This Old Sukkah

just some quick thoughts…

so after the anxious, fingernail-bitingly, “holy crap am i gonna die?” tension that are the yomim noraim, we get to relax and kick back for sukkot. sukkot, as everyone knows, commemorates the 40 years in the desert when bnai yisrael lived in their temporary shelters and Hashem protected them under the clouds of glory.

so why celebrate that now?  wouldn’t it make more sense for this holiday to come after, say, pesach,when we first ventured into the desert in the first place?  or even after the 9th of av, maybe, since that’s when we actually started wandering the desert [before that we were on the 3-day fast track to israel].

well im sure everyone’s heard the reason that sukkot is celebrated here when the weather is inclimate in order for the farmer to realize that the bounty of nature he has just reaped did not spring from the strength of his own hand.  that he still depends on Hashem to provide his daily bread.

see, that’s all well and good for a farmer, but what about us today?  of course the analogy can be applied to the modern concept of employment and the job market and how one shouldn’t think “my resume and skills got me this job” but again use the concept of sukkot as a grounding perspective.  however, since all that can tend to get muddled or lost in our modern, ever moving, ever fast-paced world, i like to look at the placement of sukkot slightly differently.

i’d like to think sukkot comes right after yom kippur, when ppl are happy they came out alive on the other end of the new year, so that they shouldn’t think “wow, i was so good last year.  i did so many great mitzvot that i deserved life for a new year.  wow i must’ve been really awesome with my torah-keeping”.  id like to say that even there, its wrong to assume that we merited a new lease on life b/c of something “we” did, or the merits “we” accumulated. we need to head out into the sukkah and experience how it just barely protects us from the wind and cold.  we need to realize that the cold and wind battering us are how the repercussions from our last year’s worth of sins should be assaulting us, and how we just barely got by. we need to still acknowledge we’re only alive not b/c of the great things “we” did do, but b/c Hashem decided to ignore all the things we didn’t do…

ive found that a lot of ppl use the arba minim as an excuse to not aspire to whatever spiritual heights they’re capable of, or to be content in being “jewish” in name only, or to claim judaism but limit their association to just bagels and bad jokes, if at all:

see? look at the four species!  the aravot are there with everyone else, right? they symbolize the jew who doesn’t follow torah or even have good deeds. it takes all kinds! so i’m good.”

to those ppl, id like to point out that aravot have the shortest lifespan of the bunch.  and the second they lose their leaves, or turn brown, they have to be removed and replaced for the four species to still be kosher.  apparently “it takes all kinds” isn’t without qualifying conditions. and apparently you can only last but so long existing w/o torah and mitzvot, before you can’t be a part of the gang anymore.

just something to think about.

–MaNishtana

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In The Words Of Bryan Adams…

…please forgive me.

i realize that as a blogger i know have the infinite resources to offend exponentially more ppl than i couldve ever hoped for as i private individual. score.  so i apologize if ive offended you or if my words have lead to some misunderstanding.  not that im reneging on anything that ive said.  if you cant see the truth behind the ideas ive presented, well, im sorry for that too.

have an easy fast.

gmar chatima tova

–MaNishtana

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The Hellfire Club

kiddish clubs.what better time to discuss them than shabbat shuva. because theyre a problem.

i mean, yeah, its totally fab that you guys like each other so much that you need to go get a drink together on shabbat. in the middle of davening. [yes, the haftorah counts. if it didnt, we wouldnt do it, now would we?]. so congrats on having the kind of friendships that bards will speak of long after man has forgotten how to love. but see, the thing is that knesset/shul isnt a lodge or a social club. we’re kinda there to daven. and by “kinda“, i mean “completely“.

i mean, look,

1-aside the fact that youre ruining your own kavanna by going out to drink, youre also pissing the crap out of everyone else who isnt going b/c they dont approve and ruining their kavanna too.good job. jerks.

2-as the shulchan aruch and other sources state, one cannot eat–sorry–it is forbidden to eat before having kiddush. additionally, one may not even drink water after shacharit before reciting kiddush. and i doubt any of you guys are saying kiddush when youre knocking back your jack walker. [no thats not a typo.  ive known him long enough to call him jack. ive earned it].and i said “kiddush” not “borei pri hagafen“. that means im tashiv, vshamru, and zachor. the whole shebang.

3-so how stoked do you think Hashem is when you guys pour out of the room, completely ignore the haftorah, and come back full of alcohol? oh, its just one drink, you say? could you pass a breathalyzer? no? oh, then im sure its totally ok that even though you couldnt legally drive a car in your state, youre perfectly capable of, yknow, proceeding TO TALK TO GD. just saying.

but y’know what, never mind. im sure im overreacting and being oversensitive. after all, the first kiddish club went so well. remember that one? with those guys…what were their names…oh yeah!

nadav and avihu.

gmar chatima tova

–MaNishtana

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Madam I’m Adam

seeing as how there’s no parsha read this week and thus no “urban parsha” i figured i’d put up something resembling an actual an actual dvar torah…are you breathing again yet?…alright then.  it’s up a lil bit early b/c if you or ur family are anything like mine, you’ll be far too busy running around like chickens with no heads to read this on friday.  anyhoo.

im a writer and as such i feel disposed to the world of subtext, connotations, implications, and especially wordplay.  judaism is no stranger to any of these, with its wide and varied use of gematrias, anagrams, and shoreshes/roots.  i find it odd, however, that i cant recall any such drasha employing any of these towards the upcoming period [or at least, not in the way that i am about to].  so here for your humble approval, i submit my observations.

this coming rosh hashana marks not only the beginning of the new year, but also of the aseret yimei teshuva/ten days of repentance, the abbreviation of which being  עשי”ת . removing the quotations marks we are left with עשית, a perfect conjugation of the verb , לעשות—to do—into singular male or female past tense, and a hint as to what it is we are contemplating these ten days: the things that “you” [we] “have done”.

and what is it that we have done?

one of the most commonly used words for “sin” is חטא , which forms the root for the verb להחטיא—to miss.  that is what we are meant to ponder during these days: how our deeds have “missed”, or caused us to “miss”, the proper “mark” of torah and mitzvot. [interestingly enough the word for “mark” or “target” is מטרה, oddly similar to  מטר—rain, something which the torah is compared to several times in tanach.]

so then how is it that we might remedy our past deeds, our sins?  the answer starts with rosh hashana. the word שנה—year—is the root for the verb  לשנות—to change. it isn’t enough merely think about what it is we’ve done, we must take action and change it.  the ten days, with their underlying root of עשה, is the time to actively undertake or “do” these changes to our deeds, our thoughts, our personalities.

if we are successful, we see the culmination on yom kippur. the root of “kippur”— כפר —is also present in the words for “frost”— כפור —and in the words in parshat noach 6:14 describe the act of covering—כפרת —  and the material to cover with— כפר .  our success in changing our formerly less than pristine ways should result in us being protected or “covered” from the harsh judgment that our former deeds may well deserve, with our newfound cleanliness and purity that is as white as “frost” .

shana tova.

–MaNishtana

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5769 Pickup

hey kids, the month of elul is here!  it’s time to talk about how the “king is in the field” and how now is a great time to offer supplications and better our act and come closer to Hashem and…what?  whats that look for?….ohhh, i get it. what am i talking about, right? i mean, elul is supposed to be the beginning of the 40 day period of cleansing and purification that culminates with yom kippur, but its waaay too late to tell ppl about those 40 days now.

 it’s also too late to tell ppl to prepare for the last shabbat of the old year which has the power to rectify all past shabbats.

heck, it’s even too late to tell ppl about slichot week. i mean, two days have passed already.

so really, whats the point about choosing now to talk about elul with rosh hashana less than a week away? elul is pretty much done.

and thats my point.

that it isnt too late. that it never is. the teshuva bus is still at the bus stop and accepting passengers. and hey, you may not get the seat you wanted, but you can still get on until rosh hashana comes around. [and besides, it’ll be stuck at the light for another ten days after that, so if you’re lucky you still might be able to get on].

its not important that you use all the days of elul, but that you make the most of the days of elul that you do use. after all, do you really think 29 days of elul in lackluster acknowledgment trumps two or three elul days of actual genuine introspection? not really.

so forget that you’ve missed more than half the month, dont wallow and drown in all the horrible things you might’ve done during the year and definitely dont think you’ve been so far gone this past year that whats the point. its not rosh hashana yet, and more importantly, you’re not dead yet.

so lets go.

and on a note for everyone else who’s been on the elul ball and may be feeling a little bit cocky as they look at the late-comers and stragglers, think about this: chazal say that in elul, Hashem is close to us as if a king were walking through his field and easily accessible to the peasants [or to use a modern analogy, the ceo is wandering the cubicles, accesible to all his employees].  if our prayers and supplications are that much closer during this time, how much moreso noticeable are the transgressions we might’ve committed during this time?

perhaps we all might be needing to play catch up in these last few days.

–MaNishtana

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Melacha Day Parade

sure this is a lil bit late, but i have a suggestion id like to make.

i would suggest that [rampant near-nakedness, general drunkenness, and occasional homicide aside] every jew, and especially every jew of color, should see the west indian day parade at least once. [and if you’re a jew who saw it pre-conversion, see it again post-jew]. i used to live in crown heights and remember listening to the music as each float passed by.  occasionally id get an extended glimpse of the parade before being shooed away from the window by my parents b/c of the slackness [500 pt caribbean slang bonus!] happening outside. but when i was a grown up, i was dragged practically kicking and screaming over to the parkway one year [“kicking and screaming” not b/c i was particularly trying to avoid the slackness [1000 pt double word score!], but b/c im not a big fan of people. can you tell?].

anyhoo, im glad i went.  because as im watching float after float go by with its different music and people dressed in their island’s flag and eating their different foods and flowing with their island’s pride and having a good time i couldn’t help but think “is this how it used to be back in the day when ppl brought bikkurim?  or would head up to yerushalayim for the shalosh regalim waving their tribe’s banner?” and channeling that present energy into vicarious enjoyment of the past was a really, really, really, good feeling. and there’s something i think we can all learn from the labor day parade.

for example, at the parade every float comes and reps its country with its own distinctive music, food, etc. and revels in it and celebrates it. but can we imagine if there was a jewish labor day parade? we’d have the ashkenazi float [with all its chabadnik, litvisher, yechi, na-nach, etc sections] and its gefilte fish, the sephardi float and its rice and beans, the temani float and its full beged-kefet, and the joc float that…well, is just pretty much the same thing we just saw in every other float, just differently ethnic. because as it stands, there’s nothing about us that would warrant its own float beyond skin.  and that’s part of why [part of why] we are looked at skin first: b/c that’s the only difference, really.  i mean, ashki/sefard and ashki/temani are also divided along a similar white v brown or less white axis.  but what comes to mind as the difference? no kitniyot v rice & beans for pesach.  tav/sav v gefen/jefen. if we’re to be looked at beyond color, then what we bring to the table needs to evolve beyond color.

as ive posted before, b/c jocs have a tendency to either join whats already around or wash away their ethnicity, instead of using their ethnicity to define and shape their observance and practices.  and whenever i propose that jocs should allow their backgrounds to influence their judaism, to create a minhag just the same way that europeans and north africans and middle easterners allowed theirs to create “ashkenaz” “sephard” “temani” etc, not only is there resistance from [some] jocs who for some reason cant comprehend the concept of having somewhere/thing that is your own, there are also opponents among those who have the luxury of actually having a homebase to operate from. their reasoning is “why cause more divisions?” [somehow oblivious to the fact that of course they don’t see the need for someone else to create what they themselves already have].

but do we really think that if, say, tobago broke off from trinidad and established itself as a separate culture that the rest of the west indies would be up in arms? that they’d try to stop them?  or do we think they’d just accept the new independent tobago and afford it the same respect in the parade as the rest of the islands. i mean they let puerto rico march, and they already have their own separate parade.  hell, guyana isn’t even invited and they still get to march. [give it up with the west-indian thing, guys. we all know you’re part of south america].

while some say it and mean it in its intended unifying sense, most of judaism seems to cling to the “a jew is a jew is a jew” mantra as a means to extinguish and discourage cultural individuality rather than to emphasize the beauty that despite being different with a disparate number of customs, we all follow the same torah as equals.  cmon now ppl, we haven’t learned yet to talk to the rock  instead of hitting it?

and then of course there’s the lesson of unity.  sure, every other day the rest of the year things may devolve into “this island” v “that island” confrontations or hostilities. or bad mouthing over who has better men or women.  but no matter what their differences are, they are all able to come together this one day every single year, leave everything else at the door, and say “we are all west indian, and let’s celebrate that. even you guyana. even though you’re really not.

now maybe this is just my experience, but ive rarely run into jews who are able to suspend whatever weekday prejudices they have for shabbat or chagim and say “we are all jews, and let’s celebrate this day together as jews.” i mean, some ppl are able to squeeze some of that out for rosh hashana and yom kippur, but lets be real, you’re just afraid youre gonna die so you’re trying to rack up some last minute points. come say hi to me and shake my hand when the spectre of death isn’t sitting on your living room couch drinking tea.

but anyways.

when i look at the labor day parade, im looking into a window into the past of what we were and into the future of what we can be again.  im not seeing that dude painted black with horns glued to his forehead surrounded by cantily sclad gyrating women, im seeing the ox with its gold covered horns carrying bikkurim surrounded by a procession of farmers and musicians bringing them to the bet hamikdash.  im not seeing the drunk dudes falling over themselves drinking guinness, im seeing a couple of guys who got caught up in the moment and feeling of simchat torah in yerushalayim and got a lil bit too carried away. im not seeing that girl convinced she can wear that too small flag as a dress…ok, so i am seeing that girl, but im also seeing the, um, y’know, the—okay so im just seeing the girl. 

but c’mon, she’s hot.

–MaNishtana

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