An elaboration of remarks made this week at the l’chaim for my son Yaakov and his kallah, Amanda:
It’s especially fitting to celebrate an engagement this week, when we will observe Shabbos Shira. It’s difficult for us to imagine what it was like for the Jews of Egypt when, after watching the systematic and miraculous obliteration of the empire that had oppressed them for generations, after witnessing the death of four-fifths of their brethren who refused to trust in the hand of heaven, after setting forth into the forbidding desert with great wealth and fanfare, after finding themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s advancing chariots and the unyielding sea – after all that, to launch themselves forward between towering walls of water may have been the only option available to them but was by no means a simple act of self-preservation.
Panic, desperation, terror, relief, and disbelief – all these emotions caromed back and forth through their collective consciousness as they raced forward into uncertainty. And, as they came out soundly on the other side, the cacophony of thoughts and feelings coalesced into a divinely inspired harmony we call the Shir Shel Yam – the Song of the Sea.
For all that, the commentaries all question the syntax of the opening phrase, Oz yoshir Moshe u’vnei Yisroel – contextually translated as, “Then, Moshe and the Children of Israel sang,” but curiously rendered in the future tense rather than the past. Explains the Sfas Emes: although the people were inspired to sing as they passed through the sea, their preoccupation with the practical business of fleeing for their lives demanded that their lyrical expression of elation would have to wait until their salvation was completed.
And so we learn that Hashem is closest to us not during those times when we have already connected with Him, but rather when we are seeking Him with the sense that revelation is nearly within reach. Naturally, we express our deepest gratitude after we have been saved. But our most intimate connection with the Almighty comes during those moments when salvation is imminent but not yet complete. Only then can we experience the spiritual intensity of absolute dependence upon divine intervention even as we see our redemption unfolding before our eyes.
Indeed, the Zohar tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu felt humbled when he beheld prophetically the generation before the coming of Moshiach. For Moshe, who lived in an era of open miracles and divine revelation, it seemed a simple matter to trust in Hashem and His providence. But to live in a generation of such spiritual darkness that even the faintest glimmer of divine light seemed to have vanished, and to retain nevertheless even the smallest shred of faithfulness to Hashem and His Torah – that was something the Moshe himself could not fathom; that was the source of his profound humility.
We find ourselves in such a generation, so much so that it’s easy for us to reckon ourselves like King Louis XV of France who said, “Things may last my time, but after me – le deluge.”
It’s terrifying to contemplate the world in which our grandchildren will grow up and the storms our children will have to navigate. But on the occasion of this l’chaim, I’m filled with hope.
After two decades of trying, by constant teaching and imperfect modeling, to instill in my children the primacy of middos tovos, after laboring to impress upon them by any means that qualities such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, modesty, and respect are the foundations of Torah life and Torah society, I thank the Ribono Shel Olam that my son has chosen a young woman whose impeccably fine character testifies to the quality of her parents and her upbringing. I look with nachas at my own son, whose maturation into a ben Torah and a ba’al middos testifies to the inscrutable power of tefillah.
And looking at them, I feel as the Jews must have felt when they were passing through the Yam Suf – I want to sing shira. For as frightened as I am for them and all the challenges they will have to face, they give me hope for the future and inspire me with confidence that very soon we will all merit the final redemption and the coming of Moshiach.
Originally posted at Beyondbt.com.
I ask the New York Times: Why does the paper give equal placement to the photo of Jews mourning Mrs. Mira Scharf and the photo of Muslims mourning Ahmed al-Jabari, the terrorist mastermind largely responsible for Mrs. Scharf’s murder? I ask the anchors of NPR, why does virtually every story covering violence in the Mideast begin with Israeli fire and Arab causalities, mimicking the sardonic Israeli joke that Western reporting typically begins: Israel incites violence by retaliating?
And I ask the editors, writers, and news anchors of CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the BBC and major news outlets around the globe, why do you continue to ignore the facts and the history that prove only one irrefutable equation – that Israel’s neighbors are as disinterested in peace as Israel is in war?
Read the whole article here.
Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.
The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes back to nearly 2,800 years ago and, in a very real sense, it lies at the heart of all the problems that have plagued the Jewish people ever since.
Read the whole article here.
The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are some of the winners:
Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease.
Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer……like
Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.
The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. Among the winners are:
Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.
Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.
Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.
Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.
Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
Frisbeetarianism, n.. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Hat tip: Steve Glassman
The big election is just days away and I’ll be glad when the question of who is more evil, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, can finally be laid to rest — at least until the next time the griping electorate needs to demonize yet another opponent.
Sorry if this seems cynical, but do you blame me? For we have become something worse than a Nation of Greed or a Nation of Hate.
We have become a Nation of Whiners.
Welcome to the land of griping and moaning fault-finders who can identify a hundred reasons why they’ve failed, and not one that begins with them.
I mean it really can’t be our fault that we’re fat, or unhappy, or got a divorce, or can’t hold a job, or drink or smoke too much, or do too many drugs? We’re not to blame for these weaknesses, are we?
Advertising makes us eat too much, our bosses make us drink to excess and our spouses make us cheat. What’s a poor boy to do?
(Note: To those who have pointed out that I have been fat most of my life, let me explain how that unfortunate condition came about: I eat too damn much. You know whose fault that is? Mine.)
And if you sit still and try hard enough, you can feel that vast conspiracy of right-wing wackos, left-wing crazies, racist whites, lazy blacks, communists, capitalists, religious kooks and marrying gays all coming together to pull the invisible strings that yank your lives off track.
And don’t even get me started on those border-violating Mexicans who come up here to work jobs that we’re simply too good or too lazy to accept. The nerve of them.
For if it’s not one of these many reasons for our failures, if we still can’t blame a Kennedy or a George W., then we just might be forced to sit upright in our easy-way-out chairs and at least give a passing nod to the notion that our lives are in the present condition because of what we have done with them.
Oh, relax, I was just kidding. Who needs an honest self-appraisal when we have cadres of counseling shills straight from the excuse factories ready to let us off the hook for all of our faults? Why should we embrace personal responsibility when the messes our lives have become can be laid off on a harping mother, an absent father, a mean nun, godless Democrats and soulless Republicans.
Repeat after me, “It’s not my fault.”
And if you could just indulge self-indulgence a teensy bit longer, we can surely find a support group or psychological study that backs us up.
Better yet, let’s take another ridiculous step further and make heroes out of failures. Give the big headlines to troubled pop singers, actors and athletes than to people who actually do some good. The fact that so many people know so much about Lindsay Lohan should be some sort of crime in itself.
In modern America, it has become the norm to exalt mediocrity and praise good intentions. That way, our self-esteem gets stroked far more when we consistently clear that low bar than it would if we were actually expected to show quality and results.
Clearly, we have sailed past the point of listening to Shakespeare tell us we shouldn’t blame the stars, but ourselves. And maybe the world is now too secular to remind anyone that the L-rd helps those who help themselves.
But let’s hope we’re not too far down that lost highway to ignore Hunter S. Thompson’s note about life. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
In short, quit whining.
(Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 4, 2012)
Dated April 18, 2011, the following is from the Prager Zeitung, a publication in the Czech Republic:
“The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting an inexperienced man like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama. It is less likely to survive a multitude … such as those who made him their president.”
With praise for and gratitude to the Master of the World, my wife and I are delighted to announce the engagement of our daughter Avigayil to Akiva Schreiber of Los Angeles.
May Hashem grant them all the blessings of chasun and kallah and help them to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel, and may we all share in one another’s simchas.
What shapes a person’s world view? Where do ideas come from? From whence do our outlooks and attitudes spring forth, and to what can we attribute our biases and perspectives?
British philosopher Henry Sidgwick offered the following observation:
We think so because other people all think so;
or because —
or because, after all, we do think so;
or because we were told so, and think we must think so;
or because we once thought so, and think we still think so;
or because, having thought so, we think we will think so…
A new article asserts that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Click here to see who’s kidding whom.
Why did Qatar pay $250 million for a second-tier masterpiece?
Published this week in the St. Louis Jewish Light.
Norman Pressman raises an interesting point in his objection to the all-girls musical productions of Block Yeshiva and Bais Yaakov (Letter to the editor, Feb. 29). He is correct that I will not be able to attend my own daughter’s performance, in accordance with Jewish law. I appreciate his heartfelt concern for my feelings and those of my daughter, but our commitment to 3,300 years of tradition mitigates any pangs of disappointment.
Be that as it may, objection to this kind of “segregation” begs the question of consistency. Why has Mr. Pressman not similarly denounced the JCC for segregating men and women into separate locker rooms? Why has he not expressed outrage against the International Olympic Committee for refusing to integrate men and women in athletic competition, against the NAACP for devoting resources solely to the African-American community, and against professional basketball for its underrepresentation of the vertically disadvantaged? Indeed, why has he not filed suit against the Department of Transportation for segregating northbound traffic from southbound traffic with those ubiquitous yellow lines?
Ultimately, it is neither the illogic nor the pettiness of Norman Pressman’s reflexive attacks upon Jewish tradition that matters. Of far greater concern is the pattern of poor judgment shown by the Jewish Light in providing a platform for hatemongering and factionalism.
Responsible spokesmen representing different opinions may argue passionately without abandoning reason or civility, and a local paper should offer a forum for articulate voices expressing divergent views. However, the failure of the Light to demonstrate sound editorial discernment is among the primary reasons why the paper has lost credibility in the eyes of so many while alienating a substantial part of the Jewish community.