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.

 

A Psalm for Zoom

Here’s another resource for sanctifying the placeless place and sacred space of a Zoom room or other digital gathering space. This could be used as part of communal prayer over Zoom, or as a personal meditation before a Zoom meeting or class. 

 

A Psalm for Zoom

Zoom
Normally, that means karooming
From one thing to another.
Now it means the opportunity to stop;
To connect with community
From distant rooms
To be here and Jerusalem and Sacramento
All at once.
To be still in meditation
And active in thought and creation
Singing with others while alone on my couch.
I am grateful that even in separation we can be together.
You who rule all time and space
Join together with us in this moment.
Help us to feel joined in You
And to know with You
We are never alone.

 

 

By Rabbi Susan Gulack.

Having Something Graceful to Say / Graceful Masculinity: Devarim

 

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן:  בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין-פָּארָן וּבֵין-תֹּפֶל, וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת–וְדִי זָהָב.

These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel, across the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Plain, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Laban, and Hazeroth and Di-zahab. (Deuteronomy 1:1)

 

The book of Deuteronomy consists almost entirely of one exceedingly long speech delivered by Moses at the end of his life. The speech is so long that Midrash Tanchuma reports the Israelites saying, “Yesterday you said ‘I’m not a man of words”, and now you have SO much to say!”1

The people listen to all of Moses’ words. And as we read Deuteronomy between now and Simchat Torah, we listen as well. Moses does have a lot to say, and much of it is a rebuke to the Israelites for their misbehavior during the previous forty years. In our own time of great division and non-communication, we can learn a lot from Moses’ unifying final words.

Moses’ wordiness here appears out of character. In Egypt, Aaron was the talker and Moses described himself as having sealed lips (aral sefatayim). Yet over the course of their journey through the wilderness, Aaron has learned to be silent (Leviticus 10:3) and Moses has learned to speak. Rashi, on the famous verse in Ecclesiastes 3:7 “there is a time to be silent and a time to talk,” references Aaron and Moses, in that order. Each leader was able to expand beyond their natural tendency when the time called for it.

Moses’ speech begins on the first day of the month of Shvat, just 36 days before his death.2 Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Pentateuch, is called the Mishnah Torah by the Rabbis. It’s name, משנה, can be parsed מ’ שנה – forty years. This marks the fact that 40 years have passed since Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and the children of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. It also alludes to the 40 generations from Moshe to Rebbe Yehudah HaNassi, who redacts the Mishna that becomes the basis of our Talmud.3

The letter מ is also the first and last letter of the Oral Law. The first mishnah in the first tractate begins with the word מאימתי and the last word of the last tractate ends with the word שלום.  (me’amatai and shalom). The two מ’s together have the numerical value of 80 which corresponds to the Hebrew letter פ – peh, the mouth. This book is understood as the Torah Sheba’al Peh, the Oral Torah, in that Moshe is teaching the Divine word differently than in the first four books.4 (Notably, in his retelling, some things are different than the first time around.)

Just as it was necessary for everyone to be united by the revelation at Sinai, here also it is essential for the community to be unified in hearing Moses’ words. Rav Wolfson in his work Emunat Atich explains that all of Israel needed to be present at the same time, not just to hear Moses, but also to teach and learn from each other.5 The letter ל / lamed appears at the end of each word in the phrase אל כל ישראל, (al kol Yisrael, “to all of Israel”) and that letter  ל is the root of the word לימוד / limud, meaning learning.

Today we often place ourselves in siloed, self-selected groups with the goal of having easy conversations with like-minded people. In contrast, Moses gathers all of the people, all together, for a difficult conversation. Rashi, citing the Sifrei, explains why it is crucial that everyone be present at the same time: if some folks were in the marketplace during Moses’ speech they would claim that had they been there, they could have refuted Moses. Moses speaks to everyone, engaging them with an opportunity for each individual to disagree and speak up if they choose.

The Zohar6 attributes Moshe’s success to his chein (grace) and connects him to the verse in Psalms 45:3 “grace is poured upon your lips”. The distinction between lips and speech is significant. The mystics7 observe five distinct body parts integral to speech: the (1) throat, (2) palate, (3) tongue, (4) teeth, and (5) lips. Of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, only 4 letter sounds are articulated by the lips.8

The Sefas Emes9notes that lips are unusual in that they serve two speech functions. They both create sound, and prevent sound from leaving the mouth. Moshe uses his lips expertly. He speaks when he has something to say and is silent when he does not. 

The Sefas Emes also understands the two lips as working in counterpoint together. He says the lips allude to Moses and Aaron; and later, Hillel and Shammai. The two lips also represent different attributes. Silence is din (judgement) and talking is rachamim (mercy). The Written Torah represents strictness of the law, while the Oral Torah represents mercy and compassion.10

Compassionate speech doesn’t mean indulging in one’s own desire to talk, but rather creating opportunities for people to truly hear what needs to be said. Moses’ authenticity of being, reliability of presence, and consistency of selflessness allow the words that come from his heart to enter the hearts of others. Like Moses, we must lead with love, and learn from each other.

 

Discussion questions:

 

How can we determine when we should speak and when be silent?

Is it ok to rebuke someone for doing something we ourselves do?

When someone isn’t likely to listen to what we have to say, should we still say it?

Why might the Hebrew word for “thing” דבר – davar, be the same word for speech, debar?

 


1. Tanchuma 2

2. אלה = ל”ו

3. Megaleh Amukos 246

4.Zohar Genesis 28:10

5. This is reflected in talmudic discussion about the proximity of teaching; even though some don’t learn from the juxtaposition of verses, in the first four books, here they do.

6. Parshas Bo

7. Sefer Yetzirah 2:3

8. בומ”פ

9. Succos 654-6

10.עיין ספר הזכות: לא איש דברים אנכי ס”ת שמאי, הוא יהיה לך לפה ר”ת הילל

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

 

Contemporary shiviti by Steve Silbert

A shiviti is a visual tool designed to aid Jewish meditation, either as a prelude to liturgical prayer or as a contemplative practice all its own. (Learn more at this shiviti page at OpenSiddur.) The name shiviti comes from Psalm 16:8, שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָ”ה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִי / shiviti YHVH l’negdi tamid, “I place God before me always.” Steve Silbert has created a contemporary shiviti inviting the person who is praying to look inward.

 

By Steve Silbert.

Announcing Holy at Home

Many communities face Days of Awe this year that will be streamed / Zoom-based, rather than in person. This will be a High Holiday season like no other we’ve known.

Bayit: Building Jewish creates, refines, and uplifts meaningful tools for “building Jewish.” In this pandemic time, when so many are confined to home, we heard that many communities need a set of editable machzor slide decks, designed for meaningful and interactive Zoom services.

Enter Holy at Home, an editable set of machzor slide decks available in return for a donation to Bayit. (Information on that below — or you can jump directly to How To Receive The Editable Slides.) We titled the slide decks Holy at Home because that’s the work of this time: sanctifying the place where we are, wherever we are. They are adapted from Days of Awe, a curated machzor text designed for use across and beyond the denominational spectrum.

About Holy at Home

This is the first slide in the first slide deck.

Holy at Home is a set of six powerpoint slide decks:

  • Erev Rosh Hashanah (interweaving Ma’ariv / the evening service with the Sefardic custom of a seder for Rosh Hashanah),
  • Rosh Hashanah morning,
  • Kol Nidre,
  • Yom Kippur morning with Yizkor,
  • Yom Kippur afternoon (Avodah and Mincha), and
  • Ne’ilah.

All are editable, so each community can customize in ways that will meet their needs.

Much of what’s in these six slide decks comes from Days of Awe, the machzor that I curated and released some years ago via my blog Velveteen Rabbi. If you’ve been using Days of Awe, you’ll recognize a lot of what’s here — Hebrew and English, readings and prayers, tradition and creative riffs on tradition, poetry and artwork, translations and transliterations. That said, the original material from Days of Awe has also been adapted and improved for these slide decks in a variety of ways:

  • We’ve made many typo fixes;
  • Every word of Hebrew is now transliterated and translated;
  • There are full-color images adorning most slides, because that’s possible via slides in a way it was not possible in print;
  • I’ve steered away from prayer variations or settings that are rounds, or that work primarily because of harmony (given that it’s not possible to sing simultaneously over Zoom);
  • And there are also a lot of new things added to these slide decks — new liturgies, new poems, new illustrations, new approaches to Haftarah — that aren’t in the book.

Our team is continuing to proofread for misplaced nekudot, and if we find errors, we commit to fixing them by August 15 and will share updated slides as needed. We’re releasing the slide decks now to give you maximum time for dreaming and adapting. (We’ve also released a few “expansion packs” / updates  — for instance, version 1.0 didn’t include a a shofar service for second day Rosh Hashanah, but we added that among other things in version 1.2; we’re now up to version 1.5.)

The slide decks offer multiple choices to those who lead prayer. For some prayers, there are multiple options — e.g. three versions of Ahavat Olam, two variations on the Amidah, three versions of Aleinu. Once you donate and receive a download link for the slide decks, you can copy the slide decks, choose which option you want to use for any given prayer, and delete the other slides. And because every word of the Hebrew, English, and transliteration is editable, you can adapt or change the slides as needed.

How to Preview

Here’s a link to a folder on google drive that contains six PDF files of the slides. This is so you can page through them and see what’s in them. (Edited to add: we are aware that some of the slides in the PDF decks display lines of Hebrew as though they run over / appear on top of English words. This is a problem with the PDFs only and is not the case with the powerpoint decks, we promise!)

How to Receive the Editable Slides

If what’s here meets your needs, then we ask for a donation. Suggested donation is $360; if you serve a community of more than 200 families, we suggest $720; donations of up to $1000 are welcome; and if you truly can’t afford the $360, let us know.

Donations can be made here. (Please indicate that the donation is for the machzor.)

Once we receive your donation, we’ll send you a link to a different folder on google drive from which you can copy the six slide decks (in .pptx / PowerPoint format) and then adapt them as needed. Please bear with us; this process is not automated, and there may be delays if our bookkeeper is away from their desk or if I am away from mine. We will get the slides to you as quickly as we can.

The PowerPoint slide decks can be opened and edited in PowerPoint, in Keynote, or in Google Slides.

For those who want more information about what’s in the slide decks, read on!

More About What’s Inside

  • The erev Rosh Hashanah slide deck interweaves Ma’ariv with the Sefardic custom of a Rosh Hashanah seder. We’re doing a Ma’ariv + seder in my community because seder is an experience we’re accustomed to having at home, and that felt to us like a good doorway into this high holiday season which we’ll be celebrating from home. If that feature doesn’t suit you, you can delete those slides from your copy of the slides. 
  • The erev Rosh Hashanah slide deck also includes more of Kabbalat Shabbat than is in most machzorim. (Again, if this doesn’t meet your needs, you can delete those slides.)
  • There are creative versions of the Haftarah readings for each holiday. 
  • The Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur morning Torah readings are not there — there’s a slide that says “Torah TBD” — because we are all grappling with how best to manage Torah service from home. (Will we do a full Torah reading? Will we do a discussion? Will we engage with the text in some other way?) I trust each community top make their own choices about Torah.
  • I know that some communities may do an abbreviated Amidah, or something silent / contemplative. Others may want or need full-text. I’ve discovered that it’s impossible to page through silent Amidah prayers at the right pace for everyone. Therefore, for the silent evening Amidah on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there’s a single slide that lists the themes of the prayer, as a guide to silent contemplation, and there is a downloadable file in google drive contains the full text so that those who wish can daven at their own pace silently.
  • For the morning Amidah, there is a one-slide meditative option (a list of the prayer’s themes, for silent contemplation) and also a 20-slide full-text Amidah option for davening aloud. If you prefer, you can delete the Amidah slides and just use the downloadable PDF — or do something entirely different that works for your kahal.
  • For the silent Yizkor memorial prayers there is also a downloadable google doc so that people can move through those silent prayers at their own pace. 
  • The slide decks include work from Yehuda Amchai z”l, R’ Rachel Barenblat, R’ Leila Gal Berner, Leah Goldberg z”l, R’ Jeff Goldwasser, Sandy Haight,  R’ Burt Jacobson, Rodger Kamenetz, Jane Kenyon z”l, R’ Riqi Kosovske adapting R’ Joseph Meszler, R’ Evan Krame, Anna Kronick, R’ David Markus, Stephen Mitchell, R’ David de Sola Pool z”l, Rick Recht,  Len Radin, R’ Jack Riemer, R’ Rami Shapiro, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l, Rav Kohenet Taya Ma Shere, Steve Silbert, Herman Taube, and R’ Shohama Wiener.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We hope these tools will be useful to you.

ADDENDUM: If there are things missing that you’d like to see in these slides, let us know. As of July 15, Rosh Hashanah morning has been updated (to version 1.2) as follows:

  • added a full shofar service for second day Rosh Hashanah
  • added an aleinu after shofar service
  • added a Hineni
  • added a short ashrei to psukei d’zimrah
  • added a long ashrei in English to psukei d’zimrah
  • added full Hebrew and transliteration to Yishtabach
  • added Yotzer Or in Hebrew, English, and transliteration
  • added full birchot hashachar

As of July 30, the slide decks have been updated again (to version 1.3) as follows:

  •  updated the Rosh Hashanah candle blessing
  • added HaYom Ta’amtzeinu to Yom Kippur morning
  • added We Are As Clay / Ki Hineh KaChomer to Kol Nidre
  • added Ahavah Rabbah in full to Rosh Hashanah morning (can also be used on Yom Kippur morning)
  • added a creative haftarah (Mary Oliver poem) to Rosh Hashanah morning for second day
  • added Janowski Avinu Malkeinu to Rosh Hashanah morning for second day

As of August 3, we are now sharing version 1.4. In this update:

Update 1.4:

  • added a full alphabetical acrostic Al Chet to Kol Nidre (slides can be copied and used in other YK services also)
  • added full Torah service on R”H morning (slides can be copied and used on YK also)
  • added Ps 148 to RH morning
  • added a verse of America the Beautiful as a Prayer For Our Country on RH morning
  • added Healer of the Broken Hearted as an alternate Mi Sheberach on RH morning
  • added Pure Heart / Psalm 51:12 to Psukei on R”H morning
  • added Lulei He’emanti to RH eve
  • added Vayechulu to RH eve
  • added Mikolot Mayim Rabim to R”H eve
  • added full text of El Adon to R”H morning
  • added V’hasheivota as an additional Aleinu option in R”H evening (can easily be used elsewhere also)
  • added Min HaMeitzar to Kol Nidre

As of August 9, we are now sharing version 1.5. In this update:

Update 1.5:

  • added Torah service materials to YK morning
  • added We Are Opening before Shema in KN
  • added Lemaancha / For Your Sake to YK morning
  • added prayer for Israel and prayer for our country to YK morning
  • added a new three-part Al Chet in English with Hebrew refrain (one slide each dedicated to inner work, pandemic, racism)
  • added a bit of Ps 27 after birchot ha-shachar
  • added If It Be Your Will to Y”K morning
  • added a new “Who will choose…” reading to Unetaneh Tokef for YK morning

 

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Coming Closer Through Protest / Graceful Masculinity – Balak

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

וַיִּשָּׂ֥א מְשָׁל֖וֹ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר נְאֻ֤ם בִּלְעָם֙ בְּנ֣וֹ בְעֹ֔ר וּנְאֻ֥ם הַגֶּ֖בֶר שְׁתֻ֥ם הָעָֽיִן׃

He declaimed his parable and said: ”The words of Bilaam son of Beor, the words of the man who is shetum ha-ayin .” (Numbers 24:3)

 

Bilaam, the famous Midianite prophet, is described as shetum ha-ayin, understood by some commentaries as sharp-sighted, and by others as half-blind. Indeed, what Bilaam sees and does not see is critical to his appraisal of the people of Israel. 

At first, never having laid eyes on Israel, he agrees to try and curse them. Later, having caught a glimpse of Israel, he is moved to bless them. Then gazing on them fully, he blesses them so powerfully that his words become the start of our daily prayers – mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, how goodly are your tents, Jacob.

This trajectory is what we always hope for – that when we know each other better, we will be less prejudiced and more loving. The Torah is filled with examples of how it is easier to hate from afar. Joseph’s brothers see him from a distance and it is then that they plot to get rid of him. Esav wants to kill Jacob when he is not with him, but then when he actually confronts him he embraces and kisses him. 

Yet Bilaam is not understood by our tradition as an example of successful bridge-building. His prophecies, though gorgeous, are understood to lead to Israel’s subsequent sin at Shittim. As the midrash in Devarim Rabbah 1:2 explains:

One who protests/reproves a person will afterward find more grace than one who speaks with a smooth tongue (Proverbs 28:23)

One who protests/reproves – this is Moses . . .

Find more graceas it is said, You have found grace in My eyes (Exodus 33:12)

Than one who speaks with a smooth tonguethis is Bilaam who flattered Israel with his prophecies and their hearts filled with hubris and they sinned in Shittim.

Although Bilaam sees Israel and speaks beautifully about them, the Midrash complains that he does not authentically engage with them. His words are seen as superficial flattery that inflates Israel’s sense of self and leads them to a gruesome fall. By contrast, Moses has a trustworthy relationship with Israel, filled with love, expectations, and accountability.

Honest engagement is often uncomfortable. We hear and speak unpleasant truths. Yet the midrash says that one who protests/reproves finds more chen than who elides the discomfort. According to the midrash, these real, if awkward, conversations are the essence of chen. True grace requires an investment in growth.

Bilaam’s name is parsed by the Talmud as B’li Am, free from people. As a quintessential outsider, Bilaam had a unique perspective on the people of Israel. Had he been willing to do the emotional labor of having the difficult conversations with them, he would have helped them be better aware of themselves and advanced a more just coexistence.

Mishnah Avot 5:19 teaches that Bilaam is emblematic of the evil eye. He didn’t view himself as part of the collective, nor did he feel responsible for anyone else. The Torah teaches that the proper perspective is to see people as worthy of effort and investment as part of humanity’s development and evolution to a more perfect society. In doing so, we are partnering with G-d in the ongoing process of naese adom, “Let us make a person”. Humanity is more idyllically formed when we work together to elevate each other towards communal perfection. 

The midrash in Bemidbar Rabbah 2:12 observes the attitudinal difference that Moses and Bilaam have towards people. Biliam compares us to dust (Numbers 23:10), whereas Moses describes us as the stars in the sky (Deuteronomy 1:10). While both dust and stars are too numerous to count, Moses’s blessing reflects the aspirational reality that the closer we get to people, like stars, the greater they appear. 

At a time when many people are becoming mobilized to protest racial violence, police brutality, and LGBTQ inequality, we must be careful not to fall into Bilaam’s trap. We must expand beyond smooth slogans and superficial alliances and instead form deep coalitions based on relationship building and respectful dialogue. We must commit to working together with a deeper understanding of each other; listening tirelessly and consistently while devoutly showing up with a unifying love. Together, we can see one another more completely and stand up for each other more authentically, so that we may all be part of a more just world.

 

Discussion questions:

What are some ways to expand our relationships with communities that are different from our own?

Are there books or other sources of personal stories that have moved you to get more involved?

How would you advise someone who asks you why antisemitism exists and how to best respond to it?

What are some ways of framing rebuke in a loving way?

 

By Rabbis Wendy Amsellem and Mike Moskowitz.

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.