Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
Yesterday, India’s Supreme Court rejected Novartis’ patent application for the cancer drug Glivec. You may ask, “Why is this important to discuss on a Jewish blog about redemption?”
This case grabbed my attention because of allegations that the Swiss pharmaceutical giant has been practicing something called “evergreening,” making minor, inconsequential changes to a drug so that it cannot be made in generic form. Many in both the developing world and the developed world do not have the ability to pay for their treatment. Yet, it doesn’t seem that pharmaceutical companies care in the least bit. They are more concerned about profit than they are about saving lives.
Healthcare-related industries need to refocus their purpose. This is not to say that they should not be able to turn a profit for their innovative and life-saving medications. But the primary emphasis must be health— otherwise these companies should be held responsible for false advertising.
It has been argued that this is a huge defeat for intellectual property rights and that corporations should have exclusive access to the products that they create. It has been argued that this ruling will discourage medical innovation. This should not be the case—innovation should arise from a desire to heal rather than a desire to make huge sums of cash. Intellectual property should not conflict with the inalienable right that human beings have to live long and healthy lives.
Redemption is possible. Work on your mission. Make sure that business does not interfere with integrity.
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April 1, 2013 | 2:01 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
One of my favorite pieces in Torah is the timeless line, “I put before you a blessing and a curse, blessing if you obey the commandments a curse if you stray from the path and follow other G-ds...," G-d has given us options. A choice, but the teacher has already told us what the right answer is, why has this been a difficult choice then for thousands of years?
At Beit T’Shuvah, when a resident has a difficult choice to make, I usually rely on an old classic to help them suss out the problem; a pros and cons list. So that’s what I have done here, my pros and cons of living on G-d's path.
Legitimate reasons to stray from the path – “The Cons”
1. “I don’t believe in what G-d says” and or “I don’t believe in G-d at all” which makes the first point a moot one. This is a legitimate reason to stray from the path.
2. Ignorance: I don’t always know the right thing to do or how to apply what’s right to each scenario; I don’t have all the facts.
3. Miscalculation: The miscalculation is that I have an idea in my head of what it’s like to experience these other G-ds but the reality is different; a gap between anticipation and gratification. I mistake a circle for a path. And sometimes these other G-ds (money, drugs, power, self) feel better, more real than walking the tight rope of living by G-d’s commandments. At least in the moment they do.
4. Lack of power, I’d like to live on G-ds path but I can’t control myself, or I can’t let go of control. Either way, the issue is lack of Power. This is a legitimate reason to stray from the path.
5. Times have changed/moral objections: if I follow all G-d commands, not to be mistaken for commandments, I’d have to stone my daughter to death if I ever found out she was an atheist, I don’t know how many of you’ve ever seen my daughter, but she’s pretty cute.
6. I like to carve out my own path, I’m a rebel a contrarian. If G-d gave me “free will” what’s the point if I can’t use it to do what I want. Or if when I do what I want I’m punished for it? Bringing me right back to the question, why believe in a G-d who gives me that kind of free will? It’s like telling a prisoner, “I’m gonna set you free but if you try to leave I'm gonna shoot you.” That free will sucks; I want to do what I want and get rewarded for doing it.
On to the Pros, or Legitimate reasons for living on the path
1. Purpose/meaning: I am not an end, in and of myself; as Huston Smith says “the self is too small to keep me perpetually enthused.” I agree. G-ds path provides me with meaning beyond myself.
2. Faith and transcendence: to have faith in or to experience transcendence is a “higher” experience than any material thing or drug can offer. That is a legitimate reason for living on the path.
3. Freedom: being on the path allows me to see the difference between blessing and curse and affords me the opportunity to choose wisely. When I stray from the path I get lost in self and feel trapped with no choices available to me. Freedom, the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without.
4. ”you”:To live by G-ds commandments is to care about you and your needs, to help those that need help, to care for the widow and the orphan. I need to be an example of living on the path, spiritual living is contagious, it has spread to my friends and family and most important my children.
5. The mystery: I have worshipped other G-ds and they have led me to bottoms, I have no idea where this path will take me and am excited and humbled by the possibility.
6. Experience/ transformation: I have had an authentic spiritual experience; nothing is more powerful , and pros and cons lists don’t matter in the face of revelation .
When I had only my cons list my wife said it was too harsh and I couldn’t do it. She said I had an obligation to steer the argument and push for the path - that the point of doing a Drash is to bring a message to people. I think hearing the argument against living on G-d’s path is scary, and seductive, and you don’t want it spoken out loud. When I first finished the cons list and started the pros, I couldn’t think of a single reason to live on G-d’s path. My first thought was "better safe than sorry.” And then something happened: I closed my eyes, took a breath and cleared my mind. I let G-d in. My energy changed; simple words flowed out of me and my spirit felt at rest. Words like peace and blessings, opportunity and freedom, felt authentic in the moment that I was writing them. I realized that my cons list came from a different part of self. A strict, rational, cynical side of myself. By the time I had finished my pros list my wife was no longer worried you (or she) would be sold on not living on the path or offended for me laying out the argument. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident.”
There is one other part of straying from G-d that I didn’t mention, straying from G-d’s path happens to all of us. I laid out these lists because they are what we wrestle with in this community. It is the most important struggle for us as human beings, to see the holy in each moment and each decision. To see the holy in ourselves. Sometimes it is very hard to see. When we lose sight of the path, sometimes it is no big deal, we make minor corrections, apologize, get it right the next time. Sometimes when we lose sight of the G-d in us it is an unimaginable tragedy. At Beit T’Shuvah we try to scrub off all the layers of shmutz that we’ve built up in our addictions, blow it out of us like the beginning of Shabbos, to be, and to see the holy soul that G-d created us as. Even in the face of infinite choices that I don’t understand, I am grateful and humbled by the blessings G-d has given us. I am grateful that G-d afforded us the opportunity to choose, between the blessing and the curse.
March 29, 2013 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I hope everyone’s Seders were fulfilling—spiritually, emotionally and gastronomically! As I went through the Haggadah, I was struck by how many of us don’t take seriously the line: B’Chol Dor V’dor…. In every generation, each person is obligated to see him/herself AS IF she/he were brought out of Egypt. This line, for me is what makes the Seder relevant and is a message from the Sages that no one should get so haughty as to think that they are free of all their inner and outer demons.
I shudder when thinking about this. How many people feel trapped/enslaved by their jobs, families, or responsibilities? How many of us are trapped by old feelings and emotions of negative self-talk and old tapes from childhood? How many of us are trapped by denial and the lies we tell ourselves? Each of us has some “narrow place” that constricts the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and, possibly, the physical flow of life. Yet, we hide from all of this. Why?
The reason, I believe, is that we have set up our lives based on these traps, enslavements, lies, denials, emotions, etc. We become more afraid of seeing ourselves at all, than of staying in Egypt! Depending on how one understands the Hebrew, either 20% or 50% of the people left Egypt. That’s right, at most half of the people stayed in Egypt and I learned that the number is 80% of the people stayed in Egypt. The same is true today; 20% of the people doing 80% of the work is a maxim spoken about often. I would suggest that only 20% of the people who attended Seders this past week, “saw themselves as if they too were brought out of Egypt.”
Herein lies the problem most people have with redemption. We cannot think about redeeming ourselves and others as long as we stay in Egypt. There are those who are enslaved by the Pharaohs of this Century and time and there are those of us who are enslaved by inner Pharaohs and societal “norms.” Which are you? All of these visions/experiences lead to hopelessness and despair. Hopelessness and despair lead us back to, and even deeper into, Egypt, a vicious cycle.
I still get trapped by my intolerance, impatience, fears and blindness. I work hard to leave them each year and I do better in these areas each year. This year, however, I see myself as if I have been brought out of the Egypt/narrow place of recognition. While I like being recognized, I am not trapped by this being a need anymore. I work each day on my demons because I believe that each day I have to remember that God has brought me out of Egypt to live and appreciate the “sublime wonder of life” as Rabbi Heschel says. I can’t do this without doing the work to stay out of Egypt.
I am addicted to Redemption because without Redemption, I go back to Egypt. Without seeing myself as if I have been brought out of Egypt, I am stuck in old behaviors and thoughts. Without asking myself “What am I slave to,” I easily fall into the trap of false ego and false pride. Without the daily maintenance and growing of my Redemption, I can’t live my authentic life script and God’s purpose for me.
Rabbi Mark Borovitz
March 28, 2013 | 1:41 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
Passover is one of the reasons I rejected Judaism. How can a religion that claims to be a proponent of equality simultaneously have at its cornerstone of freedom the murder of children? Instead of delving deeper, I turned away from Judaism as a holiday of hypocrisy.
But each year, I have re-examined a piece of the story, trying to find humanity within the brutality. This year, I am thinking about the cost of freedom. The old adage says, “Freedom isn’t free,” so the next logical question must be, “What does it cost?” In Exodus, the cost of freedom was, “blood, frogs, vermin, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, the murder of children, and 40 years of wandering.”
Sure, the Israelites made sacrifices. They had to kill lambs that had been part of their family for 14 days. They had to leave the comforts of slavery. They had to walk through a really, really big desert. But this hardly seems to justify the cost. I’m all about punishing the guilty. Pharaoh deserved to experience pain, but the children of Egypt had done nothing wrong. Sure, they may have grown up to become the oppressors, but if Minority Report taught me anything, it’s that the future always involves elements of choice—these children could have grown up to be part of the abolitionist movement. If Judaism has taught me anything, it’s that it is never too late to make t’shuvah— these children could have rectified the mistakes of their fathers.
Maybe the cost of freedom was too great. Maybe, after the 9th Plague, God began to act out of ego rather than rationality. So, instead of treating Passover merely as a celebration of freedom, it may be more important to look at the piece that mandates that we mourn what we had to do to achieve it.
March 27, 2013 | 6:16 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
During a Conservative Political Action Conference last month, an attendee presented a controversial view of African-American slavery. It went like this:
K. Carl Smith: 10-20 years after Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery, he wrote a letter to his former slave masters and said, “I forgive you.”
Scott Terry: Forgiving him for shelter and food?
Audience: The sound of a large, collective gasp.
The parallels between African American slavery in the United States and Jewish slavery in Egypt have been discussed for centuries. There are two issues that have to be discussed: 1) the Jews had years to migrate away from their slave owners and develop their own sense of identity, whereas African Americans usually morphed from slavedom into serfdom. 2) What did slavery actually consist of? The latter will be addressed first.
In Beit T’Shuvah’s own Freedom Song, a Passover Seder is juxtaposed against an AA meeting, furthering the parallels of slavery and the bondage that we all face--be it to drugs, alcohol, behavior, and/or emotional insecurity. But there is a safety in slavery that is often forgotten about; being a slave is easy. This is why people don’t just stop doing drugs once a habit is formed, why people don’t just jump out of bed after years of self-loathing laziness, and why people don’t just get “over” their fear of heights, relationships, or spiders. Emancipation doesn’t immediately allow the same luxuries that slavery does; there are more decisions, and there is more room for buyer’s remorse.
This doesn’t necessarily make Scott Terry correct--the negative connotations regarding slavery are still just as valid, and obviously outweigh the above points. Douglass did not forgive his slave masters for giving him food, he forgave them for giving him just enough food to survive and work. He forgave them for treating him as subhuman. He forgave them for subjecting themselves to such a primal behavior.
Jews celebrate Passover because we had an experience of leaving slavery, and leaving Egypt behind. We were able to watch water spread high above our shoulders and grant us a path to wander and explore. African Americans had a different experience: they had nowhere to go, and the only jobs available were akin to being a slave. They had no Red Sea, no wondrous exploration. Only a couple small cities in Florida.
When I think about Passover, I do not think about my ancestors as much as I think about what I can do for society. How do I accidentally perpetuate ideas of ethnocentrism in negative ways? How can I not only help people’s emancipations from the bondage of society, but help them explore their own identity? What questions can I ask that will force people to think critically--as opposed to shock them like Terry--and change the world?
March 25, 2013 | 1:58 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
So today while thinking about what I wanted to write about Passover, this unholy thought popped in my head. Is the Exodus story even a good story? I know it must be because it’s the most powerful, climactic, sweeping narrative in all of Torah, but I couldn’t help but ask, is it really that good? I know people say things like “the Exodus narrative is the archetype for the western story arc,” and it has these timeless human metaphors of slavery and freedom, desert and Promised Land, and the scene with G-d is... Well it’s no Jurassic Park, but it’s pretty darn good. I have to say I’ve heard the Exodus narrative for almost all of my life and sometimes I was left with this sort of feeling like when my wife asks if I think her shoes go good with her dress. I’m no fashion expert, but I do know writing and so I have to ask, is the Exodus narrative really that good? The story of the exodus from Egypt for me is like marriage when it’s not going well, I’m trying to figure out, is it her or is it me. I mean with Leviticus I know it’s her, but the Exodus narrative makes me question myself, and my head tells me crazy things like: THE EXODUS NARRATIVE IS THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. I CANT WAIT TO READ IT EVERY YEAR FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. And then I have to shake myself out of it and compare it to something current just to check an example, like: Is the exodus narrative as good as let’s say, Argo. I mean Argo is at least based on a true story(insert oos and aaahs). Or my choice for best movie of the year, Django, Django has real black people in it not just token Midianites, whatever that means.
One could respond to me “who cares if the exodus narrative is really that good.” And you’d be making a strong point. But then Passover comes along and tells us to see ourselves as if we ourselves made the exodus from Egypt, now what the heck are we supposed to do with that. So I’m going to put up a strong three part argument that The Exodus Narrative is the greatest story ever told. And here is my argument: Martin Luther King, The emancipation proclamation, And the History of the Jewish People. What it means to see ourselves as if we ourselves, is to see our connection to this journey. The difference between Exodus and any other story is we are living this story, it is ours and it continues into the now. On Passover we are asked to look deeply at where we come from, at what we are a part of, we are asked to look at what we are a slave to, and somehow in this process of deep inner acknowledgment of our Judaism and of our humanity and of our story. We get free.
March 22, 2013 | 11:36 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Last night, I went to a screening of Hava Nagila, the Movie put on by Beit T'Shuvah. On Monday night, we are celebrating Pesach, our liberation from Egypt. What do these two things have in common? I think a lot!
Hava Nagila, the Movie does an amazing job of reclaiming the history of this song that has been a part of the Culture and DNA of Jews for over 150 years. Rather than just dismiss it as kitchy and corny, I found the history of it and the many uses of it in Jewish Culture and beyond, to be illuminating, uplifting and redemptive. While I, like many of us, dread hearing the sounds because of the crush of humanity on the dance floor at a wedding, B'Nai Mitzvah and every Simcha; I was enriched and found myself realizing that this song, which began as a Hassidic Niggun, has inspired us for a long time. It reminds us that no matter what, we have to find the joy of living and celebrate moments of good and Holy that abound when we look for them. I also realized that this crazy tune brings this crush of humanity together like no other. We all get up, we dance, we crush, we sing, in other words, we are together. We redeem joy, happiness, family, friends and community through Hava Nagila. Thank you to Roberta Grossman, Marta Kaufman and all of the people who participated in and donated to make this movie a reality and remind us that we need to keep looking at our history and find the joy, learnings and redeeming qualities in it.
So, what does this have to do with Pesach? A good question. Pesach is our liberation from slavery. We celebrate Pesach, according to our Holy Tradition, "as if we had been liberated from Egypt.” Just as Hava Nagila redeems us from sadness and despair, so too does our celebration of Passover. When and if we take seriously "seeing ourselves as if we too had been liberated from Egypt.” Egypt comes from the root, Tzar, which means 'narrow place.’ So Egypt/Slavery is any place that is so narrow that we are unable to see joy and hope. Egypt is any place where and when we cannot or will not see the whole picture of what is happening. Egypt is any time and place inside of us that is SO SURE we are right that we can't see any other way to live, think, etc. Egypt is any place and time where we feel trapped and believe it is our way or the highway. Any place where we are unable to change and adapt to prevailing conditions while keeping our principles and values intact.
All of us live in Egypt at any given time. All of us need redemption from Egypt and the Slavery we choose and have put on us. All of us need to tell our stories of liberation and redemption at our Seders, not just the historical ones. Just as the movie, Hava Nagila, reminds us of our history and puts Hava Nagila in a new light for today, we have to make the Seder relevant and redemptive. You can do this, I commit to do this. Together, we can leave our own Egypts and Redeem ourselves, our family, our community and the world.
I ask everyone to make a commitment to join me in being Addicted to Redemption and liberating, redeeming and freeing ourselves and others, beginning with our Seders this year. Hag Sameach v'Kasher.
Beit T’Shuvah will be hosting Seders for 3 nights in a row starting this Monday, March 25th. To get your seat at the Seder table visit: www.beittshuvah.org
March 21, 2013 | 1:50 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By M. Alexander
In any job, no matter how passion-infused it may be, work can sometimes begin to feel monotonous. Though I usually love my job, I am certainly not exempt from fleeting thoughts of pointlessness. But every time these thoughts begin to achieve any clout, something happens that reminds me of why I speak to kids, reinforcing the importance of my work. Last week, I encountered a student who seemed particularly interested in the concept of t’shuvah.
The student asked, “Is change really possible?”
As this is one of our primary messages, we shared our own stories of redemption and we talked about the Jewish teachings concerning t’shuvah. The student was overcome with relief, as he told us the rationale behind his curiosity. One of his teachers had just told him that he could not go on the school-sponsored trip to Israel later this year.
The teacher said, “You’re disruptive in class. If you’re bad now, you will always be bad.”
While the student may have been hyperbolizing his teacher’s statement, this is the message that he received. This ideology is exactly what we are trying to combat. We believe in the redemption of the human soul, we believe that we were all born with an elohai neshama and that if we make the necessary effort and have the requisite courage, we all have the ability to change and achieve redemption. Our teachers and our parents need to join us in this battle, assisting students in their journey to become the best versions of themselves, so that they can be just a little bit better than they were yesterday.