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Omer 48

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 eight, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim ve shmone she hem shisha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Malkhut, intimacy within nobility, family within presence.

Today, I realize that having family around makes me work harder, makes me try harder and makes me care more. In fact, that’s what I do it for – for my family, for the people I love and want to spend time with and and care about. That’s what gets me up in the morning, doing the things I need to do. I am noble not on my own, but in the context of a member of my family – my community. Today, I recognise that nobility is something we create through the bonds we share and the connections we make. Today, I affirm the basic meaning underlying my faith. God is love. The love we have inside of our connections is exactly what makes us more Godly – more noble.

Today, I understand that all of these traits – nobility, love, kindness, victory, and on, and on – they are all aspects of God. I access the love I have within me, and share it, thus increasing my closeness to God and so, my nobility.

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Omer 20

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 which is two weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom esrim she hem shtey shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Tiferet, connection within beauty, intimacy within grace.

How can I connect to those around me? One way is through loveliness. Now, I am not always lovely – but the more I see myself as beautiful, the more I work to look and sound and feel full of grace and beauty, the more likely it is that I’ll be someone desireable for others to connect to. Today, I focus on ways I can embody the beauty of this world, whether that is through my appearance, or through my actions and words, and the kindness and closeness I embody and the harmony and grace I exhibit. When I do so, connections and intimacy simply happen, as is their nature.

Today, I project the beauty in my world and I embody it to build connection.

Omer 6

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 six of the Omer. Hayom yom shishi laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Khesed, connection within love, family within generosity.

Today I worry about connections. More and more I realize that connection is time, given correctly and lovingly and politely. More and more I realize that I’m not very good at that. I get caught up in my own work, and forget that there are texts to write, emails to reply to, family and friends to call, promises to others to keep, polite invitations for time spent to make, chores to help with, games and books to suggest, and all the other ways I could be connecting. Sometimes the sheer weight of the connections I should be making gets overwhelming. I know that I can do more than I’m doing now – and that this is important.

Today, I try to connect to others, through kindness and consideration. I will prioritise family.

Omer 5

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 five of the Omer. Hayom yom hamishi laOmer.

Today is Hod be Khesed, gratitude within love, acceptance within kindness.

Today, I thank the difficult people. It’s Hod be Khesed after all, and a bit of challenge is good for us. So, today, I thank the person who cut in front of me in line, and the lady who criticized the way I was doing something and the guy who yelled at me when I bumped into him, and every student who decided not to hand something in (“because I was at an *important* place in my video game, miss! I couldn’t stop!”) and all the other wonderful people who drive me bonkers. I am grateful to them for reminding me about kindness, and how that’s my responsibility no matter what, for teaching me patience or perseverance, for engaging with me in some fashion. These are all good things.

Today, I am grateful for challenges in kindness. I can grow as a person and be kinder if I practice gratitude.

Omer 3

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 three of the Omer. Hayom yom shlishi laOmer.

Today is Tiferet be Khesed, beauty within kindness, truth within love.

To me, someone kind is beautiful. If their lips are smiling, if their eyes are sparkly, if I can see they care for me – they are beautiful. I am very much a “reciprocity” sort of person. I think of a mirror reflecting. If people care for me I find it much easier to care for them than not. If people are kind, I would like to be kind back. I try my best to initiate but admit that I’m much better at responding. This makes some people hard to see as beautiful, and so, harder to be kind to. If people don’t care about me, don’t think much of me, and would rather I went away, if people act in distant or harsh ways, I can’t be as loving. I have a harder time expressing truth within love – I can be kind, but it’s a much emptier more polite, more stilted kindness. I have to actually do the mental work of finding their beauty so that I can see them as God meant them to be and then – and only then – can I express love towards them.

Today, may I find the true beauty within others so that kindness towards them comes with ease.

Omer 1

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 the first day of the Omer!

Today is the day of khesed be khesed love within love, kindness within kindness.

I’m almost always kind and I certainly try. I’m always available to spend time with the people who need me, and I like that a lot, so that’s kind and so, I’m kind. After all, isn’t loving someone treating them the way I want to be treated? Love your neighbour as yourself and all that? Not like those cruel, unavailable people who do it just to annoy me. Except, they like space. And so they’re being kind by offering lots of space and not bothering me and think I’m cruel because I’m always there and never leave them alone. So, being kind? Who knows! Maybe being kind within kindness is just listening carefully enough to know what kindness would be for the person I’m with.

Today, I try to care for others the way they wish to be cared for, however odd that may seem to me.

Tishrey 2 – (#BlogElul 26 – Create)

It is an awe-inspiring thing to be created in the image of God. People forget the responsibility that puts on them. Because God is a creator. If we are created in God’s image, then it is incumbent upon us to create. We are, by that act of being, creators. We create with every breath we take. If we aren’t careful, however, what we create won’t be fit to be sold in a government-issue store in a communist country. It will be dull, colourless, badly stitched together and ill-fitting. When we review our years as part of the Yommim Noraim, one of the things to do is note the badly made things we have created and get rid of them. Another thing to do is to plan this year’s creations.

That’s right – plan. Because it’s easy to create garbage. Peel a banana and there you have it – a banana peel, done. But to create something worthy of being in God’s image, that takes planning, it takes determination, it takes creativity, and it takes love. Without planning, it won’t be possible. You know the saying, “the devil is in the details?” Picture him there – waiting to drag you down with him, tempting you to waste time and do things that are not creative in any way. So, I plan what I want to have next year. As part of that, I celebrate this year’s creations.

I taught full time all year. Yes, that’s a creation – all those students who know math better, who like math better and more importantly, who know that cheating gets caught, that prioritising work leads to success, that they have ability, that they can’t ride on that ability but need to work – that is a beautiful creation, and I played a part in it. A family who love each other, who grow together, who learn from each other – and who think that being Jewish is fun. That’s my creation too. I’m not the only one on this creative team, but at least I played a small part. I wrote a lot. I blogged Elul, I counted the Omer, and I prepared tons of interesting, creative materials for math classes. Although most of my writing is a bit cheesy, repetitive and mediocre, occasionally, I write good stuff and I’m proud of what I write. So, this year, I will continue to create in the areas of family, teaching, writing. What else?

Fighting for a better world? Maybe – that could be a neat creation. Increasing connections with friends? Improving the appearance of my surroundings? (I don’t HAVE to be a slob, right?) These are all things I could create this year. These are all goals around which I could make plans. And once I’m done the planning, I’m just started. It’s going to take a lot of determination for me to continue. I’m a procrastinator and little things take me forever. I’m going to want to quit. Anything that could distract me probably will. For instance, I have decided that there will be 29 Blog Elul posts this year. It was NOT easy to get my butt in this chair to write this one.

I need creativity to do the things I do – and creativity hurts, because it means I am invested in the work I do. I want – no, I need it to reflect my emotions. Which means I pick at emotional scars every time I sit down to write, I prod at relationships to see which bit hurts – and then I use that bit to write from, because it is the one that will add the colour and texture and make sure I’m not producing boring material. I know many people say you’re either creative or you’re not. I disagree. We are all created in God’s image. We are all creative. You are either willing to face the pain or you’re not. If you’re coming from a place of shame and embarrassment, you won’t be and you’ll find that the words don’t come, the paint won’t flow, the conversation will end abruptly as you walk away from those you should be with, and you will be completely unable to create.

And that’s where the love must come in, because if I don’t love it, I won’t do it – or I’ll do it mechanically, keeping my self insulated from it. I love what I do – and I’ve tried doing stuff I don’t love, and I’m so good at faking it that lots of people thought it was good creative work. I knew however, and God knew that it was just nicely painted garbage, and not worthy of being seen, especially during the High Holy Days.

So, to create is …well, here is an image. To create, plan to build a fire. Get the supplies and build it hot. Now stick your hands in it. Yes it’s supposed to hurt, that’s the creativity. Use determination and love to keep your hands in the flames. No, you don’t get burned up in this fire. Instead you pull out something incredible, whose beauty reminds you that you were made in God’s image with the power of creation.

 

Elul 24 – Hope

Oh dear. So today is Erev Rosh HaShanah and I don’t think I’ve ever been this unprepared for the High Holidays. I still have a lot of anger in my heart to some of the people in my life – my attempts to forgive have been met with imperfect success. I still have anger towards myself. I still haven’t apologized to anyone for anything big this High Holiday season, and not all of my small apologies have been sufficiently sincere. I haven’t said goodbye and let go of last year’s things. I haven’t made big plans for how next year will be different. I haven’t even finished the darned Blog (maybe during the Yomim Noraim…) None of that has been done. So, what am I supposed to do?

Rosh HaShanah insists on coming. It’s not going to wait for me to figure it out. It’s going to be there before I say “boo”. My only hope is to what? Fake it? Hope that my reluctant heart does Teshuvah now, right now? Figure that Rosh HaShanah itself will take care of the missing bits? Get a bit harder and more cynical and decide it’s a day like any other day and I should just get on with living it? I don’t have answers.

But each time I ask, maybe I get closer. This, this asking, this yearning for better without being able to know what it is, without ever reaching it – this is my preparation. I prepare by giving up and realizing I can’t and by realizing that I must and by never giving up on hope and the future. I prepare by embracing paradox as a valuable part of my faith and by doing just a bit more today of something (anything) than I did yesterday. I prepare by lo listening to my heart long enough to at least hope for the new year. I may not be brave enough to plan, but I can at least hope.

I hope that I finish this blog this year. I hope that I catch up at work. I hope that I can love my kids with all my heart. (I always wonder if the VeAhavta is talking about the way we love God through loving people.) I hope that I can be kind. There. Right there. That’s my top hope for the year – I hope I can be kind. I hope for the kindness that Hillel preached, when he told the entire Torah on one foot

God, this Rosh HaShanah, let me be kind enough to forgive those that harm me. Let me be kind enough to forgive myself and hope for good things for myself. Let me be kind enough to apologize with ease because the regret comes from the heart and not my thinking. Let me be kind in my writing and my planning. I hope for kindness, God. This year, I have learned to be hard. I have learned to set boundaries so firm that joy and loving and warmth are left out in the cold. So, let those boundaries break this Rosh HaShanah. Let my heart break, even if it hurts, so I have no choice but to feel the kindness that I have buried inside.

I am unlikely to suddenly become successful, efficient, popular, or graceful. I can hope for those traits. I can tell stories with those traits in them and I can work to become more like the person in the stories. But it will take time. However, I have been kind. I know what that feels like and I know I can do so. So, that’s what I need to return to. This will be my hope – that I can be a kind person, one who loves truly and cares for other people.

Elul 21 – Love

Well that’s unfortunate! I wrote about ‘love’ yesterday, for fill. What to do now? Ah well, Bible story time.

 

Raising Children

They’re my children. I know it sounds odd, because they are important people and everyone knows them and no one really knows me, but still. They’re still mine. 3 generations of them, from the time when I was much too young but already had a baby and was called to wet nurse for this little girl to the time I finally got another little girl to play with so very many years later – all of them were loved by me, raised by me, praised by me, sung to at night by me, hugged by me and chastised by me. Although, as a nurse, my ability to chastise was limited. If I could have only had more influence, maybe I could have taught that one more about honesty, or kept that one from fighting so much. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to watch brilliant, broken people grow up and self destruct. Oh, but then…my children are so beautiful. Maybe I wouldn’t have done any better, and would have just been overpowered by the sheer wonder of them all.

Rebecca was my first. She was so smart! Few little girls are that smart. I was her nurse from the time her busy, uncaring mother first stuck her onto my breast and forever more. The way we loved each other, Rebecca and I! Of course I had my own babies and husband and I loved them and I raised them well, and they all got jobs as nurses and butlers, as manservants and maids but Rebecca…she was special. Quick as anything she was, and strong. She knew what she wanted and no one or nothing would get in the way of her getting it.  She did have her faults. Sadly, she was not above manipulating her parents to get what she wants – and they fell for it too! “But Mama, Dad said I could…”, “but Mama, it’s so hard to be from a chief’s family, there’s no other fault…” Laban got in trouble a lot for things that were at least partially Rebecca’s fault. Of course, I yelled at her about it, but sometimes, that just wasn’t enough. She knew it worked with her parents, so of course she used manipulation.

She listened to me in most things, though. And even more importantly, she talked to me. Her questions, her ideas, her hugs – she explored the notion of Gods with me, and told me about the One God of Abraham (Bethuel knew about that God of course, but somehow, it was still Abraham’s God.) She kind of liked the idea of one God that ruled all the others. She thought it sounded clever, and less confusing. She also talked about marriage – she wanted someone to love her. In her family, all the marriages were for money and power. She saw my family though. We were just together as two servants, my husband and I, and we had picked each other and she wanted that so much. She knew it was not to be, though. It didn’t make sense for her. She’d need to be married off to secure a holding or to prevent a battle.

I think that’s why she was so ready to go with Eliezer when he came. Since an arranged marriage had to happen, she wanted to be part of arranging it. This way, she’d be with the one-God-of-Abraham people, and she’d be far enough from her family that maybe – just maybe – love could happen

Of course she made sure we went with her. Why wouldn’t she? They were going to send along some servants anyway, and my husband and children could just as well serve Isaac as Laban. We are invisible, you know – us servants who make sure that the babies are fed and the house is clean. When it says “Abraham prepared this”…or Isaac did that…or Jacob, or Rachel, or any of them, it doesn’t even always mention the ones that served the morning coffee or drove the sheep or mended the clothes. Who did the filling of the basin Abraham brought? Who prepared the choice animals for feasting? Faceless, nameless people. But we still love our masters and mistresses and want the best for them. So, I came. It didn’t matter to anyone else, and it mattered a great deal to Rebecca and I. We needed to stay together – and so we did. They fell in love as soon as they saw each other of course, Isaac and Rebecca did. It’s the first love story of the bible, really. That’s when I first started believing in this God – clearly, God had arranged this marriage. They both needed love so badly. I tried – but distant, indulgent self absorbed parents make it so much harder. Now, maybe they could love each other – and maybe their children would have the love they needed from their parents not a random nurse.

It was not to be, of course. The men of that family always had a hard time with babies. Couldn’t get their wives pregnant for years. Bethuel had children late, as did Abraham – and Isaac was no different. Rebecca wanted children so much – “mama Deborah,” she’d tell me, “I’ll be good with them – I’ll truly love them.” But when she finally had children, that wasn’t simple either. It was a hard pregnancy, and I almost lost her a couple of times during the birthing (of course I was there, where else would I be?) The babies wore her out. She was always tired, always slow, always grumpy – my quicksilver, super clever and funloving girl! And Esau – how could she, who was so smart, give him her love? He was slow to learn things. He preferred the doing. He was a big boy, quick – but sometimes he broke things in his enthusiasm. She liked Jacob – sweet, smart – like Rebecca in boy form, the best of his parents put together. It wasn’t fair to Esau of course. He wasn’t a bad boy – he was just not a Rebecca sort of boy. Isaac liked him. Isaac was a simple man and liked simple things and Esau was – well, a bit simple. He got Rebecca’s looks and quick movement, but not her cleverness – no that went to Jacob.

It tore the family apart, really – Isaac and Esau against Rebecca and Jacob. Whereas before the two of them celebrated differences, now the differences were highlighted and accentuated by children who parodied the best – and the worst of their parents. I tried to bridge the gap. I learned to read and write so I could work with Esau on his letters and I learned to ride so I could take Jacob out for rides and get him moving. The boys both loved me. I was their Mama Deborah and many a time, the one they ran to with their tales of woe. “Look!” Jacob would say, “I wrote this incredible poem about God, and dad said it was sissy stuff”. “I found the most beautiful oasis,” Esau would complain, “and it’s not far and mom won’t even come look.” I comforted, consoled, counselled and corrected but once again – there’s only so much a nurse can do. I tried to show Rebecca that Jacob was a bit sneaky but how could she see that when she did it herself? And Esau was so frustrated and so active and stuck with parents who liked to read or to study that he lashed out and yelled at everyone and everything. They were so critical and so demanding, those two – and playing favourites! Let me tell you, they were wonderful people but as parents…

So, it didn’t surprise me that as Isaac was dying, Rebecca and Jacob manipulated him into birthright and blessing. I could have predicted that! I also could have predicted how mad Esau was. He was being left with nothing, poor boy and so he turned against all of us. I understood – but I missed my big guy. Jacob went back to Laban’s and I thought I was done parenting – but then Rebecca got really worried. How was Jacob doing? Did he have children? Why wouldn’t he come home? Rebecca missed her Jacob a lot So, old or otherwise, up to Haran I go, and there’s Jacob, married to two wives, a whole passel of children and no clue how to raise them. So, I’m Mama Deborah again, and the wives are seeking my aid with jealousy anyways. Stop it! I tell them – jealous broken parents lead to issues with the children. Just cut it out. But they don’t – Sigh another generation. Still, I will do my best to raise them up well with good values and strong skills and hope of the future.

I don’t know. I talked and I taught, I comforted and I challenged, I disciplined and I delighted. I raised them all as best I could and gave them all what self confidence I had. So, these children – they’re mine. That’s it – I worked hard and loved hard and when I die, I hope that some of these people will cry at my passing. And until then, well I have plenty of tasks to do and children to love.  That is enough for me. I’m mama Deborah after all.

Elul 20 – Fill

We have a blessing. “Oh fill my cup until it overflows with love. I share my cup because it overflows with love.” It’s pretty when sung, and there are days when it is definitely one of my favourites. It’s a very Jewish blessing in some ways – the “my cup overflows” always makes me think of ‘Adon Olam’ (ask for my Adon Olam translation some day. It’s the prettiest and best for singing – she says modestly.) Other times, I just don’t seem to have that love to share, I just don’t. Then, I resent it – where am I supposed to get this overflowing cup from, again?

Lately, my daily “sensible sayings for the day” feed has been full of ideas about love. Most of them seem to be in exactly the same vein. They all say, “stop asking for it, you moron, and start giving it!” Sometimes, though, I think God asks for too much! How can we share our cups of love when they don’t seem to be overflowing? When, in fact, they seem to have nothing but dried on old coffee grounds that should have been cleaned out ages ago. When they were last used to drink the soup of the soup of the soup (great Jewish story – ask me if you don’t know it.) It feels so much like there’s nothing to share.

Of course, there is. There are probably tons of people who love us. Our partners, our children, our family and friends – plenty of love all around. The cup can still seem empty though, in the middle of a fight, or in the middle of the night. Sometimes that love is hard to see. How does one handle those horrible days when the goal is to give love and one feels there’s nothing there? Don’t know. My current approach of no sleep, caustic humour and shutting down when upset may not be the best one at giving love. Once or twice, I’ve noticed that opportunities for being loving have come up and passed me by because I just wasn’t on the ball enough. And given my noticing skills, if one or two have come up, 20 or 30 have gone down without my even being aware of their existence.

So, I need to work on filling my own cup.  Because asking the universe to do it for me always gets that annoying indulgent parental smile of “aww, sweetie…you can do it yourself, I know you can”. (Yes, I use that exact tone of voice with my students – doesn’t mean I like it directed at me, thank you very much, God.) I need to remember what has worked in the past and start using those approaches.

I know that ‘no sleep’ stinks as an approach, for example. I need to start filling my cup by loving myself well enough to take care of myself. Yes, there are other priorities – including this blog, I will do all 29 posts by Rosh HaShanah, darn it all – but if I never put me on the priority list, I fail. So, I have to try to love myself just a little ‘6 hours a night’ bit. Getting enough sleep and eating healthy food is a necessity. Let’s see if I can do it. I certainly will try.

I have to look for the love in the cup, too. As I said, I am not very good at noticing. I am extremely blessed, and when I get off the pity potty, I recognize it. It’s been a while since my daily gratitude list happened daily. There’s another thing to resurrect – I need to keep reminding myself of good things, keep my eyes open, recognize the love I’m being given (“I sent a boat, a helicopter…”) and appreciate it, and maybe my humour won’t be quite as toxic.

Shutting down when upset is probably also not the best approach as that upset has nowhere to go, creates a lump and that lump sits in my cup like curdled milk, smells yucky and keeps my cup from filling with anything decent. Saying or writing the upset, working through it, moving on – there are people who can do all that automatically. Then again, there are people who remember their wallets automatically. I need to always check for my wallet, and I need to engage in constant spiritual practice to deal with emotions. Again, downplaying prayer, journaling, contact with support network, meditation – all not acceptable.

There are people who manage with actual empty cups – with no family, or friends, or health, or resources. And while some of them are unable to share anything but their despair, others seem to pour out love as if that cup were never ending. Maybe they love themselves enough. Maybe they see god’s love. Maybe they actually follow one of those daily inspirational readings and behave like adults and give love instead of expecting to receive it (yes, giving love causes the cup to fill and overflow. I remember that when I give myself enough sleep.) I, who have so much, want to be more like those people. I want to share my cup of love until it overflows. I want to fill that cup with loving deeds and thoughts and feelings until I can sing cleanly and openly, and know it’s true.

“I share my cup because it overflows”.