Over the course of 2014 I've spent countless hours writing the material which appears on this blog. Some of my posts come together quickly; others take days or weeks to polish and prepare. Either way, they move off the front page and they tend to disappear into memory. So each year, as December draws toward its close, I reread the year's worth of material and share excerpts from some favorite posts which I hope merit re-reading.
This year when I did my rereading, I found that there were more than ten posts which I hoped might have staying power. So instead of one top-ten list, I'll be sharing a handful of favorites in three posts over the course of the next week. Here are my favorites from the early part of 2014:
Both a snowstorm and Shabbat offer a break from ordinary workday realities. A time to cease the mechanisms of production and to relax, secure in the knowledge that there's nothing we're supposed to be doing, so we can just be for a change...
It was hard for me to understand Shabbat being like the wolf who causes a stir both before and after his arrival, but Shabbat being like the winter snowstorm which forces us to slow down, stop working, enjoy family time -- that's a metaphor which immediately resonates for me.
I always try to hold on to the both/and. To see things from both sides. To celebrate what is wonderful without ignoring what's problematic: in Torah, in the literary sources I read, in my relationships, in my life. This is one of my central life-values. And I also try to live out this value when it comes to the contemporary Middle East...
When I am fortunate enough to be able to travel to the Middle East (and when I'm at home, reading blogs and newspapers as widely as I can) I try to stay open to the tension between [opposing] truths. I try to remember that the reality is always more nuanced, more beautiful and more painful, more complicated, than any of the easy stories anyone wants to tell.
Perhaps a new prayer should be composed to recite before taharah in cases where cremation has been chosen. That prayer could gently remind the soul that in life it made this choice, and ask for God's gentle care as the soul returns to the Mystery from which it came. Our sages teach (Mishnah Yoma 8:9) that "God is the mikveh of Israel," and that when we seek to immerse ourselves in divine presence (e.g. during Yom Kippur) God's presence purifies us. A prayer for taharah before cremation could assert that as the water we pour cleanses the body, a return to God's enfolding presence purifies the soul, and that that return takes place regardless of what becomes of the body's component molecules.
All of this may sound unusual to those of us who are most familiar with the Jewish practice of liturgical prayer, known in Hebrew as tefilah. We may have the notion that meditation is something Buddhists do on their cushions, whereas Jews engage in something different altogether! Except... I'm not so sure it's all that different. I think there's a clue to the meditative quality of Jewish worship in the very word we most frequently use to mean prayer.
Here's the thing, though: most of us don't live on retreat. Most of us don't have the luxury of beginning the day in perfect silence and contemplation, gliding into a joyful morning service, and only then engaging in trivial or ordinary speech. Most of the people I know wake up to someone's needs: the needs of children, the needs of parents, the needs of a sick or disabled partner, the needs of animals. Who has the luxury of avoiding "trivial matters" until after morning prayer? Certainly not me.