnetical connection with our history keeps the message ever fresh in our minds.

I am also reminded of mass e-mail that was forwarded to me some years back, entitled "Letter of Intent," a whimsical piece in which the Jews explain why they are not planning to renew the covenant with G"d. It goes into a whole litany of complaints. I wrote the following response to those who forwarded the piece on to me:

"You know what's wrong with this whimsical piece? It completely
ignores the fact that, despite our perceptions that G"d has not kept
up one end of the bargain, that we have done far worse at keeping
ours, and that despite that--we're still here!!! If that's not G"d
watching over us, I don't know what is, and renouncing our covenant is sheer folly, and certain to lead to the end of even the remnant that remains of the Jewish people. We didn't listen to the prophets, and we're still not listening. Yet, somehow, mir zenen doh. When, if ever, we actually try to do the things that G"d wants us to do, at least most of the time, and we're still put upon, tortured, killed, etc., then maybe we have a right to complain. But I don't think we've earned that quite yet."

Torah tells us that G"d is always there for us to find--if we search
in the right way-with all our heart and soul.

This Shabbat, seek with all your heart and soul. G"d is there waiting
to be found. Even if you have already found G"d in your life, seek

Shabbat Shalom,


©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester Portions ©1999 2001, 2002 & 2007 by
Adrian A. Durlester