Monday, September 26, 2011

what my kids do in class

....before I gave 'em detention, anyway.

It's KIPPA FRISBEE! Like Ultimate Frisbee, but even cooler! So much more fun than learning about how the whole world got destroyed in the time of Noah.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Jai Ho Wedding Dance

I am not sure why it took me this long to discover, but there is an amazing tradition of dancing the Jai Ho Bollywood dance at various weddings.

And here's a fabulous bride doing it:

Clearly a bride after my own heart.

My plan: The next time someone I know gets married (and I attend the wedding), me and my girls are going to have to do a Jai Ho rendition at her wedding. Who wants to learn this dance with me? It's gonna rock.

Holiness in Words

The Bible is holiness in words. To the man of our age nothing is as familiar and trite as words. Of all things they are the cheapest, most abused and least esteemed. They are the objects of perpetual defilement. We all live in them, feel in them, think in them, but, failing to uphold their independent dignity, to respect their power and weight, they turn waif, elusive- a mouthful of dust. When placed before the Bible, the words of which are like dwellings made of rock, we do not know how to find the door.

Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? This question betrays the sin of our age: to treat lightly the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit. What else in the world is as capable of bringing man and man together over the distances in space and in time? Of all things on earth, words alone never die. They have so little matter and so much meaning.

The Bible does not deal with divinity but with humanity. Addressing human beings about human affairs, whose language should be employed if not man's? And yet, it is as if God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth.

What other medium could have been employed to convey the divine? Pictures enameled on the moon? Statues hewn out of the Rockies? What is wrong with the human ancestry of scriptural vocabulary?

If the Bible were a temple, equal in majesty and splendor to the simple grandeur of its present form, its divine language might have carried the sign of divine dignity with more undeniable force to most people. But man would have worshipped his work rather than His will...and that is exactly what the Bible has tried to prevent.

Just as it is impossible to conceive of God without the world, so it is impossible to conceive of His concern without the Bible.

If God is alive, then the Bible is His voice. No other work is as worthy of being considered a manifestation of His will. There is no other mirror in the world where His will and spiritual guidance is as unmistakably reflected. If the belief in the immanence of God in nature is plausible, then the belief in the immanence of God in the Bible is compelling.

~God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel, pages 244-245

God Is The Subject

The sense for the realness of God will not be found in insipid concepts; in opinions that are astute, arid, timid; in love that is scant, erratic. Sensitivity to God is given to a broken heart, to a mind that rises above its own wisdom. It is a sensitivity that bursts all abstractions. It is not a mere playing with a notion. There is no conviction without contrition; no affirmation without self-engagement. Consciousness of God is a response, and God is a challenge rather than a notion. We do not think Him, we are stirred by Him. We can never describe Him, we can only return to Him. We may address ourselves to Him; we cannot comprehend Him. We can sense His presence; we cannot grasp His essence.

His is the call, ours the paraphrase; His is the creation, ours a reflection. He is not an object to be comprehended, a thesis to be endorsed; neither the sum of all that is (facts) nor a digest of all that ought to be (ideals). He is the ultimate subject.

The trembling sense for the hereness of God is the assumption of our being accountable to Him. God-awareness is not an act of God being known to man; it is the awareness of man's being known by God. In thinking about Him we are thought by him.

~God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel, pages 159-160


Today I read The Ineffable Name of God: Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

His poems are beautiful and breathtaking; best of all, they are exactly what I feel towards God and the world we live in. I find so much of myself captured in Heschel's words and thinking and that gladdens me.

His poems are written in Yiddish, but happily they've been translated so that I can understand them. He is, of course, brimming with passion.

This is the poem that opens the book:

I and You

Transmissions flow from your heart to Mine,
trading, twining My pain with yours,
Am I not- you? Are you not- I?

My nerves are clustered with Yours,
Your dreams have met with mine.
Are we not one in the bodies of millions?

Often I glimpse Myself in everyone's form,
hear My own speech- a distant, quiet voice- in people's weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden.

I live in Me and in you,
Through your lips goes a word from Me to Me,
from your eyes drips a tear- its source in Me.

When a need pains You, alarm me!
When You miss a human being
tear open my door!
You live in Yourself, You live in me

And here is another one that particularly speaks to me:

To a Lady in a Dream

Grant me a breath,
A finger's touch;
for a thousand hours of yearning
give me one word!

I dreamt of you through all my youth,
through all my youth, fenced off from you-
and my dream aches so much.
I owe to you my immense yearning-
and beg of you: Rescue my dream!

Your eyes are greetings from God,
Your body- an oasis in the world,
joy for my homeless glances.
Your legs are trees of desire
in the gardens of quietest delights.

I searched for you in dreams in the night.
You never came to my unforgettable desires.
Yet stubbornly the dreams swore: You are there!
Some day you shall belong to me!
But like a student at a test,
I now stand mute before you.

I've come with showcase-words boldly to your heart.
Astonished, looking through your eyes
as through the shattered windows of my dream-
I've forgotten my arrows, forgotten my bows...
forgive me, beloved, my chaotic silence!

Grant me a breath,
a finger's touch;
for a thousand hours of yearning,
give me one word!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11

I was in 8th grade when the Towers fell.

I didn't know what they were. What were the Twin Towers? And where were they? I thought they were some random buildings in the middle of nowhere.

But then Tzipporah in my class came to school announcing that the Twin Towers had fallen. She had seen it on Good Morning, America or some such show. At that time we still thought it was a mistake one of the pilots had made. We didn't know it was a terrorist attack. Later on, we were all called to an assembly in school where we were told of the news and we said Tehillim together.

Everyone was really worried. I don't remember for sure, but I think school was dismissed early. We thought that the Sears Tower might be hit next. Chicago's a big enough city to be on the list.

I remember my mother telling me that all the nurses just congregated around the televisions in the nurses' station and they watched, horrified. Tears streamed down their cheeks and they didn't even know they were crying.

I remember my father, grim. I remember all of us sitting donwnstairs in the basement watching television on a weekday (which never happened). We watched the planes hit the buildings again and again. We called all our relatives in New York. One of my aunts slept in her office building and the other one walked across one of the Bridges along with throngs of others.

We gave thanks that none of the people we loved had died, and we mourned with America about the loss of everyone who had. We hung a big American flag on our window and we watched the multitude of flags and bumper stickers. We saw our world come together, people sharing with each other like they never had before.

We saw love.

I remember the pain, the sadness and the horror. But I most of all remember how we came together, how the world united and people truly cared about one another. And I remember thinking it was sad that it took a tragedy to unite us. But that I was glad we were united, even so.

I remember we couldn't tour the White House on our 8th grade trip because they closed it due to fear of terrorists. And that lots of other places were also closed off. And that parents hadn't even been sure they wanted us to go on that trip, but acquiesced, in the end.

It was scary and huge and hard to comprehend. It was hard to grasp the enormity of it. But in 11th grade, when I was on Summer at YU, they took us to ground zero instead of to an amusement park. And we all grumbled because we would rather be having fun. But we got why it was important to be there. And I looked at that hole, that massive void in the earth, and I saw it gaping open and ugly and that was the first time it seemed real to me, where the earth had shook and moved and this ugliness was there for real. And I was shaken.

And then I thought: we must somehow fix this.

But how?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

My Last Married Mikveh

(This is not written by me. This is a post that was sent to me by a Jewish woman like you who was the victim of marital rape and physical abuse. She wants others to know that marital rape and physical abuse DO happen in the Jewish world, and that they need to be addressed.)

On the morning before Yom Kippur, I immersed myself for the last time as a married woman. Unlike all of the previous immersions where I was alone with G-d and the mikveh lady, this one was during the day, and in the company of G-d and all of my closest woman friends. Unlike all previous times at the local mikveh, this time it was at a beautiful lake. And most importantly, unlike the times when I rose from the mikveh thinking that now he had permission to hit and rape me, this last time I rose to feel freer and cleaner and happier than I ever had before. And this time I said so aloud, to myself, to my dear friends, and to G-d.

Throughout my marriage, I read books about family purity and even showed my husband the books that the rebbitzin loaned me. I wanted these laws to help our marriage, to bring us closer to each other during both phases of the month. But the nature of our marriage never allowed for that. Our marriage was based on control and fear, and even the most beautiful rituals of Judaism couldn’t change that to a focus of love and mutual respect.

The books I read all talked about how a couple gets closer when they live part of each month as man and wife and the other part of the month as brother and sister. Much as I tried, this never happened in our marriage. Instead, he just controlled me or abused me differently during the two phases of each month. When I was in niddah he constantly reminded me how difficult it was for him to go so long without sex. He woke me during the night to tell me he couldn’t sleep and couldn’t work because he was so horny. When I offered to sleep in a different room, he said that it wouldn’t help because it was about sex and not about me. (It tool me years to understand that statement.) During niddah he controlled my telephone access, my money, and friendships. But he never hurt me physically. At least not until the last few months of the marriage.

The other phase of the month was the physical phase, the time when I did not have permission to say no to sex, especially since it was my “fault” that we didn’t have relations during my niddah. It was a time of physical intimidation, and often of physical attack. It had only a bit of the physical closeness I had been hoping for. It’s hard to make love to someone you fear, hard to sort loving touch from painful touch when it’s the same hands providing both, sometimes at the same time.

When I separated from my husband with the intent to divorce, I asked my rabbi when I could stop attending mikveh, when I could stop counting days and keeping different sets of panties for different times of the month. He told me he would find out, and that I should continue my usual practice in the meantime. This lasted about a very long month, but as I neared my mikveh date in the second month of separation, I decided to plan my last immersion, and to use it as a time to mark for myself the end of my marriage long before the civil divorce or the get were even in sight. When I told the rabbi of my plans, he agreed that this could be my last mikveh.

And so, on the Sunday morning before Yom Kippur I brought a minyan of women with me to the banks of a nearby lake. The ten of us sat under trees and read poetry, and some of our own reflections on the mitzvoth of shalom bayit, family purity, and pikuach nefesh. A dear friend sang, “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair.” We cried and we laughed and then I removed my hat and dress and went into the water in a bathing suit. I removed the suit under water and immersed in the traditional manner, using the traditional blessing. Even though I was immersing for new reason --- I wanted the continuity, I wanted it to have some of the same elements of all my previous immersions.

When I came out of the water it was with the intention that no one would ever have permission to abuse my body again. I finished dressing, but did not put my hat back on my head. Then my friends joined me in saying shehechiyanu for the beginning of my new life without my husband. We ate chocolates, we hugged, and then went back to my old home and to the place where I’d been staying for five weeks, and we began to move my belongings into my new apartment. Kol Nidre was that evening and I have never before felt so prepared for the day of atonement. I was beginning to make teshuvah to myself and I felt that I was at one with the world and with my G-d. I began the process of making tshuvah with my own body and with the traditions of Jewish marriage.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Help? Thanks

I need someone to scan and email me (or upload for me) the pages on Ir Miklat from Bamidbar in 'The Little Midrash Says' series.



UPDATE: I got it. Thanks, Cymbaline!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Why Teaching is Like a Wedding

1. You spend most of your time dancing

2. You think on your feet

3. Your goal is to make the most important person/ people in the room love you

4. You don't eat very much

5. The space you are in is decorated beautifully

6. The way you scan the room to determine whether there is anyone you haven't danced with yet and then you go dance with them is similar to the way you check if there's anyone you haven't heard from yet and then call on them

7. You'll cry at least once

8. People say brilliant things

9. You wish you were wearing flats

10. You're really happy

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Echoes of Eden, Weaver of Webs

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for review.

This article was originally published in "The Beltway Buzz."

Rabbi Ari Kahn is a consummate teacher. A graduate of RIETS, a student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, director of Foreign Student Programs and senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University, he has also delivered lectures at Matan, Aish HaTorah and at various venues in the community of Givat Ze’ev. He chose to commit his lectures and works to the printed word with the publication of his book on the weekly parsha, Explorations, and his work on Jewish holidays, Emanations. This summer he released a new offering, co-published by Gefen and OU Press. The work is entitled Echoes of Eden and is part of a projected five-part series with one book focusing on each of the Humashim.

The best way to describe Echoes of Eden is like a loom. Strung with colorful thread, the Lady of Shallot “weaves by night and day/ a magic web with colours gay.” And Rabbi Kahn does the same. Taking his sources from a variety of places, including but not limited to rabbinic, kabbalistic and Chasidic sources, Rabbi Kahn creates a shimmering, beautiful tapestry shot through with his incredible creativity. While he addresses conventional questions: Why did Noah send out the raven and then the dove? Why was Jacob given the name Israel but then the text continues to refer to him by both names? Why is it necessary to know that the sons bought shoes with the money they received for selling Joseph? – his answers are anything but ordinary.

Rabbi Kahn dissects the text, analyzing each word and noting parallels to various other verses. His is an exercise in parshanut, the study of interpretation. Echoes of Eden is filled with the fruits of literary techniques such as metaphor, parallel, symbolism and analogy. But what struck me the most in Rabbi Kahn’s rendering is his deep understanding of psychology when it comes to comprehending the characters in Genesis.

One such example occurs by the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Amos 2:6 mentions the selling of “the righteous one for silver, and the poor man for a pair of shoes.” Midrash Tanhuma to Vayeishev explains that the money from the sale of Joseph was used by the brothers to purchase shoes. Rabbi Kahn mentions that shoes are seen as significant in Judaism; when Moses approaches the burning bush he is told to take off his shoes, while when the Hebrews are told to prepare to leave Egypt, they must don their shoes. But there is one halakhic section of the Torah where shoes are particularly relevant, and this is when “a man refuses to marry his deceased brother’s childless wife” (Kahn 265). A central part of the ritual of halitzah, mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 involves the removal of a man’s shoe.

In a breathtaking connection, Rabbi Kahn refers to the episode of Judah, his sons and Tamar. Judah tells his son Onan to marry Tamar in order to “raise up seed to your brother” in Genesis 38:8. But Onan is not interested in doing this; instead he does not act properly with Tamar and does not create a child to continue his brother’s name. Rabbi Kahn sees this narrative as part and parcel of the former midrash. Tragically, Judah’s children “learned a lesson in fraternal relations and responsibilities from their father. They learned that their brother is not their concern; a pair of shoes is preferable to a brother” (Kahn 268). To Rabbi Kahn, it is not a coincidence that during the process of halitzah “the rejected widow is instructed to remove a shoe from the indifferent brother’s foot. When he fails to recognize his brother’s holiness and the sanctity of the family he is charged to preserve, his shoe is removed as a reminder of that holiness (as it was for Moshe) or as a symbol of his callousness (as when the brothers purchased shoes with ‘blood money’)” (Kahn 268).

The portion concerning Joseph and the wife of Potiphar has often been compared to that of Judah and Tamar. But this is the first time that I have ever seen anyone suggest that the outcome of a certain behavior (buying shoes with the money gained by selling Joseph) demonstrated an attitude that the children picked up on (that a pair of shoes is more important than a brother or continuing his legacy). This is a very clever and innovative understanding of the text, but more importantly, it is a psychological one. Although it seems clear that Judah did not mean to set a precedent with his actions regarding Joseph, his children learned from his behavior nonetheless.

Echoes of Eden is a fascinating, captivating work. It combines multiple threads of Torah tradition to create a multicolored royal cloth. Whether you purchase it to serve as a weekly Shabbat table companion or to read at once, it is sure to be a rewarding experience.