Archive for the '8.1.1 Rosh HaShanah' Category

Glimpsing the House of Tomorrow

From the start of Elul through Shemini Atzeret, we recite Psalm 27. There we read, “One thing I ask of the Lord, only that I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, to frequent God’s Temple” ( Psalm 27:4). On a simple level, when meditating on this we are beseeching God to allow us to return and stay in the Temple. Do any of us pretend to understand what it was like to be in the Temple? What are we really asking for? 

Maybe we are seeking the feeling of home.  

My name is Avi Orlow. Over 20 years ago, I was honored to start as a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) while its beit midrash, or study hall, was still nascent. There, I felt that sense of home described in Psalm 27. I came to YCT with a deep love for the Jewish people, and thanks to my education there, I left it years later with a profound appreciation for what Judaism has to offer humanity. I look back fondly at how after every class we would discuss how we might transmit the experience of YCT’s spiritual environment to the outside world. 

Many of us yearn to create a sense of home in multiple areas of our lives. For me, I have attempted to replicate that feeling of comfort in both my professional and personal spheres. It is not surprising, then, that my professional growth has run parallel to that of my family. The same spring I was ordained by YCT in 2004, I became a new father. I was fortunate enough to have our son’s bris, and then his pidyon haben, at YCT. Soon after these events and my graduation, our growing family packed up our books, the BabyBjörn, and our life in New York as we prepared to take on the bigger world.

Along the way, my career has taken me all over the country. First, I spent four years as a Hillel rabbi at Washington University in St. Louis where we opened our home to students. While I loved working on campus, I moved on when given the chance to impact how thousands of young people every summer understand Jewish camp to be their home away from home. I have spent the last 13 years at Foundation for Jewish Camp where I have traveled the country learning from and with Jewish camps all over North America about how to spread joyous Judaism. During that time, my wife and I have been blessed with three more amazing children.

While I have helped build the home that is my family, I have never forgotten the home I knew at YCT. My connection to YCT has waxed and waned over time, but I have always stayed curious as to the successes and challenges of my fellow alumni in our efforts to bring the goodness of the YCT beit midrash to the world. Many of us started at YCT with little more than a vision for what Open Orthodoxy could mean. In some moments, I haven’t always been sure how much impact our small school has had on the world.

Recent events, however, have made me realize that the home we all built together at YCT is being realized in unforeseen ways across generations.

A few weeks ago, I was picking up some of my children at the Camp Stone bus stop in White Plains, New York, where I live. I was expecting to see the usual neighborhood YCT suspects: Rabbis Jack Nahmod (‘05), Seth Braunstein (‘06), and YCT faculty member Chaim Marder. Our children are all friends from the neighborhood and we send them to the same camp. 

a school bus stopping on a road with its doors open while a line of small children with backpacks walk in a line to get onto the bus

I was surprised, however, when I spotted Rabbi Seth Winberg (‘11), the executive director of Brandeis Hillel, at the stop. It was his daughter Hadas’s first summer at camp so she had flown there. She had assumed, however, that she would know people on the way home, so she came back on the White Plains bus. Rabbi Seth had come in from Boston to pick her up. As we chatted and caught up, the buses rolled up the street. Rabbi Seth found Hadas, and I found my daughter Emunah. I asked Emunah if she knew Hadas. She responded, “Of course I do, Abba! We just sat next to each other on the nine-hour ride home from camp.” What are the odds, I thought to myself!

When we got home, Emunah did not want to talk with us. We were not surprised. She just wanted to talk with her camp friends. She talked with her friend Amollia for over an hour. Later that night, she was having trouble falling asleep. It turns out that when you work in camping as I do, your kids do not get homesick at camp. Rather, they get campsick at home. To calm her down, I asked her to go through a list of her friends. I stopped her when she told me about Amolia Antine from Maryland. Her father, Rabbi Nissin Antine (‘06), from Potomac, was ordained two years after me at YCT. Truly, what a very small world! It was astonishing to me that, without any direction or interference from me, my child had just naturally gravitated toward the children of other YCT rabbis.

When Kalil Gibran’s Prophet is asked about children, he responds:

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Emunah discovered these people on her own. She is her own person, and she is finding friends who share her interests and her values. It is amazing to see the emergence of the next generation of YCT as our children build their own community. 

This time of year, when I get to L’David 27, I reflect on how the world is sometimes a very big and a very scary space. I cannot say that I want to hide from it in the Temple, but there is a part of me that yearns for the comfort and holiness of the beit midrash I knew as a rabbinical student. I know that the YCT rabbis are each doing what we can to share this experience of home from the beit midrash with the larger world. And while I might not be able to gaze upon the beauty of our children’s “house of tomorrow,” I find that even a glimpse is heartwarming, affirming, and worthy of meditation. 

-Reposted from YCT Blog

A Majestic Light: Shanah Tova

In trying to prepare for Rosh HaShanah I find myself swept into the surge of amazing popular Israel rock. Most recently I have been listening to Shemesh- Sun by Hanan Ben Ari. Completely worth Listening to before Rosh HaShanah.

Beside the amazing and mysterious sound of Shemesh the lyrics are the perfect thing to get into Malchuyot- God’s Coronation Day. He sings:

I find myself longing. Seeking an answer. See me, give me Your hand. I am one who’s willing to change. Come and light up my days. With a Or Yafe Ganuz-beautiful, hidden light for almost a million generations. And then I shall be like a sun to the world. I shall be like a bird, wandering across space. You, You shall be my King forevermore. I thank Thee for the path You’ve sworn unto me

Shemesh- Hanan Ben Ari

I too find myself longing. It is hard to finding meaning in the world these days. Ben Ari is asking us to reach out and be open to the Or Ganuz hidden light. Rav Nachman teaches ” Anyone who wants to experience a taste of the Or HaGanuz (Hidden Light)—i.e., the mysteries of the Torah that will be revealed in the Future—must elevate the aspect of fear to its source.” ( Likutei Moharan 15:1:2 ) This reminds me of the oft quoted poem Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson. She writes:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

When we are open to the Or Ganuz we become the sun that lights the room. In allowing ourselves to self-actualize we make room for God, the King, to do the same. The majestic light of Rosh HaShanah inspires us to live up to our potential. We just need to be open to the experience. May you have a Shana Tova U’Metukah- a good and sweet New Year full of light.

Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog

I remind each of my children all of the time, ” I love them the most of all…just like their three siblings.” This year as I have been feebly trying to prepare for the High Holidays during Elul. One thing that had helped is that I have found myself singing again and again to different covers of Deveykus‘s Haben Yakir Li. The lyrics are taken from a section of Jeremiah that we read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. There we read:

Truly, Efraim is a dear child to Me,
A child  in whom I delight!
Whenever I speak of him,
My thoughts would dwell on him still.
That is why My heart yearns for him;
I will receive him back in love
—declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:20

For me it expresses an extraordinary expression of God’s anthropopathic love of Israel. Here is one version with some nice violin:

There is some ambiguity about the text when it says ” Whenever I speak of him“. Is it when I speak to him, about him, or even against him? Rashi explores the meaning of “whenever I speak of him” and comments:

Every time that I speak of him. And the Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (2:3) explains: It is enough My speech (דַּי דִבּוּרִי) with which I endowed him, that I taught him My Torah, for Me to have mercy on him.

Rashi on Jeremiah 31:20

This is an interesting thought. It is as if God recalls learning with Efraim and that reminds God how much God loves him.

This parental love through learning reminded me of a Rashi from Parshat Vayigash. Yosef, Efraim’s father, reveals his identity to his brothers. Finding out that their father is still alive he sends agalot– wagons to bring Yaakov to Egypt. There Rashi comments:

By sending the wagons (agalot), Yosef sent him a sign. What was the (topic) they had studied before he (Yosef) left? The topic of the egla arufa -beheaded heifer (see Shoftim). Thus the text states, “when he saw the agalot which Yosef sent,” and not which Pharoh sent.

Rashi on Bereishit 45:27

There is something deep about parent’s love of a child. Even though he was told that Yosef died years earlier, once he saw these agalot Yaakov just knew that Yosef was alive due to the learning that they shared before Yosef’s abduction. This love gets even deeper when it comes in the context of their learning Torah together. This is a love that never could believe that Yosef is truly dead. This is also a love that wants to allow Efraim’s return regardless of his misdeeds.

I was thinking about this parental love in the context of learning while studying with Emunah in preparation for Bat Mitzah this coming spring. It feels special, just like the learning I do with her three siblings. They are all dear to me.

On another level I was thinking about Emunah when sharing this Torah thought with you through this blog. I started this practice of writing a weekly blog when she was born. Emunah and this blog* recently turned 12.

*For those following along at home this is my 756th blog post.

The Sword of Damocles: Rosh HaShana and Parenting Today

In my preparation for Rosh HaShana I have been reflecting on the two primary narratives we read in the Torah reading for the first and second say of this holiday. The first day we read the story of Hagar and Yishmael going into exile in the desert. The second day we read the binding of Yitzhak. There is deep connection between these two stories of parents dealing with the near death experience of their children. While acting under divine command, interestingly both where caused by Avraham. He sent Hagar and Yishmael out of his house and he brought Yitzhak to Har Moriah to be sacrificed. The differences between these stories is also very interesting. While there is nothing natural about sacrificing you child, Hagar’s experience is natural and common to all parents. Her story reveals the risk that is always there. While we might not think about it all of the time, as parents we spend a lot of energy worrying about the threats our children face on a daily bases. What does it mean to be conscious of the peril our child are in all the time? And what does this awareness have to do with Rosh HaShana?

This reminds me of the story of  the sword of Damocles. According to the story, Damocles was pandering to his king, Dionysius, exclaiming that Dionysius was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority, surrounded by magnificence. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles for one day so that Damocles could taste that very fortune firsthand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king’s proposal. Damocles sat on the king’s throne, surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius, who had made many enemies during his reign, arranged that a sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse’s tail to evoke the sense of what it is like to be king. Though having much fortune, Dionysius wanted to make sure that he would be steadfast and vigilant against dangers that might try to overtake him. With risk looming overhead the food lost its taste. Damocles begged the king that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate, realizing that with great fortune and power comes also great danger.

Damocles - Wikipedia

The threat might always be there dangling above our heads, but we just do not see it. It is always ever present, but we need a King Dionysius to point it out to us.

In many ways the sounds of the Shofar serves the same function as Dionysius. In one opinion this sound evokes the wailing of  Sisera’s mother (Rosh HaShanah 33b). As we learn in the book of Judges, Sisera commanded nine hundred iron chariots and oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. After the prophetess Deborah persuaded Barak to face Sisera in battle, they, with an Israelite force of ten thousand, defeated him at the Battle of Mount Tabor. After losing the battle, Sisera fled to a settlement where he was received by Yael. She brought him into her tent with apparent hospitality and gave him milk. Yael promised to hide Sisera and covered him with a rug; but after he fell asleep, she drove a tent-peg through his temple with a mallet, her blow being so forceful that the peg pinned his head to the ground. After this we read:

Through the window peered Sisera’s mother, Behind the lattice she whined: “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why so late the clatter of his wheels?”  (Judge 5:28)

This depiction of Sisera’s mother at the window watching her son die gives us a deeper appreciation for the dread of Hagar. This is what it means to parent. While we do not always think about it, the threat to our children is real, severe, and always ever present.

Reflecting on the myriad issues facing us in 5780, it might seem desirable to return to the world before the concerns and anxieties of this past year entered our consciousness. This might not seem possible, or even desirable. Rosh HaShana is trying to make us aware that we (or worse our children) live under the sword of Damocles. So where do we go from here? How do we move forward?

On Rosh HaShana we say- HaYom HaRa’at Olam– today is the day the world was conceived. In this way God models for us what it means to parent. God is conscious of the threats that we God’s children live all around us. And despite the horrible dangers, Rosh HaShana is a celebration. The sound of the shofar, the cry of Sisera’s mother, the fear of Hagar are all reminders of how vulnerable we all are. It is holiday of profound multi-directional empathy. It should inspire us all to be extra vigilant. Not just for ourselves or our children, we also need to look out for those marginalized by society who are in more obvious peril.

After becoming aware of the sword overhead Damocles loses his taste for the king’s food. To recover from this last year and move forward in 5781 we really need the apples in honey. We cannot pretend that the threads are not real and scary. We just need to remind ourselves that despite the treat of harm, life is worth living because the world is sweet.

Playing in the Field

In Hasidic thinking, the days of Elul are a time when “The King is in the field.” Gaining an audience with the King during Tishrei is a whole to-do. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. It may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. And even then, when we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. Lost among the throngs of people, it is hard to imagine it being a deeply personal interaction. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, the royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays make us feel out-of-place. By the time we get there, we might have even forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King in the first place. It hardly seems like a good plan for a meaningful experience.

According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe), during Elul “Anyone who desires is granted permission and can approach the King and greet the King. The King received them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all” (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b). The King’s arrival is heralded by the shofar blown throughout Elul. Here in the field, the formality is transformed into familiarity. 

I am reminded of one of my favorite Hassidic stories. A Rebbe is walking and sees a little boy standing by a wall crying. The Rebbe asks the boy why he is crying. The boy replies, “My friends and I were playing hide and seek and I think they forgot about me.” At this point the Rebbe starts crying and the boy asks, why the Rebbe is crying. The Rebbe responds, “Now I understand how God feels.”

Leveling the Playing Fields So Everyone Can Play

People around the world are crying, isolated, anxious, and suffering. We are missing a lightness of being.  Months of social distancing make me fear that we have forgotten how to seek, let alone play. God has been cooped up in the palace for the past 11 months. With the advent of Elul it is time for all of us to come out and play. 

-written for Gabe Miner’s Days of Awww which can be found on instagram or facebook

The King is Listening: The New Year and COVID-19

How many new years do we have? As we learn in the Mishnah in Rosh HaShanah:

There are four new years:The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of beasts. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishri. The first of Tishri is the new year for years, for shmitta and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of] vegetables. The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to the words of Bet Shammai. Bet Hillel says: on the fifteenth of that month. ( Rosh HaShanah 1:1)

It seems clear that Rosh Hodesh Tishre beat out the other three to be the Rosh HaShanah. Tishre is the ” new year for years, for shmitta and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of] vegetables”, but what about Nisan and “the new year for kings and for festivals”? Maybe with all of the darkness I am searching for a new beginning, but I still think that there is something here to explore the New Year of Nisan. But to do this we need to explore the lead up to Tishre.

According to Hasidic thinking the days of Elul from the ” the new year for the tithe of beasts” are the time when “the King is in the field.” The metaphor follows that gaining an audience with the King during Tishrei is a whole to-do. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. It may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. And even then, when we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. Lost among the throngs of people, it is hard to imagine it being a deeply personal interaction. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place. By the time we get there we might have even forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King in the first place. It hardly seems like a good plan for a meaningful experience.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher Rebbe) during Elul “anyone who desires is granted permission and can approach the King and greet the King. The King received them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all” (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the shofar blowing throughout Elul. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. We the common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive personalized blessings. During Elul, with limited effort, the King is accessible. We just need to go out and greet the King.

This idea that God is accessible during the month before Rosh HaShana got me thinking about the time we are in now. We know that on Passover God is passing over our homes, but where is the King  during the month leading up to Passover? We read in Exodus:

And the Lord continued, “I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings.I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the region of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me; moreover, I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them. Come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)

In this period God is up on high, but the King is not deaf to our collective suffering. The Prime Mover is moved by our crying and suffering. When we are preparing to “see ourselves as if we were slaves in Egypt”, God removes the barriers so that God can hear our crying.

Exactly a month prior to Passover we celebrate Purim. There the Megilah depicts Haman putting into motion a plan to kill all of the Jews. When hearing about the plan Mordechai is deeply saddened. There we read:

When Mordechai learned all that had happened, Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly,until he came in front of the palace gate; for one could not enter the palace gate wearing sackcloth. ( Esther 4:1-2)

But who is there to hear his crying? In the story of Purim there is no God. The King is absent from this story. Interestingly,  later on we see the story shift when Ahashverosh cannot sleep in his castle. There we read:

That night, sleep deserted the king, and he ordered the book of records, the annals, to be brought; and it was read to the king. There it was found written that Mordecai had denounced Bigtana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the threshold, who had plotted to do away with King Ahashverosh. “What honor or advancement has been conferred on Mordecai for this?” the king inquired. “Nothing at all has been done for him,” replied the king’s servants who were in attendance on him. ( Esther 6:1-3)

In the story of Purim the King is hidden. But it seems that the King hears our crying via agency of  Ahashverosh.  While this king sleeps, we know from Psalms that the King does not. There we read:

Behold, God the protector of Israel does not rest or sleep  (Pslam 121:4)

It is not immediate, but the story shift from a tragedy to a comedy because Mordechai’s cries are answered.

While the month before Tishre is a time when “the King is in the field” , the month before Passover is a time when the King hears our crying. While playful, the Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explained that Pesach literally means pehsach, “the mouth (peh) talks (sach).” On Pesach, the mouth talks about the wonders and miracles of liberation. On the most fundamental level, our greatest freedom is using our voices. But before we can experience liberation we need to be able to articulate our suffering and give voice to pain.  The lead up to the new year of Nisan and Pesach is God reminding us that God is open to hearing our pehsach- our voices crying.

We do not need the God of Elul now. Even if “the King is in the field”, most of us are stuck at home. We need the God from the run up to the new year of Nisan. This year more then ever in my life people around the world are crying, isolated, living with anxiety, or are suffering from being sick. We need liberation. We need to support the Moshes in the medical profession who are working non-stop to save us. We need to cry out for what is important and hope that God will be moved by our tears.  I hope that the King is listening.

-Drawn from a similar post from Elul

 

Getting Uploaded to the Cloud: Rethinking the Media of Yom Kippur

Before Marshall McLuhan  popularized the idea in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Aan educator Angus MacLean coined the phrase “The method is the message.” For McLuhan it morphed into the idea that “The medium is the message.” McLuhan uses the term ‘message’ to signify content and character. The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped. And the character of the medium is another message which can be easily overlooked. McLuhan says “Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled “the scale and form of human association and action.” It means that the nature of a medium (the channel through which a message is transmitted) is more important than the meaning or content of the message.

I was thinking about this last year on Yom Kippur during a walk with Yishama right before Neilah. My 12 year old and I needed to stretch our legs before the last service so we walked around the block from the synagogue. As we were headed back into the synagogue some said, “Gmar Chatima Tova“. Yishama asked me what that means. First I translated it for them- that the other person was wishing that we ” End with a Good Seal”. He looked at he if I was crazy so I launch into explain the Rabbi Kruspedai’s three books.

There in turn made me think of a Gemara in Rosh Hashanah where we learn:

Rabbi Kruspedai said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the in between. The thoroughly righteous are immediately inscribed definitively in the Book of Life; the thoroughly wicked are immediately inscribed definitively in the Book of Death; the doom of the people in between is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the Book of Death (Rosh Hashanah 16b)

So we say on Rosh Hashana we should be inscribed in the Book of Life and on Yom Kippur we should be sealed in the Book of Life. Again Yishama looked at he if I was crazy. He understood is a nice salutation, but it was lost to him.

If McLuhan and MacLean are right, what is the meaning of the media/method of a Book of Life? What might this mean for a child of the 21st Century? I turned to him and said, “On Rosh Hashana we saved to God’s desktop and on Yom Kippur we should be uploaded to the Cloud.” This made sense to Yishama and had meaning.

cloud computing platform, cloud server hosting, data infrastructure, dedicated cloud hosting, virtual cloud server icon

If the media is the message, a book might not continue to work for his generation. It is uplifting to know that being “saved” does work. It also makes me rethink all of the metaphors we use for God. To that ends, on this Yom Kippur I hope that we are all blessed to be uploaded to the Server up on high.

A Mother’s Cry: The Sound of the Shofar

We have been blowing Shofar since the advent of Elul, and on Monday we will have a ton of Shofar blasts. Why do we blow Shofar on Rosh HaShanah? There are a number of reasons. One of the more interesting one comes from a discussion in Gemara of Rosh HaShanah where the Rabbis were trying to determine the length of time a shofar blast should last. The Mishnah suggest  that a terua should be equal to the length of three whimpers. There we learn:

Isn’t it taught in a baraita that the length of a terua is equal to the length of three shevarim, i.e., broken blasts, which presumably are longer than whimpers? Abaye said: In this matter, the tanna’im certainly disagree. Although the first baraita can be reconciled with the mishna, this second baraita clearly reflects a dispute. As it is written: “It is a day of sounding [terua] the shofar to you”(Numbers 29:1), and we translate this verse in Aramaic as: It is a day of yevava to you. And to define a yevava, the Gemara quotes a verse that is written about the mother of Sisera: “Through the window she looked forth and wailed [vateyabev], the mother of Sisera” (Judges 5:28). One Sage, the tanna of the baraita, holds that this means moanings, broken sighs, as in the blasts called shevarim. And one Sage, the tanna of the mishna, holds that it means whimpers, as in the short blasts called teruot. (Rosh HaShanah 33b)

To quote Numbers and say we blow shofar on Rosh HaShanah because it is the day of blowing shofar is simply a tautology. In comparison it is interesting to make the connection to the wailing of  Sisera’s mother. As we learn in the book of Judges, Sisera commanded nine hundred iron chariots and oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. After the prophetess Deborah persuaded Barak to face Sisera in battle, they, with an Israelite force of ten thousand, defeated him at the Battle of Mount Tabor. After losing the battle, Sisera fled to a settlement where he was received by Yael. She brought him into her tent with apparent hospitality and gave him milk. Yael promised to hide Sisera and covered him with a rug; but after he fell asleep, she drove a tent-peg through his temple with a mallet, her blow being so forceful that the peg pinned his head to the ground. After this we read:

Through the window peered Sisera’s mother, Behind the lattice she whined: “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why so late the clatter of his wheels?”  (Judge 5:28)

It is strange enough that the Bible depicts this general’s mother there at the window watching her son die, but it seems even more peculiar that we evoke the sound of the mother of our enemy on Rosh HaShanah. Why?

In my mind if Rosh HaShanah is the Day of Judgement, the sound of the mother of an enemy’s general is the foundation of our empathy and possibly God’s lenient judgement.  Every child regardless of what they do has a parent who loves them. If we can hear that voice we can build on that love. If it works for the enemy, how much more so for the friend or family member?

I pause this year to consider the mental health and substance abuse crises affecting our communities. These are issues that we either do not talk about or talk about as if we are at war with an enemy. There are people struggling with mental health issues or drugs in our communities and they are surely not our enemy. They are people we need to empathize with and help. It has been an honor to help the Blue Dove Foundation this year with their effort to encourage Synagogues and their Rabbi’s to strongly consider Quieting the Silence (aka. #QUIETINGTHESILENCE) and discussing the struggles of mental health and substance abuse taking place in our communities. Education and dialogue will further the conversation and help eradicate the shame and stigma.

The Jewish High Holidays, is a perfect place to start. With your assistance during the high holidays, using the information provided here, we hope that Jewish Communities will:

  • Start a community wide conversation during the Jewish High Holidays.
  • Have an open and honest conversations about the challenges we are facing as a community related to mental health and/or substance abuse.
  • Learn about trainings and educational opportunities in the upcoming year.
  • Learn about available resources as well as organizations available to assist with mental health and substance abuse struggles.
  • Be introduced to ways individuals can get involved.

These tools and resources are meant to help you include this very important topic in your words and thoughts during the upcoming Jewish High Holidays. If you have any questions or if you have something you’d like to contribute to the resources, please send to info@thebluedovefoundation.org

If we can connect to the wailing of Sisera’s Mother in the blast of the Shofar, we might be able to connect to other voices of pain and suffering in our community that we might not be hearing. And if we can do that we might even be able to connect to quieting the silence around talking about mental health and/or substance abuse in our community (#QUIETINGTHESILENCE). Let’s make some noise. Shanah Tova U’Metuka.

 

The Binding: Fenrir and Isaac

On the Second day of Rosh HaShana we read arguably the most central texts to Jewish life, the story of the test of Avraham. As we read God commands Avraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Isaac is bound and placed on the altar, and Avraham raises the knife to slaughter his son. A voice from heaven calls to stop him, saying that it was a test; a ram, caught in the undergrowth by its horns, is offered in Isaac’s place.

The Bible doesn’t specify how old Isaac was at the time of event. One clue to his age is when Isaac notices wood and fire but, seeing no animal, asks Avraham about it (Genesis 22:7). This implies that Isaac is at least old enough to know what the proper sacrificial process is and perceptive enough to ask his father about it. From the chronology of Sarah’s life we learn that the oldest he could have been was  36 or 37 when he was offered as a sacrifice (Sanhedrin 89b and Genesis Rabbah 56:8). So, Isaac was certainly not an older man when he was to be offered as a sacrifice, but neither was he a toddler. Probably the most useful clue to how old Isaac was their climb up the mountain.  Isaac is the one carrying the large pile of wood (Genesis 22:6). This fact tells us Isaac wasn’t a small child when he was to be sacrificed; he was at least a healthy teenager.

What is invested in the age of Isaac? If he was strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain, then he was probably physically and mentally strong enough to resist being sacrificed. The fact that Isaac allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar shows that Isaac continued to trust his father.

I was thinking about this question recently while reading up on my Norse mythology.  And yes I was preparing to take my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok which is coming out in theaters soon. I read the story of Fenrir  the monstrous wolf  who is foretold to kill the god Odin during the events of Ragnarök. As the story goes Odin foresees that Fenrir will kill him so he gets the gods to capture him in hopes of saving himself. The gods plan is to control Fenrir to preempt his destroying the world by binding him in chains. Like a virile teenager Fenrir enjoys the challenge and is happy to prove his growing strength in breaking their chains. Eventually they produce Gleipnir, a magical slender unbreakable silken strip. Even though he wants to prove his strength Fenrir is no fool and does not trust them. He concedes to be bound as long as one of them will place their hand in his mouth. Everyone refused to place their hand in Fenrir’s mouth until Týr put out his right hand and placed it into the wolf’s jaws. They bind him and like the wolf from Peter and the Wolf the more Fenrir kicked, Gleipnir caught tightly, and the more Fenrir struggled, the stronger the band grew. At this, everyone laughed, except Týr, who there lost his right hand.

Why does Fenrir want to be bound to prove his strength? Fenrir is driven by pride and glory. Like a teen Fenrir needs to test his limits to understand himself. This growing power is exactly what the other gods fear in him and leads to his tragic capture. Ultimately he is limited by his drive for success. And while the gods do this for self-protection, it is not without a price.

Coming back to this test of Avraham the story of Fenrir is a fascinating foil. First of all it is not ever called the test of Avraham, but rather the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. If in fact he is not a young lad at the time of his binding, it is easy to see him as a teen. What is Isaac proving by carrying the wood, let alone being complicit his binding, getting on the alter, and almost sacrifice? Isaac is seeking to push his limits and understand the limits of his own body and his relationship with his father.  And what does the binding of a 37-year-old man mean?  Like Fenrir does Isaac have something to prove? We never see Avraham and Isaac interact again after the Akedah. Might their relationship be severed like  Týr’s right hand?

Coming back to Rosh HaShana the story of Fenrir is also a fascinating foil. What drives us to success? Might these traits that help us grow and strive for more also limit our success? In what ways are we heroic or tragic in proving we can deal with being bound?  May we all find a way to be unbound this coming year. Shana Tova.

 

 

Möbius Torah: The Media and Message of Torah and Teshuva

Recently my dear friend Shalom Orzach was in touch because he wanted explore making another contemporary daf of Talmud. Together we had made one exploring Leah Goldberg’s Pine and the Landscape of Israel  and it was a lot of fun. Despite being very busy I was up for the challenge. It seemed like a great way of preparing for the High Holidays. Pretty quickly we started batting back and forth different texts that we might want to play with in the project. You really have to love Google Docs. Out of this process emerged two interested strands dealing with Teshuva and the question as to where or when is the beginning of our story.

In general this project was in pursuit of putting modern and relevant content in the standard form of the Vilna Daf.

Image result for daf talmud

In general it is an amazing way to portray a conversation over time, but seeing the themes involved I thought we might push ourselves.

Marshall McLuhan once coined  the phrase “The medium is the message“. What would it take for us to find a way to ensure that the form of a medium would embed itself in any message it would transmit? This inspired our creation of Where To Begin: Unending Learning for the 10 Days of Repentance  (Möbius Torah 1.0). To make a Möbius Torah please:

  1. Print this page our on Ledger (11×17) sized paper. This will ensure it is big enough to read.
  2. Cut out the table on the sheet.
  3. Fold along the dotted line with the writing facing outwards.
  4. Bend Paper  into a circular shaped cuff.
  5. Tape the ends to create a möbius strip as in this picture.Image result for mobius strip
  6. As you learn it turn it and turn it again because there is no beginning and no end to learning Torah.
  7. Alternatively you can just learn the text without the arts and crafts project, but that would not be as much fun.

With Möbius Torah 1.0 we hope to create a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message the Torah is perceived. Please print this out and enjoy. It has been a pleasure playing with Shalom in the bringing you this Torah. As always I would love your input and ideas for other ways to make revelation relevant, engaging,  and more accessible. So please do be in touch.

Gmar Chatima Tova


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