Toledot 5775 (Violence in Our Sacred Space)

This one hits very close to home. I doubt that if I had ever met my colleagues who were murdered on Tuesday in Jerusalem. I doubt, too, that we would have had much in common or to agree upon if we had the chance to know one another. (I must admit, I have been wrong on such assumptions in the past.) And yet, the fact that the violence occurred in a such a sacred space and time; while the victims were doing something that I do so frequently – in a synagogue participating in communal prayer – feels like a cosmic punch to the gut.

This tragic act of violence occurs during the week that Jews around the world read the Torah portion, Toledot. Toledot is the story of the conflicted brothers – Jacob and Esau. These twins begin their conflict – in a sacred space – in the womb of their mother, Rebecca. Rebecca feels the physical discomfort and pain of two fetuses wrestling in her belly. She also feels the spiritual discomfort and pain – a cosmic punch to the gut – as these two brothers engage in this conflict in a setting that protects and nourishes them. In a moment of existential angst and fatigue – responding to this conflict and its physical and spiritual impact on her, Rebecca cries out to God: Why? – Why does it have to be this way? Why does it have to be my burden?
Many of us can identify with Rebecca’s angst — her outrage, her frustration … even her sense of violation of a respected order of things. We, too, want to cry out – to the perpetrators of such pain, to the enablers of such a violation – but also to a broader and deeper Facilitator of our cosmos and cry out: Why? Why does it have to be this way? Why is this our continual burden?
I find it compelling to consider an etymological point of interest about the conflict within Rebecca’s womb. The Hebrew word for this place where life is given and protected is Rechem. It is within her Rechem where the violating conflict occurs. In our tradition when we speak of Mercy, we use the word Rachamim. It looks familiar because the root of the word for ‘womb’ is the same root for the word for ‘Mercy.’  I wonder, what is this profound interplay between the conflict within Rebecca’s Rechem (womb) and the value of Rachamim (Mercy)? How does such conflict exist because of a lack of Rachamim? In what way would Rachamim mitigate the impact of this conflict? How does one end conflict without the presence of some modicum of Rachamim?
The violation of such a sacred space in Jerusalem this week angers, worries and frightens us. It does not give us cause to forget why we construct such sacred spaces and times and what we endeavor to realize within them. No matter the pain, plight or the suffering one faces and no matter how one’s actions might be cloaked in fighting tyranny and seeking justice – perpetrating such acts in such a vulnerable space is reprehensible. Ironically, it should be within the context of such a space and time, that one would hope to bridge the abyss between people – collectively and individually. We must look beyond the willingness by a tortured few to desecrate such spaces, to our own willingness to continually open those spaces – and in turn ourselves – to the realization of our highest ideals and values.

See Clearly, Now! – RH 5774

In the last couple of weeks through the medium of video … some very sad, disturbing and tragic events in remote or more private places have been seen by millions of people around the world.  ISIS or ISIL has recorded and shared the dastardly beheading of two American journalists.  The start to the NFL football season has been overshadowed by the release of a video that records one of its star players punching his then fiancé. In both cases, the videos released contained events that, sadly, are not new – either in human history or in the daily lives of some of the world’s inhabitants.  And yet, the sharing of the videos served as potent catalysts in dramatically impacting reactions toward those who perpetuated the violence. ISIS/ISIL has been acting in the Middle East for months, but these videos seem to have been part of the impetus for the President to respond in the public and aggressive manner in which he did and plans to lead the country.  The NFL had already punished its player for the suspected violence, but the punishment was dramatically increased once the video was released to the public.

These are two very negative and powerful examples of how actually seeing something, affects us more profoundly than hearing about it, reading about it or even just thinking about it.  There exists a potent element to taking the time, utilizing the tools or technology we have to examine and understand the events that unfold around us … and within us.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur serve as a kind of spiritual technology that can be used to see our lives more closely and clearly.  It is a kind of seeing that is beyond the scope of our physical senses.  It is a kind of seeing that one does with our spiritual ‘senses’.

These High Holydays stake claim to set aside sacred time from our lives to examine our choices and their consequences for us and the world around us.  The close viewing – witnessing – of those aspects of our lives that we many not give such close attention to the rest of the year – can be empowering and frightening; transforming and intimidating.  This spiritual technology demands self-awareness and the constructive actions that follow.  As raw, honest and vulnerable that we may feel by seeing ourselves so closely and clearly – those feelings cannot compare to the numbness, rigidity and stuckness that results when we do not bear witness to the life of our own souls.

As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach us once again, I pray that we may all see them for the challenge, utility, necessity and opportunity they present … to look honestly, justly and compassionately on the state of our lives … and understand enough from what we see to make this next  year one of growth, joy and meaning.

The Weapons of War – Devarim 5774

The weapons of war are heartless, inexact and utterly destructive. Bombs, missiles, shells, bullets, grenades, knives, fists and feet bring pain, injury and loss. Those of us outside the physical theater of war find our hearts heavy with sadness, shock and anguish as we glean the news about and lament the violence and destruction of people and property. We are not soldiers in these battles and cannot feel or know the anxiety, shock and fear that accompanies being there. Nonetheless, It is from afar we feel and experience faint aftershocks of each act of violence.

However, there is another battlefield that is not limited to a military theater – bounded by geographic constraints and physical boundaries. It is the battlefield of identity, ideas and values. It is the battlefield of communities, nations, peoples. These battlefields cannot be constrained by geography, distance or any physical border. And while there are times when we encounter some of the weapons used in the military theater of battle, these are not the most prevalent weapons in this virtual theater. In this theater, in this battlefield words – and the ideas, feelings and meaning behind them – are the weapons used by the masses for destruction. We are quite impotent when it comes to directly affecting the use of weapons on the physical battlefield, such is not the case with the verbal weapons we witness, experience and utilize in this larger battlefield.

This week’s Torah portion begins the book of Deuteronomy or Devarim. The portion and the book begin: “Eleh Devarim – These are the words that Moses addressed to all of Israel … “. The entire book of Deuteronomy/Devarim (34 chapters) are Moses’ words of reminder, encouragement, chastisement and guidance to the Israelites. A simple, yet pithy teaching speaks of the power of these words used by Moses. It also speaks to us about the way that the power of words may be wielded for destruction or construction. A midrash teaches that the word: devarim (meaning ‘words’) can be vocalized in Hebrew to also read d’vorim (meaning: ‘bees’). It suggests that just as sharp, painful and even destructive that a bee’s sting may be – a bee’s honey may also be sweet, pleasing and nourishing. Moses’s words – the words of Torah – contain the nourishing nature of honey and the pain inducing nature of the stinger.

Even though we may be overwhelmed by the physical violence and destruction of the implements of war, we would be wise not to ignore or underestimate the power contained in the implements of our battlefield – the words we use. It will be the words of politicians, diplomats, soldiers AND the words of the individuals of those communities that will tear down or build up. After this fighting ends – and hopefully it will soon – it will be devarim – words that either continue the destruction wrought in this conflict or somehow, someway begin the work constructing a peace.

Let us keep these words, these devarim and the message behind them prominent in our minds and hearts as we process and respond to the events unfolding on the physical battlefield in this place so precious to the Jewish people and to the rest of the world.

My Grandma Knows Everything

My grandma knows everything. I do not remember what age I was when I first began announcing this piece of information to the world. I do not remember the moment, either, that this realization first struck me as discernable and true. And yet there it was – beyond the lens of the more experienced (and perhaps jaded) eyes of a parent seeing her or his own parent; through the simple, noble and definitive vision of child – in the way that a grandchild can connect, understand and appreciate the wonder of a grandparent – it was quite clear to me: My grandma knows everything.

I would happily announce this paradigm of mine to anyone who would listen: my family, my friends and my grandmother, herself. In fact, she and I had our own song and dance that we would perform – quick and simple, knowing each other’s unspoken cues – that would lead to conveying this maxim to an unwitting audience. Truth be told, this schtick had a certain shelf life that ended somewhere at the onset of young adulthood and the assumption that most of us young adults eventually embody – that we each know everything that we need to know. Even though I have not uttered this bromide in years – as I searched my mind and my heart for the words to share with you this morning – it was these words that I felt compelled to share and explore. My grandma knows everything.
What did Phyllis Bookatz know? Well, all of us who interacted with my grandma, were keenly aware of what she was thinking or feeling about a particular matter or person – whether we liked it or not. What one thinks and what one feels is not necessarily the same thing as what one knows. I am not standing here with a childlike wonder suggesting that she actually knew everything. My grandma would never claim to be a scholar filled with academic knowledge. As many times as I tried to sit at the feet of my elder and coax her to wax philosophical about questions of an existential or ideological nature, she never really thrived in that kind of exchange. She was too practical, too corporeal. So, I wonder: What did she know? My grandma knows everything.

The Hebrew word that we most commonly translate from the verb ‘to know’ is Da’at. It is used in a myriad of ways in the Tanach – expressing all kinds of knowing or knowledge – from knowing the difference between ‘good and evil’ to knowing someone in the ‘biblical sense’ to knowing what is true and how the world works because one’s life experience. The mystics understand Da’at as the concrete and solid manifestation of our accumulated understanding and wisdom. The nature of Da’at is not about espousing pieces of information or overwhelming others with impressive data – but honestly and boldly living what we know. Da’at is how we embody what we understand, how we live the truths that are embedded in our hearts and souls. So, from what I thought I understood as a child to what I thought I understood no more as a young adult … today, as a middle aged adult, I am quite clear in my mind and heart as I tell you: My grandma knows everything.

Phyllis Bookatz – in the way she lived her life – embodied this Da’at – this knowing – in how she worked, how she played; how she spent her time, energy and money; how she fought and how she loved. Within this life of actions, deeds and values we see what she knew. My grandma knows everything. However, ‘everything’, might take too long for us to cover in the time that I am given to celebrate her this morning. So, I ask you to indulge me as I share with you just a small portion of that ‘everything’ that I am blessed to understand and hopefully ‘know’ myself one day.

My grandma knows about working hard, commitment, perseverance and strength. With her practical, stick-to-it and serious nature – my grandmother was a doer. She was someone upon whom others could depend, someone who would get things done. She would not get caught up in the what-ifs or the emotionality of a task or a project – she would put her head down and do what she needed to do – because it needed to get done. There are many examples from her life about how she knew about these things. My aunts, uncle and mom can tell you examples from their childhood; my cousins share my witness to the thing she did – not just for the community – but for each one of us – the people at B’nai Jeshurun can share them, too and so can the countless others who knew Phyllis in one of her life endeavors. From among these numerous moments of commitment, perseverance and strength … one profoundly speaks to me. I cannot speak about my grandmother without speaking about my grandfather. The two were inextricably combined in my memory and my heart. They were an entity, a force together. They were yin and yang before it was cool and hip to talk about people being yin and yang. As formidable (and sometimes intimidating) as each could be individually, they were more so together. And yet, almost three decades ago – my grandfather died in a slow, painful and treacherous manner. I remember feeling worried and concerned for her – how would she overcome this devastating loss of her Jules. To this day I am awed and inspired by the way that my grandma lived after he died. Tapping into her storehouse of a lifetime of acquired commitment, perseverance and strength – Phyllis crafted, created and forged a life – that while did not include her beloved Jules – did include meaning, purpose and love. She knew how to commit, to persevere to be strong and how to survive. My grandma knows everything.

My grandma knows about being Jewish. Identifying, acting and living as a Jewish person was essential to my grandmother’s life. She knew the formal, more public ways that one might understand her Judaism. My grandmother’s commitment to Heights Temple/B’nai Jeshurun and Israel Bonds are legendary. Her home (i.e. her kitchen) was ground zero for every significant Jewish holiday. I could go on and on listing these formal involvements and commitments of hers … But there was more to what she knew about being a Jew. When I first decided to pursue a career as a rabbi in the Reform movement and not the Conservative one, I think I feared how she might respond … having been so committed and immersed in a Conservative community that she and my grandfather loved so much. And yet, that was never the case for even a moment. From my grandmother, I have come to understand Judaism more deeply and broadly than than the lines drawn by its institutions. Again, while she would have never been one to express it – she lived Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan’s understanding that Judaism was bigger being only a religion, or culture or ethnicity … it is a civilization. And she embraced the fullness of this diversity and it’s complexity. She supported and was supported by the religious, cultural, ethnic and national ways of being a Jew. She lived as if Judaism and being a Jew was bigger, larger and more important than any particular ritual or politics or doctrine – and held no patience when those (or other dynamics) got in the way of being a Jew. (And she would let anyone within earshot know what she thought.) When I began the path of becoming a Reform rabbi, I feared I might be taking steps away from her … And what I have come to understand is that every step I took actually brought me closer to what she knew about being a Jew. Phyllis Bookatz knew about living a Jewish life. My grandma knows everything.

My grandma knows about family. We all here know the numbers … four loving and devoted children; 4 sons and daughter in law who join in that love and devotion; 13 grandchildren, 12 and soon-to-be 14 great grandchildren. In many of our conversations and particularly in our last one, my grandmother wanted me to know how extremely blessed she felt to have the love and devotion of all of her children and grandchildren – she knew complete and genuine gratitude. Each of us can speak of the numerous ways that her presence in our lives mattered deeply to us and enriched us. And yet for me, what she knew … what I have come to understand from her about family and relationships may be the most precious, essential and difficult lesson to learn. My grandma would not be one to teach the theology of Martin Buber, but she taught me a great deal about his lofty ideal about the nature of divinity. You see, Buber teaches that God is the name for what happens when two individuals love one another completely – for the other’s gifts and for the other’s limitations. I cannot speak of my grandmother without speaking about this precious piece of ultimate wisdom I learned from my relationship with her. A mature relationship means loving someone for all that they are – because of their greatest gifts and their most challenging limitations. The fact that I can stand here today speaking to you at her request – speaks to what she knew and what I seek to know in my own life. Families and intimate relationships are the most powerful and influential forces of nature in our lives. Like any force of nature they can elevate us and flatten us, bring us joy and pain. When we are able to love one another not in spite of, but because of our flaws and mistakes we are able to experience the full divinity embedded in each relationship in our lives. I understand from my grandma about the sweetness offering and receiving redemption and forgiveness; about the elastic nature of families and relationships and their power to impact and endure. Phyllis Bookatz knew about family. My grandma knows everything.

And now perhaps, in the realm that her soul dwells now … she does truly know everything … or maybe not. My grandma was always pretty clear – set in her practical and matter of fact way about life, death and what happens beyond this world. In fact, she often appeared as a foil when I have found myself teaching about Jewish views of life after death. She would represent the view that when we die, we die … there is only this world and so the only thing we can do is make the best of it. Fitting to her nature and way of living in this world, and yet … In the last year or so she seemed to open her mind to the possibility of another possibility. She would not talk extensively about this shift in ideology, except to mention the thought or possibility of being with my grandfather again someday. For my grandma, this simple suggestion was seismic in nature … and brings me great comfort. Comfort in the shadow of death and our grief that she may be with right now her beloved Jules. Comfort in the light of the mystery of life that no matter where she may be that all she knew is such an essential and fundamental part of the lives of those of us who cherish and love her.

For my beloved grandma, who knows everything … I offer these words from the poet as my prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of your presence in all of our lives:

Epitaph (Merritt Malloy)

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them

What you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.

Avraham Burg on the Kidnapped Israeli Young Men

I find my heart filled with anguish as I pray for the safe return of the three young Israeli men who were kidnapped this past week.  The anguish only grows as I observe the myriad of reaction from Jews, Palestinians and the rest of the world.  As I struggle to identify and express my own thoughts and feelings, I find perspective in the candor and integrity of the words of Avram Burg, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).   – R.Mo

The Palestinians: A kidnapped society
We are incapable of understanding the suffering of a society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us.
Ha’aretz/| Jun. 18, 2014 | 12:09 PM | By Avraham Burg

Our hearts are in pain over those three teenage boys whose identities we did not even know a moment ago, but who now belong to all of us. Each of them looks like my own son, the son of every one of my friends and their friends.

Like many people, I hope with all my heart that the moment will come when we see them alive among us, and that all this tension dissipates into blissful relief. I hope, with real trembling, but I cannot and do not want to ignore the silenced truth that surrounds their kidnapping.
Those three boys are truly unfortunate. They are unfortunate because of the trap of fear in which they have been captured, the uncertainty and the fact that their lives are in great danger. Our hearts are in pain, and go out to them and their families because of how, in a single moment, they had to step into the glare of publicity. And these teenagers are unfortunate because of the lie in which they have lived their lives — lives of supposed normalcy that were built upon the foundations of that greatest of Israeli injustices: the occupation.
Now let us turn from their wretchedness to our own. For us, a dramatic or traumatic event is always a very clear, refined and transparent moment. All the plans and failures, the fears and hopes, burst out.
Here are Israel’s shallow prime minister and the bumbling police, the masses who cling to futile prayers and not to a moment of human peace. Here are the country’s hypocritical chief rabbis, who just a month ago demanded promises from the pope regarding the future of the Jewish people, but in their daily lives remain silent about the fate of the people who are our neighbors, trampled beneath the pressure of occupation and racism under the leadership of rabbis who receive exorbitant salaries and benefits.
Suddenly everything erupts, is expressed in its very essence, emerging from the darkness into the sunlight. This is precisely the moment to examine intentions — because, as said, everything is out in the open.
First, Netanyahu’s hollowness. Not much needs to be said about it. After all, he is the one who guided all the Israeli-Palestinians talks into the tight corner of the prisoner release issue. He is also the one who, with his own words, violated Israel’s commitment to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners. He is also the one who maneuvered the Palestinian Authority into the corner of unifying with Hamas.
So what exactly is he complaining about, with his dramatic and schmaltzy comments and gestures? His immediate, conditioned, unconsidered response shows that he was just waiting for this moment, if only to say “I told you so.” And now that he has, the real question surfaces: What exactly is he telling us? The painful answer: Nothing at all.
Israel’s left wing, too, which is supposedly dignified, has become the gaping mouth of the carp stuffed with some sort of gray substance, lying on the Passover seder plate of the gluttonous right wing. The latter, too, are embroiled in a disgraceful fight over a piece of the pie of legitimacy that belongs to the sticky consensus.
How can it be that not one of them has gotten up and said: Everyone who is on the other side of this black line bears the responsibility. It is not pleasant, but it is the truth. And it is never pleasant, after all.
Before there is a kidnapping — why talk? Nobody is listening anyway because things are quiet. And the moment they kidnap, we must not talk (as the executive director of Peace Now said), since our kidnapped ones are gone. And once it all ends (in what could be, God forbid, a personal tragedy or a collective tragedy that nobody cares about), why should we talk? Everybody is busy once again with Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, the FIFA World Cup or the next scandal.
So this is also a pure moment of insulation. Not the insulation of homes which we are used to, but the insulation of hearts. Few people on the right and the left – except for Gideon Levy, Uri Misgav and a few other cautious and frightened commentators – are trying to grasp the deep roots of the kidnapping.
We absolve ourselves by saying, “They handed out sweets” after hearing about the kidnapping. Their happiness makes us glad, since the happier they are over our suffering, the more exempt we are from taking an interest in them and their suffering. But there is no way around it: This is a sort of happiness that demands deeper study and understanding.
All of Palestinian society is a kidnapped society. Like many of the Israelis who performed “significant service” in the army, many of the readers of this column, or their children, entered the home of a Palestinian family in the middle of the night by surprise, with violence, and simply took away the father, brother or uncle, with determination and insensitivity. That is kidnapping, and it happens every day. And what about their administrative detainees?
What is all this if not one big official, evil and unjust kidnapping that we all participate in and never pay the price for? That is the fate of tens of thousands of detainees and others under arrest, who stayed, or are staying, in Israel’s prisons – quite a few of them for no good reason, falsely imprisoned on false pretexts. The vast majority of them have been exposed to the appendages of military justice, and none of us cares a whit.
All these things have turned the topic of the prisoners into the main subject in the lives of the occupied society. There is not a single household without a detainee or prisoner. So why is it so difficult to understand their joy and our pain, fears and worry notwithstanding? It was, and can still be, otherwise.
However, as long as the Israeli government shuts all the gates of freedom, flees from all real negotiations that could solve the conflict, refuses to make good-will gestures, lies and blatantly violates its own commitments – violence is all that remains for them.
It has already been proven any number of times that kidnapping sets one free. It seems once again that Israel understands nothing but violence. What does that say about us? This response of ours — which ranges between “They deserve it” and “They are all terrorists,” to “I am following orders” and “I did not know what was going on” — says more about us than it does about them.
Despite the enormous and inspiring success of Breaking the Silence (an NGO that collects testimony from soldiers who’ve served in the West Bank), our own total silence is still the loudest thing around us. We are willing to go out of our minds over one odd and troublesome Pollard, a lone kidnap victim or three kidnap victims, but we are incapable of understanding the suffering of a whole society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us.

This, too, needs to be said and heard during this moment of clarity — and as loudly as possible.

Take a Mountain Moment – Shavuot 5774

It may not be on your radar, but the Jewish holiday of Shavout is upon us. Historically, it is a big one … one of the three pilgrimage festivals for which our ancestors congregated in Jerusalem at the Temple. Currently, as far as popular recognition or observance goes, it could be said that Shavuot does not reside on the Mt. Rushmore of Jewish Holidays.

Originally, an agriculturally based observance of first fruits, Shavuot also became the medium to celebrate a fairly significant event in the mythic life of the Jews – the Sinai moment. In our story that is told in Torah, the Sinai moment is where God speaks to the Israelite community directly (not through Moses as is commonly thought in the collective Jewish psyche — or as Mel Brooks or Cecil B. Demille portrays).

For most liberal Jews this significant moment in our collective story is hard to embrace. Accepting the literal or figurative truth in the story can be challenging. For me, I certainly lean in that direction … and yet, somewhere and somehow I do not want to completely reject the possibility of an encounter or experience that wow’s us, moves us and transforms us. When I consider the Sinai story and its implications, I understand it as our tradition’s code for expressing the possibility of encounters with the divine … and its challenge to think about our readiness and openness to such encounters.

So, Jews around the world will focus on the Sinai moment this week. (Tuesday night or Wednesday are the actual days on which Shavuot falls this year). In the spirit of encountering the divine, perhaps you have a few moments (actually on Shavuot or sometime this week) for consideration, cogitation or contemplation of Sinai-esque moments. If you are so inclined, please use this Shavout exercise as a guide.

Mountainous Moments – A Shavuot Exercise

  • Carve out some time where you can sit, relax and reflect.
  • If you can make it a space where you can experience of bit of the majesty that is part of our Colorado mountains, better yet! 
  • Bring along something to write with (if that is something you prefer) or something to sip on (if that is something you prefer). 
  • Make yourself comfortable … first physically, make sure you are good to sit for some time. 
  • Then mentally, take a few moments, focus on your breathing, empty your mind of what you have to do or what you did not do … just clear out your mind of the clutter of the everyday. 
  • Let’s put aside trying to get our heads and hearts around the actual experience of the divine encounter. Let’s consider the preparation or readiness for such an encounter. 
  • Read this description from Torah about the organization of the Israelites in the wilderness (as they prepared for their spiritual journey) and the explanation of it from the Etz Hayim Torah Commentary: 

NUMBERS 2:1: The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.

ETZ HAYIM TORAH COMMENTARY: A person’s identity consists of three elements: the self (the standard); the family (the ancestral banners); and the community (the Tent of Meeting.) 

  • To sum up: Knowing one’s sense of self or place prepares one for encountering the divine. 
  • How ready are you for a divine encounter? How clear, defined or grounded is your own sense of self. Take some time to consider each of these aspects – as named by Torah – of your own place. As you do, write or draw (or some combination of these) as you process.

1) Your Standard: What does your ‘standard’ – that which represents you as an individual – look like? How do you regard yourself at this place in your life? What are your blessings? What are your limitations? 

2) Your Ancestral Banners: What does the banner or your family look like? What is the nature of your relationship with the people in your family? Which relationships are most challenging? Which relationships are most rewarding? What are the gifts of your family that you most cherish? What ‘gifts’ are more burdensome?

3) The Tent of Meeting: What does your communal tent look like? What the communities of which you find yourself? How do you participation in each of them? How do you contribute to each of them? How do your communities sustain you?

  • Imagine your standard, banner and tent before you. Name, visualize and imagine the potential Sinai moments on your current path.
  • Take a few more moments to be in the moment, reflect on what you thought about, wrote or drew. 

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad.
Listen all you Godwrestlers, 
that which you call ‘God’ is Oneness itself.

What A Mess?!? – (Bemidbar, May 2014)

My garage is a disaster right now. Between planting the garden, helping a friend with a building project, upgrading kids rooms with new beds (which means the old beds live in the garage until they are sold) and the usual collection of bric-a-brac that resides in it … my garage (have I mentioned?) is a disaster. Now, most people who know me (and definitely those who live with me) would not consider me a neat freak by any means. Still, this level of disorder unseats and unsettles me. It frustrates me and makes me impatient with the other contributors to the mess. It inhibits my creativity (the garage is where I do most of my woodworking). In a small, but not insignificant way it makes my home base feel a little less homey.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bemidbar … the Israelites are being ordered and organized for their march through the wilderness to the Promised Land. I imagine that this collection of stubborn, unruly  and recently liberated slaves had the potential to mythically resemble the state of my garage. Perhaps it is for this reason that they are given very mundane, specific instructions – tribe by tribe and person by person – where and how to stand and with what implements and adornments. Apparently, reaching the Promised Land needs some level of order and even discipline.

The Etz Hayim Torah commentary explains these machinations in this fashion:
  • “Many commentators note the details here of tribal encampments as a way of emphasizing the need for order and organization in achieving a spiritual life. Simcha Zissel Ziv writes: “A person disorderly in behavior is also confused in thought, incapable of stable, consistent work.””

Or stated differently, how we order the physical impacts the spiritual. And perhaps, too, how we order the physical reflects the spiritual. The various aspects of we human animals (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) do not live in separate silos from one another. They exist, interact and react in a rich, complex web. It is web of connectedness the we ignore at own peril and embrace with the possibility of profound growth and meaning.

It’s time for me clean my garage.