First Graf: Path of the Just

MUSSAR (מוסר) IS A HEBREW TERM usually translated as “ethical behavior/discipline,” or to put it more succinctly, the fine art and science of being a mensch. Its roots are almost as old as Judaism itself — according to Genesius, it’s mentioned about a dozen times in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) — but the so-called “Mussar Movement” (people gathering together to help each other become better people) first flourished in the 19th century, largely among the Orthodox Jews of Lithuania. It has undergone a renaissance of late, and several of the Mussar classics are available today. One such book is The Path of the Just (Mesillat Yesharim). Written in the 18th century by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato (“Ramchal”), it takes the reader through a step-by-step interpretation of Mussar traits as listed in the Talmud. R’ Luzzato begins his work in typically humble style, apparently siding with Ecclesiastes that there’s “no new thing under the sun”:

A Torah of Fire

“If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself — for that is why you were created.”
Pirkei Avot

IT’S OFTEN OVER MY HEAD, but there’s an eight-page “parsha sheet” (Torah-commentary newsletter) I have been following for years with great interest and delight. It’s called Toras Aish (“Torah of Fire” with an Ashkenazic pronunciation), and features a variety of “takes” (usually seven or eight per issue) on the weekly Torah portion — with that of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, usually on the first page. Like his newsletter colleagues, R’ Sacks’ “Covenant and Conversation” takes a traditional (read: Orthodox) approach to Torah and its study, but his interpretations are also informed by psychology, sociology, economics, history, anthropology and other relevant sciences. He’s my current favorite modern Torah commentator: accessible, often anthemic, and well-informed without pretension.

THERE’S (more) ‘ing WATER on MARS!

BACK IN 2008, THE METAPHORAGER gleefully spread the word that water, at least in trace amounts, had been found on Mars. Now there’s a(n apparent) pile of it. Using an advanced form of radar, scientists appear to have discovered more of the life-generating fluid, which seems to be concentrated in a vast underground lake at Mars’ south pole.

What this portends for the search for life remains to be seen. We at The Metaphorager have a pool going (no pun intended) that we will discover some form of extraterrestrial life by 2050, even if it’s only microbes or algae; the recent discovery that ice-volcanoes on Saturn’s moon (and alleged water-world) Enceladus are spewing complex organic compounds is also casting hope in that direction. C’mon humans! let’s build some space probes!

5 Thoughts: Religious Agnosticism

0. EVERYONE HAS BELIEFS/KNOWLEDGE about the nature of the (inner) world; while I don’t much like labels attached to such things it seems fitting to call mine “Religious Agnosticism.” Here’s a handful of relevant definitions (partly because a handful of anything is all we ever have):

Digital Vittles

ONCE UPON A TIME, I subsisted on frozen meals from Lean Cuisine and Amy’s Kitchen. Then I “got religion” via two sources: Tamar Adler‘s An Everlasting Meal — Cooking with Economy and Grace (which also contains one of the finest essays on cooking I’ve ever read), and the video version of Michael Pollan’s Cooked. Both preach the gospel of self-sufficient cookery and the evils of processed food, and filled me with the fiery zeal to cook for myself.

Of course, any budding home cook needs a bit of help. Fortunately, that help is only a click away. Here are some websites which send me daily emails filled with recipes, cooking tips and the various wisdoms of household management:

I’m Ed, He’s Johnny

FOR MOST OF this year, I have been co-hosting a weekly radio show with my rabbi (and showhost), Steve Finley. It’s billed as the Sonoma Valley Interfaith Ministerial Association Radio Hour, and is an exploration of different faith traditions and communities as represented by their local spiritual leaders. Each episode is built around a specific topic such as Healing; Spiritual Experiences/Journeys/Ecstasy; Faith and Reason; and Education and Religion; and each episode also features a lesson from engaging cantor/musicologist Jonathan Friedmann. B”H, you can hear it on livestream each Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. PDT at http://ksvy.org; or if you’re in the Valley, on 91.3 FM. (Missed us? Here’s a link to the show archives.) It’s always a rousing conversation, so if you like this sort of thing (and what metaphorager doesn’t?) dial or click us in!

Fie on Death, and the Pale Horse He Rode In On

He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet

John Wheeler, c. 1981

John Wheeler, c. 1981

When I first moved into an Oakland apartment in 1986 with John Woods “Wheels” “Spoonhead” “Calvin Biggins” Wheeler, our mutual friends were laying bets as to who would kill who first.

“We’re both so obnoxiously self-aggrandizing,” John told me. At that point in my life, I couldn’t argue with him. We were in our mid- to late-20s, after all, and such things are expected of young men.

“When young people ask me about death, I tell them: ‘We die a little every day. When you get to be my age, you get used to it.'”
— Near-centenarian Richard Meyers