Friday, October 28, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Noakh 5772 – The Long Haul

Maybe it’s a result of our affectation for pediatric Judaism (though we find it in the Xtian world as well) or perhaps its’ just our tendency to simplify. What people always seem to remember about the Noakh story are the 40 days and 40 nights of rain.

Ask someone how long the Flood was, or how long Noakh, his wife, his three sons and their wives, plus all those animals were afloat in the ark, and more often than not, people will answer, as it if were obvious, why, 40 days and nights of course.

Wrong. Now, as is sometimes typical of Torah it is not clearly or directly stated, briefly, in one place just how long the ark was afloat. (we find similar problems with the year counts of genealogies, censuses, and more.) If we read the text closely, we can put together two pieces, one from Genesis 7:11  that

11:  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventh day of the month, on that day

All the fountains of the great deep burst apart and the floodgates of the sky broke open.

and one from Genesis 8:13-15 that

13: In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the waters began to dry from the earth… 14: And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15: G”d spoke to Noah, saying, “Come out if the ark…”

So it would appear that the ark was afloat for one year (lunar? solar? do we know?) and 10 days. Yet we can’t be entirely sure, because we have other parallel chronologies in the text, plus other chronologies to add.

If we read a bit before 7:11, from 7:6-8, and 10 we read

6:6 Noah was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth. 7: Noah, with his sons, his wife…went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood…10 And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth.

Seventh day of what? Seventh day after everyone went into the ark? The seventh day of the week (i.e. Shabbat?) Surely not the seventh day of the month, since the very next verse tells us it was the seventeenth. If we work the chronology backwards, and assume it means seven days after they went into the ark, this tells us that Noah et al entered the ark on the tenth day of the second month, and seven days later the flood started. So this would seem to indicate that Noah and company were on the ark for one year and 17 days.

More chronology:

7:17 The Flood continued forty days on the earth…

7:24 And when the waters of the Flood had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days 8:1 G”d remembered Noah and all the beasts…and G”d caused a wind to blow…and the waters subsided.

8:3 the waters then receded steadily from the earth; At the end of 150 days that waters diminished, 4: so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5: The waters went on diminishing until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.

While it seems there might be two periods of 150 days, that doesn’t add up. One period of 150 days, added to everything else, seems to add up. Sort of. Then it gets even more confusing:

8:6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark and sent out the raven…

Forty days after what? After the 150 days, or the two sets of 150 days, or forty days after the 1st day of the 10th month when the mountaintops became visible? Not really clear.It doesn’t say how long he waited, but after a while when the raven didn’t return, Noah sent out the dove. It doesn’t say how long the dove was gone before it returned (ah, you forgot that part didn’t you-Noah sent the dove forth twice. We tend to combine the lost raven and the first dove in our minds, but the first dove returned when it couldn’t find a place to land. The raven simply never returned.) The text does say that Noah waited another seven days after the dove had returned presumably, to send it out again-it returned the evening of that same day with that olive leaf. (One again, I so often hear people mistakenly refer to an olive branch, but the text is clear that is was a alei-zayit, olive leaf.)

The general scholarly consensus is one year (however long that was) and seventeen days. In any case, all of this is fluff, and not even what prompted me to write this musing. I just can’t resist playing these number games.

My point here is two-fold. First is our tendency to conflate, simplify, and generally accept the pediatric explanations we were given (as children or as adults.) Even though we may read and hear the text read year after year, what sticks in our minds in the 30 days and nights.

The second point is how our tendency to conflate, simplify, etc. contributes to our growing sense of seeking quick results, instant gratification, etc.  Things take time. Good things and bad things both. The Japanese tsunami is out of the headlines, yet the region is still struggling. The same could actually be said of the gulf coast and Katrina. Heck, look how quickly we’ve forgotten the recent effects of Irene on the east coast – yet communities will be struggling with the after-effects for years. The forest and the wolves are reclaiming the lands around Chernobyl, but humans can still only venture into the exclusion zone for limited periods of time.

There is so much we can learn. We must be in things for the long haul. It takes far longer than we often assume to recover from a  disaster. Even our efforts to clean up the mess we’ve made of our planet’s environment will take time. The same is true for the US (and the world) economy. All these messes we’ve made and need to clean up. G”d may have had the power to wipe out life on earth instantly, and/or to simply dry up the earth after the flood in the blink of an eye (though for those who ascribe to the limited, or self-limited understanding of G”d, perhaps G”d couldn’t rush things either, and had to allow the Flood to dry up naturally.) It’s far too easy to get in a hurry, get frustrated when things don’t change or get fixed as quickly as we like, and simply go back to our old ways. So the next time you are tempted to view things from that modern (and even ancient) short attention/interest span, short-term view, consider how you might have felt spending a year and 17 days in the ark waiting to come out. May G”d grant us all the patience that Noah, his wives, sons, daughters-in-law, and all those animals must have had to endure a year and 17 days in the ark, and the perseverance to keep up our efforts, and remember to plant trees not so much for ourselves as for those who will come after us.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Noakh 5771 - Redux 5765 - A P'shat in the Dark
Noakh 5770 - Don't Ham It Up
Noah 5768 - Redux 5761 - Getting Noticed
Noakh 5766-What A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5762-To Make a Name for Ourselves
Noach 5761-Getting Noticed
Noach 5760-What a Nimrod!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – B’reisheet 5772 – The Unified Field Theorem of The Twelve Steps

Science has no place explaining religion. Religion has no place explaining science. As someone with a foot in both of these camps, I’m going to completely ignore this conventional wisdom.

Tohu vavohu. Whatever it means in Hebrew (and of this we can never be certain) it is an attempt to describe the universe prior to G”d’s act of creating the universe as we know it. If we want to play with analogies from physics, we can think of it as the state of the universe in those first few microseconds when the physical forces and laws as they now exists were not yet in force (that is, if we accept the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe.) It’s a very simplistic explanation, but certain current models of the formation of the universe extrapolate that it took some time (albeit measured in very minute quantity) for the various forces, strong and weak, that operate in our universe, to come into play. It is not at all clear, at least as far as my limited understanding of the physics goes, that the universe would resolve itself in the particular way it has, and that subtle occurrences during those first few microseconds might not have yielded a universe with entirely different forces and physical laws. (In fact, I understand that there is speculation that indeed different variations did occur resulting in multiple universes with differing physical properties.)

G’d is, perhaps, one way to attempt to explain why the physics of our universe are just what they are. G”d is, and may I be forgiven for this liberty by both my friends scientific and religious, a sort of unified field theorem-or in more recent scientific approaches, a “theory of everything” - an attempt to explain why things are the way they are.

One of the reasons I’m not a scientist is that I have sought  (and continue to seek) unscientific answers to the things that baffled me. Science as we know it is full of all sorts of interacting forces, particles, waves, constants. etc. It’s the constants, in particular, that trouble me, because it’s always appeared to me that there’s no clear relationship between some of the constants. This is a gross oversimplification, as many of the constants are related. Planck’s constant (the ratio of a photon’s energy to its wavelength) can be used to derive other functions like the Avogadro constant (the ratio of the number of particles of a substance within a given amount of that substance.) I particularly chose these examples because both these constants can be used to help understand and derive other physical constants. The Avogadro constant, in particular, helps scientists when it comes to matters of scaling – from the macroscopic to the microscopic and v.v.

Einstein remained frustrated until the end for his failure to create a unified theory that connected general relativity with electromagnetism. Scientists keep trying.

String theory, M-theory (those “branes” you often read about,) and quantum geometry (aka Loop gravity) are among the recent theories advanced as best candidates for a “theory of everything” that tie all known aspects of universal physics – reconciling relativity, quantum mechanics, et al.

Religion and Science have this in common – origins in the human desire to understand the universe in which humankind exists. Having dabbled in both disciplines for many years, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that both efforts may be futile when it comes to seeking a complete understanding of everything.

The Wikipedia article on “Unified Field Theory” contains this lovely quote:

“There may be no a priori reason why the correct description of nature has to be a unified field theory. However, this goal has led to a great deal of progress in modern theoretical physics and continues to motivate research.” (Unified field theory. (2011, October 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:06, October 21, 2011, from

To put it in biblical terms, we have a little Job and a little Qohelet (Ecclesiastes.) Why do we persist in seeking something which need not exist? Might not the universe be little more than organized chaos?

One the one hand, we expect that G”d might want a well-ordered and structured universe. On the other hand, we have a Torah which relates our relationship to a G”d that can be whimsical, random, even unfair. Might not the universe of G”d’s creation be similarly inconsistent? Must it all tie together somehow?

So here’s the thing about tohu vavohu. In terms of a physical understanding of the universe, tohu vavohu describes a time when the rules of our universe were not yet set . How then can we, limited and restricted by the very constants that define our universe, even attempt to understand anything that existed before our universe, outside it? That lovely rationale of the Torah beginning with a “bet” whose shape intrinsic tells us that we can’t go back any further than this, that the answer to the question of what came before this is “don’t go there” or “even if you went there you couldn’t understand it” – there may be something to this. (What I like about this explanation combined with my theory about tohu vavohu is that is precludes any necessity of of asking “what came before the big bang?” because if we can’t even understand our own universe in the microseconds after the big bang before its physics became fixed, how can we possibly hope to go back before the big bang itself?

While religion and theology, even Judaism, came into being as part of humankind’s attempt to understand the universe, Judaism has, I believe, evolved past this.  Whereas some religions, and even science, remained largely focused on understanding why our universe is the way it is, Judaism recognized that our efforts may be better spent learning how to live in the universe as it is. It recognizes than human beings have some ability to change and shape that universe, but only up to a point – beyond which they are powerless.

Rashi spoke about tohu vavohu as an “astonishment at the nothingness” It is a nothingness, an emptiness upon which one can only look in awe. “G”d created a universe out of that?” The other day I heard a rabbi refer to tohu vavohu as “play-doh” as though it were simply formless matter waiting to be shaped by G”d. I’ve similarly heard tohu vavohu described as “crazy all mixed up mish-mosh” and all sorts of other metaphors.

Here’s the thing for me. As fascinated and driven as I am to understand tohu vavohu, to discover that there really is a theory of everything, these are mere distractions from the real tasks before me. (Now I am NOT suggesting that science stop seeking answers, or that religion stop as well. There may very well turn out to be a theory of everything. G”d may or may not be a part of that ultimate theory, though we could get into a real semantic loop here.) So I intend to go about my life trying to change the things in the universe that I can change, not trying to change the things in the universe that I cannot change, and seeking from Judaism and science the wisdom to know the difference. (How’s that for the ultimate conglomeration of science, theology-Jewish, Christian and otherwise, and the 12-steps?)

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'reishit 5772 - The Unified Field Theorem of the Twelve Steps
B'reishit 5770 - One G"d, But Two Trees?
B'reishit 5769 - Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors
B'reishit 5767-Many Beginnings
Bereshit 5766-Kol D'mei Akhikha
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd's Regrets
Bereshit 5762--The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5763--Striving to be Human
Bereshit 5761--Chava's Faith
Bereshit 5760-Failing to Understand

Friday, October 14, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Sukkot III 5772 - Fragility

Sukkot is a time when we remind ourselves of the fragility of our own existence by dwelling in the sukkah. At first I was thinking that, giving all the instability in our world at the moment, few of us need an additional reminder of the fragility of life. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. Tornados. (Almost ) nuclear meltdowns. Financial meltdowns.  Continuing wars. Poverty. Disease. Pollution. Global warming. Things couldn’t be much more fragile than they are. Do we really need to dwell in a sukkah for a few days to remind us of our fragility. Do we need the anamnesis of reliving as our ancestors lived?

Yet history continues to remind us what we too easily forget when we fail to remind ourselves, periodically, of the fragility of existence. We become complacent, comfortable, even over-confident.

When we dwell in the sukkah, we are more likely to understand and have compassion for those whose lives truly are that fragile on a daily basis.  As big a mess as our economy is in, many of us live lives of relative comfort and ease in comparison to many in this world.

When we dwell in the sukkah, we are more likely to be attuned to the fragility in our own lives brought about by a combination of institutional greed and crass consumerism. We’ll be reminded that we are (at least most of us) part of the 99% and we need to stand up for economic fairness and justice in our world.

In many places tonight it’s raining. How many people will retreat from dining in their sukkah because of the rain? What might we learn and how might we be better persons if we ignored the rain and ate and even slept in our sukkot (always bearing in mind that human life is precious and we must do nothing to cause harm to ourselves.)

After Sukkot we can all return to our people caves with out 56” flat screens, iPads, heating and air conditioning, solid roofs, etc. We’ll lose sight of that fragility. We will be the worse for that.

To paraphrase that obnoxious beer commercial:

Stay fragile, my friends.

Shabbat Shalom, Moadim L’Simkha,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings for Sukkot:

Sukkot I 5770 - Fire and Rain
Sukkot 5767-Precious Congealed Light - Or Y'kator V'kipa'on
Sukkot 5764--Bayom Hazeh
Sukkot 5763--Sukkot Time Travel

Friday, October 7, 2011

Random Musing Before Yom Kippur 5772 – Al Chet Shekhetanu

This is truly a collection of random thoughts inspired by my ruminations this week on Yom Kippur and what’s going on in the world and in my life.

A tweet pointed me to a great blog post on “Occupying Kol Nidre” by writer Ester Bloom. Her comments, especially about the communal nature of our sinning and repentance interested me – more on that later. So I surfed on over to the Facebook page established for the Yom Kippur service at Occupy Wall Street. As I scrolled through the comments I noticed one person asking if a cellist was needed to play the Kol Nidre. The response by one of the organizers (a name well known in the blogosphere) was a simple

“no instruments please, but thank you for your kind offer”

The original poster responded:

“How would folks feel about having a cello before 7pm in an unofficial way? I'd really miss not getting to hear the max bruch piece as it really defines the holiday for me.”

Something about that exchange got my dander up and I wrote:

“ why must we continue to shape pluralistic Jewish gatherings in terms of traditional practice as the lowest common denominator? this seems somewhat inconsistent with the whole occupy wall street climate which seeks to rise above politics etc. and strives to be open to all. I believe a progressive Jew can be as offended by the absence of musical instruments in worship as much as a traditionally observant Jew can be by their presence. Surely some form of compromise in is order. I somehow believe our great sages would have found a way...”

I added as an afterthought:

“...and for 33 years, the CAJE conference always found a way as well...”

Now, if you read the full description of the service on the event page, it does state that the service is egalitarian. So we have at least one nod to modernity. So it’s not entirely using traditional practice as the lowest common denominator. Yet it is only going so far.

I’m not sure what got my dander up. Those of you who know me know that I am pretty much post (or trans-) denominational. I’ve taught and worked in Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Chabad, Traditional and other settings. I would not deliberately or purposefully shove my liberal attitudes in the face of a more traditional gathering, and would observe the minhag hamakom. Though, as someone for whom music and using a musical instrument is an essential part of my religious expression, I do have a preference for services that are musical and do use instruments, this has never stopped me from participating in , davening at, even leading services and programs where instruments were not used or permitted. Working across the movements as I do, I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve had to lead a group in prayer without my keyboard nearby.

However, the whole Occupy Wall Street movement has stirred within me social and political passions akin to those of my high school years in the late sixties and early seventies. Yes, there is a provocative element among the protestors which has led to confrontations with the police. Frankly, I’m skeptical about the NYPD’s claims to have been exercising great restraint. I do not for one second believe that all the protestors arrested, or hit with batons, or shoved, or otherwise treated roughly were among the provocateurs. The scandal-ridden NYPD has once again shown its true colors. It has also shown the typical law-enforcement misunderstanding of passion. Passion and provocation are not the same thing. People feeling passionate about something can be quite wrought up – but this does not automatically make them a threat.  Law enforcement needs a better was to distinguish real from perceived threats especially in these sorts of situations.

I digress. I am concerned that in a movement as broad as Occupy Wall Street the organizers of a Kol Nidre service are showing complete disinterest in accommodating the broadest possible array of practice and praxis. There should be some way to accommodate those for whom the use of music and musical instruments is crucial to their perceived spiritual value of prayer. The organizers are wrong to simply reject it out of hand, and decide, by fiat, “this far and no farther.”

Then there are Ester Bloom’s comments about the communal nature of Yom Kippur. I think this is a time when we might all do well to consider the communal nature of our sins. To be fair, I think we need to include our current economic situation. I don’t think Occupy Wall Street has gone far enough in identifying the problem.

For example, do we need an “Occupy Organized Professional Sports” and “Occupy Hollywood” movement?  I posted this on my Facebook profile the other day:

I am in total support and sympathy with Occupy Wall St I hope to join those marching in support this afternoon at 4:30pm. However, in comments accompanying an article critical of the apparent lack of diversity among the protestors (an article that actually seems a bit misleading and one-sided against the protest) one poster did raise a valid point: what about the ridiculously wealthy and overpaid folks of the entertainment and sports industries? If we are demanding that CEO salaries be kept in reasonable line with those paid to the lowest paid employees of a company, ought we not ask the same of entertainers and athletes? (It is important to bear in mind that, as with Wall St., it's probably only 1% of Hollywood stars who are super wealthy, and this is likely true of pro sports as well. Not including the wealthy 1% of entertainment and sports as part of what we are protesting against simply gives ammunition to the critics of this movement. I'd love to hear what Susan Sarandon or Alec Baldwin have to say in response to this. Would they be willing to have their fees limited to some reasonable multiplier of what the lowest paid actor on the shoot gets? (Also, FWIW, the high cost of seeing a Bway show is not really related to what the artists get paid, though even here there are exceptions that ought to be examined.) I agree that, unlike Wall St., the entertainment and sports industry haven't caused the same kind of economic problems that Wall St's greed has, but greed is greed, and if we're going to be fair about things, we should consider this.

The wealthy 1% in the this country, and large Wall St. firms have undoubtedly (with some notable exceptions) unfairly and unreasonably profited from their greed. Yet we must accept the fact that we, the other 99%, are not entirely blameless in all that has transpired. Some of us were seduced, some of us were tricked, some of us willingly went along, some of us were sheep. We wanted to take advantage of the economic good times, so we overspent, over-extended ourselves, took out loans that maybe shouldn’t have taken. None of that excuses or mitigates the guilt of the banks, lenders, etc. who, often through misleading and deceptive practices, preyed on those least able to protect themselves.

And through it all, we keep routing for our sports teams, building new stadiums, pay outrageous prices to see movies and shows, and allow sports figures and movie stars to receive ludicrous amounts of compensation for work that is, although admittedly sometimes hard, and very specialized, based on what the public is willing to pay for something rather than what the work is actually worth when compared to other work. (I think of the current TV commercial for a credit card that shows a bit actor on location at a shoot away from home that is running longer than expected. The bit actor uses her credit card to pick up some necessities locally. Something tells me this extra cost is more significant to her than it is to any high-paid stars also working the same shoot.) I’ve made a living in the arts and entertainment industries, and I know that 99% barely manage to eke out a living. Why have we in the arts community never really spoken out about the huge sums paid to top actors, or the millions spent by producers to create spectacle rather than art that drive ticket prices into the stratosphere. (I think the ticket prices for Book of Mormon may be the ultimate irony considering the somewhat anti-establishment origins of its creators. Their very success is ironic and oxymoronic, because their scathing social commentary lines their pockets quite well, I am sure.)

Which leads me to yet another thought thread- the value of genius. Matt and Trey are, in their own way, geniuses. I am not opposed to rewarding genius and creativity financially.  It is a question of scale.

Why do some people become enormously successful and wealthy and become the targets of scorn and derision, while others become paragons? Witness the outpouring of sentiment upon the death of Steve Jobs.  No doubt he was a genius. Some of that genius was devoted to creativity, but we’d be naive to believe that none of that genius was devoted to financial success for him and his company.

Consider that Apple’s products have always been proprietary and lacked (for the most part) any form of shared open architecture. Apple charged more for their products than other companies, and got away with it. Despite all this, Jobs managed to generally capture the public’s good will.

Let’s consider for a minute. A select group of people each year get MacArthur Genius Grants, That’s $500,000 spread out over 4 years. That’s recognizing and rewarding genius. However, that’s way less than some sports figures receive in salary, and way less than the compensation of may CEOs and top actors. What makes sports players, actors, and CEOs worth more than geniuses? Can we complain about Wall Street and CEO salaries without also drawing attention to the excesses elsewhere?

John D. MacArthur is an exemplar of the American success story. He was raised in poverty and became one of the world’s richest men. The foundation that was created to distribute some of the wealth of he and his wife is a fine example of the wealthy giving back to the community  Still, might he not also be an exemplar of all that’s wrong with the system? Did he really need to accumulate all that wealth? Is all that wealth ill-gotten, or did we, the 99%, perhaps help contribute to it?

What about state lotteries? Why do we continue to allow them to be all about huge “mega-prizes?” Might it not be better to see hundreds of $10,000 winner as opposed to a few winners of prizes in the millions? Yet would people buy lottery tickets if the top prizes were capped? My suspicion is they would not. This is a flaw in ourselves that we need to address. We also need to stop using the “American dream” as a means of sucking away dollars from those who can least afford it on a chance at getting rich quick. It’s wrong and we know it.  Part of me is glad that some native American tribes have been able to address the injustices done to them through financial revenge using casinos and gambling. It’s wrong, and we all know it. Private home poker games are illegal but casinos can rake in millions? It’s wrong and we know it.

Some fight to keep Wal-Mart out of our their community (that’s certainly a hot topic here in NYC these days, where others argue that Wal-Mart brings needed jobs. ) Yet Wal-Mart rakes it in – because most of us shop there instead of the small Mom and Pop stores they put out of business because it is cheaper.

Some of us, knowing that the music industry and the movie industry have made billions off of us, decide that intellectual property need not be respected and that artists are not entitled to any compensation for their work, and download and watch millions of illegal videos and music files. It’s wrong, and we know it.

How then can we only make Wall Street our “azazel goat” and place all the sins of our economic problems on them? As Walt Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” (or, if you read, Gus.)

Just as a I do with my Judaism, I’m not going to claim any consistency when it comes to the secular philosophies. I can rant here about the excesses of the wealthy, but I just made the conscious choice to open a bank account at Chase because of the convenience of their many NYC locations, multi-check-deposit ATMs, etc.  I took advantage of the economic good times and managed to accumulate plenty of debt I shouldn’t have. I am not without sin. I would like to work with the community to create in world in which we can be less tempted to sin in these ways. Anarchy is not the answer. Libertarianism is not the answer. Socialism and Communism are not the answer. And yes, capitalism, at least in the form we know it today, is not the answer. (I’m a little disappointed that the official Occupy Wall Street site talks about the “stealing of the American dream” because I’m not entirely sure the “American dream” was really a good idea all along. Parts of it yes. The parts about equality and equal opportunity. Not so much the parts about wealth being a goal of life. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness yes. Working hard and insuring I make more money than someone else so that I can live in more relative comfort than they can, not so much. My hope is that the growing Occupy Wall Street movement is about more than seeking redress for all of us injured by the excesses of the past few decades, and will seek to find a new and reasonable path in which justice and economic security co-exist as equals. A world in which economic sin and injustice is usually averted and quickly dealt with. My hope is that it is about restoring the “American dream” to its social, rather than economic roots.

And that is the point of Yom Kippur. None of us is without sin. At Yom Kippur, we repent for the communal sins. Occupy Wall Street is about seeking justice in our world. What has occurred in this country economically is unjust, and Occupy Wall Street is right to seek a way to bring those responsible for the economic meltdown to justice, and to seek fairer economic parity in our society.  We must not fall prey to any attempt to make only Wall Street and the 1% our azazel goat, as deserving as they may be of this questionable distinction. However, there can be no justice until we all admit our collective sins, and work together to fix this broken world.

Barukh Atah ’’, Eloheinu Melekh Ha-olam, she-natan lanu hizdamnut l’takein et Ha-olam.

Blessed are You, Ad”nai, our G”d and CEO of all existence, for giving us the opportunity to fix the world.

Gmar chatimah tovah,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Yom Kippur 5765 - Blanket apologies

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda

Chanukah Lights Book CoverWhat do you get when you combine the talents of two award-winning people like Michael J. Rosen (author of National Jewish Book Award winning Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas) and Robert Sabuda? Only the most incredible book you’ll ever want for yourself, your family, and for a gift to give to others. I’m talking about “Chanukah Lights” by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda, and published by Candlewick Press. Given that it's a collaboration with Mr. Sabuda, who has created some of the best-selling and ingenious pop-up books, what else could it be but a pop-up book? And what an eye-pleasing pop-up book it is, full of cleverly designed and constructed pops ups, one for each of the eight nights of Chanukah (I might as well adopt this book’s transliteration, even though it’s not my favorite.) I will add the disclaimer that your humble reviewer is a lover of the pop-up book genre.

The authors were clearly troubled by many of the aspects of how Chanukah is observed and the story is told, especially the military aspects. Thus they chose, as did the rabbis of long ago, to focus the centerpiece of the story on light. Unlike the rabbis, who chose to mask their fear of openly celebrating a military victory  of a small minority of Jews over the mighty Syrian Greeks and antagonizing the Romans (and later oppressors) by introducing the story of the miracle of the oil (you mean you didn’t know the rabbis made that up?) Mssrs. Rosen and Sabuda use the concept of the “light” of Chanukah to help illustrate and illuminate eight different times and places in Jewish history and existence where Jewish people have been able to celebrate Chanukah and the story of the single lamp that burned for eight days. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you which places are represented by the beautiful pop-ups. You’ll have to discover that for yourself. I’ll include this quote from the publisher:

“…this stunning collaboration showcases the spirit and resilience of a people in search of a home.”

The pop-ups are stunning, and their pure white color stands out against the subdued colors of the book’s pages. The very last pop-up is a surprise in how it departs from the all-white color scheme, and makes me wish that this technique had been used on at least some of the other pages – although I recognize that it was both nice to save it for a special surprise at the end, and also how difficult and expensive the process of colorizing the pop-up components can be.

If you’re looking for a book that tells the story of Chanukah, whether it’s the concocted rabbinic version, a more historical take, or even the “delayed Sukkot celebration” theory then this is not the book for you. If I have any quibble with the book, it’s pedagogic, in its subtle adherence to perpetuating the story (or should we say myth) of the “miracle of the oil” without any hint or suggestion that this so-called miracle may not have been part of the historical origins of Chanukah – though I can’t blame the authors for side-stepping that potential pitfall.

If, however, you are looking a for a delightful way to celebrate Chanukah, or share the celebration with others, then “Chanukah Lights” may very well be the best solution for Chanukah 5772.

Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda
ISBN 978-0-7636-5533-4
Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA

More about Michael J. Rosen at
More about Robert Sabuda at