A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Responsible Life, Part IV

As promised for the 613 Class, some notes on Rabbi Stone's book. Here are some observations on Ch. 13. More to follow on Chs 14 and 15

In Part IV of his book, Rabbi Stone makes an argument that Judaism is an all-encompassing way of life that helps us live better, more meaningful lives. To simply focus on self-examination and self-improvement without the grounding practices and ways of Judaism is insufficient.

He argues (page 100-101) that taking up Jewish practices, Jewish learning and Jewish prayer is “not a rejection of universalism, but…our way toward it.” In other words, we might ask “why do we have to live as Jews? Can’t we just be better people in general and be like everyone else?” The answer is that yes, we could, but Judaism offers a full and rich approach to living and it is our inheritance.

Then he begins to explore three foundational aspects of Jewish life: Torah study, prayer (worship) and acts of goodness. He quotes Shimon the Righteous in Pirke Avot (part of the Mishnah):

Shimon the Righteous… used to say: The world stands on three thing: on Torah, on Worship and on Acts of Saintly Compassion.

Why is Torah foundational? When we learn – he uses the term “acquire” – Torah

We acquire a thirst for a call or [moral] claim upon us. We acquire a desire to be called upon by another and another and another…an infinite desire.
That is, Torah (he means Torah in the broadest sense: not merely the “five books of Moses” but the accumulated teachings of Judaism over the centuries) will focus our attention on learning how to become more responsive to other people. We can expand the possibilities of this learning in our generation, so we “discover additional possibilities for accepting even greater responsibility for others than were discovered by the maters of our tradition in the past.” (103)

Why is Worship/Prayer (Hebrew: Avodah) foundational? Prayer helps us identify our individual and communal pain, our needs: Prayer “is an expression of our human cry. Individuals in prayer give voice to the ir own needs and the community praying together gives voice to the cumulative needs that afflict the…the entire human community.” (106).

And we help each other through prayer: “By participating in the community’s life of prayer, we effectively make our burden available for others to bear.” (107) In participating in this ritual of sharing our deepest needs together, we give support to and get support from the community.

Why are Acts of Saintly Piety (Hebrew: Gemilut Chasidim) foundational? Torah and Worship are “incomplete unless accompanied by action.” (107) If we consider study and prayer to be the ultimate expression of our Judaism we are failing because we don’t bring our acts into the world to change the world.

But “Gemilut Chasidim is not merely about doing good deeds, though they are surely required. Rather, it is about orienting oneself intellectually, spiritually and practically…to meet the world with love.’ (108-09)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Soulfood Presents: "How We DON'T Talk About Israel" Tonight, Falafel King on Pearl, 7:30

Rabbi Gavriel and I will host a discussion about what too often doesn't get said about Israel. Why is there pressure from the left and right to SHUT UP about certain aspects of this this issue that is so central to the Jewish people?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Limb King

A strangely affecting video for a new Radiohead track called Lotus Flower from the just-released (Friday) King of Limbs. I have so say I was ready to dislike the album - their post-Rock music, which I really loved @ first, has been stuck in this smooth, easy-listening rut for years. Nonetheless, the video is completely engaging.

Their music and angst-filled lyrics are constantly giving voice to the tension between the organic and aritificial, and the pain that results from living in a de-humanized environment. Somehow Thom Yorke's movements against the musical background capture this perfectly. The smoothness of the music - it's artificiality - is so striking against his sort of grubby trampishness and the crazy jerkiness, the pulsating aliveness and unpredictable movements of his limbs.

So, why does this find space on this Blog? There's something very spiritual about this tension to me - the pain of it, the aliveness of it.

Powerful to see real-ness conveyed through such artificiality. That's the stuff. Take a look:

Extinguishing the Burning Bush, or: Spiritual v. Religious

Ah, Boulder - the land of the "spiritual not religious." I hear it all the time; I'm actually sympathetic to the idea when I hear people use it as a self-descriptor and explanation for why they are not engaged in Jewish life. But it bugs me.

Rabbi Scott Perlo has an article on HuffPo about the tension. For him, spiritual is the immediate, direct experience of God. Religion, on the other hand

incorporates generations of learning and has grown wise and thoughtful. Religion is patient in a measure that spans lifetimes, and knows the depth of things. Its foundations are hesed -- care and tzedek -- justice. It has plumbed both our mortality and our divinity, and speaks to us of our greatness and our smallness in the same breath. Religion helps us understand life.

Religion ... smothers spontaneity and individuality. It struggles to see people as different from one another (a relatively recent psychological discovery, as an aside). It does not thrill with its quickness, for it is not quick, and prefers rhythm over syncopation, harmony over innovation.

Yes, BUT. "Religion" is a collection of memories/texts/experiences/discourses/traditions/memories that tries to describe spiritual experiences. Religion is, in part, spirituality in the past.

Whether it is Moses at the burning bush, the four who entered the PaRDeS, or the ecstatic expressions of Chasidic insight, Jewish "religion" is made up of what we now call "spiritual" experience. So why is that so often lost?

So why is the fire of the burning bush so often stamped out in our synagogues? We need to keep the fires burning....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Time Out For Fun - Peggy-O

Grateful Dead performing a traditional piece American Music, a spooky tale of unrequited love - Peggy-O. The music starts at about 1:00. Enjoy! It's another of my favorites.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Israel and Egypt - Netanyahu's Beautiful Statement of Support

Words from Netanyahu on the uprising in Egypt:

The Israeli people, some 20 percent of which are Arab, want the Egyptian people's good and will respect any decision regarding Egypt's internal regime. That is your decision and we have no intention of interfering with your sovereign right to shape it. We hope that as peace was preserved in the past 30 years, the historic achievements it entails will be preserved in the future as well.

If only. Actually these are the words of Shlomo Avineri, proposing the statement that Netanyahu should make.

Netanyahu's statements over the last week have been puzzling and seem to reflect an significant misjudgment about the scope of events. His encouragement of Western governments to tone down criticism of Mubarak while vast portions of the Arab world - Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan - are rocked by unprecedented anti-totalitarian protests will not be remembered fondly. My guess is that we will see some backpedaling on that, but it is possible that Israel's failure to seize the moment is what will be remembered through the Arab world.