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As you may know, the Jewish day does not begin at midnight. It begins at sundown, every day. Each Sabbath begins on Friday evening, and continues through the night, and the following day, and till the sun has gone completely down on the Sabbath day. In much the same way, our new year does not begin in the dark of winter, but in autumn. We will begin the year 5776 according to the Jewish calendar.
This evening we will mark the first day of Tishrei, the start of our New Year. We celebrate the new year for two days, on Monday and Tuesday. These are our holy days. This is a time when we celebrate life, look forward to the best of all possibilities, but also begin the ten days of soul searching which reach their peak on the day of atonement. This evening we will begin our feast by dipping bread into honey, and blessing our friends, may the coming year be a year as sweet as honey. For us, the pomegranate, which is a native fruit of the land of Israel, represents the fruitfulness of life, and plenty. The fruit is presented on the holiday table on the second evening of the new year, and we share the fruit.
We believe that this was the day on which Adam and Eve were created. And so our holiday also celebrates all of mankind. Though I know that for most of my readers, this is not their new year’s day, I would like to wish for all of us, as part of the family of man, a year of sweetness and peace, and the joy of learning, and love.
In my previous post last week, I mentioned that the study of sculpture had been neglected in our culture because of the prohibition of idol worship. And this raised the question of why. Many in the west have accepted the concept of monotheism. And many are atheistic or agnostic. Because of the free thinking attitude towards faith and belief, many believe that the issue of whether it is proper or not to pray to, or worship an image seems irrelevant in our time.
My dear friend Janet reminds us often that ‘everything in this world is interconnected’. This is the basis of monotheism, and one of the most important tenants of our religion. There are those who see powerful forces in this world as gods. The sea is a god to some, and there is a god of reproduction to others. Some people have a need to relate to an inspiring picture of a saint or a prophet in order to remind themselves of the virtues they believe in. There are so many pictures of saints, and medallions, and symbols of all kinds, that we have become accustomed to seeing such things. But our sages warned us that focusing on an image might distract us from our awareness of a god who is an intricate being reflected in all we sense in the world around us.
I believe that those who coined the expression, ‘the almighty dollar’, meant to laugh at the phenomenon. But there is no doubt that a large portion of the population in the west has raised the importance of money to god-like proportions. Is it important? To some it is. To others not. For those of us who believe in god, it is important to consider what we receive from him, what sort of inspiration or example we envision when contemplating his presence in this world of ours, and how or if we choose to worship him.
I have studied a bit of other religions, and found wisdom that has enhanced my own beliefs and worship of god in my religion. I have also found things that I cannot accept. Today is Friday, and this evening my Sabbath begins. And an essential part of my religion is not to work on the Sabbath. That is a day of freedom and appreciation of life, and it is set apart for contemplation and joy. This Sabbath is called the ‘Sabbath of consolation’, for on this last Sunday, we remembered the destruction of our holy temple. It was a very sad day for all. My best wishes to my readers for inspiration and delight from life. We all have our ups and downs. And how important it is, to maintain our perspective, to remember that there is beauty and pleasure in this life, despite the disappointments and pain.
sometimes in a line, or side by side
we give the semblance of order, the hint of pride
in early summer when the weather is fine
and new paint is added, and rot cut away
lines are repaired and wood is well varnished
there are flashes of pride, and adventure before us
and the water needs only, to keep us afloat
as songs from the radio fill the air with romance
leisurely, after the work of sanding and cutting,
when relaxing on a deck chair in the long afternoon,
there might be a beer or two, or a tug at the bottle,
a wisp of smoke in the air for relaxation
as if there was nothing to do
rubbing shoulders all the while with reliance
out here, don’t you know, we’re an adjunct of the city
we’re the homes of those who can get away
instead of green gardens and seasonal flowers
we’ve got the sea as our backyard, to bring joy to the day.
the power company provides our electric connection
the cell phone rings with cheery calls from friends
apparently well connected, all our needs supplied
dinners may be served in scenic surroundings
or eaten in privacy while we’re seated inside
there’s some of us here, who’ll never go out to sea
they’ll find consolation in the sights and the smells,
the purr of the motors, the songs of the wind…
the groans of the swell, the roars of the waves
the wimpers of the wood, the salt in the air
and the security of being moored to the wharf
just a step from the land, tethered as always
out of harms way
but those of us who’ll venture out…
setting sail with intention to return
but well aware that there’s no fair retreat
knowing in the depth of our souls
that life starts with the first centimeter
of release from the moorings
as we slip away from the fetters
and the garbage of idleness
putting our faith on the body of the water,
the solitude of the deep blue sea
our trust in the stars above
even when they remain unperceived
behind clouds in the black of night.
they are there as they were
yesterday and a thousand years ago
the presence of the sea too, is constant and won’t be tamed
arm wrestling playfully, then she’ll shake, rattle and roll
till even the most practiced sailor will heave
and clench the rail with all his might
no flattery will subdue her, no love will overcome…
alone on the water, we’ll navigate our course
no promise, no assurance, no insurance will deliver us
as we rely on judgment and experience night and day
metal will buckle and planks will decay
paint will bubble over unforgiving rust
a single mistake may never be forgiven
and a blink in the night, might never be forgotten.
there are fewer fish in the sea, and they remain unseen
and the moods that seemed casual at first
could be later acknowledged with a scream
good times for sure, the highs intoxicate
but happiness, you know isn’t forever after
no maps or charts to guarantee the temper of mood
or the luck of a voyage between here and the horizon
the personality of the sea knows no surety
the crew relies on one another, the captain on god
and when the captain sails alone
his face etched with resolution…
is one of his eyes waiting for a nod?
you land lovers above
have the choice, just as we do here
whether to stick with the crowd,
in an ever lasting hug
or live this life the best that you can
on your own, despite the fear
all photos from the Jaffa harbor
I got the letter from goodreads this week, with the March New Releases. I found interest in a book called ‘The Bookseller’ by Cynthia Swanson. It tells the story of a woman in her late 30s who runs a book store with her best friend and enjoys her life and circumstances. But then she starts having this reoccurring dream in which she lives a different life, married to a wonderful man and the mother of three children. And as the story continues, she finds herself torn between the two lives.
It reminded me of a poem I read many years ago, by a Chinese author, Chuang Tse, in which he tells us that he doesn’t know whether he is a man dreaming that he’s a butterfly… or a butterfly dreaming that he is a man. And strangely enough, the book, and the whole idea of alternative lives or alternative universes integrated well with some ideas I’ve been having about our national elections, coming up in less than a month.
I have noticed in recent years, that the democratic contest at election times has become more and more desperate. Where once we listened to ideological arguments regarding the economic system, or the best way to insure the national security, we are now bombarded by insults and accusations coming from both sides of the barricades. Accompanied by hysteric claims that life won’t be worth living if the opposing side were to win the election. Charges of corruption are heard every day. And the mood that is felt in public seems less like that in the halls of academia, and more like that in the football arena, each side shouting their support for sporting heroes, and insulting the opposing side. I have seen this happening in England too, and in the US.
How and why this has happened, is interesting. And I have some thoughts on the subject. But more important to me, is whether we can overcome the urge to look at the political determination as a life and death struggle. The truth of the matter, is that when we live among friends or as a family, we have to accept that we are not all the same, nor are our desires identical. We make compromises. We forgive all kinds of irrational behavior, difficulties… even pain. My beloved cat Nechama, scratches me at times. She has bitten me. These are momentary outbursts; the expression of disappointment, or of frustration. Sometimes, frustration just because I didn’t understand her.
Even within ourselves, we have to make compromises in order to live this life with some sense of wholeness. One of the most valuable lessons, is that which we heard as children, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. On a national level, we should keep in mind that our society is made up of a whole lot of people, some of whom have needs very different from ours. With great difficulty, we’ve tried, as human beings, to find the mechanisms which will reflect the majority, with care and insurance for the very small minorities as well. Nothing is truly guaranteed. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins now and then, And still, if we look back in time, just a few hundred years, we can see that the majority of people lived a much lower standard of living than we are living today. They had shorter life expectancies, and suffered more from disease and ignorance. Let’s not turn a blind eye to all the advantages we have today, and only focus on what we’re missing, and what we want for ourselves. How much happier we could be if we were to appreciate our riches and not envy those who have more than us.
Today, many of us tell our children, ‘you can do anything you wish if you just desire it enough, and work unceasingly towards your aim. But this too can be misleading. We can do anything, just so long as we understand our strengths and limitations. For our lives are a tapestry of fate and free choice. Chance has delivered us to the parents that raised us, to the country in which we were born… has given us talents and capacities at birth, certain physical characteristics… and perhaps certain mental and emotional dispositions as well. And within that framework, we have the ability to make choices, to learn or not to learn… to look and listen, or to crave attention. By way of our choices, we can direct our course in life. Or we can allow ourselves to be continuously buffeted by the winds of fate.
And there is nothing so warm and so consoling as the love of our brothers and sisters, our friends, and our fellow human beings that have to face the uncertainties of life’s challenges the same as we do. These have been my thoughts as I watch the snow recede after the last storm, and listen to the excitement about the upcoming election. May we accept the choice of the majority, even if it requires compromise on our part. We are all part of the family of man.
Our city is our home on a larger scale… There are rooms for intimacy, and rooms for study. Bed rooms, and entertainment halls. There are dives in which to lose ourselves to dreams and fantasies, and subconscious urges… and holy places where the whole includes that which is beyond us.
There’s the toilet, and the laundry room, and the balcony that looks out at the world around us… and the kitchen, and the dining room, and the salon where friends meet. There’s the store room, where we pick up what physical objects we need, if we can find them… the rooms with somber quiet, and the rooms with screams of excitement…
There are the halls we go through on the way from one place to another, and the chamber where we shine our shoes, or brush our hair. The TV room or the cinema… the children’s playroom, and that for the adults… and the sickroom, the dying room, and the room for giving birth.
Some spend their time in art galleries… while others pass through halls, barely noticing the art hung there as decoration, meant to inspire the imagination as we go along our way to something else. There are work rooms and libraries… And high tech labs, and virtual rooms.
There are those who like to read on the toilet. Some have sex there. Others prefer to be left alone there. Many like to hang out in rooms where you can stay in your underwear. And then there are those who prefer the rooms that demand that you come in suit and tie.
Some like the rooms where people talk only in a whisper. Others like a never ending stream of music. And there are folk that breathe best on the balcony… mostly outside, but still attached to the home. It can be a venue for solitude or for love making; a place to gather with friends for sipping wine or drinking tea.
Each of us can best judge the city by those rooms he or she most prefers. Some people have a favorite room, a favorite corner, a favorite chair… and you can mostly find them there. Others like to move around, take in the sights, enjoy the variety. There are some rooms you have to visit now and then. And others you may never see.
The scenes in these photos are from the sick rooms of our city. There is no discrimination here. The young and old mingle in the hallways, and find solace in the compassion of healthy people who care enough to spend their time nursing and healing people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. The ill too, have access to the sacred, to study halls, art and play. I sat in the coffee shop, and had a double espresso and some cheese cake.
We don’t know what is waiting for us. We don’t know what is beyond us. If the world came into being from a bit of cosmic dust that exploded with a big bang, we don’t know how that cosmic dust came into being. A few days back, our favorite theoretical cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, patiently explained to us that god doesn’t exist. He explained that back in the days before science existed, we needed something to relate to, to explain the world around us… to explain the origin of life… and other wonders beyond our understanding. And since we were more primitive then, we invented gods, and told ourselves that they… or he, or she… created the world, and us in it. There is nothing, he said, that is beyond what science can reveal and explain.
I am very fond of science. But I believe that there is more beyond our ability to know… beyond the ability of science to discover, than there is in all the collective knowledge of science, including all that we may discover as long as mankind continues to exist. I wouldn’t argue with Hawking, though. Because I have the greatest love for all those who focus their attention on the front line of our curiosity, and try to understand the unknown.
This evening is the start of the holiest day of the Jews, known as the day of the atonement. It is a day of fasting and soul searching. It is a day on which we consider life and death. It is a day on which we acknowledge our mistakes, and regret them. But it isn’t a sad day. No, it’s a happy day, a holiday in every sense of the word. The fasting is not sorrowful, but meant to allow us to concentrate on the spiritual nature of the day and avoid all the distractions that are connected with our everyday existence. It is the only day in the year that takes precedence over the Sabbath. This year, it falls on the Sabbath. Every other fast day, if it falls on the Sabbath, is moved over a day, so as not to fast on the Sabbath. But the day of atonement is even more important. At the conclusion of the day, we return to our normal lives refreshed and renewed. It is a wonderful feeling.
Some 250 years ago, the great rabbi and teacher, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev entered his synagogue on the day of atonement, and told his congregants that as he arrived he noticed a Jew standing outside the synagogue, praying to god. He was curious why the man was praying outside instead of coming in and praying together with the whole congregation. So he came close to the man and listened to his prayer. Dear God, said the man, you know I’m not religious, and that I don’t go to the synagogue, and am not used to prayer, and wouldn’t know where to look in the book to find the prayers everyone is praying… don’t know anything about religion… so I will just recite the ‘abc’s now. And I ask you to put the letters together in the very best way for me, and let that be my prayer to you. Levi Yitzchak continued… So I would like the congregation to wait in silence now, till that man finishes his ‘abc’s, and then we can begin our prayers here inside.
I would like to tell you of another fine Jew, a scholar, a rabbi, and a teller of tales, who was known as Reb Nachman of Breslov. He is best known for the tales he told, which are considered parables on mystical understanding. But he is also especially loved for something he said, that is often quoted. When translated into English, it sounds like this:
“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.”
This quote has become a popular song among our people, and I would like to share a version of it that I found posted on the internet. You can find it here, sung by Justin Shenk in both Hebrew and English: http://youtu.be/Vfc2CPgMLVc
I’ve heard of people who are moved to hug a tree. It might seem a bit ridiculous to someone who’s never done that. But the person hugging, knows something that the outside onlooker couldn’t even guess. And tomorrow, there are a few of us, who will try to hug the whole world.