Monday, June 30, 2008

... and on the Bus, Part II

As I stood on the bus today, I heard a rather powerful conversation taking place in front of me. An older man with white hair and a black kippah stated, "That bombing at Cafe Hillel that took Alon Mizrahi and 6 others, remember?". The man next to him nodded, before being totally caught off guard by the man's next statement, "He's my son." As the old man continued to emotionally describe his departed son, I stood quietly, listening and paying my respects to a man who lost one of his most important assets. "He never had a chance to get married, to raise a family, to live," the old man continued, "They killed him before he had a chance to grow." His harrowing words reminded me of a similar statement in a speech I heard in Arad's cemetery during 2005's Memorial Day where one of the speakers described the pain of seeing saplings being ripped from the ground before they even had a chance to blossom into trees. Alon Mizrahi was only 22 when he died preventing a suicide bomber from entering Cafe Hillel on Emek Refaiim in Jerusalem ... Another name in what sadly seems like a never ending list of victims in our struggle to live on our land.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Olim World Cup

When I saw Telfed's website looking for players for the OLIM World Cup, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to be involved in this team. I have heard of the competition after some of my friends won it last year, and wanted to be a part of it. Although it wasn't easy finding South Africans to play, be it because of prior commitments or lack of interest in the game, we eventually found enough players to form a team for the 16 man 5 on 5 tournament at the Goal Time complex in Tel Aviv.

As the new team to the competition, no one knew what to expect from us, including ourselves. We started off the tournament with a fantastic 5-2 win over Switzerland, followed by another strong showing in a 2-1 win over Sweden. With these two victories, we were already guaranteed not only a place in the quarter finals, but also the top spot in our group. However, the difficult win over Sweden had a heavy price to pay - our top scorer, Simon, went down with a knee injury and our goalkeeper, Natan, also hurt himself. The team never fully recovered from their absences, and suffered difficult losses in the last group game (4-0 to Chile) and the quarter finals (5-0 to Ethiopia).

Although we were disappointed at how our tournament ended, we were still proud of the run we had had. The team spirit and camaraderie was phenomenal throughout the four games and it showed on the pitch, where 8 players who had little experience playing with each other managed to compete and win games. The quarter finals was a good achievement in our debut in this tournament, and we'll be looking to go even further next year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 6

Pirkei Avot 6:5

אל תבקש גדלה לעצמך, ואל תחמוד כבוד, יותר לימודך עשה, ואל צצאוה לשלחנם של מלכים, ששלחנך גדול משלחנם, וכתרך גדול מכתרם, ונאמן הוא בעל מלאכתך שישלם לך שכר פעלתך

Non bushkes grandeza, i non kovdisyes onra demasyada de tu meldar az i non deze'es a sus mezas de los reyes, ke tu meza garnde mas ke sus mezas I tu korona grande mas ke sus koronas, i fiel el duenyo de tu ovra ke pagara a ti presyo de tu ovra

Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not chase after honors. Put into practice more than what you have learned, and do not wish for the table of kings (1), because your table is superior to theirs, and your crown higher than theirs, and worthy of faith is your Master (God) to repay the reward of your (good) deeds

I would like to look into the numbered sentence in this mishna. Why should one not wish for the table of kings? I think there's two very good reasons for this:

(1) The first reason is stated in the 1st sentence, "Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not chase after honors." It seems that this sentence refers to your 'spiritual journey' and how it shouldn't be guided by the desire gain recognition or honors. Our desire to improve ourselves spiritually should not be motivated by the wanting to have the 'table of kings', but by the aspiration to better oneself. If one's motivation is driven by the desire for honor, he becomes solely focused on himself - losing all the benefits of the journey. As Rabbi Elazar HaKafar says in Pirkei Avot 4:21, "Jealousy, lust and [the desire for] honor put a man out of the world."

(2) The second reason is described wonderfully by Rabbi Meir Melamed:

Do not wish for the table of kings who, without any work or effort, have the best of everything. The king acquires this crown not because of any special ability, but out of royal descent. But you acquired your table, your greatness and your crown through your own merit.

As I end what has been a fun and enlightening project, I would like to thank those who have commented and given me valuable feedback. I hope it's been as enjoyable and productive for you as it's been for me.


I would like to dedicate this last entry to Madame Bella, who passed away yesterday at the age of 85 in Sea Point, South Africa. Despite surviving the horrors of Auschwitz, she managed to smile and lead a remarkable life. May her dear soul rest in peace.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 5

Pirkei Avot 5:13

ארבע מדות באדם. האומר שלי שלי ושלך שלך, זו מדה בינונית. ויש אומרים, זו מדת סדום. שלי שלך ושלך שלי, עם הארץ. שלי שלך ושלך שלך, חסיד. שלי שלי ושלך שלי, רשע

Kuatro kondisyones en el ombre, El ke dizo lo mio mio i lo tuyo tuyo esta kondisyon medyana, I ay dizyentes esta kondisyon de Sedom. Lo mio tuyo i lo tuyo mio Am A'arets, Lo mio tuyo i lo tuyo tuyo bueno. Lo mio mio i lo tuyo mio malo.

People have four characteristics: there is the person who says, "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours"; such a person is average (neither pious nor wicked), although some believe that the people of Sodom were like this. Another one says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine." One who says that is a fool (am ha-aretz). He who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours, is yours," is a pious person. But one who says, "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine", is wicked

I have two questions (& hopefully answers too) about the above mishna ...

1. It seems that the four people mentioned in the mishna are discussed relative to their desire to give tzedaka (charity). So how exactly is the first person, one who doesn't give (mine is mine) or take (what is yours is yours), fit into the equation? One of the reasons for this, as discussed by Rambam (Maimonides) in Mishnah Torah (Hilchot Gerushin 2:20), is that every Jew's inner desire is to give and help the less fortunate, and in the process distancing oneself away from sin. So what stops us from being charitable? I think this is why the Mishnah compares this person to one from Sodom (for more on the Sodomites, click here) as they were so wrapped up in their own existences that they forgot about those around them. Rabbi Melamed explains this far more eloquently, "A person who gives nothing of his own may be indifferent to the welfare of others out of selfishness, much like the people of Sodom." Perhaps this 'first' person is intentionally mentioned as a warning to the outcome of those who self indulge and in the process, fail to even notice and help those around them.

2. How can a 'pious' person live by the ethos, "what is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine,"? It seems quite a bit too much to ask of one person. I somehow doubt that the writer of this mishnah expects us to give all our possessions away. Building on the previous question, the essence of being a human being is understanding those around you, and trying to live within that environment peacefully and happily. One cannot be happy in any group, be it your family or an office or society, if he's indifferent to those around him. Hence, a pious person, while not expected to give everything he owns (The Talmud says an individual should give no more than one fifth of his assets), is expected to understand his environment well enough to know when to give to those around him (whatever aid this may be).