Tag Archives: friends

self knowledge

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I was thinking of a title for this post, and remembered a common saying in Hebrew, but couldn’t think of how to say it in English. So I went to Google Translate and wrote it in the Hebrew window, expecting to find my title in translation. But what I got was: “He who own imperfection invalidates”. Well, that wouldn’t work, so I’ll translate it myself: He who invalidates another, points to his own imperfection. It comes from a volume in the Talmud which deals with problems of government. What it means is that when we want to disqualify someone, the first flaw that we’ll notice is a flaw we have ourselves. That happens because we are most familiar with our own flaws, and we recognize them quickly when looking at others.

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I had an old pair of eye glasses which were meant for working on the computer and for reading books on paper. They were bifocals, so they enabled me to see everything close, as well as little print. For instance, if I wanted to check the ingredients in a box or can of prepared food. But over the years my eyes grew weaker, and it got to the point where I had to make a real effort to read, and when it came to the little letters I’d have to use a magnifying glass. Finally, one of the handles of my glasses broke, and I went to the optometrist.

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Strangely enough, standing at the counter, when asked by my amiable and smiling optometrist how he could help me, I told him that the frame of my glasses had broken, and it was time for another set. I’d be satisfied, I said, if he just copied the prescription onto a new set and put them in a frame I could wear. He looked at his records to check how long it had been since my the previous prescription, and since it had been some time, suggested a free examination. I agreed. We went to the back room and it took a little while. But it wasn’t a disagreeable experience. He’s a bright young man, and I even enjoyed a bit of conversation while reading the same line from different distances as he placed varying lenses in a frame designed for such examinations. And when he finished, he assured me I’d really enjoy the new glasses once they were ready.

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And so I did. When I put on these new glasses, I was just amazed at all the details I saw. And after trying them with my desktop, my laptop, and reading a book, it seemed to me that the quality of my life had just improved greatly. I thought about all the time I had endured visual difficulties without doing anything to ease the problem. The stress of sitting in just the right position so as to be able to read from the computer screen. I know I’m a self indulgent person. But self indulgence could mean running to the optometrist as soon as I had difficulties reading, instead of avoiding the act because I don’t like stores, and don’t like the help of doctors and such.

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This is just one of my idiosyncrasies. There are many things in life that I don’t care for much, and I just avoid them. This is made possible by some very dear friends who are willing to take the trouble so as to make life a bit easier for me. But there are some things I have to do myself. Like buying a hat… or a camera…or going to see a doctor. In those cases, when I have to do something that is to my own advantage, but that I don’t like to do, I put it off indefinitely. Which is in sharp contrast to my normal behavior. I’m a punctual person. When going someplace to meet someone, I’m usually there between 15 minutes and a half an hour before the designated time (with a book in my backpack, so as not to waste time). When I was in business, if I promised a job for a certain date, I was never late.

I am reminded of a comic sequence by Lenny Bruce in which he berated the police of Los Angeles for hiding in public restrooms and watching through a spy hole to catch homosexuals doing something nasty in the toilet. And then as an aside, he said, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but when I go into a public restroom the only thing I’m thinking about is how to get back out as fast as possible’. That’s the way I am when I go into a store.

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But still, looking at myself critically, I just couldn’t excuse the discomfort I had imposed upon myself just because I don’t like shopping. And as I contemplated this defect of mine, it suddenly occurred to me that this was one of the things I most dislike about my country. As I have often complained to my friends, it’s exasperating to watch the way the government will let a problem grow and grow until it’s unbearable before doing anything about it. For example, Jerusalem used to be a very nice, comfortable little city. When I was a young man I used to go almost everywhere on foot. But over the years the city grew; the population grew much greater; and it seemed as if everyone got a private vehicle. The streets bore more and more traffic until they choked up with gridlock. Bicycles would speed past us as we in cars moved at a speed of two kilometers per hour, before they finally decided to improve public transport. Take another example from five years ago, when the ‘militants’ of Gaza started shooting rockets at towns and cities in the south. At first they just shot a few to see how we’d react. We condemned the rocket attacks. So they figured it was safe, and shot hundreds of them. Our citizens kept running to the shelters, and we would shoot back now and then… but still, it took more than a year till we realized it was war.

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According to my favorite philosophical attitude towards initiating change, I would have to change myself before trying to change the country. I’m willing to give it a try. But I tell myself, I’m old. What’s the point? Change is so much work, and who knows how much longer I have to live anyway. Whereas the country is young. It has plenty of time to improve, and it would be such an improvement. But you know what they say about people who tell you, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’

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learning companion

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September means back to school here, as in much of the world. And as I watch the young students with book bags and backpacks… on their way to school or coming home, my thoughts are on school and learning, and especially on the difficulties attached to both. This year we didn’t have a teachers’ strike. But in the past, such strikes often coincided with the beginning of school. You wouldn’t hear many students complaining about how miserable they were without the pleasures of the classroom. On the other hand, unhappy parents were interviewed, moaning in protest as they asked, how are we going to go to work with the children stuck at home? And I would wonder if school wasn’t just a self righteous cover for babysitting.

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As I have mentioned in the past, my teachers in the seminary would say, we’re not here to teach facts; we try to teach you how to learn. And one of the most impressive methods of study that I learned there, was studying with a learning companion. We could choose a friend to study with, or a teacher could suggest a match. The nature of the relationship was different from the sort of friendship that develops between people who find themselves thrown together and learn to love one another… or who discover a natural affinity with someone else. There are so many reasons that people become friends… and maybe as many reasons that friendships cool and wither.

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The learning companion is more like a partner in sports. It is best that you both have a similar capacity to study, and similar enthusiasm. Because the role of the study partner is not to drag his friend to class or to help each other study for a test. The idea is that every person sees the world subjectively. And when you study with a partner, each understands what is learned in a different way. Often the student thinks he understands well what he has just learned, but sharing the different perspectives offers us a wider view of the possibilities.

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I remember at times, having serious arguments with my study partner, and there was no obligation to come to an agreed upon resolution. Nor was there a need to agree to disagree. We could remain with our different conclusions, and in telling others of what we had studied together, I would mention, ‘my study partner came to another conclusion’, then telling what he understood regarding the subject. When we would study legal decisions made over 2000 years ago in the Talmud, the minority opinion was always recorded as well.

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I have mentioned recently my discomfort, gleaning the news from the media. It often seems as if I’m hearing propaganda. There is a common agenda that sets the tone in so many areas. The newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984 seems to have come full bloom at the beginning of this century, and it not only washes out the color of speech; it dampens our thinking as well. So discussing things that matter to us with a comrade who has a different opinion is an important part of learning.

pets

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Nechama taking a walk

We were talking about mysticism, enlightenment, and understanding life itself, a conversation with a friend that stayed with me and accompanied me as I went out to take a walk the next day, Nechama with me, taking her own steps in the park behind our home. She’s never on a leash, but sometimes she walks with me, by my side. This time she was smelling the flowers and the leaves of the plant life in the garden. There were no dogs about, so she was quite relaxed, and it was early enough in the day for the weather to be pleasant. The very best of summer weather.

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Now and then, I would get too far ahead of her, and she would run to catch up. But when we got back to walking, it didn’t take much time till she was sidetracked again by the pleasures of nature.

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These two dimensional iron cat sculptures have been erected in back of a local Arab-Israeli school

I’d been thinking of writing about the experiences remembered in last night’s conversation, levels of consciousness and intuition, as I watched Nechama investigating the familiar plant life, knowing that she was sensitive to signs and history that I didn’t see, and it occurred to me that I had not yet shared with you the great respect I feel for friendship between human beings and members of other species.

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Maybe because I myself am a city boy, born and raised… and having lived almost all of my life in the city, there’s always been an underlying fear that we human beings have distanced ourselves from other forms of animal life, and have become more and more complacent within the human bubble, surrounding ourselves with man made inventions, and often preferring two dimensional fantasy to confrontation with nature.

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Usually when we think of pets, we think of the companionship that they provide. Sometimes even when locked in a cage, or swimming in a small body of water in an aquarium. But there is more to relating to an animal, and as one grows closer to the animal one learns to feel the joy and the pain of that other species… and there is always that chance of finding answers to the very questions we ask ourselves.

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I believe that the dog is the most popular pet in the world, and he is known as man’s best friend. In Hebrew, the very word ‘dog’ means ‘like a heart’ when literally translated into English. I had already lived a full life when I first became friends with a dog, and though I had always treasured my many meetings with different animals, both domestic and wild, I discovered a new (to me) level of communication with that bitch.

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the mature hyrax keeps an eye on the territory. the young one has an adventurous spirit

My first relationship with an animal began when a cat took interest in me, and initiated friendship. I was a small boy at the time, wary of all human company, and had taken a chair and a book to read in the shade of a tree. When the cat approached, I was too shy to even pet him, so we locked eyes and looked at one another for the longest time. And that cat made the moves. Since then I have had similar contacts with many different mammals and birds. It has often been an awesome experience. Occasionally there have been misunderstandings or severe differences. I have experienced happiness and sorrow. I’ve learned from animals so, so much, and the most I’ve learned from cats.

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a painting on the curb, between the street and the sidewalk

When reading Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography, I came across a couple of bear stories, including one in which the bear almost did him in. While reading that book I felt love and respect for Roosevelt, and so it was almost painful for me that I was unable to share with him (he died before I was born) my own confrontation with a bear in which we eventually sat down face to face in a forest at night, and shared the space in peace. Of course, Roosevelt had been hunting at the time, and it’s hard to get on even footing with another living thing once you’ve been hunting him.

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on my way to take the bus

I know that too from my own experience, though I never hunted an animal with a gun. But when I was still a very young man, I met a buck deer in the forest once. He was very cautious at first, but satisfied himself that I was not going to do him any harm. And so we stood there for a while, about two meters separating us in this small clearing. He might have been interested in food, but I offered him none. And then when I’d gotten pretty relaxed and figured he felt the same, I reached for my camera, and lifted it in front of my eyes. It was at that moment that he lunged forward and kicked me in the chest with one of his legs before running away. He knocked me down. I’ve been a little more cautious about photographing without permission since.

full moon

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We sat around the table in my patio last night… a few friends sampling the different cheeses that Mariana and Paul brought back from Bucharest. I had prepared the old fashioned rye bread, and my friends put together the cheeses, salads and vegetarian enchiladas to make a satisfying dinner to be eaten outdoors. There was a full moon in the sky. We drank a spritz, white wine and soda. It brought back memories of our more sophisticated friends who would have been revolted by mixing good wine with soda… there are all kinds of blasphemy in this world.

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Paul is about to get a gift from heaven; a cube of melon

And talking about the past (when spritz was more accepted), it didn’t take long till we got to the future. Paul was telling me about Harari’s latest book which he saw selling like watermelons at the open market when he visited the book fair there. ‘Ah, they have the book fair there too’, I asked. ‘All over the world’, he said. Harari’s book is about the future. He sees the start of the new epoch too. He sees it as the end of the organic age. Everything, including biology will be designed by computer.

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I suppose it’ll give us a lot of free time… not only because the computer is well known as a time saving device, but also because we won’t have to waste good time arguing whether computers exist or not. Everyone’s in agreement about that.

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under a full moon, Mariana

He had spent the spring meditating on Gnosticism, and gave us a short run down on the essence of such studies. Materialism is evil, but the gnostics didn’t bother with pitting good against evil; they were dedicated to releasing the real god from the spark found in every human being (maybe in every living thing?) Instead of denouncing sin, they denounced ignorance, which explains why there are so many agnostics running around these days. Basically, it’s mysticism, so if we have the patience we can wait, and soon Hollywood stars will be explaining it to us. And since it persevered all the way to China in the last millennium, it might be just the religion appropriate to the global village.

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What did I learn? That if you have a beautiful river running in front of your living room window, it is likely to be accompanied by a super highway which will emanate the roar of fast moving up to date motor vehicles. At night you might hear motorcyclists racing one another which is more like a soul shattering whine. If you have a beautiful park behind your house, it’s very likely that it’ll be chosen as a perfect venue for a rock concert if you’re lucky, or a convention of the young enlightened with trance music in the background if your luck has turned. On the other hand, the leaves are greener in Europe, whereas the bureaucracy is further entrenched.

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enchiladas, bread, Noga & Nechama

For dessert we had cherry muffins that Mariana had made herself, and one of our number (I’m not naming names), applied an edible plastic whip cream to the top of the muffin which no doubt gave a taste of the future to come. Oh, it’s wonderful to sit outdoors while still enjoying all the comforts of home, and welcome the summer.

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celebrating lag b’omer

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about my previous post

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Dear friends, a few weeks ago I published a post, only to pull it off the net a few hours later. I had given it an ironic name, ‘the chosen people’, because this was right after a vast majority of the member states of the United Nations voted to condemn President Trump for recognizing our ancient capital as the capital of Israel. I got some comments, and some mails… that made it evident to me, that there were quite a few people who didn’t understand what I was trying to say.

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I have friends who tell me, don’t worry about how people will take what you write. Just write what’s on your mind. But that’s not what blogging is all about. It’s an interactive process, and I’ve always enjoyed the conversations as much as the writing of posts. There was one comment that I just couldn’t publish here in my little home on the internet. It wasn’t even aimed at me. But it was vile. Since then it has really been hard for me to write.

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I had planned to write about the concept of sanctity in my next post. I sat down to write about the subject this morning… and just couldn’t write. And since I do have some friends here, people with whom I feel there is understanding and conversation, and I miss you… I thought I’d let you know what’s going on in my mind. I’ve chosen some of the pictures I planned to attach to that post here. Shimon

love and ego

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Many years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, was visiting with friends and students in Jerusalem. Word of his presence in our city soon spread among his followers, and one by one and then in small groups, people started showing up at the apartment where he was staying. Outside, the sun was setting. Inside, it was beginning to get dark. A friend went to the light switch, about to turn on the electric light. But then Shlomo said, I would prefer a candle. A candle was placed in a single candlestick and lit. The sun went down completely, and more people came. After evening prayers, Shlomo asked for more candles.

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Rabbi Shlomo singing with friends

Friends melted the base of a candle and stuck it to a little plate. More and more candles were lit and placed on shelves and on the tops of high book cases. The apartment filled with people and Shlomo encouraged them to light more candles. A few friends went out to get more candles, and soon there were more candles than could be counted. They provided a soft light that filled the room. Friends pulled guitars out, bells and drums, and other musical instruments. We told each other stories, and sang songs together. Though each particular candle offered just a modest amount of light, all of the many candles together filled the apartment with light.

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At one point, when there was a natural pause in the conversation and the music, Reb Shlomo waved his hand, signifying the many candles, he said, ‘You see, each candle is like a human soul radiating its own particular light. But when we are all together, the space is filled with light, and it is difficult to attribute this great light to any specific source’.

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This week began for me with a visit to the rose garden opposite the Knesset, our parliament here in Jerusalem. The newly elected members of parliament were trying to organize a new government. And the news media was filled with dire warnings about what might or might not happen. But now, in the height of spring, the rose garden was filled with flowers, and the sun was shining overhead, and the sky was blue.

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Yesterday was the holiday of Lag B’omer. A day dedicated to the memory of the great mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was born and married and died on this day, and taught us a mystical understanding of the light in this world. It is also a day in which we remember the struggle of our ancestors against the Romans. It is a holiday which is marked by bonfires and celebration in the middle of a very serious period of time, during which we progress from our exodus from slavery and aspire to the acceptance of enlightenment. And that is such serious work for the soul, that it is a great relief to have a day of fun and joy to offer release from our contemplation on the fact that true freedom is found only when one has a framework of values and intentional behavior.

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dancing around the bonfire

While watching the revelry around the campfires, I was reminded of Reb Shlomo’s words in praise of the candles. Let us remember the unique character of each and every human being, and value his individual contribution to our society. But remember too that the light that we generate is not held within, but is shared by all, lighting up the world around us and bringing us the warmth and happiness of love.