Don’t Wish Me a “Happy New Year”

Since Cool Shul hosts a Shabbat service only once per month, last Friday was our “New Year’s” Shabbat.  Hope you enjoy my talk for that Shabbat. 🙂

Love, Rabbi Di

Our Torah portion this week is Parshat “Bo”, which means come. During Parshat Bo, where we experience the final three plagues, God tells Moses to go (bo) to Pharaoh.  You may have noticed that I translated bo as go, even though I just said it means come.  Rarely does a translation say “come to Pharoah,” but that is what it actually says, and many have wrestled with the fact that the word is confusing in its use.  Why would God say, “Come to Pharaoh” rather than “Go”? It’s a fun puzzle to try to solve.

In my research, I found that most commentators agree that in God’s telling Moses to come, and not go, God is present with Moses during his interactions with Pharaoh, so God is really saying “come with me” to Pharoah.  Another idea is that God is hovering near Pharaoh all the time, so God is asking Moses to come to where God is already present.

Of course, I have another interpretation to add, and it fits perfectly into the New Year’s theme.  

Be it the secular New Year or the spiritual New Year of Rosh Hashanah, we often say to each other (when using English), “Happy new year.”  During Rosh Hashanah, however, when we greet one another in Hebrew with Shanah Tovah Umetukah, we wish each other a good and sweet year.  My question for you is the following: is good or sweet the same as happy?

To me, what may be good or sweet doesn’t have to come with the pressure of making us happy.  Depending on what has gone on in one’s life during the prior year, a good year or a sweet year may not necessarily lead to happiness, and it certainly won’t lead to happiness all the time.  Good or sweet might just be improvement or going in the right direction.  And what does being “happy” even mean? It’s not the same as present or content.  Being happy or not seems too black and white for me, too two-dimensional. Personally I think we all are often kind of happy and kind of not.

One of my students studying the creation story talks about the eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden as taking away our happiness because we became aware of all of the problems and possibilities of our world when we ate it.  But, he asks, “Is it better to just frolic around the garden like a bunny… unaware and simple but happy?” To face our powers and weaknesses is, in many ways, to be unhappy. So he also asks, “Would we want it any other way?” And so there we are — happy and unhappy, but maybe content that way, and perhaps that state is even the key to the meaning of life.  So wishing each other a happy new year is asking us to move away from what might be a healthy state of being and setting each other up for failure.

Maybe the purpose of the inspiration for renewal at a new year, is not to become more happy, but to get a step closer to home… to being the people our natural states are asking us to be.  Perhaps we can make New Year’s resolutions not to go toward something we aren’t, but to come… or “bo” back to ourselves.

Returning to Moses, we have to remember that he grew up in the Pharaoh’s court.  While it’s believed that the Pharaoh of the exodus story could not possibly be the Pharaoh of Moses’ youth (and no one has figured out if there is a true Moses/Pharaoh relationship anyway), Moses’ return, at least in the story, is a march to his old home and to everything he left behind.  I think that the word “come” is used because Moses isn’t just moving away from his life, but he is actually coming home to a familiar place. As frightening as it would be to be put in the position of being the reluctant hero as Moses was, imagine how frightening it would be if we were also returning to our old homes, to a place we had to run from.  Moses is coming back to face a part of himself, his history, and his experiences within Egypt. He has to come to himself.

And so, with New Year’s, we can focus on those usual surface goals – like the ever present losing weight and going to the gym —  but so often those kinds of resolutions fall away and dissolve partly because the hope is to become something we aren’t rather than coming home to what we already are.  Perhaps we need to focus not on a product, but on a process, on “bo”, on coming toward ourselves and what can free us, just as Moses had to “bo” in order to be completely free from his past and be strong enough to free others.

If you’ve already made some New Year’s resolutions, it isn’t too late to retool them.  Let’s see if we can focus on our potential. Let’s see if we can focus on activities and expressions that create wholeness within us and for those around us.  Let’s see if the promises we make can be about coming and not going.

Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

I’m not ready.

Taking a walk today, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness for the Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, and yes all of my music is in order, yes I have prepared everything I’m going to say, yes the choir and musicians have been rehearsed, and yes our Torah chanter is amazing (she really is!).   The “me” that is the hardworking, organizing, “CEO” of Cool Shul is definitely ready, but what about the me that is a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and spiritual leader?  Is she ready?  Am I as prepared inside as I am on the outside?  The answer is no.

Who am I to think I could or should lead others?  Who am I, so full of flaws and stress and worries, to think I have any business telling others how to process their own? Here I am, full of doubts and fears as it relates to personal and career matters, the earth’s wellness, and (of course!) national and international affairs.   I don’t have any answers, much less all of them!  I’m as confused as the next guy (ok, gal).  So, what profound thing am I supposed to say at the Holy Days that hasn’t already been said about Charlottesville or the hurricanes or the government or the world, when here I stand without any prescriptions for remedies?  Who the (bleep!) do I think I am to lead anyone? 

Maybe I’m weak.

Or… maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

We know what it’s like when leaders forget that their roles are to serve the people and not vice-versa.  We have all experienced occasions on which people in powerful positions, be they teachers, clergy, bosses, or (gulp!) politicians, are no longer humbled by their opportunities to lead and make decisions to benefit themselves more than others (even if they can’t see it).  I suppose it’s healthier to be nervous about my ability to lead than overconfident.  So, maybe I’m perfectly hesitant, right where I should be.

At the Holy Days, the Cantor chants Hineni, a text in which we spiritual leaders admit that we are not strong enough to take on the responsibilities of the community.  We admit that we are afraid in the face of our leadership.  We cry out loud that we are here, but that we are humbled before the task at hand.  I suppose that is just where I am.  And that’s okay.  I have always thought that Rabbis (or any other spiritual leaders for that matter) aren’t supposed to be expected to (or act as if) they have all the answers.  We are simply humans with positive and less positive traits.  We search our tradition for our own answers, but we truly can only share with our communities where we are in our own learning. We don’t have all the answers (and if we say we do, run!).  So, Hineni, here I am, humbled before the task to lead my community through these days, but ready to share what I have discovered.  Nothing more.  But also nothing less.

These Holy Days, I will be honored by each and every presence before me who invites me into their spiritual realms.  But I will also ask you to lead too. Every educator knows that students often teach as much as they learn.  I promise to try to lift my community up and share a thing or two, but I hope you will also do the same for me and the person sitting next to you.  Let’s all teach and share.  Great leaders don’t lead alone, and I can’t wait to hear about your journeys.

Join me, either in person or online these Holy Days.  We will be in Temescal Canyon, inspired by the trees peeking through the windows of Cheadle/Woodland Hall.

Reserve a place at our Holy Days Here. http://www.coolshul.org/event/highholydays

Become my “friend” on Facebook so you can see our live stream here. https://www.facebook.com/diane.o.rose.9

A special thank you to my friend who delivers meals for Meals on Wheels with me every week and who inspired this blog.  Today she led me. 🙂GREAT_LEADERS

Jewish Guide for Stressful Times

Al sheloshah d’varim        Upon three things

ha-olam omeid.                  The world stands.

Al ha-torah,                          Upon torah,

V’al ha-avodah,                  And upon prayer,

V’al g’milut chasidim       And upon acts of loving kindness.

—Pirkei Avot

These are stressful times. Whether you are fearful about the future or regretting the past, whether your stress stems from politics or health issues, whether your worries are about your parents, your children, yourselves, or the planet (or all of the above), it seems few of us are relaxed these days. We don’t know which way to go, which way to turn, what to fund, what to sign, whom to support, and whom to condemn. We are lost in a sea of news and social media, all while needing to keep up with the strains of every day life. No matter what we read on Facebook, Twitter or the New York Times, there are still sick children and parents.  There are still groceries that need to be purchased, homework that needs to get done, bills that need to be paid, and career woes that need to get solved. Lately, it seems many of us wake up in the middle of the night finding we’ve been grinding our teeth and sweating through uncomfortable dreams as our subconscious works through its agitations. We find ourselves a little more testy, a little less patient, and a little less thoughtful.  We feel afraid and alone.

But Judaism offers a simple statement that can carry us through, if we listen, one day at a time…

Upon three things the world stands. Upon torah, upon prayer, and upon acts of loving kindness.

In some ways, this quote from Pirkei Avot is all we need to guide us. It won’t solve our problems, but it is a three-step road map to action and to inner-peace if we follow it, and for now, that will have to do.

My old Rabbi and mentor used to talk about big T Torah and little t torah. Big T is for the text of the Torah scroll itself. Little t moves beyond those Five books of Moses to all forms of learning, teaching and study of wisdom, Jewish and otherwise. So, the world first stands upon knowledge: spiritual, scientific, social, political and personal wisdom. The world stands upon learning our personal truths and the truths of the universe.

How does this relate to feeling stressed and out of control? Let’s all choose one element (I suggest just one to start when we are feeling like there are so many issues to face) of what is worrying us, and learn, study, and understand that issue. Let’s get the facts (oy, please let’s not be part of this “post-fact” world we keep hearing about!), rather than rely on hearsay or headlines or word of mouth. Let’s gather truth, and whether these truths are about the world’s problems or about what a doctor or teacher may have reported about a loved one, let’s make sure we are as armed with wise, factual information as we can. That’s step one.

Ready for step two?

According to Pirkei Avot, the next thing the world stands upon is prayer… well, only sort of. The Hebrew word for prayer actually means “work” or “labor.”  So, this means that the world doesn’t only stand upon prayer but stands upon our efforts. It means the actions we do can be prayerful.  So, let’s act! Let’s put some effort towards improving the situations about which we just educated ourselves. This may mean going to meetings or therapy, donating to a cause, or marching, demonstrating, or volunteering. You decide what the right action is, but they key is that there is action. The key is doing. Let’s not sink into a sense of defeatism over what crushes us, but get up on our feet, “pray with our legs,” and get out there, even if the action itself seems small… even if our efforts will only make a difference to ourselves, knowing we gave it our best shot. 🙂

Finally, we are told the world stands upon acts of loving kindness. G’milut is actually a giving, it’s charity. And chasidim? Boundless kindness and love. G’milut chasidim is giving away boundless kindness.

So here we are at step three. While we are improving our knowledge, and going into action, let’s try to remember to be full of endless kindness as we do. After all, a big part of the knowledge we seek is to understand what and whom we don’t already understand. So, let’s look into opposing eyes with openness. Let’s face dissenting voices with strength wrapped in grace. Let’s stare into the depths of illness and issues and fear, holding ourselves tall. Let’s allow our power to filter through kindness with every encounter, no matter how difficult it is. Remember what our first lady said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Knowledge… Effort… Boundless kindness… Three simple Jewish ingredients for spiritually surviving trying times. This road map won’t solve everything, but we will be bathed in truth while marching toward resolution with grace in our hearts. Maybe that is enough for us to gain control over what appears to be out of control.

So, the next time we feel ourselves spinning, let’s remember this post. Let’s learn, act, and do our best to offer boundless kindness as we take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

B’shalom (with inner-peace),
Rantor Diane

stress-image

Device Free Dinners (and a goat)

This is Gertie:

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We made her. 

She’s a goat (okay, she’s a goat mask pulled over a box) and she eats everything.

You’ve heard of a scapegoat, haven’t you?  But did you know that concept came from Torah??

In the section of Leviticus read by some communities on Yom Kippur it says:

Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.  Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

Well, I’m not sure how I feel about assigning our sins to a cute furry animal and sending it out into the wilderness to probably die, but I do like the idea that we give our regrets to a goat.  After all, a goat will eat anything,  Maybe it will even eat our “I’m sorry’s”.

So, at our Yom Kippur services we did an exercise.  We all got 3×5 cards to write down (G rated!) actions which we regretted.  Then we collected the cards, shuffled them up, and redistributed them so that each community member could stand and read a “sorry” that didn’t belong to him or her.   We had to hear our regrets come from another voice into the community.  Then (this part was optional, but everyone did it) we could go to Gertie, and feed her the regret card.  Of course she ate them all.  She eats everything!  🙂

What was so amazing was the recurring themes we heard as each person read… Not spending enough time with children, not better understanding children, not being more present for those around them.  And the kids mostly focused on awareness… awareness of their bodies and their actions.

Hmmm.  Seems like presence is an issue all around these days.

So, what can we do? 

Thanks to one of our community members, two wonderful organizations that are sponsoring “unplug” programs have been brought to my attention.  Cool Shul is getting actively involved in both and we invite you to get involved as well. 

Let’s face it, that handheld device (that I bet you are either reading on right now, or is in your pocket or purse beckoning you) is part of what is pulling us away from awareness.  Our devices are part of why it is so difficult to be present with our minds and our bodies or to give our families the attention they deserve.  And I’m no innocent.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my son say, “Mom, I’ll be right back… don’t get on your phone.”  And you know what?  I bet I sneak a peek to see if that email came through while he’s out of the room most of the time.

Well, I’d be a lousy spiritual leader if I didn’t give myself the same challenges that I give you, so here is our first for you and for me.  Each week for a few weeks, I am going to encourage us to detach from our digital worlds for Shabbat in different ways.  Let’s see if we can do this!

Click here to see the family guide to Device Free Dinners from Common Sense Media (which, by the way, is also a great resource the next time you can’t remember if Pretty in Pink is appropriate for your 10 year old). 

This weekend, let’s all commit to device free dinners.  Find a bowl or a basket.  Have everyone put their devices in the basket at mealtime (the arrow that comes with the kit is fun!).  NO peeking!!!  Fill out the commitment and hang it on your fridge.  I’m going to do it in my house, and maybe we can comment at coolshul.org or Facebook to tell each other how it went AFTER THE MEALS!!!!  I’d ask you to send a picture, but I know you’ll grab that phone to take the pic during dinner, so just a lovely description will do.

Okay, maybe just for Shabbat buy maybe beyond, no devices at mealtime.  That means  at least dinner Friday night and Breakfast and lunch on Saturday… NO DEVICES!  And of course you can keep going on into Saturday night, Sunday, and beyond if you like if you like it. 

Let me know how it goes!!!  Imagine.  Three meals a day with no distractions (except, of course, to read this blog)!  🙂

Shabbat Shalom y’all.

Rabbi Diane