Friday, October 19, 2007

Parashat Lekh Lekha

KMTT podcast proceeded this week with the Torah section in which Abraham is sent away from his land to settle in Canaan. Part of the tale is an epic about a battle in Siddim between Canaanite Kings lead by the king of Sodom and Mesopotamian kings. The battle is won by the Mesopotamians and as a result Lot, Abraham's nephew, who has settled with the Sodomites, loses his goods. Abraham comes to the rescue and wrests Lot's possessions from the enemy by chasing them north, all the way until Damascus.

The podcast tries to explain why this war and its consequences are part of the Torah and what is its meaning. Ramban and Rashi are the main sources.

But I was fascinated by a remark in the margin. Abraham is said to take 318 men with him on his chase north. Rabbi Waxman, who gives the talk, casually declares that this is not a bunch of men, but just Abraham and his servant Eliezer. My limited understanding is just enough why this is suggested. If you take the letters of Eliezer's name, and count their worth you arrive at 318: Aleph (1), Lamed (30), Yod (10), Ayin (70), Zayin (7), Resh (200). So I guess that is why this assumption is made.

IOT - Arabian nights

As a subject, the tales of 1001 nights, both as far as their content as what is their history concerned, are ideal for In Our Time. Not even a nervous guest such a Gerard van Gelder, Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford, a Dutchman?, can ruin that. The tales are fantastic, their history is. And the way they are received by the west is filled with romanticism and fascination with the exotic orient.

It turns out, Arabic high culture is a bit less impressed. The tales are not of good language and considered to be mostly boorish and pulpish. What is more, is that it is anonymous - and that is not looked well upon. In spite of that all, the Arabian Nights is what entered into western culture out of the Arabic. And where did the Arabs get it from? An important question, as the Nights are a product of a lengthy tradtion.

IOT doesn't give a definitive answer, but what begins to emerge is a picture of constant cultural reception and exchange. How old Indian tales are received among the Persians, who give it its initial frame (with the princess Scheherazade) and then the tales of Baghdad. The earliest sources are already Arabian, from the early 9th century, but what makes it to Europe is the 15th century version which already received Turkish elements with gunpowder and coffee. The greatest irony is that because of the Western acclaim, the Nights are re-evaluated among Arabs. And so, out of a long tradition from east to west, the tales are now beginning to run eastwards back. And in any case are a wonderful witness to cultural diversity and exchange.

Dan Carlin's hardcore history #16

Dan Carlin admitted to be on a second take of the show, with show 16, about the Nazis. He was aware that when discussing the almost incomprehensible success of the Nazi raise to power he nearly slid into a talk of admiration. In the second take he managed to prevent that impression perfectly. Yet, he also managed at the same time, to analyze to person of Adolf Hitler and how this loser of a man, turned into the leader of a whole nation. His representation seems very convincing and succeeds in coherently explain the person of Hitler, as well as his ideas, ranging from the eugenetics, to the antisemitism, to the extreme nationalism and the way he lead Germany and the world into disaster. Very good show.

The daily Whiplash (2)

Yesterday was a very good day for the most part. With the help of pain killers I hardly had any pain at all until late in the afternoon. During those hours I managed to pick up the repaired car and get a whole lot of forms filled out for the insurance. I even managed to go out and have lunch with my wife. (In the Persian style restaurant Edna in Ramat HaSharon)

But then the old pains returned and this morning I am back to where I was on Wednesday and Tuesday. Still, I hope to take the half day of rather good health as a good sign. A sign of progress and recovery. I like to assume that the process is circular. Just as the pains come in waves and the stiffness. And the worst days were Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and not the immediate aftermath on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A level of feeling good such as Thursday, I hadn't had yet.

PS: Whiplash in Wikipedia.