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Archive for October, 2013

Bringing life to death.

Each morning blessing, in the T’filah, the prayer so important its name means prayer, I praise God as the hero who gives life to the dead. I don’t believe that those who’ve died can rise and walk the earth again. I do know that we are dead materials come to the miracle of life. That each day we breathe and eat materials and this becomes our living body, miraculously. I do believe that those who are dead in spirit can be inspired again and find hope again.

This week’s Torah portion is about new life coming from death. From an old, withered couple the miraculous conception and nursing of a son. From a slave woman, the bearing of a prince of nations. In the Haftarah, the death of a boy being reversed by mouth to mouth – by a man of God, a prophet. And climaxing in the near sacrifice of Ishmael and the Isaac. Ishmael (his name means God will hear) is sent with this mother with a skin of water, doomed to die in the wilderness. A messenger/ angel lifts the mom’s eyes to find water (vision and hearing are tangled as in Sinai’s lightening and thunder). But Abraham doesn’t know his son lives when he is called to sacrifice “his only one”. But God knows. It is curious. Here is an opportunity: Abraham’s escape from the command to sacrifice his son. Here is a lie, like Sarah’s (who says she’s laughed because she is too old, but really laughed because she thinks Abe is too old to impregnate), but it is God who is withholding the truth.
Like serpent twisting God’s command in the garden, a lie is the highway for chaos to enter the paradise of new life coming to an aged couple. And the midrash says Isaac dies on that mountain and is resurrected. The angel/messenger rewards Abe “because you have DONE THIS THING and not withheld your precious one”.  And father and son do not continue together as they started out this journey. Sarah will die, perhaps of a broken heart) immediately following the sacrifice of her son. Life and death and resurrection. We name our children after those we’ve loved, and hope that each loved one’s spirit is eternal. Death, mortality, is the elephant in the room. Yet our tradition speaks of values and songs and hopes that are eternal. Science hints that each moment may be eternal, we have just lost that access

This piece of a poem by R. Rachel Barenblat spoke to me powerfully this week:
Every birth is also a death: the end
of the life that used to be.
Every separation is also a rupture.
Read not “good” but “God:” God saw
that creation was constantly changing
just like its creator, dividing and torn.

Read the full poem here

I end with an excerpt from song, a Modim I wrote using E.E. Cummings Most Amazing day:
and I who have died am alive again this day
and this is the sun’s birth day
and the birth day of life and love and wings…
I thank You God for most this amazing day,
Modim anachnu lach…


Blessings of a Teacher

Years ago, my Rabbi advised his teachers, (I was among them), “years from now, the children may not remember the subject you teach, but they’ll always remember the way you taught them.” Whether we smiled or scolded, were enthusiastic or annoyed, attentive or dismissive. And I told two students yesterday: “I know you are doing the best you can, and that there is so much going on that I cannot see..” “You have no idea how stressful my life is right now”, he said, “I am sorry that I have fallen behind in my work, I am really interested in this stuff.”  “I know. Just do the best you can. Let me know if I can help.” In the rush to do my jobs, to get the responsibilities off my back, I always try to stop, to encourage, smile, show a little love to them all.  Avram and Sarai in the Torah plunge into the unknown, escaping from what’s bogus. Ironically, though in search of truth, Avram will lie: “she is my sister”. In search of a home, they will be homeless for a long time. In search of God, God will predict “it is you that shall BE a blessing” My blessing: Baruch Atah: Holy One, source of being and blessings, thank you for the students in my life and the chance to teach them. They are the best blessings of all.



Remember swim wings on little children? One of my scariest memories as Momma involves those wings. We were visiting great grandma in Florida, and my little girl was only 3, and we were “swimming” together, but the air was kind of cold. We were on the pool steps, taking off those bright orange wings. “Wait,” I said, “I’ll grab that towel.” But when I turned away, she climbed back into the water. Accustomed to the wings, she thought she’d float again. I turned back to see her walking and under. Snatched her right out and she was fine. “I called for you Momma, and you came” But I hadn’t heard her. The sight of her under the water and helpless is one I’ll never forget. How fragile our little ones are, and so deeply dependent on our imperfect selves for protection is also a feeling I’ll connect with that image. “All that had the breath of life in its nostrils died” in Noah’s flood. Water is life, and in a flood of amniotic waters we, mostly made of water, are ushered into this world. The very fact that we can be done in by water out of balance and in the wrong place scares me. Noah is a scary read. I don’t believe G-d has a temper. I think that’s us making G-d in our image.
But our actions all have karma, and there is much in our human nature that is terrifying – that makes me wonder if people are worth it. I wish the bad guys would just disappear – you know, the ones that torture and rape, and rape this planet…. The possibility that flood waters (perhaps the waters of G-d’s tears) could wash clean the slaughter in human nature is comforting, at the same time as terrifying. And our salvation comes one human being at a time, and Noah’s name means comfort. I imagine Noah today living in the south Bronx – the way it was when I was a kid. All around him is violence and burning. But this simple kid has the guts to be good amid the terror, to walk in G-d’s ways. To be kind even to animals, because it is G-d’s command. To live even though other’s think you’re crazy. Not perfect, but courageous in terrible circumstances. One soul at a time – the future of the world. Hope emerging from chaos. And from all of this destruction and slaughter emerges covenant – sacred promises.300px-kanizsa-triangle.svg-tm

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