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Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Big Fan of John Mayer

LOVE SONG FOR NO ONE Staying home alone on a Friday flat on the floor looking back on old love or lack thereof After all the crushes have faded and all my wishful thinking was wrong I'm jaded I hate it I'm tired of being alone so hurry up and get here so tired of being alone so hurry up and get here Searching all my days to find you not sure what I'm looking for I'll know where when I see you Until then I'll hide in my bedroom just staying up all night just to write a love song for no one I'm tired of being alone so hurry up and get here so tired of being alone so hurry up and get here I could have met you in a sandbox I could have passed you on the sidewalk could I have missed my chance and watched you walk away I could have met you in a sandbox I could have passed you on the sidewalk could I have missed my chance and watched you walk away I'm tired of being alone so hurry up and get here so tired of being alone so hurry up and get here you'll be so good you'll be so good for me I know you'll be so good for me for me

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tolerance = Stagnation?

I was in Lakewood this past Shabbos, which is always an interesting experience. Lakewood is not the kind of place in which I could ever see myself living, but visiting makes for interesting conversation at the very least. I was talking to my friend about where she and her husband would like to settle down and raise their family, since she had previously indicated to me that it would not be Lakewood. She grew up in Baltimore, and I asked her if she would consider living there. Her response to me was that it was not the place that she wants to raise her children. I asked her why and she told me she feels that Baltimore is too tolerant and that, in her opinion, over-tolerance fosters a lack of growth. I asked her for an example of what she meant. She used the example of tznius. She said that growing up attending Bais Yaakov, she felt that the teachers there neglected to correct students who failed to dress in a tznius manner. To my friend, a Jewish school should not hesitate to reprimand a student who did not feel an obligation to the value of tznius. In her opinion, this reprimand would lead to inspiration on the student's part to want to grow and embrace the values that the school is officially based on. I am not sure that I agree that this is the right approach, but I am not sure that I completely disagree with her concept either. I think that reprimanding a student in high school about their sleeve length will often turn them off altogether, for two reasons. First, during the high school years I think a lot of people are trying to establish their identity, and for Orthodox Jewish teenagers, this is often done in the form of dressing a bit differently, and I think a lot of kids need to go through that stage without being reprimanded, because a reprimand will often cause them to rebel further. But I also I think that Torah values are much less about covering elbows and knees than treating others with respect, and I think that reprimanding a student for the sleeve length will impress upon those students the opposite message. I think a tolerance in the manner of dress, but a extreme intolerance in how the students treat the people around them will give students a much greater impetus for growth. I like the fact that I see the Bais Yaakov system sending their students out to do chesed for families within the community. I think it is much more important to emphasize that we should care about the well-being of one another, and take care of others who can't take care of themselves, rather than forcing girls to button their shirts to their chin. I am not suggesting that tznius should be thrown out the window, and the students at Bais Yaakov should be wearing shorts and T-shirts to class. But I don't agree with the argument that longer skirts equals more growth. Does tolerance cause stagnation and lack of growth? Yes, but I think the tolerance that causes stagnation is much more about accepting judgment of others based on outward qualities. If high school students need to be reprimanded, I think it is much more for excluding their classmates and not trying to do chesed for others than for wearing a skirt that doesn't quite cover their knees. I think a focus on inward growth rather than outward would go a long way to bring a community together.

Monday, March 29, 2004

The Art of Argumentation

I have discovered that I really like arguing. Ok, so it is not such a new discovery. But I spent this weekend in lively debates with several different people and I found that I really enjoyed myself. Now, I am talking about a very specific form of arguing. I don't enjoy confrontational, hurtful, attacking fights at all. What I am talking about is an intellectual debate about topics where each participant in the "argument" brings to the table points which have valid support behind them. An argument where the people involved might be talking about a topic that touches them on an emotional level, but they don't get emotionally hurt during the discussion. Where the idea is what is being attacked, not the people who are involved in the discussion. I am not sure why I enjoy arguing so much, because in general I don't find myself to be a confrontation, hard-to-get-along-with person. I do have strong opinions, and I won't hesitate to bring them to light, providing I am in the right environment. But I don't pick fights just for the sake of fighting, and if I am in a situation where I don't think the argument will be listened to, or if I feel like it will cause someone to be hurt, I don't bother. But I really love finding someone with whom I can argue intellectually, who won't walk away personally hurt afterwards, and who actually does think about what we talked about. I like arguing with a person who doesn't take the argument personally, they take the argument as a mental challenge and a way to explore a topic more thoroughly. I like arguing because I learn so much about another person's view and through the argument, can learn a lot about where I stand on a particular topic as well. I really love the feeling of bringing a point to light that the other person hasn't thought about before. I think I like making other people think. I wonder what my appreciation of argumentation says about me?

Friday, March 26, 2004


During Spring Break, I had two big missions to accomplish: 1) To clean for Pesach, and 2) To write a good portion of my paper for my Counseling class. Unfortunately, I have failed miserably at both. As for Pesach cleaning, my roommate and I decided to sell our kitchen for the week of Pesach so that we don't have to deal with it all. That just leaves my room and the living room, which won't be too bad. Should be able to take care of it at the last second. My paper, however, is a completely different issue. The assignment is to develop my person integrated approach to counseling. I decided on the theories I want to include, found some great journal articles, read my textbook. You would think I would be ready to write. However, I find myself completely at a loss as to how to even start. I think my problem is that I am having trouble reconciling my feelings about the nature of therapy altogether. Now, please don't get me wrong, I absolutely think that there are people out there who do need serious professional help. I think there are people who have real issues, who have been abused and neglected and have serious psychological issues. But I think I am having trouble with whether I really believe that there are so many people in the world who need to pay a stranger to give them advice (don't jump on me yet, I know that counseling is not about giving advice, but I do think that many people go to therapy seeking advice). Many people these days seem to feel that everyone could use professional counseling, and I don't know if I am ready to agree with that. I also have a problem with the idea of being a therapist with the mentality of being there to fix other people's problems. What gives the common therapist the qualifications to do that? Because they are so well-adjusted? Mass numbers of people being in therapy is a relatively new concept. What has changed that has caused so many people to feel they need professional help with their problems? I am afraid that therapy will cause people to seek out strangers to help them rather than relying on the people who are already in their lives. I feel like this could cause a lot of resentment and eventually, the breakdown of a lot of relationships rather than the mending of them. I wonder about the fact that so many people these days are on anti-depressive , anti-anxiety and other medications. Is therapy helping these people? Or are these people going to therapy looking for easy answers to their problems? And are those therapists giving them the impression that there are easy answers to many of life's most difficult issues? I don't think all therapy is bad, I don't want anyone to think that. But I think these are some of the reasons I am having a hard time writing about my approach to counseling. I am not sure I believe in what I have to write about.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

What If

I was thinking this morning about how it is impossible to play the "what if" game. The "what if" something small was different. But you can't do it, because when you change something that is seemingly small, you put in motion so many other changes, and then you realize that nothing would be recognizable. I was thinking about some of the people in my life, and wondering "what if" I had had a slightly different relationship with those people, "what if" I had met them a few years earlier or later, "what if" circumstances had turned out slightly differently. But I couldn't follow through. When I think about it like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples just get bigger and bigger, it would make waves that would have left my life unrecognizable. I have also been thinking recently about a specific person who, while not playing an incredibly active role in my life, had one of the biggest impacts upon it. This person, who I can't say I know well, who I don't consider a friend or even really an acquaintance, set in motion possibly the greatest journey that I have taken thus far. This person has had such a profound influence on my life, in such an indirect way. Could he have had any idea what his influence would be? I feel fortunate that recently, I was able to express some sort of gratitude to this person. I don't think I can ever adequately thank him for what he gave me, how do you express thanks to someone you barely know for completely changing your life? But when I try to play the "what if" game with this person and the influence he made on my life, I can't even begin to imagine where or what kind of person I would be today. It is this way in which I think Hashem works in our lives and this is the way I see Hashem most clearly in my own life. I look to the people who are currently in my life and the people who have formerly been a part of my life. Some of those people have made such huge impacts on me, and a lot of them are people that I definitely think Hashem put in my life for that purpose. Some of these people came from such amazingly different backgrounds from me that I can't logically conclude that they came into my life by chance. Even those who have caused me pain in my life have been there for a reason, and my life would not be the same without having had those experiences. As much as I would like to wonder "what if" I hadn't had those pains or sorrows, I realize that I am that much more complete for having had them and I wouldn't exchange those experiences for any "what if" I can imagine. I wouldn't be the same person if I did.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


I have been thinking a bit about relationships - how they are formed, why they are formed, what makes a good one. I am not talking necessarily about intimate relationships here - I am talking really general - friendships, acquaintances, colleagues. It is really interesting to me how we communicate on such different levels with different people. My relationships are so varied - each one of them seems to be founded by something slightly different. It makes me wonder why we "click" with some people and not with others. I have tons in common with some of the people with whom I have relationships, but on the other hand, some of my closest friendships are with people who have incredibly different backgrounds from myself. It doesn't seem to make a difference, there doesn't seem to be a formula. I think this is one of the great things about relationships - we can get along with someone so incredibly different from ourselves, and because of that relationship, explore and learn about so many different things that we might not otherwise ever be exposed to. I have people in my life who I have so little in common with and agree with so little about, and yet, I enjoy being around them so much and we never run out of things to talk about. Then I have people in my life who I can share so much with because they agree with me on so many issues, and that is a great confirmation for the values that I hold and beliefs that I have. There are people that I have come into contact with whom I have tons in common - common interests, common background, common goals - and yet, I can't relate to them, can't talk to them for more than a few minutes before we run out of conversation. And there are those that I would think are so different that we could never find anything to share, but we do, easily. This makes me wonder what is behind the magic of a relationship. What makes some people capable of connecting to each other and others incapable. There is some quality there that I can't quite get a hold of, or define properly. I want to say it is respect, but there are lots of people I respect that I can't relate to. I do think, however, that my life is so great because of the fact that I never know who exactly I am going to connect with. The array of people in my life gives it so much richness. It has also encouraged me not to overlook someone easily, because I never know what jewel I will find in them.


I have to write a research paper soon and the topic has to be something about technology. I am thinking about writing something about blogs, and the communities that they foster, but I am not sure if I will be able to find enough information. Any ideas or suggestions?

Monday, March 22, 2004

Rabbi Reinman

I heard Rabbi Reinman, co-author of the book One People, Two Worlds, speak this weekend at my shul, Shomrei Emunah. From the book, I didn't especially like Rabbi Reinman's viewpoint. Hearing him speak, I really liked him a lot more. He spoke about how the idea for the book came about and then about the controversy that has surrounded the book since the publication. He made the conflict sound much less striking than the Jewish media has made it out to be (big surprise there). What I found interesting is the fact that in writing the e-mails that went into the book, Rabbi Reinman had several people to whom he showed each posting. These people would go over each detail and word to make sure that they were sound points and accurately reflected Orthodox thought. He says that the Reform rabbi who co-authored the book, Ammiel Hirsch, claims he did not use this same type of screening. I found this interesting because as reading the book, I found Rabbi Reinman to present a very right-wing perspective on the world. In hearing him speak, and from hearing comments from Rabbi Gottlieb, who spent the weekend with Rabbi Reinman, it sounds like he really has a much wider view, with very diverse interests and knowledge. Something Rabbi Reinman said that I found extremely interesting was in response to a comment that his co-author made to him. (Please forgive me for paraphrasing slightly, I don't remember the exact wording.) He said that Ammiel Hirsch made a comment to him about not being the typical close-minded Ultra-Orthodox Jew. Rabbi Reinman's response was that it was because he was the one that Rabbi Hirsch knows. Rabbi Reinman went on to point out that there are close-minded and open-minded people throughout every group of people you look at. I agree with this and it was something that I really needed to hear. There are extremely close-minded Orthodox Jews, there are extremely close-minded Reform Jews. There are close-minded Non-Jews. There are also open-minded people in each of these groups. I have been frustrated lately with the close-mindedness of the people in my community, but I have not really been looking at the fact that there are close-minded people everywhere, not just in Orthodox Judaism. It is easier for me to see it in the Orthodox Jewish world, because that is the one I know the best. Because I know it the best, it is also the easiest for me to find fault with, especially if I am looking for it. I think from now on, I am going to try (and I know that I will not always succeed) to focus on those who are the open-minded of the community rather than those whose opinions I don't agree with. I think an outlook like this will lead to being happier with this life that I have chosen to be a part of. Update: For a more complete summary of Rabbi Reinman's weekend in Baltimore, check out Presence.

Alabama knows Basketball

A big cheer for my former university, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose Blazers beat top-seeded Kentucky last night in a nail-biting NCAA game. Why couldn't they be that good when I was there? A smaller cheer goes to the Alabama Crimson Tide who beat Stanford this week. Even though I never liked the Crimson Tide so much (they were always a bit cocky), I have to give them credit for: a) beating a top-seeded team, b) being my brother's college of choice, and c) for being an Alabama team. *Just wanted to thank Josh for cluing me in to the wins of my beloved Alabama teams.

Thursday, March 18, 2004


I get so frustrated with life at times. I don't understand myself half the time, so I guess it makes sense that I don't understand other people. I just wish I could unscrew some people's brains and peer inside to figure out what is going on. The problem is, as frustrated as I get with other people, and as unclear as they seem to be to me, I am sure that I am probably just an unclear to them. I just wonder sometimes if I am expected much more than I am giving, or offering. I wonder if I am totally off base sometimes with what I am expecting from other people, from life. I just want clarity and guidance as to the right decisions. That is what I pray for the most. Does it ever get easier? Is there anything that makes it easier?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Mark Twain

In reading The Prince and the Pauper, two things have been standing out in my mind. The first is the same impression I have been getting from a lot of the reading I have been doing lately. Wow. I am so in awe of writers who can use words so effectively and beautifully. Reading Twain, I am just struck with how he strings words together to draw a picture in my head. It is such an incredible talent, and something I don't know if you can learn or train yourself to do. I love reading, because the images a person puts together from these words can become so personal, and a story can be so meaningful to so many different people. It is much more powerful than a movie, because a movie's pictures are so limited - they limit the colors, the sounds, the perspective. A good writer can move beyond that and be meaningful to such a vast array of different people. I love that. I wish I could do that. What specifically strikes me about The Prince and the Pauper is that Twain makes such an interesting comment about the way things run. When we are submerged in a world, it is extremely difficult to take a step back, look at things objectively and make changes in failing systems. Both characters, when submerged in the other's world, instantly see its failings and make changes based on their completely opposite view. It would have been impossible for each of them to do the same for their own lives. But because they come a view that is so distant from how they are raised, they can look at situations from a distinctly separate view, and make changes that correct so many wrongs that have been perpetuated by those who have always lived in a certain system. The other thing in the book that Twain makes a point about is how our reality can change so quickly. The prince, who is thrown from the palace with lines of servants to do his every bidding, quickly learns to find comfort in such small things. A dry blanket, something warm. Things that a few days before would have been abhorrent to him now become his comfort and he learns to appreciate the small things in life that before he hardly even knew existed. I sometimes wish I could be given such a wake-up.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


In Scrolling Forward, David Levy makes a quick comment about refrigerators that got me thinking. I have often told people that my refrigerator is my favorite thing in my apartment. Not because of what is in my fridge, because of what is ON my fridge. I think you can tell a lot about a person by what is on their fridge. Some people have cool magnets, others have photos, some have menus from favorite restaurants, some people keep theirs bare. My fridge is covered with all kinds of great stuff. I have pictures - of my brothers, my friends, my friends' children. I have magnets that people have given to me, from different places and programs that I have been, some chosen for their strength in holding things onto the fridge, some chosen for nostalgic reasons. I have Magnetic Poetry magnets that my dad gave to me - my roommate and I sometimes spell out messages to each other on the fridge. I have notes and letters from people that mean a lot to me. I have my candlelighting times, and a pre-Shabbos checklist. I have a few clippings from newspapers that represent inside jokes or things I want to remember. People are definitely the central focus of my fridge, which I hope is an indication of what is important in my life. I am the type of person who cares a lot less about things being orderly than about them being meaningful. I understand that each person has his own way of doing things, but I find it sad when someone is so concerned with everything matching that they can't bring themselves to display a memento that reminds them of someone they love. I guess because I am so far away from so many of my friends, I love my reminders of them on my refrigerator, I love seeing those reminders every time I go in the kitchen. To me, my fridge is a lot more than a place to keep my food cold.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Rabbis and Princes

I have a lot of thoughts being churned about in my head at the moment - it was an incredibly full weekend, and I didn't get nearly enough done. I am amazed at how much school work I did in one day, without managing to fully complete anything I set out to accomplish. I finished reading One People: Two Worlds this weekend. I am still thinking a lot about the arguments of the authors. The truth is, I liked a lot of what each of them said, and didn't like a lot of what each of them said. The biggest problem I had with both of them is that they each had their own agenda - and they were clearly different agendas - and neither one of them really listened to each other's arguments, they just kind of argued around each other. I didn't find either side to be terribly grounded, and I think both of the authors left the book with a respect for the other author (which is great), but little respect for each other's viewpoints. I felt each author was wearing glasses to both put a rose-colored spin on their own view and to shield themselves from clearly understanding and seeing the opposing view. I guess for me, someone who has lived in both of their worlds, it was a bit frustrating to read them dance around each other without really coming together at any point. But I did find the book very interesting and thought-provoking, and I really enjoyed the section where they discussed Israel. I started reading The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain this weekend. I am really enjoying it. It is the story of a prince and a pauper (obviously) whose lives get switched (it reminds me of The Parent Trap). What I find so interesting is that each boy has desired to live in the other's world, but when they get there the descriptions of those contrasting worlds is so negative. For the pauper, when confronted with life in the palace, he says "he was indeed a captive now and might remain ever shut up in this gilded cage, a forlorn a friendless prince; except G-d in his mercy take pity on him and set him free." This is a boy who dreamed of living the life of royalty. The prince, when faced with living a normal life describes his new life as "an outcast, clothed in rags, prisoner in a den fit only for beasts, and consorting with beggars and thieves." This is a prince who ran out of the castle the minute he had the chance. How interesting that each initially felt that they were trapped in their own lives, and longed to be set free. Yet when they are actually faced with those desired lives, they see them as a greater cage than the lives they were born into! I think many of us long for a life that we don't currently have, but if we were placed into it, we may soon realize how lucky we truly are for what we do have. I guess that is why Pirkei Avos (4:1) says, "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." Finally, I was given a situation to think about this weekend that is the kind of situation that had faced me in the past, and it was something that I had thought I wouldn't be faced with again. The implications, though different, are oddly similar. It is interesting how your life can change, but not really.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Musing about the Internet

In the book Scrolling Forward, David M. Levy discusses whether e-mail has obliterated the art of letter writing and consequently caused us to let our writing skills deteriorate. I love my e-mail. With e-mail, I keep in touch with friends in Israel, Alabama, New Jersey and Oklahoma. I am at a computer all day long and while I might have an extremely hard time picking up the phone when I get home at the end of a really long day or sitting down to write a letter to someone, I can take a few minutes while I am at work to quickly catch someone up on what is going on in my life and inquire about theirs. I am always irritated when I meet people who don't use e-mail, because I know that without it, I will have a much harder time keeping in touch. With e-mail these days, you can send pictures, cards, links to interesting articles and so much more. What a great invention. Branching out from just e-mail, having a blog has been a really interesting experience. I have tried and abandoned many diaries in my life. When I first began this blog, I saw it as an opportunity to get some of my thoughts out, I didn't expect anyone to read it. It was my new diary, I don't think I had any real plan on how often I expected to update, or what would really go into it. Then I started school, and I started reading, writing and thinking. I had never been especially interested in writing before, but then I found that there were things that I was thinking about that came out better when I could organize them in words instead of keeping them all in my head. Through this blog, I have come to have such a greater appreciation and enjoyment of writing. And I think it has caused me to become a much better writer. Then I started getting the occasional e-mail about my blog, which surprised me. I guess I never thought about real people reading it, and about my words causing someone else to think. Now, with comments, it has gotten even more interesting, I am now seeing other people interact on my blog. What a weird medium the Internet is for meeting people, inspiring people and making connections. I never thought I would be a part of it, a part of this online community where people from disparate corners of the world; people who very likely will never meet in person; can interact, communicate with each other and air their views on important and not-so-important topics. I am still not quite sure how I feel about having a blog that other people can read and comment on, it is weird knowing that people I don't know probably know a good bit about me. But I know that I like having a forum to be able to express my thoughts, I like working my ideas out and writing about them, and from the comments I have been getting, making other people think as well. I think the Internet, while it may have caused a lot of people to give up their pen and paper, has also caused some people, at least me, to work at their writing and thinking skills, and it has given them a way to interact with people who they never would have previously come in contact with. I am not ready to condemn it quite yet.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Ode to Reese's Cups

In the past week, I finished one paper and started another, started reading Scrolling Forward by David M. Levy for a class, got an A on a test, and learned about Carl Rogers and client-centered therapy. All of this has left with very little time for reading on my own. I am almost finished with One People, Two Worlds and read a bit more of Aristotle's Politics last night, but I don't have anything that is ready to be blogged about at this point. So I thought I would blog a bit about one of my favorite topics: Reese's Cups. (I apologize to those of you who keep cholov yisrael.) Last semester, my professor asked us for examples of great ideas throughout history. He was looking for things like freedom, justice, virtue. The first idea that came out of my mouth was Reese's Cups. My professor was taken back a bit, he challenged me as to the greatness of the Reese's Cup, but I had a good following from several of the other students who felt strongly about the greatness of the combination of peanut butter and chocolate also. Ok, I know I am being a bit silly, but the fact is that a little bit of peanut butter covered with chocolate and wrapped in gold foil can improve my mood tremendously. The mixture of salt and sweet is just what I need on certain days. Scientists can say that chocolate has whatever in it that makes us feel happy, maybe it is the protein in the peanut butter, I don't know. What I do know is Mr. Reese was a really brilliant guy. There are other things that make me happy - an e-mail from an old friend who I haven't from in a while, someone saying something nice to me when I am down, working really hard on something and knowing that I have done a good job. I am not saying that Reese's Cups are the secret to world peace or anything like that. But the truth is, I can think of little else that can make me feel so much better without having to depend on any other person. I don't use this strategy so often, because there are drawbacks to Reese's Cups - they do tend to embody more calories than I am willing to ingest on a normal day. But for one of those days when I wake up and the sky is gray and I feel ugly and down and something is just off, a little Reese's Cup goes a ridiculously long way to making me feel better. And I don't think there are many things out there that have that same power. So to me, the Reese's Cup is one of the greatest ideas out there.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Parsha Ki Sisa

Each week, my chevrusa and I go through the first few pasukim of the weekly parsha in Hebrew, translate them, and then talk a little bit about what we just translated. It has been so great, because while my initial goal was simply to work on my Hebrew, I am also gaining a much greater interest in reading the Chumash and knowing each week's Parsha. I have found that going in depth into the first few Pasukim gives me just enough to make me curious about the rest of the Parsha, so I have been going on to read the rest on my own (in English, my Hebrew hasn't improved that much yet). Last night, we were learning Parsha Ki Sisa. Two things struck me. The first was how amazing is it that Hashem accepts a half-shekel from each of us as atonement for our souls. It seems like such a small thing to ask, just a half-shekel, in exchange for such an amazing gift from Hashem - atonement for my soul. I felt like this truly showed Hashem's mercy, that He would accept something so small in exchange for something so big. The other thing that I loved about the concept of the half-shekel was that each person gave the same amount. No one gave more, no one gave less, each person was considered equal. I feel like this was saying that no one's atonement and no one's soul was worth than anyone else's, in Hashem's eyes. Everyone's atonement offering was then put together to be used for the Tent of Meeting, where all the Jews would serve Hashem. What an amazing experience that must have been - for each person to know that they had part of this place of worship, that is would not have been quite complete without their personal donation. I think we should all feel this way every day and know that without each soul, Bnai Yisrael is not totally complete.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

An Unexamined Life....

is a happy life??? I was talking to a friend last night and we were talking about school, and he asked me the dreaded question - "So what are you going to do after you graduate?" I began detailing to him what I see as my current options - stay in Psychology and go for either a Specialist's degree in School Psychology or my Licensure as a Counselor. OR I could go to St. John's, read a lot of philosophy and literature, think like crazy and end up either teaching high school or going on to get a PhD. I explained to him that I loved reading classic philosophy, that the more I have been reading, the more I want to read, how it makes me think so much...and how it also makes me question my beliefs more and more. He stopped me right there and asked me why I would cause such problems for myself. His feeling was, Orthodox Judaism is beautiful and meaningful and brings a lot of joy to a person's life, so don't question things. Don't make things harder than they have to be. If you have to have a shallow understanding of things in order to be happy, so be it. Life is about making happiness easy. I countered with the point that why should I dedicate my life to something that I only have a shallow understanding of? Why should I let Torah dictate what I do from the minute I wake up until the minute I go to sleep if I can't even find satisfactory answers to real questions? (I want to take a second here to say that I don't think that there aren't answers to my questions, I just think that asking questions and searching for answers is a very worthwhile process.) He told me about another friend of his who was a baal teshuvah who was always asking questions, and therefore was not happy. He kept saying to me that it is just easier to not ask questions, and not worry about things, that you could then be happier. So I asked him, "Is ignorance bliss?" He said he wasn't talking about ignorance, he was just saying not to look at things to the point where it would cause internal conflict. I don't agree with this outlook. I agree that the process of asking questions that are difficult to answer can cause a lot of dissonance in a person's life, but I don't agree that the outcome is unhappiness. I think that when you search and find answers to these incredibly difficult questions, the reward for the search is immeasurable, and you are subsequently standing on an incredibly stronger foundation than before. I don't think that reading classical philosophers will necessarily lead me to reject Jewish beliefs, I think in a lot of ways since I have been reading Plato and Aristotle and Homer, I have seen how Torah does encompass such a vast array of thought and how it is in everything. And I think that is beautiful and will eventually lead me to a stronger grasp on why I chose this life to begin with. For me, the process of becoming a baal teshuvah was an incredibly difficult process of questioning everything I had been taught growing up and finding the answers to life's questions and finding the path that was right for me. I don't think this process has ended, I think I have now stepped into a new phase of it. And I think it might very well be coming to a circle. I think that now that I have come to the point where Torah is firmly embedded in my life, I am now ready to look at the outside world and bring it together with the Torah values I have learned. As I learned in becoming religious, the process often is not easy - it can hurt and it can cause a lot of questioning, probing and doubt along the way. But when it comes together, because of the difficulty in working towards the goal, it is so much more meaningful and concrete. And that is what I want for myself.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Random Rants

I had a lot of things that came up that made me think this weekend - I don't think they are all going to tie to together, but I might get lucky. Parshas Zachor was read this Shabbos. I have a very hard time with the idea that this piece of the Torah, which commands the Jews to wipe out another nation, is one of the few pieces of Torah each year that everyone absolutely must hear. As many times as other nations have tried to wipe out the Jews, as much as we are supposed to love peace, and see every person as a creation of Hashem; I have trouble with the fact that the Jews are commanded to bloody their hands and kill someone else. I know that we are not commanded to wipe out just anyone, that Amalek set a precedent for trying to combat us, but I still don't understand why that particular parsha is a must-hear for everyone. I have been thinking a lot lately about the fact that, throughout history, so many Jews have been lost. During the exodus from Egypt, only one-fifth of the Jews actually left. During the Spanish Inquisition, tons of Jews converted. Many, many Jews today are intermarrying and their children will no longer either be Jewish or know that they are Jewish. Many of my family members fall into this category. I don't understand, if the Jews are Hashem's chosen people, how He can allow so many of His children to just fall away. I asked this question at the Purim seudah, and I was told that Hashem is like a father, He has to let His children make their own decisions and find out for themself about the correct path. But how far should a father go to this end? To the point where He loses His children completely? Being from Alabama, people often ask me about the racist attitudes that they perceive as being rampant in the South. When I tell them about the fact that I actually worked for three years in an office whose mission was to combat racism, sexism, Anti-Semitism and bring people of all backgrounds together, they often are surprised and I feel like they feel like I had an unusual experience for the South. So why is it that the people who I know who are from New York, New Jersey and places distinctly North of the Mason-Dixon line are the one's who I hear spouting some of the worst racial comments I have ever heard in my entire life? If the North is so enlightened, and racism is not a problem up here, then why is it acceptable to call black people "monkeys" and use the "N" word in the historical derogatory fashion in which it should be completely wiped out? (I just want to say that I WISH I was making this up.) Why are people surprised when I don't find their comments funny, or acceptable, at all? Never in my life have I heard the garbage I hear coming from people who are supposedly so sophisticated. It really embarrasses me. I have another topic in mind, but I am going to leave it for another day, because I think I can tie up the above points by saying simply that I think that we should respect and treat every human with the respect that we would ourselves want to be treated.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Hiddenness of Hashem

I didn't blog yesterday because it was Taanis Esther and I didn't want anyone to have to try to make sense of my thoughts when brain had been deprived of food. However, I did want to say a few things about Purim. One of the things that I am always struck by is the fact that Hashem's name is not mentioned a single time in the Megillas Esther. (This strikes me as appropriate because when I look around at people getting drunk on Purim, I have a hard time seeing Hashem also.) I wouldn't want to speak for anyone else, but I know that there are times when I wonder if Hashem is up there, if He really cares about everything that is going on in my life, why He is making things so difficult. I wonder why certain things are easy for some and not for others, or why I am put in a particular situation that seems to make my life that much more confusing. I wonder why some people seem to suffer so much. And then I look back at my life, and I take note of the things and people who are in my life. Some of my closest friends, some of the people who make a huge difference in my life and are now gone from it, some of the adventures I have gone through - they just don't make sense. I don't believe these things happened by chance. I didn't recognize at the time what an impact some of these events and people would make on my life. But in looking back, I can honestly say that I think Hashem had a hand in bringing me to the point I am at today. And I think that today, while I am going through a lot of internal confusion about where I am headed, Hashem is guiding me and wants me to go through all this for a reason. I am just not sure what the reason is yet. I think in the story of Purim, while the characters do not proclaim out loud Hashem's influence, Hashem is there, guiding the Jews to reaffirm their faith and to come together as a community to combat their own obliteration. I think sometimes it takes a crisis to make a person or group of people listen and pull together. I think one of the crises we speak of today is that of assimilation. I have been wondering lately about why Hashem would allow assimilation and Judaism that doesn't embrace Torah as His word if it was absolutely wrong. I think maybe Hashem is telling us that we need to come together, to have Ahavas Yisrael, rather than writing off so many Jews as "non-believers" and therefore unworthy of our respect. Maybe we need to be looking harder for Hashem's hidden presence in the messages He sends us. Sometimes it is the softest whisper that moves us the most.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Define Better

I have a bit of a dilemma at the moment. I have been reading Aristotle's Politics. In the Politics, Aristotle discusses natural slaves and natural masters. He discusses, dissects and disapproves of different models and suggestions for an ideal government. One thing common to the suggested governments, and one of the few things that Aristotle does not make objection to, is of there being several classes of people that function within the government. I am not necessarily talking about financial classes here, it is more a matter of a level of natural status - some people are meant for the upper crust and some are meant to be slaves. Some are meant to rule and some (in many of the governments, the women) are meant to serve. I have a problem with the concept that some people are born better than others. How do you determine what is better and worse? Where do you draw the line between one class and the next? Does the concept of what is better and worse change throughout the years with our changing values or does it always stay the same? The dilemma I am having is, I don't think everyone is the same, and I don't think everyone is equally good in all areas. I think that people are born with unique talents. I think people are naturally gifted in different areas. Some people have an incredible ability to write, others have natural physical prowess and still others "get" math. I don't think everyone is equally capable of everything, and I believe that this is something born in humans, not something that is a product of society. (Just a slight aside - I am not discounting the role of society in forming a person's world, but I do believe some talents to be innate.) So, if people are better or worse in specific areas of life, and this is a natural thing, then is it completely audacious of me to have problems with Aristotle's views? If I believe that men and women relate to the world and each other in very different ways, is there a mutual exclusivity for me to also have a problem with the idea of women being subordinate to men? I am really struggling with this. I guess my feeling is that until we can define what exact attributes dictate what level a person "should" be on, and this is something that I don't think we will ever be able to do with any kind of satisfaction, then we can say that people are different and not necessarily better, just better in certain areas. I think that the fact that people are better in certain areas than others contributes so much to the richness of the world, and to say that one talent is more important than the next would mean the loss of so many important contributions. I think people would get so focused on what society feels is most important that they would subsequently give up on developing those unique talents that makes each one of us who we are.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Lines and Ladders

There is a person in my life right now, that every time I talk to him, he gives me something to think about. Sometimes it is about something I have read, sometimes it is about human nature, sometimes life in general, sometimes it is about my own life. The last category are the ones that keep me up at night.

Yesterday I was trying to give him an overview of how the Orthodox world exists. I was trying to illustrate the spectrum of Jews who consider themselves Orthodox, what binds them all, and what separates them. I tried to explain how so many people can consider themselves Orthodox, from the Modern Orthodox set to the yeshivish and Chasidish sets. From my explanation, he drew a line across the table and showed me where he saw me on the line. I didn't think he was terribly accurate, and I showed him where I would put myself.

He said something that was interesting, though. He pointed to where he saw me on the line, and told me that he sees me moving in one direction on that line every day. I told him that I agreed with him on that point.

It made me think about growth in life. I have always been fond of the idea that it doesn't necessarily matter where you currently are on the ladder of growth, what really matters is how far you have climbed up the ladder.

It made me wonder if the ladder has any real relation to that line that we drew on the table. If you go left or right, does that mean you are going up or down the ladder also? Does one necessarily correspond to the other?

I think a lot of people would say that the farther right you move on that line, that the higher on the ladder you are climbing. I don't agree.

I think that you can move left and right on the line, and if you are not integrating Torah into your life while you are doing it, if you are not treating others with respect, if you are not trying to grow as a person, to refine your character, then it doesn't matter how far right or left you are, you are not going to be going up the ladder at all.

Conversely, I think that if you are learning Torah, and finding how it fits into life, and incorporating it into everything you learn, whether it is something that is traditionally Jewish or not, as long as you are climbing the ladder and improving yourself, then where you are on the line is unimportant.

I guess I feel like a lot of people would think that the line is more important than the ladder, or maybe that position on one necessarily dictates position on the other. I don't think that is true, though I think that I sometimes find myself accepting it without digging deeper. I hope that, in the future, I can train myself to look at the ladder rather than the line.

Monday, March 01, 2004

One People, Two Worlds

I started reading One People, Two Worlds : A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them this weekend. It is the back and forth e-mail exchange between two rabbis - one Reform and one Orthodox. When it first came out, a lot of the Orthodox rabbis claimed that the book should not be read, that it legitimized Reform Judaism. I am not sure what they were so concerned about. I don't think any Orthodox Jew would read this book, lose his faith and decide to become Reform. The Reform rabbi actually states something similar in one of his posts. I think the book is a great dialogue between two people who have tons in common but tons of differences also. In reading, I feel like the dialogue is familiar, I feel like I have similar ones regularly, though my discussions are usually with non-Jews. In reading the book, I am upset by a lot of the things that the Reform rabbi says, but I am also upset about quite a bit of what the Orthodox rabbi says. I feel like in a lot of ways, he is narrow-minded and really does not have much understanding of any world outside the right-wing Orthodox world. And I think that is sad. I have to give credit to Shomrei Emunah for choosing this book for their book club. It is definitely an interesting read. I will write more once I finish reading it.