Monday, December 31, 2007


I think I'd like to hold a Masquerade today.

You should all sign in as Anonymous (but with interesting, colorful names and titles- you are all Lords & Ladies or people of rank), describe your "costumes," as it were, and explain the gifts you bear (they can be creative- a star suspended from a golden necklace, a bolt of silken fabric shot with glittering red thread, a piece of the sky...)

I can try to figure you out (assuming you are a regular commentator), but otherwise you should come back later and tell me who you really are!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On God, Rape & Ravishment: Jeremiah & John Donne

Upon the advice of a friend, I read The Prophets by Abraham Joshua Heschel today. Here is one fascinating part:

O Lord, Thou hast deceived me,
And I was deceived;
Thou art stronger than I,
And thou hast prevailed.

~Jeremiah 20: 7

This standard rendition misses completely the meaning of the text and ascribes to Jeremiah a pitiful platitude ("Thou art stronger than I"). The proper rendition of Jeremiah's exclamation would be:

O Lord, Thou hast seduced me,
And I am seduced;
Thou hast raped me
And I am overcome.

The meaning of this extraordinary confession becomes clear when we consider what commentators have failed to notice, namely, the specific meaning of the individual words. The striking feature of the verse is the use of two verbs patah and hazak. The first term is used in the Bible and in the special sense of wrongfully inducing a woman to consent to prenuptial intercourse (Exod. 22:16 [H. 22:15]; cf. Hos. 2:14 [H. 2:16]; Job 31:9). The second term denotes the violent forcing of a woman to submit to extranuptial intercourse, which is thus performed against her will (Deut 22:25; cf. Judg. 19:25, II Sam. 13:11). The first denotes seduction or enticement; the second, rape. Seduction is distinguished from rape in that it does not involve violence. The woman seduced has consented, although her consent may have been gained by allurements. The words used by Jeremiah to describe the impact of God upon his life are identical with the terms for seduction and rape in the legal terminology of the Bible.

These terms used in immediate juxtaposition forcefully convey the complexity of the divine-human relationship: sweetness of enticement as well as violence of rape. Jeremiah, who like Hosea thought of the relationship between God and Israel in the image of love, interpreted his own involvement in the same image. This interpretation betrays an ambivalence in the prophet's understanding of his own experience.

The call to be a prophet is more than an invitation. It is first of all a feeling of being enticed, of acquiescence or willing surrender. But this winsome feeling is only one aspect of the experience. The other aspect is a sense of being ravished or carried away by violence, of yielding to overpowering forced against one's own will. The prophet feels both the attraction and the coercion of God, the appeal and the pressure, the charm and the stress. He is conscious of both voluntary identification and forced capitulation.

(Volume I, pages 113- 114)

In light of this, consider John Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIV."

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The terminology is beautifully similar, of course. Most people who read this poem initially recoil- Donne is requesting that God "ravish" him because at the moment he is lost within the clutches of His Enemy; this of course suggests Satan, his own dark desires- certainly something of that ilk. But the entire poem operates off of that extremely suggestive imagery- and lo! It's not, as we're always taught, unique to Donne. Neither can you who protested find it inappropriate anymore...since it shows up in Tanakh! *cackles*

Who's against John Donne now?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Medical Ethics: How To Be an Orthodox Jewish Physician in a Secular World

Disclaimer: These notes are unofficial and unedited. Any and all mistakes or misquotations are mine.

To the best of my knowledge, this event was not sponsored by the YU Medical Ethics Society, but rather by SOY, TAC, YSU and YC.

Thank you all for coming- privileged to host Dr. Abraham S. Abraham- author of Nishmat Avraham- he translated it himself into English- one of the authoritative books that we have on Medicine & Halakha- he won’t admit it but most people acknowledge him as one of the experts in the field of Medical Halakha- zechus to hear from him today on what it means to be a frum person engaging in the world of medicine, in our world.

Rabbi Abraham:

Thank you first of all for having me here to speak to you- can you all hear me now? Does this work? (No- so they adjust it) Is that better?

I was asked to speak about the Jewish physician- and the question really is what is the difference or what should be the difference between the Jewish physician and the non-Jewish physician. I am going to assume that people who go into medicine go into it for altruistic reasons- not interested in the kavod or the money- they want to help people. Certain doctors who are at the top of their field earn very good wages- all of you should have your heads examined if that’s the reason you want to become doctors- you can go into computing and make big money. I assume therefore that most people, including non-Jews who go into medicine do this because they want to help people.

So if everyone wants to help people and be good doctors-what should be the difference between you and the non-Jew, you and even the non-religious Jews? You’ll learn the same treatment, learn the same medicine- why should you be different- just because you wear a kippah on your head and your tzitzis sticking out-is that the difference between a Jewish frum physician and the rest of the world?

First of all, is there a mitzvah to be a doctor? Or does your mitzvah start after you have your MD and you have hands-on responsibility for your patients? Most poskim pasken that there is no mitzvah to be a doctor. R’ Moshe Feinstein in one of his teshuvos talks about a kohen who wants to become a doctor- and the Rav of that kohen says this kohen wants to become a doctor even though in the process he’s going to be m’tamei l’meitim. He’s going to come in contact with corpses and anatomy later on- but he wants to become a doctor- after all he’ll be doing tremendous mitzvoth saving lives- mitzvah haba b’aveirah but- R’ Moshe Feinstein writes that if there was no other doctor in that city or in the world, been a long time since he’s looked at this teshuva but still, at this moment in time when he becomes a doctor and saves Jewish lives- if he wasn’t to become a doctor and due to that other Jewish patients would die- it is still assur for him to become a doctor.

In other words, today when you are a medical student you are not doing a mitzvah.

Remember when in the States this young person comes over to me and said he had the zechut to meet R’ Sheinberg from Eretz Yisrael who was here and he [the student] went up to him and asked this question and said- is there a mitzvah to become a doctor? R’ Sheinberg took my hand and said “I don’t know if there is a mitzvah to become a doctor- I do know that there is a mitzvah to learn Torah.”

The girls, I don’t know- the girls don’t have a mitzvah to learn Torah, so maybe they have a mitzvah to be a doctor- but they do have a mitzvah to be a housewife and not have some goyish woman raise the children- but whether you are a boy or a girl it’s a problem.

However, I heard from R’ Auerbach z"tl that even though THE mitzvah with a capital T for a boy is to learn Torah and only Torah- he recognizes the fact that not everyone can do this. Either because your brain is so built that sitting for 16 hours a day or so- you can’t do this- go to a daf yomi shiur and be a nice baal habayit- already married or perhaps financial reasons- good reason why you cannot sit and learn all day- then if you are going to go out into the business world then there is a mitzvah of all the things you could do, there is a mitzvah to become a doctor or some kind of medical profession- doesn’t matter if you have an MD behind your name or are a radiographer, not just a radiologist- help people who need your help- to hand money as a blank clerk over the counter- not really helping him, because it’s his money anyway- so if you are going to do something anyway, then there is a mitzvah to be a doctor.

This is the pesak of most of the poskim who I have asked in the past- going along with that, if you are going to be a doctor, you are learning, you’re a medical student already- assuming you have a mitzvah because you cannot learn for some reason- then you have a mitzvah, therefore if if is a mitzvah, are you allowed to do that mitzvah on Shabbos? So I’ll learn- I’ll learn medicine- going to learn on Shabbos- is this true or not true, right or not right?

R’ Auerbach ztl differentiated between before MD and after MD. When you already have your MD it is a mitzvah to learn medicine on Shabbos- whether reading a textbook, going over notes from lectures- it’s a mitzvah to learn on Shabbos. Before MD, since there is no mitzvah to become a doctor in the first place, even though you have a “heter” to become a doctor because you cannot learn- you cannot learn it- no difference between you and bank clerk who cannot learn clerking on Shabbat- so I asked him what’s the difference? Today you are one day short of your MD and next day you will have your MD, and difference is Shabbat. And he answered very nicely- said that when you are a doctor, you are learning to save lives- even though that patient you are learning about in Harrison or whatever textbook is not under your care- but tomorrow that patient may arrive- and when he arrives and he happens to be an acute emergency, you can treat him immediately- you can’t go to the library and start looking up things- but a medical student is learning to pass exams; he’s not learning it to save lives. Maybe in four years time, three years, one year you are learning to save lives- but for now you are learning ot pass exams, and that is not a heter for learning anything but Torah on Shabbos.

One of the main, in my opinion, points that differentiates a frum student or frum doctor from a non-frum doctor or a non-Jewish doctor is halakha. The halakha which all of us are mechuyav to keep whether you are a doctor or not a doctor. But when you as a doctor, walking the floors of a hospital, Jewish or non-Jewish and you stand out as being different from the Jew who unfortunately is mechalel Shabbos- or the goy who is your partner. And when you stand out, not because of your dress- that’s taken for granted- but in your behavior- which is different from the accepted norm of behavior of the other two people that I’ve mentioned- you stand out- you’re doing another mitzvah. The mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. And when you don’t, you are doing the aveirah of Kiddush Hashem- and why? Because you have a cap on your head- as opposed to Jewish doctor who does not have a cap on his head- the goy looks upon him as a Jew who is not really religious- but you walk around with that and do something which even if it may be correct, but in the goy’s eyes or your non-frum friend’s eyes, it’s something that should not be done- then you are guilty of Chilul Hashem. And when you do the opposite, there is no greater opportunity for doing Kiddush Hashem than in the medical field- you’re a doctor, you stand out. And whether you like it or not, whether you’re a person who is full of anava- you stand out- you’re a doctor- now you wear a stethoscope around your neck- in my time no one wore a stethoscope around their neck; putting it in your pocket is not good enough.

Yesterday in the meeting they had this thing about China- R’ Elyashiv paskening about people going to get organs from Chinese criminals executed by the government and whose organs were sold to those with the highest things- you may not recognize that I’m a doctor, and therefore putting a stethoscope around my neck-

But it’s what you do with your tzitziyot, it’s what you do with your stethoscope that counts-

Every single day you can do a Kiddush Hashem that you can’t do in every other profession- when you sit in Kollel and learn, nobody sees you- you’re not open to the world. When you walk the corridors of the hospital, you’re open to the whole world- and this is way and above the lives that you save- that’s also Kiddush Hashem, of course it is- but that’s to me the difference between- and it’s nothing to do with beards or the color of your kappel. It’s how you behave.

Number 1- I think these points are sometimes forgotten- most people, and I don’t want to say everyone, minority or majority, but it’s well known that doctors all over the world are on a higher level or behave as if they are higher human beings than the nursing staff on the world. First of all, I have much more knowledge- what does she know? But she know things that I don’t know- but that’s not important- I’m the boss, I give orders- and therefore I treat her like a second-class citizen. Who says that you have the right to do this? My own opinion- the patient gets well or dies not so much because of me but because of the nurses on the ward- I see the patient once a day- the nurses are there; they are there all the time- they keep the patient comfortable –they feed him, talk to him. You go on a ward where the nursing staff are working as a team together with their doctors- that word, the patients there will have a much better chance of recovery- I won’t say that you have to be healthy to be in a hospital- these poor people are ill- no medication in the world that doesn’t have a side effect. Placebo- you know that people have died on placebo. There’s one kind of medication where you can give as much overdose as you like- it’s called TLC- Tender Loving Care. You don’t have the time to do it but the nurses do- you should treat them as equals. And the payment you get back from them is over and above- I learned this when I ran my ward. I learned that the way to make a cohesive ward where things run like clockwork is to be good to the nurses- to treat them as equals- share medical knowledge with them, not teach them, but share with them- as an equal. Same thing with students- who are students, the lowest of the low- no! You’re a human being! And you’re no better a human being than me. Those students are one day going to be doctors- when you are too old to be doctors, they are going to treat patients the way you treated patients- because most of our learning comes through osmosis. I never in my whole life taught halakha to my staff- I never told my staff this is the way you have to run the ward halakhically- and yet my second-in-command who was a Jew in name only- he was an Israeli; he kept nothing. And yet when I was away, he would give me a run-down of the time I came back- medically and problems that arose on the ward- I never had to question halakhically what he did. I told him what to do- he saw what I did. And that’s better than giving orders. Please don’t think that I am patting myself on the back- I don’t have a back to pat. You have to realize that being a Jewish doctor is a full-time job- that’s what makes us an Am Hanivchar.

Examining a patient- let’s forget male patients and consider female patients. The patient has, by the nature of things, to bare herself when you examine her- her chest, her breast, her abdomen- you examine vaginal examination, depending on who and what kind of doctor you are. The patient is not some kind of animal or doll that you can play around with- and even if that patient walks in half-clad, that does not give you the right to not give her the respect you would give your own sister or mother. How would you like a doctor to examine her the way you examine your patients? This has to do with the halakha of tznius- shows how you are a frum doctor, halakhicist doctor.

An example- you have to examine the breast of a woman. You have to look at both breasts to see if they are symmetrical or not- standing on right-hand side of the patient so you examine the right breast. Give me one good reason why the left breast has to be left bare while you examine the right breast. Because you forgot? Because she’s just nobody? Would you want your mother or sister to be examined this way? So why should this woman, even if she is a goy- even if she doesn’t have self-respect, even if she comes in half-clad- you have to have respect for her simply because she is a human being!

You go down to the abdomen- you have to leave her half-clad while you examine the abdomen? Don’t think about this- make it so routine that you don’t have to think about; you do it automatically. That makes you stand out between your friend and comrade who is working on the wards- that woman will go around the wards and spread the word “You know who examined me? A human being. A man- a woman- who cared for me. Who cared for me even though I don’t care for myself.”

We doctors have been taught to use our hands, our eyes, our ears- most of us haven’t been taught to use our mouths. You have to talk to a patient. You have to listen to a patient. I know there’s no time! But believe me you’ll find so many doctors standing in the corridor talking to each other about narrishkeit, football games. On the street you believe that we are dealing with pikuach nefesh all the day- a lot of nonsense! Most of my time is doing paperwork- yours will be as well. So do the paperwork! So you ahe to talk shop…fine, so talk shop! You have an interesting case, you want to talk to your friend- but you want to know what was on the news yesterday? What has that to do with medicine? Instead of doing that you should be with your patient talking to him or her- the world of good it does to have a patient realize he has a human being treating him does more than any medication. Mechallel Shabbos- allows you to eat on Yom Kippur- the difference between eating on Yom Kippur- shiurim for instance. I’ll tell you a story- not a story, a halakha-I’ll tell you a story- not a story, a halakha- learned from Rav Auerbach, he paskened for 30 years that a kezayit is 30 grams. You ate a kezayit of issur, you’re chayav malkos. But my Rebbe, R’ Neuwirth shlita, author of Shemiras Shabbos k’Hilchata, was writing Chelek Gimmel, which came out 15 years ago, plus/ minus. So I used to drive him to R’ Auerbach and we used to sit there for an hour, two hours discussing Shermiras Shabbos K’Hilchata. They talked in Rashei Taivos and I didn’t quite understand what they were talking about- I was the driver- and driving back I drove back very slowly so I could ask what did you say. What did the Rav answer- so I got my payment for the gas I used up. So we started talking about shiurim and the Rav ztl said that 17 grams was a kezayit. So I saw my Rebbe- we both went into shock. So you know, I have a lot of chutzpah- if somebody says something to me and I think I don’t understand; I know I don’t understand- I’m not willing to take a psak, yes, no, mutar, assur- I want to know why. So I butted in and said to Rav tzl “Does the Rav make a bracha achrona on 17 grams?” He says “Vadai.” Silly question because Of how he just defined a kezayit. So I said “on leil seder, the Rav makes al akhilat matzah on 17 grams?” He said “Betach.” So I said to him “Does that mean that on Yom Kippur I only give my patients- up till now had been 40 grams- now I have to come down to 17 or 20 grams- that’s the maximum…” He answered me “Don’t play around with your patients!”

A kezayit changes on Yom Kippur? I know we are not talking a kezayit but a kotevet ha-gasah- on Yom Kippur it’s 40 grams, but all the shiurim are dependent on each other, it is a closed circle - it doesn’t make sense. But I realized I was on the red line if I hadn’t already crossed it so I kept quiet and went home so the Rav and I discussed it- baruch hashem what he didn’t understand, I didn’t understand. So I asked the Rav- “What’s the nafka minah- why should it change- here 30 grams, there 40 grams?” He said “Pashut.” All the other assurim are achilah- there’s no word achilah by Yom Kippur. There it says Innui. Innui has a different shiur! So Chazal knew difference between being absolutely hungry beause of fasting- and here- so the yetuvei daata allows you to be mechalel Yom Kippur. If it wasn’t that you could have 17 grams. So the psak he gave is that 40 grams remains 40 grams on Yom Kippur. But when it comes to matzah, you don’t’ have to take a whole great matzah and stuff it into your mouth and call Magen David Adom because you’ve choked.

RWozner says 20, R’ Elyashiv says 20…big difference between a whole matzah machine baked, which is about 32 grams, and eating half of it or just over half of it- so you see talking to a patient, empathy with a patient- not just taking a history; that’s businesslike. Talking to him, understand his needs and problems- things that you won't write in the notes, necessarily- makes you a friend of the patient. You’re not just his doctor- you’re someone who cares for him! I think that is one of the hallmarks of the Jewish soul- neshama of a Jew who reaches out to another human being.

I’m now going to say something which will make me lose friends and – I’m going to talk about Shabbos. I’m going to say things which may hurt you but I’m going to say it because just as you and I have a chiyuv to keep Shabbos, I have a chiyuv to scream when something hurts me. And it hurts me- it’s been hurting me for years- so I’m talking to the new generation who are becoming doctors. You’ve chosen to become doctors- that’s your choice- and I’ll go along with that- but I do not think you have chosen to become Mechalelei Shabbos. I want to go to your home and will be able to drink your wine-

When you drive on Shabbos to the hospital, your children have to be proud of you because you are driving to save a Jewish life that needs to be saved now, not in 10 minutes from now when I would get there if I walked. I drive on Shabbos to get there right now.I drive on Shabbos- I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Chillul Shabbos is permitted only in a situation of pikuach nefesh and safek pikuach nefesh- so I have a man here who has just come in, has acute myocardial infarction (heart attack)- no question that this is a situation of someone pikuach nefesh- so you have to pull out all the stops. I learned this from R’ Auerbach- the Gemara and the poskim say that Shabbos is dechuyah- Shabbos is not Shabbos. Either while you are writing for this patient, operating for this patient, and especially for the Ashkenazim who are sitting here- you have to go looking for a goy, shinui. I don’t have that problem- I’m Sefardi and have the Shulchan Aruch to rely on- no need for a goy or a shinui [the SA permits doing actions normally lekhat’hilah for a holeh she-yesh bo sakkanah, whereas the Rama requires using a non-Jew or at least a shinui if it will have no effect on patient outcome]. But since I don’t want people to say I look like a shaigetz I act like an ashkenazi.

Now this patient also has diabetes- you have to write out a diet sheet- will he die because he got that wrong food? It doesn’t matter if you write it with your right foot, or left hand to write it out- it is assur. However, ifa man is Shomer Shabbos- if he says “I could just do with a cup of tea”- but no hot water available- can I wake up the neighbor to get hot water from him? No, he is sleeping and has no hiyyuv pikuach nefesh. But it is on you- so boil water. I’ve never heard of tea curing anyone- but this is permitted because the patient thinks that it will make him feel stronger or more awake.

But a diet sheet for diabetes- I’ve never known a diabetic to die from this- most diabetics cheat anyway, most of them steal this soda and that cookie and that there- so what is the heter for writing a diet sheet on Shabbos? you’re only an intern- and the big resident says to you “You right that diet sheet or don’t come in tomorrow.” So you write with your right leg or your left hand. And you’re going to tell me that you’re going to stand up to this- you have the strength to stand up to a great big man looking down on you- oh yes, sitting here you can say I won’t do it- when you’re there, on the spot…you know, I once heard this from a friend- a relative of his went through the Israeli army- and he is now a teacher- and all these guys get in- to get chosen for the Parachute Brigade, courageous isn’t the word- supercourageous to get here, going to destroy a million Arabs- first jump you have to push them all out of the plane; they won’t jump.

I think that 99% of people in this room and in any other room would be mechallel shabbos when choice between losing your job and being mechallel shabbos- you’re going to say you once heard from a doctor it’s all right- who is this doctor- no one knows his name.

Private practice- someone rings you up on Shabbos where he has an ingrown toenail- so what are you going to do, you don’t want to throw away the patient- you can find an excuse, fool yourself- but can’t fool another doctor.

So after you have spent four precious years of your life to become a doctor and you are not in a Shomrei-Shabbos program. So what are you going to say- I made a mistake, I’ll become a bank clerk now. There aren’t any Shomrei-Shabbos programs in fields outside internal medicine. Certainly not formal ones, official ones.

Something else I have to say. How many young doctors know enough about medical halakha that they can make on the spot decisions? I do not know how to work on Shabbos without having a Shabbos goy as my shadow- I’m not talking about wring diet sheets- I’m talking about things that have to be done but that are not strictly saving the patient’s life- write with my left hand; it will take me a year to write like this! There are certain things I don’t know how to do without a goy- now you’ll say there’s plenty of goyim here- ladies nad gentlemen, I have had the tremendous zechut to speak to doctors- I spoke to a doctor once in Chicago- I was davening mincha and he came up to him- he said “You’re doctor Abraham?” I sai d”Yes; I don’t owe you any money.” He said “I just want you to know that I don’t work on Shabbos anymore.” He said that he does Sunday & Motzei Shabbos and they do Shabbos. How do you manage this? He says he pays him for the ballgame. He pays $200 twice a month to this goy plus exchanging shifts with this man- that is mesiras nefesh- he pays $200 a month and bought Olam Haba for himself.

There was a young lady in the audience; she came over to me and she started crying. I promise you I never touched her- she started crying. “What did I do to you?” She cried and cried before she could get a word out. She said “Do you really mean what you said? That I’m not allowed to work on Shabbos unless I am really saving a life?” I said yes- you really cannot work on Shabbos- the shogeg becomes a maizid, the ones becomes a muttar- she works in someplace in the Midwest- she works in a very, very hot department where there’s plenty of works and she works- she says “What am I supposed to do? I don’t know anything else?” Three or four years- she was arrested already. She was a single girl- “What am I going to do?” I said “I can’t help you. But you have to realize- if you’re crying over you- something is ticking inside you- Shabbos is talking to you.” So I went home, a couple of years later I come back and I’m told that that girl who was crying in the corridor- she gave up her job in the Midwest, came to New York, found a job here, got married, now has a kid and she is happy.

Ladies and gentlemen- would I do such a thing? Give up a job, a whole parnassah- these people are Tzaddikim! To give up a job, a parnassah, go somewhere she doesn’t know anyone- ladies and gentleman, you have nothing to give up yet. You are right at the beginning- please think about it, think about what you are going to do when that time comes- what if you don’t get into a Shomrei Shabbos program? Thank you.

*Thanking SOY, TAC, YSU and YC*

Questions and Answers:

GUY: Does the Rabbi have any advice for particularly a male doctor going into the field of OBGYN?

I spoke about this many, many years ago with R’ Neuwirth- author of Shemirah Shabbos K’Hilchata- number one, you should be married when you go into that profession and not single because pas b’salo- it makes things easier. And secondly if you behave as you should behave in your relationship with your patients, because all the patients by definition, or most of them anyway, will be of the opposite sex- you can be certain that not only physically but even medically you can keep away from the yetzer harah then you are doing a mitzvah, a big mitzvah. So if you’re not married- advice not to go into that field- first find a girl who is going to marry you. On a much smaller scale, you have same problem for us- but for you, it’s going to be your bread and butter- instead of seeing a woman once a week, you will see her once an hour- on the other hand, the yetzer harah is there- and just because you’ve been in practice for 10 years, yetzer harah is still strong- if you are certain that you are able to work lsheim shamayim and only lsheim shamayim and keep your mind and thoughts where they ought to be- concentrated on patient, situation and what you can do for her- tavo alecha bracha.

GUY: In terms of your last point, are you saying students should pursue other careers or plan better?

If going to do career, only one that has a mitzvah attached to it and a big mitzvah attached to it- but on other hand, end up four years later in a place where not Shomer Shabbos program- and before you know where you are you become a Mechallel Shabbos every single Shabbos. I can’t answer that because you have to look at yourself- look inside yourself and see what you are willing to sacrifice- but if you can withstand that- incidentally, to my great pain, things aren’t much better in Israel. Although the statistics there are different from here- all the time I’m talking about Jewish patients- Jewish patients who are sakanot nefashot- someone fell out of bed and he’s perfectl fine and it is Shabbos- they won't allow you to wait- that form has to be filled out within 24 hours. You know it’s pure paperwork- how are you going to fill out that form? If you think that you cannot withstand this in a sutaiont which is not conducive to Shabbos, then you have a problem. My own feeling is become a doctor, do the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh- save Jewish lives but don’t lose yours while you are doing that.

GUY: How does yichud apply to a patient-doctor relationship in the hospital?

I thought you were giving me an easy time when I came here.

Yichud is a problem from morning to night no matter where you are, what you are. and most people don’t know this- nothing to do with being a doctor. All sorts of situations which we take for granted where there is an issur d’oraisa of yichud. When examining patients, easier in hospital setting- door may be closed, but not necessarily locked- secretary, nurse, another patient by mistake- that door is in fact open, even though it is closed. If you can have someone in that room- nothing to do with halakha but to do with your pocket, with money- when that patient sues you for doing something you shouldn’t have done when you are completely innocent- it’s not stories, it’s happened. You should have a witness when examining a female patient. Private practice- seeing a patient in an office- can also be a problem. But again, if the door is closed and not locked- and even more so if other patients can walk in- not a problem. If the last patient is a female patient and door is closed but not locked but outside door is locked that is yichud- and there is no shiur to yichud. Let’s say five minutes- if when you start yichud, first second- good possibility that you won’t be interrupted for five minutes- so then in that first second you are “over” on yichud-

GUY: How does the Rav feel about gramaphones and disappearing ink?

When the first grampahone came into Israel and they were talking about disappearing ink- when the grampahone came out- I phoned R’ Auerbach- at that time for my sins, in addition to my normal work I was also looking after ICU. I thought this was a good opportunity to see R’ Auerbach- I should buy a gramophone- I called him up and I said- and he said “Why do you want a gramophone?” I said “Well people phone me.” He said “What, people invite you for a cup of tea on Shabbos?” I said no, but sometimes there are wrong numbers. He said how many wrong numbers do you get. I said one maybe once in a blue moon- he said, what do you need a grampahone for- pick up the phone b’shinui and finish-

Idea of disappearing ink- you can photocopy it before it disappears. Solved the problem for two days, but Rosh Hashana is three days in Israel- at beginning, produce these pens- first comment was “You want to write me a check with one of these pens?” and second one was “Ba’al Tashchit-“ when you write, you write with left hand and that is the end of

GUY: Question of pikuach nefesh for Non-Jews

We had 40 beds or so- and I took non-Jews. I never examined the tzitziyot of my patient. Does that answer your question?

Eivah- Tosfot in Avodah Zarah says- reshut eivah only works on a weekend, not on Shabbos. The fact that we use it to work on Shabbos is only a b’dieved- this I have heard from all the goyim. I am already working in a ____ situation. But going back to original thought- who says you have to be a doctor? I’m l’khatchila going to be a doctor here where the majority of patients are b’shum eivah- and what’s the heter to do that? That makes the problem. In other words, again, if you’re going into a Shomer Shabbos program- likelihood is that this is so because there are many Jewish patients. B’shum eivah is something that involves pikuach nefesh. On the other hand, also a b’dieved heter- not

GUY: Can you make another Jew take the call for you on Shabbos?

You’re okay- you live in America. R’ Moshe paskened it’s okay- you’re allowed to change your duty with a non-frum Jew. R’ Auerbach, poskim in Israel, said no- you’re only allowed to change with a goy. He too must keep Shabbos- you’re not allowed to change with another Jew so that you can keep your Shabbos.

The girls have no questions, I gather- everything is fine. The guys should learn from the girls.

GUY: Women doctors wearing Scrub pants or a headcovering in a sterile environemtn- I was wondering halakhically-

By us, the caps that they wear- they can cover the hair completely. So the married woman who would normally wear a heaadcovering can still scrub up – but you’re right, this is a problem.

GUY: What about a frum Jew who got a teshuvah from his Rav that he can work on Shabbos?

That his problem- but your problem is that you got a teshuvah from your Rav that you can’t work on Shabbos!

GUY: [not sure what]

There are only four hospitals to the best of my knowledge, in Israel, that run a Shomer Shabbos program- there are Shabbos guys- of those four, only two have accredidation- so therefore you can’t get your boards in the other two, so you are wasting your time. So in every other hospital you have to be mechallel Shabbos- so if you do come to Eretz Yisrael, and I advise you all to come before you are driven out to come to Eretz Yisrael, come here to greet the Mashiach- not enough to come to Eretz Yisrael, have to work there, be productive there- so come, come, come- we’re waiting for you.

GUY: Which two hospitals are they?

Sha’arei Tzedek and Bikkur Choim. The two Hadassahs have never heard of goyim- there are no Shabbos Goys there.

ME: (I was listening so didn’t type it)

GIRL: When you said before about what R’ Auerbach says about studying on Shabbos- any difference between a resident and a licensed physician- if the resident is still studying for boards-

No, because while he is studying he is treating patients. Any physician- even as an intern- usually first guy to see that patient. If that patient codes, first guy to put his hands on his chest. And therefore for him to study medicine is according to R’ Auerbach a mitzvah.

Thank you very much.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

How Were You Taught To Learn Gemara?

1. How were you taught to learn Gemara? What style/ method was employed and which method do you find works best for you? (Please break it down from the style utilized in your highschool/ year in Israel/ college, if applicable, in addition to your own personal style.)

2. Say you were confronted with a page of Gemara today. What would be the first thing you would do with it? How would you approach the Gemara? Which commentaries, if any, would you utilize and why?

3. How ideally would you have wanted to have been taught Gemara? If you were to teach Gemara (to a highschool/ college audience who we can assume understands the vocabulary & has the appropriate skills, so you are not spending time skillbuilding), how would you teach it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fire Drill

Why the hell would you make us have a fire drill at 7:20 in the morning on a fast day?

It's the one day that everyone can actually sleep.

Don't tell me "state laws;" I am royally annoyed right now.

Why should the first words of the morning be "Damn it?" This said while shambling out of bed, grasping sleepily for my pink bathrobe and stumbling down the stairs.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Sheidim, Vampires & Rabbi Auman

Class is less important than Sheidim. And Sheidim are pretty unimportant.

So began my day, and so it followed. I was late to Rabbi Auman's class and therefore was wearing a very entertaining outfit (picture light purple pajama pants, a green skirt and a Wicked sweatshirt.) I had thrown a black coat over this and walked into the elevator only to find...Rabbi Auman!
    "Good morning!" says he.

    "Good morning!" I say brightly. "Am I late?"

    "You are late- and so am I!"

    I beam. "Great, so the one day I decide to be late, you are, too- I'm very excited about this!"

    Rabbi Auman turns to the elevator at large. "Isn't she great to have in a class?"
But it just gets better...

Firstly, my friend looks at my attire and says "It's a celebration of winter and sleep deprivation." I thought that was classic.

Then, Rabbi Auman presents the rationalist point of view quite strongly (i.e. everything supernatural is sheer and utter nonsense, etc. What they called Sheidim we now call germs. I am pro-Midrashim and anti-Segulos, so we somewhat agree...) I argue with him about this, and he informs me that he has several strikes against him. He's yekke and his teachers were litvaks and therefore "ice-water runs in my veins." I inform him that he "sucks all the color out of everything" and accuse him of having "vampiric tendencies." Rabbi Auman laughs.

In the course of the discussion, we somehow come upon the fact that he likes chocolate. I am triumphant.
    Chana: "So you do have some color in your life!"

    Rabbi Auman: "Brown?"

    Chana: "I have flying carpets and Asmodeus; you have (scornfully) chocolate!"

    Rabbi Auman: "There's no contest, chocolate wins."
It was a highly entertaining class.

English class was even better; I declaimed a poem and wrote one in 30 seconds (oh, the brilliance of me!) We had to use certain words. Here it is:

She flinches as she looks in the mirror
Glittering secrets hidden within
Her last suffering, the way of all flesh
Beneath the burdens of life crushed
Her soul floats, little ghost fragments.

Hurrah for the ridiculous!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Pink Bathrobe

So here is a fun story at my expense.

I had gone out to take a shower (there are public bathrooms in my dorm.) Ten or fifteen minutes later, I emerge, having towel-dried my hair, wearing my comfortable pink bathrobe, and cross the hallway to my room. I try to enter, only to discover…

It’s locked.

“Oh, Golden Haired Girl,” I sigh, smiling amusedly. She must have gone out to get dinner and not realized I was in the shower (or perhaps she thought I carried my keys with me everywhere? The latter is less likely.) I consider for a moment as to what I shall have to do, then determine to brazen it out.

I trudge downstairs, barefoot, dripping water on the tile, having fastened my robe tightly (it’s long and reaches my ankles, so all was well) and stand before the security guard, informing her that I had been taking a shower and my roommate had locked me out.

I am sure I did not imagine the smile on her face, and I have to tell you, it was quite the ridiculous moment.

She let me back into my room, pointed to the telephone in the hallway, and explained that if this ever happens again and I don’t feel like wandering around in a robe, I can call for someone. I smile and thank her, but explain that it’s okay; I’m all right.

Who knew that these things happened in real life? I always felt this was reserved for television.

Ah well. I'm highly entertained.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reclaiming Eighteen

So put your arms down, honey,
This ain't no execution,
I was just watching you sleep.
So put that crown down, sugar,
This ain't no crucifiction,
I was just watching you,
I was just watching you sleep.

~Tightrope Walker

I've been walking a tightrope for most of my life.

The crown cinches closely around my temples, so close that it draws blood. I spread my arms to either side so that I can walk the rope, stepping gracefully forward despite feeling that I might fall at any moment. I am somehow under the impression that I must carry any burdens given to me, that I don't have the right to say no. Mostly I am terrified that I will fall. It is important not to fall. If I am going to live up to everybody's expectations and make everybody proud of me, if I'm going to be whoever it is I ought to be given the training I have had, the talents I am said to possess, then it's on me not to screw everything up.

Because imagine how disappointed they'll all be if I do.

So instead I work out an intricate game of pretending and lying, ashamed to admit it when I don't know something, and yet somehow expected to know more than I actually do. So I pretend to be smarter than I am, pretend to know more than I do and yet I am terrified that someday people will discover it's all a sham and they won't like me anymore. The problem is that they were presented to me under false pretenses; they had heard about me from someone or had met me while I was discussing a topic of interest to me, and therefore something I actually know about. They infer from this that I know lots of different things. I'm terrified of disappointing them, so I pretend that I do.

But I don't.

I think it's time to reclaim my age. I'm eighteen years old. I'm eighteen years old and I'm allowed to make mistakes. I don't know everything. Hell, I know a lot less than I should! I have trouble with Hebrew grammar. I don't like reading most commentaries in the original Hebrew (even if I can) because it's harder for me. I generally don't know which sage you are referencing or quoting and the time period in which he lived. And I certainly don't know the sefarim you bring up in casual conversation. I don't like math. I know that if I put more effort into subjects I don't like, there's a far greater chance that I would succeed, but I often don't care enough to do so. I like simple things. I like ice skating in Bryant Park. I like chocolate ice cream. I like swinging and I like creating my own songs. I like going to costume shops and dressing up and playing. I'm an idealist. I believe in a better world and in good people. I can do very stupid things. Probably one of the stupidest is pretending to be older than I am because I worry that people won't like me as much if they find out I'm not as smart as they think.

But you know what? Screw that. Screw all of this. Screw the expectations. I'm eighteen and still discovering the world and I believe in the beauty of the things that I discover and learn from the people who are good enough to teach me. There's a lot that I don't know and a lot that I have yet to see. I happen to find particular subjects interesting and know some interesting things about them. But the rest of it is a sham, so I'm not particularly smart at anything but English, and maybe smatterings of Tanakh. I'm being perfectly serious.

So you need to let me off the hook. Or maybe I just have to let myself off the hook. You're older than me, you're younger than me; I don't really care. I can't be whatever you want in order to please you, because it's driving me crazy and I can't even keep it straight, so I may as well please myself. I'm allowed to be silly and carefree and wild and childish, even; I'm also allowed to be all grown up and discuss topics that I find interesting. I can be everything. I can be Chana. I can put my arms down and stop walking the goddamned tightrope.

And if I disappoint you as I am- if I don't live up to your ideal- if I don't know enough or am not smart enough to suit you- I'll tell you the truth, that will make me a little sad. Because nobody likes feeling inadequate.

But that's how this is going to have to be. Because I've been walking a tightrope and I want to get off.

I kind of like the sidewalk, you see. It's firm and sturdy and steady and there beneath your feet. Maybe it's boring. Maybe it's not as exciting. But you can go at your own pace and put down your arms and walk normally. You can stop worrying over every step you take and just breathe for a while.

I think I might hang out there from now on.

If you want to join me, you're invited to come play hopscotch.

Tightrope Walker

I came across a beautiful song today. It's called "Tightrope Walker" and it's by Epicure.

I love how she goes up to her friend and asks him to save her, and his response is to note that she's a tightrope walker and he's the streets below. But then there's this absolutely beautiful chorus where he tells her:

So put your arms down, honey,
This ain't no execution,
I was just watching you sleep.
So put that crown down, sugar,
This ain't no crucifiction,
I was just watching you,
I was just watching you sleep.

And the way that translates to me is that he's telling her it's okay to let it be. "Put your arms down, honey;" you don't have to be a tightrope walker, your arms spread out so that you can walk across and keep your balance. "Put that crown down, sugar;" you don't need to wear a crown of thorns and bear everyone's burdens. You're safe and you're okay, because I'm here to watch you and in fact, was just watching you sleep.

Notice how he doesn't promise to save her, but he does intimate that he'll keep her safe, because he'll watch her when she's sleeping, which is both protective and intensely kind. But most importantly, he comforts her because he tells her it's all going to be all right; everything is much more manageable than it seems at the moment. "Put your arms down, honey"- you don't need to do this anymore.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Controversy at YU - Response to "A Not So Yeshiva College"

The following was originally written by Shalom Isaacson, a YU student, as a response to a recent editorial in The Commentator entitled "A Not So Yeshiva College." I thought his points were valid and well-argued and received his permission to repost this on my blog with the following proviso, in his words:

"Blogs/facebook groups/notes accomplish nothing. Words are not action...they should lead to action. Our generation seems to have forgotten that...and YU especially has forgotten that. My piece was not meant to seriously bring about change, its merely an expression of my views. If you want to change something, I suggest talking to faculty, administration, other students, and maybe actually taking action...whatever you think is appropriate. YU (and Stern) students should be in control of their papers."


Controversy - The Life-Force of YU

I returned to my room around 1:00am Thursday morning and, like any computer-addicted college student, checked my Facebook. Lo and behold, I had been invited to a group calling for the resignation of The Commentator's Editor-in-Chief. (Less than a day after its creation--along with a blog dedicated to the same purpose--it was disposed of.) I thought about writing as to how The Commentator could become a better paper, more accountable to the student body, and more representative of all YU students, but I thought, nah, forget it. Then I thought about writing an article expressing my own ideas about the various Judaic Studies tracks and how I would "solve the problem" and also thought better of it* - after all, I didn't want to deal with the same type of backlash directed toward the Editor-in-Chief.** Instead, like many before me, I wanted to write about controversy at YU, but particularly how YU feeds off of controversy.

It seems for years there has been conflict between the different Judaic Studies tracks at YU. Let's be honest though, at the end of the day, YP guys have been switching to IBC for years to fulfill requirements. On the flip side, I even know an IBC student who, after completing a full day in IBC, attends a YP shiur. Truthfully, I just dont care about any of it. There are plenty of IBC people who should be in BMP/YP and vice versa. How an individual student chooses to use the system is his choice as an adult. The only person they have to answer to is themselves - did they learn as much Torah as they could have? Did they focus on their secular studies as much as they could have? In what track does someone really belong in? Not everyone is made for YP and not everyone is made for BMP, IBC, or JSS - everyone is different. Two years ago I attended Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush). Since I've been at YU, I have been criticized for choosing to be in IBC by numerous people. But I've gotten a lot out of IBC, particularly in my classes--and in my relationships--with R' Blech, R' Romm, and R' Schwartz. This year, I wish my class attendance was more regular because Professors Orlian and Berger have provided some great YC level courses in IBC. Professor Sober has strengthened my interest in history and provided me with a basis for walking out into the world and knowing what others are saying about our Torah. A part of me still wishes my day was filled with more gemara, but that is my choice at this time in my life. Where the Editor-in-Chief went wrong was not realizing that everyone needs different programs because we're all different people with different makeups and different abilities at different points in our lives.

We all step into college with these differences in our makeups and we do a lot of changing in college. Part of the process of college should be figuring out who we all are and what we all think and believe. I want to focus on my secular studies more at this juncture - it is where I want my energy to be - and there is nothing wrong with that. Not everyone is "50% Yeshiva and 50% University" (or necessarily should be). Some are 70-30, 30-70, 86-14, or other makeups. The battle between the "yeshiva" and the "university" is really this battle in ourselves. Most of the students (and teachers) here are struggling to find themselves, where their own balance is between Torah and Maddah. A school comprised of these types of people will always find itself in flux, because the students and teachers here are always going to be struggling. The Rav started this place not for "the _____ (fill in the blank YP/BMP/IBC/JSS/YC/SSSB) student, but for the Jew who looks at his faith honestly and meaningfully. Whichever track helps you do that best is where you belong. From the guy who wears black and white to the guy who walks around without a kipah, we're all YU students, and we each share the same struggle in searching for our personal center.

The Commentator, whether truly representative of the student body or not, contributes to this sense of controversy and struggle that we all deep down love and feed upon. It adds to that sense of things being in flux and keeps it going and burning. A good part of the memorable times for many of us have been, are, and continue to be Commentator-driven controversies. Radio shows (for those who listen) wouldn't be the same without "the commie" as fodder. The paper affects us all. Last year, I took Media and Politics with Professor Pimpare, an informative and exciting class (with an informed and exciting professor). For a special night another student and I presented interviews we had done with the editors of The Commentator***, The Observer, Brooklyn College's Nightcall, and NYU's Washington Square Post, highlighting the differences between them. In a way, I too fed off the controversy The Commentator contributes to (and continue to do so in this article).

While I understand the good intentions in printing "A Not So Yeshiva College," I hope one day, the author will have a new-found understanding of what these tracks can and do mean to many of us. It takes a big man to write his feelings, knowing the backlash he will receive. It takes an even bigger man to admit he was mistaken. At the same time, I want to thank the author for the article, because it opened my eyes a bit more as to why I am where I am - or why Hakadosh Baruch Hu placed me in IBC. I hope he knows that as Editor-in-Chief, he is essentially part of this larger struggle, part of us all here at YU, and helping us find ourselves. I wish him and everyone else the best of luck in their own personal journeys.


*Let's be honest, writing a stupid Facebook note accomplishes nothing in the real world. In fact, it may be worse than doing nothing, since it makes the person feel like he/she did something when in fact, they didn't, and no one really cares. It seems our generation solves problems with blogs...and not with action. This piece is not about solving anything. It's just my feelings.

**At the end of the day, this very article was rejected from The Commentator. The version submitted contained the Editor-in-Chief's name.

***Last year's editor was someone else, but the dictatorial "governing" style of the paper remains the same.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

running away in order to be found

Consider this avatar:

Thoughts? Have you done this? Do you know people who do this? Why do you think people test relationships in this way?

Balaam and Moses: Prophets of God

In one of the most famous comparisons in Midrash, the heathen prophet Balaam and the Jewish prophet Moses are equated. It is said that their powers are equal, that God deliberately granted the nations a prophet so that they could not protest that had they only had a messenger of God’s they too would have followed His laws and obeyed His edicts. There is no question that Balaam was an intensely powerful and gifted individual. But unlike Moses, he “counseled the nations to give up their moral course of life and to become addicted to lewdness.”[1] He also differed from the Israelite prophets in his cruelty; they had “such pity for the nations that misfortune among the heathens caused them suffering and sorrow, whereas Balaam was so cruel that he wanted to destroy an entire nation without any cause.”[2] Indeed, Balaam’s actions were so evil that God decided to withdraw the gift of prophecy from the heathen nations.[3]

Balaam was Moses’ equal in every way; he was not “inferior to Moses either in wisdom or in the gift of prophecy.” He even excelled Moses, for Moses had to pray to God to “shew him His ways,” whereas Balaam was the man who could declare of himself that he “knew the knowledge of the Most High.”[4] Moses excelled Balaam as well in that God actually called to him whereas he merely “happened upon” Balaam. Nevertheless, these two men are dramatic and dynamic personalities, standing at the forefront of their respective nations.

Despite the simplistic understanding of Balaam which associates him with all that is evil and cruel, it is clear that he and Moses have more in common than we would sometimes like to think. They are not only prophets but they face similar challenges; they both have the power of their voice and yet God controls their tongues. Just as God angrily informs Moses, “Who made man’s mouth? Or who makes a man dumb, or deaf, seeing, or blind? Is it not I the Lord?/ Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt speak,”[5] so too does God master Balaam’s curses. God informs Balaam that “only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do.”[6] Neither man can control his own tongue; as Balaam famously exclaims, “Told not I thee, saying, All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do?”[7] He has no choice.

Both Balaam and Moses are confronted with the incomprehensible, situations which make no sense. Moses comes across a burning bush that is not consumed while Balaam is faced by a donkey that shies away from an invisible enemy. Moses and Balaam are characterized by their responses to these situations. Moses comes upon the burning bush because he is tending his flock, engaged in a caring occupation and ensuring the safety of every lamb. He is a shepherd, an occupation that typifies caring for he must guard the animals, watching over and protecting them. Balaam, on the other hand, is characterized as a man who ungratefully beats his donkey, hurting the animal that has faithfully served him. His is not the personality that allows for caring or gratitude. It is interesting that both Moses and Balaam strive to evade the will of God, making Him angry in the process. Balaam does this by going forward despite God’s evident displeasure, though he later explains that he “has sinned”[8] because he did not know the angel stood against him. In a precisely opposite situation, it is Moses’ refusal to assume his responsibilities that angers God, who finally informs him that if he will argue then Aaron shall aid him, but he will not be able to avoid his task.[9]

Balaam appears to be better at listening than Moses. After all, he explained to Balak’s princes that he must await God’s orders. God visited his dreams and informed him that “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed.”[10] Balaam hears this response and does not fight it; he does not argue with God. Instead, he informs the princes of Balak that they should return to their land for God will not give him leave to go with them. But it is precisely that phraseology which demonstrates where his heart truly lies; it is only because God will not grant him leave that he will not accompany them. Nevertheless, he listens. He obeys God.

This is very different from Moses, who is informed by God that he cannot and will not enter the land of Israel. This is something that Moses truly desires; it would seem that it is even his due reward. But he does not accept defeat. He does not accept God’s command, will not take it for what it is worth; instead he argues and questions and fights, to no avail. Moses does not wish to be defeated by God. He begs him, “Let me go over, I pray thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.” [11] But by this time God has had enough; he does not heed Moses and instead says “Let it suffice thee; speak no more to Me of this matter.”[12] Where Balaam accepted God’s decree with grace, Moses passionately protests.

Why then was Balaam punished? Did he not accept God’s decree? The answer is that he did in the practical sense, but he still thought that he could outwit God. This is obvious due to the message the angel relays to him after Balaam offers to return home; “Go with the men, but only the words that I shall speak to thee, that shalt thou speak.”[13] Balaam remained at home when God commanded him to do so, but he thought that he could outwit God, that he could somehow manage to speak his own words and not those mandated by his Creator. This is the reason that God becomes angry with Him; it is because Balaam is foolish enough to think that he has the ability to control his own tongue, to defeat God. This speaks to a difference of temperament. While Moses is passionate, angry and strong, he displays a kind of honesty, allowing God to see that he does not agree. Balaam, on the other hand, is more crafty. He is quiet, theoretically obeying God’s decree, but he harbors other ideas within his bosom, slyly thinking that he can outwit Him. He is colder than Moses, less angry. He is the kind to outwardly obey while plotting to assassinate a man while Moses’ face would betray him in such a situation.

Both Moses and Balaam display their humanity when they blame their faults upon others. Balaam explains to the angel that “I have sinned, for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me; now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back.”[14] This is the Abimelech defense, echoing in every way that king’s innocent “In the simplicity of my heart and the innocence of my hands have I done this.”[15] Balaam claims that it was simply the fact that he was uninformed that caused him to sin, in effect placing the blame upon God. Moses is different in that he places the blame for his sin squarely upon the people, stating that “the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes.”[16] Neither man desires to claim responsibility for his actions.

What then is the difference between Moses and Balaam, the Israelite prophet and the heathen? They are both men of incalculable skill and power, both men whose tongues are ruled by God, both flawed and very human individuals. They differ in their temperaments and personalities. Moses cares passionately about animals; it is his caring for his flock that leads him to his first confrontation with God. He is honest with God, unable to listen to a demand that requires him to give up his dream; he fights loudly and strongly, passionate about his ideals. Balaam, on the other hand, has the ability to dismiss an animal that has long served him due to its momentary disobedience; he does not feel as Moses does for its plight. He is crafty, able to pretend to obey while inwardly harboring devious thoughts. He seems cold, more calculated. He is flawed, just as Moses as flawed, but their flaws are different. One man is open and wears his faults on his sleeve. When he blames others, it is obvious, for he places responsibility upon his people. The other is closed and pretends to be what he is not. He claims to be innocent when he knew perfectly well that God did not desire him to accompany Balak’s princes; he seems to obey when he truly desires to do evil. It is this falseness which typifies him.

Within the context of Midrash, where each personality is archetypal, it seems that the core message is clear: in this confrontation between Israelite and heathen, both equally matched, both prophets, the Moses character is preferred. Moses may be loud, tempestuous, prey to stormy moods and anger; he may be passionate and fight with God but he is open, easily read, a man who means what he says. Balaam is far more dangerous; he pretends to obey but truly desires to subvert, he innocently informs God that He is to blame for the misunderstanding that takes place; he is able to beat an animal who has consistently served him well. Balaam is cold and he is devious; the hotheaded Moses is presumed better because he is honest. Not for him, these crafty plots and subtle excuses; he is straightforward in his arguments, open with God. And this is how we should be as well; it is better to be straight and honest with God than to pretend to listen only to await the opportunity to disobey.


[1] Legends of the Jews , Volume 1 by Louis Ginzberg, page 760
[2] Legends of the Jews , Volume 1 by Louis Ginzberg, page 761
[3] Legends of the Jews , Volume 1 by Louis Ginzberg, page 761
[4] Legends of the Jews , Volume 1 by Louis Ginzberg, page 761
[5] Exodus 4:12
[6] Numbers 22: 20
[7] Numbers 23: 26
[8] Numbers 22: 34
[9] Exodus 4: 14
[10] Numbers 22: 12
[11] Deuteronomy 3: 25
[12] Deuteronomy 3: 26
[13] Numbers 22: 35
[14] Numbers 22: 24
[15] Genesis 20: 5
[16] Deuteronomy 3: 26

Sarcasm Leveled Against Imaginary People

This is somewhat interesting.

As CS Louis, Mermaid and various others can attest, I have a reputation of being indisputably non-sarcastic. I don't get sarcasm, I generally don't like it; it flies right over my head and so on and so forth. (Though various members of their family claim there's hope for me yet, due to my exposure to them.)

The entertaining thing is, my entire English class thinks that I am supremely sarcastic. (This is the English class where I was called upon to perform in front of the class, in case you are wondering. And then my non-participation in Showcase was lamented, which was very sweet of all of them.) This to the point where my teacher actually said (in tones of relief), "This is one book that Olivia can't read sarcastically aloud, because it's already written that way!"

I think the deal is that I have no problem ripping fictitious characters to shreds, but I don't like exercising the ability upon people. Truth is, though, I bite my tongue more often than you realize...and save the comments for my English papers.

But I shall remain the presumably non-sarcastic me!

In other fun news, aside from moonlighting as an actress in English class, I have learned that if you wander around New York with bloodstains on one leg, no one will notice, grandmotherly old ladies sweetly "inquire" as to whether you are waiting for a cab if you stare strangely off into the distance while they alight from one, there are strange folks at the New York Public Library, and I have successfully managed to screw with my sleeping patterns so that I can't go to bed early even if I wish to. Also, Jovo manages to recall Sesame Street episodes from twenty years ago, which means he has an alarmingly good memory.

At some point I shall hopefully go attack some more imaginary people...papers await, and my headache endures. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Language Affair

Russian is a party; Hebrew drives me crazy. It's so frustrating! I hate dikduk. There has to be a better way to teach this language; I want to know why things happen, not that they simply occur out of nowhere! Anyway, hopefully Lightman will save me, and My Other Russian Teacher, please let me know what you think.

Oh, and just because I adore this song, Дай мне силу.

Hanicha Li

Dr. Erica Hahn

Watch this clip from 4:39 to 4:53; it's from Grey's Anatomy's "Crash Into Me Part 2."

    Hahn: His hack of a surgeon didn’t check the grafts. (shakes head, obviously upset) I should have caught it, I should have checked. I missed it, dammit; how did I miss it? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    Sloan: That’s fascinating, Dr. Hahn.

    Hahn: (angry) What?

    Sloan: You’re as unkind to yourself as you are to everyone else.

    That's by far the best moment all season. Dr. Hahn is hardcore. She's intense, she doesn't seem to have any feelings; nothing ever bothers her. She fights with the best of them and is a very strong personality on the show. Moments of weakness or vulnerability in strong people are rare and therefore fascinating; they are a small glimpse into the person's inner soul, his core. It's exactly this moment that makes Dr. Hahn human and therefore relatable. The fact that she is angry with herself, upset with herself; she's beating herself up about something she missed, something she ought to have's that which makes your heart go out to her and long to tell her it's okay and she doesn't need to be so hard on herself. Because this is something you do yourself, something you do all the time, and you know how she's feeling and really you just want her to be okay.

    Those rare moments of pain or suffering where the mask slips and you suddenly see a strong person hurting completely redefine them for you. You're never able to look at them in the same way. It's no longer Dr. Erica Hahn, hardcore surgeon who does cardio and will lacerate you with her tongue, strong and untouchable. It's Dr. Erica Hahn, human being, someone who feels pain just like you do, someone whom you want to comfort because you know that she'll always be hard on herself and expect more from herself than anyone else reasonably would. Mainly it's that you see yourself in her and it's easy to love her then, because she's hurting just as you would be hurting and you want to take her pain away.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    The Art Teacher

    For Mr. Arnor Bieltvedt, who would have done this for me, and did, though never so explicitly.

    She rubs her sweaty hand against her jeans, trying to avoid her own discomfort. They all talk as they meander about the room, smiling as they nibble delicately at their hors d'oeuvres, looking at the paintings that cover the walls. The paintings are many and varied; there are portraits, landscapes and strange surrealist attempts; the other side of the room is covered in photographs. She prefers one that shows a black and white girl upon a swing; her hat is portrayed as being red. It reminds her a little of the girl in Schindler's List, the one girl toward whom our compassion is aroused.

    This is her best work. She stares up at her painting again, pleased that she has managed to so masterfully depict Van Gogh's expression, his sad gaze and melancholy look. She has painted him in greens, discovered a talent she did not know she possessed. Her parents smile meaningfully at her and then nod toward the picture, certain that it will win a prize. She feels a little queasy, anxious, worried. She turns as she hears her mother say "Oh yes, and our daughter, just there; she painted that one." She is faintly irritated by this, and then the irritation grows within her until she is angry and struggling to contain her anger. She walks over to her mother, smiles pleasantly. "Mommy, come here; I have something I want to show you." She figures that she will steer her away from the others before she can do more damage.

    "In a moment," her mother answers, continuing to praise her to an unknown third party. She is annoyed. It's not like her mother painted the picture, after all. Besides, it's not even such a good picture. It probably won't win a prize. All the expectation and anticipation; now that she's entered the picture in the contest, it's understood that it will win, it has to win; it is unthinkable that she would not win. At least, that is the impression her parents give over. She is sick as she thinks about it, unable to move for a fit of nerves. She turns away to look up at a tall, impressive painting of a multicolored giant.

    "Lina?" a voice asks from behind her, and she turns to see Daniel. Daniel's also entered a picture in the competition, but his parents aren't here with him. Lucky him, a voice in her head seems to say. It won't matter whether he wins or loses; there's no one to see but him. And he seems very laid back, very okay with whatever happens. "Lina, what's the matter?"

    She nods her head toward the corner. "There, over there."

    He looks. "So what? It's just your parents."

    "Just my parents," she says, and rolls her eyes. "Just my parents, who have been claiming credit for my work as though they had painted it, who have been busy showing me off to everyone, letting them know that I'm their daughter so that when I win a prize, they'll be able to show me off, too. And what if-" but she can't allow herself to say it. What if I don't win? is what she is wondering. What if I don't win?

    "If you would all please gather in the center of the room," a female voice announces, "and we will list the winners." A pause, as the lady waits for everyone to take their places. "In third place," she begins triumphantly, "Vanessa Waters!"

    A blonde-haired girl darts forward to take the yellow ribbon, grinning broadly as she does so.

    "In second place," the voice continues, "Dan Macmillan!"

    Dan gives a lazy smile, walks past Lina and pins the red ribbon to his chest, rolling his eyes comically at the fanfare and fuss made over him.

    "And in first place-" and Lina catches her breath, hoping desperately that it will be her, "Regina Todmore!"

    Regina? Lina thinks, stunned. Anyone but Regina. Regina has no talent, she has nothing; she is is it possible that she has won and Lina has not?

    Lina faces her parents for a moment, noticing the stunned, frozen expressions on their faces, then they walk over to her in an attempt to comfort her. "You did a wonderful job, darling," they tell her, "don't worry about it, next time will be better" and she just snaps. She can sense the disappointment in their tone, see how hard they are trying to lie brightly for her. "I need to go to the bathroom," she says and dashes out of the room, brushing roughly past Dan, whose eyes radiate concern. Once in the hallway, she pauses to catch her breath, dashing the tears from her eyes. She will not care. She will walk up to Regina, smile, congratulate her and will not show that she cares. She wills herself to do it.

    But then a different idea strikes her and she reaches inside her backpack, pulls out her palette knife. She sticks it in the back pocket of her jeans, making a mental note not to sit down. She rejoins the crowd and smiles winningly at her parents, then walks over to Regina. "Congratulations!" she says lightly. "It's a beautiful painting."

    Regina is too happy to notice that Lina is not being completely honest. "Oh, thank you!" she says, glowing, the blue ribbon pinned to her chest.

    Disgust wells up within Lina, self-disgust at how low she has fallen, how false a person she is. She waits and pretends to be deeply interested in the other paintings as people wander out of the room. Finally she is alone, or nearly so. She reaches for her painting, that of the Van Gogh, unhooks it from its place on the wall, sets it down on the floor and kneels. She reaches for her palette knife.

    Failure. That's what this painting says to her. You did your best and it wasn't enough. You tried your hardest but you're still worthless. So why bother to try? Look at your parents. Look how you've disappointed them. Worthless, worthless, worthless.

    She takes the palette knife and positions it over her painting, right near Van Gogh's nose. She plunges it toward the canvas when she hears Dan over her shoulder.

    "Lina?" He sees what she is about to do. "No! No!"

    He tries to wrest the knife away from her but she fights, sinking it deep within the canvas, ripping through her failure. She plunges deep and scores the paint, marring the nose and blurring the face, so that Van Gogh disintegrates and disappears. She takes deep breaths as she does so and Dan falls away as she continues destroying her painting, the product of all her hard work. What does she care how hard she worked? It wasn't enough. It's never enough. Not only did she not win the blue, but she didn't even win third place!

    Finally, panting hard, does she drop the knife and stand up. She turns and starts with a jolt; in the corner, her art teacher is watching her. His eyes radiate compassion.

    She walks right past him, doesn't say anything, leaves her ruined painting on the floor. She goes outside to join her parents.

    "Oughtn't we to take your painting with us, dear?" her mother asks. "No," she lies smoothly. "They want to keep them on display for a while longer; I'll get mine when they're done with it." Much easier to lie and then to let them forget about it.

    "Your painting really was magnificent," her mother continues. Lina grits her teeth. She doesn't want to hear this.

    She endures the carride back home, goes upstairs and plugs herself into her computer, listening to music until she has tired herself out and decides to go to sleep. The next morning, she heads off to school, goes through her daily routine until reaching Art class.

    She enters the Art Room, then stops dead in her tracks. There, propped up on her art teacher's desk, is her painting. It has been framed. She steps closer and notices a sheet of paper just below bearing what is ostensibly a title. The title reads "Passion."

    She turns to see her art teacher watching her. Wordlessly, he hands her a new canvas, a set of oils and her painting kit. Voiceless, she accepts them. She dips her brush in the red paint, swirls it, then begins applying it to the canvas. She looks back toward the direction of his desk, then smiles a little. He doesn't care whether or not she wins a prize. He doesn't even care whether or not she rips her painting to shreds. Whatever it is, it is a new and more interesting form of art. She sees failure and he sees passion.

    She paints red strokes on the canvas, wild and aimless. She covers them with black as well, stabbing at the painting, surprised as she sees the form of a little old woman emerge from within the crossing lines of black and red. She reaches for a smaller paintbrush, one with a more delicate tip. She inks in the form, then reaches for a stick of charcoal, thinking that she will very lightly pencil in the woman's features as she emerges from the painting. Lina is smiling, looks down at her hands and sees that they are covered in oil. The bell rings. She looks up at him, standing behind his desk and glaring contemplatively at his own work. Her heart is light. She almost wants to sing.

    No matter what she does, he will always see it as worthwhile.

    Sometimes that makes her want to cry. And other times, like now, she is so grateful that words are inadequate, not to mention unnecessary.