Last night I brought home a very special gift in honor of Rosh Hodesh Adar. A case of 10 ripe mangoes. This is a beloved fruit in our house. The haul was met with cheers of joy. Just as we were eating the first juicy bites, fears of scarcity arose. My kids asked, "How many have we eaten? How many are left? Why didn't you get 20?" They started to ration. "We need to save some for tomorrow!" I tried to reassure them and encourage them to enjoy the bounty of this tropical fruit without much success. The fruit was after all finite.
My kids awoke this morning, remembered the mangoes, and asked the most important question: "Do we have enough to share with our friends?" As soon as I assured them of this, they were completely at ease. Over and over again, my kids remind me that the ability to share is actually what produces a sense of abundance, not the quantity itself.
Each year, at this time of year, as the sap begins to flow in the trees and the days grow ever so much longer, I return to a particular teaching about abundance from this week's parsha, Mishpatim. Amidst a litany of laws about how to create an ethical society, comes this holy instruction:
אִם־כֶּ֣סֶף ׀ תַּלְוֶ֣ה אֶת־עַמִּ֗י אֶת־הֶֽעָנִי֙ עִמָּ֔ךְ לֹא־תִהְיֶ֥ה ל֖וֹ כְּנֹשֶׁ֑ה לֹֽא־תְשִׂימ֥וּן עָלָ֖יו נֶֽשֶׁךְ׃
If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them (Exodus 22:24).
A beloved midrash on this verse opens up this conversation further (Tanhuma, Mishpatim 12):
"All of God's creations borrow from each other;
day borrows from night, and night from day...
The moon and the stars borrow from each other...
The night borrows from the sun, and the sun from the night...
Wisdom borrows from understanding, and understanding borrows from wisdom...
Mercy and righteousness borrow from each other...
Heaven and earth borrow from each other...
The midrash concludes:
"A person who charges interest once asked The Holy Blessed One:
'Don't you charge interest to all of your creations? From the earth that you irrigate; From the flowers that you grow; From the luminaries that you cause to shine; From the person into whom you breathed life?'
To which the Holy One replies, 'No, never! See how much I lend, and I never collect interest. The earth lends and she doesn't collect interest. I lend to the source of all lending, and the earth renews herself in it.'"
We live in a world of abundance, and yet we feel scarcity. The voice of God in this midrash reminds us that there is enough to go around. And sharing -- mangoes and money and time and love -- is actually how we come to feel that truth.
This is at the heart of the mitzvot of Purim. To share food and treats through mishloach manot. And to give money directly to those who need it through matanot l'evyonim.
About the power of sharing, the Sufi mystic Hafiz writes:
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the
Or in the words of Pirkei Avot:
אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר, הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ
Who is rich? A person who rejoices in what they have (4:1).
As we enter this new month, may we take every opportunity to share what we have and come to feel the joy of having enough.
Happy Lunar New Year, Hodesh Tov & Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi 🦁 Lev
For the past many months, I have been co-teaching a morning class on the weekday Amidah. We begin each class by listening to a song. Mechanically speaking, I share the sound from my computer and it seemingly magically can be heard through the participants' speakers.
This morning, for unknown reasons, the sound share worked for some students but not others. And people started to write in the chat, "I can't hear it." And then others responded, "I can hear it." I had little faith in my ability to solve this technological issue. But I did have the thought, this is feeling a lot like Sinai.
When I imagine the moment of revelation, as described in this week's parsha, Yitro, I imagine the crowd of Israelites full of anticipation and uncertainty. Some eager, some skeptical, some terrified. I imagine the confusion. The thunder and the silence. The wondering: Was that the voice of the Holy One or just a low pressure system passing through? It is so hard to trust our own experience of something so unprecedented.
One midrash tells the story this way (Shemot Rabbah 5:9):
כְּשֶׁנָּתַן הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת הַתּוֹרָה בְּסִינַי הֶרְאָה בְּקוֹלוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל פִּלְאֵי פְּלָאִים, כֵּיצַד?
הָיָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְדַבֵּר וְהַקּוֹל יוֹצֵא וּמַחֲזִיר בְּכָל הָעוֹלָם...
"In the moment when the Holy Blessed One gifted Torah at Sinai, God's voice was revealed through wondrous miracles. How? The Holy Blessed One would speak and the voice (kol) could be heard from one end of the earth to the other..."
The midrash goes on to explain that the Israelites would hear the voice coming from the south and run towards it. And then they would hear it from the north and run towards it. The east, the west, the heavens, the earth. But every time they arrived, the sound was coming from somewhere else. Then the sound splits into 70 voices, in 70 languages, so that each and every person could receive Torah in their own way.
אֵצֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד לְפִי כֹּחוֹ
I am so conditioned to believe that if only circumstances were different, then I would have the capacity to make great changes or heed much-needed wisdom in my life.
But what if the opposite is true?
What if the revelation at Sinai can be received wherever we are in life, in whatever way we are most easily able to receive it?
What if we don't need to run beyond our reach, or wait for some better moment, or be anyone but who we are?
What if the clarity and connections we long for are in fact seeking us out, descending from the heavens, delicate as snowflakes?
This Shabbat, may we take the time to attune to the still small voice in our own hearts. And to know this too as Torah.
Rabbi Ari Lev
Everything I know about birth I learned through the births of my two children. Their births were in many ways extremely different from one another. One was exceedingly long and the other reasonably short. One ended in a hospital and the other at home. One went as we had hoped and the other was a practice in resilience. One felt joyful and the other painful.
And yet, what stands out most in my mind is the way in which they are most similar to each other. There were moments in each birth, forever etched into my bones, in which the lintel between life and death disappeared. In which it was not clear who would live and who would die. Time evaporated. And on the other end of that suspended reality, I was skin to skin with new life.
After the birth of each of my children, I discussed these moments with our respective midwives, and they seemed unfazed. It was completely normal. Our transition earthbound, our tender and determined arrival into the world, birth itself, is inseparable from death.
Four years ago, Valerie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, begged this provocative question, "What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb – but the darkness of the womb?"
This past Thursday, I participated in the People's Inauguration, in which Kuar revisits that question and names what we all know in our bones. Certainly the past four years have been both womb and tomb. Much has been born and much has been lost. Too much to bear in one breath.
To quote the magnificent Amanda Gorman:
"The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We've braved the belly of the beast,
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn't always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it."
As I listened to both the President’s Inauguration and the People's Inauguration, I noticed an unexpected weepiness arise. We have been invited to unclench our hearts and risk hopefulness. To unfurl and remember that liberation is possible. Which is why it is so unbelievable that this week we also read parshat Bo. In addition to the last of the three plagues, we experience the miracle of Yetziat Mitzrayim, the exodus out of the narrow place.
This is one of those weeks when the Torah portion is a reflecting pool for our lived experience and we are once again reminded that Torah is only a tree of life if we hold on to it. And when we do, it can provide shade and sustenance, its branches can be our walking stick and its trunk a rooted resting place.
In both the rabbinic and feminist imaginations, yetziat mitrayim is its own birth story, midwives and all. The transformative experience through which Israelite slaves became Am Yisrael, the people Israel. Just as the Exodus story is about the birth of a nation through the waters of the Red Sea, so too Kaur says, "We find ourselves in this country's great transition. And what do the midwives tell us to do? Breath and Push!"
In every conversation about this pivotal moment in history, I have felt the ambivalence of relief and determination. Both are true. But before we commit ourselves to the next four years of community organizing and pushing for a world that is just and whole, I invite you to head the wisdom of our mythic and modern midwives. Breath, then push.
Let this Shabbat be the deep breath we all need and deserve.
So that we are ready for the labor that awaits us.
Rabbi Ari Lev
All week I have been wavering between competing headlines in my own heart. This is the end. And, This is the beginning. It is surely both. A moment of profound transition and transformation. A vulnerable moment for a vulnerable planet -- and for us, as people subject to the plagues greed has produced. A vulnerable moment for a vulnerable democracy -- and for us, as people subject to unjust laws and leaders its rotten joists have empowered.
This has been a long and tiring week, year, and term. I have felt fear and despair. And I have had to dig deeper, to meditate longer, to offer more gratitude, and to share more generously in order to sustain my own spirits. And from talking to many of you, I know you are digging deeper, too. Just as our ancestors have done for thousands of years in the wilderness, digging and redigging wells to sustain them in uncertain times.
Lucky for us, Jewish tradition is replete with stories about personal and collective transformation, stories in which what seemed completely impossible becomes reality. Stories in which our ancestors transcended the narrowest of circumstances and created the world anew.
And while sometimes we call this a miracle and credit it to the Holy One, more often than not the sages, of blessed memory, go out of their way to recognize it as human creativity and agency. Or perhaps more aptly, the sages understand that the miraculous is ever present in our world and in our actions.
In preparation for this Shabbat, I have been meditating on the power and perils of leadership which have been on full display this week. And I have been thinking about Moses, a tender-hearted leader who extracts us out of a narrow place and leads us through the wilderness. Moses' leadership is prominent in this week's parsha, Vaera.
On Kol Nidre I taught a midrash which wonders, "How did Moses go from fleeing from Pharaoh to plunging him into the sea?"
For which the midrash offers two answers:
אֶלָּא רָאָה עוֹלָם חָדָשׁ
That he could envision a new world. An olam hadash. A world renewed.
That he fed and sustained others. Zan um'farnes. Moses materially and spiritually sustaining the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years.
On the precipice of annihilation, our ancestors had the courage to dream big and take care of each other. And according to our sages, that is what sustained them.
And that is what will sustain us.
As we learn in Pirkei Avot, the world is sustained by three things: by Torah, by Avodah, and by Gemilut Hesed. By accessing the well of Jewish teachings, by spiritual practice, and by heaps of kindness.
The hesed, you may notice, is the only sustaining force with a quantitative measure. As if to say, be abundantly kind to yourself and abundantly kind to one another. Take really good care of yourself and really good care of each other. And trust in the prophecy of Arundhati Roy, "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
May this Shabbat be that quiet day and may we find ourselves refreshed and renewed for the week to come.
Rabbi Ari Lev
All year long I look forward to Hanukkah. There are few things as peaceful as sitting in the dark and watching the Hanukkah candles burn. As a parent, I find myself wanting to light once with my kids for the raucous joy. And then again, after they are asleep, in the quiet of the night.
In many circles, Shabbat Hanukkah is one of the holiest nights of the year. It comes always in the winter solstice season, and always with the story of Joseph and his dreams. The darkest time of year is accompanied by lighting the greatest number of lights.
In fact, this is the only Shabbat of the year in which we get to observe all three mitzvot related to lighting candles - Hanukkah, Shabbat, and Havdalah. While there are other candles we are invited to light, like a shiva or a yahrzeit candle, only these three are accompanied by a blessing and in this way ritually obligated. What can we learn from the differences in practice associated with each of them?
In the case of Shabbat, the obligation is quite practical. Since one is traditionally forbidden to make fire on Shabbat itself, the light is meant to dispel the darkness on Friday night that would otherwise make it difficult to eat, read, and rejoice in each other's company. For this reason, it is considered a kind of shalom bayit, intended to increase the peace in our homes. This light is both meant to be used and internally focused.
In the case of Hanukkah however, the opposite is true. The light exists for its own sake and is meant to be dispersed. One is in fact forbidden lehishtamesh bo - to make use of it. Which is to say, while you can delight in its burning, you cannot use it to produce light for the purpose of doing any other activity. I must resist the urge to cozy up with a book beside my little menorah and read by its light. A second difference is that originally our menorot were lit in public gathering places. And even as we have moved them into our own homes, we are instructed to place them in our windows, to publicize the light. In this way the light is very externally focused, meant to be spread but not used.
What strikes me this year, as we gather in our own homes, is the specific instruction to not see the Hanukkah candles as dispelling the darkness, but rather existing within it. There is a quality of knowing and a clarity of mind that comes when we allow ourselves to be with the darkness.
One midrash teaches,
"You find that a [sighted] person who finds themself in the dark can observe what is transpiring in a lighted place. However, any [sighted person] who finds themself in a lighted place is unable to observe what is happening in the dark. The Holy Blessed One, however, can see in the dark or in the light, as it is said: 'God knows what is in the darkness…' (Daniel 2:22)" (Tanhuma Tetsaveh 8).
Or in the words of Mary Oliver,
The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
In these darkening days, I invite you to find companionship in the light that exists in the dark. To remember, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches, that a little light can permeate a lot of darkness. And to allow for the unexpected gifts of this season.
Rabbi Ari Lev
This week my kids and I have been reading the book Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth. It explores how the world came to be over the course of billions of years. The vastness of time, the evolution of all things that live, and their precariousness. Mass extinctions, minerals, fossils. It's all rather miraculous.
Did you know there was half a billion years where the earth was a giant river of volcanic lava?! And that the moon was formed when it crashed into earth. At first it was so close to our planet that days were only five hours long. And every year it moves one inch further away. Perhaps most astonishingly, modern humans are but the last two seconds on the 24-hour clock of the earth! The entire book is in many ways a macro-meditation on our smallness.
As it turns out, this week's parsha, Vayishlach, offers a micro-meditation on our smallness. Jacob returns to the Holy Land after twenty years of absence. His first act is to send messengers to his brother Esau, with hopes of reconciliation. Jacob sends his family ahead as he waits for Esau. Fearful for his life, he prays to God, in what Avivah Zornberg describes as "the first quoted prayer in the Torah" (Desire, 216).
Having invoked the God of his father Abraham, he begins:
קָטֹ֜נְתִּי מִכֹּ֤ל הַחֲסָדִים֙ וּמִכָּל־הָ֣אֱמֶ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתָ אֶת־עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֣י בְמַקְלִ֗י עָבַ֙רְתִּי֙ אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֣ן הַזֶּ֔ה וְעַתָּ֥ה הָיִ֖יתִי לִשְׁנֵ֥י מַחֲנֽוֹת׃
I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant: with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps (Genesis 32:11).
The word in Hebrew, ubiquitously translated as "unworthy" is actually the root קטן (k-t-n), meaning small or insignificant. It is the same word used to describe a minor and a younger sibling. It is a word of relative importance or size.
Ibn Ezra, known for his tendencies towards grammatical correctness, translates Jacob's prayer as "I am too small..." In this moment, Jacob assumes a posture of humility as he approaches the Holy One in prayer and praise for the goodness in his life.
So many times reading this book with my kids I thought to myself, "I am too small. I am unworthy of the kindness in my life." Given all of planetary existence, we are but specks of dust, sparks of light scattered about metabolizing light and water and trying to evolve. And in the process we are blessed in a myriad of ways with hesed and emet, kindness and truth, compassion and promises.
No doubt we are each responsible in some ways for the goodness that has come into our lives. But there is a deeper level on which we are unworthy recipients, humble servants of something larger and beyond ourselves.
In the words of the poet Naomi Shihab Nye:
"Since there is no place larger enough
To contain so much happiness (read: kindness, goodness, blessing)
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
And in that way, be known."
This Shabbat, may we be humbled by the clock of the earth and inspired by the prayers of our ancestor Jacob, to let the kindnesses in our lives flow into everything we touch. May we have humility and the courage to take no credit. And in that way be known.
Rabbi Ari Lev
The second blessing of the Amidah is all about the powers of life and death, birth and rebirth, seasons, sustenance, and survival. Themes that are ever-present in our lives, perhaps even more pronounced in these times.
מִי כָמֽוֹךָ בַּֽעַל גְּבוּרוֹת וּמִי דּֽוֹמֶה לָּךְ
Who is like you master of many powers and who has your restraint,
מֶֽלֶךְ מֵמִית וּמְחַיֶּה וּמַצְמִֽיחַ יְשׁוּעָה:
Sovereign One who causes death and creates life and cultivates salvation.
In a recent interview on the podcast "Finding Our Way," Prentis Hemphill asks Lama Rod Owens, "How would you describe where we are right now?"
Lama Owens responds, "For me, this time feels like being in labor. Our culture, our lives, the world, the country, our communities, we are in labor, we are in the process of trying to give birth to something." Lama Owens does not romanticize labor or birth. They are states of hopeful potential, and also suffering and loss.
And this is not just where we are in our world, but in our Torah too. This week's parsha describes Rebecca's difficult pregnancy with twins and the eventual birth of Jacob and Esau. In a moment of both embodied and existential crisis, she calls out:
אִם־כֵּ֔ן לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה אָנֹ֑כִי
"If this is how it is, why do I exist?"
I can imagine we each have or will have our moments this pandemic of calling out in existential angst about the state of things. So much has been revealed and so much has been lost. But as the recitation of the Amidah reminds us daily, we are called to hold birth and death in one breath.
This Shabbat falls on Trans Day of Remembrance, a day in which we honor our dead, its own epidemic. This year alone we know of 37 trans and gender non-conforming people have been murdered, mostly Black and Latinx transwomen. And we are called to say their names, to remember them.
And then in an act of Divine power,
וְנֶאֱמָן אַתָּה לְהַחֲיוֹת מֵתִים:
We faithfully give life to the dead by claiming our resilience in the face of so much loss.
I invite you to join us tonight, as we weave life and death, celebrating Shabbat and the resilience of trans lives. We will be led by a small multitude of trans voices in our community. May we all have the strength to connect to everything within our power, to sustain ourselves in the face of so much being born and so much being lost.
Rabbi Ari Lev
These weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion. Rebecca Ganetzky describes it well in her teaching about the emotional contours of Torah trope. Last weekend the city of Philadelphia felt like the Simchat Torah celebration that never was. And following moments of much needed joy, the painful reality that we continue to live through a pandemic returned. As the number of daily cases of COVID continues to set new records, we long for ways to care for our community members who are sick and isolated.
More and more I find myself turning to prayer, carving out mere moments, maybe ten minutes, to punctuate the day with a single Amidah. First and foremost, I pray for refuah shleimah, for healing of body and mind for all those impacted by this pandemic. I take a moment to call to mind all those in my orbit in need of healing. But the truth is, these days, that does not feel like enough. There is a profoundly communal nature to our suffering.
A dvar Torah published way back in March begs the question:
How widespread does disease have to be in order to pass the threshold and trigger a communal response of prayer or fasting?
The Shulhan Arukh, a 16th century law code, writes:
"Just as we fast...in times of drought, we also fast for other disasters...and so for plague. What is considered a plague? If a city of 500 inhabitants has three deaths a day (from plague) for three consecutive days, this is defined as a plague" (Orah Hayyim, 576).
I am not sure how this would correspond to the CDC's definition and metrics relative to how many cases per 100,000 people in a given population. But I do know that it reveals a longstanding rabbinic sensitivity to a threshold in the definition of an epidemic. One, that in my own bones, I feel we have crossed.
While I am not yet prepared (nor authorized!) to call for a public fast day, I do want to posit that it might be time that we each personally, and even more so communally, begin to orient ourselves toward prayer as a response to this plague. The aforementioned dvar Torah actually shares such examples across time and place, from cholera to the coronavirus.
Some even reference the evocative words of Avinu Malkeinu:
אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ כַּלֵּה דֶּֽבֶר וְחֶֽרֶב וְרָעָב וּשְׁ֒בִי וּמַשְׁחִית וְעָוֹן וּשְׁ֒מַד מִבְּ֒נֵי בְרִיתֶֽךָ
Avinu Malkeinu, remove pestilence, sword, famine, captivity, destruction, iniquity, and religious persecution from the members of Your covenant.
אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ מְנַע מַגֵּפָה מִנַּחֲלָתֶֽךָ
Avinu Malkeinu, withhold the plague from Your inheritance.
In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Chayei Sarah, following the trauma of the Akedah, of a father's near sacrifice of his son, Isaac goes out into the field to meditate.
Va'yetze Yitzchak lasu'ach ba'sadeh lifnot arev.
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the turning of evening (Gen. 24:63).
About this moment, the Talmud exclaims: What is meditating in a field if not prayer (Berachot 26b). And from this we learn that we should pray in the evening.
Rebbe Nachman, z"l, digs deeper into these words and notices that the word lasu'ach - meaning to meditate, pray, or converse - is also the root of si'ach, a bush, a shrub, even a blade of grass. It refers to green and verdant growing things.
One of my mentors, Rabbi Victor Reinstein, translates Rebbe Nachman's teaching this way:
"Know, that when a person prays in a field, then all of the grasses come within the prayer, and aid the one praying, and give to the one praying strength in their prayer. In this way, prayer is called 'sicha' (in all of its layers of meaning, prayer, meditation, and shrub)" (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 11).
L'cha dodi, come beloveds. Let us go out to meditate in the field that is Shabbat. May we feel supported from within and around as we pray for the cessation of all disease, war, famine, exile, destruction, and this very real plague. And may we know that the natural world is praying alongside us, aiding and strengthening us in this time of isolation. On this November Shabbat, we need only look out our windows and take note of the colorful leaves to join in the conversation (lasu'ach ba'sadeh).
Rabbi Ari Lev
Many truths have emerged this week. Painfully high on the list is the reality that we live in a deeply divided country, as we watch the vote roll in county by county, city by countryside. The battle for the soul of this nation has revealed that there is no unifying understanding of freedom, democracy, or justice. Perhaps the unifying force this week is that we have all been waiting, anxiously, (im)patiently. And the whole world has been watching and waiting with us.
This week has been marked by a profound sense of anticipation followed by a need for real patience as we wait for every vote to be counted. I must admit, I have refreshed the news more times than ever before in my life. I have at moments felt like a dog chasing its tail. I have also felt a kind of unexpected hopefulness; knowing that our waiting would show that years of organizing, movement building, and voter enfranchisement would reveal a new horizon.
But waiting does not come naturally or comfortably. And most often we look for a way out. Over and over again this week I have turned to these words:
כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְ֒ךָ קִוִּֽינוּ כָּל הַיּוֹם:
For your help/salvation, I wait all day long!
The line comes from the 15th blessing of the weekday Amidah, in which we beseech God to bring about the sprouting of salvation. I have taken refuge in its imagery and the long view of time it offers. The blessing begins with grassroots language, literally expressing a desire for redemption to sprout up like a shoot from the earth. It is an image of what is possible linked to a deep longing for it to come true.
Much of Jewish liturgy is actually born of longing and waiting and hoping. In fact, the word in this prayer, kivinu, from the root קוי, means all of that - to hope, to long, to wait. Waiting, says this prayer, is fertile ground.
At its core the Amidah reaches for a vision for a world that is entirely whole and just. A vision bigger than any election or even any lifetime. It connects us to the long view of history which points us toward the world to come. We name our hope for it every time we pray. And we cultivate a taste of it every shabbat.
The poet David Whyte writes,
"Longing has its own secret, future destination, and its own seasonal emergence from within, a ripening from the core, a seed growing in our own bodies; it is as if we are put into relationship with an enormous distance inside us leading us back to some unknown origin with its own secret timing indifferent to our wills, and gifted at the same time with an intimate sense of proximity, to a lover, to a future, to a transformation, to a life we want for ourselves, and to the beauty of the sky and the ground that surrounds us" (Condolences, 137).
We arrive at this Shabbat with a more intimate sense of proximity to the life we want for ourselves; the adrenaline of waiting pulsing through our blood and a long-awaited hopefulness in our hearts. I invite you to take a deeper breath. To allow the exhale to slowly bring you to a halt. And to never stop hoping for what's possible and necessary.
I gift you this song, recorded by my beloved colleague Rabbi David Fainsilber. May it guide your heart to keep waiting and longing and dreaming of a world that is whole as our ancestors have done for millennia.
Rabbi Ari Lev
The poet Rilke writes,
God speaks to each of us as [she] makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
All week I have been feeling pushed to the limits of my longing. I can imagine I am not alone. And sitting with the words of this week's Torah portion I realized this is what is meant when the Holy One calls to our ancestor Abraham: Lech lecha! Go forth, out beyond your recall; from a place of comfort and belonging, into the vast unknown of this world. Go to the limits of your longing!
Abraham heeds the call and heads out into the wilderness. In a famous midrash, beautifully recounted for us in this morning's Torah reading, Abraham's journey is likened to a person who is traveling, a person who is all of us, and comes upon a bira doleket, a burning palace (Gen. Rabbah 39:1).
The traveler cries out, "Does this palace have an owner? Who is its caretaker?" On hearing this, the owner of the palace leans out the window and calls from amidst the flames, "I am its caretaker."
We, like Abraham, are in the midst of a world on fire, stunned by the magnitude of injustice; betrayed by the malice and negligence of those in power and ever aware of our own power and responsibility to take care of each other and our world.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
In the wake of the murder of Walter Wallace, Jr., on the second anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, on the eve of this crucial election, we must heed the wisdom of our ancestors. Lech lecha! Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don't let yourself lose your center, your Source, your dignity, your power.
As we enter this Shabbat, I encourage you to carve out time to both go forth and go inward. Make a plan for how you will vote and how you will make sure every vote is counted. AND make a plan for how you will care for yourself this Shabbat and in the coming week. The journey forward and the journey inward are simultaneous and inseparable. May we all have the courage, calm, and capacity to make our lives a blessing in this burning world.
Rabbi Ari Lev
You can search Rabbi Ari Lev's blog below:
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.