You Are What You Wear – Parshat Tetzaveh 5779

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If you’ve spent any time with me in recent years, you may have noticed that I have a particular fondness for shoes. I LOVE shoes. The best ones are versatile and can take an outfit from dressy to casual and vice versa. The best part is that usually shoes fit no matter what other size issues or feelings I’m having with the rest of my body. I rarely have a “fat foot” day, and most of my shoes put a big smile on my face.

I have a particular penchant for Converse now that we’ve moved to Portland (where the parent company Nike is based), and when it comes to design, the sparklier, the better. My sequined high-top Converse are my favorite shoes. The minute I saw them my whole face lit up, and I knew I had to have them. I received them as a gift with the promise that if I wore them, I’d brighten other people’s days as much as they brightened mine. And every time I wear them, I get smiles and hugs and lots of awesome conversations. The shoes certainly don’t make the rabbi, but the rabbi’s shoes can definitely make people smile.

Our Torah reading this week comes from Parshat Tetzaveh. Parshat Tetzaveh details the specific clothing items that a priest and those close to him are to wear. This is special attire that distinguishes them from others in their service to God. These clothes are meant to add an aura of holiness to the priests as they complete their sacred duties. Since these vestments and garments are to be used for such a unique purpose, God also gives a special instruction regarding who is to make them. After we receive these specifics, we learn about the details of what is on each garment.

Notably, the priests do not receive shoes, as they do their work barefoot. They do, however, wear ornate tunics and clothing made specifically so that others will know that they are a priest. This is reflected today on our Torah itself, which wears ornate clothing so it will always be seen as precious and special. I read this text and wonder if we treated our bodies as the priests did – in other words if we dressed ourselves so that we were recognized as individual, unique, and special – would we be better able to celebrate personal style and choices?

My sparkly Converse are definitely a bold choice for a rabbi to don as footwear, but they also identify me and my personality. That’s an individual choice. While they may not be everyone’s first choice to wear, they certainly make me feel confident and proud, and that’s the feeling I want to impart to students and congregants.

Parshat Tetzaveh comes as a yearly reminder that while we shouldn’t judge each other based on clothes, clothes do have the ability to set us apart as individuals and the power to influence how we feel about ourselves. Wear what makes you you, just as the priests did and just as the Torah does. Wear what brings a smile to your face, because you deserve it.

Just Because – Parshat Terumah 5779

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I have a very dear friend who makes it her mission to surprise her friends with small gifts and letters throughout the year, just because. Inevitably this gift comes on a day when I’m feeling a bit sad, or I miss this friend. Sometimes the letters come with a favorite piece of candy in them, and other times it’s just a sweet note letting me know someone is thinking about me. The best part is that I never have to ask for the gifts, nor do I expect them. My friend gives freely to others because she wants to connect, to make meaningful relationships, and show her love.

This week we read Parshat Terumah, which reminds us of the importance of giving gifts just because we want to. The parshah focuses mainly on the building of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, including what the ark and decorative pieces will look like. The instructions are specific, including what materials should be used, exactly how big each piece should be, and how the floor plan should look when the building is completed.

While the instructions and builder’s manual for this project are exacting and complete with lists of materials, there is still room for individuality and improvement, as God begins the entire request for materials in the following way. Shemot (Exodus) chapter 25, verses 1-2 read, “And God spoke to Moshe saying: Tell the Children of Israel to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is moved to give.” God tells the people not to offer just any old gift; God wants gifts that have meaning. And, given this request, the Israelite people have a choice to make. The gifts that are brought aren’t just gifts that God put on a registry; they are gifts that the people feel compelled to give.

Furthermore, the text begs the question of what it means to give a gift based on your heart being moved to give it. God did not do anything particularly special for the people in this moment, and the people do not go out and buy presents for God. Instead, they give from their hearts, and they give from what they owned. When we give gifts from our heart, from the things that are precious to us, we are saying something important not only about the recipient but about ourselves.

Parshat Terumah reminds us that giving of ourselves in this way is a gift that cannot be measured like other tangible gifts. It doesn’t matter if you send a post card every day, or one special card just because. It is the act of giving that will be noticed. It is the act of giving that stays with both parties long after the gift itself is gone. Our purpose in this world is to give and receive openly and honestly. When we do this, we are working together to build not just the Mishkan, but a sacred and holy community in which to live.

 

 

Personal Injury – Parshat Mishpatim 5779

 

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Since becoming a parent I have learned that I need to look at every situation with my children through multiple lenses. When they’re hurt it’s easy to judge the physical injury. I can look for a bruise or a scrape, clean it off, apply kisses and a bandage (usually My Little Pony), and physically they’re on their way to healing. But that’s just a surface cure. If they fall and hurt themselves on the playground, that might result in a fear of the monkey bars for a while. I might have to offer extra guidance and support on the monkey bars, even if they had successfully conquered them prior to the fall. Or if they fell in front of their friends, they might be shy or embarrassed and need some time to recover their pride. There are so many situational layers in everyday life, and sometimes it’s hard to see them all.

This week we read Parshat Mishpatim, the middle section of text in Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt to Israel. They have begun to set up their own system of laws and rules, beginning last week with the Ten Commandments. This week, Parshat Mishpatim focuses on interpersonal laws with regard to business. The main idea of this section of text is that we have the obligation to treat each other in business and in relationships as complete, equal human beings.

The laws about injuries inflicted person to person are numerous. Chapter 21, verse 19 teaches that the perpetrator of an injury is required to pay for the treatment as well as the idleness that results. The Mishnah in tractate Moed Katan teaches us that a person who injures another is liable for five types of restitution: for the injury itself, for pain, for medical expenses, for absence from work, and for humiliation and mental anguish. Now that’s what you might call comprehensive health coverage. Life is complex, and the whole person must be taken into account as we work towards healing. In other words, physical healing is only the beginning of how we can support and guide one another through the challenges we face.

Always Watching – Parshat Yitro 5779

Leading by Example

We’ve all had those moments – the ones that make you either exceedingly proud or exceedingly sad. As a parent, the proud moments are when my children show compassion to others and use the words and actions we’ve tried to teach them since the day of their birth. That’s when my heart explodes in joy. The sad moments are  when they’re hard on themselves or have difficulty maintaining control. But let’s face it, that’s going to happen – they’re kids. I still have the rare out-of-control moment when I get really frustrated, and my heart breaks knowing that for better or worse, our traits are handed down not only in DNA, but by modeling behavior. Our children are always watching. They see how we act and react and know when we’re proud of ourselves or when we’ve done something wrong, and they learn how to exist in the world based on our examples.

The choices we make, whether as parents, teachers, or citizens, have repercussions for those in our community and beyond. That’s how we’re aware of the harm we’ve done to the planet, how we take control of our spending and savings, and how we set boundaries. Setting a good example also means setting up the next generation up for success, and hopefully not punishing them for our own misdeeds.

The Torah reminds us of this in Parshat Yitro. The central piece of the portion is the giving of the 10 Commandments by God to Moshe and the people Israel. We now have a set of laws to live by, a guide to being a free people outside of slavery. But before the Torah gives us these laws, it reminds us of the family relationship Moshe has with his father-in-law and how he sets up a legal system.

As God is giving the 10 Commandments to the nation, we receive this reminder: “For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children.” That’s right, God holds a grudge. More so, God remembers the ways in which we behave, both good and bad, and reminds us that what we do now does indeed affect the future of humanity.

The 10 Commandments are the essential elements that God puts forth to guide us in creating a positive, caring, civil society. These are the rules we are to teach our children. Why? Because they’re always watching, and they will always remember. It is our duty to teach them by showing the ways in which we are to treat one another and build community. Everything we do will live on throughout generations – our failures and our successes.

Guatemala, Day 6: If Not Now, When?

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We woke up this morning to the gorgeous views of the Filadelfia Plantation. We arrived in the dark last night, so it was a delightful surprise to wake up to views of the “Water Volcano” and see coffee beans being worked outside our windows. Those who wanted to get their morning started with a run or a walk were treated to the glorious fresh and warm air. Eisa eynai, we lift up our eyes to the mountains.

Our first session of the day started with a conversation on how our personal stories connect to the stories of the courageous men and women we’ve been meeting while we are here. We began by reading the speech Rabbi Joachim Prinz gave at the March on Washington in 1963. I was struck by the similarity to the problems we’re still dealing with in America and the world today. “Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity,” he wrote. Yes! V’ahavta l’reiecha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself. Every person is created with dignity in God’s image, and it is our job to see the humanity in all beings. He also reminds us that it is “not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together.” Thoughts and prayers are so easily shared in our world today at every tragedy, from gun violence to natural disasters. Ours is not to sit and pray, it is to get up and act with moral courage.

This story would repeat as we met with the women of Nuevo Horizonte. These women are my heros. They travelled over 27 hours to be able to meet with us. They fight daily for the rights of women and children. They try to reduce violence and discrimination against women. They began with a role play scenario about a woman who was a leader being undervalued and mistreated by the male counterparts. The woman in the room made eye contact and laughed. This is all too familiar to our own stories as female clergy and women in the world.

The women shared that education is not allowed for women, that while they sit on the council for their villages, they are simply decoration, not taken seriously. They work to seek gender equality in a society filled with machismo. I met with Ana, who shared that women carry shame and fear to speak up. They are now finding their voices because the day they stop speaking up is the day that they die.

In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person. Hillel teaches this in Pirkei Avot. These women are trying to teach the men what it means to be a person. L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, Ana shared. They must teach the next generation what is fair and just or society will never change. The women ended our time with them by telling us how grateful they were to see a society in which men and women work together and partner. Suddenly, the injustices of my own experiences as a women are put into place.

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From here it was time to eat again, so we went on our way to a delicious lunch, followed by contributing to the local economy. It ended a bit unnervingly as we were swarmed in the plaza by a group of street vendors.

Finally we returned to Filadelfia to prepare for Shabbat. On Wednesday the midwives taught us that rest and restorative time is essential to living a balanced life. As rabbis we often don’t have a Shabbat, a time to rest, because we’re always taking care of others. This Shabbat in the beautiful envelopment of Antigua was restorative as we sang away our week and entered into the holy community we’ve established in this very awesome and powerful week.

Shabbat was an interesting and comfortable way to end a week of exploration. Gathering a group of rabbis together for Shabbat is always a treat. As Aderet mentioned, we spend all our lives guiding others, so when we have the chance to sing our hearts out without caring what our board president might think, magical things happened. For me, the melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat were unfamiliar and foreign. I sat in discomfort as the words sounded familiar, but the melody was not. This resonated as the experience of the week. I found my story in the words of the speakers, but their experience was foreign to me. We sang, we danced, we ate, and then, we oneg’d.

We told our stories and the story of this journey through song. Ozi v’zimrat ya. God is my strength, and I will sing to God. We ended this experience with the words we opened with. Lo Yisa Goy, Gesher Tzar Me’od, a Hinei Ma Tov sing-off, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, If I Had a Hammer, and more. We sang and sang. I fell asleep listening to my colleagues and friends sing the hopeful lyrics of “Ba shannah, haba’ah…” Next year may the grantees be that much closer to the justice they are pursuing.

Last week I led a PJ Havdallah program with our young families, and they blessed me as we went from kodesh, holy, to chol, the mundane. This last week was anything but mundane. We witnessed holy work and holy community. As we step into the next week and our next phase as advocates, may we be blessed to see the mundane, the ordinary, through holy eyes; may we never see injustice as the status quo, and may we continue to lift one another up in holiness.