Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Weekday Amidah

I open my mouth, I open my heart.
I speak praise, hope and thanks.
I speak the Ancient Prayer:

1. Praise our Ancestors!
God of my childhood faith, of my adult skepticism
God of the mystics, of the philosophers
God of our ancestors, of our children
God of my strength and of my weakness
God of this community, and of mine alone
God of my current understanding and my lack thereof
God who knew my parents, God who knows my death
Blessed be Ain Sof, that which was here before IS, and that which will be here afterwards.

2. Praise God’s Power!
Incline your metaphorical ear
Open your metaphorical eye
Rambam says,
If you can’t imagine God then you don’t exist.
Blessed be God who brings us the Wow.

3. Sanctify God’s Name!

Blessed HaMavdeel, the Divider of Time;
Blessed Adonai Echad, the Uniter Of All Existence;
Blessed Ain Sof, That Which Cannot Be Known;
Blessed Ruach HaOlam, The Breath That Animates;
Blessed Shechina, the Presence of Eternity;
Blessed Elohim, God of our Past, Blessed Yah, God of our future;
Blessed HaMakom, God of our present.

Look from side to side, to see all these possibilities,
Holy, Holy, Holy
But there is only One.
Blessed be Echad, with so many names.

4. I ask for Knowledge.
I pray that I may continue to have so many questions
And give thanks for my teachers and hevruta for the answers
Which I will then question.
Blessed HaMavdil Bein Kodesh L’Khol, who is so interesting.

5. I ask for Repentance.
Someone asked, what were you thinking? I don't know.
I was hurt, I was angry, I was scared.
I’m not making excuses, I know what I did.
But it is good to be understood. I am so sorry.
Blessed be God, who is so patient.

6. I ask for Forgiveness.
The truly evil are already condemned
The truly good are already blessed
And the rest of us, most of us,
Hope for mercy and a little leeway.
I will do better.
Blessed is the Presence that does not hold a grudge.

7. We ask for Redemption.
We pray that we have no enemies.
But if we must have enemies, we pray that we may find a way to live in peace.
If we cannot live in peace, we ask for safety.
If we cannot be safe, then we ask to be saved from annihilation.
If most of us are killed, we pray that some of us will be able to run away to start again.
Bless the Redeemer, who has compassion for all who are in pain or who cause pain.

8. We ask for Healing.
We pray for the compassion to comfort and care,
the anger to keep going,
the clarity to see what must be done,
the acceptance of love from all sources,
the brains to get help,
and the strength to accept the truth.
Bless the Source of Life, that we may be healed, in our souls if not always in our bodies.

9. We pray for the Earth, our home and all that it gives us.

We pray for the rain and the dirt and the seeds.
We pray to be proper caretakers of this earth and all who live upon it.
We pray that all who are hungry will have to eat.
We honor the chain of work that brought us bread, from the farmer to the picker and the miller and the baker, to the trucker and the store owner and the shopper.
Bless the Creation, that which brings us the means to make our food that we may eat together.

10. We ask for the gathering of the exiled.

Sound a shofar, listen!
Gather the lost and homeless:
The Ivrit fleeing Mitzraim, the Ladinos exiled from Spain;
The refugees of Darfur, the Europeans who crossed to America in steerage;
The Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, the ethnically cleansed of Serbia;
The Oleh who ran from Nazis and Soviets to Israel, the Palestinians walled off from their farms.
Bless El, who gathers the dispersed and sometimes takes them home.

11. We ask for the rule of Law

Help us refuse to participate in wrongdoing
Help us act when we see someone else in danger, whether we know them or not.
Help us free ourselves from violence and recover when we cannot.
Protect us from police states and dictatorships.
Make sure our judges are impartial and our laws makes sense.
Bless The One Who Judges and Writes in the Book of Life, seeing us as we truly are.

12. We ask for tolerance and perception.

All division is false,
All superiority is delusion,
All separation is temporary.
Blessed Adonai Echad, the Uniter Of All Existence.

13. We ask for righteousness.

May we pray in mindfulness and not by rote.
May our actions match our ethics.
May we not oppress or bore others who do not believe or practice as we do.
Bless God Who Has Given Us Our Minds that we may use them to think for ourselves. May we all be Jews By Choice.

14. We ask for Jerusalem.

Have mercy on Israel and Palestine’s people.
May they all be able to see themselves clearly
And may they find themselves able to act ethically.
Please keep them safe from physical harm
And please, if at all possible, keep them sane.
As we have always aspired to return to Jerusalem,
May those who live there aspire to live in harmony and justice with their neighbors.
Bless Yud Hey Vuv Hey, the God of Abraham, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, Bilhah, Moses, Zipporah, Naomi, Boaz and Ruth.

15. We ask for salvation.

May the World To Come be the world we live in.
Bless HaMakom, we are in this glorious and troubled place and we take responsibility for how it turns out.

16. Hear Our Prayers

That which Was, That which Is, That which Will Be.
I imagine you. I’m listening. Do you hear me?
Blessed Adonai Elohim. Sh’ma.

17. We are thankful for our opportunities to serve.

For the eyes to see the suffering,
For the minds and body to take action,
For the liturgy that still speaks to us,
For the prayers we create now,
We are thankful.
And please, no need to rebuild the Temple:
God is everywhere.
Bless the Shechinah, the Presence that never leaves.

18.We are so thankful.

Ah, the sweetness of life, savor the taste.
Life can be so good, can’t it?
And right now it is fine.
Feed it with bread and honey,
Irrigate and watch it grow.
Who cares which book we’re inscribed in?
This moment is so great.
I am so thankful for the beautiful weather,
the glorious music, the fine words, the embracing community
the sweet meals, the warm home,
the good friends, the silly toys, the spiritual seaches,
the sexual pleasures, the profound thoughts,
the crazy family, the big laughs,
and the loving.
Blessed Ruach HaOlam who gives us today, which is so beautiful.

19. We pray for peace.

May the Eternal bless us and keep everyone.
Let us have some inkling of the Holy Connection
And grant us wholeness and peace.

Blessed Ain Sof, encompassing all existence,
Incomprehensible. Simple.
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be truth.
May the good things I pray for happen and, if not,
May I never forget to hope.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

This Is The Ritual


This parsha, Chukkat, takes place about 39 years after the last parsha, when the 10 scouts and most of the Hebrews proved they weren’t able to leave their slave minds behind and so God has them wander the desert until that generation dies off. They’re near the end of this journey, and in the first part of the parsha they are instructed in two important rituals that they are going to need once they arrive and begin leading relatively normal lives.

Both set of instructions are introduced by the phrase, “This is the ritual” The first tells us how to find and sacrifice a perfect red cow so that its ashes may be used for the makings of the waters of lustration, to be used in purification rituals. The second tells us how to proceed when someone dies: how to treat the body, who may touch it, what to do with the unclean person when they have touched the body – Spoiler Alert: waters of lustration.

Then we read of how the people are thirsty, they have no water, Miriam is dead so there's no easy water. They complain for the umpteenth time to Moses and Aaron, Moses talks to God who tells them to take their staff, assemble the community before a rock and order the rock to provide water. So Moses and Aaron go to the rock with the staff but the people are rebellious and whiny. So instead of doing the simple ritual as instructed, Moses raises his hand theatrically and then strikes the rock twice with the staff. Water gushes out of the rock. But God tell Moses that because he did not trust God enough to affirm God’s sanctity with the required ritual, Moses will not be allowed into the Promised Land of Israel. Ya make one mistake….

So what did Moses do that was so wrong? Why are the first two rituals right and the third one wrong? What is a ritual?

Ritual separates the mundane from the special and creates sacred time and space and helps you get from there to here. Rabbi Larry Hoffman says in his book “The Art of Public Prayer”,
Ritual ”arranges our life into relatively small packages of moments that matter.

I have personal rituals. Some are mundane, like in shower I wash in the same order every time. I don't feel clean unless I do. Some rituals involve magical thinking, like for years after 9/11, scared that a bomb would go off on the subway, I said the Shma to myself whenever the F train left York Street station (going under the East River)-- Shma over and over until we arrived at Fulton Street. It set the fear apart, helping me name and contain it.

Hoffman recognizes the distinctions between empty rituals, which he calls ritualizations, and true rituals. He characterizes a ritualization as “boring, meaningless, seemingly silly in the way the participants do a multitude of things with no inherent pragmatic connection to the job at hand…vacant words, empty gestures, vacuous activity. “ Perhaps that’s how at least part of the Shabbat service is for you? I hope not, but maybe so?

That’s how it was for me, growing up in my suburban non-egalitarian Conservative temple on Long Island. And that’s how it was for me when I first started coming back to a Jewish life. I wanted the community and the learning but so much of the service just looked and felt silly. Particularly the bowing.

I used to refuse to bend my knee and bow during the Blessings. Who was I bowing to, a being I didn’t believe in? A male King figure, antithetical to every feminist democratic bone in my body? Screw that. But people I respected bowed and they weren't delusional royalists, so I decided that I would start bowing regardless of how ridiculous it was and see how it felt. See if I could find a reason to bow, see if there was indeed something I could bow to. And I did. I bow to history, community, my fears, my need for something bigger than me. I bow because others are bowing. I bow because my ancestors bowed. I bow because I am not the center of the universe, shocking thought that might be. And sometimes I bow because it's just time to bow. So bending and bowing went, for me, from ritualization to ritual.

Back to the parsha. How was the Red Cow or the rituals for the dead true ritual and what Moses did with the rock false enough to bar the way to the Promised Land? To our 2011 eyes the first two rituals are much sillier than the third. Find a perfect red cow and burn it and use those ashes to create the water of lustration so if someone touches the dead they can be purified by the ashes of a dead cow? On the face of it this is a ridiculous performance. But if it is a ritual, if it is repeatable, done within and for community, if we all understand what it means, if it separates the mundane from the holy, if it takes us from one state to the other, it is a ritual. It’s a performance but in the service of sacred separation.

And when Moses knocks on a rock a couple of times calling for water? That’s a grand empty gesture of desperation. That’s pandering, that’s show biz and Moses knows it. Ritual, writes Larry Hoffman, “culminates in ritual moments that provide satisfaction of closure and a sense that life matters.” Banging on that rock did not matter.

Moses doesn’t get to go to the Promised Land because he lost faith in the ritual that means something, that in this case makes the simple act of looking for water filled with God, connection, history. Moses proves to be as stuck in the slave mentality as the others who had left Egypt with died off. He was of the past, not the future.

But we who create ritual moments alone in the shower, quietly on the subway and together in front of the Torah ark, we are now. So, a suggestion:

Pick a ritual,

One that is done in your community.
One that you don’t usually do.
One that you almost never do. Just one.
Then do it.

Maybe put on a kippah, Or maybe you wear a tallit,
Or point your pinky finger when the torah is raised,
Or, during the Shma, gather the four fringes of your tallit together.
Or, at the start of the Amidah, step back three times, step forward three times.
Or a home ritual: Shabbat candles, havdallah, mezuzah, whatever.

Just pick one.

Do it without a reason. Do it for a month or two.
See if it takes on meaning for you,
See if it creates sacred space.
See if it creates sacred time.
It this a ritual?

Do you know the traditional reason behind it?
What meaning does the community find in it?
And you? Do you find a personal meaning? If not, can you create your own meaning for the ritual?
Then do the ritual with meaning for a month or two.
Then stop.

Will you miss it? Was it a real or false?
Do you want to start doing it again? Could you keep doing it?
Did it matter?
Does it have anything to do with God, however you understand God?
Will it take you to the Promised Land?