Crossroads-Preparing for the High Holy Days

When I drive to work every day, I have to cross through a dangerous intersection.  Unfortunately, at this busy crossroad, there’s only a two-way “stop” sign. I would feel much safer if the cars coming from all four directions had to stop.

As I stop, I peer over an incline to see if any cars are careening over the hill, I then look in the opposite direction. I check both ways a second and a third time to see if it’s safe and then I cross over to the other side.

Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road
Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road

Each time I need to cross over this intersection, I am a little anxious because the incline on the street perpendicular to me makes it difficult to see the cars approaching. I think:  “will a car  suddenly zoom over the hill, cross the road and hit me as I am in the middle of the crossroad?”

I am not usually a nervous driver. Yet this intersection leaves me feeling uncomfortable and unsure. I don’t feel safe until I am securely on the opposite side. And then my journey to continues.

I realize this crossroad that causes me agita is really a metaphor for our lives.

Each and every day, we travel along our own highway of life. Each of us – hopefully – does all that we can to ensure that we live our lives to the fullest and best of our abilities: we eat right, exercise, rest and do all of those other “good things.” But we never know what can come careening suddenly over the next incline: will it be an earthquake, like the one that just hit the greater San Francisco area yesterday morning? or illness? or something else for which we cannot possibly be prepared? What about our families, friends and loved ones?

How do we safely navigate these unforeseen obstacles that enter into the intersection of our paths on our life’s journey? Like the cars that come zipping over the hill, some things are simply out of our control.

The upcoming Ya’mim Nora’im - the High Holy Days, and the Hebrew month of Elul preceding them, help give us the tools so that we can chart our course and re-direct our life’s journey if we so need. We might not be able to control what happens, but we are able to approach our circumstances from a different perspective. We can find strength and support from within ourselves, from our community and from God.

The  month of Elul begins tomorrow. Traditionally, Elul is dedicated to studying and preparing for the necessary work of “repairing our souls”. But this is not a once-a-year endeavor. The High Holy Days make us stop and take notice of the frailty of life. They remind us that we are on a journey, and that if we take the time to transform ourselves throughout the year – through reflection, prayer, study, acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and repentance, we will be prepared to enter that “danger-filled metaphorical crossroad” of life.

There are many ways to use this upcoming month to begin to prepare. Here are just a few ideas to help begin this process:

  • Join with your congregational community for Shabbat worship and study. The power of community, prayer and music has the ability to nurture and transform one’s spirit and soul.
  • Subscribe to Craig Taubman’s “Jewels of Elul”. These are short, inspirational insights on the theme of the upcoming High Holy Days written by different people, both well-known and not-so-well known: Jewels of Elul
  • Do some preparatory background reading. A few suggestions:
  1. This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Alan Lew, Little, Brown and Co., 2003.
  2. Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013.
  3. Rosh Hashanah (or/and) Yom Kippur Inspiration, Contemplation, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Lights Publishing.
  4. Machzor: Challenge and Change: Preparing for the New Machzor and the High Holy Days: Volumes 1 and 2, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2014.

We each will encounter many crossroads in the journey of our own lives. The obstacles we encounter will seem less daunting and the more secure we will feel, the more prepared we are.

K’tivah v’chatimah tovah -May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. “

 

 

 

Light – and Hope – in a Time of Darkness

For the past few weeks, I have witnessed some glorious sunrises and sunsets on the Long Island Sound.

Sunrise over Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Sharon L. Sobel
Sunrise over Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Sharon L. Sobel

I always feel God’s presence during those moments, as I silently observe the sun, sky and  water paint the most awe-inspiring landscapes. I am deeply grateful and appreciative of the beauty that surrounds me on a daily basis.

And yet, I know that for some, the beauty that surrounds us is obscured by the pain of physical or mental illness that weighs like an albatross around their necks. The pain creates an impenetrable fog that is too heavy and thick to break through. And therefore, at times, we are unable to see or feel or be part of the world that surrounds us. We are unable to be present for family or friends. Or it takes every last ounce of our strength to do so. And sometimes, the pain and fog and illness win. We can no longer fight. We have no more energy and no more strength.

Robin Williams’ death this past week touches close to home for many of us. For some, mental illness is part of our own lives, our loved ones’ lives or our friends’ lives. And because it is not a physically visible illness like diabetes or cancer, we are afraid to talk about it.

But if we are going to make any sense of the death of Robin Williams, or anyone else who has died in the same manner, we MUST speak about mental illness. We must learn that it is a disease that is like cancer or leukaemia or  kidney disease or migraines. And like those other illnesses, sometimes, people are able to fight them and overcome them. And unfortunately, sometimes the illness wins. So we are left bereft and stunned and at a loss for words. And, we need to keep in mind, Robin Williams did not kill himself, it was his illness that killed him.

Depression and torment have been part of human nature since the beginning of time.  In the Hebrew Bible, King David wrote about his anguish in the Psalms:

“My heart is convulsed within me; terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling invade me; I am clothed with horror. O that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and find rest….” ((Psalm 55: 5-7)

Later on, David finds comfort and hope by reaching out to God:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help comes from Adonai, Maker of Heaven and Earth. He will not let your foot slip, your Guardian will not sleep…”  (Psalm 121:1-3)

Judaism is a religion of hope and of light. We look for light when darkness comes our way. We find hope and light in the warm, loving embrace of family and friends who do not despair when we are in the depths of our own despair, who wrap their arms tight around us, even if we push them away. We find healing and wholeness in “lifting up our eyes” and hearts to God and community.

Sometimes, we find light and hope in someone’s silent presence. But we know that they are there – not leaving us alone. All it takes is one candle, one flame to dispel the darkness.

But sometimes, the flame does go out. And then, we need to find the strength to light a match anew…to create a new spark to dispel the darkness once again.

Every evening, there is a gorgeous sunset on the water and every morning – another gorgeous sunrise. With hope in our hearts, God in our lives, friends and family by our side, we can help each other to experience the beauty and joy of living each and every day.

Shabbat Shalom.

A Cocoon of Peace and Tranquility

Last Shabbat – last Saturday – I “escaped” from the media coverage of what was happening in Israel and Gaza and the horrifying news of the downed Malaysian airplane to the serenity and peacefulness of the Reform Movement’s Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, MA.

If only the rest of the world could experience the sense of tranquility, wholeness and community that exists at one of our Reform Movement camps!

We began our morning together with a beautiful outdoor  Shabbat morning service.

What caught my attention most this Shabbat was the interaction between the parents who were visiting for the day and their children who were spending an extended time up at camp either as campers or staff.

I observed how parents and their children sat really close together during the service because they wanted to be close together. Some parents rubbed their children’s backs during the service, some children had their arms around their parents. Some siblings sat on their older siblings laps. It was truly a time of family togetherness.

I was incredibly moved when one father took his tallit (his prayer shawl), draped it over his daughter and drew her in close. They prayed wrapped in the safety of their father-daughter “cocoon” connected both physically and spiritually. It was their own safe-haven from the rest of the outside world for a short while.

Shoshana  Maniscalco and her father Ron "Buff" at URJ Camp Eisner
Shoshana Maniscalco and her father Ron “Buff” at URJ Camp Eisner praying together

tallit literally represents the 613 mitzvot commandments in the Torah. On each of its four corners is a set of fringes. Each set of fringes is comprised of a specific number of threads, tied with a specific number of knots and one thread is wrapped around all of the others a specific number of times.

If you add together all of the threads, the knots and the wrappings from all four corners, they add up to 613.  By putting on a tallit, we are symbolically taking upon ourselves the responsibility and obligation of the commandments.

There’s another purpose to a tallit, however. It acts as a “cocoon” and separates us from what is taking place around us. Having a tallit wrapped around our shoulders during a time of prayer and meditation can help  keep us focused on our connection with God and community.  It serves as our refuge from the world outside.

During times like these, when war is raging in Israel and Gaza and planes are being shot down from the sky, I almost wish I could wrap an infinitesimally large tallit around the world and cocoon everyone from all harm….”and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, they shall never again know war.” (Micah 4:3)

The following poem is by the late Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. It depicts some of the symbolism, feelings and emotions captured by our memories of the tallit.

A Tallit Poem, by Yehuda Amichai

Whoever put on a tallis when he was young will never forget:

taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,

spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband

(embroidered or trimmed in gold).

Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead like a sky,

a wedding canopy, a parachute.

And then winding it around his head as in Hide-and-Seek,

wrapping his whole body in it, close and slow,

snuggling into it like the cocoon of a butterfly,

then opening would-be wings to fly. 

And why is the tallis striped and not checkered

black and white like a chessboard?

Because squares are finite and hopeless. 

Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go 

like airport runways where angels land and take off.

 Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.

When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,

he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again

over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,

still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.

Open Closed Open: Poems, trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (New York: Harcourt, 2000), p. 44

May we all come to know the peace, safety, serenity and tranquility that comes from being wrapped in the cocoon of a tallit at all times.

Light these Candles for Peace – Shalom – Salaam

On Shabbat, we typically light two candles.

Why? Because in the Torah the Ten Commandments are repeated twice, the first time in Exodus 20 and the second time in Deuteronomy 5.

In each of these, the commandment about Shabbat is slightly different, in Exodus 20:8 we are told to “remember” (zachor) the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  In Deuteronomy 5:12, we are told to “observe” (sham or) the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Thus the rabbis of old say we light two candles on Shabbat, one to represent “remember” and one to represent “observe”.   The act of “remembering” is passive, while the act of “observing” is active. Shabbat requires that we do both: we remember our history, while we do something physical do make Shabbat our own unique experience.

Candles for Shabbat
Candles for Shabbat

We light candles because the flame is a symbol of God’s divine presence. It is symbolic of the spark of goodness in each of us. Light one candle in a dark room and the entire room is illuminated by the warmth and glow of that single flame.

Shabbat is a taste of that time to come when the world will be filled with the divine sparks within each of us and when each of us can see the divine sparks in the other. No more war, no more violence, no more bloodshed.

This week, as we observe Shabbat during this time of violence and unrest in Israel and Gaza, let the light of our Shabbat candles be a beacon of light and hope for all.

(What follows below is from Amichai Lau-Lavie, The Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc)

I share with you a beautiful ritual created by two religious leaders who are mothers and lovers of peace came together this past difficult week to compose a new prayer for peace: The Prayer of the Mothers.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum invite us to take their prayer into our hearts and into the world.

Read it below – in Arabic and Hebrew.

They also created a new ritual: Inviting us all to light a candle on Fridays – for peace. Another candle for the Sabbath Keeping Jews, a candle for Muslims on their sacred day.

See the invocation for this new ritual below. They ask that we help spread this precious new prayer and ritual.

May we not  light this extra candle for the rest of our lives.  But let’s start lighting it tonight.

Shalom. Salaam. Peace.

images-1

CANDLE FOR PEACE

Let us Light Candles for Peace
Two mothers, one plea:
Now, more than ever, during these days of so much crying, on the day that is sacred to both our religions, Friday, Sabbath Eve
Let us light a candle in every home – for peace:
A candle to illuminate our future, face to face,
A candle across borders, beyond fear.
From our family homes and houses of worship
Let us light each other up,
Let these candles be a lighthouse to our spirit
Until we all arrive at the sanctuary of peace.

Ibtisam Mahameed Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

!تعالوﻭاﺍ نضﯾﻳئ شمعاتﺕ اﺍلسلامﻡ

وﻭاﺍلدﺩتانﻥ وﻭطﻁلبﺏ وﻭاﺍحدﺩ: خصﯾﻳصا اﺍلانﻥ, في ھﮪﮬﻫذﺫهﻩ اﺍلاﯾﻳامﻡ, اﺍﯾﻳامﻡ اﺍلبكاء اﺍلكبﯾﻳرﺭ, في اﺍلﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلمقدﺩسﺱ لدﺩﯾﻳاناتنا, في ﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلجمعة وﻭمساء اﺍلسبتﺕ, نضﯾﻳئ في كلﻝ بﯾﻳتﺕ شمعة للسلامﻡ: شمعة تطﻁالبﺏ بوﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلمستقبلﻝ, وﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلانسانﻥ. شمعﮫﻪ تنتصرﺭ على اﺍلحدﺩوﻭدﺩ وﻭاﺍلرﺭعبﺏ. منﻥ بﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ عائلاتنا وﻭبﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ صلوﻭاﺍتنا نضﯾﻳئ اﺍحدﺩنا للاخرﺭ وﻭاﺍلشموﻭعﻉ تكوﻭنﻥ اﺍلبرﺭوﻭجﺝ وﻭاﺍلفنارﺭ لارﺭوﻭاﺍحنا

!حتى نصلﻝ لمعبدﺩ اﺍلسلامﻡ. اﺍبتسامﻡ محامﯾﻳدﺩ

!تمارﺭ اﺍلعادﺩ-اﺍفالبوﻭمﻡ !!!

!בואו נאיר נרות שלום

שתי אמהות ובקשה אחת: שדווקא עכשיו, בימי הבכייה הגדולה האלה, בימים המקודשים לדתות שלנו, בשישי ובערב שבת, נדליק בכל בית נר לשלום: נר שמבקש פני עתיד, פני אדם. נר שצולח גבולות ואימה. מבתי המשפחות ומבתי התפילה שלנו נאיר זה לזה והנרות יהיו מגדלור לרוחנו

עד שנבוא אל היכל השלום

איבתיסאם מחמיד

תמר אלעד-אפלבום

 images-1

THE MOTHERS PRAYER: 

God of Life:

You who heals the broken hearted, binding up our wounds.

Please hear this prayer of mothers.
You did not create us to kill each other
Nor to live in fear or rage or hatred in your world. You created us so that we allow each other to sustain Your Name in this world:

Your name is Life, your name is Peace.

For these I weep, my eye sheds water:
For our children crying in the night,
For parents holding infants, despair and darkness in their hearts.
For a gate that is closing – who will rise to open it before the day is gone?

With my tears and with my constant prayers, With the tears of all women deeply pained at these harsh times

I raise my hands to you in supplication: Please God have mercy on us.

Hear our voice that we not despair That we will witness life with each other, That we have mercy one for another, That we share sorrow one with the other, That we hope, together, one for another.

Inscribe our lives in the book of Life

For Your sake, our God of Life Let us choose Life.

For You are Peace, Your world is Peace and all that is Yours is Peace,
May this be your will
And let us say Amen.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

English Translation Amichai Lau-Lavie, The Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc.

أغنية الحياة والسلام

صلاة مشتركة

اله الحياة
الذي ُيشفي القلوب الحزينة والمتألمة استمع لو سمحت الى صلاة الأمهات

لأنك لم تخلقنا لكي نقتل بعضنا بعضا
وليس لكي نعيش بحالة من الخوف, الغضب والكراهية في عالمك هذا
بل لكي نسمح لبعضنا البعض أن نذكر أسمك
اسم الحياة, اسم السلام في العالم.

على جميع هؤلاء أنا أبكي دوما
أبكي خوفا على الأطفال في الليالي
يحمل الآباء أطفالهم الصغار واليأس والظلام في قلوبهم على البوابة التي أغلقت والتي لا نعرف من سوف يقوم بفتحها

وبالدموع والصلوات التي أصليها طيلة الوقت
وبدموع النساء اللواتي يشعرن بهذا الألم القوي في هذه الأوقات العصيبة
أنا أرفع يدي اليك يا ربي أن ترحمنا
لنعيش مع بعضنا البعض
ونشفق على بعضنا البعض
ونواسي بعضنا البعض

ونأمل الخير لبعضنا البعض

ولكي نكتب قصة حياتنا في كتاب الحياة من أجلك يا اله الحياة
امنحنا أن نختار الحياة

لأنك السلام ومنزلتك السلام وكل ما لديك سلام بإذن الله لنقل آمين

ابتسام محاميد وتمار العاد- أفلڨوم

מלך חפץ בחיים הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם

שמע נא תפילת אמהות

שאתה לא בראתנו על מנת שנהרוג זה בזה ולא על מנת שנחיה בפחד, כעס ושנאה בעולמך אלא על מנת שנדע לתת רשות זה לזה לקיים את שמך שם חיים, שם שלום בעולם

על אלה אני בוכיה עיני עיני יורדה מים על ילדים בוכים מפחד בלילות
על הורים אוחזים עולליהם וייאוש ואפלה בלבם על שער אשר נסגר ומי יקום ויפתחהו טרם פנה יום

ובדמעות ובתפלות שאני מתפללת כל הזמן ובדמעות כל הנשים שכואבות את הכאב החזק בזמן הקשה הזה
הריני מרימה את ידיי למעלה
אנא ממך אדוני רחם עלינו
שמע קולנו ה׳ אלהינו בימי הרעה האלה שלא נתייאש ונראה חיים זה בזה
ונרחם זה על זה
ונצטער זה על זה
ונקווה לזה לזה

ונכתוב את חיינו בספר החיים למענך אלהים חיים. תן שנבחר בחיים

כי אתה שלום וביתך שלום וכל אשר לך שלום וכן יהי רצון ונאמר אמן

 

Is This the Fast I Desire?

rabbisharonsobel:

This week, so much has been written about what has been happening in Israel and Gaza. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Judy Schindler, (Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Charlotte, North Carolina) expresses my sentiments perfectly, so I share her blog post with you:

Originally posted on torahbuzz:

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

On Monday night, I made an unusual promise not with my words but a click on my computer. I made a commitment to take part in an event called Choose Life: Ramaddan and the Seventeenth of Tammuz. Apparently thousands of other people also thought this commitment would be a powerful one to make.

You see Tuesday represented an interesting intersection between the Islamic calendar and their community’s month-long observance of Ramadan and the Jewish calendar and our observance of the Seventeen of Tammuz. On that day, both communities observed fasts during daylight hours and I chose to join them.

The minor fast days of Judaism do not often speak to me. I have never fasted on the 17th of Tammuz. Traditional Jews observe this day as one of mourning because it is the day on which the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 69 CE. Three…

View original 310 more words

A Prayer for Peace

As we watch the escalation of events unfold in Israel and Gaza this week, we pray for an end to the barrage of missile attacks on Israel, an end to the violence on both sides.

We pray for a time of peace and harmony. When neighbours do not hate, do not kill, do not treat each other as “less than”.

We pray for a time when Jerusalem can live up to the meaning of its name: City of Peace - Iyr Shalom.

The notion of “Jerusalem” is a metaphor. In our tradition, we have a concept of two Jerusalems: Y’rushalayim shel lamala – the heavenly Jerusalem, and Y’rushalayim shel lamata – the earthly Jerusalem.

The heavenly Jerusalem is the ideal to which we aspire. The earthly Jerusalem is the daily reality of our lives as they exist now.

Thus “Jerusalem” is more of a concept rather than simply a city – it represents a time when  all the inhabitants of Israel will live together in peace, when justice will prevail and all will be in harmony. “Jerusalem” is our ideal version of what life should be.

As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 122:2-4; 6-9

“Our feet our standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself.

There ascended the tribes, the tribes of God, testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Eternal…

Request the welfare of Jerusalem; may those who love you enjoy tranquility.

May there peace in your walls, tranquility in your palaces.

For the sake of my brothers and my companions, I shall now speak of peace in you.

For the sake of the House of the Eternal our God, I shall beg for goodness for you.”

May the peace of Shabbat bring peace to all: in Jerusalem, Israel and all the world. Amen.

We Mourn the Lives of Three Young Teens

For the past three weeks, we held out hope that the three Israeli teens who were abducted by terrorists on June 12th would be found alive: #bringbackourboys

Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, zichronam livracha
Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, zichronam livracha

Yesterday, we  were shocked and grief-stricken to learn that they had been killed within a short time of their kidnapping.

What kind of world do we live in when innocent teens become pawns in terrorist warfare? When the lives of young students have no value?

In this week’s Torah portion Balaak (Numbers 22: 2-25:9), the king of the Moabites wanted to curse the Israelites for being too numerous. He was fearful that they would overtake his land and eventually, his people. He calls upon the prophet Balaam to curse them. Then, God intervenes. Ultimately, when Balaam opens his mouth, words of blessing pour forth: “Ma tovu ohalecha Ya’acov, mish’k’notecha Yisra’el – How goodly are your tents o Jacob, your dwelling places o Israel.”

There are always those who want to cause harm and destruction to the Jewish people. There are always those who will go out of their way to wreak havoc and cause us great pain and anguish. But ultimately God’s blessing will be with us, because we value LIFE above all else.  We are a religion that celebrates and affirms life no matter what life sends our way. And because of this, the Jewish people has survived and thrived. We are a people of great fortitude and stamina. With God by our side, we can persevere.

I join with people in Israel and all over the world in mourning the tragic deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar. May their families find comfort and strength in the loving embrace of community and family and friends.

May we come to know a time of peace when children can walk in the streets freely – without fear, without bloodshed, without violence.

As we mourn these unfinished lives, let us pray that that cycle of violence ends. Let us pray for a time of peace for all of God’s children.

Od yavoh shalom aleinu, v’al kulam – let peace come upon us and upon everyone. Speedily and in our time. Amen.

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet, Praised Be the Righeous Judge
Zichronam Livracha – May they be remembered for a blessing

 

 

 

 

Food for Mind, Body and Spirit

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