Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts On Not Counting Anymore

A big thank you to Marilyn Price and those of you who responded in the comment section during the Counting of the Omer on these pages.

It appears that the “Our Stories, Our Journey” visionaries were right: There is interest in - and plenty of room for - an electronic conversation about Things Jewish and Things Spiritual.

Shall we see if we can become an even louder chorus of voices?

Some thoughts came to me during the Omer Counting that I was allowing to marinate and I’d like to share them:

I connect counting with being young.

Things like:

Counting the days until school would start.

Then counting the days until school was out for summer.

Counting the days until my birthday (which I am no longer very interested in doing) or overnight camp or someone’s party or the start of college or graduation or first job or first love and you get the idea.

All of this counting was in excited anticipation of something to come.

What I remember most about that counting is how future-oriented it was. That it was all about how good something would be rather than how good it was in the moments before.

What I find interesting is how differently I feel today about counting. Taking note of each day prior to Shavuot offered a slowing down; an appreciation of something in that day. A taking note and a chance to count blessings and stay in the present. Less like a waiting for something and more like a very present and full-bodied appreciation.

An interesting reversal, I thought.

Other thoughts came to me, too. Like the idea of “counting on” something. How very little there was to "count on" which then makes the thing one "counts on" all the more vital and important and appreciated.

The word “accountability” came to mind, as well. The idea that being accountable for certain things makes me someone "to count on" which then makes me vital and important and, hopefully, appreciated.

Then I got giddy with it and wondered about the origins of the title “Count” as in Count Dracula or Countess LuAnn (from “The Real Housewives of New York”). And then it was time to stop!

Anything interesting come up for you in these weeks of counting?


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 49 - We are HERE now

The closing bell (and with the way the market has been this last week I apologize for that reference) is upon us. This is the last day of the Counting of the Omer and as promised I will attempt to put the pieces together for you. This morning I received the following note and thought I'd share it with you mostly because my friends and readers (one and the same) teach me so much. The setting is Israel and the Omer reading referred to is Day 47 entitled "Are We Here Yet?"

Last night I was invited to a "Tikun Leil Shavuot" at a high school in the area (where I used to teach). Read this to the group and we discussed the question you asked in the context of "Studying Judaism In the 21st Century".

Thought you might like to know that for some people the story was less important than your question. In some ways we certainly are not "here" because we spend so much of our busy lives without the possibility of contemplation. Sitting back and considering the story is one thing, but taking the time out to do so is another. In the end, your question was answered individually. G

We have come to the base of Sinai and bring with us our own narratives, the things we have had time to think about in these past 7 weeks. We have been recollecting family and friends and incidents. If the concept of 'we were all at Sinai' is puzzling to you or has been puzzling to you I am hoping that we have put a new spin on it. It is at Sinai that tradition tells us we received the Law, the Teachings. It is at our personal Sinai, our base, that the same holds true. It is at home base that we too learn the rules and try through our lives to incorporate them into a good life, a life of here.

So here we are at NOW, here we are at HERE. The present. The present is where we are, yet in an instant it becomes the past. In my repertoire of stories one of the favorites is about King Solomon's ring. The closing line in Yiddish is 'Gam Zeh Ya-avor' (this too shall pass). Treating the present with special care and reverence, many times hard to do, is the underlying message. If things are bad they will be over and if things are good they will be over as well. The object is to treat each incident as if it has some special value. Not a new idea, clearly one you knew but who does have the time to contemplate? Who doesn't want to wish the bad away? To hang on to the good?

I promised you a lesson in creating a storyboard, a story in three parts. Beginning, middle and conclusion. You did the first two and here we are at NOW at HERE. This is not the conclusion but once again it is a place to begin. I don't know if you've had time to contemplate your story, I don't know if you're happy with the way it is, or if it's time to recognize that changes can be made but you are the one to do it.

Back to our protagonist of the two days past. Beginning life as a slave, raised as a prince of Egypt, then as a runaway and then as a prophet. Making decisions that affected all around him, listening to good advice from family, losing his temper and suffering the loss of family and the ultimate disappointment of not crossing into the Journey's destination. Fictional character or not the model is a strong one and one to learn from. Many of the same situations face all of us. Few of us will lead 600,000 people across a desert (or anywhere), few of us will carry such a burden of responsibility but all of us have the ability to be in control of our story, our sacred narrative.

The question 'ARE WE HERE YET?' should be asked repeatedly.

Tomorrow night is Shavuot, the Festival of the Weeks, or Hag ha-Biddurim (the Festival of the First Fruits) or Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). It is a joyous holiday, a day of ritual and study. However you plan to spend it, in Synagogue, in a walk in the woods, at work or at play remembering who you are taking with you.

As for me, I am glad you took the time to come along, your comments important, your silences noteworthy and your company exquisite!


Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 48 - The Plot

Yesterday, Day 47, we began in the beginning to put our narrative on the road to Here. A few set up situations and today's goal is to get us to Here. No need for great detail just a general picture of the major events. With that in mind here's a harder exercise. Can you recall some particular incidents or choices that you made that changed the direction of your 'plans'?

Most of them we remember with pleasure but some we don't. Those are called the what ifs. Everybody has them and the truth is once made there are few, if any, opportunities to change them and way too much time wasted in regretting them.

What if the son of the slaves wasn't raised in the Pharoah's household and what if he didn't kill the slave boss or wait by the burning bush or marry a wise man's daughter or taken the challenge or .....? Our lives have the opportunity for many what ifs. Once they are made, story or reality, they are ours and part of the experience and part of the reality. Each and every moment.

Tomorrow is the 49th day of the Counting of the Omer. There is a lot of work to do before we return to the Mountain. Moshe, our tour guide after only 3 months in the desert went from one Mountain to another Mountain in a mere 40 years gathering wisdom and incidents. So the story is told. On the 48th day of the Counting of the Omer we can take note of the days of our lives that we bring back to Sinai, the family reunion, the would have, could have, should haves and bring them with you for the celebration.

A good day, a day of think!


Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 47 - Are We Here Yet?

The Last three episodes

For these last three nights and days I have broken up our journey to Sinai and our sacred narrative into a storyboard. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it is how some writers (professional and not), cartoonists, advertisement professionals and screenwriters, physically lay out their stories. We have taken in a lot of information over the past 46 days and it is time to bring it to the mountain. On an elevator at Cedar Sinai Friday morning as I was heading up to see my family a woman in the back clearly mimicking a much used phrase said to her contemporary Are we there yet? She was clearly no kid. So inresponse to that I am entitling these three Nights and Days


Night and Day 47 - The beginning

Once upon a time we might have had a notion of what we would do and where we would go. It might have been sidetracked or had to change but once upon a time, perhaps when we were too little to really know we had a dream, a way it would be, we began to follow that dream. Sometimes when I read books with strong character development I can see that happening and when I teach people to write episodic pieces I do that as well. As an exercise to get to that place Im suggesting you think about creating for yourself, three panels (remember storyboard) of whom you recall at the beginning. Develop those characters in your head and if you want on paper. Now define in word or drawing those characters (they need not all be human) and their surroundings. Where you lived at this point and any incidents that come to you.

An example from one of my favorite books: Please watch how it turns in the next three days. Try to note how the protagonists goals and dreams might have changed by incident external and internal. You will have trouble equating your story to his but there are similarities and his basic issues of compromise, responsibility and chance make this story an easy template. Not to mention that it should be a familiar story. It is easy to see how this story changed in history as it should be easy to see your own story retrospectively as well.

So we begin

Born to a slave family and hidden from view for fear of his certain death there was a boy who would become Moshe. There is little evidence that his future would change the history of his community but he was born with pride and perseverance and a lot of courage. The family all centered around him to protect and love him. To further protect him we can envision as this book tells us he was put in a tiny boat sealed with pitch and set to float in the Nile River. Not by chance into an area that was frequented by the daughter of the Pharaoh, or as some might even stretch to say by the bosss daughter. Rescued and brought out of his watery cradle his sister magically appeared to offer her mother as a wet nurse – to care for him as we will see her do again.

So we meet the hero of the story and the characters that formed him. We can imagine the household, the setting, the incidents that began to form the story. There are clues of family traits and the story is put into shape. At this stage of the protagonists development there is little that could be altered by him.

That is how much of the beginning of the story you should think about beginning to form.

We are not here yet!

Shavua tov! May your week begin with a strong start!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Days 45 and 46 - Family Reunion

Or Who's Bringing the Cole Slaw?

This week's parashah is Naso (4:21 - 7:89) meaning 'to lift up' and addresses more counting (now all men from 30 and up) in the Priestly tribes, diseases, adultery and theft are all dealt with to name a few. Also an oft repeated blessing, the Priestly Blessing is in Numbers 6:22-27. Speaking of repeated this Parashah is also read on all eight days of Chanukah (different sections with clear differentiations for times when Rosh Hodesh interrupts). So if you don't get to it this Shabbat you have other opportunities. The reason it is read is because this is the parashah that the Tabernacle is set up and consecrated. It should come as no surprise to any of you that this is the parashah read before Shavuot. But that should come as no surprise to you!

So it is perfect we read this section as we are about to reach our destination which for all practical purposes is the ultimate family reunion. It is where we started and where we are taking our new family and friends and personal history to congregate. We are preparing for the party as did the 'packers' of the Tabernacle with their assignments, bringing everything we need as did they to make this space and gathering perfect. The ritual objects for them each with their own assignments, much as we are all asked to bring the 'pot luck' for our gathering. At this reunion we will discuss all the family news, who did what with who, who is ailing and who has given birth and who has died. All the things that are mentioned in Naso. At the center of this family reunion is the coming together to honor the family elders and to get their blessing.

Everything we have been asking ourselves over the last 6 plus weeks come together as we close in on Sinai. In our lives we have sought reassurances from those we honor, their blessings, to guide us and to help us make the right decisions. We have dealt with sickness and accusations and we have numbered those we could count on and those we separated from or who separated from us. We come to this Shabbat, some of us filled with a week of sickness and sadness, sorrow and joy. We leave oddly enough Memorial Day behind in this week and start a new kind of memorial as we enter the next. This is the longest parashah of the year with 176 verses.

As you enter this Shabbat and think of the week behind you keep in your head these words from Numbers 6:22-27, please.

Adonai spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them.

Adonai bless you and protect you
Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you
Adonai bestow God's favor upon you and grant you peace.

With the hands held in the familiar three branched position so did the priests as was their task. As those whose blessings we seek and those elders or favorite cousins we want to approve of us we ask the same and give it in return.

Or as in the words of the prophets Roddenberry and Nimoy.

Life Long and Prosper.

A sweet Shabbat to all and to all a good night!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 44 - Up in the Air

I am on my way to California, hence the title. The decision to go was easy but the subject is not about that but about how to convey your decisions to others. So today, the subject is indecision; the time to be indecisive and the time to be decisive and the time when neither seem to do. Or better yet creating a good balance.

Before I continue I would like to comment on yesterdays remarks on prayer. To the best of my knowledge I was not advocating that people need to pray or that they should pray, it was merely an observation and a statement about me, which is how I teach. In response to my observation I had two interesting comments about the subject of prayer both justifiable and both welcome, of course. One reader thought it was gutsy of me to talk about prayer in an Omer. I will admit some confusion to that but am complimented that my Omers are equated to public school. Also in that comment, thank you my friend, the reader was surprise that I used Mary Olivers poem, which the reader enjoyed, but again found odd in an Omer writing. It fit, I love that poem and she would like to see it quoted – I hope! I think Ill send it to her. (BTW – one reader told me she reads that poem every morning). Actually knowing the commentator I was not surprised at the comments and they brought me closer to todays Omer on decision making.

Briefly I will answer comment two although it is on the Beth Emet blog because the closing line was such a treat. The respondent said I dont mean to rain on anybodys parade, but you issued an invitation to a conversation, so here I am. Believing that my comments on prayer implied either a conversation with God, Who may or may not be listening, or a monologue addressed to God and the writer does not believe that is the case but that the recitation of the liturgy can connect one to the community and reinforce their believes. This is a direct reference to the old story of the two Jews who go every week to Shabbat services. Goldstein goes to talk to God and Epstein goes to talk to Goldstein. Both justifiable reasons as our his and as our mine. And the schnaps doesnt hurt either!

The conversation can also be about talking to oneself, to shore up ones strengths in difficult times or merely to reacquaint yourself with words or music that can sooth or distract from external (and internal) worries. I cant imagine there is any danger in having prayer words floating around in the air – ready to stick on someone who needs them, surround someone who cant say them. In the words of my learned brother, it cant hurt! On a similar vein is a poem by Danny Siegel about being surrounding by spoken Hebrew and how he loves being encompassed by the sound.

So this leads us to being up in the air and where that takes us. Sometimes when we have made up our mind to do something and place it in front of someone else they waffle. They give us many reasons not to go this way or the other. I am not opposed to advice and am honored by peoples concerns. I am also an advocate of letting people choose their way unless it is harmful and to support that. This is not brave or gutsy this is helping people to do their job. (A Maimonides approach to decision making.)

I am up in the air to make an important delivery It had complications but no lack of decision making. The message for all of us is that once we have made up our minds we sometimes need to fight to get others to understand and we need to be decisive.

Our sacred narratives should be filled with those decisions.

Hoping all your landings are safe today.