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Posts Tagged ‘blogelul’

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 torah.org 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

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:

http://pastorkeithanderson.net/index.php/pk-social-media/item/praying-the-manhunt

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)