richardf8: (Default)
Learned from [ profile] level_head who learned it from [ profile] rowyn that at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, an employee was stampeded to death by a mob awaiting the store's early opening. Do read the story if it is not familiar to you.

Now, where to even begin?

Well, let's see, let's begin on Thanksgiving, when people who were working retail had to be prepared to wake up at 2 or 3AM to be at stores by 4am for 5am openings. Many would have had to have earlier Thanksgiving meals, or given up on it in order to be alert the next day. This was noted by friend Stego.

This is in service of what?

Then there are those 5:00 store openings as well, littered with loss-leaders to entice people into the stores. Heavy discounts on flat screen TV's were common, not just at Wal-Mart, but at Best Buy, and many other outlets across the nation.

This is in service of what?

Then there are the people determined to be first in line, determined to beat their neighbors to those loss-leaders. Instead of getting a good night's sleep and spending the day after Thanksgiving in quality time with family and friends, they're up at God-knows-when so they can get this stuff that no one really needs.

This is in service of what?

There's desperation all over this scenario - the retail worker desperate for a paycheck, the retailer desperate for sales, the consumer desperate for the discount. And all this desperation collided tragically on Friday in Valley Stream, and a man died.

This in service of what?

Ben Zoma would say: "Who is rich, he who is happy with his portion." (Avot 4:11)

If everyone in America followed Ben Zoma, our economy would collapse in a heartbeat. So we live in a world of manufactured need, and discontent with our portion is the engine that drives our economy. And right now, problems in banking and industry are forcing some to learn to be content with their portion, and others to look for bargains that will allow them to assuage their discontent within the constraints imposed by those problems.

Sales like the Black Friday sales are designed to capitalize on the discontent that our culture works so hard to manufacture. And that discontent is a powerful enough force that this year, it killed a man.
richardf8: (Default)
הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנֹכִי אֱלֹהִים
Slack off, and know that I am God (Psalms 46:11)

וַיֹּאמֶר נִרְפִּים אַתֶּם נִרְפִּים עַל־כֵּן אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים נֵלְכָה נִזְבְּחָה לַיהוָֹה
And he said "Slacking! You've been slacking, therefore you say 'Let us go offer to Adonai.'" (Exodus 5:17)

וּמֹשֶׁה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת־צֹאן יִתְרוֹ חֹתְנוֹ כֹּהֵן מִדְיָן וַיִּנְהַג אֶת־הַצֹּאן אַחַר הַמִּדְבָּר וַיָּבֹא אֶל־הַר הָאֱלֹהִים חֹרֵבָה: ב וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה אֵלָיו בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל: ג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אָסֻרָה־נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת־הַמַּרְאֶה הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה מַדּוּעַ לֹא־יִבְעַר הַסְּנֶה

And Moses was shepherding the flock of Yitro, his father in law - the priest of Midian and he had driven the flock beyond the wilderness and he came to the mountain of God, to Horeb. And the angel of Adonai appeared to him in the heart of the fire from within the bush, and he looked and behold, the bush burned in the flame and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said "let me turn away and I will look at this great sight - why won't the bush burn up?" (Exodus 3:1-3)

Moses doesn't just notice the burning bush - anyone could notice the burning bush - he stops and turns away from his task to look at the bush. He is curious, and outside of Egypt, away from the pressures of the court and the hurry of urban life he stops just to check out something cool. And from the freedom to stop and look comes a relationship with God. Freedom is the key to this - had a Hebrew slave in an Egyptian chain-gang hauling bricks to the builders seen this, he may have indeed been every bit as curious as Moses was. But he would not have been able to relent, to turn away, to "slack off" as it were from his task. He is giving himself permission to do this, hence the combination of a jussive form with the supplicative particle נא. He can - a slave cannot.

This distinction is not lost on Pharaoh who, when the Hebrew representatives ask him why he is overworking them notes that when they had slack-time, time for reflection, time for a kind of spiritual healing (the root רפה giving us the word for healing as well as the word I here render as slacking), it occured to them to go offer to Adonai. Leave them no time for a thought other than that of work, and thoughts of the holy would be banished from their minds. This root shows up in Psalm 46:11 as well, in a phrase generally translated as "Be still and know that I am God," but which I rendered with "slack off" so as to underscore the commonality.

It is the quiet moments available for reflection, contemplation, contact with something bigger than ourselves that make any kind of mystical experience possible. Our days amuse us to death with trivia, and separate us from the reality that the world is a far larger system than we can control. The sabbath, "first among our sacred days," is a reminder of that, and the creation of a sacred space in time to allow us the opportunity to slack off, turn from our often all too narrow paths, and take the time to indulge our curiosity and in so doing open ourselves to a relationship with God.
richardf8: (Default)
A theory is basically an explanation of observed phenomena. How good a theory is depends on two things. First, how satisfactorily it explains the phenomenon observed.

Second, whether other observable phenomena contradict it.

The Zohar, referencing the Talmud, advances the following theory for the observed phenomenon that people who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom are more likely to get sick than those who do:

"There is one spirit in every bathroom of the world, dwelling there, reveling in that dirt and filth, and it settles immediately on the fingers of one's hands." (Matt, Zohar 70)

"Demons?!?!?" we think, laughing at the quaintness of it all and engaging in what a former professor of mine, Dr. Alan Isler, liked to call the "fallacy of the superior us." The truth is that this is not a bad theory. Given the tools of observation that were available (the Microscope would not be invented for a few hundred years) this theory did adequtely explain the phenomenon, and, within the scope of phenomena then observable, was not contradicted by any other observable evidence.

Only when Anton Von Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope could germ theory even germinate. And even then, germs were thought to spontaneously generate until Louis Pasteur demonstrated that they would not appear in a sterile nutrient broth.

At this point, evidence was sufficient that a) Germs, rather than Demons caused disease, and b) proper sanitary technique could mitigate disease by controlling Germ population.

The practical application of both these theories, however, remains the same: Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.

The Demon question, however, is not completely settled. There is a degree to which humans will not accept that organisms that can harm them are indifferent, and not acting out of ill will. So while the SCIENCE of food safety understands that germs are merely acting according to their nature, the ICONOGRAPHY of food safety paints an entirely different picture, as in this poster from the Kansas Department of Health:

Here we see germs personified, and it is worth noting that these personification look like they would be quite at home with the Demons of Pete Abrams' "Dimension of Pain."
richardf8: (Default)
I was doing a thing called "ten minutes of Torah" which is a set of study materials funished online by the Union for Reformed Judaism. The one dealing with the Akkeida said to tell the story from the point of view of one of the characters in the story.

What do you suppose it says about me that what I came up with is this:

Mmmm, pretty good browse up here. Lots of young, juicy shoots. Mmmm.
Uh oh. I hear noises. I think I'd better freeze so no one notices. Yipes! Smells human!
The man is doing something with ropes up there. A snare? Some kind of bow? I'd better make a break for it.
Dammit! My horns are stuck in the brambles!
Aaaack, the old guy's got an axe and he's coming right at me!
"Welcome home little Ram. You are in the country where the bowse is sweet and the hunter never comes."
richardf8: (Default)
The news of Arafat's death has been greeted by many of us with a collective sigh of relief. But I feel the need to say publicly something of which I have been trying to remind myself. Rumours have been flying as to cause of death, various wishes and speculations have occurred regarding his afterlife/place in the world to come. In other words, it's hard, after so many years of enmity, not to gloat at his death, to treat it as a cause celebre.

However. There is a story in the Talmud.

It is said that when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, and the reed sea parted for them and then closed in upon the Egyptians, the Angels danced and sang at the Egyptians' deaths. The Lord chided them, saying "do not celebrate. Even though the Egyptians were wicked, they are still My creations, and it pains me to have to destroy them."

And even though Arafat was wicked, he was still God's creation. And perhaps George W. Bush's words on the matter, "God bless his soul," despite the outrage they have sparked, are the most appropriate. After all -- whose soul is in greater need of God's blessing than the man whose life was a curse?

So farewell Mr. Arafat, I expect the world might be a better place for your leaving it, but may you find in death the peace that evaded you in life.
richardf8: (Default)
Well, I just ate a breakfast sandwich. Egg, Turkey, and Pepper-Jack on an English Muffin. Mmmm wonderful, yeast-leavened English Muffin.

Passover's a wonderful holiday. From the Haroseth and Maror on the Seder Plate to the dark Chocolate covered Egg Matzah, to the ritual of the Seder itself the emphasis is on the bittersweet.

Sweet that God led the Israelites to freedom, bitter that he had to unleash the plagues to do it. Sweet that he led the Israelites to safety across the red sea, bitter that he had to drown Pharoah's army.

And of course, for a week we shun leavened bread to commemorate the fact that when the Israelites fled egypt, there was no time for bread to proof. So, that means that now I have a renewed appreciation for the wonder that is leavening. The leisure to let bread rise is emblematic of safety and freedom. And so it was with renewed delight that I ordered a breakfast sandwich for the first time in just over a week this morning.
richardf8: (Default)
In Genesis, there is a story wherein Jacob's daughter Dinah is raped by the local leader, who then seeks to legitimize his actions after the fact by asking for her hand. Jacob and his sons grant this request on the condition that this leader, and all the men in his jurisdiction become circumsised. When the wounds are at their most painful, Two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, attack, slaying the whole town.

When Jacob chides them, it is not for the wanton death and destruction they have wrought, but rather for the political issues that might arise. Judah and Levi then demand of Jacob "What, were we just supposed to let them get away with raping our sister?"

I find this story very interesting in light of current world events. The fact that Jacob does not condemn them for killing everyone in the town as such suggests that he saw the justice, if not the political expediency, of their actions. But how was it just to kill townspeople who had no hand in the rape? There is only reading I can give, and that is that the people of this town, in consenting to be governed by a rapist, show themselves to be a culture that values rape. The overall message is "If your leader is a menace; deal with him because you may be killed if someone else has to."

Indeed this is the very principle that Bush applied in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now we Americans are in a strange position. We have a leader who has broken treaties, refused to participate in world efforts to reduce global warming, or participate in the world court. We have a leader who aims to starve our poor and deny them medical care, who holds foreign nationals indefinitely and without charges, and who is doing everything in his power to make the country, even the world, a vast playground of profit for a small circle of family business friends.

How much longer will Bush's unilateralist rape of the world, whether economic, environmental, or military, be tolerated? How much time do we have until others in the world community determine that it is time we were liberated from the Bush regime, and how many of us will survive such a liberation? How much happier would Dinah have been, had the people in whose land she stayed remembered, as we must today, that Regime Change Begins at Home?

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