holy mud

I spent a considerable amount of time Friday morning scraping mud off of our Israeli grandsons’ brand-new soccer shoes. They went right from the store into the house and out to their outside plot into the mud. It was made worse, of course, when the littler one suggested to the older one to bring them into the house and wash them off. “Wait, wait–don’t do that!!” I tried to stop them. By the time I got to the sink (2 seconds at the most), it was pretty seriously too late.

They did not say this. They said lots of things at the highest volume that they have, which has grown since I saw them last in July. Oh, Lovely Mud, indeed! So I showed them how to use the plastic garden tools that they have to clean off the shoes. It worked to a point. The tempers calmed down and I was able to convince them that:

  1. this was better than the time that he stepped in dog stuff at our house. (This didn’t make him feel better, though, because he remembered how angry everyone was when he did that.)
  2. they would eventually dry. and
  3. the mud was a good thing, because it meant that it had rained enough to make mud!

The previous day, we went to visit Rachel our mother, but it was hard to know if she was even home. DSC_0157 DSC_0155

The tomb of Rachel has become a huge tourist attraction, rather than a visit of religious devotion. I shouldn’t say that, because most of the women who were there were very busy praying. But OMG, Kever Rachel even has a Facebook page now.

It used to be a place of a more private devotion. I think that was the point–Rachel was buried on the way. Her death was unexpected and her husband had not prepared himself emotionally for that loss. I have a feeling he probably regretted not bringing her to Hevron, but she became the standard bearer for the unredeemed. Even Melville uses her in Moby Dick, at the end of Chapter 128:

She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet speaks of ‘Rachel weeping for her children’. This is interpreted in Judaism as Rachel crying for an end to her descendants’ sufferings and exiles following the destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem. According to the Midrash, Rachel spoke before God: “If I, a mere mortal, was prepared not to humiliate my sister and was willing to take a rival into my home, how could You, the eternal, compassionate God, be jealous of idols, which have no true existence, that were brought into Your home (the Temple in Jerusalem)? Will You cause my children to be exiled on this account?” God accepted her plea and promised that, eventually, the exile would end and the Jews would return to their land.

But actually, what brings most women to the Kever is something different; it is G-d listening to Rachel’s prayers during her lifetime. Here is the sign that is posted.


This is the line that is boldened on the right in this prayer that was composed to say at the Tomb of Rachel:

כב  וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-רָחֵל; וַיִּשְׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ אֱלֹהִים, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ. 22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.

So women are there to pray to be heard now; for the children to come, not the children who have passed.

Now why did I bring up Rachel’s Tomb and my grandchildren’s muddy shoes? After all, I could have referenced walking to the Old City my first day in Israel; or walking to the Promenade and noting the changes since I’ve been here; or tasting the sufganiyot that have gone so upscale.

But somehow it comes down to the real needs that matter. Getting mud off of new soccer shoes; getting dog poop off of the baby stroller; getting vomit out of the baby’s clothes; it’s the real that we need.

We can wax poetic later when the smell is a distant memory.


open eyes, part II

So, as I said below, what are the blessings we should be asking for? I used this as a little blessing to say at a gathering on Shabbat in honor of the bride who got married yesterday. The woman who lights the Shabbat candles is doing so because she is in charge of the household. She is setting the stage. It’s as if (I forgot to mention this on Shabbat, even though I had rehearsed it in my head) it is a stage and she is the director/writer/but not the producer saying “Lights! Camera! Action!” So when she/we light the candles, we have put into place all the blessings that we want to appear in our production, with G-d’s help.

But you have to ask big.

You have the power to ask for what you think you need. We should ask big. And we have to let people know that they should be asking big.

And there’s another part to this, relevant to Rosh Hashanah, that I did not mention on Shabbat, but I did tell ISHI about it and he might do it on Rosh Hashanah itself. If you’re in our shul, you can smile to yourself and nod to me that you read it here first. 🙂

What is the deal with the ram?

This is the climax of what we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah:

Genesis Chapter 22 בְּרֵאשִׁית

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ, מְאוּמָה:  כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ, מִמֶּנִּי. 12 And he said: ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.’
יג  וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אַיִל, אַחַר, נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו; וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הָאַיִל, וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנוֹ. 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son.

Avraham saw.

The ram had been there, according to the Mishnah Pirkei Avot 5:9, from twilight on the eve of the first Sabbath.


All Avraham had to do was open his eyes and behold.

I’m not sure why G-d wanted to put him to the test; I don’t really understand it. But I know that Avraham had to learn to see.

I’m trying.


We went to Historic Valley Park by Windsor Lake before we saw my old friend. DSC_0416

Someone was definitely trying to teach me to see things differently.DSC_0421

DSC_0427 DSC_0429 DSC_0436 DSC_0434 DSC_0433

open eyes

On the last evening of our little getaway last week, we went to visit an old friend in North Adams. Before we went to her loft, where she does her art, we went to Williamstown to walk around a bit. Here’s a photo in front of the art museum connected to the university; we had just missed seeing the inside, but seeing this would actually be more meaningful, after the fact.


When I opened my eyes.

DSC_0410 DSC_0411

When we met up with my old friend, who I haven’t seen in 37 years (!), I was listening to her, but thinking very loudly in my head about our choices that we’ve made. She had never wanted to have children; she thought that bringing children into this broken world was cruel and unjust. She never married, either, although she has had significant partners over the years. She was born Jewish, but embraced the study of yoga and has followed teachers around. She has done well in terms of being an artist/artisan, enough to have bought properties in different cities with the flexibility of travelling a lot to see friends all over and study in different locales.

Me? It’s pretty much all about the family, the community, the heritage. Pretty tame, pretty boring. At least I was thinking it was to her.

Maybe it came down to the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.

I do really really hope she is happy and content.

But for me? I was feeling very very grateful.

And so

I’m re-posting from last year a bit about counting blessings, where I translate the prayer supplication following the lighting of the Shabbat candles:

May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, to be gracious to me (and to ISHImy sons, my daughters, my father, and my mother) and to all my family; grant us and all Israel good and long life; remember us for good and blessing; consider us for salvation and compassion; bless us with great blessings; make our household complete, and may You cause Your Divine Presence to dwell among us. Make me worthy to raise learned children and grandchildren, who are wise and understanding, who love and fear God, people of truth, holy and attached to God, enlightening the world with Torah and goodness and service of our Creator. Please hear our prayers, in the merit of our matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and ensure that the glow of our lives will never be dimmed. Shine Your face upon us and we will be redeemed. Amen.

So this past Friday night, as I was lighting the candles once again, I once again was startled by the phrase

ותברכנו ברכות גדולות 

You can see that I highlighted the phrase inside.

What in the world are great blessings?

In Hebrew, I think it should read  רבות, many blessings.

So again, what are we asking?

And even more, when we wish each other a good new year, and we add all kinds of phrases, what are we asking and what are we doing?

We’re going off now to help our son and DIL move into their new apartment.

And after that, we’re going to the last wedding of the season.

That is enough of  blessing for now.

I’ll continue with this soon and tell you the punch line.

the danger of narrowing vision

So. The new moon. One month until Rosh HaShanah, the new year. It’s very hard to wrap my head around it–I just finished my summer program, so I should be able to start. The days are beginning to get a little cooler; the nights are even a bit chilly; so I should be able to, right?

I asked the participants in my summer group to talk about how their experiences in the program will help them get ready for this new month and for Rosh HaShanah. The answers were as varied as they were, including one fellow who said point-blank, “Some people feel willing to talk about this to others; I feel it’s completely personal and private, so I will keep it that way.”


Next person, please!

So is this a time for introspection, or interspection?

Yes, I know it’s not a word. I mean, do we just do pupik-gazing or do we look outwards, from ourselves to our family to our community to our people to our country to our world?

What in particular brings this question?

We’re in the middle, mostly tangentially, of all of these cases of people out of control. Some of them it’s due to health reasons. Their bodies are under siege or their minds are attacking their bodies; either way, the “they” of them is not unified.

Others; well, I guess you could easily say they are out of their minds, also. But they are not in control of themselves while trying to control others around them.

Anger is a powerful motivator, apparently.


stemming from perceived lack of control in one’s own life?

(And another side question–is it really okay to let men get away with things because they are men? Can we put this to rest already? Can we evolve, please?)

Thus the narrowing vision thing.

We cannot afford to be caught in our own small space. We cannot afford to be caught by others who imprison us in their own small spaces.

So…while I cannot solve this problem for all of these people, just trying to stay safe and be vigilant for the crazies, But how do we release from them?

I can say that this is the image of the shofar.

This includes the visual even more than the sound. It’s the effort of watching someone picking it up, putting it to their lips, concentrating all their efforts at making it effortless, and pushing all the elements back out to the universe. In a primal scream.

But that’s for the person doing the action. What about all of us bystanders? After all, there’s a thing about having just one voice, just one shofar, for the sake of the mitzvah of listening to the sound of the shofar.

Maybe it’s about giving in.

Letting go.

Giving control over to someone else.

So I’ll quote from someone else (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed), who quotes from someone else.

The Redak (Rabbi David Kimchi) explains that the first shofar blast in every order of blasts expresses the souls natural goodness, it represents the newborn child, untainted by sin, clean and pure. When the child grows, he becomes exposed to the complications and the crooked ways of this world, he struggles and is tested, he also falls and sins. This is expressed through the teruah, through moaning and sobbing over the failures that taint our character and the transgressions we become entangled in. The order finishes with a final simple shofar blast, which again expresses man’s virtue and goodness, but this time after repentance, after requesting forgiveness.

Finally, at the conclusion of all of the blasts, we blow a single long blast that expresses the end of all struggles and hardships, the final rectification. The greatness of a penitent is that after sin and failure he achieves a state of consummation, as a person enriched by trials, and despite everything has succeeded in overcoming all obstacles to refine his soul. In this regard, the sages say, “In the place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot stand” (Berakhot 34b).

Did I just completely contradict myself, saying it’s people who demand control who are in trouble, but we should release control?

You tell me.

breaking which walls?

Yesterday, a little rascal who is too young to know the reference ran from his mother on one side of the women’s section in our synagogue over to the other and waited for a half a millisecond with this rascally look on his face, then proceeded to push open the emergency door in our mechitzah (separation between the women’s and men’s sections) to escape to his father.

I knew it was going to happen. I could have walked over and stopped him.

I didn’t.

A few seconds later, he returned to return to his mother via the door, but she was standing guard at this point and showed him the way to expected behavior. In this case.

I was amused because of the timing.

We are finishing the first of three weeks of  Bein haMetzarim, “Between the Straits”, which started last Tuesday with the commemoration of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, leading up to Tisha B’Av, the destruction of the Holy Temple. I mentioned it to the mom and she was too busy feeling embarrassed and being on the job to react.

She would have gotten it. I also told her how I enjoyed watching him breach the wall.

So I think you get the irony.

There’s no emergency here. And that movie about the zombies, World War Z. I’m not going to see this one. It’s not my taste, to put it mildly. I am curious about the mythology (what Bruce Lincoln defines as “ideology in narrative form ) that the screenwriter used, with [SPOILER ALERT!] the idea of the 10th man saving Israel for a while, but how the zombies breach the wall that was protecting it.

And so I’m not going to use that as my metaphor for what Judaism has to do–maintain walls and divisions. I’ve written before about how there is much to change and much to work on; I try try try to be honest in my assessment.

Divisions always are there, but they change. Different things need bolstering at different times. You can think about it like the items we women choose to wear to fight gravity. They weren’t necessary before, but oh yes they are now.

So am I saying that Judaism is an aging female?

Or a young rascal?


one step in front of the other

There’s a extraordinarily insipid Hebrew song that was popular back in the 60’s, at the time when “Jewish” music was just breaking into a new form; pop, meaning popular. In the style of the times. But what it was really was just a 2-part easy-to-sing-around-the-campfire kind of song that could make people feeeeeel something.

(I know. I’m a sentimental old fool.)

The song was “Kol HaOlam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’od”. The 2 lines translate as:

The whole world is a very narrow bridge.
And the main thing is not to fear at all.

It was based on the words of Rebbe Nachman, who was also becoming mainstream in those days. Ironically, much of the music that he himself wrote is much more sophisticated and worth knowing, past your school or camp experiences.

But it’s actually not what he wrote.

I’m attaching the original Hebrew, but you can see it here, brought to us by the Breslov organization, in Likutei Moharan II, 48.

likutei moharan II 48

It says, right in the middle:

…And all of it comes together and gathers and connects and comes to help you in a time of trouble, which is, G-d forbid, some pressure or trouble, G-d forbid. And know that a person needs to cross over a very very narrow bridge, and the rule and the principle is that he should not יתפחד

Okay here’s where it gets even more interesting. The word he uses is in the reflexive future tense. I saw one person translate it as “not give into fear.”

“Don’t get caught up in fear.”

Now we see that they changed the words to get a simple tune.

But this is not simple, is it?

After all, there is much to be afraid of. There was when Rebbe Nachman wrote it and there was when they changed it to fit the tune. And we have not changed now. Newtown. Boston. Syria.  Lots of narrowness.


the other day, after our hike, I thought about this some more.

It’s not that there aren’t troubles; it’s that we gather our strength to go step-by-step, with G-d’s help. We don’t walk sideways; we walk ahead. We are creatures who move that way, not like crabs.

We can walk backwards, when we realize we’ve made a mistake or when we want or need to re-visit somewhere.

So we can admit to being afraid; we can admit to the reality of the world. But we can also muster up the help around us to move forward.




And be amazed.

never underestimate the power of little problems

And by that, I bet you thought I meant that they can pile up and become big ones.

I do, but actually, I meant the opposite.

Little problems are going to be there. And be grateful that they are little.

Sure, figure out how to make them as really small as possible. That goes without saying. But don’t expect them to go away completely.

Don’t try to figure out what I’m referring to. It’s a little thing.

It seemed huge Friday when I thought about it. And perhaps it was, or it could have been. Right now, it’s still a little thing and it needs monitoring. (no, not a health thing or not really anything about me or us or my family, but that doesn’t take it away from its place of importance. There are always other problems that will come to fill the void.)

But last night, as I was lighting my Shabbat candles and I was really being cognizant  mindful, conscious (and there must be a better word) of the prayer that accompanies the blessing. Oh look, I wrote about it last year around this time of year, right before Purim! That’s actually very interesting because it’s part of what I was thinking about.

I admit it: I copied the English off of some site and I was not being careful to match what I have. And last night, I was most aware (YES–that’s the word!) of the phrase almost at the bottom:

Please, hear my pleading at this time.

The other one puts my pleading as our prayers. Not the same. And it skips over

בעת הזאת at this time.

which was what I focused on. Then and there. I was aware of “this time”, this moment.

I knew that this moment was all I could reach out for.

The world is so big, with asteroids and meteorites and bears oh my crashing into us at any moment.

And yet the world is very small, how we even enter each others’ dreams and consciousness.

We can’t do anything more at this moment except what we are able to do.

So we ask for help.

Because we are little.

get it yet? Israel is not going away

I started formulating this last week. Here’s what I read that made me realize how precious Israel is:

May I Purpose an Alternative to Prayer

Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:18 pm (PST) . Posted by: [someone in Israel on the Nefesh B’Nefesh yahoo group]

I Chas Vishalom I am not in anyway asking you not to pray,  and this is only my thoughts, but,  for those of us who are taking care of our family’s with very hectic schedules and can not Daven the way we would like   I would like to purpose and alternative  The way we will save ourselves and our nation is by Chesed and Chesed starts at home so every time you don’t yell at your kids, wife, husband, parents…. today  Every Time your turn a cheek to your neighbors annoying ways  Every time your driving and want to yell back at the guy who cut you off STOP  STOP and say I am going to smile and swallow it and say a little prayer “This is to save my family friends soldiers and nation”  Thank You and Thank You for every Chesed you have ever done to another Jew that is  making those rocket miss most  every target  BiChasde Hashem

Translation: chesed is an act of lovingkindness, one that is done without regard for payback or quid pro quo; an act that is out of proportion for the initial move or need of the other person.

And Nefesh B’Nefesh is an organization that helps bring Jews home to Israel, from all over the world.

What this woman is saying is brilliantly essential. Prayer is personal; prayer is meaningful. But when we as a nation are being judged for whether we should exist at all, our reaction should be to be with others in a significant way.

There are other articles that show the opposite from the other side, too many to mention, but of course, I’ll link a few for fun, even though I know you won’t really look at them. So go here and here, if you want to get why Israel is so important.

I’m pretty tired with the underdog sad eyed Palestinian children being held up as victims. Yes, they are victims of their own leaders, who are not leading but trailing behind, today’s actions at the UN notwithstanding.

Did you ever note how the UN is just like 7Up, the Uncola?

(From the 7Up site on its history)

Here’s proof, also from last November 21:

Outrage: Following terrorist attack in Tel Aviv UN General Assembly 2nd Committee slams Israel for “uprooting trees”…

It seems that satire brings more interest than facts. Having genocidal Sudan introduce  the Palestine “observer state” resolution is charming.

Cleverness aside, seriously, Israel is not going away. We’re not picking up and moving to Europe. They kicked us Jews out once and we don’t have to be told twice, or at least more than that. And you know what? We Jews are pretty stiffnecked, after all. We’ll stay in Israel, despite all the dancing around of the silly un-nations. And as long as we continue our chesed along with our prayers and our smarts and our guns, we will prevail.

the three watches


Chatanu Lefanecha, Rachem Aleinu” The Yemenites ask forgivenss

Members of the Yemenite community gathered yesterday in the Beis Midrash of the city’s Rav and eldest of the Yemenite Rabbonim, Hagaon R’ Shlomo Korach. The event: a minyan for saying the “Ashmurot” – the Yemenite Slichos.

That’s August 20; I just copied and pasted, in case you were wondering.

Great photos here of the possibility of intense intentionality of prayer.


Psalms Chapter 63 תְּהִלִּים

א  מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד;    בִּהְיוֹתוֹ, בְּמִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה. 1 A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
ב  אֱלֹהִים, אֵלִי אַתָּה–    אֲשַׁחֲרֶךָּ: צָמְאָה לְךָ, נַפְשִׁי–    כָּמַהּ לְךָ בְשָׂרִי; בְּאֶרֶץ-צִיָּה וְעָיֵף    בְּלִי-מָיִם. 2 O God, Thou art my God, earnestly will I seek Thee; {N} my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee, {N} in a dry and weary land, where no water is.
ג  כֵּן, בַּקֹּדֶשׁ חֲזִיתִךָ–    לִרְאוֹת עֻזְּךָ, וּכְבוֹדֶךָ. 3 So have I looked for Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy power and Thy glory.
ד  כִּי-טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ, מֵחַיִּים;    שְׂפָתַי יְשַׁבְּחוּנְךָ. 4 For Thy lovingkindness is better than life; my lips shall praise Thee.
ה  כֵּן אֲבָרֶכְךָ בְחַיָּי;    בְּשִׁמְךָ, אֶשָּׂא כַפָּי. 5 So will I bless Thee as long as I live; in Thy name will I lift up my hands.
ו  כְּמוֹ חֵלֶב וָדֶשֶׁן, תִּשְׂבַּע נַפְשִׁי;    וְשִׂפְתֵי רְנָנוֹת, יְהַלֶּל-פִּי. 6 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth doth praise Thee with joyful lips;
ז  אִם-זְכַרְתִּיךָ עַל-יְצוּעָי–    בְּאַשְׁמֻרוֹת, אֶהְגֶּה-בָּךְ. 7 When I remember Thee upon my couch, and meditate on Thee in the night-watches.

I’m stopping there for a reason.

And from, Neill Fleishmann, who calls himself NY’s Funniest Rabbi, III:

B’Ashmurot Boker

Woke up real early

Cut myself some mourning slack

for barely sleeping

We each go somewhere
When we seem to disappear
Hidden but not gone

Light of our light

Till it shines like the morning

Brighten our darkness

Can you see my interest here? It actually started from going to pack for my latest trip. I wanted to remember to take my watch with me, so I would know what time it is on Shabbat, when I don’t use my cellphone. And as it turned out, both my watches needed new batteries. I told ISHI that I was going to the jeweler down the street to get them fixed right away and he said, “Wait! Mine needs one, too!”

If you know him at all, you also know that he has multiple watches and would never let his run down. This was true here; it was preventative.

So he actually went to drop them off and I would do the pick-up. This particular store is a mom-and-pop set-up, and the mom saw me. She got our watches and wished me a good trip, since ISHI had told her I needed them right away in order to travel. I told here I was going to see our newest grandbaby.

“How many do you have?”

I told her, sheepishly, guiltily, gratefully.

“Can I touch you? Maybe that will help.”

“That’s probably really not going to help.”

“It can’t hurt.”

No, it can’t.

So that got me thinking about the meaning of “watch” and how it is connected to how we view time.

First, a little Wiki coming your way:

Watches evolved from portable spring-driven clocks, which first appeared in 15th century Europe. Watches weren’t widely worn in pockets until the 17th century. One account says that the word “watch” came from the Old English word woecce which meant “watchman”, because it was used by town watchmen to keep track of their shifts.[7] Another says that the term came from 17th century sailors, who used the new mechanisms to time the length of their shipboard watches (duty shifts).[8]

And from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

O.E. wæcce “a watching,” from wæccan (see watch(v.)). Sense of “sentinel” is recorded from c.1300; that of “person or group officially patroling a town (esp. at night) to keep order, etc.” is first recorded 1530s. Meaning “period of time in which a division of a ship’s crew remains on deck” is from 1580s. Sense of “period into which a night was divided in ancient times” translates L. vigilia, Gk. phylake, Heb. ashmoreth.

The Hebrews divided the night into three watches, the Greeks usually into four (sometimes five), the Romans (followed by the Jews in New Testament times) into four. [OED]

And thus full circle to the beginning of this blentry. Maybe I should have started with the story?

But I’m not finished yet.

I’m doing some baby watch, you see, in various times of the day and night. We split nights, basically into the watches, the ashmurot אַשְׁמֻרוֹת.

And so I think of the power of the night.

And of prayer.