Archive for the '4.4 Passover to Shavuot' Category

Sharing the Cookies: Joy of a Nation

I feel tremendous gratitude to part of the Schusterman Fellowship. I am honored to be a part of such a remarkable cohort. In preparation for the first session of the program each of us was asked to describe our Jewish story in 3-5 vignettes from our lives. In preparing to share my Jewish narrative with my peers I recalled what must be one of my earliest memories.

I must have been in Kindergarten. I remember going in the required blue pants and white shirt. I also have a vague memory of some construction paper thing on my head. My local Jewish Day school went to a nearby Jewish old age home on Yom HaAtzmaut to sing for them.  After we finished singing two older women with thick German accents  singled me out of the crowd and pulled me aside. They told me how they were friends with my Oma, herself a German immigrant. And just like that they handed me two big bags of home-made cookies. While so many details have washed away over the years I can recall it as just yesterday the joy of sharing those cookies with my classmates on the bus.

These two women were strangers in a strange land, but they made me feel special and at home by connecting with me. Since that day I feel a responsibility to share the experience of belonging with my fellow Jews. As part of the Schusterman Fellowship I also have the good fortune of having regular meetings with a personal coach. In conversation with him I got to realized that in retrospect that experience really defines the work that I have been striving to do in the Jewish communities in Belarus, Washington University in St. Louis, and camps across North America for over 25 years.

Recently I went to suburban Philadelphia to visit my mother for Mother’s day.  When I came, having no idea I had been thinking about this story, my mother shared that she recently found picture that I might life.

I was blown away. There I am on the right with my blue pants, white shirt,  and construction paper thing on my head celebrating Israel at 30. All of these years later I recognize the significance of having a State of Israel. With a rebirth of our national homeland we would never really be alone again. Instead of a life of paranoia fearing what might be coming for us living as strangers in a strange lands, Israel would always be there to have our backs. In many ways my life’s work is helping people experience pronoia, the sense that people are conspiring to help them, by joyfully sharing the cookies.

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A Week of Perseverance: The Omer and the Resistance

This week was a big week for us filled with some of our nation’s the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows. Off the heals of Yom HaShoah last week, this week was packed with Yom haZikaron followed by Yom Haztamaut. While we have spent most of history in diaspora we never lost our hope to return to Israel. Our national strength and fortitude was forged in our march from slavery in Egypt to receive the Torah at Sinai. During this time we are also counting the Omer as we count the time from Passover to Shavuot. In a short period of 49 days our ancestors were transformed from a disembodied slaves to a nation standing before the Creator ready to receive the Torah.

The Kabbalists projected on to this journey of 7 weeks a whole program of traveling through a 7 by 7 grid of the different valences of experiencing the sephirot, emanations of the Divine. It seems fitting that today the 25th day of the Omer at the culmination of this week commemorating the recent survival and flourishing of the Jewish people we take notice of the moment of being Netzach ShebeNetzach, perseverance in the valence of perseverance. Today is the day in which we celebrate our steadfastness in doing something despite the difficulty or delay in achieving success.

Angela Duckworth, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, writes a lot of grit. You should check out her Ted Talk:

Professor Duckworth wrote:

…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.( Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success)

This reminds me of how we see ourselves in the Hatikvah :

Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost: To be a free people in our land

We are truly a gritty and ancient people with a youthful soul. It is clear we have the capacity to endure much more than we can imagine, and to prevail under the most trying of circumstances. Today more than ever the world needs our grit to help in persistence in the resistance. We need to persevere, this will take some time.

-More on Netzach

Calendar and Convenience

For some of us today has been spent gearing up for the final days of the Passover Holiday starting tonight. Having had Seder Monday and Tuesday night last week and then Shabbat of Chol HaMoed Pesach it has been a very busy week . For someone like myself who enjoys a lack of structure and is trying to lose some weight, it has been hard week filled with ritual eating.  Juxtaposed my traditional observance of the the rhythm of the Jewish calendar there has been an increasing number of people moving their observance of the Passover Seder to a time of mutual convenience. Recently I saw this phenomenon of moving the Jewish calendar to make sense in the lives of North American Jews being pointed out in Judaism Unbound, one of my favor Podcasts, in an episode by Vanessa Ochs, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Professor Ochs points out that it does not work for her, but it is clearly working for the practitioners. What is ritual if not to make meaning for the practitioners?

I was thinking about this shift in practice when looking at the Torah’s description of this time of the year. There we read:

And you shall count to you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete; ( Leviticus 23:15)

During this time of the year we are told to count seven complete weeks of the Omer. Traditionally this means from the second day of Passover until Shavuot. But if you look in the text it actually says that we should count “from the morrow after the day of rest.” The Rabbis determined that “Shabbat” here means a day of rest and refers to the first day of Passover. According to this calculation, Shavuot will fall on the day of the week after that of the first day of Passover (e.g., if Passover starts on a Thursday, Shavuot will begin on a Friday).

Karaites differ in their understanding of “morrow after the Sabbath”. Karaites interpret the Sabbath to be the first weekly Sabbath that falls during Passover. As a result, the Karaite Shavuot is always on a Sunday, although the actual Hebrew date varies. Could one reread the Rabbinic interpretation that “Shabbat” here refers to the first day of Passover in reverse? What if Passover Seder was the Shabbat closest to Passover? That would make everything a lot easier.

I doubt that the current trend to move Passover to be at a time of convenience is remotely connected to any of these readings, I assume they are just doing what is convenient.  Just as I look at the Karaites with some skepticism, it is curious to imagine how future generations if not today’s generation might read the Rabbinic stringency around the Jewish calendar. I can admit a sadness that the Jewish people might separate as we have from the Karaites in the past. If we are out of sync with ourselves in not keeping a single Jewish calendar will we still be one people? But what is Jewish ritual if it has lost his meaning to a vast majority of Jews. When thinking about recreating relevant Jewish ritual Rabbi Levi Lauer‘s adage comes to mind. He wisely said, ” Comfort is not a Jewish Value.” Is convenience a Jewish Value?

Search Within: Some Thoughts on Omer and Education

In remembrance of the tragic deaths of 24,000 Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, several mourning practices are observed in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot. It’s important to understand why they died and what it means to us today.

We can start by looking at the Gemara in Yevamot. There we learn:

Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbata to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: “All of them died between Passover and Shavuot” (Yevamot 62b).

What is the Talmud teaching us by claiming that they died because they did “not treat each other with respect”? This is peculiar for students of Rabbi Akiva, who believed “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) was the Torah’s underlying principle (Torat Kehonim 4:12 / Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4). All students learned this foundational teaching. Perhaps, they learned it, but they didn’t internalize it?

Rabbi Akiva believed good character needed to be lived and not just taught. Before we love our neighbor as ourselves, we need to love ourselves. In order to love ourselves, we need to know ourselves. Of the students who know the general principles of the Torah, how many have internalized these lessons?

As the educator Parker Palmer said, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” We need to spend much more time at the start of the learning process to help our students listen to their lives in order to understand themselves.

In these 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, as we transition from liberation to revelation, we strive to internalize this lesson. In order to “treat each other with respect,” we need to have profound love and deep understanding of ourselves.

– As posted in Blog B’Omer

The Silver Platter: From Tears to Amazement

As we transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut   let’s take pause to reflect on the words of Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel in 1947, after the United Nations had voted to partition the British mandate and from it, to create two independent nations one Jewish and one Arab. He said:“No state is ever handed on a silver platter….The partition plan does not give the Jews a state but only an opportunity.” This in turn inspired Natan Alterman to write a poem titled The Silver Platter.

The poem is a prophetic prediction of what exactly it was going to take to create a Jewish State in the land of Israel, the level of commitment and dedication, and the level of loss that was going to require to transform the dream of an independent Jewish state into reality. He wrote:

And the land grows still, the red-eye of the sky  slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, torn at heart but breathing, to receive its miracle, there is not other
As the ceremony draws near,  it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation
Dressed in battle gear, dirty, shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head

Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”

And they will answer quietly, “We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told in the chronicles of Israel (December 19, 1947)

 

Every generation wants to do everything we can to make life easier for the next generation. I learned this poem for the first time in middle school. My father-in-law sent it to me today. It is amazing how different I read this now that I am a father. We need to pull the chronicles out from behind the shadows of history and reflect on the Silver Platter. Today is the day when we need to express our gratitude for the supreme sacrifice so many have made to bring about and maintain the modern State of Israel. As we move from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut we stop to realize that today is for tears and tomorrow is for amazement.

-This blog post is inspired by a Dvar Torah give my Silvio Frydman my father-in-law

The Sorrow to Joy Story

In the Mishna we learn:

In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’” Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, honor, bless, extol, and adore God Who performed all these miracles for our ancestors and us; He brought us forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into redemption. Therefore let us say before God, Hallelujah! (Pesachim 10:5)

This paradigm of “from sorrow into joy” frames many different stories of Passover.  In Egypt we were in bondage and suffering in servitude and then we were redeemed. That speaks of our physical bondage, but we also talk about our spiritual slavery being idolaters, the son of Terach.  Throughout history we have retold and reformed the motif of “from sorrow into joy” to see ourselves anew as though we had gone into and out of Egypt. Depending on which story of “from sorrow into joy” we want to tell, we start and end our story in different spots.

As move from Passover toward Shavuot, we have some noted moments along the way. Next week we will have Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. This is clearly a close connection between this story of “from sorrow into joy.” We go from Memorial Day to Independence day. But where does the commemoration of Yom HaShoah from this past week fit in to the “from sorrow into joy” plot line?

There is really nothing redeeming about the Holocaust, it is just bad, pure sorrow. Where is the joy? It is true that the State of Israel chose to commemorate the Holocaust on a day connected to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, while changes the story from being lamb to slaughter into people who nobly fought back. Still you could not categorize that as joy.  The Holocaust is a baseline of complete moral depravity. Broadly speaking you can break Jews into two groups. While they both say “Never Again”, one group says this cannot happen again to the Jewish people and the other group say this kind of horror cannot happen to anyone. While both are noble and true, it seems that we are all to often forced to pick particularism to the exclusion of universalism or visa versa.

For the people who are in the particularism camp the sorrow of being powerless in the Holocaust is met with the joy we celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut. There is no doubt the story of the Modern State of Israel is amazing, but we are left dealing with the peril of having power. For the people who are in the universalism camp the sorrow of the Holocaust is every bit as true, but how does this story end? Sadly, as of late, some people in this group do not tell the story of Yom HaAtzmaut as one of joy. I have no idea how the universal story which has so much sorrow will ever end with joy. We cannot afford to wait for a distant messianic era. We need to keep working for freedom, joy,  festivity, great light, and redemption for all. If we learned nothing else from the Mishna in Pesachim, our story “from sorrow into joy” can hold many different voice if we just take the time to listen and tell these stories to each other with a whole heart.

March of the Penguin: Netzach Yisrael

March of the Penguins is a documentary depicting the annual journey of Antarctica’s emperor penguins. In autumn, all the penguins of breeding age leave their normal habitat of the ocean to walk inland across the frozen tundra to their ancestral breeding grounds. There, the penguins participate in their yearly courtship ritual that, if successful, results in a chick. For their baby to survive the brutally cold environment, both parents must make multiple arduous journeys between the ocean and the breeding grounds over the ensuing months.

This harsh prelude introduces the immense joy of the next generation of penguins. Watching these families of penguins surviving the winter in these extreme conditions is mesmerizing. It is more invigorating then watching your favorite sports team win a come from behind victory in the last second of the game. The endurance and fortitude of the emperor penguin is a wonderful depiction of the sefirah of Netzach.

With the resurgence of global anti-Semitism, our low birthrates, and growing assimilation rate, on communal level it is hard not relating to the difficult polar conditions of the emperor penguins.  In a 1975 interview, Professor Salo W. Baron, thought to be the greatest Jewish historian of the 20th century, said “Suffering is part of the destiny [of the Jews], but so is repeated joy as well as ultimate redemption.” This is Netzach Yisrael– the joy, victory, and eternity of Jewish life.

It seems that the power of Netzah, like the annual journey of emperor penguins, is that we need to know that falling is not the same as failing, we are never doing it alone, community is critical to success, and the greatest joy is when a family shares its love with the next generation.

– Reposted from Lippman Kanfer Foundation For Living Torah Blog on Sefirat HaOmer and the Sefirot


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