Sunday, April 26, 2015

Leaving and Returning: A Drash for Tazria-Metzora

© Trisha Arlin

This week we are reading a double portion, Tazria Metzora.  Both of these parshiot are primarily concerned with a kind of uncleaness, a lack of purity, that manifests itself as skin disease.    This disease has been incorrectly called leprosy,  but it's actually rather mysterious, especially since it can also attack clothes and buildings.   The source of the disease was traditionally often thought to be gossip, lashon hara, evil tongue, harmful speech..  If you gossiped it would first attack your home, like mold, and if you kept gossiping, then it would stain your clothes, and if you still kept gossiping then it would painfully attack your skin.  Can you imagine if that existed now, with facebook and the internet?  The whole world would have skin disease.  But back then, if you got it, according to the Torah, you would then need to be isolated for a period of time until the disease went away.   This was perhaps as a quarantine, to keep otherse safe from your disease, or perhaps to keep you away from the source of your illness, the people about whom you could not stop gossiping.

Okay, that was then, this is now.  What does it mean to be unclean or diseased now?  We understand the logical scientific causes of germs and cancer and trauma now, and we know a lot about how to treat them, but what about the isolation of illness?  Have you ever been ill and found yourself losing contact with friends and family?  Maybe because they were afraid or uncomfortable or felt helpless in the face of your pain, or maybe you became depressed and/or too tired for the effort to be social?  Did you feel shunted aside, or quarantined, or were you the one doing the quarantining?  Did your pain send you outside the camp?

And what if going outside the camp could help you, like it helped the gosspiers stopped gossiping.  What if you looked upon that separation as a holy separation.  The word kadosh means separation, we separate Shabbat from the rest of the week and make it holy.  How can we do the same for ourselves?
Rabbi Shefa Gold writes in her book Torah Journeys:

"There are many times in life when it may be necessary to seculde oneself for a time....Someone...might need to separate himself from the community for a time in order to pay close attention to inner changes which are the causes of outer confusion.  At a time of inner growth, it might feel like your life has become too small.  There is a chafing, an irritability and it is time to leave the camp.  ...The spiritual challenge of Tazria/Metzora is to know when to swparate yourself from the community and know how to return."

One way make this holy separation, to leave, to go outside the camp, and then to return is through rituals that are full of meaning, familiar and repeatable.  In this weeks torah portion, they are animal sacrifices, in our lives they are songs we sing, the special days of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, when light the shabbas candles, a wedding, , a bris, a funeral, all of these set us apart and give us time to think about our experiences, work our way through the birthday, or a day of rest, or the joy of birth or a new couple, or the loss of a loved one.  Or there's a holiday, we've just had a slew of them.

And we are in the middle of what feels to me like the ultimate in separating out, the Counting of the Omer, when we count from the second night of Passover for 49 days, seven weeks to Shavuot, when we celebrate the receiving of the Torah.  I am counting the omer the year, for only the second time in my life, and each night when I do the count, each and every time, after I say the blessing for the omer, I wonder, why am I doing this ridiculous thing? What spiritual purpose could this acknowledgement of how many days I've been counting serve?  Some will say, it is like a child counts down with anticipation  until his birthday, we are counting down towards the receiving of the Torah.  Others say it's a leftover from the Temple days, when we used this count to know when to harvest certain grains.  But I have the calendar on my phone to tell me when it's Shavuot, and I can barely keep one potted plant in my kitchen alive, let alone a field of wheat or barley or whatever.

And yet this simple counting has become one of the most profound things I do.  For me it's a holy discipline, to note each day, to keep each day separate with it's own count, to not let one day of those forty nine days meld into another.  Each day when I start the count I leave the camp and step outside of myself.  And when I'm finished with the count I step back into the day.  And knowing I'm doing this ritual with millions of other Jews around the world gives me great comfort, especially if I'm having a bad day. 

Most of the time, the way that I both separate from and rejoin the camp is through prayer.  Sometimes that's in community, usually but not always at shul or other Jerwish settings, sometimes that's in the writing and sharing of my own prayers with that community and sometimes, its in the writing ofpersonal prayers that are for my eyes and heart only.

So I'd like to offer this prayer to you tonight, for all those in physical or emotional pain, for all those who feel outside the camp:


I need to say a Healing Prayer.
But I can't do it.
I don't have the soothing words.
I’m in pain
Right now
And it's been going on for a while
And it looks like it's going to last longer than it takes to say any prayer.
So instead
I will say
A Pain Prayer. 

Blessed One-ness,

A friend died suddenly
And I miss her.
I lost my job
And my despair is showing.
I don't have a partner
And I'm lonely
I'm losing my home
And I will never be comfortable again
My child is sick
And I in dread of what awaits him.
I’m old
And I don’t recognize my body any more.
I’m injured
And I'm becoming my pain.

Did I name any of your sorrows?


 What was solid is porous,
What was secure is scary,
And everyone wants to hurry me through my grief.
It will be so much better, they say, when this is over:
You will be transformed!

Yes, I say, but into what?

Yes, I say, but I’m not there now!
Yes, I say, but please, let me mourn first. 

Refa’aynu Adonai V’Nayrafay

Heal us God, and we shall be healed.
Can this be true?
Elohai neshama sh’natata’bi,
The soul placed within me is pure and cannot be lost.

So where is that pure soul?

Where is that healing of the body, mind and spirit?
Is it in the music?
Is it in my friends?
Is it in prayer? 

So I listen to the music

And I am transported away from the hurt.
I look around at my community
And I am taken care of.
I recite the Shma
And I speak to God.


Baruch atah Adonai
Brucha at Shechina
Bringing connection when there is separation,
Remembering joy even when we cannot.
We are blessed to be part of this holy wholeness
Even if we understand so little of it.
We are blessed to have received so much love,
Even when it is lost.
And we pray for the strength to perceive the blessings
Even when it hurts so much.

Ruach HaOlam, 

Breath of the Universe,
I guess this is a healing prayer after all.
   
Amen. 


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Though I Am Afraid

© 2015 Patricia Arlin


Blessed One-ness,

I am afraid---

It floats in front of me
So big, and sometimes I can't see around it,
So small, sometimes I pretend it isn't there.
I tried to carry it away,
to take care of it
to put it to bed
to soothe myself
But I couldn't get my arms around it.
It grew and grew,
And I was afraid it would crush me.

It has different shapes
So many, and sometimes I can't keep track,
Sometimes it's flat and obvious.
I tried to walk all around it 
to see every perspective
to know its entirety
to calm myself
But I couldn't find every angle.
It expanded and contracted,
And I was afraid it would overwhelm me.

It makes a lot of noise
So loud, and sometimes I can hear laughter,
So quiet, sometimes I can forget I'm listening.
I tried to hear it all
to remember the tunes
to record the cries
to serenade myself.
But I missed most of what it was.
There was just too much,
And I was afraid that I would disappoint.


Blessed One-ness, 
Though I am afraid
Help me imagine possibilities
Within my fear,
Of safety
Of clarity
Of action
Amen.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Hillel Sandwich: The Food That Holds A Grudge

© Trisha Arlin


You may wish to dispute this,
But I think
That without disputation, there is no Judaism.
Without both the bitter and the sweet,
Without both the strict and the kind,
Without both obligation and flexibility,
We simply cannot exist.

So tonight
We eat the Hillel Sandwich,
That argumentative amuse bouche,
Made of 
Sweet juicy horseradish
and
Brick-bitter charoset
and
Mitigating matza.

That's us,
Holding a grudge and releasing it, too.
Remembering that we were once slaves
And that then we were free,
Refusing to enslave others
and
Fighting those who would do so.

We eat and
We bask in God's presence,
We eat and
We ask questions,
WE eat and
We study Torah,
We eat
And we tell our bitter and sweet stories.
Yum.