May I Have A WORD With You – Stone/אבן/Evan


Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. (Genesis 28:11)

Even if you like your pillow hard as a rock, I doubt that you would actually use a stone or a rock as a pillow. In Vayetzei, the Torah story we read this past Shabbat, that is exactly what Jacob did as he fled the wrath of his brother Esau. Maybe it is my modern sleeping sensibilities that prevent me from imagining sleeping comfortably on a stone pillow. However, If we follow along in the story we discover that Jacob’s uncomfortable choice led him to something much more significant than a stiff neck. Resting in this uncomfortable setting led him to … encountering the Holy One … in the dreamscape we know as Jacob’s ladder. And while there are countless interpretations and imaginings about the meaning and import of the ladder, the dream, etc…. I am stuck on the connection between the discomfort of the stone pillow and the gateway to divinity it appears to have opened.

I sense a deep, yet lofty, truth in this element of the story.

I am endeavoring to live this truth as the war in Israel and Palestine continues. My discomfort comes from my belief that there is more than one truth and more than one narrative at play in this part of the world that is so important to so many people … and the constant challenge of hearing, holding and honoring those truths in this moment. I feel pulled by fear and family, ideology and psychology, demographics and demagoguery to choose a side and to react accordingly. That pull is not as strong as the one that compels me towards the discomfort of creating and inhabiting spaces that allow for outrage for both Israeli and Palestinian injustice, injury and death.

I believe that whether it be informally in the conversations we have with one another or formally in the moments we gather, organize or rally that we must create spaces in which both narratives and truths have a place. The world is not very good at creating such spaces right now. All the more reason, we must strive to do so. How do we welcome and begin to acclimatize ourselves to this discomfort? Perhaps it begins within as we try and open our mind and hearts to the journeys, sufferings and fears of the other. As uncomfortable as it may be and difficult to maintain, I truly believe that this is the kind of stone pillow discomfort that opens the gateway towards the Sacred and the Holy. At this moment, we can use all of the sacred and holy space, spirit and energy that we can muster.

It Is Hard To Be A Jew In This Moment

It is hard to be a Jew in this moment … the horrid barbarism of Hamas’ attacks shakes us to our core.  

Our people have been murdered, injured and taken captive … simply because they are Jews.  For some Jews these attacks recall their own direct experiences of hatred and violence and the suffering that follows.  For all Jews these attacks ignite painful memories in the Jewish psyche that we all hold in some part of us … moments when history’s boot kicked, stomped or smashed our bodies and our spirit.  We need and deserve the comfort and support of having our terror – that Hamas has caused and that we continue to feel – recognized and denounced within and beyond the Jewish community.   

It is hard to be a Jew in this moment … because even as we are overwhelmed by anger, fear and our vulnerability our tradition pushes and prods us to see more in all of life’s moments, especially in moments like this one.  

We are pushed to approach the world – especially in moments like this one – framed by Rabbi Hillel’s summary of what we are about as Jews: “What is hateful to you, do not do to another.” (Shabbat 31a)

We are prodded to listen to the stories of all human suffering – especially in moments like this one – with our tradition’s reminder that, ‘Eilu v’Eilu – both THESE and THOSE’ dissonant stories can both be true.  (Eruvim 13b.)

While it is a hard moment, we are not alone as we hear the voices of the coalition of Israeli human rights organizations (among them Rabbis for Human Rights, Combatants for Peace, and Breaking the Silence) who wrote in an open letter to President Biden: We raise our voices loudly and clearly against the harm to innocent civilians, both in Israel and Gaza.  We urge you to work for the immediate release of all hostages and for an end to the bombardment of civilians, both in Israel and in Gaza.  In Gaza, the civilian population must be shielded from the fighting and receive humanitarian assistance; medical facilities and places of refuge must not be harmed; and vital resources such as water, electricity and fuel most be restored.

While it is a hard moment, we are not alone as we hear the voices of the more than 75 Israel based academics, thought leaders and progressive activists who declared:   There is no contradiction between staunchly opposing the Israeli subjugation and occupation of Palestinians and unequivocally condemning brutal acts of violence against innocent civilians.

It is hard to be a Jew in this moment.  We are taught by our Sages that at times like these when we confront a lack of humanity – especially in moments like this one – we must stand up and act like human beings.  (Pirke Avot 2:5).

May we all find and share the strength and courage that it takes to be a Jew in this moment.

May I Have A LETTER With You?! – ALEPH

             – א –            

I did not even make it to a whole word, I got stuck on just a letter.  א – Aleph.

One the insights about the experience on Sinai from our tradition that resonates most deeply with me speaks to what was actually spoken in that mythic moment.  It was Rabbi Mendel Torum of Rymanov who suggested that it was only the first letter of the first word that was uttered from the Divine.  The hook, the rub, the wonderfully confounding  aspect of this insight … is that the first letter, א – Aleph, is silent.  The first and only sound  of that transformative encounter was no sound, silence.  

Our minds are wonderful in the ways that they think, and wonder and process the world around and within us.  And they do not stop.  At their best they are like puppies with endless, playful and loving energy.  At worst they are like puppies with unfocused, unsettled and destructive energy.  Like a puppy, our minds need to be given attention, nourishment and training.  

Beyond and (possibly holding) the ongoing and mysterious workings of our mind, is the soul.  I believe reaching and touching the quiet  of the א – Aleph is the way we light the path to the soul.  When we remember and try to navigate that path, we bring ourselves in better balance … living in the healthy interplay of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual selves.

I love the idea – while simultaneously finding it challenging – that the gateway to the Sinai moment and all that hinged upon it is the silence of א – Aleph.  In turn, the way to all that we associate with Sinai – divine encounter, connectedness to others, clarity of mission – is intimately ingrained in creating the experience of the א – Aleph, of silence.    As I imagine we all still value and even crave these Sinai-itic benefits … the quest for the א – Aleph moments will always be essential to our well-being of our bodies, hearts, minds and souls.