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Archive for December, 2013

From the depths

Once again, inspiration comes from study with R. Ori Har of Aleph. Many thanks!
We all know the story of Noah’s ark, right? Speaking for myself, the answer is “Wrong!” , (and maybe I never really will). So what’s weird about this 100 meter long, 3 story cruise ship is that in all it’s hugeness, there is no light or air except from a single small window, and we in that boat are scared, adrift and nauseated. The demands keep us enfolded always in responsibility and darkness and trying to meet needs. There is only one opening for air and light. We are magnetically drawn to it. It seems the only thing worthy of our attention. It alone has the power to uplift, to save, to inspire us, linking us to worlds beyond our narrow one. I am hypnotized by that light, impaled and tethered to photons from worlds far away and beautiful.  R. Ori teaches via the Baal Shem tov, that the way to be connected and uplifted is through words, which have the power to both lift and create (as the world was created through “word”)  Words that are animated by passionate, musical prayer.  I resonate powerfully with this metaphor: how often have music and/or prayer been so brilliant, they outshine “reality”!

And yet, back in the darkness, and stench, and the nausea of that ark is: life. Not only life, but life’s only remnant and hope for continuance (and we know that life is “good” and “very good”). I don’t really want to go back down there, yet the ray of light that I am tethered to and inspired by is meaningless without that return.
Our world is in trouble now as then. Our actions to one another often inflicted enough pain to darken life and hope. We wound natural systems and creatures that, beautiful and worthy in themselves, we further need to sustain us. We despoil a planet. This planet itself floats as did that ark – but made of water, we float in space, housing the only remnant of life as far as we know or can reach in the universe.
So, I need to find a balance of working in the muck and tethering myself to life. But it takes courage to really work in the muck – these folks are my heroes. And it that stab of light can be elusive….
But maybe there’s another level. Although we stayed in that (d)ark a really long time, (almost a year, what with flooding and waters surging and returning), it wasn’t forever. The real next level is emerging into the light. What you really need faith for, is to know hat times of darkness will end, so that you no longer have to choose between life and light. Whether the darkness is personal depression or dark times, it takes courage to know things will be OK soon. The job of that light coming through is to remind us, to keep us tethered to that knowledge. If we despair, we won’t feed the animals, or ourselves, and so much will be lost- maybe everything.

 A psalm strongly connected for me begins Mi-ma’amikim, “from out of the depths, I call to you” (psalm 130) – maybe that would be my prayer from inside the boat. I heard  the words beautifully sung a year ago by Cantor Angela Buchdahl on the Shabbat following Hurricane Sandy, and the flooding and power outages that were the reality that week.  Maamikim by Idan Raichel project’s song, a love song derived from the words of the psalm – it is beautiful: powerfully connecting love to the call from the depths.



A moment to soar

redsea-450pxThat moment of our crossing the sea, our birth day. What did it feel like, smell like, sound like? What was the score of our liberation? This week’s Torah portion lays the foundation with the names of our liberation from slavery. I am blessed to study, distance learning with Aleph‘s Reb Ori Har, who taught us wisdom from the text on crossing the sea: Pharoah drew close, he drew US close to the Heavens, to our Creator. Ori asked her students to close their eyes and be there. (I did not close them, but somehow was there). I was at the border of freedom, at the mouth – but the breath, the word has not yet escaped time’s lips. The salt air, the mud, the reeds, and a stiff breeze all assault skin.  Eyes tear and I hear the lambs bleat. Then the horn of war blasts and all becomes insanity. The sun glints on weapons – and the waves, which seem like knives too.
But what I really remember were the horses. Sweat steamed off them, and foam from their mouths, and terror in their eyes as their riders urged them on. Waves crash, children scream, and so do those horses. And there was no way out for them or me. Time stands still. I look up to the heavens. Everyone does. There is One way out, only upwards – and i finally can see the source of that light that glints off the animals flanks and the waves and the steel. I am aware and in awe. And here a ladder stretches with it’s foundations in the sand and it’s head reaching for the heavens- it is entirely made of light. Why did I never see it before? I feel as tall as the ladder. I hear Moses calling: “Lo tira-u” – do not fear, and fear and vision collide. And then the wind blows so hard, and my body splits the wind whipping so hard that some of my breath blows away, and my skin pushes into flaps. Ruach, wind, spirit, nefesh, breath – is within and without. Water is also within me and without. And the water pushes off the sand, and I will be free.

Return and return and return,  waves whisper upon the sand

And the light crashes and scatters off iron, and horses and warrior men

and I am caught between that wave and a very hard land,

where can I turn? my soul cries upward to You.  Don’t be afraid he cries, “Lo Tira-u!”

Chorus: And the awe and the fear crash in me, freezing space and time

I lift my heart to the heavens so blue: there find hope, so sublime

Let me open to possibilities, inspiring True in my mind

If ev’ry beat of my heart is a miracle, why not this, why not You, Mi Chamocha ba-elim Yah?

And the hard wind pushes my skin, and takes my breath away, can barely breathe, Ruach Elohim!

I hold my little ones close, don’t take them, please oh please

And the horses sweat and they snort, the whites of their eyes mesmerize

And the force of the wind pushes water off sand, going home, I am free, so surprised!

Ozi, v’zim’rat Yah Ozi!



Nelson Mandela, his memory is for blessing.
We never thought Apartheid would end.
Perhaps there were those, world weary that knew that might makes right, that history is written by the winners.
The leader of the revolution placed in a wind swept, hopeless stone prison island had every reason to be embittered, bereft of hope… but he was not. He had every reason to be vengeful, for a life withered like a “raisin in the sun”, but he was not. Released from prison after decades to rule in optimism, even joy, he embodies hope  over despair.
Jane Goodall, heroine of mine travels the world trying to imbue people of different cultures and values with courage to reverse habits of  despoliation in order to preserve beautiful natural worlds so that we can pass them to our children and they can be sustained. Despair is the enemy of such change, so Jane carries with her four symbols of hope. They are:

1. a stone from the Berlin wall, which no one ever thought would come down
2. Mr. H, a stuffed animal given her as a gift. It belonged to a Marine named Gary who became blinded at the age of 25, and never lost hope, becoming a magician to make kids laugh
3. a leaf from Nagasaki, grown from a tree which budded following the atomic devastation
4. a stone from Robben Island prison, from which no one thought Mandela would emerge whole in spirit to see Aparthaid end, but it did.

So in tribute to Nelson Mandela, these words borrowed from Emily Dickinson

Hope is….
Hope is the thing…
Hope is the thing, Mandela.
Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul.
And it sings the song without words,
And it never stops at all.

Hope is the thing, Mandela…


Today was a sort of grandparents’ day in my Hebrew school. The kids, grades K-2, were to learn about welcoming guests. I invited many of our senior congregants to visit and tell a story from their childhood. We made place mats, prepared a welcome song, set dishes and cups, and decorated a cake to be served with green and blue sparkly gel. We acted out the Torah drama of an elderly Sarah and Abraham running to serve travelers who were really Messengers on high, delivering news of impending parenthood. Their laughter turned real with the birth of their son, Isaac. We read a story of a boy and spider traveling to Israel, welcomed upon arrival and return. And then our guests began to arrive, and the excitement was in the air. Each child greeted adults, showed them to a chair, served them refreshments, and listened to stories of another generation. One guest shared a photo of her own grandmother with whom she lived in a small apartment shared by many. Another was born in Palestine, before it was Israel, and grew up in Buffalo NY, where a rite of passage for the boys in his synagogue was to climb a nearby church spire. Many shared warm memories of Shabbat meals and afternoons. And a connection was made across generations that I will remember well.  I really miss my own grandparents, they were my messengers on high. Telling stories, creating holiday meals, making me feel like a princess, like the world was for me. My own daughters are approaching an age that makes grandparenthood a potentiality in my own life, and it’s a sea change in prespective…

I did not realize when I set this program up, that the Torah portion for the week is about grandparents, parents and children. The parashah, Veyechi, opens with Jacob/Israel’s second life, the one in Egypt, after he’s found out that Joseph was alive, and his soul was restored by knowing this. He lived in Egypt for seventeen years, (same number as Joseph’s years when he was abducted) when the days of his death were drawing near. He not only has found his beloved, favored son again, but now has two grandsons by Joseph: Ephraim and Menasheh, and he tells Joseph he is adopting them as his own(!) and will bless them.  It must be happiness squared for Jacob who never expected to see Joseph again. Jacob has many other grandchildren, but none are accorded this honor.

Among all Jacob’s grandchildren, one girl is listed, Serah, daughter of Asher. The legend of Serah is extraordinary: it is said she is the one who told Jacob that Joseph was alive by creating lyrics and playing the harp so the shock would not be too great. She was then blessed by her grandfather, with the blessing of immortality! She moved to Egypt with her family, saw Joseph’s bones buried in the mud beneath the Nile, and then when the generation freed by Moses 400 years later needed to exhume Joseph’s bones to fulfill that promise to return him to Canaan, it was Serah who told Moses where to find the casket.

So after grandparents’ day, I tried to imagine what that scene in the tent was like, with Serah playing the harp. I imagined she was a favorite of her sad grandpa, playing to soothe the demons of this man with only half a spirit left. Perhaps she had already known that Joseph was still alive, but feared to tell him. Perhaps there were scraps of rainbow cloth for her. As she began her song that day what did it sound like? A minor start, falling melody, changing to a gentle major?

A favorite son has father Jacob, fair or form, but he did part from us. Stronger even than death’s angel, a dreamer, alive within our hearts; Yes, Joseph our beloved dreamer was to Egypt swept. He rose and told the dreams of Pharoah, in majesty was kept. He rules the kingdom, saves from famine, and calls us to his side. Arise grandfather and rejoice, beloved Joseph is alive.

Slowly grandfather Jacob lifts his eyes, accustomed to only looking down. What is this you say, Serah, is your song true? I know you would not break my heart, little Serah, you have always served me well. Can it be? Oh my beautiful girl, (how did I never see that before) it is too incredible to believe! You have restored my very soul. You know once I was open to the voice and the ear of the Almighty – I saw a ladder where heaven and earth touched. By that power I bless you , a life for a life returned, may you live and never die, my Serah.


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