Posts Tagged ‘ Torah: Output ’

Cosmic Shmuck Reveals All

2010.09.12
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JUST HAPPENED ACROSS THE FOLLOWING in Robert Anton Wilson‘s Cosmic Trigger III, and as it’s appropriate for Yom Kippur (beginning Friday night) here ’tis:

The Cosmic Shmuck Law, as stated in several of my books, holds that if you occasionally notice that you have said something or done something that qualifies as Cosmic Shmuckery, you might become, in time, less of a Cosmic Shmuck; but if you never notice any Cosmic Shmuckery in your own thinking/doing, you will become more and more of a Cosmic Shmuck every year.

This makes sense to me, and I especially like that RAW measures in years, likely because of the whole Yom Kippur thing which, just between you and me, I’m having some difficulty with this year. In short: We are supposed to seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have done each other. But from this perspective, they seem a bit bigger and scarier than I am.

Dealing with quasidisability and its related and interwoven consequents does not make me easy to live with — it makes me impatient, short-tempered, cranky, sad and occasionally sullen, none of which are easy either for Ann or me (or for every union’s invisible third partner, The Marriage), especially as I’m someone who takes up a lot of psychic space in any given room). I sincerely don’t know how to write about this pain in a way that doesn’t sound self-pitying to me; in any case, I’m saying this so I can tell you the next thing.

Because of all this, this sluggish grey heavy tentacled ick, I find myself sincerely seeking forgiveness from … pretty much everyone I know for the unreturned phone calls, emails, visits, invitations and general good will y’all have been beaming at me. (You know who you are.) There’s a weird despair-into-shame spiral: I mean to do something, then feel bad about not having done it, then paralyzed by embarrassment, et al, ad nausea, ad insanitum. And then it’s too hard to do anything but sigh.

It may be a long way back to the man I want to be; I have not been a good friend this past year, and in some cases have even been a bad one. It is not something I intended, but it happened and I want to fix it. And so I nakedly ask, and hope to thank you for, your forgiveness.

You know who you are.

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Weekend Holydays

2010.09.10
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Apples and honey
yesterday. Tonight, candles.
This Jew’s dance card’s full.

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Torah Word: Kedoshim

2010.04.23
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Torah Portion: Acharei Mot-Kedoshim Leviticus 16:1-20:27
Haftorah: Amos 9:7-15

“Kedoshim t’hyu, ki kadosh ani Adonai Eloheicha — Be holy, for I am holy, Adonai your God.” (Leviticus 19:2)

The second half of this week’s double portion takes a breather from Leviticus’ endless sacrificial and ritual minutiae and addresses the topic pondered by philosophers the world and centuries ’round: How shall we live?

Torah tells us to be “holy,” which in the original Hebrew carries the sense of set apart/dedicated/specified to a particular intention. That’s easy for God — after all, God’s uniqueness and absolute indefinability makes God’s holiness something of a byproduct. For us, it’s hard enough to concentrate on one thing for more than an hour let alone our entire lives.

But “Kedoshim t’hyu” doesn’t only translate as “be holy.” The prefix “t” connotes assurance: our holiness isn’t really God’s desire or insistence so much as God’s promise — “Do this, and that will follow.” By following Torah — which also means wrestling with Torah until you see where it’s taking you — we enter a way of life which ensures life’s own continuation: a way of honesty, compassion, intelligence and closeness to the One.

Have an amAzing Shabbat!

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This Week In Torah: Vayak’hel/Pekudei

2010.03.08
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VAYAK’HEL/PEKUDEI (Exodus 35:1-40:38; haftarot I Kings 7:51-8:21 and, because Nisan starts on Tuesday making this a special Rosh Chodesh Shabbat, Ezekiel 45:16-46:18) WRAPS UP THE BOOK of Exodus by building the Tabernacle: the traveling God-tent whose structure and contents are so lovingly detailed in the previous four portions. After making certain that all the parts are laid out and accounted for, Moses proceeds to assemble the people’s manifold contributions into a single coherent whole — after which “the kavod (honor, glory, gravitas) of Adonai filled the Tabernacle.”

At the beginning of Vayakhel, God asks Moses to assemble “the generous-hearted … the wise-hearted … all of the Israelite community” — the distinction being that the generous provide the materials and the wise shape them into meaning. Earlier commentators might see this “those who can, do — those who can’t, contribute” metaphor as a prooftext for community support of Torah scholars (or one’s synagogue!). But another meaning might be that building the sacred — especially sacred community — requires each member to provide the raw ingredients and wrestle them into place; to be and to become; bumping along together, shaping each other and being shaped into something that (we hope) looks a little more like God than it did before.

Shavua tov, gut woch and have a nice week,

Reb Neal (from our synagogue e-letter)

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Leaving room for silence

2009.04.16
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Of all the apparent opposites which Judaism wrestles to reconcile — free will v. predestination, universalism v. particularism, applesauce v. sour cream — one of the most paradoxically fertile is words v. the Wordless.

Maimonides, the great 12th century rabbi and commentator, wisely stayed out of this fray — he was more comfortable describing God in terms of what God wasn’t than in telling people what God was. Maimonides wasn’t the only one who felt this way; in fact, much of our liturgy describes the indescribability of God at great and poetic length.

Take, for example, the following words of the Chatzi Kaddish, which our ancestors loved so much they used it to mark the transition between different parts of every prayer service (translation from the new Reform siddur, Mishkan T’filah): “Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing, praise and comfort.”

Even more to the point is Nishmat: “Even if our mouths were full of song as the sea, and our tongues full of joy in countless waves, and our lips full of praise as wide as the sky’s expanse, and were our eyes to shine like sun and moon; if our hands were spread out like heaven’s eagles and our feet swift like young deer, we could never thank You adequately, Adonai, our God and God of our ancestors, to bless Your name for a ten-thousandth of the many myriads of times You granted favors to our ancestors and to us.”

If that’s the case, then why bother? If God can’t be talked about, why do we keep talking?

One answer, from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, is, “A little is also good.” Since nobody can really appreciate God on a Godly scale, that means a level praying field for everybody. But just as each thing helps us understand its apparent opposite, perhaps our seemingly ceaseless God-talk is also one half of a whole picture: and why our most central prayer, repeated twice daily, begins: “Shema … Listen.”

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Hiding the Hidden

2008.01.21
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Last week, we read in Parsha Beshallach about the departure from Egypt (Heb. “Mitzrayim”, or “narrows,” which the mystical tradition identifies with the forces of constraint and bad-habitry). Among the other nifty details is this one, from Exodus 13:21: “And YHVH went before them by day in pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.”

This is traditionally seen as a cloud shot through with flame — one phenomenon (or metaphor-target) with two aspects. At our post-Shabbat Dinner chevrusa, Ann & I proposed this:

- When things go well, it’s easy to see the Path. When they don’t, we need a reminder that it’s there at all.

- The cloud also figures in this week’s portion, Yitro, where it surrounds Mt. Sinai prior to the Ten Statements. Perhaps this is one of Torah’s (not-so-)subtle Hints that, as Heraclitus put it (init caps added by me]: “The Nature of things is in the habit of concealing Itself.” In other words, that G!d can only manifest in hiddenness — in the mystery of direct experience.

I think this is one of the many, many things ungotten by Christopher Hitchens, Pat Robertson and other dogmatists: “If you can figure God out, what you’ve figured out isn’t God.” Buncha weenies — cluttering up the Godscape with conditions and qualifications, as though the primate brain has an exclusive on Truth…

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Torah Nerds, Unite!

2008.01.16
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Some people say that the Torah can only be meaningful if the events depicted therein are true. In other words, if 600,000 people didn’t march through the Sinai Peninsula; if the plagues were just a mythologization of natural disasters; if Lot’s wife never turned into a pillar of salt — then nothing else about this Text of Texts can be worth the parchment it’s inscribed on.

To which I say, “What’s the fun in that?”

I’ve written on this topic at length, and although my own approach differs I don’t quite know how to describe it. “Who cares? Shut up and study!” is accurate, though a tad impolite; “Judaism as Fanac” comes pretty close, but a) non-fen don’t always know what “fanac” means, and b) some Jews seem to think the phrase a trivialization. (Which indicates that they also don’t know fandom, and how seriously fen treat the objects of their fascination.)

And then, in the middle of a conversation, out it popped: “I guess I’m just a Torah Nerd.”

So with a little help from cafepress.com, I present the Torah Nerd Lifestyle Identification System. Far more than a kitschy piece of ephemera (although it’s that too), the TNLIS is designed to identify the wearer as someone who:

- Doesn’t take Torah literally to take it seriously
- Doesn’t believe in the concept of “overanalysis”
- Has $1.49 to spare. Collect the set!

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Working Definition

2007.12.21
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God 1 v. the Omnipresent Center SEE Copenhagen interpretation, quantum consciousness 2 conj. adv. The Connector of Space and Sustainer of Time, One, Alive, and Intent 3 n domesticated primates’ ultimate attribution of excuse, tragedy or inspiration

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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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Peace Through Superior Prayerpower

2002.04.12
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Well, the “shalom service” was either very wonderful or very weird, depending on whether you want to think about it quantitatively or qualitatively.
From the former perspective, it was weird because — either despite or because of or having nothing to do with advance email-list publicity by my rabbi and I — only two members of our congregation showed up. Also in attendance were some very dear, longtime friends of Ann’s and mine from our RenFaire tribe and a woman and a couple who needed, in light of the matzav, to be with other Jews and happened to find out we were having a service.
Qualitatively, however, it was very profound. We did the straight Erev Shabbat I service from our Reform siddur, and I never heard such loud and earnest davening. The d’var shalom went over pretty well (I’ll post it after this entry); people really had a need to share their fears and hopes. Mostly, we spoke about how wrenching it is that Jews are fighting Jews as a community well as within our own hearts. We also spoke about how none of us want Psalm 83 to be a part of our personal or comunal theology. We all cried a little, as is natural when speaking from the kishkes. Afterwards, we laughed a little too. Everyone was profoundly grateful for the chance to come together. And I am, as always, profoundly grateful to Hashem for allowing me to enable that to happen.
That quantitaive vs.qualitative thing … Despite my firm belief that people should only come to services if they want to, I freely admit to a bit of disappointment that more people didn’t attend. But more importantly, perhaps, is what a difference it made in the lives of those who did attend.

Here is my d’var shalom. When I delivered it, I expanded a bit on my own personal feelings:


D’var Shalom – Erev Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5762

Last December, our religious-school director Susan Jebrock and I attended a meeting of Jewish educators in San Francisco. The lead speaker was a rabbi named Avram Infeld, a big macher in Israeli educational circles. He’s an amazing speaker, one of those larger-than-life characters straight out of a Leon Uris novel or Zorba the Greek.

Among other gems, he told us always to teach value-laden terms in Hebrew, not English. “What does ‘tzedakah’ mean?” he asked us. “Charity,” we answered. “WRONG!” he thundered. “Charity is what you give because of how it makes you feel! Tzedakah is what you give because it’s the right thing to do!”

The word “shalom” has nuances that don’t translate well into English. More than simply “peace,” it carries connotations of “wholeness,” “harmony,” and “integrity.” Shalom isn’t so much a lack of war as what you get when everything is in balance, with no wobbling.

That’s what’s so important about the word “shalom” – since it also means “wholeness,” it necessarily contains the opposite of “peace.” But only in balance with everything else.
We are the balance point where it all comes together.
But to bring it all together, and do that as seriously and sincerely as we can, we have to clearly look and listen to both arms of the balance.

I’d like to read two psalms right now which apply to the matzav, or current Israeli-Arab situation. Both are about as different as they can be.

- Psalm 83. This uses some obscure references, but rather than excerpt them, I’ve left them in for sake of the meter.
- Psalm 122.

I’ve read those tonight partly because they illustrate two ends of the tunnel we seem to be in, and mostly because I myself have been wobbling between those two extremes, on an almost hourly basis, for the past several months. You are the first people to whom I’ve told this other than my wife. I am not used to or comfortable being filled with rage and vengeance; I don’t like it one bit. Hatred and anger do not come easily to me. I prefer to take the bigger view, the view that shows us how to keep human beings from fighting over nothing and everything at the same time. I prefer balance to wobbling.

That’s not always easy. Talking about it makes it easier. Being listened to makes it easier still.

If anyone wants to say anything and would like us to listen, now would be a good time. I only ask that we refrain from discussing political solutions, and stick to airing our fears and hopes – starting our sentences with “I feel” instead of “we should” or “they should.” Remember, the Talmud records the losing opinions, too, since we can learn from them and may reconsider them as times change. We don’t yet know what the losing opinions are in this situation – so let’s try to value and respect these differences, even those that may remain unspoken.

Most of the last part — “I only ask … fears and hopes” and “Remember … remain unspoken” was written by my rabbi. She’s better at saying that sort of thing than I am. I closed with two poems by Yehuda Amichai, “I May I Rest In Peace” and the following “Appendix to (Isaiah’s) Vision of Peace” (translated by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt):

Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.

Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.

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Fringey Blue

2001.11.14
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from a pre-Blogger blog

Tzitzit under blue jeans feel like nothing, and yet feel like everything.

They feel like nothing because the four-cornered cotton garment to which they’re attached is extremely light. I forwent the type which snap or stitch under the arm, since a) I didn’t think it necessary and b) we’re having a slack financial tide right now (meaning that the basic style is less expensive). The tzitzit, intricate knots which remind us of mitzvot (sacred obligations) like strings wrapped around our souls’ fingers, look a little like yellow spaghetti. The serape-like garment to which they’re attached fits nicely under my shirt, although tucking it into my pants is a bit tricky — I prefer wearing them under an untucked shirt, where they can dangle free.

But this is where they “feel like everything.” I wear a kippa full-time, and have for nearly two years. But that’s not a mitzva, it’s a custom. It publicly identifies me as a Jew, and forces me to be on my best behavior when I’m around other people. It’s also something of a conversation piece: I’ve explained kashrut to a curious Egyptian man at a morning coffeeshop, compared the Aramaic and Hebrew versions of the first verse of Genesis with the proprietor of a local 7-Eleven, and been greeted by more Jews than I can remember right now.

Tzitzit, however, are different — they’re a mitzva, something we’re supposed to do according to Torah. However, in my life, they’re something strictly between me and G-d — a quiet reminder, not an advertisement of piety. (Sadly, in the circles in which I travel, I think they’d be perceived as an advertisement of a different sort.) I’ve only been wearing them for five days now, and already I “feel more like a Jew.” That’s pretty weird to see myself writing that, since I tend to see “Jew” as something you are and do, not something you feel. But I guess that’s part of the mystery of “na’aseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will hear,” or — loosely translated a la Ivan Stang — “Laugh. See?” It’s what our ancestors replied when Moshe Rabbeinu said that G-d had some instructions for them [Exodus 24:7].) There are things we do which define us to ourselves. For me, “being a Jew” and not wearing tzitzit, or laying tefillin, or praying every day, or studying Torah, or seeking to be my best and see the best in others, feels to me like “being an American” but not voting. Grasping the shell of the thing but not savoring its essence. Tzitzit are definitely of the essence. (At least, for me. Others, G-d willing, will have a different view of the notional constraints within which to conduct oneself Jewishly.)

We’re either “on the bus or off the bus,” as the now-late Ken Kesey once said. Given that, the question isn’t “How many people can we take with us?” but rather “What will we share with each other along the way?”

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