This past Wednesday, September 23 at 1:30pm, a grand jury in Louisville, KY acquitted all of three officers in the case of the murder of Breonna Tayler, and merely indicted Det. Brett Hankison for wanton endangerment for the shots fired into neighboring apartments, but not for the murder of Breonna Tayler. 65 years to the day that an all-white jury found Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam not guilty of Emmett Till's kidnapping and murder.
We arrive to Shabbat intimately aware of the cavernous space between the world as it is and the world that we long, and we walk along a very narrow bridge, brave and scared at the same time.
The rabbis have much to say about the holiness of the space between. One midrash famously describes Torah as white fire on black fire. Which is to say the space between the letters and the words, it too is Torah.
Nowhere is this more visible than in biblical poetry. In poetry, the absence of words says as much as their presence. And when we are in the depths, the absence is what is present. At the end of his life, bereft and longing Moses turns to poetry for his final teaching.
Our parsha begins,
הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי׃
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!
יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב׃
May my discourse come down as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass (Deut. 32:1-2).
But it is not just the words that are themselves spacious, it is the page of Torah itself. You can see it here! It is laid out in two columns, with a cavernous space between, the words calling out across the void. But also leaving space. Space for weeping and for longing, for our voices and our vision, for connection.
Rabbi Alan Lew writes,
"When we lose touch with a sense of nefesh, of space, of emptiness, we feel overwhelmed, overstressed, overburdened. So for many of us the question is, How do we find our way back to heaven? How do we relocate that spaciousness out of which we emerged? How do we connect with our nefesh?" (121).
In honor of Moses the poet, I offer you another poem written by Shelby Handler, "The Day the World is Born":
...Here is the way to start again: let heaven
slither in through the holes this year
left in you. Everything you've lost is enough
space for your wholeness to return into. Every day
is someone's birthday. Today is everything's
birth day. We're all here together: holding our breath
in the delivery room. We're tugging at the curtain,
eager to catch it all in our tired and wild arms.
This Shabbat Shuva, in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I invite you to take this page of Torah to heart. To make space in your day and in yourself. May you emerge renewed, as we sing in V'Shamru, "shavat va'yinafash" - with a new sense of nefesh.
Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach,
Rabbi Ari Lev
According to Jewish mystics, throughout the month of Elul, HaMelech ba'sadeh - The King is in the field. The King of course, referring to HaShem, The Ineffable Name, The Mystery, Our Source, Our Sovereign. This sentiment is meant to convey a kind of divine availability in this great turning. God is right here with you, in your field (in your alley, as the case may be), in your midst.
But at face value, this is hardly compelling. What do we know of Kings or Rulers that would suggest we want them close by. In these times, this has echoes of martial law and undercover federal agents in our midst, demonstrating the far reaching powers of fascist governments.
But not just in our times. For all of time, Jews have strived to live in spiritual quarantine under conditions imposed by empire and emperor. And so, throughout rabbinic literature we find a genre of midrash that begs the question, In what ways is Melech Malchei HaMelachim, The Holy One, Sovereign of Sovereign Sovereignties, distinct from Melech Basar v'Dam - A king of flesh and blood (a political ruler, if you will)? This is a genre of midrash that has long held my attention. It is this theological conversation that has allowed me to be in ongoing relationship with The Holy Blessed One or Holiness itself.
One such midrash begins with a question (Yalkut Shimoni Psalms #700):
"Who is the King of Glory? (Psalms 24:10a)
Answer: The one who gives glory to those who are in awe of them, 'Adonai Tzeva'ot.' (Ps. 24:10b)"
Which is to say, what makes God different from a regular King?
God doesn't hoard the power and prestige. God shares their glory with those who fear them.
The midrash continues:
"How do we know this is true?
A king of flesh and blood: one cannot sit on their throne. But God sat King Solomon on his throne, as it says: Solomon sat on the throne of YHVH (I Chron 29:23)."
"A king of flesh and blood: one cannot ride their chariot. But God caused Elijah to ride their horse – since storms and whirlwinds are God's horse. As it says: God, in the whirlwind and in the storm is God's way, and the clouds are the dust of God's feet. (Nahum 1:3) and it says: Elijah rose in the storm (II Kings 2:11)."
The midrash goes on, but you get the idea. There is nothing that God has that they would not share with us. So when we say HaMelech ba'sadeh, what we mean is that the well of our resilience is nearby; our spiritual resources are even more available to us.
I bring you this text this week, as we read Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech, the parsha in which we are taught, this thing, this thing called Torah, called Teshuvah, called G!D is not in the heavens. It is right here with you, in your very midst. It is intimacy itself. It is presence and connection. Do not think you need to travel far to find it. It is sheltering in place with you. In your heart and in your mouth.
May you take time this Shabbat to journey outside, to converse with the trees and the wind, to be present with your inner storm and to to hum in your heart the words of the Kedushah:
קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה' צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tz'vaot M'lo Khol Ha'aretz K'vodo
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Name Above, The whole world is filled with G!D's Glory.
Rabbi Ari Lev
For reasons that I barely understand, I would rather be late than early, to just about anything. Meetings, airports, doctor's appointments. (This is certainly on the list of things I need to do teshuvah for. For the people I have kept waiting because I did not leave enough travel time.) I have recently come to understand that this is motivated by a kind of existential anxiety about being early. What will I do with that time? Will it be uncomfortable? Who else will arrive early? These are not rational questions. And inevitably, when I arrive late, I am even more stressed by what arises from rushing to get somewhere without enough time. Recently, I have tried to arrive early to the few things I can still "arrive" to. And what I have noticed is a kind of ease only made possible by sufficient transition time.
There is a story in the Talmud (Sotah 22a) of a certain widow who lived next door to a synagogue, yet went daily to participate in prayers in the study-hall of Rabbi Yohanan. One day he said to her: "My daughter, don't you have a synagogue in your neighborhood?" To which she answered: "My master, do I not benefit from taking steps?" Rabbi Yohanan took her very seriously, and taught the widow's answer to his students.
What he learned from her is the importance of transitioning into prayer, of taking real physical and mental steps towards your practice. This widow, who sadly is not named, seeks out a more distant praying place in order to benefit from the transition time in which she has stepped away from other occupations and is taking steps towards her prayer.
About this story my teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader writes, "I doubt that this widow used her walking time to have another meeting on the phone... But if cell phones changed the nature of the walk to prayer, COVID-19 eliminated it. Unless we pay attention to it, there is likely to be no transition time from everything happening around us to the prayer service, no period of taking steps towards prayer..."
One of the challenges of COVID has been the collapse of time and its invisible structures. Some days I feel that there is barely a breath between the end of one Zoom meeting and the beginning of another. Quite literally they end and start at the exact same moment. I need to remind myself to drink water, to use the bathroom, to have a body. Two minutes can feel like an eternity in a Zoom waiting room if a meeting starts "late."
Rabbi Leader continues, "This is one of the important lessons of the Jewish calendar that teaches us to begin preparing for Pesach a week before the month of Adar, to begin preparing for Shavuot on Pesach, to begin preparing for Tish'a b'Av on the seventeenth of Tammuz, and in relation to our current season - to begin preparing for Yom Kippur and Sukkot at the beginning of the month of Elul."
Which is where we find ourselves now, beneath the full moon of Elul. It is time to begin our preparations. Literally. To think about where we might physically be on Rosh Hashanah. What chair might we sit on or what tree might we lean against. To make a list of the people we want to connect with before September 18. To consider if we need to borrow any ritual items or order any special foods or sign up for Shofar in the Park.
At this moment it is important to discern between planning and preparation. While planning has become futile. There is still much to be gained from preparing. In the words of the prophet Amos, "Prepare for the presence of your Source" (4:12-13). We learn over and over again from Jewish time that preparation is in fact what makes the presence of the Holy One possible.
My teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader has written a full-length letter about how to prepare for the Days of Awe this year. It is a generous offering that I am grateful to be able to share with all of you. May it support you to ask: What do I need to be doing now to prepare for Rosh Hashanah?
Rabbi Ari Lev
We enter yet another Shabbat steeped in the grief of racist state violence, as Jacob Blake, now paralyzed, is handcuffed to his hospital bed fighting for his life in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Shot in the back seven times by police last Sunday. Only made worse by the horror of a young white supremacist murdering two protestors. Both violent acts praised by Trump himself. Law and order politics are revealed for what they have always been, a code-name to enslave, imprison, impoverish, and murder Black people in this country.
This same week we mark the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, and prepare for the Black National Convention tonight. This same week we read these words in parashat Ki Teitzei:
"You shall not turn over to their master an escaped slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. They shall live with you in your midst, in any place they choose that is good for them. You shall not oppress them." (Deut. 23:16-17)
About these verses Rabbi Shai Held writes, "It is hard to overstate the revolutionary implications of these verses. As a contemporary Bible scholar puts it, for the Torah 'to legislate so contrary to the universally accepted norms for the treatment of slaves indicates an intentional critique of the very nature of the institution itself.'"
For me, one of the great awakenings of the last six months has been coming to understand that the institution of policing in America, which as a white person I was taught to trust and venerate, began as a group of white people out to catch runaway slaves. Over time its practices were institutionalized and professionalized which has perpetuated the legal lynching of Black people in America. I am holding this truth with devastating clarity.
Understood as the biblical imperative to grant refuge to a runaway slave, I am beginning to understand this week's parsha as the biblical imperative to defund the police. And I am hearing the fiery voice of Torah call out, any institution whose foundational purpose was to capture runaway slaves must be defunded, dismantled, and transformed. I am not an expert on the how. But many are. For those of us who are not Black, what I know in my bones is that it is not enough to proclaim that Black Lives Matter. We must actually work to enact their vision by organizing to meet the demands of a movement whose express purpose is preserving life. This is our spiritual obligation.
To quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke these words 57 years ago:
"There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality."
This week in our daily study of the Laws of Teshuvah, we learned that the first three steps of teshuvah are as follows:
I arrive to this Shabbat with a deepening awareness of my own complicity with policing and its crucial role in the murder and oppression of Black lives. I arrive resolved to divest from policing.
In the prophetic words of Martin Espada,
"If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year..."
May this be the year.
Rabbi Ari Lev
This time of year I am a glutton for fresh fruit. I try to eat my year's worth in the month of August. This week I felt we had finally arrived as I sliced fresh peaches into my granola, froze peaches 'n' cream popsicles, and canned peaches with maple bourbon syrup. By every measure I am grateful to the sun's generosity, as I fill my fridge (and my belly) with a bumper crop of peaches.
The Talmud teaches us that the months of Tammuz, Av, and Elul are the season of fruit ripening (B.T. Pesachim 94b). Rabbi Jill Hammer explains, "The harvest may contain loss, yet it also contains peaches, plums, and cherries...In this season, according to legend, the sun makes a special effort to travel over places where humans live to ripen the harvest" (The Jewish Book of Days, 379). In the early summer days of Tammuz, the fruit was not quite ready. Now in the latter half of Av, we savor the saturated sweetness of summer fruit and take in the spirit of blessing.
This week's parsha, Re'eh, speaks of precisely this blessing from the land. Its words an invitation to consider the blessings in our own lives as we wind our way through the book of Deuteronomy and approach the end of another spiritual cycle. Hammer continues, "The fruit of the spirit always prepares us for another journey. At this season we not only devour the fruit but begin to notice the seeds, the hints of the future that will guide us towards the new year."
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim, the Shabbat that blesses the arrival of the new moon of Elul next Thursday and Friday. The hints of the new year are quite literally just around the corner. Beneath the heat of the sun, we ask for renewal, for long life, for sustenance; a life in which our heart's longings are fulfilled. And we are called to ask, What is mine to harvest? What growth can I honor? What is mine to let go of with the waning moon?
In her poem "Coming Up on September," Marge Piercy writes:
"Now is the time to let the mind
search backwards like the raven loosed
to see what can feed us. Now,
the time to cast the mind forward
to chart an aerial map of the months."
May the path of the sun inspire us to chart our own with integrity and discernment, free from shame and full of awe.
Rabbi Ari Lev
This past week I gathered (online!) with 160 fellow queer Talmud nerds at the first-ever Queer Talmud Camp: Diaspora Edition. It is our practice to begin every camp with what is known as The CRASH talk, in which Rabbi Benay Lappe gives over her core theology. (If you have never heard it, I highly recommend it.)
Crash begins with the premise that all human beings share the same basic big questions of life. [Insert your own!] Benay then goes on to explain that every religion comes into being to answer those core questions by developing a master story. But every master story will eventually and inevitably crash. Which births an even bigger question: How do we respond to the crisis of a crash?
There is no question we are living through a crash. We are undoubtedly living through many crashes. The collapse of public education; the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; the fear and uncertainty of this uncontained, deadly virus; rising sea levels and tropical storms. And we are called to respond to the many crashes. To be unbelievably responsive. I entered my time off with one primary question: What will it take to center and ground myself for the year ahead? I had a few goals -- daily yoga, limited screen time, lots of ice cream, and very few time-bound obligations.
As it turns out, our spiritual ancestors were also living through a seemingly endless series of crashes and they recorded both their questions and their answers to the same overarching big question: How do we stay whole in the face of unbelievable brokenness?
At Queer Talmud Camp, we began our learning with a mishnah (found on Kiddushin 40b in the Talmud Bavli) that suggests that a person who is steeped in mikra / scripture, mishnah / oral teachings, and derekh eretz / ethical living will be slow to miss the mark and cause harm. How do we know this? the text asks. Because it says in Tanakh, "A braided (literally 3-ply) cord does not easily fray" (Kohelet 4:12).
I was struck by this image because it is the opposite of how I have been feeling. These past five months, I have felt utterly frayed. Between parenting, protesting, and working (not to mention worrying!), there have been few moments when I have been able to offer my dedicated attention to any one thing. I have felt pulled in every direction, utterly distracted by the competing needs for my attention and the endless hours staring at my computer. And that takes a toll. And has led me in many moments to miss the mark. And so it begs the question, What can I do to center and ground myself? What can we do to bolster ourselves?
As it turns out, the Mishnah not only provides the image but also the answer. According to the Mishnah, we need to focus our attention and dedicate our time and energy in three ways. First, spend time learning our inherited tradition -- mikra. Second, cultivate our relationship to an interpretive tradition -- mishnah. And lastly, engage deeply with the world around us -- derekh eretz. And in this way, we will stay more deeply connected to ourselves, our Source, and our purpose.
In this time when we are called to take action, let us not think that what is needed is activism instead of dedicated contemplative spiritual practices. But rather, activism born out of our spiritual practice. We need to be in deep relationship with mikra and mishnah in order to be in right relationship with derekh eretz.
This is what we are to aspire to. To see ourselves, like the braided cord, woven together at our core, so that we can live lives of meaning and purpose. As we prepare to enter this new year together, I am very much looking forward to tightening our weave by deepening our personal and collective practices.
Rabbi Ari Lev
I got an amazing text message last week. It read, "Do you have time to talk about big questions that have no answers?" That night I was anonymously recounting this to my family as the highlight of my day, and my six-year-old said, "Like, Why are we here?"
I was verklempt. Yes, precisely a question like that. The moment we enter this world we learn to wonder about the mystery and sit with the limits of what we can know. It is in our bones.
As it turns out my six-year-old had been listening to a podcast earlier that day in which they explored the question "Why are we here?" Which is, in and of itself, amazing.
Fast forward to this week, I was able to meet with this person via Zoom. As you can imagine we asked questions about life and death. I offered my best guesses at the ineffable, which provided very little solid ground and didn't attempt certainty. But what mattered much more to both of us was the space to voice the questions, to name the mystery, and to sit with the overwhelming feelings underneath the questions. And that space actually offered itself up as a kind of solid ground for both of us.
The conversation reminded me of a memoir I read a few months ago written by a young mom who dies of cancer, called The Bright Hour. On her deathbed, Nina Riggs writes:
"I am reminded of an image...that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more -- sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover."
The last six months have certainly revealed the abyss, that is, was, always there. We have been personally and collectively called to dig deep to find the source of our resilience in the face of wildly scary circumstances.
As I prepare for summer vacation, what I am taking with me is the awe and gratitude for our capacity to ask big questions that have no answers. And to keep seeking the answers, not so much for the certainty, but for the solid ground of companionship.
Thank you for your trust and your questions, and for being in this with me when the cloud cover is thin and the depths of fear, injustice, and impermanence are revealed. Perhaps this is why we are here. To walk this tightrope together.
I wish for each of you spacious moments this summer, when you can feel into the expanse that is also always present as we traverse the depths.
Rabbi Ari Lev
In recent days, as the light is growing longer, my 6-year-old has become fascinated with shadows, specifically the shadows our bodies cast. In particularly proud moments he remarks, "Look my shadow is as big as yours." I am quick to remind her that it is almost inevitable that he will in fact be taller than me in just a few years. This youthful fascination with his shadow seems to accompany her quickly evolving self-perception. How do we understand ourselves relative to others? How do other's perceptions of us affect our self-perception?
We read in this week's parsha, Shlach, the consequential story of the Spies which lies at the very heart of Sefer Bamidbar. This is a story about fear. And its lethal consequences.
What I am drawn to this week -- as we celebrate Juneteenth Shabbat and the liberation of Black people from slavery, as we celebrate the riots at Stonewall that led to the possibility of pride -- the feeling even more than the march -- is a moment of reckoning in this ancient story that speaks directly to the moment of reckoning we are living through.
As the story goes, Moses sends out spies to scout the land of Canaan. When the spies return, Caleb makes the case that they can indeed inhabit the land. But the others refuse, saying:
לֹ֥א נוּכַ֖ל לַעֲל֣וֹת אֶל־הָעָ֑ם כִּֽי־חָזָ֥ק ה֖וּא מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
"We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we...
וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃...
-- and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them" (Num. 13:31,33).
Mind you, these are slaves who have just been emancipated, who crossed a sea and are in search of a safe place to settle. About this moment, Avivah Zornerberg writes, "...seeing and seeing oneself precipitate the narrative into a dynamic of madness, of images, fantasies, and projections."
In Midrash Tanchuma, God frames a critique of the Spies' inner world:
"They said, 'We looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes.' God said, 'This I can overlook. But, "And so we looked in their eyes" -- here I am angry! Did you know how I made you look in their eyes? Who told you that you didn't look like angels in their eyes?'"
Zornberg explains, "Apparently, it is legitimate to imagine oneself as a grasshopper in the presence of a giant. This is how human beings begin life, small and powerless in the presence of immense powers...To see a world of giants is to remind oneself of a primal sense of things. But to project one's own fantasy onto the giant is to limit the possibilities of fantasy and of otherness...Here in the Tanchuma passage, God is angered at their fatal constriction of imaginative possibility" (122).
At times, we too may see ourselves as small in the shadow of the other. But, says God, "You know nothing of how they see you." In this moment pregnant with possibility, we can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. Let this not be a story written by fear. Let us not confuse the limits of self-perception with the limits of possibility.
Rabbi Ari Lev
Be a lamplighter!
Our parsha begins with the instruction for Aaron to not just kindle, but actually "raise up" (be'ha'alotcha) the menorah, invoking the image of flames shooting up. Rashi offers insight into this unexpected choice of words. He teaches us that Aaron must "keep lighting until the flame ascends on its own" (Num. 8:2).
We too are living through a moment of rising up. And perhaps one of the most important questions we can be asking ourselves is, "What is my role?" For Aaron it was clear. He was called to light the menorah itself. And for some of us, our roles feel clear. But I have spoken with many of you this week who have described a sense of disorientation as we try to tap into the visionary potential of this unstable moment. You are not alone.
Deepa Iyer wrote back in March, "Lately, I've been stuck in a fog, cycling through periods of motivation and stillness, outrage and exhaustion, determination and grief. Even though I'm connected to various networks, mentors, and organizations, I couldn't figure out where I fit in, what my lane was, or how to begin."
Some of us have spent the last several weeks or months in the hospitals and in the streets as frontline responders. But that is not wise or possible for all of us. What else is needed? The antidote to Iyer's disorientation was her ability to see herself as part of a larger ecosystem. Her own self-reflection gave way to the creation of this insightful tool to map our roles in a social change ecosystem. There are so many roles to play in movements for justice and healing. Iyer writes, "This exercise can especially be helpful to re-align ourselves when we feel lost, confused, and uncertain in order to bring our fullest selves to the causes and movements that matter to us."
We as a community are healers and weavers, caregivers, storytellers, disrupters, guides, and visionaries. We are phone bankers and bakers, street medics and artists, media mavens and jail support providers. All of our voices and skills are needed. The question before each of us is "How can I be part of this movement for transformative change? What is my role?" In the words of Rabbi Tarfon, "You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to desist from it." (Pirkei Avot, 2:16)
The Sefat Emet, a Hasidic master, tells us that to be a lamplighter means the more we grow our own souls, the more Holiness is revealed in every place. As one mentor wrote to me earlier this week, "This Black-led uprising is pointing the way for all of us who love justice." Personal and collective transformation are inseparable in this moment, and always. I invite you to take some time this Shabbat to journey inward and consider in what ways have you been, and can you be, a lamplighter in this moment?
May we all know that we are contributing to and connected by something much greater than ourselves. May we have the courage and stamina to rise up for justice, until the flames of justice can ascend on their own. May this be a lasting fire, an eternal movement for racial justice.
Rabbi Ari Lev
Mikolot mayyim rabim, the waters above and below are raging. For those of us in Philly, this week has been a tornado, spiritually, politically, and even physically. This is the week we received an emergency alert to retreat to our basements, while already sheltering-in-place, under citywide curfew, during quarantine. The week that people took to the streets by the thousands, and the city finally removed the Rizzo statue from City Hall Plaza, and multiple school districts around the country ended their contracts with police departments.
When I think back to Rosh Hashanah this past year, and the sermon I gave about the West Philly Sinkhole, I wonder, was that sinkhole a kind of prophet, preparing us for the kind of ground-shifting transformation that we are living through now?!
Deep continues to call unto deep.
Yesterday, I gathered with hundreds of people of faith at City Hall to kneel for nine minutes, the length of time it took Derek Chauvin to murder George Floyd, z"l. Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church invited all of us present to unlock our holy imaginations. He said: "Everyone has been asking, 'Who moved the Rizzo statue?' The people did! And if you can move a statue, you can move a mayor. If you can move a statue, you can move city policy." We are witnessing the rise of the Movement for Black Lives, made possible by decades of Black-led organizing and more than 400 years of fighting to end slavery and racism. What else is possible that we have been dreaming of for centuries?
What I have felt most in my bones this week, in addition to fear and grief, is the knowing that there is no normal worth returning to. We are living through destabilizing times, thank G!D. In the words of Pema Chodron, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found in us...It [is] all about letting go of everything." This time is all about letting go of everything. Another world is on her way. I can hear her breathing in the holy protests of Black people everywhere. We are witnessing a literal transformation of George Floyd's final words, "I can’t breathe." I invite you to wonder with me, what do we each need to let go of to join with the potential of this moment?
This week, as we enter Shabbat, I plan to pause from social media and reground myself. This is the work of lifetimes. I will be carrying the oldest blessing in our tradition, which comes from this week's Torah portion, Naso. And I offer you all this interpretation, based on my study of Midrash Tanhuma Naso, Siman 10. I offer it to you as a touchstone.
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
May the Holy One bless and protect you, in the streets and in your home.
May there be a forcefield calling us to protect and care for each other.
יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃
May the light of the Holy One shine upon you, giving you long years, and may you hear the prophetic calls of our times.
May there be an amulet around every Black person's body, in this time and always.
יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃
May you find a way to stay connected to that which is whole in you.
May we have the courage to let go, and open to that which is indestructible in us.
Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.