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October 15, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Ending and Beginning: Threads of Torah

It is somewhat surprising that it took me almost 20 years in the rabbinate to do it.  But I am glad that I did.  I did a comparison of the final chapters of Torah, V’zot Habracha and the opening chapters of Torah, B’reishit.  I wondered, what might they have in common?  What emerged for me was an impressive and beautiful series of threads and themes that help us see Torah as a continuous cycle.

Torah

Tonight, we celebrate Simchat Torah, the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle and begin reading it again. Tonight, the words of Ben Bag Bag, from Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) 5:22 ring truer than ever for me.  He taught: “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

Here are just some of the parallels I found:

V’ZOT HA’BRACHA B’REISHIT
Giving of blessings Moses blesses the each of the Tribes.

 

 

God blesses the work of creation and the Sabbath.
Strength, fertility Moses blesses the each of the tribes, bestowing upon them abundance, strength to overcome challenges and future generations to inhabit the land.

 

 

“Be fruitful and multiply” is the very first commandment in the Torah.
Completion of a task V’zot Habracha is Moses’ final moments, the time in which he completes his task of bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land

 

 

“And God saw that it was good.” At the end of each day God reflects upon God’s work, declaring it completed and good.
Lifecycle moments We read about the death or Moses, as well as witness the birth of the nation as they make a final approach into the Promised Land.

 

 

We read about the creation of the universe and the birth of humanity.
Boundaries of the land We learn the boundaries of the Promised Land through Moses’ blessings and his viewing it from atop Mt. Nebo

 

 

We learn the location and boundaries of the Garden of Eden.
Helpmates/partners Moses and God have been partners in the process of bringing the Israelites out of slavery, through 40 years in the desert and to the Promised Land.

 

 

God creates humanity as God’s partner in completing creation. And God creates man and woman has helpmates to each other.
Disobedience & consequences Moses finally confronts the consequences of his previous disobedience and is prohibited from entering the Promised Land.

 

 

Adam and Eve face the consequences of eating of the fruit of the Tree and are expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Vision/Seeing God grants Moses the ability to see the full expanse of the Promised Land from atop Mt Nebo, a feat which is humanly impossible.

 

 

Upon eating of the fruit of the Tree Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened and they see their nakedness.
God “doing” for humans God buries Moses.

 

 

God clothes Adam and Eve.

So, tonight as we complete the Torah reading cycle, I know that really, the story is not over.  The end brings us back to the beginning. We turn it again to retell, to learn, and to uncover more of its wondrous teachings.

September 4, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Believe…in yourself

A couple of days ago, while on a challenging bike ride, I had a flash back.

I was about 9 years old, on snow skis, trying to ski down a run at Mammoth Mountain with my dad.

The run was a challenging one for me.  There were a lot of people skiing that day, and they were whooshing by me as I tried to navigate the steep hill and the large moguls.  As I was want to do, I was freaking out.  My internal dialogue with myself went something like, “This is too hard. I can’t do this! I’m going to fall. Someone is going run into me. This is too hard. I can’t do this!”

I eventually got myself to the side of the run, and burst into tears.

I let my fears take over and they brought me to a dead-too afraid to move – stop.

Such a flash back didn’t bode well for my bike ride.  Almost 40 years later, there I was, trying to make it up this challenging hill, very slowly.  My fellow riders were well ahead of me. The heat radiating off the pavement was over 90 degrees.  I was tired.

But, I am a different person now. I’m a big girl.  I understand my fears.  I recognize when that internal dialogue is taking me in the wrong direction, and I try to turn it off.  A friend of mine used to say, “Turn off the F*** radio! It does you no good!” Instead of saying “I can’t do this,” I changed my approach. “You can do this Laura. It’s not a race.  Just make it to the tree.  Good!  Now, just make it to that fence. Take a drink of water.  Great.  You can do it!”

I realized that back then, that little 9-year-old girl didn’t believe in herself.  She let her fears stop her.

Now, I believe in myself.  I can take on challenges – whether on my bike, or in my work, or by simply just stepping out of my comfort zone.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Yes, I might fall down.  Or I might make a mistake. But, I’ll learn and I’ll grow.

As I continue my own Elul reflection, I realize, I have to believe in myself if I’m going to succeed in this world, whatever it is I take on.  We all have to believe in ourselves.  Otherwise, we get stuck on the side of the hill, crying in the cold, wet snow, with life passing us by.

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The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

September 1, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

The search within

I admit it, I troll job listings.  It somehow became a hobby of mine to read job posts – not only for my own potential emplyment and remuneration – but also for those in my circle of family, friends and colleagues who are in need of jobs.  Every couple days a posting comes in and I think, hmmm… who would this job be good for?

With more than enough people out of work right now, I know that the job search is not an easy one. More often than not, it requires the help of someone else.  Someone who knows someone who knows someone. Or, just someone, like me, who sees a job post and forwards it on with a note, “FYI, I thought you might check this one out.”

Elul asks us to do a different kind of search. A search within.  This kind of search though, must be done alone. Well, a rabbi or a therapist can help you. But a deeply personal search within oneself cannot come with an “FYI, I thought you might check this out.”

To do that real Elul work of searching within, reflecting on what you see, making assessments about what you like and don’t like – that is hard work.  Yet, there is a benefit at the end.  At the end of Elul, and through the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur process of prayer and repentance we can wipe away that which we didn’t like, we can embrace that which we did, and we can commit to change.  Such is the beauty of the Jewish process of t’shuvah, repentance.

So, on this 6th day of Elul, we still have time to undergo that process of searching within.  You never know what you will find.

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The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

 

August 31, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

What do you know to be true?

What do you KNOW to be true?

That’s a question easier asked than answered.

Here is what I know to be true today:

1. I am blessed to have a family that unconditionally loves me.

2. There is a lot of hatred, fear and stupidity in the world.

3. We each can and do make a difference.

What do you know to be true?

know

 

In thinking about today’s post, I came across Sarah Kay’s TED Talk on this topic. (Its worth the 18 minutes!) Sarah helps us see that just because we know something doesn’t mean we understand it. She uses spoken word poetry and storytelling to unpack and find understanding.

What is your process for understanding that truth this, while knowing it as true, can also be confusing or complex?

 

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

August 30, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Acceptance and the Unacceptable

Acceptance concept.

Accepting the way things are can be hard.  Many of us are prone to fighting what is.  We want to change things that we don’t like, or upset us, or push our buttons.  We want to change things that aren’t in our control.  That only leads to one outcome…. FRUSTRATION.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Those are the things that we should just accept for what they are and move on.

Yet at the same time, there are things in our world that we do not need to accept. We should stand up,  voice our concern, our anger, our dissatisfaction. These are the things that we can and should change. Acceptance, in these instances, leads to perpetuation of injustice, inequity and UNacceptable conditions.

The challenge for us is to know the difference between finding acceptance for that which we cannot change and taking action to change what we cannot accept.

What are you willing to accept as unchangeable in this coming year?

What injustice, inequity or unacceptable situation are you going to work to change?

 

 

 

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

August 29, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Elul 2: Act

I have to sleep on it.

I always go with my gut.

She shoots from the hip.

It has to feel right.

Regardless of the process, we all eventually have to take action.  Because if we don’t, we will always find ourselves in the same place.

act picture

 

What action will you take on this year? Where do you want to GO?

PS.  I know there is some irony that this post is a day late.  But, as Rabbi Tarfon taught, “…we cannot refrain from doing the work.”

 

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

August 27, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Elul 1: DO – Taking the #elulmitzvahchallenge

Today marks the first day of the month of Elul, the last month in the Jewish year.  Along with many others, I am going to participate in #BlogElul, and effort to blog each day on a theme related to this month in which we spiritually, emotionally and actively prepare for the coming High Holy Day season.  Each day has a theme.

blogelul2014

On this first day of Elul, the theme is “DO”.  It must not be a coincidence that Rabbi Elizabeth Wood nominated me to participate in the #elulmitzvahchallenge, an effort created by Rabbi Danny Burkeman at The Community Synagogue, to get people to spend this month not only thinking about our Jewish lives, but actually LIVING our lives Jewishly.  As Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) teaches, mitzvah goreret mitzvah, the doing of one mitzvah leads to another.

So, on this first day of Elul, I invite all of you to consider how do you DO JEWISH?  What do you DO each day that says, “I do this because I am a Jew.”

Here is what I did today…  What did you do?

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