Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More on Lavan

On the other mailing list, four interpretations of Lavan's apparent ignoring of God's command to leave Yaakov alone, emerged:

  • I: Never underestimate the human will to be stupid and worship AZ in the teeth of the evidence.
  • II: Hashem was only first among equals, so the message was only one factor in Lavan's actions.
  • III: Anthropological: terafim were symbols of household power, so keep them with the major family unit.
  • IV: Magickal: fortune-telling talking head would give away their position.
On yet another mailing list, the following uncensored comment of Efodi to Maimonides' Guide 2:46 was mentioned (from the Sabbioneta 1553 edition of the Guide, courtesy of Jewish National University Library):

In it, Efodi maintains that Maimonides' theory of visionary experiences extends also to major events, such as the Akeidah and Jonah in the Whale.

The difficulty with Lavan was raised because, how could he ignore the power of God's message? Avraham Avinu didn't ignore it at the Akeidah. But if the Akeidah was visionary, then there has to be another factor at play besides simple power of the message. I suggest that Avraham did what he did because he was attuned to God. Lavan, however, was a polytheist. Whether he recognized God's message or not, it was either not important to him (I), or only one factor to be counted in the theological equation (II) of figuring out what to do.

If the [non-Mosaic] revelation to Lavan was visionary, he could easily discount it, since he wasn't attuned to God-talk. This might be a fifth reading, or a support to the first two.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lavan: daft or dense?

On another mailing list, this question was asked, in terms of why didn't Lavan listen when God spoke to him and told him not to interfere with Yaakov.

A brief response: last week, our LOR spoke about Yitzchak, whose entire experience of God was through the middah of din, strict judgment. He looked into the void of God-directed death at the Akeidah, and never re-emerged. From then on, his life was driven by fear, not love of God. This led to his favoring Eisav. Eisav brought him "tzayid befiv" - hunted food in his mouth. The hunting was an expression of a din-oriented personality, but it was tempered by being channeled into honor of one's parents. He saw Eisav living life under Yitzchak's Din-God, while he couldn't relate at all to Yaakov the simple man who lived in tents. The only way to redirect the covenant with God back onto a more balanced path was through intelligence, cleverness, guile.

Which leads me to wonder. If we regard Lavan as daft or dense for not listening to God's command, what about Yitzchak, his direct contemporary? God speaks to Yitzchak once, and only once, and gives him one command: Fear not. Yet Yitzchak's whole relationship to God was through fear. We speak of Pachad Yitzchak as his defining characteristic. And he continues to live his life in fear, not acting, but being acted upon, and reacting. Yitzchak didn't listen to God any more than Lavan did. Yet Yitzchak gets a renewal of the covenant, and carries it on to the next generation. Yitzchak was not full of guile, rather, quite direct.

So we have Yitzchak not listening to God's single command, just like Lavan. We have Yaakov using guile just like Lavan to counteract all kinds of perceived threats - against his father fearing loss of his rightful heritage; against Lavan fearing loss of his family and wages; finally against Eisav fearing loss of his family and personal safety. Yaakov uses guile to counteract fear - which has long been our pattern, starting with Avraham in Egypt in Lech Lecha.

Lavan acts with guile, and doesn't listen to God, and is regarded as a terrible moral pariah. Is it only because he was an idolator, while Our Avos were not? Is it only that he played for the wrong team, rather than any inherent immorality? In which case, why is Lavan held up as such an immoral model?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

JCPenny 1977 Viral Post

My local gabbai sent me a pointer to this post:

Strap in, shut up and hold on. We're going back.

which has apparently gone viral. Pictures from a recently unearthed 1977 JCPenney catalogue, all the worst excesses of 1970s plaid jackets and paisley Western shirts.

Sure, it's fun to laugh at how silly they/we looked 30 years ago. But think back to that era, if you're over 40. The plaid jackets - everybody wore them in those years. I had a green large-plaid jacket as my good jacket in 6th grade (1976-77), which I wore with dark green polyester pants and a lime-green tie, and thought I looked cool. And this is my Dad's publicity photo from that period (hat tip Del Staigers Tribute Page)

man in plaid jacket holding trumpet

The stripes are light and dark blue on a white background, and if I remember correctly, the shirt was a sort of orangey-brown, like butternut squash.

He still has the jacket hanging in the closet, but I don't think he's worn it in 25 years. Dad generally has good taste in clothes, and that was fashionable back then, even if it looks like Herb Tarlek on a bad day today.

I will point out that when he performed, it tended to be in a plain black-and-white tux, as befits an orchestra musician.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Further Adventures of Beverly Gribetz

According to a new article at JTA, my 2nd-cousin-by-marriage Beverly Gribetz, formerly of Ramaz and the Evelina de Rothschild school, has started a new girls' school called Tehilla, run on Modern Orthodox principles. Girls will learn Talmud, but are coming from a wide range of lower-level schools, both more and less traditional than Tehilla.

It's less aggressively Feminist than the other new Modern Orthodox girls' school being started by the Shalom Hartman institute. Hartman's administrator, R' Donniel Hartman, would enthusiastically accept a girl who wears a tallis, and the Hartman Institute will be housing (temporarily) the egalitarian-leining minyan Shira Chadashah. Gribetz has no current plans for her girls to lein, but if the students want it, she's open to it.

The opening of the two new schools, along with Gribetz' departure therefrom, has brought the imminent closure of the Evelina school.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Google Earth Mapping Oddity

I was playing with Google Earth, looking at friends' houses in the NY Metro area. I scanned over to the George Washington Bridge, and noticed that with the 3-D Structures layer turned on, it looked rather cool. I rotated the plane of the view so that I was looking at it as if flying by at about 500 feet, and noticed something odd.

The program has a picture of the roadway, from satellite, and it has a graphic structure which copies the actual bridge structure. The structure is in place, but the picture of the road, instead of overlaying the bridge structure and appearing to be the actual bridge deck, instead was overlaid on the land underneath the bridge. So the picture of the road deck follows the hills below the bridge, and crosses on the surface of the water, while the structure stands proudly where the bridge itself is. See this picture, you'll see what I mean.

It seems to be a bit of an error - does the picture of an elevated surface follow the land, or does it exist at its own elevation?

For a higher-resolution version, click on the picture.

The All-Purpose Preposition

Bei mir bist-du ungrammatical.

That was my first thought on reading this sentence on Chabad news-site

The Israeli new daily "Israel Today" in today's edition carries a picture taken by the funeral of former Israeli president Zalman Shazar.

Now, I might re-order the adjectives in the first clause, saying "new Israeli daily", since we seem to order adjectives with capitalized ones closer to the noun, but that's a minor quibble.

On the other hand, that's some active funeral, which can take a picture.

The rest of the article is no better. The second sentence describes the subject of the photograph. The third sentence begins "His funeral took place..." Whose funeral? The subject of the picture, or the funeral at which the picture was taken? It then mentions Olmert's diagnosis of "prostrate cancer". And that's all in three short paragraphs.

If you're going to write for an English-speaking audience, you have to write clearly. Hire a real editor, one who went to a good American college, who has read widely and has absorbed good usage from good books, as well as from technical grammar and usage manuals. Yiddish phraseology (the all-purpose Yiddish preposition "bei" just doesn't work everywhere in English) won't cut it.