Monday, September 29, 2008

To Speak With God

When I was little, there was a beautiful song we were taught in kindergarten about the shepherd boy who desired to pray but did not know the words. I can remember snatches of the tune (which was very sad and haunting), but not the name of the song. Here, however, is the story:
    The Baal Shem Tov was praying together with his students in a small Polish village. Through his spiritual vision, the Baal Shem Tov had detected that harsh heavenly judgments had been decreed against the Jewish people, and he and his students were trying with all the sincerity they could muster to cry out to G-d and implore Him to rescind these decrees and grant the Jews a year of blessing.

    This deep feeling took hold of all the inhabitants of the village and everyone opened his heart in deepfelt prayer.

    Among the inhabitants of the village was a simple shepherd boy. He did not know how to read; indeed, he could barely say the letters of the alef-beis, the Hebrew alphabet. As the intensity of feeling in the synagogue began to mount, he decided that he also wanted to pray. But he did not know how. He could not read the words of the prayer book or mimic the prayers of the other congregants. He opened the prayer book to the first page and began to recite the letters alef, beis, veis - reading the entire alphabet. He then called out to G-d: "This is all I can do. G-d, You know how the prayers should be pronounced. Please, arrange the letters in the proper way."

    This simple, genuine prayer resounded powerfully within the Heavenly court. G-d rescinded all the harsh decrees and granted the Jews blessing and good fortune.

    ~From here
When I go to talk to God, especially on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur or the other truly holy days of the year, I keep this story in my heart. God knows exactly what is in my heart and what I intend; He knows which sins I repent of and which ones I do not repent.

I learned that it is always best to be honest with God, honest in everything that you say to Him. He knows anyway, so I may as well be honest.

So God- if I do not repent properly, or cannot, then please help me to feel more of your Presence and Awe in the world- and your Fear, in place of your love and mercy- so that I would be urged to do so. And God, you are very compassionate and merciful in not treating me as a hypocrite if I repent of one sin and not the other, because you know that I try, and it is better to repent of one even if I cannot yet of the other.

I do not know the prayers, said the shepherd boy; I only have the alef beis. Please, will you arrange the letters to form the prayers, God?

I know the prayers, God, but I lack the heart to mean them and to feel your Fear upon me. Please, will you place your awe and dread upon me, so I will learn to serve you as I ought?

With honesty shall I approach you, and with honesty may I be forgiven, and if it is good in Your eyes, may I have a much happier year than the one that has just passed. And if it is not good in Your eyes to grant me that, may I have a very meaningful year from which I continue to learn, as You have blessed all my other years.

Excerpts for Rosh Hashana

For anyone who would like some Rosh Hashana reading- here are some excerpts.


Rosh Hashanah is Yom Hazikaron because the Ribbono shel Olam is zocher habris. Yet it goes without saying that God is zocher habris at all times, not only on Rosh Hashanah. In fact, with the Eternal God, there cannot be any change from one day to another. The Ribbono shel Olam is as much zocher habris every day as He is on Rosh Hashanah.

It follows logically that when we say that Rosh Hashanah is a Yom Hazikaron, it is not because of the fact that on Rosh Hashanah God is zocher habris, for He is so constantly. Rosh Hashanah is designated Yom Hazikaron simply because of the fact that on Rosh Hashanah it is incumbent upon all Jews to dedicate themselves to the concept of zocher habris and to become zochrei habris themselves just as God is. (Thus, there is a fulfillment of the obligation to follow in God’s ways- see Deuteronomy 28:9.)

If the Ribbono shel Olam Himself realizes the concept of zocher habris by feeling bound to Man, then Man, too, in order to become zocher habris must, of course, above all feel bound to Gld. But in addition to that, Man must realize that Man cannot belong to God in a vacuum. In order to prove that Man belongs to God, one must belong to Man as well, for God Himself is bound to Man.

~Rosh Hashanah: A Time to Belong from Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind by Rav Aaron Soloveichik, page 147


Yet there is another aspect to prayer: prayer is an act of giving away. Prayer means sacrifice, unrestricted offering of the whole self, the returning to God of body and soul, everything one possesses and cherishes. There is an altar in heaven upon which the archangel Michael offers the souls of the righteous. Thrice daily we petition God to accept our prayers, as well as the fires- the self-sacrifices of Israel- on that altar (v’eishei yisrael u’tefilasam b’ahavah tikabel b’ratzon.) Prayer is rooted in the idea that man belongs, not to himself, but that God claims man, and that His claim to man is not partial but total. God, the Almighty, sometimes wills man to place himself, like Isaac of old, on the altar, to light the fire and to be consumed as a burn offering. Does not the story of the Akeidah tell us about the great, awesome drama of man giving himself away to God. Of course Judaism is vehemently opposed to human sacrifice. The Bible speaks with indignation and disdain of child sacrifice; physical human sacrifice was declared abominable. Yet the idea that man belongs to God, without qualification, and that God, from time to time, makes a demand upon man to return what is God’s to God is an important principle in Judaism. God claimed Moses’ life: He demanded the return of body and soul without permitting him to cross the Jordan. Moses complied, and willingly died the “Death by Kiss.” God claimed Isaac and Abraham gave Isaac away. What does prayer mean in the light of all this? The restoration of God’s ownership rights, which are absolute, over everything He owns. The call:

“Take thy son, thy only son, whom you love so much..a.nd bring him as a burnt offering” is addressed to all men. In response to this call, man engages in prayer, as sacrifical performance.

A new equation emerges: prayer equals sacrifice. Initially, prayer helps man discover himself, through understanding and affirmation of his need-awareness. Once the atask of self-discovery is fulfilled, man is summoned to ascend the altar and return everything he has just acquired to God. Man who was told to create himself, objectify himself, and gain independence and freedom for himself, must return everything he considers his own to God.

~Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah, pages 71-72 by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik


But there is a wider, voluntary entrance to prayer than sorrow and despair—the opening of our thoughts to God. We cannot make Him visible to us, but we can make ourselves visible to Him. So we open our thoughts to Him—feeble our tongue, but sensitive our heart. We see more than we can say. The trees stand like guards of the Everlasting; the flowers like signposts of His goodness-only we have failed to be testimonies to His presence, tokens of His trust. How could we have lived in the shadow of greatness and defied it?

Mindfulness of God rises slowly, a thought at a time. Suddenly we are there. Or is He here, at the margin of our soul? When we begin to feel a qualm of diffidence lest we hurt what is holy, lest we break what is whole, then we discover that He is not austere. He answers with love our trembling awe. Repentant of forgetting Him even for a while, we becomes sharers of gentle joy; we would like to dedicate ourselves forever to the unfolding of His final order.

The Holy Dimension, page 341 of Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity by Abraham Joshua Heschel


The Meaning of Repentance

[Published on the eve of Yom Kippur in the Gemeindeblatt der judischen Gemeinde zu Berlin, 16 September 1936]

The mystery of prayer on the days of Rosh Hashanah presents itself with characteristic familiarity: it reveals itself to those who want to fulfill it, and eludes those who want only to know it.

Prayer on these days is a priestly service. When we pray we fulfill a sacred function. At stake is the sovereignty and the judgment of God.

The world has fallen away from God. The decision of each individual person and of the many stands in opposition to God. Through our dullness and obstinancy, we, too, are antagonists. But still, sometimes we ache to see God betrayed and abandoned.

Godliness is an absolute reality which exists through itself. It existed prior to the creation of the world and will survive the world in eternity. Sovereignty can exist only in a relationship. Without subordinates the honor is abstract. God desired kingship and from that will creation emerged. But now the kingly dignity of God depends on us.

At issue is not an eschatological vision, a utopia at the end of time, or a kingdom in the beyond. Rather, we are talking about the preset, the world that has been bequeathed to us, a kingdom of everyday life. We have to choose God as king; we have “to take the yoke of the kingdom of God upon ourselves.”

Does this demand- the essence of Jewish law- signify an esoteric symbol, a mystical act? It signifies a close, this-worldly and everyday act. The establishment or destruction of the kingly dignity of God occurs now and in the present, through and in us. In all that happens in the world, in thought, conversation, actions, the kingdom of God is at stake. Dow e think of Him when we are anxious about ourselves or when, driven by apparent zeal for general concerns, we engage in life, whether deliberately or in a carefree way?

These days are dedicated to establishing God as king within us. The whole year long we all him “Holy God!”; on this day “Holy King!”

“God took on kingship over the peoples. God placed himself on the throne of his sacredness. The princes of the people are assembled. For the shields of the earth are God’s.”

The deepest human longing is to be a thought in God’s mind, to be the object of His attention. He may punish and discipline me, only let Him not forget me, not abandon me. This single desire which links our life and our death will be fulfilled on the Days of awe. The “Holy King” is a “King of Judgment.” The season of Rosh Hashanah is the “Day of Memory,” the “Day of Judgment.”

Before the judgment and memory of God we stand. How can we prove ourselves? How can we persist? How can we be steadfast?

Through repentance.

The most unnoticed of all miracles is the miracle of repentance. It is not the same thing as rebirth; it is transformation, creation. In the dimension of time there is no going back. But the power of repentance causes time to be created backward and allows re-creation of the past to take place. Through the forgiving hand of God, harm and blemish which we have committed against the world and against ourselves will be extinguished, transformed into salvation.

God brings about this creation for the sake of humanity when a human being repents for the sake of God.

For many years we have experienced history as a judgment. What is the state of repentance, of our “return to Judaism?”

Repentance is an absolute, spiritual decision made in truthfulness. Its motivations are remorse for the past and responsibility for the future. Only in this manner is it possible and valid.

Some people, in moments of enlightenment, believed they saw in the year 1933 an awakening to God and of the community, and hoped Jews would be heralds of repentance. Yet we have failed, those who stayed here just as much as those who emigrated. The enforced Jewishness still sits so uneasily in many of us that a new wave of desertions could occur at any moment. The apostasy of the past is matched by the superficiality of today. Is this disappointment surprising? Repentance is a decision made in truthfulness, remorse and responsibility. If, to be sure—as is often the case among us—instead of deliberate decision we have a coerced conversion; instead of a conscious truthfulness, a self-conscious conformity; instead of remorse over the lost past, a longing for it; then this so-called return is but a retreat, a phase.

Decay through return!- that is the apocalyptic menetekel inscription on the walls of our houses.

Marranos of a new metamorphosis: Jewish on the outside, Marranos of different degrees multiply within our ranks. Such victims of insincerity- as historical experience teaches- can become tragic.

It is also deplorable when a spiritual movement deteriorates into bustling and pretense. It is unclean when a holy desire is misused by the selfishness of the clever. When one wants to become a Jew because of the “situation,” not out of honesty, the result is conflict and misery! Jewishness cannot be feigned!

There is no return to Judaism without repentance before God. Faithfulness to Him and to the community to the point of utmost readiness remains the fundamental idea of Jewish education.

We must recognize that repentance has yet to begin! Each person must examine whether one is part of a movement forced upon us by the environment or whether one is personally motivated, whether one is responding to pressure from outside or to an internal sense of urgency. At stake is not the sincerity of the motivation but the earnestness and honesty of its expression. This considered reflection has to become a permanent part of our conscience.

Not everyone is capable of maintaining self-examination. It is up to the teachers among us to explain the meaning and content of repentance. Enlightenment about repentance is the central task of our time.

It is a great good fortune that God thinks of us. We stand before the judgment and the memory of God. We know the reality of human judgment and we pray: God, you judge us! We must stand firm before the judgment. The possibility to do so is given to us. Woe to us if we cease, woe to us if God should forget us.

~Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity by Abraham Joshua Heschel, 68-70


The first principle of repentance is that the sinner be divested of his status as a rasha. This can only be attained if the sinner terminates his past identity and assumes a new identity for the future. It is a creative gesture which is responsible for the emergence of a new personality, a new self. This creative gesture is precipitated by an absolute decision of the will and intellect together. “What is repentance? It consists in this: that the sinner abandon his sin, remove it from his thoughts, and resolve in his heart never to repeat it…that he regret the past…and that he call the One who knows all secrets as a witness to his resolve never to return to this sin again…It is also necessary that he make verbal confession and utter these matters which he had decided in his heart. The abandonment of sin (i.e., the resolve for the future) and the regret over the past divest the sinner of his status as a rasha. They “sever” his spiritual continuity and transform his identity (and He who knows all secrets will bear witness to this act of creation.) Verbal confession is directed toward precipitating the bestowal of atonement. Atonement, however, is only a peripheral aspect of repentance. Its central aspect is the termination of a negative personality, the sinner’s divesting himself of his status as a rasha- indeed, the total obliteration of that status. “Some of the modes of manifesting repentance are that the peitent…changes his name, as much as to say: ‘I am another person and am not the same man who committed these deeds.” The desire to be another person, to be different than I am now, is the central motif of repentance. Man cancels the law of identity and continuity which prevails in the “I” awareness by engaging in the wondrous, creative act of repentance. A person is creative; he was endowed with the power to create at his very inception. When he finds himself in a situation of sin, he takes advantage of his creative capacity, returns to God, and becomes a creator and self-fashioner. Man, through repentance, creates himself, his own “I.”

Here there comes to the fore the primary difference between the concept of repentance in Halakhah and the concept of repentance held by homo religiosus. The latter views repentance only from the perspective of atonement, only as a guard against punishment, as an empty regret which does not create anything, does not bring into being anything new. A deep melancholy afflicts his spirit. He mourns for the yesterdays that are irretrievably past, the times that have long since sunk into the abyss of oblivion, the deeds, that have vanished like shadows, facts that he will never be able to change. Therefore, for homo religiosus, repentance is a wholly miraculous phenomenon made possible by the endless grace of the Almighty.

But such is not the case with halakhic man! Halakhic man does not indulge in weeping and despair, does not lacerate his flesh or flail away at himself. He does not afflict himself with penitential rites and forgoes all mortification of body and soul. Halakhic man is engaged in self-creation, in creating a new “I.” He does not regret an irretrievably lost past but a past still in existence, one that stretches into and interpenetrates with the past and the future. He does not fight the shadows of a dead past, nor does he grapple with deeds that have faded away into the distance. Similarly, his resolve is not some vacuous decision made with regard to an obscure, distant future that has not as yet arrived. Halakhic man is concerned with the image of the past that is alive and active in the center of his present tempestuous and clamorous life and with a pulsating, throbbing future that has already been “created.” There is a living past and there is a dead past. There is a future which has not as yet been “created,” and there is a future already in existence. There is a past and there is a future that are connected with one another and with the present only through the law of causality- the cause found at moment a links up with the effect taking place at moment b, and so on. However, time itself as past appears only as “no more” and as future appears as “not yet.” From this perspective repentance is an empty and hollow concept. It is impossible to regret a past that is already dead, lost in the abyss of oblivion. Similarly, one cannot make a decision concerning a future that is as yet “unborn.” Therefore, Spinoza [Ethics IV, 54] and Nietzsche [in Genealogy of Morals] did well to deride the idea of repentance. However, there is a past that persists in its existence, that does not vanish and disappear but remains firm in its place.

~Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, 112-114

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stern Girl Fishing

My friend Mr. President mentions that his favorite sport is Stern Girl Fishing, then actually imitates throwing out a line and reeling it in. This after he stuns several girls by walking into Brookdale Lobby and actually annoucing, "Ladies, come and get it," after tapping at his chest and throwing out his hands in an expansive gesture.

I tell this to my other friend, who says to me as follows:

"It's not fishing. I don't fancy that imagery."

Just as I was about to tell him that he was being silly by not buying into the joke, he stuns me with his final line.

"Think of it as butterfly catching."

Perfection, isn't it?

He continues. "Instead of pulling up the hook, I'm outting down my net." He smirks. "How do you like me now?"

That was fine until he decided to tell me that, having revised his opinion, it's actually more like "cockroach sticky traps."

At this point, had he only been nearby, I would have thrown a pillow at him. Since he was not, he'll just have to wait until later to get creamed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Bloodied Of Our Generation

He is among the most bloodied of your generation. He has the most to forget, and can forget nothing.

Gershon spoke up and said to the darkness, He has a friend.

~The Book of Lights, 324


She had always wished that she could pray with the fervency that she ought. Her every nerve ought to sing; her body ought to hum with desire. She believed in God, so why couldn't she find him in the words? Beautiful Hebrew words, archaic words that had been sung by so many, that had touched the lips of the pure and the holy. Sacred words. And yet she could not bring herself to voice them. She had tried to explain it to herself many times. She did not like to lie, and would not offer prayers she did not mean. She was frustrated by the words, in a language she did not speak and did not understand. She hated the entire way in which one must stand within a rectangular cube and dedicate her soul to God. It seemed to her to be utterly impossible to do truthfully, and she had long ago determined that she would do nothing that was not truthful. She had learned from her share of lies. Whatever the reason, it was why she resented the fact that she was made to attend shul on Shabbat. She did not pray there. She did not tell anyone that was the case, but the only prayers she voiced were those that touched her lips in her mother tongue, in blessed English. And that was when her soul took flight, and euphorically, pearls of rapture escaped her mouth. And she prayed with her whole soul, which was broken, and her name was that of the one who came before her, Chana.

She longed to be outside. Out of the confines of this box, with its ceremonies of which she had no part, placed behind the curtain. Mei'akhorei ha'pargod. She remembered when she was little, younger, sitting on her Daddy's lap, excitedly waiting for the Torah, longing to kiss it, in love with everything it represented. There it was, bedecked in velvets and jewels, the living embodiment of the Shekhina, crowned in silver, God's partner and lover. She ran up to it and raised her hand to it, pressing her kiss onto the soft velvet. She beamed with pride as she went back to her seat, looked through the words of the parsha and followed as her father read them, anxious to catch him in at least one mistake to show him that she had been attentive. She remembered skipping happily, dancing outside of shul, telling Daddy that she had gotten all the way up to V'ahavta this time (she could never keep up with the congregation.) She remembered how happy she had been to go to shul. She wondered when she had lost that interest and that desire to be part of everything.

But she had not lost it. It was just that she could not find it there, within the concrete walls, even the ones that were painted gold. She could only find it outside, outdoors, preferably when she was alone. She loved the bikepath. She loved the glittering gold of the sun reflecting off the green leaves, the statues, with their pinks and purples, a world which was vivid and full of color. This caused her to feel, and with feeling she could pray. Without feeling she could not. She was aware of everything Heschel had written on the subject. Prayer cannot be spontaneous; it must be an act to which one commits, no matter the feeling that provokes it. She had a friend who told her that though he could not always pray with the intensity that he desired, he found it easy to set aside the time for God. For her the concept was strange. How was she to set aside time for God? God was always there, always beside her. She felt Him. It was precisely because of that closeness that she felt difficulty conceiving of Him as a presence whom she must obey, or one to whom she must bow. He was too close to her to be anything but understanding. And yet, even she knew that she had her responsibilities, and her obligation to fulfill them.

Why was it that she felt as though she were part of some vast power-play? God tugged her in one direction and the other; He showed her images and pieces of his world, and all of them left her disconcerted, if not in tears. At first He had only shown her his glory, and dazzled, she stood bewildered before Him, her hair lit by the golden light of his aura. But then he had unveiled his terrible darkness, and she was still caught within it, walking this path that seemed endless, and desiring to leave. And the most terrible thing of all was that the door stood open before her, had she not the courage, or the strength, to devote herself to attempting to go forward in her desire to understand.

God knew that the most difficult thing for her to do was to bow to his command. He had granted her a heart to feel, but then he told her, not that she must revoke that feeling, but that she must act despite it. How was she to act despite it? Such feelings crippled her, left her feeling helpless, retching in the gutter, doubled over with disgust or pain. Those who were cold could doubtless act. Why should it trouble them to kill an Amalekite child, if God declares it is necessary? They would obey God, in whom they believed wholeheartedly. But for Chana, images flashed before her eyes of the children she loved at the Kohl Children's Museum. That beautiful blonde boy who gurgled with laughter as he splashed water on his head- and what if he were an Amalekite child? And she was mandated to kill him? But he had done nothing!

There were ways of making oneself understand. One could claim that there were metaphysical realms beyond the one which one could see. Perhaps, in primordial fashion, there was a cosmic tear in the universe should even one Amalekite be left alive, in the same way that there were rips in the cosmic fabric of the world each time she, or anyone else, sinned. When Chana closed her eyes she could see this. She would close her eyes and see an image of a universe bathed in light and swimming with angels and demons, each of them formed or deformed according to the actions of its owner. She saw the rips in the fabric of the world and the ugly seeping darkness that leaked into our world. All this was easy for her to visualize. But even with that, because there was no direct correlation between the child and the rip in the world; because it was something she had to close her eyes to see, she struggled and found herself lacking.

And suppose, not today, but at a different point in time, a non-Jew or pagan were to appear on her front lawn on the Sabbath, and they were dying? It is forbidden to be mechalel Shabbos for a non-Jew. And suppose it were her friend Kate? How could she look into her friend's eyes and watch her die? And this was what God asked of her, to forego anything which could be called mercy in favor of cruelty; this was the price she was to pay? The Rav spoke so often and so frequently of surrendering to God. He was very clear on that point. There was a reason why. If one lives by the mercy of one's heart, there is much that is permitted. There is much one does not understand, and which causes one to struggle. And one broods and broods and begins to twist the halakha and the laws in order to fashion them in accord with the desires of one's heart. And this is a perversion, but a tempting one, because one would do it in an attempt to do good.

In her mind's eye, she watched what she could do, and what she could be. She had watched it many times. She would walk away from her Judaism, or at least from her Orthodoxy, and would fashion it as she would like to. She would fashion it in the manner that she saw fit, in accordance with what her heart told her. And in that way she would be publicly lauded and accepted, the Nobel Peace Prize candidate of the Jews. But she knew, in a place that went deeper than the horror that filled her at fulfillment of the law, that she could not do that. Because somewhere else within herself there was an awe and fear that she did not admit to, because as yet she could not. She did love God, for all that she hated Him. And it was within that dichotomy that she struggled, and wished that there were a way out. She wished she could walk out of her darkness and into the light, but not the blinding destructive light, only the one that was pure, and healing.

Her imagination was fascinated by the image of the Rabbis, agilely defending, refuting and disputing each other with brilliant repartee and back-and-forth. She imagined these Rabbis and walked with them in her mind, astounded by their knowledge, by their power of recall and of comprehension, to delve through matters logically and assign solutions, no matter how preposterous or strange, through the derivation that no other solution was possible. She saw in them a power that was worthy and strange to her, and deliberately kept aloof from it. She did not want to master it, or to be their equal. So long as she kept apart from them, she could hide herself in the darkness of her ignorance and tell herself they knew far more than her. So long as she did that, she could state she did not understand, and because she did not have the knowledge, she had no right to doubt.

While she still existed without the knowledge that she might have desired, she no longer hid from it. She believed, now, that even had she all that knowledge, she would still have respect for the Rabbis formed by the power of her feeling, and her acknowledgement of their brilliance. She thought of this each time she was tempted to think of them as nothing but mortal men, men like those she encountered within her world. It would be easier to think of them as these fallen men, prey to lusts and desires, for indeed, did not their very words tell her so? This one had lusted after a prostitute while that one had delved too deeply into mystical texts. Could she not ascribe to them the desires of every man of her generation, and determine they had their weaknesses as well, that their very humanity made them frail, and made them a product of their times? And if so, could she not put aside their laws as she saw fit, or at least argue them, in an attempt to find what would gladden her heart and please her?

She could. For a time, perhaps, she even had, in her desire to advance and move beyond, move forward. She knew how seductive such an option was. The Rav had written about it. Korach and his Common-Sense Rebellion, he had called it. Korach argued that everything he desired was simply a product of common-sense. He was the mitzvot as relying upon emotional factors. If one blue string on the tzitzit causes one to remember the sky and therefore one's Creator, how much more so if the entire garment were true! Chana found herself thinking of the laws within the same terms. What did it matter, truly, if one kept to the letter of the law or the spirit of the law? Was not the spirit of the law much more important? Did she not prefer the spiritual people to the lawkeepers who often went too far? They banned everything! They forbade everything! This aside from the fact that they seemed to believe that covering up scandals and hiding people was the way to advance Jewish society. She was not proud of them, and did not wish to associate herself with them. Besides, they had hurt her, or at least their representatives had. Foolish representatives, certainly. What do seminary graduates actually know, and yet they are entrusted with the young minds of our people? But it is our very society that declares that they do know, and enables them to teach us the Law.

I hate them! she thought, and it was true. It resonated in her heart, thrummed there in the blood that flowed through her veins. She hated them and everything that characterized them. They were petty; they were foolish; they confused the Law with their own interpretation of it. They forbade things that were perfectly legitimate; they saw darkness where there was only purity. Chana knew, having been one of their suspected miscreants. An angel who was suspected of being a devil could be no more affronted than she had been. And there was a corner of her brain that urged her to take the challenge, and the bait. If they think of you as a devil, why not be one? this corner of her mind urged her, whispered to her. Indeed, why not? There is no incentive to be better than what other people think you to be. People rise to expectations. And yet, what if there are none? What reason to go on, or to go forward?

The darkness comes creeping in through the good. Chana's yetzer hara knew that she took no pleasure in the blood that streamed down a person's face after she had hurt him, or the bruise that such an exercise in passion would leave behind. For this reason, her desire garbed itself in the form of an angel. She would improve Judaism. She would make it better, make it stronger, allow more of its holiness to shine through. The only thing she had to do was listen to her heart, and trust herself. Had she not always done that? Was she not, nearly always, right? Hadn't most everyone told her not to listen to her heart when she knew that she was being truthful? Well then, wasn't this the same- was this not truth? Why now ought she to defy her heart and bow to the will of inscrutable, irascible men, those same men who kept her behind the curtain, and wrote her off entirely and completely? There was no honor in this. Honor came in stating the truth, and in keeping to it. Why not follow her heart, which urged her to find a way to reinterpret, to look at the law and somehow reform, to do what would allow her to be at peace with herself? And then every law which hurt her could somehow be done away with, and yet she could be content with her presence before God.

Except that she could not be. For she knew, somewhere within herself, at a darker level, that this angel, which gleamed with so holy and pure a light, and seduced her with words that appealed to everything she desired to do, and would do in a moment had she only not been born Jewish, was really her own darkness transformed and given shape. Light is misleading, as it appears in different forms. There is the blinding light of the atomic bomb, which destroys and destructs the world, and the lush, appealing pagan beauty of Kyoto, where Chana's soul feels so at home. And then there is an ugly light, the light of a kerosene lamp, which smells and drips, and yet that might be truth. Would she really be so easily lured, to follow light where she knew she could not go?

And yet it was so tempting. She knew that if she began, it would only get easier with time. Whenever one breaks a law, they justify it to themselves. There are good reasons, pure reasons, for breaking that law. Reasons that even God could not dispute! Everything is somehow pure; everything is somehow sheathed in light. Everything is beautiful. And yet the law is the law, and in the end, you have broken it, no matter the reason, no matter the intention, no matter the desire which forces you to do so. Do we not all lust after different things? Does it matter if I lust to be inclusive of people who are excluded? To each his own lust, and such lusts may be forbidden nevertheless.

But God, she could not be at peace with it! Sometimes the words of Stephen Dedalus flared up and seduced her.

"What did it avail to pray when he knew that his soul lusted after its own destruction? A certain pride, a certain awe, withheld him from offering to God even one prayer at night though he knew it was in God's power to take away his life while he slept and hurl his soul hellward ere he could beg for mercy. His pride in his own sin, his loveless awe of God, told him that his offence was too grievous to be atoned for in whole or in part by a false homage to the Allseeing and Allknowing."

Sometimes she wanted that so much that it hurt her. What did it matter if she ruined her soul, if in the process one more person opened their eyes with joy, having been included within the community? This was her battle because it had been her battle. She had been unfairly excluded from the community; she had been cast out; she had been suspected of darkness which she did not harbor. And hence it was part of her to protect the defenseless, to struggle to defend those whom other people damned. No matter who they were, so long as they did not harm others, she desired their inclusion if only there were a way to allow for it. What did it matter to her? Gentiles, homosexuals, idolaters, sinners of all kinds; was there not a gateway for all of them, some way in which they could be brought near? Chana existed to bring people near, not to push them away. It went against her entire nature and everything she loved to push anyone away, even within the context of the law.

This is why anything which required that of her, which made that her mandate, hurt her. Why must she be the one to do this? Why was there this law that bound her? What a foolish law! What a cruel and possesive law, to take her desire to include and twist it so that she must exclude or cast out! How could she cast out, who herself had been an outcast? It was so ironic a twist of fate, so impossible, so cruel. She was not at ease with herself. She did not like herself. She did not like that she could live an existence that was entirely at odds with what she desired to do. As a human being, she felt that all human beings were sacred. Can there be anything unforgivable? Can there be anything for which we truly exclude someone else?

She laughed sometimes to think what she would have made of being a Jew of the desert. What would she have done then, in a society built on boundaries and rules? In a society where the leper was cast out and had to announce his impurity to all, how would she have felt? It is possible she would have seen that as being the norm, not having been raised upon Western rules and morals which would tell her that being inclusive was a positive trait, and she would have accepted it more easily. But her heart did not tell her so. Having known how painful the experience of rejection was and is, she would not have been able to cause anyone else such pain, unless supported by the hands of others. Moshe had been supported by Yehoshua and Chur when he prayed to God by that first Amalekite battle.

Moshe fascinated her. How did this man feel, having been raised within an Egyptian palace, having had his every need and whim taken care of by Bitya and Pharoah? He pursued justice, no matter what it cost him. He killed the man who beat the Hebrew slave, despite the fact that he had to flee because of it. He intervened between two Jewish men who were fighting, one with the other. He helped the pagan daughters of a Midianite priest to draw water from a well, and fend off the unwanted advances of the other shepherds. He cared for the sheep, tending to their needs as well. And then this caring and compassionate man who pursued justice had to return to Egypt, to demand from the man who had as good as been his grandfather to let his people go. He begs God not to send him, to send someone else, anyone else. How difficult must it have been for him, to have two separate loves in his heart, one for the man who had cared for him, and the other for his people? What must it have been like to have been so hated by this man, who slapped him and ordered him banned from his presence? The amount of pain that Moshe feels throughout his leadership of the Jews compels me. He loses everything because of them, and because of his identification with them- he loses his position of power, privilege and leadership. He becomes a mere shepherd, after having been imprisoned in a pit in Jethro's backyard. His people are unruly and ungrateful. He himself does not always understand the God whom he must serve, and cries out to him in pain. At the end of his life, his last wish is not granted. And yet, he is our model of the most special and beautiful of people, a leader like none other. His life is an exemplar of what it means to sacrifice. He sacrifices his wife to be pure so that he can approach God, he sacrifices his time so that he can sit in judgement on the people, he sacrifices his authority by the episode of Eldad and Meidad, and later by Joshua, he sacrifices his dream to enter the Land of Israel. His life is an everlasting struggle between his God and his own personal fulfillment. And he chooses- although one can argue there is no choice, because Moshe is a truthful man, and the truth is staring him in the face- God.

Is this her destiny? Is she also, in her struggle to emulate this man, to suffer pain as he did? He was slandered by his own brother and sister, albeit only due to their intent to do good for him, the people he cared so much for often struggled with him and hated him, his life was subsumed by the cares of others and he was weary unto the death. But one thing no one can argue: his life had meaning. Is this the cost one must pay for a life of meaning? Is this the cost she must pay? She is frightened; she freely admits she is frightened. There is so much pain along that path. Why not choose compassion? And yet, she knows that compassion outside the law is forbidden. Saul chooses such compassion, and he is not rewarded; indeed, the kingdom is taken from him. But what is worse, he turns against those he truly loves- against David, against Jonathan- because he is blinded by what he believes is his. In the same way that he believed it was in his hands to listen to his heart and to abide by compassion, so too does he believe that he may award the kingdom to he to whom it ought rightfully to pass- to Jonathan, his beloved son. Saul too is a man of justice; he would have seen his son dead had not his men ransomed him. There is in Saul that might, but it is perverted; it is confused. He falls to darkness, though he means only to do what is right- to give the kingdom to the one who deserves it, via direct descent, to do what is just.

David realizes this, and David lives out the same pattern that Moshe had. He, too, has a man in a position of power, not a Pharoah, not a man who enslaves the Jews, but a King nonetheless, who desires his death. What pain it must have caused David to be pitted against his King, whom he loved, as is depicted by his endless elusive moves in efforts to evade Saul, to plead reason with Saul, to show Saul that this is God's will and His commandment, not David's own personal wish. David, too, lives a life that is full of pain. He is our greatest King, and yet he has no peace. He has his women and his kingdom, but his sons revolt against him, he loses a child before it has had a chance to live; his time is consumed by fighting his enemies or evading capture by those whom he ought to have no need to fear, and his life, too, is consumed and subsumed by affairs much larger than him. Why does God reward His most beloved in his fashion? From His most beloved he expects everything; he wants their very souls.

Why does God give us pain? He gives us pain to teach us. Could Moshe have been a compassionate leader had he not known what it was to fight against injustice and to lose everything because of it? Could David had he not fled from Saul, loving him and still fearing him, and the spirit that possessed him? We learn how to act because of what we ourselves undergo. We are strengthened by it; we are created through it. But that does not make it an easy path to walk. That does not make it the path that anyone would desire. David cries out to God in his psalms, and Moses speaks to Him face to face. What have I? I have only this; I have my words. Hear me, God, and give me strength to obey you, when you have made it so difficult for me.

Is my anguish impossible because I have been blessed? I am not starving; I am not dying. I am well-fed and I am blessed. I have been granted all I need. Physically, I am fine. I am not running from someone who desires my death. Perhaps this means that I am wrong to pray before you. Perhaps I have no right to do so, when you have given me so much good. This anguish I feel is a selfish anguish, one that only a generation which basks in the light of the sun of Aesop's fable can feel. I am blessed that I have the time to worry over the ethics of my actions! And God, I appreciate that blessing, with every fiber of my being. But that does not make what I feel any less real. There is a conflict, and it is difficult for me. I speak, and the words of comfort I wish to utter cannot come to my lips, because your law has forbidden it. I keep your law, but I do it with tears. I wish your law was not the way it is. I wish I had the power to change it. I wish, perhaps, that you would change your own law. This too is selfish. But I cannot sleep, God, because of how much it pains me. I stay awake and think over what I can say, what I can say to those who want to be close to you and who suffer because of things they cannot do, things that are impossible for them. You will tell me nothing is impossible. I know, and I bow my head before you. And yet. And yet I cannot sleep.

Does this please you? Will my prayer make it a little easier for them? Consider them as you would consider me, God, an honest sinner. I sin, but I make honest confession before you. I am what I am. So are they. They live honestly with what they are and with their sins, and all of them offer themselves up to your judgement. And yet they are judged by their fellow people, and cast away and pushed out. This I cannot bear. I lived this; I felt this. You know how I felt it. There is a difference between the right of man and God to judge, is there not? Man must act with compassion wherever it is permitted. It is God who will determine which of our actions was correct and which was incorrect. It is upon me to love, as much as I am able, and to be kind. Within your law, God. Although I would I were without it. I wish I could do away with your law, God. But that is not my path, now is it? A path would have no meaning if it were easy for me to walk.

I too am among the most bloodied of my generation. I carry the blood of tears. What shall I do with those earnestly trying to come close to you, God? What shall I do with their tears? I shall keep them all, to show you. And perhaps you will be merciful for the sake of their pain, and their tears. Perhaps they will have atoned with their pain. Perhaps I shall atone in the same manner. Beloved God, why must you make me angry with you? But perhaps You too are bound. You looked into the Torah and created the world. Perhaps you too are bound, and sit in shackles, the shackles of the law which must continue in order for our world to exist. The world was created based on the blueprint of the Torah, and if the law is broken, it creates a tear in the fabric of our universe. You cannot reverse the foundation upon which the world was created. This is the Law; it must be kept. But then, is it your beloved bride to whom I should address myself? Shall I beg the Torah to recreate herself? No, no, I cannot. That same Torah is in my blood; it is in the fabric of my existence. Should she recreate herself, I would become so many particles of golden dust.

We are caught; are we not? You and I. We are both caught, trapped, but in such beautiful bonds! And for such a holy and exalted purpose! You would think I would not struggle, would you not? And yet I struggle. I struggle...

I do love you, God. Only sometimes, I love your people more.

The Broken World

And Arthur. What of Arthur? Can you sense his broken world? It was the winds of his darkness that I rode into this room tonight. He was a child of the most golden of the promises of your species—the promises emanating from the unlocking of the universe by his adopted uncle, his family, their associates, their friends. They held in their hands the light of creation—and returned to the world the light of death. Walk in that shadow, Gershon. Taste and see that shadow. You will begin to understand Arthur, who flees from world to world—physics to revolution to the rabbinate to the Far East to Korean activists to—where? What? Does he search to locate himself in a corner of the world untainted by the shattered promises? Now he flees to Hiroshima—to find what? He is among the most bloodied of your generation. He has the most to forget, and can forget nothing.

Gershon spoke up and said to the darkness, He has a friend.

~The Book of Lights, 324

Rich, Vivid and Beautiful Music

I like men to have beautiful rich voices. For some reason such music seems much more vivid and alive to me, and resonates more.

Hence I love to listen to Sam Michaelson over here (under Ethnic Songs: that's where you can hear clips.) I'm currently enjoying "Balbeli Oto" [literally, "Confuse Him."] But I have currently decided anything he sings is gorgeous. I like his version of "Just One Shabbos" even more than I like MBD's, for instance. [Hint to parents: I want more of his CDs!]

Josh Groban is a close second. He has a beautiful music video for "Per Te."

And after that, we have Il Divo. "Regresa A Mi" is one of my favorites.

My mother raised me well.

In Which Chana Meets A Gallant Potential Rapist

Having somehow determined that it made sense to walk outside for a quick breath of fresh air at 1:10 AM, I decided to sit down on the benches by 34th & Lexington. There are several pretty green benches there, and I thought that if I sat down on one of them, that would be pleasant. I was playing with my hair and singing a bit when I see a figure walking toward me. It's a man about my age, perhaps a little older, who is actually very nice-looking, and is wearing jeans, a Mets t-shirt and a sweater. I expect that he'll pass me by, but instead he comes over to me and gives me his hand. There is nothing else to do, so I shake it.

MAN: And what's your name, my dear?

ME: (trembling) Ol-livia.

MAN: Livvy?

ME: (having stood up, poised to make a frantic escape) Lydia.

MAN: Lydia? Pleasure to meet you, my dear. Pleasure to meet you. (He steps in closer to me.) And what are you doing this fine evening?

ME: Me? I'm- I'm walking.

MAN: Let me accompany you on your way.

ME: Oh-I-I have to get back. (He steps in closer and I visibly startle, and jump.)

MAN: No worries, dear; I'm just walking your way. (He follows me as I walk up 34th and Lexington toward my dorm. I start walking faster.) Hey, hey, hey, darling, why are you walking so fast?

ME: (slows down, takes a deep breath- not a good idea to offend the potential rapist, aside from which, it's a couple days before Rosh Hashana, so if God wants something to happen me, and it's going to happen tonight, that's God's affair. But I trust Him, so hopefully I'm okay. I just have to talk my way out of this one, despite the fact that I am scared to death.) Okay, I'm sorry. I'll slow down. (I stop outside the 245 Building, where I am in clear sight of the Stern guard, who unfortunately doesn't notice my silent distress signals, and proceed to have the strangest conversation of my life.)

MAN: So I'm an Irish Catholic. You're a Jew, right?

ME: Yes.

MAN: And how are your studies going?

ME: Oh...well, they're not really. I mean, I'm kind of down. What about you?

MAN: (laughs) So I don't really study so much anymore. (pause) So I respect religion in your life. I'm a fucking Irish Catholic and we believe in the fucking Pope and all. (He leans closer, and I can smell the alcohol on his breath. I'm doomed.) You're a Jew, so for better or for worse, your religion is more strict than mine. (He is unintelligible now; I can't understand him.) We've got a language barrier problem, I can see. I'm from Brooklyn, you know.

ME: Brooklyn cops are the worst.

MAN: Yeah, well, my uncle was a cop in the Manhattan police force, so...

ME: Ah.

MAN: Anyway, have you ever heard of existentialism?

ME: (The Rav!)'s philosophy or something like that, right?

(The Man now proceeds to regale me with his explanation of how we each perceive the world differently based on our backgrounds. This would all be fine, except he keeps on moving closer to me, touches me on the shoulder sometimes, and I can smell the alcohol on his breath. We continue this conversation and we note that I am apparently not accepting of sterotypes of Irish Catholics, and he tells me that I shouldn't think badly of him just because he's had a couple drinks, because he is not actually drunk. This because I decided to invoke the quote from "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" where two kids are raised by an alcoholic; one of them becomes an alcoholic while the other never touches the bottle, and so they both had the same experience, but they made different choices. He thinks that those are two extremes and we need to walk the middle road- the shevil ha'zahav, though he doesn't say it that way. He explains to me he knows my position is unsavory; he's just a guy from the streets and I am a girl, and he considerately steps back when he sees I get scared when he comes too close to me- which means when he is touching my shoulder, or is otherwise almost in my face.)

MAN: What about you?

ME: Me? Well- I like the night. I find that everything is more- intense- at night.

MAN: (proceeds to explain to me exactly what I mean by things being intense at night)

ME: Well, thank you for your very profound and articulate explanation- I'll just be getting back now.

MAN: I'll walk you back.

(He walks me to my dorm. I ask him where he's going to spend the night, and he says he doesn't know, but he's used to fending for himself. Usually he spends the night at his place, but he's not up to doing that now. He works at a bar called "Third and Long." I tell him that unfortunately I can't have guests at the dorm, and he says he understands. He walks me almost to the door and then I shake his hand goodbye.)

MAN: (opening his arms and stepping forward a bit; again, I can smell the drink on his breath) Give me a kiss goodbye on the cheek?

ME: (squeamish, backing away), I'm sorry.

MAN: (gallantly) All right, my dear, that's fine. I just, I don't know how it works with you.

ME: (walking into the dorm, turning back) Listen, are you going to be all right?

MAN: Yes, my dear, I'll be fine. Thank you for worrying about me, though.

ME: No problem- good night- and God bless!

MAN: Right back at you.


I have never been so scared in my whole entire life.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rally Against Ahmadinejad (For Israel)

Well, I attended the rally against Ahmadinejad. And I am happy I was there, since I think it would be insane to allow a madman nuclear weapons, especially as he wants to kill Jews.

But I also felt like I wanted to cry.

Why? Because, of course, the Neturei Karta also made an appearance. And people somehow feel justified in determining that they are not Jews, in spitting at them or shouting slurs at them. Do you really think God desires to see this just before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Does nobody remember the civil war that took place between Ephraim and the men of Gilead? What about the war after the pilegesh in Givah? And weren't those very legitimate reasons to fight? And yet, didn't they end in complete sadness for us all?

Here we stand, spitting at our brethren, cursing at them, who yes, may be mistaken, and the media tapes us, and we think this is right?

If they were merely against Zionism, there would be no problem. The problem comes in that they are perceived as being PRO-Ahmadinejad, who would like to kill us all. I would be curious to know whether that is really the case- do they really want all of us dead? Somehow I imagine not. They are probably naive and think that Ahmadinejad will destroy Israel, the state and country, but not the Jews therein. Let us hope so, anyway...

The point is, the rally was AGAINST AHMADINEJAD...not against our confused brethren.

Dates & Disabilities

Is it possible that this can happen today?

It is inconceivable to me that in a world where we understand the meaning of kindness, of sweetness, of what it means to care for and love another human being, we could so coldly hurt the feelings of a male or female, dismissing them for something that is not their fault, and which does not detract from their ability to be a fit or capable parent.

I have become aware of something which disturbs me greatly. It is that within this great realm of dates, there is a group of people, a sub-strata, which is dismissed almost immediately. This group of people has done nothing wrong; they are not evil people, and they have done no harm. However, for whatever reason, and through no fault of their own, they have a physical disability. Perhaps there is a height difference between one leg and the other. Perhaps they are blind, or will be blind when they grow older. Perhaps they are deaf, or perhaps they cannot walk without the assistance of a cane. Perhaps they cannot even walk at all. This disability can range from something very minor, a club foot, a disfigured hand or finger- to something major. But no matter what it is, those who have or suffer a disability find themselves in the same category of people- those who are rejected immediately, without having been considered, without anyone taking the time to know them or their story.

I am not telling someone that it is their obligation to sign up for something they cannot handle. There are some people who cannot conceive of having a partner who is in any way physically disabled, and that is fine. No one states that you must marry a person out of charity or pity; indeed, that would be awful- the other person would not want such pity. But to immediately dismiss a person, to assume you know her and all that she has faced- this implies cruelty. If you have not met the person, how would you know what she is like? How can you know whether the difference between one leg and the other, or the fact that she will one day not be able to hear or see, means immediately that she is not for you? Are you even interested in the story behind this disability? Often, these people have miraculous, incredible stories. They have survived life-threatening illnesses, cancer perhaps- and this physical disability is all that is left to them, their only scar. Or perhaps, they were born with this disability, and have learned to cope with it, to make up for it. But what is clear in every case is that anyone who is born with what is seen as a disadvantage becomes a uniquely special person because of it. Their outlook on life is decidedly different. Because these are people who were made to fight. They were born different, or were made different, and their spirit has grown accordingly. They have been tested. These are women and men whom one wants as partners, people who have faced challenge and who have grown because of it, whose hearts and souls have been broadened and opened. And yet, these are people who are shunted mercilessly to the side.

Can you imagine how it hurts to be thrust aside so easily? A person has not even met you, but they have dismissed you because of your physical appearance or a disability- they know nothing of who you are, what you are, the essence of who you are as a human being- but already, you are viewed as being a failure, a nonentity. How can you do this to a person? If you know from the outset that it is impossible, then I understand. But if you have never met the person, if you do not know how they compensate for their disability, their personal story and all that colors it, then how can you push them aside so easily? Does everything else mean so little to you?

Do you know what is even more hurtful? When this population of people is informed they will never be sought after by the "normal" crowd; instead, they must marry each other. One person who cannot hear well must marry another; one person who is physically disabled and finds it hard to walk must look for such a person as well. Did you ever hear the like? And what happened, may I ask you, to the beauty of a person's soul, of her spirit, of everything that she is? What even to the beauty of her body? These are beautiful girls, and yet they are dismissed because of one small attribute! How can this be? And how can we be living in a generation of men who feel themselves to be benei Torah and yet see no harm in their actions? Again, I do not say that everyone must force themselves to raise the hopes of a person if they really believe there can be no future with her. But I cannot believe there is nobody who believes they can live happily with a physically disabled person?

There is a woman who is extraordinarily important in my life, who has done remarkable things, and raised an incredible family. She does chesed for her entire community, most of it unnoted. Whenever women give birth and are in the hospital, she cooks enough for an army and sends it off to the family of the newly-delivered mother. She counsels couples who need her advice. She is a listening ear like no other. People do not know the half of what she does and what she juggles. Her love for her family is sincere and real. And yet, she cannot use one arm. Everything she does, she does with only one arm- with one hand. Everything. Imagine taking a shower and only being able to shampoo your hair or soap yourself with one hand because you cannot move the other arm. Imagine cooking for hundreds of people, mixing everything together and tossing in ingredients- with one hand. Now imagine that you are so incredibly gifted at doing all this that nobody knows, except for a select few, that you even have this disability at all.

I can assure you, the man who married her, not only does not think of her as disabled, but thanks God every day for His having blessed him with her as a wife. He thanks his lucky stars that she is in his life, because he knows how differently his life could have turned out without her, and he knows that she helps him in far too many ways to count. This woman is capable, and loving, and beautiful. And yet, by the logic that is practiced upon these other women by these men- where they dismiss them because of their height or hair or their ability to see or hear or walk or who knows what else- this woman would never have gotten married. Or she would have been married off to another physically disabled person, never having been given a chance by anybody else. And that, my dear people, would have been a tragedy.

So I urge you, if this in any way affects you, to think long and hard about the people who are presented to you, and not to be rash in your dismissals of them. You truly hurt people when you dismiss them, especially people like the ones who I have just described. And the fact is, this can happen to anybody, or everybody. What if, God forbid, I were in a terrible car accident and survived it with a horrible disfiguring scar, or a broken leg, or some other contusion or problem? Would no one love me because of this; are we so shallow as a people? It is by God's grace that I walk around whole, and that I have not been given the struggles and difficulties that have been given to others. It is by God's grace that I have arms that work, and legs that work, and that thank God I am not in the position that others are in. But God can take all these things away, so that one day I could find myself a disabled person, and so could you, and so could anyone. This is nobody's fault- this is simply what can occur. And so, for you, or I, or anyone, to judge another human being and see them as less worthy because of this- because of something that could happen to me or you- is awful, and ridiculous. Whatever the form our bodies take, our souls are pure and untwisted, made only of God's light, and His grace. It is these that matter, more than anything.

All I am asking, all I am begging you for- is to give people a chance. And to be kind. To look at the world through the eyes of the other person, and realize how they feel. And to try to make their life a little easier, if it is possible. Because who knows? Even if you do not marry the person, I am sure they will have taught you an extraordinary lesson- simply by how they cope with their everyday existence, how they deal with the injustice that has been perpetrated upon them, with the way in which they encounter God and their world. And I know this from personal experience. Because I have met these people, and been awed by them. They have a great courage and grandeur with which I have not been blessed, not having faced their challenges, or having been put in their situation. There is greatness in them, and it will out. Be one of those who was willing to learn from that greatness.

Chana's Guide To The Different Types of Tired

Whenever anyone asks how I am, I explain that I am tired. I mean something different depending on the day...


Nose-To-The-Grindstone-Exhausted: This is exhausted, but it is the productive kind of exhausted, where one is alternatively high-energy and happy or extremely tired.
But you are happy you are doing work/ doing well.

Sleepy Contentment: You are tired, but the sweet kind of tired before going to bed, after a good day's work.

Heartache Kind of Weary: There is something on your mind, or in your heart, that does not permit you to sleep well at night, and it tears at you and hurts you and eventually dissolves into an ache you carry with you.

Contemplative Tired: This is the kind of tiredness one feels while watching the rain, either at night or during the day. It is generally a reflective, contemplative kind of tired, where one is snuggled in a comforter on the couch, but the question is whether the lights are on or off in your living room.

Yeshiva Exhaustion: This is fake. It's that point where the learning person believes he has reached his limit and can't go on; he is utterly exhausted and is going to pass out, or perish, over his Gemara. But then he figures out the answer and with a sudden eureka, awakens and euphorically begins again.

World Weary: This is when you have seen enough of the way it is supposedly done, the way people betray, backstab and hurt each other, and you cannot take it anymore. It makes you seriously consider becoming a hermit, and withdrawing into your own little world, where you will live happily within your mind and your fantasies, like a pschyzophrenic who has lost touch with reality.

Exhausted Is the New Sexy: This is when you are tired because you spent the night before partying, walking around the city and playing at being homeless, having fun, at the movies, or otherwise have a fantastic reason for the bags under your eyes. Your makeup is smeared, and your glitter eyeliner is currently covering the lower-half of your cheek, but you are extremely happy, and wouldn't have it any other way.

Zombie Tired: This is when you are tired because you have watched too many second-rate movies in a row, having chosen to stay in on a Saturday night, avoid all company, be antisocial, curled up in your oversize pajamas, bathrobe or other form of haute couture. Your eyes are glazed over, you have eaten an entire bag of popcorn, and you feel slightly ill- not physically, but perhaps mentally, since you are repulsed by the films that you have watched at the same time that you are intrigued. You also feel anger welling within yourself, and are not entirely sure of the cause. You may snap soon.

Nightmare in the Daytime: This is where your waking life resembles a dream, and not a good one. You are tired, but you are not able to respond to the feelings of your body because you have too many responsibilities and duties to which you must immediately attend. You haven't any time, and you feel like you are living in a nightmare. You cannot wake up from it, so your tiredness should not exist, since you're sleeping, aren't you? But you're not. Everything just gets worse and worse.

The Sandman's Gift: This is a beautiful, blissful kind of tired. It comes to you, looks you in the eye and smiles, at which point you brush your teeth, kiss your parents good night, and fall asleep between exquisitely comfortable covers only to have beautiful and happy dreams. You awake in the morning refreshed, and your heart is gladdened. You have slept the Calvin and Hobbes kind of sleep, where you play with your favorite people all night long, in your dreams.

Suicidal: This is where you have actually pushed yourself far beyond your body's limits. You are going to pass out. Your iron is way too low, and you can't give blood. Your hair is limp, and when you run your hands through it in despair, you pull out strands, so that golden-brown hair fills your fingers. You have tears in your eyes, you are so hopeless, and exhausted, and you don't give a damn about anything anymore. You are going to swear at people, curse out your friends, and make foolish accusations you don't intend and don't really mean. You are then going to stand on your pride and not apologize for them, and will succeed in wrecking your life just because you are so goddamn exhausted.

The Caretaker's Wish: Caretakers of people, whether they are caring for older people, like grandparents, or younger people, like children, are continually exhuasted and pushed beyond their limits. Depending on the attitude and kindness of the person they are taking care of, their mood swings. If it was easy to work with their children/ grandparent today, or put them to bed, they too will be happy. If they have been up all night attending to infants, and their children will simply not allow them a moment's rest, or a moment of peace and quiet, that is less pleasant, and means that they will dream hopelessly of sleep, a phantom desire.

Scholarly Sleep-Deprivation: This is your diligent student's lack of sleep, which happens simply because there are not enough hours in the day. It is not necessarily associated with any emotion, whether it be anger or happiness; it is merely a fact of life. There is not enough time to accomplish all your objectives, and so what happens instead is that you are a sleep-deprived child who wanders through classrooms wishing there was a way she could get ahold of Hermione's Time-Turner.

Friendly Fatigue: This is where you are actually *not* tired, but your friends, lovers or parental units are, and their yawns cause you to begin thinking of the Land of Nod yourself. Your body responds to their signals, and so you become tired because of them, but not in and of yourself. It is a relatively pleasant kind of tiredness.

The Soul Surrenders: This is the worst kind of exhaustion, and the most lasting. It's where your tiredness and exhaustion have gripped your soul. It is worse than suicidal, because there you have no will to live. Here, you have the energy, the emotion, the enthusiasm and the desire, but it is all channelled into self-hatred. You will never be good enough. You will never succeed. You will never be happy. Everything is bleak, even if there are colors fizzing across your horizon, rather than black and grey running your world. You would prefer a chaotic world in which you dip into chaos and self-destruct. You cannot escape this kind of tiredness; you can only hope it goes away, and spares you, and that you are not eternally damaged.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Introduction to Sociology

I'm actually preparing for a test- and it's not the night before? Who knew this was possible?


Sociology is the study of society (the scientific study of society.) Scientific study of human social life, groups, and societies. Sociology can be used for lots of different things. It can help us evaluate our experiences and see them as part of a larger whole. Sociology teaches us that what we think of as true, natural and expected might not be any of these. We are individuals in a much larger social hand. One of sociology's goals is to identify general patterns of behavior and be systematic in explaining the social influences on those behavioral patterns.

Averting the Social Headlights is from Erving Goffman. When we see someone walking towards us, we look away (don't stare into someone's eyes whom we don't know.) Sometimes we don't do it- if we want to look at them, know them, or do know them.

Using the sociological imagination- a concept that comes to us from C. Wright-Mills. He says that using our sociological imagination is like thinking ourselves away from the situation. Looking at bigger social influences on the situation and on the person. Allows us to see the intimate realities of our lives as part of larger social trends. Helps to show strong link between an individual's life and the society in which they live.

(Example: Sociology is about looking at living in a bad neighborhood and how that impacts the likelihood that you will graduate/ succeed. Race, class, gender, religion, groups, bureaucracies.)


Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coined the term sociology in 1839, suggested scientific method could be applied to social events. He is the Father of Sociology. He thought we should study not just what causes change in society but also how society stays the same.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) focused on class conflict. He thought there were two types of people, the proletariat (average people) and bourgeois - people with capital, the people who could make money and products. This idea, of everything revolving around class conflict, has to do with economic determinism. Economic foundations provide the foundation for social and political structures, which means class determines how you'll vote/ succeed in society. Marx had a dream of a future society, after the proletariat rise up and take control- in which there is a command society and inequalities will disappear. He wrote The Communist Manifesto among other works. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, 1/3 of the world lived in societies that claimed to draw inspiration from Marx.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) thought society must study social facts- aspects of social life that shape our actions as individuals.

Organic Solidarity- Institutions that work together to create a cohesive whole
Social integration- degree to which people are a part of social group
Social constraint- society sets limits on our activities as individuals.

He wrote a book called Suicide and said there were two types of suicide that result from an imbalance between societal regulation and personal freedom.

Fatalistic- Society overregulates and allows too little freedom
Anomic- Too much freedom and too little regulation

Who commits suicide? He studies Protestants, Catholics and Jews specifically (Durkheim wanted to figure out which of these people kill themselves the most.) Protestants kill themselves the most. Why? Because there's too little structure in their lives/ they are less socially integrated than Jews. Jews kill themselves the least.

Max Weber (1864-1920) Bureaucracy- large organization that is divided into jobs based on specific functions and staffed by officials ranked by a certain hierarchy. He thought bureaucracies were great for making organizations work, but felt they stifled the individual/ not flexible enough. Weber argues with Marx and says that it's not just about economy, but also religion. He wrote The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism which says that religious value associated with Puritanism were of fundamental importance in creating capitalism. (The Calvinists believe similarly with regard to predeterminism.) Weber says people will work very hard, not just because they are members of the proletariat and need to but to show God has shone his favor upon them.

Symbolic Interactionism was created by George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) and focuses on how symbols are used to develop meaning and communicate. Focus on how individuals are shaped by relationships and interactions. (Example: Engagement rings- bad on a particular finger- we give that meaning)

Functionalism (otherwise called Structural Functionalism)- to study the contribution that a social activity makes to the continuation of society as a whole. There are two types of functions- manifest, and latent. (Can be "functional" or "dysfunctional" as well.)
The idea here is that everything in society is going to serve a purpose. Question is what everything contributes to the whole. Homelessness, for example, provides many jobs- social workers, non-profit organizations, day laborer, a reminder of what could happen to you. Functions can be manifest or latent. Manifest is what we intended- send people to school to learn how to read (manifest function.) Latent is an unintended consequence (sending kids to school, where they will learn how to sit still and follow directions, which will help them in the workplace later on, for instance.)

Marxism (or Conflict Theory)- Society is made up of groups competing for scarce resources. Power/ authority and then ideology. Today feminist theory. Power/ authority is the ability a group has to accomplish their aims. An ideology is going to be a shared set of beliefs that justify the interests of the dominant group.

(Ideology of submission- Christian women supposed to submit to their husbands. Ideology can be used to help keep people in their spot/ ensure people stay there.)

Feminist theory brings in conflict theory-says part of the problem is men aren't doing their share.

Macrosociology (macro analysis)- Examination of large scale social systems or patterns of society. Usually used by functionalists and conflict theorists. This is looking at the big picture- interaction of large scale systems- how families interact with political systems.

Microsociology (micro analysis)- Everyday behavior in situation s of face-to-face interactions. Usually used by symbolic interactionists. People to people, basically, classrooms, for instance, person to person interactions.


This deals with microsociology (one-on-one).

Social Structure- There is a framework of society. It tends to override personal feelings and desires. Learned due to place in social structure, culture, class and status. There is an organizing principle to our society- help decide how we're going to act in certain situations/ help give us direction. At some point in our life we learn where we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.

Culture includes language, beliefs, values, behaviors and gestures.
Class is a combination of your economic background, education and occupational prestige.
Status is the position someone occupies (example: convicted felon is low status vs. elected official.) Our relationship to other people/ where we are in a hierarchy of positions.

Do we have different expectations for how people of different cultures, classes and statii will act?

Class and Status- Social class is your income, education and occupation. Weber states wealth, power and prestige. Marx states capitalists and workers. Social Status can either be ascribed or achieved. Ascribed statues are things you're born with- race or ethnicity, your social class, birth order (firstborn male, for example, getting the double portion.) Achieved statii- success in school, homecoming queen or a champion swimmer. Achieved you earn.

Master status- Status that takes precedence, what people see first. It'd be Sex/Age/Race/ Handicapped. This is what you'll see when you look at somebody. Now, you can't see all handicaps- you can see glasses, wheelchairs, etc.

Status inconsistency is where one status contradicts the other.

Roles- Behaviors, obligations and privileges attached to status. Roles tell us what is expected of people. Role exit is when we leave a role. We are going to occupy a status, but we play a role. (A former priest who leaves observance and has to sit through a sermon- conflicted about what he is doing/ feels like he should be up there giving the sermon. Or leaving student role and going into the workplace.)

Groups- People who regularly and consciously interact with each other. similar values, norms and expectations (group membership will affect their roles, statii, etc.)

Social Interaction in Everyday Life is a book written by Goffman.

There are stereotypes, personal space, touching and eye contact. How we label groups- how we expect people to act sometimes/ inaccurate portrayals based slightly on facts.

PERSONAL SPACE: There are four different types.

1. Intimate space: 0 to 18 inches. We leave this for intimate people, parents when we are young, boyfriends/ what happens if someone comes too close who you don't want coming that close? We don't like it (in different cultures, it would be different distances)

2. Personal space: 18 inches to 4 feet. Interactions with people, friends, acquaintances.

3. Social distance: 4 to 12 feet. This is for job interviews, formal meetings.

4. Public space: 12 feet and beyond. Dignitaries and speakers.

Touching- subordinates don't touch the people above them. The boss might touch the person below them. You won't see a subordinate doing that. Touching is how we show who is dominant.

Eye contact- We reserve eye contact for intimates- we do not stare into the eyes of people we do not want to know.


Erving Goffman (1922-1982) came up with dramaturgy. Dramaturgy is the idea that life is like a play. Front stage is where we put ourselves out to our audience, show them who we are. Back stage is where we do our preparation for this (put on costumes, makeup and suchlike.) What do we do back stage? Shower, floss, clip nails.

Role performance is the particular interpretation/ presentation that we give to our role. We have ideas of what people should look like in particular roles (teachers, lawyers, etc.) We'll also sometimes have role conflict- that will be conflict between our roles. Student who has a job- conflict between being a student and being a worker. Role strain is strain within a role, conflict within a role.

(Back stage behavior that you do in front of others does NOT necessarily make it front stage behavior.)

Sign vehicles are used to communicate information about ourselves. There are three types of sign vehicles:

1. Social setting- place which includes all the appropriate materials to decorate the setting (whiteboard, chalk, desks, classroom for a teacher, for example)

2. Appearance- This includes all of our props for the role (chalk, paperclips= teacher, wipes, crayons= mother)

3. Manner- usually act very mature, tells people you are responsible or serious- attitudes we show as we play our roles


What is culture?
-Values held by a certain group
-The norms they follow
-Material goods they create

Values are abstract ideals. They can include things like freedom and individualism, a belief in a higher power...

Norms are the dos and don'ts of society. (We have a norm in New York of jay-walking. Other cities are not quite so brave. You can't jaywalk in Seattle.)

Culture is also going to include language and beliefs.

Our culture, and everyone's, is socially constructed- something we tend not to think about. (Person wearing Star of David- that only has meaning to us because of the meaning we give it.) We agree as a society to give something meaning. And something only has meaning because we give it to them.

(Tongue-curling is not meaningful in our society. Or, here we eat hamburgers, and in India not.)


-Using one's culture to judge another's culture
-Usually negative results

(My culture is right and you are wrong. You should eat hamburgers like me, says the fool to the native of India.) Being ethnocentric is like looking at other people's cultures through your own set of glasses.

What have we done in the past? Strategies for dealing with different cultures/ immigrants:

1. Assimilation
2. Melting pot
3. Pluralism
4. Multiculturalism

Assimilation: Having people come in, teaching them your ways and having them assimilate. White-breading of America. Assimilation is also called anglo-conformity. When they become Americans, they are rewarded- given better jobs, etc.

Melting Pot- Everything (everyone comes together in a cholent/ stew)- everything comes in and we mix it all up and everything is combined.

Pluralism is when all ethnic groups retain separate and independent identities, yet share equally in the rights and powers of citizenship. (You can still have separate neighborhoods/ identities.)

Multiculturalism- Ethnic groups exist separately and share equally in social and economic life. (Also can participate fully in society.)

Nazi Germany- Jews taken out of social and economic life- in pluralism, you can vote. In multiculturalism, you'll be reading books by dead white men, but also Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the like.


-Culture involves a tool-kit of practices, knowledge and symbols
-Ann Swindler
-Cultural capital

Tool-Kit:It is like you are born with an invisible, empty toolbox, and you learn things as you grow. Took-kit idea was advanced by Ann Swindler. Cultural capital are the tools in the tool kit.

Culture shock! -Disorientation felt when you come into contact with a fundamentally different culture.

Cultural Relativism- Understanding a culture on its own terms and also attempting to refocus our cultural lens. Trying to leave our assumptions behind (about what's natural and good)- paying attention to race and class divisions and folklore and sex roles (role of men, role of women)- also need to be aware of what our culture is like.

Nonmaterial/ symbolic culture- Symbol is something we attach meaning to or use to communicate. Gestures, language- but we can also attach meaning to someone's necklace/ brother/ aunt, etc.

Gestures are not universal. Every culture has gestures, but we don't use the same gestures to mean the same thing overall.

Expressions *are* universal. Facial expressions *are* universal.

Language are symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways and used to communicate in long-lost ways.


1. Allows people to communicate in past and future tense
2. Allows us to exchange ideas and share understandings
3. Allows for goal-directed behavior
4. Is the basis of culture (the fact that we give lots and lots of words for something shows how important it is)
5. Not just limited to humans (there was a parrot who was taught how to speak, not just repeating but knowing how to combine different words)

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Culture is not only expressed through language but also shaped by language. Zerubavel was an Israeli sociologist who focused on classifications. In Israel, never knew the difference between jam and jelly (because there was no word for that in Hebrew.)

Women are expected to learn lots of words and names for colors- don't expect man to tell the difference so much.

Norms, Values & Sanctions

Values: Desirable
Norms: Expectations or rules
Sanctions: Reactions to following or breaking the norms. These can be positive reactions or negative reactions.

Values are what is desirable. Norms are expectations and rules, dos and don'ts. Sanctions can be good or bad- how one reacts. Sanctions are reactions to breaking or following the norms.

Folkways and Mores: Folkways are not strictly enforced. Mores, which are pronounced MORE-ays, are essential to core values- and we must have conformity. An example of a folkway would be jaywalking in New York, or men wearing shirts (in certain weather, it is perfectly acceptable for men not to wear shirts.) Mores are what one *must do* (like wearing pants, or something to cover the lower half of one's body, or for example, not DUI.)

Moral Holidays: These are specified times when people are allowed to break norms. They often involve being drunk or rowdy. They are a *deviance outlet* and are *found everywhere*. Examples include: Halloween (when women can wear very sexy, barely-anything costumes they could not wear normally), St. Patrick's Day (drunk), New Year's Eve, Mardi Gras and the like.

Every culture has to have some kind of escape valve for deviance, acting-out behavior and extreme behavior.

Taboo: Norm so strongly ingrained that it brings revulsion if one considers breaking it (incest, beastiality, cannibalism, eating feces.)

American Values, page 52:

-Achievement & Success
-Activity & Work
-Efficiency and practicality
-Science & Technology
-Material Comfort
-Racism & group superiority
-Romantic Love

Social change: We have value contradictions- when we see social change. Eemrgiving values currently include: Leisure, self-fulfillment, fitness, youthfulness, concern for the environment. Culture wars are between the old culture and the up-and-coming culture.


Ideal culture: Values, norms and goals that th society considers worth aspiring for (ideal!)
Real:Where we actually end up

(Examples of high culture vs. low culture would be opera vs. rock and rap)


Subculture:: Distinguished from larger culture
Counterculture: In opposition to the larger culture

Subculture is a group whose values and behaviors distinguishCounterculture is in opposition to the larger culture. Most groups are subcultures- very few are countercultures. An example of counterculture: Satanists, who believe in blood sacrficies. Hell's Angels- a motorcycle gang which focused on committing crimes and so forth.

Subculture- supports rest of the culture but might have one thing they do different (tango in Central Park)

GLOBAL VILLAGE: Technology allows for cultural leveling.


So, how do we study society? In different ways, depending on what we want to know.


1. Empirical (factual and testable)
2. Comparative (contrasting examples, US & Canada, men and women)
3. Developmental (comparing past and present)

Note to self: Read a book called Bachelor Girl.