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Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Smack! or "Is Ignorance Bliss?"

It is amazing how timely those smacks come. Last night I was smacked by my idealism once again, and it made me wonder, as I have often wondered, "Is Ignorance Bliss?" We set up illusions in our head because we don't want to know things, and when those things that we don't want to know are confirmed, it is hard to take. Would we be better off living with the illusion? The truth is, as much as I often want to live with the illusion, I do think we are better off knowing the truth. And I think Hashem really gives us the truth only when we are going to be capable of dealing with it, when we have grown enough so that we can use the tools we have to turn the situations into something we can learn and grow from. I also think that Hashem gives us these truths when we really need to learn something. Yudel wrote to me yesterday: "[W]e have to recognize that, as a People, we Jews are unique. This is not to undermine peoples of other nationalities, races, or ethnicities. Hashem creates us all. But we know from the Torah that Hashem made a special covenant with the patriarchs, with Avraham Avinu, and thereby singled out their progeny - us - for a special destiny, marked by a closeness to Him, by our acceptance and observance of the Torah, and by inheritance of Eretz Yisrael - to mention some of the more pivotal items. He took us out of Egypt to make good on the promise He'd made to our forbears and brought us into the holy land. It's all there, explicit and spelled out in the Torah. That you and I are Jews is not an irrelevant accident of fate; it's deliberate and purposeful. More than anything else, we want to be faithful to our Jewishness. The WORLD depends on it." After my smack yesterday, I see so clearly what Yudel is saying. That Hashem has given us the Torah is such an amazing thing, and we are so lucky to have it, and to live by it as best we can. It is such an amazing guiding light for us, to give us a road to march down, and to follow the path that Hashem wants us to follow. Other people just don't have that road to be guided by. I struggle a lot about whether it is right or not to say that Jews have a special purpose, but I now see the importance of it, and what a difference it does make. We are special, and I thank Hashem so much that He cares about us to give us His Torah. I am sorry I needed the smack, but as hard as it is to take, I can already see why it was given to me. I do NOT think ignorance is bliss, because I think you miss a lot of lessons by living with illusion.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Being Unique

Yudel's response to my comments below: It's a fact of life that we, the Jewish people, are the "am hanivchar," the chosen people. However much the Western tradition clamors to extol the virtues of Equality, we know better than to believe that everything is equal. G-d created the world. He created animate and inanimate objects. He created vegetative objects and animal creatures. He created the animal kingdom and He created man, endowing him with speech and the ability to reason. Among men, He chose Israel and conferred upon it a distinct historical destiny. Within the Jewish people, He separated out the kohanim, the priestly class, giving them exclusive privileges vis a vis the performance of holy service. The world is very much hierarchically arranged; it is the way it is meant to be. Perhaps it is intended to reflect the ultimate division of stature: that between the Creator and the created. However much we managed to equalize things, people, etc on this earth, this transcendental "inequality" would always remain elusive, untouchable. It's a fact of life! The Jewish people have been endowed with an unmatched Divine identity. Actualizing it is the truest fulfillment of liberation. For this reason, no one but a Jew can claim this form of freedom for himself. It's life - whose secrets are so deep. May we merit to live and to understand. I like what he says above. I definitely can look around at the people I know and acknowledge that each of us has our unique gifts and potentials to actualize. And I think it would be a disaster to say that everyone is exactly the same and should aim for the same goal and destiny - to do so would be to ignore the amazing gifts that Hashem individually gives to each of us. Thank you again, Yudel, for your response! May each of us merit to recognize and fulfill our unique destinies!

Monday, June 28, 2004


I am an Idealist. I hold myself and others to such a high standard, often it is difficult to face the realities of how other people see the world. This is often hit home to me in class discussions. I am currently writing an essay about whether an engineer who knows a product has a defect should report it or not. To me, the engineer has a responsibility to whoever is using his product - I could care less about the monetary loss that might be incurred in ensuring that a product is completely safe, or of the best quality. I was asked to decide how many potential lives lost are worth the cost of reporting and repairing a defect - to me, you can't put a price on life, even one potential life harmed - not lost, but harmed - is worth any amount of money to fix. Then I was told that companies in the past have decided that they would rather take the monetary damages of a family suing for an injured or killed relative rather than fix a product. Wow, I was blown away that a company could collectively decide that it would be better to take the risk of being sued rather than take the measures necessary to ensure that no one would be injured in the first place. Being an Idealist is often very difficult. I sometimes feel like I get smacked in the face because I can't believe the cynicism with which others live their life. It disappoints me so much that people view their fellow humans in such a negative light, because if they view others so negatively, I feel it must come because that is how they themselves choose to live. But then I sometimes wonder which is better - is it better to believe the worst and not get knocked down, or is it better to expect the best and get disappointed? Personally, I think I would rather expect the best, even though it means periodic disappointment, because at least my outlook on others, even if it is not realistic, is to give the benefit of the doubt, and generally see the good. Maybe I get hit with negative reality at times, but the other times, I am assuming the best, and I think that makes it worth it. I would hate to go around seeing everything in a negative light all the time, I think I would rather suffer being disappointed on occasion. Is this easy? Not at all, because those times when I am smacked with reality, I do suffer, and each time it is a little bit harder to go on being the Idealist that I think is in my heart. But so far, I am so lucky - I haven't been smacked enough to let go of my idealism yet. I hope that I never am.

Friday, June 25, 2004

The Freedom of Slavery

I received an e-mail from Yudel and I thought I would share it: In your blog about Aristotle you were bemoaning what you took to be the fact that people are inexorably enslaved to something or other. You were groping for a way out. How does a person keep from being enslaved? But surely you know, the Tana in Avos says, "Ein lach ben chorin ela mi sheosek betaora." Freely translated, this says, the only way to be really free is to occupy oneself in Torah. So you see, there is a way out. The reason we feel so resigned to slavery as that we detach, or distance, ourselves from our ultimate source and our true identity. Consequently, our consciousness brings us into communion only with ulterior phenomena. And the only way to relate to something ulterior is slavishly. However, as we draw ourselves closer to our source, our true essence of being, we are no longer captivated by something exterior. For we have FOUND ourselves, truly and deeply. Now, as we all know, as Jews, what we really are, on the level of soulfulness (i.e., true ultimate essence), are Torah-beings. Accordingly, in proportion as we forge an identification of ourselves with Torah, the will of Hashem, we release ourselves from the exterior (ulterior) grip. We become attuned to our inner selves: you and me. This is true freedom. So you see, it's so very simple. I didn't see it as being so simple, so my response was this: If we can only find our true selves through dedication to Torah, how does that not make us slaves to Torah, and consequently, Hashem? (By the way, this would not necessarily be a negative form of slavery, maybe it would be a positive form, but I have trouble seeing it as being free from some kind of bondage, which is to me, slavery.) If Jews have this opportunity to free themselves by delving into Torah, where does that leave non-Jews? Are they bound by slavery because they are not bound by Torah? I think Aristotle's views might even coincide with that belief - he seemed to think that some people are natural slaves while others had higher rank and potential. But I have a lot of problems with that. Yudel's response: You get right to the root of the matter. You intimate that dedication to Torah and subservience to the Al-mighty is a form of slavish bondage. But as we know, the highest plane of existence we can reach is where we're servants to Hashem. The Al-mighty Himself refers to Moshe Rabeinu as "avdi"...My servant. And the Torah exhorts us not to subject a slave of our brethren to abject labor, by declaring "Ki avaday hem," "For they our My slaves," and therefore they (the Jewish people) must not be treated slavishly by us. Clearly, the point of it all is that we submit ourselves unreservedly to His will. Yet, as we saw, the Tana in Avos characterizes this as freedom! The way I've tried to explain it is to say, true freedom is self-actualization. When someone is encumbered from actualizing himself, he suffers from a lack of freedom. When someone is forced to do something against his will, he isn't actualizing himself. He isn't acting from the authentic root of his true identity, his essential being. We Jews...we're so holy and so special. By our very definition, we are receivers of Torah. We are acceptors of the will of Hashem. Our very inner being is entwined with this. Consequently, for us to willfully embrace Torah and embrace the way of life He has ordained for is - this IS for us to exercise an act of freedom. Because this puts us in touch with our deepest essence. And nothing can be freer than that! Usually, subservience is to something extraneous to us; so it drives us away from ourselves (as it were). But in this instance, it takes us back to who we really are and where we come from. It takes us to where we are destined to go. Secular, scientifically minded philosophers just aren't on our wave length. So they trouble themselves endlessly with the "Free Will-Determinism Problem." So much the worse for secular, scientifically minded philosophers. Nebach. Maybe this sheds some light on the situation with non-Jews, too. To the extent that they don't engage in self-actualization, they are indeed enslaved. When they pander to their baser instincts and relentlessly pursue hedonistic goals, they fail to actualize themselves as human beings, created in the image of Hashem. They are acting slavishly. They don't possess a Torah-essence as we do; so they lack the potential for the ultimate freedom that pertains to us. But within their own plain of existence, there is room to succeed and to falter/succumb. So there's a wide spectrum for them to vary on, ranging from the decrepitly earth-bound to the sublimely free. I still need to think about what he says a bit more - I like the thought that our self-actualization through Torah leads to personal freedom. However, I have trouble with the concept that non-Jews would not be given the same opportunity as we are - I believe Hashem loves all of us, Jewish or non-Jewish, and would not create some humans without the chance for true freedom. And I would love to throw the Free-Will/Determinism debate away, because it is something that bothers me a lot, but I am not positive it is so easy. Thanks for your thoughts, Yudel!

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

It's All a Matter of Perspective

I have been thinking a lot about perspective lately, and how a different perspective can make such a huge difference in the evaluation of a certain circumstance or experience. It is amazing to me how I can read something and take from it something completely different than someone else. Often in my classes, when I talk about something I feel the author is saying, classmates disagree and feel that the author was saying something opposite. I think much of it is a matter of our personal histories and biases clouding how we interpret what we experience. Two people can go through an experience together, and then go away with two completely different views on what just occurred and what was important about what happened. And the even wilder thing is that neither of those views are probably completely accurate about what happened. Both people probably missed some details and information during the experience. I think we have to work hard on expressing ourselves and our reflections in order to be able to come together and be able to live peacefully. I think often people want to stick to their impression of things and refuse to budge even when faced with evidence that their view of things might be off. Thomas Hobbes felt that humans are naturally in a state of war, that each of us only cares about himself and feels he is entitled to everything. On the other hand, Hobbes also believed that we are all equal. Instead of equality being something that tears us apart, I would rather see it as something that brings us together. Because we recognize that we have so much in common, we should strive to understand and connect to others in order to bring about peace for all of our sakes - not just for the preservation of our own lives.

Monday, June 21, 2004


The weekend was absolutely beautiful. I spent it in great conversation with good friends, enjoying the gorgeous weather and relaxing as much as possible while trying to read everything I needed to for school. For school, I had to read an excerpt from Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. Hobbes writes about natural laws, though I couldn't discern whether the he feels that the natural laws he speaks of are actually in effect, or need to be effect for society to work properly. The part I really had trouble with, however, is that Hobbes believes that people are in a perpetual state of war, against one another. He feels that if people were not worried about their own lives, then they would kill everyone else, because that would be to their benefit, they would then be able to have whatever they wanted. But fortunately, we are all afraid of others killing us, so we don't kill them, and therefore we live in a state of peace. What troubles me so much about this is that Hobbes doesn't leave much room for friendship, love for other people, or empathy between humans. (It makes me wonder if he had any satisfying relationships in his life.) His outlook is so stark, and without a sense of human connection, I feel he misses what makes humanity what it is. Yes, humans differ from animals because of their ability to reason, but I think we also differ because of our ability to care for one another, and feel real emotion and love for others. I don't feel that I don't murder others because I am afraid of retribution, I feel I don't kill others because I have a real respect for human life, other people's as well as my own. Reading philosophy like Hobbes always makes me a little sad, because I think it takes our humanity away, and turns us into animals, while I think the point of philosophy is that we are so much higher than other animals. I hope Hobbes is wrong about us.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Moshiach's Hat

By Rabbi Yitzchok Feigenbaum --------------------------------------- T'was the night of the geulah, and in every single shteibel, sounds of Torah could be heard, coming from every kind of Yeidel. This one in English, some in Hebrew, some in Yiddish, some saying pshat, and some saying chiddush. And up in shomayim, the Aibishter decreed, "The time has come for My children to be freed. Rouse the Mashiach from his heavenly berth, have him get in his chariot and head down to Earth." The Moshiach got dressed, and with a heart full of glee, went down to the Earth, and entered the first shteibel he did see. "I'm the Moshiach, Hashem has heard your plea, your geulah has come, it is time to go free!" They all stopped their learning, this was quite a surprise, And they looked at him carefully with piercing sharp eyes. "He's not the Mashiach!" said one with a grin, "Just look at his hat, at the pinches and brim!" "That's right!", cried another with a grimace and a frown, "Whoever heard of Mashiach with a brim that is down?!" "Well", thought Mashiach, "If that is the rule, I'll turn my brim up before I go to the next shule!" So he walked on right over to the next shule in town, confident to be accepted since his brim was no longer down. "I'm the Mashiach!", he cried as he began to enter. But the Jews there wanted to know first, if he was left, right, or center. "Your clothes are so black!" they cried out in a fright. "You can't be Mashiach -- you're much too far right! If you want to be Mashiach, you must be properly outfitted." So they replaced his black hat with a kipa that was knitted. Wearing his new kipa, Mashiach went out and he said, "No difference to me what I wear on my head." So he went to the next shule, for his mission was dear, But he was getting a bit frustrated with the Yidden down here. "I'm the Mashiach!" he cried, and they all stopped to stare. And a complete eerie stillness filled up the air. "You're the Mashiach?! Just imagine that. Whoever heard of Mashiach without a black hat?!" "But I do have a hat!" the Mashiach then said. So he pulled it right out and plunked it down on his head. Then the Shule started laughing, and one said, "Where's your kop? You can't have Mashiach with a brim that is up! If you want to be Mashiach, and be accepted in this town, put some pinches in your hat, and turn that brim down!" Mashiach walked out and said, "I guess my time hasn't really come, I'll just have to return to where I came from. So he went to his chariot, but as he began to enter, all sorts of Jews appeared, from left, right, and center. "Please wait, do not leave, it's all THEIR fault!" they said And they pointed to each other, and to what was on each other's head. Mashiach just looked sad, and said, "You don't understand." And then started up his chariot to get out of this land. "Yes, it's very wonderful, that all of you learn Torah, But you seem to have forgotten, a crucial part of our mesorah." "What does he mean? What's he talking about?" And they all looked bewildered, and all began to shout. Mashiach looked back and answered, "The first place to start, is to shut up your mouths, and open up your heart. To each of you, certain Yidden seem too frum or too frei but ALL Yidden are beloved, in the Aibeshter's eye." And on his way up he shouted, "If you want me to come, try working a little harder on some ahavas chinam."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Random Musing

I was talking to a friend last night about my general level of frustration these days and how I have been considering moving on from Baltimore because of it. Her point, and it was an excellent one, I have to give her credit, was that moving would not necessarily make a difference in my level of frustration. In thinking even more about it, I am not quite sure what would make a difference - the various considerations that have been floating around in my head are in no way solutions, and I feel that the things that frustrate me are everywhere. Being faced with that, I am feeling a bit helpless and aimless at the moment, but in no rush to pick up and change cities. I guess this is an improvement?

Friday, June 11, 2004


Lots going on here, and in my mind, which I am never able to shut off, but my thoughts are not quite organized and I am not at this point comfortable with sharing them. So, I will write a bit about something we discussed in class the other night. We talked about the canonical view of business. What the canonical view of business says(at least according to my textbook) is that the aim of society is towards efficiency and that each person looks out mainly for himself only. My problem with efficiency (and no one in my class seemed to share this concern) is that when you aim for the most gain while putting in the least effort, you lose so much in the way of personal growth and beauty. If you aim only for efficiency, then who cares about art, or aesthetic pleasures, or meaningfulness? I think the quality of an efficient life leaves a ton to be desired. Even in business, I think there is room for considerations off of the efficient path. But the business majors in my class were adamant - business is about making money, social responsibility is just a consequence and a hindrance that Americans must work around. The discussion depressed me a bit, my professor said he gets depressed hearing people talk like that, but then he looks around and sees that people don't necessarily act like that, and it gives him hope. I guess I hope that actions speak louder than words, and certainly louder than the canonical view of business. I hope everyone has a wonderful Shabbos.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Speech, Speech!

I have to give a speech next week and I have two topics to choose from - either a great place to go on vacation or a "how to" speech. I thought it would be easy, I would talk about visiting Israel, but oddly enough, someone already took that one. I thought about Alabama, because I kind of doubt that someone would steal that from me, but I don't know how many highlights I could come up with. So, I could demonstrate "how to" do something. But the question is, what?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

City of Angels

No, I'm not going to Los Angeles (that is a place I actually have very little interest ever visiting again - long story). At the suggestion of a friend, I rented the video City of Angels this past week with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan, and I definitely think it is worth watching for those who don't like all their movies to be the same. I am not the hugest fan of Nicholas Cage, but in City of Angels, he really steps up and portrays an angel in all his celestial light. His eyes speak novels, as do Meg Ryan's. In general, I think both characters portray that part of life that you feel even when you can't explain why; that feeling of being drawn to another for reasons unknown. The lesson I liked best about the movie is that you should always appreciate every second you have, and that you should not regret your decisions, no matter the outcome. The soundtrack really added a lot, and the cinematography was absolutely beautiful. It was definitely an aesthetically pleasing movie, despite Dennis Franz in a supporting role. My only warning is if you are not looking to cry, don't watch this one.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Catcher in the Rye

I finished reading "Catcher in the Rye" by JD Salinger this weekend. It reminded me a bit of "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath, mainly in that both authors depict a person going through serious mental problems. The interesting thing in both is that, the more mentally disturbed the characters are, the more honest and authentic they seem to be. In the beginning of "Catcher," Holden decries the phonies he constantly seems to come into contact with, while at the same time, he constantly lies and deceives those he meets. As the book goes on, as Holden gets more and more desperate, he stops lying and starts reaching for those whose company he cherishes. I think it sometimes takes some desperation to make us realize what is important and who really cares about us. The other thing that I found so interesting is something that I notice often in people, and that I often wonder about myself also. Holden constantly criticizes those around him for being phony, and says this is why he can't maintain his presence at a school. But he lies and is rarely true to himself. I have often seen people blindly pointing fingers at others for those faults that they themselves embrace. I wonder sometimes if I do this same thing, and if so, what faults I criticize that I actually have. As I have often heard said, when you are pointing one finger at others, you have three pointing back at yourself.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Aristotle's Ethics

Being in school during the summer is hard. After having such a nice break, I am having trouble trying to balance my social life and school. I am resenting school a bit at the moment because it means that I have to be inside in a windowless classroom when I want to be outside enjoying the gorgeous weather. It doesn't help that I am taking a class that focuses on the business world when I have no interest in business whatsoever. Stupid required courses. Oh well, I got myself into it, I have to deal with it. Last night in class, we spoke about Aristotle's view of happiness being self-sufficient and the ultimate goal that we strive for. I have to admit that I didn't quite understand everything Aristotle was saying, because he has a tendency to assume that the reader accepts many of his assumptions, and then abruptly change topics. But I was bothered by the fact that Aristotle seemed to view happiness as the ultimate destination of a virtuous life. At what cost is happiness so important? At the cost of other people's happiness? Aristotle does say that the higher level is that which takes into account the happiness of the entire city-state rather than the individual, but then can you say that everyone is happy? I feel like doing the right, or virtuous, thing may not always make everyone happy, but it might lead to a better life, in general. The problem is Aristotle says that happiness is self-sufficient, so it can't possibly be dependent on anything. But if it is nto dependent on anything, then can it supercede what is right? I need to do more thinking about this one, but I have to trudge ahead and start reading the next assignments already - this time Aristotle takes on friendship. I have read it before, but I definitely need a refresher. Heading to DC for Shabbos, hopefully the weather will hold out so I can walk around the city and hang out near the Mall. Good Shabbos!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


My class for the summer semester is a required course titled "Ethics for Business and Society." I have some issues with taking a class geared towards business majors, because I feel that ethics in Psychology has a completely different focus than business. But I am required to take it (that's what I get for going to the "Career-Minded University"), and I want to graduate, so there you go. Last night we were trying to determine exactly what ethics are, and if there is a difference between morals and ethics. From the examples people in my class gave, it is going to be an interesting semester. Predominantly business and computer science majors, my classmates have a slightly different outlook on many things than I do. I look forward to the opportunity to hash out my thoughts on many controversial topics that we are going to be discussing - I think the conversations are going to be interesting and probably the topic of a few blog posts. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I'm back

Life really has been beautiful. I have spent the past few weeks really having quality time with my friends while I had a break from school, and I once again have realized how amazingly lucky I am to have such incredible, supportive people in my life who really make me feel at home so far from my family. Shavuous was very nice. I had all my meals with friends, and we made a very nice meal for the first day. Love that dairy food. This past Shabbos I made Friday night dinner with two friends and we had a completely relaxed dinner just enjoying each other's company. Sunday I traveled to New York. I took the train, which I had never done before. It was nice to sit back and enjoy watching the country go by. I spent my day there in Central Park, which I had never been to before. It was hard to believe that I was in the middle of such a huge, bustling city, because the Park was so incredibly gorgeous. I strolled around the park, watched people paddleboating, stood on top of a 150-year-old bridge and had a wonderful conversation with someone who really taught me a lot in a few short hours. I will remember that day for a long time, for many reasons. It was nice to have some time to just slow down and appreciate the many incredible things I have in my life and the world that surrounds me. Hashem has created such an amazing world for us to enjoy, I am glad that I took the time to really enjoy it for at least a little while.