translating Torah into reality


photograph of picture in 1925 -1926 United Palestine Appeal

And let a man keep himself pure of hating his neighbor, as it is written: Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” [Leviticus 19:17].  And our masters, blessed be their memory, said: The second sanctuary–there were the Torah and good works, yet why was it destroyed?  Because of the groundless hatred that was among men. [Yoma 9 b].   And groundless hatred brings a man within reach of many transgressions of the Torah. Our masters, blessed be their memory, said: “‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’–that is the essence of the Torah.” [Midrash Genesis Rabbah XXIV, quoting Leviticus 19:18].   For through the love of one’s neighbor and through peace, Israel translates the Torah into reality.

Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi
Spain, 13th Century

As quoted at 160, In Time and Eternity: a Jewish Reader, edited by Nahum N Glatzer (Shocken Books: New York 1946).

The news from Turkey yesterday has me reeling again.  More innocent blood shed.

And yet I know that the great men of the Rabbinic Assembly, the “masters” of whom Jonah spoke, were correct — Hate is not the answer.   Hate begets more hate and will only continue the cycle of meaningless violence.

Neither must our answer be apathy, indifference, or acceptance of the status quo — because resigning ourselves to live in a world that includes continuing acts of terror is the equivalent of deciding not to create the love and peace commanded by Torah and desired by G-d.

The only road that truly might move us “forward” is a compassionate road.  Our answer must be, always and only, to speak and act from a place of Love.

From where I live, I cannot literally repair damage done in other states or countries, but I can commit to repairing the world around me on behalf of those whose lives were shattered.  I can show respect and compassion to every person I meet today.  I can donate blood to save a life.  I can look a homeless person in the eye and hand him (or her) a sandwich. I can be supportive of others trying to spread messages of hope, peace, and love.  I can, in other words, make a conscious choice to reach for the “highest” version of myself that I can imagine.

For only when enough of us commit to being the highest versions of ourselves, so that as a large community we share unconditional love with all others and are at peace with all humankind, will we decrease groundless hatred and truly translate Torah into reality.

with prayers for peace, jen

Wearing King Solomon’s Ring

When my boys returned from vacation a few days after me last week, they brought me the bracelet in the photograph above. It’s made by a company called lokai. Inside the white dot is water from Mount Everest, the highest natural land elevation on Earth; and inside the black dot is mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest natural land elevation on Earth.

The materials that came with the bracelet explain that lokai bracelets are intended to help “find your balance” by reminding:

“Sometimes you’re on top of the world. Stay humble.”


“Sometimes you’ve hit a low. Stay hopeful.”

When my boys told me about the bracelet and as I’ve worn it, I just can’t help but smile a very big smile, because they brought me a bracelet version of King Solomon’s ring!

According to Wikipedia, there are hundreds of versions of a Jewish folktale about King Solomon sending one of his servants on a mission that Solomon thought impossible — to find a ring that can both make a sad man happy and make a happy man sad. While the details of the story vary, the end result is that the servant returns with a ring inscribed: “Gam Zeh Ya’avor,” which means “This too shall pass.” Upon seeing the ring, King Solomon was reminded that his wealth and power would one day end, and he became more humble.

As I wear my new bracelet, I’m reminded not only that I am blessed to have the most awesome kids, who continue to bring me important spiritual lessons, but also that nothing lasts forever, so I’ve got to find my balance!

May each of us find more ways to remind ourselves, as our circumstances continue to change from day to day, to remain hopeful and humble,



I found a few versions of the tale online. The links are below:

It’s time, isn’t it??



I struggle today with the same question many others are trying to answer — “Why???”

Why do humans keep thinking the answer to any problem lies in the shedding of innocent blood?

Didn’t the One Infinite and Eternal G-d — who has many faces and names, and toward whom we may find a path in every one of the world’s religions — ask this same question millennia ago:

What have you done????    Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the dirt!!

(Genesis 4:10).

And yet we humans continue to spill the blood of our brothers and sisters, ignoring that the cry of blood from the dirt has already become a deafening cacophony.

When I think about “Why?”, I’ve started to wonder if, in fact, we aren’t in the midst of a holy war. But unlike some folks, I believe the battle lines of this century’s holy war are drawn without reference to religions (or countries or political ideologies). Rather, the battle line of our holy war is: Love vs. Not-Love.

And this war between Love and Not-Love cannot be won with intolerance, scapegoating, or bigotry. 

 Nor can we create the peace and prosperity we desire for ourselves and our children using the weapons of killing and mass destruction that “advanced peace” in the past by forcing less numerous or less-well equipped peoples to negotiate truces simply so that they might live to see another day.

Rather, true peace, lasting peace, the kind of peace for which holy persons and prophets of every religion and civilization have yearned for millennia will be possible only when all people –from across every imaginable line of division– join together to reject reasoning, dialogue, and action based in “Not Love.”

We must, each and every one of us, see “the stranger” in ourselves, and ourselves in “the stranger” … and we must begin to treat every person we encounter with the love and respect we would want accorded to us.  No more and no less.

It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice from everyone. It will require us to dig deep within ourselves for the strength and courage to ask difficult questions and to search for unselfish answers grounded in understanding, respect, and Love for all people.

But . . . it’s time, isn’t it?

Aren’t you ready for compassionate people everywhere to band together and become the hands, hearts, and voices that speak and act with Love in response to the cacophony of blood that cries out to G-d from the dirt??

Ken yehi ratzon,
May it be G-d’s Will.

Riding the waves


This past week, had a relaxing four-day weekend at the beach with family. I spent a lot of time in swimming pools with my boys, but I also stole a little time alone to search for shells and enjoy the surf. In the process, I did something that, until recently, I would never have done — I went out into the ocean alone!

I stood on a sandbar in chest deep water. As waves came in, I jumped to keep my head above the water, and then I’d float back down as each wave passed. I played like this in the waves for a long time, feeling the strength and power of the Ocean, having a healthy respect for it without letting my fear keep me from enjoying the extent to which I could “become one” with the water and the waves. I even allowed myself to laugh after I got splashed with spray from breaking waves, lost my footing and fell momentarily, or mis-timed a wave and got my head filled with salt water.

As I’ve thought over the last few days about my moments with the Ocean, I’ve realized it provides quite an analogy for life in the modern world . . . a world in which many of us sometimes feel we might drown in the unending onslaught of tasks, chores, and electronic communication alerts. 

The key to “survival,” it seems to me, is to find a way to let the onslaught flow past us without drowning us — to time our energy bursts to propel us over the waves without losing our footing when we land.

Of course we will get splashed in the face, and most likely we will occasionally fall — but we have to learn to laugh through those moments!! And sometimes, yes, it might seem we are going to drown in the onslaught — but we can sputter in the trough and regroup before the next crest hits us!  We just have to remember to work with, not against, the flow of Life that surrounds us…

This Shabbat, may we each find moments to pause and regroup before next week’s wave of activity.

And may Shavuot (beginning Saturday night), at which we recall the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, remind us that our Faith Traditions can help us learn to sift life’s possibilities, so that we focus on the activities and options that truly matter.

shabbat shalom, jen