Monday, March 31, 2014

Parashat Tazria- Shabbat HaChodesh

HaChodesh hazeh lakhem rosh chodashim rishon hu lachem l’chodshei hashanah.
This month will be for you the first of the heads of months (the first Rosh Chodesh); it is for you the first month of the year. (Shemot 12:2)
Today is Shabbat Hachodesh, the Shabbat preceding the month of Nisan. Tuesday will be rosh chodashim rishon, the first day of the year. Nisan is also known as chodesh aviv, the spring month. The name Nisan may come from the Hebrew nes, miracle, or the Akkadian nissanu, to start. Either way, it is a month that recognizes the appearance of new life, the changes that occur every spring. The cycle of new growth is a constant miracle. Seeds and bulbs wintering under the ice and snow reappear. Buds burst from branches. Green reappears.
As I write this, the weather report for the week predicts at least two more days of snow, with more likely to come. Nevertheless, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is a sign. With it the weather will continue to warm. The days will continue to lengthen. We will soon change our prayers from rain to dew as the seasons shift in Israel. Although planting season in Israel has passed, it will soon be planting time here. Each day we see more grass and soil appearing from under the snow. Garden displays are emerging at stores. The new green shoots from our horse radish have poked through the soil. In the next two weeks we will begin garden cleanup by clearing the old, brown, winter-overed leaves, where they have been protecting the plant below, and dig up the roots for our seder. Nearby the mint and parsley are also making an appearance, albeit slower. By the start of May, we hope to see the sprouts of asparagus, thyme, dill and other herbs. Strawberries and raspberries will appear a month later. There are bulbs, roses, forsythia, and more to look forward to throughout the spring and summer.
It all begins this Shabbat, a new cycle for a new year, one that will appear in a sudden burst of colour and warmth when spring soon rolls in. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm a Happy TV Viewer

I am spending my evening starting my Shabbat prep.  My habit is to catch up on my TV viewing while cooking.  Tonight is no different.  Currently I am making hot and sour soup while watching NCIS.  I am a happy TV viewer.  There is a new NCIS spin-off on its way, and tonight it is born.  (Well, actually Tuesday, but I'm catching up now, so it's tonight for me.)  I realize there are many people who either don't watch NCIS, or who may think that another spin-off is jumping the shark.  However, Law and Order managed it, so why not NCIS.  It's a top rated show, even after all these year.

So on to my happy viewing.  I enjoy NCIS and NCIS LA.  I like the characters and I like the actors.  I enjoy the ridiculousness of the stories.  After over 20 years of association with the US Navy, I know that this is absolutely not what NCIS does.  It doesn't matter.  I enjoy the eye-candy of the actors and the underlying romances.  I have always loved Mark Harmon, and I have come to love the rest of the cast.  Same with NCIS LA.  Now I get another beloved actor in Scott Bakula playing Dwayne Pride.  Plus, he's got the most adorable southern accent (not my favourite accent, but it'll do, and it's oh so cute on Scott Bakula and his co-star).  There's something just so sweet about a man with a southern accent.  I should know, Sean's accent makes a tiny, little appearance every once-in-a-while (especially when he's in uniform; there's something about the south and the military).

The hot and sour sour is set.  YUM!  It's all I can do not to have a huge bowl right now, but I know it'll be even better after letting the flavours meld overnight.  I still have enough time to prep brussel sprouts, garlic and sweet onion.

Nighty night and Shabbat shalom.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shemini- Destiny or Choice?

Vayikchu vnei-Aharon Nadav vaAvihu ish machtato vayitnu vahein eish vayasimu aleha k’toret vayakrivu  lifnei A-donai eish zarah asher lo tzivah otam. Vateitzei eish mi’lifnei A-donai vatokhal otam vayamutu lifnei A-donai.
And the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took his censer, and put fire therein, and laid upon it incense, and approached God offering strange fire, which God had not commanded them. And fire went out from before  God, and devoured them, and they died before God. (Vayikra 10:1-2)
Last Shabbat the question of destiny came up in our discussions of the Megillah. Upon discovering the fate Haman had planned for the Jews, Mordekhai says to Esther, “Do not imagine that you will escape in the king’s house... If you remain silent, relief and rescue will come from elsewhere… who knows whether this is why you attained the kingdom.” (4:13-14) Esther was scared. Mordekhai was exhorting her to embrace her possible destiny. Esther made her choice, and saved her people. The question arises though, did she truly have a choice? Why did she make the choice she did. Perhaps she saw the possibilities. Perhaps she felt it was her duty. But either way, it had to be her choice. Mordekhai tells her, “If you remain silent, relief and rescue will come from elsewhere, and you and your father’s house will perish from the earth.” This is the interesting thing about destiny. Unlike the inescapable destinies of Greco-Roman religion, Judaism proclaims that we all have free choice.
God places before us blessing and curse. Although the obvious choice would seem to be blessing, all too often, humans choose the curse. Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, are trained to take over from Aaron. Unfortunately, they make a poor choice. They put on the correct clothes. They take their censers, but then they offer “strange fire” before God. They are consumed with no explanation. Some look to the admonishment that follows, saying they were drunk. Others claim the “strange fire” was the result of incorrectly mixed incense. Still others say they tried to approach God when not commanded. Was it their destiny to die? I think not. There is no indication in our text to this point. We have every reason to believe they were supposed to be the kohanim to lead the Israelites in Eretz Yisrael. However, in their absence, another had to step to the plate. This is the nature of destiny and choice. When we make the correct choices, like Esther, our destinies are fulfilled. When we make the wrong ones, the burden of the future falls to others.
May we each strive to choose the blessings in our lives in order to fulfill our destinies.

Falling Behind Again

I can always tell when I am busy at work or at home or stressed.  Papers and more pile up around the computer, on the desk in the kitchen.  Laundry gets washed, but never folded.  The kids are sent to the laundry room each morning to dig through piles of clean, and now wrinkled clothing.

This is one of those times.  Much of the stress comes from a total lack of down time.  For the first time in 9 years, we stayed home for December break.  Every other year we went to visit one or both sets of parents.  Since the onset of Family Day, we have traveled to Ottawa for the long weekend.  Both are important breaks.

This year we were looking forward to staying home for December break. We thought it would be relaxing. I took a few days off anyway.  Lo and behold, nature had other plans.  The ice storm removed any chance for a relaxing break.  Although we we without power for only one day, we offered space and electricity to others. Sean was worrying over the synagogue and his members.  Instead of relaxing days of sleeping in, it was weeks of stress and worry.

We never realized how important the break in February has been.  For four days we put work and worry aside.  If it's cold, it's okay because it's Winterlude.  If we're cold, we simply go back to the hotel and drink hot cocoa.  It's the only vacation we have taken in a decade, but it's a very important 4 days.  It also acts like a punctuation mark to the winter.  From that moment on we know spring is coming.  We can put up with the cold and lingering winter after the break.  This year there has been no break.  The unending cold just pounds at us.

Winter is a busy work time.  It piles up.  There is a lull beginning now, but still so much work to do.  Financials, newsletters, website- there is never a lack.

The other thing that suffers is my writing. I have notes everywhere with ideas, but they rarely get transferred to paper (or pixels).  Some ideas have been

  • Pothole Dodgeball (which I thing about everyday in the car)
  • Feel Good Movies (eh quality films which are oh so sweet)
  • My Don't Laugh at Me Moment ("Don't Laugh at Me" is a song by Peter, Paul, & Mary about bullying and shutting people out.  I thought about it after a long discussion with a homeless man, to whom I'd given some change.  I think the conversation was as important as the change.  So few even acknowledge a beggar. A line in the song is, "And don't think I haven't noticed that our eyes never meet." I always make sure to, at the very least, make eye contact, and hopefully talk a bit with anyone to whom I give money or food.)
  • Jesse & Snowman (The last time it snowed, I asked the kids if they wanted to build a snowman.  Keren immediately burst into the song "Do You Want to Build a Snowman".  While this was surprising, more surprising was the fact that, not only had Keren memorized the words, but that Jesse also knew all the lyrics.  How is it my 17 year old son knows that song?  He's always full of surprises.)
  • At Forty The Wheels Fall Off (Five years ago I had my eyes checked, as I do every year.  My prescription was exactly the same, but since I had just turned 40, my optometrist, Dr. Kerry Salsberg, whom I recommend, said it was just a matter of time.  He was right of course.  Somehow 40 is a major health turning point.  It must be a statement about our proper lifespan.  I wish I knew what the statement was.  But it's true.  After 40 we heal slower.  There are daily pains.  Aches I thought had healed have come back.  I wake with a back ache or my shoulder hurting.  My feet hurt where they had not before.  It's not all bad.  I've had knee issues since I was 12, and either my tolerance has improved or the knees have.  I am more able to deal with the aches.  It doesn't really matter why.  I am happy and satisfied with who and what I am.  
Now if only the sun would come back, and I could get that vacation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Anticipation Is Bad, But Reality Still Sucks

It's here. The week of darkness. Yesterday morning my alarm went off to a total lack of sunlight streaming in my window. Today, the same thing. My daylight saving headache has set in.  It will last until the sun comes back.  Of course there's more to this than just me. Traffic reports yesterday showed a large upswing in crashes yesterday. The news reported what we already know- study after study has shown the body simply does not adjust to the loss of sleep, and more importantly change in light. The Monday after we turn the clocks up is a very dangerous day.  Next year we should all stay home and in bed until the sun comes back.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tales From the Rabbis' Table

Today we had a perfect "Rabbis' Table" moment. It was Shabbat afternoon. Jesse and Gav had just come upstairs after some fierce ping pong. Keren and Sean were finishing up a game of Battleship, and I was eating seudah shlishit (the 3rd Shabbat meal, which, in our home, gets spread throughout the afternoon as we each get hungry). We were discussing nusach and Kaddish. Sean sang a bit of Kaddish Neilah for Gavi to repeat. It's a wonderful Kaddish, especially neat since it's done only once a year. Gavi repeated after him. Keren piped up with "That was almost it." Not missing a beat, Gavi responded, "Yeah, well it was better than your revi'i." Trash talk in the rabbis' house is all about nusach and Torah ta'amim (aka troupe). How proud am I?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Shabbat Zachor- Be Joyous

Vayikra el-Moshe va’y’dabeir A-donai eilav meiOhel Moeid leimor. Dabeir el-b’nei Yisrael… 
And A-donai called to Moshe and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying. “Speak to the children of Israel… (Vayikra 1:1-2) 
Vayikra is called Leviticus in Greek and Latin, the book of the Levi’im. This name implies a book of instruction to Aaron and his sons on the ritual of sacrifice in the Mishkan. However, it goes well beyond that. The Hebrew, Vayikra, meaning “And God called…” shows clearly that, as with the rest of the books of the Torah, Vayikra is a book for all Jews. It is not limited to a sub-group within our people. 

When we study the sacrifices today, they seem archaic and out of date. Rambam points out that sacrifices were the primary form of expression in the ancient world. It has entered every culture across the globe. Vayikra elevates sacrifice above the influence of idolatry, from the physical to the spiritual plane. (See notes on Sefer Vayikra) Sacrifices are no longer food for the Gods, but an opportunity for individuals to express their spirituality and to seek holiness. It represents, not God’s need, but our own need for physical expression through pleasing the senses. According to Masekhet Megillah, God will dwell in the holy spaces we create. These are our sanctuaries, our homes, and especially, our tables. These places are filled with the pleasing scents, tastes and textures of our Shabbat and holiday foods. They are filled with the sounds of our singing prayers, brachot and songs. Our eyes are filled with the pleasant sights of new holiday clothes, flowers, the Torah mantles and breastplates, the smiling faces of our family and our friends. 

We have just begun the month of Second Adar. The Jewish leap year is not as easy to identify as the Gregorian. There are seven leap years in every nineteen-year cycle. In those years we add a full month, and not just any month, but the month of Adar. It is said “Mi shenikhnas Adar, marbim bsimcha.” “When Adar begins, joy increases.” We’re an interesting people. The oldest Jewish joke is that every holiday has this message, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” One would think this would lead us to be a depressed people, melancholy and sad, but instead we are joyous. When Adar begins, happiness is increased. Mourning is forbidden during Nisan, the month in which Pesach occurs. There were no greater days for Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. Sukkot is Z’man Simchateinu, the time of our rejoicing. Even Yom HaZikaron blends seamlessly into exuberant celebration for Yom HaAtzmaut. We focus our mourning onto just a few national days, seeing joy in everything else.  

Rav Sean and I recently saw the documentary “Hava Nagila.” It is a wonderful movie, giving insight into this special song. In one interview, the interviewer states Jewish music is sad. Certainly it has a mournful quality with its minor chords. The interviewee however, hears the wistful longing, the nostalgic joy in the tune and the words. “Hava nagila. Hava nagila. Hava nagila, v’nismecha. (repeat) Hava n’ran’na. Hava n’ran’na. Hava n’ran’na v’nismecha. (repeat) U’ru, u'ru achim. U’ru achim b’lev sameach (4x) U’ru achim! U’ru achim! B’lev sameach! Let us rejoice. Let us rejoice. Let us rejoice and be happy. (repeat) Let’s sing. Let’s sing. Let’s sing and be happy. (repeat) Awake, awake brothers. Awake brothers with a happy heart. (4x) Awake brothers. Awake brothers. Have a joyful heart! 

Life happens. And, in life, not everything brings us joy. We see injustice. We see anger. We experience hardship, and feel pain, but we work hard to rise above it. We create sanctuaries in our homes and in our hearts. We fill our lives with hiddur mitzvah, aromas, flavors, beauty and song! This is our songHava NagilaThis is our peopleAm Yisrael Chai! These are our celebrations, our sanctuaries, and our life. They bring us together. They bring us nearer to God. They raise up our hearts, our minds, and our spirituality. They make us holy. And it is joyous! 

The Worst Week of the Year

It is said that anticipation is worse than the thing you are dreading.  It is true. This is the worst week of the year. Each morning I wake up to sun streaming in my bedroom window. But it's not real. It's a tease. Sunday morning, o-dark-hundred, the clocks jump forward into daylight saving. You may know, I HATE daylight saving! The days are already getting longer. Shabbat is beginning to start at a reasonable time. It's light, as it should be, when people are getting up for work and for school, but Monday morning we will be plunged back into darkness, making mornings, once again, cold and miserable.

They're taking the sun away. It makes me sad. But the worst is waking up each morning to sun and the thought, "Next week that'll be gone."

At least the dread is almost over.  I can accept the headache that comes every year with the theft of the sun, and look forward to brighter days in a few weeks.

He's Broken & He Can't Get Up

Last year Sean headed off to do his milu'im (reserve duty), as he does every year.  While there, through no fault of the US Navy, Sean developed an appendicitis, and he spent half his time on medical leave.  Well... he's done it again.  This time, my amazing husband has broken his collarbone and fractured a rib.  Worse he missed the point.

Last Friday, playing racketball agains two Marines, at least 10 years his junior, my amazing husband ran full-flank into a wall while going for a point.  In his defense to me, he said, "But I was winning."  I told the senior chaplain who called me with the news that he was just shirking duty.  I then shared Sean's appendicitis story, and, for kicks and goggles, told him of the week before Gavi's birth, when my amazing husband broke his ankle playing racketball.  That time he made the point.  That was the first question the doctor asked him. One week later, when I went into labor, I still made him carry the pillows and my overnight bag, shlepping along behind me.  He accepted that role.

Did I mention I think he's amazing.