Monday, December 15, 2014

Sacrifices and Offerings - Musaf Amidah: An Additional Prayer

The sun is high in the sky,
See the awesome beauty of Creation,
Breathe in the glory of the One-ness!
Let us assemble to daven the additional prayer!

Blessed Oneness
I propose these independent words
As a substitute
For the sacrifices in another place,
For the sacrifices of another time.
May this be a suitable offering.

Bless our inventive ancestors
Who have given us the
Jealous God of the Torah;
The hidden God of the Holy of Holies;
And the clever God of the Talmud;
And the Kingly God of our Siddur.
To this God we will make our offerings.

Bless our inventive ancestors
Who have given us the
The Unknowable God of the mystics;
And the rational God of the philosophers;
The haimish God of our grandparents.
To this God we will pray.

Bless our inventive ancestors
Who have given us the
The Daddy God of our childhood faith;
And the nonexistent God of our young skepticism;

And now the complicated doubt-filled God-ness of our adult searching.

With  this God, we will have a conversation.

Bless our inventive ancestors
Who have given us
God, the Everything;
God, the Everywhere;
God, the One-ness.
With this God, we will breathe.

With all our histories and memories, 
And with gratitude to all who came before us, 
Praising God, 
However we approach God
And even if we don’t,  
We are protected.

There is nothing that is not God.
God is no thing.
God is something.
God is anything.
Blessed be the Was, the Is, the Will Be.

How do you worship all these holy possibilities?
When all division is false, 
When all superiority is delusion, 
When all separation is temporary.
What can we possibly do to properly express our awe?
We look everywhere for a way to describe the glory.
Blessed Adonai Echad, the Uniter Of All Existence

Holy, Holy, Holy!
It is written down!
We are blessed with many minds with which to imagine God
And many mouths to describe what we see.
It is passed down
From generation to generation
As we attempt to give ourselves over to the impossible.
Blessed be Adonai, Elohim, Achat/Echad, El Shaddai, HaShem, Shechinah  and all the other names of the One-ness,
Presenting us with so many splendid opportunities for metaphor.
Kadosh Baruch Hu, inspiring us to be so creative.


Tecantah Shabbat:  Shabbat is.
We make the Meal Offering:

First, there is that portion of dough we take off the challah before we bake it, in order to sustain high priests, artists and those who are in need.

Then, we marvel at the chain of creation and work that brings us the challah;
At the seed and the earth and the rain and the sun;
At the farmer and the picker and the miller and the baker;
At the trucker and the packager and the store owner and the grocery checker;
At the shopper and the cook;
At those who serve the meal and those who will clean up afterwards;
At our families and our guests who eat with us;
At the pleasure we take in being together on this day.

Then, we honor those who struggle for us and this gift, our planet:
The scientists and activists;
The teachers and the learners and the new farmers and the leaders;
Those who work so hard to understand this earth;
Those who fight the odds;
Those who sacrifice so much of their time and effort;
Those who lose their joy so we do not lose ours.

And we offer our profound gratitude for all that was
And we offer our profound responsibility for all that will be.
And we offer our deep awe as we approach the Holy One-ness
With our Meal Offering.

OoVaYom HaShabbat:   On the Sabbath Day.
On this Shabbat day,
I offer myself,
As did Moses our teacher, in Torah,
To my loved ones, to my community, to my planet:

(please feel free to insert your own offerings here in place of mine)

I offer
My time
My assets
My righteousness
My work for justice.

I offer
My empathy
My compassion
My pain
My ability to forgive and be forgiven.

I offer
My words
My humor
My curiousity
My irreverant reverance.

I offer
My presence
My davenning
My schmoozing
And a nice afternoon nap.

(please feel free to add in your own offerings here after mine)

Yismachu:  Rejoice in the One-ness

It is as if, on this seventh day,
We remember the creation of life:
Awesome and mundane,
Profound and ordinary.

It is as if, on this seventh day,
We remember the creation of Shabbat
Set apart and blissful,
Thoughtful and serene.

It is as if, on this seventh day,
We are heard
We are known
We are loved
We are remembered
We are inspired
We are roused
We are forgiven
We know
That we are made holy by the Holiness.

Elohainu: Our God

Our God?  Who is "us"?

The God-ness is not ours alone to know.

The service is not ours alone to perform.

The sanctification is not ours alone to experience.

Shabbat is not ours alone to enjoy.

Let us share in the God-ness.

V' al kol Yisrael v'al kol yoshvai taivel

For all Israel  and for all who dwell on earth,

Bless the One.


It is at this point in the Musaf Amidah,
That we are supposed to ask
For the restoration of the temple service.
Which I cannot do.
Hey I’m a kohain
So I am happy to speak for the tribe
When I say,
Really, Eternal,
I mean, really,
Watch the news.
Consider the consequences
Please please do NOT restore the Temple Service.
I’m begging here, no more fire offerings.
I cannot kill something to honor the Creator
I cannot start a war to achieve peace
I cannot destroy someone else’s holy place in order to establish my own.

Anyway, apart from politics,
I quite like the rituals we have now:
Both the traditions and the innovations.
We’ve gotten quite sophisticated over the years
What with the Torah and the Talmud
The learning and the kavannot
The shukeling and the music.
No need to get literal,
We’re fine with metaphors
We’re working out the kinks
It’s an ongoing project.
We really don’t need the Temple,
Though it’s comforting to remember.
So brainstorm with us, God,
Consider the alternatives.

God of our strengths and our weaknesses,
God of our current understanding and our lack thereof,
We are in this glorious and troubled place
We promise to take responsibility for how it turns out.
We will we watch for our opportunities to serve and build.
Blessed Fierce Mystery,  hear our voices here and now.

We are so thankful. 
We are One with the One-ness.
We give thanks for whatever love and kindness we have received
And even more for the love and kindness we have given.
We give thanks for those who have forgiven us
And to those who have asked us for our forgiveness.
We give thinks for those who work to sustain us
And those who work for sustainability.
We give thanks  for the deep rest of Shabbat
And the exciting hope for the coming week,
May we never take any of this for granted.
Blessed  HaMakom,  this Place is so amazing.

We pray for peace and holy wholeness.
We pray for the goodness
To resist the urge to inhumanity
That we feel in times of fear and mourning.
We pray for the bravery
To resist the calls to inhumanity
That others may make upon us in times of crisis.
May we find relief from our hurts and fears
And may we not, in our pain,
Lose our empathy
For the hurts and fears of others.

Blessed One-ness
We pray for the strength to be kind
And the courage to make peace.


Baruch Atah Adonai
Brucha At Shechina
Blessed One-ness

May it be your will that we enter our own Holy of Holies whenever we pray in divine conversation.

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be joyful truth.

May the good things I pray for happen and, if not, 
May I never forget to hope. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

This Is The Ritual, Hanukkah version

This is the Ritual:  Bowing during the morning blessings.
I used to refuse to bend my knee
and bow
during the Morning Blessings.
Baruch Atah Etcetera
Thank you for Etecetera….
Who was I bowing to?
A male king?
That’s not God.
Screw that.

But then I thought,
What if I bowed anyway?
What would that feel like?
So I tried it for a month.
As an interesting experiment,
I bowed deeply for a month.

It was  mechanical, pointless.
And then one day, kind of without warning
Each time I bowed, I found there was a reason.
I bowed to history and tradition,
I bowed because my ancestors bowed.   
I bowed to everyone who has ever been forced to bow,
I bowed because everyone else in the room was bowing.
I bowed to my fear of the future,
I bowed to my regrets of the past.
I bowed because I am not the center of the universe.
I bowed because I do feel God's presence, somehow.

This is the Ritual:  Wearing a tallit.
I never wore  a tallis during the Shabbat morning service
When I was little.
It’s cause I was a girl,
Girls didn’t do that.
I sat next to my Daddy in services and played with his tallis fringes
But they were his, not mine, never to be mine.
And anyway, do I even believe in the kind of God who would care?
How dare you tell me how to be a Jew!!
And anyway, navy blue stripes, so boring.
So screw that

But then I thought,
What if I wore a tallis anyway?
What would it feel like?
So I wore it for a month,
As an interesting experiment.
I felt dramatic and self-aggrandizing, very look-at-me.
And then one day, kind of without warning,
Each time I put on my tallit I found there was a reason.

I put on the tallit because it was winter and it kept me warm.
I put in the tallit to wrap myself in the memory of my father, sometimes I even wore his.
I put on the tallit because I can and you can’t stop me.
I put on the tallit because it covered the vanity of whatever I was wearing that day.
I put on the tallit because I found one that matched my outfit.
I put on the tallit because it draped me in Torah.
I put on the tallit because God apparently has a thing for fringes and who am I to argue?
I put on the tallit because women who wear tallit at the Kollel, the Wailing Wall, get yelled at by people who claim to be religious.

This is the Ritual:  Wearing a kippah.
I sometimes wore a yarmulke when I was young,
The flimsy lacy kind,
Stuck on with a bobby pin,
A trivial thing,
A girly affectation,
A real kippah was for boys,
It fit their short hair.
But it flattened my lovely curls
So screw that.

But then I thought
What if I wore a kippah anyway?
What would it feel like?
So I wore a kippah on my head for a month,
As an interesting experiment.

Immediately, each time I put on my kippah,
I found there was a reason.
And it was amazing!
I put on my kippah to make a feminist statement.
I put on my kippah because it shows respect for the synagogue and the prayer leaders.
I put on my kippah to announce to myself that I have entered the shul and I must be mindful.
I put on kippah because I can have a lot of different ones to match my moods and my earrings.
I put on my kippah because everything underneath becomes a capsule of kadosh, of holiness.
I put on my kippah because it reminds me to connect to God, however I understand God that day.

This is the Ritual:  Lighting the candles on Hanukkah
I loved Hanukkah when I was young:
Eight days of presents, what’s not to like?
But then I grew up.
I lived alone.
Who was I lighting the candles for, not me,
I didn’t care.
The Chanukah menorah was for families
And I don’t have children.
And it’s a fire hazard!
So screw that.

But then I thought
What if I did the hanukkiah thing anyway?
What would it feel like?
So one year I lit the candles every night, for eight nights,
As an interesting experiment.

And every night, each time I struck the match,
I found there was a reason:
I lit the candle as an homage to my childhood.
I lit the candles because if pagans and Christians can celebrate the winter solstice, why shouldn’t I?
I lit the candles because a friend was having a latka party.
I lit the candles because fire is pretty.
I lit the candles because I used to have a crush on Judah Maccabee.
I lit the candles because really, why shouldn’t I get to have Hanukkah even if I don’t have kids?
I lit the candles because, well, it was the seventh night so I lit the candles.                                                                   
I lit the candles because of all the other Jews all over the world lighting candles.

These are the rituals:

When I need something bigger than myself, 
I bow.

When I need to separate myself from the mundane but not my community,
I wrap myself in my tallit.

When I need to place myself in kesher, in connection,
I put on my hat of holiness, my kippah.

When I need to see in the darkest of times,
I light candles.

Brucha At Achat, 
Baruch Atah Echad, 
Bless the One-ness, 
Giving us the ability to encircle time and space with meaning.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Monsters: A Family Service Drash on Vayishlah

This torah portion is another one of those that has more than one story in it, but I'm going to talk to you about the story of Jacob, returning back to the land he grew up in.  Jacob had had to run away after he tricked his father into giving his the blessing that should have been given to his brother Esau.  Jacob had gone to the house of his mother's brother, Laban, and worked for him for a very long time, and gotten married to Laban's daughters Leah and Rachel, and had a whole mess of children, and acquired a lot of sheep and goats, and after all that Jacob  decided it was time to return to his father's land.   But he was afraid because his brother, Esau, had been very angry at him, for good reason, when he'd left home.

The night before he's supposed to see Esau for the first time, Jacob sends his family and his friends somewhere else for safety, and he spends the night by himself.  A stranger appears, and Jacob wrestles with him.  Some of the sages think that this stranger, who is never identified, is an angel, some think it might be Esau in disguise.  When their fight is over, Jacob holds the stranger and won't let him go until the stranger blesses him.  And the stranger asks Jacob,
"What is your name?" He replied, "Jacob." 29 Said he, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:28-29)
And that’s how Jacob became Israel, because Jacob struggled with this stranger.  

I like to think that this stranger that Jacob struggled with was fear, his own fear.  In this situation, I think Jacob was afraid that Esau would take revenge on him and hurt him, or his people.  I also think he was afraid of his own past, of his own guilt, of what he had done to steal Isaac’s blessing from his brother.  He had had a long journey from Laban’s house back to his old home to think about Esau, the red hairy man, and in his mind Esau become a monster.  And if they had actually met when Jacob was at his most fearful, then probably one or both of them would have been violent and hurt one or both of them. 

But Jacob took the time to wrestle with his fear, and subdue it, and when he saw his brother, he saw his brother not as a big angry scary man, but as the man he actually was, someone who was very happy to see his long lost brother:
Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.  (Genesis 33:4)
So if there’s lots of stories in this torah portion worth telling, why am I telling this story today?  I’m telling it because in the last week or two, a lot of people have become very aware that young, black men, unarmed,  are getting shot and killed on the streets of our country, that young black men have to worry that police or vigilantes will look at them and, because they have built up in their heads that young black men are scary, they will shoot and kill them.  Not because they’ve done anything, not because they’re doing anything, not because they might do something, but just because they are young black men.  As Esau became a monster in Jacob’s mind because he was afraid, these young men become monsters in the minds of these other men, heir fear allows them to think of these young men as less than human, as less deserving of respect and compassion than a white person, and so they are murder these young men.  

This goes against all our values as Jews and as human beings.  Just as Jacob struggled with the stranger, we must struggle with our fear of monsters.  It is upon us to wrestle with our fear, and defeat it.  It is upon us to upon us to strive with everyone to overcome these bad values, and work together to create a world where people are seen for themselves, where young men and women of color can walk the streets in safety.

Please check out this prayer by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rosh Hodesh Kislev

Kislev is the month for losing hope.
The sun fades away
And we get depressed.
We forget that the light will return.
We dwell in darkness
We lose faith in change.

Kislev is the month for re-inventing hope.
At the worst possible moment, the day gets longer
And we have parties.
We imitate the sun with bright lights.
We eat a lot of sugar
And we make plans for the future.

Blessed holy One-ness,
Giving us the month of Kislev
In which to lose hope and find it again,
So clever.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Found: A Kavannah for a Wedding Anniversary

The hatov vehamaytiv is the fourth benediction in the Birkat HaMazon, the blessing after the meal, and  is also recited upon, among other reasons, hearing good news concerning others and for the drinking of a second cup of very good wine.

This moment is good
For all of us
And we are here today
To celebrate a particular piece of goodness:
__ years ago,  _____________ and _____________ got married.
They found each other.
And they found us.
God is good and good things happen.

We give thanks for this anniversary,
___ years of love, art, spirituality, fun, spirituality, music and community that exists because they are together.
___ years of making community with all the friends and family and colleagues who love and need them.
God is good and good things happen.

May their next ____ years be like a second cup of wine.
Even better than the first one, which maybe you drank too fast?
This second cup has all the familiar and comfortable flavors,
But having breathed a little
It offers up so much more nuance and pleasure
Than that first cup ever could.
God is good and good things happen.

Close your eyes.
Think of all the good things and people that surround you.
Wherever they are, have been or will be.
Now open your eyes.
And look around, here we are!
Right now,
This is the moment.   Here.
We are safe
We have been found.
We are home.
God is good and makes good things happen.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, Ha-tov V'hameitiv.