Monday, January 16, 2017

A Blessing For the Women's March 1/21/17

Blessed Holy Wholeness
We march together
Hoping to be heard,
Hoping to be seen.

And even if our opposition cannot do so,
We  hear ourselves
We see ourselves
And gather courage from our numbers.

May this march be a first step
On the long road of resistance
And when we go home
May the hard work continue

Blessed Holy Wholeness
We March together.
May we be safe,
May we connect,
May we be effective.
And let us say,

Sunday, January 8, 2017

SERACH: A Drash of Vayigash

 Vayigash is an important parsha filled with important events in the story of the important Joseph and the story of how the Hebrews got to Egypt and eventually to Sinai, for the revelation of Torah.  It is here that Judah, out of concern for Benjamin, admits his culpability to Joseph for what happened to the twelth brother, Joseph, who, overcome, tells his brothers who he is. The brothers are sent back to Jacob to tell him that his son Joseph is alive and that the whole tribe can move to Egypt to be fed and cared for by Joseph who is now a very big shot there.  I tell you this so you know that this important stuff is not what I’m going to talk about.   

I’m going to talk about someone who gets a very tiny mention at the end of this parsha, and then again in Chronicles, Serach Bat Asher.  Jacob is moving the whole crew to Egypt and all his sons and their sons are listed as part of the move.   Sons and only sons are listed, which is the usual thing, until we get to Asher’s family.

וּבְנֵ֣י אָשֵׁ֗ר יִמְנָ֧ה וְיִשְׁוָ֛ה וְיִשְׁוִ֥י וּבְרִיעָ֖ה וְשֶׂ֣רַח אֲחֹתָ֑M

And the sons of Asher: Yimnah and Yishvah and Yishvi and Beriah, and Serach their sister.

Serach Bat Asher is the only woman listed which is very unusual.  She gets another mention, much later, as having gone into Israel with Joshua in Chronicles which, when you think about it, is impossible.  she lived from the time of Jacob, through 215 years of slavery in Egypt, through the Exodus, through the forty years in the desert and at least up to the time of the crossing over into Eretz Yisrael, surely that's  impossible, yes?  Which is what the rabbis thought, so a slew of midrashim grew up around Serach, which I’m going to tell you.

When the sons returned from Egypt to fetch Jacob back to Egypt, they were afraid to tell him, they were afraid the shock would kill him, and, I think, they were afraid to admit to their father the part they palyed in Joseph’s enslavement.  So the legend says that they asked Asher’s daughter, Serach, who played the harp, to sing the news slowly to Jacob, which she did.  And it is said that upon hearing the news, Jacob exclaimed: “May the mouth that told me these words never taste death!” And so Serach, because of her bravery and her desire to give Jacob good news and her artistry as a poet and a musician, lived forever.

So Serach went to Egypt, and lived until the time of Moses, and one legend says, that when the elders needed to confirm that Moses was legitimate, she remembered a special code phrase, God has surely remembered, and Moses used this phrase and so the people followed him

Then as they were all getting ready to leave, Moses remembered the promise to Joseph to take his body and bury it in Israel, but no one remembered where it was buried.

But then, as it says in the book of Legends,

“How did Moses know where Joseph was buried?  It is said, Serach, daughter of Asher, who was of Joseph’s generation, was still living.  Moses went to her and asked, “Do you know where Moses is buried?”  She replied, “The Egyptians made a metal coffin for him, which they sank into the Nile, in order that it’s waters might be blessed thereby.  Then, too, the magicians and the sorcerers told Pharoah, do you wsh that this people should never leave Egypt?  If they do not find the bones of Joseph, they will never be able to leave.”

But Serach remembers and tells Moses where the metal coffin is, Moses goes to the Nile and calls for Joseph and the coffin rises to the surface and they are able to leave Egypt.

Another legend is that Serach was still alive during the times of the Talmud and that one day, when the rabbis in the Beit Midrash were discussing what it might have been like during the crossing of the Red Sea, Serach poked her head in the window and told the rabbis that the walls of the Sea looked like a lighted window, another version of this says she said it was like a clear mirror in which Israel saw all their generations reflected.

What a beautiful images, like paintings of hope.

She is said to have died at the age of 1000.

So these are fun stories, and besides that it's nice to hear midrashim about women, but why do I tell you these today instead of talking about the teshuvah of Judah or the forgiveness of Joseph?  It's because, for me, the Serach of the midrashim is a role model, an exemplar of many of the qualities i'm finding I need to hold on to as I contemplate the next four years. 

Baruch Atah Adonai, 
Brucha At Shechina, 
Blessed One-ness:  
I am so grateful that we are able to study Torah together 
And learn strategies of hope from the stories of our people. 
Especially when times are hardAnd we need to do more than study. 

May we all learn from Serach Bat Asher: 

The bravery to speak when others hold back, 
And the cleverness to listen when it is time to learn. 

The pleasure in spreading joy and hope 
And the chutzpah to stick your head in an open window and give your opinion. 

The endurance to keep going even when the suffering is too much, 
And the patience to keep going even when nothing is happening. 

The memory of when times were hard so as to inspire resistance 
And the memory of beauty and freedom, and all the good things that make life worth living. 

Whether we have to get through 215 years of slavery 
Or 40 years of wandering 
Or four years of Trump, 
We can and we will. 

As another brave and joyful woman, 
Grace Paley, a sister of Serach, 
Once said,
Without action, hope is wasted.   


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Prayer for New Year's Eve

Baruch Atah Adonai
Brucha At Shechinah
I am glad that I don't believe in an intervening God of cause and effect, 
In a petty king and insecure supreme being 
Who plans everything that happens on our planet.
Because if I did,
After this last year,
I would be way pissed off.

Baruch Atah Adonai
Brucha At Shechinah
I am glad that I do have a knowingness
Of connection and holy conversation,
Of community and friendship and family and love and resistance 
That I call God.
And tonight on New Year's Eve
And in the coming year
I will have hope.

Blessed One-ness
We see the truth
And we see the possibilities.
Blessed be the truth!
Blessed be the possibilities!
Happy New Year.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Light

Imagine that you are in a room in your home
A room that has a door
And the door is closed
Your favorite room
The room you feel safest in
A room where nothing changes
And nothing challenges
And you sit in this room
And look around you
And you see that the room is dark
Very dark
That the safety of the room has taken all the color out of this room
Where the darkness becomes darker
And the days grow short
And you do not see what you do not want to see
And you are safe
And warm
But you are blind.
Sit in this blind safety for a moment.

Now in this safe dark room, you look towards the closed door
And you see a sliver of light coming from underneath
Imagine that you rise up and walk to the door
And you open it
And you see that outside this safe room
It is winter
Everything is covered in snow
But you are in the dark room,
This narrow place
So you leave the room
You are outside in a beautiful winter meadow
Covered in snow
And you have your winter clothes on now
So you are warm
But the ground is covered with whiteness
And the light is bright
And the trees surrounding the meadow have no leaves
But the light is magnificent
It’s still cold
You can’t pretend it’s spring
You must see things as they are
You must wear warm clothes
But the days are growing longer
When the world seems most devoid of life
You can see the future.
Someday there will be spring.

You see the beauty and the cold
You see the truth
You see the possibilities
You are one with the One-ness
In the beautiful winter light.

And in this light, you see Light.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

For The Sins of Laziness and Omission

Blessed One-ness,
We place ourselves in front of the fear
On the path of holiness and joy and truth.

עַל חֵטְא שָׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ בִּנְטִיַּת

We have sinned against God (and ourselves)

Through the sins of laziness and omission;
Through the sins of disappointment and missed potential;
Through the sins of nostalgia and sentimentality.

Through the sin of not looking when we should have looked;
Through the sin of not hearing when we could've heard;
Through the sin of not acting when we needed to act.

We are  overly obediant, we are willfully ignorant, we are foolishly complacent.
We are needlessly insincere, we are casually honest, we are easily mawkish.

We lack endurance, we shrug, we avoid argument.
We are hopeless, we despair, we mock optimism.
We are frustrated, we are impatient, we surrender too easily.
We sleep in, we change the channel, we turn the page.
We procrastinate, we assume privilege, we conveniently forget.
We sign online petitions, we share social media posts, we send money.
We put our fingers in our ears, we avoid deep silence, we shush the inconvenient.
We are lazy.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם, אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת,
סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ, כַּפֵּר לָנוּ.

Perceptive God of our consciences,
For all these sins (of laziness and omission),
We take full responsibility.

From now on, 
May we see and hear all that can be seen and heard.
May we do instead of being done upon.
May we rise up when rising up is needed.
May we enjoy our lives not despite the struggles but along with them.

And let us say,

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Ritual with Blessings and Confessions for Our Pets on Rosh Hodesh Elul / The New Year of Domesticated Beasts*

On Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, the first day of the new moon of Elul, we begin an accounting for all the souls with whom we are in a relationship.
Listen for the voice of the animals in the sound of the shofar.
(The shofar is blown once, a single tekiyah/blast.)

Cat Baby, Dog Baby, Fur Baby, My Baby, 
Baby Boo, Love Machine, Poosy, Schmushy
Pupster, Puppino, Doglet, Kittenhead, 
Fuzzy Wuzzy, Wiggly Tush, Mr. Nose, Miss Whiskers
Pearly Pink Paws, Mr. Claws, The Cuddly One, The Silly One
Belly boy, Muffin man, Old fella, Pretty boy

Fluff Meister, Wiener dog, King of Soft, Mr. Ruff

Barkmeister, Mighty Hunter, Miss Poo, Mr Vomit

Cat from Hell, Dog o' my dreams, Bark-a-roni, Flat cat
My Boy, My Girl, My Cat, My Dog
For all the love you allow me to give you,
For all the love I allow myself to believe you give me,

For all the times you have protected me from physical or emotional harm,
For all the times you warned me,

For all the furntiture you have destroyed,
And all the rugs you have peed and puked on,

For all the exercise I got walking you,
For all the sleep you got on my head,

For all the pleasure I get watching you eat,
For all the litter boxes and plastic bags I used to clean up your shit,

For all the nights I dreamt about you,
For all the work days you missed me,

For all the blood pressure lowered
For  all the depressions mitigated,

For all the tails wagged,
For all the purrs purred,
I thank you, loved pets and companions.
Specifically, I ask give thanks for the lives of (my pet's names)
Do you want to thank your loved ones?  Call their names out!  
 (they call out their pet’s names)
For all the services you render us as our pets and companions,
Anachnu Modim
we give thanks.

(The shofar is blown a second time.)

Dear Friend and Companion, I am your
(together) My friend, my captive.
You eat when I decide to feed you, You don’t eat if I forget.
(together) My friend, my captive.
You pee where and when I tell you And I punish you if you do it in wrong place.
(together) My friend, my captive.
You only go outside if I let you.
(together) My friend, my captive.
If I want to  hit you I can hit you, If I want to caress you I caress you.
(together) My friend, my captive.
I have decided that I want you to keep me company for many years, so I force you to go for check ups and treatments at the vet, which you hate
(together) My friend, my captive.
I have cut out your reproductive organs to make you more pliable and easy to live with.
(together) My friend, my captive.
I keep you shackled in a collar and it’s up to me whether that collar is comfortable or has rhinestones that humiliate you or spikes that dig into your flesh.
(together) My friend, my captive.
I named you without asking what you call yourself.
(together) My friend, my captive.
I went to a shelter to pick you out and I told myself I was rescuing you, that when you happened to look in my direction that you chose me, but all the choosing was on my side, you had no say in the matter.
(together) My friend, my captive.
I might be a good master, or I might be a bad master, it doesn’t matter.   You can’t leave.
(together) My friend, my captive.
For your lack of freedom,
For my demands for attention and comfort,
For your lack of the company of your freely chosen fellow creatures,
For my theft of your sexuality,
For my many terms of endearment that mask your captivity,
For all the privilege I exercise over you without thought,

I ask your forgiveness.
Specifically, I ask for the forgiveness of (my pet's names)
Do you want to do the same for your beloved captives? Call them out!  Thank you…?
 (they call out their pet’s names)
For all the times we have transgressed against your dignity and agency, as our pets,
Selach Lanu
We ask forgiveness.

(The shofar is blown a third time.)
Baruch Atah Adonai
Brucha At Yah
Praising One-ness
We are so blessed by the soft and attentive animals that we are able to love with all our hearts and all our souls,
Together, let us give thanks to the One-ness
Out of which we have found our pets.
We give thanks for the simple love between us and them that teaches and mirrors the simple love for God and from God
That we return for every year
When we make Teshuvah.
Perhaps during this month of Elul,
We will pray to to show our beloved companions and captives how much we appreciate them
And wish for them a healthy and happy New Year.

Baruch atah Adonai Elohainu Melech HaOlam,
Blessed is the Fierce Mystery
Blessed are the domesticated beasts of the earth.

Rosh Hodesh Tov. 

* With gratitude to the resources of OpenSiddur.Org