Monthly Archives: September 2016
#BlogElul – End
I wish there was one, sometimes. I, being somewhat of a perfectionist, would really like to finish something – anything, actually. It frustrates me that most of the things I do are never finished. The tests are never done being marked because the kids write more tests. The lessons are never done being prepped because then I teach new lessons. The dishes are never ALL washed, and the room is never entirely tidy and…
Well, it’s hard to just not be finished. I love that feeling of staring at a pile of work and saying, “done with that!” It never happens, though. I am actually never done. I try to fake it, of course, and finish sub-tasks and partial tasks and half-tasks and whatever it is that needs to be done, but the truth of the matter is that I simply am not finished and not likely to be. So, what’s to be done about that? Well, nothing, really.
It’s one of those discomforts, like change and paperwork, that God thinks is good for me, that I am supposed to learn from. So, how do I live with this discomfort? My personal preference is to whine. No, seriously, if the kids can do it, why can’t I? I don’t WANNA! Can’t I do it later? Can’t someone else do it? I’m too busy with something else. It’s cathartic, and I enjoy it, but it sounds dreadful, I’m sure.
Maybe I can just work on acceptance today. If I’m never going to be done, I’m never going to be done. If there’s always more to do – in fact, if there’s always so much to do that my to-do list never gets shorter, only longer – then that’s how it is. I get to just live with that. Possibly, I can even learn to live with it cheerfully, instead of fussing about every step in my way. I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. The only way I can be finished is to be dead.
I can enjoy it, though. If I see the pattern, if I see the cycle of tests being written and marked, and clothes being worn and washed and worn and washed again, then I can hold that pattern as a perfect thing. That way, having a time when things aren’t completed is a necessary piece of the pattern and part of completeness.
The more joy I can find in not being finished, the less discomfort it brings. As I look forward to the next part of each cycle, whether that is encountering a sink full of dishes, or washing the last one just as someone puts in the next, that task becomes perfect. This year, may I be finished with complaining and whining about how much I have to do. May I just enjoy being unfinished and overwhelmed with tasks. They’re fun, positive tasks, most of them! That will need to be good enough.
#BlogElul – Love
Hey, you know what? This blog needs more spice. Let’s talk about sex!
So, what’s the big deal about sex? It isn’t love, it’s just physical exercise, right? I can love someone without wanting to go to the gym with them! And certainly, sex and religion don’t mix. Sex can’t really be part of Elul.
Well, actually, Judaism does have opinions on sex. Judaism thinks sex is important and in fact, when it comes to relationships between a married couple, essential. It is one of the reasons why either a woman or a man may demand a divorce, and this is in the most Orthodox, patriarchal, and backwards of versions of the Jewish law. A Jew who is independently wealthy is expected to have sex daily, one who works a day job, twice a week, and shift workers or people who travel, every 15 days, 30 days, or 6 months, depending on the nature of their job. Yes, it really does specify. So, come on, people. Get on with it! Are you meeting your quota?
This meets with more than the usual dismay from people. Surely, sex should be when one wants to! Surely it shouldn’t be mechanical, or forced. Yet if it was just ‘going to the gym’, it shouldn’t be a big deal! Just like going to the gym, one would do it regularly to stay fit, (picture it for a moment: one, two, three, four, and again – just one more time people – yes, I know, you have that image stuck in your head now – your welcome) whether one wanted to or not. The thing is, the Torah does recognize that sex isn’t a basic ordinary part exercise. It is an expression of love, one of the deepest we have.
When we allow physical intimacy with another person, we are trusting that person to take care of us. We allow a deep level of vulnerability to exist between us. This is an area where abuse is so easy, that rape has a whole category all to itself. So, sex is about trust.
It is about sharing. We give and receive pleasure and sharing pleasure is powerful. The act builds and reinforces affection – it’s not for nothing that it’s called “making love”.
So, how can something that vital be dictated? It’s bad enough to dictate ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, to dictate caring for children and honouring parents, to dictate ritual and daily practice, to dictate the food we eat and the clothing we wear. Now, this religion is coming into our bedrooms? Ridiculous!
Or is it? Is it a high standard, difficult to attain, set to us as a goal? Is it a question? “Have I done all I can to make sure I do meet those requirements?” Am I taking care of myself, trying my best in my relationship, making the most of every opportunity? Or am I simply allowing daily fuss to take over, to become more important? Am I taking sex for granted? Am I ignoring my responsibilities in this area? This month, as I review everything else, I had better review sex too. Yes, the work is hard. But the rewards are pretty awesome.
#BlogElul – Fulfill
Fulfill – satisfy, be complete, keep a promise.
There are times when life seems to make a promise. Especially as a kid, but at all times, one has this sense that very soon, something exciting and amazing and wonderful is about to happen. When I grow up, I’ll be a movie star and a ballerina and a teacher and a fire fighter and a doctor! And I’ll live in a perfect house with perfect family and we’ll wear long beautiful gowns and eat little fancy pastries.
Or whatever. They’re not even dreams, really! They’re just that sense that ‘it’s going to be good’, that there’s joy behind the curtain, and that everything is possible and can be enjoyable. Most of the time, one’s adult life isn’t like that. The fancy meals become stacks of dishes, the perfect family becomes diapers and morning conflicts, the wonderful career becomes piles of paperwork, and the beautiful long gowns are a pain to clean. So, mostly, life – God – just doesn’t cut it. The promise stays unfulfilled and we are, on some under-the-surface level, really, really disappointed.
However, there are exceptions! Today, life fulfills its promise. Today, I sing with family and friends. Today, my kid (the one who has a reading disability) sneaks off to read a book. Today, both my daughter and my mother repost my blog. Today, a parent tells me that a child has said, “my kid just used words I never thought she’d say, that she likes going to math class.” Today, we have a fancy meal, and friends to help with dishes. Today, I get to wear a dress with puffed sleeves – and be proud of myself for putting away my clean laundry. Today, the weather is actually not too hot or too cold, not rainy or dreary – it’s nice (and in Canada, that is not a frequent occurrence.)
I find myself actually satisfied with God’s goodness, feeling full and fulfilled. It’s not a place I can (or even one I would wish to) stay in, but it’s great to go there some days! It’s a good day to say, “Thank you”. Moments like this are the Sheheheyanu moments.
It’s a beautiful prayer. Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheynu, Melekh Ha-Olam Sheheheyanu, VeKiemanu, Vehigianu lazman haze.
And if you follow the blog, some of these terms are familiar to you even if you don’t know any other Hebrew, because Hebrew prayers repeat.
Barukh – bless. It’s funny – we don’t praise or thank God, we bless God, who being perfect, should need no blessing. The word ‘bless’ here is a recognition that we are a part of God, that maybe from one side, God is perfect but there are other sides, sides that include us, that have aspects that need blessing. So, we wish for good things for ourselves and each other, and in so doing, for God.
Ata – You. We talk to God one-on-one, accentuating the personal relationship we have with God. There is no intermediary here. This is a private chat, and we are saying thanks, the way we would if a person was involved. It’s a powerful way of relating, that only jibes with our understanding of God as part of ourselves when we realize that a) talking to ourselves is OK, and b) there’s a lot about God we’re unlikely to understand.
Adonai – For instance, this “our lord” term which is a replacement for the unpronounceable name of God, and which has plural and singular forms kind of mixed in (it’s one of those things we call exceptions of language – or maybe it’s an exception of reality?) We don’t know what God is. Calling God a Master or Commander, is one way to handle that. Hopefully, we can find others.
Eloheynu – Here we affirm that whatever this God is, God is ours. There’s a relationship there that includes possession. Not the possession of ownership that robs the other of individuality and power, but the possession of relationship, the one that says our to a family member who is loved. God is part of us and we are part of God.
Melekh HaOlam – God is not made any smaller by us, though. God still runs and manages the universe, the now and forever of it. We acknowledge that this is not a relationship of equals. We allow ourselves to imagine a consciousness for the universe, and imagine how powerful and beyond comprehension it would be. We reaffirm once again, distasteful as that thought might be, that we are not God.
Sheheheyanu – who kept us alive. Life’s promise – the big one – is that we are alive and can experience things. It’s good to start our gratitude prayer with an understanding of the main miracle of life – that it exists, that it exists for us. I am alive, and that is a powerful reason to celebrate. Here I acknowledge that my life is not something I earned, but a gift.
VeKiemanu – and sustained us. Kept us going. Well, obviously! If we’re alive, we’ve kept going! But have we really? We could have just settled. If I had settled, I wouldn’t have the singing, the teaching job, the kids who can do the things I showed them. I’d have none of that. Here, we see that with God’s help, we’ve kept doing the do things.
VeHigianu – and got us. Sometimes, kicking and screaming, mind you. It hasn’t always been easy for life to corral me into doing the things I need to do to be fulfilled and occasionally happy. It’s been painfully difficult, in fact. Here, I thank God (and other people, who are a part of God) for that ‘gentle’ encouragement. I’ve grown from it.
LaZman HaZe. – to this time; to this season; to this moment. It’s about the now. Bad things have happened and will happen again. The cat will pee on my sandals and I will be behind on my paperwork, a kid will scream at me that I’m unfair or tell me that they’ve decided not to focus so much on their studies. Life will remain challenging. But, here, right now, in this very moment, life (God/the universe/my best self) fulfils its promise.
#BlogElul – Judge
So, this summer, mostly I worked. However, the time I had off I enjoyed. For instance, I went to a music festival. There was a singer, there – a singer who inadvertently reminded me of my opinions on judging. I think judgement is important. However, I think judgement of others is always a bad idea. Oh, sometimes we need to mitigate the danger that someone causes by locking that person up – but should we judge? Maybe I’d feel differently if it was my kid that was hurt by someone. I’m sure I judge in a jiffy. My heroes, however will remain those who don’t judge, even when they could. And yes, when it’s me or mine that are hurt, I have a right to judge. Do I have a right to judge when it’s a general injustice?
I don’t think it’s a good idea to judge others, in such a case. First, we know nothing. Oh, we can see the terrible plight that a person is in, and we can (and should) help, but if we see someone being aggressive, we have to be careful, because we know nothing. It reminds me of that story where the scorpion asks the tortoise for a ride across the Jordan, and says, “it’s safe, if I bite you we both drown.” Then, the scorpion bites the tortoise halfway through and when asked why by the dying tortoise answers, “well, this is the Middle East”. We don’t know. We don’t know if the tortoise’s government destroyed the scorpion’s father’s livelihood, or if a nasty tortoise had once refused to give a ride to the scorpion’s big brother when he was ill and he died or what. Furthermore, it’s tricky to judge even if we know everything.
Because judging is dangerous. Because then, the tortoises go away and say “scorpions are murdering cheats” and the next tortoise tries to drown the next scorpion on purpose and…When we say “how dare those evil Muslim terrorists do that terrible stuff?” people hear “….Muslim…terrible.” People have very selective hearing. So, better if we judge only ourselves and say, “how can we prevent terrorists?” Maybe we need to have a better security package that deals with terrorists. Maybe we need a better welcome package that deals with refugees. Maybe we need a better mental health package that deals with troubled people. Maybe we don’t have an answer. The point is, we do better if we don’t accuse anyone.
So, when that singer sang that “Israeli might is hurting the poor Palestinian refugees” song, he may not have realized it, but some people heard “Israeli…hurting” and turned it into “Jew…hurting” and thought it justified drawing a swastika on our driveway. Or maybe it justified that attack on that old guy in the funny Jewish clothes – he was probably one of the bad “Israeli might” types – he looked like he might be! And so the next day, when the scorpion saw the tortoise…
Am I saying we shouldn’t criticize Israel? Of course we should! Israel does stupid things. Israel does things that make me cry sometimes. However, I think there are ways to talk about it and write about it, to sing about it and vote about it that promote peace and justice, not hatred and more scorpions on the edge of the Jordan. What about finding those who want peace and work for it and singing about them? What about singing about the things that can be done? What about singing about how broken things are without accusing anyone? Because things are broken, and you can say that Israel brought all its problems on itself, but does that answer anything? Because, yes, Israel has made some decisions not everyone agrees with.
Not like Canada or the US. We’re not living on stolen land! (We are.) We didn’t deliberately kick people out of their homes (we did.) We certainly didn’t break up families, hurt and kill children, create strange rules for citizenship rights and practice cultural genocide! (We did.) And if we did in the past, we’re not doing it now! (We are. Look at food availability, clean water availability, healthcare availability and educational options in certain native communities. Go ahead. Take a look.) And if we had made those decisions, here in Canada, we totally would understand if some of the Native people went terrorist! There’d be no reprisals, no one would use disproportionate force and we’d listen to their concerns…Ok, I’m getting a bit sarcastic here. I’m judging. It’s so easy to fall into that trap! But at least I’m judging myself!
Seriously, though. Things in Israel are messy. You know that. I know that. I’ll even blog about it at some point. Today, however, I just want to take a step back and say, “don’t judge negatively”. Don’t. Read whatever holy book it is that tells you that if you’re going to express anger at a situation of injustice, make sure you don’t express it against another person or group of people. Let all feel safe at a music festival. Let all feel safe at a parade. (And yes, I haven’t been to a Gay pride parade since I saw a Queers Against Israeli Apartheid sign. What? It wasn’t about me? It was fine? OK, but internet comments about this issue often use Israeli and Jew interchangeably. Some anti-Semites have used Palestinian issues as justification for attacks. How would the average gay person feel about a group called Jews against Homosexual Rapists? Hey, it’s only against the rapists, it’s not about you!)
Save your judgement and anger against yourself. Say, “I should do more to help.” Heck, say “you should do more to help.” Just don’t say “those bad, bad, bad people did it”. Be for, not against. Be for peace, not against war. Be for equality, not against men or even patriarchy. Be for Palestine *and* for Israel, not against anyone. Don’t judge anyone – or at least, “…judge everyone favourably” as per the Pirkey Avot. Then, maybe, the tortoise will be able to offer the scorpion a ride, and the scorpion may be able to accept it, and both could somehow get to the other side of the Jordan in peace.
#BlogElul – Ask
It’s ok. It’s OK to ask for help. I know, I know, this is Canada, and the vestiges of the puritan work ethic and the British avoidance of contact are so strong that we dread asking for help more than any other activity. I know at people who would prefer to clean the toilets, visit the dentist, spend hours on a homework question, fail a test, anything at all rather than ask for help. We must be independent, right? We have to do our own wonderful, mega-successful things and it’s our job to manage on our own. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, a sign that you took more on than you could handle, a sign that you didn’t plan well enough, that you’re not trying hard enough…
I’ve even heard this as argument against my belief in God. “You shouldn’t need some Other Being to inspire you or give you strength – you should do it yourself! Gods are just a weakness and only useful to people who can’t manage on their own.” (I find this hilarious. Since according to my beliefs, I am a part of God, as is everyone else, depending on myself vs. depending on God is like the difference between having a cookie and having an equal-sized piece of a really big cookie. It totally doesn’t matter.)
I find this a cold, hard place to be and to live from. It’s ick. It’s extra work for no good reason, it blocks off necessary sources of aid, it keeps one isolated, and it turns everything into a disability. Really, the only people who can get accommodations at school are people with disabilities. So, if I want to be a healthy together sort of person, I have to pretend I don’t need any help and I can do it all independently. No, no, no! Ask for help, people. Please?
Getting help makes a difference. It makes each of us faster, it gives us more capacity for accomplishment, it means that I don’t have to learn every profession, it avoids time wasting. On a spiritual level, it builds connection, it creates bridges, it forms loving relationships. Asking is the way we build that interdependent web of love and community that actually is the closest we can get to God stuff.
I like to ask. I ask for clarification, I ask for confirmation, I ask for knowledge and understanding of others, I ask for assistance and I ask to offer assistance. Asking is a tool we have that is sadly underused in this country. To all those out there spending hours trying to do something simple, I have a solution (especially if you’re a student in Ms. Lilliman’s class and you’ve tried that math question 15 times…) which you should try. Ask for help.
#BlogElul – Awaken
OK, I admit it. My first thought is, “do I have to?” It’s early and there’s so much that has to be done, and no time in which to do it and now, you want me to awaken. It’s just not fair. I feel very much like responding the way my kid does when I wake her, with a blanket pulled tightly over my head and a groan of dismay, followed by tightly squeezed eyes, and a studious attempt to avoid all awareness of anyone trying to wake me. On a spiritual level, I have even better excuses. Do you know how much time it takes to be spiritually awake? It can take over your whole life! I have things to do – useful things. Really.
And awakening is no fun. Usually, it involves the realization that there’s a ton of stuff not only left undone from yesterday but messed up by me yesterday. So, I have a lot of repair work to do, fires to fight, and only then that long list to tackle. All the distasteful work can be avoided if I just stay in bed, right? Spiritually, putting a blanket over my head is easy. There are many delightfully busy things for me to focus on from useful ones like dishes to completely useless activities like rereading a children’s book I stumbled on or reaching level 437 in Candy Crush.
When people say they’ve had a spiritual awakening, it’s only half because an event in their life woke them up from everyday activities. Half of it is because they didn’t put a blanket over their heads.
See, God doesn’t do it right. When I wake the kids up, I’m sweet. I cajole, and talk nicely and gently , mention the good things that the day will bring, have a glass of water on the ready, point kids to daily routines – it’s a pleasant process (most days) that picks up where the bedtime cuddle left off. God now, usually spiritual awakenings are done with a crash of life event saying wake up, your soul is on fire and you have to fix the way you’re doing everything spiritually RIGHT NOW!
If only there was a period of time, maybe on a regular basis, that was dedicated to doing gentle pleasant things that could lead to spiritual awareness – things like prayer, and study, self-reflection and analysis, something that picks up from ritual to ritual, where I can focus on the good things that the following period of time will bring, and when everyone talks nicely and…oh, wait…
#BlogElul – Pray
When I start and end the day with prayer, when I start and end each meal with prayer, when I pray for some of the things a person is supposed to pray for, I notice my world more. Seriously, I see things more clearly when I pray. I know right from wrong better. All of a sudden, because I took the time to have that moment, I can resist temptation just a tiny bit, and give myself the drive to do a bit more than I thought I could. This is why I pray – it is a conversation with God, which grounds me, focuses me and makes me more capable.
A song of the holidays that I used to enjoy (it was written by a local Kingston artist so I haven’t heard it for a while) had the words “my prayers flow inward; my prayers flow upward; my prayers flow outward.” That rings true to me. My prayers have those three aspects, I feel.
When God is my best self, a quiet voice that inspires me, my prayers flow inward, reminding me of that part. My prayers become a chance to listen and talk to my conscience, my inspiration, my creativity. I can do more when I pray like that. If I am having trouble praying, it is probably a symptom of the fact that there’s something I don’t want to face so I’m not looking. (Of course, sticking fingers in my ears while chanting na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you” is not a working long term strategy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use it sometimes.)
When God stands for ritual and tradition, connection with my ancestors and descendants, when God is the grounding force in my life, my prayers flow “upward” to connect me to that source. This is where I get strength, energy, courage. My prayers are a chance to meditate, to take a step away from work, to find calm, maybe to find the ability to fall asleep. My prayer gives my life structure and meaning when my prayers flow upward. I am a comfortable part of all that is.
When my prayers flow outward, I become more responsible and more responsive. God is now what I see in another’s eye. God is the love that flows between us, honouring us both. When I recognize every person as being in God’s image every day, I am inspired to do more to care for others. I can begin (slowly and ultra reluctantly – mostly I don’t wanna!) to put others ahead of my selfish desires and needs.
In my opinion, one of the most perfect prayers, found as part of the Shabbat prayer is “sabeynu mituvekha, vtaher libeynu l’avdekha be-emet” This is a request prayer, and it’s one I like, because I need it so much.
Sabeynu – satisfy; fulfil; let what we have in life be enough. Help us to feel gratitude for what we have and to realize how good life is. If life isn’t good, show us where we can find that satisfaction. Help us to see the glass as half-full and to enjoy the fact that it’s not completely empty – or if it is, that we have a glass at all! As usual, this is an “us” prayer (note the ‘nu’ ending, people) and ensures that we do it together. One of our sources of satisfaction is other people.
MiTuvekha – of Your goodness; from Your kindness; with the Good that flows from You. Help us all to see what’s real, to focus on the good that comes from God and not on the ephemeral everyday things we seem to grasp for. This is God’s way of reminding us that the miracle is birds and children, loved ones and kittens, fresh vegetables and gardens – and not calculation of dollars and cents, video games, or whatever our obsession is. There is goodness in this world – in being with others, in helping people, in smiles and laughter. We prioritise God’s goodness and we recognize it.
VeTaher – purify; make holy; clean – this is where repentance and change are related to cleaning, to purifying. We remove the things that block us. No more dirt, no more grime, no more petty thoughts and little negative ideas. No matter how messed up are feeling are, we take the time to try and clean them up. But this is a request. Sometimes we need help with this. We ask God to do this job – to remove that which makes us impure from us.
Libeynu – Our hearts; In ancient Israel, this word was also the word for “mind”, as they believed knowledge and thought was in the heart. So, it is our thoughts and feelings, our desires and our loves, our dwelling on irrelevancies, our worries and angers, our hatreds and needs that we are asking for God’s help with. We want pure hearts – we want thoughts and feelings that correspond to the very best of us.
L’avdekha – to serve; Notice how it always comes to service? We serve God – the God within us, the God within others, the God in the world. It sort of clarifies priorities – take care of myself, take care of other people, take care of the world I live in. In this way, I serve God. This prayer is said on Shabbat, and it’s our request so that we can rest properly. The point of both God’s goodness and our ability to think and feel is to make the world (us included) a better place.
BeEmet – in truth; in faith; with honesty and sincerity. We pray for it to be real, something we believe. We pray that our goodness, like God’s becomes more than pretty words, that it is tangible in action. We pray that our outward selves more and more remember our deepest inner selves and that we are accountable for what we commit to. This, the final word, is the hardest for me in the prayer – it reminds me that there is a lot I must do if I am to be true to what I say.
Today, I pray for truth, for guidance, for purity, for strength. Today, I pray to hear the God within and without. I pray to be satisfied. I pray to serve. I pray that the words I say in prayer become reflected in the actions I take.
#BlogElul – Change
Ah, change. I don’t hate change any more. I used to. I kept trying for consistency, to hold on to something. I kept wanting to find a place that would be safe. I looked for ways to stay with the tried and true, the known and familiar. God, of course, thought this was hilarious.
“You want stability,” God said, “I think I’ll have you move every 5 years, or even more often! You’ll need to meet entirely new people, build entirely new friends, change everything and create a place for yourself over and over again . Maybe, I’ll make you a substitute teacher so you meet new students every day. Maybe, a contract teacher where your contract is secure for exactly 2 months at a time (on good days).”
When God says, “be OK with change because you have to,” there’s no point hating change. It’s not so much that I see change as a welcome friend, more like on old travelling buddy – ah, change, here you are again, whether I want you or not. I might as well get along with you, because you keep popping up. Over time, I’ve even found some good things about change.
It gives me perspective. I can see the situation I was in more clearly with a bit of distance, and maybe I can grow a bit from it. It gives me opportunity – meeting new people stinks, but making new friends can lead to good friendships and togetherness. It gives me strength. Well, if I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.
It’s hard to find a good Jewish prayer for change, you know. Asking for change isn’t a big Jewish thing. Asking for repentance and redirection, yes. But repentance and redirection to the correct path, the tried and true one! Change? Making something different if it didn’t have to be? AAAAAAAAAA! Why are you switching to the red coat anyways? What was wrong with the blue coat? It still worked! There were years of good service in that thing! We are the old, old religion with laugh wrinkles next to our eyes and wise aphorisms just pouring out. We prefer our writing on old yellowed parchment, and we think tradition keeps us going.
So the best I can do is quote the Torah and appreciate the brevity, simplicity, and encompassing nature of Hebrew. To everything there is a time – Lakol, Zman.
LaKol – to everything. The inclusive nature of it all robs change of the power to scare. A new place becomes just a place, a part of everything. Sure it has differences, but in the context of ‘everything’, those differences are pretty small, compared to the many similarities. It’s on Earth, isn’t it? It’s not somewhere actually, say, different. Like all other places, it has place features – houses, people, love, silliness, work… It turns change into mild variation, a different flavour of ice cream rather than an earth-shattering new way to be.
Zman – time. Again, you have to love it when a saying is just two words that encompass the infinite, one in space and one in time. Today, this minute, I have time. And this change is what is supposed to be happening now in this time. Change becomes cycles, the unfolding of a path I can walk. If there is no pattern, change is a wild plunge into chaos. But what happens when I see the pattern, or at least know the pattern exists and God sees it? Change is just the next piece in a pattern. That’s not terrifying, or disturbing – I know what’s coming up and can plan for it and it’s way better.
As I learn more about change, it’s like change gets a grooming. The wild, tattered clothes get replaced with a nice dress and the medusa-like hair gets brushed. Change becomes something I can cope with and maybe even enjoy.
#BlogElul – Learn
What lessons did I learn this year? I learned a bit of language and a bit of math. I learned a bit about Hamilton and a bit about Canada. On the spiritual level, the interesting one in Elul, however, I guess I learned things I already knew. I learned that I am a perfectionist who takes too long to do the simplest things. I learned that whatever sense I was using, my ability to perceive the outside world was not just somewhat limited, but more limited than that of others, that I am clumsy and compulsive, and that I am a bit needy and into complaining. These traits, which I’ve been working on since I was a kid are still there.
I learned that I can be a good teacher – it’s tricky, but I can be if I try. I am also beautiful, funny, and smart. I’m a good mom – I build decent family relationships. I learned that I’m into writing and that my writing is occasionally decent and that I’m into chatting with others so long as they do most of the chatting and that I enjoy board games and prayer services, singing and fancy meals. More or less, I knew all of that.
How can I learn something new? How can I understand myself on a deeper level? Maybe this is it – maybe learning that I am – I can be and I am – a good teacher, for instance, takes me a lifetime. Maybe I need to learn these lessons from a whole lot of different angles, in a ton of different circumstances to gauge the depth of my knowledge and to increase it. I can think of each aspect of myself and my learning as a polished gem. Yes, the learning is there no matter what, but as I go through the years, I polish it so that it shines more brightly.
I am starting to study Torah, a bit, again. It’s not easy and I don’t know enough of it. It says “veTalmud Torah keneged kulam” when listing the good traits (like honouring parents and visiting ill people) that we should have.
Ve – and the study. Have you noticed how the bible always starts everything with an “and” – every verse connected to every other, every saying/action of God connected to every other, every aspect of the universe intertwined into one gigantic web of being and Being.
Talmud – study; learning; commenting; asking why “lamah”; investigating; the compendium of people who did that for a living was at one point collected into books called the Talmud. Schools are sometimes called Talmud Torah – the Learning of Torah place. Learning is big.
Torah – the knowledge God gave Moses, and through Moses, us; the writings of inspired people; the beginning and end of information; the way things work; Torah that’s by hand and Torah that’s in the mouth – learning is physical; visceral. Some people translate Torah as Jewish Bible/old testament, and some as knowledge/wisdom and the fact that both are true is why we study it.
KeNeged – is against; is compared to; is equivalent to. Kulam – them all. How can study be equivalent to all those other things – prayer, comfort, service, respect, commitment? What does it mean to say it’s against/compared to them all? Surely, doing is more important than learning? Heck, coming to a house of learning early is in the list! If I devote myself to study to the exclusion of all other things then study really is against them all! So what makes it such a big deal? Is it the inspiration to do more that Torah should bring? Is it that polishing of my learning, that deeper understanding of myself?
If it is, and if I can use that learning to unblock some stuck places in my life that I can do more service and so on, then it would make perfect sense for Torah to equivalent to them all because it leads to them all. This year, I will see learning as a polishing cloth that I use to shine up the gems in my personality and smooth away the imperfections – not so that I may sit there like a piece of jewelry, but that I may go out there and become more useful and more beautiful in the world.
Yizkor – to remember. We take time during the year to remember those who died, who are now just memories in this world. We remember them in the midst of our prayer and repentance, because all of it is a gift from them. This year, I will be seeing two faces when I say Yizkor, my father and someone who was as close as a parent, my step mother in law.
I will hear daddy’s voice every time I say any of the words in Hebrew or listen to the men singing. I will remember that he learned a new culture and a new language in his 30s, and did it well enough to write poetry in English, to appreciate a good pun or tell a horrible dad joke. I will remember him telling me that yes, some of us have difficult circumstances to overcome. We can either overcome them, or whine that the world owes us something. The funny thing is that we might convince the world to give us what we want but we are unlikely to get true support, friendship or admiration that way. If we work harder and make it, we might.
When I make plans for the future, promising to have a better year, I’ll see Peg, warmly listening to our plans for the kids, hear her advising us to not try to accomplish the impossible, but to set realistic reasonable goals and then do them. I’ll hear her talk about the importance of planning with care, of taking time for plans and ideas, of making the plans work through continuous effort. I’ll also hear her advising us to have some good times in the present too – future planning is good and necessary – but so are board games.
When I hear the shofar, I will think of my father reminding me that tradition matters, that sometimes we do things we don’t like or don’t understand just because they’re traditional – and that is an excellent thing. I will remember watching Fiddler on the Roof with him, and thinking how he exemplifies the “tradition” song in some undefinable way – because even though he was not that religious, even though he left one country for another, losing all childhood traditions and continuity, even though – it is from him that I know about tradition, how much it can give me and how important it is.
When I pick out my most beautiful Rosh HaShanah outfit, I picture Peg helping me on with my wedding dress, fixing my daughters’ hair and making everything look right. Our styles didn’t always match and we both have issues when it comes to making healthy food choices and maintaining the appearance we want. Nevertheless, she cared about the way things looked and made beautiful clothes that made people look better, and put out decorations, and took the time to focus on appearance. She brought beauty into the world.
When I talk to people this holiday season, I will remember laughter, because dad and Peg sure both could laugh. They loved good jokes, but also just laughed for joy some of the time. I will remember singing – they both sang, different things and with different voices, but they sang. I will remember hugs and warmth and easy touch. They had no trouble sharing physical connection and intimacy. They were not confused about parent child boundaries, and kept those firm and appropriate, but within them, Peg and daddy were amazing at giving simple touches of comfort and reassurance.
When I pray, I will remember clear, deep and abiding faith – not always in the same thing, or in the same way, but faith. I never had problems knowing where they stood when it came to love, or faith, because really, sometimes those two words totally overlap. I will remember not words, not pictures, not anything outward, but feelings – the feeling of being loved and cherished and the feeling that says Love is, God is and all is well in the world. That feeling – that support – most of all, I will remember that.
It’s almost time for the Yizkor prayer. I have people I love whom I’ve lost. I have something to Remember.