Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hanukkah: For the Miracles

“For the miracles, for the times we were saved, for the mighty acts, for the victories, and for the battles you waged, for our ancestors in those days at this season . . .”

Al Ha-Nissim for Hanukkah


This little statement is sung each night of Hanukkah, following the blessings for the lighting of the Hanukkiyah, the eight branched menorah that we use to celebrate the minor Festival of Rededication, the Festival of Lights. At this time each year, we light the lights to advertise the miracle, to remember what it was like when our right to exist was denied us by rulers and powers, and what it was like to fight for our right to our unique identity among all the peoples of the earth.


It is easy on those nights, as we sing the happy childhood songs about latkes and dreidls, to remember the story about the miracle of the oil and it is easy to forget the reason why we light our lights and sing our songs each year at this season. It is every so easy to sing the Al Ha-Nissim in Hebrew while not thinking about the meaning of the words in Hebrew, and what memories they are intended to bring up for us.


Al ha-Nissim— for the miracles—in the Hebrew do not require a willing suspension of disbelief for our modern sensibilities, because they are not suspensions of natural law. Our G-d does not work that way, rather the Eternal renews the Work of Creation each day, which is a lawful work. A miracle is what human beings can accomplish through the illumination of the fire of the soul, entirely within the bounds of the Universe we know. The miracle that we advertise each year as we light the flames in our windows is the miracle of the flame of the Jewish soul, the continued existence of Jews as Jews against the darkness brought by those who would see it extinguished.

. . . v’al ha-purkan—for the times we were saved—the times that a hero or sage came to our aid, bringing to us a fiery reminder of the passion of our spirit; the strong arm brought to our defense by the passionate love of life and of the way we live it. We have been saved time and again, enduring and thriving in the face of certain destruction. The Hebrew understanding of salvation is not some metaphysical redemption, rather it is a very real and sometimes messy saving of flesh and blood from bondage and destruction.


. . . v’al ha-gevurot—for the mighty deeds—the acts of power and courage that come from the absolute conviction that our unique identity is precious and worth risking our lives to preserve for ourselves and for our children. Every time that we have been pushed up against the wall, we are inspired by the Eternal to resist the darkness and protect the light. That inspiration is the flame that burns small and strong against the cold and dark nothing that seeks to consume it.


. . . v’al ha-nifla-ot—for the victories—the wonder of winning over our foes, the wonder of once again being free to light up our lights against the darkness.


v’al ha-milchamot—for the battles that you fought for us . . . Make no mistake, miracles and salvation, mighty deeds and wonders do not come without a price. That price is the willingness to resist evil no matter the cost. It is the price paid by Judah son of Mattiyahu and his brothers, who resisted

. . . when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against your people Israel, to make them forget Torah and violate your law. You waged their battles, defended their rights and avenged the wrongs done to them. . . .

Al ha-Nissim for Hannukah

The price for their freedom to exist was to take up the sword against the oppressor, to wage war against a larger and better equipped professional army, and to win that war against all odds. This price has been paid again and again, by the men and women of the People Israel, from Devorah to Tania Chernova, and from Joshua to Yoni Netanyahu. Some of those who knew they had to fight lived to see the fruit of their courage, and some gave their lives.

Each night, when we light those small and flickering flames that shine against the darkness of winter, we remember them all, the heroes inspired by sages, those who lived and those who died, and those who died only because they were Jews. Against the bright lights of those more numerous and powerful than we, our flames seem small and weak; against those bright lights that last the night, ours waver and go out after a brief time burning. But we light them year after year, because they represent how:

you delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous . . .

Al ha-Nissim for Hanukkah

In our own time, a time I thought would never be seen again, the darkness grows against us once again. We see and hear of innocent Jewish children being attacked while the governments of the world are silent. We hear of our laws and customs forbidden in the lands of Europe, while the Islamists riot in the very same streets to demand their law replace the European enlightenment. We hear of a presidential candidate in the United States who has remained silent in the face of the virulent anti-Semitism among his inner circle and his supporters. We hear the Iranian president preach against us war and death and destruction to the sound of thundering applause. And as in the days of the Maccabees, we watch as some of our own people support our enemies and mouth their accusations against us.

The flame of one small candle flickers against the night, and goes out. But the next night it is two, and then again, three, and up to seven the number of Divine completion of Creation; and beyond to eight, the number of human fulfillment of tikkun olam, the Repair of the World. Year after year, lighting light against the darkness, counting up from a single flickering light to an abundance of light is re-enacted, always using small and single flames. They represent the miracles and redemptions, the mighty acts and victories, the battles that the Spirit of G-d that burns within, won for us in those days at this season. And particularly in this time of growing darkness in this time and season, the flames illumine our souls and ignite our courage and warm our hands and faces, preparing us for the time when the few will once again prevail against the many, and the weak against the strong. Not by might, and not by power, but by spirit alone will this once again be accomplished. Another one in the eternal chain of remembrance for which we sing:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Shall Live by Them

  וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם

“You shall keep them, my commandments and my laws;  which if a man does them, he shall live by them.” (my translation)

Va-Yikra (Lev.) 18:5 (The Holiness Code)

“The commandments were given for no other purpose than to help men to live because of them, and not to die.”

Tosefta Shabbat 16-17 (Supplement to the Mishnah in the Babylonian Talmud)

“Judaism alone was primarily preoccupied with life. The Torah is called Torat Chayim, a Torah [teaching] for life, not for “eternal life” but simply for this life . . . the laws of the Torah are a preparation for life—the full life of the affections and senses, as well as of the mind and the spirit—‘which if a man do, he shall live by them’ (Lev. 18:5).”

Abba Hillel Silver, Where Judaism Differed: An Inquiry into the Distinctiveness of Judaism, 1956


Oftentimes I have been brought up short in a discussion or argument by the sudden realization that my partner in the debate and I have a completely different, and often irreconcilable world view. In these cases, much can be learned from continuing the discussion and I can pinpoint the consequences of each world view in the ensuing conclusions, but there can be no fundamental agreement reached.

I have been having some very intense and fruitful discussions with a friend whose world view, I am discovering, differs substantially from my own. This should not be surprising, given this man’s educated Protestant Christian background, but I have found it so because he has rejected Christianity its own-self. However, unlike so many of the adult children of Christianity that I know, he has not given up a primarily mystical world-view, instead replacing the Christian version with something else. Although I tend to think of this  as  “new age” kind of thinking, that label may in itself be problematic because it is used so glibly by religious and non-religious people in order to put  a premature closure on understanding of it, whatever it may be.

In the discussion we had last Sunday evening, two basic ideas over which we differ became stumbling blocks to any resolution between us about what is moral and what is not. One is the idea that this life is a kind of proving ground or antechamber for some form of existence after death. Or not. The other idea is the necessity to resist evil. Or not. Whether one accepts the second idea is actually related to one’s position on the first.

As those who have been reading this blog already surmise, I do not see life on earth as anything other than an end in itself. It is my identity as a Jew—and an educated one, that fundamentally makes this so. During the evolution from the Biblical Israelite religion to modern Rabbinic Judaism, one of the ideas that did not substantially change was the idea that life is for the living, and that physical existence is very good. Although Judaism has been infiltrated at the fringes by ideas about life after death, normative Rabbinic Judaism has rejected them, firmly insisting that it is what we do here and now that matters. If there is something more after death’s finality, then we do not know anything about it, and it is best to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, because our actions here are what count for our weal and our woe.

The idea that death is not the end, that there is some utopia to be had after death, whether it be quasi-material or wholly spiritual, is related to apocalyptic thinking—the idea that what is, as it is, shall be completely remade into something better by a power that is generally conceived of as wholly good. These ideas (there are two of them, related but distinct) necessarily imply that things as they are now are not good, that human nature is fundamentally flawed, that physical existence and the material world are at least second best, if not downright evil.

Even within its creation stories, the Israelite religion rejected these ideas. The first creation story in Genesis uses words and phrases that, to the eye of those who know the Akkadian creation myth Enumah Elish, sets itself in opposition to it. Enumah Elish is a story of how there is a war in heaven, and the physical universe is created from the killed body of the loser, Tiamat. The implication is that the spiritual gods, disinterested and unpredictable, rule over the physical world, wreaking havoc as they will. The classic Hebrew creation story in Genesis 1:1 –2:1a in contrast posits an ordered universe brought into being through the spoken word, and declared to be “good” at each step. With the introduction of human beings, who have free will, the creation is pronounced “very good.” (The Hebrew word “meod” corresponding to the English “very” is a play on the Hebrew spelling of “Adam”, which means human being).

Throughout Torah (the canonical Five Books of Moses), there is no mention of afterlife or of apocalypse. Rather, law is presented as having real-world consequences: keep Torah and have life and the blessing of your children, discard it and experience death and the curses of those who follow. Life is good, death is evil. Body and spirit are intertwined and inseparable.

Later in Jewish history, even as ideas from Babylon and the Greeks brought into the culture notions of life after death, separation of body and soul (in which the body was presented as inferior) and apocalypse, the same circumstances also created the need to keep them firmly controlled. Particularly during the first war with Rome (60 – 65 CE), apocalyptic thinking influenced both the Sicarii (those sects fomenting rebellion against Rome for religious and political reasons) and the Essenes, a collection of sects that withdrew from an “impure world.”  The Rabbis understood that in those circumstances, both rebellion and ascetic withdrawal would result in the destruction of the Jewish people and its loss to the future. They therefore carefully confined any apocalyptic messianic ideation to ritual supplication and focused Jewish law and life upon living in the here and now.  

Although stories and ideas about ghosts and demons, judgment of the disembodied soul and life after death have flourished in Jewish superstition , incorporating customs such as lighting a candle for the dead, they are not normative, and tend to take on the flavor of the surrounding dominant culture. Jewish traditions surrounding dying and the dead forbid all of the displays that encourage such thoughts. It is forbidden to pray to the dead, to build them altars, to give them gifts for the journey, to mutilate one’s body or in any other way display excess grief. Life must go on, and as sad and sorry as we are at our loss, our duty is to life and to the living. This is illustrated in the Midrash on a verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes):

 It was said that when David died, Solomon sent to the Bet Midrash (House of Study) to enquire: ‘My father lies dead before me,and his body is lying in the sun. The dogs of my father’s household are howling for hunger. What shall I do?’ The Sages answered : ‘Feed the dogs first and then attend to the body of your father, for even a living dog takes precedence over a dead king.’ This is the origin of the verse: “For a living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Kohelet 9:4)

As a Jew, therefore, my allegiance is entirely to this life, the only one that I know, and I do not concern myself with “things far beyond it”, as the Psalmist says. When I weigh moral questions, I weigh them against the standard of life, this life. For Jews, there is no moral calculus that places some posited afterlife against life in the here in now. From the writing of the Talmud until now, no Jew can morally justify an action that places spiritual existence against physical life in the here and now. For example, the witch test--binding a woman hand and foot and throwing her in the water and if she drowns her soul is safe and if she does not drown then kill her—would be entirely immoral and forbidden. (Jews, being Jews, were more likely to be the victims of such acts than the perpetrators).

Many decisions are not moral decisions at all in this sense. For example, the decision to light candles on Shabbat is not an ethical consideration, it is a question of ritual, of custom and tradition. The decision to eat chocolate ice cream as opposed to vanilla is not a moral one either, it is one of simple preference. The obligation to preserve human life and to minimize suffering takes precedence over any ritual obligation or simple preference. One may not ignore a danger presented to human life by observation of a ritual or by preference. For example, a Jewish doctor is not only allowed but is obligated to attend emergencies on the Sabbath—when he or she would ordinarily not do any work—in order to save a life and minimize suffering. Any Jew would be obligated even to rescue an animal that has fallen into a well on Sabbath for that matter, in order to minimize its suffering because an animal cannot possibly understand a need to wait until sunset.

This way of thinking is foreign to my friend and debate partner. Because he believes with certitude that there is some preservation of the soul, some better life beyond this universe, questions of morality are informed differently. Since we did not explore these differences at great length, I cannot say with any certainty how they are informed. However, the preservation of one’s own life and the lives of others is apparently not primary to his moral calculus, and I am not sure how much weight it gets at all.

Further, he believes that this after-life or ongoing spiritual life has great influence on the physical world, and that humankind collectively is to make progress toward a “better way.” This points to utopian/apocalyptic ideation that assumes that the way in which human beings make moral decisions in this world is defective. This seems to be tied up with the conception that pacifism is morally superior to self-defense.

However, I have not gotten an answer to the question of whether my friend identifies himself as a pacifist or not, or what that word even means to him. After an hour or so of questioning and answering, mostly in order to clarify the assumptions he had about how I view life and death and heaven and hell, we called it quits. It was late. There was no resolution to agreement in this discussion anyway. There could not be as we start from very different concepts of life and its importance.

I think the conversation was fruitful for me, however, because it got me thinking about how this one basic idea—that of life after death—has consequences that extend to those who do agree with it.

As I said at the beginning of this entry, the idea of a life after death that is more valuable (better)than this life is bound up not only with the idea that human beings are defective in some way, but also with the idea that it is not necessary or even wrong to resist evil. That idea has grave consequences for the world here and now. That will be the topic of another blog entry.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Something for Nothing


There is something in the human psyche that wants to get something for nothing. It is a desire to cheat reality, to win over entropy, to obviate consequences. In the end, wanting something for nothing is the desire to escape a lawful universe.

The other day I had a long discussion with a friend that involved this desire carefully rationalized as a breakthrough within science. My friend, who is scientifically illiterate, refused to accept the definition of science, that it is limited to the study of the physical universe (aka: material world) by use of the scientific method. Instead, he seemed to want to use the cachet of science to contradict itself, and in the process, to deny its boundaries. That he has profound confusion about what constitutes matter made the whole discussion even more difficult—he thought that gases are not material, but he would not allow me to interrupt to clarify such problems of definition. This rendered the conversation frustratingly meaningless, because no definitions of terms were mutually agreed upon. 

The discussion involved the claim that a businessman from Italy had discovered a process and developed technology through which one can expect to get ten times the energy out that was put in. (The claim turned out to involve a “cold fusion” machine, but I did not know that until far into the discussion).

Now such a claim may simply mean that this man has developed a very efficient process using a certain amount of energy input in order to get the use of energy stored in a fuel source of some sort. We do this all the time, at different levels of efficiency, depending on the sophistication of the physical and chemical processes we have discovered. For example, our use of fossil fuels involves input of energy to effect combustion in order to break the energy stored in carbon bonds, freeing it for our use. Of course in all of these processes, the laws of thermodynamics are evident, and we know that we can neither get more energy out that was put into the system in the first place—that is, we cannot create matter and energy out of nothing—nor can we expect to get all of the energy out of the system for our purpose—that is, we cannot have perfect efficiency.

I do not think the above is the claim, because I was being pressed very strongly to “think out of the box” and deny the veracity of the laws of thermodynamics themselves. It was put to me that should this magic process (it was unexplained ergo magic) be true, wouldn’t I have to admit that the laws of thermodynamics are wrong. Einstein’s name was thrown around a good deal, as was the claim that this businessman had made several theoretical “breakthroughs” just in the past six weeks. Breakthroughs, it was implied that obviated our understanding of thermodynamics,and that the discoverer was loath to publish in order to protect his proprietary interest in the process. (In general, publishing theory does not endanger one’s proprietary interest in technology derived thereof, if only because the first is not at all the same as the second, and theory only shows a technology is possible, but not how it would work).

My friend seemed to have no idea that Einstein’s groundbreaking work in special and general relativity, as revolutionary as it was, did not overturn Newtonian mechanics, rather it resolved problems relating to special circumstances and established the speed of light as a constant in the universe, which is still more evidence that the universe is a lawful space/time. Einstein did not replace physics with magic, rather he began a revolution that extended human understanding of how the physical universe operates. (My ex-husband is a theoretical physicist and can undoubtedly explain this better than me, but this is the very, very short of it).

Certainly, if I were shown physical evidence that one can get something for nothing, I would have to rethink the laws of thermodynamics. But they are called  physical laws for a reason: they are fundamental to how the physical universe operates. Therefore, I am confident that if I am shown real evidence that appears to contradict them, an explanation can be found that leaves thermodynamics intact. The ongoing evidence that our understanding of thermodynamics is correct means that it more likely that the proverbial hell will freeze over than that the laws of thermodynamics will be overturned. (That hell is exothermic and so will never freeze over is demonstrated in this bit of humorous reasoning in response to a mythical exam question here).

The discussion came to no particular conclusion, and indeed it could not, given that there was no agreement on what the definition of terms was nor on the boundaries and limits that define science itself. As a scientist—and I used this phrase numerous times—I do not transgress the definitions of the physical universe and the method we use to discern them. What my friend did not accept is that science stops when non-physical “forces” are brought into consideration. Whatever one is doing beyond these limits, it is not science, and scientists have no reason to consider it. 

I think my friend was a little surprised also that I reacted quite strongly to his insinuation that it was his job to broaden my horizons as it were, that is to get me out the box he thinks I am confining myself to “as a scientist”. I, on the other hand, am quite content with the amount of stuff (literally) that exists for us to learn and discover within the bounds of the universe, and I find that the reality is far more surprising and wonderful than any magic that people can invent. As a libertarian, I don’t see it as my job to broaden anyone’s horizons and I do not take kindly to those who feel it is their mission in life to change my worldview.

What intrigues me, though, is this desire of human beings to get something for nothing. That desire is so great that they will use magical thinking, and insist on all manner of evasions of reality in order to acquire it, leaving themselves open to all kinds of scams, collapses and disasters. 

Ever since the Hebrews developed the story of the gate to Eden being barred by a flaming sword, the limitations of existing in a lawful universe have both made human knowledge possible and have caused humans to evade that knowledge using magical thinking. We imagine that there must be a way to get back to the womb. Even in the womb, of course, something is not provided for nothing. The price of order is energy, and that is never free. It may be abundant, but there is always a cost to getting it into the particular form needed to build up complexity and order. And when energy is not obtained, the order disappears.

Those who wish to get something for nothing wish to live outside the bounds of a lawful universe. This is an impossibility, it is a fundamental contradiction. A lawful universe is one that has regularities in its function, that is predictable and knowable. This regularity means that all substance has particular characteristics that establish its identity, and that we can count on each discrete thing to act in a particular way. From particular types of atoms combining in particular ways, we can predict how particular substances will always behave by their nature. This is necessary for something so complex and ordered and wonderful as life to exist.

It is impossible to even imagine what a universe without order, without lawfulness would be like. By definition, cosmos (universe) is the opposite of chaos. It is not by accident that science—the process of discerning the lawful characteristics of the  physical universe—arose in a culture that accepted the lawfulness inherent in cosmos, and the goodness of the material world. To deny either is to be profoundly anti-life.

We can see empirically that those who act upon the notion that within human beings, the spiritual* and the physical can be divided end up destroying both. One does not exist without the other, entwined as they are in a fragile, living whole. Therefore, those who act on the notion that something can be had for nothing become vampires, feeding off of the living energy of others. Physically, they must loot or mooch off of the work of others, and spiritually they must enslave others.  That is the cost of denying reality.

*I use the word spiritual here to mean the complex of emotions and notions that rise from our understandings of ourselves as living organisms in a material world, not as metaphysical in the religious sense--that is something endowed from outside the cosmos. 

Any population of organisms can sustain a certain small number of cheaters, that is those who wish to get somebody else’s something for nothing, and often a population will do so because so long as the number of cheaters is relatively small, the cost of removing them is greater than the cost of giving them a free ride. But when whole societies buy into the notion that something can be had for nothing, and institute it as a matter of policy, they begin to enslave others to produce what they consume, demanding and consuming more and more, until their consumption outstrips production. Insisting that the material needed to sustain their lives and civilization exists without thought or effort, they try to get by fiat what they refuse to make for themselves. This leads to a collapse of biblical proportions, producing great suffering and death, and the civilization may even cease to exist.

History is replete with this same story told in various forms, the details weaving different color into a similar pattern. You can’t get something for nothing. There ain’t any such thing as a free lunch.

The very existence of life depends upon there being a cosmos within which things are what they are, and not what they are not. They can be counted upon to act in certain ways. To suspend this law of nature is to invite not wonder and power, but chaos and death. The wonder of it all is that it is here in the first place, and it all works well enough to sustain life even for a little while. It seems churlish to complain that life requires effort from the living.  

If there ever was a snake in the orchard, the one who began whispering into the ear of the human being; human taken from the humus; that snake whispered that nothing is better than something, and that something can be had for nothing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Late Fall: Home at Freedom Ridge


Late fall for me has always come with a feeling of melancholy longing as the days grow short, and the light slants more and more from the south, reminding me of the coming of the cold season. It brings also a strong need to gather in the places, the people and the events of the times and seasons, an ingathering of the spirit that completes the ingathering harvest of September and October. The Thanksgiving feast begins this turning inward for me, this diving into the depths of the season that begins with the fullness of the reaper and ends with telling the tale of the harvest and the prospects for the coming winter.

Within the passing years, this season becomes associated in my heart and mind with music—particular songs that seem to evoke the season and the times—for awhile. I first noticed this in the late fall seasons that ended the 20th century, during the late ‘90’s, when the season’s turning was evoked by a song played on the weekly Singing Wire program. I cannot find the song and I cannot remember even a line of the lyrics, but I remember that the song wove together the sense of autumn that I experienced with the traditional native preparations for dying in one of the plains tradition, evoking the peace pipe, the sweat lodge and the buffalo robe. This song became my autumn song that was played in the fall for a few years.

2001 marked a change in my life and in the times and seasons of this country, as the EG and I conducted a courtship that began in the promise of summer and culminated with an engagement diamond purchased on 9/11. That year in particular, the yearly seasonal turning at late autumn seemed to join with the sense of the late autumn coming into winter of the Saeculum’s turn from the Third to the Fourth Turning.  That was the year that the then Boychick (now grown into a Cowboy in Training) endlessly played at rebuilding the twin towers in the kindergarten room during High Holy Days, and the EG and I drove back from getting apples at Cochiti while we talked about the coming crisis with Mason Proffit asking: “Will the winds of Black September fall like shrouds upon the world . . . on the tape deck in the Focus. On the day before Thanksgiving, as I drove home through the Bosque, the last of the golden cottonwood leaves blowing in a cold November wind, I heard Leonard Cohen plead: “Sail on, O mighty Ship of State!”, evoking Longfellow: “ . . . in spite of rock and tempest’s roar, in spite of false lights on the shore, Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea, our hearts our hopes are all with thee . . .”. These songs played in my head every autumn through the early years of the new century; years in which we watched our country transformed from the fierce pride and purpose of 9/12 to the soft tyranny of Homeland Security.

And then as the first decade of the century passed its midpoint, in the time of moving and changes, and moving and changes again, my late autumn mood music changed too, and turned inward. As I did. As we did.

In 2008, the year of the market crash and the election of uncertain hope and cynical change, I heard anew the stern warning and the fragile hope of the Yom Kippur service: “ . . . who shall live and who shall die, who by fire and who by water . . . but tshuvah, t’fillah v’ tzedakah temper death’s cruel decree” put to a deeper artistry in Cohen’s Who by Fire? In that time every day brought new revelations and we were hopping between opinions like birds, knowing not what was lost and what was gained and who was next. We, the pampered and entitled children of late 20th century America, began to reckon with uncertainty and risk not known since the time of our grandparents and great grandparents.

As the Obama administration wore on, giving us wars that multiplied, legislation against the express will of the people, government gun running and unsustainable economics, what we had said so glibly at the very first tea parties became frightening reality. We were waking up daily into a different country than the one we had been born in. In 2009 as I heard the first broadsides of anti-Semitism in an American political movement, I could scarcely believe that it would become part of parcel of the administration’s policy, and in the mouths of the supporters of a libertarian-leaning Republican Congressman and presidential candidate.  I can still scarce believe that the United States Senate just voted away the ancient and honored right of Habeas Corpus, making a de facto government violation of rights under Homeland Security into the purported law of the land.

Like the rest of us who yearn to restore the Constitution, I made many false starts in trying to figure out where it was that I must stand, with whom and what it was I was given to do. In that time I learned how to make judgments based on principles rather than personalities, construct arguments from those principles and to stand up for individual rights wherever they might be attacked and by whom.

And with my family, some close friends and member of the Tea Party and the local 9/12 group, I began to imagine what might happen when this economic and political house of cards comes crashing down, as it is bound to do. For the laws of thermodynamics are certain, and our lives are governed by them on the basic level of energy. You can’t win, you can’t break even and you can’t even quit the game. That is, you can’t get out more than you put in, you can’t get out what you put in, and these rules order any system that builds on complexity.

So we began to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. How was I to know in 2009 that those preparations would include leaving behind a beautiful home that I loved in order to go somewhere far away from the city, and move into a community where people live by the values that made this country strong and independent? The idea of removing myself and the products of my labors from the false economy of the looters seemed far fetched as I sat in my office, polished my beautiful floors and carefully planned and prepared holiday meals and ceremonies. And yet I wondered if I would have the ability to leave it all, as my ancestors did, in order to preserve my own values.

And so began one of the most fearfully amazing times I have ever experienced. With each necessary step once taken, we met the right person or found the right place to take the next one, and fraught with risk as each one seemed/seems, everything came together as if we had been guided. And so we were, as we began to take the actions of free men and women. In retrospect, even the missteps and mistakes become providential, bringing us to the teachers and learning that was needful for the next.

But in the time of the most protracted move of my life, I lost my home, the place that I carry with me wherever I am in time and space, my Makom, the place and source of all that true and good and growing in the world. I was living in a world turned upside down. And even if by my own choosing, I was experiencing a revolution in my own being, the revolution that John Adams said came long before the battle for independence. I had thought that the revolution was external, but the battle takes place first within each of us as individuals.

Last Thanksgiving, that first song—the contemporary Indian death song—was weirdly back in my mind, the rhythm and sense of it remembered, but not the words or the tune. I can hear the drum, the voice of the singer, but I still can’t find it, not really. None of the other music that defined late fall, and the transition from unraveling to crisis, spoke to me in the same way. Last Thanksgiving, I was rootless and mourning for my friend turned Cain and the death of his brother, Abel. I had gone east of my own Gan Eyden, not able to go down to the orchard, to taste its sweet fruit.  That I was content in the little island of our Thanksgiving at the ranch last year, does not contradict the sense of coming chaos that I knew at that time.

And all the past year, I have been packing and moving, saying good-bye to what was and cannot be much longer, and greeting that which is becoming what is, a very different and darker reality. This sense of exodus has been apparent in my sparse writings for Pesach and the Holy Days, and yet, standing upon the far shore of that deceptively calm sea, I am surprised to find myself home again. Home at Freedom Ridge Ranch.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving this year, on a journey to Sedillo to stay in our house for the last time, I got in the car after opening the gate to leave. And when I turned on the radio to the country music I had come to appreciate, I heard a deep voice singing:

“West—on a plane bound west, I see her stretchin’ out below,
Land—blessed Mother Land, the place where I was born . . .”

It was Dierks Bentley’s new song called Home. And it was like I knew the words though I had never heard the song:


“From the mountains high, to the wave-crashed shore,  there’s a way to find better days I know.

It’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home.”      


That’s the word, the song that evokes the season of the year and the Turning of the Saeculum, the Makom, the sensibility that takes me to my place to stand.

“Scars—yeah, she’s got her scars, sometimes it starts to worry me—,

“Cause lose—I don’t want to lose sight of who we are.”


Since 9/11 and the foreboding that came before, I have been struggling with the sense that we have been losing who we are meant to be: A free and independent people bound together by an idea, and the courage to identify ourselves by it. We are an exceptional country created not by blood and soil, but by the premise that life, liberty and property are rights endowed to every human being.


Home. It is that idea that I was raised with, and that all my friends and schoolmates were raised with, a precious legacy that our children have not been taught and neither do they understand. But it is here still, the foundation to the place on which we are to stand. 

Home. At the ingathering of the harvest of our labor and the harvest of our thoughts, these are the words that evoke the late fall for me, in this time and place. And we continue to prepare to bring ourselves and those we love, our friends and neighbors through the gathering storm into the better days we will come to know.

Home.Those that came before us, they were brave enough to leave what was behind them and make for themselves and for us something new. And they fought and died for it.  That place we all call home.


“Brave—Gotta call it brave to chase that dream across the sea.

“Names—then they signed their names for something they believed.”