Dreaming

It has been a long while since I wrote about a Torah portion but…here you are.

This week’s Torah portion is about many things. Most of which I will not address. Joseph, one of Jacob’s many sons is central to the beginning and end of this parshah. Joseph’s brothers call him a dreamer, even as they prepare to murder him. Joseph, throughout all the travails he encounters – being thrown into a pit, sold to the Ishmaelites, sold to an Egyptian and finally falsely imprisoned – never gives up his dreams.

Rabbi Shefa Gold posits that Joseph knows that his troubles are sent by God and that the blessings come disguised. That somehow Joseph knows of his own radiance, that he is special and loved and has a destiny to fulfill.

This interpretation resonated with me. How many of us have troubles in our lives, failures, disappointments, tragedies? All of us. Some are larger than others, but we all have them and our feelings are much the same. We ask “why me?” “Why them?” “Why?”

And how often have we told our children that you learn more from failure than success? We all wish success. But how often do we look at our failures, our tragedies, our disappointments, and find the blessing? Rarely I think. How do we measure success? By the money or accolades earned, or the lessons learned?

A dear friend of mine was recently told her marriage was over, it was heartbreaking and sorrowful. But in this event I see her finding her own wings, her own self, maybe the fulfillment of her dreams – perhaps ones she didn’t know she had. So the blessing is wrapped up in the sorrow. But you have to look for it.

In the long months leading up to my mother’s death, we were faced with a looming necessity to place her outside of her home. Maybe she knew it was coming, I don’t know. I do know that her dream was to die in the beautiful home that she spent a lifetime creating, filled with books and art and writing. And at our moment of decision, she did. She passed peacefully in her own bed with flowers around her and music playing and her son holding her hand. So the blessing was in the sorrow and in the fulfillment of her dream. It took a minute for me to find it.

When my father struggled with dementia and had to come and live with me, I asked a friend what lesson I was supposed to learn. It was a very difficult time. Her answer was “patience”. The blessing was in the giving back. We had a very un-parental relationship. He was not a good father but an interesting, artistic and talented man who taught me many things about the world. I was not a good daughter, running off at 16 to live an eclectic life. I often dreamed of a “normal” family, it was never to be. But in the end, my service to him gave us a new and valuable relationship, an unexpected fulfillment of my dream and a blessing. But I had to look for it.

When my marriage ended there was a great deal of pain. But through that experience, I have a much better understanding of my self, my spirit, and an acceptance of the wonder of the life I have. In the sorrow and pain, there was a great blessing, but I had to look for it.

I have had many losses and many failures in my life. But like Joseph, I remain a dreamer. I am not sure that I know, as Rabbi Gold would say, my own radiance. I do know that, as she puts it, it is my mission to unmask the blessings.

Each loss has taught me how to be graceful with the loss others experience. They have taught me to listen to others’ sorrow without judgment. Each failure has taught me to be more merciful when others fail. To reach out a hand not a criticism. Each failure has taught me some lesson, has given me some tool to use for the next. In every experience of life there is some fulfillment of a dream. God often fulfills our dreams in unexpected and challenging ways. Often the blessing is hard to see, but it is there – you just have to look for it.

Joseph in this parshah goes through enormous hardships, attempted murder, slavery, prison. And yet, he never stops dreaming and never stops being kind to those he encounters. He has a natural goodness – he has his radiance and his knowledge of God’s love for him no matter what.

So may we all, like Joseph, never give up our dreams, never stop acting with kindness, see our own radiance and always unmask the blessings. You never know what comes next.

Sorry Enough?

It is that season. The Jewish New Year. I love the cycle of the holidays, from S’lichot to Simchat Torah. It is a journey forward and a journey back. And this is a very personal journey, not one to be taken on social media. Blanket apologies, as I have often said, are not really apologies.

We move forward in repentance, in forgiveness and in self analysis and reflection. This month of Elul that brings us forward to ourselves is a special time. We each have our own way of taking stock, inventory, of our lives and our behavior. In this, we journey back over the past year. Could we have done better, have we hurt anyone, do we need to say we are sorry? And being human, we could always have done better, there is always something, or someone to whom we owe a debt, an apology.

But this journey back brings us forward, it brings us to our better selves, to our better lives. We go forward into the new year renewed in our repentance, in our desire and intention to live with even more integrity and charity.

For me, this process also brings me closer to those who have walked the path of this journey before me. I particularly remember my grandmother, my aunt and uncle and those whose ashes I trod at the camps. This ritual of self improvement is inspired by them and how they lived and died. I feel this most deeply on Yom Kippur when all worldly pursuits are set aside and the day is intended for prayer, meditation, remembrance and repentance.

The beautiful thing is that we are brought, at the  last, to forgiveness. It is in forgiveness that we can truly move forward. And having taken stock, made our amends, repented and been forgiven. As we hear the last blast of the shofar, we are called to take all that we have contemplated and be moved to action.  And then we dance, with the Torah, with each other, with God. Finally, on to action-action to repair our lives, repair our hearts, repair our world.

Shanah Tovah U’metekah – A sweet and wonderful new year.

Which is which?

Ritual, religion, spirituality. Are they significantly different? The same? I think about this sometimes and have the opportunity to talk to people about it on a fairly regular basis. So I will report here what I have arrived at for the moment.

Spirituality seems to me to be an individual thing- personal and very intimate. Religion, I think, is a communal thing – an affirmation of grouphood. Perhaps a way of joining prayer for gathered strength. For those that believe in the power of prayer, the power of communal prayer is larger, stronger than individual prayer. Ritual for me is a heritage thing – an affirmation of identity. I also think that often ritual is the glue that binds our spirituality and our religious ideas together, or at least finds them common ground.

If you are someone that grows in spiritual practice, then sometimes you find that rituals help to bring you that most sacred space. I consider my religion and my spiritual life to be things that have grown separately. But there are those times that they merge. For example, when I set my seder table with my grandmother’s things and prepare to welcome loved ones to that table, I feel near to her and those that came before. It creates a sacred moment in which my spirit, my religion,my ritual, my community and my past all come together.

And when I meditate, some of it is about prayer. And some of prayer is about how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power. And some of how I came to a relationship with a Higher Power is through my religion and the rituals that are a part of it. Circular, no? So in this way, rituals bind the personal. But in a very major way, rituals bind the community.

There are many views in major religions about the utility of some rituals. There is some idea of “modernizing” religion by eliminating some ritual. But I was told by a religious eastern orthodox woman that ritual “warms” religion, keeps it from getting cold. I thought that was a wonderful description. In the same way, ritual warms our spiritual, non-religious, practices. We sit in certain places, listen to certain music, scent the air or sit in nature’s scent, sit by the ocean or contemplate the stars. We each of us with our own particular rituals for spiritual practices that have nothing to do with religion. 

I love the final shavasana and meditation at the end of my yoga class and my shabbat service rituals with equal intensity. Sometimes they lead to the same place, often not. But all my paths take me to personally important and sometimes enlightening places.

Shabbat Shalom

I AM

“Let us dress ourselves in the garments of G_d – compassion for the needy, embrace of the stranger – and then spread the canopy of peace over all the world.” (From the Reform prayerbook Mishkan T’filah.)

"Let us dress ourselves in the garments of G_d – compassion for the needy, embrace of the stranger – and then spread the canopy of peace over all the world." Click To Tweet

I am a Jew. I came to it a bit later in life, accepting the heritage of my father’s family. Some would consider me not a Jew, a fault of my maternal heritage. But I am a Jew.

Anti-semitism has apparently become the topic du jour, not that it ever went away. But in a thread on Facebook that I was following that was begun on the topic of racism, I read something that I had to read more than once. The writer say he was a Jew but had never been touched or “flinched from” anti-semitism. He went on to say that perhaps progressive Jews were more sensitive to such bigotry.

This last statement is so loaded with problems it is hard to know where to start. To begin, I have no idea what he meant by progressive Jews. Contextually the implication was that somehow the liberal snowflake Jews would take more offense, bringing us into the more overtly political. And then to infer that it is just a sensitivity of uber political correctness to be offended by anti-semitism. Finally to imply that more sensible (less liberal politically) Jews would not be bothered by bigotry. Fallacious notions all.

When my son was young and we lived in sub-urban New Mexico, he experienced a great deal of prejudice. I concede that it was primarily born of ignorance not of hate, but it was painful nonetheless. And those who acted on their prejudices could not have cared less what branch of Judaism we practiced, or what our political beliefs were. We were Jews, we were alien.

And the current social media war that rages over whether Jews can be real Americans if they are Democrats, or whether Democrats can be supporters of Israel is despicable. I am a liberal Democrat, although I try to be a thinking independent as needed. I am a reasonably religious and observant Jew. I am a supporter of Israel although not in every action that they take. I have always been hopeful for a peace that seems farther from our grasp than ever. I am deeply offended by the notion that any of these things are mutually exclusive and that our divisive and combative national dialogue has now made my religion an issue of patriotism. I love what this country should be, and I am a constitutional nerd. I also believe in the values embodied in the quote I started with. But my religion is not, or should not be, a political issue. My politics are grounded in the values my religion teaches; a very different matter.

Where I live now it is astounding how many people do not know what a Star of David represents. Most have no idea what Judaism is, what our beliefs or values are; despite the fact that they embrace the old testament as part of their own various faiths. To many we are still money grubbing baby killers. People always seem surprised to learn that I am Jewish, as if a pleasant 60 something woman should be somehow other than.

“Judaism is a doing which can be grasped only by the heart.” Julius Lester

What More Do You Need

Eikev is this week’s Torah portion; the word has too many meanings for me to really understand or expound on. Suffice it to say that it can mean “heed”, “hear”, “follow” and “heel”, among other things. The portion is always named for the first word so Eikev it is.

Moses, who will never enter the promised land with his people, reminds them of the covenant, the b’rit, that G-d made with them. But he also reminds them that they must be observant and follow the “rules” faithfully for G-d to maintain that covenant. He proceeds to remind them of their bad behavior, of their “trespasses against G-d”. He reminds them that although they will inherit the promised land from the idolatrous, they are far from virtuous.

This portion tells us that the promised land, Israel, will be a “land of milk and honey” if and only if the people obey the commandments and teach them to their children. What a metaphor for our time. If we were to obey the commandments, those basic social rules, we would be in a world at peace.

You have heard the idea that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. You didn’t learn the basics to build a rocket, or a building, splice a gene or write computer code. You did, however, learn the basic rules of how to live in the world, how to treat other people, how to share and how to care. You learned to be nice, to be polite, to stand up for those less fortunate, to tell the truth, not to take or destroy other people’s things, not to cheat, to respect differences and to respect proper authority. As an aside you also learn to “tell on” improper authority figures. All of these values, if we were to actually translate them to adult behavior would make the world a much better place.

We do teach these values to our children, or at least many of us at home, and many of our schools and houses of worship do. But somewhere along the line we seem to forget these values and instead of what we learned as children persisting, we start learning from others, adults, who have also forgotten those values. We have stopped thinking for ourselves. We have stopped standing up for the less fortunate. We have forgotten how to look past our differences. We accept cheating. We have forgotten how to share.

So you may not have learned all you need to know in kindergarten, you definitely learned what you need to know about human interaction. But you have forgotten it. According to the Torah, G-d gave Moses the basics and instructed us to… Click To Tweet

So you may not have learned all you need to know in kindergarten, but you definitely learned what you need to know about human interaction. I think in the main we have forgotten it. According to the Torah, G-d gave Moses the basics and instructed us to follow them faithfully. And the promise is that if we ever manage to do that we might globally take a turn for the better.

Shabbat Shalom