Wax and Wicks

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Jews have laws and customs for so many ritual details: washing hands in the morning, donning a tallit [prayershawl], the order of blessings before and after a meal, preparing a household for Passover, etc., etc., etc., etc. A special kavanah [intention] can be part of even the most mundane of actions, as well. But, while we do have rituals for bidding holy days farewell, there is a marked lack of ritual and intention for cleaning up afterward. Much ink has been spilled, for example, over the order candles are placed in the Chanukah menorah and the order in which they’re lit each night. Where do we learn, though, how to deal with wax drippings and old wicks, at the end of the eight days?

WaxWicks.jpg

A winter cold meant a pause in #ExploringBabylon after only three of the five powers associated with Chanukah and the piyyut “Ma’oz Tzur.” But this household is still trying to rid itself of wax drippings left on the cookie sheet while cleaning up the hanukkiyot — and we hope that the light from the holiday will not recede but carry us (past the Gregorian new year) on toward the New Year for Trees (1/30/18). So, look for “Chanukah and the Five Powers, part 2” soonish.

Map Your Heart Out, part 1

“Pursuing Racial Justice: The Jewish Underpinnings of Anti-Racism Work,” held recently at Adas Israel (DC) and featuring Yavilah McCoy of Visions-Inc and Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block of Bend the Arc, offered many insights and challenges. I plan to share some of what I gained in readable portions over the course of the next few days. I begin — as Pirkei Avot (5:9) tells us sages should do — with “first things first [al rishon rishon].”

Asked how to avoid burnout in social justice work, especially in these trying times, McCoy said “first, you need a practice.” She stressed the importance of a daily practice for centering the self and for awareness. Failing to take time each day to check in with ourselves and understand where we are usually results in whatever we haven’t paused to address spilling out into the work. In addition, both McCoy and Kimelman-Block said, a daily pause/practice offers an opportunity to notice signs of burnout and arrange rest and healing measures.

heart Some of us rely on the Jewish liturgy for daily practice. Earlier this month, I shared a “heart map” focusing on some of the Jewish prayers most central to me and to my understanding of how prayer helps Judaism to work in the world. (See “Covenant and Liturgy.”)

My map was created in adaptation of one of the projects in Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking by Jill K. Berry. Some readers may be interested in creating their own prayer maps, in some kind of graphic form, in outline, or in prose.

I found the exploration behind my map helpful in understanding which prayers I find essential and why. I recommend the process.

A bit more on cordiform maps here.

More on the texts I chose for my own map coming soon.

To open, moving “days between”

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In her The Days Between, Marcia Falk writes of the “We cast into the depths” declaration of Tashlikh, the Rosh Hashana afternoon ritual of symbolic sin/crumb/twig tossing: “We seek in this declaration to free ourselves from whatever impedes our moving into the new year with clarity, lightness, and hope.”

In addition, I suggest, we need to look at where we might be responsible for impeding anyone else’s movement, clarity, lightness, or hope — and prepare to open that blockage wherever possible.

Open, moving “days between” to all,
followed by a good, sweet, and flowing 5776

WattsTashlikh

The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Marcia Falk. (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2014)

Dwelling Within a Fallible Construction

Sukkot is the holiday “most closely associated with the Oral Law,” according to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, as so much of the holiday — from identifying “p’ri eitz hadar” [“fruit of goodly trees”] (Lev 23:40) to determining what constitutes a sukkah — is determined via Oral Law (see below). Taking this thought one step further: Throughout this holiday, we dwell, more literally than usual, within a divine-human collaborative construction.

hoshana1Each year, we erect a new structure resembling the ones our ancestors built but using the materials and hands available to us at the time. Each year, our conception of Torah carries the teachings of our ancestors but makes use of new insights and adaptations to changing circumstances.

Sukkot asks us to dwell, for a time, deeply in shakiness: for some this translates into awareness that all depends, ultimately, on God; for others, the focus is on interdependence with others in living through forces far beyond our control.

In the sukkah we also dwell, for a time, deeply in an awareness of the human, fallible construction of our Torah understanding and of our abilities, individually and collectively, to put Torah into practice.

As we prepare to leave the sukkah, we may hope that next year’s construction will be of even stronger, more beautiful materials erected by even surer hands. But that hope for the future need not throw doubt on the value of this year’s construction or diminish our enjoyment in this year’s dwelling place.

Only through the Oral Law, can we identify the words
פרי עץ הדר with an etrog, the fruit of the citron tree. The Beit HaLevi (Derush 18) suggests that it was on Yom Kippur, when Moses came down with the second Tablets, that the Oral Law was conferred on the people of Israel. But while Yom Kippur commemorates the giving of the Oral Law, Sukkot is the holiday which actually celebrates it. The Sadducees and Pharisees argued about some very basic rules involving the Sukkot festival. Indeed, what is a sukka? What should its height be? From what materials may it be made? The vast majority of the rules of Sukkot are oral traditions from Sinai. Sukkot is therefore the festival of the Oral Law.
Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur p.891-893

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Grateful Thanksgivakkah

In honor of this odd confluence of holidays — 30 Days of Dead, Chanukah, and Thanksgiving — I offer these thoughts on Jewish worship, text study and the Grateful Dead. It is not necessary to know anything about the (Grateful) Dead or to like them, musically or culturally, to explore this analogy. I’ve been told by fans and non-fans that it is helpful. I hope you enjoy and find it useful and welcome comments.

The material was originally shared at Temple Micah (DC) for Shabbat Shelach in 2011. Here’s the introduction from that dvar torah.

Not Just for Dead Fans

How the Grateful Dead, Jewish Text and Worship Explain One Another and Raise Interesting Questions.”

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Beyond Bleary-Eyed Page Shuffling

Some Early Morning Blessing Resources


offered with thoughts of Temple Micah’s upcoming siddur study group
Why open a prayer book?
The Art of Blessing the Day
God’s Faith
Morning Poetry
More Links

Why open a prayer book:

“Sometimes you’re just too strung out to come up with your own personal prayers. Having the text in front of you kind of takes you by the hand and walks you over to something that matters more than whatever is getting you down.
— Jay Michaelson in Making Prayer Real by R. Mike Comins, Jewish Lights 2010 (see also Making Prayer Real website
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“The Art of Blessing the Day”

An excerpt from the eponymous 1999 book by Marge Piercy:


The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends’
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree

of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
— Marge Piercy. Entire poem on publisher’s page
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God’s Faith?

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer teaches, regarding the early morning prayer, “Modah/eh ani…rabah emunatekha [Thank You, God for returning my soul to me…great is Your faith]”: What is this about God having “great faith”? Upon awakening, we note that God has just entrusted us with a new day…a whole day to help heal the world, wreak havoc in it, whatever we might choose to do with these precious hours. God is trusting us.
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Beyond Body and Soul: Expanding Morning Prayers

I have heard it said, frequently from the bima of Temple Micah (Washington, DC), that a proliferation of words doesn’t always aid prayer. Rabbi Danny Zemel has often said that his own preference would be to choose just a few words on which to focus at any prayer service. I understand this perspective and do sometimes find a day’s worth of prayer in just a few words…

Ribon kol hamaasim [Source of all Creation]
Adon kol han’shamot [Sovereign of all souls]…
Mishkan T’filah (Shabbat Morning I), p.196

…to take just one example.

But I confess that I love words. Lots and lots of them. I am particularly fond of the psalms and of the “Nishmat” prayers which immediately precede the official call to worship on Shabbat and Festival mornings. I miss them when they’re not around.

Nishmat” does appear in Mishkan T’filah, but Temple Micah often skips this. Psalms are generally pretty scarce in the “new” (2007) prayerbook’s morning service, and we usually sing only Psalm 150. So, I carry an extra siddur and quietly add my favorite psalms, as well as the opening and closing prayers for Psukei d’Zimrah [songs of praise, i.e., “Baruch She’amar” through “Nishmat“].

For the most part, I just hope this is not too distracting to others, and I try to keep my finger on the “right” page in case a visitor needs orientation. However, there are times when this practice creates some interesting juxtapositions, one of which I share here.
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Speech, Suspicion, and Security

My God, help me remember that “just as the hand can kill, so can
the tongue,” tweet, blog, or Congressional hearing….

Update from House Committee on Homeland Security — “On March 10, the Committee will convene the first in a series of hearings examining radicalization in the American Muslim community and the community’s response to it. Additional information about this hearing will be distributed in the coming days.”

(Jump to “Meditation for Early Spring 2011”)
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Naso: Prayer Links

Toward the close of parashat Naso, twelve princes bring identical gifts as a dedication offering for the tabernacle (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:10 – 88). Twelve times, the same five verses, with minor variations of the “mail-merge” sort at the open and close, appear:

The one who presented his offering on the {INSERT: ORDINAL} day was {INSERT: NAME} son of {INSERT: FATHER} of the tribe of {INSERT: TRIBE}. His offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs. That was the offering of {INSERT: NAME} son of {INSERT: FATHER}. Continue Reading

Is Thanks Ever Simple? – part 2

In light of the challenges I faced when asked to offer simple thanks during one morning’s prayers, I decided to explore the passage, included in many versions of the morning blessings, that begins: “Therefore, we are obliged to acknowledge and thank you…”

Obliged to Thank– Or Not?

This paragraph, which leads to recitation of the Shema, is preceded by the following passage:

You should always fear God inwardly and outwardly, and gratefully acknowledge the truth, and speak truth in your hearts, and rise up early to say:

Master of all worlds, we do not offer our supplications before You based on our righteousness, but rather based on Your great mercy. What are we? What are our lives?….Man barely rises above beast, for everything is worthless [hakol havel].

But we are Your people, the children of Your covenant, the children of Abraham, Your love, to whom You took an oath on Mount Moriah; the descendants of Isaac, his only son, who was bound on the altar; the community of Jacob, Your first-born, whom You called Israel and Jeshurun, on account of Your love for him and joy with him. Therefore…
My People’s Prayerbook: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries,
volume 5:
Birkhot Hashachar (morning blessings)**

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