This site is the bee's knees

Archive for December, 2012

Scrooge, Jacob, Time and Love

Name your price, a ticket to paradise,

I can’t stay here anymore, I’ve looked high and low, I’ve been from shore to shore to shore

If there’s a shortcut, I’d have found it, but there’s no easy way around it

Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer. 

Shine on us all, set us free, love is the answer.               England Dan and John Ford Coley

It’s  Dec 24th, and after baking and devouring pizza and we’ve settled down to watch Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I was intrigued: what is it that the “spirits” of the play reveal inspires Ebenezer to completely change directions to embrace a life of joy, tzedakah and community? Dickens has brilliantly played with time using these spirits: awareness of childhood heartbreak and of the grave which awaits Scrooge sandwich a present moment in which his actions can influence the future.  Unbelievably, this is echoed in the end of father Jacob/Israel’s life. (Lest you think this is coincidence, recall the name of Ebenezer Scrooge’s dead partner, whose ghost starts this hullabaloo: Jacob, of course, Jacob Marley!)  As  is Jacob is nearing death, we are told of his life:  Jacob’s days, the years of his life added to 147. Days blend with years and life with death. As the days of his death draw near,  Jacob calls out for Joseph. Stand with me, do me an act of truth and loving kindness… and it is his grave he sees, and the act of  kindness is to bury him with his ancestors is Canaan. In the very next scene his grandsons, Ephraim and Menasheh appear: the future.  It is Ephraim and Menasheh’s names that many parents use today to invoke blessings for their sons.

Past, present, future, all mixed together, which of these time-realities has intense meaning? which holds the divine? One philosopher’s view of time is this beautiful thought by the pacifist  Alain “we wait to die as if every moment were not dying and coming back to life. With each moment we are offered a new life.  Today, now, immediately, it is our only foothold.”  And yet all those moments in the past, and perhaps the possible lines into the future are real and eternal too.   In relativity, time exists as  part of the weave of space-time, which says that all time exists at once: past, present and future we can only experience it linearly. For more on time and relativity:

Ultimately, perhaps what’s real, and what links these times and perspectives is love, as Carole King sings:

Childhood dreams like muddy waters

Flowing through me to my son and daughters …

Only love is real, everything else illusion …

We end the book of Genesis this week with the dying of these iconic giants of our history/psyche. There are many forces and emotions which have propelled our ancestors and propel us too. But perhaps the only one which yields life, which endures has been love – the “foothold” and reality.  Judah’s and Joseph’s love have trumped jealousy and resentment to allow this moment. For Ebinezar Scrooge, acts and awareness of love save Tiny Tim, himself, and maybe us too.

But seriously, what’s love got to do with reality? what about all those other physical realities, such as those revealed by cold science, you know: f=ma? ( )  Consider this: it it is love that makes this universe full of stars and life meaningful, is why we care about the universe at all. The pieces of the universe in proper relationship have created our bodies and souls, and  if we choose it or if we’re lucky, pieces of the universe love us, and we them.  One of the commandments most puzzling to some is the V’ahavta the command to Love God with all our heart, soul and might. This command follows the Shema and is in our mezuzah. But how and why love God? Perhaps this: love itself – the creative power that emerges with pieces of the universe in just the right relationship, is in reality a facet of God. What if our echo of this divine love is what makes us b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image/shadow? But how can we love God in such a troubled world?

From Aaron Zeitlin’s Look at the Stars and Yawn:

Praise me, and I will know that you love Me.  Curse me, and I will know that you love Me.   Praise me or curse me and I will know that you love Me.

Sing out My Graces, says God; raise your fist and revile Me, says God  

Sing out graces or revile, reviling is also a kind of praise, says God.       

But if you sit fenced off in your apathy, says God, If you sit entrenched in ” I could care less” says God,                                        

If you look at the stars and yawn,  If you look at suffering and don’t cry out;

If you don’t praise and you don’t revile,  Then I have created you in vain, says God   **

So Ebinezer gets a glimpse across time and dimensions, recognizes the love lost in his childhood and youth, and lets love rule his present actions and so change the future. Jacob glimpses also across time, and our family survives through love. Love is the answer: God bless us every one!

** I know this poem has theological challenges: it presumes a deterministic view of God, in other words that God is puppeting the bad stuff, so we are obliged to raise our fist in protest. But in a universe containing chaos, and quantum fluctuations, God is the good stuff, the creativity, the life and love. We are God’s partners in making the good happen. In my view!


Inner Child

But I’ve wandered much further today than I should
And I can’t seem to find my way back to the wood

So help me if you can, I’ve got to get back
To the House at Pooh Corner by one
You’d be surprised, there’s so much to be done

Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh

from Return to Pooh Corner, Kenny Loggins

I love this song, and Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan and kids’ movies. Childhood is: wonder, play,  dreams, finger painting, messiness, temper tantrums that go out of control….

As parents we become intensely focused on protecting our children’s fragile/resilient  childhoods, and probably reliving ours a bit, (Carly Simon sang: “it’s coming around again”) But there are some scary limits on our power to protect our children. I remember the time I turned my back on my preschool daughter for a moment to get a towel for her -she was coming out of the swimming pool. Only she turned back and walked in under instead. She told me she called for me under the water, didn’t you hear me, Mom?

As for our teens. we are told: if you really love them set them free, also scary.  So here’s the story of a teen sent out on an errand by Dad. Teen son is fiercely beloved, in fact Dad’s favorite. But the unthinkable happens: crime, deception by his own brothers, human trafficking and enslavement. Dad’s told his worst fears have come true, and there is no bottom to his broken heart. The son: I imagine him crying out:   Why don’t you come and help me Dad, can’t you hear me? and how could you have put me in such danger? I bet you guessed, it is thtale of Joseph and his brothers. What is certainly high drama, even a Broadway musical, suddenly seems to me to be deeply personal. From the Torah portion named Vayigash, meaning to come close, it’s about youth, emotions suppressed that finally surface, about drawing close to yourself, your childhood and your family.

And through this process of drawing close, magic happens, life is saved. From Gen 45:33 – Judah offers himself in place of the youth (Benjamin) – who must be returned safely to their father. and the words youth, brothers and father appear many times in these verses. With this proof that his brothers can change, and these repeated reminders of his father, and of himself as a youth, Joseph can no longer swallow his emotions. Though he sends everyone away, all Egypt hears his wail – I’m Joseph he declares, and then again, the second time more dramatically. Then a question burst from the guy who named his firstborn God made me forget my past: he finally is able to ask Does my father still live? Joseph wanted to forget, but there is no forgetting childhood, that’s why all the world hears, though all are sent away – it’s true for us all.  From this cathartic cry, this drawing close, the pattern of Genesis, of brother against brother,  is finally broken as this brother, Joseph, forgives the almost unforgivable. Life is saved, our lives.

An excerpt from a song by David Wilcox is called How Did You Find Me Here?

I thought I saw your footprints in the sand along the shore, I mumbled empty phrases, that sang so well before

Inches from the water, about to disappear, I feel You behind me, how did You find me here?

I couldn’t reach for rescue, I hid myself from view, I couldn’t stand to see me from Your point of view.

I knew I’d disappoint You if I showed to You this child, who was crying out inside me lost in the wild….

I think  Joseph has wandered much farther than he should, but that hurt child cries out, no longer lost, somehow healed. He finds our way back to Pooh Corner. People change, we can heal. May God help us protect the children, and may we all please heal.

Pooh Shepard1928.jpg

Shooting Stars on Chanukah

The moon belongs to everyone, the best things in life are free; the stars belong to everyone, they gleam there for you and me. Lyric by B.G. De Sylva / Lew Brown / Ray Henderson

It is the sixth night of Chanukah, all the flames have burned down dark. It is also the new moon, Rosh Chodesh Tevet. It is the darkest month, and the darkest time of that month. But my head is spinning. On this clear, moonless night, Jupiter is shining piercing bright, a close approach to our planet. And we are passing through the Geminid meteor shower. So I walked outside, looking upwards, hoping to see a shooting star, but prepared for disappointment: you know, the light pollution, stars fade in the wash of man made lights of the auto dealerships and malls. And then I saw that streak across the sky. I cried out. Then another and a third, I screamed and jumped up in absolute glee (I really did, in the middle of the street at night). And When I finally eame inside I wondered: how can glitz and glitter, even our Chanukah candles even compare to Jupiter and shooting stars? The meteorites are visitors from time and space, reminders of the vastness. My own candles seemed so small, brief, and insignificant in comparison. But I was feeling way too good to accept this answer. Then I knew, my candles, my life too, is a window, a link through time and space. Their light’s made of hope and photons, just as the stars (and meteors and planets) are. Their shine carries memories of childhood menoras kindled. Joseph’s insight is that our dreams are windows to a greater reality – the faith of finding meaning in our symbols of hope and fear. And because of this insight he knows that we must save up the pieces of light for the dark times. That this will save life. Joseph is recognized as having insight, wisdom and Ruach Elohim, the spirit of God within him. That gorgeous night sky on this dark December night! Those lights are a window to my own lights, they are shards of light within the darkness, and ask us to open up our mind to what our dreams know: those sparks of hope saved up against the darkness are beautiful, timeless, and somehow linked to the candles in the menorah.

Behind all seen things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal or a window opening on something other than iteself. Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars

These song lyrics by Josh Nelson (The Josh Nelson Project)

In these lights we are surrounded by these lights, we are reminded by these lights, there are stories that will light our way.

In these lights we are reflected in these lights we are protected by these lights, there are miracles to find here in these lights.

Dreams, Light, Stars and Chanukah

What did you dream of last night? The images in dreams are fuzzy for me (sometimes I dream in music). Often I cannot remember them. Dreams can turn weird or nightmarish too. Are they real? Perhaps this: the ideals and hopes and fears in them are more intensely real than what we see awake.  Waking reality is weird, and  we can’t truly perceive it:  for example, two substances cannot truly touch, only repel. But Dreams, now that’s what can really touch us!
This is the darkest time of year for us in the northern hemisphere as we approach the winter solstice. A time perhaps for dreams. Those stars that light up our night sky reach into infinity – light coming from them comes from very far and is ancient. It reminds us of the awesome things in the midst of darkness. That darkness itself sparkles with the possibility of creation and brilliance and powerful forces, in other words that God is there.  Our days begin with the night just as our lives begin in the darkness of the womb. Darkness is a beginning; light is coming.  And Channah Senesh wrote of memories of those brilliant souls who have perished, but whose lives are inspiring: the stars that light the darkest nights are the lights that guide us.

The story of Joseph always begins on this week of Chanukah approaching. A season of dreams collides with a saga of Dreams and with the festival of lights.  As we light more and more candles in defiance of the increasing darkness (to help coax the light back?) we retell a story of faith against the odds: of dreams and ideals against the crushing power of the mighty.  From the song Never Give Up by Joel Sussman of Safam tells the story of the Macabees and Chanukah:

Never give up
From making the lantern light shine
Never give up
‘Cause there’s always another way….

Oh the miracle
Is that the light shines to this day
Yes it’s a miracle
That we still feel its rays

And Joseph, the dreamer, dreams of stars; and his dream touches the future just as real stars reach across time. And Joseph never gives up though he is in darkness that would plunge any person into despair. First thrown into a pit through the dark rage of his brothers’ jealousy,  “Behold, the Master of Dreams comes,” they say. But in their sarcasm they’ve hit the nail on the head. Joseph is next thrown into a dark pit due to the treachery and lies of Potiphar’s wife (everything happens twice in Joseph’s story) Both times Joseph rises from the darkness because the dreamer never loses faith that God is with him, and never gives up. Just like the Macabees, outnumbered, in darkness, and rising against the odds. Another soul who changed reality with his dreams: the  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate in another month;

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Wow- talk about dreams being the brightest reality!

An inspiring song, Dreamers, by Leon and Beth Sher/ Beged Kefet, includes these words of  light emerging from darkness

We each have lonely hours, we wonder how we’ll cope, we’ve been in darkness, drowning, deprived of all our hope.We question God’s great wisdom giving each of us free will, to trust, to choose, to do what’s right though we’re imperfect still. And then a leader comes, who’s not afraid to dream, a preacher leads with faith and dares each cynic to believe; A teacher makes her life a lesson so we won’t forget; the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step;

Dreamers, we’re dreamers; Like a candle shining light where it is dark…..

Finally, this song by Dan Nichols is called To Be a Light. This Chanukah I hope it will help me to dream big: that my soul, in synergy with others, can BE a light in darkness When I fall,   I will rise,   In the dark,  you’re my light.   I will walk,  love will lead, in the search for ones in need. And I want to know what it means to be a light. Light a candle, say a prayer, Shine a light on darkness somewhere.There is hope, this I trust, for the gracious and the just, And I want to know what it means to be a light. Remember, you are made of star dust. Dream – be a light! Chanukah Sameach!


I don’t go to see violent movies, just ask my family: Friday the Thirteenth, The Wild Bunch. The Evening News – (oh, wait, that’s not a movie) I think people like to own these, to have some measure of control over the ragings. But I hate them. It’s not the blood and guts, it’s the entropy, the heartbreak. To conquer and overcome these forces is the heroic, it makes me cry. Well, in the continuation of the twins’ saga, Jacob and Esav will break a pattern of violence against brothers which began with the first brothers, Cain and Abel. The conflict is mirrored in Isaac and Ishmael, and now twin sons who’ve been fighting since before they were born. Esav’s identity, blessing and birthright have been stolen, and he brings 400 armed men to destroy the thief, his brother. But instead the brothers embrace, Esav the hunter kisses his brother on the neck. HOW is the pattern broken? The key is in that famous wrestling match, where Jacob struggles with a man all night long, or is it an Angel of God, or is it himself/ his life, or is it his brother? Jacob sort of becomes Israel, “God-wrestler” and gains a brilliant insight – that the humans that we wrestle with have within them the image of God, B’tzelem Elohim. He wrestles with a man, but it’s also God. And this enables him to be broken/limping/humble enough to call his brother “my Lord”, to bow before him and tell Esav, the brute, that seeing his face is like seeing God’s. And brother does not kill brother. But the new formed tie is fragile, Jacob/Israel won’t join his brother’s journey. and then the saga turns to Friday the Thirteenth. Israel cannot keep his new name, and the pattern of trickery turns very violent. Rape, deception, murder. Dina, Jacob’s only daughter is raped, or at least her virginity taken; The prince, Shechem so wants to marry her that he agrees that all the males of the town will be circumcised, and then while recovering all the town is murdered. That these are no strangers, but the children of Israel/Jacob is a warning: beware the enemy for he is us. and I rage, I wrestle I scream at us, at God, for this is our God-inspired text, and I hate that this is in our Torah. But maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do. Jacob/ Israel/ we have failed to learn b’tzelem Elohim, that we are in the image of God .  Perhaps it is impossible to see divinity in the face of threat to our own – our family, our ego. How can we hold on to our ideals? What should the brothers and father of Dina have done? Please chime in here, because I don’t know. But I know what they did was the worst possible expression of our humanity. Jacob never climbs that ladder, we are forever stuck between heaven and earth. By finding a better way, the best in each other, a way out of the cycle of violence, perhaps our generation can begin to climb those rungs.

From Safam Brother on Brother Piece by Peace Album

Two brothers, together,
That’s how it should be.
Each one has determined
His own destiny,
A hunter, a fighter,
One lives by the sword.
The other has chosen
To worship the Lord.

Brother on brother,
They can agree blood is thicker than water,
Brother on brother, so much to be gained.
Brother on brother,
Look at them now embracing each other.
Brother, brother. . . . Peace will reign!

Tag Cloud