Saturday, October 28, 2006

Babylon And On

While reading the Parsha this past Shabbos (Noach) I just had this little thought crossing my head;
The posuk first tells us that all peoples had “one language and one speech” – meaning that despite having their own languages, as mentioned in an earlier posuk, they had one language all spoke, besides for being in agreement and harmonious understanding. When they come to Shin’ar, they discover how to make bricks and mortar – a significant technological breakthrough for the times. Immediately they start building a city with a big tower in it, to prevent them from scattering throughout the earth as G-d has commended. So as soon as technology permits them to be a bit self-sufficient, they spit in G-d’s face. Sounds familiar?
Their sin is not explicitly stated in the posuk, yet Rashi explains that they wanted to build a tower to climb in the sky and fight G-d. Being a bit hard to accept at face value, I’d speculate that this might mean that the tower served indeed as an important establishment teaching the rejection of G-d and denying his kindliness to mankind.

G-d at this point makes one of the most powerful –and underestimated- statements in the Torah: since these people are in perfect union and total agreement, they would be able to achieve whatever they want and nothing would stand in their way. There it is, black on white, the blueprint for absolute success. Alas, this unity was for a bad cause. But it still had merits, for the Merciful One does not just send a 9.2-magnitude earthquake, tornado or wildfire as he did with the Dor Hamabul (Flood’s Generation) who stole, extorted and otherwise harmed and degraded each other. So G-d takes away their common language, and they are unable to complete their tower and are dispersed all over. But why? Isn’t a typical construction site composed of workers of different nationalities, barely speaking their own language let alone others? Couldn’t they learn each other’s tongues and complete the construction despite the lack of one common language? It seems to me that something deeper and subtler happened here. The verse states “Havo Nevoloh…” (let’s blend) their languages, i.e. mix them up so each would have their own separate speech (or just forget the common language). But the word “נבלה” can also mean “let’s make filthy” (whereas the single “nun” would serve as both a root letter and the prefix for “let’s” - this is permissible in biblical Hebrew, as opposed to the mishnaic where “ננבל” would be have been used) meaning to infiltrate discord in their words which would make them “filthy” and unacceptable to each other. This would be the litmus test to see which way to seal their fate – if they succeed in their plan and remain united despite dissent, they’d merit to stay together. But if their unity cannot survive disagreement, it would be a retroactive proof that it was superficial from the onset and only their desire to reject authority caused their union. The rest is history.

Another interesting observation – after the Second Temple’s destruction -because of vain hatred- most Jews eventually settled in Babylon, where the Babylonian Talmud was forged – an epitome of unity through dissent, where each and every statement is challenged from every possible angle to find truth, by a strongly unified people without personal strife.

Which Babylon do we choose?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The New Skid On The Block

Not the latest, but still some nice silly Hassidic style neighborhood gossip. And the relevance to the blog’s purpose will be revealed, on the other side of the loshon-hora cesspool.

So, on a nice sunny day Mrs. Next-door-neighbor 'A' comes over to my wife, totally beside herself with rage, telling her that that, er, slut Mrs. Next-door-neighbor 'B' wears tank tops (read: extremely un-tsniusdik, immodest sleeveless shirt) at gym. Now this, I must specify, is a women’s only gym. No guys around, the view is blocked from all sides, even the local Hassidishe bochurim haven’t yet found a peephole. Still, the saintly Mrs. 'A' was so shocked by this frivolous behavior that she couldn’t resist telling it to my wife – not before blurting it to her husband. That, she related, might have been a serious bluenose goof, as Mr. 'A' might tell the local ‘,rebbeleh’, who in turn might raise a big storm over the issue, set the printing industry into motion, the flyers flying and sermons burning - then everyone would have to kiss the gym goodbye. This fortunately didn’t happen, but the next day His Royal Highness the mighty local rebbeleh, (of course an illustrious scion of the house of Rashi, Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar and by consequence King David himself – though I admit never to have met a Hassid who wasn’t) called over Mr. 'B'. Before I continue I must state that most Hassidic families on the block – and especially the 'A' family – are by no means fervent bigoted devouts, Kiryas Joel/New Square style. On the contrary, they are understanding of other religions such as Litvak or Modern Orthodox, listen to radio, are fairly well informed on national politics and do not refrain from taking their kids to the Imax theater on occasion. In any event, Mr. 'B' was summoned to HaMelech ADMO"R Ploini Ben Dovid, who informed him that Mr. 'C' complained that he can’t leave his house because Mrs. 'B' dresses so immodestly. Mr 'B' in so many words answered him that he isn’t moved by Mr. 'C’s complaints, and that he wouldn’t force his woman to change her attire. What puzzles me is that Mr. 'C', originally from Brooklyn, where, the last time I’ve been, most Hassidic women actually dressed as, well, you know how. To my understanding of modest and immodest, Mrs. 'B' (yes, I confess, I actually do see my next door neighbor from time to time) doesn’t at all dress immodestly. And to my understanding no one forces Mr. 'C' to look at her either. But I guess when the state, county and town look after your mortgage (well, technically rent, you know how it works, wink-wink, nod-nod) health insurance, grocery bills and other expenses, you can afford schmoozing with your spiritual mentor about other people’s wives.

So what’s the morality of the story? That potentially intelligent people, who can spend energy on so many positive things, people who have access to the greatest spiritual and intellectual tool, the Gemora, to improve their and others’ lives spiritually and materially, who live in a very dangerous time, when fierce enemies admittedly seek our physical and spiritual destruction, busy themselves with petty schmutz like the above episode, yet completely ignore what is going on nationally and internationally, in the midst of our community and out of it. No concerns about the mass-giyur mafias, the Rebbe wars, intermarriage, the ‘going off the derech’ in droves, our lack of leadership and willfully blind media and Rabbis. No concerns about Ahmadinejad, the growing Arab community, the impotent American and Israeli governments, the corruption of both gentile and Orthodox Jewish officials and powerful members of the community.

Folks, it’s grand time to wake up. Stop the clan adherence, stop the madness, stop the stupidity. Ahmadinejad doesn’t care whether you’re Satmar, Belz, MO or Brisker. Neither does Mrs. Hillary Clinton. She’ll sell you down the river as soon as there are enough Arabs and/or Mexicans to keep her in power. That day you can kiss your zoning violations, welfare checks, Medicaid, section 8 and food stamps goodbye. Please don’t take G-d for granted Moslem-determinism style, like you did 60 years ago. Wake up now before it’s too late.