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Archive for November, 2012



So often it’s only the object we see and not the spaces in between, but this star above is created by both. So often in life it’s the things we focus on: the job, the car the tv, you know, THE THINGS. But, I think the real meaning is in the spaces in between, the relationship. The spaces are not empty, but buzzing with the possibility of creation, it’s the place where love lives, maybe it’s where God is.

So lots of things exist in the spaces in between, life for example. It’s not the organs in your body that make for life, it’s the interactions they do – that’s what stops the moment after a creature dies.  Also it turns out in physics that the empty space between “things” isn’t empty, that it is filled with dark energy, and that as the universe expands, this energy increases, sending the universe hurtling ever outward ( if you’re interested).  Also it turns out that the space between things is filled with a Higgs field, and that it’s the interaction of photons with this field that makes things real, gives them mass, (I think!)

Parts add up to more than the sum, the interaction, if correct, births new levels of existence: in the universe, in biology, in our lives and communities. Perhaps that’s  where Torah speaks loudest love your friend as you love yourself, honor your parents – it’s all about interaction that forms caring, beautiful communities in which we can live and raise our children.  Which brings us to the story of Jacob. Jacob’s been a heel grabber all his life, striving, by trickery if need be, for what he cannot have – to be better and get more than his twin brother. But one day all that evaporates, and he is sent into the wilderness. I don’t know about you, but it’s how I felt in the aftermath of the storm – without power things were more basic and clearer. With his ego just a little dimmed, he lies down.  Dreaming is a space in between, so is night. Urgently he needs solidity, a Rock (!) is his pillow and he dreams of the ultimate connection, the ultimate in relationship, a ladder who’s feet is on solid ground, but whose tip reaches into the heavens, and there, are messengers/ angels going up and going down.  The thing is, these connections are always there, but we need the insights to see them – our egos must get out of the way.  and Jacob wakes, God was in this place and I, i did not know. He might have walked right on by the very gate of heaven, maybe we do each day. and those angels go up first. Jacob’s still not there yet, making a bargain with God, he just doesn’t get it – he doesn’t ever climb that ladder! But he is changed, perhaps into someone who can enter into relationship. The next thing he will do is roll the boulder off the well, kiss his sweet Rachel, and cry out in the anguish of love. When he leaves this in between place to return to Canaan, he will enter into a wrestling relationship with a mysterious stranger. He will be shared between two wives, four women, even his sheep will be a mix between colors. But it all begins with that ladder, the ultimate connection, relationship, space between, filled with rungs to connect. But WHAT ARE THE STEPS MADE OF?  musical harmonies, perhaps (a beautiful form of interaction)? our acts of lovingkindness? certainly! yet another form of connection. chime in: what are the steps made of? would you make the climb? Where is that place in YOUR life where heaven and earth meet, and what must you dream to see it?

This song came out this morning:  Between

Take my hand and help me climb, I’ve been in the depths below; don’t know why I’m here among all these broken hearts,               ok It’s my own heart that’s been so hollow I’ll admit.  how can climb? help me look beyond my own four walls

Life happens in the space between and there are angels going up and going down.

You are that angel, inspiring me to climb to the heights of hope and mystery

Ev’ry rung is made of love, and gravity helps me to return the favor done me

And Jacob, he dreamed in the wilderness, needing that rock desp’rately; always climbing, dreaming of being his brother’s best, to defeat fist to word; But Jacob don’t you know it’s brothers that we need,    ……chorus….

Bridge: Maybe between is all we ever have, between heaven and earth, between  death and birth, Between you and me it’s love that’s the best, helps us find our way in the wilderness

But Jacob never climbs that ladder, his between. so did he miss the point of his great dream? God was in this place and I didn’t know, Next thing he’s rolling that old rock off a water well, kissing his sweet Rachel; and wrestling makes a space between two  brothers                     …chorus…


Listen to your Voice

“Who are you?” Isaac asks of his son, Jacob. The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands….  But then Isaac doesn’t listen to the voice, doesn’t hear his son. Who are we?  do we listen to our own voice, to the voice of others, really listen? what defines us? In this Torah portion a mother commands her son to listen to my voice
and her son does listen, dressing in his brother’s clothes. Sense of smell and touch combine to conquer the sound of a voice, and deception results.

So often it is the sound of something that moves us most – of melody, harmony and rhythm of music, or the primal, intense cry of a voice in pain or awe or fear or love, that can speak most powerfully to us. The Torah is chanted, not read because the voice of  melody speaks louder than words.  There are many interesting voices and melodies for characters in the drama of Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Esav in musical notation symbolized near each word of the drama.  In the introduction to this portion, both mother Rebecca  and Esav, the hunter-child are sung in the lonely chant of 5 descending notes -perhaps indicating a stand-alone leader. Isaac, whose name means laughter, finally laughs, or plays, in this portion (with his wife!) His tune is a linking, circular melody. Jacob’s melodies are a mix, but gains the leadership melody after trickery helps him to gain the birthright. Esav is attuned to his hunger and fatigue, sacrificing to those passions, unable to hear what he’s giving away. We hear his voice  of anguish when his blessing’s been stolen. Listen to my voice, says Mother Rivka, I will take your curse upon myself , but perhaps it is Jacob that bears the curses, the karma of the deception in his life. Why is this my life- lama zeh anochi? cries out the voice of Rivka to God, when the pain in her pregnancy cues her in to the battling of her twins in the womb. So many voices for us to listen to here, and in our own lives. They will help us to figure out the answer to Isaac’s question: who are you, my son?  A beautiful song about listening to who we really are by Todd Herzog  is called Listen Close It links listening to finding who you really are.

Listen close to the whispers, they will help you to remember, who you are and who you came here to be.

Listen close and you will hear Me, in your heart I’m always with you,

In the silence I’m the only voice you’ll hear.

Coming Together in an Aftermath

The routines resumed this week and last after the hurricane at both of the schools where I teach   But it was not routine, it  felt changed, and charged with emotion. One emotion I think we all shared was gratefulness to be back together, and to learning and teaching. At the community college, in each all and class: “How did you fare? and your family?” was shared by all. After the extraordinary, an enormous need to reach out to those who share our lives, and shared this experience. For all there was a powerful drive to be of some help in the face of disruption. I have never been moved to offer my home to any student if they had no place to sleep before, but I did last week. I heard stories of lives swept to the waves, and homes filled with mud, and waters sweeping over the hoods of trucks of fleeing people. Teens and adults volunteering to tear down saturated sheet rock, and tend tos the elderly in shelters.

I also had the privilege of connecting with children in the Hebrew school I where I teach.  I’d seen many of them cooking pasta for or sorting donations and bringing them to shelters and distribution centers the previous week when school was closed. They’d been in the midst of powerful change and responded with empathy and with action. They all had stories to tell one another about their experiences, and their neighbors. The tree that came through the living room, the cafeteria aid who died when a tree hit her car, the friend living in a hotel because their home was gone. They’d all been affected, and were reaching out to communicate with one another. You could feel a strong cohesion of share emotion and experience and clarity. So while gathered in our assembly I led them in this song, explaining that by reaching out to one another at this time they were praying, healing, giving, and forming a holy community, Kehilah kedoshah in Hebrew. The lyrics come from the Torah portion Netzavim, which begins  Atem N’tzavim: “You are all standing here this day” all of us then and now, remembering that dream at Sinai, the forming of a holy community. We recreate that community by our actions of love and caring:

I began with this beautiful center of the song

It’s how we help, It’s how we give, It’s how we pray, it’s how we heal, it’s how we live.

If you are Atem, then we’re Netzavim, we stand here today, and remember the dream…Kehilah kedosha

Each one of us must play a part, each one of us heed the call, each one of us must seek the truth, each one of us is a part of it all, each on of us must remember the pain, each one of us must find the joy, each one of us EACH ONE OF US…Kehilah Kedoshah

Song by Dan Nichols


The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious, it is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead…Albert Einstein

When was the last time you paused to/in wonder how something works? There is this thirst to pierce the darkness and to connect our souls to other parts of the universe:…the sunrise, a hiccup, a leaf…. I know for sure that this thirst to understand is the key to effective teaching and learning. For a teacher to spark this wonder in a student is a deep form of communication. So the young and beautiful Rebecca/ Rivka, (whose name may translate to snare) is tested for her compassion at the well. Abe’s servant is searching for a wife for Isaac, a shiddach. He asks for a drink from the water she’s carried from the well. It’s easy to have compassion for a thirsty man, or just as easy to be self absorbed, and walk on by. Rivka gives him water to drink. It’s hard to have compassion for the camels he travels with: camels can be nasty, not easy to love. But Rivka gives of herself, and life giving water, as much as they are thirsty for. Here’s a thought: in our tradition, as a people of the book, maybe that thirst is symbolic of a search for knowledge, and Rivka is willing to go to the well and dig deeply into questions and knowledge. Maybe to ask more, to respond to that thirst for knowledge.  Soon in this story Rivka makes the executive decision to leave the familiar and to join Abraham’s family in his quest for spiritual One-ness and ethics. What informs her decision, why leave the familiar? I’m no sure, but there must be some hunger or thirst within her, maybe to know more of the world. Rivka then becomes the connection between the generations, a prophetess, who asks God why: lamah zeh anochi? why do I exist, and is given insight into her unborn sons’ futures. Yes Rivka is compassionate, but compassion takes enough imagination to span the distance between souls, as well as the love to respond to the thirst you find within another. So compassion and the passion to know about the world are linked, and both give meaning to our lives…

I imagine Rivka, the compassionate one, wondering at sunrises of new vistas  during her journey to Canaan. Perhaps she’s dazzled by encountering her fate, when she falls off her camel (falls in love at first site?) seeing Isaac at sunset. I do know this is a beautiful tale of compassion, journey and love. I love this song about awareness of the wonders in life leading to gratitude: Tov’ L’hodot by Todd Herzog.  Track 11 at  click the play button. Tov l’hodot means “it’s good to give thanks. An excerpt:

…In the mist of all the chaos and the strife, I must learn to count the blessings in my life…

..Sunset on the mountain, a distant melody, the freedom that I have to choose my way.
A newfound revelation, a different way to see, now Your kindness warms me in the morning light, and I am shielded from the darkness of the night

Tov L’hodot, I won’t take this things for granted, Tov L’hodot, now I see the world anew.

Tov L’hodot, friends and family bring laughter to my soul, but my life would have no meaning without You. 

The world around me opens up and lets me in, like a mystery I finally understand. So I raise up my voice and sing out to the sky when I realize how fortunate I am….

May our search be for insights to the wonders of our world!

Light, faith and hurricanes

November 2nd, 2012 – Insight following the blackout of hurricane Sandy: I cannot complain, it’s been a series of  Shabbat-like days: no alarm clock, time for music, reading and playing board games. But it gets really dark really early. This morning, a new insight: the morning blessing Yotzeir ohr –which recognizes God as the fashioner light, (of the sky and of the soul?), is so much more powerful when the darkness is more complete – that a candle can just barely push it away a little. The fall of night is more powerful, that you become more keenly aware of the blessing of daylight. But it always bothered me that the Yotzeir included God as the creator of darkness, because darkness IS the absence of light. But to know that in the darkness is goodness, that God’s there too, is beautiful. There is plenty of God in the dark, but it takes a little faith that it’s there, though you might not be able to see it.

This idea of finding faith is strong in this week’s Torah portion, Vayera (an overwhelmingly rich portion!)

It contains messages in the anxiously awaited births, of two kids:  Ishmael, God will hear  and Yitzchak, Isaac a child named laughter.  I think all children should be named laughter!  Ironically we only know that Isaac/Yitzchak’s parents laugh.,We never hear Isaac laugh, and he will have reason to scream soon enough…

Our entire future depends upon those kids, and Abraham knows this very well. Though he and Sarah are barren, their son’s–existence was foretold to Abraham by God, as was both sons’ survival – Abraham was going to have descendants, as many as the sands and the stars. But Abraham is a skeptic, as am I, unfortunately, not in the existence of God, but that the future will be OK, bitachon. This is my deepest challenge, how do you handle these doubts that things will be OK even in the midst of powerful challenges to our future…?

So Abraham lacks Faith in the future. He falls down laughing when told he and Sarah will have a son  Abraham once again fears for his life due to Sarah’s overwhelming beauty – he feels threatened by her beauty, Sarah keeps that faith, perhaps. Abraham asks her: tell them you’re my sister, they’ll kill me to have you if you tell them you’re my wife!  And she agrees. Perhaps Abraham lacks faith that God’s nature is Goodness and righteousness: When Abe argues for the future of the people of Sodom perhaps he asks ha-shofet kol ha-aretz lo ya-aseh mishpat Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right? ( the question mark is never placed in the Torah, no punctuation) He doesn’t know: so Abe asks. The answer he receives is that the whole city would be saved for the sake of ten righteous people. After these things, Sarah cries for Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away – set free (Hagar’s a slave)? or sent to die in the desert? Abraham is afraid for the future of his son, and seeks God’s counsel. Have faith, says God,  the boy will be well. So Abraham gets up early to send off his son and the boy’s mother with a single skin of water. Soon Abe is put to a test, the infamous binding of Isaac. He rises early to this task as well. Perhaps the test is whether Abe will once again argue for right as he did at S’dom, or for his son’s life, as he did with Ishmael, and in that case Abe fails God’s test. Or perhaps, Abraham finally has the faith of Bitachon, that the prophesy that he’d have descendants can be trusted, that the judge of all the earth does righteousness, and will not allow murder. (But it does still leaves the unanswerable: would a righteous God test by asking for murder? Perhaps Abraham’s just gotten the message wrong)

The survival of both Isaac/ laughter and Ishmael, relies on God’s power power to lift his parents’ eyes, so life is renewed   Hagar lifts her eyes when God hears (!) Ishmael’s cry so she can see the well of water before her. Abraham’s eyes are lifted to be able to see a mountain, and a ram caught in the thicket. S This rebirth is paralleled in this incredible story from the Haftarah.  There is a great woman who is barren. The prophet Elisha, whom she recognizes as a man of God often passes through on his journey, and she puts him up as a guest in her home. The woman decides to build for Elisha his own room on her roof, with a bed, table and lamp. Elisha then prophesizes that this woman will bear a son, and she is skeptical, wanting to know that all will be OK. And she does bear a son. But one day the son goes to his father in the field and is struck with a blinding headache and falls unconscious, presumed dead!. The mother places her son on the prophet’s bed and runs to speak to Elisha. You have responsibility for my son’s life, you told me the future would be OK!  Elisha must agree, for he then hurries to give CPR to this boy, resulting in this miracle in the middle of the day, behind closed doors, the boy sneezes and opens his eyes to re-life. Faith that life is a miracle, and we can be reborn each day as the sunlight animates our world each day.

There is this  wonderful song by Alan Goodis, which captures so much of these feelings of doubt, faith, rebirth and God as the power to lift our eyes to hope and life: It’s a setting of  Esa einai – which means: I lift my eyes to the heavens, where will my help come from, my help will come from God, maker of heaven and earth. Usually it is up to us to lift our own eyes, windows to our souls This setting was written following the death of a friend of Goodis’ and his personal journey which follows.

I look up, You’re not there, I’m not ready, I’m not prepared,

I need strength to climb, I reach but still I find, that I’m weak and I’m scared

Esah einai el he-harim, me-ayin yavo ezri

I need rest, I can’t sleep, awake and still I grieve, so if I fall out of reach, don’t let me be…

Where is my joy when the world goes dark? Where is my faith when I am torn apart?

Where is my strength till  the pain subsides? Where is the light till I can realize?

Let rest be upon me, Let peace be with me ..tonight…

My help will come from the One, who made heaven and earth…

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