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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.

A New Melody for Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from Rabbi 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, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. 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. Saludes mis amigos. Con nuestra visita a Cuba todavía en mi mente, estoy muy impresionada con su comunidad.  Es un gran honor y un placer compartir palabras de Torá con ustedes. 

En este mes de “Adar” celebramos la festividad de Purim, la cual conmemora eventos registrados en el final del Tanaj (las escrituras judías: Torá, Profetas y Escritos).

La Meguilá de Ester, el rollo de Ester, es leída en voz alta en Purim. La historia sucede en el siglo IV aEC en Persia, en el reino del rey Ajashverosh.  Conmemora la salvación de nuestro pueblo de Hamán, un oficial persa que estaba planeando asesinar a todos los judíos. Sus planes fueron frustrados por Mordejai el justo y la bella Ester, que había sido elevada a ser la reina de Persia.  La meguilá (Ester 9:22) nos instruye:

לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים. 

 “Haced días de fiesta y regocijo, mandad porciones el uno al otro y dad regalos a los pobres.”

 El día de la redención del decreto de Hamán se convirtió en un día judío de regocijo, fiesta, carnaval, desfiles, banquetes, bebida y esparcimiento en general son actividades tradicionales en Purim hasta el día de hoy. Es una mitzvá enviar enviar regalos de comida a los necesitados en Purim o poner unas monedas en las caja de tzedaká.  Es también una mitzvá en Purim compartir una cena celebratoria y alegrarse. 

Los textos sagrados del judaísmo contienen las historias claves de nuestro pueblo.  En nuestra práctica espiritual interactuamos con estos textos en una variedad de niveles: podemos estudiarlos directa y simplemente, o podemos acceder a interpretaciones “místicas” y secretas. 

Una forma particularmente íntima de entrar en contacto con la Torá y las mitzvot es asumirlas como un mapa de ruta interno, un manual para vivir nuestras mejores vidas. 

En el comienzo de la historia de la meguilá se cuenta de cómo Mordejai salvó al rey de dos asesinos. La trama toma un rumbo inesperado cuando es Hamán y no Mordejai quien recibe la recompensa y se vuelve el honorado primer ministro.  Hamán toma control absoluto de todo el reino y todos los súbditos son mandados a postrarse frente a él. Mordejai es el único que se rehúsa a postrarse.

La meguilá de Ester (como buena parte de la Torá) habla del viaje de nuestra alma y de la experiencia humana. Los personajes y eventos describen las fuerzas que se desenvuelven en nosotros y en nuestras vidas. Sólo que han sido dados nombres particulares: Mordejai, Ester, Hamán, etc.  Veamos ahora la historia desde esta perspectiva.

  • Mordejai: el secreto más íntimo de nuestra alma, la parte de nosotros que aspira a la espiritualidad, queriendo sólo apegarse al creador.
  • Ester: la fuerza de la fe.
  • Hamán: egoísmo, vanidad.
  • El rey: el creador, la fuente de amor y de aceptación.

Mordejai representa nuestro ser altruista. Cuando encarnamos nuestra naturaleza de Mordejai, sólo deseamos conectarnos y servir la intención divina. No hay mejor recompensa esperada o posible. 

Cuando Hamán domina en el reino, es una metáfora del egoísmo tomando el control.  Sólo nuestro ser más elevado, enfocado en un propósito más alto puede resistir el yugo del ego. Por hemos sido bendecidos con una voz interior de Mordejai: una voz que nos recuerda quién es en verdad el “rey” y aclara a quién y qué debemos servir con lealtad, sin importar el costo.

La práctica espiritual requiere y facilita el trabajo de encontrar y reconocer a nuestro Hamán interior. La historia de Purim resalta la inevitable destrucción inherente a servir sólo al ego.

Dios no es mencionado explícitamente en la Meguilá. Somos llamados a reconocer la divinidad escondida en la historia (el mismo nombre de “Ester” significa “escondida”). Pero podemos ver la divinidad escondida en la historia, del mismo modo que trabajamos para ver la mano de Dios en todos los momentos de nuestra vida. 

Ester nos enseña el poder de una comunidad unida, al mostrar cómo todos los judíos se unieron con ella en ayuno y oración. El poder de esta unificación es lo que le permite acercarse al rey directamente y es el verdadero milagro de Purim.  En nuestra vida, la unidad comunal empodera la energía de la fe y nos da una línea directa de comunicación con la divinidad.

Les deseo las más felices celebraciones de Purim. Que las mitzvot de dar y compartir profundicen el día y que la Torá continúe enriqueciendo sus vidas. 

 

 

SHALOM, CHAVERIM. GREETINGS MY FRIENDS. OUR VISIT TO CUBA IS STILL FRESH IN MY MIND; I AM TRULY INSPIRED BY YOUR COMMUNITY. IT IS MY HONOR AND PLEASURE TO SHARE A FEW WORDS OF TORAH WITH YOU. 

IN THIS CURRENT MONTH OF “ADAR” WE CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAY OF PURIM, MARKING EVENTS RECORDED IN THE FINAL BOOK OF THE TANAKH (HEBREW SCRIPTURE: TORAH, PROPHETS AND WRITINGS).  

MEGILAT ESTHER, THE SCROLL OF ESTHER, IS READ ALOUD ON PURIM. THE STORY UNFOLDS IN 4TH CENTURY PERSIA, IN THE REIGN OF KING ACHASUERUS. IT COMMEMORATES THE SAVING OF OUR PEOPLE  FROM  HAMAN, A PERSIAN OFFICIAL WHO WAS PLANNING TO KILL ALL THE JEWS. HIS PLANS WERE FOILED BY  THE RIGHTEOUS MORDECAI  AND  BEAUTIFUL ESTHER, WHO HAD RISEN TO BECOME THE QUEEN OF PERSIA. MEGILLAT ESTHER (9:22) INSTRUCTS US  

לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים. 

 “MAKE DAYS OF FEASTING AND GLADNESS, AND OF SENDING PORTIONS ONE TO ANOTHER, AND GIFTS TO THE POOR.”   

THE DAY OF DELIVERANCE FROM HAMAN’S DECREE BECAME A DAY OF JEWISH REJOICING.   MASQUERADING, CARNIVALS, PARADES, FEASTING, DRINKING AND CELEBRATION ARE CUSTOMARY PURIM ACTIVITIES TO THIS DAY. IT IS A PURIM MITZVAH TO SEND GIFTS OF FOOD TO THOSE IN NEED, OR TO PLACE A COUPLE OF COINS IN A TZEDAKAH BOX. IT IS ALSO A MITZVAH ON PURIM TO SHARE A CELEBRATORY MEAL WITH OTHERS, AND TO REJOICE! 

JEWISH SACRED TEXTS CONTAIN OUR PEOPLE’S ROOT STORIES. IN OUR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE WE INTERACT WITH THOSE TEXTS ON VARYING LEVELS: FROM LEARNING THE STRAIGHTFORWARD, PLAIN MEANING – TO ACCESSING HIDDEN, “SECRET” MYSTIC INTERPRETATIONS. 

ONE PARTICULARLY INTIMATE WAY TO ENGAGE WITH TORAH AND MITZVOT IS AS INNER ROAD MAP; A HANDBOOK FOR LIVING OUR BEST LIVES. 

THE BEGINNING OF THE MEGILAH STORY DEPICTS HOW MORDECHAI SAVED THE KING FROM TWO ASSASSINS. THE PLOT TAKES AN UNEXPECTED TURN WHEN IT IS HAMAN, NOT MORDECHAI, WHO IS REWARDED AND BECOMES THE HONORED HEAD OF ALL MINISTERS. HAMAN GAINS TOTAL DOMINATION OF THE KINGDOM AND ALL THE KING’S SUBJECTS ARE ORDERED TO BOW BEFORE HIM. MORDECHAI IS THE ONLY ONE WHO REFUSES TO BOW. 

MEGILAT ESTHER (LIKE MUCH OF TORAH) SPEAKS TO OUR SOUL’S JOURNEY AS WELL AS OUR HUMAN EXPERIENCE. THE CHARACTERS AND EVENTS DESCRIBE FORCES THAT UNFOLD WITHIN US AND WITHIN OUR LIVES. THEY’VE BEEN GIVEN THE NAMES MORDECAI, ESTHER, HAMAN, ETC.  SO, LET’S TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT THE STORY THROUGH THIS LENS. 

  • MORDECAI  = OUR INNERMOST SOUL’S DESIRE, THE PART OF US THAT ASPIRES TO SPIRITUALITY, WANTING ONLY TO CLING TO THE CREATOR. 
  • ESTHER = THE ENERGY AND POWER OF FAITH 
  • HAMAN = EGOISM, VANITY 
  • THE KING = THE CREATOR, THE SOURCE OF BESTOWAL AND LOVE 

MORDECAI  REPRESENTS OUR ALTRUISTIC SELF. WHEN WE EMBODY OUR MORDECAI NATURE, THERE IS ONLY ONE DESIRE  – TO CONNECT WITH AND SERVE THE DIVINE INTENTION. NO GREATER REWARD IS EXPECTED, OR EVEN POSSIBLE. 

WHEN HAMAN RULES THE KINGDOM, THE METAPHOR IS EGOISM RISEN OUT OF CONTROL. ONLY OUR HIGHER SELVES, FOCUSED ON A GREATER PURPOSE WILL RESIST SUBJUGATION TO THE EGO. WE ARE GIFTED WITH AN INNER MORDECAI; A VOICE THAT REMINDS US WHO THE REAL “KING” IS AND CLARIFIES TO WHOM AND WHAT ONE SHOULD REMAIN LOYAL, WHATEVER THE COST.  SPIRITUAL PRACTICE DEMANDS AND FACILITATES THE WORK OF FINDING AND RECOGNIZING THE HAMAN WITHIN US. THE PURIM TALE HIGHLIGHTS THE INEVITABLE DESTRUCTION INHERENT IN SERVING ONLY THE EGO.  

GOD IS NOT MENTIONED EXPLICITLY IN THE MEGILAH. WE ARE CALLED UPON TO RECOGNIZE THE HIDDEN DIVINITY IN THE STORY THE VERY NAME “ESTHER” MEANS HIDDEN IN HEBREW. BUT WE CAN SEE THE DIVINITY HIDDEN IN THE STORY, JUST AS WE WORK TO SEE THE HAND OF GOD IN EVERY MOMENT OF OUR LIVES. 

ESTHER TEACHES US THE POWER OF A UNITED COMMUNITY, AS ALL THE JEWS JOIN HER IN FASTING AND PRAYER. THE POWER OF THAT UNIFICATION IS WHAT ALLOWS ESTHER TO ADDRESS THE KING DIRECTLY, WHICH IS A GREAT MIRACLE OF PURIM. IN OUR LIVES COMMUNAL UNITY EMPOWERS THE ENERGY OF FAITH AND GIVES US A DIRECT LINE OF COMMUNICATION TO DIVINITY. 

I WISH YOU THE VERY HAPPIEST OF PURIM CELEBRATIONS. MAY THE MITZVOT OF GIVING AND SHARING DEEPEN THE DAY, AND MAY TORAH CONTINUE TO ENRICH YOUR LIVES. 

 

By Rabbi Bella Bogart. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Mission Statement: Listen. Remember. Connect. Build.

 

Part of a yearlong Torah series on building and builders in Jewish spiritual life.

 

In Ha’azinu, Moses gives his final oration. At the beginning of his story he called himself a person of uncircumcised lips or impeded speech, (Ex. 6:30) but here he’s eloquent, pouring forth an impassioned mission statement for the children of Israel. Ever since the burning bush, Moses has been a figure of transcendence. He speaks face-to-face with God, he goes up to the mountaintop… In this final speech, his transcendence feels even more palpable, maybe because he knows he’s about to die. And he begins (Deut: 32:1) by connecting up to heaven. 

But leading the people has always required both connection with heaven, and rootedness on earth. Which is maybe why Moses has always had a partner. When Moses said he couldn’t go to Pharaoh because he can’t speak to people, God promised that Aaron would speak for him. And when Moses was too fiery, Aaron spoke to the people safely. Aaron was his connector, keeping him grounded. This time, it’s Joshua who is standing by his side. (Deut. 32:44)  Joshua is his new connector, his new “grounding,” balancing Moses’ heavenly energy with some earth.

Given that, it’s interesting that Moses doesn’t conclude his speech with an introduction of Joshua as the people’s new leader. That would have put the people’s focus on the person at the helm — first Moses, who’s in the process of stepping down; then Joshua, who’s in the process of stepping up — rather than on the message that Moses wants to convey. Moses wants to give over a mission statement for b’nei Yisrael (the children of Israel; the community that together wrestles with the Holy; our spiritual ancestors in Torah “back then;” all of us listening today.)

Moses says:

“Take all of this to heart. Teach it to your generations. This is not a trifling thing: it is your very life!” (Deut. 32:4647

Moses knows that his time is over. And Joshua’s time too will be temporary. Every person who serves as a leader is necessarily temporary. In this final speech, he aims to teach the people that this isn’t about us, the leaders who are privileged to serve the community. It’s not about me or him (or her or them!) or whoever comes after. This is about our core mission as human beings. This is about who we are and what we’re here for. Our mission as b’nei Yisrael is to hear, to remember, to be in relationship with the Holy, and to build mindfully from that place. 

Each of us is part of the chain of generations, the chain of tradition and transmission from our ancestors to our descendants (whether literal or metaphorical). In our place and time, each of us has building work to do: building on what came before us, and leaving good foundations for what will come next. But none of us is permanent. What’s permanent, says Moses in this week’s Torah portion, is God; heaven; earth; the whole of which each of us is a part. What’s permanent is the “Us”-ness that will continue after each of us is gone, and the mission we take on together.

Torah tells us that “God spoke to Moses in his bones on that day.” (Deut. 32:48) That verse is usually translated “on that very day,” but the use of the word עצם is striking. It can connote our bones, our essence, who we most truly are. Moses feels in his very bones that he is done. He feels in his bones that it’s time for a transition, and he consciously transfers leadership to Joshua — while making sure to focus not on them as individuals (no matter how extraordinary), but instead to focus on mission. Our mission is listening. Remembering. Relationship. Building.

May we feel that mission in our very bones… and may that somatic awareness inspire us to listen, to remember, to connect with each other and with God, and from there, to build.

By Rabbi Bella Bogart and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Sketchnote by Steve Silbert.

 

Dvarim’s Building Lessons

 

Part of a yearlong Torah series on spiritual building and builders in Jewish life.

 

The book of Deuteronomy begins with a retelling of the story of everything that’s unfolded since the children of Israel left Egypt and began their wilderness wandering. Moshe recounts the last forty years to the children of Israel as they prepare to cross the river into the Land of Promise and into the next chapter of their (our) story. In the choices that Moshe makes as he offers his final sermon, we find five practical and ethical lessons for building a healthy Jewish future. 

First and foremost, Moshe speaks to everyone. (Deut. 1:1) Moshe wants to be sure that no one has reason later to complain that they weren’t there, or they didn’t hear it, or he wasn’t talking to them. No one’s left out or ignored, neither individuals nor groups. This is the first building lesson we find in this parsha: Moshe doesn’t speak about people behind their backs. He doesn’t triangulate. He doesn’t discuss any of the community without all of the community present. 

In the wilderness, Moshe’s been a conduit between the people and God. Here in Deuteronomy, he shifts from speaking directly for God, to retelling the people’s history as a human being speaking to his fellow human beings. That’s a necessary step too. That shift helps to modulate God’s energy so that Torah comes to us in a form we can receive. That’s the second thing we learn from Moshe’s sermon: a good leader needs to speak in a way that people can hear.

In his retellings, Moshe includes himself. For instance, in recounting the story of the scouts sent to reconnoiter and explore the Land of Promise, he includes himself, and points out that he thought sending the scouts was a good idea. (Deut. 1:23) He could retell the story in a way that blames the Israelites and exonerates himself, but he doesn’t leave himself out of the story. As Pirkei Avot will teach (Pirkei Avot 2:4), he doesn’t separate himself from the community. 

In a bigger-picture sense, as he retells the story of the children of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness Moshe takes responsibility for his part in the narrative. Rather than blaming those whom he serves, he acknowledges his part in community dynamics. In that choice, we see an expression of care and love for those whom he serves. That’s the third building lesson we find in Moshe’s final sermon: a skillful leader builds community from a place of caring and love. 

When the two of us were in formation as rabbis, one of us heard a mentor speak negatively about those whom he served, and one heard a mentor say, “You have to love your Yidden!” The mentor who spoke with scorn of those whom he served burned out and left the rabbinate. The mentor who insisted on serving from a place of love still thrives, and so does the community under his care. We need to build with an attitude of love, not scorn, for our fellow builders.

Even the best leader sometimes falls down on the job. A few weeks ago we read about Moshe, exasperated with the people, snapping, “Listen up you rebels, shall I get water for you from this rock?” and then hitting the rock instead of speaking to it sweetly. His harsh words drew forth water, but not in a sustainable way. Wise community leadership requires a spiritual practice of cultivating respect and care for those whom one serves. Moshe lost sight of that for a while.

When Moshe does lose his cool, it’s because his ego or anxiety get in the way. And when that happens, he’s no longer a clear channel for divine transmission; he’s no longer bittul, transparent so that God can shine through him. When his own “stuff” gets in the way, that’s when things go awry — that’s what leads to his angry decision to snap at the People and to strike the rock. All who seek to build and to serve will fall short of our ideals sometimes.

Because he snapped in that moment, God tells him that he will not enter the Land of Promise. God recognizes, in that episode, that Moshe is worn out and needs a rest. God sees that Moshe is not the right leader for the people’s next chapter. As we learned in Pinchas, Moshe signals with the laying-on of hands that Joshua will lead them forward. That’s another implicit building lesson: a wise leader knows when it is time to step back and let the next generation shine.

Avoid triangulation. Speak with people, not about them. Don’t exclude anyone. Teach in a way that people can hear. Serve from a place of love, not a place of ego. Do your own work so that your “stuff” doesn’t get in the way — and when it does get in the way, be wise enough to step back and take a break. Always seek to lift others up into leadership, empowering others to build. These are Moshe’s building lessons from the banks of the Jordan. They still ring true.

 

By Rabbi Bella Bogart and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Sketchnote by Steve Silbert.

 

Walking the Walk

 

Part of a yearlong Torah series on building and builders in Jewish spiritual life.

 

This week’s Torah portion (Bechukotai) lists “blessings” and “curses,” “rewards” and “punishments.”  If we honor the mitzvot, Torah says, then “blessings” will flow.  If not, then we sign up for “curses.”

This ancient theology may not necessarily hold up for us as moderns.  What to do with an ancient theology that doesn’t seem to hold? How to build spiritually when the middle doesn’t seem to hold?

We all know that “bad” things happen to “good” people, and no spiritual building can hold by pretending otherwise.  It’s simply untrue that every well-lived life leads only to outwardly positive outcomes. It’s equally untrue that difficult circumstances prove that someone strayed from the path.

We read Torah’s words differently.  The resonance we find in this week’s portion is not in the “if/then” details, but rather in how the “if” produces the “then” that follows.

Actions and choices have consequences.  Spiritual building isn’t about “deserving,” but about wisely preparing for the immense power of consequences.  What we do matters. How we act matters. How we treat each other matters. They shape who we are.

How do we build this awareness of consequence into the holy work of spiritual building?

Our answer is this: we must teach, over and over again, that the path itself is the goal.  How we walk that path shapes where the path leads – and who we become on the way.

We follow mitzvot not to bring about blessings (though some mitzvot genuinely can yield positive outcomes), but because choosing to follow mitzvot is itself a way to experience a life oriented beyond itself.  We aspire to build a Jewish future according to Torah’s high standards of ethics and interpersonal interaction not to merit external reward, but because living up to high ethical and interpersonal standards is itself the reward.

The opening of this week’s portion underscore the point. “If you walk in My chukim (engraved pathways) and faithfully observe My mitzvot (connective commands),” then good things beyond us will follow. The “if” creates the “then” that follows. If we walk in God’s engraved-pathways, then we’re naturally connecting beyond ourselves.

The Hebrew for “walking” shares a root with the term halakhah (the way, euphemistically “the law”). God’s engraved-pathways point to our way of walking.  If we walk in those ways, naturally we keep the mitzvot (connective commands), holy links to our highest selves and our Source.

The way to follow the connectors is to walk in such a way as to become engraved with holy instructions and holy ethical choices.  And because mitzvot point the way and evolve with us, they’re not static.  If we walk engraved by God, following the connectors, we’ll be in conversation with the mitzvot as they evolve, and blessings will flow.  Conversely, if we’re not “walking our walk,” it won’t matter what kind of so-called mitzvot we claim to be doing: we’ll wind up with curses, because that’s where that path leads.

The Jewish future worth building demands that we “walk the walk.”  Building Judaism requires walking the walk in a way that engraves God on us and in us, so we naturally follow Torah’s ethical blueprints, so that mitzvot connect us “in” and “up” to God. This kind of building asks a new orientation to a mitzvah-oriented life that’s first and foremost about the intention to connect spiritually by walking well in the world – keeping in mind that the connection between intention and action is what will secure any spiritual future.

If we walk that walk – if we build that way, with mitzvot as companions, pointers and guides – then we’ll experience blessing in whatever unfolds.

 

By Rabbi Bella Bogart and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Sketchnote by Steve Silbert.

Building (For) God

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Part of a yearlong series mining Torah’s wisdom about spiritual building and builders.

 

It’s a heady and awesome thing to “build for God.”  That’s what spiritual builders do. That’s the business we’re all in.  

We can do it well (our ancestors’ desert Sanctuary), or we can do it disastrously (the Golden Calf) – but either way, building for God is what collective spiritual enterprise is at least partly about.  Whether places, structures, systems or relationships, we build so that through them we can experience a bit of the sacred right here on Earth.

And if you think you’re not a spiritual builder, or that your spiritual building isn’t about experiencing the sacred where you are, look deeply into this week’s Torah portion (Beshallach) and think again.

Our slave ancestors, freed from Egyptian bondage, reach the Sea of Reeds and miraculously walk through.  Leaving Pharaoh’s army behind, our ancestors break into song. What they sang, heard with modern ears, is revolutionary.  

Traditionally we understand their “Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15) as a celebration and an affirmation.  At the Song’s heart is the exclamation, Mi chamocha ba’eilim YHVH (“Who is like You, God?”): Who else could split the sea and overpower the world’s strongest army to free the bound?  These words have echoed in Jewish hearts ever since.

But there’s more.  Freed from seemingly endless bondage building brick structures for an enslaving Pharaoh, they sang: “In Your love, You lead the people You redeemed; in Your strength, You guide [us] el-nave kodshecha (אל נוה קדשך) – to Your holy abode” (Exodus 15:13).  Instinctively they knew that wherever they were going, they were being led to a place – and that the place was holy.

What does this have to do with spiritual building?  Just moments earlier, they also sang: Zeh Eli v’anvehu (זה אלי ואנוהו) – “This is my God whom I’ll adore” (Exodus 15:2).  The two phrases share the same word (nave), which hints at a deep meaning: “This is my God whom I’ll build into a holy abode.”

Take that in.  In liberation’s peak moment of ecstatic joy, they sang not only that they were headed to a holy place but that they themselves were going to build it.  What were they going to build? Not only would they build for God: they would build God!  And why would they build?  They’d build so that they could “adore God.”

Our ancestors – who had been builders under Pharaoh’s lash – now would become builders for God.  And by building, they would learn to love. We learn that freedom is not for its own sake but for a loving purpose: to build for God, and to build God.

Of course, our wandering ancestors’ first spiritual building went very wrong: their first attempt was a Golden Calf that they treated as God.  That’s the danger of venerating things (whether places, structures, systems or relationships), and venerating our own capacity as builders. Maybe that’s why God had to get exactingly clear: “Build Me a Sanctuary so I can dwell in them” (Exodus 25:8) – not “it.”  God dwells in us all.

By building the right way, divinity can flow through the builders.  We learn that holiness and the spirituality of building are not about building except as building focuses human awareness and human actions on holiness.

So what should we make of our ancestors’ “build God” idea?  

Jacob got it in his peak experience of wrestling: “God was in this place and I, I did not know” (Genesis 28:16).  In a peak spiritual experience, we know that everything pulses with divinity, that there is nothing but God, that we (as builders) are instruments of the sacred.  It’s precisely by not knowing ourselves, not getting stuck on ourselves, that our awareness clears enough to really get it.

Same for our ancestors at the Song of the Sea: in that peak experience, it was all God.

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Great ideas, but so what?  What do they really mean for us here and now as builders?  To us, we learn a few things:

 

  • Building is all about curating experience.  The idea of God is not God; the thought of the sacred is not the sacred. Only as we experience holiness, getting out of our own way and experiencing what transcends us, can we begin to know God through any place or thing.  Thus, every spiritual building, to be worthy of that name, must curate experience beyond oneself.
  • Builders need to hold on gently, and maybe not at all.  Every spiritual building evokes a Zen-style koan.  Even as we “build God,” we can’t ever “build God” because God is never in a thing: “Build Me a Sanctuary so I can dwell in [you].”  Lest our spiritual structures and systems become like Golden Calves, we must see them only as conduits, only as effective as what they channel.  And because we humans tend to grow attached to our own handiwork, we must constantly remind ourselves and each other that what makes spiritual building spiritual is precisely that we hold it gently and maybe not at all.
  • We must test our buildings and sometimes let them fall.  If spiritual buildings are only as effective as what they channel, then a building that doesn’t channel isn’t worth keeping.  We must test our spiritual buildings (places, structures, systems and relationships), repeatedly asking what they’re channeling now.  And if they’re too clogged, or not transmitting holy experience, it’s time to redesign and rebuild.

 

God is the master architect, Torah is the blueprint and we – all of us – are builders.  It’s our calling – all of us – to build wisely, courageously and well. And if we do, we too can become vessels for holiness in the world.

 

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By Rabbi Bella Bogart and Rabbi David Markus. Sketchnotes by Steve Silbert.

Our Two-Story Houses: Becoming Ladders for Spiritual Ascent

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Part of a yearlong series about building and builders inspired by the Torah cycle.

I’m a fan of two-story houses.  I enjoy some separation from the busy “functional” part of the house, while my husband prefers the ease of having “practical” things accessible on one level.  Our new ranch-style home seemed a perfect solution: single-level living with an upstairs perch – a sunny loft, my very own ‘’second story.” I love my little retreat in the sky filled with comfy furniture, books and music.

IMG_3483But I rarely use it myself, and it’s impractical for me to invite others to join me there. Do I love my loft more in theory than in reality, or is getting up there just too much of a challenge to be useful?  The only access to the loft is a heavy ladder that must be wrestled awkwardly into place each time we wish to ascend.

I admit some “ladder envy” when engaging with this week’s Torah portion and the description of Jacob’s iconic vision (Vayeitzei).  If only a mystical staircase would appear to connect the loft to the rest of our house. (While we’re asleep, no less!) And, to dive into Torah’s metaphor of connecting “above” with “below,” if only we all had easy tools for spiritual ascent.

Then again, maybe we do.

The Jacob we encounter this week doesn’t begin in a good place.  He alienated his family and enraged his brother. He flees. As the sun sets and darkness descends, Jacob makes camp: he sets stones to protect his head and lays down for the night.  There he experiences his famous dreamscape vision: the heavens open, a ladder appears and reaches skyward, angels ascend and descend, and the Divine Presence appears at the top. Jacob hears God promise to be with him wherever he goes.  Jacob wakes and affirms God’s presence:

“Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.  How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:15-17).

IMG_3481Sulam Yaakov

We call it Sulam Yaakov, Jacob’s Ladder, although he himself neither builds it nor climbs it. More accurately, it is God’s ladder – to enlighten Jacob, to awaken him to God’s presence on earth.  Narrowly read, we might think Jacob was shown only an isolated “place” (in Hebrew, makom) where heaven and earth connect.  Indeed, rabbinic tradition makes much of that geographic place, associating it with the Akedah (binding of Isaac), Sinai, the Holy Temples and more.  

But Jacob’s actions the next morning reveal a higher truth.  

The ladder had disappeared and the “real world” remained as it was.  Yet Jacob designates the now seemingly ordinary place as “none other than Beit El” (House of God).  He further vows if God leads and protects Jacob, then Jacob will believe and dedicate himself and his possessions to God’s service (Gen. 28:20-22).

Tradition holds that Jacob’s vow still indicates his “conditional faith,” that he was still trying to bargain and even manipulate just as he had with the family he was fleeing. I offer a different read.

Building and Becoming

Jacob’s words indicate a radical shift in worldview.  Torah’s “trickster” has been humbled. He no longer could believe that what happens “downstairs” is solely his domain.  Rather, he was given to understand that even life’s basics (food, clothing, safety) depend on a Divine Source that is everywhere – in Hebrew, HaMakom (the Place).

What is it exactly that Jacob saw and understood?

Interestingly, the most mundane component of Jacob’s revelation is the clue. The existence of God, heaven and angels didn’t seem to be a surprise, nor should they be.  After all, this was his family’s God: is Jacob not the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, son of Isaac and Rebecca?

What’s news to Jacob is the most ordinary part of the scene – the ladder, “Sulam Yaakov.” Jacob already knew there were two stories: he just needed to make the connection.

Our teaching then comes less from Jacob’s dream than from his twofold response to it: building and becoming.  Jacob didn’t set out to build a scaffold, stairway or tower to the sky (like the Tower of Babel that went so wrong).  Nor did Jacob pray for God to send another ladder when the first one disappeared. Rather, Jacob built a monument, a marker here on Earth, to remind and reconnect. He then vowed to remodel his life; in what he now understood the world to be – God’s place. Emotionally and spiritually, the builder, and the act of building, became the ladder.

“Wonderful story,” my rational mind says.  “What does that mean for me?”

One more hint from the text:

IMG_3485There’s No “I” in Heaven

When Jacob woke and opened his eyes, he expressed astonishment: “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it” – in Hebrew, va’anochi lo yadati.  Rendered in English, the Hebrew reads slightly differently: “… and I, I did not know.”

Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz reads Jacob’s bewilderment radically: “I did not know my I-ness.”  “I did not know” isn’t merely an expression of surprise but a description of what Jacob experienced and an instruction for how to build.  

We come to experience what’s “upstairs” precisely by learning how to not-know our Anochi, our own ego.  As Lord Jonathan Sacks put it, we most experience holiness when we move beyond Self.  We sense the “Thou” of divinity when we move beyond the “I” of egocentricity.  Only as we move beyond our Self do we become truly open to the world and the Creator.

That’s the kind of Judaism we must build – a Judaism that encourages us to serve others, both for their sake and for the sake of moving beyond our own “I-ness.”  Serving others is the way up. Only by working for the greater good, in the house where we already are, can we ourselves become ladders to access “upstairs.”

May we be granted the ability to seek Divinity in every place.  May the call to build inspire us to serve. And may we be blessed with moments of Grace when ego fades (sometimes even despite ourselves) and we see ladders “upstairs” simply appear.

 

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By Rabbi Bella Bogart; sketchnote by Steve Silbert.