Posts Tagged 'Shavuot'

The Wholehearted Hurt of Revelation: Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash, and Rava

Recently I had a chance to teach a class for the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s S’more Learning: A Campy Pre-Shavuot Celebration. It was a great event. We have a great team. Noting the COVID-19 pall that has fallen over us this year I wanted to give some voice to the anguish and sadness that many of us are experiencing. I wanted to share with you a taste of that class.

During this time of extended social isolation I keep finding myself listening to Johnny Cash‘s 2002 cover of Michael Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nail‘s song Hurt. Enjoy this video:

 

There is a lot of emotion in this song. While it might have originally been a lament of drug addiction and depression, Cash’s rendition seems like a painful retrospective of a long life. One line that I have been mulling over is:

I hurt myself today

To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain

The only thing that’s real ( Hurt, NIN 1994)

While I hope no one wants to hurt themselves, I think many of us can relate to experience of feeling numb after weeks of sheltering in place.

I was thinking about this image when reviewing a Gemara in Shabbat that discusses what happened on Shavuot at Sinai. The Israelites receive the Torah with the words  Na’aseh V’nishmah- we said “We will do” before “We will hear”. In the Talmud our merit is our belief and conviction coming before our discernment and understanding. It is in this context that we learn a strange story about Rava. There we learn:

The Gemara relates that a heretic saw that Rava was immersed in studying halakhaand his fingers were beneath his leg and he was squeezing them, and his fingers were spurting blood. Rava did not notice that he was bleeding because he was engrossed in study. The heretic said to Rava: You impulsive nation, who accorded precedence to your mouths over your ears. You still bear your impulsiveness, as you act without thinking. You should listen first. Then, if you are capable of fulfilling the commands, accept them. And if not, do not accept them. He said to him: About us, who proceed wholeheartedly and with integrity, it is written: “The integrity of the upright will guide them” (Proverbs 11:3) ( Shabbat 88a-b)

Like the song Hurt we see Rava injuring himself. In this context the heretic seems very reasonable. Why would anyone want to hurt themselves?

I have no interest in defending Rava, Nine In Nails, or Johnny Cash, but I do want to understand this urge to experience reality through an exploration of grief and pain. I have many thoughts here but for now I just want to offer one word alluded to in Rava’s response to the heretic- wholeheartedness.

As Brené Brown, my Vulnerability Rebbe, writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The risk of revelation is that we will be forced to confront the darkness. If we are brave enough to explore this we will be blessed to share the infinite light. One of the lessons of Shavuot is that if we can get in touch with the hurt, we can wholeheartedly experience the joy.

-For full class check the source sheet

 

Cinderella Story: Liberation from COVID-19

Hodesh Tov. With the advent of Nissan many of us have Passover on the mind. I am sure we all are looking forward to a new month, new fortune, and getting one step closer to liberation from COVID-19. With this is mind I was excited today when I saw Dictionary.com’s word of the day. (Yes, I am a devotee of getting to learn a new word everyday. It is no daf yomi, but I like growing on the daily.)So today’s word is Cinderella which is a person or thing that achieves unexpected or sudden success or recognition, especially after obscurity, neglect, or misery. As I learned on Dictionary.com:

Cinderella is a partial translation of French Cendrillon “Little ashes,” from Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre “Cinderella or the Little Glass slipper” (1697). The story of Cinderella is ancient: The Greek geographer and historian Strabo tells the earliest recorded version of the folk tale in his Rhodopis (written between 7 b.c. and a.d. 24), the name of a Greek slave girl who married the King of Egypt. The first modern European version of the folk tale appears in Lo cunto de li cunti “The Tale of Tales” (also known as the Pentamerone), the collection of fairy tales written in Neapolitan dialect by the Neapolitan poet and fairy tale collector Giambattista Basile (1566-1632), from whom Charles Perrault and the German folklorists and philologists the Brothers Grimm later adapted material. Cinderella entered English in the 19th century.

The familiar plot of Disney’s Cinderella revolves around a girl deprived of her rightful station in the family by her horrible stepmother and stepsisters. Forced into a life of domestic servitude, she is given the cruel nickname “Cinderella” as she is forced to tend the cinder from the fireplace. She accepts the help of her fairy godmother who transforms Cinderella so that she can attend the royal ball and attract the attention of the handsome prince. But, the spell will only work until the first stroke of midnight. While at the party Cinderella loses track of the time and must flee the castle before she blows her cover. In her haste, she loses one of her glass slippers, which the prince finds. He declares that he will only marry the girl whose petite foot fits into the slipper. Cinderella’s stepsisters conspire to win the princes’s hand for one of themselves, but in the end, Cinderella arrives and proves her identity by fitting into the slipper.

It seems that the story of Cinderella is very similar to the story of Passover. We were lowly slaves in Egypt and then out of nowhere Moses comes in as the fairy godmother to invite us to the big ball  ( insert 3 day holiday here). Pharaoh and his court play the role of the stepmother and stepsisters afflicting the Israelites with back-breaking work.  We were not prepared for this moment and at the first strike of midnight we had to run off (insert Matzah here). It is interesting how we commemorate this anxiety every year by mandating that we finish eating the Afikoman by midnight.

At this point in the yearly narrative, we have had our first encounter but still longing to rejoin God who is playing the role of the prince. While Cinderella was counting down to be discovered by the prince, the Jewish people are counting “up” to Shavuot. We are reminded that we are but slaves and we are on the march to complete freedom. It is understandable that we might get lost in the excitement of being asked to elope with God, but we are not yet secure that we will be discovered and ever escape our slavery. We are waiting for God to return to see if the slipper fits (slip on Torah here).

COVID-19 is a reminder that no matter our station, wealth, or class we are but human. Nissan and the word of the day are reminders that even a dirty human can ascend to great things. Ah, you got to love stories with happy endings. I hope that this COVID-19 story ends well and soon.

Merry Shavuot?

Recently a non Jewish colleague wished me a happy holiday and than surprised me with an apology. She was worried that it might not be appropriate to wish someone a happy Shavuot. Is Shavuot a joyous or sad holiday? Be it a harvest festival or the celebration of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, Shavuot is clearly a happy holiday. But her apology did leave me thinking. Most of calendar a is filled with they-tried-to-kill-us-and-failed-so-lets-eat holidays.  Maybe for Jews our surviving the never ending cycle of violence is the  definition of a happy holiday. So is Shavuot a merry holiday? 

This question gets spelled out graphically in the Gemara in Shabbat. There we learn:

“And they stood under the mount” ( Exodus 19:17)  Rabbi Avdimi ben Hama ben Hasa said: This [literal reading ‘under’] teaches that the Holy One, blessed be God, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them,’If you accept the Torah, all is well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ Rabbi Aha ben Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah [It provides a legitimate excuse for non-observance, since it was forcibly imposed in the first place.] Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahashverosh [the King from the Purim story in the book of Esther] , for it is written, “[the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them [etc.]”( Esther 9:27) [i.e.,] they confirmed what they had accepted long before. ( Shabbat 88a)

While the Gemara reframes the acceptance of the additional commandments instituted around the holiday of Purim to be an acceptance of the entirety of the Torah, it starts by framing Shavuot as another violent holiday. In this context Shavuot is not unique in terms of it being a celebration of our near brush with extinction, it is unique that the the assailant here is God God’s self. Is why we get rewarded by eating cheesecake?

Image result for cheesecake MERRY SHAVUOT. Stay safe and have a joyous holiday.

Back to Bamidbar – Cornerstone 2015 Shavuot and Going Back to Camp

I just got back from an exhilarating week at the 2015 Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar. There we trained over 330 counselors and supervisors who will be enriching the Jewish lives of thousands of campers and staff members this summer. I was thinking about this as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot and as we start the reading the Book of Numbers this Shabbat. In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”

In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.

Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.

Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!

Food Kvetching

Yesterday my children and I were discussing the custom of eating milchigs on Shavuot.  The Mishna Berurah suggests that at the time of Matan Torah, the receiving of the Torah, the Jewish people became obligated in all of the mitzvot of the Torah (Mishna Berurah 494:12). As such, in order to eat meat, they would have had to follow the complex procedure involved in producing kosher meat. Because this procedure required time in order to properly prepare the meat, the only food items available immediately after Matan Torah were dairy products.  In talking with my children we got to talking about their impatience.  Why could they not wait for a nicer meal? They could not wait for a few hours to make a nice fleishig meal?

It is interesting to think about this in the context of the Original Sin? Despite the sexual reading of the Bible, the plain meaning seems to suggest it was simply that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. While I am sure that the themes of sex and sexuality run throughout the Bible and human history, all too often they overshadow the similarly complex relationship we have with food.

I was thinking about this in reference to BeHalotecha, this week Torah portion. There we read:

1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, God’s anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp. 2 And the people cried to Moshe; and Moshe prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. 3 And the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burnt among them. 4 And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat! 5 We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nothing save this manna to look to.’ 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium. 8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil. 9 And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it. 10 And Moshe heard the people weeping, family by family, every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; and Moshe was displeased. 11 And Moshe said to the Lord: ‘Wherefore have You dealt ill with Your servant? and wherefore have I not found favor in Your sight, that You lay the burden of all this people upon me? 12 Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that You should say unto me: Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing-father carries the sucking child, unto the land which You didst swear to their fathers? 13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they trouble me with their weeping, saying: Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if you deal thus with me, kill me, I pray of You, out of hand, if I have found favor in Your sight; and let me not look upon my wretchedness.’  (Numbers 11:1-15)

The Manna is described in contrast to the nation’s desire for “real food”. Moshe expresses his frustrations as leader, and God promises to send quail to satisfy the people’s desire for meat. In all things it seems that we as human beings are not happy with what we have and desire the forbidden or that which is out of reach. So maybe this is not so different then how we talk about our sexual desires.

In Michel Wex’s Born to Kvetch, he defines a kvetch as a declaration of unhappiness that identifies the complaint. He goes on to write, “ Had Isaac Newton been struck by a potato kugel instead of an apple, the whole world would now know that for every basic kvetch there is an equal and opposite “counter kvetch”, a retaliation in kind provoked by the original complaint”. Their kvetching for meat gets the “counter kvetch” of way too much quail and for dessert they get a plague. As the adage goes, “May you get what you want and want what you get.” What are the best ways to deal with our kvetching? What are the best models for consequences that can be measured out kvetch to “counter kvetch”? As a parent I think about this all the time with my children. And at this stage of their lives most of this happens at the dining room table. One is eating like a Chazir, another is taking food of a siblings plate, and a third I cannot get to eat for the life of me. But who can complain on Shavuot, all of my kids were happy to have ice cream for dessert.

Camouflaged Education: Another Look at Israel Education

photo2How could I try to hide in plain sight? Well if I was well camouflaged I might use any combination of materials, coloration or illumination for concealment. In the wild I might do this by making myself hard to see in my environment or by disguising myself as something else. In terms of education I might do a great job by simply not announcing what I am doing as educational. I was thinking about this during a recent conference for the Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History. Thanks to generous support of the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations with contributions from The Marcus Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the iCenter brought together representatives from 27 camps to have their staff explore how they might animate Israel in their camps for their campers.

It was in this context that one of the fellows remarked, “I used to think that there are Jewish camps that taught about Judaism and other camps that were fun. Our camp is a fun camp. And now I get it. You are asking us to make learning about Israel fun.” All of these mostly college aged fellows came together with many Israeli counterparts to enhance the Israel educational programming at their camps. The goal is to get them serious content through activities and materials in a way that they can customize to fit naturally in their camp environment. I am confident that fellows get it. Israel education can happen with rich content and subtle complexity, but at camp it needs to be camouflaged as fun.

Camouflaged education might be the essence of Shavuot, which begins tonight. The premise of our getting the Torah was our promise first to observe the laws of the Torah, and only afterward to study these laws. We received the Torah at Sinai because we said, “na’aseh v’nishma– We will do and we will hear/understand.” (Exodus 24:7) If we needed to study it in a formal setting first we might never have committed ourselves to the venture. There is a lot of anti-Israel rhetoric out there today, especially on our college campuses, and it gives me peace of mind to know that we can create a utopia of Jewish camp in which Israel education can hide in plain sight.

– Reposted from The Canteen.

 

 

Revealing Jewish Camp

It is interesting that as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot we start the reading the Book of Numbers.  In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”

In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.

1001_110811-FJC_x46Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.

Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!

– Reposted from the Canteen

A Cinderella Story

The familiar plot of the story of Cinderella revolves around a girl deprived of her rightful station in the family by her horrible stepmother and stepsisters. Forced into a life of domestic servitude, she is given the cruel nickname “Cinderella” as she is forced to tend the cinder from the fireplace. She accepts the help of her fairy godmother who transforms Cinderella so that she can attend the royal ball and attract the attention of the handsome prince. But, the spell will only work until the first stroke of midnight. While at the party Cinderella loses track of the time and must flee the castle before she blows her cover. In her haste, she loses one of her glass slippers, which the prince finds. He declares that he will only marry the girl whose petite foot fits into the slipper. Cinderella’s stepsisters conspire to win the princes’s hand for one of themselves, but in the end, Cinderella arrives and proves her identity by fitting into the slipper.

It seems that the story of Cinderella is the story of Passover. We were lowly slaves in Egypt and then out of nowhere Moses comes in as the fairy godmother to invite us to the big ball  ( insert 3 day holiday here). Pharaoh and his court play the role of the stepmother and stepsisters afflicting the Israelites with back-breaking work.  We were not prepared for this moment and at the first strike of midnight we had to run off (insert Matzah here). It is interesting how we commemorate this anxiety every year by mandating that we finish eating the Afikoman by midnight.

At this point in the yearly narrative, we have had our first encounter but still longing to rejoin God who is playing the role of the prince. While Cinderella was counting down to be discovered by the prince, the Jewish people are counting “up” to Shavuot. We are reminded that we are but slaves and we are on the march to complete freedom. It is understandable that we might get lost in the excitement of being asked to elope with God, but we are not yet secure that we will be discovered and ever escape our slavery. We are waiting for God to return to see if the slipper fits (slip on Torah here). Ah, you got to love stories with happy endings.

 

Preparing for Revelation

It has been too long since I have had a chance to write. It seems that there is no time to get everything done. I especially feel this way today. As I am quickly preparing for Shavuot I am also lamenting that I was not able to be at my son’s Siddur ceremony today at school. I realize that for me this year these two events are connected. My son’s  receiving his first prayer-book is parallel to our collective receiving the Torah.

As we prepare for revelation I look at my children and I look at myself. As a parent, I am often torn between cherishing the few moments with my children at their current stage of life, while simultaneously being consumed by my curiosity to know the people they will become. I see parts of my wife and myself in each of them which teaches me about myself. I also marvel  at the parts that are truly unique to the people they are becoming.

Traditionally we stay up Erev Shavuot for the Tikkun to fix having fallen a sleep at Sinai. For me this year I feel like I need to go to sleep early.  I realize that to be the parent that I aspire to be I need more sleep. I am sure that I will not be present and I will not help reveal the best in my children if I stay up all night. I realize that there is a Torah from Sinai and another Torah that is to be revealed through parenting. I can only hope to  present and not sleep through the revelations manifest in their growing up.

EnCAMPment on Shavuot

In the Torah, we recently started reading the book of Numbers- Bemidbar in Hebrew, meaning “in the wilderness.” We learn in the Midrash:

“There are three ways to acquire Torah, with Fire, with Water, and with Wilderness.” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1)

It could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), through immersion (water), and through a trek through the unknown (wilderness).

Soon over 70,000 Jewish children will be headed off to camp where they will meet tremendous role models who will share their passion. They will have immersive Jewish experiences (beyond just passing their swim tests), and there, in the bucolic setting of camp, they will experience community and prayer in ways we cannot even imagine in most of our (sub)urban life styles.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Shavuot, the holiday commemorating our national memory of the Revelation of the Torah at Sinai. In the words of Rashi, it was there at Sinai that we encamped at the foot of the mountain as “one nation with one heart.” The reality is that the memory of Sinai might be hard to access. It is easier to reconnect to our memories when in the place where they were created.  It has been a long time since I was at camp, but I think about it all the time. At camp I felt impassioned and alive. I was on fire. At camp I felt like I really belonged. I was immersed in my Jewish life. Camp was a safe and supporting environment in which I could challenge myself. Camp is that special place where we can all find our own way to acquire Torah. This summer, together we can make profound memories to deepen the Shavuot experience for years to come. Have a very meaningful Shavuot.

As seen on Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Blog


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