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How I sustain myself: Shabbat

32195101210_e641d2e4fa_zA congregant asked me recently how I am managing. She meant both the circumstances of my life -- single parent, working one job and about to start a second -- and our national circumstances, as the new administration makes decisions that deeply distress me. What I really understood her to be asking was how I sustain myself during difficult times.

One of my answers is Shabbat.

Every week we retell the creation story: for six days God labored creating the world, and on the seventh day God rested and was ensouled. We too can be ensouled, can experience an enlivening of our deepest selves, when we turn away from the world of work for 25 hours.

In some ways, the most sustaining Shabbatot are those I'm able to spend on retreat and/or with beloved hevre (rabbinic colleague-friends) because at those times I am able to truly set the world aside. There's no laundry or bills to ignore.

At those times I'm usually not leading davenen, and I can relax into the skilled hands of my colleagues, who I can trust to facilitate a spiritual journey through the liturgy. (If I am leading, I'm usually co-leading, which is its own kind of partnered dance and which gives me good "juice.")

At those times I can sink in to the rhythms of Shabbat in community with others who are attuned to those rhythms, from the high-spirited joy of welcoming the Sabbath bride to the full celebration of Shabbat morning to the poignant yearning of Shabbat afternoon as we prepare to bid farewell to our weekly "taste of the world to come."

But even Shabbatot when I am at home, "on duty" as rabbi and as mom, can be sustaining for me.

My Shabbat practices are sometimes idiosyncratic, and have shifted over the years, but here's one on which I am firm: I do not pay bills on Shabbes. If I open a bill on Friday afternoon and don't pay it by sundown, it waits on the desk until Sunday. It will still be there when Shabbat is over, and I need a day of respite from worrying about finances.

I also don't read the news on Shabbes. I give myself the gift of being able to look away from news media and political discourse for a day. This is good for me, maybe especially now. (Others have written about the importance of self-care in these times: see Mirah Curzer's How to stay #outraged without losing your mind.) Taking a day away from my own fury at the brokenness of our world strengthens me for the week to come.

In his book Jewish With Feeling, co-written with Joel Segel, Reb Zalman z"l (of blessed memory) wrote:

Save up for Shabbos those activities that pamper your soul. Here I would take a more lenient approach toward certain activities that traditional halakhah forbids, as long as they are done in the spirit of Shabbos. If you enjoy gardening for its own sake, rather than regard it as a chore you'd just as soon delegate to someone else; if you're enjoying spending time with your plants rather than working on a crop with which to feed your family, then gardening is a Shabbosdik activity for you. If you're a computer programmer by trade but a potter at heart, and if setting aside some Shabbos time each week would allow you to enjoy sitting down at the potter's wheel, then pottery is a Shabbosdik activity for you.

We might swear off the telephone during our Shabbos celebration -- nothing can introdude on a Shabbos like a telemarketing call! -- but have a special signal for family and friends (or simply use caller ID). A friend of mine used to have a telephone date on Shabbos aternoon with a woman he was engaged to, who lived in another city, and the first thing they'd discuss was their thoughts on the Torah portion of the week. The telephone becomes a sacred instrument when it allows us to do things like this.

Sometimes on Shabbes I cook a new recipe, something I've been wanting to try but haven't found time for. The traditional interpretations of the categories of "work" in which one does not engage on Shabbat would prohibit cooking on this day when we seek not to create change in the world but to find the gifts in what already is, but I've found that cooking something new can be restorative for me.

Sometimes on Shabbes I immerse in poetry -- whether writing or tinkering with my own poems, or the poems of others in which I can just luxuriate. Polishing the poems in Texts to the Holy, my collection of love poems to the Beloved, feels especially Shabbesdik to me these days -- but the simple fact of engaging with poetry can enliven my Shabbes.

Singing in harmony, when I can manage it, is an extra-special Shabbat treat. I'm an alto and some of my sweetest memories of the last many years of my life are of singing in harmony with others. When we are singing Jewish liturgy or psalms or Hebrew songs, that's even more true, but any singing at all can enrich the sense of connection that I look to Shabbat to help me access.

At the end of Shabbat I make havdalah. Sometimes that's bittersweet -- I can be reluctant to let go of the extra sense of connection with my soul and my Source that Shabbat can provide -- but I know that my Shabbat time will have strengthened my readiness to face the coming week... and I know it will come again, thank God, in six short days.

 


Outrage and heartbreak at Trump's #MuslimBan

As-a-jew
I entered Shabbat and emerged from Shabbat heartsick at news of Trump's ban on Muslims and refugees entering this country. That he would issue such a ban at all is horrifying. That he did so on a day of remembrance of the wholesale slaughter of six million souls who were persecuted and killed for their religion (my religion) just makes this dystopian reality more surreal and more appalling.

Trump has suspended entry of all refugees into the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into this country for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- for the next 90 days. His ban also blocks entry for green card holders from those countries.

There are already countless reports of permanent residents of this country held in airports across the country as they tried to return from funerals, travel, or study abroad, and family members of American citizens who sought to come here legally on family visas now facing immediate deportation. These are some of the instances we know about because they're making it into the media; surely there are other stories, equally heart-wrenching, that aren't known to us. 

And the Syrian refugee crisis has been called the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. We should be responding to that crisis by welcoming refugees with open arms -- not, God forbid, closing our borders out of fear of people who look different, dress differently, or pray differently than we do.

Can you imagine escaping from wartorn Syria, living in a refugee camp for years, and finally making it through the red tape to be resettled here in a free country -- only to be turned away now by this? (That's exactly what happened to one family -- two parents and four children, one of whom is six years old. That child has been through hell I cannot imagine, and now that hell is prolonged.)

By the time I headed for bed on Saturday evening I was mildly heartened to see that a federal judge has blocked part of Trump's order -- but that's not enough. 

In November, ALEPH was the first Jewish organization to insist that if the President requires Muslims to register, we will register with them. The Jewish people have living memory of being refugees barred from entry into nations (including this one) where our lives could have been saved. We of all people should be fighting this unconstitutional and unconscionable executive order with all our might.

This is not the America I want to live in. 

The America I want to live in is one where religious freedom is uplifted and cherished -- not one where the person holding the highest office in the land demonizes adherents of any religion or people of any ethnicity.

The America I want to live in is one where refugees are welcomed and embraced -- not one where they risk being sent back to the horrors they fought so hard to escape.

The America I want to live in is a nation of opportunity and freedom -- not one where this kind of bigotry is allowed to stand.

The America I want to live in is the America of Emma Lazarus' poem The New Colossus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The verse most often repeated in Torah is "love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." The deepest wisdom of my religious tradition demands of us that we welcome refugees, not turn them away.

Torah demands that we love those who are different from us, not persecute them for their differences. My firmly-held principle of deep ecumenism reflects the truth that all religions are paths to the One, and my religious tradition calls me to stand firmly against bigotry and xenophobia in all of its forms. 

I am outraged: as a rabbi, as the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants who fled the Holocaust to seek safety on these shores, as an American citizen, and as a human being. This policy is unconscionable. My nation must be better than this.

I donated to the American Civil Liberties Union and to T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights after Shabbat ended. Here's a list from HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) of ways to help refugees. If you have suggestions of other actions we can take, I welcome them in comments. 

It's a new week, friends, and we have work to do.

 

 Although I cited, above, ALEPH's resolution urging all citizens to register as Muslims if the proposed Muslim registry were to come into being, I speak here as an individual, not as co-chair of ALEPH. I am also not speaking here for either of the institutions that employ me, the synagogue or the college. These views are my own.


Light in the darkness

NertamidAt the end of Shabbat, my son and I walked into the sanctuary of one of the synagogues in the bigger town south of here for a county-wide havdalah.

He immediately noticed the ner tamid -- the eternal light -- hanging on its chain in front of the ark where the Torah scrolls are kept. 

(He compared it to something in an iPad game, because he is an ordinary seven-year-old boy, and animation is one of his frames of reference. This ner tamid is made of white glass shot through with lines of red, which made him think of digital fire. I couldn't find a picture of that particular ner tamid, so I'm illustrating this post with a different one. They come in many styles, and all are beautiful.)

"We have one of those at our synagogue too," I told him. "But ours is made of colored stained glass. Remember?"

"Oh yeah," he said. "I know what you're talking about."

"Every synagogue has one," I said. "It's supposed to always be on, all the time." And then I thought to ask him, "Why do you think that is?"

I don't know what I thought he would say. I was primed to give him a standard answer for why the ner tamid is there -- that it represents God's loving presence which is always with us. (To an adult, I might have also added that it represents the ancestral fire that Torah teaches was to be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.)

I should have known that he would have an answer of his own.

"To light our way through the darkness of our fears," he said confidently.

Now, maybe I primed him for that, the previous morning. We'd talked about people's hopes and fears upon the inauguration of a new President, and how he might hear something about those at the havdalah event on Saturday night.

But even if my mention of hopes and fears planted a seed for him, he made the leap from there to the ner tamid all on his own. He saw intuitively how our fears can feel like darkness, and how divine presence can be a beacon. It was obvious to him that the purpose of the ner tamid is to help us find our way when life feels dark.

"You just taught me something," I said to him. "Thank you."

"I did?" He seemed excited at the prospect. "Will you write it down?"

My child knows me well. "I will," I promised him.

And now I have.


Mission Accepted - a d'var Torah for parashat Shemot

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Did you ever watch "Mission Impossible"? At the start of each episode, a recorded voice would announce "Your mission, should you choose to accept it..." And then after explaining the mission, the voice would conclude "this tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

This week's Torah portion contains a scene like that, only without the self-destructing cassette tape. At the burning bush, God tells Moshe his mission: to go to Pharaoh and demand that Pharaoh let God's people go.

Moses demurs, I don't even know who to say has sent me! And God answers "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh -- I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming. Tell them that Becoming Itself has sent you." Moses demurs again, and God gives him some magic tricks to perform, a staff that will turn into a snake and back again. Moses demurs a third time:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָ֑י שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח׃ / But he said, “Please, My Lord, make someone else Your agent!”

At this point, God does not say "well, it's your mission if and only if you choose to accept it." God says, "fine: your brother will partner with you in this work -- now get to it." God gives Moshe companionship in the task ahead, but God does not give him the chance to say no.

Moshe was out tending sheep in the wilderness, not searching for a new mission in life. And then his eyes were opened to wonder, the bush that burned but was not consumed. And then he heard the voice of God telling him there was work in the world that only he could do. It's no wonder he balked. Who can blame him?

I have empathy for Moshe's "please, God, send someone else." He knew his own failings. He knew all the reasons why he didn't feel suitable for divine deployment. Maybe he liked his life the way it was, and he didn't want to get drawn into politics and into creating change.

Maybe he anticipated that the work of bringing change would be hard and that people would hate him. Sure enough, when he first goes to Pharaoh, the initial effect is that the people's labors are intensified, and the people curse him thoroughly. Leadership is rarely easy. Poor Moshe is disliked both by Pharaoh, and by the people he seeks to serve and to save.

"Please, God, send someone else!" Maybe you too have felt that way. Maybe you've looked at the road ahead and seen that it looks scary. Maybe you know your life needs to change, but you're scared of change and of the work it requires. Maybe you know our nation needs to change, but you're paralyzed by the enormity of the change we need.

Maybe you've been a parent bringing a newborn home from the hospital thinking "I am in way over my head," or started a new job thinking "why did they hire me, I don't have these skills," or stepped reluctantly into leadership wishing someone else had been willing to take the banner because you don't want the drama or the responsibility or the projections others will place on you.

Moshe didn't get to say no to his deployment, but he did get someone to share it with him. I'd like to think that we can all find that, if we keep our eyes open. All of us can seek a colleague, a friend, a brother, a partner -- someone who shares the calling and the burdens that come with it.

Moshe had that in his brother Aharon. Their skillsets were complementary: Moshe spoke to God, and Aharon had the necessary skills to speak to the people. We can take turns being Aharon and Moshe for each other. We can by turns engage with the life of the polis and the life of spirit. We can create change on the front lines, and we can create change behind the scenes. And together we can be stronger, and more, and more whole, than any of us could be alone.

We get to do the work together. We don't get to turn away from the work at hand.

All of us are tasked with perfecting our broken world -- which sometimes means healing the brokenness in ourselves, and sometimes means healing the brokenness in public life. All of us are tasked with speaking truth to power, fighting for freedom, helping the vulnerable push through the narrow place of constriction into liberation. All of us are charged with cultivating the sense of wonder that will let us hear God's voice issuing forth from the fire, and the sense of obligation that binds us to the work we're here to do.

Our challenge is shifting from channeling our inner Moshe -- "Please, God, pick somebody else!" -- to channeling our inner Isaiah (6:8):

וָאֶשְׁמַע אֶת-קוֹל אֲדֹנָי, אֹמֵר, אֶת-מִי אֶשְׁלַח, וּמִי יֵלֶךְ-לָנוּ; וָאֹמַר, הִנְנִי שְׁלָחֵנִי. / And I heard the voice of God saying "whom shall I send, and who will go forth for us?" and I said, "Here I am. Send me."

The work is vast. Working toward redemption -- whether personal or national -- is not easy. But it's what we're here to do. When the work of change and transformation call, don't look around to see who else might pick up the slack. Say "Here I am. Send me."

 

Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.


Returning home from a week in ALEPH-land

Colorado

Every year I struggle to figure out how to describe my week with this particular subset of my ALEPH / Jewish Renewal community, and every year my words come up short.

This is even more true than it used to be now that with Rabbi David I am co-chair of ALEPH. This means both that our time here in Colorado is longer than it used to be -- we gathered for a Board meeting last week, before the Shabbaton, which came before the smicha (ordination), which came before the OHALAH conference of Jewish Renewal clergy -- and also that our time here in Colorado is more densely-packed with commitments, conversations, and appointments than it ever was before.

Looking back on the last week, my first thought is that I can hardly believe it's only been eight days. Surely I have been away from home for a month! It feels this way to me in part because each day is so packed (morning prayer, meetings, lunch meetings, more meetings, then afternoon prayer, then more meetings, then still more meetings, then evening prayer, then yet more meetings -- not to mention the impromptu meetings in the lobby, the elevator, by the fireplace, in the meal line...)

There's also a way in which gathering with the same community year after year causes time to telescope -- it shrinks and expands, linking now with then and then and then. Of course every year there are new faces: new students in the ALEPH ordination programs, new members of OHALAH. And every year a few of the faces who used to be with us are absent. Even so, the gathering of this community creates a kind of psycho-spiritual container that is palpably the same container each year.

And time takes on a strange quality inside that container. Is it 2017, or is it 2011, or is it 2006? On the Sunday of this trip I found myself thinking: is this the day I was welcomed in to the community (I remember exactly how I felt as I stood in line to walk beneath that chuppah as a baby rabbinical student), or the day I was blessed on my way out of the community, or the day when I got to be a part of the transmission of smicha? And of course it was none of those -- but it was also all of those, all at once.

The last eight days have been dense and rich and full. They've contained countless conversations about the pace of change, and organizational transitions, and the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal. They've contained Board meetings and conference sessions, and learning with this year's keynote speaker Rabbi Benay Lappe. We've shared with the OHALAH community some of what we learned over our fifteen-month listening tour (we're working now on the report from those travels; stay tuned.)

One afternoon I went to the hot tub, surrounded by snow, and wound up talking there with colleagues about real-life ethical and halakhic questions we have faced around weddings, Shabbat, and brit milah. We talked about balancing competing values, about integral halakha, about gender and ritual, about ethics and how we make choices. It was an extraordinary conversation, and afterward we cleansed our palate by singing one of Reb Zalman's niggunim and one of Hazzan Jessi Roemer's melodies.

One night I went to a friend's room and held the space and bore witness as some of her dearest beloveds tied tzitzit and tchelet (blue threads) on the tallit she would wear during her rabbinic ordination. Another night I gathered some of my beloveds in my room and together we tied tzitzit and tchelet on my newest tallit, a creation made just for me by my dear friend Rabbi Shulamit Thiede of Not My Brother's Kippah. On still other nights I sat in the lobby with friends and sang songs until far too late, with joy.

I've been privileged this week to bear witness to the smicha (ordination) of a class of mashpi'im (spiritual directors) -- and also the smicha of a new cohort of clergy, a hazzan and four rabbis. I've been privileged this week to take part in some extraordinary davenen, learning new melodies and savoring familiar ones, singing meaningful words in harmony with beloved hevre who care as much as I do about the words and their meanings and how they can connect us up and in and through.

As a special treat, twice over the last week (once before the Board meeting began, and once on Shabbes afternoon) I made it into the mountains with friends to walk and to soak in the natural beauty. That was a gift too. It's all too easy to come here and never leave the confines of the conference hotel, and while I am primarily here for the community and the hevreschaft, sometimes it is sweet to experience those collegial friendships in the setting of the natural world instead of the hotel halls.

This week I've had countless conversations. I've davened, I've learned, I've taught, I've kvelled. And now I am on my way home, physically exhausted but spiritually uplifted, grateful for this community and for the spiritual gifts they have enabled me to receive.

 


Prayer for the Musmachot

prayer-for-the-musmachot

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Who came into the womb of narrow unknowing
Each with her household, to be rebirthed anew,

Called by name at the moment of becoming
No less than the stars that shine in their time
By which to count a promised people of light.

Birthing took time, but they’re vigorous in living
And giving life-giving life from essence of soul,
The single point of light that is light before light.

It did not merely appear in your wild and waste:
You saw, daring to turn toward flame of heart,
Standing open to touch and tend the holy,

Hearing your name as never before called from the
Name as never before spoken, becoming in all ways
Within you What is Becoming always within you,

Now ready to shine as never before, for you as the very
Top of the mountain that glowed with the radiance of
Birth herself in truth and love and pain and hope.

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Come to lead from narrow unknowing to rebirth anew
With eyes wide open – daring to turn aside and see

The flame of heart, to help all of us stand open to
Touch and tend the holy, to hear and become –
Next links in the unbroken chain of always becoming

Now given to their care, placed on their shoulders,
Hearing their names as never before, leaning back into
History’s hands: from where we stand, go forward.

Dedicated with love and blessing to the
ALEPH Class of 2017

Rabbi Rachel Hersh
Rabbi Diane Lakein
Hazzan Jessi Roemer
Rabbi Susan Shamash
Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi David Evan Markus & Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Co-Chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

CLICK TO VIEW COMPLETE POEM WITH COMMENTARY

Icon-prayer-for-the-musmachot


Off to Colorado once again

Dual
Eleven years ago at this season I made my way to Colorado for my first ALEPH Ordination Programs student Shabbaton and OHALAH conference. I experienced the ritual that welcomes incoming students and blesses outgoing students, on the Sunday morning of the day of the smicha (ordination). After the Shabbaton, I attended my first conference of Jewish Renewal clergy.

I've been back every year since, even the year when I'd just been hospitalized for strokes. The only January gathering I missed was the one when my son was a newborn. (Coincidentally, that was also the only year the conference moved away from Colorado -- that year OHALAH experimented with holding the gathering in St. Louis instead.)

Six years ago this winter I myself was ordained on the day between the ALEPH student Shabbaton and the OHALAH conference. And two years ago I was privileged to participate in the ordination as part of the chain of transmission through which Reb Zalman z"l's legacy flows. Those two experiences of blessing and transformation are highlights of my life.

These days I always go to Colorado a few days before the Shabbaton and conference, because that's when the ALEPH Board of Directors has our annual winter meeting. This year we'll spend that meeting entering into capacity-building and strategic planning with the Reverend Bill Kondrath, with whom I had the pleasure of learning last summer at Clergy Camp. I'm excited about working with him toward a vibrant future for ALEPH and for the renewal of Judaism.

Last year was my first OHALAH conference as co-chair (with R' David) of ALEPH. We discovered that the conference is a somewhat different experience from this vantage. I'm expecting that this year will be similarly booked chock-full of meetings (both scheduled and impromptu), though I'm hoping to make it to at least a few conference sessions, and to get time to connect with a few friends.

If you'll be at the ALEPH Board meeting in Broomfield, or at the Shabbaton that follows it, or at the OHALAH conference of Jewish Renewal clergy, I look forward to learning and dining and davening and harmonizing and simply being with you in the coming days! And if not, I look forward to connecting with you once I return home from my week away. Thanks for bearing with me while I'm on the road.

 


New in The Wisdom Daily: Everything Breaks. It's What We Do With The Pieces That Matters.

31967190051_a22ff3cf91_z...On my scraps of paper, I jotted down phrases like “the sorrow of my divorce” and “tendency to diminish my own needs” and “feeling silenced.” I felt both humbled and hopeful: humbled by the recognition that there’s much I need to shed, and hopeful at the prospect of truly letting those things go.

When we were done writing, we went around the table and took turns reading each scrap of paper aloud and then holding it in the fire until it began to burn. We dropped the flaming bits of paper into the dish that held the tealight. We burned old griefs and bad habits.

When we were done, one of my friends suggested a variation. We each wrote blessings for each of the others,  read those aloud, and lit them on fire too — not because we wanted the blessings to burn up, but because the act of setting them aflame felt like a way of offering the intentions up to God.

As we finished reading and burning our hopes and blessings for each other, we heard a loud crack. We promptly blew out the flame, but it was too late — the ceramic dish holding the tealight had broken in two....

That's from my latest essay for The Wisdom Daily.

Read the whole thing: Everything Breaks. It's What We Do With The Pieces That Matters

 

 


Free to be - a d'var Torah for parashat Vayigash

Life-Files-Sorry-Who-are-Youוְלֹֽא־יָכֹ֨ל יוֹסֵ֜ף לְהִתְאַפֵּ֗ק לְכֹ֤ל הַנִּצָּבִים֙ עָלָ֔יו וַיִּקְרָ֕א הוֹצִ֥יאוּ כָל־אִ֖ישׁ מֵעָלָ֑י וְלֹא־עָ֤מַד אִישׁ֙ אִתּ֔וֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּ֥ע יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶל־אֶחָֽיו׃

Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone withdraw from me!" So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

That's the verse that leaps out at me this year. And within that verse, one word: בְּהִתְוַדַּ֥ע, "he made himself known."

The root of this word is the simple verb meaning to know. To know, to perceive, to distinguish one thing from another. This verb can mean to know someone "in the Biblical sense," to make love with someone and thereby know them deeply. It appears here in the causative form: to cause oneself to be known.

To cause oneself to be known.

How often do we dedicate our energies to ensuring precisely the opposite? We work hard at hiding ourselves. We hide our tender hearts. We hide our fears. We hide our insecurities. Men in particular are taught to do this in our culture: to hide their vulnerability, because it makes them "weak" or "feminine."

Or perhaps we show our insecurities, and hide our confidence and our strength. Women in particular are taught to do this in our culture: to soften, to backpedal, to hide our strength lest we be perceived as uppity or mannish or threatening.

I have been accused of being unfit for leadership because I act "too much like a man," because I speak my mind and draw clear boundaries.

And I have been accused of being unfit for leadership because I am not enough like a man, because I cry easily and I allow myself to be vulnerable.

If we allow these binaristic gender stereotypes to persist, we can't win. And we can't do what Joseph so bravely does in this week's parsha: we can't allow ourselves to truly be known.

The stereotypes are reductive, and they're also flat wrong.

The Jewish mystical tradition depicts God as being ultimately unitary and beyond all human knowledge, and also at the same time available to us through multiple faces or aspects. God has no gender, and yet we understand God as having both masculine and feminine qualities. God is the ultimate source of lovingkindness and compassion, and also the ultimate source of strength and boundaries.

We who are made in the divine image and likeness manifest these qualities too -- all of them, no matter what our gender expression may be. We do ourselves and each other a great disservice when we insist that men are "supposed" to be strong and women are "supposed" to be gentle, that dad is "supposed" to be the disciplinarian and mom is "supposed" to be the source of comfort... and I mean this not only in our family systems but also in our organizations, in our communities, on boards and committees, in social circles.

What we are "supposed" to be is who we most deeply are. All of who we are, in our fullness, with our contradictions and our yearnings, our hopes and our fears.

In order for Joseph to feel safe making himself known to his brothers, he needs to see that they have changed. He needs to see that they have truly made teshuvah, repented from their earlier mistreatment of him so profoundly that when faced with a similar choice they would choose differently than they did when they sold him into slavery. When he sees that they have made teshuvah and have changed, then he sends the courtiers out of the room and reveals who he truly is.

Each of us needs to do our own inner work, our teshuvah work, our work of repentance and repair. We do this work not only for the sake of our own souls, but also because when we do this work, we give the people around us permission to do it, too. When we do this work, we give the people around us permission to make themselves known to us, to reveal the sweetness and the strength, the vulnerability and the courage, of who they most truly are. When we do our own inner work, we make it safe for those around us to be like Joseph: to be real and whole and free to be who we are at last.

Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.


Featured on Greylock Glass

Greylock-nation_FB_timeline_300x300I had the profound pleasure recently of sitting down with Kate Abbott of BTW Berkshires, and with Rabbi David Evan Markus (my dear friend and ALEPH co-chair), for a conversation that was both wide-ranging and deep.

Kate was interviewing us about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal for the Greylock Glass podcast. (Here's her archive at Greylock Glass.)

We spoke for more than an hour: about Judaism, Jewish Renewal, the legacy of Reb Zalman z"l (of blessed memory), the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, deep ecumenism, and ALEPH's recent resolution that if President-Elect Trump should obligate Muslims to register as such with the government we urge all Jews (and all Americans) to register as Muslims to thwart that nefarious plan. We spoke about the evolution of religious tradition, about the life of the spirit, and about maintaining hope in dark times

This episode of the podcast is about a number of community efforts for solidarity and inclusion. In addition to conversations with us, the podcast includes Nick Cave's exhibit at MASS MoCA, Professor Moustafa Bayoumi coming to speak at Simon's Rock, and four young WordxWord poets reading as part of Othering, the November art show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.

Kate is a terrific journalist, and has a gift for eliciting deep answers to incisive questions. It probably also doesn't hurt that I've known Kate for many years (since the days when journalism was my own career, back when I was editor of The Women's Times, before Inkberry and before rabbinical school), and I've known David even longer. It's easy for conversations among old friends to go to meaningful places. 

The podcast episode that arose out of that conversation is now live, and you can listen to it online: Will Call #54: Standing Up Against Othering. (Our segment starts around 47 minutes in, and lasts for about half an hour, but I recommend listening to the whole thing.)