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A GUIDE TO THE USE
OF THE SHIVITI
by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
"Shiviti" comes from the sentence, "I have set (shiviti) the Lord before me always." Looking at a Shiviti is Name-gazing; it is akin to ikon-gazing: concentrating on the symbol of the Deity with a focused gaze, until the distance between inside and outside becomes obliterated, and what was on the outside (the shiviti) becomes internalized. Looking at the Shiviti we view the world from God's vantage point. Chesed, God's right hand, as it were, is on our right, not opposite our left hand, as it would be if we were facing God. This is connected to God's words to Moses, "You shall see my back, but my face is not to be seen." So one walks, as it were, into the YHVH, facing in the same direction, becoming one with it.
The Name is written in such a way, top to bottom, rather than right to left, to create a hierarchy and also a figure: Yud is the head; the upper Heh, the arms and shoulders; Vav, the heart, spine and genitals; and the lower Heh, the legs, and pelvis. These are the four levels: The top of the Yud is Keter and the rest of it is Chochmah, the two Heh's are Binah and Malkhut. The Vav contains the sephirot Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod and Yesod.
In prayer, one sits in front of the Shiviti, and stares at it to ascend to God's Presence, and then to descend. The four letters represent the parts of the prayer service: In the morning prayer, one looks at the lower Heh during the Birkhat HaShachar, the opening blessings which address the world of Assiyah, the world of our bodies, our environment; getting ready in Assiyah requires doing an inventory of the body: What tensions are my muscles holding on to, what messages is my body telling me that I have been too busy to pay attention to? To place oneself in the presence of God is to let the body out from any compulsion that it is under.
We turn our attention to the Vav, representing the world of Yetzirah, the world of feelings, emotions, affect, during the pesukei d'zimra, the prayers and psalms of thanksgiving. Here the grateful mentality reigns. We are thankful with humility, because we know that we are receiving love without having had to earn it. And we are thankful, equally, for the tribulations and pain we have suffered, which have enabled us to grow and learn.
In the world of intellect, Beriyah, which we enter after the Barkhu, with the first of the blessings of the Sh'ma, "...yotzer or...," our focus turns to the upper Heh. Here we want to be open to any truth that wants to burst forth, without predilections. So we let go of our expectations that reality will turn out this way, or that cosmology will turn out that way. If we do that, then what will come to us will be precisely what this moment requires.
And now, the goal of the Shiviti is realized as we come to the world of Atzilut, being, with the Amidah, the silent standing prayer. We look at the Yud, and the Shiviti, which we initially placed opposite us, moves from the outside to the inside, through our skin, so that we become one with the divine. The Shiviti is no longer external, it burns within us. Stay in this state as long as possible.
Why do we do the Amidah silently? Because the greatest thing we can do is to offer our stillness to God, to make ourselves so transparent to the Infinite that the ego doesn't offer any resistance. But since this is so difficult, the Amidah consists of all of the things which come up in a person's mind: "I am so blessed to have had ancestors which created and passed to me a tradition of seeking God." "I am aware of the cycle of life and death." "When I still myself I feel Holiness." " I am trying to quiet myself, so that I can place all of my awareness in the right place, so that I can harmonize myself, so that I can be forgiven my sins." And so the Amidah unfolds. But better even than just the recital of the individual prayers is to return after each one to the stillness, and then resume the formal prayer only when you can't hold the stillness anymore. It's a very strong thing to do.
A PRAYER FOR SHABBOS MORNING
CHAYEI SARAH (Sarah's death to Abraham's death at the age of 175)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on October 29, 1994
(Jacob is given the name Israel, God-Wrestler)
"Drash" by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on Nov. 27, 1999
(Joseph comes to power under the Pharaoh)
"Drash" by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services
(Joseph and his family are reunited)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on December 26, 1998
ON THE LIFE OF JOSEPH
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on December 28, 1996
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on March 27, 1999
PASSOVER SHABBOS DRUSH
Drash By Morty Breier,
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on March 30, 2002
BEMIDBAR - Order from Chaos (The beginning of the Book of Numbers)
"Drash" by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on May 25, 2001
Israelites fearful of entering the Promised Land are made to wander in
the desert for 40 years)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on June 23, 1995
& BALAK (Ritual purification and the last stages of the Israelite's
journey to the promised land)
"Drash" by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on June 26, 1999
KI SAVO (Moses' last address to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan
into the promised land)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on November 4, 1995
"Drash" by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on December 23, 2001
(God instructs the Israelites on how to construct the Sanctuary)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on February 22, 1997
TZAV (Directions to the Priests)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on March 30, 1996
MAKES A JEW?
Dovarim Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
"Drash" by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on August 26 2000
Morton A. Breier
CHAYEI SARAH (Sarah, Abraham's wife, dies and
Rebecca becomes Isaac's wife. Later Abraham dies at the age of 175)
D'VAR TORAH By Morty Breier
At Kona Beth Shalom Services 10/29/94
Sarah, our righteous matriarch, dies at age 127 upon being told by Satan that Abraham had sacrificed Isaac.
Sarah's burial site is negotiated between Abraham and the Hitites, mainly Ephron who owns the property.
Abraham describes himself as an alien and a resident, a role the Jews are to repeat through history.
Abraham is addressed by the Hitites as a "prince of God" and bows in gratitude.
Ephron's duplicity reminds us that the righteous say little but do much while the wicked promise much and do nothing.
Abraham's love, honor and respect for Sarah is demonstrated by his paying exorbitantly for her burial site.
God gave Abraham everything: riches, possessions, honor, longevity and children, but not yet grandchildren by Isaac.
Abraham instructs Eliezer, his servant, the household elder and the exemplifier of Abraham's way of life, to bring back a wife for Isaac.
Abraham rejects a Canaanite wife for Isaac, requiring that a wife be gotten from amongst his and Sarah's people.
Eliezer takes an oath on Abraham's sex organ (made holy by painful circumcision) to do as instructed.
Abraham signs over all to Isaac and gives the deed to Eliezer to better attract a prospective bride.
At the well, on Abraham's
home turf, Eliezer meditates on how to select a proper wife for Isaac:
A family of modest means, the daughter draws water
The woman's attitude is more easily seen away from home
Kindness and character are to be demonstrated
The woman is to be from Abraham's and Sarah's family
A comely Rebecca, no sooner arrives, not only offering Eliezer drink but draws 140 gallons of water for his camels.
Rebecca is of both Abraham's and Sarah's family lines.
In Rebecca's household Eliezer praises Hashem, God of his master, as his guide for finding a wife for Isaac.
"A servant of Abraham am I" proclaims Eliezer, verifying that he is a man of integrity, righteousness and high moral character.
Both Kindness and Truth are together God's gifts to Abraham Truth being used to prevent Kindness from allowing wrongs.
Laban declares the prospect of marriage "a matter stemming from Hashem", not needing the family's permission.
Rebecca has the last word, consenting to go to Isaac, and is blessed with hopes of fertility by her family.
Her descendants should achieve such integrity and wisdom that even their enemies would seek their advice, they say
On the road, near to Abraham's, Rebecca meets and is impressed with Isaac who is coming from afternoon prayer.
Hashem's hand is seen in all the events leading to the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca.
Isaac confirms Rebecca for his wife by leading her into his dead mother Sarah's tent.
This also confirms the succession of Rebecca after Sarah.
Isaac's love for Rebecca consoles him for the loss of his mother.
Abraham takes another wife, a Canaanite called Keturah (it is said that she is the Hagar of old whom he remarries)
Keturah bears him another 6 children, a continuation of God's gift of potency to Abraham when he bore Isaac over thirty years earlier.
Although these offsprings and Ishmael were living with Abraham, he deeded all to Isaac, and sent all but Ishmael away.
Abraham died of natural causes when he was 175 years old and was buried by Isaac and Ishmael next to Sarah
Ishmael lived to 137 and had 12 sons.
Isaac and Rebecca continue the biblical account as the next unfolding in the chosen people's story line.
What impresses me most about this narrative is the gravity and righteousness of Abraham's household: Sarah, Abraham, Isaac their son, and their eldest servant Eliezer. Although we start with the death of Sarah, her holy presence lingers. In all this household, strength of character, regalness of manner, depth of understanding, loftiness of disposition attest to the attributes gained from a lifelong cleaving to Hashem.
There is throughout the telling, a constant reflection of dignity, respect and honor from all who look upon or address Abraham, Eliezer, Isaac or the memory of Sarah,. These are venerable human beings, haloed about with souls that glowed for all to see. Sarah, although physically gone from the stage, is powerfully present in Abraham's wishes to have a burial site worthy of her matriarchy (the cave had been seen to be imbued with the magic of Gan-Eden). And again in Isaac's symbolic transfer of her lineage to Rebecca when he takes Rebecca into Sarah's tent. Even Isaac, in his mid thirties, showed an intensity of demeanor that was instantly recognizable by Rebecca.
Abraham, of course, is the very image of time tested, God infused vitality and sagacity. If you look up the word "SAGE" in the dictionary you will find a picture of Abraham. He is our archetypic image of a wise, trustworthy, long seeing elder of the tribe. The holy one whose holiness made him anointed of Hashem. Who wouldn't have trusted such a leader? I certainly would have, with my very life, with my children's. Rather Abraham as the captain of my clan than any leader seen by me in my lifetime.
In fact we might say that is exactly what we Jews are entrusted with, since it is Abraham who has sired us. We do entrust ourselves to his counsel, striving to live up to his legacy. Our goal, it seams to me, has often been to raise ourselves above the common fray through sagacity and its various more contemporary forms such as learning, intellect, philosophy, spiritual pursuits and conceptual world-views. Our visions of Abraham and Sarah are many faceted, often perhaps sub or super conscious, but all, I'm sure contain that central idea of a character-lined face of great moral strength, lively intelligence, selfless attention, regal ease, open heart and impeccable judgment.
It is this racial or perhaps tribal memory, sometimes coming to us in dreams, sometimes as an admirable teacher, sometime as our parents grew older, sometimes in a blues singer's voice, sometimes in the look of a friend, sometimes in a strangers face, that we see a possible Abraham or Sarah or Isaac. The daughter educated by the scrimping of a Jewish parent, the yeshiva bucher studying into the night, the Jewish writer hoping to have captured it all, the Jewish child overdressed by his mother against the cold, the Rabbi instructing his flock, the Jewish judge agonizing over a decision, the Jewish scientist unlocking the secrets of the universe all are possible Abrahams, Sarahs or Isaacs.
If only our corporate CEOs and our representatives in government could be more like our righteous ancestors. If only they would think in terms of the effects of their actions on the life and spirit of the next 10 generations, even of the next two generations. Instead their concern is the next quarterly report, or their ratings in the next poll. We look at our congressman and corporate heads and often see greed instead of selflessness, expediency instead of moral fiber, instant savvy instead of future vision, ambition instead of holy purpose, survival tactics instead of elevating strategies, power grabbing instead of power giving. In spite of this we move ahead, pushed by memories of past greatness, pulled by dreams of future greatness, fueled by present moments of greatness.
Democracy provides so many voices, so much imagery, and so many choices. We are each asked to be Abrahams, no longer satisfied to be under the wing of an elder. The patriarchal society is no longer acceptable. We each seek wisdom for ourselves, meet our God face to face, confront our destiny as a sovereign being. We are in a downstream age with memories of an upstream past. More people are better fed, clothed and housed than ever before, have more choices and lead more diverse lives than ever before, have more access to books, music and travel than ever before. More people spend more of their time in the world of words, ideas, pictures, concepts, and information than ever before. The ancient goal of being more with the word within us and less with the beast within us, is, I believe, becoming a reality. Still, and thankfully so, the vision of Abraham and Sarah persists to guide us in our own struggles to attain to wisdom and Godliness. Here we are, father Abraham, the wonderful, challenging and multifaceted result of what you started.
Morton A. Breier
Our name Israel means God-wrestler... what a way to define a people.... an appropriate one, at that. We are God-wrestlers, by definition... if you look up God-wrestler in the dictionary you'll see a picture of us. Me and you... Israelites, God wrestlers. I'm using wrestling here as a metaphor for struggling with obtaining meaning from. Does God wrestling mean word-wrestling or does it mean reality-wrestling? The black hats, in my take, wrestle with words. This to me is like smelling the word rose. Isn't Shakespear closer to the truth when he says "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Or as the Zen master said "don't mistake the pointing finger for the moon." This difference, word and reality, lies as a fault zone in our definition of ourselves, in the meaning of Israel, God wrestler. The crux of our deliberation this afternoon is the difference between words and reality. This question, I believe, is on the cutting edge of our faith's ongoing job of defining itself.
I understand the beauty, utility, importance and even the spiritual significance of language. I assign them a very high priority in my lexicon of values. Words have greatly expanded my world so that now I live in a much larger universe of even greater detail. Words are the way humanity accumulates knowledge, skills and sometimes even wisdom, and I access that inheritance through word filled books. We humans cooperate on a vast scale with the use of electronic words. I use words to reveal my interior, my secret self, to the world, and I learn of your secret self through words. My love for Karen and her love for me is often expressed with words. And we pray using words.
But notice that in each of these wonderful compliments to words, lies the reality being served by the words. Let me go through them one by one. Words are a useful means for expanding my world, but expanding my world, my reality, is what is important. Accumulating words in the libraries of this world to pass on humanity's understandings of itself and its surroundings, is a noble effort, but remember its aim is to see reality more clearly. Words are the loom on which our cooperative efforts are woven but it is our intent at cooperation that yields the resultant tapestry. Human communication, the way we reveal our interior mental deliberations to the world, is, after all, still concerned in essence with our interior mental deliberations. Surely beauty, poetry and joy lie in love using words, not in words using love. And although we may think that worded prayer is the best way to communicate with Hashem, there is great reason to believe that as far as Hashem is concerned, our actions speak louder than our words.
Try to find a case where words have value that is independant or worse, subordinate to the reality they attempt to express. It isn't easy. That's because words have always been the pointing finger and not the moon. Words are our contrivance, tools for communicating a multitude of Human feelings and understandings about the realities we find ourselves in. Better words describe that reality in richer terms, more clearly, with more profound meaning. Worse words describe it more poorly, muddled, seeing only reality's surface features. So, although words are very important to us, and their expression worth perfecting, without an intent to see, and an underlying inclusive vision of, reality itself, words become useless babble, or what's worse, blinders to that reality, a false god trying to entice us away from witnessing, the real-time unfolding of the living God's own glorious reality, the present here and now.
Let's return to Israel, to God-wrestling. Is true God-wrestling wrestling with words about reality or is it wrestling with reality itself. Again, I'm using wrestling as a metaphor for struggling with obtaining meaning from. The black hats would have us believe that the only wrestling worth doing is wrestling with the words of Torah, or studying those who wrestled with the words of Torah. They believe the words have more meaning than the reality itself. They believe all reality's meanings have already been expressed by the words of Torah and we need only struggle to find meaning in these Torah words. I heard one say "even God had to consult the Torah to build the world". We have too often deferred to them, carriers of our historic image, the people of the book. We have deferred too often to those who know the book's words better than they know reality.
And for me personally, I have too often had my eyes and ears on words and too little on the whisper of trees or bird's singing. I have too often missed Hashem's real world because I was listening to too many of my own interior voices. I must stop my incessant fascination with words, many of them my own, it is truly idolatry. The Hindus say that the mind is often like a tree full of drunken monkeys. I need to quiet my mind to let Hashem in. I need to create an empty space to entice spirit to enter. Only in silence can I chance to hear Hashem's message.
I am alive in Hashem's classroom, the events of my life perfect lessons for my journey. My history tracks that journey toward a clearer, more detailed, more inclusive, more meaningful appreciation of reality, a journey toward harmonizing more gracefully with Hashem's day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute offerings. Our prayers say that God spoke and it was. This means that God speaks through isness. To me this kavanah, this intent, to be fully aware of this isness, Hashem's real-time Torah message, is truly God-wrestling. I must do it on God's terms, reality itself, and not on my terms, my fascination with language, whether English or Hebrew. Wrestling with the meaning of language is like wrestling with my own shadow. Wrestling with the meaning of reality, my own and the worlds, is truly wrestling with God. And this is precisely what we, as inheritors of the name Israel, are asked to do.Morty Breier, Kona Hawaii, November 4, 1999
comes to power under the Pharaoh)
COMMENTARY BY MORTY BREIER
AT KONA BETH SHALOM SERVICES
From chapter 38 which begins with "And Jacob dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren"....to chapter 50 which ends with "So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old. And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt." the remarkable story of Joseph unfolds. At the beginning of this story Joseph is betrayed by his brothers out of jealousy of their father's favoring him, abducted and sold into slavery, subsequently becoming his Egyptian master's right-hand man, and then once again betrayed and plunged into darkness. There also occurs on these pages the side story of Judah and Tamar.
This week we study Chapters 41 through 44 which takes us from Joseph's two year imprisonment, having been wrongfully accused of lustful advances by his boss's frustrated wife, to his playing psychodrama with his brothers from a position of penultimate Egyptian power. We are taken through Joseph's appointment to power at the age of 30, by way of his insightful revelation of the meaning of the Pharaoh's dreams, his masterful governing of the Pharaoh's realm during the 14 year dream sequence becoming reality, and the destined reappearance of his needy brethren whose original wrongful acts started the whole drama in motion. The subsequent chapters see Joseph tearfully reunited with his brothers and his father Jacob.
Now that is the story's outline which the actual biblical text amplifies somewhat, but not much, representing about an hours worth of reading. But, indeed, if this text is given to us by God, there must be a lifetime's worth of information in every jot and tittle, and it is for us, with the help of wise Jews that preceded us, to investigate, analyze, argue about, apply and interpret this information on as many levels as is given to us to see. Since I, Morty, a Jew, am at the podium, with, I might add a limited if unchallenged length of time, it will be my interpretation that you are subject to.
To begin with, I must say I do not hold to God's authorship of the bible, except in that wherever human wisdom is tapped at its essential source, there God makes manifest his scheme of things, and I count the old testament as a strangely enigmatic tapping of such wisdom. Perhaps Hashem, our Jewish revelation of God is intentionally obscure, requiring Jews from the beginning to twist and turn their "grubber finger", their fat finger, in increasingly didactic exercises of logic, thereby honoring and rewarding smartness in their long history of service to mankind. Joseph made his mark on Egypt through his smartness and we are making our mark on America and thereby on the world today through our smartness. It can perhaps be said that the development of such smartness was directly proportional to the obscurity and enigmaticness of the book we have chosen to study.
In trying to obtain a message from what looks like a tribal narrative, it seems that our sages have always asked of Hashem's words the questions "What is holiness? who is a Tzaddic?" and in following the narrative we discover Hashem's evaluations in this regard. In the story of Joseph, we are asked to find how Hashem evaluates the holiness of Joseph's spiritual states by examining the consequences that Hashem meters out to each of Joseph's actions. By such a method might each of us understand where the true sanctity of a Tzaddic lies and, by inference, where our own sanctity lies. For instance, our sages found Joseph at fault when he asked the Pharaoh's butler twice to remember/mention him to Pharaoh instead of trusting in the bounty and love of Hashem to deliver him from his captors, witness Hashem's causing him to languish in jail for two years. On the other hand, our sages praise Joseph's selfless channeling of his dream interpretation, ascribing the wisdom to God, for which Hashem meters out the reward of his ascension to power. In fact Joseph's recurring successes testify to his holiness, and time and again his handling of difficulties, his reversal of fortunes and his ability to forgive, let go and get on with his growth and development act as signposts to his faith and reliance on Hashem and, in effect, our own learning to trust in the benevolence of God and in His plan for each of our unfoldings. It seams to me that through this reasoning, this following of biblical queues, we zero in on the mystical concept of egolessness, of that state of grace in which God and His creation are united in both vision and intent such that the ego character Morty or Joseph becomes incidental to this Godly equation.
Of course Jews do not make it easy, otherwise they would not be Jews, and what one sage interprets as Hashem's goodness and therefore indicative of our ancestor's holiness another interprets as difficulty indicative of his missing the holiness mark. These differences maintain, perhaps, a strong defense against arrogance, especially the arrogance of believing anyone has the last word on what Hashem means to tell us. In fact the entire story is an unfoldment, each page revealing a reversal that undermines previously quick made judgments, lending credence to the fact of the unfolding story line of each of us as individuals and of man himself. Once down, we rise up again, defying the doomsday advocates and their negative admonitions. We move, our sages say from baseness to holiness, especially we Jews, it is our role to play, to lead the world, so that it might do the same, as Joseph did in each situation he was thrown into. By his willingness to go along with Hashem's plans from moment to moment, from day to day, from year to year Joseph changed from being in the pit in Canaan to being his master's right-hand man, from being in the Pharaoh's dungeon to being second in command of Egypt, from being a disowned stranger in a strange land to raising his reunited family to riches and honors. I recently heard a beautiful statement from Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi: " we must learn to collaborate with the inevitable." or put another way "The fates lead he who will, he who wont they drag" May we learn these lessons well.
This aspect of the changes inherent in an unfolding story line also underlines the dual nature of our universe. The story itself, as in fact is true of all drama, requires an understanding of conflict, of the play of forces and their resolution, which in turn yields additional conflict and resolution. Our sages say that at the fundamental level this conflict is between the basic forces at work in Joseph's development, and, in fact in every Jew's life: physical vs. metaphysical; natural vs. supernatural; secular vs. sacred. It is on this game board that the biblical themes are displayed as "the lives of the patriarchs vs. Hashem's spiritual meanings." In the story of Joseph we find this duality in the reality vs. dreams sequences, in the trust the world vs. trust Hashem themes, in the principal of goodness being proportional to effort. Not that we return each time to the same place, but, like Joseph, our patriarch, we, with each subsequent conflict resolution raise ourselves, relying more and more on Hashem's blessings, to higher and higher places.
I believe that the story
indicates that Hashem in blessing Joseph with movement and growth through
holiness also blesses the world with movement and growth through holiness.
I believe that each of our lives is an unfolding story line of growth and
holiness, making life itself an unfolding story line of growth and holiness
or, as our sages say "the realm of the holy is strengthened and the realm
of the purely secular declines." If indeed Hashem's vector is positive
than man's worldviews change for the better as time passes, and new interpretations
of His meanings are not only welcomed but are indeed necessary in order
to confirm His reigning transformation demands on us and our universe:
Change! Grow! Immerse yourself more and more in spirit!
(Joseph and his family are reunited)
“Drash” by Morty Breier
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Services on December 26, 1998
First let me say something about doing the “drash”. Barry is always helpful in this regard. He emailed me a four page document from a website that gives interpretations of this weeks Torah portion. These are always interesting to read. However, it is my belief that one of the unique features of Judaism is that each Jew faces his or her God directly, with no intermediary. I like this. I take it seriously. Somehow, if I’m asked to do a drash than there is something about this unique moment, about me, the torah portion, the congregation, the place and the time that makes my unique reading important. So I read the appropriate chapters in my translation, a relatively new one, of the Five Books of Moses, by Everett Fox, and I wrote what I, your friend and fellow spiritual journeyer, got from this reading. The following then, is the intersection of my life’s wisdom with the Torah’s wisdom at this time of our journey together. It is a real time drama. And you’ll see, if you bear with me, how the resulting interpretation empowers this choice.
What strikes me while reading this, or in fact any, portion of the Torah is its amazing mixture of cinema verite, reality in all its nitty gritty greytones, with the lofty presence of a deity who mixes in. This Torah that we are to read every Shabbos is a seemly tale about a mixed bag of characters who exhibit the entire gamut of human strength and frailty, virtue and vice, truthfulness and deception, selflessness and greed. In this story of Jacob, Joseph, his brothers and the Egyptians, we see the real world, not prettied up or delicately toned, not made acceptably “good” or “proper” but presented as is, with betrayal, false accusations, conspiracy, plotting, cunning, deception and fear mixed with loyalty, honesty, skill, intelligence, compassion and love.
It’s almost as if this way of taking in reality were precisely the lesson. It’s as though much of consciousness is mistakenly concerned with making nice but should be concerned with making real. I mean you could say that Joseph came to power because he read Pharaoh’s dream. Or maybe, more to the point, because he refused to make nice to Pharaoh and instead told it like he saw it, right on, without blinking, without kow-towing. His brothers, less central to the story-line, support actors as it were, do a lot more obeisance, trying not to upset the powers that be. While Jacob and Joseph, through which the story-line plays out, the ones that Hashem sees worthy of re-assuring, act strongly, realistically out of a personal real life assessment of what’s really going on about them.
As heirs to the Old Testament we Jews are encouraged in that direction. Our contributions to humanity’s story-line have often involved seeing past appearances to the real or essential nature of what it is we are looking at. We pride ourselves in this ability to realistically assess the passing scene. The Torah seems to demand this of us. Not so much by what it says as how it tells it. We are not to gloss over things. We are not to pretend all is fine. We are not to treat life like a fairy tale, with just good guys and bad guys... where the bad guys get their come-uppance and the good guys live happily ever after. No. It is much more complex than that... many more gray tones, the gold and black threads more intermixed.
Serving us well, this eye for truth also has its drawbacks. Emperors, those in power, have always used us for the talents attendant to such sight, while at the same time fearing that this eye of reality would be turned on them, seeing through their finery to their nakedness beneath. Part of our being a thorn in the side of power is that we refused to believe it was God given, refuse to believe that a gilded scepter meant wisdom reigns, that pomp and ceremony denotes spiritual grandeur.
Sometimes this seeing eye grows hard, encrusted with cynicism, full of judgment and devoid of mercy, devoid of compassion and love. The Nazareneh Rabbi, Reb Jesus, whose birthday was just celebrated by a large portion of humanity, saw this potential fault and preached mightily against it. The world we live in today, our own cultural and ethical worldviews are the result of these strands of our combined history. We, the Jews of today, are, whether we admit it or not, as much a product of this Rabbi’s preaching as any other citizen of the western world and its developing civilization. We Jews have also obviously given up an eye for an eye, much as our detractors claim otherwise. We no longer stone adulterers. We would not today make a pact that involves killing our children as one of Joseph’s brothers did when promising Jacob he would return with Benjamin. We also have learned to turn the other cheek when love and mercy so demand. We are also part of the human learning experience.
And we Jews are not without our own fairy tales, much as the Torah, by its own telling, admonishes against it. We subsume the realness of the history being told, the in-your-face drama of faulty characters playing out problematic lives, the history, I dare say, of each of the journeys of our own lifetime, in a kind of universal reading, a one size fits all take on how we are to use this telling. This means we are not to do this. That means we are to do that. And if we all act appropriately, in accordance with these commandments or mitzvot, we will herald in Mashiach. And he will fix everything.
But the fix is in the doing and the doing is unique to the instance and he who sees this truth and who acts accordingly succeeds with Hashem’s blessings. This, in my reading, is the essential message in the story of Joseph. The moment seems to have its own truth and to see this truth in all its complexity is to be closer to Hashem. This is the Torah’s point. That’s why the dramas unfold in all their complexity. The point is exactly that we are not to simplify it or reduce it to a rule, or, even stranger yet, to be more interested in that story, the Torah history, than in the reality that surrounds you, your own history, this story unfolding for you in this moment. This, the here and now, this lifetime, this community, this day, this moment is the schoolroom of my reality. It is right now, now, now that my relation to Hashem is being developed, just as it was Joseph’s own reading of the now, now, now that produced the drama of his successes and the blessings of Hashem.
And our now is this moment. My now is this reading. I am here to do this. To do it with all the verve, wisdom, chutzpah, and audacity I can muster. It’s only by looking it square in the face, by claiming it as a unique lesson for me to learn right now, this morning, this Salvation Army Chapel, this Shabbos morning service, this day after Christmas, this bridge to the new millennium, you, the olem, my Kona Beth Shalom community, on an island in the Pacific, that is the ultimate test of how close I am to Hashem. This very reality, this real-time complexity is the Torah’s message. That is what moved Joseph closer to Hashem and this is what might also move me closer.
ON THE LIFE OF JOSEPH
Given at Kona Beth Shalom Shabbos service on Dec 28,1996,
by Morty Breier
What a story the Old Testament, the Tanach, is. An historic unfolding of biblical proportion. I mean what other narrative dares to take place over thousands of years. And comes to us from thousands of years ago. Half the world takes this narrative as the original chapters of their own holy work, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. An intricately involved chronical of an ancient people, a rich spectrum of characters, gutsy, what we would call chutzpadic, full of life, love, intrigue, passionate and adventurous, a people on speaking terms with God. And we claim to be their offspring. We Jews sitting in this room. Jacob was one of our antecedents, Joseph brother to one of our ultra-great grandparents. Are we to then assume that these qualities adhere to us. Are we, as a humorist said, the same as everyone else, only more so? Are each of us, then, on better speaking terms with God then any of our neighbors?
Take Joseph... what a character! Every time he falls he rises higher then ever before. He is most beloved in his household and because of it gets thrown by his brethren into a pit. Because he is in the pit he is discovered by traveling merchants and taken to the distant land of Egypt. There he prospers as a servant only to be thrown into a dungeon by s false accusation by his master's wife. And because he is in a dungeon he encounters the royal baker, producing a linkage to the Pharaoh that never otherwise could have occurred, that then leads to an opportunity. And because he has no other attachments in that distant land, he uses the opportunity to ascend to leadership over all Egypt. And because he led Egypt his brethren were reunited with him and he not only fulfilled his father Jacob's wishes, but himself lived 110 years, dying in great wisdom and dignity, given the honors that a full, adventurous life deserves. It was as though each of his falls was cause to each rise, or is it his rise to fall. Isn't this successions of falls and rises Joseph's great lesson to us?
From my perspective it is. I feel that Joseph lives in me in proportion to the magnitude of my own failures and successes, the greatness of one determining the extent of the other. My own life gives truth to the old adage "nothing ventured, nothing gained". How else to try to be on speaking terms with God then by sallying forth boldly, many times falling on my face, in this world He presented to me? When I look back over my life, it seems that whenever I crashed, whenever I fell into the pit, whenever I found myself imprisoned by circumstance, whenever my world collapsed around me, I was being asked by Hashem to re-create it, to start from ground zero once again and redefine my circumstance, to climb out of the pit into a new, higher, broader landscape. The more severe the crash, the emptier my shattered container, the grander, the more fullness my re-creation achieved. The fuller my world the bolder my next adventure, pushing my envelope that much further, learning, mastering my new world, then crashing once again so that I might re-create it fuller still.
It is that tenacity that marks us as Jews. We refuse to admit defeat. Now that's easy to do if you take no risks. But we take risks. We are asked not to take the easy way out. In order to be on speaking terms with God we are asked to be Godlike ourselves. This requires that we extend ourselves, since much of God is always beyond our reach. It is this extension, this willingness to perform outside his envelope, this spirit capable of being what the next adventure asked of him, of letting go of a previous degradation, is what characterizes Joseph. He barely looks back. He is always too busy with his new circumstance. He holds no grudges because each betrayal leads him eventually to a higher place. Why should he resent the initiator?
I believe God lies in front of us and not behind us. I believe we make our way toward Hashem by the ever increasing breadth and depth of our experiences. I believe the more we adventure forth the more we experience and the more we experience the broader our worldview, and the broader our worldview the more inclusive our world, and the more inclusive our world the more meaningful our connection to God. It seems to me that God is super inclusive, since the entire universe is within Him/Her. It seems to me that I am a spark of God, burning dimly when I am exclusive, narrow, self-centered. and burning brightly when my light brightens everything I am presented with. It seems to me that to talk with God, I have to push myself up toward the Creator's level, to take the highest, longest, most loving view I can. It's then that my thoughts and actions are like conversations with God. Its then I can realize my indebtedness to my ancestors, to Jacob and Joseph. Its then that I can make some claim to the title of Jew as a unique instrument of Hashem. I also realize its at those exultant times that any of God's children can claim to be God's unique instrument. I also realize that I have no right to make such claim by birth alone, by being born a Jew. I, like any of God's children, must strive to fill my life with Hashem's entire creation to be, like Joseph, worthy of any intimacy with that most inclusive of all presences.
I hope that each of us, and
we as a congregation, use Joseph as our traveling companion, heeding his
message of adventure and its attendant crashes, spectacular recovery,
forward facing attention and striving toward more inclusive skills and
understandings. To me getting closer to God lies in that direction.
Pesach or Passover is the quintessential holiday, celebrating as it does our release from slavery, an event that happened some 4 thousand years ago. In addition, we honor 3 subsequent events: Our crossing of the Red Sea; our being given the Law; and our 40 years of wandering before entering the promised land. Let us look at this series of events as though they represent meaningful processes for our lives here and now, for that is what our sages tell us to do. For this exercise, I'll use myself as the example.
Let me first transpose these series of historical events into their paradigmatic processes:
1) RELEASE; Pharaoh
is forced to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.
2) TRANSCEND; The Israelites cross the Red Sea
3) REALIZE; The Israelites are given the Law
4) INTEGRATE; 40 years to get ready to enter the promised land.
These sequential processes manifest themselves simultaneously in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms. These are the working of the four realms indicated by "yud-heh-vav-heh" from the end heh, the material world, represented by "It is perfect", to the vav or emotional world represented by "You are loved", to the mental world of the second "heh" represented by "All is clear", to the "yud" of the spiritual world, represented by "I am holy". These stages of transformation, Release, Transcend, Realize and Integrate, themselves reflect the four "yud-heh-vav-heh" realms since the first is usually brought about by a physical event, the second by emotional effort, the third by mental insight and the fourth by the spirit of being. The four stages, Release, Transcend, Realize and Integrate comprise, as I'll show, the major milestones in each of our lives.
1. RELEASE. It is not easy to overcome physical restraint. Violence and pain are often required. Examples abound in all of Human history. The power that restrains me, often my own feelings and beliefs, is loath to give up its hold. My own journey through time contains several dramatic changes in my circumstance, each one of which produced a wrenching dislocation. Each time outside physical events forced me to change. In spite of my reluctance, I was made to give up a position I cherished. I have grown to see these events as seminal to my growth. In each case I realized later that my former position was limited, blind in key respects, restrained by a false outlook. Hashem, Reality, was there to show me just how narrow, limited and constrained my outlook actually was. I didn't learn easily. I fought against changing. It seamed as though giving up my position would leave me powerless. I wanted to hold on to my power. My power, I believed, resided in my understanding of things. Hashem insisted otherwise. We fought, but as Kafka once said, in your battle with the world, bet on the world. The world, Reality, Hashem's perfect presence informed me otherwise. First by the fact that the physical world was not conforming to my expectations, leading to a feeling of helplessness, which in turn undermined my conceptual constructs, finally leading to my letting go... physical to emotional to mental to spiritual release. The plagues and Pharaoh's intransigence are precisely the correlates to this battle between entrenched interests and forward movement.
2. TRANSCEND. That final letting go has always signaled the ending of the last and the beginning of the new chapter in my life's journey. Again with much difficulty. What was I to do? Where to go? With whom? Who were my friends? Where to seek solace? Fragments of the last chapter still beckoned. Was I lost? Had I done the right thing? What is left of me? Am I on a downhill slide? These questions haunted me. The physical world no longer looked familiar, comforting and supportive. My heart had a great emptiness at its center. My thinking was fragmented, uncertain, tentative. My soul, I feared, was doomed to darkness and failure. But somehow, with a strength that seemed beyond me, with Hashem's help, I persevered. I went on, sloughing through the swamp of my desperation, until gradually the ground under my feet became firmer, the questions no longer tormented, the landscape clearing, my spirit brightening. I began to look up, to again be interested in the world around me. I began to feel the possibility of new adventures. I start to reorganize my new found reality. A new day is dawning for my spirit. I had, with Hashem's help, transcended this desolate landscape, crossed over the Sea of Reeds.
3. REALIZE. Then, with time, perspective is gained. The real meaning of this disconcerting drama, this un-asked for shift in fortune, with Hashem's help and a new willingness to listen and learn, starts to assemble itself. My letting go is a key ingredient, I realize, because by quieting the angry or hurt voice in me, I can start to pay attention to the lesson offered. Over time I begin to see that every difficulty is a lesson offered, an opportunity to let go, to let go of a broken world, a wounded heart, a faulty mindscape, a sickly spirit. By emptying myself I allow the world to fill me with rejuvenating energy. Hashem's living world, His compassionate heart, His crystal clear consciousness and His Holy spirit have room to work. This unfamiliar territory brings a freshness to my observations, a tenderness to my feelings, a humbleness to my thinking and a hopefulness to my spirit. I begin to see what a fool I've been and begin to see the possibility of my becoming wiser. I begin to understand that there is a lawfulness to these things, an economy of the soul, a just and balanced appropriateness. This lawfulness, Hashem's cosmic construct, makes itself known precisely because, being humbled by events, I pay more attention to their properties, to Hashem's voice. I recognize a little more strongly His power and His justice and start the process of better aligning myself with these forces, both within and without. I've been given, and begin to receive, Hashem's Law.
4. INTEGRATE. Now comes the long and constant work of integrating this new realization into the fabric of my life. I am, after all, a creature of habit. I fall back on what I'm familiar with. There are many deep grooves in my operative tracks. I must remind myself that I understand the world a little better, there is a little more love in my heart, a little more that my vision now includes, a little wiser my spirit. I must remind myself because I keep slipping into old ways, old reactions, old mind games. There's a certain inertial mass to my being. I'm still living in the old reality even though I recognize a new, more useful one. I need to exercise my will to change. I need to persevere, to work on it, to keep working on it. I need to move to new rhythms, to smile with new heart, to see with new consciousness, to glow with new spirit, in each moment of my daily life. I need to will it until I begin to be it. Hashem made the Israelites wander 40 years in the desert, wander until the generation of slave consciousness died off. It was only then, when they were a generation of free consciousness, that he allowed them into the promised land. Israel required a generation change. I require a letting go of the old me, a change of action, an opening of heart, an expanded mind, a more joyful soul, to move into my promised land.
So that's what we celebrate, Israel's journey from slavery to the promised land, to remind us of the steps we each must take from lower to higher ground. It doesn't come easy. There is terror and stubbornness, fear and violence, plagues and refusals, doubts and retreats. But with each difficulty comes a stronger resolve, a reviving hope, a renewed desire to change, and a willingness to work for it. There is also, of course, Hashem's guidance and helping hand, especially as we are humbled by the difficulties, emptied by the course of events, bled by the wounds incurred. All the aspects of our Passover Seder Meal are there to remind us of these elements of transformation so that we might apply the lessons to our lives. But, as you know, we are a stiff necked people. We need the lesson repeated every year, maybe even every day. Thanks and see you at the KBS Seder.
PASSOVER SHABBOS DRUSH
Drush By Morty Breier, KBS
Services, March 30, 2002
Passover is our holiday of Freedom. Freedom of course is relative. History has exploited that human yearning to arrive at, after three thousand years, the United States of America. The seed of our USA lies in the Passover story, that is how powerful that dream was and is. We are freer than we ever were and not as free as our children shall be. That is our hope. That translates as progress, tikkun olem, an unfolding universe. Or does it?
has such a powerful ring these days. We believe we love it and have it and they,
our enemies, don’t want it and in fact hate it. Does perspective get in the
way? I love Americans and I love Jews, and I am loved by Americans and by Jews.
We love ourselves so much that we allow each other much freedom and wish each
other much opportunity and happiness. And we and our friends in the developed
world have produced societies based on these values. But how do we deal with the
stranger? Do we insist on his freedom, on maximizing his opportunity, on helping
him achieve happiness?
stranger you remember we are urged to treat as we would our neighbors for we
were strangers in a strange land. Why does the stranger hate us so? Why do we
insist his situation is irredeemably his fault? Why do we say to HaShem “Am I
my brother’s keeper?” Is this in the spirit of the Passover, in the spirit
of man’s struggle against tyrrany, in the spirit of Justice and Freedom? These
are questions we must face both as Americans and as Jews. The opening events of
the twenty first century demand that we address these issues. And Passover
reminds us to do so.
were slaves in Egypt, bound, constrained, forced to produce for another’s
benefit. We were an occupied people, told what to do, where to live, under the
thumb of others, blocked at every turn, legal rights restricted, bullied and
discriminated against, humiliated, despised and impoverished, we were slaves in
Egypt. We are to remember this condition so that we might recognize it in every
age, point it out and battle to undo it.
is one of the reasons for the Passover Seder. Are we recognizing it? Are we
pointing it out? Are we battling to undo it?
didn’t wait for the Egyptians to have a change of heart. They were in power.
The powerful rarely give up their advantages voluntarily. Often the powerful
like power more than their own welfare. Look at the Pharaoh. Being made to
suffer so grievously before he was able to let go. He could have learned faster
and saved him and his countrymen much grief but no, he had to be an akshon. He
even changed his mind after the fact. He still couldn’t accept his
powerlessness. We are to remember the Pharaoh’s intransigence, his
unwillingness to change, his holding on to power. We are to remember HaShem’s
lessons, the calamities sent on those that don’t cooperate with freedom’s
progress, those that want, take and abuse power for their own selfish interests.
We have to remember these lessons as Americans and as Jews.
lastly we are to remember what it felt like to become free so that we might wish
every human being that feeling. Exactly what does it mean to be free. I’m
freest when I first burst the bonds of constraint, when I’m released into a
wider world. That relief from forced and cramped accommodation, that first fresh
breadth of exhilaration as I bound playfully into a field of new possibilities,
that’s the pure taste of freedom. On this, the Shabbos of our Passover, let us
wish that feeling of freedom on all those we’ve willingly or unwillingly
helped hold down, on all those we’ve willingly or unwillingly blocked, on all
those we’ve willingly or unwillingly denied, or treated with contempt, or
turned our backs on. Lets wish it as Americans and as Jews.
Let’s remember that in this world we Americans and Jews are more likely the pharaohs than the slaves, and the downtrodden are more likely the Israelites than the Egyptians. I ask each of you to consider the meaning of Passover in its deepest and most profound sense. Help our leaders to remember these meanings sent to us all on a three thousand year journey from the wisdom of our patriarchs. Refresh us from our root so that we might follow justice and righteousness, so that we might learn and teach the lessons of the Passover. Thankyou.
PARSHAT BEMIDBAR - ORDER FROM CHAOS
MIDRASH GIVEN TO CONGREGATION KONA BETH SHALOM
May 25, 2001, SHALOHA SHABBOS SERVICES By Morty Breier
“Order is heaven’s first law”… This phrase is found on the bottom of page 573 of our Chumish, a comment on the portion we have just read… and I thought cleanliness is next to Godliness. Maybe cleanliness is a kind of synonym to orderliness. Most of my parent’s complaints were about how orderly my room was. They actually took care of how clean it was. Well, enough of this reminiscing. Is order indeed heaven’s first law?
The Book of Numbers starts with counting and ordering. The twelve tribes are counted. Of course this being a male dominated culture, only the males of fighting age and ability were counted. To be fair they were going to attempt conquering Canaan so I guess fighting men were in the forefront of their thinking. At any rate they didn’t order the counting, HaShem did. And the count numbered over six hundred thousand, divided into twelve groups and then the Levites who were counted separately.
So, being an engineer I’ll attempt extrapolating on these numbers to get a full picture of the size of the Israelite horde moving through the desert. If we assume that the Levites had an average number of males over 20, around fifty thousand; and we assume that 15% of the males over 20 were 4-F and therefor not counted; and that every male Israelite had a wife and an average of two children that were not counted; we arrive at a population of three million six thousand three hundred. That’s almost three times the population of the entire state of Hawaii. On the move. Through the desert.
And then HaShem ordered them to order themselves. We’re standing still in known locations and we still have trouble ordering ourselves. He, or She, arranged everyone into a square configuration surrounding the tabernacle with the Levites as the inner ring and the other twelve families, each of which were about two hundred and thirty thousand souls, as the outer rings. Everyone positioned just so, these families along the North face, those along the South, etcetera, etcetera. It seems from these instructions that HaShem likes order. He didn’t say, for instance, intermingle and make friends. Or mill about aimlessly. Or find a comfortable spot and claim it. He said you go here and you go there and don’t you forget it. Infact some serious loss of life might occur if you wandered too close to the tabernacle. An old Kapu.
So I mean its true, order seems to be part of our heritage. I don’t mean as Jews, although my father, a proofreader on the Yiddish newspaper “Der Tag, Morgen Djournal” was certainly fond of order. And he made me fond of it also, maybe that’s why I became an engineer. I mean as human beings. Maybe it’s a male thing. Women seem to have a greater tolerance for disorder… that’s what makes them great mothers and mavens on interpersonal relationships, which are never that orderly. Although I thank him for sending me Karen who, beside her loving presence, is also partial to orderliness.
On the other hand we men like order so much that we end up liking machines. We like the orderliness of machines. They are restrained to move in particular ways only. We like their simplicity, their understandability, and their predictability. In the past we’ve modeled the cosmos around the gears of machines… little did we know that probability functions of disappearing psi muons would be our latest answer. We get more indeterminate, more feminine every day.
But what we are actually saying is that order is more subtle, more exquisitely dependent on our gloriously active consciousness, more interactive with the universal forces of physics and the living web of nature. Less easily comprehensible than we originally thought but ordered nonetheless. The order, being more subtle, is closer to the innermost meaning of reality itself.
The way our cosmology reads right now is that it all started about fifteen billion years ago, with a singularity, the Big Bang, an event never repeated. At this singularity, this beginning moment, this first cause, energy ruled, matter was inherently unstable. Probability functions were continually collapsing into infinitesimal material realities that lasted billionths of a second before collisions transformed them into yet other extremely short lived collapsing probability functions. All was ever shifting, shimmering, undisciplined chaos.
HaShem didn’t like that so he set the whole reality on a mission to make order out of that original chaos. Of course, according to Kabbalah, his holiness was already in the shattered vessel. The infinitesimal continuously exploding pieces, the profane chaos, already had the potential of becoming larger constructs, more orderly configurations, capable of being imbued with meaning, starting their journey toward holiness. Because they partook, in some hidden aspect of their essence, of the serene orderliness of their creator.
You and I, sitting here, are the result of that mission. We are made in the image of HaShem because, like HaShem, not only are we ourselves exquisitely ordered, but we order things we come in contact with. We do HaShem’s work. We make the profane, the unordered mish-mash of sensory data, into meaningful arrangements and relationships, into ideas and concepts, into families and congregations, into homes and gardens, into Torahs and Aaron HaKodeshes, into cities and nations, into science and cosmology.
So who says order is the business of small minds. I say small order is the business of small minds, cosmic order is the business of cosmic minds. And we Jews have always prided ourselves on our cosmic mindfulness. That’s why we zeroed in on monotheism. Barry and I had this discussion on the very white sand beaches of Midway Atoll, competing with the intricately dancing Gooney birds. What does God is One mean? It means that all things are related, are in relationship with each other, are alive because of their interaction. All things are because they have an effect on their surroundings and their surroundings have an effect on them. It is all one fabric, one tapestry, one unfolding, one happening. And we, each of us, each consciousness, each spark of the divine, are asked to give meaning to it all, to put it all together.
HaShem wants to have us make the profane holy. We do that whenever we act as though our lives are meaningful, our activities productive, our relationships creative. We do that whenever we clean up the mess we make, whenever we scrub exhaust gases from smokestacks, whenever we treat effluents before we discharge them into the sea. I do that whenever I extend love to my neighbors, advocate peace in the world, do my civic duty. I do that whenever I honor my wife and friends, whenever I build a pleasing addition to my house, whenever I order my thoughts, whenever I straighten my desk. These are my mitzvahs.
But beyond these everyday acts of organization, discipline and conservation sits a consciousness whose very purpose is to give meaning to our lives and the universe we find ourselves in. We are birthed by the cosmos and HaShem’s cosmos is meaningful. Our Torah was the first to tell us that and our sciences, more recently, much as they fail to acknowledge it, confirm the integrated lawfulness of it all. We are perhaps the first consciousness developed enough to put it all together. That’s why we are described as being made in the image of God. Not only do we put the observable together and give it meaning, we create new configurations, new constructs, new identities and fit them in with the given.
Reading from our Siddur we say God spoke and it was. God speaks us into existence. Speaking is language. Language is syntax. Syntax is order. Order forms existence. Our universe is the playing out of HaShem’s primal laws. We ourselves are both the results of that play, and players of our own creative impulses. We conceive of an idea and, sooner or later, we create it. Our concepts are the words from which our reality is created. We, humanity, dreamed of high speed comfortable transportation and then we invented, designed, built and improved trains, cars and airliners. We, each of us, earlier on, imagined ourselves partnering with a loved one and then we married. We imagined ourselves as parents and then we raised children. We imagined ourselves as practitioners of some skill and then we became doctors or engineers or homemakers.
We ourselves create meaning. HaShem wills the universe into existence and I help Him or Her by willing Morty into existence. That’s my job, just like each of your jobs is to will your own character and story line into existence. We say thank you HaShem for reviving my soul, my consciousness, each morning so that I might climb into the driver’s seat of my life’s drama. That is the order HaShem offers us. This Torah portion asks that each family be itself, wear it’s unique name proudly, take up the position it was meant to have and wield the standard that represents it. In this way Israel was to march toward the new horizon prepared for it, the Promised Land. Let it be that way for each of us. Let us each ground ourselves in our being, bear our name and its history proudly, occupy our existential positions with grace and dignity and lift our moral and ethical standards high so that, with HaShem’s help, we might also enter the promised land of our enlightenment.
The Israelites, after being led across the desert by Hashem, come to the borders of the promised land. Their self-doubt leads Hashem to let Moses offer assurances by sending a spying committee, the son's of the leaders of the 12 tribes, into the land. Upon returning after 40 days, 10 of the spies speak against Hashem's promise of success, doubting that the land could be taken by the Israelites. 2 of them, Caleb and Joshua, joining with Moses, remain convinced that Hashem will provide the Israelites with victory over the inhabitants. By the next morning the Israelites, provoked by the 10 spies, filled with fear and doubt, and ignoring Moses, Caleb and Joshua, proclaimed their desire to return to Egypt. By Hashem's count this was the tenth time the Israelites had lost faith in Him since they departed from Egypt. In his anger at their ready willingness to doubt Him, He tells Moses that He is ready to destroy them. Moses reminds God of His attributes of Mercy and Patience, of His promises to their forefathers and of His reputation as God of the Israelites. In response Hashem destroys only the 10 offending spies, while sentencing the Israelites to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness before being entrusted with the promised land, thereby denying it to the offending generation. Hearing this decree the Israelites realize too late their lack of faith, and, without Hashem's help, try unsuccessfully to enter the land.
Following this historical narrative, Hashem tells Moses to give the people a number of new laws regarding meal-offerings and libations for use when they will enter the promised land. The origin of Challah, which I hope we shall be tasting shortly, derives from this portion of the Torah. Non-Jews, living amongst the Israelites, referred to as proselytes, are required also to obey these new laws. The sin of idol worship, and by association, the willful avoidance of honoring any of Hashem's dictates, including violations of the Sabbath, are dealt with harshly: stoning by the entire assembly. The use of Tzitzis, the one small example of Hashem's commandments, is then explored as a daily, ever present means, using one's garment, for directing one's attentions toward higher aspirations. There is here a warning that started with the doubting spies, not to follow and be taken in by the lures that appeal to heart and eyes, but instead be ruled by intelligence and faith.
I've generally covered the skeleton of this weeks reading of the Torah. Many sages have added the flesh and bones by examining the words with which each phrase is written, by noting its place in the totality of the Torah, by interpreting it in the light of this totality, by looking at it as though each jot and tittle were written by God's hand, by bringing to it their own sagacious qualities, by a desire to unify Israel under Hashem's rule, by believing that all wisdom can be found in the words, phrases, paragraphs and chapters of the Torah, and by arguing that no human, changing, unfolding story-line can or should alter these truths as already passed on to us. In fact the Torah, quoting Hashem even admonishes us not to trust in the foibles of humanity but only in God's immutable laws as defined in His Book.
Now I believe that humanity's story-line continues to write Hashem's book. I believe that our history, and by our, I mean humanity's, is the flowering top of the biological tree whose roots tap back into the formation of earth, earth which is part of this solar system, part of this universe whose length, breadth and age testifies to the true dimensions of Hashem. Not 5 or 10 thousand years, not heaven and God up there and earth and us down here. Not a portion of the planetary land surface called the middle- east, nor a series of journeys, decisions, actions, conflicts and conversations had during the biblical period covered by this book we study. And His dimensions are surely not, in my way of thinking, limited to the minute examination of his relationship with a middle-eastern tribe of Israelites, as enlightened and spiritually advanced as their sages might have been.
I believe that we, this planet, life, humanity, are writing God's Torah. I would like to think that we Jews are given a special task in this journey, that our tradition prepares us as special contributors, that we meet on Shabbos morning to reaffirm our specialness, but also that other traditions meet on other days to reaffirm their specialness, and that with each of our traditions, cultures, sages, practices and beliefs we together weave the tapestry of this planet unfolding story line and write the chapters of this universe's ongoing Torah. I believe that I am and you are the living letters of this holy document, and that we, as living letters are much more self-evidently miraculous and God-imbued than the Hebrew letters that were used to write the 5 Books of Moses, the Mishnah and the Gemmorah.
Look, if we believe in Hashem, in God, in a universal and compassionate intelligence, in a perfectly intentioned creative power, in a lawful orderliness to existence, in a purpose and reason for it all, we must believe that Hashem's plan is unfolding in time. What this means is that the universe starts out fragmented, broken, unconscious and chaotic, the story of our universe starting when God's vessel was shattered, with the express purpose, the holy work, of coming together in order to grow toward an end point of all-encompassing wholeness, perfect health, super-consciousness and exquisite order. In fact our tradition of the Messianic coming is precisely such an endpoint vision. But if we are the latest chapter in this historic, better yet, in this cosmic story then we are more together, more whole, healthier, of higher consciousness with a better ordered understanding of the universe than we've ever had.
At the time Moses pressed
at the gates of the promised land with his multitude of Israelites just
recently freed from years of slavery, humanity's story-line was heavily
concerned with rising above the biological claims for survival. The drama
was one of animal fear, territory, dominance and aggression verses the
more spiritual call of common destiny, lawfulness, contemplation and unity.
The world seemed much more chaotic. Reasoned laws governing how inanimate
matter interacted were unknown.
Tribal ties were the first line of defense. Seeing the world beyond the adjacent tribal enclaves, many of them speaking their own languages, was not possible. Movement took place in four very limited directions with few guideposts and no maps. Up and down were reserved for visions of heaven and earth. God worked wonders from above, man was tempted back to his animal nature from below. The drama was set on a fixed stage, that it seamed would never change.
It was easier to slip back into barbarism, to cower in fear at these unknowable physical forces, or at descriptions of grasshoppers warring with giants as one of the spies felt would happen if the Israelites invaded Canaan. It was easier to stone neighbors who had broken a law that might incur the wrath of He who controls such forces. It was easier to be able, at each of the ten signs of possible adversity, to give up on the dream of freedom and nationhood promised by the sages speaking in the name of God, and wish to return to slavery because of the insecurities of survival in the raw world of those times.
But now we, you and I, those around us, our neighbors and friends, live in a much larger more ordered world. We live easily under both the laws of science and the laws of our society because they are more reasonable, better understood. We have fashioned for ourselves an environment remote from the rawness of biological survival. We interact globally on many fronts: information, technology, science, economics, politics, tourism, immigration, language translations, books, films, cultural exchanges, spiritual paths, wisdoms and teachings.
We live in a world of our
own making, not as fantasy but as real power and accomplishment. Only 8%
of America's work force is engaged in producing food as opposed to
98% in countries comparable to ancient tribes of the middle east. We spend
our time reading and writing books, newspapers, documents, reports, or
watching and making images and figures move across the glass face of a
cathode ray tube. We immediately learn of events taking place halfway around
the world and events here are seen and heard by people half way around
the world. We speak through an unimaginable system of wires, switches and
satellite transmissions to remote loved ones, to business associates, to
long-time friends, to my son driving a car through the Australian night.
We discuss the politics of planetary ecology, of world banks, of UN peace
keepers, of the rise and fall of interest rates, foreign exchange and trade
imbalances. We live on a blue white sphere seen from space through cameras
powered aloft by rockets that harness more fire than the ancients ever
dreamed of. Our telescopic eyes atop Mauna Kea tell us that we are part
of a solar system held in orbit by our magnificent sun, one of many billions.
We practice the holiness of informational based connections and common
concerns, the holiness of intelligence harnessed to faith in the advent
of a better, less oppressive future, in a universal holy dream of the world
attaining, what could only be called, Messianic Consciousness.
Our personal spiritual battles are not so much to rise out of our instinctive animal nature, as to re-possess it, in the midst of our ordered life, now that we need not use it for fight or flight, for survival purposes. We are trying to come to terms with our loss of tribal connection in order to gain planetary connections, by recognizing the universal humanness in us all. We are in the process of coming together not of proclaiming our exclusiveness. As Rabbi Zalman wrote, now is the time of "and" not "or", it is not either you're with me or against me, it is not either my country or the barbarians, it is not either my religion or the infidels, it is not either Jews, the chosen people or Goyim, the leftovers. It is all these together, my people and yours, my country and yours, my religion and yours, Jews and Catholics and Protestants and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Shamans. It is Israelites and Canaanites and Malekites and Egyptians and Palestinians. It is, hopefully soon, Serbs and Bosnians and Croates. It is, as we have seen, capitalism with a socialist heart, big or small as it might be. It is the dream of blacks and whites and reds and yellows working and living side by side.
One of the takes on this part of the Torah has it that the Israelites were too used to the spiritual life of being guided and provided by Hashem as they crossed the desert. That living without a home, "on the road", we used call it, was too ungrounded, lead to too much disconnected highness and not enough grounded action. The interpretation is that the Israelites, especially the princely and devout tribal leaders, selected as the spies, really didn't want to trade in the monkish high they had just experienced in sojourning through the desert wilderness under Hashem's guidance and protection, for the earthly chores, repetitive activities, and heavy responsibilities of building an agricultural based nation. We all have faced this choice when each of us moved from the adventurous potential of youth, the high of anything is possible, the freedom of being on the road, to the mature responsibility of home, family and career. So these spies and the rest of the people defied Hashem, believing, perhaps, that they were rejecting a less holy, more earthly existence in favor of one in which they could continue to more fervently devote themselves to Him. As the saying goes "The fates lead he who will, he who wont, they drag". They misread what Hashem wants of us. Hashem, according to this view, requires that we practice our faith in and through our worldly activity, and not by our separating ourselves from it. The poor spies paid dearly for their shortsightedness.
It was shortsightedness that was their undoing. Shortsightedness for placing savoring their recent past above contributing to the future, shortsightedness for putting the personal bliss produced by their piety above the hard work of contributing to the building of a homeland and a nation. We come full circle. Here is the interpretation that says Hashem values more contributions made to the ongoing story-line of creation, than to the moments of highness that opting out of that story line creates. In other words, the work of getting here, America in the 21st century AD, from there, Canaan in the 5th century BCE, is more God's work than declaring the highness of opting for a devoutly detached monkish existence.
One might say that being
a forward looking Engineer, or ecologist, is of higher value to Hashem's
purposes, the ongoing writing of this planetary Torah, than being
a backward looking religious devotee.
Today's portion of the Torah is Chukat and Balak" (Numbers XIX to XXII, 1 and XXII, 2 to XXV, 9). To quote Barry's press release: "Chukat" deals with the concept of ritual purification and in particular describes the Red Heifer regulation, so mysterious that even King Solomon was said to despair of learning its meaning. "Balak" describes the last stages of the Israelites' journey to the Promised Land. It discusses Balaam, an enigmatic character in the Bible, who, along with Melchizidek, Job and Jethro were ancient worshipers of the One God, yet were not themselves Israelites.
Reading the Torah, the translation I have is by Everette Fox, is at times difficult for me. It is a venerably ancient document, a hoary tale, made even more grizzled by the rawness of Fox's translation. He renders the Hebrew more directly into its English equivalents without using the nuances of language that has since developed over the past 2000 years. The terms are powerful, at the simpler base of our understanding, and not at their resultant sophisticated complexities. Characters and events that themselves could keep 10 modern novelists writing thousands of pages on, are here delivered in 40 or 50 verses.
In our present world view we must deal with the Torah as parable. The story told is about something more than the obvious, the literal. It is about something more than a piece of history, more than a family legacy, more than a self congratulatory celebration of our uniqueness. For the Torah to have sacred meaning to us it must enlighten us, it must raise us up, it must bring spirit into view. Often I find that I have to bring more to it than I take away. I wish that were not so. This reading is one of those times.
I mean the verses about the red heifer, purification, and tamei, that dreaded term which was not even translated into English by Fox. Like Kapu. What can that really mean? What archetypal images appear? Aren't the lessons more general than the specifics described? Isn't there more to it? Or the tribes the Israelites deal with in one way or another while on their journey. These are people. Why are they dealt with so incidently, like passing scenes? We know better. In the past year we have all been watching the goings on in Kosovo. That's what confrontational tribal interactions looks like on the ground. 400,000 stories. Here covered in 42 verses. What is the Torah really trying to teach us? Can these verses really help us in our understanding of Kosovo?
Even the final story in this section, the story of Bil'am, is a tribal confrontation. With all its lovely poetic and literary devices, it is still about one tribe trying to curse another and about one tribe, thankfully, as always, ours, being made invulnerable to such an act by our being blessed by God. Three lines best describing a Jewish holiday: "They tried to kill us! We won! Let's eat!". But that's the same three lines for any nation's holiday. We can't help noticing that throughout history, each warring faction seems to believe it was blessed by God. I mean, God bless America. Of course the kamikaze pilots also gave thanks to God for their sacrifices. Should God ever be invoked for any act of human violence? What is it that God wants us to learn from these accounts? That our story is true while everyone else's is bull? This has been going on for years. Isn't it time to give it a break?
Hitler heard his own voices. They told him to destroy the Jews. He thought why not? Hadn't that been the way of history? Hadn't one people been wiping out another people since the earliest recorded time? Look, Hitler could have thought, even in their book, the Torah, the section called Chukat, hadn't God told the Israelites something similar? Isn't that what nations do? In the name of one God or another? But history can be challenged, habits can be broken, new lessons can be learned. Hitler Germany did finally go down in flames. Humanity learns. It is unacceptable for one nation to lord it over another. That was the lesson. The colonial powers gave up their colonies. It was no longer acceptable to either the people or their overseers.
There are times that I believe our sacrifice, the loss of 6 million Jews, could only occur in a God centered world, if the lesson that such a catastrophe could teach was worth the learning. That one nation, or one people, or one religion can no longer feel it is their right to decimate, or even subjugate, to even oppress another, to ethnically cleanse itself of another, is no longer acceptable human behavior. That just might be a lesson large enough to possibly account for the tragedy suffered.
Haven't we just reconfirmed that lesson in Kosovo? Milosevitch's actions with regard to the ethnic cleansing of the Albanians are no longer acceptable to the European nations on whose soil the rise and fall of the Third Reich took place. But the meaning is even more complex. How could we impose our will on Milosevitch's or on the Serbs? Cultural Relativism would have us believe that the ethics and values of a culture are only appropriate within and not outside of that culture's world view. This line of reasoning stems from the lesson. But within the Balkan cultural world view it was perfectly acceptable, natural, even noble to reiterate the stories of and repeat the incidents of intercultural cruelties and massacres. What right does America and the rest of Europe have to impose this unacceptability value on the Serbs?
The more complex lesson, I've come to realize, is that along with the coexistence of many diverse cultural world views, there is a hierarchy of values. The real Torah, is the journey itself, and the lessons learned are to be read in that journey. If you don't take it you don't learn it. You might not learn it even though you do take it, but that's up to you. We, what might be called Western Civilization, the Judeo-Christian world took almost seven thousand years to learn this lesson. There are transcendental values and they are almost always blind to the particulars of race, religion, nationality or ethnic group. Treating each other as the sparks of God we each are is such a transcendent value. Hashem is on the side of the enlightened, not on the side of the Serbs, the Americans or the Jews.
Let's face it this lesson certainly is not evident in this section of our Torah. These accounts don't come near to stressing that particular lesson. There were few indications that we learned that lesson in most of Christianity's long European reign. I even see it's understanding absent in much of how modern Israel acts, amongst one another, the religious toward the secular, and especially toward the others, the Palestinians, in its midst. How come we, of all people, are failing in that regard? We should be leading. A light unto the world is what we call ourselves. But the higher aspects of all cultures and religions are lights unto the world. Let's recognize that and let's help each other power each of our high reaching lights. We'll find, I firmly believe, that it's the same single light for all of us. Shaloha and thanks for listening.
Before I start this DRUSH let me offer some background to my own thinking about being an American Jew on a spiritual journey in the twentieth century. It seems, these days, that almost every Zen Buddhist, Swami, Logical Positivist and Alchemical Hypnotherapist that one meets is either a Jew, learned from a Jew or read the original text written by a Jew. Jewish scientists, writers, classical musicians, financiers, opinion makers, world analysts and Nobel Prize winners abound, especially here in America. All this while some of us, some say less and less of us, still leg tsvillen, bench licht are Shoima-Shabas and honor the Torah as the written word of God.
Many fear therefor, that Judaism is being lost to assimilation into a Goyish America. Believing that God's plan moves us all forward toward His goals, I believe, quite to the contrary, that America, the most powerful and influential nation on this planet, is becoming more Jewish, and appropriately so. After all what better would Hashem, the all powerful, have happen than to put us, his allegedly chosen people, into both the spiritual crucible of this age and the powerful central structures of the planet's guiding thought processes. His creation and care of this world we live on, and the goals He set for its future, as I see it, must be the reason he chose a particular people to represent him in the first place. In fact if we are a people chosen by God it must be because we are given the opportunity and have the ability to influence the direction our world takes.
I'm reminded of two jokes that emphasize the Jewishness of America. The first takes place in a typically American department store during the Christmas season. As children are coming up to the featured Santa Clause he sits each on his knee and says "And what's your name little boy?" "My name is Larry Smith" "Have you been a good boy" "Yes, Santa." " Go there and take a present" says Santa. And then the next little child "And what's your name little girl?" "My name's Mary Brown" "And have you been a good girl Mary?" "Yes I have." "Go there and take a present." says Santa. And then the next boy "And what's your name little boy?" "My name is Morris Schwarts" "Are you Jewish?" asks Santa. "Yes I am" replies the little boy. "Gay dortn un nem tsvai." (Go there and take two - in Yiddish) replies Santa. The second joke involves a New York Jew who is being visited by a cousin from Budapest. The New Yorker is trying to impress his cousin with America and takes him to the George Washington Bridge. The cousin looks and says "Ah meer haben kimat der zelber zach in Budapest" (We have almost the same thing in Budapest). Then he takes him to the Empire State Building and the cousin says "Meer haben kimat der zelber zach in Budapest." Finally, in desperation the New Yorker takes the cousin to China town and they're sitting in a Chinese restaurant and the New Yorker says "So do they have this in Budapest?" With that the Chinese waiter comes running over and says "Bist auchet fun Budapest?" (Are you also from Budapest - in Yiddish).
In this spirit I hope my Jewishness does not separate me from the world, is not a narrow conceit, and does not abridge my ability to be a planetary soul. If I dip into the Torah to slake my spiritual thirst, I would hope to join the fray of twentieth century thought refreshed and with needed creative contributions. And as a Jew, as part of a culture that has always given the products of the mind the highest consideration, I also dip into Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, into the Journal of the Sciences, into Woman are from Venus and Men are from Mars and into the teachings of Christian Mystics, all made available to me by the marvels of this country America, this information age and this shrinking planet. That's precisely why we Jews are Swamis and Nobel Laureates.
As a wannabe planetary soul, I personally find it offensive to use the word we, meaning Israel, an exclusionary term, when I communicate with God. I much prefer using I, with the thought that spiritual wisdom should be accessible to anyone. Everyone who wants should be able to say I to God, and I want to believe that Hashem is not merely a Jewish projection of a Jewish God but a cosmic God of unbridgeable and uncontainable domains. My drush will therefore be from this more universal vantage point, where anyone can assume the "I" of my commentaries. Let me tell you about what I've gotten from this portion of the Torah, and how it might apply to my own spiritual journey. In fact part of the commentaries of this portion advise the Jew to make the Torah fresh and exciting, as if it had been given today. Well this is my today, it is summer 1994, in Hawaii, Kona Beth Shalom and here I am hoping that this piece of Torah and my insights will be meaningful.
So we are at the portion where the Jews had crossed the desert and were at the banks of the Jordan. Moses gathers the people to further instruct them on their spiritual mission. It is his last chance to address the people as their conduit to Hashem. He will not be crossing the Jordan with them.
Parashas Ki Savo begins with Hashem telling the people that after establishing themselves in the promised land they must offer the first fruits of their fields, each season, to Hashem and that such an offering is to be accompanied by a prayer. There are also rules for celebrating ones good fortune and giving to the needy.
There is much to be gotten from this general command and its details. For my spiritual growth I must always acknowledge that all my accomplishments are God's gifts and that this world and all that's in it are eternally Hashem's. By making an offering of the things of this earth I raise them to heaven and by loving God I bring Him down to earth. By consecrating my labor I make a dwelling place for him in my everyday acts. In my celebration I must remain centered, without conceit by remembering a time when I was needy. My concern for the less fortunate, while changing God's attribute from Judgement to Mercy, changes center of my own emenations from the head to the heart.
There follows a paragraph where Hashem declares the inseparable-ness of God and Israel. Well my drush on this is that if its only my God who I declare to be my only God then He's my God only. In other words If I project a personal God and declare that fact openly, who else would even consider taking him as their own God. In a more positive vein I've learned that my growth occurs in steps, and I would hope that after expanding myself to include the community of Israel, I continue to expand my community with an aim to including the entire world.
Further, Moses and the elders commanded the people to inscribe the Torah in stone as their first act upon entering the promised land. They are further instructed to gather to proclaim and reaffirm the Torah as the essence of their nation. There follows a list of accursed actions to which the people will say amen.
I take this to mean that I am to be guided by heavenly principal even or maybe especially when I am in the middle of an earth-bound undertaking. I must not put material expediency above spiritual wisdom. My reality's lawfulness must always underlie its worldly appearance. Just as my body obeys the laws of motion so my spirit is lawfully channeled along the paths of spirit. No thought or action of mine is above the law. If I begin betraying other's trust for my own advantage, I will lose my way and will slip backward in my spiritual journey. This is what it means to be accursed. It is not for others that my actions are righteous it is for my own spiritual journey's gain.
Then Israel is told they will be blessed with Hashem as their Lord, that Hashem will make Israel a head not a tail amongst nations, that He will put them above others. He also advises Israel that they will be cursed if they forget Hashem.
I take this to mean that with God in my heart, My world and God's world will be in harmony. That while He is in my heart I am without conceit, and that without conceit I will be able to see my way in His world, like a head, while others, those whose heart is only in themselves, blindly thrash about, like a tail. And further, that I descend into a barbaric world of curses, of disharmony, whenever I allow selfishness to prevail.
Finally Moses tells the people that it took 40 years to sufficiently purify them so that they might enter the promised land. Letting go, venturing forth and welcoming change have led me both to my spiritual growth and my promised land, Hawaii.
MORTON A. BREIER
By Morty Breier
We jews are in the days of Chanukah, the festival of lights. We celebrate our victory over our Hellenist conquerors, our retaking and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem about 125 years before the birth of the jew Jesus of Nazareth, celebrated in just a few nights by another of the west's biblical wisdom traditions, Christianity. Over 2,000 years ago, jews of that time set their temple free from the rule of temporal power and rededicated it to the sovereignty of HaShem, the everlasting one.
We were out-numbered and out-gunned. We have always been out-numbered and out-gunned. We are not alone. The truth, the way of compassion and love, of justice and righteousness has always been out-numbered and out-gunned. Yet it is my faith, it is the Jewish faith, it is humanity's faith, that truth, love and justice prevails. Otherwise, would we be here today celebrating. We celebrate not only its survival as one of our historic holidays but its powerful new representation in the world's democracies, their concern for human welfare and their rule of law. We hope that this new found power is a harbinger of change for this new millennium.
We are the oldest of the biblical wisdom traditions. We trace our lineage back to Abraham. He began our tradition of serving truth, love and justice above temporal power. HaShem, the force, was with him. We nurture and empower ourselves to do likewise by claiming Abraham and the other patriarchs as our ancestors. We sometimes succeed and often fail. We are not unlike humanity as a whole in that respect. A mixture of failure and success, we are a work in progress.
What does that mean exactly. Do our lives just repeat like the planetary cycles, the seasons, the waxing and waning moon, the spin of the earth on its axis. Or are we that plus something more. Are we an unfolding, a development, a work in progress. We seem to have the same proportion of success and failure as we did 2000 years ago. But haven't our standards, the points around which success and failure are measured, changed? When we take the time to view history in its broadest sweep we see, in my view clearly, the standards themselves move, albeit in fits and starts, with a few slips backward, gradually but inexhorably upward.
Celebrating hashem's victory, our holiday of Chanukah, how can we not help but see our overall journey in that light. Our faith in HaShem is reenforced by this view of human progress. We can join in HaShem's work by ourselves helping move that standard upward. We do it by raising the standards each of us have for ourselves. It is called tikkun olem and it is a holy calling.
Let us remember, during this week called festival of light, that humanity itself is a work in progress. Let us remember there are those with very high standards in all wisdom traditions, all religions, all cultures. And there are those in all traditions, including our own, with much lower standards. Humanity is a bell curve of both standards in various stages of development and of success and failure rates. Like each of us. A work in progress. And let's remember, like each of us, like the biosphere itself, humanity is nurtured by diversity. It is not that devotion to hashem, the jewish paradigm, won out over the greek paradigm of classic beauty and reason, cancelling it out. Or later that Christian beliefs cancelled out Roman accomplishments. Our world and ourselves are the result of the intertwining wisdoms, paradigms and technologies of all the traditions that our history has learned from, all their experiences. We are a composit. We are a multi-colored tapestry. Each strand unique and meaningful.
To make my Jewishness meaningful to me, I must not rest in my ancestor's accomplishments. In fact, I must consciously refrain from believing their righteousness adheres to me. why should I be accorded anything on that basis. We are long since past inherited virtue. I must be virtuous myself. My standards must be high. My standards of truth, love and justice. Not just for my people. Standards that I apply to only my small percent of humanity would certainly be of less meaning, be earlier in the development process, than if my standards apply to everyone I come in contact with, to 100% of humanity. If I want to demonstrate that I am made in the image of god isn't it necessary that I include all of humanity, all its variations, in my circle of truth, love and justice. The rabbis said that every human being is preceded by a band of angels shouting "make way, here comes an image of god." I want to be held to that standard.
So, here we are, on an island in the middle of the pacific honoring the results of a war 2,000 years ago and half way around the world. Far out. Talk about the diaspora. It don’t get more diaspora than that. Come to think of it, America is in some essential way a nation of the diaspora. The native Americans are the only ones that could claim it as a homeland, but even they came here from other continents. The same is true of Hawaii. Maybe that's why we jews have done so well here, in America. We have more experience with the diaspora than most.
Maybe we jews were scattered by HaShem for the purpose of being able to hold standards in the face of a mixed multitude, in the face of the great diversity of nations, cultures, beliefs. Maybe that is the root lesson in the blossoming of this amazing experiment called America. Maybe this experiment is the quintessential test of our inclusiveness. Maybe the last world war was a Chanukah of planetary proportion, where an inclusive democracy rooted in high standards of truth, love and justice once again won out over an exclusive mind-set wielding inordinate temporal power. Maybe America's success as the world's most enduring, most inclusive, most powerful democracy is a measure of HaShem's success, of the success of history, of humanity, of the jews in their striving to raise the standards.
We all, jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, we Europeans, Polynesians, Asians, and Africans have much to be thankful for here in our newfound homeland called America. If we as jews find time to honor those parts of our tradition that give homage to the unfolding progress of our human story line, the story line that led us from that moment when we rededicated the temple, to our existing American traditions, traditions that hold us to high standards of truth, love and justice, let us also praise all our fellow travelers for giving homage to their own story lines that also led them here. May we all celebrate the lighting of candles, the bringing of light, the reign of peace, the victory of the loving heart and open mind, the victory of HaShem, over the divisions of brutality and cruelty that darken our brows, harden our hearts and narrow our minds. May we, in each of our hearts, with HaShem's help, celebrate our soul's en-light-in-ment not just for the eight days of Chanukah, but for all the days of our lives. And let us give that hope a resounding amen. Thank-you.
Lucky I'm an engineer because this weeks torah portion reads like an engineering specification. Now, mind you, I like specifications. They get the job done as the engineer wants it done. In this case we are told its Hashem wanting things done as He wants them done. If He's an engineer and you're His contractor then you take Him literally and with precision. I don't happen to think Hashem means it to work that way. I believe the Torah text to be allegory, not specifications. I believe Hashem wants us to bring our own skills and talents to the job. I believe we each are co-creators of this world Hashem outlines for us.
When the Torah speaks of a beautifully made Ark, of finely wrought garments, of awe- inspiring ceremony, it details the masterful accomplishments of talented artisans and priests of those ancient times. These are not otherworldly dictates or never before heard of constructs and rituals. These are the fine skills, methods, materials and artforms of that era. The point being, as I see it, not so much the actual things spoken of, but the concentration, knowledge, understanding and talent brought to the occasion. It is with this in mind that I make the transition from the goings on in the biblical Holy Temple of our Exodus reading to our congregation on this Shabbos morning in Hawaii.
I mean a Boeing 747, streaking across the heavens at 30,000 ft, 300 people being served meals while listening to music or watching a film, flying from New York to Tokyo non-stop, there's a piece of creative craftsmenship surely over passing a mitered garment sewn with golden threads, no matter how fine the seamstress. We honor Hashem in our own 20th century way, with our own skills and accomplishments, the finest of which are surely more impressive than those of biblical times. This is the real wonder, that we get better as time passes. We as in our common human enterprise and we as individuals who grow from babe-in-arms helplessness to masterful shapers of home and hearth. This growth is the wonder of Hashem's universe.
And growth is not only that the job at hand is done better with each passing year, but that there are more souls included within this better done job. There might have been 10,000 people who had the honor of witnessing the craftsmanship of the holy temple's ark, of seeing the wonderful garments worn at worship, of attending to the awesome ceremonies involved. But now 20 million people fly in Boeing's creations, 400 million drive auto industry cars, 600 million have radios, TVs and telephones. We have grown from times when fine things were the domain of monarchs and priests, to a time when very fine things (take the micro-chip producing your TV's image) are common to a large and growing portion of this earth's population. Hashem is certainly working His/Her wonder in this world of ours.
The question is do you and I fashion our daily lives, our living ceremonies, our creations and constructs with similar attention and skill? Do you and I realize that we are doing Hashem's bidding when we perform each daily act with attention, skill and grace. That this is what is meant by the Jewish dictum to consecrate our lives by raising the profane to the sacred. The profane is boreing, habitual, repetative, heavy and dull. The sacred is alive, meaningful, bright and attractive. The profane is made sacred by our attention, skill and grace, by our creativity, movement and growth. It is with this burning awareness, with these conscious actions that we honor Hashem, that we appreciate the world He/She has created for us, that we agree to help with the dreams He/She inspires, that we show our gratitude for being made in His/Her image, co-creators of this universe we live in.
It isn't easy. We gather on these Shabbos mornings to remind ourselves that we are each this spark of God, this glowing consciousness. We need reminding. At least I need reminding. I am lucky to have Karen as my reminder. Her grace and good cheer, her quiet competence and easy activity, her warm heart and grateful nature are continuous reminders of my good fortune and the need to thank Hashem. To thank Hashem by being alive to all His/Her gifts in my life, by paying attention to each moment He/She presents to me, by sanctifying the simple acts of my daily existence. May we all feel Hashem's grace in our being made special by our mate's love and attention and may we provide that grace by giving our love and attention to all of Hashem's creation.
Thanks for letting me address
the oilem on this Shabbos, a week before Karen and I are to be married.
I'd like to warmly welcome Karen's mother Jeannie, who is with us today.
Jeannie has been a student of both the old and the new Testaments, and
it is for me a particular treat to have her witness our services and witness
her daughter Karen's involvement in this old testament community of ours,
albeit with many new and not too orthadox takes on our 5,000 year old religion.
Thank's Jeannie for lending us your daughter Karen, she's a joy in all
of our lives.
This week's torah reading really reminds us that the Jews of Moses's time, our great-great-great, going back some 280 generations, grandparents, were a , what's the word, a down home, close to the earth, primitive group of desert dwellers whose ceremonies were at the edge of differentiating between the more brutal and beastly past and the more consecrated and holy future. It was that hoary band that were first to be so bold as to declare what Hashem wanted of their passage. But it was also that hoary band that still used flesh and blood rituals to represent Him with. This week's Torah portion, Parshas Tzav, is a detailed description of such a flesh and blood ritual.
Now I see these passages as some of our very first recorded steps. We were stepping hesitantly out of the cave of a past that originated in the animal kingdom into a future that will ultimately involve the making of a spark-of-God consciousness. We are now much further advanced in our journey. We must reinterperate the messages of the Torah into terms that fit our present understanding of the world. I am firmly convinced that Hashem did not intend for we jews, we humans, to be more accurate, the only living beings, of all His creations, capable of accumulating wisdom and knowledge, to have 280 generations pass without such accumulation. Why create a creature so ideal for evolving consciousness and then assign him a fate of looking backward for truth. We were to be an advance over instinctive creatures who once having learnt a lesson go on repeating it forever.
Rather than believing that there was a particular time when Creation happened, a particular time when God spoke to us and gave us the Torah, and a particular future time when Meshiach will arrive, I believe that Hashem writes the real Torah continuously as this our human story line, perhaps with the Jew as the quill. I believe that creation is continually happening and Machiach consciousness is our ongoing project. Rather than believing that Hashem spoke once with us, I believe that we are continuously in conversation with Him through our deads as civilized citizens, our curiosity as scientists, our challenge as engineers, our search for justice as lawyers, our compassion as healers, our love as members of the human family. I further believe the conversations are getting more and more interesting. I believe that we, humanity approaching the 21st century, are this Torah's latest and greatest expression.
Lets go back to the time of Moses. God spoke to Moses at a time when human consciousness looked out at what seemed a fixed landscape, a fixed stage on which players arrived and departed, Kings and cultures fought for power, man played out his life. These God given insights were given in terms of a backdrop that was static. Generations changed but one's immediate landscape, the way of life, the daily routines, the town and people, the house, bed, plow or staff, one's surround, the ever present randomness of sickness, weather, lawlessness and tragedy, was the prevailing and little changing backdrop in which these generational changes took place. The human story-line took place because the actors changed themselves, or were changed by events, on a fixed stage.
Our Patriarchs, in terms of their understanding, imagined Creation as a one time process that happened long ago. Creation gave them the stage on which human life plays out its story line. On this stage, Hashem chose them for a life of discipline and suffering. Discipline was needed in the face of our primitive natures and suffering was a teaching. They presented a personal or communal strategy that offered relief: A life cleaving to God; Surrender to His Eminence in all things; Life is a morality lesson, a test of observance; Do good because He is watching; Learn to follow law and ritual, those powers that represent them; Reward is in the hereafter, is beyond our reckoning, is knowing that you are doing His beckoning; Reward is belonging to the chosen tribe, the emis religion, being part of the right take on it all; Success is surviving, prevailing, as against other takes, other religions, other peoples, other ways.
This fixed stage made insights once gained forever valid, with the consequence of ascribing transcendental holiness to events, prescriptions, laws, and doctrines of the past. This viewpoint says that since there is no new information, nothing can shed new light on, transform or obsolete these ancient insights. Since change in the nature of things is only superficial, then change in law, ritual, or insight is also superficial. This belief states that Hashem gave us to know what we are to do at one time in our history and we are to follow those dictums forever more. Succeeding generations have no basis or right to believe themselves more knowledgeable, of broader vision or with more understandings of the workings of the world and we as actors upon it, then did the ancients.
The same fixed stage consciousness believes that just as creation happened as a past event, so salvation will happen as a future event. Just as creation was a cataclysmic, miraculous, discontinuous singularity, so salvation will be a cataclysmic, miraculous, discontinuous singularity. Mashiach, the time when the lion lies down with the lamb, guns are beaten into plowshares, the time of peace on earth, loving abundance and joyful bliss is the time when, as the older religious models have it, one of them prevails, when all will bow down to Hashem, heralding God's intervention on the human scene. At that time Hashem will miraculously transform every wounded, violent, angry, ignorant, selfish, envious, glutinous, greedy, pained and down-trodden human being, every one of those elements that afflicts each of us, into its opposite. It is our duty, therefore, in order to hasten the coming of this future event, to be as pious, as challacically correct, as glatt fruhm as possible and to promote fruhmness as much as we can.
Now let us get to our present understanding of the stage on which our drama unfolds. It is only relatively recently that we humans began to see clearly that we are imbedded in a vast, awesome, truly ancient story line, one that dates from the origins of this universe, some 10 to 15 billion years ago, the proverbial Big Bang, when all was energy and chaos, to now, when you and I, miraculously complex organizations of conscious soul-filled matter, speak to each other across half the planet, using systems and technologies that have been thousands of years in the making. It is only recently that we see our embedment in a spacial universe that grew from a point singularity of infinitesimal probability functions to countless galactic constructs strewn over unimaginable expanses. Only recently that we began to see how galaxies and suns developed, how planetary geology was formed from the nuclear furnaces of suns, how biology took hold and formed the evolutionary story line that resulted in multi-celled organisms, mammals, us.
It is only recently that we understand the cumulative nature of the human story line, the fact that our libraries, artifacts, law-codes, institutions, sciences, technologies and connective systems grow and mature over time, albeit in fits and starts and with temporary setbacks. Only recently that we begin to realize that our history represents progressively more successful attempts at harnessing the physical forces around us, at knitting the human community into universal systems of information, communication, economics, trade, ecology, security and abundance.
We, as human beings, have built and continue building new, more inclusive, more detailed, more conscious and freer realities over time. There is no doubt that creation is an ongoing process. There are more new objects with previously unknowable functions that we touch and use today then ever in human history, or for that matter, it goes without saying, in cosmic history. And, from my own point of view, I have more awe, praise and gratitude for God's creation as is being presented by science then as described by any of our previous religious presentations, or for that matter then any of the ancients could ever have conceived. We are uncovering/imagining/creating a cumulatively unfolding Human reality that easily transcends the previous religious attempts at its static definition.
Our progress has allowed about 25% of Humanity, the industrial nations of the world, to be primarily free to pursue lives mostly unconcerned with survival, or even discomfort. This percent is the highest its ever been on the planet. Since it has grown till now, we have every right to expect, and every right to encourage this continueing growth. After all we have a great history of successful development behind us: We can each trace our successful lineage back to the big bang. And it is this 25%, you and I, who, from our positions of safety and ease, can better see the dimensions of the spirit, can separate the tribal, survival oriented, scarcity generated rhetoric of our religion, of all religions, from the insightful maxims of love, tolerance, and compassion that truly move the world forward.
Strange to say but from my point of view, the cumulative efforts of history, resulting in the advent of the middle-class, middle class work-saving and servant eliminating technologies, middle class access to information and the arts, to the words of the masters, middle class mobility and choice, have produced more opportunity for enlightenment in more souls than any of the past religious practices ever have. Think of the extremely poor record of success logged by religious practices. After all how many Tzaddikim, out of the many million Jewish souls, do you think the practice of Judaism creates. How many living Buddhas you think may exist, or may ever have existed out of the several hundred million Buddhists. How many Christs out of the several hundred million Christians? How many Sufi Masters? How many Krishna conscious Hindus? And the rest? Aren't there many more who are narrower minded, more resistant to change, less tolerant, less apt to help their fellow man, less likely to move the Human story line forward?
The vast majority of citizens of the industrialized countries of the world, the middle class, think nothing of giving a large proportion of their income to the communal enterprise of government, have no qualms about government assisting the poor, think nothing of going through life without committing a violent act, respecting ownership, aiding a fallen citizen, upholding principals of democracy and justice, acting lawfully, showing compassion in times of tragedy, living lives of civilized deportment. Isn't that precisely what our Patriarchs and Matriarchs implored of us, what they told us Hashem wanted of us, when we were a fierce, primitive people wandering the middle eastern landscape? Haven't we achieved it through our cumulative efforts? Haven't Jews always been in the forefront of enlightened progress?
Some say that we are being assimilated into the prevailing secularist culture, Jews are becoming more American. I say that the prevailing culture is becoming more Jewish, that America is the most Jewish nation that ever existed, even, dare I say more Jewish than Israel. We, as Jews, are a light unto the world, a light powered by the most successful society now or ever to have existed, the United States of America. I mean, isn't that the most reasonable way Hashem would have it? Of course it would be necessary for Jews to harness the most powerful entity to produce change, to Tikkun Olem.
It is because the U.S. are a people of the book, the Constitution, and not a tribal or genetic entity, that our influence can flourish. It is because the U.S. rewards and promotes performance and capabilities that we attain influence. It is because intelligence and science are respected that Jewish minds, honed by centuries of Talmudic reasoning, are honored. It is because the U.S. aims for rule of law and not rule by clans, tribes, or class power, that we thrive. And the reason we thrive in this milieu is precisely because this milieu is so familiar, So Jewish. To look for wisdom in a document we all uphold , to make everyday life holy by rewarding the excellence of its doing, to use the mind as Humanity's most precious gift, to treat every human as a spark of God, subject equally to opportunity and responsibility, to allow for the freedom to work out our spiritual life, to pursue justice and compassion, these are the qualities of America that make it our finest expression to date as Jews and as Human Beings.
Along with my gratefulness at being an American living at the end of the twentieth century, I know that I am asked to shoulder my responsibility for moving the human story line forward. Didn't we admit of the possibility that Hashem is writing the Torah through this our Human story line (perhaps with the quill of the Jew)? Isn't it an ongoing process? Aren't we, as Jews, as twentieth century human beings, the cutting edge of His unfolding? I'm quite sure that our actions, from moment to moment, either hasten the advent of Mashiach consciousness, of peace, compassion, love, abundance, creativity, freedom, equality and community or retard its arrival by holding on to fear, anger, rigidity, defensiveness, scarcity, dogma, control and intolerance.
The voices that fear letting go of defenses, defenses that our past may have required, are working against Hashem's yearnings for a planetary community solving the problems of poverty, sickness, violence, hate and ignorance. There is of course risk. There are still major parts of humanity that operate from these positions. There are those that argue that the safest course of action is, therefore, to use those strategies that work with those conditions, contain and isolate the poverty and sickness, use force to stem violence, return hate and ignorance with fear and dogma. And it may indeed be the safest course. But we, as Jews, are always asked to risk ourselves in Hashem's service, why else would we consider ourselves a chosen people. We do it with full understanding that it is precisely the degree of risk that determines the degree of holiness. Isn't that what our Tzaddikhim have taught us?
So from that distant past, the scene described by Parshas Tzav, a picture of our first steps toward holyness still mixed with yet older ceremonies of blood and the rending of flesh, we come to our present tasks as Jews and as human beings: To take risks for the sake of peace; To take risks for the sake of understanding; To take risks for the sake of opening hearts; To take risks for the sake of inclusive minds; To take risks for the sake of fulfilling Hashem's living expression of Torah, the ongoing human story line. Thankyou.
What makes a Jew? I've taken a number of quotes from this weeks Torah portion and used them to try and define what I mean when I say I am a Jew. I hope these thoughts have meaning for you too.
1. Taking the Torah as the word of God
All this word which I command you, that ye shall observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.2. Obeying the commandments and the mitzvahs
Behold I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if ye shall harken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command you this day; and the curse, if ye shall not harken unto the Lord thy God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods.I'm taking paragraphs one and two together. Let's start with some statistical breakdown of the Jewish people. Only about eight percent of Jews are Orthodox, i.e. taking the torah as the word of God and fully observant of the 613 mitzvahs. Fifty percent are secular, with almost no religious affiliation. Most of the remaining Jews are Reform. We Jews have already spoken... if you look up Jew in the dictionary, you will see a picture of me... of you, of a non-observant Jew.
Most of us American Jews agree that we are part of a civilization in which the higher humanistic ideals of the western Wisdom Traditions, Judaism and Christianity, have been developed into codes of ethics, virtues, values and laws. Most of us try to honor these in our daily lives. Is this taking torah as the word of God? Is this Obeying the commandments and the mitzvahs? A great majority of us have said yes by the way we conduct our lives, I amongst them. Does my Jewishness help me out? Probably more my parent's Jewishness. They, although athiests, instilled a moral fiber in me that had a distincly Jewish flavor. It didn't take a belief in God's authorship of Torah or in observing the mitzvahs. I hope I've instilled that same moral fiber in my children. But many non-Jews can claim a very similar moral fiber with identical lineage, father to son to child.
On the other hand, we accept the word of our civilization's findings in cosmology and the biological sciences as a true description of the physical world and its history, turning away from the Torah's simplistic pronouncements. Is this the curse of not harkening unto the Lord our God? We don't think so. And God doesn't think so either otherwise He wouldn't have allowed us to reap the technological rewards that these sciences have brought us. To be blessed with long and plentiful lives certainly doesn't seem like a curse to me.
I reject the idea that to be a Jew I must believe in God's authorship of the Torah, that it is therefore unchangeable and that its instructions are to be literally followed. So do ninety-two percent of us. Jews overwhelmingly, in other words, reject these fundamentalist notions, and do not, on average, suffer God's wrath thereby.
3. Loving God with all my heart and with all my soul
For the Lord your God putteth you to proof, to know whether ye do love your God with all your heart and with all your soul. After the Lord your God shall ye walk, and Him shall ye fear, and His commandments shall ye keep, and unto His voice shall ye hearken, and Him shall ye serve, and unto Him shall ye cleave.Do I love God when I love life? Do I walk with God when I protest injustice and demand a fair distribution of resources? Do I fear Him when I humble myself, I act kindly and respect all of my fellow men and women? Do I hearken to His voice, serve and cleave to Him when I am present from moment to moment to His wondrous reality? Are these Jewish traits or are they human traits? Do orthodox Jews do more of the above than I do? Than good Christians do?
I am a living being, a human being. I am an American. I am a Jew. And I'm a New Yorker by birth and a Hawaiian Islander by choice. Do I love God with all my heart and all my soul? Only sometimes, to be truthful. When I do love Him it is all the things I am that loves Him, not only my being Jewish. Maybe my being Jewish gives that love a certain flavor, but so would being Armenian or being Italian.
And another aspect of this
your God" mandate. Is the key wording here "your God"?... does
this mean Israel's God?... does it mean a universal God?... or does it
mean my personal God? Because it is "your God" and humanity, the
part, whether Israel or civilization or me, changes over time, does
the concept of God to which I am asked to cleave also change over time?
Must it remain the domain of black hats, payes, and gaberdine suits? Must
it be a strictly Jewish God who speaks Hebrew, argues with His people,
and is one of the bearded old-timers?
4. Believing I am part of a chosen priestly nation
For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be His own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earthThis is a hard one. We don't seem to shake this one easily, secular, reform or orthodox. Some say it is the reason for our survival over the millennia, the reason we stayed, and still stay, apart. I honor our long tested ability to remain a unique people. I am glad to be part of that ancient lineage. But I am disturbed by the hubris involved. And the world doesn't forgive us this chutzpah either. It has been the cause of a lot of Jewish problems and sufferings. Others find us clannish and stiff-necked and overly pride-full. We are viewed with suspicion as though our rules apply only within our clan and not outside it. And, my experience shows, for the black hats this is often the truth. Even now it haunts our thinking and actions vis a viz the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Does my Lord choose me and your Lord choose you and their Lord choose them? Surely someone else's Lord wouldn't choose us. Are each of us chosen by the Lord my God? Are the Armenians chosen to be His treasure by the Lord their God? Or is there ONE God for all to be called His or Her treasure? Is not the treasure of God humanity itself? Maybe even life itself. Do we Jews have the right to call Him our God?
It is said that maturity comes when we stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe. We start this process by recognizing that each of us is the center of his or her universe. Having realized this we go on to seeing each other as the same sparks of God that we are. We are all sparks of God, our God's unique and holy treasures. Does this make Jews less chosen or does it elevate everyone into the fold of chosen-ness. I want to celebrate my belonging to the great family of Man, the great family of life, the great family of being. As Karen says "Thank you God for having made me!"
I am priestly when I am full of God, when I am grateful for His gifts, when I honor His creations, when I help His story unfold. We are each priestly and chosen when we are in that state of mind. Being Jewish doesn't automatically put me there. Most of us, whether Jew or otherwise, most of the time, are not there. Some of us, whether Jew or otherwise, some of the time, are there and when we are we deserve to be called chosen. I don't deserve the title otherwise.
5. Celebrating history and tradition with other Jews
Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God; for in the month of Abib the Lord thy god brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.6. Having a heritage to uphold
If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother.7. Being born of a Jewish mother
one of thy brethrenI'm taking these last three paragraphs together. The first reminds me of Barry's description of a Jewish Holiday: They tried to Kill us. Hashem saved us. Let's Eat. Yes, to be a Jew is to think back on a long eventful history with great causes both to celebrate and mourn. Yes, to be a Jew is to be a long term survivor, attached to a root that has served us through feast and famine, fortune and calamity, brilliance and darkness. Yes, to be a Jew, is to belong to people who have honored thoughtfulness, learning and justice, who have been at the forefront of social change, who have practiced Tikkun Olem. If pride weren't a sin and didn't come before the fall, I would be proud to be a Jew.
To be a Jew is to learn to laugh at yourself, better, to love to laugh at yourself. Is this the antidote to the sinfulness of pride? I hope so, because we are good at this. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves, to prevent our difficulties from burying us. And, of course, having Jewish mothers, without a sense of humor, we might otherwise be overwhelmed by guilt. I've always thought that saying something funny, making someone laugh, is the highest form of discourse, trumps all other exchanges, and would interrupt any serious conversation for the sake of a piece of humor. And we Jews are a good audience for this Jewish shtick, this kibitzing, this good natured cheppering, this non-stop shpeil of a tumler ... there are so many Yiddish words to describe it.
To be a Jew is to love to eat, better yet, to talk and eat, often at the same time. And, of course, to have an opinion, "Opinions are welcomed." We love food and we love words, especially when they express our opinions, and we love people, so gathering for the sake of being with other Jews, expressing opinions and eating good food is a principal activity amongst Jews.
The town Rabbi was approached by two contingents from the congregation. The first said "Rabbi, isn't it the tradition to stand while reciting the Sh'mah." "No" says the Rabbi. "Then it's the tradition to sit while reciting the Sh'mah" said the other. "No" said the Rabbi. "But if you don't tell us which is right we'll argue forever" they both said. "That's the tradition" exclaimed the Rabbi.It starts at the family level and goes on to the neighborhood and sometimes develops into a full fledged political agenda. Food is important. Words and opinions are important. Sharing food and words with others is important. I'm a Jew, so I like these priorities. I am happy when I'm with others who also like these priorities. That's why I'm here. It's a family thing.
So, who do we have coming
for the High Holidays?.....
Have you heard the latest towel joke?....
Tell me about your trip?....
What do you think of Nader?....
When are we going to eat?....