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.

Bringing the Light of Hanukah into the World

חן חסד ורחמים

How many times have we heard and sung about Hen חן, Hesed חסד and Rahamim רחמים ? What does it mean? We usually think of them almost as synonyms for compassion, yet I think that there is a deeper reality hidden in these words.

Rahamim רחמים  comes from the root Rehem רחם which means womb.  Rahamim is the compassion that comes from the womb-love of the other. It is deep within us.  It is the deepest of feelings, unconditional love. Thought does not enter into the discussion.  This is the realm of  Briyah בריה, creative emotion of feeling.

Hesed חסד is the loving-kindness that knows no bounds.  It is the bringing up of Rahamim  רחמים into the level where feeling blossoms into thought. While Rahamim רחמים is in the realm of total emotion, Hesed חסד is bringing the compassion into thought, into consciousness.

Hen חן is the actualization of the process.  It starts with Rahamim רחמים, that deep womb chakra, the Yesod יסוד of our humanity. The Rahamim רחמים compassion bubbles up into thought through Hesed חסד.  But now it needs to be brought into the world of interaction. Hen חן is grace, the grace of action.  It is the how to the why of Hesed חסד.

And all of this is brought to light in the Menorah of Hanukah  חנוכה. Hanukah is the holiday of liberation. Hanukah is the liberation through dedication. The word Hanukah חנוכה means dedication and teaches the tale of liberation from Hellenistic assimilation. Our liberation came about through the dedication of the Jewish people. Hanukah teaches us that we liberate ourselves from ‘keeping up with the Jones’’. I don’t have to own more, have more, get more.  What I do have to do is more. I have to do more for others.  And that is the root of the holiday, the root of the word Hanukah חנוכה.

Hanukah חנוכה can be dissected into Hanu חנו  and Kho כה. A translation could be ‘Thusly you should show grace.”  What is the ‘thus?’ In the story of Hanukah there are two aspects.  The first is the willingness to fight for freedom, for religious freedom, for spiritual freedom, the freedom to Jew in our own way. And one of the ways in which we Jew is to reach out, in Tzedakah צדקה, righteous actions toward others.

The second aspect of Hanukah is the rededication, the rededication of the Temple and the rededication of the Temple within.  How do we rededicate ourselves to our principles, our path? One of the most important principles on our path is Hen חן the gracious way in which we bring up the Rahamim רחמים into Hesed חסד and then let it flow into the world.

We light candles to bring light into the world.  We put the candles in a visible place to bring joy and light to others.  And this is the Remez רמז, the ‘key-clue’ to the meaning of Hanu-kah חנו-כה  “thus do we show grace.” By bringing that light into the world through small actions of Tzedakah צדקה, righteousness, aimed outwardly, aimed compassionately towards all sentient beings, to all humanity, to our community, to our tribe, to our family we  ultimately share in the great light symbolized in the lights of Hanukah חנוכה. In this way, we truly celebrate the rededication that is Hanukah.

scribbling upon a dream

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I had a dream the other night. In the dream I woke up to see my wife sitting on the porch supervising the building of a Mikvah, a Sukkah and a Huppah. Let us put aside the fact that our tiny yard does not have room for more than a small Sukkah and that we rent and such innovations would not find favor with our landlords.

Why in my dream were these three Jewish symbols being built? Sukkot has just ended and every year with the help of wonderful friends I build a ramshackle Sukkah. We had just taken our Sukkah down so that might be part of the reason for that symbol. My beloved, brilliant and beautiful daughter has recently become engaged to a very nice Jewish man who is intelligent and giving and kind and loves her very much. So, symbol number two, the Huppah has a reason. I suppose that since we use the Mikvah before holidays, Shabbos and weddings there is a reason for the Mikvah. But why all three in the same dream?

I have taken many courses in psychology, but I am certainly no psychologist. I should probably try to stay away from trying to find some deep psychological reason. I am a Rabbi and I am blessed with a certain amount of spiritual imagination and that is the direction that my mind has taken.

 

The three symbols in my dream have certain characteristics in common. They each, architecturally speaking are parts of a whole. The Mikvah has walls and a bottom or floor but no top. The Sukkah has walls but no complete top. The Huppah has a complete top but no walls. Each has parts but is not ‘complete’ and yet each fulfills its purpose that helps to complete us.

THE MIKVAH

The Mikvah is usually spoken of in terms of ritual purity. But the Mikvah touches me in a different wayA woman traditionally goes to the Mikvah ‘periodically’ and after a birth. Men and women go before Shabbos and holidays, after coming in contact with a dead body (washing the body of one who has passed) and before their wedding. Men were supposed to go to the Mikvah after what the Talmud calls a ‘nocturnal emission’ which is not car trouble at night. There are more times that people go to a Mikvah as I am sure others will share in their comments, but this will do for my point. For me the Mikvah is a tool to ease our spiritual vulnerability and in seeking spiritual balance. The best way to explain this is with a personal example. I was asked to do a funeral by a member of my Reform congregation in Florida. Though he was not a traditional Jew in any understanding of that word, he wanted the funeral of his father to be “Orthodox.” Though I have studied with Rabbis of every movement, or maybe because of that, I conferred with Orthodox and Hasidic Rabbinic colleagues to make sure that I could fulfill the wishes of my congregant in a conscious and conscientious manner. Of course part of the process is Taharat HaMaet includes washing the body. It happened to be a Friday morning and I performed the ceremony with the help of others with the funeral director standing outside the room. After finishing the washing I left others to sit and be with the body as I had to prepare for Shabbos and Erev Shabbat services in the Reform synagogue. I should say that since, in this town in Florida, we were the only shul there was no Mikvah. I phoned the police and asked if there was any ‘privateish’ beach where I could go into the ocean naked. After I explained, why and that I was not a naturist looking to go skinny-dipping, the sympathetic officer told me of a beach that was unpopulated and rarely used. After washing the body I went to that place and, in private, did the ritual. My Reform background was saying; why am I washing, I am not unclean. But there was a deeper place, beyond movement that replied, this is not about cleanliness but the feeling ofbeing vulnerable and off-balance in a spiritual way. That night I was going to lead services, hold the Torah read and chant prayers and I needed something to help me feel less vulnerable in a spiritual manner. Not that I did not want to be vulnerable to G, quite the contrary, but I needed to be less vulnerable to the physical/spiritual acts of touching life and death. And it worked. I felt less vulnerable and more balanced.

THE SUKKAH

The Sukkah with its walls and open to the stars ceiling is another connective device for our spiritual/physical being and well-being. There is mystery and wonder and awd as we stand under the open covering and shake the Lulav and Etrog in the 6 directions. This year a man who follows the spirit path of the Lakota brought his pipe which is smoked and raised in the same six directions and he did his ritual in tandem with ours. The Sukkah itself is a threefold memory peg that balances us. There is the agricultural memory of people building Sukkot to rest in the noonday sun from our ingathering of the crops. It is the historical memory of the wilderness experience that built us as a people who has withstood the vicissitudes of history, keeping faith with our G our and the covenant, formed over those 40 years. And the Sukkah is a poor person’s shelter a reminder that there are people for whom this is not a temporary memory peg shelter but their lives. There are poor and needy and we are responsible. It is a Mitzvah, part of our minimum daily requirements for a spiritually meaningful and balanced life.

THE HUPPAH

The Huppah, which has a top but is open on all sides, speaks to another area of spiritual balance. Many speak of it as Avraham and Sarah’s tent that was open on all sides so that travelers could be seen and invited into the safe space of their tent. I like to think of it as a way of setting up a new home in a public manner, with the entire tribe, a spiritual barn raising. Yes there are private times but the Huppah represents a place and a time or a place in time in which two people publicly articulate what they have already felt and shared and expressed in private. The Huppah is a shelter, symbolic of a G shelter of balance between the physical and the spiritual of life. It is also the joining of the two through the One who is always part of any loving relationship. The Huppah is the act of making sacred, less spiritually vulnerable and more spiritually balanced the relationship of loving partners.

The three symbols in my dream were about what is happening in my life, my own vulnerability and search for balance in my physical/spiritual life.

 

Kol Nidrei: The Nullification of Our Vows

Kol Nidrei  All our vows

The holyday that we call Yom Kippur is begins Tuesday night. Yom kippur is usually translated as Day of Atonement. But it is so much more than the words imply. The depth of meaning of this day is found in the most misunderstood prayer in Judaism. That prayer is known as “Kol Nidrei.” The prayer asks that G makes null and void our vows. It is not about the nullification of our past vows. Rather it speaks to our future vows, vows that we make for the coming year. Anti-Semites have used this prayer as a proof that Jews are untrustworthy. Of course that is nonsense, misinterpretation and misrepresentation. 

 One of the best expressions of the feelings that come to the fore during the High and Holy days was written by Ronin Davis, my son at http://roninad.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/and-so-we-enter-the-year-5773/ . In his poignant piece he writes of the struggles that he has recognized as a thoughtful, spiritual Jew seeking to grow in his process of ‘Jewing.’

 What he writes points to the meaning of that most misunderstood prayer, Kol Nidrei. And Kol Nidrei speaks to the meaning of these High and Holy Days.

 Kol Nidrei speaks to vows.

 Kol Nidrei does not speak to the vows that are made between people. If I promise to do something for you, this prayer does not let me ‘off the hook.’ Vows made between earthlings should be fulfilled and if they aren’t that is something that the parties need to address.

 Kol Nidrei does speak to vows between the human and G, and only if an honest and serious attempt has been made to live up to the promises.

 In essence, Kol Nidrei says that we are fallible human beings. We struggle and strive and succeed and fail. Kol Nidrei is reaching out to better ourselves with the fore-knowledge that our reach exceeds our grasp.  

 Kol Nidrei defines success as “Fall down three times, get up four!”

 Kol Nidrei says that it is ok to reach for the stars.

Hope and Faith

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I have been long silent in this medium.  I have been blocked for too long.  Fran Liebowitz once said that she does not have writer’s block, she has writer’s blockade.  It is a suitable picture pressed in my frame of mind.  I have felt blockaded with a sense of hopelessness.  And hopelessness is a terrible disease. This week’s Torah potion (sic) depicts the reality of hopelessness as fiery serpents  attacking the whining soul as the soul cries out that the slavery of hopelessness is better than the wilderness of struggle.

There are two words that come to my mind as I study this week’s Parasha.  The first is Tikvah (תקוה), hope  and the second is Emunah (אמונה) which means faith. In Hukat (חוקת), the name of our portion, both concepts are tied together as even within Moshe we see the cracks of weakened faith and hear the people crying out in bitter hopelessness.

We know both of these words well.  At the end of a prayer we say Amen (אמן) from Emunah  (אמונה), meaning ‘I do believe.’ Whenever I hear a truth or a hope, I will respond Amen (אמן).  And there is the connection.  Faith requires hope and hope requires faith.  Hope, Tikvah (תקוה) is so important to the Jewish people that it is the name of the National Anthem of our spirit homeland, Israel.   The two concepts are like water from the rock to a people struggling in the wilderness. They are like rain falling on the wildfires of the west. But they don’t come easily, I have discovered.  Prayer is not enough, sitting back and waiting is not effective, paying lip service to these great ideals will not change anything.  They require action.

Brave firefighters are out in over a hundred degree weather fighting the worst wildfires in the history of the west.  Theirs are the actions of hope and faith. Open Space and Mountain Parks workers of Boulder are going out to protect people by redirecting them away from the dangerous areas. Theirs are the actions of hope and faith.  I will be out there with them trying to be of help in some small way. And that small act of mine is one of the ways in which I am seeking to tear down my blockade.

It is a small step in rebuilding my hope and faith.  I have many wonderful examples in my life of hope and faith that have recently pierced my shell to touch my soul.  My daughter is a shining example to me. She has reached out to me and helped in my time of need, simply and graciously.  My son is an example to me.  He flew in from New York for the Boulder Jewish Festival to stand by my side and work with me. My wife is an example to me in her steadfast belief, her faith in humanity and in the G-ding process that she mirrors in her Jewing.

And so the words hope and faith, Tikvah (תקוה) and Emunah  (אמונה) come to mind.  This morning I woke up playing with those words in my head.  I began playing the Gematria game, adding up the letters to see if I could find in myself a deeper meaning. Tikvah (תקוה) adds up to 511.  Emunah  (אמונה) adds up to 102.  When I added them together I got 613.  That pointed me to the word Mitzvot (מצוות) for according to Jewish tradition, there are 613 Mitzvot (מצוות). What is a Mitzvah (מצווה)? The surface, colloquial meaning is ‘good deed.’  More accurately it means ‘commandment.’  But more deeply it means ‘connection.’  When we make a connection with each other, with our planet, with our G, with our deepest self, hope blossoms and faith blooms.  The Gematria game watered that ideal and shed light on it for me.  It is 0613 on Friday June 29, 2012 which corresponds to the fifth day of Tammuz 5762 and I am beginning to reawaken.  I am beginning again to have faith that our country is reawakening to its mission of being responsible to and for its people. And I am beginning again to have hope that the sacred connections in all of us will grow stronger. And I am beginning to believe that I am ready to continue the wilderness struggle of Tikvah and Emunah.

Shavuot, the Feast of Awe and Awareness

ImageShavuot is about G GIVING Torah to the Jewish people. It is not about us RECEIVING Torah.  We receive the gift of Torah when and in the manner we are prepared to do so.  We distill, on the holiday of Shavuot, the gift and challenge of Torah into the symbolism of “10 commandments”.

On Shavuot I like to look at and play among the ten. Tradition teaches us that the essence of Torah is found in those ten statements. What lessons can I glean from this sacred ‘table of contents of the 613 Mitzvot of Torah.

 The First: “I am Adonai, your G.”

 Is this a commandment, or a statement of fact? It seems to be the preamble to the rest of the ten statements. If I accept this first statement, then the rest seem to fall into place.

If I accept that there is, for us, G. then it follows that “there shall be no other gods before Me.”

 Judaism is not about blind faith. Judaism encourages us to look at the world around us in awe and wonder. And that vision crystalizes with the awareness that creation is the clothing of the Creator. Our awe grows, intensifying from creation to Creator.  And I expand my inner self into that recognition that “I am Adonai, your G.”

 The first of these expressions flows into the next: “You will have no other gods instead of Me!”  It also speaks to the order of creation. Humanity is the last of physical creations, the last physical realm created on the last day of physical creation and as a prelude to the purely spiritual creation that is Shabbat. Bnay Adam was created just before and in conjunction with Shabbat, so that we would be part of the spiritual awareness that is the soul of creation.  From awe grows the daily practice of conscious awareness.

 The third of the ten speaks to the discipline of awareness. Our sacred connection with the Holy One of Being, which can also be called the Wholly One of Being, requires that I, even in my speech, do not allow that which is sacred to become commonplace, mundane.

Carrying the theme of awe and awareness into the fourth of these Ten Commandments, I am reminded of the day of spiritual creation. I am directed to remember and guard the memory and the sanctity of all creation, physical and spiritual.

The fifth of the Ten Commandments brings together the physical and the spiritual by means of the connection of family. Man and woman become partners in creation as they enter the world of parenthood. We, their children, in grateful awareness honor our parents’ role in creation. In honoring that microcosm of creation we bring to the light the sanctity of awareness, which is awe.

The next four of the ten speak to the sanctity of our relationships in community, obvious, straightforward and direct. No murder: No breaking the sanctity pairing contracts: No stealing. 

 The ninth of ten calls out to us: “Words have power!” The phrase: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is nonsense. I have been hurt by the words of others and so has every other human being. Our sense of awareness includes self-awareness and the awareness of the value of others. When we lose that awareness, we lose our awe for G.

 The last of the ten, speaks to our desires, our wants.  There is nothing wrong in wanting. Desire is not evil or wrong, it is not a weakness… so long as it is in its place.  I may want to live in a nice house, but I must not want your house.  It seems so simple but this, the last of ten points to that which pulls us away from sacred awareness, from the awe for the holy.

And so on Shavuot we repeat the ten, but seek a depth beyond ten, beyond even 613.  On Shavuot we sense the offering from the Holy One of Being. And if we have acquired some amount of wisdom, through this tradition, we, with a sense of awe, become aware of the Wholly Oneness of Being.