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Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Inconvenient Opportunity

An Inconvenient Opportunity

Tikkun Olam is often used to explain the Jewish concept of social justice. Actions done to benefit the community. The obligation of each of us to do what we can to repair the world. I consider myself an optimist. That’s why, after seeing Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” I was able to thank God for giving us the opportunity to truly engage in Tikkun Olam. If you haven’t seen the movie or read his book, you should. After being told for years that global warming “may or may not” be a problem, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a much needed wake up call. The film makes a compelling, factual argument that global warming is a reality, it is happening faster than most scientists anticipated and the results will truly be catastrophic if we continue to ignore the problem.

We’re already seeing some of the results of global warming. Stronger and more frequent hurricanes, resulting in part from warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Polar bears drowning in significant numbers because they can no longer reach ice flows, as the ice caps continue to melt. The snows from Mt. Kilmanjaro all but gone. But there was one particular event that was disturbing enough to convince me to make some changes in my life.

In May, 2005, my shul, Sha’ar, participated in the Save Darfur Rally in Washington, D.C., to protest the Sudanese government’s campaign of genocide against its citizens in the Darfur region. We’ve been told that the explanation for these horrendous acts is that many of the rebel forces that oppose the Sudanese government come from the Darfur region. But I recently learned of another contributing cause.

40 years ago Lake Chad was as large as Lake Erie. It was the sixth largest lake in the world. But due to declining rainfall and increased human use, Lake Chad is now 1/20th its original size. As Lake Chad dwindled, periods of intense drought set the stage for the unimaginable violence that is still taking place in neighboring Darfur. People are dying from lack of water and killing to protect the water they have.

One of the effects of global warming is to redistribute weather patterns, so that while precipitation may increase worldwide, some of it is relocated. And a lot of that relocation seems to be moving away from Africa.

According to “An Inconvenient Truth,” the United States is responsible for about 30% of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The continent of Africa is responsible for about 5%. The inescapable conclusion, I think, is that Americans bear a degree of moral responsibility for what is happening in Darfur. And we have a moral obligation to take the lead in solving the planetary crisis. We already know what to do. We just need the collective will to do it.

At the end of his book, Mr. Gore lists ways individuals and governments can help halt global warming. I’d like to just describe two things that each of us can do immediately. First, check out the website There you will find a “Carbon footprint calculator,” which will calculate the amount of carbon “short tons” your household emits each year – the amount of carbon dioxide that you are responsible for putting in the atmosphere each year. It then offers you the opportunity to “green up” your energy by purchasing “offsets” in wind power or methane power. By donating $12.00 per “short ton” of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere each year, you will effectively have neutralized your family’s effect on the climate. For example, my family of five generates about 20 short tons of carbon dioxide a year. By donating $240.00 toward wind power, I helped reduce my household’s contribution toward global warming by helping build renewable, cleaner energy sources. I effectively removed my “carbon footprint”. I consider it the best investment I ever made. As I side note, I realize that I spent more money on beany babies in the 1990s. Not such a great investment.

The second website I urge anyone living in New Jersey to visit is The CleanPower Choice Program is a statewide program that allows you to support the development of clean, renewable sources of energy. When you make the CleanPower choice, electricity is generated from clean, renewable energy sources located in New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic region. It takes about two minutes to make the switch and does not involve actually changing your utility carrier. For most people, the additional cost will be between $7 and $10 a month. The charge is simply added as another line to your existing utility bill.

Finally, I urge everyone to educate themselves about global warming and to educate others. If there was ever a grass roots campaign worth getting involved in, this is it. Tikkun Olam needs to be implemented today. We either repair the world or we lose it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Appearances Are Everything

To truly repair the world, it is imperative that each of us enroll others to the possibility that they can actually repair the world. To do so would have a greater effect that the most charitable act.

Each charitable act and good deed can enroll others into the possibilty of taking action to repair the world.

To pursue a relationship with God in a truly meaningful way, it is perhaps necessary to first understand that you are not doing so primarily for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others. It is impossible to approach God with an open heart -- to experience radical amazement -- and not have it alter how you view your neighbor or yourself. I believe this is the primary purpose of dwelling on God: To see the divine revealed in your neighbor. From that point, it is inevitable that one finds God in themselves.

To put it another way, you open yourself to God (you reveal yourself to Him) so that others can see, through your actions, the stamp of God on your life. By doing this you give others the opportunity to open their own hearts to the Divine and, by their actions, they will reveal to you the Divine in each of them. This will have the effect of "reenergizing" and inspiring you to pursue your relationship with God. A true circle of faith.

The Creative Process

There can be no creative process without discipline and order. Intention and Imagination are like the chaos preceding the ultimate creative act in Genesis, in that they require the imposition of order/structure before they can become a creative act. It is discipline and order that brings the creative act into being -- that calls it into existence.

So we are indeed created in God's image, in that, like God, we have the ability to impose order in our lives -- to create new worlds from our own being. Moreover, we know from Talmud that each being is its own world. "He who saves a life it is as if he saved the world." Why is this so? Because we are all creators. And each day that we live is a day that bestows on us the power to create our world anew.

"The Lonely Man of Faith" Part 2

If we are created in God's image, and the desire to be "closer" to God is the driving force behind the creative process. And if we all have the potential to be prophets -- that is, the ability through the desire to be near God to create new worlds through our speech, then there seems to be a few inescapable conslusions that follow:

i. Every human being must be treated with an element of dignity, respect and awe.

ii. We are not capable of doing the above on a consistent basis.

iii. We are commanded to spend our lives overcoming this flaw. We must strive to "create" a world where we are indeed capable of treating each other with dignity, respect and awe, and that doing so becomes a central pillar of our existence.

Notes and Thoughts on "A Lonely Man of Faith" Part 1

Solovetchik (sp?) in his book, Lonley Man of Faith, describes two "Adams". Adam 1 and Adam 2. Essentially, he states that there are two creation stories, each one focusing on a different aspect of man.

*Adam 1. We are created in God's image. Our likness to God is expressed in our strving and ability to become a creator. Speech is what allows us to develop a relationship with the Creator.
Question: Do we create out of an innate desire to become closer to God? Is the desire for God the creative force which drives the world? If so, then the creative process itself is a link to the Divine.

*If longing for God is the source of creative energy, then what is responsible for destructive energy?

Did the prophets, filled with the deisre to be near God, use speech as a creative tool? As a means of "speaking" new worlds into existence? We know that words can change the world. Look at Ghandi or Mandela, for example. M.L.K.. In effect words change our reality/world all the time. Perhaps this is what Solovetchik means when he discusses the the ability of the righteous person to create worlds. That speaking the Truth of God actually changes the world, or even creates a new world, for both the prophet (the speaker) and those who hear:
a. The prophet creates the world [Self-enrollment];
b. He then enrolls the people/audience in his new world;
c. He brings the world into being through speech.
Such an act of creation is done in partnership with God.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Justice of Zionism

The day after 'Nakba Day'Monday, May 15, 2006 By: Amnon Rubinstein
from The Jerusalem Post

For many in the media the words "justice" and "Zionism" seldom go together. The world prefers to think about the "justice" that needs to be done for the Palestinians.
Granted, the Palestinians are deserving of self-determination in a political entity of their own and to live in a free and democratic society, even if most of them have opted for rule by a fanatical, anti-democratic and racist movement.

But on this, the day after what the Palestinians call Nakba Day (when they mark the catastrophe of the creation of Israel), we should not forget that the Palestinians' suffering has been caused by their own leadership, the Arab countries, and, in particular, because so many of them continue to cling to the futile idea of destroying Israel.
True, the Israeli-Palestinian case is sui generis, with the occupied denying the right of the occupier to even exist, and the occupier feeling that it is a threatened minority and the occupied part of the threatening majority. This is a situation unparalleled anywhere.
Those surveying the history of Eretz Yisrael and of the two nations living in it must conclude that there is no solution other than compromise - that is, to divide the land between the two peoples that view it as their homeland.

The Zionist national movement agreed to this division, with the exception of the period when it became drunk with its ostensible power following the Six Day War. The Zionist movement in 1947 was prepared, and today's State of Israel is prepared to make this compromise.
The Palestinian national movement, on the other hand, has not agreed to any such compromise. It did not agree to it in 1947, and it does not agree to it today. It is not a question of borders, or of drawing the line dividing the two states; rather of the very principle of two states for two

IT IS A historic crime that the Palestinian leadership did not agree to this concept in the debates that preceded the United Nations resolution regarding partition, which came in the wake of the recommendations made by the majority in the special committee established by the United Nations General Assembly.

Few recall that this Palestinian leadership opposed not only the majority view, which favored partition into two states, but even that of the pro-Arab minority in that committee.
The minority view proposed the establishment of a single federative state having two cantons, Jewish and Arab; the independence of the Jewish canton would be more limited and matters of immigration - the existential matter that the Jews fought for - would be removed from its authority.

With the minority proposal it would not have been possible to save the majority of displaced Jews, Holocaust survivors, from their shameful existence in DP camps on German soil.
The recommendations of the pro-Arab minority nevertheless recognized the existence of a Jewish national entity, and it was this idea that was anathema to the Palestinian leadership and Arab countries. That is why they opposed both the minority and majority recommendations in the committee.

Most of the delegates to the UN General Assembly took a negative view of this recalcitrant and extreme position, as well as of the leadership of the Nazi mufti, Haj Amin el-Husseini. Had the mufti had his way, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael/Palestine would also have been exterminated in death camps - a small addition of 10 percent to the number of Jews murdered by his Nazi partners.

FROM THE moment the decision in favor of partition was made, the Palestinian Arabs and Arab nations rose up against the Palestinian Jews. Instead of accepting the compromise decided upon by the supreme international organization, which also had the authority to decide on the future of the areas under the Mandate of the League of Nations, the Arab countries made a declaration of war and began to plan their invasion of the Jewish state by regular Arab armies and a Palestinian Arab army led by the mufti.

There had been no more terrible, hostile invasion since the Nazi invasion than that of the Arab forces into the territory whose fate had been determined by the UN. Yet it did not succeed. The small, barely armed Jewish population succeeded in repelling the invading armies at a terrible cost in human life.

It is true that in this war, which we remember on Israel Independence Day along with its victims, terrible things were done, and Arab residents were also driven out of their homes and villages - alongside the masses that left of their own free will, following the advice of their leaders in the hope that they would soon return as victors. But where justice is concerned, we must not forget that if the Palestinian Arab leadership and Arab countries had accepted the United Nations' compromise resolution, the Palestinian people would have been saved much suffering, and justice could have been done to both peoples.

Similarly, we must remember that if the Arab countries had treated the Palestinian refugees who came to their countries as human beings rather than as bargaining chips, the refugees would have been saved considerable suffering and deprivation.

WHERE DOES this Arab refusal come from? It comes from the same argument that the president of Iran is now making - that the Jews are not a people, and therefore not entitled to a state; and that the Middle East is Muslim and has no place for a state that is not Muslim.
The majority in the UN General Assembly became convinced of the justice of the Zionist claim: that a persecuted nation was entitled to a homeland, that the establishment of a Jewish state would prevent further Jewish suffering, that the Palestinians could enjoy self-determination in a state of their own where they would be protected from becoming a minority, and that there was no other place in the world for Jewish independence than the Land of Israel.
That is the justice of the Zionist cause. It remains far stronger than any pro-Arab claim.
The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Thoughts on Psalm One

Notes/drash prepared for Shavout

Happy is the one who has not followed the
counsel of the wicked.
or taken the path of sinners,
or joined the company of the insolent;
rather, the Teaching of Hashem is his delight,
and he studies that teaching day and night.

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season,
whose foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.

No so the wicked;
rather, they are like chaff that wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners, in the assembly of the righteous,
For the Lord cherishes the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

There are a couple of interesting things about this Psalm.
Considering it is the opening Psalm, you would think it would be one that had a "Psalm for David" heading. But this is one of the few psalms that are not attributed to him..
Also, it isn’t a "devotional" psalm on its face. There’s no outpouring of emotion. No outcry to God. The Psalm focuses on the human, not the divine. Even the style of writing isn’t like the usual Psalm. It reads like something from proverbs.

So why was this piece chosen to begin the (first) Book of Psalms?

Its job is to establish right off the bat, certain fundamental ideas.

1. Torah is indispensable in the individual’s attainment of righteousness. And its rewards are immediate.

2. It mirrors the "conversation" that is seen in Torah. Torah is a revelation, or reaching out from God to man. The Decalogue opens with I am the Lord your God," and closes with "your neighbor". Divine to human. The Book of Psalms opens with "Happy is the one" and ends with "Let every soul praise God. Hallelujah" Human to Divine

3. The study of sacred text, of God’s word, is a holy act and a form of worship.

4. It establishes the assumption of a divinely ordained, universal moral order. You can’t cry out for justice, or mercy, for righting wrong, without a grounded conviction about the nature of God and his involvement in our world.

5. It embraces faith in the individual human to transform society..

"Happy is the one..." This is not some fuzzy promise of a future reward. It’s a description, an observation of the psalmist of an existing reality. The observer is expressing wonderment and admiration over the individual’s state of being. It isn’t "happy" as we generally tend to think of the word. It is a more intense and sustainable form.

The state of happiness is not a natural one. It is not something that you can "fall into". It requires specific actions on the part of the individual. Essentially, one has to avoid harmful social situations. But this by itself is insufficient. "Happiness" demands that we be proactive by focusing our energies on God’s Teaching, on Torah.
"Rather, the Teaching of the Lord is his delight."

The way one "studied" the teaching of God in biblical times was through memorization, oral recitation and repetition. So one would actually utter the words of Torah, and to do so was to not only engage in study but to engage in worship.
So the first part of the Psalm shows us how the individual is to attain "happiness". The second part expands on the perks of embracing the Torah and rejecting the ways of the wicked.

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
who’s foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.

The use of the tree as a metaphor was common and is used elsewhere in the Tanach. There are also ancient egyptian writings that compare man to trees. But as we’ve seen time and time again, judaism adopts something from another culture and makes it uniquely its own.
The image of the tree itself suggests regeneration. And the tree in our psalm is a fruit laden tree.

So immediately, the image of this fruit laden tree invokes images of usefulness, of enriching the lives of others.

The word "planted" is really inadequate. My understanding is that the Hebrew word used suggests "well-rooted". Meaning its roots run deep. It is not susceptible to the whims of wind. And like a well-rooted tree, the righteous individual in our psalm is rooted in Torah. And this gives him the strength to withstand the storms that inevitably visit each of us.
Our tree has a constant source of water. It is not dependent on rain. It is nurtured at all times. By studying Torah, we are constantly nourishing our spirits. We are not dependent on the moral climate of our times. The righteous man in the Psalm will not wither even when surrounded by wickedness, because he has his own source of nourishment.

Unlike most fruit trees, this tree is always green. So its leaves are always there to provide shelter to others. Its fruit is always available to provide sustenance to others. And so to, does the individual devoted to Torah provide blessings to others. I would guess both as a role model and by how he or she interacts with their community based on having a firm grounding in Torah.

I like the line "and whatever it produces thrives" because this can be describing either the tree or the person in the first verse of the Psalm. Specific measurable results for our righteous person. Prosperity.

The wicked, apparently have no roots. They will not thrive. They are chaff that the wind blows away. This is a difficult statement to take literally today, where there seem to be many examples of the wicked thriving.

The assembly of the righteous. Now our individual has company. He is no longer the a lone tree withstanding the winds of adversity. How he has a membership in the righteous club. No sinners allowed.

Psalm ends with "For the Lord cherishes the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed." Cherishes is more accurately translated as "know". How is knowing the righteous a contradiction to the wicked being doomed. Apparently, the word "know" had a technical meaning in treaties and similar texts. When a superior "knows" one that is under him, it meant that he placed that individual under his protection and care.
So here we have God protecting the righteous, while the wicked, who spurn His protection, are doomed.