Category Archives: The Visual Medium

Redemption amidst the darkness

I was recently reminiscing over Pulp Fiction, a cult-classic movie from the early 90’s. Phenomenal film, it is ranked as the #5 movie of all time and won the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. [1]

Now I wouldn’t watch the film again, unfortunate as it may be, its decadence is not conducive to the realm of kedusha and hence must remain on the “other side”. However, there are many potent images and motifs brought to mind, that I consider it meritorious to “redeem some sparks from the husks” and delve into one of the characters, Jules Winnfield.

Jules Winnfield is a hired hit-man, who feeling no qualms about his chosen profession, enacts vengeance upon those who dare disrespect the domain of his boss, Marcellus Wallace. However, following a close encounter with near death, Jules feels that a miracle has taken place and that is a wake up call from G-d to “quit the life”. He tells his partner Vincent, that he feels the need to “walk the earth, like Caine from Kung Fu”,  and keep on wandering  “Until God puts me where he wants me to be”.[2]

While in the midst of conversation with Vincent [3], they are held up by Ringo and Hunny Bunny, who demand that they hand over the “suitcase”. Jules, grabbing his pistol, enters into a Mexican standoff, and begins to reveal his soul, a poetic confession cloaked in the darkness of profanity fused with holiness.

“There’s this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. [4]  “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”

I been saying that s*** for years. And if you heard it, that meant your a**. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded s*** to say to a m****** before I popped a cap in his a**. But I saw some s*** this morning made me think twice.

See, now I’m thinking, maybe it means you’re the evil man, and I’m the righteous man, and Mr. 9 millimeter here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous a** in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that s*** ain’t the truth. The truth is, you’re the weak, and I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

A similar tale of redemption amidst profanity is the tale of R’Eleazar ben Durdia, who following a strange encounter with a prostitute begs G-d to forgive him, the pangs of guilt bringing him to an early death, but a place as a redeemed man in the World to Come.

“They said about Eleazar ben Durdia that there was no prostitute in the world with whom he did not have intercourse at least once. He heard that there was one particular prostitute in a town near the sea who would receive a purse full of dinars for her services. He took a purse full of dinars and went to her, crossing over seven rivers. During intercourse she passed gas. She said: Just like this gas will never return to its place so too Eleazar ben Durdia will never have his repentance accepted (literally – will never return).

He went and sat between two mountains and hills. He said: Mountains and hills, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 54:10) “For the mountains will be moved and the hills will falter…”

He said: Heavens and earth, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 51:6) “For the heavens will dissipate like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment…”

He said: Sun and moon, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 24:23) “The moon will be humiliated and the sun will be shamed…”

He said: Stars and constellations, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 34:4) “All the host of the heavens will dissolve…”

He said: This matter depends solely on me. He put his head between his knees and began to tremble from crying until he died. A heavenly voice declared: R. Eleazar ben Durdia is ready for the world-to-come.”

– Tractate Avoda Zara 17A [5]

There are many lessons to be learnt from these narratives,  tales that give a man hope, faith and the promise of a better tomorrow. It teaches us that no matter what level we are are on, or how far we have fallen,  there is always the possibility of redemption, a returning to the lights of holiness and submersion in the realm of the One.

To quote Reb Nachman of Breslov:

Regardless of what happens, he should remain strong and follow the guidance of King David: “If I ascend to the Heaven, there you are and if I make hell my bed, behold you are there.” (Psalms 139.8). Even in the lowest pit of hell, a person can draw himself closer to God Almighty, for even there he can be found. This is the meaning of the words of the Psalm: “If I make hell my bed, behold You are there”.

– Likutey Moharan I:6

[1] See the IMDb Top 250 listings []. I find it interesting to note, that all top 5 films deal with the theme of redemption, perhaps expressing the latent draw of humanity towards visualising the ultimate redemption of mankind and physical existance.

[2] I have not seen the TV series “Kung Fu”, but the idea appears to be reminiscent of the Biblical Cain, who after killing his brother Abel is forced to walk the earth as a “wanderer and an exile in the land”. See Genesis 4:14

[3] Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, the film was instrumental in revitalising his career

[4] Ezekial 25:17. The actual verse as quoted is a fictional conglomeration of multiple verses, rather the full verse is “And I shall wreak great acts of vengeance with rebukes of fury, and they will know that I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon them.” See []

[5] See the “Real Story of Rabbi Eleazer” by Rabbi Gil Student []

A blast from the past (Y-Love)

The world is really a small world after all. While searching through the interenet, I came accross the following websites

I went to Yeshiva with this guy! Seriously. I was in Ohr Somayach, Monsey for 7 months at the time he was there. He was one of the top bochurim in the yeshiva, in terms of learning and popularity. Great guy. Anyways it appears he has entered into the world of music. Check it out, he is very talented. (picture of Yitz Jordan) (his blog) (a brief bio video)

Thoughts on the Media (Part 2): Confessions of an experienced TV watcher

Updated: Here is my new list of cartoons and movies, in alphebetical order. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download (available here)

I’ll be honest – I used to watch a lot of tv growing up. A friend and I actually decided to sit down one day and reflect how much we could remember of the shows we had watched. We actually compiled a list (see above) and came up with about 100 kids television shows we could remember. Now that doesn’t include sitcoms, movies, the news, dramas, music, etc. Lets think about this for a minute, 100 shows x 30 min (the average duration of a show) = 3,000 minutes (500 hrs). Now we definitely didnt only watch one show, but a whole series. Say a series consisted of 30 shows (there was probably much more, but lets just stick with 30 shows) that leads to 15,000 hrs+ of TV and as mentioned that doesn’t include all the other movies, etc (my list so far of movies I can remember is about 200 with the help of IMDB database).

I have a lot of unresolved questions in my mind about growing up with TV. There is much I have benefited from and much I have been disadvantaged in. I hope to share my reflections on this at a later stage (its 11:38pm at the moment and I need to get up early tommorow, so I will call it a night for now – stay tuned)


The following are some very brief thougts and observations, some general that can be extended to all forms of media and some more specific to myself and my own personal experience.

1) TV is definitely entertaining (thats why people watch it). It literally takes you to a different "universe", a place where you never enter in your wildest dreams. The characters, the story lines, the theme songs, the special effects, those famous one liners great create emotions, insight and experience that I personally think you could not have gotten in the real world. The laughs, the tears, the memories stay with a person for a life time. (My favourite movie I would have to say is the Shawshank Redemption as a side point)

2) By being brought up on TV, one  automatically becomes a product of Western Society as the media has a great influence on peoples attitudes, opinions and behaviour. Peoples fashions, tastes and what is "cool" are all defined by Hollywood. Characters and those famous one liners eg ‘Astalavista Babe’ (Terminator) become part and parcel of peoples general knowledge and cultural affiliation.

3) There are however some devasting effects of television and as a person who has more observant over the years, this is a major challenge for me now and then. Reality is TV has a lot of foul language, coarse humour, pornagraphic imagery, violence, adult themes, etc. If I had to reflect back, I would have to say that there were shows and movies I saw growing up that kind of exposed me to the "adult side of life" removing much of my childhood innocence (perhaps before the appropriate time). Certain images and movie scenes are those I wish I hadn’t seen as they are eternally burned onto my subconcious.

However, I then question how much a person could live in a bubble. I often wonder how much I would of been "me", if not for the 1000’s of hours of TV watching. I question whether or not when I get married and have children (G-d willing) whether I would have a TV in my house. And if so, what programmes / movies would I let them watch. I question the negative effects, yet on the other hand I question that perhaps I would be severly depriving them. Is not a world without TV, radio, internet(?) a rather empty one? I dont have answers to these questions, maybe the readers can offer me some insight.

The following quote from Rabbi Mayer Shiller’s article ""Torah U’Madda" and "The Jewish Observer" Critique: Towards a Clarification of the Issues" from Torah U Madda Journal 6 1995 – 1996 (available here) comes to mind on this issue:

" Recently I sat with a prominent mitnagdic Rosh Yeshiva who waxed rhapsodic over Ebbets Field, Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang, "Campy" and "Pee Wee" and yet, felt obligated to declare those wonderous memories of his youth "shtusim". (26)

(26) Another mitnagdic Rosh Kollel told me that a trip to Niagra Falls would be "bittul Torah". However when reminded of the Abbot and Costello routine of "Niagra Falls", he laughed so hard he could barely catch his breath. I asked him what he thought G-d felt about the joy he experienced at the moment and he was a at loss to answer."

4) I personally watch very little TV at the moment due to the problems raised in point 3, and also because of other commitments (Torah Study, Uni, etc). I just do not have as much time as I used to. I usually watch the news every night, an occasional cricket game and the occasional episode of the Simpsons. However even when I do watch TV, I feel a sense of guilt. Reality is no matter how hard one tries, one cannot escape the "tumah". Even when watching the News, one cannot escape the half naked lady trying to sell you a toothbrush or some sports car. I  ask myself that perhaps my standards are "too frum" and that if that is my attitude I shouldnt walk in the street. I then ask myself what I am going to do for entertainment? (a huge problem with this generation, and I think I speak for myself and everyone here is our constant need for instant gratification including an endless need for entertainment and fun).

These are some of my thoughts, I would really like to hear what the readers have to say on this issue. Email me or leave a comment. Among the things I would like some input on are:

1) Is TV as inappropriate as we make it out to be, or are us Orthodox Jews just too super-sensitive? I mean isn’t the Torah a pretty adult- themed book with stories of murder, rape, incest, lust, etc? Doesn’t the Gemera contain seemingly rude comments / jokes / observations?

2) What do you do for entertainment? Do you have a TV in your home? Do you practice censorship with yourself or your families? What shows do or did you watch?

3) Do you feel the media in general or TV in particular has made you a better or a worse person? When you think back to your youth, do your favourite TV shows form part of your warm fuzzy memories? What have been your favourite shows / movies that have effected you in a positive way.

4) Anything else, etc, etc

Looking forward to some insightful comments. I would just like to congradulate the readers for the counter has just recently ticked over to 6000 hits. Great stuff, and keep on reading. This has been an absolute honour to be able to share my thoughts and I appreciate you all coming back to read. Its now 1:55 am, Thursday 19 January 2006 (Sydney, Australia). I had a sleep this afternoon and that is why I am still up :) Anyways off to go and sleep. Good night.

Negative Aspects of the Internet Part 1

The internet is literally one of the greatest inventions of this century and possibly of the entire history of mankind. The unprecedented access to information and the ease of communication has literally changed our lives on multiple levels. This includes how we do our work, how we communicate and how we conduct ourselves in our spare time. The amount of Torah resources online is quite incredible, allowing one to have a virtual Bait Medrash at one's finger tips 24/7. I could go on forever at the great advantages of the internet and how it has greatly improved our lives. However that is not the purpose of the post. It it not my intention to come across as a “fanatic” or “prude”, but I feel that these issues are relevant and real and should be discussed.

The purpose of this post is to talk about the negative aspects of the internet, how these aspects have effected our lives and what possible measures can be implemented to avoid / counteract them. Obviously, as mentioned before, this post is going to be one of extremes, painting things in terms of black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. While we all know that life isn't in terms of black and white, but rather many shades of grey, I feel my points will best be conveyed by taking this approach.

First of all we need a clear and frank analysis of what these negative aspects of the Internet are. The comments will be of a general nature as well as observations specific to the Orthodox Jewish community.

1) The complete ease and unrestricted access to a multitude of pornographic material in a variety of media formats. This includes explicit sites dedicated to pornography as well as subtle sexual inferences in online advertising and pop ups. There is also an abundance of emails “spam” that are sent on a daily basis trying to draw subscribers to these websites.

2) Online chat groups where anonymous individuals can meet online and engage in unrestricted conversation. The conversation could be of course strictly innocent, on the the other hand, it could be of more sinister nature. There is a potential for sexual deviants to prey on unsuspecting minors as well as inappropriate male / female relationships being formed.

3) As the internet is a unrestricted, uncensored medium anyone can post anything they want. Some of this material can be inappropriate, dedicated to the glorification of the worst aspects of human nature (violence, hate, rape, mockery, slander, etc)

4) Even on websites that are deemed to be innocent, many of the advertisements and/or content are inappropriate from the Orthodox Jewish perspective as the Modern Secular Westernized world has completely different criteria of what is modest, dignified and laudable.

5) The internet has become a staple part of our mode of communication. This includes email, video/ audio conferences and messenger clients (Eg MSN Messenger, Yahoo, AOL, etc). This mode of communication is highly effective and beneficial when dealing with individuals who live over long distances. However, when the internet becomes the defacto means of communication between friends and family this can lead to a deterioration of the quality of our relationships. If one can just “chat” online, one often misses valuable opportunities to communicate with people on a one-to-one basis in “real life”.

6) The Internet like anything can be highly addictive. It can cause interference in ones work/ study and family life. The excess amount of time spent online can lead to a lack of sleep, and ill health in the short / long term due to lack of exercise and sunlight.

Much more could be said on this issue, and indeed others have already documented much more scholarly articles than my brief analysis. The following websites contain some interesting material that I feel is worth the time to look at.

National Coalition for the Protection of Children and familys-
A conservative christian organisation dedicated to the promotion of tradional values of sexuality.

For alarming statistics regarding Internet Pornography: []

For statistics regarding Television in general []

Family Safe Media []

Internet Safe []

In my next post I will be talking about measures that can be implemented to counteract these issues.

Thoughts on the Media (Part 1)

Being brought up in the secular world for the majority of my life, the media is something that has had a major influence on me. I was reflecting back the other day, now that I have entered into the matrix of the religious covenantal community, how much of "me" is because of my inherent nature, and how of much of "me" is because of external stimuli (media, etc). This is an interesting topic which I hope to explore later in this journal.

In order to assist me with this endeavor, I have started to document as many movies, television shows, songs and cartoons that I can recall. It is a fascinating activity and I highly recommend it to anyone.

The reasons for this activity are as follows:

1. It is a good way to test out your memory
2. Gives you the opportunity to relive the movie experience (for better or for worse)

It also allows you to see how much of the external stimuli in your life have effected you on a conscious and sub conscious level. Phrases you say, thought patterns you follow, attitudes you have; often these are all as a result of the influence of the media. I hope to share the results of this endeavor in the near future