Monday, October 31, 2005

Inyana D'Yoma

In the spirit of the day (spirit?! Get it??), I thought I'd share a relevant point. On Shabbos, I was listening to two religious married couples (You know who you are. Even though you don't read blogs.) share their excitement over the Halloween holiday. What else could Halloween mean than cheap Purim costumes at Target November 1st? They seemed to gain some primal excitement from the notion of dressing their one year old up in a themed costume for Purim. But it seems sad when these two holidays become intertwined. First, X-mas and Chanukah, now these two. We got the costume part down. We got the drinking stuff. Now if only we'd go around sharing candy. Oh, wait. Well, at least we go door to door handing out freebies, not demanding them.

While we're on the Purim theme, if you haven't checked out this video, you'll be able to picture Mardi Gras if it were in Jerusalem.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Simchas Torah

Something about all the holidays threw me off. I learned how to live without blogging.

Just a quick catch up -

-I sponsored a Tisch in my Sukkah on Shabbos Chol Hamoed. It drew about 20 high schoolers and about 20 college/graduates. I haven't had that many high school girls in my house since, uh, ever. I sent an email to the NCSY website to see if I could find a way to make this into a charitable donation. I was surprised when a college friend called me at work wanting to know if I was the Josh Goldman who emailed the webmaster.

-Simchas Torah was significantly less depressing than I'd feared. Having spent the last two Simchas Torahs at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh, I was worried that Young Israel of Skokie just wouldn't cut it. While it definitely wasn't the same, it wasn't the six kids marching with flags that I feared. There was definitely some life, albeit one that needed any energy or help that it could get. The highlight for me is where all the shuls in the block do one Hakafa outside together. Not sure why this has to be the only unified event of the whole year.

The only thing that bothered me was the Rabbi's overuse of the alcohol. Not that he was laying in a pile of his own vomit, far from it. But I wasn't sure why such prominence needed to be given to alcohol in a shul predominantly attended by the 0-6 year old set. For example, the Rabbi kept a bottle of Whiskey on the Shtender while he davened for the Amud. With a cup. It was shtick, and it was funny. But in a community where our high schoolers are always ending up in the hospital on Simchas Torah (this year was no different, except that jail was added), we might think twice about the example we set.

Now I just have to figure out how to settle back into a regular pattern again...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I'm Back?

OK, I may be able to spend some more time in Blogland. I've gained a reprieve. The busy holiday calendar not withstanding, I've cleared the rest of my schedule. At work today, I suddenly had Blogger access again. And I've finished the monstrous book I'm reading. So now my life is in your hands...

I was reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand is known, among other things, for being banned by Rav Ahron Lichtenstein, the Rosh Yeshiva of a relatively modern Yeshiva, Har Etzion. While I am drawn to controversy, I was halfway through the book before I found out there was anything questionable about it. The book is a work of brilliance. And I didn't find it the most objectionable book in the world (I believe Rav Lichtenstein's word was "amoral"). It is certainly off on many points, but it defintely gave me, if not a better understanding of the world, then the words to describe that which I already knew. It has a fairly riveting plot underlying the message, although I was forced to skip the brutally redundant monologue on pages 1,018-1,075.

I don't want to turn this into a book review. I may blog on one of the themes I gleaned from the book, but I'm just going to encourage other's to flip through it, or it's slimmer brother, Fountainhead. I'm a cross between Ellis Wyatt and Eddie Willer, by the way, if you want to get to know my "character." And my favorite part was when Dagny shoots the guard. That scene would probably explain the "amoral" label. That definitely tells you about my character...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Inside Out

As usual, Mata Hari has given me some food for thought. And as usual, I'm going to steal her idea and make it into my own post.

In Judaism, there is a measurement of man referred to as Tocho K'voro, literally "his inside is like his outside." The intent of this statement is to highlight the praiseworthiness of the person who can claim that he internalizes all the values he professes. The ideal person is every bit as righteous internally as you would suppose from passing them on the street. With Yom Kippur approaching, the time feels right to explore the full intent of this statement, with its implications for my own self.

First, what if we reverse the formula, does the tenet still hold true? Should one's inside match one's outside? Let's suppose somebody is a truly holy man. But he wears torn jeans, a Green Day t-shirt, and an IPod glued to his ears. Is he in violation of our concept? We can understand that the bum who goes around daydreaming of drinking binges shouldn't go around implying that he is a Tzaddik. But if the core is pure, of what concern should the shell be?

Second, what defines this internal to external equality? Must his clothes match the nature of his character? Should passing him on the street tell you his innermost secrets? Or should what he says merely be in concert with what he believes.

Finally, what if a person doesn't meet the standard? He knows that his insides don't match his presentation. If he is internally evil, should he dumb down his outside, and let consistency flow? Or should he preserve his facade while he works on his inside? Or perhaps our phrase is only a measure of perfection achieved, not a rule that can be mandated?

The applications are endless, and seem to be significant to many of the controversies of the day. Should a Beis Yaakov girl wear tight jeans until she internalizes the meaning of Tznius? Should kids be rejected from school because of their background? Should one use the internet?

I don't think the answer is very complicated. The Talmud is simply teaching what would be later formulated as "To thine own self be true." If you think something is right, follow through with it. Don't submit to Groupthink. If you feel something is right, justified, do it. If you think something is wrong, evil, unconscionable, don't touch it and speak your mind. If everyone says something is Asur, and you believe it's Muttar, go ahead and do it. The individual whose inside is not like his outside is the individual who is afraid to say what he believes is right, and therefore withdraws into his shell. His outside is like everyone else's, but his inside is not.

The individual who portrays a life of righteousness externally but believes that such a lifestyle is not actual righteousness is actually committing a fraud of evil. To have an internal understanding of what is right, even if externally we show signs of failure, is an infinitely superior being. And the ultimate individual of praise is the one who fully lives the good morals without failure that they realize inside.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Mi K'Amcha Yisroel

Mi K'Amcha Yisroel - What nation is like you, people of Israel?

The above article details a Jewish professor at York University in Toronto who is furious the University gives off for the Jewish holidays. I'm not qualified to speak on the legal arguments involved, but as far as the issues at stake, it's fairly disturbing. Aside from the Jew arguing against a rule which protects his own people, the idea that diversity shouldn't be protected is what is disturbing. Equality means that every religion is treated with respect, not that all are ignored equally. Pluralism gains nothing by draining the uniqueness of individual groups in favor of a unified whole.

The metaphor I've heard is the Tossed Salad vs. Soup Bowl theories of what a "melting pot" represents. A tossed salad brings together varied spices to create a distinct flavor, while at the same time retaining the disparate identities of each ingredient. In a soup bowl, all ingredients melt together into one new taste, but in the process lose their original form. You can argue which of those two formulas creates a better society, but history would prove that the Founding Fathers would've liked their greens.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sign from Gd

My power was knocked out during a fierce thunderstorm the other night. By about 6 o'clock, I was growing hungry, and with no relief in sight, I had no clue what to do. By 8 o'clock, out of options, I ran over to the nearest Walgreens, smashed in the window, and made off with a bag of potato chips, a shoe shine kit, and a digital camera. The store clerks must also have been put off guard by the emergency situation, because they seemed to just stare off in bewilderment as I rummaged through the store. I headed back to my house for the duration of the crises, unwilling to give up what had been my home for 20 years.

Fortunately, by 2 o'clock in the morning, my power had been restored. But I was furious at how the whole situation had been mishandled. Why had there been no calls to evacuate in the face of such a terrible weather threat? And why had my predominantly Jewish block been the ONLY block to lose power? Clearly discriminatory overtones were at work.

I try and grow from every experience. It's clear that Gd is trying to tell me to buy a battery powered lantern.

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