Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Which is why we do pointless things - to give us a false sense of progress.  We can't tolerate not knowing what will happen next so we do 'stuff' to keep uncertainty at bay.  But, I'm finding out that its okay to wait.  Sometimes in the silence of inactivity amazing things happen.

Friday, April 26, 2013

How To Be Holy

The narrative of the children of Israel in the wilderness, portrayed in the books of Exodus and Numbers, are interrupted by the book of Leviticus, which gives us the details of the rituals of the Tabernacle – the types of sacrifices and how they are to be offered, the garb of the priests, and, as we saw last week, how the people were to purify themselves after childbirth or illness.  This week’s Torah portion is another double one, Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30) and Kedoshim, (Lev. 19:1 – 20:27).  Kedoshim lies in the exact middle of the book of Leviticus.  It also lies in the exact center of a Torah scroll – when Kedoshim is read in synagogue, it is easy to see that.  I do not think this is coincidence.  The wisdom contained in parashah Kedoshim is, I believe, the central precepts of the Torah.

“You shall be holy,” God says to the Israelites, “for I, the Lord your God am holy.”  Then follows a list of ways in which we can be holy and emulate God: Honor your parents.  Keep the Sabbath.  Do not worship idols. Don’t pick your fields bare; leave some for the poor and hungry.  Judge fairly.  Pay your workers on time. Don’t take vengeance or bear a grudge.  Don’t be a gossipmonger.  And every few verses, the admonition is repeated, “I am the Lord your God”.

In short, the way that we may find holiness in our human lives, the way that we are best able to be God-like, is in very ordinary ways.  Our holiness is measured by the fairness, honesty and kindness with which we treat one another.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

He Asks A Fair Question

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Okay To Say Nothing

Last week had to be a most astonishing week for people who report the news.  The week began with the bombing in Boston, went on to the Elvis impersonator who apparently was trying to kill people by putting poison on letters, and ended with the shoot out and capture of the little brother suspect in the Boston events.  From the get go we received more inaccurate information than accurate information because the people reporting the news couldn't stop talking.  I would have been happy with a "Wow.  We have no idea what is going on but this is heavy shit!"  That would have been fine.  I'm totally okay with not having all the facts.  I rarely do, anyway.  But the non stop blather became offensive early in the week.  I totally expected someone, upon discovering that the little brother suspect was in a boat, to announce that our navy was opening fire on Boston Harbor and people were dumping tea into it.  Silence is often great.  It can be a gift.  In silence we can catch our breath.  In silence we can ponder and reflect and, dare I say, think.
News reporters could take a hint from Vin Scully, the announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He lets silence happen and does not feel compelled to slam us with nonsense.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Life, Death and Purity

This week’s Torah reading is two short portions read together, Tazria (Lev.12:1 – 13:59) and Metzora (Lev. 14:1 – 15:33).  Both portions deal with ritual purity as it pertains to the conditions of childbirth, certain skin ailments, seminal emissions, menstrual blood and death.

Although the Hebrew words “tumah” and “tahara” mean “pure” and “impure”, they are often translated to English as “clean” or “unclean”.  This unfairly targets Judaism as a religion that considers sex and childbirth something that is dirty or undesirable.  But ritual purity is a concept that has little to do with actual cleanliness.  For example, before we come to the table, particularly for a Shabbat or holiday dinner, it is the custom of many Jews to pour water over their hands and recite a blessing, in order to raise the act of eating from an ordinary act to a holy one.  This is not the same act as washing your hands before eating.  If your hands were dirty, you would have washed them with soap before performing the ritual act. 

Becoming impure, then, is not a state of dirtiness or shame.  It is the inevitable result of living in the world and being touched by the powerful forces of birth, death, and illness.  Acts of purity turn us, for a moment, from these realities, and towards holiness.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Boy And The Starfish

A story goes like this.

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance.  As he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,"I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. "But", said the man, "You can't possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can't possibly make a difference." The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

"I made a huge difference to that one!"

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Earth Worm Wisdom

As though we needed more proof that life and death are random and chaotic, I stopped on my evening walk to acknowledge an earthworm dead on the concrete sidewalk.  On the concrete sidewalk!  Doubtless it died yearning for its moist motherland and marveling that death comes unbidden when and where we least expect to find it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Walking With A Limp Is Still Walking

What matters is that we keep moving along.  Someone told me today of a dream -- a goal.  It was fairly simple in the scheme of things but the teller expressed doubt.  "It's too big a dream.  I guess it's stupid."
Here's what I said.  Don't give up.  Our dreams keep us alive.
And I also say that to you.
And I also say that to myself.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Routines Are Fragile Things

At least in my experience it is really hard to start and maintain a routine unless we've been doing it most of our lives.  I rarely feel inconvenienced when I'm about to brush my teeth.  And yet when I consider my daily walk (or my hoped for daily walk) or quiet moments of meditation it is so easy to find something else to do even if the something else is nothing.  I've read that it takes a month to turn a routine into a habit.  I'm thinking it takes years.  Even if that is the case, though, I'd like to think that I'd still give forming new and positive habits a try.  Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Crossing The Street Isn't Always Easy

He clearly was among the many homeless wandering the streets of Pomona, California.  Instead of the proverbial shopping cart he tried to pull a broken down, dirty, clothes and other possessions bulging through the seams wheeled suitcase.  One wheel was missing.  When the light changed he tried to hurry but the suitcase wouldn't let him.  He pulled and tugged.  He looked at me waiting to make my right turn.   I saw only fear on his face and wondered what it was that he feared.  Could it be that I would become impatient and honk my horn or curse or even run him over?  I smiled at him and tried to motion that I wasn't in that much of a hurry.  After all, I was only going to work.  He stared at me a moment and then resumed his struggle with the suitcase.
Finally he got across the street and I made my right turn.  I looked in my rear view mirror.  On the other side of the street, he stood staring in my direction.
I wondered if my moment of kindness had made a difference in his day.
I hope it did.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April First And I'm No Fool

If I'm going to fall for the same old toothpaste on the toilet seat year after year after year it would be nice to at least know some of the origins of the April Fool's thing.  As it works out, the origins seem to be hidden in antiquity.  There is some reference to it in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales published around 1392 and others attribute it to the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in the sixteenth century.  So we get it that this 'tom foolery' has been going on for some time.
Somehow I feel a little better knowing that this day of pranks goes back a long way because next year I will doubtless again sit on a toilet seat covered in toothpaste but perhaps I will remember that I'm not the first nor will I be the last.
And that's no joke.