Category Archives: Religion

God Doesn’t Speak But Money Does

In 2004 I found myself going through a personal crisis and of all places I found solace in religion. I grew up in a Jewish exceedingly anti-religious family with very strong Jewish traditional values. I know, it sounds controversial, however, we celebrated every holiday with no exception, but hardly observed the laws and we never went to temple. No way, my grandparents, my father, my uncles, would not be caught dead at the synagogue but we owned – along with other families – a Jewish school where Yiddish, Hebrew, Jewish law, Jewish history, literature, etc. was taught. Go figure.

In 2004 I found myself re-evaluating many aspects of my personal history and behaviors and as the crisis developed I found myself observing many of the elements I was instructed to loath by my upbringing. Harsh huh?

Here I was in the Chabbad of the South Bay mingling with religious folks, studying the Torah, having fantastic discussions, enjoying myself and finding a new sense of community that I had not had since I had left Argentina 20 years back. It felt good. Very quickly my crisis was under control and life continued on. New friends, new challenges, my kids going to Sunday school and beginning to understand more about their heritage, who they were as part of a people and the challenges that Jews continue to face every day.

The High Holidays came around and I spent them for the first time at temple. I had contributed a little money to the community through the Rabbi. I think that as a whole it was $1000k or less. It was not that I was at the top of any list. However, during the Yom Kippur services I was called to hold the Torah. I did not want to go but it is such an honor. I was there to meditate, to be with the community, to be with myself on such a holy day. I went up to the Torah and held it. During Iskor I cried. I felt such a connection to my father that it overwhelmed me.

It is important to note that I am opposed to religion, but just as my father, grandfather and uncles, I feel a bond to Judaism that is unbreakable.

High holiday after high holiday, Shabbat after Shabbat, Purim after Purim we went to temple and celebrated. I even wore a Iarmikle for a while.

A couple of years later I moved about an hour north for a job. I was introduced to the local Chabbad Rabbi and enrolled my kids in their Hebrew School. All was good. My kids and wife felt their approach was too militant and pushy but they were committed to the “cause” so they dealt with it but for example, we never went to Shabbat services. One Sunday I get a call from the director of the Hebrew School regarding an auction they were having to raise money for the school and with an accusatory tone of “why aren’t you here” I was “invited”. I asked the Rabbi if I sent a donation would that please him and excuse me as I was in the middle of dinner at a friend’s. With scorn the Rabbi answered: It depends how much. The conversation continued for a while longer in a similar tone.

Now … While I do come from a very well to do family I am not well to do myself. As a matter of fact I struggle financially every day and have a hard time meeting some of my financial obligations – still, I am very fortunate in other areas – so whatever money I donate comes with some hardship for me. And to be honest, I’d rather pay for private lessons for my kids than to donate, still, when I can I do. I sent the Hebrew School director $250. It did leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, especially when in comparison to the South Bay Rabbi, he would make it easy and not “incriminatory” if you could not donate. That year I also donated $2000 to the community center as well.

The year went on and the High Holidays approached. I was warned that the ascensions to the Torah were auctioned off in the middle of the service and that it is a common practice. I did not fully appreciate the warning, in particular because:

A – I did not grow up in a religious context where that happened so I was ignorant of the practice.
B – because that was not the practice in the South Bay Chabbad and that was my only frame of reference.

I went to Rosh A’Shana services at the Hyatt Hotel. In one of the Ball Rooms. HUH??? Whatever happened to the synagogue? Apparently it is not big enough to host everybody that shows up. So? Neither is the one in the South Bay and they figure out ways to make it happen. And I promise you, the community in the north is way more affluent than the one in the South Bay.

So be it. Services at the Hyatt. I went. Not exactly a holy place, but the community was there so some of the energy was there as well. I fed from it. I started to “meditate” and quickly was transported to times of old. The mojo was strong with this community. You might think of me schizophrenic, but I saw myself at a court yard outside of The Temple a thousand years ago. I saw myself walking around and discussing Torah with others. I had been transported to the past. I was looking at the Temple as it was with my own eyes; I could not believe it. I was touching “God’s face with my hands”. And then somebody stood up and said: “Now we are going to auction off the ascensions”. I felt sick to my stomach. It took me three minutes to realize what was going on and when I did, I packed my Talit and left. The moment I was outside I vomited.

It was as though somebody had kicked me in the testicles really hard. I did not go back. And next year I spent Rosh A’Shana in the South Bay, where I was not interrupted. I have not gone back to temple really. In general the experience has jaded me somewhat. I am not opposed to collecting moneys. I am not even opposed to selling off the ascensions, but do not do it in the middle of a service. Do it in private so people like me that can not afford to play do not feel bad and can participate in the service anyway. Do not be exclusive and shame people. It is a community after all.

Beyond the emotional aspect of the experience and after a few years I have processed the events from a philosophical point of view and after everything is said and done, I think that what bothered me the most is the fact that it feels like the time of the second Temple. If you did not have money and were well to do you had no access to the Torah, in particular, to study the Torah. Really, we have not learned anything from our past?

I guess not.


Filed under Personal, Religion, Thoughts

2009 High Holidays

Life has interesting twists. And my life is not without plenty of them; some good, some not so good. Such is life and I try to take the good with the bad and do the best with it I can. I do not always manage to be up-beat about it, but I do try.

This year’s high holidays – Rosh Ha’Shana and Yom Kippur – were interesting. But let’s start with last year’s to make sense of it all; last year I had a really bad experience. It was the first time ever that I was ashamed of being Jewish. But not ashamed as in being Jewish is something bad, I am VERY VERY proud of being Jewish, but more ashamed as in being disappointed. I felt let down mostly by myself for believing in a certain perfectionism and creating certain expectations that were impossible to be fulfilled. That was last year!

This year I had a whole new set of expectations to go unfulfilled. But it turned out not to be so.

For starters, I decided to go and spend Rosh Ha’Shana at the Schull where I used to live. My son decided he was going to come with me and also be at temple with me – more to come on this. I spend Rosh Ha’Shana’s eve at my parents-in-law. My mother-in-law prepared a great dinner, albeit not kosher, but great nonetheless.

My son and I woke up on Saturday, showered, got dressed and got to Schull at the time I wanted to get there. And we sat down in my favorite “space”: on the very back all the way to the right; the very last, western-most two seats. My son had brought his Gameboy and a book with him. The Gameboy stayed in the car and he had the keys to go and play there if he so chose to. The book came to Schull with us. For the first half of the service he payed attention and followed on the Sidur (prayer book) the service. While he will not admit it, he actually read and prayed a good amount. I heard him.

About half way through he got bored and turned to his book. I told him to be somewhat inconspicuous. Nobody would say anything, but still he needed to be respectful. He was. He stood when he had to, sat when he had to and during the sermon – which was excellent – he listened to it for a while. We stayed almost to the very end of the morning service. Let’s face it, that is fantastic for a kid considering this was a Chabbad service.

We skipped the evening service. I did not want to push on my son. I was – and am – proud of him.

We did attend dinner at a friend’s. It was also very good. We both enjoyed it very much. My wife and daughter did not come with us; they stayed at home which is far away from this Schull. While all was good, them being there would have made it AWESOME. But I will take “good”.

Having my son next to me at Schull was an incredible feeling. Again, my daughter and wife would have made it even more so, but since they would have sat down at a different section, them not being at Schull was not so heavy, but at dinner it was. Going back to my son being there … when I was growing up my father always said that as I would come of age I would be with him, driving together to the farms, or to the race track or what not. Unfortunately he got sick and his illness ravaged him and life took me on my own path to a far way land that I call home today. Having my son next to me brought back bitter-sweet memories. Bitter because my father’s plans never happened and sweet because I now understood how my father felt about me.

There are a lot of things lately that are bitter-sweet memories; all of them related to memories of my father. All of them related to understanding how he felt about his kids. All of them through my feeling for my own kids.

Needless to say, Rosh Ha’Shana was good to me in so many levels: family, friends, community. And if to that you add a very powerful sermon from Rabbi Yossi; well .. What can I say … it was pretty darn good.

The ten days between Rosh Ha’Shana and Yom Kippur passed uneventfully.

Sunday night, Yom Kippur’s eve came and my plans were to do nothing. I did not want to go to the local Chabbad, and did not want to be without my family, so driving down to Yossi’s Schull was out of the question. My wife suggested I look for an Online Service. Now … that is wrong at so many levels that I thought there would not be one. But I looked for one nonetheless at my wife’s insistence. Wouldn’t you know it, there was one. I have to admit that I was apprehensive but logged in and watch it. My wife watch it with me and my kids came in and out of my home office to be with us.

Laws of the Mishna aside, I thought the idea was brilliant. You are a Jew in some remote place but you have broadband access. Why not!!!?? It is a fantastic outreach tool and a great use of technology.

The service itself was not my cup of tea; now, I am not saying I did not enjoy it. I did. But the tone did not match the day and how serious a day Yom Kippur is. In the end it is a matter of choice. Joy does not impede seriousness; however, to me the day is a somber day of reflection and not that of joy; thus, my somewhat tentative reaction to the service. It did, however, fulfill my need and for that I am grateful. The sermon was also good and powerful. And the music was really good and would have been a lot more enjoyable given a different circumstance. The musicians where just incredible. And the fellow that sang Koll Nidre was really good too.

Despite my – and for a lack of a better term – disapproval, I looked for an Online Service for Yom Kippur. I did not find one. Well … so be it.

I had decided that while I was not going to fast, I was going to spend a good deal of time meditating, thinking, evaluating and deciding throughout the day, but at home. The day started commonly enough with breakfast, guitar playing, chatting with my kids, etc. My kids needed to finish homework, so my wife focused on that, while I was in my office thinking and meditating. After a while I started with the guitar and continued playing and meditating. The kids went in the pool and then we had lunch.

I was having a great day, but I was still moping around. After lunch I decided I wanted to watch the Fiddler On The Roof. I needed Jewish themes. I needed Judaism to relate to. The movie was perfect. My hope was also that the kids were going to watch it with me and we could discuss it in the context of the day and today’s environment. The kids decided to go for a walk and then back in the pool. My wife and I started to watch it. And I was still moping!!

At around 4PM a friend called us and said: “My parents have a row at temple, would you like to come for the evening service, join us and hear the Shofar? Also, you guys can come to their house and break-the-fast with us.”

I immediately said yes and I was not moping anymore.

It is important to mention that it was not the local Chabbad.

The service was very good. We heard the Shofar and as luck would have it, we met other friends. It was, again, very rejoicing!! And dinner was also excellent. Once again, family, friends and community. The day had taken a turn. It was already good and it got better.

I woke up today with a distinct good feeling. Before work I went for a hike and as I do on my daily hikes I got in my head and replayed the events that unfolded over the last two weeks. In particular why was I moping yesterday.

Before I go any further I need to make clear the following:

1 – I do not believe there is a god. It does not make sense to me. I can prove the need for people to believe in the divine. At the end of the day, the way I look at it is that divinity is an extraordinary need of humans. One day I will write more on the subject. Also, I have outmost respect for people that do believe.

2 – It follows from (1) that I am not observant. I am not in the slightest.

3 – While I find spirituality more palatable and understandable – it also makes sense to me at the physics level – I am not a big fan of religion in general. And also have the outmost respect for people who are drawn to religion.

4 – If I needed to state a belief it would be that while I do not have to agree with anybody’s beliefs and creeds, I do have to accept them without questioning. Well … the questioning part I do have a problem with because I have always questioned everything, but that is as a part of my quest for knowledge. Questioning in this context is related to “negating” or “invalidating” other’s believes.

So … why was I moping during Yom Kippur? Simple, while I am not the poster child for religion or even spirituality, I am very proud of being Jewish and I “did not have” a place to express myself as such. I did everything I could to relate to being Jewish but for Yom Kippur it was not enough, as it was not enough for Rosh Ha’Shana. I needed to be at Schull, with family, friends and community. It is really that simple.

I have to thank my parents-in-law for having us at their house for 2 days and catering to our needs.

I have to thank both Joseph and Yossi. You both made my Rosh Ha’Shana again a centered experience. I wish I could spend more time with both of you discussing and studying. I am sure one of these days it will happen. And if not, we need to make it happen.

I have to thank Rabbi Naomi Levy. She does not know me and I only saw her Online. Her service was not my cup of tea, but it did fill a void and that was not only powerful, it was a Mitzvah.

And last but not least, I need to thank Debby and her parents for inviting us to Schull and having us over for dinner. You made my Yom Kippur.

Shana Tova!!

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Filed under My Family, Religion


So … here comes Bob and tells me that he had a discussion with a Rabbi and the Rabbi suggested that God might have created the Universe several billion years old and earth with all the fossil evidence of an older system. However, the Universe and the planet is indeed only 6000 years old or just about. Well … it is a possibility. In our limited definition of God (or a God), an entity with the assigned “powers” could have done things in such a way. I fail to understand the logic of such creation – except as a joke – but then again, there are many things that have nothing to do with logic as we understand it and are beyond our limited understanding.

When I started to study Torah with Josale – he is a good guy, not only smart but VERY intelligent – he tried to explain Torah to me in terms I would understand … business terms. So, God creates and does a marketing study and runs a pilot. If he does not like it, he starts from scratch. And from the ashes and sparks of his “failures” he starts again. I guess God does not believe in reusability and building up from solid foundations. But that is OK; since we are made in his image, many of us do not believe in reusability either – but I do.

My questions is: Why doesn’t God reveal himself more clearly to us? What’s the mystery? Why such cryptic signs? Religious people would argue … indeed they would … that God reveals himself VERY clearly. There is no mystery. That mystery is created by people in order to deny God. What does denying really mean?

Let me state my position clearly:

1 – I have a hard time believing in God. At the same time, I have a hard time not believing in God.

2 – I do not have to believe or agree or even share other people’s view points, ideas and believes. But I do have to accept them for what they are, view points, ideas and believes. Moreover, I have to accept the peoples whose believes, ideas and view points I do not subscribe to.

Believing in God – or not – has many levels. Let’s assume, for the sake of this part of the post, that not only I believe there is a God, but I believe that the Torah, Gospels, Koran and other holy books represent the word of God as His own word. So, somebody transcribed for God. Moses, Mohammed, Buddha and many others were God’s prophets and they put down God’s words. Good for God, it had secretaries!! But … do I believe in those words as the truth? How about the ultimate truth? These books, to some extent or another, are full of laws and regulations that were pertinent 5000 years ago. Some of them are still VERY valid today, but many are not. Obviously some religious people will argue with me that those laws and regulations are valid today as they were valid 5000 years ago. It may be so, however, I just do not see it that way. God’s words would have a level of permanency and validity beyond time. And some of the laws and regulations are obsolete. On the other hand because they are obsolete, as long as they can be applied, I see no problem on people keeping with them.

The Torah describes in extreme details the different offerings for the different times of the years, situations, festivities, etc. Most of them are not kept anymore because they have become impractical. But those offerings are not written as optional. They are written as laws and regulations. Rules that people MUST follow no matter what or else, the wrath of God would descend upon the people. Those laws and rules have been adapted to coexist in today’s world. But if you really want to take the WORD of God seriously, then the adaptation is outside of the words themselves.

The word of God maybe is not really the word of God. Maybe it is the word of a few people that had the foresight to see the problems with society at the time and decided to help. Did they have contact with God? Maybe their foresight came from God. Maybe they were en-tuned with humanity because many of these rules’ validity lasted for a long time.

So … I am not so sure about the words!! And if they are the words of God, I am not sure I believe in those words. It leads then to question God’s existence itself. If God is omnipresent and omnipowerful, then the words should carry more weight. Clearly in my case they do not.

Does this mean that I do not believe in God? No, it does not. What it does mean, at least on a first approach, is two things:

A – I do not necessarily believe in God in the same way I may not believe in what somebody tells me. It has to do with authority. Just like I assign very little authority to a police officer I assign, potentially, very little authority to God since its authority comes, initially, from those written words.

B – In the assignment of some authority to God implies that God may exist after all. You can not assign authority to a non-existant entity.

As I wrote above, I have a hard time believing or not believing. But I do accept the possibilities, wether intellectually I agree with them or not. This leads to Acceptance and Tolerance ..

From the New Oxford American Dictionary (I finally figured out what dictionary I had in my computer):

acceptance |akˈseptəns|
1 the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered : charges involving the acceptance of bribes | [as adj. ] an acceptance speech | he had an acceptance from the magazine.
• agreement to meet a draft or bill of exchange, effected by signing it.
• a draft or bill so accepted.
2 the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group : you must wait for acceptance into the club.
3 agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation : acceptance of the teaching of the church.
• approval or favorable regard : the options proposed by the report gained acceptance.
willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation : a mood of resigned acceptance.

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Old French, from accepter (see accept ).

tolerance |ˈtäl(ə)rəns|
1 the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with : the tolerance of corruption | an advocate of religious tolerance.
• the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, esp. a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction : the desert camel shows the greatest tolerance to dehydration | species were grouped according to pollution tolerance | various species of diatoms display different tolerances to acid.
• diminution in the body’s response to a drug after continued use.
2 an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity, esp. in the dimensions of a machine or part : 250 parts in his cars were made to tolerances of one thousandth of an inch.
ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain and hardship): via Old French from Latin tolerantia, from tolerare (see tolerate ).

These definitions not withstanding, I see Acceptance and Tolerance as natural antonyms. Acceptance is about openness and understanding. It is about transparency and education. While Tolerance is about closedness and separation; about being opaque and selfish.

Let’s expound on Tolerance first. Tolerance is about degrees. It is about the breaking point of not being tolerant. For example you can tolerate a baby crying for so long. If the crying persists, and your “tolerance” is low, then you will get annoyed and request to be remove from the annoyance. In the extreme, you will take matters into your own hands and make sure the baby stops crying. Tolerance is used often enough within the context of Religious Tolerance. The message is loud and clear, tolerate the baby while you can, and when you can not, take matters into your own hands. The Museum of Tolerance is adeptly named. It is all about the breaking point of tolerance and what happens when certain people take matters into their own hands.

Acceptance is not about degrees. It is about black and white. It is about realizing that we do not like something but learning to live with it. It is about coexisting in a community (neighborhood, city, country, world) where differences exist. It is about understanding (or not) those differences and making room for the differences to mature into a common language of understanding. I do not have to agree with the baby crying, but the baby will cry nonetheless. I have two viable choices: either I learn to live with the crying baby or I have to move on. Taking matters into my own hands is never a choice.

Back to God …

When I was much younger I engaged in the quest of answering whether there is a God or not. At some point I decided that the question did not make any sense and that nothing changed one way or the other however the question was answered. A few years ago, through my children and friends, I was brought back to the quest. This time around I benefit from experience and knowledge. I have lived not only longer, but in many places and have interacted with many more people. Those interactions have provided different perspectives on the subject and many inputs into my thinking.

One of the elements that I have been able to factor out is the difference between Tolerance and Acceptance and how it pertains to God. I have no idea still if there is a God or not. I am not a man of faith (read The Faithful And The Intelectual) and will never be. Faith is not my game so to speak. The only way I would get to God, for better or worse, is through the intellectual process. And in this pursuit I have learn that Acceptance is key and Tolerance is destructive. Acceptance has opened my mind to possibilities while tolerance does not. The world is full of possibilities. Whether coincidence or design, whether Nature or God, the truth is clear but our vision is clouded.


Filed under Religion, Thoughts

The End Of Progress

NOTE: In order to make the best read of this post – but you do not have to – you can read The Last Question, by Asimov (at and one of my previous posts called Downtime (at

A few weeks ago surfing the web I discovered a short story by Asimov I really liked called The Last Question. I have read many of Asimov’s works, but not this one. More  or less at the same time I read the story, I was having a conversation with – let’s call him Bob – regarding God, science, technology, mathematics, physics, etc. The whole idea revolved around the fact that mathematics is the language of nature. Bob shared with me a NY Times article that touched on the subject. My reply to the article was The Last Question. And his reply to me was: Can humanity come together and decide to stop progress? My answer is a categorical NO.

Around the same time there was a TechCrunch blog post regarding services downtime events during 2007 and how certain business were affected. I placed a comment to the blog post and later wrote a blog post myself that took a consumer centric approach to the post. I focused on the dependency we have on technology as a society and how our daily lives are affected by technology and any downtime. In my opinion our lives are, to a large extent, the product of technological progress. From medicine, food preparation and the web, to cars, airplanes, cellular telephones, etc. Humanity as it stands today is very much the product of technological progress.

Why is it that humanity can not come together to stop progress?

Humanity has never and will never come together. Our history, starting with prehistory, is all about control and dominance. Hardly a “coming together” bunch. As tribes were developing and humanoid life evolved, confrontations have been the common theme. Most of these confrontations were about territory. Early humans were not hypocritical; If they wanted a piece of land they fought for it. There was no guise or pretext to why they conquered by the sword: land, power, wealth and procreation, the preservation and expansion of the tribe. When hordes of barbarians moved from one place to another they left behind most of what they had – they traveled light. And each new conquered place was an opportunity for expansion in more than just territory. For as crude as it sounds, the image of the sailor with a girl in every port comes to mind.

As early humans progress took place, “progress” being the operating word and concept, new dynamics developed. Battles and entire wars were fought in the name of a God, or a series of gods. Religion and the religious establishment became a controlling political influence and factor in such progress. Culture, just another form of “technology”, was regulated by the political, but mostly, by the religious establishment. The motivation for war remained the same, territorial and financial expansion, basic economics. The spinning of these motivations is what changed. Humans became hypocritical.

Fast forwarding to the last few hundred years, the spinning has gotten worse. New players joined the party and old players have grown more powerful or have created splinters, adding even more to the confusion and “not coming together”. There is no unifying banner for humanity to gather under. There is no common ground for people to come together because people have become cattle. And the different herds are guided in opposite directions. How can humanity come together when a few people are waiting for the Messiah, while others are waiting for the Messiah to come again. How can humanity come together when a few people deny the Messiah and rather believe in prophets. How can humanity come together when we will kill because of skin color. How can humanity come together when our differences, as minute as they can be, are used to drive a wedge between brothers. The world keeps getting smaller and we keep getting further apart. The political, religious and economic establishment profits from it. While this may sound as though I am placing the responsibility solely on religion, I am not. However, religion does have a great influence on people thus, bad religion or bad religious leaders rather share a good part of the responsibility in not coming together. Also, religion is a tool of control, and as such, it is often used to manipulate public opinion.

The fact that by nature we can not come together as a general people is not small, but only a part of my answer. It can be argued however, if you agree with my assessment above, that the question is already answered. Indeed, it is. If we can not come together  how can we agree on anything let alone something as monumentally big as “stopping progress”.

On the other hand, let’s assume that we could come together and agree on something. Stopping progress will probably be the last thing we would come to agree on. If anything I can only see us agreeing on “regulating” progress. Why then progress can not be stopped. For one, as I expressed earlier, we are the product of progress. Secondly progress is part of the philosophical system we natively subscribe to: Capitalism.

Capitalism as a philosophical system.

Humans are definitely capitalistic in nature. Capitalism as an economic system is just but a product of a larger system that encompasses who and what we are. The failure of socialists and communist systems is normally attributed to external and internal factors with the emphasis on the external ones. Isolation policies and economic blockades are more often than not cited as the driving factors on the collapse of the so called leftist  regimes. However, my personal opinion is that communism, in particular, failed purely for internal reasons – the external influences only solidified and to a minor extent fueled the internal struggle. What then are these internal reasons? People and power. We as individuals want power and the struggle to get power fuels capitalism. So, how can you drive a communal based system when your internal participants inadvertently desire power and control? You can not.

In history we look at individual events and try to find the causes for them. In big blocks we find the dependencies of past and present events. But there is no granularity. There is no visibility at the individual levels. For example, we know that the “Boston Tea Party” kicked off the American revolution. We know a great deal about the mood at the time not only in America but in Europe (the French Revolution). And we know about some of the political undercurrents supported primarily by the Free Masons. But we do not know how it all really started. We do not know about a couple of guys drinking wine one night and being dissatisfied with their situation; we do not know about the conversation that ensued and their complaints expressed in terms of taxation, but in reality, probably about the discrepancy between their economic prowess and the power of their voice.

A few years ago two friends of mine and I went Baja California, Mexico, on a fishing trip. One night we got very drunk. Not that the other nights we did not get drunk, but this night in particular was different. We started with Tequila. After we were two bottles into it we got hungry, so I prepare some sashimi. Of course, beer and sake became part of the meal. Once we finished dinner we moved back to Tequila and that is when our “brilliant” idea started. In our drunken imagination we concocted a plan to unify California and Baja California as an independent sovereign country – California (being the 5th largest economy in the world) has the economic might to pull it off.

The point of the anecdote is not about the particular ramblings of three drunks, but  … how many a revolutions started just this way? How many a movement? How many people died because of two, three, four drunks came up with an idea? Moreover, our  ramblings were neither idealist or romantic, but focused on economic gains. In other words, three guys somewhere in the middle of the totem pole and doing very well trying to get to the top of the pole. Basically, a typical middle class dissatisfaction.

I guarantee you, if we had visibility into all levels of history, we will find that most of the big historical events started as the discontented ramblings of three drunks. No matter how well we are doing, we want more. We want more of everything – in particular more power. We want our voices heard. We want our legacy to last. We want, and in this want communal based systems are defeated. Utopia, for as fantastic as it seems is unattainable because it is not in our nature. Our nature, as a species, is to move forward, to “progress”. With Capitalism comes efficiency and efficiency is one of the key drivers of progress.

Progress is always expressed in terms of technological advances. Even “thinking progress” indirectly is expressed and explained by advances in technology. With efficiencies not only comes more productivity but also more time. With more time, inclined and “illuminated” people could educate themselves and “study”. And with the pursuit of intellectuality “thinking progress” takes place.

We are the product of Progress.

When I think of progress and Homo-Sapiens-Sapiens I think of them as one. I can not separate from the other. The closest species to us humans are the Chimpanzees. We share 98% of our genetic makeup, yet we have surpassed them in every possible area. This is not to qualify our actions as good or bad, but factually, we have indeed surpassed them. And while Chimpanzees use tools just like we do, we have taken the same tools and have made machines with them that have taken us to the moon. So, apparently 2% difference in a genetic map is an important difference. And in that difference dwells our desire to progress.

I can imagine early humanoid life in this planet. This includes all the primates at the time. All competing for the same resources and the would be humans not always winning in the struggle. The power for abstract thought drove us to understand our limitations better and to find ways to overcome them. Technological progress became the differentiator, the edge that allowed us not only to survive but to flourish. While other species progressed much slower or disappeared altogether, our ability for abstract thought enabled is to adapt the same tools every body used into machines that conquered space.

I finally understood “The Time Machine”, by H.G. Wells. The story warns us of our desire for progress, while “The Last Question” gives us a possible answer to the beginning … and End Of Progress.

And to conclude, a follow up question should be: “How dependent is progress on not coming together?


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Protected: Historical Posts From My Personal Wiki (dead now)

May 10, 2007.

Before you read this entry, please read the following extract written by a fine Physicist and Scientist, Richard Feynman. Then read my commentary, which, even though I have the out-most respect for Dr. Feynman, I disagree.

While I was at the [Ethics of Equality in Education] conference, I stayed at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where young rabbis- I think they were Orthodox- were studying. Since I have a Jewish background, I knew some of the things they told me about the Talmud, but I had never seen the Talmud. It was very interesting. It’s got big pages, and in a little square in the corner of the page is the original Talmud, and in a sort of L-shaped margin, all around this square, are commentaries written by different people. The Talmud has evolved, and everything has been discussed again and again, all very carefully, in a medieval kind of reasoning. I think the commentaries were shut down around the thirteen- or fourteen- or fifteen-hundreds- there hasn’t been any modern commentary. The Talmud is a wonderful book, a great, big potpourri of things: trivial questions, and difficult questions- for example, problems of teachers, and how to teach- and then some trivia again, and so on. The students told me that the Talmud was never translated, something I thought was curious, since the book is so valuable.
One day, two or three of the young rabbis came to me and said, “We realize that we can’t study to be rabbis in the modern world without knowing something about science, so we’d like to ask you some questions.”
Of course there are thousands of places to find out about science, and Columbia University was right near there, but I wanted to know what kinds of questions they were interested in.
They said, “Well, for instance, is electricity fire?”
“No,” I said, “but… what is the problem?”
They said, “In the Talmud it says you’re not supposed to make fire on a Saturday, so our question is, can we use electrical things on Saturdays?”
I was shocked. They weren’t interested in science at all! The only way science was influencing their lives was so they might be able to interpret better the Talmud! They weren’t interested in the world outside, in natural phenomena; they were only interested in resolving some question brought up in the Talmud.
And then one day- I guess it was a Saturday- I want to go up in the elevator, and there’s a guy standing near the elevator. The elevator comes, I go in, and he goes in with me. I say, “Which floor?” and my hand’s ready to push one of the buttons.
“No, no!” he says, “I’m supposed to push the buttons for you.”
“Yes! The boys here can’t push the buttons on Saturday, so I have to do it for them. You see, I’m not Jewish, so it’s all right for me to push the buttons. I stand near the elevator, and they tell me what floor, and I push the button for them.”
Well, this really bothered me, so I decided to trap the students in a logical discussion. I had been brought up in a Jewish home, so I knew the kind of nitpicking logic to use, and I thought, “Here’s fun!”
My plan went like this: I’d start off by asking, “Is the Jewish viewpoint a viewpoint that any man can have? Because if it is not, then it’s certainly not something that is truly valuable for humanity… yak, yak, yak.” And then they would have to say, “Yes, the Jewish viewpoint is good for any man.”
Then I would steer them around a little more by asking, “Is it ethical for a man to hire another man to do something which is unethical for him to do? Would you hire a man to rob for you, for instance?” And I keep working them into the channel, very slowly, and very carefully, until I’ve got them- trapped!
And do you know what happened? They’re rabbinical students, right? They were ten times better than I was! As soon as they saw I could put them in a hole, they went twist, turn, twist- I can’t remember how- and they were free! I thought I had come up with an original idea- phooey! It had been discussed in the Talmud for ages! So they cleaned me up just as easy as pie- they got right out.
Finally I tried to assure the rabbinical students that the electrical spark that was bothering them when they pushed the elevator buttons was not fire. I said, “Electricity is not fire. It’s not a chemical process, as fire is.”
“Oh?” they said.
“Of course, there’s electricity in amongst the atoms in a fire.”
“Aha!” they said.
“And in every other phenomenon that occurs in the world.”
I even proposed a practical solution for eliminating the spark.
“If that’s what’s bothering you, you can put a condensor across the switch, so the electricity will go on and off without any spark whatsoever- anywhere.” But for some reason, they didn’t like that idea either.
It really was a disappointment. Here they are, slowly coming to life, only to better interpret the Talmud. Imagine! In modern times like this, guys are studying to go into society and do something- to be a rabbi- and the only way they think that science might be interesting is because their ancient, provincial, medieval problems are being confounded slightly by some new phenomena…
They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time.

– Richard Feynman

For as much as I respect Dr. Feynman I strongly disagree with him. While it is true that the Talmud has not been edited and commented a many centuries, it is very much contemporary; and probably the reason no new comments have been added. Besides, not too many people can measure up to Rashi, Rambbam and othe Tzadiks that commented in the Talmud.

However, Dr Feynman’s comments where about the students, not about the Talmud.

But the students for the upper hand, that is why they could not be trapped.

As you can read on my previous entries, I have been going through a transformation, which in itself is very rewarding. The point altogether of this transformation is to question. Question everything. Question your sense, your superiors and inferiors, your children, wife, husband. Question your Rabbi. Hold everybody’s feet to the fire.

Does GOD exist?

As I stated before: I have a hard time believing in GOD and I hard time not believing in GOD.
The students definitely believe not only in the existence of GOD but they believe in the word of GOD. They believe in the intention of GOD and even more, they believe that GOD’s intentions are good.

So, the Talmud, is not only commentary but interpretation of the word of GOD according to Judaism. And the study of it is the attempt to understand “THE LORD WORKS IN MISTERIOUS WAYS”.

Last week I was in Miami. On my flight back I sat next to a Jamaican woman. She was very nice (Hi-5 ☺ ). But she was absolutely clueless about any other religion outside Christianity. She had herd and knew about Jews, Muslims, and other religions, but as far as she knew, she had never met anybody that was not Christian. Obviously the conversation steered towards religion – entirely my responsibility, I am terribly curious about Rastafarians, but the more I research the more confused I get, it makes no sense to me. I explained to her that outside some small details, Christianity and Judaism are very much the same. The only major difference is the Messiah.

To Christians, Jesus was the Messiah and now are waiting the second coming.

To Jews, Jesus ranges from a prophet to a revolutionary; Jesus was not the Messiah and we are still waiting. My personal opinion is that Jesus, very much like Rashi centuries later; he tried to bring religion to the masses because GOD does not care how much you have, but how you behave.

Why do I disagree with the good Dr?

On one hand, there is no need to understand technology. How many people in the world do not know what electricity is and how it works? How many people do not know how the internal combustion engine works? And how about computers?

Technology just is there for us to us. It is a commodity. It is a service. And it has always been like that. Different people know different things. Some know electricity; some know how to refine good wine. And we all consume the goods these people produce. So, what does it matter if some guys do not know how a car or an elevator works. They get on the car and they drive. They get on the elevator and get to the floor then need to. A lot of VERY intelligent people do not know many details of today’s technological tools; and not for that they are out of touch with today’s reality.

On the other hand, what the students where looking for, was to understand applied science. They wanted to find additional ways to comment on the contents of the Talmud.

The Talmud is hardly a close book. It has room for comments. But the comments need to be worth while.

The Talmud touches on many scientific items; from Mathematics, though Physics and Astronomy. Well before Copernicus and Columbus presented earth being round, Rabbis commented on the Talmud that because GOD said something in particular, earth must be round. And of course, all other comments regarding the topic followed.

The Talmud commented on medicine, on politics and political systems, and much more. But it is true that it has not seen any new comments for years. And the “holy grail” of Talmudic studies is to come up with some new comment, or new angle, or new understanding of something either written on the Talmud or the Tora.

Most likely, the students becoming aware of Feynman’s fame, expected him to shed light on some topic and provide them with the fuel to “beat” the rabbis … not just their teachers, but THE TEACHERS. They were trying to use new time sensitive knowledge because they very much understood their time. I can only imagine their disappointment when somebody like Dr. Feynman tried to “trick” them and corner them with trivial mundane matters as how electricity works.

Basically, Feynman was talking about simple Mechanics, while the students were talking about Quantum Mechanics and String Theory.

November 5, 2006

For the last few months I have been thinking about the Messiah and what it means. As a Jew I think of the first coming, but Christians expect the second coming – Jesus being the first coming. Plenty of questions come to mind: Are we ready? What are we to expect? What will happen to my children? What will happen to me? Now … I watched a lot of TV when I was young and read many fantasy books as well as mythology and theology; so my idea of the Messiah is a reconstruction force that comes after all was destroyed. And that worries me.

Mel Gibson a few month ago got drunk and decided to go for a spin in PCH in Malibu. To his delight – not – he was stopped by a police officer and was charged with a DUI and arrested. In the process of being arrested he use some colorful and negative words to describe Jews. Needless to say his publicist had to paddle long and hard to undo the damage. At the end, Gibson came out and explained that it was not really how he truly felt but his upbringing was confusing with regards to the topic of Judaism – his father is a well known anti-Semite and denier of the Holocaust. He offered to meet with Jewish representatives to begin the healing.

What healing?

In any case; I had already been thinking about the Messiah, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Palestinians, Israel, Ossama Bin Laden and all the bad things that happen in the world. Most of all, I have been thinking about my kids, Jared and Sidney. What kind of a world am I leaving for them? Here I am, working, making money, traveling for work and not being with them, focused on their financial future; but is really that what I should be working towards?

I used to argue with my father about the world he was leaving to me and of course my position at the time was in favor of peace, the environment, people, well being, doves flying free, children being fed. Today my reality is different but I still feel consternation when I think of people in some places being exposed to the horrors of this world. And that includes Jews around the world. Jews through out the ages. Jews marching to the gas chambers. Jews being killed by missiles and the retaliation the comes after the missile attacks.

The whole thing shames me.

Do I agree what Israel did in Lebanon this last summer was the right actions to take after Hessbolah killed and took those soldiers?

A hard question to answer. In principle I am not sure I agree, but as Jews we have to protect ourselves from the evil of this world. I am not saying there is no evil within the Jewish community, there is, what I am saying is that there are better ways of doing what was done as well as more effective. But Israel has to do what is necessary to preserve the Jewish land and from that point of view, I agree with any actions that are aligned with the protection not only of Israel, but of the Jewish people around the world.

When is it all going to end and we can get down to creating and living together in peace and prosperity rather than continuing with this cycle of never-ending and escalating violence? There are too many economical interests for it to continue. Ahhh … you though that Bin Ladden and his friends, of Gaddafi or the Iranians are committed to Jihad for the love of God they have? No, just like the Crusades or the initial Jihad, or any such wars like these, including re-conquering Cannan in Biblical time, are all for the money. For the economical gains obtained from the conflicts. In some case the economic gain has to do with carving a piece of land to settle down and prosper; in others, the massive conquest of large territories and in other yet, the brokers of war, they make gains by the commerce that war also is.

The real problem is that there are people that believe this idiots when the proclaim war for the grace of God, or to defend the faith, or to protect the holly lands of our forefathers. The people that get brain-washed with the beliefs of extremism are peons for the merchants of death that profit from their misguided actions.

Going back to Mel Gibson … so I came up with an idea: If he really wants the healing to begin, then we should form an organization that preaches world peace by meeting and discussing with people in some for of the current focal places of violence. Who better than Mel Gibson? A declared anti-Semite.

The idea is for him to join me and help me convince a bunch of other well known people to create this organization and to travel to places like Iran, or Afghanistan, of Pakistan and talk to the Taleban, talk to Hamass or Hessbolah, or the Palestinians and try to find out a peaceful solution. But the target of talks is not governments, but people. I want to go and talk to the people. I want to explain to them what it means to be a Jew, and somebody else to explain what it means to be a Christian or a Buddhist. And in turn, I want to understand what it means to be a Muslim.

Peace will not be obtained from Sheik Hassan, or Ossama bin Laden. They are the merchants of death. Peace will only be obtained when people overcome the grip their so called leaders have on them, when we challenge authority and when we talk to one another as people, people with the same fears and wills, people with the same likes and dislikes, people that are the same and people that are different.

When we come together as people is when we will have peace and maybe is then when the Messiah would have already come.

October 31, 2006

When I was 13 years old I try to observe Yiom Kipur. I did to some extent … I did not eat, but drank. Which according to Judaism, it is OK; you do what you can. However, I did not go to temple or prayed. To be honest, I do not remember much about how I felt.

Last year I had all intentions of observing Yiom Kipur, but I did not realize the dates and booked a business trip during the ten days between Rosh A-Shana and Yiom Kipur inclusive. So I missed it. My wife took the kids to temple but that was it.

This year I had decided to be here and be a part of it.

Rosh A-Shana fell on a Saturday and the kids have Soccer on Saturdays. So we attended the family service on Sunday. The Rabbi was not too happy with me, but did not complain TOO much since I had my checkbook with me. Still, however, he showed his displease and disappointment openly.

Now … for Kol Nidre I was there. Not first row and center – I rather blend and not stand up on gatherings of this type – but there nonetheless. I do not remember ever attending Kol Nidre before. It was nice.

The next day, I was back at temple at 8:45 AM to attend Yiom Kipur services. Bright eye and bushy tail. I had no idea what to expect.

The service started with an explanation of the day’s schedule and some stories about the day and what it meant. We then got to the readings and praying only to be “interrupted” by another sermon or story. The day progressed one story at a time, one sermon at a time and prayer at a time.

Before the main sermon I was called to hold the Torah and sat holding the Torah throughout the sermon and Iskohr – the prayer remembering the departed. After Iskohr the Cantor sang a song that made me cry. It was a song that bridged grandfather and grandchildren. I miss my father a great deal and it is very upsetting to me that he is not around to be with my children, to see them and to see me, how I have become a man. I have been angry at my father from even before he died. The song helped me come to terms with my father illness and with his dead. I can not say that it is all in the past; I still hold some of the anger, but I have definitely began to let go. Thank you Shmuli.

The service continued until the first start came out.

Now that I am 40, how did I feel? I still do not fully appreciate how I felt and need to review the day and what went through my mind, but one thing I can say is that I am proud of being a Jew. A group of us gathered at temple like many have done during the last thousands of years and worship in a time immemorial fashion, very much like other had done in the past. I felt a part of something eternal, a part of a people that have faced extermination throughout the ages and yet, we remain and our executioners do not. And I felt my father next to me.

December 31, 2005

Some people celebrate the new year and some people do not.

My wife for example, celebrates the new year, but she feels that she does not need to ring it in. In other words: There is no need to stay awake until midnight.

I do not celebrate the new year. To me, it is just another day. There is nothing special about December 31st, or for that matter, Rosh A-Shana (the Jewish new year).

At home we do a dinner with just us, my kids, my wife, the dog and I and after the meal we do something small. Some confetti is thrown up as part of the celebration and we do a toast wishing each other well and that is it. I go back to the computer, where you can find me (like right at this moment) doing some research, typing on my Wiki, doing some programming, etc. My kids, go back to watch TV or read or play until bedtime and my wife, goes back to playing video games or reading news on the net or just surfing the web.

Other people are at parties, or “freezing” in Las Vegas or NYC or go to concerts, etc. It is all good.

Growing up, my family would participate in the generic celebration. We would all go to a party, or have a party at home. Or if there was nothing, after the toast we would all go to our respective awaiting parties. New year eve was most likely spent at our house in the country club – CISSAB – and since it was during summer, the weather was rather nice.

I remember those days with kindness, but even then, the whole thing made not much of an impression on me. New year has always been just another day to me.

December 20, 2005

I grew up on a VERY anti-religious family. Actually, I would say that my family was more than anti-religious, it was anti-religion. My grandfather was a socialist European Jew that decided to leave Europe because not only of the persecutions, but because he felt that equality would never be so for anybody, let along a Jew, in Europe.

His first step was the US, Ellis Island. He was there nearly a week, in transit and left on the first ship to Cuba. “To be treated like cattle, I should go back to Europe”.

He did not last long in Cuba. Too many swartzes (black people). Not too socialist an attitude if you ask me. First ship leaving for Argentina, the guy was aboard.

Apparently, my grandmother told me, they were in their honeymoon.

They landed in Argentina in 1918 just before the end of WWI and settle down in the neighborhood of Mataderos in Buenos Aires, and as a shoemaker he prospered. He and a few others well-to-do “grandfathers” founded a jewish school so kids could have a jewish education and learn about the ritch jewish traditions. But, the school was not to teach or even mention religious topics. The name of the school was Sholem Aleijem, named after the famed writer. Later it merged with another school, Bialik, another famed writer.

I attended Sholem Aleijem-Bialik for grammar school, and true to its founders, religion was not prevalent. The school was exceedingly secular. In the morning we were taught the same curriculum as public schools in Spanish. After lunch we were taught in Yiddish and Hebrew. Jewish history, from Abraham, through the Holocaust and the creation of Israel. We also studied Hebrew and the basic textbook was the Tanakh, which consists if the Torah, Neviim and Hujtuviim. In other words, the Old Testament. But again, it was not the study of a religious text, but a vehicle to learn Hebew.

At home, we celebrated all the holidays: Rosj Ashana, Yiom Kipur, Sucot, Purim, etc. Oddly enough, we found a way to celebrate them in a secular way. More in terms of maintaining an identity and traditions, than a religious believe system. We were Jews because of 5700+ years of history, because of 2000 of living in a Diaspora, because we survived the Nazis, NOT but because we believed in Ashem (God) and followed the Torah. As a matter of fact, we did not.

My father had a more relaxed attitude than my grandfather with respect of religion. He single handed supported two synagogues in Mataderos. Once a month he would drive to them – I would normally accompany him – and give the rabbi at each sinagoge an envelope with money. Both of the rabbis were very old. The same scene repeated every month: My father would knock on the synagogue’s door and the rabbi would come out. He would ask my father if he wanted to come in for tea. My father would refuse politely. He would then hand over the evelope with money. The rabbi would take a pick and thank my father profusely. My father would get back in the car and we would drive off.

Usually shortly after we would have dinner at my grandfather’s who would have asked if my father gave money to the synagogues. Of course my father answer positively which would elicit a one hour monologue from my grandfather insulting the rabbis and all religious figures of all times. I have to clarify: My grandfather was a socialist. He hated the communists more than religious people.

I would get into long debates with my father about the existence of god. He, of course denied even the remote possibility that there is a god. To him it made no sense. When given the option to be Barmitzba my father declined. To him it was a waste of time.

My Father, when asked why he gave money and supported the synagogues, he would answer: As a Jew, I need to put my believes aside and make sure that a proper place of worship is available ALWAYS to those who need it.

One synagogue I understand, but two, not more than 10 blocks apart?

So, these were my experiences growing up. I spend a fair amount of time trying to find an answer to the question of god’s existence. Finally, at about 15, I decided that it did not exist. At around 22 I decided that even considering the existence of god was such a waste of time that I even stopped asking the question and if asked, I would defend the non-existence posture to almost violence.

Instead, for any sort of spiritual relief I turned to meditation, in particular Tibetan Buddhist meditation. For many years I meditated every day between 1 to 3 hours. Around 1994 I started meditating less and less and by 1995 I had completely stopped.

Fast forward to October 2004. I somehow found myself lost and unhappy. A very close and good friend of mine told me:”Fabian, when I think of you these days, I imagine a wet chick that is being pissed on”. I felt that way too. I had dug a hole and climbed down it and did not know or want to know how to climb back out. Needless to say, it was not fun. Fishing, which had been my emotional and spiritual escape was not cutting it and fly-fishing, my passion, was a bother.

Life has some interesting turns. I ended up having a business meeting at a synagogue with a very religious Jew from Chabad. Probably the last place anybody could have ever found me. The meeting went well; it lasted way longer than we anticipated. In following up meetings I found myself more comfortable with the surroundings and finally was asked if I wanted to wrap Tefilim. I initially politely refused, but later thought better and accepted.

Leading to this point I had try to find my center again in an attempt to feel better and happier. The only way I knew how to do it, was by meditation; but the more I tried, the less I could achieve any meditative modality or state which frustrated me even more, providing a negative feedback mechanism.

When I wrapped Tefilims I almost immediately went into meditation. Here I was, doing something not only I did not believe in, but was EXCEEDINGLY against and in the house of the “enemy” and I was meditating. It could not be so. It was coincidental, or so I thought. I tried to meditate again with out the Tefilim and no cigar. Then I tried with Tefilim and … meditation. I decided that I would take the “easy” way and meditate by wraping Tefilim and reading the Shma and Amidah from a Sidur. In other words, I would engage in a daily religious ritual. I do that every day, excpey for Shabat and Sunday.

Over time I realized that my believes had changed. I was no so sure I did not believe in god. Or that indeed, I needed to believe in order to feel better. And I did begin to feel better, almost instantly. I had drawn a line in the dirt separating me from the “faithful” and once I removed it I not only felt better but learned new things. I began to engage in arguments again regarding the Torah and the stories. About the meaning of life and our purpose on eath. I felt alive again.

My position today is: “I have a hard time believing in god. I also have an equal hard time not believing in god”

The important thing is that there is no more lines and I am open to possibilities.

My father died in September 1997 after many years of suffering from Alzheimer’s. Before he lost the use of his mind he confided in me and told me: ”If I were to do it all over again, I would be a religious Jew. Life would be easier and more rewarding”

December 17, 2005

Mao said: “Religion is the opium of the masses”.

I agree. Opium has been around for a long time and has been a part of many cultures in a ritualistic way.

And, what is wrong with feeling good anyway!!!!!

December 15, 2005

According to Josef Gorowitch, the Lubbabiche Rebbe said that we live in a work of actions. What does that mean? It means that our action define who we are and how we live. So if you loose faith or stop believing then you should practice your “traditions” like a robot. And by doing them you will get back your faith.

I am not sure I agree in its entirety. Yes, you are the part you act. And you act who you are. If you are a good person, you will act well. You will perform “Mitzbahs” – follow the commandments and/or good deeds – as a fact of your daily life. Conversely, if you are not a good person, you will act devilishly.

What part of our behavior is nature and what part nurture. What part has to do with necessity and survival. What part has to do with intellect.

But religion and faith, how are they related to behavior. How can robotic action, mindless activity with out a deep heartfelt believe or at least understanding can lead you to faith. To me, without an intellectual commitment to an activity or action, without a comprehension of the subject matter and a buy-in into it, no faith can be achieve. Some people have the ability to believe in what they act. I have to understand before I act.

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