This site is the bee's knees

Archive for June, 2013

Sister’s Keepers

There once was a father with FIVE daughters: oy! he must make matches for them all, and they’re all such modern, uppity young women, and then there’s this arduous journey…..

Perhaps you think it’s Tevya, the Dairyman, from Fiddler on the Roof,  but this family predates Tevya by a couple of thousand years, and the journey is not across the Atlantic, but across the wilderness, wandering toward Israel.  The father’s name is Tzelofechad, and he will die in the wilderness, as all the parents of the wanderers will, leaving orphaned families who must rely on each other. But Tzelofechad had no sons, which meant that when the daughters arrived in the Promised land they would have nothing:  the law from Sinai said only sons can inherit!  Now, life has been tough: born into slavery, a promise that seems unfulfilled, merciless attacks from the rear, followed by more wandering in wilderness. Cries of thirst and hunger, mutiny, plague and rebellion – things are so bad, the Israelites cry to return to slavery. And now they are fatherless and faced with poverty, a system that doesn’t respect daughters, but favors sons?

But these five daughters have it all figured out: they love their father and want to honor his memory, they support each other and believe in God’s justice and goodness. So they grab the guts to stand together before the powers that be: Moses and the elders in front of the tent of meeting, and make their reasoned, impassioned legal plea.

Perhaps God waits for such as these, a test to see in which of us the love and faith and ideals are more powerful than the fear. And… AMMENDMENT to the Torah!: the plea of Tzelofechad’s daughters is righteous!

So I wondered what these wonderful ladies were like, and I closed my eyes, and pictured them dancing in printed skirts, waltzing with each other. They each must have had talents, hopes and fears! Here’s one possibility:

Sister’s Keepers Waltz

Chorus:           Machlah, Noah, Holga Milkah and Tirtzah, daughters of Tzelophehad

                        Five beautiful sisters, each her sister’s keeper, as we journey to our land….

Machlah we call you Ima, you carried little ones on your back, too soon our mother died,

Noah master of the lyre, making even sad hearts smile,

Holga, tender and shy, open, gentle soul, don’t hide!

Milkah weaver of tapestries, brilliant at her art;

and Tirtsah you’re our little one, beyond your years you’re wise of heart.


Now our father’s gone, We miss him so; What will come of us?  we can’t know.

But we believe in the promise, a land where milk and honey flow, where justice and wisdom grow.

The law says we have no hope, but we know that can’t be so!


Arm in arm we stand, Moses hear our plea, Our father was a good man, but no sons had he.

We will keep his memory, alive in the promised land.  Just give us a chance, lend us your hand!


Have we been too bold?  what will our future hold?  It is clear to all who hear: God has said our law is just,                 a future forged in faith and love is now within our trust


So after I wrote down these words, I heard a song for the first time, and fell in love with it. The song called Show the Way  by David Wilcox is about how the violence of the world so overwhelms someone that they no longer believe in hope or love, and the composer sings an inspiring antidote. And then I realized that this is what the daughters mean to us.  It’s been another violent year. A shooting of 20 children in an elementary school, a war in the Middle East again, and….  But five daughters trusted in God and love and promise and stood up together to the powers that be and….changed the world! and maybe we can too…

Show the Way,  David Wilcox

You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason
We should dream that the world would ever change
You’re saying love is foolish to believe
‘Cause there’ll always be some crazy with an Army or a knife
To wake you from your day dream, put the fear back in your life

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What’s stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late, he’s almost in defeat
It’s looking like the Evil side will win, so on the Edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins
It is….

Love that mixed the mortar
And it’s love who stacked these stones
And it’s love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we’re alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it’s love that wrote this play…
For in this darkness love can show the way

So now the stage is set.  You feel your own heart beating
In your chest.  This life’s not over yet.
So we get up on our feet and do our best.  We play against the Fear.
We play against the reasons not to try
We’re playing for the tears burning in the happy angel’s eyes  For its….


The Daughters five know the stage is set for them: they feel their hearts beating as one, and stand up tall and put their plea. They do it with love and faith, though the odds were stacked against them, and there were lots of reasons not to try (the earth swallowed challengers to status quo previously). The five an inspiration in our own lives.



Blind vs. Wild

File:Donkey from Shrek.jpg

I’ve always liked the animated movie Shrek. It’s cool how the film plays off the many childhood fables and icons to build its comic world. But where does Donkey, the wisecracking sidekick come from? My sixth grade students are tickled to learn that Donkey in Shrek was born in the Bible, from this week’s reading, verses which begin with comedy and move toward beauty and blessing.  A crazy mix of spiritual and comic that you don’t often see.   King Balak has hired the greatest visionary and wizard of the pagan world, Bilaaam, to curse the Israelites, because their numbers scare him. The visionary wizard is indeed open to God, who first tells him not to go, but when Bilaam persists, “alright, go already! but be aware of what I’ll tell you and do it!”, God groans. Perhaps expecting all the drama to come from the heavens, Bilaam is blind, cannot see a messenger/ angel right in front of him waving a flaming sword. But the donkey he’s riding can! Does this ever happen to you – can’t see what’s right in front of you (I could not find my glasses or my tea this morning!)

Inattentional Blindness: The lack of awareness we constantly experience because we’re focusing on what we think is important – we miss so much. Optical illusions, deceptions, mind blowing stuff – check it out here from National Geographic’s “Brain Games” We are blind due to lack of attention- so true!

But what does it say that the ass Bilaam is riding CAN see the angel, and because of that saves Bilaam’s life? And when the prophet goes to the mountaintop (to curse the Israelites) he ends up being the conduit to God’s blessings instead – all because a donkey has vision!

Maybe the donkey we ride is the animal within us, or wild nature.  We ignore nature and our own instinct at our peril. Thoreau writes: In wildness is the preservation of the world

Sharing this song once again: David Wilcox’s “How Did You Find Me Here

I knew I’d disappoint you

If I showed to you this child

Who is crying out inside me

Lost in the wild

Siblings, Great waters & Great leaders.

Brothers and Sisters. We grow up in the same universe of childhood, and share so much. If you’re lucky, (as I am! shout out bro!) this is a relationship you keep, as a compass and a connection in your life. I hope my own children always look out for one another, and keep each other in their hearts as an anchor, a lifeline. In this week’s Torah portion Moses loses his brother and his sister. How must Moses feel, losing siblings that have shared leadership with him? Strangely Aaron is mourned but not Miriam: Miriam, who followed Moses along the Nile, who led us in freedom, birthed from the sea, whose very name has the sea “yam” within it, draws no tears. This always reminds me of siblings who’ve shared leadership in my own memory, the Kennedy brothers, and whose passing brought tears.  The date of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination was June 6th, so it’s also on my mind. He might have won that race for the presidency, if not for the violence, and then how would our world be different today? For me, his most memorable words were

There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?   but he’s got many memorable words

Back to MIriam: a woman who is  water in the desert. The legend surrounding Miriam speaks of a miracle: a well of fresh water which followed the Israelites through their desert wanderings. For a great song on the well, check out Debbie Friedman’s Water in the Well at 2:50 in this clip

Water: It’s just been pouring in New Jersey, again.  Yet, recently  I was reminded of the terrible drought that plagued so much of the nation this past year.. It is summer on the Jersey shore, and the crashing of the waves draws people and commands them to look toward the horizon. Water is life, Or flooding and storms bring death and destruction.  Miriam is  Mayim Chayim, living waters to her brothers and to the spirit of this rogue people. And when she dies the people cry out for water, and Moses strikes a rock, in defiance of God’s command to speak to it. And for his loss of words, he will never enter the promised land. Or is it his loss of Miriam, or loss of tears for her? In any case, when he strikes the rock, Great waters gush forth for the people, Mayim Rabim. This phrase reminds me of Song of Songs: Great waters cannot quench this love of ours.  Although love between siblings is not something you hear about much in songs on the radio, they moved a nation through the wilderness, drove our nation in the 1960’s and powerfully drive our lives each day.  Here’s to brothers and sisters. I offer this song about great water from psalm 93, whose melody rises and falls as water waves: Mikolot Mayim Rabim:

Paradise in Wisconsin

“The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.” Carl Sandburg


These words were the cover of readings which enhanced a T’flilah (prayer) session at Hava Nashira that I attended this past week.
At this session, dozens of us encircled three leaders, teachers, lightening flashing outside the bay windows. It was beautiful, even when giggles (!) took over for a few minutes (an experiment in group sound). I was in an amazing place. It sounds sappy, but it strongly occurred to me earlier that day, as I walked along lovely paths, song and harmony coming from everywhere all day long, that I had wandered into Paradise. And it wasn’t just the natural and aural beauty that lent truth to this feeling, but the people, whose hands were ALWAYS open to help and embrace. I have never been in a place like this before, it’s good to know that reality can take this form for a few days, that this is possible. Inspiration on so many levels.
In this week’s Torah portion, the rebels’ talk of paradise and of ideals, is abused to bring the spiritual and moral leaders down, in order to raise egos up. Korah tells Moses and Aaron: Rav L’chah!- you are too much! All of the community are holy, not just you, because God’s in their midst.  Sweet, head-turning words, appealing to the democratic instinct in us, but although God is always among us, but it’s how we act on that potential, with open, embracing hands that makes a holy community. It’s what we do. But Korah’s hand is clenched in a grasping fist. The first words of the portion lets us know Korah took: he’s a taker. He want’s Moses’ turf, and the turf will swallow him alive to Sheol, land of the dead. Then Moses sent for Datham and Abiram, but they would not come, and they used the words of paradise as a weapon. First they called Egypt, of slavery (!) a land of milk and honey compared with the accursed wilderness they were in. Then they announced: even if they land they’d been led to was paradise, land of milk and honey, it wasn’t enough, because Moses had “gouged out subordinates’ eyes!” Talk about living life with a fist, and making paradise irrelevant! They will be consumed by fire. A plague would begin, and only the courage of Moses and Aaron could stand between the living and the dead. Nowhere, and during no time in my few days at Hava Nashira was there ego, power struggles, or grabbing. Spiritual leaders sang, and souls soared, though each song leader in attendance could have led, there was no resentment. Faculty and students, basses and sopranos, teens and elders, our voices harmonized and raised us all. There were lots of great moments: 240 voices in Shabbat prayer blew me away, as did Billy Jonas, Dan Nichols, Rosalie Boxt, Merri Arian & Ellen Dreskin (just plain inspiring, all faculty were awewome), a song tribute to Debbie Friedman, enthusiastic teens, Nigg’n leading by Joey Weisenburg , Shira Kline, a lovely lake, beauty everywhere the eye or ear turned.

I’ll share that there was one moment when I knew, like lightening, that I was in a place better than Paradise. It was following a really cathartic Mi Sheberach, a prayer for healing, sung by the open scroll. We embraced one another, Dianne, next to me, embraced me with her tallit, and lent me a tissue. Angels don’t need healing, don’t have their days made more precious for their impermanence, and don’t receive the benefit of the support and magic I was receiving, my hand held out and waiting.

I end with this new Oseh Shalom, which resonated through the camp and our hearts  You’ll just have to imagine it raising the roof 240 voices strong!

Tag Cloud