Sunday, October 23, 2005

G-d, (wo)Man, One

mmmmmmmmmmmmmSurrounded, encircled in an ambiguous hug.
mmmmmmmmmmmmmFeeling, knowing, floating in glorified clouds.
mmmmmmmmmmmmmStill, some can stand the non-understandable;
You never could.
mmmmmmmmmmmmmBut when I sit in here I don’t have to.
mmmmmmmmmmmmmNow the rain falls:
mmmmmmmmmmmmmIt takes some time for it to seep through;
But when it does,
mmmmmmmmmmmmmAnd the drops are zooming by me,
mmmmmmmmmmmmmLike everything caught in a vortex with only me and,
You, the only one,
mmmmmmmmmmmmmSomehow rooted in place –
mmmmmmmmmmmmmEven the flying objects seem to bounce off,
mmmmmmmmmmmmmNot leaving so much as a streak.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Reconciling Differences, Differentiating Reconciliation

“Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: they should all be tied in one binding, and they will atone one on the other”.
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhVayikra Rabba, XXX, XII.

Said R’ Yehuda Ben Babba: neither all men, nor all places, nor all times are alike”.
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhMishna: Yevomos, XVI, III.

Differences differentiate our oneness. Divisions divide our identicalness. Details detail us strangers. It is the blessing and curse of humanity: we are all the same – all the same in that we are all different.

Similarities simulate sameness. Generalities generate resemblance. Equality equals equivalence. It is the blessing and curse of humanity: we are all different – all different in that we are all the same.

Time and again the importance of unity, of no man is better than another, is stressed. Yet, simultaneously, every man looks for that exclusive niche, that path less (or never) traveled, to make him unique, to make him special in the eyes of his peers. So, what is it going to be – bleak unity or unique division?

Unity is a thing of the root. The closer to the root, the more united it will be. Everything, from the sciences to the philosophies to the arts, is rooted in unity – that is, when rooted it is united; only when a something begins expressing itself, when it starts branching out of its root, does it detail into fragmentation.

Uniqueness, on the other hand, is a thing of the branch. The more a something branches out, the more unique it will be. At the root, it is covered in soil; when it branches out, it will bare exotic fruit. Branching, as a form of expression, is expression: the more one expresses himself, the more detailed and, therefore, the more unique that expression will be.

(There is the argument that subtlety is more unique than surplus – an argument which seems to suggest that uniqueness does not find itself in detail. That argument would be true only if detail meant excess; however, true detail is true subtlety.)

After all of that unique talk about unity (or that united talk about uniqueness), how to reconcile the branch of unique individuality with the root of defragmented unison?

Have you ever seen so absurd a sight as this – a man standing in a hut, in one hand he holds a lemon on steroids, and, in the other, a bulimic branch; together he shakes them. Tell me please, is this bringing him closer to G-d, is this how one celebrates the culmination of Creation, Forgiveness, and Life?

Ah, but you look only at the shell – never judge a branch by its leaf, nor a fruit by its peel – just look beneath the surface and everything will be clear.

The Four Kinds – four kinds of personalities: the Esrog, a man rich both in taste and fragrance; the Lulav, a man rich in taste, but not in fragrance; the Hadas, a man rich in fragrance, but not in taste; the Arava, a man rich neither in fragrance nor in taste. These four are much more than some agricultural mixed-breed of tastes and fragrances; they are the four general personalities of man.

Some of us, albeit a precious few, are Esrogim, have both Taste, the delicious lettering of the Torah, and Fragrance, the heady scent of doing good deeds, Mitzvoth; others are Lulavim, concentrating full time on the taste of the Torah and focusing but marginally on the fragrance of the Mitzvoth (marginally because, “one who says ‘all I have is Torah’, even Torah he doesn’t have” (Yevomos, 109,2.): one who learns but doesn’t do, doesn’t truly learn.); then there are those who are do-gooders but are not necessarily great scholars; and finally there are those who, as of yet, are Tasteless and Fragrant-less, they lack in both the “palate” of Torah and the “perfume” of Mitzvoth.

No one is like another, another is like no one; you have something I do not have, I have something you do not have. Herein lies the beauty: G-d says, “Tie them all [the different personalities] in one binding [unite them all], and they will atone one on the other” – alone I am imperfect, alone you are imperfect, but just bind us together and we become perfection. Pure beauty.

There is Unity and there is Harmony. They are not contradictions in terms; they are but two ways of looking at something. In the Holy Tongue the words would be Yochid and EchodYochid, the one and only; Echod, one as opposed to two. At first glance, it would seem that Yochid is greater than Echod, for nothing exists besides for it – it is the one and only. And the first glance would be true in that Yochid has something which Echod does not, the “only” factor; but it would be false in thinking that this factor deems it greater, for Echod has a factor that Yochid does not. Echod is Harmony: true, there exist details, each unique in their own way, but they lay together in harmony. Beauty is not one color splashed on a canvass; Beauty is many colors interacting to create a masterpiece.

Orchestrate an allegorical symphony: there are a hundred musicians, instructing different instruments, noting different notes, pitching different pitches, sounding different sounds; majoring a major, flattening a flat – alone, a bunch of detailing individuals; together, a symphony of sound.

There are two ways of looking at it – the Yochid way and the Echod way: in the Yochid way they are all musicians; in the Echod way they are all playing different instruments.

Here is where Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur differ from Succos: on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we are all musicians, all equalized by the Shofar’s blowing and united by the prayer book: on Rosh Hashana we are in a Nation to King relationship, in a state of awe; on Yom Kippur we are in a Wife to Man relationship, in a state of newlywed wonderment. Ah, but Succos, we let loose: yes we are all musicians, but we all play our own unique instrument; yes we all sit on the same stage, but we all stage our own unique chord – and we do it all in Harmony.

So, the truth is, one cannot be truly unique unless one is truly united, and one cannot be truly united unless one is truly unique. As we, the four different kinds, sit under the stars, surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, may we bind together as one, with you making me complete, and I making you complete – complete, yes, but not completed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Turn, Return, Overturn

Everything is turning: the leaves are turning; the hands of the clock are turning; the wheels are turning; my mind is turning; the pages of the book are turning; the world is turning.

The present turns into the past. Tomorrow turns into today. Today turns into yesterday. Yesterday turns into history. Everything gets its turn to turn. Motion never ceases; energy never relaxes; movement never lies still.

Now, you can hear the voices of the past echoing in the valley of history, but you can never silence them. Now, you can build on the things once done, but you can never undo them.

What of things regrettable, I ask, can they never be undone? Naturally not: once you turn, there is no turning back.

Enter Yom Kippur, a time on whose watch one can never be “at the point of no return”. Yom Kippur says, true everything in this universe turns, but we have something inside of us that can also return: we can ascend to a place above sharp turns, above blunt limits, above time.

On Yom Kippur, a “Time of Return” (RaMBaM, Laws of Return, I, VI), we have the ability to take the regrettable turns in our lives, and (through returning) overturn them: when one ascends to a place above time, where past, present and future are not in the vocabulary, then one transcends time, making it timeless and, for that matter, timely.

This is why the RaMBaM calls Yom Kippur a “Time of Return”, seemingly an oxymoronic phrase (either it is a “time” – a thing limited – or it is “return” – a thing unlimited –): you see, when one transcends time, time itself, the turn of creation, becomes transcendental – it becomes not an end in itself but rather a means to return back to perfection.

On this day of chances, Yom Kippur, we are reminded that no matter where the turns on the road have taken us, we can always overturn them – and no matter where we have been, we can always return home – that is, to our true selves.

In our quest for a perfect world, may everything take a turn for the better, may no stone be left unturned, and may we see not only an investment but also a return.

Monday, October 03, 2005


There’s a pile lying in the gutter
A falling breeze watches it shutter
A pigeon’s beak wrinkles at its stink
Nearby leaves beginning to mutter
The tired sun now in a prolonged wink

Suited bodies pass by and away
From backstage to the comedic play
The no-thing still lies there all alone
The muttering leaves turning to gray
The suited (for what?) flesh turns to stone

What’s that guttural (de)form so soiled?
It’s a man whose silver plan was foiled
Its enthusiasm now street curbed
Its past thoughts now not even recoiled
Just wishing to (un)rest (un)assured

It has fallen insofar away
It’s preyed upon yet it cannot pray
It knows not letters never mind words
(Even kookarikoo it can’t say)
The shepherd impastured by the herds

Wait what’s that? like a vocal needle
Piercing those strong and even feeble
Mending the rips stitching the tears
Think all you want! It aint cerebral
The cry of a street child past his years

Is it the tear that inspires the horn
Is it the hear that inspires the torn
Is it the sore that inspires the rose
Is it the throne that inspires e thorn
Matters only in world of suprose

Ye you can be deep down insofar
As to wish you could develop scar
But even from gutter you see sky
And remember the lower you are
With a sound the higher you will fly

(All of as have our own personal gutter – some gutsy, some gutless – but no matter where or what it may be, no matter how deep or how shallow, the sound of the Shofar can pull us out of the gutter and onto the sidewalk – out of the depths of our bodies and into the depths of our souls.

May the
“Pintele Needle” pierce all our layers, mend all our rips, stitch all our tears (both the tearful tears and the torn tears); and may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.)