Friday, December 28, 2012

Hear, O Israel



In this week’s Torah portion, Vay’chi, (Gen. 47:28-50:26) Jacob, on his deathbed, calls his twelve sons to him, and says to them, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.  Assemble and hearken,  sons of Jacob, hearken to Israel your father”(Gen. 49:1-2)   What follows in the biblical text is an individual analysis of each son’s characteristics and strengths.  But a passage from the Talmud uses this opening as a lesson in the way we recite the Sh’ma, the central prayer of Jewish worship.

Our custom when reciting the Sh’ma in public worship is to say the first line, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” in a loud voice, as it is a verse from the Torah of Moses (Deut. 6:4), and is followed by the paragraph V’ahavta, (Deut. 6:5-9).  But the first line and the rest are interrupted by the line “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever”, which is not from the Bible, and it is recited in an undertone.  The Talmud (Pesachim 56a) imagines Jacob worrying that his children might not carry on his love for God.

Jacob thought,’ Perhaps, Heaven forfend! There is one unfit among my children, like Abraham, from whom there issued Ishmael, or like my father Isaac, from whom there issued Esau.’ But his sons reassured him, answering, and calling him “Israel”, the name given to him by God,  ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Just as there is only One in your heart, so is there in our heart only One.’ In that moment Jacob opened his mouth and exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.’ Said the Rabbis, How shall we act? Shall we recite it— but our Teacher Moses did not say it. Shall we not say it — but Jacob said it! Hence they enacted that it should be recited quietly.

In case you’ve wondered why we use a hushed tone when reciting “Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed”, you now know the reason – it is because we are interrupting a passage of Torah.  But another lesson to be drawn from this passage is the joy and gratitude that Jacob exhibits on hearing his sons affirm their devotion to the Holy One.  We all wonder about our own legacies, whether our children, our students, those whom we have mentored, will carry on the values and morals that we have modeled for them.  May we be able to know with confidence that the lessons of our lives will be passed on to the next generation.




Living In The Wake Of A Disease That Never Existed

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-walker-baron/diagnostic-labels_b_2363555.html

From The Huffington Post

Physicians treat disease by isolating symptoms and prescribing curative approaches to those symptoms hoping for a return to pre-morbidity. Once a condition is labeled "disease," it warrants treatment. That's the way it goes in our medical models of health care.
Living in the shadow of this medical model, imagine discovering, in adolescence for example, that you suffered from a disease -- and that you had, in fact, suffered from this disease since birth. The particular disease from which you suffered was "homosexuality," for which there must in the medical model be a cure even though no cause had yet to be identified and the symptoms were primarily feeling feelings and exhibiting behaviors found by those proclaiming you "sick" to be irritating and inexplicable.
This new medical modeled information would possibly explain some things for you. It might, for example, explain why so many people appeared to despise you. Diseases are like that, it seems. People don't want to be around them and certainly not around people who "suffer" from them. They -- either the disease or the person with the disease -- might be contagious. Thus we created sanitariums and hospital quiet zones and even remote islands of respite -- to remind ourselves as well as the diseased that separation is the essence of care.
As a distinct medical modeled concept, homosexuality is relatively recent. The German word homosexualität first appeared in a pamphlet published in Leipzig in 1869. The word homosexual did not even enter the English language for another twenty years when modern medicine and especially psychiatry began calling it an illness and especially a mental illness. This new classification and elevation of homosexuality to a categorized disease tossed barrels and barrels of fuel onto the already fierce flames fanned by religious dogma and social fanaticism. Jumping headlong into those flames was the newly-empowered "homophobia" and the fire blazed out of control with laws ensuring that society be protected from the scourge of this not only moral outrage but now classifiable disease which, of course in the medical model, warranted treatment.
And so it came to pass that in adolescence you discovered the name of the disease from which you apparently suffered. This new information about the status of your health -- or rather the status of disease from which you just learned you suffered -- explained a lot of things but couldn't help you live a vibrant and proud life because despite horrific and horrifying attempts at cure, there appeared to be no panacea for your medical modeled predicament. You learned to hide the status of your health. You either pretended you were disease-free or flew in the face of polite society, announced your disease, and suffered the consequences of daring to live your life in spite of your now-obviously-compromised physical, mental and, of course, moral and spiritual well-being.
Time passed and scientific inquiry and logic at least in the disease of "homosexuality" began to prevail. At the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives in August 1987, the inclusion of "homosexuality" in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) was rejected and all APA members were urged to no longer use any ICD or DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) codings.[1] And on May 17, 1990, when it approved the new version of the World Health Organization's ICD-10, the World Health Assembly removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told the United Nations in May 2012, "Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure." And yet you were left recovering from the ravages of a disease that never existed but that everyone accused you of bringing on yourself. Very few people either wanted to or were capable of tossing your voluminous and completely bogus medical records into the trash and embracing you as a person who was always excitingly, beautifully without blemish.
Almost as quickly as you discovered you suffered from a disease named even by the World Health Organization, you discovered the disease no longer existed -- had, in fact, never existed. There were no apologies offered by the medical establishment. No one came to you and said, "Sorry we empowered the religious and moral fundamentalists to demonize you even further. Sorry we became accomplices in deepening the stigma so long stamped on your lives." No. No one came to you. Instead, the medical community simply removed your disease from its roll.
It's all too easy to label as diagnostic any facet of the enormously complicated gamut of human emotion and behavior we do not understand or do not endorse. This is especially true in these days of increased anger and violence and fear. The harm done by these labels wounds us all.
References:
[1] Fox, R.E. (1988) Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the year 1987: Minutes of the Annual meeting of the Council of Representatives. American Psychologist, 43, 508-531.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #6

The most astonishing thing of all is that in spite of our five previous homages to home health care, things do get better until finally the day comes when it is time to say goodbye to our good friend I.V. Pole.  More than a good friend, I.V. (as we were honored to call her) with indulging good humor restored hope and, yes, life to our home.
And so the time has come for I.V. Pole to pack her bags and move on to her next home health care job.
We wish her well in her future endeavors.
I.V., we won't forget you.
I.V. Pole -- one in surely several million.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Aloe Models Patience

About a month ago these three aloe blossoms appeared as green bulges in their stems.  They slowly turned red and today began the laborious process of opening.  I never heard anxious mutterings from the aloe plant.  It knows that creations take time.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Today's Minor Miracle

Take a look at this.  Look at the very top of the picture.  Those are wooden cross beams with tiny drops of water clinging to them.  Left over from the night's rain, they looked like pearls when I first saw them.  See?  Miracles are all around us.  Just keep looking until you don't even have to try to find them.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Testing One Two One Two One Two

We don't get many opportunities to be astonished by dates.  When that happens I am grateful to be around as witness.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Time For Miracles

The Greek Empire, led by Alexander of Macedon, ruled the land of Judea beginning in the fourth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).  After Alexander's death, Judea became a part of the Seleucid Empire, ruled by the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus Ephiphanes.  Unlike the rulers before him, who were content to collect tributes and leave the people to their beliefs, Antiochus wanted his empire to be completely Hellenized, and all the people to follow Greek religion and culture.  Jewish law and customs, such as observing the Sabbath, dietary laws, and circumcision, were outlawed, and the sacrifice (and eating) of pigs, and bowing down to Greek idols were forced upon the people.  In the town of Modi'in, an elderly priest named Mattathias and his sons, called the Maccabees, stood up to the king's soldiers, and began a revolt that lasted three years.  At the end of that time, the Seleucids had been defeated and forced to leave Judea and the Maccabees and their descendents (called the Hasmoneans)  ruled Judea for over 100 years.  The Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by pagan sacrifices and idols, was re-dedicated, and the celebration of this military victory was called Chanukah, the Hebrew word for dedication.  The victory of the Maccabees over the Greek armies was the miracle that was celebrated.

Centuries later, in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), we find a different account of the miracle of Chanukah.  It is told that the Jews cleaning up the Temple found only one undefiled cruse of oil for the Eternal Light, which would ordinarily only last one day, but that this little cruse of oil burned for eight days and nights.
There are reasons for focusing on one explanation or the other.  Long after the victory, when the Hasmoneans were ancient history, and most of the people no longer lived in the Holy Land, perhaps it became more relevant to focus on a spiritual miracle, rather than one  of a military victory that may no longer have been meaningful.  As Michael Strassfeld writes in The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, comparing the two versions to the flickering flames of a menorah: "The flame never looks the same from one instant to the next, but at its core it remains unchanged".

So then, what is the message of Chanukah?  That it is worth fighting to hold on to your own beliefs and values when others are trying to make you change them.  That a small band of volunteers can triumph over a trained army because they are fighting for what they care about.  And that sometimes, an impossibility can become a reality.  If you don't believe it, look at your own life.  What have you accomplished that you thought you could never do?  What have you received that is a gift from God, simply because you needed it?  And celebrate that, along with the miracles of the Maccabees and the lights, on this festival of Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Talk About A Temporary Position

Bessie Cooper of Georgia died on Tuesday.  At the time of her death she was 116 years old and the oldest person in the world.
The oldest person in the world is dead so long live the oldest person in the world the saying goes because clearly someone will always be the oldest person in the world.  As it works out, though, most generally never for very long.
And so we welcome Dina Manfredini -- age 115 years old -- to the title of oldest living person in the world.  May her reign out last that of Bessie of blessed memory.
Dina lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
I spent a year in Des Moines, Iowa, and at the end of that year I felt like I was at least a hundred years old but did I get a title?  No.  I did, however, get out of Iowa which was enough for me at the time.
At any rate, Dina was born on April 4, 1897, in Italy.  She moved to this country in 1920.
We wish her well and extend our heartiest congratulations.
Live it up, Dina.  You've got nothing to lose except your title.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

California Weather Is Like Night And Day

And, seriously, that is the entire story about California weather.  However, I am fascinated by those here in Southern California who think there really is weather and dress as if their delusions were reality rooted.  Here's what I mean.  Over the weekend the weather here in LaLaLand dropped to perhaps sixty degrees and it -- unbelievably -- rained.  Yes!  Wet stuff fell from the sky.  It's a given when that happens drivers will lose all ability to operate their vehicles in anything resembling a sane manner.  We get that.  We expect that.  What we don't expect -- even though at this point it should be expected -- is for people to dress on those sixty degree days as though they had just been beamed to one pole or the other -- North or South -- and dressed for that weather.  Hoods.  Mittens.  Muk Luks.  Fleece Lined Things Covering The Faces.  Hip Boots.  I even saw a woman bent forward as though trudging home through fierce winds except that there was nothing blowing.  I knew her gait wasn't a physical need because when she reached the security of a traffic signal -- desperately hanging on -- she stood up straight.
On the east coast when people dress like its cold, it really is cold.  Here in Southern California when people dress like its cold, it isn't.  It may, however, be night.  Or possibly day.
And that's the way it is here in LaLaLand.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The More You Do

The less overwhelmed you feel.  Even if what you choose to do seems to have little to do with what ever it is that's contributing to your feeling overwhelmed you will, very quickly, stop feeling like life is closing in and over and on you.  Why?  Because when we do something - when we do anything - we give ourselves a clear message that we aren't stuck -- that we can make change in our lives.  Give it a try.  Stack those papers neatly into one area of the desk.  Sort through the mail.  Put your clean clothes in the drawer.  You will feel that you did something and doing something helps us feel better.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wrestling

In last week's Torah portion, we encountered Jacob running away from his brother Esau's wrath to his mother's people in Haran and having a middle-of-the night encounter with the divine..  This week's portion, Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43) finds him some twenty years later, with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and a daughter, and much material wealth, heading back from Haran to the land of Canaan, and frightened at the thought of facing his brother once again. Hearing that Esau is approaching with 400 men, and fearing that he means Jacob harm, he sends everyone in his party and everything he owned across the river, and spent the night alone.  Alone, that is, until once again he encounters the divine, this time in the form of a man who wrestles with him until daybreak.  This mysterious man could not win the wrestling contest, but was able to wrench Jacob's hip-socket, and then pleads, "Let me go before daybreak" but Jacob will not let the man go without first blessing him.  The man tells him that his name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, the one who has wrestled with God and with human beings, and has prevailed.
Who was it, really, with whom Jacob wrestled?  With God?  With an angel?  Modern Torah scholar Nehama Leibowitz echoes some of the classic commentators by suggesting that it is Esau's guardian angel, sent to weaken him before he meets his brother.  Or is he encountering the divine in himself, facing all of the deception and lies that he has perpetrated throughout his life and shedding them as he becomes a better person, literally, overnight? This view is supported by commentator B. Jacob (as quoted in the Etz Chaim Torah Commentary), who writes, "God answers a person's prayers if the person prays by searching himself, becoming his own opponent."