Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, May 31, 2009
hope you don't mind if i hide behind the curtain
it's been fifteen years since my last confession
by your good book's standards, I've sinned like a champion
but that book seems a tad bit out-dated
please forgive me, for questioning divinity
it's an ugly job, but i think I'm up for it
I'm not saying who's right
I'm just saying there's more than one way
to skin a religion
there's more than one way
to explain our existence
reverend, sir, i don't want to seem malevolent
my teenage angst is far behind me
but father, certainly it's troubling to see
all these people kneeling, instead of dealing
with the fact that we are all we have
so, rise up! rise up!
there's no one to worship!
but plenty of life to lose!
I'm not saying "let's burn down the church"
but do you want to hear my confession?
it's my greatest sin..
okay, here it is:
i wasted half my life on the thought that I'd live forever!
i wasn't raised, to seize the day, but to work and worship
'cause "he that liveth and believeth" supposedly never dies
rise up! rise up!
and live a full life!
'cause when it's over, it's done
so rise up! rise up!
dance and scream and love!
[barely audible outro]
you're not the chosen one
and I'm not the chosen one
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
My Lost God.
Have you seen my lost god?
I was always able to find him before
in the crisp dry pages of some old book
of lore. Or in the subtle manipulations of movements,
the bended knee and the bowed head.
He used to linger on my lips
long after I spoke his name. And move
down my throat, all sharp and sweet
leaving me sated, needing
to say his name yet again.
Have you seen him?
He once marked me as his own
with his cut and my blood.
Binding me to him.
We were bound with leather cords
cold and black and tied to my heart.
Two sided straps, sleek and shiny
on top, rough and earthy against my skin,
wrapped tightly, engraving their tight circles around my arm.
Have you found him?
He left signs for me to follow.
Signs for me, and on me, and in me.
And for so long I followed that winding path
of repeated rituals and rites and prayers .
Until I followed that circle back to its start
and found the heart of what my god had always been,
only a part of the mind of men.
And at that moment I got lost,
and found that I was my lost god.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
"[Intellect?] Nothing that resembles it. At a future time I will examine what man calls his mind and give you the details of that chaos, then you will see and understand. Men have nothing in common with me - there is no point of contact; they have foolish little feelings and foolish little vanities and impertinences and ambitions: their foolish little life is but a laugh, a sigh, and extinction; and they have no sense. Only the Moral Sense. I will show you what I mean. Here is a red spider, not so big as a pin's head. Can you imagine an elephant being interested in him - caring whether he is happy or isn't, or whether he is wealthy or poor, or whether his sweetheart returns his love or not, or whether his mother is sick or well, or whether he is looked up to in society or not, or whether his enemies will smite him or his friends desert him, or whether his hopes will suffer blight or his political ambitions fail, or whether he shall die in the bosom of his family or neglected and despised in a foreign land? These things can never be important to the elephant; they are nothing to him; he cannot shrink his sympathies to the microscopic size of them. Man is to me as the red spider is to the elephant. The elephant has nothing against the spider - he cannot get down to that remote level; I have nothing against man. The elephant is indifferent; I am indifferent. The elephant would not take the trouble to do the spider an ill turn; if he took the notion he might do him a good turn, if it came in his way and cost nothing. I have done men good service, but no ill turns.
"The elephant lives a century, the red spider a day; in power, intellect, and dignity the one creature is separated from the other by a distance which is simply astronomical. Yet in these, as in all qualities, man is immeasurably further below me than is the wee spider below the elephant.
"Man's mind clumsily and tediously and laboriously patches little trivialities together and gets a result - such as it is. My mind creates! Do you get the force of that? Creates anything it desires - and in a moment. Creates without material. Creates fluids, solids, colors - anything, everything - out of the airy nothing which is called Thought. A man imagines a silk thread, imagines a machine to make it, imagines a picture, then by weeks of labor embroiders it on canvas with the thread. I think the whole thing, and in a moment it is before you - created.
"I think a poem, music, the record of a game of chess - anything - and it is there. This is the immortal mind - nothing is beyond its reach. Nothing can obstruct my vision: the rocks are transparent to me, and darkness is daylight. I do not need to open a book; I take the whole of its contents into my mind at a single glance, through the cover; and in a million years I could not forget a single word of it, or its place in the volume. Nothing goes on in the skull of man, bird, fish, insect, or other creature which can be hidden from me. I pierce the learned man's brain with a single glance, and the treasures which cost him threescore years to accumulate are mine; he can forget, and he does forget, but I retain.
"Now, then, I perceive by your thoughts that you are understanding me fairly well. Let us proceed. Circumstances might so fall out that the elephant could like the spider - supposing he can see it - but he could not love it. His love is for his own kind - for his equals. An angel's love is sublime, adorable, divine, beyond the imagination of man - infinitely beyond it! But it is limited to his own august order. If it fell upon one of your race for only an instant, it would consume its object to ashes. No, we cannot love men, but we can be harmlessly indifferent to them; we can also like them, sometimes. I like you and the boys,[...]and for your sakes I am doing all these things."
My mind reeled. I had never experienced such biting and incisive sarcasm before. It had never occurred to me to think beyond the areas of might and power and will, (which was how most of the ideas of god were framed in my mind), to the areas of rights and perspective and circumstance. Does might make right? Can power and perspective be so subjective as to be irrelevant? Should particular circumstances be able to override a specific will? The allegory became clear to me. While we may be nothing in the eyes of something more powerful, we are still something. Our value is inherent. Our lives and the meaning of our lives should not and more importantly, could not, come from anything but ourselves. The idea that someone or something else could define the value in our lives was ridiculous, because the fact that we find meaning in ourselves is meaning enough. No one can stand behind Satan’s view, because we understand that while the figures mean nothing to him, they mean something to themselves, and that means they can no longer be considered as nothing. To say that he has the right to decide our fate, would be to say that our own value and ideas and thoughts mean nothing and are worthless. And yet somehow we seem to have no problem accepting god as the arbiter of value and meaning in our lives. How can we accept that, without negating all value in ourselves as rational thinking people? At best, according to this, god was indifferent to us. At worse, enraged. But love? It was never a possibility.
I remember clearly, sitting in the library all shocked and stone still. My world was turned upside down, my whole paradigm shifted. Instead of ‘How can I prove to others that my god is the true god’, it became, ‘How can I even know there is a god, and even if there is, who says there’s a way to know anything about him.’ I didn’t move for well over an hour. I couldn’t. My certainty in my god and my religion had been what defined the last four years of my life. How could I go on?
One more part left! Coming soon!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I grew up in Monsey, in a family that was a wierd mix of chasidish, yeshivish, shephardi and modern. I went to Sqvere every Yom Kippur, but wore sephardi tefilin. Went to YSV, a typical kid just doing the basics. In eighth grade I realised that some of the more shtark kids, started wearing only white shirts after they became Bar Mitzvah and keeping their tzitzis out. Because being shtark was equated with being good, I decided to follow suit. I had always enjoyed learning, and I found that wearing the outfit of a 'learner' helped me become just that. Fueled by what I thought people would expect of a real bochur, I buckled down and began earnestly shteiging away.
After finishing eighth grade at YSV, I went off to learn at Ner in Baltimore. Honestly, I wanted to go to a more yeshivish place like Riverdale, where my cousins went, but the more modern elements of my family prevailed and off to Baltimore it was. When I got there, I immediately threw myself into my learning. I really enjoyed the give and take of gemarra, and I excelled. But I found something new there as well - Mussar. Looking back now, I think something I Loved about mussar was that it eliminated the guesswork. 'These things are wrong, these things are right - the end.' It made me feel good to know that I was doing the Right thing. By the end of ninth grade, I had full Brisker payos, thick tzitzis out, and wore my jacket and hat whenever I went outside. By the end of eleventh grade I felt like my path was set on becoming a real Rav, and that was exactly what I wanted. I was waking up between four and five in the morning to be the first one in the Beis Medrash and take the chairs down. I would spend some time with another bochur, just us, learning mussar for an hour before other people would start filtering in, when we would switch to halacha and gemarra. During seder throughout the day, I was one of the people that other bochurim would come to when they had questions on a shvere sug'ya. After night seder and maariv, I stayed learning until at least midnight, usually closer to one or two. My rabeim all loved me.
At some point during all of this, I got into the idea of kiruv. It occurred to me that we spent all of our time learning gemarra and halacha, but not about why we believed what we did. Now, it was obvious to me that what we believed in was true, but I wanted to know how I could prove it to other people - frei people. And so I jumped into that, learning all I could about proving god and yidishkeit to people who didn't believe, without ever questioning my beliefs for myself. I even started learning the first part of chovas halevavos which I was told explicitly not to. My rabeim warned me that it would just confuse me. In that first part, the chovas halevavos deals with the idea of first cause. And while it readily became clear to me that the proofs made no sense, my faith was still unshaken. I knew that while I may not understand the proofs, my god was still god.
Now, during all of this I was also subjected to an english education. But being as frum and shtark as I was, I never took it seriously. When I was younger I had a voracious appetite for reading, often I was so lost in a book that I couldn't hear people calling my name a few feet away. Once I got to yeshiva, I channeled all of that into learning. At Ner I did the bare minimum to satisfy my english requirements. I even took the rare option to take on extra gemarra seder in exchange for english credits. But Ner does take its secular studies program more seriously than other yeshivas, so there was a decent library for goyish books. Not that I ever challila used it. Feh.
In twelfth grade, I was at the top of my game. I was learning non-stop. Unlike many of my classmates who were going to Israel for a year, I was going to Philly, a top yeshivish yeshiva. I had people calling ahead to ask if I would be their chavrusa for seder. My rabeim were asking me to grade other students' bechinos when they didn't have time. During this I had an english project that needed to be taken care of. I had to write a paper on a writer of my choosing. Going into the library (for maybe the second time in my almost four years there), I scanned the books for a well-represented author, who would present no real challenge, so I could get back to my learning. I chose Mark Twain, remembering that I had heard he had good things to say about jews and thinking that it was a quick, easy and painless choice. I was wrong. Mark Twain changed my life. He let the mysterious stranger in.
To be continued...