Climbing Toward Repair 5781

Yesterday was the pits. In the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’av [the 9th day of the 11th month; July 29-30 in 2020] is the lowest point of “the Three Weeks” of progressively deeper mourning and reading of prophetic chastisements. Today, we begin the slow climb up, through the seven weeks of comfort and Elul’s wake-up calls, toward the new year. Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year, 5781, coincides with Sep 18-20, 2020 in the Gregorian calendar.

The prophetic reading from last week — known as the “Sabbath of Vision” — warns us to take heed NOW in our preparations for the coming holiday season:

Your new moons and fixed seasons
Fill Me with loathing; [this is God speaking]
They are become a burden to Me,
And when you lift up your hands,
I will turn My eyes away from you;
Though you pray at length, I will not listen.
Your hands are stained with crime
I cannot endure them.
Wash you, make you clean,
put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes,
cease to do evil; learn to do well;
seek justice, relieve the oppressed,
judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
“Come, let us reach an understanding, —says the LORD.
Be your sins like crimson, They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool, They can become like fleece.”
– Isaiah 1:14-18

It won’t be enough to mark the high holidays, recite the proper words, hear the shofar [ram’s horn], and skip some meals. None of that, by itself, will create change, for us or for the wider world. So, now is the time to reflect and prepare, to move from the mournful “How?!” of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’av, to the “how?” of individual and collective action to repair our relationships and the world around us.

For white Jews in particular, now is the time — we have seven weeks beginning today — to redouble our efforts to face our history, our role in systems that uphold white supremacy, and the work ahead of us in dismantling those systems.

For each of the weeks and days ahead, let’s commit to learning and building toward #Repair5781.

Visit Repair5781 Page for some resources.

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)

Past, Present and Future in Teshuvah: Amichai, Zelda and the Pit

…The past is not a piece of
jewelry sealed in a crystal box
nor is it a snake preserved
in a bottle of formaldehyde—
The past trembles within the present
when the present falls
into a pit the past goes
with it —
when the past looks
toward heaven all of life
is upraised, even the distant past.
–Zelda, from “That Strange Night” (full text, notes)

The Pit

In a famous midrash, Joseph and his brothers return to Canaan to bury their father, and Joseph notices, by the side of the road, the pit where his brothers threw him decades before. Watching Joseph look into the pit, the brothers worry. They do not believe Joseph has forgiven their past deeds and continue to fear recriminations.

While the brothers in the midrash are fretting, however, Joseph recognizes the pit, despite its painful associations, as the source of all that happened to him later: his incarceration in Egypt, eventual rise to power, marriage and children; and, most importantly to the Genesis story, his ability to help his family when famine strikes their homeland.

Avivah Zornberg writes:

[Joseph] has gone to the trouble of returning to that place of his terror in order to bring closure to the old narrative. He makes the blessing for a personal miracle, claiming the site of his trauma as the site of redemption. By this act, he rereads the pit as a space of rebirth, transforming pain into hope. The grave has become a womb.
The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, p.319; Continue Reading

Remember Miriam: Process & Patience in Parashat Ki Teitzei

“Remember what your God YHVH did to Miriam on the journey after you left Egypt.” — Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:9 — What is this personal remembrance doing in the midst of a portion which consists largely of commandment after commandment? And what might it tell us, in these days leading up to the high holidays, about memory and return ([teshuvah])?
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You Will Gather Me In: Fall Holiday Prayer Link

Psalm 27 is filled with foes and fear, betrayal and destruction. Many teachers suggest that the foes are (also) within us, as we struggle with the work of teshuvah [repentance, return] in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is the perspective of Joseph Rosenstein, translator of Siddur Eit Ratzon,* who has wars raging “around me, and within me” in verse 3 and turmoil “around and within me” in verse 11.

Psalm 27 is also full of comfort, particularly shelter: “Adonai is the strength of my life” (27:1), despite raging wars “You are with me” (27:3), God offers a “sukkah [shelter] during terrible times,” a tent for hiding from disaster (27:5), and “will always gather me in” (27:10). While God may provide shelter for the lost and frightened, however, the real lesson of Psalm 27 seems to be that we have to learn to ask for directions.

A powerful plea for permanent shelter — “only one thing I ask…to dwell in the house of Adonai all the days of my life” (27:4) — is answered with the promise of perpetual instruction (27:10-11):

Though my father and mother will leave me [ki avi v’immi azavuni]
You will always gather me in [v’Adonai yaasfeini]

Teach me Your way, Adonai [horeini YHVH darkhekha]
guide me to walk straight on Your path, [u’n’cheini b’orach mi-shor]
despite all the turmoil, around and within me [l’maan shor’rai].

Continue Reading