Posts Tagged ‘ Torah: Output ’

History Lesson: Chain

2017.09.08
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adtn“Everything you do, here and at home, is part of Sonoma Valley Jewish history.”

That’s what I like to tell the students in our synagogue’s Hebrew school, and it’s also one of the lessons from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo.

The relevant piece of Torah comes at the beginning of the portion, when the Israelites are commanded to bring the season’s first fruits to “the place where G?d will establish His name” — meaning, in later years, the Temple in Jerusalem. Part of the agricultural primacy ceremony involves reciting the formulaic history of the Jewish people we review every year at Pesach, beginning “My father was a wandering Aramean” and recalling the slavery in Egypt before ending with “And now I’m here, in this land, with these fruits.” (Those aren’t the actual words, but they’re close.)

To know where you stand, it’s important to know where you’ve been. Read more »

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Lamed-Vavniks, Unite!

2017.06.08
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adtnAre you a Lamed-Vavnik?

According to Jewish tradition, there are 36 exceptionally righteous (read: supermensch-like) people in the world in each generation, and without whom the world would cease to exist. (In Hebrew counting, 36 is “lamed vav” (lamed = 30, vav = six)). The thing about Lamed-Vavniks is that they are secretly righteous; they do their deeds under the cover of anonymity.

That type of exemplary behavior is modeled for us in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, according to the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859). The portion begins with G?d telling Moses to tell his brother Aaron to light the menorah inside the Tabernacle — where no one outside could see it. “This was a matter of the inmost heart,” writes the Kotzker. “All the great things have as their central idea something that is hidden and concealed in the heart — with no outward manifestation whatsoever!”

This idea is also substantiated by Pirke Avot, a collection of wise sayings of the sages and early rabbis: “Do not be as servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward, rather be as servants who are serving the master not in order to receive a reward.” That reward could include recognition via Facebook posts or “bragging rights” — both of which are incompatible with the concept of the Lamed-Vavnik.

May we all merit to serve each other in quiet humility, and with a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity.

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Midrash Beshallach

2017.02.06
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WORF: These are our stories. They tell us who we are.
BA’EL: …Are they true?
WORF: I have studied them all of my life, and find new truths in them every time.
– “Birthright,” Star Trek: The Next Generation

Here’s a radical thought: does the story of the Exodus and its miracles — including this week’s splitting of the Sea of Reeds — need to be true in order to be meaningful?

Biblical literalists, who take the Torah to be G?d’s word, see the text as the ultimate truth and the miracles as G?d’s handiwork. Modern critics see the Torah as a unique document compiled from numerous sources, and explain the miracles in terms of natural events. But both may be missing the point.
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Happy 5772!

2011.09.28
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THIS PHOTO FEATURES PEOPLE SPELLING out in Hebrew the words “Shanah Tovah,” or “good year.” I like it because it shows us that the year is ultimately made up of the people who live it — of every moment and every second that lives in human consciousness and memory — that everything within eyeshot is to some extent a human creation, even if only through the act of its being perceived. Live it well, live it fully, live it with joy — but live it.

Happy New Year from The Metaphorager!

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Slouching Toward Tishrei

2011.09.01
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TODAY IS THE SECOND OF Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana, and that fact lends the period an air of expectancy and overhaul.

The Jewish New Year is less a time for partying all night and more a time for reflection and making right, especially of our relationships. Have we wronged anyone? Hurt anyone? Been less than true or right or kind? Now’s the time to fix that.

So if I have in the past year treated you less than you deserve, or been blunt or flip where tender seriousness would have been better, please let me know. Life is too short not to live it fully, and it’s hard to live it fully if there’s an interpersonal problem sticking things up. As Elwood P. Dowd would say, “I’d rather be kind than right.” (I’d actually rather be both, but sometimes you can’t have everything.)

May your own annual journey to renewal and rebirth go as smoothly as it needs to be, and, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, may you become no wiser than necessary.

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O G?D, DEAREST AND WISEST One, Maker of mercies and miracles, Describer in line and form, please: Save us from those sincere souls who know what You really meant.

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Another Definition Of Judaism

2011.08.05
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ETHNOTHEOLEGALITY. (IF YOU WANT TO get more specific, then Levantine ethnotheolegality. Or pedantically: a Levantine people’s god’s code.)

Eh?

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Fable, With Apocalypse

2011.07.30
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IN THE MIDDLE OF A flat grey wasteland, under a grey streaky sky, a handful of figures warmed themselves at a snapping fire.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

One of the figures had turned to stare across the waste — a vast landscape of broken dryers and tumbledown swingsets, with here and there half a gas station or bowling alley.

“Don’t do that.”

He takes the gaping figure and turns him tenderly toward the flames to warm his hands again.

“Thanks.”

“It’s why I’m here. And that” — a sweeping arm — “is why that’s there. The wasteland is only for wasting you.”

“Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it. Just keep your hands warm. Even when you’re the last one here.”

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Slake The Bitterness

2011.07.20
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FOR MY NEXT TRICK, I will attempt to adapt 1st-century Judaism for 21st-century Americans.

Fig. 1.

Yesterday, the 17th of Tammuz, marked the 1,941st anniversary of the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by the Romans (and the 2,597th anniversary of the same action by the Babylonians). For traditional Jews, 17 Tammuz begins the annual semi-mourning period of the Three Weeks, which culiminate in a commemoration of the Temple’s destruction on the 9th of Av, colloquially known as Tisha B’Av (this year, August 9).

For untraditional Jews, it’s a time of wondering why traditional Jews are so upset over something that happened so many years ago — and deprived us of nothing more than the old-time religion of animal sacrifice. But let’s look past the sheen of nationalist memory and peer into the realm of psychological function.
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“Judaism As Art”

2011.07.14
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or, There and Back Again Without Leaving

(BECAUSE OF WORDPRESS, I’M REPUBLISHING this 2002 piece — it works better as a “post” than as a “page” — and although my kippa-wearing has become a bit less pronounced of late it still reflects my approach to finding a place in Judaism. If you’re not hot for apologetics or manifesti, you have my permission to read something else.)

Despite that I’ve worn a yarmulke most of the time since 2000, I don’t define myself as Orthodox. Or Reform. Or, for that matter, as Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal or otherwise adjectivally Jewish.

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Torah Study: Spelling It Out In Balak And White

2011.07.09
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(I’m leading services today, but here’s the dvar Torah I’m delivering this morning (and posted yesterday).)

THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: “IF you don’t look closely at every detail, you miss most of the jokes.” Although there are few obvious jokes in this week’s Torah portion, Balak, an admitted burlesque about a Jew-hating king and his bumbling wizard, we are missing one of the more interesting details.

In a classic Torah service, we divide the portion into seven pieces, or aliyot, each one framed by blessings. This gives us a different relationship to the text than if we just read the story straight through. Among other things, it gives us time to reflect; for the words to reach their mark; for repetitions and patterns to show us something new.
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OUR WEEKLY TORAH STUDY SHIFTS this week, as I am honored and privileged to lead Shabbat services tomorrow morning (Sat., 7/9/11) at Sonoma’s Congregation Shir Shalom. We will begin by looking at one of the Book of Numbers’ most action-packed portions: the tale of Bilaam the Evil Wizard. (Just typing “Evil Wizard” is a...

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Storyteller’s Knot

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF any story is the point at which it’s attached to the reader.

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