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

Academy of What?

 

It is amazing what my mind can do when left unsupervised.  Some of the things I think should and will remain unspoken, or at least unwritten.  But some random thoughts deserve to be aired, or at least it seems so to me.

I was driving down the road and saw a large sign on a building.  It was one of those moments when you just see the sign in passing out of the corner of your eye because of course you are watching the road. And what I saw, or what my brain thought it saw was: Academy of Marital Arts. I’m sure you can figure out what it actually said.

Now imagine what an academy of marital arts might be.  Listening lessons on one floor, sex on another, how to find common interests in one classroom, compromise in another.  The possibilities are pretty numerous.  And speaking as someone who has ended less than successful marriages, I think such an academy could be very useful.

In fact, I suspect that academies of marital arts might better equip our young for the future. Now understand that I have great respect for academies of martial arts and I completely understand the values they teach; discipline, respect, physical health and so on. But there are many places in our culture that teach, or purport to teach, these or similar values; little league, Boy Scouts, pop warner to name a few.

But just think, did your parents tell you how to be married? Mine surely didn’t.  My father was never married more than, I think, about 6 or 7 years; twice. My mother was able to sustain a little more longevity but has been married four times.  And, sad to say, I am coming up on her fast. But what matters is this: did anyone ever tell you to consider your lover’s needs when enumerating your own, did anyone ever articulate what day to day compromise really looks like, or true and genuine communication?  For most of us, no.

I grant that there are those of you that had wonderful parental or grand parental role models for how to be married. But even for those of you that lucky, it is likely that the world and cultural norms and expectations have shifted so significantly that those models quickly become passé. An educational institution could keep up, maybe.  So despite the usefulness of martial arts, I will continue to hope that somewhere there is an academy of martial arts.

Noah ~ where’s that ark when we really need it

This is one of those Torah portions that has so much in it that it is hard to know where to start, where to go, where to end.  It begins with that famous ark, goes through the genealogy of Noah all the way to Abraham, G-d makes promises, gives blessings, Noah falls off the wagon and the people are divided in language and the Tower of Babel is begun.  Yikes.

We seem to be living in an era of Babel/babble. Everyone is talking, everyone’s ego is at stake, we speak to each other in 140 characters, and nobody is really listening.  It is as if we are once again divided by language although now we are divided by a rigidity of ideas that is manifest in our inability to listen to or hear one another.

There are sublime moments in this portion, the first is G-Day’s promise never to disrupt the earth in the same way or to the same extent again; and the covenant is renewed with a rainbow. And G-d blesses Noah and his ancestors, as well as his sons (at least one).  In this there is hope for us I think.

But even as The portion has these blessings, we come back to drunk Noah and the Tower of Babel.   We are painfully reminded of our human shortcomings, we are blessed even as we fail.  We have that pesky free will and with that we are imperfect.  The nature of free will is that we will, from time to time, fail.  And with failure comes consequences.  As always, I do not believe in godly “tests” and so I think the gift of free will comes with the lesson of humility for our mortality.

In this time of great divisions, careless rigidity and thoughtless prejudices, the consequence of our “babble” is our failure to overcome our inability to listen.  The consequence of our failure to communicate is where we are, in a world that has forgotten to work for love and for shalom, for peace, and knows only the individual self.

Noach teaches us that we are, or should be, each other’s keepers.  Just listen. Put down your phones.  Shalom.

Things I Want My Son To Know #22 ~ Express Yourself

There are serious conversations, there is chit chat and there is jib jabber; and there is writing. All of these are about words. For some people, words are sufficient for the expression of self, the expression of the truest and deepest feelings. But words, talking, writing is not enough for some.

This is not really about the kind of expression that results in dialogue, in a two sided or multi-sided conversation. This is about finding a way that allows you to get your feelings outside yourself; to show yourself without unbearable vulnerability.

For me its music. I love writing (you didn’t guess?) but I hold back in writing when I am writing about my innermost feelings unless I am sure nobody will see it. In music I don’t need to hold back. In music I can hide behind the fact that the words are someone else’s but I know in my heart they express perfectly how I feel. When I sing I can let loose in a way that I never do any other way. But… music doesn’t do for everyone what it does for me.

For some it is dance, there are people that feel that no matter how well or how poorly they dance, they can let loose in a way they don’t elsewhere. In fact, for those people, they don’t know that they dance well or poorly, they just dance for the sheer job of expressing themselves in dance.

For some it is in drawing or painting that they find this kind of freedom of expresssion; for some its sculpture, photography, film. You name it, there are those that find the expressions of their souls in it. And some people never find the joy of being able to express themselves totally, without reservation.

So I say, listen to all kinds of music, you never know where you might find your inspiration; it may not be in the music popular with your friends. Dance even if you think you can’t, and dance as if nobody is watching you, just enjoy it. Look at all kinds of art and photographs; watch old movies and foreign movies; expose yourself to things unfamiliar. We know you can draw, paint, design. Don’t forget that you are really talented. Don’t forget that you once enjoyed designing for yourself. Don’t forget you loved fabrics and clothing when you were young and nobody was judging you. Just keep doing something until you figure out what gives you joy. There are many different kinds of joy: there is joy in the love of a relationship, joy in friendship, joy in your children, joy in faith and joy in work that you like. But there is a kind of pure joy in finding a way to express yourself fully in a way that works for you; it doesn’t matter if anyone else every understands it, just do it.