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Posts Tagged ‘Mount Sinai’

Max Ferguson’s Portraits Of His Father

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Max Ferguson: Painting My Father April 15–June 29, 2012 Hebrew Union College Museum One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer) http://maxferguson.com/

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture. Viewers are literally obstructed in their attempt to “enter” the image, as Ferguson has cropped out the foreground and filled it with the deli counter. Yet every detail—from the hanging meats and the scales to the portrait of the man behind the counter and the ceiling tiles—is so carefully and lovingly rendered that one can’t help but want to linger despite the blocked entrance and lack of firm ground to stand upon.

Less well-known, but arguably even more visually arresting is Ferguson’s 2005 painting, My Father in Katz’s,which is part of his upcoming solo show at Hebrew Union College that opens next month. In the painting, Ferguson’s father, Richard (1912-2005), who wears a flat cap, sits alone at a table eating a sandwich. A Dr. Brown’s cream soda (with straw), ketchup and mustard containers, and a salt shaker look up at him from the table, and Ferguson, who cleverly scrawls his signature into the wall in the bottom left corner, captures an impressive array of textures. Ferguson finds common elements in the textures, though, and one of the wall patterns (which isn’t unlike a snake’s scaly skin) is echoed in the jacket Ferguson’s dad wears. It’s a cliché, to be sure, but the work is so realistic that one can practically smell the food.

Max Ferguson. “My Father in Katz’s.” 2005. Oil on panel. 16 x 20 inches. Private Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Even from a cursory glance at Ferguson’s personal website, it’s easy to see that he takes Jewish images seriously, since one of his headings under “portfolio” is devoted to Jewish works. They include Ratner (1996), a deli which is no longer in operation; Schapiro (1996), the no longer operating wine store on Rivington Street; Bagel Bakery (1998); Schindler (1995),which shows the marquee of the since closed Art Greenwich theater; Yonah Schimmel (1992), a knish bakery that is still in operation; Torah Scribe (1993), which depicts a bearded scribe writing a Torah scroll; and Matzo Bakery (1992). Works in other sections of the site—such as the drawing Butcher Shop (2003) and the oil painting Jerusalem Fish Vendor (2004)—could also appear in the section on Jewish art.

“Despite spending so much time in Jerusalem, I continue to paint primarily New York-themed imagery,” the artist notes in the Hebrew Union College press release. “I don’t want anyone ever saying about me, ‘Oh, I didn’t know he was Jewish.’ With my Ellis Island name, people often assume I am not.” Ferguson adds that the exhibit, of 30 paintings he made of his father over three decades, coincides with what would have been his father’s 100th birthday.

Not all of the images of Ferguson’s father scream their faith as loudly as the other Jewish subjects. Saturday Night/Sunday Times, strictly speaking, has nothing Jewish about it, but the full-length portrait of Ferguson’s father receiving change from a street newspaper vendor after purchasing a New York Times certainly represents a New York ritual that will speak to many Jewish viewers. Ferguson often seems to treat props as seriously as he does figures, and this piece is no exception. The stacked copies of New York Daily News, Newsday, and New York Post are rendered with as much careful attention to detail as the texture of the figure’s skin.

Though it’d be a stretch (particularly in the absence of any indication on Ferguson’s part) to suggest that the artist was drawing upon a visual tradition of Annunciations or angelic appearances, it is interesting to note that the cropping of the newspaper seller’s arm—coupled with the spotlight that illuminates the two figures—conveys something more otherworldly than a simple monetary transaction.

Max Ferguson. “My Father on Fifth Avenue.” 2011. Oil on Panel. 9½ x 12 inches.

My Father on Fifth Avenue, by comparison, is hardly otherworldly. In the painting, Ferguson’s father, clad in comfortable shoes and a striped shirt, sits on a park bench reading the newspaper. Fallen leaves litter the ground at his feet, and the stone wall behind his back is an abstract mosaic of gray stones—perhaps the way one might envision the parted Red Sea. Many of Ferguson’s paintings, including this one, evoke the work of Edward Hopper, whose figures are often lonely and forlorn. But though Ferguson’s father sits alone without another soul in sight, he is so engrossed in his newspaper that he doesn’t seem to mind.

Fearing Holiness as Pesach Approaches

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

The big 7-8 day Holiday is approaching. The one that seems to get people more uptight than happy (as they should be –Rambam, Laws of the Holidays, 6:17), to the extent that when you are actually brave enough to utter the word “PESACH,” it often feels like you’ve put people on edge.

These less than “30 days before the Holiday” offer us an opportunity to evaluate the above phenomenon, which seems to be more and more commonplace in our times.

It amazes me that Pesach comes just a month after Purim. More than anything, what makes Purim unique is that it is a day in which the edict that “one should become inebriated on Purim till one doesn’t distinguish between the curse of Haman to the blessing of Mordechai” proclaims it a day in which…everything goes, in which one has very loose – to non-existent – borders regarding what is permitted and what is forbidden. In a word, it’s a day in which the word “fear” seems to be put into a drawer for 24 hours, as we permit ourselves to do things otherwise unthinkable – in terms of what we wear, what we say, which jokes we crack, and of course, how much alcohol we allow ourselves to consume.

And then, right after the hangover passes, the costumes are put away for next year, and the last cookie from the “Mishloach Manot” is eaten, we get…fearful and nervous; just 30 days to clean the house, buy the (new and expensive) groceries, and cook for Pesach!

From too much courage to neurotic fear, and all this in two months!

Leaving aside how much one needs to clean for Pesach and how crazy one must get (based on the Torah’s dictates, without the “extra’s” of cleaning the windows as well…), I’d like to comment on just one point – the “fear” of it.

I believe that something has crept into the Religious Jewish community over the last few years that shouldn’t be there – our fear of holiness. Let’s introduce it with the following episode, usually read right after Purim in the weekly Torah reading (except in a leap-year). The Jewish people have just been forgiven for the elevated sin of the Golden Calf, and Moshe is coming down Mount Sinai…with one small change to his face:

29. And it came to pass when Moses descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand when he descended from the mountain and Moses did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while He had spoken with him 30. that Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses and behold! the skin of his face had become radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.31. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the princes of the community returned to him, and Moses would speak to them…..

Reading these verses, I would have thought it wonderful – the people behold Moshe looking holier than ever, and thus maintain their distance, knowing that they are not on the level. After all, we don’t just barge into a shul, open the ark and greet the Torah Scrolls with a “Hello Mate…,” nor do we ascend the Temple Mount without proper preparations! And so, the Jewish people recognize Moshe’s new, elevated radiance/holiness and keep their distance from his holiness.

But then we get to Rashi’s read, which offers a radically different interpretation:

and they were afraid to come near him: Come and see how great the power of sin is! Because when they had not yet stretched out their hands to sin [with the golden calf], what does He say? “And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the children of Israel” (Exod. 24:17), and they were neither frightened nor quaking. But since they had made the calf, even from Moses’ rays of splendor they recoiled and quaked. (from Sifrei Nasso 11, Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, p. 45)

What forces Rashi to see the above in negative terms rather then the positive? Why not just applause the people for their reverence of holiness?

Seems to me that Rashi wants to give us a message: We dare not stay away from holiness. Quite the contrary – we should embrace it and try to get a “piece of it.”

Our Torah is full of commands to “be holy” (Vayikra 11:43-44, 19:2, 20:7), or “to be for me holy” (20:26)! Moreover, when the Torah commands that we shall go to “the place” in order to sacrifice and more, it adds the edict that “you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there” (Devarim 12:5). The Ramban explains (ad-loc) that “the reason for ‘you shall inquire after his dwelling’ is that you shall come from afar, and ask: ‘where is the house of God,’ and say to each other: ‘Let us ascend and go to the mountain of God to the house of the God of Jacob.’” In other words, according to this interpretation, we should not only be holy but should actually pursue it, seek it out, and make “an issue” of asking people how we can arrive at holiness.

Moriah’s Illuminated Torah

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011


Moriah’s Illuminated Torah

Artworksisrael.com

 

Avner Moriah, the well-known Israeli artist, has illuminated the Book of Genesis. No small feat, he has conjured images for all the major narratives as well as alluding to other analogous stories throughout the Torah. He sees the first book of Torah as nothing less than “a poem,” a minimalist text that yields an unending series of explorations of the mysteries and conundrums of the human condition. While this is hardly the first nor largest of his explorations of biblical and Jewish narrative, it is easily the most ambitious.


Moriah is now an old hand at Jewish narrative. Between 2004 and 2007 he completed the amazing task of illuminating four of the five megillot. His 2004 Hagaddah is highly praised and sought after as a modern masterpiece of Jewish illumination. “Resplendent colors from Egyptian and Assyria wall paintings small human and animal figurines of the early Bronze age” grace this contemporary addition to hagaddot artwork.




He inaugurated his visual Torah studies in 2001 with an enormous multipaneled oil on canvas measuring overall 12 feet by 12 feet at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Gathering at Mount Sinai (2001) is emblematic of almost all of Moriah’s subsequent biblical art. At first he depicts the specific events of the text, often including much of the text itself, in a somewhat literal and historic manner, symbolically approximating ancient Hebrew and Egyptian costume and setting. The composition centers on a 6′ X 6′ square depicting 36 episodes that he has distilled from the Sinai narrative, combining to create an image of the mountain itself. This central panel is surrounded by 12 square paintings, each simultaneously depicting one of the Ten Commandments, one of the plagues, one relevant midrashic tale, and a section devoted to each of the 10 martyrs murdered in the Hadrianic persecutions. Two other panels are devoted to the Burning Bush and events in Moses’ earlier life. The resulting artwork presents no less than a visual Torah, echoing the holy text in its complexity and contextualizing its Jewish history and thought.


 


Gathering at Mount Sinai (2001),

oil on canvas, 12′x12′ by Avner Moriah

Courtesy Jewish Theological Seminary, New York


 

 

Another large commission connected with JTS around the same time was the Women’s Zodiac. This series of 14 paintings has similar complexity, here combining diverse scriptural and midrashic narratives concerning Biblical women with symbolic representations of the Hebrew months.

Moriah was born in Jerusalem and continues to live and work there. Anticipating his diverse approach to art making, he got his BFA at Bezalel Academy of Art and then came to America and earned a MFA at the world-renowned Yale University Graduate School of Art. His current art exhibits a unique blend of Middle Eastern sensibility of color and strangely primitive figuration combined with post-Modern use of text and composition.


 


The Covenant (2010), Illumination by Avner Moriah

Courtesy Avner Moriah

 


His earlier works include a series of paintings on Israeli Soldiers (1981-1987); a Shoah Series (1998); Expulsion (from Spain) Series (1990); War of Independence Series (1997) and the Landscapes of Israel paintings (1980 to present). This last ongoing series is very dear to Moriah who sees painting the Holy Land of Israel as a kind of sacred obsession. Traveling the length and breadth of Israel in his specially out fi tted van that was a portable studio, he encountered what he saw as the “source of humankind” in the unique light and topology of Israel’s African rift landscapes. Much to our loss, he has been forced to abandon this intimate encounter with the Land since the 2001 intifada made such a project a danger to his personal safely.




Avner Moriah’s Illuminated Genesis contains images on almost every page of the Torah’s epical first book. The originals are done in watercolor and gouache on paper. While that one-of-a-kind handmade Chumash is not for sale, a limited edition of 100 copies is available from artworksisrael.com.



The artist was initially attracted to these narratives because of what he feels are their universal appeal. As he has delved into the complex narratives and their commentaries, Moriah has developed his own midrashic process. In the unique pairing of comparative narratives he effectively provides a textual guide that links and intertwines many of Genesis’ stories.

 

 



The Flood (2010), Illumination by Avner Moriah

Courtesy Avner Moriah

 

 

In his visual anecdotes multiple comparisons can be investigated. The Akeidah is paired with both the expulsion of Ishmael and the episode of Lot and his daughters to explore the tumultuous relationship between a father and child. The theme of a woman determined to become a pivotal part of the Jewish people is revealed in both the narratives of Judah and Tamar and Ruth and Naomi. In a similar way Moriah explores the themes of anger, happiness, fear, love, sorrow and jealousy, among many others, by juxtaposing snippets of different narratives. This complex method creates a visual and conceptual tapestry as one follows along the Torah text  parsha by parsha.

 

 


Jacob’s Dream (2010),

watercolor & gouache by Avner Moriah

Courtesy Avner Moriah

 


This methodology is not mechanically imposed on the Torah, rather it is utilized only when the artist feels it will enlarge and elucidate the narrative. As one can see in many other pages from Genesis such as The Covenant and The Flood, the main story is allowed to prevail in all its imaginative glory. And not surprisingly the creation of an illuminated Torah produces many stand alone works of art. Jacob’s Dream imagines the fabled ladder being composed of the angels themselves while the image of Hanoch (Enoch) Walking with God depicts a heavenly hand scooping up the saintly Hanoch.


 


Hanoch Walking with God (2010),

watercolor & gouache by Avener Moriah

Courtesy Avner Moriah

 

Avner Moriah has carved out an odd corner in the cultural life of contemporary Jewish art. His passion for the – at times harsh – realities of 20th century Jewish history along with the glories of Israeli landscape has mysteriously morphed into a equally fervent obsession with sacred Jewish texts, commentary and narrative. In recent years he has spent most of his creative time immersed in ancient tales peopled with pious and paradoxically primitive Jews, a fabric of life that unmistakably also summons many aspects of 21 st century life. His aesthetic and intellectual approach is totally unique, combining ancient and modern without missing a heartbeat. I can’t wait for the next four books of  the Torah to issue forth from his brush.


 


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com.

Eight Ways To Stop Yelling At Your Kids

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Many parents admit they yell too much, but do not know how to avoid exploding when irritated. It takes effort and discipline to defeat any addiction, whether it’s overeating or cigarette smoking and the screaming addiction is no different. Thankfully, when we really want to grow spiritually, we are given Heavenly guidance.

To get their needs satisfied, children have only five tactics: get mad, bad, sad, sick or crazy. It is up to parents to be role models and show them more mature ways to cope with life’s frustrations and losses. The following will help:

1. Get adequate sleep. People are more irritable and aggressive when sleep-deprived. With less than seven hours sleep, the body produces stress hormones that cause you to be agitated and make it difficult to control your harmful impulses.

2. Avoid junk foods. Sugar gives a short-term lift, but robs the body of essential B vitamins, weakening the nervous system. More than 150 mg. of caffeine a day (about 2 cups of coffee) reduces calcium, which is nature’s tranquilizer.

3. Dispute the toxic beliefs. Violence feeds on lies, like:

“Screaming reduces stress by letting off steam. So it’s really a good thing to scream at them.”

“Parenting tips are for normal children; mine are not normal; they are wild, defective and bad.”

“Screaming is the only way to get them to behave.”

“I can’t help it. They make me scream. I can’t control myself when I’m nervous.”

“Wimpy parents who don’t hit end up with spoiled brats who walk all over them.”

“I got hit and it didn’t harm me.”

Replace these beliefs with spiritual truths:

“They’ll mimic my behavior, leading to more abuse. Screaming is ona’as devarim, as destructive as eating traif.”

“Every act of patience will come back ten-fold when they are older! If I scream, I teach my children that screaming is the way to solve problems. I can train them to be disciplined only if I am disciplined.”

“If I were given $1million each time I refused to yell, I wouldn’t yell! In fact, I’d beg them to misbehave so that I could earn more. This proves that I can be disciplined if I focus on spiritual rewards.”

“I can be firm and set limits without violence.”

“It did harm me! That’s why I lack self-control today and have such low self-esteem!”

4. Thank them for irritating you. Critical parents send the message that, “Messes and mistakes are dangerous.” The thought of danger produces stress hormones that weaken the nervous system, making it more difficult to be disciplined. Train yourself to think, “My children are my personal trainers. All irritations are Hashem’s way of forcing me to be self-disciplined.” Practice in your imagination. Imagine a child misbehaving, like mashing banana into his hair, hitting a sibling or being insolent. Imagine saying, “Thank you for giving me another opportunity to improve my middos.” It sounds crazy, but it works! The words push you out of your lower brain and into your upper brain.

5. Separate yourself from the child. If you feel like you are a nuclear reactor about to spew toxic radioactivity, get away. Do not talk, as you are likely to say things you will regret. Go to another room, close the door and take slow deep breaths until you are calm.

6. Recognize trivialities. You can hear about a plane crash, God forbid, and feel nothing, yet get frantic because the floor is filthy. Ask yourself is it ikar or tafel?

Ikar refers to events which are life-changing, truly dangerous or of lasting significance, such as birth, death, marriage, major illness, abuse, etc.

Tafel refers to events that are uncomfortable, inconvenient and irritating, but with no lasting scars: minor physical pain, mood swings, delays, cancellations, traffic, things that break, wear out, fade, get stained or lost, shrink, appliances that break-down, clothing issues (unless it’s immodest), food issues (cold/hot, salty/spicy, fancy/plain, etc.), appearance (weight, hair, etc.), social snubs and slights to one’s honor, minor monetary losses and minor embarrassments.

Most of life’s irritations and frustrations are trivialities, although your initial response may be, “This is awful! I can’t stand it!” Saying the word “triviality” signals your brain to “work it down” and avoid the drama, anger, blame, guilt and fear which do nothing but elevate cholesterol level, raise blood pressure and create more inner anguish. Saying “triviality”does not mean that we ignore the problem, but that we handle it as calmly and as effectively as possible.

To help keep trivialities in the realm of tafel, think of a ruler with calibrations from 1 to 10, with 10 a true disaster and anything in the area of 1 to 5 as a triviality. Use the ruler to measure your level of sadness, frustration, anger, etc. Remember, trivialities often don’t feel trivial at first. Take 3 seconds to measure. And never tell others that their “10″ is only a “1.” This is insulting and alienating. For example, when my daughter complained that her son, almost three, is not yet toilet trained, I wanted to say, ‘It’s a triviality.’ Boruch Hashem, I didn’t! For her, it is a major event, as it affects whether he will be accepted into a cheder and impacts on her self-esteem as a mother. I did say that anger will make him more tense and delay the training process. And I showed her a one-day training plan.

Do not trivialize issues affecting your mental or emotional well-being:

“My eight year old told me that his teacher slapped him for not having his finger on the word. Some parents might ignore this behavior, but I was determined to speak up about it.”

Just as we avoid bal tashchis, not wasting food or damaging a physical object for no reason, we must try not waste our emotional energy on anything that is not eternal. “I saw the effect of teaching my children to recognize trivialities. My ten year old got a pair of gold earrings for her birthday and lost one within a week. Yet she was able to say, ‘It felt like a 10, but I know it’s really a triviality.’ I hugged her and told her that this was a big victory.”

Put up signs on the fridge that say: “Material losses are trivialities. We fix or forget it. We do not get upset about anything that has no eternal value.”

7. Do not extrapolate into the future. Often, what bothers us most is not what the child is doing now but our fear of how it will affect his future:

“If he’s wetting the bed now, it means he’s a total failure.”

“If she’s such a slob now, she’ll never get a shidduch, and if she does, she’ll be a terrible wife.”

“If he’s not getting good marks now, he’ll be a total failure as a human being.”

Put the future in a box labeled “Hashem’s business.” Our business is helping them develop good middos right now. We don’t know when the seeds we plant will sprout.

8. Reward good behavior. Many mothers hate good-behavior charts and prizes, but children need to see tangible rewards as much as adults need a paycheck. Talk the victory language even if you are feeling down – and especially when you are feeling down! Children need love most when they are least lovable. And we do, too!

Spiritual tests don’t look like Mount Sinai experiences with thunder and lighting and major miracles. The smallest irritation is an opportunity to develop our “soul powers”: kindness, self-control, compassion, determination, gratitude, humility, self-sacrifice and faith. Think of which middos you might use when:

The baby-sitter doesn’t show up: ______________

Your child loses his library book: _____________

Your child flunks a test: ________________

Your child is chutzpadik: ________________

Your child whines, “She hit me”: __________________

The children are fighting again: ___________________

Your child doesn’t want to get up in the morning: _____________

Be grateful for the opportunity to come closer to Hashem by working on your middos.

“I often told my children that the harder it is to do a mitzvah, the bigger the reward. It’s like firecrackers going off in shomayim [heaven]. One day, my seven-year-old said, ‘Since you told us about the firecrackers in shomayim, I now want to do only mitzvos the whole time.’ Then he gave me $1.00 from his own money for tzdakah.”

Have in mind at all times that your acts of self-control, usually unseen and unappreciated by anyone other than G-d, will be rewarded!

My KIDS TOOL KIT is now available. It contains rulers to measure difficulties, points to encourage behavioral change, COPING CARDS to transform pain into spiritual victories and other helpful tools for parents. Call Perl Abromowitz, 718-640-1878. Or order from www.miriamadahan.com or emett@netvision.net.il.

Kafka In Washington: Deceptive Cartographies And Hidden Meanings

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
            Many people prowl round Mount Sinai.  Their speech is blurred, either they are garrulous or they shout or they are taciturn.  But none of them comes straight down a broad, newly made, smooth road that does its own part in making one’s strides long and swifter.

Franz Kafka, Mount Sinai

 

             Gershom Scholem, a noted authority on the Kabbalah even before it was made fashionable by Madonna, associated Kafka with the “light of the canonical,” a rare quality of special texts that compels examination and reflection.  Focusing this light in very brief parables  - a genre in which he deployed image and motif with the strictest possible economy of language  - Kafka forces the reader to unravel mystery in order to understand.  A  “heretical Kabbalist,” as Scholem once called him, Kafka essentially gives us a unique secular representation of the sacred world.

 

            These encrypted messages can be decoded in various ways. Today, they can be productively deciphered from the critical standpoint of Israel’s stance before the twisted cartographies of Washington’s Road Map” now also known as President Barack Obama’s five-point Mitchell Plan.

 

            We will consider Kafka’s Mount Sinai.  Embedded in this exquisite parable are particular lessons and basic truths.  But it is up to the individual reader, obstructed by very grave difficulty at every turn, to make the necessary effort. Moreover, this effort must be preceded by a meaningful theme, a lucid motif wherein a genuinely useful elucidation may be undertaken.

 

            Let us now make this effort, together. Let us now also determine that our combined energies will be directed toward the “big question” of Israel’s physical survival, a question that I have taken up repeatedly in the pages of The Jewish Press.  Such a no-nonsense question would have pleased Kafka himself.  A keen student of Jewish texts who saw the destructions of the First and Second Temples as a cosmic catastrophe, Kafka, laboring painstakingly in Prague over his meticulously crafted prose, would have been eternally grateful for any opportunity to help preserve a now-reborn Jewish State.

 

            The people, who “prowl round Mount Sinai,” the allegedly emancipated Children of Israel, are deeply afflicted by their wanderings.  Although a “newly made, smooth road” might be followed to the top of the holy mountain, and hence to a much-higher level of emancipation, these people,all of these people, plainly avoid the direct road.  Instead, they remain at the base of the mountain, at the periphery of solemnity, unclear; distressed; sometimes shrill, sometimes silent.  These people, we should not be surprised to learn, will have very great difficulty in making survival choices.

 

            So it is today, with the People of Israel, living in roughly the same bad neighborhood: (1) now with a reconstituted State to protect;  (2) now with a new hostile Arab state called “Palestine” about to be torn crudely from its own still-living body; and (3) now with a surrounding Islamist world that voluptuously embraces a deeply theological anti-Semitism.  Overwhelmed by wrong directions, some of it from Jerusalem (” we will accept a demilitarized Palestinian state,” says the prime minister), some of it from Washington (the Mitchell Plan codifies both old and new expectations of Jewish land for nothing), these battered citizens of a beleaguered State prowl this way and that, tentatively, always round the outer margins of both safety and suffering.

 

            Often confusing rough roads for safe paths and for unsafe paths, they mumble, scream, shout and occasionally become mute. Daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, they search desperately for “clear instructions.”  This time, however, redemptive instructions will not likely come from a burning bush.

 

            Mount Sinai is not in Washington. Large portions of the Arab/Islamic world remain expressly committed to a new genocide for the Jews, at least to a Final Solution for the “Israel question.” Ironically, President Obama, in defiance of all binding obligations under authoritative international law, and of our own American political traditions, now implements new and improved ways of training and protecting the prospective genociders.

 

             Proudly, United States military forces continue to train Fatah “security” personnel, in reality, the grotesque vanguard of future anti-American terrorism. The Road Map, thus drawn more outrageously from the theater of the absurd than from any comprehensible diplomacy, emerges as just the newest international mantra for Israel’s annihilation.

 

            Kafka would have understood. He would not have approved, to be sure, but he would have understood. Sinai is still our sacred mountain.

 

             How, precisely, shall Israelis now attempt a climb to its summit? “Show restraint, compromise,” say some of them, even after the latest bomb or rocket of screws, bolts, razor blades and rat poison explodes upon Jewish children. “Commit more fully to the Road Map,” say those prominent journalists who loathe history and who insistently revere the senseless.  “Climb slowly,” and with “good will gestures,” say some of the taciturn academics, for they remain unshaken in their conviction that any real intelligence and courage must always be a personal liability.

 

            Alarmingly, none of these roads is a smooth one and none is capable of making one’s strides  “long and swifter.” Where, then, shall Israel find this road, the shorter and surer path to the top of the mountain?  It exists, to a point, but it is far from the route favored by Washington and by the blurred, garrulous, shouting and taciturn people.

 

             Constructed by those who still remember the true meanings of “civilization,” it is discoverable not by the Many (nothing important is ever discoverable by the Many), but only by the Few. Aware that smooth roads can be artfully rocky, and that seemingly smooth roads are often treacherous, this Few still hold the most hidden and therefore the most vital messages of Sinai.

 

            Look beyond the crowd, beyond “experts,” beyond the politicians, beyond journalists, beyond geography, beyond maps. Look in secret places, look where no one else is looking, look even where looking is forbidden.

 

             Look to some roads “newly made” and even to some roads not yet even imagined. Look not for ease or painlessness, but rather for destination and access.  Look not to Washington, but to Sinai’s original voice.

 

            Sinai’s summit, a convenient metaphor for Israel’s enduring survival, is accessible only to those who will heed this complex injunction.  Detached from those persistent policies that are inherently rooted in error, alert climbers must now consider roadways that are harder to identify or that might even still need to be built.  Although there are certainly no guarantees that freer minds will see clearly, it is certain that unfree minds will never bring us to the mountain’s summit.

 

            Sinai’s summit is blocked by enemy armies and armaments, and by relentless enemy convictions that will never bow to reason or negotiation.  To reach this blocked summit, those who prowl round the base of the mountain will inevitably have to contend, intermittently, with increasingly formidable obstructions, even preparing, if necessary, for protracted war and incessant terror. Because these enemy armies and armaments might ultimately reach a level that could forever prevent successful ascent upon the mountain, Israel will, from time to time, still have to use force purposefully.

 

             Israel will sometimes have to strike enemy positions first. It might even have to respond to certain enemy first strikes with overwhelmingly destructive reprisals. Importantly, it will also have to let both state and non-state enemies know this defensive and retributive plan in advance. After all, the Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation, was born upon this very mountain.

 

            Most perplexing of all, and most difficult to accept, will be a final awareness that Sinai’s summit can never be fully accessible, that all roads, even the best among them, will be temporary, and that the “smooth road,” while indispensable, will also remain, always, only partially navigable.

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES, the author of many books on international relations and international law, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971).  His work on security matters is well-known to Israel’s political, military, academic and intelligence communities. Professor Beres was born in Zurich on August 31, 1945, the son of Austrian Jewish refugees in Switzerland. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Sefirah And The Pull Of Torah

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes.

In the End of Days, after the Children of Israel have returned to their land, the children of Ishmael [the Muslim world] and the children of Esau [the Western Nations] will unite to attack Jerusalem. They will form a world coalition against the tiny nation of Israel. But something will go wrong with their plan. The religious beliefs of the children of Ishmael and the children of Esau will clash, and the two nations will collide and destroy each other. This is what is referred to as the War of Gog and Magog. Following this cataclysmic conflict, the Final Redemption of the Jewish People will occur with the coming of Messiah the Son of King David.” [Malbim on Ezekiel 32:17, from the Introduction to my book 2020 Vision]

We are seeing the “world coalition” forming and we can well imagine what the next steps will be. Perhaps the only comfort in this difficult world is that all the events we are witnessing have been predicted by our prophets. What else gives one the strength to endure what would otherwise be unendurable?

We are in the middle of Sefirah. Why have terrible things – including the decimation of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva – happened to the Children of Israel during Sefirahs haOmer? And what happened on the thirty-third day of the Omer to turn them around?

According to Book of Our Heritage, during the period of Sefirahs haOmer “man’s future sustenance is on the line” because it is the period of harvest. “Will he be blessed with plenty or cursed by famine?…. Because this is a period of judgment that lasts for fifty days, the trepidation accompanying these days is great.”

But this is not the only cause of trepidation. Sefirah is the period during which, in biblical times, we marched from Egypt to Mount Sinai, attempting during these seven weeks to eradicate the terrible effects of long-term immersion in Egyptian immorality and idolatry. That’s not so easy. We have only to look at ourselves, immersed as we are in Western culture, to understand how the Jews could have felt that it was natural to live in the Egyptian culture. Only very few, apparently, felt they were completely out of place, and thus only one in five left Egypt.

This is the frightening aspect of both Sefirah and our current exile. Even those who did leave Egypt found it difficult to disentangle their souls from poison of exile: “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt the cucumbers, melons, leeks onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5).

During Sefirah there is a titanic spiritual battle over which way to go: backward toward Egypt or forward toward Mount Sinai and Hashem’s Torah. Apparently the turning point occurred on Lag B’Omer. Was it coincidence that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was niftar on that day? Was it coincidence that on that day the Zohar was revealed? What is it about Lag B’Omer?

We say in the Shema, “do not follow after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray “It seems the heart is the leader in going astray. If our heart is focused on Torah, we are safe, and all follows the direction of the heart. If it is focused on material objects, we are in danger, and our eyes and all our other limbs follow it to dust and destruction, God forbid.

As our rabbis tell us, “Rachmana liba ba’ei” – God desires the heart(Rashi on Sanhedrin 106b). Sefirah is forty-nine days. The gematria of “lev tov,” a good heart, is forty-nine. (The word “lev” (heart) is thirty-two (lamed-beis) and the word “tov” (good) is seventeen (tes-vov-beis). The first thirty-two days of Sefirah seem to focus on the battle for the heart. It is still in danger, pulled back by the lure of Egypt. Which way will we go? Will we in fact go forward toward Mount Sinai and a life of sanctity? Or will we return to the bottomless pit of Egypt?

On the thirty-third day, apparently, the issue was decided in favor of “tov” because in fact we went onward to Mount Sinai. Thus, the last seventeen days of Sefirah seem to reflect the gematria of “tov.” We took the good course. We seem to have felt the pull of Torah drawing us forward.

A Torah Perspective on Educating Our Children About Sexuality (Part VII)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Over the past few weeks we have been focusing on how necessary it is, especially today, that parents take an active role in teaching their children the Torah’s view on sexuality and modesty and how important it is that first images to fill a child’s mind in regards to these concepts be appropriate ones.

We have discussed how pervasive the secular culture is, how much it has affected our children and how we can no longer afford to be naive about the existence of sexual predators in our midst. We reminded you that if children do not possess clear knowledge and an age-appropriate understanding of the parts of their body and how they can be used or misused, they would not be able to protect themselves from those who seek to abuse them.

There is a school of thought that exposing children and adolescents to sexual ideas will arouse in them a yetzer hara. We referenced a halachic ruling from the Ezer Mekodesh (Shulchan Aruch, E.H. 23:3) that makes it clear it is permitted for even a young man to study the sections of the Torah that relate to sexuality.

An additional point to consider is that in order for us to be effective parents, we must adapt with the times. As certain social and psychological norms have changed over the years, our response to them must change as well. Keep in mind; halacha has recognized that over centuries, even biological realities and makeup of humans are subject to variations and change. (See for example, Magen Avraham, O.H., 179:8.) Certainly then, it is a reasonable conjecture that our cultural, social, and emotional realities, are also subject to variation from generation to generation.

What holds some people back from providing children with this basic and essential part of Torah knowledge? It appears that it is shame. Now, shame is both a positive and negative character attribute. Indeed, the Gemara states: “It is evident that regarding he who does not have shame, his forefathers were not at Mount Sinai. [In other words, he is not part of the Jewish covenant.]” (Nedarim 20a.) The Gemara also states that the Jewish people have the following three character attributes: “Mercy, shame and kindness.” (Yevamos 79a.) On the other hand, common sense tells us that shame can be harmful if it prevents a person from social functioning, for example being too shy or timid. So, we can see that not all types of shame are constructive.

A Jewish Philosophical Perspective on Shame:

In Beraishis (2:25) Adam and Chava before they sinned and ate from the Tree of Knowledge are described as follows:

“And they both were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.”

Seforno teaches: “[They were not ashamed] because all their actions and all their organs were only to fulfill the will of their Creator. These organs were not for the purpose of obtaining fleeting sensual gratification. Sexual activity for them was no different than one who eats or drinks simply for the purpose of sustaining nourishment. Therefore, the sexual organs for them felt no different than the mouth, face or hands feel for us.” (Ramban ibid 2:9 concurs with this view.)

What the Torah and commentaries seems to be telling us is that Adam and Chava felt no shame at their nakedness because they felt no arousal when they saw each other. Thus, according to this view, shame comes from being aroused and feeling sinful, lustful urges that are not quite under the person’s control. Presumably, one who discusses sexual matters or issues with pure intent has no reason to feel shame.

(To be continued)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/a-torah-perspective-on-educating-our-children-about-sexuality-part-vii-2/2009/10/07/

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