A Rebbi’s Proverb


If you always assume the one sitting next to you is the Messiah waiting for some simple human kindness–

You will soon come to weigh your words and watch your hands. 

And if the Messiah chooses not to be revealed in your time–

It will not matter.  

Danny Siegel (adapted from a Yiddish proverb). Kol Haneshamah: Prayers for a House of Mourning at 91.  (The Reconstructionist Press, Elkins Park, PA. 2001).  

in the acceptance of what is


Everything is the way it is.  

There is no way, right now, for things to be other than they are. 

This does not mean we don’t care.

Nor is it a fatalistic excuse to be lazy. 

We care because we are filled with the compassionate, non-judgmental Love of G-d. 

And we work because there is much work to be done and because our inability to finish the work does not mean we are excused from doing our part. 

Yet, we must accept that, in this very moment, things are the way they are. 

For only there, in the acceptance of what is, do we have any chance of finding peace.  


Praying Shabbat brings more shalom to this world we all share, jen

Shamash and the shamash


A Chanukah menorah, or Chanukiah, holds nine candles — eight candles that mark the eight nights of Chanukah, and the ninth is the “shamash” or “helper.” Each night, we light the shamash first and then we use it to light the night’s other candles. On a traditional Chanukiah, the shamash’s position is higher than the other candles. For example, in the Chanukiah pictured above, which we lit last Thursday, the shamash is in the middle position above the Star of David.
One evening last week, as we prepared to light Chanukah candles, my six-year-old son, Evan, said, “This morning as I ate breakfast, I decided the shamash is my Gd.”

The rest of us looked at one another quizzically, and then I calmly asked, “What do you mean by that, buddy?”

Evan replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Well, it’s bigger, and it lights up everything else, like Gd does inside us.”

Astonished by his insight, we all quickly told Evan that he was right, that Gd really is the spark inside people, and that his observation that the shamash was like Gd was a beautiful analogy.

Then, today, as I was consulting the Internet to make sure I had the proper spelling of shamash so that I could share this story, I found this information in the online Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Shamash, (Akkadian), Sumerian Utu, in Mesopotamian religion, the god of the sun . . . . Shamash, as the solar deity, exercised the power of light over darkness and evil.


. . . which means Evan brought us full-circle, back to the beginning:

The ancient Middle-Eastern Sun-god Shamash most probably gave us the Hebrew word “shemesh” for sun…

The same set of three hebrew letters was used to name the “shamash” candle that helps us kindle light…

The shamash is like Gd, who kindles all light, including the light that shines from our souls…

I may be missing a couple of steps in the circle, but that’s okay because, really, the point is just that this is another example of the infinite web of meaning that connects the past to the future, various cultures to one another, and each of us to the Eternal my Gd!

with blessings, jen

“on the spiritual path”


Not every sky will be blue and not every day is springtime. So on the spiritual path a person learns to find . . . happiness without needing nice things to happen on the outside. Rather, you find happiness by being who you really are. 

— Deepak Chopra

Praying each of you is also having a week of happiness simply by being who you are, jen


“in the midst of the city”


In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Before that destruction occurs, Abraham argues with G-d, trying to save the cities for the sake of the righteous people who are therein.

After G-d reveals his plan, Abraham asks:

“Will You also stamp out the righteous along with the wicked? What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the city?”

Genesis 18:24.

Because every word in Torah has meaning, along the way someone asked– “What does it mean that the righteous must be not just “in” the city, but rather “in the midst of” the city?

The commentary to that verse explains that “in the midst of the city” means the fifty righteous people…

must display their righteousness not only privately, but also in public, in the midst of the city. The test of righteousness is that one is ready to act upon his convictions even in a hostile environment.  Furthermore, the truly righteous person should be involved with his fellows, trying to influence them to improve.

Stone Edition Chumash at 83 (Artscroll 2000).

As my study partner and I discussed this text the other night, I thought the commentary made perfect sense.  After all, to be righteous means to act “in an upright, moral way,” (dictionary.com), and if a person is moral at home, but immoral in public, the community would not imagine that person was truly righteous (so why should Gd count them as such?).   To be righteous is to do the “morally correct” thing even when we are surrounded by others who are behaving immorally in a public forum.

But after our study session ended, I’ve kept thinking about that third sentence.  What about the idea that a “truly righteous person should be involved with his fellows, trying to influence them to improve”?   What does it mean to be “involved with” others in a way that would give us “influence” over them?

Is it enough that we behave morally so that they see our example?

Or, when we see immoral behavior occurring, do we have an obligation to challenge those who are behaving immorally?

If we are going to do or say more, how might we go about that so as to not violate other Jewish expectations regarding our behavior — like the prohibition against shaming another person in public? After all, the Talmud tells us: “Shaming another in public is like shedding blood.” Baba Metzia 58b, and “Throw yourself into a blazing furnace rather than shame a neighbor in public.” Berakot, 43b.

What if we try speaking to someone in private, so as to not shame publicly, but thereafter his or her behavior does not change?

Gd knows when I have been faced with such situations in the past I have made choices that, in retrospect, certainly were not the best choice for each situation.  So I won’t even pretend to have a clue about whether, when, and how one should confront and try to influence people who are behaving immorally in the midst of the city.

But I do believe that the path to holiness requires that we struggle with these seemingly unanswerable questions, that we challenge ourselves to think about how to balance these values and virtues, so that then, when we see immoral behavior in the midst of the city, we at least know how to think about the issues involved and we give ourselves a chance to make the holiest decision possible.

Shavua tov, jen

“something sweet”


Maybe if I brought the moon a little closer lovers would argue less.  

They might hold hands outside and point to the heavens and say, 

“I think God is up to 
something sweet!”

Rabia of Basra (ce. 717-801)

Sunday evening, as we begin our fall harvest festival of Sukkot, the full moon will be at the closest point in its orbit of the Earth. That “Super Moon” will also be eclipsed, turning blood red as it passes through the Earth’s shadow. I have no doubt it will be amazingly beautiful and awe-inspiring. Certainly, if nothing else, it ought to be worthy of pointing skyward and noting, as Rabia said, “God is up to something sweet!”

I plan to sit quietly and watch the scene unfold, trying simply to be and to breathe in sync with the rhythm of the universe — the ever-expanding finite matter that clothes the Infinite One, who is my G-d.  

Anyone else plan to watch?