Category Archives: Nance’s Writing

Leaving on a Jet Plane…

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Shalom. Tomorrow I leave for Vienna. It is the first stop on my four country, two continent summer of learning. I will be joining the Centropa Summer Academy (http://csa2014.centropa.org/) in Vienna, Zagreb and Sarajevo to learn about the causes of World War I, the connection between WWI and WWII and the Holocaust and also to learn about the ethnic/religious strife in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s and its connection to WWII and Sephardic Jews. As a history major in college, I learned that centuries never begin or end neatly on years zero and 99, but rather their beginnings and endings are determined, after the fact, based on historical events that fit a pattern. The 20th century, according to this system, began in Sarajevo with the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 and ended there in 1992. This year is the 100th anniversary of the shooting – it was just over a week ago.

To prepare for the Summer Academy I have done a tremendous amount of reading – oh, but first a word from our sponsors! My participation in the Centropa Summer Academy is being funded by a Fellowship through Fund for Teachers (www.fundforteachers.org). This fabulous organization grants fellowships for thousands of teachers across the USA to do fascinating summer learning. I have perused the list of this year’s fellows and am, quite honestly, humbled to be included. These educators are doing amazing things and I hope their students appreciate the learning that will result.

Now, back to the reading. I have read, or am quickly trying to finish reading, eight or nine books to prepare for this trip. My favorites are The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon – one of my new favorite authors, The Hare with the Amber Eyes (which I read a couple of years ago and still love) by Edmund de Waal, Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard and Logavina Street by Barbara Demick. 1941: The Year that Keeps Returning by Slavko Goldstein was also an amazing read. These books, the ones related to Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia Herzegovinia in particular, have helped to prepare me for the learning we will do and the history we will encounter. I have also read The Trigger by Tim Butcher. This fascinating book is about Butcher’s journey, on foot, to follow the footsteps of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. All of this reading has me so excited to visit Zagreb – where we will have dinner with Slavko Goldstein – and Sarajevo – where we will have a Skype session with Tim Butcher. I am working my way through The Vertigo Years – Europe 1900 –1914 by Philip Blom – who we will also have a chance to meet.

So much attention is given to World War II and the Holocaust – but the events in Europe leading up to and after World War I set the stage for WW II. I am excited to be filling in some of the deficit in my learning and understanding of this time and the connections between the two. I am also looking forward to meeting survivors of the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990’s and to learn about the cooperation then between Jews, Muslims and Christians to create a true community center in the Jewish Community Center. If you click on centropa.org at the top of the Summer Academy site and then click on “films”, you can watch a short film about this entitled “Survival in Sarajevo”. It is quite moving and it will be an honor to meet these people who, in the face of ethnic/religious strife and killing, chose a different path. While you are on the film page you can also watch “El Otro Camino” (A Different Path) about how Jews got to Sarajevo in the first place. Heck, I recommend watching all the films there.

My second learning opportunity for this summer is as a Museum Teacher Fellow for 2014-15 at the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial. I will be flying from Sarajevo to Washington D.C. and will spend five days there being trained and planning a project for my Fellowship year. I am very honored and excited about this opportunity and the chance to bring some learning back to Seattle and the community here.  I look forward to keeping you up to date with my learning and experiences, as well as some photos even.

Thank you for reading!

Nance

D’var Torah – Parshat Eikev 5772

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(This d’var Torah was given on August 11, 2012 at Beth Shalom, Seattle)

 

The last two summers, while in Jerusalem, I frequently went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at Mayanot – a warm and welcoming little shul in Sha’arei Hesed. At first I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go as it has a mechitzah and is Orthodox, but I was assured that the davening was well worth being out of my comfort zone. Truer words have never been spoken. The davening at Mayanot is amazing. It has taken me a few visits and a lot of reflection to figure out what makes it so amazing – coming from Beth Shalom I am used to good davening.  So, what was it that set this place apart – even from other kehillot in Jerusalem where great davening was also happening? Was it the tunes – beautiful Carlebach tunes – nope, heard them other places as well. Was it the fact that the congregation was knowledgeable and could participate? Nope, people elsewhere, people here, know the davening and participate.  There certainly weren’t instruments – unless you count the tables being enthusiastically pounded, the feet stomping and the hands clapping. There was nothing concrete or tangible that was different here than other places – particularly those also in Jerusalem in the same neighborhood. So, what was the difference?  Let’s find out…

This week’s parsha – Eikev – begins with the words “And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that God made on oath with your fathers: God will favor you and bless you and multiply you…” המשפסים האלה – “these rules”. Moses and God have given a lot of rules by this point – 613 even. So, which rules are being referred to by this comment? All of them?  I will admit I wasn’t sure what I was going to say about this parsha and had even written most of a d’var on a very different subject than the one that you are hearing about today. Then, on Tuesday I received my weekly recording of R. Shlomo Katz giving over R. Shlomo Carlebach on the parsha. What follows is hugely indebted to both Shlomos – both Carlebach’s original d’var and Katz’s beautiful and insightful giving over of it.

Carlebach points out that Rashi comments that the mitzvoth being referred to by this phrase –  המשפסים האלה – are not the ones that have been carefully spelled out by God and Moses up to this point in the Torah, but rather those that have not been explicitly commanded but rather only implicitly. Carlebach points out that if God had to tell us these mitzvot specifically, it would lessen our real and close connection with God. If we are really connected to God and to Judaism and what true Yiddishkeit demands of us, according to Carlebach, we would know what this “extra” is that is being commanded here and would be doing it. But, sadly, too often we don’t know what this extra is and only focus on the explicit commands of Judaism and the careful observance of what we have been instructed that we are supposed to do.  But, as a result of just doing what is spelled out in the Torah, the Shulchan Aruch or other halachic guides, we end up with something missing in us and in our Judaism.  Katz says “If you do everything right and holy, you should be walking around with a smile on your face – but most of us aren’t because something is missing and we don’t even know what it is.”

Carlebach uses an example that reminds me of a lesson I used to teach in my fifth grade ethics class. Here is my example – Two men are approached by a homeless man who asks them for $100.00. One of the men makes a face, pulls out his wallet, takes out the requested amount, crumples it up into a ball, throws it at the man and says “Get a job, bum!” The second man smiles, takes out his wallet, only has $20.00 but hands it to the homeless man and says “Sorry. This is all I have today, but please feel free to ask me again.”  So, who has done the bigger mitzvah? The one who gave him the full amount might seem like the right answer and, judging only by the halacha of giving to the poor according to your means, he is in the right. But the second man, who gave b’simcha – with joy and a smile and in a humane and respectful manner, has gone beyond what is commanded to what isn’t commanded. Carlebach and Katz hold that it is this extra – being Jewish b’simcha – and I would add with ahava – love, hesed – lovingkindness and rachamim – compassion –that is really the core and soul of Judaism.  Looking at what a true understanding of all of Torah- what remains with us after we have experienced it – not just the 613 mitzvot – commands of us will bring us to this missing “extra” that Carlebach refers to in his d’var. He makes as strong statement “Friends, I want you to know that all of Yiddishkeit is basically things you don’t have to do. You can get away with everything.”  Or as Katz elaborates “It is what you don’t have to do that makes Torah beautiful.” It is when you know that you have to smile when you give charity that you really get Torah and are living as a Jew in the way God really wants. It’s when you celebrate Shabbat and the haggim b’simcha that you are adding that extra.

Carlebach gives a beautiful example of Jews doing what they understand to be right and being led into great sin as a result. When the spies return from Canaan they are told to tell the truth about what they saw and encountered in the land. They do. They tell the good – big fruit, milk and honey flowing – but they also tell the bad – big people, we felt like insects. They did not lie. Their sin is not lying. Their sin is not trusting that God would take care of the bad and just reporting the good. As Carlebach says “How could you, how could you?” Katz urges us to be machmeer – careful – in what we don’t have to do rather than so much in what we do have to do. We don’t have to tell the whole truth if it will be hurtful or damaging. Carlebach goes on to use examples of how we would talk about our children or spouses – do we really need to let others know their faults? What does love compel us to do?

Rabbi David Hartman addresses this issue was well in his book – “The God who Hates Lies”. He speaks of the intellectualization of halacha and the break from the experiential and communal nature that is essential for Judaism to be a living religion and culture. He states “One of the most important terms in the halachic lexicon describes a person’s status upon performing an obligatory act. Upon doing so, a person has yatza yeday chovatah: fulfilled = literally “exited from” – his or her duty. One effect of this reassuring and oft-repeated declaration is to affirm that, in performing a particular set of halachic requirements, we have done what is required of us. Halachic practice thus becomes to be seen as an end in itself, the fulfillment of a finite set of duties, without being contextualized within a deepening of the relationship with God. This mindset would not seem likely to nurture the kind of religious personality who strives for ever-increasing awareness of the Divine presence…When the relational feature of God-consciousness is present, how can a person ever truly feel that he or she has fulfilled his or her duty? When the currency animating the relationship is love, how can one ever have done enough?” 

Hartman goes on to quote Maimonides who holds up Abraham as an exemplar. “It is the level of Abraham, whom God called, “My lover,” because he worshipped only out of love. And it is the level that God commanded us through Moses, as it says:  “and you must love the Lord your God” And in the moment that a person will love God with the appropriate love – immediately he will perform all of the mitzvoth out of love.  For many modern Jews, it is difficult to connect to halacha based on s traditional Orthodox approach. Hartman, quoting Heschel, addresses this early on in his book – “His (the modern Jew) primary difficulty is not in his inability to comprehend the divine origin of the law; his essential difficulty is in his ability to sense the presence of the divine meaning in the fulfillment of the law.”  We are indifferent to halacha because it does not fit into our moral or ethical mindset. It offends our sense of what is right. It is missing something. It is missing the something extra that Carlebach alludes to and that Hartman states is “putting God consciousness back into our Jewish practice”.

Rabbi Hartman spends much of his book urging Orthodox and other observant Jews to “retool” their communities to this ideal – the performance of mitzvoth out of love not obligation.  He provides a tool for making this change by presenting the question “Which God are we worshipping?” I have used this idea quite a bit since reading his book and feel that it fits in well with the message of Carlebach. What is the true nature of God and what is it that God wants from us as a result of that nature?  If you believe that God is a God of love and that Judaism is founded on a few simple principles – rather than 613 things to do or not do – then getting to what it is that has been missing is easy.  Hartman gives this example “…what would it mean to take seriously the theological implications of this verse encapsulating the ethos of the God of Creation – “The Lord is good to all, and God’s mercy is upon all God’s works” (Ps. 145:9)…” He is discussing it related to the laws of marriage and divorce in an attempt to solve the problem of agunot – women who are “chained” to a husband who will not give them a get and therefore they cannot remarry.  Hartman goes on to say that if we believe God is good to all then we cannot allow gender based imbalances and, I would add, sexual identity or ability based imbalances. Carlebach states he would rather sit in Gehenom with those who break Torah than in Gan Eden with those who spank their children because the Shulchan Aruch says they can. He gets that God wants us to show love and treat others with hesed and rachamim – even when not doing this would be within the bounds of Torah. Hartman tells us to adjust our halacha to fit our moral understanding of what God really wants from us.  I would point out that this is not a new idea – our sages over two thousand years ago created a very high bar for considering a son to be a rebellious or a glutton and a drunkard. Why? Because they could not bring themselves to believe that a God of love really wanted parents to request that their children be stoned. Just because the Torah allows it, doesn’t mean we should do it.

Carlebach goes on to point out that only the first four books of Torah are Torah sh’bichtav – written Torah. Oral Torah begins with Sefer D’varim because it is Moses retelling what is in the previous four books. Moses does not give a faithful retelling – look at the Eseret Hadebrot – the Ten Commandments in Yitro versus Etchanan – they aren’t identical and some of the changes are huge – shamor versus zachor, as I outlined in a different d’var, for example. Carlebach states that D’varim is what was left in Moses after his experience of God and that it is this idea of what is left when you are by yourself or yontif is over that is really important. According to the Ishbitzer Rebbe “When G-d talks to me, the questions isn’t what I feel when God is talking to me, the question is what do I feel when it’s over? What do you feel when you are left by yourself?…what do you do when Yom Kippur is over…when Shabbos is over?”  We all clop our chests and repent on Yom Kippur because that is what we are supposed to do. Do we also do it the other days of the year when we don’t have to do it? We love Shabbat between candle lighting and havdalah. Do we miss it when it is gone? Do we long for it all week? Are we in touch with what God wants and with what we feel Judaism means AFTER our encounter with prayer or learning?  As Carlebach puts it “God wants to see do you know the letters of the Torah or do you know the inside of the Torah?…What is left inside you after you learn Torah?”

And this brings me back to Mayanot and their amazing davening.  The last Friday I was in Israel this summer, I turned to Yiscah during Mizmor l’David and said “How the hell am I supposed to go home after this?” The davening at Mayanot is so beautiful – it elevates my soul and makes me cry. Why? Because the members of this holy kehilla LOVE Shabbat. They are in true ecstasy at welcoming Shabbat. They are celebrating with their voices, their hands and their feet. Men, and women, dance and sing and stomp with pure unadulterated love of Shabbat. They love Shabbat, they love being Jewish and they are connected in a strong and meaningful way to God. They welcome strangers to their homes for meals and their love of Shabbat and Judaism shines there as well. Shabbat morning is equally spirited. They drag out the end of Shabbat with spirited seudat shlishi gatherings that linger through havdalah and into the new week. They aren’t there because they have to be there – because there are required bits of davening to be done in addition to Kabbalat Shabbat. They are there for that extra – for a true love and joy at being Jewish.  They aren’t concerned with the checklist of what needs to be done, but rather with the spiritually fulfilling task of what isn’t commanded but is really at the soul of Yiddishkeit.

Of course, how I come home is that here I have my husband, my friends, my communities at Beth Shalom and JDS and a job that I love. I see this idea of the power of this extra piece – what happens when we serve out of love rather than duty – most clearly in my work as a teacher. Despite the long, uncompensated, hours rewriting curriculum, dealing with hormonal teenagers and having to grade all that work I foolishly assign, I love my job. It is this love that makes all of the other – potentially negative – parts unimportant. When one loves what one is doing, it isn’t work. It is a calling. When one loves being Jewish and living Jewishly then that will reflect in how they live and what their Judaism looks like. They will walk around with a smile and will perform the required mitzvoth with joy. They will also not perform things that are technically allowed but not in keeping with the ideas of ahavah, hesed and rachamim. It will be the doing of what is not required that will set them apart.  May we all be moved to do what isn’t required and doing it b’simcha – with joy.

 

Grasping for Moshiah or How Not to Hasten the Messianic Age

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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

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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

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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

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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.