Friday, December 21, 2012

A Reflection on Newtown

At precisely 9:30am this morning, the nation participated in a extended moment of silence. Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut requested the country's effort in order to commemorate the horror that occurred at this very time one week earlier. On a brisk yet not unpleasant, early winter day, children went into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut to learn just like any other Friday during the school year. Suddenly, the hallways erupted with the echoes of gunshots, and fear filled within adults and children in the building alike. Coming into last Shabbat, it seemed that this event occurred in no ordinary December. The menorah and Christmas lights shined a little dimmer than the past few nights. Many media pundits called the Newtown shooting the worst travesty since 9/11. The 24-hour news cycle this week politicized the tragedy to a great extent, but they also showed the pictures of these children. MSNBC showed a photo of Daniel Barden on last night's broadcast, a little boy who aspired to fight fires one day. The gunman who walked into that school killed 20 innocent souls, flowers yet to bud, and he also took the lives of eight, brave adults, trying to protect their children. President Obama said it very nicely in his address to the nation last Friday that this event touched the lives of all parents, a majority of American citizens, regardless of politics. He then stated that his administration's silence on this issue ended last Friday. The shootings that occurred this year exposed the next term of Congress as an immense opportunity to change the country's policies on guns. In taking on this challenge, I recommend the nation restrict guns to a stricter point than their current status, keeping in mind and respecting the right to bear arms as part of the Bill of Rights.

 The nation proposed two directions in response to the Newtown shootings; 1.) impose stricter gun control or 2.) endorse an armed police presence in every school, perhaps even every classroom in the country. When I went to DC earlier this month, I participate in the L'Taken (To repair in Hebrew) seminar for Jewish youth of the Reform Movement. The weekend taught me much about the political process in Washington, but I took one class that taught me in particular about gun control. I came to understand why guns divide the country so greatly, and I learned how to achieve compromise with people whose views tend to lean conservatively on this issue. Unfortunately, I see no possibility of Washington fulfilling my dad's wish; taking all of America's guns off the street. Just as we uphold the first amendment so highly as an unbreakable foundation of our country, the constitution secures Americans' right to bear arms. The seminar explained passable legislation, which upholds the second amendment by controlling guns rather than so powerfully restricting them. In my stance on this issue, I grant the regular hunter the right to go onto a shooting range and participate in the sport as they wish. In addition, I find it fine for a person to hold a gun in their home if they feel it necessary for their protection. I disagree with its necessity, upholding studies that prove the greater safety of not possessing a gun in the home than owning one, but I respect that some people choose to arm themselves in the case of an emergency. However, I request that the only people who own a gun in either of these entities are mentally stable and licensed by the government to hold this fire weapon. At the L'Taken Seminar, they showcased legislation that restricted the purchase of weapons online or without a license at a gun show. Believe it or not, guns kill people, and the government needs to permit one to safely own such a powerful device. Most violent gunmen buy their firearms from the Internet or non-license required gun show. To supplement this legislation, I hope that the federal government takes action in January to mandate a waiting period that includes mental testing before anyone purchases a gun. Though most difficult to control, I finally recommend the government somehow require citizens who own guns to lock them in a safe when not in use. Adam Lanza obtained his weapons from his mother because they were in his house. Without any boundary between the gun and non-owners, this man horrified the nation last Friday. In proper licensing, background testing, and safekeeping, I believe the amount of gun violence in America will quickly decrease, definitely preventing anything as wretched as the ruthless murder of twenty children and eight adults.

 For others who wish to maximize gun use in American society,I deplore your efforts, as I feel, to show just how immature our nation compares to others. Today, the NRA suggested we provide armed security in American schools. I find it irrational to supply more guns to a society already plagued by such weapons. As a student, I see it equally irrational to guard a school like a military base or a prison. In DC, we lobbied to Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts about Israel. We asked that the representative encourage the government to host similar mediatory meetings between Palestinian and Israeli leadership. In response, Rep. Markey's aides told us the congressman believes in the state of Israel, but he prefers to provide military aid rather than organize peace talks. Counterattacks to Palestinian missiles defend against one act of terror, yet diplomacy stops the destruction and death on both sides time and time again. A society that encourages protection over peace restricts its people. Imagine if mice operated guns as officially as humans, and we started with these mice in a single cage. To avoid their killing of each other, we place cages in between the mice. We protected the creatures, but now they live separate of each other because their society perpetuated protected hate over fearless peace. Shootings happen in many other places besides schools too. Do we need an armed guard in every movie theater, mall, and barber shop in America? Should helicopters fly over our parks "just in case"? Taking guns out of people who mismanage them limits the number of deaths at a much greater rate than placing cages in our own American mouse cage.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Humanity's Mission in the World

“When God began to create heaven and earth…” (Genesis 1:1). Thus, the Torah cycle starts a new with the thunderous rumbles of creation. With Simchat Torah this past Sunday, one year of studying Torah ended only to yield another of hopeful greater and more passionate learning and growth. In order to engage on this process myself, I decided to take my fourth annual attack at Genesis with a new perspective. At the end of my ninth grade year, my English teacher, Mr. Frey, lent me an extremely intriguing read. I chose to set it aside over the summer due to its subject matter. Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation shows the published discussions Moyers moderated a Columbia’s Jewish Theological Seminary. The participants include students, well-versed scholars, and ordinary people, all bringing forward diverse opinions. In saving this book for the fall, I strived not to replace my own interpretation with theirs but to supplement my knowledge of the Torah with the discussions in Moyer’s compilation. The chapters in the book focus on particular themes in the stories, expounding upon a single point in great depth. This fall, I join the conversation presented by Moyer and his peers. After reading their points, I strive to add my own. In addition, I strongly urge that all of my readers participate more now than ever. While exploring this book and my comments on it, share your own thoughts on the “theme of the week”. From Moyers conversation, I want to uncover a discussion of our own. Bereshit recalls the creation of the world, interactions between Adam, Eve, and God, and the Garden of Eden. Appropriately, the first chapter of this book digs into the core of what it means to create one in the image of God. To my pleasant surprise, Moyer’s group spent little to no time discussing the legitimacy over creation. They classify this story as an explanation to why humans exist rather than how they came into the world. According to this interpretation, the seven-day tale of the 5,000-year-old world is merely a formality, allowing even religious figures to adhere to the clearly evident and substantiate ideas of evolution. Instead of seeing the Bible as a scientific textbook, the text analyses Bereshit for its moral value. The clearest value the first two chapters of Genesis demonstrate is the importance of free will. God grants Adam and Eve unlimited free will over their entire domain in the Garden of Eden, but God also suggests an effort to which they put their energies. In engaging in free will, God intends they watch over the newly created world and all its organisms. To this point, the Bible serves as a mission statement and reveals the meaning of life. God says, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth"(Genesis 28). Contrary to the currently commercial view of the world, humans neither own the earth nor bear no responsibility to it. Throughout the ages, humans consumed resources, decimated environments, and bore no ownership of their fellow inhabitants of the earth. God intends for human goodness to reign forever. Generations use their power to upkeep the world, and then they owe it to themselves to procreate in order to continue the process. God acts as a force for good, free will rather than this authoritarian commander seen later in the Bible and scaring certain individuals from religion altogether. In the Garden of Eden, Eve yields to temptation, destroying the perfection of the world. After her blunder, humans need to change their goal from retaining a perfect world to fixing a broken one. In very few chapters, the Torah draws a definitive mission for all human life. I found the conversation of Moyers’ first chapter extremely interested and refreshing. Unlike today’s usual discourse, the book opened opportunities to talk about missions in life versus spontaneity rather than the simple debate between evolution and creationism. Correspondent Roberta Hestenes raises a question about viewing life in terms of economic gain or social progress. Society dictates that we earn money to provide ourselves with a healthy, satisfying life, but the Torah suggests we collaborate toward a greater form of humanity every generation until we repair the world to its Edenesque state. I see the process in three steps to achieve personal happiness and fulfill this everlasting mission. First, the human needs to look at himself or herself as an individual. How can I improve as a person? Where do I want to be in one, ten, twenty, or fifty years? The personal angle remains the most selfish of the three, yet it is not necessarily a self-centered action. I merely intend to say that one should place themself in the perspective of the world and seek ways to arrive at happiness. Without this personal satisfaction, the other two, far more important steps fail to proceed. Second, the human must attribute some time to the familial or small group angles of life. We all came from some sort of family, and many of us enjoy the bountiful splendors of friendship. These joys require efforts, for they are essential to the mission of the world. Before looking at the globe at its greatest scale, one assesses their personal sphere. How can I, as an employee, enrich my coworkers’ lives? Where can I change the town around me? We look onto the people around us to assist them in achieving their individual goals, spreading bliss across the world. We also grow with our peers in this process, bringing us one step closer to a repaired society. Third, we all share a responsibility to fix the world. Over the years, some of us humans further increased the entropy of society, but all humans hold the potential to restore order. A Living Conversation contrasts the gift of life with the gift of death. Our amounts of time on the planet vary, but this “present” provides the perfect constraint to follow a concise mission. Every day, we make closer strides toward Eden, and one day, men and women will hopefully look upon their beautiful bodies and feel no shame without clothes anymore. In a world where people truly came together to respect each other, other creatures, and their earth, we will finally achieve our godly mission. Only in repairing the world toward God’s Eden are we made in the image of God.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Paths

With Rosh Hashana quickly approaching this Monday, the week’s Torah very appropriately discusses beginnings and endings. As the Torah concludes in the next few weeks, Moses says his last words before the Israelites enter the Holy Land without him. Finally, the Jews received their covenant with God, and Moses reminds them of the obligations acquitted to them. In order to live in the land of Israel with this holy benediction, God requires the Israelites to uphold the commandments of the Torah. Moses discusses a choice between two paths offered to every member of his caravan. According to his deal, the Jews either uphold the Torah’s law while receiving the highest blessings of abundance in crops, land, family, wealth, and joy. Moses warns of the awful curses destined to befall those who decide to disregard the Torah. Many parashot in Deuteronomy discuss blessings and curses for believers and the rest, and the decision makes itself very clear to a fundamentalist. According to a literal reader, the parashat, Nitzavim, says follow God without question or skepticism, or face unimaginable horror and toil. Jews, who interpret the Torah a bit looser, see the distinct choice by Moses in a different light. Nitzavim discusses destiny, an idea that offers that the actions of the past dictate the future and that some source predetermined all of these events to happen. The Torah portion teaches that every individual controls his or her own destiny. It relates a bit to karma, when the portion discusses receiving blessings for performing kind acts. However, Nitzavim reiterates a key point in the Torah. In one sense, God distinguishes Jews as the people destined to repair the world. From Adam and Eve all the way through Moses, the Torah contradictorily shows that God grants people free will. As the Jews stand before their Promised Land, Moses discusses how each Jew chooses their fate. He remarks the answers lie neither within the heavens nor under the seas. Personal journey relies on the choices of the heart and mind. Obstacles and blessings meander their ways in to life. Using values to approach them, actions of one’s own decision create an outcome. When reading about the week’s Torah portion, I thought of entering the Promised Land as taking an AP course. Sure, the amount of knowledge responsible in course like AP Biology is more than I ever needed to know in school in prior grades. I either study that information until I know the study of life better than my own personal accounts, or I decide to watch the Giants game instead. Even in grades and promotions, we select our path of life. As the shofar ushers in Rosh Hashana, choose wisely. Moses goes into detail about two diverged lifestyles. Moses says, “I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:11). In his case, life and prosperity derives from adhering to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. Following these commandments leads to the first path. In reality, Judaism is about very little. A famous Jewish prayer says the world relies on the three things: Torah (study) , avodah (worship and work) , and gemulit chasidim (acts of love and kindness). I read Torah in a mindful, critical setting. Using my “God-given” free will, I select which laws to deem important and follow every day of my life. Some say the Torah is out of date, but how many of us really condone murder? Or do not support the leaving a part of our earnings for those who are stuck at the bottom of society? Or calling mom and dad to see how their lives are? The Torah is much more than God dictating the hate of gays or the abhorrence of premarital sex. Selecting laws based on the morality is not akin to Judaism by convenience. On the other hand, selecting laws because of how difficult they are to follow is not a critical lens to Judaism. The Torah serves as a guide book on “How To Be A Decent Human Being”. As far as I am concerned, looking at the holy laws in this conscientious way truly leads to life and prosperity.

Friday, August 31, 2012

More than a New Year's Resolution

At the entrance of the land of Israel, God demands much of the Israelites before entering the land in this week's Torah portion. The reading includes a hodgepodge of commands the Jews need to hear upon reaching the Promised Land. At the beginning of the portion, God discusses how men go about pursuing various types of women. God discusses the laws of intercourse with captives of war, virgin fiancees, unengaged virgins,and women a man already divorced. The majority of the laws relate to Biblical times, and they are somewhat outdated for the women of today, making it seem like a woman needs to either belong to her father or her husband like an object. Later, God talks about punishment for men who commit foul acts against virgins. Moving on from such romantic topics, the next serious of laws pertain to loaning money to both Israelites and gentiles. For other Israelites, the loaner ignores interest, but one includes interest for non-Jews. Finally, God outlines who to welcome and exclude from the land of Israel. God encourages the Israelites to welcome Edomites and Egyptians for their generosity in times of famine with Joseph and trouble in the desert. Before the Torah concludes, a lot of the parashot, like this week's Ki Teitzi, review the laws necessary for the Jews to go about life in the land of Israel. In the midst of these several, random laws, God makes a stern claim about keeping promises. God asks of the Jews to keep their promises. Breaking a promise with God equates to a sin. Vows with God are not necessarily extreme either. Once one makes a vow, God expects one to see it through its finish. Empty promises are easy to produce. Success derives from effort more than anything else. By setting a goal or making a vow, we create a standard for ourselves. God expects us to strive toward this direction, not simply observing a law but also maintaing our own integrity in the process. The commandment encourages us to chase our aspirations further than we sometimes want to go. One famous promise explemplifies the importance of this following. John Kennedy swore to send Americans into space. Imagine if the president created this hype without a plan or an effort afterward. The promise was to his people rather than God, but it nonetheless required more than simply "talking the talk". With this in mind, it seems appropriate to discuss this law as September approaches. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur seem like perfect times to form promises with God and ourselves. Rosh Hashana represents a new beginning a time to call for an end of old weights and unnecessary existences of problems. Yom Kippur provides the opportunity to address these issues and conceive ways to correct them. The High Holy Day process involves a lot of self-reflection and the settings of goals that address our moral beings. Whether one believes in God or not, this time of year allows us to make vows to ourselves on how to improve our decency. God or no God, it remains important to pause and sift through which actions during the year were righteous and which harmful. Of course, these vows are more than new years resolutions. In January, many of us swear to lose weight or stay organized. On Rosh Hashana, we determine our direction toward making society more habitable. We humuliate ourselves in thinking about our sins, and then we set goals to address the desparities of our better spirit. This year, I challenge any reader of this intrepretation to take action with this law. Make a promise to God or yourself that pertains to how to improve your moral character. More importantly, push yourself to continually follow this goal until it is as real as the late Neil Armstrong's footprint on the Moon. Rather than fearing a sin against God, keep this promise to not sin against yourself by losing this opportunity for imrpovement.

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Thoughts on Camp Shomria 2012

After 6 weeks away from the computer in the Catskills Mountain, I returned this past Sunday from a very relaxing, fulfilling summer at Camp Shomria. The past month and a half was a wonderful experience, creating lifelong memories, inside jokes, and friendships with some of the most special people in my world. More than any other year, my time at Camp Shomria went by so much quicker than I wanted.  I left the Tenefly bus stop, and the bus returned there again in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Within that blink though, I experienced so much. Some highlights include visiting our sister camp in Perth, Canada. I met the twenty Canadians who accompany my American kvutzah (age group) for a month long trip to Israel. The border-crossing trip commemorated the start of the 100 year anniversary of Hashomer Hatzair, the youth movement that runs Camp Shomria. The celebration culminated in a concert called Shmutzstock, a night of peace and love with songs revolving around a theme of home. The performances were stupendous. I still feel the excitement in my stomach when I remember hearing a rocking rendition of "Come Together" echo with a full moon and an absolutely gorgeous lake in the background. The night was perfect, definitely a highlight of my tenure with Hashomer Hatzair. Another striking event that comes to mind is when my kvutzah traversed 32 miles of the Delaware River by canoe.  While the Delaware is no thrill ride with white water rapids, the scenery by the banks is gorgeous. I bonded with everyone, floating downriver and soaking up the lesser developed portion of the river. I find it hard to believe that the metropolis of Philadelphia lies at the delta of the same river we canoed. It was one of many unforgettable experiences. Once again, the camp surpassed my already high expectations in what a wonderful summer was in store.

Each summer I come home, I feel like I just finished the best summer of my life, yet the following summer always surpasses its predecessor. Every year seems a little better at Camp Shomria. As part of the oldest kvutzah this year, I took on some new responsibilities this year. Part of our new tafkid (task) meant washing the pots from time to time rather than the regular dish cleaning and painting a recycling center. However, most of it was far more enjoyable than pots. The tzofim gimmel summer focuses around a number of projects the kvutzah completes as a collective. The first of these tasks is constructing a raft out of solely air tanks, twine, and logs. It involves a strong background in lashing. As much of a tradition as it is to build the raft, it is just as common for it to sink at the bottom of the lake. Due to a lack of floatation, our raft failed to carry us cleanly across the lake. Nevertheless, the experience fulfilled us with a sense of accomplishment. During the fourth week, we wrote a play to be performed for the whole camp. Parodying "Ferris Bueler's Day Off", we made the Beit Tarbut (play/culture house) roar with laughter. Hearing congratulations after the final lights closed, I felt so much pride in myself and my kvutzah for our accomplishment. Usually the Hadracha (staff) write and perform these evening plays. We took on the workload, and we really triumphed. Now, we needed to write a daytime activity. Again, a similar feeling of pride rushed over us when we finished not only a daytime activity but an ash laila, a follow-up activity in the middle of the night. The concluding project of the tzofim gimmel summer is the most daunting of them all. Hadracha put us in charge of constructing mifkadesh, a huge sculpture that catches on fire and lights up the night for a formal meeting of the camp.  The construction of mifkadesh involves a lot of perseverance, an intense work ethic, and plenty of devotion. We pulled it off wonderfully, feeling truly ready to enter our stage as kibbutzi (councilors in training) and begin to think about our trip to Israel.  The last two summers, I felt like an outsider just entering an already existing community. Now, my kvutzah took ownership over a place that taught each of us so much about maturity and friendship. When I look at the painted recycling center, I see the eight other people who assisted me in that job. We only began leaving our mark on those hallowed grounds in Liberty, New York, and I look forward to continuing that process.

Returning home is a daunting task at times. When people ask what happened at camp, I just want to tell them so much. If they follow with what the best part of my summer was, I always respond with the same answer. I loved strengthening the friendships I made over the past two summer over the course of the last six weeks, especially with my kvutzah. To think I wandered onto Camp Shomria not knowing anyone but my cousin (who actually missed my very first day of camp for a fourth of July celebration) baffles me. Saying goodbye and hugging all my friends, I felt connected in some way to each member of the Moshava. Last year, I left Mosh, feeling I grew with my kvutzah. Of course, we fought last year. What group of distinctly different fourteen agrees with each other all the time? At the start of this summer, we knew about the tasks ahead of us, and we approached the summer grown and ready. We dedicated ourselves to preserving this idea of kvutzah, the concept that any assortment of Jews going into the same grade can cooperate and work well with each other. I like the idea kvutzah most because it forces me to strive toward friendship with entirely different personalities than I usually bring into my life. I learned how to write a play with people who I fought with constantly only two summers ago. I thank all of hadracha for making this summer as spectacular as it was, especially my madrichim.

Now, I just need to wait 323 days until next year!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Loyalty and Snakes

As the Israelites continue their journey through the wildness in this week's Torah portion, they grow increasingly reckless. At first, the portion opens with God ordering the priest, Eleazar, to perform a ritual involving a sacrificial cow. By completing the action, Eleazar supposedly cleanses the community, clearing them of many sins they already committed in the desert. Suddenly, Miriam's death disturbs the group like an unexpected sand storm. The people begin to rumble about how their affliction in the desert seems worse than their suffering in Egypt. Some Israelites even suggest turning against God and returning to bondage. The Israelites complain about their dire thirst, begging Moses for a solution. Their leader seeks help from God, who commands Moses to strike a rock with his rod.  With the same rod that split the Red Sea, Moses unleashes a gushing water source. Though the Israelites quiet for a bit after Moses reveals the water supply, their previous remarks strike God very deeply. God calls Moses and Aaron's attention, scolding them for allowing the Israelites to grow so reckless. As leaders, God asserts that Moses needed to stop the situation before it wreaked such havoc.  For failing to maintain the people's loyalty to God and general order, God revokes the leaders' right to enter the Promised Land. Though Moses and Aaron continue to lead the people toward Canaan, God never allows them to inhabit their final destination. Only their descendants establish settlements in the Holy Land. Still, the Israelites murmur thoughts of returning to Egypt and mutiny. God sends a group of serpents to teach the travelers a lesson. The snakes bite anyone who shows disloyalty to God, Moses, or the Israelite nation, but Moses constructs a figure that heals such bites.    At the conclusion of this week's Torah portion, God uses this method of association to remove this bitter sentiment among the Israelites.  

The week's Torah portion focuses on loyalty, a unanimously important trait throughout humanity. God punishes Aaron and Moses on an account of loyalty. With feelings of returning to Egypt rising, God expects Moses and Aaron to address the situation. Instead, Moses and Aaron lose trust in God, ultimately betraying their covenant. Just as with any relationship, God feels greatly disappointed after putting years of work into enriching these Levites’ lives. In this story, the allegiance of Aaron and Moses failed to belong to their leader, but similar cases occur among friends. Whether one is an authority, friend, or acquaintance, supporting each other matters. Loyalty encompasses respect in any case, for it requires the utmost courage to protect a friend in need. When the people cry against God, Moses and Aaron stand by the rebels. Similarly, the serpents bite whoever is disloyal to God. The sting of a snake bite feels analogous to betrayal by a peer. In this Torah portion, God deems loyalty an important trait. Like a parent or teacher, God implements a strategy to teachers these subjects how to behave. In the Ten Commandments, God demands that the Jews only worship Adonai, the one God.  The Torah continually emphasizes loyalty as one of the most valuable, personal qualities.   
            During every age and era, loyalty sustains the human condition. At its most primitive times, loyalty simply increased our chances of survival. Instead of fending for food on one’s own, we serve each other meals or used to hunt in packs. Humans depend on each other for basic needs, and for that reason, no one can ever live at an entirely independent state. The Torah emphasizes loyalty because humans necessitate it. Throughout our lives, we continually develop deeper and deeper support systems.  While the emotion of betrayal hurts more than anything on this Earth, the joy of friendship enriches us. It is important to discover and acknowledge the existence of advisors and friends. Physically, our skeletal and muscular systems protect us from pain, but emotionally, only a tender heart and listening ear coupled with time eases that grief. The difference between loyalty and empathy lies within consistency.  When the Beatles sung about receiving a little help from their friends, many instances of genuine friendship probably influenced Ringo Starr rather than just one moment. Without loyalty, the world turns into an incredibly lonely place. Friendship makes life more than work and rest on the Sabbath. Whether many of us want to or not, social interaction is a part of our society. We need a supportive smile to brighten our darkest hours.  

Demanding loyalty is a much easier task than actually exhibiting it. We need to express loyalty to absolutely everyone we deem valuable. For Moses and Aaron, they need to support the highest authority of God and minor acquaintances that joined them in the wilderness. With friends, the loyalty goes best with honesty and acceptance. By continually strengthening the friendship through these three qualities, I find one creates some of the strongest imaginable bonds. I often see an instance of disloyalty among my peers where an individual acts differently in a group as opposed to one on one action.  Through being a loyal friend, one needs to show integrity, supporting a friend whether zero or a million eyes watch a situation. With an authority, one needs to demonstrate poise and respect. Again, integrity plays an important part in being a loyal subject. It is against my nature to tell someone not to question authority, for even I question God’s law from time to time. With a teacher or executive leader, however, one should always follow their sensible orders. I emphasize the word sensible because sometimes our rulers lead us astray. Of course, the Torah also teaches us to respect those invaluable to us. In any case, we should respect those around us. Otherwise, the consequences could hurt much worse than a snake bite.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fear Leads to Forty Years of Wandering

A number of people know that the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land, but less in this majority recognize the significance of their delayed travels. It actually took the Israelites a mere two years to escape Egypt and reach Israel. Just before entering the land flowing with milk and honey, God asks Moses to send a representative from each of Israel's twelve tribes to survey the land. The committee goes into the land of Canaan, astonished by the sight of it. They feast their eyes on the gorgeous landscape of Israel, particularly its beautiful valleys and vast desert. To prove the goodness of the land to the others, the scouts return with the fruits of the land. The Israelites bring seasonable grapes almost too large for them to carry, and the people rejoice that God promises them such a wondrous land for their descendants.  Unfortunately, the scouts find one fault in the Promised Land. While observing the beauty of Canaan, they notice that certain nations already inhabit the land. Ancient peoples, such as the Canaanites and Amorites, outnumber the Israelites. Hearing the news, the Israelites stop eating the delicious fruit, and the group enters a panicked frenzy. God stumbles upon the scene with disgust, for God promised them this land. The Israelites doubt God's covenant, and for that, they deserved punishment. For questioning God's power to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land, God commands Moses to lead the people toward the Red Sea. With the except of the scout who continued to believe in God's might, God allows no one of the first generation to escape Egypt to see Israel. Instead of entering Israel after two years of wandering, the Israelites travel for forty additional years.

Though God sentenced the Israelites to this fate, the eleven scouts who doubted God ultimately doomed themselves. After seeing a gorgeous landscape decorated with fruit, the scouts reported about their enemy. God offers so much to the Israelites by presenting them with the land of Canaan, and they thank God by fearing their settlement. Some suggest they return to Egypt, taking slavery over imagined death. Whether one believes in God or not, the passage offers a lesson in taking chances. The Israelites fear the Amorites and the Canaanites when they enter the land. During the portion, the other nations threaten the Israelites in no shape or form, yet they appear terrifying at first glance. Entering a new home is a frightening endeavor, but we need to push forward sometimes rather than retreating to what we know. The Israelites ask to return to Egypt, a familiar entity, even if that familiarity brings horrible bondage with it. The entire generation suffers as a result of the fear and doubt that exists among them. Worrying never solved a problem. Rather, it always dramatizes the issue, intensifying the emotion.   In any moment of stress of nervousness, it is easy to retreat toward our comfort level, but we miss the thrill of accomplishment and adventure by taking this action.

The worst kind of fear is one that prevents us from taking a chance. The leap of entering Israel promised much more reward than escaping to Pharaoh. Like a runner overloading their system to earn their personal best time, all people need to strive to excel. The majority of people put in the adequate effort to succeed in an endeavor. It takes a special individual to soar beyond expectations, taking a risk from time to time. The effort it takes to excel is analogous to the strength of confronting nervousness. Sure, some risks are not worth the leap. Trying to survive a jump from a faraway height is not a smart choice without proper training, but we need to take our own jumps that match our personalities. Tomorrow, I celebrate the conclusion of my freshman year with a trip to Six Flags. I only went on my first roller coaster last year, and this year, I hope to conquer the tallest, scariest roller coaster in the park: Bizarro. Taking chances revolves around making sensible yet risky choices. I know my limitations, but riding this coaster is something I can overcome. The Israelites knew Israel was a risk worth taking. If the fear is assailable, face it. Otherwise, we find ourselves wandering in a world of sand for forty or more years.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Power in Numbers?

The book of Leviticus and the book Numbers occur at very similar times in the Israelite's journey. Leviticus tells the story of God explaining the laws to Moses and Aaron, who then repeat them for the nation. In Numbers, the Torah tells the story of what actually happens during the forty years the Jews spend in the desert. The fourth book begins with God requesting that Moses and Aaron take a census, thus explaining the name Numbers. The Israelites organize themselves into twelve tribes, each named after one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The tribes vary in size, but the total number is 603,550 men ranging from ages 20 to 60 years. God seeks to gather an understanding of the size of Israel before they venture too far into the desert.

The people of the Torah and common members in any modern democracy govern themselves in similar ways. In both systems, the few lead the majority, representing those who put them in power. Just as Moses represents God to the 603,550 male Israelites. their wives, and their children,  Barack Obama symbolizes the United States and the majority of voting citizens who selected him for office. However, many Israelite's opinions mostly likely differed from those of Moses, and many see the Obama Administration as an abomination. Leaders intend to represents those who put them in power, but matters often go askew. Would it not be better if we removed the middle man? How different would society be if the many ruled over the many?

While the support of many people brings about positive change,  true success starts with the solid control of one, firm leader. Such a person propels a movement to its great accomplishments. When committees converse controversial issues, progress stagers in debate. With any group, organization is the first key to success. All achievements begin with a plan, and one individual overseeing this preparation traditionally makes the execution more direct. Throughout history, the greatest protests started with an idea and a thinker. Then, that person spread their thoughts to a larger movement. Martin Luther King, for instance, spurred one of the most driven movements in American history. He embodied his cause, organized his thoughts, formulated a plan, and then called on the support of others.
Power in numbers only comes last on the list of ingredients for change, following decent leadership and  strategic planning. In the cases where few rule over the many, no disconnect exists. They simply gather the thoughts of their subjects, communicating them to God or the world.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sharing the Land, Sharing the World

Leviticus concludes with a double-passage of parashot Behar and Bechukotai. In Behar, God discusses a number of various laws relating to the Israelites and their society in the new, promised land. God deems every fiftieth year as one of jubilee. When the special time arrives,  God requires all owners to free their slaves. God allows the Israelites to make their neighbors indentured servants if needed until the year of the jubilee.  In this system, neighbors lift each other out of the crippling poverty.  The passage also discusses how to go about selling and redeeming land for the different types of citizens in Israel. Parashat Bechukotai  begins with God boasting about all the blessings one reaps by following the Torah's commandments. God offers a surplus of food, everlasting protection, and a fulfilling life. Then, God explains in much more detail the punishments for heretics.  According to the Torah, punishment includes a sevenfold curse from God, such as a rampage of wild beasts and an outbreak of pestilence. To close the book of laws, God reveals the oppositions of accepting or denying these commandments to the Israelites.

While discussing land owning lands, God sternly proclaims, "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me" (Lev. 25:23).  God essentially restricts the Israelites from over-farming the land or overstepping their right to change the terrain. Jewish tradition teaches that each individual owns their body, but they return this body to the world at the end of their life. Likewise, the land provided to a homeowner never truly belongs to him or her. When granted fifty acres of wheat field, one needs to care for the land more carefully than as if it were their own. God commands that each farmer abstain from reaping their crops every seventh year to allow the fields to rest. To offset hunger during this rest, God promises a sufficient crop in the sixth year. The Torah proclaims that God only allows people to borrow the world, and we must therefore care for it like another child.

The Torah only refers to land as belonging to a higher power, but other items perhaps equally belong to a higher power such as God. Even though we claim our properties, we own nothing in the entire universe. Our own bodies decompose into the Earth after our time on the planet. (In Lenin's case, his body now belongs to the people of Russia.) We rather collectively own the universe for a period of time, and then we pass it onto the next generation until life as we know it reaches its climax. Instead of thinking of a world in terms of dollars and cents, people should ponder how their actions benefit society as whole. Throughout the twentieth century, the European nations and the United States competed against one each other to achieve industrial superiority. Although Europeans starved due to a lack of food, farmers in the Midwest dumped pounds upon pounds of produce to avoid high shipping costs. The result of this isolationism caused two world wars and a series of smaller wars that supposedly avoided one on a larger scale known as the Cold War. Rather than a Communist upheaval of society, I suggest we invest in working as a universal society. Like the Torah says, we should work in the image of God, respecting the land granted to us and the benefits it reaps. Why should a family of four own three laptops if a family of five only knows the Internet as "Western concept"? By balancing how we use our fields, we level societal gains with others' losses. Remain mindful of others, and treat the whole world as if nothing exists solely for yourself.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Reform Judaism's View on Homosexuality

As we finish this year's reading of Leviticus, God shares many commandments with Moses and Aaron in this week's parashat. Aaron's sons anger God by entering the Tabernacle's holy shrine without permission, so God starts by laying the guidelines for Aaron entering this place. In this sacred spot, God appears in the literal shape of a cloud. God commands Aaron to only enter the presence of God with permission and sin and burnt offerings. Following these rules, God shows Aaron how to atone for himself and the entire community on his behalf. God reveals the details of the holiday now called Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.  According to the Torah, the Israelite community apologizes for their transgressions by sending sacrifices to their priest. Once the priest sends these offerings, God pardons all who participated. Today, we immerse ourselves in prayer to receive positive judgement from.  The next set of laws restricts Egyptian practices the Israelites witnessed during their time as slaves. Some of the rituals include the prohibition of incest and the controversial ban against homosexuality. The combined parashot of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim concludes with a series of various, many of which appear earlier in the Torah. God reviews how to sow crops, and this section ends with the mentioning of a few of the Ten Commandments received on Mount Sinai.

To many, the restriction against same-sex relationships seemed harsh and unappealing to include in the Reform Movement's practice. In the sector's early stages, rabbis discussed how to interpret the Torah in a way that included gays and lesbians to join their congregations. The rabbis understood the commandments' purpose as a way to avoid resembling the ancient Egyptians. During Biblical Times, ancient Egyptian priests made love to one another to show their affection to idols.  The Reform Movement viewed the commandment as a way to avoid polytheism, but they denied the overall immorality of homosexuality. Reform Jews accept an individual of any sexual preference to join them in prayer and celebrate the holidays.  In fact, many synagogues encourage the places of worship to establish a safe environment for people of varying sexual orientation. A number of gay and lesbian rabbis in the Reform Movement lead vibrant congregations, and their temple members view their leader based on the quality of their job performance, not who they love.  Reform Jews see love as a universal entity, and they recognize that sometimes love involves a man and a woman, two women, or two men. Psychologists agree that sexual orientation comes at birth, and gays and lesbians have very little choice in the matter. Therefore, Reform Jews find it pointless to exile someone whose preference is inadvertent . While the Conservative and Orthodox movements remain hesitant about the LGBTQ community joining them, the Reform Movement welcomes them with open-mindedness and most likely a smile.

Last year, I wrote "A Modern Debate From Biblical Times" where I discussed a few strategies to combat the thought of homosexuality as an abomination.  Upon starting my freshman year, I joined my school's Gay Straight Alliance. I suggest all schools embark on creating the same club in their establishment. Every Monday, we discuss issues facing the LGBTQ world, brainstorm ways to make our school a safer environment for out of the closet gays and lesbians, or just hang out, providing an accepting safe haven for already out of the closet students this year. Since our founding, a number of students felt safe enough to come out of the closet before us. We embraced the courage, and one time even bought a cake to celebrate the effort it took for them to reveal their true identity. A few of my personal friends told me about their sexual orientation this year, and I treated them the same as before. Some of my friends even began exploring relationships of the same sex. Just as with friends in a straight relationship, I teased them to no end, but I in no means judged them for their union. If I thought anything, I judged them positively for finding each other. With the organization of another temple youth group, my synagogue hosted an event for Keshet, a Jewish organization for LGBTQ rights. We participated in a seminar that explored elements of further acceptance in this realm. The instructor split us into groups, each needing to list common attributes of men and women in a box. Outside the square, the instructor told us to write statements about what happens to someone who steps outside this stereotypical box. Then, we regrouped to discuss how to prevent some of the negative side effects of stepping outside the box. During the second half of the seminar, we discussed what each letter in the LGBTQ acronym meant, finding way to create safe communities for each of these sectors. Finally, I vowed to remain silent during the school day a few weeks ago. During the Day of Silence, one receives a t-shirt, and they keep quiet for all six hours of the school day. The exercise symbolizes the intimidation gays and lesbians feel before they come out of the closet, and it strives to promote empathy for students who fail to realize how these afraid people suffer.  I learned how people respond to someone who makes their differences publicly. When people prodded me to talk, I released gays receive similar or even harsher methods of intimidation.  We pleasantly witnessed New York, Washington, California, Maryland, and New Jersey join or increase hopes of joining the list of states with legal same-sex marriage this year. In the future, I strive to see a world where many more people see homosexuality as a minor personality trait rather than an abomination.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Yom Ha'atzmaut: One Year Before Yedid

As May quickly approaches, I already feel eager to end the school and attend summer camp. I find it difficult to imagine my emotions at this time next year. In the summer of 2013, I will complete my years as a camper with a month-long trip to Israel. Since both Jews in the diaspora and Israelis celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli independence day) yesterday, I find it appropriate to reflect on this exciting expedition approaching in my near future. I attend a camp in New York’s Catskills Mountains, and we focus and build activities around three main ideals; Judaism, Socialism, and Zionism. On this trip called Yedid (friend in Hebrew), the camp explores aspects of each of these pillars. We go to kibbutzim to see socialism in practice. On the kibbutz, farmers work together for the betterment of the community over profit. Additionally, we see all the common tourists sights, some dating back to the days of ancient Judaea. We climb Massada, and the group walks around the holy sites at Jerusalem. In just a month’s time, I will explore the entirety of Israel, and I believe the days until then go by way too slowly. Every year, I see campers return with wonderful stories about Yedid. Going with Hashomer Hatzair, the organization that runs my camp, I experience the country from a truly Israeli perspective movement. This movement exists in Israel, and many locals come to the States. Some accompany us throughout the trip, showing us the inner secrets of the Holy Land. The trip offers a more valuable way to see Israel, touring “between the lines”. Last summer and the one prior, I met some of my best friends in the world. We live across the world from Tel Aviv to Philadelphia, and spending the summer together in this unifying place for all Jews bonds us together, even if our camp years end when we return to school in September. We started as a group of individuals with solely two similarities; our age and our varying practices of Judaism. Now, we approach this crux of our experience, learning more about each other every day. I most importantly want to travel to Israel before I matriculate at a rabbinical school. All rabbis need to study abroad in the Holy Land for one year. If everything occurs according to plan, this trip requires me to study Israel from an academic viewpoint. Going on both trips allow me to enjoy the country in two distinctly different ways. I want to go after undergraduate school, but I also know visiting during the summer relieves me of any pressure I feel from September to June. As 2013 quickly approaches, the glorious opportunities Yedid bestows upon me entice me every day. Until next July, I intend to wade my Israel-free days in a strategic manner. While I remain untouched by the glory of Israel, I plan to embrace my fully Jewish-American identity. I know Israel purely through the media and friends. The media depicts Israel as a war-stricken disaster, but I know it differs from this idea. From teachers and fellow campers, I hear Israel shines in the desert sun with beauty akin to that of a great painter. Rumors tell me the country mystifies any Jew wishing to learn about their roots. However, I want to arrive in Israel prepared for the journey. Although I find it difficult to balance my studies of English and Spanish for class and Hebrew as a hobby, I hope to acquaint myself with many more useful Hebrew phrases. Of course, I love my camp, and I expect to share as many great days with my peers as last summer in the coming months. Once the age group above us departs for Israel in late July, we dominate the camp as its oldest children. In those last few weeks, the camp requires us to write a play, create a closing ceremony, and plan a camp-wide activity. It takes teamwork to accomplish these tasks, but we will need this when we trek Israel in its 65th year of existence.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why Keep Kosher?

Many Jews revere the Torah's dietary laws as a sacred tradition, even as modern times create a more difficult atmosphere to keep Kosher. The weekly portion, Shemini, begins with an argument between Moses and Aaron over sacrificial ritual. God quickly establishes peace among the brothers, and Moses begins to receive the Kashrut, the Jewish dietary customs. God classifies certain animals as clean and others as an abomination. To the uninformed mind, the taxonomy appears random, but the Torah distinguishes a particular system with each animal in a possible diet. By land, an animal needs to chew its own cud and possess splits hooves. The former describes a particular way an animal eats their food, and the latter focuses on the feet of an animal. The majority of farm animals fit these Kosher characteristics. Pork and other pig products remain the most common example of mammal traife, non-Kosher food. Kosher fish include any scale and fin bearing creatures, like salmon and tuna. Crustaceans top the list of marine traife, prohibiting Jews from eating lobster, shrimp, and clams. No guidelines exist for birds, but the Torah lists the names of unacceptable birds, such as owls, hawks, and ostriches. With one exception, God finally decrees all insects traife. Insects with jointed legs, mostly crickets and grasshoppers, are the only acceptable six-legged critters in the Jewish diet. Most Reform Jews stopped following these laws in the creation of their movement, but Orthodox and Conservative Jews continue these practices. According to the Torah, one who breaks this law remains unclean until evening. Unlike other laws, the severity of the consequence seems weak in comparison to that of a stoning or execution. These laws complicate life every day, but lack reason in the Torah. Traditional rabbis saw this as a health concern to the Jewish people. Swine often carried more diseases than other farm animals. Deeming them sacrilegious supposedly helped ancient Jews' livelihood, yet modern science disproved this theory not so long ago. Other ancient rabbis payed special attention to which animals God decides to exclude. Pigs bathe in their own filth, and crustaceans consume whatever scraps they find. The olden thinkers thought God found these lowly beings unfit for humans. Most people eat three times a day, so keeping Kosher serves as a mechanism to force Jews into thinking about God. When thinking about a place to host a business lunch, the Jews need to consult the Torah. The consistency of eating reveals the holiness in every moment on Earth. For those who discount the existence of God, keeping Kosher provides a more universal lesson. Abstaining from certain foods, no matter how delectable, requires a great degree of discipline. Workers and friends alike desire such control. By eating only certain foods, we learn how to tame other inhibitions, such as lust, jealous, and anger. God specifies how to eat, but the portion requires a better explanation for keeping this custom. Like many parts of the Torah, these chapters demand personal interpretation. I started keeping Kosher around eight years old. It started because I simultaneously the perks of a career as a rabbi and my dislike of shrimp. After eight years of devouring crustacean and porks delicacies, I knew I needed to progressively eliminate my traife intake, rather than following all the Kashrut at once. Following these laws serves a dual purpose for me. When I smell bacon and ignore my inner temptations to forget the Torah, I immediately feel more connected to God. On Yom Kippur, God theoretically weighs a person's sins against their good deeds, and observing the Kashrut provides an easy way to tip this scale. Secondly, keeping Kosher teaches me how to calm myself and learn how to refuse certain foods. Yesterday, I tried to run with a stomach full of donuts, but I certainly felt the importance of a balanced diet as an athlete. When I learn how to ignore the deliciousness of lobster, I also teach myself how to reject a second helping of ice cream. In addition, the Kashrut laid the foundation for my work ethic, one that allows me to excel in school and other aspects of my life. The exacting nature of God shown in this week's Torah portion shows how I need to complete the work I plan for myself when the day begins. While hearing the theme song to my favorite show in the family room, I intently concentrate on homework, comparing the television to traife. Keeping Kosher allows me to exert intense efforts when needed. For any one who keeps Kosher for Passover, I find the regular dietary guidelines much easier to follow. For those who feels they lack a deep connection to Judaism, I recommend keeping Kosher. Like any lifestyle choice, time and consistency makes the change easier. I no longer miss traife,for I see how greater a reward I reap from these laws. I see their greater purpose in changing my life, as a runner, a student, and a Jew.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Next Year In Jerusalem Part 2

Last night, I discussed the importance for supporting the freedom of people all over the world. I declared, "All people deserve the same liberties people in Israel and the United States take for granted every day, and next year in Jerusalem, we will come together, not as a nation but as a world." The story of Passover resonates with activists such as myself. God calls on Moses to save a nation, and one man's courage revolutionizes the fate of a people. At first, Moses struggles to convince Pharaoh, but God sends a series of plagues that change his mind. On Passover, we remember how the weak overcome the mighty. Often, progress halts in the face of stubborn ignorance. We occasionally see the rise of a few great leaders who compare to Moses. To name a few, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Theodore Hertzl belong on this coveted list. These heroes conquered their doubts, and they assailed all obstacles in their way. People often denounce humanity in the face of darkness. We witness abuse of power or cruelty, but we fail to genuinely care. In the United States, our massive fortunes as a nation sometimes inhibit our ability to empathize with the world's large number of poor people across the world. Each and every Passover, I hope to see an improved world where the health and wealth of all peoples increases.

Earlier this year, I talked about people who know about righteous but fail to strive towards it. Finding a method to correct society remains an evermore difficult task. Charity seems like the everlasting solution to poverty, but economic instability makes donating a dangerous task. However, other, effective forms of activism definitely exist. In this age of technology, the Internet provides a number of opportunities to protest around the world from the comfort of a desk in a singular place. Recently, the Invisible Children foundation launched a Kony 2012 campaign. Through the power of Facebook and Twitter, one man informed the world about the horrors of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. Before any kind of changes take place, one needs to spread awareness and educate the masses about the problem. This movement taught many people about this conflict. To truly fight for the freedoms of others, we must support the rebels. In the 1960's, King's protests succeeded because people of all races joined to show their passion for civil rights. In the coming year, I intend to pledge allegiance to fight for the liberation of the entire world. Like Moses, I want to change the world, and with the help of all those around me, this dream surpasses hope and establishes itself as reality.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Passover During Another Arab Spring

On Passover, we completely disrupt our nightly dinner routine. Some of us host extravagant seders with meals that took hours to cook, and others travel to nearby homes or faraway places. By using a number of symbols throughout the service, we recount how the Jews departed Egypt in the name of God and freedom. In Hebrew, seder means "order". From Beijing to Berlin, Jews around the world start the seder with reciting Kiddush, and we continue through the same sequence. The way we tell the story varies in each household, yet we repeat a similar seder every year. By the time a Jew reaches adulthood, the Passover story comes to mind as easily as one of Aesop's fables or Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". Most Jews know how Pharaoh enslaved the Jewish people, and God freed us through the leadership and bravery of Moses. The Passover seder serves one primary purpose; we wish to teach the next generation of Jewish children about this most holy event. If we fail to retell this story, complacency will rage throughout the Jewish nation. We not only rejoice about God's miracles in Egypt, but we force ourselves to seriously acknowledge them. Many Jews celebrate Passover in praise of God, and the rest observe the holiday to commend the literal courage of their ancestors. The holiday represents a new dawn in the history of Judaism, our age of freedom. As Moses and his caravan cross the Red Sea, God deems them the Jewish nation. We reached the Promised Land of Israel, and we spread across the world preserving our culture through many eras. Just as parades and fireworks remind Americans on the fourth of July, we eat matzah and bitter herbs to fill our minds with thoughts about freedom.

Towards the end of every seder, we recount the toils of enslaved peoples in the present. We declare to help these people as God answered the Jewish people's ancient cries. Traditionally, we open the door for the prophet Elijah. This old sage represents all of the world's kindness and charity. Elijah allegedly drinks a sip of the Passover wine at each household, showing the prophet's commitment to redeem the entire world. Many haggadot includes, "This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free." The lines means to encourage Jews to strive for the liberation of Jews in other places where their leaders restrict their freedom. We conclude the seder with a message of hope, a mission to perform Gemulut Hasidim, acts of love and kindness. By coming together on this holiday, we establish ourselves as individuals who share the ability to revolutionize humanity. Moses liberated a nation with only his words, and we too possess this ability.

Last year, our Arab brothers and sisters took hold of their inner voice. We witnessed a wave of revolution, which most recently compares to the turbulent year of 1968. In December 2010, a man in a Tunisian square engulfed himself in flames. That fire roared across the Sahara and Arabian Peninsula. Within a month, the people overthrew their horrid dictator. Egypt soon followed suit, toppling the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak. By autumn, organizers created a new, more democratic Egypt. As the spring turned into a passionate summer, Libyans fought a civil war against their malignant leader, Moammar Gadhafi. When each protested ended, Israelis hoped the new leaders would reconsider long-term peace in Israel. This year in Jerusalem, we see a spread of newly freed people. Rather than Jews fighting for the sake of other Jews, the world experienced a revolution on a scale unseen anywhere else in history.

Now, we face a growing problem in this volatile region. We see others in oppression, like the ongoing revolutions in Bahrain and Syria. From our memories of Pharaoh, we know how it feels to face a stubborn dictator, yet the reality of supporting extremists brings fear. Just this week, Egyptians fired missiles into Israel's tropical city, Eilat. After thirty years, it appears young Egyptians want to break a seemingly stable pact negotiated by Anwar El Sadat and Menachem Begin. Is this the mission we want Elijah to complete over this next year? We strive for our reconvening as a nation in the land of Israel, but Israel appears fragile in the face of complete freedom. Overall, I believe supporting democracy across the world holds more importance than the issue of peace between Israel and these Arab neighbors. For every anti-Israeli Arab, another denounces their practices. Over each summer, I spend a couple weeks with a few native Israelis and Palestinians. They know the possibility of peace, for they coexist at my camp during a long, six week stretch in the Catskills. The hopes Israelis held last year were not forsaken. On this night of teaching the children, I seek to deliver this message; all people deserve the same liberties people in Israel and the United States take for granted every day, and next year in Jerusalem, we will come together, not as a nation but as a world.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Shakespeare Series: Much Ado About Nothing

Many classify "Much Ado About Nothing" as Shakespeare's romantic comedy. The play begins when native of Messina, Leonato, invites Prince Don Pedro and his mission to stay a month in celebration of their heroic work. Upon receiving the invitation, Count Claudio falls for Leonato's daughter, Hero. Instantly, Hero and Claudio love each other. On the contrary, the head of the household's niece, Beatrice, finds herself in the repulsive presence of Claudio's comrade, Benedict. This duo uses their equally matched wits against one another. Beatrice and Benedict repetitively entertain the whole company with their public arguments. Don Pedro speculates the possibility of Beatrice and Benedict falling in love, and he hatches a scheme with Claudio to trick them into performing this action. The prince and count find Benedict eavesdropping on them from afar, and they pretend not to notice. Claudio and Don Pedro trick Benedict into thinking Beatrice adores him, and Margret and Ursula, Beatrice's waiting ladies, do the same to her. Later, Hero and Claudio agree to wed each other. The prince's less fortunate brother, Don John, utilizes their marriage as a way to carry out his own evil plan. Don John hires Borachio to frame Hero for cheating on her fiancé. The rest of the play includes Benedict and Beatrice denying their consensual love and the hilarious watchmen lead by their incompetent master, Dogberry.

Unlike my last endeavor with a Shakespeare comedy ("Taming of the Shrew"), "Much Ado" frequently made me laugh out loud. I often feel Shakespearean comedies start off with a very clever part and exposition, and they conclude in a witty way that provides closure to the audience. On the contrary, I find the middle of these comedies lacking luster, for the characters either repeat their punchlines. In this play, the middle of the play contains a number of funny moments. Throughout the third act, Dogberry and his watchmen make humor out of the play. As Don John dramatically ruins Claudio and Hero's wedding day, the watch comes to investigate. Akin to many members of Shakespeare's working class, the watchmen's uneducated nature causes a hilarious sequence in the core of this play. Of all the comedies, the text of "Much Ado" surpasses that of "Comedy of Errors" and "Midsummer". This play's themes touch a reader on a deeper level, yet they entertain as much as Shakespeare's other lighter works. Speaking from experience, I greatly enjoyed acting in this play. In performance, the play emits this aura forces the audience to smile, relax, and enjoy watching Beatrice and Benedict bicker over the most trivial matters.

I highly recommend "Much Ado About Nothing" for anyone at least slightly interested in Shakespeare. I find the plot easier to comprehend than some of Shakespeare's other comedies. "Midsummer" requires a higher level of understanding the characters as Puck begins to mismatch their love interests for one another, and even experienced Shakespeare readers confuse the twin protagonists in "Comedy of Errors". Even though this play reads very well, I recommend seeing the play in performance as a supplement to the text. Some of these lines stand humorous on their own, yet the expressions and inflections actors bring to each part further increases the magnificence of this play. To fully experience the goodness of "Much Ado", one must imagine a stage and the scene on it while reading. For those who like Shakespeare and a decent laugh, "Much Ado About Nothing" appeases both cravings.

Friday, March 02, 2012

My Dear Friends

My Dear Friends,
I write this today to chastise all of you. Humans, as a species, make social interaction an incredibly unreasonable trouble. We label one another as “awkward”, “weird”, and “creepy”, yet we fail to recognize how these adjectives affect those around us. I know these terms hurt greatly, leading to great doubt in myself. Martin Luther King Jr. prayed for a society in which people judged people not only by the color of their skin but the content of their character. On the contrary, I desire to live in an age where society accepts all characters; strange, unique, and indifferent. I write today not to seek pity, but I want to share my observations. I hope these thoughts change how we deal with social situations, freeing ourselves of negative judgment and letting people reveal their entire persona.
At the beginning of time, nobody played social “games” with each other. We developed ways to conceal our emotions, and we established a system of social conventions and restrictions. One day, humans decided to humiliate those who fart in public. All over the world farting embarrasses people, yet everybody performs this bodily function. Stop criticizing others for their infrequent mistakes. Once somebody farts in public, they immediately conceal their embarrassment. Our peers teach us to suppress emotions in order to prevent a comeuppance. Humans love to hear applause and admiration. Naturally, we adapt to fit into this narrow, likeable spectrum. Some individuals rise above such pressures, but many cede into what others’ idea of a friend. This week especially, people continually laughed and complained about my idiosyncrasies, and I questioned why they refused to let me live as I want to live. People blend like chameleons, constantly scarifying their special qualities to blend in a crowd. I attempt to exist as the person I see in my mirror, but everyone around me tears this individual to shreds. I stand among many others who suffer this same reoccurrence. Even the most confident men and women in the world doubt themselves due to this so-called “peanut gallery”. Last week, I discussed accepting the exterior beauty of every individual. Though impossible to request we like every individual we meet, I plead that we tolerate those we dislike and respect every quality of those we deem our friends.
To a realist, my wish seems but an impossible dream. However, skeptics criticized Gandhi’s movement for India and Obama’s chance at the presidency. A few quick principles propel this dream into a very firm future. Our lives consist of four types of friendships; strong ones, desired ones, undesired ones, and undiscovered ones. To strengthen strong, desired, and undiscovered bonds, we must seek out individuals who accept our entire being. A particular friend is a temporary friend. Once we find an accepting person, we necessitate honesty and trust. Without these important virtues, a friendship remains bound to crumble. Trust takes time to build between individuals, but friendships immediately needs honestly. People too often regress from sharing their feelings, ultimately resulting in the weakening in the friendship. While one must sustain their accepting nature, raise concerns about a problem within the relationship. Wednesday, I made a comment that truly hurt a friend’s feelings. Apparently, my sarcasm came across too weak. I wish the friend immediately told me the joke went too far. Instead, I found out an hour later, for the friend merely laugh along with the others in the situation. Finally, loyalty stands among the most important qualities one deserves in a friend. Like a puppy, a friend needs to nurture their counterpart. Puppies require daily attention and communication. To some, a loyal friend jumps in front of a car just as it hits us. However, daily acts of love and kindness make the same difference. By celebrating each other’s birthdays and carefully listening to one another, we build indestructible bonds. Loyalty stands as the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. Therefore, I hope you learned how I think about you, my dear friends.
Yours truly,

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why Have Beauty?

In this week's Torah portion, God directs Moses in the building of the Tabernacle. This Ark of the Covenant protects the Ten Commandments. The structure acts like a portable synagogue. In other words, the Tabernacle serves as a holy suitcase. God very specifically describes how to design the Tabernacle. According to God's directions, gold covers the entire ark. Almost every inch of the Tabernacle shines with this regal color. Other features include cherub decorations, silver posts, and curtains of fine purple, blue, and crimson yarn. Most significantly, a curtain of these linens covers the commandments presented to Moses at Sinai. God proclaims this curtain separates the Holy and the Holy of Hollies.

Throughout the portion, God meticulously discusses the appearance of the Tabernacle, yet God abstains from expounding upon the significance or meaning of this holiest ark. It appears that the Tabernacle's physicality ranks higher than its meaning. By swapping the Tabernacle's gold for copper, does one deteriorate the meaning of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps, God intends to separate the Holy from the ordinary just as the Ark's most important curtain distinguishes the Holy and the Holy of Hollies. From a practical point of view, gold withstands corrosion better than any other metal, taking into account the Arab Peninsula's harsh conditions. While gold serves a purpose, it remains peculiar that God only physically describes the Tabernacle. What emotions does God intend for the Tabernacle to wring from the soul? Most holy places similarly look noble and luxurious. In theory, God recognizes and listens to all kind human beings, so praying in shack barely differentiates from worshipping at the finest synagogue in all the world. Although standards vary from culture to culture, humans all over the world praise beauty in buildings and people alike.

Whether we enjoy admitting it or not, we all occasionally judge based on appearance. In a theoretical world where every human looks and dresses in the same matter, personality remains as the only basis of our judgements. Of course, our world suffuses with diversity. A world without beauty seems to lack substance, for this elegance causes the most happiness on Earth. From a sunset over the Rocky Mountains or a bride on her wedding, our culture upholds beauty as a staple of society. It stands incorrect to denounce beauty, for it makes the world smile. The injustice of beauty exists in comparison. Throughout the Torah and the world, God creates beautiful people and sights. God never calls part of creation ugly. The Torah even describes one of its most repulsive characters, Esau, as skillful and hairy. The sin of beauty lies in its opposites. Teasing an ugly person insults both God and the victim, for all humans persists to appear beautiful in the eyes of God. Therefore, beauty should remain a celebrated aspect of society, as long as we celebrate all humans as somehow beautiful.

Westerners uphold musculature, light weight, nice skin and hair, facial symmetry, among other qualities as their guidelines of attraction. To a certain degree, all qualities of beauty become achievable through effort and determination. If one wants to lose weights, exercise and proper, non-extreme dieting lead them to beauty. However, confidence supersedes any product from the 13 million dollar cosmetic and 58 billion dollar weight loss industries in the United States. Unfortunately, the majority of romantic encounter end in ultimate rejection. Continual failures causes doubt in beauty, but by reassuring oneself, we launch ourselves on a much quicker rate of recovery. In our culture, beauty requires effort, but even the "ugliest" person in our society's eyes can shine like the gold of the Tabernacle.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tu B'Shvat Check-In

Last Tu B'Shvat I discussed how I ecologically impact the world. I developed goals to achieve by Tu B'Shvat in 2012. Since the lovely holiday just passed, it seems important to weigh how much I set out to do against what I actually accomplished. Tu B'Shvat honors the environment, especially the trees. While the ground remains far too cold at this time of year to plant any crops in the United States, Israel's spring begins with Tu B'Shvat. On this day, Israelis all over the country begin the farming season by planting trees and sowing their fields. American Jews often celebrate by sending money to the Jewish National Fund's tree planting initiative, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, or enthusiastically reading Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. My family and I successfully executed many of the endeavors we set out to achieve in 2011. in

In order to protect the environment, my family and I revolutionized how we lived over the past year. In comparison to how I planned to revive our recycling efforts, my sister worked wonders to make this initiative really surpass my expectations. Initially, I imagined my family to begin recycling paper in mass quantities. Instead, we rarely throw anything into the trash. Most weeks we filled our recycling bins to the brim. The regular trash occasionally lacked so little substance, we simply skipped bringing it to the end of the driveway for the garbage truck. Although this family still wastefully discards a few items, such as paper towels, this small idealistic dream of mine developed into a working reality.

Now that we recycled much of our paper, plastic, and metal waste, I noticied the trash consisted of mostly food and paper towels. My camp composted all of its food waste during the summer, and I presumed it was possible to do at home. The process to install a composter was not easy. My parents understandably doubted the rewards of owning a bucket full of rotting food and placing it in their yard. I promised that when it came to composting, I would take all responsibility. They skeptically agreed. We bought one small composter for daily scraps, and then I emptied that bin into a much larger tumbler. To their surprise, my parents found composting much easier and less smelly than they expected. This spring, I hope to use the compost to plant a new garden in my yard. I wonder how a garden with regular soil compares to that of one with compost. While composting remained a fairly easy process, I struggled to empty the compost when the weather was poor. Luckily, I started during this snowless winter, but I recognize this as an obstacle in future years. Instead of heaps of food wasting going to a landfill, the compost helps recycle a substance many find non-reuseable. I advise anybody who reads this to compost, for it is an easy, very effective method to save the world.

Over the course of the next year, I wish to further improve how I impact the environment. Most of all, I intend to greatly reduce how much water I use on a daily basis. As Jew, I find it especially important to conserve water. Israel's climate lacks sufficient precipitation for the Jewish homeland's population. All of the country's fresh water comes from one reservoir, the Kineret, and that body is currently drying faster than ever. Israel aside, the much of the remainder of the world needs more water than available to them. Even the United States' water supply seems vulnerable in accordance to the United Nations. The UN subsequently states that 1 in 6 people (about 17% of all humans on Earth) can not access safe fresh water. I plan to limit myself to one daily shower that never exceeds ten minutes in length. Additionally, I seek to research and implement as many water conserving methods as possible. By taking a part in my school's environmental club, I also aspire to achieve change in school as well as in my town and the surrounding areas. The world needs more water, and I intend to do my part in helping the Israelis and anyone else whose thirst inhibits their ability to live a happy, fulfilling existence.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Responsibility for Responsibility

Mishpatim, the name of this week's Torah portion, appropriately means laws. Like the Ten Commandments to the Constitution, Mishpatim resembles the Bill of Rights. Although the portion lacks the listing of the Israelite people's right as a nation, the declarations displayed in this portion directly amend the Ten Commandments. Some of these rules include how to handle a slave, male and female, and their offspring. Later, the portion discusses how to act in situations where one suffers wrongdoing. Rather than promote retribution, the Torah famously reasons to take an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, and bruise for bruise. After that, the portion presents a series of restrictions, like the spreading of false rumors, observation of the Sabbath, and boiling a kid in their mother's milk. God deems these laws a mandate over the entire nation of Israel, for God will aid the Israelites into an age of prosperity by observing these commandments. In accepting these commandments, God and Israel establish a covenant which stills motivates us to uphold God's proclamations in the Torah.

Many deem the Torah's laws too absolute, like the taking of another's eye results in the taking of one's own eye. Of course, an eye for an eye makes the world go blind, as the most popular cliché tells us. However, the law deserves some justification. While an eye for an eye results in a sightless world, the commandments teaches Israel to think before they act. Being impulsive results in the worst of punishments. Before defying our values, we need to ponder how the action may effect ourselves. Do I really want to punch somebody in a fight when they can reply with a justified punch of the same vigor? It is important to note that the law avoids reasoning a life for a life. The death penalty directly contradicts the Ten Commandments, exclaiming thou shalt not murder. The commandment merely states that one who commits a transgression against another should expect to pay that to experience the same misfortune, excluding death. While the law contradicts many other Jewish practices of receiving forgiveness through atonement, the law allows one to pause before acting.

Friday, February 03, 2012

An Analysis of the Song of the Sea

Once the Israelites cross over the Sea of Reeds, they erupt in song, embodying their joy of freedom. Before this celebration, the Israelites only know themselves as slaves in Egypt. Now, they begin to return to the age of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Liberation stuns this generation, for they feel God returns to them with this act. Due to his lack of answering their numerous pleas, the people doubt God in Egypt. Suddenly, God redeems the Jewish people, humiliating Pharaoh and all of Egypt in the process. The punishers become the rightfully punished, and the Jewish people rejoice at the loyalty of their God. In a final display of mightiness, God seemingly traps the Israelites in the wilderness. God commands Moses to hold out his arm, and the sea splits in this most recognized scene in the Bible. Pharaoh army chases after the Israelite people until the very conclusion of their escape. With a pillar of cloud, God inhibits Pharaoh ability to catch Moses' caravan. When God removes the pillar, Pharaoh rushes onto the path between the halves of sea, but God closes the waterway. The power of the few Israelites defeated Egypt, the most powerful empire at this point in the ancient world. Only God performs miracles with such vigor, people of all nations.

The Jewish people enter a new stage in their journey with God at the Sea of Reeds. In the Song of the Sea, the Israelites ask who is like Adonai, fearing the might that strikes Egypt down with ease. These newly free people proclaim God crushes Egypt with only Adonai's right hand. Being freed from Egypt forces the Jews to comply to follow God's commandments. Some Jews fathom God is loving, and therefore God's miracles need to be performed. Others cower in the presence of God, worrying that failing to comply with God's will decreases their chance of survival. Throughout the desert, the Israelites continually complain to God and doubt their privilege to be free. Then, God solves their problem, and they begin to praise God again. One needs to find balance between these opposing views.

Should we fear or love God? Fear of God depicts God as an oppressor, but God is rather a healer, a lover, and a redeemer. However, God like a parent deserves respect. Loving as God appears, God also omnipotently controls every force in the universe. Either way the commandments in the Torah are meant to help humanity. Most of these laws include helping one another, reflecting the image of God. While following every commandment to some degree lessens one's doubt in betraying God, God praises all who perform gemiulut hasidim, acts of love and kindness. On Yom Kippur, it is said that God weighs all Jew's sins against their good deeds. Depending on the way the scale balances and the forgiveness one offers, God grants them pardon or scolds their narrow-minded actions. Loving God prompts one to perform these acts in the spirit of God, but fearing God pushes one to do this. Performing the miracles of God helps sustain Moses with purpose. Balancing the fear and love of God becomes difficult, but it provides the same reward as the leader of the Jewish people felt at the Sea of Reeds. Inspiring a mass collaborative of human beings brightens the sun's rays and increases the joy of human life. By helping one another in the spirit of God, we truly help ourselves.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pharaoh, Grab A Piece of Humble Pie

In order to persuade Pharaoh, God sends ten plagues to promote the Israelites' liberation. At first, Pharaoh's courtiers imitate the plagues. Like God with the Nile, they use powder to turn water into blood. As the plagues continue, the magicians find it harder to duplicate God's wonders. By the final three plagues' arrivals, all of Egypt is stunned by God, yet Pharaoh continually grants the Jews freedom and restricts it just as quickly. In Egypt, Pharaoh arrogantly rise above all his subjects. God continually hardens his heart to humiliate Pharaoh, for Pharaoh believes he is higher than God. Pharaoh thinks the Egyptian gods and their kingdoms exceeds the greatness of anything else in the universe. God sends locusts to destroy the fields that feed the vast population of Egypt. Then, God casts darkness over Egypt, showing the darkness of Pharaoh's heart. Finally, God sends the worst of wonders. In an ultimate attempt to free Israel, God releases the Angel of Death. The angel passes over any Israelite house, for they are distinguished by the lamb's blood on their doorposts. The Torah proclaims a horrid cry shrieked throughout Egypt. Every family from the Pharaoh's to the slaves' suffers during the tenth plague. This horror angers Pharaoh, but he releases the Israelites. In a hurry, the Israelites run to the sea of reeds, waiting to escape Egypt.

After a few plagues, Pharaoh begins to succumb to Moses' demands, yet God continually changes Pharaoh's mind. When one's arrogance rises to the level of Pharaoh's, utter humiliation is the only solution. Humility is the recognition of one's own faults, realizing that one lacks the abilities of another person or God. As God destroys the foundation of Pharaoh's empire, the stubborn man learns humility. Due to his sins in Egypt and the wilderness, Moses learn humility by not going to the Promised Land. Many think modesty lessens the quality of a human's character, but this virtue contrarily enhances the human state. Without it, humans puts themselves on a pedestal. This arrogant thinking leads to the feeling of being superior to others. Following suit, the arrogance forces one to place him or herself above God, an impossible feat. The ability to seek help when needed is a key aspect of every great leader. President Obama fails to complete every governmental task alone, for every person excels in some realms and fails in others. Unfortunately, one must always keep their humility in check. While sheepishness improves a human's character, an abundance of humility is disastrous for one's self esteem. Life is an ongoing struggle between confidence and humility.

It is hypocritical of me to discuss humility, for I lack much of it in my own life. This conflict between arrogance and modesty is one I encounter daily. Last year, I lacked confidence. I was too humble, scolding myself on every exacting detail. Now, I exude confidence wherever I go, but sometimes it comes without restraint. Confidence is a blessing of success, but it also intimidates others. Self-pride leads to arrogance, and arrogance forces divine intervention, as seen in the parashat. God frowns upon the arrogant. To escape this inevitable fate, I must discover this balance. Music helps me uncover these internal faults. I find playing the drums difficult, for the number of things to keep in mind is unruly. While the basic percussionist only worries about playing rhythms correctly, one must remember dynamics, tempo, stick height, accents, and a number of other musical foes to truly produce music. Even when I play the drums well, I know some aspect of music lacked in my performance. The only way to improvement is through practicing and seeking help from experts. Keep humility in mind this week. Why do we criticize prior to complimenting when we observe others? As we go through this week, we should be especially aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses. The balance between humility and arrogance is a tough median to find, but only together can we avoid a horrible cry throughout the land of Egypt.
-Being aware of others strengths and weakness

Friday, January 20, 2012

Were the Occupy Wall Street Protests Successful?

Last week, I discussed the relationship between the Book of Exodus and Occupy Wall Street. In both instances, oppressed people's frustration resulted in civil protest. Moses and Aaron requested Pharaoh's liberation of the Jewish people in the name of God. On Wall Street, the 99% demanded the reformation of the plutocracy that was once their democracy. People across the United States called on the government to isolate themselves from corporations, for these activists felt politicians voted with companies in mind rather than people. While God sent ten plagues to change Pharaoh's mind, no deity helped these occupiers. Instead of hail and frogs, these protesters endured cold nights and pepper spray. Some say the message of the occupiers came across as unclear, but it seems that was just their intention. By camping out in the epicenter of capitalism, these men and women tried to express their feelings to the world. It is difficult to equate the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, for the politicians in Washington were not the root of their problem. This fall's protesters criticized the Americans values as represented across our society. They questioned the power of a bank to force somebody into the cold, the say an oil company deserves in environmentalism, and the reasoning that grants the Kardashians more tax cuts than a struggling state employee. Police forces banned the encampment at most of these sites, but these troubled Americans, like Aaron, God, and Moses, refused to quit. As the intensity of these protests stagnates, it is important to ask what affect, if any at all, these protests truly forced upon the rest of society.

Were the Occupy Wall Street protests successful? By the end of November, the protest sites degenerated into homeless shelters. The message that came across to the American public was disorganized. While we comprehended these people were the 99%, what did they want? Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, as celebrated this week, was clear. Moses presented a lucid argument to Pharaoh. The Occupy Movement is historically analogous to the revolutions that occurred in 1848 France. The protests at both times were sudden but overwhelmingly failed to change society. When the United Kingdom and Germany shifted the European balance of power, the French grew angry. They demanded revolution similar to 1789, but the Radicals closed their ears to liberals. The change flopped, but the anger remained. In terms of pushing legislation, Occupy Wall Street failed.

Were all those nights in Zuccotti Park a waste? Politicians poorly answered the demands of the protesters, but they heard the people's voice. Few protesters end unrecognized because they embody the people's frustration. While a clear message might help the occupiers progress, their opaqueness showed how many problems the American people battle. The protests inspired celebrities like Warren Buffet to call for action in Washington. Unlike 1848, Occupy Wall Street laid stepping stones that can lead to change. The French fight caused more anarchy than reformation. Throughout history, republics failed to represent their citizens. Now, the American people are taking initiative. Instead of waiting for Congress to wave their magic wand, the people want solutions as fast as they want their internet speed. The protests earned my support. The United States is a plutocracy, a country run by the rich for the rich. By camping in Manhattan, the people shoved this fact in front of the public. As with the Israelites in Egypt, sometimes protests need to bring physical change. Others fight to raise awareness. In the 1960's, the anti-war movement pushed congressional leaders to strategize the evacuation of Vietnam. It showed the frustration of the nation's citizens. Like those fighters who did not see results until 1971, I recommend the Occupy Wall Street Movement to continue their call for change. By prolonging their campaign, whether it be with tents, signs, Facebook, or any combination of the three, I will deem the Occupy Wall Street Movement a success.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Occupy the Goshen?

After the passing of Joseph, the Jews remain in Egypt. The Israelites proliferate, which causes Pharaoh to fear them joining forces with others rebels in an uprising. By this point, the new Pharaoh no longer remembers how Joseph saved Egypt. To ease his apprehension, Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites. He demands the execution of an entire generation of Israelite boys. While the Egyptians carry out this order, one baby survives. Jochebed, the mother of Moses, sends her son down the Nile River in a basket. The princess allegedly encounters Moses, and she raises him as her own son. As Moses observes his subjects as prince of Egypt, he stumbles upon an Egyptian mercilessly beating an Israelite. Enraged, Moses murders the overseer, hoping nobody sees this ordeal. Unfortunately, Moses' sin spreads throughout Egypt. Moses escapes to Midian where he works as a shepherd. One day, Moses takes his flock into the mountains. He notices a bush engulfed in flames but hardly burning. Through this bush, God talks to Moses. God commands Moses to return to Egypt and liberate the Jewish people. Moses attempts to convince God he is not worthy of such a task, but God refuses to listen. At first, Moses retorts he is unworthy of such a divine task. He also fears the Israelites' and Pharaoh's inability to believe God sent him. Finally, Moses complains how he speaks poorly, but in all these cases God's fidelity will be with him. Aaron and Moses meet in the desert, and they begin their ordeal with Pharaoh. Instead of freeing the Israelites, Pharaoh makes the workload heavier. Here, the story of exodus breaks. Unfortunately, the Israelites are no more excited of their possible liberation than the straw they must gather which was once supplied by Pharaoh.

Moses attempts to flee from the politics of Egypt. He recognizes the Egyptian treatment of Israelites is corrupt, yet Moses refuses to reform the system, even when he is in power. Many of us try to run away from the pressures of daily life in a similar way. Some of us handle stress better than others, yet we eventually all hide an issue until it supersedes that control and insists to burst. God finds Moses regardless of his location. Then, God commands Moses to rise to the occasion of saving the Israelites Most of our problems do not receive special attention from God, but they similarly haunt us. Like Moses, we try to make excuses to avoid our stresses, but the reality of the situation hardly seems to fade. Eventually, we all must confront our anxieties. While we cower with the thought of an upcoming test, one can only throughly study to truly relieve him or herself. Whether the test goes well or not, it arrives. Likewise, a relationship that should not last forever never does, but the breakup lingers until one of the members ends the failing romantic affair. The relief that follows the solution greatly outweighs the preceding tension. Problems should not dwell within oneself, but they should be methodically resolved, creating a better situation.

In their attempts to follow God's orders, Aaron and Moses light the spark to a revolution. While problems can be fled and solved on a personal level, we also must apply the lessons taught by Moses to society. The issues of the world are not stories made up by newscasters. When many people die in a battle, those people are real. Living in one of the world's most well-endowed nations blinds a number of Americans to the troubles of the modern world. We hear about an earthquake in Haiti and forget about it two years later, yet those Haitians remain impoverished. Journalists exposed large companies of child abuse, but we continue to buy clothes from these cruel corporations. When we are informed of a problem distasteful to us, we should set out to cure it. In 2011, a group of Americans decided to take to the streets and call this country and its corporations out for their corruption. Whether the occupy movement or any other protest is right or wrong in their message, they should be applauded for their exercise of their beliefs. PHaraoh and the NYPD tried to shut down their opposing movement, but like the burning burn, these rebels' passions never fatigued. God believed in keeping promises, so the Israelites absolutely needed to be freed from bondage. When the stresses of our personal or societal lives become too heavy a burden to bear, escape is not an option. Even in the mountains of Midian, God can find us.