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.