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Friday, February 25, 2011

Parshat Va-yak'hel: Out of the Fire

This week’s parashah/portion is Va-yak'hel (Shemot/Exodus 35:1-38:20).  As we near the conclusion of Shemot/Exodus, we read of Moses relaying God’s instructions concerning the building of the mishkan (Tabernacle) to the people.  In the earlier part of Shemot, God gives Moses detailed instructions concerning the mishkan.  This is then followed by the commandment to observe Shabbat as a day of rest, the incident of the Golden Calf.  In this week’s parashah, the commandment to observe Shabbat is reiterated.  Moses then transmits the instructions concerning the building of the mishkan to the people and to Bezalel, the artisan entrusted with the actual construction.

Rashi (12th c. France) comments on the reminder in this parashah that after six days of working we are required to rest on Shabbat by writing that God “prefaced the instructions about the mishkan work with the warning about Shabbat, to tell them that the mishkan does not supercede Shabbat.”  As Aviva Zornberg states in her analysis (“The Particulars of Rapture,” p. 462) “an intimate tension is set up between Shabbat and the mishkan: before even beginning to speak of the building work, it is necessary to articulate a kind of ‘anti-mishkan’ principle.  After all, one might indeed have though that the mishkan does displace Shabbat, that that the crafts that go to create the holy space would continue through the weekly day of sacred [or holy] time … therefore Moses speaks of Shabbat before the mishkan work, to counteract perhaps a natural hypothesis.”  Furthermore, Zornberg reminds her readers that the beginning of the verses concerning the building of the mishkan begin with the words eileh ha-devarim (these are the things).  The 39 letters of this phrase are viewed by the Sages as pointing to the 39 categories of work involved in the building of the mishkan, which later become the 39 categories of work forbidden on Shabbat.

The Talmud teaches that acts of creation are forbidden on Shabbat.  God ceased the work of creation on Shabbat in order to enjoy the beauty of the world.  So too are we meant to simply revel in God’s created world each Shabbat.  It would seem, according to Zornberg and others, that the work of the mishkan, which was in itself holy, became such an obsession on the part of the people that God was worried that the people would not cease this work on Shabbat.  It may seem extreme to threaten death for those who desecrate the Shabbat, as the Torah does time and again.  But, perhaps the Torah’s authors found this necessary in order to emphasize the importance of Shabbat and to remind the people that it supersedes all other activities of creation – no matter how holy or important they might seem. 

In the prohibition against work on Shabbat found in Va-yak'hel, we also find a new prohibition - that against kindling fire.  As stated above, the 39 categories of forbidden work are traditionally seen as being drawn from the types of work done in building the mishkan.  However, when it comes to fire we find the prohibition of one specific act.  Yet, if the Talmud teaches that the prohibition is against acts of creation, then why is fire – which we often consider destructive – explicitly forbidden at this point?

Of course, though we associate fire with destruction, we know that in reality it is simultaneously destructive and creative.  It is impossible for fire to be purely one or the other.  When destroying its fuel it creates warmth; when lit for cooking, heating or other “creative” purposes it must in fact destroy in order to provide the needed heat.  Fire is also needed for much of the activity involved in the building of the mishkan.  In fact, it would be impossible to build the mishkan without fire. 

Beyond this, Zornberg connects fire with the problems of excess found in the Shemot/Exodus narrative.  When the people are told to bring their gold to build the Calf, tradition tells us that they bring too much and Aaron must tell them to stop.  Similarly, the Torah tells us that when the people are told to bring gifts for the building of the Mishkan they bring an excessive amount as well and Moses commands them to stop.

The Sages viewed the gold of the mishkan as atonement for the gold of the Calf.  In the incident of the Calf Aaron tells Moses that he threw the gold into the fire and “out came this calf!”  This almost comical line points to the transformational power of fire.  Fire also transforms the solid gold of the people’s gifts into the gold to be used in the mishkan.  Fire represents the ultimate creative power with which humanity is imbued – as well as the ultimate destructive power that we also possess.

It might seem to us today that many of the prohibitions of Shabbat are seemingly trivial or inconsequential in the year 2011.  However, if one realizes that the point is not to prevent us from doing what we might consider “work” in our everyday lives, but rather to prevent us from performing even the most simple acts of creation, then the laws make more sense.

Writing as someone who uses electricity, writes and lights fire on Shabbat, I can still find meaning in the specific prohibition against fire in this week’s parashah.  For perhaps the essence of the prohibition against kindling flames is that it is meant to remind us that our creative and destructive abilities are inextricably linked.  It is human excess and indulgence, as represented by the fire that magically and mysteriously produced a calf out of gold, which reminds us of this connection.  By not lighting fire for a day, by not allowing our own inner creative passions to be active, we can gain a new perspective on the world and our relation to it.  By doing this we can then rekindle our flames, as we do at Havdallah, the ceremony that ends Shabbat, and try to use them as creatively as possible during the coming six days of work.

On another spiritual level, we are also reminded that our thoughts and ideas – which are at the root of our creative ability – are also potentially destructive.  If we allow our thoughts to take on a life of their own they can carry us out of the beauty of this moment and hurl us back into the past or ahead towards the future.  Our thoughts, like fire, when allowed to burn out of control, can prevent us from doing the divine work of creation in this world.

Though it is impossible for us to stop thinking, the prohibition against fire on Shabbat can serve as reminder to us of the importance of taking “Shabbat-like” moments in our lives during which we can simply notice our thoughts, but not allow them to take control of us.  We do not intentionally try to create new thoughts; they simply appear on their own.  We should not fight against or try to destroy our thoughts.  Rather, we simply notice when they do arise and then, in the spirit of Shabbat, let go of them and pay attention as well as they dissolve into the ether. 

This is only one interpretation of the concept of Shabbat and the specific prohibition against fire.  What we should try to do is determine what flames within us need to be extinguished, or allowed to simply die on their own, at any given moment.  This holds true not just for Shabbat, but also for every day and every moment of the week.  Perhaps this is what we speak of “taking the sprit of Shabbat into the week.”  By doing so, we can then live a life that is creative, productive and rooted in the present, not in memories of the past or imaginings of the future.  This is how we imbue our entire life with holiness moment by moment each Shabbat and each day of the week. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Psalm 48: The Final Verse (verse 15)

כי זה אלהים אלהינו עולם ועד הוא ינהגנו על מות׃
For this is God, our God; forever and eternally he shall be guiding us until death.

This is the final line of the psalm.  After a series of complex images, phrases and ideas the psalmist ends with a seemingly simple, yet powerful phrase.  Yet, no verse in the psalms is ever quite as simple as it might seem on the surface.

A more traditional translation of the verse would read something like “For this is the Lord, our God; forever and ever he shall lead us until death.”  The verse begins with a reminder that God is our God.  This does not imply, as one might imagine, that God belongs to us.  For God is ours because we are all a part of God.  In addition, though אלהים Elohim is translated as “God” or “Lord”, it is actually a plural noun. Many commentaries have been written on the origins of this name for God.  But in this case, I see it as a reminder that, even though God is One, there are many “gods” within the Eternal.  Or, as the tradition would put it, there are many “faces” of God.  All of these faces are “our God.”  All of these faces are part of God and therefore a part of us.

Then we are reminded of the eternal nature of God.  However, the customary phrase לעולם ועד l’olam va’ed, more literally translated as to forever and eternally, is shortened here to simply  עולם ועד olam va’ed.  This can be translated simply as forever and eternally.  Dropping “to” from the phrase may seem unimportant. However, I see this as reminding us that “forever” is not something we can look forward “to” in the future.  Forever is now.  Each moment is part of forever. And the moments continue eternally beyond any kind of time that we humans can imagine.  And being one with God, we too become part of this eternity.

But what is the nature of eternity?  What is the nature of divinity now and forever?  The psalmist states that God will be guiding us “until death.”  But doesn’t this contradict the concept of eternity?  Isn’t God beyond death?  Yes. Indeed God is just that, and the verse points to that reality.  For the psalmist did not use the expected word עד ad /until death, but instead uses the word על al, which is customarily translated as above, on or upon.  So we can understand this phrase as saying that God will guide us above, or beyond, death. 

The eternal nature of the Divine, and of our inner divine spirit, is affirmed in these last words.  All that has come before in the psalm is not just about our life in this world.  It is about the never ending world of the Eternal One.  A world of which we are all a part and from which we should never feel set apart.

God is that guiding force within each of us that has no beginning and no end.  It is that which connects us with what we might think of as past and future, but which is in reality all a part of forever.   However, this may be a little much for us to comprehend on a daily basis.  So, in our everyday lives, let us think of the verse as referring to the fact that God is the guiding force within us from moment to moment.  Each moment is its own little piece of eternity.  Each moment is an opportunity to connect with God, the world around us and each other.  Each moment is an opening to holiness, to serenity and to doing what we must to make a difference our world.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Parshat Ki Tissa: Beyond the Golden Calf

This week's  parashah Ki Tissa (Shemot/Exodus 30:11-34:35) includes the all-too-familiar narrative of the Golden Calf. After Moses smashes the Tablets of the Ten Commandments and destroys the Calf, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai for a second time in order to receive a new set of tablets from God.

While on the mountain, Moses experiences what we might call a crisis of faith.  He tells God in no uncertain terms that God must be in the lead as they commence their journey.  In addition, Moses implores God to be able to see God’s “face” – to know God’s true essence.  Moses tells God that he cannot continue to lead the people if God does not meet his demands (my words, not the Torah’s).

God tells Moses that no one can see the Divine Face and live.  Instead, God places Moses in the cleft of a rock and allows the Divine Glory to “pass” Moses.  As God passes, God proclaims what we refer to as the 13 attributes of God, including God’s mercy and compassion, as well as God’s justice and anger.  When Moses looks up, he is only able to see God’s “back,” or the result of God’s presence in the world. 

This is enough for Moses and he is prepared to write a new set of tablets, return to the people and continue the journey.  This is a poetic commentary based on that experience.


Brokenness to Wholeness

I need certainty
     I need  you with me
each moment
 I need to know you
 now

I   we  cannot
go on without knowing
     you are with us  leading

I cannot
we cannot
I stop   listen  hear
 your reply to me   us

 I am here    you say
you  are  my   people
you  are special

continue
 on your journey
 I will be with you

 I hear
 I believe
 yet I don’t


 II.
you know me
 you know us
 by name
but  I    we
 know nothing of you

 please I implore    beg   plead
show me     you
 let me experience
 all of you

 you respond
I cannot  see your face
  only your back

    no
this is not enough
I want   need   insist on
    certainty
for me to lead the people
 into the unknown

 to heal the wounds
 make whole the broken
after the tragedy
 I must know you beyond seeing
        I need to know not just your name
but the essence of your being

 you say
 I will die if I see you
 I believe I am lost
if I do not
experience more

 I hear God’s reply
       silence

  III.
 I carve the tablets
     again
 waiting for you
 I climb the mountain
 still    wanting       waiting    needing
more than I know
 you will ever  give

suddenly all is darkness
I hear your voice
I feel your love    compassion    anger
    everything that is your essence
 in that moment      I know
 deep  within   my   soul
 you shall forgive  punish  absolve  blame
        all

my eyes see nothing
   my soul sees everything
        knowing we shall all
             be healed
 through your compassion
          justice         mercy
bringing the people together
     bringing  me  closer
           to   you
 always here with us
       within us

 my eyes suddenly open
 I see the new tablets
 carved by my hands
     awaiting your words
 whole    unbroken 
     a shining remembrance
       of your compassion
          the other tablets
a shattered remembrance
   of what was
      what the people did
 placed  side by side
 inextricable link   lifechain   
from brokenness to wholeness
 and back
 neverending cycle
returning us to you
   always with us
leading each of us
 each moment

we must stop
pay attention
   look within
I   know  now
no longer doubting
this is the truth
I no longer need 
  to see your face
 in order to find   certainty
   I am  content    whole
 I am ready
   to move on
securely
into the unknown
that you will make known
in your time

Friday, February 11, 2011

Parshat Tetzaveh: Finding the Light Within

This week's parashah is Tetzaveh (Shemot/ Exodus 27:20 – 30:10).  The parashah focuses on the directions for lighting of the Ner Tamid (eternal, or continually burning, lamp) in the Mishkan/taberbacke,  The parashah begins with God instructing Moses, still on Mt. Sinai, that when lighting the Ner Tamid, the priests are to bring clear oil of beaten olives. Though this seems a simple instruction, things in the Torah are seldom as simple as they seem. Throughout the centuries, commentators have focused on this clear, freshly beaten olive oil as metaphor.

Some commentators, such as Khaquiz (1672-1761) believed that, just as olives "...yield up its oil only when it is crushed, [so] the people of Israel reveals its true virtues only when it is made to suffer."  Though there is something positive in the idea that the Jewish people are able to show strength and perseverance in the face of persecution and adversity, I am simultaneously troubled by his claim that it is "only" when we are oppressed that we are able to reveal our true virtues. If true, this would give support not only to the image of Jews as eternal victims, but to the necessity of this continual state for our benefit as a people! One could actually view this commentary as a call for the continuation of oppression in order for us to keep our distinctiveness.  This is something of which I cannot approve.

Other commentators have also likened us to olive oil, insofar as we keep ourselves
separate from the other nations, just as olive oil remains separate even when mixed with other ingredients.  I would affirm the positive aspect of maintaining our distinct identity regardless of the surrounding culture.  However, I also believe that it is possible – and necessary - for us to do so while still firmly planting our feet in the soil of the nations in which we live, and in the world community. We live in two civilizations, as Mordechai Kaplan said over sixty years ago when creating his platform for Reconstructionist Judaism. Actually, most of us probably live in more than that!

In certain ways, using olive oil as a metaphor for keeping us distinct also supports the image of our society as a salad bowl.  For rather than all of the ingredients merging and blending to create a new identity, as in a melting pot, in a salad, each ingredient retains its individual identity and its own unique flavor and taste.  However, many commentators might take this metaphor a step further and claim that we actually need to provide separate plates for each ingredient. Though this may make for table that is beautiful to the eye, ultimately the ingredients do nothing for one another and each may indeed seem lacking on its own.

Finally, some commentators focus on the fact that oil rises above the other ingredients with which it is mixed.  They use this as a metaphor that Jews, when they maintain loyalty to Judaism and the Jewish people, immersing themselves in Jewish knowledge and practice, actual rise above the other peoples of the world.
  The belief in the inherent (or potential) superiority of Judaism inherent in this metaphor is extremely problematic.

I support the claim that immersing oneself in the beauty of Judaism can help one rise to a higher level both spiritually and ethically.  However, this is only in comparison with how a person might otherwise live without the sense of belonging to something greater than oneself. It does not and should not be viewed in comparison to other peoples.

Finally,
Bereshit Rabbah, a collection of midrashim (rabbinic exegetical tales) on the book of Genesis, likens this idea of the olive oil and the lighting of the ner tamid to the directive in the Book of Isaiah that we are to be a "light unto the nations." I have no problem embracing the concept of the Jewish people being "a light unto the nations."   However, we are not THE light unto the nations!  

There are many traditions and values within Judaism that can indeed teach others to live a moral, ethical and spiritual life. However, this is not solely the domain of Judaism.  Other religions and traditions also have light that they can share with us and with others as well. Personally, I have learned much from teachings within Buddhism, though I have viewed them through a Jewish lens and adapted them accordingly.

Our tradition may be unique, but it is not inherently superior to others. Therefore, we can and should serve as one of the many lights among the nations that help to bring goodness and godliness into the world. To say that we are meant to be the sole exemplar is  chauvinistic and promotes feelings of superiority.

This coming spring (which I know will eventually arrive, even in the Northeast U.S.) we will celebrate two holidays that deal with triumph over adversity and oppression:  Purim and Passover.  When we think of these holidays, we should keep in mind what has enabled us to triumph over oppression and to rise to the top like  olive oil,  for so many centuries. I am not speaking of being ‘chosen’ or of our ‘inherent superiority’. Rather, it is the sense of connection to community, God, the pursuit of holiness and the oneness of the universe at the core of Judaism, which I believe has enabled us us to triumph. It is the light of the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light, the Divine light, burning within each of us, that has enabled us to see through the darkness that no enemy is truly invincible. For what weakens others is their belief that they are separate, apart, superior and stronger than everyone else. What makes this a fatal flaw is the further belief that what strength and power they do have comes from them and not from a greater power.

This is ultimately a flaw found in all external enemies, as well as the internal enemies that dwell within each of our own psyches that try to destroy or bring down the best that is within us by separating us from others.  It is a flaw that has even brought destruction upon the Jewish people when we adhered to these beliefs.  The communal divisiveness and hubris that splintered the people apart during the Roman siege of Jerusalem is but one example of this.

The Jewish people is at its best when we recognize that the strength and the light within each individual and the community originates in the greater light that we call God. By connecting to that light, we join together in strength and unity. That strength and unity allows us to triumph over the more base and mundane aspects of
  human nature and over the oppressive and destructive forces in the world.

The way in which that strength and unity manifests itself in us is  uniquely Jewish, but other peoples have their own unique ways as well. This sense of unity allows us to rise, like pure olive oil, above the forces of hatred and oppression. However, if we are truly to serve as one of the lights among the nations and work towards bringing unity to God's fractured world, we must find those qualities within us not only when we are being beaten down or oppressed, but when we are free, content, and happy with our lives. 

If it is only oppression that is the motivation for us to rise up, then we are ultimately lost. We have no positive raison d’être. In addition, we must shine the divine light not only on our own people, but on all humanity. We must also shine this light wherever there is oppression, injustice and violence in our world. This is our responsibility as human being created in God's image and as Jews. We cannot sit by as the blood of others is spilled anywhere in the world, regardless of whether or not we believe they have anything to do with us.  For everyone is connected!

However, we must also remember to shine the Divine light within us where there is beauty, compassion, and peace in our world.  If we don’t, we may start to believe that all of existence is about suffering and oppression.  It is the knowledge of the possibility of peace and beauty that provides an impetus for us to fight oppression.  For if we did not know that these were possible, why even both with the work at hand?

In the end, this is the challenge for each of us as human beings and as a member of the Jewish people: to find the strength, compassion, holiness and beauty that is the essence of the Divine light within us, and allow it to shine on all of God's creation.  We must do so in our uniquely Jewish way, while also recognizing others unique ways.  And we must do so not only when we are fighting oppression. This is not an easy task, but it is one that we must undertake, moment by moment, in order to bring the light of Ner Tamid, the light of the Eternal One, into our world and in order remember the ultimate meaning of our Jewishness, our humanity, and the light of the Divine is indeed within each of us.

Shabbat Shalom.
Steven

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Parshat Terumah/Rosh Hodesh Adar I: Building a Sanctuary in the Void

This week’s parashah/portion is Terumah (Shemot/Exodus 25:1-27:18).  The word terumah is usually translated as a gift or offering.  It is specifically a gift to be used in the building of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary the people will take with them during their 40 years of wandering.

The parashah begins with God saying to Moses:  “Speak unto the Israelites, telling them to take for me terumah; from each person whose heart stirs them shall you take my terumah……they shall make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell in their midst (Shemot 25:2,8).

For centuries, these verses have begged the question: why does God, need a dwelling place?  The common response is some variation on “It isn’t God that needs a dwelling place.  It was the Israelites that needed some kind of physical representation of God’s presence.”   As Midrash Mekhilta states “the Sanctuary is not to be according to My [God’s] dimensions, but according to those of the Israelites.”

This makes sense. Yet, it is also a radical (and somewhat anthropocentric) statement the ancient rabbis were making. For they were saying, that God is willing to allow the people to believe that the Divine Presence can dwell in a human-size structure in order to meet the people’s needs.  The Hafetz Hayyim wrote, “God doesn’t expect the impossible from humanity.  Our worship and service is measured by human standards, not by Divine ones.  We are expected to do that which is within human reason.”  But is God also expected to make seem as if God is doing what is within human reason?

In the creation story, we read that humans are created “in the image of God.”  Therefore, it would be simple to believe that we are to be held to the same standards (live on the same scale) as God.  And yet, the rabbis tell us time and time again that this is not the case.  In referring to the verse in Exodus 22:30, when God proclaims “you shall be a holy people to me,” the Kotzker Rebbe (an early Hassidic master) implores us that God is not asking us to be angelically holy “for God has enough angels, but you are meant to be holy as people.”

But what does it mean to be holy?  Our tradition has many answers to this question.  I would like to use a verse from this parashah as a springboard for exploring this question.  As I wrote above, God instructs Moses to “take a terumah/gift/offering from each person whose heart stirs them.”  However, the phrase כל איש (kol ish), “each person” can also be interpreted as meaning “all of a person.”  Using both translations, this phrase commands that only those who are truly moved shall bring gifts and that the gift must be from and of our entire being.  When our heart tells us we are ready, we must bring our entire selves to God.  When we do this, then we become a holy people joined together with God.

But if this is the case, wouldn’t that indeed make us angelic or Godlike?  On the contrary, the fact that the parashah speaks of building a house for God in human scale reminds us that this is indeed all about being humanly holy and not divinely holy.  We may be created in God’s image. We may strive to act in godly ways.  However, we can never truly be godlike.  That is reserved for God.

But what does it mean to strive for godliness, to bring our heartfelt gifts to God and to build a dwelling place among the people where we can experience God’s presence?  I wish I had definite answers to these questions.  But the questions simply beget more questions. 

In addition to being Shabbat Terumah this Shabbat is also Rosh Hodesh Adar I, the first day of the new month of Adar I (or Adar Aleph in Hebrew).  This is a leap year and in Jewish tradition, we add an extra month during a leap year in order to prevent the holidays from continuing to get earlier each year to the point where the spring festival of Passover will take place in the winter or fall.

We add the extra month during what is traditionally the last month of the year, Adar.  According to the rules of the calendar, all holidays and other observances, such as birthdays and anniversaries of deaths that normally take place in Adar are to be celebrated during a leap year in Adar II (Adar Bet). Therefore, the second Adar is the real Adar!  The only dates that are celebrated in Adar I are the births and deaths of people who were actually born or died during Adar I when it was a leap year.

So, in a sense, Adar I does not even exist.  It is a pause. A void.  It is not real.  And yet, it is very real.  We watch it pass day by day.  Yet, the only things we remember during these days are the two certainties of human existence:  birth and death.  So, what is it that we should do during this month?  To me, it cries out for some kind of ritual practice.

In the blog “Peeling a Pomegranate” (www.peelapom.com), the author Ketzirah, likens Adar I to the mythic fifth element of “ether.” Ether is an element that is not an element.  Plato described it as “that which God used in the delineation of the universe.”  In Aristotle’s system, it had no qualities or properties at all.  One could say that ether infuses the world and yet it cannot be seen, felt, tasted, categorized nor classified.  Yet, it is all around us.

Ketzirah likens this to the Hebrew word חשמל chashmal.  Though in Modern Hebrew this means electricity, in the Tanakh/Bible, it is the mystical substance Ezekiel describes as illuminating the Chariot of God in the Divine visions.  It is untouchable, indescribable, and yet it powerful.  This is the world of Adar I.  On the one hand, this month is like a void into which we must step, and yet once within we are surrounded by the indescribable, yet potent, world of the ether.  We are truly in the realm of the ethereal.

But how does this connect with the building of the sanctuary for God? Much more easily than one might think.  For I view chashmal as the untouchable, unknowable, ethereal divine energy that flows through the universe.  This is what we are trying to capture and package in human terms through the building of the mishkan.  In the Torah, only the priests may enter the sanctuary and only the High Priest may enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant is to reside.  We know that later in the scriptures when a man touches the ark in order to prevent it from falling, some type of energy that shot forth from the ark kills him immediately.  The same is true of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu who are killed by a bolt of fire/energy that comes down from the heavens when they attempt to worship God in a way that had not been prescribed. 

In both cases, it is as if they came in contact or were penetrated by a concentrated form of energy, which cannot be classified as one of the four main elements of earth, air, water or fire.  In both cases, when someone came too close to God or attempted to approach God in a “strange” way, this energy, that I will call chashmal, penetrates and kills them.  After all, we are only human.  We are not divine.  And chashmal is indeed from the Divine and is in the realm of the divine.  We can only approach it, and God, when it is packaged in human form and kept hidden from us in its own sanctuary.

I would like to propose that entering Adar I we are entering our own kind of sanctuary.  This is a month devoid of any trappings of the other months.   When we step into the void of Adar I we are surrounded by chashmal, that divine flow of energy.  However, just as we built the mishkan in human dimensions, this energy is present only in a filtered way so that it is accessible to we human beings.  And so, we can be surrounded by it.

In Adar I, we are provided with an opportunity to simply to experience the divine energy, to bask in its glory.  But we do so in as simple and silent a way as possible.  We do this without any fanfare or communal celebration. Instead, during this month that is not a month, I would like to suggest that we take extra time to pray, meditate and explore what it means to be connected to that divine energy. 

Then, when the month is over and the calendar continues as usual, we can have a clearer sense of our connection to the universe and what tasks lay before us.  We will hopefully have a clearer sense of what it means to create a place for God to dwell within us and among us the rest of the time.  We will know what it means to create a sanctuary.   We will be prepared to celebrate the upcoming joyous, raucous festival of Purim followed by Passover, the feast of our redemption.  Having a clearer sense of what it means to approach the Divine from the heart and with our entire being, we will then be prepared to bring our multitude of gifts to God in celebration and joy, by bringing them to humanity and the world. 

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