Shanah Tovah Shoneh- Good Year of Change
by Rabbi Chavah Carp
Rosh HaShanah Evening Sermon 5778
Shanah Tovah, A Good Year. This is the normal greeting at this season. With a switch of the vowels I can make the same letters of the word Shanah, year, into the word Shoneh, which means Change. So this year I wish you a Shanah Tovah Shoneh, A Good Year of Change.
There are many ways we can make changes, Tonight, let’s explore how we can change through prayer and Tikkun. What is our relationship is to prayer? And how do I make a Tikkun? What is in our hands to repair, and how do we fix what is broken? I have worked very diligently this past year on the essence of prayer and what it means to me, along with how to make a Tikkun of myself.
We are asked to come together and pray, But..., What is Prayer? Of course we have the formulaic prayers in our prayer book. And they are wonderful! However my ego gets in the way, because I struggle with a noun or verb I don’t care for. If I am looking at the English I switch to the Hebrew as it helps remove my sense of control, since Hebrew is not my native language; but it is the language of my soul. This past year I re-worked nearly every prayer until it became mine, The result is that I can now pray even with words written by another. There is a power in the prayers- an intercession between where I am and where I want to go.
One brief example of a prayer that I re-worked was the Amidah. I stood with this pray in my hands and wrestled with every section. From the first six words that asks Adonai to open my lips, through the challenge and ownership of my biblical ancestry, to my relationship with Israel, and toward an understanding of what it means to heal. It is an incredible prayer that we get to say at least twice daily.
So- how do we in this room pray together? We don’t have hours to wrestle with each prayer. All of us come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, knowledge and expectations. We have an inner critic that has already come to the party, and it has an agenda that might sabotage our potential of elevated prayerfulness tonight.
I request the following of you: Make tonight’s practice about finding all the things you like, and when your inner critics comes in to complain and find fault, don’t let them. I could make a list of the things that might distract you, but I am sure you can make your own list. Find a place inside yourself that will allow you to heal and enjoy the variety of prayerful experiences that are available. And just like the New Mexico weather, if there is something going on that is just not your thing, Wait 5 minutes!
Prayer builds community, when it is authentic, when you are actively present in the room. Anthropologists talk about the Participant Observer, They are the ‘outside’ who has been invited into the ‘inside’ circle. There may be moments that you will fill like the participant observer, and others where you are clearly the inside. I like to think of prayer as a rolling river with many curves, rapids, tree branches afloat and places of shade and calm. Prayer is a river and it takes you from one place to another. Perhaps by the end of tonight’s service we will feel more connected to one another and as though we arrived at the same end destination with apples and honey awaiting us.
Tonight be sure to look around you and to greet at least three people. I know that when I come to Shul I too often make the mistake of thinking that others should greet me first. I might presume all the others are regulars and they should know that I am the stranger. I encourage you to say hello to people you feel a pull toward, this is what builds community.
Tikkun Olam- repair of the world is a phrase we use a great deal in Judaism. Think about this, if need to make a Tikkun - a repair- that also implies that something is broken! These 60 days from Elul through Simchat Torah are a time of Tikkun Atzmi- repair of the self. What Tikkun do you need to make for yourself this year? Where is your weak spot? What can you fix? Reb Zalman would say, “think of Rosh Hashanah as the stem cells of the year,” Stem cells can become anything as they mature and grow; they contain infinite potential. Last year is gone and we get to grow new cells this year. We get to choose this coming year. Is it a year of loving kindness, of compassion, or growth? Or is this year to give birth to that idea finally.
Tomorrow morning, in the Shofar service, comes what could be considered the signature phrase of Rosh Hashanah: Yom Harat Olam. Often it is rendered “This is the birthday of the world.” But know that the Hebrew word olam can mean both "world" (in spatial terms) as well as "eternal" (in temporal terms, as in L'olam va- ed — forever and ever. The actual phrase harat olam originally comes from Jeremiah, where Jeremiah bemoans his fate as a prophet and wishes that he had never been born; that his mother had been harat olam — "eternally pregnant." If we are eternally pregnant, we can keep giving birth to something.
Brokenness is the one that ties all this together. When we break something and it heals it automatically becomes stronger than everything else around it. When we are stuck the easiest way to fix ourselves is to make ourselves a goal to break something. The breaking wakes something up and lets out what was inside. Like an egg cracking to let the chick out that wants to hatch. In order to let my light emerge I must crack the outer shell to release the hidden spark within. I must destroy the walls that I built around me in order to expand. Lurianic Kabbalah believes that the light is hidden behind the Kelipot, and it is up to us to reunify by letting out our sparks. We do this by revealing ourselves to one another by not hiding behind the veil of shyness or shame.
Rabbi Adam Latz says.” Why do I pray? He Answers, To take a leap of mystery.”
When do I pray, was a subject brought up in a Netflix series called, “Switched at Birth” when a family tragedy took place- No spoilers- Diane- don’t worry! One parent suggested she needed to pray, and the other said that she was not the kind of person to pray just because there was a need to ask for something. The other parent responded by saying “that when one of my children or dear friends needs me, I am there for them no matter what happened before today.” There is always a need to pray. I set myself a task about 30 years ago, and it now my personal practice whenever I choose to watch the news. I pray for everyone I see, yes- sometimes it is more of a challenge than other times- but as a spiritual practice I find it very fulfilling and connects me to the big picture. Those on the news that I might wish to judge harshly will only grow stronger if feed them more darkness, so I choose to pray and add light to the world at every opportunity.
One of my Tikkun’s for this year actually involves my teeth. Which is funny to me because the word tooth in Hebrew is Shain- and in true Sefer Yetzirah fashion if I invert the word Shanah- Year-you have HaShain- the tooth. We are granted the possibility of 32 teeth- which is the gematria for the word Lev- Heart. However I had two adult teeth that were missing from my genetic code. A few years ago I made a decision about my aging process and determined to replace those missing teeth- especially as others were disappearing! I discovered that our teeth have numbers, the two missing teeth were numbers 20 and 6. I was blown away, as 26 is the number of the Tetragrammaton- the holiest name for HaShem. I was now more excited then ever to get the godliness returned to my mouth. I realize this might sound hokey to you, but this is how I constantly try to look at the world. I am always connecting the dots to the source - Mikor HaBeracha. OK- so I think I hear you wondering how this is possibly a Tikkun. It is a Tikkun because there are three things only that any of us have control over. Those three things are Our Thoughts, Our Speech and Our Actions. Now that my mouth is near completion again, the breath which forms words from my heart, through my lungs and over my 32 teeth- the lev of my mouth- the heart of my mouth- and over my tongue- For me this financially expensive process has become my power to change- to Shoneh. Through the Tikkun of my mouth, and the repair of my teeth I became ready to return to The Source of All back into my body. My mouth forms the words that I think, and frames the actions I take.
I will close with this poem by Trisha Arlin;
Kesher V'Gesher: A Prayer for Rosh Hashanah By Trisha Arlin
We cross a scary, narrow bridge,
It has an awesome span.
From Tisha b'Av to Simkhat Torah and back again. It’s not a simple stroll across this bridge, Revealing truth with each step.
How do we get across intact?
Tread gingerly, alone,
Exposed before our friends and family and yes, the Infinite.
But most of all, to ourselves.
We know what we have done. We do.
So what helps us across that bridge?
Our music, the poetry, the liturgy;
The wise words, the sharing, the rhythm of the rituals and conversations with God. Tefillah.
Our gathering, these clergy and prayer leaders, this community,
Social justice and acts of loving kindness,
Our self-awareness, honesty, regret, humility, atonement,
Our forgiveness, grief, redemption, and joy,
The same stuff every year but shockingly different each time.
This is Kesher, our connection to truth and hope.
This is Gesher, our bridge across these Days of Awe.
Connect. Cross the bridge.
From Tisha b’Av to Simkhat Torah:
From Regret to Celebration
From Celebration to Teshuvah
From Teshuvah to Sweetness
From Sweetness to Atonement
From Atonement to Awe
From Awe to Abundance
From Abundance to Torah
Blessed One-ness, Breath of Everything, we are not alone on this journey.
Walk with us as we cross each bridge to a new year and yet another beginning.
Let us say Amen.
What is Renewal Judaism? Rosh HaShanah Morning Sermon 5778
by Rabbi Chavah Carp
Here is a definition of Renewal Judaism (Hitchadeshut Yehudit)
Direct from Wikipedia:
Renewal is an attitude, not a denomination; adherents of Renewal come from all of the branches of Judaism. Renewal places emphasis on direct spiritual experience, and values accessibility over insularity...Renewal is a grassroots, trans-denominational approach to Judaism which seeks to revitalize Judaism by drawing on the immanent-consciousness of feminism, the joy of Hasidism, the informed do-it-yourself spirit of the havurah movement, and the accumulated wisdom of centuries of tradition. We strive to imbue Judaism with an ecumenical, egalitarian, and post-triumphalist sensibility; to create innovative, accessible, and welcoming worship; to shape halachah(Jewish law) into a living way of walking righteously; and to deepen the ongoing, joyful, and fundamental connection with God that's at the heart of Jewish practice.
A large part of my S’micha program took place in Boulder, CO between 1985 and 1991. I met frequently with a group of other Rabbinic interns, often we met at Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s home. An added bonus was that Reb Zalman Schaecter Shalomi z”l” frequented her home. Our over-arching discussion in those days was- “What would a successful Renewal community look like?” “How would one measure success?”
“How do we you remain fiscally responsible and maintain the integrity of our community?”
“Should we have a Clergy leadership or remain a lay-led organization?”
“How big is too big?”
We spent hours in discussion on each of these questions, and we built the role model of what a Jewish Renewal community would look like and what specific elements were needed. Of course there was no One answer, because each community must build the Model that is correct for them, at the time that they are asking these questions.
The Havurah that Rabbi Firestone led grew from 50 members and kept doubling, because there was such hunger out there for a Judaism that was Hamish, accessible, spiritual, and fun. The size became too big as it lost some of these characteristics that it loved so much. So- they made intentional smaller groups and split everyone up. With the Caveat- that they met monthly, and yearly for the High Holidays as one large group. This is arrangement is what kept them going, because they were able to make a major decision in the midst of their success while maintaining their definition of integrity.
I hope you see the direction of this sermon. Nahalat Shalom has asked these same questions from its inception, and has wrestled with them in abundance this past year. From where I stand, I see success. The past president of the LVJC, New Mexico called to wish me a Happy New Year. I had sent out my e-mail blast to be sure folks knew about my invitation to participate with Nahalat Shalom for Yontiff this year. She looked on the calendar with great envy and saw the amazing possibilities that could be in Las Vegas- you inspired her. What I see here is a lot of what we talked about as clergy interns. We decided that a renewal congregation needs a balance of pull of energy from all its constituents. Which means that each of has to play a part, and some times we will be asked to take an active role.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner said that there are three things a congregation should never do; Have a garage sale, do fund raisers and form committees. He especially spoke of the committees. His philosophy on committees was that they should form themselves and not be assigned as in a list you sign up to do. If someone in the congregation has an interest, they should be part of the solution and make it happen- not be the idea person- we have lots of those. He also had a unique take on fundraisers. He said, too often ‘We’ think we need something, so we have a fundraiser, and a lot of energy is expended with some success, sometimes. Rabbi Kushner suggests you take a different tack. He suggests that when the ‘we’ of the community thinks something is needed then we should put out all the information; the what, the why, the cost and see what happens. If the community agrees with this new idea it will happen with ease, and if not then it’s just not time for that idea to come to fruition. I personally raised the money for two Torah scrolls in my life. One Torah we got in Taos, and raised the money in two weeks. The second was the one I bought for Makor-Jewish Source of Albuquerque, that took two years- which was just right!
How do we maintain a renewal congregation and keep it authentic to Judaism?
have two stories to exemplify this.
First think about when you make an apple pie. For sure you need Apples, Some would debate the necessity of cinnamon or cloves. I vote for cinnamon- but not too much. I would eliminate the sugar and substitute with a sweet pulp of apricot or dates, and for sure there would be no gluten. My preference is toward Organic ingredients- especially the apples. The end result might not be mama’s apple pie, but it will still be apple pie.
In a text book called Chok L’Yisrael there is a strange forward on the inside cover. It begins with the importance of study of Torah, and how we must wrestle with the text. It then goes on to describe a glass of milk, Chalav. I must have looked at the word 100 times convinced that it was a Roshai Tavot- acronym for something else even though it didn’t have quotation marks. My Hebrew was pretty young at the time and I was sure I was mistranslating something terribly. The next sentence says to add 10% of the liquid content of water to the milk and then asks us if we think it is still milk? The story continued to add a percentage of milk and kept asking when this dilution would no longer be milk.
This is the question I have about Judaism for any of the movements, but particularly for Renewal. We have a reputation for creativity and airy-fairyness, but when you look at our glass of milk- at our calendar of events- our dance of Judaism- the question we must ask is: Is what we are doing clearly Judaism? How much can we add to what we are doing in the name of ‘Jewish’ before it is no longer Jewish. We are clearly Jewish-however - I am saying that we must keep asking the question- “How much can we add and still keep the integrity of our Jewish identity? After all we are passing these teachings down to our children, we must make sure that there is a legacy to pass down.
“How much water can we add before it is no longer Milk” As long as we keep asking that question and come up with the answer, oh- yeah –this is yummy milk then we are OK. When the answer comes up that we now have a homeopathic dilution that is not recognizable then we have a problem.
Examples of Renewal Judaism- or what I call “common sense spiritualism with more then a hint of Jewish.”
- Somehow at a Bar Mitzvah here at the Harwood Center it become evident at the Torah service that there was no Yad- how could this be. I immediately jumped off the bemah and went to my purse which was under my husband’s care, and pulled out the Stylus that came with my new iPhone- it’s a soft metal- its round silicone end- it was good, I declared it Kosher. Milo read beautifully with the help of modern technology from an ancient text.
Then there was the day that Hanuman wore a Tallit. This is a long story. But let’s just say that for the Jewish devotees that also embraced Hinduism, as we danced in a wagon wheel fashion in the tiny chapel beside the special seat set aside for the Maharaja, there was not a dry eye. We twirled around and chanted the Shema, our holy ark on the East wall, the sacred Torah on Maharja’s seat, and in the north lay Hanuman one elbow, with the biggest smile while he donned nothing else but a white Tallit for Kabir’s day when he became a Bar Mitzvah.
Or when parents were adopting a child and they had a legal arrangement with the birth mother. We created a ritual, after we completed the legal work, which we Called- “The Exchange of Heartbeats”. The birth mom literally handed over her child and we said, “ Here is your child, she comes from my heartbeat and is given to another’s.”
Or like today when we cannot with good and clear conscious bring bread for Tashlich to the fragile waters of New Mexico- we do what is both halachically correct and ritually Jewish. We bring Fish Pellets.
Rachel Barenblatt said this; “For those of us who are ordained in the lineage of Reb Zalman z”l are obvious and visible stewards of that renewing. But the renewing of Judaism is so much bigger even than the growing community of clergy who self-identify as part of that lineage.” I say, that the lineage is critical. On the eve of my ordination in 1993, with Rabbi Gershon Winkler presiding, I had a vision when I went to bed that night. Ten Rebbes visited me that night. You know the type, old world, long beards, very serious in affectations. One my one they looked upon me and solemnly nodded their heads in approval, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra was among the ten. It felt good to be counted among them.
I close with a poem that I wrote based on following text from Pirket Avot;
The Great Assembly said; Be Deliberate in Judgment, Raise many disciples, and put a hedge around the Torah. Hedge is the literal word, it is often translated as a ‘a fence’, the implication of the word hedge by many infers that the fence be a living one. Pirkei Avot Text 1:1
THE GREAT ASSEMBLY Part 1-
The puddle tempted me into its midst,
“Jump in my depths!,” he yelled.
Into the center of the earth,
into the Tehom I tumbled toward discovery
where the visible and the concealed, worlds met.
I ran along the edge of the gutter
freedom splashed the
wisdom of the ancient ones.
History overpowered the chill of the water.
My heart sank safely into the mystery of the mud
creator spoke to me in a
voice both familiar and strained
beginnings bubbled forth
Beginning’s are connected to the place
where I now stand.
Once again I step onto solid land
A rush of your breath
dried my legs
a thin hair line above my calves confirmed my puddle walking adventure
In my meeting at work
I secret my legs under the shadow of the table
To keep my story private
Part II- Raise Many Disciples Parenting Class 101
Class had barely begun
when a parent’s voice asks in antagonistic tones, “Do you have any children?”
PAIN seared through me
Yes, I say defiant of the earth mother definition. Defiant of the squatting in the bushes image defiant that the spilling of blood and
the pain of childbirth,
is not what makes one a mother.
Forever defiant of society’s definitions
My mind continues its response .....,
“At last count, my ‘children’ numbered in the thousands
without taking into consideration the teachings
they passed on from me to them, and onward to their people.
My internal dialogue continues,
"Yes, thousands upon thousands,
Students, of every age,
young, old, male, female
so many lives
have sat at my feet,
talked around many a table
spoke of the divine
cast sins into the fire,
drank gallons of tea and ate fine chocolates.”
Instead- I say aloud. “No” and she turns
her back to me, and to the possibility of her own growth.
Sometimes it still hurts
And other times I recognize her own pain
Everyday she questions her adequacy as a parent
as a friend
as a partner
questions and doubts
arise in her daily and
I hold my own truth.
Part III-Living Torah
Put a living fence around the Torah
like arms around a new-born child
a small package of innocence and wisdom each look and glance opens fresh insights
the weekly Torah portion opens an ancient phrase
brims with sagaciousness nervous timbres resonate
even to experienced readers change is constant.
G-d varies the message filtered through our selves. Each life event
opens a new venue of perspective and possibility.
in our patience and exasperation
we await the truth,
a deeper meaning
Torah stands alone
she waits for the human touch
to open its doors so we may gain perspective on the words written
the words then wait
to be translated by our experience
and to be brought within our hearts.
With luck a newly painted scene appears.
We are honored to make an Aliyah we rise up to greet Torah
the Torah awaits
the reader awaits
The prayer before the reading says;
“Thank you for choosing us”
Torah is chanted in ancient rhythm
In the prayer following the reading we says;
“Thank you for giving us this gift”
the message has arrived
it tries to stay,
but only runs away with the commotion of the
Momentarily captured again
through the voice of another reader
and yet another hedge grows stronger
together we journey
Part III inspired by my loving spouse, Ralph Roberts
Forgiveness Yom Kippur Eve Sermon 5778 by Rabbi Chavah Carp
Forgiveness is one of the most talked about and complicated subjects to resolve.
First thing I have learned is that it cannot be rushed. It has to come in its own time. That being said, I will still venture to say things that I know you have heard before, however, tonight might be your time to forgive.
Today is often called, the day of forgiveness, Energetically in terms of our use of the power that is universally embedded with each season, Now we are in the time of forgiveness. We are at the peak of the flow. One way to help describe is this is from one of the best Pixar films- “Finding Dory”. She joins in with turtles to ride the EAC East Australian Current, yes the it is real. There are nearly a dozen of these currents in the oceans, and of course our planes use the Jet stream. Everything around us functions as an energy, which synergistically applies to the universe.
How do we forgive? Google it sometime and you will discover a world of studies that span a very wide gamut.
Basically, it is, a divine command, a mitzvah. Mitzvot are like the energy currents, and they are a road map to our health and the planets health. The Torah explicitly forbids us to take revenge or to bear grudges (Leviticus 19:18). It also commands us, “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (ibid. 19:17).
How do we forgive?
Why and how to ask for forgiveness? How can you know if you are forgiven? How to forgive yourself?
Why should one forgive?
Essentially ask yourself- how did your heart speak to that person- then you can
tell if there is forgiveness of if there if still hold a grudge or vengeance?
We speak of the difference between vengefulness, and bearing a grudge? Lets delve deeper. We find the following examples to helps us define these two words,( Talmud Yoma 23a )says:
”An example of revenge is when I ask my friend to lend me something and he doesn’t, later when the opportunity arises I choose to repay him in kind when he asks to borrow something of mine., and I also say “No”. An example of vengeance is when you say something like this “When I asked to borrow your chainsaw, you didn’t agree. I, however, am not like you; I will accede to your request.”
Either one of these attitudes is expressly prohibited by the Torah. True strength, is expressed by overcoming the instinct of revenge and being able to forgive. But, how does one acquire the ability to forgive?
There are three types of forgiveness to explore; Mechilah, Selichah and Kapparh
“Mechilah,” usually translated as “wiping away” is the response to the request “Can we put our relationship back on the level which it was on before I sinned against you?” A positive response to this is difficult, except when we are sincere and add the ingredient of divinity to our human equation. This kind of sin is between people. It is the principle of making good on matters between one another.
When you make a Mechilah it is truly erased.
“The second kind of forgiveness is “forgiveness” (selichah). It is an act of the heart. It is reaching a deeper understanding of the sinner. It is achieving an empathy for the troubleness of the other. Selichah, too, is not a reconciliation or an embracing of the offender; it is simply reaching the conclusion that the offender, too, is human, frail, and deserving of sympathy. ” A person who refuses to start on the road of reconciliation is considered a cruel person.” Eliezer Shemtov
The third kind of forgiveness is “atonement” (kapparah) or “purification” (tahorah). This is a total wiping away of all sinfulness. It is an existential cleansing. Kapparah is the ultimate form of forgiveness, but it is only granted by Mkor HaBeracha, the Source of All. No human can “atone” the sin of another; no human can “purify” the spiritual pollution of another.
I would therefore suggest that kaparah is the containment of the inclination that led to the sin. This also explains the verse “Ki bayom hazeh yechapeir aleichem litaher eschem mikol chatoseichim, lifnei Hashem titeharu — for on this day, it will provide kaparah upon you to make you tahor, before Hashem you will become tahor” links kapparah to taharah, atonement to purity. Taharah is the place beyond pardon, beyond punishment and is the true restoration of the relationship. You return to the healed self.
We often speak of Sin- defined in our tradition as Missing the mark- sin creates a disruption of the flow of our self- and how we organize ourselves and creates a disorder to our energy flow-Sin disrupts our lives on the human level; it distorts our relationships with other persons, social institutions, and our selves. Sin also disrupts our spiritual lives; it distorts our relationship with God and our deepest inner spiritual being. Because sin alienates us from humanity and from God.
Now this brings us to Teshuvah- in relationship to forgiveness I have to allow the other person to change also. When you or I make a change in ourselves we are very clear that we made a change. We know we look different that our smile is broader, that we look healthier, and that we dropped that negativity. And yet we might run into someone that we have not seen in a long time and they see the same old me, how can that be. I know that from the volunteer work at the Metro Detention Ctr, there is a shift between the inmate and myself once they tell me what they did. And they do confide. If for some reason I don’t show up the following week they are sure that it is because they confessed their sin. The remorse and humility shows that they are changing. I see it in their eyes when we meet again, I see it in the depths of their tears. Until I see them again they are left in this liminal space- as we all are at times- if they- or we- can do the work we never feel alone again.
Teshuvah is a return to the ability to see the truth, and to recognize change in others as well as ourselves.
Once I have awareness I have no reason to get angry with anybody. No one can choose to do me harm if it wasn’t decreed beforehand by G-d. Once G-d decrees that harm should befall me, G-d forbid, anyone can now freely choose to be the agent to carry out the decree. So, when something painful happens in my life, instead of getting angry with the messenger, I should ask myself: why do I deserve this? Is it in order to test me? Is it in order to refine me? Is it a punishment? Is it an opportunity to accomplish something unexpected?
One does not decide what happens to him; one decides what he wants to do with what happens to him. I am not saying to not fight for an injustice, we must, I just saying not to hate in your own heart. Take action but comport yourself in a way that is healthy to you internally.
The biblical figure who personifies this attitude in an outstanding way is Joseph. His brothers had sold him into slavery . . . He spent years away from his family, languishing in an Egyptian jail because of false accusations . . . He eventually becomes the viceroy of Egypt, and finally his brothers come to Egypt and are dependent on his power and mercy. Their father, Jacob, passes away, and now the brothers fear the revenge of their brother who was so hated by them and is now so powerful . . .I feel Joseph exemplies the transformation quite well.
If we are really to make a Tikkun in the world- then we must release the negative and transform it- sometimes it is through forgiveness of another- it releases the energetic hold in it and then the universe can finish. More often it is forgiveness of self. A practice from a Hawaiin universal teaching is HoO’PonoPono,. It says there are only three things you need to do when your spiritual work shows up. First you recognize the root emotion, then you Say, “I thank you, I forgive you and I love you”, and then you release that energy and the current takes care of the rest.
Judaism teaches us there, particularly through the story of Joseph and his brothers. The Torah makes a point of saying that the pit was empty, it had no water. Why the redundancy? Rashi suggests that while there was no water in the pit, but it was filled with snakes and scorpions.
Water represents Torah study and knowledge. The best way to protect yourself against spiritual snakes and scorpions is by filling your mind with the living waters of Torah. Water fills every crevice, leaving no room for harmful feelings of guilt and other such negative thoughts that only serve to destroy the one who harbors them.
The key is ultimately in your hands.
Our daily prayer book suggest a daily practice, as opposed to a yearly practice. It is a set of prayers that are part of the Bed Time Sh’ma.
It is worth our time to hear the prayer now. I invite you to take in these daily words as your evening preparation for tonight’s entry to sleep. I encourage you to dust off your daily prayer books, and if nothing else- make this your new daily practice.
Master of the universe! I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or vexed me, or sinned against me, either physically or financially, against my honor or anything else that is mine, whether accidentally or intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed, in this incarnations or in any other way. May no person be punished on my account. May it be Your will, Lord, my G-d and my G-d and G-d of my fathers, that I shall sin no more nor repeat my sins, neither shall I again anger You nor do what is wrong in Your eyes. The sins I have committed, erase in Your abounding mercies, but not through suffering or severe illnesses. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.
Our father, let us lie down in peace; raise us up to a good life and peace. Improve us with Your good counsel, help us speedily for the sake of Your name, and spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Protect us and remove from us the enemy, pestilence, sward, famine and sorrow. Remove the adversary from before us and from behind us; shelter us in the shadow of Your wings; and guard our going out and our coming in for a good life and peace from now and all time. For You, benevolent G-d, are our guardian and deliverer.
Hear O Israel, the Lord is Our G-d, the Lord is One.
Final prayer -
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe who causes the bonds of sleep to fall upon our eyes and slumber upon my eyelids, and who gives light to the apple of my eye. May it be Your will, Lord my G-d and G-d of my fathers, to let me lie down in peace and raise me up to a good life and peace. Let my thoughts not trouble me, nor bad dreams, nor sinful fancies, and may my bed be perfect before You. Give light to my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death. Blessed are You Lord, who in His glory gives light to the whole world.
Rabbi Michael Lerner suggests,” We would be wise to attune our souls every day to forgiving others who may have hurt us.
So forgiveness is not meant to stop our struggle for a world of peace and justice, love and generosity, but it can be an important element in making us more effective in those struggles once we approach them with a clear heart ourselves and the ability to see those against whose systems of oppression we struggle as nevertheless being human beings who have been caught up, often unconsciously or unintentionally, in something that has been hurtful to others. We need to develop empathy not only for ourselves and those who think the way we do, but also for those who think quite differently, even those whose actions we need to challenge. To get to this level of consciousness, we need a daily practice of forgiveness.”
YK Day Morning Sermon – Listening 5788
I am a closet listener to Country Music, I can sit for hours in my sewing room and learn a lesson. It tells a story, The good country writers wrestle with their dreams and teach us the ethical consequences of our choices. My favorite joke about country music is; “Hey what do you get when you play a country album backwards. Simple, you get back the dog, you get back the house, you get back the kids.” I love this, not only because it is clever but also because it is about Teshuvah. It is about Return.
When I think of true Teshuvah- I want to return to level of healing that my scar tissue are as an appendage to my body and not my story. To get authentic Teshuvah there is a lot of internal wrestling that goes on.
The other day I wrote the title of a poem. It is called, “Crying Under the Mezzuzah.” Because that is what I did. I stood with my head on the wall, bowed below the Mezzuzah. I had received a phone call from a relative and it just reduced me to tears. While my head lay pressed against the wall I started to argument. “Well this is going on in their life, they have to negotiate this, and on and on. Until a ‘g-d whisper’ came into my head and said, “Ok, that’s them, but what’s going on inside you?” When I was able to turn the argument onto myself everything shifted, my tears dried, and I know I have a poem title waiting for the lyrics.
Our pedagogy is eilu v’ eilu- loosely translated as- ‘well on the one hand, and on the other hand’. Often we don’t even need anyone else in the room to come up many sides of the debate.
Judaism has a long tradition of honoring the argument. One could easily argue that the entire Talmud is one long debate of arguments.
Generally speaking, I tend to shy away from confrontation and heated discussions, however, we are living in a world of great contrast and polarized views so these uncomfortable conversations and encounters seem to be happening more often than not.
If we know how to mindfully maneuver heated exchanges, I believe we would experience more peace and harmony in our lives and in the world. My super power is being calm in a crisis. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care, or that I agree with what is happening, but I do know I have to wait for a real opening in the conversation. Many people have to rant and rave for a while before they can make room for another person’s view point. And if I listen carefully, I can usually find a pause, often a very subtle pause where I can insert myself. Once I am in, I say something that acknowledges their point of view, notice I didn’t say that I agree, and once there is an acknowledgment there is usually room for me to turn the conversation.
This only works if I can remain in my equanimity and not fuel the flames of fear or hatred. I can be open and still disagree. And I have to be honest. If I heard words that expressed immorality that go beyond the ethics of our time then without rancor I must state how I see the truth.
Here is a story of active listening.
Rabbi Dov Ber Shneuri, the second Rebbe of Chabad, was once asked why chatting with Hassidim exhausted him. He explained that when a hassid speaks to him, he must shed his own garments and don the hassid’s garments so as to listen well. When he considers the problem, he must shed the hassid’s garments and don his own so that he understands well. When he shares his advice, he must once again shed his own garments and don the hassid’s garments so that he communicates well. It is no wonder that he is exhausted after changing garments three times in a single audience.
I know someone who went to the same therapist for fourteen years. He swears by this therapist and claims she solves his problems. For the first ten years she never offered an opinion. She just sat there and listened. As he talked, he felt understood and accepted. He first grew comfortable with himself and slowly began to grow comfortable with his feelings. She made it possible for him to explore his feelings and even acknowledge his faults. His therapist taught him more about himself by listening then she could ever have done by talking.
It was only after ten years that he was ready to listen to her and ask for guidance. She began to explain things to him and to encourage him. She understood perfectly that if she had talked earlier, he wouldn’t have accepted her advice. After ten years, her words were effective. He was finally ready to listen.
When you are filled with your own thoughts and judgments there is little space for others.
If I had a choice I would love to skip the authentic listening part and skip to my solution, however we – whoever the we is, is in this world together.
This morning in the children’s service we had a treat. Sofia sang a Julie Gold song, titled “From a Distance”. (Add words of my reaction to her sharing) “From A Distance” written by Julie Gold
From a distance the world looks blue and green And the snow capped mountains white
From a distance the ocean meets the stream And the eagle takes to flight
From a distance there is harmony And it echoes thru the land
It's the voice of hope
It's the voice of peace
It's the voice of every man
From a distance we all have enough
And no one is in need
There are no guns, no bombs, no diseases No hungry mouths to feed
From a distance we are instruments Marching in a common band Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They're the songs of every man
God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us, from a distance
From a distance you look like my friend Even though we are at war
From a distance I can't comprehend What all this war is for
From a distance there is harmony And it echoes thru the land
It's the hope of hopes
It's the love of loves
It's the heart of every man
It's the hope of hopes
It's the love of loves
It's the heart of every man
These words help me to see the world from a better vantage point. Close enough to get angry of the injustices, and far enough away to see the hope and possibility.
An argument may begin with sharp and unrelenting debate, and this is good if we can end in the spirit of love. The jousting and confrontation can lead to truth and resolution. Often we have to discern if the argument’s purpose is truth or ego. We have an expression when we have an argument that seeks the truth, it is called Machloket l’shem shamayim, ‘for the sake of heaven.” This is a good place to argue from.
Abraham was the first to teach us how to argue, and he argued with G-d. Moses also had no problem speaking his mind. And Job, he refused to accept his fate sitting down.
When we argue with someone, which can be good, we must also be the teacher.
Poem on the Ram in the thicket- Isaac Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
A poem, on being caught in the thicket. The ram’s horn is silent at first
as is the ram.
Caught in the thicket,
Waiting for Abraham to lift his head and see, It appears at the last minute,
Out of nowhere,
When it’s almost too late.
Of course, it was there all along.
On the eve of the first Shabbat, we are told.
It was there before darkness fell.
(We barely knew what darkness was then.)
It was there all along.
Waiting for us to open our eyes. Waiting for us to see another way.
It’s not just our stubbornness that blinds us. Sometimes it’s the commanding voice of faith. Sometimes it’s the commanding voice of despair.
And sometimes it’s the thicket itself.
The thorny, tangled overgrowth of our lives.
It’s not that we’re blind,
We’re just busy.
Schlepping the wood,
Tending the fire,
Building the altar,
Trying to quiet the children — Trying to answer their questions — Even though God knows
We can’t answer our own.
Up until this point in the story, up until the angel calls out, and Abraham looks up, up until the ram suddenly appears, caught in the thicket, the trajectory of the story — the tragic momentum of the story — seems irresistible, irreversible, inevitable.
The sacrifice has to be offered. The child will have to die.
This is the power of the ram’s horn.
It beckons us back to this moment in the story.
No longer silent, it calls us back to the ram from which it came And asks us:
Think about the thicket of your own life.
What possibilities have you not seen?
Think about a story you are telling yourself — whose outcome you think you already know.
What alternatives have you not noticed?
And think about the path we are all on together
The altars at the end of the road
The children we love but seem prepared to sacrifice.
Look up. Listen.
Incline your heart, your ear
To the hollow, bent ram’s horn
Through which human breath becomes a summons and a blast.
What might we hear? How might we respond