we can find Ladders

ב׳׳ה

What is it about this spot
that brings me nearer You?

It’s really just a step
at the bottom of some stairs…

Yet sometimes sitting here
I see Creation unfolding.
I feel Your Love as it envelopes me.
I remember there’s no moment
We are not together.
I can have faith
You’ll help guide my steps.

Throughout Creation,
we can find Ladders
that help us ascend toward our Self,
if we fight past our defenses,
open up to what’s Present,
and surrender with faith in Gd’s Love.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shavua tov, may it be a good week for each and every one of us, jen

what I’ll be

ב׳׳ה

what I’ll be

My mother really wanted
little-girl me to wear dresses,
but I was uncomfortable in them.

As a teen I really wanted
a social group where I fit,
but I felt isolation instead.

My family demanded
I not be gay; and yet,
nothing else could I be.
And my parents raised me
to be a self-loathing Baptist,
but Gd made a mystical Jew.

More than once upon a time,
I thought I’d become a rabbi,
but Gd just laughed at my plan
and gave me instead
a community to serve
as I raise my sons in Gd’s Love.

Who knows what might happen
when my children are grown
if I’m open to that voice inside me?
In the end I’m certain only
it’s not up to any human
— like Gd, I will be what I’ll be.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the Torah story of Moses’ encounter with Gd in the burning bush, Moses is told he must go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites. Moses asks, “When the Israelites ask who sent me, what name shall I tell them?” (Ex. 3:13). Gd answered “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” (Ex. 3:14), which some translate as “I will be what I will be.” The last line of my poem is a reference to this name of Gd and to the fact that, as image of Gd, I too will be whatever I will be.

shavua tov, jen

“Elohai, n’tzor”

ב׳׳ה

The first half of January was very busy for me (hence my blog silence until recently), but I finally had a little break last week. I flew to sunny South Florida on Wednesday to celebrate a friend’s simcha on Shabbat.

After selecting my rental car, I headed to my friend’s synagogue to say hello and have lunch with her. Then, while she worked into the evening, I grabbed a few books and headed to a picnic table to sit in the sun and study . . . whatever I found that intrigued me!

As I paged through a prayerbook — sort of absent-mindedly reviewing for the Hebrew Prayer Class that I’m teaching on Sunday mornings over the next few months — I found a prayer called “Elohai, n’tzor” that I do not remember ever chanting at a prayer service. The prayerbook I was holding did not have an English translation, so I decided to spend my afternoon with a Hebrew-English dictionary to see if I could translate it.

As I sat in the sun translating, I was amused by a strange little insect that I’d never before seen. Although I kept moving “him” to another part of the table, he repeatedly made his way back to my white sheet of paper to sun himself with me. Thankfully, he didn’t bite or sting, so my only concern was not smashing him accidentally!

When my friend found me mid-afternoon, she pointed out that she had many prayerbooks that contained the English translation of “Elohai, n’tzor.” I reminded her that I’d like to be fluent in Hebrew and need to practice translating. She smiled appreciatively at my geekiness and left me to my studies.

At one point, a monarch butterfly flew past me and landed in the grass. Butterflies are absent from the Midwest right now, so I took a break from translating to watch it flutter in the sun.

A few hours later, when I got sufficiently frustrated with the remaining Hebrew verbs that I couldn’t force to make logical sentences, I found a prayerbook with an English translation of “Elohai, n’tzor.” Given how long it had been since I last translated prayerbook Hebrew, I was pleasantly surprised that I had properly translated more than 50% of the prayer! Perhaps there is still hope for my being a fluent translator of Hebrew!!

For those others who might not know, here’s what “Elohai, n’tzor” says in English:

I hope that January has been gentle on everyone and that each of you has also found a few moments to connect to Gd’s glorious creation and learn something new, jen

LOVE

ב׳׳ה

LOVE

There were days
I’d wonder why
I had to live, I couldn’t die,
but then came LOVE.

Reborn with wings
with which to fly,
I danced & laughed, gasped & sighed,
for there was LOVE.

I wept with You,
no more words to say,
never thought I’d feel this way,
but there was LOVE.

Surrendered here,
completely Yours,
at peace with You forevermore,
You are this LOVE.

Peniel

ב׳׳ה

Peniel
Dark night of the soul
brings unending struggle
with Gd, self, and man;
Who’ll prevail?
I’d been in that place
for so many years,
I’d become the place of the struggle:
Peniel.
But dawn finally broke,
an angel released me,
I understood how to live:
digging wells.
And though I was limping,
I emerged from the night
ready to Journey at the pace of
my Self.

Encountering WHAT IS

ב׳׳ה

This week’s Torah portion contains the story of Jacob’s Ladder. After reading the text of Genesis 28, my chevrah and I studied a wonderful commentary by Rabbi Aryeh Ben David about Hashem responding “to perhaps the first existential crisis of a Jew” by showing Jacob that he was not, and would never be, alone on his life’s journey. The commentary was from Rabbi Ben David’s book– Around the Shabbat Table (Jason Aronson 2000) –which I highly recommend!

But the verses that have stayed with me over the past two days are the first two of the parsha:

Jacob left from Beer-Sheba and went toward Haran. He encountered the place and stayed the night because the sun had set.

Genesis 28:10-28:11.

As odd as it may seem, Jacob received his revelation of Hashem’s Presence and of the ladder connecting the Divine and material worlds at –literally– “The Place,” an unnamed location where Jacob just happened to be when the sun set. The Place was neither where Jacob had departed (Be’er Sheva), nor was it where he was going (Haran). Jacob, very simply, just was where he was!

And … wherever The Place was, Jacob “encountered” it. Interesting word, encountered, because it implies more than simple physical presence in a location. It suggests an awareness that allows us to meet, or engage with, a situation, place, or person. Thus, it seems, Jacob was not just physically, but also mentally and spiritually present at The Place. His heart and mind were exactly where is body was.

So, all of Jacob was present in The Place… which is not defined as any place in particular … and there, Jacob met Hashem.

For those who have learned about meditation, these details of Jacob’s story sound familiar! The ability to be fully present is what practitioners of meditation are attempting to attain — a state in which the mind is not dwelling in the past or racing into future, but rather the heart and mind are exactly where the body is, so that the entirety of a person can engage with a moment, can encounter every detail of WHAT IS in this moment, in The Place …

And being fully present to where one is at any moment in time, according to Jacob and experienced meditators, is precisely how one finds Holiness … the undefinable, unfathomable, Infinite and Eternal Presence . . . which Jews know as the Tetragrammaton (which we pronounce “Hashem”).

Jacob may not have been his father’s favorite son, but as Isaac was the one who meditated in the field each evening (Genesis 24:63), the first two verses of this parsha have me thinking the two of them might have been closer than we have been led to believe . . . . What do you think??

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom, jen