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.

Seeking Submissions for Jewish Doorways

A contest for heart, spirit, and mind. We are expanding JewishDoorways, with more entryways to making life events meaningful. We’d love for you to be a part of this project. Each “doorway” for a life event includes several elements: texts, psalms, poems, prayers and songs.  We welcome contributions of a poem, a song, a text, a prayer, or a psalm for any of the 12 life events on Doorways (e.g. “Welcoming Children,” “Growing Up,” “B. Mitzvah,” etc — see the whole list here.)

Gather or create the elements of a ritual to make this time memorable. Give source attribution if what you’re sharing is not original work. Remember, our audience varies. Some might not be proficient in Hebrew while others are scholars.  Yet, everyone needs rituals to sanctify their life’s journey. Submit your new “doorway.” If we add it to the website, we’ll uplift and promote your work on social media and we’ll send you a check for $180.

Email submissions to evan.krame@gmail.com. We look forward to reading your work!

 

 

Rabbi Evan Krame

Ashrei á la the Dalai Lama

This variation on the Ashrei uses quotations from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to articulate the themes of the Ashrei. Like the classical Ashrei, it is an alphabetical acrostic, and it’s singable to the same melodies as the Hebrew. When you reach the “R” line, pause and listen for a few moments during the ellipses. 

 

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

 

Account for the fact that great love /and great achievements involve great risk.

But when you lose at something you attempted / don’t lose the lesson.

Chart by the three R’s: / Respect for self, Respect for others and Responsibility.

Don’t forget that not getting what you want / is sometimes a stroke of luck.

Each time you realize you’ve made a mistake / take immediate steps to correct it.  

Friendships include differences / don’t let a dispute injure a relationship.

Genuine friends will stand by you / whether you are successful or unlucky. 

Happiness is not something ready made. / It comes from your own actions.

In disagreements deal only with the current situation. / Don’t bring up the past.

Judge success by what you gave up / in order to get what you wanted.

Keep an open heart / everyone needs to be loved.

Love and compassion are necessities. / Without them, humanity cannot survive.

Maintain a sincere attitude / be concerned that outcomes are fair

Nurture a loving atmosphere in your home / it is the foundation for your life.

Open your arms to change /  but don’t let go of your values.

Please be gentle with the earth / it’s the only planet we have.

Quit complaining about others / and spend more time making yourself better.

Remember that silence . . . / . . . is sometimes the best answer.

Share your knowledge wisely. / It is a way to achieve immortality.

Twice or even once a year / go someplace you’ve never been before.

Understanding for others / brings the tranquility and happiness we seek.

Verify your understanding /  but don’t forget to believe and have faith.

We all need some time alone / make room for you each and every day.

X-ray vision doesn’t exist / but seeking the truth is a good start.

You are not alone / God made all of us unique but not special.

Zero in on what matters / and start each day with loving yourself.

 

וַאֲנַֽחְנוּ נְבָרֵךְ יָהּ, מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם, הַלְלוּיָהּ. / Vaanachnu n’vareich Yah me’atah v’ad olam, hal’lu-Yah!

(And we will bless the Name of God now and forever, hallelujah!)

Edited / curated by Rabbi Evan Krame.

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.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from 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.

 

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


Shalom a mis hermanos y hermanas cubanos de Klal Yisrael, nuestra familia global judía que, cada dia, se siente más como una familia – a pesar de la distancia.

Espero y rezo que este mensaje los encuentre sintiéndose saludables, fuertes, resistentes y seguros.

La vista desde mi casa en Nueva York es muy diferente a la de hace un año.   Hace un año, me deje llevar y pensé que el mundo era un lugar más seguro y saludable de lo que verdaderamente es.   El coronavirus ha cambiado, para siempre, como yo veo el mundo, mi comunidad y toda comunidad.

Yo puedo imaginar algunas de las imágenes que el coronavirus — y también, las protestas, han traído a sus televisores y a sus dispositivos digitales.   Puedo sentir algunas de las experiencias que estos cambios globales han traído a sus tiendas, a sus familias y a sus barrios: más escásez, más racionamiento, mas penuria.

En la penuria,y tambien en las protestas, tornamos los unos a los otros.   Esta es la manera cubana de hacer esas cosas.   Es como los judios de Cuba han sobrevivido el “periodo especial” y toda adversidad – natural o humana – tanto antes como después.

Honrar nuestra humanidad esencial – y tornar a los demás de una causa colectiva – es una lugar común cubano que muchos norteamericanos olvidan a menudo.   Si bien hemos caído en la tentación de vernos como entes separados — los unos de los otros – el coronavirus nos está enseñando, una vez más, que  estamos interconectados.

El mundo necesita aprender esta lección en lo más profundo de nuestras almas, y, en el alma de nuestras sociedades.   Es una importante lección — y una lección, por demás, muy judía.

El judaísmo nos enseña que, a veces, sólo un cambio radical de perspectiva puede hacernos ver esta verdad y otras verdades fundamentales.   Hay tiempos en la vida, tan fuertes, que lo cambian todo.   En cada vida – en sus vidas y en la mía propia – hay momentos personales que nos transforman hasta el tuétano.   Estos momentos de transformación también son aquellos en los que sentimos más empatía, y esto no es una coincidencia.   Es una verdad espiritual fundamental.

La época del coronavirus no es solamente un época personal: es un momento global, es un momento para toda la humanidad.   Estos momentos cambian civilizaciones enteras, y suceden más infrecuentemente que nuestros momentos personales de cambio – pero igual suceden, ciertos como el flujo de la historia misma.

Justamente la semana pasada, el pueblo judio celebró uno de estos momentos colectivos.   Shavuot, la fiesta de la entrega de la Torá, es el aniversario en la tradición judía del momento en que Moisés y el pueblo de Israel estuvieron juntos en el Monte Sinaí.   La Torá describe que Moisés, y el pueblo, estaban juntos k’ish ejad – como una sola persona – pues solo así podrían recibir los Diez Mandamientos.   Unidos, como si fueran una misma persona, vieron el humo del Monte Sinaí.   Unidos como si fueran una persona, sus sentidos tan confundidos que literalmente vieron el trueno: contemplaron con sus propios ojos las palabras de Dios.

Este momento fue tan confuso que cambio la historia para siempre.   El judaismo, el cristianismo, el islam, el flujo del espíritu, el flujo de la historia misma — todo se remonta ultimamente al Monte Sinaí.

Ésta es una de las grandes contribuciones al mundo — no sólo la Torá, no sólo los Diez Mandamientos, no sólo las reglas del ético vivir – sino también la idea radical de que un momento de cambio de visión: cuando es compartida por todos, puede cambiarlo todo.

En el calendario judío, esto sucedió la semana pasada.   Hecho y cumplido.   La próxima gran fiesta es Rosh Hashaná en unos cuantos meses. – Y entonces, ¿ahora qué?

Tal vez, la lección más grande del judaísmo no es que los Diez Mandamientos hayan sido dados en una explosion de luz y amor en el Monte Sinaí, sino que la Torá no terminó – ahí en ese momento.   Después del Monte Sinaí hubo una gran travesía hacia adelante: ¡Hay más libros de la Torá de Moisés que ocurren después del Monte Sinaí que antes de este!

Esto nos enseña que nuestra Torá, y nuestro judaísmo, no son sólo colecciones de grandes momentos.   La Torá fue puesta en nuestras manos, por toda la posteridad, para cargarla y cumplirla dia tras dia, dondequiera que nos lleve la vida.

Esta es la lección profunda del ese mes que sigue a Shavuot. Es nuestra responsabilidad vivir estos valores, orgullosos de nuestra herencia, pero sin conformarnos con el heroísmo y las luchas de nuestros ancestros.   No se trata del pasado sino del ahora: la humanidad necesita de todo nuestro ejemplo de amor, de empatía y de conexión – no sólo en las fiestas, sino cada dia.

Ustedes fueron ejemplos claros de estos principios – para mí y mi comunidad de Nueva York cuando visitamos Cuba el otoño pasado.   Fue tangible, y muy especial para nosotros. Los judios de Cuba cambiaron para siempre nuestra manera de ver el mundo.   Sospecho que la experiencia no fue tan especial para ustedes, ya que está es su naturaleza día a día.

Ustedes son la prueba del principio judio de que la vida judía es más que fiestas.   Es el amor, la benevolencia, la compasión, y la empatía que nos mostramos los unos a los otros todos los días.   Estas son las grandes joyas de la Torá: amar al prójimo como a nosotros mismos, particularmente cuando esto es difícil.   Es está empatía, nuestra identidad y destino compartidos, que nos ayudarán a cumplir la Torá en nuestros días, durante este momento en que el coronavirus está transformando el mundo.

De mi corazón al de ustedes, les envio bendiciones de resiliencia y salud – y – de todo aquello que necesitamos para vivir estos valores eternos en un mundo que los necesita y nos necesita a todos.

Shalom Javerim.   


Shalom to my Cuban sisters and brothers among Klal Yisrael, our global Jewish family that feels ever more like a family even across the span of distance.  I hope and pray that this message finds you feeling healthy, strong, resilient and safe.

The view from my home in New York feels so different from this time last year.  This time last year, I let myself believe that somehow my world was safer and healthier than it actually was.  The coronavirus changed forever how I see the world, my community and every community.

I imagine some images that the coronavirus – and now the protests – have brought to your televisions and digital news feeds. I can sense some experiences that global shifts are bringing to your stores, families and neighborhoods – more shortages, more regulations, more hardship.

In hardship, we turn to each other.  It’s the Cuban way.  It’s how the Jews of Cuba survived the “special period” and every adversity – natural and human – both before and since.

Honoring our essential humanity – and turning to each other in common cause – is a Cuban truism that we Americans too often forget. If ever we are tempted to regard ourselves as separate from each other, the coronavirus is teaching us yet again how interconnected we are.

The world needs to learn that lesson deeply in our own souls, and in the souls of our societies.  It’s an important lesson — and a very Jewish lesson at that.

Judaism teaches that the more people empathize with each other — the more our lives feel connected on the inside — the more we and our world can heal its rifts and injustices. Empathy is the felt sense that what happens to you happens to me. Empathy grows in shared experience and in knowing deeply that our fate is intertwined.

Judaism also teaches that sometimes only a radical change of perspective can help us see these and other fundamental truths.  Times in life come that are so big that suddenly they change everything.  Into each life, into your lives and my own, come those personal moments that transform us to our core.  Those transformation moments happen also to be the moments that we most feel our empathy – and it’s no coincidence.  It’s core spiritual truth.

This coronavirus moment isn’t only a personal moment: it’s a global moment, a moment for all humanity.  Moments that shift whole civilizations come more rarely than our own individual moments, but they come as sure as the flow of history itself.

Just last week, Judaism celebrated one of those collective moments.  It was Shavuot, the festival of receiving Torah, Jewish tradition’s anniversary of the moment when Moses and the Children of Israel stood together at Mount Sinai.  Torah recounts that they stood together k’ish echad — like one person – for only together could they receive the Ten Commandments.  Together as one, they saw Sinai smoke.  Together as one, their senses were so scrambled that they actually saw thunder: they saw the words of God.

That moment was so scrambling that it changed history forever.  Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the flow of spirit, the flow of history itself — they all trace back through Sinai.

It’s one of Judaism’s great contributions to the world — not just Torah, not just the Ten Commandments, not just rules for ethical living – but also the radical idea that a single moment of changed vision, shared together as one, can change everything.

On the Jewish calendar, that was last week — over and done.  The next major holiday is Rosh Hashanah months ahead.   So what now?

Maybe Judaism’s greatest teaching isn’t that the Ten Commandments were given in a burst of light and love on Mount Sinai, but rather that Torah didn’t end right then and there.  After Sinai there was a great journey ahead: far more of Torah’s Five Books of Moses come after Sinai than before!

We learn that our Torah, and our Judaism, aren’t about big moments only.  Torah was given into our hands for all of time to come – to carry and fulfill day after day, wherever life take us.

That is the deep meaning of this month following Shavuot.  It is on us to live those values, proud of our heritage but not resting on the heroism and struggles of our ancestors.  It’s not about then but about now: humanity needs every example of love, empathy and interconnection that we can offer — not just on holidays but every day.

You exemplified those principles to me and my community in New York, when we visited Cuba last autumn.  It was palpable and very special to us.  The Jews of Cuba changed forever how we see the world.  I suspect it all felt far less special to you, because it’s how you are.

You prove the Jewish principle that Jewish life is more than festival days.  It’s about the love, kindness, compassion and empathy we show each other every day.  These are the great jewels of Torah — to love another as we love ourselves, even when it’s difficult.  It is empathy, our shared identity and shared fate, that will help fulfill Torah in our own day, in this coronavirus moment now transforming the world.

From my heart to yours, I send blessings for resilience and health, and for all that we need to live these timeless values in a world that needs them — and needs us all.  Shalom chaverim.

By Rabbi David Markus. Translation by Rabbi Juan Mejia.