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The Edible Torah


Posts Tagged ‘blogelul’

I Am Here, and I am Not Worthy

Even after a few years through the yearly cycle of liturgy, “traditional” prayer services are still very new to me. Even so, I’ve already found a few of my favorite moments – things I look forward to hearing and savor as they pass.

If you are in the right state of mind, the Days of Awe present a lot of those moments. For me, one is the prayer “Hineini” (“Here I Stand”), or “The Chazzan’s Prayer”. You can click here for the traditional text, or here for a more poetic interpretation. But it reads, in part:

“Hineini – Here I stand, impoverished of deeds, trembling and frightened with the dread [...].

I have come to stand and supplicate before You for Your people Israel, who have sent me although I am unworthy and unqualified to do so.

Therefore, I beg of you, [...] Please do not hold them to blame for my sins and do not find them guilty of my iniquities, for I am a careless and willful sinner. Let them not feel humiliated by my willful sins. Let them not be ashamed of me and let me not be ashamed of them. Accept my prayer like the prayers of an experienced elder whose lifetime has been well spent, whose beard is fully grown, whose voice is sweet, and who is friendly with other people. “

I find myself deeply moved by the private, personal and human tone of this prayer. Many prayers – throughout the year as well as on the High Holidays – are written as communal “we ask you… please help us…hear our prayer” types of supplications. But here is a prayer written for the solo voice.

It’s just my interpretation, not anything I’ve learned formally, but I truly believe this is the voice of the Kohain Gadol as he stood in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. As he stood in the small boxy room, a nation’s hope riding on his shoulders and a rope around his leg to drag him out if he died for some undetected sin, in that moment what could anyone say except “You and I both know I’m not up to this job. But those people out there, they are good and holy people. Please don’t let me let them down.”

Weirdly, this reminded me of one of my favorite sequences from T.H. White’s story “The Ill-Made Knight“. In it, Lancelot is called upon to heal a fellow knight. The problem is that, because of his failings, he no longer believes he can perform such a feat:

“Miracles, which you wanted to do so long ago, can only be done by the pure in heart. The people outside are waiting for you to do this miracle because you have traded on their belief that your heart was pure – and now, with treachery and adultery and murder wringing the heart like a cloth, you are to go out into the sunlight for the test of honour.

Lancelot stood [waiting his turn], as white as a sheet [...] He walked down the curious ranks [of knights], ugly as ever, self-conscious, ashamed, a veteran going to be broken.

“Oh, Sir Urre,” he said, “if only I could help you, how willingly I would. But you don’t understand. you don’t understand.”

“For God’s sake,” said Sir Urre.

Lancelot looked into the East, where he thought God lived, and said something in his mind. “I don’t want glory, but please can you save our honesty? And if you will heal this knight for the knight’s sake, please do.”

[a bit later...]

The cheers which now began, round after round, were like drumfire or thunder, rolling round the turrets of Carlisle. All the field, and all the people in the field and all the towers of the castle seemed to be jumping up and down like the surface of a lake under rain.

In the middle, quite forgotten, Lancelot was kneeling by himself. This lonely and motionless figure knew a secret which was hidden from the others. The miracle was that he had been allowed to do a miracle.”

The days ahead have the potential to transform. There is an opportunity to encounter the Divine and leave our old selves behind us. During the process, keep in mind that the amazing thing might not be that God forgives us, or grants us another year. Maybe the most amazing thing is that we will have the chance to stand before God at all.

The Voice

On Wednesday (Sept 14) Rabbi David Wolpe posted on his Facebook wall:

“American writer Sherwood Anderson was the manager of a small paint factory in Elyria, Ohio. One day, in the very middle of a sentence he was dictating, he walked out of the factory to devote himself to literature. Anderson was forty-five. The mysteries of human nature are endless. Resh Lakish was a robber who became a Rabbi; David a shepherd who became a king. To listen to a voice inside for change inside is a risk. But is ignoring the voice truly safe?”

It got me thinking about the “still small voice” that represents such terrifying (to me, at least) change in people’s life. I am certain it was this same voice which Abram heard sending him and his wife Sarai away from all they knew into the wilderness. It was the voice that told Rebeccah to water that strange man’s camels. It was the voice that called out and stopped Moses in his tracks as he was busy chasing down a wayward lamb.

I remember being both fascinated and horrified when I read the liner notes to Bobby McFerrin’s second album “The Voice”:

“On July 11, 1977, I heard a voice distinctly telling him to be a solo vocalist. Although I had no idea what it meant or how it was going to happen, six years later I found himself on stage alone for a two-hour concert, a concert that was completely improvised. This terrifying and exhilarating experience sealed my fate.”

I was fascinated because it was a modern-day version of the hero’s story, of overcoming impossible odds to emerge victorious.

I was horrified, because that could happen to me. In an instant I could hear a voice that would send my life careening off track and who knows where it would end.

I am, you might say, a little bit risk averse.

What about you? Do you welcome the voice of change or fear it? Have you heard it? What did it say and what did you do?

Here in the month of Elul, we prepare to stand before God and accept judgement – we open ourselves to the Voice and can only tremble in hope that we are equal to the task it demands of us.

Using It For Good

"Getting em up" at U.S.Naval Training Camp, Seattle, Washington. Webster & Stevens., ca. 1917 - ca. 1918

If you are reading this essay, there’s a few things I can safely presume about you:

  • You aren’t terrified of technology.
  • You understand the concept of “social media” – blogging, Twitter, Facebook and the like
  • You are interested in Judaism in specific, or Religion in general
From there I believe I can list a few more items that are true about you, but there’s a margin for error:
  • You use one or more of the following:  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and/or RSS readers
  • You believe that these technologies can enhance your appreciate of your other interests – following a food blog, becoming a fan of a religiously-focused group, following the tweets or hashtags for related subjects, etc.
With those assumptions firmly in place, I am recommending you read this post:

Beyond the particulars – a Pastor who used Twitter to reach out to his community with messages of inspiration and hope during a crisis – is a much more important idea: that all this technology which we blithely use and consume can be appropriated for a (much) higher purpose. Take a minute to think about it. Really consider how you could extend your “reach” if you considered these technologies to be essential tools rather than cute toys.

Here in the month of Elul when we think about how we could have done better, it’s relevant to wonder if we could have done more good if more people had been able to hear us. If we had used technology to inspire, rather than merely inform. If we had incorporated these tools into the essential fabric of our work.

See if you can imagine a way to boost your signal, and most importantly to ensure that the signal you are sending is worth boosting.

And let me know what comes of it, either in comments or email. It could be the start of something big.

The Love You Take is Equal To…

Yesterday’s “Indexed” was just too Elul-ish not to share with everyone.

Financially and spiritually.
by Jessica Hagy

VIDEO: More for Rosh Hashana

Here’s another video to get you psyched up for the upcoming Days of Awe. This time from JewishTreats and National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP)


On Tuesday I blogged about what Elul-y things I had learned after hastily posting a video which wasn’t all it could have been.

One of the take-aways I identified was forgiveness. The producers of the video had made a bad video (in my opinion). That’s it. Moving on.

Likewise I had posted it without giving it sufficient thought. It was a mistake. Moving on.

Except… I’m not a “moving on” kind of person. I’m a “gnaws at my gut for days, and comes back to haunt me at unexpected times years later” kind of guy.

Recently I met up with someone who knew me way back when:

Him: “You probably don’t remember me, but I’m Plony Almony and I was your science teacher in 7th grade”
Me: “I’m sorry.”
Him: “Oh, it’s no big deal. I didn’t expect that you would remember me right away.”
Me: “No, I mean ‘I’m sorry’ for everything I put you through back in 7th grade!”

The conversation went on and he made a point to tell me that everything he remembered of me was good. I wasn’t one of his memorably “bad” kids.

So why did my memory and his differ? You see, as I recall things I was truly an obnoxious little snot.

Because, for the most part, I don’t take the time to forgive myself of my own faults, and most certainly I can’t forgive myself for actions in the far-flung past where I can’t go back and right the wrong.

Except that I can, and should.

I found the answer to my mental dilemma in, of all places, an episode of “Oprah“.

In speaking to a young woman who had, years earlier, suffered horribly at the hands of people she trusted, Oprah asked whether she had found the strength to forgive them. The young woman said she didn’t know how that would be possible, how could someone forgive what could never be changed.

Oprah talked about how real healing can only happen when we have found a way to forgive the ones who have wronged us. Then she said,

“Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying it’s OK when it’s not. Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed.”

The past can’t be changed. No matter how many times I revisit in my mind that classroom and shout at my younger self to sit down, shut up, stop acting like I knew anything – let alone everything – and give an ounce of respect to the material if not the person who is graciously taking the time to try to teach it… no matter how many times I wish I could rewrite that chapter, I can’t. It’s done. More importantly, I’m not that kid any more. I’ve still got my faults, but not those. The guilt of those past deeds is un-necessary weight. It doesn’t need to be carried around any longer.

So in this month of Elul I’m working on revisiting all those once-upon-a-time memories just once more, acknowledging that they happenED, and actively giving myself permission to move on.


About once a month, I travel out of town for work. Usually, I catch a 6am flight out and – through the magic of time zones – arrive at my desk at corporate HQ by 8am. This week happened to be a travel week.

The one difference is that I didn’t get to daven Selichot with the group of guys this morning. I was up at the right hour (2 hours earlier, in fact), but since I had to be across town at the airport there was no way to be in both places. I had to miss the minyan.

Once I got past security, I pulled out a Selichot siddur and started to read. I don’t know the tunes by heart yet, so that part was missing. And of course, no shofar.

The trip went the same as it always did. However, here’s one of the emails that greeted me this morning when I logged in.

“Well, today was the first time this year that we did not have a minyan for Selihot.  Let’s try to make it the last also.”

I’m not sure what to do with this. On the one hand, I know I’m that guy – the one who didn’t show up, who let down the team.

On the other, I know I’m not that guy. I told them I’d be out of town, and there are way more than 10 of us in total, so just because I didn’t show up didn’t let the 17 or so other guys off the hook.

But I still feel like everyone missed out today.

Empty Frames

This morning, I posted a video from Aish

Holiday video fever is very high here at EdibleTorah HQ after this Facebook post appeared a few days ago on the Maccabeats fan page:

  The Maccabeats
It’s about time we release a new video, what do you think?

I believe the release of a Rosh Hashanah is imminent. Other groups have realized the buzz created by the Maccabeats, and that this is not a “you-win-I-lose” competition. When it comes to Jewish videos it is definitely a case of “the more the merrier”.

When I saw that Aish had created their own video, I didn’t think too deeply about it. I just copied, clicked and posted. Yes, I watched it first but not with a critical eye. (Since I’m getting up at 5am these days, it is more of a bleary eye.)

Not thinking turned out – as it usually does – to be a mistake. As it turns out, my Rabbi, an insightful, sincere and eminently thoughtful person reads my blog. He was, to put it bluntly, not impressed.

“This one made me feel empty inside. Its apparent purpose of exciting people about Rosh Hashana. But the words are meaningless because the actual message of the video is actually false. The Rastafarian Aish newbie points out that Rosh Hashana is boring. According to his standards, after the three-minute dance clip, it will still be boring. [...] Seriously, is anyone expected to walk away from that video appreciating Rosh Hashana or even looking forward to it on any level?”

He’s right. I re-watched it and, while I have a huge respect for Aish HaTorah – the content on their website, the staff that lives in my city, the classes I’ve attended – this was a bit of a stinker.

So what’s my take-away message for Elul here?

First, that I need to be more thorough. Not just in what I post, but in monitoring what I say and do and generally “put out there” in the world. This month I need to consider all the times my hasty actions have led to results which were sloppy, wrong or (worst of all) hurtful. That’s not just me being all bloggy-preachy-wishy-washy. I – Leon Adato of EdibleTorah – shot my mouth off more times than I can count in the last year and some real live people I know were hurt for it.

al cheit shechatanu l’fanecha b’vitui s’fatayim – for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

My second Elul take away is that it’s done now. Moving on. Aish, with all the good they have done, can make a bad video. It happens to the best of us. Remember Ishtar? That extends beyond Aish (or even big Hollywood movie studios). It also counts for me. In this month of Elul, as I look back at my mis-steps and ill-advised actions I need to remember that once I recognize what happened and have acted to correct it, I need to forgive myself and not so much forget as keep in mind that it’s in the past.

For those who are interested, here is my Rabbi’s entire response:

“Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem”, a youtube video, officially produced and distributed by Aish Hatorah, was recently forwarded to me. I watched it and felt sad for Klal Yisrael. Let me explain.

Do Jews do pop and reggae tunes? Sure. I am familiar with Matisyahu etc. I can get some Shlock Rock on. Have people been producing video pieces of candy to remind people about an upcoming YomTov? Sure, they’re short, innocent enough, like the one of the fellow who blows his shofar to open his garage door.

This one made me feel empty inside. Its apparent purpose of exciting people about Rosh Hashana. But the words are meaningless because the actual message of the video is actually false. The rastafarian Aish newbie points out that Rosh Hashana is boring. According to his standards, after the three minute dance clip, it will still be boring. The attempt to grab my attention is just so absurdly transparent that I felt used.  Just because these half a dozen bochurim (or guys dressed like bochurim) do these dance moves does not make Rosh Hashana any more interesting or exciting. Is rockin’ and breakdancing what we should be doing on RH itself? Well, no. So all we’re left with is a case of “Look at these cool moves I learned before I was frum/from a Ba’al Teshuvah.” Seriously, is anyone expected to walk away from that video appreciating Rosh Hashana or even looking forward to it on any level?

Even that sexually suggestive video, while inappropriate from an honest Tznius standard, did convey that Shabbos is, or should be beautiful. Pure performers grasp this. Matisyahu is not committed to Klal Yisrael’s education. He’s a performer. Yet even his lyrics inspire. Another case in point: The trendy and meaningful card was played masterfully by the Maccabeets last Chanuka, as millions know. Could that not have been attempted? If Aish could not pull that off because the skill was just not there, then is this substitute worth it? Nope. And this is AISH. They’re not supposed to be cool to be cool. There is supposed to be a point!

What did this RH video do for God, Torah, Mitzvos, enhanced Rosh Hashana meaning, or even the very very low-ball goal of Jewish pride? Nothing at all. People, myself included, have defended Aish against all sorts of conversational attacks for years. The argument has always been that the packaging might be all “Look! We’re trendy and sexy.”, and that might and should be a turnoff to already frum people who disdain the fleeting and often-trashy trends of the modern world-at-large. But at least when you opened the packaging, i.e. removed the gloss, there was actually a message, small though it might be because they don’t want to overwhelm the systems of their uber-assimilated target audience. But this? There is nothing underneath except more wrapping paper. The wrapping is toxic and there is no gift. I have the capacity to appreciate the policy of some in the kiruv world that “Yatza Hefseido B’Scharo”, “The Loss is offset by the reward”. But give me some reward!

VIDEO: Rosh Hashana

Part of the month of Elul is thinking about the past – how I’ve done this year, where I could have improved.

But part is also looking ahead. The video “Rosh Hashanah” from Aish HaTorah helps you do just that. Enjoy!


You can also view the video, along with lyrics and background information over here on YouTube .



  • Where were you when Pearl Harbour was attacked?
    (not born yet)
  • Where were you when they declared victory during WWII?
    (still not born)
  • Where were you when JFK was shot?
    (nope, still not yet)
  • Where were you during the Apollo I disaster?
    (pooping my diaper, but we’re getting closer.)
  • Where were you when you heard Elvis died?
    (OK, I remember this one, but only because the announcement interrupted after-school cartoons. I was not impressed.)

Moments of high emotion become landmarks along the timeline of our life. The birth of a child, reaching goal are important, but pale in our memories when held up against national or international events. Tragedies are more memorable than celebrations. And while I don’t believe any of this SHOULD be true, I can’t help but admit that it is.

Which makes it challenging when you sit with a group of people who have this strong connection to a moment that, for whatever reason, you didn’t experience.

Which is probably why I have felt oddly out of sync the last week.

On September 1, 2001, my family and were on a life-changing flight from Cleveland Switzerland. I was part of an international project team, and my employer decided to move my family and I to their global headquarters for a couple of years so I could help coordinate from the central office.

On September 2nd our life as a chaotic jumble of temporary housing, tiny cobbled streets, a blend of foreign languages – none of which we spoke particularly well – and helping our kids get ready for the their first day in an “international school”.

On September 9th we celebrated my daughter’s 10th birthday. Our crisis was finding our way to a bakery that made such exotic things as “birthday cakes” – and finding our way home again.

On Monday morning, September 10th our 4th grade got on a train with her classmates for a week-long field trip in the mountains. The far off and inaccessible mountains of a tiny and inaccessible country in the middle of Europe.

Tuesday September 11th was a work day for me, and for my wife is was another stressful day of figuring out how to make a home in this foreign place. Nothing was different for us until about 4pm, when the neighbors in the apartment upstairs mentioned we might want to look at the news. Most of the TV stations were in French.Unlike my friend Marci Oster – also a new expat at the time – we were not living in a country that had particularly strong ties to America (neither emotional nor technological). English was about as important there as Spanish-speaking stations are here. They existed, but as a specialty service. Not something you get automatically in a temporary apartment.

After a bit of searching, we found station which ran CNN for part of the evening, and tuned in. We went to bed that night thinking there had been a terrible accident, but nothing more. We knew nothing of school lockdowns, of evacuations, of cancellations. We didn’t feel a wisp of the fear, uncertainty and doubt that settled like a fog over America.

The following morning there were more details, but in our immediate surroundings nothing changed. Security wasn’t tighter, nobody avoided large crowds, and at the border crossings the guard dogs still slept by the seats their human companions lazily waved you through with barely a glance.

2 days later my daughter came down off the mountain from her trip and we had to figure out what to tell her. For her, the experience was even more distant. Imagine being 10 and your parents telling you that 3 days ago, 5,000 miles away, some bad people did some bad things and a lot of people were hurt. Nobody we knew – thank God – but it was bad. In return she gave us a vague look as she scanned our faces for a clue about how to react. If we were upset, then she’d be upset. Otherwise, this was a non-event in her world.

During the subsequent 8 years of “where were you when) conversations, our family struggled to find a way to express our detachment without insulting the experiences of our friends, family and neighbors. The struggle has been all the more challenging this past week, when 9/11 remembrances have been ubiquitous in the news.

Yesterday, when much of the nation was mentally and emotionally preparing to relive a period that has – for better or for worse – become etched in their memories my family and I were…


It was Shabbat, so our Tv’s and cell phones and computers were blessedly silent. Our day was filled with the peace and calm that comes each week – visiting friends, sharing meals, praying and learning.

We knew what was coming – each Rabbi’s drash made at least a mention of the event. But in the midst of hearing people attempt to provide insight, as they attempted to connect the events from 10 years ago to the words of our tradition, as they struggled to find a path to healing or a sense of purpose or whatever it was they felt was needed, I sat in a state that has become all-too familiar: