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Omer 42

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

 

Today is day forty two, which is six weeks of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim ve shtayim she hem shisha shavuot laOmer.

Today is Malkhut be Yesod, majesty within community, nobility within intimacy.

Today, we remind ourselves and each other that we are unique. The Yesod connection with each other and with God that we form is supposed to be our way of being most ourselves, a way to reveal the truths of who we really are in safety. But often, due to politeness, due to fear of losing what we have, due to simple laziness, we let ourselves get overwhelmed and our own individual needs, desires, and strengths get overwhelmed by the community we are in. This might be fine with Yesod (at least in the short term,) but it destroys the Malkhut that Yesod is supposed to bring. We are meant to exhibit majesty, to be holy, to pour forth God’s light. To do that we need to know who we are and be who we are, even if that offends someone.

Today, I remember that relationships are meant to strengthen individual traits not drown them out. I work hard to make sure I am neither overwhelmed nor overwhelming in my relationships.

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Omer 37

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day thirty seven, which is five weeks and two days of the Omer. Hayom yom shloshim ve sheva she hem hamisha shavuot ve shtey yammim laOmer.

Today is Gevura be Yesod, strength within family, might within community

You know, it’s a cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword. But unpacking that cliché one might find that one is comparing the ability of communication to achieve. One might realize that connections – a family working together, a community that knows each other – those are powerful. They allow for successes that weren’t there before and for answers to difficult situations. They allow us to access help when needed and to discover the strengths that we can offer. Communication – written with a pen or typed or what have you – is more powerful because it builds connection than a sword, which can only destroy people, trust, relationships – the connection so built.

Today, we use our strength to build connection, not destroy it. Communication is mightier.

Omer 27

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day twenty-seven which is three weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom esrim ve sheva she hem shlosha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Netzakh, family within power, intimacy within victory.

Our strength comes from each other, and being with each other is a victory. We forget that sometimes. There are papers to fill, and notes to type, phone calls to make, and invoices to pay and so much more. I am busy every day, and tired and don’t care and don’t have time. And so when it’s time to watch a family movie or just sit around drinking coffee or otherwise “waste my time” hanging around with people, I sometimes say that I don’t have time for that. I forget that I am creating strength and power for myself. It is the most important way I can spend time, more crucial than any other.

Today, I win when I take time to be with family. It is the most important way I can spend my time.

Elul 10

Since I’ve come to Hamilton, my life has been about people – the people I left behind whom I miss intently, the people who are here whom I get to see a lot more of, the people I am meeting, both professionally and personally, but most of all the people I depend on and those who depend on me. I never wanted to be independent. I am certain I can be, mind – there are many things I can do, and I know how to ask for help should I need it.

However, I think for cultural and emotional and spiritual and many other reasons, I am not as into independence as the average North American. I love the feeling of being a member of a group, of taking care of the people in it and of being taken care of. I want my grumbles to be heard as requests for help and I want to spontaneously help those around me and have that help welcomed. This is a woven tapestry idea, each thread intermingling with many others, contributing just a tiny but utterly necessary bit to the overall picture. It’s also a Jewish idea – one of the reasons we don’t count Jews, for example is because the oneness, the connectedness of the community is what is important, rather than the number of individuals. (That’s right, – we don’t count Jews because all Jews count. I appreciate religious puns.)

Yes, I know it’s important not be clingy and dependent, but like everything else, this is a balance situation. It’s important to be open to support and assistance too, both giving and receiving it. When I work as hard as I can, I don’t do so to be successful or secure. I do so because I know there are people depending on me and needing me to earn a bit more. When I do the dishes, I don’t do so because the dirt bothers me or because I’m worried about getting sick, I do so because the dirt bothers people in my family and I’m worried about them being sick. Sometimes, this attitude leads to expectations that aren’t and can’t be met. What happens when a friend is more independent that I am? The possibilities for us to hurt each other are so many!

I am trying to participate in a comfortable group evening, and she is trying to have some quiet reading time alone. I am appreciating a kitchen where people can bump into each other and pass things, and he is wishing for enough space to get work done without people too close. I am hoping for some help to come with a heavy task and she is wondering why, if I want help, I don’t ask for it. I am offering comfort during a sad situation and he is trying to get some private time to deal with his sadness.

This is the challenge this Elul and always – how do I give people the privacy they need while retaining my need for interdependence and community? I don’t want to become so good at giving others space that I forget to give them love! On the other hand, I don’t want to hurt anyone through unwanted attention or assistance. I work at it – sometimes leaving people be, sometimes working to increase closeness, sometimes finding my own space, sometimes building connection with those who appreciate it. I try to use humour and faith, love and communication to get though. I try to count on others and let them count on me and yet be strong enough to be counted.  Sometimes, it feels like an impossibly narrow path to walk. I remember the song, and, at the least, try to walk it without fear.

Elul 19

Ask.

It’s the most vulnerable place in the world, asking. ‘Would you go out with me?’ ‘Can you forgive me?’ ‘Can you help me?’ ‘Can I help you?’ You risk a ‘no’, and that is terrifying. It implies that you haven’t heard or been heard well enough, that you need something that another isn’t willing to give, that you’re imposing or being demanding. A failed question denies so much more than the immediate request – it denies the depth of understanding and acceptance in a relationship. It’s hard to ask.

It’s worthwhile, of course – and people are very pro asking. Community and connection are essential in the Jewish faith, asking God even more so. ‘If the answer is no,’ we reason, ‘at least we tried.’ If we don’t ask, we’ll never get a yes.’ Asking opens the door to communication, to relationship, to that connection and intimacy that many of us desire, some of us fear, and all of us need for growth. All we can do is use our words and strive to cope with the answers.

Sometimes, the ‘no’ is just too bitter, though. When the answer is ‘no’ to questions of love, of attention, of self-worth – then it’s not easy to take. So, we go it alone. We don’t ask for help, thus admitting no weakness. We don’t ask for attention, thus admitting no desire. We work out our own answers, creating meaning for ourselves. It may be a cold, lonely place to be, but at least there’s no risk of rejection. In so many ways, not asking is safer.

So, too, is not answering. Answering is also fraught, after all. Who wants to destroy someone else’s world? That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone! On the other hand, committing to something one doesn’t want to do just to make someone else happy? Well, that leads to dysfunction and abuse, quicker than one would have thought possible. Here, it’s harder. How can one not answer? The question has been asked, hanging in the air like a sad little half-filled balloon. Will it be filled and fly away? Will it flop limply to the ground, the air having been let out of it in a quiet woosh? One has to say something.

People do a lot of tricky things to avoid answering questions. They say, ‘ask me later, I’m busy’ or ‘that’s a possibility’. They turn the question back on itself, with a ‘well, what do you think.’ They give a vague could fit anything answer, along the ‘that sounds good in principle but I’m not sure…’ or ‘let’s do that…when we next have time.’ These answers get rid of the question, yes. They don’t do much to improve communication, though. Really, best to go back to not asking the question.

Of course, no question = no communication, and one is stuck in a loop which is difficult to work with. I don’t have a way out of the loop, really. There was a time when I knew the answer to this question at least, and could say, ‘ask!’ Ask though it’s hard and embarrassing and leaves you crying because growing love is all there is, and the most important thing and so ask. Now, I’m less sure. The asking can so easily become demanding, begging, nagging, or whining – all of which are very unappealing. Maybe it’s better to make the space, and stay safe.

Now, I have fewer answers and fewer questions. I’ve become more quiet. Maybe that’s part of growing older. I still ask, just more rarely. I hope it means that the questions I do ask are more worthwhile. It’s that balance that’s the real challenge. How to ask the right questions, with courage and strength and even with joy, how to answer the questions clearly and accurately even when the answers break expectations, and how to be OK with any answer given? How to take the space when needed and not ask when asking would result in pain and unnecessary work for others? Today, I acknowledge the need for distance, for quiet silences, for spaces without words. For everything there is a time, it says in Ecclesiastes. There is a time for asking and a time for staying quiet. Today, I accept and honour those who chose not to ask.

Elul 14

Remember

What a lovely word, remember – so filled with possibility, and so elulian. (As a blogger, I have the certificate entitling me to make up words whenever I want to.) One can remember all the things that one did wrong and think about correcting them. One can remember that God is watching, and remember the proper way to do things and do t’shuva. One can remember good times that happened throughout the year and celebrate them as the year draws to a close. One can remember to do the mitzvot that one is supposed to do.

But remembering, with that word ‘member’ in the middle, brings people to my mind. Most specifically, I remember my dad. I remember him throwing a bunch of leftover stuff in a pan and mixing it all up, and squeezing ketchup and honey and any other interesting looking sauces he could find, and serving it as dinner. I remember him saying that there was nothing wrong with following one specific idea in depth, or with getting mildly OK at knowing every topic, but that one should make that decision clearly, because one wouldn’t be able to know everything. I remember him saying that some people remember logically, based on what facts would have fit the situation, and their memories don’t change no matter what while others remember emotionally based on how they felt about something and their memories change all the time and dramatically and they’re both wrong. I remember his smile. I remember him singing (and he had a terrific voice.) I remember him sitting with me and making me re-play ‘the bear went over the mountain’ over and over on the piano because I wasn’t doing it right. I remember hating that song for a while. I remember the feel of his strong shoulders, supporting my body, making me feel safe.

I know this is not likely to get me a bunch of likes or followers. Heck, I talked about daddy last Elul, and I suspect I did a better job. Nevertheless, I will talk about him again this Elul. Today, all I have is memories – little bits of this and that which remind me that for better or worse, Daddy is still a member of my community. I miss him. There are many things I’d like to talk to him about, questions I’d like to ask him, advice I wouldn’t mind getting. I’d like him to be reading my blog, commenting on what I write and even telling me that I should consider doing something a bit more productive with my time. However, he’s still there. It’s not that heartbreaking sadness or sense of loss that it was the first year – the loss and heartbreak are still there, and it still hurts, but the hurt is fuzzier now and sweeter.

It is because of daddy’s words that I can remember the things I did wrong and commit to making them better (It’s not a matter of doing your best, Anna – it’s a matter of getting the job done, whatever it takes. ‘I did my best’ is easy to use as an excuse – but if you’re taking care of a child or flying a plane, no one cares. If you do it wrong, someone still gets hurt.) It is because of daddy’s words that I remember that God is watching and I need to do the right thing. (God may exist or God may not, but it doesn’t hurt to act as if he does and expects us to do what we’re supposed to do.) It is because of daddy’s words, however much they bugged me at the time, that I know it’s not enough to just wander through life, I need to give back and do mitzvot that make a difference in my community. (Hold it, don’t hold on to it! You hanging off of what we’re carrying isn’t helping – you need to work to support it and keep it stable.)

Dad was no saint. He was moody, depressive, temperamental, forgetful, strict, and sarcastic. But he was warm and caring, clever and funny, interesting and inventive, loving and strong. Above all, he was good. He did all he could to make people’s lives easier and happier, to help everyone he knew to succeed and find joy, to be there for others. The one thing no one could ever doubt is his goodness. I love him a lot and I miss him always. When someone says to me, ‘remember’, I remember my daddy, and celebrate my luck in having had the time that I did have with him. That is what I remember this Elul.