Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale (Lech Lecha 5778)

This blog is rated R.  Read at your own risk. 

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  It must be.  Otherwise there wouldn’t be free will.

Of my own free will I stayed home alone for Shabbos last Friday night.  The week was hectic, and after all the hoopla of being here for Simchas Torah, I thought it would be nice to have a break and a good night of sleep.

Candles were lit by the required time of 5:50pm. I sang Shalom Alechem – the song welcoming the angels.  I made Kiddush – which sanctifies the Sabbath.  Then I ate dinner.  Learned some Torah.  Drank wine.  I was asleep by 7P.  And I woke up at 11.  Not AM.  PM.   Wide wide awake. 

So I read more Torah.  I contemplated the events of the week – which included a flood on social media of “me too.” I debated how I was going to incorporate a survey I created on the subject – inspired by anger and frustration -- into a blog, since I said I would.  And I don’t like to be a liar. 

But after reading so many articles on the subject – the industry, male entitlement, victim blaming – I thought, it isn’t enough?  A cousin to the sentiment that inspired by survey in the first place. 

Tying the subject of sexual harassment to Parshach Noach would have been easy.  As Rebbetzin Yemima MIzrachi notes, it was a generation where “The sons of G-d saw the daughters of man, that they were good, and they took as wives as they pleased.”  Who were the “sons of G-d?” she asks. The people who thought they were superior. They did as they pleased.  “Might makes right.” 

Sound familiar? 

The opening of the Parsha says Noach says was a righteous man, perfect in his generation.  But given his generation, how good was he?  The commentaries say a lot about.  Some say that for his time, he was great.  But compared to Abraham?  No comparison. 

Abraham actively gets involved.  He tells people about G-d.  He and his wife Sarah Open their homes to strangers. And when G-d says, this city of Sodom is terrible, I want to destroy it, what does Abraham do?  He begs for the people who are good.  While Noah stayed silent. 

We have been hearing a lot about people who have stayed silent.  And about “open secrets.”  With article after article telling us “everybody knew.”  If everybody knew. . . who is responsible for a crime?  And what is the definition of gross vs. criminal?

Just a week before news outlets broke with creepy news, news outlets reported that Hugh Hefner passed away.  Resulting in friends bragging at that they had been at the Playboy Mansion.  Inciting jealousy that others couldn’t say “me too.”  Why is that brag worthy?  Because women chose to prostitute themselves for sexual advancement of their own free will? 

Which is why I don’t understand about the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

It’s a futuristic America.  Fertility rates have plummeted.  The government creates a world where women no longer have jobs, credit cards, their own money.  So those who are fertile can be taken by the rich and forced to make babies.  Wouldn’t capitalistic desires make it that for enough money, women would make babies of their own free will?

In a capitalistic society, people operate in a way that optimizes their personal gain.  Which is why for 30 years, “everybody knew.” Kept secret because everybody had something to gain by doing so.  Making people wonder -- is it that important to be a rich/famous Hollywood actor/director/writer/award winner? 

Yes.  Yes it is.  Otherwise Amazon would not be making TV shows.

The Handmaid’s Tale’s point was less about capitalism – more about religion.  In the “sex ceremony” – when the wife holds down the “handmaid” as the husband. . . rapes her, he quotes this from the Genesis/Bereshit:    

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.  And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. 

Making the bible look really bad.  

As it neared 3A as I read through Lech Lecha, I realized there is another part of the bible that says pretty much the same thing. 

Now Sarai, Abrahm’s wife, had borne him no children.  She had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  And Sarai said to Abrahm, “See now, Hashem has restrained me from bearing;  consort, now, with my maidservant, perhaps I will be built up through her.”  And Abrahm heeded the voice of Sarai.  (Bereshit 16:1-2)

Making me wonder – what exactly is this Handmaid’s Tale? 

The way I learned it, Hagar did have a son with Abraham.  His name was Ishmael, who is the great-great grandfather of Muslims.  Later Sarah miraculously has a son with Abraham, named Issac, who is the great-great-grandfather of the Jewish people.  And this is why there will never be peace in the Middle East. 

Because I learned this subject through the lens of the Torah, I wanted the opportunity to learn it through the lens of the Quoran.  So I bought one.  But never opened it until this middle of the night Shabbat. 

I was surprised by it’s structure.  I thought it would read like a story-book much like the Torah.  I thought I would see the same scenes through a different point of view – much like one would watch Showtime’s The Affiar.  But it wasn’t like that at all.  It read like Albert Camus-like stream of consciousness.  And I had a hard time finding Hagar’s story, even with the index.  Or even the single name of a woman. 

So I turned to the section called “Women” and was surprised when I read this:

4:34:  Husbands should take good care of their wives, with [the bounties] G-d has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money.  Righteous wives are devout and guard what G-d would have them guard in their husband’s absence.  If you fear high-handedness from your wife’s, remind them [of the teachings of G-d], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them.

Hit them? 

The footnotes say this:  high-handedness applies to a situation where one partner assumes superiority to the other and behaves accordingly.  The hit signifies a single slap – and refers me to Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an. 

That’s when I decided to spend more time understanding the Torah. 

Rashi’s commentary on Lech Lecha reminded me of this:  And Abraham heeded his wife Sarah. 

The Torah tells us that he listened to her.  The Torah tells us she was a greater prophet than Abraham.  The Torah tells us there is a her.  Critical to the genesis of the Jewish people. Rabbis say Abraham composed Aishet Chayil – Women of Valor – as a euology to his wife Sarah.  And it became a custom or men to sing this to their wives on Friday nights to express their love and appreciation for their women. 

And Abraham heeded his wife Sarah. 

In recent weeks women of the world made their voices heard.  Some with shocking revelations.  Some by posting me too.  Some by responding to my survey.  Here’s what happened:  

36 people took the survey.  2 of them were men. 

Of the women who responded:
·        -- Most (71%) thought the me too posts makes a power statement about the prevalence of sexual harassment; interestingly, 9% didn’t like them, 9% only like the posts if there were stories of actual harassment, 6% think it’s anti-men, and 6% indicated “The posts make me unfavorable”.  I meant for that to say uncomfortable.    
·       -- 29% of women think a female Facebook friend saying the me too posts are a badge of honor is an insult to women (this is what inspired the survey); 18% said they got the sentiment, but couldn’t believe it was on Facebook, and 6% said they agree.  So I guess the original poster and her friends were right that a group of women felt that way. 
·       -- 1 in 3 posted “me too” on Facebook.  Implying that 1 in 3 were sexually assaulted or harassed.  Much debate has arisen over what “me too” means.  Is it a catcall?  Or a crime that would make for an episode of Law & Order:  SVU?

Shabbat will again be upon us in less than 24 hours.  This week I have proper plans Friday night, to avoid being awake between the hours of 11PM and 6AM, Reading the Torah, the Quoran, and back-issues of the New Yorker.  I’d say it was a fairly good use of free will.  An even better one will be when my soul mate finds me and on Friday nights sings Aishet Chayil. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Winds of Change (Elul 5777)

Since my father passed away, I’ve taken it upon myself to read park bench inscriptions which more often than not, commemorate the lives of friends, family, and loved ones.  Putting me in deep contemplation mode, thinking about my friends, family, and loved ones.  Wondering who the people are that I will touch and be touched by most deeply, please G-d until 120, to inspire a park bench inscription. 

This mode feels contrary to the last few days of summer, yet quite appropriate for the time on the Jewish calendar:  Elul.  The month before Rosh Hashanah, the day of Judgment not just for the Jewish people, but for the entire world.

Historically, this has been a time of trepidation, with complete awe and acknowledgment that as much as we like to control personal and world events, so much is out of our hands.   And often follows an unpredictable course.  Just looking back at this past year we saw:   

·       The election of Donald Trump as President of the Untied States – much to the chagrin and surprise of liberals across America – and some Trump voters too
·       The Cubs winning the world series after 108 years in tie-breaking 10th inning overtime – ending what Major League Baseball called the longest drought in professional sports
·       The New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history
·       A never before made Oscars mistake that led to the producers of La La Land announcing the true winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Moonlight

All lending credence to this quote from the Gemara:

Never give up hope even when there is a sword on your neck. -- Berachot 10a

Was all that decreed on Rosh Hashanna? 

According to Jewish theology, the answer is yes.   Which just adds one more layer to the age-old question about fate vs. free will.  Answered by our fathers: 

Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. -- Pirkei Avot 3:19

It’s something my father used to say all the time.  Not in those words exactly.  He would say “it’s programmed in.”  Yet at the same time he would often say “it’s up to you.”  Meaning – we don’t know what’s programmed it so we still have to make choices.  And we can only do so with the best information that’s available at the time. 

The time when my father went to the hospital was the 7th day of Passover.  The 7th day of Passover commemorates the day of the splitting of the sea.  It’s a day of miracles.  It was a miracle my father didn’t die that day based on what we learned at the hospital about his condition.  

He needed a new heart valve, and three major arteries were between 97-99% blocked.  My father kept speaking about the “collaterals” compensating, which I thought he was something he made up.  He didn’t. 

They can be thought of as the heart’s ‘back-up system’ as they are essentially invisible until activated, when they can enlarge their diameters in order to carry significant blood flow and bypass blockages. 

Which right there is proof of G-d. 

The doctors at the first hospital said he needed open-heart surgery.  My dad wanted a second opinion and a shot at a less invasive procedure.   It was his freedom of choice to do so.   Yet those first doctors foresaw the outcome for sure. 

Despite them being “right” – I feel like in many ways the last few months of my father’s life played out with divine intervention.  And gave my family tremendous opportunity to to spend time with my dad we wouldn’t have otherwise had. 

If I had the same level of clarity of G-d’s intervention in other areas of my life, I would never find myself crying about work or boys. Of course it’s easy to have clarity looking back.  When we were in the middle of trying to decide which course of treatment for my dad, things weren’t so clear at all.

It reminds me of something my dad used to say about marriage.  From my vantage point, because it hasn’t happened yet, it looks like a giant mountain to climb. But when looking back, after it’s happened, it will seem like a tiny hill.  

My dad said really awesome things all the time.

Part of me wondered what he would have said about the Eclipse.  If he would have marveled at its wonder, or just thought it was too much hype.  He definitely would have said it was a bad idea if I mentioned I contemplated driving to South Carolina to see it.  He was very much against situations involving long-distance driving and sitting in traffic.  

This is how he saw the world.  We all have our ways of seeing the world.  More often than not, we act like our way of seeing the world is programmed in. 

Tuesday night I went to a Torah class in Manhattan, probably the best Torah class I’ve been to since moving to Manhattan.  The Rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Sherman of WSIS, challenged me to see the world a bit differently. 

He started with this question:  Why do we read Psalm 47 before the blowing of the Shofar?  I loved that I didn’t know the answer.  I knew an answer.  Just not his answer. 

The Psalm starts:  For the Conductor, by the sons of Korah, a Song. (47:1).  What is notable about this Psalm?  It wasn’t written by David. 

King David is famously known as the author of Tehillim.  Yet 3 of the 150 were authored by the sons of Korach.  And Korach, according to the bible, was despicable. 

He organized a rebellion against Moshe.  He saw everything Moshe did as a sign that he was trying to usurp power, not be a true representative of G-d.  In the end Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth.  And his sons? 

Apparently they wrote three Tehillim. 

The Gemara in Sanhedrin – still quoting Rabbi Sherman – said that in the swallowed earth – some version of Hell, Korach’s sons could be hear saying this:  Moses and Torah are truth, and they, referring to themselves, are liars. 

Meaning, it’s never too late to see things differently. 

There is a famous Jewish quote from the Gemara Rosh Hashanah 16b, change your place, change your luck.  We think it means physical place.  Sometimes it does.  It can also mean our vantage point too.   

Another famous quote says insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Which means insanity is seeing things the same way over and over and expecting things to be different.      

Since my father’s passing, I have seen him differently.  I have heard stories from the women he worked with, how much they loved working for him, how much his patients loved him – something I would have never have known since my dad was not emotive in that sort of way.  I saw him buried with military honors, and a man presenting my brother with a meticulously folded flag and words starting with this:  “On behalf of the President of the United States. . . “ 

I saw his 9-year old grandson, my nephew, spontaneously deliver a eulogy for him, with no notes, acknowledging the good things my father did for him.

My father was so much holier and more awesome than I ever realized.  A viewpoint solidified when my brother told me a story that in one of the minyanim, a service that my brother leads daily to say a special mourner’s prayer, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisroel Meier Lau, was in attendance. 

How in the world did that happen? 

Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven (Berachot 33b).  

The word for fear in Hebrew is yirah.  Also translated to awe.  Also related to the word Re’eh, to see.  We fear things based on how we see them.  And we are in awe of things based on how we see them too. 

My goal this Rosh Hashanna is change the way I see things.  It was during the eclipse pandemonium that I freaked out that I might have damaged my eyes, contemplating how difficult life would be if I was unable to physically see.  Now is the time when I need to get a grasp on how hard life is when I can’t spiritually see.  My goal this Rosh Hashanah is to let G-d know that I want to see things with the right lenses. 

The Scorpions remind me:

The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

And world events remind that too much wind will Rock you Like a Hurricane.   

May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good and sweet new year!