this is how i will dwell among them

Photo: Don Gale (from blog "Tips and Techniques: Landscape and Outdoor Photography")

god said to moses you shall accept
gifts from anyone whose heart is moved let
them bring their ragged scraps of cloth their
jagged flinty stones let them bring their
charred and splintered kindling the thick sands
of sinai gathered in the hems of their garments so
that when they leave my mountain when they go
stumbling back into the wilderness even as they
wander to the broken ends of the earth they
will know i dwell
among them

(Exodus 25:1-8)

Jewish Law/Muslim Law = Laws for Life, Not “Hegemonic Political Force”

Highly recommended (and extremely important): this recent Moment Magazine article by legal scholar Marshall Breger, “Why Jews Can’t Criticize Sharia Law.”

An excerpt:

While clearly some Muslims do view sharia as a hegemonic political force, the vast majority of Muslims, especially those living in the West, view sharia no differently from the way Jews view the halachic system: as an overarching guide to ordering one’s life. Muslim jurists have always drawn on sharia to mandate that fellow Muslims obey the laws of the land in matters that sharia does not prohibit. In numerous instances (see Koran 5:11), Muslims are told to “honor their contracts” and so to honor the “social contract” represented by the law of the land. The Fiqh Council of North America, the leading interpreter of Islamic law in the United States, ruled as recently as September 2011 that “there is no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

i slightly rearrange the laws of exodus

when my angel goes before you and brings you to the
amorites the hittites the canaanites the hivites the
jebusites i will not drive them out before you lest
the land become desolate do not annihilate them
nor tear them down nor smash their pillars for
if you mistreat them i will heed their outcry as
soon as they cry out to me and my anger
shall blaze forth
against you

works for me

(Exodus 22:20-23, 23:23-24)

Fun Facts for Valentine’s Day

Some fun fast facts for Valentine’s Day. Did you know that:

The feast of St. Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496.  Some say that Valentine’s feast day is celebrated in February because the church wanted to Christianize an ancient Roman pagan festival called Lupercalia, which centered around fertility and purification, and also took place in February.

Valentine’s feast day has been celebrated as a lovers’ holiday and a day of romance since the 14th century, when the date was thought to be the beginning of the mating season for birds.

Many claim the closest Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day was Tu B’Av (“the fifteenth of Av”):

Tu B’Av, the 15th Day of Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.). Tu B’Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel. In its modern incarnation it is gradually becoming a Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, slightly resembling Valentine’s Day in English-speaking countries.

There is no way to know exactly how early Tu B’Av began. The first mention of this date is in the Mishnah (compiled and edited in the end of the second century), where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted saying, “There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?”(Ta’anit, Chapter 4).

Happy Lovin’…

Jethro’s Forgotten Offering

when jethro high priest of midian heard
all that had happened in egypt he
kissed moses and bowing low he
said blessed be the god who
hears the cries of the oppressed who
liberates the captive the god who showed
such kindnesses to your people will surely
show them to mine as well
as moses ate of jethro’s offering at the
foot of the mountain he did not yet hear the
voice just a plaintive whisper you
must wreak vengeance upon the midianites
tell the israelites to take to the field and
slay every last male how could he possibly know that
the high priest’s sacrifice to his son in law’s
god would eventually be forgotten
like trails of smoke
long vanished
from sinai

(Exodus 18:1, 8-12, Numbers 31:1-7)

A Single Tree is Really a Whole Forest: Zen Wisdom for Tu B’shvat

In honor of Tu B’shvat – the Jewish New Year for the Trees – I offer you these lovely tidbits from “Trees and Spirituality: An Exploration” by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who teaches Environmental Studies at Evergreen State College.

Happy Tu B’shvat – and may your roots discover hidden spheres of growth in the coming year!

Trees link us to enlightenment. Their ubiquitous shape and form, their persistence through time, and their “rootedness” in the soil, remind us of the connection between earth and the heavens.

Buddha sat mediating under a Bodhi tree. When dawn came, the sun brought enlightenment to him.

As if to reinforce this universality, we see tree forms everywhere – in rivers, caves, blood vessels, lungs – and in the form of Zen Buddhism itself. Historically, temples follow lineages, like family trees. Each temple was brought into a hierarchy, with branch temples under main temples and each level responsible for the one beneath.

Like other living beings, trees “breathe.” Through photosynthesis, they help supply the most basic of needs of humans – giving us clean air to breathe. This connection to breathing links trees to meditation and reflection.

The Hebrew word for breath – neshama – is the same as the word for soul. Our spiritual life force comes by way of air and respiration.

In the services I attended this fall, the most powerful moments were the moments of silence – the time between speaking and hymns. Buddhist silence, samantha – stopping, calming, concentrating – is very important. It is the same as the stillness I see when I look up at a tree on a windless summer day. Trees are rooted in the ground and make no sound. They epitomize samantha.

…In Zen practice, you do not strive to delete all thoughts. Rather, you discover the emptiness that is present within the form of thoughts, experiences and realities.

Most researchers who study the forest focus on the trees and animals – the forms. In contrast, Dr. Roman Dial studies the emptiness within the forest. He uses a laser to get distances to branches and leaves, making images of their “negative space.” These are stunning in their beauty and also in their significance. How does a bird negotiate through space? How does a pollen grain move? Or a termite queen, or a particle or pollutant?

According to Buddhist thinking, the idea of a separate “self” is an illusion. There is no external individual being apart from interaction with the world. Although we each have a separate set of perceptions and sensations, the idea that there is a fixed “self” is a false inference.

Trees remind us of this because a tree is a modular being. Most animals, including humans, develop and grow as a single entity. In contrast, the seed of a tree germinates into a root and a shoot, which in turn differentiates into branches, with buds that become the next generation of leaves, flowers, and fruits, and so on. Along the way, genetic material can undergo mutations and changes.

Thus a mature tree contains thousand of separate branch systems, each a separate “lineage,” a separate genetic entity. Fruit growers know that certain branches produce much better fruit. They can graft the best branch and start another tree that will produce to that type. So a single tree is really a whole forest. There are many in one.

Trees help humans tell time; they spell the seasons. Nothing tells us about the passing of time more clearly than autumn colors or the tender green of emerging buds.

Forests teach us about the dynamism of nature – the need to accept change even if it seems to be destructive. When I go out to my forest plots and see a fallen tree – a tree I have climbed a hundred times, taken data from, named – I have to remind myself that this is the nature of the forest. Seedlings will grow in the light created by the fallen giant.

Hidden Worlds
Trees manifest hidden spheres. Their roots are underground and out of sight yet provide support for the tree and serve as the gathering apparatus for water and nutrients. The belowground world sustains the aboveground parts. Tree roots can symbolize that which we hide from ourselves and others – our troubles, failings, ill-health. To be truthful – full of troth – like a tree, we must recognize that these hidden parts are an important part of us, not something to discount, just as soil-covered roots of a tree are essential to its being.

(From Northwest Dharma News, October/November 2002, pp. 10, 13)

Purim Came Early This Year

Oh wow…

Anthea Butler, writing in Religion Dispataches:

While most Christians were having regular Sunday services, over at Eddie Long’s New Birth Church in Lithonia, Ga, Ralph Messer, who is part of the Hebrew Roots movement, was crowning Eddie Long King in an elaborate ceremony that included wrapping Long in a Torah Scroll purported to be found at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

In case you’re unable or unwilling to watch: the video shows Messer giving Long the Torah scroll declaring that he is the first man to look upon the scroll after 3000 years. Long is “wrapped in the scroll” and prayed over. Messer asks Long to take a seat, and declares that God gave Long a position of power and authority. He is given the constitution of God as a king (6:49), the Torah, and then, Messer has four men representing the four corners of the earth, (7:04) pick the chair up. Messer then declares that Eddie Long is raised up from a commoner to a King, replete with music, cheers, and a poorly executed blessing in Hebrew. If it weren’t so offensive to Christian and Jewish sensibilities (and so utterly in error in terms of tradition, as Wil Gafney points out at HuffPo)  it would be laughable.

Last word goes to Peter Manseau, also from Religion Dispatches:

When Messer broke into Hebrew song as Long was paraded aloft in a chair, carrying the Torah and draped with a prayer shawl, it was like watching a summer stock revival of Yentl performed by a cast that had never met any actual Jews.

I have no more to add…

Who You Gonna Serve Now

"The Delivery of Israel Pharaoh and his Hosts Overwhelmed in the Red Sea" by Francis Danby (1825)

then he sang this song to moses and the
israelites singing i am your god and you will
enshrine me the god of your fathers you must
exalt me i am the man of war who went up
against the false gods of egypt and cracked them like so
much dry straw the one who hurls chariots and soldiers
into the sea like small stones the one who will cast terror and
dread on the inhabitants of canaan for their sins i’m
your champion your protector your god my commands will
soon be revealed to you follow them lest i strike
you down as i’ve destroyed all the others maybe
someday you’ll be ready to serve the master
the one who’s greater yes even greater
than me

(Exodus 15: 1-5, 15-16, 26)