Tag Archives: Judaism

Writing our Past, Writing our Future – from Rabbi Judy in Israel

“Days are scrolls, write on them only what you want to be remembered,” Bachya Ibn Pakuda taught.

Digging at a tel (an archeological site) in Israel, coins and stones are found with writing that confirms that our roots on this land are deep.

Proving our past does not secure our future.

We are the next layer of the tel, the archeological trail, that leaves evidence of a Judaism that transformed the world.

May the Jewish life and values we live, become the scrolls and shards that inspire the generations to come.


The Jewish Voice of Celebration

Kvetch, defined by the OED as:
to complain habitually, gripe; as a noun, a person who always complains,
describes our people from the start. After our liberation from slavery in Egypt we complain:
“Freedom is nice. Where’s the water? Where’s the meat? Slavery had better accommodations.”

As we read Exodus this month and next, I am newly inspired to leave the kvetch behind and embrace instead our expressions of enthusiasm, our words of welcome, our voices of celebration.

This past summer Rabbi David Wolpe offered a giant complaint about a Bar Mitzvah celebration that went way over the top. Rabbi Wolpe called the celebration, in which young Sam Horowitz descended on stage amid Las Vegas style showgirls and danced in front of all the guests at his reception: “egregious, licentious, and thoroughly awful.” He then ranted for multiple paragraphs about the great tragedy this was for contemporary Judaism.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson publicly disagreed with Rabbi Wolpe in an open conversation before Rabbi Wolpe’s congregation. Rabbi Artson reminded us that it is a good thing that Judaism doesn’t demonize materialism. And then he asked us to imagine ways to teach the Jewish message of an over the top celebration.
He concluded that as this kid’s rabbi he would offer:
“Remember that when your parents chose to do this over the top celebration, they did it for your Bar Mitzvah, not your twelfth birthday, not your fourteenth birthday. They did it because however far people drift from piety and religion, saying ‘Our kid is connected to Torah’, is even for ostentatious Jews, still important.
“Now let’s build on that. Why is it that specifically your ‘Torah birthday’ is the one when people go over the top? Then we could segue into: Are there other ways that we could celebrate that in ways that might be more compatible with standard and traditional Jewish values?”

Rabbi Wolpe’s kvetch feels a lot like many Jewish reactions to the latest Pew survey.

Or like calls from Jews worried about the Jewish identity of kids and grandkids because the kids don’t observe Judaism like their grandparents. They fell in love with and married Jews and non-Jews and almost all of them have vibrant Jewish homes where they raise their kids as Jews. They don’t keep kosher the same way though.

In response to these concerns and others, I would like to follow Rabbi Artson’s example – let us offer some reasons to celebrate.

In the wake of the last century, that Jews have become desirable spouses for non-Jews is a victory. That Judaism has become a desirable path for non-Jews, even those not married to Jews, is also a victory.

When we find creative and new ways to support each other with our Judaism – through our synagogues and communities – we succeed.

Our Judaism thrives and grows and evolves when we open doors.

Our ancestors took risks – they braved the desert, they entered into a contract with the universe to pursue life, and they built a Judaism that survived exile. In the last hundred years we have built a new nation and multiple enthusiastic reactions to a changing world.

In this season of celebration, let us liberate our voices of celebration.


Link to image: https://www.facebook.com/bechollashon

Getting a handle on things one holiday at a time

Many of us are list-makers. I imagine I am not the only one who thrills in checking items off of those lists. We get to bring some order to our worlds that often seem out of control when we take all those things we have to do and itemize them. Then, with some sense of small victory, we concretely show that they have been completed with the stroke of a pen.

The Torah offers us the same kind of teaching this week in Parashat Pinchas. Two full chapters – Numbers chapters 28 and 29 – itemize the holidays of the year, from daily offerings to New Moon offerings, to all the celebrations around each holiday.

In these directions we see the need to establish regular customs and practices, expected times of gathering and prescribed things to do at those moments. So our ancient Israelite ancestors developed a structure to their lives and the calendar, allowing them to see the scope of the year in acknowledged weeks, months, and seasons.

However we manage to encounter a world that may often feel like mayhem, Judaism offers us frameworks in the calendar as models of breaking things down into smaller bits that may help us handle the whole more easily.

Happy list checking!


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Day 48 of the Omer – leap from solid ground

Yesod in Malchut – the solid balancing point in the wholeness that rules useful doings.

Our best steps start from solid ground. Bringing all the ingredients together to create that stable starting off spot requires all the principles that we have reflected on up until now.

Find that spot, build it even, and then take the next step trusting in our preparations, hoping for the best, and maintain openness to all the unpredictability that may ensue!

Prepare, plan, set our feet solidly, and then go and do!

Almost through the Omer now – we look towards Shavuot on Tuesday night.


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Day 39 of the Omer – aim for the future

Netzach in Yesod – the persistent victory of the self in a balanced foundation.​

Eternity gets crafted out of well thought out actions that form a solid base.

As we get ready to act, to put our thoughts into reality, we keep in mind the long term even as we focus on forming something simple, balanced, and basic.​

In every part of the foundation we place our hopes and plans for the distant future.

Let us build for the long term – why waste the effort on anything else?​

The counting is nearing its conclusion!​


Image source: http://www.messagetoeagle.com/images/teleporteurope1.jpg


Day 35 of the Omer – Grow from smallness

Malchut in Hod – the manifestation of reality in humble smallness.

Gaining perspective must be put to some use. We engage in contemplating how insignificant we are so that we can act effectively. So we must put that acquired wisdom into action and not get lost in our insignificance.

The seed must germinate and grow or not fulfill its purpose.

May our counting lead us to better agency!


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Day 27 of the Omer – Feel Towards the Future

Yesod in Netzach – a firm and balanced foundation in the persistent perpetuity of the self.

Finding a path into the future for ourselves requires more than a sense of values and a good plan, we must also feel out stable footholds on firm pathways.

We aim to integrate our different senses and easily swayed emotions into stable foundations. I often find this kind of stability through thoughtful pauses that allow me to identify an emotional response and think through how best to react once I’ve taken a moment to breathe and reflect.

May all our projects include peaceful moments to think and feel our way ahead.

Blessings as we close out the week of Netzach tomorrow.


Day 25 of the Omer – Shabbat at last

Netzach in Netzach – the long view from the self focused perspective in itself.

The simplest way to perpetuate life is through self-preservation. As this Shabbat evening continues the Boston crisis concludes with more life preserved, with great appreciation.

In these moments of relief may we focus on celebrating life and the miraculous ways by which it finds a way.

Wishing all meaningful days of counting to come and a Sabbath of true rest, peace, and even joy.