28 August 2005

Free as in speech, free as in beer

Ok, great.
I hear you asking - so I can get loads of images from Wikimedia Commons, along with a strange collection of audio and video, and I can get thousands of books from Project Gutenburg, and I can see what new books are available from The Online Books Page, and I can mix and mash music from CC Mixter and I can see crazy new vistas of free content at ibiblio, but where can I get thousands upon thousands of pin-drop soundboard recordings of complete live shows of the best bands and still stay on the right side of the law?

Brother - it's time to go Furthur.

25 August 2005

Free Llama!

These days it seems like anything goes. I've found that even those people who would spend fifty dollars and two hours to return a lost book think nothing of downloading movies from the shadow world of online exchange. Somehow it has become a moral non-question. I've even heard it said that 'stealing' in this way is not prohibited (though some add - 'but you will never see a blessing from it.')

The question you're likely asking is - what does this have to do with the fuzzy guy to the right? Well, he's a shining example of a no-strings-attached image, placed by it's rightful owner firmly into the public domain. He's not alone. There are over 200,000 public domain files available at Wikimedia Commons alone, all of them either completely free (as in no-strings-attached) or under some sort of fair-use license like those of the Creative Commons.

Now that's something you might see a blessing from...

10 August 2005

Going out to Country

Photo by Fir0002

Four years ago I was faced with the hard question. I had been studying in yeshiva for two years, and I had run out of money. The question was whether to find a source of income, which meant pulling myself out of the four walls of the yeshiva, or hit up my family for the money to keep learning. I set my sites on the middle path: split my day in half, play the roles of business man and yeshiva man at the same time.

Other factors compounded the question. I had lost the yearning to learn, at least the way I had been learning. Other friends bounced from yeshiva to yeshiva looking for the spark, and I was tempted to follow, but the wanderer’s life, as attractive as it was, didn’t solve my money problem. Moreover, I had managed to keep my head nestled in holy books while the economy outside went haywire and any monkey that could type was paid outrageous sums, but the economy ate itself alive just as I was beginning to look for a job.

I ended up, after months of searching, with a full time job, and that’s where I’ve remained. They suffer my strange schedule, as I aim to pack my learning into the mornings and wander in to work in time for a late brunch.

In the meantime, I’ve been blessed to gain some insight into what that missing spark is. My yeshiva had focused, quite rightly, on the skills to learn text - grammar, vocabulary, who is speaking, why is he speaking, where’s the burden of proof… They did an excellent job, but in the end the big question remained – why is this relevant to me? How does it help the world?

Rav Kook writes about connecting the details of Torah to the whole of Torah. We understand (to some extent) the big picture – God is One, he wrote us a holy letter and through that we understand his will. The question is - when Abaye and Rava are discussing the details of a person throwing a ball on Shabbos, how does that connect to the big picture? How does it affect my understanding of reality? How does it change how I act? How I pray? That’s what was missing.

There are a few precious teachers I’ve found who really focus on the whole range – not the big picture, not the small picture, but the whole picture. There are a precious few who help you answer the honest and real question of ‘what does this mean to me.’

I’ve spent four years rolling around the world with a computer. I’ve tried to make Torah the first priority even though it occupied a small fraction of the day. The intensity of the learning in those short times was sometimes amazing. The level of focus sometimes far surpassed what I was capable of in Yeshiva. But there is something to be said for immersion. When I went to Yeshiva, I jumped into the experience and didn’t know how I was going to come out. There was a trust in God, in the experience, in myself, that acted to birth the person that I am today.

So I’m going back.

I haven’t quit my job, but I’ve asked them to do without me for a good seven weeks. I’m heading out to Bat Ayin, a place I’ve flirted with for about seven years. This time it’s not about the skills, it’s about the soul. It’s about the prayer, about connecting the details of the Torah back up to God, and finding that ear in my chest and teaching it to listen in the deepest way. It’s about trusting God and giving birth to myself again.

03 August 2005

Samson's Echo

There's a line of Milton that begins:

Eyeless in Gaza...

Milton was referring to Samson, blinded and chained.

Before I went out to visit Gaza a few weeks ago, I thought that I would write about what I saw, and I suspected that I would use that phrase as the title. Nothing that I saw in Gaza struck me as particularly related to blindness, and neither did I write anything about what I saw.

Today I made the connection. We really are blind. The reports I read in one paper, the reports I read in another, the blogs, and what I hear from people can be so wildly different the I don't know what is actually happening in Ofakim, in the Prime Minister's office, or in Gaza.

Still, this is little more than a loose reference. A blind observer bears little in common with a blind Samson. But maybe our brothers in Gaza, who had been placed purposefully to fufill a strategic role, now find themselves eyeless, chained, a Samson captured.

...Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver!
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill, with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke.
Yet stay; let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine prediction...