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.

Things Grandma Joan Wants You To Know #1 ~ Learn About Sex

I know you would rather eat worms than have sex advice from your Grandmother, but its what she wanted you to know. And you never know…. you might learn something! So here goes:

Dear Jake, by this time you’re over eighteen and I’m sure know a great deal about sex from family, friends, and the great American entertainment business.  That is to say, I’m sure the mechanics are perfectly clear and may have been put into practice.  I’m sure you have also been advised about taking precautions not only for birth control, since having a baby at this stage in your life could ruin your future, but also making sure you know the medical history of anybody you take up with BEFORE you have sex.  STDs are hard to get rid of and easy to catch. 

When one is swept away by a moment of passion, it’s hard to exercise restraint and judgment, but there again remember that what you decide while under the stress of hormones could affect what is going to happen to you in the long run when there will be a lot of other things that are equally or perhaps even more important, believe it or not.

You’re probably tired of hearing all this.  But what you may not have heard is that the best sex is an art, for it involves learning about the other through the body, yours and theirs, and how you approach that can and will influence your relations with that same other person when you’re not having sex. 

Good sex is something that has to be learned and you’d be surprised, with all the talk of sex that goes on, how few men (and how few women) are willing and able to learn it as a skill.  It seems like a relatively simple business but it’s not.  People have simple physical sex just because it’s available or they just like somebody or are married to them.  And you can do that too, but my guess is that about 98% of American men don’t know how to make a woman or man feel fulfilled and I don’t want you to be a part of that 98%.   I want you to have a full and exciting sex life, because sex can be a wonderful event and an amazing phenomenon when both partners take the trouble to learn  how to please each other with tact and persistence while taking advantage of sensual impulses.  Ideally sex is not an act of power and dominance but an art practiced with a lot of affection and knowledge.

In other words, don’t be prudish or embarrassed but excited about learning and always think about the other person. And it’s okay to laugh a lot, because sex can be funny and dreamy as well as serious. And
always remember that it’s a waltz and not a fox trot.

Things I Want My Son To Know #8 ~ Don’t Marry The First Girl You….

Teens who wait to date, get in a relationship, have sex may fall awfully hard for the first one.

So. Don’t marry the first girl you… kiss? There is so much to this subject. We had our first discussion about the “birds and the bees” a long time ago it seems. And since I don’t believe in such cute euphemisms, we are talking about sex here. First, remember when you have kids, don’t use cutesy words for their body parts, call them what they are and speak freely and openly to them about those parts and what they can be used for.

Now with that out of the way… I have no idea if you are yet sexually active; but I know you are something of a slow starter socially. This is not a bad thing. You are a careful person who does not take a lot of risks. But this is an arena in which it doesn’t take much to have huge consequences. So I am torn between saying, don’t be too afraid; and saying, be afraid and be careful. So second, don’t have sex until you are ready. You probably won’t know if you are ready, but listen to your heart. Sex is a pathway to your emotional life, it is never ever just sex.

Third, try not to fall too hard the first time. This is pointless advice but I will say it anyway. If you are waiting, as I suspect you may be, don’t marry the first one unless you spend a long, long time getting to know her too. You will change so much in the next 5 to 7 years as you find your way through college and to a career that it will be hard to predict what you will want in a relationship at the end of that time.

Finally, remember that sex is about caring, respect, sharing and intimacy; it is not about you, it is about you both. So, against my better judgment I say don’t be afraid; but yes be careful. Show your heart, but don’t be too quick to give it away for life.