The Road to Damascus

ב׳׳ה

The Road to Damascus

The Road to Damascus passed my way. The Light was blinding, and I fell down to pray. But the vision I had was different from Saul, as for me there was no voice at all. Instead I could see that we are all Inside, connected by a web from which we can’t hide, and inside this web with me and you, are Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha too. For Gd’s plan is bigger than one religion or people, so when your call comes –be it from minaret or steeple– kneel yourself down and take a few moments to pray, thank Gd for multiple paths to help us find our way, because part of the message to Saul was in the message to me — Don’t persecute others for how they find Thee!

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

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

For those who don’t know the story of Saul, a devout Jew who persecuted early Christians, the text is available here.

May this be a week of peace between religions and peoples, jen

Elevating our hands

ב׳׳ה


A few years ago, as I stood in a Sukkah listening to a Rabbi teach children how to say the blessing and shake the lulav, I was struck by the similarity in pronunciation of the Hebrew verb for “taking” the lulav and the Hebrew verb that I knew in the blessing for “washing” the hands.  But life as the mother of two young boys was busy, and the question about the spellings of those two verbs slipped out of my mind.

This year, as I prepared to teach religious school children about Sukkot, I pulled out the blessings specific to the holiday and reviewed:

Olitzky & Isaacs (1993). How-To Handbook for Jewish Living.


When I read that blessing in Hebrew, the old question came back to me, so I turned to the blessing for washing hands:

Olitzky & Isaacs (1993) How-To Handbook for Jewish Living.


Much to my surprise, there is no difference in the spelling of the Hebrew verb for “taking the lulav” and “washing the hands”!!  Both are spelled:

‎נתילת
netilat

And one need not be fluent in Hebrew to discern that a single spelling of a word is unlikely to mean both “take” and “wash”!!

So, what does “netilat” actually mean???

According to that new dictionary I got at Rosh Hashanah 🤗 the Hebrew is actually an Aramaic conjugation, and it means “elevate.”

We elevate the lulav.

We elevate our hands.

When we elevate the lulav, we take it so that we may shake it in six directions.  
Why?  
To remind us that Gd is everywhere.

When we elevate our hands, we wash them.  
Why?  
To remind us that our hands can have a Holy purpose, can repair this world that we all share.

What if — each time we washed our hands, or when we wash before meals, or even just once each morning — we acknowledged that Gd commanded us to elevate our hands and repair this world?

How might it change how we see:
– our hands?
– ourselves?
– life’s meaning?

I invite you all to try saying a blessing —in any language and at any time that feels comfortable to you— as you wash your hands.   Let’s find out whether this simple act might prompt us to engage in more tikkun olam and bring more meaning into our lives!! 

shavua tov, a good week to all, jen

Shema Yisrael!

ב׳׳ה


This week’s Torah portion contains the central declaration of the Jewish faith —

Shema Yisrael: Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem echad. 

Hear O Israel: Hashem is our Gd, Hashem is one.  

Over the centuries, commentators have found multiple ways to interpret that declaration.   The command to hear could be to the entire community collectively or to individuals.    One could mean “our Gd is unique among the gods that are worshipped” or “there is only one Gd in all of creation.” 

Yet perhaps the most interesting word in the Shema is Eloheinu, which is translated “our Gd,” but is derived from eloheim — a plural noun meaning gods, such that the Shema could be interpreted to mean “Hashem is all our gods and is one.”  

And at this time in the history of human civilization, that seems to be an important lesson that humanity needs — whatever names we call, whatever language we speak, whatever our religious rituals… whether as individuals we most easily connect to The Sacred through music, art, prayer, study, acts of kindness, the beauty of nature, or relationship with others… we are all reaching for, and hopefully connecting with, the singular Unity that is the One mighty and awesome Gd of creation!

This weekend, through all of our experiences, in every moment, may we allow ourselves to connect to the One who hides behind the many.
Shabbat shalom, jen 

“Prayerless Prayer”

ב׳׳ה

The other day, when I read “Prayerless prayer,” a post by Didi, I was reminded of a saying attributed to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorki (1819-1868), who practiced silence and didn’t always answer questions. When he was asked how “true Jews” should behave or could be recognized, Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “upright kneeling, silent screaming, motionless dance.”

“Upright kneeling” reminds us that, wherever we are standing and whatever we are doing, we remain in the presence of Gd, and therefore our hearts should be kneeling humbly before our Creator.

“Silent screaming” reminds us that we need not scream aloud for Gd to hear our cries in the face of injustice or agony, because Gd hears our crying, and can bring us comfort, even when we make no sound. All we need do is think the thoughts, and Gd has heard them!

Finally, “motionless dance” is the idea that life is meant to be celebrated, and we should be grateful, happy, and enjoying the goodness that continues to exist, even when life’s details aren’t perfect. So although our bodies may be still, our hearts constantly should be dancing in celebration of our presence in the miracle that is Creation.

Like Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorki, Didi juxtaposes an act and its opposite to remind us where the spiritual path can lead us — to a place where our every action is a offering to The One, before whom our hearts are kneeled, as we silently celebrate the mystery and grandeur of our Gd.

Please take a look at Didi’s post.

This Shabbat, may Didi and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorki inspire us to new depths of service to The One.

Shabbat shalom to all, jen

How protective is your case?

ב׳׳ה

I had a phone case that I really, really loved — it was cute and unique, with characteristics that I hadn’t ever seen in another phone case. But when my phone fell, the case cracked and the phone shattered.

For a while I focused my energy on being annoyed that my phone was so fragile, because I didn’t want to admit that I needed a different case. But finally, I stopped avoiding the truth — all phones are fragile and all phones get dropped, so the most important function of a case is not its beauty or originality, but its ability to minimize the probability of shattering.

People are a lot like phones. We are fragile and Life sometimes drops us onto hard surfaces from what seems like great heights, leaving us feeling we might crack under the pressure and stress.

And what keeps us from shattering?

The community of people we have around us– the ability of others to accept and love us for exactly who we are, imperfections and all, and to catch us with compassionate lovingkindness.

How protective is your case?

The Force… awakens?

ב׳׳ה

IMG_4627

Darth Vader’s chestplate with Hebrew inscription

It’s finally here!! The newest Star Wars movie, Episode VII, opens this weekend, and an article in yesterday’s paper assured readers that this is the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi!!!

Yes… I AM as excited as my children!!

What’s not to love about following the adventures of characters who can tap into The Force that flows through the Universe and who choose to use their ability to increase the odds that Good will triumph over Evil??

But . . . I’m not sure what to make of the movie’s name — “The Force Awakens” — because it just doesn’t fit with my understanding of The Force.

In my mind, The Force is what creates and animates our entire universe. It is the Unity that is the Eternal my Gd and the Gd of my father Abraham. The Force is the One that was, is, and forever will be. It flows. It binds. It connects everything together in an infinite web of existence.

As such, The Force doesn’t ever pause. It doesn’t hesitate. And it most surely can’t stop . . . or we (and everything else in the known universe) would, in an instant, cease to exist. So The Force simply cannot take a nap from which it would need to “awaken.”

No, The Force is always there . . . waiting . . .

It is us — we mere mortals, made of dust and ashes, yet slightly holier than the angels –who must awaken to The Presence and its energy. Despite living in a culture that encourages us to be arrogant about what we can accomplish “alone,” we must find the strength to submit to a Power much greater than ourselves.

Only then, through the lens of The Unity, can we see the real battles that must be fought and the work that truly must be done.

May The Force be with you!!

Shabbat shalom, jen

.

.

ps. I took the photo of Darth Vader’s chestplate a few years ago when my family went to see a traveling Star Wars exhibit at a local museum.  Although I’ve never seen proof, I once read on the Internet that the Hebrew inscription one one costume’s chestplate said “there will be no peace until he turns”  . . . which could be read as a reference both to turning from the Dark Side and to the Jewish concept of “making teshuvah” (turning or returning to Gd)…