Monday, June 29, 2009

Parshat Chukat-Balak

The Hebrews in this parsha make a bad choice: again, they challenge Moses and Aaron saying that they should have stayed in Egypt. This isn't exactly new. Every parsha in the book of Bamidbar involves Hebrews bitching. And like all the other parsha, G_d gets pissed off and decides to go on a killing rampage.

But instead of bringing down a global flood or a plague, G_d does some freaky, psychedelic shit: he sends down gigantic snakes on fire.

Seriously? Seriously! Snakes on fire. Sounds like a bad 70's rock band.

This is a really interesting choice. Remember that Moses' first encounter with G_d is with a burning bush. And humanity's first sin against G_d involved a snake.

G_d, if anything, has a sick sense of humor.

By sending down these venomous snakes-a-flame, G_d is making two comments: first, I am your Lord, so shut up and keep walking. Second, that their Earthly wisdom has gotten them in trouble before. If it weren't for their know-it-all bullshit, they might be hanging out in Wonderland instead of a desert in the Middle East.

In Kabbalah, Judaism's acid-dropping, stoner cousin, we learn that G_d's behavior has a judgemental side and a merciful side. Moses pleads to G_d's merciful side and G_d throws the Hebrews a rope, as usual.

G_d commands the Hebrews to build an idol of the snake and stare at it. Weird since idolatry is a huge sin in Judaism. But as I mentioned before, G_d has a sick sense of humor. By making the Hebrews stare at this bronze idol, he's basically saying, "I help you people out, I take you out of slavery, and all you can do is whine and complain? Well, here you go: here's a nice, bronze idol for you. You want to be like everyone else? You're too tired of being chosen...being special...being different. Fine. Here's your idol. Go be a pagan for all I care."

By staring at the idol, all those that were sick are healed. It's not because the idol did anything, but it's because they had a chance to see, first hand, what their real options were. They could go back to Egypt and be pagan slaves to statues, or they could have a real G_d to believe in. By confronting their fear and seeing it in this context, life in the desert wouldn't seem so bad. And their hearts, which were poisoned by the promise of the snake, the tempter, the voice of dissent, were healed.

If you consider yourself Punk Torah, you know that life ain't easy. You're going to have a hard time fitting into the Jewish and Indie Rock worlds at the same time. You'll want to turn away from one of them. I've seen that many times: ultra-religious people go secular and punk-as-balls dudes going Chasid and burning their Black Sabbath records. It's comforting to not be challenged. It's nice to fit in. But remember, like the Hebrews in the desert, you are special. And even when you feel like a bunch of snakes are biting you on the ass, G_d is always there to make up for it.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parshah Korach: Rebellion

Parshah Korach is interesting because it deals with rebellion.

In the Torah, a guy named Korach challenges Moses and Aaron, saying that He-Bro's put themselves above the rest of the tribe.

Korach makes a really great point:

"You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?"

Honestly, if I was wandering the desert for 40 years with Moses and Aaron, I'd have the same damn question.

Moses throws himself down on the desert sand and begins to pray. But then he summons up a holy anger, and Double Dog Dare's Korach in the Temple.

G_d, in his constantly pissed off state of mind, makes the earth swallow a portion of Korach's followers and gives the rest a plague. G_d wants to destroy them all, but Moses (as usual) bargains with G_d and everything turns out ok.

The punk rocker part of me wants to side with Korach. How dare anyone put themselves above anyone else? Korach made sense when he said that G_d is with all people and that no one has the right to claim favorites.

But look closely at what's going on. Moses is, after all, actually talking to G_d. He's not some nutty televangelist claiming that G_d appeared in his cheese sandwich and wants $400,000 for a new airplane. Moses has this connection to G_d that none of these people have, including Korach.

So maybe Korach isn't mad at Moses and Aaron. Maybe he's just mad at G_d. He's angry that he doesn't get to go on top of mountains and carry around some tablets. But because G_d isn't as close to him as Moses and Aaron are, it's easier for him to "Viva La Revalucion" against Moses.

Misplaced anger is a terrible thing. Ever get into a fight with your lover, friend, family member, because you were really upset about something else, and just wanted to take it out on someone?

It's my belief that Korach wasn't trying to start a Populist revolt. I think his real aim was to get out his anger against G_d. Unfortunately, poor Moses was standing at the right place, at exactly the right time. And even worse for Korach, his fury ended up killing him and his followers.

So what should we do when we're angry like this? Let it out! That's OK. If you're angry against angry! G_d can take it. If you're angry against someone, let them know. Just make sure you're angry at the right person, for the right reason. Otherwise, you'll end up destroying yourself and the people close to you, just like Korach did.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Parshat Shelach Lecha: American Ghettos and Personal Problems

Why do I believe in G_d? Because G_d believes in me! And that is what this parshah is all about.

That, and the ghetto. I'll explain...

Moses sends twelve spies to Canaan to check things out. When they arrive, they see a land of milk and honey, abundant with figs, pomegranates and these grapes that are the size of basketballs. Insane!

All this sounds like a lot of fun. But ten of the spies disagree. They tell Moses that the land is inhabited by the children of giants and that the Canaanites are a fierce people that will overtake the puny Hebrews.

Then we have a repeat from Behaalotcha: someone wants to go back to Egypt.

And G_d gets pissed. He decides this group of Hebrews just can't handle Canaan and decides he'll make everyone wander the desert for 40 years until the next generation is ready to take up the task.

See, G_d knows that the current generation will never be able to trust G_d in the way that they need to. They don't believe that their lives are really worth anything and can't live up to any kinds of challenges.

It's like kids living in the ghettos of America. Anyone who grows up middle class or rich thinks that these kids should just go to school and "overcome". From their perspective, some kid with a crack addict mother and a father in jail just needs to "tighten his bootstraps" and get down to work. The old Homeless-To-Harvard treatment.

But it's not that simple. When you grow up in an environment where you have little-to-no self worth, it's damn near impossible to do anything. When no one believes that you are special, that you can accomplish anything, or that life is anything other than a sad struggle to survive, the idea of ever having abundance is too great to grasp. That negative mindset is what holds poor communities back, and it's why G_d was forced to hold back the Chosen People.

It's obvious in the metaphors that are used in this parshah: grapes that are so large it takes two people to carry them, giant monsters, raging, violent masses of Canaanites that are thirsty for the foreign blood of the Hebrews. This is all a huge exaggeration if taken literally. But to a people who are used to being treated like shit, seeing everyone except them with money, power and freedom, it's the simple truth.

People ask me why I believe in G_d. And I tell them that it is because G_d believes in me. G_d trusts me enough to do my own research: to follow my own heart. And when my heart takes me in the wrong direction (as was the case with the wayward, peeing-in-their-pants Hebrews), G_d will point me in another direction, for my own good.

I just hope mine doesn't take 40 years...

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Parshat Behaalotcha is fond to my heart...because it is the parshat that I fucked up on.

Parshat Behaalotcha is fond to my heart...because it is the parshat that I fucked up on.

See, there was a writing contest for socially conscious Jewish writers. I had to write a d'var about this section as it related to a global justice issue...and I failed, miserably.

It's hard to write on demand. What's great about PunkTorah is that I can write whatever I want. Even if it has to be about a specific parshat, I still get whatever I want.

And the funny thing is, by failing at this Parshat...I actually ended up proving it's valuable lesson: quit your bitching and be happy with what you have.

See, the Hebrews are wandering around the desert (big shock!) and start to get a little tired of eating mannah. They want all the things they had when they were slaves, which apparently is this weird salad bar of melon and garlic. Yuk.

At any rate, a group of them complain and G_d decides to throw them a bone by making all these doves suddenly appear. The Hebrews get some serious BBQ action on and eat the little bastards to the point that there is still meat between their teeth while they are gulping down dove after dove. It's like a never-ending all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral.

G_d gets angry (as G_d tends to) and strikes these gluttons down, naming their place Kivroth Hata'avah or the Grave of Lust.

G_d was angry because the people did not appreciate what they had. And G_d punished them for their serious lack of thanks for being freed from slavery.

Modern life is all about moving forward: constantly pushing to get the next big thing. To make life better, all the time, through material gain.

When writing my d'var, I got so tied up with "making it perfect" that I forgot why I was writing it in the first place. And ultimately, I ended up missing the deadline. Sad but true--I was driving in my car and realized that I was a day late in submitting my application.

Even now, I am struggling with this constant craving. I am booking a tour for my band, and the shows just keep falling apart. I can't seem to be grateful for the shows that I do have booked!

Hopefully G_d won't send me to my grave...because I have learned to chill out a little and enjoy what I have.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Become A Rock Star In 24 Hours

Become A Rock Star In 24 Hours

I have been asked so many times about "how to get hooked up in the music business." The reality is, I can't "hook you up" anymore than you can! So here's what I know about how become a rock star...and you can do all of this in about 24 hours.

Write Great Fucking Songs

Find Your REALLY SPECIFIC Niche and Stick With It (Christian-Hippie Folk, Nursing Home Piano Tunes, African Metal, whatever)

Get A Good Job...That You Can Leave OR Become Self Employed

Buy Tour:Smart by Martin Atkins and Read It Several Times With Margin Notes

Make A List of Everyone You Know and What THEY Know and How That Can Help You

Make Everyone In The Band Responsible For Something

Use Myspace As Your Website, Not As Your Crutch...No One Likes It

FUCK Email Lists: Use Facebook Instead and Send Personal Messages...NOT FORMS

Devote One Hour A Day To Twitter

Be Authentic!

Promote Something Other Than Music

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Richard Dawkins, Gardening and the Number Seven: Parshat Behar

Richard Dawkins, Gardening and the Number Seven: Parshat Behar

I just watched the Richard Dawkins movie, "The God Delusion. I disagree with Dawkins who thinks that religion is poison (a little too Chairman Mao for me), but he did bring up an interesting point: In one scene, Dawkins confronts a British rabbi about the Genesis account of creationism. The rabbi says that he supports a literal interpretation of Genesis and believes that the world is only 6,000 years old. Dawkins tells the rabbi how stupid this is, because archeologists all agree that humans are millions of years old and that 6,000 years ago was the start of the Agricultural Revolution.

This got me thinking: is there a biblical connection between the agricultural revolution and the laws of Moses? Sure enough, there is...and it's this week's Parshat.

Parshat Behar gives the faithful a set of rules for how to handle all their farming...stuff like the Jubilee, contracts between tenant farmers, a year of rest for the land, etc. etc. I'm not gonna go into it because frankly its boring to me and I don't have a green thumb...i can barely keep a house plant alive.

At the beginning of human civilization, cultures believed that they were controlled by the land and created Earth gods and goddesses to act as the middle man between the Earth and their needs. Life was subsistence, short and brutal. But when the Agricultural Revolution happened, people had abundance for the very first time. We were able to control the land and were free for the first time.

But with freedom comes responsibility, and as keepers of the Law, Jews understand this and bring this to the world with Torah. G_d demands we level the playing field, giving time for the Earth and those who cultivate it to rest. We have to give to the wandering stranger and return land back to its original owner, eliminating the tenant farmer relationship. We cannot abuse our land privilege with usury and on the 50th year, we have to celebrate with festivals.

When a culture has comfort, it becomes responsible to those whose lives are still short and brutal. The lesson of Parshat Behar, and the agricultural revolution, is to see the bigger picture: that no matter what our abundance, we are still partners with G_d and have to play by the rules in order to make life worth living.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Quote By Matthue Roth

"I learned how to get to the point where the only rules I followed were the rules I cared about. And that is when I found G_d."

--Matthue Roth

This quote is more punk than I will ever be in a thousand lifetimes. Thanks, dude!