Minute Mitzvah: Saying the Shema

Today: Say the Shema.

Explanation: The Shema (“Listen, Israel: יהוה our G?d! יהוה One!”), from Deuteronomy 6:4, is the statement of Jewish faith-commitment. It’s the first prayer we learn after birth and, if we time it right, the last prayer we say before death. Although it’s actually three paragraphs long (see http://www.jewfaq.org/shemaref.htm for the complete text in both Hebrew [original and transliteration] and English), halacha (Jewish law) says the first verse is the most important — so much so that it can be spoken in whatever language the speaker understands. As the Shema’s first paragraph indicates, it is to be said “when you lie down, and when you rise up” (read: every evening and morning; Jewish days start at sunset) as a reminder of our place in the Universe and our duty thereto.

Exercise: The Shema is meant to be spoken aloud, or at least loud enough to hear yourself; whispering works fine too. At our synagogue, we say it “one word, one breath” — take a deep breath, chant a word, take another, chant another. Try saying it when you first lay down in bed and when you first get up out of it. It’s also a great way to center oneself in times of panic.

Raiders of the Lost Prayer

THE SCENE IS TENSE. RENE Belloq, a French archaeologist hired by the Nazi government (ptoo ptoo ptoo) to steal the Ark of the Covenant in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, is about to open the sacred artifact wherein lay the original tablets of the Ten Commandments. Dressed in the garb of the High Priest as detailed in the biblical book of Exodus (and standing before the Ark as described in the same book), he whispers a prayer before raising the lid — and thereby provoking the fiery Wrath of G?d to incinerate the infidels.

Art Imitates Science Imitates Art

WHO DOESN’T KNOW “THE UNIVERSE Song” from the Monty Python movie Meaning of Life? The one that starts out, “Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving / And revolving at 900 miles an hour…”? For years, I’ve used it as a go-to reference when I need to pull a quick astronomical fact out of my yarmulke. Well, the attentive folks at Astronomy magazine have annotated that little ditty to help us sort truth-as-we-know-it-so-far from the poetic license of the 1980s. http://www.astronomy.com/news/2018/08/fact-checking-the-galaxy-song is a three page article that also features a clip of the song in question, so you can sing along (if you like). Enjoy!

Living-Room Torah

INSIDE A MODEST HOME ON Sonoma’s East Side sits our town’s best-kept open Jewish secret.

Dubbed the “France Street Shtibbl” (or, for non-Yiddish speakers, the “France Street Beit Midrash (house of study)”), our living room has hosted a semi-monthly (or, sometimes, thrice a month) Torah study since late 2002 and a weekly “text study” (ranging from Talmud to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah to the early prophetic books and currently, at this writing, the Book of Psalms) since mid-2016. Attendance over the years has varied from one to 12 people, with a usual “core” of about six or seven enthusiastic souls.

Our method is simple and timeless: Everyone has a different chumash (Torah book), which they either bring themselves or select from our home library such titles and translations as the Orthodox Artscroll Stone Chumash, the Conservative Etz Hayim and The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (aka “The Hertz Chumash”), the Reform Torah: A Modern Commentary and Torah: A Women’s Commentary, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah, and others.

What is “Experiential Holiness?”

SHORT ANSWER: IT’S PART OF the tagline for this blog. Longer answer: it’s a way of seeing and living that recognizes and hopefully honors the interconnectedness of all things, and That which makes them (it?) all possible.

“Holiness” is a tricky word. My trusty go-to 1972 Funk and Wagnalls defines “holy” as “regarded with or characterized by reverence because associated with God; having a divine origin; sacred” as well as “having spiritual and moral worth.” “Holiness” is “the state or quality of being holy.”

365 Names of God: The Beloved

THE BELOVED is most commonly a Sufi term, but not exclusively so. The idea of God as Lover may be outre to some, but the connotation of passion and all-involvement is a powerful one for many mystics (including the author of the Biblical Song of Songs). Some say the challenge of living with the mysterious mind of a spouse is perfect training for living with the mysterious Mind of God.

Words to Bring Back: “Illicitator”

– Definition: n. An auctioneer’s shill

– Used in a sentence: “Some of these political rallies seem to reek of illicitators.”

– Why: It’s obscure, yes, but how many illicitators have YOU spotted recently?

Why I Love: Astronomy

Fig. 1.

It’s the quiet thrill you get when you first look through a telescope and see Saturn’s rings for yourself. It’s the hush before the planetarium show begins. It’s the ancientness of the constellations. It’s knowing that others before you, perhaps all the way back to Australopithecus, saw the same stars/planets/Moon you do. It’s the quaintness of the constellation (and star) names.

First Graf: The Book of the Damned

Fig. 1

CHARLES HOY FORT HAS A special place in my weirdological heart, as he was the first writer to compile an exhaustive list (four books full, in fact) of oddities and anomalies. He is thus the (unwilling) intellectual godfather of every “strange but true” book, magazine, radio show, film and television program (network and streaming) since the 1920s. The recipient of a modest endowment, Fort spent his spare time combing through old newspapers and magazines at the New York Public Library looking for articles on aerial phenomena;