at the Sea’s edge

ב׳׳ה

In this week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, the Israelites finally flee Egypt, only to end up being chased by Pharaoh and his 600 chariots. As the story nears its climax, the Israelites find themselves trapped between the Sea of Reeds and the approaching Egyptian army.

Those moments at the Sea’s edge — before Moses raised his staff (and Nachshon entered) to part the water — must have been incredibly tense moments for each Israelite!! As I tried to imagine their plight, I wrote these words:

at the Sea’s edge

I’m standing at the Sea’s edge.
All degrees of freedom are gone.

One millimeter before me is
THE WATER.
I don’t know
what monsters might be in there
or how far I can swim,
so I am
TERRIFIED!

But overtaking me from behind is
THE LIFE I DO NOT WANT:
being enslaved to others and
worshipping gods that are not mine.

To continue standing here
is certain death.
Yet, I am
TOO TERRIFIED
to step forward!!

Eternal Gd of my ancestors,
give me the courage to step forward,
to choose Life,
so that my children may live . . .

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

May Gd give give each of us the strength to overcome our fear and step toward Life, and may Shabbat bring more Shalom to all, 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

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

Casting Shadows: a Shabbat Shuva reflection

ב׳׳ה


Sometimes bodies made of water become so dense and dark that they cast shadows in the light that could have passed through them. 


The goal of a spiritual life (while living in these bodies that are 3/4 water) is to not cast shadows.  Instead, we must work every day to let the Light and Love pass through us to all those we encounter.  

Shavua tov, jen

wandering, not lost!

ב׳׳ה


“My father was a wandering Aramean”

but he was not lost

He had heard the call 

Lech Lecha!” 

and was traveling to a place he would be shown, 

from which he could hear another call

Ayeka?” 

and would have a new response

Heneini!

May we all be as blessed as our father!!

.

This Shabbat, may we each wander toward our Self, so that we might be ready to answer “Heneini!”
shabbat shalom, 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