Monday, January 29, 2007

Eilat of trouble

This morning the serenity of the Israeli seaside resort city of Eilat was shattered when a homicide-bomber murdered three people. It was the first attack in Israel in 9 months and the first ever attack in the desert paradise city. A number of groups claim responsibility and it seems this is an attempt to delay the impending civil war among the Palestinian forces.

I hope the world realizes now who the aggressor is due to this unprovoked attack. I'm sure they still blind themselves to the truth by putting oil in their eyes. What would Jimmy Carter say about this unprovoked attack? I'm sure he'd blame the Zionists for this somehow. I know I take a lot of shots at the malaise-ridden president, but I am very curious if President Peanut will be able to defend the actions of another unprovoked suicide attack (I'm sure he'll try).

I don't think their sins will be forgiven this Ashura (compare to Yom Kippur)... It's ironic. The day in Islam celebrates Moses' rejoicing for the Israelites exodus from Egypt and yet there are a number of Muslims who do not even respect Muhammad's wishes of acknowledging the connection of the Jews to Israel and renouncing violence on this day.

I love this headline from Hot Air. I think it says it all about the ridiculousness of these suicide bombings:
Pali jihadi heroically liberates Zionist bakery in Eilat, killing three; Update: 100 jihadis caught from Sinai last year

I was in Israel for the previous two suicide bombings. Both were at the same falafel stand in Tel Aviv. Are there tactical installations in eating establishments? Perhaps a military base. Maybe that's where Israel hides her nukes! No. All these three attacks have in common that these places are where civilians were trying to buy some pita. This is not a war against some invading army, this is a war against regular men, women, and children. There is a technical term for this: genocide. The terrorists will not succeed.

It should be mentioned that Eilat at the southern tip of Israel has (at least until today) a relatively open and unfenced border with Egypt to the west and shares (or will share) an airport with Jordan to the east. The city is especially important to me as it is the sister-city of Los Angeles. Why do people wish to shatter the peace?

For the latest in news from Israel, check out my links to Israeli news sources.

Friday, January 26, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Bo (Yet another blow to Primogeniture)

Last week we glossed over the first nine plagues (well, in the D'var Torah; in the actual portion we did 1-7). Now for #10. Death of the Firstborn (well, not exclusively). First of all, at the 8th plague I noticed the civil disobedience that was building up. Pharoah's advisors ask, "How long is this guy going to be a snare to us? Let his people go serve their God for Egypt is lost". They are shortly going to willingly let Israel despoil their belongings (which they originally stole from the Israelites when they first enslaved them).

Alright, so this plague was introduced even before the first plague. Let us go back to Chapter 4 of Exodus (I quote the 1917 edition of the JPS as I have little time and therefore please excuse the archaic terminology):
21 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'When thou goest back into Egypt, see that thou do before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in thy hand; but I will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go. 22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh: Thus saith the LORD: Israel is My son, My first-born. 23 And I have said unto thee: Let My son go, that he may serve Me; and thou hast refused to let him go. Behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born.'
Okay, but I find a disconnect between verses 22 and 23. I don't know if any commentators pick up on this but I have always seen verse 23, in the second person singular, as directed at Moses not Pharaoh. What happens immediately after is an angel trying to kill either Moses or his son and is only let go when Tziporrah gives him a bris. Why else would it need to say "and I have said to you"?

Why the plagues? The following may seem heretical but I want to place this in a historic context. It appears to me that many of these plagues are directed not only at Pharaoh and Egypt but at their gods. Judaism was not at this point monotheistic. The second commandment is that "You shall have no other gods before Me" not "You shall have no other gods". You could have other gods, but the Lord is the head of the pantheon, the supreme God. Numbers 21:14 mentions a missing book called "The Book of the Wars of the Lord". The Psalm for Tuesday mentions God standing in the court of El denouncing the other gods assembled. "Who is like you among the gods, Lord?". Where is that? It is the translation of Mi Chamocha. There is apparently celestial struggle and that the plagues are directed at destroying the gods of Egypt. As I mentioned last week, the plagues were introduced against the four elements, all deified in Egypt. The Nile was sacred because it brought life to the Two Lands, so God killed it, hence the blood. He killed all of the cattle on three occasions (I don't know how they had any left after Dever/Cattle death, but the ones of those who didn't fear God died in Barad/Hail and then the firstborn beasts died during Makat Bechorot/Death of the Firstborn.

What is the point of all this. This is God who cannot be attacked. To precursor the tenth plague God had the Israelites take one of Egypt's top deities, the lamb, and tie them to their houses, while the shocked Egyptians looked on. After four days, they slaughtered the lambs and smeared their blood on their doors. The Yiddish language has the most appropriate word for this: Chutzpah! Wow, the gumption and cojones of the Jews to schmear the lamb's blood on their doors and barbecue them right in front of their oppressors (possibly during the plague of darkness when the Egyptians couldn't move). This is the only plague that has an observance surrounding it. It, to this day, is the most observed Jewish custom. More than fasting on Yom Kippur, more than lighting Chanukkah candles, more than 98% of Jews have some sort of Passover Seder. This is such an important time of year that the mitzvah is given here to make Aviv (in our modern calendar, Nisan) the First of Months, something which lasted probably until the hiatus in the Jewish monarchy. The rabbis suggest that the Torah should have started here.

While death was all around them they were able to have a quiet meal. The family unit and the community are so important, to comfort one another in the face of death and to remain strong.

Though the Egyptian firstborns die, God has a special role for the Jewish firstborn. First they are the original Kohanim, the priests (later supplanted by Aaron and his descendants) but they always must be redeemed from this Holy task with which they are commanded. The first of all Kosher animals (as well as donkeys for some reason) must be redeemed as well.

Two of the four texts in the tefillin are found at the conclusion of this Torah portion. Two of the Four Sons' questions (from the Seder) are also found in this portion.

"It came to pass at midnight", but now the Israeloids (they are technically not -ites yet until they are in the atmosphere, right? are packed, their loins girded, and their matzah not leavening, and they will leave first thing in the morning.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

T'was not Blue Monday for me

Though yesterday was Blue Monday, it was pretty damn good for me.

-I jogged/walked 12 miles, burning 1600 calories (see previous post) and felt great throughout.
-I found out I lost 34 lbs in 6 weeks just by dieting and exercising, 18 lbs from fat, 10.2 in the past two weeks, 7.1 from fat.
-A really good class, which I made it back from my walk in perfect timing to change from my jogging clothes
-An eye-opening documentary about the Armenian Genocide was screened at VBS, Screamers (out Friday nationwide, I highly recommend it!) featuring metal band System of a Down. and attended by Shavo, the bassist for S.O.A.D. (see this article from the non-Jewish world)
I plan on treating the topic of the Armenian Genocide in a future entry
-Being on the Fox 11 news at said event in a crowd shot.
-My blog just won the 2006 Bronze Jewish and Israel Blogs Peoples Choice Award in the category of Best Overall Blog. I also would have won bronze in Best New Blog and Best Personal Blog but I had already won in the top category. w00t. Check it Out


Matt Rutta thinks that you should check out the workout he/she just plotted online:

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Razored heads and RAZR phones

Three skinheads in a pickup truck just tried to sell me a Razr phone for $10 as I was jogging to Whole Foods to shop for Shabbos. Freaky. Thank God I wasn't talking on my cell in Hebrew or Yiddish at the time as I commonly do. Actually, they may have mistaken the latter for German and maybe they would have sold it to me for $5. That was bizarre.

Shabbos beckons, time to shower.

Friday, January 19, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Va'era: ("I send my scourge, I send my sword/Let My People Go/Thus saith the Lord")

Ah, the plagues! Such an exciting part of the Torah saga! I studied the plagues in depth for about a month-and-a-half last year at Pardes. We studied the Torat Chayim, a compilation of various commentaries and written on the Torah, and this long stretch of our focus was spent on the plagues. I wish I still had my notes from last year, but, alas, all of the old computer content is in limbo.

Let's see what I remember (or if I remember). Let's recall the 10 drops of wine we spill at Sedernakht (16 if you're including Datza"ch Ada"sh Bacha"b and blood, fire, and pillars of smoke, and don't get me started on 40, 50, 200, 250, though we did study this too):
1. Dam - Blood____2. Tzfardea - Frogs__3. Kinim - lice
4. Arov - Wild Beasts/flies_5. Dever - Cattle Death_6. Sh'chin - boils
7. Barad - Hail_8. Arbeh - Locusts_9. Choshech - Darkness
10. Makat Bechorot - Death of the Firstborn

According to various commentaries, the plagues have an organization, such as groups of 3. 1-3 are a group, 4-6 are a group, 7-9 are a group, differentiated by the language and the type of attack. Then there are series of the first (1,4,7), second (2,5,8), and third (3,6,9) plagues in each of these groups share similar delivery and venue. It is this latter organization I would like to discuss. The first group, Blood, Wild beasts (or flies), and Hail, involve Moses going to Pharaoh who is at the Nile. Moses is to go early in the morning when Pharaoh is bathing (or going to the bathroom, interesting commentary in the Talmud, Moed Katan 18a). God does not want to go there because of the idolatry in the water so he says "lech" "go to pharaoh". It is Aaron for the most part that executes these plagues because Moses cannot strike against the waters which saved his life. Second series, Frogs, Cattle Death, and Locusts, the warnings take place at the palace, this time "bo el paro" "come to pharaoh". God is present in the palace and asks Moses to join him. The third series, lice, boils, and darkness, are the wildcard and occur without warning following immediately after the second series.

The lengths of the plagues are remarkable as are their effects on the Jews. Some of the plagues did affect the Jews. Also the response of Pharaoh's magicians only occurs during the first group. They replicate the first two plagues (actually making it worse) but are unable to replicate the third, after which they say "it is the finger of God", after which we don't hear about them again until they are covered in boils. There are times when pharaoh hardens his own heart and then God is the one to harden it. Pharaoh freaks during a number of the plagues and offers concessions to the Israelites slightly more at each of these plagues (he haggles, 'cause Pharaoh don't pay retail!), these being the plagues in which Pharaoh fears a repeat of Sodom & Gomorrah or mortil peril. While not having water for 7 days might kill you, it might not. Frogs multiplying like crazy? Thats some scary **** plus the magicians couldn't get rid of them. Lice are annoying but not fatal (there wasn't lyme disease back then?). Wild beasts: those'll gore you to death: let the slaves go. Dead cows, they were vegetarians. Boils, ouch, but even without lotion they won't kill you. Fiery icy hail = hellfire and brimstone; Pharaoh feared a repeat of Sodom & Gomorrah. Locusts cause famine, seeing as there was no meat left, they would starve to death, must call Moses in for a pow-wow. Darkness, worst that can happen is you'll stub your toe. That's assuming you can move, which they could not. If you are stuck in place you can't walk off many cliffs.

The plagues call to order all of the elements. To start the plagues, WATER is struck to begin 1 and 2. The EARTH is struck to summon the lice, God Himself initiates numbers 4 & 5, Moses and Aaron reach into the FIRE of a furnace to pull out soot to throw into the AIR (Moses miraculously having two handfuls of soot in each hand) to start boils, Moses waves his staff in the AIR to start hail, FIRE and WATER working in tandem going from AIR to EARTH (all together in that one), as well as AIR for the locusts and darkness.

There are some fun features to each of the plagues that I would love to go into but this is getting way too long. Perhaps there is something on Wikipedia, but I suggest you study this fascinating topic from a Torat Chayim, a real treat.

The question you are probably asking is "but what about the Tenth Plague?" That, my friends, is for next week.

Shabbat Shalom!

PS: This Torah portion has ADD. Show me why. Hint: It has nothing to do with the plagues.

Monday, January 15, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Shemot (The Prince and the King... and the Heschel)

This weekend we read (past tense reading of the word "read") Parashat Shemot (or Parshas Sh'mos if you so choose), the first portion of the Second Book of the Torah, also of the same name. In it we learn of a world of constraint (Mitzrayim) where people are enslaved just because they are seen as different, as inferior, as dangerous! In the midst of this is born a boy, his life in constant mortal peril who climbs the eschalons of power and tests the newfound waters of civil disobedience, quotes God who demands the liberation of His people. (The boy is Moses, by the way, if you didn't know)

How appropriate that we also celebrate the birth and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend. He was born into a world where he and his people, though released from enslavement on paper a century before were nonetheless subjugated and enslaved in the United States through inequality and segregation. He quoted God and Prophet, Moses, he idolized, for his resoluteness and not backing down when threatened by :The Man" in Egypt.

The Jews and the African-Americans have a common experience. We were both slaves in the Land of Egypt, though even after we were freed, we still faced the tribulations second-class citizenry -- at the times we were actually considered citizens. It is for this reason, perhaps, not only as Jews, but as decent human beings have taken up the call of civil rights. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who, had he not died at the young age of 65 would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past week, marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery.
(Picture: King: Fourth from right Heschel: second from right)

Why then have the relationships between African Americans and Jews so deteriorated in Los Angeles? I posed this question last week, among others, to the retired Pastor of the First AME Methodist Church of Los Angeles, Rev. Cecil L. "Chip" Murray, who answered that the Jews have moved away from the urban centers, away from the innercity, and have held open the doors in the suburbs for the African-American community, which has not yet responded. Though we may acquire greatness (this is me talking now), we must remember one of the key messages repeated again and again and again, always "remember you were slaves in the land of Egypt". Be humble but be strong and resolute. Like The Prince of Egypt and the Doctor King, you too can change the world.

Monday, January 08, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Vayechi (it's a Greek Tragedy when everybody dies)

This is going to be yet another short one because I am raring to go on a jog and I want to go before it gets too hot. This past week's parasha, Vayechi, is the final one of Genesis. It is the parasha where we wipe the slate clean of the remaining patriarchs, Jacobs and all of his sons die at the end of the parasha in order to perpetuate the next main character of the Torah who will remain its main human for the remaining four books, Moses.

This portion, like many others that come before it discredits the policy of primogeniture. Jacob says, "Ephraim and Menashe are to me like Reuven and Shimon", and unless this is a chiastic structure (fascinating article at wikipedia!), Jacob just put the secondborn before the firstborn (just like he did in regards to his own brother, and just as Peretz did when he was coming out of the womb). Indeed, though Joseph tries to avert it, Jacob gives Ephrayim the stronger hand and stronger blessing, crossing right hand over left (so much for it not being a chiastic structure, he makes his hands looking, in fact, like a greek chi (X)). From this exchange we gain two important blessings for children: "Yesimcha Elokim K'Efraim U'kiM'nashe", confered by parents upon their sons at the sabbath table, and "HaMalach HaGoel Oti" (not only used during the penultimate aliyah of the Torah on Simchat Torah when we call up all the children, but also makes a handy-dandy seudah shlishit melody and is nice to hum when you say the Sh"mata, my contraction of Shema al HaMita when you are going to bed). What does Menashe get, by the way? His name was given to one of the, if not the, worst king of Judah. The name was also placed upon the grandfather of an idol-worshipper, replacing probably the name of Moses, because little old Menashe can take more punishment...

There are so many pearls in this final parasha of Bereishit. Jacob is about to reveal escatological events but then blanks and begins his blessing of Reuven. When Jacob dies, Joseph mummifies him (kind of cool, I guess). When the brothers think Joseph will finally get his revenge after their father dies, he says that it wasn't them but God that orchestrated the events that led him down to Egypt. So much for Caesar Trajan (yemach shemo!) using that against us (see Eleh Ezkera if you get bored on Yom Kippur, and perhaps As A Driven Leaf). And Joseph dies, he gets embalmed, made into a mummy, and then is he buried? Yeah, at the bottom of the Nile under a heavy gold plate because pharaoh didn't want the Jews to leave hundreds of years later when they had to fulfill their promise to bring back the bones of Joseph to Canaan. Ah Midrash...

Remember the password: "Pakod Yifkod". It will be important later.

Speaking of the bones of Joseph, you should read this article. It makes me sick... After 4000 years they destroy it now...