Wednesday, September 28, 2011

sweet new year


I would never dare to say this on my own accord.

I'll just repeat what The Holy Shpole Zeide said to Rosh Hashana in the presence of The Holy Barditchever, R' Zishe of Anipoli and a few other Tzadikim. They were bemoaning the terrible fate of the poor and hounded Jews in Russia.
He raised his hand to heaven and said...

Holy father...I know that you love us and mean our good..but I promise you that bringing hardships and pain is not bring us any closer to Teshuvah.
So what's the point of all this suffering?

I'm begging you, treat your children with kindness....

This year was a rough year..and every time there was a tragedy, I read the comments on different websites, where readers write messages like "Oy wake up Yidden! We need to do Teshuvah!" and "Everyone go Daven..and stop Machlokes...!!".

And then..the next tragedy..and the same comments.

And I sigh and think of The Shpole Zeide....
And I'm afraid to write this but I have this image of a really strict father at a therapists office opposite his delinquent son.
The therapist turns to the father and says..."I know you mean all your punishments..but we have to be's not helping.."

May we merit a year in which we feel and appreciate Hashems love for us......his children.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

slichos morning

..I lay in bed
and wait
for the old shamas
with his hammer
in hand
scarf tied
around his neck
cap over his mel-
ancholy eyes come knocking
on my....shudder
the breeze
through the window
blows a serious
wind...into my bones I space out
I notice a faint glimmer
of light
and realize..
..he's probably not
coming anymore
..most likely
killed in Auschwitz I wait for
the alarm on my
iphone to send off
out of my imagination
..into the well lit
selichos least the crickets
are still there...
..and the crunching
of my footsteps the near empty
...if not



Friday, September 23, 2011

Inner Amida

The Shemoneh Esreh or Amida, the centerpiece of all 3 daily Tefillos (prayers) has changed a lot for me and become a more potent and exciting prayer.
Here's the way I see it.
It ties into my entire outlook on life and the world.
I believe that the greater world directly mirrors our inner world. Or more radically lately I've been wondering if the greater world (meaning the universe and what we call "reality") is a projection of our inner world (the world of our perception and inner struggles and choices).
Our soul is called Chelek Elokai MiMa'al, which means a piece of G-d himself.
Think of our inner world as a computer chip..and the outer world as the screen. We cannot function nor do anything inside the chip, so we need a screen. The screen is an arena in which to work in. So too the world is a projection of our inner world. It's an arena in which we can function in and work out our inner workings.
All the people we come across in the world represent issues that we need to tackle, especially the people that challenge us.
Every thing that happens to us happens for a reason. Our challenges and victories are all really happening inside of us while being projected onto the screen we call reality.
So while we pray for redemption and the like we're also really projecting a need for personal inner redemption.
The difference between the Inner and Outer Realm is that our inner world is in our control. So, while we can only pray and hope for the Universal Redemption, we can actually bring about the Inner Redemption single handedly.
While we can only hope, pray and take action for sustenance, we have the power in out inner world to be satisfied with what we have.

The Shemonah Esrei is written in plural language. It is a national prayer to a Universal God for all the things we need as a nation.
But for me it's also instructional.
It's a call to action for my inner world.

The G-d I cry out to in the outer world is also the Soul of my inner world.

Here are a few examples.

וְהָסֵר מִמֶּנּוּ יָגון וַאֲנָחָה. וּמְלךְ עָלֵינוּ מְהֵרָה אַתָּה ה' לְבַדְּךָ

and remove from us sorrow and sighing. Reign over us, you alone, O Lord,

While I ask the Hashem rule over us as a nation, it's also instructional for my inner world.

Remove from within me sorrow, sighing, distractions...all the man made complications that come from my lack of complete faith and then....the ultimate bliss..will naturally follow.
"reign over alone..."

סְלַח לָנוּ אָבִינוּ כִּי חָטָאנוּ. מְחַל לָנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ כִּי פָשָׁעְנוּ. כִּי אֵל טוב וְסַלָּח אָתָּה:

Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned; pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed; for you pardon and forgive.

While on one level I am asking G-d to forgive our nation on another level it becomes instructional and practical.
After the previous Bracha of Repentance I now turn to my soul (which is my inner piece of G-d)....and ask him to forgive my errant ways. In other words..I need to forgive myself.

The same is true with most of the 19 Brachos.
Inner healing..Refuas HaNefesh..
Being happy with what I have. The ability for the soul to sustain the body through attitude change.
Shma Koleinu, being able to listen to yourself. Your soul should be able to listen to your complete self and attain acceptance and a sense of completion.
Which leads to the last of the Tefillos for peace.

So the Shemonah Esrei is not just a cry for help but a homework sheet....


Monday, September 19, 2011

Sticky Gooey Fly Paper


In honor of the last day of summer...

They sat there all day, the six of them in their Adirondack chairs. It was a pleasant August day with a warm breeze. Somehow they gravitated to each other even though they were strangers for the most part just a few weeks earlier. Unlike gravity, which works even though we don't fully understand it, what drew these 6 women together was their love of talking, of the gossip variety. So there they were, drinks at their side, settling into easy conversation that slowly turned more and more exciting as the hours ticked by.
They sat there licking up every single word as if it were the sweetest stickiest honey.
Did you hear about this scandal?
I know..I couldnt believe when I heard..
I know her sister..
and what about so and so..I hear he lost 5 million dollars in the past few months..
I husband told me...
They could barely afford a party planner for their Bar Mitzvah...
blah blah blah
On and on and on..until there was almost no one left to talk about.

The sun was starting to descend beneath the top of the trees and a cool breeze was beginning to envelope them.
Suddenly Leah, with great effort, pulled herself up out of her chair and started heading to her bungalow with a hurried "talk to you later".

One of the 5 remaining whispered, "my my what has she been eating?", as their eyes followed her back to the bungalow.
They all burst out laughing at the same time.
You heard her husband declared bankruptcy last week?...added another
Yea...their marriage was never very good.
I know..and you know..he's on meds.
I heard he suffers from severe depression.
Really? I didn't know that..

The words hung in the air like a drip of honey on a spider's web.

An eerie silence filled the void suddenly created by the silence.
They looked at one another nervously.
No one dared moved.
Terrified of the sticky gooey paper that they had spun around themselves.

And they sat there immobile for the rest of the day and night..and the next day.
Until someone finally found them 5 days later, barely alive.


Friday, September 16, 2011

the gift of mortality

so I was thinking the other day... my wierd and quirky way
the wind is blowing the autumn in
vaguely, a peaceful celebration
...celebration of death and mortality
of ingathering and finality
be it the reading of Ecclesiastes
to the gentle falling of the lifeless leaves

ah..the gift of mortality

I look around at all that surrounds me..
...from cities to arts..medicine and technology
all of it - the doing of one species..
...out of millions of co-inhabitants of the land and seas
why don't animals ever write books..or write songs?
...why - just eat, sleep, procreate and ramble along?

ahhh the answer is so obviously see
animals are completely unaware of their mortality...

I have this sneaking suspicion
that if humans did not have the cognition
the awareness that one day we'll be on our way
then we too would spend our day
grazing in the meadows..with no driven anxiety...

and friends is the gift
......of mortality


Monday, September 12, 2011



life isn't short's history that's long


Friday, September 09, 2011

9/11 what I saw


as summer gets blown away..
..gently by the cooler winds approach
it's time to climb up to the musty attic..
..with trunks and other summer gear

up there in the oppressive attic...
......a bag catches my eye
in it were the newspapers and magazines...
of that fateful month of...september 2001
I sat on the hard floor..holding
the crumbling papers...ITS WAR cried one
AMERICA AT WAR cried another...
...instinctive need for control
in an uncontrollably grievous reality

and then

I saw them again....
...those faces I knew by heart
the ones that haunted me
for...oh so long

...and I hear those voices again
those last desperate phone calls
....from those suddenly terrifying
traps of modernity

...the tears..the fluttering papers

oh the nightmare of it all
...the perfect storm of horrors
I cannot look at an image of the
....twin towers towers anymore
without seeing a hulking
...gRey nigHtmare
like a burning hindenburg

without seeing those poor souls
...hanging out of those oppressive
unending steel bars..
........that verticle nightmare

..the smoke...stills chokes me
the tears still sting
...10 years later

...this is what my lens recorded
on the new jersey turnpike


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Power of Choice - Part 2

וְהֻגַּד לְךָ וְשָׁמָעְתָּ וְדָרַשְׁתָּ הֵיטֵב וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל:

"And it will be told to you, and you will hear it, and investigate thoroughly, and behold, the matter coincides; this abomination has been perpetrated in Israel."

In last weeks Parsha the Torah lays down the law of capitol punishment and all corporal punishments.
The transgression must be investigated thoroughly and vigorously before meting out punishment.
One of the most perplexing requirements of corporal punishment is the need for the guilty party to be aware of the possible punishment before committing the act. The two witnesses must inform the suspect that if he/she goes ahead with the act then he/she will be liable to get the death penalty, lashes or whatever the penalty might be.
Why is that?
Why should that be necessary?

We see from here this idea that true freedom of choice can only exist if we are fully aware and accepting of consequences and responsibilities before we make the choice.
The Torah wants to make sure that the suspect was fully FREE when he or she committed the act.

When we run from consequence and responsibility and don't own our actions, we start accumulating debt of reality, which only grows and grows with time until we look for ways to escape by acting in ways that just exasperate the debt until we've completely lost our freedom.
So only when someone decides to do something while being fully aware of the consequences, and does it anyhow fully accepting those consequences, can he/she be considered guilty of transgressing with their full free will.

Of all the millions of creatures on our planet only one species has freedom of choice. Animals rely on instinct.

I believe there are 2 types of choices people make.

1. Logical Choices.

2. Passionate (sometimes irrational) Choices. This is usually based on love or faith.

Here's an example.
Someone is confronted with the possibility of infidelity and doesn't act on it for one of 2 reasons.
1. He might get caught, or feel guilty and it's just not worth it. That's a logical choice.
2. He loves his wife. This is a passionate reason.

Someone has an opportunity to steal.
1. He might get caught, or he'll feel bad about it later. Logical.
2. He loves humanity too much to steal from another human being. Passionate and totally irrational.

If you think about it, logical choice is really just advanced instinct.
A squirrel sees a car coming and runs back toward the curb, while a human has intelligence, so he knows not to step off the curb when the light is red. That's an intelligence difference not a Choice difference. They're both making the same choices just with different intelligence of the situation.

When it comes to religion, there are 2 reasons why someone might choose.

One is Logical.
Like those neatly packaged videos that fit the Torah into nice little motivational sound bytes so that it'll look all nice on your moral mantle.

Or Passionate.
That is when you internalize the idea of the Divine deep inside of you so that even the most uncomfortable passages of Gods law awaken a fervent desire to fulfill the Divine will.

The more irrational the greater this power of choice.
This is what makes us human and sets us apart from all other species n earth.

The Power to Choose which is based on PASSION and not limited to logic or any constraints is what lifts us from an animal like existence.


Friday, September 02, 2011

The Power of Choice - Part 1


Last weeks Parsha begins

רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם--הַיּוֹם: בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה

" Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.."

The Hebrew words Re'eh does not translate to Behold, rather it means See or the singular form.
On the other hand "before you" is written in plural Hebrew form.
This discrepancy is noted by many Commentaries.

I think there's a very simple explanation and it touches upon a very simple existential idea.
While the Torah lays out the choice for all of us, it also recognizes the fact that Choice is ultimately a very very personal...well choice.

This power to choose, this complete autonomy is a power unrecognized and barely utilized. Its power is terrifying.

Do you realize that you have the power to make God himself disappear?
What that means is that God only exists through your choice to make him a reality, even though it rarely is a conscience choice.
That's power.
But it's unrealized power, because we're terrified of the fact of this pure and simple truth.

Every time you drive down the street, you have the absolute free will to take others lives.
You also have the free will to end your own life.

It's so terrifying, that we run as fast as we can from that reality.
We would rather live with the choices others make.
We would rather just react and be led by others choices.

That power puts you at the absolute center of the universe. The power to shape the entire universe according to your perceptions and ideas makes you the central being of all that exists.
If only people would live with that reality instead of making themselves extras on a film set whose equilibriums are constantly on other peoples coattails.
How can anyone hurt you when their entire existence is known to you only by what's being filtered through your mind and perception?

On the flip side another reason why people run from the power of choice is because the thought that other people have this power and autonomy is unnerving.
Because we are so dependent upon others for our choices and well being we take comfort in the fact that we could control others like some kind of "abused becomes abuser" arrangement.
So the thought that others have this power terrifies us as well. The thought that our children have the absolute power of choice to reject us and all we've taught them is unthinkable.
And so we trust fellow drivers on the road not to exercise their power of choice and kill us.

So we all live in this numb zone where choices are made for us and we don't have to make any ourselves. And anytime someone says something to upset our beliefs we get so unnerved and unsettled that we start to rethink everything we believe, because after all these aren't our beliefs by choice.

So the Torah looks every individual in the eye and says.
The power is all yours.
No one has any right or power to touch this free will of yours. death)

Because that's what YOU choose to do...for no other reason.