Ears of Philosophy

Hebrew as a language is organized around roots. Many words can be built on a single root and often the words seem to be philosophically connected.

There is a Torah Portion called Ha’azinu. It’s usually translated as “Give ear” or “Listen.” Listening is more involved than simply hearing. You may hear* something, but are you really listening?

The Hebrew word for ear is: אוזן (ozen).

The verb from that root is להאזין (l’ha’azin). It’s more common today to use להקשיב (l’hakshiv) to say to listen, but l’hakshiv includes a nuance of pay attention and obey.

The Hebrew word for scales is מאזניים (moznayim). Specifically scales like in the sign for Libra, balancing scales.

The Hebrew word for balance (like on the above-mentioned scales) is מאוזן (me’uzan).

Long before science told us that the intricate inner ear contains the mechanism to regulate balance in human beings, ears were somehow connected to balancing.

The world is totally unbalanced right now, and it has a lot to do with an inability to listen. Everyone is stuck in their algorithm-curated social media echo chambers.

If we want to move our world to a better place and find balance, we need to give ear; we need to listen.

Listen: to hear something with thoughtful attentiongive consideration.

“Listen.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary

It’s hard to listen to something or someone you don’t agree with. It’s hard to listen to stories and incidents that make you uncomfortable. The bigger the divisions, the harder it’s going to be.

And we’ll conclude with the Greeks.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.


*I don’t know if hear in English is in any way related to ear. But if it is, does it mean that in English ears are only for hearing, but not truly listening?

Philosophical Purim

Purim is not my holiday. I’m not a fan of dressing up, partying all night, or drinking until “you can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.” No matter how I feel about it, Israel goes bananas over Purim. Think Halloween on steroids.

NeighborsMy neighbors were featured as the first picture in the article (Wonder Woman is missing)

Another photo

Source: Times of Israel

In recent years, I’ve seen a more philosophical interpretation of Purim. Some women talk about the strength of women in the story. The Jews are saved by Esther because she was in the right place at the right time. Some bring up Vashti who said “no” to the king (creating the opportunity for Esther) and her courage to disobey the patriarchy.

Another philosophical conversation turns around the fact that God is never mentioned in the story. Things coincidentally happen, but the name of God is never uttered. Is God behind the scenes or is the story a series of convenient coincidences? Well, you can answer that for yourself.

This year Purim and Dad’s secular yahrzeit fell on the same day. I’d like to think that Dad is still with us in some way and is part of our stories. We may not talk about him every day, but as long as he is remembered, he still exists for us.

I watch a lot of Korean dramas and Koreans mark the anniversary of the death of a loved one with a ceremony that includes the person’s favorite foods. I like that. Dad didn’t eat a lot and nothing really stands out as his favorite (Steak? Vanilla wafers? Greasy spoon diner food?) Dad liked to play poker, so in his memory, here’s a Royal Flush.


Wedding croppedThe early chapters of our story (I’m the kid)


Tu B’Shvat Aliyah

In Hebrew aliyah translates literally as “ascend.”  It’s also the word used for immigrating to Israel.  For reasons unknown to me, the English is styled as “to make aliyah.”  I made aliyah (or I ascended) to Israel on February 8, 2002.  It wasn’t exactly Tu B’Shvat, but that year it had been the week before.

I was met at the airport by my aunt, my mother’s sister, who not only immigrated to Israel first and raised her children here, but also was in charge of bringing many more Jews to Israel in her various roles in the Jewish agency.  She took me to her house first where I showered and slept for a while.  It was a night flight and I was totally exhausted.

Later in the afternoon, my cousin arrived and we were all just sitting and catching up.  But then my aunt made an announcement:  We have to plant an almond tree before the sun sets.

My cousin and I set to digging and planted the tree.


What do you do on your first day in Israel?  If it’s Tu B’Shvat and your name is Ilana, you plant a tree, of course!


And then something happened and that poor little tree died.  Well, you know, sometimes trees have a little difficulty adjusting to a new place.  The gardener said that was that and whattayagonnado?  So they cut it down.

And then something odd (miraculous?) happened.  It grew back.  Apparently, the roots had survived and it just rejuvenated itself from its own root system.

Birthday for the Trees

In last week’s post, I mentioned that Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for the Trees and that in Hebrew the holiday is called Chag L’Ilanot (Ilan is a tree; Ilana is the feminine version).  I make a special point of Tu B’Shvat because in 2002, it represented a new beginning for me – a new year for this Ilana.  Every year a new chapter unfolds in late January/early February; I’ve gained a year in Israel and I have a clean slate for the next year.

Even though my birthday is around the Jewish New Year and I like the feeling of January 1 as a definitive calendar page turn, I like Tu B’Shvat because I chose this new year and by the circumstance of my name, it chose me.


I don’t know if the tree in my aunt’s garden is still the rejuvenated one or if it was replaced.  But it actually doesn’t matter.  There is an almond tree in that corner of the garden.  Whether it is the one I planted with my own hands, the one that rejuvenated itself from its own roots, or a new tree altogether, the end result is that every version of that almond tree belongs in that place.