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Looking For Babel Part Four – The Garden Path

I don’t recall my father zt”l ever demanding I obey him, or saying, “You must obey because I’m your father!”


So, I was shocked, devastated, hurt and saddened today when I arrived at the BNN (Biblical News Network – I’m the [said modestly] star reporter [Naomi is yelling over my shoulder, “you’re the ONLY reporter!” – please ignore her.) 


I was handed a new assignment by my editor immediately upon entering my (imaginary) office! “We are all tired of hearing about Babel, Towers, Languages, and Silk Roads!”


“Rocinante is being charged and cleaned to prepare for your next assignment. You will stop in Sixth Century Byzantium to pick up Flavius Belisarius and Emperor Justinian, onto Fifth Century before Common Era Salamis to pick up Themistocles and Eurybiades, 18th Century Italy to pick up Goethe from his dreamy period, Thoreau from 19th Century Massachusets, and go to Pharaoh and Joseph and interview them as dreamers, then as king and Savior General.”

“Please,” I pled, “can’t I spend more time on the Silk Road with Colin Thubron!”

Unfortunately, my editor is Naomi! “I am your older sister and you must obey me!” (How will I possibly teach people to love Halacha after that?) “However,” she continued, “you may post one more short item on Babel before heading out again, because I am the best sister in the world!” (People call me delusional!)


The Babel of Francis Bacon


Colin Thubron; “Shadow of the Silk Road”:


‘In a dim-lit gallery in the city’s chief museum, almost unnoticed, hangs the oldest piece of paper in the world.

‘It would be over twelve hundred years before paper-making reached Europe.


‘The archeologist Aurel Stein, while investigating a watchtower in the Lop desert, came upon a cache of undelivered mail dating back to AD 313. These are the first known inscribed paper. Their words are in carbon ink. One contains the outburst of a neglected wife (“I’d rather be a dog’s or a pig’s wife than yours!”) 

[Pages 26-27]


‘The seventeenth-century philosopher Francis Bacon cited three inventions which had transformed his contemporary world: printing, gunpowder and the magnetic compass. They had been invented, of course, in China, and at first were put to peaceful uses there. Gunpowder created fireworks, not war. The compass was not yet used for navigation or conquest, but as a child’s toy and for the siting of graves. And printing did not usher in a revolutionary future, but sacralised and shored up the past, duplicating laborious commentaries on Confucian classics, ponderous dynastic histories, and the whole Buddhist canon in 5,048 volumes from 13,000 cut tablets (Page 78).’

Francis Bacon viewed the world from his limited perspective. He did not imagine the three most transformative inventions of his world came from a far away world in which they were discovered long before


I believe that is what is included in the Torah’s description of the Dor HaPilaga – The Generation of the Great Dispersion; when our perspective of reality is insular, limited, prejudicial, we forfeit opportunities to Travel the Silk Road of Life and History.


I recently posted “Each Step,” about walking with the gentle, loving guidance of Halacha.


Can someone without access to the Silk Road of Life and History walk the path of Halacha?


I despise the classification of “Modern Orthodox” because it’s redundant. I can picture the most old-fashioned looking rabbi, one who belongs in pre-war Europe, and I know from experience there is no modern issue he is less than qualified to address. 


There was nothing “non-modern” about Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, as there is nothing inaccessible to Rav Hershel Schachter shlit”a. 


I can picture the Tzitz Eliezer zt”l who would be taken to a battlefield in Lebanon to evaluate situations through the eyes of Halacha just as easily traveling the Silk Road using the same lens. I know for a fact he did, because there are hundreds of Responsa going back sixteen-hundred-centuries dealing with questions about the Silk Road! 


Halacha literally takes us by the hand and walks with us back through the centuries to every corner of the globe with clarity equal to a morning walk along the Hudson in Yonkers. 


There’s a bench in a pebble garden toward the end of our morning walk. In front of the bench are a series of granite slabs, each engraved with a short quote or poem.


They remind me of a scene in “Shadow of the Silk Road”:


‘Through the cold halls of the Confucian temple, 2,300 stelae rise in ranks higher than a man. Sacred texts, imperial edicts, early poems; this imperishable library accumulated for a thousand years, after the Roman-era Han dynasty.


‘Ancient classics – the Book of Rites, the Book of Odes, the Book of Changes – become avenues of stone you walk through. The core texts alone cover the surface of 114 giant stones. There are laws about fields and canals…


‘You are walking through the memory-trace of a whole people.


‘The words might be the voice of the stone. Incorruptible, they have been proof against the Chinese whispers of generations of scribes.

(Pages 37-38)’


I don’t need the stelae. I don’t need the stones. 


We have a written record of every place in the world, every period in history, every race, every nationality, every creed.


A walk through my Garden of Books, as described by Rabbi Yehuda haLevi, the great Jewish poet, is a journey along every step the Silk Road of Life and History.

“My pen is my harp and my lyre; my library is my garden and my orchard.”

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