From the always eloquent Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb:
To cities and neighborhoods everywhere throughout the world, whose people suffer the aftermath of violent acts and face the carnage unleashed by all manner of exploding devices, we cry in anguished lament.
To the first responders who jump over barricades and cross fields of fire to rescue the wounded, may your acts of courageous compassion be received as a divine blessing. You are the guardians of healing.
And may all of us who have the strength, honor the people of destroyed cities and the first responders in their midst by pursuing healing and restorative justice with every nonviolent means at our disposal.
Oh, Spirit of mercy,
whose presence dwells
in the highest heights
and the darkest depths:
Shelter the souls
of all who were oppressed and murdered
during the years of the Shoah.
May the memory of those who were
singled out, persecuted and destroyed
be sanctified for goodness
and for peace:
Jews, gays, lesbians
and political dissidents;
labor leaders and Soviet prisoners of war;
resistance fighters, Roma,
Freemasons and Jehovah’s Witnesses;
the crippled of mind and body;
the homeless, the unemployed
and the unwanted…
May all who were once left vulnerable
remain protected beneath the soft wings of your presence
that they may rest in peace.
Spirit of Compassion,
help us to mourn their loss in such a way
that our fears and our hopes will become indistinguishable
from the fear and the hope of all who are oppressed.
Help us turn isolation into wholeness,
division into fellowship
and bitterness into healing waters of liberation
for all humanity.
shout your praise with every
thing you have with everything
you own scream out praises with
howling bursts of laughter rising
soaring arias of gratitude shrey
out praise sobbing
wailing beat your
breast like a broken shattered
timbrel dance all you
insomniacs wearing your
tangled twisted sheets like holy robes let
every living breathing roaring
writhing spitting breath
sing praises can i get a
In every generation
a broken guttural shout bursts
from the deepest darkness
shock waves spreading unheard
unseen unknown for
many generations more.
In every generation
the narrows tighten radiating
terrible knowledge through
pulverized bones that
there’s nowhere left but
In every generation
the waters stretch out
eyes close tight leaping
into the dark blue depths
mouths gulping for air the
broken shout now sounds
like a song.
In the land of Israel, the “harbinger of Spring” festival of Tu B’shvat is marked at this time of year by the blossoming of the white almond blossoms through the central and northern parts of the land. Those of us, however, who live in the northern hemisphere diaspora, often celebrate Tu B’shvat surrounded by several inches of white snow and leaf-less trees. Is this any way to celebrate a harbinger of Spring?
I’ll suggest that it is. I actually find it very profound to contemplate the coming of Spring in the depths of a Chicago winter. It reminds me that even during this dark, cold season, there are unseen forces at work preparing our world for renewal and rebirth. Deep beneath the ground, the sap is beginning to rise in the roots of our trees – although this fructification process might not be as visually spectacular as the proliferation of white almond blossoms exploding across the countryside, I believe this invisible life-giving energy is eminently worth acknowledging – and celebrating.
I took the picture above this morning while walking my dog. They may not be gorgeous almond blossoms, but I’d like to think that these bare, snow covered elms are wonderful spiritual teachers in their own right. All hail the unseen forces of our rebirth and Happy Tu B’shvat!
(I’ve I tweaked Psalm 126!)
In our dream of return our
souls ascend crossing
over to the place of promise along
the way we sing, we laugh, we praise
source of our liberation then
then waking we cry
bring us back just as you
send water to parched desert river beds
let those who sow with tears reap
Though we plant these seeds in sorrow,
we know someday this dry hard ground
will blossom forth, yes
very soon we will reap a
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a new prayerbook for Shabbat eve which will feature my own poetic renderings of traditional prayers as well as some new poetry. Here’s a sneak preview: my take on Shalom Aleichem, the prayer of welcome to the angels/messengers of Shabbat:
The sun vanishes
into the dark calm of Shabbat,
now only vestigial blessings remain,
sparks of light
radiating through the sky’s expanse,
dancing like fireflies in
the summer twilight.
Now watch as these luminous messengers
alight on parched and tired soil.
See how the earth drinks in their light
like a wanderer who has discovered
a living spring
in the heart of
Soon they will arrive at your door.
Open wide you thirsting soul
and prepare to greet them.
Among the most interesting and smart articles I’ve read about Hanukkah this year is a piece by JTS Rabbinical Student Benjamin Resnick in the Forward, in which he argues there is every reason – and in fact good historical precedence – for Jews to appreciate the beauty of Christmas even as they celebrate Hanukkah.
I say this as a committed, observant Jew and as a future rabbi. As someone who spends a great deal of time engaged in ritual, there are a handful of ritual moments that — year in and year out, and regardless of where I am physically, emotionally or spiritually — never fail to move me. The beginning of ma’ariv on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, is one. The smell of latkes is another. And the first time I hear the rum-pum-pum-pum of “The Little Drummer Boy“ is a third.
The fact is that Hanukkah menorahs and Christmas trees, “Maoz Tzur” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” potato pancakes and chow mein have become intertwined in the seasonal consciousness of American Jews. And while a great many contemporary Jewish voices go to great lengths to convince us that Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” I would argue, from both a historical perspective and a spiritual one, that such protestations do a disservice to the very traditions they venerate.
I actually came out of this particular closet (admittedly in a much less erudite manner) several years ago when I confessed that I love listening to Christmas songs – particularly those of the aching, melancholic variety:
Is it perverse or at all sacreligious for a rabbi to be confessing his love for songs such as these? I dunno, don’t you think there’s something of a Jewish quality to them? Maybe it’s their quasi-exilic yearning (not to mention the fact that most of them were written by Jews anyhow.)
So that’s my seasonal guilty pleasure confession. And lest you judge me too quickly here, just take the test yourself. Check out James Taylor’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as sung by Sarah McLachlan. (Man, that last line gets me every time…)
So have yourself a Happy Little Hanukkah now…
as soon as jacob rolled the stone
away it all came bursting forth like
the waters of a long forgotten spring he
he told her of his sorrow and
his fear his shame and
regret all the dreams
he dared not recall
in the light of day
when rachel took him to her father’s
house laban ran out and embraced him
jacob told him of his journey laban
smiled and tightened his grip
my god you’ve got your mother’s eyes
then leading him into his house he added
i believe the two of us
are going to get
when he felt himself being
separated he held fast to
his twin gripping tighter the
pressure slowly tearing them
apart with growing
terror he realized the presence
of a force much more powerful was
upending this exquisite balance
he heard a far off voice pleading
but if so then why do
when he felt him pulling
away he reached out
but could only grab hold of
his heel that’s
how they came into
the world esau
howling in the blinding
light and jacob whose
name means the one
to let go
(Genesis 25: 2-26)