Map Your Heart Out: A Few Sources

Here, as promised a few days back, are some of the sources that I included in my prayer “heart map”….

Overall structure is formed by two lines from this kavanah [intention] for the Amidah:

heart_corner

Create a pure heart within me
let my soul wake up in Your light.
Open me to Your Presence;
flood me with Your holy spirit.
Then I will stand and sing out
— Stephen Mitchell, based on Psalm 51
Mishkan T’filah, p.75

Orientation

Orienting the map is the phrase, “From eternity to eternity, You are God [מן העולם ו’עד העולם אתה אל],” from the “Nishmat” prayer, in the Shabbat/Festival morning service. Also near the top of the map, to highlight its influence — like minerals in the hills, carried by rivers and run-off to parts below — is this brief commentary:

Why fixed prayers?
To learn what we should value,
what we should pray for…
— Chaim Stern, p. 437 Mishkan T’filah

This note comes from the prominent liturgist Rabbi Chaim Stern (1930-2001); it was also found in Gates of Prayer (1975) and other Reform prayerbooks.

Connection and Points Beyond

Two rivers, running the length of the heart territory and connecting various regions, begin with “We will rejoice in the words of Your Torah…” and “Bless us, Creator, all of us…” (The first is from the Evening service, before the Shema; the second, from the Morning service, at the close of the Amidah).

The prayers themselves remind us over and over again of connections between prayer, study, and acting for justice in the world. See also, to take just two examples, Max Kadushin’s Worship and Ethics (1963, republished 2001 by Global Publications) and Marcia Prager’s Path of Blessing (NY: Belltower, 1998).

At one edge of the map, the injunction, “Do not stand idly by (Leviticus 19:16), hugs “Hope Harbor.” Farther beyond, outside the heart and its surrounding waters, the terrain is less certain.

 

NOTE

Here’s a link to some background on this project and my whole map. Also linked is information about cordiform maps more generally and about the book suggesting “Personal Geographies.”

The graphic aspect was very helpful to me, but I don’t think it’s necessary to draw or color in order to consider what prayers or texts would play a prominent roll in your own “heart map.”
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Endurance and Leadership (beyond 27)

The close of the Netzach [“Endurance” or “Leadership”] week of the omer journey seems an auspicious moment to share some resources for leading conversations and action within the Jewish community.

Are communities in which you’re active having the necessary conversations? It takes many forms of leadership to get discussion started in ways that allow everyone to listen and be heard. And it takes endurance and additional leadership to keep it going for the long-haul.

The omer count below is for Friday night. This post is scheduled to go out early on Friday in case anyone wants to share resources with their congregations this Shabbat.

Conversation and Sermon Sparks

“We are, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, in the midst of ‘the fierce urgency of now,’ write leaders of Jews United for Justice, introducing a set of resources meant for rabbis, but applicable to anyone who teaches or otherwise leads Jews. “Our partners in the Black community tell us that one of the most important things you can do…is to begin or deepen a conversation with your community about racism, police brutality, and inequality in Baltimore and beyond.” To that end, you’ll find background material, some texts, and sermon starters.

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights offers serman sparks on mass incarceration, a Prayer for Ferguson, and a number of other useful materials. They also issued a statement standing with Baltimore.

Resolutions: Then and Now

The Union for Reform Judaism adopted a Resolution on the Crisis of Racial and Structural Inequality in the United States in December; action items include two particularly relevant to congregations:

Encourage our congregations to establish and sustain relationships with diverse racial, ethnic and economic sectors of their communities, participate in community-based dialogues pertaining to race and community-police relations, and work to enhance violence prevention and conflict resolution procedures.

When appropriate to the size of a community and in cases of a clear, ongoing pattern of excessive police violence in general or against specific segments of the community, consider the efficacy of establishing a representative police review board with subpoena powers.

The 2014 resolution makes reference to a 1969 resolution, noting with sadness that it “rings as true today– if not more so”:

“Race and the U.S. Criminal Justice System”
50th General Assembly
October 1969
Miami Beach, FL

The current demands made by the American black community painfully remind us of the appalling hurt done by our nation to a long oppressed multitude. Certainly we in the Reform Jewish community cannot allow our country to ignore the plight of America’s impoverished millions. Jewish imperatives require that we be ever sensitive to the aspirations and just demands of our country’s minorities.

WE, THEREFORE, URGE our congregations to redouble their efforts in support of those who have been exploited by our society. Synagogue programs supportive of oppressed peoples, the raising of funds for minority group use, pressure upon our government for massive action, are vehicles that we must employ to heal the deep wounds inflicted.

More

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has materials about Selma and Civil Rights and related topics.

Israeli struggles with race, class, and color are not identical to those in the U.S. but are mutually illuminating. A recent article on 972mag [on on-line publication named for Israel’s telephone code] asks Jews of Central European background to understand the struggles of Syrian and other Jews of Middle Eastern descent:

In a world where skin color has consequences for the future of your children, colorblindness is not a virtue, it’s a serious problem.

Thanks to Michele Sumka for sharing the 972mag article.

Links, suggestions, and guest postings welcome.

We counted 27 on the evening of April 30. Tonight, we count…. Continue Reading

“Iyun Tefilah”: Deeper in Prayer


For years, I’ve been looking at the expression “iyun tefilah,” as in the famous passage from Shabbat 127a, where it is translated as “contemplation [or “meditation,” maybe “devotion”] in prayer.” Mishkan T’filah includes this phrase in the morning study passage, a kind of mash-up of Peah 1:1. and Shabbat 127a. (See pp.206-207 in Mishkan T’filah and below.) We often sing, “…v’iyun tefila-a-ah, v’iyun t’fila-a-ah…,” using Jeff Klepper‘s setting for “Eilu Devarim.

Until a recent Talmud class, however, I didn’t realize that “עיון [iyun]” was the same word translated elsewhere as “study,” “learning,” or “investigation.” In some contexts — a class on the prayerbook, e.g., or the 19th Century siddur commentary known as Iyun Tefillah — “iyun” is understood in terms of “study (of prayers).” But translators seem to agree that the phrase in Shabbat 127a means something more like “contemplation” or “meditation.” My People’s Prayer Book translates it as “paying attention to prayer.”

In both study/investigation and contemplation/meditation, the idea seems to be to delve, go deeper: In the former case, it’s into an idea or text, perhaps the idea or text of a prayer; in the latter, it’s into prayer itself.

Elsewhere in the Talmud, Torah study [la’asok; “to immerse in”] is described as a “remedy” for “vexation of heart” in prayer.

I’m not sure what, if any, conclusion to draw from the delving and immersing. But I think it’s worth pondering relationships among prayer, prayer text, and Torah. And I know from my own experience that the more (non-prayer) time and exploration I spend with a particular prayer, the deeper my encounter with that prayer when I’m actually praying.

L’shana tova/a good year
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“Sacred Religious Duty”

In 1877, Rabbi Leopold Stein, a prominent figure in the Reform movement, published a 36-point catalog of religious ordinances for “present-day Israelites,” entitled “Torath-Chajim” [Living Torah]. This was one of the readings in Temple Micah‘s recent class on “‘Challenges’ in Contemporary Jewish Faith.”

Class reactions to Stein’s specific ordinances were varied. As were responses to his use of “law”: distinguishing between “divine laws of the Bible” and “rabbinical ordinances…which excessively weigh down and impede life,” on the one hand, and, on the other, labeling some “rabbinical institutions” as “sacred obligations to us in the ordering of our religious life and law.”

I was personally struck by two spots in Stein’s text where one form of “obligation” is seen to trump another:

Ordinance #19 of Torath-Chajim insists that “we have both the right and obligation” to set aside rules which make it impossible for a modern business person to observe Shabbat. Ordinance #20 states that it is “a sacred religious duty” to do away with second-day festival celebrations. While the idea of “sacred religious duty” could launch many volumes of discussion, my most powerful response was to wish I heard this phrase more often in contemporary Reform discourse. I particularly miss it when speaking — as Stein is doing — about variant understandings of such duties.
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