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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sky's the limit?

Technology is apocalyptic.

This is a snag torah remix. I can't even find the original anymore, nor where I stole it from. All I have is the piece I sampled around a year ago, when I was thinking about the tower of Babel, and here it is, mixed into depth.

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld explains that the fact that, for the builders of the tower of Babel, the fact that they were using bricks was a tremendous thing in itself. It signified a great technological breakthrough; for the first time ever, people could create their own building materials if none were available.

This led to a general feeling of power and control over their own fate.

The Dor Haflaga (generation of the Tower) were so carried away in this power trip
that they believed they were able to do anything,
including defeating Hashem. Nitzchuni Banai!

Rav Sonnenfeld adds to his point by noting that the second Pasuk in the Perek states that the Dor Haflaga
lived in “a valley in the land of Shinar.”

It seems that if they wanted to build a tower as high as possible
they would have started from a very tall place.

they felt that they should start from a low place in order to accomplish their feat entirely on their own,
without any help.

Had they built on a mountaintop,
they would have been utilizing a “contribution” of height from Hashem
who created the mountain.

Once they had developed such overconfidence, they became wholly dedicated to their cause.

The Brisker Rav notes the extent to which the people became carried away by pointing to the Rashi’s comment that

when the languages were confused
the people still tried to continue building.

However, their confusion led to frustration and eventually murder. The Brisker Rav says that the reason for this is the inherent nature of man’s evil.

Once one has resolved to sin,
nothing will deter him even when his original means fail.

Thus, those involved in the construction
were so set on the completion of their project
that they did not think about abandoning it.

Instead, they acted irrationally and started to kill each other.

(Rabbeinu Heshy Shnitzler once was giving over something very deep, that is already known in the world.
"Why be consistent? Play by different rules, understand and relate to things different all the time. Loose like the Reed, and you can't be knocked down."

This is the level of the criminal Messiah David as opposed to Joseph, the Messiah of consistency and principle, of capital and control. Joseph's investment in grainaries echoes the building of the Tower of Babel, as does the building of bricks echo the harshest demand put on the Hebrew slaves, that they build their own bricks, and do it twice as quick.)

In addition,
even the murders themselves did not halt their work,
and Hashem had to disperse everyone.

(This is a reference to the only tradition we have to justify G-d's smashing of the Tower of Babel.
That the builders valued bricks above humans,
so much so
that if a brick fell,
people would be terribly distressed,
but people fall all the time, fuck 'em, we've got more.)

This episode shows the spiritual depths to which a person can sink once his mind is made up to sin
and the lack of thought and consideration that is possible when one sins.

This point is also made by R’ Yehonatan Eibeschutz, who asks

how it is possible that these people thought they could reach the heavens?

He answers that

the people expected to build a tower high enough to pass the Earth’s gravity,
making them weightless
and allowing them to fly up
to confront Hashem.

It is amazing that they did not bother to consider important things like the time and effort required to make such a tower, the possibility that they would not be able to survive in space,
or the impossibility involved in defeating an all-powerful being.

The lack of forethought demonstrates that they were so set on rebellion
that they did not consider the outcome.
Similarly, any action that we do can have unexpected consequences.

R Yonasan Eibshutz is not sorry for trying, or hoping. Just try not to be offended by the unexpected?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Come to zee party!

So, I had an article about drugs and torah published in zeek magazine a while back. The article has made it into the print edition, soon to be distributed throughout trendy bookstores and coffee shops across America. Which doesn't mean that anyone will nessesarily read or notice this piece, only that it's there, in case god wants to guide anyone to it.

And, if you're in NYC, there's a release party going on, that I should be at and have evn been counseled to sign copies in exchange of attention.

The food should be good. And the magazine is terrific, despite the occasional crazy hack like me getting in there through connections. Otherwise, it's very professional.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Like some people

Somewhere there is one big succa, that everyone is in except for me, or so it feels.
Like I'm in an empty refugee camp, wondering where everyone else has gone.

I find myself endlessly trying to be effortless, avoiding recreating previous chills for fear of clinging to a past that will not re-form, even as as I am throwing tribute meats onto the altar of religious accomplishment, hoping that something will form in the fire, with a minimum of personal investment, so that I can walk away unscathed and be ready for the next real thing at any time.

Pathetic gestures are better than no gestures at all? High School taught otherwise, the virtue of not trying for attention being maybe the only effective means of drawing it. PAthetic gestures, I was once unafraid to try, and all they would ever do was scare away the prey.

I heard something good this week, about trying anyway. I heard it from the Ushwar Rebbe in Williamsburg. Sarah Imeinu, our foremother Sarah, doesn't want to have kids. It's a big secret, but it explains why they couldn't have kids.

(Hey kids! here's a secret all purpose birth control agent, guanrateed one hundred percent effective, shnarf, shnarf: Don't want to have kids. Apparently this is very effective in quieting otherwise dogged and intent sperm from their goal, or sealing otherwise penetrable eggs from being breached. It never fails, just as long as you genuinely don't want to get pregnant, which is part of the problem with this method: You might very well want to get pregnant, and just not know. Tread carefully adventurer!)

Yeah, Sarah doesn't want to have kids, why not? Because she's a prophet, and knows how things will turn out. While she's Ok with seeing an Isaac grow up, she's concerned that an Esau is inevitable. All the destruction that Rome wreaks on the whole world, all the cultures burned, all the souls demolished, she doesn't want to be responsible for any of it. Laughing helps her let go.

And so it is with all of us, there's something keeping us from doing things in fear of the destructiveness that will come out of it. And how can a righteous person ever hope to do anything? Only when the prophesy promises that the bad will prove worthwhile.

Who is willing to believe that the bad they cause will prove worthwhile? I have this recurring image of Jesus, tortured in hell every time anyone thanks him instead of G-d, screaming in agony, saying, "why me?" and then remembering, oh right: I chose this. That at least they got Torah somehow.

Vomit. vomitvomitvomit. I hold as often as possible by Frank Miller's "there are no nessesary evils" even as Succos observance can testify to the opposite in halachic practicality. I've found no one who will confirm for me any opinions that it ok to eat anything at all outside of the succa, even as most identified religious people I know in New York are willing to bend on that to various degrees. Succos is the first holiday to be dropped in exile, even as Simchas Torah is the first to be added.

The challenge of the halacha of succos, a friend claimed to me last night, is just how far you'll bother to go. The midrash of succos as the last holiday to be kept before the messiah comes testifies to this, as the nations of the world come before G-d saying:

It's not fair!
If you had given us the Torah, we would have kept it!

and god says, I did
You weren't into it.

And they rejoinder
Neither were the Jews!

To which G-d responds
what do you mean?
They kept every word and never broke anything once

Not being able to say anything to what sounds like either a total lie or a profound truth, they respond

If you had made it clear
really clear
what the torah really was
we would have kept it

and god says, oh yeah?
I'll give you one mitzva
just one
to try out
see how long you keep to it.

The nations say cool!
and god commands them to sit in a sukkah
easy enough, right?

but here's the kicker
it's really hot outside

that NOT ONE person will stay in the sukkah
Jew or Gentile

So chazal ask, what kind of test is that?
You're not supposed to stay in the sukkah if it's not fun
that's the Law!
The jews don't stay in any more than the gentiles!

So god responds yeah, you're right guys.
But at least the yidden don't kick the door on the way out
screaming "fucking sukkah!"
like some people might


I was just in Crown Heights. Such a trip!
The black and the jews walk down the same streets
but never seem to randomly interact.
It seemed to bode ill to me, and felt like it didn't want to be penetrated by either side of the divide. What's gonna be?

I made it to a random house party, non-Chabad chabad kids dancing to pop-caribbean dancehall. Not radical kids, straight and radio fed, though most did smoke grass, thank god almighty. I wondered if this kind of obvious music-to-party fusion was as common a year ago, or if it took something to penetrate the mainstream like matisyahu and sean paul before the kids could feel safe at all. I wonder what's going to be, and really hope the universal bridge gets built, even at the expense of our purity.

Which is the main priority of the Jew and Nazi alike, purity. In a world that swirls like a flushed toilet, it seems like the most evil thing in the world is to try to hold on to the pointless. Jews hold that judaism is not pointless, right, but serves very specific divine purposes.

I find myself trapped in my little sukkah in the back yard sometimes this holiday, wanting to welcome everyone, ashamed of how little I have to share re: food, drink, or drugs. Succos is according to one kabbalistic reality tunnel, the fixing of the Taiva for money, which I experience as suddenly really wanting some, so that I can spend it on building culture. I feel so small in here, even as I have in the past resented the need to create big. If we're going to let bad happen for the sake of the good we want, what's the point of feeling bad at all? Idealistic at all?

Just the ebb and flow forever, huh? A very creepy propostion to me, but I hate so much suddenly depending on money to get places quickly, throwing it at any incovinience while the world ages so fast. I hate so much stagnating in one spot, eating and then falling asleep for nothing, for nowhere. I resent so much the shallow Torah that I hear so often, concerned with maintaining the purity of the service, oblivious to the secular need, even threatened by it.

Why don't Jews put all their tzedakah money into feeding the local ghettoes? For the same reason Pharoah wants to enslave the hebrews: So that they won't join our enemies against us, like all privileged children do, once the are sick of being cared for. We as a community don't trust the good will of the strangers we might help, like caring for an injured snake with no real loyalty to you, only the resentment for what you have and what I don't. Jews once fought for civil rights, and were black nationalists wrong for wanting to be in charge of their own movements? Jews felt so hurt after their help was rejected, and it hasn't really felt safe for us as a community to give much to the Not Mine ever since.

God, please give us hearts to want the everything righteously and together, ok? Space to be alone and reflect is nice sometimes, too much with no safe connected place to give it too is not. Open up the channels of connection, and give us easy riding to, hearts to push through the walls of self and share our bounty with our I-dren, amen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kippur? I don't even know 'ur!

What's a Sabbatean Yom Kippur like anyway? Would you have to ritually violate anything? If you had to, how good could it be?

One of the problems with both law-addiction and militant antinomianism is co-ersion: no one likes being forced to do something, even if they also kinda do sometimes.

The shul I grew up with in Williamsburg is the longest running orthodox congregation in New York, and it started on a Yom Kippur some hundred and thirty eight years ago, in response to what people there experienced as progressive co-ersion into a less authentic expression of their religion.

The community in Williamsburg at the time was mostly business people, with tradition on the softer side of priority for the newly Americanizing settlers. Lines between denominations seemed less clear, but the straw that broke the camel's back for the people who would found Cong. Beth Jacob Ohev Shalom was the Organ that was brought in to be played on Yom Kippur. (no, not that kind of Organ! A musical piano-type thing, you perverts.) Freaked a bunch of people out, it did. They left, and started their own thing down the block, where they kept it pretty frum, yet very democratic and modernish in it's administration. It remains the one stronghold of non-chassidic, non "Chareidi" (though no-one in America uses that term) frumkeit in Williamsburg.

I was there for a little bit this Yom Kippur, but spent more time in Manhattan with a community closer to my heart and soul into the present and future.

What is the future of religious Judaism? The process of fundamentalization only goes so far before the kids find something "realer" to latch on to, before all the people locked out of the temple just go and start their own thing. Yitzchak Jordan maintained that the Charedi (what your liberal media calls "ultra-orthodox") world is about to go through some serious changes in the next ten years, as the size and diversity of it/in it spirals out of control. We're talking gay charedi couples openly raising children, very different family/romantic norms becoming possible or acceptable, like in the heyday of progressive Islam, where much greater variety of human experience was tolerated, though never openly condoned, totally accepted and understood with some warmth and humor.

I davene with a minyan of mostly trans-hassidic heretics, scoffing at the fear of Law even as the cried in devotional rapture, singing heartfully and dancing/marching rolling tripping in paroxyms of sacrilicious agony/ecstasy. The liturgy was whole, and very little was skipped, though much was interjected in a variety of mad sequitars and song tangents, mostly having to do with being acknowledged, heard, accepted or nursed by G-d.

We were all fully clothed most of the time, with a bit of pants dropping during neilah, but we were all so naked the whole time. Screaming the truths that were clear, or passionately and mockingly screaming the truths so false they had to be ridiculed to be genuinly felt.

I personally found I couldn't go into upstairs rooms where fasts were being flouted more openly, and breathed into the acceptance and resistance that I felt as it would come. I have had my religious boundaries, we all do, religious or not, have religious boundaries, of what god we tolerate and which god we smash, or at least, avoid, if we're too sociable to smash someone else's god without permission. Because what do I know what someone else needs, right? If I know something is hurting someone, then I can try to pry and butt in, if I think I know what will help, as if, right?

But in the sanctuary of the Messiah, judgment works differently. I don't experience it as stopping, just operating on a different standard.

I was scared at first, that something sacred was about to be dirtied and ridiculed, but that wasn't at all exactly quite what was going on, though some of that did go with relationship to the liturgy now and then, the hearts were pure and strangely open to expression and attention and engagement, we want to be honest what are we doing here?

I HAVE NOT made it to the level of ignoring Yom Kippurs ever, eating the anti-sacred feast of swine and swiss, though many of us had been for different periods of time, for different reasons, in different ways. I was really scared at one point, what am I doing here? and the obvious answer was "davening" in the most realest shul I can find.

BECAUSE WE DON'T usually ask the strange questions, for fear of losing the high holiness experiences in the child singing states. Going Outside and looking analytically is like performing surgery on your girlfriend: potentially life saving, utterly un-romantic even as it is appreciated, doesn't make the bounce and passion catch fire or anything, the way religion should.

It's confusing when the boundaries dissolve around you, and it's left in your hands: what is the holy that YOU are building? Together, there is an ear for the call and the response, if someone cares about their community, they will not impose their wills against what the people around can handle, and if they care about you, they will trust for as long as they can handle your direction.

Yom Kippur everyone knows, is a day like Purim, without judgement even as the judgement is in everything. I was really scared, and then comforted when the service started with the invocation, old as anything: Thank you lord, who has permitted us to pray with sinners.

As if, I say again, my clueless mantra, as if these were the sinners. Not the liars who populate your churches and synagogues looking for atonement through pious sitting and waiting for a day to end, feeling righteous about a willingness to not ask questions, but to quietly bow heads saying amens to words that are not understood, for the sake of what?

Alternately, shallow and self indulgent editing of the holiday's practices are also often experienced as lame, inauthentic. Some people certainly appreciate the lightness, their kids might not.

So what's going to be our future? The fear of the libertine is the fear of unsustainable self indulgence, ha ha ha, as if every religious community in the "civilized" world wasn't practicing THAT already!

But Yom Kippur for me is an eternity of not-judging, ironically, not exactly. There's nothing but judging of indulgences and evils done as Wrong and Bad, and a fair amount of surrendering finger pointing. I'm all bad, You're all good, and you're in charge.
The sins of the community and the sins of the individual are blurred into sameness, if you don't have one to apologize for, you have the other.

I alternately regretted all things I did do that harmed, and all the things I didn't do to stop harm. I laughed at the sins that I am (we are)actually even a little proud of, and gushed at the mystery of what to do?

God and us gets very blurred lately, and it's ironic the difference in identification of the true God with "You" and the ego with "I" as opposed to the new age dictum that the true God, the good God who's all true all all trustable is in fact, the true "I" from which it is always fitting to speak. Who knows how god wants to be understood/understanding tomorrow, or even later today? Only the passionate and honest, may they long live and be free to be.