Dance

ב׳׳ה


Dance
May we, might we, shall we dance? For I think Hashem’s playing our tune, the one that can carry us o’er clouds to the garden above, where all the world’s awash in Hashem’s Love, where we can dance and frolic, laugh and play, where even two seconds feel like a full day, for there is Eternity in the palm of our hand. So turn on some techno, find a Na Nach van; let go of the clutter and set your mind free; experience Joy today for tomorrow might not be. It might sound crazy, but give it a chance — whatever life throws at you, for the love of Gd, DANCE!!!

How old am I?? 

ב׳׳ה


This week we return in the Torah to “my portion” — B’har/B’chukotai — the portion of my conversion to Judaism and of my bat mitzvah.  It’s been 12 years since my conversion and 9 years since my bat mitzvah.   Each of those events feels simultaneously like they happened yesterday and a hundred years ago. 

May is also the month of my physical birth — 47 years ago, which I find really hard to believe because I remain a total kid at heart.  I find great joy in playing with my sons, whether building Legos, playing video games, racing cars, jumping on trampolines, or battling with Nerf guns.   

In a video I posted here a few weeks ago, Rabbi Rami Shapiro reminded his audience that whatever we think our age is, we have to add at least 13.8 BILLION years to it, because the pure soul that we were given is a piece of Hashem and has existed at least since The Big Bang.  

And, yet, each day, as we say in the morning prayer Yotzer Or, Gd renews Creation . . . including each of us!!   Because of this, Rabbi Nachman taught we need to take full advantage of each day for the unique opportunities that it offers. Who knows how we might be different today from yesterday, what  new talent or skill or interest we might find within ourselves . . . and maybe that also means that this version of me is here only today, so today, and every day, is Day 1 of an amazingly miraculous adventure!! 

I don’t know what number best describes my age, but I know I’m going to keep embracing each day and the opportunities Hashem gives me to live, to laugh, and to love.  And I pray you’ll do the same.  

Shabbat shalom to all — may you feel young and excited to be alive!!  jen

blessed with everything 

ב׳׳ה

Friday night, the Rabbi of my small congregation was out of town for Thanksgiving, and I was honored to be allowed to lead Erev Shabbat service with our song leader. It had been quite a few years since I’d led an Erev Shabbat service, and leading the service in my own religious community really was a nice experience! 

Being the geek that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about the week’s Torah portion!  So I did some studying last week and drafted the sermon below. It’s not earth-shattering, but it coordinated well with the baby-naming that we had during the service. After my words, I asked our song-leader to play and sing “Return Again” by Neshama Carlebach, and I’ve attached a YouTube link for it below.

Here’s my sermon:

This week’s Torah portion is Chayyei Sarah, a portion in which we learn: First, that Sarah has died, which leaves Abraham weeping and mourning; and second, that Abraham has to send a servant to find a wife for Isaac, because Isaac — the son through whom Abraham is to become a great nation –- is 37 years old and unmarried.  When I think about how Abraham must have been feeling in the midst of these circumstances, I imagine Abraham would not be in the best of emotional spaces . . .

And yet, the Torah tells us, in one simple verse dropped between these two stories– “Abraham was old, advanced in years, and Adonai had blessed Abraham with everything.” Genesis 24:1.

When I read that verse, I immediately wondered – “Everything???  If a man who just lost his wife and has no chance of grandchildren has been blessed with everything . . . what is everything?”

I checked my Torah commentaries and found one from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who said Abraham had been blessed with everything because he “attained peace.” (1)

Rabbi Nachman further explained the verse tells us that Abraham was both old and advanced in years because the Hebrew word for “old” (zaken) is not just a reference to someone’s age; it also implies a person has “obtained wisdom.”  Abraham had “delve[d] deeply into [Life’s] mysteries and deepen[ed] his understanding of Godliness.” Through the heavenly wisdom that Abraham thereby gained, he obtained peace … and, thus, was blessed with everything.

And Rabbi Nachman explained one more thing about Abraham’s wisdom: It “devolves” or flows from “a person’s imagination and faith.”

imagination and faith…

When I think of imagination and faith, I think of children . . . . Unlike adults, young children see the world around them without a filter of pre-conceived expectation and judgment. They are not self-conscious or anxious. They simply live in each moment with emotional honesty and integrity – they are themselves, and they don’t feign being anything or anyone other than who they are.

And this, I think, is what Rabbi Nachman was saying about Abraham’s wisdom and peace flowing from his “imagination and faith” . . . that Abraham was an adult who, like a small child, was present in each moment and lived with emotional honesty, so that he could look at the world with a sense of wonder and awe, and was open to experiencing the miraculous.(2)

This mindset – this “living in the presence of Gd” – brought Abraham peace, even as he faced life’s challenges — and that, indeed, is being blessed with everything!

May we each strive to be more like Abraham, to be present in each moment and see the world through the eyes of a child, so that we may obtain supernal wisdom and live with peace…

Neshama Carlebach Return Again

(1) All the Rabbi Nachman explanations and quotes are from Rebbe Nachman’s Torah (The Berkowitz Edition), Genesis at 197-198 (Breslov Research Institute 2011).
(2) Phrasing based on language by Rabbi Marcia Prager, The Path of Blessing, page 31 of 231, Jewish Lights e-book (“When we look at small children, we see their sense of wonder, their openness to the miraculous.”).

Zaddikim 

ב׳׳ה  

Hasidim of the shtetls shared wonderful tales of their Rebbes, “lofty souls” sent from Heaven to “illumine the darkness of exile*:”
Gurus
Miracle workers
Zaddikim
…who led other souls to Gd.
They didn’t just teach Torah,
they turned lives into Torahs,
and showed others to see
the divinity that infuses all things.

. . . I once met a Zaddik
who could set aside her ego.
She turned my life into Torah
and walked me back to Gd.

What a blessing it is to know
Gd still sends lofty souls
to illumine the darkness of exile**!

Shabbat shalom, jen

.

Appendix

*Both of the phrases in quotations were taken from page 16 of Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ book Hasidic Prayer (Schocken Books 1972).
The ‘exile’ to which Rabbi Jacobs refers is the physical exile from Jerusalem.

**The exile to which I refer is spiritual exile from Gd and/or from one’s own soul (the root of which is Gd).

The photo is of a yarmulke or skull cap worn by Hasidim who follow the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who was the great-grandson of the Baal Sham Tov.

The Big Lie & The Narrow Bridge

בה

When I was a kid, I was taught that the world was made up of two distinguishable groups of people: “good people” and “bad people.” And I had the impression that good people always behaved in good ways, while bad people always behaved in bad ways, which was convenient, because then all you had to do to avoid being treated badly was hang around “good people.”

But, lately, I’ve begun to understand that was a big lie because, really, most of us are neither always good nor always bad, we’re just people… 

…trying to protect ourselves
…trying to protect our loved ones
…trying to live a good life
…trying to do the “right” thing
…trying to do what is “best”

…just people.

And even though most of us are just people trying to do what is “right” and “best,” we nevertheless end up having disagreements and conflict, because
1. The “right” or “best” thing to do in any situation is determined by the information that a person has, and…
2. We don’t all have the same information!!

In fact, no two of us has the same information. We can’t, because no two of us has had the same life experiences, not even identical twins whose identical genetics might predispose them to, at least, respond in similar ways to a single stimulus. Therefore, regarding any specific topic, each of us can have a “truth” that is different from every other person’s truth.  And, from a purely objective perspective, each person’s truth is equally “valid,” because each is based on a different set of information and experiences.

All of that means the only way we can decrease conflict or resolve disagreements is by meeting on “The Narrow Bridge” . . . you know, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s Narrow Bridge, the one on which we are to stand with “no fear at all.”

That Bridge, where we can meet another and find common ground, is an incredibly holy place, because to stand there we must set aside our compulsion to be “correct”, “smarter”, “in control”, etc., and we must be both able and willing to entertain the notion that every “truth” we ever believed was “wrong”… simply because the information on which we based our belief was a small, biased portion of the universe of relevant data.  Only if we are willing to take the risk of learning that we believed “a truth” that was not “The TRUTH” will we have a chance of stepping into another’s shoes and seeing the world from another’s eyes, so that we might understand that person and his truth.

Rabbi Nachman reminds us not have fear as we stand on that Narrow Bridge because our fear will knock us off the bridge before we realize it is happening!!  We will start listening for flaws in the other person’s logic or for facts that are inaccurate based on the information that we have, or we will begin formulating our responses, and any of those will distract us from truly hearing everything that is said and, sometimes even more importantly, the things that are not said.

Perhaps, to help reduce our fear, we should remember that the goal of a discussion on The Narrow Bridge is not to demonstrate anyone was “right” or “wrong.”  Neither is it for one person to convince another person to adopt his truth.  Rather, the goal is for the people on the Bridge to find a new, shared truth, which may or may not resemble any of the possible truths that were known before people stood on the Bridge and shared their information and experiences.

No disagreement or misunderstanding will ever be resolved unless those involved are willing to discuss the experiences and information that led them to believe their individual truths.  Only when we can acknowledge that each of us is trying to make the best decisions he or she can with the information available to that person, and only when we are willing to risk standing on the Narrow Bridge – suspending belief in our own truths and listening with an open heart and an open mind to others’ truths, so that we might see the world from others’ perspectives – will we ever have a chance of finding meaningful and lasting peace.

Praying each of you has a Shabbat filled with peace …jen