For the High and Holy Days, a Story of the Journey to Oz.

B’H

We are entering the year of תשעז 5777. There is a little game that some of us play.  We take the letters/numbers and form a word that will emphasize the depth of meaning of the New Year. This year, the word found within the number/letters is Ohz (עז).  Ohz has many meanings:  Seek refuge, to fortify, bring to safety, to dare, to venture  to be strong, powerful, courageous, sharp, vigorous, bright (as in color), intense, energetic, firm, and possessing fortitude.

 

With that understanding and with a little prompting from my belovedest a story bubbled up.  The story also contains a play on other Hebrew words appropriate to this sacred season. There are many levels to this stories, I hope you enjoy.

(Halacha הלכה means Jewish Law but more accurately is Path or ‘way to go’)

(Shana שנה means year, but is also means change and teaching)

(Shana Tovah שנה טובה means a good New Year and Good Changes and Good teaching/Learning).

The other translations found in this piece are taken from the Siddur/Prayer book and from Torah, our Sacred Guide.

The Wizard of Oz (Ohz)

I had a dream the other night. I was on a ‘yellow brick road.’ I was on a path (Halacha הלכה).  As I walked the path I discovered an old woman with an old dog. I asked where she was headed. She said she was on the road to Oz (pronounced Ohz). She hoped that when she reached Oz, the wizard would help her return (Teshuvah תשובה) home. She said: “I just want it to be like it was at the beginning (mehadeash bchal yom ma’aseh braeshit מעשה בראשית מחדש בכל יום). We walked together for a while in silence as I pondered her words. Why was I on this road (Halacha הלכה), I wondered. We walked on together.

Sometimes the path was narrow, sometimes wide. There were forks in the road and some spoons, but we continued. After a while we met a strange man on the same path (Halacha הלכה). He had long, wild blond hair that looked like straw. He was thin and his clothes were old and disheveled. He looked like a scarecrow. He fell in with us as we walked on. I asked where he was going. He responded that he was on his way to Oz (Ohz עז). He had come from the east where things were very muddled. And living in the muddled east his mind had become muddled. He said that he was having trouble recognizing what were soulful (nafshecha נפשך) thoughts and what were scattered daydreams. He was hoping that when he reached Oz, he might find change (Shana שנה) to make him more mindful of his world and his soul (nafshecha נפשך). I thought about his words silently as we walked on together. The scarecrow seemed to have a much clearer vision of how to proceed than the old woman or me. We continued down that yellow brick road.  It seemed that the muddle minded scarecrow was leading us in quite a soulful way. It was a tiring, windy path. After a day or two, we came upon a man, davenin (praying) in a very formal way. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to what he was doing. His davenin was stilted and stiff, without heart. We waited politely as he sped through his prayers. When he finished, he packed his Tfillin and Talis and threw his pack on his back and said in a very cold and formal way: “May I join you?” “Of course,” answered the old woman. “Where are you going?” “I am headed to the city of Oz” he answered.” I have been told that it is a place of great changes (Shana Tovah שנה טובה). I hope that there I can find a way that my davenin and my whole life will become more heartfelt (levavecha לבבך). I don’t want to live my life as a tin man, I want to feel. I want to love, I want to give.” Did I see a tear in the eye of this martinet? I politely looked away. The scarecrow of a man said: “Then join us. I am going to Oz hoping to find change (Shana שנה) too. I want to be more mindful. This lady wants to return (Teshuvah תשובה) home and this man…” He looked at me but I turned away. The “tin man” turned and led the way in a formal march on the road and we followed. After a while, the old woman began to limp. The scarecrow of a man was mindful enough to notice before anyone else. The tin man heartfully insisted that we stop. He knelt in front of the old woman as she sat on a rock near the path. He began to massage her feet, compassionately. The scarecrow of a man looked around and judged that it would be better to rest here overnight. The tin man set a place for the old woman to rest. She thanked him, saying: “People used to be as considerate and kind as you are, young sir.” He smiled for the first time since we met him. The scarecrow set about making our overnight home comfortable and safe. He concentrated in a mindful way as he made our little spot a home, at least for the night. I sat by the side of the path finding comfort being near our path (Halacha הלכה), even though I was not completely on that path. The scarecrow thoughtfully lay at the head of our little troupe. The tin man laid his head near the old woman in a comforting, protectful, heartful gesture. We awoke to find a big burly man with a long furry hair darting this way and that. He was mumbling to himself. The kindly old woman approached him, the tin man and scarecrow at her side. She asked: “What are you doing, you great lion of a man?” He turned and jumped back surprised by her question. “I am determined to follow this path…unless you have a better idea. No, no I must get to the city of Oz (Ohz). Or maybe I shouldn’t.” The scarecrow of a man put his hand on the shoulder of this lion of a man and said: “Focus, my friend. Where do you wish to go and why?” The wild bearded lion of a man said: “I don’t know, I make a decision then I second guess myself. I think something is important and I vow to fulfill that belief but then I let others convince me to abandon my ideals, my direction. I don’t even know what I am doing here anymore. The scarecrow of a man shook his long blonde straw colored hair and replied: “Well, of course what you do is your choice. Let me tell you what we are doing and maybe you will decide to join us. It is totally up to you. We are going to the city of Oz. We believe that it is a place of good changes (Shana Tovah שנה טובה). This lady wants her life to return (Teshuvah השובה) to the good way.” The lion of a man asked “and what way is that?” The tin man, who was listening, responded: “Each of us have to determine that for ourselves. What is home, what is the good way is different for each of us.” The scarecrow nodded sagely. Then the tin man added: “I am seeking a heartful path (levavecha לבבך). The scarecrow added: ” and I seek mindfulness that is soulful (nafshecha נפשך) and real, to become more self-aware.” The scarecrow of a man continued: ” I am hoping that Oz, that city of change (Shana שנה) will help me recognize what are real and soulful (nafshecha נפשך) thoughts and what are just dream walking through life.”  He continued that he was hoping that when he reached Oz, he might find change (Shana שנה) to make him more mindful of his world and his soul (nafshecha נפשך). The lion of a man looked at each of us and replied: “May I come with you?” The old woman, with a twinkle in her eye asked: “Are you sure?” The lion of a man thought for a minute, hesitated and then said: “Yes! I am sure. I need to find the courage to apply myself fully (me’odecha מאודך) with good intentions to better myself and our world.”

As we walked on following one fork or another of the path (Halacha הלכה) I began to notice my companions. The lion of a man seemed to grow with determination as we strode down the road. His conviction and intensity (me’odecha (מאודך of intension (Kavanah כוונה) blossomed with each mile. The tin man was becoming more fluid in his heartful (levavecha לבבך) caring for the old woman. He seemed to have forgotten himself in his desire to help her and all of us. The scarecrow of a man seemed to look clearly at our path. His steps seemed to bounce with soulful (nafshecha נפשך) clarity as we advanced. But most remarkable was the old woman. She seemed to be getting younger as we walked. There was a spring in her step as she gazed at the world around her, recognizing that our world is constantly renewed (mehadeash bchal yom ma’aseh braeshit מחדש בכל יום מעשה בראשית) in every moment. The journey to Oz (Ohz עוז) continued and the changes (Shana שנה) became more evident to me. Those changes seemed to fill me with fortitude and inner power (ohz עז) for changes (Shana שנה) that I needed for my life.  Finally we were approaching the gates of Oz, (Ohz עז), that city of good changes (Shana Tovah שנה טובה). I felt a sense of excitement and hope for my own future. As we reached those gates, I extended my hands grasping the gate and turned to my colleagues, my new friends. But they were gone.  I stood alone at the gates of Oz (Ohz עז) the city of good change (Shana Tovah שנה טובה) alone and ready to make those good changes (Shana Tovah שנה טובה).

Seder: The Original 15 Step Program

An Open Box: The moving non-movement!

The Fifteen Steps

1. Kadesh – reciting Kiddush

We start the Seder with Kadesh (to separate, to make holy) to enter holiness and separate from the mundane. Our separation is a tzimtzum, a contraction that creates space for our journey

On a cosmic level Kadesh is the counterpart of Hochmah (wisdom), the first of the ten sefirot – the beginning of a new order, the first step in a process.

2. U’rhatz – washing the hands

U’rhatz: washing your hands before dipping a vegetable (Karpas) in saltwater. This is our physical cleansing in preparation for our process of spiritual cleansing.

U’rhatz begins with the letter vav, connecting Kadesh to Rahatz. Kadesh is Hochmah and U’rhatz is binah (understanding), two sides of the same sacred coin. Kadesh is the aha moment of wisdom and U’rhatz is the thoughtful dissection (binah) of the aha of Hochmah.

3. Karpas – eating a vegetable dipped in salt water

Karpas consists of dipping parsley in salt water. This is the salty hor de’oeuvre to the Seder. It wets our appetite for a more spiritually filling meal. Karpas leads us to a metaphoric understanding of the challenges of life. That which is “created from the fruit of the earth” is dipped into salt water, the cleansing tears of our soul.

Karpas brings us into contact with our physical soul our nefesh.  We strip ourselves of material entanglements and return to our simple needs, some greens, salt and water. With that recognition, we can begin our spiritual journey. It is a blending of Hochmah/wisdom and Binah/dissected understanding.  We call it Da’at, the wise understanding that we can finally speak.

4. Yahatz – breaking the middle matzah

Yahatz: We break the middle of the three matzahs. Matzah symbolizes bitul, not thinking outside the box but rather losing the box altogether.  The simple Matzah of water and flour represents the soul and body of Torah. There is no bloating Hametz involved, no ego puffing.  Simple flour and water, body and soul.

Breaking the matzah (Yahatz) emphasizes this bitul. Even this simple fare, I share with all who are hungry, with all who need a Pesah, an overpass. There is a compassion for others and self expressed in Yahatz. The Sefirah for it is Hesed (compassion)

5. Maggid – reciting the Haggadah

We now bring ourselves down the Sefirotic tree and relive the story of Exodus.

Maggid (telling) – begins with Four Questions. What better metaphor is there for freedom than questions?  We are commanded to ask, commanded to grow, commanded to be free.

After the youngest child asks the Four Questions, we begin the answer by telling the story. Maggid is not just telling a story-tale; it is reliving the nightmare and the dream, we re-experience in our lives what our ancestors experienced in theirs. This re-experience requires some discipline as do most worthwhile things in life.  The Sefirah is Gevurah.

6. Rahatzah – washing the hands

Rahatzah: After the story has been told we dip deeper into the waters of meaning. We have a holy frame of mind that is liberating. Actual freedom is about minds and hearts as well as bodies. Reading about freedom is not enough we have to ingest it into our bodies, into our souls. Then we can manifest it in our lives. As we pour the water over one hand then the other in a disciplined manner we feel the warmth and coolness of the compassionate flow of the next Sefirah, a blend of Hesed/compassion and Gevurah/discipline brings us down to Tiferet which is a balance, quite beautiful.

7. Motzi – reciting the blessing HaMotzi

Motzi: G has brought everything from the earth and we get to have a share in formation if not creation. G creates the wheat and we form it into bread.  This earthy blessing is a nefesh (physical soul) blessing.  Flour and water, and with it we bake and then break bread together. Indeed, Kabbalah teaches us that the highest Divine sparks fall to the lowest places. Earth – symbol of all materialism – contains the greatest spiritual energy.  Hidden in the Klipot (shards) of Mitzayim (the narrow places) which we liberate with blessings.

Strangely Lechem (bread) also means ‘battle.’ How many battles were fought over bread, sustenance?  Inside of us is found the battle between nourishment and gluttony, feeding the soul and feeding the body, between indolence and industry. It is a good struggle, a life affirming conflict. This struggle is the doing, the action that is life.  The Sefirah is Netzah/the doing, the struggle and the victory that is life

8. Matzah – reciting the blessing on the matzah and eating it

Matzah, the second blessing moves from the generic to the specific. This is a blessing of Mitzvah, of sacred connection.  By following the Mitzvah of eating, the simple Bitul bread we dissolve into G. As the matzah dissolves in our mouths so we dissolve into G-liness.  As the Rebbe MaHaRash writes, “eating matzah is like ‘eating G-dliness.’ On the first night of Passover matzah is called the ‘bread of faith.’ On the second night it is called bread of healing’” for surely one follows the other.

Nissan is the first month of the Jewish Year and the first food we eat in this first month is simple flour and water. It is the humble body-soul integration. It is the head start of healing. It is the place of ‘being’, of the Sefirah of Hod.

9. Maror – eating the bitter herbs

Maror; Sometimes our healing requires a little bitterness.

Eating Maror emphasizes the importance of proportion and perspective.  First we eat it straight.  At my Seders, I tell participants that if it doesn’t make you cry, you ‘aint et enuff.’  This is the first of two times that we eat Maror during the Seder. Maror might just be the core of the Seder, that Yin Yang duality of life. That is why the Sefirah is called Yesod

10. Koreh – eating a sandwich of Matzah and Maror

Koreh, the Hillel sandwich:  Our version would be unrecognizable to Reb Hillel.  We put Haroset and Maror on the hard flat matzah.  His sandwich was made with soft Matzah, like a tortilla filled with lamb and Maror, horseradish shavings.  Proportion and perspective. Now the bitter herb becomes a garnish. As in life, proportion and perspective can turn a wilderness into a paradise.  In life we move into the wilderness and out again, joy and sadness, harshness and harmony, for that is the experience of life. Without proportion and perspective, life is a lifeless task.   But the Seder has taught us, the Seder has been our council, which is one translation for Malchut the tenth and last Sefirah.

11. Shulhan Aruch – ‘Set table’ – eating the festive meal

And now, finally, we are ready… to eat. We have fulfilled the understanding of Jewish holidays.  “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”  But as we have seen there is so much more.

Shulhan Aruch: The prepared table.  This is not grabbing food from the fridge and standing over the sink wolfing it down. This is not merely an exercise in self-sustenance or self-indulgence.  This is part of the experience, a ‘happening” as we used to say. The Seder teaches us that our lives can be a Shulhan Aruch, a prepared table, prepared for study, prepared for awareness, prepared for service to each other.

As Moses was told that he must present the teachings to the people like a ‘set table,’ so too do we have the responsibility to set the table for others. We set the table, both physically and spiritually, sharing and teaching, sitting in council.

12. Tzafon – eating the afikoman

Tzafon concludes the meal.  We eat a simple piece of matzah that has been hidden away.  It is the larger of the two ‘halves’ that we broke from the center matzah.  Tzafon means hidden, like the hidden matzah.  There are teachers in our lives who have lessons for us and yet we do not know who these teachers are, or what lessons they have to teach us.  They are hidden. We must listen well and find patience. Like the Boy Scout motto we must “be prepared.”  One never knows when a sage will appear and they never appear in the guise that we would expect.

The Afikoman is eaten as a dessert; not for sustenance but for the pleasure of simplicity. The matzah eaten earlier is bitul (the emptying of all) on the conscious level (for sustenance). The Afikoman matzah is bitul on the unconscious (hidden) level. The earlier matzah helps acclimate us to the bitul experience, as we learn to tame the ‘ego’ and ‘narcissism’ of the material way. Once we have reached bitul, we than can integrate it into the pleasure of our lives, where even our pleasures become permeated with higher purpose, with seeking the oneness with G.

13. Berach – reciting grace

Berach (blessing): We conclude the meal with a Birkat HaMazon a blessing in thanks for our meal. Our meal is held together by the bookends of blessing. We elevate our meal with the spiritual energy of ceremony bringing forth the Divine sparks found within. We bring down those Holy sparks of wholeness that now fill our home.

14. Hallel – reciting psalms of praise

Hallel (praise) also means ‘to shine,’ from the expression ‘behilo nero – when his candle shone forth.’ With Hallel we enlighten our lives, we shine.

Hallel is our last act of redemption in the Seder; we redeem our world by bringing down the divine light with praise and prayer with hope and harmony.

15. Nirtzah – G’s promise to accept our service

Nirtzah is the non-action, the culmination of our Bitul as we who have filled our body, acknowledge that we are an empty vessel ready to be filled with G’s light.

NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!

NEXT YEAR IN A PLACE OF PEACE

NEXT YEAR IN A HOME OF HARMONY

***

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, did not include at the conclusion of the Haggadah the passage ‘the order of Pesach is concluded,’ because the Passover Seder never ends. Instead, it continues throughout the year. To be sure, the illumination of every festival radiates every day; but Pesach extends continuously. Every day we must leave Mitzayim, transcend out previous limitations and reach higher levels of holiness.

 

The power and promise of Prayer

Two friends, one a Theist and the other an Atheist are sitting at their favorite watering hole to discuss prayer. The Atheist says: “ I have a conundrum for your folk of faith.  Either you believe in a G who listens and cares and answers your prayers or you believe that G is some form of energy that is just the force behind all things in the universe. If you believe the former, why do so many of your prayers go unanswered? Why do bad things happen to good people? And why do good things happen to bad people,’ he chuckled. “And if you believe the latter, why pray to this energy that you want to call G.”

The Theist smiles: “To answer your very good question, we should, as all good philosophers do, answer your question with a question.  What is prayer?  You know, in reality, there are only 4 prayer types, millions of prayers but they all can be categorized into 4.  They are; ‘please, thank you, I’m sorry and Wow.’” After a moment of shared laughter, the Theist continues. “‘Wow’ refers to a series of prayers for when we see, hear, feel or taste something amazing, like seeing the Rockies or the Grand Canyon or the birth of a child… When we hear thunder or taste first fruits of the season, these are all reasons for ‘wow’ prayers. There are ‘wow’ prayers for special occasions and things that are firsts.” “Ok, I get it, I understand the Oh Wow prayers, even if I would not give them an address,” laughs the Atheist.

“Then there are ‘I’m sorry’ prayers,” continues the Theist. “Prayers of that very awkward awareness that we are human and that we will always make mistakes, some that hurt the ones we love. The ‘I’m sorry’ prayers are a way of facing our fears and foibles. The ‘oh wow’ prayers are the first step on a path of self acceptance warts and all. The ‘I’m sorry’ prayers are pledges of mental toughness, to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going, striving to better ourselves.”

“That is a tough awareness, a tough truth that we all must face responding the Atheist.  Acknowledging that tough truth can be a real challenge.”  The friends were silent, lost in their own private awareness for several moments

‘Thank you’ prayers are prayers of awareness as well”, continues the Theist,” awareness of the good fortune that is in the energy and matter that surrounds and fills us. There are prayers celebrating our senses, for sight, smell, taste, and touch, for our good fortune.”

“Ok, I can see the rationality of that too, but now we come to the hard question,” the Atheist smiles; “what about the ‘please’ prayers?” “I can see where that would seem difficult for one with the malady of Atheism,” teases the Theist. “But you will admit that bad things happen in this world.  The ‘please prayers’ are pleas prayers for spiritual strength, for internal fortitude, for the compassion and wisdom to handle the mishap of fate, the horrors and hate, the anger and pain that is part and parcel of the world in which we live.  The formal prayers may seem to be asking for good things;  ‘Dear G, let me show you that winning the lottery won’t change me!’  But there is greater depth to these prayers.  When I pray for the health and welfare of my family, I am setting up my priorities.  Yes I want the vibrating recliner for Hanukah and I really need that new Vitamix, but those things, matter made up of energy have to take a back seat to enlightenment, to a sense of wonder and awe for this planet and everything upon it. The prayer: ‘Please let this be a good year for me,’ means more than, can I have a better job or can the washing machine last for another year without breaking down.  The prayer requires us to look deeper, to ask ourselves how a ‘good year’ look and feel to my soul.  The ‘please’ pleas can be a way of connecting with the energy that is within and around in a quiet call to the deepest part of the mystery in our search for oneness.”

Again silence fell between the two friends who drifted into their own thoughts; the wow, the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, the ‘I am sorry’ and the ‘wow’ of all existence. Was the Atheist turned around?  Who knows and what does it matter. It’s all about the eternal energy, the source of all things, even our prayers.

 

Blessings for all that you need and the awareness of the blessings you have already received

Rebahir

Combatting Anti-theists with a Bo

Parashat Bo 10:1 -13:16

I have discovered a disturbing phenomenon on social media.  We are all aware that there are theists and there are atheists.   But there are also those that I would call anti-theists, who feel that they must fight against faith.  They argue and blame and their posts are condescending and filled with jibes and jabs directed at those who disagree.

One tactic that they use is to read and use sacred texts as a weapon against those who are theists. They take the same tact as those who claim that sacred texts are the literal uninterpretable word of G.

I do not believe that Torah is a cold code for facts of faith.  I believe that it is a playroom of mirrors.  Our task is to peer into the mirrors and try to fathom the reflections.

Feeling playful, I have culled a couple of words from this week’s portion found in the playroom. My purpose is to use these few words to spin the mirror of interpretation and self-discovery, something Anti-theists cannot comprehend.

In this week’s Parasha, Exodus 10:1-13:16, it appears that G is playing with Pharaoh like a cat torturing a mouse.  G orders Moshe to speak with Pharaoh demanding that he “Let my people go.”  Then G informs Moshe that he will “harden Pharaoh’s heart” in order to show off G’s powers.  For the anti-theists this is a treasure-trove for their premise that all religion is bad and sacred texts are simply proof texts for their position.

By looking carefully at just a couple of words, I found a personal, powerful, profound and compassionate meaning. It is a meaning that speaks to my faith path. The exercise, for me, is one of self-discovery and Torah is my guide.

My exploration in the playground begins with the first verse 10:1.  G says “come to Pharaoh”, not” go to Pharaoh.” The comforting understanding is that Moshe won’t be alone. G is with him and G is with Pharaoh.

Then G says to Moshe: “Hichbadti  et Libo  which is usually translated as: “I have hardened his heart.”  This does not ‘grok’ until we look deeper. The root of the offending word is Kaf Bet Dalet which means honor and weight.  Honor is a weighty concept and not always an easy one by which to live. G offers Pharaoh the free will to accept the weighty yoke of honor, of doing what is right.  “Come Moshe, I am with you and I have offered Pharaoh the chance to change his path and take on the weight of doing what is right and honorable.”

That understanding flows like a gentle stream into next verse. Moshe is to be a witness to the offering. If Pharaoh rises to the occasion, we will tell our children of this miracle.  If not, don’t worry there are signs and wonders to follow.

And with this confrontation and Pharaoh’s refusal to take on the weight of honorable, right action begins the 10 plagues that befall Pharaoh and his people.

Again  in verse 20,  we find the translation hardening the heart of Pharaoh. Here the word is  Hazak חזק  which means to strengthen.  G still offering free will reaches out to strengthen Pharaoh’s heart so that he may turn back from his evil compassionless path. And again Pharaoh refuses to grow.  “But he (Pharaoh) would not send (free) the children of Israel.”

In verse 27  as in verse 20 the same word, Hazak חזק is used.

Finally G informs Moshe in 11:9 that because Pharaoh has chosen not to strengthen his heart, more ‘wonders’ will have to be wrought on Egypt. And in verse 10 G offers Pharaoh the last chance to strengthen his heart, to do the right thing.

In verse 12 G announces the final judgement upon Egypt.  The word judgement Shin Peh Tet שפט is used as in a court case where the judge pronounces hir judgement.

By understanding a few key words we have a story of redemption offered and ignored, of crimes and consequences, of an evil ruler whose ego destroyed him and harmed his people. Ten times he is offered compassion and forgiveness. Ten times the evil Pharaoh is offered the chance to become a man of honor, a man of a strong compassionate heart. Ten times he refuses and tragedy befalls.  There are lessons to be learned and this is a story deserving of telling and deserving of hearing and most of all it is deserving of our examination and interpretation.  For in doing so, we discover so much about ourselves and our world.

Let me end with a Drash, a story told about this Torah story.  My father (זצ”ל) loved this Drash very much.  Many times he would tell it to me.  When the Jews crossed the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians followed only to be caught by the returning waters, the Jews began to sing and rejoice at their freedom.  Their voices rose to the heavens.  In the heavens the Angels began to sing and dance around the Throne of Glory.  Suddenly G quieted them harshly with the words: “STOP! HOW DARE YOU SING AND REJOICE WHEN MY CHILDREN, THE EGYPTIANS ARE DROWNING IN THE SEA!”

Giving Thanks

I am thankful on this day of thanks giving.
I am thankful for my parents who taught me the compassion and love and social responsibility and activism of my tribe. I am thankful for my grandparents who taught me that social justice is part and parcel of the path of my tribe. They taught me through their words and deeds the power and depth of compassion and empathy for all humanity.
I am thankful for my children, my son who devotes his life to helping others and is an inspiration to me and my daughter who works with such compassion to better the Jewish people on a daily basis. I am thankful for her husband, not only because he makes a special cider just for me, but because of his love for my daughter and grandson and his compassion for them.
I am thankful for my grandson who is the beautiful symbol of hope in this time of great challenges to our planet and to the tribes who inhabit it. I am grateful for my blended grandson who has begun the path of learning and who grows daily, opening himself up to new ideas and ideals. And I am grateful to his brother a loving person and friend, for his laughter and patience.
I am thankful for my wife who blesses me daily with her love and her friendship, her depth and her optimism. I am thankful for my friend who began as wife and developed into sister, for her love and compassion.
I am grateful for my brother whose sense of humor and humanity has bolstered me in good times and bad. I am grateful for his children as they face the challenges of this world with joy and hope and love.
I am grateful for my extended family. My memories of Thanksgiving warm me on this snowy day and I keep them in my heart.
I am thankful for my teachers, those with whom I had personal, loving, learning and those whose teachings I have only read but have touched me just the same. They have all taught me so much that has informed and guided the path of my life day by day.
I am thankful for the 15 years that I spent as a student, friend and Musmach of a great person, his laughter and his love, his teachings through our studies and through being in his presence as he lived his love for all, I carry with me as a Kameyah, a medicine pouch around my heart.
I am grateful for the tribes of this land. I am thankful for all that they have taught me which blends with and informs my Jewish path. I am thankful that I could dance with them and sit at their feet to hear the stories and lessons of the earth as a spiritual mother and the ways to walk this planet with consciousness.
I am thankful for this country, with all its flaws and foibles, for being my home and hearth. I am grateful for my spiritual homeland, Israel from whom I have learned the loyalty and the importance of my tribe and the importance of sacred lands and sacred promises brought from the ancient realm into modern day life.
I am grateful to the memories that flood over and through me at this time. The memories, filled with joy and sadness, laughter and tears, hold me fast and gently rock me in the harsh winds and gentle breezes that engulf my life.
And at the source of all my gratitude is the Source of All Blessing. The Holy One of Being has blessed me more than I can say or write or express in any way. HaShem has given me the opportunity to bring into existence thought and translate it into words that lead to good action. I am thankful for G’s input onto my hard drive. The Name that can’t be named has filled my hard drive with the power and ability to face tragedy and triumph, to love without seeking love in return, to forgive those who have harmed me and to face the pain and to find the joy that is life.
And so, as I sit with family and friends on this day of thanks giving, I offer my thanks through these words. And I pray that tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow I will awaken and live the thanks that fills my heart.

A Gentle translation for Barbara Streisand’s Avinu Malkeinu

B’H Years ago Barbara Streisand sang a rendition of Avinu Malkeinu. I listen to it every year and every year I am moved to tears. This year I decided to give my own translation to the words of this powerful piece.  The amazing beauty and power of Hebrew is that, since it is a root language, we may find the deeper and broader meanings that flows through the letters into our hearts. What follows is the text in transliteration and my translation of the Avinu Malkeinu.

AVINU MALKEINU (3)

Avinu malkeinu sh’ma kolenu
Avinu malkeinu chatanu l’faneycha
Avinu malkeinu chamol aleynu
Ve’al olaleynu vetapeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Kaleh dever
vecherev vera’av mealeynu
Avinu malkeinu
kaleh chol tsar
Umastin mealeynu

Avinu malkeinu
Avinu malkeinu
Kat’veinu besefer chayim tovim
Avinu malkeinu chadesh aleynu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

Avinu malkeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Avinu malkeinu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

Our Source, our Council

Our Source, our Council, listen for our voice
Our Source, our Council, we have missed the mark before you
Our Source, our Council, Let your compassion flow in us
and in our children

Our Source, our Council
empty the world of the pestilence,
war and famine that weighs on us
Our Source our Council,
Empty us of all the trouble
And the hostility that surrounds us

Our Source, our Council,
Our Source, our Council,
Write us in, in the book of good life
Our Source, our Council, renew us
Renew us for a year of good changes.

Listen to our call
Understand our acceptance
Hear our voice

Our Source, our Council,

Our Source, our Council,
Renew us for a year of good changes

Our Source, our Council,
Listen to our cry
Understand our call
Hear our voice
Oh hear our cry

Mystical Musings about our Shofar

B’H
No matter what your relationship to the Yamim Noraim, these high and holy days, everyone feels the power of the Shofar. The Shofar with its many rites and rules and meanings, touches our hearts and souls. As we know, there are four blasts of the Shofar. There are also 3 categories for these clarion calls.

There have been many commentaries on the 3 categories. As we are entering into these Awesome days, I would like to add my own.

We begin with Zichronot, with memories. We each have memories that drag us down and memories that elevate us. When I look back over the past year, I am weighed down by opportunities missed, time wasted, calls not returned, words that hurt instead of helped. These memories weigh me down. Sometimes, as I try to sleep these missteps, missed marks, mistakes keep me up. When I least expect it, on a hike, while reading or praying, my hard drive spews out memories of the past year that weigh me down. How can I raise myself up again? I need something to buoy me up. And I know that I cannot do it by myself. I need help. I need to be in council.

That is Malchuyot. Not only does it mean kingship but also council. G is “Melech HaOlam”, our Eternal Council. Malchuyot calls us to council. In council I find comfort. In council I find healing. The Shofar blasts remind me that I have a standing appointment with Melech HaOlam, my Eternal Council. I merely have to seek out that Eternal Council. Sometimes, while davening, traditional worship, I can direct my soul into my ‘councilling’ session. At other times, I have found myself in the right frame of mind, during a hike through the mountains or while reading something meaningful or listening to music and the door opens. I even find my council while creating a wonderful (well I like it) dinner for my family. In the ‘councilling’ session, I begin to find balance and more. I find cleansing.

Shofarot is so much more than the Rams horn that we blow. The root of the word contains the Remez meaning; Cleansing. What a blessing, what a promise. We remember, we seek council and in the end, our souls are cleansed and made whole again for the changes that are continually coming into our lives.

Nitzavim: Becoming the Archeologist of the Soul

In Parashat Nitzavim, the Prarasha before the Head of the Year, we read: Deuteronomy 30:11 כִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹ֥א רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא׃
This sacred connection that I plug into you this day, it is not too hard for you, it is not too far off.
30:12 לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֙יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה׃
It is not in the heavens, that you might whine: ‘Who shall go up to the heavens for us (astronauts), and bring it to us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’
30:13 וְלֹֽא־מֵעֵ֥בֶר לַיָּ֖ם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַעֲבָר־לָ֜נוּ אֶל־עֵ֤בֶר הַיָּם֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַעֲשֶֽׂנָּה׃
And it is not beyond the sea, that you whine: ‘Who shall go over the sea for us (sailors and pilots and adventurers), and bring it to us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’
30:14 כִּֽי־קָר֥וֹב אֵלֶ֛יךָ הַדָּבָ֖ר מְאֹ֑ד בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִֽלְבָבְךָ֖ לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ׃
But the word/things are so close to you, they are already in your mouth, and in your heart, for you to do.
 
What an amazing passage. We don’t have to search heaven and earth to find the amazing connections that we all share, each in hir own way. They are already within us, on our hard drive. We only need to know how to locate them and to use our personal program to access them. For some, that program is faith, religions, Chritstianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism and so many more. For some it is found in art or music. Others access the connection through nature or community and for many of us, we use some combination. But the connection is already within each of us. And the challenge of this part of the Parsha is twofold. We need to discover the right program for us to access the mitzvah connection. And then we need to activate it through our actions and actualize it in our lives.
 
May this be a Shanah Tovah for us all, a year of good changes.

Giving G a thank you Fruit Basket

Our Torah portion this week begins with a marvelous Mitzvah (sacred connection); the Mitzvah of bringing thank you gifts to G for guiding us into Israel. We give G a fruit basket as a thank you for all of the miracles G has performed on our behalf.

On the one hand we have a symbolic gesture, a ‘sacrifice’ to G. Along with that gesture comes a lovely statement that we say aloud; so lovely that we read it every year on Pesah every in remembrance. It is a historical mantra of joy and gratitude. It commences with our commencement as wandering strangers. It ascends with our entrance into Egypt and descends into degradation and forced labor. Then this beautiful tale continues with our cries of distress to the Holy, Wholly One of Being who answers with wonders and signs and our long trek to freedom. The tale ends with our arrival in our homeland, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” And therefore, it continues, we bring our first fruits as a thank you gift to the Source of our freedom. And yet, one might ask, is the One G really desirous of our fruits and vegetables and livestock? The answer comes with the next verse (Deuteronomy 26:11). In order for us to show our gratitude to G, we must take what we have been given and share it with others, those in need.

That is an incredible statement. Our offering, our tax is for the feeding of the Levites, but also for the poor, the disadvantaged, the stranger in our midst. What a concept. We are commanded to pay a tax of gratitude and it is to be used to help those in need.

When we listen to some of the rhetoric today, this Mitzvah stands out among the xenophobic, hate-filled remarks that we hear from political leaders and political “wanna-bes”. While many wish to erase that beautiful poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, written by the Jewish Poet Emma Lazarus, we were commanded to live up to it; to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the stranger.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Rational Mystic Musings on Life in the World to Come Part Shtayim

“Rebahir, the essay you recently posted reminded me of a question I’ve been wondering about for a while (and which is also touched upon in the essay that you sent me on afterlife). Effectively, it’s this – do you think that goodness during life is judged on your actions relative to your position in the world? Basically, is the President “graded” on a harsher scale than Reb Zusha in your essay?

In your essay on the afterlife, the versions that I gravitate towards the most are ones which indicate that you’re effectively measured by your impact and experiences in life. They make sense to me. I think there’s absolutely truth to the idea of anonymous immortality – to me, that manifests itself as your imprint in the world passing on indefinitely, albeit in a more diluted form for subsequent generations. (As an aside, I once watched a documentary on the origin of General Tsao’s chicken that dealt with this point.) I think that is what you are saying as well in this idea of the pool of soul. For what it’s worth, though, in my imagination, the pool probably grows as well so that it no longer fits in one cup. Or perhaps it becomes more concentrated?

The problem with these interpretations for me are that 1) they don’t resolve what happens to my consciousness after I die (though I realize that some of the other interpretations you’ve shared do address that question, and I need to think about them further) and 2) addressing my question above, they seem to favor people who have more opportunity for impact. At the most basic level, an adult who lives to old age and has kids would seem to have a more tangible impact than an orphan who dies young. That’s putting aside thornier considerations like race, gender, wealth, etc. So I guess that’s back to my question for you – are we judged on a sliding scale? I suspect your answer might be that the answer doesn’t really matter, and we should all do our best to be good regardless, but I’m curious for your thoughts nonetheless.”
B’H You offer a fine set of questions.

In a world with a set of scales held by G, I would hope that we would be graded on a curve. As a matter of fact we have stories of that sliding scale. The most memorable story is that of Moshe (Moses) not being allowed into Eretz Yisrael (the Holy Land) because of a seemingly minor offence. The story goes that Moshe was told to speak to a rock and G would make water flow from it to quench the thirst of a bunch of whiny Israelites. Instead, he strikes the rock and says (paraphrasing here): “Do I have to do everything for you!?!?!” For that he was forbidden entrance into the Land of Israel. Yet the Israelites did far worse and still were allowed into Israel. This would intimate that there is a sliding scale. Your question and comparison of President to Reb Zusha begs another question. Do you think that the President of some country is held to a higher standard than a great Rebbe?

And while we are on stories of Zusha…

When he was dying, Reb Zusha began to weep in front of his students. His students began to console him and asked: “why are you weeping, Rebbe?” He responded: “I know that I am dying and I know that when I appear before the Beit Din Shel Ma’alah (the Heavenly court), I will not be asked why I was not like Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses). I know that I will not be asked why I was not more like David HaMelech (King David). But I weep because I know that I will be asked: ‘Zusha, why were you not more like Zusha.?’ Oh how will I answer that??” He was, in my opinion, agreeing with your question. There is a sliding scale. At the same time, that sliding scale is of little comfort to me. There is a story told of W.C. Fields on his death bed. His friends came to visit him and were shocked to see the famous atheist reading a bible. They laughed and challenged him asking what he thought he was doing. Without missing a beat the raconteur responded: “Looking for loopholes!” Reb Zusha’s story does not console W. C. or me or any of us who are ‘looking for loopholes.’ For, even though tradition offers us a sliding scale, a bell curve, the question remains the same. Why was I not more like my authentic self?

I too gravitate to the Pool of Soul concept. As part and parcel of that, the idea of anonymous immortality fits smoothly. As to it growing or not, I feel that since souls are infinite they do not grow or shrink, they simply fit. But in an expanding universe that is infinite, why not have an ever-expanding Pool of Soul.

Your third paragraph is most interesting and it touches on more than life after death. It touches upon the worth of life itself. First let me address the consciousness issue. How do you do, consciousness issue? (sorry, I am being a little silly). But seriously folks…

There are many “World to Come” concepts that grapple with whether or not there is consciousness after death. We have all wondered if our loved ones are looking down on us and looking out for us. There was a book, that I read when the world was young called “Stranger in a Stranger Land.” That book intimated that there was consciousness after death but that it faded with time. There is a similar theory in Judaism. In this theory within Judaism, there is not heaven and hell, there is, for a limited time, memory. For some set period of time after we die, we remember only the bad, the misdeeds and mistakes that we have made in life. Then there is a set period of time in which we remember only the good that we have done. Can you imagine how long that first period of memory and guilt would be for and evil person and how quick and sad would be the second half of hir memory period? On the other hand, for the ‘Dudley Do-Rights’ of the world, the whole experience could be relatively pleasant. And after both sets of ‘time’ have expired, consciousness fades. That concept is rather palatable to me.

I have saved the most trying for last. What impact do we have on the world. I recall my father (zt’l) telling of a man who was going off to war. As he was walking to join his outfit he was hit by the first bullet of the first battle of the war. And if anyone had noticed, that would have been his epitaph. But what no one knew was that this man on his way to his untimely death met a sad young girl weeping by the road. Her father had gone off to war and she was scared and worried. He sat with her and comforted her and gave her hope, even though he knew that her father was fighting for the other side. If they would see each other they would try to kill each other. Yet he sat and consoled her and helped her look to the future with optimism. What was the worth of this man’s life; this man who died from the first bullet of the first battle? And what of a child (G forbid) who passes away.

In New Age philosophies all people are born good. In Christianity all are born in sin. In Judaism we are born innocent. How we will turn out depends upon us and our environment. So if a child passes on (G forbid) he is innocent. This in no way mitigates, in my mind, the tragedy, but for the purposes of your question s/he will have no negative repercussions after death. But I cannot end our discussion with the death of a child.

Let me end with a story by I.L. Peretz of an orphan (again this is me paraphrasing and summarizing. You should find and read the story. It is beautiful:”Bontsha the Silent”). His name was Bontsha. Bontsha lived a life of silence. He was born in silence into an unloving family. In silence he was thrown out of the family. He struggled in poverty in silence. Even when he had a job, eked out a wage that would not even feed him, and he was silent. Then one day a majestic coach careened around a corner out of control. Bontsha, again in silence, leapt out to save the opulent coach and its occupants. The rich owner was so grateful that he hired Bontsha as his coachman. And Bontsha was silent. He was silent when the rich man married him to a woman of the rich man’s household. He was silent when the rich man supplied Bontsha with a child, through Bontsha’s wife. Bontsha remained silent when the rich man went bankrupt and neglected to pay Bontsha for all his work. And again he was silent when his wife left him and the infant whom Bontsha raised. And when the infant became a strong young man, he threw Bontsha out and yet Bontsha was silent. Then one day that same rich then bankrupt and then rich again man was riding recklessly in his carriage and ran over Bontsha, who died in silence.

Now Bontsha is hearing his life story retold in the Beit Din Shel Ma’alah, the heavenly court. He does not even look up. The defense attorney goes into great detail on the travails of Bontsha’s life. He demonstrates no wrong doing on Bontsha’s part. And finally he finishes and sits down. The ‘district’ attorney no less than the accuser, Satan (pronounced SahTahn) stands as Bontsha trembles. The accuser points to Bontsha and says: “All of his life Bontsha has been silent. Now it is my turn to be silent!” And with that he sits down. Now the Judge of judges looks down on Bontsha and speaks, saying: “In the world of what is, you were silent. You were not understood. You suffered. But here, we understand and you are to be rewarded with anything that would please you.” Bontsha looks around and for the first time speaks. “If, sir, it is not too much trouble, may I please have, every morning, a hot roll with butter?” And now the entire Court fell…silent.