Redeeming Judgment: Disagree With Me
Many of us are wound so tightly by the state of the world, we’ve developed a tendency to be reckless with other people’s emotions — yet very protective of our own. Twitter has become the platform for call-out culture, Instagram the medium of choice for the humblebrag, and Facebook a dark den of repressed judgments while tapping “Like.” Yet, we crumble inside — not angry, but fragile birds — when anyone casts these judgments our way.
It seems we have this entire process backward — working from the external to the internal. We judge others until we, ourselves, are called out by neologisms such as microaggression (interpreting seemingly innocent comments as racial or personal biases) and disinvitations (calling off a speaking engagement at college campuses for fear of offending a population). In an all-out race to the finish, it seems no one is left with impunity. So much of the darkness of the world today — broken relationships, anger, repression and depression — is traced to our inability to understand the complex value of judgment in our society and how we can use it as an instrument of growth for ourselves and our community.
To further complicate the loop of negative feedback, we have created institutional systems that inculcate and perpetuate these processes of calling out others before cultivating personal accountability — beginning at the youngest of ages and continuing through higher education. Troubling upticks in depression, anxiety and suicide rates suggest the impact of adopted pedagogies such as Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and higher education’s policies of trigger warnings and emotional reasoning replacing evidence-based theories have not improved the internal process of self-regulation.
As we stand before the holiest of days in our religion, when we are asked collectively to account for our personal sins and transgressions, is it possible to make a spiritual 180-degree turn when the cultural momentum continues to call out others rather than ourselves? How might the Jewish technology of the High Holy Days be the antidote to our national moral decay?
Yom Kippur, our holiest observance of the year, is the perfect example of to’cha’cha, or rebuke, as the space we enter into is modeled after a courtroom.
As we enter the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), the time has come to remember that Judaism demands personal accountability, sobriety and knowledge of oneself. The tasks of these days are ritualized and ordered; a review book (machzor) leads us through ritual behaviors that include praying, reciting poems, recounting legends, public confessing and personal assessing. We consider the days we have lived as well as the limited days allotted to us. Within this short span of 10 days, God and our community require us to judge ourselves as we stand before our ultimate Judge.
It is significant to note that in the Reconstructionist machzor, the Yom Kippur readings for the Mincha (afternoon) service have been changed from the laws of sexual prohibition (which might invite some #MeToo call-outs) to Leviticus 19:1-18, also known as the Holiness Code. This code of conduct expresses essential teachings on human behavior that build upon one another toward the Golden Rule, which implores us “to love your neighbor as yourself.” An essential step in achieving this behavior is in the penultimate verse of the reading, Leviticus 19:17, which states, “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account.”
In other words, before we can love others as ourselves, we must look inside ourselves, the homes we are building and the children we are raising; we must look inward, into our own hearts and family systems. In addition to the requirement “not to hate,” we also are required to “reprove,” which is another form of judgment. Is there something significant that this first step — to judge oneself — is a requirement before we can achieve the essential teaching of the Golden Rule?
A Morality Play
The Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a bastion of positivity and a source of Chassidic Jewish wisdom, has a teaching in the name of his father: “Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights.” Indeed, Yom Kippur, our holiest observance of the year, is the perfect example of to’cha’cha, or rebuke, as the space we enter into is modeled after a courtroom. We take the Torahs out of the ark and witnesses hold them as the bailiff, or chazzan, recites the opening words of the ritual courtroom, nullifying our vows. We rise before a judge, we anticipate entering, and are led through a 25-hour communal practice of self-reflection and self-abnegation that demands a chastening of not only the body, but the mind and soul. We subsist on nothing but breath, in a dress rehearsal of our own deaths. We collectively look inwardly, and invoke the presence of our ancestral martyrs, matriarchs and patriarchs, as we stand as a totality of the human experience.
The prolific works within the machzor ask us to reflect upon our promises and nullify them; consider how we will die as well as how we live; and places a collective guilt on our hearts for both our own complicity of as well as the transgressions of our fellows. Yom Kippur requires the nullification not only of our own vows but of our identities, as we attach ourselves to a cosmic community of all those who came before us and all those who will come after. It is a 25-hour near-death experience that prepares us for the final moment of judgment in our lives, so that after going through it (if we are lucky) 70 or 80 times, we are prepared as best we can be when meeting our Maker. The machzor is a morality play of poetry, leitmotifs, biblical allusions, storytelling, prayers and pageantry. We are the primary players. No one is distinguished above another, as our mortality is highlighted as the grand equalizer. But how many of us enter into this ritual theater prepared to do this work?
Today’s Yom Kippur: Escape From Purgatory
“For the sins between man and God — Yom Kippur Atones; For the sins between man and man, Yom Kippur atones only when one has appeased his fellow.” (b. M. Yoma 8.9)
It is a complex time to be a Jewish American. The entrenched bipartisan divide and disdain for one’s fellow in today’s political circus is rooted in the early 1970s and came into contemporary formation in the early 2000s. Political scientists call this dissolution “affective partisan polarization.” Our two major political parties should be thought partners, but instead wield their power to undermine each other. This animus is reminiscent of the rabbinic story of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem due to sinat hinam (hatred of others).
Not insignificantly, Judaism evolved through the loss of temple worship and emerged from the ashes with a renewed commitment toward pluralism. Any Talmud page illustrates the diversity of opinions that became a core value in Jewish thought. This tradition reflects Judaism’s unique example of not only preserving minority opinions but preserving the process of disagreement (machlochet) on the page, as well. Our beliefs ask us to hold many different opinions at once, as a part of a mental and moral calisthenics we cultivate in order to understand others. Our ability to judge one another is a fundamental tenet of Judaism — from Moses challenging God, through the diversity of Jewish voices heard in any café on the streets of Tel Aviv. Disagreement is an essential part of critical thinking. It also is the training ground for our inner moral debate.
Yom Kippur is the day our internal moral debate weighs in on the scales of justice. Following hours of public confession, the climax of the Yom Kippur Musaf liturgy repeats the leitmotif of the Uneh Taneh Tokef prayer — a graphic Grand Guignol horror poem that began at Rosh Hashanah, asking who will be inscribed (in the Book of Life). It returns on Yom Kippur for the final seal of “how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die.”
On Yom Kippur, we return to stand as a flock before our shepherd, none without blemish, all equal in our fated verdict. Through the intermediary days, we engage in acts of repentance to repair what is broken between human and human before we return to the synagogue on Yom Kippur to repair our transgressions between ourselves and God. The authors of the siddur prepare us with valuable soul work of how to lead a good life. Taken together, the three acts of teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah command the power of “removing the Evil of the Decree.” “Repent (personal accountability), pray (self-regulation) and act righteously (have a system of justice). Perhaps these are guideposts for us to find a way back to humanity.
The High Holy Days are a time when we stand together, each of us broken in our own way, and begin to put the pieces back together by acknowledging our personal brokenness is a primary part of what is wrong.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, wrote “The Righteous Mind” in 2012 with the ambition of sensitizing Americans of the biases that affect everyday moral thinking. His follow-up book, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” identifies the pitfalls in our education system that continue to inculcate a culture of intellectual and moral failings. Together, they studied the impact of the 1980s’ and 1990s’ political-correctness movement on educational systems, and how its commitment to diversity devolved into what has become a cultural movement whose “primary concern is the emotional wellbeing of every student” as opposed to the intellectual development of every student. Haidt and Lukianoff view the political-correctness movement as “a movement which sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), while also challenging the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, and seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives.”
They assert the current movement on college campuses “is largely about emotional wellbeing. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.”
The result of today’s political correctness 2.0 is a litany of behaviors working their ways into popular culture from campus life. These include vindictive protectiveness (turning campuses into values-neutral “safe spaces”); microaggression; disinvitations; and trigger warnings (a system of red-flagging students for potentially offensive or difficult subject matter). These and other “values neutral” behaviors are supposed to protect the emotional well-being of today’s students.
These nascent trends over the past decade have found their ways into our national conversation, most recognizably through the #MeToo movement, and disinvitation and call-out behavior. What they share is the willingness to censor and judge others supersedes a process of self-reflection, self-regulation and personal accountability. They also contribute to a public health crisis, as emotional-reasoning behaviors supplanting critical-thinking skills on campus is perceived as leading students to an intrepid belief system. Many students are stringently divided, as illustrated on both sides of the Israel debate on campus, and are resistant to learning from people with whom they dislike or disagree; this leads to limited adaptability and character resilience. Rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide gravely express the negative-sum output of an emotion-based system of reason.
As we near Yom Kippur, could this insight recast the words of judgment in the Uneh Taneh Tokef prayer: Who will live and who will die? If campus statistics of rising self-inflicted harm and the national need for deans of health and wellness are any indications, withstanding, understanding and integrating a system of judgment is a matter of life and death.
Haidt and Lukianoff identify the origins of these anxieties as rooted in the current political climate. An unanticipated impact of “affective partisan polarization,” they assert, is why “students arriving on campus today are more desirous of protection and more hostile toward ideological opponents than in generations past.” Entrenched moral biases rooted in emotional reasoning perpetuate the downward spiral of self-interest and moral indignation. When all our attention is about the behavior of others at the expense of our own moral and character development, the result is “teaching students how to think pathologically.”
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
SEL refers to the process of developing social and emotional skills in the classroom. It is a catchphrase for a method in secular education that introduces learning around emotional intelligence. Another way of looking at it is to consider that secular education — not rooted in a religious moral system — requires some kind of structure to teach children empathy, compassion, cooperation, tolerance, diversity and other emotional intelligence.
Over the past five or six years, a trend toward SEL has overtaken core curricula. Many people have children or grandchildren whose schools and teachers are trained in these methods. These methods are steeped in controversy. Some are recasting what might seem a well-intentioned curriculum to teach children about tolerance and empathy as a controversial method of dubious implementation, reinforcing racial biases and ripening the opportunity for intersectional politicking.
The Jewish Response
I contend that SEL and other forms of emotional-intelligence education have their roots in Jewish values — with one clear distinction: While both seek to improve critical thinking skills and the ability to favorably judge others, Judaism adds the imperative to judge ourselves rigorously. Nowhere is this as clearly illustrated as it is in the High Holy Days liturgy, whose leitmotif arguably is the melodies and chanting of the 13 attributes of God throughout the 10 days of observance: “Yah, Yah, God, compassionate and gracious. Slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations. Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and who cleanses.”
Torah teaches these words came to Moses from God as a way to remind of God’s essence after the Israelites’ collective transgression of the Golden Calf. The prayer and its melody are a haunting awakening of the need for teshuvah through a personal reflection of our behaviors as refracted through godly attributes.
So much of the darkness of the world today — broken relationships, anger, repression and depression — is traced to our inability to understand the complex value of judgment in our society and how we can use it as an instrument of growth for ourselves and our community.
Where Judaism espouses a relationship between the community and a God concept, SEL classrooms collapse the hierarchy and create a sense of egalitarianism through teachers and administrators. Lateral and seemingly anti-hierarchical systems of individualism replace traditional forms of authoritative presence; for example, teachers, administrators and students are all called by their first names. Students are tutored and drilled in critical thinking founded in genderless, colorless, distinctionless and impossible neutrality, which perpetuates and ingrains a values-neutral, “bias free” bias.
Education trends have interesting trickle-up impacts. What was a curricular trend in the past becomes a management problem in the workplace 15 years later. While SEL bears striking differences to “participation trophy-ism” (everyone’s a winner!), a latent concern is its impact on education. What are we to make of a practice that asks 5-year-olds to rely on their own inner sense of right and wrong before their self-regulation mechanisms have fully developed? Might these methods escalate the already acute rise of child and teen anxiety?
According to statistics, the youth suicide rate appears to be the highest it’s been since the government began collecting such statistics in 1960. Is this an anomaly? Do we blame it on the usual suspects: social media, broken homes, or access to violent images and technology? Or might this public health crisis be an indication we are missing something essential in the way we educate our youngest citizens? Yom Kippur, as a spiritual calisthenics, an intellectual boot camp, an emotional reckoning, revisits us every year to offer another way.
If campus statistics of rising self-inflicted harm and the national need for deans of health and wellness are any indications, withstanding, understanding and integrating a system of judgment is a matter of life and death.
Congregation Bias: Be. Judged. Now.
But there’s a catch.
Walk into most synagogues and a paradoxical problem arises: Either everyone is speed davening through the service and attempting to say every word, which makes it doubtful the levels and layers in each and every word is conveyed; or everyone is pretending to say every word, with most people not having any idea what is being said, or the congregation is offering immediate gratification vis-a-vis a call to social action — which may or may not have anything to do with what is required of us on Yom Kippur. How can we surmount these denominational quirks to penetrate the essence of what is asked of us?
Surprisingly, the answer to this question is a salve to wounds of depression, a unifier of difference, and a transcendent and loving presence: music. It seems liturgical song captures the most penetrating ritual moments. The music of our liturgy connects us as kol echad — one voice. We sing “Anu Amecha” and we feel a solidarity with others in the room. We chant “Al Chet” and pound our hearts as a rhythmic section of percussion instruments. There seems to be a kind of epigenetic memory switch attached to our goosebumps and tear ducts when hearing the opening notes of “Kol Nidre.” Our inner moral acumen knows why it has come to services as the sun sets into the 10th of Tishrei. We are there to turn and return, and hold ourselves accountable. This truth — beyond calls to social justice, call-outs to disappointing politicians or outcries of inequality — is the grand equalizer.
Judgment Is a Core Jewish Value
The process of going through Yom Kippur completes a circuit that began on the 9th of Av. It began when we looked inward and asked ourselves, “What is broken in my life?” and continued through the 30 days of Elul, when we gave voice to our examined brokenness through the first public cries of the shofar. We are living through emotional times, as the Yamim Noraim ask us to be emotional. We are meant to cry for those who have died, see our society’s shortcomings and understand our complicity in this mess. The High Holy Days are a time when we stand together, each of us broken in our own way, and begin to put the pieces back together by acknowledging our personal brokenness is a primary part of what is wrong. It is upon us — each and every one of us — to get our lives right before turning to fix anything else.
Pirkei Avot 6:6 lists 48 reasons why Torah supersedes the priesthood and monarchy. Among the qualities listed are insights into foundational Torah values: critical give and take with friends, fine argumentation with disciples, clear thinking, loving reproof and judging with the scales weighted in one’s favor. These are values that exercise subjective reasoning, self-criticism, complexity of thought and disagreement. In short, no “values neutral,” emotional reasoning or mental filtering required. Just a sharp “kop.”
Yom Kippur arrives like a crown on this kop and reminds us to use it wisely. We are thrust into a 25-hour ritual that is an action, a doing that completes a circuit of behavior that began with our self-reckoning with personal misdeeds and our agency in them. Between Rosh Hashanah and through Kol Nidre, we engage in teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah to rectify personal wrongs, deepen our prayer and practice charity with one another. Yom Kippur completes the circuit of these behavioral exercises through communal confession, petition, benediction and imploration. We emerge more self-regulated and self-knowing.
It is an internal and intimate self-assessment done in a public choir, a call-out culture in the first person plural. It demands we learn the following words before we learn any others: “For all of these things, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, atone for us.” Only then, can we learn the true meaning of standing before God on Yom Kippur in America in 5780/2019 to be the revelation and embodiment of “e pluribus unum.” Out of many, Echad. One.
Rosh Hodesh Elul 5779: The Hurricane Within.
Open Temple offers Daily Kavanot, or intentions, to guide us through the 30 Days of Elul. Open a New Page. Begin the Soul Journey. Find the Eye of the Storm.
The First Entry:
We Ask Ourselves: What am I working on?
1 – Between Myself and My Concept of Godliness (ben adam l’makom)?
2 – Between Myself and Others (ben adam l’chavero)?
3 – Between Myself and Myself (ben atzmi l’atzmi)
2 Elul Kavanah (intention):
We are on the Road to Find Out. Whether we are on the Playa at the Burn, Zipping down Venice Beach on a Bird, Picking up Take Out at Erewhon, or Snuggling at Home with our Children, these are the days to Move through Space with a Sense of our Inner-Place. If we are Out-of-Sync with our Inner Rhythm, this is when Dis-Ease sets in. Take the 30 Days of Elul out to Reset, Rewind and Renew. #OpenTemple #Elul #HighHolidays#BeginAgain
“Every person must prepare him/herself for thirty days beforehand with repentance and prayer and charity for the day when one will appear in judgment before G-d on Rosh Hashanah…During Elul, one should devote less time to study and more time to fixed periods of introspection and self-evaluation.” – Mateh Moshe
3 Elul Kavanah:
Create Your Spiritual Curriculum: Know Your Soul.
What is our life’s work actually about? Really, why are each and every one of us here? Identifying our life’s purpose – be it discovering we have an innate gift for music, or learning about a family truth that opens up a new healing journey, or feeling connected to our creative lives as artists or entrepreneurs or parents – is the core of a Spiritual Curriculum. Our Spiritual Curriculum is our Spiritual GPS, and Torah is the Technology that Fuels it. Take a moment out to reflect upon Life’s Purpose and Begin Again.
4 Elul: Spiritual but Not Religious Edition
Do we go to Soul Cycle for Soul and Shul for Soul Crushing Oppression? Are we suspicious and judgmental of the behaviors of a group of men wearing black hats walking down La Brea? If so, we are blinded by the lens of the Religion of Humans. When we experience religion as a limitation, we are caught in a man-made trap. Enter Torah (or any great art). Freedom is Divinely inspired. We Find our Freedom when we cultivate an access point to the Source. Torah is one of the guides to get us there. So is Dance, Art, Music, Love Making and Laughter. For the Jew-ishly curious, the access points to HaBoreh are endless. A return takes the smallest opening to begin. Just the size of a pinhole…and the Gates of T’Shuvah will crash open like a Chariot of Horses Blazing through it. #FindYourCreator #BegjnAgain #OpenTemple
5 Elul: 5780 Kavanah
אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי,
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה, וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ.
One thing I ask from Yah, one thing I desire
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
To behold the graciousness of every breath and to enter God’s sanctuary.
Say it. Be it. Live it. Every day.
6 Elul 5779
Netzach. The attribute tied to the first week of T’shuvah. It’s endurance that gets us to the finish line, not perfection. It’s about being all in. Healthy Ambition is our inner drive to attain our place in this world as a vital sacred piece perfecting towards the world’s wabi sabi imperfection. Just do you but DO YOU, Do You?
7 Elul Shabbat Pause
Radical Amazement is our ability to apprehend all that surrounds us with a Sense of Wonder that evaporates the Ego Mind.
As we prepare for the Yamim Nora’im, take a moment for some Soul Journaling, for some Selfless Knowing and Connecting. The King is in the Field of Eternity, and we Unplug to Plug-in…to Ladybugs on Milkweed.
8th Elul 5779:
Open up for me the eye of a needle and I will open for you the most expansive corridors of the Great Hall.” -Midrash Rabbah.
It’s about will. It’s about grit. It’s about if we want to move from exile to freedom through radical forgiveness. The balance of the Jewish year finds equilibrium in a dance between Freedom and Creativity. One fuels the other. Both originate from The Source. Our Source is wholly accessible as long as we make ourselves available to It. Clean out the Soul. Accept the Offer. Crawl through the Eye of a Needle. And Begin Again.
9th Elul 5779
Elul is about Waking Up the Soul. And it’s also about converting Shadows, Rivals, and Adversaries into Redeemers. Rafa and Medvedev went head to head for five plus hours after two grueling weeks of competition. In Medvedev’s closing statement, he owned up to his “less than stellar” moments as the “bad guy of the US Open” and openly admitted at the Open that “I Make Mistakes.” With humor and candor, he offered this as his closing remarks. In front of the world.
And that’s exactly what we are all supposed to do during this month of Elul. Every day after we hear the Call of the Shofar, we are to confront our imperfections and make amends publicly as our first step to T’Shuvah. Like Medvedev. And like this:
“If I have done anything to hurt you, either knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me. I make mistakes. I also want to do T’Shuvah and make amends.”
Sports inspire. And while most of us will never compete in front of the world stage, all of us compete in front of who really matter. To great sportsmanship this Elul. #JustDoTshuvah. #USOPEN. #MazelTovToTheBothofYou
10 Elul 5779
Elul: Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li
I am to My Beloved and My Beloved is to Me.
It’s the way he looks at the fish that made me fall in love with him. His curiosity for all things living and how this gentle gaze reveals his gentle soul, gentle character, gentle man. On this 10th Day of Elul, I consider the awakening of The Return through our compassion, curiosity and love. How do those we love, those who gaze upon us with wonder and compassion ignite in us a feeling of radical acceptance that emboldens us to look upon our darkest shames with love and forgiveness? T’Shuvah is all about the process of shining a flashlight upon our shadows. And our Beloved is the one who holds space for this journey without judgement. This Elul, Be a Beloved.
Yom Kippur will be over one month from today. On Yom Kippur, we are asked to “Pull back the Veil between Ourselves and Eternity” and to Receive Visitation from Those who Dwell in the Beyond in our Yizkor service as we contemplate the evanescence and temporal nature of life. Yom Kippur is a Near Death Experience and T’Shuvah prepares us for a Final Exit Rehearsal. The uneh taneh tokef prayer asks:
“Who will live and who will die?”
Who will die? …All of us.
Ah, yes…but who will really live?
קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני יה אלוהיכם
You Shall be Holy, for I, Yah, your G?d is Holy.
What does Kadosh/Holy mean? Separate? Different? Set aside? Kadosh is one of those words in Hebrew that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand.
The pursuit of holiness means understanding that our bodies are vessels of holiness. Moreso, our bodies are ritual objects, matter consecrated to a higher cause.
What did I do today to dedicate my Holy Vessel? How do I honor my Kli Kadosh/Holy Vessel? What do I do with this gift that is the temporary home of my soul?
Elul is about return, T’Shuvah. Our bodies are our way station. Holiness is activating the Divine Sparks within as we reckon with the path we have paved On a Road to Nowhere.
Photo: Open Temple board member, Natasha Shamis and Rabbi Lori raise some Holy Sparks at Equinox Sports Club.
13 Elul 5779
Venice Canals Edition.
Turtles live long, very long lives. These turtles in the Venice Canals are kept by our neighbors. Acquired when their kids were young, our neighbors are now empty nesters. And yet, the turtles endure. Day after day, the neighbors bring the turtles out in the morning and retrieve them in the evening. As the day turns, the turtles meditate in the blue pool, children walk by – most unsuspecting of these little lives just over the fence, day inand day out. That’s how simple life can be: sun up, turtles in the kiddie pool. Sun down, turtles in the tank. In the midst of it all, we all move through the noise and haste.
The rabbis teach that Elul is the time of awakening. The Shofar blasts are a war-cry – “Awaken, Slumbering Humans, to the Lives We are Meant to Lead.” And, just like a turtle, the essence of this teaching, the essence of our collective destinies, is to merely BE where it is that we ARE and to Rise to the Call when Bid. #Simplicity #Nichutah #Calmness #ShabbatShalom
15 Elul, 5779
To experience the High Holidays is to Dwell in a Liminal Space in Time. Liminal Spaces are Portals Between Two Worlds, and in the imagination of rabbis, sci-fi writers and dreamers, they are the Portals to the World Beyond our Being. One of my teachers, Alan Morinis, went on a Soul Journey to reclaim his Jewish roots, and in the process reclaimed his own personal Mussar (Jewish Ethics) practice, and helped translate different teachings from that practice. One is an interpretive text on the practice of Heshbon HaNefesh itself, appropriately titled “Heshbon HaNefesh” (1812, Lvov, Ukraine). Credited to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, Leffin creates a disciplined practice to deepen our self-knowing. The practice is simple, and useful in preparation for our experience of the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe).
Take a moment to write 10 qualities that we wish to transform. Then write a phrase that attaches itself to that quality. For example, if our practice is to focus on Humility, we might write: “No more than my place, no less than my space.” Focus on that quality for a day, a week, or two weeks. Each night, let’s audit and assess our behaviors through that lens – don’t judge or celebrate, just bring awareness to the interaction with that quality (middah). In time, work through the entire list. For High Holidays, we’ve got 15 days – perhaps choose 3 and spend 5 days on each. What’s your middah? Write it Below. I’ll begin with mine…let’s begin to turn the knob beneath the full moon glowing, reminding us that we’ve only 15 days until we Open That Doorway to Eternity and Dwell There…
16 Elul 5779
Tonight, Joel and I heard Marianne 20 speak. I am not, by nature, a political creature, and as a rabbi, I am publicly agnostic about the topic. However, she said something beautiful:
“Living in Alignment with Eternal Principles empowers you and allows you to Transform the Material World.”
The work of Elul is about this transformation – what are the Eternal Principles that empower you to achieve it? Love? Truth? Creativity? Those are mine. They empower me to soar, and help keep my time management in check. Anything outside of these core values are unnecessary gains. Because of them, I need very little. For Love, I go to my family and friends. For Creativity I go to playfulness, ritual and curiosity. And for Truth, I use all of my senses and receive. No credit card required. And the external impact is even greater. Love is the force of rebellion, a tsunami of defiance. Creativity fuels resilience and endurance. And Truth is my compass to navigate through the maze of absurdity and confusion.
Love + Creativity + Truth = A Recipe for Rebellion.
Hitbodedut, Mashal and Can you Find the Bird in the Tree?
Meditation and Metaphor: we are getting closer to opening the Machzor and reviewing our year before our Creator Concept. How do we relate to it’s encyclopedic roller coaster of prayers? Chassidic stories bring 18th century innovations in narrative form to the rabbinic mashal (parable), and provide insight into how to experiencerabbinic language as well. They reflect so much more than verbal puzzles, and capture seedlings of an emergent understanding of human psychology and behaviorism. So, too, our High Holiday prayerbook.
This tale is credited to the Besht, the Baal Shem Tov, our Chassidic master whose disciples recorded his stories. The Besht was known to go out in nature in a practice called hitbodedut, “self-seclusion,” to talk out loud and meditate to God.
On this 17th of Elul, May we all Take the Space we need to enter into the Fields and Find Divinity. It is all within us; Elul means “search” in Aramaic. As the moon begins its disappearing act, and with the waning of its nightlight, May All of Us Welcome the Dawn of the Yamim Nora’im, and seek out the inner glow of its Or HaGanuz – the hidden light, within.
Seek it Out.
A parable from the Besht:
The great Chassidic master Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov would pray for many hours every day. His disciples, who had long concluded their own prayers, would form a circle around him to listen to the melody of his prayers and feast their eyes on the spectacle of a soul soaring in meditative attachment to its Maker. It was an unspoken rule amongst them that no one abandoned his post until their master had concluded his prayers.
One day, a great fatigue and hunger befell them. One by one, they slipped home for a bite and a few moments rest, certain that their master’s prayers would continue for several hours more. But when they returned, they found that he had finished praying while they were gone.
“Tell us, Rebbe,” they asked him, “why did you conclude your prayers so early today?”
The Baal Shem Tov answered them with a parable: Once, a group of people were journeying through a forest. Their leader, who was blessed with a keen eyesight, spotted a beautiful bird perched atop a tall tree.
“Come,” he said to his companions, “I wish to capture this beautiful bird, so that we may delight in her song and gaze upon her wondrous hues.”
“But how can you reach this bird you see,” asked they, “the tree being so high and ourselves held captive by the ground?”
“If you each climb up onto the shoulders of your fellow,” their leader explained, “I will climb on to the shoulders of the topmost man and reach for the treasure that beckons to us from the heights.”
And so they did. Together, they formed a chain reaching from the earth toward the heavens, to raise their leader to his aspired goal. But they soon wearied of the exercise and went off to eat and rest, and the man who had sighted the bird tumbled to the ground.
Our Father Our King.
Father: Progenitor. No matter how evolved humans get, an egg is fertilized by a sperm. Not the other way around.
Our King: There is order to the earth, humans create systems, the cosmos turns in the night sky. It is upon us to seek, experience, learn, Penetrate the Darkness of the Universe and Find the Natural Order within It.
And Our: Not My. Not Yours. Ours. We are in this together.
We stand before Avinu Malkeinu and admit our failures. And our need for partnership in perfecting. And our place in the world.
It’s perfecting. Not perfection.
Creator. Sovereign. Hear us.
(Alas, my voice is but a whisper…)
Avinu Malkein, z’chor ki afar anachnu
Our Creator, Our Sovereign, remember us, though we are made of dust.I stand before You broken. My heart begins to crack open – 11 days before the Turning. The world is going through so much, and today, I feel a receptacle to it all. For all who read this, we are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children of one another. Our lives so short; We are but a Speck of Dust from Creation’s Starlight.May we make the most of our time here. May we Greet the Great Turning with a commitment to slay the Greatest Beast – the Ego mind. Our reactions and the way our bodies inhabit them betray the Soul that Lies Beneath.May we pray; may we pray that our bodies chasten and our neshamot (souls) shine through. May we pray in the voices of our ancient ancestors to be taken up like tongues and rise into a spirit greater than ourselves. May we Rise Up to the Call of the Shofar and Return so that when injustice, loneliness, darkness, calls to destruction arise, we know clearly that there is another voice, another way, and we feel moved by a well-oiled spirit within to be a part of the Answer.The Donald Trump Buddha is an example of religious syncretism, whereby culture and spirituality combine and comment on the Buddhist practice of Khanti (patience). May we all cultivate our hearts to be muscles of empathy whereby we can recognize the opportunity for our own growth through our challenges.
20 Elul 5779
Reflections on Jewish Circuit Works.
Cybernetics: the science of communication and control theory that is concerned especially with the comparative study of automatic control systems (such as the nervous system and brain and mechanical-electrical communication systems).
The High Holidays is a Spiritual Cybernetic. It Completes the Process of a Circuit: of a Year around the Sun, of the relationship between Self and the Other and Awareness and God Concept. In Morei Nevuchim, The Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides spends time defending the role Halakah (Jewish Law) has in our life. In essence, Maimonides seeks meaning in Jewish Law, for him Natural Law, as a completion of the Circuit Between God and Human. Through Exercising our Awareness of Divinity, we Cultivate Divinity.
The High Holidays are a Cybernetic Experience. Without it, our Circuits are left to find another Disciplined (or Undisciplined) Practice of Connection. While there are many out there, I offer this: none have been so lovingly cultivated for so many thousands of years as the process found in the pages of our Machzor and the experiences it offers us to Create.
5780: A Soul Odyssey is Open Temple’s offering of this Circuit. It’s a wild ride filled with reflection, action, irreverence and reverence. And we’ve only space for 50 Souls in our Way Out Ride into Spiritual Outer Space.
This New Year – Make Contact.
21 Elul Shabbat Shalom Edition:
Joy is Simple and Attainable.
It helps us accept ourselves.
Turning to 5780: Orange Crush It.
22 Elul 5779
Psalm 27 is a curious one.
We begin reciting it on 1 Elul, and continue every day through Shimini Atzeret. The plea is an ancient one – grant us beneficence, Yah, continue to sustain us through your fecundity and plentitude. The prayer is purported to connect us to the earth – We seek to live through this near death experience of the High Holidays as an offering to affirm our livelihood through the long winter ahead.
This year, I feel differently about my place in this prayer. I feel as if this prayer is about the way I am sustained through every breath. And from that constant, I am reminded of the dwelling place of God in my life – my every breath. This is my house, all of the days of my life. I breathe it in – I am sustained.
And then, with each exhalation, I am reminded of the corpse I am without that animating force. I am left with this house of my soul, and I ask myself – what vessel am I? What actions outside of that exchange and cleaving to God am I responsible for? The breath leaves me, and, for but a moment, I experience a Demi-Death; a powerful and subtle reminder of what lies before all of us.
Psalm 27 reinforces our focus this time of year – all of us are animated by a force beyond our apprehension; and it is upon us to seek out its presence in every breath through our tiny apertures to apprehend.
Forgiveness in the plural on High Holidays:
I ask for forgiveness from anyone I hurt willingly or unwillingly. I ask of this on Facebook as an additional tentacle in my journey of contrition to return. I ask for the child I was and knew not, the teen I was who didn’t care to know, the young adult I was who struggled to find out. I ask for the woman I have become who hasn’t the time. And I ask for the woman I will one day be that no one will notice.
And why do I ask? For my soul to finally, at long last, get things right. So this one can do it differently.
I am sorry. We are sorry. Please accept our offering. And May We Return to The Source.
24 Elul 5779
Every day Creation is renewed:
wake up and see
In the spreading light of dawn
The world and all it contains
Coming into being new and fresh,
Filled with divine goodness and love.
—words by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, taken from Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Vehagim
25 Elul 5779
Psalm 27: A part of our liturgy for the past 25 days, I repeat its entreaty:
“One thing I ask of God: to Dwell in the House of Godliness All of my Days.”
A direct answer to this plea: Live locally. Every footstep taken en route to work, to shopping at the farmer’s market, to taking my girls to the beach park, plants our feet in “the House of Godliness.” Living locally is the direct line and the best route to creating a Holy Life. It fills the soul with friendship and purpose. It’s the best way to stay carbon neutral, and for me, spend time with my kids and husband, and make sure my puppy is getting her walks in. Most of all, it gives my life purpose in my every moment, every breath, every step.
This photo is a favorite. I received the Spirit of Venice Award three years ago for organizing Open Temple. My motivation for Open Temple grew out of a desire to create a spiritual center for the Jew-ishly curious and those who love us in Venice that will take deep roots and service Venice for generations to come. We continue to build this dream, and are now more robust than ever, having served over 5,000 people last year. This honor is truly better than an Emmy, Oscar and Tony combined! To “be seen” by our neighbors is the greatest honor of all; and in return, we see, love, care and provide for each other. That is what living locally and dwelling in the House of God means to me.
AND – Abbot Kinney Festival is this Sunday! A most wonderful day in Venice! Visit Open Temple’s booth near Milwood and AK Blvd. We’ll be offering Bark Mitzvah for your pups at 2 pm. Plenty of swag, surprises, kisses and High Holiday tickets sales. AND – a community service kicks off Rosh HaShanah that night, this Sunday (!), at 7 pm – open to all, and a family service at 4 pm for people with Kids under 7. Learn more about our High Holidays at Opentemple.org. Spread the love, share the light!#OpenTemple #AbbotKinneyFestival #AWOL
26 Elul 5779
“The primary role of teshuvah, which at once sheds light on the darkened zone, is for us to return to ourselves, to the root of our souls. Then we will at once return to God, to the Soul of all souls…It is only through the great truth of returning to ourselves that each person and the people, the world and all the worlds, the whole of existence, will return to our Creator, to be illumined by the light of life.”
– Rav Kook
It’s getting close. The Turn. The Return. The Brokenness is palpable. I had a neighbor say that she feels that this is really a kind of “Age of Aquarius” moment…and she works at one of the big LA Talent Agencies, meaning, it is being felt everywhere. The darkest corners are being outed by light, the darkest of souls are calling out for T’shuvah, an awakening of thousands of years, generations of cries, of Beating on Chests, of Repentance, of Return. I will sound a great Shofar and declare that we need to awaken. I will own my stuff – and please call out what I am blind to. I will make it a better year than the one before, as I don’t have many left. And I will cherish each and every moment in between as they are so fleeting as I embrace the evanescence of being. 5780, I feel you coming; I see the dawn approach, cracking through the darkness. One…Two…Three…Jump~
27 Elul 5779
27. It’s a journey with Psalm 27. Every day, turning it and turning it to return. The psalms earlier verses begin with “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, whom shall I dread?”
First off, strike off that English word – Lord. What is that supposed to be? A paltry stand in for the quizzical word, so profoundly unknowable that it is called “The Tettragramaton.” For all of us shedding an anthropomorphic God concept, the Hebrew language offers an endlessly ponderous stand-in: Yud and Hey and Vov and Hey. A transcription of the word breath, a contraction of the verb “to be” a language puzzle. What a perfect metaphor for this curious life force that sustain. When I think about it, isn’t it just incredible, that in all of the history of the world, that another object hasn’t yet smashed into us, pulverizing our planet like an Atari Asteroid (moving into 5780 – the 80’s are back, and so are its metaphors!).
I continue with my morning Psalm: Hear, O Life Force, when I cry aloud, Have mercy on me, answer me.
…in the vastness of the dark matter that surrounds us, there is, no doubt, much yet to be revealed. It was merely 121 years ago that particle physics began with Newtonian disciples apprehending the mechanics of atoms as possessing subatomic particles. We are always new in uncovering the unknown.
3 days left until the turning. May we turn with curiosity, humility and a wonderment of what is out there – and within as well. May our ability to apprehend what is broken within illuminate the darkness.
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
It’s a radical act of defiance. A counter-cultural stand-off, and transcends gaslighting, call-outs, and hash-tags. Most importantly, it’s not about how much others have missed the mark, but rather, draws attention to our own contributions to this world’s seemingly spinning out-of-control on the Road to Nowhere.
And it begins now.
The High Holidays are an act of public protest, and it’s time that we take responsibility for our complicity and our sorrow as we begin the journey to T’shuvah, an authentic Return to Self.
We invite all of us to follow our guide (click on the link below), attend a Sound Bath (complete with bowls, gong and shofar), and slam it out in your Soul Journal (available to Co-Creators at High Holiday services). Lay on the sand enveloped by sound waves as we announce the beginning of the month of Elul on the beach, with waves washing away the layers of resistance; visit Wi Spa for a night of Selichot and Song; get buried in the Yom Kippur observance of inner eternity, and so many other Open Temple Happenings to engage in this process as all of us Begin Again.
Get to Open Temple High Holiday Ritual Lab and Begin Again.
Mordecai Kaplan described Judaism as “The evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.” Indeed, we are a peoplehood engaged in an endless dynamic of discovery, innovation and reinvention. One recent innovation borrows from the Counting of the Omer (that period of time between Passover and Shavuot, famously made relevant through the rabbis of the mussar movement, who added a layer of moral cathesthenic to the Counting of the Days as we ascended to Sinai). This new innovation shares this practice of self-discipline to the work of Heshbon haNefesh (accounting of the Soul), and companions the counting of the days between Tisha b’Av, which began Saturday, August 10, through Rosh HaShanah, September 29 this year.
At Open Temple, we are adopting this reflective practice as a companion through these reflective days leading up to the Yamim Nora’im aka the High Holidays.
High Holiday Mussar Practice: From 9 Av to 1 Tishrei
(This practice is adapted from Tamar Frankiel, PhD, Past President of AJR/CA. Open Temple is thrilled to have Professor Frankiel as a guest instructor for our Intro to Judaism and Kabbalah classes):
Week 1: Malkhut, 10-16 Av, August 11-17:
Review the past year, making a list of what was “finished” this year (so far as you can tell), either things you accomplished or things that came to completion or apparent end in some other way. These could be in any area of your life: your personal well-being, finances, relationships, house & home, family, earning money, studying, volunteering, creative projects, repair projects, new jobs, travel or vacations . . . think broadly. Take 5 or 10 minutes to jot down things the first day, and add at least one thing to the list each day.
Week 2: Yesod, 17-23 Av, August 18-24
Look at the list from last week, and now think of all the channels that had to open for these things to be accomplished: people who helped you or taught you, information you gathered, beings or places of the natural world, dreams or spiritual messages, resources like money or other physical things. This is a little bit like thinking of all that has to happen for food to be on your table, but now focused on your past year and its “deeds,” things that got done.
Week 3: Hod, 24 Av–1 Elul, August 25-Sept. 1
Express gratitude for all that you have recognized in weeks 1 and 2, and see if there are any other moments of gratitude you remember from the past year. Also ask yourself if there is anything you want to do to “give back,” either in new expressions of thanks (to people, other beings, God….) or reciprocity to them, or to give back by “paying it forward.” Perhaps you remember already actions in the past year where you paid it forward or passed it on; appreciate those too. Also, remember those times when you let yourself be completely receptive (okay, even partially receptive) to the help you received from others. What does that receptivity feel like? Give thanks for that too.
Week 4: Netzach, 2–8 Elul, Sept 2-8
Think of the effort you put out this year, the obstacles that you encountered, and how you dealt with them. This includes how you took responsibility, how you persevered even when it was hard, and how you dealt with resistance or self-doubt. Recognize your strength and courage and the affirmations you received for acting in strong ways. Who helped you with this?
Week 5: Tiferet, 9–16 Elul, Sept 9-16
Of the things that happened the past year (whether ‘finished’ yet or not), which ones felt most like your authentic self coming to expression? Contemplate these memories and recognize the feelings of wholeness, healing, and satisfaction that come from those moments of authenticity.
Week 6: Gevurah 17-23 Elul, Sept 17-23
What lessons have you learned from the events of the first year? Go back to Week 1 and think whether there are things that you intended to complete but didn’t, and examine what was the blockage and whether there is something to be learned from that. Perhaps you later realized it was better that you didn’t continue in that effort, or perhaps there is a correction you can make for the future. If there are any other painful events you experienced besides blocking of your action (just this past year!), what were their sources? What fine-tuning or mid-course corrections did you make, and did those help? Give thanks for the lessons.
Week 7: Hesed 24-29 Elul, Sept 24-29
What in the past year were the gifts you most cherished? Was there anything that felt like a gift beyond your expectations? Where did things come out even better than you had hoped? Did something you dreaded or feared turn out to be a source of blessing, did darkness turn to light or the unknown become a source of insight? Give thanks for this too, and think of how you might “pass it on” by telling others, in stories or other ways.
Get to Open Temple High Holiday Ritual Lab and Begin Again.
P.S. Be Warned, Friends: We Will Sell Out This Year as We Only Have Room for 120 Souls. Tickets available HERE.
Why Get Shtupped?
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
The opening psukim (verses) of Lamentations conjure images of a desolate young woman; curiously, the woman is identified as a princess, with language that alludes to Sarah the Matriarch. This woman is the personification of the City of Gold, Jerusalem, and in the wake of the terrors described in Lamentation, or Eicha (a word I think is best described by an image – that of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”), she lies vulnerable, ravaged, beaten.
This disturbing image is, indeed, a metaphor for the collective trauma of what might have happened in 587 BCE. Jeremiah’s words are an ancient PTSD lament describing the emotional trauma of the loss of the First Temple. What are we to make of this disconsolate dirge today, whose highly charged poetry spins subtle verses of sexual metaphors about the desecration of Jerusalem? Why the sexual innuendo?
These images are a hauntingly disturbing counterpoint to the conversations in our media this week. Perhaps it is time that we turn from prurient interests (and the unresolved traumas that underly them), to the holiness of lovemaking and the sanctity of intimacy. Perhaps, it is time to reclaim the idea that the act of physical intimacy is actually a Manifestation of Love, and an accessible portal for knowing and celebrating Godliness in our midst.
Thus, Get Shtupped Shabbat.
Get Shtupped Shabbat is Open Temple’s offering to reclaim healthy sexual language on the Hebrew calendar date that celebrates love – Tu b’Av. “Shtup” is the Yiddish word for “getting it on,” and we celebrate the Love-Positive notion that all of our ancestors were once young and in search of love, which led to creating us. Get Shtupped Shabbat celebrates the universality of sensuality and intimacy – with oneself, with a beloved or in community. It invites us to remember and reclaim the notion that the rabbis considered it “a mitzvah” to engage in sexual intimacy on the Sabbath as a way of knowing intimacy with God and Creation. It’s Open Temple’s way of acknowledging the beauty of human love in all forms, and it’s this Friday night at 6:30 pm on the beach.
Full Moon Rising. Ocean Waves Radiating Shechinah. Pure Soul.
It’s going to be Beautiful.
with Love and a Blessing to Love in All Forms,
Innovations in B. Mitzvah
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Before rabbinical school, I was a guest at a bat mitzvah. The service was a perfunctory event at one of the largest and most successful synagogues in Los Angeles. Following the service, the guests were bussed to a nightclub on the Sunset Strip. As we ascended up a steep staircase into the club, my chest vibrated with each boom of the DJ’s bass. It was during the peak of Britney Spears’ popularity, and there were literally cages on the dance floor, where the bat mitzvah girl and her friends swayed and danced on their bars like other clubs not meant for 13-year olds on the Strip.
Sitting at a leopard print cocktail table on high stools, I heard a few parents talking about the latest trends in bar and bat mitzvah. “The last one I attended,” one parent with martini in hand shared, “the bar mitzvah boy was carried in by the Laker Girls.” The woman across from her, eyes wide and impressed, responded “the last one I was at, there was a mechanical bull.” The table of parents nodded with some kind of acknowledgement of achievement. I just couldn’t help myself. “The last one I was at,” I shared, “they had God.”
Mordecai Kaplan’s March 18,1922 innovation of bat mitzvah for his daughter, Judith, and its antecedent, bar mitzvah, with roots at Sinai (Mt. Sinai, that is), is one of the greatest innovations of Judaism. It acknowledges that each of us has to find our place in the world, and that we choose Torah as one of our guides to reveal its path. At Open Temple, we honor this tradition in all of its glory, as we breathe new life into this ancient ritual.
Read More about Open Temple’s unique approach to B. Mitzvah
featured in this week’s Jewish Journal here.
For more information on how to make your son or daughter’s
B. Mitzvah unique, personal and impactful:
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And, enrollment for The Venice Yeshiva is now live!
“The Venice Yeshiva: Where ‘The Chosen’ Meets ‘Yentl’.
For ages 9-13.
Learn more about Open Temple’s B. Mitzvah program here.
Let’s make the world a better place, one B. Mitzvah at a time.
with Love and Torah light,
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
At a meeting last week, I committed a social faux pas. When asked to introduce myself using “my pronouns and access points,” I reflected that there was “no way one person was doing all that I was doing,” and so I requested that my usual pronouns – she/her – be replaced with them/they. After the meeting, several people approached me and told me that they were offended by the way I presented this, that pronouns “are serious” and maybe I didn’t understand?
I did understand, I responded. I am just no longer understood.
In a time when comics lose their popularity for offensive humor, where every comment can be commented on, I fear that we have lost our sense of humor as a culture. I fear that we no longer live in a “safe space” while we are fervently trying to create them. I fear that we have fallen wayward on our path, and are usurping our passion.
There is an interesting word in this week’s Parsha, used in context of an audacious act of personal agency. Pinchas, the Kohen, commits an act of double murder that is lauded by the God character. The “God Character” rewards Pinchas with a “Brit Shalom” or “Covenant of Peace.”
How can this be? In light of our political landscape, should acts against humanity, literally murderous behavior, be rewarded?
It all comes down to one tiny word: Ki’na.
Ki’na, a word tied to passion, is a word that seems to have a negative spin in our post-millinnial times. For the Stoics, passion was debase. In Biblical Hebrew, it translates as “zeal, jealousy, envy or passion.” For the God character, it is one of God’s go to descriptions of God’s self as in “I am a jealous/passionate/zealous God.” It also seems to be, whatever this Ki’na quality is, something worthy of “a covenant of peace.”
So what is Ki’na?
I think it’s one of those words that my Aramaic profession would say “you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what it means.” But I think it has value. I think passion is what makes us get out of bed in the morning, it is a driving force for creation and creativity, it can be audacious and bodacious and busy and morally complex and even wrong; but it a force to reckon with. These days, it is unpopular to like or agree with the current US President. That being said, he seems to have a bit of it as well. Ki’na is racy, spicy and entirely démodé; that being said, perhaps it is exactly what most of us need to reclaim to take back our sanity, exile our depression and reclaim our power.
The film Network was recently revived as a Broadway show starring Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame. The iconic moment of its protagonist still resonates in our society and perhaps sums up Ki‘na for our times:
“I’m mad as hell and I’m just not going to take it anymore.”
Go for it. Go Ki’na wild. And reclaim our sanity and humanity.
With Love and Torah Light,
Rabbis Lori and Lori and Lori and Lori and Lori….
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
What are we to make of that the very week of Independence Day we are reading a Torah portion about divisive politics in the Torah? The rebellion against Moses in the ancient world is a mirror to our political soul. The language used in Korach is layered in mockery, rhetoric and a verbal one-upmanship. The verse is filled with grammatical parallelism and allusion in vintage B’midbar fashion, as in B’midbar, the Book of Numbers, sometimes a word is more than a word, as the Hebrew name itself might be translated as “in and out of the word.”
The rebellion against Moses is a verbal jousting from various sources of discontent. Dothan and Abiram are descendants from the Tribe of Reuben (Jacob’s eldest); they feel slighted by their lost birthright (an enduring theme in Jacob’s life). Korach himself, as Moses’ cousin, brings a separate grievance, that of the parity of the sons from the House of Amram. The cacophony of discord is brought to symphonic melifluity through the well orchestrated language within the Book of Numbers. Num. 16:13 begins with a callback from another verse: the word “Ha’m’at” – translated as “it is a small thing.” The verse is a mockery of Moses’ earlier statement made with his face to the earth (an act of humility or histrionic display of deference?). Dathan and Abiram’s retort is an act of impudence, followed by a thick layer of cynicism: Egypt, not Israel, is depicted as the land of milk and honey, whinings of despair about Israelites dying in the wilderness are repeated complains as are accusations about Moses as lording over his fellows?!?
We’ve got our own kind of rebellion going on in the United States today. Within all of the divisive politics and pundits, is the potential for human redemption. Open Temple is readying itself to be a source of light as we enter into the media circus of the upcoming election year and a half, and we are rooting ourselves in the holiness of our country, perhaps the greatest human experiment of democracy since Torah. Everyone is invited to a series of house talks, beginning THIS WEEK. Indeed, the Korach rebellion serves as a proof text to remind us that Torah sometimes delivers messages through examples of human conflict; in this case, so timeless that it reads as a contemporary commentary to the world we are living in today. Open Temple wants to begin a dialogue rooted in humanity and the eternal values of covenant founded in the Torah. Through conflicts like Korach and Moses, we are reminded that Torah is the source text for our American Constitution. The Constitution is an aspirational text to inspire us towards realizing our human potential as a polis. Rooted in ancient ideas and wisdom, it is the American Foundation text for how to become One People. Which, in Open Temple-speak, is Godly.
What Dreams Are Made Of…
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
There is a place between our awakened state and our slumber that seems a slip into a liminal space; and, it is as if through this “in between” that we can enter into a bonding of that which we are usually too distracted to perceive. It is not quite the dream itself, nor the awakened awareness, that this space lies, but in that dawn of awakening that extends like a twilight into the Eternal.
The rabbis have a lot to say about that space. They even offer us a prayer, the “Modeh Ani” for us to recite once we are aware of dwelling in it, which is the prayer that accompanies us into our awareness of being each day. The idea is that in that moment, we offer a blessing of gratitude to imbue the passage into this consciousness while attaching it to a remnant of that which lies beyond.
This week’s Torah portion, B’halotecha, offers a pinhole into this curious expansiveness. In a moment when Miriam and Aaron are using language in an abusive way, God requests their presence and speaks directly to them. Numbers 12:6-7 states:
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר שִׁמְעוּ־נָ֣א דְבָרָ֑י אִם־יִֽהְיֶה֙ נְבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם יְהוָ֗ה בַּמַּרְאָה֙ אֵלָ֣יו אֶתְוַדָּ֔ע בַּחֲל֖וֹם אֲדַבֶּר־בּֽוֹ׃
…and God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the LORD arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream.”
לֹא־כֵ֖ן עַבְדִּ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה בְּכָל־בֵּיתִ֖י נֶאֱמָ֥ן הֽוּא׃
Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household.
Most of us are not meant to be Moses; we are not direct recipients of immediate spiritual epiphany or intimacy. However, all of us dwell in a space of spiritual improvement; where, if we cultivate our instruments through moral consistency and rigor, we might be able to ascend to a place of receiving aligned truths through the messages that surround us.
As we enter into our Summer Solstice, May our Soul Awakening expand to include the journey each and every one of us is called to have; at a time of so much misused speech and divisive intentions, may each and every one of us find a connection to holy speech and manifest these words into action. May we rise to a more Soulful plane and hear the Call of the One within ourselves and within the Other.
May our summer travels companion us with adventure and new friends as well as a renewed sense of self. And if you find yourselves in a Staycation, Open Temple invites you to experience radical amazement through our summer adventures – from this Friday’s Beach Shabbat to a special Co-Creator Fourth of July on the Canals celebration, July Bike Shabbat and Beyond.
With Love and Torah Light,
An Encounter Meant to Happen
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: The Jewish Journal
There is something about New York City that drives me closer to my personal “d’mimah dakah” (still, small voice). That voice inside of me that connects my footsteps with the path ahead of me; that has a preternatural instinct of what street corner to turn at and which street light to wait for. All of this is apparent to me in New York City, where it seems that every day seems to lead me to some encounter of greater design revealed.
On a recent trip to New York City with my daughter, I walked to Central Park with the intention to treat her and my friend’s daughter to a carriage ride in the park. When we entered the park at 81st Street, the driver of an idling carriage informed me that he was waiting on a client. Ready to relinquish that activity and “find a new dream,” an Asian man on a bicycle-shaw pedaled up to us. “I know of another horseman who can take you now,” he offered, and invited us onto his bicycle carriage for a short ride to Tavern on the Green. Some still small voice in me said, “Go.”
Arriving at Tavern, I spotted a man loitering beside a horse and carriage, like a magical merkavah awaiting our arrival. As our group stepped off the bicycle-shaw, I said to the carriage driver: “Hi, I’m Lori. Are you free for a ride now?” The man introduced himself as Ariel. Recognizing that his name is a Hebrew name, I asked him in Hebrew where he was born. From this inquiry, I learned that Ariel was a veteran of the Golani Brigade when he served in the Israel Defense Forces, serving during the Yom Kippur War through the Lebanon War in the ’80s.
We rode through Central Park, singing “L’cha Dodi,” the children belting out the words and Ariel’s smile growing wider with delight. He turned for a moment, and said, “Do you know this one?”:
“HaYom Yom Shishi … HaYom Yom Shishi, Machar Shabbat … Shabbat Menucha. Hayom Kulum Ovadim Machar Shabbat … Shabbat Menucah … Shabbat Menucah. HaYom Yom Shishi … Shabbat Menucah.”
“This was a song we sang every Friday when growing up on kibbutz. Do you know it?”
Hearing the murmurs of children from swings nearby, I smiled with recognition. Ariel said that his wife teaches kindergarten at the Solomon Schechter School in White Plains, and he was a congregant of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ in Riverdale and brought goats (goats!) to the Hebrew school annually to teach children how to feel connected to the Earth and its creatures. He impishly added, “I had to keep them at my house afterward as they had nowhere else to go.”
He saw my delight. I told him that I was a “rabbah,” and creating a progressive community to make Judaism open and relevant for everyone on the periphery. I said that our community also loved inviting in goats, most recently as we sang “Chad Gadya” while doing goat yoga at the end of our Passover seder. He laughed with delight, in a way that only a kibbutznik can.
He told us, “I will remember this day. This made my year! And more! To sing these songs on Yom Shishi, in the park, on this carriage, with you all singing. I will remember this always.”
I extolled a Shehecheyanu and an “amen!” Indeed, the moment was magic. It was a bit of what I think we all seek as we navigate the streets of our lives: a connection to the wind of our souls, an affirmation from the still, small voice that we are in the right place at the right time, an experience of pure connection.
Ariel is a treasure. In our magic New York moment, a small piece of Eden was redeemed. As we near the end of the Book of Vayikra, and enter into our great narrative of our walk through the wilderness, Bamidbar, may we all keep our senses open for guideposts home along the way. Ariel was a holy malacay haSharit (ministering angel), for me; and a reminder that there are signs everywhere leading back home.