It looks good from here

Perspective is everything.

When I look at our garden, it’s so easy to see the things that aren’t doing well; the bugs, the dead plants, the faded flowers. But I step back and take another look and am so grateful for the beauty of the whole. Colors! Fresh veggies! Shade for the summer and for privacy! Priceless.

And how fitting that this lesson is reinforced by the Torah portion of the week, Parashat Balak, in which the [evil? selfish? self-absorbed? capitalist? capitalizing?] Bilaam is hired to curse the people of Israel (oh people do that for free these days). He tries a few different times to view them from afar to get the right perspective in order to curse them, but ends up seeing only the good and blesses them instead. Seeing them from afar makes all the little things disappear. And oh how many little things there were/are! And ironically, some of the blessings that he offers do turn into curses later, as they land on the little things. But how important is it for us, the receivers of the Torah these many generations later, to take the long perspective, to gain an appreciation for how things look in general! And then to focus in and fix the little things.

Or to appreciate the little things! Amazement at the variety of colors, smells, the visiting bees, butterflies, birds.

Oh the smells! This is something I know so little about; how does the sense of smell work? Here’s a little description that I found helpful:

Smell and taste are the oldest of the senses. They are essential for survival, having evolved to play key roles in such basic processes as feeding, mating, and avoiding danger.

As the two chemical senses, they work by allowing tiny bits—molecules—of the outside world into the body, and binding to them…

One thing that makes olfaction unique among the senses is that its receptor cells are themselves neurons. Each olfactory receptor cell has filaments called cilia, with receptors designed to bind to specific molecules. Like all neurons, the cell also projects a thicker fiber called an axon. The axons come together in the olfactory nerve and go directly to the brain.

In other words, the olfactory nerve consists of neurons with one end in direct contact with the external world and the other in direct contact with the brain.

https://www.dana.org/article/the-senses-smell-and-taste/

This is it: there is a binding, for good or for bad. Whenever we travel from home along Route 6, the major highway along the central spine of Israel, we encounter the acrid smells of burning rubber. There is a bad habit among Palestinians to burn garbage, including tires, rather than take them to a dump. And their willingness to be involved with arson that burns their neighborhoods, not just Jewish ones.

A moment of frustration here–why are people so short-sighted that they are willing to hurt themselves and the whole environment? We all need to do better. How to encourage people to make those better choices? I have to reread Nudge, which talks about this. And then how to make a difference…

Oh but for the all the smells that come upon you without any control! Like the neighbors who have to paint whatever furniture with spray paint, always when the wind is pointing directly in our direction. I wouldn’t care if it’s Tzfat blue, but it’s not even that. We have to close our windows and pray it won’t hurt our plants! And unfortunately, too often I get bombarded by the smells of mangal–the Israeli penchant for cooking meat outside. I have become more and more disgusted by the smell of charred flesh. It becomes problematic when I’m with people who like that kind of thing. If I hadn’t been a vegetarian because of taste, now I truly would become one because of smell.

And then the stench of body odor, especially when encased in polyester clothing, in any humid situation, whether summer or just overdressed in winter. And why do so many Israelis especially wear black, even those who are not conforming to religious dictates but to fashion?

It is another level of irony that as my vision and hearing start to go due to aging, my sense of smell gets stronger, even if that is not often the case.

Smells, of course, release memory. Is it because we can’t control the act of smelling or be in control of the recall of memory?

We can choose, though. We can take good smells and bring them into our lives. Well, yes, that is once again very relative to what people think is good, as opposed to my sense. For example, I never knew I loved lavender! Because the only lavender I was exposed to was this highly gratingly artificial one that my MIL favored. My response was avoid lavender at all costs! But now, I am so grateful that we have beautiful bundles of lavender growing along the pathway to our house. And I have bunches of lavender hanging all over the house.

I just realized that our occasional guests may not like lavender, even if the natural variety. Now to have to add that to the “do you have any allergies or food limitations?” list…After all, I am allergic or at least highly sensitive to certain lilies and peonies, unfortunately. Oh, and lilacs. And there are probably more. But I’m also allergic to horses, and as long as I don’t stay in the stable, I seem to be able to ride them without incident. So being in the open air makes all the difference in these cases.

Being a vegetarian, I do have issues with the whole return to sacrifice concept. I don’t mind the emphasis on the incense offering, of course. I hope I’m not allergic to that…

Until then, I get to enjoy the weekly spices used every week during Havdalah, the ceremony separating us from Shabbat back to the grind. Here’s what the Rambam and the women at Deracheha have to say about the spices:

Mishneh Torah Laws of Shabbat 29:29

Why do we recite the beracha over spices on Motza’ei Shabbat? Since the soul is in sorrow at the exit of Shabbat, we gladden it and restore it with a good scent.

The spices aid in our emotional transition into the weekday.

https://www.deracheha.org/havdala/?mc_cid=b0a6531d9e&mc_eid=7245853ac6

And Rabbi Yonason Goldson adds this:

According to Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch, the Torah uses the language of “aroma” to describe direct contact over a great distance in the finest detail and in the most subtle ways. The Hebrew words rayach (scent) and ruach (spirituality) derive from a common grammatical root, and the implied connection between them appears as early as the narrative of man’s formation, when the Almighty “breathed a living soul into his nostrils” (Ibid. 2:7).  

The common derivation of the Hebrew words neshimah – “breath” – and neshomah – “soul” – suggests that our spiritual life force comes, literally and metaphorically, by way of air and respiration. By the same token, the spices we inhale as part of havdalah ease our transition from Shabbos, a day of heightened spiritual sensitivity, back to an existence defined by the physical and the mundane.

https://torahideals.com/2014/07/06/the-scent-of-spirit/

Perhaps the unexpected common consequence of COVID, the loss of smell, was indicative of our loss of being in nature. If you Google “sense of smell”, almost all of the results are about loss of the sense, and how to regain it. Perhaps we should be recalibrating all our senses to be back in the garden.

After all, when Yitzchak wanted to bestow a blessing on his son,

כו  וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, יִצְחָק אָבִיו:  גְּשָׁה-נָּא וּשְׁקָה-לִּי, בְּנִי.26 And his father Isaac said unto him: ‘Come near now, and kiss me, my son.’
כז  וַיִּגַּשׁ, וַיִּשַּׁק-לוֹ, וַיָּרַח אֶת-רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי, כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ ה.27 And he came near, and kissed him. And he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said: See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed.
Genesis 27

See? Releasing the blessings comes from the smell of the fields.

Our newest jasmine vine
At Banias — the smell as well as the beauty of the flowers as released by the heat of the day
Our flowering lavender towards sunset

all wrapped up

Our grandson’s hanachat tefillin (the first time he wraps himself in the prayer phylacteries, the month before he becomes a bar mitzvah at 13 years old, entering his life as a Jewish adult) is this Tuesday, hopefully at the Kotel. Things are steamy right now, to say the least. I am worried about the hotheads on all sides. So I am trying to concentrate on the nachas point; another bar mitzvah of another grandson.

We had gone with him and his parents to see how the tefillin are made. I had never seen the inside of tefillin, and I bet most people, even Jewish men who wear them, haven’t, either.

Yes, I had my camera with me.

The sofer (Jewish scribe) showed us how the tefillin are put together. The block made out of cow’s hide in the middle is a more stripped-down version of what the tefillin shel rosh (the phylacteries put on the head) look like. The slots will each hold four verses from the Torah that mention the mitzvah of tefillin, wrapped up individually. The screwdriver is there to hold the box open; not ritually essential;).
The four verses are shown here. The one with the bold letters is the Shema, pretty much the central verse of the Torah. I will write about it later, actually.
Here the sofer is wrapping up one verse at a time. He uses hairs from a cow’s tail to wrap it. That’s the auburn hair on the left.
ISHI was given the honor of placing one of the verses in the box. I didn’t mind not doing it; it’s not my mitzvah and I’m really really fine with that! More about that later, too.
Progress
Side view
Wrapping up the tefillin shel yad. I don’t know why it’s just one roll, rather than the sections. Maybe because the tefillin shel yad represent action in the world, and not separation?
When we first entered the sofer’s studio, we saw this sefer Torah (Torah scroll) in progress. I think he leaves it out as an educational tool to show how he works. The light box underneath allows him to use an already written text as a guide, saving lots of time and effort. It has to be perfect.
The section of the Torah that he had open for us was the last section of last week’s Torah portion, containing the mitzvah of tzitzit, as well as the first section of this week’s portion, Korach. More about that, too.

I have no interest in wearing tefillin for so many reasons. Mostly because it’s weird, this wrapping up in leather straps. I am a vegetarian who wears leather shoes, but I’d so much rather not. I never had any interest in the mitzvah and have always been grateful for my limited public role in Jewish life as a woman; being able to choose what I do but not have the public pressure. No performance, no problem. So I looked upon this whole thing with curiosity as an outsider. The reality is that I identify with the verses. The Torah speaks to me.

And when I can read the words during prayer and I have given some space for those words to be understood, I am internalizing the Torah. Thinking out of the box, in the best way. More specifically, recently I have had an experience understanding why we cover our eyes while saying the Shema. When reciting the prayer that precedes it, Ahavah Rabah, if I’m lucky/blessed, I receive the greatest sense of G-d’s love for us on so many levels. Here’s what Wikipedia says the prayer is about:

The prayer contains multiple requests to God. One of them is to be enlightened with the Torah. Another is for God to protect us from shame; it is stated that those who cleave to a life of mitzvot will not be shamed.[5] Another is that the Jewish people be gathered from the four corners of the world and returned to Israel.[4]:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahava_rabbah

So when I bring my hand to cover my face, it’s a big hug from the Big Guy, allowing me the love to internalize it all. I don’t need (or want) an external sign. If I were a man, I would have to find other significance of the externality of it all, but yay! I’m not. I’m very grateful that He made me כרצונו, as His will.

And this week’s Torah portion, Korach, all full of male bravado? Oh is there a time where we most need less of that? Posturing. Externalities. Pretenses. The hero of the story is the wife of Ohn; because this fellow is mentioned at first but not named afterwards, the rabbis find reason to praise his wife for protecting him from folly, keeping him in his tent.

The wisdom of women builds her house”

(Proverbs 14:1)

Sounds good to me.

The next hug I got from G-d was this past Friday night, as I was lighting Shabbat candles. There is this curious but dramatic custom of lighting the candles, then waving one’s arms around in a circle in front of the face before covering the eyes to say the blessing. I have never seen a good explanation other than tradition. The reason for lighting the candles first and then covering the eyes (according to Ashkenazi tradition; Jews from Sephardic/Eastern traditions do it differently) is because you can’t light the candles once it’s Shabbat, and you light them in order to declare it Shabbat, so…

I just felt G-d’s love.

Bringing it home.

I’ve been sent

I’ve been sent

This Thursday is our fifth aliyahversary; five years according to the Hebrew calendar that we arrived here in Israel as citizens. I feel that this is significant. The Gregorian date is June 29th, which I remembered only by looking at our airline tickets and then did the conversion to the Hebrew date. I should remember this and now with the help of technology, maybe I will. But the reason I remembered at all was because of the weekly Torah portion this week–Shlach. That year, 2016, because Israel and the Diaspora were on different reading schedules, we skipped Shlach, since it had been read in Israel the week before we came, and on the Shabbat in the states the week after we left. So I always felt that this is our portion, in all manners of the word.

The Hebrew word means “send”; it was the message that Moshe gave the 12 spies who were chosen to scout out the Land before the people went in for good. G-d says to take for yourself 12 men to tour the Land. After identifying who would go, Moshe has specific questions that they should answer to inform the rest of the nation what this place they were inheriting actually was like;

see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.

BeMidbar 13:18-20

They did just that and so much more. And less. They spent 40 days checking out the physical properties of the Land and the people there. And that’s where ten of them failed. They held themselves to the physical; they forgot that G-d had promised their inheritance. They lost the narrative.

They had promise. They started out just fine:

This is what they told him: “We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.

BeMidbar13:27

Then they literally lost it when they said

אֶ֚פֶס Nothing

BeMidbar13:28

The commentators go to great lengths to figure out what this אֶ֚פֶס means here, for it’s not a usual conjunction. The Vilna Gaon gave me the suggestion that their problem was that they saw the inhabitants as those who would have no compunction to steal from anyone. So if the only thing that they were concerned about was the little that they had taken from Egypt, that they hadn’t paid attention to the part where G-d says to them “You will go out with great wealth” having nothing to do with stuff but with the promise of the future of a life with Torah in Eretz Yisrael, their own land, their own chance to create a full life of wisdom in action…

And then it goes downhill and down the drain for 40 more years in the Wilderness. They lose their chance to enter the Land, leaving it for their children.

And these were the princes! Of course, with this bad PR, how could anything work towards their favor?

Yes. Things have not changed. We have indeed met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he is us.

So I have taken it upon myself to be Calev.

וַיַּ֧הַס כָּלֵ֛ב אֶת־הָעָ֖ם אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר עָלֹ֤ה נַעֲלֶה֙ וְיָרַ֣שְׁנוּ אֹתָ֔הּ כִּֽי־יָכ֥וֹל נוּכַ֖ל לָֽהּ׃ Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”

BeMidbar 13:30

Yes, we can.

I became enamored of this song שלח לי מלאך last year sung by Eviatar Banai in a series of songs updated by contemporary singers “to preserve the Israeli soundtrack”. Does it need to be said that I had never heard the original and that Eviatar rescues it completely? Your choice. His simple vocal style allows the words to shine. The words are on the YouTube linked above, but I figured I could translate some of it here:

שלח לי מלאך
שאותי ואותך הוא לא ייקח
למקום שאין בו
מה שיש פה כל הזמן

ולפעמים הכל נראה אותו דבר
ולפעמים, פתאום, יש רגע מאושר

שלח לי מלאך
שישמח וידליק פה את האור
וישמור על מה שיש לשמור פה
כל הזמן


Send me an angel
That he will not take you and me
To a place where it is not
What’s here all the time


And sometimes everything looks the same
And sometimes, all of a sudden, there is a happy moment


Send me an angel
Let him be happy and turn on the light here
And will keep what is to be kept here
All the time

Eviatar Banai

I am featuring four somewhat recent photos that represent the four directions of the Land; its outward and inner beauty. And truth. Since clearly, we have to be the angels/messengers for each other.

Eastwards
Westwards
Southwards
Northwards

is it too much to ask for pockets?

If you haven’t figured out yet, if we don’t know each other personally, I’m not so big on possessions. In fact, I am still working on how to determine what is essential; clarifying values and all. I saw this yesterday on Monday Morning Memo and chose to pursue it a bit:

https://twitter.com/brianscudamore

With the foundation that he’s formed a crazy successful business of getting rid of other people’s junk, he would most likely say that people hold onto the wrong things. That’s how the Monday Morning Memo takes it. But I’ll go the other way. It’s what you hold onto that does define you in the best way, if you are paying attention. This might be a different way of expressing that sparking joy business of Marie Kondo, but looking at it from a positive point of view gets you to your essence.

It’s not about valuing experiences over goods. That’s very nice, but we do need stuff. We are creatures who need protection. And tools for continued existence. And beauty. We just don’t need as much stuff as many people have.

It’s not what would you grab if you had to leave your house quickly; no immediate emergency here. Deep thoughtful process of what are your essentials. What matters to you, literally? Well, perhaps it is a matter of emergency, or how something emerged.

For me, the surprise answer is pockets.

During the last weeks of the war situation here in Israel, even though we were relatively safe here in Tzfat, we never knew when things would or could go wrong. And wrong means that we would have 30 seconds to get to our safe room, even if we were home. So we chose not to go out too far or too often, because we didn’t know if Hezbollah would want to join in the fun and thus make us targets. Here is the boundary between being cautious and realistic, which will most likely keep changing. But something that became an essential thing for us during these days was our phones. Here is when smartphones live up to their name. Receiving messages through the various apps was such a top priority that also keeping the phone charged, on overnight, and even over Shabbat, became a necessity. We needed to be able to connect. The need for connection is my clarified value.

Thus the need for pockets.

Women’s clothes don’t always have them. Or if they do, they’re decorative or too small to actually hold anything important. If you want to look the subject up, Google has many many fascinating articles about it, basically all saying that women value looking slim uber alles, and pockets interrupt a clean line. Oh that’s so not my concern. My concern is being practical. So my choice of clothing during that period always included a skirt with pockets, deep enough to hold my phone securely. I only have a few summer-weight skirts that match these criteria. Actually, two. I haven’t bought new skirts in forever, since I haven’t had a need to do so. When I was in LA a year and a half ago, having come directly from Australia in order to sort out my father’s affairs after his stroke, I did need to buy some clothes because it was so hot, and I only had Australian-winter-weight clothing with me. So I found one lightish-weight skirt with pockets online. I didn’t have time or energy to go to stores in person. Adding it to the one other one I’ve had forever makes two.

It was like traveling but not leaving your home; capsule wardrobe.

Yes, I do have bags of all sizes that I can sling over my shoulder if need be. I can make do until my clothes fall apart. But again I ask, is it too much to ask for pockets? I will be happy to allow that to define me.

Speaking of definitions, I felt that I should include something in Hebrew in this post. So I looked up the word כִּיס to find some connection to something deeper. Yes, I’m searching for deep pockets. #sorrynotsorry

I came across this reality statement from Mishlei/Proverbs 1:14:

גּ֭וֹרָ֣לְךָ תַּפִּ֣יל בְּתוֹכֵ֑נוּ כִּ֥יס אֶ֝חָ֗ד יִהְיֶ֥ה לְכֻלָּֽנוּ׃

Throw in your lot with us; We shall all have a common purse.

This sounds like a great idea; that we are all affected by the actions of others, and we should embrace our commonality; No man an island, and all that.

Except this is the problem with picking and choosing quotes to fit a need, whether temporary or long-lasting. This conclusion would be out of context. If you read the previous lines and then continue to the end of the first chapter, you will easily see that the author is telling us that this is quite dangerous.

בְּנִ֗י אַל־תֵּלֵ֣ךְ בְּדֶ֣רֶךְ אִתָּ֑ם מְנַ֥ע רַ֝גְלְךָ֗ מִנְּתִיבָתָֽם׃ My son, do not set out with them; Keep your feet from their path.

כִּ֣י רַ֭גְלֵיהֶם לָרַ֣ע יָר֑וּצוּ וִ֝ימַהֲר֗וּ לִשְׁפׇּךְ־דָּֽם׃ For their feet run to evil; They hurry to shed blood.

כִּֽי־חִ֭נָּם מְזֹרָ֣ה הָרָ֑שֶׁת בְּ֝עֵינֵ֗י כׇּל־בַּ֥עַל כָּנָֽף׃ In the eyes of every winged creature The outspread net means nothing.

וְ֭הֵם לְדָמָ֣ם יֶאֱרֹ֑בוּ יִ֝צְפְּנ֗וּ לְנַפְשֹׁתָֽם׃ But they lie in ambush for their own blood; They lie in wait for their own lives.

כֵּ֗ן אׇ֭רְחוֹת כׇּל־בֹּ֣צֵֽעַ בָּ֑צַע אֶת־נֶ֖פֶשׁ בְּעָלָ֣יו יִקָּֽח׃ {פ}
Such is the fate of all who pursue unjust gain; It takes the life of its possessor.

חׇ֭כְמוֹת בַּח֣וּץ תָּרֹ֑נָּה בָּ֝רְחֹב֗וֹת תִּתֵּ֥ן קוֹלָֽהּ׃ Wisdom cries aloud in the streets, Raises her voice in the squares.

בְּרֹ֥אשׁ הֹמִיּ֗וֹת תִּ֫קְרָ֥א בְּפִתְחֵ֖י שְׁעָרִ֥ים בָּעִ֗יר אֲמָרֶ֥יהָ תֹאמֵֽר׃ At the head of the busy streets she calls; At the entrance of the gates, in the city, she speaks out:

עַד־מָתַ֣י ׀ פְּתָיִם֮ תְּֽאֵהֲב֫וּ־פֶ֥תִי וְלֵצִ֗ים לָ֭צוֹן חָמְד֣וּ לָהֶ֑ם וּ֝כְסִילִ֗ים יִשְׂנְאוּ־דָֽעַת׃ “How long will you simple ones love simplicity, You scoffers be eager to scoff, You dullards hate knowledge?

תָּשׁ֗וּבוּ לְֽת֫וֹכַחְתִּ֥י הִנֵּ֤ה אַבִּ֣יעָה לָכֶ֣ם רוּחִ֑י אוֹדִ֖יעָה דְבָרַ֣י אֶתְכֶֽם׃ You are indifferent to my rebuke; I will now speak my mind to you, And let you know my thoughts.

יַ֣עַן קָ֭רָאתִי וַתְּמָאֵ֑נוּ נָטִ֥יתִי יָ֝דִ֗י וְאֵ֣ין מַקְשִֽׁיב׃ Since you refused me when I called, And paid no heed when I extended my hand,

וַתִּפְרְע֥וּ כׇל־עֲצָתִ֑י וְ֝תוֹכַחְתִּ֗י לֹ֣א אֲבִיתֶֽם׃ You spurned all my advice, And would not hear my rebuke,

גַּם־אֲ֭נִי בְּאֵידְכֶ֣ם אֶשְׂחָ֑ק אֶ֝לְעַ֗ג בְּבֹ֣א פַחְדְּכֶֽם׃ I will laugh at your calamity, And mock when terror comes upon you,

בְּבֹ֤א (כשאוה) [כְשׁוֹאָ֨ה ׀] פַּחְדְּכֶ֗ם וְֽ֭אֵידְכֶם כְּסוּפָ֣ה יֶאֱתֶ֑ה בְּבֹ֥א עֲ֝לֵיכֶ֗ם צָרָ֥ה וְצוּקָֽה׃ When terror comes like a disaster, And calamity arrives like a whirlwind, When trouble and distress come upon you.

אָ֣ז יִ֭קְרָאֻנְנִי וְלֹ֣א אֶעֱנֶ֑ה יְ֝שַׁחֲרֻ֗נְנִי וְלֹ֣א יִמְצָאֻֽנְנִי׃ Then they shall call me but I will not answer; They shall seek me but not find me.

תַּ֭חַת כִּֽי־שָׂ֣נְאוּ דָ֑עַת וְיִרְאַ֥ת ה לֹ֣א בָחָֽרוּ׃ Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose fear of the LORD;

לֹא־אָב֥וּ לַעֲצָתִ֑י נָ֝אֲצ֗וּ כׇּל־תּוֹכַחְתִּֽי׃ They refused my advice, And disdained all my rebukes,

וְֽ֭יֹאכְלוּ מִפְּרִ֣י דַרְכָּ֑ם וּֽמִמֹּעֲצֹ֖תֵיהֶ֣ם יִשְׂבָּֽעוּ׃ They shall eat the fruit of their ways, And have their fill of their own counsels.

כִּ֤י מְשׁוּבַ֣ת פְּתָיִ֣ם תַּהַרְגֵ֑ם וְשַׁלְוַ֖ת כְּסִילִ֣ים תְּאַבְּדֵֽם׃ The tranquillity of the simple will kill them, And the complacency of dullards will destroy them.

וְשֹׁמֵ֣עַֽ לִ֭י יִשְׁכׇּן־בֶּ֑טַח וְ֝שַׁאֲנַ֗ן מִפַּ֥חַד רָעָֽה׃ {פ}
But he who listens to me will dwell in safety, Untroubled by the terror of misfortune.”

To reiterate Wisdom’s message: How long will you simple ones love simplicity, You scoffers be eager to scoff, You dullards hate knowledge?

There are many words for idiots in Hebrew, aren’t there?

So not to leave this on a bitter note, I had forgotten about the lovely children’s song שמחה רבה that I would teach every year to prepare my kindergartners for Pesach!

תָּפְרוּ, תָּפְרוּ, תָּפְרוּ לִי בֶּגֶד עִם כִּיסִים

Sew, sew, sew me clothing with pockets!

And may we fill them with all kinds of blessings, especially of deep knowledge.

who am i/I?

We just finished counting the Omer for the year; counting each night between the second day of Passover until the day before Shavuot, which was yesterday. There should be a sense of completion; some kind of feeling of accomplishment. There should. It’s similar to the emotions of “I should be accomplishing something during the stay-in-place year of COVID.” Should is the operative word once again.

This has brought me to a lot of introspection. What is it that I am accomplishing, or what is it that I think I should be?

On top of this, my mother’s yahrzeit is coming up this evening–15 years since she’s been gone. And it was already six years since she had her first stroke, going slowly slowly downhill until her death. Twenty-one years is a long time without a mother.

When my mother was turning 50, she went through what might be called depression; her mother had died around that age and she was, I guess, feeling her mortality. I have not yet reached the age when my mother first got sick, but around this time of year, I am thinking about her and how much she affected who I am.

I would hope that I have acquired by nature or nurture her common sense, or more that she could usually see the bigger picture and so assess the situation. There were plenty of times that she acted in ways not really fitting her personality, but let’s say in her desire to live larger than she had most of her life. I did write already about what she impressed upon me to be smart about money; not frugal, but to hold onto the marshmallow for the full time and then get the second one. But she also got swayed by her sense of time. At a certain point in her life, in her 40’s, (maybe around perimenopause?), she started taking charge of her life, rather than accept what she was given. She started to travel around the world on her own; she started spending money not so frugally and so not waiting for that second marshmallow. She started decorating her house. In fact, she hired an interior decorator. Oh, it was when we moved to Miami. That was a grand change. I don’t know if this conspicuous consumption was to keep up with the Joneses (wow! See Wiki about the derivation of that phrase!) or it was a sense of entitlement, appropriate or not. But my character had been set by then and I definitely don’t run to buy things.

Except for wine. And that’s not to run, but to go to wineries, to experience and to taste the Land. I’m surprised I haven’t written about my personal bucket list of visiting all the wineries of Israel! Topic to be addressed soon, I hope!

I do try to pay attention to the whole field. I want to take in as much information as possible and then make my decision.

Except that I do recognize that I react emotionally/spontaneously/ADD’y. That perhaps is one big thing that I get from my father, a man who literally chased fire engines. Where is the fire was not the important question for him but where are they going? Movement. Not staying still. How I wish I inherited his metabolism, but that is definitely from my mother and her taking in the big picture. So I’m a Thinking Slow and Fast kind of person.

And the irony of my father, who also was felled by a stroke but other than not knowing who I am or remembering much about anything, looks great; the ultimate “You look mahvelous!” of Billy Crystal’s 80’s character; “It is better to look good than to feel good.” And not know the difference. At least he seems happy. Guilt of being far away makes me hope for that. And so I reflect on how much of who he is now a notion of who he is at his core; whether much of who he appeared to be was an override or at least a layering over his base.

I am not suggesting that I have to be either one or the other; clearly, I could be a reaction against who they are/were. And that’s probably pretty accurate, even if my parents were always wonderful people.

To outsiders.

But who am I? I recently reviewed my “About” section here to see if it needed updating. It didn’t. I’m still here in Tzfat, almost 5 years now. And as much as one might think I would regret that during this period of uncertainty (or war, as some might call it), I am very grateful we are here. In fact, more than ever. Because I am stubborn that way. And if someone thinks I should do something, I pretty much for certain will do the opposite. Slight exaggeration, but not by much. My own version of Via Negativa, perhaps, although I’m not going to state who I am not. Or perhaps me fulfilling my עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ “helper against him” status?

Because I chose to come here, to Israel, to join in the narrative of my people coming Home.

My people, the stiff-necked people.

We, the chosen people, have chosen to pay attention to what we have been saying for ages, in our prayers, in our hearts;

וַהֲבִיאֵנוּ לְשָׁלום מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפות הָאָרֶץ. וְתולִיכֵנוּ קומְמִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ

May You bring us in peace from the four corners of the world, and establish sovereignty to our Land (from the prayer “Abundant Love”

הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁבּר עֻלֵנוּ מֵעַל צַוָּארֵנוּ וְהוּא יוֹלִיכֵנוּ קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ

May the Merciful break the yoke from our necks and bring forth sovereignty to our Land (from the prayer Birkat haMazon/Blessing after the Meal)

I embrace the Land; I will honor it.

I think my mother and father would be proud of me here.

Preserving the future

I have not taken the liberty of writing for a while now, as you can see. I have been somewhat taken up by other projects, some creative, some less so, but I have been thinking of what I could say or really what I should be saying in these unmoored days.

Last week, we marked our fourth aliyahversary–four years since we made aliyah, according to the Hebrew date. I looked back to what I wrote about making aliyah, and if the same things hold true today. When I read this post from right before leaving, I was amused in the deepest way. To save you from the trouble of looking, apparently what I told people I would miss from the states after making aliyah was “convenience”. It was a good answer at the time, because it threw people off. I like doing that. Changing perspectives is often a helpful tool. But looking at that today, I realized how that’s one thing I don’t miss at all, in the way that I said.

Bagged lettuce?? Yes, we have that in Israel!

Perhaps the convenience of being able to understand bills written in English still stands…

Yes, that definitely still stands. But that’s a topic for another day, because even in English, the bills would still need translation.

What I am incredibly grateful for is a convenience of a different level I never imagined.

My garden.

In these days of self-isolation, limiting our interactions with the outside world, there is nothing more convenient than going out to the garden and picking dinner veggies. Or strawberries that are freshly ripened. Not having to go the market more than once every 3 weeks? Fantastically convenient! Washing the veggies that you have just picked? Amazing.

Granted, it’s just the two of us. I don’t know what we would do if we had more people to feed. But then we wouldn’t be who we are. I can only reflect on what we are experiencing. And that is a great deal of gratitude.

I have been reflecting on how else I have changed, even in my daily life. So so many  people have [probably now should be past tense as people have moved out of their cocooning/quarantining, for better or worse] started all kinds of homebody activities, such as bread-making, particularly sourdough. I’ve been baking bread since college, so that’s a lot of kneading. Now that we don’t want to go into stores unnecessarily, I’ve been baking our weekday bread, not just challah for Shabbat. I spent a lot of time looking into starting sourdough and decided it’s not for me. I don’t want to be beholden to a finicky starter. I like watering my indoor plants just fine, even if it would be every day, but don’t want to start up with a Feed me, Seymour kind of thing, beholden to the beast. But if it makes people happy…

What makes me happy is curing olives from our tree. Olives that we picked, brined, and waited for them to be ready for eating. Capers that I picked myself going around the neighborhood, looking for the little buds. Working on mustard now.

Mustard stalks
Each of those little pods holds exactly 4 mustard seeds. You need at least 6 Tablespoons of seeds to make any decent amount of mustard. That’s a lot of pods. It’s no wonder that the Talmud uses a mustard seed as a measure for the smallest amount. And because mustard is so prevalent, everyone knew what it looked like.

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This was taken on April 16th this year. The yellow flowers all over the hill (but not the asphodel on the left) are wild mustard plants. I could have collected the greens to eat, but I waited until last week to collect the stems after they dried just for the seeds. 

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I threw the strawberry (from our garden; the mustard is from the field next door) in for size comparison. It’s a normal-sized strawberry. These seeds are insanely small. As I open each pod, I think of them as little planes. There are two seeds that go together. That’s coach. Then you have one seed next to them, but by itself; business-class. And then you’ve got your first class; one all by itself in a separate cabin completely. 

To make a condiment of mustard, you also need salt. Salt of the earth, or of the sea. This is how they kept everything before refrigeration; preserving. Preserved lemons, Moroccan style. Oh, and purple cabbage sauerkraut and pickled beets with ginger, lacto-fermenting. Better salt than sugar, I think.

I am consistently (not constantly) amazed at how much work has gone into the knowledge of what works. How did our ancestors know how to take this grass and use it for cereal, and this one to use for condiment? How did they figure out how to make anything edible? Trial and error is pretty costly. I am consistently amazed how we are beneficiaries of so much, not to be taken for granted at all. And my gratitude for having access to this knowledge, Google and otherwise, to help me bridge from the past to the future.

Salt, the symbol of forever in the Holy Temple, transferred as what we every day dip our bread into when making HaMotzi, the blessing over bread, which has transformed from grain to wheat berry to flour, mixed with liquid, yeast, time, and baked into bread.

Psalms Chapter 104 תְּהִלִּים

יד  מַצְמִיחַ חָצִיר, לַבְּהֵמָה,    וְעֵשֶׂב, לַעֲבֹדַת הָאָדָם;
לְהוֹצִיא לֶחֶם,    מִן-הָאָרֶץ.
14 Who causeth the grass to spring up for the cattle, and herb for the service of man; {N}
to bring forth bread out of the earth,

ברוך אתה ה’ ,המוציא לחם מן הארץ

G-d, You are blessed; You who take bread out from the earth.

I am grateful for the space and time to bring things from the past into the future, and for the chance to do it here in this Land.

 

I was asked to write about my father’s poetry

I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling. Google tells me I went around the earth 1.7 times this past year. That is more accurate than I would have wanted. This last summer, I was in Boston, Maine, LA, Yosemite, LA, home to Israel. Two weeks later, off to Australia. Then my father had a brain bleed, and I flew to LA from Melbourne. And then home a month later. Maybe you can imagine how much I missed my home. I can’t even remember, even though I am in the same position now. I can only feel how much I miss home and all that means now.

I came back to LA in January to see how my father is doing. I think I did a better job being proactive when I was here in the fall. I couldn’t afford to be emotional but only to plan how to set things up for my father when he was released from the hospital. But now, four months into this bleed, we see so much progress and so much pause. We were told that the first six months is our window of opportunity; so how to make the most of the time we have left?

We are pushing all kinds of activities to stimulate his memories; help with his brain. We took him to the Farmers’ Market; I thought he’d enjoy seeing the people and all the goings-on; he just wanted to leave. I thought he’d enjoy the fountain at the Grove Shopping Mall; he just wanted to leave.

He remembers who I am, mostly, except when he thought I was his date for Friday night dinner. That was the dictionary definition of awkward. Even the Urban Dictionary. But he is basically a 94 year old toddler. He is cranky when he’s tired; he has to be watched when he walks because he can trip so easily. He doesn’t know what he wants to eat but he goes searching for food. OK that’s not a toddler so much; that’s an adolescent.

But even staff people at various institutions have asked me if I’m his wife. I know he looks young and I look old, but REALLY?? I told off one woman the other day; I told her never assume any relationship of anyone; just ask what is the relationship. There are at least two problems; one, it could be not true, and two, he could believe you.

OH LA. I’m no trophy anything.

So touching toes is relevant here indeed. Flexibility is the key, as much as my father has none, except for touching the truth. And so comes in the idea of equanimity.

ISHI has been touting the goal of equanimity in meditation. And in Life. And I resisted mightily. I thought it was unrealistic; unfortunate and impossible; inhumane, really. After all, we are emotional beings. We should value our emotional reactions because they show we are alive.

Until I had to deal with my father. The emotions of seeing someone reduced to a toddler are overwhelming. You can’t act effectively when you are overcome with emotions. So. I have found some ability to step back from the emotional reaction and listen. And then act with equanimity, as much as possible.

And if not equanimity, then humor.

Which then I realized is the same thing. Stepping back from the situation and seeing another side. And then you can allow the humor of the situation to settle on you.

The Dalai Lama is supposed to be someone who has maybe a natural sense of equanimity. He is certainly not known for being someone who reacts emotionally. But he is known for his sense of humor. ISHI knows him personally as someone who likes to punch, jovially, of course. Maybe a representation of one hand clapping?

Oh but wait! I haven’t written a thing about poetry here.

I tried to impress upon his community the need to up their game; to get people to come visit him. He did it for them, and now it’s his turn, at the very least. So one person came and brought one other person. And they were visually disappointed that my father wasn’t more interactive with them. I explained that you have to listen to my father as if he were reciting poetry, or singing jazz. It’s the whole thing experience.

I may have said some other things. I don’t remember. This has taken me awhile to work on. I have already left LA and come home, thank God.

But what I was told before I left there was that I should write up something to hand out to visitors about my father’s poetry, so they will understand him.

I decided to step back and wait for the equanimity to settle in.

And then maybe I’ll find the humor.

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The humor here is the line on Aharon Megged’s grave at the Kinneret Cemetery; Jewish graves may say “May his soul be bound up in Eternity”. His says “May his soul be bound up in his books.”

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A new day is born and it is bright and sunny through the cloud cover

wrinkled

One of the things that I love about living in Tzfat is the clean air. That means we (and by we, of course, I actually mean me) can hang our laundry outside to dry. The only thing that stands in our my way is that the winds are sometimes so strong that our hanging rack falls down.

Yes, that’s one of the things remaining on my original to-do list from when we were moving into the house is to put up a fixed clothesline.

Moving on…

But one of the results of this wonderfully eco-conscious financially-savvy way of drying clothes is that they get quite wrinkled. I don’t have enough Martha Stewart in me to figure out a way to hang them so they don’t. But mostly because another thing I love living in Tzfat is that it doesn’t matter. I can be wrinkled and no one would say a thing.

Oh, you thought perhaps I meant something else?

Now that you mention it, it did cross my mind, or in fact, my mirror. I had looked at myself this morning after putting on a particularly wrinkled shirt, adding a particularly not-flattering headscarf that matches the shirt’s color and was good enough for a day at home, and I did notice that my face matched the shirt (but not the scarf) pretty well.

And I thought to myself that yes, here in Tzfat, I can be wrinkled and no one would say a thing.

I do notice, though. I pay attention, sometimes in the back of my head, and sometimes more in the foreground, of the others around me. I am cognizant of how old everyone is or how old they act. But not how wrinkled their clothing is! I wonder often if I’m the oldest in the room, which happens often these days, or I wonder how old that old person next to me in yoga is older than me, even as she moves better than I do.

Yes, I am still touching my toes. But I’m trying harder to do more.

We tried out a class in watercolors at the senior center. There is one mother and daughter team, along with some verified seniors who are very talented. We are novices, although we have played at it some along the years. I appreciate how much work it takes to do it well, and how much there is to learn. We went yesterday to a shop in a nearby town that sells art supplies at a good price (for Israel). The store was recommended by one of the participants in the class, with the added suggestion that we ask the shop owner for advice. And so we did. He spent a long time with us, suggesting which paints to get, what brushes, paper, etc. He looked to save us money, which we certainly appreciated. When we were finally ready to pay for our multiple purchases, ISHI asked him if he works in watercolors. No, he answered. He used to be a photographer, but not anymore.

Now he helps people like us become better, stretching out our wrinkles.

And I will work on using my mirror to see farther.

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the last of the books

Well, hardly. We are down to one last box of books, but I was giving homage to a great book, The Last of the Just. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with my situation, although I am sure that a case could be made (badly) that living in Israel is an existential nod to the greater fragility of all mankind.

So let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s talk about books as a value. As something we should have; display; but most of all, use. The enjoyment of books is what is inside and then what can be brought out.

It is most ironic to me that there is a word in Japanese for having too many books. Tsundoku.  積ん読. A little of the history:

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868-1912) and has its origins in a pun. Tsundoku, which literally means reading pile, is written in Japanese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let something pile up and is written 積んでおく. Some wag around the turn of the century swapped out that oku (おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – meaning to read. Then since tsunde doku is hard to say, the word got mushed together to form tsundoku.

Ironic, of course, because of the whole Konmari movement stemming from Japanese minimalism.

I am not proposing that you should only have your books as a wish list. I am saying you should enjoy them in all ways possible. It has to be more than the thrill of the unknown, or the pursuit of happiness…

This is by no means a new insight for me (I wrote about it here); (oh and in March ’12! here); it’s just an essential one. The importance of books/anything should be for intrinsic and extrinsic value. I do get a good feeling seeing our books laid out properly, where they can be located easily, subjects somewhat related. And when need be, and that be a lot, shelved according to size. Large art books sit together sideways.

Here’s a fellow who takes his books to a new art form:

So, is it true with books as with clothes, that if you haven’t worn them in a year, just let them go?

No.

And yes. Some books you should grow out of. Some just aren’t worth a second or third look.

And oh yes, there are some found treasures in those last boxes. I am happy that we have the room to store them and hopefully the days to sit down and rediscover them.

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Our guests now have a little something to read

And yes, kudos to ISHI for finally putting up the shelves!! But yes, we still need one more bookcase for the last of the boxes.

Tsundoku of our Tzfat house.

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Yes, dusting is required. The plastic bit is from the plastic shelf that the other books were sitting on. That has been disassembled and taken to the yard where it belongs. Yay!