For Lovers of Peace

 

 

Beer Sheva is For Lovers (of Peace)

Beer Sheva Chamber of Commerce

Then

Everybody leaves Beer Sheva. Avraham left. Sarah left. What is it about Beer Sheva that everybody leaves?

Isn’t Beer Sheva a symbol for serenity, for a peaceful life? Isn’t Beer Sheva what we are all reaching for, growing towards, the Beer Sheva of the heart — rooted, peaceful, serenity of place?

Maybe all serenity of place is illusion; it’s not a matter of place at all, maybe we are invested too much in place. Insitutional. Building, all that for lesser imaginations.

Jacob collides with place after he leaves Beer Sheva. Vayifga’ (28:11). Jacob leaves a place of serenity and collides with the place that he comes to; once you leave that one place, all arrivals are collisions with place because you never belong anywhere like you once belonged somewhere. There is only one such somewhere (hello Detroit).

What a difference from grandfather Abraham, his spiritual ancestor (in this section Jacob is referred to as Abraham’s son), his grandfather goes To (lech lecha) jacob Leaves From (vayetze).

 

Beer Sheva Chamber of Commerce

Now

They built it in the desert. Plenty of room here. Ben Gurion knew that. You can live here, stretch out. It’s hot but beautiful.

Still, what is this story if not suspicious of place, a place is its people. Let’s make our place secure, the heart’s place. Let’s build it strong. Within. Make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell Within Them (Ex.25:8). It’s another Inside Job.

Change vocabulary from going to, leaving from, to Within.

With the first word, vayetze (28:10), Rashi the poet brought down that a tzaddik/righteous person leaves an impression in a place. When a tzaddik leaves a place, the tzaddik leaves a space behind her, an impression, the tzaddik is that place’s grandeur don’t you know.

The place is authenticated by the person. What if there are no tzaddikim in a place? That’s the shadow side, as if it could happen, as if it might have already. As if it’s happening now.

Here’s The Principle

Yeshiva_morocco

On Kedoshim:
Eavesdropping at the Imaginary Yeshiva

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of your neighbor (Lev. 19:17).

You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem (Lev. 19:18).

Two friends are learning in chevrusa (traditional form of yeshiva learning, based on studying in cells of two).

One says to the other, what do you make of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” in context?

They look at each other. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, one of them says, that’s where we begin, cleansing the heart of hatred.

Of course, that’s obvious. Brother!

Brother! Like us.

You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of your neighbor.

Now that you take it in context, it’s unusual isn’t it, this progression from you shall not hate to you shall surely rebuke, why would you rebuke your neighbor? What has your neighbor done?

Say your neighbor is a drug addict.

Oh my God.

Stay with me, your neighbor is taking drugs. You don’t approve. You see it, you have evidence, you may have even witnessed it yourself. It’s not a theoretical problem. You remember Maxie don’t you?

Poor Maxie. Nobody knew what to do for him, so we did nothing.

Yeah, well that’s what we got going here. You don’t approve, you know something is wrong but you may not even know what it is, but something is not ay-yi-yi so you rebuke your neighbor.

You rebuke him?

Yeah, you do something. You tell the truth, even at the expense of relationship, you approach him and say hey, I’m worried about you, you do this, you do that, you don’t put him down but you have got to do something. It’s not a theoretical problem.

You got that right.

You rebuke him, because to have that knowledge and do nothing? That’s contributing to the problem. I’m not using rebuke here in the sense of shaming him but in the sense of saying: stop. Drawing a line. Maybe even getting in his face. Hey – stop this. Get some help. Or maybe even going to somebody else.

Wow. What a concept. Just like with Maxie. We did nothing, and you know what? When it came down, I felt kind of. . .you know. . .responsible. I really did!

Yeah, so did I. You know why? Because we didn’t rebuke him. But the verse continues, don’t think that I came with just this one word to rattle in a bottle like a coin. . .

Oh stop with that stuff.

Sorry. Let’s continue with the verse, you shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of your neighbor (Lev. 19:17 ). Not bear sin because of your neighbor, that means, like with Maxie, it was our responsibility to rebuke him, but not to bear his sin. With Maxie, sin means sickness. Because it was, after all, his problem. But there’s the rub: it’s his problem, still we are called to rebuke him, but not to carry responsibility for his sin. It’s his sickness, but still, we are called to do something.

Yeah, wow, I remember how it was with Maxie. When Yudi did say something, Yudi rebuked him, he turned it against Yudi. Who are you, Maxie said to Yudi, to get in my face? It’s my business, what’s wrong with you? he said to Yudi. So Yudi ended up feeling bad, bearing Maxie’s sin, but you know what? That was part of Maxie’s problem: place the responsibility everywhere but himself. Wow, I really see it now.

Yes, now let’s finish with our verse. Leviticus 19:18, You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem.
We rebuke, but we don’t hate, nor do we bear the sin — it’s Maxie’s problem, not ours — and when he Maxie plays us like he did? We don’t get vengeful. The guy is, after all, sick. Not only do we not get vengeful, but we bear no grudge, we are clean about Maxie, we don’t judge him. That’s the hardest part. As a matter of fact, we love him. We love Maxie because only out of love will come the right action. Only through love will the healing happen.

You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am Hashem. That’s the way of Hashem, to know that if healing is to happen, it has to happen through love. No matter what our history is with each other, we cannot be a source of healing or help or truth or transformation for each other — because that’s what it takes with someone like Maxie, with someone like me, I’m no different from Maxie! — that’s what it takes to be a healing force in another person’s life. No expectations, no blaming, no shifting of responsibility, no avoidance, no revenge, no judgment, only the truth. And love. It has to come out of love. Only love has that kind of power to heal.

That’s what we could have done with Maxie. Here’s the principle: lead with love, always. It seems so simple, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t obvious.

Maybe that’s the deal with these two verses. Notice that we don’t lead with love, but we come to love, after having moved through don’t hate, surely rebuke, don’t bear sin, don’t take vengeance, don’t bear a grudge, but — love. I am Hashem: the way of love, the true course of transformation.

Phew. You got that right.

Good session.

Yeah, thanks. Be here tomorrow?

For sure. Sometimes I feel if I had come into the world only to hear these words, it would have been enough.

You’re not going to fall on your face are you?

I might. You got a problem with that?

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom, and the Central Reform Congregation, in St. Louis, Missouri.

How I Met Abraham our Ancestor

beth el yamasaki

How I Met Avraham Avinu [Abraham our father]
On Parashat Lekh Lekha

I remember standing with Avraham Avinu on the corner of Davison and Courtland, I must have been four years old. It was summer, hot that day in Detroit. There was a Texaco station on that corner, and he was standing in the doorway of the gas station. I was walking with my aunt towards our house. Abraham motioned us to come into the station, “red pop?” he offered.

I recognized him from playing in the alley next to the gas station. When I met him that day, he took my face in his hands, called me a mazik (a very well behaved young gentleman, always polite and does what he is told).

Later, as we were walking home, I asked my aunt, “Who was that man?” “Avraham Avinu,” she said, “standing in the opening of his tent.” I was four years old and I took her literally. I had just met Abraham our father at the Texaco station, doing what he was known for: welcoming strangers, practicing kindness.

In this week’s reading, we encounter Abraham as Avram; note the difference in name, signifying the father of one nation, in Genesis 16:15 the nation that will issue from Ishmael. His name also means exalted father; he is exalted because his soul was rooted in the highest Godliness. God will invest Avram with the fatherhood of Ishmael and Isaac, and the children of Ishmael and Isaac, and when Avram becomes Avraham, the extra syllable signifies he would become father to many nations (Genesis 17:5). We are descended from Isaac, and the Arab peoples we imagine, are descended from Ishmael. We will spend much of our future trying to find our way back to each other. It begins with respecting our daddy.

I have met Avraham Avinu many times. Once he welcomed us into his tent in the Sinai by lamplight, rubbing sandalwood oil on my daughter’s tired legs. I met him again in the old market where he served me sweetened tea, green and minty. He gave me eagle feathers to pluck my instrument. Once he peeled oranges for us by the sea. Another time he called me on his cell phone to offer a ride to the airport. “Anything I can do,” said Avraham Avinu, as if it was his motto, his purpose, which it was.

Our future depends on remembering him. We will have to be him. We will have to work this quality of kindness, the quality of compassion as he once did effortlessly and naturally. We will have to work it consciously and intentionally, because we have come a long way from our Sources and the return will have to be self-reflective and intentional, a return in spite of ourselves in spite of our detractors. But we have a good model in Avraham Avinu, and he is everywhere among us, around us, within us.

james stone goodman

Noah, part 2: Come Into The Word

Noah manuscript

Come Into The Word

On Noach

Part 2

Then there’s the story of your decline. You turned to the sauce (Gen.9:21). It’s no excuse to say you humiliated yourself the way you did (with your children present yet) because you were spiced up, as Grandfather used to say. You got attached to substances. When you get attached that way Noah anything can happen and often does. You begin to violate all the codes of behavior you thought you would never violate. The first step Noah: take responsibility. It was not the drink acting, it was Noah drunk.

Here is the secret sense of that problem: the emptiness within. That sense of entitlement Noah you began with (6:9), if you don’t move through that you could be lost that way your entire life. And you will leave behind a world of mess: your children – a legacy of mess (9:25).

There is no filling a hunger that isn’t physical; that emptiness within Noah, we know that’s the root problem. You can’t drink enough you can’t drug enough you can’t eat enough you can’t spend enough you can’t fill enough a hunger that isn’t physical. The only antidote is spiritual, the perennial remedy, the real deal, a spiritual remedy.

The clues are all in the Book, Noah. Come into the teivah (7:1), the Book invited you. It means Word in addition to Ark. And if you didn’t know that or if you forgot, someone should have reminded you: Come into the Word.

Noah, you could have walked into the Word, become a tzaddik in language, talked through all your complicated stuff because that is the enduring remedy. Talk it work it get honest about it confront it ultimately eclipse it. Grow beyond your limitations. Talk with your healers, let them mix medicines when you need that kind of help – science and spirit — and deal with it. Go to any lengths. Enter the Word. That’s the healing power, the power in language.

You could have become a tzaddik in loshen, Noah, a righteous person in language, and saved everyone.

jsg.usa

Come Into The Word

byzantine-art-noah-drinking-wine-mosaic-baptistery-of-st-mark-s-basilica-venice-italy

Come Into The Word

On Noach

Come on back in Noah. You had such a good start, a guy with promise. The way the Book refers to you, ish tzaddik (Gen.6:9), such a lofty description. A righteous man. Maybe that’s what held you back, too much opportunity. Maybe you had too much and you know how that happens, you felt entitled. Everyone telling you you’re an ish tzaddik, a righteous person, maybe as you grew you didn’t develop and came to expect what you had not earned. Hey, who’s the righteous person in the room?

That may be part of the problem for you: the room. The Book reads a righteous person then a couple of qualifiers: just right for your generation (6:9). Uh oh. What if your generation was not so elevated, what if you were born into a generation that was not so lofty? To be an ish tzaddik in that generation might not be such great shakes.

Grandfather of blessed memory used to refer to you as a tzaddik in peltz. What kind of tzaddik might you be? He would ask. A tzaddik in a fur coat, and then he would laugh that laugh that was heard from one end of the room to the other, the kind of laughter that suggested we’re all a little ruined here. When you’re cold, you can light a fire at the hearth and everyone warms up. Or you can put on your fur coat. That’s the Noah kind of tzaddik, he would say, a righteous person in a fur coat.

That’s a hard problem Noah and we all have some sympathy for you. Later in life, if you had learned to read better, you might have seen the signs in the Book. The clue to your redemption is there too. Come into the teivah, Noah, the book reads (7:1). That could have been your salvation. Come into the Ark, teivah, same word used for our beloved teacher Moses (Ex.2:3,5) who came out of the teivah in the bulrushes. You might have entered the wrong kind of teivah, Noah. In that ark you saved yourself, your kids, the wives, and two of every kind of those sweet Dr. Dolittle animals.

Then there’s the terrible acting out of your decline. You turned to the sauce (Gen.9:21). It’s no excuse to say you humiliated yourself the way you did (with your children present yet) because you were spiced up, as Grandfather used to say. You got attached to substances. When you get attached that way Noah anything can happen and often does. You begin to violate all the codes of behavior you thought you would never violate. The first step Noah: take responsibility. It was not the drink acting, it was Noah drunk.

Here is the secret sense of that problem: the emptiness within. That sense of entitlement Noah you began with, if you don’t work it you could be lost that way your entire life. And you will leave behind a legacy of mess. Your children — they will inherit a legacy of mess (9:25).

There is no filling a hunger that isn’t physical; that emptiness within Noah, we know that’s the root problem. You can’t drink enough you can’t drug enough you can’t eat enough you can’t spend enough you can’t fill enough a hunger that isn’t physical. The only antidote is spiritual, the perennial remedy, the real deal, a spiritual remedy.

The clues are all in the Book, Noah. Come into the teivah, the Book invited you. It means Word in addition to Ark. And if you didn’t know that or if you forgot, someone should have reminded you. Come into the Word.

Noah, you could have walked into the Word, become a tzaddik in language, talked through all your complicated stuff because that is the enduring remedy. Talk it work it get honest about it confront it ultimately eclipse it. Grow beyond your limitations. Talk with your healers, let them mix medicines when you need that kind of help and deal with it. Enter the Word. That’s the healing power, the power in language.

You could have become a tzaddik in loshen, Noah, a righteous person in language, and saved everyone.

jsg.usa

Where Are Your Ears

Rooted

Give ear O heavens and I will speak
and let the earth hear the words of my mouth
May my teaching drop like the rain
my utterance flow like the dew
like storm winds upon vegetation
and like raindrops upon blades of grass. [Deut. 32:1ff.]

Remember the days of old.

G*d is a rock
perfect
all G*d’s paths are just.

From his hands Moses picked out a lightning bolt
that had burned itself into his flesh
he threw it to the ground
Give ear O heavens
let the earth hear the words of my mouth
he plied a thunderbolt out of his teeth
and buried it in the ground,
he began to teach:

G*d was like an eagle
arousing its nest
hovering over its young
spreading its wings
carrying them
touching and not touching. [Rashi on 32:11]

Compassionate eagle
returning to the nest
not to disturb its young,

Protecting eagle
covering in flight [Ibn Ezra on 32:11]
G*d covers us flying flying.

Blessing dwells and awakens the life force within
rooted we are
inwardliness – awakening
heaven and earth
the stories and the written text.
let the teachings drop like rain [Deut. 32:2]
bringing forth fruit,

Remember the days of old.

So you got fat [Deut. 32:15]
G*d would have suckled you with honey from a rock
and oil from a flinty stone
butter of cattle milk of sheep
fat of lambs
but you became thick
and kicked —

Well, you can always come back.
Return, O Israel.
kick and drink the good wine from the grape
unfermented blood of the grape.

Give up your non-G*ds
non-people
become real.
You’re a generation of reversals. [Deut. 32:20]

Who is a rock
who is perfect
whose paths are just —
what is the climbing vine
the fructifying rain.

Remember the days of old
understand the years of generation to generation.

Return O Israel to your G*d [Hosea 14:2]
I will heal their disloyalty
I will love them freely. [Hosea 14:5]

Tell them
they can always
come home.

Moses spoke all the words of this poem
into the ears of the people
Moses and his successor
Hoshea son of Nun.

Then G*d spoke to Moses on that very day

apply your hearts to all these words [Deut. 32:46-47]
for it is not an empty thing
it is your life.

jsg.usa

An angel came to me and brought Torah Haazinu
Maqam* Bayat (D E half-flat F G)
*The Maqam gives a distinct musical character to every Sabbbath.

You Are Standing

On Nitzavim You Are Standing
the sedra of 9/11/2001

We are standing today
all of us
the big shots
chumps
children
wives and sweethearts
–and the stranger
that is within
all of us
before Hashem The Name
God
–from the hewers of wood
to the carriers of water
all of us
today.

To cut a deal with You
So — You will remember the deal
You cut with our ancestors
good people
eager covenant cutters.

But not for us alone
do You keep this agreement
not for us who are here
today
but for those of us
who are not here
today.

This deal that I set before you this day
(You know which one I mean)
it is not too far from you
that you should say
who shall go for us
nor is it too hard for you
that you should say
who will do this for us.

It is not in heaven
and it is not hidden
and it is not distant
but right here
under your nose
it is in your mouth
and in your heart
it is sitting next to you on the bench
waiting for the bus
it is standing on the corner
in front of Starbuck’s
watching for the light to change.

Close
that you should do it.

Look
see
look see:
I have placed before you
the life and the good
the death and the not-good.

Love Hashem
walk like God
do the right things
the simple things and the complex things
figure out what you can for yourself
and be wise together
then you will multiply
and God will grow you
and bless you.

But if you don’t listen
and fly away
I tell you
I surely tell you
you will be lost
and your days will not be lengthened
on the land.

So I call heaven and earth together
to witness for you and against you
I have placed life and death before you
blessing and curse.

Choose life
choose blessing
love God
listen
glue yourself to God
for God is your life
and the length of your days —

God promised your ancestors
God promised them
I swear.

jsg, usa