Category Archives: Nance’s Writing

Grasping for Moshiah or How Not to Hasten the Messianic Age

Standard

So, after reading this morning about a rabbi in B’nai Brak who has banned the use of tap water or flushing of toilets on Shabbat due to the fact that it will cause an electronic water pump to kick on, I got to thinking about all of this recent extremism among the Haredim. I try to operate from a place of assuming that most people, other than sociopaths, are basically good people. I like to be able to think that “religious” people really are trying to do what they think God wants even if we can’t understand it and that they must have a positive goal in mind. I know that Judaism teaches ethics and focuses on moral living. We are repeatedly reminded that we were strangers in Egypt and therefore must care for the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Hillel summarizes all of Torah as “love your neighbor as yourself” and on Pesah we decrease our joy by removing wine from our glasses in memory of the Egyptians who died during our escape from slavery. So, how to understand all of this working from these assumptions?

This summer I was in Jerusalem during the Three Weeks which lead up to Tisha B’Av and there was much focus on bringing Moshiah. Let’s face it; this world is majorly screwed up. Wars, terrorism, starvation, human trafficking, child slavery, poverty, inequality of rights and means, homelessness, bigotry, I could go on but I will stop before it gets too depressing. We NEED Moshiah. The world is deeply broken and we are desperate for repair and wholeness – true Shalom/Shalem. We need what Moshiah represents – a time of peace and completeness. A time where religious hatred and rivalry will end. A time when people will live together in love and will all have what they need. Jews have been waiting for Moshiah and the Messianic Age patiently – and sometimes not so patiently – for thousands of years. It is the hope that has kept Jews Jewish through pogroms, expulsions and the Holocaust. Maimonides includes belief in the Messiah – not matter how long it takes – as one of the 13 principles of faith. As a Jew, it is our job to help to complete God’s creation and to bring the time of Moshiah closer. We each have a job that is ours and ours alone to do in this world and we must discover it and complete it so that we can have our part in a renewed Gan Eden. So, if, based on my assumptions, we are all working for this, why all this strife and anger? Why all this tension and dissension?

It is my belief that we don’t know what to do to bring the time closer and this makes some desperate. We have been trying for 2000 years, give or take, and we aren’t sure what we have been doing wrong. For progressive Jews, perhaps this means bringing in those who haven’t been equally welcomed at the table. God wants us to care for the “orphan.” So, perhaps that means gays and lesbians and others in the community who have been orphaned by the Jewish people for so long. So we ordain and marry them just like anyone else and that will bring us closer to the world God wants us to make. For many, that seems ethically and morally the right thing to do. But, for those of a more traditional mindset, it probably doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. It might even seem to make things worse and that makes people angry. Grasping at straws, those who have been so observant, keeping each iteration of halacha, protecting the Torah with higher and higher fences, begin to build even thicker walls around the Torah to keep it safe and hope to bring Moshiah. If using tap water on Shabbat hasn’t brought the Messiah – then maybe forbidding it will. It reminds me of an article about a ruling after the Shoah on the necessary size of a Kiddush cup. This ruling made many families’ centuries old Kiddush cups (for many all they had from their past life in Europe) p’sul – ritually unfit. Included in the cups that were made p’sul was the cup of the Holy Rabbi, the Hofetz Chaim. How could this be?

It can be because we don’t know what is needed. We can’t understand God and we can’t know what will be that final act that brings Moshiah. We are unable to see clearly what we should be doing and must rely on those who think that they do. But even they don’t really know. They can’t. So, we turn to what we do know – progressive ethical living in the Modern world OR traditional Orthodox (ultra or Modern) living, engaged to varying degrees in the Modern world – and we let that help us try to discern what we have been missing. If we live a life fully dictated by traditional halacha, we create more halacha and if we live a life directed by an understanding of modernity and ethics, we try to be more ethical. Not to imply these are mutually exclusive, in many places they are in full agreement – but on some issues, I truly feel you have to pick one or the other. God of the Prophets or God of the Wilderness? A God who is good and wants good or a God who tells us to stone those who sin? Again, not to imply that there are two Gods – they are one and the same – which makes understanding what God wants all the more impossible. How do we mere mortals understand and make sense of what God wants when what God wants appears contradictory? It is no wonder there is so much disagreement and infighting among Jews!

Unfortunately, what we are doing is keeping Moshiah from coming, not bringing him/her closer. We are creating so much desecration of God’s name and so much sinat hinam – baseless hatred – in the process of each group of Jews doing what they think is the right thing that Moshiah may never come. What is missing is a sense of balance and an effort to understand each other’s ways. This can be very hard when what is being done seems to fly in the face of all that one understands Judaism to stand for or mean. I am as guilty as anyone. I, like many people, find the idea of a grown man considering an 8 year old girl as a sexual object and protesting her “immodest” attire by spitting on her appalling and the act of a sick mind. A mind driven to extremes by its desire to bring the Messiah and who sees this little girl, and others like her who do not adequately (by his standards) cover themselves, as preventing this from happening. But, try as I might, I can’t believe that the God in which I believe would want what this man wants. I can’t believe that the God that I believe in would want people to do without basic hygienic facilities on Shabbat. How can you honor Shabbat when you can’t wash your hands or flush the toilet? In his book, The God Who Hates Lies, David Hartman talks about how we need to figure out just “which” God we believe in and what that God wants. I believe in a God who is loving and kind and who wants all of us to remember that we are all made in God’s image and therefore all holy. I believe in a God who wants us to treat each other with the dignity and respect due to someone made b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Holy One. I believe in a God who wants me to act in a way that is in line with what I say and how I want to be treated – as Hillel summarized the Torah. That God would not spit on an eight year old no matter how she was dressed.

Perhaps if those who yearn for Moshiah more than they engage with the world around them would pause in their pursuit and truly look around, they would begin to see this God. Judaism has never been about a focus on The World to Come – it has been about the life that we live here on God’s Creation and how we live that life is what matters. Shlomo Katz teaches in his song “Veaf al pi” about awaiting Moshiah and that the Hebrew word translated as “to await” can also mean to “imitate” and that we need to each imitate the Moshiah in order to bring the Messianic Age. This is based on Shlomo Carlebach’s teaching that if you change the hard chaf to a kof (they both make the same sound) you become a part of the solution rather than passively waiting for change to happen. You need to become what you understand Messiah to mean. By being “moshiachdiche” you will hasten the coming of Moshiah by living your life in a way that actively brings more wholeness to the world. We can’t afford to just sit and wait. The world is so broken. People are so desperate that they are grasping at thinner and thinner straws and causing more chaos and darkness rather than bringing the light of Moshiah. The world is horribly broken and we need a real solution. One of my favorite stories to read to my students is “The Village of the Messiahs”. In this Chasidic tale, there is a village that is sad and broken. A man from the village visits a wise Rabbi who says he can’t help but shares a secret. The Messiah is someone in this village. The man goes home and tells his neighbors this news. They all begin to treat each other with love and care because they don’t know which one of them it is. They begin to treat themselves with love and care because it might be them! The town becomes a place full of laughter, light and peace. If only we could remember that each of us has the potential to be the Messiah and treat each and every person with that love and care, rather than with fear, derision and hate, we might translate the miracle of this story to the whole world and that would bring the Messiah.

Good Shabbos.

Nance Adler

January 20, 2012

My Thoughts on Prayer

Standard

So, I was working on some curriculum for my Theology class on Prayer and wrote the following piece. It is the result of many years of thinking about prayer and pulls from a piece that I wrote for Rosh HaShana a couple of years ago to introduce the Musaf Amidah. It is written specifically about Jewish prayer but I think could apply to prayers of other faiths and practices as well. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Connecting to What is Truly Important

Or

HaMorah Nance’s Thoughts on Prayer

I often feel that Jewish prayer is valuable whether or not one believes that God is out there listening and responding to our words. In “Entering Jewish Prayer”Reuven Hammer quotes Franz Rosenzweig who said “Prayer is its own fulfillment” (pg 4). Hammer goes on to say that:

…ultimately prayer is also intended to have an effect on the individual and his or her actions. It makes us more aware of the world, of nature, of history, of God’s role in history, of the nature of God and God’s demands upon us. It emphasizes the importance of study and of the performance of commandments, both moral and ritual. One should emerge not only spiritually enriched from prayer but also morally purified, more closely identified with the traditions and beliefs of Judaism, and committed to living according to its high standards of ethics and morality. (pg 4)

If we think about the intermediate blessings of the weekday Amidah we can see that there is much for us to gain by saying these words regardless of our current belief status. We begin by being thankful for discernment, wisdom, knowledge and common sense – four things I can’t imagine getting through the day without and that we all can use a reminder to use for good. We move on to being grateful for the ability to fix our mistakes and move closer to God again. Who hasn’t wanted a friend, sibling or parent to allow us to do just this? Who hasn’t needed to make room for someone to be able to fix what was broken with us and regain closeness? We then ask that the roadblocks in our lives be removed, that our path be made smooth. These small redemptions are favors that we can do for each other and asking God to do so for us, should remind us to look for opportunities to do so for others. We ask God to heal those who are broken in body and in soul and are reminded that we should visit a sick friend or give someone who is down a hug. We ask God to bless the year and to cause the Earth to give forth its bounty so that we can prosper. Are we reaching out to help those who do not get their share of this bounty?

These personal petitions each contain a kernel of moral and ethical teaching that should cause us to be a better person through our daily, weekly or less frequent recitation of them. The prayers of the High Holidays also contain much that we ourselves need to hear. Pleas for forgiveness, opportunities for repair and return, statements of uncertainty about our future and our place in the world are all calls for us to think of those who look to us for the same absolution or guidance. The national petitions which follow in the Amidah can also help us to focus on our connection to the Jewish people and its history and place in the world. The shofar gadol which will herald the ingathering of the exiles can cause to think about our lives as Jews living in America and about the State of Israel and our place there. Restoring fair judges reminds us of the necessity of justice and fairness for all peoples. The most difficult of all b’rachot, the request that God destroy the arrogant, asks us who is arrogant and divisive and to look inside and make sure we aren’t speaking about ourselves. A prayer for the righteous, for those who support and maintain the community, those who dedicate their lives to teaching and studying, those who cast their lot with the Jewish people by choice and all of us who work to continue Jewish traditions, reminds us to appreciate and thank these very people and to appreciate all that they do. Just as the Rabbis of old knew that Jews would not survive internal dissention, they also knew that we also could not survive without those who work to build up our communities.

The prayer for Jerusalem and the return of the Davidic line call our attention to Israel and life there as we struggle for peace, justice and safety in our ancient homeland. It reminds us that we should be engaged and knowledgeable about what is going on there and engaged in assuring a future Israel that reflects the best of our Tradition.

The final b’racha in the intermediate blessing asks God to hear our prayers and our pleas – תפלות ותחנונים. This blessing is a place where one can add one’s personal words of prayer and reach out to God in a personal and intimate manner. While the Amidah is seen as including all of one’s needs, one’s personal desires and concerns can, and should, be added at this point in the prayer. Perhaps, as an echo of the theme of this b’racha, one should pray to be able to hear the needs of those around them?

By being attentive to the meanings and themes of the b’rachot, and not just saying the rote Hebrew words, one is able to draw one’s attention to that which is truly important in life. Prayer becomes deeply personal and meaningful and guides one’s thoughts and actions. It is this that is the true purpose of prayer and allows us to each bring the spark of the Divine into the world. It creates a sense of wonder and appreciation as well as giving purpose and direction to our life. As Rabbbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Prayer may not save us, but it will make us worth saving.”

My D’var for the Farewell Lunch

Standard

On Sunday a request was made for someone to give a short d’var – talk based on a Jewish text usually – on Tuesday at the farewell lunch. I had a lot I had been thinking about as a result of all the learning I have been privileged to share in here in Jerusalem and so offered to speak. My d’var is below. I hope that you will find it meaningful. I have added some definitions and explanations in parentheses.

Pardes SCW

D’var for last day of Summer Curriculum Workshop 5771/2011

In addition to the great learning that I have been privileged to partake in here at Pardes, I have had the zichut (merit/honor) to share the Shabbat table and to learn with some amazing people since I have been here in Jerusalem. At every table and at every learning the theme that seems to run through and connect what is being brought down is a need for ahavat Israel (love of Israel (the Jewish People). The fact that all of this learning has taken place during the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av might have something to do with this. The Rabbis teach that the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed because of sinat chinam – baseless hatred. To counter this baseless hatred and to work toward a time when we would merit the rebuilding of the Temple – we need to practice baseless love – a love of all Jews – no matter how different and far apart we might seem to be. As we traverse the nine days until Tisha B’Av, let us all bear in mind that while we may not be able to connect to the idea of mourning something we never had, we can all connect to the idea of mourning a feeling of disconnection, frustration or alienation and perhaps work to heal that divide through the practice of ahavat chinam – baseless love – and ahavat Israel. Here are Pardes, we have heard that we need to build relationships with each of our students and that, to manage behavior and be effective as teachers, we need to convince every child that we care about them – this can, at times seem to be ahavat chinam when the child in question regularly makes our jobs difficult. Finding the spark of the Divine – the tzelem Elohim (image of God) – in each child allows us to see them as they are and to search out a way to reach them as an individual rather than just seeing them as another student in the room. Reaching out to that student “where they are”, rather than where we would like them to be, will allow them to see that we care and truly want them to be successful. In Proverbs 22:5 we are told חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לו יסור מימנה – “teach to the child according to his way so that even when he grows old, he will not stray from it. This line from Mishli (Proverbs) is telling us to individualize our teaching so that we truly reach each child. Seeing the humanity and the Divinity in each and every student – or each and every Jew – and honoring what we share rather than emphasizing what separates us, makes ahavat chinam much easier to accomplish. And while we may not merit the rebuilding of the Temple for finding something to love in each and every student – we will create a space where every student can grow and learn and feel safe – perhaps, for some, the only such space. By spreading a love of all Israel – the country and the people – in how we teach and live, we will also help to grow a world where Jews are able to see more clearly, not that which separates us, but rather that which holds us together.