Friday, August 19, 2011

Parashat Eikev, are incentives the right way to go for mitzvot

This week's parsha contains a troubling idea.  That we should do mitzvot and in essence be good in order to receive material rewards.  If this troubles you than good, it should.  Rather than re-invent the wheel I shall pass this on to AJWS and their Dvar Tzedek team.  This dvar is a good commentary on the idea and shows that even Rashi may have been uncomfortable with the idea.  Of course, don't just take our words for it, always remember to look at it inside too!  And now, the dvar --> I'm a dvar!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Comedians our source for political inspiration?

It shows the state of the current political landscape when it takes two comedians from a two "news" shows from cable to inspire people.

Rally to Restore Sanity

Now don't get me wrong.  I love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and if they could without sacrificing some of their morals I would love for them to run for office.  Also, I completely agree with their message.  You see for most of the Rally on the steps of the National Mall the focus was the usual shtick.  Slight jabs at both the Left and the Right, mockery of pop culture, and the current political situation, etc.  But what got my attention was Jon Stewart's closing remarks.

What was his final message? What did this rally symbolize? 
But at the conclusion of the program, Stewart switching his black T-shirt and blazer for a suit and tie, argued that the rally's intended butt of the joke was the level of discourse in Washington and cable television's hyperbolic 24-hour news cycle. Political affiliations aside, he said, everyone throughout the country found a way to work together.
"The only place we don't is here or on cable TV," said Stewart, speaking against the backdrop of the Capitol building. In earnest terms that bordered on political rhetoric, he orated, "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."
The fact that people in the US are generally good people who work hard and work together in their daily lives gets swallowed up by the constant stream of polarization bickering that we see all day every day from Congress and the Media.  He said that there will always be dark times, and there will always be things to fear, but what is important is that we stick together through all of it.  We don't all agree on everything and many things we passionately disagree over.  But at the end of the day: "[...]we live in hard times, not end times, and we can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating between the two, broke.” 

We can be a united country and a united species.  All it takes is a little perspective, a little hard work, and a lot of faith in ourselves.  There is only one way we can save the world.  Only one way we can help give people shelter, security, rights, and freedom, and that is together.

A Public Service Announcement not approved by AJWS

Just gotta say, this is amazing and Patrick Stewart is my hero :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Hello to all my faithful blog readers, all 6 of you guys! :)  I know that I haven't posted in awhile on this blog but that will change soon.  Have been extremely busy.  Either way here is a link to my new blog so that I can prioritize and focus my diff topics and ideas: Judeo-Vegan: Torah from a Holistic Vegan Perspective

Thursday, September 30, 2010

waiting for "Superman"


Most people would agree that education is vital for any civilization's progress.  It is extremely difficulty economically to stay competitive in the global marketplace if a country's citizens aren't educated.  

Education is also vital for an individual person's future.  It is easier to get a better paying job with better benefits if one has a good education.  It is less likely that one will end up in gangs or in the criminal world if one has a good education. 

Simply put, education is a good thing.  
However you wouldn't know that by looking at the statistics in the U.S.
More info and a trailer for a mind-opening documentary after the jump.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

little things and big things

I know we all want to help people and do good.  That's why we're all reading this blog o' mine right?

Well although this is far from comprehensive two articles I read recently really show both the little and big things that we can do to help those who need it.

Number one is the little things.  This article talks about six ways that we can help people in need.  Small things like going to a soup kitchen now and then, donating old clothes, and maybe even getting involved in a local shelter.  The facts they describe are a little overwhelming as all topics like this can be.  43.6 million people who are officially in poverty.  Large numbers of people who go without basic nutrition, shelter, and clothing everyday in the US.  For a country that brags about how wonderful it is, it is impossible to conceive that such a country would tolerate having that many people in poverty.  Now we all know that the little things help but don't necessarily fix the problems we face right?

Time for the big things.  What is great about this article is it shows that there are steps being taken on a national level to help fight poverty.  This bill, S. 3854, is one step to help get people back to a realm of sustainability.  Rather than discuss the bill, I want to talk about why the bill even exists.  A NGO, Catholic Charities USA, is the group that helped to push the bill to Congress.  Realize, that it is not our elected representatives who are taking action to improve the country.  It is grassroots.  By taking an interest, a real interest, and lobbying our government, it is possible to effect change on larger scales than we think.

Just a few thoughts out there for you.  Do what you can.  Whether that means one day a week at a shelter, donating old clothing, or lobbying Congress.  Every bit of Tikkun Olam that we can accomplish is just one more step to a fully repaired world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Social Justice and Politics, the necessary evil

WARNING: LONG POST! NICE FEEL GOOD MESSAGE AT BOTTOM! :) But do check out the links of some of these articles, etc. if you can't get through the book I wrote here :)

A few days after I began this blog I decided to try and keep better tabs on my friend "Social Justice" by creating a Google News section where every article would have some connection to the phrase.  Interestingly (or not) enough, the results that came up did not highlight projects going on throughout the world or what is being done to help those in need.  The highlights were "Social Justice" and it's entanglement with the world of politics. 

This relatively short article from AP highlights how the UN declared a decade ago to end world poverty and created the Millennium Development Goals.  Eight goals to eradicate world poverty.  Now of course these goals aren't specific in nature: things like gender equality, health, and environmental sustainability dot the list.  But what the article focused on was not the progress made since 2000.  The reason? There hasn't been.  
"Developed nations have fallen well short in keeping pace with a final goal set for 2015. The U.N. acknowledges that even if the main target of reducing extreme poverty by half is achieved in the next five years, nearly 1 billion people still will be living on less than $1.25 a day[...] the world's poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little progress in eradicating poverty since the U.N. goals were set forth a decade ago. Africa, Asia and Latin America have made little headway in reducing mother and child deaths, providing clean water and sanitation, and promoting women's equality."
So what does this highlight? That politicians are great at making promises but not so much on the keeping of them? We knew that.  Any human being living in any country recognizes that politicians say a lot and do not always accomplish what they say.  That's nothing new.  What is more saddening is not that they are not doing much but that "Social Justice" seems to simply be a tool in politics and not a way to really accomplish much good: 
"Indeed, in recent months the very phrase "social justice" has become politicized. In March, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck claimed on his television show that the phrase is a liberal "code word" for "forced redistribution of wealth" and has been espoused by both communists and Nazis (Social Justice Controversy)."

Yes rather than fight the good fight as it were and try and help those less fortunate some people would rather play games simply to polarize the field and make the political situation in the US (and really the world) just that much friendlier.  Mr. Beck is no politician, however with his following, he is much more dangerous than any politician could be.  The article in question highlights a particular controversy at University of Wisconsin over a choice in speaker, the infamous "Bill Ayers."  But what the article touches on ever so lightly is that the problem was not the choice of speaker but the topic in general.  "Social Justice" has become so politicized and exaggerated that we either think of a hippie who just wants "peace man" or a militant Greenpeace activist.  

And then of course enters our friend religion.  Religion which has so many wonderful things to say on social justice and helping people.  Whether it is
"מי שיש לו סמנים, וחבירו חולה וצריך להם, אסור לו להעלות בדמיהם יותר מן הראוי. One who has medications, and another person is sick and needs them, it is forbidden to raise their prices beyond what is appropriate. (Shulchan Aruch)"
'O people, listen carefully, your Lord is one Lord, there is no doubt about it. Your ancestor, is one ancestor, there is no doubt about it. Listen well to my words: no Arab has any superiority over a non--Arab, and no non—Arab is superior to an Arab. No black is superior to a brown or red, and no red superior to any black. If there is any superiority in anyone it is due to his God--fearing qualities. Have I conveyed the message?' the Prophet asked the people. The people answered from all corners, 'Indeed soGod be witness.' Then the Prophet said: 'Let him that is present tell it unto him that is absent.'(Al-Jamili Ahkam al-Qur'an, 16:342) (Social Justice in Islam)
Thus we read in the Vajradhvaja-s ktra:
To the limit of my endurance I will experience in all the states of woe, found in any world system, all the abodes of suffering & I am resolved to abide in each single state of woe for numberless aeons; and so I will help all beings to freedom, in all the states of woe that may be found. (Conze et al. trans. 1964, 131) (Buddhist Vision of Social Justice).
The Vedas prescribe five great duties (maha yajnas) to sublimate self-interest to the interest of the society. Yajna means self-sacrifice. These noble obligations include brahma yajna,a discipline for personal development by acquiring knowledge, including daily reading of the scriptures; deva yajna, a symbolic sacrifice required of every head of household to remind the family that they have to share with each other and use wealth for the welfare of others; pitri yajna,a commitment to discharge one's responsibility to senior citizens; athithi yagna, an obligation toward the entire human race (athithi means an unannounced visitor), even at the price of one's own comfort and happiness; and booth yajnaHindu Wisdom )
Sarbhat dah phalla or Sarbat da bhala is a Punjabi term which means "may everyone be blessed" or "may good come to all". This is a term from an important part of the Sikh prayer called the Ardas. This term forms an important part of Sikh philosophy. The term establishes a new precedence set by the Sikh Gurus - It binds the Sikh to ask for the "well being of everyone in the world". In establishing this concept, the Gurus have set a new standard for the Sikhs – not only should the Sikhs pray for their own well-being but also need to ask for the blessing of "all the peoples of the world". (Sikhim Wiki)
I could go on and on.  And of course, being in American I have to talk about the most common religion in that country, Christianity.  Which brings us to article number three.  Sex and Social Justice.  Apparently, "conservatives try so hard to twist the religion of the majority of Americans into a warped, unrecognizable version of the message its founder had for us."
What is so interesting in his article is that he calculates about 258 verses containing messages of social justice and about 30 containing messages of sexual immorality, etc.  But which verses are brought up in American right wing politics? Exactly.  
Religion and Politics and Social Justice are all so intimately connected however what seems to be happening is not the uplifting of social justice but the destruction of it.  

However all is not grim.  We can still save the world. :)  But it is not going to be mainly through the eyes of the politicians.  It will be accomplished through us.  Through grassroots.  Through people on the ground who aren't in the political world.  Through people that care about social justice and are going to do what they can to change how things are: Ashton Kutcher does some good ol' fashioned Social Justice.
I am not the biggest fan of Mr. Kutcher but this is the way to effect change.  Grassroots.  Social Media.  Blogs.  Getting the word out there.  Fixing the world's problems starts on the ground with people and civilians who care and eventually works its way up to the political level to be cemented in law.  Another great example is the Clinton Global Initiative.  Check out the extended interview with former President Clinton on the Daily Show and you will see how passionate he is about solving the world's problems.  And he is getting real people who want to help to do it.  Not politicians, people.

That is the keyword of the millennium. People.  We can lobby, and we can pressure, and we can vote to make things better.  But first and foremost we need direct action.  People on the ground providing clean water, health care, food, and shelter to those without.  Together we can do it.  Together we can change the world.