Today was closing day at Shirat Devorah. The students and teachers had an opportunity to share closing words, reflecting on the year and hopes for what we’ll take with us going forward. The Shirat Devorah women had a chance to share their artwork, that we’ve been working on throughout the year with the guidance of our gifted teacher and friend, Miriam Leibowitz.
After Shabbat we are off to travel and hike in the north: Shvil Yisrael and next Shabbat in Tzfat!
Here he shares his internal struggles in the wake of a tour of South Tel Aviv where he met face-to-face with the issue of the refugee and asylum seekers from Africa.
Who can you trust these days?
Once, the social fabric bound us tightly in roles and relationships. Identity issues aside, this allowed shared assumptions to facilitate understanding, which is an essential underpinning for trust. In a world where we click to transact, and if we meet it’s often in faceless connection, the intimacy of understanding is vanishingly precious. Can you imagine real communication with all your friends, or a butcher that knows everyone who eats his meat?
Trust is the foundation for a healthy culture. I am nostalgic for my glory days in college where we lived by the ‘universal gear rule’ – borrow what you like, just bring it back how you got it. Small-scale communism, communalism, underlies relationships of intimacy. Money only serves to protect this trust, never to create it.
Questioning one’s trustworthiness it questioning their self. So before we explore the bearing of this question on matters financial, it is best to clarify terms. It feels too narrow to define a state of being, a posture in the world. I’d rather flesh it out.
Trust is rooted in courage. The willingness to take risk is intrinsic to trust, and essential to the success of the relationships we build on it. If I never rest on another’s word, I will never know if I can trust them to hold me.
Trust grows out of communication. Real communication is a fundamental expression of trust, because it involves an intimate sharing of self. I can only be honest if I feel safe, inside and out. Then I can fit my words and decisions to match my true expectations of self and other. This harmony of action and intention is the definition of integrity, and the Torah’s foundation for binding speech.
Trust relies on forgiveness. Anyone who aspires to honesty and lives in reality knows the loving wisdom of forgiveness for self and other. Not a willful indulgence, or blindness to behavior; rather a deep faith in our ability to become who we wish to be, even in the face of failure.
On the dollar bill it reads ‘In Gd We Trust.’ The banks in America tell you they are backed by the full faith and trust of the US Government. And the fine print on any contract says, the rule is – trust no one. So who can we trust?
 The definition of נאמנות, halachic trustworthiness, is a critical underpinning for most areas of halacha. For an overview see Mishna Demai 2:2 w/Rambam, Yoreh Deah 119:1 w/nosie kelim (esp. Taz), Aruch HaShulchan 119:20, Avodah Zarah 39b (Rashi ein lok’chin), Mishne Torah Ma’achlot Assurot 11:25-26 w/Raavad, Aruch HaShulchan 119:11. Thank you Rav Fink for years of well organized shiurim!
 This was no small amount of trust in a world of climbers, bikers, boaters and skiers
 Ah the tragedy of signifier and signified. The words I use as laden with meaning, but how can I know that their meaning for you is the same as what I hope they carry when I choose them? You could hear me speaking and be having a completely different conversation
 תוכו כבראו
 In order to be binding, a neder must be אחד בלב אחד בפה, we see that the discussion of it revolves around personality clarity of intention and word choice, as well as external perception of action and broader social meaning of terms
Lag B’Omer Night
To my dear and precious Beit Midrash community, wherever you happen to be:
….I just came back from the sweetest LaG B’Omer gathering in Gan Sakher in Jerusalem. It was a joint effort between my women’s seminary, Shirat Devorah, and it’s brother men’s yeshiva, Sulam Yaakov. I cannot even begin to tell you the thrill to be here during this time…during all times. Gan Sakher, for that matter all of Jerusalem, all of Israel, is all aglow with bonfires everywhere, every few feet.
Our particular gathering was not about eating and drinking anything, it was about learning, singing, and meditating together. The bonfire looked professionally made, just the right teepee shape, and it burned so amazingly well for hours (of course the guys were totally continually feeding the fire with just the right amounts of wood that had been so carefully stockpiled for a week or so). There were a few guitars, a few drums.
There was a very small gathering at first (beginning at 10 pm), and then more and more and more people came. There was some gentle tentative singing at first, and then more and more spirited. Rav Aaron spoke about “hod” (Rebbe Shimons yartzeit is hod shebahod) and fire and humility. I told a favorite story of mine from The Heavenly City, a true story from a hundred years ago about a young boy whose blindness is cured when he goes to the kever of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. But we were just the warm-up act for the main speaker, Rav Daniel Cohen, Rav of the yishuv Bat Ayin, and maggid shiur for Sulam Yaakov, who spoke and played clarinet.
There is no one quite like Rav Daniel. Gentle and soft spoken, he gives over the feeling that he is having an intimate conversation just with you, rather than addressing a large gathering with a microphne. And there is no mind quite like Rav Daniel’s. His thinking is quite evolved, his knowledge both very deep and broad, his “chidushim” constant. He spoke of mayaan (spring) and chruv (carob ), the two things that sustained Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Reb Elazar while they hid in the cave for 13 years. He spoke of each of us needing to enter our own caves to grow and develop, especially without worrying what anyone else is thinking about us, to find our own spring, our own chruv. I am not doing it justice of course, just trying to give a feeling.
The spring of course is light and life, inspiration (though what he really termed it I am not remembering), but the chruv is desolation, the root of desolation. He spoke of the need for both, there no rising or depth without the desolation and of course there is no hope to move on from the desolation without the spring. Either one by itself will take you to a very incomplete place. Ultimately, it is about turning the chruv into chaver, like the chevraya of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. Ultimately it is about sharing yourself with another, yourself, not your words, or the vehicle of your words. The you that comes having been in the cave and from your maayan and your chruv.
He spoke of the individuality of hair… and how Rabbi Akiva who understood mounds and mounds of halacha from each individual ‘hair’ on top of the letters (the crowns), understood about the individuality of each hair, and each hair having its own source. He played his haunting clarinet music for us to meditate and contemplate by, and he chanted from the Tikkunei Zohar and translated as if in conversation. Then he played and played and the guitars and drums joined in and there was such sweet dancing of men around the bonfire, a holy chevraya. You wouldn’t believe how sweet and light their movements, and all highlighted by this bonfire whose embers were dancing and moving and rising. It was such a special scene, maybe you can imagine it in your mind’s eye.
Yet what also really made it special was that we were just one blip on the landscape. Every few foot was another group, and another group, and another group (of course we were the coolest), all celebrating Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s Hillula. And the sky lit up with fireworks several times, so many and most amazing, and always amazingly timed in the speech. When Rav Aaron was speaking of the crowns on the Torah letters all of a sudden the fireworks display began, like crowns in the sky. And when Rav Daniel was speaking of how each of us is a star, a point of light that spreads outward, the fireworks began anew.
(I can’t imagine what the fire department in America would do with all these fires, and fire works right in the middle of a green and wooded park. It would of course never be allowed. And yet not a single tree caught fire, not a single casualty nor spread of fire. I don’t even know how that is possible, but somehow it is. As if this is not a land that could burn on LaG B’Omer. How they do play with fire here! )….
I want to tell you how special it is to be here at this time of one national holiday after the other. Never mind I am not so sure about how I feel about many of them. But they come at you one after the other, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, Pesach Sheni, Lag B’Omer, Yom Yerushalayim, and all culminating of course with Shavuot. Shirat Devorah and Sulam Yaakov have created events this year around these holidays, branded with the thoughtful, creative, open thinking/questioning/ genuinely exploring style of these institutions to give anglos a way to tap into these days and this culture. It has been an amazing process…. In general, it is just so special and heartening to draw together as a Jewish nation…over anything.
I am just in love at the moment with being a Jew in a Jewish land. I am in love with Jewish minds that run every sphere of life (and crazed by it too!). The Jewish mind, the Jewish soul, is such an amazing thing….and to be surrounded by it all the time is a “wow” experience for me…..
…there is a special feeling to be in a place where your culture is everybody’s culture, where your calendar is everybody’s calendar. Now after two years here, I begin to feel the expansiveness of filling up the space– the whole space, not some little corner that is allowed me as a Jew whether consciously or unconsciously. The old image comes to mind of being planted finally in soil that has all the nutrients that your particular kind of plant needs to grow in the best way possible. Sure you could make do elsewhere, or you can even work very, very hard and “mach du eretz yisrael” as the Lubovitcher Rebbe (ztz”l) said, ‘Make where you are Eretz Yisrael.’ Yet there really is something about just breathing the air here. It is Jewish air. It makes you wise. You feel it.
It is true, everyone has their special job to do, their “tafkid,” their “yay-ud” so to speak, and their special place where it is needed. Yet I can’t help but say to you: My friends, if I were you, I would pack up my belongings, and head on over here. Or I would think about how to make that possible. What would it take. There is no better place for a Jew. As crazy and harsh and bureaucratically ridiculous as Israel can be, there is no better place for a Jew. Judaism is alive here. In every way. A Jewish life has the potential to be so full here. And while maybe money doesn’t grow on trees here either, it is almost as if Torah learning does. The air of Jerusalem is suffused with it. All over. In the open, and not in the open. When you know it and when you don’t. When you can see and hear it and when you can’t. It doesn’t matter, you can taste it.
And money doesn’t rule here (just witness the lack of customer service). Something else much more real does.
Of course there are problems here too. Big ones. But your know how can actually be used to solve them. The country is only 64 years old. Nothing is etched in stone. It is waiting for your mind, and your belief system, and your emunah to come and fix it. To come and build it.
As the song goes (Country Yossie is it?) “G-d is alive and well in Jerusalem.” In Israel. Everywhere in the world of course too. But it is different here. It really is. And it is really possible to feel the light of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. Today. On LaG B’Omer. Here. And I am not even in Meron!
So to all my friends in Berkeley and in America I send you a hearty “Lag” sameach and “Hod” esh tov (my little attempt at pun humor).
I love and miss you all and can’t wait to see you here!
Walking the streets of Yerushalayim, I see a vision of Am Yisrael unimagined a hundred years ago. There is no race, class, creed or religion (!) unseen in the face of my people. It is a wonder sometimes that the center holds. And I often wonder what holds it.
History is a certainly a grounding force. Our system-track through the phase space of time, geography, culture and consciousness has given us momentum to spare. And a surfeit of shared experience on which to build identity. But history will never be the essential axis for Am Yisrael. We are too much the children of prophets to believe that what was can dictate what will be.
There is the Land. Without it, this vision could never be. In our time, we have seen Eretz Yisrael embrace her name – ארץ הצבי. She expands and contracts to fit the body of the nation, and gives her fruit with a generous eye. She is the foundation, but we must build the right house in order to live together.
We cannot forget the Holy Torah. In truth, it is the only thing big enough to hold Am Yisrael. This mighty people have been a catalyst for human cultural evolution since their birth. We could only function on a substrate like the Torah, which underlies all creation. But the Torah, like the soul, needs a body to serve.
Certainly a great love for Gd, each other and creation holds us together. As we consider vessels past, present and future over the coming weeks, let this then be our guide. And I pray that we merit to shape our hearts to the fittest vessel, able to hold Gd, Am Yisrael and the world.
 See Daniel 11:41, gem. Ketubot 112a
 See Yechezkiel 36, gem. Sanhedrin 98a, rashi there
 Remember Lamark and the theory of acquired characteristics? Giraffes stretch to reach the upper branches and their children have long necks? He may have been laughed out of the natural sciences, but he found his home in human cultural evolution. We have been sticking our necks out in half the world’s cultures for 2500 years. What we have acquired along the way is a story the whole world can tell.