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Rabbi Rachel Adler: What was the Sin of Sodom?

Three gems from Sunday at OHALAH


Although my intention on Sunday morning is to sleep in, I don't manage it. My body's still on east coast time, and even though I stayed up later on Saturday night than is my usual wont, I find that on Sunday morning I can't sleep any later than 6:30. So I shower and dress and make my way down to the lobby, where I pour myself a cup of cucumber-infused water and settle in on one of the couches to read for a little while before shacharit, morning prayer.

But my attention is caught by what's happening in the next cosy nook over: two women are gathered around a small low table, busily wrapping tzitzit -- fringes -- and tying them to the corners of a beautiful striped tallit. I pause for a moment and watch them. They are absorbed in their joyous task, and I don't think they notice me looking on. I beam at them, thinking: at what other conference in the world does one run across women tying tzitzit on a tallit in a hotel lobby?



I go to lunch at the Dushanbe teahouse with three friends. The painted ceiling, the pots of mango ginger black tea, conversation about hashpa'ah / spiritual direction, and what it might be like if the hashpa'ah program were something everyone in the ALEPH ordination programs did, and cooking, and being here. The simple pleasure of good food, good conversation, togetherness.

Atthe end of the meal, Evan breaks into Brich Rachamana, and we four sing the round together, our voices interweaving and blending. Perhaps because this is Boulder, which is a little bit granola-crunchy; Boulder, home of Naropa and Reb Zalman and a lot of spiritual goings-on -- no one at the teahouse appears to mind or even to notice the foursome in the corner singing an obscure Talmudic grace after meals. Above us, the painted ceilings gleam.



Reb Zalman is speaking to the musmachot -- this year's crop of ordinees -- and he tells a story which, as he begins it, I realize he told at my smicha two years ago and I had forgotten in the interim. It's about a man who lost his beautiful snuff box in a cemetery and was crying about it, and the goat who lived in the cemetery and who had beautiful long spiralling horns said "here, take some of my horn," and bent down to give him some of his horn to make a new snuff box.

And the man's new snuff box was so beautiful, and it made the snuff inside it so heavenly, that soon everyone in town came to the cemetery to demand some of the horn -- which had reached all the way to the heavens; it provided a taste of the sweetness of Eden -- and soon the goat with the beautiful spiralling horns was worn down to nubs, and there was no one left who could hold up the heavens and reach the sweetness of Eden. Don't do this to your rabbis, Reb Zalman cautioned us. Don't wear them down to the nubs. Let them reach up to the heavens and draw sweetness down.