Sunday, August 02, 2015

The fish, the diamonds, and me, here in Canada

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Here in our last 24 hours in Toronto, I am living out the mashal of the fish and the diamonds.

Maybe you've heard this mashal (parable)?  For sure, my kids have: many, many times.

In the story, a man leaves his home, somewhere normal in Europe, and sets sail to seek his fortune in some exotic island, perhaps near Africa, where it is rumoured that the streets are paved with diamonds.

He arrives at the island, and discovers that the rumours are TRUE.  Diamonds are everywhere!  He scoops them up to fill his pockets and rushes into a restaurant to order a lunch fit for a king. 

Of course, he discovers when he goes to pay with the diamonds at the end of the meal, that they are utterly worthless on the island.  What the restaurant wants in payment is... fish.  Bleakly, he wanders from store to store, discovering that the only currency anyone will accept is fish.

(Don't ask why; this is not the most realistic story, okay?)

So, okay.  The guy stashes the diamonds in his pocket and forgets about them.  He sets to work accumulating fish to pay for his expensive passage back home.  It takes years of backbreaking work, shlepping to the harbour every day over roads paved in diamonds.  Eventually, he's got enough fish saved up to buy a ship and outfit it for the journey.

Then, he waves goodbye to his new friends on the island, hops on board the ship and sets sail for home.

When he arrives back at his village, he is greeted as a hero.  "I have returned a wealthy man!" he announces. 

He then opens the hold beneath the ship and out splashes a stinking, sloshing load of... fish.  His perplexed family and friends stare at the mess on the dock and then recoil in horror.  "What have you brought us?"

"Um, fish?"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Pour out my heart like water" – thoughts for Tisha b’Av 5775

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Sitting here in Toronto, the big difference between Israel and the world I grew up in is obvious.  I heard this in a shiur yesterday from Rabbanit Chana Henkin, who said, "There's nothing like water to emphasize the difference between inside and outside Israel."

Toronto, in particular, is a deliciously watery place.  Perched on the brink of Lake Ontario, nestled between two (kinda, used-to-be) mighty rivers. 

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The water here makes me happy.  Sort of.

But you know where else had a lot of water?

Babylon.  (Again, this is not my idea, it’s Rabbanit Henkin’s; I just wrote it down.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Why Jewish reincarnation matters (even if you don’t believe in reincarnation) - a dvar Torah for Parshas Pinchas

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Do you know what Judaism teaches about reincarnation? Many people are surprised to hear that this is even part of our worldview.

I read on Chabad.org that the reason we aren’t aware of previous incarnations is because if we were, we wouldn’t be able to have complete free will.

Because of this, learning what Judaism teaches about reincarnation might seem useless, since it has no practical benefit. Also, there’s an idea that these mystical concepts can easily be misunderstood, or carried to misleading conclusions. That, it said, was “why this and similar subjects are only hinted at in scripture.”

So what does this all have to do with this week’s parsha?

Everything. Because those hints are there, once you start looking for them.

This week’s parsha starts with a throwback to last week’s parsha. The parsha is actually named after a guy who did a really brave but slightly shocking thing in last week’s parsha. His name is Pinchas, and he killed a man named Zimri.

 

Who the heck are these people?

Pinchas appears first, and the parsha is named after him. He was the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon who became kohein gadol (high priest) in last week’s parsha. Aharon, of course, was a descendent of the tribe of Levi.

The man he killed was Zimri, the son of Salu, and he was from the tribe of Shimon. In fact, to be entirely accurate, he was the leader of the tribe of Shimon. A pretty important guy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Parshas Chukas: Why you need darkness to feel the light

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to be blind?

Picture yourself in a world of darkness, groping around, not knowing where - or what - anything is. 

Last month, I got to go to the Dialogue in the Dark exhibit at the Israel Children's Museum in Holon.  You're immersed in a darkness so intense you can't see even the outlines of the other people in the room.

Our blind superhero

You're lost in a hopeless, unsolvable maze.  Are you near a wall, a door?  Are you about to bump into something?  Your only hope is to trust in the skills of your guide, an all-seeing miracle worker who can somehow navigate her way through total darkness.

Our guide was Michal.  Michal is blind, but there, in the dark, she was strong.  She knew her way around better than the back of her hand.  She memorized our names and called them out throughout the tour to make sure we didn't get lost.  She warned us about obstacles and coached us to "look" around ourselves with fingers and hands.

In the dark, Michal was strong, and we were fully dependent on her to get out of the maze alive - or at least, within the promised hour.

After the one-hour tour, we finally "met" Michal in the light.  She was shorter than most of us had pictured.  Smaller, too.  In the dark, she'd seemed like a superhero, but there in the light, she was just a little blind woman with a cane.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parshas Shlach: Facebook & the meraglim, what are you hiding?

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Maybe you think this is the age of “let it all hang out,” when Google rules, your friends post their snacks on Facebook, and there are no secrets left in the world.

Believe me, there are still plenty of secrets. And this bold new world may have more in common with the world of the Torah than we’d like to believe, as this week’s parsha, Shlach, shows us.

That’s because what we share on Facebook and other social media is only a redacted version of our true selves. 

This isn’t a bad thing, but we tend to forget.  And then, we envy other people’s lives, just the way the Aseres Hadibros tell us we shouldn’t. 

If you’ve ever looked at a friend’s Facebook status and wished that was your life, you know what I’m talking about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Where I disagree

NOTE: One year after my brother Eli's death in 2014, I published a book about the intertwining of our lives and his struggle with schizophrenia. This post and many other writings are included, in slightly different form, in that book.
Please wait until the ride has come to a full and complete stop is now available in print and Kindle editions.


Through laughter and tears, I invite you to come share my final journey with my brother.
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In light of the school shooting on Friday in Connecticut, a mother named Liza Long has released a heartfelt article saying, “I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's [Friday’s shooter’s] mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am Jason Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness.”

She says something I agree with wholeheartedly:  “it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people.”  Canada, too.