I was sitting on the steps of Calvary earlier today and felt one of those warm breezes that takes me back to those earliest moments in the book of Genesis when it says that the Holy Breath hovered over all the land. I closed my eyes and allowed it to swallow me whole and re-soul me. As we prepare for Shabbat, in which we are instructed to Pause and Breath and Be ReSouled, thousands are preparing for the Climate Justice March tomorrow; gathering by bus and by foot to affirm the interconnection of all life.
I offer you this melody by Joey Weisnberg set to a section of our Shabbat morning liturgy known as Nishmat Kol Chai - The Breath of All Life. About these ancient words, the poet Marge Piercy wrote:
We are given the wind within us, the breath
To shape into words that steal time, that touch
Like hands and pierce like bullets, that waken
Truth and deceit, sorrow and pity and joy,
That waste precious air in complaints, in lies,
In floating traps for power on the dirty air.
Yet holy breath still stretches our lungs to sing
We are given the body, that momentary gathering
Of elements that have belonged to frog and polar
Bear, corn and oak tree, volcano and glacier.
We are lent for a time these minerals in water
And a morning every day, a morning to wake up,
Rejoice and praise life in our spines, our throats,
Our knees our genitals, our brains, our tongues...
May we all have the courage and privilege to live lives that honor the true interconnection of all living things, the Breath of all Life which is ours and the trees all at once. And may we find the time to truly exhale and be refreshed in our pursuits of healing and justice.
Rabbi Ari Lev
Last Shabbat we had the opportunity to sing some extra songs from the psalms of Hallel. One of my favorite moments in the Hallel service is a call and response that begins, Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov. For which the community responds, Ki L'Olam Hasdo. These are spiritual phrases from Psalm 118 that hold tremendous meaning and are hard to translate into english vernacular without diluting their resonance. But I will try!
Call: Hodu L'Adonai Ki Tov - Gratitude to the Source of Life - whose essence is goodness and for this specific goodness.
Response: Ki L'Olam Hasdo - May we always and endlessly experience the flow goodness and loving-kindness.
I am so looking forward to this weekend's celebration of our community. I share these words with you as an expression of my own excitement and gratitude. I know that SO many hands and hearts have brought us to this very moment. And I am very grateful.
See you this weekend, I hope! And for those who cannot be there, we will be sending you love. The ritual on Saturday night will, hopefully, be on Facebook Live at 7:30 pm.
Rabbi Ari Lev
In Hebrew, the Israelites are referred to as Ivrim, עברים - meaning, those who have crossed over. While it often refers specifically to having crossed the Jordan River, I like to imagine that it connotes more existentially an orientation to life. We are a people who traverse and transgress, who wander and wade into the water. We are "trans" people so to speak. We are crosser-overs. And there is perhaps no greater crossing in mythic tradition, than the crossing of the Red Sea. The sea whose waters are likened to a birth canal. In this way, Passover celebrates the birth of our collective identity as people who crossed over and came through, who sang our way to freedom.
And yet, the Rabbis refer to this biblical scene as קריעת ים סוף Kriat Yam Suf - Crossing of the Red Sea. In Hebrew, this is the same word, Kriah, קריע, that we use to describe the rending of a garment after the death of a loved one. We are torn, we are broken hearted, we are split open.
Why this word, why here?
It is my experience that there is no crossing, no transformative experience that does not involve great loss. All crossings are not only a birthing process, also a grieving process. It is our letting go that makes space for new growth. It is our persistent faith in what's possible that motivates us to face our grief.
On seder nights I encouraged us to recline, to lean back. And now, as we prepare to enter Shabbat and complete this crossing, I want to encourage us to lean in and let go. To trust that if we are brave enough to step in, the waters will in fact part and we will find ourselves on dry ground. To have the courage, as the poet Marge Piercy writes, "to let go of everything but freedom." Every fear, every worry, every grudge, every doubt. Everything but freedom.
Moadim L'Simcha - Wishing you all a joyful Shabbat!
Rabbi Ari Lev
All week I have been collecting Haggadah supplements: Truah, JFREJ, JVP, AJWS. These are contemporary iterations, detailing the plagues, the questions and the slaveries of our current moment. The list is long, the moment is heavy, the violence, especially today, is devastating.
Yet on Passover we ask, Why is this night different from all other nights? And one of our four answers is, Because on this night we recline. We lean back, as it were, on a pillow, a chair, a cushion. For some of us this is a growing edge.
What we learn from this answer is that the seder is not in fact a political education program, although I have certainly used it in that way in moments. It is not a history class or a strategy session. It is a time when we gather not merely to retell, but to re-enact our freedom; perhaps most truly to embody it.
The seder happens in the present tense. We sing (even when leading in a prison!), Avadim Hayinu - We were slaves, but now, in this moment, we are free people. Which means, that for a moment, a night, two nights for some, we are meant to live into our wildest fantasies of freedom. Taste it, breath it, sing it, take refuge in it.
In the words of my teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader, "The freedom that we celebrate on Passover, is in some ways, the freedom from the fantasy that we have fix it all. That if we don't do it, it won't happen."
It is for this reason that the most important mitzvah is to lean back. Every other day of the year, we lean in, but on Passover we recline. Whether you add an extra pillow to your chair, sit on your couch, or picnic on the floor, I invite you follow the wisdom of Jewish tradition and recline. Let your body cue your mind; now is the time to let go, there is no rush, we are not slaves to anyone's clock or orders. This is our chance to savor the freedom we spend so much time working towards.
May it be so!
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.