Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What Should I Write?

I would like to write something on Yom Kippur and I would like the esteemed readers to choose one of the following (or even something not stated below):

  1. "Gold Clothing" and "White Clothing"
  2. A short story (true-fiction) depicting Yom Kippur's power and energy
  3. A poem (topic?)
  4. On the 10 martyrs
  5. On Teshuvah (Return)
  6. Our relationship with G-d
  7. None of the above

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Creation – 5767 Years Later

Is the new year "so last year"?

Five thousand seven hundred and sixty seven years ago a world was born. It has wondrously crawled through the teething of infancy; it has innocently grown through the purity of childhood; it has brazenly rebelled through the transition of adolescence; it has beautifully settled through the maturity of adulthood; it has desperately struggled through the crisis of middle age; it has knowingly wizened through the experience of old age, and it now stands at the next step – the culmination of its life’s work.

Over the past five thousand seven hundred and sixty seven years, the world has gone through many moments, some memorable, some forgettable. As the scarred spines of the history books can attest, the world has witnessed much pain and experienced much suffering; nevertheless, here we are, well into our sixth millennia and, in our old age, neither are we senile nor are we “losing it.” In fact, many would say that we have “found it” – that the world, white beard and all, has never been this close to perfection.

Perfection, of course, meaning a world where the purpose of creation is realized: taking a seemingly deserted world and making it a home for the Divine.

But, as every New Year approaches and every old year passes, we tell ourselves that this year will be the year the world finally reaches its ultimate state. Yet, here we are, 5767 years later, and wars are still being fought, children are still being killed, people still cannot stand one another, and we still expect this year to be different.

All these years of expecting so much from the coming year, has almost made us immune to the New Year’s power; we wait almost warily as it approaches. To best explain the feeling, a paraphrasing of the “Watchtower” might be in order: “Outside in the distance a wild cat did growl, the New Year was approaching, the wind began to howl.”

No matter how cynical it may sound, the New Year seems to have become old.

But then, even as we fashionably convince ourselves that the New Year is “so last year,” we remember that every second the world is being created anew, and every moment – certainly every year – is like no other. Every breath we take has a unique energy specially tailored to fit that specific breath, and, if the energy would alter but slightly, the breath would cease to exist.

One of religion’s greatest, and most legitimate, critiques is its apparent lack of originality, its seemingly robotic nature. You wake up in the morning, go through the same routine, pray the same prayers, bless the same blessings, don the same Tefilin, light the same candles, celebrate the same holidays, and, yes, every year embrace the same new year. This is why many people would rather associate themselves with “spirituality” as opposed to “religion:” spirituality is like a gazelle running freely through strawberry fields; religion is like a lazy cow tied-down to her muddy farm.

But, truth be told, one who separates spirituality from religion is like one who separates music from its notes. For one to play beautiful music, music that talks to the soul, one must follow the notes, lest the music be only noise. And for one to reach spirituality, spirituality that talks to the soul, one must follow the spiritual notes, lest the spirituality be only an excuse for physical self-indulgence.

And here lies the musician’s challenge: every concert, in fact, every song he plays is made of the same notes, how then does he make it unique, how does he take a limiting language and make it reach places unlimited? Ah, this is what separates a genius maestro from a one-man Bar Mitzvah band: the one-man band, though good at what he does, can never leave the confines of self, and therefore gets caught up in the staleness of his own music; the genius however, reaches inside to a place beyond himself, where it is not about himself but about the music, and he therefore sees notes not as limiting individuals, sees colors not as static elements, but rather he sees notes as an indispensable part of a greater composition, sees colors as an indispensable dynamic part to a greater picture. And that is what makes him a genius.

It might seem like the New Year is getting old; then again, it might seem as if the music is out of tune. The question is, are we one-man bands who see things in their little “Mary-had-a-little-lamb” world, or are we maestros who see things on a philharmonic scale? Do we see the blowing of the Shofar as just another routine, or do we see it as piercing through the deepest layers? Do we see prayer as a familiar habit, or do we see it as a means to communicate with something beyond ourselves? Do we see all these physical rituals as robotics, or do we see them as tools with which to change the spiritual (and physical) worlds?

A New Year is approaching, one where we will blow the same Shofar, sway to the same prayers, and dip the same raisin challa into the same honey. Yet, we’ll be doing this all for the very first time. Never before has the energy of 5767 been, and never will it be again.

The entire universe was created for humanity, for us to make the “down here a dwelling place for G-d.” May we all have a happy and sweet New Year, so that we can finally finish the job that started all those five thousand seven hundred and sixty seven years ago.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Isn’t this feeling totally hip-
Love to do a crazy flip-
Off that mountain’s tip-
Don’t wipe the tears' drip-

I laughed terribly like a hee-
Looked far but could not see-
Tried to paint could barely D-
So I lie resigned to enter pre-

I played some music in a riff-
I hit a note so high like a G-
I tried to choke down that pi-
Washed it down with black de-

He told me he’d bust my knee-
So I set up a stinging bee-
Now he lies in a total rip-
That’s what I call a huge mis-

I wanted to order without de-
The salesman said I had to pre-
He looked at me as if it were D-
Then scanned my item with X-

She wasn’t gorgeous just drop-
It gave me a fever and a hot-
I couldn’t even enter pre-
So now I turn to read the op-

I never knew the lyrics to sing-
Is that the front door’s ding-
I thought I was larger than king-
And life is the bounce of ping-

Some are diamonds, some just rust.
But when all crashes,
All are alike: from dust to dust
D-ashes to d-ashes.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Labor Daze

Boom, boom, boom, it feels as if I’m sitting on a frantic heart, whose rapid palpitations seem to beat a jack-hammer rhythm on the collective ribcage, threatening to burst forth at any given moment.

Like a finger on a stage-frightened pulse, the violent vibrations turn the parkway into a trembling trampoline. Long flatbeds, stacked with enough watts of speaker to furnish a thousand Escalades, crawl at a snail’s pace and a hyena’s volume; MCs with mike in hand, intone popular dancehall mixes, while shouting for the people from Trinidad to “jump-jump-jump” and the people from Tobago to “shake dat ting;” DJs, the woof-woof of the sub-woofers keeping them “a-float,” cut and dice their way through the sea of rippling humanity; all the while, barrel grills – barbecuing the likes of jerk-chicken and some non-Kosher looking stuff – spew a West-Indies smoke, blanketing the air in a curry fog and the nostrils in a Cajun quilt.


It never ceases to amaze me how things flesh with physicality remind us of things flush with spirituality; and, as I watch an older man with an even older machete expertly remove the shell of sugarcane, so that one can access the sweetness within, I wonder if he knows that the king is in the field, and that – without the walls of a palace pulling rank – one does not need a machete to access the sweetness within.

“I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me.” There is a relationship going on here, I reach for my beloved (Issarusa D’l’sata), and my beloved reaches for me (Issarusa D’l’eyla); yet, most people think that it is some Beatle lyric.

A float has just passed, the tingling of steel-drums (the bumpy bowl you see the guy playing in the subway) pierces through the many bodies. But, this month, there is another tingling sound, one that pierces the soul.

I am in a daze: it is Elul – the past year in review, the coming year in plain view – but the world doesn’t know it. They think it is September, with the baseball season coming to a close and the U.S. coming to an Open. How can they not know of Elul?

Is it because they haven’t been taught?


Now the garbage crews and cleanup trucks (those beasts, with the rotating bristles, that pull us out of bed for alternate-side parking), with their flashing yellow lights and reflector vests, have begun cleaning up the parade’s residue. Block by block they methodically remove any trace of mess. Within a few diligent hours, the parkway has resumed its normal traffic.

Will it take a good cleanup to remove the laboring daze?