Eastern Washington University
Showalter Rotunda Auditorium
February 21 (7:00 PM)
March 1 (6:30 PM)
I have one of my secrets in every PostSecret book and on rare occasions – like this week – one of the postcards here is mine.
Wait. Doesn't that seem backwards? How could we accept the mitzvot, and only then learn what they are? How does it make sense to to agree to do, before we've heard what it is God is calling us to do? Almost every Torah commentator under the sun tackles this question, because it's a big one.
Lately I'm spending quality time with Menchem Nachum of Chernobyl, the Hasidic master also known as the Me'or Eynayim. And he says this is a teaching about how spiritually, no one ever stands still.
We're always rising and falling. Life-force ebbs and flows. Our connection with God ebbs and flows. Sometimes we feel connected with something beyond ourselves, and enlivened by that connection. Sometimes we feel we've fallen away and meaning is nowhere to be found.
Our task -- he says -- is to remember that all of creation is filled with divinity, that (in the words of the Zohar) לית אתר פנוי מיניה / there is no place devoid of the Presence. It's easy to feel that at spiritual high moments when we're feeling connected and full of love. It's harder to feel that when life is difficult and God seems distant.
When we feel that we've fallen far from God, when we feel conscious of our shortcomings that keep us feeling disconnected, when we're feeling existentially lonely, that's when we need to remember that there's no such thing as "far from God." God, he teaches, is never absent or far away -- only sometimes very hidden. God withdraws in order to make space for us, or perhaps to encourage us to seek.
When we feel that we're far away from God or from goodness, God is actually right there with us in our feelings of exile, our feelings of loneliness, our feelings of despair. Sometimes everything seems clear and we can feel God's presence with us. Sometimes the clarity departs and God feels far away. But the distinction is one of epistemology, not ontology.
And the answer to feeling existentially far-from-God is to say yes -- even when we can't feel the presence of the thing we're saying yes to. Say yes to life, even if you don't know where life will take you. Say yes to spiritual practice, even if you don't know how spiritual practice will change you. Say yes to the mitzvot, even when you don't wholly know what they are. Say yes to God, even if you aren't sure God exists, or is listening.
Agreeing to do before we've heard what it is we're supposed to do is an inversion. It's rising before falling. But the thing about falling is, it just spurs us to want to rise higher. One step back, two steps forward. At least, that's the Me'or Eynayim's take on it. Because spiritual life never stands still.
Standing still is stasis, and stasis is death. As long as we're living, we're growing and changing. My seven-year-old likes to say there's no such thing as doing "nothing" -- even if we're holding perfectly still, we're breathing, we're existing, blood is pumping through our veins. If we're alive, we're changing. In the Me'or Eynayim's terms, if we're alive, we're rising and falling.
We agree to do the mitzvot -- that's a moment of rising. Then we fall, because that's how life works. We touch elevated consciousness for long enough to give God an existential "yes we said yes we will yes," and then we fall away. But in our falling, we listen for God's presence in the world, and that's when we hear the Voice issuing forth from Sinai. שמע: we listen, and achieve a glimmer of understanding, and rise up again.
The first step is a leap of faith: כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה / "all that God has spoken, we will do." We leap even though we don't know what we're leaping to. We leap, saying "sure, we'll spend our lives with You" before we really know Who God is or where God might take us. We leap knowing that we will fall... and that from our place of having-fallen, we can rise to greater heights.
This is the d'varling I offered at WCJA at Kabbalat Shabbat this week. The teaching from the Me'or Eynayim that I cite here can be found in Hebrew in the app ובלכתך בדרך; if you'd like to read it in English, there's a translation at sefaria.
I just finished Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, which was a lot of fun. The premise here is that Western esoteric magick is the real stuff and occult knowledge is held by rival lodges filled with old, privileged white men who periodically attempt to take over the world for real, when they're not fighting each other that is. Thanks to a black maid pregnant with her boss's child, who slipped off the estate just before a major magical accident obliterated a bunch of practitioners, a black family in Chicago gets enmeshed in these machinations. They get to come out on top. I like Ruff's sense of humor, and I think he struck the correct balance between terror and humor here, and also with the way that not all the horror comes from occult machinations but from merely living in 1950s America while black. That fact is critical to the ending, too, and part of what made it so satisfying.
Not sure what's next.
On Valentine's Day proper, I took some cold medicine, a nice long nap, and declared myself miraculously healed...just in time for us to stick with our original grand romantic plan of seeing a drag show with a big group of friends.
(Today, to all those friends, I am so, so sorry if I touched you or breathed on you. I tried not to, for the most part. But turns out I vastly overestimated my recovery and have been paying for that night ever since, because this cold is horrrrrrible and my entire body hurts from all the coughing and sneezing. Noah is better but now Ezra is home sick, Ike is sniffling, and Jason is away in California until tomorrow but also complaining about a cough.)
(Sorry to California, too, then.)
But anyway, back when I momentarily thought the worst was behind me, we saw some drag queens.
The show was called "Love Can Be a Drag," do you get it do you get it I got it okay good.
Jason took over a dozen pictures of me and I hated every single one and couldn't understand why I looked so pale and puffy and haggard in them, which should have been my clue that my cold was simply lying dormant for a few hours, preparing to launch its second wave.
(I look like I am possibly reflecting on my life and poor choices here, but nah. I am just looking at the beer list.)
Our friends tried to catch Jason off-guard here...
But NOPE. Always prepared, that one.
So that was our Valentine's Day...Jason had to catch a flight the next day and our next correspondence went something like this:
And then I received one final romantic gift from my romantic husband: delicious matzoh ball soup from Katz's Delicatessen, delivered right to our door:
(Also a Reuben platter and deli pickles, but I'm going to save those until he gets home, because I can be kind of nice sometimes too.)
And well, no, I had not. Armed with this eye-opening revelation, I set out to address what I found so off-putting about meatloaf. First, I mean obviously, the word and concept of a loaf of meat. I don’t care how many freshly snipped herbs on top and how heavily you lay on the Clarendon filter, a slab of ground meat is always going to be a thing we look past to get to the flavor we love within. And so I decided to make them more like meatballs — round, a bit more tender, and possibly, if you really squint your eyes, a little cute. Okay, yes, I know, that’s a stretch.
Many years ago when I was in rabbinic school I used to daven one morning a week with a telephone minyan of rabbinic school friends. We were all in the eastern time zone, in states scattered across the country. We used a conference call phone line. We took turns leading davenen. It was a gift to me to hear the voices of beloved hevre, not to feel alone in my spiritual practice. Of course, the technology posed some challenges. If we wanted to sing along, we had to mute our own phones, otherwise our voices would cancel each other out. And eventually that telephone minyan came apart at the seams. Still, it was sweet, for a time.
In more recent years I've participated a few times in davenen via zoom, the videoconferencing app we use in ALEPH for Board meetings and other conversations. I have powerful memories of the Monday morning after Reb Zalman died, when the rest of the ALEPH Board was together in Oregon and I was far away in Massachusetts. I joined them via zoom that morning, and davened and sang and wept with them. I remember feeling like we were truly together. Of course, it helped that I knew everyone in the room; we were already a community. I remember being grateful that there was a way for me to be with them from afar.
The technological tools available to us for this kind of virtual community keep evolving. One recent morning shortly after I arrived at work at the synagogue I opened up Facebook to share a piece of synagogue news on my shul's Facebook page, and saw that Shir Yaakov was davening the morning service on Facebook Live. As is usual for me these days, my early morning had not offered me time for davenen. Early mornings in my house, these days, are all about getting myself and my kid fed and dressed, packing our lunches, making sure we both have what we need for the day ahead, and getting him on the schoolbus on time.
But here was one of my hevre davening in a way that I could join. It felt like a reminder from the universe of how I really ought to begin my work day! So I put on tallit and tefillin and sang with Shir. In the chat window alongside the video there was a steady stream of comments from others who were davening too. He asked us to name the places we were in, and the places for which we were praying. I saw the names of friends across the continent, and the names of people I don't know. From time to time a wave of little hearts would flow across the screen as people clicked on Facebook's "heart" button to share their love.
After the minyan ended I found myself thinking about how davenen connects us across places and times. Part of what's meaningful for me in davenen is knowing that others are singing these words too -- or perhaps other words that evoke these same themes -- around the world. As the hour for morning prayer moves across the globe, daveners enter in to morning prayer, together and alone. And there's also a way in which davenen connects us not only across time zones but across time -- some of these words have been recited in prayer for centuries, and will be recited for centuries to come.
In in the world of assiyah (geographically), those of us who joined this Facebook Live minyan were all over the place. But -- at least for a while -- in the worlds of yetzirah (emotion), briyah (thought), and atzilut (spirit), we were all together. Sometimes when I gather with community in person, we're in the same place physically but our hearts and spirits aren't necessarily aligned. Someone's distracted, someone's focusing on this morning's news, someone's grieving, someone's angry with someone else in the room -- there are all kinds of reasons why we can be disconnected. But at its best, prayer connects us both in and out -- with ourselves and with each other -- and also up.
("Up" is a metaphor, of course. As I taught my students last night in our intro Judaism class, Judaism's God-concepts include both transcendence and immanence, the Infinite and the relatable. God is in the vastness of spacetime, and as intimate to us as the beating of our own hearts. My favorite metaphor for God these days is Beloved. The God to Whom I need to relate right now is the One Who sees me and loves me in all that I am. Prayer doesn't always connect me with that One... but as with any other practice, the only way to reach the times when it "works" is to keep doing it even at the times when I feel like it "doesn't work.")
At its best, prayer connects us with our deepest selves, and with our Source, and with each other. No matter where in the world we are. Even when we feel most alone, when we "log in" to the cosmic mainframe (that's language Reb Zalman z"l used to use), we're connecting with the Network that links us all. Prayer can remind us to open our hearts. It can attune us to the subtle movements of soul. And though sometimes when I pray with others I feel that I am still alone, sometimes when I am praying alone I can remember that what appears to divide us is illusory, and what connects us -- always -- is infinite and deep.
Visitation, a tele-davenen poem, 2008
This post is sponsored by Blue Apron.
Man, last week was One Of Those Weeks. Jason's work kept him late almost every night, or had him commuting to D.C., while the boys all started different after-school enrichment programs on different nights of the week (naturally!). They'd come home extra crunched for time and INSANELY hungry, having missed their usual after-school snack break. They needed dinner STAT and waiting for Dad to get home wasn't an option.
It was One Of Those Weeks where we just had to sacrifice our family dinner ritual. It happens.
Kids got an easy, early dinner from the freezer or pasta shelf. All as healthy and homemade-ish as I could manage (I do a lot of big-batch cooking on weekends for nights like that), but certainly nothing too challenging or exciting.
Jason and I, on the other hand, didn't have to sacrifice much at all: Every night was Date Night, thanks to Blue Apron.
Usually when we have One Of Those Weeks, we end up ordering a lot of takeout or delivery, which is 1) expensive, and 2) too easy to blow through 2,500 calories in one sitting because oh look a two-for-one deal on large pepperoni pizzas plus cheesy garlic bread and Imma eat ALL OF IT. An old bad-eating habit both of us try to avoid as much as possible these days.
Since we knew this particular week of craziness was coming, we (temporarily) switched our Blue Apron shipment from a 4-person family plan box to the 2-person plan. Once Jason was on his way home, I started prepping our dinner, we finished cooking it together, and then sat down to a quiet, peaceful (and healthy!) grown-up meal. There was no whining, no dropped forks or spilled milk, no Minecraft talk or fart jokes. There was a nice glass of wine and maybe even some candles, and on second thought there probably was still a fart joke, because we're both just kinda like that.
There was also:
And Cumin-Crusted Pork with a Fig & Blood Orange Pan Sauce, Farro & Fennel. (All the meals were delicious, but this one was our mutual favorite, and I am stealing the cumin crust idea for a pork tenderloin ASAP.)
While the food, wine and company all earned five stars, I do have to ding the dining establishment for decor and ambiance:
So freaking hipster, amirite?
Thanks again (and again again again) to Blue Apron for being such a great sponsor. Get three meals added for FREE to your first order (limited to first 25 readers, chop chop) by using this link here!.
Happy Valentine's Day!
It's going GREAT.
Noah came down with a pretty bad cold on Sunday, I got it yesterday. Last night was Jason's customary home-cooked, multiple-course Valentine's-dinner-that's-not-on-
(On the other hand, there were homemade pork belly buns. Jason went to Momofuku without me recently and took a pretty impressive stab at recreating them for me, AS HE SHOULD. Then there was creme brulee, my favorite dessert in the world, which I did not photograph because I was too busy eating it. There are two more in the fridge which will make a nice balanced lunch and afternoon snack.)
I'm doing some work and drinking some tea laced with Zicam and then joining poor Noah in a much-needed nap. He's feeling better than yesterday but still not super great, and I realized he's missing his very last elementary school Valentine's Day party ever. And I was so prepared!! At least I flaked on signing up to send anything in, because that would not happen. We are in DEF CON SICK NEST mode over here.
Didn't realize we were both in such a Game of Thrones = TRUE LOVE 4-EVA sort of mood, but I guess it makes sense. Winter has come and it is terrifying, so let's make some jokes and eat some pork belly. Hodor!
Wellllllll, look who got her shit together this year.
Just look at this shit, and how together it all is.
I completely forgot about the boys' school Valentine's Day parties last year (and every other year, to be honest), which resulted in 2) a mad last-minute rush to a ransacked Target and the purchase of the world's most objectively ugly/lame Valentines, 2) an $800 car repair and 3) three kids up way past their bedtimes filling them out while I stressed out over spelling errors because we literally did not have an extra card to spare and ugggghhhhh they were super-glossy cards that you couldn't use a pencil on whyyyyyyyyyyy....I vowed to be more on top of things this year.
I added these three Valentines sets to my Amazon cart on February 15th, 2016 and clicked "Save For Later." Then I created a reminder in Google Calendar for January 31st, 2017 that said MOVE VALENTINES TO CART AND BUY NOW WITH ONE-CLICK HURRY DO IT DON'T BE DUMB.
(Please note that my day-to-day life and organization levels still operate at the normal level of "complete and utter clusterfuck.")
But hey. Valentines are done. With a whole day to spare!
I also had to text a certain girl child's mother last night and give her the heads up that this will be happening tomorrow.
Oh, Ezra. Just...never stop Ezra-ing.