Posts Tagged 'Ritual'

Memory Moorings 

As told in a Chassidic story by Rabbi Yechezkel Panet ( 1783-1845), a king was traveling through the desert, and his son, the crown prince, thirsted for water. But instead of dispatching a horseman to fetch water from the nearest town, the king ordered a well to be dug at that very spot and to mark it with a signpost.

“At the present time,” explained the king to his son, “we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst. Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set.”(Mar’eh Yechezkel)

This is brought as an explanation for Emor, this week’s Torah portion, where we read, “ These are the appointed times of God, mikra’ei kodesh– callings of holiness, which you shall call in their appointed time.” (Leviticus 23:2) What does it mean that we have these “appointed times”?

In a sense each of the festivals are landmarks in time at which we are empowered to call forth the particular holiness or spiritual quality embedded within it. Passover is the mooring for freedom; Shavuot is the landmark for our getting the Torah; Rosh Hashanah is for God became king of the universe; Yom Kippur is for the gift of teshuvah; and so on. The human experience is hard to navigate. These “appointed times” are set up to help us find our way. 

The special mitzvot of each festival are the ways with which we “call forth the holiness” of the day: eating matzah on Passover anchors our freedom, sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah connects us to awe, and so on with all “the appointed times of God.”

Similar to being lost in the desert is being lost at sea. Amidst the turbulent sea of our lives, like the Kong’s well these rituals are mooring for memories allowing us to deeply connect and get our bearings even when we are far from shore. 


Shaking Cynicism

blog 4 species succotWhen I got home the other night with my  four species in hand for Succot, I found our sons Yadid , 5 years old, and Yishama, 3 years old, dressed in their newly purchased Power Rangers costumes (blue and red respectively). They were hard at play, but were all too happy to take a break to look at the “cool plants” that Abba brought home. It is clear that I will have to spend a lot of time trying to explain the extraordinary rituals of Succot to them. They both have  rich imaginations, so in many ways it will be  easier giving an explanation that works for them than coming up with something that works for me. What is the inner meaning of the ritual of shaking four species in celebration of Succot?

Thinking of this question made me thing of something I read by Rene Descartes. He wrote:

… whether awake or asleep, we ought never to allow ourselves to be persuaded of the truth of anything unless on the evidence of our reason. And it must be noted that I say of our reason, and not of our imagination or of our senses: thus, for example, although we very clearly see the sun, we ought not therefore to determine that it is only of the size which our sense of sight presents; and we may very distinctly imagine the head of a lion joined to the body of a goat, without being therefore shut up to the conclusion that a chimera exists; for it is not a dictate of reason that what we thus see or imagine is in reality existent; but it plainly tells us that all our ideas or notions contain in them some truth; for otherwise it could not be that God, who is wholly perfect and veracious, should have placed them in us.” (Descartes’ Reason Discourse Part IV)

We are all asked to question our lived experience and only trust reason. In many ways, Yadid and Yishama ,in their ability to play make-believe, are more advanced in this religious experience than I am. Descartes asks us to take everything and nothing at face value, because despite its actuality the perception might have divine origin. But once I put shaking the four species into that context, what do the palm frond, two branches of willow, three branches of myrtle, and one citron coming together represent?

Simply put, the shaking of the four species together is an attempt to reattach that first fruit on the chimerical tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. While it took a moment to pluck that fruit, like Sisyphuswe have to try for the rest of time to put the fruit back on my imaginary tree. Today the knowledge itself of Good and Bad is a fabrication. My inability to connect fully to this ritual of shaking the four species speaks to my inability to shake cynicism from my life.

As we read in Lamentations,  ” Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old” (Eichah 5:21) May we all be blessed with an open heart to experience our rituals anew. Have you ever seen a Power Ranger wield a Lulav with such fervor and save the world?

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