5775 A Year of Good Hope and Gentle Changes

At this season, when we wish each other Shanah Tovah, we usually don’t think of the possibilities that the greeting offers us. We simply hear it as a greeting of good cheer for the New Year. But not me, not anymore. This year has been filled with too many challenges, some hard and hurtful, some sorrowful and stern. And so I turn to the meaning of the words Shanah Tovah for comfort and courage and encouragement. I find in the maze of meaning, hope for a better second half (this is, after all, the seventh month of the Jewish year). For me, for my inner well-being, I parse the words Shanah Tovah to mean “May this be a time of good changes.” In that blessing I hope and pray that in the coming year of 5775, I will learn the lessons that are sent my way and find the changes to be as gentle as the breeze through the meadow. I look back at the past year and find that the winds were too harsh. I look to the coming months with the hope that comes with spring and the promise that is fall. I have seen too much this year of the end of life paths, some before they even had a beginning. Nevertheless these changes have been punctuated with lessons; I now must face and accept that which happened this year as messengers and teachers. My daughter and son in law have taught me so much about compassionate courage and indomitable hope. The untimely and shocking passing of a friend challenges me not to surrender in the face of adversity. The stark challenge of Cancer, faced with courage and faith and love demands of me an awareness of the gift of life that I often take for granted.
And the passing of my Rebbe brings into focus so many of the lessons that he offered as gifts to me. Every day, before I Daven (pray and meditate) in the morning, I see his picture and his Mateh, his walking stick. And the slow, too slow awareness of his great and quiet lessons that he gave me in private council call to me. I hear them, see them, feel them so deeply. And I wish that I could once again share with him, question him, laugh and cry with him. And maybe we do, but it is hard for me without his physical presence. Yet they do come to me and in many guises.
I was once kvetching about never learning to chant, whether it be Torah or Tfilah (prayer). He shared a story of how he at times chanted a Torah portion not according to the traditional trop, but according to the meaning of the words and the message he wanted to transmit. I recalled that once, with my father (ztl), I had been asked to lead an Orthodox minyan. Coming from a Reform background, this was a challenge. My father (ztl) gave a wonderful sermon off the cuff, which was to be expected. But I was to chant Torah and I am Trop deficient. When it came time for me to chant I made it up as I went along, according to the meaning. After the service, an elderly member of the congregation complimented me on my chanting (a very compassionate lady) and not recognizing it, asked if it was Sephardic. I glibly answered: “As far as you know!” I felt that I had gotten away with something until my Rebbe shared his story. Then I felt foolish. We had both done the same thing. But, I had done it to disguise my ignorance and he had done it to impart a teaching.
After my Rebbe passed this year, I noticed that my davenin (as he would pronounce it) has taken on a new character. I chant everything. And each time, the chant is different. The chant follows the meaning of the prayers and at the same time the chant reflects my mood, my meaning, my need and my hopes. The chanting is prayerful and to me powerful and extremely personal. I can’t chant that way in front of others. I get intimidated and return to the melodies that I have learned, the traditional or not so traditional tunes, depending on the mix of the people who I am leading. But when I am alone I find myself delving into personal meaning, and each time I find something new. Each time I receive another Rebbe lesson.
A few weeks ago, it struck me as I was davenin, how the first and second paragraphs of the Shema have a small divergence in the phrase ” דבר בם” (speak them). After being charged with teaching our children, in the first paragraph we are instructed to “ודברת בם” (and speak the words) and in the second paragraph, “לדבר בם” (teach them to speak the words). In the first version we teach the way of Sacred Connections to our children “And speak of them” that is to say by living them ourselves. In the second version “so that they will speak of them” we teach them so that they will live and breathe and say them. It struck me as a great parental teaching. If we are to teach our children, the first and best way is by doing ourselves. Then we can share with them and they will learn the holy lessons and will speak them and live them. It’s a great lesson that I might not have picked up, if my Rebbe hadn’t challenged me to chant with Kavanah, that intense intention.
And there is a hidden lesson within the hidden lesson. There is another teaching that I received from my Rebbe which ties in with the teaching of ” דבר בם” (speak them). Once we were chatting in the car and he offered me a challenge. My Rebbe told me to go home and spend fifteen minutes a day realizing that I am a Tzadik. I must admit that while I laughed at the challenge, my ego swelled to the point that I didn’t think that I could fit it in the car. When I arrived home I found a private place to explore what I thought would be an enjoyable fifteen minutes. I sat for a while feeling proud of myself for being a Tzadik until it struck me that pride was not appropriate for a Tzadik, so I had to discard that. Then into my mind came those who had, in my way of looking at things, wronged me. My disdain for them flashed (after all I was a Tzadik for fifteen minutes) until I realized that antagonism too was not very Tzadik-ist. I struggled to push those thoughts away and began to concentrate on what a Tzadik should think and do. The more I tried, the farther away Tzadik-hood seemed to travel. I became angry with Tzadik-ness. That too interfered. So I tried to think of how I could actuate my Tzadik-itude. But that too eluded me. Finally I let go and some sweet thoughts of hope and love and compassion filled me. It made me feel happy with myself. Damn, missed again. I then noticed that I had been sitting for over an hour. I hadn’t even gotten the timing down. For a whole week I struggled and strained and failed. When I reported back to my Rebbe, I told him that his assignment was the cruelest thing he had ever done to me. His belly laugh was infectious. Well I have continued to try and fail and probably will continue to fail for the rest of my life. But there was a wonderful lesson there. No Tzadik realizes that s/he is a Tzadik. No Tzadik tries to be a Tzadik. That is the challenge for us, the Benonim, the in-betweeners. And I notice that in the lesson of ” דבר בם” (speak them) is another hidden message from my Rebbe. The two letters that make the difference between “ודברת בם” and “לדבר בם” are ל and ו. ל’ו Lamed Vahv which refers to the 36 righteous people who hold our world in balance. A Tzadik lives his teachings and we who are fortunate enough to bump into that Tzadik along the way, have the opportunity to learn the lessons and speak of them and sometimes, when we aren’t trying to be a Tzadik, we can live their lessons and they become ours.

Bitul HaYesh: Spiritual Transperancy

ImageThe Bitul
Bottle
Shabbos can be so sweet. Every week for about
14 years I have studied with  my Rebbe and friend.  For
the past few years, I have picked him up at 0800hrs. We chat and
laugh and I have the honor and pleasure of going with him to the
home of a friend and we study for a couple of hours and then go and
daven. It is a routine and ritual that is comfy and joyful. As part
of the ritual, my belovedest (my wife, partner and friend) puts a
bottle of lavender water in the cup holder for ‘da Rebbe’ He laughs
and blesses her in abstentia, reminding me again of how special she
is. Of late I have received a powerful reminder (though none was
needed) of how incredibly special she is to me. She has been
diagnosed with cancer. We are supporting her as she goes
through this procedure that will אי׳ה cure her. She and we who love
her so much are sometimes filled with worry and fear and anger, all
the emotions that I have seen and through which I have counseled
others. We reach out to the Wholly One of Being. And we discover G
in some wild and wonderful places. One of those places is an empty
bottle. The Shabbos after we learned the frightening news that my
belovedest has cancer of the throat I showed up at my Rebbe’s home
to go and study and daven. As always and despite the devastating
revelation of the week, my belovedest, as she does on every
Shabbos, sent along a bottle of Lavender water. The Rebbe’s
reaction this time was different. When I handed him the bottle as
is our ritual, he took it in his hands, bowed his head and
whispered prayers. I could not hear most of what he said, though I
think that I heard the words רפואה שלימה   (Refuah
Shlemah – a harmonious and complete healing) in his prayers. 
Was it my imagination that his eyes were moist? He turned to me and
gave me my ‘marching orders’. I was told to take the bottle back to
Hedvah and she was to drink it. When I returned home, I handed it
to my confused wife. When I explained what our Rebbe had said and
done, she was moved by his gesture. She went into the Sukkah, sat
quietly for a while and drank the water that had been blessed by
Reb Zalman. I wish that I could say that she was miraculously
healed, but that is not the way of things. I have faith that, after
the many weeks of excruciatingly painful radiation treatments, she
will be healed and whole. After drinking the water under the leafy
canopy of the Sukkah she put the bottle in the Sukkah where it
remained for the rest of Sukkot. Sukkot has ended. The ‘walls’ and
frame are put away. The etrog and lulav are placed pleasingly to
the eye around our home. And the bottle remains, a personal
reminder in our home of faith and hope and love. Now this amazing
woman is facing this terrible test. This אשת חיל  this warrior
woman, woman of valor is frightened. She is not afraid of the
worst. Her real fear is to be a burden. She, who is always
concerned with the needs of others, is still concerned with the
needs of others. She doesn’t want to ask for help. She doesn’t want
to put us in a difficult position. Her faith in HaShem is so deep
that this test is not a challenge to that faith. Instead there is a
(and I feel strange saying this) beauty that radiates from deep
inside. She is transparent. In
Kabbalah there is an amazing concept: ביטול היש.  It is
usually translated as the nullification of the self before G. Our
Rebbe interprets it as making our souls transparent before G.
During this terrible trial we who love her and are here to support
my belovedest are becoming more aware of this transparency. I
believe that every experience in life is a test and a lesson. We
take the tests and in time the lessons present themselves. In this
case, with this woman, a few of the lessons are becoming visible
through her through her transparency, to me. And every day I give
thanks for her presence in my life and the blessings that she
embodies. As we move forward, I will be writing about the challenge
that my belovedest I facing and the lessons that we are learning
from tests taken. You can find updates on this blog, the page Hedvah: Our Joy.
One of these lessons is the humility to ask. I have trouble asking.
Even now as I write this, I am having trouble formulating the
words. Since Hedvah is going through this long and painful
procedure, we are in need. We need your prayers and good thoughts.
And we need Tzedaka. The expenses of returning to health are
staggering. And there are the day to day expenses of life for a
family that is experiencing anything but day to day life. Anything
that you, who are reading, this could contribute would mean so much
to us. Tax deductible
contributions can be made to: NCHD
Mark in the lower left corner “Davis
family”
Send to: Eve
llsen
1720 Lehigh St.
Boulder, CO 80305

 

A holy season of tests and lessons.

My Rebbe the other day, told me a story about a story.

A man comes to the Besht and tells him that he has done something horrible and cannot live with himself. He needs to find a way of making Tshuvah. The Baal Shem Tov interrupts and exclaims that he has a story to tell. It is the story of two milk brothers. Milk brothers are two children who share a wet nurse. They are as close as brothers should be. They study together sharing insights. They laugh and cry together. They were always together until…

When they grow up they eventually move away from each other to go into different businesses.  They both do well in business until…

One of the two loses everything. He goes to his friend who, without hesitation, gives him half of all his money.  The one who had lost everything does well recovering his fortune and more.  Everything is going well until…

After time, the giver loses everything and goes to his friend who he had helped. The friend, the taker speaks kind words but sneaks out in order to avoid helping his boyhood milk-brother. The friend, the giver leaves sad and disappointed.  And yet in time recovers his losses and becomes, once again, very well off until…

The taker who would not give again loses everything again and goes to his old friend the giver, who he had ignored and again begs for help. And again the milk brother giver gives half of his wealth, but this time requires an IOU.  Again the taker who would not giverecovers his lost wealth.  Everything seems to be fine until…

Years later the giver again falls on hard times. On a cold, snowy, winter day, he goes to the taker again but again the taker refuses to give, to make good on his debt. The giver walks away in poverty and sadness in the snowstorm. On the long trek he freezes to death. In שמים  there is a tulmut.

The decision is that the giver will receive heavenly reward while the taker will be punished. But the giver asks that they both be sent back and the taker given the chance to redeem himself. So it is decided that the taker will be born wealthy and the giver will be a beggar. If the taker gives even a some spare change it will change the decree. So the giver, now beggar, shows up at the taker, now rich man’s house. He puts his hand out and looks into the eye of the taker, neither man remembering their previous incarnation. The taker, now rich miser, for some reason can’t bear the look in the giver now beggar’s face. He pushes the beggar out of his way. But the giver now beggar trips,  falls and dies …again.

At this point the person hearing the story from the Baal Shem Tov screamed. He moaned, “I am that man.” A beggar came to me and, I don’t know why, but I was so upset that I pushed him. He slipped on the ice and fell and died. What can I do?”

The Besht said:  “the decree has been made. But maybe you still have a chance. Go home and take everything you have, divide it in two. Find the family of the beggar. Give them half of all that you own.”

“Will that change the decree against me?” Asked the man.

The Besht responded; “I don’t know. G has free will too.”

I have been thinking of that story over the holy days as I sit in our Sukkah.  A thought keeps bubbling up.

I was once asked to give a graduation speech at a high school. In my talk I mentioned that in school, in that protected environment we learn our lessons and then we take our tests.

But in real life the tests come first. If we survive and  if we are open we learn lessons. In my Rebbe’s story the taker was tested and found wanting. Did he learn from those tests?  That is left for us, we are left to finish the story.

I like the feel of that idea of tests and lessons and it has proved true on many occasions. I look back at my 64 years of tests taken and lessons learned and unlearned.  They are a source of great joy and great sadness in my life. I speak often of the concept of tests and lessons. Once, a couple who were members of my congregation were in a car accident. I rushed to the hospital and sat with them both. After assurances that the wounds were not life threatening and the healing would, in time be complete, the woman looked up at me, tears in her eyes and said: “Rabbi, what’s the lesson?” I couldn’t help but smile.  I responded: “First, let’s finish the test.” They both survived the test and with the help of my wife and myself they got back on their feet financially.

I am sad that over the years, as their financial situation improved, their relationship with us declined, but that is the test that I had to take and the lessons that I still have to learn.

Now, as we start 5774, my family is facing many tests. Our grandson lives with us and there are special tests for 64 year olds raising a 16 year old child. The lessons on patience have been powerful and somewhat painful. And they have been enabling and enlightening.

There is the test of having one child half a country away that is for me a tearful test. Yet there are lessons in the too few late night calls that we share. They always melt the miles, with tears or laughter, whether through the focus on what has been read and watched or what has been felt and what is shared, every call is a lesson on the deepest meaning of מצווה Mitzvah, “sacred coonection”. Though thousands of miles apart this strong, brilliant, beautiful young man is eternally a part of my heart.

I have a daughter who lives but a few miles away and finds fulfillment in life by literally touching the roots of life in her garden, working side by side with her husband. These two work their separate important jobs and come together in the garden. What a loving act of connection. These two wonderful young   poeple make a wonderful Mitzvah/connection with each other, with nature, with G and with me as they bring their bounty to our door. The test for me is letting my role change as my daughter has grown into a beautifully wise and compassionate and woman, who shares her life with her partner, lover and friend. My lesson is to let go while holding her tight in my heart.

There are tests and lessons that fill our lives and become apparent through rituals of awareness such as the   ימים נוראים/Yamim Noraim. I believe more in synchronicity then in coincidence. And this year brings the point home. My wife is went through medical tests, during these 10 days of Awe. And I find myself weeping through my davenin. I understand that we cannot learn the lessons while in tendrils of the test. I have learned to focus on the tests and allow the lessons to blossom in their own time. I have learned that time does not heal all wounds nor does it wound all heels. But time does soften the glare and sometimes distills the light into sparks of enlightenment.

In the mean-time  and sometimes it does seem  that time is mean, we need to involve ourselves in the Awesome Days and the joy of Sukkot through what has been called “spiritual  C.P.R. Charity,  Prayer and Repentance”. We need to give and we need to receive spiritual CPR.

In light of all the changes that defined 5773, my ‘New Year’s Resoul-ution for 5774 is:  To accept awe as the roots of awareness: To take the tests with that awareness: To learn the lessons from the tests taken: And to strive to live those lessons by giving with awareness and receiving with awe that Spiritual C.P.R.

Elevating every moment into High and Holy Days

I have been blessed! 

For the past 14 years, I have been able to study (at least once a week) with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a great teacher and warm hearted Tzadik.

 

Lately, we have studied every Shabbos.  I come away feeling the power of the teachings and empowered to create my own understanding of those teachings. 

I am blessed!
 

 

I would like to share the blessings!
For the purposes of ‘Elul-ING,’ here is something that we learned together.

It begins with the names
Yaakov
and
Yisrael

and the concepts of
Transcendence

(Sovev Kal Almim),

and
Imminence

(Mimaleh Kal Almim).

We ask ourselves..
How do the two names of our patriarch fit in with
the two deep concepts of Transcendence and Imminence?

The name Yaakov can be separated into ‘Yod Ekev’ which is interpreted as
‘one who recognizes Hochmah’  that momentary flash of insight and then ‘who spends time in Binah’ which is the process by which we understand those flashes.’

Think for a moment of a flash of lighting in the middle of the night.
For a second, the world lights up and the beauty of the power is revealed.
And then, it is gone.

But if we were, perchance, to catch that powerful sight with a camera, we could look at all that is lit up by the lightning and spend time in the awareness of all that is revealed.

To me, this relates to ‘Sechel’ (the hebrew word for wisdom) which I interpret as street smarts or experiential intelligence. As human beings, we have those flashes, the ah ha moments and use our experiences to turn those moments into judgments in life.   In a sense, it is the Sechel acting in accord with our Goof, (the hebrew for our body). I am hungry, so I use my Sechel to make a meal. I am driving and my Sechel says, “stop at the traffic light.”
 

When I look at this world, my Sechel fills my Goof with awe.

The mountains of Colorado always blow me away.  Watching the bears eat berries fills me with joy. I find it incredible that trees carry the seeds of their future and that insight leads me to the awareness that we humans also carry within us the sacred seeds of our future. When I see pictures of the earth from space, I am amazed and filled with hope. The world is one place, one unit, indivisible. And all the diversity of our planet is part of that oneness. And that for me is Sovev Kal Almim, Transcendence, HaShem God-ING our universe in every moment even though we may not recognize the God in the God-ING. ‘Yod Ekev’  means, to me, following that tiny yod (י) of awareness, body and mind.

After doing battle with, and being wounded by a messenger in the night, Yaakov’s name is changed to Yisrael. In this particular understanding, his name becomes ‘Li Rosh’ by scrambling the letters. ‘Li Rosh’ could mean ‘my head.’   But in this case it represents an elevation of awareness. I feel and need and want God in my life. Like the old prayer; “Dear God, give me patience…NOW!”   I feel the immediacy of God in my life, that imminent relationship referred to as Mimaleh Kal Almin, Imminence.

At the birth of my children, and the death of loved ones, in my lowest moments of despair and the heights of joy,  I discover God God-ING into me and sometimes through me.

When I lose myself in davenin and in so doing find God, I feel the Mimaleh Kal Almin, the imminence and immediacy of being in the moment with the Wholly One of Being.

 

When I do the small act of Tzedaka by giving a dollar to a person on the street, or share a teaching that touches in an “I-Thou” moment, I feel the God-ING.

When a stranger gives me the right of way on the road, or a friend shares a story that touches my soul, I recognize and am awed by the Wholly One of Being active and activating in my life and I feel blessed.

We all live daily in our Yaakov existence as we should.
 
But if we strive for it and are blessed with a certain openness to the Thou in our lives, we discover our personal Yisrael, as we are awed by God God-ING in our lives.
 
And, we are blessed.

How are we Jewing with our Eluling

In Hebrew, every word is a verb.
When we try the same thing in English,
some surprising and wonderful things can occur.

For example, when we take the word
‘Jew’ as a noun,
we ask,
who is a Jew?

When we use the word
‘Jew’ as an adjective, Jew-ish,
we might ask,
which kind of a Jew are you?

But, when
Jew becomes a verb, Jew-ING
the questions flow in a different direction.

I refuse to reduce the verb ‘Jew’ to the anti-Semitic cliches.  I take back the term from the haters.  I proudly ask of myself the good questions:

How do you Jew?
When do you Jew? 
Where do you Jew?
How often do you Jew?
What is your Jew-ING quotient?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Jew-ING in my life. This month in the Jewish calendar  is Elul and in Elul we begin a process of self-examination, of self-exploration in preparation for the high of the High Holy Days.  We take this month of Elul to to look within, to let go and then look forward to 5774.

Elul is here.  It is time for us to verb-alize our Jew-ING.

How do you Jew?
Do you Jew your food?
Do you Jew ritually?
Do you Jew your money into Tzedakah to help others?
Do you Jew with your children?
How do you Jew daily?

This is the month when we begin the self-examination of our own Jewing.
 

I suppose what we are really Jew-ING this month is Eluli-ING!

The See of Tranquility

 

My brother, the leading Rabbi in Wichita, Kansas, posted a problem on Facebook. It began with the word להסתכל,  ‘to look at…’

 

He noted that the root of this word meaning “to see,”להסתכל    isסכל , which means “confused or stupid.” He pointed out that perhaps שכל should be the root rather than סכל for a word that would mean “to see.”  While שכל and סכל are homonyms, their meanings are opposite. The word  שכל, means “intelligent” (I would add that it refers to common sense or ‘street smarts’).  Whereas סכל ,means “stupid or confused.”

 

How then does סכל, meaning “confused,”
fit into the word
להסתכל meaning

 

“to see?” 

 

When I began to consider ways of understanding the conundrum, a memory bubbled up. A Junior High school teacher of mine, a Mr. Gaucho would often exclaim: “out of confusion comes wisdom.“Thanks Mr. Gaucho, I think I get it. My brother’s challenge lights up the issue.  סכל/confusion is the source of sight.   Seeing, eyes open, is the beginning of wisdom.

 

להסתכל,  meaning “confusing sight,”  is preliminary to a process that may lead to wisdom. But our first sight can be very סכל/confusing.     After that confusing ‘first sight‘ we have choices:   We can remain in our confusion, ignoring the process to which that ‘first sight’ points…….OR……. We can delve deeper with a little שכל/wisdom as our goal.   The play on סכל/שכל   provides a process. 

 

When we take a first look at our world, it is confusing…..

 

The ‘dysfunctionality’ of our government is confusing…

 

The enmity in the Middle East between peoples who should be able to relate to each other is confusing… 

 

The movement by people from faith to faith with no core faith practice to ground them is confusing…

 

The way we are destroying our planet is confusing….. 

 

 When I  להסתכל,  take my first look, I am סכל /confused.

 

So, confusion as part of first sight makes sense.   

 

But that is not enough.  

 

So, I went back and I looked deeper at the root, סכל,  

 

and found that it has another translation;  

 

“bright.”   

 

Bright” has many meanings but there is always an allusion to light. On the simple level it makes sense.  In order to see, we need light and it needs to be bright.  But on a deeper level,  in order to see deeper, we ourselves need to become bright.  We need to become our own source of bright light.   We need to light up and lighten up; we need to be bright enough to look beneath the surface in a joyous and gentle exploration.

 

And this leads us to another clue. That clue comes from grammar.   The Hebrew word להסתכל is the intensive reflexive form of the word. In a sense, the word could mean “to look intently on the confusion and the brightness that is within us. ” We need to look deeper.  We need to involve ourselves in the challenges working from the inside out.  

 

Beneath the surface we discover some good questions such as,  

 

How can we become more involved in the life of our country?  

 

What can I do to make a difference?

 

How can we brighten the path to a more caring country?  

 

How can I reach in and then reach out to others? 

 

How did hatred come about?   

 

What is my role in lessening the harsh glare of hatred? 

 

What are the ways to soften the glare of hurt and anger?  

 

How can we shed  a soft light on hatred, brighten our future as the human race?

 

How can we help each other, not only to observe what is happening to our planet, but also to observe certain simple rituals that will turn the tide of planetary self-destruction?

 

The questions seem simple.   

 

What is my role in the dark negativity and what can I do share light in this world?

 

The first step is to shine a light on our own soul and ask the questions.  Then we have to leave the comfortable darkness of apathy, of saying, I do enough.  We have to shine our light and help others ask their own questions.   

 

We cannot find the answers unless we ask the questions. 

 

 When we look out and look in with intensity and reflection 

we begin to see real meaning;

 

when we look into the confusion with good questions of light,

 

we can להסתכל,

 

“to look brightly;” 

 

we can brighten the confusing path to wisdom.

 

 

 

For the last year, dealing with health issues, I have also been doing some Re-Souling as well. I would like to share some of my reflections on the process with my friends. I begin with this little Mymar (sharing).

Re-Souling begins with awareness.  One doesn’t have to be thrust into a grand event to begin the process of Re-Souling. We begin the process of re-souling simply by discovering that we experience G in our everyday lives in the small moments that become great when we realize that G can be experienced in even the most mundane and normal aspects of our lives..

 My grandfather (זצ’ל) Rabbi Abraham Cronbach, was often asked to teach at NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) youth camps.  At one such camp institute, Grandpa was asked to write and direct a play using the teenage campers as actors with the topic; “Discovering G in our world.”

When asked how many kids grandpa wanted in the play, he responded in his soft cracked voice: “Three will be sufficient.” The next question had to do with props that the Rabbi would need. His response: “If it is not too much of an inconvenience, might I have a bench?” And so with 3 students and a bench grandpa prepared a play.

The play went like this:

The curtain opened with the entire cast of 3 sitting on the one prop.

The first camper opened with: 

“I wanted, more than anything, to go to college. But I was poor and could not afford to go. So I worked after school and got good grades and received a scholarship. Between the job and the scholarship I got into college.

And in that moment of joy, I discovered G.”

The next kid spoke up.

He said: “I too wanted to go to college. I too worked hard after school and got good grades, but he got the scholarship and I did not. I didn’t get to attend college. As I sat in my sorrow a stranger came up to me, sat with me and comforted me.

And in that stranger’s compassion I discovered G.”

The last boy on the bench looked up and said:

“I was that guy. I saw someone sitting in sorrow and I felt drawn to him. I sat with him and shared words. I felt his sadness and tried to comfort him.

And in my poor attempt to console him, I discovered G.”

And with that the curtain came down on the short play.

That story from 60 or so years ago has of late bubbled up in my soul. 

 

A couple days a week, I work for an organization called, Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) of the city of Boulder, Colorado in the guise of “Mountain Man Jake.”  My ‘job’ used to entail leading hikes, and telling stories of the Old West. I also shared the knowledge that I have gleaned from the experts who work for OSMP in flora, fauna, geology, ecology and the environment. 

I can no longer lead hikes because of annoying, infernal infirmities. Now, I stay mostly in the Ranger Cottage and advise people who are going on hikes. But I still enjoy talking with people, sharing what I have learned about the area, telling tales of the Old West and helping create hikes for visitors to this amazing and unique place. This is made all the more fruitful/interesting because of the variety of people who come to OSMP.  I have led hikes for and given talks to groups from Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and the Middle East.  People come from Japan and Germany, Malaysia and Norway, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.  The diversity of people offers me an opportunity for discovering the experience of G in my interaction with others.  In these small moments of cultural, racial, interfaith interface some amazing G experiences happen.

I once sent a young Saudi man and a young Israeli man on a rather strenuous hike together. Showing them the hike was my ‘job’. Suggesting that they might like to solve the Middle East crisis on their hike was my challenge to them. When they returned, they were laughing and talking. When I saw them returning laughing, joking, listening, I experienced G in our world.

If only all ‘enemies’ would take a hike together… walking through G’s wonders can do wonders for opening the eyes of enemies to wonders of peaceful coexistence.

Once, in the cottage, an argument developed between an Egyptian fundamentalist Christian couple and their American hosts. They had seen a depiction of Boulder 120 million years ago. The Christian couple insisted that the world was not that old. The Boulder couple began to argue science. I stepped in because they were getting a little loud and disturbing other potential hikers. I suggested to them that they had no common language and therefore could not understand the arguments of the other. One side was speaking science and one was speaking faith. They were arguing in different languages and not translating and so there was no point in continuing. They would have to agree to disagree.  Then maybe they could learn to listen and hear each other’s lessons. 

We learn only in translation. But that requires an openness to hear the G in each other, to experience G in our lives. Science and faith can coexist and thrive but only if each has respect for the other.

Their argument sputtered out.  With a little nudging, each couple agreed to a field trip with the other. The Egyptian couple would take the Boulder couple to church and the Boulder couple would take the Egyptian couple to CU’s Museum of Natural History.  In their decision to listen to each other in translation, I experienced G.

Discover G in your everyday life.   Realize that G can be experienced in even the most mundane and normal aspects of your life.. And allow yourself to Re-Soul.

Vayechi and sibling rivalry

Vayechi:

The blessing of Ephraim and Menashe.

Every Shabbos, we bless our sons that they should be like Menahse and Ephraim.  There is a blessing for girls too, but that is not the subject of this little vort.

 The blessing goes like this:

May G bless (literally: put) you to be like Menashe and Ephraim

יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה

May G bless you and guard you.

  יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ יְ וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ 

May G show you favor and be gracious to you.

  יָאֵר  יְ יְ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ  

May G show you kindness and grant you peace.
יִשָּׂא  יְ יְ  פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום      

Yaakov gave a blessing to these two sons of Yosef, but showed favor for the younger over the older.  In doing so, he was following what had become the traditional way of our ancestors. Avraham chose his second son, Yitzhak over his half brother Yishmael. Rivkah overruled Yitzhak to choose second son, Yaakov over his older brother Exav. Yaakov’s favorite son was not his firstborn, Reuven, rather it was Yosef, his 11th son. And when he blesses his grandchildren, he gives preference to his 2nd grandson Ephraim over his older brother Menashe. 

 In each of the cases before Ephraim and Menashe there tended to be trouble.  Yishmael and his mother were cast out.  In the case of Yishmael and Yitzhak the conflict continues to this very day. Esav planned fratricide on his younger brother.  Yosef is thrown into a pit, sold into slavery and his father is shown evidence that he was slaughterd by wild beasts.

 But here is the difference.  In the case of Menashe and Ephraim there is not one hint of coflict. The silence in Torah speaks loudly.

We are taught that Torah is not only black fire written on white fire, but also white fire on black fire. The white fire in this case refers to the lack of any mention of conflict between these two brothers.

 Every Shabbos parents bless our children praying that they will be like Menashe and Ephraim; the two siblings who don’t fight; the two siblings who break the tradition of sibling rivalry. And we pray that the cycle will be broken for all humankind

Now can we talk about rational gun control???????

 

 

The paid professionals of the NRA and certain of their supporters in Congress or rather those Congress people supported by the money of the NRA (and others) say that we should be silent after gun tragedies.  If we were silent after such carnage, we would never have this necessary conversation. There are too many murders and massacres.  Now is the time to have a conversation and more.I have read many articles and responses since this tragedy.  Some argue as to what the Second Amendment really says.  The arguments become as complicated as Talmudic argumentation and open to as many interpretations. To simplify, it boils down to the placement of a comma.  And though arguing the meaning of the Second Amendment might be an enjoyable academic exercise it is pointless.  The Second Amendment is not why guns are so prevalent in our country.  The reason guns are so embedded in our national psyche is deeper and more emotional.  There are historical and cultural reasons for our love affair with the gun.  Our history is defined by the gun.  Our cultural mythos is punctuated by the gun.  From Davy Crockett to Sergeant York, from Jeremiah Johnson to Wyatt Earp, we have glorified the gun and the man who could use one. So let us put away the argument as to whether we should outlaw the gun altogether.  It ain’t gonna happen… yet.

Having said that, there is a rational argument for limiting the type of gun that can be owned by civilians.  That argument is: We already limit what we can own.  Automatic weapons require a special license and explosive rounds are already outlawed.  Therefore, to limit the number of rounds per magazine and outlaw assault weapons (or copies thereof) for civilian use are not unreasonable.  We do not need assault weapons for self-defense and there are better target guns and hunting rifles.  No one can seriously argue that the Second Amendment, which was written when the best shooters around could only fire 2 or maybe 3 rounds in a minute, was meant to include today’s assault weapons.  Today, the average fully automatic assault rifle fires between 300 and 600 rounds per minute. –  Semi-automatic weapons send a round downrange as fast as one can pull the trigger.  So our starting point is to limit what we can own.  By the way, if you think that this limitation is unique and unfair, try to buy a large amount of whatever sinus medication that unscrupulous people use to make methamphetamines. Or purchase a car that doesn’t meet safety standards.

 That leaves the discussion of the procedures and limitations of gun ownership. And the only argument that makes sense in this time when nothing seems to make sense is to speak of what many call gun regulations.

 When I wanted to get my driver’s license, I had to take a course in how to drive a car and how to be safe in that car.  Then I took two tests, one written and one driving.  When I passed them both I received my license which has to be renewed every few years.  Every car that I have ever owned was registered and I had to purchase insurance just in case I had an accident. In addition cars must have certain safety devices such as seat belts and we have to use them.   On top of that, there are laws as to where I can drive, how fast I can go and on and on.  I do not begrudge the process, it makes sense to me. It is reasonable; it is a rational way to handle the dangers of vehicles. 

Why not have a similar set of rules and procedures for owning a gun. In order to obtain a license to own a gun one would have to take courses that would teach us to shoot accurately and safely. In addition, the course would seek to imbue in us with the responsibility of owning a gun.  Then there would be a background check and tests on gun use and safety. If these are passed, a license is issued.  The license would have to be renewed at regular intervals.  In addition, if one wanted to purchase a gun, there would be a registration process.  Each gun would be registered and when sold, it would have to be recorded.   As with cars there would be rules as to how, where and when one could carry a weapon (pretty much as it is now). These rules are nothing new either.  After all the gunfight at the O.K. corral was, on the surface, an attempt to arrest men breaking the ‘no carry law’ of the city of Tombstone.

 

 

 

 

The Kabbalistic meaning of 12/12/12

Today is 12/12/12
This seems to be a special date. My brother pointed out that this is the last time in our lifetime that the day, month and year will be the same number. He challenged his friends and students to interpret this phenomenon.
 
One might see in 12/12/12 the double reminder that there is hope and yet we have more to do. It is the date of ‘almost.’
 
12 is almost the age of Bar Mitzvah, the age of responsibility. Students have been studying, preparing (in theory) to become responsible members of the Jewish community, ‘Members of the Tribe.’ 12 is almost the age of membership.
 
12+12=24 which is almost the ‘equational’ equivalent of G’s name (which is 26). G’s name represents perfection, oneness, within and beyond time. And 24 is almost the number of the Holy One of Being.
 
12+12+12=36 which represents the number of perfectly righteous human beings on the planet at any given time. 36 represents the balance between good and evil. One less and the world will spiral into evil. One more perfectly righteous soul would tip the scales in the other diretion and we would live heavenly days on earth. 36 is almost the number of perfection.
 
12, 24, 36 are numbers that represent hope for the future and the challenge to continue the good work of making the world into a messianic masterpiece.
 
Oh and by the way, at 12 minutes and 12 seconds after 12:00 on 12/12/12 it will be 12+12+12+12+12+12 which equals 72. 72 represents one of the names we attribute to G. It is derived from Exodus 14: 19-21. Each verse contains 72 letters. The first word in each verse translates to “come,” “go” and “extend.” We travel down the road, we “come” and “go” on our life path. But if we are going to improve our world, to make it Mashiah friendly, we are going to have to continue to “extend” ourselves.
 
We are almost there but we have to “keep on keepin on” until we and our all people can live heavenly days on earth.
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