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.

Love and Family

This week’s Torah portion is, as always, chock full of things and covers quite the span of time. Significantly, Moses is born and his life is defined early on by acts of compassion and love, first by his mother who fears for his life and next by Pharoah’s daughter in defiance of his order that all Hebrew boy children be killed. Pharoah’s distrust of the Israelites is formed essentially by the fact that they are multiplying, that their families are growing and so he attempts to limit them by killing them off.

A great deal else happens in this very first book of Exodus but I think, at this season, we should talk about compassion, love and family. I listen to the news and read a Facebook feed and I hear people talk and I see bumper stickers and I am overwhelmed by the division, contempt, ignorance, rudeness and downright hatred. This to the point that I can barely stand to be part of the world.

And then, a package from one of my brothers arrives and in it is a canvas shopping bag inscribed large and in bright red “Be Optimistic”. Now that is a reminder. So I stop and think about my aging mother who loves me. About my brothers and their children who love me. I think about my friends who love me and who show me compassion when I am unlovable. I think about my students who I love. I think about my amazing son and his equally amazing fiance who love me and who I love more than anything. I stop and think about my life and how blessed I am.

The Torah portion reminds me of the sacrifice it takes to be a true leader of integrity, intelligence and courage. It reminds me of how dear our families and friends are. It reminds me that it takes great faith to do great things and that sometimes compassion is all that is needed to send someone on their way. It also reminds me that great faith and adherence to principle sometimes also demands great sacrifice and great courage.

I think in this season of many holidays that what is needed is not an argument about how we greet one another but that we act towards one another with compassion and love. We are, in the end all the same, united in the common bond of humanity. Be gracious, be grateful, love your family and those who matter, tell them often, look up at the moon and know we are all looking at the same beautiful sky. Whatever your faith, compassion, love and courage will carry us through.

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.

Really, We Are All The Same

 

Nitzavim – You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your G-d.  And it means everyone, from the lowliest to the highest and all those in between.  I love this, it makes everyone equal, it makes all of us the same, at least within the house of Israel.

As always, there is a two edged sword, a little threat with the promise.  Even as Moses tells the people that G-d will not forsake them, he does tell them there will be punishment if they are idolatrous.  There can never just be a promise, but that is another story.

As we are nearing the end of the story, as the generations are looking to the promised land, as the people have become a people, this leveling happens.  Community is a process, in this case forged over many trials, travels and tribulations. Today as well, community building is a process, a labor of love and work.  And in that work, we become equal. Although teams have leaders, good teams work on a level playing field no matter the assigned or adopted task of each team member.

In our current world we have forgotten what team is.  We have forgotten what community building means, from the lowliest to the highest, it takes us all.  Someone needs to adopt, or volunteer, for every task no matter what it is.  In this way society works and all the jobs are accomplished, the rewards are reaped by everyone in some proportional way.  We seek these days to eliminate those that would do the tasks we do not wish to do but have no plan as to how those tasks will be done. Nor do we wish to pay for those tasks in a way commensurate with the necessity for the work.

So to, in families. That community needs to be built as well. All the tasks need to be accomplished and some agreement needs to be reached as to who will accomplish them and how they will be accomplished.  Respect, trust, equality, fairness, love, sympathy, empathy and faith.  All are necessary to the task of building community.

So in Nitzavim we are told we are all equal, and in standing equal we will all be rewarded. The reward of course is figurative for us, we won’t all be entering the promised land. The reward is the community, the respect, trust, equality, fairness, love, sympathy, empathy and faith.  And as we approach, in mere days, these most holy of days in the Jewish calendar, we indeed stand equal before G-d and one another . There is still time to correct what needs correcting and return to those values of community building. And one more, most important of all, forgiveness.

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”]