Can You Still Believe In Magic?

I wrote on Vayeira, this past week’s Torah portion last year and what struck me was that it is full of magic and miracles. Although there was much punishment and destruction, there was still magic and miracles.

It is hard to write, today, about magic and miracles. Saturday, in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Jews were gunned down as they prayed their Sabbath prayers. They were not gunned down by Muslim extremists or other “imported” terrorists. They were gunned down by a homegrown anti-Semitic extremist who believed that Jews were somehow “alien” and a threat to his way of life. In Pittsburgh. He was known on extreme web sites as a virulent anti-Semite. He posted, essentially, what he planned to do, that he had had enough of us. And eleven innocent people are dead.

So it’s hard, today, to write about magic and miracles.  I taught religious school this morning and we talked about how you believe, how you have faith, in a world where bad things happen. We worked hard at this, at finding the path. These are 12 and 13 year olds, trying to find their path in so many ways. And then they have to think about and deal with things like this.

Why would they want to be Jews when Jews are targets? Why would they want to believe in a world where they can be shot down in school, in shul? I don’t think it is my place as a teacher to tell them what or how to believe. I can share what I believe, I can try to help them see a possible path, but everyone, teen or not, needs to find a way to faith on their own.

In the end I can’t promise them safety in their Jewish identity, we can only talk about the courage and self worth involved in being and standing up for who you are. We can only talk about living life not in fear. And that’s where faith comes in. We finally agreed that probably G-d does not create or cause bad things; life happens. Faith is what helps us through those things. The stories of the G-d of Genesis, testing and testing, are meant to instruct us but we need not take them literally. We work to find the lessons, everyone has to find their own path to belief. It would be wonderful if we could wave a magic wand and disappear the evil, the scary things, but alas we cannot. What I do know is that despite the evil in the world it is truly still full of magic and miracles – you just have to believe, and know where to look.

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The Nature of Love

 

So, my friends.  We always think, when we hear the word love, of romantic love.  And don’t get me wrong, romantic love is a wonderful thing if it is part of your life.  But it is wrong thinking to think that romantic love is what should always be top of mind when you think of “love”.

My cats love me, in their own peculiar way.  They need to be close a lot of the time when I am home because I often am not.  They groom me and bring me various live and half-eaten prey to show how much they love me.  Dogs, fortunately, do not bring prey but theirs is a most unconditional form of love.  They do not care what you do or when, they just love you.  Cats are a little pickier but always come around.

And religion, ritual, spiritual practices tell me that G-d loves me.  The best version of any of these tells me that my concept of a G-d should be loving and caring and not punitive despite some of the biblical allegories that might drive you to believe otherwise.  I choose to believe that if there is a power greater than myself, it is caring; that the universe means me no harm.  Bad things happen, they are part of life not the vengeful creations of a punishing G-d.

Despite my own insecurities and self-doubt, I know today that my friends love me.  Now there are the women.  They are the friends whose love is wrapped in sympathy, empathy and hard truth.  They are the friends that fill my house with laughter when we play cards and whose paths, in many cases, parallel my own.  They are the friends that understand what my life is like at the present time and that is  a priceless gift.  Then there are the men.  I have learned that it is indeed possible to have really stalwart and steady male friends without the need for tension, chemistry or romance.  They have brought me meals, listened to me rant about the shortcomings of certain other men in my life.  They show up to fix things or reach things I can’t.  They refer me to services I need as a single homeowner.  They have my back all the time and don’t laugh at me as much as the women do.  They are the friends that just show up and care whether they understand or not. And men and women alike, I love them back.

And there is my son, with whom I am friends.  He is the friend that showed up every day to clean the pool and take out my trash when I couldn’t.  He is the friend that knows me inside out and doesn’t take any bullshit answers. He is the friend that thinks I should have romantic love in my life. He is the friend that shares his fears and understands mine.  We have come to this wonderful adult place.  And of course, he is my baby and I love him more than I will ever love anyone!

So, romantic love – it would be nice. But I have, as you can see, lots of love in my life; and it is good.

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Oops again – I posted this in the wrong place! Tetzaveh – Exodus

Tetzaveh – Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
February 8, 2014 — trienahg | Edit

This Torah portion is primarily about the priestly vestments, clothing, adornments and the altars. Two things struck me particularly. The commentaries point out that in the Torah portion Moses’ name is not mentioned at all yet the “directions” are to him. So it is selfless and ultra present at the same time. Moses said to G-d that he would be nameless in the Torah as a result of the people sinning with the golden calf. The ultimate selflessness, to remain nameless in the holiest of holy works. And yet, he is in this most intimate relation with G-d in this portion, G-d providing him with the instructions required for the priests to maintain the relationship between G-d and the people. Which directs my attention to the tzedakah question – nameless? I think so. We as Jews talk about tzedakah, about charitable good works, about tikkun olam, all the time. There are those who do many good works but feel it necessary to be recognized as often and as publicly as possible. How close to G-d does that put the person? The good is the good but I think the desire for a “return” undermines the value of the good. Sometimes the recognition, the price to the recipient, is too much. There are those who do small good works but do them anonymously. How close to G-d does that put the person? Much closer I think. It is much more intimate an act to do small acts of kindness and charity without hope of reward. Not to say that there aren’t those that do great works without the need of public reward.

The other theme in this portion that struck me is that of the “everlasting” light that is supposed to burn from morning until night. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? All the time versus some of the time. I loved a commentary I read which is essentially that this contradiction is a metaphor for the contrast between the perfect and the imperfect. That it is our job to find a relationship between the divine and the human, the eternal and the temporal. And isn’t that the meaning of our lives, the striving for a perfection that we know perfectly well is unattainable, yet we continue to strive. And as with tzedakah, doesn’t the striving for the unattainable put is in a more intimate relationship with g-d. And this is not the same as striving for “success”. It is striving for the divine; the perfection of our selves. Ironically striving to attain the perfection of our human selves is by definition to only attain a better imperfection!

Ultimately in this portion, both themes that spoke to me are about doing the best we can not because it is asked of us, not because it will gain us material goods or rich recognition, but because it brings us closer to the divine. They are both about improving our relationship with G-d and what is best in us; in having a more intimate relationship with G-d and with ourselves.

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Tetzaveh – Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This Torah portion is primarily about the priestly vestments, clothing, adornments and the altars.  Two things struck me particularly.  The commentaries point out that in the Torah portion Moses’ name is not mentioned at all yet the “directions” are to him.  So it is selfless and ultra present at the same time. Moses said to G-d that he would be nameless in the Torah as a result of the people sinning with the golden calf.  The ultimate selflessness, to remain nameless in the holiest of holy works.  And yet, he is in this most intimate relation with G-d in this portion, G-d providing him with the instructions required for the priests to maintain the relationship between G-d and the people.  Which directs my attention to the tzedakah question – nameless?  I think so.  We as Jews talk about tzedakah, about charitable good works, about tikkun olam, all the time.  There are those who do many good works but feel it necessary to be recognized as often and as publicly as possible.  How close to G-d does that put the person?  The good is the good but I think the desire for a “return” undermines the value of the good.  Sometimes the recognition, the price to the recipient, is too much.  There are those who do small good works but do them anonymously.  How close to G-d does that put the person?  Much closer I think.  It is much more intimate an act to do small acts of kindness and charity without hope of reward.  Not to say that there aren’t those that do great works without the need of public reward.

The other theme in this portion that struck me is that of the “everlasting” light that is supposed to burn from morning until night.  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?  All the time versus some of the time.  I loved a commentary I read which is essentially that this contradiction is a metaphor for the contrast between the perfect and the imperfect. That it is our job to find a relationship between the divine and the human, the eternal and the temporal.  And isn’t that the meaning of our lives, the striving for a perfection that we know perfectly well is unattainable, yet we continue to strive.  And as with tzedakah, doesn’t the striving for the unattainable put is in a more intimate relationship with g-d.  And this is not the same as striving for “success”.  It is striving for the divine; the perfection of our selves.  Ironically striving to attain the perfection of our human selves is by definition to only attain a better imperfection! 

Ultimately in this portion, both themes that spoke to me are about doing the best we can not because it is asked of us, not because it will gain us material goods or rich recognition, but because it brings us closer to the divine.  They are both about improving our relationship with G-d and what is best in us; in having a more intimate relationship with G-d and with ourselves.  Shabbat Shalom.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #21 ~ Love With All Your Might

I didn’t know it at the time, but my parents were my first loves. As I get older I realize how much I love them, how much I have taken their presence in my life for granted. In facing the proximity of loss, I understand how much I will be losing.

I have come to love my friends. Learn this soon and remember it. Hold your friends close, cherish them, stay in touch with them and don’t let them go. Your friends will tell you the truth even if you don’t like it, your friends will bail you out, your friends will cover your butt and keep you company when you need it. You will tell your friends things you may not tell your wife, and that’s ok. Love your friends back.

When I was young I didn’t know anything about faith. Now I do. Having faith is about loving the God of your own understanding; believing that you are not alone. Love God with all your might by striving for great faith; with it life is much easier. You can talk to God when you can’t tell things to your friends or your wife. Treat this relationship with the same love you give to all your relationships.

And then I learned about perfect love, the day you were born. You will be stunned by how much you love your children. You will think you have never loved so much when you meet the person you decide to marry and you will be floored to discover the extent to which that love pales in the reflection of how you feel about your children. You will never understand how much we love you until you have children of your own. Love your children with all your might, and tell them often how much you love them.

When you forget about unconditional love, remember your pets. Your cats and dogs love you unconditionally, asking only in return that you do what they can’t do for themselves. you forget to feed them, they still love you. You accidentally lock them in a closet, they still love you. You step on a tail, its forgetten in seconds. Take a leaf out of their book and remember to love the people you love without question and without expectation.

And then there were all those “first” loves. Even having had two prior husbands, I don’t really remember being “in love”, but every one felt wonderful at the time. And I have learned from every relationship I have ever been in. No matter how much the end of a relationship hurts, no matter how afraid you are of failing, or having it end, you have to love with all your might. If you don’t you will miss knowing how wonderful it is to be in love, you will miss the feeling of that first kiss, and you may miss finding the one person you were meant to be with. You know your dad and I have had our ups and downs, but I know that he is my “meant to be”. Even when I want to kill him, I can’t imagine my life without him. You will never know how that feels if you don’t love with all your might.

Love is risky; all kinds of love. Our prayerbook says that “it is a terrible thing to love what death can touch” and that is true indeed. When you open your heart, it can get hurt. But you have to love with all your might, you have to keep your heart open, otherwise how will all those people find their way in?

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