May I Have A WORD With You?! – DUST

DUST – עָפָר – Afar
Your descendants will be as the dust of the earth … (Genesis 28:14)

Talk about a backhanded compliment. The promise God makes to Jacob is that his descendants will be like, uh, DUST – עָפָר – Afar. I don’t know about you, but my first reaction is … thanks, but no thanks.

DUST – עָפָר – Afar is one of those substances that gets everywhere. No nook or cranny is safe from its arrival. DUST – עָפָר – Afar is one those entities that even after one removes it, it returns and returns and returns. It is beyond time and space. Who thinks of DUST – עָפָר – Afar more than something that needs to be removed or even eliminated.

It seems that we have had too many reminders in the past few weeks and months about people out there who think exactly that way about us descendants of Jacob. We are (at best) annoying DUST – עָפָר – Afar. Yes, thanks, but no thanks.

And yet, here we are. Still, kinda DUST – עָפָר – Afar. DUST-like … living, dwelling and contributing everywhere across the globe. DUST-like … still hanging around after millennia, still clutching to our highest values.

DUST – עָפָר – Afar is the stuff of the earth … that fosters growth which can nourish and sustain communities, that forms bricks and mortar which helps to build civilizations, that contains – even in the smallest amounts – precious ores and minerals that are sources of wealth and beauty.

There have always been and I suppose will always be those who consider DUST – עָפָר – Afar something to despise and deny. AND, there has always been and continues to be a DUST – עָפָר – Afar that brings within its reach and stamina nourishment, sustainment and wealth to the world. This DUST – עָפָר – Afar shows up in our values of a just, compassionate and peaceful world.
And so, as we continue to annoy some, we must also continue to ally with others who yearn for the realization of those same values. And, together, work towards the ways that those values will become like DUST – עָפָר – Afar … permeating the nooks and crannies of our world and everywhere in between, rooting within our communities and their institutions in perpetuity.

May I Have A WORD With You? – TEN

TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar
I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten. (Genesis 18:32)

In one of the greatest negotiations in recorded history , God agrees to ‘save’ Sodom and Gemorrah if Abraham can find TEN righteous people. Well, we know how that story ended … and have been left with this number, TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar, guiding our understanding as an interesting metric for communal veracity and viability.

We are probably most familiar with the idea that TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asarpeople are needed for a Minyan … that designation which permits the reciting of specific prayers or rituals. Our tradition suggests that TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar is the number of people best suited to create, make or hold enough sacred space to comfort a mourner, welcome a child and celebrate the covenant between two souls.

We could questions the merits and meaning of TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar … How did that number came to be significant? What is the minimum number needed to create this kind of space in time? What number would be better suited to life in the 21st century?

I am more drawn to the questions about the kind of space in time that TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar purports to create. In a fractious and unsettled moment in the world, I find myself craving the kinds of communities — even if temporary – that cradle and empower me. In a time in which a handful of large voices can dominate and diminish civil discourse, I yearn to be reminded of the presence and be held by communities that preserve and inspire. If it takes only TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar then I feel we can actually wield some power against the voices and forces that appear so powerful. If it takes only TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar then I feel a little more safe and a little more hopeful.

Even when faced with two of the most despicable places described in all of human literature, Abraham believed in the power of TEN – עֲשָׂרָה – Asar. Perhaps this model of faith is a place for all of us to start responding to what we face and what we want our world to become.

May I Have A WORD With You?! – ARK

ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah
Make yourself an ARK of gopher wood. (Genesis 6:14)

You may know that I built an ARK! We use it in the large sanctuary at Temple Micah. However, it is nothing like Noah’s! Even though the English word we use for our Torah-holding ARK and Noah’s life-preserving, floating-zoo ARK is the same word… the Hebrew words are different. I built an Aron and Noah built a Tayvah.

I got to wondering, if I could build an ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah like Noah’s … or maybe I already have? There is another place of ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah construction in the Torah. On the surface it is nothing like Noah’s ARK. We find this other occurence of ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah making when Yochebed and Miriam are fretting what to do about the newborn baby boy who seems destined to be murdered by Pharaoh. Miriam constructs an ARK to preserve the life of her new baby brother as they offer him (and the fate of the Israelites) into the Nile.

Noah and Miriam’s ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah have a lot in common and suggest that we all may be ARK builders, or at least we should become ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah builders. Someone created both of these constructs with the intentions of protection, preservation and transition. Each ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah served to shepherd people in a time of perilous change in their lives. As I see it, none of us escape the experience of transition and change. Pain and peril – physical, emotional or spiritual – often accompany that transition. All of us could use (or have used) an ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah to help us traverse the waters that brought us from one place to another.

If an ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah can be life a saving tool, what can we learn from the master craftspersons, Noah and Miriam, when constructing our own?

  • An ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah just does not happen. It needs to be crafted with intention and care.
  • An ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah is can be made to secure one soul or include many souls. The form is fluid, as long as the content is authentic.
  • An ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah is not made to be lived in indefinitely, it is a transitory vehicle … if we never leave the ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah we are stuck.

Whenever we find ourselves in turbulent waters of transition, may our inner Noah and Miriam step up and help us craft the ARK – תֵּבָה – Tayvah that we need in that moment.

May I Have a WORD With You?! – RETURN

RETURN – תּשׁוּבָה – Teshuvah

If you find yourself at this time of year connecting in any way with the Jewish community you might come across the word, תּשׁוּבָה – Teshuvah. We spend the first ten days of our New Year – and technically the last month of the previous year – on this תּשׁוּבָה – Teshuvah thing.  Most commonly translated as ‘repentance’, an aspect of תּשׁוּבָה – Teshuvah is realizing our mistakes, asking to be forgiven for them and offering forgiveness to those whose mistakes have hurt us. While any one of those things may be no easy task, it only scratches the surface of where תּשׁוּבָה – Teshuvah truly points us.

The Hebrew letters that make the SH and the U and the V in the word are all about turning. Turning behind us. Turning around. Turning upside down and inside out. Turning within. Re-Turning. We turn to get a different view of something. We turn to make sure our attention is evenly spread out. We must re-turn to eventually get back to our beginnings, our origins , our essence.

At the root of realizing our shortcomings, at the heart of yearning to be better, at the core of forgiving another as they walk that same path … is the idea that we have something at our root, heart and core that is worthy, wise and wondrous. It is to this center, this origin that we seek RETURN – תּשׁוּבָה – Teshuvah.

No matter what it looks like — with us at Micah, with another community, in self-crafted moments or some combination of these – I pray that the call of our tradition this time of year reaches out to you … that it taps you on the shoulder and you respond with a turn … and in that moment you get a dazzling glimpse of your essence, spirit and divinity.  May what you see, hear and experience inspire you towards a joyous and meaningful 5783.

May I Have a WORD With You?! – CURSE

Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah
“Put a curse upon this people for me.” (Number 22:6)

I feel like a lot like cursing. The last few weeks have given all of us a lot to fret, worry, fear, get angry …. to curse about. It is not simply the colloquial sense of cursing – like letting loose some choice expletives at frequent intervals and high volumes. No, I am talking about the biblical type of cursing … one takes their fear and anger and packages it into a metaphysical stink bomb for those creating the situation that has initiated those feelings.

It is this kind of Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah that we find in Torah this week. An enemy king, Balak, hires a local prophet, Balaam, to place a Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah on the Israelites. In Balak’s mind and heart, the Israelites bring him fear, anger and anxiety … so a curse feels like a natural course of action, one that I understand.

I want to place a Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah on anyone who who would shoot another human being in cold blood. I want to place a Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah on those in our society who want to make guns more accessible rather than less accessible. I want to place a Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah on those who would tread on the precious, intimate right of a woman to make a choice about her own body and well being. I want to place a Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah on a political system that seems to cater to the rigidity of extremes, rather than than cultivate the values that arise from and embraced by a majority and balanced, if uneven, middle ground.

Balaam does not end up cursing the Israelites, he encounters forces greater than himself that help him remember that Blessing ultimately trumps Cursing in the great calculus of what is most meaningful and essential. So, I find myself acknowledging what I am feeling – wanting to Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah. And, trying to remember to look for and to create Blessing. I am working on it and imagine that many of you are working on it, as well. In the coming days, weeks and months I look forward to working with you to move beyond Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah and towards Blessing. I look forward to hearing what is helping you, what your ideas are as to how we may go about creating Blessing and how our Micah community might contribute toward that essential end.

In the meantime, two poems spoke to me as I try to take the first steps in getting beyond the Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah.  I share them with you in the spirt of creating Blessing.

Also, specifically in regard to Reproductive Rights, our progressive interfaith community is beginning to rally together. It begins tonight (with apologies for the late notice) with a Holding and Healing Service at 7:30pm at Temple Emanuel and then next Thursday (at a location TBD) for a work session on how begin the work of advocacy.

Let’s get the Curse – אָֽרָה – Arah out of our system and begin the move towards Blessing.

May I Have A WORD With You?! – FULL

Sovah – שֹׂבַע – Full
“… you shall eat your fill of bread … “ (Leviticus 26:5)

I love food. I love to eat so much so, that quite often even though there may not be room in my stomach for more food … the taste, the sensations, the feelings that come with something tasty override that sense of being Sovah – שֹׂבַע – Full. I wonder why it is that I am wired to ignore my fullness or satiety or abundance … even though there are consequences to this choice.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that we humans are all wired this way to some extent. This wiring is not limited to food. In fact it seems that we humans are inclined to not focus upon our sense of being Sovah – שֹׂבַע – Full. Rather, we focus upon what we lack. That compulsion to give attention to what we lack has its own set of consequences … feelings of fear, distrust and vulnerability. These feelings lead us toward isolating ourselves, acting callously toward others and in some case committing acts of violence against them.

And yet there are those who seem to achieve a mastery of this internal battle between looking out at our world and seeing abundance or scarcity … and then acting accordingly. I do not believe it is something we are born with, but more of a kind of spiritual musical that we can tone and strengthen. While these muscles serve most powerfully us in life’s difficult and challenging moments, we grow them in life’s more mundane moments.  The bad news, it is a lifelong exercise.  The good news, your next opportunity for this particular exercise is happening right now.

May I Have A WORD With You?! – CORNER

Pe’ah – פֵּאָה – Corner
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the CORNER of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. (Leviticus 19:9)

How big is a CORNER? Is it merely the point where the two lines of square or rectangle meet? Or is it the area contained in that space created by the intersecting point and two arbitrarily determined points along each of those lines?

(Are you about to stop reading because your were promised no geometry or anything resembling math?!?)

I am thinking about CORNER because of this fundamental commandment we find in the Holiness Code in Leviticus … to not harvest the Pe’ah – פֵּאָה – CORNER of your fields and leave them for the poor. I love the idea that we are commanded to leave a portion of our abundance for others. But, what is the size of the portion? How do we measure a Pe’ah – פֵּאָה – Corner?! How big is that Pe’ah – פֵּאָה – Corner?

It depends. It depends on the nature our abundance. It depends on how the harvest went that year. It depends on how gracious we feel towards ourselves. It depends on how gracious we feel towards others. It depends on how fearful we are of having enough. It depends on how faithful we are in being vulnerable. It depends. It is subjective. It evolves and changes … from year to year, moment to moment, circumstance to circumstance, person to person.

What does not change with any variables is the fundamental recognition of the value of sharing of ourselves. At the heart of the Pe’ah – פֵּאָה – Corner ‘directive’ in the commandment is the understanding that there are others who benefit from our giving and sharing of our abundance. This truth speaks to the spiritual and material realms which we inhabit. We are better and stronger when we share our abundance with one another.

Take some time to assess your harvest this season … What is the size of your Pe’ah – פֵּאָה – Corner?  How will you share it with someone else?

May I Have A WORD With You?! – Brought Forward

Vayakarev – וַיַּקְרֵ֖ב – Brought forward
Next he brought forward  … the people’s offering (Leviticus 9:15); He brought forward  … burnt offering (Leviticus 9:16); He brought forward  … meal offering (Leviticus 9:17).

Hidden in plain sight in the voluminous account of the sacrificial cult in the book of Leviticus is this repetitive description of Aaron’s action for each sacrifice … Vayakarev – וַיַּקְרֵ֖ב – (Aaron) brought forward … Aaron brought forward, Aaron brought forward, Aaron brought forward.

Aaron was bringing forward the stuff for each sacrifice. Beyond the limitation of the literal text, how might we see the construct of the sacrificial cult pointing towards something more essential and relevant? What is Aaron (on behalf of the people) doing by bringing valuable stuff to God? It seems to me that by this act he (and they) are trying to affirm or deepen or grow that significant relationship. Aaron brings something of value, something that in the sharing of it makes him and the Israelites a little vulnerable. At the foundation of this act of sharing is the element of trust. Trust that is the secret sauce that makes relationships flourish and blossom.

The word – Vayakarev – וַיַּקְרֵ֖ב – (Aaron) Brought forward – is rooted in the idea of closeness. Hebrew speakers today still use this Hebrew root to connote one’s physical proximity and one’s emotional connectedness as well. To bring it full circle, one of the words that Torah uses for sacrifice – Korban – comes from this Hebrew root, as well.

For us, the construct suggests a simple truth … that bringing our own valuable stuff (thinking emotional and spiritual, rather than the physical stuff) to the people in our lives is what will affirm or deepen or grow our relationships. That exercise of trust and our willingness to be vulnerable is what has and always will bring us close to one another.  When we make that kind of sacrifice, holy things ensue.

May I Have a WORD With You?! – Clothing

They made Aaron’s sacral vestments—as the Eternal One had commanded. (Exodus 39:1)

There is a fine line between wearing clothes and … treachery?!

In our sacred story this week the Aaron and his sons are getting all dressed up for their role as priests in the brand new Mikdash. In a spin on the adage that the clothes make the man, it appears that the ‘holy vestments’ or beegday kodesh make the priest. The word garment, vestment, clothing is Beged בֶּגֶד. Apparently that same root is used in Hebrew to connote treachery or deceit. What a weird, wild and unexpected sharing of two disparate ideas with the confine of the same Hebrew root. And yet …

On a literal level, one could see the wearing of clothes as a cover-up of the truth of our pure raw physical selves. Each time we get dressed we put something that is not us. We place a barrier between the world and who we authentically, primally and plainly are. Yes, wearing clothing Beged בֶּגֶד is not that simple … environment, society, propriety, etc. demand that we clothe ourselves.

The challenge of the idea still grabs me. Beyond our physical needs, there are many ways that we don metaphorical clothing Beged בֶּגֶד in the shape or ideas or emotions. This kind of clothing Beged בֶּגֶד protects us, promotes us or simply establishes ourselves in relation with others. What is the balance between putting on these metaphorical vestments that might keep us safe or allowing us to make our way in polite society and being deceitful about what we think or feel? When do we cross the line from appropriately adorning ourselves with intellectual or emotional clothing Beged בֶּגֶד to covering up our true and authentic selves?

Wearing holy vestments … clothing Beged בֶּגֶד … is essential to living the world, but so is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to be fully seen and known.

May I Have A WORD With You?! – CALF

Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel
This he took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf. Exodus 32:4

It may be the most infamous barn animal in history and certainly in the Torah … the golden Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel.  Moses ascends the mountain to draft the terms of the covenant on a couple of stone tablets. The people feel alone and isolated in the wilderness. Overcome with worry and anxiety, they turned to a familiar symbol … a golden Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel. They felt abandoned by their deity, so they turned (back) to another. (Even though the other deity had enslaved them for centuries.)

Why a Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel? We are told or we assume that it was god to the Egyptians .. but why? Why not a full grown cow? What am I missing about the regal nature, grace and majesty nature of the Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel that makes it worthy for godhood? Seriously, have you ever heard those descriptions associated with a calf?

When I think about it, the calf was probably pretty common and mundane to the life lived lived by the Israelites in Egypt. It was a creature (and others like it) who were part of the everyday fabric of their existence … the thing they turned to in a moment of crisis, the item they chose to fill the god-shaped hole that consumed them in the wilderness was something common and easily accessible. It was something that in and of itself was not not negative or destructive. In fact it provided essential and necessary elements to their lives. The Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel was also something of which they could make an idol – something that would stand in the way between them and authentic divinity.

We are not building gold calves theses days.  However, it seems to me that thousands of years after this story was first told, it still points us to acknowledge an important human struggle. Identifying and committing ourselves to what is authentically divine and vigilantly paying attention that our attitudes, choices and actions do create obstacles that keep us estranged from from that which is ultimate and essential.