Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Time Travel

 היום חמשה עשר יום, שהם שני שבועות ויום אחד, בעמר
Today is fifteen days, which is two weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שבתפארת
A day of loving kindness in a week of compassion

I fly to NYC today for a week's visit. These trips always bring a sense of travel in time as well as place for me, as I get to channel the ghosts of my life there mixed with the life I live now. I get to spend time with friends who have been with me through the journey, and continue by my side.

This year, I have the added bonus of reconnecting with many people that I worked with 30 years ago, in a formative time of my life. There are many stories to be told; many memories to be sparked.

It will be an interesting week of compassion.


Monday, April 24, 2017

No Leadership

 היום ארבעה עשר יום, שהם שני שבועות, בעמר
Today is fourteen days, which is two weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבגבורה
A day of leadership in a week of strength

Leadership in strength - this combination does not compute for me right now.

I remember last week's teaching - that malkhut/majesty/leadership is the container for the other six sefirot. Loving kindness, strength, compassion, perseverance, humility, foundation--all those qualities are needed to lead. And all of those qualities are sorely missing in our present leader.

May we find the collective strength to resist unjust leadership.

כן יהי רצון - May it be so

Sunday, April 23, 2017

It was - and is - a mad world

היום שלשה עשר יום, שהם שבוע אחד וששה ימים, בעמר
Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבגבורה
A day of foundation in a week of strength

When I taught about the Shoah, the Holocaust, to teens, I would set the scene of a perfect storm of evil, inconceivable and incomprehensible to us.

While still incomprehensible, but It is no longer inconceivable.

This Yom HaShoah, this Day of Remembrance, is a reminder of a world gone mad . . . and a caution for our world going mad.


Rav Kook on Humility

היום שנים עשר יום, שהם שבוע אחד וחמשה ימים, בעמר
Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days, of the omer
הוד שבגבורה
A day of humility in a week of strength

"Humility is a beautiful trait, but we must be careful not to become mired in a debilitating morass of apathy and negativity. On the contrary, the true goal of humility is to inspire us to strive for greater spiritual attainments. An accurate assessment of our current state prevents complacency. It should stimulate us to uncover our soul’s true potential and strive for those lofty levels that are suitable for it."

A teaching on humility from an essay on the Amidah, a section of liturgy that is a part of each Jewish prayer service, by Rav Abraham Isaac Kook. Rav Kook was a renowned Torah & Talmud scholar, philosopher, and mystic of the late 19th/early 20th century. He was the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, and sought to bring together the myriad of Jewish factions, as difficult a task then as it is now.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Moving ahead to stop

היום אחד עשר יום, שהם שבוע אחד וארבעה ימים, בעמר
Today is eleven days, which is one week and four days, of the omer
נצח שבגבורה
A day of perseverance in a week of strength

In this year's count, we are reminded that Shabbat is an act of perseverance.

Perseverance has a feeling of constant movement, pushing ahead, making way. Shabbat is none of those things. It is about stopping, resting, not working. And yet, since it is part of every week, no matter how busy that week may be, it takes perseverance to keep that weekly stopping, going. That perseverance is one strength of the practice.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Heart into Mind

היום עשרה ימים, שהם שבוע אחד ושלשה ימים, בעמר
Today is ten days, which is one week and three days, of the omer
תפארת שבגבורה
A day of compassion in a week of strength

One challenge I've had in my life is a tendency to be judgmental.

But as I learned from one of my teachers, Norman Fisher, the key to looking more deeply into something that brings challenges is to turn it over, look on the "other side" of the trait, of the emotions, of the act--and see what you find there.

What's the flip side of being judgmental? If I didn't care, I wouldn't bother to judge. So if I can come from a place of caring, compassion can temper the judgment.

The strength of compassion is in it's ability to bring heart into mind.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Life's path

היום תשעה ימים, שהם שבוע אחד ושני ימים, בעמר
Today is nine days, which is one week and two days, of the omer
גבורה שבגבורה
A day of strength in a week of strength

This year, I see the double dose of gevurah not as increasing the amount of might, but about needing strength to temper strength. Strong actions, strong emotions, strong words can act as support, or they can do harm. One benefit of a mindfulness practice is that it creates container of awareness, a way to hold those strengths, see them for what they are, and a help to find the best direction for them to take. It's not an easy path, one filled with unpredictable turns---but it is the path of life.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Working in tandem

היום שמונה ימים, שהם שבוע אחד ויום אחד, בעמר
Today is eight days, which is one week and one day, of the omer
חסד שבגבורה
A day of loving kindness in a week of strength

Whether you're a seven-day Pesach person, or go the full eight, we're all back on bread as of tonight. Now the work of the count really begins, as it stands on its own as a ritual, going forward. We start a new week with the first of the mirrored pairs complete.

Last week, we had strength/gevurah in loving kindness/chesed; today, it's loving kindness/chesed in strength/gevurah. Last week, we were reminded that strength can be gained with an open hand rather than a closed fist. Today, we can realize that loving kindness is not necessarily warm and fuzzy. Sometimes, giving loving kindness means helping someone getting what they need, even if it's not what they want. Other times, receiving loving kindness means being able to hear tough advice from caring friends.

It's not about opposites; it's about working in tandem.

The Prism Reveals

היום שבעה ימים, שהם שבוע אחד בעמר
Today is seven days, which is one week, of the omer
מלכות שבחסד
A day of leadership in a week of loving kindness

This last of the intentions, malkhut --majesty, leadership-- is like light going through a prism. When white light hits a prism, the refraction shows the spread of colors contained in the white. Malkhut sits at the bottom of the kabbalistic map of the sefirot, receiving the aspects of each of the preceding intentions. It is with malkhut, with a synthesis of all the sefirot, all the intentions, that we move into the world of action.






Sunday, April 16, 2017

Balancing Connections

היום ששה ימים בעמר
Today is six days of the omer
יסוד שבחסד
A day of foundation in a week of loving kindness

One way I see the first six sefirot, intentions, of the omer week is an alternation between soft and hard pairs. Loving kindness/strength; compassion/perseverance; humility/foundation. The balance is dependent on the aspect of the weekly container.

The hardness of yesod/foundation represents a grounding, a firm connection maintained with the earth. Holding it in loving kindness reminds us not to let that connection tie us down so firmly that we stagnate. We need to be able to take off, willing to learn from influences outside our sphere. The beauty of having a spiritual practice is that we always have a way to reconnect to that supportive yesod space that grounds us.

The Spiritual Mirror of Baseball

היום חמשה ימים בעמר
Today is five days of the omer
הוד שבחסד
A day of humility in a week of loving kindness

One of the bonds I had with my teacher, Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l, was that we were both fervent sports fans. The Warriors were the team closest to his heart. I remember when, with the excited anticipation of a 12-year-old sports geek, he explained exactly which players where going to break out and lead the Warriors to victory. By the middle of the season, he would sheepishly admit that they were, once again, going nowhere. The next season, his excitement returned, and he explained why really, this year was going to be the year that things would be better. Of course, it wasn't.

Rabbi Lew died before the Warriors began this golden era. I think of him often when I watch the games, knowing the joy he would feel. In honor of the Warriors' start to their next championship run and the start of baseball season, I share with you an excerpt from one of Rabbi Lew sermons, given during Rosh Hashanah 5760 in September, 1999. It captures Rabbi Lew's understanding of the spiritual nature of being a true and loyal sports fan.

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I have been a baseball fan all my life. The most vivid memory I have is my first visit to Ebbets Field in 1948. My Uncle Benny, my favorite uncle who died a few years later, took me. It was the day the Dodgers clinched the pennant that year, and after the game the crowds poured out onto the street outside the Dodger dressing room and waited for their heroes to come out. In those days, athletes used to wear sport coats with white shirts -- no ties, collars spread wide open -- and as long as I live, I will never forget the sight of Gil Hodges immense Adam's apple protruding out of the open neck of his white shirt. He was a god.

Another sight I'll never forget; a short while later my father took me to my first night game, also at Ebbets Field. Coming into the park, I caught my first glimpse of that glistening green grass diamond bathed in the arclight. My heart still stops a little whenever I walk into a stadium and see that.

And, of course, in 1948, Jackie Robinson began the civil rights revolution by penetrating baseball, because both he and Branch Rickey seemed to understand that baseball was at the heart of the American psyche, and if America was going to change, it had to change here first. You know, Louis Finkelstein, the great chancellor, perhaps the greatest chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, had the same insight. He used to say, you can't be an American Rabbi unless you know baseball.

And in fact, I learned about social justice and civil rights and racial prejudice, not in school, not in synagogue, but through baseball.

Pee Wee Reese, the little colonel, died the other day. When Pee Wee Reese became the only player on the Dodgers to befriend Jackie Robinson, he also became my favorite player and he remained so until he retired.

Most of the ballplayers then were from the south. Pee Wee Reese was from the south too. Louisville, Kentucky, to be precise. But when the other players got up a petition saying they wouldn't play with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese refused to sign. And then one afternoon in Cincinnati, when the fans were taunting Robinson mercilessly, and even some of the players were joining in, Pee Wee Reese walked over and put his arm around Jackie Robinson and stood beside him. Later, Jackie Robinson said, I never felt alone on a baseball field after that.

So When Jackie Robinson couldn't find a house to buy, I sent him a letter inviting him to come live in my neighborhood. He wrote me back. He said he was sorry that he couldn't live in my neighborhood, because he and his family had just purchased a house in Stamford, Connecticut.

Baseball mirrors life in a subtle and deeply spiritual way. It has a deep aesthetic and we pour our souls into this mythic diamond and allow our deepest aspirations and conflicts to play out there.

The pitcher gives up two singles in a row and then there is an error and the bases are loaded and gazing down on this pitcher from high up in the stands -- up in the upper deck where God sits so he can see the big picture -- gazing down on this pitcher we recognize his agony, we identify with his sense of impending doom, of endless trouble overwhelming him on all sides. Then it's over in a flash. Someone hits into a double play. הפכת מספדי למחול לי פתכת שקי ותאזרני שמחה – his mourning has turned to singing, his sackcloth and ashes to joy (Psalm 30,verse 12). And sure it had cost him a run, but it could have been worse -- much worse.

Then the next inning, your team leads off with a triple -- man on third, no outs -- infinite possibilities for success. But then they walk the bases full and as the possibilities for success increase, so does the possibility of trouble. Now you could hit into a double play. Now you could squander all this good fortune. Now your success could turn to failure.

Suddenly, the ball squirts away from the catcher. There's a thrill of fear.

And you feel all this inside your kishkes. This is happening to you. This is happening in your soul. Your soul is living out this drama.

When [Major League] Baseball went on strike some years ago, the year before the Ripken record, in fact, the cynical sports writers all said, 'This is a travesty, but the fans deserve it, because as soon as the strike is over they'll all come crawling back and fill the parks again.'

But to everyone's surprise, the fans did not come crawling back. Either they took vows to avenge the injury by not attending any games that year, or they simply lost interest -- they feigned indifference -- the surest sign of a broken heart there is.

Why were we so hurt? Because we felt we had been violated spiritually. We were invited to pour our souls and our hearts into this spiritual world, and our basic assumption in doing so is that this world would go on and on and on, like any good religious cosmos; that it would persist. And then Baseball goes and violates the cardinal rule of any religion. It stops showing up. It doesn't keep going no matter what. They didn't play the World Series the year of the strike for crying out loud. And in doing so, baseball gave us a very clear and a very ugly message; their money was more important than our souls.

We gave them our souls -- they held them in sacred trust -- and then they broke the faith. They didn't show up. They invited us to open our souls and then they failed to support them with their continuing presence. They didn't persist. They weren't there. They weren't present. They left our soul to flounder, like a fish flopping around on the counter at the fish market.

So when people say, Mark Mcguire and Sammy Sosa saved baseball last year with their successful assault on Babe Ruth's cherished record -- with their incredible shower of big, booming home runs -- I respectfully disagree. I think baseball began to be saved the year before, when Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record. This record -- his performance -- was precisely the antidote for the abomination baseball had committed. Baseball had failed to keep the faith, baseball had failed to show up, baseball had stopped. But Cal Ripken had showed up every day for 2,131 days. Cal Ripken had never failed to show up, and this achievement seemed to me to penetrate right to the marrow of the mysterious spirituality of Baseball and its power to transform us.

Simple human presence -- simply being present, simply persisting in being here -- has a tremendous spiritual power. It has the power to heal. It has the power to nurture.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Every step taken

היום ארבעה ימים בעמר
Today is four days of the omer
נצח שבחסד
A day of perseverance in a week of loving kindness

Netzakh/Perseverance has an element of hardness to it. Dogged, stubborn, tenacious--those are the synonyms. Like gevurah, there's a tight clenching to something--real or imagined, it doesn't matter--bringing the tension needed to hold the determination.

But during this week, as we look at netzakh through the filter of chesed, of loving kindness, a different image emerges. Perseverance can be the ability to maintain who you are each day, making your way with the support but not the control of others. As any meditator will tell you, staying present within yourself is hard work. Keeping that present focus when out in the world is even harder.

I'm not big on reaching for goals--what happens when you reach that end point? I'd rather keep moving towards milestones, so each fulfillment becomes the start towards the next. Taking life in, day by day, moving towards something specific, changing course, even some aimless wandering--every step taken is a form of perseverance.