Fox Byte 5775 #47: Re’eh (See)

רְאֵה

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)
Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados.  Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot?  Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance.  In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders.  It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy.  As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop.  Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return.  And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart.  Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot.  He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness!  I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it.  It’s a pity:  for I’ve missed a good friend.

Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality.  How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten?  How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear?  And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people?  In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.

Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5775 #45: Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded)

וָאֶתְחַנַּן

The Big Four at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919.  Left to right:  Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).
The “Big Four” Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919.

Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).In a sense one might say that this present global system is Woodrow Wilson’s fault.  The Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I on November 11, 1918, took shape after the German Empire embraced President Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating peace with the Allies.  Wilson had presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress at the beginning of 1918 as his proposal for ending the war and reshaping the world so that such a massive conflict could never happen again.  A better world might have been the outcome had his plan been adopted in its entirety, but, sadly, it was not to be.  Wilson personally led the American negotiating team to the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, but during the lengthy proceedings he became gravely ill.  The other Allied leaders took advantage of his illness to turn the peace conference into a revenge conference.  Many of Wilson’s principles found their way into the Versailles Treaty and subsequent agreements, but not as he intended.  The fruit of Versailles was a vindictive dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, along with a humiliating disarmament of Germany and assessment of a war reparations debt that the German nation finally finished paying 92 years later.  The Versailles Treaty did incorporate Wilson’s vision of a League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but the President’s own people rejected it.  When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States turned away from an active role in managing the community of nations, thereby ensuring that the League of Nations would be nothing more than a hollow shell.

It is easy to summarize the Fourteen Points.  They call for open negotiations among nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, disarmament to the greatest extent possible, evacuation and restoration of territories occupied during the war; “autonomous development” (a fancy way of saying independence) of peoples under the rule of the world’s great empires, readjustment of borders to reflect lines of nationality, and establishment of the League of Nations to oversee this new international order.  The summary, however, does not convey the enormity of the tasks involved in implementing each point.  Consider just one point:  establishment of an independent Poland.  That single act required dismemberment of three empires; creation of a Polish government with power and resources to run the country; international recognition and assistance; and a host of other actions to ensure Poland’s unhindered reentry into the community of nations after nearly 120 years of foreign occupation.  It would be foolish to think that Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the only items under consideration in the Allies’ peace deliberations.  In truth, they were only the beginning of the process, not the end.

This should remind us of something in Scripture.  The analogy dawned immediately on President Georges Clemenceau of France.  On hearing of the Fourteen Points, he is reported to have said,

Quatorze?  Le bon Dieu n’a que dix.  (Fourteen?  The Good Lord only has ten.)

Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5775 #29-30: Achrei Mot (After the Death); Kedoshim (Holy Ones)

אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים

Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in Rain Man introduced audiences to the world of autism.  (Photo:  Amazon.com)
Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance in Rain Man introduced audiences to the world of autism. (Photo: Amazon.com)

How do we love the unlovely?  That is one of the questions Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise explore in Rain Man.  Hoffman earned an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, a man with autism whose family had chosen to place him in an institution after he had accidentally harmed Charlie, his younger brother.  Because of that, Charlie (played by Cruise) never learns of his brother’s existence until after his father’s death.  Charlie is surprised to learn that his father had left most of his fortune to a trust fund that paid for Raymond’s expenses.  Determined to obtain a share of the money, Charlie entices Raymond out of the mental institution and takes him on a road trip to his home in California, where he intends to file a lawsuit for custody of his brother.  The rest of the movie is a journey on many levels as Charlie begins to see Raymond not as an easily exploitable asset, but as a remarkable human being, and as the loving and lovable brother he has missed all his life. 

The audience shares that journey thanks to Hoffman’s masterful performance.  By the end of the movie we are still a bit awkward and uncomfortable around Raymond, but we no longer think of him as something less than ourselves.  He is brilliant in his own way, far more capable with computations and connections than most of us could ever be.  In an odd way he is charming, affectionate, and even adorable.  Once we look beyond his peculiar mannerisms and grow accustomed to his unique forms of expression, we begin to see a person of great value.  Indeed he has special needs that prevent him from functioning on his own, but we learn from Rain Man that Raymond Babbitt and others like him do have a place in society.  One example of this was reported recently in The Times of Israel, in an article explaining how the Israel Defense Forces have recognized the special gift of persons with autism, and have found a way for them to make a valuable contribution to the defense of their nation.  Yet even those who are not able to make such a contribution have value.  They teach us about ourselves – what it means to be human.  We are enriched when we get to know them.

Indeed, they are our neighbors, the very people we are to love as ourselves.

Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5775 #26: Shmini (Eighth)

שְּׁמִינִי

Marvin the Paranoid Android (voice by Alan Rickman) escorts Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and Ford Prefect (Mos Def) to the bridge of the Heart of Gold, a prototype ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive in the 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  (Photo:  TheGuardian.com)
Marvin the Paranoid Android (voice by Alan Rickman) escorts Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and Ford Prefect (Mos Def) to the bridge of the Heart of Gold, a prototype ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive in the 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Photo: TheGuardian.com)

The problem with great satire is that it can be so irreverent.  Then again, that is the strength of satire:  using humor and ridicule to point out something (usually a shortcoming, hypocrisy, or vice) often overlooked in the routine of living.  Satire can be cruel, and thus must be used with great caution.  If employed properly, it moves the audience to laugh loudly in genuine humor at their own or their society’s expense, and plants seeds for reflection that hopefully will bloom into motivation for positive change.

Or perhaps not.  Sometimes humor exists only for humor.  That is one way to consider the works of Douglas Adams, the late English author best known for his satirical science fiction works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It is quite possible that Adams and I could have been good friends, although our worldviews would have generated a continuous wrestling match between us.  To the end of his life he remained utterly convinced in the nonexistence of a Creator, even as I am utterly convinced that there is no god but YHVH.  And yet I can appreciate his masterful use of the English language, his clever story lines, and his penetrating wit, all of which he employed to point out things worthy of our consideration.  Here is one example from the first Hitchhiker’s Guide novel:

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.  For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?.

This is Adams at his best, using seemingly trivial questions with simple answers to provoke a deeper level of inquiry on the very nature and meaning of human existence.  Perhaps he would be surprised to learn that the Lord God does the very same thing.  The small, simple, seemingly insignificant things are what He uses to test our hearts, to discipline us, and to mature us so we can exercise greater responsibility, and all the time He magnifies His glory through us and through these processes.  Thus, when it comes to distinctions between believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the differences usually are much smaller than we may think.  Consider, for example, the attitudes of believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) regarding the Law, or Torah, of God.  To define this difference, we can use the same pattern Douglas Adams used by asking three simple questions:

When are we to worship God?

How are we to worship God?

What does God say is food?

Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5775 #25: Tzav (Command)

צַו

Operating in deadly environments. Clockwise from top: James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, and Richard Crenna in the 1969 space drama Marooned (photo: Movie Hunger); Peter Coyote, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dustin Hoffman under the sea in Sphere (photo: Torrent Garden); Gregory Peck sends John Meillon ashore in the radiation charged atmosphere of San Diego in the film adaptation of On the Beach (photo: Senses of Cinema); Dustin Hoffman in a virus-infected hot zone in Outbreak (photo: ET Online).
Operating in deadly environments. Clockwise from top: James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, and Richard Crenna in the 1969 space drama Marooned (photo: Movie Hunger); Peter Coyote, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dustin Hoffman under the sea in Sphere (photo: Torrent Garden); Gregory Peck sends John Meillon ashore in the radiation charged atmosphere of San Diego in the film adaptation of On the Beach (photo: Senses of Cinema); Dustin Hoffman in a virus-infected hot zone in Outbreak (photo: ET Online).

Consider the fragility of human existence.  We survive within a specific set of environmental parameters – a fixed range of temperature, hydration, radiation, and atmospheric content.  From a cosmic perspective the margin of error is very small; the slightest adjustment in even a single factor, such as the amount of oxygen, quickly moves the environment from pleasant to deadly.  Yet we have learned how to venture into the realm of the deadly when necessary.  Thanks to protective clothing, equipment, and protocols, our species can operate within the vacuum of space, in the ocean’s depths, in the radiation-charged atmosphere of a nuclear reactor, and in the hot zone of an infectious disease laboratory.

We venture into these deadly environments, but we do not live there.  We cannot survive there without observing the strictest standards.  Those who enter these realms understand this.  Astronauts, deep sea explorers, nuclear engineers, and epidemiologists are professionals who have answered the call to highly specialized career fields.  Not all who enter the paths of these professions advance to the point that they can operate confidently in the most dangerous places.  The selection and training standards must be established at the highest possible levels for the simple reason that the slightest error can produce lethal results.  Richard Preston explained this principle in The Hot Zone, an investigative look into the origins of viral hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.  We learn from his book that the protocols for entering, working in, and leaving an infectious disease lab are elaborate and time-consuming, but necessary.  No amount of caution is excessive when microscopic killers can infiltrate through the tiniest puncture of a protective suit or escape through an improper seal of an airlock.  The viruses create the hot zone, whether it is in the lab or in the human body.  Because of the radical transformative nature of these microorganisms, the highly trained professionals who work with viruses like Ebola in a very real sense act as mediators between them and the general population.

In fact, the role of these professionals is not unlike the role of the Levitical priests.

Please click here to continue reading