Thursday, May 30, 2019

I'm picky, and yet Rav Dror and his Torah resonates for me. I recommend giving him a try.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

“Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music or whatever it tells us to do? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting, and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth and Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence, Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?” Brenda Ueland, "If You Want to Write"

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Thinking of Dad

Thursday, May 23, 2019

I asked for strength and
God gave me difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for wisdom and
God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for prosperity and
God gave me brawn and brains to work.

I asked for courage and
God gave me dangers to overcome.

I asked for patience and
God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.

I asked for love and
God gave me troubled people to help.

I asked for favors and
God gave me opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted
I received everything I needed.
My prayers have all been answered.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then, like a hand in the dark,
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.
- David Whyte

"I often think poetry is the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn't want to know. It's a bit like a marital argument, once it's said it's said, and you're into a different relationship and you can't go back." - David Whyte, in conversation with Krista Tipet

Monday, April 29, 2019

Questions elicit answers in their likeness.- Krista Tippett, being interviewed by David Whyte.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

If you think you commented here and I didn't reply, it means I never saw it. So reach out to me via email, text, etc.  and let me know.  I wouldn't mind a little feedback here.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

From Open Closed Open, Yehuda Amichai, Pg. 103

The world is filled with remembering and forgetting
like sea and dry land. Sometimes memory
is the solid ground we stand on,
sometimes memory is the sea that covers all things
like the Flood. And forgetting is the dry land that saves, like Ararat.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Taanit Esther Thoughts

There's something about fast days, so challenging. And yet, I can't deny that I go to another place. A writing teacher of mine said that she did not advocate for taking mind altering drugs to help your writing, but she did believe that you should take advantage of natural alterations, like an ear-ache, that can do surprisingly good jobs of putting you in a different place and assisting your writing. So, yeah- fasting is one of those things. And it's not just writing, it'spraying and other areas of creativity and sensitivity that we get heightened in.

I've been thinking about how Purim and Yom Kippur are mirror images of each other. One has a day of fasting that precedes its day of feasting. And the other has a day of feasting that precedes its day of fasting. Purim is a physically oriented day, so it's preceded by a more sober day for the purpose of balance. And Yom Kippur is a day that pulls away from physical pleasure, so for the sake of balance we are told that it's a mitvah to eat a lot on the day that comes before it. In a way, one could argue that Yom Kippur is a cop out. We stand before G-d in holiness, but we get there by separating ourselves from all physical temptations: No eating, drinking, mingling, dancing. We barely talk to one another, we scarcely move about, we sit in Shul and daven all day. On the other hand Purim is a day of partying: we sing and dance, and joke around, and drink alcohol, and socialize. If we can be holy on this day, that shows how holy we can be in evey day in the tangible, physical world.

I had some off beat insights: Esther and Ruth are similar. They each are connected to the Jewish people and yet on the fringe. And then that moment comes when they say to the person they're closest to, "You're people are mine." Even though Esther was Jewish, as opposed to Ruth, she was in her own bubble. At first there was a fast going on, but she was seperate from it. And then she took it on, inside the palace. She dared to be a Jewey Jew no matter what the consequences. She connected. And for the first time, this year, it downed on me that she's like Ruth, rising to the occasion, leading to a Jewish future, having a Megilah named after her.

Here's one from way out of the box: Like everyone, I always thought of a hamentashen as the triangular hat or ears of Haman. Then I thought about how they are made. They're not triangles. They are circles wearing a mask! Did you ever take a glass to shape a hamentashen? A glass! IT'S A CIRCLE! There's something deep going on here. A triangle can be a circle that's been folded in on three sides! Things are not as they seem. This is another way that we celebrate the Purim, another meaning of hamentashen.

Hope your fast continues to be meaningful. Happy Erev Purim!!!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tzav Thought

The Nesivos Shalom says that the line we say about standing before G-d in judgement, "whether as children, or as servants" does not mean what we always thought it meant. He cites a Slonimer tradition that standing before G-d as his child means that we follow him Him out of love, while being a servant means doing it because we feel we have to, out of fear. And we are judged as to whether we connect with G-d on a high positive level, or only through the lower negative approach.

He connects this to the high praise that is associated with the Korban Shelamim, the peace offering. This is the korban that is offered not because of a mistake we made but solely as a positive gesture, reflecting our love of G-d, as a child to a parent.

A beautiful, Hebrew, biblical, deep, sad, love song.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Pikudei Thought via The Nesivos Shalom

To consistently lead a religious life most of us need to rely on simple faith, and commitment to keeping G-d's commandments and our traditions. Once we are committed to the routines of Judaism we are sometimes blessed to then reach high levels of holiness and to be inspired from inside. So says the Nesivos Shalom. He also says that there are people who are exceptional and work more from their inside spiritual acheivents, which then take them to adhering to their external faith in G-d. He says that Moshe Rabeinu was the latter kind of person and the order that he thought made sense for the Mishkan's construction represents this: First work on the inner vessels, and then the outer shell. Betzalel spoke for most people and said that the outer facade had to come first and then the inner furnishings could follow. And, Betzalel was agreeing with the order that G-d had said to use in making these things: First the outside, the the inner pieces. Moshe got that Betzalel was returning the order to G-d's original plan, and said that Betzalel was betzel Kel, in G-d's shade, thus knew what G-d wanted. The question then is, why did Moshe change G-d's order? The Nesivos Shalom points out that in two different places in the Torah G-d says the order in these two different ways. And it was not clear to Moshe which of these two orders he was to tell over to Betzalel, so he chose the one that made sense to him. Betzalel told him that the other order made sense for most people (thus his terminology was that the needed order was the one that was darko shel olam). And Moshe said that Betzalel guessed G-d's intentions. But on a deeper level, Moshe was saying you're choosing the approach that works for you and others that are not on an enlightened level, but walk in the dark when it comes to G-d - betel kel -0 and need to work from the outside in. The Nesivos Shalom also says that just like there are different people who take each of these different approaches, there are also times that each of these approaches can work for the same one person.And he explains that in all likelihood when a person is up in life then he will feel inspired from inside, and during the low and hard times a person needs to start from outside and work inwards. This, he says, is another allusion in the Moshe's saying that Betzalel was betzel Kel, meaning that his approach is needed during the challenging dark times in life.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The Years That We Live Are Never Long (A Villanelle Upon Hearing of My Friend's Passing Forward From This World)

Alas, the years that we live are never long,
Some go healthy, some go sick,
Fight as we may it seems wrong.

Some look weak and some look strong,
It can seem slow and it can seem quick,
Alas, the years that we live are never long.

Our hope to never leave strings us along,
We believe we'll find a magic trick,
Fight as we may, it seems wrong.

We dream we'll write our own song,
Think the end is something we can pick,
Alas, the years we live are never long.

We consider raging, raging on,
We hold back, act in a way that's politic,
Fight as we may it seems wrong.

We say that in G-d's plan we belong,
Even when suddenly we fall like a brick,
Alas, the years that we live are never long,
Fight as we may, it seems wrong.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

In a piece on Vayakheil the Nesivos Shalom elaborates on an idea that's known - the importance of Jewish unity. He Ties it in to Purim, how Haman was going after the Jewish People's vulnerability because they were separated from one another. And that's why Mordechai and Esther focused on gathering all the Jews together. This fits with the idea of the Mishkan, which brought people together and was built as a group effort. it also connects with Shabbos, who's partner is specifically called Knesset Yisrael, the Jewish people who unite.

Why G-d made logic
when so often there is none
is part of the shock
of the picture of good health
first turning... now going on.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Beyond Kintsugi

I returned to work from winter break today to learn that my plant had been knocked down, and the pot and saucer both badly broken. I didn't find this out by seeing the broken pot. The philodendron looked completely normal, sitting on its regular spot on my desk. The only thing different about it was the there was a note tucked under it. A custodian (that's how he signed it, though later we met him and I learned his name) had toppled the plant and broke it, and he felt terrible. He wanted me to know, and he wanted to apologize. But he did more than that; he fixed it. Using Krazy Glue he made the clay pot and drip tray both look remarkably close to good as new. It reminded me of the Japanese art called Kintsugi, in which gold is used to seal cracks and make something shattered more beautiful and whole than it was before it was broken.But this act of repairing and relating was done with such a contrite, and kind heart that it was far better than gold for me.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

When Yitro tells Moshe his idea about the judges it says Moshe heard him - "vayishma Moshe." This is a parallel to the famous opening words of the parsha saying that Yitro heard about what G-d did for the Jews. If you hear, then you will be heard. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

To give you a very specific kind of working idea of what we mean by “Twilight Zone”, you might say that a man is on top of a burning building. Now there are certain ways he can get off that building — he can use a fire escape, a ladder, he might even be picked up by a helicopter. But in the Twilight Zone, he flies.

This is the so-called dimension of imagination, a literary device known by the English writer Coleridge as the “willing suspension of disbelief”. The things you see, you know may not happen. But at the time you see them on this program, you’ll believe that they do happen. This is the Twilight Zone.

- Rod Serling

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Nesivos Shalom: 

There were four stages of redemption. The first ones were about getting unstuck, the sur mei rah, and the second part was the growing into the positive, the asei tov. 

These stages are repeated every week as we enter a form of exile, and then Shabbos removes us from the negative of the week and gifts us with the positive, as only she can. 

The fifth part of the redemption is the entering into Israel, which is described with two seemingly conflicting terms: we're told that G-d will give us Israel as an inheritance. A gift is a higher level than an inheritance, because inheritances are a lock, while gifts are earned and given based on feeling. Israel has both of these elements, as does Torah, and Shabbos. 

The Gemorah says that three things are aquired through the suffereng of hard work: Israel, Torah, and Olam Habah (World to Come), which the NS explains is an exponentially higher level of experiencing Shabbos. The way that we get the loving gift from G-d element of these things (in addition to the birthright/inheritance element) is by working hard to achieve them. May we be so blessed.


I tend to count words,
to keep track and to measure,
to value what's brief.

More of my haiku available at one of my other blogs, My Haiku, and in my book, In The Field, available here, or you can contact me at (I don't think I have comments set up right).

"We see in the world the story we hear in our heads." - Me

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

"If the Torah that we're learning is just outside of us - as nice as it can be, and as much as it can be very powerful - it will be missing a very important component." Rabbi Avraham Sutton

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Parshat Shemot - Nesivos Shalom

I sometimes study short pieces of Nesivos Shalom. This week I attempted a longer piece. Here is the start of it. This is my translation/adaptation of the ideas he presents in his first essay about Sefer Shemot.

Exile and redemption hold a major place in the Torah and in the Jewish People's reality. it starts at the Brit Bein HaBetarim - The Covenant Between The Pieces. During the first moments of G-d's establishing that the Jewish People will be chosen, G-d tells Avraham that they will be strangers in a strangle land. Before this moment a darkness falls upon Avraham and tradition has it that in the darkness all of the future (4 major) exiles that Avraham's children would go through were revealed to him.

But isn't exile a punishment? So how is it announced before the Jewish People exist to have done anything wrong? And could the positive purpose of the first exile of Egypt be, given that they entered holy, and left on a low level? And why doesn't Avraham pray for his children to not have to go through this exile? After all, he prayed for the wicked people of Sedom to not be destroyed, why didn't he pray for the annulment of this decree against his children? And why do we spend so many years in exile, more than in Israel? What's the broader meaning of exile?

The Magid of Koznitz writes in explanation of the Maharal: The Gemorah says that G-d cries two big tears into the sea when he remembers his children in exile, even before the destruction of The Temple. All was foreseen at the time of creation. Even when all was in a jumble (tohu vavohu) at the start, the time of Mashiach was created.

Within the nature of the world there is another way- meaning that via the Jewish People keeping the Torah the naturally established schedule of things can be changed. All was set at the start of time, yet things can be changed via people's choices. For example the mistake of the first man changed the way things were at first meant to be.

From these words we can learn that exile is set to come, based on the assumption that people will sin, but it can change if people don't sin. But we need to understand still, why exile needs to be a thing set so early on, when G-d first tells Avraham we will be a chosen nation. We believe G-d loves us above all others and chose us. So why exile, why this suffering for so long?

The real answer to exile, is that we don't understand anything G-d created. And yet, we can repeat what others taught- that G-d created the world because it's the nature of the good to give goodness. The highest height and, greatest pleasure we can have, is to connect to the light of G-d in a a lofty spiritual way. We Jews are such a minority in the world, and we suffer so much. We must not mistakenly think that we were chosen in some kind of a physical way. We are a small people chosen to fulfill the purpose of creation, to have G-d dwell on earth, which we create for Him. We were chosen for this spiritual purpose.

The Jewish People are to creation what the soul is to the body. The soul has no physical place in the body and yet it gives life to the body. We are a small part of creation, barely taking up space, but all exists because of us. Our job is to bring light to the world, as a part of G-d, to create for Him a dwelling place on earth. We are the reason why G-d created the world, even though we are such a minority on earth, as the soul is overshadowed by the body...

Friday, December 21, 2018

Shabbos allows time for time. - Me

Monday, December 17, 2018

“Scientific discoveries happen not through method or magic, but from being open to discovery by listening to one’s emotions and responding to intuition. Like a poet, the researcher, as well as the therapist, needs the ability to imagine what the truth might be...” - Pauline Boss

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Clown's Prayer

Author Unknown

As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more happiness than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.

Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.

Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.

Never let me acquire success to the point that
I discontinue calling on my Creator in the hour of need,
Acknowledging and thanking Him in the hour of plenty.

And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
"When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I am a big fan of BEK's work.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Each day of our lives together, Kohelet erases a line from his book. - Yehuda Amichai, From Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems, pg. 139
Isn't it hard to imagine a more beautiful description of a happy and meaningful relationship of love?

Sunday, November 11, 2018


The Medrash on Shir HaShirim (5:2) says that if we open an opening for G-d the size of the eye of a needle then G-d will make it into the opening the size of a hall. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rav of The Kotel asks why the metaphors aren't parallel. The contrast to an opening the size of a large celebration hall should be an opening the size of a small mouse hole. He notes that the image of a needle is evoked because the eye of a needle is where a thread is threaded so that it can sew. And sewing is a form of connecting. There is, perhaps, an allusion here that we have to not just be open, but be open to connection (to G-d, our self, others) and then G-d will take that openness to connection and work with it, enlarge it. A sincere, real friend who I admire shared this quote today. And her sharing and the back and forth that followed it got me thinking.


G-d bless those who are down with dark world views
G-d bless the empaths and the narcissists too,
G-d bless the sharp tongued; the rubber and the glue
G-d bless the judgers, including me and you
G-d bless the stories that we tell inside our heads
G-d bless us to connect our needles to His thread

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sometimes when my phone is shining bright and then softens it's light to a lower mode I feel like it's reminding me to do that too.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

I heard an inspiring, substantive, original shiur today from Nechama Price about teshuva. My imperfect notes are public on Facebook, here.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

I've done so much thinking today I've thought myself out of thoughts.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


By Yehoshua November

A thousand seagulls rise off the river
behind my classroom.
Facing the back windows,
I watch the birds fly
above my students' heads, which--
turned towards me, or our text,
or their texting--
do not witness the synchronized ascent.
Sometimes, remarkable things happen
inside a classroom
but more often
outside it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

“When someone commends me on having been a funny kid, I always say ‘That was the writer.’ No one ever looks funnier than when Neil Simon’s words are coming out of their mouths. A kind, brilliant man has left us today.”— Quinn Cummings, starred in “The Goodbye Girl” (1977) at the age of 10.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Aruch HaShulchan cites that Kohanim must recite the brachah they give the people in Hebrew, and they are not yotzei even bedieved if it's said in English. This is because the Torah commands, "Ko tevarchu," - bless them by saying exactly these words.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Levi Robin - Days of Our Youth (Official Video)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Haiku Inspired By and Adapted From Kinot, Wriiten Today, Tishah Be'Av

Would that I could soar
I would make The Heavens cry.
And find the right words.
I would remember
that I was once married to
The Holy Torah.
Each year we proclaim,
"This is the redemption year."
But have we been wrong?
We were disgusted
with conversations in which
we accepted G-d.
I've suffered so much
that I've become almost mute.
May He save me soon.
I've become storm tossed
like a ship wrecked moaning boat,
because I left G-d.
Does every word count?
Or are there things that count more?
Are there wordless words?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

5 Short Torah Thoughts That Are Meaningful To Me

(I heard #2 from Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, citing someone else. The others are my ideas.

1. King David says that if not for Torah being his joyful play thing he'd be lost in his suffering. We can find meaning in Torah and still be miserable, but somehow through his turbulent years in this world King David managed to not be wiped out by his pain because of the whimsical enjoyment that he found in a Torah life.

2. One source says that this world is similar to darkness. Another states that that the world is a beautiful antechamber before the banquet hall. Contradiction? The resolution might rest in the suggestion that this world is a beautiful place that is covered in darkness. Our task is to shine light and reveal the beauty of this world.

3. The root of the Hebrew words that mean belief and resistance are the same (A-M-N). Often those who protest loudest believe strongest. There's a thin line between wrestling and embracing, between friction and warmth. This is true in many contexts, particularly regarding Judaism, faith in our G-d, commitment to our laws and traditions. People that can't stop questioning their Judaism sometimes are doing so because it is truly the most important thing in their life, and we fight what is most important to us.

4. King David said that "an empty man will not know, and a fool will not understand this." A foolish person does not understand that if you need to fill yourself in a positive way in order to have knowledge.

5.The Talmud tells us that if someone does not mourn with the community he will not see the consolation of the community. This is a natural consequence, a self fulfilling punishment. if you're not there for the sad times, because you couldn't take it, it means you left the community and you won't be there for the happy times. it's like if a kid cuts school and gets out of a quiz, they also are not there for the ice-cream treat after the quiz.

We don't have to teach ourselves to cry, 
we just have to give ourselves permission. 
- Erica Brown, In the Narrow Places, page 80

The Stranger

A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later. As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. 
Mom taught me to love the Word of God. Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spellbound for hours each evening. He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. The stranger was an incessant talker. 
Dad didn't seem to mind, but sometimes Mom would quietly get up - while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places - and go to her room read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. 
You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house - not from us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four-letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. 
My dad was a teetotaler who didn't permit alcohol in his home - not even for cooking. But the stranger felt he needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (too much too freely) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man/woman relationship were influenced by the stranger. 
As I look back, I believe it was the grace of God that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time he opposed the values of my parents. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave. More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. But if I were to walk into my parents' den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures. His name? We always called him TV.
(Author unknown)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Joy That's Encouraged During The Nine days

The Nit'ei Gavriel says that though it's known that we are forbidden during this time (the Nine Days, the heavy period of national mourning for Jews) from many things that increase our joy, there are things we are not forbidden to do that increase our joy.
We are not forbidden from studying and deeply experiencing Torah during these days (up until the imminent approach of the actual day of the Ninth of Av). He writes that the idea behind making a celebratory siyum (competing a significant book of Torah learning) (besides the known concept of it being a way to get around the prohibition of eating meat) is actually that we can and should increase the permitted ways of being joyful, i.e.involvement in Torah, that are allowed during these days. He tells of a prominent Rebbe who made a siyum on each one of these days, even though he did not eat meat himself, and he did so not just so others could eat meat.
By immersing ourselves more in Torah during this time we show our faith in G-d, even in sad and hard times, and reaffirm our belief that "this too is for good" (gam zu letovah). On a deeper level through this faith G-d's kindness and mercy, which is presently concealed, is elevated and becomes revealed, and brings consolation to Zion and Jerusalem.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Worth Taking In.

Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?
By Carl Richards

NY Times
July 2, 2018

I was in the airport when I found out that the mother of one of my best friends had just died quite suddenly. She was at dinner with a friend, felt sick and was dead within a few hours.

I learned this through a message from my mom, who heard about it on the local news.

I called my friend. Imagine this scene for a second: There I am in Terminal 2 of the San Diego airport, calling someone whose mother had just died.

He answered. He was crushed. We cried.

His mom was one of the few people who always saw past my stupid behavior in high school. She always loved and accepted me, despite my being quite unlovable at the time. She gently influenced me to be better by not trying to influence me at all.

She was amazing.

My friend knew that better than anyone. He told me about her last moments in the hospital. He told me about begging the doctor to do more.

Life. Is. Heavy. And then I boarded a plane.

I thought about everyone else on the plane. I wondered if the airline employee scanning my boarding pass could see that I had been crying. Were my eyes red? Swollen? I wondered if there would be room for my bag in the overhead bin. If the person next to me would be nice.

In that moment, I couldn’t help but think about how odd the situation felt. All around me were strangers. I knew no one. And as far as I knew, no one had any idea what I was dealing with.

I thought about the airline employee who had just checked my boarding pass, the man sitting next to me, the woman across the aisle. Did they have a sick child, or a friend in the hospital? Were they on that plane in a race against time? What about the person who had been yelling at the gate agent or, for that matter, those who were yelling on Twitter while I checked it standing in line?

As I turned away and stared at the Pacific Ocean through the little window from my seat on the plane, I was left with a bunch of grief and two big questions.

What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew?

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Wow Again

Tuesday, July 03, 2018


Friday, June 29, 2018

"It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest to ourselves." - From Rashoman

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Thoughts Following Dr. Tammy Jacobowitz' "The Ongoing Story: Exploring the Enduring Impact of the Exodus"

I just heard a wonderful presentation from Dr. Tammy Jacobowitz. She made great observations about the telling of the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim. For one thing, before the story finishes, G-d says that everything that transpires is happening so that the Jewish People can tell the story to their children. Wow.

Another point was that matzah and marror are commanded as mitzvot before the Jews leave Egypt (as part of the Korban Pesach), so their more than just part of the story telling that happens about the story as we look back. There's this fascinating phenomenon of the story not just as something being told after and about the narative but it being part of the narrative, clearing making this a story that we need "to question."

Also, it's a story without a clear begin or end.  We were told that we would tell it while it was happening, which blurs when it starts as a story.  And we're told to tell it for all generations, which means it doesn't end.  It's "a cup of water scooped from the sea and poured back into it," scooped from our past and present and poured back into our eternity.

Dr. Jacowowitz also pointed out how central Yetziat Mitzrayim is to so many mitzvot (unlike Mtan Torah, which is not referenced in that way!) and how this is in part because more than being part of our history, it's meant to be part of our destiny.  The point is to live a life infused with the lessons of The Exodus, a sensitivity to victims and strangers and a deep understanding that's always evolving from that experience through which we were born as a nation.  

Peripherally issues and questions were raised about how the story speaks to us as individuals and as a nation, about how it is our story and also a story that belongs to the world, and about how it is ever evolving and adapting to the times - as evidenced by the many hagadot that continue to appear with fresh framings of the ever flowing story.

I am a story teller.  And I'm always interested in new quotes about it.  I'm thinking now about this unique mitzvah of telling a story.  As Rabbi Shlomo Kahn pointed out in his Haggadah, the name Haggadah is inspired by the Torah, it's the book used to help of fulfill the mitzvah of "Vehigadetah lebinchah," "You'll tell your children" the story of The Exodus. 

Here are a few more quotes about storytelling that I've encountered and am still digesting, and which relate to Dr. Jacobowitz' observations:

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live."  - Joan Didion 

I think it's a yin/yang thing; we also live in order to tell stories. - Me

“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be seen. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then become a story-teller.” - Rebecca Solnit, The The Faraway Nearby

"Where does a story begin? The fiction is that they do, and end, rather than that the stuff of a story is just a cup of water scooped from the sea and poured back into it.” - Rebecca Solnit, The The Faraway Nearby

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” - Jonthan Gottschall, in The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

"Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species." - John Green, From the Author's Note to The Fault In Our Stars

"Reality is not just the story we are locked into" - David Grossman

"Maybe stories are just data with a soul." - Brene' Brown

"You don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened." -  John Green in, An Abundance of Katherines, pgs. 207-208

No-one likes the naked truth, but everyone loves a good story." - The moral of a story of the Maggid of Dubno, the way I tell it.

And these two from Rav Nachman of Breslov:

"People criticize stories as being somehow unsophisticated, etc, but if stories are lacking depth why does G-d start his book with them?"

"People think that stories are to put people to sleep but in truth stories serve to wake people up."

"It's true, even if it didn't happen." - What I say when listeners ask if a story is true.

"It's true for now." - What Rock Davis says in answer to the same question.

And getting back to the Haggadah:

“There is a profound difference between history and memory. History is his story – an event that happened sometime else to someone else. Memory is my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am. History is information. Memory, by contrast, is part of identity. I can study the history of other peoples, cultures and civilizations. They deepen my knowledge and broaden my horizons. But they do not make a claim on me. They are the past as part. Memory is the past as present, as it lives on in me. Without memory there can be no identity.” - The Chief Rabbi’s Haggadah (Essays) p. 29

The Rambam says that on Pesach night we need to discuss, regarding the Exodus, what happened ("mah she'irah") and what was ("mah shehayah"). Rav Noach Weinberg's take on this is that "what happened," is just the facts, as best as you can report them. And "what was" is more about empathy, what was it like? How did it feel? These the two important, separate and distinct layers of storytelling.

Friday, June 22, 2018

For teachers the summer is like an extra long weekend, Friday night is the end of June, Saturday/Shabbos is July, and August is Sunday already leading into Monday/September and all the days/months in between.

(Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend.)

Friday, June 15, 2018

"The Ocean is a poem without words." - Anonymous

The Word Baruch and Baruch She'Amar

Rabi Mayer Birnbaum, in Pathway to Prayer says that the word baruch, when used about G-d, is usually mistranslated. He cites Avdraham, Ibn Ezra, Sefer HaChinuch and others who take this approach:
He quotes Avudraham as saying, "Baruch is not a verb, but is like rachum and chanun, and means that He Himself is the Source of Blessing."
With this is in mind, coupled with the approach of R. Aryeh Kaplan that davening is meant to be a meditative experience, I thought of an idea. R Kaplan's theory is based in part on the Gemorah (Brachot 32b, discussing Mishnah) which speaks of how righteous people in days of old used to spend a very long time on prayer - before, during, and after (I'd cite more of his sources but don't have the book with me). R Kaplan also gives sources for Jewish meditation that includes mantras.
The prayer Baruch She'Amar includes many repetitions of the word baruch. Perhaps it is, at least in part, meant to be a meditation of this word and how it means that Hashem is the source of all blessing.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A good rule to live by: Never knock lint, dandruff, etc, off of someone's shoulder.

Mitoch Shelo Lishmah Bah Lishmah - usually explained to mean out of doing something insincerely you will come to do it sincerely. Heard a beautiful take on this:Within the insincere doing of something is mixed a sincerity that comes through. - (Heard from Rabbi Chaim Miller, as a Chasidish vort)

I miss those days, years ago when I'd blog often and there were people who read and commented. Recently I came across an old post accompanied a wide array of voices via comments, including my mom, who wrote anonymously, but gave an unmistakable hint that it was her.

There was a time when I would write here in a bloggish way, thinking I was "getting" the form in how I free-wrote.  And there was a sphere of others who wrote, and we'd read each other's stuff, discuss, connect.

Sometimes it felt impersonal.  But compared to today's "social" media those communications were almost as genuine and quaint  as handwritten letters of old. Some of those friends from '06 are still actively with me, others linger inside me like imaginary friends of my childhood..

Mentioning my imaginary friends takes me back to this post from from '08, where I talk about Quigley. It includes a link to this piece from '05 about personas, which is maybe my entry here I think about more than any other.

Part of me wants to keep writing this entry.  Part of me knows I need to wind it down.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. ~ Paul Valery

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Billy Collins' Recent Commencement Speech at Emerson

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Rachel Joyce On Music

It speaks somewhere beneath the skin, 
and it acts upon us in the same way a dream might: 
sending messages up from the deep. 
If we listen, it has things to tell us.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Pesach Thoughts

By Me, Jewish Week

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reminds me of Pesach and of My Grandmother

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Re: Memory

This article is about a specific phenomenon.  But what resonated for me was the part about the people who remember everything. I remember a lot of the things that transpire in my life. It's challenging because I don't get what others remember or don't.  I understand that is has to do with emotion, I connect emotion to so much that happens to me...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Monday, March 12, 2018

Many years ago I asked Rav Benny Eisner about the fact that after a day of work it's hard to come home and learn Torah.  He said to learn things that you forward to learning, to learn things that you love learning. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

I Miss You

I started re watching West Wing tonight.  I didn't see the whole series and am picking up from Season 4, though I saw part, if not all, of it. Watching West Wing reminded me of this post, where I cited it and then someone questioned my being a rabbi and watching TV, and then there was some communicating and miscommunicating.  I miss that time, 12 years ago! There was a chevra here that read and discussed. Things change. (Which is the name of a movie I like.) I like blogging. It doesn't exist anymore.  Not on the list of social medias that people use.  I somehow have moved forward time gives no choice) but this heyday of blogging feels like a quick minute ago and I have not yet, can't, let go of this blog's hand (nor the hand of all it meant and means to me).

I may write more, but I'm going to post this now, feeling like holding back (while also feeling like sharing).  I wonder if anyone will see this, wonder if people look here, wonder about almost never getting comments (save for spammers). 

I push and pull, hide, and seek to be seen.

I pray for all good for you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What should I say when Y asks, "Do you remember X?" I guess I should just say yes and little more.  When I say yes, and then start recounting joint experiences that I shared with X and Y, and Y has no clue what I'm talking about, it can feel awkward.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

I have long chosen alone-ness that's good over connected-ness that's not good, introvert that I am.

Thursday, February 08, 2018


"If a someone borrows something from another person and it is injured or dies while he's not there with it, he must make complete restitution." - Shmot 22:14
The one exception to the halacha stated in this pasuk, that a borrower is completely responsible for damage done to the thing he borrowed is "בּעלו עמו," if the owner is there with him. Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa explains how this applies to us and to our souls. Our souls are given to us on loan and we are responsible for any injury our souls suffer. But if we fulfill שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד - striving to keep 'ה close to us then we are not fully responsible, because it's a situation of בּעלו עמו - the owner was present while we had what we borrowed.
The meaning of אחת שׁאלתי may be (not one thing I ask, but) "one thing I borrowed from 'ה." And how can I make it that 'ה will not judge me harshly for the mistakes I've made with my soul, the one thing I've borrowed? I can achieve this through fulfilling שׁבתי בּבית ה׳, cleaving to ה׳ all my life. If the owner is there with the borrower then it's clear that he shares ownership and responsibility for the borrowed object. If I keep G-d close, strive always for connection to Him, then as I live (and when I pass forward from this world) G-d will mitigate and share the responsibility for the soul that He lent to me.
- Via Rabbi Shmuel Silber

Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Moment At Kiddush

Discussed,the affects
of the stumbling man's illness:

Saturday, February 03, 2018

“We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”

I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way.

Let our scars fall in love.”

- Galway Kinnell

Friday, January 26, 2018

Rav Menachem Froman On His Poems

There's a great interview w Rav Froman in the book "Learning in Jerusalem," published in 1998. In it, he's quoted as saying (page 152):

"For three years I wrote for the paper Davar, since closed, a weekly Torah commentary that took the form of a poem. Each week i would write a shir, a poem, on the Biblical portion of the week. It might be on one pasuk or one particular idea within the parashah. For one whole year i did this for each Shabbat and also for the chagim. My other most recent effort was a book of love poems to Eretz Yisrael, between the person and the land.In both of these works i took a Torah idea and gave it freedom. That is, I checked in the poems all kinds of options as to how to how this idea can develop. Often these were non-unconventional and remote possibilities...'"

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

T.S Elliot taught me about the meaning of words, 
Dylan Thomas taught me about the beauty of words, 
and E.E. Cummings taught me about the rhythm of words. 

- Steve Martin, in an interview with Bob Osserman (for most of which he was joined on stage by Robin Williams)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Good Erev Shabbos

3:37 PM - Prepping for Shabbos.  Water boiling for cauliflower. chicken and asparagus in oven, chicken based, grain free cholent on, Pandora on, thinking about first Yahrtzeit of dad, which was yesterday, condiring the cold war that I seem to always be fighting or at least keeping troops mon the borders for, thinking about Nesivos Shalom and how he tied in Galus and Shabbos.  He says that we, sadlt get ibnto our own Galus every week and Shabbos is the Geulah that pulls us out.

4:06 PM - Thinking about Nesivos Shalom: he speaks of the don't dos of Shabbos - the negative rules, and the dos - the positive rules, and sdds that this parallels shamor and zachor respectively, as well as sur meirah and asei tov.  He addresses a contradiction concerning if we need to keep one or two Shabboses.  He explains that it's one Shabbos that has two aspects, the seemingly negative aspects of abstention, and the more active, seemingly more positive elements - the shamos and the zachors.  This brings to mind for me the idea of Rav Hirsch that every mitzvah has a shamor and zachor side.  As Rav Hirsch sees it the two sides of the coin are the philosophical and spiritual element on the one hand and the technical rules element on the other hand.  He says that sadly proplr often picj a camp, there are th halachic types who sometimes err by moving away from the spirit of the law.  And then there are those who mistakenly think there can be a true spiritual experience without the element of keeping every part of G-d's word.

4:19 PM - Going to sign off now.  Wishing everyone a wonderful Shabbos that is as whole as I wish for your life to be.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Suddenly Grief

For many years I went to the home I grew up in to spend Shabbos with my parents, and later just with my father. During that time I was an honorary member of the Shul community I grew up in.
One of the highlights of being in the Shul was talking with Rabbi Avraham Holtz. We would chat at Kiddush and in particular after davening on Friday night. More than once we stood outside at this time of year in the cold, talking for a long time. Or we'd talk in the summer as the hour got later and later. As his wife waited for him and my dad for me.
It was in one of those talks that he first mentioned his friend Aharon Appelfeld to me. Rabbi Holtz had just been to a conference on Appelfeld at U of P and he was thirsty to talk about it, he couldn't stop. He was taken by a presenter who said that Appelfeld's work was like science fiction. At first he couldn't imagine, and then it made sense to him. Appelfeld conjures a surrealistic reality that is so real and yet so unreal. He writes about the Holocaust without naming it by it's name, without naming the war, without naming the unnameable, which is so nameable.
After that talk I started reading Appelfeld and was captivated by his stories. And I'm not a fan of science fiction, but I got how there's an element of that to him, and I always thought of him in that realm. He writes a lot about losing home, and wanting to go home, and wanting to belong, and wanting to be separate. He writes about wounded ghosts, of survivors. His work is captivating. I even bought some of it in Hebrew and broke my teeth on it.
Rabbi Holtz told me that Appelfeld wrote every day at Beit Ticho. So I went once on a Friday and shyly asked a waiter if Aharon Apelfel wrote there . He said yes, said he's very open to talking to people - but he didn't come on Fridays. On another visit I was told that Beit Ticho was renovating and was temporarily relocated as part of another cafe'. I went to the other place and a waitress told me that he had come in the past, but he was presently old and frail and couldn't come anymore. In each case I felt like the wait staff liked Appelfeld, and that they liked that I came looking for him.
Something about Aharon Appelfeld and his writing resonated for me. Something about his honesty, sadness, alienation, ambivalence, longing, his whimsy, his romanticism. Something. Also, sadly, I related to is how he didn't remember the past, he experienced it together with the present, not just haunted by it, but in it.
I wish I would have found him writing at his table and that we would have chatted. I'm glad I discovered his writing even if I never found him in person. It comforted me to know he was alive. And it saddens me that he's no longer in this world.
I miss Aharon Appelfeld.

I'll catch a ride on your violin, strung upon your bow, 
and I'll float on your melody, sing your chorus soft and low.
- Ian Anderson

Monday, January 01, 2018

וְנֹחַ, מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה - The Nesivos Shalom cites a different take on this pasuk (usually translaed to mean that Moach found favor in G-d's eyes): Noach found favor by viewing things with G-d like eyes.

Maybe only a
certain type of narcissist
falls for another

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tevet 10 Ebbs Away

I just reread an idea cited by the Nesivos Shalom (in his essay on Vayechi on the bracha Yosef received).  He cites the line from Tehilim, "They have eyes and they won't see," and quotes someone who noted that the word translated as "they have" doesn't really mean that.  The Hebrew word להם means for them.  As long as eyes are used for oneself, one's own desires, etc then one won't truly see. To, so to speak, see G-d one must be careful with using one's eyes in a self-central way.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

One Of My Favorite Dvar Torahs

בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ - With all your heart: [The double “veth” in לְבָבְךָ, instead of the usual form לִבְּךָ, suggests:] שלא יהיה לבך חלוק על המקום - that your heart should not be divided [i.e., at variance] with the Omnipresent.

Reb Moshe of Kobrin (1784 - 1858) cited in Torah Avot, p.118 (2005 edition) notes that the word used here for G-d is המקום - The Place (which the Talmud explains to mean that "G-d is the place in which the world exists, and the world is not the place within which G-d exists). He says that this also teaches us that we should not argue with, but rather accept as meant to be, the place and time that we were born into.

 "If wind asked permission 
we might wait and listen" 
- John Freeman 

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Blog Post

I never know what to write, where, if... And yet I come back here, still, after 13 years.

It's close to Shabbos.  I am getting older.  We all are.

I am grateful:

I went to a Yeshiva poetry slam this week. I think it's probably around my 30th one.  That's a lot of poems.  It's an amazing thing - good for the kids who go on it I think/hope.

I form connections with students.  This was manifest this week in several ways: The kids at the explanatory minyan that I run, the kids at the explanatory minyan I used to run, the kids I helped with poems, the kids I learned with privately, the kids who asked for help with assignments in other classes, the kids who say thank you as they leave class at the end.

I recently officiated at my first funeral.  I want it to be mostly a G-d thing, and not share too much about it. I will share that a particular funeral home involved was very unsettling to deal with, so if you ever have options in New Jersey in this sad area and want to know where not to go, let me know.  On the other hand, the helpers came out - an amazing organization that helps with anything in this realm, a kind head of a chevra kadisha, and more.

I miss dad (and mom, but dad's leaving is rawer).  I miss being with him for Shabbos (not the place where he was for the very last years so much, but him). I miss his simple love and support (even if it didn't always feel simple to me, it was).

I yearn for connection.  I usually steer clear of this topic, but we humans need connection.  I pray for all the never marrieds, all the widowed and divorced, all the unhappily married, all the people of this world.

I am grateful for poetry in my life, for the passion I have for it.  People at the slams I've neen taking kids to for I think 6 years assume I teach English.  When I told a colleageue from another school on Thursday that I don't teach English but rather Jewish Studies, her response was, "Get out!" Im particular I'm grateful for Rav Froman's poems, which I miss.

It's almost Shabbos, I don't know who will see this, whoever you are I hope you had a beautiful and meaningful Shabbos and I wish you all the best.


Here's a link to the video, and these are my notes on Rabbi Markowitz' shiur on Parshat Vayigash:
Yehudah's speech is unusually long amount of time that someone speaks straight in the Torah. And it leads to the reveal and great emotion. Rav Yehudah Saviv suggests that vayigash may really mean not that he went to Yosef, but to Binyamin to protect him. He was saying, "Itchah ani," you're not stuck alone with this leader. (It wouldn't make sense that he approached a ruler, not done.) And when Yosef saw the compassion and empathy that Yehudah showed for Binyamin he was greatly moved. As mefarshim (Sforno, later R Fohrman) point out they showed their lack of empathy by eating and drinking after throwing him in the pit. And now they've moved from that insensitivity to empathy.
Chidah, in his Hagadah, says that the four galuyot (Bavel, Paras/Madia, Yavan, Edom) mentioned by Chazal are all branches of the original galut of Mitzrayim. which is the "av lekulam." The brothers go down to Mitzrayim 4 times, corresponding to the 4 exiles - for food, then to get Binyamin, then to save Binyamin, then they come back with Yaakov.
They all correspond (eg. Paras U'Madai corresponds to the second time they go down and eat and drink with the ruler and Binyamin wears 5 garments, just as Mordechai will in the future!) And the first was the shortest stay, like the first galut that was 70 years, and the last time they go is longest, like ours now is longest.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz/Olelot Efraim/Kli Yakar: 70 nefesh went down to mitzrayim vs. Eisav's descendants who are described as nefashot. 4 things that never changed for the Jews, one is shelo shanu et shemam. The K"Y say a different p'shat than the conventional one (that they didn't change their names) - based on the idea that we are called Adam and the umot ha'olam are not called Adam. He says that Adam reflects togetherness and connection because there are 4 words for a person - adam, ish, gever, and enosh. They each have a plural for, except for adam - there's no adamin. This reflects the connectivity, kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh. And thus here, nefesh. The RaMak and the Ba'al HaTanya write that we are neshamah echad begufim mechulakim. And that's lo shinu et shmam on a deeper level. They did not allow themselves to become disconnected and sway from being Adam - one unit. (Related - it thus says Adam on the kisei hakavod, and also this is the idea of ke'ish echad beleiv echad.)
Daat Zkeinim - R Chaim Shmuelewitz - Paroh and Yaakov meet. What do they discuss? Yaakov's age, and his feelings about it. Some point out that we see from here that in the eyes of the Torah general conversation is important - conversation that's sometimes called mah bekach (seemingly incidental, polite). Deeper: The Daat Zekeinim says Yaakov was supposed to live to 180 like Yitzchak, but he lost 33 years, corresponding to the words he spoke, 33. But Rav Chaim Schmelewitz notes that it's 23 words! He answers that it includes the words of the question. Yaakov exuded something, an air of being old and worn, somewhat negative, that caused the question to be asked, and so he was taken to task for the fact that the question needed to be asked.
10 of Tevet is this Thursday. It is the only fast that falls on Friday, and even if it fell on Shabbos the Beis Yosef says we would fast! The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the siege of over 2 years preceded and foreshadowed what would happen. And so every year on the 10th of Tevet the Jewish People are judged for whether or not there will be a 9th of Av this year.
Chasam Sofer in Teshuva - The 9th Av has a precursor in the Torah: Meraglim, 17th of Tamuz, the precursor is Cheit HaEigel, and 10th of Tevet 10 the precursor is Mechirat Yosef!

Friday, December 15, 2017


Breishit - 43:33 - They are placed at a table in order.  Rashi says it was not just age order, but age order according to their mothers.  They are surprised.  but they still don't get that it's Yosef! How could they not recognize Yosef? R Shlomo Wolbe in his Shiurei Chumash (page shin nun) points out that when one is in the middle of the story it's hard to connect the dots, even if from an outside perspective the truth is clear.  This applied for them in this story, and is true for us in life.  We see wild things happening in the world.  When we on day hear, at Mashiach time "Ani Hashem," then all the answers will be provided.  But till then it's hard to see things as making sense, though we have to try, because we're inside the historical story. It's just like when Yosef tells them "Ani Hashem" it all makes sense.  May we be blessed to do our best to see G-d in our lives, even  now.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

I think this is a social media, but it's the medium i go to when I want to write while hiding from social media. I believe there's something positive and unique about blogging.  I believe that personal blogging has a certain form, in short - the more real and free flowing the closer it is to what this is meant to be. Recently it was the 13th anniversary of my blog, this blog (I have a whole bunch of others). (I like the word bunch, though I've been criticized for this, by one person - though maybe it secretly bothers everyone.) In my first post I wrote that blogging was "my way of  calling G-d out of my depths." I also wrote lots of other things, that first time out. That first time out was a Saturday night at home, late.  Very similar to now.  I recently was talking with some people about years ago - going back like 12 years maybe and everyone had a story. Then I was asked where i was at and I said I was doing the same things - living in same place, doing same job, etc.  someone said that's impossible, and I guess in a way he was right, though I think largely he was wrong.  Much is the same, though there's some change. It's like that story about a man who took a picture on the street at the same time every day, daily, over years, and it looked the same but he knew it wasn't the same each time.  Mom and dad were here when this blog started and they were fans, and I could critique the style of the appreciation, but I took it then, and I'll take it still.  Dad once wrote me a beautiful email, in which he said that this blog allowed him to see and appreciate me better.  I'm feeling the loss of dad strongly.  Mom, still, too - but dad's moving on was more recent, so recent, so raw.  My assignment at work changes every year, and every year starts and ends and then the next one starts again, not like many other jobs - teching is unique in how things get dismantled and set up all anew again year after year.  And in my job in articular I have had many different preparations of classes, almost never teaching a class one year that I had taught the year before. I remember when dad finally understood that, that it wasn't a repeat of the same topic each year - I appreciated that he got it.  Dad.  I miss the Shabboses every other week, and the phone calls every day.  And much as there were pieces that were uncomfortable in being my age and being so associated for myself and others as a son, I am not over the loss of being identified that way, not fully ready to move on from it. 

It's been well over an hour since I wrote the paragraph above, and so it's gotten late (that's how it goes).  And yet, before sleep I want to write more,  Writing is big for me. I just looked back at the previous sentence and dislike it, it does not come close to saying how writing is a need I have, that if I don't write my life feels lacking, unhealthy, imbalanced.  And when I write I feel more like myself.

I've been asked by friends to give a public shiur about Chanukah.  i'm excited and afraid, so many ideas and I want to connect them.  I will give some headlines here, but it may be too shorthand to make sence.  There's the Rav Zevin piece about Ohr and Oor - light vs. fire and how it fits with the war and the oil and the opinion of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, there are two poems - one blatantly about Chanukah and one about darkness and light, there's the idea of pachim ketanim, caring about seeimngly small things, there's the famous oil vs. war question - Al HaNissim vs. Mai Chanukah and the Maharal's answer, and the question of why eight days and what I think of as the Rav Dovid Feinstein answer, one of a hundred answers collected in Ner LeMeah.  There's Mizmor Shir that we say daily and what it means for Chanukah and for every day, how the house is inside us, how we start new each morning and rededicate our insides, and so too as a people after hard times.  And there's the Gemorah about Adam.  An there's the similarity to the moon, and the fact that we go by the moon, a reflection of light, a more vulnerable light, and there's the fact that this is the only holiday with a Rosh Chodesh in it, and there's the statement of R Elyashuv that we don't see that Mizmor as about the Bet HaMikdash because we're so far from getting it, and there's the idea of the mood being in the air at the time of the holiday even before the holiday and how this is a time for light expanding from darkness, and that's thetheme of Bet Hillel too and that's the theme of everything relating to hanukah including the weak beating the strong, the light winning, and it fit's with Yosef getting out of the darkness of jail - so described by Chazal and with yaakob becoming Yisrael and the line of being lowered and raised like bucket and how that;s how it goes like in mitzrayim and galus in general how the darkness is needed for the light.....

Time to close, good night and G-d bless.

Chanukah Basics Quiz

1. In what year (BCE) did the Macabeees rededicate the Great Temple of Jerusalem (Beit HaMikdash)?
2. What does the word Chanukah literally mean?
3. Which people did the Macabees reclaim the Beit HaMikdash from?
4. a. In the time of Alexander the Great, Israel was considered part of what country? b. Israel was considered a province of what empire?
5. What was the job of the provincial governors?
6. What name is given to Greek culture?
7. What type of god or gods did the Greeks worship?
8. Where were Greek laws written and how were these laws decided?
9. a. How did Alexander force people to accept his beliefs? b. How did his immediate successors do this?
10. What was Theos Epiphanes’ real name and what does this chosen name mean?
11. What policy did he introduce ?
12. Who was worshipped in the Beit HaMikdash under the rein of AntiochusIV?
13. What two things served as tests of political loyalty?
14. Give four examples of things that were prohibited and punishable by death?
15. In what town did the rebellion against Antiachus begin?
16. a. Where was this town? b. Near what modern town?
17. What event sparked the revolution?

The Night Before The Funeral

Brooke: “Tomorrow's a big day,”

Tig: “Tomorrow's actually a very small day because my mother's not in it. Every day from now on will be smaller. The town's smaller. I'm smaller.”

Sunday, December 03, 2017


In the first dream he says they were all binding stalks of wheat and then his stalk stands up and their stalks bow to his stalk.  In the second dream the sun, moon, and the stars (that represent his brothers) are bowing to him, himself.

When they go to Mitzrayim and meet Yosef who is in disguise (42:6) it says they bow to him. But they are bowing to him, as he was just described, because he was the wealthy ruler of the land.  Thus, in the first dream they bow to his stalk, his possessions, the wheat that he controls.  But the second time they see him they bow to him himself (In Perek 43), not just to what he provides.

- Mei'Otzreinu HaYashan Pg. 196. citing Knaf Ra'ananim

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In The Moment Thoughts

There's an impact I feel from the many many hours I spent clearing out my parents' (/my) home.  Most of the time it was me and my dear assistant Angelica sorting through stuff for hours on end and filling myriad large garbage bags. 

Part of the effect is that I am getting tired of my own clutter.  I don't even know who, if anyone, would do it, but in case one day when I've moved forward someone clears through my stuff I'd like to make it a bit less work for them.  I realized that while my parents always told me to throw stuff away, they almost never did.  The house didn't look like a hoarders' home (except for the basement) because things were stored away.  And went untouched for maybe 50 years, till I touched them. 

There were these cabinets parallel to the kitchen ceiling filled with old rusty appliances.  May parents' closet had a top shelf that went back deep and in the back of it there was there wedding album, which I had never seed.  It had sat there since we moved in in the late sixties.  My dad had check stubs and other paper work going back to the early sixties, at least. What was once my room was packed with their clothing and other items.  On and on.  Books that hadn't been touched in fifty years. A piece of furniture filled with my mother's teaching stuff which spilled over to elsewhere too.  All the stuff they got from when my grandparents and so on. 

So tonight I'm giving away a lovely set of books that I've had for about thirty years.  it's called Sarei Meiah by Rav Y L Maimon.  I've never read anything from it till I just now read this: He says that Rav Kook practiced what he preached by moving to Israel.  As much as he was already a big rabbi and leader he wanted more.  he taught that the Jewish people could only become who they were meant to be in Israel, and he believed this about himself too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Friendship

Rav Hutner says that the word rei'ah/friend is related to the word teruah - the broken sounds of the shofar.  a friend sometimes breaks you down, if he/she is a true friend. This is why the command to love our friends is followed by the prohibition of getting back at a friend.  Sometimes a true friend will critique us and our temptation may be to get angry at them when the appropriate response is thank you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Six stages of Yitzchak's life discussed in Torah -

He's born
In land of Plishtim
He dies

Each stage finds him being passive rather than active.

Rabeinu Bachya - 26:18 - Yitchak kept the names of the wells that Avraham gave.  He represents continuity and stability.  Thus his name didn't change. Rav Shteinzaltz says that his greatness was in floowing and continuing what Avraham did. Gevurah is holding back and not acting. Carrying things further is key, more than just starting.The Ketav VaKabala points out that the renameing of the wells with G-d related names reflects how the people tried to forget Avraham's meaasage and Yitzchak reopened (redug) that message, continued on that path.

(Inspired by presentation of Rabbi Yamin Goldsmith)

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Something came up about Nechama Leibowitz in class and I got choked up as I related that she only allowed the one descriptive word, "Morah," written on her tombstone.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

I have been enjoying and gaining from  Rabbi Yamin Goldsmith's SFW Daily What's app message. Here are some ideas I remember from it.

Lech Lechah - When a father says the bracha on brit milah he calls it the brit of Avraham Avinu. Then he says that just as the the newborn has entered the bris, so too he should enter Torah, chupah, and ma'asim tovim.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (in his sefer on Chumash commenting on Parshat Pekudei) says that there is no benefit that a person gets from having a brit milah. It is done only because it was commanded by G-d. So what the parent prays for is that just like his child has had a bris, which is done only for G-d, so too may be go through all the stages of life and fulfill the mitzvot that are associated with each passage, for the sake of Heaven.

Chayei Sarah - 

1 - Why did Avraham say that his son's wife had to come from his hometown of Aram, and not from Canaan?  The Ran says that he was stressing the importance of midot, something that they has in Aram, even though they were idol worshipers, as opposed to in Canaan, where they were unkind.  

2 - Eliezer says that the girl may not want to go with him, and asks Avraham what to do then.  The word is ulai, Hebrew for maybe. Rashi says that Eliezer (not named in the parsha) says that wanted his daughter to marry Avraham's son and therefore had some hopes that his mission would not succeed.It's pointed out by commentaries (Ketav VeKabalahoothat the word ulai is written in an in incomplete way (missing the letter vav) and this is what gave Rashi the idea that that Eliezer had some hesitation about his mission. It's worth noting that the story is told twice, once when it happens and once when it's recounted by Eliezer to Avraham's family in Aram.

Rabeinu Ovadia of Bartenura says that he is giving credence to the whole story by telling them that she's so nice that he wanted her for his son, and he's only here out of his loyalty for Avraham.  Rav Chaim Brisker says that now that he's actually met Rivka and sees how goosd she is, he wishes his son could marry her. And he hoped that in telling them about how he wondered that maybe the girl wouldn't want to travel they would think that maybe there was a reason not to send her and would hold back from letting her go.

3 - Tradition has it that Yitzchak went went to a field to pray and instituted Mincha.  The word used is that he went to speak - lasuach in the field - basadeh.  The word is used for the first time in Parshat Breishit describing the creation of plant life.  Just like plants need care and time to grow so too do our prayers time time and need care.  it's not for nothing that prayer is called avodah shebaleiv.