Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hidden Miracles, Arks and Israel

According to Sefer Bereshit, Noah's Ark was a vessel that managed to hold all the animal kingdom for virtually a year! The logistics are mind-boggling. Never mind the fact that animals need room to move, that rabbits breed like ... rabbits (maybe male and female animals were seperated?) and the food that would be needed to feed them (and how about the carnivores... what did they eat?)... never mind all that (!) ... How did they all fit into a box that was:

300 cubits x 50 cubits (3 floors!) in other words 150 metre (450ft.) by 25 metre (75ft) on THREE floors.

Not very big. (Just visit your local zoo!)

Ramban asks the question (6:19) and he has this to say:

"It was a miracle that a small space contained a large volume. And if you will then say, well he could have constructed a smaller one and relied upon this miracle! (i.e. if the Ark can contain everything by basis of miracles, then just make a smaller Ark and by miracle, it will all fit in.)
God saw fit to make it large so that the people of that era would see it and be amazed by its size and it would be a conversation point... maybe they would repent.
Moreover, they made it large in order to minimise the miracle for that is the manner of all miracles in the Torah and Neviim that man does what he can..."

In other words, the 2nd explanation says that EVEN when God makes a miracle, he tries to make it look natural. Moreover, man has to do his part and God will make the miraculous appear natural.

This of course has many applications, but recently we were talking about Medinat Yisrael and mashiach and the fact that the RAmbam sees Mashiach politically and that for Rambam (Hil. Melachim ch.12) the Messianic Era is defined by Jewish Independence. Have we experienced miracle in our generations, miracles in the guise of natural, military, political events? Have we failed to understand that man HAs to do his part and then even God's miracle will not slap us in the face, but will be clothed in the natural human order?

Global Financial Crisi and Our Values

Everyone is talking about the Global Financial Crisis. But it didn't come from nowhere. It comes from a consumer credit culture, a materialistic have-it-all culture. But is anyone talking about that? After the bailout plan, and after the new regulatory system, we will go back to supersized executive slaries and the traders will get back into their Porsches on the way to the gold course! Is anyone looking to examine the core values here?

Well I found someone who is! This is in todays Times - a little preachy, but nonetheless good to hear a moral voice in the madness. (link)

Here is the article:

From The Times. October 30, 2008 .
Ben Okri

The crisis affecting the economy is a crisis of our civilisation. The values that we hold dear are the very same that got us to this point. The meltdown in the economy is a harsh metaphor of the meltdown of some of our value systems. A house is on fire; we see flames coming through the windows on the second floor and we think that that is where the fire is raging. In fact it is raging elsewhere.

For decades poets and artists have been crying in the wilderness about the wasteland, the debacle, the apocalypse. But apparent economic triumph has deafened us to these warnings. Now it is necessary to look at this crisis as a symptom of things gone wrong in our culture.

Individualism has been raised almost to a religion, appearance made more important than substance. Success justifies greed, and greed justifies indifference to fellow human beings. We thought that our actions affected only our own sphere but the way that appalling decisions made in America have set off a domino effect makes it necessary to bring new ideas to the forefront of our civilisation. The most important is that we are more connected than we suspected. A visible and invisible mesh links economies and cultures around the globe to the great military and economic centres.

The only hope lies in a fundamental re-examination of the values that we have lived by in the past 30 years. It wouldn't do just to improve the banking system - we need to redesign the whole edifice.

There ought to be great cries in the land, great anger. But there is a strange silence. Why? Because we are all implicated. We have drifted to this dark unacceptable place together. We took the success of our economy as proof of the rightness of its underlying philosophy. We are now at a crossroad. Our future depends not on whether we get through this, but on how deeply and truthfully we examine its causes.

I strayed into the oldest church in Cheltenham not long ago and, with no intention in mind, opened the Bible. The passage that met my eyes was from Genesis, about Joseph and the seven lean years of famine. Something struck me in that passage. It was the tranquillity of its writing, the absence of hysteria.

They got through because someone had a vision before the event. What we need now more than ever is a vision beyond the event, a vision of renewal.

As one looks over the landscape of contemporary events, one thing becomes very striking. The people to whom we have delegated decision-making in economic matters cannot be unaware of the consequences. Those whose decisions have led to the economic collapse reveal to us how profoundly lacking in vision they were. This is not surprising. These were never people of vision. They are capable of making decisions in the economic sphere, but how these decisions relate to the wider world was never part of their mental make-up. This is a great flaw of our world.

To whom do we turn for guidance in our modern world? Teachers have had their scope limited by the prevailing fashions of education. Artists have become more appreciated for scandal than for important revelations about our lives. Writers are entertainers, provocateurs or- if truly serious - more or less ignored. The Church speaks with a broken voice. Politicians are more guided by polls than by vision. We have disembowelled our oracles. Anybody who claims to have something to say is immediately suspect.

So now that we have taken a blowtorch to the idea of sages, guides, bards, holy fools, seers, what is left in our cultural landscape? Scientific rationality has proved inadequate to the unpredictabilities of the times. It is enlightening that the Pharoah would not have saved Egypt from its seven lean years with the best economic advisers to hand.

This is where we step out into a new space. What is most missing in the landscape of our times is the sustaining power of myths that we can live by.

If we need a new vision for our times, what might it be? A vision that arises from necessity or one that orientates us towards a new future? I favour the latter. It is too late to react only from necessity. One of our much neglected qualities is our creative ability to reshape our world. Our planet is under threat. We need a new one-planet thinking.

We must bring back into society a deeper sense of the purpose of living. The unhappiness in so many lives ought to tell us that success alone is not enough. Material success has brought us to a strange spiritual and moral bankruptcy.

If we look at alcoholism rates, suicide rates and our sensation addiction, we must conclude that this banishment of higher things from the garden has not been a success. The more the society has succeeded, the more its heart has failed.

Everywhere parents are puzzled as to what to do with their children. Everywhere the children are puzzled as to what to do with themselves. The question everywhere is, you get your success and then what?

We need a new social consciousness. The poor and the hungry need to be the focus of our economic and social responsibility.

Every society has a legend about a treasure that is lost. The message of the Fisher King is as true now as ever. Find the grail that was lost. Find the values that were so crucial to the birth of our civilisation, but were lost in the intoxication of its triumphs.

We can enter a new future only by reconnecting what is best in us, and adapting it to our times. Education ought to be more global; we need to restore the pre-eminence of character over show, and wisdom over cleverness. We need to be more a people of the world.

All great cultures renew themselves by accepting the challenges of their times, and, like the biblical David, forge their vision and courage in the secret laboratory of the wild, wrestling with their demons, and perfecting their character. We must transform ourselves or perish.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Of Park Britania and Batei Galicia!

So Chol Hamoed is drawing to a close. Of course, being good Israelis, we have spent our Chol Hamoed time on Tiyulim and travelling the country.

I had an interesting thought as we were driving into Park Brittania the other day on our way to a great hike. Park Brittania is a huge nature area, a National Park near Beit Shemesh. It is called by the name of Brittania a.k.a. Britain as its upkeep and development were funded by British JNF. Similarly there is the Canada Park and American Park etc. Each of these National Parks are funded by a different community abroad.

and I was suddenly struck as to how ironic this was.

In the era before modern Zionism, the community in Eretz Yisrael, certainly the Ashkenazic community, subsisted primarily from the Chalukka. This meant that Jewish communities in Europe each donated money to support Talmidei Chacchamim studying in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Money was collected for the kollel/community/Beit Midrash and it was named after that European community. The community in Jerusalem fulfilled their responsibility by learning Torah, not working, and thereby gave special zechut to their funders around the world. The people frequently lived in abject poverty only receiivng a meagre stipend from the funds that were raised in Europe. Hence in Jerusalem, we may find Batei Galicia, Batei Ungarin (Hungary,) and so forth.

The "Zionists" looked at this practice with great disdain as they viewed the Jewish existence in which one experienced poverty, reliance on funds of others , without any productive national enterprise other than Limmud Torah as a pathetic, sick, parasitic mode of living.

And yet, in a hugely ironic twist, we have a similar Challuka going on. Only now, the funders do not fund Torah study! They fund planting forests and building recreation areas and the creation of National Parks as they "redeem" the landscape of Israel. Now instead of Batei Ungarin, we have Park Brittania!

This is simply a secularisation of the entire Challukah concept! Is it more worthy, more honorable? Do diaspora Jews have such a desire to give that this is a good thing connecting people to Israel? Should Israel be more self-reliant? Is this a national indignity or a wonderful tool to keep Jews around the world connected to Eretz Yisrael?

But it is interesting how the Zionist movement simply poached the idea!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Controversial Hakhel

Hakhel should be a mass gathering of the entire nation. Unfortunately, in yet another example of the current tension between Haredi and Zionist elements in the Rabbanut, it appears that there will be TWO ceremonies this year.

see here