Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Why is Purim Close to Passover?

When they shaped the Jewish calendar, the Rabbis decided that seven  times in a cycle of 19 years, we must insert an extra month of Adar to keep the Jewish calendar in tune with the solar year as well as the lunar moonth.  Why was that important? They said it was to keep Passover in the spring. Otherwise,  it would circle through the solar year the way Ramadan does in the purely lunar Muslim calendar.

They also decided that whenever there was an extra Adar, the festival of Purim should always be in the  second Adar, to keep it  close to Pesach.  

This raises two questions: Why did they think Passover must always come in Spring; and why did they think Purim should stay close to Pesach?

 I think they had politico-spiritual reasons for both decisions. Let's take up th second question first:

Both festivals are about the overthrow of a tyrant: Purim in early spring when the trees are putting on their fresh costumes, at a time when the Earth and human earthlings are redolent wth bawdy laighter — and Megillat Esther is a doubling of a classic bawdy satirical joke  — the first Purimshpiel.

In that sense, Purim is an experiment in overcoming tyrants through laughter — as Saturday Night Live is aimed at our own pompous, cruel, and vicious rulers.

That is the nusach, the melody, of early spring. Then comes the nusach of “serious” spring. With Passover, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  becomes a Hurricane of Transformation. Is the sequence a reminder that we should began overthrowing our tyrants with laughter and if that is insufficient, we need to turn to more “serious" measures of resistance?

Just to clarify why I said the Megillah is a double joke:  

Haman starts the anti-Jewish action that ends up destroying him (even the same gallows he had intended for Mordechai ends up hanging him). A bloody joke, of the classic "hoist on his own petard” form.

AND — there is in the Megillah another joke of the same form, less bloody: Ahasuerus starts the action going with his put-down of Queen Vashti — women must not disobey men. And the result of his own anti-feminist tyranny is that he abjectly obeys what a woman -- Queen Esther -- tells him to do.

 

 

(Look carefully at the King. Here we see what Ahasuerus looks lke in our generation, with Haman lurking just behind.)

Anti-Semitism & anti-feminism go hand in hand (as they do in our present White House). Indeed, there is ancient midrash that says the courtier Memucan, who advised the King to get rid of Vashti, was Haman in disguise! Ahasuerus may seem to be a pompous, empty-headed, self-obsessed fool -- but remember, he affirms Haman's tyrannical plot.

It seems to me that every generation of Jewish renewal, including the one that created the Pesach Seder and the one that wrote the Purimshpiel Megillah and the one that wrote Isaiah’s original challenge to the fasters of Yom Kippur and the one that set Isaiah as the Haftarah for Yom Kippur   and the one in which the same Heschel who said that his legs were praying
when he was at Selma marching against racism also said that prayer was meaningless unless it was subversive  — all these knew that “liturgy” and “activism” were indivisible.  

Now the other question: Why must Pesach come in Spring? First of all, carefully reading the Torah's description of the first celebratory commemoration pf the Exodus reveals that the Passover of the Temple period of Jewish history -- with the offering of the "paschal" lamb and the eating of matzah -- was crafted from two spring festivals: the shepherd's spring festival of lambing, and the farmers' spring festival of new unleavened bread. The intense hot moment of a social upheaval melted them into one.

But this connection of Exodus with Spring is more than an echo from he ancient past: As the flowers rise up against winter, so the People rise up against Pharaoh. The Rabbis decreed that the Song  of Songs must be sung during Pesach. In the same way, the workers day of rebellion, May Day, tracks the "pagan" celebration of Spring -- the May Day of the May Pole and sexual renewal.

Not only are "liturgy" and "activism" indivisible, so are the rhythms of the Earth and the rhythms of social transformation. 






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Torah for Tumultuous Times: April 2017

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory with desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”



So said T.S. Eliot, riffing on Walt Whitman’s

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd ...

I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring"

about the April death of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was our greatest President because he was the one who did the most — not then or yet enough — to wrench America loose from the inheritance of slavery and to breed an expanded democracy out of the bleeding land.

Mixing memory with desire: The recipe for the Pesach Seder, usually in April, breeding freedom, past and future, out of the Narrow Land and its Narrow Pharaoh.

April — the cruellest month of American history, the yohrzeit month of Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King,

This April,  we face our own Pharaoh, the American President who is already the worst, stifling democracy and choking Earth at every breath:

Then a new king came to power in the Land that became Tight and Narrow.

“Look,” he said to his people,

“The Godwrestling People have become far too numerous for us.

Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous

And, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us

And rise up over  the country.”

So they put police over them to oppress them.

So this April, there will be a series of Shabbatot that beg for focusing Torah on tikkun olam, the healing of our country and the wounded Land of every country  --  Earth.

(1) April 1,  Vayikra.  This Shabbat immediately precedes the 50th anniversary (on April 4) of Martin Luther King's most  profound & prophetic sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” given at Riverside Church in NYC with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel beside him on the bima.

I recommend using passages from this sermon as Haftarah. Do we need a warrant to name MLK a Navi? — Almost a year after the prophetic "Beyond Vitnam" sermon, Heschel spoke to the Rabbinical Assembly, introducing MLK and saying:

"Where in America do we hear a voice
Like the voice of the prophets of Israel?
Martin Luther King is a sign that
God has not forsaken the United States of America. …
Martin Luther King is a voice, a vision and a way.
I call upon every Jew
To hearken to his voice,
To share his vision,
To follow his way.
The whole future of America will depend upon
the impact and influence of Dr. King.”


And ten days later, on April 4, 1968, completing precisely a year from that Prophetic sermon,  Dr. King was murdered. Was that "America's" response to him? Did that murder define the whole future of America? Or is that future once more in our hands?

The whole “Beyond Vietnam” sermon, comments on it, and suggestions for action are on the new website <http://MLK50.org>. I hope that our congregations and all congregations and communities will on that weekend and/or on April 4 itself gather to read King’s prophetic words, discuss them in the light of our own lives, and decide together what actions we could take that would be worthy of King’s wisdom and his courage.

2)  April 8, Shabbat HaGadol. Check carefully the “HaGadol” haftarah, which warns of the Earth being consumed in a furnace of heat but says the “wings” of a just and righteous sun can remedy the danger (solar & wind energy?). The very end calls for the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of parents & children to each other lest the Earth be utterly destroyed.

    • Perfect text for  climate crisis, leading into Pesach & the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of today, bringing Plagues upon the Earth.  
    • Perfect text for calling pre-B'nei Mitzvah kids & the rest of the congregation to stand and face each other, and to have both generations pledge to become Elijah so as to heal the Earth from danger.  
    • Perfect text to welcome Elijah to the Seder.


3)  April 16, Shabbat Chol Ha’Moed Pesach. The Haftarah is Ezekiiel’s “Dry Bones,” given new life by oft-repeated “Ruach" — obscured by most translations by using “breath," “wind” & “spirit” in different contexts, making it hard to realize they ae all the same. This can be used in many ways — the desiccated bones of US democracy needing Ruach to revive, the planet afflicted by drought as well as flood, etc etc.

(4) April 22,  Shmini and Earth Day. The parashah defines what is kosher. It would be relatively easy to craft divrei Torah about eco-kashrut. In doing that, it would be important to keep in mind that what Reb Zalman z’l and I had in mind was NOT just about food but about other elements that we humans (who are no longer chiefly shepherds & farmers) “eat” from the Earth.  — e.g. coaL, oil, uranium.  In our generation, energy is “food.”

What are the rules for the kosher eating of this food? (See my chapter, “What Is Eco-Kosher?” in my book Down-to-Earth Judaism.)

(5) April 29:  Tazria/Metzora and People’s Climate March/ Movement Shabbat.

I think the most relevant texts would be the two Haftarot.

(a) One is about how the lepers who are living (starving) on the margins of Israelite society end up becoming its saviors. It could be the focus of an affirmation of our various "outsiders” and a warning  not to squash those people because “the stone that the builders rejected is the cornerstone of the House.”   Warning: Don't make Muslims pariahs.

(b) Directly relevant to Climate concerns is the other Haftarah, in the context of Standing Rock’s “Water is Life.” General Naaman’s life is saved by dunking him in the Jordan River. At first he is scornful of the life-giving powers of such a piddling stream, but It Works!   Water IS Life!!  



Last week I sent out a mailing that calls for us to walk three paths in the period of the Trump-Bannon-Pence presidency: Resist, Rethink, Recreate. I hope these thoughts about the Shabbatot of April  will help stir our juices to the Rethinking that both Jewish and American peoplehoods need today.

 

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The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom

The Short Colorful Passover Gift-Books for Kids & Their Grown-Ups
As Passover approaches, you may find especially delicious a colorful way to share the story with your children or grandchildren, your friends' kids, your Seder hosts and guests, and for that matter with grown-ups who are open to laughng at loooong narrow pharaohs of the past as well as the present.  

 



That’s what our words and the wonderful pictures by Avi Katz (a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report)  do with this new brief and colorful book --  The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  We share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community.

(Or maybe it's not just an old story, since the Pharaoh tried to incite hatred of an immigrant community who talked a strange languag and had a different religion. Uncannily familiar, maybe? )

(Anyway, the story we tell sure is new --  Like, Did you ever hear it was really the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? Was that a secret, long kept hidden by the men who wrote our Bibles?  Or was it --- shshsh!)

The long narrow Pharaoh ordered two midwives, Shifra and Puah -- to kill the boy-babies of that immigrant community, the Cross-Over People.  BUT ---



 

AND THEN --  (Sh-sh-sh, you remember that Women's March last January, all over America and all around the world?)

But we don't want to spoil the story by telling what happens next.  Get the book to find out!

You can order The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom  by clicking here:

<https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X>  

At the bottom of the same Amazon page you’ll find another of our books,  The Rest of Creation, and you can buy them both together.  Here’s a page from that one:





So —  who explained to God why there needed to be a day of resting from Creation? And who came up with exactly the right name for the day? Read the book to find out!

If you want to make an extra gift to The Shalom Center without any additional cost to you, you can start -- before you begin shopping -- by going to  AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), and naming The Shalom Center (the one in Philadelphia) as  the organization to receive Amazon’s donations of a percentage of your purchases.

We promise that you and your kids and grandkids, nephews and nieces,  your neighbors' children -- will enjoy the time you share reading and  looking together at the colorful pictures in these books.

 We've tested the books by telling them as stories in many synagogues on Friday evening and some churches on Sunday morniing, and find that adults enjoy them too.

Grown-ups, kids, and YOU will enjoy learning how “the Bible, “the Torah,” can become seeds of creativity rather than narrow strictures of rigidity. We ourselves can leave behind our own Narrow Pharaoh to become the midwives of our freedom.

Remember -- you can order the book through Amazon by clicking here:
https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X


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Meet McKibben, Royster, Wilansky -- May 21

And Sow the Seeds of Transformative Leadership

The Shalom Center invites you to meet and to honor three crucial activists who “Sow the Seeds of Transformative Leadership” at a celebration on Sunday May 21, 2017 in Philadelphia: 

  • Bill McKibben, world-renowned leader of 350.org and of campaigns against the Keystone XL Tar Sands dirty-oil Pipeline;
 
  • Bishop Dwayne Royster, political director of PICO, the national umbrella for religious congregation-based community organizing, with a special concern for and involvement with African-American and Latino communities; and
 
  • Sophia Wilansky, the young anti-pipeline organizer who, after stints working against oil-delivery pipelines in New England and New York, came to Standing Rock as a Water Protector and was cruelly wounded by the militarized police when they attacked the steadfast opponents of what the Sioux Nation has called the poisonous “black snake” of their traditional prophecies.

 To Sow --  and to Grow

Why are we creating this event?  We have three goals, as we all face the most important political, cultural, ecological, and spiritual crisis of our lifetimes: (1) To raise money to make it possible for The Shalom Center to respond in life-giving ways to our heightened, worsened  crisis. (2) To make available the wisdom of our three inspiring honorees to strengthen the ability of our members to act. (3) To make it possible for people at the event itself and others who can tune in to choose to take action through social media that very evening and in the days soon after.

 

REGISTRATION

Three aspects of the event are:

  1. Young Activists: A conversation among the three honorees and young activists (age 17-35) nominated and sponsored by their congregational or organizational cosponsors of the event, 3-5pm.
 
    To sponsor a young activist for this conversation, dinner, and honor event, Cosponsor Now 
     
  2. Dinner: A dinner where registrants will be able to meet each other and our three honorees, 5-7pm.
 Dinner includes the conversation from 7-9 pm.  Please be aware that space is limited and that on 5/8/17, if space is still available, the contribution level increases. So -- Register Now 
     
  3. Honor Event:  A shared conversation in which the three honorees will talk with each other and other attendees, in the host congregation’s sanctuary, 7-9pm. 
    Please be aware that for the Honor Event as well, space is limited and that on 5/8/17, if space is still available, the contribution level increases.   Register Now! 

TRIBUTE BOOK

Individuals or organizations can offer tribute to the honorees or publicize their organization through additional space in the tribute book to be distributed to all attenders and tribute sponsors. 

To publish in the tribute book, click here.
Text for the tribute book is due to The Shalom Center (office@theshalomcenter.org) by 4/21/17 in order to meet deadlines for layout and printing.
 

COSPONSOR THE EVENT AS AN ORGANIZATION

To register your organization or congregation as an event cosponsor, Cosponsor Now!


SPONSOR A YOUNG PERSON

Cosponsoring organizations can sponsor a young activist (age 17-35) for the youth event, dinner, and honor event by:

Shalom Center staff will advise the nominee of details related to their registration status.

We are living in the midst of a profound political, social, ecological, and spiritual crisis. To meet that crisis, the net proceeds of this celebration will benefit the on-going work of The Shalom Center in two directions:

  • Sowing seeds of social change toward racial, religious, economic, & gender justice;  compassion; and democracy, including action to heal our wounded Mother Earth and the human communities under threat of climate chaos; and
  • Weeding out  efforts at top-down, anti-democratic domination and subjugation of Earth and human earthlings.

 

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Tu B'Shvat/ YAH B'Shvat: 4 Teachings, 4 Worlds, ONE Tree

 

     
 

This year the festival of Tu B'Shvat -- the ReBirthDay of earthly trees and of the supernal Tree of Life, falls on Friday evening Febuary 10/ Saturday February 11.  For a unique treasury of history, wisdom, and practtiuice of Tu B'Shvat that will help ylu celbrate Tu B'Shvat, see the book Trees, Earth, and Torah (publ by Indiana Univ Press for the Jewish Publication Society, ed. by Ari Elon, Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow). Available from Amazon.

These four teachings might be included in the passages read for the four courses of the Tu B’Shvat Seder, marking the Four Worlds of reality through which the Kabbalists of Tzfat 500 years ago shaped the mystical Seder of God’s ReBirthDay on the full Moon of Midwinter.  

1. Asiyah, Physical Actuality: The foods of the Tu B’Shvat Seder (this year, Sunday evening  January 24) are nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant's life-cycle. They are the only foods whose eating requires no death, not even the death of a plant (like the radish or the Bitter Herb in the Pesach Seder).  Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation. This is the sacred meal of Eden, the Garden of Delight. The sacred meal of Mashiach-zeit, the Messianic Age.  

2. Yetzirah, Relationship: The four cups of wine for the Tu B’Shvat Seder are white; white with a drop of red to become pink; red with a drop of white to become rose;  red. Red and white were in ancient tradition seen as the colors of  generativity. To mix them was to mix the blood and semen that to the ancients connoted procreation. The Seder celebrates rebirth in all its forms throughout the world.  

3. Briyyah, Creative Intellect: In two separate epiphanies, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Ari Elon pointed out that the conventional name for the festival of the Trees’ ReBirthDay names it in a constricted, fearful way. The festival comes on the 15th day (the Full Moon) of the midwinter lunar “moonth” of Shvat, and “Tu” is  made up of two Hebrew letters, Tet and Vav, that numerically are “9+6,” making 15. But this way of counting is an anomaly. Normally with numbers in the teens we say the letters for “10+x,” not “”9+y.”  That would mean “Yod-Aleph” for 11, “Yod-Bet” for 12, and so “Yod-Hei” for 15.  But “Yod-Hei” is “Yah,” one of the Names of God (as in Hallelu-YAH.).

So out of fear and reluctance to say God’s Name when we name the festival, we use “9+6,” “Tu,” instead.

But – “What might happen if we joyfully proclaim God’s full Presence on that day of God’s Rebirth, YAH B’Shvat, and on every Full Moon of each month?” said both Phyllis and Ari.  

4. Atzilut, Spirit.  At a Tu B’Shvat Seder held in a grove of ancient and majestic redwoods  to protest the logging of such redwoods for corporate profit, then rabbinical student Naomi Mara Hyman (now a rabbi) gestured at the tall-reaching trees around us  — the tallest living beings on the planet —  and said, “These are eytzim [“trees”], yes?  And the wooden poles that hold a Torah scroll, we also call them eytzim, yes? Imagine a Torah Scroll so majestic that these redwoods were its eytzim! In that Torah, each of us would be just large enough to be one letter in that Torah!” And that is what we are: each a letter making up together the words, the wisdom, of that Great Torah that is indeed the Tree of Life.

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Wanted for Arson --

 Wanted for Arson  --

NOT for Secretary of State

 

 

Rex W. Tillerson

President and chief executive of Exxon Mobil.

Nominated by Donald Trump  for Secretary of State

Burn one home, you’ve prison years to count.

Burn our common home, the Planet Round –-

With billions in your bank account,

It’s to High Office that you’re bound.

If you believe that world-wide arson is a crime:

1) Turn the upper part of this message into a poster and the whole thing into a flyer (adding a local contact); gather others; and picket a high-visibility Exxon station in your community.
 2) Call 202-224-3121, ask for each of your Senators, and urge them to refuse confirmation of Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Ask the offices for their fax numbers and send a letter of your own to each Senator.
3) Invite your friends and neighbors for a conversation about forming a neighborhood solar-energy co-op. Click to  <http://communitypowernetwork.com/> and

    <http://nwphillysolarcoop.com/about/> for more information

4) Please drop us a note at Office@theshalomcenter.org about what you are doing, and please contribute to support our work.       Click on the maroon "Contribute" banner on the left margin of this page.

5)  Forward this message to your friends and community leaders.

 

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about Rex Tillerson

Dear Arthur, I rarely write comments but I want to ask you to change a bit from who you have been. Your mind is deep and thoughtful and often angry. That anger may be just but may not be helpful for the stage the world is now in at this moment. The use of the words arson and polarizing to the far angry left seems to just keep the cycle of dismissal on both sides happening. Just getting the regime that will be in power to acknowledge climate change is actually where the reality is. Forget for now getting the viewpoint of stopping oil production and use and back it down many notches. Your second and third suggestions fit into the more centrist ways of helping the world stay in some not totally insane range, so long as the letters are deeply constructive and NOT polarizing with anger and righteousness. This is where you are needed. Deep thought on what to say that MAY actually make an impact on the congressional reader who reads it as opposed to a knee jerk labeling of just another letter from an angry lefty. This is where i need your guidance because you are well read and informed in depths i do not know. Sincerely and with love Shoshana

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Hanukkah and Christmas: Spiritual Siblings in a Time of Dark

The Deeper Story of the Dark-Time Festivals of Light

This coming Shabbat, we will have the opportunity to explore anew the meaning of Hanukkah. I hope we will go deeper than the Hanukkah story that is now most often shared --  the Talmudic legend of the  oil that should have been enough to last for one day but instead lasted for eight.

The story has its uses today in a time when we desperately need to conserve the use of  oil and other forms of carbon-burning energy in order to heal our wounded planet – but  there are deeper meanings to the festival  that may speak more deeply to our people, hungry for  connection to the Spirit in a time of Darkness.

This year, the first night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Eve. Hanukkah begins each year on the 25th day of the Jewish lunar month of Kislev. Christmas comes each year on the 25th day of the Western solar month of December. Since both Kislev and December are timed for early winter, both festivals come close to the day of the winter solstice, the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Is all this a coincidence? I think not.


What do we know about the origins of each of these festivals?

In Jewish lore, Hanukkah is connected with the desecration and rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Its desecration by order of Antiochus, ruler of a Hellenistic Empire, came on the 25th of Kislev in the year we would now call 168 BCE. Three years later, the guerilla uprising led by the Maccabee brothers was successful in beginning the rededication of the Temple on the same day, 25 Kislev.

According to I Maccabees, a sacred book in Christian but not Jewish tradition, when the uprising succeeded in establishing control of the Temple once again, the victorious guerillas decided to celebrate the eight-day harvest festival of Sukkot that had not been possible to observe during the three years of Imperial control. (Sukkot was traditionally the time of year when King Solomon dedicated the First Temple; a good time to rededicate the second one.)

But the Rabbis, about 200 years later, were worried that lionizing the Maccabees might lead to disastrous violent rebellions against the Roman Empire. (That’s why they never decided that the Books of the Maccabees were sacred for Jews.) So they put forward a legend about a bottle of olive oil that was supposed to light the Temple for one day but lasted eight – and thus explained the eight-day festival of Hanukkah.

But let’s go back to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus’ army on 25 Kislev back in 168 BCE.  Why on that day?

Here let me make a leap of “midrashic history” or “imaginative historical reconstruction.” The 25th of a  lunar “moonth” is the time of any month at which the moon diminishes and then vanishes.   And Kislev is the month in which the sun is also at its darkest. This is a perfect time for a spiritually awe-struck ceremony affirming the dark-time and imploring both the light of the moon and the light of the sun to return –-- which it does, year by year, confirming that it is a good thing to honor the gods at that moment.  (And perhaps in terms we might today find more palatable, successful because the ceremony helped dispel dark depression and despair.)

So perhaps what for the Jews was Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple was for the Hellenistic Empire a celebration of this sacred moment in its own spiritual calendar, facing and transcending the dark of moon and sun --using practices that for the Jews were desecration?  

Perhaps it was not only the memory of a guerrilla victory but the attractiveness of celebrating this moment of Light Renewed  that drew the Jewish people into adopting and celebrating the festival? And perhaps the Talmud’s legend of the miraculous Light-bearing Lamp was a way of connecting the two  -- celebrating both Light Renewed and the breakthrough of political joy and Rededication in a time of darkness?  

Now let us turn to the origins of Christmas. In the first few centuries of Christianity, there was no celebration of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels did not give the date of his  birth. And some modern commentators have pointed out that the descriptions of society at the time sound more like fall than winter.

Then in the Fourth Century, as Christianity was becoming the Established Church of the Roman Empire, the Church decided to make a major spiritual holy day of Jesus’ birth. But –- what day?

In Rome during those centuries, one of the most widely celebrated festivals was the Birth of Mithras, the god of a “mystery religion” with origins in Persia and the Eastern Mediterranean. And Mithras’ birthday was December 25.

The Christian Church adopted this day for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. One might see this as “surrendering to paganism” or as “cultural appropriation” or as a way of recognizing and affirming the spiritual power inherent in some aspects of another tradition.

Yet –- why, of all possible days in December, was the festival marked on the 25th? The Roman calendar was solar, not lunar or lunisolar.  Was “December 25” an effort to transcribe the lunar  “Kislev” date when the moon was vanishing, into a solar calendar?

I would called Hanukkah and Chrstmas “siblings” because they were both born from a “pagan” mother, celebrating Mother Earth. Though they are not twins, they share some DNA -- the theme of kindling light in a time of encroaching darkness.  They even share the notion of a Tree of Light – though our trees are very different. Both also emphasize joy at a time of what for many may be “SADness:  --  Seasonal Affective Disorder.”  

And there is a shared theme of spiritual or political resistance to the forces of Imperial oppression. In Hanukkah this theme is boldly lit, in the story of the Maccabeean revolt led by a small-town family. In Christmas it is muted, but Caesar Augustus and the murderous King Herod are the dark forces in the world when light is born in Jesus  -- the child of a working-class carpenter so poor the family could not find a hotel room for his birthing.

So what does this mean for me and for us?

First of all, as in 1981 I wrote the handbook of Jewish festivals called Seasons of Our Joy, it became clearer and clearer to me that the “seasons” celebrated by the festivals were rooted in the dance of Earth with Moon and Sun. When the book was published, its first review by a Jewish magazine dismissed it as a “pagan” distortion of Judaism. Yet, just as I freed myself from that kind of stifling darkness, the Jewish world began to free itself as well to dance in a warmer light. Seasons of Our Joy came to be called a “classic,” rather than a  travesty.

(Indeed, it is now in its third edition, published by the Jewish Publication Society with a new section on how even since its original publication there continue to be creative birthings of new ways of celebrating . You can get a copy through  <http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Seasons-of-Our-Joy,675595.aspx>)

And finally, the wide world. We are certainly living in a dark time. We have a President-Elect who threatens the press, who appoints a racist to be Attorney-General and a White Supremacist to guide his over-all strategy, who dismisses the climate crisis as a hoax and turns over Earth policy to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to commit their profit-obsessed arson against our common home.

But the Maccabees did win over a swollen Elephantine Empire. This year we can begin our Resistance right now: No Bannon, no Jeff Sessions, no registry of Muslims, no deportation of undocumented millions.  Into every local gas station of the planetary arsonist Exxon as well as into every Senator’s eyes and ears we can carry the message: “No chief of Exxon, father of lies about the Earth and oil, to be Secretary of State.

 By Resisting with active and assertive nonviolence, we can embody the wisdom of the Prophet Zechariah (4: 6), in the Haftarah the ancient Rabbis taught us to read for Shabbat Hanukkah: “ ‘Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit,’ said the Infinite Breathing Spirit of the world.”

Zechariah also envisions that in the rebuilt Temple, the light-bearing Menorah, itself a Tree of Light with branches, calyxes, flowers shaped in gold, will be flanked by two olive trees. Already a break with tradition!

And then Zechariah (4: 11-12)rises to Prophetic ecstasy when he sees those two trees feeding their oil directly into the Menorah. This tiny forest of three trees – a forest that both grows from earth and is carved out by human hands --  reminds us that our human species began, the Torah teaches, when adam was born from adamah  (Gen. 2: 7). The story reminds us that just as the two words are intertwined, so Earth and human earthlings are intertwined. Zechariah gives us a physical symbol  of that Truth, at the heart of our most sacred space.

As Hanukkah promises, The Light does glow again each year as the darkness dissipates. This year at Hanukkah we can breathe deeply in the Breath of Life Whose “Name” is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, which can only be “pronounced” by simply breathing,. We can look into each others’ light-filled eyes, and light our varied lights against the stifling darkness.

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!  --  Arthur

 

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Chanukah and Christmas

Actually, I believe that the date of Jesus' birth is sometime in FEBRUARY since Joseph and Mary were travelling to pay their taxes. Tax day was March 1st at that time. Therefore, Jesus was a Pisces and not a Capricorn.

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Book Party @ Big Blue Marble Bookstore: The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh

 

Dear friends,

At 10 in the morning on Sunday, December 18, one week before both Hanukkah and Christmas, you can enjoy two new books with a hippopotamus  and a peacock, two gutsy midwives and a Lonnnnng Narrow Phaaoh -- all at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in West Mount Airy (551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19119). 

Hanukkah and Christmas,  those two festivals of Light in a time of Dark, have become a commercial bonanza, mostly devoid of spiritual meaning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Giving gifts should be an avenue of joyful sharing --  filled with Light.

For Phyllis and me, the best way of sharing the Light of Bible and Torah is with a light touch and gentle laughter --  for deep meaning. (“Phyllis” is Rabbi Phyllis Berman, my life-partner and a creative teacher, prayer-leader in new modes, and midrash-maker. )   And for us, the touch of Light is also the touch of Color.

 So that’s what we’ve done with these two new brief and colorful books: The Rest of Creation -- why we pause for Shabbat; and The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom, in which we share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community. (Did you know it was "really" the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? A secret story, long ignored by the men who wrote our Bibles!))

For both books, we sought illustrations by Avi Katz, whom I got to know as a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report.

The long narrow Pharaoh ordered two midwives, Shifra and Puah -- to kill the boy-babies of an immigrant community, the Cross-Over People, when the children were born. BUT ---


 AND --  Now the story really goes somewhere new!

 



We promise that you and the kids and grandkids, nephews and nieces,  whom you know will enjoy the time you share reading and  looking together at the colorful pictures in these books.

 We've tested the books by telling them as stories in many synagogues on Friday evening and some churches on Sunday morniing, and find that adults enjoy them too.

Grown-ups, kids, and you will enjoy sharing how “the Bible, “the Torah,” can become seeds of creativity rather than narrow strictures of rigidity. We ourselves can leave behind the Narrow Pharaoh to become the midwives of our freedom.

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A RABBINIC STATEMENT SUPPORTING THE LAKOTA NATION IN ITS OPPOSITION TO THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE

JEWS SAY YES TO THE LAKOTA NATION

 And NO TO THE DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE

In late October, The Shalom Center began organizing a Rabbinic Statement to respond to the crisis in North Dakota over a dangerous oil pipe-line and the efforts of several Native Nations to stop it. By the morning of November 28, more than 300 Rabbis and about 80 other Jewish spiritual leaders had signed the statement.

Why did we decide to do this? Because Torah speaks to the crucial importance of protecting the Earth and seeking eco-social justice. And -- even more urgently  -- life and death are now  at stake, as prayerful Native gatherings are violently attacked. You can see this clearly in these two photos -- one of the peaceful, prayerful march of the Water-Protectors; the other, of the police response.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, a Jewish protest against a Philadelphia bank that has invested in the Dakota Oil Pipe Line resulted Wednesday in nine arrests. About fifteen rabbis and rabbinical students, with sixty other Jewish activists, held a "Water is Life" ceremony at the bank to celebrate the New Moon  that began the month of Cheshvan. The protest forced the bank to close its doors, after nine protesters had been able to get inside and then were arrested. (See photo.)

 

And one Rabbi, Linda Holtzman of Philadelphia, has been arrested at Standing Rock, North Dakota, as part of a multireligious demonstration of support for the Native Water-Protectors. 

 

Why is this happening? The Torah in many ways embodies the spiritual experience of an indigenous people ---  shepherds and farmers in the ancient Land of Israel -- with a sense that the Earth itself is sacred. So it is no surprise that today, in the midst of a global crisis endangering the Earth, some Jews respond with special caring to an indigenous People -- the Native American Nations -- who are struggling to protect our Earth, our water, against rapacious Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are bringing modern plagues upon the Earth.

If you are a Rabbi, Cantor, Rabbinic Pastor, Chaplain, Kohenet, or Rabbinic or Cantorial student, Jewish musician, artist, writer, professor, or other form of spiritual leader and wish to join in signing the Rabbinic  Statement, you can click to

<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=19&reset=1>

 

THE  RABBINIC  STATEMENT AND ITS SIGNERS FOLLOW:

 We are living in the midst of a profound spiritual crisis in American society, expressed in the current election campaign and in many other forms as well.

 One of the most poignant is the nonviolent protest in North Dakota, led by people of the First Nations, against the imposition of the oil-bearing Dakota Access Pipeline upon the sacred ancestral lands of the Sioux Nation. The pipeline is desecrating their graves, threatening to poison the water of the Missouri River, and endangering the entire web of life of Mother Earth by increasing the burning of fossil fuels.

 Already hundreds of representatives from many of the First Nations living in the United States, gathered for the first time in history beyond all previous divisions and alliances, together with growing numbers of other Americans and of indigenous peoples from other countries, have gathered to face this onslaught with prayerful nonviolent resistance. 

 Yet as they pray, police with rifles loaded and lifted threaten to use deadly force to impose this destructive pipeline on the region, on the nation, and on the Earth.

As spiritual leaders and teachers of the Jewish people, we affirm Torah’s commitment to protect the Earth from which the human race was born (Gen 2: 7) and which we are commanded to allow to rest in rhythmic celebration of the Creator (Lev. 25: 1-12, 23).

Indeed, Torah adds that if we block this rhythmic rest, the exhausted earth will erupt against us (Lev 26:  34-35, 43). These commands and warnings were rooted in our ancestors’ deep experience of the sacred unity of all life; they are confirmed by scientists today.

And already in higher rates of asthma and cancer where coal, oil, and fracked unnatural gas are extracted, refined, and burned; in unprecedented floods and droughts and superstorms all around the planet – we are seeing these ancient prophecies and modern scientific predictions come to life.

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stood together in Riverside Church in New York City. Dr. King spoke out not only against the Vietnam War but even more deeply against what he called the deadly triplets afflicting America --  racism, militarism, and materialism.  And he called for a commitment to nonviolent activism to bring about a “revolution in values” for America.

In the Dakota confrontation, all three of those triplets have borne monstrous offspring in one clarifying moment:

Corporate greed has in this case taken the “materialism” triplet to its extreme; the armed police have brought militarism home; the trampling on Native rights and needs echoes the earliest racism of our past.

For all these reasons, we urgently call on President Obama as Commander-in-Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers to firmly and clearly prohibit the Dakota Access Pipeline from encroaching on the Missouri River, and we urge all state and federal agencies to affirm and respect the role of the Native communities in defending the weave of life upon the continent we know as North America, and they have for centuries called Turtle Island.

And we call on Jewish communities and their leaders throughout our country to speak out in congregations and publicly, to gather in prayerful vigils in our own communities, and to assist the Lakota protest as it moves into a stern Dakota winter by sending money to buy clothing, food, and other supplies for a lengthy steadfast stay.  Please send your gifts by clicking here: < http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/>

We encourage our communities to call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200 to leave a message stating your opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline; to call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 to tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline.; and to call the Army Corps of Engineers (202) 761-5903 -- and demand that they rescind the permit.

In his Riverside speech, Dr. King lifted up “the fierce urgency  of Now.” And in our lives today, facing both a spiritual crisis in America and a world-wide spiritual crisis in the relationship between adam and adamah, humanity and Earth, the urgency of Now is far more fierce.

Initiating Signers [All affiliations are noted for identification only; all signers are signing as individuals]: 

Rabbi Ellen Bernstein  (Founder, Shomrei Adamah)

Rabbi Denise L. Eger (President, Central Conference of American Rabbis)

Rabbi Everett Gendler (Emeritus, Phillips Academy, Andover)

 Rabbi Arthur Green (Rector, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College)

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (Founder & President Emeritus, CLAL)

Rabbi Jill Hammer (Co-founder, Kohenet)

Rabbi Jill Jacobs (Executive Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights)

Rabbi Raachel Jurovics (President, Ohalah: Rabbinic Association for Jewish Renewal)

Rabbi Peter Knobel  (Past President , Central Conference of American Rabbis)

 Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (Director, Social Justice Organizing Program, ,Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann (Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn)

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (Executive Vice President , Rabbinical Assembly)

Rabbi Lawrence Troster (Kesher Israel Congregation, West Chester, PA)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (Director, The Shalom Center) Rabbi Deborah Waxman (President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman (Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association)

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz  (President & Dean of Valley Beit Midrash)

As of the morning of November 28,  381 more signers have joined these 17 Initiating Signers, and the numbers are growing.

 

If you are a Rabbi, Cantor, Rabbinic Pastor, Chaplain, Kohenet, or Rabbinic or Cantorial student, Jewish musician, artist, writer, professor, or other form of spiritual leader and wish to join in signing the Rabbinic  Statement, you can click to

 

<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=19&reset=1>

 The names of the additonal 291 Rabbis and 42 other spiritual leaders of the Jewish people  ae signed below  -- click on "Read more" to see them.

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman- Washington, DC
Rabbi Alison Adler- Beverly, MA
Rabbi Adina Allen- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Katy Allen- Wayland, MA
Rabbi Alana Alpert- Detroit, MI
Rabbi Nelly Altenburger- Danbury, CT
Rabbi Tsurah August- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Guy Austrian- New York, NY
Rabbi Ethan Bair- Reno, NV
Rabbi Justus Baird- New York, NY
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat- Williamstown, MA
Rabbi Benjamin Barnett- Corvallis, OR
Rabbi David Basior- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Eliot Baskin- Greenwood Vlg, CO
Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein- Hockessin, DE
Rabbi Lisa Bellows- Glenview, IL
Rabbi Marci Bellows- Chester, CT
Rabbi James Bennett- Saint Louis, MO
Rabbi Philip Bentley- Hendersonville, NC
Rabbi Arlene Berger- Rockville, MD
Rabbi Joseph Berman- Silver Spring, MD
Rabbi Marjorie Berman- Clarks Summit, PA
Rabbi Phyllis Berman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Leila Gal Berner- Rockville, MD
Rabbi Shmuel Birnham- Vancouver, BC
Rabbi Marc S Blumenthal- Long Beach, CA
Rabbi Rena Blumenthal- New Paltz, NY
Rabbi Neil Blumofe- Austin, TX
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton- ON, Canada
Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav- Denver, CO
Rabbi Anne Brener- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Caryn Broitman- Vineyard Haven, MA
Rabbi Daniel Bronstein- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Deborah Bronstein- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Samuel Broude- Oakland, CA
Rabbi Sharon Brous- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Rachel Brown- Greensboro, NC
Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn- Kibbutz Lotan, Israel
Rabbi Meredith Cahn- Petaluma, CA
Rabbi Nina Cardin- Baltimore, MD
Rabbi Kerry Chaplin- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Paul Citrin- Albuquerque, NM
Rabbi Ayelet Cohen- New York, NY
Rabbi Debrah Cohen- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Howard Cohen- Bennington, VT
Rabbi Tamara Cohen- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Shahar Colt- Watertown, CT
Rabbi Mike Comins- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Shoshanah Conover- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Mychal Copeland- Mountain view, CA
Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, M.D.- Patagonia., AZ
Rabbi Rachel Cowan- New York, NY
Rabbi Meryl Crean- Glenside, PA
Rabbi Robin Damsky- Melrose Park, IL
Rabbi Julie Danan- Pleasantville, NY
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz- Millburn, NJ
Rabbi Getzel Davis- Cambridge, MA
Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah- Ukiah, CA
Rabbi Robert Dobrusin- Ann Arbor, MI
Rabbi Judith Edelstein- New York, NY
Rabbi Laurence Edwards- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Amy Eilberg- Los Altos, CA
Rabbi Mark Elber- Fall River, MA
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi- Trumbull, CT
Rabbi Diane Elliot- El Sobrante, CA
Rabbi Barat Ellman- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Andrew Ettin- Pfafftown, NC
Rabbi David Fainsilber- Morrisville, VT
Rabbi Ted Falcon- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Susan Falk- Princeton, NJ
Rabbi Charles Familant- Menlo Park, CA
Rabbi Charles Feinberg- Washington, DC
Rabbi Fern Feldman- Santa Cruz, CA
Rabbi Daniel Fellman- Syracuse, NY
Rabbi Brian Fink- New York, NY
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Adam Fisher- Port Jefferson Station, NY
Rabbi Nancy Flam- Northampton, MA
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Dayle Friedman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Stacy Friedman- San Rafael, CA
Rabbi Pamela Frydman- Beverly Hills, CA
Rabbi Gordon Fuller- Columbia, MD
Rabbi Jack Gabriel- Fort Collins, CO
Rabbi Rachel Gartner- Washington, DC
Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Laura Geller- Los Angelels, CA
Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz- Santa Barbara, CA
Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg- Ann Arbor, MI
Rabbi Gordon Gladstone, D.D.- Springfield, NJ
Rabbi Ilan Glazer- Memphis, TN
Rabbi Bob Gluck- Albany, NY
Rabbi Shefa Gold- Jemez Springs, NM
Rabbi Aviva Goldberg- Toronto, ON
Rabbi Elisa Goldberg- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Dan Goldblatt- Danville, CA
Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg- Forest Hills, NY
Rabbi Yosef Goldman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Andrea Goldstein- Saint Louis, MO
Rabbi Justin Goldstein- Asheville, NC
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein- New York, NY
Rabbi Meir Goldstein- Burlington, NC
Rabbi Seth Goldstein- Olympia, WA
Rabbi Daniel Goodman- Bronx, NY
Rabbi Maralee Gordon- Woodstock, IL
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi mel Gottlieb- los angeles, CA
Rabbi Sarah Grafstein- Scottsdale, AZ
Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Julie Greenberg- Phila, PA
Rabbi David Greenstein- Montclair, NJ
Rabbi Tamar Grimm- Mendota Heights, MN
Rabbi Rebekah Gronowski- Edinburgh, ELN United Kingdom
Rabbi Nadya Gross- Erie, CO
Rabbi Victor Gross- Erie, CO
Rabbi Andrew Hahn- High Falls, NY
Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper- Redwood City, CA
Rabbi Kevin Hale- Leeds, MA
Rabbi Edwin Harris- Playa Vista, CA
Rabbi Rachel Hertzman- Montclair, NJ
Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Jay Heyman- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Erin Hirsh- Glenside, PA
Rabbi Cynthia Hoffman- Fremont, CA
Rabbi Heidi Hoover- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Mark Hurvitz- New York, NY
Rabbi Naomi Hyman- Easton, MD
Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits- Santa Monica, CA
Rabbi Shaya Isenberg- Gainesville, FL
Rabbi Margie Jacobs- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde- Sebastopol, CA
Rabbi Burt Jacobson- El Sobrante, CA
Rabbi Marisa Elana James- New York, NY
Rabbi Beth Janus- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Randy Kafka- Stoughton, MA
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster- Teaneck, NJ
Rabbi David Kaiman- Gainesville, FL
Rabbi David Kalb- Bronx, NY
Rabbi Elana Kanter- Scottsdale, AZ
Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor-Mater- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Molly Karp- New City, NY
Rabbi Nancy Kasten- Dallas, TX
Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum- New City, NY
Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman- St. Paul, MN
Rabbi Daniel Kirzane- Overland Park, KS
Rabbi Noah Kitty- Wilton Manors, FL
Rabbi David Klatzker- Cranford, NJ
Rabbi Lori Klein- Capitola, CA
Rabbi Malkah Binah Klein- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Margie Klein Ronkin- Jamaica Plain, MA
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum- New York, NY
Rabbi David L Kline- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Marc Kline- Tinton Falls, NJ
Rabbi Myriam Klotz- New York, NY
Rabbi Rachel Kobrin- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Debra Kolodny- Portland, OR
Rabbi Jamie Korngold- Boulder, CO
Rabbi David Kosak- Portland, OR
Rabbi Raquel Kosovske- Northampton, MA
Rabbi Michael Kramer- Hockessin, DE
Rabbi Barry Krieger- greenland, NH
Rabbi Suri Krieger- Westborough, MA
Rabbi Paul Kurland- Nanuet, NY
Rabbi Rebecca Kushner- Iowa City, IA
Rabbi Hannah Laner- Nederland, CO
Rabbi Benay Lappe- Skokie, IL
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie- New York, NY
Rabbi Adam Lavitt- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Allan Lehmann- Newton, MA
Rabbi Darby Leigh- Waban, MA
Rabbi David Leipziger Teva- East Hampton, CT
Rabbi Michael Lerner- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater- Pasadena, CA
Rabbi Chai Levy- Albany, CA
Rabbi Annie Lewis- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Rebecca Lillian- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Andrea D. Lobel- Ottawa, ON
Rabbi Amy Loewenthal- Keene, NH
Rabbi Alan Londy- Kansas City, MO
Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov- Erie, PA
Rabbi Janet Madden PhD- Santa Monica, CA
Rabbi Chaim Mahgel- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Anna Maranta- Ottawa, ON
Rabbi Paula Marcus- Aptos, CA
Rabbi Marc Margolius- New York, NY
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis- Madison, WI
Rabbi Jeffrey Marker- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Jessica Marshall- Everett, WA
Rabbi Nathan Martin- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi José Rolando Matalon- New York, NY
Rabbi Monique Mayer- Port Talbot, WGM United Kingdom
Rabbi Ariel Mayse- West Newton, MA
Rabbi Batsheva Meiri- Weaverville, NC
Rabbi Rim Meirowitz- Peabody, MA
Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson- New York, NY
Rabbi Abby Michaleski- Voorhees, NJ
Rabbi Diana Miller- Lambertville, NJ
Rabbi Tamara Miller- Washington, DC
Rabbi David Mivasair- Vancouver, BC Canada
Rabbi Lee Moore- Kent, OH
Rabbi Linda Motzkin- Gansevoort, NY
Rabbi Dev Noily- Piedmont, CA
Rabbi Leah novick- Carmel, CA
Rabbi David Oler- Deerfield, IL
Rabbi Laura Owens- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Shuli Passow- new york, NY
Rabbi Nina Perlmutter- Chino Valley, AZ
Rabbi Julie Pfau- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Robin Podolsky- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi James Ponet- New Haven, CT
Rabbi Marcia Prager- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Jonah Rank- Syosset, NY
Rabbi Joshua Ratner- Woodbridge, CT
Rabbi Yaakov 'Trek' Reef- Damascus, VA
Rabbi Victor Reinstein- Jamaica Plain, MA
Rabbi Shayna Rhodes- Newton, MA
Rabbi Yair Robinson- Wilmington, DE
Rabbi D'vorah Rose- San Mateo, CA
Rabbi Ariella Rosen- Merion Station, PA
Rabbi Brant Rosen- Evanston, IL
Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown- San Rafael, CA
Rabbi Harry Roth- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein- Gansevoort, NY
Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein- Eugene, OR
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg- Evanston, IL
Rabbi David Saltzman- Boonton, NJ
Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Eva Sax-Bolder- New York, NY
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb- Washington, DC
Rabbi SaraLeya Schley- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Chaim Schneider- Santa Cruz, CA
Rabbi Dr Leslie Schotz- West Islip, NY
Rabbi Neil Schuman- Plainview, NY
Rabbi Allen Secher- Whitefish, MT
Rabbi Judith Seid- Pleasanton, CA
Rabbi Jonathan Seidel- Eugene, OR
Rabbi David Seidenberg- Northampton, MA
Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph- West Chester, PA
Rabbi Ahud Sela- Granada Hills, CA
Rabbi Gerald Serotta- Chevy Chase, MD
Rabbi Drorah Setel- Rochester, NY
Rabbi Lori Shaller- Oak Bluffs, MA
Rabbi Randy Sheinberg- New Hyde Park, NY
Rabbi Alexandria Shuval Weiner- Roswell, GA
Rabbi Becky Silverstein- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Jonathan Slater- Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Rabbi Ruth Sohn- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Felicia Sol- New York, NY
Rabbi Eric Solomon- Raleigh, NC
Rabbi Marc Soloway- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Robin Sparr- Natick, MA
Rabbi Toba Spitzer- Waltham, MA
Rabbi Jacob Staub- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Adam Stein- Vancouver, BC
Rabbi Margot Stein- Bala Cynwyd, PA
Rabbi Naomi Steinberg- Carlotta, CA
Rabbi Oren Steinitz- Elmira, NY
Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman- Leominster, MA
Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman- Olivette, MO
Rabbi Danielle Stillman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Ariel Stone- Portland, OR
Rabbi Jeff Sultar- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Alana Suskin- Rockville, MD
Rabbi Karen Sussan- Suffern, NY
Rabbi Gerald Sussman- Staten Island, NY
Rabbi Louis Sutker- Victoria, BC Canada
Rabbi Robert Tabak- Melrose Park, PA
Rabbi Susan Talve- St. Louis, MO
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman- Montclair, NJ
Rabbi David Teutsch- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Shoshanah Tornberg- Lafayette Hill, PA
Rabbi Julia Vaughns- Ashland, OR
Rabbi Stewart Vogel- Woodland Hills, CA
Rabbi Brian Walt- West Tisbury, MA
Rabbi Arthur Waskow- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Mira Wasserman- Narberth, PA
Rabbi Pamela Wax- Bronx, NY
Rabbi Seth Wax- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Ezra Weinberg- New York, NY
Rabbi Sheila Weinberg- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Uzi Weingarten- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Aaron Weininger- Minneapolis, MN
Rabbi Simkha Y Weintraub- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Ora Weiss- Newton Centre, MA
Rabbi Ariann Weitzman- West Orange, NJ
Rabbi Shohama Wiener- New Rochelle, NY
Rabbi Elyse Winick- Newton, MA
Rabbi Joseph Wolf- Portland, OR
Rabbi Elana Zaiman- Seattle, WA
Rabbi David Zaslow- Ashland, OR
Rabbi Shawn Zevit- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Simcha Zevit- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman- Minneapolis, MN
Rabbi Rain Zohav- Rockville, MD
Rabbi Yosef Zylberberg- Westerville, OH
Rabbinic Pastor Sarah Cohen- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbinic Pastor Eve Ilsen- Boulder, CO
Rabbinic Pastor Miryam Levy- Santa Fe, NM
Rabbinic Pastor Ellen Weaver- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbinic Pastor Sandra Wortzel- Tucson, AZ
Rabbinical Stude Daniel Atwood- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Laura Bellows- Jamaica Plain, MA
Rabbinical Stude Jessica Fisher- Cincinnati, OH
Rabbinical Stude Eliyahu Freedman- new york, NY
Rabbinical Stude Moshe Givental- Newton Center, MA
Rabbinical Stude Zelig Golden- Sebastopol, CA
Rabbinical Stude Miriam Grossman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbinical Stude Rachmiel Gurwitz- bronx, NY
Rabbinical Stude Margo Hughes-Robinson- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Rory Katz- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Sandra Lawson- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbinical Stude Lily Nagy-Deak- Newfield, NY
Rabbinical Stude Blair Nosan- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Sarah Noyovitz- Newton, MA
Rabbinical Stude Louis Polisson- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Mackenzie Reynolds- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbinical Stude Charna Rosenholtz- Boulder, CO
Rabbinical Stude Daniel Schaefer- Jamaica Plain, MA
Rabbinical Stude Ariana Siegel- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Talia Stein- Somerville, MA
Rabbinical Stude Dena Trugman- Brookline, MA
Rabbinical Stude Lauren Tuchman- New York, NY
Rabbinical Stude Zoe Van Raan- Santa Fe, NM
Rabbinical Stude Josh Weisman- Jamaica Plain, MA
Rabbinical Stude Micah Weiss- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbinical Stude Nora Woods- Philadelphia, PA
Rev. Stacy Grove- Apex, NC
Rev. Bahira Sugarman- Gainesville, FL
Cantor Shayndel Adler-Eldridge- Davis, CA
Cantor Nancy Ginsberg- Owings Mills, MD
Cantor Sharon Kohn- Kansas City, MO
Cantor David Lefkowitz- New York, NY
Cantor Andrea London- Evanston, IL
Cantor Abbe Lyons- Ithaca, NY
Cantor Steve Puzarne- Sun Valley, CA
Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom- Altadena, CA
Cantor Richard Rosenfreld- Ithaca, NY
Cantor Benjie Schiller- White Plains, NY
Cantor Linds Shivers- Portland, OR
Cantor Faith SteinsnyderGurney- Mahwah, NJ
Cantor Seth Warner- St. Louis, MO
Chaplain Elizabeth J. Berger- Melville, NY
Dr. David Abram- Santa Fe, NM
Dr. Thauna Abrin- Hardwick, VT
Dr. Edward Gurowitz- Incline Village, NV
Dr. Linda Palter- Muskegon, MI
Dr. Candace Platz- Loxahatchee, FL
Dr. Louis Rothschild- Providence, RI
Dr. Bob Steinberg- Winnipeg, MB
Dr. Lori Ayela Wynters- New Paltz, NY
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Toward Eden: The Earth gives birth to the Human Race

Can WE turn the barren place to Eden?

In a generation when human intervention is deeply wounding the web of life on Earth and with it the patterns of human community and prosperity, we may see a new facet of the story of Eden, the Garden of Delight.

The story begins by pointing us toward the close relationship between the human race and the Earth:

"And YHWH [the Name of God that can only be pronounced by breathing with no vowels, thus "Yahhh, Breath of Life"] formed the adam [human earthling] from the adamah [humus-earth] and blew into her/his nostrils the breath of life; and the human-earthling became a living being." (Genesis 2: 7)

I have inserted these odd translations of adam and adamah in order to heighten in English the interrelationship that Torah -- indeed, the Hebrew language itself – teaches so simply. Indeed we do have in English the word "earthling" to mean "human being" and the word "humus" to mean a kind of earth, but each of them is a highly specialized word.

What "adam" and "adamah" teach is deeply different from what the word "environment" we use so often nowadays teaches. The "environment" is in the "environs" -- out there, separate from us. The very words "adam" and "adamah" are intertwined, and they should teach us not only about language but about the reality that language tries to word.

And as if the bare words might still not be enough to teach us, the Torah then explicitly says that we were deeply intertwined at the earthy birthing of the human race.

Notice that in moving from earthiness to humanness, the human lost the "ah" -- a breath-sound --- at the end of Adamah, and then received from God a more conscious independent breathing.

This replicates the process of each human birth – indeed, each mammal's birth -- in which at first the fetus has an unconscious gift of breath from Mother through the placenta; loses this breath as s/he is born; and regains a separate, more conscious breath -- for humans, often by a tap from an attending adult.

What we know from our own experience in every individual birth, says Torah, we should understand is true about our species' origins and our continuing relationship with Mother Earth.

And Torah proceeds to the story of Eden, which this year will be read on October 29.

God – the Truth and Reality of life -- says to the human couple who together make up the human race: "Here there is overflowing abundance. Eat of it, of every tree of the Garden, in joy! – But you must also learn self-restraint. Do not gobble up all this abundance. The fruit of one tree you must not eat."

 [For the origins of these portraits of Eve and Adam and for a remarkable invitation from The Shalom Center, see the end of this essay.]























But the Humans abandon self-restraint. They eat of the one tree they have been told to leave uneaten.

And their greed ruins the abundance. So -– says God/ Reality -- they must work with the sweat pouring down their faces just to wring from the earth enough to eat, for it will give forth thorns and thistles.

Did God, or Reality, rejoice at this reminder that actions bear consequences? Hardly! God wails, "Ayekka, Where are you?" -- which rabbinic midrash understands as the first "Eicha," the word that begins the Book of Lamentations about our exile when the Temple was destroyed. The first exile was the exile of adam, humankind, from adamah, the earth.

This ancient archetypal story is the story of today. The story of the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The story of rapacious Big Oil desecrating the graves and poisoning the water of the Sioux Nation in North Dakota, to drive a pipeline though Native land and release more fumes of CO2 to burn our Mother Earth. Our modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs in their greed bring Plagues upon humanity and the Earth, rejecting self-restraint: super-droughts in California and Australia and Syria and central Africa,  unheard-of floods in Pakistan and North Carolina, superstorms in the Philippines and the Jersey shore. 

Yet there are ways to redress this disaster. It happens, says the story of the Wilderness, just after the Breath of Life frees ancient Israelites from the ancient power-greedy Pharaoh.The first discovery of these runaway slaves is the Shabbat that comes with manna -- a gift from the abundant earth and a taste of rest from endless toil.  Shabbat comes as a new form of self-restraint --  filled with joy, rather than ascetic self-denial. The curse reversed. A taste of Eden once again.

In Jewish theology, Shabbat, a foretaste of the Messianic Age, is the redemptive gift that begins the annullment of the "original sin" of Eden -- the sin of abusing Mother Earth. Begins, but only begins. We still must yearn toward "yom sheh-kulo Shabbat, the day that will be wholly Shabbat" -- toward "Eden for a Grown-up Human Race," depicted in the Song of Songs, when love among human beings and between Humanity and Earth, adam and adamah, is freely flourishing.

Says Isaiah (51:3): "Vayasem midbarah k'eden v'arvatah k'gan Yahh. You turn the barren place to Eden, and the desert to a garden breathing Life."

Who is this "You"? Can it be "We"?

Only if we sow the Garden's seeds among us now, with miniature communities of Eden -- and in the same breath, breathing the Great Breath, act to free adam and adamah from domination by the Pharaohs of our day.

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

The framed "portraits" of Eve and Adam in the Garden that we have presented above are paintings by  Zvi Livni , a renowned artist in the mystics' town of Safed  (Tzfat) in Northern Israel. He co-founded the famed Artists' Colony there. His paintings hang in the Brooklyn Museum, the Toronto Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art at Brandeis University, the Museum of Art at Yale University, and many other museums and galleries.

The originals of these paintings were presented as a wonderful gift to The Shalom Center, with the intention of helping to support our work to bring the Garden closer. We offer these paintings, fully framed, with certified venues, to our readers and members for a minimum gift to The Shalom Center of $3600 (the total for both paintings) or more if a higher offer comes in. If you are interested, please write me directly at <Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org> with "Eve and Adam" in the subject line.

 

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1 Comment

Shabbat

Your words inspired me to realize that Shabbat is a day of meditation, and meditation is a return to the Garden. Many thanks from a mostly non-observant (at least in the conventional sense) Jew.

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