Friday, September 13, 2013

Prophetic Thoughts for Yom Kippur

This Shabbat coincides with Yom Kippur.   On this holiest day of the Jewish year, we diverge in the Torah readings.  In Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, Leviticus 16 is read in the morning and Leviticus 18 in the afternoon.  The Reform movement chose different Torah readings, Deuteronomy 29 and 30 in the morning and Leviticus 19 in the afternoon.  But we all agree on the morning Haftarah reading, taken from Isaiah chapters 57 and 58. 
In this haftarah, God tells us how we are expected to behave.  The people cry out to Isaiah, “Look at us! We fast, afflicting our bodies, we bow our heads so reverently, and we humble ourselves wearing sackcloth and ashes.  Why doesn’t God recognize our prayer?” And God replies, in the words of Isaiah, “Sure, here you are on Yom Kippur looking all penitent and righteous.  You afflict your bodies, and you are oh-so-fervent in your prayer.  But what are you doing with the rest of your time?  You oppress your workers.  You talk business in the pews.  You go hungry today, but you don’t care about the needy who go hungry every day.  For this, you want the ear of God? Try this instead: break the bonds of oppression, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor, then next year show up here and see what happens.” (Okay, those aren’t exactly the words of Isaiah, but that is their import).  God is not telling us that we should not afflict our souls on this holy day.  Rather, God is telling us that what we do on this day is just the beginning.  It is what we do every day that will bring God’s blessing upon us, and upon all peoples of the earth.  Kein y’hi ratzon.  So may it be God’s will.

Monday, September 9, 2013

From The Huffington Post

Mary Walker Baron

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We Can Pencil It in Our Calendars Just in Case

Posted: 09/09/2013 10:46 am

Earlier today I went to the neighborhood art supply store to buy some birthday cards and was shocked to see three rows of display racks filled on both sides with all sorts of 2014 calendars. September seemed far too early to even consider selecting a calendar for 2014, and yet there they were. The choice of calendars was dazzling and overwhelming. The basic utilitarian calendars -- arranged either monthly, weekly, or daily -- seemed sparse, with nothing more than lines for appointments and notes. The leather-bound calendars spoke of either inflated self-importance or of futile attempts to make time permanent. There were wall calendars highlighting a variety of subjects: puppies and horses and cows and gymnasts and famous major-league pitchers and fire fighters and flowers. Some calendars closed with magnets. Some hung from ribbons.
I was fascinated more with the fact of the calendars than with the calendars themselves. I stood in the middle of the calendars and tried to make sense of what I was seeing. Frozen in (dare I say?) time while at the same time surrounded by it, I thought back to my first attempts at managing my own time. One December of my childhood, my father received duplicate copies of a bound calendar. The calendars were promoting an insurance company clearly unable to manage its mailing lists. He gave me his extra calendar.

"What would I do with two of them?" he asked rhetorically.
In a childhood structured only by school and sunsets, my red bound calendar seemed miraculous. I created a schedule and wrote it down: Go To School. Go To School. Write Book Report. My schedule was vague but sufficiently significant to record. Neither my father nor I chose our calendars. They were mailed, and in fact, after that one errant mailing the insurance company corrected its ways and going forward sent only one. The next December I had to find my own method of marking and managing my days.
Standing in the art store this afternoon surrounded by time, I remembered that red give-away calendar and its significance in my childhood, and I wondered if my choice of calendar matters. If I purchase a leather-bound calendar with a magnetic closure and if I use a fine fountain pen to make my entries, will my time matter more than if I buy the functional but unadorned month-on-a-page calendar and make my entries with the free promotional pen the realtor wanting to sell my home gave me?
My father had only one calendar each year and that one calendar was always a gift from some company wanting to sell him something. For some time, I also had only one calendar. I generally agonized over selecting it until the selection grew so thin I had no choice and then I bought whatever was still available. Gradually though, more and more methods of managing my time crept into my life, until I now realize that I sometimes spend way too much time managing my calendars and not nearly enough time tending to the events highlighted on my various devices. I have my desk calendar. I have the calendar on my computer. Now I have the calendar in my phone. Of course, I also have a calendar small enough to carry in my bag. And what am I supposed to do with the calendar given to me as a gift, except use it also? Time, after all, cannot be wasted. Nor can time-management devices. Then there's the calendar in the kitchen and the calendar on the bulletin board behind my desk. I am expert at marking time and often I am even pretty good at managing it. Sometimes I even manage to kill it, although as my own time increases behind me and dwindles in front of me, I commit that time slaughter less frequently, and with regret.
Time matters and how we mark it and manage it also matters. Otherwise the art store of this afternoon would not have so many calendars for sale. We hope that what we do with our time matters more than the devices we use for managing it. Perhaps my calendar selection for 2014 will be a plain red bound calendar with nothing inside except dated, blank pages.
I didn't become so lost in time that I forgot to buy the birthday cards. There was quite a large selection of them, too, but I was able to make my selections without any major difficulties. The niece and the nephew will receive their birthday greetings on time because each year into eternity my cell phone alarm will remind me of their September birthdays.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Making Lists Helps Keep Things Under Control

Every once in awhile I get to feeling pretty overwhelmed.  That generally happens when I believe I've got so much to do that I can't even begin to choose what to do first.  That's when the list comes in.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't write down every single chore needing attention.  That would just begin the feeling overwhelmed cycle all over again.  I write down no more than a half dozen things I want to do.  A half dozen chores seems manageable.  And very quickly I am able to cross things off of the list.
Arnold Lobel wrote a wonderful serialized children's story about a Frog and a Toad who are friends.  In Frog and Toad Together Toad wakes up feeling pretty overwhelmed, too.

He decides to make a list so he can remember all of the things he has to do that day.
The first thing he writes down is "Wake Up" and he immediately crosses that item off of his list because he has already done that.  Right away Toad is enjoying success and increasing his sense of self efficacy -- his belief that he is capable of having an impact on his life.
Toad adds other items to his list:  Eat Breakfast.  Get Dressed.  Go To Frog's House.  Take A Walk With Frog.  Eat Lunch.
Once Toad has his day written down it seems much more manageable.  His life seems under control.
Unfortunately Toad lets his list take control of his day instead letting it be a tool to guide him through the day.  When the wind blows the list away, Toad can't run after it because running after the list wasn't on the list.  Frog, who has no list, tries to catch it but the wind is too strong.
Unable to decide what next to do, Toad sits down and does nothing.  His good friend Frog sits with him.  Finally when Frog announces, in darkness, that is is time to go home and go to sleep, Toad remembers that "Go To Sleep" was the last thing on his list and so, happily, wishes his friend a good night and goes home to sleep.
It's a good story which makes important points.  Lists are helpful but only as tools.  They don't get to run the show.
I made my list today and crossed things off of it.  Tomorrow I will make another list because this is a good way to not feel overwhelmed.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Looking Forward and Back

                Last week’s Torah portion ended with God asking Moses and Joshua into the Tent of Meeting to teach them a poem to read to the Children of Israel, a poem that summarizes the relationship of God and Israel up to the present, and prophecies Israel’s future. This week’s portion, Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:1-52) presents that poem, and then, after Moses has read it to the people, he is summoned by God to learn of his impending death, a death that will occur before he enters the land, but as God has previously promised, Moses will see the land from the mountaintop upon which he will die.

                Early in the portion (32:10-11) the text reads, “He (God) found him (Israel) in a desert region, in an empty howling waste/He engirded him, watched over him/Guarded him as the pupil of His eye/Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings…”  Modern Torah commentator Professor Nehama Leibowitz wonders why this is said, when God encountered the people Israel before the wilderness, in Egypt.  If the passage is referring to God’s kindnesses to Israel, why not start with the exodus from Egypt? Because, she concludes, the text is focusing on God’s greatest kindness to Israel, the gift of Torah, which occurred in the wilderness.  Redemption from Egyptian slavery was merely the first step in getting them to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and the beginning of peoplehood, forged in the desert, where God took them under His wing like fledgling birds.

                During these ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as we examine the deeds of the past year and look forward to our future, let us regard ourselves as if in a wilderness, buoyed up by God’s strong wings as we strive to make our way into a new year.


Inside The Basset Brain-Dog As Sculptor

A little know fact about the Basset Hound is that they are innately artistic.  Or course, all artists must discover their perfect medium and, once that task is accomplished, create.
The Basset Hound is no exception.
For example, Bradford has discovered that his bed is his perfect medium.  The Muses frequently call him to his bed not to snooze but to sculpt.
His latest creation begged to be singled out as extraordinary.

The Basset Bed Sculpted

Of course, a bed sculpture is quite a bit like a sand castle.  Both are temporary accomplishments that require a certain kind of courage to pursue.
So hats off to the brave Basset who constantly creates masterpieces only to be, ultimately, returned to their original purposes.
May we all be so willing to create despite adversity.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

At This Narrow Bridge Again

Here we are again at this narrow bridge
Ready to begin our annual crossing --
Returned to this moment by ancient migratory
Patterns mapped in stone.
For a month we’ve wondered
What to bring – how best to pack and what to wear --
Difficult preparations even though
We try to make them every year.

I always over pack and now at this
Pre-crossing liminal moment I wonder –
Will I really need a flashlight?
If I haven’t yet read that issue of ‘Scientific American’
I bought on impulse last year at the Jet Blue
Terminal of JFK maybe I should admit
That I’ll never read it
And leave it behind.

I open my pack for a final inventory before
Stepping on to the bridge.  Does my Zip Lock
Bag of anger weigh too much?  Is my Nalgene
Bottle of tears absolutely necessary?  Did I pack
Enough hope and forgiveness?  Where is that
Stuff sack of patience I meant to take?  Is there
Time to repack before I cross to the other side?
Is anyone less prepared than I?

Rav Nachman -- our tour guide – said that
The important thing is to not be afraid.
I just heard a scream.  No wait.  We’ve heard
That sound before -- our shrieking
Hollow filled with awe horn
Reminding us to watch our steps.
This bridge between our sunsets is, indeed,
Narrow.  Each year we journey together we

Become better packers.  We learn to travel
Lightly.  The anger was too heavy.  Tears once
Shed are gone forever.  Maybe the flashlight is
Still a good idea.  We make these crossings
Together to steady and prepare for the moment
We must cross the bridge alone – comforted by
Our yearly migrations to sacred moments at this
Fearless time.

@MaryWalkerBaron 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

She Never Gave Up

Diana Nyad Yesterday In Florida

For thirty-five years she tried and failed.  Yesterday she left failure behind her and at age sixty-four when so many people are writing off the rest of their lives as over, Diana Nyad staggered onto a Florida beach after swimming one hundred ten miles in over fifty hours.  She didn't stop staggering until she had delivered her message:  Never give up.  You are never too old.  You aren't alone.  If she didn't neither will I.  If she isn't neither am I.  And I, too, have an amazing team rooting for me.  So, thanks to Diana, look out dreams.  Here we come.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting Back In The Saddle

Getting back in the saddle again isn't all that easy if you don't have a horse.  However, it is a necessary activity and therefore I'm climbing up those long equine legs again to reclaim the saddle once more.  Perhaps this go round I won't fall off.  Now if only I had a horse.  Until then, there's always Gene even if he wasn't the King of the Cowboys.

Also, if I can climb up the legs of a horse that doesn't exist to hoist myself into a saddle I don't own anymore, so can you.

Start climbing.  We'll do it together.