Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Table of Eight Seats Ten

I recently received an email from a good friend.  Kim and I have been friends since Kadima and USY.  We've supported each other through our Jewish development along parallel paths.  We've watch as each of our families grow.

Kim's email was meant to be sent to eight women who are important to me, and who are likely to pass it on.  I decided to pass it on.  There are many women who fit that description.  I even have some of their emails.  One problem, even after trimming my list down, my Table of Eight seats ten.

Ten special women I can count on on my e-list (there would have been more if I added my other email accounts and Facebook).  There's a bedouin saying, "If there's room in your heart, there's room in your home."  I guess that means my table for eight can fit more.

So here's a big public THANKS to all the special women in my life, the ones at the table and the ones who couldn't fit, you definitely fit in my heart!

And Now... Parashat Shlach Lecha

Shlach Lecha is filled with lessons on action.  God says to Moshe, “For yourself, send people to scout out the land.”  For yourself, not for Me.  Moshe sends twelve scouts, each one a leader in his own tribe.  Twelve scouts go together.  Once on their mission they see very different things.  All twelve see the wonders of the land.  They see the great produce, the abundant milk and honey, and they see the people.  For two, Calev and Joshua, their faith drives them.  They see these inhabitants, but know they can prevail.  For the other ten, faith is not enough, they are paralyzed and powerless against the current residents.

Upon their return to the Israelites, these ten report their views of the population.  As leaders of their tribes, they spread despair amongst the Israelites.  Moshe and Aaron fall on their faces before the Israelites.  Only Joshua and Calev stand up to the slander.  The Israelites threaten their very lives.

For their actions, Joshua and Calev are promised entrance into the Land of Israel.  Moshe and Aaron are doomed to die in the midbar with the rest of the Israelites age 20 and up.  As a community they accepted the words of the ten over the two.  Had Moshe or Aaron spoken against the ten there may have been a different ending, instead they choose to respond with nothing.  There must have been others among the Israelites who would have followed Calev and Joshua, but they too remained silent.  Had one person, whether a leader or a layman, spoken up, perhaps others could have been swayed and the story changed.  This is a theme that has played throughout history.

Edmund Burke is reported to have said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  We all should take this to heart, and speak our minds when our conscience directs us.

What You Were Waiting For- Parashat B'ha'alotcha

“And Moshe spoke to the children of Yisrael that they should keep the Pesach.  And they kept the Pesach on the fourteenth day of the first month at evening in the wilderness of Sinai….  And there were certain men who were defiled by the dead body of a man that could not keep the Pesach on that day… and those men said to him [Moshe], ‘Why are we kept back that we may not make an offering to the Lord in its appointed season among the children of Israel?’…  And the Lord spoke to Moshe saying… ‘If any one of you should be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be on a journey far away, he shall keep the Pesach….  On the fourteenth day of the second month at evening they shall keep it….  But the person that is clean and is not on a journey, and fails to keep the Pesach, then that person shall be cut off from among his people…”

The most observed Jewish holiday is Pesach.  It connects people to our continuing history, the community, to each other, and to God.  Even in the Torah, its rituals move beyond the Kohanim and the Levi’im to the individuals and the community.  So important is Pesach to the Jewish people and the Jewish community that those who were lawfully unable to keep the Pesach desired, and sought out, an answer to how they too could connect with this important ritual. 

Pesach Sheini shows the importance of second chances, but it also tells us that circumstances matter.  God did not immediately offer Pesach Sheini.  This was a choice of the people’s.  Once Pesach Sheini is offered each individual must make his/her choice whether to observe or not.  Observance or non-observance is a conscious decision.  To join with the community, or to separate oneself from the community is a conscious decision.  As Geddy Lee of Rush wrote in his song, “Freewill,” “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”  Whatever we do, we must weigh the options and make informed decisions.

What we do and when we do it matters.  Life is not lived in black and white.  Life is lived in the hues and shades in between.

Parashat Balak- Seeing the Miracles Everyday

There is an old joke.  One day the police drive up to the home of a man of faith.  “A great flood is coming,” they say, “Come, we have a truck to evacuate you and your neighbours.”  “No,” says the man, “God will save me.”  As the waters rise, the man is forced up to the second floor of his home.  As he looks out the window at the water, a boat comes by.  “Come; climb out the window.  We will take you to safety.” “No,” says the man, “God will save me.”  Eventually the man is forced to take refuge on the roof of his house.  A helicopter appears, and over a bullhorn the man hears, “We’re dropping a rope.  Hold on and we will pull you up.” “No,” the man shouts back, “God will save me.”  Finally the water rises too high.  The man is swept away to his death.  When he comes before God, he looks on incredulously.  “God,” he pleads, “I was faithful all my life.  I did good things.  Why?  Why didn’t you save me?”  God answers simply, “My son, I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter.”

In parashat Balak, Balak sends the prophet Bilaam to curse the Israelites.  On his way to perform the curse upon the tribes of Israel, an angel stands on the path blocking the way with a sword.  Although Bilaam cannot see the angel, his donkey sees all too clearly what will happen.  First she turns off the road into a field, but Bilaam hits her to turn her back to the path.  When the donkey sees the angel a second time, she thrusts herself against a wall, crushing Bilaam’s foot in the process.  Again Bilaam strikes her.  A third time the donkey sees the angel, and this time, having nowhere else to turn, she lays down upon the path, refusing to move on.  A third time Bilaam hits her with his staff.  At this the donkey turns her head to Bilaam, and speaks, “What have I done that you have hit me three times?...  Am I not your donkey upon whom you have ridden all your life?  Have I ever done this before?”  Finally Bilaam’s eyes open, and he is able to behold the angel waiting to smite him. 

As Jews, a common expression is “ain somchim al hanes;” “don’t depend upon the miracle.  But miracles come in many forms.  Some may be as simple as a truck coming to pick you up or a seemingly stubborn donkey.  All around us miracles occur every day.  How many times has each one of us proclaimed, “Thank God” after a slip on the stairs or other near miss.  Even difficulties sometimes turn out to be blessings in disguise.  Bilaam’s donkey reminds us.  Pay attention even if this seems like every other day.  Recognize the miracles that surround us.

Parashat Hukkat- How We Touch Others

Parashat Hukkat contains the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, as well as the final death sentence for Moshe.  Moshe’s death decree, and his death later, is a private one.  For Aaron death is semi-shared.  His is a passing of the mantle of the priesthood, both figuratively and literally, but for Miriam, death is public, shared with the entire community. 

It is interesting that Moshe’s and Aaron’s deaths are so much more private.  It speaks to the fact that Miriam’s presence is felt well beyond the number of times she is mentioned in the Torah.  She is an omnipresent personality in Jewish life ad hayom hazeh, even unto this day. After Miriam dies the people wait seven days before moving on.  The Cloud of Glory, which leads them through the midbar, stays still, as if even God is mourning Miriam’s loss.

Immediately following Miriam’s death the water source the Israelites had been using dries up.  Midrash explicates Miriam’s Well based on the juxtaposition of this event to her death.  Water is the source of life, and represents Torah and learning in Jewish tradition.  One could easily ask the question as to whether there really is a well, or is it the influence of Miriam on the people, the influence of a leader, and perhaps a calming presence in the community, a person who never lost faith, from watching Moshe in the basket on the Nile throughout her life, that is lost.  Perhaps without Miriam they lack the faith or emotional strength to search for the well.  Whether the well is a literal well or a figurative one, the influence of Miriam touches every Israelite. 

We rarely think upon the influence we have.  We should take the lesson from Miriam’s death, and her life, that our influence spreads like the ripples in the water, touching those immediately around us and beyond to our entire community.

Out of Order Torah- Korach

I am missing B'haalotecha and Shelach Lecha.  They must be on a child's computer.  It's the problem of multiple laptops in one household.  Oh technology. Still, here's Korach for now.

The story has been told before, but it needs to be told again.  A selfish argument benefits no one.  Pirkei Avot teaches, “Any argument l’shem Shemayim, that is for the sake of Heaven, its resolution will endure, but one that is not l’shem Shemayim will not have an enduring end.  Which argument was l’shem Shemayim?  The controversy between Hillel and Shammai.  And which argument was not l’shem Shemayim? The controversy of Korach and his company.” (Pirkei Avot 5:17)

“Korach ben Izhar ben K’hat, ben Levi took himself, along with Datan and Abiram, the sons of Eliav, and On ben Pelet, descendants of Reuben.  They rose up before Moshe together with two hundred fifty Israelites, leaders of the community, chosen within the assembly.  They united against Moshe and Aaron, and they said to them, ‘You go too far.  All the community is holy, ALL of them, and God is in their midst.  Why should you be raised over the community of God?” 

Korach, with many leaders from the community, come before Moshe and Aaron.  They are all leaders in their own right.  They seem to speak for the people. But, in truth, the come to “gang up,” to elevate themselves while knocking down Moshe and Aaron.  How can we know this?  Just two parshiyot ago, in B’ha’alotekha Moshe gathered together seventy of the elders of the community to experience God’s prophecy first hand.  But prophecy and leadership did not just rest upon them, God’s spirit also rested upon Eldad and Medad, who remained in the camp.  In front of all, they prophesized.  A youth ran to Joshua to tell him of this occurrence.  Joshua says to Moshe, “Restrain them.”  But Moshe answers, “Are you upset on my account?  If only all God’s people were prophets so that God’s spirit rested upon them.”  Moshe actively sought to share the leadership, but prophecy was not his to give, but rather from God.

What is an argument l’shem Shemayim?  The controversy between Hillel and Shammai.  Though often vehemently opposed to each other’s arguments and points of view, the families and schools of Hillel and Shammai socialized and married.  Hillel was known to quote Shammai’s opinions before giving his own.  If only more of us could put our own egos and issues aside to argue, not for ourselves but rather, for the sake of Heaven alone, wow.  Not only this, but if we could all see the purpose of Heaven in the words of others imagine what we could accomplish.

Falling Behind & Catching Up

Hard to believe my last parasha blog was Naso.  I missed two weeks.  Oddly, I have a list on a piece of paper I carry in my purse.  It's a list of topics I wanted to blog about.  Some of this is Jesse's fault.  He dropped his computer, and is temporarily without it.  Fortunately, he's not suffering much, or should that say unfortunately.  Unfortunately, Sean & I are since he's using ours.

I don't know when this is changing exactly.  There may also be a adjustment to working again.  My waking/sleeping cycle is off.  My body really prefers to go to sleep at 1:00 AM, and to wake at 8:00 or 9:00.  The world does not work on my cycle.  I am up much earlier, although not always asleep earlier.

It doesn't help that we spent the last ten days running to things at school.  We are now the parents of a high school student.  To get to this point there are many trips to school to clean up lockers, check the lost and found, and run Jesse to parties and rehersals.  A graduation service, breakfast, ceremony, and reception, plus a pre-party, prom, post-sleepover, pool party, and a graduation party.  Wow.

Mazel tov Jesse, RHA let you out, and your dad & I let you live to this point.  I believe this to be an accompliment for all of us.  Actually, Jesse's teachers and the administration had wonderful things to say. 

On another note:
Today I learned that the word shalom in sign language is clasping hands.  It's a beautiful image, an image that fully embraces the meaning of the word.  Hello- let me shake your hand.  Goodbye- let me hold your hand just a little longer, and Peace- let's hold onto each other, support each other, and be together.  In fact, the visual image of a sign shalom is so much closer to the true meaning of the word than anything that could actually be spoken or written as an explanation.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feeding Children in a Busy World

I stopped in to drop off dinner for a friend this week.  Stopping in of course turned into ten, then fifteen minutes.  We talked about a few different things, but what sticks in my head most was the discussion of dinner.  We talked about feeding children on a busy schedule when acting as a single parent.

Dinner is heard enough to figure out with two parents to balance the kids, the shopping, the planning, and the preparation.  If you remove one parent it becomes next to impossible.  While Sean was gone I was lucky enough not to be working.  Immediately after the kids left for school I would begin planning for dinner.  If I didn't get it planned and started before lunch it either didn't happen, or it was already past bedtime when we ate.

Now that I'm back at work it's even harder.  Many a night has become breakfast for dinner.  We also do a lot of "Catch as Catch Can," which means open the fridge, and find what you want.  Jesse likes tuna; Sean like peanut butter and jelly; Gavi is an enigma, and changes from day to day.  Keren gets fussy, but will usually eat an omelet with vegetables.

I've discovered the most important thing is simply to be flexible.  There's always something healthy to eat in the house.  Fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, cereal, whatever we can throw together.  I'd rather this every night than frozen or prepared food.  Years ago when we were in Hawaii, other parents would look at our kashrut, and exclaim, "It must be so hard.  You can never stop at McDonald's or pick up a pizza." Yes.  That is true.  There are times I'd like nothing better than to pick up something quick.  Still, in the long run, it is better to show that there's always something from which to make a meal.  It's more nutritious, and it teaches our children self-sufficiency.  They know they can always make do, and not at McDonald's.


Rabbis must have google in their brains.  We must not only know halakhah, t'fillot, Jewish history and philosophy, and ethics, but also Kant, Hume, and all of Western thought.  In a moment we must be able to explain the religious impact of the weather and the news.  We must have at our fingertips the perfect baby name, Yom Tov menu item, and the best store at which to buy a perfect Birkat Habayit.  At the same time we must be esoteric and and down to earth; we must be able to relate to and quote the Sages, as well as popular tv and music lyrics (See my d'var this week where I quote Geddy Lee of Rush.  Yes, it's not a new song, but it's a Jewish musician)

Today was the annual local Rabbinical Assembly Yom Iyun.  A Yom Iyun is a day of study on a particular topic.  This year we learned with Dr. Jim Diamond, Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo.  He is an expert in Rambam, and we spent a fascinating day learning about Rambam and Ramban and the balance between philosophy and halakhah.

It's always interesting to learn with my colleagues.  They are, as a group, everything I mentioned above.  Together the issues raised span the world and back again. As much as I love to teach, learning with my colleagues is simply different.  We are raised up by the Torah that passes among us, and I a grateful for that time.

Parashat Naso

Parashat Naso

Last week, in parashat B’midbar, we read, “Eileh toldot Aharon u’Moshe…. V’eileh shemot b’nei Aharon.”  “These are the generations of Aaron and Moshe…. And these are the names of the children of Moshe.  Nowhere are names of Moshe’s children mentioned.

This week’s parasha, Naso, opens “Naso et rosh b’nei Gershon…”  “Count the children of Gershon…”  The reader must think of Moshe when the name Gershon is mentioned.  Moshe’s two sons are Gershom and Eliezer.  The names Gershom and Gershon are used interchangeably in later texts.  Still, all commentary on our parasha agree that the Gershonites are not Moshe’s children. 

The question then becomes what happened to Moshe’s children?  Where are they in our history? 

The Gershonites have their own destiny.  They are Levi’im, obligated to serve in the Tabernacle, with their own specific job.  Perhaps the Gershonites were descendents of Moshe, and perhaps not.  Either way, they couldn’t simply follow in Moshe’s footsteps.  They couldn’t just follow what all the other Levi’im were doing.  They needed to fulfill their own role, to follow their own destiny.

For the children of leaders (and the rest of us) it is often assumed that they will follow in the footsteps of their parents.  We too often expect our children to do what we think is important, from music lessons to sports to academics.  We must learn as parents that children are not clay to be molded, but people to be taught.  From their parents they learn communal responsibility; they develop leadership traits.  However, they must be allowed to be separate from their parents, to follow their own destinies and become the people they are meant to be.

Shabbat shalom.