Cosmological Koans for Katrina

 

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From the News Center at UC Santa Cruz:  “In his new book, Cosmological Koans: A Journey to the Heart of Physical Reality”, physicist Anthony Aguirre explores deep questions about the nature of reality, using an approach inspired by Zen koans to take the reader on a thought-provoking tour of the cosmos and the core ideas of modern physics.

In Zen Buddhism, koans are short parables or questions meant to confront the practitioner with the inadequacy of conventional concepts and habits of thought. Similarly, Aguirre’s “cosmological koans” confront the reader with the unexpected nature of the world as described by physics and the mind-boggling ways in which it differs from our subjective experience or intuitive understanding of things.

‘I wanted to convey that sense of mystery and wonder that comes from seeing reality in a new way,’ said Aguirre, a professor of physics and holder of the Faggin Family Presidential Chair for the Physics of Information at UC Santa Cruz.

The book covers a wide range of topics, woven together with a fictional story line that recounts a journey from Italy to Japan. Multiple universes, the nature of time, the meaning of quantum theory, and entropy and information are among the subjects explored in short chapters that manage to convey mind-bending ideas in a way that is accessible and entertaining.

The topics include some of the most challenging open questions in cosmology and physics, as well as concepts that have long been settled science yet remain disturbingly counterintuitive. With respect to the enduring mystery of time, for example, Einstein showed that there is no universal ‘now’—in other words, different observers can have different perceptions of whether two events are simultaneous.”

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Let’s explore the concept of time a bit further.  In Chapter 28, p. 210, Professor Aguirre writes that you don’t see the world as it is now, whether that “now” is cosmic or not.  The world you see around you is the world as it was in the past.  Viewing the leaf falling from a tree 50 meters away, you see the tree as it was 167 nanoseconds ago.

What does “now” mean?  In other words how do we define the present as distinct from the past or the future?  It’s a timeless question borne of metaphysics as much as physics.  As soon as you stop to identify that now is now, the moment has already passed into the past.  Perhaps the closest we can come is envisioning a pause button as the label for a given “time t” that occurs as an event in a particular space at a specific time.  But as we know, within our physical framework, there is no pause button.  The arrow of time is always moving forward.  The instant we reflect on the present it becomes the past, and the future is the next moment in time.

So if identifying the present is nearly a fleeting impossibility, would we have the audacity to imagine a perfect moment in time?  Art Garfunkel believes we can, and who am I to disagree?

In chapter 30, p. 226, Professor Aguirre turns his attention to the thorny question of Theodicy, or why a designer would create a world of beauty such as ours while allowing for unimaginable levels of pervasive suffering.   This leads the good professor to contemplate the multiverse, and that the universe we inhabit is one among many – merely the one that is most inhabitable to us.  That thinking is in line with Leibniz, who imagined this to be the “best” universe not just in terms of good outweighing evil, but also as the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.

Chapter 31, The Floating Gardens, prompted me to get even more whimsical than usual. From a biblical standpoint, and the Old Testament in particular, the most significant “uni-verse” is the first verse.  (Might we consider this a Cosmological “Cohen” as opposed to a “Koan”?)  It reads:  בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

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בְּרֵאשִׁית – in the beginning.   The beginning of what?  Time would seem to be the essence.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים – God created.  The apparent conflict between “God” in the plural, and “created” in the singular.

אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ – The heavens and the earth.  Note the singularity of the earth and the multiplicity of the heavens, not to mention “the two aces”.

So by now you may be wondering, who is Katrina?  In chapter 50, p. 355, Professor Aguirre takes note of the host of dichotomies he has assailed us with:  Us and Them.  Self and Other.  East and West.  Katrina is a young woman in the service industry I encounter in her role as a barista at Starbucks in the morning and as a waitress at Martell’s Tiki Bar in the evening, a dichotomy in its own right.  She took an interest in what I was reading one morning – it was Cosmological Koans – which led to a conversation about East/West and the Yoga which got shoved down to the bottom of my bucket list.

Starbucks of course asks for your first name if you order anything but regular coffee.  Originally I gave my name as Len, but for some reason the baristas kept hearing “Glen”.  I got tired of correcting them, and so Glen I became for the purposes of my morning routine.  When Katrina waited on Miriam and me and at Martell’s, my “real” name came to the surface.  “If you’re Len, be Len” she said.  Sounds like a cosmological koan to me.

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Rock’s Most Intriguing Supergroup

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A “supergroup” in rock music is generally taken to be a formidable band whose front members have achieved fame in their own right.  The subtitle of David Browne’s new book on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young claims that they are rock’s greatest supergroup, and it’s hard to argue with that assertion.  If Browne’s book doesn’t convince you of that, it will at least shed light on what made these four musicians. each stars in their own right before, during and after CSN&Y, so incredibly in intriguing as a foursome.  As he writes, “each sang in a distinctive voice and had a songwriting style his own, yet still managed to create a unified sound together”.

First let’s remind ourselves of the musical origins of the iconic group members.  Stephen Stills and Neil Young came out of Buffalo Springfield, with their best known hit the haunting For What It’s Worth.

Stills and Young reunited as Buffalo Springfield at the Fox Theater on June 2, 2011 to do an hour and a half set live, that included For What It’s Worth at the 1:18:40 mark of this video:

Graham Nash emerged from the Hollies, and had the high voice of the harmony ladder that would make CSN&Y so unique in the range of their vocal blends.  My personal Hollies favorite was Bus Stop.

Allan Clarke was the lead singer of the Hollies, and in 2011 he joined Graham Nash to sing Bus Stop at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with David Crosby joining in.

David Crosby formed CSN&Y after being kicked out of the Byrds’ nest by Roger McGuinn. Their biggest hit was written by Pete Seeger in the late ’50s, but the lyrics of course were lifted largely from Ecclesiastes.

Here is Crosby doing Turn, Turn, Turn at The City Winery in New York City on January 29, 2014, as recorded “from down under”.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were best known as the vowels of Rock n’ Roll because they were C, S, N, and sometimes Y.  It was Cass Elliot, of the Mamas & Papas, who encouraged Crosby & Stills to get together (they were known as The Frozen Noses due to their cocaine habit) and their mutual friend, John Sebastian suggested that Graham Nash would be a perfect complement to the new band they were looking to form.  It was in mid 1968, at the home of  Joni Mitchell – a paramour of both Crosby and Nash – when Graham Nash first sang together with Crosby and Stills.  Listening to a song that Steven had just written, “You Don’t Have to Cry”, Graham offered to add his harmony, and the mellifluous sound of Crosby, Stills and Nash was born.

At that moment, to paraphrase another song on the first album (Helplessly Hoping), they were one person who were two alone while being three together and for each other.  Although it seems obvious in hindsight that these three together had something special, Browne relates that George Harrison and Peter Asher, in charge of procuring talent for Apple Records, dropped by Nash’s apartment in London to hear the trio play acoustically and decided to pass on signing them.  “They didn’t get it”, Crosby related.  “Everyone makes mistakes.  They made a mistake.  We were good.”

The group formally formed at the end of 1968, and the songs for the first album were finalized in March, 1969 and released in May.  The album was dominated by contributions from Stills, and inspired by his tumultuous relationship with Judy Collins, most notably Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.  They decided to use their names for the band, like a law firm (though not in alphabetical order), signifying that they were free to work on independent projects at any time.  They made their public debut in Chicago’s Auditorium Theater on August 16, 1969, and were already big enough to command the second highest pay day for appearing at Woodstock two days later. They were stardust and they were golden and, and they would manage to get themselves back to the Garden in 2009 to commemorate that special event.

 

When CSN looked to add a bass player, they considered Steve Winwood (involved in his own supergroup with Eric Clapton, Blind Faith) and John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, but they both declined.  Ahmet Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records, suggested that they invite Neil Young to join, and the sometimes Y was born.  It’s fair to say that Young was the least committed to staying with the band, and his tendency to drift away was fueled by the fact that he enjoyed the most success as an independent artist.  Very little of what Crosby, Stills, or Nash did independently could be considered commercially viable.  Their eggs would always remain most productive when pooled in the CSN basket.  In contrast, Young enjoyed a significant following and financial windfall with classics such as My My Hey Hey, Rockin’ in the Free World, and Harvest Moon.

As far as we know, Neil never blew his mind out in a car, but he’s the only one of CSN&Y to continuously record with the same band (Crazy Horse) independent of the group from 1969 ’til today, with a wide range of covers such as this rendition of A Day in the Life during which he blew the strings off his guitar on stage with Sir Paul McCartney.

CSN&Y followed up their debut album with Déjà Vu, which would turn out to be prophetic on several levels.  The band would experience a volatile existence in the ensuing years, with breakups due to Young’s exiting and entering and most notably Crosby’s terrible drug addiction, punctuated by periodic reunions for benefit concerts and sometimes just the need to pay bills.  After all, Alan Dershowitz doesn’t come cheap, and he was one of the attorneys who helped keep Crosby’s prison time to a minimum after he was busted.

In Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet initially notes that some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s nobody’s fault.  He then faces the reality that while some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, now he thinks, – hell it could be my fault.  And finally owning responsibility that while some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, I know, it’s my own damn fault.  While no one takes direct responsibility for the initial breakup of CSN&Y, David Crosby lays the blame squarely on Rita Coolidge who Browne suggests in a strange way might be considered the Yoko Ono of CSN&Y.  Although some have claimed that it was the failed triangle between Coolidge, Stills and Nash that put a fault line between the band’s unifying forces, others insist that it was the band members’ own damn fault.  Although the band’s joint existence has been plagued by excesses and disagreements, there’s no doubt that their original CSN album and CSN&Y’S Déjà Vu are two of the sweetest compilations of music you’ll find anywhere.

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Arizona Fall League 2019 Preview

After a month long tease during which the Arizona Fall League revealed the name of only one player per day as a sneak preview, the entire rosters were released this afternoon.

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I must say that the Phillies prospects who will once again play on the Scottsdale Scorpions are the best group I’ve seen on paper since coming to this Field of Dreams in Arizona.  Joining top prospects from the Braves, Mets, Giants, and Blue Jays on the Scorpions, will be the following players:

  1. Alec Bohm – having just turned 23, Alec was a a 1st round draft pick of the Phils last year who primarily plays 3B but is also listed at 1B.  At 6’5″ he’s projected to play like Kris Bryant, but will have to prove in the Fall League that he can live up to that billing.  He breezed through A ball in Lakewood and Clearwater, but has hit .268/.843 at double A Reading.  While respectable, those aren’t head-turning #s for Reading’s hitting-friendly park.  If Bohm has a dynamite AFL showing, he could be given the chance to win the major league job at third base in spring training.  If he struggles, chances are he’ll open the season in Lehigh Valley at triple A.
  2. Spencer Howard – the same age as Bohm, Howard was a 2nd round draft pick in 2017.  Interestingly he put up pedestrian pitching stats at Lakewood but has stepped it up a notch this year with impressive #s in Clearwater and again at Reading.  Rumor is that Howard might be a September call-up for the Phils, which would knock him out of the first few weeks of the AFL, but alot of speculation is involved.  Howard was shut down for nearly two months with shoulder soreness at the beginning of the season.  If the Phils are still in the Wild Card playoff race, Howard is unlikely to start.  Having him come out of the pen without building up to that role isn’t the best formula.
  3. Mickey Moniak – I blogged about The Mick a bit in spring,   As the #1 overall player selected in the 2016 draft out of high school, he’s still young at age 21.  Although he’s shown a bit of power at Reading, his .254/.746 slash line isn’t quite what you’d expect from a #1 overall pick.  So the Fall League is going to be a big test for The Mick, much as it will be for Alec Bohm.  The Phils will be looking for him to cut down on his strikeouts, and to bump up that .306 on-base percentage.
  4. JoJo Romero – a 4th round pick in 2016, JoJo will turn 23 on September 9.  Suffice it to say that he has much to prove in the Fall League, given his struggle in transitioning from AA to AAA this year.  Left-handed pitchers are given more time to mature, but Romero’s astronomical 7.35 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, and .318 BA against surely raised a giant red flag.  So JoJo will  have much to prove in Arizona.
  5. Nick Maton –  a rangy infielder at 6’2″, Nick was a 7th round draft pick who seems to alot of excessive movement at the plate.  Although putting putting up a decent slash line of .276/.738 at Clearwater, he struggled to keep up the pace in Reading where his slashed .239/.731.  Apparently he pronounces his name Ma-tahn (as in baton – the type you twirl).  Nick’s performance will help decided whether he goes back to AA this year.  Having turned 22 in February, there won’t be any rush to move him up to AAA.
  6. Connor Seabold – a right handed pitcher who was a third round draft pick in 2017, Connor will turn 24 in January.  Connor struggled a bit last year when taking the step up from Clearwater to Reading.  But when he repeated at Reading this year he showed considerable growth.  With a fastball that is often in the 80s, and at best tops out around 90, it will be interesting to see how Seabold can handle the more savvy hitters he’ll face in the AFL.

The Fall League made several changes to the schedule this year.  One is that the off days are distributed throughout the week instead of always on Sunday.  The second is that most of the games will have a start time of  6:30 instead of the 12:30 start times common in previous years.  The most significant change is that the start of the six week season was moved forward several weeks, now beginning September 18.  The rationale give is that baseball teams will have an easier time transitioning into the Fall League rather than shutting down operations and re-booting in mid-October.  Personally I’d be concerned that this puts more wear and tear on young pitchers.  The minor league season ends on September 2, which means only a very short rest before having to ramp it up again for six weeks.  Time will tell how successful these changes are.

Update 09/04/2019: A 7th Phils’ prospect has been added to the Scorpions, Josh Stephen.  Josh is a left-handed bat who plays left field for the Reading Fightins.  Drafted in the 11th round out of high school in 2016, he has shown mediocre numbers until this years.  Interestingly he went straight from Lakewood low A to Reading AA, bypassing Clearwater’s high A.  Someone must have sensed that he was ready for that jump in development, as he enjoyed his best year in 2019 putting up a slash line of .271/.826.  He’ll turn 22 on September 22, and adds to the bumper crop of this year’s farm products to keep an eye on in the Fall League.

Update 09/13/2019: The 8th and final Phils’ prospect has now been aded to the Scorpions, Zach Warren, a 23 year-old local kid from Vineland, New Jersey.  A 17th round draft pick in 2017, Zach is a 6’5″ left-handed reliever who  put up nice numbers in Lakewood in 2018, and this year in Clearwater.  Here is a nice interview done with Zach that gives some background on his selection to the AFL roster, and his thoughts on what playing Fall ball in Arizona means.

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The Numerology of Nine as Nuanced by Rav Y.Y. Jacobson

Growing up in Philadelphia I recall the esteem in which New York’s doubly initialed J.J. Schachter was held, a prodigy two years older than I who would become well known in Orthodox Jewish circles.  That may be superficially why the doubly initialed Y.Y. Jacobson’s name stuck with me the first time I heard it, but the deeper reason is the breadth of his intellectual reach.

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Consider for example this press release from the Duke University School of Law, in 2004:

“The Judaic Themes in American Law Speaker Program hosts Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson on Thursday, Feb. 26, to discuss “What Role Does Religion (God) Play in The Courtroom.” During his talk, Rabbi Jacobson will re-examine the Ten Commandments case from a Jewish perspective on separation of church and state, and discusses the case pending in the Supreme Court concerning removal of the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance …

Rabbi Jacobson, one of the most sought after Jewish speakers in the world today, has lectured to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences on six Continents. A teacher of Jewish law and Kabbalah at the Rabbinical College Covevay Torah in New York, Rabbi Jacobson’s weekly Internet essays on Judaism, mysticism and psychology are read by tens of thousands the world over. An exceptional orator, he has touched thousands with his deep, intuitive grasp of the human condition and his remarkable ability to explain the ancient Jewish wisdom of the mystical texts and inspire his listeners with its relevance to their daily lives. His lectures throughout Asia, Israel, Europe, Australia, South Africa, North and South America were attended by many thousands, who flocked to listen to Jacobson’s profound thoughts peppered with an incredible sense of humor.”

It is with that background that I share with you a remarkable video forwarded by my sister-in-law Ruthi, of a presentation by Rabbi Jacobson that is nearly two hours in length.  The YouTube tag line reads: As Moshe was About to Say Goodbye, He Left His People with Nine Life-Changing Insights. This women’s class was presented for the Torah portion of Devarim and the 9 Days, based on a commentary by the Ohr Hachaim, Rabbi Chaim ben Atar, on Devarim. The class was presented on Tuesday, 5 Av, 5779, August 6, 2019 at the Ohr Chaim Shul, Monsey, NY.

A transcription of the video is beyond my pay grade, but permit me to share with you a few of the highlights as I experienced them (in the vein of a speaker saying: “I want to share a few words with you …”).

If you want to meet a person at a specified location, you might pinpoint that spot with a few references, signs, or landmarks.  This will give the individual more confidence that they have arrived, as GPS would say, at their final destination.  Parenthetically, Rav Jacobson’s brother told him that he stopped using GPS years ago after driving to a cemetary, when the satellite’s voice announced “You have reached your final destination”.

But imagine someone telling you a story about a location, and using nine different reference points to describe it.  A bit excessive, wouldn’t you say?  Yet that is precisely what happens in the opening verse of the weekly Torah portion of Devarim (Deuteronomy):

“אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר משֶׁה֙ אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּעֵ֖בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן בַּמִּדְבָּ֡ר בָּֽעֲרָבָה֩ מ֨וֹל ס֜וּף בֵּֽין־פָּארָ֧ן וּבֵֽין־תֹּ֛פֶל וְלָבָ֥ן וַֽחֲצֵרֹ֖ת וְדִ֥י זָהָֽב”

“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel #1) on that side #2) of the Jordan #3) in the desert, #4) in the plain  #5) opposite the Red Sea,  between #6) Paran and Tofel and #7) Lavan and #8) Hazeros and #9) Di Zahav.”

Only later would the Torah say the location where Moshe (Moses) delivered his farewell address to the nation was actually in Moav.  Here, the iconic commentator Rashi notes, the Torah is speaking in code – referring to prior significant messages of rebuke that Moshe delivered in his monumental career as a leader.  Then comes the more elaborate commentary of the Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh – another great luminary on the Torah, written by Rabeinu Chayim Ibn Attar, born in Morocco in 1696, and considered one of the greatest teachers of his day on a vast range of topics and issues, despite living only until his 40s.  Let’s take a look at how the Ohr Hachayim explains this first pasuk (sentence) of Devarim.

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“In one small verse, Moshe taught the Jewish people the general principles of Fear of G-d, and the appropriate characteristics that those who walk in the way of G-d ought to cultivate and internalize in their life, and they consist of nine steps.”  Why does Moshe pick this juncture to provide a blueprint on how to live?  Most likely because he sensed that his time was coming to an end.  It was five weeks before his passing, and he knew that Joshua, his successor would be leading the people into the Land of Israel.  The Ohr Hachayim takes each key word in the first verse and decodes the message Moshe was trying to convey.  The source material has been posted on yeshiva.net, and what follows is largely R. Jacobson’s exposition.

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#1: בְּעֵ֖בֶר –  a code advising Jews to emulate Avraham (Abraham) “Haivri”.  That is why the original name of the Jews, patterned after  was “Ivrim” or “Hebrews”.  Avraham came from the other side of the Jordan (present day Iraq) and crossed into Canaan.  He was a contrarian, relative to the rest of the world, in giving unconditional love.  He saw love everywhere he went, and cultivated it.  For some individuals, that attribute comes more naturally than others.  R. Jacobson touches upon predisposing and epigenetic factors – how we were educated, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves – but when you have to choose, as you must ultimately take responsibility or your own actions, choose the path of love not detachment.

#2: הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן – This is a reference to Tractate Brahcos (p. 7) which states that one statement of sincerity or internal moment of awakening (the word stemming from the root of “yered”), is superior to 100 lashes coercing someone to adopt your point of view,.  This is the modern day equivalent of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, and R. Jacobson notes that it applies to children, employees, and acquaintances no less than it does to one’s self.  There is no substitute for sincerity.

#3: בַּמִּדְבָּ֡ר – which literally means “in the dessert”, refers to the attribute of humility.  A dessert is raw, naked, barren, authentic, humble.  It is a place of truth, unadorned by beautiful landscapes or the cosmopolitanism of urban centers.  The Torah was given in the dessert because the dessert is ownerless.  That symbolism speaks to the fact that it is accessible to everyone.

#4: בָּֽעֲרָבָה֩ – of which there are several roots.  One is from the root “arev” meaning sweet.  Humility should be sweet, so that it promotes real growth and connection.  Guard against  self-deprecation to the point of emotional paralysis or numbness.   “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh” – all of Israel is intermingled, with common threads that should prompt caring and concern for other individuals.  We are guarantors for one another, and that obligation should reflect encouragement more than judgementalism.  Maintain a voice of social consciousness and responsibility.

#5: מ֨וֹל ס֜וּף – means “facing the end”.  The Ohr Hachayim says this means maintaining perspective.  See long term.  Be willing, at appropriate times, to contemplate mortality.  Can you really make peace with your mortality?  King David, as captured in Tehilim, beseeched G-d to allow him to know the end of his days:  “לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע”  Facing the reality of your life enables you, in a paradoxical way, to maximize each day as you align your life with eternity.

R. Jacobson does not conceive of death as the ultimate finality because the soul, the body’s life force, is an element of G-d.  Think therefore of what we call death as the unplugging of the soul from its body, almost as one might think of a discarded refrigerator.  The fridge no longer has electricity coursing through its parts.  But the electricity that previously flowed supplied it still exists.  The force of electricity doesn’t die.  It has simply reverted to its origin; to its source.  Life is divine electricity that is allowed to be manifest through our body over a certain period of time.

This struck me in terms of not only the question of what constitutes being alive from the medicolegal perspective, but the concept of the electrochemical forces that exist within our bodies, most notably the heart and the brain.

#6: בֵּֽין־פָּארָ֧ן וּבֵֽין־תֹּ֛פֶל – “Paran” is from “P’ehr” which means beauty and “Tofel” means something raw in need of repair.  Live a life in between the extremes; between glory on one side, and awareness of everything that still requires repair on the other side – so that you never become stagnant.  Be discreet in sharing your misfortunes; others don’t want to indulge self-pity disguised as a balm for discontent.  Celebrate life and invite room for growth.  Seek improvement rather than perfection.  I am fond of quoting a wise patient who said to me many years ago: “You don’t have to make it perfect, Doc.  You just have to make it better.”

#7: וְלָבָ֥ן – “lavan” means white.  Keep your heart white, pure, and innocent.  Sometimes you will see others through a lens or mirror that isn’t a reflection of who you could or should be.  It can be challenging to retain one’s self-identity.  Take the classic example of Yosef (Joseph) whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Miraculously working his way through the system, he becomes a person of power in Pharoh’s court where he ultimately crossed paths again with his brothers.

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When Yosef revealed his identity he said: “I am Yosef your brother, who you sold in Egypt.”  The Ohr Hachayim points out that these descriptors were not a reminder for the brothers, who knew full well what they had done, but for Yosef himself as a way of reconnecting with his sensitive side despite the trappings of his position and power.  This reminded R. Jacobson about the legendary sensitivity of R. Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.  He told the story about a man in Pinsk who tried to sabotage the Berditchever in his pulpit position by setting him up with several “L’Chaims” on Erev Yom Kippur ostensibly to make peace.  Expecting the Rabbi to be a no-show, and disgracefully drummed out of town, he was floored when the the Berditchever showed up right on schedule for Kol Nidre.

When the Ma’ariv service was over, the Berdicthever led the congregation in the communal repetition of  verses of Tehilim.  When he came to Chapter 41, verse 12, he read: בְּזֹ֣את יָ֖דַעְתִּי כִּֽי־חָפַ֣צְתָּ בִּ֑י כִּ֚י לֹֽא־יָרִ֖יעַ אֹֽיְבִ֣י עָלָֽי.  “How do I know, G-d, that you like me?  Because you won’t let my enemies be victorious over me”.  But then he repeated the phrase in Yiddish three times, putting his own spin on the translation: “G-d, how do I know that you love me?  Because you will not let my enemy suffer because of what he wanted to do to me.”  Although his nemesis had a heart of stone, he still had a heart.  Realizing how pure the Berditchev was, he publicly asked the great Rabbi for forgiveness.  Sometimes people can’t know who others are until they free themselves from the haze of their own toxicity.   

It isn’t likely that any of us can operate on the level of consciousness of the Berditchev, but we can strive to do better in terrms of shedding grudges and negative energy.  Engage with the beauty that is in this world.  Don’t allow your enemies to live in your head rent-free.  Pursue a clear conscience, and let go of the agony and pain of grudges.

#8: וַֽחֲצֵרֹ֖ת – courtyards of learning.   Never stop immersing yourself in learning and in growth.  Internalize G-d’s wisdom in your mind.  A great scholar in Judaism is not called a “chacham”, a wise man.  A great scholar is a ‘talmid chacham”, a lifelong learner and student of wisdom.

#9: וְדִ֥י זָהָֽב – which means, enough gold.  One should tell the gold “enough”, enabling you to celebrate over what you have, as if you already have all the gold.  Don’t wait until tomorrow to start living life to its fullest.  Learn to see the cup as half full;  to focus on the bagel and not on the hole.  Be more bagel-istic and less hole-istic.  It’s often a matter of perspective that will provide you with a sense of contentment rather than defining your life by what you don’t yet have.

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Harper’s Heroics

Last night’s 9th inning comeback capped by Bryce Harper’s walk-off grand slam had to be one of the most exciting regular season finishes for the Phillies in their long history for several reasons, not the least because they’re riding the feel-good vibes of Charlie Manuel returning to the dugout in the capacity of hitting coach as the club’s pursuit of a wild card playoff spot appeared tenuous at best.

Topps wasted no time in making a great commemorative card of the occasion available.

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The Phillies have struggled to string wins together this year, their longest win streak being four games.  They did that to open the season, and twice subsequently, and will try to duplicate that tonight vs. the Padres after sweeping the Cubs at home.  As unlikely as it is that the Phils will go on a sustained run, the finish last night was a reminder that anything is possible.

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And the Daughters Shall Inherit

This week’s Torah reading, the double-header that finishes the fourth book, finishes with the well known episode of בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד.  The daughters petitioned and were granted the right to inherit their father’s property in the absence of sons as heirs, albeit with the caveat that they retain property right if they marry within the fold of their father’s tribe. Wikipedia depicts their plea with the following graphic:

The Daughters

But my incomparable friend, Jeffrey Packard, presents a more intimate and nuanced portrait of the five daughters on his facebook page.  Packard’s depiction captures the spirit of what might have gone on behind the scenes.  He writes that the five sisters lost their father, and something had to be done.

Packard Daughters

While the sisters have become emblematic of women’s rights, we can envision that they each had their own personality and perspective that had to be melded into a unified approach.  There likely was fuzziness at the boundaries of this story, as commentaries to the Torah hint on the matter.

In reply to one of his many facebook fans, Jeffrey comments: “I took some liberty in portraying John Singer Sargent”.   From the Amazon description of a book about Sargent’s watercolors comes the following:

John Singer Sargent

“John Singer Sargent’s approach to watercolor was unconventional. Going beyond turn-of-the-century standards for carefully delineated and composed landscapes filled with transparent washes, his confidently bold, dense strokes and loosely defined forms startled critics and fellow practitioners alike. One reviewer of an exhibition in London proclaimed him ‘an eagle in a dove-cote’; another called his work ‘swagger’ watercolors. For Sargent, however, the watercolors were not so much about swagger as about a renewed and liberated approach to painting. In watercolor, his vision became more personal and his works more interconnected, as he considered the way one image–often of a friend or favorite place–enhanced another.”

Packard softened his channeling of Sargent, and I can think of no better tribute to the ongoing evolution of Packard’s artistic creativity than the words used to characterize Sargent above.  To borrow the phraseology,  I marvel at Packard’s renewed and liberated approach.  His vision continues to become more personal, with his weekly biblical portrayals interconnecting themes through a variety of spiritual motifs.

 

 

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Takara Japanese Steakhouse

Still have good vibes from a pleasant evening with friends a couple of weeks ago at a newly kosherized Japanese Steakhouse in Oakhurst, New Jersey, virtually in Bruce Springsteen’s back yard.  With a party of six (and I as the token male) we were eligible to eat at the hibachi, a centerpiece of this teppanyaki-style steakhouse.  From Wikipdedia:

“The originator of the teppanyaki-style steakhouse is believed to be Shigeji Fujioka of the Japanese restaurant chain Misono.  The restaurant claims to be the first to introduce the concept of cooking Western-influenced food on a teppan in Japan, in 1945.  They soon found the cuisine was less popular with the Japanese than it was with foreigners, who enjoyed both watching the skilled maneuvers of the chefs preparing the food and the cuisine itself, which is somewhat more familiar than more traditional Japanese dishes. As the restaurants became more popular with tourists, the chain increased the performance aspect of the chef’s preparation, such as stacking onion slices to produce a flaming onion volcano.”

Our chef did not disappoint, and he finished off his preparation with this fiery performance.

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