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Be Light! Limmud NY 2013

Light. The universe vibrates in particles which are also waves, traveling at amazing LIGHT speeds!  The part of the energy  spectrum we can see is light. Our flame, our passion and inspiration are also light. The awareness of our soul is light. When we remember a loved one we light a candle, and at Chanukah we sing: Don’t let the light go out! We leave the light on for our teen when they come home late, and light candles for Shabbat and Havdalah. We seek enlightenment and hope for a new light to dawn with each day. This week (portion Tetzaveh) the Torah speaks of the flame that is continuously lit, the ner tamid. Perhaps a symbol that God’s always there, and that our awareness can rise and rekindle like that flame.

One of my favorite songs of light is Dan Nichols’ Or Zarua. Or Zarua latzadik means light is sown for the righteous. The lyric continues: We must keep our hopes alive, we must raise our voices high , we must hold each other tight, we must stand up in the night and BE light! Listen here, and keep it light!

So how can a person BE light? Well one more thing about Light: it is the symbol of inspiration, of learning, of Torah.

I had an opportunity to find out about being light because I got to learn this week at Limmud, the NY/ London Jewish learning connection.  There I met teachers who WERE light! One of the teachers who touched me most was Arthur Kurzweil, author, publisher, musician and ….magician? Yes, I saw some of his illusions in a magic show that night. For Arthur magic is symbolic of some of life’s mysteries. The illusion is all we see, for we don’t know the whole story. In just this way we are too limited to understand all of the forces and effects of the bits of life we witness, just a small part. We miss too much due to our small slice of time and space and limits to our awareness.

Anyway, Arthur presented (in too brief a time) his twenty most important lessons from Kaballah to teach his children. He often referenced a book by Adin Steinsaltz, The Thirteen Petal Rose.  I’ll share some of his list here.

  1. The key to wisdom is this paraodox:  knowing we can never understand is the first step to some measure of wisdom and understanding
  2. We are not a body with a soul, we ARE a soul that happens to have a body.
  3. God is constantly creating the world at each moment, (rather than a past, distant creator)
  4. Perspective is not what you think: God knows each soul in the same quantity as the largest galaxy, because each is proportionally the same in relation to infinity!
  5. Only imagining the infinite makes understanding the finite possible, like Desargue’s Theorem in geometry
  6. All actions are the same size relative to God: the movement of a finger, or the largest catastrophe, both are miracles, important in the life of the universe
  7. Every descent is for the sake of ascension. Reb Nachman teaches that the greatest sin is pessimism, and R. Akiva teaches Gam zu l’tovah – “This too is for the good”
  8. Every detail of the human body is for the sake of divine revelation. Job exclaimed  In my flesh I see God. Arthur then added that our bodies are the pinnacle of creation. (My own opinion: in all nature there is divine revelation, not in our bodies alone. And remember, we are a soul, not a body!)
  9. The voice within you when you’re lost, that cries Ayekha? Where are you? is not your voice, but God’s, it’s a holy thing
  10. I love this one: If you think you’ve arrived….., that’s when you’re lost!
  11. The answer to the question Who am I? cannot be answered in relation to any other person: you are not defined as the child of… the spouse of… the parent of … any other. You are defined only in your relationship to the Infinite Eternal One. And the best in human relationships, helps you to better this ultimate relationship, to be more truly yourself
  12. The sin of knowing, of eating from the Tree of Knowledge is the sin of a bad education! This type of education doesn’t answer a person’s real questions, does not respond to who they really are, is a barrier rather than an enabler. As an educator, this one’s an eye opener!
  13. There is great benefit from instability: only through this risk can you be open to growth. Similarly to how your foot must be at the unstable place between rungs to climb that ladder.
  14. In studying Talmud, which Arthur described as 63 volumes of doubt, studies are interrupted for to pray from the siddur, a tiny volume of faith. To be stuck in either place is to be lost. The trick is to balance, to go back and forth.

I studied with another wonderful teacher Alicia Jo Rabins  who has composed songs in a  soulful  bluegrass style about the lives of biblical women. After an inspiring chevruta (partner) study on the life of Miriam, the text where Miriam gets “leprosy” after she and Aaron criticize Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, I wrote this song:

I Am Your Sister

What has happened to my hands, my face?

So white, like death, like rice.

I only want to live, finally free

Why not Aaron, Why just me?

Help me now please, I am your sister

I guarded you in those primal waters

Guiding you to flow to life so new

Now we need to see this through, to  renew.

Moses, she’s your wife, your forgotten one,

Mother of your two sons

I meant to remind you of her needs

She’s a woman scorned, like me.

Help me now please, I am your sister

I guarded you in those primal waters

Guiding you to flow to life so new

Now we need to see this through, to renew

Bridge: Miriam, bitter waters, falling like snowflakes on my skin

   Miriam, bitter waters, like my tears, there’s no place here for me, heal for me!

Help me now please, I am your sister

I guarded you in those primal waters

Guiding you to flow to life so new

Now we need to see this through, to renew

Finally, I studied with an amazing Brit named Clive Lawton who is the executive director of Limmud, chair of development charity Tzedek and a former head teacher of King David high school in Liverpool. He has become the accidental world expert on intercultural calendars after organizing an 18 culture calendar for the Brittish public schools. His presentation It’s about time was on the impact on our lives. Just a couple of points – the Jewish calendar is the only one which marks the start of time with the beginning of the universe, not our particular people. The Muslim calendar is the only one not tied to the solar year, because it’s not tied to any one place or to the seasons: it’s just as valid in Argentina as Alaska.  The Chinese New Year is impossible to predict more than a year in advance, most calendars are luni-solar, and that calendars organize how we think about time. One favorite quote: what were you doing on this day two years ago? Nothing, this day has never existed before, and never will again.

These teachers were a light in my life, as I pray I can bring some light to others’ lives.


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