Friday, December 30, 2011

Thanking God for Hardship

Joseph rescues his family and the Israelite nation in this week's Torah portion. Last weeks, Joseph correctly deciphers Pharaoh's dream about seven years of feast and seven years of famine, which allows Egypt to ration their food effectively. Unfortunately, Jacob and his sons are unaware of the incoming famine, and they suffer in the land of Canaan. Hearing about Egypt's success, they travel to plead for food. Jacob is incredibly frail, so he sends his sons to Pharaoh's servants. They harass the boys due to the lack of their father's presence. The sons struggle at first, but Joseph eventually erupts. He reveals himself to his brothers, glad to see them rather than angered by their mistake. Pharaoh and Joseph decide to allow the Israelites to dwell in Goshen, Egypt's most luxurious region. The nation of Israel moves to Goshen, and they are welcomed with open arms.

Upon their exiting of Canaan, Jacob sacrifices to God. At the altar, God reassures Jacob that traveling to Egypt is not a mistake. God says that there, Israel will grow into a vast and great nation. Furthermore, God promises to remain present with Israel throughout their departure and return from and to Canaan. On this covenant, Jacob abandons the land of Canaan with ease. Is God aware that a future Pharaoh forces Jacob's descendants into slavery? If so, does God then intend to make Israel a great nation by putting them through their ordeals in Egypt and the desert? Perhaps, God is all knowing. For God, there is no present, past, or future. Humans may choose their destiny, God can see where that destiny derives from and how we arrived to such a point. For instance, God feels that now is anytime in the history of the universe, for God is always present. Jacob chooses to go to Egypt, but this is out of necessity. He appeals to God before embarking on this journey. Therefore, God approves of the Jews fleeing to Egypt, their bondage, and their Exodus.

To what extent should we thank God for hardship? If God is all powerful and foreseer of all destinies, then God intends for humans to occasionally suffer. In Judaism, one must believe that God is good. Taking this logic, God only approves of righteous acts. While many Jews perish under Ramesses II, following Joseph into Goshen temporarily saves the Jews from starvation. Though it is cliché, how much of what does not kill us actually make us stronger? Biologically, something as threatening as a near-death case of malaria can much improve the immune system. However, do emotionally obstacles provide the same psychological impact? There are stories of Holocaust survivors who say their tragedy taught them how to enjoy life. For God, suffering fails to be important. As long as redemption comes, all pain remains dilatory. Remember that pain is always temporary. We should never let it irritate ourselves, for emotions are not constant. Motion is part of the term. Even a dying soul once loved. On a more spiritual level, the suffering of the Jews of Egypt is not malice on God's part. Every person works off one another, and we are all connected by the exchange of fortune. Jacob leaves Israel, allowing other groups to dominate the lands. The Jews become enslaved, but stronger than ever in the desert. Once they reach Jericho, they reclaim the Promised Land. The Romans force the Jews into exile, later creating the Palestinian conflict in Israel today. One day fate will shift in peace's favor. No life is ever so minuscule to not matter. We are all feeding off each other, collaborating to a better age. Only God knows what happens next.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reflections on Home Away from Home

In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph’s brothers become enraged with jealousy. For their entire childhood, Jacob favors Joseph, lavishing him with gifts. Like his father, God sends messages to Joseph through his dreams. One night, Joseph dreams that his entire family bows down to him in respect. Joseph’s brothers formulate a plan that will put an end to his arrogance. They lead Joseph astray until they are far from their home. Originally, they leave Joseph in a ditch to suffer, but they decide that a better solution may be at hand. They could make a profit off their currently dying brother! When the sons of Israel attempt to reclaim their brother, they discover he is already being brought away by Midianites. These traders sell Joseph to Potiphar, a member of Pharaoh’s court. Potiphar’s wife frames Joseph for coming on to her, and he is apprehended. In prison, Joseph meets two high servants of Pharaoh. These men seemed distressed, so Joseph offers to ease their pain. The men say their dreams are their cause for worry. Putting his talent to work, Joseph interprets their dreams under one condition. The Pharaoh’s royal cupbearer dreams that Pharaoh will restore him from imprisonment, yet the chief baker imagines Pharaoh executing him. Once Joseph tells the cupbearer the meaning of his dream, he begs him to help release him from prison. Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgets about Joseph, even when both dreams become reality.

In many ways, Joseph is analogous to modern Judaism. His brothers banish Joseph from his homeland during his youth. Likewise, the ancient Romans forced the Jews into exile. The Jews spread into the diaspora, the land outside of Israel. For centuries, the Jews suffered persecution in Europe and elsewhere, much like Joseph’s imprisonment. Somehow, the traditions of the Jewish people never faltered, dreaming that morality will eventually be restored. In Joseph’s later life, Pharaoh releases him and makes Joseph the Pharaoh’s official dream interpreter. From the 1880’s to the 1920’s, Jews flocked to the Americas to be free of persecution. In this land of religious freedom, they were legally permitted to practice in peace. However, the Jews quickly realize freedom of religion and religious tolerance do not automatically coincide with one another. Joseph saves Egypt and his family from famine, but leaving God’s promised land left a gaping scar in the Jewish people through the time of Moses. Although Joseph seems to transform from an Israelite into an Egyptian throughout Genesis, assimilation is never truly possible. As a minority, American Jews know that their homes miss a certain religious flare. When American Jews read the sacred words written in Genesis, something seems empty. God promised Abraham a land for him and all his descendants, yet Jews are spread all over the world today.

The Lion King’s Pumbaa said home is where your rump rests. At its most basic level, the home is a place of rest and shelter. Does this mean a home away from home can range from a best friend’s house to a hotel room? The simple phrase is more than that though. A home away from home needs to be meaningful. Such a place must exude sacredness to make it a place where one is comfortable staying everyday. For instance, a camp must be welcoming or the kids would forever be homesick. A home away from home is built on memories that occurred in there. This area brings out the most confidence in us that we often keep hidden within the safe four walls of our house. Building off of Pumbaa’s philosophy, a home away from home is where we feel comfortable resting our rump.

Does Israel meet such qualifications for the Jewish people? There are certainly a multitude of memories the Jewish people share with this sacred land. The UN granted Israel the right to this most disputed area in the Middle East to allow the Jewish people to feel entirely comfortable from persecution, yet somehow this land is a haven for war and conflict. Can Israel be a place of such comfort when worries of suicide bombers come into mind every time we ride the bus? Knowing a few Israeli teens, I learned that they recognize the reality of their situation, but they do not let such fear constrict their daily routines. Many Jews are advocates for peace, yet military service is mandated in Israel. It is evident that the UN intended Israel is quite possibly a Jew’s imaginable home away from home, but the current Israel, a product of 60 years of conflict, is not even close to such a place of comfort and tranquility.

Joseph is an unfavorable character in the Torah, for he is responsible for breaking the chain of ancestors to live and die in Canaan. Many blame Joseph for causing the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Bare in mind, Joseph also saves the Jewish people from famine later in Genesis, and his brothers force his exile upon him. Living in the United States is a comfort for American Jews. As previously said, Israel is far too unstable to instantly drop the comfort of our Americanism. Perhaps Israel is our true home and the US is the home away from home. As we wait to feel ready to return home, we can only support Israel. Gandhi said to be the change in the world we want to see, so we should make Israel our home, not just a place on the map. By celebrating the Israeli culture or taking interest in the politics of the homeland, we can be American while keeping the covenant with God. Assimilation is probably the worst sin one could commit against God. We not only turn away from God, but we hide who are inside. Our address may be somewhere in Massachusetts, but there is always a welcoming door across the Atlantic Ocean. Joseph left the Promised Land and became an Egyptian, but we do not need to choose between Americana and Judaism.

Friday, December 09, 2011

My Thoughts on the United States of America

As an American citizen, I am guaranteed the right to say whatever I want about the country. Ironically using this right, I decided to take this chance to criticize the United States a bit. In most public schools, students begin their day by listening to the national anthem and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but I decided to abstain from this practice as I entered high school. The decision was not well received from friends and family alike. The instant assumption was that I hate the United States, a very false sentiment. My grandparents found this appalling and wondered if I supported Al-Qaeda. I do not intend to send a message of hatred to my fellow Americans when I refuse to recite the pledge. The action is introspective, for I can not figure out how I quite feel about the United States of America and the pledge it encourages its schoolchildren to repeat daily. Like many other pledge critics, the statement "Under God" is most unappealing. While I believe in God, it directly contradicts how Americans assert their freedom of religion. Some people say this can not be changed because the pledge is old, but the US congress just reaffirmed that the motto of the country is "In God we trust". This further proves those who observe non-Abrahamic religions or no religion at all in this country are being deliberately ignored by the US government. I do not hate the United States, but I will accept that living here requires me to think of America as the world's superlative nation.

To appease those who are agitated by my unpatriotic attitude, we should begin to examine the positive attributes of American society. The foundations of the United States are not only incredible, but they created the infrastructure of modern democracy. Using the words of the Enlightenment philosophers, the founding fathers built a government for a country that essentially lets one be anyone they desire as long as they are not harming their fellow citizens. Pledge and motto aside, American freedom of religion and speech is incomparable anywhere else in the world. From a history of being a superpower, the United States is one of the world's most dominant and competitive nations. From such resonance in the world, the United States is probably the world's most assertive proponent toward a world of peace. The United Nations is headquartered in the United States, and the US Department of State is constantly making an effort to promote diplomacy in the world. For instance, presidents Clinton and Carter worked with great vigor to establish peace between Israel and its neighbors. The United States is a major trading power in the world, being what Penn Station is to commuting New Yorkers for all of the global economy. The United States is a hub of importing and exporting. Most of all, the Untied States grants its citizens the right to change what they feel is unjust in their society. If I want to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I maintain the right to assemble and attempt to change US policy. While there are things I should use this right to correct, I can not deny the United States fits the mold of potential greatness.

It is the atrocity of modern US politics that makes me disgraced to be a citizen of the United States of America. Although I was very young in 2003, I always remember thinking going to war in the Middle East was a bad idea. As a seven year old, I would ask my dad, "Why is the army in Iraq?". The new question I find myself asking is "Why are we not out of Iraq?" Other than being a tax on the US economy, the war is currently doing very little, for it is conclusive that the Iraqis are not hoarding weapons of mass destruction. If the United States need to fight any wars with foreign powers, I only hope that they are defensive unlike the situation in Iraq. After all, the governmental title of the military is the Department of Defense. While the United States is a leading constituent in the world of diplomacy, we are very violent. When I think of the Pledge of Allegiance, I think about how I would feel being drafted, a sign of uttermost loyalty to one's country. As such a feeling of fear comes with fighting for violent, unnecessary causes such as the war in Iraq, I doubt I would feel comfortable in performing mandated military service. I supported the troops because I know they are fighting to enable the exercise of the very freedom I am using to write this piece along with many other liberties. My disappointment in the United States Department of Defense stems from the reasoning of many wars the US fought in the 20th Century and the ones we are fighting now. In addition, my greatest shame in the country comes from watching the rise and fall of political campaigns every couple of years. In the age of the Internet, democracy is becoming a victim of its politicians transforming from intellectuals with practical ideas to "electable" celebrities. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties are guilty of producing candidates whose ideals are overshadowed by what suit tie they choose to wear or where they buy their groceries. The media is partly to blame, but all US citizens are equally responsible for supporting such ridiculousness. Politicians should be looking to the future of the country. It seems nominees from both parties are doing whatever they can to obtain office. Instead of making empty promises, the politicians of the United States should put their Ivy League law degrees to work. They should come up with ideas instead of diminishing their colleagues. Until practical democracy is fully restored in this nation, I can not pledge allegiance to it with a full hear and spirit.

As I said, not saying the pledge separates me from my peers. For anyone who thinks I am a terrorist against the United States or would prefer to live in Canada, I would like to say that is false. It is my wish that we could join together and fix this great country that is currently fractured. It will take elbow grease, but perhaps I will begin to say the Pledge of Allegiance again. My Pledge of Allegiance will be to the creation of a United States and world that is teeming with greatness.

Friday, December 02, 2011


As Jacob grows into a man, he begins to look for a suitable wife. Like Abraham and Isaac, he seeks a wife in Abraham's hometown of Haran. In Haran, Jacob meets Laban, and he becomes enamored for Rachel, Laban's daughter. When asking permission to marrying Rachel, Laban and Jacob strike a deal. Jacob agrees to work for Laban over the course of seven years in order to marry Rachel. After such time passes, Laban tricks Jacob. At the wedding, Jacob's bride wears a veil for the entire ceremony. Unknown to Jacob, it is Leah under the veil, rather than Rachel. Laban tricks Jacob fairly, but they strike another deal of seven years' labor for his new bride. After fourteen years, Jacob and Rachel marry, but they continue to reside with Laban for another six years. In that time, Leah, Rachel, and their two maidservants bear eleven of the twelve sons who become the tribes of Israel. The family barely escapes Laban's clutches after Jacob spent twenty years in Haran.

This Torah portion greatly involves dreams. On his way to Haran, Jacob rests somewhere along the path. When he goes to sleep, Jacob sees a ladder that reaches up to heaven. Angels are climbing up and down the ladder, which causes Jacob to deem the area a holy spot. God stands next to Jacob and confirms his covenant formerly promised to Abraham. God swears that protection Jacob on his search for a wife until he returns to his Promised Land of Canaan. God also promises to watch over Jacob on his expedition with a careful eye. Since he comes in contact with a man as tricky as Laban, it is quite fortunate that God reminds Jacob of this covenant through his dreams. In Jacob's other dream, God demands Jacob leave Laban in his twentieth year of residence. God notes that staying there would put Jacob in danger, and God is therefore maintaining the agreement from the last dream. In both dreams, God enters Jacob's dreams with a specific purpose. One could compare God to Leonardo DiCaprio's character in "Inception". In addition, the dream sequences foreshadow the talents of a future dream interpreter in Genesis, Joseph. God utilizes these dreams to carry out a message.

Dreams are funny. No psychologist can determine their purpose. Some dreams are about love or success, while others derive from the most horrifying, dark corners of our souls. Dreams bring the conscious and subconscious together, all while we are asleep. I do not memorably dream often, but when I do, I often enjoy it. Even nightmares are fulfilling in some way. After a really deep sleep, a remarkable dream makes me feel like the puzzle of my human soul is closer to being put together. Perhaps, God is trying to tell me something as I sleep. However, I can not remember a dream where God was involved. Do we need to open our minds to allow God to come to us? Jacob's dream nearly seems like a lucid dream because of his full intention to listen to God. Dreams are the basis of imagination, and almost anything can happen in them. Some can be as silly as a competition between two basketball teams comprised of zebras, or they can be as meaningful as a nightmare I once experienced. My sister and I were thrown into a concentration camp, and we came into direct contact with Adolf Hitler. Dreams force us to dig deeper within ourselves, whether we want to or not. It is necessary to listen to mental phenomenon that drives dreaming. For instance, my Holocaust nightmare further proved to me that my sister is the most important person in my life, and I will not allow anything or anybody to come between us. It may not always be God calling, but dreams are the manuscript of the soul.