Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Mod Squadist Proposal

As I was driving to work today, I saw a police car heading in the opposite direction. I commented on how I thought it would be difficult for him, had he seen me doing anything wrong, to turn around in traffic to pursue me. That may seem like a strange comment to make but my car, my rules. One of my passengers then said "the po-po won't shut you down." He followed that pop culture reference with another, mentioning how I shouldn't worry about "Five-oh." I suddenly realized that the cops in New Jersey shouldn't be called the 5-0. I think that, following in the tradition of the great state of Hawaii, each state's police force should be known by the number of that state's admission to the union. So when I see a state trooper on the NJ Turnpike behind me, I can say, "Uh oh. Gotta watch out for the 3."

For the nick name for your state's police force, please consult http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763770.html

and let's make this happen. I'm counting on you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A bit of Torah.

I know this is early as a Pesach post, but this idea struck me in shul today so I figured I'd put it out there. I mixed some Hebrew in, so I'll see if the cut and paste still works.

One of the central acts of the seder is the eating of matzah. The Torah is very clear about the requirement to eat matzah on Pesach. However, the actual reason behind eating matzah is not nearly as obvious. From a young age, we are taught that the symbolic value of matzah is in its cooking speed – we were chased out of Egypt during the exodus and the dough which had prepared did not have time to rise. Thus, the matzah serves to remind us the actual leaving of Egypt and escape from servitude. Except that this is not exactly the case.

There are actually two presentations of matzah, one which applied to the people in Egypt (Pesach Mitzrayim) and one which is applicable to future generations (Pesach Dorot). The matzah of the leaving applies to us, to recollect the process by which we came to be a people. But bnei yisroel were commanded to make matzot well before they left Mitzrayim. In pasuk 8 of perek 12 in parshat Bo, Hashem tells bnei yisroel to prepare the meat from their Pascal sacrifice and eat it with bitter herbs and “matzot” so the flat, unleavened product was the intentional end, not an accidental end result of speeding out. With that in mind, it is more difficult to associate the later matzah with anything unintended. The people knew how to make matzah and had done so recently! I believe that the reason behind both appearances of matzah, and its use in the seder actually run deeper and explain a linguistic and presentational oddity in the text of the Haggadah.

At the beginning of Maggid, the prolonged recitation of the background story of Pesach, celebrants recite the Ha Lachma Anya (This is the Bread of our Poverty) which introduces the lechem oni (commonly, Bread of Affliction), the matzah which, according to the paragraph, is what our ancestors ate while they were still in Egypt. One could then explain that the marker of our suffering, the matzah, is being elevated to sacramental status as an analogue to us as a people – though we were in the depths of impurity and suffering, Hashem transformed us into a Chosen People. But this still associates the matzah with our presence IN Egypt, not the exodus out of Egypt. One minhag associated with this section of the seder is traced back to the Haggadah codified by Rambam (Hilchot Chametz Umatzah). He includes that we should say “בבהילו יצאנו ממצריים” which is often translated as “in haste we left Egypt.” This phrase is traced (in the Haggadah of Rabbi Elyashiv, page 75) to the Aramaic translation of Onkelos on Shmot 12:11. The Hebrew reads “v’achaltem oto b’chipazon” (you shall eat it in haste) and the Onkelos reads “v’teichlun yatei bivhilu.” Rabbi Elyashiv adds in that an early manuscript of the Rambam has in the Ha Lachma Anyad’nafku mimitzrayim” (when we left Egypt) instead of “b’ar’a dmitzrayim” (in the land of Egypt). So the idea of exiting is present and a central aspect of the matzah.

 This speed/exiting component of the symbolic role of the matzah would fit in with the explanation which the Haggadah, itself, provides the following explanation “שלא הספיק בצקם של אבותינו להחמיץ” (Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened). The textual support is Shmot 12:39 which reads (in part) “ויאפו את הבצק אשר הוציאו ממצריים, עוגות מצות--כי לא חמץ:  כי גורשו ממצריים, ולא יכלו להתמהמה” (They baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt as unleavened cakes, for it had not leavened, for they were driven out of Egypt, and they could not delay). The text clearly says that the matzah symbolizes that speed and the exodus, ignoring the initial appearance of the matzah as part of the ceremonial meal which was demanded while bnei yisroel were still in Egypt.

This concern becomes even more apparent when one looks at where the explanation for matzah is found in the Haggadah. This section, towards the end of Maggid, presents explanations for the three essential elements of the seder, the Pesach (Pascal offering), the matzah and the maror (the bitter herb). These three are a unit because of the commandment in pasuk 8, so the connections made to provide explanation should be connected with the logic of and events surrounding that pasuk. Both the Pesach offering and the maror share two important characteristics. Each on is connected to events which occurred while the people were still in Egypt (the sacrifice which took place in Egypt and the suffering of the people while in Egypt), and each is connected linguistically to some aspect (the Pesach both to the Pesach offering and that “Hashem Pasach,” passed over the houses of bnei yisroel while killing the Egyptian firstborn, and the maror to the notion of bitterness of servitude). However, the matzah seems to be connected to the events AFTER the time in Egypt, and seems to lack the linguistic connection to anything other than the specific name of the food eaten on the road. Thus, the matzah explanation seems to lack a parallel structure and source when compared to the two other foods demanded in the same pasuk and explained here.

It seems appropriate to go back to the beginning and examine a strange word there – the Rambam’s Haggadah required the mention of the word “bivhilu” as a reminder of the pasuk which said “chipazon.” The word chipazon is only used 3 times in Tanach, all three when it has to do with leaving Egypt (and the Aramaic for each is related to “bivhilu”).  The connected ch-p-z root meaning “hurried” is used in nine other places, but Aramaic is NOT from the b-h-l root! It seems that the “haste’ of the exodus was somehow different. The b-h-l root, used in both Hebrew and Aramaic words in the Tanach does NOT mean necessarily with speed, but with “dread” (pachad). Rashi points to this when he explains the word “chipazon” in 12:11 as “לשון בהלה ומהירות” (a term indicating behala and speed). Rashi sees chipazon as having two separate parts – the haste/speed and the behala which is dread. When we make the declaration of the Rambam, it appears that we are accentuating the dread, not saying “bimhirut yatzanu” with speed we left, but bivhilu, with dread we left.

So we are left with a new question – what was the nature of this dread? We had just been saved from plagues and servitude by overt miracles! Where we that afraid of the Egyptians who were chasing us out? And how would the matzah symbolize that dread? Is it simply because it was a by-product of the speed of our departure?

The answer might be in the placement of the matzah in that pasuk 8! That pasuk is noteworthy as it falls in the first section of the chumash to present laws to the bnei yisroel. This baked food was one of the first 3 mitzvot given to bnei yisroel. To follow the many laws of making proper matzah was one of the initial challenges of accepting ol malchut shamayim, the yoke of heaven. The dread which fell on them while they were making and eating this matzah was the yir’at shamayim – the fear of heaven which imbues actions with spiritual and religious significance. We left Egypt not just with speed but with a new responsibility to act with a fear of heaven. This is the fear, the pachad of bivhilu that is absent in other cases of simple rushing. But then how does this explain the justification of the maztah in the paragraph of matzah zu sh’anu ochlim (this matzah that we eat)? Doesn’t it refer to a pasuk which connects matzah only to the speed of the exodus? Possibly not, if we remember that the other two foods are justified through a linguistic twist, which is apparently absent here. Pointing out that twist would make this paragraph fall in line with the others.

What is interesting is that the matzah is not simply called “matzot” in 12:39 (which is cited here), the way it is in 12:8, but is called “עוגות מצותugot matzot (cakes of matzah). Why wouldn’t the text use any other appearance of “matzot” on its own to make its point? It could be that THIS is the linguistic trick/connection which ties this all together. The food were are to eat are the ugot, the cakes (the apparently extra word) and the other word has another use. The text has made connections between Pesach and Pasach, and Maror and Mer’ru. Couldn’t it be making the same connection between matzot (מצות) and mitzvot (מִצְווֹת)? These are not just “matzot” but ugot mitzvot, cakes which were commanded (thus connecting to the dread). The connection now has a linguistic connection and a chronological one which mirror the methodology used to support the other two foods from 12:8, and this recognition of the commanded idea explains the otherwise strange idea of using the b-h-l root when a word indicating simple haste would have sufficed for both the Onkelos and the Rambam.

The lechem oni indicates our spiritual poverty – we were a people who needed to be brought closer to Hashem through his mitzvot. When we ate matzah in Egypt, it was because that was what we had. But that first Pesach, the mundane was elevated because we were commanded to take that common practice and follow rigid rules and create something for a greater purpose. The matzot mitzvah enriched us and made our bread of affliction a symbol of our new connection to the divine, and invoked the proper mindset of pachad, dread, not of the Egyptians, but of the awesome presence of the Shechina.

Friday, January 27, 2012

On words

I just read this short article(unless it has been updated and the quote removed -- if so, go to google news and search "personal holocaust") and it prompts me to clear up an issue of word usage. The word in question is "holocaust."

I really do try not to be sensitive -- I see people as generally simple minded and not meaning any harm so I let most things go, but when I see one of two things, I am motivated to act:

1. clear and malicious misuse of words - someone misappropriating language or twisting meaning towards nefarious ends.

2. ignorance or simple stupidity.

This article is a case of the latter. The victim, a man who certainly suffered at the hands of his attackers and lost members of his family to the criminal and inexcusable behavior of the horrible attacker describes his ordeal as his own personal holocaust. To my mind, the word "holocaust" has two potential uses:

1. A giant, consuming fire.

2. a systematic genocide (esp. when written with a capital H), usually referring to the German "Final Solution" of the 1930's and 40's.

To say that a home invasion which was localized to one person, which was not driven by any -ism, which did not last for over 7 years or involve fire, is to invoke an extreme inappropriately.

Does this mean that he did not suffer? No. Does this mean that there is no connection between various situations in which a person loses loved ones unjustifiably? No. Does this mean that this was not the most harrowing experience, one which I would never want to undergo? No. Does this mean that he is intentionally diminishing the horror of the Holocaust by equating his more limited experience with the suffering of millions? No.

It means he is getting carried away by the emotion and using words in a particularly offensive way because he is a simple minded victim who is foolishly grasping for an image which would convey his personal feelings, even if that image then invokes completely distinct different images as well.

Would I yell at him for doing this? No. I'd sympathize with his experience, help him deal with his grief and hope that, over time, he can be taught that words are tools, and one does not choose a sledgehammer to hammer in a 1 inch brad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Window to Cool

I was driving out of the Stop n Shop parking lot today and a car caught my eye -- it was a little, souped up (souped up? now I know what they were getting at the grocery store...no, wait, here's one, it was a chicken-stock car! HA!) blue car with bright pink hubcaps (rims? I don't know much about cars). I saw a young woman get in, her with the coiffed hair, bright nails and barely street legal clothing. The only thing I could think was "what is she going to do with that car in 3 years when she leaves her window of coolness?" It dawned on me that there is only a small opening of time for these counter culture youths, and then they either have to blend in with the rest of us ol' folk, what with our jobs and such. My best guess allows for extreme expression to blossom at 11, find strong footing through the first 2 years of high school, and then hit its stride between 17 and 22 and then that's it. After that, if you are still trying to drive like you are in the Fast and/or Furious lifestyle and dress like you don't care, then you become the old man or woman of that set who is just barely hanging on and is trying way too hard. Then, you can sit back with the rest of us and watch the next wave think that it is the first bunch ever to go through this stage.

At this point, I have seen tens of these waves, with their particular movies and slang, each one thinking that it will never grow old (a fate worse than death) and that its mode of expression is somehow new, different and better than all the rest. Wake up, kids...adulthood means that if you try to be like the 19 year olds, you just embarrass yourself (unless you are an actor, and then you can PLAY 19 year olds for another 20 years and then complain that you can't get any roles that people take seriously). Celebrity gives older people the chance to hold onto the coolness of youth for longer, at least in public. I took a different approach, embracing the old man role well before it was my turn.

Monday, January 23, 2012

During an election

With the election season upon us I am blessed with a new source of anger to keep me moving forward. You see, I am like a shark. If I don't keep moving forward, I, well, I don't die, but I lose my chance to eat Roy Scheider and that's an option I cherish deeply. So I'm like a blog-shark. I don't live in water or anything and I am having a medical professional look at that dorsal thingy (gets in the way of my shirts) but I'm a blog-shark. Anyhow, the election year has given me pundits -- self proclaimed experts who feed off of both their own sense of intellect and the mass's need to be told what it thinks.

I hate pundits. I don't even like the word "pundits." It just sounds dumb to me. But when I watch the morning news and see the pundits, I get steamed. I have to run errands so I'll save much of this for later but I will give one example.

A couple of days ago, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary. I'm not sure what this means but we can ignore that for the moment. He won and all the pundits are now saying how much of an upset that was. Let's think about what an upset is -- an upset is when the result defies the expectation. In a sporting event, this makes sense. One team has the better tools and more experience so when the relatively weaker team beats the odds, that's an upset. But in politics, that isn't the case. They call this an upset and the only thing upset is ME. Remember -- this is about setting and then not living up to expectations. In baseball, the statistics set up the expectations and the people defy them.

But in politics the pundits were the ones who established the expectations based on their own thoughts. Sure, they had some polling (which obviously was inaccurate or useless because it failed to predict accurately), but what they mostly had were their own inferences and assumptions about "people" or "Republicans" or "voters" which they relied on! I don't see it as an upset because I ignore politics, but the pundits, who for weeks were saying that Romney was going to win, were the ones who set up a conclusion and were proved wrong! There were so many polls and estimates, interviews and predictions that all pointed to Romney's victory and yet Gingrich won.

Doesn't this just mean that pundits are idiots? That on even something like this primary, with all their book learning and statistics they haven't the slightest idea who is going to win?

So when they spend the next week and a half telling the rest of the world who is going to win in Florida, and then Ronald Reagan comes out in front, instead of calling it an upset" why can't we just say what it is? Proof that pundits are as clueless as everyone else?

Would we look at a weather forecast that calls for 85 degrees and sunny as subject to an "upset" or a "surprise" when the temp ends up at 30 degrees and a blizzard? It isn't a surprise! It just shows that the weather man is an idiot.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I'm old but I'm not old

OK, I know my age and I know that in some ways, I have hit adulthood full-on and face-first. No question. I worry about bills, I look at snow as a burden because of shoveling, and sometimes, yes, the music is too loud (and what the kids listen to today, that isn't music). But listen up you kids: I am NOT old.

I'd like to tell you youngsters about me and this "adulthood" I have found myself in. I want to destroy certain notions (among many others) you might have about me and other grown-ups.

I like eating cereal and milk while sitting on the floor too close to the TV.

I like candy, cake and ice creak. And cookies...I like cookies, too.

I enjoy cartoons, sci fi, the Muppets, stupid sitcoms and toilet humor.

I can't follow politics.

I read the comics first in the Sunday paper.

I play air guitar, air drums and air trumpet among other air-instruments.

I love bumper cars.

I enjoy shooting stuff and seeing stuff blow up.

I drink from the carton.

Bugs freak me out.

I would prefer to stay up late and sleep late.

Lots of stuff is boring.

I do silly voices.

I am impressed by magic tricks.

I love watching airplanes take off and land.

First thing I do in a hotel is jump on the bed.

I prefer to do handstands in the pool to swimming laps.

Snowball fights are fun.

Having a catch is awesome.

I worry about if my clothes match. I just don't know what to do about it.

I make my hair spiky when I am shampooing.

I hate making my bed and doing chores.

In movies, I like making silly comments.

I get scared when the lights go off.

So, yes, when I stand up, you hear a chorus of creaks and "ows", I don't like all the same TV shows and movies and music as you, and when I go shopping, I worry about time and money, but I am still just an overgrown kid. I am insecure and distractable. I am sensitive and insensitive sometimes. I'm just a guy, so be nice.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Sad but Fictional Post

The girls had been pestering us for a pet, so we finally bought them a frog.

They loved that frog. They stayed up at night watching it. They fed it; they cared for it.

But one day while they were at school, the frog died. We took it from its tank and buried it.

When the kids came home, they asked where the frog was. We said we were sorry but it croaked so we had to bury it.

They haven't spoken since.

Leave me alone

Sometimes, I just don't feel appreciative. I know I should. I know that deep down, most people mean well and that where I am is a good thing. But I just don't feel it. I'm not saying I feel entitled or that I have a right to be happy, but I just don't always feel like reminding myself how things can be worse.

I was in a cold room this morning. Really cold. Fifty degrees cold. And I was there for 35 minutes with no coat on.

Not horrible you say. Remember those people who were prisoners of war, you say. Think about the freezing homeless people you say. And finally, I snap. Shut up, I say. Stop telling me how there are people starving in Africa, freezing in Russia or suffering from unimaginable diseases in Papua, New Guinea. I don't care. My empathy has taken a holiday in a warmer clime and I am sitting here now, not wanting to feel bad because I am cold while others might be colder.

So what will happen when I run into someone who complains because Summer is a bit too humid, or he has to walk an extra 5 feet to buy his latte? Will I lecture him about his own sense of entitlement, or will I stop myself and realize that he might be a good-hearted person who is just having a moment where he doesn't want to be reminded that puppies are being tortured somewhere so his petty problems aren't worthy of mention?

I don't know. I'll probably lecture him. Seems easier than thinking about his feelings.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A life lesson

Anything you do because you think it will make you look cool will invariably make you look arrogant or stupid. The things you do naturally as an organic outgrowth of who you are are what people see as "cool."

Of course, now that you have read this, nothing you do will be natural because you will have this notion of purpose in your head even without trying to. This makes this post the cultural hipness equivalent of telling you that you just lost The Game.

Which, by the way, you just lost.