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#blogElul 10: Count

BlogElul 2016Things that have no limit
in this world or any other:

how often I can think of you
and feel my sadness lessen

the comfort that I find in you
from eve to night to morning

how many times I turn to you
to see my best self reflected

the gratitude I feel for you
(how did I get so lucky?)

All of these are infinite --
my love for you is greater.


 

I've written this poem before -- or others very like it. As a poet, recognizing my own repetition is frustrating. But as someone who prays, I see the value in repetition and near-repetition, so I'm sharing this poem even though I have used the "things that have no limit" (אלו דברים שאין להם שיעור) reference / device before. 

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 9: Observe

BlogElul 2016The exterior's a little shabby,
could use a coat of paint.

A bit worn after a hard year:
not a lot of curb appeal.

Most people walk right by.
Not you: you see

the mezuzah in the doorway,
the light in the living room.

You see my heart, tender
and afraid no one will ever want --

Tell me again that I'm worthy
even when I feel most broken.

Tell me again that my strength
is beautiful, and makes me whole.


 

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 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.


Pursue justice: a d'var Torah for T'ruah

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This week's Torah portion contains one of the most famous justice-related verses in Torah: "צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף, / tzedek tzedek tirdof" -- "Justice, justice shall you pursue!"   

Although the parsha begins with the injunction to establish judges, this instruction -- to pursue justice -- doesn't seem to be aimed solely at those whose job it is to judge. Even those who don't practice justice for a living do judge others, whether or not our judgements have legal standing. So what does it mean to judge justly -- not just for those who work in the justice system, but for the rest of us, too?

That's the beginning of the d'var Torah I wrote for this week's Torah portion, Shoftim, for T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

You can read the whole thing here: Pursue Justice So That You May Truly Live.


#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?

 

 

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