11.27.2006

klaf

I knew nothing about klaf (animal skin on which Torahs and other sacred texts like mezuzot and tefillin are written) before I read this post. Now I know something! (Like that it takes 60 cows to make one Torah. That's a lot of cows...)

11.23.2006

Chai (18) Years of Journaling

I just realized that according to one calculation, tonight marks the 18th anniversary of my receiving my first locking diary, at the age of 9. My aunt gave it to me on Thanksgiving. It was and is one of the best presents I've ever received.

In honor of this special anniversary, I've decided to share some of my youthful words (from my first year of keeping a journal) with the public for the very first time. All misspellings and mispunctuations are original.
Thursday, November 24, 1988 [first entry]
Today is Thanksgiving. This is a present from Aunt J. I got a cloth doll from [Relative Who Shall Remain Anonymous]. I like this better. Im stuffed from thanksgiving supper. I ate 2 cookies and a pear and 1 slice of chocolate cake for dessert. It is 8:00 pm. and we just looked through [the] telescope. We saw the moon, mars, and Jupiter. I saw some craters on the moon but I didnt see the red spot on Jupiter. My toes are freezing. Mommy is kniting a skirt.
And thus began my illustrious literary career!
Tuesday, November 29, 1988
Today I have gym. I truly hate gym espeshally when we play basketball. But today I have super news. I hit the backboard twice and I actually got the ball through the basket 1 time. I have never done that before. The bad part is that I couldnt do that while we were playing. I hate it when girls say bad things about girls from Russia. I try to tell them that shes not bad but then they say that I dont always need to protect her. I dont have any hebrew homework.
I love this entry for what it says about who I was and who I was not in fourth grade. Fourth grade girls can be so mean. I'm glad that I stood up for the underdog. I'm a little sad for my 9-year-old self who was elated to have hit the backboard twice during gym class.
Wednesday, December 14, 1988
Today we only had a half day of school. Today I got 4 baskets. I bet Its a world record. Today is super. I went to [Anonymous Friend]'s house. We had fun. We played Oporation. We also played Connect 4!
Delightful use of sarcasm at an early age.
Thursday, December 15, 1988
Today we dont have any school. It seems like Sunday. Mommy let us put our own Cinnimon-Sugar in our Cream of Wheat. I put in a very lot. Luckily Mommy didnt notice.
It's funny how some things don't really change. (I mean about liking to put a lot of sugar into things.)
Thursday, June 22, 1989 [written on the last day of 4th grade]
10 terrible things about 4th Grade
1. Homework
2. School work
3. teachers
4. Being 9
5. Being in the 4th grade math book
6. Getting out at 3:45 (3rd grade also)
7. Everything
8. [name of one teacher]
9. [name of other teacher]
10. Boys
Well, that about sums it up, don't you think? I am amused by the inclusion of "boys" as one of the ten worst things about fourth grade. I remember them throwing paper airplanes at me when the teacher left the room, and how utterly irritating that was. A lot of those paper-airplane-throwing boys are married now, and some are even fathers to little boys and girls themselves. Crazy stuff, man...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

11.22.2006

"Why?" Thoughts on Parshat Toldot

I was in shul for Shabbat mincha in time to catch the first aliya, and the juxtaposition of the first and third (short) aliyot gave me pause.

After a period of infertility, Rebecca becomes pregnant with twins and feels them struggling ("ויתרצצו") in her womb. She says, "If so, why am I?" I was struck by the word "למה"--"why," not to mention the end of the question, "זה אנכי" "am I?" Why am I what? Rebecca seems to be asking an existential question. I don't know how it feels to have warring fetuses in your uterus, but I imagine that it is uncomfortable if not painful. Here was this thing she wanted very much, and it's giving her pain! She seems to be asking, "What meaning does my life have if the thing that I wanted so much is causing me such pain?"

Rebecca goes to seek an answer from God. I love the word that is used for "seek"--"לדרש." Perhaps because of its resonance from Psalms where the afraid or troubled Psalmist seeks God with the same words (for example, Psalms 34:5: דרשתי את-יהוה וענני; ומכל-מגורותי הצילני or Psalms 77:3: ביום צרתי, אדני דרשתי:
ידי, לילה נגרה--ולא תפוג; מאנה הנחם נפשי.). To me, the word "drisha" has the quality of both seeking and longing, specifically by one seeking a comforting presence. God tells her that she is destined to become the mother of two nations, and that is why this thing that she wanted is causing her pain. Great things sometimes come only through pain.

In the third (short) aliya of Parshat Toldot, the word "למה" appears again. This time, Esau asks a more rhetorical question, "I am about to die of hunger--why do I need this birthright?" ("הנה אנכי הולך למות; ולמה-זה לי, בכרה") when Jacob asks him for his birthright in exchange for a pot of red lentil soup. It's a different kind of "why," inspired not by the sort of existential angst of having longed for something and it causing one pain, but by the immediate quest for satiety. And Esau doesn't go to be doresh God in seeking an answer. He asks it only of himself and answers it himself by selling the birthright to Jacob. As a result, he does not become the father of a great nation. Rebecca's asking the question "Why?" elicits a response from God that she will be the the progenitor of two nations, and Esau's asking the question "Why?" precipitates his losing the possibility of being the father of the greater of the two nations.

That's all I have for now!

These two instances of "why" being juxtaposed led me to wonder where else "why" appears in the Torah, and I was going to get a concordance and look it up, but I haven't had time and don't expect to before Shabbat. (I do know that Moses uses it in Exodus 32:11-12.) Leaves something to pursue next year...


Categories: Torah, parsha

11.19.2006

Designer babies

This strikes me as a humane and ethical thing to do, especially for parents already caring for one child with cystic fibrosis, although I am quite wary of parents selecting for relatively superficial things like sex, eye color, height, etc. ("Wary of" is putting it a bit mildly.) What do you think?

11.13.2006

Poor Choice of Company Name

Why, oh why, would you name your scaffolding company "Twin and Swing Scaffolding"? There are many things that scaffolding ought to do, but I daresay that swinging isn't one of them!

(Parked in front of the scaffolding-clad building was a "Porky Food Services" truck, which I also didn't think was a terrific choice of name, but not as bad as "Twin and Swing Scaffolding." If I had had one of those camera phones, I could've taken a photo.)

11.10.2006

Men, Women, and Height

Last Sunday, the NY Times ran a book review of How Height Affects the Health, Happiness, and Success of Boys— and the Men They Become, by Stephen S. Hall.

Until recently, I don't think I realized how much being short affects men's self-esteem. (It might even be analogous to how being overweight affects women's self-esteem.) I don't think it ever really mattered to me how tall people were, but maybe that's because I'm 5'8". Mostly, I like being tall because it makes it easier to reach things that are high up, thus effectively giving me more usable storage space. Otherwise I don't think about it much, except to feel grateful that there's really no reason for me to ever wear high heels in an attempt to appear taller.

I remember seeing a photo of myself with a 5'1" friend in high school, and I was shocked at how I towered over her, since in regular interactions with her, I'd always felt that we were close in height. When I told her how surprised I was by our difference in height, she indicated that she was not surprised at all, and that every time we spoke, she was aware of how much taller I was. So maybe, in a way, height matters more to short people than to tall people--it affects their self-image more than tall people's height affects theirs. It wasn't hard to be a tall adolescent, although I actually started out at around 5'2" in seventh grade (thus, short) and then just kept growing an average of an inch a year through senior year. It was a little bit hard to be bigger than my female friends once since they all stopped growing around 7th/8th/9th grade at 5'1" or 5'2" and I just kept shooting up. I wasn't overweight in high school as much as big--tall and broad. I couldn't share or trade size 2, 4, or 6 clothing with the other girls. If someone was staying over and had to borrow something--say, pajamas--they would be ridiculously large on her. It felt somewhat mortifying at the time.

I wonder, after reading the book review, if the benefits that apparently fall into the laps of tall men also benefit tall women, if height makes no difference for women, or if the reverse is somehow true. Am I paid more than shorter women? Do people respect me more? Would I be more likely to win an election? I have found in the dating world that some men who are 5'5" or 5'6" (or shorter) don't really want anything to do with me. They're adamant that they must end up with a woman shorter than they. I, on the other hand, would be fine with a man shorter than I. This would seem to be a disadvantage to being a tall woman, although as a wise friend pointed out, a man who won't date a woman because she is a few inches taller than him is not someone I would want to date anyway. It's a pretty easy way to weed out people who have other issues that would make us incompatible.

Finally, in August, two Princeton-based researchers published a paper ("Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes") suggesting that taller people fare better economically because they're smarter. Abstract available here. PDF of entire paper available for download here. One (short) blogger's reaction here. I'm not sure what I think about that, although it doesn't seem like a very nice thing to say. The book review I read last Sunday suggested that human beings evolved towards larger brains and greater intelligence because they were smaller than other mammals in their environment. I.e., smaller species that survive do so because of greater intelligence. Not that that says much about the correlation between an individual's height and intelligence, but, still, it may make the shorter people feel better.

11.09.2006

How to give a "good" dvar Torah

Here are some hilarious instructions by the husband of a good friend of mine.

Sorry it's been so long. I can't believe I haven't posted in a week. I feel lazy compared to those people who are posting daily for the entire month. Or maybe I'm just conserving my energy for better purposes. Life has been busy. In a very good way.

11.02.2006

Tribute to Napping

Read "The modern world killed off the nap" from the Toronto Star. [Hat tip to Nafka Mina.]
We are a culture that celebrates action, doing, achieving, an attitude that leads to a disdain for sleep in general. We stay up late and get up early. We pull all-nighters. We'll sleep when we're dead, and in the meantime there's always a Starbucks on the corner.

It's a misguided attitude. A good nap is one of life's great pleasures, and the ability to nap is the sign of a well-balanced life. When we nap we snatch back control of our day from a mechanized, clock-driven society. We set aside the urgency imposed on us by the external world and get in touch with an internal rhythm that is millions of years old.
This is sort of how I feel about Shabbat, but it applies equally to naps.

Kurt Kleiner (the author of this piece) and I are apparently not alone in our love of naps:
There's no shortage of important historical nappers, many of them men of industry and action. Napoleon Bonaparte, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, and Winston Churchill were nappers in the heroic vein.
Why our employers should give us nap time:
But sleep experts say a lot of us really could use that nap. James B. Maas, the Cornell University sleep expert, says most people don't get enough sleep and that an afternoon nap can help. In fact, Maas coined the term "power nap" to emphasize that a nap can make a person more productive and energetic.
Eh, just go read the article yourself. And then go take a nap.