Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's so pretty and golden! I can see my reflection in it!

By Dr. Dreidel

When I was little I loved my big wheel and I rode. I even tried in my house but my mom wouldn’t go for that. One brave morning I decided to ride to the end of the block and back. As I passed the driveway of the last house I looked up and saw my neighbor’s car backing down right at me. I froze.

Somehow, my neighbor saw me. Hit the breaks and got out to make sure I was ok.

I never have told anyone that story. It was just a small thing that happened along the way, but what if that car hit me. No more Phil. No more I90Shpeil, no more professional Jewish Leadership.

The world works in mysterious ways. Look at Queen Esther. Faced with the destruction of her people she hesitated. What could she do? If she said something the king might have her killed. But Mordechai answered her. “You’ll die? So what!?” She had to do something. So, Esther stood up to the King, making her decision not knowing if she was facing life or death, but knowing that what she was doing was right.

This week we read about Aaron the high priest. Aaron the prophet, the great communicator, who faced a similar leadership dilemma. Moses was gone and the people were starting to sweat. They thought, what if he doesn’t return? And they began to despair. They went to Aaron and demanded an idol. And Aaron relented. The story is told very plainly, the people went to Aaron, Aaron asked for golden jewelry to build the idol and an idol was built.

If you read deeper into the chain of events you find that Aaron too was desperate – one commentary reads that Aaron tried to delay the people from idol worship. If he could just slow them down until Moses returned then he could save the day. So he asked for Jewelry, thinking the women and men wouldn’t give it up. But they did. Then he said that he alone would have to make the Calf so that he could take his time, but before he knew it there stood the calf and the people began to worship it.

What could Aaron have done? Instead of slowing the process why did not Aaron stand up, channel Nancy Reagan and just say no? Was he scared to act?

I saw the Watchmen last week. It is a movie about the humans behind the masks. Essentially asking, “what kind of twisted person would really dress up and run around fighting crime?” For these characters, they felt most like themselves when they had their mask on.

We all have masks. We need them, and we feel more comfortable using them. But why? What is it about being human that we lie, we doubt and we assume alter egos?

If you flip through Jewish texts, you’ll notice God too has a Mask and that God’s presence becomes hidden the further you move beyond the books of the Torah. The story of Purim in fact does not mention God at all. Where was God when the Jewish people were about to be exterminated? A question that was echoed years later when we asked where was God during the Holocaust?

If God has a right to ask our ancestors, Adam, Abraham and Moses, where are you? Then we should ask where is God? And why is God’s presence masked from us?

The thing is, though, The Hebrews in the desert knew exactly where God was. They were the unmasked generation. So how could it be that the Hebrews in the Desert built the Golden Calf?

Look, I struggle with God’s existence all the time. But if God revealed himself to me, I think I would get the picture.

What I really like about this story is that it shows that it’s ok to doubt. If the generation that knew God’s voice could push Aaron to veer off the path, then so might we be pushed off the path.

If they could mess up then we can mess up.

Several things happened after the Golden Calf. Moshe shattered the tablets, God forgave the people after Moses repented, and then Moses asked God to unmask himself so that he could see God’s face.

Did Moses have doubts that God existed? Why did he want to see his face? I think it was to understand, not for himself but for the people. Essentially Moses was asking what we all ask everyday. What is the master plan? Why do bad things happen to good people?

We all want to know the master plan. When I was young and riding on my big wheel, is it possible that it was God that stopped that car from hitting me? I don’t know. But, as the Golden Calf shows us, not knowing is what it means to be human.

The Golden Calf altered our history. The second tablets were carved by the hand of Moses not by God. We still got the teachings, but this time we had to work for them.

We have a choice every day to either work hard and put in the effort to receive the teachings of our parents, teachers, and self help books. Or we can choose to just buy the leadership book but not read it.

Its natural for us to want to know, but not put in the effort. We just want to give our money to someone that we know will manage it for us. We don’t want to do the research. Why examine the investment strategy? If it’s good enough for Elie Weisel and Kevin Bacon, then it’s good enough for me.

That is the Golden Calf, the life of ease. We don’t have to think, we don’t have to tear away our attention from our iphones and gchats to concentrate.

But that is not the life of a Jew. We are here to do the work. We are here to ask questions and argue. We are here to lead and make the world a better place.

To be desperate is not a Jewish value. Desperation is not Jewish, because if you’re Jewish there is always hope. No matter how dark the times may be, we can hope and believe in our people and our covenant with the world. I can’t tell you whether or not to believe in God. But I can tell you that you should believe in doubt. Because that is the struggle. That is what makes us human.

Our fight to overcome our doubts and stand up for what is right is what will ensure that the Jewish people and each of our future endeavors will make a difference in the world. That struggle within each of us is what will ensure that the light that shines in our communities will not be the light reflecting off of our gold, but will be the light that shines out from the inside, the light of the righteous.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mountain, what Mountain?

By Sweet T

This is one of the more interesting portions for me. It captures beautifully one of my favorite sayings: sometimes you have to trim a bush to make it grow. And it’s also where the law forbidding mixing milk and meat together comes from, thus banning the delicious cheeseburger, turkey and swiss (please milk a turkey, I beg you), and other delectable combinations.

The most striking part of this portion is the killing of three thousand men for religious sin, in this case worshipping a golden calf. Moses comes down from Sinai only to find the Hebrews worshipping an idol (of him, ironically), becomes so maddened he orders the Levi Clan to attack the idolaters.

Now three thousand men was quite a lot for a group that had just escaped Egypt and was heading to an unknown land to physically conquer it from the people that dwelled there. Everyone man counts (sorry ladies, while women had much to lose if their men lost in battle, I don’t think they were involved in the fighting), and they could ill afford to lose a good chunk of their force. I’m sure this was going through Moses head; it had to be. It’s was only a few hours before when we was pleading with God not to kill them all when he was up on Sinai. So he obviously felt a value for his peoples’ lives.

Unfortunately, we can’t ever know what he was thinking, but I’m willing to guess he had a moment of realization: that moment when you realize whatever path you’re heading down is not going to get the job done. We might be paying credit card bills, and making the minimum payment each month, but when you do the math, and figure out with interest, that at that current payment, it will take you three years to erase $3,000 worth of debt.

What you do has a lot to do with the type of person you are. Whether it’s realizing that your workout regimen isn’t going to help you lose weight, or whether you figure out that the amount of money you’re spending on car repairs you could put into a newer vehicle that wouldn’t break down, we all have these moments where we understand our situation and recognize the unavoidable need for change. Some people act and make the necessary changes, and succeed (hopefully). But just as easily, some don’t make the changes. And as my ex-Marine uncle has told me, “idiocy is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” You want to erase the Visa bill, change your budget and pay more of it off.

Moses understands this. He has a few options here. He can allow it happen, disallow it and forgive, exile the sinners or, as he does, kill them all. Each option brings with it a stronger effort to dissuade his members from doing it ever again. Think, if he had just forgiven them, would Judaism still exist, today? Would it had just been a matter of time before the Hebrews regressed again?

Whether or not you agree with the method, the result still stands. In order to accomplish great things, you must take great action. I use this story as an allegory, not a encouragement of mass extermination. And I encourage all of us to look forward to those moments in our lives, and make the changes on a consistent basis. I think when we are honest with ourselves, just as Moses was when he came down and saw it for himself, we lead a more fulfilling life.

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