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Remember when?

I date my life’s events in the past 25 years based on how big my kids were at that time, (sound familiar Moms?!). The Torah portion Massei retells the Israelites 42 camping stops from slavery to the promised land. “Imagine you are packing up your belongings to take a journey,” my  instructor directed. In my imagination, I took only one thing: my toddler in my arms. Interesting, because it’s been at least 12 years since I’ve had a toddler. What would you take? Where are the places along your life’s path? How will you mark or describe them. Perhaps this: we journeyed to the place of love, and rested at despair. From despair we journeyed the place we were sick, and rested at a place of recovery. From recovery did you journey to someplace: California, and perhaps rest in a place of inspiration? And all along the way, how will you remember your journey, (by how big you have grown)?  Pathways diverged along the way, how did you choose?  Well, last week I journeed to New Hampshire. There I was attending the Aleph Kallah, organized by the Jewish Renewal movement: a passionate, new, liberal, movement strongly influenced by Chassidism, the teachings of Reb Zalman Shachter; by modern environmentalism and feminism, Conservative chavurah and Reform  and even Buddhist influences  but attended by a large mixed tent of Jews. Among my favorite experiences were morning services lakeside: the breeze rustling through the leaves blew through me too!  Evening services in the giant tent were fun: many hundreds raising voices, dozens dancing (many barefoot on the grass), many smiles, much music and joy.

I studied for a week with a great philosopher, lover of life, and trickster (I’m told), Rabbi Jack Gabriel, a child of survirors, yeshivah educated, modern musician, traveler, and a funny guy. He who spoke about music and the Chasidic masters, and Kaballah. He taught me what it means to walk through walls when it seems there’s no way out. He’s one of those teachers you just love to listen and soak up all you can. I had one cool, original insight from his teaching of Kaballah’s four worlds.  This is from his song “Four Worlds Chant”

…We’re in Four Worlds simultaneously…

The first World is Assiyah, where we do our deeds. We world, we fix, we build a way to fill our needs.

The second is Ytizirah where emotions flow. We laugh, we cry, we hold or let our feelings go.

The third World is B’riyah where our thoughts are found. Beliefs and world and theories goin’ round and round

The fourth World is Atzilut, where we stop –to bbe. A soul within a spirit of serenity.

So, I thought, how can you be in these four parallel universes simultaneously? How to unite them? Then I doodled: a musical staff has five lines, yes, but four spaces – one for each World! The clef sign can bind these spaces together as music can do for our soul! So cool!

I also studied Torah in a new way, with 20 study buddies, in a group called Speak-Chorus  taught by Cantors Abbe Lyons and Michal Rubin, and Rabbi Melissa Wenig. We listened to the verses in Hebrew and varying translations. It turns out that the names of each of the 42 stops in the wilderness have amazing meanings hidden in translation. For example, Rimon Peretz means “Exploding pomegranates”,  Marah is bitterness, Yam suf, usually the Reed Sea can easily be read Yam sof, the Sea at the end. We studied interpretive text including the Baal Shem Tov, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, modern poets too. We were asked to write responses to what we heard individually in poetry and prose, and then in small groups. We spoke of our own lives’ journeys. Then the three teachers did something pretty amazing, combining the ramblings of seventeen students into a script! The common thread made it a dialogue between we wanderers and God.  The group presented this collage as the D’var Torah following the Torah reading. Rabbi Melissa explained we were presenting the Drash (commentary) of our hearts. It suddenly became beautiful, a sacred connection of the text to ourselves, and out to the listeners we were sharing with.  I include a bit of the script here:

Are we there yet? Am I at the Promised Land? (voiced as whiny children in the back seat)….

You and I stopped and camped so many times; explosive spaces between the resting…

40 years of wandering You and I, sleeping on dynamite! …

Your holy man the Berditcher told me: “Discover the divinity in each place and raise it up to its holy source”  Eighteen months.homelessness: Where’s the divinity in that?

Yam sof. The sea at the edge of the world. I lean into the wind, smell the salty algae,  feel the squishy sand between my toes. It’s lonely there. You don’t advertise that you’ve been there. You don’t get a bumper sticker: “This car drove to the sea”, “Been to the End”.  I think I’ve come back, but sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes I smell the salt in the air.

Rimon Peretz: Exploding Pomegranates, Bursting forth with aliveness, all 613 vitxvot break loose and explode me into a juicier place. …Suck the sweetness out of each seed…

..Retracing my own birth between worlds, the rooms of my heart calling for restoration.

God, may I find my way in a land that is mine…

We ended singing a translation of Noami Shemer’s Haderech Aruchah

The road is very long, it is so long,

The road is very long and full of splend’rous song

And this long march…I travel all alone

And so I sing… the lonely singer’s song, Halelu, haleluyah, halellu.

May you grow and enjoy on your journeys!



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