We Can Be The Holiness

A funny thing happened this past Friday night when I was praying in front of the Ark.

It was during the Barchu, which is the first time in the service when I face the Ark, or the Aron HaKodesh. As we were singing the yai lai’s, I couldn’t figure out why it seemed so dark. Did we forget to turn on the lights above the Ark? I looked up. No, they were on, as was the Neir Tamid, the Eternal (except when the bulb is out) Light.

And then I realized that the High Holiday parochet (curtain) had been taken down and replaced with the regular one. The High Holiday parochet is white and translucent. The light in the Ark shines through it and the Torahs can be seen. The regular parochet is also beautiful but is heavy and opaque. After a month of standing in front of the High Holiday parochet, the darkness I was feeling was a result of no longer bathing in the light of the Ark and the Torahs while I prayed.

As soon as I realized that, I felt a sense of loss. I felt shut out from that special and holy place. And I found myself thinking about the Cohein Gadol, the High Priest in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, who was only allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies – the innermost sanctum of the Temple – once a year on Yom Kippur. This is how the Cohein Gadol must have felt after Yom Kippur, I thought. After being allowed into sacred space, there is a sense of sorrow in having to be distanced from it again. The Cohein Gadol would have had to wait a whole year before feeling connected to that most sacred of spaces again, just as I will have to wait a whole year before I can pray in the light of the Ark again, and be able to see the Torah scrolls without pulling back the parochet. On the High Holidays, it feels like I, too, am able to enter the Holy of Holies – that the whole community is able to, in a sense, since all of us can see into the Ark in a way we normally cannot.

As I swayed to the rhythm of the Bar’chu – the Call to Worship – and thought about all of this, I wondered: How can we keep that special feeling of holiness with us throughout the yearIf we can’t be inside the Holy of Holies, how can we keep the feeling of that sacred place inside of ourselves?

The cycle of the year takes us away from the sanctity of the High Holidays and then brings us back again, but each day should have elements of holiness, even if they are not “Holy Days”. Each moment our lives should be infused with holiness. We need to be able to carry sacredness in our own inner sanctums, and not wait for Yom Kippur to return to us again before feeling connected to God and to one another.

As my lips spoke the ancient words of prayer I was reminded that I was speaking holy words, enacting holy choreography, singing holy music, and leading a sacred community through sacred rituals. Every time we pray, every time we stand together before the Ark, we are engaging in holiness. We don’t have to be inside the inner sanctum to know it is there. We don’t have to wait for the lights to shine through.

We can shine our own lights out for others. We can be the holiness we need.


Together Is Better: The Case for Religiosity

I’ll admit it, I get lonely sometimes.

It can be really hard to feel alone, especially during the holidays; especially this year, being more distant than usual from my family.

When I have shared this loneliness with members of our temple community, I have been met with the same wonderful and uplifting response: “Don’t be lonely, you have us!” And indeed, when I am here with you all, loneliness is the farthest thing from my mind.

And I know that I am not the only one whose loneliness is allayed by community. In fact, I suspect that many people who come here regularly come because they are lonely, or because they would be lonely if they didn’t come regularly.

That’s part of what community is all about. The word community implies togetherness, it connotes sharing and commonality;

Last month when we invited members of this temple to participate in Parlor Meetings many of you shared with us why being part of this community is important to you: “This (temple) gets me out of myself,” one of you said, “I feel involved (in something more than my own immediate life and concerns)”. “(Being part of the temple gives a) rhythm to my life”, said another, and someone else said, “(when I’m at temple) I can cry, and someone always gives me a hug”.

One of our most basic human instincts is to seek out others – for survival yes – but also for company and for context, since communities help us to know who we are in relation to others.

Religions have been characterized by “the three B’s”: Believing, Belonging, and Behaving. When it comes to religions, these three are inseparable. Believing and behaving don’t require one to be affiliated with a religion. But having a community where we belong – with others who believe and behave in the same ways and according to the same values – is something that only happens within the context of religion.

These days, many people shy away from the term religious. According to the latest Pew report, almost 1 in 5 Americans identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” In other words, as Rabbi David Wolpe wrote in a recent Time Magazine article, “they have some feeling, some intuition of something greater (than themselves), but feel allergic to institutions.”

Rabbi Wolpe explains that spirituality is an emotion while religion is an obligation. Spirituality soothes while religion mobilizes. Spirituality is satisfied with itself while Religion is dissatisfied with the world, and provides actions for us to take in response to this dissatisfaction. Being spiritual makes us feel good, but spirituality in and of itself doesn’t push us to better ourselves and our world. However religion does.

Our values and our sense of right and wrong don’t exist in a vacuum. We need to be part of a religious community in order to give our values a context and a structure, in order to balance our human flaws with scriptural guidance, and in order to have something and someone against which to measure ourselves.

And yes, these communities can bring with them frustration and, dare I say it, an expectation of commitment. You might even be asked to sit on a committee or attend meetings!

Then again, as Rabbi Wolpe writes, “there is something profoundly, well, spiritual about a committee meeting. It involves individuals trying together to sort out priorities, to listen and learn from one another, to make a difference…

Institutions…frustrate,as do families and every other organized sector of human life. If you want frictionless,” he concludes, “do it alone.”

Then again, even if we find reasons to overlook the challenges of religious institutions, there may still be inherent flaws with religion itself. Rabbi Joshua Heschel once wrote about the decline of religion, remarking on how it is commonplace to blame science and philosophy for what he calls, “the eclipse of religion in modern society.” He felt it would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.

“Religion declined not because it was refuted,” he writes, “but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive (and) insipid. When faith is completely replace by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit…when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.”

Heschel is acknowledging that religion can be problematic. It can be misunderstood, misconstrued and manipulated. Its intent can be hijacked and misdirected by those with intentions of their own. But when religion is practiced with good and pure intent; when faith and meaning and compassion are at the fore, it can be beautiful. It can add something of value to our lives.

And yes, faith and meaning and compassion can all be practiced without being part of a religion, but not if we want to share these things with others, and not if we want to have a structure and a context in which to place our beliefs and values.

Religion is spirituality, belief and practice PLUS community and structure.

Take Judaism, as an example.

I once heard it explained that spirituality opens our hearts, minds and bodies to deeper and more comprehensive practice and experience. Our religion does the same thing, but it grounds these practices and experiences in Jewish mystical, textual, and historical traditions.

What are these very High Holy Days if not a spiritual accounting of our souls? But without the structure of our Holy Day worship services; without the teachings and traditions of our religion, would we be able to account for our souls in the same way? Without a community in which to gather, who would we share this spiritual journey with?

There are very few forms of spirituality that don’t involve a communal practice of some kind. Even when people meditate they often do it in a room together. This is because there is an energy in communal spirituality that is lacking in the spiritual moments we seek out by ourselves.

Judaism understands this. It is first and foremost a religion of community. Jews are often referred to as the “Jewish People”, the “People of Israel” and “The Tribe”, all of which convey belonging. Judaism is a “Belonging-Based Community”

In his book, Becoming Jewish, Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben explains how “the same concepts of believing, behaving and belonging apply to Jewish identity, except Jews value a slightly different order and importance. For Jews,” he writes, “identity does not spring from belief…Instead, what gives us identity is belonging.”

He points out that since belonging is what gives us the foundation of our religious identities, the behaviors of Judaism – acts like eating matzah on Passover or fasting on Yom Kippur or even speaking Yiddish (Oy Gevalt!) – are behaviors which strengthen the feeling of belonging. Judaism includes more than just the aspects we think of as religious. It includes language, literature, art, history, music, and a shared homeland.

“Most Jews you meet,” Rabbi Reuben writes, “experience their identity primarily through what most people see as Jewish culture…It’s (why) we feel Jewish when eating a bagel…when we hear jokes or read stories about Jews. It’s why we feel Jewish pride when we hear a Burt Bacharach song, watch an Adam Sandler movie, see a (Streisand) concert or witness Steven Spielberg walk away with yet another Academy Award. We’re even proud (in a motherly way) of Howie Mandel.”

We don’t usually think of these feelings, experiences and behaviors as being religious, but Rabbi Reuben is arguing that, in fact, they are.

There is a generally accepted stereotype that the term “religious” refers to those who are observant on a regular basis. But religious, as Rabbi Reuben concludes, “isn’t a label that is reserved for those that frequent a temple, church, or mosque. It’s a broad category that includes striving to make sense out of difficult times and the struggle to impart values that move the world closer to our collective dreams.”

That is why I think of all of us who are here as religious even though many of us might see ourselves as primarily cultural or spiritual. I say this because we are here, sharing in that desire to make sense of the world and our place in it; because we felt it important, for whatever reason, to be a part of the Jewish community on this most sacred of days; because we share at least some, if not all, of the values and beliefs of the Jewish religion, and because by being here, we express our desire to share those values and beliefs with others who value and believe the same.

Being religious isn’t dependent on observing specific rituals, services, ceremonies, holidays or customs. Rather, it’s an all encompassing approach to life, people, family, relationships, and the world’s well-being. We express that approach to life in a number of ways. Some of those ways, as Rabbi Reuben explains, include the rituals that Jewish tradition has developed. “But the main point isn’t the rituals or the prayers,” he writes; “it’s the values they symbolize. (They) are cultural reminders of our…historical events and ethical values – they are group-building symbols that help bind us together”.

Take Shabbat as an example: I once read about a woman named Renee, who shared this reflection about growing up in a Jewish community: “My parents were divorced,” she explains, and my family life was splintered, so I spent much of my time with my Jewish friends. My best friend….came from a devout Jewish family. I spent much of my time with her, and I recall every Friday her family observed the tradition of (Shabbat) dinners (and) I would join them regularly. (It) was a welcomed sense of family, a sense of tradition and belonging.”

The tradition of observing Shabbat in the way that Renee is describing, is a religious tradition. But more than that, it is a tradition that binds us to community through common practice.

Take gratitude as another example: You don’t need to be part of a religion to express gratitude. Most spiritual disciplines promote an awareness of gratitude. However Judaism has had its share of challenges, and its traditions and teachings emphatically promote gratitude despite life’s griefs and sorrows. It is too easy, Jewish sources say, to fall back on being dissatisfied with life and focusing on what you lack. Taking time to recognize what you have in life is one of the uniquely beneficial rituals we can undertake.”

Thus, an awareness of gratitude is both a religious ritual and a spiritual discipline. It is spiritual because it requires a degree of personal reflection and introspection, and because when we experience gratitude, we feel connected to that which is beyond us; and it is religious because our religion encourages us to do it and suggests words and rituals to aid us in endeavoring to do so.

Spirituality alone might promote an awareness of gratitude and we may value gratitude regardless of what Judaism teaches, but Judaism gives us a tradition of appreciation in which to root ourselves – a context in which to measure what we have in relation to others, and a community in which to express and celebrate that for which we are grateful.

As a final example, take belief in God: You can believe in God – in something beyond yourself – without being part of a religion. However there is something lost by seeing your beliefs as a purely “personal truth”, something you can explore by yourself and keep to yourself. To do so, is to deprive others of the ability to learn from your experiences and the conclusions you have drawn from them; To do so, is to deprive yourself of the textual history and interpersonal dialogue that, in my experience, are such a crucial part of theological development.

For those of us who believe in something greater than ourselves, we need a community among which to search and struggle with those beliefs. When I had my theological crisis in rabbinical school; when all the things I thought I believed about God were called into question and challenged in the most painful of ways, it was only through speaking with others and through plumbing the depths of our religious tradition, that I found my way out of the darkness of grief, anger, and the painful sense of separation from God.

Jewish tradition names that dark place I was experiencing.  It is called Sheol – the pit, the place where God is absent. The Psalms are filled with descriptions of Sheol, and filled with the experience of descending there, and also filled with the experience of being lifted out. Sheol is not permanent, Judaism told me, and having a religious context in which to place and name and affirm my experience was profoundly comforting. I was not the first to feel what I was feeling. I did not have to feel guilty about what I was feeling. I was not alone.

I have heard the claims that a spiritual life, a life imbued with solitary spiritual discipline – yoga, meditation, a daily writing practice or what-have-you – enables a state of bliss that communal religious practice cannot achieve.

I couldn’t disagree more.

To me, the opposite of loneliness is bliss. And while I love the peace and relaxation that meditation bring me, for me, that sense of bliss is something I mostly only feel when surrounded by my community; when we’re singing Debbie Friedman in harmony; when our eyes meet and we smile at one another; when I am touched by the liturgy, or see how it is touching someone else.

I feel spiritual bliss when I gaze into the ark and sing Avinu Malkeinu, or Aleinu, or Adonai s’fatai tiftach, with all my voice and emotion behind each word – “O God open my lips that my mouth may praise your name!” This verse moves me because it hints at an important truth – the importance of active participation in prayer. We cannot praise God’s name if our mouths are not open; if our hearts are not in it.

Last week, I shared an earlier draft of this sermon with my mom. In responding with her feedback, she remarked on her own experiences: “When I let the words and sounds (of prayer) and the community of voices get deep inside me, it is meditative,” she said. “I feel it, and I feel moved and refreshed, (but) if I just read the words and sit and stand on command, I feel like a part of the community but not that I have let it really touch me. I have to make a conscious effort, but it is there, within the Jewish liturgy for me to find if I look for it.”

Now granted, my mom was married to one rabbi and raised another, but she’s not a rabbi herself, she’s not an expert in Jewish liturgy, she’s not a fluent Hebrew speaker. She’s just a Jewish woman who goes to services often enough to know that doing so is a spiritual practice in and of itself, and that like any other spiritual practice, it takes focus, discipline and intention.

Jewish tradition calls this intention kavanah and without it the prayers are just words on a page. Only when we add our own personal intention; only when we seek to connect to the words in a way that is personally meaningful to us, and to connect with the people and the God beyond the words themselves, will we feel spiritually elevated. Only when we stop worrying about whether what we’re doing is religious or not or whether we are religious or not, will we let go, and begin to feel something more than our own fears, insecurities and judgements.

Today is the Day of Atonement. For Jews, it is arguably the most religious day of the year. And since you are here, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you are, at least somewhat, religious.

And maybe you’d be moved to atone for your sins even if you weren’t here; Maybe you feel your inclination to do good has nothing to do with your Jewishness.

“If (it’s) the spirit (that) moves you to goodness,” Rabbi Wolpe writes, “(then) that is wonderful. For too many, though, spirituality is a VIP card allowing them to breeze past all those wretched souls (doing the hard) work (of repairing the world in accordance with their beliefs).

Join in.” Rabbi Wolpe instructs us.

Embrace your religiosity.

“Together is harder, but together is better.”
Kein Yehi Ratzon. May it Be God’s Will.

A Life of Passion; A Life of Truth (A Kol Nidrei Sermon)

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes I act like the rabbi I think I should be instead of the rabbi I really am.
We often put on professional masks or professional airs, perhaps. We dress and act differently in our places of work than we do in our homes. We withhold parts of ourselves when engaged with our business partners or our clients.

In many professions this makes sense. We don’t want our doctors and lawyers to show up in yoga pants; We need our professionals to act…well…professional, so that we can have confidence in their abilities. We’re not usually interested in their private lives. We just want to know that they can do the job we are paying them for.

But for rabbis it’s a little different. Rabbis are in the business of truth. Rabbis have to be professional of course, but rabbis also have to be real. We are in the business of religious truths and the truth of life’s experiences, but we need to be truthful about ourselves as well.

And sometimes I get so wrapped up in being professional that I sweep some of my personal truths under the rug. While I definitely shouldn’t show up here in yoga pants, I also shouldn’t be someone who pretends that she wouldn’t much rather be in them most of the time.

Yom Kippur is a day when we bare our souls. We traditionally strip ourselves of vanities – makeup, jewelry, expensive clothing. We wear white to remind ourselves that at the end of our lives it is only the white-shroud we will take with us to our graves. None of the surface things really matter. None of the material wealth. None of the professional masks and airs.

I am not a rabbi on Yom Kippur. I am a person, standing before her God, baring her soul, and hoping to escape judgement. Not your judgement, but God’s.

And really, Yom Kippur shouldn’t be the only day where I prioritize truth over professionalism. I need to be more honest with all of you more of the time. I need to lead from a place of passion – my passions, not the ones I think I am expected to have.

So I wanted to share with you, on this Day of Judgement, on this Day of Truths, what I am most passionate about and why. But when I sat down to write this sermon, I discovered that sharing my passions with you is easier said than done. In generating a list of passions I might speak about, I ended up with a list of interests that left me wondering if it was list of what I really wanted to share, or a list of what I thought I should be sharing – which is case in point.

To talk about shopping and TV, both of which I love, but neither of which are true passions, would be relatable, but could also seem shallow. Talking about God, Torah and Israel would be meaningful but predictable.

So what’s a rabbi to do?

When I started my blog last year, I did so as part of this same struggle. The blog is called Pitbulls, Pearls & Pontification: (un)expected musings from one rabbinic gal. The “un” in “unexpected” is in brackets – a hint of the paradox – how to blog in a way that is both expected and unexpected; that is rabbinically meaningful and appropriate but also authentically me?

The first post on my blog was a poem. In the poem, I describe myself as someone who wears pearls as an outward expression of my rabbinic self and also as a way to hide some of the parts of me that I’m not confident about or that don’t feel “rabbinic” enough to share.

Too often, we suppress our true selves instead of revealing them. The motives to do so are endless: money, professionalism, peer-pressure, even a desire to please our families or be who they think we are.

My brother and I are in the stage of life right now where we sometimes have difficulty seeing each other as adults. I imagine this is something lots of siblings go through. We grow up together and witness every moment of each other’s childhood development and teen angst, but then we go off to our separate colleges and careers and we miss out on much of our siblings’ most critical growth and development. I sometimes suspect that my brother still looks at me and sees the 19 year old that I was when we last lived under the same roof. To be fair, I probably do the same. And of course, when we treat each other as teenagers, we end up acting like teenagers, reinforcing what the other imposes on us and brings out in us.

Rabbis fall prey to this dynamic with those outside their families as well. We sometimes feel an expectation to know everything so we make up great answers, and call them midrash, because we are afraid to admit that we might not know.

Speaking of Midrash! There’s a midrashic tale about a guy named Zusya, who spends his whole life trying to be a great tzadik, a great righteous person. He worries that when he arrives at the Gates of Heaven they will ask him, “Zusya! Why were you not more like Moses?” But when he gets there, that’s not what they ask him. Instead, they proclaim, “Why were you not more like Zusya?!?”

Midrash actually is one of my passions: The idea that Torah leaves space for us to insert our own ideas and interpretations; The idea that even Torah doesn’t have all the answers; that some ideas are yet to be revealed; that some thoughts are yet to be “thunk”. The idea that ancient texts and new interpretations can live side by side and bring meaning to one another. Amazing.

But Midrash didn’t make it onto my original list of passions to share with you. I was worried it might sound too ‘rabbinic’. I was worried I might end up with a list of passions that were inseparable from Judaism. Except that that’s who I am. There isn’t much that I love that I don’t view through a Jewish lens. And the fact that I can view everything that I love through a Jewish lens is part of what makes Judaism one of my passions in and of itself.

I do love to shop and I do love to watch TV but my real passions come out when I start to talk about being an ethical consumer – about infusing my day-to-day life with my Jewish values. Shopping and TV are actually the things that I hate to love. They can bring out both the best and worst in us. They make us care more than we should about what others think of us, and about what society tells us we need to wear and own. But they also challenge us to be our best selves; to balance pleasure and indulgence with  fiscal responsibility;to make choices about what and where we buy that are in line with the values we espouse.

Being an ethical consumer means trying to balance commerce and conscience; entertainment and ethics. It means choosing products that aren’t harmful to the environment, and programs that aren’t overly voyeuristic, and that don’t promote or exploit the worst of humanity and human relationships.

It’s hard for me to separate my passion for ethical consumerism and for other kinds of social justice from my passion for Judaism and Jewish teachings. You could definitely say that I have an overdeveloped sense of justice though.
I find unfairness to be really intolerable, I think inequality of any kind is outdated, I get angry when people don’t follow the rules, and when I experience rudeness, it makes me cry.

This makes me terribly ill-suited to drive in Massachusetts, but it does make me pretty well-suited for the rabbinate.

And I don’t know whether I am inherently concerned about others, and about the planet, and about justice and equality, or if I internalized those values because I grew up in a Jewish home and community that promoted them. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, and I don’t know that it matters. Either way, my passion for social justice has become deeply rooted in my Jewishness, in the values of Torah, and in the fierce rhetoric of the movement of Reform Judaism.

In an age of diminishing denominational affiliation within the Jewish world, it is becoming more and more rare to hear people express a passion for the Jewish denomination to which they belong. In fact, many Reform Jews, I suspect, don’t really know why they are Reform Jews, or what distinguishes Reform Judaism from other movements. Sadly, for many members of Reform Judaism, it was simply the easiest choice, or, even sadder, the one that required the least of them.

But being a Reform Jew was once something to be incredibly proud of, and I’d argue that it still is, when practiced with knowledge, commitment and intent. I, certainly, am very proud to be a Reform Jew because the Reform Movement has kept Judaism alive, vibrant, and relevant throughout the ages of modernism and post-modernity by enabling the Jewish people to introduce innovation while still preserving our traditions, to embrace diversity while still asserting commonality, and to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt. Reform Judaism balances faith and scholarship, encourages choice-through-knowledge, and prioritizes social justice and meaningful living above just about everything else.

The Reform Movement has played a critical role in American history and continues to be a key-player in any fight for human or civil rights in this country. In the Jewish world, we were the first to promote gender equality in Judaism; the first to allow women to read from the Torah, wear a Tallis, and become rabbis; the first to welcome and ordain members of the LGBTQ community; and to create welcoming environments and meaningful roles for members of our communities who are not Jewish but who are a part of Jewish families.

If it weren’t for Reform Judaism, I wouldn’t be able to be a rabbi; I wouldn’t have been able to question God when I needed to; and I wouldn’t be able to explore both religious and scientific explanations for why things are the way they are.

This is another place where my interests and my Judaism overlap – in the intersection of Judaism and science; spirituality and metaphysics. I delight in the spaces where tradition and academia come together; I love learning about what they have to say to one another and to see how they have informed one another throughout the ages. Judaism has been radically influenced by philosophy, reason, science, archeology, literary scholarship, musicology, technology, and just about any other human studies you can think of. I love to trace that evolution and to teach about it. And I love to wonder about how Judaism will be changed by what we discover and create in the future.

I am a big believer in the power of energy and I believe that our energy lives on after our physical bodies die (we call this energy our soul). I also believe that our soul-energy can be felt and experienced by those still living in the physical world.
I believe that we stay connected to the people we care about even after we die, and I believe that we are reunited with the soul-energy of people we love when our soul-energy is all that is left of us.

I believe there is a lot we don’t yet understand about energy, from a scientific standpoint, but religions, including Judaism, have had a lot to say about energy for millennia, and I am excited to see whether science will catch up to religion or whether religion will have to adapt to or incorporate whatever science ultimately reveals. I am excited when I think about learning and teaching these things as they unfold; about being a rabbi in an age where timeless questions might conceivably find new or clearer answers, and where timeless answers might find new or clearer support.

My beliefs about energy and soul, and my questions about the metaphysical world, are rooted not just in thought but also in experience. Both the questions and the beliefs are deeply comforting to me. And they make me even more passionate about being a member of a faith tradition that allows for such questioning and beliefs.

And whether I became passionate about energy because my Jewish interests led me to explore ideas of the afterlife, or whether I fell deeper in love with Judaism because it enabled me to explore energy and the afterlife within the context and textual history of the religion I was already committed to, matters far less than what I plan to do with that passion now that I have it.

And what I plan to do, is to share it. More often than I’ve been doing. More openly than I’ve been doing. More fearlessly than I’ve been doing.

I’m excited about that. I hope you’re excited about it too.

I also want to get better at sharing my passions for music, God, and prayer. I could speak about each of these individually, but for me they are very much inseparable. I couldn’t say exactly which of them first led me to the others but I love God best through prayer and I pray best through music.

Prayer connects us to community, and connects our energy to the energy of others and the energy that connects us all. It connects us to those that came before us. Prayer can be the gateway to exploring Jewish Thought, the Hebrew language, and our sacred texts.

I believe there is power in prayer. I believe that by allowing us to express our hopes and fears, and to ask the hard questions of God and of ourselves, prayer enables us to find the answers we are seeking, and empowers us to take up the actions we are awaiting. And I also believe that the energy we put into prayer makes a difference in ways we don’t yet understand,

Different people pray best in different ways. Some pray best with others, and some on their own; some pray best in the woods, by the sea, under the stars, or in the desert. I can pray just about anywhere, but I love prayer best when I’m singing and when I’m moving – when every muscle and breath is engaged; when the harmonies that surround me and the swaying of my own body carry me away so that I am momentarily outside of myself and connected to something much bigger.

Prayer can transport us, transform us and inspire us. So can music, which is probably why I often see them as one and the same, and why I am so passionate about both.

But these are just some of my passions. I am also fiercely passionate about family,  friends, animals, Canada,  Israel… I hope to share more about all of these passions with you in the coming years – not because I love talking about myself, but because I am hoping to stir your passions as well.

There is a famous, and somewhat awkward story from Talmud, in which Rav Kahana hides under his teacher’s bed and listens as Rav Shemaya, his teacher, talks to his wife and is intimate with her. When the teacher discovers Rav Kahana’s presence, he is understandably angry, and demands that Rav Kahana leave. Rav Kahana refuses, and declares that “this too is Torah”.

There are parts of my life that would not be appropriate to share with you; doing so would be unprofessional. But Rav Kahana’s point is that we learn from how our teachers live their lives, just as we learn from the texts with which they present us. Just as in the Yiddish song where when the Rebbe dances, the Chassidim dance, and when the Rebbe drinks, the Chassidim drink, and when the Rebbe laughs, the Chassidim laugh – I hope that by sharing my passions with you I have inspired you to reconnect with the things you are passionate about, and encouraged you to bring your passions out into the open, if you’re not already doing so, for others to see and be inspired by. And I hope you will share them with me as well.

This is the Day of Judgement, the Day of Truth. We cannot be truthful with God if we are not truthful with ourselves; if we do not know what things drive us and motivate us; if we do not act on our passions and share them with others in ways that elevate our relationships and help us to really know, authentically, one another.

As we pass through the Gates of Judgement this day, may we do so with a renewed commitment to live a life of passion; a life of meaning; and a life of truth.

Kein Yehi Ratzon. May it be God’s Will.