Report: Mubarak suffered heart attack during corruption questioning


Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was taken to an intensive care unit after suffering a heart attack during questioning over corruption charges, AFP reported on Tuesday.

The 82-year-old former president was deposed Feb. 11 after 18 days of popular protests and has been under house arrest in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh for the last two months.

He was reportedly undergoing questioning over the killing of protesters and embezzling of public funds, when he suffered heart pains and was taken to a Sharm El-Sheikh hospital.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Kabbalist Theory of Everything


 

“Derech Hashem — The Way of God” by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Feldheim, 1997).

Quietly studying a page of the Talmud on a crowded plane, the great Orthodox teacher and thinker Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was interrupted by a passenger in the next seat.

“Pardon me. What is that you are studying?” the man asked.

Soloveitchik explained the nature of the Talmud, and that he was a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University.

The man was incredulous. “Do you mean that people spend their entire lives thinking about religion?” he asked. “Why, I thought that all of religion could be succinctly summarized as ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you’!”

Soloveitchik resisted the temptation to put the fellow in his place. Instead, he inquired about his co-traveler’s profession. Pulling himself up proudly in his seat, the man responded: “Now I,” he said, with lots of stress on that first-person singular, “am an astrophysicist.”

After pondering that for a moment, Soloveitchik retorted, “Strange. Do you mean there are people who spend their entire lives studying distant galaxies? I thought it could all be summed up simply: ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star….'”

Reductionist views of just about anything usually come up lacking. On the other hand, an abundance of information can be a burden, not a blessing. Most of us shunt factoids into our brains the same way we relocate things to the garage. The more stuff we throw in, the worse the clutter gets. We wind up with intellectual chaos, not clarity. What we need, says the author of “Derech Hashem,” is a framework within which to store ideas in a way that makes sense. In a tightly reasoned, trim volume, he set out to give us the “Organized Living” of Jewish life: a single-volume philosophy of Judaism that covers both theory and everyday practice.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto died at the age of 39, or just shy of the age some people believe is appropriate to begin studying kabbalah. In his short lifetime, he became not only one of the most important contributors to kabbalistic thought, but authored perhaps the most popular and enduring work on Jewish ethical and character development, Mesilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just).

Luzzatto systematically addresses many of the questions serious Jews entertain, and many they have not thought of. Why did a perfect God create the world if it couldn’t get Him anything He didn’t already have? Goodness is part of His nature. He created a world in order to bestow the greatest good, which lies within Him. The recipient — man — would labor in this world to slowly change his essential self so he would be able to encounter this good in the next world.

What is the role of the Jewish people? God first offered His wisdom multiple times to a world in which there was no distinction between Jew and non-Jew. Rebuffed as many times as He attempted, He nurtured the offspring of a single righteous Abraham so they would carry His message long enough to eventually bring it to the rest of the world, and eventually produce the Perfected Community.

What is the importance of the soul? Not as the vital force, not as the residence of our memories and aspirations, and not even as the source of our intellect. Instead, he describes it as a kind of interface with the Higher Worlds — so constructed as to allow us to have a direct impact upon them.

Why does God place such a high premium on Torah study? He wished to create one avenue of connection to Him that maximizes the spiritual charge a human being can process.

What happens in the afterlife? (Read. I won’t spoil this one with a summary.)

Above all, “Derech Hashem” makes the case for what may very well have been the single most important idea in sustaining Jewish life through centuries of persecution: the huge value of every mitzvah performed by each ordinary individual. “It is one of the fundamentals of our faith that when an individual performs any good deed, he elevates not only himself, but the entire cosmos.”

In “Derech Hashem,” he shows how and why. This message alone, if properly understood, could prevent the defection of thousands of young Jews coveting the spiritual significance they are convinced exists only in Eastern disciplines.

“Derech Hashem” is kabbalah at its best. Like so many other authentic masters of kabbalah, Luzzatto found a way to distill the esoteric for consumption by the ordinary. We who live in a time (and a city) in which so much ersatz kabbalah abounds have an added incentive to inoculate ourselves against the phony by studying the real.

A word of warning: The author wrote for an audience that fully accepted his opening premises about God and Revelation. He tries to explain to the believer, not to convince the agnostic. For those who feel connected to the God of Israel and are looking for a new way to fit all the pieces together — especially one that stresses the inner spirituality of it all — there is no more important work than “Derech Hashem.”

“Derech Hashem” is abailable at 613 The Mitzvah Store or www.feldheim.com.

 

Pedophiles or Victims? You Decide


When I met with Andrew Jarecki, director of the disturbing new documentary, "Capturing the Friedmans," I was prepared to ask him dozens of questions about the Jewish aspects of the film: Does it make the Jewish community look bad? How does it relate to the community today? How does his own New York Jewish upbringing relate to the subjects of the film? After all, this film about pedophilia concerns a suburban Jewish family living in the very Jewish suburb of Great Neck, Long Island.

But first, I desperately needed to ask Jarecki one question:

Did they do it?

Did Arnold Friedman and his youngest son, Jesse, repeatedly harass, molest and sodomize some of the elementary school boys taking an after-school computer club at their house, or were they targets of an overzealous police force on a witch hunt in suburbia?

In 1987 (around the same time that Jarecki started what was to become the ubiquitous MovieFone), Nassau County police arrested Arnold and Jesse on dozens of charges of sexual crimes against children. The manicured hamlet came under a Clintonian-like media scrutiny and righteously turned on the Friedman family.

But what makes this story different from, say, other prominent cases of pedophilia, is that the Friedmans themselves were intense documentarians: Throughout their lives, they shot stilted home movies of birthdays, holidays like Passover and Chanukah and kiddie pool parties. The filming didn’t end after the arrest, though. The camera remained on while the accusations unraveled their lives.

Surprisingly, that is what is most disturbing about the film; not the sexual nature of the case, but the dissolution of the family: The nagging Jewish mother, unsupportive of her nerdy Jewish husband who meekly faces her withering words; the children — David, Seth and Jesse — forced to stick up for their overprotective father; the Stepford-like Jewish community that prides itself on upward mobility and sends its post-Hebrew school children to computer classes at the Friedmans. Yes, it’s your typical dysfunctional Jewish family — smiling in bar mitzvah pictures, fighting at the seder table — until the FBI knocks on the door, and the Friedmans end up tearing one other apart like hungry locusts. More than the accusations, the real horror of the story is the drama of a recognizably bitter family falling apart.

Which is why this documentary — winner of the Grand Jury Documentary Prize at Sundance this year — has struck such a chord with audiences, even in its opening week. In New York and Great Neck, the heated Q-and-A sessions (which will also take place in Los Angeles) "sort of give [the audience] permission to be a little more emotional about it," Jarecki said, attributing that response to the fact that most documentaries present two sides of a story and "whoever is more credible" the audience sides with.

"Because there were home videos, the audience becomes a primary source — you get a chance to decide for yourself," he said. "The film charges the audience as a judge might a jury."

Yet even with the home movies, three years’ worth of interviews — with the family, police, prosecutors, judge, neighbors, accusers — you don’t know. Did they do it?

What did Jarecki think?

"I try not to behave [as] if I were there," he said, dodging the question. "I think the issue is so much more complicated than the case because there were two people involved: Arnold and his son. Some people say, ‘I don’t know if I believe them. I don’t know if they’re guilty or innocent.’ And the only thing I was trying to make people do is to separate these two people in their minds, because, you know, who among us wants to be judged by the same criterion as our parents?"

Jarecki himself stumbled into this saga with different intentions. After he and his partners sold MovieFone to AOL for $388 million in stock options in 1999, he decided to make a nice little documentary about children’s birthday party entertainers, following one Manhattanite clown named David Friedman. But when Friedman took Jarecki into his childhood home in Great Neck, Long Island, Jarecki unlocked the secret to this sad clown.

That’s how Jarecki’s life unfolds: When he can’t get through on the telephone to a movie theater back in 1988, he decides to start MovieFone. When he wants to make a sweet documentary, he stumbles onto one of the most sensational stories a filmmaker could hope to find.

"I’m very lucky. Strange things happen to me," said the filmmaker, who is as engaging as his film. Wearing jeans and a dark blue long-sleeved T-shirt, a green-and-blue beaded bracelet peeking through, the 40-year-old looks ever the causal dot-com millionaire cum artiste, and he casually accepts his fortuitous life (now taking place in Rome, with his wife and three sons).

"The only thing I really credit myself with is being willing to let it develop," he said.

And if you feel like the wool is being pulled over your eyes on this roller coaster of a tale, Jarecki said it’s only because he’s trying to present the information as he himself discovered it: onion layers of contradictions impeccably interwoven to create a heartbreaking story that you’ll have to just see for yourself.

A Portion of Parshat Vayikra


Today we start the third book of the Torah — Leviticus. In this book, we learn a lot about the Levites (hence the Latin name) who were the priests in the tabernacle. We learn about the sacrifices that were brought. There were different sacrifices for different types of sins. If you committed a sin unintentionally, you brought one kind of sacrifice. If you committed a sin because you didn’t know it was a sin, you brought another type.

Always ask yourself this question when you’ve done something wrong: Did I do this on purpose? Did I spill the milk by accident or was I kind of hoping some of it would get on my pesky little sister? Did I know that it was wrong to play handball against my parents’ bedroom door at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, or did I truly not understand why I’m not supposed to do that?

These are hard questions to ask yourself. But you must always examine the truth of your questions. Be true to yourself and to other people around you.

Big Questions for a New Year


It is a new year, but the world and nation are still agonizing over a lot of old problems. President George W. Bush has promised that the long, hard fight against terrorism has just begun, but it is far from clear exactly what the next phase in that war will be. At home, a faltering economy and vanished government surplus promise a new budgetary day of reckoning.

Those are just two of the big questions looming over Washington as the new year dawns. Here is a brief rundown.

Will Bush go after other terrorists?

Administration officials say yes, but they offer few clues about how or where, mostly because the issue is still the subject of fierce internal debate.

Should Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein be next on the U.S. target list? What, exactly, does the administration plan to do about Syria, Lebanon and Mideast terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah? So far, the signals are mixed.

Will the administration develop a more aggressive strategy to slow the spread of weapons of mass destruction?

For all the talk on the subject, the world is still racing toward the proliferation nightmare, with various Mideast bad guys leading the charge. The need for strong, new efforts has never been greater, but it is unclear if the administration, whose go-it-alone approach last year angered much of the world, is ready to mount a broad, sustained international effort.

Will the administration get wise about some of its Arab “allies”?

Egypt, the recipient of almost $2 billion annually in U.S. aid, continues to propagate anti-Western, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in its official media. Saudi Arabia still protects the Islamic radicals who have fueled Osama bin Laden’s terror network. The administration is increasingly aware of these failings but uncertain how to respond.

The decisions made in the next 12 months will have long-lasting consequences.

Will Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reveal a peace plan?

Sharon has gotten away with his tough military response to Palestinian terror because Yasser Arafat’s two-faced game has become evident even to hardened U.S. State Department types.

But he has revealed no strategy for moving beyond endless confrontation, and he has fostered the suspicion that he has none. If his only goal is to destabilize Arafat and bring about a harsh new status quo, conflict with Washington will not be long in coming.

Will Arafat stop playing the chump?

One of the tragedies of the Palestinian people is that Arafat keeps getting mislead by his Arab friends, who goad him to continue the conflict with Israel as a way of defusing their own domestic discontent. It is in Arafat’s best interests to reach a real peace agreement with Israel and stick to it, but his best buddies keep whispering otherwise in his ear.

Those friends are leading the impressionable, weak Arafat and his gullible people to disaster.

Will Europe stop playing the role of enabler for Arafat?

Do not hold your breath. Despite hints of new cooperation with Washington, the Europeans remain hostile to Israel — in many ways as a surrogate for their jealousy of U.S. preeminence in world affairs.

Equally interesting: Will European nations go after the terror cells that have proliferated in their countries, or will their traditional fear of antagonizing Arab allies win the day?

Will the U.S. ease sanctions on Iran?

Pressure is mounting to do so, but pro-Israel groups are adamantly opposed. The situation in Iran is murkier than ever. Some tough choices lie ahead; stay tuned.

Will Bush make major domestic concessions to the religious right?

He tossed them Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose attachment to the National Rifle Association apparently exceeds his desire to fight terrorism, but that is about it. However, congressional elections come later this year, and the preliminaries for the next presidential contest are already underway. Bush, most political experts agree, will have to reinforce his base, which means the religious right. The big question is: How far will he go?

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