From Rabbi Robin



Telling Our Stories, Yom Kippur Morning 5777

on Friday, 14 October 2016. Posted in Rabbi

Telling Our Stories

The Jewish British novelist Masie Mosco published the first book of her trilogy in 1979. Called Almonds and Raisins, it, together with Scattered Seeds and The Children’s Children, tells the story of two Jewish families in Manchester, England. They arrive in 1905, one from Russia and one from Austria. Their children marry, and the books trace the stories of their descendants for the next 75 years.

My great grandfather arrived in Manchester, England a few years earlier, from Lithuania. His son, my grandfather, was the only one of his six children to leave Britain. He eventually made his way to New York City where he met my grandmother, also from England. They married, moved to New Jersey, and had my aunt and my father.

Until he was in his early 30s, my father knew virtually nothing about his father’s family. His father left England at 17, before his youngest sister was even born. Communication was mostly by mail in the early part of the 20th century, and my grandfather faced the challenges of both world wars and the intervening depression. By the summer of 1960, when my dad was 25, his father was preparing to return to England for the first time in more than 50 years. Tragically, before he could do so, my grandfather suffered a heart attack and died. And with his death, all the contact information for his siblings and nieces and nephews died with him. My father was convinced he’d never know his father’s family.

About eight years later, during the Vietnam War, my father was working for Western Union. They wanted to send him to Washington, DC on a job for which he would need a security clearance. The FBI located my dad’s family in England. His father’s baby sister, Auntie Rose, had a son, Tony, who worked for Pan American Airlines. Tony was to be in New York soon after the FBI found him. He and my dad – grown men, first cousins who had never met and knew nothing of each other’s existence – met under the clock at Grand Central Station. This opened the door for my dad to meet his English family.

As wonderful as it was meeting Rose, Tony and later many more cousins, very few of them could tell us much about my grandfather or his parents, as they didn’t know a lot of the history, either.

Before a trip I was planning to England in the early 1990s, a friend suggested that I look for the Masie Mosco trilogy. “If you can’t learn the real story,” he suggested, “at least you can read a fictional account of a similar family.” So off I went, in search of the books.

London has more bookstores that any other city in the world. I looked and looked and found nothing. Then, one day, after visiting Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, I was wandering around a used bookstore in Salisbury. Another patron, an older woman with a soft smile, saw me searching, probably looking desperate, and so she asked me what I was trying to find. I told her and I told her why.

“I have those books,” she responded. “I’m not Jewish and I never knew why I kept them. Now I think I do. I want to give them to you.” I didn’t want to take them from her, but she insisted. She went home and left them with the ticket agent at the train station for me to pick up before I headed back to London. When I got to the station later that day, the agent handed me the bag. Inside, I found a note.

“Since the War, I have wanted to do something for some Americans to thank you for saving us from the Germans. And I was so touched that you’d be looking for something to share with your father while on your holiday. Please enjoy these books.”

I read voraciously, entering the lives of Sarah and Abraham and their children, especially their son David. Could he have been anything like my grandfather? The family lives through the wars, losing sons on the battlefields. Many leave Orthodoxy. Some move to Israel. Some intermarry. A few become secular. After I returned home, my aunt read the books and then I passed them on to my father.

One day, my father was talking to his cousin Tony. “Tony,” he asked, “Are you familiar with the Almonds and Raisins series by Masie Mosco? Robin got them while in England, hoping to learn more about our family.” Tony’s response probably best exemplifies the Yiddish word bashert, or fated. He said, “Oh yes, Bob, I know the books, and Masie Mosco. Her husband worked for my father. The stories are based on our family.” My father dropped the phone.

I recounted this tale at the recent Sisterhood tea. Afterwards, several people thanked me for relating it, and encouraged me to share it with the congregation. While this is my story, we all have them. One of the gifts of the Sisterhood tea was the sharing, through artifacts, of the stories of our families – their lives in Europe, their journeys to America, and their perseverance once arriving here. These stories make us who we are today. By telling our stories to each other, we deepen our bonds, we discover our similarities – nearly half of the women in the room had roots in Lithuania, we realize both the significance and insignificance of our differences, we learn empathy, and perhaps most importantly, we create community.

Telling our stories is also one of the most important parts of healing – whether we are healing from a death, an illness, a trauma, or any other loss. When I am with someone nearing the end of his or her life, I encourage the dying person to tell me his or her story. I ask questions to bring out more. In the pastoral counseling world, we call this “life review.” I have found that most people need to do a life review in order to let go of whatever might still hold them back.

When I served as a hospice chaplain, one of the other chaplains on my team had a patient who was very agitated and afraid of dying. I accompanied that chaplain on one of her visits. She was very good at administering communion and other rites to this man, but wasn’t sure about how to engage with him.

I asked him about his childhood and family of origin. As he began to talk about growing up, the tears flowed. He told us about a brother from whom he had been estranged for decades. He wanted to apologize for whatever he had done to cause the rift, but he didn’t know how to find his brother or what to say. His wife suggested that he contact a nephew – the son of the two brothers’ sister. I encouraged him to simply speak from his heart.

About a month later at our hospice team meeting, the chaplain I had gone with to meet this man reported that the patient had died. He had reconnected with his brother. And he died at peace.

The University of Maine’s Life Story Center suggests that telling our life story can fulfill the four important functions of bringing ourselves into accord with:

1. Who we are – the psychological function

2. The others in our lives – the sociological function

3. The mystery of life – the spiritual function, and

4. The universe around us – the philosophical function[1]

For the hospice patient, he unburdened himself, reconnected with a lost sibling, deepened his faith in God, and discovered how to conquer hate with love – living out all four of these.

Telling our stories is as old the Torah itself. One might describe the entire book of Deuteronomy as Moses telling his story. He uses, in the English translation, the words “I” and “me” over 1,000 times. He tells his story as it relates to the Israelite people, his own growth, and his relationship with God. Angry throughout Torah that he won’t be able to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites, at end of the book of Deuteronomy, he seems peacefully accepting.

Judaism even has a commandment to tell our story. We read in the Passover Haggadah: mitzvah aleinu l’saper b’tziyat mitzrayim, v’khol hamarbeh l’saper b’tziyat miztrayim – harei zeh m’shubach, “It is a commandment upon us to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt; all who expand and elaborate in telling of the exodus from Egypt are praiseworthy.” The Haggadah continues, “Even if all of us were wise and understanding, all of us elders, all experts in Torah, still we are obliged to speak of the exodus from Egypt.”

The exodus from Egypt is not merely one Jewish story. It is said to be the Jewish story. It is the retelling of our redemption – our becoming free people. We find mention of the Exodus in our prayers, we celebrate it in our holidays, and it is engraved on our hearts. And most fundamentally, it is the story that has given the Jewish people hope for all of our existence. If we were redeemed once, then the misery, horror, and pain that we are enduring will end when God chooses to redeem us again.

And while it is a collective story – the story of the entire people of Israel, we must each individually tell it and make it our own story. That is the Jewish way since Mount Sinai. A midrash teaches:

When God’s voice came forth at Mount Sinai, it divided itself into 70 human languages, so that the whole world might understand it. All at Mount Sinai, young [men] and old, women, children, and infants heard the voice of God according to their ability to understand.[2]

Along with that understanding came the commandment to tell.

Jon Ferreira, the Assistant Director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, believes that telling our story is what connects us to our humanity.[3] He identifies more than 20 benefits to telling our story, including these four:

  1. To feel what other human beings have felt that we have not – that is, empathy
  2. To feel what other human beings have felt that we have too – so as to not feel alone and to reaffirm our own humanity
  3. To inspire others, and
  4. To give our lives meaning

Each of us has a unique story, unlike anyone else’s. Our stories constantly change, as we rewrite them, reconstruct them, and even discard pieces of them from the moment we are born until we die.[4] Telling our stories and hearing others’ stories help us make sense of the insensible.[5] This is especially true at the time of a death.

Telling the stories of our loved ones helps us cope.[6] This is one reason for shivah – to allow the mourners to tell their story. Maybe it’s the wedding story, when a spouse dies. Perhaps it’s the gift of guidance, when a parent dies. So often, it’s the demonstration of unconditional love and spoiling, when a grandparent dies. And after the death of a loved one, our story changes. It now must include the hole, the absence, the loneliness, the birthdays no longer celebrated, and the holiday meals with an empty chair.

One of the most important ways to move through the death is to create and tell a story that helps bring meaning to the experience. At one funeral where I officiated, estranged family members came together to bury the deceased. Initially cautious about seeing each other, they left the cemetery wondering why they had stopped speak­ing. The story they now tell is how the death led to reconciliation.

Stories must be told. First, we tell them to ourselves, to create a private story. But it is not enough to just write them into a journal or keep them in our head. To assimilate loss, change, death, as well as joy, surprise, and a tickled funny bone, we must share our stories. That is how we integrate life changes into our personal narrative.[7]

And by telling our stories, we enter the space where, as my colleague and friend, Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, writes, “individuals and community meet.” Rabbi Zimmerman wrote her rabbinic thesis on how the sharing of personal stories lives helps create community.  In her research, she learned that when we are able to move beyond the factual recitation of the events and tell each other the depth, the meaning, and how the event has shaped us – we share the sacred. She learned from our teacher, Rabbi Larry Kushner, who writes:

Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching. Some seem to know their Torahs very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them. Some are long, some short. Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words, and still others can only be spoken through gesture and example. But every soul has a Torah. To hear another say Torah is a precious gift.[8]

Remember that we stood together as one community to hear the Torah revealed at Mount Sinai. And even though the midrash taught that we all heard according to our abilities, we were not there only as individuals; we were also there as a community. Together we heard the voice of God, as frightening and as awe-inspiring as that moment was. And who stood at Sinai to hear revelation? Both those who came out of Egypt and the future generations – that is, every Jew who has ever lived, stood there, too. Or more accurately, stands there today … and every day.

Revelation is ongoing. What we hear, what we learn, what we experience happens all the time. When we take those hearings, learnings, and experiences and integrate them into our neshamah, our soul, they become a part of our story.

The term “community organizing” doesn’t have a positive connotation for some people. Associated with Saul Alinsky, a Chicago activist, and President Obama, many people unfamiliar with community organizing assumes it to be an agenda item of the left.

But community organizing begins with something called a listening campaign. People tell each other their stories – their triumphs and their struggles, what keeps them up at night and about what they feel passionate. At the end of the campaign, the organizers come together to share what themes kept repeating. From there, they choose a topic around which to organize.

Sometimes, the community organizes to extend a bus route to a much-needed stop or to get a traffic light installed at a busy intersection. Other times, the community works together to tackle a social problem such as inadequate access to medical care or increasing gun violence. No matter what the issue, the community unites only after hearing the heartfelt individual stories.

In the coming year, may we celebrate the intersection of the indivi­dual and the community. May we recognize the unique contributions each one of us makes to the whole, contributions that no one else can bring, while we also recognize that each of our contributions helps create the collective story, our story, the human story. Dig deep and tell your story. Let down your defenses. Don’t seek affirmation. Just be. At the same time, open your heart and hear the story of others. Whether you speak or you listen, you will come away forever changed for the better.

Shanah tovah.


[1]http://usm.maine.edu/lifestorycenter/why.html

[2]Shemot Rabbah 5:9

[3]www.quora.com/Why-is-storytelling-important

[4]Elwyn G, Gwyn R. Narrative based medicine: Stories we hear and stories we tell; analyzing talk in clinical practice. BMJ. 1999; 318:186-8. Available at: http://www.bmj.org/cgi/content/full/318/7177/186 Accessed: October 17, 2001.

[5]Hammerschlag CA. Silverman HD. Healing Ceremonies: Creating Personal Rituals for Spiritual, Emotional, Physical and Mental Health. New York, N.Y: A Perigee Book: 1997. p.52.

[6]Dyer K. Thompson CD. Internet use for Web-Education on the Overlooked Areas of Grief and Loss. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 2000: 3(2); 255-270. 

[7]Neimeyer RA ed. Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss. Washington DC: APA, 2001, p 232. 

[8]God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know

Regret, Kol Nidrei 5777

on Friday, 14 October 2016. Posted in Rabbi

Regret

On the metal gate of a park in New York City, Jordan Zaslow, a writer, director, producer, and comedian, hung an old-fashioned school blackboard and wrote on it, “Write your biggest regret.” The chalkboard stood in the middle of New York City for one full day. New Yorkers from all walks of life stopped and wrote down some of the most heart breaking responses: “Not saying I love you,” “not challenging myself,” “not applying to medical school,” “staying in my comfort zone,” “never going after my dreams,” “not staying in touch with friends,” “burning bridges,” “wasting time,” “not saying yes to things,” “all the self-hate I put myself through,” “not having kids before my dad died,” “not speaking up,” “not being a good spouse,” and on and on.

As the board filled with so many different stories, Jordan noticed that almost all of the regrets had something in common: They were about chances not taken, about words not spoken, about dreams not pursued. Very few people regretted something they had actually done.

While there’s a deep sadness to her observation, there’s also a universality to it: We all live with regrets.

Some are small. I remember walking through a very swanky part of San Francisco when I was a law student and seeing in a store window a hand knit sweater embroidered with the position of the planets in the sky on the very day that I was born. I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t buy it. And I regret it to this very day.

And of course, many more regrets are large, probably very similar to the ones written by the New Yorkers on Jordan Zaslow’s board. If I asked for a show of hands of those of you who had at least one major regret in your life, I can’t imagine that any one of you would keep two hands in your lap.

Even God, according to Jewish tradition, has regrets. Three of those regrets relate primarily to historic moments, and are better left for historians, as they have to do with the nationhood of Israel, not the individual. Three other regrets, however, relate to us person­ally: In the first, God regrets having created yetzer hara, the evil inclination.

Jewish tradition teaches that we all have yetzer hara and yetzer hatov – an evil and a good inclination. The challenge for us is to choose yetzer hatov more often than yetzer harav.

And yet, creating yetzer hara is an odd one for God to regret, for the midrashim teach that yetzer hara is a force to be harnessed and utilized for creativity.

“If it were not for yetzer hara, a person would not build a house, would not marry, would not procreate, and would not deal in business,” we learn in one midrash.[1] One contemporary rabbi adds that one should “use the fire of yetzer hara – such as desire and longing and anger and pride and jealousy – to inflame oneself to … do good deeds.”[2]

So why does God regret giving yetzer hara to humans? Because most of the time, we humans have failed to harness and use yetzer hara for just purposes. Instead, we have used it more often to bring terrible evils to our world.

In the second human-related regret, God says, “I regret having made Saul king, for he turned away from Me and has not carried out my commands.”[3] This is an understandable reaction – King Saul defies God’s instruction to kill Amalek, Israel’s eternal enemy, considered our enemy even today.

But Saul doesn’t refuse out of a preference to seek peace. No, Saul retreats from attacking the Amalekites after taking the best of the sheep, oxen, and lambs for himself. He comes home once he has a nice bounty, rather than fighting to the finish in order to spare Israel future horrors from Amalek.

It should come as no surprise that Saul’s son, Jonathan, does not inherit the throne after him; God instead chooses David, from a completely different line.

God’s other regret comes at the beginning of the Torah. Just before the story of Noach, God sees the wickedness of humans. The text reads, “God regretted the making of humans on earth, and God’s heart was saddened.”[4]

God’s heart was saddened, vayit-atzeiv el libo. The pain is so real, so very visceral. I immediately picture something like the “Keep America Beautiful” public service announcement from the 1970s with a Native American shedding a single tear after trash is thrown from the window of a car and lands at his feet.

Regret is its own emotion and brings with it a host of others. People who ruminate on their regrets are less satisfied with their lives and struggle in coping with negative life events. Thus, people are motivated to avoid it.[5]

For God, the emotion was sadness; for others, it can be fear.

There’s the wonderful teaching about Rav Zusya, the mystical Hasidic rabbi who lived in the Ukraine in the late 1700s. Each day, rabbinic students crowded to the beit midrash, the house of Jewish study, to learn from Rav Zusya.

One day, he did not appear at the usual hour. His students waited and, finally, rushed to his house to check on him. They found the rabbi in his bed, too ill to get up. He was dying and he was terribly upset.

His students were confused. “Haven’t you taught us that all living things must die, that it is natural? Why are you so upset?” “Yes, it is natural to die. All living things must die,” Rav Zusya said.

A young student tried to comfort him: “Then you have no need to be upset. You have lived a life with as much faith as Abraham. You have followed the commandments as carefully as Moses.” The rabbi summoned his strength to answer his students.

“Thank you,” he said. “But that is not why I am upset. If God asks me why I didn’t act more like Abraham, I’ll say because I am not Abraham. If God asks me why I didn’t act more like Moses, I’ll say I am not Moses.”

Then he paused and looked at his students. His eyes filled with tears. “I am upset because I have been wondering, if God asks me why I didn’t act more like Zusya, what then will I say?”

Rav Zusya regretted having not lived his own life to its full potential. Regret can do that – keep us stuck, unable to move on to the next step or stage. In Rav Zusya’s case, he was unable to let himself die, too agitated and upset with himself.

In a midrash about Joseph in Egypt,[6] the Rabbis asked why the biblical text says “Joseph’s brothers,” not “Jacob’s son” went down to Egypt to procure food during the famine. They answer:

“Because in the beginning they did not treat him like a brother, for they sold him into slavery; but in the end, they regretted what they had done. Every day they would ask, ‘When shall we go down to Egypt to bring our brother back to his father?’ So when their father told them to go to Egypt to get food, they were all as one, brothers, in their resolve to bring Joseph home.”[7]

Ever day the text reads. Every day they regretted their actions. Every day they asked themselves when they could try and undo what they had done. Every day. Every day. They were so stuck in the past, always looking back.

Remember the story of Lot’s wife? When God brings destruction to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his wife flee, and God tells them not to look back. But Lot’s wife does and is turned to a pillar of salt. Why? My theory is that she looked back and cried copious tears – so many tears, in fact, that she drowned in them. Once the tears dried up, all that remained was the salt. Living with regret, constantly looking back, can do that do us – drown us until what’s left no longer resembles who we are.

Most of us regret that we have regrets. We know they make us our own worst enemies. We obsess about past events in our lives and wonder whether or not we made the right decisions or acted in the best ways. We blame ourselves for mucking things up and not listening to our better self, intuition, or conscience. In hard times, when things aren’t going well, it’s very tempting to try to figure out what we might have done differently.

Regret is ready, willing, and able to have us second-guess our choices. Listen to the resulting self-talk: “Why didn’t I consult someone and get their counsel before I made that decision?” “Why didn’t I look at the big picture before turning down that trip?” “Why did I rush into that commitment before the relationship had gelled?” “If only . . .” “What if . . .”[8]

Until recently, the most common advice to someone who lived with regret was to “learn to let go.” Don’t let you past actions or inactions define you today or get in the way of living life fully. Therapists might say something like, “What’s the point in fixating on something that can’t be changed, other than to poison your confidence or prevent you from continuously moving forward? Stay in the moment and acknowledge that you cannot undo the past. You cannot go back and try again. What’s done is done and what’s gone is gone.

You are not living the movie, Ground Hog Day. So, you can beat yourself up or stop beating yourself up. The choice is yours.”

Great advice. But if we look at Joseph’s brothers, we are probably more apt to relate to their every day regret than to the therapist’s suggestion to “let it go.”

Today, experts encourage us to consider regret quite differently. The researcher and author Brené Brown used to hope that it was possible to live authentically without regret. But, as she recently suggested, she has experienced enough failure and vulnerability in her life to understand that there can be incredible power in harboring the complicated emotion of regret. “I didn’t want to believe this,” she says, “but I have come to learn that regret is a fair – but tough – teacher.”

When I read this, I had to wonder – “what kind of teacher?” And here is what Brené Brown says: “Regret is a function of empathy,” Empathy brings people together in true connection and is an “antidote to shame.” Shame drives people apart in isolation. Failure is the starting point, breeding both shame and then regret.

If we focus on the link between regret and empathy, as Brené points out, we see that empathy can open the door to vulnerability, allowing us to find the courage to fully acknowledge our mis­takes as mistakes, as things we now know that we would change.

This why Brené believes in the teaching power of regret and also why she finds it so worrisome when people dismiss regret with a wave of the hand. She says, “When people say, ‘I have no regrets,’ I think, ‘That seems dangerous. … Do you not look back, ever, and say, ‘If I had this to do over again, I wish I would have done it another way?’”

Brené Brown isn’t the only researcher reframing the emotion of regret. Social scientists with the National Institute of Health have come to a similar conclusion. What they have found is that people who have a healthy attitude toward regret use it to guide future behavior.[9]What do people think about the emotion of regret? Recent demonstrations of the psychological benefits of regret have been framed against an assumption that most people find regret to be aversive, both when experienced but also when recalled later. Two studies explored lay evaluations of regret experiences, revealing them to be largely favorable rather than unfavorable. Study 1 demonstrated that regret, but not other negative emotions, was dominated by positive more than negative evaluations. In both studies 1 and 2, although participants saw a great deal of benefit from their negative emotions, regret stood out as particularly beneficial. Indeed, in study 2, regret was seen to be the most beneficial of 12 negative emotions on all five functions of: making sense of past experiences, facilitating approach behaviors, facilitating avoidance behaviors, gaining insights into the self, and in preserving social harmony. Moreover, in study 2, individuals made self-serving ascriptions of regret, reporting greater regret experiences for themselves than for others. In short, people value their regrets substantially more than they do other negative emotions.Keywords: Regret, Counterfactual, Affect, Emotion

In fact, they discovered in one study that regret was seen to be the most beneficial of twelve negative emotions in five different areas: making sense of past experiences, facilitating behavior when approaching a situation, facilitating behavior when avoiding a situation, gaining insights into oneself, and preserving social harmony.

In a second study, those people who acknowledged having regrets reported greater regret for things they did or didn’t do than for things that others did or didn’t do. Overall, people valued their regrets substantially more than they did other negative emotions.

This is all nice and good, but how do we use regret as a teacher to help us move forward?

First, be kind to yourself. Don’t focus only on the bad that came from your actions or inactions. Look for the good, too. Joseph in the Torah could have lived with regret while he was in Egypt – regret that he treated his brothers poorly back in Canaan or regret that he didn’t fight back when they sold him into slavery. But Joseph didn’t. He has been extolled for thousands of years for saying to his brothers, “This wasn’t my doing and this wasn’t your doing. It was God’s. God send me ahead to Egypt so that when the famine came, I could save you all from starvation.”

Try to be like Joseph. Did anything good come out of the encounter that you regret? Alexander Graham Bell once said, When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

Second, if nothing good came out of the encounter you regret, then remind yourself that much good has come out of other things you have done in your life.

Your existence cannot be summed up by those moments that you regret. You are deeper, more complex, and more beautiful than that.

Third, rather than focus on what you regret in life, consider the things for which you are grateful. Judaism teaches us that we are to say 100 blessings per day, most of them blessings of gratitude. Take this to heart and give thanks for the many, many good choices and decisions you have made. This will help you to move beyond the self-blame and depression that comes from being stuck in regrets.

Fourth, be in the moment, this moment. Rabbi Stuart Grant suggests:[10]

Draw a circle around where you are sitting right now.   The religious perspective would say that you are exactly where you should be at this moment, dealing with exactly what you should be dealing with, and connecting with exactly those people with whom you should be connecting.  Your whole life has been preparing you for this very moment. Everything that you have gone through and have learned can now be put to use in the next few seconds.   All the regrets you may feel are part of what you were suppose to learn up until right now. The exciting reality, however, is that at this very moment you have the opportunity to make a free will choice as to what you are going to do in the next few seconds and for the rest of your life.

Using Torah as your moral guide and moving in the direction that you believe is toward your greatest growth (… and will help other people), you move toward your constantly emerging life purpose.

Let’s return to Jordan Zaslow’s blackboard. As the day wore on and a group stared at the blackboard – a board filled with pain that reflected back to them their own pain – Jordan gave each of them a wet cloth to erase what was written. One woman said, “a clean board – it feels where I want to be, where I want to go.” Another said, “a clean slate … it means there is possibility.” They then erased the board’s invitation, “Write your biggest regret,” and replaced it with the words, “clean slate.”

From a clean slate, we are given the opportunity to start afresh. The board’s erasers did not forget that they had regrets; rather, they took charge not to allow their regrets to hold them back.

Ken y’hi ratzon. May this be God’s will for us all. Shanah tovah.


[1]Bereshit Rabbah 9:7

[2]Rav. Israel Lipshutz, Tiferet Yisrael on B’rakhot 9:5

[3]I Samuel 15:11

[4]Genesis 5:6

[6]Genesis 42:3

[7]Genesis Rabbah 91:6

[8]These two paragraphs are from Reframing Regrets, by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.

[10]www.jewishvaluesonline.org/115

Pam Accorenero D'var Torah, Rosh Hashanah Day 2 5777

on Friday, 14 October 2016. Posted in Rabbi

I Got Kicked Out of My First Yoga Class

I got kicked out of my first yoga class. I had taken many gym classes prior to being excommunicated from yoga, so when someone proposed to me that I try the class, I had no hesitation. I was about ten minutes in when, while lying on my back with knees bent, I was asked in that semi-sultry yoga instructor whisper to “pay attention to your breath and imagine a teacup resting on your pelvis. As you raise your pelvis to the sky, concentrate on your breath so that you don’t spill the tea.”

It was at that moment that I broke into hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. The kind that bellows and makes your eyes water and snot pour out your nostrils. Not only did I spill my imaginary tea, I was asked by sultry-voiced yoga lady to leave the class.

I’m reminded of that moment just now because Rosh Hashanah begins a time of reflection. The story of the Binding of Isaac and the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael highlights concepts of Faith. For me, focusing on these concepts is like asking me to focus on my breath. It’s silly, and difficult and a little disorientating. I’m the kind of kid that in second grade of my Evangelical Christian School questioned the lyrics of a popular children’s Christian song by asking, “But how do you know Jesus loves you?” I was told I had to work on my Faith.

Faith. It has been the bane of my existence since my existence began. I either didn’t have it, or had too much of it. Whatever it was, in the world of Evangelical schooling, I was doing Faith wrong.

I greatly believed in God, but didn’t quite understand Him (it was him at the time). I read the Bible but kept finding what appeared to be flaws or textual inconsistencies that no adult would really explain. My father, ever the joker, would pose more questions like, “the bigger question is did Adam and Eve have bellybuttons?” My mother would tell him to stop being foolish and tell to me all I could do was have Faith because I couldn’t know God’s thoughts. I found that answer horribly unfair. God gets to know us but we don’t get to know God? Hmpf.          I found a bookmark with Einstein’s quote, “I want to know God’s thoughts the rest are just details” and carried it with me everywhere in silent protest.

Ironically, in high school I got an award at our Junior/Senior banquet as the person in my grade who “most exemplifies Christ”. Yes. That was an award I got. So in case you are wondering, Christ is a smart-aleck Jew-esque lesbian with the luck of Charlie Brown and the sarcasm of Tina Fey.  It goes without saying that an award for History, or English would have served me better down the road.

The older I got the more I began to read “The Old Testament” aka Torah. I found the books utterly fascinating, dreadfully gory and absolutely wonderful. As Christians, we didn’t read much from Torah because it’s “what Jesus freed us from”. Sure, we reviewed snippets of stories but even those were not read directly from the Bible. Rather a casual synopsis followed by a simple lesson: Abraham was going to sacrifice his son. God stopped him. What does this tell us? Have Faith. Believe in God and it would all be ok.

It wasn’t ok. The more I saw contradictions in Bible stories the more I also found contradictions in the way people lived their belief. My family was dirt poor as my dad still didn’t have a job after 6 years of being laid off from work despite how much faith we had or how much we prayed. People at church would say things like “I don’t have the money to pay for this car, but I am going to buy it anyway and have faith that God will provide.” Faith became the Patronus Charm that conjured benefit with sheer good intent. That concept never fit into my worldview even as a child. Surely engaging in the world is something that God intended? Surely giving my friend food at lunch because I knew she didn’t have any was more valuable than just praying for food?

Aside from reading more Torah I secretly purchased The Kabbalah Deck: Pathway to the Soul by Edward Hoffman and I began studying Hebrew letters and used them like tarot cards. I would pick one every day and carry it with me trying to understand God via osmosis. I often slept with the card Ayin under my pillow. I couldn’t really pronounce the other letters, but with the Ayin I just had to make a slight breath, which I did, and meditated on nothingness.

I became obsessed with the Ten Sefirot and studied them at home in secret whenever I could. The concept that the Ten Sefirot made up the Divine seemed a wonderfully tangible way to understand God, or at least how God worked. 

I soon went to and graduated from the Christian liberal arts school, Gordon College. I knew prior to going into Gordon that I was not Christian, but I didn’t have any guidance about any other schools, or the process of college itself since no one in my family went to college. So I went to Gordon like everyone else.

It was Dr. Marvin Wilson, my ‘Old Testament’ professor who said it. “Reading the Old Testament in English is like kissing your bride with her veil still down. You lose something in between.” Despite the sexist comparison, I began to wonder, is it possible that the Bible doesn’t say what I was taught it said? The possibility caused me to exhale a great sigh of relief. 

I spent my remaining years at Gordon being a closeted lesbian unknowingly fumbling my way toward Judaism.

After graduation, I planned on attending graduate school to get my Psy.D so I could counsel children. However, my 16 year old sister got pregnant and my mother asked me to come home to help. For me it was an easy decision. I did not want the hypocrisy of spending 4 years learning to help kids, when there was a kid in my own family who needed help now.  I returned home to Laconia New Hampshire, which had even fewer lesbians and less Jews.

I spent my 20’s raising my beautiful niece Megan. I only planned on being with her for 6 years. As Freud points out, that is when a personality is developed. “Great” I thought, “six years to shield her from evangelicalism and thwart any potential underlying debilitating psychosis and I’m back to school!” That was before I met Megan. Before I cut the cord after she was born. Before I fell in love with her. I stayed with Megan, living with her at my parent’s house until she was 13 years old.

Megan taught me how to love. When you love a child, it is complete vulnerability. There is no guarantee that they will love you back, or even like you. In the case with Megan, I wasn’t even her parent, so there was no guarantee how long she might be in my life, and how long I would have the opportunity to love her in a tangible way. Vulnerability it turns out, is scary, and not something you can learn in books. You have to do vulnerability; and you cannot do it casually.

Megan taught me about the wonder of the universe and value of being in the moment. All of her actions and thoughts became a metaphor for living a more interconnected life. When Megan was very little we would take rides up to the White Mountains and take the trolley to the top of Cannon Mountain. One day when we were almost to the top of the mountain she exclaimed, “I see it! I see it!” as she pointed into the mist. “What?” I asked, “What do you see?” “God!” she replied.

 We spent the next two hours pointing out the places God was, in the trees, in the clouds, with the birds, in the dirt. By lunchtime Megan had her first Sinai moment when she paused and said, “and me aunt P. God is with me.”

On another occasion I had taken to wearing a dorje around my neck. A dorje is a Buddhist symbol that’s  a bit pointy and on the occasions that you feel it, it is meant to wake you up and remind you to center yourself. While leaning over Megan at bedtime to kiss her goodnight, the dorje fell forward and Megan grabbed it. “What is this? She inquired. “It’s a dorje. I wear it on my neck because it reminds me who I really am.”  Megan considered it for a moment, “That’s just faith P, That’s all it is really.” 

With a full time job and helping to care for Megan, I had no time to pursue other studies. I was reminded that the ability to contemplate and pursue spiritual or existential matters is a luxury in a world of poverty. Since I could not chase those ideals cerebrally, I tried to live those concepts more consciously.

I was 30 when I had a heart attack. I’m fine. It was minor and there is nothing structurally wrong with my heart, but the even caused existential and spiritual questions to come flooding back into my conscious in a more intellectual manner. I began to make conscious choices in my life after my heart attack. I stopped smoking, ate better, and exercised a lot. I began reading and writing again. As Megan got older and was now living with her mother and her new step-dad, I had more time to explore issues that were important to me. I read God Is A Verb  by Rabbi David A Cooper. It validated my thoughts that we are co-creators with God and we co-create by actually doing deeds and not with a faith based Patronus Charms. I tried to notice Holy Sparks in others, and in myself.

I came out to my parents, which went disastrously. Shortly thereafter I moved out and into a living arrangement with my girlfriend at the time. It was a stereotypical long lesbian story that  fell apart after two years leaving me both alone and bankrupt. I moved into to my studio apartment with a bed, a papasan chair, one mug, a coffee pot and a TV.

It was during this time that a colleague of mine asked me if I had “been to that temple in Concord. The one with the Lesbian Rabbi?” I very quickly shot back at him that there was no such thing as a Lesbian Rabbi. He insisted it was a real thing. He was also a little scatterbrained. Being a universal distruster, I decided to check it out myself.

I went to my first Friday night Shabbat service at Temple Beth Jacob and never looked back. I flooded Rabbi Robin’s email inbox with questions and thoughts. I made more coffee dates with her than my whole dating pool combined. I read all the books she gave me at least twice, and I challenged her with intellectual questions and she challenged me with vulnerability questions. She still does. Thank God for Lesbian Rabbis. 

I met the “Saturday Morning Crew” a hodgepodge of delightful nonconformists who had nothing in common but their desire to study Torah. We sat in a circle. It was my own little island of misfit toys and I felt I belonged there. I still feel that way.

I began to eat Kosher. I didn’t know how. After 3 hours at the grocery store and 386 dollars later, I decided to ask for some clarification from Rabbi Robin. I ate Kosher because I wasn’t Jewish, and I didn’t have a family. It was just me. Eating Kosher was the best way I knew how to consciously connect to Judaism and to God in a way that was tangible.

The tangibility of Judaism was a breath of fresh air to me. Evangelicals do what they want, but Jews do things with purpose. I wanted to be connected to that purpose.

For the first year or two I was concerned I was doing Judaism wrong. For example I accidently brought a dessert that looked like breasts to my first Kol Nidre meal with Rabbi Robin and company. Thanks to Nadav and Avihu I was petrified to go near the Torah because I was afraid of bursting into flames. The first time I celebrated Hanukkah I couldn’t have candles in my apartment, so I arranged shot glasses with tea lights in them. I reluctantly told Rabbi Robin thinking this would be the act in which I had gone too far in my in my irreverent reverence. But no, instead Rabbi told me that she believes God values my ingenuity. Despite my lack of knowledge Rabbi Robin and Cantor Shira continued to invite me to share Rosh Hashanah and Seder meals with them. Never treating me like I wasn’t Jewish and always embracing me as though I belonged there. They still do.

Three years after my first steps into Temple Beth Jacob it soon became apparent that I was living a Jewish life. Not merely by going to temple but by the way I conducted myself in public and thought about the world. I had deep issues with being worthy of being included in the Jewish community. Who did I think I was, taking my white Western privilege and inserting myself into a culture whose people have struggled, and continue to struggle over generation after generation? “We were all at Sinai Pam,” Rabbi Robin would say. Even though I viewed myself more as tailgating at Sinai than participating in the show, I still heard the words. Was the fact that I could choose the obligation any different than those who could not?

I never considered converting to Judaism. I didn’t need to. I was a single person doing my own thing, I could be Jewish in my home and I could be Jewish in Temple and it suited me. I was happy living the life as a Jew without any commitment. That was until I met Maddie.

Maddie is my girlfriend. She’s a Unitarian Universalist atheist among other things. She’s 16 years younger and 25 years smarter than me. She’s funny and creative and, but for Rabbi Robin, has encouraged more toward embracing my Judaism that any other person I know.

Having a life with Maddie, who is not Jewish, has in a strange way cultivated my need both practically and internally identify myself as Jewish. My Jewishness became not something that I could just do alone, in the privacy of my one bedroom apartment, but was now something I had to share with another human being.

And not just one human being. Maddie comes with a long list of friends and family. As our relationship grew, I began to overhear Maddie on the phone say things like, “I’m not sure if we can go out Friday night because Pam and I usually have a Shabbat dinner together.” Maddie was exposing my Jewish living to the outside world and that was terrifying.  By this time, I knew there was already a conversion plot afoot by members of the Temple Beth Jacob congregation to kidnap me and throw me into the mikveh, but now constant questions from the outside world about whether I was Jewish became difficult to answer, and I always felt sad that I didn’t get to say “yes I am a Jew”. 

 In a typical Pam style scenario, a friend invited Maddie, myself and two additional friends over for dinner on a Friday night. Maddie and I brought wine and challah. Our other friends brought Camp Wannamango beer. Before reciting the blessing, I realized I had forgotten the candles. Maddie immediately activated her flashlight AP on her cellphone. Our friend followed suit. “There you go. Two lights” Maddie said with a smile. I said the blessing. I lifted my wine and clinked their Camp Wannamango (which we decided, since it’s mango flavored it counts as fruit of the vine) beer cans and ripped apart the challah.

Now, though, this New Year, I am happy and proud to say, I am fumbling my way officially as a Jew. I will no longer live Judaism cautiously.  Whether I’m tailgating at Sinai, panting my way through a perpetual exodus, or following my heaving heart, even if it’s into the wilderness, I will no longer live Judaism casually. I will have faith in who I truly am, a silly, difficult and often disorientated Jew. Paying attention, being present and trying not to spill the tea.

Hope, Rosh Hashanah Day 1 5777

on Friday, 07 October 2016. Posted in Rabbi

Rosh Hashanah Day 1 5777

In Mary Shelly’s most famous novel, ship captain Robert Walton encounters a man named Victor Frankenstein, somewhere near the North Pole. Frankenstein tells Walton the story of his life. As a child, mystical philosophers and alchemists, and their pursuit of the elixir of eternal life, fascinated him.

Eventually, Frankenstein enrolls in University where he meets a professor who berates him for wasting his time on non-academic, non-serious subjects such as mysticism and alchemy. The professor suggests a more modern course of reading, but Frankenstein has little interest – that is, until he meets another professor, who introduces him to new possibilities through the study of modern chemistry.

Frankenstein devotes himself to study day and night. After two years, he discovers the secret for which he has sought: the principle of life. He imagines creating a new race of humans who will hail him as their creator. And then, as we all know, on a perfect gothic November night – using body parts taken from exhumed corpses – Frankenstein succeeds in bringing life to lifeless matter. He creates his monster.

Frankenstein, the novel, is a great work of literature. It is tragic while invoking empathy. And more than anything, it highlights that very precarious line between life and death, between what is and what isn’t, between what can be and what can no longer be.

Our Torah portion this morning, the story of the binding of Isaac – called the Akeidah – brings us to that point somewhere between life and death. The Akeidah is possibly the most disturbing text in all of the Torah. Many people have asked how it could be a part of our sacred narrative. What were the redactors of the five Books of Moses thinking of when they included this story? As if it isn’t difficult enough to read it once a year when the Torah cycles around to Parasha Vayera – which contains the Akeidah – why must we read it again, on one of the holiest days of the year?

We will never know the answers to these questions.  We can speculate. We can guess what was going on historically, most notably the rise of Christianity. We can develop hypotheses on the underlying spiritual message. But in truth, we may never find satisfactory answers to the questions of why God would tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, why Abraham would seemingly comply, and why Isaac would remain silent. Perhaps, if nothing else, this portion reminds us that we are Yisrael – “God wrestlers” – and we must never stop asking questions about God and our traditions.

The ancient Rabbis also struggled with the story of the Akeidah. Their struggles are often found in the Midrashim, commentary on the Biblical text. In two of those Midrashim, the line between life and death is completely blurred. In the first, Abraham does not hear the angel call to him until after he has done the deed God commanded him to do. It reads:

When the sword touched Isaac’s throat, his soul flew out of him. And when God’s voice was heard from the angels, saying, “Lay not thy hand upon the lad,” the lad’s soul was returned to his body. Then his father unbound him and Isaac rose, knowing that the dead would come back to life in the future; whereupon he began to recite, “Blessed are You, Adonai, who resurrects the dead.”[1]

The second Midrash continues this theme. It reads:

By virtue of Isaac who offered himself as a sacrifice on top of the altar, God will resurrect the dead in the future, as it is said, “God hears the groaning of him who is bound, and God will open up release for the offspring appointed to death.”[2] “Him who is bound” refers to Isaac bound on top of the altar. “Will open up release for the offspring appointed to death” refers to the dead whose graves God will open to set them on their feet in the World to Come.[3]

This Midrash dates from the 4th century, when Judaism was losing adherents to Christianity. Many Jews were converting to a religion they found attractive for several reasons, not the least of which was the presence of a resurrected messiah. In this Midrash, the Rabbis are saying, “You don’t need to convert to Christianity for resurrection. We, too, have a tradition of resurrection.”

Even if the idea that Isaac actually died on the altar can be traced back to the Rabbis, most of reject this reading of the story. It seems to make the unimaginable even more unimaginable. It seems Christian. And it seems to contradict the biblical text itself. But as uncomfortable as we may be with the notion of resurrection of the dead, it has long been a part of Jewish tradition. In the Book of Ezekiel, for example, God tells the prophet to give God’s message to the dry bones lying in a valley. God promises:

That the bones will have breath breathed into them, they will be given sinews, flesh and skin, and they will live again.[4] Ezekiel does what he is told, and God brings the bones back to life.

Our ability to come back to life is an essential part of our story. The Rabbis assigned this prophetic text to be the Haftarah portion read during the week of Passover. In the eyes of the Rabbis, God’s redeeming us from a life of slavery in Egypt was nothing short of our resurrection.

The Rabbis who authored the Midrashim were the same Rabbis who wrote the prayers that eventually came to make up our prayerbook. The central part of our worship is the Amidah. The second prayer, the g’vurot, speaks of God’s power. It begins in our prayerbook, ata gibor l’olam Adonai, m’chayeh hakol, “you are mighty forever, Adonai, you give life to all.”

That’s how it begins in our prayerbook. But if you were to return to the time it was developed – or head down Manchester to the Conservative or Orthodox synagogue – you would hear something different. There, the prayer’s words are ata gibor l’olam Adonai, m’chayeh maytim, “you are mighty forever, Adonai, you give life to the dead.”

The 19th century Reform rabbis who created our liturgy made many changes to our prayers. They removed repetitions; references to the priesthood, the Temple, and sacrifices; and language that denigrated life in the Diaspora. They also changed prayers longing for a personal messiah to prayers hoping for a messianic era. Closely related was the idea of the resurrection of the dead. Those references, too, were removed. And so for nearly 150 years, Reform Jews have prayed to a God who “gives life to all,” rather than one who “gives life to the dead.”

Mishkan T’filah, our current non-High Holy Day prayerbook, was published in 2007. When it was still in test form, many hundreds of congregations, including TBJ, experimented with it and then provided feedback to the committee writing it.

One prayer received the most comments. Which one? The g’vurot. Why? Because the prayerbook authors decided it was time for our movement to revisit our objection to the notion of resurrection of the dead. It’s not that they necessarily believed in the literal meaning of the phrase, but they wondered if we could pray it metaphorically.

The g’vurot prayer contains m’chayeh ­– “who gives life” – four times. In the test form of the prayerbook, they retained the phrase m’chayeh hakol – God who gives life to all in two places, but reinserted the original text, m’chayeh maytim – God who gives life to the dead – in the two others.

Reform rabbis debated the change. Some vehemently objected, wondering what had happened to Reform Judaism. Others understood its inclusion, acknowledging that Reform Jews are sophisticated enough to pray metaphorically. Still others fully embraced it, claiming that the Reform version stemmed from a time when the liturgy reflected our embrace of rational thinking. We no longer live in such times, these rabbis claimed, and our liturgy should acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers.

The first few times I prayed out of the prayerbook in test form, I had trouble praying to a God m’chayeh maytim – who gives life to the dead. In fact, before the test version of the prayerbook was distributed, a few students at my seminary who had just returned from their year in Israel changed the language on their own. I don’t know why. Perhaps they had prayed at many different synagogues in Jerusalem and had simply gotten use to hearing it.

Or perhaps, after living through a year of horrific violence in Israel, they prayed m’chayeh maytim hoping that it had all been a nightmare and that they could pray the dead back to life. After living through 9-11 as a rabbinical student in lower Manhattan, I could understand this.

The final edition of Mishkan T’filah retains the historic Reform text with m’chayeh hakol, who gives life to all, while parenthetically including maytim, for those who prefer “who gives life to the dead.” The hope is that we will experiment and possibly embrace the maytims as a way of acknowledging that God’s world is truly beyond our understanding.

There are many ways in which we experience a resurrection of life. Let’s return to the text of our Torah portion. While Abraham lays down the knife before touching Isaac, in some ways, Isaac did die on that day. His relationship with his father ended. They are never together again in life. According to the Torah, the next time Abraham and Isaac are in the same place at the same time is when Isaac buries his father.

Yet, Isaac is reborn as a man for whom family is paramount. When his father dies, he does not bury him alone. He shares the task with his brother, Ishmael, from whom he has long been estranged because of his parents actions. He also marries Rebecca and fathers Jacob and Esau.

It is also said that Isaac’s vision dies on that day – that he loses his sight from seeing the radiance of the angel who stopped his father from performing the sacrifice. In response to this death, Isaac’s other senses experience their own rebirth and growth.

Near the end of Isaac’s life, he is prepared to give his sons blessings for their future. Our biblical text tells us that Rebecca tricks him into giving the blessing for the first born to his younger son, Jacob.

I don’t believe that Isaac was tricked. I think that because of the rebirth of his senses of smell, taste, hearing, and touch, he knew exactly what he was doing. Yet he was able to preserve a relationship with each son by having them think he erred due to his diminished eyesight.

We have experienced resurrections of the dead in our own world, in our own time. Many of our ancestors came from Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. For centuries, Jewish life there was at worst perse­cuted and at best ignored. In 1981, a Soviet Refusenik wrote:

We are a community based on memory. By denying us the right and ability to transmit our heritage to our children, Soviet authorities are bringing about the destruction of our most precious possession.

And yet, at the start of the 21st century, the former president of my seminary and our last year’s Shapiro Lecture series speaker, Rabbi David Ellenson, visited the region and wrote:

The destruction [that the Refusenik spoke of] miraculously has not taken place. I literally witnessed the miracle of Jewish rebirth and care in the former Soviet Union. We visited chesed societies that attempt to provide a social safety net for poor elderly Jews. We met kindergarten, elementary, and high school students, as well as Hillel students and leaders of the small but growing Progressive Jewish community. Perhaps the most moving moment was hearing young Russian Jews sing, “Am Yisrael Chai,” “The people Israel lives.”

Rabbi Ellenson likened what he saw to a prayer included in one of the earliest Reform prayerbooks: May God soon bring blessing and wholeness to the four corners of the earth. I would liken what Rabbi Ellenson saw to Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones. God has literally breathed new life into this near-dead community.

There have been moments of resurrection during tragedies as well. I mentioned earlier, 9/11. On that day, my cousin was working on the 87th floor of the second tower. After he saw the plane hit the first tower, he ran through the halls of his office and demanded that everyone leave, thereby saving his entire company. After he exited the building, he dragged himself to the west side of Manhattan and got onto a garbage tugboat that took him to New Jersey.

He started walking the 35 miles to his house. Covered in soot and ash and looking like the shocked shell of a human that he felt like, he was stopped and picked up by a stranger who drove him home. When he walked, his wife nearly passed out in seeing her husband returned from the dead. He and his wife took early retirement and they live in upstate New York where they garden and volunteer.

Where else do we see rebirth and resurrection in our lives? When the teenager, lured to drugs, turns her life around. When the executive, laid off from his job, starts a new business and thrives. When family members, estranged for years, come together to help a sick loved one.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, too, are about rebirth – or birth – and resurrection. On Rosh Hashanah, we say the words, hayom harat olam,” “today is the birth of the world.”

We come to synagogue, emerging out of the Hebrew month of Elul, a month in which we are given the opportunity to consider our deeds from the past year, make amends, plan to improve, and begin the road of our rebirth toward t’shuvah, or change.

In ten days, we will return for Yom Kippur, the day each year that we prepare for our death. We do not eat. We do not work. We do not go to school. We withhold from ourselves the pleasures of daily life. Many Jews wear only white, and do not wear leather. These are all signs that death is imminent.

Yet, we do not die. Instead, as the day progresses, we slowly return to life. By the afternoon service, we are chanting Torah in the weekly melody, not the special High Holiday melody. We pray a yizkor service – but it memorializes the actual dead, and has nothing to do with our own mortality. We conclude with N’ilah – the gates are closing and we have one final moment to repent, to be resurrected, to start afresh.

Ultimately, rebirth and resurrection are about hope. They are about the hope for recovery, the hope for acceptance, the hope of rebuilding, and the hope for life renewed.

In one of our closing prayers, we say:

As evening falls, lights dawn within us; hope and trust revive. The shadow that darkened our spirit is vanished; and through the passing cloud there breaks, with the last rays of the setting sun, the radiance of Your forgiving peace. We are restored, renewed by Your love.

Perhaps this prayer answers the question of why we read the story of the binding of Isaac on Rosh Hashanah. Isaac’s story is about hope, lifting the shadow that darkens the spirit, experiencing God’s radiance, and restoration and renewal.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur remind us that we forever live on that precarious line that separates life from death. With hope, trust, and God’s helping hand, may we pull ourselves out of the depths, to experience rebirth, resurrection, and life renewed.

Shana tova.


[1]Pirkei de-Rav Eliezer 31

[2]Psalm 102

[3]Mekilta Simeon

[4]Ezekiel 37:5-6

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Yom Rishon, 1 Tammuz 5777

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