I am currently going through a rough breakup from a 3 years relationship with a man that I loved and completely devoted my life to.
On my first weekend outing as the “third wheel” with my group of couples friends.. this was left in my hotel room by my housekeeper.
She has no idea what how much of an impact she just made on me. She has giving me more strength to get through this.
Today we enter the month of Cheshvan, a month that is unique because it contains no Jewish holidays at all. (Except for Shabbat, of course.) After the spiritual marathon of Tisha b'Av and Elul and the Days of Awe and Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, now we get some downtime. Some quiet time. Time to rest: in Hebrew, לנוח / lanuach. We've done all of our spiritual work, and now we get to take a break. Right?
Well, not exactly.
When we finish the Days of Awe, we might imagine that the work is over. But I want to posit that the work of teshuvah, of turning ourselves in the right direction, isn't something we ever "complete"... and that Torah's been giving us hints about that, if we know where to look.
Last week we began the Torah again, with Bereshit, the first portion in the book of Genesis. The creation of the cosmos, "and God saw that it was good," the forming of an earthling from earth. Last week's Torah portion also contains the story of Cain and Hevel, the first sibling rivalry in our story. The two bring offerings to God. Hevel brings sheep, and Cain brings fruits of the soil, and God is pleased with the sheep but not with Cain's offering. Cain's face falls, and God says to him, "Why are you distressed?"
It's an odd moment. Surely an all-knowing God understands perfectly well why Cain is upset. This is not rocket science. Two brothers make gifts for their Parent, who admires one gift and pointedly ignores the other one?! Of course Cain feels unappreciated. This is basic human nature. How can it be that God doesn't understand?
The commentator known as the Radak says: God asked this rhetorical question not because God didn't understand Cain's emotions, but because God wanted to spur Cain to self-reflection. God, says the Radak, wanted to teach Cain how to do the work of teshuvah, repentance and return. Imagine if Cain had been able to receive that lesson. Imagine if Cain had had a trusted rabbi or spiritual director with whom he could have done his inner work, seeking to find the presence of God even in his disappointment. But that's not how the story goes. He misses the opportunity for teshuvah, and commits the first murder instead.
That was last week. This week, we read that God sees that humanity is wicked, and God decides to wipe out humanity and start over. But one person finds favor with God: Noach, whose name comes from that root לנוח, "to rest."
And God tells Noah: make yourself an ark out of gopher wood, and cover it over with pitch: "וְכָֽפַרְתָּ֥ אֹתָ֛הּ מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ בַּכֹּֽפֶר / v'kafarta otah mibeit u-michutz bakofer." Interesting thing about the words "cover" and "pitch:" they share a root with כפרה / kapparah, atonement. (As in Yom Kippur.) It doesn't come through in translation, but the Hebrew reveals that this instruction to build a boat seems to be also implicitly saying something about atonement.
Rashi seizes on that. Why, he asks, did God choose to save Noah by asking him to build an ark? And he answers: because over the 120 years it would take to build the ark, people would stop and say, "What are you doing and why are you doing it?" And Noah would be in a position to tell them that God intended to wipe out humanity for our wickedness. Then the people would make teshuvah, and then the Flood wouldn't have to happen. God wanted humanity to make teshuvah, and once again, we missed the message.
The invitation to make teshuvah is always open. The invitation to discernment, to inner work, to recognizing our patterns and changing them, is always open. And to underscore that message, last week's Torah portion and this week's Torah portion both remind us: the path of teshuvah was open to Cain, and it was open for the people of Noah's day, and it's open now.
Even if we spent the High Holiday season making teshuvah with all our might, the work isn't complete. We made the teshuvah we were able to make: we pushed ourselves as far as we could to become the better selves we know we're always called to be. But that was so last week. What teshuvah do we need to make now, building on the work we did before?
The word kapparah (atonement) implies covering-over, as Noach covered-over the ark with the covering of pitch. What kapparah hasn't worked for you yet? Where are the places where you still feel as though your mis-steps are exposed? What are the tender places in your heart and soul that need to be lovingly sealed and made safe? This week's Torah portion comes to remind us that we still have a chance to do this work. Will we be wiser than the generation of Noah? Will we hear Torah's call to make teshuvah now with all that we are?
Here's the thing: as long as we live, our work isn't done. I don't know whether that sounds to you like a blessing or a curse. But I mean it as a blessing. Because it's never too late. Because we can always be growing. Because we can always choose to be better.
May this Shabbat Noach be a Shabbat of real menuchah, which is Noah's namesake, and peace, a foretaste of the world to come. And when we emerge into the new week tonight at havdalah, may we be strengthened in our readiness to always be doing the work of teshuvah, and through that work, may our hearts and souls find the kapparah that we most seek.
I'm honored and delighted this week to be at Kol HaNeshama in Sarasota, Florida, visiting my dear friend Rabbi Jennifer Singer who blogs at SRQ Jew. This is the d'var Torah I offered there for Shabbat Noach -- which I share with deep gratitude to Rabbi David Markus for sparking these insights.
Our iron broke yesterday morning. Jason discovered this when he went to iron Ezra's shirt for picture day (which woowowowowowwww tells you everything you need to know about Him As A Dad vs. Me As A Mom), and it wouldn't turn on or heat up or anything.
Good riddance. I hated that iron, as the steam setting never worked properly and always just dripped puddles of lukewarm water all over my clothes. Ten years, at least, I've hated that goddamn iron. Should I have just replaced it at some point? Of course! But then 1) that's one less thing in my life to bitch about, and bitching gives me life, and 2) come on. Does anybody remember the plastic wrap? I used that wretched, useless plastic wrap down to the last wretched, useless inch. Of course I'm not replacing a terrible iron.
So I ordered a new iron. And was delighted to realize that I could get one delivered the same day, for FREE. Like, I sat there for multiple minutes contemplating this logistical and technological marvel. What a time to be alive, when irons will magically show up at your door mere hours after your old one gives up the ghost. Iron-related emergencies are officially a thing of the past, people!
And so my iron arrived later that day, as promised. And I stared at it for awhile, because what the FUCK was I thinking? Why is this even here?
I didn't need to iron anything else yesterday. I barely iron anything, ever. I could've enjoyed a completely iron-less, slightly wrinkled existence for weeks, if not months, and never even noticed. What kind of adult am I even pretending to be here? People in Puerto Rico have no water or electricity and I'm like, "I DEMAND FREE SAME-DAY SHIPPING FOR SMALL HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES I WILL POSSIBLY NOT USE UNTIL 2018."
Anyway. It turned out Ezra's picture day was actually today, not yesterday.
I did not iron his shirt.
As I mentioned in Monday's post, we spent Ezra's birthday weekend in the Poconos, at the super-family-and-kid-friendly Woodloch resort.
(This is not a sponsored post. I was invited as a travel writer for AlphaMom, where a proper review-type post will appear soon. Woodloch comped our room and meals, but beyond that I'm not being paid for this post, or nor am I obligated to post about the trip at all. But like I would EVER pass up a chance to bore y'all with a bunch of my vacation photos, lololol.)
(I bet they knew that, too.)
ANYWAY, the boys had a ton of fun. There were:
(Not pictured, me, who went on them one whole time!)
And Halloween costumes, characters and bonus treat-or-treating!
(And yes, that last one is indeed David! S! Pumpkins!)
(That was us "practicing" our scared faces just before I took him on his first haunted hayride. I don't know what his "actual" scared face was because I spent the whole thing with my face buried into his shoulder like a giant chicken.)
(He spent the whole thing trying desperately to get one of the actors to break character and talk about his favorite jump-scare games, while they jump-scared us. So very meta.)
(He was all, "EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME BUT HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED BENDY AND THE INK MACHINE?" and I was all, "PLEASE STOP BOTHERING PENNYWISE, I'D LIKE TO SLEEP TONIGHT.")
But for me, so much of weeknight cooking is a random suggestion that pops into my feed that doesn’t have to be overtly revolutionary, just something I hadn’t considered before and immediately want to make before anything else. In a moment, I go from lethargically considering a bunch of options I’d rejected on previous evenings for various reasons to mentally calculating how long it will be until dinner and wishing it was now now now. Finding these moments is my primary cooking interest.
The good folks at the the Forward have started up a new series they're calling Rabbi Roundtable. They chose 17 rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, and they're posing questions to us and sharing our answers.
The first one of these has just gone live, and the question they chose to ask this week is, "What is the biggest threat facing the Jewish people today?" Here are our answers: Rabbi Roundtable / What's the Biggest Threat to the Jewish People? Deep thanks to the editors at the Forward for including me as a leading voice of Jewish Renewal.
When someone else gets hurt -- be it a skinned knee or bruised feelings -- Ezra feels it. And I mean feels it, physically, to the point of tears. He then rushes to fix things, to make things feel better. Ice packs, Band-Aids, some candy, a dollar, a promise to always be your friend.
His best friend in the entire world is a little girl who lives up the street. We took a trip to the Poconos this weekend for his birthday and he spent almost all of his birthday money to buy her something from the gift shop. He likes buying presents for people. "I feel their happy," he says.
One time she went away and brought him back a snow globe. He accidentally dropped it on the bus and it broke. His heart shattered right along with it. "It was so beautiful," he wept into my shoulder.
He's stopped ordering off the children's menu (unless there are corn dogs; he really loves corn dogs) because he wants to eat things that look more like what he sees on cooking shows. (Obviously he's a big Masterchef Junior fan.) Helping with dinner isn't enough anymore, he wants to makes things all by himself, start to finish. He rummages around in the fridge, looking for inspiration, inspecting the avocados and asking if tomatoes taste good with eggs, or if there is such a thing as a cucumber taco. He documents and illustrates his creations and ideas in highly detailed recipes (though he lets me sort out the details sometimes, as he comes up with a lot of ideas for pies and soups that I end up reverse-engineering for him a bit).
He doesn't want to be a chef when he grows up, however. He wants to be a writer, albeit a writer who cooks for his family (which may or may not include the little girl who lives up the street). He wants to be a writer because I'm a writer. "I want to be just like you when I grow up," he told me.
His sense of justice and fairness is strong. He won't watch movies where anyone dies. No one is allowed to mess with his brothers, except him, sometimes, since Noah can be mean and Ike can be annoying but he will do anything and everything for them, whenever it really counts. He feels their pain or distress on an especially high level.
I used to worry what would happen to such a gentle, empathetic soul out in the harsh real world, especially growing up as a super-duper sensitive kid myself. But at nine, Ezra has boundless self-confidence and optimism. He loves to try new things (foods! violin! go-karts!) and meet new people, new friends. He is comfortable in his own skin, in being who he is. And why wouldn't he be?
"I'm the kind kid," he says, when asked to describe himself. "It's good to be the kind kid."
...This is our time to rest, like bulbs cradled in the embrace of the earth. It’s time to slow our breathing, like the shavasana pose that ends many yoga classes. We’ve been pouring out our hearts: now it’s time to wait and see what flows in to replenish us. Like the trees, like the bulbs, our souls need to lie fallow....
That's from my latest essay for The Wisdom Daily.
Read the whole thing: Why the stillness after the wave of Jewish holidays is so important.
One of the great joys of being an unofficial ambassador for Jewish Renewal is getting invited to share spiritual technologies that have deeply shaped my life and my rabbinate with new communities that may not yet have experienced them.
We'll be there over the weekend of parashat Vayera (the Torah portion is named after its first word, "And God appeared" or, more broadly "And God caused Abraham to see") so we've framed our introduction to Jewish Renewal through the lens of vision.
We'll be co-leading a musical, poetic, uplifting Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday night; offering a Torah study on Shabbat morning; gathering with the community at 5pm for se'udat shlishit (the "third meal" of Shabbat, where we'll "dine" on poetry and song themed around yearning at that most poignant time of the week), havdalah, and some learning about angels in Jewish tradition. On Sunday morning we'll offer two short programs on "spirituality on the go" and on the mysticism of ordinary mitzvot.