Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Regrouping

You know when you feel like you've had a stressful week and then you realize it's only Tuesday?

I started this week off on the wrong foot. I was ill and up all night Saturday night/Sunday morning, grumpy and tired all day Sunday, had a stressful meeting with a professor on Monday, was up all night Monday working, and then tired, grumpy, and stressed out on Tuesday.

Today is Tuesday.

Today my thesis was due.

I did not hand it in today.

Sometimes, after a few days like that, you just need to crash. You need to not do any more schoolwork and just chill out for a little while. All day today I felt like I couldn't take a break because I had to finish my thesis by 4:40. At 4:40, I figured I still had until five (this was when my Senior Thesis class usually met). At 6:30, I felt like the whole thing was sort of a lost cause. And now, at 9:30, I decided I need to just forget about my thesis for the rest of the night. I need to ease my mind and go to bed early. I need to smile about things and feel good and not let anything get to me.

Sometimes you work really hard on something and, when you're done, you still know it's not your best work. It's despairing because after all that hard effort, something ought to be your best, oughtn't it? But yet you read it and feel that it's not very good, and then you feel bad about yourself because you put your all into it and yet, somehow, that wasn't really your all. Either that or your all isn't really very good.

But now is not the time to think of those things. Now is the time to chill out and thank God for giving you wonderful friends (both those who cheer you up and those who help you out), funny blogs, and mindless youtube videos.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Attention

We live in a lonely world. Our society is filled with social networking, instant messaging, chat rooms - yet how much time do people spend on Facebook updating their status messages in the hopes that someone out there will care enough to comment? And then isn't it disappointing when it's just a "lol?" You know they're not even really laughing.

Holy Hyrax/Ezzie put up a video yesterday about Twitter. I have never Twittered, I never understood the point of Twitter...to me it just seems like having only the status update part of Facebook. I'm not sure why that sounds like fun, but to plenty of people - it does.

At one point in the video, someone asks, "Who are they talking to?"
The reply was, "No one. And everyone."

We want so badly to be heard, to be noticed, to be cared for that we'll do anything to get attention. It's so rare that people are available to actually have a conversation. All you can do is blurt out these status messages in the hopes that someone will reply and - you're filled with an odd hope for...something because - hooray! Human interaction!

Little spurts of human interaction are so often all we get nowadays. And most of the time, they're not even in person. They are through text on a screen. Are these people even really your friends? Do you call someone your friend who only talks to you occasionally through the computer? How do we define 'friend' nowadays?

Don't you see how much we're starving for closeness? I sometimes wonder if there were as many depressed people hundreds of years ago as there are today. I have no idea. It doesn't even matter. I'm just curious. I wonder how much richer our society would be if we actually had time for one another.

You want to talk about the New York mentality? The epitome of the New York mentality, to me, is when you feel like you have to pencil yourself in for a ten minute slot in the middle of someone's busy schedule just to say hello.

Maybe that's why people Twitter. Or use facebook. They may waste hours on there, but each thing is done in quick, two-second intervals. That's all people have time for. It's like little hiccups of human connection and then back to the whirlwind of demands and projects and papers and meetings and life.

Is that really life?

Maybe we should have a snail mail campaign where we actually write each other letters - handwrite! (Does anyone remember how?) - just to return to some state of comraderie that used to exist. We all know so many people - more than we can all handle with proper attention - and have so little time.

On the flip side, in an age where modes of communication take an instant, people expect immediate responses. There's no time to think. No time to reflect. No time to just breathe. And if someone doesn't respond immediately, the other person starts to overanalyze why.

We try to multitask everything - including our relationships. You're talking to one person, gchatting another, and texting another all at the same time. I'm guilty of this, too. I'm not saying I am free from this age we've entrenched ourselves in. But it's ruining the way we interact with each other. It's ruining our ability to give something real attention. So no one really gets full attention, and then they need to seek it out elsewhere. They twitter. They rapidly change status messages on Facebook. On gchat. They're calling out for someone, anyone, to care. To pay them some attention.

We're human. Human needs don't change. We all need that attention. Let's start giving it to each other, please? I know I'm going to try.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Disillusionment, Perhaps

There are certain times in a person's life where he or she might feel somewhat disillusioned. Things become hazy with change and you're not sure where you fit into it all anymore. The loneliness of having to take care of yourself sets in and the weight of a self-journey becomes heavy. You realize that no matter what you might have thought, or even what other people say, all you've really got is yourself. So you think you've taken off the rosy glasses that have, until now, shown you a warmer world, but then you're not sure if perhaps you've put on different glasses. That the world isn't as cold as you perceive but that you're just feeling a bit over-dramatic. And though you try to work through the haze for your own path out of it, you keep messing up. You look back too much and it makes you want to stay, but you know you can't. You don't want to be alone on this journey but it seems you have to be. And though you know what you have to do, you stumble along the way because this is not something you've ever done before. It is unfamiliar. You run from it as much as you climb towards it. And after some time, you're not sure anymore what is illusion and what is real, which feelings are warranted and which are not, who will still be there on the other end and who are you leaving behind.

And who will you be when it is all over?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Answering Questions You Don't Want To Answer

I am a terrible liar. Not because I'm bad at covering up how I feel - I'm actually not if I really want to.

It's because I hate lying. I am so uncomfortable with it that if I feel I have to tell one, I can't help but be extremely obvious about it, as if that somehow makes it less of a deception.

The trick is when people ask you questions you don't want to answer. Do you lie? Do you say, "I'd rather not answer that" even if that makes it sound like you're hiding something when you don't even want them to know that much? What if you try to avoid the question and they keep pressing?

(By the way, nothing is going on of that nature right now, don't worry. I was just wondering about this, stam, based on some random conversations I've had with people.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Ballad Of Magellan

I used to like this song as a kid.

The Waiting Room

It's one of the worst places to be. You're in this empty, colorless room with four walls and a ceiling that aren't really there, except they're so tangible it's as if they actually are. And you wait and wait and wait for something to happen because it's either not time yet to proceed in certain directions or you've tried to proceed in others and they haven't worked out and you don't know how to go about trying again. And you feel discouraged from trying again. Except how can you be beaten? You're 22 years old. Are you going to be defeated that easily? You've barely made an impression on life yet and already you feel like you're not going to get anywhere. What happened to being hopeful? What happened to seeing possibilities?

Except it feels like whenever possibilities float up ahead, close enough to see them but too far to touch them, if you try to touch them, they disappear. "Not for you!" they tease as they bounce away. No, not for you.

So then what are you to do? Pick yourself up? But how? Where are you to turn next? You want to get out of this stifling, suffocating waiting room but you just don't know how. You can't stand to wait any longer! You pound on the walls and kick them and beat against them and cry out for someone to show you the way outside, because you've looked but you can't find it. And you sink down in a corner and hide your face, afraid, hiding from the idea that you could be stuck in there forever.

And all along a little voice buzzes in your ear saying, "you have the power to get out, you know." But you swat at it in frustration because you don't know how to have the power to get out. What does that mean? What are you meant to do?

You know that somehow it's your own fault you're stuck there, but you don't know how to fix it. How do you fix it?

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Happens When...

You have two midterms the day after you get back from Israel?

...Ouch.

There is this odd thrill in going in to take a test without preparing for it. Sure, sure, I've tried to study. I can't focus. My head is too foggy. It's too foggy for me to feel properly stressed, too, which is a good thing. Part of me is still in Israel, part of me is still stuck on an airplane (when you've got two big airplane trips in such close proximity to each other, you just sort of always think you're on an airplane. I thought I was still on the plane today while in the caf. I didn't want to eat anything because I felt too claustrophobic from the plane), and part of me is back in school wondering why I feel so confused and disoriented.

It's sort of like I stepped out of the world for a few days and now I'm back.

Hello everyone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Freilichen Purim And Happy Birthday (Again)!

A few weeks ago, I wished a happy birthday to my little brother Mavis. The thing is...it's his birthday again!

Mavis, as I mentioned in the earlier post, was born on Purim. I already wrote about what it was like the day he was born. But I didn't go into much detail about his bar mitzvah, which we celebrated on his actual birthday - Purim.

He read megillah that morning in shul (and was amazing. I'm not just saying that because I'm his sister. People came up to us afterward and asked why my brother wasn't in the Yeshiva Boys Choir) and afterward he was having a party (costumes optional) about two minutes away. Various boys (Straight Man's friends mostly) were driving Mavis's friends from shul to the party. In fact, everyone was so concerned about getting all the guests there...we all sort of forgot that Mavis needed a ride, as well. I guess everyone assumed he'd be getting there somehow - that it wasn't up to them to figure out how. After all, he was the bar mitzvah boy, right?

Mavis ended up having to go over to another one of the guests who hadn't left shul yet and asking if he could please have a ride to his bar mitzvah.

The party itself was majorly fun, especially since my family was all dressed up in period costumess (colonial and stuff).

The chagiga tonight was also really fun. Highlights were:

  • A girl wearing a sign that said, "Bernie Madoff stole my costume."
  • A girl dressed up as a michlala girl - humongous poof and all.
  • Zimri and Kozbi (that one was a little bit gross).

I sort of love it when people dress up as random things from Tanach. I think it's hilarious and so clever.

On the bus ride back, I discovered that I do have the abilitiy to sit next to a random person and talk. So I am not hopeless in social situations, after all! How relieving. (Joke.)

Also - I'm going to Israel tomorrow (what?!). For a wedding. I know, it's random and kinda weird and I'm missing two days of school and coming back to two midterms and a senior thesis, but what can you do? When a best friend from childhood gets married, everything else seems to get put on hold. Sort of. Not as much when it's in a different country across the ocean and you sort of aren't really sure that it's actually happening and won't be sure until after it's over when you say to yourself, "...Whoa. Was I just in Israel?" And even then, you're still not sure. Best to take pictures so you can prove it to yourself.

This post is random enough, I might as well end it with a Purim Torah joke. I used to know lots of these because the Rabbi of my fourth grade class gave us a whole sheet of them, but I only remember a few and only one of those that I remember is actually funny (in my opinion. Not laugh out loud funny. Just cute. They're all rather groan-worthy, really).

How do you know that Vashti was fat?*

In sixth grade, I remember we made fun of the Purim tape by going around saying in squeaky, whiny voices, "Vashtiiii...bring me a cup of caw-fee...!!!"

Anyway, I must go to sleep now, but happy birthday (again) to Mavis and a Purim Sameach to all my readers!!! That includes the lurkers, too! :)

*'Cause Vashti astah mishteh nashim! (Vashti was made of two women! [the real translation is Vashti made a feast for women])

Sunday, March 8, 2009

We're All In This Megillah

(Hat tip: A Friend)

(NOTE: Girls singing, but not a clue who they are and you can't see them in the video or anything. So, uh, guys, listen as your own discretion)



Have an easy fast tomorrow!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Not Just For Kids

Children's books are not just for kids.

Let me say it again--

Children's books are not just for kids.

I think there is something supremely beautiful in a book that both a child and an adult can read with real seriousness. The fact is - yes, children and adults exist on different maturity levels. But they share emotions. They share thoughts about the world. Adults are still very much like children, and children are very much like adults. They understand more than most adults realize. And sometimes, if adults can let go of their egos for a little bit, they'll see that they, too, can learn and feel and see anew from a book "meant for" children.

Because here's the thing. Books are books. At the end of the day, a good book is a good book, whether it is meant for children or not. And if it is on a level that children can understand, that doesn't mean adults will find it "below them." I'm not talking about entertainment. Adults and children may have different ideas about what is entertaining. But when something speaks to the heart - it can do so on a first grade level, a fourth grade level, a sixth grade level, a tenth grade level, a college level...it doesn't matter. If it speaks to the heart, it speaks to the heart. If it talks about our world - it's the same world. We live in the same world. We all share this human experience together, no matter how old we are.

I truly do believe that some of the best books you will ever read will be the ones you read when you were ten. Or seven. Or twelve. If you go back and read those books that made you cry when you were a kid, or even ones that gave you shivers because they were just that good, you'll see that they deal with a lot of the same issues and ideas as adult books. Because life isn't childproof. Real events are not split up into a "children's section" and an "adult section." Life happens to all of us at all ages. And we all feel real emotions. We all think real thoughts. We are all philosophers at all stages of life. If anything, the only books that have ever made me cry - or get the good sort of shivers - have been children's books. Adult books are so worried about sounding profound or intelligent, they often drown their ability to reach out and touch you. I'm not knocking adult books. But I think there is a way of reaching out that is unique to children's books - or perhaps the rare adult book - and that should not be belittled. It's different, not babyish.

I'm not really sure why I did it, but today I decided I wanted to read a book I had not read in a very long time. I don't think I've really opened it since I was ten. I still remember when I read it. In fifth grade, we had a literary club during lunch for those students who liked to read. It was run by the teacher of the other fifth grade class and we read books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Tuck Everlasting. Today I took down from my shelf another book we read called Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. The title comes from the saying, "Don't judge a man until you walk two moons in his moccasins." And even though this book is probably on a twelve year old reading level, it made me cry. Simpler writing does not mean stupid writing. It means writing that can reach inside and gently touch you, maybe even hug you, because it's telling you something difficult or powerful or both. And sometimes this simplicity is what makes it powerful. It's a voice that speaks to all, not just to a select few. Sometimes life is not about being one of a select few. It's not about being the best or smartest or most sophisticated in order to understand what some great philosopher is saying. Sometimes life is just about communicating. Understanding. Reaching out.

"It seems to me that we can't explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can't fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open. Inside is something that we can manage, something that isn't as awful as it had at first seemed. It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe murderers and kidnappers in the world, most people seem a lot like us: sometimes afraid and sometimes brave, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind." --Walk Two Moons


Tell me that is not something adults think about, too. Even struggle with. I dare you to tell me that. Because even though this book is written using simpler words - words that children can understand, it is not a children's book. It is a person's book. A book for the inhabitants of this world - all inhabitants.

And sometimes, if you're looking for inspiration, for soft words of advice...if you're looking for someone to lift you up and tell you it'll be alright...it's right there in your favorite books from when you were seven. From when you would hide away under your blankets reading late at night with a flashlight so your parents wouldn't know, giggling in a hushed sort of way and wiping your eyes with your sleeve at some parts, until you would fall asleep and be carried off into dreams that would lift you up - just like the book. And tell you that it'll be alright.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

I don't know how many of you recognize the name Malcolm Gladwell, but he has written some pretty popular books lately. If you've heard of The Tipping Point - that was his. One of his books, which people say is not as amazing as The Tipping Point, is called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. When I first read it, I liked the ideas but I wasn't particularly impressed by them. I thought, "this is natural. Why is he telling me about something I already do naturally? What new thing have I learned?"

What I didn't realize was that I was learning without even knowing it.

One of the stories in Blink is about a mock-war the United States government had once in order to test out some strategies before going into real war. They split themselves up into the blue team and the red team - the red team being the enemy (I think). The blue team - run by the government - used all its technology to discover everything about the red team so it could predict just what the red team would do in a given situation. The red team - run by an old war general - decided not to figure out anything about the blue team but worked on using initiative and innovation to approach situations as they arose. In this way, they created a gap in which to be creative rather than applying pre-planned strategies onto anything they might face. The problem with pre-planned strategies is that they don't take into account every circumstance in a situation, and even if they do, they don't give you room to think on your own. In order to use your own, best judgment, you have to approach a situation without any extra knowledge. Sometimes knowing a lot is knowing too much and that can hold you back. You have to see each thing as the thing itself, not as everything else about it that is irrelevent to the specific situation at hand. You can use what you know, but if you know too much, all that information gets in the way of dealing with what is actually happening before you.

Consequently, even though the blue team knew everything about the red team, the red team was able to use its judgment, creativity, and improvisation to win.

If you've ever read the book Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, it deals with the same concept. Ender is a young, inexperienced leader of an army in battle school, yet he manages to win all of his battles against the older, more experienced teams because he realizes this very thing. He understands that getting stuck in strategy and formation every time you approach a battle restricts your ability to think on your feet. You're so busy thinking about which strategy to apply, you don't see that none of your strategies really fit the given situation and that you actually have to try something new - and what's more, you have to try something new now, in the moment. You come in knowing too much. You come in with this idea that if they try formation A, we'll do plan B, and if they try formation E, we'll try plan A. That works very well in simulated practice conditions, but in real battle, or in real life, situations and strategies don't match up exactly. You have to improvise. You have to be creative. You have to approach every situation as its own event, not as a kind of event. Because if you say, "I know what this is, it is this sort of event where these things happen in this way," you're imposing knowledge onto something that doesn't have to follow your rules. You won't be ready for it when it decides to do something completely different because you're still stuck in your own ideas of what it is and which strategy to approach it with. You are blinding yourself to actually seeing the thing itself for what it really is - as its own individual, unique situation.

Today in class, we were discussing the difference between something being strategic versus something being tactical. Something strategic, we said, creates a plan in advance in which it is going to approach an entire story, or even life as a whole. Something tactical, however, approaches each situation within the story, or within life, as its own thing. Being tactical means being improvisational. You use tactics in order to do something creative and new, adjusting yourself to each situation you come across.

When I was talking about this idea in class, I had this moment where I realized, "this is exactly what it talks about in Blink." Instead of talking about the piece we were reading, I started talking about Blink and that made it all so much clearer to me. Everything seemed to connect.

In a conversation I was having last night, we were talking about how a person can convince herself things are a certain way when in reality they're not, and that this mental block is completely self-built. That it is you who is blocking yourself off, not anyone else. This fits exactly with an idea in The Book of Think by Marilyn Burns. The first section of the book is called, "Getting Out of Your Own Way." The first piece of advice the book offers is, "thinking hard doesn't always work." Sometimes you find yourself in difficult situations and you feel like if you think hard enough, you'll get to the bottom of things. But often "getting to the bottom of things" is not at all helpful in actually dealing with the problem. You don't really have to know background to a problem or even why the problem arose in order to solve it. You might want to know what caused a problem so you can avoid it in the future, but that is something else. Often, like in Blink and in Ender's Game, knowing too much can get in the way of concentrating on what you actually need to know in order to deal with a situation.

Here are some more pieces of advice from The Book of Think:

1. "Sometimes you get in the way of your own brain. Your thinking gets stuck. Sometimes you build your own mental walls. Then you keep bumping into them."


This is just like when you pre-plan a strategy before actually facing a situation. You predict and assume and try to fit each situation into a box you already know how to deal with instead of actually looking at the situation. It's a good thing to demolish the walls and limitations you set on yourself by all that pre-strategizing and just trusting yourself that you can be creative and innovative in dealing with something new and unexpected. Most situations are going to have elements that are new and unexpected and you have to be able to deal with them.

2. "Keep looking at ordinary things. Look at them as if you're seeing them for the first time. You'll see lots of new things you've never looked at before."

So many things in this world are ordinary. Because of that, people easily dismiss them. People don't look at something ordinary because, according to them, there is nothing to see. They know what the ordinary thing is already. After all, it's ordinary. They've seen it before in a million forms but it's all the same thing. And because of that, they don't bother really looking at it as its own thing.

There is often - or even all the time - something extraordinary in the ordinary, and you don't even have to look deeper, past the thing itself, in order to find it. But you do have to look.

3. "Watch out for mental blinders. They'll get in the way of the problem solver every time. They often stop you from seeing out of the corner of your brain and solving the problem."


We set up these mental blinders. They come in the form of assumptions. We assume we know everything about a situation. We assume we know all about a person. We don't allow that gap of doubt to exist, and without that space in which there is room to doubt our assumptions, we don't allow ourselves to see past what we have already decided about something. That means we can never see anything new and that means we won't be able to approach something as what it really is - only as what we already decided it is.

This holds true for labeling people, for dealing with problems as they arise in life, or even for getting through a Literature class.

There is so much out there in the world that we're blinding ourselves to. There is so much that we block ourselves from seeing or achieving because we decided we can't do it. "I'm not the type who will succeed at that." "I can't do it, I'm only twenty-two and there's no way I have enough talent." "I'm not smart enough." Etc. etc. etc.

But we can do all these things. I don't think the American Dream is this ridiculous nonsense of, "if you try for your dreams, you will reach them and become rich." It's so much more than that. I think the real American Dream is the idea that possibilities are open to anyone, as long as you allow yourself to see those possibilities as applying to you. The only person who, in this country, decides you can't do something is you. You might not succeed, or you might not succeed by following the strategy you think is necessary in order to achieve your goals, but that doesn't mean there isn't a way at all. You just have to be creative. You can make that way for yourself.

Even if you don't live in America - this idea is not American. It's human. Every situation can be dealt with. There is always a way. Nothing is hopeless. It's only hopeless if you've convinced yourself that it is. "If you will it, it is no dream." - Theodor Herzl. And he wasn't American.

You can do anything. We can do anything. We just have to stop telling ourselves we can't based on our preconceived notions of what people can and cannot do or the way things can and cannot be.

Anything is possible. Be ready for it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Struggle Of The Ages

When you reach a certain age, you are expected to behave a certain way. There's a maturity that is demanded of you as you grow older, and you might also find that you desire it. But, especially when you're still a young adult, the residue of adolescence sometimes gets in the way. It's like there are two forces fiercely twisting and twining around inside for control. One is dark, heavy, and hot, gripping your heart and mind like a thousand sweaty handshakes that never let go. The other is cool, composed, and level-headed, but difficult to reach. You have to climb over the jagged, slippery rock of the first force before you can reach this second one - this more mature one. It's like you have to climb up inside in order to grow up.

Sometimes I don't know what it is to be grown up. Does something happen to your emotions that you are able to remain better in control of them when you grow older? Do you acquire a skill a younger person does not have? And how is this skill acquired? I so wish I didn't feel so strongly about things not worth feeling strongly about. I wish I could be more grown up about that sort of thing. It feels so stupid and immature to feel things when I oughtn't feel them.

Conflicting emotions are so tricky. Because which one do you really feel? I am so shy and a large part of me wishes to remain out of the limelight. But sometimes I do wish I could be told that something I've done is great, or thanked for something, or just shown some recognition that I'm doing the right things, and that's not to say that I've never had that, because I have. But then again, how can I possibly want those things? Because I don't do things in order to get any of that. I do things because I so much want to. I want to do things for people. I want to write. I want to accomplish. I want to be a good person because I believe that is the best way to be. Not because I want anything more than to be happy with myself and to make other people happy. And yet sometimes this conflicts with a secret desire for recognition. But how? How can those two exist simultaneously inside? I'm not an arrogant person or a selfish person. I know I'm not. So why do I sometimes crave these things? And I feel so ashamed when I hear other people say they don't want these things, because I don't want them either, except for that tiny voice inside of me that does.

I wonder if everyone really has that tiny voice inside?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day?


Dear Stern College for Women,

I would like to bring to your attention the icy white fluffy things falling from the sky outside. If you look out your window, you will see what I mean. Lots of it has also piled up on the ground. This icy white fluffy stuff is called snow. For your convenience, I have provided in this letter the dictionary.com definition:

snow

–noun

1. Meteorology. a precipitation in the form of ice crystals, mainly of intricately branched, hexagonal form and often agglomerated into snowflakes, formed directly from the freezing of the water vapor in the air. Compare ice crystals, snow grains, snow pellets.
2. these flakes as forming a layer on the ground or other surface.
3. the fall of these flakes or a storm during which these flakes fall.

It is general practice, when such white fluffiness descends from the heavens, to cancel school so we may enjoy these crystal-lattice precipitations, and so you may, too. This is especially the case when the rest of New York State is on holiday. There are certain customs one must perform when this amount of snow has fallen, including the crafting of snow men, the building of snow forts, and the throwing of snow balls - usually culminating in a snow fight. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt that you were unaware of such procedures and I have seen it as my duty to inform you of them. I hope we have no such trouble in the future - the future being this moment and onward. So I trust we won't have school the rest of the day?

Sincerely,
A Snow Day Deprived Student

Sunday, March 1, 2009

By Whom Am I Led?

(This post was started last week)

Although I am not wise in the particulars of the issue, I know there is a problem of Jewish Leadership that we face today. I just came back from a class I am taking this semester in Sefer Shoftim and today's lesson was about Shamgar. Before him, we discussed Otniel and Ehud. What was noteworthy about them - whether you say Shamgar was a real shofet or not - was that they were military heroes. They won a military victory, thereby saving the Jewish people (or a specific shevet) from an enemy threat.

In general for the Shoftim, these military victories are what make them into Shoftim in the first place. The leaders of Bnei Yisrael at that time were their military heroes. Even Moshe and Yehoshua led battles. It seems as though the military, judicial, and religious leaders were one. There may have been zekeinim or others helping, but there was one authority figure.

Eventually, leadership split and over the centuries, Bnei Yisrael has had many different leaders for all different aspects of life. I know that's an oversimplification, but I guess what I'm trying to say is...it seems that the more leaders we have at a given time, the less unity we have. There are so many religious leaders out there, people feel free to dismiss what an authority figure might say in favor of another one. While it's perfectly fine to have so many different opinions in Judaism, when it comes to leadership, it gets confusing as to who you're supposed to look to for guidance. Whose authority do you follow? Even in the time of the Shoftim, the figures of authority were not the same as Moshe or Yehoshua and there was a lot of fighting amongst the shvatim.

It's also just interesting to me what values the Jewish people from long ago saw as making someone fit for leadership. Winning a military victory does show leadership, ingenuity, judgment, etc. But does that make that person then fit to be a religious leader? Or were the Shoftim not really religious leaders? And if they were, then it seems as though there was this cohesiveness between religious responsibilities and regular life responsibilities (such as fighting wars to conquer Israel or defend it) that we don't really have today. Things are so much more separate. Can you imagine a distinguished rav leading a battle?

Of course we don't live in that time period. I know. And standards today are completely different. I'm not giving an opinion here. I'm merely jotting down my thoughts and observations. It's just curious to me how the role of leaders evolved over time, and I wonder what effect that has had on us as a nation.