Monday, April 16, 2007

Made in Germany - Reflections on Yom Ha-Shoah

Well, it seems Kohelet was right. There's nothing new under the sun. German racism did not begin or end with Hitler. Just in time for Yom Ha-Shoah, it came to light that a German officer was training recruits by telling them to imagine themselves in the Bronx, where three African-Americans jump out of a van yelling insults about the recruit's mother. The recruit is instructed to fire his machine gun while yelling an expletive in English. Watch the video; although it is in German the flavor (stink?) should come through:

For the record, I was post-docing in the Bronx at the height of the crack epidemic in the late 1980s, and I would run through the South Bronx almost every afternoon. Nobody touched a hair of my head.

Running magazines I read constantly run articles about motivation and how to sustain it. My motivation could have a stamp on it: Made in Germany. Like most things made in Germany, it is strong and enduring. Whenever the yetzer hara whispers "Quit," all I have to do is conjure up this image from Bergen-Belsen to remind myself what the results of weakness can be:

Q: Shall these bones live?


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Monday, April 02, 2007

Take your shoe off your feet

In the Haftara of the first day of Pesah, read tomorrow, we read how Yehoshua conducts a mass brit mila (one wonders if he did metzitza b'peh [oral suction of blood] on all those adult males), celebrates the Pesah with matza and roasted dry kernels (who would dare eat the latter on Pesah today?), whereupon the man [manna], the supernatural food that sustained us for 40 years in the desert, ceases forever and we eat the produce of the earth. Then a figure with a drawn sword appears to Yehoshua, who asks him if he is for us or for our enemies. The figure replies that he is God's heavenly Chief of Staff, just as Yehoshua is God's "Ramatkal" [Chief of Staff] on earth. The angel then, in a scene recalling Moshe at the burning bush, tells Yehoshua to take off his shoe, for the ground on which Yehoshua stands is holy. But now there is a twist. Moshe is told to take his shoes - ne'alekha - off his feet - raglekha, plural. Yehoshua is to take his shoe - ne'alkha, singular, off his feet - raglekha, plural. Presumably God's Chief of Staff did not attend a black yeshiva and could hold up his end of a Hebrew conversation. Something calls for an explanation but the classical mefarshim [commentators] (at least the ones Artscroll quotes) are silent. And the plot thickens. We read raglekha as plural, but the unvoweled Hebrew text is singular, without the yod. In the absense of commentary from the classical sources, I will venture an explanation. Moshe and the generation he led had a unique existence, not duplicated before or since. He and his people could immerse themselves totally in kedusha [holiness]. They were completely free from the cares of daily material existence. No worries about parnassa [making a living]; food came down from the sky. Water came from an inexhaustible traveling well. Their clothes not only never wore out, but the children's clothes grew with the children. Ananei kavod ["clouds of glory"]protected them from enemies - no need for an army. Those people had nothing to do but study Torah! Not so with Yehoshua. He and his people would have to involve themselves in the hurly-burly of statecraft. They had to conquer Eretz Yisrael from formidable enemies who (except for the Girgashi) were not going to leave on their own. Then they would be burdened with all the political and economic cares of running a state. Total immersion in kedusha would not be possible; only one shoe can come off as it were. But, Yeshoshua is told, aim high. He is not the head of another Uganda. His nation has a higher calling. Even if Moshe's level was impossible to attain, it is the goal nevertheless. His reach should exceed his grasp, or what's an Israel for?
Hag Kasher v'Sameah.

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Eliyahu Ha-navi

In last week's Haftara we read of the mission of Eliyahu Ha-navi "before the arrival of the great and awesome day of Hashem." I read the same Haftara for myself when I review the Sidra on the Shabbat before Yom Ha'atzma'ut. His mission is to heal a generation gap which seems to only be getting worse.
V'heshiv lev avot al banim v'lev banim al avotam. The older generation will be reconciled to their children's building the geula seemingly divorced from Torah, while the young will be reconciled to the ancient traditions of our people. Otherwise G-d forbid the next pasuk will materialize. But we shall overcome.

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