Ben Avuyah

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Justice Divine

The bamboo stick landed fast and hard on Windmeyer’s back, chapping the thin skin, coaxing in it’s wake a row of blisters that sprung to life like blooming roses from his pale flesh.

A Brute of a man, he did not take his punishment willingly, but strained at the lanyards which tethered him to the tabernacle posts, his great muscles causing even these deeply embedded hunks of cedar to momentarily tip their lofty heads to his efforts. They whispered the encouragements of old wood to their captive; squeaking and popping as his full weight pulled against them.

“Aaagggghhh”, he screamed, lost in the writhing dance of his fantasy for escape, now and again glancing bitterly from the leather straps around his wrists to the small crowd of kinsmen who gathered as audience to his undoing. They stood there, garbed in their shredded rags, mesmerized by the sight of one of their own; fallen so low.

Windmeyer’s shoulder length hair hung wet with perspiration about his face, concealing his features in the mask of his wasted energies. His Cro-Magnon physique, thicker and more muscular than any of the assembled host, quivered with fatigue, as he drew new breath and redoubled his efforts, causing each post to groan a fresh tune of wood strained to it’s breaking point.

Behind him, the enforcer raised his implement of coercion high above his head, readying for another blow to the already pockmarked back before him…

But a hush carried in the wind stayed his hand. It came like a premonition on the thin November air, a soft whisper of feet treading lightly, and all eyes of the assembled turned to the corner of the temple where a thick curtain was pushed aside to allow entrance.

In they strode; their dignity evident in their very step, their very posture. Their cloth was finer, their hair more neatly arranged into white flowing beards that spoke simultaneously of wisdom and experience. The crowd parted for them like flowing waters; one filthy, ill fed body tripping over the next in the effort to make way.

The eldest of the ancients, a man bowed by time, marked by sun and wind, hobbled slowly toward to the great figure of the prisoner, who remained, despite his efforts, fastened to the walls; and the elder, clutching at his staff for support, and reaching nearly to the man’s ear, looked Windmeyer over closely and spoke to him directly in a voice that carried only to him.

Windmeyer had in his eyes the look of a caged beast and met the mans gaze without fear, and had the wise man but leaned a bit closer he would likely have felt the teeth of the animal upon him.

His voice was firm, and the age of the man was lain bare by the strain and tenor of the syllables he formed, “You’re name….”, he whispered to Windmeyer, looking deep into his eyes, looking to discern the truth from signs and omens, “it speaks of a relationship to the prophet….It has strength…that could be as strong as winter storms, yet it may be as false as promised rain in the summer lulls…..”

With the matter of destiny thus left open, he turned now to the crowd, not waiting for an answer from his captive, raising his voice and intoning in a singsong manner.

“ We do not know how man kind fell”, he uttered with sadness to the masses.

“How our great ancestors twisted their cities into jagged metal spikes, and broken rocks, poisonous fumes and foul waters….”

“But we have lived through the generations by the word of the Prophet….”

There was a murmur of approval from the crowd.

“Your fathers have lived by the word of the Prophet…”


The words came so loudly from the heaving chest of the captive that they eclipsed the room in their very thunder, shaking the small tent to the dirt mounds of it’s foundation, bringing every eye in the room back upon him. Babes staring from behind the legs of parents, children reaching for reassuring hands as their ears rang from the force of it.

Even brave young Meylight of the Jacobite tribe gripped her father’s elbow at the fearsome sight of the man tied to wood, who now willfully defied the elders. A crime so unholy it threatened the known bounds of comprehension.

“My people…”, said Windmeyer, searching the crowd with hopeful eyes, “My brothers…..I have been past the great boundary, I have journeyed through rock and stone, and passed through the steel of the lost cities….”

Murmurs tore through the crowd….It was forbidden….it was foolhardy…it was a lie, for no man had such courage to prowl in the old cities.

“LISTEN TO ME”, shouted the fearsome Windmeyer in the face of incredulity, “ I have traveled just as I have spoken, and amongst the old cities there are many images…many prophets and signs….omens that point in all directions and yet in no direction…”

“Then it is true”, shouted the elder, recovering from the brazen disobedience of the young upstart, “you have spoken blasphemy even when warned not to, you have transgressed the sacred law.”

Other elders joined in…

“He who questions the law, it is as if he has broken every law, and caused personal injury to everyone.”

“He who causes others to break the laws by putting doubt in their hearts it is as if he has broken the law twice, and is liable for his actions.”

There was more to say, but the head elder silenced them by tapping his staff against the hard earth.

“It is for the blasphemer to see the oracle, so is his fate decided.”

A hush fell over the crowd and even Windmeyer recoiled in fear, for the oracle had been neither seen nor heard in many long seasons, those who had only small children about their feet had never seen it, and even the elders remembered it only dimly, when they themselves were but suckled from the teat.

A nervous looking elder separated himself from the pack and stepped forward to stand by the grand elder’s side. He wore around his neck the red feather and stick necklace of the priesthood. And in his fearful eyes rested the knowledge that his service to God would be judged now, as he called forth the oracle, hoping to be graced by it’s answer.

“Let any man who’s sin is in his heart or in his flesh, leave now, for those who are not pure may not witness the window to the other life, and are not allowed to look upon the holy countenance as it is denied them by law.”

Embarrassed silence followed a few men and their families out of the tent of meeting, Scared that their evil deeds would hang over them and be multiplied manifold by the window to the spirit world; they left in quiet shame.

But most stayed.

Brave little Meylight stayed with her father waiting for the chance to see into the beyond, stories of which had been told to her from the moment she was old enough to understand the words.

The priest observed the remaining minions with satisfaction and some trepidation for the task ahead.

“Then let each man clear his heart of greed. Let each man think only of justice and the world beyond”, said the Priest as he walked ceremoniously over the to the ark of the tabernacle. A roughly hewn closet draped with a red cloth.

As he parted the cloths the congregation fell to it’s knees, humbling themselves in anticipation of the prophets arrival. Even Windmeyer had pulled as far back as his leash would allow.

As the ark opened a collective gasp filled the tent of meeting, for few of them had ever seen the window before, and now it stood before them as black and dull as night, portal to the world beyond.

The priest carefully dusted every part of it with his feather necklace, and picking up the small rectangular box next to it, used the tiny sticks in his necklace to make sure the spools were tightly wound back into the position that would encourage the prophet’s entrance. He carefully checked the third large metal cube ensuring that both the red and black strings were attached tightly.

He whispered the silent prayer of the priesthood in a voice no louder than a babe’s breath.

“What grace I have in my heart, let it come before you….let my deeds be pleasant in thine eyes….let the equity of my actions have a pleasant aroma before you…Let those deeds that have caused harm fall from my shoulders and be as the dust of the earth…”

And with that he slid the small box into the slot beneath the great screen, closing his eyes fiercely; his concentration that fervent, his prayer that deep.

A few seconds of muted whirring passed as they collectively wondered if in their lowly state the prophet would grace them once again.

Had not the time passed when messengers from across the chasm would come to visit the sons of men??

Could a people so far removed from the greatness of their forefathers hope to reclaim some of God’s earthly kindness??

But then it was upon them in full glory, as the window lit brightly, flooding the tabernacle with a soft and warm glow. The masses feared to see it directly for the power was too great, viewing it instead through the spaces of the fingers of hands that covered their faces.

But brave little Meylight had no fear in her heart and stood to her feet to see the spirits unhindered.

And in that moment came the prophet…. his face….perfect and without blemish, his hair…had the shine of gold upon it, the cloth on his skin came from angels looms, the aura of divine confidence in dark eyes that can neither be described nor retold. And reaching form untold nether regions came the voice of heaven, striking the very ears of the humbled supplicants.

“Hhhhuuuuurrrrttttttttttt???????”, asked God’s prophet slowly as the power from the other side become stronger and stronger, summoned by a Priest who’s prayers were now realized in full.

Tears sprung to many of the elder’s eyes, for to see the prophet twice in a lifetime was a blessing.

It was only the grand elder who remembered the service, and led the others in it’s intricacies, “As you would not want to be hurt…do not hurt another” he said in loving responsa, remembering reciting it last in the presence of his father…. now long gone.

“Iinjurred attt workkk????”, asked the lord through his mouthpiece.

Now other elders joined in, “It is worse to injure at work, for is it not through work that man sustains himself ??”

“Hi, I’m David Meyers….”

Introductions exploded from amongst the uneducated masses, eager as they were to meet God's intermediary, and the grand elder had to silence them with a stern look.

Did they not know they were not worthy of individual recognition by the prophet of God?

“And at the law firm of Jacoby and Meyers, we’ll fight for your lump sum settlement…”

Several elders were talking in unison now…

“It is not enough to follow the law, but it must be firm as well, to teach us that severity is a form of ultimate compassion before God”, said a frail elder in holy ecstasy.

“Do not the extra words “lump sum” come to teach us there will be one settlement in this world and one in the world to come…”, said another, lovingly repeating the teachings of the ages in the presence of the prophet.

“Just as Jacoby cannot be seen or heard, so to, the settlement in the world to come cannot be seen in this one.”, crooned a third, anxious to join in the word of God.

And then, in the snap of a finger, it was gone.

The screen black as death.

The message from beyond ripped from out of their grasp.

The loving Prophet slipped once again to the worlds outside of imagination.

The Grand elder, who had been practically holding his breath during the revelation, finally let out a long sigh. The revelation he had seen in his youth had been much longer, and had included many important passages from which they had constructed God’s law. But he consoled himself that even if they had not merited to see the full face of God, had they not been graced with his aura, his favor, the small bit of wisdom that was at the very core of their beliefs ?

As the relieved priest returned the ark to it’s former state the grand elder turned to Windmeyer.

“We are a just people”, he stated, “and now that you have seen the prophet with your own eyes in front of all, recant your evil claims and rejoin us….you will bring to the congregation one cash settlement of personal injury, and one cash settlement of medical malpractice, and with these offerings your soul shall be purified and you will rejoin us as an equal, but never to travel beyond these boundaries again.”

Windmeyer looked pale, for the vision of the prophet was still fresh in his mind, but he was as stubborn in mind as he was strong in body. A force that refused to be bent in spirit or sinew.

“Hark unto me my brothers….”, he said softly and then with conviction, “Hark, for I have seen many windows, and in each there is a prophet, there are prophets that live in…in….small boxes like leaves from a tree…there are prophets upon signs that stretch as high as ten men….”

The grand elder shook his head in dismay and as he walked away he nodded his head to the enforcer who had traded his bamboo for a thick oak with iron tied to the end.

Windmeyer, who was as unfamiliar with defeat as he was with political savvy, continued even louder, “For they are not prophets but men, men as you and I, men who live forever upon great sorcery and magic untold, like pictures writ upon the wall with great cunning.”

As the enforcer lifted his thick mallet from the ground, brave little Meylight stepped quickly from the safety of her father’s side, standing between the great elder and the captive, knowing neither shame nor fear. For she was blessed, and wise beyond her years. Many had been the time she had helped her mother gather berries when the winter was close, always learning from her wisdom, sharing thoughts simple and deep.

“Oh great Elder”, she supplicated with proper humility, raising her hands palm up to show her subservience, understanding even at her tender age the fine middle ground she needed to seek, “ is it not possible that there are many prophets…perhaps with prophecies as great and small as man is great and small??”

The wise elder barely stifled his laugh, for did not all know that the place of womenfolk was the suckling of babes, and here one who had not yet blossomed a bosom would suggest God’s word?

He shared his mirth with the congregation, “she who does not yet coo to her own young would speak such great words”?

A thin laugh ran the course of the room, and Meylight returned with tears and anger to her father’s side. Fists clenched at her sides.

“Her words are greater than that of every man on the council” , shouted the captive loud enough to embarrass everyone.

And with that, a small seed was planted in brave little Meylight's heart.

“You will not see it then…”, asked Windmeyer of the great elder, “you will not see truth even when it is in your grasp…you have but to send me with five brave men and we will bring back more oracles than your tabernacle may hold…”

The great elder shook his head, “He who questions the authority of the law…it is as if he has broken every law…”

There were grunts of agreement from the folk, shouts of treason and heresy. And much talk of justice. Indeed the congregation was united in it’s need for justice. And what justice could be had without law, and what law could be made if not from the prophet. And if one doubted the prophet….well, justice must be served.

He nodded again to the enforcer and Windmeyer, sensing his end, pulled upon his restraints with a will that was stronger than one man alone. It was the strength of a man with a destiny, a dream, a goal. A man at once shown a new truth that demanded to be set free. He wrenched his body into a form so tight sinew strained and cedar groaned.
His scream was one of desperation. One of a will that could not be bounded by the rule of law.
And, shuddering under this final assault, wood as thick as a mans waist cracked with a roar from end to end sending curtains billowing in every direction as it collapsed within the temple.

Yet even as the tabernacle fell so did the enforcer’s ax, cutting deep into flesh and bone, and as the building crumbled to the ground so did the man.

Many were crushed by either crowd or wood on that day, as all attempted to flee the encampment for safety, the panic embraced happily by the congregation in its time of emergency.

So they fled, and Meylight amongst them, pulled firmly away by the strong hands of her father, yet even as they ran from the chaos, she looked not in front of her to plant her stumbling feet more carefully amongst the roots and rocks, but over her shoulder, sharp eyes gazing at the horizon, where thick trees gave way…. to the great unknown that lay beyond.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Shave and a haircut......Shampoo !

You know how it is in the morning, you drag yourself out of warm blankets, no wait….you crawl back in till the next snooze cycle.

O.K., now you draaaag yourself out of the warm blankets, pad over to the bathroom, try not to look at yourself in the mirror through swollen, crusty, eyes. Hug your arms to your body from the chill, relieve that full bladder, and then into the shower.

Now, because I hate cold winter mornings, I have adjusted all of my morning grooming to take place in the hot shower.



Panasonic “wet and dry” with non-fogging mirror and moisturizing gel…yes and yes and yes.

Everything is more pleasurable when you have warm steam rising around you, and the obligatory morning shave is no exception. I like to set a stream of searing water on my back before I lather up to trim the stubblies.

But this morning, my wife has left a package of shick disposable shavers on the ledge, and my hand hesitates as I reach for my tried and true electric.

Can’t I just try it one morning to see what it is like ??

Now anytime I contemplate breaking orthodox dogma, a well trained, yeshiva inclined, portion of my brain, hailing back to the days of my unflinching religious beliefs, when I swallowed anything quoted from appropriate authority whole; begins to set off alarm bells.

"Something bad will happen to me if I do this…something bad will happen to someone I love and I will regret it forever…."

“Bullshit” ! Says rationality… “ancient superstitions one and all, I’ll pay that as much heed as I do black cats and Friday the 13th.”

I picked up the Razor, fermenting in my mind; that it was way to early to make these decisions, but was there really any decision of consequence here ??? Did I in any way believe in consequences or damages that occurred from shaving with a different implement ??

“Something will go wrong during surgery today….your patients will suffer, your cases will go badly…your hands will shake, you’ll have complications,” insists my leftover Yeshiva personality with all the authority of a yenting bubby, this time with even more vigor than when I go for the lights on Shabbos.

I hesitate and look at the two choices, and, I begin to use the fall back of the overly cautious: Intra religional semi rationality. The practice by which one re-enters religious beliefs long left by the wayside, donning them once again for the purpose of redemonstrating their internal inconsistencies.

Now I know what the posuk says…It says don’t touch a blade to your face. Clearly the meaning was that the Jewish nation had a look to it, a style, and that style was a beard !!

But of course when the clean-shaven look became a necessity for business in the forties and fifties, the chachamim looked at this prohibition hyper literally. Ossuring only the touching of the blade to the face.

But this micro screen film…protects me against an issur dioraisah ??

It seems implausible. A loophole a child would use to get out of homework. How many times had I nicked myself with this razor? Wasn’t that the blade touching my face anyway ??

And who was this God whom would readily deal eternal damnation to the bearer of the razor in my left hand, but blessing to the user of the shaver in my right ?? He begins to sound more and more like a cosmic vending machine. He cannot but deliver based on the button pushed. There is no thought or insight just mechanical response to stimuli. But what warrants heaven and hell ? Weren’t both instruments doing the same thing, accomplishing the same goal, using the same method ??

And how would this fit with the Modern orthodox Ideal that viewed sins as a metaphysical tarnish to a soul in a spiritual world, thus obviating the need to ever explain the reasons for anything. Did this mean that in some other world beyond comprehension, babes were crying and women fainting as the blade made it’s first smooth descent down my cheek, and spiritual calamity befell their universe, the very same realm in which my soul dwelled so happily before metal and plastic cooperated to shear those tiny hairs from my face?

Could I make myself believe that this act, even if there was a spiritual world, could possibly be detrimental??

The answer, you see, is in my smooth face….soft as a baby’s bottom some would say !

But the reason I bring this up is not so you can all marvel at my heresy,(but feel free too) or morning routine (immitation is the sincerest form of flattery); it is because, it seems to me that, orthodoxy has nothing to do with morality, but it has supplanted moralism, and desires to stand in it’s place, to drink it’s wine, sit in it’s chair and sleep with it’s woman. Orthodoxy enforces it’s self under very moral terms. One feels bad when disobeying orthodoxy in very much the same way that one feels bad when betraying a friend, cheating, stealing, or acting innaproprietly in other ways.

Judaism may have started off with very moral concerns, but that has all been legislated away now. To my mind morality involves looking at a situation and applying a mix of logic and compassion, with empathy and sympathy being main ingredients. But there are no such requirements for orthodoxy…only following the law as interpreted. That is the only rule. Even when it doesn’t seem to coincide with one’s innate moral sense !!

I remember, even as a devout believer being irritated by the non-humanistic portions of orthodoxy, be it slave, homosexual, or disenfranchised woman….it didn’t seem to be right. But, I was told, because it came from God, it must be right, and I was therefore encouraged and in fact strongly reprimanded by my yeshiva training to interpret and reconstrue my own opinions as devilish implants from the secular world. They had no right to my mind, and my main efforts should be spent expulsing them.

I think this dichotomy exists in the orthodox world in large scale….There is what we innately feel is right, and there is what we “should feel and do”, because that is what God said, and he is right in and objective way that we can never approach.

But it seems to me now that this attitude is even worlds apart from the great leaders that orthodoxy lauds as it’s own.

When society had progressed enough that an “eye for an eye” had become anathema, our greats listened to their hearts and vigorously reinterpreted the text.

Sure some will insist that this was halacha misinai and always meant to be this way, but I think they will be shown false upon insisting that religion never changes…it does… just very slowly, and voicing great nostalgia and regret. We learned to live without a temple…we created a service outside the rules of sacrifice and blood. Some even believe that at the coming of the messiah sacrifice will not be reinstituted, because humanity has changed so much that we no longer recognize this as a just way to connect with God. Surely, this shows that advancing human morality should influence religion, at least according to some of our great ancients.

I think it is time for the serious religious thinkers of our times to treat the serious issues of our times.

1 ) Human morality no longer coincides with Orthodox declarations. We barely recognize the world we are being taught represents something so much higher than our own flimsy moral standards. Most educated moderns cringe at the idea of returning to anyting close to biblical justice, even when it is watered down by the rabbinate. I think our former greats would have sensed the schism that exists. How else did Rabeinu gershom know it was time to stop polygamy. I think our former greats would of acted.

2) Modernity does not require people to believe in anything without support, let alone sky Gods. Modernity has shown a method for attaining data about the world around us that has Predictive power. No other model for attaining data has demonstrated any predictive power….ever. In most cases where the Bible has assertions about the world they are revealed through science to be little more than fables. Are we to believe that God could not create a fable to satisfy a more primitive audience that was also factually correct?…..then let him fall from his throne of omnipotence. Does he place these errors to test us?…then let us agree we cannot know how to serve a trickster God, for where does the trick end and the instructions begin?

Modernity has brought us to a place of intellectual honesty, where we believe things to a degree. That degree is mandated by the level of support and evidence. When something losses evidence and support we believe it to a lesser degree. No honest person can watch the confrontation of Judaism and modernity and not see Orthodoxy slipping down the wrungs of believability. To do so would require a dishonest mandate. Swearing fealty to absolute belief in the face of diminishing evidence may be the pinnacle of faith, but it is the dung heap of reason.

Do I think any Rabbi will look into these problems honestly….no, because the honest conclusions leave religion in the same state as a hope or a dream.

No one bases life and death decisions on diyukim from pisukim that are most likely just ancient fables. Why would you run to the dreamer for a psak, why would his fantasy be more important than what you felt in your heart was right for your loved one.

No one looks for morality out of what is most likely recordings of archaic governance. No one looks back to ancient ideals of slavery and misogyny to draw conclusions in a modern world.

No one except those who are afraid to confront their own systems of beliefs and see it for what it is.