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I begin with a favorite story, I learned from R’ Ed Feinstein’s Capture the Moon

Story of Heaven and Hell

Meir was such a noble man in life, always a kind word and act. After a long illness, He was not ery surprised one day to wake up and find that he had died! Where are we” Asked Meir to the malach that was near “You were such a mentsh, I was instructed to ask you where you’d like to go for the afterlife” said the malach.  “Can I see first” asked Meir. “Very well” So they got into an elevator and descended for what seemed a very long time. Suddenly the elevator filled with the aromas of delicious foods. The door opened to reveal banquet tables filled with steaming posts of stews and soups, piled high with steaming hot platters of deliciousness. Yet the people there were gaunt, emaciated , sick and wailing a most terrible sound rose from some, whimpers from others.

It seems that very long-handled spoons were the only way to access the food, which would frustratingly spill as the people tried to feed themselves. Such hunger, the frustration of the falling morsels.

This is hell, explained the malach.

Oh, said Meir!

May I see the other place?

And so the elevator rose higher and higher until once again the aroma of delicious food began to seep into the car.

The door opened once again to a scene of banquet tables set the very same way, Once again the only tools were extremely long handled spoons. But this time the people were smiling, singing, laughing, and a look of great health glowed from them.

Can you figure out what made the difference?

Yes, in this place they fed one another!

This is heaven, explained the malach.

I believe we make earth a heaven and hell during our lives

This wonderful tale makes it easy to understand how acts of chesed help create a heaven here on earth, and lack of them create hell

Bechukotai is a parashah of blessings and curses: Blessings if we follow G!d’s ways, curses if we ignore the ways of Mitzvah, not of chesed. So which is it, mitzvah or chesed. And what’s the difference?

There’s a TV show my kids introduced me to called “The Good Place”  (spoiler alert next these 2 paragraphs) Eleanor wakes up in the afterlife in a place masquerading as heaven, but it’s a personally designed hell. There are four mortals in this particular hell, which they turn into heaven by helping one another time after time, and even falling in love, It’s a modern version of the fable.

But at the end of last season it turns out that no souls have gone to the real Good place for hundreds of years due to the unintended consequences of the technology and the way we live our lives – each morsel of food travels 1500 miles to reach our mouths, and uses fossil fuels to get there. There’s industrial farming that’s harmed the earth too. I don’t know how it’ll continue!

Perhaps the difference between mitzvah and chesed is to be found here: Mitzvah includes our relationship with the earth as well as other human beings.

One of the verses read today : chapter 27

In the jubilee year the land shall revert to him from whom it was bought,

We hear again and again of the Yovel, Jubilee

In last week’s parashah, Behar,(chapter 25) we hear of the Yovel, Jubilee, Keratem droor b’artzchem, proclaim liberty throughout the land for all the inhabitants, not only for humans. On Shabbat, Shmitah and Jubilee, the earth itself shall be heard, and honored and the farm animals and the wild animals too. Though we read of it last week, the Yovel pops up again and again in this week’s parashah. I think it is crucially connected to the blessings and curses.

As we have Shabbat here today, the land is also to have a Shabbat, a shmitah and a yovel.

But we are not listening to, or honoring the land or its creatures.

Instead, we are taking it all, every day, every year. Everything we do from the moment we wake up has consequences for the earth. If we let continue the ways we have started, we will create a hell, we are creating a hell on earth. A world of injustice with chasms growing wider between haves and have nots. Further a world of global warming, of storms and fires and droughts and rising seas.

We are running out of time. There are fewer and fewer wildernesses, and wild creatures. Our home that gives us food and water and air is burning as we burn fossil fuels, and the curses of Behukotai are becoming very real. There are solutions, but not the will, or in this country even the awareness to act. According to R’ Arthur Waskow, these are consequences predicted in Torah, the land taking its rest by harsh curse

From R’ Arthur Waskow’s Shema

If you hush’sh and then listen,
yes hush’sh and then listen
to the teachings of YHWH/ Yahh,
the One Breath of Life,
that the world is One,
all its parts intertwined,
then the rains will fall
Time by time,…
The rivers will run,
the heavens will smile,
the good earth will fruitfully feed you.

But if you turn away,
chop the world into parts
and choose parts to worship —
gods of race or of nation,
gods of wealth and of power,
gods of greed and addiction;

If you Do and you Make,
and Produce without pausing;
If you Do without Being —

Then the rain will not fall,
or will turn to sharp acid;
The rivers won’t run,
or flood homes and cities;
The heavens themselves
will take arms against you:
the ozone will fail you,
the oil that you burn
will scorch your whole planet
and from the good earth
that the Breath of Life gives you,
you will vanish;
yes, perish.

But can Mitzvah then and chesed that can make a Heaven on Earth?  Yes these, but with one more important, simple, beautiful way: it’s through the children, making the world better for them, that we can make this world a Heaven. Judaism’s focus is on the children after all. The very worst curse in the parashah is that we will consume our own children! Moses says the reason for the miracles of Pesach are so that you can tell your children on that day…

And it turns out, the children are doing their part! There is a wonderful lesson in a young teen in Sweden by the name of Greta Thunberg, here on the TED stage, who was so upset when she learned about climate change that she, at first, stopped talking, or going to school. She then decided to launch a lone protest as action. This protest has sparked tens of thousands of children to raise their voices in school strikes around the world

And what can we do about it individually?

All we can do is… all we can do. That is our worth as a human being

In today’s parashah we learn that there is a shekel value to each life, of a man or woman!

Lev 27:1

Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When anyone explicitly vows to YHVH the equivalent for a human being,

Woah, that caught my eye – what could be the equivalent to a human being?

Isn’t each soul worth the whole world?

In Kaballah and Ecology, Rabbi David.M Seidenberg there is a rich discussion of human value due to having the tzelem Elohim – the image of God within us.

“For my sake the world was created” from Bavli, a comment about the G-d fearing individual “R’Shimon ben Azai says… The whole entire world was not created except to join to this one/ l’tzavot l’zeh”

Siedenberg interprets: The world was created to become connected with the righteous ones of humanity. Connection, more than hierarchy, characterizes humanity’s unique place in relationship to the rest of Creation…

And according to a Hasidic teaching Simchah Bunam, one must always have two slips of paper, one in each pocket “The world was created for my sake” in one pocket, and “I am dust and ashes” in the other pocket, for balance

R’ Nachman of Breslov explained..”since the world was only created for my sake, I need to see and look into repairing the world, tiqun olam, at every moment to fill the needs of the world.

And humans are not the only creatures with value or tzelem and our value lies in connection

How do you measure the worth of a human being?

I found more insight from the song “Heaven’s Eyes” from the animate movie A Prince in Egypt

A single thread in a tapestry
Through its color brightly shines
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design
And the stone that sits on the very top, Of the mountain’s mighty face
Does it think it’s more important
Than the stones that form the base?
So how can you see what your life is worth

Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man
You must look at your life
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes
Lai le lai lai lee lai lai

And how do you measure the worth of a man, in wealth or strength or size,   By how much he’s gained or how much he gave?

The answer will come, If you look at yourself through heaven’s eyes.

When I look at my life through heaven’s eyes I know my value lies in connection and in doing what I can to make the world better for the children. I pray that with God’s help I can.   I pray,  use me! For Chesed, Mitzvah, with an eye toward the children.


We can bear witness to the Love that unifies our world.

I do Yoga. This week in Yoga, my teacher, Maria taught meditation, and explained that awareness of the breath of life entering and leaving our bodies each moment makes us mindful, makes us witnesses. Immediately my attention popped up, wow, just like the Shema, the Jewish prayer of God’s One-ness, in which the two enlarged letters spell out “witness” But what does our breath have to do with the Unity of the Universe?  This oxygen we breathe in, is created by photosynthesis of plants, algae and some microbes from splitting water molecules, they breathe us into existence (R’ Arthur Waskow’s phrasing) and we exhale Carbon dioxide, breathing them into existence. The oxygen itself was forged in the stardust (supernova) that created all the elements heavier than hydrogen that we’re made up of- another unifying force. And it’s through oxygen that we can capture our life’s energy, a unifying of our material and energy needs.

In my life, and in the Shema Love is the unifying force. Listen to my Meditation on the Shema, inspired by R’ Marcia Prager’s workshop at DLTI here if you like.

Listen, breathe, be a witness to the wonder of it all, then use that energy to correct all that’s not wonder-ful, that needs fixing. But it begins by quieting the mind and soul, listening to our breath, our heart beating in rhythm, to nature’s rhythms, and then, having the courage and strength to listen to the discord which threatens the harmony.

A morning prayer which I wrote for DLTI this past February  begins with a verse from Hafiz, the medieval poet. I was honored  that Hazzan Jack Kessler played the melody on cello so beautifully to begin this Shacharit Sunday morning service.

Awake my dear, be kind to your sleeping heart (2x) (to listen on soundcloud)

Take it out into the vast fields of light (!) (2x)

and let    it    breathe

Baruch ata Adonai Elohenu, Ruach ha-olam

I am grateful for this body’s life, for it’s wonderous workings

Every moment

For my time

I am grateful for the breath I take, for inspiration

Now I am awake

For the thrumming of my heartstrings,

Resonating with all life

For You   I sing!




Here we are, stuck in between Thanksgiving and Chanukah. Stuck between generosity and materialism, It’s giving me an identity crisis! Who are we? What are our gifts, our talents, passions? What are they for?

First, Thanksgiving I was blessed to have two of my children, (we facetimed with kid #3). My son just returned to college – and it’s always been away from home that he finds who he is, that he finds out what his talents are and his passions – coming home more mature

My eldest child quit a good paying job to return to school to be a social worker. Working 60 or 70 hour weeks chasing dollars did not leave her fulfilled. And she told me something interesting – that she felt pressure to do just this – that hard work and dollars are how our society defines success. The material American dream? – Americans suffer from the highest rate of mental illness. According to our tradition, we are entitled to find sustenance, but to then find fulfillment, we should find our gifts and talents and give them away – to make people happy, to make the world better because we are here. And then you finally find out who you are.

And that’s exactly what our tradition teaches us in Vayishlach, this week’s parashah.

Our story is about a Jacob returning, coming home. But it’s also about us: we are the house of Jacob, the children of Israel, it’s our struggle and transformation too. Jacob has spent all his youth as a heel grabber. Born the younger son in a time when that meant big brother would get more than him, he does not know literally who he is. Masquerading as his brother, he deceives his father particularly with his voice and his hands.  He steal a blessing and a birthright. But nstead of getting it all, he loses everything – scared and alone he leaves his destined homeland, and that’s when he begins to find himself: he dreams and finds God in the wilderness.  And now on his own, he ironically gets what he wanted to steal, this time working for it: wealth, a woman he loves (and 3 more besides), children. But the time has come that Jacob finally has to go home, finally face what he’s run away from.

But how can he go home – his brother Esau is coming to meet him with 400 armed men? Jacob left Canaan full only of himself but is returning with so much to lose: his wealth and loved ones.  He’s terrified, and so we get a rare prayer in the Torah. Jacob prays: hatzileni na m’yad achi, save me from my brother’s hand. Ironically it’s the wool on the back of his hand that helped the lie – father Isaac is blind and, so Jacob had dressed up in his brother’s clothes, and sheepskin on his arms. And his voice: Who are you my son: I am Esau your firstborn Isaac lies. Father Isaac says “ha kol kol Yaakov, v’ ha yadayim y’dai Esav” and now he prays to be saved from that hand. Jacob will split his camp in two, and wait behind as night falls on the banks of the river Jabbok. He will wrestle with a mysterious stranger. Is it his conscience, his brother, an angel, God? We’ll never know. The stranger wrestles with him all night and dislocates his hip, a very painful injury, and since the hip’s not placed back, a permanent disability – he’ll limp. The stranger mysteriously begs for Jacob to let him go, for the dawn is breaking. Jacob says “not till you bless me” Instead of a blessing Jacob gets a new name – Yisrael, God-wrestler….  But Jacob’s new name will only partly stick – he’ll be Israel sometimes, Jacob at others.

In the morning, humbled, and limping to his brother, he now knows that his gifts are for giving away, and he lavishses gifts of livestock on his brother, and introduces his family, relatives Esau never knew he had. (except for daughter Dina, who midrash says is hidden in a box!) And he gives his brother what he never could before the gift of honor. Bowing low he says seeing his brother’s face is like seeing the face of God. Now, after twenty years, he can go home, and he can know who he is, by giving  not by taking. He had to wrestle first and be hurt, and be humbled to be get to this place – the first time brothers forgive in Torah.

So we give it away – our time volunteer, do tzedakah, know that giving away is good, consider  a day of Tzedakah gifts this Chanukah. And we give our grown children away to the world to their live their lives–it’s hard, but if we do it well, they come home again. And so much family drama this time of year – but there can be forgiveness, and generosity if you can see the divine in their face. I offer this song: My Brother’s Hand to tell the story of Jacob





My Brother’s Hand. M. Wolfson for Vayishlach

Intro, freely

Who am I, what makes me who I am?

Is it the taking, is it the scheming and the plans?    




Who am I, am I the truth or the lie

The child of Isaac and Rebecca am I

Am I the dreamer of a ladder to the sky

Or the deceiver, stealing blessings from the blind.

I must now return to Canaan land

Somehow face the lies I left behind.


You must go now, he cannot find you here

It’s I alone must stay behind I fear

Do you remember how we met my sweet Rachel

I first found my voice by that old well

My cry of love rose up to the skies

Now my very life is in your eyes

Fears swallows me, am I unworthy?

And I suspect my brother will kill me




It is so dark, the hour of danger’s near

Who goes there now, what do you want of me

I will hold you back, fight with all my might

The pain is great but I will hold on tight

I won’t let you go though dawn will break

You can turn my pain to blessing great



You will be born anew this day, a new name now shall be yours

Yisrael as you wrestle with God

Hoping to find healing that endures

A humbled heart and a limping pace will help you find your brother’s embrace

He’s a child of prophesy too, Look with your heart, you’ll see God in his face


Who am I, Yisrael or Yaakov?

I found my voice only when I found love,

and my hands have found the good grace to give,

Now I can begin again to live.

no longer will I live  a lie.

But when will I ever know: who am I?


Vayera 2017

Sometimes it’s spooky how much Torah reflects and informs my life. When I found out I was writing this drash, 2 nights ago, I went home and read the parashah. That night I couldn’t sleep, it felt like the “Torah fairy” visited me and made all these connections to the past week in my life.   What a week it’s been! Last Friday I saw the film maker Ken Burns over at Brookdale.  I was on the edge of my seat for the whole presentation. One of the things he said will always be with me. He said he was a huge fan of Lincoln, calling him “the bees knees” He said that biographers have tried to see Lincoln as just an ordinary human being with the same failings as us all, but have had a hard time: Lincoln is just more than the sum of his parts. Ken said everything great is more than the sum of its parts, our loves and passions, and then he said the thing that caught my ear: that distance between the sum and more than the sum, that’s the most interesting part! Then he went on to say he thinks that space is where we place our ideals and hopes.  I teach this same concept introducing each term in biology, that life is, on each level more than the sum of its parts, The text calls that “emergent properties” I call it magic. More than the sum, maybe that’s the most interesting part, that’s where God is. I travelled to Virginia later that day to be with my brother. We saw a movie: Into the Wild. Halloween came, Tuesday along with, a tragedy in New York. Wednesday marked the birthday of my first born Sara. Thursday night at the sisterhood meeting I listened to an outrageous act of hospitality when Rachel MacAulay told of how she flew to Florida to volunteer with Nechamah rebuilding the homes of strangers. She needed to help personally in fixing this tragedy, and to meet some of the souls whose lives were so damaged.

Is a remarkably mirror to the week’s parashah, Vayera. When it opens Abram had just been given new names, Adding the “hey” from God’s name to form the names Abraham and Sarah. They have been transformed to more than the sum of their parts – the difference –that’s where God is. There are acts of outrageous hospitality where both Abraham and Lot run to three passing travelers, strangers who turn out to me messengers of the most High.  And Sarah’s first born, named Isaac is born, just as my daughter was born. If there is anything more transformative than becoming a parent for the first time I don’t know what it is. Suddenly you care more for that tiny bundle of joy and tears and the like, more than you ever thought possible, holding a bundle of forever in your hands

Abe and Sarah have been promised children, descendants as many as the stars – they want desperately to have a child, and it seems they may be too old. I think many of us can understand that longing. And yet In this parashah that child that they hoped so much for will almost die by Abe’s own hand. Raising the question, can we really change, be transformed to more than the sum?

This parashah in fact repeats many of the same strange faults of Abraham as last week, but whenever we find repeats in Torah, look for the differences, I’ve been taught. Once again Sarah is taken by a foreign king and Abe tells her “Say I’m your brother” (This masquerade reminded me of Halloween) But this time Abe stops to explain, they apparently really are related. Once again Sarah is worried about Hagar and Abe sends Hagar and their child Ishmael out in the desert with a little bread and a skin of water. But this time instead of washing his hands, metaphorically, and telling Sarah to do as she likes, he’s troubled, and asks God’s advice. Abe is told “whatever Sarah tells you is what you must do” and he acts in that faith and indeed Hagar and Ishmael are OK. The Discussion with God over Sodom perhaps also gives Abe faith that God is just –enough for a fearful man to trust. Sodom may be a turning point.  And then there’s Sodom – whose cries reached out to God and is the reason those messengers were sent. I wondered who cried out, if all were evil. Their evil reminded me of the killings of the bikers and pedestrians that happened again, this time in NYC.  And I wonder, where is our transformation as a society? We can be so much better than that

Oh and that movie I saw – Into the Wild, about a young man looking for “truth” and maybe for God who renames himself Alexander Supertramp and roams the countryside and cities with a goal of ditching people to be one on one with the great Alaskan wilderness. But it’s on his travels that he becomes like those messengers from the parashah. Given hospitality by a “hippie” couple who were troubled by the woman son’s abandonment, he helps them heal. Given hospitality by an old man played by the great Hal Holbrook, he helps heal a man who lost his wife and son decades ago and withdrew from life.  It is in these interactions that families, communities, individuals can be more than the sum of their parts. That’s what Torah is all about – relationships and the space between, and the possibility to be more than the sum of our parts – That space between, if we let it happen is where God is. It’s spooky (!) how much Torah can reflect on and inform our life. Torah is more than the sum of it’s parts too. Abraham, feet of clay and all, has faith, and is more than the sum of his parts. Ultimately he is the father of both the Arabs and the Israelites, a father loved, and blessed, the light of Yisrael: Avraham Avinu

Avraham Avinu/ There is Hope  (David Paskin) mash up,

Avraham avinu padre querido, padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael (2x)

There is hope, there is healing, there is peace, there is blessing.

When the waters are wide, and you can’t reach the other side

When your courage runs dry

There is hope, there is healing, there is peace, there is blessing

What you try to endure when the future’s unsure, believe in something more.  David Paskin

As a biology teacher I can totally relate to Noah connecting to animals more than humans sometimes, they love you unconditionally, they are straight forward. I love animals, almost all types, maybe not ticks and mosquitoes. I am the advisor for the animal club at College where I work, and we try to raise funds for animals in need from the flooding and hurricanes this season – oh wait that sounds like Noah!

What could it be to inspire Noah amidst all the violence of his generation to walk with God instead of his companions, and to take in all those stray animals?  I propose that the force was love. He was in love with the ideals of life, with nature probably, with the Potential for Goodness and Creativity, even in terrible and violent times. In other words Noah was in love with God.  And this inspired him to listen to that voice when it told him to build a boat, even though he was on dry land, and to take in all those stray animals. The animals just came to him, and he took them in. It was his destiny, and he was open to it, though it seemed to others to be strange. And that boat became a link in time for life itself,  was the bridge between heaven and earth. We’ll read in a couple of weeks that Jacob’s ladder is seen as the place where heaven and earth touch, but isn’t the rainbow that bridge also? It specifically says that although the bow is in the sky, the covenant is with the earth. My yoga teacher, Maria this morning spoke of chakras and said that love, and the heart are that bridge between heaven and earth, and I totally rewrote my drash.

One of my students this past Sunday asked me if Noah story was real. I told Jack that there actually have been five mass extinctions on this planet, where life had to start over with a tiny remnant. For the Animal club last year I gave a presentation on climate change and the dying of Australia’s great barrier reef. The coral reef is the nursery of the sea, so many other creatures depend upon it including the fish that we rely on for food. In Parashat Noach God makes a covenant, a sacred deal with Noah.  Genesis Chapter 9  I will make my covenant with you, and all life will never be cut short by the waters of a flood. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth..This is a sign that I give for the covenant between Me, you and every living creature that is with you for all generations….I will place my bow in the cloud and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. I will then remember the brit (covenant)

Why does God make this particular covenant, and what is our human part of the deal?

Perhaps this large scale destruction by drowning violates a code of Holiness based on separation that we find in Torah. For example at the end of Shabbat we perform Havdallah which means “separation”. Earlier this year, as I led a Havdallah at a Jewish retreat and questioned “Why do we thank our God of One-ness for separation? My teacher, Reb Marcia Prager, answered me that without separation “I can’t say I love you” and that, by the way God also creates bridges!   There’s really a lot of instances where separation creates holiness in Torah: –we separate meat from life-giving milk, and life from death. Creation itself began by separations: light from dark, water from dry land. Holiness can perhaps be defined as a separateness. But in floods, water is out of control and drowns, becoming an agent of death and decay. Water, the elixir of life, the grower of food, the cleanser, a bringing death?! I think that’s why God’s promise is not to destroy with flood waters – it’s too perverse a mixture. The covenant creates separation! Finally the rainbow itself is created by separation, droplets in the sky are what cause rainbows,  water acts as the prism to separate the colors that are hidden, from the mix of white light.

And what is our part of the covenant: I am sure we must be like Noah, caring for the creatures of the earth, and to be wary of the violence that fills our world or it will drown and devour us.  We know what we should be doing, but rushing on in our busy lives to acquire the newest things and out-compete others, do we forget to look up to the sky for rainbows?

An Armenian tale I recently fell in love with about our destiny and finding Joy  I learned from Daniel Schwartz’ book “Finding Joy”

There once was an orphan boy, so poor he had to work hard each day, barefoot in the fields. In his despair he wondered why, was it his destiny to be so miserable, or was there something more he could look forward to?  Hearing that the Messiah was seen outside the gates of a far city, he undertook a quest – a difficult journey to ask his question. On the way he encountered a ragged looking wolf. Where are you going? Asked the wolf, and he told him.  If you find the messiah can you ask him a question and bring me back the answer? Yes, promised the boy. Why must I always be so incredibly hungry all the time? the wolf wanted to know. OK, I will ask.  He continued on his way and met a beautiful but sad and lonely young maiden.  Can you ask the Messiah for me, how can I find a worthy young man so I won’t be so lonely? she asked.  He promised. Next the young man found a large tree and rested under it. It was near a brook, and although some of its leaves were green, some branches held dry leaves. Can you ask the Messiah why I am so thirsty though I grow near a stream? And the boy promised. Finally after many long and difficult months, the boy found his messiah! Please, can you tell me if I am destined to be in misery? asked the boy.  I will answer you because of your youth and persistence. It is not your destiny to be miserable if you will only take advantage of the opportunities life brings your way, you can find great happiness, answered the holy man. Overjoyed, the young man remember the questions of the tree, the princess and the wolf and  ran back home to find his new luck. He stopped once again under the shade of the dying tree. “Did you ask the Messiah my question?” Queried the tree. Oh yes, said the boy, long ago when you were a sapling a wealthy man buried a treasure in a large box between your roots and the stream.  Well, then said the tree, dig it up and you shall be wealthy and I will quench my thirst!  Sorry, said the boy, I must run home to find my luck.  And the boy ran on, and the tree dried up and died.  After awhile the boy happened upon the maiden. Did you ask the messiah my question? she asked.  Oh yes, said the boy, he said that one day a handsome traveler will wander by and you will not be lonely any more. Marvelous, said the princess, you are so handsome, perhaps we could be happy together! Sorry, said the boy, I must run on to find my destiny. And the princess looked on helplessly as the young man ran on. Finally, the young man found the wolf. Did you ask the Messiah my question? Oh yes, sad the boy, your destiny is not to be hungry. He said that one day a fool will come your way that does not understand about wasting opportunity, and you will know what to do. And the wolf’s hunger and the foolish young man were no more

I think the treasure is Torah, and her laws of kindness, the young maiden is love and I think the ravenous wolf in the story is war and violence.  I also know in my heart that our destiny is to find happiness and joy.  But to do that we must respond as life puts challenges before us, not have blinders on, and to listen to our ancient wisdom, and look to the heavens, and know that only through love can we be, like Noah, a place where heaven and earth meet.

Heaven and Earth, by Craig Taubman

I don’t know where, I don’t know how, maybe later, maybe now,

but somewhere, heaven and earth meet

Perhaps it’s only in a dream, never to be found or be seen

But somewhere, heaven and earth meet

We stop to think of miracles of better days to come

Perhaps we’re just too close to see

The miracle is you and me

I want to believe in a better day

I want to believe, I want to believe

I want to believe in a better way

And I want to believe that heaven and earth touch some place

Here are some of my past insights to Noach: Flooded and Rainbows and Prisms


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.

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