Friday, February 29, 2008

The Mishna Project

Ibn Avraham handed me an orange padded envelope covered in bubble wrap and adorned with the Israeli flag in Scotch tape. On the top, he had ripped off a piece of notebook paper, stuck it down, and written "To: Olivia."

Excited and wondering what my present could be, I opened up the envelope to see the pictured CD case. At first confused, I thought perhaps this was an extension of a Bar Ilan library, then remembered that Ibn Abraham had mentioned this to me before. "The Mishna Project" is the name of a band who have a unique and compelling vision- the desire to spread Mishnayos through the rise of music.

And so I came home and popped the CD into my computer, curious as to how these three brothers had composed tunes to the Mishnayot. It must be difficult, seeing as they have to include all the different words and can hardly repeat them. I was astonished when I heard some beautiful, truly exquisite music to which they had put the words. I am generally not a fan of Jewish music (cue Dustfinger to confirm this) although I like Pardes, some Shalsheles and The Chevra and can bear some songs by Shwekey or other assorted artists. My worst fear was that I would pop this CD into my computer and hate it, in which case I would never listen to it again.

However, it is brilliant. Not only is the concept brilliant, in that if I listen to this often enough I can't help knowing Chapters 1-3 of Berachos, but the music is beautiful. I don't know enough to be able to describe precisely the style; all I know is that for me, the music flows. It sweeps, it flows; it's music I can sing to, dance to and be happy about. This is so wondrous! I hope they continue and put out many more CDs, as that will enable me to learn all Mishnayos, and then suppose they got started on Gemara...

So who are these people? Well, since I was now curious, I searched online in order to discover their identities. Apparently "The Mishna Project" consists of three brothers, Moshe, Josh and Dave Weinberg (is it the Dave Weinberg I know?!) It could not have been made without the help of drummer Josh Zlotnick.

Apparently the album was being sold at the SOY Seforim Sale, and while I am not sure where you can get it now, feel free to email themishnaproject@ for more details! This is an excellent teaching tool, something with a purpose and a goal. Just imagine kids wandering about the house, Harry Potter under one arm, baseball glove on one hand, or perhaps beating each other up with their HASBRO lightsabers, but humming the tunes from this CD, having memorized Mishnayot with absolutely no effort simply due to how often they've listened to it. This is informal education at its best. In fact, the CD has been introduced into the curriculum at TABC (Torah Academy of Bergen County) and will hopefully make its way to other schools.

I hope it does! Check it out! And thanks, Ibn Avraham. You rock.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Beloved, Lonely God

What strange and curious thoughts arise at night! That there could be something more than this, that this whole world is nothing but a dream, that I float almost, that there is nothing here for me but what I pretend to see; there is so much to laugh about at night, if one can bear to laugh! But it is impossible; there is a bitterness that curls up around the tongue, so that one's sighs are turned to breaths, and every breath is fraught with pain; there is something great that weighs upon me and will not let me go! And how I wish to fight it off, so that it might leave me and I might be free of it, but I cannot, I cannot, and God will not allow it of me.

Such a strange quiet in the dead of night? There is nothing to hear; there is no sound, not even the hushed whispering of one across the hall, or perhaps a roommate deadened through sleep. I long to walk, but where I do not know; there is no place that can describe where I walk and so I enter my mind, so that I might walk there, dancing through halls and memories that only I can describe, so filled with shadows are they. They are all in blacks and whites and greys, coming to haunt me, with the emerald sheen that speaks of misery, because there is naught of color in them but what I have brought, and I have perfumed them with that scent, so that it catches on fire, for it burns in color; there is nothing but color! A great conflagaration, a very blaze of passion upon the eyes, so that it hurts to look; there is nothing here.

Nothing but lies, so many lies told and weighed and counted for upon so fruitless a soul! What venture is this, and wherein lies the journey? I fight, but what for? There is nothing so great as this bitterness that weighs upon me when I can bear to think; there is nothing here, do you realize it? There is only my fantasy, an imagination that wraps and envelops me so that I might be glad of it, to bind me and to hold me, with the poor comfort that it offers. These are not the kisses of a soul, these are nothing that I desire, and yet as they are, still they bind me! Are these fetters or are they manacles of love; tell me so that I might know! I am half mad and I despair but I cannot comprehend; there is no logic in this sense; there is nothing in this that I might understand. Too many things pass me by, too many images, confused and whirling, and as I grasp for them they dance beyond my reach. I cannot hold them, I cannot hold them! What a torment you have devised for me, God! You let me pursue what you know I cannot reach, and I damn you for it at the same time that I am drawn closer against my will- or perhaps because of my will; I do not know, I do not know! Will you not take pity on me? Will you not leave me be? Let me pass; let me walk a little while, and perhaps it will be in shadow but perhaps the moon will shine, and the trail of whiteness behind me may purify me.

May I not be graced with that light? Come, if I must walk at night, at least allow the moon to show me my path? There I skip, with lilting steps, for there is naught of me but that it has some of a child's grace, and it is upon you to show me where I walk and where I dance. I shall close my eyes and I shall walk, but who will guard me from the glass, for I see that even with my eyes closed, the glitter of the glass upon the concrete. It shimmers so! Does it not strike you as peculiar that the merest beer bottle may unleash such furious light upon the backs of my eyes, so that it fills me and completes me, so that all I am is suddenly seen within these sparklets that dash against my face and blind me? My temples ache but there is no one to offer a cordial or any sort of drink; there is nothing here but me. I am all of myself and all is illusion; these are fantasies I wind about me to help me find my way.

What bitterness! Can such bitterness possess me? You know I love you, then let me cling to you! But you make it difficult; you must push me; you will give me no peace! No, I am not fair to blame you, but did you ever take fairness into account when once you had created me? Perhaps I am a creature of passion, perhaps of mood, perhaps of emotion, perhaps I know not what I am, and claim only to be that which you made, that creation of dust and ashes. I am the very dirt of the ground upon which I tread, and you look upon me and do not care; you do not care, I tell you! You watch us all and watch us suffer, and what can you comprehend, who has no feeling with which to comprehend it? And yet, I know that is not true; I know your loneliness in every moment; I know who you are and more importantly, what you are! Can there be any loneliness such as yours? For you are one, apart from all, never to be understood. There is no one to wipe the tears from your cheek, no one to draw close to comfort you. You are tormented; your people betray you and what can I do but accuse you? And yet, even that is not permitted me for I know how great your pain, and how sorrowful your distress!

What good can there be in accusing you who is so unhappy? You suffer alongside me, as always You have; You are close to me as no one else is. You are unhappy with me or proud of me at turns, but you are beside me, within me; you are my spirit, my breath, my life and my form and at the same time that I rebel against you, can it not be that I wish to draw close to you and cannot conceive of the way? There is too much that you ask for! It is too much! And yet you demand it of me, why? I cannot give it to you; you are asking me for more than your due; you gave me my soul but did you give rise to everything else within me? How can you have? How can you have feeling when you are said to know none? But you must have feeling, you must, else I could not love you and I do.

How lonely is a God in his world, his universe populated with so many fragments of Himself! How lonely you are, so apart from us, doubted and hated and in turns accused, forced always to live a solitary life. Indeed, is there anything we can offer you that is of importance to you? What can delight you? I give you my life but it was you who gave it to me. How difficult it is for you to watch me and see me err; how powerless you must feel, having given me the gift of my own will. I know what it is like; I have seen it, too; I have been condemned to watch. And so are you, O' God, condemned to watch, to see what I have been and what I am and what I yet may be, if only I had the courage to take what is mine.

And if I were to defy you? Oh proud, foolish thought! And yet how many times it has entered my mind of late, to throw myself against you and repudiate what you have given me, to end this game of foolish lies and defenses, these apologetics I cannot hear; these words I cannot abide! Will you take them back so that I need not hear them anymore? Every day another disappointment; every day another form of disillusionment! Will you not take me back? Show me so that I will not defy you, as I so wish to; you know how much I wish to be anything but what I am, so that I might live a life that was not constantly indebted to you, so that I might be hateful but have my revenge! And on whom? On what? Have you wronged me, that I must avenge myself? But you have, you have! You wrong me because you will not show yourself! They all prayed for you to show yourself and still you will not, for you are proud in your loneliness, and you shall have us crawl to you before you will come to us. And yet I will not crawl, I tell you! I will not crawl.

I cannot comprehend how you last the nights; I do not know what goes through your mind. How insufferable a world, and at the same time how magical! How beautiful are your creations, and at the same time, how splintered, how fragmented! How can you bear it? For your sake, I know I must...If you can bear it, if you can bear such loneliness, how can I refuse? What use my anger and my words when it is upon you to choose to hear them, and you hear them entirely? It is only that I must protest, I must, otherwise the words choke me for they are bound up in my soul and it is only at nights that they come clear. You have given me this; this strange clarity and feeling in the night, so that only then does everything unravel and I can see you so closely that I could touch you, if only you were near.

I know, God, of all that is unutterable and world-wearying for you and I am sorry that we have given you cause for it to be so. Who can comfort you? There is none who may comfort God. Can I reach you to climb upon your lap, to reach up to your eye so that I might wipe away your tears? Will you allow me? I dream a little; perhaps I clamber upon your knee, perhaps I may kiss your cheek, and what? A tear, so that you command the angels to bring the cup of tears to you! No, but you shall not cry; it is not for you to cry. If it is I who has wronged you, then may I make amends. Allow me, God, to wipe away a tear...

Oh, and so we are both crying! You are crying for your nation and I, for myself, and for my people, and for everything I am not and at the same time, what we are. There is a great and terrible beauty in your nation, God, despite our squabbles and fights, and it is because you see it that you allow the world another day, even as you take others to you. It hurts me so when you take them from us, but then, your loneliness hurts you too, does it not? How you desire them around you, to learn in your hallowed palaces and walk your crystal halls, to bring you joy so that perhaps you might laugh...but the laugh of God is seldom heard; there is too much sorrow for Him. How it pains you, God; how you must suffer!

Allow me, then, to wipe away a tear...

Monday, February 25, 2008


"Stupid Girls" has been running through my head since Friday, which is when I was first introduced to the song (by two of my favorite people in the world; you rock, as do milchig Shabbatot. And near-death experiences in cars while on the way to Binghamton. And getting no sleep in order to have fun times with The Lady in Pink, who deserves lots of chocolates.)

Theme of my study party right now...I don't wanna be a stupid girl.


There is no inner torment comparable to that through which we put ourselves.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This is an excerpt from With All My Heart, With All My Soul by B. D. Da'ehu. It's pages 286-288.


"Josh," she said calmly and deliberately, "I want you to kiss me- I want you to hug me and hold me tightly and not let go!"

Josh's eyes opened wide in dismay. "Chris!"

"I want you to do it- now!"

"Chris- please-"

"I can make you, you know," she said determinedly, unmoved by his plea, and there was no doubt in his mind that she could and that she would.

A strange look came over him, and the expression on Chris's face turned from desire to fear.

"Listen to me-" he said in a terrible voice which frightened her "-listen!"

His face was pallid, his voice shook with an awful tremor, and had he seized both her arms and shaken her in agonized frustration, the effect upon her could not have been greater.

"Have you never wondered why I never call you anything but 'Chris'- nothing sweet, nothing loving? - do you think I'm so cold not to have such feelings? I'll tell you why," his voice began to crack with emotion "- it's because I'm afraid of what it might do to me. I love you so much it hurts- it hurts me in every nerve of my body. From the time I came to know you, you have never been out of my thoughts. I see you in everything that is beautiful, in everything that is noble, in everything sublime- in every joy that I can possibly hope for and in every prospect of happiness I can possibly imagine. And at night, I dream of you- and when I wake up I can barely tell whether I dreamt or not. With you next to me, the poorest piece of barren earth I stand upon is transformed into an Eden- and without you, I sometimes hardly care whether one exists or not. I have as much hope of finding happiness without you as I can think of being someone else- oh, Chris!"

And now the pent-up emotions of many a torturous hour, resolutely suppressed over days and weeks, gushed forth unimpeded as his tears fell fast and free.

"If I could-if only I could-" he gesticulated imploringly with his hands "- a pack of wild animals couldn't keep me from you! You want me to kiss you- to hold you- and don't you think I want to- to kiss you- to hold you- to press your face against me and never let go? But I can't, Chris- I can't! Oh, I've sinned- I've sinned terribly in letting this happen- I've wronged both of us- again and again...

"Chris- this is the one vestige of dignity I still have- please, don't take it from me- because then I've lost everything. Perhaps...perhaps some day, some other time- in some hallowed corner of the universe- but not here...not now..."

Chris looked into his tear-stained, tormented face, and now, not for her own sake but for his, longed to reach out and cradle that poor, troubled head in her arms, to wipe away the tears and soothe the pain. But she could no more do that than fulfill her own desire.

Chris lowered her head and sobbed quietly-

"I'm...I'm sorry, Josh- I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Good night."

She unlocked the door and closed it behind her.


And this is what power is, to have the ability to force someone else to give up their principles and ideals, even for a moment. And this is what restraint is, to refuse to do it, to refuse to use the power that is yours, for the sake of the other person and his dignity, for the sake of what you truly know them to be, and the fact that you love them more than yourself.

It is the hardest thing in the world to do- to practice restraint, when that power is in your grasp.

It is possible to do. I honor those who have done it, because I know what it means, and what it costs. One's strength lies in what one does not do, having had the ability to do it, far more than what one does do...


The word vayinachem is translated by JPS as "And he repented of" or "and it repented him."

Something that I find particularly fascinating are the two instances where the word occurs.

The word vayinachem first occurs when God decides that He will destroy the entire world, save Noah and his immediate family, because of their wickedness.

ו וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה, כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ; וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, אֶל-לִבּוֹ.

6 And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.

~Genesis 6:6

What I find fascinating is the fact that the word comes full circle. The next time we see vayinachem is when God specifically decides not to destroy the people due to their wickedness.

יד וַיִּנָּחֶם, יְהוָה, עַל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לְעַמּוֹ. {פ}

14 And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people. {P}

~Exodus 32: 14

I believe that the word was very specifically chosen to be used in both scenarios. Not only is the very word elevated due to its context, but these two scenarios show a distinct difference between the way in which God judges His people. In the first scenario, God saw their wickedness and was grieved by it. He therefore determined to "blot out man, whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them." It is only then that Noah finds grace in God's eyes. At this point, God speaks to Noah and tells him, in an extremely final tone, that He is planning to destroy the whole earth and Noah must build an ark. Noah does not argue. The verse explains that he did "according to all that God commanded him, so did he" (Genesis 6: 22). However, Noah was punished for this. He was supposed to have argued, and he didn't.

[As a sidepoint, this makes you wonder how one ought to interpret "And Aaron did so" in Numbers 8: 3. Rashi's interpretation logically shouldn't work there, unless perhaps the reason Aaron is so praised is that he did according to everything that "God commanded Moses." In that case, it really is amazing that Aaron didn't deviate from anything, because he was getting the information secondhand and still managed to fulfill it perfectly.]

There is an extreme difference in the way that God processes the situation by the Sin of the Golden Calf. At first, God desires to use Flood Logic on his people. In the same way that he had determined to destroy everything and start anew from Noah, he plans to destroy his nation and start anew from Moses. However, Moses changes this logic. In effect, he teaches God. Of course, there is the qualifier "Leave me alone" in this context which specifically does not appear by Noah. But Moses argues with God- and he wins. God realizes that he need not be a perfectionist, as it were. He need not start over the world each time its people commit a grievous sin. Instead, He must learn to deal with humanity, and with humanity's sins. Rather than acting the perfectionist, He must learn to love the flaws.

This is the great distinction between Flood Logic and Golden Calf Logic. Flood Logic assumes that the world must be perfect, and that wickedness cannot be tolerated. It is Elohim who is dominant when it comes to Flood Logic. In Golden Calf Logic, it is Adonoy who is dominant, God of Mercy, God who understands the flaws and who is able to tolerate wickedness, comprehending that these errors can be rectified. Note that Moses specifically seeks Adonoy Elohav in this scenario. He is looking for Adonoy, God of Mercy, when he attempts to advance his argument. Adonoy can be swayed; Elohim cannot. Noah sees only Elohim. In Genesis 6:22, it says that Noah did everything Elohim commanded. Noah did not realize that there was an Adonoy behind the Elohim who had repented of having made man, and to whom he could have appealed.

Hence the difference in the two "vayinachems." The first time, God repented of having made man, and then donned his Elohim aspect when speaking to Noah (alternatively, Noah incorrectly saw that aspect of Him, and ought to have argued.) The second time, God is persuaded by Moses' logic and he repents of the evil which He had said He would bring upon his people. The word "vayinachem" is used in both scenarios to show how differently events can unfold depending on a) which aspect of God is present and b) whether or not man argues, attempting to defend his beloved people.

Love Song for God

I came across the most beautiful love song about God; it's called "All Around Me" and is performed by the band Flyleaf.

For those of us who know how easy it is to be conflicted about God, this song is particularly beautiful for the moments when we are close to Him, and He surrounds us, and nothing could be more clear than the fact that He exists and He is our God; we chose Him and we love Him with all our heart and all our soul. Unfortunately, those moments vary. As in any relationship, especially those that are strong, there are moments when we feel extremely distant from the other person, or cannot speak because we are so angry at them. This is especially applicable with God. God can read our thoughts, and it follows that He knows everything I think and feel about Him. He knows how I love Him, and how I hate Him, and how I am angry with Him at times, and how I wish that He didn't exist so that I could establish my own ideas and form of morality. There are a thousand thoughts and feelings and they must, by their nature, conflate.

I particularly like the chorus to the song. It goes like so:

I can feel you all around me
Thickening the air I'm breathing
Holding on to what I'm feeling
Savoring this heart that's healing

The words "thickening the air I'm breathing" are so perfect. God does precisely that- He thickens the air I breathe. Sometimes He chokes me, so that I'm struggling for breath; sometimes it's simply that He is there, His essence is what I breathe in, and I am relaxed and everything I am is in accord. But that's precisely how it feels to take breath. The air is thick, either with something beautiful and golden; His very essence, or with something dark, so that it chokes me and I fight against it, because I hate it so much, but I have no choice.

I also like Lacey's intensity when she sings:

Take my hand
I give it to you
Now you own me
All I am

You would think that God created us and therefore owns us. But I disagree with that; I think that while it is true God created us, it is up to us to be ruled or to refuse to be ruled. It is for this reason that we have control over our lives. I can live my life as my offering to God, my sacrifice, so that in my own way my very life atones for me. In effect, I can give God the gift of my life and the gift of my existence; there is no more precious gift! Or I can jealously guard it and snatch it from Him, to keep for myself, to do what I will. And the latter option is at times so much more appealing than the former.

No one said anything could be acccomplished without a struggle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Albert Bitton

He would shift his body into the car, riding shotgun alongside my father. Slinging his backpack to the floor, it would invariably rest between his feet as he leaned back, trying to get comfortable. The scent of his cologne wafted through the car and we noticed that he had taken pains with his hair. Dark-featured, good-looking Albert Bitton had arrived.

My father would sometimes joke with him and Albert would goodnaturedly respond. We onlookers would squirm, feeling as though we were intruding on his private brooding time, reserved, we thought, for all teenagers. Despite the fact that we would sometimes get to school late, he never complained. He'd simply throw his backpack over one shoulder and go loping across the parking lot, never asking to be dropped off closer to the building, not letting one word of reproach pass his lips.

He was a wrestler. He was very proud of that fact, a member of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy wrestling team, competing against others and glad of his victories. Some days he would have his sports bag with him, and we eagerly anticipated stories of his matches, curious to know of his successes, waiting to hear whatever he would tell us.

I can't say I knew him, because all I did was ride in the same gold Town & Country minivan with him on our way to school. But today I am glad I knew even that much of him.

You see, Albert Bitton chose to join the United States Army. He finished high school and upped and joined, enlisting in time to be deployed to Iraq, where he worked as a Medic.

Today, Albert Bitton was killed.

I didn't know him. I cannot praise his good nature, his kindhearted actions, everything that is beautiful in him. I did not know him to see that, though I am sure many of his friends can praise him, and will do so. But by the very virtue of his actions, by the very fact that he chose to enlist, to serve his country and his people, doing so at a time where he must have known what the cost could be, I can know a little of him. I can know that this was a brave man, and he died in pursuit of helping others, healing them and bandaging their wounds. I can know that it takes a strong man to face his own death, to realize that possibility and go forward anyway. It takes a man with a sense of courage, strength and decency, a man with self-respect. It takes a man of honor to serve his country when the task has not been forced on him, and it is his own choice. It takes a man with the courage to choose his own death.

And so, I respect Albert Bitton. I admire that courage, that strength, that desire to serve. And at the same time I feel so low, as though I were doubled over from the force of a blow. We talk about the War in Iraq and we view it politically. We talk about strategies and allow easy words to leave our mouths. But we don't understand.

In the words of Mr. Dachille, who delivered the Commencement Address at North Shore Country Day, my highschool:

"Whatever your views of U.S. foreign policy or the war, I relate this story in order to make this appeal: Please be grateful that there are men and women who are willing to leave their spouses, their children, their jobs and their friends and go in harm's way for you. The good news is that there are thousands of them. And I am not just referring to military personnel who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. I am also talking about all of those who have made a commitment to nurture, to protect, and to serve others. I am talking about policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses and yes - teachers. "

Today I am grateful in a way that I have never been before, because I could not have comprehended before.

And so Albert, because I believe you can hear me, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I am sure that I am not alone in this. All over the world, there are people who are grateful to you, though they do not know your name, and they may not know your story. But they know what you represent to them, and therefore they are grateful.

Thank you, Albert.
May you now know nothing but joy.

Manipulating Texts

I learned something today which disturbs me greatly. I am learning Genesis with Dr. Levine, who is an excellent professor and very well-informed. Today she suggested that there is a prevalent theory that is understood by midieval scholars that any piece of knowledge/ information, especially scientific, which is proven to be absolutely true is clearly part of the "lost wisdom of Chazal." The idea is that Chazal at one point in time knew everything, because clearly the Torah contains everything. However, for one reason or another, some of this knowledge was lost and appears, in corrupted form, in the secular world. At this point, Judaic sources (especially midieval commentaries) feel justified in taking this knowledge and reclaiming it.

This is what Ramban does when he explains his theory of the creation of the world (Rambam clearly does this as well, when he explains it within Aristotelian terms.) I have many problems with this entire idea- the major one is that this allows for major apologetics. "Well, that's just another lost piece of Chazal's knowledge," doesn't seem to me to be a very strong argument. But much more importantly, scientific knowledge clearly changes. For example, as my teacher pointed out, when it comes to the Ma'aseh HaMerkavah, apparently Maimonides explains it in Moreh Nevuchim in terms of Aristotelian science. Malbim later says this science is defunct and reinterprets the passage in light of what he sees as currently being the truth.

If you can change the Torah to fit the current scientific "truthful" norms, what does that say about the honesty of your scholarship? Ideally, shouldn't the text suggest a certain type of reading, and that is the way things work? It bothers me that different commentaries can manipulate the text in order to force different scientific meanings upon it (depending on what is available during their time period.) If this is the case, I can inflict any meaning I desire upon the Torah text and then happily claim, "Look! It's here! Everything is contained within the Torah!"

Of course, this is what some people are still trying to do- except the new vogue is to make the text of the Torah somehow show that evolution is true. Why is this necessary? And even if someone could ostensibly prove that- why should it be any more valid than Ramban forcing his theory of the four elements onto the text, or Malbim reinterpreting Ma'asei HaMerkavah in context of the science of his time period? And why is this even necessary? How do we interpret texts- do we take a particular meaning, knowing that it is "true," and then force it onto a text, or do we read texts in order to find meaning? The first approach speaks to a kind of desperation I do not like to think about. The latter approach seems far more logical- and true- to me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On the Radio Tonight!

My friend Simeon hosts a radio show entitled "The Rant" alongside a delightful person named Bina. Our mutual friend Ben often crashes that show, and tonight I believe another lovely person named Deborah shall be there as well...and I am going to crash it, too! (That doesn't necessarily mean I shall say anything-that's up to them-, but I shall be there, please God...huzzah!)

Hence, from 11:00-12:00 AM, feel free to tune into WYUR and click here to listen to live streaming of the show.

Also, you can call in and talk to all of us! The number is 212-923-2471.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Damn Sexy Blood Donors of the World, Unite!

I'm wearing the green badge of honor on my arm again!

I gave blood today, and therefore I'm damn sexy. That's the way it goes, ladies and gentlemen...if you want to be damn sexy, you have to give blood. Or try your hardest to do so; we'll forgive you if your iron count is too low or your bile is too yellow and so on and so forth.

Damn Sexy Blood Donors of the World, Unite!

This is how we save the pint of blood at a time.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Do you know where the magic is? Magic is the outgrowth of pain. As human creatures, our every breath is taken in pain. Our lot is such that there are many different types of pain, and each one may be categorized according to its own stamp and color. As many types of pain as we know; that is the number that can be added to our repertoire. Perhaps we walk around with suitcases and attache cases and when we set them down, have only to unlock them to unveil the test-tubes within. "This," one would say, while removing the tube with a greenish liquid, "is the pain of living," while this, while removing a tube that froths with a yellow substance, "is the pain of having and caring for children." So many different types of pain, of so many shades and colors, and since there are gradations, they may go ever, ever on, with no end in sight.

And this is what happens; as we walk through our lives we take on different pains. This is often termed experience, but experiences and pain are very closely linked; the two of them are often synonymous, in fact. Any experience that causes growth is one tinged, in some way, with pain, whether it be pain that has been caused by you or to you. And so one becomes acquainted with darkness. One becomes acquainted with the darkness within themselves, that is, their own ability to cause others to suffer or to hurt, and also with the darkness outside themselves, the insufferable night that goes ever on. And there are times at which they must face it alone- if indeed there is ever a choice, for we all bear with us a certain kind of solitude, and when we walk the world that is our one protection. We can rely upon God, and yet it is God who has made us a gift of the pain. This is our test, and it is only up to us as to whether we can triumph. It is our sole purpose to succeed.

Yes, pain is a gift. It is because it is transformative. It is the base substance, the elixir which I may transform into any substance I choose. It is copper but I am an alchemist, and it is up to me to turn it into gold. And so it is that you and I may bear the same pain and yet we may make such different things of ourselves. It is simply because I am an alchemist while you are a magician, and therefore what you can cause to disappear I simply choose to transform. But herein lies the magic. The magic lies in humanity. For one would think that humans could not bear to live in such a world, where pain begets more pain, and one's every motion is shrouded in darkness. One would think we would simply fade away or disappear, bowed under the weight of so heavy a burden. And yet we do not. We are resilient. We take the pain and bend to it, but in the end we work with it so that it does not break us.

There are some of us who are magicians, and who transform the pain into something light, like a feather, choosing to laugh it out of existence so that it forms bubbles, iridescent and floating, touched lightly by our black and white batons before they disappear. There are some of us who are wizards, and who build machines to handle our pain. There are some of us who see it as heavy, perhaps even as a cross, but at the same time recreate ourselves so that we are strong enough to bear it. And then there are those of us who are alchemists, as I am, and we transform our pain in order to make us stronger. It simply takes looking at it in the proper light to turn it into gold.

How do we become these different creatures? What enables us to take our pain and make magic of it, transform it so that we may bear it? Perhaps we are born a certain way; perhaps a particular method comes more naturally to us. But then, it is also possible that we are taught a certain way by our parents, and that is the way in which we follow for the rest of our lives. Or perhaps there is a mixture- perhaps our parents teach us their method, and then we continue on to develop our own. It is in that place between that we become whomever it is that we are, and we learn how to manage our lives, and to grow based on our pain.

I am an alchemist; I transform my pain into gold. I collect these precious metals and display them, hang them within the velveted interior of my attache case. And then, when it is necessary, I take out a different bottle, remove a different test-tube. I am able to mix these together to form the necessary potions, whether they need be administered to me or to others. And that is how I exist. That is how, in effect, I am and become "marvelous." For it is something to marvel at, the fact that we as people go on, no matter how bowed down we are, no matter how we struggle. There is something so beautiful in human beings- that we are able to take our hurt and make something wonderful of it. This is the language of the story, for this is what stories tell- stories transform humans into imagination, and in that process, we engage in a kind of magic. Stories are simply another way of showing ourselves to ourselves, and is simply another kind of magic. I am a storyteller and an alchemist, and those are both my particular forms of magic. You may do it a different way. The point remains: we engage in magic. And this is how we grow.

We are beautiful. As people, we are marvelous. We live our lives and we endure; we take our pain and transform it so that it becomes beautiful. And in that very same way, we transform ourselves, so that we too are magical, and the sum and total of our experiences. I am beautiful in a way that is unique from the way in which you are beautiful, because we have created ourselves in different ways. And yet it is for this reason that pain is my gift from God. As I become acquainted with the many different types of pain, so do I add to my collection, and as is necessary, my repertoire. It is precisely what I need in order to continue on my path. This is my lesson, test and reward all in one. Pain causes the magic. But it is I, The Enchantress, who engages in alchemy.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Friends & Thank-Yous

This is a shoutout to:

  • Muffins, for going out of his way, even though he was comfortably sleeping on his couch, to stop by Key Food in order to buy me something I needed, and Sorceress, for volunteering to pick it up rather than having me go all the way to Washington Heights. Thanks also to Sorceress for then being kind enough to bring the item with her to class so I wouldn't have to stop by her dorm.

  • Hitman, for being the best, most supportive, most wonderful big brother ever. You rock, and I love you.

  • Starlight, for wanting to have dinner with me (so incredibly sweet of her.)

  • Golden-Haired Girl, for all her care and concern, even when I am not really talking.

  • Ezzie, for conversations that last till 2 in the morning.

  • Scraps, for calling and being concerned for me and inviting me over for various Shabbatot.

  • Apple, for having fun with me in English class.

  • Simia and Ibn Abraham, who hosted the most entertaining radio show ever (and had me call in so that I could join the fun.) Thanks to Simia for explaining to me how people are marvelous and telling me to have fun in the snow, and to Ibn Abraham for our recent discussion- hurrah for haircuts!

  • Moshe, for talking to me when I need it, and knowing the right words to say.

  • Simcha, for being a beautiful person in every single way.

  • Every day I think about how lucky I am to know such wonderful people. God has blessed me- thank you for everything.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008


    I did not know before that it was possible for me to be made of steel, for me to refrain from saying words that rose to the tip of my tongue, for me to resist breaking someone laid out before me, and to hold all things in check as though I had bound myself up in a vise, a grip from which I would not release myself. I did not know before that I was made of steel. I know tonight, and wish I did not need to know.

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Patch Adams

    Last night I watched an amazing movie. It was amazing because of its depth, its beauty, the fact that it reflects so many values that I try to embody within my own life, and because it incorporated so many facets of ideas that I have touched upon or written about. It is a movie starring the always incredible Robin Williams, and it is entitled Patch Adams. The Dark Enchanter recommended it to me, for which I thank him.

    Patch Adams is a movie based on a true story, that of a doctor whom I did not know existed, but whom I love all the same. It beautifully depicts what it means to connect with people, to really see them, to appreciate them and help them in any way possible, through any means possible. Hunter "Patch" Adams understands that giving is in and of itself a form of receiving. At one point of his life suicidal, Adams realizes that giving to others and helping others grants meaning to his life, and with that understanding, determines that he will enroll in medical school and become a doctor. The only problem is, medical school is not a place designed to teach such as he.

    Brilliant, compelling, creative and original, Adams marks a firm distinction between the disease and the patient. Throughout the movie, doctors assess diseases, and refer to patients as "Beds"- there's a case in Bed 6, and symptoms and diseases are all that matter. Patch is very careful to inquire as to the patient's name, to try to fulfill their wishes and fantasies, to allow for laughter in the hospital and in the ward. The curative power of laughter is stressed above all things, as is the belief in a vision that is so grand, glorious and outright beautiful that one feels truly connected to this man who dares to flout convention in the search of a greater good.

    Patch listens to people. He talks to them. He wishes them a good day; he thrives on their laughter. He understands how deeply people need to connect, that they need to feel as though they matter, and not simply their disease. He acts the clown, transforming bedpans and medical tools into modes and methods of entertainment. It is his imagination that transforms them- he does not need any particularly special items; he merely needs to act and think. He compels his friends to join him in his quest to treat and help others, despite their initial hesitation. He is a driving force.

    And then he faces failure, as he must. This is failure that could destroy him; his vision, in which he believed so much, comes crashing down in an instant. The woman he loves above all else is taken from him, and why? She had wanted to help a patient, and that patient, being unstable, murdered her. "I killed her. I taught her the medicine that killed her." Patch grieves, and this is depicted particularly movingly when he argues with God, claiming that God ought to have created the world with compassion. He wants to give up, and will, until he sees a butterfly, his personal connection with the woman who has left him. She has symbolically come back to him and he perseveres.

    The movie is filled with ridiculous antics, including the wonderful stealing of hospital supplies with a live man pretending to be a cadaver (he is covered with a sheet, under which are all the supplies), an interesting welcome for gynecologists, clowning around and many different forms of entertainment! Huzzah for non-conformists with passion.

    The final scene is beyond incredible; you can watch it from 2:20 onward here (alternatively, watch the whole movie!) I love this speech.

    All the ideas proposed by Dr. Patch Adams are ideas that I have intuitively come to on my own- having fun, spreading joy, healing through laughter, talking to strangers and seeing what they have to say, what bothers or hurts them and how they can be helped- and it is all so simple! I heard about a program for Medical Clowns that one can enroll in if they are in Israel (and I have a friend who did it)- this is something that I would love to do; does anyone know whether there are programs to become Medical Clowns in the USA? God knows if there's anyone in the world who should do this it should be me; I love wearing costumes, I dress up all the time, and this was precisely the function I served when I visited nursing homes in Chicago- only I didn't know it had been originated with this particular individual. It's interesting that one can follow in a tradition one never knew existed.

    To learn more about Patch Adams, check out his website here!

    Hurrah for the clowns, the dreamers, the people who say hello to strangers and who take joy in every minute of their lives! Hurrah for Patch Adams, and for you, and for me!

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    Beauty and the Beast: Transformation vs. Restoration

    There is an idea many women secretly entertain that has to do with the reformation of a scoundrel or evil character. There's something fascinating about remaking someone over and turning them into a good person, transforming them so that their evil falls away for love of you. This is the theme of many romance novels and most people entertain themselves with the possibility of its being true. At a time, I mistakenly thought it possible as well, but that had to do with my own lack of understanding of the distinction between transformation and restoration.

    It was upon seeing an intriguingly titled book that read Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship that I began to think this over. I have always thought myself to be Belle, and I have never seen Belle and the Beast as reflecting an unhealthy relationship. And yet, the author of the book appears to suggest that this very image, so engrained within our culture, reflects the idea of an abusive relationship. The Beast, as suggested here, is abusive to Belle and yet Belle remains with him, and more importantly, reforms him. The message seems to be that if you only love someone enough, eventually he will learn to stop verbally/ physically abusing you. Hence the theory that if people treat you badly, hurt you or otherwise take advantage of you, one should not give up on them. Stick around, and it is possible that your influence can change the person for the better.

    In the French version of "Beauty and the Beast," this idea is hardly accurate. This is because the Beast never hurts Belle. He is sad and pained and smoke rises from his clawed hands as he walks the castle at night, but his every action is kindness. He brings her jewelery. He gives her pearls. He allows her every freedom that she could possibly desire. And every night, at dinner, he proposes marriage to her. Every night, at dinner, she refuses him. He does not react angrily. He simply accepts that this is her desire and returns to his chambers. There is no abuse. No anger. Nothing but giving and the desire to marry her- but the understanding that it is her choice. And when she desires to return to her family, he allows her to do so. She understands that he will die if she does not return, but it is her choice to do so or to allow him to die. The movie is exquisite.

    The Disney version is more ambiguous. This Beast is told that he must learn to control his temper; it is something with which he has difficulty. When Belle enters the West Wing, because of her curiosity, he loses control and shouts, "Do you realize what you could have done?!" then roars "Get out!" Belle runs down the stairs, terrified, whips her cloak around her and says "Promise or no promise, I can't stay here." Lumiere and Cogsworth try to stop her, to no avail. She has not only left the West Wing, but the castle in its entirety. She takes Phillipe and rides through the biting winds and the snow, encountering a pack of wolves who seek to destroy her. She is utterly lost and the Beast arrives, her protector. This is the most powerful scene in the whole movie. The Beast is angry with her. He himself ordered her from his room. Yet for all that, he cannot see her die. He puts himself in a situation where he saves her, he himself is hurt (cut and bitten by the wolves) and she has every opportunity to escape if she so chooses. She thinks about that for a minute, then proceeds to put the Beast on Phillipe, lay her cloak across him, and take him back to the castle. What he has shown is that he does, and he can care- he has a momentary lapse of temper, but it is not his personality through and through.

    Here is the distinction between transformation and restoration. The final scene, in which the Beast becomes human once again, is often referred to as The Transformation Scene. However, it is very important to note that the Beast always was human. He had this capacity and ability within him; he had been human at the beginning. He had been selfish, yes, and it was his task to learn to be able to love, but he had those qualities. Also, although his manner had been gruff, his anger was turned toward him and his own hideousness- he would never hurt Belle. The Beast's love for Belle restores him to his former state; he becomes human once again. But it does not transform him. It does not create a wholly new creature of him.

    Hence it occurs to me that when it comes to building or believing in healthy relationships, one cannot think that one has the ability to transform another person. This is not even to be wished, as people must be accepted for who they are, for their grand accomplishments and their flaws. We can work from there to better ourselves, but that main person must be understood to exist. No matter how much love one has for another human being, he will be unable to transform them- he will only be able to restore them. If they possessed these qualities in the first place; if they had the capacity to be good, giving, kind, loving and so forth, and for some reason these qualities were lost or not taught, then the potential to restore people to this state, where they have or retain these qualities, is there. But to transform them utterly? Someone who is truly abusive and hurtful cannot be taught not to be abusive or hurtful. There are men who hit their wives and who apologize bitterly afterwards. And perhaps people think, he really does love me. Just one more time. (I assume this would be earlier on in the relationship, before they are so drained and emotionally tired that they dismiss the words of comfort before they are said.) But one cannot transform other people, no matter how much one wishes to do so.

    And this hurts. Not because you want to change people, to make them into something that they are not. But because sometimes you want to help people. You think, if only I stick around them, if only I stand by them, if I stay there, it will help them; they'll learn to see how what they are doing is hurtful or harmful for me. And then they'll see. Because how can they not see? They'll feel the wealth of emotion flowing from me, and they will realize the impact their actions are, and since I know they want to be a good person, they will accordingly take more care with their words or statements or the way in which they interact with others. But sometimes cannot see regardless. And that hurts, because you want to give, and you do want to transform people- for their own benefit, because you see how much happier such an understanding will make them- and that lies beyond your power.

    Beauty did not transform the Beast; she merely restored him to his former state. But he understood all along that to hurt her was unforgivable, and, depending on which version you follow, never did so at all, only giving her gifts and allowing her her own free will, or did so and truly, honestly repented for it, it having been a momentary lapse rather than a consistent mode and method of behavior.

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    The Symbolic Veil

    (The Dark Enchanter and I came up with an interesting Tanakh idea today- it revolves around chupah, marriage, sexuality and veils.)
      But a veiled woman is seldom seen in Egypt or in many parts of Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Tunisia, Turkey, or the Sudan. And as respectable housewives have abandoned the veil, in some of these Middle Eastern countries prostitutes have put it on. They indicate their availability by manipulating the veil in flirtatious ways, but as Burton pointed out more than a century ago, prostitues are not the first to discover the veil's seductiveness. Like women's garments in the West, the veil can be sturdy, utilitarian, and forbidding- or it can be filmy and decorative, hinting at the charms beneath it.

      ~Readings for Sociology, Fifth Edition, edited by Garth Massey, page 169
    The immediate thought that comes to mind is the fact that Tamar specifically donned a veil when assuming a prostitute's habit and seducing Judah. Now, many of us would initially assume that this was simply her method of disguising herself so that Judah could not identify her. However the verse suggests that the veil was actually part of a prostitute's garb.

    יד וַתָּסַר בִּגְדֵי אַלְמְנוּתָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ, וַתְּכַס בַּצָּעִיף וַתִּתְעַלָּף, וַתֵּשֶׁב בְּפֶתַח עֵינַיִם, אֲשֶׁר עַל-דֶּרֶךְ תִּמְנָתָה: כִּי רָאֲתָה, כִּי-גָדַל שֵׁלָה, וְהִוא, לֹא-נִתְּנָה לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.

    14 And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, [emph. mine] and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given unto him to wife.

    טו וַיִּרְאֶהָ יְהוּדָה, וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לְזוֹנָה: כִּי כִסְּתָה, פָּנֶיהָ.

    15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; for she had covered her face. [emph. mine].

    ~Genesis 38: 14-15

    Judah knew Tamar to be sexually available due to the fact that she was wearing a veil. It seemed clear she was a harlot because she was sitting at the crossroads of a public place.

    Now, of course our immediate thought was for other places in Tanakh in which characters wear veils. The place which comes to mind is that of Rebecca donning a veil immediately prior to her first meeting with Isaac. While some might initially think this is simply an action performed out of maidenly modesty, it is actually consistent with the notion that donning the veil symbolizes sexual availibility. Note the dialogue between Rebecca and Eliezer:

    סה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל-הָעֶבֶד, מִי-הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה הַהֹלֵךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ, וַיֹּאמֶר הָעֶבֶד, הוּא אֲדֹנִי; וַתִּקַּח הַצָּעִיף, וַתִּתְכָּס.

    65 And she said unto the servant: 'What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?' And the servant said: 'It is my master.' And she took her veil, and covered herself. [emph. mine]

    ~Genesis 24: 65

    One would think that if Rebecca simply desired to be modest, she would have worn her veil during the entire duration of the trip, in the presence of Eliezer or any other men in order to demonstrate that she was reserved for her husband alone. However, she only dons the veil once Eliezer has informed her the man she is about to meet is his master, her future husband. The subsequent verses seem to suggest that Isaac consummated his marriage with her, even bringing her into his mother's tent (Genesis 24: 67).

    Donning a veil is also noted in the famous midrash that explains the fact that Jacob was deceived as to whom he was marrying and ended up marrying Leah as opposed to Rachel. She wore a veil at her wedding and perhaps the veil's function serves throughout the sexual interaction (from the wedding through the consummation of the marriage.)

    This is interesting in context of the Gemara's understanding of what it means to marry another and the way in which chupah is understood. The Perisha understands chupah as stemming from the word "chofeh," meaning to cover or protect. It is used here to indicate the fact that once the woman enters into the domain of her husband, he then accepts upon himself the responsibility of caring for and protecting her (we will see that this statement of the Perisha can work for other views as well)." [Source] Our practice allows for the fulfillment of this; it is the reason behind our doing bedeken, which is the groom's covering of his bride's face with a veil. "Before what we call the chupah is the "bedeken" (from the German meaning "to cover"; not from the Hebrew for "to check"), where the groom brings the veil down over the face of the bride. While there are several reasons for this practice, the fact that it may constitute chupah [emph. mine] has led some poskim to require that two witnesses be designated for this part of the ceremony as well as for everything that follows." [Source]

    With this in mind, it seems clear that the donning of a veil was and is a symbol for sexual availability. Tamar donned a veil and Judah understood her to be sexually available due to this (i.e. the fact that she had "covered her face.") Rebecca specifically donned a veil before meeting her future husband. Leah is said to have worn a veil at her wedding and perhaps afterwards as well and we nowadays even have certain opinions who say that the man convering his bride's face with a veil consitutes chupah. Hence, contrary to the opinions that may make sense to us at first blush (that is, that Tamar wore a veil simply to disguise herself from Judah or that Rebecca wore a veil out of modesty) it makes more sense to say that the veil is a symbol of sexual availability.