Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Happy Purim!

Let's just say I don't have a future in histology.

Tissues laugh at my efforts to differentiate between them. I have the power to declare skeletal cardic, cardiac skeletal, and areolar cardiac. I use this power well...

Let us also take the time to remark upon my significantly painful and purpling index finger on my left hand. Let us be saddened over this finger's encounter with a particularly menacing garbage can today.

Let us then look down at my untied black combat boots and curse them under our breath. These boots have failed me. Today they allowed me to slip down six steps, the phone in my hand spinning out of control and dazedly landing against the wall as I slammed onto the floor, lying on my backpack. *insert expletive here* Tears came to my eyes and two concerned girls rushed over. I assured them it was only my pride that had been wounded, but I now have a protesting shoulder to match my wounded finger.

Am I clumsy or just accident-prone, we wonder? And we continue wondering.

Let us also now provide, for the reader's benefit, a significantly entertaining conversation from this morning.

    Girl: So I have to memorize all the names of the Greek goddesses and what they all do for Avodah Zarah class.

    (droning in the background)

    Chana: (swivels around) There's an Avodah Zarah class? Who teaches it? That sounds so cool! So you're learning all about the different types?

    Girl: Actually, I meant English Literature.

*insert Chana's unforgiving expression*

Now, for all those of you who want a good read by an excellent friend of mine (I wonder if it's a compliment or an insult to her if I say she's more to the right than I am- I'll assume that for this gang, it's a compliment,) I direct you to Meanderations. Keep this one on your list, folks. It'll be worth it. I have decided.

Now, down to business. What are you dressing up as for Purim? Fun plans? Am I going to see you? (No, I'm not giving out where I'll be...)

Happy Purim, everyone!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Cruel Charity: Merit over Need

    ה כִּי-תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ, רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ, וְחָדַלְתָּ, מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ--עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב, עִמּוֹ.

    5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under its burden, thou shalt forbear to pass by him; thou shalt surely release it with him. {S}

    ~Exodus 23: 5

There is a homeless man who lives outside of the Duane Reade right next to Brookdale.

He's a nice enough fellow. He's cheerful, charismatic, jovial, makes people's days. He banters, makes polite conversation, is relatively sweet. He can be quite hilarious. You give him money and he breaks out into hallelujahs. Depending on your religion, he praises your God. If you're Jewish, it's Jehovah. If you're Christian, it's Jesus. That's how he operates.

The first couple times I saw him, I gave him money- a dollar, some change, whatever it may have been. But I refuse to give him money anymore.

So I was sitting in someone's room when her roommate, an extremely good-hearted and noble individual entered the room, seeming pleased with herself, and informed us that she and her friends had bought the man lunch. They felt that they had done a good deed, a mitzvah, were good Jews. I was slightly taken aback by how pleased they were, and the intimation that as Jews we are supposed to not only buy food for this man but give him money, and said something like, "I guess I take the Ayn Randian approach."

And that is what lead to an extremely heated discussion in which I am, apparently, cruel.

This is what Ayn Rand writes (in shortened version.) This is specifically brought up in Atlas Shrugged, but since I do not have the book in front of me, this is the shortened version.

There is such a thing as the deserving and the undeserving poor. And on a whole, we give to the deserving poor. What does that mean?

In effect, this is the speech regarding ideals and this is the money speech.

In very simplistic terms, Ayn Rand says that one helps out those that deserve help. A man who is down on his luck, who is trying his hardest to get a job but who is unsuccessful, a man who is searching and trying and working but failing through no fault of his own, because he has enemies or is discrimated against or has been laid off without cause...such a person is deserving of help. Because such a person is trying. He is trying to work, to produce, to make money. Such a person has his dignity and self-respect and for him, it is utterly degrading, disheartening and awful to have to beg. He hates it. He would much rather be on his own too feet, supporting himself, and no job is too menial or too low. He simply needs an opportunity, and he is doing his best to create such an opportunity for himself.

Or perhaps there is a system that is in place where no matter how hard the man does try, again, through no fault of his own, he simply cannot find work. Maybe these are the Jews in Nazi Germany, forbidden to work. Maybe there is a war taking place, and opportunities are scarce and rare.

Under these conditions, when the person is trying, of course give him money! Because he is going to put that money to good use, he is going to try to build himself up and get himself into a position where he can earn money and support himself. That is his goal.

But there are a lot of homeless people in New York.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason and some of those reasons are absolutely legitimate. There are people who really were in the Vietnam war, people who have been hurt or abused or are crippled or handicapped or are mentally ill, and they really do have legitimate reasons for not working or trying to earn money. But there are other people as well. And some of those people are scammers and some of them are frauds and some of them are just trying to take advantage of another person's good nature.

And here is what I want to know.

This man, the Duane Reade homeless man, is there very frequently. He could be said to live outside of the Duane Reade near Stern. Every single day he is there with his Diet Coke cup asking for money.

What is to prevent him from getting a job? There are facilities, resources and places for people like him, people who are in good enough health to banter and converse and smile at others, to hold out cups and grin. This is a man who appears to be in good health (notice I say appears; it could be his not) and whose mind certainly seems to be in working order, and yet he spends his life sitting outside a Duane Reade store holding up his cup.

Why should I be obligated to give him money? Why does it fall to me? Why is it a mitzvah to provide this man who ostensibly could be earning money or looking for a job, with sustenance? Is he trying? Is he attempting to be productive?

I say no.

Is that judgmental? Absolutely. But I am a college student, I don't have enough money for everyone, I certainly don't have money for all the homeless people in New York, and there is no way that I am going to give money to a man who appears to have chosen to live his life on people's handouts rather than being productive. Because his only claim upon me is his need. When he holds out that cup, he is claiming, "I need, therefore you should give." But I do not think that is a valid claim. The statement, "I am trying, therefore you should give," in contrast, is.

And that is why, when I see homeless people who are playing musical instruments or challenging bystanders to timed chess games or banging on drums, people who are in some way contributing to society, I will give them money. Because they deserve it! And you're right, perhaps they have chosen to live this way as well. But they are providing a service. They're playing the saxophone or breakdancing in the subway station or selling batteries. The fact is, they are trying. They are doing something.

So the person with whom I was arguing was appalled by my statements. Firstly, I can't know what's going on with a person. Maybe he's actually bipolar and mentally ill and can't hold a job and the only thing he can do is sit outside Duane Reade holding a cup.

Then I offered an example. I said, "What about me? Suppose I put on some ratty old clothes and decided, hey, I, Chana, ignoring all talents and abilities that I have, am going to bum around on the street. I'm going to sit outside Duane Reade with my Diet Coke cup and ask for money and beg. Are you saying that it's a mitzvah to help me?"

"Well, you, Chana, would not last one week on the street. And-and- have you ever tried to beg?"

"No," I said.

"Begging is degrading," she said, and told me a story. She was in Israel and there was this woman with her cart outside a store. She begged for challah for Shabbos, so this girl went and bought her challah. Then she begged for a yartzheit candle, so this girl went and bought it for her. It continued in this fashion until the homeless woman begged for 50 shekels for a taxi.

To me, it seems obvious that this woman was taking advantage of a seminary girl's kindness. But, since the girl I am speaking about is a noble and good individual, she told me that she went and begged for the 50 shekels from other people. On behalf of this woman.

I would never do that.

If this woman needs it so much, then she should beg for it herself. But I? I am going to be recruited into the effort to help a woman I don't even know find money for a taxicab? Why? To do a good deed? Well, tell me, why is this considered a good deed? If you're going to be noble, then be really noble- why spend the fifty shekels here to get her a taxi when you could spend it on food for some other individual?

I believe in helping people who can be helped, who are trying their best, who strive to be productive members of society, who hate the fact that they are in a position where they have to beg. But when someone is so accustomed to it that they don't care at all, they don't seem to have any self-respect, they simply ask anyone and everyone, when they're not even trying, I cannot conceive of any reason that it should be considered a mitzvah to help him.

And that is the idea I brought up and the verse at the top of this post- when the burdens fall from your enemy's donkey, you shall surely help him. But note the last words- you do it with him. And I believe it is Rashi who says that if the man refuses to aid you you have absolutely no obligation to put the packages back all by yourself.

To which the girl I was speaking to responded, "But that's not peshat."

That doesn't mean it isn't a legitimate approach. There is absolutely no reason that it is my responsibility to give money to and care for someone else when they refuse to aid me, when I am not doing it with them but rather for them. In fact, someone who does give them the money or food is only cementing their approach rather than forcing them to work on their own. People have no claim upon me because of their need; if that were the case the whole world could guilt me into giving money to them. They do have a legitimate claim if they are trying their best but for reasons beyond their control, it's not working out.

This need-oriented approach does not work throughout life. I do not get a job because I need it; I get a job because I am talented and skilled and my talents are correct for that job. And I argue it is the same; one does not receive money because they need it; they receive it because they deserve it. In which case, there's really no such thing as "charity," as it were, because you are not giving money to the undeserving, but to the deserving, in which case there is no form of superiority involved. There need be no superiority, pity or condescension, because what you're really saying when you give money is, "I believe in you. I know this is a rough time for you, but I believe that you are trying and you are going to be in a position where you will be able to support yourself and be a productive member of society." You are investing in the person. It is a relationship based on equality; you are helping someone who is truly interested in helping himself.

And that, I would argue, is the true idealism. Not allowing yourself to be taken advantage of, not giving to people who show absolutely no effort or desire to better their lot. No, not this. But supporting those whose efforts you believe in, whose ideas you believe in, supporting those who not only need but who deserve.

You will notice that one of the criteria for judges and leaders it that they be wealthy. There is no crime in having money. There is no shame or guilt in being rich. The question is how one uses one's wealth, what causes they support, which charities and which people.

I am told that this approach is cold, judgmental, unethical, un-Jewish. I am told that I ought to feel it a mitzvah to give to all. I am told that it would have been better had I said, "I don't want to give to this man" rather than giving the reasons I did. And I absolutely agree that I don't know every side to the story. I may be completely wrong. This man may be trying his hardest, maybe somehow he really is looking for a job or he really can't work. I find that immensely hard to believe; at the very least he seems the kind of person who could make an excellent cashier, personable and friendly. Nevertheless, if I tried to delude myself under the auspice of attempting to judge favorably, I could maybe make myself believe that.

But I see no reason to do that. We are given our reason and our intellects, and the way we relate to the world is through them. Rationally speaking, the time this man spends sitting outside Duane Reade with a cup could be spent looking for a job. And it is his choice not to do that. In which case, I certainly don't feel obligated to support him, or to donate to his cause.

The person to whom I was speaking told me that I ought to go over to him and ask him why he doesn't have a job- politely. Or find out his story, before I can judge. I personally don't think I have any responsibility to do that. Why should I be obligated to go up to a homeless man and say, "Please tell me your story and explain to me why you have no job and seem to sit here all day rather than looking for one" (which, by the way, I think is already more cruel because now I'm actively accusing him rather than passively not giving to his cause) before I can determine whether or not to give him money? Maybe it would be a nice thing to do, certainly it'd be nice to hear his story, but I certainly don't see it as my responsibility.

The statement the person to whom I was talking kept on making was, "It's not your place." It's not my place to judge people, to evaluate them and sum them up and determine their worth and productivity level. It's not my place, I am not supposed to do this, and therefore I am supposed to give, to the trumpet-playing homeless man and the one with the cup- alike.

But why isn't it my place? Whose place is it if not mine? How else am I to determine whom to give money to and whom not to? I should simply give to everyone? How come? Why shouldn't there be standards? Why should I forego my right to a rational decision-making process and instead decide that it is their need that determines what I give, rather than their ability and the extent to which they try?

I only have to put the packages back on the donkey with him. It may be a commendable thing to do it all by yourself, but I think it is also a stupid thing to do.

    Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss – the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery – that you must offer them values, not wounds – that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best your money can find. And when men live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins, the best performance, then man of best judgment and highest ability – and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

    ~Atlas Shrugged

And if it is, then I am evil.

But I am also- according to the very laws of the Torah, which believe in reward and punishment, this for that, legal structure, responsibility, action and consequence- right.

In fact,

    "Tzedakah" is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call "charity" in English: giving aid, assistance, and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. But the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word "charity" suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word "tzedakah" is derived from the Hebrew root Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice, or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due. (emph. mine)


Giving the poor their due. Acting out of a sense of justice and righteousness, giving to those who deserve and who merit, not giving merely to those whose only claim is their need.

Also see the Talmud on Tzedaka.

Note this: "The Sages, however, said: If he has the means and does not wish to maintain himself [at his own expense] no one need feel any concern about him." To what, however, is the text, "You shall lend him" to be applied? The Torah employs ordinary phraseology.

וחכ"א יש לו ואינו רוצה להתפרנס אין נזקקין לו ואלא מה אני מקיים תעביטנו דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם

-Ketubot 67b

Someone who has and does not wish to mantain himself- no one need feel any concern about him. This is probably stated referring to money. But tell me, is it any less true when referring to talent and the mind? Someone who has the ability, capacity, talent and skill to support himself in some kind of job but does not wish to- shouldn't the same statement apply? "No one need feel any concern about him."

Perhaps my cruel charity is not so cruel, after all.

Perhaps I am not as evil as I seem.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Volunteers, Outreach Programs and Community Service

I'd like your recommendations, please.

I'm looking to volunteer somewhere in New York. My interest is twofold:

1. Jewish outreach
2. Secular

When it comes to Jewish outreach programs, the only one I ever really heard about was NCSY. I was never involved in it because my impression was that it was merely a hangout/ social scene. I also don't like the idea of conning people into accepting a religion/ becoming more religious. I don't know if there's any program that would really fit my interests, but I would enjoy talking with people who are curious to know more about Judaism from the more logical/ textual side of things rather than desiring mere social interaction. I know that some people set up chavrusas and learn with interested people, but I'm not sure that's what I'd like to do, either. I'm better at teaching people than learning with people. Maybe I'd be best teaching at a Hebrew school or a Sunday school. I'd like to do something hands-on, in any case.

With regard to secular volunteer programs. I'd particularly like:

1. Working with battered women/ abused children
2. Working with children with cancer/ suffering from terminal illnesses

I love children. I'd love to just play with the kids, especially since they're kids who probably don't get to play so often. I love to dress up, I love costumes, I can be rather creative and I can deal with sullen responses. Basically, I can bring fun to people. I don't know if there are any opportunities for me to do anything like that, or if it's even allowed, but it's what I'd like to do. Again, I'd prefer to do something hands-on rather than clerical/ secretarial work.

I'm also just curious. What are soup kitchens like, for instance? Would I want to volunteer there? Any and all recommendations appreciated.


Working knowledge of basic computer programs + some advanced
Types 100+ WPM


Tutor (Unpaid)
Nursing Home Visitor (80+ hours)
Hurricane Katrina Interim (helped restore a mental health facility opened to house refugees to its previous state/ resorted blankets, toiletries, etc.)
Thrift/ Charity Shop Volunteer (helped customers/clean-up/ organize the store's merchandise)
Kohl's Children's Museum Volunteer (80+ hours)
Anixter Sourcing Specialist (Summer)

So, what can you recommend for/ to me? Any and all recommendations/ ideas would be appreciated. Also, I'd appreciate the input of anyone willing to give their personal experience regarding various organizations/ volunteer agencies. For now, the location is irrevelant so long as it's somewhere in New York. If you happen to know about anything closer to Manhattan, though, that'd be great.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

On Caterers, Cochlear Implants and Consideration

She is a person with a beautiful soul.

Long riotous golden curls frame her face. Her bewitching hazel eyes, flecked with green and gold, focus intently upon you, listening as you speak, carefully weighing your words. She is kind, clever, smart, well-traveled. She's been to China, Italy, Rome, Israel and more.

She is a normal person, has any person's interests. She loves Broadway shows. She enjoys conversing with people. She is fascinated by anything that she considers to be "special," different and unique enough to capture her attention.

But she is also different. Because she was born with Usher Syndrome, which in her expresses itself through profound deafness and retinal pigmentosis, meaning "tunnel vision" or center vision; she can see objects directly in her path, but she does not have peripheral vision. She has difficulty with balance as well, meaning that she cannot ice-skate or bike-ride on your regular two-wheeler.

She was born at a very fortunate time in history, however, because, through cochlear implants, she is able to hear to some extent. Cochlear implants are not the same as hearing aids. They require surgery. Their purpose is not to amplify sound, but to "bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve."

I didn't know any of this when she invited me for Shabbos. I had been inconsiderate. I had seen her at tables and neglected to include her in the conversation. When she didn't cross a particular street when the light was flashing, I dismissed her, and annoyed at having to wait, muttered under my breath. I was unkind; I didn't think. I knew her through a friend, and I knew that she spoke differently and wore something over one of her ears, but other than that I had no idea as to who she was, what she was like, her personality or her interests. I didn't see her.

Even so, she allowed me to know her. She didn't take offense or hold a grudge because of my uncaring behavior; rather, she invited me over to her house, a darling place that was beautifully furnished and nicely decorated. She introduced me to her parents. Her mother enjoys cooking and is very warm and welcoming. Her father is a clever man.

Have I ever learned so much during one weekend?! I wouldn't know. The discussion during Friday night dinner was fascinating. It began with the rather morbid and macabre topic of the man who had thrown himself across the tracks that day; one of the guests works for the MTA. Did the throw himself onto the tracks? Was he pushed? What about the driver and conductor? The MTA guest explained that in such a situation the driver is generally given a couple days off and then reassigned or reclassified, because running over a person gets to them. Who knows what it does to them? Maybe when they drive again and a person is leaning over to look for the train; they'll have flashbacks...and that could be problematic. Then came the question of salary. Can you dock someone's salary for something like that? Probably not, right; after all, it wasn't his fault...

Then I was given a glimpse into shul politics. Now, I know very little of shul politics. So this discussion (there's an excerpt below) was quite an eye-opener. I learned about how the work in the shul fell to three people, all of whom held separate jobs in real life. But perhaps the most fascinating part of the discussion revolved around the caterer.

The Father: Yes, so the caterer is not paying his rent. Whenever he has a function, he rents the catering hall, puts down the $500, but on a whole he is not paying his rent.

Lady Guest: Yes, our luck with caterers...! There've been three of them, and this is how they've all behaved.

Chana: (astonished) And he is a fine, upstanding Orthodox Jew?

The Father: Yes, yes, he's Orthodox.

Chana: But if he's Orthodox, how in the world can he be renting the catering hall from you and not paying his rent?! That's stealing!

The Father: What's more interesting is the know, when there's mixed dancing during a function, they remove the hashgacha. You would think that when a man signed on to pay rent and doesn't pay rent, they would remove the hashgacha- but no! All they care about is their reputation! If it makes them look bad, if word gets around that there is mixed dancing, that's when they remove the hashgacha.

Chana: (is amazed)

(Somehow the topic changes to the state of the shul)

The Father: Yes, so the ceiling's falling in...and you have to understand that people will give any excuse not to give money to the shul. The caterer's not paying his rent- I'm not giving money to the shul. The Rabbi didn't speak nicely to my wife- I'm not giving money to the shul. You went with this contractor when I could have gotten one for 20% less- I'm not giving money to the shul.

MTA Guy: And they don't tell you that that contractor who would've done it for 20% less had a hidden fee of _____ dollars so that it would have cost more!

The Father: So whatever excuse- they're not giving money for the shul. And when it comes time to pay dues- they don't understand. Each family's dues are $500 and that doesn't even begin to cover the cost of the Rabbi's salary.

Chana: But if you sat them down and logically explained to them where the money goes and why you need money....?

The Father: Do you think they care? Logically explain! People give excuses; people are interested in aesthetics. If they see improvement, aesthetic improvement in the crumbling walls, if they see productivity, that's when they get on board to give money.

MTA Guy: Yes, it's the aesthetics that matter, not the internal improvements.

Chana: But that's idiotic! What good are the aesthetics if it's ruined on the inside?

The Father: Well, have you ever been on a date?

Chana: No.

The Father: Well, you put on makeup, don't you? So that's to change your outside appearance, isn't it?

Mother: No, no, that's to enhance the outside appearance.

Chana: But that's different! I'm not trying to hide under the makeup- it's just different if it's a building and when it's a person.

The Father: Well, then I'll have to think of another analogy...

But what I discovered after talking to him is that despite his cynical understanding of the way the world works, the way people act, what people value, the way people take advantage- Orthodox Jews who don't pay rent on their catering halls!- despite all this, at the core he is an idealistic person. He wouldn't spend the time he does on the shul, he wouldn't do what he does, if he didn't believe in what he was doing; if he didn't believe in the cause. I told him so and he agreed. So he is an idealist cloaked in cynicism. I appreciate that.

Back to my friend. She also taught me how to core and peel apples in preparation for Shabbos; she made her famous apple crumble. I have never cored an apple before; I have never even seen those kind of knives before! Anyway, it tasted delicious.

So let's see. I learned about the inner workings of the ear, the eye, shul politics, how to core and peel apples...that's quite a lot for one weekend. And by no means is that all! She's extremely observant; she understands and forgives quite a lot of human nature. But more importantly, she is happy. She is optimistic, happy, kind; she has the kind of indomitable spirit and will that I envy. I cannot see her as "the deaf girl." It is not what she is; it is not who she is. She believes that everyone is given challenges and trials, and that God does not give us challenges that we cannot handle. These challenges are meant as stepping-stones; we are meant to grow. She is who she is- happy, having accepted her limitations, optimistic, clever and kind- because of the way she has reacted to her diagnosis and sometimes limited abilities, also because she was given wonderful parents to help her. But she is not her limited abilities. She is not "the deaf girl."

She's had the rare opportunity to study people in relation to herself. She can tell good people from "bad" (and I use the word lightly, in order to connote inconsiderate, unkind, or thoughtless as well) simply by seeing how they react to her. If they are overly nice, overly sweet, if they treat her as a chesed project, as a girl to protect from the world- she knows they are not true friends. If they pity her- and have I ever met anyone who needs pity less!- it is to assert their own superiority and look down on her from their high vantage point, not out of kindness. Pity is one of the cruelest traits.

    He had never felt this before- not when Henry Cameron collapsed in the office at his feet, not when he saw Steven Mallory sobbing on a bed before him. Those moments had been clean. But this was pity- this complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed. There was shame in this feeling- his own shame that he should have to pronounce such judgment upon a man, that he should know an emotion which contained no shred of respect.

    This is pity, he thought, and then he lifted his head in wonder. He thought that there must be something terribly wrong with a world in which this monstrous feeling is called a virtue.

    ~The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, 609

It is not pity that she needs. It is understanding, kindness, to be treated as an equal. And she is an equal. Her mind is glorious! And her perception- she is so perceptive! I was speaking with her, and she helped me to realize something very interesting about myself. When I see problems, I want them fixed. I am a problem-solver. Perhaps this is why I like algebra, but I cannot deal with all other types of math. What is more, I want people fixed in accord with what I think is right. I see someone who is depressed and miserable and unhappy- I want them "fixed;" I want them to be happy. I see someone in the midst of an abusive/ dysfunctional relationship; I want it fixed- I want the person to leave the relationship. I want the person to help themselves and I have a hard time understanding, unless someone is truly standing in the way, why they do not. I do not want what is best for the person; I want what I think is best for the person. This is the judgmental personality. Now, when it comes down to it, of course I do not want to make people do things they do not want to do. When it comes down to it, who says my definition of "fixed" is right? As my friend pointed out, people are not toys. You cannot play with them; you cannot make them do things. Nevertheless, this is the way I like things to be- I like them to be fixed. If the caterer isn't paying his rent to the shul, I want this fixed; he needs to pay his rent.

I am not a very patient person. I cannot understand a slow but necessary process of growth, people being helped to help themselves. I become frustrated with people who do not do what I think is the correct or "fixed" path. This is not in matters of opinion, ideology and religion, in which I allow for variation- it is in matters that seem clear to me, in which right and wrong are not only clear, but as I see it, obvious. This is how I think.

I didn't realize any of this until she pointed it out to me. She also explained our differences in analysis. She suggests that I am good at English because I can analyze characters and the answers are in the book. It is generally a full story, in which the person either is "fixed" or is not "fixed." I could not, however, act as a psychologist- I would analyze the people and then expect them to do what I wanted to "fix" themselves and take all the blame if they didn't. That wouldn't be good at all.

She saw all this just through talking to me! I never saw this. She's right, though; she's very right. She's supposedly deaf, and yet have I ever met anyone who listens like her?

Oh! And she reads lips! Imagine how cool this is- she wakes up in the morning, having taken out the cochlear apparatus she wears over her ears, and not thinking, I speak to her. And she answers. I realize later, when she tells me, that she's been reading my lips! That's crazy! And I didn't just say simple things, like "Hello" and "How are you?" but full sentences, full statements and ideas and she understood me!

Her insights with regard to people on a whole are so interesting- she understands how different people see her and to an extent, she accepts it. She also explained how she came to terms with herself and her differences- it cannot be easy. So many things that I take for granted- I go to a movie theater, for instance. Well, she has to go to a closed-caption movie, so that she can read the subtitles in addition to hearing the characters speak. She has to plan it, is what I mean. Or I listen to the radio- to her, the music is not so appealing. Or I go ice-skating, naturally enjoying this, but her balance would not allow her to do this.

Asking people for help, she explains, is like asking for charity. Everyone has their pride. Nobody wants to be dependant on another person, to ask another person for help. And yet, steeling herself, she has learned to do it when she needs to do so. She has learned to accept herself, and in her acceptance she radiates such joy, such vitality, utter kindness, such strength... And her ability to forgive- people must slight her all the time, all unknowing. Or perhaps, having heard her speak- and of course it is not entirely the same as my speech, for instance, because speech is formed by hearing those around you- these people have the impression that she is an idiot or stupid or dumb. And they could not be further from the truth, couldn't be!

As she says, she is human. She has her bad spells. It isn't all roses and daffodils. It isn't all wonderful. But looking at her, looking at her, I cannot but be inspired, amazed. She knows so much, she sees so much, and yet she has to accept so much.

I was explaining to her- I look at people, not her, necessarily, but people who are mentally challenged, for example- and at the same time that I want them to be happy and content with themselves, I feel pain and I feel anger because why, why does it have to be this way? Why are they denied the opportunities that come so naturally to me? Why am I given the world, and they the four corners of a "home?" I want to change things. I want it to be different. God healed them when he gave us his Law; I know He will heal them again in the future. But now, now, I want it now; I want the medical advances and scientific advances now! It has to be different in our future. We grow and conquer. We did away with smallpox and the bubonic plague; now we have cancer. I don't think we'll ever outrun disease, we'll never triumph over everything, but we must do the best we can.

And anyone who can- any doctors or medical professionals or researchers- I think the world of you. You are my hope, because you are going to change this world. You are going to invent the cures, to find the technology, you are going to prevent this dazzling girl from going blind as her disease progresses, with your God-given intellect you are going to save us all.

I believe it because I need to believe it. I need to believe in a world where the good people live on, where people are given back their lives. It's going to happen- we are going to make that world. Because this girl- her soul, her soul! She is a person with a beautiful soul. And we can't afford to lose people like her, or to be unkind or thoughtless or inconsiderate, as I was and as I hope not to be in the future.

She is the teacher and I am the student. The fact that she exists, and the way she exists- the way she acts, the wonderful way in which she loves the world and its beauty, its art and grandeur- well, if this doesn't give you hope, if this doesn't inspire you, I don't know what can.

Friday, February 16, 2007

On Innocence

From Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott:

    This is the best true story on giving I know, and it was told by Jack Kornfield of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre. An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did it and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

    The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl's IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, "How soon until I start to die?" (page 205)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Minor Emergencies, Hot Chocolate, and Elevators

Oh, what a morning!

Today began auspiciously when I managed to burn both my hands.

I accomplished this while attempting to buy hot chocolate at the cafeteria. Having purposefully placed my cup under the correct divider, I pushed the button that allowed hot chocolate to flow forth. This having been accomplished, I proceeded to push said button several times until my cup overflowed. At this point, I realized that I had neglected to put the nifty little cardboard ring around the cup, so that there was no way to remove it from its elevated position underneath the hot chocolate spigot. I gingerly approached it with my hands, shaking the cup slightly so that liquid slopped over the side, but, being impatient, grabbed two cardboard rings, placed them around my fingers and reached for the cup.

Only to have burning liquid spill over my hands. I, having set down the cup, jump backwards, an abrogated expletive on my lips. I then began to wave my hands about, but realizing that I had spilled hot chocolate on the counter, dutifully went off to look for some napkins to clean up the mess. This while neglecting my now-burnt hands.

A member of the cafeteria personnel informs me that I needn't clean it up, for which I thank him, at which point I run like a demon for the sink and place my hands under cold water, admire the bright pink color they have become and grit my teeth at the pain.

Once this is accomplished, I set out to actually eat my breakfast. My hands feel as though they are on fire, but I ignore this pain as I set upon my strawberries. Every few moments, however, I am compelled to place them under cold water once again. Then I have the brilliant idea of filling one of the cafeteria's happy 'I LOVE NY' bags with ice, knotting it, and creating my own self-conceived ice pack. This I did, and so wander off to English class, where I manage book, notebook, tissues and pen while keeping my contrived ice-pack upon my left hand.

Later on in the day, I make my exciting discovery regarding the ape-monkey story, and happily typed that up.

Then I went off to my excellent Chumash class, where I inform my teacher I am reading Legends of the Jews and we get into an interesting discussion/ digression, since she does not approve of children reading The Little Midrash Says and the like. Usually I dismiss people who say these things to me, but because this is my brilliant Chumash teacher and quite possibly my favorite teacher, I listen to her. And lo and behold, she has a logical reason for not liking children to have read The Little Midrash Says. She asks a very good question- how is a teacher to capture the child's interest in class and in opening a Chumash and reading a pasuk inside if the child already knows all the information, having read the elaborately detailed midrash? What incentive does the child have to look to the Chumash, the Hebrew, the source itself, if she can find it in the English and be instantly gratified? Well, that is a good point, but my counterpoint is that the Midrash is necessary to counter all the fairytales I'd read. Well, at this point my teacher explains that she didn't allow her children to read fairytales because she didn't like to fill their heads with such ideas. "But I love fairytales!" I answer in dismay. Then I ask about toys. But the only toy she allows her children is a set of blocks...I personally understand this one, as I think one can be quite creative with a set of blocks. The imagination is the key to everything, and I recall playing with Tinker-Toys for the longest time- just tinkertoys, and out of tinkertoys I could make a house, a castle, a cake- indeed, out of the meanest things, like cardboard boxes, I created entire worlds!

Anyway, having had this discussion with my brilliant Chumash teacher (and she really is brilliant, she has a very literary approach to Chumash, is extremely well-read, incredibly well-spoken, studied one on one with Nachama Leibowitz and so on), my classmate Adina and I walked off to the elevator. I asked Adina whether she planned to eat dinner, having been answered favorably we entered the elevator and pressed "B" for Basement, which is where the Cafeteria is.

But the elevator didn't move.

We were on the sixth floor, inside of an elevator, and it was stuck.

And it remained stuck for thirty-five minutes.

Now, elevators get stuck in movies. Then all kinds of interesting personal conversations happen, in which one of the stuck people informs the other that s/he hates/ loves her, and it all becomes very sappy and dramatic. But this is my life, so of course I managed to get stuck in one of the Stern elevators, the middle one to be specific, for thirty-five minutes.

We were stuck for about five minutes when Adina pushed the "Call" button. A gentleman who seemed entirely too happy about our situation claimed he was sending someone right up. Of course, nothing happened. I was rather giddy with excitement and was explaining all about how we were going to be stuck forever and use up all our air and then die within the elevator shaft. And then I sank down onto the floor happily and remained there.

After waiting another ten minutes, I pushed the "Call" button and proceeded to sweetly explain that the two of us were stuck in the elevator and would appreciate some assistance, especially because at some point this evening I had to write a paper, and poor Adina had to make it to her FIT class.

We waited some more. I pulled out my cell phone and lent it to Adina, who called someone. I called my father. There was an amusing conversation.

Chana: Hi, I'm calling to tell you that I've been stuck in the elevator for the past thirty minutes.

Daddy: I saw you called during lunch to tell me something. Now it appears that you have time to tell me!

Chana: Did you not hear what I said? Your daughter has been stuck in the elevator for thirty minutes! Do you not find this slightly frightening?

Daddy: Well, I'll stay on the line till you get out.

Chana: Right. So Adina and I came out of Chumash class and we got in the elevator and then it decided to freeze and die so we're here and wait-

Disembodied Voices: Anyone in there?

Chana and Adina: (chiming in unison) Yes, yes, we're here!

Disembodied Voices: You all right in there?

Chana and Adina: Yes, yes, we're all right.

Chana: We're having a party.

Disembodied Voices: Two minutes, all right?

Chana and Adina: Two minutes, yes, okay.

Chana: (back to phone) Okay, so they said they're going to get us out of here in two minutes...yeah, right, I don't believe them but yeah, that's what they said...right, so isn't this exciting? This only happens to me.

Daddy: Are you by yourself?

Chana: No, no, I'm with Adina; want to talk to her? (gives phone to Adina. Adina speaks, then gives phone to me)

Chana: Oh, wait, they want us to pull open the doors. I have to hang up on you!

Tossing the phone on top of my coat, Adina and I, aligning ourselves on opposite sides of the elevator, then proceed to pull open the inner doors. A man thrusts his hand between the doors and completes our rescue. A whole security team is assembled outside; they take our names and we walk down the six flights of stairs.

Oh, I neglected to mention the part where I told Adina that it would be quite fun to imagine a man with an axe chopping us out of the elevator, or wondering dreamily aloud what would happen if I had epilepsy or a seizure and went into one while in the elevator while being stuck; would that make help come faster? Adina herself thought we shouldn't have answered that we were okay, but pretended that someone was crying miserably or in great straits.

So I proceeded to hold court at my dinner table (quite a few people stopped by to say hello, and everyone was duly informed of my burnt hands and elevator experience) and make introductions all around. All was lovely and wonderful and that, thus far, has been my day.

Victory Dance!

Recently, I wrote a post entitled Literary Fun with the Apocrypha. In it, I mentioned a correlation I had made between a story found in apocrypha where the fox outwit fishes by claiming he has left his heart at home to a story found in the Jataka tales which describes the interactions between a monkey and a crocodile, where the monkey outwits the crocodile by claiming he has left his heart at home. (For more details/ in order for this to make sense, I recommend your reading my original post.)

Having purchased one of the most magical books in the world, Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg (thanks, Daddy!) at the SOY Seforim sale for a much-reduced price, and of course having decided not to do the many pressing things I ought to be doing, I was reading.

I came across the story I described earlier, the one about the fox outwitting the fish, and curious, looked at the footnote for further details:
    ...there can be no doubt that the origin of our fable is to be found in that about the ape and the crocodile (Pantchatantra, IV, 1) which has found its way also into the Alphabet of Ben Sira, where, however, it was combined with other elements. Whether the author of the Alphabet had directly made use of the Indian-Arabic fable literature, or whether he had adapted fables known to him from older Jewish writings, is a moot question. The first alternative, however, is the more likely, since the author knows a number of animal fables, which are not extant in older Jewish literature [etc] (Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg, "The Creation of the World," page 42, footnote 190)

This makes me very happy, especially as I asked exactly the same question as to what was more probable, and now I know! Even though the answer I gave, based on my logical reasoning from the Solomon idea was wrong, the idea was right!

And when you figure something out for yourself, all by yourself, and then discover that somebody else has done it and even has an answer for you, it's a wonderful feeling. Especially when it wasn't necessarily obvious. So I'm proud of myself right now. But it's the good kind of pride.

Victory dance!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Philosophical vs. Cultural Modern Orthodoxy

    This is exactly what many Orthodox Jews wish to do in New York. They want Judaism to be built on ceremony and beautiful sentiments. For example, they stress the lighting of the Sabbath candles, the white tablecloth for the Sabbath table, the decorating of the sukkah, and transporting the etrog in a silver case. They desire a decorous prayer service and insist that all the worshipers sing together when the Torah scroll is removed from the ark!

    ~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, volume 2, page 228

Religion is not a ceremony!

In a certain type of religious observance that I have newly encountered, the emphasis, when it comes to religion, is on its being a ceremony. The shul is beautiful and worthwhile because of the cantors, most of whom are actually opera-trained professional singers. The beauty is to be found in the spacious building with its lovely decorations. One goes to shul to see and be seen; it is the high point of the fashion show. If you are not correctly garbed, people whisper about you. Designer clothes are a necessity for prayer, it appears. Prayer is constantly interrupted by everyone welcoming one another.

Everything must be exactly right. The dishes must be made of flawless china. The napkins must be white cloth, with a silver napkin-holder. There must be a bottle of white wine, good for digestion. The food must be Shabbos food; there have to be challot, fish, chicken, and so on and so forth. Everything must be beautiful.

But what good is any of this if one does not keep the mitzvot, or violates Shabbos?

Tell me, what good are your singing cantors and dazzling flowers and pretty napkins if you violate Shabbos? This is all a pretense!

And this, I have decided, is the difference between philosophical and cultural Modern Orthodoxy.

Philosophical Modern Orthodoxy subscribes to the religion of Judaism. Philosophically, we deviate from religious observance which is a mere transplantation of European culture. Times have changed in that we are more learned. We are able to read; we have opportunities we did not have in the past. We incorporate secular learning and all that is wonderful about it into our Judaism and our observance, and indeed, this heightens and truly complements our religious observance. We do not see baseball, sports or games as being inherently purposeless or a waste of time, but a useful, important part of childhood. Everything has its place; everything can be used for the good.

But the emphasis, nevertheless, is on the religion! This is religion allied to progress, to quote Rabbi Hirsch. Religion is the most important part of it!

    "The more the Jew is a Jew, the more universalist will his views and aspirations be, the less aloof will he be from anything that is noble and good, true and upright, in art or science, in culture or education; the more joyfully will he applaud whenever he sees truth and justice and peace and the ennoblement of man previal and become dominant in human society: the more joyfully will he seize every opportunity to give proof of his mission as a Jew, the task of his Judaism, on new and untrodden ground; the more joyfully will he devote himself to all true progress in civilisation and culture- provided, that is, that he will not only not have to sacrifice his Judaism but will be able to bring it to more perfect fulfilment. He will ever desire progress, but only in alliance with religion."

    ~Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, "Judaism Eternal," page 238

The Jew is to desire all that is good in art and culture and the world at large, and all of it can be good, but it must be in alliance with religion. Philosophical Modern Orthodoxy advocates for this approach. It believes:

    "To be a Jew is not a mere part, it is th esum total of our task in life. To be a Jew in synagogue and the kitchen, in the field and the warehouse, in the office and the pulpit, as father and as mother, as servant and as master, as man and as citizen, with one's feelings and one's thoughts, in word and in deed, in enjoyment and privation, with the needle and the graving-tool, with the pen and the chisel- that is what it means to be a Jew. An entire life supported by the Divine idea and lived and brought to fulfillment according to the Divine will."

    ~Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, "Religion Allied to Progress," page 237

One may be a Jew anywhere, no matter one's occupation, and one can and ought to delve into the treasure-troves of secular studies, but this cannot be in conflict with one's Judaism; one cannot turn on lights on Shabbos!

Cultural Modern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is different. To Cultural Modern Orthodoxy can be applied the idea of ceremony; this is a Ceremonial Modern Orthodoxy, and it is held together by shreds and patches and laxity in halakha. Both Rabbi Hirsch and Rabbi Soloveitchik decried the believer in ceremony; Rabbi Hirsch writes that "there is perhaps not another word in our language which, to the same degree as "ceremony," connotes at the same time solemnity of form and hollowness of content" (Hirsch, "The Jewish Ceremonial Laws," page 57).

Cultural Modern Orthodoxy is a facade. It is a desperate yearning to be part of American culture. The cultural Modern Orthodox teenager will see no problem with pretenses. The cultural Modern Orthodox teenager will not see relationships as something sacred but rather as part of our throwaway society; s/he will have no problem with choosing which commandments to keep. The cultural Modern Orthodox teenager does not feel any commitment; they are bound because of the society they keep, their parents' edicts and laws, and if they return to Judaism after their rebellious stage, it is probable that they pick and choose what they will keep.

Now, this is very different with someone raised in American society. I am not discussing someone who is not religious from birth and who has never been exposed to religious Judaism. I am specifically talking about a group of people who have been raised "religiously" but whose religiosity, for the most part, is a sham. And why is it a sham? Because it is a ceremony! Everything is a ceremony, a costume, a mask; there is no feeling, there is no depth, there is no commitment; it is a burden that one assumes due to societal pressure. One acts a certain way in front of one group of people and acts differently in front of another, not due to one's internal sense of values, but due to external values that have been imposed upon you!

Such a person will not have a problem violating Shabbos or discussing others as though they were so much "meat," objectifying and depersonalizing people without a thought, without a qualm. They will have no problem doing this because the religion does not mean anything to them; it is merely a costume.

I went to North Shore Country Day; they were honest there. People were what they were, whatever they were, and they did not hide it or pretend to be something they were not. If they were American teenagers, interested in sports and ballgames and gameplayer consoles, so good! That's a wonderful thing! But they were good people; they were sincere, genuine people. They did not adopt something they did not believe in; they did not pretend to be part of a religion or a group if they didn't believe in it. They didn't present one exterior to the world and really act differently inside. They were not hypocrites. They may not have had my priorities or all of my interests, and they cannot be faulted for that, but they were good people, principled people, people with their own true value systems and morals. They did not seem one way and then act another.

I have never encountered this type of Jew before! Fundamentalist Jews I have encountered, yes, or hypocrites, but someone who acts differently before every crowd, someone whose only connection to Judaism is through its artistic expression, someone who is one thing on the inside and something totally different on the other- no, I have not seen this before, and I am disturbed by it! I am very disturbed by it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Soul is a Candle

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

    My soul is a candle.
    It glows in the night.
    And when I am silent,
    It seems very bright.

    It touches another's-
    It kindles a flame.
    We are all different,
    And yet all the same.

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    At the Zoo

    Disclaimer: I am NOT an animal rights activist. You can take this story as you will; it came unbidden.


    “Do not feed the people,” a large sign proclaims. Animals stroll about, nonchalantly observing the humans in their artificial habitats. They are divided up by ethnicity, race and religious observance. A large directory explains that the African-Americans are to the right, the Chinese to the left, for the Vietnamese one should walk straight and turn right, and so on and so forth.

    A cheetah laughs delicately into her hand as her husband continues telling an amusing story; her son is engaged in tapping on the glass divider. Behind the glass a young child sits, absorbed in his computer game. He is wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. His fingers tap over the keyboard, his eyes glued to his game. The habitat, as promised, looks quite similar to his natural habitat. Clothes are scattered on the floor; the desk is messy, pencils and papers scattered all over it. A bed, obviously unmade, sits in the corner. The young cheetah is enthralled, continuously tapping at the glass. “Mama,” he begs, “make him do something.”

    She turns to her son. “There, there, now,” she says. “He’s a bit boring, isn’t he?” To her husband: “Come on, Arthur, surely you can finish that story later.” The three of them move onward to the Trapeze section. There, humans are cavorting about, swinging on ropes and twisting chaotically. A young monkey scratches at his head, absent-mindedly eating a flea. “Mother, they look like us,” he asserts. “I think we came from them.”

    “Hush!” his mother answers quickly. “Don’t even think that. How could we possibly have come from humans? They are not as advanced as us; they cannot even move like we can.” The young monkey remains glued to the glass, however, watching the humans in their odd getup swinging from ropes and landing on platforms.

    Two scholarly mules are speaking about their respective scientific experiments outside of a cage, the interior of which is meant to mimic a house of worship. “It’s quite ingenious, really,” the first says, “I’ve managed to find a homosapien who was not born with a human immune system. I’ve been able to implant him with avian tendencies, am even starting on birdlike DNA. I’ve injected him with a certain kind of virus that is plaguing the cormorants; I’m quite certain the results will be fascinating.”

    “Indeed,” the other mule replies, nodding his head decisively. “I, in the meantime, have noticed that by mimicking a certain archaic gene they have, I can produce something like the platypus- a mammal that lays eggs. I’m trying to hatch humans from eggs; I’m curious as to whether it can be done. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to inject the egg with a duck or raven or kangaroo’s DNA, allowing the fetus to develop organs that would suit. Then we’d be able to perform heart and liver transplants, helping the animal population to survive longer.”

    “But what about the ethics of that?” the grey-haired mule retorts quickly. He’s absent-mindedly cleaning his glasses.

    “Well, I think it is quite clear that if we are saving an animal’s life, that takes precedence over any human.”

    “Of course,” the mule nods, glancing at the adorable baby-pen. “Look, the Petting Zoo has opened. I want to go pet the babies.”

    The two of them stroll off together, musing over their achievements.

    A lioness is relating her tour of a new exhibit to her lady friend, a white elephant. “It’s quite new and controversial,” she says. “The exhibit is called BODIES. What they’ve done is taken the bodies of those of us who have been moved to contribute our bodies to science. They’ve reconstructed a fellow lioness, for instance, out of bones, and then attached the muscles. They’ve captured us hunting prey, or mid-roar for instance. I don’t know if I entirely approve.”

    The elephant waves her trunk loosely. “Well, I find that quite disconcerting. I don’t want to be an exhibit in the likes of a museum. I mean, that’s where they have the bones of aged homosapiens, discovered years and years ago. Why in the world would we want to inter ourselves there?”

    “A fine point, I am sure,” the lioness replies, grinning wickedly. She stretches and roars. “Even so, I do find it interesting.”

    A mouse is tugging at her mother’s skirt. “Mother, mother!” she squeaks desperately. “My school took us on a tour of the laboratories today. It was terrible, mother; they have humans hooked up to machines, babies that they are cutting open and dissecting! I can’t even do it at school, mother, the smell of formaldehyde really disturbs me. How can we do it, mother? How can we possibly think it’s all right to hook them up to all those machines?”

    Her mother sighs tiredly. “Beatrice, darling, you know that it’s for the advance of science. We need to propogate our species, to make sure that us animals exist in the future. Research on humans may kill a few humans, but think of the advances we are making! It is worth it. If they had any choice, I am sure they would volunteer.”

    “But mother—“

    But her impassioned speech is cut off by the arrival of a cat. The cat comes over to the mouse, stares at her for a moment, then extends his claws, grabs her, and eats her.

    “MURDER!” the mother screams, running away. “What about tolerance? What about democracy? He killed my daughter! That’s in violation of every single code we have! Arrest him, arrest him!”

    The rhinoceros on patrol stops by the shrieking mouse. “What’s all this?” she asks tiredly. “He killed my daughter!” the mouse replies. “Oh. One of them,” the rhinoceros mutters, pulling out her yellow legal pad. “A dissenter, someone unwilling to live by our strict code of tolerance and live and let live. Someone who wants to follow his instincts, who wants to take without giving back to society. Anarchist!”

    The mouse, who has fainted from the shock, is ushered away by two kindly leopards. “We rule over ourselves and our instincts,” they say to each other. “That cat is a disgrace to our species!”

    A cheerful parrot wanders about selling balloons and cotton-candy. “Balloons, balloons!” he cries, his colorful plumage attracting attention. “Cotton-candy! Balloons!”

    A seal, inside of his Tank-Cart (a new invention designed so that he is always within water, but nevertheless able to go outside and see the world) wheels by. He sneers at the lone rabbit picketing just outside the entrance to the zoo, “Free the Humans.”

    “That idiotic AETP (Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People),” he remarks. “Their extremist views disgust me. They put up signs everywhere claiming that we are human-killers, that it is a crime to use humans for scientific advancement, that human bones shouldn’t even be in our museums. They seem uninterested in studying the customs and attitudes of humans- I mean, this is fascinating-“

    He points to a cage behind which a man and woman are making love.

    “The miracle of creation right here. In fact, we even breed them together! It’s most interesting to cross humans from different religions, as one wonders what the child will believe. But I have had some interesting experiences merely by combining the different ethnicities. Humans,” he continues, “they’re always good for a laugh.” This as he walks by a woman who is eagerly applying nail-polish to the highly-buffed nails of the other inhabitant of her cell.

    “Sometimes I do feel a twinge of conscience,” the seal admits. “I cannot always believe that they are happy.”

    A polar-bear passes by. “What do you mean, they are not happy?” he asks, coming to a slow stop. “Look at what we have done for them! We’ve created habitats so like their own that they hardly know the difference! Look at him-“ he points to a praying man, garbed in black- “does it matter whether he prays behind a cage or walking about freely? He doesn’t care!”

    The seal nods. “I’m sure you’re right,” he says, and pushing a button, seals himself inside his plastic Tank-Cart, submerging himself underwater.

    “What do you think of this war we’re having?” a brown bear asks a cockroach interestedly. “Is it justified? The Dissenters who want to live by the old ways, who want to exist based on their instincts and eat others- we can’t possibly agree with that approach, now can we? But I feel as though we have not made much progress.”

    The cockroach smiles. “With God’s help,” she replies, “all will work out well.”

    “God? Which God?” the brown bear asks curiously.

    “Why, the termite, of course,” the cockroach answers. “The termite is a wonderful God.”

    The brown bear bursts into booming fits of laughter. “The termite?! How ridiculous! My God is the Leviathan, creature that rules the whole world. No one can describe him because nobody has ever seen him. I have heard it said that he is part-man, part-fish, and imbued with a tremendous appetite.”

    The cockroach, miffed, doesn’t respond.

    The brown bear comes upon a hare. “Do you believe in God?” he asks the hare.

    “Of course not,” the hare says, sniffing vainly. “That’s an utterly archaic concept. God? What God? Why? I believe in reason, reason and science. Our world today has only been advanced by scientists.” He pauses for a moment to throw some popcorn to a little white boy who eagerly gobbles it up. “Why, scientists were the ones who conceived of temperature control, allowing us to populate the world rather than staying within our original continents or climates.”

    The bear is at a loss for words. Turning, he beholds an ostrich, folded up awkwardly and holding a cardboard sign. “Help me,” the sign pleads. “Dissenters tore off my leg. Out of work.” The bear passes on by.

    A mosquito buzzes past and nips the bear. “I drink your blood,” it hisses. “You all grow fat on your ideas, your equality and democracy and tolerance, but I? I am simple. I drink your blood.”

    A tortoise pauses before a Native American, traditionally garbed and painted. He looks into the woman’s eyes, brown pools of misery and discontent. A tear rolls down his cheek as he snaps a picture; this will be on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. Humans are being treated abominably, to his mind, but what can he do? He is a lowly tortoise, slow and ungainly.

    “Did you see the latest movie?” a killer whale is eagerly chatting with a dolphin, having drawn up alongside it within his respective Tank-Cart. “It was pretty frightening, all about humans who break out of the zoo and live in the wild and destroy us- taking over the world. But of course I don’t take it seriously. I mean, the potential for that happening is nonexistent; it’s laughable.”

    The dolphin sighs. “I actually saw a different movie. It was disturbing. I found it deeply meaningful, deeply philosophical. It was called ‘The Matrix.’ It’s all about animals waking up one day to find out that humans have actually enslaved them, not vice versa. Oh, and we’re living within a computer program- all this,” he motions, “is actually a disc uploaded to our brains.”

    “Sometimes I think the penguins are rather crazy.” Of course the penguins were the most successful in the movie industry. Their brilliant suits and impeccable manners impressed everyone. “Crazy but brilliant, of course. I look up to them, certainly.”

    The dolphin nodded his head once again.

    “My favorite movie, of course, is Beauty and the Beast. It’s all about this girl who was unfortunately turned into a human- and the problem is, who could ever love a human? The Beast, of course, has to love her. It’s a long and arduous process, but in the end, he falls in love with her, and she turns into a Beast as well. It makes me cry.”

    The dolphin seemed unmoved. “I have to say, I’m rather appalled by all the violence on television nowadays,” he answered. “All these animals shooting humans- killing other animals- mutilating babies- it’s pretty terrible. I, for one, do not allow my children to watch it.”

    “Oh, definitely,” the killer whale murmured, then sharply turned off the road to go view the demonic rites of Satanists.

    A fish was trying to woo a fox. “Come join me in my tank, fox,” the fish said sweetly. The fox was well-aware that this was impossible, a kind of forbidden love. But having just passed by two fruit-bats, lying intoxicated on the ground alongside a sign declaring, “WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER, GET USED TO IT,” he wondered whether one day it would be possible. He knew that some, in a rather disgusting and unlawful way, to his mind, did cohabit with humans…but for the moment, he was going to stave off the advances of the fish. “No, thank you,” he said politely, wandering away.

    The rabbit, the solitary rabbit, remained, exhausted, outside the zoo, holding his sign. “Free the Humans,” he begged, asking everyone who went in to support him in his efforts. But he was mocked and derided. The kangaroo laughed, while the sheep just made a derogatory noise, “Baa-aaa-aa.” The rabbit had tears in his eyes. What use was this? It was futile. It was certain that someone would kill him for his beliefs before the year was out. And yet, he was driven, he was determined- he had to do something. He had heard rumors of someone trying to free the humans and create some kind of escape for them. He didn’t know if he could trust to those rumors. He was philosophically opposed, and he remained standing, exhausted, his sign at the ready. Useless, he knew. He was a coward, unwilling to take any decisive action. But he was nevertheless there- trying.

    Monday, February 05, 2007

    The Rav’s Vision: The Lonely Man of Faith, a Documentary

    Anticipation thrums through the air, an electrical current racing from one person to the next. Lamport Auditorium is packed; the audience is stirring excitedly, eagerly awaiting the New York premiere of the documentary on the Rav, “The Lonely Man of Faith: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.”

    Having been warned by one of the introductory speakers that the documentary is “about the Rav” rather than the Rav’s actual teachings and philosophy, we shift our attention to Ethan Isenberg, filmmaker. He begins by wishing us a good week, and a “happy birthday to your trees.” He describes the process through which one makes a film distinct “in the annals of Rabbinic film history,” explaining that he himself is not a disciple of the Rav, nor a disciple of one of the Rav’s disciples, but a man fascinated by the Rav nonetheless. He thanks YU for having him, and expresses his gratitude toward those who guided him in the making of the film, most notably Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, distinguished scholar and lecturer with regard to the Rav. He then goes on to thank those who were so generous with their time and who allowed themselves to be interviewed via phone and in person for the film, and those who contributed photographs or other documents for the film. He informs us that we will be viewing a formerly undiscovered snippet from a lecture of the Rav, filmed by Tzvi Fishman, and explains that the movie on a whole is “not a comprehensive guide to the Rav’s teachings,” but rather is meant to give those who did not know the Rav a “taste” of what he was like, and “hopefully inspire people to learn about him, his teachings, his lomdus, and allow people insights into the Rav’s personality.”

    Last but not least, Isenberg informs us that “this film was entirely funded by a private sponsor who prefers to remain anonymous,” but clarifies that it was not paid for by YU or the Maimonides School. He offers up his tremendous gratitude, and the entire audience joins him in applause.

    On this note, we settle back in our seats, having been told that we have the privilege of seeing the film in Lamport Auditorium, where the Rav actually gave shiur many times. We have been asked to be patient with the echo or any other oddities that might occur during the showing. Imagine our surprise, then, when at first there is no sound at all- the movie seems to be playing on mute! Rabbi Kenneth Brander amusingly takes the microphone and says “We’re trying to deal with the echo,” as we burst into laughter.

    But finally the movie begins, and it is stunning. The constant theme is that of loneliness, the Rav’s ontological loneliness as an individual and a man. We are informed that the Rav was “revered by many, resented by some,” but his “religious mind was unsurpassed in his time.” The movie begins with his childhood, describing the way in which R’ Moshe, his father, tutored him himself, specifically utilizing the Brisker method, which features careful analysis and understanding of texts. Various photographs of the Rav pass by, the music is soft and soulful or quickening in tempo depending on the words spoken. We learn about the differences between the Soloveitchik and Feinstein background; the Soloveitchiks favored total immersion in Torah while the Feinsteins opted for secular studies as well, whether this take the form of Russian literature or other important works of a similar nature.

    The film moves chronologically through the Rav’s life. Theodore Bikel acted as the voice of the Rav, quoting passages and quotes from his many works. Snippets of interviews are amply sprinkled throughout the film, each time providing commentary or a new viewpoint upon the matter at hand. The film makes much of his parting from his father, describing how the two of them did not kiss each other goodbye, describing how the Rav was taught to restrain his feelings and indeed, was told by his father that “the holier the feeling, the more intimate it is, the more it needs to be kept in the depths” of one’s emotions. Interestingly, the fact that the Rav believed this to be the European approach, and that a different, more open approach to one’s emotions ought to be utilized for American Jewry, was not mentioned.

    The documentary contains many witty incidents and exchanges between the Rav and his contemporaries. In one clever story, the Rav wrote his father to tell him that he planned to marry Dr. Tonya Levitt, and his father responded by stating that the family had not met the girl, how could the Rav do this, and so on and so forth. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik answered by quoting a law that states that when a person wants to marry an upstanding religious woman, and his parents don’t approve, he is able to do as he wishes, also citing an idea of ‘tz’ar b’gufo’ where his own personal pain comes before all else. R’ Moshe was so pleased with this response, that he read it, quote included, to his class of students, stating, “My son is right, my son is right.”

    The film continues by describing how Rabbi Soloveitchik came to Boston, contrasting the type of place Boston had been before his arrival to how it was after he had revitalized it. Marc Gopin stated that the assimilation of American Jewry was tremendous, while Abraham Shonfeld explained that there was a definite need for someone to liven up the Boston community. With the Rav’s arrival, and his determined decision and achievement of founding the Maimonides School, this occurred. It was not easy. People at the time did not want an institution that would make them feel different or separate them from others. Rabbi Reuven Cohn, who attended the Maimonides School, recalls that “people I knew to be Jewish would make snide comments” about the fact that he was wearing a kippa, making it visible that he was a Jew. The Rav, he states, allowed “us to hold our heads high.” The Rav brought back pride in Judaism, pride in one’s religion and beliefs.

    This is not to say that the Rav went unchallenged. In a sad and painful incident having to do with a kashrus controversy over certain meat that was being sold as kosher but truly was not, the Rav was maliciously and slanderously accused of “racketeering, taking money from under the table, not paying his taxes,” said Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff. “His character constantly came under attack;” it was an awful time for him, compounded by the death of his father soon afterwards. Rabbi Soloveitchik eulogized his father, comparing the relationship between himself and his father to the one between Elisha and Elijah, giving himself over to the desperate cry, “Father, father, teacher, teacher, where are you? But he is no more,” he concluded.

    Upon the death of his father, Rabbi Soloveitchik wished to succeed him at the R’ Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He was accepted on a contract of one year, provided he could prove his usefulness. And this the Rav did.

    The Rav was a teacher par excellence, very exacting, “a holy terror” in the words of Rabbi Norman Lamm. Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff related a particularly amusing story- apparently, when a student raised his hand in class, the Rav wrote the word “yada” meaning “knows” next to his name. If the student did not raise his hand, the Rav wrote the words “lo yada,” “he does not know” next to his name. And if a student raised his hand but did not know the material to the Rav’s satisfaction, he wrote “shakran,” “liar,” next to his name.

    Rabbi Hershel Schachter described the Rav’s shiur by stating that, “Before shiur everything was like a jungle—afterwards, everything fell into place.” The Rav’s words clarified difficult matters, helped them seem logical and clear. “When I was younger, I used to feel like the angels were coming from heaven to listen to his shiur,” Rabbi Schachter continued, “it was like a symphony orchestra- out of this world.”

    The documentary stressed the Rav’s personal relationships with other gedolei hador, relationships that persisted even though he differed with them on various matters. In all matters, he acted upon his principles, not based on how others would judge him. He was a strong man, a man of character and charisma. He was also a rare performer. He used to give Saturday-night shiurim, and one of his friends noticed he was always very tense. When this friend once asked him what made him so tense, he answered that this was Saturday night and he was in competition with the movie-houses, so he would have to entertain in order to capture the audience’s attention!

    The Rav’s love for his wife, Dr. Tonya Soloveitchik, was also movingly described. He respected her, loved her and was devastated over her death. But when he spoke- when he eulogized her- he was in perfect control of himself, able to honor her before all.

    The Rav’s personal sadness or thoughts were also addressed; sometimes he felt as though his students focused on the intellectual side of Judaism while not counting the experience as being worthwhile. Rabbi Lichtenstein described it by stating that, “He didn’t wear the mantle of a kind of superficial religiosity they would have liked to see.” Rabbi Shalom Carmy added to that while explaining why the Rav left so many of his works unpublished, “the public claimed he was a perfectionist and on a few occasions he told me he felt there was no interest…” The Rav did not feel there was an audience for his writings.

    Upon his death, especially now, there is indeed an audience. We are dazzled by the Rav, fascinated by his philosophy, moved by his compassionate and humane words. The last words of the documentary focus on the fact that the Rav believed that God appoints us all with a mission and purpose during a fixed time, concluding with the line that, “God wills me to act” and the time is “right here and now.”

    We reacted with thunderous applause, moved by this depiction of the Rav and by all that he meant to so many people.

    After the documentary, there was a panel featuring Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rabbi Menachem Genack and Rabbi Mayer Twersky, all of whom answered questions about the Rav posed to them by Rabbi Kenneth Brander. They added a personal outlook to the movie, helping to clarify that the Rav was actually a very warm individual; he used to crack jokes, tell stories, and was a very leibidik person. When questioned as to how to understand the “potential conflicting typologies, the Rav of Brisk versus the Rav of Berlin,” Rabbi Twersky responded that everything that the Rav studied “coexisted harmoniously with him—his roots were deeply implanted in Torah, and he was free to accept or draw upon what he found to be consistent and compatible with the Torah in his presentation,” but also remarked upon the fact that often the Rav would bring in Western sources or philosophy in contrast to an idea he was expressing. Rabbi Genack told over a story of an oncologist who met the Rav and was “shocked by how much he knew about research in cancer,” very specific information that Rabbi Soloveitchik was aware of due to the fact that he was a very curious man, very interested in these ideas. Rabbi Genack explained that many see the Rav as being “such a revolutionary” but in truth his approach was enormously conservative. He was “using modern tools to preserve Torah” but his reverence for the Torah itself was unchanged. Rabbi Schachter, the last to answer, said it simply, “The Rav didn’t feel that you have to be afraid of secular studies. God gave all the chachma (wisdom) in the world,” the intimation is that all of it can be used well.

    Rabbi Brander ended by stating that there is “one more question I’d like to ask- the final question is to Rabbi Twersky and then everyone else—what was the Rav like as a grandfather, at the end of the day, tell me, who was the Rav, how should he calibrate our souls and what do you think his legacy is?” The response to this supposed “one” final question was the uproarious laughter of the audience; we were fascinated, of course, but this was hardly one question, and how could it possibly be answered, even were there no set time limit?

    Rabbi Twerksy answered simply, explaining that as a child, “the only thing I knew that was distinctive about my grandfather was that most people’s grandfathers didn’t commute to New York two to three times a week, and mine did!” He continued by describing the Rav’s humble nature, describing that there was “nothing about his conduct that made you think he was different” from others. All three Rabbis on the panel agreed that the Rav’s Torah knowledge and wisdom was the most important part of his legacy; Rabbi Genack compared him to Rabbi Akiva, who rebuilt Torah after the churban. Rabbi Schachter explained that the Rav believed that you “cannot just concentrate the religious Jews in Williamsburg, or Monsey, but that you need religious Jews everywhere” and the Rav’s approach allowed for Jews to exist throughout the world, and not only in protected, sheltered communities. Indeed, the Rav’s approach was “essential to preserving Yiddishkeit in America.”

    The evening concluded with Rabbi Charlop’s words, tying in the parsha of the week, Beshalach, where he stated that here Moses takes the bones of Joseph up from Egypt and “this documentary, to my mind, what happened tonight, is another form of ‘Moses taking the bones of Rabbeinu Joseph Soloveitchik’ up from Egypt.

    The evening in and of itself was beautiful, and the documentary was moving and truly allowed those who had not known the Rav insight into the kind of man he was. I had only a few qualms, and these for fear that those who had not studied the Rav’s works or looked deeply into his philosophy might harbor the wrong impression about who he was as a man.

    Firstly, the documentary focused very much on the Rav’s loneliness throughout his life; this was the central theme tying the entire film together. While this was necessary and well-executed for the most part, it was sometimes a bit overdone, making it seem as though the Rav were a grave and serious individual, feeling himself totally alone and adrift in a world that did not understand him. As Rabbis Schachter, Genack and Twersky later stated, the Rav’s loneliness was an “ontological loneliness, a philosophical loneliness, a theological loneliness;” he was actually a very joyous, witty individual who forged meaningful relationships with his family, students and friends, and found much pleasure in them. He was by no means a solitary, sad man, feeling saddened by the whims of fate.

    Also problematic was the intimation that the Rav felt himself unable to communicate with modern man, and indeed was presented, to some extent, as being an elite kind of individual, unparalleled, exalted above all others, a child prodigy, a genius, someone so far above and beyond others that, as one quote near the very beginning of the movie claims, “when one speaks about the Soloveitchiks, we are dealing with geniuses; these are not ordinary mortals” and the Rav “had difficulty realizing that mortals do not deal on his level.” While I believe that this impression of the Rav was given over only to do him honor, I also think it is flawed. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the Rav is that he was approachable, that he did have faith in the American Jew, that he felt that modern man was someone to be proud of, to rejoice with, to love and to honor. The Rav was a man that many turned to with their problems, a man uniquely warm and caring, a mortal with a mortal’s brilliant character traits and flaws. I believe it does the Rav more honor to see him as a human, someone to whom we can relate, a human with all of a human’s trials and problems and dilemmas, and yet a man impassioned, a man thrilled and uplifted by his desire to fulfill his purpose, his desire to create and allow all of man to create alongside God. I believe that if we see the Rav as apart from us, a high and mighty and elite figure, we will be distanced from him, when in truth it is his very humanity and normalcy that brings us together. I am most inspired by the Rav because I see him as human, a person like me, someone I can emulate, not someone so different from me that I cannot even relate to him.

    Lastly, I believe that if we desire to align ourselves with the Rav, and follow him on the path which he created for us, it does not do to always look back to the past. This documentary is valuable because it allows us insight into the Rav as he was, but I cannot find the approach that “we have lost our champion” and there is no one to replace him acceptable. The Rav’s vision was of a unified, glorious Jewish community in America. Time and time again he expressed his faith in the American Jew. We cannot disappoint him. Rather than looking to the past to reminisce and to mourn over it, I motion that we look to the future, the future that awaits us all- the brilliant future that he helped to create- and to fulfill his legacy by looking forward and implementing his beliefs in our own lives. The challenge is to go forward, to take the Rav’s ideas and build on them, grow with them. This documentary is meant to be a beginning, not an end. The Rav believed in recreating the destroyed worlds. He believed that our obligation was to the future. He believed that “the individual is responsible, not only for himself, but for the future. Perhaps his main responsibility is to the future and the countless generations that will come after him” ( from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik by Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, Volume 2, 14) If we truly love Rabbi Soloveitchik, if we truly believe in his words, then we must go forward. We must continue in his path, build upon his words. We must fulfill his vision. And that- that- is where our energies must lie. Not in the past; the past is merely a foundation for the future. But in that future. Alongside the Rav, beyond him, building and conquering upon his words.

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    Satan and Elijah

    In a strange but striking way, Satan and Elijah are quite similar.

    This has to do with their modus operandi.

    Satan and Elijah both traverse the world, seeking out people to test or to help, as is their wont. What I find fascinating is that in order to do it, they disguise themselves. These disguises, and the fact that both of them make extensive use of them, interest me very much.

    Satan, for example disguises himself as a:

    1. Bird
    2. Stag
    3. Woman
    4. Beggar or young man

    Elijah disguises himself as a:

    1. Court official
    2. Persian
    3. Harlot
    4. Arab
    5. Horseman
    6. Ugly man
    7. Slave

    And both Satan and Elijah wear disguises beyond the ones I have mentioned.

    In fact, Satan and Elijah are almost opposites of one another- in their angelic form. It seems quite suitable that this should be so, as Elijah was rebuked for being too accusatory or harsh on his people; it follows that his actions to help the deserving or worthy against another accuser's wishes are fitting.

    Where/ when do they disguise themselves?


    As a bird:

      And he walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.7 Now Bath Sheba was cleansing her hair behind a screen,8 when Satan came to him, appearing in the shape of a bird. He shot an arrow at him, which broke the screen, thus she stood revealed, and he saw her. Immediately, And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath Sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?

      Sanhedrin 107a

    As a stag:

      One day, when he [David] ventured forth to Sekhor Bizzae,23 Satan appeared before him in the guise of a deer. He shot arrows at him, but did not reach him, and was thus led on until inveigled into the land of the Philistines. When Ishbi-benob espied him, he exclaimed, 'It is he who slew my brother Goliath.' So he bound him, doubled him up and cast him under an olive press; but a miracle was wrought, and the ground softened under him.

      Sanhedrin 95a
        (Perhaps this is the foundation for the idea of 'The White Hart' or 'The White Stag,' very important in Celtic and Arthurian tradition, often actually a woman wearing the form of a hart- here's a story that should illustrate that. The White Hart cannot be caught or killed and serves as a symbol, something which Kings, such as Arthur, chase fruitlessly, often leading them to adventure.)

      As a woman:

        Rabbi Meir used to scoff at sinners for giving in to their desires. One day, Satan appeared to him in the guise of a beautiful woman on the other side of the river. There was no ferry, so Rabbi Meir grasped the rope-bridge and proceeded across. When he reached halfway, Satan left him saying: Had they not declared in Heaven, "Beware of Rabbi Meir and his Torah" your life would not have been worth two maahs [a maah is a small coin]. (Kiddushin 81a).

        A similar incident is recounted involving another great sage, Rabbi Akiva:

        Rabbi Akiva used to scoff at sinners for giving in to their desires. One day, Satan appeared to him in the guise of a beautiful woman on a tree. Rabbi Akiva grabbed the tree and began climbing it, but when he reached halfway, Satan left him saying: Had they not declared in Heaven, "Beware of Rabbi Akiva and his Torah" your life would not have been worth two maahs. (Kiddushin 81a).

        ~Quoted from here

      As a beggar and young man:

        הלך מעליו ונדמה לבחור ועמד על ימינו של יצחק א"ל לאן אתה הולך, א"ל ללמוד תורה, א"ל בחייך או במיתתך,

        Midrash Tanchuma, parashat Vayera

      I can't find the part about his being a beggar right now, but I know he appears as a beggar and an old man- an old man to Avraham, and a beggar to Sarah.

      All right, so that's the Satan.

      What about Eliyahu?

      (All the stories about Eliyahu can be found here. Unfortunately, Sacred-Texts is quoting 'Legends of the Jews' by Louis Ginzberg, who has long lists of indexes in a completely different volume, so while I am well-nigh unto positive all the statements are accurate, I don't know the sources. If you could provide me with them, that would be wonderful. I'm only going to quote a few examples here. Oh, and I would be very indebted to anyone who feels like buying me Legends of the Jews.)


      As a court official:

        It once happened that the Israelites had to send a present to the imperial house, and Nahum was selected to carry out the mission, because it was quite usual for miracles to be performed on his account. They intrusted to him a casket containing precious stones and pearls. When he arrived at his quarters for the night, thieves became aware of his treasure, and they removed the valuables contained in the casket, substituting therefor dry earth. When he arrived at the imperial palace, the casket was opened, and it being observed that it contained nothing but earth, the emperor became very wroth and determined to destroy all the Jews, thinking that they had merely mocked him. Nahum, however, said to himself: "Even this will lead to good." When a conference was held as to the manner in which the Jews were to be destroyed, Elijah appeared disguised as one of the councillors, and after the conference said: "Perhaps this earth is of the greatest value, as it may be the same earth which Abraham their father had within his domain, and which possessed the merit of turning into swords which would cut down the enemy when thrown at a hostile army. The coarser pieces would turn into arrows when thrown at the enemy, as it is written [Isaiah, xli. 2]: He rendered as earth his sword, as driven stubble his bow.'" 1

        ~Somewhere in Ta'anis

      As a harlot:

        When the Roman bailiffs were pursuing Rabbi Meir, Elijah joined him in the guise of a harlot. The Roman emissaries desisted from their pursuit, for they could not believe that Rabbi Meir would choose such a companion.

      As an Arab:

        In the form of an Arab, he once appeared before a very poor man, whose piety equalled his poverty. He gave him two shekels. These two coins brought him such good fortune that he attained great wealth. But in his zeal to gather worldly treasures, he had no time for deeds of piety and charity. Elijah again appeared before him and took away the two shekels. In a short time the man was as poor as before. A third time Elijah came to him. He was crying bitterly and complaining of his misfortune, and the prophet said: "I shall make thee rich once more, if thou wilt promise me under oath thou wilt not let wealth ruin they character." He promised, the two shekels were restored to him, he regained his wealth, and he remained in possession of it for all time, because his piety was not curtailed by his riches.

      As a horseman:

        He exercised the functions of a physician upon Rabbi Shimi bar Ashi, who had swallowed a noxious reptile. Elijah appeared to him as an awe-inspiring horseman, and forced him to apply the preventives against the disease to be expected in these circumstances.

      As a slave:

        poor man, the father of a family, in his distress once prayed to God: "O Lord of the world, Thou knowest, there is none to whom I can tell my tale of woe, none who will have pity upon me. I have neither brother nor kinsman nor friend, and my starving little ones are crying with hunger. Then do Thou have mercy and be compassionate, or let death come and put an end to our suffering." His words found a hearing with God, for, as he finished, Elijah stood before the poor man, and sympathetically inquired why he was weeping. When the prophet had heard the tale of his troubles, he said: "Take me and sell me as a slave; the proceeds will suffice for thy needs." At first the poor man refused to accept the sacrifice, but finally yielded, and Elijah was sold to a prince for eighty denarii. This sum formed the nucleus of the fortune which the poor man amassed and enjoyed until the end of his days. The prince who had purchased Elijah intended to build a palace, and he rejoiced to hear that his new slave was an architect. He promised Elijah liberty if within six months he completed the edifice. After nightfall of the same day, Elijah offered a prayer, and instantaneously the palace stood in its place in complete perfection. Elijah disappeared. The next morning the prince was not a little astonished to see the palace finished. But when he sought his slave to reward him, and sought him in vain, he realized that he had had dealings with an angel. Elijah meantime repaired to the man who had sold him, and related his story to him, that he might know he had not cheated the purchaser out of his price; on the contrary, he had enriched him, since the palace was worth a hundred times more than the money paid for the pretended slave.

      And so on and so forth.

      It's brilliant, isn't it? You notice that Elijah is (I believe) the first prophet to revive another human being from the dead. We learn about how he is given the 'Keys,' how in order to revive this boy he is given the Key of Death. So from the very beginning, Elijah is interacting with/ opposing the Angel of Death, who is identified with Satan. However, Elijah is also very similar to the Satan; he is an accusatory person and is rebuked for being so.

        Observe that at first the scriptures state, 'And the Lord came unto him and said, 'What doest thou here, Elijah?' And Elijah answered and said, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts, because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant a,' (1 Kings XIX. 9-10). Then said God unto him, 'I swear by thy life that wherever and whenever my children shall practice and obey my covenant, there shalt thou be present and thy mouth which now testifies that the children of Israel have forsaken my covenant, shall also testify when they keep it.' We are also taught by tradition that Elijah was punished for making himself the accuser of God's children."


      Fascinating, isn't it, that Elijah the former-Accuser and Satan the Accuser are now similar creatures? Elijah does not die, but is taken up to heaven alive, where he becomes an angel. Like Satan, he flies about the world (this is proved in various places) and like Satan, he assumes many different guises. Unlike Satan, however, he rewards those who are good rather than testing them. He is the Defense; he now testifies to the Jews keeping the covenant.

      Most interesting is Louis Ginzberg's conclusion to this section, "The last act of Elijah's brilliant career will be the execution of God's command to slay Samael, and so banish evil forever."

      Satan is often identified with Samael. Isn't this fitting? Elijah and Satan share similar qualities, and so Elijah's killing Satan is very suitable. It's almost as though Elijah is killing his opposite, the other side of himself, or at the very least the darker version. It is honorable for Elijah to kill Satan, noble. Because Satan and Elijah are equals, or so it would appear. If Satan is to perish at anyone's hands, it makes sense that it be Elijah (or, if not Elijah, then God), because that is the only truly noble, truly befitting death for such a fascinating, formidable creation. For anyone less to spell his end would be an insult. But for Elijah...well. Elijah is The Defense, Satan, The Prosecutor. For Elijah to triumph is so, so brilliant- in both the literary and cosmic sense of the word.