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Friday, October 30, 2009

Parshat Lekh L'kha ....The Journey Within

This week's parashah/portion is Lekh L'kha (Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-17:27). In
this parashah, God speaks to Abram, saying to him "Lekh L'kha ... go forth
(also translated/interpreted as 'go for yourself' or 'go [in] to yourself') from
your land, the place of your birth, from your father's house to the land that I
will show you." Thus begins the journey of Abram and Sarai, later Abraham and
Sarah, to the land of promise, which is unknown to them and which God will show
them.

As they begin their journey Abram performs a sacrifice at dusk, as
commanded by God, as he lay out the pieces of the animals to be
sacrificed we read, "And behold, a great, dark horror fell upon Abram
when the sun was going down. God said, 'Know for sure that your
offspring will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and they will serve
them and be afflicted for 400 years. But I will judge that nation that they
will serve. Afterward they [Abram and Sarai's descendants] will come out with
great wealth. But you will go to your ancestors in
peace; you will be buried in a good old age (Gen. 15:10-15)."

I could not help what imagine what this journey to the self, this
journey to a strange domain that he was to be shown by God, might
entail. It is not surprising that a great dread would fall upon Abram when the
sun was setting, and one can only imagine how his dread might have multiplied
when told that his ancestors would be enslaved for 400 years, even though he
would die a good death at a ripe old age.

If Lekh L'kha can be interpreted as "go into yourself" one can read these
passages, and the entire parashah - if not the entire narrative - as a journey
into the self of Abram. That is what I would like to imagine at this moment.


The Journey Within



Journey
Where
Inside
Who
Yourself
What

God has spoken
I must begin
I must go
Inside
To a place
Unknown
A place
I trust
God
Will show me

Inside
My self
No self
I see
Nothing
Darkness
I feel
Something
Dread
I sacrifice
Past
Family
Certainty
Comfort
To
For
God

I should be
Happy
Content
Enlightened

I am
Afraid
Uncertain
In the dark

I hear
God's voice
Again
Or is it mine
It does not matter

Go deep
Inside
Where you fear
To go
See
In yourself
What you fear
To see

Know
There will be
Struggle
You will
Descend
Into enslavement
Of the self

You will know
Darkness
Fear
Anger
Sorrow
Oppression
Disappointment
Horror

You will
Know
These
For they are
Part of you
Of me
Of life

I stop
I want
To return
Go home
To
Where I was
Who I was
What I was

I cannot
For it is
No more


Why
Move ahead
Go Deeper
Inside

Why
Face
The fear
Within

Why
Begin
The journey
Into
The darkness

Because
Says God
It all leads
To the end
To me

You must
Descend
In order to ascend
You must
Know fear
To learn fearlessness
Feel darkness
To see light
Experience oppression
To know freedom
Envelope yourself in nothingness
To arise
To experience
To know
The all of the Divine

You must know life
In order to die
You must know death
In order to live

Begin
Continue
Begin again
Continue once more
Return
Begin again
Your journey
Down
Deep within
To the darkness
So you
Can arise
To the light
Of Life
To Me

Only then
When you reach
The end
Which is not
The end
Can you say
This is good
For you have known
Good and bad
Joy and sorrow
You know the difference
You are not in Eden
Not in the womb
Not in your parents house
Not where you were

You are
Where you are
You are
Living as you must live
So that you will know
Life
And
Death
The All of Being
Eternity
Divinity
Humanity

That is
The journey
You
I
Each of us
Must
Begin

Friday, October 23, 2009

Was Noah a Righteous Man?

Noah haya ish tadik v’tamim b’dorotav. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his age. This simple verse with which our parasha opens has been the basis for much discussion by the rabbis and others through the generations. In 12th century France, perhaps Rashi encapsulated the argument best. To paraphrase him “on the one hand the fact that Noah could be a righteous man in an age when everyone else was so debased and immoral makes him more worthy; on the other hand, he was only considered righteous in comparison to the unrighteous ones of his age. Had he lived in the time of Abraham, when righteousness abounded, he would not have been considered righteous at all.” So… will the real Noah please stand up. Was he a righteous man bravely facing the injustice of his age, or was he simply an OK guy who seemed good because everyone else was so bad?

The consensus of our rabbis of old seemed to be that Noah was what they call in Yiddish, a tzaddik im pelz. Literally this means a righteous person in a fur coat. Personally, this one of my favorite images. This is so not only because of the possibility for humor to be found in the image of Noah sitting around in a fur coat (something that not even Bill Cosby could have imagined), but because the image is so descriptive in its simplicity. Imagine a freezing cold day in a time when central heating was non-existent. In those days there were two ways of keeping warm, wrapping yourself in fur or blankets or lighting a fire. One way you take care of your needs only. The other way you may not be quite as warm yourself, but you also help give warmth to others. Noah clearly seems to be the former at first glance. He takes care of himself and his family and the animals on the ark, but does little to help the rest of humanity. This is in stark contrast to his descendant Abraham who, when told about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, argued with God to save the people of those cities if even 10 righteous people could be found.

Noah is righteous because he follows God’s word, but he is lacking because he doesn’t try to help others. Or was he?

It is true that one has to look at the nature of Noah’s righteousness in the context of his generation. But the different interpretations do not necessarily make him out to be more or less righteous. Perhaps then it is not a matter of how righteous he was, but what was the nature of his righteousness. Perhaps it wasn’t that he was a tzaddik im pelz, taking care only of his own needs. Perhaps instead he was simply a humble man who didn’t have the strength to argue with God because he didn’t view himself as particularly righteous or as a leader. Again, we contrast this with Abraham who was clearly a leader and a strong personality both in the biblical text and in the midrash. After all, it takes a lot of strength and security to smash your father’s idols – both literally and figuratively.

The Hassidic rebbe Yechiel of Alexander reminds us of the teaching of his rebbe, Simhah Bunem of Przysucha that each of us must carry two slips of paper in our pockets. On the first slip is written the verse from Genesis (18:27) “I am but dust and ashes.” On the second slip is written the Talmudic verse “For my sake was the world created” (Sanhedrin 37). Depending on where we are in our lives each of these verses is meant to serve as a corrective. For the yetzer ha’rah, the inclination to evil that exists within each of us, can lead us to feelings of self-exaltation self-denigration depending on the situation. Simcha Bunem’s teaching reminds us that when we are feeling an excess of pride we must remember that each of us is but dust and ashes. Conversely, when feeling worthless we must not forget that the world was created for each of our sakes. Noah, says Simha Bunem, surrounded by evil and licentiousness must have felt dejected, depressed and yet he acted as if the world were created for him. That was at the heart of his righteousness. The text says that he was righteous and blameless. Simha Bunem interprets this as meaning that Noah viewed himself as righteous and blameless because he held fast to the belief that the world was created for his sake. Now you could argue that he took this dictum too much to heart by ignoring everyone else and yet, says Simha Bunem, he needed to hold fast to this belief in order to remain righteous amidst such wickedness. However, he continues, had Noah lived in the time of Abraham he would have instead considered himself as dust and ashes. Not because he was unrighteous, but because in a time when one is surrounded by righteousness a degree of humility is needed in order to keep things in balance.

And so that brings us back to Rashi’s original question: was Noah considered righteous only because he lived in the time he did? Based on the Hassidic sources I just cited, I would say that the answer is no. Rather, the verse can be interpreted to mean that Noah considered himself as righteous in order to stand up to the evil in the world and not be swallowed up by it. Had he lived in Abraham’s time he would have considered himself as dust in order to compel himself to continue his righteous behavior rather than resting on the laurels of that generation. In either case Noah would be the same Noah exhibiting the same behavior.

But the question still remains, why didn’t he stand up to God and challenge the destruction of humanity as Abraham challenged the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Perhaps the answer is simply that Abraham had the luxury of being able to stand up to God because, with the exception of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (and probably a few others), he had basically lived among the righteous. On the other hand, Noah – surrounded by evil -- knew that if the people of the world were saved it would simply provide more opportunities for him, and the few other righteous people to be tempted into joining the crowd. Noah became a tzaddik im pelz, wrapping himself in the protective warmth of his righteousness in order to protect him from being dragged down to the level of everyone else around him.

I believe this interpretation holds a message for our world today. So many people today feel as if maintaining the moral high road is a difficult, if not impossible task. Drugs, violence, prejudice, excess and greed seem to dominate so much of our society. Whether in the streets of our cities, the halls of our school, on television and movies or in the seats of government and finance, today there are many who are held up as virtuous though they are deemed so only in contrast with the corruption that surrounds them. There are others in public positions pretend to be virtuous because they don’t want to be associated with corruption.

For our children today trying to be righteous is not an easy task. They are surrounded by peers and others who are participating in less than desirable activities; they see leaders on both the national and local level who are engaged in immoral activity or exhibiting pseudo-morality by clearly skirting around certain issues rather than simply confessing to human transgressions. It is easy in this kind of environment to believe that we are all but dust and ashes and to sink to the lowest common denominator. But the answer from Jewish tradition is to do just the opposite. Like Noah we must remember in the face of everything around us that the world was created for the sake of each and every one of us. We must also remember that, though it may seem like corruption and immorality is rampant, as in the days of Noah, that there are more people out there who are taking the high road and acting in moral ways than the media and others would lead us to believe. In order to teach ourselves and our children to be righteous in our age we must look up to those who serve as examples, whether they be leaders, politicians, teachers or clergy or whether it’s simply the person down the street or your local mail carrier.

We must also try not to be a tzaddik im pelz whenever possible. For when we do we are closing ourselves off from the rest of the community and the others who may be on the path with us. We are separating ourselves from those other people striving for righteousness who can support us and to whom we can lend support. However, if like Noah, any of us are put in a situation where it seems that everyone around us is taking the low road it is then that we must wrap ourselves in the warmth of Torah and tradition and of the ethics and values imparted to us by our heritage and by our families and cut ourselves off from those around us – no matter who they are or how attractive they might seem to us – if we are in danger of being dragged down with them. This is the message that we must give to our youth and that is the way we must all live our lives if we are to turn our world around and work towards the day when we can say of all humanity that we are righteous in our age – or in any age. Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bereshit: The Creation of Truth

This week we begin again the annual Torah reading cycle with Parshat Beresheet (Genesis/Beresheet 1:1-). In the parashah we read the creation story, within which God says “Let us make adam/human in our image…” For centuries the plural nature of this verse has been explored. In a midrash/rabbinic legend, the rabbis imagined a conversation between God and the angels. The angels of love, truth, justice and peace argue about whether or not the human should be created. Truth claims that the human should not be created because he will lie. Peace proclaims the human should not be created because she will make war. How does God react? God throws the angel of Truth to the ground and in that moment when the angels are caught unawares God created the human.

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev questioned why God left Peace alone, since the angel had also argued against human’s creation. His answer is that it is each human being’s search for and r of his/her individual truth as THE Truth that brings about war and strife. Only with Truth cast to the ground can peace be allowed to flourish and grow.

Given the current state of our world, where so many claime that their truth is THE truth, thereby bringing about strife, war and bloodshed, I find this teaching to be quite poignant. I would like to share at this time my own thoughts on this, in poetic form.

Shabbat Shalom.


The Creation of Truth … The Truth of Creation

Angels struggling
With for against
God
To create
Us
Humans
Beings
Filled with
Love
Truth
Justice
Peace
Hatred
Lies
Prejudice
War

Angels striving
One with the other
One with God
God striving
To create
Imperfect perfection
Human Being

Chaos
Turmoil
Truth
Cast down
Banished from
The heavenly garden
In that moment
God creates
Me
You
Humanity
All
At once
At one
With God

Truth and Peace
Holy coalition
Were right
We should not
Have been
Created
For we
Create
Lies
Masquerading as truth
Create
War
Masquerading as peace-seeking

God knew
How could
God not
The human
Would beget
Words
Begetting
Truths
Begetting
Lies
Begetting
Strife
Begetting
Peace
Such is the
Geneology
Of our creation

Yet
We evolve
To discover
My truth
Is not
Your truth
Is not
Their truth
Is not
The truth

Such a thing
Does not exist

Yes
The truth
Exists
It is
The one
The all
Within
The many
Creating
Each moment
Dichotomies
Like twins
Struggling
Within the womb
To become
Unified
United
One

Adonai Ehad
God is One
All is One
We are One
In Truth

That is
The essence
Of creation
Of truth
Of existence
Now
Let the angels
The humans
The divine
Understand
And create
The reality
From
The
Eternal
Dream

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Midrash on the Death of Moses

This Sunday or Saturday (depending on which tradition you observe) we celebrate Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah). On this festival Jews around the world finish reading the end of the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy and then begin reading the start of Bereshit/Genesis.

In honor of the end of the Torah reading cycle I would like to share with you a midrash on the death of Moses that I wrote. This is a follow-up to another midrash focusing on Gershom, the oft-forgotten eldest son of Moses. In this midrash Gershom discovers that God and Moses had an agreement that neither of Moses's sons would succeed him as leader, as Moses did not want either of them to be as alienated from his family and his people as he was in his life.

I hope you enjoy this sequel. If you'd like to read the first midrash please let me know and I can post it or send it to you.

Chag Same'akh - Happy Holiday,
Steven


A Kiss Divine


Moses stood at the top of Mt. Nebo and surveyed all that was before him. "So, this is the land," he said, "This is the place of promise and the end of my journey." Until that moment Moses's eyes remained as bright and clear as they had been when he first beheld the Burning Bush, or when he witnessed the miraculous splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Throughout 40 years of wandering the intensity, which burned in them when he first approached Pharaoh demanding the people's freedom and when he smashed the tablets at the foot of the Golden Calf, never died. Now, suddenly his eyes began to dim. A sadness could noticed - if anyone were there to see them. "Promise!" Moses said, " I should have known better than to put my faith in a promise, even from God. This land, the promise of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, was never to be my promise, was it?" There was no answer, which was not exactly what he expected. Always before, especially on mountaintops, God would always respond to Moses’s questions. Perhaps God was preoccupied. Perhaps God was deeply pondering the question and trying to formulate exactly the right response for God's beloved servant. So Moses waited ... and waited ... and waited. No response. Finally, Moses asked his question again, "God, was the land ever truly to be my promise, even before I struck the rock? Did you simply lead me to believe it was to be so that I would do your bidding all those years?" Again, no response. Moses's sadness began to turn to anger, "God, why are you hiding your face from me again? Why won't you respond? Why are you leaving me to die alone? Where is your Presence?" The only response Moses heard was the echo of his words floating over the mountain.

Alone. Utterly alone. For the first time since the days when he was wandering in the desert after fleeing Egypt and before he came upon the camp of the Midianite priest Jethro and his daughter Tzipporah. Alone. No family. No community. No God - it seemed. Suddenly he heard a voice speaking softly to him, "You are not alone." Moses listened closely. He knew the voice well, but it was not the voice he had expected to hear at this moment. Moses turned around and, looking up, he saw Gershom, his eldest son, standing there with tears streaming down his face. Gershom sank to his knees and tightly embraced his father. Moses sat there for a moment not knowing what to do. After 120 years this was actually a new experience for him. Then he tilted his head slightly, just enough so that it rested on the top of his son's head and he too began to weep. At that moment Moses wept as he had never wept before. He wept for his Egyptian family who certainly must all be dead by now; he wept for his Israelite family, Yocheved, Amram, Miriam and Aaron, all dead. All buried by Moses himself. Yet he never had time to mourn them for, after all, the people needed him. He wept for those slaughtered after the Golden Calf incident at his command. He wept for all those who had died during the years of wandering. But most of all, he wept for himself - and for the two sons whom he had never really known. Moses’s and Gershom’s tears dripping onto the sandy earth beneath them and flowed together into a river of tears.

After what seemed like an eternity Moses spoke, "Gershom, I am glad that you are here with me. But what made you come? I never expected this." "Nor did I," replied Gershom, "but I realized that I could not let you die without seeing you one last time." "And your brother?” Moses asked rather tentatively. "I don't know where Eliezer is. I haven't seen him for days. But I wouldn’t expect him to come. Then again, I wouldn't have expected me to come either. I assumed that was this was another one of those 'Dad and God' moments, so there was no room for me." For the first time Gershom noticed a look of pain in his father's eyes as the old man began to speak, "I am sorry for that. I cannot undo the past. It all seems like a dream right now. But we have this moment to be together for the last time, or perhaps for the first time. Let us make the most of it. Still, I don't understand what brought you here?" "Not what," replied Gershom, "but who.” Moses looked puzzled as his son continued, "It was God who helped me to see that I needed to come. It was God who helped me to understand that you are passing the mantle of leadership to Joshua not because you thought him more deserving, but because you made God promise not to make my brother or me your successor in order to protect us from your fate. You didn’t want us to be isolated and alone as you have been through so much of your life."

Moses felt at once stunned and relieved. The secret was finally revealed! And by the ultimate Revealer at that!

"Gershom, in many ways I feel blessed to have been chosen to be God's messenger and to lead the people to this moment. Yet this blessing was also a curse. I was cursed that I was unable to truly be a father to you and your brother, or for that matter a husband, brother or son as well. Being God's right hand man is a full time position unlike any other. I know that I have done well and helped prepare the people to go into the Promised Land, but I am afraid that I have not prepared you or your brother very well. I have left you no legacy. I am leaving you alone without ever having been able to be with you while I was alive. For this I am deeply saddened and sorry."

Gershom held his father as again his tears flowed, mingling with his father's and soaking into the sand beneath them. After a long silence Gershom responded, "Father, I know now that you did what you did because it was what you needed to do. What I thought was indifference and rejection was really a part of the pain and sadness that you were feeling. I wish that I had been able to see that then, but I am glad that I can see it now before you leave me. I only wish my brother were able to see it as well." At that moment Gershom heard footsteps behind him. He turned hoping with all of his being that he would see his brother standing there. But this was not to be so. Instead it was Joshua, the man whom he had hated up until a short time ago. The man who had been chosen to take his father's place instead of him or his brother. "Gershom," Joshua said, "it is time to go. God has told me that your father must be alone at the moment of his death." "No," said Gershom emphatically, "God has been with my father every step of the way. I have never sought to be there when I knew that it was not my place. But I will not leave my father at the moment of his death. I deserve to be with him and he deserves to have me there." Joshua just stared at him. The look in Gershom's eyes was so similar to the look in Moses's eyes when he first caught a glimpse of the Golden Calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Joshua knew then that Gershom could not be moved.

Before Joshua had a chance to respond Moses spoke, "Joshua, please leave us. I need to speak with my son. If God wants me to be alone when I die then I will wait to receive the message directly from the Divine lips as I always have." Knowing better than to argue, Joshua bowed his head. He looked into Moses’s eyes one more time, realizing that this was the last time that he would see him. Then he turned and left.

Then Moses arose and put his hands on Gershom's shoulder. "My son, on this day I have placed my hands upon Joshua's head and passed to him the mantle of leadership. I have also addressed each of the tribes, the children of Israel, and blessed them. But I have not yet blessed you, my son. You who are blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh. Before I die I want to offer you a blessing. I know that it is no substitute for the years when I was not with you, but I hope that it will allow us to at least treasure this moment when we shall last see each other." With these words Gershom bowed his head, as if by instinct, and Moses placed his hands up the ebony curls of his eldest son.

And Moses spoke to Gershom, saying, "My beloved son, may God bless you with the strength to be a leader, not of tens of thousands, but of one. May you feel the spirit of the Divine flowing through you at all times so that your soul will lead your feet in the path of righteousness, justice, kindness and compassion.

"May you always know that the spirit which guides your life desires you to join with others on the journey. May you never feel that you are alone, even when no one is near. May you always feel the sense of connection to your people and to all humanity, past, present and future, for that is your connection with the Divine Spirit.

"Finally, may the God who blessed me by showing me the Divine glory on Mount Sinai, in the descending cloud and in the holy Tabernacle, show you the divine glory that dwells within you and within everyone. May that glory always shine through your eyes, illuminating the hearts and souls of all whose lives you touch. May you live in peace with your world, your people and, most important of all, with yourself. This is my blessing. May it be God's will. May it be your will." Then Moses kissed his son's head, something that he realized he had not done since Gershom was a boy sitting on his knee in the desert of Midian.

"Now go," said Moses, "Joshua has informed me that God wants to be alone with me one last time. I must take his word for this, for it is clear that, since I am no longer God's messenger, God will only speak to me through Joshua."

"But father," replied Gershom. "Please," Moses interrupted, "the fact that you are here and that I could bless you is more than I could have hoped for. Should your brother ever ask please tell him that I am not angry. I understand why he is not here and I wish for him the same blessing that I have given you. Now go." They embraced one last time and Gershom turned and began to walk away. After he had walked a few paces he felt a warm breeze coming from behind. He then heard what sounded like a soft, soothing breath. He turned around and saw an iridescent cloud descending upon the spot where his father stood. Not taking time to think about what he was doing he ran back towards his father. He entered the cloud and felt a Presence unlike anything he had ever experienced before. The presence at once enveloped and embraced him while also urging him to return to his rightful place. Suddenly Gershom reached out his arms and felt the warmth of his father shoulders. He pulled his father close to him, barely able to see anything through the mist. Yet Moses's eyes still shown like beacons of divine light. Gershom pulled him closer and kissed his father on the lips for the last - and the first - time. At that moment he felt the breath of life rush out of his father's body as he fell lifeless into Gershom's arms.

Then Gershom heard a voice. It sounded like his father's voice. It sounded like his voice. But he knew that it was neither. "Gershom, your father is now with me. He is at peace. He is finally at home." Tears once again flowed down Gershom's face. Then God spoke again, "Gershom, look down at your feet." Gershom did so and he saw a sapling sprouting miraculously out of the desert sand. It grew before his eyes and within moments blossomed with the most beautiful flowers he had ever seen. "Gershom, this plant is growing from the spot that was watered by your tears and your father's tears. This is the spot where I will bury my most faithful servant, as a gift to him for all that he has done for me. No one will know where your father is buried, except for you. I trust that you will keep this secret because I know it is what you want. This spot will always be a place for you alone to come and be with your father's spirit. Once you are settled in the land I have promised you will see this very bush blossom wherever you dwell as a reminder of your father's eternal presence in your life. That is my blessing for you and I ask you to carry it with you along with your father's blessing. Now place your father's body on the ground next to the bush, for you are merely holding your father’s body. His soul - his essence - is with me. Then return to your family and to your people. Fulfill the blessing that your father bestowed upon you and enter the land that he could only see from afar and live there." And so Gershom did as God asked of him and returned to his people to enter the Promised Land.

Years later, as Gershom neared 120, the same age his father reached at the time of his death, he heard a young girl reading aloud the last verses of the story of the people’s 40-year journey through the desert. Gershom closed his eyes as he listened to the words being read aloud. The words penetrated his very soul, 'For there never arose another prophet like Moses who knew God face to face.' He smiled, as if to say to himself 'if they only knew.' Then, almost imperceptibly he said aloud "and there will never arise another father like Moses who, at the end of his life, came to know his son face to face." Then the final words of the Torah were read. The young girl exclaimed, "my mother told me that when it says that Moses died 'al pi adonai', by the mouth of God, it meant that he died with ‘a kiss from God!" Again, Gershom smiled, "Yes," he said to himself, "perhaps it was God's kiss at that. But isn’t that how we all shall die?" And with those words Gershom's life breath left his body and returned to its source - and to be with his father once again and for all eternity.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Welcoming Sukkot and Shabbat

Though this evening is Shabbat, it also marks the beginning of the festival of Sukkot. As one of the three pilgrimage festivals (along with Pesakh/Passover and Shavuot) it is one of the three times per year when our ancestors would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This pilgrimage was to give thanks to God for the fall harvest and to pray that the coming months would bring adequate rain for next year’s crops. The day after Sukkot ends, on the festival of Shemini Atzeret (which some view as the last day of Sukkot) the Jewish people around the world begin to insert the prayer for rain in our daily liturgy.

On Sukkot, it is also customary to read from the biblical book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes during Sukkot. This biblical book begins with the well known “Futility, futility, all is futility…” The author (traditionally believed to be King Solomon, though it was written long after he died) paints a somewhat pessimistic and even cynical portrait of a life where nothing can be certain and nothing is permanent. The author questions the meaning of life and existence, constantly claiming that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Everything that happens has already happened, no matter what we do it ultimately makes no difference. The world simply continues on as it always has and we are only here for a fleeting moment. However, the text also reminds us that, indeed, there is a “time to every purpose under heaven.” Each moment does ultimately have a meaning and a purpose – even if we do not know just then, what it is.

The sukkah, or temporary dwelling place, which we are commanded in the Torah to build and dwell in for this festival, and which many Jews still build and at least eat in (though some sleeping the sukkah as well) representing the impermanence or our world and the need to rejoice in what we have in this moment. In many ways the Book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes puts into words what the meaning of the sukkah.

Sukkot is traditionally called zman simchateinu/the time of our rejoicing. It was considered the holiday par excellence by our ancestors. On Sukkot the people would make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem and rejoice in all that they had in that moment, for they realized the uncertainty of the future. So they praised God in the moment, renewing the Covenant unconditionally and then waiting to see what the next moment would bring.

My torah/teaching that I would like to share with you Sukkot is a poem based on these concepts of Sukkot, combined with other images of Moses and the covenant with God. Let us remember the importance of this festival, which often plays ‘second fiddle’ to its immediate predecessors. Let us remember to celebrate what we have, give thanks to God for all that is and embrace the moment.


The Meaning of the Moment – a meditation for the Shabbat of Sukkot


I.

I stand here
In the sukkah
Surrounded
Four walls
That are not walls
A roof
Through which raindrops fall
Security
That is not real

As no security
Is truly
Secure
Certain
Reliable
Beyond shadow
of a doubt

Do not be
Deluded

Nothing
Is definite
But
Now

The sukkah
Is here
To teach
this


II.

Moses
Stood there
On the mountain
Wanting
Pleading
Longing
To know
God
To have
Security
But he did not
Could not

Seeing only
God’s back
God’s goodness
Moses knew what was
In that moment
He could not know
What would be
In the next

Moses could only see
God’s
Compassion
Grace
Mercy
Patience
Kindness

Moses
Needed to wait
To see what they would bring
Like us
Waiting
To see
To know
Hoping for clairvoyance
Settling for clarity
Of the present moment
That is all

It was good enough
For Moses
Why not
For us
Why do we
Need
Certainty
Security
Permanence
When none exists
When less
Was enough
The truth
For Moses

III.

Kohelet understood
Everything
Is nothing
Nothing
Is all we have
We have
What is now
Not before
Not after
Only present
Not future
Only now
Then no more

Futility
Why bother
Futility
Why be born
Futility
Why live
Futility
Why not

We know
He knew
Why

Not because
Of certainty
Not because
Of knowledge
Not because
Of our own importance

But simply
Because
We are

We are God’s presence
Here on earth
Finite representation
Of the infinite

Each moment
Each person
Has a purpose
I want to know
Mine
But
We cannot know
purpose
Until it becomes
present


Seeking to know more
We strive after wind
After unknowable knowledge

True
Futility
The essence
Of our struggle
pain
suffering
Seeking to know
That which we cannot

Kohelet knew that
Why can’t we


IV.

Do not strive
Struggle
Suffer
To know

Rather
Carve your own tablets
Create covenant
In this moment

The old covenant
Has been smashed
As it always is
As each moment ends

Write a new one
As a new moment begins

Your soul your being
Your tablet
The search for justice
Your pen
The divinehuman flow of compassion
Your ink
The love of humanity and the world
Your muse

Write a covenant
Between you and God
You and your people
You and the world

Know that it will not last
Any more than any thing
Does
Be prepared to write it
Overandoverandover again
As each moment passes into the past
And to celebrate
Each new writing
Each new fulfillment
Each new commitment
To God
To community
To self

For nothing is eternal
But God
Nothing is certain
But the power of compassion
Nothing is sure
But that the flow of mercy and love
Nothing is before us
But the present
And our relationship
With God

Perhaps for once
In this moment
Standing in the sukkah
Resting in Shabbat
Being where we are
We can
Simply
Know it
Experience it
Celebrate it
For what it is
Not what it is not
Or what it will be

This is the time
The moment
of our rejoicing
Do not let it pass

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