Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Thinking of Dad

Toward the top of the list of my gratefulness to my dad has be the time he jumped off a high up deck into a pool and saved me from drowning.

But something else is visiting my heart now:

Being in assisted living (it's called assisted living, but it's a place where you are assisted more than a place where you are living) went against dad's grain.

Dad spoke to his best friend Wolfgang (aka Johnny) every day.  And we spoke every day. One day before we hung up, he said, "Alright, my friend," which was how he signed off with Johnny. He quickly and with apology in his voice corrected himself and changed friend to son. 

But there was no remorse needed for that, the opposite.  The fact that my dad felt comfortable to slip out of calling me son, and to speak to me as he did to his friend meant the world to me.

Maybe you'd understand better if I used more words.  But there are only a few more words coming now:  When dad was vulnerable and I was there for him, and he could even for a second move out of his well worn dad mode with and call me friend rather than son was a giant gift from G-d.

Friday, January 29, 2021

 I was blown away by this shiur and hope many people get to hear it and be moved by it.  It's largely about how G-d visits us today, taps us on the shoulder and talks to us - done in Rabbi Fohrman's unique, holy style.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020


Sunday, September 27, 2020

I take in a lot of movie reviews.  Have been doing so since I was a young child (9? 10?). Hearing about Father of the Bride 3 coming out reminded me of reading the review in the NY Times on the Friday before the aufruf (pre wedding Sabbath) of a dear friend.  Remembering that brought to mind watching the review of When Harry Met Sally on the news (the reviewer didn't like it very much) on the morning of the wedding of another dear friend. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

LeDovid Hahem Ori


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

May we all stay healthy.

Ironic, I was sick right before Covid.  January, starting with winter yeshiva break.  Some kind of virus. Had fever.  High.  Unusual for me.  It started with throat and coughing and severe weakness.  I was alone.  It was hard.  I missed work.  It moved into my ear.  I went to several ENTs.  I learned the phrase Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. It wouldn't leave my ears.  I was feeling off balance from it and was very frustrated.  After Covid came I was separated from people, from germs.  Due to where I worked i was officially quarantined for two weeks.  Have been on some level of isolation since.  And it's helped.  My ear eventually healed. I had five months - poo poo poo - without one of my lifetime regular virus/infection kind of things in throat, ears, etc.  Last week, I somehow started to have cold symptoms.  Could I have caught it from the locksmith who I had to call because my key wasn't fitting in my lock? It had to have been some passing contact, as for the most part, I'm holed up here, alone.  My throat was burning (similar to but not as horribly intense as in January), I was coughing up phlegm, achy, feeling sluggish and feverish, though it never went high.  I reached out to my Dr.  Took tons of supplements. Finally I went to a local emergency room, having been told they would test me for Covis and give me results in 15 minutes.  What's that saying about things sounding too good?  It wasn't true.  They turned me away.  No Covid test for you, they said.  They said they weren't testing people from outside who came to the ER, only insiders - workers and patients. So I rode to an amazing ER in Jersey.  Uber.  That's another whole story, another place to casually catch Covid.  This Jersey place did an X-Ray and told me I didn't have pneumonia.  The next day they confirmed that my Covid test came out negative, though that test showed that I had Rhinovirus Infection, which was the cause of my cold.  So I'm still resting on on the supplements after a week (which included 9 AV).  Please G-d I'm on the mend.  May we all stay healthy.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

In the mishnah in Avot, Raban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yrhudah HaNassi says, "Be careful with government, because they only get close to a person for their own needs, they act like they love you in the time that they benefit from it, and they do not stand up for a person in his hour of need."

I looked at a bunch of commentaries, and here's some of what I found:

This needs to be balanced and fit together with some other statements in Avot: "Pray for the welfare of the government because without fear of them people would eat each other alive." So it's a balance between praying for them because we need then on the one hand and not being naively trusting of them on the other hand.

Previously, Shmaya said "Love work." Raban Gamliel follows that up by saying that work is good when it accompanies the study of Torah. Shmaya said to hate being a communal leader, and Raban Gamliel adds that you need to be a community leader, but to do it for the sake of Heaven, and to keep the spiritual side of things in mind. And Shmaya says not to align with the government, and again Raban Gamliel amends that sometimes you have to but the key is to be wary.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Some people give off a vibe of, "Do not mess with me. My vibe is more like, "Hey, you can pour soup in my lap and I'll probably apologize to you." - John Mulaney

Monday, July 27, 2020

A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web
Of silken threads and silver strings
To catch all sorts of flying things,
Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles
And specks of dried-up tears,
And dust of dreams that catch and cling
For years and years and years .

- Shel Silverstein (published posthumously)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

I like reading things where people share honestly of their struggles. I like to do the same. And yet part of me holds back. Why? Maybe because of many reasons, including my fears, and including some disproving feedback I get about sharing.

Aviva Zornberg asks why Moshe tells the JP that he didn't get to go into Israel because of them. Why does he tell them this? On the one hand, traditionally, it is taken to be a case of him expressing anger at them. But in context and given who Moshe was this may be unsatisfactory. Zornberg suggests that Moshe is in a new phase of being the teacher of the JP. He was always half in heaven, didn't want to come down from the mountain. Now he knows his time as leader is limited and that he's not going into Israel. So he makes himself vulnerable. He shares something personal. Because to be a good teacher/leader it has to be a two way street. I remember in March 2020 when Andrew Cuomo started sharing his briefings, what people talked about was the way he spoke of himself and gave examples from his own life about his mother, daughter, brother. I'm thinking about this now as I sit on a Sunday morning, during Covid, alone, swearing to you and me that te most important thing in my life to me is to be close to G-d. And yet I have twenty minutes left till the deadline of Shacharit time and I'm, for some reason, resisting.

I davened (no outdoor minyanim in my neighborhood) by sof zeman tefilah,

Several years ago I attended the Herzong week of Tanach shiurim in Israel and loved the experience. This year, due to Covid, they're doing it online. I thought it would be live, but it's not. And it seems that they're all being put up on Youtube, so you can watch whenever you want. The one I tuned to at 9:30 was given by someone who comes across as arrogant. I went to a class of his live, and managed to lock in and learn. But when given the option to pause the computer that demeanor was a literal turn off for me. I'm now going to try the 10:30 presenter. I am reminded of a time that I saw R Noach Weinberg walk out of the BM after giving a shiur. A woman complimented him on his presentation. His response was, "It's some Torah we have, isn't it!?"

I just listened to the start of Erica Brown's presentation on Sefer Yonah. Perhaps I'll return to it some time. Here's my notes on the very beginning of it:

Yonah was called by Thomas Payne, in Common Sense, “a fit story for ridicule.” Gustav Dore, artist, 1880s, Bible scene depictor, did one of a prophet preaching, that is supposed to be Yonah but makes him seem typical. He was not typical. In Bickerman’s Four Strange Books of the Bible he says it’s different than any other prophecy, not similes or mystical terms, but a cut and dry statement without embellishments. In John Gardener's Self Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society,he writes of how people tend to want to run away from themselves in one way or another, not wanting to know themselves,depend on themselves, live with themselves.”By middle life, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.” Yonah went through anguish, being a fugitive from himself, and as it were from G-d.

It's almost 12, in a few minutes I have training on line. It may be overpriced, but works for me, for now.

Maybe I'll write here again soon.  Maybe someone will read it.  maybe someone will let me know he or she read it.

Maybe I'll write here again soon, maybe I won't.

I do wonder if anyone reads or sees this.  I've shared a lot here, and still do, but much less often.

May G-d bless and protect us all in this time of Covid and always.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

One student's answer (2011/12) to, "State one thing that you will take from this class into life:"

I learned that haiku
are not merely seventeen
empty syllables

A Meditation For Jews (Author Unknown)

Be aware of your body.
Be aware of your perceptions.
Keep in mind that not every physical sensation
is a symptom of a terminal illness.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

"To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive - to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before." -- Rollo May

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

All kinds of roses grow in my garden
All kinds of creatures run on my land
All kinds of children play in my yard
So many feelings flow through my blood

All kinds of people make up my life
All kinds of faces show me their love
All kinds of lanterns light up the dark
But there's only one God has a place in my heart

- Steven Demetre Georgiou (adaptrd)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all,

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, May 24, 2020

  • R Tzadok HaKohein, G-d introduced himself to the Jewish People as the G-d who took us out of Egypt because in Egypt we were on a low level and He the first thing He wants us to know is that we can always connect and return to Him no matter where we're at.

  • ר' צדוק הכהן מלובלין - פרי צדיק דברים פרשת ואתחנן

  • וענין של זכרון יציאת מצרים שהוזהרו עליה כמה פעמים הוא כדי שלא יפול האדם בעצמו אחרי שיחשוב וידע נגעי
  • לבבו ושלא יתייאש חס ושלום על זה בא זכירת יציאת מצרים שאף שהיו משוקעים שם בקליפה כל כך כעובר
  • בבטן אמו מכל מקום הוציא ה' אותנו משם וכן יעזור ה' יתברך לכל מי שירצה לשוב באמת. וכמו שאמרו
  • )שיר השירים רבה ה', ג'( בני פתחו לי פתח אחד של תשובה כחודה של מחט ואני אפתח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות
  • וקרוניות נכנסות בו. ואומרים בשם הבעש"ט זצ"ל אך שהחודה של מחט יהיה מפולש מעבר לעבר עד מעמקי הלב.
  • וזה הענין שהוזכר במאמר אנכי ה' אלהיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים. ורבים הקשו למה לא אמר אשר בראתי
  • שמים וארץ. והרמב"ן ז"ל כתב שביציאת מצרים נכלל מציאות ה' וחידוש העולם והשגחה עיין שם. ולפי הנ"ל הוא
  • כי במאמר אנכי שהוא כנגד כתר עליון כמו שמובא )זוהר ח"ג רנ"ו ב( אנכי ביה כ' כת ר וכו' שזה מורה שישראל
  • קשורים בשורש לזה נזכר יציאת מצרים להורות שאף מי שמשוקע חס ושלום בכל מקום שהוא מכל מקום זרע
  • ישראל לא ידח ממנו נדח מאחר שקשורים בשורש בה' יתברך ואם אך ירצה לשוב לה' ולדבקה בו יעזרהו ה'

  • יתברך כימי צאתנו מארץ מצרים:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Amazing video about a teacher/class publishing process. And how she brought them each their stuffed animal version of their character.

Thoughts on Shavuot - Attributed To The Editors of the Jewish Week, May 2011

If the Revelation at Mount Sinai was arguably the pivotal moment in Judaism, its commemoration — Shavuot (June 8 and 9 this year) — has oddly become a private, almost obscure affair compared to its fellow heavyweights on the holiday calendar.

Everyone in town, even on television, knows about Passover, its sibling holiday. Almost all Jews speak of Pesach and Passover interchangeably. But like an old Yiddish relative, no one really uses or even knows Shavuot’s English name: Feast of Weeks? Pentecost? Really, who in the family ever calls her that?

It happens every spring, the model seders all over town, the search for analogies to the Exodus story in other cultures; Passover is up there with Chanukah when it comes to public awareness of basic laws, from matzah to menorahs. On Shavuot, all the more odd for a holy day commemorating Mount Sinai, there are almost no laws, only customs.

But like an elderly relative, those that know her tend to love her and the shared moments. There is an intimacy to the all-night study sessions and the sublime weariness as the sky begins to lighten. There is a charm to watching little children, as in the K’tonton story, stare up at the midnight sky, waiting to see it “open.” There is something relaxed about a Shavuot picnic, as unpretentious as a plucked banjo, in contrast to the opera-like formality and weighty symbolisms of a seder — lovely in its place but who can imagine doing another one seven weeks later?

And yet, that old relative has stories, if not laws, of her own. It’s a day of Yizkor, so light a candle for all the other relatives, no longer here, and for King David and the Baal Shem Tov, too, who died on Shavuot. The holiday was also a pivotal day for the Hungarian Jewish deportation of 1944. It’s a day for the bucolic romance of Ruth, the quintessential holy convert, and its messianic lessons.

Shavuot has seen a lot, and not all of it pleasant. And yet, perhaps the happiness of Shavuot flows from how the broken pieces of the shattered Ten Commandments always shared the ark with the set that Moses didn’t break. That’s what the old relatives want us to know, that we’re family, all of us, the broken ones and the holy ones.

Tell the old stories. Stay up late. Watch the sky lighten.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Against the Illusion of Separateness

By Pablo Neruda

There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song -- but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny." The great Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda was only a small boy, just over the cusp of pre-conscious memory, when he had a revelation about why we make art. It seeded in him a lifelong devotion to literature as a supreme tool that widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Poetry In The Age of Corona

Keep your eyes out for the seventh line, starting with "although" which is where this (new and timely Covid-19) poem takes a turn.
By John O’Donnell
And when this ends we will emerge, shyly
and then all at once, dazed, longhaired as we embrace
loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those
it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for
laying on of hands, high cries as we nuzzle, leaning in
to kiss, and whisper that now things will be different,
although a time will come when we’ll forget
the curve’s approaching wave, the hiss and sigh
of ventilators, the crowded, makeshift morgues;
a time when we may even miss the old-world
arm’s-length courtesy, small kindnesses left on doorsteps,
the drifting, idle days, and nights when we flung open
all the windows to arias in the darkness, our voices
reaching out, holding each other till this passes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Colleague: I like baby names that come from the Royal Family. 
Me: Like Dovid and Shlomo?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

If you are in search of spirituality, you have it.  If you believe you already have it, you have lost it. - Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Do Unto Others, page 162

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Sabba HaKadosh (Z"YA) of Slonim cites the 4 categories of physical things in the world:

Domem- Inanimate- stones, etc.
Tzomeich- Growing- plants, etc.
Chai- Alive- animals
Medaber- Speaker- people
His added insight to this is that we have to travel up these four levels in our connection with G-d.
We start on the flat ground, with foundational faith.
We grow from there, expanding on the basics of faith.
Then our faith becomes something alive.
The highest is when our faith becomes a conversation.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Hevu Zehirin BeRashut

Like so many other lusts, the lust for power holds out a promise of bliss, and inevitably results in bitter disappointment. - Raabi Abraham Twerski, Growing Each Day, Tevet 16.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Make Sure Your Questions Aren't Answers

One may question as long as one seeks emes la'amito, the absolute truth. But one must be extremely cautious to resist the bribe of our desires, which distort our thinking and make falsehood appear like truth.  - Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor, page 179

It's Probably Not Just One Thing

There may be more to the patient's complaints than what appears to be the obvious psychiatric diagnosis. - Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Who Says You're Neurotic, Preface

On Birthdays

I think that one of the reasons we celebrate birthdays is to attempt to overcome the otherwise depressive nature of the day that would from the awareness that another year of our lives have passed into history, and too often we are neither wealthier nor wiser than we were a year earlier. We have come just a bit closer to the ultimate end lives. This is too depressing a feeling, and we escape this by celebrating, which is a rather good defense.

If, however, life is perceived as a process toward a goal, then the passing of time need not be at all depressing.  Quite the contrary, if one is on a long journey, one feels happier as one gets closer to the destination.

- Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Generation to Generation, page 31

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Acharei HaPeulot...

I have nothing against meditation and similar practices. But I'm not at all certain that the method of working from the inside out is the most effective. Some people advocate another method. "Act whatever it is you want to become. Act spiritual and you will become spiritual." This method may not be quite as easy, but it is certainly likely to be more effective." - Rabbi Abraham Twerski, When Do The Good Things Start, page 126

Saturday, February 15, 2020

To Be Wise You Need Borrowed Minds

Someone who has a mind of his own is a fool. The Talmud teaches that a wise person is someone who learns from any and all people, thus, he has a piece of everyone else's thinking. A fool learns from no-one, so he truly possesses a mind all his own (Rabbi Baruch of Medziboz). - Rabbi Abraham Twerski, Smiling Each Day, pg. 173

On Emunah

Emunah means believing that Hashem is absolute kindness. It requires belief because our human minds don't perceive this. - Rabbi Abraham Twerski, I've Gotta Get Out Of My Way, pg. 181

Pre Purim Thought

We believe that there are many miracles which we mistake as natural phenomena because the Hand of G-d is concealed.  To symbolize this, we have hamantaschen where the sweets are concealed. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, A Taste of Nostalgis, pg. 228

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

At the end of the Torah we read the poem/song of He’ezinu, which speaks about how G-d will never destroy the Jewish People, how despite difficult times we will survive and redemption will arrive. It is in that context that the command is given to write down “this song,” which means that the whole Torah must be written, because of the song that it contains. It also means that the Torah is one long song.

In Jewish tradition a shir (song/poem) captures a moment of clarity and divinity relating to the past, present , and future. The whole Torah is a prose poem, but the specific song poems that appear in the Torah are concentrated expressions of truth, saying things with broken lines (when asked what poetry is Rabbi Menachem Froman said that it is broken lines) and rhymes, in a way that can’t be replicated longhand.

There is an element of song that applies to every Shabbat. In Jewish tradition songs are sung at moments of clarity. Shabbat brings a stronger connection to G-d than other days of the week. The week culminates in this day of connection. On Friday night we sing the “Song of Shabbos,” which mentions Shabbat in its title, while in its content it does not mention Shabbat by name but enumerates what Shabbos is all about - how truth, gracefulness, righteousness, and happiness come from connection to G-d. And in the prayers of Shabbat day we sing the prayer called Nishmat, which speaks of how the song of all living beings ought to sing gratefully (and gracefully) to G-d, and this is a celebratory song unique to Shabbat. Some say that Nishmat (The Soul Of All That Lives) is song in honor of the extra soul and extra soulfulness that we receive on Shabbat.

Parashat Beshalach includes Az Yashir - The Song of the Sea. Like many languages Hebrew has just one word for both poetry and song. Thus, this is the first poem/song of the Torah. So, it’s appropriate to ask, what makes this - or any poem - a poem?

It is worthy of note that there is no consistent, repeating rhyme scheme here in Az Yashir, so clearly that’s not what makes it (or any poem) a poem. One thing that is clear when one looks at Az Yashir in a Torah scroll,or in most versions of the Chumash, or in the Siddur (from which we recite this song daily) is that the words are spaced in an unusual way. Some suggest that he way the words are laid out is meant to look like the pattern with which bricks are laid, reminding us of the brick work of Egypt from which the Jews were freed. Others see the sea, with the sun shining across it, in the way the words are spaced. Today this is called concrete or shape poetry.

Another thing that makes Az Yashir a poem is the use of similes and metaphors - soldiers falling like rocks in water, G-d as a man of war, etc. One more example of poetic style here is the use of alliteration, with one line featuring five words in a row that begin with the same letter and sound (Amar oyeiv, "Erdof, asig, achaleik.").

Understanding a poem is an uphill battle, much like spreading appreciation of poetry is not easy. But it is important to remember that all of the Torah is a poem, and that daily and on Shabbat we recite the poem of Az Yashir and other poetic songs.

This week's Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah, but the Nesivos Shalom says that every Shabbos is Shabbos Shirah. And this one is just more intense, the Shir HaShirim Shabbos.

May we be blessed to appreciate Az yashir and other poems of our tradition, like Nishmat, Anim Zemirot, Ashrei (and the rest of Tehillim) and so many more. Maybe pick one and make it yours, memorize it, carry it in your pocket, say it in intense times.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Me and Mike B

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I've been rereading this for years and never noticed the neigh in neighboring before.

The neighing horses
are causing echoing neighs
in neighboring barns

-Richard Wright

Sunday, December 08, 2019

From the archives

TUESDAY, JULY 05, 2005

My Name Is Natah

"Ya'amod!" Traditional Jewish men know that when this word is sung in your
direction in Shul you're supposed to fill in the blank, then say your blessing over the Torah.
The moment when you tell the gabai your name for an aliya has always been awkward for me because my name is Natah. That's nun-tet-ayin.

Natah sounds like Natan, which is a more common name spelled nun-taf-nun. But it's a word of a different feather. If Carnegie was right that the sweetest sound to anyone's ears is their own name (and I intuit that he was) then the reverse is true, that the sourest sound to anyone's ears would be the mangling of their name.

I was thirteen when I first heard a gabai mispronounce my name as Nasan (Ashkenazic for Natan). I got in the habit of pronouncing the last sound of my name in a hard guttural way, as Sfardim do. But mostly gabaim still heard Natan. So I started doing it spelling bee style, "Natah, nun-tet-ayin, Natah..." "Yamod Nasan!"

To Be Continued...

From the Archives

MONDAY, MAY 30, 2005

In Light of Mussar: Remembering Rav Wolbe Part 1

During Pesach Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe passed away. Rav Wolbe was a baal mussar, unique in our time. He served for over 35 years as mashgiach - spiritual guide at Yeshivat B'er Yaakov. Around twenty -five years ago he left that yeshiva to set up a beis mussar in Jerusalem.

The word mussar is often misunderstood. Telling someone off is called giving mussar. The association is negative and innacurate. Mussar books are studied at short set times. This is at variance with the Mussar Movement.

Rav Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883) was the founder of the movement. The doctrine of mussar taught techniques for spiritual character growth based on traditional ethical literature. This was more than academic study.

Mussar was was done rather than studied. It included exercises such as keeping track of behaviors as deliniated in the classic work Cheshbon HaNefesh , specific activities to strengthen character, and repetition of phrases that profoundly affect the soul. Mussar addressed
personality and ethics from a spiritual perspective.

The anonymously written Orchot Tzadikim-Paths of the Righteous explained mussar with the image of a string of pearls. While each pearl is valuable, the knot at the end holds it all together. The mussar perspective is that connection to G-d, through awe and love, is the thread that holds together all of the character work we do. (This is different from approaches within psychology which omit or dispute the G-d piece of "self help.")

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter established the beis mussar as a place for holy work, where people went to "do mussar." Over the years the beis mussar, along with the general idea of mussar as a practice, has mostly fallen away. Rav Wolbe and his beis hamussar provided the exception to the rule.

I hope to continue my thoughts on Rav Wolbe and on mussar soon, please G-d.

For an essay on Rav Wolbe by Rabbi Francis Nataf click on this link.

When Rabbi Yosef Dov Solovetchik was giving his shiur-class when he was older and weaker, he paused on day at the end and said how much he appreciated the people who still came to hear him. And he quoted the saying that more than the calf needs to drink, the mother needs to nurse.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Less people should be like most people. - Hank Larson

Saturday, November 30, 2019

I think I fixed it so that comments can now be received, so if you've tried and it didn't work, try again.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Modeh Ani

Every day is Thanksgiving
In G-d's world, in my mind
Every day is Thanksgiving
If we thank Him all the time
Every day is Thanksgiving
By Neil Fleischmann

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

From Mosaic: On Zelda

Zelda Was One of the Greatest Modern Writers of Religious Experience in Any Language

Lauded in Israel but unknown outside, Zelda’s poetry provides an alternative to the desacralized cosmos in which most of us live.

NOV. 26 2019
About the author
Michal Leibowitz is a Krauthammer fellow at Mosaic.

In the world of modern Hebrew letters, some names have achieved international recognition: from S.Y. Agnon and Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik to, more recently, Amos Oz and Yehuda Amichai. The names of others, whose contributions to Hebrew literature may be no less significant, tend to resonate in smaller, more localized circles.
Among the latter figures is the poet Zelda Shneerson Mishkovsky (1914-1984)—known simply as Zelda to her many devoted readers in Israel. Indeed, her place in the world of Hebrew letters is secure, having been recognized through the award of both the Bialik and the Brenner prizes, two of Israel’s highest literary honors. That place is also unique: more than three decades after her death, Zelda remains one of the greatest modern writers of religious experience—in Hebrew or in any other language.
Who was she?

Zelda’s renderingof religious experience was undoubtedly informed by her early life. Born in Russia in the waning days of the tsarist empire, she spent her first decade under the new dispensation of the Bolsheviks. Her formative childhood environment, however, was the world not of Communist atheism but of Chabad Ḥasidism. Zelda’s first cousin, older than she by a dozen years, was Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who in 1950 would become the seventh leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty: the “Lubavitcher rebbe.”
At twelve, Zelda emigrated to mandatory Palestine with her family. The Schneersons settled in Jerusalem (“bejeweled in the sun,/ smiling like a bride—”), where she would spend most of her adult life. Nor did the spiritual world of her early years ever leave her. She remained devoutly religious her whole life and would often allude to ḥasidic themes and symbols in her poetry. That poetry depicts a world of divine sparks and miracles, a world in which God is at times a living entity, as solid as a human lover or friend. But hers is also a world of profound loneliness and isolation, a world in which death maintains an unshakable presence and God is often hidden.
Zelda’s father died about a year after the family’s move to Jerusalem, and her grandfather soon after. In Jerusalem, she attended a religious girls’ school and then the Mizraḥi Teachers’ Seminary. It was while a student at the latter that she first began writing and publishing poetry in newspapers and magazines.
Over the next two decades, Zelda lived in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, teaching Hebrew to new immigrants, caring for her ailing mother, and working as a teacher in an elementary school. Even as a teacher, she brought her radiant vision to her work, calling small kindnesses—like lending an eraser, or handing out drawing paper—“making sparks.” Among her second-grade pupils was Amos Oz, who many years later, in his 2002 memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, would write:
[Zelda] revealed a Hebrew language to me that I had never encountered before. . . . A strange anarchic Hebrew, a Hebrew belonging to stories of the pious and to ḥasidic tales and folk parables, a Hebrew overflowing with Yiddish, violating every rule, mixing feminine with masculine, present with past, noun with adjective—a sloppy, even muddled Hebrew.
But what vitality there was in these stories! When a story was about snow, it seemed written in words of snow. And when it was about fires, the words themselves burned.
Despite her pedagogical gifts, Zelda felt teaching stifled her poetry. When she married Ḥayim Aryeh Mishkovsky in 1950, she gave up teaching and began writing more intensely. Still, it wasn’t until 1967—after much urging from her husband and friends—that Leisure, her first book of poems, was released. She was fifty-three years old.
Leisure launched Zelda from near-anonymity into the heart of the Israeli literary world. Some of the excitement was undoubtedly due to the novelty of her biography, but her work also gained attention for breaking poetic ground. Ignoring the genre boundaries and rhythmic patterns that then still largely governed the writing of Hebrew verse, her work, as the singer Chava Alberstein would observe, sounded a “new melody on the Hebrew poetry scene.”
From 1967 onward Zelda published prolifically, releasing a book of poetry every three to four years. Her second book, The Invisible Carmel (1971), was dedicated to the memory of Ḥayim, who passed away shortly before its publication. In the following years, death—always a major theme—became even more prominent. Her preoccupation with mortality led to one of her most brilliant poems, “Heavy Silence,” a meditation on language, meaning, and grief.
Here and throughout, the translations are by Marcia Falk in The Spectacular Difference: Selected Poems of Zelda (2004):
Death will take the spectacular difference
between fire and water
and cast it to the abyss.
Heavy silence
will crouch like a bull
on the names we have given
the birds of the sky
and the beasts of the field,
the evening skies,
the vast distances in space,
and things hidden from the eye.
Heavy silence will crouch like a bull
on all the words.
And it will be as hard for me to part
from the names of things
as from the things themselves.
O Knower of Mysteries,
help me understand
what to ask for
on the final day.
Few would have expected Zelda’s poems, which, like this one, brim with allusions to biblical and mystical texts, to resonate with readers across all segments of Israeli society. Yet she was never exclusively either a “poet’s poet” or a “ḥaredi poet.” Indeed, each of her six books was a national bestseller, and the ranks of her admirers included kibbutzniks, soldiers, yeshiva students, and academics.  Her verses have been put to music in popular Hebrew songs, most notably by Alberstein, and one poem in particular, “Each of Us Has a Name,” is a frequent feature of Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in Israel.
It is true, however, that today, despite her popularity, she is more likely to be mentioned by the keepers of advanced Israeli culture as a token curiosity (“Israel’s first religious female poet”) than as a serious literary artist. Nor was she ever recognized with the Israel Prize, the nation’s highest cultural honor. In 2004, the literary critic Alit Karper wrote in Haaretz that “Twenty years after her death” from cancer, “Zelda is mainly a very forgotten poet.” And outside of Israel, as I noted at the outset, her work is virtually unknown.

Countless forces contributeto the making of a writer’s reputation and cultural longevity, some of which have little to do with the actual work. (The Canadian scholar H.J. Jackson once listed such fame-enhancing factors as dying young, having a politically contentious youth, and living in a pretty, pilgrimage-friendly place.) As for Zelda, one might speculate that her work has been overlooked in part because her poems seem so simple.
In contrast to poets whose work cries “Decipher me!,” Zelda’s poems—particularly those rooted in concrete images—exhibit a straightforwardness that makes them approachable despite their often antiquated language, minimal punctuation, and erratic line breaks. Thus, a poem titled “The Crippled Beggar 1” is about a crippled beggar; another, called “Strange Plant,” is about a strange plant. Nor is this an artifice: according to her translator Marcia Falk, Zelda’s poems “are never put-ons, never show-offs, and above all, never artificial. . . . They seem, rather, to have been born whole and delivered to us in a single breath.”
This accessibility is one of Zelda’s greatest strengths, for her poems can be read and appreciated by readers of various skills and levels of Jewish literacy. But the fact that her poems do not declare themselves as difficult has undoubtedly led some who should know better to dismiss her work after skimming only the surface. Take, for example, the following untitled poem:
In the morning, I thought
“Life’s magic will never return,
it won’t return.”
Suddenly in my house, the sun
is a living thing,
and the table with its bread—
And the flower and the cups—
And the sadness?
Even there—
Simple enough. The poem contains no obvious allusions or impressive formal displays, and its main technical achievement seems to lie in its use of abrupt line breaks that, in emphasizing the moment’s transience, curtail any hint of sentimentality.
But, as always with Zelda, there is more here than meets the eye. In her system of personal symbols (other instances include “The Sun Lit a Wet Branch,” “The Old House,” “Strange Plant,” and many more), gold is associated with light and divine presence: a connection most likely adapted from the kabbalistic idea of the infinite light of God overflowing through metaphysical emanations to the lower human world. In this poem, the idea of an impassable gulf between the earthly realm and the realm of the divine is openly challenged. God, Zelda suggests, can be found not only in the synagogue but in the small nouns that make up our world: the table with its bread, a bunch of flowers, cups.
But there is more. The quiet lines “and the table with its bread—/ gold./ And the flower . . . —/ gold” are borrowed, nearly word for word, from Kings 1 7:48-49, a passage describing the golden table and vessels in the Great Hall of Solomon’s Temple. The terms, almost seamlessly incorporated into the body of her text, carry theological weight, implying not only that God is present in the mundane but that discerning the divine in the mundane is in itself an act of worship.
Embedded within this unassuming poem is thus a distinctively ḥasidic theology, an alternative to the desacralized cosmos in which most of us live. That theology is communicated through reference to Judaism’s sacred texts, deployed so deftly as to be nearly invisible. Zelda’s work can be read and enjoyed without knowledge of her specifically ḥasidic background, but it cannot be fully appreciated without a sense of her religious world.

In this sameconnection, it’s important to stress that some of the best notes struck by this poet of religious experience reflect the moments when that experience fails to line up precisely with theology. Take, for example, “Who Can Resist the Beauty of the Light”:
I bore my anger to show to the light,
seeking comfort in its beauty,
but I was not worthy in its eyes,
I was not worthy in its eyes.
“Why is your life dark?” it said.
“You are not in the depths of the pit.
This must be a lack of love.”
And I wept.
I wept deeply.
Like many of Zelda’s poems, this one has a patina of childishness. The poem is filled with simple contrasts: light/dark, comfort/disquiet, life/(intimated) death. As in a children’s story, the light speaks. As in a nursery rhyme, the poem doubles and repeats. But the simplistic structure and fable-like images belie the complexity of the literary and emotional framework.
Most obvious in this respect is the reference to Psalms 88:7: “Thou hast laid me in the nethermost pit, in dark places, in the deeps.” This psalm is itself one of the darkest in that biblical book, its mood described by the religious historian Martin Marty as “a wintry landscape of unrelieved bleakness.” Unlike other psalms dealing with themes of death and abandonment, Psalm 88 is essentially nineteen verses of unmediated gloom—which makes it a fitting background to the emotional state of Zelda’s speaker.
Other allusions in the poem are similarly apparent only in the original Hebrew, and then mostly to readers deeply familiar with Judaism’s foundational texts. Since this presents a common problem in reading Zelda’s work in translation, we may pause here for a word about Marcia Falk’s efforts to overcome it. Although her renderings excel at conveying the intimacy and simplicity of Zelda’s work, more subtle references are sometimes elided. Here, for instance, the word translated by Falk as “my anger” (רגזי) might better be rendered as “my disquiet.” The phrase appears in Exodus, Proverbs, and Job, among other places, but its root form appears most notably in Samuel 2 19:1—together, significantly, with a form of Zelda’s archaic “ואבך” (“and I wept”), another highly inflected word in the poem.
This is the only verse in the Bible in which both words appear in conjunction, and at a moment of extreme intensity: “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept.” The verse marks the start of David’s lament for Absalom, perhaps the most famous of all biblical expressions of grief: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Yet the context of the king’s outcry—in particular, the fact that Absalom was killed as he attempted a coup—is sometimes overlooked. In fact, the lament is itself followed by a considerably less famous passage in which David is reminded by his nephew Joab, who is also the commander of the royal army, that had Absalom lived and the coup succeeded, the king’s wives, sons, daughters, and servants would all have been slaughtered.
In other words, “Absalom, O Absalom!” is an expression of inappropriate grief. And it is precisely in that sense that Zelda’s references to Samuel align her “I” with David. Like David, Zelda’s speaker senses that her grief—or at least the depth of it—is misplaced, uncalled-for. She mourns, like David, but believes she ought not to. Her life is dark, but she, like him, is not truly in the nethermost pit.
Also critical to understanding “Who Can Resist the Beauty of the Light” is some knowledge of the Chabad approach to grief and joy, and in particular Chabad’s emphasis on divine providence: the belief that, for the faithful, all that occurs is ultimately the result of God’s benevolent care for us. Complete trust in that benevolence allows an individual to welcome suffering with joy and love, for everything has its origin and its end in God, the “Infinite Light” invoked in the poem’s title.
For Zelda, these ideas were not abstract theological concerns. The death of her husband Ḥayim left her bereft. Even years later, many of her poems describe the pain of widowhood. As letters exchanged between her and her cousin Menachem Mendel Schneerson reveal, the opposing spiritual valences of suffering and grateful happiness were at the forefront of her mind. At one point, Schneerson writes, “From the spirit of your letters, I get the impression that though I keep writing you to take a more joyful perspective, . . . my words have made no mark. . . . But I will persist, and repeat myself even 100 times, and you will forgive me.”
Despite these urgings, Zelda was unable to subsume her pain in faith. Her poems suggest that she saw this “lack of love” as a spiritual failing. And that brings us to the core of “Who Can Resist the Beauty of the Light,” which lies precisely in the speaker’s sense that she has failed to live up to ideals she feels are impossible but cannot relinquish. Caught between what she believes (all that occurs is the result of God’s will) and what she experiences (darkness and pain), the speaker’s only recourse is tears: “And I wept./ I wept deeply.”
In less skilled hands, that thought, along with the poem that expresses it, would have tipped into sentimentality, or blasphemy. But Zelda navigates the tension with grace. By suffusing her lines with words from sacred Jewish texts and Hebrew liturgy, she creates a work that, even in its angst, reads also as an expression of stubborn, stiff-necked love. If “Who Can Resist the Beauty of the Light” does not end with a reevaluation of the speaker’s disquiet, neither does it conclude with a rejection of the light. Instead, pain stands alongside belief, neither one dislodging the other, neither one offering resolution.

Religious experienceis notoriously difficult to express in words. The reason may owe in part, as Wittgenstein suggested, to the difference between how we use and relate to religious language and how we use and relate to everyday speech. In part it may also owe to the fact that the most meaningful religious experiences are often characterized by paradox: think of the medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich’s vision of a small hazelnut that somehow also contains “everything that is made.”
Of all the possible modes of linguistic transmission, perhaps the one uniquely suited to the expression of religious experience is poetry—precisely because of poetry’s capacity to convey paradox, holding multiple contradictory ideas open at the same time. It’s therefore unsurprising that almost all of the Hebrew Bible’s most moving expressions of religious experience derive from the poetic books: Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Lamentations. These are not the texts that give us answers, but the ones that best present our questions while assuring us that we are not alone in asking them.
Like those biblical books, Zelda’s poetry speaks to the tension of a lived religious life, the places where theology and experience refuse to meld. In her work, the divine is at once radically immanent and hopelessly distant. Death negates human instrumentality, but also allows for the discernment of wonder. A righteous God permits the faithful to suffer.
Theodicy, suffering, redemption—it’s all there. And that is what entitles Zelda’s work to a place at the center of the modern Hebrew canon and to be recognized for what it is: a masterful expression of religious experience that, refusing both blasphemy and sentimentality, offers instead a form of prayer.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Vayeirah Vort

"U'shnei na'arav ito." The pshat - straightforward translation of this is that he (Avraham) had his two young men with him, assisting. On a sod/drash - deep homiletical level it can mean that he had the years of his youth with him. Though Avraham was advanced in his years he brought youthful enthusiasm to his service of G-d. - The Sabba Kadosh of Slonim, Torat Avot

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Nesivos Shalom - Breishit, Noach


The Torah starts with Sefer Breishit because it is all about midot that are foundational and need to come before mitzvot. 

Light is unique in creation because we're told about what came before it.  This is metaphorical, the darkness comes before the light, the sur mirah and then the asei tov. This is teaching us at the start how important it is to fight darkness with light.

Kayin took from crops, Hevel took from HIS flock.  Hevel gave from what he cultivated on and thus he truly sacrifice for and gifted G-d.  Kayin took from plain old crops, what was around, not what he's invested in. The Rabbis say that Kayin gave of the worst of his stuff, but how do they know? Because the pasuk tells us that he took just any old ones, thus they not special. Hevel took of what what hs, thus they were special.  We need to emulate this and truly sacrifice for G-d.


Shabbos is like the Teivah, a place of purity where we gather. The partner of Shabbos is Knesset Yisrael, specifically the trait of gathering together - being koneis on Shabbos.

Beishit and Noach contain 3 sins corrected by the 3 Avot.  Kayin = jealosy, Noach's Generation= desire, Dor haflaga (Tower of babel) = honor.  The Rabbis teach us that these 3 things remove a person from this world.  Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, with their traits of Kindness, Strength, and Trruth, respectively, corrected these sins/mistakes.

The problem of the people of the time of the Tower of Bavel was that they had bad intents.  When bad is gathered together it's bad and when good is gathered together it's good.  So hashem wasn't punishing them as much as helping them by dispersing them, and thus it uses the name of G-d that is merciful (Hashem). The take away from this is that we need to gather together god people for minyan, learning, Shabbos (see above), etc.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Blood Brothers

Tonight I watched an episode of MASH about a soldier who's in bad shape in the OR and his friend (Patrick Swayze) who won't leave his side. His support is key in helping the friend get better, until he's up for getting a blood transfusion. The good guy friend offers to give him his blood, but when they take a sample they learn that he has leukemia. And it's on Hawkeye to tell him, and he's hesitant to but he does.

In a parallel plot a monsignor is visiting and Father Mulcahy is trying his hardest to get people to take a break from their drinking and gambling so it won't be an embarrassment before the monsignor. No-one wants to listen to him, so the high level priest sees the warts that the Father wanted to cover up.

Mulchahey goes to Hawkeye to vent about how rotten the people in the 4077 are, but Hawkeye has a harder time than usual being empathetic to the priest. Hawkeye tells Father Mulchahy that he just had to tell a young man about that young man's having leukemia. Mulchahey is there immediately for Hawkeye, offering understanding and consolation.

Father Mulchahy leaves Hawkeye. He spends all night talking with the young man who is there at his friend's bedside. In the morning Hawkeye finds the father and the boy together and sees that the young man is in better spirits. But the young officer and Hawkeye argue. Hawkeye wants the fellow to go the Tokyo immediately for treatment but the guy wants to stay and be there for his friend, at bedside, when his friend comes to.

Mulchahy takes Hawkeye aside and argues that Hawkeye wants the kid to go to Tokyo because of his own bias, but that it's not what the guys wants and thus is not necessarily what's best for him. Hawkeye changes his tune to the kid and the kid stays.

Someone runs in and reminds Father Mulchahey that it's time for Mass. Still wearing his bathrobe the father goes to the adhoc church. Here are his words:

"Well, uh, here we are. Uh, it's, uh, Sunday again. I'm sure you've all come expecting to hear a sermon. Well, l I have to admit, I'm not as prepared as I'd like to be. In fact, I'm not even dressed as I'd like to be. Y-You see l I was working on my sermon which I hoped would be a particularly inspirational one in honor of Cardinal Reardon. But I was called away and well, to be honest I never got back to it. So, uh if you'll just bear with me. I'd like to share with you the reason why.

I want to tell you about two men each facing his own crisis. The first man you know rather well. The second is a patient here.

Well, the first man thought he was facing a crisis. But what he was really doing was trying to impress someone. He was looking for recognition, encouragement, a pat on the back. And whenever that recognition seemed threatened he reacted rather childishly -blamed everyone for his problems but himself because he was thinking only of himself.

But the second man was confronted by the greatest crisis mortal man can face: the loss of his life. I think you'll agree that the second man had every right to be selfish. But instead he chose to think not of himself but of a brother. And when the first man saw the the dignity and the selflessness of the second man he realized how petty and selfish he had [gasps] - I had been. It made me see something more clearly than I've ever seen it before:

God didn't put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so He could be here himself, so that He could exist in the lives of those he created in his image."

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Approaching 15 Years

I'm not sure if comments take here.  I don't know who reads this blog. I do know that the 15th anniversary is about a month away.  Here's the first post, from November, 2004.  If you have any comments as this anniversary approaches, please comment here, or (because I don't know if you can really comment, though it may seem lik you can) email me at nfleischmann1@gmail.com

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Poem of He'ezinu

Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan ZT"L

Listen heaven! I will speak! Earth! Hear the words of my mouth! My lesson shall drop like rain, my saying shall flow down like the dew - like a downpour on the herb, like a shower on the grass.

When I proclaim God's name, praise God for His greatness. The deeds of the Mighty One are perfect, for all His ways are just. He is a faithful God, never unfair; righteous and moral is He. Destruction is His children's fault, not His own, you warped and twisted generation. Is this the way you repay God, you ungrateful, unwise nation? Is He not your Father, your Master, the One who made and established you?

Remember days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation. Ask your father and let him tell you, and your grandfather, who will explain it. When the Most High gave nations their heritage and split up the sons of man, He set up the borders of nations to parallel the number of Israel's descendants. But His own nation remained God's portion; Jacob was the lot of His heritage.

He brought them into being in a desert region, in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and granted them wisdom, protecting them like the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, He spread His wings and took them, carrying them on His pinions. God alone guided them; there was no alien power with Him.

He carried them over the earth's highest places, to feast on the crops of the field. He let them suckle honey from the bedrock, oil from the flinty cliff. They had the cheese of cattle, milk of sheep, fat of lambs, rams of the Bashan, and luscious fat wheat. They drank the blood of grapes for wine. Jeshurun thus became fat and rebelled. You grew fat, thick and gross. The nation abandoned the God who made it and spurned the Mighty One who was its support.

They provoked His jealousy with alien practices; made Him angry with vile deeds. They sacrificed to demons who were non-gods, deities they never knew. These were new things, recently arrived, which their fathers would never consider. You thus ignored the Mighty One who bore you; forgot the Power who delivered you.

When God saw this, He was offended, provoked by His sons and daughters. He said: I will hide My face from them, and see what will be their end. They are a generation which reverses itself and cannot be trusted. They have been faithless to Me with a non-god, angering Me with their meaningless acts. Now I will be unfaithful to them with a non-nation, provoking them with a nation devoid of gratitude. My anger has kindled a fire, burning to the lowest depths. It shall consume the land and its crops, setting fire to the foundations of mountains. I will heap evil upon them, striking them with My arrows.

They will be bloated by famine, consumed by fever, cut down by bitter plague. I will send against them fanged beasts, with venomous creatures who crawl in the dust. Outside, the sword shall butcher boys, girls, infants, white-headed elders, while inside, there shall be terror. I was prepared to exterminate them, to make their memory vanish from among mankind. But I was concerned that their enemies would be provoked, and their attackers alienated, so that they would say, 'Our superior power and not God, was what caused all this.' But they are a nation who destroys good advice, and they themselves have no understanding. If they were wise, they would contemplate this, and understand what their end will be.

How could one man pursue a thousand, or two men, ten thousand, if their Mighty One had not given them over, and God had not trapped them? Their powers are not like our Mighty One, although our enemies sit in judgment. But their vine is from the vine of Sodom and the shoot of Gomorrah. Their grapes are poison grapes; their grape cluster is bitterness to them. Their vine is serpents' venom, like the poison of the dreadful cobra.

But it is concealed with Me for the future, sealed up in My treasury. I have vengeance and retribution, waiting for their foot to slip. Their day of disaster is near, and their time is about to come. God will then take up the cause of His people, and comfort His servants. He will have seen that their power is gone, with nothing left to keep or abandon.

God will then say: Where is their god, the power in which they trusted? [Where are the gods] who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their libations? Let them now get up and help you! Let them be your protector! But now see! It is I! I am the [only] One! There are no [other] gods with Me! I kill and give life! If I crushed, I will heal! But there is no protection from My power! lift My hand to heaven and say: I am Life forever. I will whet My lightning sword and grasp judgment in My hand. I will bring vengeance against My foes, and repay those who hated Me.

I will make My arrows drunk with blood, My sword consuming flesh. The enemy's first punishment will be the blood of the slain and wounded. Let the tribes of His nation sing praise, for He will avenge His servants' blood. He will bring vengeance upon His foes, and reconcile His people [to] His land.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Seems Like The Right Time To Express This Gratitude

I am grateful to the Nesivos Shalom/ Rav Sholom Noach Berezovsky. I have no words I can think of other than to use some of his words that I've taken in.

1 The world was created for 6 days, and then Shabbos brought the merit to regenerate it for 6 more. This happened the first week of creation and every week since.

2 The medrash does not say that the unevenly numbered seventh day that seemed to have no partner would be partnered with Klal Yisrael, nor with An Yisrael, but with Knesset Yisrael. What connects us to Shabbos is our connecting to each other.

3 You need Shabbos to do teshuva and you need teshuva to keep Shabbos.

4 When we feel we don't have faith we have to have faith in our having faith, like how we believe the sun is there even when it's covered by clouds.

5 We wish for Mashiach and the Beit HaMikdash, just like we need to do teshuvah because we can't accept that if this world is created and run by G-d that it is supposed to be the way it is now.

6 Closeness to G-d is good, distance from G-d is bad. That's the one rule.

7 A prince left his father's palace and joined a gang of robbers. Time went on as it always does and he returned to his father and to following his father's ways. But the king couldn't trust his son, he feared that his son would return to his band of thieves. And the son did return to the robbers. But he rehabilitated them and transformed them into servants of the king. Now the king was relieved and happy. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we rejoin our Father, but how can he trust us? He trusts us after on Sukkot we elevate the physical things that can brought us down and that we separated from and we make them part of how we serve G-d so He (and we) need not fear that we will again be be taken down by them.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Kein Anachnu

By Neil Fleischmann

What's the difference between
clay in the potter's hand
stone in the mason''s hand
iron in the welder's hand
helm in the sailor's hand
glass in the glazier's hand
cloth in the draper's hand
silver in the smith's hand?
Seven is the nature number
It represents where we live
In time, place - within G-d
Yet we are each different
and we feel G-d differently
Some are navigated boats
Others raw creative clay
We are all in G-d's hand.

Yom Kippur

By Phillip Schultz
You are asked to stand and bow your head,
consider the harm you've caused,
the respect you've withheld,
the anger misspent, the fear spread,
the earnestness displayed
in the service of prestige and sensibility,
all the callous, cruel, stubborn, joyless sins
in your alphabet of woe
so that you might be forgiven.
You are asked to believe in the spark
of your divinity, in the purity
of the words of your mouth
and the memories of your heart.
You are asked for this one day and one night
to starve your body so your soul can feast
on faith and adoration.
You are asked to forgive the past
and remember the dead, to gaze
across the desert in your heart
toward Jerusalem. To separate
the sacred from the profane
and be as numerous as the sands
and the stars of heaven.
To believe that no matter what
you have done to yourself and others
morning will come and the mountain
of night will fade. To believe,
for these few precious moments,
in the utter sweetness of your life.
You are asked to bow your head
and remain standing,
and say Amen.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

“Forgiveness, it has been said, means giving up our hopes for a better past.” ― Alan A. Lew

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Wishing you a Shanah Tovah, a Ketivah VeChatimah Tovah, a sweet and meeningful new year, and a positive new start, including G-d signing off on abundant goodness for you this year.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


To pay for my father’s funeral
I borrowed money from people
he already owed money to.
One called him a nobody.
No, I said, he was a failure.
You can’t remember
a nobody’s name, that’s why
they’re called nobodies.
Failures are unforgettable.
The rabbi who read a stock eulogy
about a man who didn’t belong to
or believe in anything
was both a failure and a nobody.
He failed to imagine the son
and wife of the dead man
being shamed by each word.
To understand that not
believing in or belonging to
anything demanded a kind
of faith and buoyancy.
An uncle, counting on his fingers
my father’s business failures—
a parking lot that raised geese,
a motel that raffled honeymoons,
a bowling alley with roving mariachis—
failed to love and honor his brother,
who showed him how to whistle
under covers, steal apples
with his right or left hand. Indeed,
my father was comical.
His watches pinched, he tripped
on his pant cuffs and snored
loudly in movies, where
his weariness overcame him
finally. He didn’t believe in:
savings insurance newspapers
vegetables good or evil human
frailty history or God.
Our family avoided us,
fearing boils. I left town
but failed to get away.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Kli Yakar asks why the Torah doesn't explicitly state that Rosh HaShanah is the Rosh HaShanah that we know. He says that the G-d didn't want us to mistakenly think that Teshuva and the related themes of Rosh HaShanah are a one day affair. Similarly, he says that the theme of Shavuot is left to the oral tradition so that the text of Torah does not allow us to think that accepting Torah, etc. is a once a year thing.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Shavua Tov

I had a thought at the end of Shabbos regarding the idea that at the end of the week there's a deadline when we start Shabbos, and whatever we did to prepare we did, and we now have to stop and let Shabbos in. I think it's a similar thing with Shabbos leading into the week, at some point we have to accept that Shabbos has ended and the week has begun, and we take what we can from Shabbos into the week, but at some point we must re-enter a weekday reality. And then like a perpetual yin yang circle, the cycle continues as the week leads to Shabbos and Shabbos leads the week.
I think that this thought fits with the debate between Shamai and Hillel about if heaven or earth was created first, and how Rav Shimon Bar Yochai says that really the two were created together. The Nesivos Shalom explains that Shamai and Hillel knew that the two were created together, but they were arguing about a metaphorical matter. Shamai said that pure heavenly matters like prayer and Torah study rank highest/come first. Hillel said that elevating earthly matters ranks even higher than what's only spiritual. The Nesivos Shalom explains that the answer of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai is that the two have to interact, co-exist, work together, and part of a holy unit
I think that Shabbos and the week have to interact together, each continuously linking into the next. This is why, according to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, we say Havdallah. It's more than a farewell to Shabbos, it is the Kiddush introducing the week.
May we all be blessed to feel close to G-d and holy and happy this coming week and beyond.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

I don't write here much or often but I am pleased that I still keep it up, going on 15 years.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Love is People

By Fred Rogers
Love is people
Love is people needing people
Love is people caring for people
That is love
Love's a little child sharing with another
Love's a brave man daring to liberate his brother
Love is people
Love is people needing people
Love is people caring for people
That is love
And though some have costly treasure
It never seems to measure
Up to people needing people
Caring for people
For that's love
Love is people
People love

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Time is the comforting blanket that cloaks all our days, and the rug that we are constantly pulling out from under ourselves. The most important things to remember about time are that you need it and that you have it." - A Broom of One's Own, By Nancy Peacock, page 71

Friday, June 21, 2019

Baruch Hashem

Please read this well written, beautiful piece by Caroline Drew.  It is about her experience as a woman who is not Jewish working in an Orthodox all girls high school for a year.