Friday, March 28, 2014

Here's Must Read

North of BostonNorth of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story is compelling and the writing is elegant.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 24, 2014

Heading Toward The Next Project

After far too long working on nothing I am writing a children's book.  I have never written a children's book before and am focused not only on the story but on the age group who might read the story.  This is an interesting and different challenge.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Daddy Played The Harmonica

On this date in 1970 Ira Walker, at a very young age, died.    Tom and I still miss him.  Luckily we have more than faded photographs for memories.  Enjoy the man's music.

Friday, March 21, 2014


This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, (Lev. 9:1–11:47) tells the puzzling tragic story of the death of Nadav and Abihu, the two eldest sons of Aaron.  It is the final day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, the day of the solemn ordination of Aaron and his sons as the priests of the Israelite people.  Nadav and Abihu bring “strange fire” before God; an offering that God had not commanded, and fire came forth from the altar and consumed them, and they died before God.  Moses then says to Aaron, “This is what God meant by saying, ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy and gain glory before all of the people’”.  And Aaron was silent. (Lev. 10:1-3).

Moses seems to be saying that Nadav and Abihu died for the sake of God’s glory.  Does that mean he thinks God punished them, or exalted them?  It is hard to say what it means. And Aaron’s response neither affirms nor contests Moses’ declaration.  He is simply silent.

The Jewish laws of mourning dictate that a visitor paying a condolence call should not speak to the mourners, not even words of greeting, until they speak first.  This shows a great wisdom and insight into human behavior.  There are times when no words are fitting or even possible. This time, when two young men are shockingly killed at a time that should have been one of sacred celebration, is one of them.

Author Blu Greenberg, in her commentary on this Torah portion in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, writes: “Aaron’s response is the profoundest human and religious response to the reality that there are times when good people die unjustly or are consumed in tragedies that seem to be arbitrary, shocking, without justification, and with nothing to ameliorate the pain and loss of those who love them…Sometimes the deepest response of love is to be silent”.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thanks A Lot

 This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, (Lev. 6:1 – 8:36) concerns the particulars of the burnt offering, the guilt offering and the offering of well-being.  The portion ends with the narrative of the first seven days of the preparation of Aaron and his sons for ordination to the priesthood.

The zevach shlamim, the offering of well-being, has different forms.  The first is the thanksgiving offering; the offering brought by someone who is grateful for something that has happened in his or her life.  Unlike the burnt offering, in which the entire animal is consumed on the altar, in the thanksgiving offering, certain parts of the animal are sacrificed to God, and the remainder is to be eaten by the donor and his or her family and friends. 

Although we have come far from the time from sacrificing animals to God in the Tabernacle, we still retain the human need to give thanks to God for our good fortune.  Perhaps we can make more of a connection with our ancestors if, when we are sharing a festive meal with loved ones and feeling gratitude for what we have, we realize that our emotions may not be that different than were theirs.  A midrash in Leviticus Rabbah states, “Though all sacrifices may be discontinued in the World to Come, the offering of thanksgiving will never cease.  Though all prayers may be discontinued, the prayer of thanksgiving will never cease.” 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Modern Day Sacrifice

The opening chapters of the book of Leviticus, parshat Vayikra (Lev. 1:1 – 5:26) spell out the details of the animal sacrifices that the Israelites will offer in the newly erected Tabernacle in the wilderness.  In fact, much of the book of Leviticus deals with animal sacrifices.

So far in the Torah, much of what we have read has been comprehensible to us.  We understand the family stories of Genesis, and the oppression and liberation of Exodus.  But how may we relate to the slaughtering of bulls and rams as worship of God?  We may find Leviticus irrelevant, embarrassing, or offensive. 

The word “sacrifice” in Hebrew is “korban” from the verb which means “to draw near”.  Leviticus 1:2 reads, “When a person presents from themselves an offering of cattle to the Lord…”  The offering must be from themselves, that is, it must come of one’s own possessions.  So even though we may not be able to relate to animal sacrifices, the concept of sacrifice remains with us.  What commodity is valuable to us today?  What can we give of ourselves to draw close to God?

I would suggest that the answer for many of us is “time”.  Our lives are packed with so many things that we must do; things that are urgent draw us away from things that are important.  Perhaps  we can start this period of the reading of Leviticus with a resolve to sacrifice some of the time we spend on other things thinking about what it means to draw closer to God, and how we can achieve that.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Do We Really Need to See the Forest?

Do We Really Need to See the Forest?

from the Huffington Post

Posted: Updated:
The wisdom of my childhood implied an urgent necessity to always be aware of the "big picture." Up until recently that wisdom informed my life. I now challenge it.

Several weeks ago -- as the first leg of a move from California to the East Coast, my daughter and I drove across country. That in itself was not a particularly remarkable accomplishment. People do it every day. I, for example, had done that drive four or five times previously. Before each of those across the country trips I studied my maps. I went to the auto club for "guide books" and "trip-tiks." I, before each of those cross-country drives, charted my route to become aware of the "big picture."
This trip was different in many respects. This was the first cross-country drive my daughter and I had made together. That was different. When the trip began, my daughter had just entered the second trimester of her first pregnancy. That was certainly different. We drove my 1996 Jeep Cherokee. At the beginning of the trip the odometer accurately registered 274,521 miles driven primarily on Southern California freeways. Beginning a cross-country drive from which, we knew, the Jeep would never return or might possibly not complete was definitely a different way to begin the day.
Filling all available cargo space with delicate dishes and musical instruments and warm winter clothes also differed from my normal routine of driving 33 miles to work expecting to drive the same number of miles home at the end of the day, carrying only my lunch bag. If the Jeep broke down during one of those daily drives I could feel confident that I was close to a reliable mechanic. Leaving that certainty felt very different. It even felt a bit scary but then venturing into uncertainty generally feels scary.
On the rainy morning of our departure, I still believed I knew the "big picture." Not only could I see the trees, the forest was also clearly visible. I remained the captain of my ship. I could chart the course. Except for one thing. We had no maps.
The trouble with empowering another person to "chart the course" is that we are no longer in charge of the journey. I had happily turned the charting over to my daughter. A child of the digital age, she cared not for paper, foldable, comforting maps. And so it was that we began our journey on that rainy Friday morning with none. What we did have, she explained with unshakable confidence, was a cell phone. I was assured that it was a "smart phone." It looked plastic to me. Nevertheless, off we went.
For the next 2,783 miles I only imagined the "big picture." From her cell phone my daughter planned our routes and our days and, yes, our nights. She chose restaurants based on multiple available reviews. She reserved hotel rooms again after reading reviews. She even located a most amazing and generous and patient Jeep dealership in Little Rock when we suspected engine trouble. We visited scenic wonders and cultural phenomena and found our way to each of our many destinations with information viewed on a small piece of plastic.
At one point I became so desperate for even a glimpse of the "big picture" that I furtively tore out a national weather map from a complementary newspaper left at the door of our hotel room. The sparse information on that map offered me no comfort. The "big picture" of our trip and of the vast continent across which we drove existed only in my memory and imagination.

Six and one half wonderful days after it began, on an equally rainy day, our journey ended. We had arrived. The drive was over. The Jeep had survived and we had thrived.

I still have that weather map of this continental country. It shows not one highway, offers no topographical information, and didn't even accurately identify the weather fronts of the day on which it was published. And yet on that trip I gained a sense of the "big picture" from it and felt settled even though logic screamed that what I held was useless.
Why, I wonder, did I so yearn for a map showing greater than a day's drive distance? Such additional information would have neither hastened nor deterred our progress. Why, I also wonder, did my daughter require no such reassurance that our road existed as part of a greater system or that our destination was reachable? Perhaps she has evolved further in the acceptance of life's uncertainties than have I.
I think we would all like to see the "big pictures" of our lives. We'd like to know our destinations and where we are along the way. We'd like to know if we are on the right road and where our own I-40 fits in relationship to I-10 perhaps to help us at the very least determine whether or not we should change routes. We want to see the whole forest of our lives.

Of course, we get it that such information is, aside from fleeting and rare glimpses, denied us. Perhaps our digitally aged children have acquired -- certainly not inherited -- a greater comfort with uncertainty. They don't need the big picture possibly because they innately know they won't get it.

For those of us still yearning to see both the forest and the trees, sometimes holding a weather map torn from a free newspaper at the hotel room door can at least assure us that the big picture does exist even if we never get to see it. So it is that -- before I toss the crumpled and torn and useless weather map into the trash along with other antiquated behaviors and longings -- I yearn for one more look at the big pictured forest to catch just one fleeting glimpse of the method with which my yet to be born grandchild will chart its life courses.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Inspiration Doesn't Just Come

Waiting for inspiration is a lost cause.  The longer we wait the less likely we are to have anything to say.  Creating is work and we work with muscles.  Don't have anything to say?  If you are a writer that's the most important time to write.  Wait for genius to click in and you may remain silent a really long time.  Keep writing even when you've nothing to say.  It won't take long until the real words flow.