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The Edible Torah


Posts Tagged ‘blogelul’

BlogElul Day 6: Search

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.


I remember AltaVista.

There were other services before it – Lycos, Go, and WWW Worm, to name a few – but AltaVista was the my first go-to solution to find the obscure, the hidden, the I bet-it-won’t-have-this.

I remember the amazement at what it (and all the other tools that came after – Excite, Yahoo, Dogpile, AskJeeves, and of course Google) could find, and how easily answers were obtained.

But like so many advances in technology, once the novelty wears off, the amazement fades quickly and turns to indifference.

What I’m saying is: Google has changed the way we think about what it means to search. What was once an active word, something that implied movement and trial and error and discovery now conjures up an image that is little more asking someone at your dining room table, “Do you remember the names of all the kids on ‘The Partridge Family’?”

I’m left wondering if, as comfortable as we have all become with the concept of searching, and how we all take intuitively understand the power of a well-phrased search query, whether we’ve simultaneously lost the ability (or at least the will) to really search if it involves something other than a screen.

In Hebrew, the word Elul means “harvest”. In Aramaic, it shares the root of the verb “to search”.

During this month, our inward-focused searching should increase. We should endeavor to seek out those dark corners of our soul, and address what we find there without fear or shame.

And on Rosh Hashana, we should gather everything we find together and be prepared to present the fruits of our seeking to the One who sees us completely.

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.

blogelulA couple of months ago, Erka Napoletano wrote about an experience she had giving a gift to someone who was less than gracious in their response. You can read it here (note: Erika doesn’t pull punches or filter her language).

Her piece made me think (I’m pretty sure it was supposed to) about how we often overlook the effort or meaning – or even the existence of the gifts we are being given. This, in turn, reminded me of “The Daddy Prize”, an essay by Robert Fulgham. When he realizes what he was given, Fulgham writes:

“Molly had given me her treasures. All that a seven-year-old held dear. Love in a paper sack. And not only had I missed it, I had thrown it in the wastebasket. Dear God. I felt my Daddy Permit was about to run out.”

We do this. All of us. In our mad and frequently selfish rush through our day, imagining ourselves to be the star of our personal movie, we lose sight of the effort it takes for others to reach out to us and give. And how often that happens.

Rabbi Yaakov Labinsky of Becoming Divine once gave a talk that put this in an interesting light for me. (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Imagine you are sitting at home, when there’s a knock on the door, and it’s someone delivering a present. It’s all wrapped up with a card. When you open it, you discover it is extremely valuable and extremely rare. You would probably be thrilled to receive this gift, even if you felt a little awed that someone went to the time and expense to send it to you. But… as soon as you finished unwrapping that gift, there’s another knock on the door, and another gift. Once again it’s incredible valuable and it’s from the same person. And the moment you finish unwrapping that one, you receive another. And another.

How many of these expensive gifts would it take before you became completely overwhelmed? Before you called up the giver to not only thank them, but to explain how you don’t think you could ever reciprocate. Each gift was more than you would ever have to spend, and all together the cost is staggering.”

But God gives us these gifts every day. We breath. Our heart beats. We enjoy innumerable pleasures. We avoid innumerable hardships. All of that comes from God.”

There is no way to repay a heartbeat, or the taste of chocolate, or an uneventful dentist visit.

But to Ms. Napoletano’s point, how often do we fail to show the most basic gratitude to the Giver? To be clear, I’m not suggesting that God is “hurt” by our failure to graciously accept the gifts He is giving 24×7. But I am saying that it doesn’t help us when we fail to set aside time for it.

Elul is a time to recognize we have been given a plethora of things – good, bad, exciting, boring – they were all given to us. Before we can even begin the process of teshuvah – of considering and repenting for they way we treated those gifts – we first must accept them.

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.

blogelulI entered the room as part of a throng of men, escorting the groom to see his intended after their week of separation. My daughter sits before us, enthroned in a high-backed wicker chair and limned in soft light. Her mother and future mother-in-law hold court with her to either side.

This moment isn’t really about me. It’s about the two of them – bride and groom. But I have a part to play – I need to bless the bride.

What exactly, I wondered for the hundredth time since being told I had this task, does it mean to bless someone?

“I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing”
- God’s promise to Avram [Bereshit 12:2]

Recently a friend and co-worker – someone on his own religious journey – were comparing notes. He confided in me that he’s skeptical about the existence of heaven, but that it shouldn’t be a limiting factor in any faith. He believed that religion was meant to engage us in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. Our only task, he told me, was to be joyful in our experiencing of all the good things that the world has to offer. Our job is to celebrate and give thanks for the good in our life, and to strive to keep in mind how much of our lives are, in fact, good.

The thought resonated with me. As Abraham Joshua Heschel famously observed, Judaism creates cathedrals – not in a place, but in a moment. We light candles to mark the beginning of “sacred time”. We thank God for the times when we are able to perform one of the mitzvot. It isn’t the thing we do which we celebrate as much as the fact that we have been brought to the moment where we have an opportunity to do it.

If so, if my friend is right, then giving a blessing may have nothing to do with any special status I have, or can confer on another. One person “blessing” another may be nothing more than the act of helping someone recognize the good that is before them, so that THEY take a moment to be thankful. A blessing is the act of opening someone else’s eyes, which in turn sparks in them the desire to connect to God.

“And through you will be blessed all the families of the earth.”
[Bereshis 12:3].

I reached out my hands over my daughter’s head, sent my own prayer for guidance heavenward, and began to bless.

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.

blogelul It’s an old feeling, almost forgotten in the blur of years which has been my career. Washing over me before I have time to react or mentally prepare, I am overwhelmed. I can feel the tunnel vision, hear my pulse in my ear, feel tension vibrating in my face like I’ve been shocked.

After two and a half decades, I’m in front of an audience again – a real audience, not just a group of business people listening to me spice up dry facts and figures with a wry joke and goofy delivery. I’m delivering lines as a character who bears a strong resemblance to me but is definitely not me. Or at least not JUST “me”. 

I’m acting. And the unfamiliarity of it, despite having been second nature through my youth, is threatening to swallow me up. 

Unbidden, unexpected, I hear the whisper of a voice in my head. Someone who was able to teach and nurture and raise up. A woman would could do it at a scale and for a duration of time which defied all logic. A teacher whose impact was completely out of proportion to the tragically short number of years she was allowed to share her talents with this world.

“What are you doing, Leon?” I hear her gently say. “Right now. In this moment. What are you getting done?”

I’m shocked into moving again, going about the business of speaking my part, appearing to listen even though I know what’s going to be said.

“Don’t pretend. Those people – the audience – they deserve better than make-believe. It’s so much more honest to just do it. To just act.”

Now I really am listening. And although I am already familiar with the words being said, I’m still surprised by the tone, the pacing, the reality of how these moments are coming together differently than any other time we’ve rehearsed. This gives me a grounding into the present, and with it the emotional center I needed. “What am I doing?” I ask myself. I need to explain, to teach. And so I start doing that, until I’m so caught up in the act that I forget that I’m supposed to be acting.

The Days of Awe are their own kind of overwhelming force in our lives.  They can come at us with a suddenness and weight that threatens to overwhelm us, to swallow us up in their inescapable gravity.  

And we can get tripped up even further believing we already know what is going to be said. After all, we hear this script year after year – one High Holiday after the next.

But the words I heard in the echo of my teacher – may her memory be for a blessing – are equally relevant here. What are you doing? Right now, in this moment, on the second day of a month whose very name demands you look deeper?

You have the chance right now – not to pretend or do it for show or make believe. You have a chance to recognize that this moment is unique and for all it’s similarity to years past it holds it’s own unique potential. You have the opportunity to express the your most honest self.

You have the chance to act.

#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?