Nov 27, 2017

The Revelation of an Embrace: A Vision of Conservative Judaism

The Revelation of an Embrace: A Vision of Conservative Judaism
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
in honor and memory of my teacher, Rabbi Neil Gillman z"l

Originally published in Conservative Judaism (Vol. 61, Fall/Winter 2008-09)Distributed with the permission of the Rabbinical Assembly

In his 2005 USCJ Biennial Convention Keynote address, Rabbi Neil Gillman challenged the leaders of the Conservative Movement to “be open and honest, and try to project a religious vision, a theological vision.”

This was certainly not the first time such a plea had been issued. Many Conservative Jewish leaders have, in their various roles, called for lucid and communicable definition. 

Some earlier advocates included Rabbi David Lieber who, in the Fall of 1978, wrote in this journal that “a clear and persuasive definition of Conservative Judaism is needed, not alone to distinguish it from Orthodoxy and Reform …but to project the ideal to which Conservativism aspires. (“Staking out the Conservative Position”, CJ XXXII:1). Rabbi David Gordis wrote in a following issue that “the time has come to risk articulating a more forthright position [despite] the risk of losing adherents. (“Communicating Conservative Judaism”, CJ XXXII:3)” Even Emet V’Emunah, our Movement’s 1988 Statement of Principles, was written with a similar goal. Yet 20 plus years later, as we struggle with a perceived directionlessness, Gillman’s cri de coeur carries even more urgency.

Part of Gillman’s legacy to the Conservative Movement is his insistence on uncovering the theological and ontological foundation of every person, idea, argument and claim that he encounters. What greater legacy could a theologian bequeath? And yet, it is a complex legacy, one that can be easily misread. Such was the case For Gillman after that same Biennial address in which he was widely understood to have rejected the claim that the Conservative Movement is halachic, but in fact, Gillman was merely revealing that the proverbial emperor had no clothes. It was a point he had made before in a public conversation with his frequent sparring partner Rabbi Joel Roth at a KOACH Kallah in 1999:

“I am more interested in issues such as why there is a Halakha in the first place, and why it has any authority over us. …I have become increasingly impatient with those who insist on talking about ‘the’ Halakha or ‘the’ halakhic process, as if these were monolithic, self‐evident and predetermined forms. … My view of Halakha …reflects my theological commitments as to how it came into being in the first place. (“For the Sake of Heaven” USCJ Review, Fall 1999)”

Gillman’s influence on several generations of Conservative Jews has seeded the ground for a renewed focus on the “why.” If God is to be found within the ‘four cubits’ of Conservative Jewish Halakha, we must pledge to make sure our understanding of God is part of the demarcation of parameters. This essay is an offering of admiration and gratitude to Rabbi Gillman for this gift he has given me and countless others through his teaching and example.

Halakha is not a self‐contained system, which is to say that there are reasons for the changes the Conservative Movement has implemented over the course of its history. Egalitarianism within Halakha did not birth itself. It came as the result of activism on the part of tradition‐minded Conservative Jews. As Rabbi David Fine has described the halakhic journey towards egalitarianism in the Conservative Movement:

“…the Halakha flows like a river and one cannot ignore the direction of the flow. There may be a point where the river can choose where it will go. But once that decision is made there is no going back. … The centrists of 1973 could not but agree with [the] arguments that there was no reasonable way to argue that the halakhic sources could be used to support women’s inclusion in the minyan. Jewish law and practice developed so that it was indeed the law that women did not count in the minyan. However, they also believed that law can change. One cannot retroactively reroute a decision that was made upstream by the flow of the river. However, from where we stand the river continues on its journey. It has not emptied into a lake. While we cannot change what has already been determined upstream, we can direct the river from where we stand and influence where it will flow from us. (Women and the Minyan, CJLS OH 55:1.2002)

The religious vision of the Conservative Movement is much simpler than we who speak in its name typically let on, and the oft‐invoked search for movemental definition is more aptly defined as the desire on the part of Movement’s institutional leadership to intensify the experience and appeal of Conservative Judaism without alienating those who currently affiliate. Early (American) Conservative Jewish leaders were loathe to wear a denominational label that would publicly acknowledge their break with the Orthodoxy of their youth. We today are vigilant about not pushing anyone away, not only because it would threaten institutional infrastructure, but because it would also limit the width of our tent. As Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson has put it, “If we can only be a Movement with those who think, talk, and practice precisely as we do, then what hope is there for embracing the entire Jewish people, let alone all humanity?” (USCJ Review, Fall/Winter 2006).

But is this truly our hope? Is the religious vision of Conservative Judaism to embrace the entire Jewish people? Or perhaps even all humanity?

The embrace of humanity and every “other” is surely a Conservative Jewish imperative, but not to be misconstrued as conferring Conservative Jewish identity. I embrace the “other” as a fellow being created in the Divine Image. But the “other” is other precisely because it is not me. And honoring those who observe differently, think differently, and talk differently, is neither more nor less holy than discovering how I am called to observe, think, and talk. This is not an attempt to read anyone out. It is, rather, a way of heightening the contrast between vivid (though sometimes indistinguishable) colors. As we read in the Gemara:

“[The Mishnah asked:] From what time may one recite the Shema in the morning? From the time that one can distinguish between blue and white. Rabbi Eliezer says: between blue and green. …Others say: From the time that one can distinguish a friend at a distance of four cubits. Rabbi Huna says: The Halakha is as stated by 'Others'. (TB Berachot 9b)”

The Halakha instructs us that the Shema may only be read when we can tell each other apart. For only by recognizing what is unique about myself, what distinguishes me from my beloved friends, and my friends from one another, can we come together with integrity as individuals and also as a collective. Only when we recognize this uniqueness within our unity can we begin to encourage one another to comprehend the message of oneness that is in the Shema.

Internal self‐affirmation from within the Conservative Movement has rarely been successfully navigated (with notable exceptions, including the commitment of Rabbi Robert Gordis, whose crucial essay “The Struggle for Self‐Definition within Conservative Judaism” (CJ XXXIX:3) should be required reading for every thirsty Conservative Jew and would significantly help the emerging revitalization of Conservative Jewish life).

"Tradition and Change," once thought to be the unique trademark of the Conservative Movement, rings unremarkable in a virtual sea of contemporary creative Jewish tension. Who doesn't see themselves as connected to both past and future? Schechter's "Catholic Israel" calls out for explanation to even the most engaged Conservative Jew. Does it mean, as Mordecai Kaplan taught, that Judaism is whatever Jews say Judaism is? Does Robert Gordis' reformulation of Kaplan, restricting the authority for redefining Judaism to "the engaged", resonate? Might it be legitimate once more to look to Conservative Jews to dream collaboratively and articulate this yearned‐for authentic communal identity?

Somewhere in the liminal network between these various claims, where Rabbi Neil Gillman will be (for me) always sitting at his desk illuminating every sacred fragment, emerge the following thoughts, which I submit as a response to my teacher's call for an honest theological vision for the Conservative Movement.

The Revelation of an Embrace

Make one cherub at the end here and the other at the end there; of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubs at its two ends. The cherubs shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover. They shall face each other, the faces of the cherubs being turned toward the cover. There I will meet with you above the cover, from between the two cherubs on top of the Ark of the Pact. (Ex. 25:1920,22)

Rabbi Katina said, "When the Israelites would ascend to the Temple on the Festival, the priest would roll up the curtain and display for them the cherubs joined together in an embrace. The priest would then tell them, ‘Behold God’s Love for you, similar to human love.’" (TB Yoma 54a)

At the core of Conservative Judaism is the belief that in every generation, the legitimate structuring element of organized religion—in this case, Halakha—is the product of collective covenantal negotiations that have taken place since the birth of the Torah itself.

Halakha is part of our language. Holiness is its partner. The Conservative Movement, in its relationship to Halakha, much like the cherubs, must be identified and identifiable with the very material that birthed it, stretching both toward each other and toward the world beyond, using our wings to both protect the core of our tradition and the nexus of emerging holiness. But like the revelation brought about by the priest rolling back the curtain, we are shown that change does not take place in Conservative Judaism just because it can. Change takes place because it is necessary and the embrace of change is an act of sacred love.

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
menachemcreditor.net

Nov 14, 2017

Announcing the Publication of #IntenseBeginnings!

The book is published!!!


Deep thanks to Dahlia Lithwick and Jane Taubenfeld Cohen for their humbling blurbs (pasted below) and to my very precious Ariel Creditor for the cover artwork!

Intense Beginnings is a collection of essays on Spirituality, Israel, Jewish History, and Justice that poured out during an especially tumultuous year of my life. Rereading them, I have found myself transported back into moments I wish had never been, knowing that these crucible encounters also opened my eyes and transformed my life for the better. They were each, in a very real sense, intense beginnings. Those essential moments sparked these words and have added great meaning to my in-process, examined life.

I am grateful for it all.

Enjoy!
Menachem

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Blurbs:

“Menachem Creditor's writing shows us the gift of Judaism Now, perhaps more than ever, we need our faith leaders to step forward and speak out bravely about the deep connections between our religious moral values and social justice.  Rabbi Creditor has modeled for years the kind of fierce ethical commitment to justice — for women, for the poor, for victims of gun violence, for communities of color, for our cousins in Israel — that lies at the heart of Jewish teaching and scholarship. The essays collected here offer a roadmap into difficult conversations. You may not always agree with his conclusions but Creditor’s courage in marrying law to faith to social justice in these pages stands as an intense beginning to a dialogue; an invitation to speak out boldly about how the work of tikkun olam must proceed.” 
- Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Supreme Court correspondent, Slate

“This is not the first time that I’ve read the essays included in Intense Beginnings. But it is the first time I have read them together. And the power of Menachem Creditor’s words is more than what is on the paper. It is the voice he gives to what usually lives inside, not expressed so openly and directly. Each page is filled with emotion that uncovers the feelings we have inside of us through our lens as Jews, as parents, as Jewish professionals, as people. The love, the joy, the anger are ways for us to enter or reenter our own moments of connection and disconnection. I love that I can be reading one essay and feel politically charged and another, feel personally understood. I look forward to reading these essays again and again to see what is unleashed.” 
- Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, Vice President of School Services, Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools

Nov 10, 2017

[#BuildOnLove NewsLetter] Mitzvah Opportunity, New Book, Essays, Videos, and Special Pricing for other Titles!

Dear Friends,

I'm thrilled to share with you the news that my second collection of essays, Intense Beginnings, is about to be published! Stay tuned for that information in the coming weeks. In honor of the new book's release, some of my other titles are available at reduced prices. (See the bottom of this email for the links to those titles, as well as some recent essays/video blogs I've shared.)

But on this Veterans Day, where we share gratitude for servicewomen and servicemen - like my amazing sister, Navy Chaplain Rabbi Yonina Creditor - who give and give on behalf and in defense of our nation, I especially want to tell you about some work in which I’ve been involved these past months, during which I joined the board of the One America Movement. It’s a remarkable movement – bringing people together across religious, racial, cultural and political divides to participate together in community service projects, and a shared meal and conversation. It started soon after the 2016 election, when a group of faith leaders sat down and mapped out a different vision for the country. We talked about how to bridge the growing divisions in our society, how to address the growing isolation we feel from each other, the “bubbles” we increasingly find ourselves living in. We dreamed about how to build a movement for a better way of treating each other — and how to begin by living out the values behind that movement. The end result was this organization, the One America Movement, led by a colleague and friend I have come to admire enormously – Andy Hanauer. I encourage you to read his piece from last May “Isolation Won’t Save Us” which you can see here. I'm also writing to ask if you’d consider contributing. I’m passionate about this work – I wouldn’t have joined the board if I didn’t believe fervently in its importance and that it can make a difference in our national life. Please consider donating here.

Chevreh, we are living in a deep, transformational moment. I myself am exploring new ways in which I can offer my gifts in the world, a world in such need of the love we each have to offer. Just this past week, I stood side by side, heart to heart, with the sublime Neshama Carlebach and other amazingly talented and passionate Jewish musicians and poured out my song, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, with an audience whose shared singing and deep hope lifted my heart higher than it's ever been before. You can witness that holy moment by clicking here. (The whole concert was ecstatic, and Olam begins at 2 hours, 9 minutes.) I share this experience not only because of the exquisite love of that moment, but also because we all deserve the hope and inspiration that moment offered.

If we hold each other right and well, if we build this world from love, then hope and inspiration will flow ever stronger in your own heart. And, in this way, I believe with all of me, we can change the whole world for the better. We must. And we will.

See below for some of titles available at reduced prices and some new essays/videos!

Shabbat Shalom!

Love,
Menachem

Selected Books
Essays/Videos

The Preacher's Daughter Was Shot
Facebook Live video (Nov. 5, 2017)

A Prayer after the Church Shooting in Sutherland Springs
menachemcreditor.net (Nov. 5, 2017)

Parashat VaYera: Which Fire Will it Be?
The Times of Israel (October 29, 2017)

Finding Holiness at San Quentin
YouTube (Oct. 26, 2007)

Parashat Noach: It Will Be Good
The Times of Israel (October 18, 2017)

The Deepest Thing Inside (Yom Kippur 5778/2017)
The Times of Israel (September 30, 2017)

To Kneel [a Poem]
menachemcreditor.net (Nov. 5, 2017)

Nov 5, 2017

The Preacher's Daughter Was Shot -

A Prayer after the #Church #Shooting in #SutherlandSprings, near #SanAntonio

A Prayer after the #Church #Shooting in #SutherlandSprings, near #SanAntonio

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Please, God, please....
Open our eyes,
so that our hearts break appropriately.

How much blood must be spilled by guns in America before we remember  stand for life? Before we are brave enough to do the right thing?

We cannot become numb.
We will not become numb.
Do not become numb.

Faith demands we do not stand idly by.
We will not become paralyzed.
We cannot. It is not allowed.

Not when there are lives to save.
Your Images, torn and bloodied, God.
That is what we have done,
what we keep on doing...

Tears won't bring our fallen
sisters and brothers back.
So, living sisters,
So, living brothers,
cry, dry your shocked eyes,,
and get involved.

Too much blood spilled,
sanctified ground defiled.
Again.

We have sinned,
we have sinned,
we have sinned.

And, if we take no action,
we will have learned nothing,
we will have sinned again,
and needless deaths will be our fault.

This is on us.
Help us save each other, Dear God.
Help us.
Please.

Amen.

https://twitter.com/NBCNightlyNews/status/927252425215545344

............................
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
▶menachemcreditor.net ▶netivotshalom.org

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https://twitter.com/NBCNightlyNews/status/927252425215545344

Oct 26, 2017

Finding Holiness at San Quentin

A Personal Place in Shul



 
a note from Rabbi Creditor
A Personal Place in Shul

Dear Chevreh,

As you enter the lobby of our precious home on University Avenue, can you remember the very first time you walked through the doors? Some of us participated in the transformation of this building into a sacred space over 11 years ago, but, for most of us, this is the only physical home we have ever known as Netivot Shalom. That first moment of entering the shul, be it as newcomer or founder, is intense. Homecoming and transition can be new and awesome, inspiring and potentially intimidating.

The way our shul was constructed, and the way we position ourselves with each other, give a sweet opportunity to experience the entry into prayer stage by stage. 

An "angel of welcome," a greeter, welcomes you as you enter the shul. On Shabbat, that is a member who smiles and says "Shabbat Shalom," hands us a siddur (prayerbook) and Shabbat Sheet, and offers to help us find a seat. During the week, it's most likely the staff member sitting in the office who offers a smile and a warm welcome.

On Shabbat, we then make our ways to the room that fits our purpose (or, perhaps you explore a new aspect of our dynamic shul life). The kitchen is a holy experience, just as is our childcare/Shabbat B'Yachad room, just as is the Adult Torah in the Library, the Meditation Minyan, and the sanctuary service. Each facet has its own unique flavor, and its own special mix of members and visitors who define it anew each week.

The new Siddur Lev Shalem we are celebrating are yet another opportunity for depth, and also a change in our communal practice. They are beautiful, masterfully constructed, and more accessible for Hebrew beginner than the Sim Shalom's we were used to. The page numbers have changed, there is more transliteration, and the Matriarchs are no longer relegated to the "side B" of the page. All of this is wonderful and exciting and new.
Our Amitim and Madrichim Bnei Mitzvah students were the first to hold these new siddurim, as they began practicing with them the week before Sukkot. Just yesterday, our students personalized their own copies of Siddur Lev Shalom, which are now housed in the first cabinet in the Prozdor, the hallway that leads to the sanctuary. In their honor, I recorded a short video about what it means to find your own personal place in prayer. You can access it here.

So, friends, as we enter the Shabbat of Lech Lecha, of Abram's and Sarai's journeys (and our own),
let's celebrate the doors of our shul, the lobby, the greeters, the siddurim - and each other.

A very early Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Creditor

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Congregation Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

Oct 24, 2017

Lech Lecha: "The Uncertain Woods of Faith"

The Uncertain Woods of Faith

The French Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas teaches that what makes Torah holy is its infinite meaning. Holiness is therefore defined by inexhaustible possibility. I myself include in the category of Torah other expressions of art and spirit in this definition, such as Stephen Soundheim’s “Into the Woods,” a classic which weaves together several familiar fairytales and creates a nuanced moral tale pointing the way toward personal growth and engaged living. I’m not giving Soundheim rabbinic ordination, but Jewish learning can be deeply blessed by the gifts of worldly wisdom.

Let’s set the scene: Three parallel stories take place in “Into the Woods.” Jack (of the beanstalk) visits the sky-world of the giants, Cinderella gets her chance at the palace ball, and Little Red Riding Hood ventures off the safe path after being tempted by the wolf. Each character departs from the world they call home and plunges into the unknown, encountering both incredible highs and devastating lows. Whereas the play begins with the classic “Once upon a time,” it surely doesn’t end with “happily ever after.” In fact, “happy ever after” is the title of the closing song of the first act - a true teaching that life rarely continues (nor ends) very cleanly.

And so we turn to the Torah. Lech Lecha (the beginning of the Abraham narrative) begins with “Adonai (God) said to Abram, “[Lech Lecha] Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1).” Previous to this communication from God, all we know of Abram is that he is married to Sarai and travels with his father, all very uninformative as to Abram’s character. Except for this - his story sounds very typical. Very ordinary. Hardly the stuff of legends.

So what makes Abram worthy of receiving God’s word? We have heard of no great deeds nor theological speculations from the text itself. There are many early rabbinic attempts to provide Abram a childhood narrative - any childhood! - but none of the creative gap-filling (known as “midrash’) can begin to answer the question. The only answer to the question can be found in the following verses:
“Abram went forth as Adonai had commanded, ...took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan.” (Gen. 12:5)
God speaks, Abram goes.

We live with a deep desire for routine and pattern. Comfort is an ideal we crave in this world. How easy would it be to give up not only the luxuries we enjoy? If nothing luxurious comes to mind, consider Starbucks and the internet. Now imagine leaving behind caffeine and computer, family and home, language and faith community - everything you know and understand.

Suddenly God speaks to you. You’ve had no interactions with God, no one around you has heard from this One God, and your first command is: Go! Enter a thorny new life of pain and unpredictability and joy and elusive transcendence.

What do you do?

Would you go? Take that step away from the path and take a chance at glory? With no covenant established yet, Abram displays chance-taking and takes the first step of a holy journey. That first step is ours every time we pause and consider self-transformation. These are sacred steps away from the safe and the sure.

The spiritual journey is an unending path of fluctuation and newness. A relationship with any person includes the unquantifiable - that which can only be discovered once the journey begins. So too with God.
As Soundheim says,
So it’s into the woods you go again, You have to Every now and then. Into the woods, No telling when, Be ready for the journey. Into the woods- you have to grope, but that’s the way you learn to cope. Into the woods to find there’s hope of getting through the journey.
If Abram had not left the comfortable in favor of the transformative, the world would be a much emptier place, robbed of so much mystery.

And so, we begin our story: Once upon a time, a childless man named Abram and his wife Sarai began a journey with an invisible Partner they hadn’t known. There are seldom “happy ever after”s in true stories, but their story included moments of Godliness and pain, loss and joy, that they passed on to their children and their children’s children. You might be one of those descendants, but the only way you’ll really know that you’re worthy of their inheritance is if you venture yourself into the uncertain woods of faith.

Oct 17, 2017

Parashat Noach: “It will be good”

Parashat Noach: “It will be good”

© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Imagine standing on the ramp to the ark.  It’s not raining yet, but you know it will.  You haven’t joined your family and the animals inside, but you know you must.  How does it feel?

Noach was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth.  Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. (Gen. 7:6-7)” 

Of course they went into the ark “because of the waters of the flood.”  Why else would they?  What would cause a person to step forward into a new and terrifying place, embark on a journey with no guarantees? 

Rashi suggests that Noach and his family didn’t enter the ark until the water reached their ankles.  Would you have entered earlier? Or would you have waited until the very last moment before saying good bye to what was?

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I remember moving into my home: empty of furniture, full of potential. 

As soon as I walked in I became inundated by the enormity of my commitment. Financial burdens, the responsibility for my family, building a safe and loving home – all this became true only when I stepped foot into a space that I prayed would one day feel like home. But for that moment, I was surrounded by uncertainty.

There are different kinds of floods: emotional and physical.  What is it about a flood that terrifies so much?  We witness rising waters in Texas and Florida, New Orleans and South East Asia before that, and many places in between, with terror and fixation. Things and people washed away.  The world we once recognized buried, gone, cloudy at best. What then? 

Water purifies.  But how do we regard that which is washed away?  What happens when we know change is coming?

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The beginning of Parashat Noach reads: “Noach was a righteous person; blameless in his generation. (Gen. 6:9)”  Tradition has long argued over Noach’s goodness.  How good is a person if they leave their community behind?  But perhaps Noach tried in vain to convince his neighbors to repent.  While there is ample imagination for reconsiderations of Noach’s worthiness, I choose to assume it.  It’s good to find good in others.  So let’s decide that Noach would have been a good person in our generation too.

I find that moment on the ramp inescapable.  I hope Noach did too.

We know Noach eventually took that step into an unknown future.  And we know that he eventually emerged.  But the story in between those moments makes all the difference.

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Be Noach, just for a moment.  Stand on that ramp, listening to the sounds of the animals, the rising tension in the air.  Look at the land, knowing that it, and all the people around you are about to disappear.

How do you enter the role before you?  Everything depends upon you.

I stood before my community this past Yom Kippur in the moments before entering Kol Nidrei, watching faces, expectant energy in our eyes, knowing the mysterious moment was about to break forth. Across generations and rows, the room itself held its breath.

And for me, not only was this a chance to chant Kol Nidrei, but I had just composed a letter to my community, letting them know I was taking my next professional step and saying goodbye at the end of the year. 

I led Kol Nidrei from the ramp between home and not-home.  And at the very last moment before beginning I spent my time looking around the room, taking it all in, wishing I could preserve the at-home-ness of the moment and the trembling of my heart. 

I knew change was coming, I hadn’t yet said good-bye, and I had an awesome role to fulfill.

Such a moment. 

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The Flood was a journey of change, of transition, a deeply unsettling reversal of creation.  Where once God created the world in seven days, hovering over the waters (Gen. 1:2) and then collecting them in the sky and below the earth (Gen. 1:6,7), here we bear witness that:

On the seventh day, the waters of the Flood came upon the earth…  All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the sky broke open. (Gen. 7:10,11)”

The world is immersed in a mikvah, waiting to be born again.  The Flood was scary, to be sure.  But it was a new beginning.  For Noach and his family, they would soon enter a new home with no furniture but lots of potential.  The ark was an indication of great change, which they must have recognized before entering. 

What once was would no longer be, and they, the journeyers, would become the new Adams and Eves, the start of a new world.

Of what kind of world did they dream as they dwelled in their wooden womb, surrounded by water, waiting to be born themselves?

In our world of constant flux, of change and rebirth, death and rebuilding, towards what reality do we strive?

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One last aspect of this story.  As part of the construction of the ark, Noach is commanded to:

Make a TZOHAR in the ark, ending it within a cubit of the top. (Gen. 5:16)”

Was this ‘Tzohar’ the mystically glowing jewel Rashi describes?  Is it, as Nachum Sarna suggests, a slanted roof?  Is it an open window to let in the light, as Aryeh Kaplan suggests? 

If a roof, then the text emphasizes protection from destruction.  If a jewel, then God’s nearness in chaotic experiences is reinforced.  And if the Tzohar is a window, what then?

The ark has only two points of access to the outside world: the door and the Tzohar.  If it is a roof, then the journey occurs in complete darkness.  If it is a glowing jewel, then the promise of God’s Presence is a comfort in an unknowable world, a world hidden from the eye.

But if the Tzohar is a window, then the internal world of the ark and the external world of constant change are in constant contact at one junction point.


***************************

It is healthy to consider new directions using these images.

If you choose the Tzohar/Roof model, then you are safe but blind, a protective roof, but no light by which to see.

If you choose the Tzohar/Window model, then you remain aware of the turbulent waters outside, you see the people around you, and, if you are truly blessed, you can set eyes on the landing site when the waters recede.

Will you choose darkness or light?  A water-tight world of isolation, or a mysterious chance for untried engagement?

I choose light. 

Change can be both healthy and destabilizing.  And windows into the world are important. 

Noach’s pain in seeing the world’s pain can be a model for holy activism.  As Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz has written, “Without a window, we are incapable of being truly human and acting in the divine image.” 

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A memory calls:  Standing in London with Pizmon, the Jewish a cappella group of Columbia and JTS, performing David Broza’s anthem “Yihiyeh Tov / It will be good.” Broza had recently rewritten the lyrics, integrating the visions of the prophet Isaiah into a dream for peace in Israel.

The music coursing through me as I write this, and through each of us, is hard to explain.  It is the sound of human voices in harmony.  It isn’t perfect, it isn’t always on pitch, but every individual starting point desires deeper connection. 

Isaiah’s dreams, blended with Broza’s, can be ours as well:

We’ll yet learn to live together,
Amidst the groves of olive trees.
Children will live without fear,
Without borders, without shelters.

On graves will flourish grass,
Towards peace, and towards love.
One hundred years of war,
But we haven’t lost Hope.

It will be good, it will be Tov.
Sometimes I’m broken.
But when the night comes, the night,
With you I will go on.

May the possibilities of the world unfold because we stood with open-eyes in the space  between unknown and known, full of a determined hope and a ready heart.


Amen.

The Revelation of an Embrace: A Vision of Conservative Judaism

The Revelation of an Embrace: A Vision of Conservative Judaism (c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor in honor and memory of my teacher, Rabbi Nei...