Friday, February 25, 2011

What is life's meaning?

Once again, we read another portion on how the Tabernacle was designed and built. A few weeks ago we learned about the design God intends to be built. Over this Shabbat, the Israelites actually construct their tent for worship. It is quite a contrast to last week's shock following the golden calf incident. While building the Tabernacle, the twelve tribes worked together to create something beautiful. People use their particular skills to contribute to the finished product. No one person thought about themselves upon building the Tabernacle. They were all just working together to do God's work on Earth.

When we talk about the meaning of Judaism, we think about it as an "on Earth" religion. Unlike Christianity, Jews do not have a sure belief in the afterlife. We agree to disagree about life after death. Jews believe that God put us on Earth to enhance the creation that is already there. Much like in the parshat, we are supposedly working together to make the world a better place. In this week's portion (Vayakhel), we are literally building something to encompass God on Earth. Nowadays, we follow the 613 mitzvot in the Torah to help perfect God's initial ideas. Instead of letting life go by until a fate in heaven or hell, Jews embrace life on Earth. We try to have the best experiences we can before moving on to the afterlife.

Over the course of my fourteen years, I believe I have somewhat found one of the meanings of life. In my lifetime, I intend to fix the world through charity and kindness while maintaining my own happiness and stability. I am willing to bring people into my life who can help me achieve this goal. Just like the Israelites, I want to use my skills to create something great. By stability, I mean that I intend to put out enough food, water, and shelter for my family and myself. Money has no say in my meaning of life. Hopefully, the world can continue to work towards a better creation. I know that we can establish a wonderful, new domain.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Shakespeare Series: "Macbeth"

Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is certainly one of his most famous shows and one of the most tragic play ever written. "Macbeth" tells the story of a Scottish man corrupted by power. At the top of show, three witches tell us a battle is occurring. Macbeth, the thane of Glamis, wins the battle bringing honor to his name. King Duncan who rules over Scotland awards him with the title of thane of Cawdor. While his best friend Banquo and him wonder after their victory, they run into three witches. These witches tell the thane and his right hand man prophetic tales. The witches declare "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis. All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor. All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! (I.iii.14). The coven also predicts that Macbeth will be king, yet Banquo's descendants will follow after that. Macbeth considers what the witches have to say, but then moves on. Suddenly, Macbeth is informed that King Duncan will be staying in his new castle. At this point, he tells Lady Macbeth about the witches. She is the one who convinces her husband to commit the murder. Everything goes to plan. As the king slumbers, the couple murders Duncan, but they frame two servants. In the shock of the murder, Duncan's heirs, Donalbain and Malcom run away. Their departure makes Macbeth next in line for the throne. Macbeth is overcome by evil as he rules Scotland like a tyrant.

Macbeth is quite an interesting character. Shakespeare is very clever in crafting a protagonist who actually becomes an antagonist. While reading the play, I could not help but notice that Macbeth is the predecessor to the modern day villain. Much like Darth Vader, Macbeth is not a bad man. Evil merely overcomes him. All him and his lady want is power. "Macbeth" makes us wonder if this an accurate telling of Scottish politics in Shakespeare's day. Like most villains, there is a part of Macbeth that makes us not want to see him fail. We catch ourselves wanting to cheer for him. On the contrary, we want to see good dominate over tyranny.

Lady Macbeth is the actual villain. Without his lady, Macbeth would have remained a thane. Until she devises a plan, the witches' prophecy is regarded as rubbish. Rarely do we see a woman as evil as this Scottish queen. In a strange way, Shakespeare shows that women are just as powerful as men. In Elizabethan times, this was not as common a thought as in our world. Lady Macbeth is strong. In all Macbeth's rage, she does not illustrate a wink of fear.

Of all the amazingly written characters in this show, I enjoyed the three witches most of all. Usually, the great playwright throws us down with drama, but lifts us up with comic relief. In this show, he does not write in one comedic character. Some would perceive the witches as humorous. They are not intended to be this way. Although they speak in rhyme, these are not creatures to be messed with. These three sorceresses open the show with a very sinister French scene. They set the tone and eventually ruin Macbeth's life. There is something about these three that makes them sinister, yet likable. I could read about them preparing a poison for the Scottish king and still enjoy what they were saying. The witches' speak with a rhythm that gives them vigor. Their spells and speeches makes us ponder how much the witches' actually know. Are they or are they not omniscient?

Obviously, "Macbeth" is still relevant in today's world. Betrayal and treason occur on a number of scales. As a middle schooler, I can attest to the fact that disloyalty is not extinct. I would recommend "Macbeth" for anyone who can handle a sad story. Shakespeare does not write fairy tales. "Macbeth" has a plot that keeps getting exponentially tragic. My only criticism of this masterpiece would be that Shakespeare ended it too quickly. He leaves us at a point where we want to know more of the story. Perhaps, this is his genius at work. In addition to a relevant plot, thespians everywhere are superstitious of the word "Macbeth". Most believe that the name is a curse on the theater unless you are criticizing or in production of the play. "Macbeth" is also believed to have had an influence on "The Lion King". A lot of fans of the movie will say that the plot is more like that of "Hamlet". "Macbeth" is merely "The Lion King" written from Scar's point of view. For this dark look on the play, I loved it. "Macbeth" was definitely a great choice to get my Shakespeare endeavor for the year started off.

Cited Source
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. John Crowther. New York: Spark, 2003. Print.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shakespeare Series: Introduction

In November, I wrote how Shakespeare influenced and connected with the Jewish world. Now, I seek to look at Shakespeare and his plays on a broader spectrum. I want to see how he has influenced human society. It is obviously that the playwright had a resonant impact on humans. Otherwise, his plays would not have survived so well over 400 years. My goal is to analyse his best works. Over the course of 2011, I plan to read and review 12 Shakespeare plays.

Why read Shakespeare? First of all, the man writes plots that can connect almost every human soul. People seem to have a stereotype that William wrote complicated plays that no modern person can even understand. In the renaissance, Shakespeare wrote plays to be performed in England's globe theater. Everyone in Renaissance England would attend his plays. Queen Elizabeth I had her own box, but the merest peasants could also sit and enjoy a good show. That means Shakespeare had to appeal to anyone in England. Also, Shakespeare makes comprehension easier. As I played the part of Paris in "Romeo and Juliet", I was reading "Call of the Wild" in English class. Understanding London's tale was made much easier by Shakespeare. Finally, just like math, Shakespeare makes us think. From a comedy such as "Taming of the Shrew" to a tragedy like "Macbeth", Shakespeare creates character with a lot of depth. He throws us into a story many times with no to little exposition. Just as one can look at the Bible and find a meaning no one else has, Shakespeare has the same power. Every word in every play matters for Shakespeare. As long as there is trechary, love, betrayal, and/or disunity, Shakespeare will stand the test of time.

As I said, people believe Shakespeare's plays are too complex to read. For beginners, I would recommend using the "No Fear Shakespeare" series by Sparks Notes. The books have Shakespeare's original text side by side with a modern text that makes sense to us. The modern text destroys Shakespeare's poetry, so I recommended reading the original. Usually, I will read the original and refer to the modern if the line does not completely make sense. Another trick to reading Shakespeare is for us to picture a stage in our heads. Shakespeare wrote plays, not books. Remember this and the characters will really come to life. Doing this helps the brain grasp the emotion it would on stage. A final tactic I will give to studying Shakespeare, is to act in or see a play of his. At first, you may get confused. I was certainly struggling during call backs for "Romeo and Juliet". Eventually, we adjust to Shakespeare's way of speaking. It has a rhythm and beat. Once we get going, Shakespeare only gets easier to comprehend.

Literature can certainly thank Shakespeare. Before William wrote, there were stories. Frankly, most stories were myths or legends. These plays had dynamic characters. Gods and goddesses were no longer needed to make a story interesting. Also, Shakespeare has very defined characters. Villains in Shakespeare are evil and heroes are good. Shakespeare seems to combine the mythology of the past with his new literature style most novels use today. In this series, I am looking forward to see how funny Shakespeare's comedies are. Will I find them funny? Are they outdated? His jokes may have gotten old, but we say that the way Shakespeare writes a story is just like new.

Lastly, Shakespeare influences the world. We quote Shakespeare often and we all see that his plays are constantly being adapted. Just last night I saw "The King's Speech" (great movie), and Shakespeare references were all over the place! In addition, Shakespeare can ease our pain. His plays exemplify aspects of life that are too emotional for us to have a full grip on. I know that any human can love or hate. Imagine that anyone from the queen to a beggar could relate to Shakespeare's writing in his time. It should be an interesting year and I can not wait to get started!

Friday, February 18, 2011

How can we react to betrayal?

Ki Tisa contains one of the Torah's most memorable scenes. It all begins on Mount Sinai. Moses receives a few more commandments before returning to the Israelites. Just as Israelite society is beginning to take shape, the Israelites screw it up. After 49 days, they assume that Moses has vanished and will not be returning to Sinai. The people of Israel turn to Aaron for guidance. Aaron tells them to collect their jewels. All the jewels were melted into a golden calf. Moses arrives to the scene just as the Hebrews begin to bow down to the statue. After receiving God's most important laws, one of which is not to worship idols, Moses is sent into rage. He smashes the Ten Commandments onto the mountain. Since the Tablets are destroyed, Moses must go back up to the mountain. Once again, Moses receives the laws from God. How do we deal with betrayal? God and Moses demonstrate three, distinct responses.

First, God doubts the capability of the Hebrews and their descendants. When someone has betrayed us, we feel like they have been a fraud all along. We feel worthless to them and the world. In Ki Tissa, God takes Moses aside. Adonai shares with Moses of a possibility to abandon Israel. Just as most of us would, God feels hurt. The Israelites broke a promise. With a little convincing, Moses get God back on the band wagon. People visit the sick when they feel their bodies have deceived them. A successful hospital visit can lift up the fallen. It can make such a difference. If somebody is hurt, the greatest thing we can do is give them support. We need to remind them that they are a person with decent morals.

Second, God and Moses erupt at the people. Duplicity can lead people to become very explosive. We are overcome by emotions. Almost all of us have been in a place where rage can just pour out of our bodies. Our omnipotent God can control this rage, but Moses struggle to stay in control. Instead, Moses smashes the tablets against the mountains. Acrimony causes Moses to lose his right of passage into the Promised Land. Killing a man back in Egypt and this incident inhibit Moses' overall decency. Unfortunately, our moments of most enmity can define our character. Deception can cause fury, but we can not let it get the best of us.

Third, God forgives the people. God knows that treason is part of human nature. Of course, the Israelites remain on thin ice after this point in the Torah. Luckily, God is forgiving. God realizes that people make mistakes. If we did not make mistakes, we would be more than human. Most of us fear God's wrath. I feel that God is more gentle than not. God proves that we will not be abandoned by the Lord. God can forgive us for breaking one of Judaism core principals. Why is it that we are incredibly stingy in forgiving those who forsaken us? Enough of us can become gloomy or frantic, yet our gracious spirit becomes lost when betrayal strikes.

When your golden calf moment comes, remember God and Moses. Remember how God wanted to abandon the people, but did not. Remember how control God's rage was. Remember that Moses was never allowed to enter Israel because of his uproar. Finally, remember that God eventually did forgive us. Which one is best? I guess that is up to us to decide.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What does it take to be Kohanim?

After last week's detailed instruction of constructing the Tabernacle, Parshat Tetzaveh tells how God speaks to Moses about how the Israelites will use the Tabernacle to help them on their way to the Promised land. God proclaims that Aaron and his sons will be the priestly leaders of the caravan. They will be known as the Kohanim. Did you know Jews consider people with the last name Kohen/Cohen to be destined for leadership for this very reason? The Kohanim get their first instructions of leading worship. They learn how to dress like leaders, speak like leaders, and carry out laws like leaders. With the Tabernacle's furnishing and leadership taking shape, the question of returning to Egypt seems to be fading faster in this parshat.

Why have Kohanim? Aaron and his sons had to be speakers for Moses. Midrash says that Moses had a lisp. God would speak through Moses, who would tell Aaron. Then, the Kohanim announced the message or commandment to the people. Also, the Kohanim would lead any religious duties in the desert. If somebody became ritually unclean, the Kohanim could tell them how to atone properly. Specifically, God tells the Kohanim how to perform ritual sacrifice. In Biblical times, the Kohanim were the only religious leaders of their day. Over the course of the ages, Jews needed local leaders and scholars which became the modern day rabbi.

Do the Kohanim have the making of strong Jewish leaders? A Jewish leader needs to be able to think and think quick on their feet.If Israel is in crisis, the leader would need to be able to communicate it in an appropriate way to the people within hours of the event. Also, the superior must have a way with words to communicate with his or her subordinates. For most Jewish leaders, this includes a decent understanding of the Hebrew language. Finally, a Jewish leader must show empathy and compassion. A cold power will destroy even a thriving Jewish community. Let us see; the ability to think, communicate, and care. Sounds like Jewish and secular leaders share some similar attributes.

All this talk about leaders got me thinking this week. If there are leaders in the world, do there need to be followers? My parents are always saying, "Be a leader, not a follower." I believe that all parents desire their child to be the same way. If everyone is a leader, there would not be anybody to follow them. Perhaps, all those parents want us to be leader in our forte. I could lead a seder, but when it comes to music I will leave that to my band teachers. We can all be leaders at certain times. As long as we are not always a passenger, we can occasionally hang around for the ride. It goes back to what a leader needs to have. In any situation, the leaders need to think about the consequences or rewards of their actions. Aaron and his sons got us to Israel, they must have done something right!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Egypt, From All Perspectives

Lately, Egypt has been appearing all over the news. What has been happening? All the unrest began with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. As Tunisia's government ignored its economic disaster and unemployment of youth, all those unemployed youth began to band together. Protesting together the Tunisian youth defeated their dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. They may not have a government yet, but the Tunisians feel a great sense of hope and freedom for their country. When Tunisia's tale of freedom reached the headlines, similar Egyptian protests began. The youth feel ignored by the 30-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Growing chaos has been continuing over the past week and a half. Mubarak has already decided not to run for re-election, chosen his successors, and now it seems like he has three choices. He can resign, go into exile, or really die. If he does not, things may just get worse.

To an Egyptian, the story is quite heroic. They may believe that it goes down in the history of great protests. Egyptians may believe that this is their American Revolution, a war of independence. It must give the unemployed hope that the cost of food and fuel may finally drop. Young Egyptians do not believe that their country is falling apart. Instead, they feel that they are rising up against the totalitarian, wealthy government. In their opinion, protests are the only way their voice can be heard.

Israelis have something to fear. Change in Egypt may be good, but only time can tell. Anti-Israel Hesbalah just took power in Iran. China and Russia are supporting the Iran nuclear program. Israel is in the middle of a turning neighborhood. Egypt can hold a democratic election, but elections in Gaza only resulted in Hamas gaining power. If a anti-Israel, extremist leader takes over Egypt, we can know for sure that the peace that has been installed since 1978. A glimmer of hope is the fact that Hosni Mubarak was thought to have revoke that peace thirty years ago. Egypt may just surprise Israel. What can they do now? Netanyahu can only check with Mubarak if the peace is still prevalent. All they can do is to have the defense forces ready to go.

Americans are caught in the middle on Egypt. To start, Americans have always supported democratic change in the Arabic world. Our core values of the state department is to encourage peaceful shifts of power. Egyptians are protesting for election. There may be violence along the way, but they are truly just fighting for freedom. Protesting allowed our nation to break away from King George and England. On the other hand, Mubarak has consistently stopped Al-Qaeda. He has caught thousands of terrorists and given intelligence to the United States. Egypt could elect someone just as anti-America as Bin Laden. Also, the economic influence of Egypt has a lot to do with the United States. The Sumed pipeline and Suez Canal reduce a cargo ship's journey by over 6,000 miles. Blockage could forces gas prices to skyrocket to almost five dollars per gallon. Just like Israel, only time can tell America's future.

Speaking of the future, the entire Arab world may be on the brink of major change. Tunisia was successful. If Egyptian protesters get their victory, similar situations could begin in Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Dictators in these countries fear their futures. New leaders in these countries bring the same fear that Americans and Israelis feel about the rebellion in Egypt. To a citizen of these countries, they must feel hope. Before Tunisia, no Arab country's people could take down their leader. Now, they feel they can. Good or bad, the Arab world is in line for an awakening.

To me, the change could be good or bad. I agree more with the Israeli policy than the American. Israel may lose its only friendly neighbor. With the recent reports of Lebanon, Egypt and Lebanon could team up to take down their neighbor. These protesters are not rioting in support of terrorism. All these Egyptians want is to secure their economy and future. I believe that another peace maker could greatly improve Egypt. Too many times, we associate Muslim and Arab countries with terrorism. Mubarak is not a terrorist. Anwar El Sadat was not either. As I write this, the sun is preparing to set in Egypt. Maybe there is something wonderful out on the horizon.