Midrash

Hebrew for “delving,” specifically of a religious text. In this context, the text is also life.

My Plan For Jewish World Domination

2011.01.26
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(YOU MAY READ THAT TITLE as either “domination of the world by Jews,” or “domination of the Jewish world.” Either way, it may be better than what we have now, or at least more entertaining. Certainly more well-fed. But.)

The point is this: Build fewer Museums of Tolerance and Holocaust Memorials. In fact, stop building them altogether, and instead build more Jewish schools/centers, for both kids and adults to interact face-to-face with well-trained Jewish teachers. We cannot help but carry the past, of course — but with our hands full, who will build our future?

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The Yad In The Kitchen

2011.01.17
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IN ONE OF OUR KITCHEN cabinets is a knot shaped like the Hebrew letter “yad.” It’s something we’ve lived with for 11 years but only pondered tonight.

Fig. 1.

According to some of Judaism’s lesser-publicized traditions, “yad” as the first letter of the yad-heh-vav-heh — God’s most holy name — is associated with the element of fire, the tongue of the flame of holy generation and inspiration, which is also the Godhead (that concentrated chunk of God located in the human soul). “Yad” also literally means “hand.” It is also the little sculptured wand (tipped by a hand and pointing finger) which indicate passages in the Torah, itself considered as one long Name of God.

Fig. 1.

So: Yad is the seat of intuition; it is also the hand guided by intuition, and which points to the Sourceless Source of that intuition (and everything else). In orbis veritas. That it’s on the flour cabinet, proves the divinity in food — and ingenuity.

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Sorting Debbie

2011.01.10
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IN THE WAKE OF SINGER and prolific synagogue-music innovator Debbie Friedman, I find myself mourning her death but ambivalent about her legacy.

The mourning: If you worship at most “progressive” (i.e., non-Orthodox) North American synagogues, you’re familiar with her work (particularly the Mishebeirach, a prayer for healing which was recently (some say “at last”) canonized in the new Reform prayerbook). But if you ever saw Ms. Friedman in concert, you really saw her. The woman fairly glowed. Not literally, but in the eyes of the mind: huge radiating love-and-wonder vibes not really all that different from a Grateful Dead show, and from which people depart laughing, woohooing, and singing to themselves for days afterward. She was a great and phenomenal talent who brought a lot of joy to this end of the universe and, as is so often the case, the world seems a bit darker for her absence.

The ambivalence: While introducing folk music to the service makes the service, or rather the joy inherent, more accessible, it can also turn the service into a sing-along. And, even as a happily compulsive singer-along, that’s not why I attend services. At one time or another it has been my pleasure to attend Grateful Dead concerts, coven circles, Mass, church, a Buddhist shrine and various other experiential constructs. I found each of them beautiful and, in a sense, useful. But none of them move me in the way of a book-and-dream-fragrant silence, woven through with wordless murmurings and solemn chanting of the ancient heart-known Hebrew. It is, to me, authentic, which is to say familiar and challenging in a way that singing along not quite is.

“One man’s meat” is a proverb in many tongues and times. But when someone like a Debbie Friedman passes out of the world, it makes many other things feel small. Thank you, Ms. Friedman, for making Earth a bit bigger for a while.

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David Mamet’s Christmas Wishes

2011.01.04
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From our Wish-We’d-Found-This-Two-Weeks-Ago department: Over on Tablet, playwright David Mamet literally pens a Christmas card to the Jews from the Chinese “who do not completely understand your dietary customs.” To say more would sound horribly post-facto; let’s say instead we’re being early for next year.

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Fsssss. Pop!

2011.01.01
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Happy Solar Calendrical Artifact Of The Hated Romans Who Destroyed Our Holy Temple May Their Names Be Effaced New Year!
Raise your hands, everyone who detected the irony.

(Everyone who detected the irony, raise your hands.)

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Six Lines, Repeat Until Enlightened

2010.12.29
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“THIS ‘HAPPINESS’ OF WHICH YOU speak. Can it be induced?”

“No. It arises of itself.”

“Why?”

“Because of everything.”

“How?”

“When everything falls into place, there is happiness.”

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“What do YOU like about being a spiritual leader?”

2010.12.29
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THIS QUESTION WAS POSED TO me by a friend who’s considering the path. Since I have some small experience with the subject, and some readers have some interest in it, I’m posting my reply here and will be absolutely unoffended if you skip it.

Wow. No one’s ever asked me that before, so I needed to take some serious time to think about it before replying. So first, thank you for an interesting think.

Before I reply, you need to know that I’m currently off the rabbi thing; partly because I made an unsuccessful bid earlier this year to serve my synagogue in this capacity, and since I now know I only wanted to “be a rabbi” for this community (and despite that everybody still treats me as a spiritual leader) it seems rather moot to continue my studies. But there are other reasons as well. That said, there were certainly aspects I “liked,” or more accurately, found rewarding.

The best thing to me about “being a spiritual leader” is making a difference for people in a direct, immediate way. People come to services for many reasons — duty, support, inspiration, help, grief, socializing and sometimes even to pray. To at least offer a moment of connection for those who need it is incredibly fulfilling; to have it accepted, even more so. (I always feel like I learned most about leading services by hawking for Greg; it’s important to be able to read the crowd and respond appropriately and immediately.)

But leading is not just services. Depending on the tradition you embrace, you may also be witness to (and help facilitate) some of the most powerful moments in someone’s life. What I like most about this, perhaps selfishly, is that there’s no room for yourself in these moments — you must be a pure conduit for those involved — and for a heavy egotist like me the experience is wonderfully freeing.

This next may be a specifically Jewish thing (on account of the heavy rabbinical teacher’s role), but there is also a particular joy in seeing people get excited about their really, really old heritage: that moment of “Ohhhh … THAT’S why we do this.” It’s fun to share the things which excite us. It’s also very scary to be the one passing along a tradition — you want to get it right, and you want to get it relevant — but I think a proper spiritual leader needs a certain amount of insecurity.

Seeing people smile when you enter a room is also a nice benefit. But be careful of being praised beyond your capacity to accept. Gracefully accepting gratitude is something I’m still trying to master; what I do comes naturally to me, partly perhaps because I /don’t/ see myself as being altogether worthy of doing it. I just allow it all to happen, that’s all. Like the old Grateful Dead lyric about the storyteller: “His job is to shed light, not to master.”

That’s all I can think of at the moment. I hope it helps you in some way.

Be well, good luck, and blessings.

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What I Hope God Wants

2010.12.28
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SEEMS TO ME THAT MORE accuracy would be obtained from statements beginning “God does/wants/says” by prefacing them with “I hope.” Because seriously — that’s as far as you’re going to get with figuring out God. (If nothing else, it rather nicely neutralizes the Westboro Baptists’ main slogan. Or so I hope.)

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First-Step Messiah

2010.12.27
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CONSIDERING THE GREAT POTENTIAL CONTAINED in most human beings, and the difficulty we have getting started on projects, perhaps we might accordingly revise our notions of messianism. The Re-(or Un-)born King may not set things right so much as give us the tools and gumption we need (or point out that we’ve had them all along). After all, getting started is the hardest start to any project. Perhaps we just need a little push and can take it from there.(1)

____
(1) Disclaimer: This being Monday morning, I tend not to believe in a literal Messiah. In fact, I tend not to believe in a Messiah at all unless as metaphor or if I have a really, really bad headache. But “believe as thou wilt shall be the hole in the Law.”

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Instant Everywhere

2010.12.22
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FOR MY NEXT TRICK, I shall unite the Universe.

Ready?

It is Now as I write this; it is Now as you read it.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We’ll be here all week.

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Metaphysicatin’ Jones and the Book of Words

2010.12.17
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IN ORDER TO BETTER ATTAIN the mind necessary to continue writing about what could be called personal mystical experiences, I’ve been reading up on the subject via John Ferguson’s excellent Encyclopedia of Mysticism and Mystery Religions and incidentally discovering that I hate reading about mystical experiences.

It’s like this: There are certain things which sound crazy if you haven’t experienced them — wild and alien and full of fire and beguiling sparks — yet the thing itself is really so simple that any words about it are just gnang gnang gnang. (It’s not just a “mystical” thing: you hear this around veterans, first responders, New Yorkers and all whose lives and jobs bring them into daily contact with Inescapable Reality: There’s just no reason to talk about what everyone knows. The reason why “those who know don’t speak” is because speaking is a waste of breath.)

So one devotee hears choirs and angels and divine appointings, another sees the reflection of the moon in a bucket of water; afterward, a third can heal the sick of heart and body. Different, perhaps, yes? Yet there is a common point that each have touched, or been touched by. It’s as if the fruit has been digested and there’s no need to look at the rind. (Or, maybe that’s just me — after all, somebody keeps buying enough books on the topic of WooWoo Isness to keep the genre profitable.)
Read more »

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Warning-Label Zen

2010.12.13
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Fig. 1.



Fig. 1.



Fig. 1.

(If you’re seeing this on the front page, click the title for the entire post. And many thanks to http://www.warninglabelgenerator.com/!)

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