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.

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”]