Category Archives: Torah thoughts

Summer Song Sadness

Last week, the NY TImes ran an article highlighting the beautiful (and I use that word deliberately) work of summer camps like Eden Village in holding to a strong “No Body Talk” directive.

On Friday afternoon, when the campers, girls and boys from 8 to 17, are dressed in white and especially polished for the Sabbath, they refrain from complimenting one another’s appearances. Rather, they say, “Your soul shines” or “I feel so happy to be around you” or “Your smile lights up the world.”

Summer camps are magical. For those who have attended, we see them as our reason for trucking through the rest of the year. They are our respite, our utopian bubble where initiatives like the “No Body Talk” rule can actually work. They are our Shabbat, a re-energizing and reimagining sanctuary in space and in time.

In the camp world growing up, our “songs of the summer” consisted of a myriad of Israeli techno hits. Oh to be at camp again. What’s competing for airplay right now?  Robin Thicke’s misogynistic “Blurred Lines” is being followed this summer by an even creepier “Get Her Back” single in which sexism spews from both lyric and video. No I don’t want it. Jason Derulo, who has finally retired saying his own name in every song, has followed up his filth ridden “Talk Dirty” with an even more offensive body-image destroying song “Wiggle.” These are two of many examples of utter trash that makes its way into the charts, on to our playlists and and into the way we speak of and act around others.

For those of us who are unable to spend our summer at Eden Village, we can still aim to create a summer filled with love and respect, from the lyrics we create between one another to the lyrics we listen to all summer long. When we skip out on such language, sexism and filth, we send a message to music executives that catchy melodies must be accompanied by creative lyrics. For they know that the modern music world, and its ability to skip over such trash, stands on 3 things: iTunes, Pandora and Spotify.

Through Your Eyes: The interplay of the changing views of our tradition with the changing ways we examine our own lives

The following appeared in the January edition of the Jacksonville Jewish News:

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This month we celebrate the Jewish Holiday Tu B’shvat, also known as “Rosh Hashana L’ilanot” the birthday of the saplings.  A few weeks later, Leora and I will celebrate the first birthday of our own sapling, Rena.  This is Rena’s first Tu B’shvat, just as she has celebrated holiday firsts after holiday firsts this past year.

Having an addition or loss in one’s family always puts a spin on liminal moments throughout our Jewish calendar. To celebrate holidays when someone is missing is tempered by the joy we feel when we see a new addition experiencing Jewish communal life for the first time. Our own holiday moments have blossomed seeing them through Rena’s eyes.  As each year passes, the snapshots of Jewish time will change as well. This goes beyond the holiday gatherings. Our lectionary cycle of Torah reading remains the same year to year, but our lives change our interpretation of the text, as we are never the same person year to year. We empower ourselves to make the words come alive and find relevance in for us today. In the month of January, four vastly different Torah portions are read over the course of four Shabbatot. Each of them teaches us something different about ourselves, giving us the tools and instructions to build a better tomorrow. Imagine one take a way a week to guide your life. One value set to work on. In each Torah portion, I look for inspiration to make me a better parent, a better husband, a better leader, a better Jew, a better human being.

Parshat Bo: Our portion states, “Bo el Paro”, come unto Pharaoh. Moses, having been shot down time and time again by Pharaoh, is asked to come to Pharaoh knowing his heart was hardened, knowing seven plagues had not swayed his decision. Parshat Bo, for me, is about taking risks, taking chances in an uphill battle because success is predicated on participation in the challenges brought before us.  Bo inspires us to find meaning and purpose in the discomforting places and moments that fill our lives.

Parshat B’shalach: Parshat B’shalach (falling on Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song) takes us on a journey from Egypt to the Desert by way of the Sea of Reeds. After escaping the Egyptian onslaught, the Israelites break into jubilation. The text states, “Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song (Ex. 15:1). Moses, the quiet, humble leader has his first song with backup vocals from the Jewish people. Delivered from slavery, transformed by miracles, the group sang together as one. B’shalach teaches us that moments, both bitter and sweet, are meant to be experienced as community. B’shalach teaches us that while Moses was a risky pick to lead the Jewish people, he was the right pick. Not the loudest, not the most connected. Maybe it’s ok to invest a little time and energy on those who show humility as their greatest strength.

Parshat Yitro: Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, is taken aside to hear the story of the Israelite journey from Egypt. When he hears about the tragedy that befell the Egyptians, the text states, “Vayichad Yitro.” A rare word, Vayichad comes from the word for goosebumps.  The text teaches us about the value of sensitivity.  We must be sensitive to the fact that we all come with our own baggage, our own expectations. Some come from a place of happiness and positivity, others from a place of pain and brokenness.

Parshat Mishpatim: The Torah portion known as “laws”. We get a wide variety of does and don’ts ranging from laws concerning bribery to laws concerning the holidays. Thus is the value of updating our software. The world’s largest law book should inspire us to search for meaning in our daily lives. How will these laws find relevance for us? How will they inform our business practices and our spiritual ones?

Take risks, value humility, be sensitive, and update your software. Not so bad for some monthly goals.

Theatrical Theology

The bible always seems to make for great theatre- from the sibling

Imagerivalries to the awe-inspiring powers of an Almighty, the torah pulls out all the stops when it comes to pomp and circumstance. This week’s parsha,  B’ha-alot’kha speaks on a variety of topics- the lighting of the m’norah, the consecration of the Levites, Pesach Sheini, clouds and fire, silver trumpets, incessant complaining and blasphemy by both the common citizens and the greatest of leaders.  At first glance, the torah portion is all over the place. However, this grab-bag of topics includes within it one powerful message: symbols that call us to action:

The m’norah reminds us to be a “or lagoyim”, a light to the nations.  The purifying of the Levites symbolizes the reverence we should all have to God.  Pesach Sheini  (for those who were unable to make it the first time around) is a symbol of second chances.  The tabernacle, covered in fire when it rested and a cloud when in transit, uses these physical affirmations of the divine in an unorthodox way.  We might think that the fire is a call to action and a cloud (of uncertainty) is an indication to stop and rethink. But this is an act of faith- when clouds gloom over, THIS is the time to act.  The silver trumpets, the music in the air a la “Torah on Taps”, means that we should all listen more carefully to the signs and symbols around us.  Finally, the riffraff (asafsuf in hebrew, quite possibly the greatest hebrew word ever) as well as Miriam and Aaron’s questioning of Moses reminds us to be humble, happy with our lot, and mindful of the gifts that not all have.

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What are the symbols in our own lives that harken us to action? There are so many symbols in our tradition that do more than induce fond memories. These symbols in our every day lives can add purpose by acting as an agent for good deeds throughout the world.