Friday, May 30, 2014

The Sanctity of Community

This week’s portion, Naso, (Num. 4:21 – 7:89) continues the laws for the administration and organization of the Israelite camp.  The editors of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary characterize chapter 5 of this parshah as “Maintaining Community Sanctity by Countering Threats of Impurity”.  Four short verses of this chapter (5:5-8) describe the atonement and restitution called for by an act of ma’al, treachery. 

This term is used specifically for an act of theft by deception.  The perpetrator is fined the amount of the theft, plus punitive damages of one-fifth that amount.  There are two specific parts to the penance; the confession and the restitution.  The wrong must first be acknowledged, and only then may the monetary aspect be reconciled.

Ma’al is described in Numbers 5:6 as “committing sacrilege against the Lord”.  Rabbi Harold Kushner writes in the Etz Hayim Torah commentary “To cheat a fellow Jew is not just a crime but a breach of faith with God, profaning God’s name and robbing someone of the ability to believe in the goodness of God’s world and in the decency of one’s fellow Jews.”  Maintaining sanctity is not just between us and God, nor is it just between us and the person we have wronged.  Every act that we do, right or wrong, resonates throughout the community in which we live.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another Good Read

Odds Against TomorrowOdds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was hoping Nathaniel Rich would end 'Odds Against Tomorrow' differently but then when I tried to think of how that might be I realized that his ending was the only possible way to wrap up this story of fear and what we do with it. Bottom line is that I couldn't put the book down. It's more than a story about the future and about fear. It's about basic human nature and how we can choose and change and sometimes how we can do neither.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

At Dee's You Are Often Served More Than Food

Dee's Bagel Cafe/Deli & Grill serves a variety of sandwiches, muffins, salads, burgers, and of course bagels.  It is eclectic in decor to the point of being, well, odd.  Walls are decorated with sculptures of bagels morphing into tossed salad or bowls of soup.  Outside by the front door stands a two dimensional cut out of a woman holding a hamburger, a bagel, a cup of coffee and possibly some cookies.
It's really nothing fancy -- not the decor, not the food, not even the prices.  Eat your sandwich off of a paper plate or take it with you in a paper bag.  It matters not to Dee.  Denice Ingram used to work for the New Jersey Transit.  Now seven days a week Dee opens up her deli, grill and cafe and keeps it open until mid afternoon.
 Earlier this week I found myself sitting at one of the small, legs not quite even, tables on one of the smaller. legs not quite even chairs, eating my egg sandwich off of my paper plate.  I faced the door so it was easy to spot the man and woman who walked in.  Once they entered, Dee had three customers.  The woman sat down with her back to me and the man went to the counter to place his order with Dee.  Here's what I overheard.
Dee -- You're always smiling and you have such a wonderful smile.  You must have figured out the secret to living well.
Man -- Yeah.  I wish.  I just got laid off.
Dee -- Oh, I'm sorry.  That's a rough one.  But you know what?  You're gonna be fine.  I remember awhile back you said you weren't very happy with your job.  Sometimes life makes our decisions for us.  It's rough right now but pretty soon you'll find a job you love and later on you'll be glad you lost the job you didn't love.  Things tend to work out that way.
The man placed his order and returned to his table shaking his head and smiling.  Softly he told the woman at his table what had happened and added that somehow he felt more hopeful.
A few minutes later Denice Ingram walked to their table and placed a paper bag between the man and the woman.
Dee -- I just looked at my register and guess what!  You are the fiftieth customer today.  Every day the fiftieth customer gets half a dozen bagels just because that's the way it is.
She then resumed her position behind the counter ready to serve the next meal of tuna and hope.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Another Good Read

Strange Bodies: A NovelStrange Bodies: A Novel by Marcel Theroux

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who we are, why we are, and how long we will exist in those realities are issues raised but not answered by Marcel Theroux. How fluid is consciousness is a question we are forced to consider. Of course there can be no satisfying, solid conclusions to any of that but Theroux has woven these life mysteries into a novel of philosophical intrigue.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Basset Birthday

Today Bradford the Basset Hound turned six years old and he reports he's feeling pretty much on top of things.  He enjoyed a long birthday walk, some non-allergenic treats, and a bath which he could have done without but nevertheless endured with good spirits.
Happy Birthday, Bradford.  Keep climbing.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Sound of a Driven Leaf

This week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai (Lev. 26:1 – 27:34) discusses the rewards promised to the Israelites if they follow God’s laws and the punishments which will befall them if they disregard God’s laws.  The rewards are: a peaceful life on the land, ample rain in its season, bountiful crops, and the ability to hold off great numbers of enemies.  The punishments, much more extensive, are presented in growing severity – famine, illness, oppression and, towards the end, a description that is frightening to contemplate: “As for those of you who survive, I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies.  The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight.  Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues”.

Many of the laws of Torah, especially those contained in the holiness code of Leviticus, have to do with our treatment of the land and our fellow people.  Set aside food for the poor.  Take care of your parents.  Don’t gossip.  Keep honest weights and measures.  Don’t steal.  Let the land rest one year out of seven.  If we fall away from this behavior, we alienate ourselves from God, but we also tear apart the social contract that keeps a good society thriving and functioning.  Perhaps the dire fate of not obeying God’s commands is not so much reward and punishment as it is cause and effect.  When we do not keep these commandments, our moral compass can become so out of whack that we have no security, no safety net.  When we trust nothing, we fear everything, jumping at the sound of a fallen leaf and running even though no one is chasing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Here's A Good Review

But This Is Different

On 1978 New Year’s Eve, on the dock on a tiny South Pacific island, sweaty islanders struggle to start an old aircraft engine installed on a fishing boat. An 80-year-old American woman boards the vessel and, following her adjustments, the engine roars to life. The islanders call her Mere – Star of the Sea – for she came to live with them 40 years ago. The boat sails to a bigger island to pick up a large crate full of gifts for the islanders, sent annually by another American lady, Pilapan (Mother Chief), who’d arrived before Mere, but returned some years ago. Among the donations is a letter for Mere from Pilapan. She writes: “…I want you…but this is different…I am dying.” Also included is a fake passport and money. While Mere is undecided, the native chief, who calls her Amelia, insists she go. While saying bon voyage, the chief presses in Mere’s hand an old small tin box for Pilapan.
Mary Baron has concocted a unique take on the mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart by weaving a lesbian love theme into the speculation. Although there are lighter moments in the story, such as when Mere encounters new technological developments and some misadventures during her journey, the writing is poetic and literary. Mere’s emotions and despair at broken promises are portrayed lucidly; despite the hardships she is determined in her quest. While the conclusion drags, a wonderful surprise awaits in the finale, providing a thrilling and emotional experience for readers. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wind Blows Nest Out Of Tree

On this breezy afternoon a bird's nest was dislodged from a tree.  The Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter.  It's an empty cereal box so if you see if over there please don't toss it.  The displaced family was provided with seed, blankets, and should it wake up early enough, a worm.  Donations in the form of broken straws, feathers, twine and sticks are requested to help the family build a new nest.  In the meantime the birds can remain in the shelter as long as necessary or until recycling day.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Alice B. Walker

She could bake a cake in a dutch oven on a camp fire.  She rode the open ranges of the young baby state of Arizona with my father.  She wrote poetry and laughed often.

Monday, May 5, 2014

How To Walk A Basset Hound

Here's the first thing to consider.  Your Basset Hound doesn't take walks like other dogs.  Other dogs look around and ponder life on occasion.  The Basset Hound sniffs.  That's it.  Imagine if your sense of smell was at the very least ten thousand times greater than that of any other human.  Seriously.  Would you have time to look around?  I doubt it.  Would you bother marking territory?  I can't imagine that, either.  Here's what you would do.  You would sniff and know more about the world than the wisest being on it.
So when you walk you Basset Hound let the most powerful nose on the planet take it all in.  No hurries.  No worries.  Each blade of grass contains the secrets of life.  Every breeze solves the mysteries of the planets.  Every dew drop tells of miracles unimaginable.
Come to think of it, maybe every moment of every walk no of every day could with or without the Basset Hound contain such experiences.
Let's give it a try.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Just Sing Yourself To Health

Come on.  Everybody sing along from the 'King And I' -- you know the way it goes.  Whenever you feel afraid you just whistle a happy tune....
Music really can help you heal and help you feel better.  Sing.  Whistle.  Or at the very least listen.
There's a whole new area of research focused on the power of music.
It’s a field of science and medicine which has captured new attention because of its role in helping Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords recover from her serious brain injury.  Her singing helped her regain her speech.  It also doubtless helped her feel much better.
Give it a try.  Sing your way out of where you are to a better place.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Expressing Gratitude Is A Healthy Thing To Do

It seems so easy to forget what we have that is wonderful.  It also seems that we are hard wired to look at what we have that sucks -- our jobs, our homes, the weather, or minor aches and pains.  That time of life sucks or at least my life sucks thinking is unhealthy.  With practice we can turn those thoughts around and head them back toward gratitude.  Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy.  That type of cultivation is really pretty easy.  Just take a minute and think of three things for which you are grateful.  Write them down.  Tomorrow do the same thing except try to come up with three different things.  Pretty soon you will have thousands of things for which you are grateful.  Give it a try.  You'll feel better about life, about others, and about yourself.