Psalm 150

“Halleluyah, Hallelu.” (150:1)

One year.150 mini-reflections on Psalms. Goal accomplished.

A good goal is one which you need to stretch a bit to achieve, but it has to be within reach. A goal to eat at least one meal a day is not very useful for most people, because typical, healthy, individuals can achieve it without any effort. Setting a goal for my 5’ 6”, over fifty year old body to play in a Super Bowl is not useful, because this goal is simply not achievable.

When you accomplish the task that you’ve set before you and learned something in the process,  you should feel good and celebrate. And so the Psalmist concludes his work with the refrain of Halleluyah, Thank God!

Psalm 139


It was You who created my kidneys/conscience; You fashioned me in my mother’s womb. (139:13)

When your conscience tells you that you have done something wrong, where is the feeling located in your body? For me it is usually deep in my belly, but I can image that it is sometimes deep enough that it could be considered to be within my lower back, approximately around my kidneys where the Biblical writers imagined it to be. The human body is a miraculous organism. We are neither solely body nor solely mind, but a complex interaction of both. While Judaism absorbed the notion of an eternal soul, it never gave up on the sanctify of the embodied human being.

Being both soul and body, resurrection became a central tenet of Jewish thought. A body without a human soul is less than an animal, incapable of communication and emotion and connection to the world around it. A soul without a body could not exist. The Zohar envisions supernal bodiless angels dressing themselves in flesh as they descend into the world because things in this world need flesh to function.

At conception, a midrash teaches, the soul is placed in the fertilized drop. Over the next 40 weeks, the container for that soul is slowly built until it can survive independent of its mother. Over the next 25 years it continues to develop, first body and then finally brain, until it is physically mature. Over the next 60, 80, 100+ years the body slowly ages but the soul continues to grow. Sometimes the progression of death blocks the expression of the soul and sometimes body and soul continue to nurture each other right up until the moment that the heart stops beating, the lungs stops breathing, and the body “gives up the ghost,” to use the King James expression for the soul departing from the body.

Your body may be yours alone, physically disconnected from all others, but your soul is a part of the soul of all humanity. Lead a soulful life and when humanity is in pain, you will be in pain. Nourish your body with good nutrition and nourish your soul with an intellectual and spiritual life. Exercise your body and challenge your soul by struggling to understand something completely new to you. Lead a soulful life and when any portion of creation is shining brightly your being will shine as well.

The Beginning of a Sabbatical

Beginning a Sabbatical is like rebooting a computer and running software to clean out all of the caches and shut down all of the programs that automatically launch and run in the background.

The first weekend and most of the first week is dedicated to paying attention to all of the habitual behaviors I engage in. I like to work. I like to be busy. When I am not working, I like to be thinking of working, planning what I need to do next, sometimes making lists of things to do. I look forward to getting back to the office on Monday morning. Shutting down the mental processes that drive me takes time, but without it, I won’t be able to explore a different set of mental processes.

To some extent, and to no great surprise, the practice of Shabbat prepares one for the larger practice of Sabbatical. On Shabbat, I shut down a portion of my weekday life. Computer, tablet, phone; no internet, no email, no electronic news. Actually, given that there is no newspaper delivery on Saturday, I really disconnect myself from a portion of the world around me. So far, the world has handled itself for better or for worse without my help … and had I been paying more attention, the world would still have handled itself for better or for worse!

Shabbat teaches me that I am not that important in the grand scheme of things; and a Sabbatical teaches me a similar lesson, that my synagogue can get along without me for a few months. Granted, I don’t have to prepare the world for my one-day-a-week absence, but I have spent most of the past two weeks and a significant part of the past month preparing the synagogue for my absence. However, this was my third Sabbatical, and we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what needs to be done, and who needs to do it.

My job this weekend and this week is not to let myself get caught up in synagogue thoughts. I have to be confident that as problems arise, the president, the cantor, the chair of the ritual committee, along with the wisdom of a cadre of past presidents and board members and committee chairs can handle them.

Psalm 56

You keep count of my wanderings; put my tears into Your flask, into Your record. (56:9)

This verse is reminiscent of the central metaphor of Rosh Hashanah – that God keeps a record of our “wanderings.” The Jewish path of behavior is called halakha. I imagine that wandering might represent our straying off the path of halakha.

The High Holiday amidah, in a section called “unetaneh tokef,” suggests that through teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah – repentance, prayer, and giving, we might lesson the severity of the decree against us. The first two items on the list, repentance and prayer, go hand in hand with tears.

In order to repent properly, one has to virtually break one’s heart. If we have committed some kind of harm against another person, in order to make amends we need to absolutely feel the pain that we caused. An apology should be felt in the kishkas … we have to feel as if we caused a rip in the fabric of another person’s universe, which is precisely what we did when he committed the harm. The tears are the tearing of the fabric of our own universe experiencing the pain of the other.

Prayer is only effective for the purpose of lesson a Divine decree against us when it pours forth from a broken heart. Prayer is meant to be a transformative experience. We ought not to ask for a gift on a silver platter, but rather ask the Divine Blessed One to help us realign ourselves and become the person created in God’s image that we were meant to be. These are the tears that I shed in the process of changing my fate, that I’d like to be entered into the record.

Ayeka Reflections – Bringing God Into My Clothes

The following article was written by my friend Aryeh Ben David, who has created an organization called “Ayeka.”

Ayeka’s Mission
Ayeka is bringing God back to the conversation.
Ayeka provides an agenda-free, safe space to personally explore the question: How can I best fulfill the challenge of living in the Image of God – in my daily life, my relationships, my work and community, with the Jewish people and all of humanity.
Ayeka Reflections
Bringing God into – My Clothes

By Aryeh Ben David

It took 100,000 people to get me dressed this morning.

My sneakers were made in China, my cotton shirt in Indonesia, my pants are from Vietnam and my Timberland vest was made in El Salvador. How many people were involved in the designing, the growing, the making, the marketing, the transportation, and the selling? At least 100,000.

I basically wear the same thing everyday. Dark pants and a blue shirt. Nine months of the year I wear the same sandals. I am pretty boring. As my kids lovingly say to me: “Abba – Imma is cool, you’re a nerd.” And they’re right.

Nevertheless, even when I am racing to get dressed in the morning, putting on my nerdy clothes, sometimes there is a moment of deep awareness.

Is God in that moment?

In Kabbalistic tradition it says that God originally dressed us in “clothes of light” in the Garden of Eden. Clothes that shed the person’s inner light on others and evoked a spiritual response.

Do my clothes do that today?
I doubt it. They probably don’t evoke much of a response at all.

I am awed by people who think about what they wear and whose clothes do convey a deeper or spiritual presence. Somehow their clothes actually reflect their inner selves. Somewhere in their wardrobe is this hidden light from the Garden of Eden.

For now, for me, finding God in my clothes is not so much about evoking responses from other people, as evoking a response from within me. Am I at least aware of what is happening at this moment? Who was involved in bringing this about? Can my clothes become a vehicle for greater appreciation, for a connection with a countless number of people who I will never see and whose names I will never know? This moment of appreciation connects me to what a diverse and interconnected world God created and how privileged I am to experience it.

100,000 people from China, Indonesia, Vietnam and El Salvador the United States and Israel helped me get dressed this morning.

Thank you. Thanks to each of you.

For Reflection:

  • What do you think about when you get dressed?
  • To what extent is your clothing expressing who you are internally, as opposed to just accentuating and decorating your external being?
  • What do you think someone looking at your wardrobe would think about you?
Ode to My Socks

Putting on socks can be one of the most mindless moments in a day. Here is something to think about while putting on your socks, especially the last paragraph.

Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda; Chilean Noble Prize winner for literature in 1971
(Translated by Robert Bly)

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.

They were so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.

Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts.
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

The moral of my ode is this:
Beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.