Posts Tagged ‘ Torah: Input ’

Invitation to a Study

2011.03.18
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FRANCE STREET TORAH STUDY
SATURDAY, 3/19/11, 10 am-noonish
Torah Portion: Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23
Neal & Ann’s House
(707.933.9430 for directions)

“Tzav” means “command.” It’s the same root as “mitzvah” which, though sometimes translated as “connection” or “good deed,” carries the contextual connotation of “sacred obligation.” (These aren’t necessarily exclusive meanings.)

Of course, “obligation” implies “breach.” Most of Judaism’s breaches are classed as mistakes — error — mark-missing. But mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing, according to Reb Patrick from the “jungerfrummen” website PunkTorah (http://punktorah.org/):

“…Let us take a moment and consider where where we may have missed the mark. What have we done, not in the past year, not in the past month, not even in the past week, but today! Where have we missed the mark today? Were we angry with a loved one? Did we curse at another driver on the road? Did we ignore the needs of those suffering around us? Did we act in frustration or deceit?

“Think about these things and realize that in our mistakes is the power to repair. Through these mistakes lie the power to not only repair what we have broken, but to help repair others as well.

“Hashem has given us a gift, not of being able to miss the mark, but of being able to realize where we have missed, step back up to the line, and aim again. And in this time, I pray we all hit the bullseye.”

(Read more: Parshah Tzav)

From his mouth to G?d’s ears.

Shabbat shalom,

Neal.

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Torah Study Anew Abu!

2010.10.01
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TODAY’S POST COMES FROM GUEST-BLOGGER Ann Clark and concerns our weekly living-room Torah study. We begin the reading cycle anew tomorrow (technically, yesterday and today) — but do we ever really begin, or end, anything?

France Street Torah Study
Neal and Ann’s House – scoop at sonic dot net for directions
Saturday, October 2, 2010 – 10 am to noon

Torah Portion: Bereshit [Genesis 1:1 through 6:8]
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 – 43:11 [Ashkenazim]

I love the endless-loop nature of the Five Books of Moses — every completion is but a beginning, because there is no “end” to Torah. This is so perfectly visualized on Simchat Torah when we unroll the scroll and stand with Genesis touching Deuteronomy…such powerful imagery.

And, yet, as Northern Californians well-versed in psycho-speak, some of us (okay, me), are fond of the concept of “closure,” wrapping things up, placing the final period, writing the journalist’s “30.” We’re a culture of final examinations, final grades, last acts, curtain calls, nightcaps, and closing times (well, except for Safeway). And we’ve brought that notion into some of our most painful experiences — separation, divorce, the end of friendships, and death. Some of us have been taught that we must process these experiences to “closure” — implying that there will come a time when we have dealt with them so effectively that we won’t need to deal with them anymore. However, anyone who has suffered a painful loss (which is to say, all of us) knows that it doesn’t quite work that way — it’s not that linear.

Torah, the wisest psychologist of all, understands and in fact models the circular nature of experience.

David Mamet, writing in “Five Cities of Refuge,” says that “Closure is a concept foreign to Jewish tradition. It is an overwhelmingly secular, modern and arrogant idea — that one, by an act of will, manipulation, or aggression can ‘complete’ a disturbing experience [and declare] triumph over fate, chance, anger, grief, or injustice.” Mamet goes on to say that “the struggle to deal with an unjust, confusing, incomprehensible world does not impede our life, it IS our life.”

Finally, he writes: “Bereshit, the very beginning of Torah, counsels that there is and will be no completion, there is no ‘closure,’ and that this lack is not to be decried but, in fact, celebrated.”

I hope you can join us here at Beit Attinson on Saturday to celebrate the ongoing nature of, well, everything. Starting with Genesis 1:1.
The story continues.

Ann Clark Attinson

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First Day Of School, Again

2010.09.24
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CHIEF AMONG MY DEEPEST DELIGHTS and terrors is teaching young Jewish people about their heritage.

It’s a delight because I’m a born teacher, meaning that I love to learn things and share what I’ve learned (usually learning more in the process). I also love and grok young folk, especially in the 4th to 6th grade range, since they are old enough to begin questioning things, sharp enough to spot BS and still imbued with the essential sense of wonder.

It’s a terror because they pay attention to, pick up on, remember and react to the slightest word — and because much of what they carry with them about Judaism will be because I handed it to them. It’s a similar terror to the reporter’s eternal “Did I get it right?” insecurity without which none can refine their art, but hundredfolded. Sometimes I feel like the captain of a shipful of precious eggs, which I suppose I am.

This is my tenth year teaching, and my first new class in some time (my immediately previous students were with me for three years). The reason I began teaching in the first place was because my own Hebrew school experience was so stultifyingly hideous that I had to leave Judaism for 23 years before I could learn to appreciate it as one of many complex, deep and mysterious expressions of what some call “God” — one which is mine through inheritance and intent, inextricably intertwined with my world- and self-understanding. My teachers taught me not to ask questions (despite that asking questions is the fundament of both Judaism and childhood in general), and I want “my kids” to know that not only are there no stupid questions, there’s nothing in the world that can’t be — shouldn’t be — questioned.

Including, and especially, the teacher.

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5 Thoughts: EthnoReligiUfology

2010.07.19
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1. IF YOU DON’T READ THIS carefully, you’ll come away thinking that I think “God” is an alien, Moses a contactee and the Event at Sinai one of the humankind’s first recorded UFO sightings.

2. I really really don’t. But I do “believe” (cf. http://metaphorager.net/four-points-of-contact/) that Something Impressive happened in the Sinai desert 3,200 years ago.

3. As high-integrity weird-event investigator Jacques Vallee writes, however, it’s difficult for someone schooled in biblical and weirdological literatures (e.g., me; e.e.g., the 1917 “Fatima event”) not to notice apparent parallels between the two classes of experience: e.g., bright lights coming down from the sky, booming sounds and voices, messages of cosmic import, experienced sensations of timelessness, et al. That doesn’t mean the experiences are the same — or that they have the same catalyst or purpose — only that the patterns appear similar.

4. I have no idea what this means. The patterns appear similar — and because I accept the validity (though none of the explanations) of the so-called UFO experience, it’s easy for me to accept the validity of (though not necessarily any particular explanation for) Torah. (For some people, it’s got to be the word of God in order to take it seriously; for me, it’s just got to be Inspired Writing. And it is — and a recognizable-to-me genre to boot.)

5. Really, I have no idea what this means. But if you, like me, incline toward theories philosophical, aesthetic and noncommittal, you might agree that it’s kind of neat to think about.

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Saturday Morning Live

2010.07.09
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Lay Led Torah Study & Service — 7/10/10, 9a to 10:15/10:30 to noonish
Congregation Shir Shalom, 252 W. Spain St., Sonoma

JOIN THE SONOMA VALLEY JEWISH community tomorrow morning at 10:30 for a laid-back, lay-led “Reform Mellow” service at Congregation Shir Shalom. We will begin in the classroom at 9 a.m. with a study of the weekly Torah portion (Mattot, Numbers 30:2-32:42), which covers vows, wars and errant cattlemen) before adjourning to the sanctuary.

Our siddur is the new Mishkan Tefilah; the service will include Shir Shalom-traditional melodies (including Bonia Shur‘s “Kedushah”); a d’var Torah titled “Plugging The Holes: Hands, Vows, and Why We’re Here;” and whatever surprises it pleases God to send us (and/or whatever pleases us to thank God for sending).

Shabbat shalom!

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4:20 Torah (not what you think)

2010.05.14
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France Street Torah Study
Saturday, May 15, 2010 – 10 am to noonish
Home of Neal and Ann (707.933.9430 for directions)
Parsha Bamidbar: Numbers 1:1-4:20; Haftorah Hosea 2:1-22

THIS SHABBAT, AT LEAST IN Sonoma, at least on France Street, brings us a bit of a pickle — really more of a relish plate.

Our weekly Torah portion is Bamidbar, the beginning of Numbers: four chapters and twenty verses full of marching orders, duty rosters and difficult-to-pronounce names. While I am the last person in the world to grouse about our holy Torah, I will admit that some bits are more challenging than others to interpret with apparent relevance to our lives. (Leviticus, say.)

Since this will be the Shabbat before Shavuot (see announcement below), our textual choices include the Book of Ruth (traditionally read /on/ Shavuot) and Pirke Avot (a collection of rabbinical proverbs read on the Shabbat afternoons between Pesach and Shavuot; some say Pesach and Rosh Hashanah). We can study these instead of or in addition to Bamidbar (and either speed-reading or synopsizing the latter).

Come to Torah study. And exercise your power of choice.

Shabbat shalom,

Neal

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Nutshell Rabbinics

2010.05.05
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“HERE’S HOW THE TORAH WORKS, at least from a classical perspective: What’s important, really important, is not just the text — it’s your relationship to the text. Which means you get to say what Torah means, but within parameters defined by people who’ve been studying it longer than you have. And who will either say ‘Good job,’ or ‘What were you thinking?’”

(From a conversation with the wife, this represents my understanding to date of the Jewish understanding of Torah practicum. I naturally invite those who know more than I to comment and correct as needed — with thanks.)

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Torah: Learn A Little!

2010.04.30
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REMEMBER THE SATURDAY MORNING TORAH study Ann started back in 2001? Well, we’re still doing it, and if you’d like to do it too — and you’re going to be in Sonoma between 10 a.m. and noon tomorrow — you are hereby invited to our humble home. (Email me at scoop at sonic dot net for directions.)

Torah Portion: Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

This week’s portion mostly offers advice to the kohanim, or priests (hey, it’s Leviticus, right?). Among other things, Torah tells the kohanim must be as physically unblemished as the animals they offer to God (a nice metaphor for leadership, that) and reminds us of the importance of the six major Jewish festivals: Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

I don’t know how the latter passages affect others, but I always get a little thrill from reading in the Torah about something that we’re still doing. Something there is about holding a torch lighted long ago, by people I never met but with whom I am connected in some tenuous but undeniable way. The torch still burns — how does it light your footsteps? Let’s find out together Saturday morning!

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Four Points of Contact

2009.05.22
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“IT IS THE NATURE OF religious belief knowledge to be compelling only to the believer knower.” So said Rabbi Micha Berger some years ago on Usenet’s soc.culture.jewish.moderated, and I have yet to see a better argument for pluralism and against proselytizing. (After all, how can you sell your vision of God when you know It only looks that way to you?)

Seen through the consciousness-shackling lens of Western culture, a popular understanding of religious/spiritual experience generally falls into one of two categories: “faith” and “reason.” The first may be defined as “belief in things unprovable,” with the second “belief arrived at after ordered contemplation.” But I don’t think this two-valued system fully or accurately describes an individual’s experience of what-they-may-or-may-not-choose-to-identify-with-the-divine. Careful and close observation of my own relevant experiences (i.e., what they “feel like”) suggests that a four-valued system might be more useful. And because you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t interested in this sort of thing, I hope you find it useful too:

1) Knowing
2) Believing
3) Suspension of disbelief
4) Reason

“Knowing” — wordless self-evidence (e.g., how I experience sitting here typing this, without having to be told that’s what I’m doing). “.”

“Believing” — the “leap of faith.” Consciously self-generated understanding. “God is ______.”

“Suspension of disbelief” — a willingness to accept the possibility of a non-intuitive truth/proposition in order to understand it from the author’s POV. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, God is _____.”

“Reason” — deduction, logic, rationalization. “I think, therefore God is _____.”

Again, this is solely derived from close observation of my own internal states as they relate to apprehending what-I-sometimes-choose-to-call-God. I expect that as I grow older and pay closer attention, the model will change. But that’s a statement of belief — not of knowledge.

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Mapping God

2007.07.22
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Like any Torah Nerd, I’ve never met a commentary I didn’t like — the more abstruse and seriously-taking the better — but I’ve always had difficulty with the traditional view of God As Punisher and Rewarder.
Perhaps that stems from an inherent distrust of authority, honestly earned by dint of entering my formative years about the time Nixon was talking to the White House portrait gallery. But whatever the reason, the Deuteronomic Theology has never struck me as an accurate model for my own devotions; I’m much more of an “I can’t figure it out, so I’ll enjoy what I can while I’m here, help others do the same, and try to do my best” Ecclesiastician.
But what if we take “God of Justice” as a culture-specific metaphor for, or understanding of, the Universal Law of Inescapable Returns — otherwise known as Karma Popula, What-Goes-Around-Comes-Around, Don’t Excrete Where You Eat, et al?
And what if the Torah’s take on this most basic of closed-system principles is a logical consequence of the Torah’s concept of a personal God — One we can cut a deal with, speak to, and Who has a deep and abiding interest in our welfare and actions?
After all, if we posit a personal relationship with the Source of Existence, it’s easy to take things personally when they don’t go our way — when they’re out of our control, when we ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”
One cannot guess the mind of God, but certain actions (and patterns of actions) remit almost guaranteed consequences — and when we know this, the God of Blame becoems the God of Responsibility.

“Neither the security of the wicked nor the afflictions of the righteous are within the grasp of our understanding.” — Pirke Avot

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Contradicting the Paradox

2006.12.21
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“Most people don’t worship God. What they do is make an image of what they think God is, and worship that.”
– James “Sputnik” Gjerde

The biggest problem with Aristotelianism is that it posits false dichotomies (good/evil, up/down, is/ain’t, tastes great/less filling, et al) and forces us to choose between (and subsequently defend) inaccurate pictures of reality.

I don’t like doing that, nor should any sane person. But the Aristotelian Heresy (TM) so underlies our Western linguistic thought-frame that its perniciousness oft goes unnoticed. This is particularly true when applied to theology or other non-mystical apprehensions or understandings of [your favorite metaphor for nondualism here]. One classically smug statement of this sort of ontological oafishness is:

Can God make a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?

Rather than wasting time explaining the inapplicability of language to direct perception, perhaps the best response may be:

Yes — but He can lift it anyway.

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Midrash Ko(r)ach

2006.06.30
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Torah Study Saturday, July 1
10:00 a.m. – noon
Neal’s and Ann’s house
Portion: Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

“To a man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” – Anon of Ibid.

This week’s portion, Korach, seems fitting for the Shabbat before Independence Day: One bold man, fed up with Moses’ continual refusal to bow to the Will of the People, stands up for Truth, Justice, and the Paleoisraelite Way. “Who made you king?” he says. “The people, ALL of them, are holy.” Gd disagrees, and Korach is swallowed into the earth.

In the modern context provided by historical scholarship, Korach’s rebellion seems to echo of the ancient struggle to unify and centralize Israelite worship at one specific location: i.e., Jerusalem. A cautionary tale backed by Ultimate Authority was needed to ensure that the people toe the line drawn by Judaism’s primitive, intolerant-of-dissent early religious codifiers. Thus Korach. End of story.

Right? Well … no, at least not entirely. Because if it is – if the story is as simple as that, with only one literalist and unimaginative interpretation – then we might as well chuck the Torah and watch TV, which (superficially) seems a lot more relevant to our hectic modern lives.

One of the most difficult things to understand about Torah (both Written and Oral) is that it largely developed outside the Aristotelian tradition which shaped Western civilization and subsequently, our own education. To Aristotle, the universe was a binary matrix of yes-no, up-down, hot- cold, with no middle ground. That’s a fine approach for computers and mathematics, but it tends to blind us to more subtle and equally valid/consistent intellectual systems – such as the one we inherited from our ancestors.

Thus we assume the Torah is a history text, and wonder why it includes laws. We assume it’s a law code, and wonder why it includes myths (in the Jungian sense). We assume it’s mythic, and wonder why so much of it accords with known history.

The Torah is all of these and none of these, at the same time. Like Judaism, which defies the simplistic categories of “religion,” “ethnicity,” “faith” or “creed,” there is always more to Torah than meets the eye – as long as the eye is open, and not blinded by preconceptions.

Rabbi Larry Kushner, Temple Emanu-El’s scholar-in-residence, says we can build our Jewish study on two assumptions: Either we’re smarter than the text, or the text is smarter than us. If we assume the first, there’s no reason to study; if we assume the latter, who knows what we might learn – especially if we do it together?

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