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Top Ten of '05

Not long ago, Hugo Schwyzer posted his 2005 top ten list -- his ten favorite blog posts from the (Gregorian calendar) year which will be ending shortly. (He did it in two sets of five.) I thought that was a neat idea, so I'm following suit.

I tried to be at least a little bit balanced: there's some Torah commentary here, some musings sparked by high points in the liturgical year, one retreat report, some lifecycle stuff, some thoughts on belief, some explorations of prayer. A year of Velveteen Rabbi, in a nutshell.


My Top Ten Posts of 2005

On Va'era. "What's interesting to me is that after a few plagues, Pharaoh seems willing to listen. He even acknowledges that God is righteous and he is in the wrong...but Moses knows that the repentance won't stick. And sure enough, it doesn't; in the first lines of next week's portion, God explains that he has hardened Pharaoh's heart. What's up with that? If Pharaoh were willing to let the Israelites go after only seven plagues, why does God harden his heart and require the rest of the story to unfold as it does?"

As God Is Holy. "Holiness is something we both make and find. True in our dwelling-places; true in text study. Is Torah inherently holy? Depends on who you ask. I'd say there's some holiness in Torah, and that further holiness accrues through our study. Holiness is that which aligns us with God.  (Here, as always, I'm using "God" as shorthand. I'll try to explain what I mean by "God" another day; "holiness" is proving slippery enough!)"

Story and Truth. "Every few years it seems there's a new controversy about whether or not the Exodus 'really happened."'Is there historical record of Israelite slaves in Egypt? Can we explain the parting of the sea scientifically? How on earth did these nimrods manage to be lost for forty whole years in a desert that's honestly not that big? And, maybe most importantly, what does it mean for our faith if this story turns out not to be historically 'true'? What does it mean for Jewish peoplehood if our creation narrative, the story of how our ancestors became a unified people in covenant with a redeeming God, didn't actually happen?"

Facing Impermanence. "Though I'm comfortable with impermanence in theory, in practice it's difficult for me, and meeting death face-to-face seems like a way of accustoming myself to the koan that lives end. What does it mean to be embodied, yet more than our bodies?  What becomes of us when our bodies die? What does it mean to be holy in the face of finality and loss? These are some of the biggest questions I know, and serving on the chevra kadisha seemed like an opportunity to learn."

Land, Labor, Liberty."[T]the question that fascinates me most is (surprise!) not the historical one but the theological one. What does it mean that these words are in our holiest text? What does it tell us about Jewish understandings of land, labor, and liberty that our scripture depicts God speaking directly to Moses about the importance of sabbatical and jubilee? How can this week's Torah portion enhance our understanding of God?"

Sanctifying the Body. "Looking at these two blessings together, it seems clear to me that there's some body/soul dualism at work. The soul is pure regardless of the state of the body. (And clearly the traditional binary of tahor/tamei  is fascinatingly problematic for anyone who wants to engage with halakhah and wants to argue that our bodies are inherently holy.) But even so, I think the tradition's perspective on embodiment can't be reduced to 'thinking good, embodiment bad,' because the asher yatzar blessing reflects a sense of embodied life as miraculous. Our bodies are meant to inspire a regular sense of wonder."

Another Week at Elat Chayyim. "Elat Chayyim, for me, is like Miriam's Well, which (midrash teaches) followed our ancestors in the wilderness. The well contained such mayimei chayyim (living waters) that drinking from it nurtured both body and soul; it conferred Torah wisdom and insights, quenching thirst in all four worlds at once. I've just returned from a week-long Elat Chayyim retreat, and as usual, I feel steeped in tradition and enlivened by my learning."

Credo. "I think Judaism offers room for a variety of credos. So what's mine? It's a surprisingly tough question. I don't want to risk misunderstanding, or to lose nuance in the attempt to speak too plainly about matters which don't lend themselves to language. At the same time, I don't want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good; just because I can't be sure of expressing myself perfectly is no reason not to try. My final caveat is that I'm not sure it's possible for a credo to be comprehensive -- otherwise it would take lifetimes to write, let alone recite!  Maimonides came up with thirteen statements of faith; I set out to do the same."

Defining Renewal "'So what is Jewish Renewal, anyway?' You'd think I'd have a good response to that question, especially now that I'm a student in the Renewal rabbinic program. But I wrestle with the same "elevator speech" problem that my friends over in Reconstructionist Judaism and Unitarian Universalism know so intimately; there's no good twelve-second definition of Jewish Renewal.

Celebrating Dialogue. "The part/whole relationship I want to blog about is how Judaism in general, and American Judaism in particular, relates to other religious traditions -- and the paradigm shift I hope we're experiencing in that regard. I believe Judaism can best safeguard its integrity through relinquishing triumphalism, and I think the I-Thou dialogic impulse is one of our greatest strengths."


The process of choosing these was surprisingly fun, and rereading a year's worth of blog posts revealed some trends in my writing that I found interesting. (For one thing, judging from the teaser quotes I chose, above, I seem to use lists of questions as a frequent rhetorical device.)

Enjoy, and thanks for being a part of Velveteen Rabbi. I look forward to seeing what conversations we have in 2006. Happy secular New Year, all; see you on the flipside!

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