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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!


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