Category Archives: Judaism

The Sanctity of Laughter

A relative anecdote

“Being Jewish has taught me how to laugh! First and foremost, to laugh at myself and at my situation. More important, to laugh in order to act in the world.  This is not to say we are to make fun of someone or make light of our fate. Rather, one is not to take oneself too seriously, but to take one’s responsibilities very seriously. 

Laughter opens the door to hope and healing. It opens up new possibilities. Listen to what’s funny to children and it will reveal a new world and a new generation. The first Jewish child born was called “Yitzchak” (one will laugh).

Laughter- we pack it in our luggage, we season our Friday night soup with it. Often it is mixed with tears.  We have fought despair relentlessly. Laughter is one of our secret weapons.”

-Rabbi Naamah Kelman, first woman ordained in Israel, Hebrew Union College

My father shared the above quote this year at our family’s Passover Seder. Earlier in the day, he told us a story from when he was a boy living in Baltimore.  On Saturdays, after temple, he and his buddy would use their weekly allowance to go downtown for lunch and a movie.  They would catch a street car for a nickel each way. For thirty cents, they could have lunch at the Chinese restaurant, (twenty-five cents for the meal, five cents for the tip.) Afterwards, for seven cents, a matinee at the movie theater. The street car only came every few hours, so if they missed it, they would miss their favorite Saturday adventure. The problem was, it came shortly after temple and the rabbi would walk home right by where they caught the trolley.  Since they were Orthodox, they were not supposed to be taking a street car on Shabbat.  This was the kind of rabbi that would have certainly told their parents and gotten them in trouble. So, if they saw the rabbi coming, they would hide by diving into the hedges where they would pray that the street car wouldn’t arrive until after the rabbi had rounded the corner.  They never missed a movie.  “I guess you could say,” my father concluded, “that was an example of living through prayer.”

My father has taught me how to hold up the essence of what our heritage offers us without being confined by it.  His rabbi would have said he was not taking his responsibilities seriously but my dad grew up to be the most responsible individual I have ever met.  

I intrinsically see and relish universal truths that dance outside the circle of my prescribed faith. Yet, because of my father, I also know that with prayer, you don’t have to miss the matinee.

Year after year, we hear the same story of Moses being hidden among the bulrushes but this was the first time I heard about my dad diving into the hedges. This puts the tradition of gathering together to celebrate our freedom in proper perspective. Emancipation comes in many forms. Sharing laughter with loved ones is perhaps my favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the history of my people.

 

Paradox Parade

Making peace with that which seems to be contrary

“When I am in tatters and about to cave, in elementary matters: be the particle and the wave.”- The Levins 

This weekend, my wife Julia and I gathered within a wonderful community to see Joe Crookston, a master musician, songwriter and beloved cheerleader of humanity. Before the concert, I had a conversation with a friend who has a different political point of view. We agreed on many points but in the end, there was no swaying her from her stance. I had to say that I was grateful that we were willing to converse at all. Our beliefs can become a citadel from which we are unwilling to emerge. Recognizing that I care for someone who does not see or feel as I do, awakens the love from which all things become whole.

Of course, there is a process that takes place before love comes into the picture. There is a gambit of emotions that come into play that must be honored before I can authentically facilitate a greater understanding. Sometimes, however, I can find myself going down the rabbit hole with bad feelings and I have to remind myself that love is an option. That way I can manually shift gears.

We are the awareness that animates everything and yet we seem to be in a separate form from everything around us. What can bring us peace is quietly observing the drama of life as it unfolds without needing to over-identify with it.  Swirling around duality, our consciousness can silently become unified.

For a long time, there was a scientific argument about what light consisted of. There were proponents of the Particle theory who said that light was made of particles. There were proponents of the Wave theory who said light was made of waves. They were like two political parties attacking one another. Each side said they were right and that the other was wrong. Now we know that light is both a particle and a wave. It has both properties and depending on how you look at it, it may change from a particle to a wave. It may do the opposite.  All that time arguing may have been wasted, or it may have provided the breakthrough in understanding. It is a paradox.

Paradox comes from the Greek words para and dokein which mean “to seem contrary.”

We live in a world where there seems to be endless conflict without the hope of us reconciling our differences. Perhaps, if we can use the idea of the particle and the wave, we can learn to embrace the paradox and find a way to live in peace.

Here are some examples of paradox found throughout the world’s wisdom traditions:

In Judaism, a cherished practice started by Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha, urged people to put these two statements in their front pockets. One on the left and one on the right:

“The world was created for me.” ( from the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37B) and

“I am but dust and ashes.” ( from Genesis 18:27)

Saul, a man who killed Christians then became Paul, Christianity’s chief proponent. He said:

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”- Romans 11:32

A mystic Sufi was executed for proclaiming, “I am the Truth.”  Paradoxically, some saw this as a man claiming divinity, while others saw it as a humble denial of the ego which allowed divinity to shine through him.

The Taoist Lao Tzu said: “Heaven and Earth are long-lasting. The reason why Heaven and Earth can last long is that they live not for themselves, and thus they are able to endure.”

The psychologist Carl Jung had this to say: “The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”

The poet, TS Elliot said: “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Mooji, a teacher of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta (which means “not-two”) says: “Paradoxically, the most powerful force in the universe is doing nothing at all.” And “Without the physical, the spiritual cannot be known or experienced. Go deep. Find and Be the Real!”

As a fitting last float in this Paradox Parade, here are the lyrics to one of Joe Crookston’s songs, which both did and did not revive the Buddhist poet and leader, Thich Nhat Hahn from a coma:

Fall down as Rain

When my life is over

And I have gone away

I’m gonna leave this big ole’ world

And the trouble and the pain

And if I get to heaven

I will not stay

I’ll turn myself around again

And fall down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

And when I finally reach the ground

I’ll soak into the sod

I’ll turn myself around again

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

And then when I turn dry and brown

I’ll lay me down to rest

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

And when that eagle learns to fly

I’ll flutter from that tree

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of the mystery

Part of the mystery

– Joe Crookston

We may never understand one another or ourselves and that in itself is a reason for rejoicing.

 

Shining out while standing within

A little natural healing

Behind our inability to see how valuable we are, is fearless healing.  Strike lightning at doubt.  Where would you be if you were free from all doubt in this moment?

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As the winter goes and things are vigorously stirred up, Julia and I are both sniffling.

I instinctively go for my mom’s remedy of Apple Cider vinegar and honey.  Julia has us gargle with warm salt water.  When I lived in El Cerrito, I lived near a Chinese mall and was turned onto Yin Chiao, an herbal supplement, which is great.

I have included three links to articles about natural healing that I found interesting.  Without going into them all, some highlights I found intriguing were Earthing, which encourages direct contact with the earth.  (The earth itself has healing properties? Get out!)  Both Judaism and Hinduism have an understanding of healing that calls for a natural alignment of our energy with nature itself. There is an example in the Torah of Moses being told to throw a small amount of a bitter branch into bitter water to clear it up so the people could drink it. Like curing like.  The idea of homeopathic remedies stem from this.  A small amount of the disease diluted and shaken in water until the essence (or the spirit, if you will) of the medicine is left to treat the illness without the side effects.

Love of course is the best healer, doing what you love, being with those you love and being loving to yourself with perhaps a nice bowl of soup, good book or a warm bath.  If none of these works, well then… go see the doc ; )

Julia has given me my fourth pint of water and chanted, “Drink! Drink!” while I chugged it. Next I’ll take out the compost, in my bare feet… Earthing baby!

May you be healthy, healthy, healthy!

The Four Energy Healing Secrets Your Doctor Hopes You’ll Never Learn

Human Healing – A Torah Model – Science

Ayurveda’s Healing Secret Revealed | Wise Earth School of Ayurveda

“One act of kindness can overcome fate.”

A slice of the Pi and the question of happiness

Since there are no squares in nature, we are hip enough to connect our straight-edged thinking with the natural curve of things in divine proportion.  Everything comes around.  Last weekend was a happy pi slice that reminded me how many ways there are to connect to the circle.

On Friday, I was asked to cover the end of the adult service for the cantor at one of the temples I lead Tot Shabbat for.  Part of the talk was about how when parents are asked what they want for their children, most of the time the answer is for them to be happy.  The speaker suggested that we could be more concerned with them being good. It reminded me of the ethical aim of Judaism.  The thought that we don’t have to do all the work but have to do our part in repairing the world, helps us remain centered when things aren’t happy. By striving to be kind, loving and helpful, there is a deeper happiness that we get in the process.

Saturday was our NYC Trust CD release party.  Throughout the process of making this album, Julia and I have kept asking ourselves, “What’s the name of this CD?” “Trust.” “Oh yeah, right.” Trust the process. We heard from many people that they weren’t going to be able to make it and although we treated for a full house, we were a bit nervous.  Then the doors opened, and friends poured in!  There were friends from our musical community, childhood, college, California friends who had travelled from Vermont, as well as cherished friends we have made here in NY.  The performance was strengthened and charged with the love that filled the room.  It was truly a gift that we will savor.

On Sunday morning, we sang at the NY Center for Spiritual Living, (based on Science of Mind teachings by Earnest Holmes.) where a gentleman named Court gave a talk on prosperity.  He had many good points, some of which were:

  • Take time in the morning to have an intention for the day and ask for a sign to be shown to you concerning your intention.
  • Mass consciousness diminishes Self, so instead of engaging in negative water-cooler talk or taking on the weight of the news; make sure you are connecting with your inner truth.
  • Never give up despite appearances; you can be right on the brink of a break through.
  • If you want to be rich, stop shopping at Thrift stores; you are giving the universe mixed signals.  He said he will sometimes walk through Tiffany’s or the Museum of Modern Art to align himself with a feeling of beauty and affluence.  Of course, the places that will do that for each of us will be different.
  • “Never limit your life with your past experience.”- Earnest Holmes
  • “What you want is irrelevant, what you’ve chosen is at hand.”  -Mr. Spock/ Star Trek

On Monday, we watched Hector and The Search for Happiness.  We hadn’t even heard of it. It really broke us open and rounded out the ‘question of happiness’ theme that the weekend provided.

Hector and The Search for Happiness:  https://youtu.be/ghCKHlMJoxM

Since I wrote this entry on St. Patrick’s Day,

“May your troubles be less
your blessings be more
and nothing but happiness
come through the door.”