Dec 30, 2007

Shmot 2007/5768: "A World Without Children's Voices"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The very beginning of Shmot/Exodus includes the following familiar narrative:


"A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. (Ex. 2:1-4)"
The power of Moses' birth is largely lost when read in the context of his rescue by Pharaoh's daughter. Once we realize that his birth immediately follows Pharaoh's declaration that every male child born be thrown into the river (Exodus 1:22), the act of a certain man and woman of Levi gains in significance.

In fact, says the Midrash:

"... when Moses' father Amram learned of Pharaoh's order, he immediately divorced his wife Yocheved (their names, as well as Miriam's, are absent from our text). Miriam said to her father, "Father, your decree is worse than Pharaoh's! Pharaoh only issued a decree that the males should die, while your decree applies to both males and females. Pharaoh decreed that the children's lives be terminated only in this world, and you have decreed that they not live both in this world and the world to come. Pharaoh is wicked, and the likelihood is that his decrees will not be fulfilled. You are righteous, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled!" (Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible, p. 287)"

Miriam's prophetic chutzpah led to her parents' brave decision to bring a child into a threatened world.

During this Winter vacation week, I visited both a mall and the Boston Children's Museum and considered both their very different environments and the very similar people who frequent them. The noise of each was almost deafening, with voices ricocheting off walls and windows. Both places contained "hands-on" and protected areas. Both were protected from the elements beyond their defined boundaries. And both were with omnipresent children and caregivers.

It occurred to me, as I watched young face after young face pass by, that every child's face was also the emerging face of a potential parent. The training provided to these future parents' in each space was vastly different. The mall teaches that acquiring things is exciting. The museum teaches that interacting with the world is fun. The variety of colors and flavors at the mall is actually a barely-hidden mask of material uniformity. Every thing has a label. And a price. The inability to avoid looking at someone else in the museum
while experiencing newness is more deeply experienced as an explicit statement that learning alone is less than learning together.

Both the museum and the mall serve as gathering places. But the mall leads me to escape the noise. The museum encourages me to listen and learn from the sounds.

Having recently read Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" and viewed Alfonso CuarĂ³n's film version of P.D. James' novel "Children of Men", I feel renewed urgency when I hear children. Almost desperation. I am afraid of the observation one of the characters in the film shares: "As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices." It's not my spiritual perspective as a father that prompts these thoughts. Nor is it my fear that either McCarthy's devastated landscape or James' youthless world will actually come to be.

I am simply concerned that we adults all too often miss our obligation and opportunity to see our children as emerging parents. When we program for Shabbat morning, do we nurture the caregiver aspect of our children's development? When we pass by a homeless person, do we remember that they too were one of those noise-making children? Do we acknowledge the bravery of today's parents, who struggle so often with infertility, and who have chosen to bring children into an uncertain world, answering every dark headline with the birth of new soul?

Just imagine for a moment what our world would be without our Miriam's. We'd forget how to be parents. This is not the world for which we work.

Our world, our precious fragile world of dreams and laughter will only be realized when we remember to learn from children and publicly celebrate our parennts. Childhood lasts such a short time today, with omnipresent media and commercialism. Let's not miss it by creating separate space for our children. Let's find ways of dancing together to the noise of their laughter.

Then Miriam's redemptive chutzpah will be fully present again.

Dec 16, 2007

VaYigash 5768/2007: "Closer, Come Closer"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

An often overlooked message of the Joseph stories is the theology implicit in the way he explains the story to his brothers upon disclosing his identity. Joseph says:

"Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come forward to me." And when they came forward, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be distressed or reproach Yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and God has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:4-8)"

In other words: The brothers shouldn't be worried that Joseph will exact revenge - they were not to blame.

What is the theological implication? That this criminal act, perhaps all crime, is ultimately God's design. What then of accountability, consequence? Free will? Now, of course, we've "read the book, and we come out on top (a la Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical midrash)", but Joseph was abducted, assaulted, jailed; Jacob lost his son - are we to encounter the story as detached readers, convinced throughout of God's Plan as the justification for the suffering endured by others? What then might we say of the Sho'ah being part of a plan that led to the State of Israel in the same way that the Egyptian slavery is to be understood (according to the biblical authors' understanding of history through Joseph's mouth) as the means towards Sinai and freedom? Are we to see death and suffering as justifiable, as acceptable means to ends? Even read into history after the fact (especially then, since many readers are then survivors of the trauma), this text is incredibly difficult. even offensive.

We can perhaps use the text of this Parasha itself to reapproach the God known described in one way therein.

According to many translations, Joseph calls his brothers to "Come
forward." But the Hebrew text of "Geshu na eilai, vayigashu" teaches that Joseph called his brothers, saying "Come close to me. And they came close" The context informs us that, before disclosing his identity to his brothers, he sent all the courtiers out of the room. This is paralleled by a rabbinic read of Judah's actions in the beginning of our Parasha for which the name "VaYigash" derives. The typical translation of Judah's action is "Then Judah went up to him", but the Hebrew word "VaYigash", from the same root as teaches that Judah "Came close". A midrash suggests that Judah positioned himself in between Joseph (whose true identity was still secret) and the courtiers. Intimacy was the goal - not navigation of system and hierarchy.

God is more than the biblical text, and one definition of God cannot suffice. The difficulty of navigating the layers of Jewish tradition associated with every piece of Torah is exacerbated when the text feels like an impenetrable system. But that's not what the layers are. Every attempt to explain the text is truly an act of relationship, a coming closer for the reader, the authors, the content, and the ultimate goals. For a Jew (and for others), this means that by desiring to come close to God through Torah, multiple relationships are fostered - with the biblical authors, with the generations of readers and commentators, with self, and hopefully with a community of fellow readers/seekers.

Torah is more than the word, and God is more than Torah. Our particular path can be incredibly compelling, and freeing. All we have to do is be brave enough to "come close."

Dec 10, 2007

Channukah 5768: "Contagious Flames"

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

On the eve of the Seventh night of Channukah, these thoughts are shared in hope that the many internal conversations in our communities continue and ignite a healthy flame in the world around us. The circle perhaps begins in every individual, touching our shul community, our local neighborhood, state, our Country, Israel, and the world. As our Channukah experiences have likely contained many moments, both joyous and sad, I pray that all our homes be filled with increased light.

One classic source for an understanding of Channukah is found in the Talmud, in which we read:

"Our Rabbis taught: The mitzvah of Channukah is one light for a person and their household. The 'beautifiers' (Mehadrin) kindle a light for each member of the household. The 'extreme beautifiers' (Mehadrin min HaMehadrin), — Beit Shammai maintains: On the first day they light eight lights and thereafter they are gradually reduced, but Beit Hillel says: On the first day they light one candle and thereafter they are progressively increased (TB Shabbat, 21b)."

This text teaches us that a Mitzvah can be performed according to its requirements, or can become beautified. The basic requirement for Channukah candles is one candle each night per home, and our contemporary practice of lighting one candle per night, per household member renders us 'extreme beautifiers.' And we are. We make the performance of the mitzvah more beautiful than we might.

And so I ask us to consider what it means to take an expected role and elevate it? What can it mean for any of us to confront a requirement and make it even more beautiful? Do we ever do that without realizing it, as we might do through the ritualized (expanded) fulfillment of our Channukah lights?

Classic disputes happen in Jewish tradition when words or ideas have multiple possible meanings, such as in a later interpretation of a phrase in the Mishnah "…a blessing is not said over the light until it has been utilized (M. Berachot 8:1)." The Gemara suggests that:

"if one could see a flame but could not use its light, or if could do something by the light but see no flame, she should not say the blessing; one must both see a flame and be able to use the light (TB Berachot 53b)."

A light is a light is a light, right? The Gemara suggests that an act performed can remain incomplete. It is possible, the Gemara proposes, to use a light without seeing the flame if the flame is hidden around the corner. But in what situation could we see the flame and not be able to make use of the light? The rabbis of the Gemara suggest that:

"it is when, for instance, the flame keeps on flickering… Our Rabbis taught: We may say the blessing over glowing coals but not over dying coals. How do you define 'glowing'? — Rabbi Chisda replied: This means coals from which a chip, if inserted between them, will catch of itself."

A mitzvah-flame that is lit, performed as required, that can only sustain itself is not enough. To be unaware "extreme beautifiers" is not enough. In order to transform the flickering candle into a glowing coal means to harness our fire and share it, so that if a fellow candle is brought close to us it will become illuminated.

This is our task, and I am overwhelmed and in awe and scared and excited and joyful and trembling. We are a home for so much goodness, and that is not enough. We learn Torah, comfort others in times of trouble, and respond to needs as they come up. But that doesn't make us "extreme beautifiers."

If a newcomer to our shuls does not feel ignited by the experience, which can only be communicated by the person sitting next to them – or who makes it a point to sit next to them and welcome them - we have not performed the act of community building enough.

If we are to truly become Mehadrin min HaMehadrin, Extreme Beautifiers, we are called to make these abilities and commitments contagious in the world around us, person by person.

May we be brave enough to light the lights we can - and then reach a bit deeper to light those still waiting.

Prayer for Building an Aron Kodesh

Prayer for Building an Aron Kodesh
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Adonai, Infinite One, guide our hands.

Our hearts and minds are full of Yira, wonder, and Ahavah, love, as we commit to building this Aron Kodesh to house our sacred center, the Torah.

We have infused it with our imaginations, with history, with dreaming – and we pray that all who seek You find an aspect of this Holy Vessel with which to connect.

As we build, we build not just for ourselves, but we build for our children and for countless generations. As we place materials together, we mirror the builders of the Mishkan, Your temporary desert home from so long ago. We are mindful of the Beit HaMikdash, the Jerusalem Temple. We remember all the homes our community has known, and pledge to incorporate our community’s essence of this new container of Zikaron, Eternal Memory.

We build out of Ahavah, love, and Mesorah, the commitment to share and continue Jewish tradition. What we commit to building now is leDorot, forever.

Let it be such glorious work that all who enjoy its culmination may give thanks and feel loved.

May our shul be a sacred place reflecting our dreams, our love, our labor, our sacrifices, and our very souls.

We offer our prayer of Bracha, Blessing, to the inspiration of Nishmat Chayim, the Divine Living Spirit within each of us.

Adonai, Infinite One, guide our hands.

Amen.

Dec 5, 2007

A Reflection on Conservative Jewish Halacha

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor


When inherited tradition and modern ethics collide, we might (and I believe should) define Torah according to Rabbi Ellie Spitz, who wrote "Torah is the unfolding narrative of the Jewish people." Our subjective sense of "what is right" IS Torah. And Halacha answers to Torah. So to the question: "if Halacha conflicts with ethics and reason, do we then reject the Halacha?" I respond as Maimonides did (according to Moshe Halbertal's "People of the Book"), by committing to making sure our implementation of the Torah conforms to our understanding of the world.

This is perhaps a reformulation of Rabbi Joel Roth's formulation of Halacha (in his "The Halakhic Process") as resting on the "grundnorm", a concept created by Hans Kelsen, who used the term to denote the underlying basis for a legal system. I believe that our grundnorm is "Torah", by which I mean what Rabbi Spitz meant: That our grundnorm, our basic authority, is the unfolding narrative of the Jewish people. Torah has always been subject to contemporary interpretation, and must remain that way in order for our path, our Halacha to remain alive.


This, I believe, has always been the approach of Conservative Judaism, though not always the approach of the Conservative Movement. It is easier to explain Conservative Judaism than most formulations would have us believe. Ideology by consensus need not be all-inclusive, nor must purposefulness necessitate judgment of those outside decided parameters. Self-definition is prerequisite to relationship with another - and given that our "other" is The Other, definition is a holy command.


Nov 18, 2007

An Ode to Remaining Broken: In a New York State of Mind

© 2007 Rabbi Menachem Creditor

What can you possibly do when the words “New York” can bring you to both your warmest childhood memories and to your hardest moment of life?

Cars lined up in the street all the way down Broadway, people aching to give blood, give anything. No cell phone reception. Suddenly it’s 9/11, and you’re simply never going to be again who you were just this morning. This incredible pain. If you were “there” the shattered soul you own can break down looking at a policeman’s badge, a fireman’s hat, a person’s face, a lost father’s picture held by a child.

How quickly we forget, and how hard it is to find anyone who understands. YouTube is full of the videos from “The Concert for New York,” full of the faces of the audience, still raw and reeling from rupture. Even Billy Joel seems to be working hard to get back into his New York State of Mind. The music is a strained roar – a conscious refusal to die.

Here I sit in Berkeley on November 18, 2007 – and I’m suddenly back in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, scared, wondering where my wife is. Praying my sister is okay. Wondering what happened to the world. Smelling the smoke. Wishing it weren’t so. Leading Mincha and screaming the “blessing against enemies” so hard it hurt.

There are moments in which comfort comes. But there are also moments that are inescapable, where aloneness permeates every pore. The broken city resonates in mythic proportion – and living in the moment means not feeling the distance of time or space, re-entering the encounter and breaking, willing or not.

Seeing the stained sky, flying over Ground Zero and looking into the pit – in perhaps the same way that the birth of a child is an eternal moment, all these experiences are eternal.

Oct 30, 2007

In Response to Matthew Taylor's "UC Must Divest From Israel's Apartheid"
http://www.dailycal.org/sharticle.php?id=26630

In "UC Must Divest From Israel's Apartheid" Matthew Taylor spins and has misunderstood the realities in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. It is far from clear that "normal life is impossible" within the Palestinian Territories because of aggressive Israeli policy. Fiscal and social collapse have largely been issues of failed self-governance within the PA and Hamas, and framing this anti-Israel campaign as exclusively one of human rights for Palestinians without once mentioning the terrorist onslaught against Israel in the last five years simply fans the flames of antisemitism (Jewish self hatred yet again) and anti-Zionism without sharing the burden of blame with gravity and balance.

No nation is immune to critique. No nation is perfect. But Israel's global prominence (due perhaps to the mystifying eternal Middle East/Jewish fetish so present in campus activism) makes Jerusalem an easier mark that her neighbors. It is targeted hate that brands Israel a racist society while implicitly condoning Palestinian violence against Israelis. The double standard ends when we hold everyone accountable. Progress is much more complicated than Taylor's portrait.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom
Berkeley, CA

Oct 24, 2007

My God Doesn't Take
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I cringe every time I recite "The Lord gives, the Lord takes, blessed be the Name of God," in the Book of Job. And I recite it often, at funerals and in mourning rituals. When my mentor Rabbi Neil Gillman challenged a class of almost-rabbis to translate the Hebrew phrase "Baruch Dayan Emet" roughly "Blessed is the True Judge", also a traditional response to hearing of a death) I refused. I don't mean it. I won't mean it. But I do say it. I recite both formulae, gritting my teeth every time, at funerals and other moments of mourning.

Loss and sadness call for ritual response, but associated Jewish rituals are typically full of words that betray even the best intentions to comfort. Do I believe that God takes people's lives or that a "True Judge" would end a life mid-course? I do not. And while when during the Amidah we recite "God who takes life and resurrects" I find myself both emotionally tense and strangely committed to the traditional formula. Why? Because the words make me feel. They make me angry. They make me cry. They remind me to look at others and feel with them. I am not alone when tradition calls me to connect to community. And community creates and practices together. And because of this I am less alone in dark moments.

I recently read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", became nauseous, and still haven't quite recovered my equilibrium. It is an apocalyptic vision of a world whose present devours its future, where a father and son can barely speak, let alone survive. But reading through this nightmare pushed me to grow, to reach out to those around me, to hold my children more tenderly. Do I agree with McCarthy's dark portrait? Not a chance. I've dedicated my life to supporting the very opposite trajectory. But I've recommended this awful book to strong-hearted students and friends because it makes one feel love all the more intensely.

Mainstream Jewish tradition has asserted Divine perfection, a claim that produces ugly religious responses when human evil or natural disaster occur. Is God to be seen as an active Source of Evil? And, more importantly in a modern spiritual conversation, what does relationship with God mean when the classic theological depictions are contested? How do we, as modern journeyers people of a particularly ancient faith articulate a personal connection to the undefinable Divine?

I begin by acknowledging that Truth coexists with injustice. Instead of either the "God's reasons are unknowable to man" response or the Abrahamic "Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" response, I advocate an entirely different way of looking at God as involved in the world. I believe in a God who is the Light and Healing in the world, who defies definition because infinity not only exceeds expectation but because infinity does not act. God does not act in this world. God's Holy Presence heals without taking form or action.

Whether one believes that God created the world and then let it go like a pocket watch or that God is a redemptive force like hope, it is possible to believe that Apocalypse is a human decision, and that death is not. That does not make God the active Giver and Taker of Life. The metaphor for God as "Source of Life" is not to be confused with "Controller of Life." If we believe that the actions that occur in this world are God's doing then we damn God to an image of cruelty and dispassion. Our pain is real and worthy of expression. Just as I thank God for the blessings in my life which are often the results of loving human action, I scream at God for the curses of the world that are just as often the results of harmful human action. The theology of God's perfection is a broken myth from which we must emerge as we rescue God and our world from the acceptance of abusive and destructive definitions.

I believe we are called to do no less.

Sep 30, 2007

Yom Kippur 5768: "Truth and Love"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom

We begin with questions: What is faith? Can we have absolute faith in any source? Who has the right to judge the past? Given what we know about the transmission of the Torah and of tradition in general, and given the difficulty so many of us have with the question of absolute authority, how can we know what has truly happened and should our behaviors and decisions be based upon any tradition at all?? What is true?

All words are human. We recite every Pesach that God’s outstretched arm brought us out of Egypt. Since it is a core Jewish belief that God has neither hands nor arms, such a description is an expression of God's power – a metaphor – and not a conception of God in physical form. Metaphor is rampant in the Torah. God has a heart. God is pleased. God gets angry. The literal Hebrew idiom for God’s anger is that "God's nose flared." But these are metaphors, analogies to our human experience. God is always more than our language can contain, even biblical language. Words are human constructions, meant to convey meaning. But every word, and every human method of communication, is burdened by multiple meanings and by the limitations of the speaker. To say that God’s Will is contained in a text is to limit God’s Will. And to restrict God to words is to create an idol, perhaps no different than the Golden Calf.

Human beings gave God’s Self-revelation form. God’s Presence in revelation is not the question. The subjectivity of the words that result from this holy encounter is. What is the relationship between God’s Truth and the words of the Torah? And what command might be connected to this subjective human formula?

I took my first class in Theology during my first undergraduate year at the Jewish Theological Seminary. I entered with a faith in God’s Word as recorded in the Five Books of Moses. The new ideas and approaches to Torah I learned in with Rabbi Neil Gillman’s class shattered my faith, and left me deeply confused and doubtful.

This was my question: “If the Torah isn’t God’s Word, then what of the tradition I follow which is based upon the words of the Torah? “ The things that had made sense to me because they were based on God’s Will now had no foundation. If our entire tradition is human interpretation how is it Ultimately True?

It’s not.

And, for me, this is the beginning of faith.

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The world we live in is ambiguous.

One of my deepest inspirations, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, posed this situation: “There is a large, strong person with a deadly instrument in their hand. Nearby is a small, weak person. Should the large person use the deadly instrument on the small person?”

And we answer with a thunderous “No! That’s immoral! Of course not!” - Except that the situation is a bris, the larger person is a mohel, and the small person is an eight-day-old boy.

That which might seem clear seldom is.

The founder of American Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Solomon Schechter, taught,

“[There is] only One who knows the exact truth about the great mystery. But we may indicate our doubt about one doctrine by putting by its side another, which we may affirm to be not more absolutely true, but more probable. This seems to have been the attitude, too, of the compilers of the ancient Rabbinic literature, the most conflicting views ... were embodied. Nor did the Synagogue, in general feel called upon to decide between these views… Thus Judaism has no fixed doctrines on the subject. It refused a hearing to no theory for fear that it should contain some germ of truth, but on the same ground, it accepted none to the exclusion of the others. (Studies in Judaism, pp.213-214)

Judaism, according to Schechter, made room for conflicting visions of Truth because it was understood that the best we can do is hit a probable “truth.” The religious system Schechter discusses, and the one we choose, is one path towards Truth. In a sense, “Truth” (capital ‘T’) is reached by many paths, each with its own “truth” (lower-case).

Our religious perspective recognizes shades of gray in the passageways to God.

There do exist people who see this world as black and white, where the definitions of “evil” and “good” are clear. Some strap bombs to their bodies and kill, only to be considered holy by their community and criminal by another. Some read their holy writings literally and cause pain to others “in the name of God.” In either case, those who believe that the world contains objective rules and boundaries are typically unaware of their own subjective starting points, and are clearly in violation of French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ paradigm of authentic interpretation, which includes the requirement of not living “in a vacuum, as if in a private universe, but [rather] engaged and open to “the life of the city,” to the present tense, to life shared with others (as quoted in Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s important book ‘Wrestling with God and Men,’ p. 21).”

And so, paradoxically, the only truth is subjectivity. Perhaps the only way to be on a true path to God is to acknowledge that it is not the only one.

But where does that leave the individual seeking God? How can I encounter God? And why, if my path is not the only legitimate path, should I remain on this one?

*************************

There will be no satisfying answer to this question. A significant part of my path is my childhood love-affair with Shabbat and Jewish music. Despite my passion for the river of Jewish Spirituality, I’ve found it hard to explain. Though it might sound exclusive, I believe it really comes down to “If you’ve tasted the joy of a soulful Friday Night, you understand. And if you haven’t, you don’t.” A truth is, perhaps my answers will only make sense to me.

Why be Jewish when there are other legitimate paths to God?

How could I be anything else?!

Why would I be anything else?!

Jewish tradition is rich, and it guides me on a path of goodness and justice. How could I step away from it? It’s such an integral part of my identity, that if I were to walk away from it, I’d be walking away from myself.

Perhaps that is the problem with a liberal ideology. My intensive Jewish childhood experience stabilized me during my first stages of doubt and questioning. But I am the exception to the rule in our current Jewish world. Very few adult Jews look back to an immersive Jewish experience that viscerally bonds them to Judaism.

I am a rabbi. It would seem to make sense, from a pragmatic standpoint, that I should want to reduce the ambiguity in people’s lives in order to perpetuate a connection to Jewish life without throwing them into confusion. The typical connection is tremulous enough that I don’t need to exacerbate it by challenging the very traditional assumptions that give tenuously connected Jews a sense of comfort and belonging.

But that’s not how I see it.

I’m interested in lighting fires in people souls so that they feel freer with every step towards God. The Indigo Girls said it right in their “Power of Two” when they say, “The closer I’m bound in love to you/ The closer I am to free.”

I’m in love with God.

That’s why I’m a Jew. I want to share what I see as the most real, the most intensely meaningful, experience in this world: God.

And if I don’t challenge the things I see as obstacles to seriously connecting with God, I’m keeping that love to myself.

Through my years of study with Rabbi Gillman, I learned that his loving embrace was as compelling as his classroom teaching. And through this combination of love and honesty, I’ve found comfort and conviction in my choice to lead a spiritual life.

I encountered a compelling call to question that faith and I choose to embrace that challenge as I live my life towards God.

*************************

So who was Aaron?

Tradition suggests many answers. None of them are exclusively correct. Searching for the Truth about Aaron is like searching for the Truth about God: It’s unattainable.

But on the other hand, we learn that

“Rabbi Chanin taught, ‘You may not hold back your words because of anyone. Further, witnesses should know against whom they are giving evidence, before whom they are giving evidence and who will hold them accountable in the event of false evidence. ... Judges should also know whom it is they are judging, before whom they are judging, and who will call them to account if they pervert justice. ...The judge only has that which [she] sees with [her] own eyes. (Bavli, Sanhedrin 6b)

We can neither claim that we have the Truth nor may we forget the responsibility we have to use the holy subjectivity of our eyes.

Who was Aaron? We learn that Aaron “loved peace and pursued peace, loved his fellow creatures, and brought them close to Torah. (Mishnah Avot 1:12)”

That’s the truth about Aaron I choose to believe.

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Rabbi Gillman calls the subjective truths that form the underpinnings of our lives “myths.” Though that word might hurt the sensitive religious ear, the very term that makes acceptance difficult has a vital role in religious development.

Gillman writes in his ‘Problematics of Myth’:

“What makes a myth "true"? Clearly not because it corresponds to the facts, simply because we have no independent perception of those facts to compare it with. We cannot escape our humanness. But one myth may do a better job of integrating what we do perceive to be the data of experience; it accounts more adequately for more of what we perceive. For Jews, that myth is canonized in Torah. Myths are singularly tenacious. They also enjoy a certain "plasticity"; they can be reshaped to account for apparently discordant data. (Jews call that process midrash.) Finally, religious myths are existentially true; we make them true for us, they become true when we embrace them and live them.”

I believe that existence is ambiguous. Judaism is a deeply powerful way of making us aware of and fulfilled participants in this reality. God is waiting for us to create – and to journey on – the path.

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Professor Omid Safi, commenting on the sacred Sufi text “The Path of Love,” suggests that the Sufis saw ambiguity and paradox as tools for breaking through the human tendency to concretize religion and lose the power of seeking and encountering God. "Love," writes one of the Sufi masters quoted by Safi, "is a sweetness, but its inner reality is bewilderment."

Being in love is seldom about simplicity.

I find love compelling.

May this be a year of overwhelming love, a spiritual yearning that leads to comfort, holiness and health for us and our world.

Sep 20, 2007

A Yom Kippur Adaptation of Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten"

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

We stand unwritten, undefined
Just beginning with pens in hand,
ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the window
Let the sun illuminate the words
that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin

No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips

Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Sep 18, 2007

Not Three Lonely Paths: “Reclaiming HaZedonot VeHaShegagot”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
based on the original in Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner’s “Prayer, Humility, and Compassion”


A moment of prayer at a time of grief may break a proud heart. An unselfish act of love may take a person so out of herself that prayer will become possible. At what point God’s Love enters a person’s life and the course it may follow cannot be predicted, but of nothing should we be more certain that that it is continuously trying to break in upon us, to heal us, to visit us with comfort and compassion.

Prayer, humility, and compassion are three ways in which God enters the life of a person. They are not three lonely paths, each leading to its own end. They are connected one with the other, interacting constantly. For at the root of them all is God’s Love for all humanity.

The drama of receiving God’s Love and sharing it with others is surely the most profound action of human existence. But for that Love to enter at all, we must first raise the many heavy barriers to our heart and open our soul’s doors through prayer, humility, and compassion.

And so we pray:

God, love us for all we are,
in Your image,
Lonely like You.

Breathe with us, within us.
Open us, care with us.

You and us God,
We’ll forgive each other…

And we’ll try again.

Amen.

A Prayer for the Preschool of Netivot Shalom

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Dear God,

With the world swirling around us, with the High Holidays bringing such intensity to every moment, I offer you my deepest thanks for the children in our shul's school who played, danced, and sang " Lashevet LaKum" (To Sit, To Stand) and "LeShannah Tovah" today, and for allowing me to hear them.

Thank You for the gift of incredibly devoted parents. Thank You for our teachers Lauren, Ofra, and Thea, who have guided grown-ups and children through a transition period. Thank you for David and Joe's tireless work, for Michael's skill and heart.

We pray all our dreams come to fruition, that the souls of our children feel Jewish warmth and personal love, that they touch, smell, taste, hear, and see their shul as a fun, special, sacred space for spiritual exploration and developmental curiosity. We pray that every moment of growth for our Preschool community be accompanied with healthy intentionality, and with the explicit desire to dream together, to appreciate each other, to strengthen our shul family, and to create a better world for ourselves and our children and beyond.

May music, Torah, and peace strengthen all of us and our precious shared home every day.

Amen.

Sep 16, 2007

Rosh HaShannah 5768: “Love Endures
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

[note: this is an adaptation of the remarks shared on the second day of Rosh HaShannah at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA.]


Names mean everything.

We learn from tradition “
kishmo kein hu / we are the embodiments of our names
(I Sam. 25:25). When a baby’s name is chosen, parents search their memories and imaginations to imbue their child’s new name with redemptive dreams. While our children were named for members of our families who had died, we struggled to find meanings within their names that would suggest powerful and positive directions for their lives. What a supreme challenge, to venture into the unknown future of another, to shout their destiny every time you whisper their name.

Consider, then, the power of a person choosing to change their name, to claim a personal dream, a path not yet assigned!

In Jewish tradition, a name change can occur for a number of reasons, the most common of which is a time of deep illness. But sometimes a name change is a way of internalizing the memories of a loved one whose life intersected a person so deeply that they yearn to claim a mantle from their loved one. A person choosing Judaism chooses their own name, adopting and adapting, finding their place at Sinai through an unbelievable act of realignment.

When a person desires to emerge from a place of constriction, of predetermination, sometimes it takes something as staggering as a conscious shifting of personal destiny to achieve health and renewal.

Moses encountered this struggle when he brought God's message of deliverance. Our ancient family could barely escape their own shortness of breath, their ‘
kotzer ruach
(Ex. 6:9) contracted by generations of slavery. They could barely hear, let alone claim, their new name: Am Yisrael, the Jewish People.

And what of Avram, who became Avraham? And of course Sarai, who became Sarah? Their new names are linked to the promise of a child:

“… [God spoke to Avram saying,] "this is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. And you shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be Avraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fertile, and make nations of you; and kings shall come forth from you. (Gen. 17:3-7)


And so that terrible command from God to Abraham meant so much:

Ascend to the heights. Bring your deepest treasure, the promise that animates your dreams, and offer him up. (adapted from Gen. 22:2)

Abraham would have to re-become Abram if there would be no more Isaac, the embodiment of his parents' realized dreaming. With the loss of Ishmael, whose destiny was not to be joined with his father’s, Isaac was Abraham’s only testimony that his family’s future contained hope.

*****************************************

We typically devote energy to finding a way out of the
Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac.

Two of the regular explanations include:

God didn’t really mean it” – It’s clear that God was testing Abraham from the very beginning, never truly asking for a sacrifice, but rather commanding a demonstration of faith. This justifies the apparently horrible command and the God who issued it.

Abraham failed the real test” – God had hoped that Abraham would argue for his son similarly to the negotiations that saved Sdom and Amora. When Abraham complied (eagerly, some commentaries suggest), he failed God’s true test. This justifies God but finds Abraham guilty.


Both Drashot (imaginative responses) are legitimate. But this time perhaps we can enter the Akeidah instead of trying to ‘rename’ it.

*****************************************

But what entry point would we possibly want for a story that contains so much pain?

My rabbi, Neil Gillman, once took part in a biblio-drama, wherein different participants take on different roles within the story of the Akeidah. Dr. Gillman "played God." An audience member posed a question to Dr. Gillman, and said:

"God- how could you command such a thing?! You finally gave Abraham and Sarah a child, and you’re commanding its death? Why are you doing this?"

Dr. Gillman’s deeply moving response might provide our invitation to the Akeidah:

"Don’t you see that every person I’ve created has gone the wrong way? I just want to know that I got it right. I feel like Abraham is my chance to prove that people can love me and listen to me, even when it’s hard! Abraham is my chance!"


This God is not the all-knowing Commander who knows how things will turn out. Gillman’s God is an invested part of the emotional journey towards health. A mistake-making, love-yearning God, a God whose very motivation for creating a being that could reject its Creator was an enormous need for love. As Ennis Del Mar says in the revelatory movie Brokeback Mountain, “There ain’t no reigns on this.”

Abraham’s God at the Akeidah asks for an ultimate sacrifice. Perhaps this is because creation itself was a Supreme Sacrifice of Divine Singularity for the sake of relationship with another. Instead of seeing the Akeidah as a monstrous demand of a vulnerable other, this framework allows us to see both partners in the conversation as striving for wholeness through acts of mutual self-sacrifice.

After all, consider the first blessing of the Amidah:

“Blessed are You, Adonai, our God and God of our Ancestors: The God of Avraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the God of Sarah, the God of Rebecca, the God of Rachel, and the God of Leah. The great, mighty, awesome God; the God-Above, the One who does kindnesses. Creator of everything, the One who remembers the merits of the ancestors, who brings the redeemer to their children’s children, for God’s own Name’s sake in love. Ruler who helps and saves and protects: Blessed are You God, Shield of Avraham and Rememberer of Sarah.”

Why does God do so much kindness for us? For God’s own Name’s sake in Love. The call of the Akeidah comes from that same Makom, that same Place.

Consider also the phrase from within the Kedushah:

Baruch Kevod Adonai Mimkomo /

Blessed is the Glory of God from God’s own place.

“From God’s own place”?! What else could this indicate other than God’s own need for internal healing? And how else can we help effect this healing of God? And what a holy burden to bear.

The deepest way into the Akeidah is to imagine it is as a love affair. A passionate, dangerous, journey of mutual discovery between lovers who can’t know where their sacrifices might lead, but are committed to giving all they are – out of love.

As we learn in Pirkei Avot (5:19):

“Whenever love depends upon some thing and that thing passes, then the love passes away too. But if love does not depend upon some ulterior interest then the love will never pass away. … What is an example of the love which did not depend upon some ulterior interest? That of David and Jonathan.”


When Jonathan contravened his father’s desire, he offered up a sacrifice for love of David. He contracted part of himself as fulfillment of a relationship. Love commands. Love compels. Love demands.

Mysticism teaches that God created the world through an act of “
Tzimtzum / Self-Contraction”, which was the only way to make room for an other. In a sense, the God we know gave up part of Infinity (the “eyn sof”) to encounter another.

In a sense, Creation was the birth of God’s Name. Where once God was all there was, and hence had no need to be called by a name (there wasn’t yet someone to use it), the creation of humanity demanded a Name for God, without which a relationship couldn’t begin.

Sacrifice begins when love calls your name.

And might we not hold in our hearts God’s willingness to sacrifice as we reconsider the painful call to Abraham?

*****************************************

The extremes of sacrifice are hazardous to the health of both participant and partnership. On the one hand is selfishness (no room-making for another), the other the loss of self (too much room making for another). They are both destructive to the relationship and to each of the independent selfs involved.

As we learn from the very first human partnership, each partner must serve as an “
Ezer KeNegdo
(Gen. 2:18),” a help (“ezer”) and a challenge (“neged”).

Both roles are necessary ingredients for healthy, loving, relationship.

*****************************************

To enter the Akeidah is to hear the call of a loving God.

And we can only do that by listening with “
Shmiat Ozen / Empathetic Listening.
(Pirkei Avot 6:6)” To hear the loving call is to throw away ready-answers when beginning the process of spiritual self-definition.

The Akeidah’s call to “ascend to the heights” is an invitation to bring all of yourself to a point of clarity, to bring your deepest treasure which is that which animates your dreams. And God’s call to “offer it up” is an invitation to a love that takes and gives, a love that includes sacrifice and promise.

Tradition teaches us “with ten tests did God test our father Abraham, who stood steadfast in them all. They were to show how great was Abraham’s love.
(Pirkei Avot 5:3)

The whole story is about love. It’s not a pleasant story. It’s not an easy story. But it’s a romance, not a tragedy, if read with an open, yearning heart.

To escape the Akeidah is to be alone.

To respond to it can be ecstasy.

Legend has it that the Binding of Isaac took place on the future location of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and that the exact site of the altar will be recognizable by the ashes of the ram, offered in Isaac’s stead, still present to this day
(Pesachim 54a).

Love endures.

May we learn to clarify our dreams, name them, and offer them in love.

Amen.

Sep 11, 2007

9/11 2007: "My Heart is in the East"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Today is not like any other day. And yet, on the day before Rosh HaShannah it's hard to find someone whose eyes are pained like mine today, here in Berkeley, CA. I spoke last night to a sweet group of people of my memories of being in Manhattan 6 years ago today, my family's struggle to find each other, the baby beginning to grow within my wife, and people connected, but perhaps more to the person speaking than to the world that had changed for us all.

And every year the experience changes. There isn't liturgy. I've lit candles before, sung songs, felt the power of Tisha Be'Av creep into this universal day, recognize terrifying similarities between today and the binding of Isaac narrative, and today I sit even further away than every before from the place that, as my father has put it, will forever define the generations alive today.

What can we do today to make today different? Should today be different?

Six years ago, on a beautiful Tuesday morning I was going downstairs to repark my car during a Midrash class at JTS. That's when I found out. I thought it was a bad joke. I raced upstairs after hearing the news on my car's radio, ran into the National Camp Ramah offices, where scene after scene replayed online. I ran back to class and informed my teacher Rabbi Alan Kensky who was, I believe, as unsure as me as to what to do. He quietly told the story of his teacher Rabbi Shaul Lieberman z"l, who, upon hearing of the murder of a young rabbinical student by a terrorist in Israel told his student: "We learn. Just like we have been. If we stop, they've won. They can't stop us from being who we are." That response was powerful, but outmatched by the circumstances.

Then the entire city broke. Every person broke. Our city broke beneath and all around us.

It's not that heroes weren't born that day, that emergency responders didn't bring everything they were. All that is true, but what remains broken is a sense of safety we once had. The world into which my children have been born is a very different place than the one I inherited. And I remain scared. I sit in Berkeley, CA, and I wonder about the world whose birth we celebrate tomorrow.

Perhaps that's what today must become. A day of mindfulness, of wondering, of sensing the urgent needs of the world and working on healing.

May we never have a day like that, ever again.

Please, God. Never again.

Sep 5, 2007

Yamim Nora'im 5768: "Reaching Beyond"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
The image of the person is larger than the frame into which they have been compressed.
Adapted from Abraham Joshua Heschel

Each of the upcoming holidays brings us closer. Closer to each other, closer to our spiritual home, closer to those we remember. Rosh HaShannah reminds us that our world is a universal inheritance, Yom Kippur teaches us about inner and individual rebirth, and Sukkot invites us out of our homes into the waiting experiences of nature and consistent interaction.

A central challenge of our modern world, as I’ve experienced it, is leaving our sheltered homes to get into the car (itself a smaller sheltered world), arriving at our destination (shelter of a different kind), and returning via the same isolated route. This is one of the redemptive aspects of taking walks with new friends and sharing small group programs (as opposed to large group davenings) – we are out of our familiar surroundings, and are experimenting with new relationships.

The symbols of the upcoming holidays hold similar meaning. On Rosh HaShannah we hold the Shofar, feeling its rough exterior and smelling its age. Its sound simply breaks us – we each hold our breath waiting for the end of its sound, melting into the Tekiyah Gedolah as it lifts us beyond wherever we were. Yom Kippur brings us to an ever-deeper mindful relationship with our bodies and with questions of personal meaning sharpened by hunger. We shake with the Lulav and Etrog (now available at Afikomen at 655-1977), each connected to a different part of the body, trying out new directions, remembering to look behind ourselves as we explore what awaits. And then we dance. Simchat Torah is less a procession of scrolls than a release of pent-up energy accumulated over the past weeks. Our Torah is truly a Tree of Life in those moments of abandon, of fun.

What can I say, chevreh? Our communities must become places where all this exists in abundance, where we hold each other and our shared experiences of depth and fun, hunger and comfort – all parts of the spiritual journey. And our precious spiritual homes cannot be one thing for all people. "Home" is many things to many people. But it is a central, safe place for personal journeying.

I believe that God is very present in our holy places. In moments of stress, I’ve walked alone into the magnificent and intimate sanctuary of my shul and stared at the clouds surrounding the Hebrew letter ‘Aleph’, representing (to me) limitless possibility. And I’ve consistently felt less alone.

Every tangible part of a holy community points beyond itself. We each hold incredible meaning within, and each of us must feel invited to bring that which is uniquely ours not only in the holidays but to search beyond Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. These three important days help us to rediscover our centers as we reach toward newness.

Wishing us all a Powerful, Healing, Sweet Year - Shannah Tovah Um’tukah,

Rabbi Creditor

Aug 30, 2007

Fun and Trembling: Playing Rosh Hashanah Blog Tag

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

[note: This post is a conversation shared with and initiated by my friend and teacher Rabbi Hayim Herring, executive director of STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal, who asked some friends to play a game of pre-Rosh HaShannah "virtual tag", and to invite every blogger we know to play, and to share our thoughts as we prepare personally and professionally for the Chagim. See the links that will be added to this blog entry as they are created! - rc]

1] Life is incredibly precious, and the craziness in any one part can take over the others. The Personal Priority Holiness Code, (in which self must continuously gain as it gives) should be: Family, Community, World.

2] Change for change's own sake is a mistake. Feel the need, allow it to express itself in the voices and faces of others before responding.


3] Birth is a process. It takes time, and rarely goes according to plan. Remembering the "why" of the dream for a "birth-story" helps every partner/labor coach respond with health and calm to the emerging "how's".


4] Newness is both an advantage and a challenge. Rosh HaShannah doesn't mean the old is out. I'd rather see institutional and personal growth within the metaphor of a healthy tree, with new layers healthily connected to the core as opposed to a snake shedding its skin.


5] Religious buildings without windows are dangerous. The world's faith communities need a message of inter-dependence. The central command for the faithful must be the punchline from Douglass Wood's "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth": You are loved, and so are they.


Shannah Tovah!

Aug 27, 2007

A Reflection on the Conservative Movement

© 2007 Rabbi Menachem Creditor


The deepest teacher to call the Conservative Movement home was Abraham Joshua Heschel, who prescribed the medicine required for rediscovering a dynamic Conservative Movement. He wrote: "To understand the meaning of the problem and to appreciate its urgency, we must keep alive in our reflection the situation of stress and strain in which it came to pass… and the necessity of confronting and being preoccupied with it." We, the inheritors of a Conservative Movement which has allowed itself to become more institutionally conservative than personally moving in recent decades, have spent enough time complaining about what is. It is time to confront where we are, armed with a surging hope for what can be.


We must see the birth of healthy movemental communication. The websites and publications of our core institutions represent fragmented visions of the whole at best. Where are the Conservative Jewish ArtScrolls and Aish.coms we so desperately need? Our institutions have begun the process of sharing the conversation, but that simply isn't enough. There needs to be a groundswell of organizing around the core ideas of Conservative Judaism, in a conversation of parity including clergy and lay leaders.

Our progressive/halachic blend can be both seductive and compelling, and our decisions should be celebrated as steps forward. Egalitarianism and Gay Inclusion must be markers for pride, fulfilling the traditional dream of traditional Judaism to stretch and include. If we believe in Conservative Judaism we must sing about it from rooftops, advertising our particular brand of faith as a powerful experience.

The “middle road” can also lead to God. We just need to decide it’s our destination.

Aug 12, 2007

The Shoah Scroll
(submitted to J.)

Irving Zale's letter " One Liturgy, Aug. 10" brought home for me both the power and the virtual impossibility of a unified prayer language. The liturgical practice for Tisha Be'av, as Zale points out, includes the Book of Lamentations, but the insertions into the prayers for the day vary widely. Yom HaShoah, whose very name changes according to venue (in Israel it is intentioned as a day of both victimhood and valiance as "Yom HaShoah vehaGevurah"), and whose date also varies (note the U.N.'s declaration that January 27 be marked as "Holocaust Remembrance Day"), has eluded so many attempts at ritualization.

I propose, however, that one recent attempt is worthy of communal reconsideration: The Shoah Scroll, written by Avigdor Shinan, a professor of Hebrew literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and commissioned by the Schechter Institute in Israel, is an evocative, authentic, and newly traditional text that could (unfortunately) parallel the heaviness of the Book of Lamentations. There are well-written articles discussing its usage on myjewishlearning.com , and I recommend it very highly for our community's consideration.
- Hide quoted text -


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom
Berkeley

Aug 9, 2007

Clouds Shifting, Blessings in the Silence
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

As I sat in my shul sanctuary with a person l barely knew,
someone who had come looking for a rabbi to pray with her,

I found myself strumming my guitar,
sharing melodies,
staring at the clouds forming and reforming
in a clear blue sky.

Infinity was just right there.

And in the pauses between words and music,
I looked over and saw this very sad person smile.
Her face was full of possibility.

And the clouds kept shifting.

Aug 7, 2007

Aspaklaria: The Looking Glass -- "Finding Our Voice"

Rabbi Menachem Creditor


In making The Prince of Egypt, a recent DreamWorks movie based on the biblical Exodus narrative, the filmmakers consulted with religious scholars for authentic guidance. They were particularly interested in God's voice – should it be male? Female? Digitized and therefore not-human? In the end, they decided that when God would speak to a character, God would speak in the voice of that very character. Val Kilmer's voice was used both for Moses and for God. Unfortunately, God only speaks to Moses in the movie, and so the theoretical female voice of God never actualizes.


Perhaps the moviemakers had learned the following Talmudic text:


    "Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi said: ‘From where do we learn that one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader? Because the Torah says, "Moses spoke and God answered him by a voice. (Ex. 19:19)" The words 'by a voice' need not have been inserted. What then does 'by a voice' mean? By the voice of Moses. (Berachot 45a)’”


I believe that there are deeply important lessons to be learned from this text, for our precious communities, and for each of us as individuals.


1) God speaks with a familiar Voice. This is the image of a God within, not a God living far above in the Heavens. The High Holidays are replete with theological images of ‘God Above’ and ‘God the Judge’. I often wonder how those images impact each of us – are we inspired to connect to such a God? Does that system ring true? Does it serve to alienate souls hoping for spiritual nourishment? If the High Holidays Machzor (prayerbook) is the only religious text many of us enter, are we left alone with those limited images throughout the year?


2) Speaking loudly doesn’t help others hear. The text begins with a situation of competing voices, and results in the ruling that “one who translates the Torah is not permitted to raise his voice above that of the Torah reader.” There is a strong trend within the synagogue world for people to feel that “everyone knows more than me.” I’ve wondered if perhaps this is because those who have learned some Torah talk loudly, with passion. Perhaps too loudly sometimes. Perhaps there are new Jewish learners waiting for their struggles with communal/spiritual entry to be heard.


There is, I believe, a search for spirituality that requires a bit more silence than the voluble level with which we Jews are particularly skilled. Chaim Potok’s “the Chosen” and “The Promise” deal extensively with the pain and healing silence can bring, and the distinctly Jewish difficulty with its practice.


I believe that together we can continue to build our Sacred Communities of non-competing souls who strive to hear the voice of God in their own voices – and the voices of those around them. Antoine de St. Exupery, in his famous The Little Prince, wrote, "What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one sees truly." Perhaps Exupery had learned Talmud, where he would have felt quite at home with this quote: “…Blessing does not inhere in anything weighed or anything measured or anything counted, but only in that which is hidden from the eye. (Taanit 8b)” If you can quantify it, it isn’t the Source. The space between two others (perhaps one might be ‘The Other’?) is the starting place for the deepest of blessings.


I believe we can achieve this vision in our special community. The synagogue is a meeting place for so many different kinds of people. Precious preschools share a home with many empty-nesters. Religious School students are sisters and brothers with Day School students. Families and individuals of all kinds know they have a rightful place in our communities.


We can discover holy things together. But only if we look inward and outward, meeting each other with open ears, eyes, minds, and hearts. Only then is God is truly Present among us. May we bring ourselves and each other to that depth of blessing in the year to come.


Shannah Tovah! A sweet, healthy year to us all!

Aug 2, 2007

Parashat Eikev 5767/2007: “Where Truth Awaits
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

in loving memory of Israel “Swede” and Evelyn Goldstein z"l

________________

It is precisely in the nexus between birth and death that Truth emerges. In what other possible way could the very Source of Life become apparent?

What defense can we manage when mortality fills our imaginations? How can dreams be limited when the first cries of a child fill the air?

We are commanded in this week’s Torah portion to ‘cast the images of their [idols] into the fire. (Deut. 7:25)’ Might we not read this instruction as a teaching that anything that seeks to encapsulate Infinity is a lie, and cannot remain as it is?

A baby is only newborn for a finite amount of time. Growth is the ongoing process. Nurturing and witnessing growth is an enduring and changing path.

Death is an event. The journey of the soul beyond this world continues. Surviving is an unending passage.

Infinity is palpable in the immediate experiences of birth and death. We cannot be both in the experience of God and alive. This is the same, I believe, as saying that no Thing can be Infinite.

But while we cannot truly swim within Infinity, these intense, exquisite, painful, ephemeral moments do allow us to touch God.

Jul 31, 2007

Legacy and Family: A Hadran for Harry Potter

[note: this piece is deeply inspired by J.K. Rowling's final installment of the Harry Potter series. There will be no 'spoilers', but the emotionality of completing the book just now compels its own 'Hadran', its own traditional commitment to return and relearn its lessons.]

Legacy and Family: A Hadran for Harry Potter
© 2007 Rabbi Menachem Creditor

When my wife and I chose the names of our three precious children, we were committed to naming them after family members we had loved and lost. It struck me immediately, when our daughter Raya Meital was named only a few days ago, that the pantheon of my family was whole again. My Grandma z"l, my Sabbah z"l, and my great-uncle z"l were alive again. There are simply no words for the burn in my heart birthed by their names. Naomi Shemer wrote in Yerushalayim Shel Zahav that saying Jerusalem's name is like experiencing "the kiss of a Seraph." A Seraph is a fiery angel. Shemer was so right.

I'm not sure what method for writing works here, and perhaps sharing this emotion so publicly is too much. But my family is alive. My family surrounds me. It's not just my eldest daughter's laugh, which reminds me so much of my grandmother. Or my son's eyes, which bring me right back to my Sabbah. Or the juxtaposition of my new daughter's already intense glances that make me stare again at her namesake's art proudly displayed in my home and office. It is the deep knowledge - even deeper than faith - that their spirits are present, alive, learning, and growing within my family again.

I am blessed. So incredibly blessed. Life is so full, so worth living, so worth sharing.

The traditional phrase "HaMeivin Yaveen / If you know, you know" has always struck me as condescending. So lets transfigure it: May we all come to understand the power of knowing that those we've loved and lost are never truly gone. May we speak their names with smiles, with hearts overbrimming , and with gratitude.

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