Sunday, July 30, 2006

Between The Confines

We’ve been surrounded for some time now; the walls barred and chained. I watch from the roof as the enemy prepares to enter the city. It is the 17th of Tammuz, and I know I’ll never forget this day.

The noise is deafening: battering rams, like a thousand dreaded knocks on your front door, pound out a rhythm of destruction. They pierce the majestic walls of our holy city, dirty feet marching on clean soil.

The adults say I should run to the shelters, but I cannot move from the roof. Red fireballs fly over the stone skyline, black smoke billows from the narrow alleyways, the smell of burnt flesh mingles with summer garbage. People, like tablets broken, crawl through the empty streets and split archways.

I watch as my studious older brother, with barely a sprouted beard, and who, until today, has never left the Yeshiva, grabs a sword from a fallen man. I can see my mother holding on to his tunic, wishing him back. He uncurls her whitened knuckles and runs down the street. On her knees, my mother watches his flying Tzitzus fade away, and tears fall freely from her eyes onto cobblestone.

I remember when this city, this land, was so perfect; the sidewalks were soaked in dignity, the date palms rooted in sublimity. But today sidewalks are soaked in blood, date palms rooted in acid.

I remember the weeks past, the arguments and unreasonable hatred (is hatred ever reasonable?). The overzealous youth burnt our last reserves so we would be forced to leave the gates and go to war; the complacent elders condemned the youth and spoke of going to Oslo. I remember sneaking out of bed and eavesdropping on the adults’ midnight meetings. My childish mind could not comprehend of exchanging land for blown-up busses. I just wanted to come out of my hiding place and tell them that when we are united no one can touch us, but I was afraid I would get punished for being out of bed. Anyways, who would listen to a child?

It’s funny how I remember all of these things standing here on the roof, watching the horror unfold. I should really be thinking about important things, like how are we going to survive, how are we to live in a world that destroys truth?

It has been three weeks now since the enemy has broken through the walls and destroyed everything we’ve stood for, and I have not left the roof. It is the 9th of Av. The Temple, a dwelling place for the Divine, has gone to flames – impurity has painted over all that which was once pure. A home that once spoke of peace upon all humanity now screams of divisiveness; a sanctuary that once held solace for an entire people, now lies idolized. It is like a child, pure at the core, being burnt alive.

And we stand around, watching a good man die, listening to a good woman suffer. I’ve never known exile before. Sure I’ve learnt about it in school, but who has lived it? Today, as my roof collapses, I live it – I am a child, a child in exile.

A Few Thousand Years Later:

A child stands on the roof, watching as the gray storm-clouds gather. The clouds open and rockets rain upon the land. Thunderous booms echo through the valleys; lighting bolts flash across the hills.

The adults tell him to run to the shelters, but the child remains rooted to the roof, asking: “Why do the adults shelter me from reality instead of changing it?”

Soldiers, their cheeks still smooth, are called to arms. A world in self-denial, too afraid to face its own demons, pontificates to a nation eternal, “Thou shall negotiate with thy cancer.” – And the child finds it strange when the sick patient condemns the healthy doctor.

The child has been standing for a while now, waiting for the smoke to clear, hoping for the day when Divinity will once again have a home.

(to be continued)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Roar & Peace

He lies lazily in the mid-afternoon
Glorious mane dreadlocked, wizened eyes
Roaring words that make profanity

He has been like this for a while
Too tired to yawn, awake enough to
The king of the jungle, the pauper of the

Snakes crawl through the dried, tall
Inching ever closer to the lion
They take little bites, and he thinks it's a

Camouflaged in a diplomatic
Fresh bloodstains leave a guilty
But the lion mistakes blood for

He licks his own wounds, thinking how
But we look at blown-up busses, thinking how
And snakes spew venom disguised as

They nibble away at lion and want a little
“I’ll just give them my finger if they leave my
Today he walks around with a wooden stump for an

Now his cubs begin to grow thin and
He looks for a doctor, but they’ve all
He holds his child, wondering how we came to

It is the time for reckoning, does the lion
Snakes don’t like war: cowards like to kill in
It is time, time for the lion to show his true

The heavy smoke has now been cleared
He lies victorious in the mid-afternoon
Roaring words that make humanity

Monday, July 10, 2006

Inherent Value

Where there’s a will there’s change

As the rather elaborate buffet of news pieces regarding Warren Buffett’s $37 billion dollar gift begins to come to crumbs and the media looks for some other delectable item in which to sink its teeth and satisfy its palate, a dish of an exotic and poignant nature simmers sinfully over a low fire – Inheritance is its name and spicy its effects.

For some, the dish of Inheritance is most fulfilling – nothing like savoring an ambrosia someone else has cooked; for others, the dish of Inheritance is most nauseating – how can one appreciate something they’ve never earned; and still others, the vast majority I should say, have never even had a taste of this rare-yet-well-done delicacy.

As delicate a dish 37 billion spices may produce, the dish of Inheritance seems to be more delicate yet. Mr. Buffett, with his $37 billion reality check, has opened a safety-deposit box containing Pandora. But though some might see Buffett’s act as a nuisance to their impurely selfish selves – who need question our inherent existence – many see it as an opportunity to understand our inherent value – does the dish of Inheritance make humanity more appetizing or does it give us a stomachache?

Whether the second richest man in the world[i] thought the majority of his $44 billion would be too much for his next-of-kin to digest, and therefore announced his decision to donate it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, only he alone can tell; what we can tell is that Warren E Buffett does not believe money is earned to be a measuring stick for personal value – if he did, he would not give %85 of his fortune away, lest he become %85 less a man. From Mr. Buffet’s charitable actions, one can see he believes the buck does not stop at individual gain.

In fact, Buffet himself has said: estate tax[ii] is “in keeping with the idea of equality of opportunity in this country, not giving incredible head starts to certain people who were very selective about the womb from which they emerged;” while repealing the tax would be the equivalent of “choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics.”


As far as dishes go, the original Inheritance recipe (to my limited gastronomical knowledge) is in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Pinchas[iii]. Over the years, through the great study halls of Babylonia to the mystical mountains of Tzfat, the fine ingredients of Inheritance have been pondered, argued, pulled apart, put back together again, and fine-tuned into a comprehensive collection of laws made to maximize this dish’s scrumptiousness[iv].

The Torah[v] – a divine cookbook for all participants in the culinary delights of Life; not just for the black-coated, gray-bearded specialty chefs lost (and found) in the yellowed pages of the Talmud – does not define the process of inheritance[vi] as an estate being transferred from one, deceased entity to a second, separate entity, by and by enhancing that second entity; rather, the Torah defines the process of inheritance involving but one entity, with the inheritors continuing – and, in fact, perpetuating – the “deceased’s” estate[vii]. Inheritance (all money, or life, for that matter) is not about any individual gain, but rather, about the gain of a better world.

We live in a world that looks at one’s net worth but ignores one’s inherent value; we choose to see the diamonds around someone’s neck but fail to see the diamonds in someone’s soul.

Is a child born to rags any less a child than one born to riches; is a baby born with a silver spoon in its mouth any more a baby than one born with barely a plastic spoon in its mouth?

The Torah says no: we do not choose to be born into poor families, nor do we not choose to be born into rich families[viii]. The only choice we really have is what we do with that which was given to us. While many may see the dish of Inheritance as a guarantee to never have to cook another meal, the Torah sees it as an obligation to feed those who are hungry; while many may see Inheritance as a great burden lifted off weary shoulders, the Torah sees it as great responsibility to use the means bestowed upon you to make the world a better place.


Ever since the beginning of time, a global needle has constantly been perpetuating a common thread of purpose through the universal lining, slowly but surely stitching together a world of perfection. From father to son, mother to daughter, an inheritance invaluable makes its way along the annals of history, through present-day life and, if one man’s 37 billion reasons are any indication, into a bright future.

We are all inherently valuable; otherwise, we wouldn’t be. The only question is not whether or not the will changes us but whether or not we have the will to change the world.

[i] Forbes magazine, 2006.
[ii] The taxation of a deceased individual’s estate.
[iii] The Chumash, the Five Books of Moses is split into 53 Parshos, Sedras or potions. Every week we read and “focus” on another portion, so that at year’s end, on Simchas Torah, we would have covered the entire Written Torah.
[iv] For detailed Inheritance Laws, see Encyclopedia Talmudis, Erech Yerushah (The section of Yerushah, Inheritance). See the footnotes there for sources – the RaMBaM’s Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Nachalos; Hachinuch, Mitzvah #400; SMah”G, Positives, #96, amongst others.
[v] See Lekkutei Sichos, vol. 28, pp.174 (Pinchos), at length.
[vi] Bamidbar, 27,8
[vii] And, therefore, in the Gaonim and Risohnim, there’s a dispute whether or not one who leaves the beliefs of his father is fit to inherit his father’s estate. (see Encyclopedia Talmudis, vol. 25, pp. 190, at length)
[viii] Nidah, 16b

Monday, July 03, 2006

Don’t Lie (Down)

Here we go again
mmmmmmmmcrawling through the fog-smitten alleyways
mmmmmmmmslipping down the frost-bitten solar-rays
Tail of mice n’ men
mmmmmmmmtalking through the deaf-leopard sign-language
mmmmmmmmlooking down the blind-shepherd sacrilege
Once was now n’ then
mmmmmmmmsifting through the pre-modern telegraphs
mmmmmmmmfalling down the post-undern moses-staffs
Wonder where n’ when
mmmmmmmmpeeking through the barbered-wire picket-fence
mmmmmmmmknocking down the harbored-ire wicked-sense
A quarter past ten
mmmmmmmmsleeping through the after-noon street-bustle
mmmmmmmmshaking down the before-moon neat-hustle
Past bedroom n’ den
mmmmmmmmskipping through the near-empty city-gates
mmmmmmmmfeeling down the near-plenty pity-rates
Have yearning n’ yen
mmmmmmmmpiercing through the sub-zero heartless-freeze
mmmmmmmmhopping down the pub-hero cutlass-pleas
Lay down thought n’ pen
mmmmmmmmreading through the inky-blue chapter-lines
mmmmmmmmwriting down the very-true after-signs

mmmmmmlosers now winning; the sun hasn’t set
mmmmmit’s just beginning; don’t lay down just yet