The Knowable and Unknowable

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So as we all do, I often come across challenging and perplexing issues or problems in life. 


And my nature is to try to understand them, solve them, fix them–is it survival or the challenge or both?


But then we come across some things that are just beyond our [mere mortal] understanding or ability to simply fix them. 


I remember as a youngster learning in Yeshiva about when it says in the Bible that G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he continued to refuse to let the Jews go from their enslavement in Egypt.


And the classic mind-bending question is how could G-d harden his heart if Pharaoh retained free will which we all have to choose good or evil.


Did G-d harden his heart or did he have free will–which is it?  And if G-d hardened his heart, then how could Pharaoh and the Egyptians be punished for something they didn’t fully control? 


One explanation is that by facing the punishing plagues, Pharoah was losing his free will to decide what to do with the Israelites, so by hardening his heart, G-d was actually restoring his free will to choose once again…interesting. 


Of course in life, there is also the philosophical dimensions of so many seeming contradictions such as the cliche about what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.


Which wins out if one is unstoppable and the other is unmovable?


No, I don’t think these are just riddles, but the testing of the abilities of our human minds to understand further and further into the mysteries of G-d, creation, and the universe. 


So what do we do in life when confronted by things that are seemingly or really beyond our human capacities? 


– We ponder these weighty matters and sometimes we get frustrated and rip our little-left hair out or laugh at ourselves as to why we can’t just get it.


– We look to understand the deeper spiritual meanings of these challenges in the context of our earthly lives. 


– We try to solve and fix what we can within the confines of our spaghetti brain matter and flesh and bone bodies. 


– At the end of the day, we acknowledge our human limitations, and look to the Heavens for answers or at least for Divine guidance and protection along the way.


While we cannot understand everything or always reach our destination that we set for ourselves that should never prevent us from trying our hardest and going as far as we can on our journeys–and letting the next person, and the next person pick up the torch and carry it forward. 


In the Jewish prayers, we say that the matters of the earth are for our exploration and striving, but the ultimate secrets of the Heaven are for G-d alone. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

A Little Wear and Tear

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Despite a generally longer life expectancy…people still have lots of aches and pains already by midlife. 


Danielle Ofri in the New York Times points out:

“Our bodies evolved to live about 40 years and then be finished off by a mammoth or a microbe. [However,] thanks to a century of staggering medical progress, now now live past 80, but evolution hasn’t caught up; the cartilage in our joints still wears down in our 40s and we are more obese and more sedentary that we used to be, which doesn’t help.”

I hear from so many people in their 40s that they are already getting knee and hip replacements; they have high blood pressure, diabetes, and are having heart attacks, and many even are seeing their first bouts of cancer.


So in many ways, the 40s really sucks!  


Many of us would be dead many times over already, if not for G-d’s grace and the miracles of medical science and technology these days. 


So life is prolonged, and we even often get pain relief, while we are able to continue forward with our families, communities, and careers.


As we read in Psalms 39:4

“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.”

Perhaps that’s what illness is…G-d showing us that we are just mortal and that life is short and we need to make the most of every minute. 


When everything is going just swell, how easy it is to become arrogant and forget how mortal we really are. 


My father used to say:

“G-d doesn’t let any tree grow into the heavens.”

By our 40s, when most of us are growing our families, careers, wealth, and stature–unfortunately, maybe we sort of need that kick in the pants from Above. 


G-d is our maker and our teacher, and he guides us to the end of our days, and hopefully they are reached with wisdom, meaningful contributions, piety, and love. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Computer Luminaries

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I wanted to share these photo that I took at Micro Center, a computer and electronics store, outside Washington DC. 


On the wall are these pretty awesome photos of many of the founders and inventors behind modern-day computing. 


1) Doug Englebart – the GUI and Mouse


2) Dennis Ritchie – C and Unix


3-4) Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston – Visicalc and Spreadsheets


5-6) Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard – HP 


7) Gordon Moore – Intel


8) Grace Hopper – First compiler that led to development of COBOL


9-10) Robert Khan and Vinton Cerf – TCP/IP


11) Steve Wozniak – Apple I and II


Of course, the following deserve a place of the wall of fame as well:


12) Steve Jobs – Apple


13) Bill Gates – Microsoft


14-15) Larry Paige and Sergey Brin – Google


16) Jeff Bezos – Amazon 


17) Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook


On one hand, these are people like you and I, who live, feel joy and pain, and one day die. In the end, we’re all just flesh and blood, plus a soul that is our moral compass. 


But on the other hand, G-d has given some people special gifts to pass to mankind, like a master painter, musician, inventor, or holy person, whose worldly works are as near to G-dly as perhaps we can get outside of Heaven itself.


G-d must have a plan for us as he sends us these people–or more like angels–to guide our development and our destiny. 


Whatever G-d wants from us, we’re definitely on a course to get there and that is comforting and a ray of hope for all of us. 😉


(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)

How Great Are You?

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INDISPENSABLE?

      Sometime, when you’re feeling important,

      

      Sometime, when your ego’s in bloom,

      

      Sometime, when you take it for granted,

      

      You’re the best qualified in the room.

      

      Sometime when you feel that your going,

      

      Would leave an unfillable hole,

      

      Just follow these simple instructions,

      

      And see how it humbles your soul.

      

      Take a bucket and fill it with water.

      

      Put your hand in it, up to the wrist;

      

      Pull it out; and the hole that’s remaining, 

      

      Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

      

      You may splash all you please when you enter,

      

      You can stir up the water galore,

      

      But stop, and you’ll find in a minute,

      

      That it looks quite the same as before.

      

      The moral in this quaint example,

      

      Is just do the best that you can,

      

      Be proud of yourself, but remember,

      

      There’s no indispensable man.

            

      – Saxon White Kessinger

(Thank you to my daughter, Minna Blumenthal, for sharing this)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Mortality Unlimited

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So this week, there seems to be a theme of human frailty and mortality and I wanted to share it. 


While it is the holidays and we are celebrating and happy to be with our family and loved ones, it is also a time to miss those that are gone, care and pray for those that are not well, and give thanks for our own blessings.


5 examples in one week (and trust me, I am holding back):


1) Death of family member – One wonderful lady in the office who recently lost her mother (her mom was in her very early 60s and just didn’t wake up one morning) came to the holiday party, but looked sad. I asked about her well-being, and she said she is doing well, but is still remembering and dealing with the recent loss of her mom who she was so close with. We talked briefly how it takes time to mourn and heal, and frankly, we never really get over it. 


2) Death of friend – A women I know just lost a very good friend (early 40s) to Kidney failure. She is on vacation, but is sad mourning over the loss, and also recognizing her own mortality and that anything can happen at anytime. 


3) Very ill teenager – A teenager was at a recent Shabbat event with her peers celebrating G-d and her Jewishness, and at the event revealed that she has a brain disease and the doctors told her she only has a few months to live. She said that unfortunately she will never get to see her wedding day. It was heartbreaking. 


4) Sick children – A colleague at work took a few hours off to deliver holiday gifts to the local children’s hospital. She helped start an organization to raise money and support children with cancer and other devastating illnesses. It was a very beautiful thing to give back to the innocent kids. 


5) Aging gracefully – A friend who recently hit the big 6-0 was a little depressed. When I asked him how he’s dealing with it, he acknowledged that it’s hard, but that he had all year to prepare (smile). But at the same time, he said that he can’t help looking back on his life as well as thinking forward to what comes next. He’s had his share of illness, but medical science (with G-d’s help) saved his life so far. We talked about not knowing what happens but that he could have another 30 “good years” or that sometimes having a quick, peaceful end can be okay too–since quality of life matters as much or more than quantity. 


The point from all this is not to be sad, but to realize we are but “flesh and blood” and we are alive only because G-d sustains us. 


What we can do is take care of ourselves and our loved ones and make the most of each and every day. We are not guaranteed any number of years or anything else, so each moment is as precious and needs to be lived as if it could be the last. 


Savor your blessings, because that is what they are–as my mother-in-law says, you are entitled to and the world owes you nothing.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

What’s Your Vice?

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So no one is perfect.


And no matter how outwardly pious the person, everyone inwardly has some hidden (or not so) vice or excess that they must learn to tame.


Here’s a top 23 list:


Substance Abuse

1) Cigarettes

2) Alcohol

3) Drugs


Greed

4) Food

5) Money (e.g. gambling, hoarding)

6) Materialism (e.g. homes, cars, boats, planes, jewels, clothes, etc.)


Obsessive Compulsive

7) Work

8) Sex

9) Popularity (e.g. talking, partying)

10) Religion 

11) Sport

12) Control


Anger

13) Violence

14) Abuse (e.g. verbal, emotional, physical)

15) Rape 


Callous

16) Indifference

17) Tardiness

18) Laziness


Egotistical

19) Selfish

20) Boastful


Crooked

21) Lying

22) Cheating

23) Stealing


Think about the people you know–love ’em or hate ’em–and is there anyone that doesn’t have one of these to some extent or another?


And for those of you wondering, my vice is, of course, pizza! 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

I Am Doing

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Today, a disabled man asked the lifeguard at the pool, “How are you doing?”


The lifeguard couldn’t understand or fully hear the disabled man who had to repeat the question multiple times.


Then, the lifeguard responded, “I am doing well. How are you doing?”


The disabled man with a blank to sad look on his face says, “I am doing.”


His response of just “doing” (not well, good, or fine) was like just going on day-to-day amidst very challenging life circumstances of illness and disability–just in a state of being, but certainly not feeling like he was thriving in his current life. 


It reminded me of my own parents, survivors of the Holocaust. 


After the horror and loss of the Holocaust everything, including coming to this country without a dime or a job was just a cakewalk in comparison. 


For 25-years, my dad would never even go to the doctor. 


He would say, “G-d is my doctor!”


Only later in life, when all his friends were sick or failing, and my mom was so sick with Parkinson’s would my dad respond to people’s questions of how he was, by saying simply, “Surviving!”


And then often adding, “We are part of the survivors’ club.”


When we’re young, healthy, and vibrant, the world seems too small compared to what we think we can do and accomplish.


That’s good–it gives us the thrusters in life to go as far as we can with accomplishments and progress. 


As we age though, the realities of life and health come into vision and we realize that we can’t lift cars with one hand (anymore) or fly lightening speed with just our cape around the globe–we’re mortal. 


This doesn’t mean that we can’t do great things for ourselves and the world at any age and with any (dis)ability, just that it many not be as simple or as easy any longer–we have to fight harder and be part of the survivor’s club. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)