Archive for January, 2008

January 25, 2008

In Law

The torah has set a universal western standard regarding relationship by affinity i.e. my wifes parents are related to me. This relationship – in law – is so real that according to halacha it prohibits sexual relations, and penalizes testimony. Entering into a relationship redefines my boundaries beyond the particular individual. It expands my environment, imposing prohibitions, revealing opportunities. Perhaps that is why this is the introduction to the covenant at Sinai. How are our boundaries redefined when we are betrothed by God?

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January 23, 2008

Me? A Rabbi?

Yesterday was a big day for me and nine rabbinical students from Sulam Yaakov, our beit midrash. Eighteen months of work came to fruition as one by one they were called up by Rav Don Chanon to receive their smicha – ordination.
When I addressed them at the following banquet I expressed my suspicion that they may feel a bit like fakes. Each of them know how much they really know… and how much they do not. I assured them that I feel this way on almost a daily basis. Those of us who have been privileged to know Torah giants, and who have encountered the greatness of generations past through the writings of the masters, are blessed with an existential sense of inadequacy. I say blessed because it enables us to keep ourselves and our abilities in perspective, but it can also be a curse. We can be deceived into belittling ourselves and our potential.
I reminded the new Rabbis that relative to most Jews in the world they themselves are giants, and that they bring a unique voice to Torah that those Jews need to hear.
The posuk in tehilim says Kol hashem bakoach, Gods voice is in power, and the midrash explains this means that Gods voice comes down according the power of each person, his capacity to hear “bakoach shel kol echad ve’echad”. Each one of them will have to find his voice in Torah , and the place that his voice can serve as a conduit for Gods voice in the world for those people who are listening.

Mazal Tov.

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January 22, 2008

This was sent out by Rabbi Shalom Brodt of Simchat Shlomo, The Carlebachian yeshiva in Nachalot


Ok, now
here comes a really deep Izhbetzer Torah. What’s the difference between
a cute little vegetable and a tree? How come a vegetable is dead when
it’s done? A tree can live for hundreds of years. He says the deepest
Torah. The tree prays to G-d, please make something out of me. You know
what’s praying the most? And this is one of the top ten Izhbetzer
Torahs. It’s good to remember. How come one apple tree tastes so good
and another one not? When the apple seed is praying before G-d the very
last second before it’s completely disintegrated it’s the prayer of the
deepest depths. And if its prayer is not so deep…There you have two

I mean the depths of this Torah is awesome. Gevaldt, it’s
the very last prayer we say before we leave the world… A vegetable
prays a cute little prayer. A vegetable grows and then just stops…
But an apple seed, it prays so much. It’s every second. It can’t stop.
The apple seed’s prayer is a “forever” prayer. So the tree lives
forever because this seed prayed so hard. Shvat is the Rosh HaShona
L’Elanot, the new year– the headquarters– of the trees.

listen to this, it’s so deep. A vegetable when it disappears doesn’t
cry. It says, “I had my day. I’m happy. I had a summer. I had a good
time on the earth, saw the sun, went to the supermarket, ended up on
Shabbos in the chulent… halivei (it should only be).

Do you
know what the tree is crying out? The tree is at is end, each year.
Listen to this. The tree when it reaches the end, mamash, all its
prayers are rising up again. The tree prays all its prayers again.

I want to tell you something very very deep. Imagine I
need coffee. I say, “Please G-d, give me some coffee.” And G-d answers
me, “Ok, I’ll get you some coffee.” But when I pray for something very
deep, my prayer is all that there is. The more I need something from
G-d, the deeper the depths my prayer touches my neshama. And that
prayer touches all the prayers which I ever prayed in this lifetime and
perhaps other lifetimes as well…

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January 17, 2008

Narrow Straights

מן המיצר קראתי

Told today by Leah Chesed at daughters naming – mazal tov: “Shayna Meital Bracha is named after my grandmother. When our first daughter was born we used to run up and down the stairs all night, anything to stop her from crying. When mamama came to visit she reached over and gave the baby a little pinch because she was to quiet – just wanted to make sure she was there.” (specific wording mine)
So often we fall asleep in life, allowing ourselves to coast half consciously, with limited awareness. when in this state we are less alive, less than our full selves. last night Aviva Zornberg taught us a midrash that God set us up at the sea because he wanted to hear us call out. In many ways pain is a wake up call, the universes way of saying – anybody home?
I wish life had less pain, but it is not so. If pain must be part of our lives this seems like a useful way to frame it. It certainly can challenge us to live on a level where we at least can say we do not need to be pinched, so please dont.
Mazal Tov.

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January 1, 2008

The Secret

It seems that we live in an age where there is no shame. The raw exposure to the full intensity of so many things has desensitized us emotionally and spiritually. Perhaps this is the reason that Kabbalah has become the way to make Torah appear sexy to the masses. The sexual frame is fitting, and is the allegorical context often used in Kabbalah. But just as sexuality can express the intimacy of love and relationship, or be reduced to cheep thrills, so to our mystical tradition. The benchmark of intimacy is privacy and discretion. Exposure reveals lack of value, cheapening that which is intended for exclusivity. Just as a newspaper becomes a tabloid when it enters the bedroom, so to Kabbalah becomes something else when it becomes public. The classical term for this discipline of Torah is “Sod” – Secret. Just as a secret ceases to be a secret once everyone knows it, so to the parts of our tradition intended for whispers among the initiate become something else when made public. This is the stuff of the bedroom, the most intimate dimension of our relationship with G-D, and as such it is in the realm of what “those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know”.

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