Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Power in Purity (Poem) -

I loved life but I feared impurity

And impurity was interwoven in life

Like pebbles in a clean rock

And so I feared life and loved purity

I separated the two and then life became pure

And rendered lovable

When in youth

Such a thing can be taken as backwardness

But when age comes

Such a thing is exposed as

The strength around which people gather

I identified by the things I was not

Status was increased by experience

Power was gained by having done

Height was reached by having said it

My resistance caused my rockiness

And I became like a rock

Trying to mold myself after my Rock

Who is pure and without pebbles

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Skin Suit! -

Skin suit, how ugly you are when you your hub is material
Everything you do then is immaterial
Live high, skin suit, and heightened you will be
Live free, skin suit, and freed you will be
But stick your face in the ground, skin suit
Back to your ashes will you flee
Live low, skin suit, and lowered will you be
Six feet, skin suit, waits for you and me

Skin suit, where do you hide your beauty?
Muscle blanket, what life pulsates inside you?
Why visit graves, oh wise skin suit, when the only skin there is above ground?
Look in the mirror, skin suit, where are you in there?
Your reputation cannot really be your representation
Like you breathe in air, your soul is there
Like you exhale words, only there are they heard
As long as you can walk, flesh thing, walk in the ways of G-d
Flirtation and flattering are worth like flatulation
Flat-like-the-world-folks fall off the edge fast
Flat pancakes flap and fall down back into pans
Simmering in grease their potential does cease?
Pores blocked no air release
Bigger please!
Let your only limitation be imitation
Acoustic wine
Dine on white curtains and say "He's mine"
Then, dirt body, your skin will shine
Turn yourself just right like the jewel that you are
Catch the light just right and reflect it into the night
Make sparks off your skin and let yourself make eyes' sight bright
At this and that site
First Wedding Catering -

I just came back from catering my first wedding. This morning my friend and chavruta (person I study Gemara with) asked me if I wanted to cater a wedding tonight here in Jerusalem. We would get paid 100 shekel (20 bucks) and be able to take food with us, and both were ingredients in my choosing "yes." We worked from 7PM to 12AM catering the wedding and at the end of the night we took a hefty chunk of food with us and three bottles of drinks. We got paid 150 shekel each instead of 100, which comes to 30 shekel (6 bucks) an hour; not bad and definitely good by Israeli standards, which has a lower minimum wage than does America (about 15-20 shekel, which is 3-4 dollars an hour). I also have a job on Friday (thank G-d) cleaning the house of a rabbi and his before Shabbat, and I get 35 shekel (7 dollars an hour), which is definitely good, and I work for a few hours. Last week I worked 4 hours, which is 120 shekel (or 24 dollars). All of these things are blessings and soon I'm going to check into seeing how to get into the writing world (newspapers, etc...) through an alum from my yeshiva who has a few published works. G-d is good and He's really helping me out, baruch Shemo!

Just thought I'd share that, as it says, "You are known, Hashem, to all Your creations, and of Your kind deeds I will speak."
The International Solidarity Movement - ISM -

A Jew named Adam Shapiro began the International Solidarity Movement, a Jew who is a self-proclaimed atheist and Communist. The ISM is a group that disrespects Israel’s national sovereignty that carries out raid-type missions that compromise Israeli security by putting themselves in the middle of Israeli forces and terrorist operatives. They also risk their own lives and one of them died, Rachel Corrie, when she stood in front of a tractor that ran her over. Her parents went to Israel to show solidarity and they got kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists.

Many countries would have a conniption fit had the ISM set foot in their land, but Israel sits back and allows this kind of thing. The ISM is composed of mentally impoverished and emotionally instable immoral punk rockers that don’t know the first thing about Middle Eastern, Jewish, or Muslim history.

The actions of those Jewish extremists mentioned cannot be seen in a vacuum of the types of assaults, both internal and external, that Israel’s enemies enact on it. It’s enough to have those kinds of enemies with which to contend, but now an idiotic third party of manic depressive college students who divide all of the world’s conflicts into race and class lines but yet still get into college because they checked off the “White” box on their FAFSA forms?! Haha.

I had the luxury of meeting a Mexican guy who wore a keffiyah around his neck at my university. He wildly recalled with a glare in his eyes that he encouraged a young Palestinian boy to throw Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers. When I told him that throwing Molotov cocktails at people sets them on fire and it is very hard to put out, he said that he was actually anti-violence.

If the Palestinians knew that the ISM loathes G-d perhaps they would rethink their support.

My bowels make better movements than them. Solidarity, perhaps with evil.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Dream -

When we see a spider we say "eek" because it is black, but when a spider sees a dove it says "eek" because it is white.

He looks over the horizon and tries to determine the size of it's eye.

These are the two statements that I had in a dream on Shabbat, and they appeared as "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoons.

I guess I also wanted to jot down some things about the last week in Israel. A few days ago on Thursday one of the G'dolei Ha-dor, the great Rabbi's of this generation, passed away. My yeshiva had the merit to go to his levaya, the process of carrying the body to the cemetery (wrapped in sheets) and a mitzvah from the Torah. When we first got there, we were outside of a huge Orthodox soup kitchen, apparently somehow associated with the Rav (z"l), of which had a high red-brick wall surrounding it, and it was across from a synagogue with a big sun-dial. Children and young bachurim were sitting on top of the wall and then the voice of a man (whom we could not see) giving a speech in Yiddish (which I don't understand). After that somebody started saying Kaddish and then all of us said it for the Rav. The man had a yearning in his voice and at a few points it reached a tone of near-crying, which lasted shortly. At that point in time we began walking (or inching) through the street where a police woman was directing traffic (us).

There were about 10,000 people in the streets of Jerusalem, and have you ever seen 10,000 people crossing a street? In America they stop traffic with cars for a funeral, here it was people. The really amazing part of it was that we were performing the mitzvah of escorting our dead to where his body would be buried, and not only that, he and his writings affected the Jews of this generation in ways that would be difficult to trace. Think about it like the disciples carrying the body of his teacher to its grave. I got the zchut of getting near the body as they were walking briskly to grab a hold of the sheet to carry it, but instead I just put my hand on it. A guy there told me to tuck in my tzitziyot (because the dead cannot do mitzvahs), which is what I did davening at the grave site of the Rambam, his father, and other Tanna'im and Ammora'im. I and a guy from the yeshiva named "Akiva" managed to get all the way to the cemetery as the wrapped body was lowered in the ground and we each put a rock on the heap of dirt. If any of you have ever been in a concert, the amount of people and the congestion was similar, some ten thousand people performed a huge mitzvah that day.

This Shabbat was also an amazing one (as they all are for their unique reasons). We davined at a local shul, lovingly known as "The Bubble" due to its bubble-type shape, down the street from the yeshiva. Some other names for it range "The Igloo" and "The Dome," and it seats some one hundred people and has an upstairs (for the women), downstairs (for the men), and upstairs (also for the women). Behind the ark is a huge black metal menorah that spans some thirty feet from one side to the other and with bulbs in place of candles. It was an excellent start for an excellent Shabbat.

After davining Mincha, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Ma'ariv (Aravit, here), a German bachur named "Michael" and I were scheduled to have the Shabbos meal at Rav Axlebaum's and his family's house. Mike thought he knew where the house was located on "Rechov Chalutz," (Chalutz Street), but after about forty minutes of walking back and forth down that street, which was an adventure in itself, we couldn't find the house so we headed back to the yeshiva. It was empty, and we got together some food that we had (most was Mike's), some pastrami, a challah, chummus, orange juice, wine, and chocolate spread, some benchers, and we had our own Shabbos meal there in the Bet Midrash. It was fine and good; we said "Kiddush," said "Ha-motzi," ate, and sang a few songs. As we were finishing some of the other bachurim got back and we chit-chatted with them and sang some more songs and eventually called it a night.

The next morning we davined Shacharit at the Bubble and then went to Rav Schuster's house for lunch (one of the Roshei Yeshiva), which was great because his four kids are cool, and the food was great too, and the walk, and the view from the building just overlooking the hill standing in front of Har Nof to the northeast. The building is built partially underground and partially overground because Jerusalem is literally a city built on a hill. For pedestrians, there are actually sets of stairs connecting streets to other steets and so walking up and down stairs is a normal part of walking in Jerusalem, a slight deviation from the normal grid set-up. The front entrance to the building puts you at the 7th floor while floors 1-6 are downstairs and the rest are higher. The building boasts the interesting architecture of having a roof downstairs from the main entrance, and in case you thought it was a paradigm of existence for roofs to be located downstairs from anything, you look down over the balcony from the seventh floor and see a roof, the roof for the second and third floors. Whoever said that G-d's City needs to conform to the normal laws of nature or architecture or things like that?

This Shabbat was a bit surreal and I can't really explain it, partially because it's new for me, partially because its unique style, partially because being in Israel sparks certain ancient memories (childhood and earlier, probably), and partially because Shabbat is just holy. The sights and sounds here are interesting to say the least, and looking out the window from the Shabbat table at Rabbi Schuster's house at the buildings and the view was just a surreal experience that made you stare and consider things; I can't really explain it but recommend it. The way the trees grow, the off-white seemingly hand-cut stones and the way the dirt collects between them, the way the city is built on a series of hills, the style of the houses not similar to houses in Tucson but some of them striking certain similarities, and the Jewish people walking around, most of them observing Shabbat, is all a part of the experience. Again, I recommend it, especially if you're a Jew.

Just a bit ago I was told that Rabbi Karlinsky's (one of the Roshei Yeshiva) died today and we're going to his funeral at 9:40 tonight, and right now it's around 8:30.

Peace, Yaniv...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Yahoo Aricle -

Here's an article I found on Yahoo and I just had to comment on parts of it.

Here goes...

JERUSALEM - Nearly 40 percent of West Bank settlements are built on private land seized from Palestinians, an Israeli watchdog group said Tuesday — challenging the government's long-standing assertion the communities were built only on unclaimed territory.

Citing leaked Israeli military documents, Peace Now unveiled a report it said showed settlements were built on Palestinian property seized by the army long after Israel's Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 1979.

"We are talking about an institutional land grab," Dror Etkes, a settlement expert with the group, told reporters in Jerusalem.

In the Gaza StripSEARCH, meanwhile, Israeli troops killed a top Hamas commander in an operation against Palestinian rocket squads. Two other Palestinians, including an elderly woman, also were killed, hospital officials said.

In apparent Palestinian infighting, a former FatahARCH
Cabinet minister, Abdel Aziz Shahin, 62, was shot and wounded in Gaza City after criticizing the ruling Islamic Hamas on a radio show, hospital officials said.

Peace Now said its information was leaked from the Civil Administration, the Israeli military department responsible for civil affairs in the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war. It said at the government's request, the Supreme Court delayed a scheduled May hearing on Peace Now's petition to have the data released under freedom of information laws.

In its 174-page report, Peace Now said the Civil Administration database showed 38.8 percent of the area currently occupied by Israeli settlements, settlement outposts and industrial zones in the West Bank was privately owned Palestinian land, illegally expropriated by Israeli authorities.

Most notable was the city of Maaleh Adumim outside Jerusalem — with a population of 30,000, the West Bank's biggest settlement — where Peace Now said 86.4 percent of the real estate was in fact Palestinian-owned.

Israel has agreed to freeze settlement construction under an internationally backed peace plan, but says the fate of the settlements should be left to future peace negotiations.

The court ruling of 1979 ordered the Defense Ministry to stop seizing private Palestinian land for military use and turning it over for settlement construction. Peace Now said the practice continued, and 31.3 percent of the land built into settlements since the ruling is owned by Palestinians.

Civil Administration spokesman Shlomo Dror said he had not had an opportunity to study the report and could not comment on the figures.

"I can say that in general we have a clear directive not to build on privately owned Palestinian land," he said. He added that West Bank property records, passed down through successive Ottoman, British and Jordanian rulers, were incomplete and that some people listed as holding property titles had died and their heirs were unknown.

"I'm not sure that all the land Peace Now says is Palestinian, is Palestinian," he said.

Bentsi Lieberman, head of the settlers' council, insisted the settlements were built on public land. Speaking on Channel 2 TV, he said much of the land is claimed falsely by Palestinians.

Nearly 244,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank. In the summer of 2005, Israel evacuated all 8,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip, along with its military bases.

Since then, Palestinian militants in Gaza have been pounding southern Israel with homemade rockets. A woman in the town of Sderot, a frequent target, was killed in a volley last week.

Palestinian militants fired at least three rockets into Israel on Tuesday, one of which critically wounded a man in Sderot as the top U.N. human rights official toured another part of the town.

In Tuesday's raid, ground troops, backed by helicopters and tanks, surrounded the Gaza City home of Ayman Hassanin, 26, a local Hamas leader, witnesses said.

Gunmen streamed to the area as troops called on loudspeakers for Hassanin and his brother, Ibrahim, to surrender, according to the militants' mother, who identified herself only as Umm Mahmoud. A gunbattle erupted, and Ayman Hassanin was killed.

A 70-year-old woman also was killed in the battle, and a 20-year-old man was killed elsewhere, Palestinian medical officials said.

The army said troops fired at the house only after militants fired bullets and mortars at the soldiers.

Also Tuesday, two Italian Red Cross workers in Gaza were kidnapped by militants, the agency said, the latest in a series of abductions of foreigners in the territory. In the past, hostages have been released unharmed after a relatively short time, though two Fox journalists were held for two weeks.

Problem # 1 is with this statement, "Citing leaked Israeli military documents, Peace Now unveiled a report it said showed settlements were built on Palestinian property seized by the army long after Israel's Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 1979."

The Israeli Supreme Court might have outlawed the practice in 1979, but that is irrelevant because thirteen years earlier, in 1967, the three countries that this article failed to mention, those three which collaberated to destroy Israel in that war, lost the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights. Israel's critics now hysterically yell that Israel's seizure and annexation of those lands was illegal, but excuse for me mentioning that the attempt for Jordan, Egypt, and Syria to destroy Israel in an unilaterally accepted war is also illegal. Why would anybody attack the second illegal move and leave the first one unchallenged? Does anybody see a problem with that logic?

We must understand how this article is using the phrase "Palestinian property." The usage here is meant to refer to land that on which Palestinians lived before Israel became a state in 1948. That's all well and good and that land might have been land on which Palestinians lived, but in 1967 the Jordanians, Egyptians, and Syrians forfeited the right of the Palestinians to that land when they attacked Israel. Those who don't know much about modern Middle Eastern history have to know that the West Bank was considered Jordanian up until after the Six Day War. To add insult to the Palestinian's injury, they started this war without even once taking into account what would have happened to those Arabs had the attacker countries lost the war. When Israel won the Six Day War of 1967 the land on which the Palestinians lived was passed off into Israel's hands, and we would be fools to say that Israel's seizure of those lands was illegal because the war itself was illegal. It is absolutely ridiculous to say that Israel's winning the war was illegal, but if you consider for a moment, that is precisely what is being said when we hear "it was illegal for Israel to capture those lands." Doing something in a state of self defense is never illegal, just like it is never illegal to kill a person who has a gun to your head. The only reason that it became known as "Palestinan property" is because Israel's annexation of those areas of land were not absolute, the country divided the newly annexed area into three areas; areas where Palestinians had civil and local control, areas where Israel had civil control and Palestinians had local control, and areas where Israel had both civil and local control.

The question Peace Now's report begs is on which category of land were the settlements built. But a more philosophical question remains; isn't it Israel's fault for its own problems now for not taking full control of the entire West Bank in 1967 and annexing it as part of the country? By giving the Palestinians a measure of sovereignty in the area Israel made a huge mistake, but it's easy to judge these things in retrospect, which I am not doing. What I am doing is pointing out that the source of Peace Now's gripe with Israel is seeded deep in the grievous error that Israel made after winning the Six Day War, the attempt to give the Palestinians free reign rather than expelling them from those borders. That the most skilled military officers of the Israeli army did not realize in advance that providing the defeated Palestinian Arabs with this type of sovereignty within Israel's new borders (although many apparently did) is indicative of a national illusion shared by Israeli culture. That illusion is that peace was possible with the Arabs and it is very important to say that the Arabs did not share this same illusion, not then and still not now.

Yet another philosophical perspective renders the fact that Muslims see no difference between religion and politics, and to a degree I believe this to be a positive trait and wish to see the Jewish People recognize that this too is their destiny, but that is another topic. The Jews of Israel have detached from this ideological yearning that religion should influence (and rule) all aspects of their national political existence, but the neighboring Arabs, who haven't, view Israel in the way that they view their own national existence. Therefore, they must associate anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism because the right of the Jewish State to exist is based soley on Judaism, and the Arabs, who are Muslim, know this. The extent that Israel should be destroyed is equal to the extent which Israel is inextracable from Judaism. The extent to which a Jewish national state should not exist is equal to the extent which a Muslim national state should.

It's late so I'll add more criticism of this article later. Good night.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

How Do We Know That There is an Oral Law?

Logically speaking, there has to be. In the Torah there is a commandment that mentions what is done with a habitually goring bull; it is put to death. The presence of this commandment in the Torah leads to a proof that G-d gave the Oral Law to Moses along with the Written Torah. The question that naturally comes from this commandment is, "What constitutes a habitually goring bull?" The importance of this question cannot be underplayed; if a society is a product of its laws, then a society needs to have good and coherent laws. If my bull continuously gores other bulls, it would be in the best interest of bull-owners as to what exactly constitutes a habitually goring bull. The inability to define this particular status of bull would lead the bull to continue damaging peoples' property and would create an element of strife and even hatred in the society. Therefore, peace rides upon the ability to define just what exactly a "habitually goring bull" is.
The Talmud explains that a bull which has gored three times constitutes a habitually goring bull. We know this because it is written in the physical Talmud, which the holy Sages of the Sanhedrin wrote down in a codified form during the destruction of the Second Temple during the Roman occupation. They considered that the events taking place after this destruction, namely dispersal, would also decompose the Jewish society and so they felt it an obligation to codify which had not been codified since its deliverance to Moses along with the Written Law. The Oral Law was meticulously written down as Jews now took to studying it on their terms with Rabbi's and most likely amongst themselves, and later as printing became a possible industry, it appeared in printed form in mass quantities. Now every Jew (and person) has access to the Talmud
There are some people whom seek to prove the invalidity of the Oral Law, or rather its supposedly corrupting rigorous approach to Law, in order to validate their own beliefs. It is these people, namely a certain "brand" of Christians (and most likely all of them), whom seek to show the universal role of Jesus in the Second Temple time by playing him against the assumedly dead routine of the Law and the corruption of which it is charged (there are also Muslims whom seek to show the universality of Muhammad in a similar fashion). Therefore, these Christians argue that the Oral Law was not Divinely authored, unlike the (Written) Torah, which they believe was, and therefore must logically conclude that the Sages invented it in the Second Temple time. Make no mistake, to be under "Divine influence" is not the same thing as receiving something from G-d, as did Moses, and therefore even if the Sages were inspired by (what they thought was) the Will of G-d, the Oral Law would be useless and even dangerous.
Fortunately reality saves the day. There is a problem with the view that the Sages invented the Oral Law upon its codification in the year 70 C.E.; how did the Jews of Moses' time understand the commandment to put to death a bull which had habitually gored? If we ask the question "What constitutes a habitually goring bull," then we can assume that the recipients of the Torah, the Jews whom G-d liberated from Egypt and were wandering in the desert, also had that question. Can it be possible that the question only became relevant in the 1st Century and therefore the Jewish Sages only codified the Oral Law in that time? Absolutely not! However, this is what we must conclude if we go by the view of the people whom state that the Sages invented the Oral Law. Rather, that the Talmud elucidates an answer, which is not found anywhere in the Written Torah, is a proof that there was both a question and an answer, and since they were not originally in written form, they must have been in oral form. It is not only silly to say that the Sages invented an arbitrary answer to the question, it also does not hold water due to the fact that if there is no Oral Law, G-d has given the Jews a useless commandment (a habitually goring bull...), and if we believe in G-d we are not free to assume that. If we do assume this, however, then we also assume that the entire Torah is useless since we cannot decipher it. What bigger tragedy would there be than an incomprehensible Torah? Yet that is what people assume the Torah is when they say that there is no Oral Law. It also makes room for people to enter their interpretations into the Torah. The existence of an Oral Law does not allow for that to occur.
But if logic is not your cup of tea, then perhaps you would enjoy a proof that is found in the text of the Torah itself. In Exodus18:13-26, Moses has the sole responsibility of providing conclusions to legal matters that the Jews bring to him. His father-in-law, Jethro, seeing that this task is daunting for Moses, says to him,
"You shall caution them regarding the decrees and the teachings, and you shall make known to them the path in which they should go and the deeds that they should do. And you shall discern from among the entire people, men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money, and you shall appoint them leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens. They shall judge the people at all times, and they shall bring every major matter to you, and every minor matter they shall judge, and it will be eased for you, and they shall bear with you. If you do this thing - and G-d shall command you - then you will be able to endure, and this entire people, as well, shall arrive at its destination in peace." (Exodus 18, 20-23)
Just a second here; "Leaders of thousands? "They shall judge the people at all times?" "Every major matter... every minor matter?" Why so many judges, why at all times, and there were so many cases that there was actually a difference between minor and major cases? Sounds like a huge group of people had a massive amount of questions for Moses, a case factory. Could it be that they, just like us, were puzzled by the nature of many of their legal disputes? From where exactly was Moses retrieving this information that he was giving them in order to resolve their disputes? Did he make up the answers as he went along? The answer is that G-d gave to him the Oral Law on Mt. Sinai to accompany the Written Law. Remember, Moses made several trips up and down Mt. Sinai, only receiving the first Ten Commandments during his first forty-day period ascent.

How Do We Know that Isaac (and not Ishmael) Inherited all of Abraham's Property?
Logically speaking, since Ishmael was the G-d-chosen progenitor of Abraham according to Islam, which says that Isaac's being the Torah's chosen one of Abraham was a Jewish cover-up of the true record of history, there should be a written historical record of the descendants of Ishmael in the same way that there is a written historical record of Isaac's descendants, whom are the Jews. We know that this is not true, first, because there is no historical record in writing of the events of Ishmael's descendants. Secondly, all of the major events in the Torah happened to the descendants of Isaac, such as the 400-year slavery in Egypt, which culminated in their deliverance of the Torah and their being brought into the Land that G-d promised Abraham's descendants (Isaac or Ishmael?). How do Muslims explain that the descendants of Isaac were given the Torah and brought, under Joshua, to possess the Land that G-d promised Abraham? The descendants of Ishmael, whom appear infrequently in the Tanakh, are referred to as "Ishmaelites" and are not central to any of the themes other than being the ones to whom Joseph's brothers sold him. Near the end of the Tanakh (I am not sure where) appears the word "Arabs."
Thirdly, the formation of the religion of Islam in the 6th Century, with the Qur'an as its text, is the first time to make mention of any sort of history preceding it, and guess what, the entire Biblical history encapsulated in the Qur'an is the history of the Jews! If Ishmael's descendants recorded their history in the manner that did the descendants of Isaac, the new Muslims should have made reference to that as their religion's history, but they did not! Why not!? Why did they have to use the history of Isaac's descendants? The answer is that there was no other recorded Biblical history! We have to face it, after the Torah's final mention of the person Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18) he is no longer mentioned; what becomes of him seems to be unknown. Suddenly in the 6th Century (more than 3,000 years later) a religion arises with its founder claiming to be the descendant of Ishmael coming to claim his rightful inherited legacy of Abraham; why had none of Ishmael's descendants taken it upon themselves to rectify this historical injustice and discrepancy earlier? Where were they, who they they, and what were they doing this whole time (more than 3,000 years)? That Muhammad brought the message of Islam to a civilization of Arabs whom were polytheists alludes that somewhere along the line the descendants of Ishmael became polytheists, i.e., veered from the monotheism of their fathers Ishmael and Abraham and their mother Hagar. Their history is nowhere to be found, and even if it was, it would all be rife with polytheism and so Islam has nothing (no historical monotheism) on which to stand. Grappling with this reality, the founder of Islam claims that all of the Biblical figures (including Jesus) are the progenitors of Islam, and they were all Jews!
Further, even though Islam claims that Ishmael is the heir to Abraham's legacy, which would suggest a blood, and therefore "genetic" association with being a Muslim, it makes an interesting contradiction; Islam claims itself to be a pure religion having nothing to do with genetics, ethnicity, or bloodline, i.e., to be strictly about faith. If this is true then why does the Muslim tradition emphasize that the true legacy of Abraham comes from the lineage of a specific son? If bloodline is irrelevant, why does it matter that Muhammad was a descendant of Ishmael, why does one have to be a descendant of any particular son if Islam is based purely on faith and has no blood, ethnic, or genetic component? I would advise not to rack your brain trying to find an answer because there is is no answer, but don't take my word for it, ask a Muslim. Islam has dealt with this discrepancy relatively well, but not well enough, by saying that both Ishmael and Isaac are the inheritors of Abraham's legacy, but just that Ishmael inherited the larger and better portion of that legacy. How is this an acceptable view to Muslims when the Torah's view, which says that Isaac inherited the larger and better section of Abraham's legacy, is what they find unacceptable? Simultaneously, the Muslim tradition insists on the equality of Ishmael and Isaac and states that Ishmael received the larger portion, yet only one could be true.
The Jewish tradition has nothing to hide; Isaac received the larger portion of Abraham's legacy by Divine command, while Ishmael received the legacy of monotheism as well but none of Abraham's property. To our modern eyes this can seem politically incorrect, but not according to the social and cultural standards more than 3,000 years ago. It was a commandment but G-d but we have no reason to ignore the sociological element. Further, let us be honest: Muhammad did not establish the religion of Islam in order to correct an age-old injustice for the same reason I stated earlier; why wasn't there a revolutionary Arab whom started Islam at an earlier point in history. The truth is that Muhammad tapped into Biblical history simply because it would give Islam the appearance of antiquity and would afford him the followers whom he desperately needed, and therefore he did was necessary. The reality of Islam is that Muhammad created it because 6th Century pagan Saudi Arabia was in desperate need of monotheism and an entire new political system, which Muslims treat as a validating reason for the establishment of Islam.
Now to those who prefer Biblical proofs over logical ones, Genesis 25:5 says, "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac." Remember, if the Muslim tradition has no problem with the notion of one son getting more than the other, then it should have no problem with Isaac getting more than Ishmael, which is the truth. Have no fear! Genesis 9 says, "His (Abraham's) sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre." Further, all of the promises that G-d promised would happen with Ishmael to Hagar come true, and even further, the end of this Parsha (Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah), ends with the statement, "These were the years of Ishmael's life: a hundred and thirty-seven years, when he expired and died, and was gathered to his people." (Genesis 25:17). This is the same ending that all of the respected figures of the Torah receive, namely Abraham and all the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Musical Throne

Musical Throne -

My friend here at the yeshiva told me that a Rabbi of his told him that secular music has a higher potential for emotional connection than religious music. He didn't state why, but my impression is that secular music doesn't bother limiting itself in scope as to what it says or how it expresses things, and therefore it is like an unbound animal. Therefore, music of this type speaks to a very active part of the human being, which is the animal side, and the truth is that a larger percentage of humanity does not bother controlling the animal in them and therefore secular music is a popular mode of expression for much of humanity. According to my friend, the Rabbi stated that music of this type is almost barbaric, which I understand him to mean not necessarily barbaric in content but barbaric in that it does not regulate itself.

Music can be aligned with spirituality and with religion, and through the ages human beings have used music in their connection to the spiritual, be they pagan or philosopher or monotheist. But why would religious music offer less of a connection than secular, which might be very, very spiritual? I have a feeling that only people who have managed to tap into what it means to be a religious person have been able to connect to religious music, whose spirituality is deep and rich but concealed in a particular train of thought which is also deeply connected to the way one lives life. Nevertheless, the spirituality in religious music is not inaccessible to the general population. It is almost as if one has to sensitize his/her ear to religious thought before one can comprehend in the inherent spirituality within it, and religious thought is not separable from religious living. The perception for many people, whom do not live religious lifestyles, is that religious music is not as spiritual as secular music, because the latter offers a more readily accessible palatte of sounds and lyrics that speaks to a very base element of humanity. The perception that secular music is more spiritual than religious music is due to the number of people whom have not genuinely found a religious connection in thier lives and therefore it is more difficult for them to see the rich colors present in religious music. There is a giant pot of emotions in secular music, a huge mish-mosh of uncharted emotions and sentiments, and therefore the general populace finds solace in this music because it speaks to everyone. The kind of emotions and sentiments which religious music taps into is more directed and eager to move in a specific direction than is just plainly spiritual music, eager to surround the listener with a particular sense of meaning, which plainly spiritual music does not contain. Spiritual music comes from a lower and baser place in the human soul, the animal spirit, and religious music, which is also spiritual, comes from a higher place in the human soul, the G-dly soul, the piece of the human and humanity which is actually a part of G-d. To find meaning and beauty and spiritual and emotional connection in this type of music, one must work to find a way to bring him/herself into a place of connection to his higher self and only then will that purview be made visible to his eyes.

The Torah says that high levels of spirituality can be reached through unholy things, i.e., things which do not have their source in G-dly spirituality. To use a contemporary type of example, people who are involved in dirty or base endeavours; drugs, permiscuity, crime, etc... are seen to give off an aura of confidence and heightened spirituality and which makes them alluring and charismatic individuals. The same thing is true of people on the opposite side of the spectrum, they reach a level of confidence and heightened spirituality which draws people to them through clean and pure means. In Parshat Balaam, Balaam, who is a prophet of Midian (a polytheistic peoples), reaches high levels of spirituality and even prophecy through engaging in relations with his female donkey, which the Torah specificially mentions is a "she-donkey." This is one of the lowest, basest, and filthiest acts possible, but it elevated Balaam to heights that most likely many "normal" people had not reached. Somehow, through these horrible and filthy acts, Balaam was able to tap into a heightened state of being - he was able to lose himself to the point where he found something outside of himself, but in the process he also ruined himself. G-d made the donkey turn around and speak to him, and the Midrash says that G-d did this in order to make Balaam understand that prophecy comes from Him, not from any form of klippah, a chassidic term for something which separates Man from G-d.
Musical Throne
Many high levels of spirituality can be attained through impure means, but pure means can bring a person much closer to G-d than any of those.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Human Biology -

Humanity is a failure if evolution is our primary force. I mean, biology is sufficient to maintain the survival of animals and plants, and actually they are reliant on it to survive, but this same biology when applied to human beings is the source of our gradual destruction. In other words, if we took it upon ourselves to behave in the same exact way as do plants and animals, which destroy each other in order to maintain their own survival, we would be morally disgusted, G-d willing. If evolution's "survival of the fittest" was made the center of the human paradigm, we would either be dead or completely unhappy. This shows that first there is a difference between humans and animal and plant life, and second that that difference is qualitative in nature, not quantitative; the difference between animal/plant life and human life does not fall on a spectrum, we are essentially different from them. What occurs in the animal kingdom and is required for life to continue, such as when ants invade another colony of ants and kill and dominate that colony, is seen as morally neutral, but when such a thing occurs in the human kingdom, this thing as recognized as one of the dark disasters of human history. Even the evolutionist must hold the view that he is grotesquely disgusted by such historical occurrences, but to hold such a view would go against his view that humans are the products of biology no more and no less than are bacteria. Bacteria wipe out other bacteria every single day, but in human terms this would be called "genocide" and is recorded in the human memory. Bacteria, plants, and animals do not record past events in type of memory bank; when one bacteria wipe out another bacteria, the bacteria kingdom continues on as if nothing occurred - this is because their sole purpose of existence is their own procreation, anything that gets in the way of this is merely a lifeless and valueless (and worthless) obstacle. The difference between humans and other life forms is that we have a built in perception of quality and value, we understand that other humans contain value and that killing them violates that inherent value, and therefore we are agitated by the concept of killing others even if their death is beneficial for the natural order of things. We rather violate the order than violate the value of human life, this is why we try to find ways to feed the whole world rather than to say that the death of some few million people will balance out the economic system of the world. Historical figures whom have enacted systems in which a person kills an entire group of people because he sees them as useless is acting upon a morally reprehensible drive, but if it were applied to the animal, plant, or bacteria kingdom it would completely acceptable and even necessary for the survival of that species. An evolutionist feels this way by the very merit of his being a human being; being a human trumps his being an evolutionist whether or not he opines that evolution is his primary essence. Therefore, human biology does exist, but it is qualitatively different than animal biology; the primary evolutionary force of humanity is to improve the quality of human life, while the primary evolutionary force of animals is to survive. Even apes, whom are the closest animals to human beings in the entire animal kingdom, do not care about improving life, i.e., they do not perceive morality. They perceive kindness and maybe even a primitive version of love, but to say that they perceive an existential understanding of morality that extends to their fellow ape is impossible. They are nothing more than extremely intricate bacteria. One human folly is to attribute human characteristics to animals simply because we have them. The problem with doing is that we do not feel like we have a reason to protect animals unless they are exactly like us, and therefore, in the name of protecting them, we raise them to our level or lower ourselves to theirs, and this is the most disgusting and degrading things that we can do to ourselves - to liken ourselves to the animals, even if our cause is noble, ensures that we will be like them. Rather, we can still protect them regardless of their lower nature than ours, for example, even though children are more primitive than adults, do adults not find it moral to protect children? Clearly they do.

Also, consider this - how can the belief in G-d develop as a biological function? What would be the function of belief in G-d, and why has only humanity developed with this specific attribute? If we go by the evolutionary argument, which says that a species with a trait not beneficial to its survival dies out, we must conclude that religion and spirituality are traits that help to keep humanity around because we are still around. This means that human biology is largely spiritual; just like an animal is basically entirely physical, a human is physical and spiritual. We cannot say that G-d's existence is a biological trait taking form as a mental development that exists only in the minds of men as some massive evolutionary placebo, for such a belief indicates that evolution, which evolutionists declare is a mindless process, cannot create a trait which tricks the being which possess it. If we declare that evolution indeed "tricks" beings into doing things which make them survive, we are attributing intelligence to evolution and are left with the striking impression than there is actually an intelligence behind the smoke screen of existence. The other option would be to believe that the human brain itself has this power.

Taking a slightly different path right now, what about prayer? How can evolution create an intelligent and intricate being such as the human being to believe in a G-d that does not exist as a means to survival, and then endow the human being with its ability to develop its own evolutionary processes, such as the invention of prayer, which it uses to communicate with this non-existent Being? Surely in the way that animals affect their physical surroundings, humans affect their spiritual surroundings, but to hold this view is to hold the view that spiritual surroundings exist, just as we must hold that physical surroundings also exist. Also, assuming that prayer works, which many, including myself, works, we have to attribute essentially endless and infinite abilities to the mind.

For example, if I pray for something, and not necessarily to receive something, but a more intricate prayer involving an occurrence or the delay of an occurrence, for example, and that thing occurs, can I attribute it to coincidence? Some say yes, but after prayer has worked successfully time after time, can I still say that several coincidences have occurred in repeated succession? I can offer a rebuttal to this by saying that my own biased perception has allowed me to believe that my prayer has actually been answered, but in reality I am simply manipulating a natural event in my own mind to conform to my biases. But there is still a rebuttal for that, because I can pray for things that have absolutely nothing to do with my preconceived mental biases, such as that praying for a needed thing to occur at a certain time, a thing which lies outside my realm of control, or is based on a person's making a certain decision, also something entirely out of my realm of control. If I pray that a person gets a sum of money that he or she needs soon, and I don't pray specifically how he or she should get that money, and then in a short period of time that person (whom did not know of my prayer) receives that sum of money in some way and THEN informs me, then that prayer has been answered positively.

This has nothing to do with coincidence (which would be an unfathomably low rate of probability) or with mental bias (because the event occurred away from both our knowledge) and it justifies the view that an ever-present Consciousness exists that listens and responds to utterances made to Him. If you don't believe that prayers work, and you are skeptical, then take a step of courage, concentrate, identify something that you really need, and ask G-d for it to be delivered to you, and then go on your normal path. If G-d desired you to have it then you will. If you get it, can you explain biology or the human mentality or the wonders of the space-time continuum to have produced this "coincidence?" Try it because you have everything to gain.

Why would the best sages of the Jewish tradition (and the Christian and the Muslim, etc...) spent valuable effort and time delving into the questions of prayer and other spiritual matters in order to refine their and others' ability to connect with G-d? Why is that spiritually connected people of all ages have sensed a reality outside of themselves and have pursued an active relationship with it? If we add it all up, it is only until recently in human history where atheism became an active paradigm in human thought and it is therefore atheists that hold the world's most marginal viewpoints. So much quality wisdom and illuminating perspectives of human nature have stemmed from the wisdom of the Torah and other monotheist paradigms - what has atheism offered to humanity? Atheism veers away from anything that is of any value to humanity, yet adherents to that paradigm hold that they are trying to bring the world into a new era, but atheism is incapable of bringing anything good to the human race or to anyone/anything.

To assert the point more clearly, we do not live in a vaccuum where nothing outside of ourselves exists - G-d is real.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Week two and a half in Israel -

Week two and a half in Israel and my third (observed) Shabbat here, and the view sure looks good. This Shabbat my yeshiva went up to the Golan Heights up in the north to have a Shabbaton, which is like doing something out of the norm for Shabbat, although there is no such thing as an ordinary Shabbat. Just to give a quick prelude about the Golan Heights, they were not originally part of the State of Israel in 1948, but were part of the Historic Land of Israel. During the Six Day War of 1967 against Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian forces, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, strategically important for security reasons. The other reason it was important is because it belongs to us. I digress, you see, the Syrians occupied the Golan Heights before 1967 and they were using it to terrorize Israeli kibbutzim in the north (my parents lived on one of the fartherst north kibbutzim in Israel, Kibbutz Kfar Blum). This was possible because the Golan Heights give anyone who occupies it a fascinating and looming standpoint over a huge chunk of the countryside, giving them much military strategery. In 1967 Israel captured this area of land and since the nations have recognized it as "disputed territory." Today, during the day, we stood on a hill facing north, about an half an hour walk up hill from the moshav that took us in, towards Mt. Hermon, Israel's highest mountain and near the border with Syria, and in between the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and Israel's eastern-most border. The ability to envision, as if a map, exactly where in Israel we were standing was quite astounding.

It was here where our tour guide told us a bit about Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy that managed to infiltrate Syria to the point where he became best friends with its Defense Minister, some twenty years ago. Eli Cohen was born in Egypt, therefore he was an Arabic-speaking Jew, but honed his craft speaking the Syrian dialect of Arabic, which as those who know something about Arabic know that the dialects are rather varied. He also worked on the nuances of the language, which can be said to be as different as southern English and California English. Being on such good terms with the Syrian Defense Minster, Cohen was able to freely enter his office and look over plans, which he photographed and sent to the Israeli government. The Syrians, prior to 1967, had thought of a way to deliver a devastating blow to Israel; the source of the Kinneret, Israel's primary water source, was a river in Syria (which then included the Golan Heights). The plan of the Syrians was to dig a huge trench, about 87 miles long, in order to deflect the natural flow of the river leading into the Kinneret and therefore to choke Israel of its primary water source. Having done that (destroying its own landscape irreparably in order to destroy Israel) its war plans would have been easier. Cohen regularly sent copies of this plan to the Israeli government and when the plan was in action, Israel barraged the area and destroyed it. The Syrians were in utter shock and Cohen basically played a huge role in ensuring Israel's survival.

Cohen's place in the World to Come, G-d willing, was awesome, but his fate in this world wasn't as cheerful; he was caught by the Syrians, whom used a Russian device to track the radio signals of suspected spies, and Cohen was tortured brutally until he was hanged in Syria. His body was never returned. We stood right at the base of the trenches that the Syrian government had built to deflect the flow of the Kinneret. There is book named "Our Man in Damascus" about Eli Cohen, about twenty years old, which I hope to read, and a movie as well.

Another fascinating thing was seeing the two 1,400 year old synagogues, one of which we prayed Mincha in (afternoon services). The second one had no ceiling, since it had fallen thousands of years ago, and therefore we were provided with a view overlooking one of the giant valleys in the Golan Heights. Other than the Basalt walls and grass growing as the floor, one could make out the primary features of the synagogue easily, such as the Bima, the surface on which the Torah is placed and read. To be davining Mincha in this 1,400 year-old synagogue up in the Golan Heights, much more, was simply astounding.

I will post pictures of this trip soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Grand Jew at the Piano

I find myself in Jerusalem and now I try to find myself in Jerusalem. Here are some poems that have been inspired by the last two weeks here in Jerusalem and also by the small show I saw today put on my friend Ariel Elisha, who played Grand Piano, Aaron Catz, whom I know from Tucson and whom played his guitar and sang, and from Yehuda Shuleman, I think his name was, whom played saxophone.

The Creation of the Holy One, Blessed be He

Is like an apple

For the skin He created Beauty

Beauty is thin

Outside the skin is found nothing – Beauty is the most external pathway to further truths

Those who stand outside of Beauty have nothing

And Beauty is nothing compared to Purity

How many a peoples’ hearts have been swayed and stolen by persuasive Beauty?

Claiming their sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, thoughts, emotions, connection?

Fathom that for fathoms beneath the Beauty is the pulp of the apple

And the pulp is Purity

Purity is better than Beauty

Inside the core of the apple are the seeds

And the seeds are Holiness

Purity separates Holiness from Beauty

And Holiness is better than Purity

The Holy One, Blessed is He, will pour out honey on the apple

And we can all celebrate the New Year

Then He will turn the honey into wine

Then He will eliminate spiritual drunkenness when He turns

The wine into water, reversing all evil

Of water into wine

And He will thrust the apple against the wall with violence

And the apple will explode into pieces that will fall to the ground

And the water on the apple will fertilize the seeds

Which will grow into trees

I gravitate and polarize around the Source in the middle

Like a holy mesquito I fly around the Place

Just yearning to poke my straw into the center

Like a pendulum I swing back and forth around Hashem

My body pushes my soul away, my body resists my soul’s yearning to cleave

Like a planet I revolve around the sun, I cannot get closer

How can I penetrate this gravitational force

That at once keeps me near but keeps me away?

G-d, show me the way and bring me closer

Drops of light fall from the sky

Drops of light form into puddles on the sidewalks of Jerusalem

Puddles of light form into seas than flow down the streets of Jerusalem

A sea of light flows through the Land, dimming the sun above

People swim and float joyously on the ocean of light

So bright that the sun’s reflection is invisible inside it

Like a match to a fire

Let me absorb water of Torah like a grass and let me grow strong and tall

Not honey and not wine, but water

Has no color for the colored ones

The humans whose skin is like skittles

They try to taste the rainbow but close their mouth to the water

But the water gives life and honey and wine taste fine

But water gives life

In the end it is the water that will be confirmed sweet

Seeping into the hearts of men

In the end it is the water that will arouse the senses

Making joyous the hearts of men

In the end it is not water, but honey and wine that will drown the evil

It is possible to find the right place the wrong way

In a world of streets, sidewalks, foreign buildings, and signs

One can find the right destination by following the wrong signs

But he must walk back and forth like aimlessly

Passing locations several times over

Asking for directions until he finds the right place

Shame will cover his face and fear will fill his heart when

He realizes that he is lost among them

They will all look ugly; the streets, sidewalks, foreign buildings, and signs

And the people too, they will look the ugliest

And he will feel the ugliness inside him swelling and consuming, numbing

Until he arrives at his destination

What signs can a man follow?

What signs can he be sure will arrive him at his destination?

He must go for the signs that have always been there.

But how does he know which of the signs posted in the streets are those signs?

He must ask his fathers and mothers

For far back enough some of them have witnessed the posting

My eyes have become super-sensitized to the beauty of holy women

A beautiful woman is one whose body is invisible and whose heart is not shared

With everyone, her emotions are rarities for those who deserve them

And whose soul belongs to G-d

A beautiful woman rejects the stallions of conformity and emptiness;

Whom toil in their muscles, remove all hair from their body, apply sweet smells,

And train their words like grotesque dogs

She seeks fine grain and yearns to mill it, and she will have it

The Chazan stands at the front of the Synagogue singing out

He is covered in His Talit

I look to the ground, I cannot see Him, but

I can hear His voice filling the Synagogue

He sings to us and we respond to Him and

We sing with Him

My ears respond but my eyes cannot

Although He opens my eyes and I yearn to look at Him

Please G-d, Whom I cannot see and cannot see and live

Please enable these eyes to hold in more of You

Many times I find myself getting nearer to You

I begin to see the fibers of this world wave away and become stripped away, torn

I become afraid that if I leave this world too much and enter into Yours

That I will have to abandon the systems of conformity of this world completely

Having seen You and unable to reject Your Truth, with what would I be left

Other than pursuing with a full heart the urgencies of Your Words?

This fills me with fear and I choose to cover myself in small amounts of Klippah

Just enough to stay connected but not forced to sprint after You as if nothing else

Existed, but nothing else exists and nothing else matters, so please G-d let me be

Strong to run after You, for the dictates of my body and soul, alone, will not withstand

The pressure of nearing You and the world will corrupt my soul irreparably without You – so the journey of

Nearing You is more preferable than the death of the wwways of the wwworld, for how can death be better than


Monday, November 06, 2006

The Ishmaelite Prophecies of Lech Lecha -----------

Parashat Lech Lecha discusses, among many things, the birth of Isaac and Ishmael. I find the Torah's treatment of both of Abraham's sons, the first through Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian maidservant, and the second through Sarah, Abraham's wife, very interesting. The Torah tradition says that the Torah has seventy levels of insight, so what I am about to say in this blog might be found in one of those seventy levels, but as far as I know this is just one of my own observations.

The Torah speaks of the birth of Ishmael, Abraham's first son. I think that there are many key elements and descriptions in this parsha referring to Ishmael which give us insight into his character. The first set of experiences that made Ishmael the man that he was have to do with the conflict between Sarah and Hagar, her handmaiden. In Bereshit 16:1, we read, "Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, 'See, now, Hashem has restrained me from bearing; consort , now, with my maidservant, perhaps I will be built up through her.' And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai." A bit later in verse four it says, "He consorted with Hagar and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was lowered in her esteem. So Sarai said to Abram, 'The outrage against me is due to you! It was I who gave my maidservant into your bosom, and when she saw that she had conceived, I became lowered in her esteem. Let Hashem judge between me and you!'"

We see here that after Hagar had given birth, she (maidservant) looked down on Sarai (mistress, the feminine of 'master,' 'gever,' 'gvirta' in Hebrew). It was acceptable for Hagar to be happy for having a child, but for her to give Sarah "bad eyes" because she had not yet given birth and even worse because Sarah was barren, was by all means a hostile and conceited action. To jest a woman who cannot give birth is a very low way to act towards another person, and Sarah being incredibly wounded by this act expelled Hagar from the household.

The next set of events which befell Hagar are what gave Ishmael his specific attributes holiness, characteristics, and spiritual energy. After Hagar was expelled, she fled to a desert which the Torah says was
"in between Kadesh and Bered." (Bereshit 16:14) In verses seven through fourteen we see, "An angel of Hashem found her by the spring of the water in the desert, at the spring on the road to Shur. And he said, 'Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?' And she said, 'I am running away from Sarai my mistress.' And an angel of Hashem said to her, 'Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her domination.' And an angel of Hashem said to her, 'I will greatly increase your offspring, and they will not be counted for abundance.' And an angel of Hashem said to her, 'Behold, you will conceive, and give birth to a son; you shall name him Ishmael, for Hashem has heard your prayer. And he shall be a wild-ass of a man: his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell.' And she called the Name of Hashem Who spoke to her 'You are the G-d of Vision," for she said, 'Could I have seen ever here after having seen?' Therefore, the well was called 'The Well of the Living One Appearing to Me.' It was between Kadesh and Bered.'"

There are a few very interesting things going on here. First of all, according to Rashi, the reason that the angel used the term "mistress" with Hagar was to show her that Sarai was still in charge of her; my own observance is that we see in the verses that Hagar immediately reflected the angel's utilization of that word showing that she had a certain depth of faith, which can even be said to be deep, and understood that it was G-d's will for her to be under the "domination" of Sarai. Indeed she did return to the household and lived as Sarai's maidservant. Genesis 16 says that Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born.

The second very interesting thing was that,
"And an angel of Hashem said to her, 'I will greatly increase your offspring, and they will not be counted for abundance,'" - Hagar would give birth to a multitude of people but that they would not be counted for abundance, which can be read that their huge numbers will not yield power. Thousands of years later, the Arab peoples, whom claim to be the descendents of Ishmael, are extremely numerous (and so are the Muslim peoples, whom claim to be the spiritual descendents of Ishmael) but they, despite their abundance, have not, thank G-d, overcome the Jews, whom are but a tiny fraction of the total Arab population.

But let's try to topple this argument before moving on. If we employ the argument that it is silly to assume that this verse refers to our own day's reality, we can assume that it refers to a time more contemporary to the timeline of this verse, namely, sometime after a group of peoples known as "Arabs" came into being shortly after the time of Ishmael's and Isaac's lives. G-d gives the blessing to Hagar at a time of conflict between her and Sarai, and so that
they will not be counted for abundance is relevant only in light of that conflict. Now, we cannot be sure that such a conflict existed at the time shortly after Ishmael's and Isaac's lives, so this would lead us to assume that the verse is making a reference to a (much) later time when there actually was some such conflict in between people claiming to be Isaac's descendants (the Jews) and people claiming to be Ishmael's descendants (the Arabs and Muslims). We could, however, try to topple this argument by saying that a time did indeed exist in which Jews and Muslims were in conflict before our own day. Such a time could have been at any time that the Arab peoples had already come a discernible group, but we know through history that there was nothing inherently conflicting between Arabs and Jews (before Islam) because the Arabs were just another pagan culture on the Earth. It was only after the advent of Islam that any such conflict, that is, specifically and uniquely between Arabs and Jews could have come into play, because it was only until Islam that Arabs (by way of Muhammad's teachings) claimed to be the descendants of Ishmael. We could, however, insist that the Arabs, even before Islam, claimed to be the descendants of Ishmael, but that is highly unlikely because they knew that Ishmael was a monotheist and all of the Arabs until Islam were polytheists. Therefore, their connection to Ishmael was "discovered" only with the advent of Islam in the 7th century. Therefore, we get the astonishing realization that the verse is meaningless if it does not refer to some time in which a situation like our own exists. We could try, however, to say that such a conflict existed in earlier times (sometime after the lives of Ishmael and Isaac) to which this verse is actually referring, but history records no such thing. The conclusion is that it was a prophecy referring to today's time (from the 7th century until today, actually).

The third thing, related closely to the second, is this verse - "
and he shall be a wild-ass of a man: his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell." This verse has to be referring to the same exact time as the previous verse because it is related to this conflict. However, the verse does not make mention only of the conflict between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac, rather, it makes reference to "everyone," (his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him) i.e., he will have a conflict with everyone. We see today, and this is magnificently politically incorrect, that the Arab nations, and by some measure, the Muslim nations, are growingly at war with the majority of the world, maybe even the rest of the world. One who studies the "latest" sociological phenomenon of political Islam and Muslim terrorist groups will see that they are motivated by an ideology that is set against the entire world and seeks for it to accept Islam. The way I read "wild-ass" is that he will be constantly kicking and fighting in the stubborn manner as does an ass (donkey), and this can be overlaid to the behavior of not per se the Arab or Muslim world, but to the factions operating within it that acts the most "expressively." The verse also reads, "and over all his brothers shall he dwell," clearly Arab nations rule over Arab nations today, if we read "brothers" as meaning "other Arabs," but if we read "brothers" to mean "other people," because we are all brothers, then the verse means that Arabs will dwell (ishkon), i.e., he will be in their midst. This can be read in many ways, but I read in the way that his sheer numbers will place him all over the world, dwelling over his brothers. All in all, the Arab nation will be a nation of an incredibly powerful faith in G-d, as was Hagar, but they will be violent, as was her son, and they will be everywhere. If we take into account human history, it is hard to read this verse as referring to anything else.

Nevertheless, Hagar returns to Sarai and fourteen years later (or it could be thirteen), Sarai gives birth to Isaac. Approximately one year before G-d told Abraham that Sarai would give birth to a son (Isaac), He told him,
"And as for you, you shall keep My covenant - you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of the foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised..." (Bereshit 17:9). Islam has the tradition of circumcising their sons at the age of thirteen years in order to keep in line with the age of Ishmael at the time of his circumcision. A Muslim site about circumcision reads, "Often, Muslim boys pass through their major status change - circumcision (khitan) - when they have recited the entire Qur'an [Koran] once through. In Malaysia and other regions where this procedure is followed, the boy undergoes the operation at from ten to twelve years of age. It is thus a real puberty rite, separating the boy from childhood and introducing him to a new status. There is much anxious anticipation of circumcision at the age of puberty, because the initiand is increasingly aware of his own sexuality and needs also to demonstrate his bravery and honor. The adults talk a lot about the fearsomness of the circumciser and make frightening remarks right up to the time of the event, which in some causes is semi-public, although it is more and more often performed in a clinic or hospital. In any event, there is much festivity, with music, special foods, and many guests. While the actual event is taking place, one may hear praise of God, partly, as some observers have suggested, to drown out the boy's cries. But the procedure is relatively safe, and those whom perform it are usually trained and experienced." ( This has further meaning, it is much easier to be circumcised at the age of eight days then it is to be at the age of thirteen years; for a boy to be circumcised at an age of consciousness means in the Muslim tradition that he is more steadfast and dedicated to G-d, largely because he really has no choice but more because the goal is to follow in the footsteps of Ishmael. Therefore, in Islam, it is a noble religious value to carry out one's faith to extraordinary levels of self sacrifice. *When a Canaanite neighbor of Jacob and his sons raped his daughter Dinah, he said that he would let the matter go if the man married her and if the whole town circumcised themselves, an act delineating conversion - his intent was to have real peace with them. On the day after the circumcision when the pain is at its most severe level, Shimon and Levi, two of Jacob's sons, murdered all the men in the town. The point here is that we see that circumcision is an undeniable act of complete obedience if done at an age of consciousness.

In Bereshit 21:9, when Hagar had been back for already thirteen or fourteen years and after Isaac had been born,
"Sarah son the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. So she said to Abraham, 'Drive out this slavewoman with her son, for the son of that slavewoman will not inherit with my son, with Isaac!' The matter greatly distressed Abraham regarding his son," but he did as G-d had told him, "Be not distressed over the youth or your slavewoman: Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice, since through Isaac will offspring be considered yours. But the son of the slavewoman as well will I mate into a nation for he is your offspring."

Here's the fascinating thing about this set of verses. First of all, Ishmael was thirteen when Isaac was born and he had since, in the last thirteen years, probably become well-versed in the conflict existing between his mother and Isaac's and he inherited his mother's bias, which is natural. When Isaac was born, Ishmael mocked in a similar manner to Hagar's mocking Sarah when she was barren. When Sarah saw this, probably stirred by the memory of that mocking, and probably also looking for a reason to expel Hagar, said the previous statement to Abraham. Now the interesting thing about Ishmael is that he was likely what one would call a "tough kid," he was circumcised at the age of thirteen and was probably weaned on stories from his mother that she gave birth to him after being driven out by Sarah. He likely had not the most positive view of Sarah, whom had carried out such a grievance against his mother, who could have died, and further knew very well about Hagar's extraordinary vision from G-d in the desert, which had saved his life. Ishmael probably had a serious faith in G-d, via his mother and then on his own, and had an aggressive streak. It would also be in the realm of sense to say that he had somewhat of a painful spot with his father, Abraham, whom allowed Sarah to expel his mother, and he might have had a rebellious spirit in him towards his father. The commandment to honor the father and mother is related to the commandment to honor G-d since the parents are one generation closer to the revelation at Mt. Sinai. If it is true that Ishmael had a sore spot towards his father, Abraham, he might have also had then a sore spot towards G-d Himself. Nevertheless, he definitely inherited the monotheistic and yes, compassionate legacy of his father, combined with the aggressive and mocking attributes of his mother, whom disliked Sarah and most likely resented Isaac as well.

We must also focus on Hagar's mocking behavior of Sarah, which then re-expressed itself as Ishmael's mocking of the infant Isaac. We know that Hagar looked down on Sarah for being barren and felt herself above her mistress for this reason. The irony is grand; she who was supposed to have children with Abraham, his wife, had to concede the right to Hagar with the hope that she might be a blessing for her. Hagar was of a different mindset regarding this and she began to see Sarah as a pathetic who had to raise her handmaiden above her due to the miserable curse that had befallen her, allowing her "access" to her husband in order to procreate. It is no wonder that the child of this union between Hagar and Abraham would seem to Hagar to be the living expression of her superiority due to her fertility versus Sarah's barrenness, forever.

When Sarah expelled Hagar (the second time), she again had a powerful spiritual experience in which an angel of G-d visited her. The set of verse reads,
"So Abraham awoke early in the morning, took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them on her shoulder along with the boy (who was thirteen), and sent her off. She departed, and strayed in the desert of Beer-sheba. When the water of the skin was consumed, she cast off the boy beneath one of the trees. She went and sat herself at a distance, some bowshots away, for she said, "Let me not see the death of the child." And she sat at a distance, lifted her voice, and wept. G-d heard the cry of the youth, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state. Arise, lift up the youth and grasp your hand upon him, for I will make a great nation of him.' Then G-d opened her eyes and she perceived a well of water; she went and filled the skin with water and gave the youth to drink. G-d was with the youth and he grew up; he dwelt in the desert and became an accomplished archer. He lived in the desert of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt." (Bereshit 21:9-21)

Many fascinating realizations can be gleaned from these verses. First of all, Abraham loved Ishmael and probably felt a high degree of compassion for Hagar, even though he was aware of her behavior and conflict with Sarah regarding Ishmael; all Torah sources say that Abraham was an extremely compassionate and sensitive man. I imagine him to be a righteous, holy, "pushover" when it came to acts of kindness, morality, and those that he loved.

Regarding Hagar, it is incredibly interesting that the language the Torah uses to describe Hagar's distance from her son was "some bowshots away," using a weapon's (her son's later weapon of choice) reach to explain distance. We see that Ishmael, who had a series of difficult experiences, became an accomplished archer. The Torah also seems to explore Hagar's attributes; twice now (as far as we know) Sarah had expelled her from her household due to some infraction related either to her or to her son, and each of those times Hagar never stopped to wonder if perhaps she had done something wrong. Instead, in a dramatic episode she drew on her powerful faith and prayed to G-d to save her, never praying to G-d to forgive her for her hurtful infractions against Sarah (and to an extent, Abraham); she was able to pray to G-d amidst her resentment of Sarah and never once stopped to think that maybe her actions had landed her in this predicament. But G-d being Merciful and "hearing all those who truly call," is moved to Compassion by the sound of Ishmael's cries, not hers, for as it says,
"G-d heard the cry of the youth," and revealed a spring of water to her, in effect, also saving her.

Another incredibly amazing thing is that the core of Ishmael's relationship with G-d was formed when he was nearest to death, and therefore through being near death Ishmael's forged his internalized venues of connection with G-d. The religion of Islam expresses this value explicitly as a lack of fear, almost a desire to die in the worship of G-d. This is not just a reference to terroristic suicide bombing, which some had said is a perversion of true Islam, but rather to a stream of thought that exists in Islam itself, which sets the foundation for suicide bombing to take place but does not necessitate it. The point is that unbending dedication to G-d to the brink of self-sacrifice is an existent value in the religion of Islam and is directly associated with the experiences that caused Ishmael to be who he was. There is something comforting and liberating about being able to tell yourself that you will do anything for G-d, a sense of invincibility, but the freedom is a freedom from conscious and the invincibility is an illusion, both in this world and in the World to Come. The combination of Hagar's, Abraham's, and Ishmael's attributes seem to interestingly enough accurately describe the spiritual energy emanating forth from the religion of Islam. The best way I can describe it is "aggressive, holy, monotheists."

Most interesting are the parallels between Ishmael's prophecied character attributes and the Israeli-Arab conflict and more specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The events surrounding this and the characteristics of those involved play themselves out in today's modern scenario. If Abraham, the husband, can serve literarily as the prophetic metaphor for G-d, then Sarah and Hagar respectively serve as metaphors for the Jewish and Muslim people. Therefore, just in the same way that Hagar looked down upon Sarah for her travails, the Muslims would look down on the Jews for their miserable situation, and just as Hagar "had access" to Abraham, Sarah's husband, so would the Muslims have access to the special relationship that the Jews have with G-d. Just as their would be a numerous and powerful child of this union, the product of the Muslims' claim to the G-dly tradition would also be numerous and powerful. Just as Ishmael's offspring would not be counted for abundance, the sheer number of Arabs would not overpower the Jews. Just as Abraham allowed Sarah to expel Hagar, so would G-d allow the Jews to expel the Muslims. Just as the Hagar, wandering in the desert, cried out to G-d for her own salvation but never once wondered if she had harmed Sarah or prayed for forgivness, the Muslims would not once stop to seriously think if perhaps they were needlessly ruthless with the Jews. Just as Hagar never once considered that her consequences had befallen her due to her unrighteous treatment of Sarah, the Muslims don't stop to consider that the plight of the Palestinians could have been avoided had they been a little more fair with the Jews. Just as Hagar "strayed in the desert" rather than going to someone else's house, perhaps preferring her nomadic status than to serve under Sarah, the Palestinian national cause is marked by the preference to live as non-citizens everywhere than to submit to a Jewish sovereign state. Just as Hagar heeded G-d's words and submitted to Sarah her mistress, so will the Muslims submit to Jewish sovereignty. Just as Hagar and Ishmael had a deep relationship with G-d, so do the Muslims. Just as Ishmael grew up to be an aggressive man, so is the Muslim religion. Just as Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father, so will the Jews and Muslims ultimately come to grips with each other for the sake of G-dliness.

Another element of Islam is its apparent drive, through its religious practices, to “out-perform” Jewish religious practices in terms of dedication. For example, Jews pray three times a day, Muslims pray five times a day. Jews have two full-day fasts during the year (Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur) and Muslims have a whole month of half-day fasts (Ramadan). Jews, since the time of the destruction of the second Temple have ceased to pray in full prostration. Instead, we now pray in full prostration during only two holidays during the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while Muslims pray in full prostration five times a day – two years have passed before Jews have prostrated five times! Jews were already prostrating twice annually when Islam had formed so Muslims would have known this. Even the Akeidah, which Islam claims was with Ishmael and not Isaac, exemplifies this attitude; the “Jewish version” is that Abraham was just about to sacrifice Isaac when the angel of G-d told him not to. In the “Muslim version” Abraham actually slits Ishmael’s throat but just as he is doing this the angel places a metal (or some other material) sheet on Ishmael’s throat and he slices that instead. The point is that in the “Jewish version,” the Muslim tradition claims, we can never be fully sure that Abraham would have actually gone through with it, while in the “Muslim version” we are left with no room for doubt. The Muslim tradition claims that the original story has been falsified but in reality it doubts Abraham's dedication, not the veracity of the Jewish tradition.

The spiritual and psychological effect of this alteration in the telling of the story, despite that it switched the figure and location, is to establish absolute unwavering and wild obedience as the hallmark of religious experience. Not only that, this is another instance in Muslim thought where an experience placing Ishmael near death is identified with the climax of religious experience – we would see this tendency repeated in the nature of Muslim warfare, not excluding suicide bombing. In this logical schema, the “Jewish version” apparently doesn’t convey a fully devotional enough story for Islam’s taste and so Islam simply makes up its own Akeidah. Carrying this to the logical conclusion we would have to say Muslims believe Abraham and Isaac to be liars whom altered the historical record, but rather they get around having to do this by simply dumping the guilt on corrupted Jewish compilers and editors. The funny thing is that the Muslim tradition never identifies these anonymous Jewish editors, never states at which point in time they edited the text, for what reason, and where they lived; all in all, the Muslim claim that “these Jews” corrupted the text is 100% arbitrary and invented. The truth is that “these Jews” never existed and the record actually occurred as is written in the pages of the Torah, and the claim that the Jews corrupted history is in fact a corruption of history on its own terms.

Ultimately, the Muslim (and Christian) tradition relies on the veracity of certian key parts of the Jewish tradition as told in the Torah. For example, Islam has to believe that G-d gave the Torah to the Jews on Mount Sinai for two main reasons, the first one being that it was the first massive revelation to a group of people. Related to this, the Torah is the basis of G-d's Law, and since Islam believes that the Jews' straying from this Law necessitated the Qur'an, Muslims have to believe in the veracity of this specific event in the Torah. Second, Muslims also believe that Isaac inherited a part of Abraham's legacy, and indeed, Isaac's descendants (the Jews) received the Torah. At any era in history did G-d deliver such revelation to the descendants of Ishmael (Muhammad's revelation was private). If Islam rejects the veracity of this event, Islam cannot exist.

However, Islam is able to get around rejecting many of the Torah's records, such as the ones that it finds irrelevant as being either true or false and therefore leaves them alone. There are only a few specific records that Islam must proclaim to be false (have been falsified) if Islam is to make any sense, and those are the ones pertaining to Ishmael. Muhammad had to be very careful in deciding which events were true and which events were false; if too many events were true, then why should people follow the Qur'an and not the Torah? If too few events were true, then why should people believe that Islam, following on the Torah tradition, is true in and of itself? By only touching on the parts that Islam needed to, Muhammad was able to choose how to make people understand his new religion. By being indifferent on parts that neither confirmed nor challenged the veracity of this new religion, he was able to avoid bringing attention to those details and therefore solidified Islam as a believable tradition. A fair share of militarism was also necessary for this tradition to catch sway, and the banning of books and ideas (either legally or by way of norm) that challenged Islam, such as an independent reading of the Torah (or the Christian Bible). The details of the Torah might have challenged the veracity of the Qur'an and so Muhammad made no mention of them, skipping around them and retelling the stories. If a Muslim, or a potential Muslim in the 6th century had been allowed to independently read the Torah in its entirety, he or she might decide that it was the truth and become a Jew - this is not too different from today, where reading the Torah is probably taboo or maybe even banned by Muslim Law.

Other than this, certain tellings in the Tanakh are taken to be true but "revamped" to make sense in the context of 6th Century Saudi Arabia (such as the alteration in the occurrence of Adam and Eve), in which Christianity was also a popular religion. Fragments of records in the Tanakh are used to confirm Islam, such as Jeremiah's harsh criticism of the corrupted scribes whom he accused of altering the texts. The Muslim tradition explains that Jeremiah was criticising the scribes (sofrim) for altering the original text of the Torah. To sum up, Islam:

1) Confirms certain necessary parts of the Torah (Mt. Sinai)
2) Accuses parts disproving Islam of having been corrupted by Jews (Isaac and Ishmael)
3) Ignores parts:
3a) which are irrelevant to it (nearly everything)
3b) which would cast suspicion on the veracity of the Qur'an if paid attention in detail (Kashrut vs. Halal)
4) Alters known stories to make sense from a 6th Century Saudi Arabian perspective (Adam and Eve)
5) Interprets fragments of the Tanakh to support that "the Jews" corrupted the text (Jeremiah and the Scribes)
*6) Argues that the Talmud is immoral but allows such things to exist in the Hadith (polygamy, just war, centrism)
*7) Fallaciously sets Islam as the opposite of Judaism when they have essential commanalities (monotheism, a way of life, theocracy)