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The Edible Torah


Posts Tagged ‘blogelul’

#BlogElul Day 8: Believe

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

“Ani Ma’amin” – I believe with perfect faith…

Several years ago , I was part of a weekly Shabbat program teaching Jewish topics to families. I’d meet with the kids first (I had 5th grade) and teach a concept. Then later bring several families would come together and we’d go over the same content, but with all the members of the family able to share what they had learned in their respective sessions.

One week, I pulled out the God card.

“So tell me,” I said. “Who is God toyou? Is He Jimminy Cricket sitting on your shoulder? The ‘dear diary’ you talk to at night as you review the day? The big Police Cop in the Sky? The please-don’t-mess-up-what-I-have-going?”

The discussion with the kids was loud, active, and passionate. There were lots of opinions and feelings and ideas. The input gave me plenty of chances to pull in the Jewish view of God and help the kids frame and further develop their God-concept.

When we added adults to the mix, I was looking forward to hearing more layered and nuanced ideas. I was eager to here the more analytical voices.

What I got was crickets. Nothing. A silence that spread like the fog that represented the Angel of Death in “The Ten Commandments”.

As the silent seconds ticked by I became certain I had asked the Dumbest Jewish Question On Earth. After all, this was a self-selected group of families, who chose to take their Saturdays to learn together rather than go the traditional Sunday School route. Asking about their internal sense of the Divine had to be the most juvenile use of ti…

“This question makes me extremely uncomfortable.” one woman stammered out. “I’ve never thought about God at all. Especially not like that.”

There were immediate nods from the other adult heads around the room.

It took me a few moments to recover from that. And several more to re-build the lesson plan in my head.

I never did a follow-up to that session. I never had the courage to broach the subject again. But I was given a powerful example of how important it is to at least know where we stand with regard to religion and our understanding God.

This year  - as I have for several years now – I pray that anyone in a similar situation take the time – just a few moments – and consider before Whom they are standing.

I hope they take a moment to consider what, exactly, it is that they believe.

BlogElul Day 7: Be

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

(This post will BE a day late (and a dollar short) because a water pipe burst at 1:30am and it was more important for me to BE focused on that, and then to BE in bed, catching up on sleep afterward)

While my knowledge of Hebrew is extremely sparse, what I understand is that it does not contain a verb “to be” – at least in the way English and other languages understand it. And even other languages don’t understand “to be” the way English does. In French you can’t say “I am cold” or “I am 46 years old”. You say “I have cold” or “I have 46 years” instead. To say “I am cold” would imply that you are cold personified. Which may be true if you are a superhero, but otherwise it just makes you sound weird.

And I find that interesting because I think it’s correct and that English got it wrong. I don’t think we can actually BE.

I think you can DO something. You can HAVE something. You can BELIEVE something.

But BE-ing – who you ARE or WERE or WILL BE – is only a reflective state. Meaning you can only know your state of being by looking back on how you behaved.

With that insight – that lashon kodesh (holy speech, a euphemism for Hebrew) doesn’t allow for the fiction of a current state of being – I have new insight into the upcoming Days of Awe.

I cannot (linguistically) stand before God and say “This is who I am. I hope you find me worthy.” It’s impossible to say because it’s impossible to do.

Rather, I have to be honest with myself and say “These are the things I’ve done.  I am proud of these. I regret those. All together the paint a picture of who I was in the past year. Using that as a guide, I change this, augment that, and envision a path to the person I want to become .”

I hope God thinks that person – the one I want to BE – is one worth investing another year in.

BlogElul: Day 6: Do

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

(My Geek Creed requires that I invoke one of the all-time great quotes in response to today’s BlogElul prompt)

“Do, or Do Not. There is no Try” – Yoda

While one might want to argue that Yoda’s principle is extremist, you have to take his point in context. Luke was about to attempt something difficult, something that Luke himself wasn’t certain was possible. He said (as many of us in that situation might), “I’ll try.”

The problem is that Yoda understood that only a complete mental and emotional committment to the outcome would result in success. The attitude of “Try” in that particular situation would be immediately self-defeating.

Which is why I’m invoking Yoda’s quote here, during the month of Elul.

As we prepare for the Days of Awe, it may be tempting to take the easy way out, to say “I’ll try”.

  • I’ll try to make time to honestly assess how I have performed this year
  • I’ll try to admit (to myself) that the things I’ve done wrong were, in fact, wrong
  • I’ll try to seek out people I’ve wronged and apologize.
  • I’ll try to make amends with them
  • I’ll try to take accountability for my actions

As I prepare this month to stand before the Heavenly Court on Rosh Hashana, I am keeping in mind that there is no try.

BlogElul Day 4: Accept

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

Today is Shabbat, and I decided to accept two things:

First: I was uncomfortable with the idea that something I had a part in creating would appear on Shabbat.

Even though I know, and most of my readers know, that it was created in advance, and only turned on via an internet “timer” – much like the light in my dining room – it was still non-obvious enough to bother me.

That discomfort puts me in a particular place on the Jewish spectrum. It may not be who I was at one time, but it is who I am now. I accept that (albeit with some trepidation)

Second: I wasn’t going to get my act together to write this blog post. Sunday’s isn’t done yet either, but I am hopefuly I’ll have time to get that one done, and get ahead for the coming week.

BlogElul Day 3: Bless

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

Jacob said to the Stranger “I will not let you go unless you bless me”.

The idea has always captivated me.

I am engaged with You. I am entwined with You. I cannot get past You, over You. I can’t get You out of my mind. I will not cease to try to wrap my head around who You are. I will not stop obsessing on You.

Until…  you give me something of You to remember You by. And piece of You that you give will alter who I am irrevocably.

I will let you go when I am no longer myself.

“I will not let you go unless you bless me”.

BlogElul Day 2: Act

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

“It always goes back to the theater degree, doesn’t it?”

That was the comment by a friend around the dinner table one Shabbat. And it’s true. For over a decade, acting was my primary (and sometimes singular) pursuit. Theater carried me from my tweens and teens all the way through college. It gave me my first real job out of college. In my most formative years, it was what defined me.

So when I hear someone say “you have to act”, that word carries a very particular nuance for me. Not just the “doing”, but the presentation to the outside world of doing.

For some that may sound tantamount to going through the motions. To the emotionally empty recitation of prayers devoid of meaning or personal committment. “Acting” in this context carries the implication that “I don’t really care – I’m just putting on an act.”

Anyone who’s spent any time on stage knows this couldn’t be further from the truth.

To stand in front of audience and be convincing, you have to be MORE – not less – committed to what you are saying. Your words must have a life-or-death importance to you. An urgency that transcends everyday speech. On stage, to be truly believable, every emotion is heightened.

Every action is essential, nothing omitted, nothing unnecessary.

In less than a month, on Rosh Hashana 5774, I am booked to act in the most important performance of my year, for an audience of One. My life depends on a positive review.

It always comes back to the theater degree, doesn’t it?

BlogElul Day 1: Prepare

This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejeuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.

Preparations have never been my forte. There is always an aspect of winging-it-ness to the things I do and – it my own mind at least – to the best things I do. The writing that is off the cuff, the solutions that come from an unexpected burst of inspiration, the activity that I-don’t-know-we-it-just-happened.

Not to say that I *never* prepare, or that I refuse to prepare. It’s just that my life has given me every incentive to skip it whenever possible.

But not Elul.

Partly because I’m of Sephardi heritage, and our tradition is – for the entire month before Rosh Hashana – to get up well before dawn (or stay up late into the night) to say Selichot.

And partly because, for whatever reason, this idea sank into my brain and stuck there.

And partly because I am learning about the nature of my un-preparedness. From Whom, exactly, do I think those inspirations and happy circumstances come? So not only would it be ungrateful to show up at Rosh Hashana only to say “I didn’t bring my notes from this year, do you have a copy”, but the fact is that God has made copious notes and if there is a choice between His and mine, the safe bet is to go with mine.

So here I am, on day 1, pencil sharpened, prepared to begin preparing.

BlogElul: Post Season

Today my first attempt to Blog the month of elul officially ends. I think it was pretty successful – not only did I get out a post almost every day but I think I posted ideas and thoughts that were qualitatively meaningful.

More importantly, I think my posts were helpful to the team of bloggers who were all actively participating. I wasn’t riding on their coat-tails, I believe I was a contributing part of the team. For me – being relatively new to formal writing and not having any real training in the field – that’s a big deal.

Meanwhile, this month has been like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’m not a morning person, but I’ve really looked forward to the 5:45am get-togethers with the other Sephardi guys in the neighborhood. I’ve loved having my boys with me for some of those mornings, and seeing both their reactions and the guys’ reactions to them.

I realized today that I don’t feel as “penitential” as perhaps I should. After all, wasn’t this month supposed to be about making teshuvah? Part of it I chalk up to the Sephardi style of Selichot. It’s very interactive and there’s a lot of singing, most of which is pretty upbeat (for an example, check out this link. Jump to the 1-minute mark for my two favorite tunes – Aneinu and Chatanu Lefanecha.)

Part of it is me. My life is in high gear right now – kids starting school, work being… well, work, a house in repair and remodeling and refinance, and us trying to learn as much about our new neighborhood and it’s rhythms as we can without being overwhelmed. It’s a lot of change that doesn’t lend itself to the pauses necessary for introspection.

So I was a little surprised this morning when our services ended with us confessing our sins to a Bet Din. What? Already? I’m not sure I have that list fully formed in my head. Can I take a minute to write some things down? Can I phone a friend?

Teshuvah, I think, will come in time. I think it takes a very mature, experienced person to be able to honestly confront their own faults and be brave and strong enough make the necessary corrections. For now, I want to focus on gratitude.

I am grateful to my wife, who has been my best friend for 28 amazing years. If I’ve ever done anything that could qualify as “tov” (good), it is because I am trying to be the person she deserves to have in her life. I am grateful to and for my kids, who often provide inspiration – not only for what I write here – but for ways I can improve as a person. I’m grateful to my community – new as it is to me and I to them – for welcoming my family and I with open arms and outstretched Shabbat meal invitations.

And, while it probably reads as a bit trite and unctuous, I am grateful to the people who read this blog. I learned long ago that, when it comes to art, you should do it because you love it and would be unhappy NOT doing it. You should do it even if nobody would come to see/read/hear it. And that’s true of EdibleTorah. Even if the only people reading were me and my dog, I’d still be writing.

But the fact that you ARE here, and you ARE reading, is a very sweet icing for the cake.

L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem – Wishing you a year filled with joy, prosperity, growth, happiness and fulfillment.

VIDEO: Fountainheads Rosh Hashana

A nice little feel-good video to start off the New Year.

(REPOST) Interview Season

(edited slightly from the original, which was posted on the Edible Torah here)

In 2007, Rabbi Label Lam made a comment  on that the Days of Awe are NOT – contrary to popular belief – about looking back or thinking about our actions over the past year, in order to make amends and repent. Rabbi Lam points out that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus on looking ahead to the coming year and making a committment about what you plan to do with that time.

In other words, it’s a job interview.

I don’t mind job interviews. They force me to evaluate what I know and what I’m comfortable sharing; it gives me a chance to really define what I bring to the table, and what I WANT to bring to the table.

Going on job interviews reminds me that I live in an American state with a policy of  at-will employment, which means any job can be terminated by the employer or employee at any time, with no reasons given or needed. The reality is slightly better than that: employees usually give 2 weeks notice, and most employers usually give reasons for job termination. But if you feel your job has some kind of guaranteed stability, it’s an illusion. Going on job interviews Keeps It Real for me in that respect.

The parallels to Rabbi Lam’s view of the Yamim Norim (Days of Awe) are striking.

The current year is coming to an end. I find myself in synagogue being asked (by the liturgy and my own heart, if not God) what it is that I plan to do with myself this coming year; on what merit should my contract be extended? No matter what achievements I may have garnered over the year (and in retrospect they don’t look so impressive), they only have a minor bearing on my negotiations. This is all about my commitment to, and suitability for a future goal.

The U’Netaneh Tokef prayer, which asks (in part) “who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire” reminds me that I live in a state of at-will “employment” – that my next breath is not a sure thing and idea that my future has some kind of guaranteed stability is an illusion.

Rather than give up hope, I see in this a chance to re-commit and re-dedicate myself to doing what’s right. To resolve to make true t’shuvah. As I mentioned earlier in the blogelul challenge, that doesn’t mean promising to stop being bad, but rather to return to my best self and be the person that the world – and I – need me to be.

During a job interview (the regular computer-world ones, not the one that starts on the first of Tishrei), I make a point of stating my feelings about the job. It’s amazing how many people never do that – they never say “I want this job” or even “I think I can do this job”. So I always take the time  (assuming that I want the job) to tell the interviewer:

“Not only do I think I can do this job, I think I can do a good job doing this job. And I want you to know that I want this job.”

During these Days of Awe, as I consider the year ahead and all the things God might ask of me, I don’t plan on being coy about my feelings or intentions. Sitting in prayer with nerves rubbed raw by liturgy that forces me to admit I am imperfect and flawed; edgy and agitated by long services and Hebrew that doesn’t fit easily in my mouth; cranky from lack of food ; and frustrated by an attention span which keeps wandering; In that condition I will be forced to admit that my soul is God’s for the taking.

But on that day I’m going to make sure that I state clearly that this job I’m being offered – the job of living in God’s world for another year – is a job I can do, that I will try with every fiber of my being to do a good job doing, and which I want very very much.

L’Shana Tova