#blogElul 8: Hear

BlogElul 2016I want to hear your voice
every day of my life.
Murmur in my ear a reminder:
you knock on the door of my heart.

Every day of my life
you bring light to my eyes.
You knock on the door of my heart.
Sing me awake, don't stop.

You bring light to my eyes
and ease my tangled fears.
Sing me awake. Don't stop.
Your melody flows through me.

Ease my tangled fears.
There is no door, only love.
Your melody flows through me.
There is no distance.

There is no door, only love.
Murmur in my ear a reminder
there is no distance.
I want to hear your voice.


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


Balancing judgment with love

Have you ever been asked the question "if you knew you were going to be marooned on a desert island, what five books would you take with you?" One of mine would be Rabbi Alan Lew's This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. I reread that book each year at this season.

Here's a short quote from that book, talking about this week's Torah portion:

Parashat Shoftim... begins with what seems like a simple prescription for the establishment of a judicial system: 'Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves in all your gates.' But the great Hasidic Torah commentary, the Iturey Torah, read this passage as an imperative of a very different sort -- an imperative for a kind of inner mindfulness. According to the Iturey Torah, there are seven gates -- seven windows -- to the soul: the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils, and the mouth. Everything that passes into our consciousness must enter through one of these gates.

On a deep level, says Rabbi Lew, this passage has nothing to do with establishing a system of judges and courts. Rather, it's about mindfulness and teshuvah, that existential turning that's at the heart of this season.

'Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves in all your gates.' We can't always control what we see. Sometimes we see things we wish we could un-see, or hear things we wish we could un-hear. But we can make choices about how we respond to what we see and hear. Maybe there's political rhetoric this election season that upsets me, or someone in my sphere who's acting unfairly or unkindly. I can't un-hear the offending words or un-see the offending deeds, but I can choose what qualities I want to cultivate in myself as I respond to what the world presents to me.

I can choose to cultivate lovingkindness. I can choose to cultivate good boundaries and to say "enough is enough." I can choose to cultivate the right balance between love and judgment. This Shabbat offers an opportunity to do precisely that.

Shabbat Shoftim -- "Shabbat of Judges" -- always falls during the first or second week of Elul. The moon of Elul is waxing now, and when it wanes we'll convene for Rosh Hashanah. The liturgy for that day describes God as the Judge before whom all living beings must appear. On that day the book of our lives will read from itself, reflecting the lines we've written over the last year with our words and our deeds, our actions and our inactions.

But before we get to Rosh Hashanah, we have three more weeks of Elul to go. Our sages read the name of this month as an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי, "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." Before we stand before God as Judge, we have the opportunity to experience God as Beloved. Tradition teaches that this month God isn't in the Palace on high, but "in the fields" with us. We get to with the Source of All in the beautiful late summer meadows, talking with God the way one might talk to one's most dearly beloved friend.

Because here's the thing about your most dearly beloved friend, the person who loves you most in all the world: that person notices your flaws, sure, but they see your flaws in the context of your good sides. Your best qualities. Imagine someone who loves you so dearly that they can't help seeing everything that's best about you, every time they look at you. During this month of Elul, that's how God sees each of us. That's the backdrop against which the judgments of Rosh Hashanah take place.

This week's Torah portion instructs us to pursue justice, and it doesn't seem to be speaking only to those who do the work of justice for a living. This work falls to all of us. Pursuing justice, and engaging in the work of judgement and discernment, is on all of us. Where are we living up to our highest selves, and where are we falling short of our ideals? As the Iturey Torah asks, what do we want to let in through the gates of the senses, and what words and deeds and facial expressions do we want to let out?

And it's also our task to remember that we emulate God not only when we judge ourselves and others, but also when we cultivate love for ourselves and others -- in fact we are most like God davka (precisely) when we do both. Shabbat Shoftim always falls during this month of Elul, during this month of loving and being loved. The challenge is finding the right balance of love and judgment in every moment. It can be tempting to lean toward one and neglect the other, but that's a temptation we need to resist.

Balancing love and judgment is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. If I bring nothing but chesed, abundant lovingkindness, to myself and to the world around me I am liable to spoil my child, turn a blind eye to unfairness, and let myself or others off the hook when I should be expecting better. If I bring nothing but gevurah, boundaries and strength, I am liable to be overly strict, to cross the line from discerning to judgmental, and castigate myself and others when I should be responding with gentleness. 

May this Shabbat Shoftim, this Shabbat of Judges, inspire us to balance our lovingkindness with good judgment, and to infuse our discernment with love.

 

This is the d'var Torah I offered last night at my shul. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.) 


#blogElul 7: Choose

BlogElul 2016
To think of you when I wake
and as I close my eyes.

To orient myself toward you
like a flower toward the sun.

To steer by your promises
steadfast as the stars.

To trust that I bring you joy,
rejoice at your trust in me.


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 6: Believe

BlogElul 2016
That you love me.
I could stop there:

that one short clause
fuels me day after day.

That you don't want me
to hide my heart.

That grief will end
and joy will flower.

That you are with me
even when I feel alone.


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 5: Accept

BlogElul 2016You remind me
I don't have to turn myself
inside-out to be loved.

I don't have to force my feet
into shoes that don't fit
or walk a path that isn't mine.

You don't want me to hide
any of who I am, not even
my overflowing heart.


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 4 - Understand

BlogElul 2016
Not
why suffering, why grief
why manipulation or unkindness

-- but that you are with me
that I am never truly alone:
this

I understand,
this creates a filligreed cage
of protection around my heart.

 


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 3: Search

BlogElul 2016I know
we're never apart,
not really, but

when I can't hear
your voice
I ache.

I'd do anything
to feel you
here with me.


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


Elul Poem 5776 / New Year's Card 5777


Drew-And-MeIt's September, Elul: time to begin
discerning who we want to be. Again
late summer cricketsong returns
to the airwaves, reminding me anew
the season is turning. I steep in hope
that grows stronger like tea. The old year

has come due, the new year
waits in the wings for her scenes to begin.
All I can do is to cultivate hope,
remind myself no one's perfect, again:
doesn't matter if I "make it new,"
only whether I'm trying to return

to the best of who I've been, re-turn
in the right direction this year.
A marriage, ended: okay, this is new.
I admit, it's strange learning how to begin
a new chapter, being a beginner again
after all these years. Dare I hope

for lightness of heart, hope
this stripped-down life helps me return
to the Holy One of Blessing again?
So much has changed since last year
I scarcely know where to begin
when friends blithely ask "what's new?"

But every day the world is made anew.
Psalm 27 invites me to hope
in the One, to trust that if I begin
to try God will help me return.
The Hebrew word we translate as year
is almost the word "change." Again

we bring ourselves (here we are again)
to the cusp of defining ourselves anew.
Harvest the wisdom of the old year
to carry us, coat pockets full of hope,
through the season that's coming. Re/turn
again. Are you ready? Then begin

again, let your heart expand with hope.
Everything can be new. Return
to your truest self as the year begins.

 

שנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו 

May you be written & sealed for a good year to come!

 

 


 

 

For those who are so inclined: here are my annual Elul / High Holiday card poems from 2003 until now.


#blogElul 2: Act

BlogElul 2016Think of you
with every action.

If I knew
you were watching

would I change
what I do?

Will you nod,
proud of me

and my backbone
or my kindness

or sigh and
shake your head

that I caved
when a bully

pushed too hard,
that I forgot

my best intentions
and fell short?

All I want:
for my acts

to find favor
in your eyes.

 


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 1: Prepare

BlogElul 2016
Already I'm scrambling
with print-outs and post-its.
My mind ties itself in knots.

That's no way to greet you.
I want to be calm,
my heart still as a glassy pond.

I want my voice to be clear
as a bell, clear as yours.
Instead I'm frazzled, fragile.

My to-do list is as long
as a Torah scroll, but
the only item that matters

is letting go of the fantasy
that if I only try harder
I can be perfect for you.

Remind me that you love me
always and already
exactly as I am.

 


 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; you might also enjoy my collection of Elul poems which arose out of #blogElul a few years ago, now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


The day before

Looking back on one's life is not always easy or comfortable. We all have places where we've missed the mark, relationships that fracture, missed opportunities and frustrations. But we also all have opportunities for gratitude, and we all have opportunities to effect repair.

This is a time of year Jewish tradition dedicates to introspection and repair. This weekend we usher in the new lunar month of Elul, the month leading up to the Days of Awe. My friend and colleague Rabbi David Evan Markus writes powerfully about this new month through the lens of psalm 27, the psalm tradition assigns to this time of year. That psalm makes use of a very powerful word: if. Rabbi David writes:

This “If I hadn’t” – if I myself hadn’t seen its goodness, I wouldn’t believe it! – in Hebrew is Lule (לוּלֵא), or literally Elul (אֵלוּל) backwards. This is big: Psalm 27 asks us to enter Elul walking backwards through the ifs – the longing and missed marks – of our messy lives. Psalm 27 asks us to see our ifs not as irretrievably missed opportunities of the past but precisely the opposite, as new possibilities for the future.... The painful ifs that most grab us now are our spiritual curriculum for the weeks ahead.

(Read the whole thing: "If!" -- Walking Backwards Into Elul.)

This morning I sat by the bedside of someone who is dying and we talked about precisely these things. About gratitudes after more than 90 years of life, and about regrets. About relationships in need of repair, and about the gifts of everyday living. Conversations like that one are profoundly humbling, and they remind me that the inner work of Elul is truly our work all year long.

Our sages say that we should make teshuvah -- we should re-align ourselves with our Source, return to our highest selves, turn toward the good and toward God -- the day before our death. Of course, none of us knows when that will be. In the case of the gentleman I visited today, the odds are pretty good that death will come sooner rather than later... but that could be true for any of us. 

It's the day before Elul. A month of introspection and repair awaits. Are you ready to do the inner work of looking at who you are and who you've been, where you've soared and where you've fallen short, where you need re-alignment in your relationships with yourself and your Source?  If you knew that you might die tomorrow, what changes would you want to make? What repair would you want to effect?

What are you waiting for?

 

 

Related: 


#blogElul 29: Return

BlogElul+5776

I wouldn't be here without you.
Because you read, I want to write;
because you listen, I sing again.
How can it already be a year
since the holidays last called me home?
Deep breath, get ready, time to turn.

To everything, turn, turn, turn --
the only thing that's constant is you.
I'm not always sure where to find home.
Sometimes it's in what I write,
the daily chronicle of the old year
manifesting in my poems again.

I know it's time to look again
at where I missed the mark, to turn
my attention toward the old year
for one last time. I know that you
forgive me for the words I didn't write,
times when I couldn't be a home

for you or even for myself. Home
means the safety to start over again,
to shine so that everything I write
illuminates. I want to return
to the safety I find when I'm with you.
I want to live in that place this year.

What is the thing for which I yearn
the most? Only this: to be at home
in my skin, to be at home with you
in the temple of Shabbat again
and again. To sanctify every turn
my life takes, be brave enough to write

my way to who I really am. Rewrite
my heart, rewire my synapses. This year
I want to see your face at every turn.
Because I'm not alone, I'm always home.
With every heartbeat say thanks again
for enlivening me, for being you.

May the words I write bring me home.
May the new year help me begin again.
May I always turn with love toward you.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 28: Give

BlogElul+5776

What can I give you,
I ask, and you reply
do the work you need to do,

don't hide your light.
Fine, I say; I hear you,
I'm working on that, but

what can I give to you?
Can't I make offerings
to sweeten your day?

I want to scatter
rose petals in your path,
to enrobe you in light.

I want to lay all my words
at your feet, to nourish you
with the work of my hands.

And you just smile.
You know the only gift
I can really offer is love.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 27: Bless

BlogElul+5776

When I wake (to awareness of you)
and am not alone: I bless.

Bless the early light
gilding the birch leaves, bless

the peach I cup in my hand
as tenderly as I would touch

your face. I seek your face.
Bless even the yearning, even

the ache. Bless the evening sky
blue as the one thread which winds

around the white, the thread
which binds me to you. Every knot

a blessing. Every heartbeat:
I wake to awareness of you.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


New Year's Poem 2015 / 5776


When the list of school supplies arrives
my heart skips a beat. I'm not ready.

How can I be surprised? I've known all along
how one month follows the next, but

kindergarten looms. (Not, though,
for the five year old. Time renews itself

every time he opens his eyes.) When the days
of awe appear again on the horizon

my heart skips a beat. I'm not ready.
How can I be surprised? I've known all along

how the spiral of the year recycles end
into beginning again. Another summer

yields with less or more grace to fall
and I do too. Sometimes my gears grind,

I wish tomorrow would come sooner
or yesterday would return. I blink

and a month disappears. Where was I?
How can I be surprised? I've known all along

without my attention next new moon won't be
the world's birthday, just a night with less light.

And this impossibly precious moment
when I could be cupping my hand

to the side of your face with tenderness --
gone like the numbers on a digital clock.

But if I stop to see what's in front of me
and choose the blessing in it, if I

sanctify the threshold between now
and what comes after now, and after now,

then every moment gleams, infinite
as the love which links your heart and mine.

 

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

May you be inscribed for a good and sweet year!

From me and my family, to you and yours.

 

(For those who are so inclined, here's a link to my archive of new year's card poems... and here's the new year's poem I co-wrote with my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus.)


#blogElul 26: Create

BlogElul+5776"If you believe you can destroy, believe you can create." That's a quote from the Hasidic master Reb Nachman of Bratzlav. I've been thinking about his words a lot lately.

One of our tradition's ways of imagining God is as the One Who speaks the world into being. A prayer in our liturgy describes God in exactly that way, and I love it, every time I daven it.

I love the idea that not only did God create the universe once upon a time with speech, but God continues to create all things with speech even now. Speech is an inherently creative act.

In every moment, our tradition imagines, God is saying "let there be..." Let there be creation. Let there be a universe. Let there be every atom, every particle, every thing that is.

Torah teaches that we are made in the divine image. One of the ways that's true is that we too can impact the universe with our words. Maybe we can't literally speak things into being, but our words can make a difference. Our words can hurt. (Just ask anyone who's been called a painful name, or who's heard awful news and can't un-hear it...) But it is equally true that our words can create repair.

In these final days of the old year, I'm thinking a lot about the worlds we create with our words. How our words can feel like weapons, and how our words can feel like balm. What are the words I need, in order to repair some of the brokenness around me as the old year draws to its close?

Reb Nachman reminds me that if words can destroy, they can also (re)build. If I believe that words have power to harm, then I also have to believe that words have power to heal. What do I want to create with my words during these final days of 5775?

 

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 25: Intend

BlogElul+5776

Only to stretch out
toward the sun; to bloom.

To unfurl my tender heart
like a banner billowing.

To draw water in joy
from the living well.

To open a channel
and let myself through.


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 24: Hope

BlogElul+5776

That after brokenness
comes repair.

That you'll always be
close as my heartbeat.

That those who sow in tears
will reap in joy.

That I never stop
knowing your beauty.

That I can live up
to your faith in me.




The couplet about sowing in tears / reaping in joy is inspired by Psalm 126.

I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 23: Begin

BlogElul+5776

If I could ask the chrysalis
cosy in her custom house

she'd tell me how sweet it is
to be surrounded by her life's work.

And then one day she wakes
aware the time has come

to reveal the tender wings
she never knew she was growing.

What changed? What made her ready?
And when it's my turn

can I trust that I'll be safe
without the walls I built?

 


I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.


#blogElul 22: End

BlogElul+5776

I'm the kid
who saved the last chocolate
until it turned pale and chalky

rather than finish the box
and admit that something sweet
was over.

I know every end
is a beginning, but
the leap of faith terrifies.

I have to trust
that this abundance
isn't all I'll ever get.




I'm participating again this year in #blogElul, an internet-wide carnival of themed posts aimed at waking the heart and soul before the Days of Awe. (Organized by Ima Bima.) Read #blogElul posts via the Elul tag; last year's posts are now available in print and e-book form as See Me: Elul poems.