Thursday, April 27, 2006

must watch you-tube

OK, not as funny as the Chinese boys, but a very interesting Israeli ad for... chocolate snacki of some sort. not the sort of thing I recommend eating, but definitely an ad worth watching.

Boingboing (one of my favorite sites!) paired it with this genderbending campari ad
A very interesting justaposition.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pesach, 7th day

שמות פרק טו פסוק כב-כז

ויסע משה את ישראל מים סוף ויצאו אל מדבר שור וילכו שלשת ימים במדבר ולא מצאו מים: ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתת מים ממרה כי מרים הם על כן קרא שמה מרה: וילנו העם על משה לאמר מה נשתה: ויצעק אל יי ויורהו יי עץ וישלך אל המים וימתקו המים שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו:ויאמר אם שמוע תשמע לקול ידוד אלהיך והישר בעיניו תעשה והאזנת למצותיו ושמרת כל חקיו כל המחלה אשר מתי במצרים לא אשים עליך כי אני יי רפאך: ויבאו אילמה ושם שתים עשרה עינת מים ושבעים תמרים ויחנו שם על המים:
Moses caused Israel to journy from the Sea of Reeds and they went out to the wilderness of Shur; they went for a three-day period in the Wilderness, but they did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter; therefore they named it Marah. The people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?
He cried out to God, and God showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet. There He established for [the nation] a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested it. He said, "If you hearken diligently to the voice of Hashem your God, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees, then any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am HaShem, your Healer."
They arrived at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms; they encamped there by the water.
(Ex. 15:22-27)

In the morning, one of the first blessings that we say during Bircot HaShachar is the blessing on studying Torah
ברכות התורה:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה:

וְהַעֲרֶב־נָא יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ אֶת־דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ בְּפִֽינוּ, וּבְפִי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַֽחְנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵֽינוּ, וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֻּלָּֽנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶֽךָ, וְלוֹמְדֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ לִשְׁמָהּ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמְלַמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר בָּֽחַר בָּֽנוּ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים, וְנָֽתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת תּוֹרָתוֹ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה:
After we praise God for commanding us to busy ourselves with words/matters of Torah, we continue in the middle paragraph, "Adonai, our God, may the words of Your Torah be sweet in our mouths... [ and in the mouth of your people, the house of Israel and let it be that we and our descendants and the descendants of Your people, the House of Israel, all of us will know Your name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are you God, the Teacher of Torah to His people Israel."]

In addition to reminding ourselves every morning that we should see the words of Torah as something that sweeten our lives, there is a Jewish tradition that when a child reaches the age of three, we begin their education by giving them a page of the Hebrew alphabet with a little honey on it, or cookies shaped like the aleph-bet, in order that they should associate learning Torah with sweetness.
But the Israelites in our Torah portion have not yet made this connection. The Israelites, as usual, are as full of complaints as a pumpkin has seeds. Immediately following the miracle of the sea splitting for them, just after they sing and dance on the shore, the first thing they do is start complaining .The Torah tells us,
ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתת מים ממרה כי מרים הם
They came to Marah but they could not drink the waters of Marah because marim hem. The words literally mean, "They were bitter" mayim, water, in Hebrew is plural. But the referent of marim hem is unclear, and so the midrash explains that it was "they," the people, not "they," the waters, which were bitter. Itturei Torah adds: "Bitterness was not the actual condition of the water; rather, the Israelites felt bitter and, therefore, whatever they tasted was bitter to them." It's worth noting that the Torah hints at this broadly,.
In verse 22, it says וילכו שלשת ימים במדבר ולא מצאו מים they went three days in the wilderness and they did not find water, not that there was no water. Why didn't they find any water? Perhaps because they were unable to see, because of their state of mind. After all, in verse 27, just one verse past our portion, the Torah tells us that the arrived at a place where there were twelve springs of water, and seventy trees - quite a lush place!
So why were they unable to find water to drink until then? What changed for them?

The Torah tells us, [Moses] cried out to God, and God showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet. Nachmanides notes, "I have not found the expression of moreh [from the root of Torah and yoreh] except in the sense of instruction."
The midrash Tanchuma, says," See what is written there. It does not say VaYareihu (God showed him), but VaYoreihu -God taught him. Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai said, "[God] taught him from the Torah, concerning that which it is written (Prov 3:18) 'It is a tree of life.' The Holy One taught [Moses] [the living tree of Torah]..." According to the midrash this is proven, because the next verse continues, There He established for [the nation] a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested it. In other words, the tree that Moses was shown was the Etz Chaim - the tree of life, Torah. God Taught Moses the Torah, and this made the waters sweet.
A number of commentators riff off this, that Torah can make our lives sweeter, or that if only we would commit ourselves to Torah study, we would be able to see that many of the things of life that seem bitter are actually sweet. But I take a different message from these words.

It wasn't just that God taught Moses some Torah and all of a sudden everyone was able to drink the water! In fact, what the Torah actually says was, [Moses] cried out to God, and God showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet.
So we see that God teaching Moses was not enough, in fact, Moses had to actually do something with his learning in order for change to happen. And what did he do? He threw the tree into the water. If that tree is Torah, then the water, which is bitter, stands for the bitter circumstances of peoples' lives. Water is something which can be both good and bad: think of the sea which we have just crossed through, for the Israelites, it was moments before a terror - the cliff up to which they were backed, with the Egyptians in pursuit. In a moment, it changed and became their salvation as God split the sea and they came through, with God closing the sea after them, to prevent the Egyptians from pursuing. Water is one of the basic needs of life, we cannot live without it, but in the desert where sometimes we find pools of water which are chemically undrinkable, people can be poisoned by it as well. It can be the rains which grow the crops, or the hurricanes which kill and disposses people of their homes, belongings, and in some cases their families, and even their political enfranchisement.
And so the water that Israel was immersed in at that time was bitter, it was undrinkable, they could not stand the circumstances of their own lives. And so God gave to Moses a tree, Torah. But Torah was not enough. Moses had to take that Torah and throw it into the water. He had to not just know the Torah, but do the Torah; to take the Torah he had learned and live it.
I know that many Jews feel that living out the words of commandment is a pain in the neck. How many Jews actually keep kosher, shabbat, holidays - just to start with? yet we are commanded to do these things as well as many others. The decrees and ordinances that God taught Moses at Marah though, are part of a holistic system that must be fully lived for the world to achieve justice.The Torah is a system of law which commands us to a network of obligations that makes us part of the force for change in the world.
The next verse tells us that God said, "If you hearken diligently to the voice of Hashem your God, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees, ... I am HaShem, your Healer."
The verse that we are reading parallels the verses at the beginning of the book of Shemot, the beginning of the story of Pesach: Egypt embittered -y'mar'ru- the lives of the Israelites, and because of this, God heard their crying out and brought them out of slavery to serve, not a human tyrant, but the Creator of the universe. It's not easy to live Torah. To live Torah often means that we have to put ourselves aside to honor something that is bigger than us; Torah can be inconvenient. It can even feel - dare I say it?- bitter. But Torah is the lever to upend tyrrany; Torah is the tree that turns the bitter waters into sweet, but it means that we have work to do. Learning Torah is the beginning - the very beginning. To live Torah, we have to take the Torah and use it to make the bitter, sweet.
God is our healer, but not without us doing the work that we were given to do. The word Marah, also has echoes with in it of Moriah - another name for the mountain from which Torah was given to us. If we wish to make the bitter sweet, then it's not enough to think we already know what to do, we have to study Torah. But it's also not enough to study Torah without going out and doing. It's not enough to have Torah. We have plenty of examples of people who supposedly "have Torah" but then go out and do things which are a chillul hashem - an embarrassment to God's name. There are plenty of examples of people who supposedly have Torah, but believe - and act- as though learning words is enough. They are happy to spend their days in the beit midrash, the place of learning, simply examining the words written on the page. But Torah is not written on the page. In (Shmot 25:8) it says –
ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם
Let them make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.
The Lubavitcher rebbe says , one can read this verse as " and I will dwell inside them." – And how can God dwell inside us?
There is no sweetness unless Torah -that is, we ourselves- are immersed into the bitter, used to make lives better; we ourselves must be willing to bring Torah to the oppression that makes people cry out. Like God, when someone cries out under the weight of
וימררו את חייהם בעבדה קשה (שמות א:יד
"Their lives were made bitter with hard work," we too must be willing to hear. Unless we take our Torah into the Marah, there is no Moriah.There He established for [the nation] a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested it
We were given the Torah, and it is a test. We are tested with a world full of oppression. and we need not go very far to find it. If you yourself are bitter, become Torah: go out and fix the world and make it sweet. Thus the 12th Century sage, Rabbenu Ephraim said, "Any ill person who would drink from those sweetened waters would be healed. That is the reason why in the next verse the Torah says, “ .. .I am Hashem your Healer”. R’ Chaim David Azulai, known as the Chida, adds, that after “ .. .I am Hashem your Healer", comes the verse: “Then they came to Elim, and there were twelve springs of water. . .” . He maintains this is a proof for Rabbenu Ephraim's statement. On Passover, we are required to remember as if we ourselves came forth out of Egypt. if we took this seriously, how much more work might we be willing to commit ourselves to than we do now? Would be be working to make sure the African Americans of New Orleans had a say in the rebuilding of their city, instead of letting those who hope that they will be distributed around the country for other cities to "deal with" while the culture they built is mined for its tourist appeal? Would we be satisfied for people all over the city to go hungry as we ate our fabulous seder meals in comfort? Would we be shouting to make sure that immigrants to the US were treated with respect and given all the advantages that we ourselves had when our parents and grandparents came here, from the enforcement of labor laws, to the building of unions? Would we be content to live in a city where the middle class who supports the economy and fills the jobs of teacher, police, fire fighter must commute in from homes far away because they cannot afford to live here? What would we be doing, if we threw ourselves into the water? What water will you make sweet tomorrow, and the day after. And the day after that? If you can become Torah, you will come to a place of lushness where water springs up from the ground: the waters of Torah, sweet and life-giving, will come forth from the ground along with the seventy trees - the seventy nations of the world, which will become fruitful as the world is filled with Torah, and they themselves are fed by its sweetness, in turn becoming sweet, and building a future for all people. I am God, your healer. This is the final line of our portion today, and I bless us all that we can recognize the disease of the Egyptians - callousness, disregard, racism, xenophobia. Let it be that we will heed the Lord diligently doing what is upright in God's sight, keeping all God's laws, so that God will not bring upon us any of these diseases of the Egyptians; let it be that God is our healer, as we become Torah and ourselves sweeten the world.