Featured

Welcome to our blog!

Thank you for joining us!

We are a community of Hebrew Seminary faculty, staff, rabbinical students, lifelong learners, Kabbalists, scholars, spiritual seekers and kind supporters.

The mission of Hebrew Seminary is to train rabbis and Jewish educators to serve all Jewish communities, including the deaf community. Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since our founding in 1992.

We hope that within this blog you will discover moments of insight and inspiration, practical and spiritual guidance, as well as a path to further study.

Along the way, let us know your thoughts!

A Kavannah of Hanukkah

by Student Rabbi Roberta Glick

There are 2 themes: gratitude and tsheuvah that I want to talk about today with regards to Hanukkah. Hopefully something old and something new for everyone.

We sometimes think of Hanukkah as a “minor” holiday, maybe celebrated to balance against another big holiday in December. And we know Hanukkah is about a war that the Jews won against the Greeks, against assimilation. We rededicated the temple, and the oil for the menorah was only enough for 1 day but lasted 8 days. A miracle! That’s what the rabbis want to stress: the miracle of the light; not the fight.

Hanukkah is not discussed in the Torah. Rather, it’s in the Talmud, our oral law (tractate Shabbat) in a discussion about animal sacrifices. In ancient times, animal sacrifices were numerous and a great variety of types were offered each day but decreasing in number each day. This led to a discussion by the two famous Rabbis in the Talmud and their schools: How to light the Hanukkah candles.

Beit Shammai (who was stricter) said: Just like Sukkot sacrifices, we start with many and go down in number each night, from 8 to one. Good reasoning but Beit Hillel (who was a bit more humble and inclusive, but by no means pluralistic,) said NO. We do it differently. We start with one candle and we INCREASE the number of candles lit each night. And thus we do it as per Beit Hillel. Because Hanukkah is about increasing Light in the world, we increase holiness in the world, not decrease.  מעלין בקודש, ואין מורידין

Hanukkah comes at the darkest time of the year. There are holidays in other faiths in December that also point to bringing light into a dark world. For example, the Indian holiday Diwali, the Christian holidays of solstice and advent, the African holiday of Kawanza, the Muslim holiday of Mawlid un Nabi (birthday of Muhammed).  For Jews, “the light of the Lord is my soul.” The prophet Isaiah says that our job as Jews is to be a “light unto nations”, to bring the moral and ethical teachings of teachings of Torah to the entire world. Light is holiness.  Light is G-d. Light is Torah. Light is soul.

Another place where the Talmud talks about Hanukkah is in reference to the type of candles or oil we use on Hanukkah versus Shabbat, and how they are used on these days. Shabbat is about separation, distinction. We stop the work we do all week and rest.  Heschl describes it as a cathedral in time, not space. It’s a taste of the time of our future redemption, when all is perfect, and nothing needs to be fixed or created. Special preparations are required for Shabbat. Some people go to the mikveh for ritual purification. And only special candles designated just for Shabbat can be used. Once you light them, no other work can be done, and the light of the candles can be used for reading or studying; utilitarian value. Prepared and special for Shabbat.

In contrast, any oil or candles can be used for the Hanukkah menorah; clean dirty, broken, whole, special or not, and not much preparation is necessary.  It’s a “come as you are” party. And once you light them, the mitzvah of Hanukkah is to gaze upon their beauty, their holiness, their light, and not use them for anything else. The Hasidic masters describe the candles as a metaphor for us, for our lives.  Whether we are broken, common, rich, pure, impure; and whether you are prepared or not ready to be holy, you can come and participate and be included in the mitzvah. All types of people, all types of candles and oil. We enter from the place where you are, and each of us may enter from a different place in our lives. But we can all make the leap, or step. We can all participate in bringing holiness into the world, and light into the darkness.

The Hasidic masters were concerned that it is not enough to just do the mitzvah and just follow the law mindlessly. Rather, they were concerned with our internal experience, our religious consciousness, and even the mystical experience: being aware that you are in the Divine Presence when we participate in a mitzvah.  We may say this is Kavanah, the intention, also mean “arrow or direction” we are aiming, and many of us call this mindfulness.  And just as we bring the light into the darkness of the physical world, the Hasidic masters, and in particular Sfat Emet, taught that as we gaze at the candle, we should deeply “look” for a long time, 5 or even 30 minutes, and see how the flame changes, and is constantly moving. Again, like our lives. Perhaps some of you were like me and liked to look at fireplace fires or campfires for a long time like this. The Hasidic masters teach that as we gaze at the candles we need to look “deeply.” It is important to “see” what is not visible to the eye, as well. We need to look deep inside ourselves, and shed light on our own dark spaces, our shortcomings, our resentments, our neediness, our excessive wanting or grasping for materialism, our turning away from the beggar or homeless or sick or elderly, our lashon hora or yetzer hara.  We can shed light on these internal dark spaces, and do t’shuvah. Sfat Emet says that within each of us is an inner point, and inner spark, and we can infuse this point into the entire soul of a person by being joyous through Hallel (praise) and Hodaah (thanksgiving), meriting to be included in the community of Israel.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says that choshek, darkness, is forgetting; turning away. Light is “seeing”, remembering, memory, the secret, the hidden good, and bringing it forth. Only with the “heart” can one see what is right. Think about how we “see”, how we “look”, for this determines how we “relate” to one another. So as we shed light on our own dark internal spaces, in our lives, in our hearts we can try to bring more light into ourselves, more loving kindness, more generosity, more shalom, more joy, more gratitude into our own hearts, into our own consciousness, and as we open our hearts we can bring these attributes, the attributes of G-d, into the world: “be a light unto nations”.

A final sharing about Hanukkah from my Zohar class.  The Zohar is a beautiful mystical book holding deep wisdom, secrets and meanings to the Torah and everything else.  I see it as a poetic look at life and Torah. For me, poetry is like an impressionistic painting; you get a few evocative words and images, and you fill in the rest, creating an experience. What I learned from my wonderful Zohar teacher, Rachmiel Drizin, is that Hanukkah is really a holiday of gratitude and t’shuvah. On each of the 8 days we are supposed to recite the complete Hallel, songs of praise and thankfulness. And each of the 8 days of Hanukkah are associated with a particular Sefirot, from Kabbalah. These are representations of the attributes of G-d superimposed on man. We are a microcosm of G-d in that we are made in G-d’s image. These Sefirot, middot, attributes include wisdom, loving kindness, truth, balance, beauty, etc. On each day of Hanukkah, we are supposed to instill a sense of gratitude through recitation of Hallel and focus on one of the attributes of G-d, and try to emulate it that day, to practice it in your life, and repair the brokenness. Hanukkah is considered the last chance to get in your “high holiday” T’shuvah, to renew the vows you made on Yom Kippur, about improving your life this year: physically, intellectually, spiritually, with yourself and others, with Chesed and generosity and compassion.  It’s like the “new year resolutions” some of us make.

Here is a really nice conversation piece from Orot. The theme is “The lights we need”. On this Hanukkah, which types of light do we need? Which light do YOU want to bring into your family or the world. Finish this sentence: “Tonight we will consider the light of…”Courage, stillness, comfort, joy, growth”. In closing, may you be blessed with the light of Chesed and compassion in your lives. May you be blessed with eight days of internal light and repair, fixing chaos in your life, and illuminating the dark days of winter and increase light in the world.

Meditation: From the priestly blessing: May G-d shine Divine Light upon you and be loving to you: A Prayer of luminous light and Love to you. Think of a time when you were luminous or you were loved.

Shalom.

Hanukkah and Our Highest Self

My Grandson recently said this about his twin Aunts:

“Whenever I see a tree it always feels deep inside me that I am earth.

And when I am with Beth and Ella it feels like they are earth with me.”

While this haunting call to Oneness comes from the heart of a six year-old, philosopher Ken Wilber also calls us to mindfully live in the light of our Highest Self.

“… you are a genuine co-creator of a reality that every human being henceforth will pass through. Make sure, therefore, that to the extent that you can, always act from the deepest, widest, highest source in you that you can find ; let every word out of you mouth come from the Highest Self you can discern; let every action spring from the deepest Source you can possibly summon. You are laying down Forms that will be stored in that great storage bin in the Kosmos, whence they will one day reach down and mold the future with their own special insistence. Make sure those Forms will be something you can be deeply proud of. You do realize that you are directly co-creating a future World, don’t you? Please, never, never, forget that….”

May you create a reality of light and love everywhere you go.

Chag sameach,

Alison Brown

 

Sing Hallelujah

By Student Rabbi Stacey Robinson

 

Sing praise and

shout hallelujah

as bullets sing their siren song

and death is never far;

and sing praise

while fires rage and

children fall silent

behind barbed wire fences, and

children fall silent

with bellies distended, and

children fall silent

as their homes are devoured,

and they race against monsters and time.

Sing praise, for the monsters are winning.

 

Free the captive.

Feed the hungry.

Give shelter to those in need.

This is my song,

this praises my name –

Be kind.

Work for peace.

Hallelujah!

Hope is an action.

Pray with your feet.

Hallelujah!

Lift your eyes and see God

In the eyes of the other.

Hallelujah!

 

All the earth is holy ground.

The bush burns,

do you not see?

Open your eyes –

there are such wonders!

Open your heart –

there is such love!

Sing hallelujah!

 

This is my bounty.

This the glory.

For this we give thanks.

 

For the richness of life,

And the jagged edges that cut

and draw blood,

And the beauty

In the sound of rain

and silence,

 

We give thanks.

 

For the Creator of eternity

and time,

Who calls to us in darkness

and light,

In our hunger

And our want,

 

We give thanks.

 

For the fullness,

For the stones that bite

And the bedrock upon which we stand,

For the hands that lift us,

And the song that fills us

 

We give thanks.

 

For our breath,

For our bodies

For the grace of  healing,

And the blessing of light,

So that we can taste the sweet,

The sharp,

The weary,

Lonely,

Lovley

Holiness of this day

Sing hallelujah

And give thanks

 

A Kaleidoscope of Angels: for parashat Vayeitzei

 

By Stacey Robinson

Put the stone under your head
and rest; don’t be disturbed
by the kaleidoscope of angels
on their merry ride of
up and down,
between heaven and earth
and there and back again.

They may be lost,
those angels, or at least
Stuck, intractable in their
proscribed tracks,
their lesson a cautionary tale
in thinking heaven is up.

Let your stone,
cold and hard,
remind you that
there is no place God is not,
even in that rock,
and all those hard places
that the angels fear to tread.
God cares not for the ladders,
But stands over you,
And waits for you to notice.

Heaven is now,
not where.
This is the entrance.
This is the glory.

 

Chai Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

 

In the Jewish tradition, the number 18 represents the word “Chai” or Life.

Congregation Bene Shalom and Hebrew Seminary invite you to join us

In an affirmation of life and unity and gratitude

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Beginning at 2:30pm

Chai Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

held at Congregation Bene Shalom

Different clergy leaders from our diverse community will come together to guide us in prayer, song and meditation especially relevant in the face of the recent anti-Semitic killings in Pittsburgh and the terrible assaults on minority communities these past few weeks.

We will gain strength from one another, and also celebrate all that we are grateful for at this time of year.

 

Congregation Bene Shalom
& Hebrew Seminary
4435 Oakton St., Skokie  847/677-3330

Sign Language Interpreted.  For more info, contact [email protected]

We Return to Health When Our Body and Soul are Balanced

 

Well-being includes physical and spiritual health.

We return to health from sickness when our body and soul are balanced.

Join Hebrew Seminary for a panel discussion on

 

NEW DIMENSIONS IN MEDICINE:

Where Body and Soul Meet

 

Sunday, October 28, 2018 from 2:00-3:30 pm 

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, Hebrew Seminary President and Professor of Jewish Mysticism, and author of two books on Kabbalistic Healing Prayer.

Dr. Roberta P Glick is a Professor of Neurosurgery at Rush University and Rosalind Franklin Chicago Medical School. She worked for over 30 years at Cook County and Mount Sinai Hospitals where she was dedicated to improving care for low-income patients with malignant brain tumors and traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Gary Slutkin is founder and CEO of Cure Violence and Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. He initiated the first national programs for AIDS in Central and East Africa for the World Health Organization (WHO) and created and led WHO’s Intervention Development Office.

 

HEBREW SEMINARY

A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING

4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076

847-679-4113  [email protected]

ASL interpreted      Refreshments served

Malchyot Reflection

by Student Rabbi Dr. Roberta Glick

Malchyot: Kingship.  What relationship does that word evoke in you?

Is it the “radical amazement” of Heschl trying to explain the awesome mystery of the transcendent Divine Presence?

Is it the fear and trembling of judgment, like Adam when he heard the kol of G-d who asked: “Ayekah? Where are You?”

Sometimes we need a Malchyuot, someone else to be in charge. As Sylvia Boorstein said (at our recent retreat):     “Cosmos, you drive, today!”

What is this relationship we have with the Divine, and how, in any relationship do two distinct souls join together in one union/ Echad without either compromising or diminishing itself: How does 1 + 1 =1 and still remain 2?

Reflecting this year on the stranger, perhaps we are also the stranger, and have become estranged from ourselves, from others, and from G-d.

I would like to share, briefly, a teaching (with my comments) from Sfat Emet on the very question of our relationship with G-d, which reflects our relationship with ourselves and with others. Sfat Emet suggests this relationship is one of reciprocal love.

As most of you know, Elul, this month of preparation leading up to the The Days of Awe, is also an acronym for                Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li  – I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs)

It also emphasizes another vital aspect – that a relationship is a reflection: You and your beloved mirror each other:      “Like the face reflected in water, one heart [is reflected] in another” (Proverbs 27:19).

However, Sfat Emet sees the words in a slightly different light. G-d is being the initiator.  Creation and redemption were all gifts given to us, not for any of our doing, not out of our merit, but out of love. The same with the revelation at Sinai, Torah and the commandments. And just like in any love relationship, sometimes the recipient is not ready to give back love, to return the gift, to commit, to reciprocate. Instead we built the golden calf and turned away. Elul then becomes a time of repentance, of Tsheuvah, of turning and returning, of turning toward, of cleaning up our messes, of returning to our true essence, of taking the first step to reach out to G-d. Then, with Tsheuvah, and the building of the mishkan, a place for G-d to dwell, we earned G-d’s love, and ready to return the love. Now we can have a reciprocal love relationship.

The mystics say Tsheuvah was created before the world: The cure was there before the disease existed. And today, the mishkan is no longer the external place out there, but rather, your hearts. Rabbi Menachem Mendel says: “Where do we find G-d? Wherever we let G-d in”. In the opening and the breaking of our hearts, we find the Divine.

Sfat Emet ends by saying that we can see Elul as lovers seeking each other, and Tshevah fills us not with fear, but with a yearning to become closer to G-d.

But as the final step of tsheuvah, after our awareness of our problems, and after making amends with others, and re-establishing relationships, why do we have to come before G-d and confess our sins.  Doesn’t G-d know everything?     Rabbi Balinsky offered this answer: It’s because our words create our consciousness.  Our words create our world.

The high holidays are about the consciousness in our relationships. Mindfulness, is heartfulness.  Jonathan Sachs writes says that tsheuvah, tzadakah and tefilah are about relationships: Tsheuvah: our relationship with ourself; tzedakah: our relationship with others; and tefillah: our relationship with G-d. And I recently realized that it’s one process:  we must clean up our own mess and purifiy our hearts (tsheuvah) so we can reach out and help others (tzedakah), leading to a relationship with G-d (tefillah). Our liturgy says: “Before G-d we will be pure”, or “we will be pure before G-d” On Yom Kippur, G-d purifies us. It is not up to the High Priests. G-d is our Mikveh. Our most intimate relationship.

Daily we say: “YHVH, Hoshiah, Ha Melek yayenyu, byom karenu”: G-d, save us, answer us on the day we call out to you”. Our call today is: Malchyot, G-d, “Purify us, so that we may have hearts of wisdom, from which forth flows generosity, and compassion and kindness, to ourselves and to all beings.

In the Space of Tekiyah: Reflections on the Start of 5779

By Student Rabbi Stacey Z Robinson

This is about the 19th iteration of my personal reflection.  The 19th of today, and the 19th written down.  There have been infinitely more than 19 iterations playing in my head, ever since I was so kindly asked me to write one for Rosh HaShanah.  Knowing what I want to write has not been the issue.  Getting it right, finding all the words and hearing the flow of it— that’s been a bit of a challenge.

You see, there are too many words, too many ideas and things to say, floating around in my head.  I know, somewhere, somewhen, that they connect.  I can feel that, feel them all jostling for position, taking up residence in some little known and cobwebbed corner of my head, leaving a faint pattern in the dust and clutter.

“Pick me!”

“Pick me!”

“Start here…”

Except, when I poke around, to find which of the eleventy-seven stories running around loose in my head is whispering “start here…” I get lost.  That internal torch gutters, sending bizarre fun-house shadows to distort my visions, and then they all go skittering about, playing hide-and-seek with the shadows and light.

And so, since I can’t find the beginning of this thread, can’t seem to be able to tease and coax the end out from the tangled ball of string it has become, I thought about starting at the end.  I could, but I don’t know what that is yet either.  So, I will pick one bright and shiny things to start with, and see where that leads.  It may be a beginning, though more likely, it will be a middle.  There are many more middles than beginnings.  I will pick one thing, and see what happens.  I’m pretty sure I’ll at least recognize the end, whenever we get to that.

So.  First — redemption.  It’s all about redemption.  My redemption, to be exact, and my quest for it.  And my fear that I will never find it.  Or receive it.  And it’s about God.  It’s all about God, too.  Always.  And my quest for God.  And my fear that I will never find God or forgiveness.  And that I will never be able to forgive God.  The pain of this fear is almost unbearable.

I spent a couple of decades denying God and redemption both.  That pain was unimaginable.  I am reminded of the midrash of King David and the origins of the Adonai S’fatai, which is the prayer we say at the beginning of the Amidah.  David, the rabbis tell us, had sent a man to his certain death for the sake of satisfying his own selfish need.  The man, Uriah, was a man of honor.  He would not be  dissuaded when David had a sudden change of heart.  He was killed in battle, along with most of his troops.  David got word of Uriah’s death just before eveing prayers.

What was he to do?  He knew that he would have to talk to God, to ask forgiveness.  But– and here’s the hard part– David’s fear: what if God said no?  What if God refused?  David ran into the fields, running from himself, from his fear, from God, until he could run no farther.  How could he ask God for forgiveness, when he couldn’t forgive himself?  He stopped, just as the setting sun hit the horizon, staining the sky with crimson and gold and purple, and he cried out, in his fear and longing “Adonai s’fatai tiftach ufid yagid t’hilatecha…”

God, open my lips, that I may declare your praise…

And with that prayer– filled to its very edges with pain and humility and hope and despair, David was forgiven.

Well sure, the voices in my head whisper, God can forgive David.  Let’s face it: he’s, well, David.  His very name means “beloved…”  And you’re not.  You’re… you.  All bet’s are off.

It is my greatest longing, my unrequited quest– to be redeemed.  To be forgiven.  To dance in the palm of God’s hand.  To believe, if even for an instant, that though I may not be David, though I may not be Beloved, I may find a small piece of it, and that that may be enough.

So it is fitting, I suppose, that I was asked that I give a personal reflection at this morning’s service.  Today is such a busy one!  The Book of Life and Death is opened and the Gates of Justice swing wide.  It’s the birthday of the world.  Today, we stand with awe and trepidation as we undertake the breathtaking majesty of diving inwards, a deep and long and solitary dive, into murky waters that make us gasp and shiver with cold.  But eventually, the water warms and the silt and grit settle and we learn to see, to shine a light on the inside, all the beauty, all the pain, all the hope and need.

It is all about redemption.

Today is redemption and majesty and reflection and God.  It is joy and celebration and hope and…

Whatever today is, whatever the ritual and tradition that surrounds this day may be, what today is, what today will ever and always be, is my brother’s yahrzeit.  While my head hears whispers of “pick me” and “start here,” my heart hears a steady murmur of “this is the second anniversary.”  And last year, for all the pomp and circumstance of Rosh HaShanah, for all my desperate yearning for redemption and God, drowning out the music and prayer and the triumphant sounding of the shofar that opened the Book and flung wide the Gate– all I could hear was the steady cadence of “This is the first anniversary of his death.”

This is one of those days that I am less forgiving of God.  This is the second thing.

I know– absolutely know– that God is not at fault in this.  God didn’t set the butterfly’s wings to flapping that ended in the hurricane of my brother’s death.  There was no Divine Plan here.  Randy smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, existed on caffeine and nicotine.  He was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer when he was 45, and died when he was 47.  Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him, though I don’t think of him every day like I did.  Stretches of time go by– a handful of days, a week, some small length of time, and I will suddenly stop, feeling the ache of his loss like a stitch in my side, sharp and hot, receding into a dull throb until it is more memory than real.  My breath doesn’t quite catch in my throat when I think of him.  Mostly.  I say kaddish every Shabbat, and I do not weep.  Mostly.

He died because he smoked.  He died because he got cancer.  But he died today, two years ago.  On Rosh HaShanah, the day of pomp and circumstance and joy and celebration.  I was with him in the hospital when he died, literally as the shofar sounded down the hall from his room,  And so the Book was laid open and the Gates swung wide and my brother died, all in the space of tekiyah.  And so today has suddenly become hard.  And I am suddenly less forgiving of God.

And for all of that, when I stood in prayer and my knees began to buckle from the weight of my sorrow, when I was filled with an ocean of pain and loss, when I wanted to curse God– when I did curse God– there were hands that reached out to hold me steady, and strong arms to carry me through to firm ground.  When I demanded of God, to God– where the hell are You?  I was answered: here.  No farther than the nearest heartbeat, in the still small voices of all those around me, who showed me, again and again, that I was not alone.  Even in my pain, even in my doubt and despair, I was not alone.

And so, the third thing: Redemption.

I started there, I know.  Perhaps my ball of string, with its jumble of tangled threads and hopeless mess, was less eleventy-seven different things and more a giant mobius strip of one.  Perhaps it is all reflections and variations on a single strand.  Perhaps, at least for me, it is all about redemption.  And God.  Ever and always.

I have spent a lifetime yearning for redemption.  I have spent an eternity of lifetimes searching for God.    I have declared my disbelief in God even as I feared that God didn’t believe in me.  I have shouted my rage and demanded answers and whispered my praise.  And the thing I come back to, again and again, like a gift of impossible and breathless wonder–

It is not what I pray that matters.  It is that I pray.

For all my yearning, for all my longing, what I don’t ever realize is that I am redeemed.  I have not been abandoned by God.  Neither have I been forgotten.    David had it right in his psalms: we cry out to God and we are healed.  He didn’t tell us “God only hears the pretty words.  Speak only of love and praise, only then will you be heard.”  No, it’s pretty clear: we find healing and redemption because we cry out in our anger and our fear.

I do not believe in a Santa Claus god, who bestows presents on the deserving: God does not provide parking spaces or jobs, nor do we win wars or sporting events as the result of our faith and prayers.  Good people will die, evil people will prosper, the sun will continue to blaze in the noonday sky. world without end, amen amen.

In my faith, in my prayer, what I find, again and again– what I am given, again and again, is grace.  What I get is strength and courage to face what life has placed in front of me in that moment…even if that thing is the death of my beloved brother.  My faith is not a guarantee that I will never know fear, or that only good and happy things will happen.  My faith, my prayer allows me to put one foot in front of the other and know that I will be carried through.  And in that exact moment,  the moment I take that step, I am enough and I am redeemed.  And in that moment, I dance in the palm of God’s hand.

 

For my brother, Randy (z’l)

May we all dance in the palm of God’s hand

 

 

Water and Fire – Unetaneh Tokef

By Student Rabbi Stacey Z Robinson

Ribbono shel olam,
Master of eternity,

Who numbers the stars
and the dust,
Who counts our souls –
our deeds –
our days.

You, who remembers
what time has forgotten,

Who writes and seals –
though we tell our own stories,
and live our own lives –
Blessed is the One
Who opens the gates
that we, ourselves, have closed.

God of stillness and secrets,
whose name is hidden
within our own,

Let me draw near
so that I may know
water and fire,
sword and beast,
famine and thirst,
riot and plague.

Sound the shofar!
I will hear your call
while angels tremble,
That I may know
rest and wandering,
harmony and dissonance,
peace and suffering.

Write upon my heart
poverty and richness,
degradation and exaltation.

God of power and compassion,
of mercy and hope,

Breathe into me repentance.
Sing into me righteousness.
Fill me with prayer.

Let me return, God.
Fling wide the gates.

On Rosh Hashana it is written
On Yom Kippur it is sealed.

Intend — by Student Rabbi Stacey Z Robinson

I had intended…

Wait. Let me start again, this time in the present. I intend…

Ugh. I have no idea what I intend, what I had intended, what I will have intended.

What I know is that I love the English pluperfect– past, present and future, all rolled into one. Even more than the pluperfect tense,  I love that in Hebrew, we consider not necessarily past, present or future, but completed versus not completed. Action over time, complete versus intended.

The holiness of completion and the grammar of intention.

They are intricately– intimately– connected, by time, by action, by desire. It is not enough to want. It is not enough, even, to do. The rabbis tell us that in order to satisfy the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, I must have intended to do so. I must consciously be in a place where I will hear it. If I merely happen to walk by a synagogue and hear the sharp burst of tekiyah, I will not have satisfied this commandment.

I strive for completion, for the mindfulness of my intention. I intend to fully engage, in my Judaism, in my continued and continuing conversation with God, in finding a path to wholeness that shelters me and the world entire.

My actions mostly support this. Sigh. My intention, though, can be– incomplete. I am subject to the laws of unintended consequences. My grammar can be faulty in this. I am less than holy, though I am human; no more, no less. I have hurt others, through my thoughtlessness. I have been unkind in my haste. I am unforgiving in my passion and self-righteousness. I am cruel in my fear. I am cynical in my doubt. I do not intend to be these things. My intentions are (mostly) good. Please God, don’t let me be misunderstood– least of all, by me.

One of my favorite of the midrash is one of creation. There are ten things, the rabbis tell us (except when there are seven) (because the rabbis can spin many plates at the same time)– there are ten things that were created before God ever created the world. Depending upon the rabbi and the midrash, these included the rainbow, and the burning bush and the ram’s horn. There were others, like manna and Miriam’s well that sustained in the desert. The greatest of these, though, to my mind, is t’shuvah.

How awesome is God! How great is the Creator of All, to know that there would be a disconnect between intent and result? How breathtakingly, achingly divine, to understand that before creating the heavens and earth, we needed to have a path back, a way to return? We will sin, but we will not be abandoned. The gates of t’shuvah will always be open for us, whenever we approach them, whenever we walk through.

Be holy, we are told, because God is holy, and we are b’tzelem elohim: in the image of God. But we are human, and so, for all our mindfulness, for all our drive towards completion and wholeness, we will fall short. We will hurt the people we love, we will be indifferent to the needs of others, we will turn away the stranger in our midst. even when we intend otherwise.

Just as God intends for us to find the way back, to return, to stand, once again at the Gates that are thrown wide (or openned only a small crack)– we will find forgiveness, we will find God, we will find each other, ever and always, there at the Gates. And in the very instant that we step through, in that breath, that heartbeat, that intention– there is neither past, nor present nor future. There is only wholeness.

The holiness of completion, the grammar of intention.