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D’varim, Words

D’varim  at DLTI9 week 3 Margo Wolfson

There once was a little girl whose very first memory at age 2 was being held high so the ceiling and its light seemed close enough to touch. When she was three, she’d moved to a new neighborhood and without realizing, crossed the street where nothing seemed familiar. She started to panic, she was lost, but just then her handsome strong Dad came and scooped her up in her arms to save her. A few years later after a bitter divorce, her parents could not speak peaceably to another except for one time, when Father carried her feverish brother in his arms, her mother’s heart softened for that moment.  There’s a line in D’varim, chapter 1, :31 where we learn that God has always carried us, like a man carries his child.  This powerful, poignant image drew me to these verses, and then I learned that this part also has the retelling of the 12 scouts that scope out the promised land, bringing reports that scared the people from entering the promised land. This sin of fear is said to be the one which actually caused the fall of the Temple on the 9th of Av. Now my choice was set, these are the verses I wanted to study. Why this sin, and not, say the Golden Calf to be responsible for such tragedy?   After all can’t we all relate to struggling with fear of the unknown. I still hate getting lost, my very first reaction is panic, anything could happen, the unknown could contain anything… And struggling with low self esteem, I don’t think I’m the only one for that either.  Between a close look at the text and teachings from Reb Marcia this week, I offer a possible answer for why this sin. I propose that a close look at the verses from our new perspective is not just that the Israelites were fearful, but a rejection of light and life itself, a tear in the fabric of the space time of our people’s history.

These verses in the 3rd Aliya begin beautifully, like a horror movie that starts out on a sunny day.

The first word: Vatikr’voon – they drew close to God. All of them! And God thinks their idea of sending out spies is Good – Tov!  Go for it, and I will pick a person from each tribe. And they are to bring back D’varim (name of this parashah) D’varim are both words and things and the spies bring both good words: the land is Tov, and good things, fruit for the people. But at verse 26 the mood shifts The people rebel, and will not Go up.

Instead we go down into our bubbles and begin to weave our own d’varim, alternative facts.  Words conflict with what we’ve seen with our own eyes. And out of this gossip comes these alternative facts from the bubbles: Yes, Adonai freed us from Egypt, not to deliver us but it was out of Sinat, hatred, to toy with us, place us in the hand of the Ammorites to crush us!  Why should we rise up, they say when our brothers have melted our hearts with words! They said the people are greater than us, and (so far so good) their cities have walls which reach the sky, and the sons of Anakites, Giants live there! Unbelievable!  But Hashem is patient, and responds with poignant, parental words, Don’t be afraid.  I’m going with you and will fight for you, as I did before your eyes.  These words of vision will repeat and become a theme on this Shabbat Hazon, Shabbat of vision.  Text continues with vision and tenderness “ in the wilderness you SAW I carried you as a man carries his child, from the beginning until this time.

In spite of these inspiring loving words, and their vision, they reject both the loving words and the vision. Nature abhors a vacuum, and I imagine the light leaving their bodies, and the fear taking it’s place. Like a collective suicide, a rejection of their vision.  God has given us eyes to see, and we have been taught we are made of light, of bina, chochma and chesed, g’vurah. And to reject all of this and replace it with fear! This is the rift in light and time that caused Tisha B’av

It very much reminds me of Riley in the movie Inside Out, a favorite move of mine, who saddened by a move to a new city, but unable to honor that sadness, finds her “core memories” the ones that make her Riley, beings sucked down a tube into oblivion. Joy and Sadness go on a quest to regain them, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust at the “soul controls”. The spies’ rejection of their core mission, banish light and love, leaving only fear and hatred. We must honor sadness, as we do on Tisha B’Av, or we too might think that God hates us, as some Holocaust survivors do. Riley nearly becomes a runaway, until she allows the tears to come. Only then can she return home.

Today we live in a time of unparalleled vision: we can peer into the atom and see the birth of stars in the Orion nebula. Super computers can predict the likely impact of increased greenhouse gases and we see and measure climate change happening before our eyes.  And still people that cluster in their information bubbles and reject the evidence of their senses as well as the ethical wisdom of their heritage, to maintain status quo.  Fomenting science denial, and fear of immigrants, Muslims, and Jews, as the cemetery desecrations show, ravaging of people and the earth that sustains them out of fear of change.  Hazon is the name of the program here at Isabella Friedman, as they embody a vision for the Jewish future, and we know we are made of light, To be oblivious to light and vision led to self loathing, and then God loathing, and a community where fear could reign over hope and longing.

What if all that was good and true were a vision before your eyes right now, what would you do? (Danny Maseng)    I still hate getting lost, but I breathe deeply and figure it out.  I have carried my own children in my arms and wish for them a future filled with hope and vision, but I do worry.  Hadlikah nah ner lavan b’ohel libi hash’chor! (Noa)    May the spark kindled in your heart shine, let it shine!


Children: “you can’t live with them and can’t live without them!”  They are our inspiration, our burden. Drive us crazy, change our very dimension, love us, hate us, are us, or not!. Flash back 3000 years to Aaron’s children wandering in the Wilderness.

In Torah, parashah Sh’mini, a mysterious narrative of two of Aaron’s children, Nadav and Avihu.  These two of Aaron’s sons are among the 70 leaders of Israel who ascended Sinai in Mishpatim, of Exodus to behold and experience G!d. Their names are interesting, Nadav meaning a volunteer, and Avihu meaning “he’s your Dad” of one who will never become a Dad. They are destroyed, sacrificed, by a divine fire after they bring an “aish zarah” an extra, strange fire as offering. And father Aaron is silent, told not with the typical “sheket”, but rather from a word linked to “blood” as if the blood were drained from him/ his face, “vayidom Aharon“.  Moses is harsh, unsympathetic, not allowing mourning, ordering their ashes carried out like the animals of the sacrifice. (Prior comments Links to Holacaust  & Taking out the Trash).  This narrative is followed, in Chapter 10, verse 9 by a law forbidding wine/ intoxication in the tent of meeting, so that most traditions blame the sons for being drunk and blame them for their own deaths. Yet, Moses say’s they’ve been sanctified and drawn near to God. And God is the power that strengthens us during loss, as in the morning prayer, Psalm 30: “You turn my mourning into dancing, and clothe me in joy, so that my soul might sing to you and not be silent – from that same word as Aaron’s stillness: yadom” . Listen to  Debbie Friedman’s version of that psalm here. So I have always agreed with the minority opinion, that the boys were beautiful, and holy, and died young, not “deserving” to die.

This week, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah comments by Rabbis Elyse Goldstein and Ari Lorge agrees. As I read their comments this morning was sparked (no pun intended!) to powerful connections in the world and my life.

Rabbi Goldstein writes of Philippe Petite, who was walked tightropes prepared to die a “beautiful death in the exercise of (his) passion!”  and Ari Lorge writes about our roles as prophets.  What if your passion were your prophecy: A cause to dedicate your soul to, with all your heart and soul and your everything (from Shema)?  Well I met a man last month who embodies just passionate causes, and urged all the students in the audience to be the same way for their own causes. I’m Diversity committee co-chair at the community college where I teach, and the man I met was Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. I then bought and devoured his book, In Peace and Freedom.  Bernard taught us that the assassination of Dr. King was a failure, because King had already “given” his life completely over to the cause, so it could not be taken from him. It is an inspiring lesson and story from both men, also pictured in the Movie Selma

What is your passionate cause? This second fiery connection for me is Environmental Conservaiton. Climate Change is a destructive “fire” threatening our lives and that of our children, perhaps fueled by our yetzer ha-ra. I attended the Climate Rally in NYC in Sept 2014. I followed Rabbi Arthur Waskow  and Greenfaith there,  enjoying the music of Josh Nelson and Neshamah Carlebach. I brought along my thenIMG_0140 16 year old son, who blew shofar as Arthur chanted an Eichah for the earth. (that’s him at the rally, posing with the unicorn on Noah’s ark)  I am currently reading Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” about the successful attempt of Wealthy, powerful Right wing groups, worshiping the idol of power-capitalism to torpedo the Climate change response. It is shocking and upsetting. But Klein lays out an alternative of a just society which cooperates to solve the life-threatening heating of our Home, the only place in the Universe we know can support us.  Nadav and Avihu died by alien fire. I am seriously worried that our children, my children will be consumed by this alien fire. This is a cause worthy of our passions. It is the most urgent issue of our times.

Vayigash 5776, Is it Now Yet?

3rd aliya.

What time is it? Isn’t it always now?clock

This week I participated in a book club discussion of Henna House by Nomi Eve. The novel’s main character, Adela, is set against the culture and history of Yemen in the first half of the 20th century. We discussed whether Adela directed her life by her choices or was swept along by the events of the day. The group felt Adela’s decisions were the most important factor. Even so, after some events, others follow inevitably. Just as Humpty Dumpty cannot go home again, he is shattered.

After Jacob gave Joseph that famous royal coat in Genesis,  the brothers saw that Joseph had their father’s love, they hated him, and they could not speak peaceably (37:4). Was hatred an inevitable result of Jacob’s love?  Joseph feels all the dramatic events which follow in his life are inevitable and ordained: his enslavement and then his rise in Egypt.  So what of the powers of decision, and of now?

Fast forward to 45:8. Joseph has just revealed his identity to his brothers, following Judah’s plea to take him in place of Benjamin, in perhaps the most climactic scenes of Torah.
Verse 8 begins with the word Atah , meaning “now”, in dramatic r’vii trope.
Why dramatize this ordinary word? “Now”  it all becomes clear to Joseph! I imagine him thinking “before, it thought it was you, brothers, who sent me, and I was vengeful! But now it’s all different.” How could it NOT be that the brothers sent Joseph here?! Perhaps when Joseph understands that the pathway was toward love and salvation, it must be God’s doing!  Just as, 400 years later we will see God’s hand in redemption of the Exodus.  Perhaps whenever light becomes snatched from the jaws of darkness, that is an essence of  God. Listen to “Job” by Jacob Spike Kraus who writes of Biblical Job:

I’m in need of second chances and the answers to explain the light,  ……In the darkness of my life!

Joseph is the light snatched from darkness. Just as he was pulled from the pit (twice) and Benjamin, Joseph’s younger incarnation was pulled from Rachel’s dying body. For the brothers, whose ultimate crime of selling their brother into almost certain death, has come salvation from the forgiveness in Joseph’s heart.  Joseph still has his dark side:  he’s enslaved the population  of Egypt in selling them food (R. Arthur Waskow). Perhaps this the reason we become enslaved, requiring salvation once again.
So was it God that sent Joseph to Egypt?  Nope, verse 8 at least, does not say that! Rather it is God who placed Joseph from the dungeon into the position of “Father to Pharoah”. The word “father” is emphasized in an echo of the r’vi-i used for “now”. and repeated in the next verse. Father Jacob’s actions are the ultimate cause of of all that followed in Joseph’s life. And now Joseph feels as father, but to Pharoah!
After 20 years without contacting his father, Joseph now tells his brothers to “maher“, hurry, and bring his father down to Egypt. But the trope is the gentle and bittersweet, not rushed. “Tell my father this,” says Joseph, and the message repeats  all, except one part. Interestingly, the missing part is that Joseph being the “father”.

Can this incredibly dysfunctional family which has been so shattered go “home” again?  In Coming Around Again Carly Simon reflects that in becoming a parent, we can go home again. She sings:

I know nothing stays the same; but if you’re willing to play the game, it’s coming around again….there’s more room in a broken heart…I believe in love, comin’ around again.

Perhaps Joseph now finds “more room” in his broken heart!  In verses 14 and 15 he cries, a lot! Joseph weeps on Benjamin’s shoulder first, (the innocent full brother) and Ben reciprocates. Then Joseph weeps on the shoulders of the other brothers. “Now” there is a brand new reality. “Truly After, (acharei chen), his brothers spoke to him,” opening souls stoppered-up with hate so long ago.  Time is mysterious, and a big deal. For Joseph, and for Adela, recognizing “now”moments is a way to direct the story of their life out of the rut, and achieve change, repairing shattered families.


What if you awoke one morning and the Universe’s Voice urged that message? You are wealthy, influential, married to someone whose beauty is actually scary. No kids, but a decent nephew…. Do you shake your head, go to work and shrug it off? What if the Voice keeps nagging – “Go! Leave your land (did I mention you’re a rancher?), birthplace and your Dad’s house” Only in leaving can I go to myself? you think. Where to? you think. “You’ll see”, replies the Universe. Now, come on, you must’ve been suspicious all along that there could be more than even this wealth, beauty and power. You’re not getting any younger, and the urgency of this Voice is too much to ignore any more. “Will you come with me?” you ask family and friends – there’s Real Meaning out there, and In the wilderness, away from the stress and local politics, life’s purpose will be clearer”! That must’ve been one heck-uv-a Voice he heard! I wonder what it sounded like? You’ve probably guessed that the man with the wanderlust is Avram (soon to be Abraham) and the gorgeous lady Sarai (soon Sarah). The place they are leaving is Ur, in Mesopotamia, cradle of civilization, home to hundreds of deities in that culture, and they’re going to the Promised land. It’s not unusual for people to leave their birthplace nowadays, but travel and keeping in touch are easy. My grandparents left Europe a hundred or so years ago, but they were escaping the pogroms and the Cossack draft, and poor. But what does the Voice sound like that moved a wealthy, powerful couple to pack up and leave, to who-knows-where?

I heard this beautiful and mysterious song by The Levins on Sue Horowitz’s Hope and Healing CD. I think the song nails it!
This must be the Voice that moved Avram to leave it all. The Voice called Avram’s own name with enough clarity to resonate powerfully. Perhaps it was the call to fatherhood, after all, Avram’s name means father of many, and he was childless!

When you need more than your own understanding, Lean on the power of love
The wisdom you’ll hold is worth ten times the gold, that some sell their souls for in vain.
And a peace that surpasses every thrill on this plane,
is heard when your Soul calls your Name!
And My Roads, all lead to peace
Let go of your hold and you’ll be released
Let go of your hold, and your sorrow will cease.
Wisdom will shine through you like a light through a tree
Wisdom will shine and you’ll be free, and happy.

Both Abe and the soulful life he seeks in the wilderness fall short of ideal. In Egypt, terrified his gorgeous wife will mean his demise, he tries to lie and trick his way out of danger. Sarai’s taken to the harem, and only divine intervention sets them free. Then a great fight arises over possessions with his nephew’s cow herders, and they split so as not to fight, exposing the Nephew to the dangers of Kings, and of God’s destruction of S’dom and Gomorrah. And these troubles  foreshadow his family troubles with his sons and wives to come. Finally, the Voice had to call his name twice to stop the knife in his hand from slaughtering that sought-after child who eventually comes! Messy! But still, Abe’s the renegade that will be a forefather.  When it’s so much easier to follow the well worn paths, Abe followed the Voice when it called his name!

What’s a Paradox? the old joke asks:  Marcus Welby MD, and Dr. Kildare! (very old TV docs)

Festivity and Futility: a mix of opposites? They collide in the Autumn on the Holiday of Sukkot! It is the season of harvest, of rejoicing, in the Jewish world and beyond. Sukkot, the festival of the harvest, follows the somber Yom Kippur by four days, with a week long celebration. Coincidentally, in the Muslim world this year is the four day feast Eid al Adha, commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. And the Indian Ganesh festival is now as well!
The command for Jews on Sukkot is to be joyful, out in our fragile huts. A paradox, to experience both fragility and joy. And that’s as it should be, because it’s harvest time, when the earth miraculously provides us with bounty as a mother nurses her child, as the land prepares to sleep and plants die. And as it should be, because our lives are fragile, yet we rejoice.
The Torah text for the Shabbat immediately preceding the festival is Ha-azinu: the ancient parting song of Moses to the Israelites. Moses will die soon as we enter the land of Promise. This powerful poem in part portrays a Motherly God, brooding over her nestlings, laboring to birth a nation, and nursing us with Honey from the Rock. (Deut. 32:13) “Rock” is the oft repeated metaphor for God in this text, and also, interestingly, in L’chu n’ran’nah which also commands: Rejoice! How pointedly on target: at a time of feasting and joy, of course God is maternal! (Dahling, eat! I hear my grandma say through misty memory)

So where is the paradox in the Text, you ask? In Deut. 32, verse 9 , it is explained that we, the People, are God’s portion (inheritance), Jacob’s portion is hevel, meaning breath or mist! Hevel:  it same word as Abel’s name, who is killed by Cayin, his brother. It is the same as Kohelet’s  philosophy (Ecclesiastes), which whispers that our pursuits are Hevel , insubstantial as breath. Kohelet advises us to eat, drink and be merry in spite of Insubstantiality. Because wisdom and the memories of joy can perhaps cross time and  generations:   In Verse 7 the Text reads: Remember the days olam: eternal, it is the wisdom of the generations. In this text God is sustaining us through Tohu the wild chaos of the desert. And in just a week, we’ll begin Genesis, which Creativity organizes the Tohu into the substance of the universe.  For me, being in the Sukkah at this time is a grounding experience, and at the same time a mistical one: on sunny days it’s joyous, and other days it’s misty and sad.  And tonight, on the first night, if the clouds clear, will be the full, large, moon at perigee (closest approach). Sukkot is always on the full moon. But at the height of her glowing, the earth’s shadow will drape across and dim her: it’s a full lunar eclipse! What a paradox is this time of year and this Holiday: light and shadow, joy and futility,  what a mess!  It must be  Autumn and Sukkot! Wishing readers Moadim l’simcha, seasons of joy, and chag sameach! Happy Holy day.


My son, Jay, when he was five, in our Sukkah,

Thanks to study partners Jim and Joel for the discussion pathway which opened, and Jim for encouragement.

It’s a New Moon tonight, and with theextra dark sky Perseid meteor showers should be brilliant!  For fun, I did a search of “New Moon stories” on Google. It seems there is a Twilight (teen Vampire) movie called New Moon: From the synopsis “A thick, yellow moon slowly transforms into the title “New Moon.” We hear a quote…. from “Romeo and Juliet”: “These violent delights have violent ends..” and, although we don’t know it yet, Bella is having a nightmare.”  The cycles of the moon, though regular and reliable spark the imagination of the mysterious – vampires, werewolves, nightmares! It will be really dark tonight, but tomorrow we’ll see the crescent, and next week the first quarter.  Our word for “moon” forms “month”, but in Hebrew it is chodesh, from the word chadash, new: because the moon’s always renewing! We, as the moon, are always renewing too, as we head into the Days of Awe.

This weekend we celebrate not just any month, but the month of Elul. Spelled alef, lamed, vav, lamed, Elul is an acronym for “ani l’dodi v’dodi li” from Song of Songs, the Bible’s (erotic) love poetry, and perhaps, most important Book. Song of Songs ideally expresses love between Israel (& other God-wrestlers) and God.  During this month we dedicate ourself to turning toward and opening to Love & or God .

I’m learning a great new song in which love (Elul) and Erev Shabbat collide: it is Spike Kraus’ Ki Eshmera Shabbat  -and it completely captures me because of its unabashed, beautiful “love-tangle”. An excerpt here:

Another week, another story to be told, another night, one more dream bound to unfold;  I’ve been working overtime, to find where You’ve been hiding.

Another chance, another dazzling day of rest(!),  just one glance, to know I’ve never felt so blessed. Now that You are by my side, my spirit’s set to flying!  Ki eshmera Shabbat, El yishmereni, ot hi l’olme ad, beyno uveini (Because I will keep Shabbat, God guards me, Shabbat: a sign forever between God and me)

So I’ll keep this day, and every time I’ll think of You and be swept away, with every song I sing for You. And I’ll never be far behind, every time I hear You calling, Ki eshmera Shabbat….

We’ll go on in this circle, until whenever, how ’bout forever. It’s a symbol eternal, that I can always find You!

In addition to the love theme, what makes this Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Elul, particularly special, is that it begin the month of preparation leading to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days, or Daze of Ahh as explained by Dr. Deborah Lipstadt. Elul begins the forty day journey culminating in Yom Kippur. But if we wish to feel them in wonderment and “ahh!” we must take this opportunity to begin the path. She explains:

Most of us never achieve this stage. We are like people who have been told that the last scene of Hamlet is the most riveting and only show up for that scene. We fail to understand what the fuss is about. We parachute into Yamim Noraim (days of Awe). This period is the April 15th of the Jewish year, yet I spend more time preparing my taxes than preparing my soul! 

Forty days journey sounds so familiar! Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav teaches that this period is linked to Moses forty day visit on Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the commandments. He finds connection in Moses neither eating nor drinking, in our observance on Yom Kippur, but more importantly, Moses broke those tablets in anger, and they could not be fixed.
A priceless gift destroyed in rage. We do that sometimes! But there are second chances, to begin again and build anew. Unlike the rookie attempt, Moses’ second set of tablets were hewn only with his own personal effort at carving. The renewed tablets, or Covenant, came with a bonus of a Moses absolutely radiating light: it’s not just the thing we’re after, but we who are that is changed with t’shuvah (return) and second chances. Moses showed us the path during those forty days can lead to amazing renewal, if we do the prep work. Some Reb. Nachman’s advice is used by an organization. called Beit T’shuvah. Part of their pathway of return from addiction is his practice of reflection:

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches going inside one’s self as a way to recognize the power of God, and one’s own connection.  Beit T’shuvah Best Practice includes reflective writing assignments, and guided attentional practices e.g. to observe and meditate on sunrise, sunset, the breath.

Reb Nachman, nick-named the Baal Shem tov, “first great master” of 18th century chasidism, and he famously suffered from depression. Without modern drugs to treat it, he struggled mightily. Somehow he found his way, at times, to joy.  “The purpose of our very existence is to serve God in joy”, Reb Nachman taught.  And so Hasidism arose as a rebellion against the intellectual, for a pathway toward joy.  Art Green, a renown author, teacher, preeminent  thinker of our day (head of Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, Boston) has published a beautiful little distillation called “Judaism’s 10 best Ideas“.  The very first of these ideas which defined Judaism for him is Joy. In this week’s parashah, Re-eh or “envision!” (watch (!) for this theme further down) God sets blessing and curse for us to see and choose, and the challenge is to choose life and blessing and joy. In the next chapter, we are actually commanded, a to rejoice, D’varim 12:7

and there you will eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all that you put your hand to, you and your households, where YHVH your God has blessed you.

Now when we’re in Jerusalem, we’re told,  spend all our money, because  that spending supports the Levites, who have no possessions.  We must see (re-eh) them and help them, or it’s no celebration.  This command to celebrate actually repeats a few verses later in 12:12.    Joyful sharing of food is among our tradition’s most powerful attributes.  Art Green writes that any mitzvah done with joy carries, elevates the one who does it.

The world is like a wedding feast the Talmud teaches. Like good guests at the wedding, we are there to rejoice over everything at once. We love the music, the dancing… (what else? )

And the wedding between God, and us needs songs of love. Each day in the month of Elul, to this end, we sing psalm 27, by David. We sang this part, Achat Sha-alti

One thing I ask of You, Adonai,

only this do I seek

That I may dwell, dwell in Your house

All the days of my life

And gaze on the beauty,  of You, Adonai

and visit Your holy abode

What is weird about these lyrics?  The psalmist asks only one thing: but it’s huge – to dwell with God every day! But how and where do you do this and still remain alive?  Another weird thing, in the first lyric, the psalmist wishes to dwell, but in the next to visit? What is going on here? Rabbi Simcha Raz offers that there’s no contradiction between dwelling a visiting. The psalmist knows that to live every day would give even God’s house the invisibility of habit!     Re-eh – see, be aware! says our Torah portion!  So he wishes for the fresh eye of the visitor even while dwelling.

But why aren’t we asking for forgiveness, or mercy in the psalm we read this month? Rachel Kahn Troster offers that rather than asking God’s protection from the terrors of his life, the psalmist knows that being in God’s presence is all the protection he needs. The psalmist has been abandoned by those closest to him and he does not want God to leave him.  We have the right to “demand”  that God be present in our lives, Troster says, “it’s our right as G-d’s creation”. In other words, we want God’s attention “re-eh” we demand – notice me!  But maybe there’s more.  What does it mean to want to dwell in the house of God? Perhaps for our souls to fill up on hope that this indwelling is possible! But how? The only way must be  to make this earth God’s abode: beautiful and kind and just, that’s the way we can dwell in God’s house!

A poem mashup I did this week:
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. And it sings the tune without words, and it never stops at all… ~Emily Dickenson           A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ~Maya Angelou

A storyAdapted from R’ Dov Peretz Elkins Jewish Stories from Heaven and Earth:

Life in Spain in 1492 was made impossible for Jews. The Inquisition under the hated Torquemada raged as a Jews were rounded up to burn. Many remained Jews in secret, lighting Shabbat candles in damp, dark cellars. There were spies everywhere. Elul was upon them, and secret Jews yearned to hear to traditional call of the shofar to fulfill the Mitzvah and celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  They were so sad, they knew this was impossible.  But then, a rumor began to circulate on the streets of Barcelona “Come to the Concert Hall on Rosh Hashana, and Shh, keep it quiet”   There would be a special concert to honor Church and govt. officials. The Concert Hall, on Rosh Hashanah? When we yearned for the synagogue? Oh well, at least it’ll show Torquemada we have no ties left to Judaism.  In a soft whisper came the reply “just go, you won’t be disappointed”.  The day arrived, and the hall was filled to capacity. Spanish royalty there were pleased. The full house, they thought, was due to the famous composer Don Fernando Aguilar. What the royalty did not know was that Aguilar himself was a Morano, a secret Jew!.\ He’d announced that on this special night a concert presentation would feature instrumental music of various world cultures, highlighing unusual instruments.  At the very crescendo of one very moving piece came the shofar sounds, in full keeping with tradition: sh’varim, truah! tekiya g’dolah!  None of the royalty guessed at the significance of the sounds, or how deeply meaningful those sounds were to their secret Jewish companions. All the Terrible Inquisitors were present, all heard but none understood. Why did the Jews risk their very lives to listen to the call of the shofar?

Perhaps the shofar calls across time. Perhaps it is the call of hope that lives in us always. Perhaps it helps us to “live in the house of the Eternal”  We don’t have answers, but we have our song, and always hope, even in darkest times.

The very next Rosh Chodesh will be Rosh Hashanah. But tonight is the new moon in the month of love collides with Shabbat & shooting stars: Wow!

God philosophy

G-d does not want to be believed in,to be debated and defended by us, but simply to be realized through us. ~Martin Buber

How’s your summer been? I’ve had an amazing summer filled with lots of learning and new songs, not to mention the fabulous weather here in New Jersey. I attended Ruach Ha-aretz and studied philosophy with Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. Reb Laura is among the most skilled teachers I’ve met, and studying with her was absolute joy. We studied God concepts of medieval philosophies of various faiths, notably Ibn Gabirol, Aristotle & Plato, Saint Anthony, Maimonides among others. It turns out that every of these philosophers despised anthropomorphic representations of G-d! God is just something really different from this. Following the Middle Ages, Reb Laura taught, some faiths got busy honing down a creed of what their folks should believe about God. This didn’t happen in Judaism, possibly due to lack of center after Jerusalem destroyed. So is it better to leave the question of G!d’s nature unspoken and unexplored? I find this to often be the case in synagogues. This is not a good thing. The assumption is that when I say G!d, I mean the big guy with the white beard (and white skin) in the sky. The pediatric, incredibly anthropomorphic, white, male-centered myth that some folks believe in, (or so I’m told). Reb Zalman z”l in Jewish with Feeling said “that G-d that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either!” It’s so important to try, to struggle with the concept of God to to even begin any sort of spiritual conversation. At the end of the week in philosophy class, each student wrote down a personal concept of God, three of which were chosen (by one of us) to act out a God panel. We grilled one “God” who was “beyond understanding” and that actor replied in ways we could not understand! It was so much fun, so cathartic. I asked Reb. Laura “can we do this in real life?” and she replied, “don’t we?”
So I am taking the time to express my understanding of the inexpressible, undefinable, which is God. Now, I realize my concept may differ from yours, which is OK. But to shy from the attempt and the struggle is not OK, and to strive is perhaps quite ennobling: after all, it was the obsession of all those philosophers.
God is the Relational, Creative Power of the Universe.
I know this because:
in science, it is simple fact that when components of any system (creature, atom, etc) come into proper relationship, new levels of existence appear. One Biology text I use terms this “emergent properties”, which makes it appear not to be the total and complete magic that it is. There simply is a “thing” in the universe, which is creative, but only operates when things are interacting with one another properly.
So that hamster which died a moment ago has all the same organs, tissues, cells, DNA, proteins, etc as it did before, but they are no longer interacting as they were. And so the feature “life” is no longer present. Wow. Life is what happens in the space between. And all existence. Yes, the entropy inexorably  pulls on it, until the hamster dies, but its life was an incredibly unlikely, outrageous event in the first place. As is consciousness, and family and community and love.
And what is Torah if not an expounding of what is proper relationship? Sometimes it’s a lesson in what not to do, a cautionary tale.  But “all its paths are peace”, as my teacher, Eleanor Epstein reminded me: you’re just interpreting incorrectly if the path leads elsewhere. So what is this relationship that Torah instructs us in?  Always it is love. Between humans, between humans and creation, between humans and this creative thread that runs through the universe we call God.
You cannot see love, or relationship, or interaction between parts. But you can experience these things, and know that existence depends upon it, and, as the second half of Adon Olam tells us, resonate with God and be strengthened by the connection. The whole universe is within us: in our materials, in our energy, and in the potential to be loving and creative as God is.  Without this the universe is unrelieved entropy, which is the thing that makes time move only forward, and forests burn, and the glass shatter into a thousand pieces, and hearts as well.
So, for me, God has been the Relational, Creative Power of the Universe.
I could abbreviate it RCPU. But I’ll just call it God. (or Love?)

What’s your concept or code word for God?

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