Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah by R’ David Markus

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi David Markus. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

 

Hola mis amigos.  Desde mi corazón en Nueva York al vuestro en Cuba, envío mis bendiciones para esta sagrada temporada de “lo que viene después”.

“Lo que viene después” es nuestra eterna pregunta humana y también es nuestra pregunta espiritual para este mes.  Es una pregunta sagrada no porque este mes contenga fiestas sagradas, sino justamente por la razón contraria.

En nuestro calendario laico, es noviembre.  Escasamente puedo creer que ha sido un año entero desde mi visita a Cuba.  Aún un año después siento cuán viva se sentía Cuba en Noviembre comparado con Nueva York.  El poeta británico Thomas Hood escribió que todas las cosas más bellas terminan en noviembre.

Sin calor, ni alegría, ni saludable facilidad,

Sin sensación cómodo en ningún miembro-

Sin sombra, sin brillo, sin mariposas ni abejas,

Sin frutas, sin flores, sin hojas, sin aves,

Noviembre!

Pero no en Cuba.  Y no sólo por el clima.  Especialmente en medio de la dificultad, la comunidad judía de Cuba compartió  su tesón, su pasión, su espíritu de bienvenida y su propio ser.  Nos fuimos cambiados para siempre.  Parte de nuestros corazones todavía está con ustedes, especialmente ahora en medio de la adversidad que azota a gran parte del mundo.

Así que es especialmente significativo que este noviembre comience en el medio del mes judío de Jeshvan.  Jeshván es nuestro único mes sin fiestas-  sin tiempo sagrado dedicado a nuestros rituales, reuniones, devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje.  Después del intenso mes judío de Tishré, lleno de fiestas como Rosh Hashaná, Yom Kippur, Sukkot y más, súbitamente ya no hay más.

A veces la sabiduría más grande del judaísmo es sutil: el judaísmo nos enseña no sólo a través de las grandes fiestas y proclamaciones sino también a través de lo que el profeta Elías experimentó como la “tranquila voz susurrante” de nuestro interior.

Igualmente con Jeshván.  Un mes entero con una súbita ausencia de fiestas judías nos enseña que la vida judía no gravita alrededor de las fiestas.  Más bien, la vida judía tiene que ver con nuestro día a día, la rutina aparente con la que interactuamos los unos con los otros.  El judaísmo gravita alrededor de nuestra devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje a través de todo nuestra vida, y no sólo en ocasiones especiales.

Sí, las ocasiones especiales son jusatmente eso: especiales.  Son oportunidades especiales para reunirnos y celebrar, especialmente cuando el esfuerzo implicado en reunirnos es física y económicamente desafiante.

En contraste, Jeshván centra nuestra atención en el judaísmo y las mitzvot (mandamientos) de la vida judía en el resto del tiempo, ya que no vivimos sólo para las fiestas.  En efecto, vivimos todos los días. Vivimos para nuestras familias y amigos, para tener oportunidades de aprender, para tratarnos bien los unos a los otros, para buscar y encontrar gratitud por nuestras bendiciones así sean pequeñas, para la alegría de celebrar shabbat cada semana.  Buscamos y, a veces, incluso encontramos lo sagrado en nuestras vidas cotidianas.

Tal vez ese sea el secreto judío para sobrevivir y prosperar a través de los siglos.  Nuestro secreto está en nuestras fiestas compartidas, pero más aún en vivir nuestra identidad orgullosamente, nuestra misión y nuestro credo todos los días.  Que este Jeshván, el mes sin fiestas judías, nos recuerde que el amor, la alegría y el sentido de nuestra vida judía nos aguarda en cada día, en cada alma, en cada lugar y en cada momento.

Hello, my friends.  From my heart in New York to yours across Cuba, I send blessings for this sacred season of “what comes next.”

“What comes next,” our eternally human question, also is our spiritual question this month. It’s a sacred question not because this month brings sacred Jewish holidays, but precisely for the opposite reason.

In our secular calendar, it’s November.  I barely can believe that it’s been a whole year since my community and I visited Cuba.  Even a year later, I feel how alive Cuba’s November felt compared to New York.  British poet Thomas Hood wrote that most everything beautiful ends in November:

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

But not in Cuba – and not only because of climate.  Especially amidst hardship, the Jewish communities of Cuba shared with us your resilience, your passion, your welcoming spirit and your very selves.  We left changed forever. Part of our hearts still is with you, especially now amidst continuing adversity for so much of the world.
So it’s especially poignant that this November begins midway into Judaism’s spiritual month of Cheshvan.  Cheshvan is our only month with no holidays – no specially sacred times to focus our rituals, gatherings, devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning or learning.  After Judaism’s intense month of Tishrei full of holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and more, suddenly there are none.
Sometimes our Jewish tradition’s greatest wisdom is subtle: Judaism teaches us not only in the big festivals and proclamations but also in what Elijah the prophet experienced as “the still, small voice” inside.
So too with Cheshvan. A whole month’s sudden absence of Jewish festivals can teach us that Jewish life actually isn’t about festivals at all. Rather, Jewish life is mostly about our day to day, our seemingly routine of how we treat each other. Judaism is about our devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning and learning together throughout our lives, not just on special occasions.
Yes, special occasions are just that – special.  They’re special opportunities to gather together and celebrate, especially when the effort of gathering can be physically and economically challenging.
But Cheshvan focuses us on our Judaism, and mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish life the rest of the time, because we don’t live only for festivals. After all, we live each day.  We live for our families and friends, for chances to learn, for treating each other well, for seeking and finding gratitude for blessings however small, for joyfully making Shabbat every week.  We seek and sometimes even find the sacred in our daily lives.
Maybe that’s Judaism’s secret of surviving and thriving over the centuries.  Our secret is partly in our shared festivals, but mostly in pridefully living our identity, our calling and our creed every day.  May this Cheshvan, this month with no Jewish holidays, remind us that the love, joy and meaning of Jewish life await us every day, in every soul, in every place and in every moment.
By Rabbi David Markus. Translation by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Shalom javerim, 

En nuestro calendario laico es septiembre. En el calendario judío, estamos en el mes de Elul, el mes que nos conduce a las altas fiestas. 

Algunos enseñan que durante este mes debemos reparar nuestra relación con Dios y con la tradición judía, para que en los diez días de teshuvá entre Rosh Hashaná y Yom Kippur podamos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros. 

¡Otros enseñan que durante este mes, debemos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros para que durante los diez días de Teshuvá podamos reparar nuestra relación con Dios!

En ambos casos, esta es una época para la introspección y para discernir cómo debemos cambiar en el año por venir. 

En Rosh Hashaná el mundo vuelve a comenzar.  El nuevo año trae nuevas oportunidades para escoger: ¿Qué persona queremos ser? ¿Cuál será nuestra relación con la tradición judía y con nuestra Fuente?  ¿Cómo serán nuestra relación con los demás?

Las terribles realidades del coronavirus nos recuerdan que las acciones y elecciones de cada persona pueden afectar a toda la comunidad.  Hemos aprendido cuán fácilmente este virus se esparce, aún por personas que no saben que son portadores. 

Mis elecciones y comportamientos no sólo ponen en riesgo mi salud y mi seguridad sino la de mi familia y mi comunidad y la de todos a mi alrededor.  Porque todos estamos interconectados. 

Esta interconexión es lo que me da esperanza al aproximarnos al nuevo año.

Si trabajamos juntos podemos usar esta interconexión para lograr grandes cosas.  Detener la expansión del virus.  Protegernos los unos a los otros.  Ayudarnos los unos a los otros. Compartir y elevarnos los unos a los otros. 

El Talmud enseña “kol Israel arevim ze bazé” “todo el pueblo de Israel es responsable el uno del otro.”  Es decir, nosotros.  Somos descendientes de Jacob, quien se volvió Israel cuando luchó toda la noche con el ángel y recibió un nuevo nombre al alba.  Somos responsables el uno del otro.  Es nuestro trabajo ocuparnos de los demás en cualquier forma que podamos, porque estamos interconectados.

En Cuba, el otoño pasado presencié la fuerza y conexión de sus comunidades. Ustedes no necesitan el Talmud para saber que son responsables el uno del otro: ustedes lo viven, por quiénes son y por cómo viven.

He aquí otra cosa que me da esperanza: la interconexión más fundamental es verdadera, estemos o no estemos juntos en persona. 

Por supuesto que quiero abrazar a mis seres amados distantes en este momento.  He estado extrañando esos abrazos por meses.  Pero el amor que nos tenemos dura aún cuando no nos podemos tocar.  Del mismo modo que mi cariño por ustedes perdura, aún cuando no puedo estar presente con ustedes. 

Todos los días de Elul, hay una costumbre de rezar el Salmo 27.  Al final de éste viene el siguiente versículo: “Confía en Dios, mantén tu fuerza, abre tu corazón y confía en Dios.”

Nuestra tarea en esta época de teshuvá es aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Fortalecernos, abrir nuestros corazones el uno al otro y aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Aún en tiempos de pandemia o dificultad, aún cuando el mundo a nuestro alrededor parece carecer de sentido. 

La palabra hebrea “teshuvá” es muchas veces traducida como “arrepentimiento” y a veces como “retorno”.  Esta temporada nos llama a retornar a nuestro más alto y mejor ser. Las torá nos recuerda que la teshuvá no se encuentra en el cielo o más allá del mar, donde no podemos alcanzarla.  La teshuvá está muy cerca, en nuestros corazones. 

Y nuestros corazones saben que nuestra tarea en estos tiempos de pandemia es cuidar los unos de los otros.  Porque lo que acaece a una persona impacta al resto.  Porque nuestra interconexión nos hace fuertes, nos transforma en una comunidad, aún cuando estamos lejos. 

Que este nuevo año traiga salud, prosperidad, seguridad y dulzura para todos. 

 

Shalom chaverim.

On the secular calendar it is September. On the Jewish calendar, we are in the month of Elul, the month that leads us to the Days of Awe. 

Some teach that during this month, we should repair our relationship with God and with Jewish tradition, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can repair our relationships with each other.

And others teach that during this month, we should repair our relationships with each other, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah we can repair our relationship with God!

Either way, this is a season for looking inward and discerning how we need to change in the year ahead.

At Rosh Hashanah, the whole world gets to begin again. A new year brings new opportunities to choose. Who do we want to be? What will be our relationship with our Jewish tradition and with out Source? What will be our relationship with each other?

The terrible realities of the coronavirus remind us that each person’s actions and choices can impact the whole community. We have learned how easily this virus can spread, even through people who do not know they are carriers.

My choices and behaviors risk not only my own health and safety, but that of my family, and my community, and everyone around me. Because we are interconnected.

That interconnectedness is what brings me hope as we approach the new year.

If we work together, we can use our interconnectedness to do great things. To stop the spread of the virus. To protect each other. To help each other. To care for each other. To share with each other and uplift each other.

Talmud teaches “kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” That means us. We are the spiritual descendants of Jacob, who became Yisrael when he wrestled all night with an angel and at dawn received his new name. We are responsible for one another. It’s our job to take care of each other in whatever ways we can. Because we are interconnected.

In Cuba last fall I witnessed the strength and connectedness of your communities. You don’t need Talmud to tell you that we are responsible for one another: you live it, because of who you are and how you are.

Here is another thing that brings me hope: our most fundamental interconnectedness is true, whether or not we are together in person.

Yes, of course, I want to hug my far-away loved ones right now. I have been aching for those hugs for months. But the love between us endures even when we can’t touch. Just as the caring I feel for you endures, even when I am unable to be with you in person.

It is traditional to pray Psalm 27 every day during Elul. At the end of that psalm comes the verse, “Keep hope in God; keep strong, and open your heart wide, and keep hope in God!”

Our task in this season of teshuvah is to hold on to hope. To stay strong, to open our hearts to each other, and to hold on to hope. Even in times of pandemic or hardship, even when the world around us may seem hopeless.

The Hebrew word teshuvah is sometimes translated as repentance, and sometimes as returning. This season calls us to return to our highest and best selves. Torah reminds us: teshuvah is not in the heavens, or across the sea, where we cannot reach it. Teshuvah is as near as our own hearts. 

And our hearts know that our task in this pandemic time is to take care of each other. Because what happens to one person impacts the whole. Because our interconnectedness makes us strong, and makes us into a community, even when we are apart.

May the new year that is coming bring health and prosperity, safety and sweetness for us all.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Why Shabbes Matters… Especially Now

When we “went in” (started sheltering-in-place) for covid-19 in New York, I thought we were going in for a few weeks.  I’ve been more-in-than-out now for five months. 

I am a lay service leader for my congregation, and I typically co-lead one Kabbalat Shabbat each month.  Our little shul is a small but mighty group; a mixed mini-tude.  By March 13 (the first Shabbat of sheltering-in-place), we were ready — more or less — for Shabbat on zoom.  Our Rabbi led us that night, and the following week was my turn.  We have continued to pray Kabbalat Shabbat with Maariv on Zoom since then.  And like most communities, we’re preparing for Zoom-based high holidays now too. (By “we,” I mean our rabbi and rabbi emerita.)

It’s been quite an adjustment.  Although I have joked about buying a t-shirt that says, “you’re muted,” I have not done so yet.  We are working on making services as meaningful and uplifting as can be; we are working on looking into the camera while hitting the right chords on the ukulele; we are adjusting to hearing either one voice or a cacophony, never a harmony.  (By “we,” I mean me.)

As a group, we are finding we like seeing each other’s faces in our Brady Bunch array.  We visit before and after services.  A core group has started to do Havdalah every week, led mostly by me.  It’s a quick service but sometimes we watch a movie afterwards, or just talk. I wrote some new lyrics for a silly Shavua Tov song.  It’s to the tune of the Addams Family (snap, snap).

Associate professors work hard; we are the backbone of every university. In the pandemic, as we shifted to fully online instruction, I was working very hard.  Even without my commute, I felt the days were endless.  Sometimes I zoomed for too many hours in a row and the next day felt half dead.  My eyes hurt; my back hurt; my heart was breaking over and over. I was worried about so many things. The emails were endless and many of them were filled with bad news, confusing instructions, or repeated information.

So, I started a mini-observance of Shabbat.  I shut my work email just before we went into zoom for Kabbalat Shabbat and did not open it again until Sunday morning.  I closed it on my laptop and on my phone.  Just that one action, protecting myself from work for the duration of Shabbes, was a balm.  I took Saturday to relax.  Sometimes I went to Saturday morning Torah study; sometimes I took a walk; in July and August, I relaxed by the community pool, swam a little. I read, I napped. I rested.  

I did not go full-on shomer Shabbes in the classical sense.  I still used the internet and TV.  But after a few weeks, I found I did not want too much news or twitter on Shabbes either.  I did things that are officially on traditional halakha’s list of “work,” like writing.  But I did not make shopping lists, or to-do lists, or write letters to politicians.  I doodled.  I drew. I wrote songs.  I did things that fed me, even if they were officially not Shabbesdik.  They felt Shabbesdik to me.

Did I mention the professor part?  I did not mention the procrastination, though.  Suddenly, in August, I found myself up against a grading deadline.  I had to get the grades to a colleague by Sunday morning.  I could not let her down. As Friday sank into Friday night, I was not done.  I was not even close.  Waiting until after Havdalah would not be an option—there was too much to get through.  My all-nighter days are behind me.  I was looking at grading papers on Shabbat.  Well, I told myself, it’s not like I’m really a sabbath observer…I just have some sort of covid shabbes habit going on.  I’ve graded papers on Saturday before.  It’s not really a big deal.  Right?

It did feel like a big deal.  I was stuck in my chair all day, reading, checking, marking it down, trying to concentrate.  I got the grades done, and I did go to morning Torah class, but by the time Havdalah rolled around, I was realizing that I really missed out on my Shabbes rest. I really felt it.  By Tuesday, I was asking myself, when’s Shabbes already?  

That one weekend of needing to work on Saturday made me realize that my little Shabbat observance is a real thing. I turned off my email for Shabbes and it was the best click of the week.  It  turns out, I really need that rest every week.  Shabbes is a thing.  You should get some.  During the pandemic… and beyond.

 

 

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz is an associate professor of Communication Disorders and a speech-language pathologist. She serves as a lay service leader and trustee at Temple Beth El of City Island, NY, also known as “your shul by the sea.”

Megillat Covid: Five Offerings for Tisha b’Av

Here are five offerings for Tisha b’Av, each available as its own downloadable PDF. They are intended for both personal and communal use, and can be used singly or all together. Any of them could be read on their own, or as a prelude to Eicha / Lamentations. The final one has been set to Eicha trope.

 

Crying Out by R’ Rachel Barenblat draws on images from the pandemic and asks the question: who will we be when the pandemic is gone? Here is a brief excerpt (you can read the whole piece in the PDF file below):

Lonely sits the city once great with people —
her subways now empty, her classrooms closed.
Refrigerator trucks await the bodies of the dead
wrapped in sheets of plastic and stacked like logs.
Mourners keep a painful distance, unable to embrace…

Along the Lines of Lamentations by R’ Sonja K. Pilz is similar to a cento (a poem that repurposes lines from another poem), as it consists primarily of quotations from Eicha, re-contextualized by their juxtaposition and by this pandemic season. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

We were laid waste (2:5).
We were stripped like a garden;
Ended have Shabbat and festivals (2:6).
Our gates have sunk into the ground (2:9).
Elders sit silently;
Women bow their heads to the ground (2:10).
My eyes are spent;
My being melts away (2:11)….

Jeremiahs without a jeremiad by devon spier offers fragmented lines evoking our fragmented hearts in this time of pandemic. About her contribution, devon writes:

To be used to cultivate an embodied COVID megillah reading that honours the fall of Jerusalem and the ebb and flow of our bodies in the months of the Coronavirus and related social distancing. 

To honour that for those of us with pre-existing conditions (our own frail, flimsy, fabulous humanness, our addictions, chronic health issues, years of unfelt griefs suddenly flung to the surface…each of these), we can wrap our whole selves in the scroll of this weeping day. And we can arrive, just as we are.

I would frame this as a kavannah as lines of ketuvim (lines of poetical post-exilic writings) the speaker can read before beginning chanting to set an intention. Or, the lines of this work could also be read throughout the chanting, as the verses I cite appear throughout the first chapter of Eicha. 

‘V’ha-ikar…” and the essence: Pause for the moments you feel the most human. Feel. And insert the words of this piece exactly where you are. From the lines of this intention and a gentle remembrance on this solemn day where we still face ourselves, our ancestors, our communities and each other, in and beyond, always, with hope: “Jerusalem is me is you.”

Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

lamentations
for those with pages
of unwritten loss
lamenting
Jerusalem
and everything else
they never had
but Are
somehow
we are…

Alas by Trisha Arlin evokes the full journey of Eicha, from weeping for the city in distress to remembrance and the promise of change. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

…Eating, Sleeping, Walking
Alone
TV, Facebook, Prayer
Alone
Coughing, Crying, Dying
Alone

Alas, loneliness!
I am so frightened.
I weep and who will hear me?…

Remember by Rabbi Evan Krame evokes the end of Lamentations, beseeching God to remember us and to let us return. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

God! Remember what we had? Consider and see our situation!
Our future went to strangers, our houses no refuge.
We are like orphans, without a leader, our mothers worry like widows…

Here also is a recording of R’ Krame’s words sung in Eicha trope, recorded by Rabbi Jennifer Singer.

Together these five offerings make up this year’s “Megillat Covid,” the scroll of our mourning and our search for meaning during these pandemic times. Each is available for download as a PDF file here:

MegillatCovid-Barenblat-CryingOut (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Pilz-AlongTheLines (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Spier-Jeremiahs (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Arlin-Alas (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Krame-Remember (PDF) and audio recording by R’ Jennifer Singer:

 

And here’s a sketchnote of R’ Krame’s words, created by Steve Silbert:

 

Contributors:

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is a founding builder at Bayit and author of several volumes of poetry who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi.

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz, PhD is the Editor of the CCAR Press. She taught Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual at HUC-JIR in New York and the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University, and authored one book, some articles, and many poems, midrashim, and prayers. Her work has been published in Liturgy, Worship, the CCAR Journal, a number of anthologies, and online.

Devon Spier is a rabbinic student, an author, and a visual poet theologian (proemologian), who both weaves and teaches others to weave their stories through poems, prose and theology of digital images.

Trisha Arlin is a liturgist, performer and student of prayer in Brooklyn, NY.  She is author of Place Yourself: Words of Prayer and Intention

Rabbi Evan Krame is a founding builder at Bayit and co-founder of The Jewish Studio.

Steve Silbert is the Bayit builder behind VisualTorah and Sketchnoting Jewishly.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Bella Bogart

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Bella Bogart. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ Bella Bogart from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

 

Shalom Javerim,

Es para mí un honor y un placer volver a hablar con ustedes y presentar una corta enseñanza sobre el significado profundo de esta temporada del año en el calendario judío.

Uno de los elementos que une a la gente y a los países del mundo es el uso de un calendario común. Casi todo los países, salvo unos cuantos en África y Asia, usan hoy una forma del calendario gregoriano, ya sea por sí solo (como en los Estados Unidos y Cuba) ya sea en combinación con otro sistema (por ejemplo India, Bangladesh o Israel).

El famoso teologo judío del siglo XX, Rabino Mordejai Kaplan, propuso que el pueblo judío muchas veces vive en dos civilizaciones, con un pie en cada mundo. Nuestro calendario hebreo refleja esa dualidad. Como judíos, somos capaces de celebrar fiestas laicas nacionales y culturales -por ejemplo, el 10 de octubre en Cuba y el 4 de julio en los Estados Unidos- como parte de nuestra cultura y, en tanto judíos, nuestros tiempos asignados, nuestros moadim, fluyen en un ritmo propio. Como nuestros vecinos, nos reunimos para celebrar y adorar, y hay veces que nuestros caminos se separan.

Aqui es útil recordar las formas en las que el calendario espiritual judío es diferente, sin importar donde vivimos.

El calendario laico que la mayor parte del mundo sigue es un calendario solar. Sus fechas están basadas en la posición relativa de la tierra con el sol, y a su vez relativa a las estrellas. Este calendario es de origen cristiano, y fija este año como el año 2020 basado en la vida de Jesús.

El calendario espiritual judío es diferente. En el tiempo judío, este año no es el 2020 sino el 5780, a partir de la narrativa biblica de la creacion, y sus fechas estan basadas en los ciclos de la luna. Dado que los doce meses lunares son ligeramente más cortos que un año solar, ocasionalmente ajustamos el calendario para que las fiestas se alineen con sus estaciones originales.

Ahora, me gustaria hablar de vivir en “tiempo judío” y como los ciclos de nuestro calendario reflejan y promueven el viaje de nuestras almas.

El rabino Jonathan Kliger escribe: “Una forma fabulosa de aproximarse a la sabiduria de la tradición judía es estudiar el ciclo anual de las fiestas y estaciones sagradas. Cada tiempo del año posee un propósito espiritual alineado con los ciclos de la naturaleza. Visto de esta manera, al atravesar todo el calendario judío, nos encontramos con todos los temas de la vida humana experimentando el año entero como una senda espiritual. Esto es lo que llamamos vivir en “tiempo judío”.”

En esta epoca del año, correspondiente grosso modo con el mes laico de julio, los judíos llegamos a un nicho especial dentro del calendario judío. Es un intervalo para procesar la energía de duelo y pérdida, de dolor por la destrucción y la violencia que cargamos con nosotros- antes de movernos hacia el siguiente viaje de curación y renovación de las Altas Fiestas de Rosh Hashana y Yom Kippur.

Este año, Julio comienza en la mitad del mes hebreo de Tammuz y transiciona al mes hebreo de Av. Es durante este tiempo que encontramos el periodo simplemente conocido como “las tres semanas”. Entre el 17 de Tammuz (este año cae el 9 de julio) y Tisha Beav (en este año, el 30 de julio), las tres semanas son tradicionalmente consideradas un tiempo de desventura histórica para el pueblo judío. Muchas tragedias y calamidades se atribuyen a este periodo, incluidas entre otras: la ruptura de las tablas de la ley por Moisés al ver a la gente adorando al becerro de oro, la destrucción de los dos templos de Jerusalén. Más tarde, se añadio a esta lista desventuras como la expulsion de los judíos de España, asi como el comienzo de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Es un tiempo de duelo general.

Mi padre, un refugiado de la Austria de Hitler, solía sollozar y decir: “Oy, shver tsu zain a yid!” (¡Cuán difícil es ser judío!) Yo no me podia conectar con esta afirmación. Y mas concretamente, con relacion a las tres semanas, era dificil para mi encontrar poder o inspiracion en la idea de que el que pueblo judío -o cualquier pueblo- podia ser un imán de tragedia, una victima mundial. De ese modo entendía yo, cuando era joven, lo que decía mi padre.

Mi yo joven sentía que era hora de abandonar esa vieja pesadez, el “fardo” de ese tipo de judaísmo, y en vez centrarme en los aspectos del judaísmo que celebraban y afirmaban la vida. No entendía los ayunos y el llanto, o abstenerse de cortarse el cabello, de afeitarse o de ir a fiestas, solo para lamentar la pérdida de un templo de Jerusalén hace dos mil años. Un templo que muchos de nosotros no querríamos ver restaurado en nuestros tiempos.

Por esto, es un poco sorprendente que con el tiempo haya encontrado un significado tan profundo en la práctica de honrar estas tres semanas. La edad y la experiencia muchas veces nos llevan a nuevos tipos de entendimiento. Este significado profundo es el que quiero compartir con ustedes.

Mi relacion con este periodo de tres semanas en el calendario judío es indicativa de una apreciacion aprendida de TODOS sus ciclos. He aprendido a apreciar como “vivir en tiempo judío” puede enriquecer nuestras vidas. Como individuos y comunidades, hemos sido dotados de un ciclo anual que nos invita a zambullirnos en la amplitud de la experiencia humana. Nos brinda oportunidades de ritualizar nuestras alegrías, al igual que nuestras penas. Al vivir el ciclo anual de “tiempo judío” nos permite sentir y procesar cada año mas profundamente, y a la vez nos conecta con nuestro núcleo divino, con nuestra resiliencia, y tal vez lo mas importante, con nuestra compasion.

Viajamos por el año judío, contando y recontando nuesta historia colectiva como un pueblo judío global, recordando, reviviendo como si todos nosotros estuvieramos en este viaje. ¿Y acaso no lo estamos? Todos experimentamos revelaciones milagrosas, pérdidas desoladoras. Ansiamos nuestra libertad y algunas veces experimentamos redención, revelación. La Torá no es sólo la historia de nuestro viaje colectivo, esta es el mapa de ruta para el alma individual.

Así, cuando observamos, ritualizamos nuestra propia experiencia así como el recordar de nuestro pueblo. Al celebrar nuestras alegrías compartidas y marcando nuestro luto comunitario, entendemos que la nuestra no es una experiencia solitaria. Reconocemos la divinidad presente en los momentos buenos y en los malos. Que la fuente de nuestras bendiciones y dificultades es, últimamente, una y la misma.

Llegamos a entender – no sólo con nuestras mentes sino dentro de nuestros corazones y nuestras almas – que Dios comparte nuestras alegrías y no nos abandona cuando nos sentimos más solos y asustados. Aprendemos y reaprendemos esto para que cuando necesitemos a Dios, sepamos exactamente dónde buscarlo: en Dios y en nuestra conexión global judia.

Que sea así para ustedes. Con bendiciones para todos ustedes.

Shalom.

 

SHALOM CHAVERIM. IT’S MY HONOR AND PLEASURE TO SPEAK WITH YOU AGAIN AND SHARE A BRIEF TEACHING ABOUT THE DEEP MEANING OF THIS TIME OF YEAR ON THE JEWISH CALENDAR.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT UNITES MOST PEOPLE AND COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD IS A COMMON CALENDAR.  ALL BUT A HANDFUL OF COUNTRIES IN AFRICA AND ASIA USE SOME FORM OF THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR, EITHER BY ITSELF (LIKE THE U.S. AND CUBA), OR IN CONJUNCTION WITH ANOTHER SYSTEM (FOR EXAMPLE INDIA, BANGLADESH AND ISRAEL).

THE FAMOUS 20TH CENTURY JEWISH THEOLOGIAN, RABBI MORDECAI KAPLAN, PROPOSED THAT JEWISH PEOPLE OFTEN LIVE IN TWO CIVILIZATIONS, WITH ONE FOOT IN EACH WORLD. OUR HEBREW CALENDAR REFLECTS THAT DUALITY. AS JEWS, WE ARE FULLY ABLE TO EMBRACE SECULAR NATIONAL AND CULTURAL HOLIDAYS – FOR EXAMPLE OCTOBER 10TH IN CUBA AND THE 4TH OF JULY HERE IN THE UNITED STATES –  AS PART OF OUR CULTURE. AND, AS JEWS, OUR DESIGNATED TIMES, OUR MOADIM, FLOW IN A RHYTHM ALL THEIR OWN. LIKE OUR NEIGHBORS, WE GATHER TO CELEBRATE AND WORSHIP; THERE ARE TIMES THEN WHEN OUR PATHS DIVERGE. 

HERE IT’S HELPFUL TO REMEMBER HOW THE JEWISH SPIRITUAL CALENDAR IS DIFFERENT, ANY WHY THAT’S IMPORTANT NO MATTER WHERE WE LIVE.

THE SECULAR CALENDAR THAT MOST OF THE WORLD FOLLOWS IS A SOLAR CALENDAR.  ITS DATES ARE BASED ON THE POSITION OF THE EARTH RELATIVE TO THE SUN, WHICH THEN SEEMS TO MOVE RELATIVE TO THE STARS.  THE CALENDAR IS OF CHRISTIAN ORIGIN, AND DATES THE PRESENT YEAR AS 2020 – YEARS BASED ON THE LIFE OF JESUS.

THE JEWISH SPIRITUAL CALENDAR IS DIFFERENT.  IN JEWISH TIME, THE YEAR IS NOT 2020 BUT RATHER 5780 (FROM THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF CREATION), AND ITS DATES ARE BASED ON CYCLES OF THE MOON. AND SINCE 12 LUNAR MONTHS ARE SLIGHTLY SHORTER THAN A SOLAR YEAR, WE OCCASIONALLY ADJUST TO KEEP OUR FESTIVALS IN ALIGNMENT WITH THEIR INTENDED SEASONS.

NOW – I WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LIVING IN “JEWISH TIME” AND HOW THE CYCLES OF OUR CALENDAR REFLECT AND SUPPORT THE JOURNEY OF OUR SOULS.

RABBI JONATHAN KLILGLER WRITES: “ONE FABULOUS WAY TO APPROACH THE WISDOM OF THE JEWISH TRADITION IS TO STUDY THE ANNUAL CYCLE OF HOLIDAYS AND SACRED SEASONS. EACH TIME OF THE YEAR IS ASSIGNED A SPIRITUAL PURPOSE THAT ALIGNS WITH THE CYCLES OF NATURE… TAKEN AS A WHOLE, WHEN ONE TRAVELS THIS WAY THROUGH THE ENTIRE JEWISH CALENDAR, ONE STRIKES ALL THE THEMES OF HUMAN LIFE, AND ONE EXPERIENCES THE ENTIRE YEAR AS A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY. WE CALL THIS LIVING IN “JEWISH TIME”.

DURING THIS TIME OF YEAR ROUGHLY CORRESPONDING TO THE SECULAR MONTH OF JULY, JEWS REACH A SPECIAL NICHE CARVED INTO THE JEWISH CALENDAR. IT’S AN INTERVAL FOR PROCESSING THE ENERGY OF GRIEF AND LOSS, AND ANY PAIN OF DESTRUCTION AND VIOLENCE THAT WE MIGHT BE CARRYING – PRIOR TO MOVING INTO THE UPCOMING HEALING AND RENEWING JOURNEY TO (AND THROUGH) THE HIGH HOLIDAYS OF ROSH HASHANAH AND YOM KIPPUR.

THIS YEAR, JULY STARTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HEBREW MONTH OF TAMMUZ AND TRANSITIONS INTO THE HEBREW MONTH OF AV. IT IS DURING THIS TIME THAT WE ENCOUNTER THE PERIOD KNOWN SIMPLY AS “THE THREE WEEKS.” BETWEEN THE 17TH DAY OF TAMMUZ (THIS YEAR, JULY 9) AND TISHA B’AV (THIS YEAR, JULY 30), THE THREE WEEKS ARE TRADITIONALLY CONSIDERED TO BE A TIME OF HISTORICAL MISFORTUNE FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE. MANY TRAGEDIES AND CALAMITIES ARE ATTRIBUTED TO THIS PERIOD, INCLUDING AMONG OTHER THINGS, MOSES BREAKING THE FIRST SET OF TABLETS (WHEN HE SAW HIS PEOPLE WORSHIPPING THE GOLDEN CALF), AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TWO HOLY TEMPLES IN JERUSALEM. (LATER, FOLKS CAME TO INCLUDE LATER MISFORTUNES SUCH AS THE EXPULSION OF THE JEWS FROM SPAIN, AND EVEN THE BEGINNING OF WORLD WAR I.  SO, IT’S A TIME OF GENERAL SORROW.)

MY FATHER (A REFUGEE FROM HITLER’S AUSTRIA) OFTEN SIGHED AND PROCLAIMED, “OY, S’SHVER TSU ZAYN A YID! ( IT’S HARD TO BE A JEW!) I DID NOT RELATE.  AND, SPECIFICALLY REGARDING THE THREE WEEKS, IT WAS DIFFICULT FOR ME TO FIND POWER OR INSPIRATION IN THE IDEA THAT THE JEWISH PEOPLE — OR ANY PEOPLE, REALLY — COULD BE A TRAGEDY MAGNET, THE WORLD’S VICTIMS. THAT’S HOW I, AS A YOUNG PERSON, UNDERSTOOD WHAT MY FATHER WAS SAYING.  

BUT TO ME, IT FELT LIKE TIME TO SHED THAT OLD HEAVINESS, THE “BURDEN” OF THAT KIND OF JEWISHNESS, AND REVEL IN ITS CELEBRATORY, LIFE-AFFIRMING SIDE. I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND FASTING AND WEEPING, OR ESCHEWING HAIRCUTS, SHAVING AND PARTIES – ALL TO MOURN THE TWO THOUSAND-YEAR OLD LOSS OF A TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM. A LOSS, BY THE WAY, OF SOMETHING A GOOD NUMBER OF US WOULD NOT WANT TO SEE RESTORED IN MODERNITY.

PERHAPS, THEN, IT’S A BIT SURPRISING THAT I HAVE COME TO FIND SUCH DEEP MEANING IN HONORING THESE THREE WEEKS. AGE AND LIFE-EXPERIENCE OFTEN LEAD US TO NEW KINDS OF UNDERSTANDING.  THIS DEEP MEANING IS WHAT I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU.

MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS THREE-WEEK INTERVAL OF THE JEWISH CALENDAR IS INDICATIVE OF A LEARNED APPRECIATION FOR ALL ITS CYCLES OF TIME. I’VE TRULY COME TO APPRECIATE HOW “LIVING IN JEWISH TIME” CAN DEEPEN OUR LIVES.  AS INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES, WE ARE GIFTED WITH AN ANNUAL CYCLE THAT INVITED US TO DIVE INTO THE BREADTH OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE. IT OFFERS US OPPORTUNITIES TO RITUALIZE OUR JOYS, AS WELL AS OUR SORROWS. LIVING THE ANNUAL CYCLE OF “JEWISH TIME: NOT ONLY ALLOW US TO FEEL AND PROCESS MORE DEEPLY EACH YEAR, IT CONNECTS US WITH OUR DIVINE CORE, OUR RESILIENCY AND, PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT IN TODAY’S WORLD, OUR COMPASSION. 

WE TRAVEL THROUGH THE RITUAL YEAR, TELLING AND RETELLING OUR COLLECTIVE STORY AS A GLOBAL JEWISH PEOPLE, REMEMBERING, RELIVING… AS IF EACH ONE OF US IS ON THAT JOURNEY. AND, ARE WE NOT? WE EXPERIENCE MIRACULOUS REVELATIONS, CRUSHING LOSSES. WE YEARN FOR FREEDOM AND SOMETIMES EXPERIENCE REDEMPTION… REVELATION.  TORAH IS NOT ONLY THE STORY OF A COLLECTIVE JOURNEY, SHE IS A ROAD MAP FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL.  

SO, WHEN WE PRACTICE, WE RITUALIZE OUR OWN EXPERIENCE, AS WELL AS OUR PEOPLE’S REMEMBERING. IN CELEBRATING SHARED JOY AND MARKING COMMUNAL LOSS, WE COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT OURS IS NOT A SOLITARY EXPERIENCE. WE RECOGNIZE AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIVINITY IN MOMENTS, GOOD AND BAD – THAT THE SOURCE OF OUR BLESSINGS AND OUR DIFFICULTIES, ULTIMATELY, IS ONE AND THE SAME. 

WE COME TO UNDERSTAND — NOT JUST UNDERSTAND WITH OUR MINDS, BUT KNOW DEEP IN OUR HEARTS AND SOULS — THAT GOD SHARES OUR JOYS AND HAS NOT ABANDONED US WHEN WE FEEL LOST AND AFRAID. WE LEARN AND RELEARN THIS, IN ORDER THAT WHEN WE NEED GOD THE MOST, WE WILL KNOW EXACTLY WHERE TO LOOK – TO GOD, AND TO THE WHOLE OF OUR GLOBAL JEWISH CONNECTIONS.

MAY IT BE SO FOR YOU.  BLESSINGS TO YOU ALL. SHALOM.

 

By Rabbi Bella Bogart. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Mah Nora HaMakom Hazeh – a chant for (digital) sacred space

One of the challenges of convening a group for prayer over Zoom is shifting gears into sacred space.

How can we sanctify the space where each of us is planted, knowing that as we shelter-in-place during the pandemic, our desks or dining tables or coffee tables serve purposes both secular and sacred? The table from which I’m joining the Zoom call might be the same table where I paid bills an hour ago, or folded laundry, or homeschooled my kid. How can we skillfully make that space feel holy when it’s time for prayer?

And how can we sanctify the placeless place of the Zoom room itself? A Zoom room doesn’t have the comfort or majesty or familiarity of a synagogue. We may associate Zoom spaces with committee meetings and other secular activities, not the sacred purpose of prayer. And a Zoom room isn’t a “place,” exactly, any more than the internet is a “place.” How can we make that “place” holy and fitting to hold a community gathering in prayer?

At a recent digital Shabbaton convened to explore these questions, we used this chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere for both of these purposes. We sang it as a call-and-response. (Participants were muted, but the two of us sang the back-and-forth, inviting the community to sing along with the response half of the chant.) We sang it explicitly to sanctify the physical place from which each of us was calling in and to sanctify the Zoom space.

We used this chant as our melodic and thematic throughline. We sang it at the start of services, during the d’var Torah (The Mishkan’s Next Digital R/Evolution, on this very theme), and again to close the service and seal our time together. The call-and-response linked us together across nine different states and two different countries. And the words reminded us that where we are is holy — where we are in the world and in our homes and in our bodies, and where we are in the space of the internet and our hearts’ interconnection.

 

מה נורא המקום הזה/ Mah nora hamakom hazeh

How awesome is this body!

How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this journey

Through time and space.

 

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, try going to this post directly at yourbayit.org/makom/.)

 

Chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere. Her albums include Wild Earth Shebrew, Halleluyah All Night, Torah Tantrika and This Bliss; find her music at her website.

 

 

Post by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus.

Psalm 27 – a new translation by Rabbi Jamie Arnold

Here’s a new translation of Psalm 27 by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Psalm 27 is traditionally recited daily during Elul, the month leading up to the Days of Awe… though the introspection and teshuvah work that this psalm cues us to do can be a meaningful part of spiritual practice all year long.

 

PSALM 27 – For love’s sake

the courage to live as if… / Bitachon

 

My deepest fear?

The energy illuminating everything

            cannot be seen or named.

When all I see is reflection and refraction,

who am I to be afraid

            of dark or light?

            of seeing, being seen, or not?

 

Silence is the mother of all sounds,

            syllables, names.

When a wisp of breath and unspoken incantation

guards the fortress of my life

            Who shall I fear?

            Which ‘I’ is the one that worries?

 

Fear and worry come fast, consuming my flesh from within,

            thieving me of ease and joy.

If only they would stumble, topple like the walls of Jericho.

For now, they have set up camp, settling in,

            starving head of sense

            and heart of wonder.

If you force upon me this unwanted war,

I will trust in… this, this mystery

            of light and sight, hidden forces

            made visible through masks of refraction.

 

My deepest desire?

One?  If granted one last wish,

this would be my re-quest:

 

To sample sabbath rest

            in the house of wonder

            every living day,

to see with eyes of equanimity and ease

            waking me to each new dawn

            in a palace of delight.

 

Point me north to find shelter from my worst fears

            under a blanket of stars-promising-progeny,

            winking at me through the leafy roof of a succah

Let me hide in the hidden folds of this makeshift shelter,

            tent turned tabernacle, sanctuary erected on

            and protected by a mountain of smooth, solid sandstone.

 

There now.

See my head rise above engulfing echoes of oys and veys

Releasing, sacrificing wants no longer suited for service

Fragmented breaths pressing through parsed lips into a horn

            transforming silent fears into jubilant song. Teruah.

I will sing. Zivchei teruah.

Atonement through attunement.

Shema qoli. Hear my voice

            turning silence to song

Choneini. Fill me with an easy grace

            in the face of my unfulfilled desires

Aneini. Gift me with a humble responsiveness

            to your unmet needs.

 

Your Deepest Desire?

Voice whispers through my heart and says,

            Seek my face.

I will seek your face, the hidden light,

             reflected in every face, revealing light.

Do not let anger distract me from seeing your majestic face

            tucked away in the creases of faces furrowed

            by anger in the face of injustice

            and a fear of being forgotten.

My father, my mother, yours, all beloved

            parental protectors will die.

            time will orphan me if I live that long.

And yet, magnetism prevails, a law of nature

            in-gathering, out-glowing

            showing all the wisdom of your ways

            paths paved by and for service and song

Don’t let worry distort these nefesh-soul, body-based truths

            with false testimonies, hyperboles, and half-truths

            blowhards fermenting fears to safeguard their power.

 

Our Declaration:

Lulei.  What if? What if it were not so?

Doubt. Division. Danger.  Death.  As if!

I choose to live as if I have the courage

            to act in the face of doubt

            to see the hidden connections and blessing

            to belong and be beholden to the living land, eretz chaim.

Together, let us draw new kinds of lines in the shifting sands.

I choose to trust you, to empower you, to re-see you,

            to celebrate your courageous heart, amatz lev

            to reshape this longing in your likeness.

 

Rabbi Jamie Arnold, who serves Congregation Beth Evergreen, is translating the psalms anew and posts his translations periodically at his blog. He participated in Bayit’s first online class for clergy, “Entering the Psalms.” (The next session of that class will begin in late October.)

Being Real, Digital Edition

Once there was a toy rabbit who yearned to become Real. He loved his Boy, and he was loved by his Boy. And when his Boy fell ill, the toy rabbit was his constant companion.

When the Boy recovered, the doctors said the rabbit was contaminated and needed to be burned. In that darkest night, as the rabbit waited, he wept a tear. And from his tear a flower grew, and from within the flower came the Shechinah. She told him that as he had become real to the Boy who loved him, now he would be real to everyone.

Okay, in the original telling it wasn’t Shechinah, it was a fairy. Close enough.

So in this sacred text — which, as you probably know, is a children’s book by Margery Williams called The Velveteen Rabbit, from which my blog takes its name — the way one becomes Real is through loving and being loved… and through the actions fueled by that love, especially accompanying someone into the darkness of illness and loss. That sounds about right to me.

Becoming Real requires empathy. How can we safely feel empathy in these times of pandemic when there are so many reasons to despair? And how do we accompany each other, as the rabbit accompanied his Boy, when we are physically separated or quarantined?

That last question is the easiest for me to answer: we accompany each other however we can. Write a letter, send an email or text, make a phone call, meet over video… If nothing else, hold the other person in your heart and stretch out your soul to connect with theirs.

During this pandemic we’re learning how to be in community even when we are physically alone. On the second night of Pesach, I sat alone with a Zoom screen in front of me — and R’ David and I co-led a seder for our communities, and it felt real. It wasn’t “as-if” — it was really seder. I imagine many of you had similar experiences.

I remember being a child, getting a long-distance phone call from my parents, and feeling amazed that they could be so far away and I could still hear their voices. There was a bit of a lag, as our voices traveled beneath the ocean, but that didn’t matter.

Remember the miracle of long-distance phone calls? Or the first time you ever saw a loved one’s face over video? Or: imagine reading an email and feeling that a loved one is with you. Or reading a blog post that makes you feel understood. Or texting with a friend, carrying their words and their presence on your smartphone throughout the day.

Our vernacular separates between the internet and “RL,” real life. But connections forged or sustained online are real, just as our davenen together tonight is real.

An emotional and spiritual connection — with another; with community; with our Source — can be real no matter what tools we’re using to create or sustain it. The bigger challenge is being real in the first place. The Velveteen Rabbit reminds us that being real requires openness and empathy enough to companion each other in tight places.

Sometimes it’s hard to be real when someone is suffering. It’s hard to sit with someone in their sorrow. The word compassion means “feeling-with” or “suffering-with.” Being real asks us to feel-with each other.

Sometimes our own struggles prevent us from being real. When my son was born I suffered from postpartum depression, but I told my doctor I was fine, because I was ashamed and I didn’t want him to really see me. That fear kept me from being real.

Sometimes it’s hard to be real with God. Because I get trapped in katnut, in my small human mind. Or because the words of inherited liturgy feel empty. Sometimes prayer can feel like a long-distance call where I’m not sure anyone’s picking up on the other end.

But authentic spiritual life asks us to be real. Our prayers aren’t just words on a page, they’re pointers to lived emotional experience. To really pray the words of Ahavat Olam, or to remix them anew, I have to feel unending love streaming into creation.

And, I also have to be careful about how I channel unending love. Authentic spiritual life asks me to open my heart — to my yearnings, to the needs of others, to my Source — and it also asks me to maintain boundaries. In the language of our mystical tradition, it asks me to balance the overflowing love we call chesed with the healthy limits we call gevurah.

Authentic spiritual life asks us to feel-with each other even during pandemic, even during this time of rising awareness of how systemic racism harms Black and Indigenous People of Color, even in times of personal grief. If we refuse to feel with each other, then we break that nourishing human interconnection that is our obligation and our birthright.

We need to feel, without spiritual bypassing, while maintaining a container strong enough to hold safely. This inner structural integrity can help us build systems and structures of integrity in this world that so needs repair. And that includes our Jewish communities, too: we need to be real in order to build a Jewish spiritual future worthy of the name.

And we need to be real for the sake of our own souls. I’ve learned that the flow of creativity requires me to be real: with myself, with God, with you. The posts and poems and prayers that seem to resonate most are ones written from that place. I think they speak to people deeply precisely because they’re real. It’s my responsibility to cultivate sufficient gevurah to write about what’s real in a way that’s safe for me and for my readers.

In seeking to strike that balance, there’s risk — and there’s also reward. As we read in Mishlei, “As water reflects face to face, so the heart reflects person to person.” (Proverbs 27:19) When I’m willing to be real, others are real in return. You meet my honesty with yours, my heart with yours, my words with yours, my prayers with yours.

Reb Zalman z”l used to say that we all have our own unique login to the Cosmic Mainframe. “To log on to God,” he said in 2004, “we need only awareness, because God is there all the time, making your heart beat.” That login is open to us even in quarantine. We just have to be willing to be real at the table, the meditation cushion, the Zoom screen.

And our connections with each other and with community are still open to us even in quarantine. Online life, online davenen, online friendship: these aren’t “virtual reality.” They’re as real as we allow ourselves to be.

 

Offered as a keynote teaching at the 2020 Clear Vision Reb Zalman Legacy Shabbaton at Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland, Oregon — designed to dovetail with the Shabbat morning d’var, given by R’ David Markus, on The Mishkan’s Next Digital (R)Evolution. Reprinted from Velveteen Rabbi.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.

The Mishkan’s Next Digital (R)Evolution

Reb Zalman Memorial Shabbaton 2020

June 13, 2020 • 21 Sivan 5780

מה נורא המקום הזה

How awesome is this body!

How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this journey

Through time and space.

(Chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere.)

Shabbat shalom to all of us together במקום נורא הזה / in this awesome place, to honor Reb Zalman’s living legacy.  Wherever you are, our Zoom spiritual link is part of what Zalman imagined decades ago.  This spiritual space is what today is about.  We’re coming to know digital not as a mere filler for what’s real, but as a real vibrant מקום of its own.  Today is about what that might mean, and what it may ask of us.

Zalman might start us with a paradox about what we know and how we know it.  Zalman famously put it this way:

I start looking ahead … and suddenly I find [that] I am looking through the rearview mirror.  When you ask, “What would the future look like?,” I go into a nostalgic past, a romanticized past, and then go into a tribal thing, and think for a moment, “It would look like that.”  But it’s not going to look like that.  We are on the verge of breakthroughs that are so immense that we can hardly imagine them.  But it pays to imagine them, and it pays to … figure [them] out.

Zalman’s rearview metaphor is about humility.  Maybe Zalman wouldn’t call himself modest – not the guy who urged us all to melitz yosher, spiritual intercession with holy chutzpah.  Still, there’s humility to know that the future won’t look how we imagine it.  Our history refracts future-questing vision so insidiously that usually we end up seeing the rear view of experience as some great vista up ahead.

Thus Torah this week calls Moses האיש אניו מאוד מכל האדם אשר אל פני האדמה / “the earth’s most humble person” (Num. 12:3).  Only such a person could see divinity באספקלריה מאירה / by a clear lens (B. Yevamot 49b) rather than hindsight.  Even more, in this week of Beha’alotecha – which opens with נרות המנורה / the menorah lights of the Mishkan, our first מקום נורא – our haftarah proclaims explicitly what the menorah light  means: לא בחיל ולא בכח כי אם ברוחי אמר יהו”ה / “Not by might and not by power but by My spirit, says [God]” (Zach. 4:6).  All light that we see is reflected light – rearview in all our vision and willful certainty.

Hence our paradox.  If only by anavah, not the might or power of rear-view vision by reflected light, how can we see the future – much less build it?

Zalman had advice on this.  Paradigm shifts like the one we’re in now – can anyone deny the tectonic shifts underfoot? – ask both anavah and holy chutzpah, humility and audacity.  No, the future won’t look how we envision it, but still we must build that future because people, communities and the planet need it now.  So we build what we see, and what gets built itself will end up different.  Fine!

So it’s in both chutzpah and anavah that we reach this Zoomosphere moment.  There’s no going back: yesterday’s “normal” is history, and mere nostalgia will cheat the future.  We must build the future, even if we only see it in the rearview mirror.

Thankfully not everything in the rearview is mere nostalgia.  Our hindsight can trace human spiritual history leading to our Zoomosphere, all of us “log[ging] onto God” exactly where we are, as Rachel quoted Zalman last night.  We might sense that history as the divine flow Itself, and imagine where that flow is leading.  And with some chutzpah, we might tell that story, all of spiritual time from the Beginning, על רגל אחת / “on one foot.”  One story in two acts.  Ready?

In a Beginning, the One created space and time.  Eternal sacred space called Eden ejected humanity; space itself re-booted with a flood of new life.  The One told Avram: lech lecha from ancestral space “to a land I’ll show you” (Gen. 12:1).  Avram raised sacred markers along the way.  Yitzchak “went out to talk [with God] in the field” (Gen. 24:68).  Jacob dreamed an angelic ladder highway: מה נורא המקום הזה / “Right here is the House of God” (Gen. 28:18), forgetting that every right here is, too.  His sons also missed it: cue centuries of bondage building sacred space for Pharaoh.  Freedom!  Sand-blind weeks to camp at history’s most famous sacred place nobody can find.  Two tablets!  Oops; two more tablets!  Build a Mishkan, complete with menorah.  Light it up and follow the cloud.  (That’s this week.)  Too afraid to go where I’ll show you?  In 40 years, a next generation will try again.  Enter the Land.  Build a Temple, with menorah.  Light it up!  Exile 70 years by the waters of Babylon, where we sat and wept remembering Zion.  Go back.  Build a second Temple, with menorah.  Light it up!  Exile.  End of Act One.

Intermission: God won’t be fixed in any one place.  The Sfat Emet (1846-1905) taught that we are God’s menorah, so “the essence of the Mishkan and Temple is that it’s in everyone.  That’s the point of ועשו לי מקדש שוכנתי בתוכם / ‘Make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell in them’ (Ex. 25:8)….  When the Temple stood, all knew that all life came of God,” but this knowledge kept depending on place.  So the Temple had to be destroyed to upshift our search for God from the constraining particularity of any place: “With the Mishkan hidden [in us], God’s presence can be found everywhere.”

Act Two: Sacred space on the go.  The Mishkan’s table became every Shabbat table, learning centers like Sura and Pumbedita, Talmud, shuls, printing presses, books, liturgies, “correct” ways carved by power and custom.  Trade routes, living most anywhere but hearts still in the East.  Exile and inquisition.  Not so much the East: go West.  Enlightenment!  Liberty? Assimilation!  Denominations?  Fractures!  World wars?  Israel!  The nuclear age, the digital age, de-centering of every kind of institution, now a global pandemic bringing us together by separating us.  “With the Mishkan hidden, God’s presence can be found everywhere.”  How about on Zoom?

Rearview vision is good for seeing patterns.  The pattern seems to be that, all along, God used examples of sacred space to teach us cosmology.  Eden, Avraham’s matzevot, Yitzchak in the field, Jacob’s ladder place, Egyptian temples, Sinai, mobile Mishkan, two Temples, post-exile Shabbat tables, houses of learning, shuls – each sacred place was an example to show that מלא כל הארץ כבודו / “the whole Earth is full of God’s glory” (Isaiah 6:3).  But we confused example for essence; as Zalman put it, we “confused the pointer for the point.”  So pointers kept coming.  But rather than get the point, grief aroused nostalgia.  In Zalman’s words from 1993, we venerated each pointer as a holy “relic” rather than a “catalyst for the future.”

And again today.  Many grieve Jewish institutions failing by the day.  Many grieve physical shuls as the pandemic exiles us to our homes.  Now we must make sacred space in our homes – it’s here, or nowhere.  And that was the point all along.

Today’s exile to our homes is no ordinary exile.  It’s an inzile: it turns us in, and it turns us inward.  We’re roused to seek the very thing for which our inzile most cues our yearning – real connection.  And for once, the whole world can start to see the same things.  Now all humanity can experience each place, each home, that way.

In wise words inscribed on rearview mirrors: “Things are closer than they appear.”

Just as the menorah light lifts divine spirit over human might, digital means divine connection everywhere – or, at least, it can.  It’s not automatic: it asks us to transform.  We’re only starting to sense those transformations, and they won’t look quite like what we see.  But anavah balances with chutzpah: we must build our Digital Mishkan.  After kiddush, we’ll explore more about how, including some ideas around bending time if we’re not in the same time zone, and technical points like digital infrastructure, skillful means and a sacred ZoomCorps so nobody’s left behind.

Beyond the technical, Zalman urged “backward compatibility” when possible.  Dig deep, because our ancestors probably laid some foundation stone to anchor us.  And they did: 1,700 years ago, Midrash Tehillim 4:11 ascribed these words to God:

אמר הקב”ה: אני אמרתי כשאתה מתפלל, התפלל בבית הכנסת שבעירך. ואם אתה אינך יכול לילך בבית הכנסת שבעירך, התפלל בתוך ביתך. ואם אין אתה יכול לילך להתפלל, תתפלל על מטתך. ואם אין את יכול לדבר, הרהר בלבך.

God said, “I told you that when you pray, pray in a Beit Knesset in your community.  And if you can’t go to a Beit Knesset in your community, pray in your house.  And if you can’t go to pray, pray in your bed.  And if you can’t speak, meditate in your heart.”

How wise!  A synagogue always was called a Beit Knesset, a place of entering. It’s about entering another state and doing so together – not physically going.  Yet we’re still to “go” somewhere, even if we stay in our “house.”  So it’s about entering, by making an intentional shift where we physically are.

That shift depends on each soul, as it must now because we’re each in our own homes.  Inzile means that we can’t totally outsource to the rabbi, cantor, teacher, guru, yoga instructor or anyone outside.  We never could: only we can experience our space as sacred, but circumstances brings that truth close to home, at home.

Suddenly the only table in the Mishkan that can be sacred is our table, in our home.  If the Mishkan is to have a table sacred for you, only you can make it so.  It’s a radical, profound empowerment: it always was so, but now it hits home, at home.

If a Zoom connection is to be sacred for you, only you can make it so.  Skillful means will help – it’s still a shared medium – but it’s on you to “go” to sacred space by making intentional shifts in the sacred space that is our home.  We’ll harness the senses of embodiment.  We’ll take on ourselves to set our spaces in ways that aren’t routine; to dress for spiritual experience; to silence distracting devices like TVs and phones except for emergencies; to wash ritually before spiritual experience online.

That’s Assiyah, physicality.  In Yetzirah, we’ll accustom emotionally to open by new cues, new tenderizers.  We’re still carbon-based creatures: we evolved to feel, we learned to feel, by feeling other people first.  Our mirror neurons sympathetically resonate with others.  It’s why the physicality of collective gathering opens us emotionally, and it still can.  Our neuroplasticity, evolutionary capacity to rewire, will learn to take in others and cue us to feel deeply together online – but it’ll take time and focus.  It’s why we checked in with faces and bodies during the service.

And over time, we’ll learn how to meet new people digitally.  It can feel easier to go deep online if we already know someone, if digital connection activates the felt sense of pre-existing physical relationships.  That’s good, but can’t be the only way.  As we adapt, digital will feel less like a poor substitute for “real life.”  Digital is real, with real emotions, real spirituality, real prayer, real community, real tzedakah, real voting, real political campaigns.  We’ll get there.

Until then, this time of adjustment asks us to be gentle with each other and ourselves.  Until digital feels fully real, people may feel lonely.  If digital doesn’t hit the spot, we may feel even more isolated for all our so-called digital connectivity.  We may mourn “normal”: that too is our inzile, our turning inward.  These emotions will teach us if we let them, lest we become calcified and brittle.  If we let them, our inner defenses to the tumult of this time will ease and new inner landscapes will open.  Until then, let’s be gentle, take extra time with each other, and take it slow.

In Briyah, in thought, Zalman was right: we see the future in the rearview mirror.  However sure our vision, it won’t “look like that.  We are on the verge of breakthroughs that are so immense that we can hardly imagine them.  But it pays to imagine them, and it pays to … figure [them] out.”  That’s part of what we’re doing here – sandboxing, trying, testing, adjusting and trying again.

Wise spiritual building isn’t like how I cook pasta – throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.  Serendipity, yes, but not avant garde to be different for its own sake.  It’s not doing what we want just because we want it, without the healthy gevurah of standards, ethics and external accountability for them.  The collectivity and stakes of this moment, for the Jewish future and the whole world, ask better than that.

Digital is good for that.  Digital allows collaboration across most every divide in ways that can hasten the necessary re-ordering of systems.  It allows fast feedback, democratized, from everyone.  It generates more data and helps us ask for it and use it.  It will reward people, groups and systems that do.  And that is good: insist on it.

In Atzilut, in essence, divine cosmology is as it’s always been: מלא כל הארץ כבודו / “the whole Earth is full of God’s glory.”  Finally, finally, our inzile might teach us that every place is sacred space.  “With the Mishkan hidden [within us], God’s presence can be found everywhere.”  The Mishkan is where you are.  It always was. The menorah is within you.  It always was.  Light it up, and follow the cloud.  It will lead you if you let it.  It will lead us if we let it.  It always has.  It always will.

מה נורא המקום הזה

How awesome is this body!

How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this journey

Through time and space.

 

Offered as a keynote teaching at “An Emerging Judaism: A Global Digital Convening,” the Digital Reb Zalman Memorial Shabbaton organized by Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland, Oregon. Designed to dovetail with R’ Rachel’s keynote, Being Real: Digital Edition.

 

 

By Rabbi David Markus.

 

A New Melody for Gratitude

From founding builder Rabbi Bella Bogart comes this new setting for Modah Ani, the morning gratitude prayer. She writes:

Modeh Ani, meaning “I give thanks,” is a morning prayer traditionally sung or recited by Jews before rising from bed. It offers thanks to God for restoring a person’s soul when she awakens. The prayer highlights God’s mercy and trust in giving a soul back to a person to greet a new day, because Jewish tradition teaches that a soul departs from a person during sleep and returns in the morning.

Modeh Ani encourages me to recall entering a sacred covenant with God and to recall God’s trust in choosing me to help mend our broken world amidst the chaos of a new day. When my “soul” returns to me, my conscience and awareness also return, reminding me that I have the capacity and responsibility to build good relationships and healthy communities.

“I am grateful before You, living and enduring God, that you have mercifully restored my soul to me. Great is Your faithfulness!”

R’ Bella uses feminized God-language and names God as Breath of Life: modah ani l’fanayich, ruach ha’olam / she-he-che-zart bi nishmati b’chemla, rabbah emunatech. If you prefer masculine God-language and naming God as Sovereign / King, this melody also works well with the traditional words: modah/modeh ani l’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam / she-he-che-zarta bi nishmati b’chemla, rabbah emunatecha.