May I Have A WORD With You?! – BRIT

My covenant – בְּרִיתִי – Briti
I also established My covenant with them (Exodus 6:4)

Most people associate this word with that 8th day ritual.  Sometimes it involves bagels and cream cheese, but always involved the cutting of a foreskin. Bris. The full name of the ritual – spoken in Sephardic and not Ashkenazi Hebrew – is Brit Milah … the covenant of circumcision. And there it is, even at our very beginnings we — are reminded of the idea of covenant – Brit.

Covenant – בְּרִית – Brit is agreement with more depth. Covenant – בְּרִית – Brit is contract with more gravitas. Covenant – בְּרִית – Brit is citizenship with a nod to the grandeur of the social contract. Covenant – בְּרִית – Brit is relationship with sacred acknowledgment to the profound inter-connectivity of all human beings.

I think this word grabbed me as we all struggle to (still) understand how to live in a pandemic. The donning of a mask is an embrace of a Covenant – בְּרִית – Brit. Unless the mask is a K95, wearing a mask provides more protection for those around is that is does for ourselves. It is a physical manifestation of Covenant – בְּרִית – Brit … the participation in a sacred, bigger-than-myself kind of relationship. It feels to me like the kind of way I want to engage in all my encounters and relationships … with an acknowledgment that they are a part of a bigger web whose well-being is impacted by little old me. If only remembering that aspect of my relationships were only as easy as putting a mask over my nose and mouth.

Even in the midst of this terrible pandemic, I am thankful for this opportunity to participate in the Brit – Covenant in this way … and the way it might remind me to realize the fullness of Brit – Covenant in every relationship.

May I Have a WORD With You?! – KAVDU

Heavy – כָּבְדוּ – Kavdu

Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age (Genesis 48:10).

The end of the book of Genesis is also the end of Jacob’s life. We are told that he (Israel) cannot see. The word the Hebrew uses is Kavdu – כָּבְדוּ or Heavy … his eyes were heavy, weighed down by age. What makes our sight or vision heavy? Perhaps it is the double edged sword of experience. As we grow, age and live our lives we find ourselves learning from every encounter and endeavor. We use this accumulation of experiences to formulate our ideas of how the world works and what to expect of it.

Whether it be personally or professionally, we need this studied accumulation to navigate the world, to sustain ourselves and continue to thrive. We are aided by having a good perspective of what to expect and how to react in familiar situations and with different personalities. This kind of approach lightens the ways in which we view the world.

Sometimes, these accumulated experiences weigh down our sight. The weight of what we think we know darkens our vision. When our vision becomes heavy – כָּבְדוּ – Kavdu with age — we do not allow room for wonder or we enslave people in our expectations of how they will act. Instead of cultivating wisdom and wonder, we engage the world with cynicism and skepticism.

Since Father Time is undefeated, we must consider the ways we maintain the clarity of our sight – whether it is what we see with our eyes, our minds or our hearts.

May I Have A WORD With You?! – Vayaradnu/We Will Descend

We Will Descend – וְיָרַדְנוּ – Vayaradnu

(Genesis 44:26)

When one lives in Colorado it can be very clear when we are standing on higher ground. If we are out for a hike or a ski in the mountains, it would not be uncommon for any of us to say upon our return to Denver that we are heading down the mountain into town. Perhaps Joseph’s brothers meant the same thing as they explained their conundrum to their father, Jacob. Pharoah’s #2 had just told them to return home and bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt with them. Explaining their situation to Jacob, they told him that only if Benjamin was with them, וְיָרַדְנוּ – Vayaradnu, could they go down or descend toward Egypt. Maybe they were – like us – speaking from a higher altitude, so Egypt was literally down. Maybe it is that phenomenon that happens when something is south of us on a map and we describe that place as under or below us. From this perspective, it is a destitution to which we have to go down or descend to travel.

And then, again, maybe it is another one of those things we human beings do that is so deeply wired into the way we navigate the world that we do not even pay attention to how it impacts the way we judge, categorize and engage in our world. We can draw a straight line to the idea of going down to Egypt to our very day. People still speak of moving to the land of Israel as making Aliyah — going up or ascending. Moving away from that same place is referred to as Yurida – going down or descending. There is a strong sense of categorization, judgment and hierarchy in using these terms. Maybe even when we speak of heading down into town from the mountains, we mean to say that Denver is actually lower than wherever we may be. Maybe we consciously or subconsciously think of the time we spend in the mountains as higher in quality.

It makes sense – whether we are aware of it or not – that we evaluate the places we go and spend our time. Some of these places are special, rich and life enhancing places. Others are challenging, draining and the kind of places that suck the life out of us. For each of us – whether we are paying attention to it or not – there are places we feel that we ascend to and others from which we descend. Natural. Normal. Authentically human. And yet, I am sure there are times that these natural and normal ways we organize and think about our world become limiting judgements or minimizing assessments. (For example, I would not suggest that my life in Colorado is any lower than or any less than a life I might live if I ‘ascended’ and lived in the land of Israel.)

One of our traditions name for divinity is Makom … which means ‘place’. Divinity is the very place where our world, the entire universe dwells. In this simple name is the possibility that every place we go is held by the same underlying nature.   If the world resides in this Makom or Place … can there be any place we go in which that spirit, essence or presence does not dwell?

Beyond the physical movement from 10,000 feet to 5,280 feet … We Will Descend – וְיָרַדְנוּ – Vayaradnu … do we spiritually ascend or descend when we move from one place to another?

May I Have a WORD with you? – CHANUKAH

Chanukah – חנוכה- Dedication

As we enjoy the way our Chanukah Menorot bring light to this dark time of year … we will start by shining some light on the name of this holiday. First of all, let’s get the ‘correct’ English spelling of it out of the way. There is NO correct way to spell Chanukah in English. It is a Hebrew word spelled ח–נ–ו–כ–ה. English is mere phonetics. Any way you spell it in English that gets it pronounced correctly … is correct!

The word is most commonly translated as ‘dedication’. Chanukah – חנוכה- refers to the reclaiming and re-sanctifying – the dedication – of the Temple after the Maccabees’ military victory. Interestingly enough, the same root of this word (חנכ) also forms the Hebrew word that us used for education. Chinooch. Education, dedication … training up a student , dedicating oneself to a calling, consecrating a new space. The spirit of this word Chanukah , seems to call upon us to open up closed spaces. Maybe the spaces were open at one time and closed to us because of neglect, violence or various things beyond our control. Perhaps these spaces are physical ones that allow us the security of gathering and community. Or ,they are the mental spaces we inhabit with our emotional or intellectual lives.

Beyond the politics of Maccabees and the materialism of the ‘holiday’ season… is the challenge suggested to us each night of Chanukah as we light each candle. Point that light toward all of our closed spaces … and wonder how we might further open all of them … whether are spaces in our homes, in community, in our minds or in our hearts.

May I Have a WORD With You? – MAYRACHOK


Mayrachok – מרחק – From Far Away

They saw him *from far away*, and before he came close to them they conspired to kill him. (Genesis 37:18)

The brothers were /Mayrachok/ – מרחק from Joseph when they decided to kill him. What kind of distance was it — physical, emotional, spiritual? Yes! If they were not /Mayrachok/ – מרחק from Joseph would they have made the same decision? If they were in his physical proximity would they have felt the same anger or rage that led them to want to do violence upon him. If they were close enough to hear him speak and hear the nuance in his words, would they have still heard the brash, arrogant tones those same words contained in their minds. If they stood near to him and felt his presence, saw their familial resemblance, remembered his human frailties, would they have been able to see beyond their own insecurities, anxieties and frailties.

So, I ask myself … how often are my own judgements made /Mayrachok/ – מרחק? Do I place myself in the nearness and intimacy of another before I conspire against them? Do I place myself to sit close to them in all of their humanity? We may not find ourselves in greater alignment. I may not find myself less frustrated or angry. I may, however, find myself reacting and responding in a way that does not keep me /Mayrachok/ – מרחק.

May I Have A WORD With You? – MATZEVAH

Jacob took the stone that he had placed under his head and set it up as a *MATZEVAH* and poured oil on top of it. (Genesis 28:18)

One person’s talisman, may be another’s tzotchkee.  This week the Torah tells us the story of, Jacob, our spiritual ancestor and his life changing experience. There was a ladder, an ascending and descending angel and God standing next to him (or on him depending on how you interpret the text) bearing witness to watching it all. Jacob wakes up, profoundly impacted by the dream. So much so, he takes the rock pillow that served as the foundation for that evening’s sleep and anoints it as a MATZEVAH.

Most translations use the word ‘pillar’. Pillar does not quite capture what is happening to the modern ear.  We need a word that describes the act of taking an everyday, ordinary object — one that happened to be involved in an extra-ordinary event — and announcing or acknowledging at as something else. Something to preserve.  Something to cherish.  Something to honor.  A MATZEVAH.

No matter what word we may choose, chances are we all have MATZEVAHS populating the spaces we inhabit. It may be the object that some tradition or community tells us is significant. Or, it may be something that only you deem as worth of such a designation. Just like Jacob, we categorize and catalog these ‘rock pillows’ of ours to help us remember, capture and recreate the magic and the power of those experiences which made them into a MATZEVAH in the first place.

It is great, even important to make these MATZEVAHS. In our lives we need access to all of the magic and meaning we can get. We also have to pay attention, too, as we human beings have a penchant for transforming these objects – that serve as reminders of past moments or catalysts for future moments – into more. Sometimes, these MATZEVAHS, stop being the means but the ends themselves. Instead of pathways towards meaning, these objects become stumbling blocks that get in the way of us experiencing what we ultimately seek.

We do know that as impactful as Jacob’s ladder dream was to him … there will be more dreams in his future. I would like to think that his rock pillow MATZEVAH served as catalyst to open his heart and mind to the transformative dreams that will follow.

I will strive make sure my MATZEVAHS  do the same.

A Special Announcement from Micah and PHUMC – Creating a Temporary Safe Outdoor Space

Dear Micah Community,

Do Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

The story of our Micah community abounds with our endeavor to understand and realize these simple, fundamental and transformational values set forth by the prophet Micah.  Our efforts to embody the prophet’s expression of our Jewish ideals have taken on many forms in our 6+ decades of synagogue life.  Some of these efforts have been for the benefit of our own community, others have been for the sake of those beyond our community.  Some of these efforts have focused on personal growth and our individual spiritual lives, others have been focused on changing the world.  Some of these efforts have been easy and natural, others have been unsettling and challenging.  We are about to begin an exciting new effort as we endeavor to embody these precious values of ours … 

Park Hill UMC and Temple Micah are partnering with the Colorado Village Collaborative to host a temporary Safe Outdoor Space on the PHUMC parking lot from June 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021.

The Safe Outdoor Space (SOS) program – launched in July 2020 by the Denver Mayor’s Office –  provides a temporary response to the city’s homelessness crisis.  The city partnered with the Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC) to open several Safe Outdoor Spaces for people experiencing homelessness. These Safe Outdoor Spaces are healthy, secure, staffed, resource and service-rich environments that provide an outdoor, individualized sheltering option for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Denver.  There have been two Safe Outdoor Spaces that have successfully operated in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood since December, 2020 … and we are planning to host the third.

What does hosting a Safe Outdoor Space mean for PHUMC and Temple Micah?  CVC manages the entire site – ‘soup to nuts’.  They provide and facilitate it all – infrastructure, social service support, food, screening, security. PHUMC and Micah offer the physical and communal space for CVC to do its work. The sharing of physical space means sacrificing potential parking space for this effort.  The sharing of communal space means working within our communities and with our Park Hill neighbors to create opportunities for education, dialogue and collaboration about this Safe Outdoor Space and the crisis of homelessness.  If we want, we will have opportunities to support CVC in their work of caring for some of the needs of the residents of the SOS.

I feel very strongly about our participation in this effort and am proud to collaborate with our Park Hill UMC friends to make it happen.  I clearly see the alignment of our values and doing what we can to support people experiencing homelessness.  I also understand that there is a lot to learn and understand about this temporary solution to a larger societal problem.  You may be like me that – upon hearing about this endeavor – you have some questions and even concerns about it all.   I understand that while the professional and lay leadership at Park HIll UMC and Temple Micah may have been talking about and thinking about this idea already, it is the first time many in our communities (Micah, PHUMC and the Park Hill neighborhood) are hearing about it.  I encourage you to learn more, begin asking your questions and understanding more about it all.

Let me share with you how you can go about learning more …

​​​​​​​If … after you have read, watched and started to learn more … you are curious about how to participate in this effort, please let me know that desire, too.

Thank you, for taking the time to listen about our new initiative.  I am proud to be part of a community that is always striving to understand, incorporate and embody our most sacred values into every aspect of our lives.