Moral Imperatives: A Balancing Act

 

Moral Imperatives: A Balancing Act

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Image credit: https://blog.westjet.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ownsers-care-helping-hand.jpg

Can acts based on moral imperatives lead to appalling results? Knowing that I am a rabbi, a friend troubled by the daily doses of ever more dreadful news these days — by the dilemma of what is considered ethical and what is not — has just asked me this question. Yes, I think this statement can be true. The reverse is also true: acts based on moral imperatives can also lead to wonderful results. (That’s why Kabbalistic thinking presents a life-long balancing act as the pathway to increasing moral and spiritual growth.)

So here goes:  Early societies committed acts we consider appalling now, but they didn’t then: They sacrificed designated tribe members on altars to propitiate their gods and thus protect their society.  Some societies, like the mathematically brilliant Maya, tore out their victims’ hearts before consigning them to the volcano. They believed it was the moral thing to do to protect their society. The Spartans thought it was moral to throw malformed babies and people they considered physically or mentally unfit off cliffs to their death. Thus their society would not be contaminated by misfits. Today in America, our political “rulers” aspire to eliminate the elderly by simply denying them medical care. At the age of 82, it’s nice to know I won’t be thrown off a cliff.

In my own life span, the Nazis thought ridding society of “mongrel” Jews (labelled as globalists, communists, and fascists, all at the same time) was good to maintain the purity of the German master race. Although many Nazis remained Christian at heart, the moral imperatives of the Nazi philosophy were secular. Similarly, Communist societies horribly punished those who did not conform to their (and later Chinese Maoist) ideology with prison or death. So yes, acts based on moral imperatives can lead to appalling acts. Think of 17th century Salem in the U.S. or the McCarthy period in the 1950s. Or now. Unfortunately, for our current U.S. administration, the prevailing moral imperative appears to be the push of Mammon — with its battle cry sweeping “Me Too” under the carpet in favor of “Me First”.

By contrast, think of what the Bible tells us: The purpose of the seven Noahide laws was to instill universal moral laws into a new society after the old one was destroyed by flood for disgusting moral behavior. These Noahide values were divinely enhanced on Mount Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments (and perhaps, as some Orthodox Jews still believe, the whole Torah as well), precepts later carried into Christianity and adopted into early Islam. Most great Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism (or Confucianism, which is a philosophy rather than a religion) also try to enunciate and instill universal values, but, in practice, their followers don’t always live by them. Or subvert them for self-interest. 

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has committed appalling acts in the name of righteousness. The Crusades — and the Inquisition — were prime examples of appalling behavior that resulted from moral imperatives, much like the violent Islamic jihads of today.

It was unsettling, to say the least, to read in an Israeli newspaper that “righteous” elements in Israel are advocating a new Nation-State law (allowing particular communities to vote to keep non-Jews out) that supposedly will keep them pure. History reminds us that the 19th century European Nation-States turned out to be venal. As for the U.S., we are supposed to be a nation “under God, indivisible.” Our still valid currency declares “In God We Trust.”

I am a rabbi. I believe in the Judaic purpose “to do” in accordance with a moral code intended to be both particular and universal. Our laws are supposed to be particular to Jews, who in turn, by their behavior will be a light unto the nations; that is, set an example of moral behavior accompanied by good actions that will encourage other nations to do the same. “Believe in God because God is good.” God is “Tov “(good). Think “tov,” do “tov” (to yourself and others). Study why we do “tov.” Study how to do more “tov.” That is our moral code. The difficulty is in interpreting what is “good,” something we have debated in our Talmud, in our houses of study, in our congregations, in our hearts and souls, for thousands of years. And now, in our open society in 2018, we are asking, “Is everything relative, a moral equivalent? What’s good?”

The Hebrew Bible sets it out plainly. “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. Then will your name achieve wisdom.” (Micah 6: 8-9)

That’s it.

These requirements seem to me to be a worthwhile political agenda too: Do good, be just, be humble (love the widow, the orphan, and the stranger — treat others the way you would like them to treat you).

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

 

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

MORAL INJURY: Learning to accept things you know are wrong.

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

I am deeply concerned about the moral injury, the psychic wounds, our political leadership is currently inflicting on a new American generation. Two of my grandchildren are currently college age, and a third is in high school. On a daily basis now, intentions that are morally wrong are being transformed into what is being promoted as morally good. This is done deliberately by leaders we have unfortunately elected. Their rationale is that these actions are necessary for the growth and well-being of our society. In an Orwellian kind of transformation, what is plainly evil to most thinking people is deceptively cited as the “right” path to follow for the ultimate good. Biblical quotations are misguidedly used to bolster grandiose speeches. Facts are simply overlooked in a society driven by instilled fear, divisions, and repeated lies.

Thankfully, growing segments of our society are beginning to raise their voices in outrage: Children — no matter where they come from, let alone the color of their skins — should not be forcibly separated from their parents and certainly not, to add insult to injury, without a coherent plan for reuniting them. School children should not have to worry about being shot when they go to school.

Image credit: https://depaulmagazinetest2.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/air-force_tech-sgt-nadine-barclay.jpg

In a poetic cry of outrage in his must-read book, The Line Becomes a River, Francisco Cantu draws on his own experience as a border agent and a human being on both sides of the Rio Grande.  He first encountered the term “moral injury,” he explains, in a veteran war reporter’s book called “What Have We Done?” This author, David Wood, “examines the pervasiveness of ‘moral injury’ among soldiers who have returned from the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Cantu explains:

“Long confused with PTSD, moral injury is a more subtle wound, characterized not by flashbacks or a startle complex, but by ‘sorrow, remorse, grief, shame, bitterness, and moral confusion’ that manifest not in physical reactions but in emotional responses as subtle as dreams….” [1]

He makes the point that people do not have to be on battlefields to be exposed to moral injury. It is something that can happen from immoral societal exposure that seeps deeply into individual consciousness. It’s a gradual process. The wounds develop slowly.  

In America we are watching these wounds begin to fester on a daily basis, through the mouths and actions – or inactions — of our leaders. The wounds first show themselves through acts of incivility, even hatred, through acceptance of lying as a new normal, through crazed individuals who take their rage out by shooting innocent people.

As a grandmother and a rabbi, I too am outraged. I know that deliberate moral injury to the generation who will be our future leaders can only have disastrous consequences. We must  — each of us — continue to speak out to sustain our values. And vote with all our conviction.

 

[1] Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018) 150-151.

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

 

PARSHAT BALAK:  Numbers 22:2 – 25:9 Insights into a Talking Donkey

PARSHAT BALAK:  Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Insights into a Talking Donkey

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Image credit: https://sixdegreesofkosherbacon.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/bilaam.png?w=470

Although most of the residents of this upscale retirement home were Christian, a few Jewish residents had asked the Pastor if a Rabbi could give a sermon there. And that’s how I happened to be addressing about 50 or so Seniors at their Vespers service on a Sunday afternoon. “You can talk about the Pentateuch or the Psalms or the rest of the Old Testament,” the Pastor had advised me, “but please don’t talk about God.” He really meant that I should not talk about theological differences, so I agreed. “Of course. I’ll discuss what we have in common.”

That afternoon, at the elegant Senior Residence, I knew was mainly addressing believing Christians. So I taught them all the simple words of the song, “Hine Ma Tov,” in Hebrew (the words are taken from the first verse of Psalm 133, a short prayer of gratitude, which reads “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”), and then I proceeded to discuss the scriptural portion for the day with a few introductory remarks.

“The scriptural portion of our service (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9) for today,” I said, “comes from the Pentateuch, which is Greek for “Five,” and refers to the Five Books of Moses, which in Hebrew is called “the Torah,” which in English means “Instruction.” You probably know that the entire Old Testament was first written in Hebrew, and then it was translated into Greek, which was called The Septuagint, and then it was translated into Latin, known as The Vulgate. And from the Latin, it was translated into English and, eventually, into many other languages.

“That’s why it is useful to study Hebrew, because, with all those translations, the meaning of the words may not be exactly the same in English.  Added to that, the original Hebrew words did not have any vowels. The letters were all consonants, like text messaging. The reader has to figure out the rest. So the meaning also depends on the vowels you give to the words. There are many Christian scholars studying Hebrew today exactly for that reason: to check out what the words are really saying by reading the Bible in its original language — and to understand that there are various meanings possible for many words.”

“So I’d like you to think of studying the Bible,” I explained, “as if you were playing the piano. If you’ll notice, there are both black and white keys on the piano. We could play some nice music on the white keys alone, but we wouldn’t have the nuances that the black keys, the sharps and flats, would give the music. If we just played on the white keys, it would be like reading the Bible literally, in C Major all the time. So as a soon-to-be rabbi – the word “rabbi” means “my teacher” — my job is to add the interpretation, the sharps and flats.

“A rabbi’s sermon is called a “derash,” an interpretation,” I continued. “What is written down in the Pentateuch is called the ‘Written Torah.’ And the interpretation is called the ‘Oral Torah,’ much of which has been transmitted from generation to generation, although new commentary is continually added.  So ‘[r]abbinic language contains numerous layers of meaning. The Talmud [a compilation of centuries of rabbinic commentary on the Torah] frequently attempts to uncover the hidden meaning of a word… thereby revealing new understandings of the … teaching.’ That is why we need both – the white keys and the black keys too – to fully understand the intent, the background, and the underlying story.

“Our scriptural portion, which this week is from Numbers 22:2-25:9, is the story of Balak (the warlike Moabite king who is fearful that the Jews will become too numerous and overrun his kingdom, and thus he wishes the Jews harm), and it’s also the story of Bilaam (the prophet whom the Moabite king hires to curse Israel), and the third character is Bilaam’s talking donkey, who turns out to have more sense than either Balak or Bilaam.  The prophet, Bilaam, is supposed to be a visionary, but it turns out that his Donkey is the visionary. It’s the Donkey – and the Bible specifies that it’s a she-Donkey, presumably even more sensitive than a male donkey would be — whose acute animal senses enable her to see Angels along the road, warning that Bilam should not curse the Israelites. What’s wrong with human beings? the Donkey complains, in effect. “You ride on me all day, and then you beat me? Angels keep telling you to stop, three times – don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it — and you don’t hear, Bilaam!”  Finally listening to the Donkey, Bilaam promises that the only words he will speak are the ones that the Eternal One puts in his mouth. And when Bilaam glimpses the Israelites camping out in the desert, the words that do emerge from his mouth are those of admiration and blessing. “Ma Tovu.” “ How Good!….

These words flow out of Balaam’s mouth from the top of the mountain that overlooks where the Hebrews are encamped. It is the third time that King Balak has tried to get Balaam to curse the Israelites, and yet, miraculously, out of Balaam’s mouth comes a blessing. What was supposed to be a curse is turned into a blessing.  The Bible story teaches us that, with God’s help, human beings do have the power to transform a curse into a blessing. And that words of peace are better than acts of war.

“And there is more. Remarkably, generations later, the biblical Ruth, a Moabite woman who became a Jew-by-choice, was actually the great-granddaughter of King Balak – and, by her marriage to Boaz, she was also the great-grandmother of King David (from whom it is foretold that the Messiah will come).  And that is how a curse became a blessing, and an enemy became part of the Jewish family.

“Today, Jews still sing the words of Balak’s emissary, Bilaam, as part of the liturgical morning blessings: Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishk’notecha Yisrael, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel” (Numbers 24:5).

“This dramatic scene from Numbers 24:5, is traditionally coupled with one of the most quoted passages in the Bible, the few lines from the prophet Micah (6:8) that sum up what we are each commanded to do to be a blessing every day:

“He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what the Lord requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God;

Then will your name achieve wisdom.”

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

 

Shelah- Lekha: Finding Courage in the Face of the Unknown

Shelah- Lekha: Finding Courage in the Face of the Unknown

(Numbers 13:1 -15:41)

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

“Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them” (Numbers 13:2)

“For Judaism, peoplehood has a

crucial spiritual dimension. If the Jews were just a family whose concern was self-preservation – a family bound only by shared fate – then it’s doubtful we would have survived through thousands of years of wandering. The Jewish collective functions on two levels: as family and as faith. What strengthened the Jewish people was its sense of destiny – that the Jewish people has an urgent spiritual role to play in the evolution of humanity. Destiny gives meaning to fate….Judaism is the love story between God and a people” (Yossi Klein Halevi, Letters To My Palestinian Neighbors, Kindle edition, 2018, p. 53).

Image credit: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3700062/jewish/The-12-Spies-Meraglim-in-the-Bible.htm

 

According to the Torah portion Shelah Lekha in the Hebrew Bible, various groups of ancient people were living in the Promised Land when Moses sent 12 Israelite scouts, one chosen from each Hebrew tribe, to check out the land and the people living there. There were indeed existing inhabitants of the land, tribes with diverse histories grouped under the general heading of the Canaanites but dwelling in different locations within the land. The Bible simply lists their names of their tribes and their locations in Canaan. All of them came from somewhere. So who were these people?

Although the selected Israeli scouts were leaders of their own tribes, most of them had not yet shed the fears of a people enslaved for 400 years by the Egyptians nor developed the courage of free men to explore the unknown. So although the 12 men entered the land to observe, only two of them – Joshua and Caleb – came back with positive feedback. The land was so fruitful, in fact, that they brought back with them a single cluster of ripe grapes from Eshcol, each grape so huge, the cluster had to be borne on a carrying-frame.

It was not surprising that Joshua and Caleb felt confident and were brimming with confidence. God had already changed the name of the former from Hosea (which means “salvation” or “grace”) to Joshua. In an encouraging play on words meant to strengthen him, the addition of the Hebrew letter “yud” changed the meaning of his name to “He (God) is my salvation.” With that blessing, Joshua son of Nun, along with Caleb son of Jephunneh, tried to assure the whole community that “the land that we traversed and scouted is exceedingly good land” and that community should “have no fear then of the people of the country”(Numbers 14:5-9). The 10 Hebrew men, however, were too frightened to hear that message, and they knew that he people of the country that they had seen were so gigantic in stature that they, the Israelites, had felt like grasshoppers in comparison. They would not be able to prevail against them. No way. Joshua and Caleb were even pelted with stones.

Feeling rather angry, and, with the realization that the Hebrews as a whole were not yet ready to conduct themselves as free men, God decreed that, for rebelling against the divine instruction, they needed to spend another 38 years in the desert, making forty years in all. It would indeed take another two, perhaps three, generations – people who had outgrown a slave mentality, who had been born into freedom and nurtured to govern themselves wisely – before the Israelites could enter Canaan.

In the meantime, Joshua, along with Caleb, had already been divinely tapped, as a future leader of the Hebrews, a replacement for Moses who was growing very old. They would be the leaders. Presumably, the other ten men would be the minyan — expected to show up!).

Who was in the Promised Land when the Israelite Scouts Checked It Out?

The Canaanites (dwelling by the Sea and along the Jordan) were a group of ancient people – different tribes — who lived in the land of Canaan on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. “The Land of Canaan” is described in the Bible (see Genesis 10 and Numbers 34) as extending from Lebanon toward the Brook of Egypt in the south and the Jordan Valley in the East. [1]

These Canaanite tribes, who derived from diverse places, consisted of:

THE ANKITES (Anakim, the name means long-necked) were located in Hebron, a very old city. They were a formidable race of giant, warlike people who occupied the land of southern Israel before the arrival of the Israelites. They were descendants of the Nephalim (people with pre-human ancestry who coupled with human females) that dominated the pre-flood world. According to the Torah, during the conquest of Canaan, the Jews expelled them from Hebron. The giant, Goliath (as in the story of David and Goliath), is believed to have been a descendant of these same people. (So it is quite likely that the Israelite scouts did see fearsome giants.)

The AMALEKITES (a nomadic people, native to the Negev region and known to be plunderers), Their brutal, cowardly actions towards the Israelites resulted in a long-standing feud, and God’s direction was to wipe the Amalekites off the face of the earth (see Ex. 17: 8-13; Samuel 15:2, and Deut. 25:11).  To this day, Jewish people are enjoined to remember to forget Amalek, the leader of the Amalekites, for attacking the weak and helpless. “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt” (Deut. 25: 17-19). Haman, remembered at Purim as the tormentor of the Jews, was reputed to be a descendant of the Amalekites.

THE HITTITES (located in the Hill country) were an ancient (ca. 1600 BCE) Anatolian people originally from Asia Minor in what is modern day Turkey. Historically (ca. 1900 BCE – 1500s BCE), they were one of the three superpowers in the ancient world, on a level with Egypt and Assyria. Their relations with Egypt were volatile [the famous battle of Kadesh concluded with the world’s oldest peace treaty). According to frequent Biblical references to the Hittites, they comprised many of the inhabitants of Canaan (Ex. 13:5; Numbers 13: 29; Joshua 11:3) and seemed to have friendly relations with the Israelites. For example, Ephron the Hittite sells Abraham and family a burial ground (Genesis 23); Esau married Hittite women, and Rebecca despised them (Genesis 26: 34). King David had Uriah the Hittite killed in order to acquire Uriah’s wives (2 Samuel 11); King Solomon had Hittites among his many wives (1 Kings 10:29b-11:2; 2 Chronicles 1:17); and the prophet Ezekiel chides Israel with the metaphor of a Hittite mother (Ezekiel 16:3, 45). Also, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite and later of King David; she was also the mother of King Solomon. In addition to the biblical texts, much archeological evidence about the Hittites exists, but the two sources are not always compatible.

THE JEBUSITES (also located in the Hill country, that is, the mountains beside Jerusalem) were a Canaanite tribe who inhabited Jerusalem prior to its conquest by either Joshua or King David. According to the Book of Joshua, Adonizek led a confederation of Jebusites and tribes from neighboring cities against Joshua but was roundly defeated and killed. Judges 1:21 portrays the Jebusites as continuing to dwell in Jerusalem within territory otherwise occupied by the Tribe of Benjamin. Current academic consensus is that the city was conquered by King David in 1003 BCE. Unfortunately, politics comes into the mix as some partisan archeologists support Yasser Arafat’s claim that Palestinian Arabs are descended from the Jebusites. However, there is no archeological evidence to support this claim. Most informed authorities now believe that the Palestinians are more closely related to the Arabs of Saudi Arabia. [2]

THE AMORITES (then living in the Hill country) were a Semitic people who emerged from western Mesopotamia (modern day Syria) prior to the 3rd millennium BCE. They first appear in history as nomads who regularly made incursions from the west into established territories and threatened their stability. They played a large role in the history of Babylonia (there was an Amorite King before the fall of Ur). Although the settled Babylonian Amorites seem to have been regarded positively in the region, the roaming Amorites continued to be a source of instability. As pre-Israelite inhabitants of the land of Canaan, they were clearly separate from the Israelites. In the Book of Deuteronomy, they are described as the last remnants of the giants who once lived on earth (3:11), and in the Book of Joshua they are the enemies of the Israelites and are consequently are destroyed by Joshua (10:10, 11:18). The biblical stories certainly created a narrative (Egypt enslavement, etc.) that served to separate the Israelites’ national identity from the Amorites. Eventually the Amorites came to be referred to as ‘Aramaeans’ and the land they came from was called “Aram.” After 600 BCE, they no longer appear in the historical record.

Abraham’s father, Terah, brought his family from Ur (now in modern Iraq but then a thriving trade city) with the intention of continuing on to Canaan, was he a wandering Aramean? Although he tired of the trip and settled in Haran instead, perhaps he brought the ethnic identity and cultural heritage of the Amorites with him. Was Terah, in fact, a wandering Aramaean? Or was it our patriarch, Abraham, who left (see Lekh Lekha) to find “the land that I will show you,” the Promised Land, after destroying his father’s idol shop? Was it our ancestor, Jacob — guilt-ridden through his own trickery, so badly treated by Laban, finding his true self through his mystical struggle with an angel, and finally seeking a new place – a sacred place — to call his home?[3]

* * * *

[1] The following information is culled from multiple Internet sources, which I have tried to simplify and integrate.

[2] The name “Palestine” is derived from the name the 5th century BCE Greek writer, Herodutus, applied to a district of Syria and to the inland region of the Judean mountains and the Jordan Rift Valley. Centuries later, after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple (70 CE) and drove the Jews out of Jerusalem, they called the area “Palaestina” in order to erase the connection of the Jews to their historical and spiritual homeland. Notably, the Arab conquest of Jerusalem did not take place until 637 CE.

[3] There is considerable rabbinic controversy whether “arami oved avi,” a formula originally used when the first fruit offerings were brought to the Temple, refers to “my father was a wandering Aramean” or to “an Aramean destroyed my father”  because the roots of the two different verbs are similar. The latter could refer either to what Laban the Aramean tried to do to Jacob, or to Abraham leaving Ur. (See My Jewish Learning.com, Mishna Pesachim 10, the Haggadah, and the biblical narrative.)

 

Real Estate on Mars?

Real Estate on Mars?

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Image credit: https://www.goto-guatemala.com/guatemala-volcanoes.htm

In the spring of 2017, I was visiting Guatemala on a cruise stop-over. I stood in the very field – actually a games-playing site: a ball court — that marked the birthplace of the long-lost Mayan civilization. Considerable additional archeological excavation could be done on the adjacent fields if not for the fact that they are now private property. They belong to people who have built their houses and businesses there. No way they want them excavated. However, from the ball court, we could get the general idea of the vast Mayan culture. We could look into the distance and see the ring of fire – the volcanos – presenting a misted but ever-present danger. Add to the recurrent eruptions the earthquakes and other natural disasters that wreak their vengeance from time to time in this area. Add to that, the desperate poverty these disasters inflict. If you live here, you would do well to be God-fearing.

Or, when human-inflicted evils, like the mayhem of drug cartels and vicious gangs, are added to this mix, to flee.

The Mayans are long gone — although some remnants of that ancient people, now melded with Mexican culture, still profess to derive from that civilization. Our 21st century mathematicians still marvel at the complex astronomical knowledge of a proud people who sacrificed individuals to propitiate the fierce deities they invented to explain the volcanic eruptions: At the very same time they were exhibiting advanced mathematical knowledge and building complex structures, not to mention growing abundant crops on the fertile land, the prosperous Mayans were tearing out human hearts on the sacrificial altars of their religious cult.

And then they were gone. Although there are many theories, no one really knows why. Did an especially disastrous earthquake or volcano eruption occur, destroying everything in its wake? Were they carried away into outer space by aliens? Did the crops fail, so that they relocated? Apparently, the upper classes of Mayan culture disappeared, but the lower working classes remained. Similarly, when the ancient Jews were carried off to exile in Babylonia, only the upper echelon of society and the priests were taken; the “people” were left to fend for themselves.

* * * *

As I sat comfortably on a bus on my trip through modern day Guatemala, the poverty of the surrounding countryside was evident until we approached a small city on the way to Antigua. Here huge efforts were being made by the population to upgrade their way of life. We stopped at a new cultural and educational center of which the people were extremely proud. It featured, not unsurprisingly – astronomy being indigenous to their culture — a beautiful planetarium and a theatre. We tourists were also treated to traditional dancing and singing – and some modern compositions too.

The artistic side of Guatemalan life was further enhanced when we visited the Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua, which is actually three museums featuring different aspects of Guatemalan culture and combined in an aesthetically-conceived complex presided over by Dominican monks. For me, the most striking exhibit was a large display featuring ancient Mayan sculpture. Each sculpture of antiquity was accompanied by exquisite modern day sculptures (lent to the exhibit from galleries around the world) with the same themes – themes common to every culture in every generation: the elements, nature, motherhood, love, grief.   My daughter and I spent the entire day at this extraordinary Casa, itself surrounded by beautiful gardens. We drank wine, though, at the excellent restaurant because Guatemalan water is advisedly not for tourists who have not yet developed sufficient local microbes in their systems to avert intestinal disaster.

We also felt physically secure inside this complex because, in addition to the violent ramifications of the dangerous drug cartels and gang violence the population feared, Guatemalan borders were being besieged by desperate Venezuelan refugees seeking to flee the multiple disasters of their own corrupt country – including armed conflict at the border.

Over-population on a scale we do not know in the U.S. or Canada is a huge problem in Central America, in Southeast Asia, and in other parts of the world that I have visited. Why? Because these countries do not have the resources to cope with the needs of their own population, let alone the re-settling problems that so many new people bring in their wake. Their governments can’t handle it. Not while gangsters run their countries.

Maybe the Mayans of old knew what they were doing when they studied the planetary universe with astrological knowledge astonishing for their time. We earthlings may need the resources of some of those planets sooner than we think.

Anyone selling real estate on Mars?