The Star ~

In the last weeks we have seen the face of the rise of overt antisemitism in this country. We have seen innocents murdered at prayer in their house of worship. We have seen homes spray painted with swastikas. We saw a man buy a ticket to Fiddler on the Roof so he could yell Heil Hitler! and Heil Trump! in the middle of the performance.

I am not so naive as to believe that antisemitism is really growing, it has been there all along. Just like racism and xenophobia of all kinds. I don’t think people’s feelings have really changed. What I think is that over the last decades, at least for a while, it became socially unacceptable to express those feelings in public, to act them out in overt and destructive ways. And so at the least overt expressions of hate, to some extent, went underground.

What I think is that the current leadership, or lack thereof, of our country has created or at least affirmed the “rightness”  of a culture of the expression of hate. It has become okay, or normal, to express racism, antisemitism, hate of Muslims, etc. in public and out loud.

My mother is not Jewish, and for some in my community that means I am not. My father is Jewish and in my Reform community that means I am Jewish if I say I am. I was asked once how I determined that my identity was Jewish. I thought about my answer carefully and my answer is this. If I had lived in Germany in the early part of the 19th century, I would not have been asked if my mother was Jewish or not or what my identity was. I would have had a star sewn to my coat, I would have been herded into a ghetto and ultimately a cattle car and sent to my almost certain death. It has always seemed to me that if I would have died for being it, I should be willing to die to defend being it.

For a long time I stopped wearing my Star of David, or anything around my neck, for reasons related to vanity. But seeing these expression of anti-semitism becoming socially “acceptable” or at least part of some new normal made me re-think that. Now I need to wear it, every day and visible outside my clothing. Because I can.

The Beginning of the World ~

Yes, this week we start the Torah over with the first verses of Genesis and it is one action-packed Torah portion. Never mind that G-d creates the world in six days and then, understandably, has to rest. Never mind that the first man and first woman can’t behave themselves and are cast out of the garden. Never mind that the first generation of children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are born and Cain kills his brother. Never mind that ten generations are listed down to Noah.  And yes, at this point G-d is sorry about the whole mess and Noah has to save us, and everything!

Is that enough for one week of reading?  I think it is enough for a year myself.  This Torah portion talks about creation, something people still argue about but there are many scientists that have faith as well as science in their hearts and minds.  There is “sin” and sex and punishment.  And it only gets worse, there is massive familial conflict that ends in murder.

And then there is the flood.

One of the things that has stood out to me as I prepare and teach on some of these early stories in Genesis, and one of the things my class and I have discussed, is what is missing.  There is all this drama and trauma but there are huge gaps.  And the gaps are the lack of communication, the lack of dialogue.  In most of these stories the details of interactions and discussions are omitted. Of course if they weren’t the Torah would be considerably longer, but it is interesting to think about what the conversations must have been between Adam and Eve for instance. It didn’t happen in the blink of an eye, you know there was more going on.  And while we are given the smallest of details of what was ailing Cain and Abel there must have been much more discussion, conflict, insults, what have you.  Cain didn’t just see a sheep over the line and decide to kill his brother.

One of the things that make Judaism interesting for me is that anyone can write midrash. Midrash are the stories that we tell to fill the gaps.  Midrash are the ideas we have about what must have happened. Midrash is how we add in what we know, what we have experienced, to make the stories of the Torah make sense for us now, today. Because I believe the Torah lives and flexes as needed in the same I believe the Constitution does the same.  The stories of Genesis mean very different things for different people, different generations, different Rabbis and different students. We all bring our colors to the stories if we are willing to dig in to them and really try to understand what they mean for us.

And so, do I really believe there was a global flood?  Maybe, so much of the earth was covered by water at one time.  Do I really believe all the animals got to go in one great boat two by two, not really.  Do I believe that creation is angry for what we have done with our free will, I do.  But that same free will allows us the opportunities for tikkun olam, repairing the world that we are destroying. And Midrash allows us to find meaning in the ancient stories.

And so, every year, we begin the cycle of reading again and the world is born anew.  Shabbat Shalom

Slacking ~ Sacred Work

This is the month of Elul, the sacred time in which we prepare ourselves for the new year and for the holiest of days – Yom Kippur.  Although it is called the day of atonement, its meaning I think is much more interesting.

We are called on, in this time of preparation, to look at our year, our lives, our internal and external selves.  We are supposed to see what we could have done better, what we can do to be our better selves, to improve.  What we have to apologize for, to make amends for so that each new year begins as a clean slate, lunar calendar that is.

And I admit, I have been slacking.  Life intrudes as always and makes it hard to make quiet space for the reflection we are asked to  do.  And even more important, I think it should be done with pen and paper, not just in my head.  So this confession is to inspire me to make that space.  To do the work.  It is never easy if you do it right, it requires serious internal digging, but the rewards can be remarkable.

Looking at my physical self, I know I can do better, food, weight, exercise, meditation.  The list is self evident and requires a bit of a deeper look.  My communal relationships, of course I can do better, again. Reaching out to people, feeding my friendships, building relationships. I can always do more. My emotional self, I can always work on not living in feelings.  As I know feelings aren’t facts.  I can always work on gratitude as an antidote to the hard feelings and enjoying the good ones in the moments they happen. My spiritual self, we are back to meditation, prayer and the internal work of this most wonderful time of year.

So, not really slacking, just a little slow in putting pen to paper and doing the digging. The pen is the most effective shovel I know of, just have to pick it up. This is the start.  [tweetshare tweet=”Hopefully by Yom Kippur I will be ready, a clean slate once more for the year to come, or at least having cleared some of the detritus away.  L’shanah tovah umetekah. A sweet and wonderful new year, just a snitch early.” username=”@trienahm”]

A Land of Milk & Forgiveness

This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, is most wonderful.  You could say that about most but some are hard to deconstruct or find happiness in.  This one is easy.  Moses continues to tell the people what they will find when they enter the land of Israel, the promised land.  Something he will never do.

So even as he describes this beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, he reminds the people of their shortcomings and failures.  What I take from this is a truly resonant lesson, to remember your failings and mistakes, they are part of who you are, but not to live in them.  The people, even as they they are scolded for their shortcomings are about to go forward to something new and wonderful.  And best of all, we are told, G-d forgives them.

Forgiveness is a powerful force.  More so for the forgiver than for the forgiven. In this case, however, the forgiven are freed for the way forward to a new life.   In life I have found that forgiving has everything to do with moving forward. When you live in bitterness, regret, anger it affects only you, not whoever is the “target” of those feelings unless of course it is yourself. Moving past those feelings is possible only with acceptance of the reality of your, or their, failings and with forgiveness.

It is also interesting that this portion of forgiveness and moving forward also includes the second, virtually unknown, part of the shema, the central prayer of Judaism. The “chapter” reminds us of the power of prayer.  And so this portion as a whole exhorts us to two of the most powerful forces we can bring into our lives, forgiveness and prayer. Imagine the beautiful and peaceful way forward impelled by those forces, if only we can internalize them.

Shabbat Shalom.

NASO ~ Nurturing Community

This portion, Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 is about the dedication of the Mishkan, the tent in which the people gathered not only to worship but to become community.  Our “tents of offering”, our communities, are a precious and fragile thing, requiring constant care and love.

Our communities can be many things, they can be our Temple family, they can be the greater Jewish community in which we live, they can be all Israel, they can be our classmates, our colleagues, our friends and/or our families.   And each of these, each network of relationships, requires a different kind of nourishing.  And from each we seek something different in return.  It is, in some cases, a bargaining or bartering relationship as is often the case with colleagues.  But in most cases, we nourish our relationships because they provide us with something just by their existence, not because they actively “give” us something.

in the world of Naso, the idea of “home” was ephemeral as the people were still nomadic in the desert.  And so that tent of meeting, that communal place of worship and community became the stabilizing home place.  Today we are emotional/cultural nomads, living in geographically fractured families, extraordinarily fractured politics, constantly fractured finances and careers.  So home matters crucially as it did for those desert nomads.  What is home?

There are a lot of sayings about home.  It is where you hang your hat, it is where your heart is, it is where your dog is, it is where they have to take you in (thank you Robert Frost).  It may be all of these things, but it is much more complicated than that; but that is for another blog.  Suffice it to say that the Mishkan, our Temple, our place of meeting and community, matters.  It, like all our relationships, requires love and care if it is to sustain us.it is as fragile as everything else and demands our selfless service.

a belated Shabbat shalom.