Archive for the '8.1.4 Succot' 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

Herd,Happiness, and Hakafot

Hakafot on Sukkot bring happiness. In this ritual we encircle the bimah while holding the Four species on each of the seven days of the holiday. On Simchat Torah, the custom is to take the Torah scrolls out of the Ark and to encircle the bima and throughout the synagogue with great joy, singing, and dancing.

This circular movement is a symbol of perfection and unity, and communal cooperation. According to the story told in the Book of Joshua, the Israelites walked around the city of Jericho once a day for a week and seven times on the seventh day, with the priests leading the way, carrying the Ark of the Covenant each time. On the seventh day, the people blew the  shofar and shouted, causing the walls to fall and allowing them to enter the city. In the Temple period, when they wanted to add area to the Temple Mount, they first encircled the desired area and only after added land to the Temple Mount. Clearly this ritual finds analogous behavior in our Muslim’s circumambulation around the Kaaba Stone.

This might give us the historical context of the hakafot, is there any inner meaning to the custom? I had not given this much thought until I saw this extraordinary footage from a drone of a reindeer cyclone from above:

If you are a young, old, or weak reindeer, you will find yourself at the heart of the herd and it offers you protection. If you are strong you are on the outside protecting the weak. The herd provides you purpose. As Dr Daniel Dennet said in one of my favorite TED Talks” The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.” In their circular movement all of reindeer find their happiness in that they can dedicate their life to the safety of the herd.

We see the same thing when it comes to hakafot. Our circling as a community centers the needs of the community at the heart of our herd.

I would think we feel the same way about getting vaccinated. This is the very idea of the strong supporting the weak and creating a cyclone effect of herd immunity. It seems on this level getting vaccinated would give our lives religious purpose.

Tu B’Shvat Time: Turning the Corner

I am sure that I am not alone in my experience of time being distorted during Covid and the Trump Administration. I have the peculiar feeling that a day lasts a week, but in retrospect a week passes in what feels like a day. I often have had the feeling we are stuck in an endless road trip. I find myself peering out the window looking for road signs. I am waiting to see any indication that we are getting closer to the off ramp from this highway. And did I mention I have to pee?

Colorado Changes 420 Mile Marker Sign to Ward Off Heists

With vaccines in circulation, it seems that we might turn the corner on Covid-19 at some point. Since the shockingly peaceful transfer of power on Inauguration day, it feels these Bernie Memes are road signs indicating that we are almost there.

With the advent of Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the Trees, we get our first glimpse of spring. We see the end of the school year and the start of the camp season are on the horizon.  In the Chasidic community, there is a custom where some pickle or candy their etrog (citron) from Sukkot and eat it on Tu B’Shvat. The Bnei Yissaschar, 19th Century Chassidic master, shares an interesting lesson. He teaches:  

On Tu B’Shevat one should pray for a beautiful, perfect, kosher etrog at the time it is needed for the mitzva. This is the day when the sap rises in the trees according to the merits of each member of Israel, and how good and pleasant it is that one pray on this day, the foundational moment of new growth. (Shevat, Discourse 2:2

We should plan in Sukkot for Tu B’Shvat and pray on Tu B’Shvat for an etrog for Sukkot. If we plan and pray we will be rewarded with sweetness and beauty.  There is splendor in this practice that is inviting us to be intention with our time year-round. What an important lesson to awaken us from the malaise of our Covid stupor. That itself seems to be something important to learn for our current situation. This attunement is a Covid-Keeper- something I would like to keep long after Covid is vanquished.

Have a wonderful time on Tu B’Shvat- Shana Tova 

Cloud Based Connection

The start of Sukkot marks seven months of Covid- 19 lock down. This gives me pause to think about where we are in history at this moment. For most of us who are not working on the front line of Covid- 19 we are out of harms way at home, but we are still not out of the woods. In some ways I see that we are reliving the time of sukkot in the Torah.  About this time we read:

You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:42-43)

We are reliving our time in the wilderness having left Egypt but not made it yet to the Promised Land. We are in the space between averting risk and still not being totally free.

The porous structure of the sukkah speaks to our vulnerable state of being during this period of time between unknown and known. The sukkah is both a time and the location for sheltering in place. But what was the original structure of the sukkot? About this we learn in the Talmud:

Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the sukkot of the desert experience were “clouds of glory,” which hovered over the Children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva disagrees saying,  “The sukkot were real booths that they built for themselves.” (Sukkah 11b)

Both rabbis assumed that this holiday was to be a time to connect with God, but were the sukkot divine and virtual according to Rabbi Eliezer or real sukkot according to Rabbi Akiva? Both Rabbis celebrated sukkot in real sukkot, so what was the difference?

Our Covid-19 social distancing reality has made us aware that we actually want to connect.   When this started I doubted it possible to connect in a deep way virtually through a computer screen. Being forced to engage with each other through the internet seemed forced and inauthentic. After having to move many in-person conferences online and had more zoom meetings than I can count I can say it works. It might not be what we wanted but it is much more then we expected.

Blue Internet Cloud Icon , Transparent Cartoon, Free Cliparts & Silhouettes  - NetClipart

In this timely and timeless moment of Sukkot we are all vulnerable and open.  The virtual can itself be real if we are open to making the connection. As we shelter in place we realize that we are in a time of sukkot  in which Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva are actually agreeing. The cloud based connection can be a safe alternative to make real connections.

-revisited from Sheltering in Place: COVID-19 as a Time of Sukkot

Remembering My Father on Sukkot

Everyone warned me that the High Holidays would be hard this year after the recent passing of my father, but in truth, it was just not the case – until now.

As a Jewish camp alum and professional, I typically associate the Sukkah with camp. Camp – like a Sukkah – is temporary, but the brevity of our time there endows it with a special sense of holiness. Camp is an intentional community we create with our own hands, yet it is a mystical and meaningful place that transcends the physical space in which it’s located.

My father did not especially connect with the High Holidays. He was not a religious Jew in any conventional way, but he was a deeply spiritual person. And while he was a genius and spent an extraordinary amount of his time and energy in his formidable mind, he loved to build things with his hands.

Some of my favorite memories of my father are of his building things. For him, building a Sukkah made more sense than the more abstract Jewish rituals.  This Sukkot, I pause to contemplate anew the nature of the Sukkah, in memory of my father.

When we think of a Sukkah, we often think of a hut covered in branches. While a Sukkah is a tangible physical structure formed by human hands, it is also connects us to experiences we can’t see or touch in a traditional sense: the history of our people, and our metaphysical relationship with God. It’s a lovely paradox that by entering the enclosed space of the Sukkah, we connect to something outside of ourselves. We’re supposed to cover the Sukkah with branches so we can still see the stars, which can be viewed as a reminder that we can always find light in the world, so long as we don’t close ourselves off from it.

While the Sukkah allows us to enter our historical and religious memories, it is also a place we build to spend time with our families. My father found deep spiritual fulfillment in creating a space for his family to meet and be together. He was not just building a physical structure; he was building family connections and cherished memories. When I enter a Sukkah, I not only bring the historical memories of the Jewish people with me, but my personal memories of my family as well. When I enter a Sukkah, I can’t help but think of my father and all the joyful times we shared within its walls. He is there with me.

My mourning has intensified this Sukkot.  I find comfort, however, in the nature of the Sukkah itself. A Sukkah is made up of tangible materials that come from the earth, but it also connects us with the mysteries of heaven and the treasured memories of our communal and personal past. And even in the absence of the earthly structure, the light shines on.

May the Memory of James Joseph Orlow z’l

reposted from FJC Blog

Sukkot Gets Real

Everyone warned me that the High Holidays would be hard after the recent passing of my father, but in truth, it was just not the case. My father did not especially connect with these holidays. He was not a religious Jew in any conventional way. He did not grow up with much Jewish ritual in his life. At the same time, he was a deeply spiritual person. He spent close to 60  years of his life immersed in the study and practice of law, but I do not think he connected to the idea of a court on high in which we would be judged. Almost his entire career and life was committed to immigrants to this country, but in many ways in the place of the synagogue he himself was an alien.

While my dad was a genius and spent an extraordinary amount of his time and energy in his formidable mind, he loved to build things with his hands. When it comes to my mourning process, there is a big part of me that is expecting the shoe to drop on Sukkot. Some of my favorite memories of my father are of his building things. For him, building a Sukkah made more sense than the more abstract Jewish rituals.  This Sukkot, I pause to contemplate the nature of the Sukkah, in memory of my father.

The Talmud records a difference of opinion between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva regarding the nature of a Sukkah. Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the Sukkot of the desert experience were “clouds of glory,” which hovered over the Children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva disagrees saying,  “The Sukkot were real booths that they built for themselves.” (Sukkah 11b) Did either Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva think that when they entered into a Sukkah in their own era that they were actually sitting in the imagined reference point? Either way you cut it the Sukkah is a symbol. Does this symbol represent a metaphor to the Divine presence or does it represent something akin to what we were using in the desert?

Clearly these two Rabbis would eat in each other’s Sukkot, so what are they disagreeing about? At one level we could understand the disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva to be one of understanding what it means to be Jewish. Is being Jewish a religion ( “clouds of glory”) or a nationality (real booths they used post Exodus in the desert)? The Sukkah is a tangible and real structure formed by human hands. And at the same time it is it a spiritual space that connects us to God. The Sukkah can be a symbol of our experience as a people in a physical and historic way, while simultaneously offering  a religious manifestation of our metaphysical relationship with God.

While at first glance I think that my father might agree with Rabbi Akiva, I truly believe that he connected to Rabbi Eliezer as well. He found  deep spiritual fulfillment in creating a space for his family to meet and be together. While, the Sukkah is immersive metaphor we get to really enter our national and religious memories, it is also the place we build to hold family memories. 

I’m reminded of the many ways in which camp is like a Sukkah, an  immersive metaphor we get to really enter. Camp is a community we create with our own hands, yet it is a mystical and meaningful place that transcends the physical space in which it’s located. Like a Sukkah, camp is temporary, but the brevity of our time there endows it with a special sense of holiness all year-long. Additionally, while a Sukkah is an enclosed dwelling made up of four walls to keep us safe, we are supposed to cover it with branches to ensure that we can still see the stars above. Camp also functions this way: while it takes place in a specific space and time and is safe and secure, the lessons we learn and the friends we make transcend these limitations, providing a light that shines through the year – and for the rest of our lives. For many of us camp friends are really like family. 

For me I expect that my mourning will get real during Sukkot.  I find comfort, however, in the nature of the Sukkah itself. A Sukkah is all at once a metaphor for the tangible, mystical, and familial. 

James Joseph Orlow z’l and Libi Frydman Orlow his 14th grandchild

 

The Garden of Gratitude

Last Shabbat, being Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot,  we read Kohelet and this coming Shabbat, being the Shabbat after Simchat Torah, we will be starting to reread the Torah from the beginning of Genesis. How do we go from Kohelet to Genesis?

Kohelet is written from the perspective of Solomon. Like Siddhartha, Solomon was the king and had everything, but he gave it up to find a life a meaning.There we read:

I said in my heart: ‘Come now, I will try you with mirth, and enjoy pleasure’; and, behold, this also was vanity.  I said of laughter: ‘It is mad’; and of mirth: ‘What does it accomplish?’ I searched in my heart how to pamper my flesh with wine, and, my heart conducting itself with wisdom, how yet to lay hold on folly, till I might see which it was best for the sons of men that they should do under the heaven the few days of their life.  I made me great works; I built me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and parks, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit. (Kohelet 2:1-5)

Solomon has everything, but he realizes that is it not enough. You can even see here in his trying to plant every kind of fruit that he is trying to recreate Eden itself with the trees of Life and Knowledge of Good and Evil.  There is a profound parallel here between Solomon ( Kohelet) and Adam.  As we read in Genesis

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may eat freely, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ ( Genesis 2: 16-17)

Why was the fruit of every tree except for this one not enough? This speaks to a profound truth to the human condition. If only we could conquer our inner need to have more, we might be happy with what we have.  In this time of year as we returned to nature in the Sukkah we tried in different ways to return to Eden. In the past I wrote about how the act of bringing together the four species on Sukkot itself is an act of putting the fruit of the tree of knowledge back on the  tree. But maybe that itself is missing the point.

Would returning to Eden and access to all of the trees itself be vanity of vanities? This year I want to focus on being grateful for all of the great things I  have in my life without wanting more.  I am truly blessed and I strive to be content. How will I tend my garden of gratitude?

Gog, Magog, & Ragnarök 

Tonight we start the holiday of Sukkot. This year the way the calendar falls out we go right from two days of Yom Tov into Shabbat. The Haftarah we read on Shabbat ( which is the same one we read on Chol Ha-Moed Pesach) is the story of Gog u-Magog from the book of Yechezkel. Here we read about a prophesied enemy nation of God’s people. This prophecy is meant to be fulfilled at the approach of what is called the “end of days“, but not necessarily the end of the world. Jewish eschatology viewed Gog u-Magog as enemies to be defeated by the Messiah, which will usher in the age of the Messiah. Magog was one of the nations according to Genesis descended from Yafet son of Noah (Genesis 10:2). What is the connection between this fanciful prophetic vision of the end of days and the Sukkot?

I was thinking about this question recently while reading up on my Norse mythology.  As I previously mentioned  I have been preparing to take my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok which is coming out in theaters soon. In Norse mythologyRagnarök is a series of future events, including a great battle, foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods OdinThorTýrFreyrHeimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. Ragnarök is an important event in Norse mythology, and has been the subject of scholarly discourse, theory throughout the history, and a movie that I hope lives up to the hype.

There are some very interesting connections between these two myths that talk about an end of days war that will reboot the system. It is noteworthy that at the end of Sukkot we move into Simchat Torah in which we we celebrate the end and the restarting of the liturgical reading of the Torah. Like  Ragnarök, after violence and complexity of the war of Gog u-Magog we will reboot our narrative and also start the story of the world with the simplicity of two human survivors. Maybe we read Gog u-Magog  to prepare for our return to Eden. What is it about the human condition that needs to experience such violence before we are ready for the messianic vision of rebirth.

-For more Norse Mythology and Torah see Binding: Fenrir and Isaac

 

Nothing Trumps Character : Some Timely Reflection on the Election

We will have a great reckoning on  November 9th. I am not talking about anything political, but rather the eventuality of our needing to deal with who we are as a nation. This election has called into question the nature of our character as people. With the election finally behind us we will need to make sense of who we are and who we want to become. We cannot just blame it all on the politicians. We have to recognize our role in the circus of this election. All of us, a part of it, sitting there in the big top tent cheering,  jeering, watching, and waiting for the next spectacle.  We have to own our part of not turning away from the sickening entertainment; and sadly, we have to admit it has been fun. Finally, without the distraction of  those seeking public office, we will need to make sense of our moral lives. How will we explain this to the next generation?

I was particularly struck by the Republican response to revelation of the 2005 Access Hollywood video tape. For those who have been following Trump’s train wreck of a campaign this was not out of character given his history of horrible comments about women. Why, after months of “othering” so many people and groups of people, was this was over a line causing many of his supporters to jump ship? And to make it worse, so many of his supporters opened their remarks saying, “As a father of daughters…” So in response to all of them I have to say that as of father of daughters and as father of sons, and as a human being, I am deeply troubled by the implications of this election. To my mind having to apologize to stand up to misogyny with the prop of a daughter is itself part of the problem of our society.

Earlier in the campaign when Trump was asked about his misogynistic language (as compared to the recent tape of his bragging about sexual assault) he deflected the question by saying:

I think the big problem this country has is being  politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.

So it is true that I am not Mexican, I am not a Muslim, I am not yet disabled, I am not a war veteran, I am not “from the inner cities”, I am not a person of color, I am not gay, and I am not a woman. I am an educated white heterosexual man from the suburbs who is the father of daughters and sons.  So while I am pretty safe and in a position of privilege, as a Jew I cannot forget the lessons of history and the importance, for humanity’s sake, of standing up for what’s right.  We cannot stand idly by in this practice of “othering” people. So, I have to be honest with you, this country needs to make time to talk about these issues.

So, last Sunday I got up and got sucked into the vortex of my Facebook feed yet again. I found myself  watching a video of Trump at one of his rallies. In response to violence breaking out against protesters at his rally, Trump joked,  “You have to admit that there is nothing as fun as a Trump rally”.  While it seems absolutely deplorable to joke about violence in any form, I got to thinking if, in a sick way, Trump might be right. Is it true? Is there nothing as fun as a Trump rally? I cannot imagine that I am the only one who cannot stop watching it. What is the nature of our character when having fun is necessarily at the expense of “othering” people?

I was thinking about this the night which marked the advent of the holiday of Sukkot- Chag Simchateynu– the holiday of our happiness. How do we as Jews define fun and what does it say about our character?

Every morning throughout Sukkot when the Temple in Jerusalem stood, a unique service was performed: the Nisuch ha-Mayim –  Water Libation Ceremony. The water for the libation ceremony was drawn from a pool in the City of David and carried up the Jerusalem pilgrim road to the Temple. Afterwards, every night in the outer Temple courtyard, tens of thousands of spectators would gather to watch the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah -Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing. As the most pious members of the community danced and sang songs of praise to God the dancers would juggle lit torches, and were accompanied by the harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets of the Levites. We learn in the Mishna in Sukkah, ” They [the Sages] said: Anyone who has never seen the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah has never seen rejoicing in all his days” (Sukkah 5:1). So evidently the fun was palpable, but does it stand up to a Trump rally?

The  Mishna continues:

At the conclusion of the first day of the Festival of Sukkot  (That would be today) they went down to the court of women, where they had made a tikkun gadol- great enactment. (Sukkah 5:2)

What does this mean? Why did they need to make a great enactment amidst all of this fun? On this the Gemara asks the same question saying:

What was the great enactment? Rabbi Elazar said: Like that of which we have learned: Originally [the walls of the Court of the Women] were smooth, but [later the Court] was surrounded with a gallery, and it was enacted that the women should sit above and the men below. (Sukkah 52a)

Is this model of Simcha by marginalizing women our model of highest joy? Let’s continue by looking at the Gemara which says:

Our rabbis have taught: Originally the women used to sit within the Court of the Women while the men were outside, but this would cause levity, it was instituted that the women should sit outside and the men inside. But they would still come to levity. It was instituted that the women should sit above and the men below. (Sukkah 52a)

While Trump, a model of levity and licentiousness, is happy inspiring inappropriate behavior at a rally, here, at the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah, amidst this occasion of real joy, they enacted various changes that would prevent frivolity and maintain holiness. It is interesting to note that they tried various solutions until finding one that prevented frivolity. At first, they put the women in the middle and the men on the outside, but that did not work. Then, they put the men in the middle and the women on the outside and this also did not work. It was only when the women were in the balcony that it worked. Did they even consider putting the men in the balcony and the women where the action was?

In her essay  “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in which she coined the expression “Male GazeLaura Mulvey wrote:

Woman, then, stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as the bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.                                     

Reading these words helped me unpack why all of the “fathers-of-daughters” politicians drove me crazy. It seemed that it was too little too late given the litany of people that Trump and his supporters have marginalized. And while it seemed noble for them to stand up to Trump’s objectification of women, in their very rejection of Trump these politicians objectified women.  Being offended on one’s daughter’s behalf makes those very daughters “bearers of meaning and not makers of meaning.” How is this any different than what was going on with the great enactment of the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah? Neither of the first two solutions dealt with the issue that it is the active male who gazes and passive female who is being looked at that leads to frivolity.

This great enactment at this moment of the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah in the Temple is locus classicus for why any Orthodox Synagogue today has a mechitzah. For more on this see some great essays by Rabbi Henkin in his book Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Women’s Issues. So before I jump on the band wagon of tarring and feathering Trump for his having fun at the expense of others it seems worthy of reflecting about how I as an Orthodox Jew communicates values to my daughters and my sons from the context of an Orthodox synagogue.

The solution in the time of Temple was putting women in a  balcony, but might there have been another solution if we had not been limited to the structure of the Temple? Why is this moment at the Temple the model for our synagogues thousands of years later? Might there be a better model for appropriate fun for our synagogues today?

After the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis longed for ways to bring the sanctity of the Temple into our lives. Ezekiel cries out, “Lord God, you are wiping out the remnant of Israel.” God responds by declaring that God has “removed them far among the nations and have scattered them among the countries, and I have become to them a mikdash me’at, a small sanctuary”. (Ezekiel 11:13) According to the Talmud , God will dwell in the holy spaces we create, for they are the Temple in miniature (Megilah 29a). A synagogue was transformed into mikdash me’at, for us to gain access to the temple. In addition we read in Psalms:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. ( Psalms 137: 5-6)

Through the synagogue we could gain access to real joy. So Jerusalem is the place of joy and as we learned in the Mishna in Sukkah, the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah was the paradigmatic time of joy. This seems to set the standard for the synagogue with its great enactment.   But what is significant about this particular moment?

In the cycle of the year, we have just made it through the ordeal of judgment throughout the High Holidays. During the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah, we are immersed in the ritually rich holiday of Sukkot heading towards the holiday of Simchat Torah.  All this on the heals of Yom Kippur, when we expiated ourselves from our sins, we now show up in the Temple to start the reading of Genesis and imagine starting over again as equals with everyone as we were in the Garden of Eden.  “And God created man in God’s own image, in the image of God created God man; male and female created God them” ( Genesis 1:27). We imagine ourselves side by side with no one being marginalized.

During the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah they showed up at the Temple to be seen by God, but they needed to deal with their inappropriate gazing that led to frivolity. As we create our mikdash me’at in our synagogues today, we are also trying to make a space where people can show up to be seen by the Divine and where there is no frivolity.  Might men and women standing side by side with a mechitzah right down the middle be our great enactment?  In this way we can experience appropriate joy without having to “other” anyone, neither our daughters nor our sons.  In my mind this is a model of true joy and the ideal for a synagogue.

How might this divine gaze be a model for us as a society?  How might seeing ourselves side by side help us deal with the levity and frivolity in our culture? Standing side by side we can do away with “Locker Room Banter”. Standing side by side we can be crystal clear and define sexual consent. Standing side by side we can stem the tide of our rape culture that is so pervasive on our college campuses. Standing side by side we can make life better for our daughters and our sons. Standing side by side we can re-imagine what it means to have fun without it being at anyone’s expense.

On November 9th, we will still need to deal with the fact that thousands of people in this country have been showing up at Trump rallies. Trump has given them a much wanted voice. I would like to think that under all of this hatred is a noble humanity that just yearns to be seen. As a nation we will need to help everyone find ways to be proud of who they are. We need to take time to let people be honest and let our true selves be seen. To maintain our republic we need to institute a great enactment to ensure that this is never happening at the expense of marginalizing others. “Othering” people is just not fun.

In order for us to become a more perfect union we will need to spend some time thinking about our ideas and the context of our ideals.  To play with one of my favorite quotes which was written by Frank Outlaw, I would say:

Watch your context , they become your thoughts;

watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Chag Sameakh- May we all be blessed with a truly fun and joyful holiday.

 

-This is adapted from a drasha I gave the second day of Yom Tov Sukkot. And yes it caused a bit of stir.

The Symbol of the Sukkah: Physical and Metaphysical

As I was sitting in our sukkah this week, I got to thinking about what this behavior represents. The Talmud records a difference of opinion between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer teaches that the sukkot of the desert experience were “clouds of glory,” which hovered over the Children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva disagrees saying,  “The sukkot were real booths that they built for themselves.” (Sukkah 11b) It seems strange in that either way you cut it the Sukkah is a symbol. The question is does this symbol represent something akin to what we are using or does it represent a metaphor. Did either Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva think that we are actually sitting in the imagined reference point? I am not saying that they are lying, but neither is real. So what are they disagreeing about?

At one level we could understand the disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva to be one of understanding what it means to be Jewish. Is being Jewish a religion ( “clouds of glory”) or a nationality ( real booths they used post Exodus in the desert)?   Joseph Campbell said:

Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
But maybe that is the point of the sukkah any way. It is immersive metaphor we get to really enter. The sukkah can be a symbol of our experience as a people in physical and history way at the same time as it can be a religious manifestation of our metaphysical relationship with God.  In this horrid political season it is wonderful to find a place in the sukkah where we can all come together, both expressions are authentic, and neither is a liar.

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