gravity and revelation

Gravity means a few things. It can refer to importance; it also can refer to the physical property. Let’s use both, but start with the physical.

Last Shabbat, we had guests here, an old study partner of ISHI, from their days at YU, so that makes it 37 years ago. We had lost touch over the years, as this was before Facebook and even email. But with the help of a Google search, he did locate us and let us know he’d be here in Tzfat at this time with his recently-wed wife and his sister. We are in the middle of boxes, so we wouldn’t be able to house them, but they came for all the meals.

At some point at lunch, probably when I was pulling out serving trays, I dropped one of my favorite glass trays from Israel, and the decorative edge came off one side. It didn’t break, and we also realized it wasn’t fastened that well to begin with. And I sighed a large sigh of relief.

Later on that day, towards night, ISHI went to close the dining room window and hit a vase on the window sill. This time, we weren’t so lucky, and the shards took a while to clean up. Worse, of course, is that it wasn’t ours, but belonged to our landlords. The only good part of that was it was made in China, so not that expensive a piece. I had looked at that earlier this year.

After nightfall, when ISHI went into the living room to pray, he quickly came back into the kitchen to say something wasn’t right next door. He had heard some screams, and we should go quickly.

Earlier that day, I had seen our neighbors up on the porch of the other neighbor, working hard as the neighborhood watch. I had wanted to introduce our guests to them, because they all had a number of matching points of interest. And the sister and our neighbor were indeed happy to speak for a long time, in French, a little Moroccan Arabic with the other neighbor, too.

So I went with the sister, both of us quite concerned about what we might find. Our neighbor opened the door for us, and we saw his wife on the ground, having fallen. Had she fallen down the stairs? No, she just tripped and fell there, but she’s of a certain age where falls are not simple. The sister, who just happens to be a physician’s assistant, was able to speak with her in French in the most gentle way, softly diagnosing her vitals and the situation. Once our neighbors could remember the phone number, I was able to call Hatzalah, an  emergency company that arrives by motorcycle, or even this time, on bike, which is enormously helpful in old cities without easy car access. They came with crowds of helpers. I was quite impressed.

She was fine; she was able to wait to go the next day to get x-rays, which were fine. Bruised, embarrassed, but dignity basically intact.

Thanks to our old friend and his sister. And Google. And fate.

But it left me thinking about gravity, near misses and full encounters. And Gravity of gravitas, importance. Tisha B’Av, the fast day recalling the destruction of the Holy Temple over 2000 years ago. We are living in such grave times, with people not making personal connections, but allowing themselves to be used to further someone else’s objectives. We are taught that the Temple was destroyed due to Baseless Hatred שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם, and the most direct remedy for that is the opposite,

observing the corresponding precept is the antidote that will lead to the restoration of the Temple. Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:17) expresses this concept when he states that by observing the commandment to “Love one’s neighbor,” we will return to our Land, because this mitzvah is the opposite of sinat chinam, which is what destroyed the Second Temple.

But what came to me today, in mourning the loss of the Holy Temple, was that we need to make the personal connections work because that’s what we are truly missing. The Temple was a place of connection, of continued revelation of G-d to us, but it got lost even before the actual building was destroyed. We turned things into the essence, rather than the connections with G-d, and with people. So our redemption will come when we reconnect, first with people, and then with G-d. That our revelation will flow from us back to our Source.

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Do you see how much we all want to connect?

 

 

original therapy

One of the things that I’ve taken on as a volunteer position rather than a paid one is work with young people visiting Israel/Tzfat and helping them write a dvar Torah, literally a “word of Torah”. This becomes a short discussion about some topic that interests them dealing with some aspect of Torah. Or ethics. Or Jewish identity. Or pretty much whatever interests them, my job being to help them connect to some Jewish sources. It’s quite fascinating, as you see the ones who think they already know a lot are unable to get past the [actually pretty little] information that they supposedly know, and the ones who are truly open because they have cleared their egos for knowledge and authority can really learn a lot. And when they learn a lot, guess who does, too?

I learn because I have to state things that make sense, but not because they are well-trotted out lines. Things that make sense for the moment, for the situation, for the person I am speaking to. So great truths emerge, or at least for me!

Sort of like writing a blog.

This past week, I made some connections about sacrifices, lying, and peace.

The young woman I spoke to who was open and clear in her lack of pretense wanted to develop something about how to be authentic, speaking truth [to power?], but also working with people in a genuine way. The model who came to mind was Aharon the High Priest.

Be of the students of Aaron:

Love peace, pursue peace, love people and bring them closer to Torah.

Hillel (Avot 1:12)

היו מתלמידיו של אהרן אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה

הלל, משנה, מסכת אבות א:י”ב

Aharon was a fascinating character. He was the older brother, but he did not exhibit any jealousy about the younger brother getting the limelight. He was able to be the interpreter for Moshe and Pharaoh due to whatever kind of speech impediment that Moshe had; he was able to be the go-between there which led to a greater role of interpretation later. For whatever reason also here, G-d chose to divide the governing of the people between the brothers. Moshe became the legislator; Aharon became the judiciary, of sorts. What was the priesthood? What was the purpose of the sacrifices?

What became clear to me was that Aharon’s pursuit of peace was an essential role of his priesthood; bringing people close to Torah, which in its essence is bringing people to their true selves. There is a midrash/fable from Avot de-Rabbi Natan how he acted to bring peace:

It is also told of two people who had a quarrel that Aaron went and sat with one of them and said, “My son, see what your fellow is doing, for he is in a state of emotional turmoil, rending his garments and, all choked up, saying:  How can I look my friend in the eye? I am ashamed before him, for it was I who did wrong.”

He would sit with him until he removed all jealousy from his heart.  Afterwards he would go to his fellow and say to him, “My son, see what your fellow is doing.  For he is in a state of emotional turmoil, rending his garments and, all choked up, saying:  How can I look my friend in the eye?  I am ashamed before him, for it was I who did wrong to him.”

He would sit there until he removed all jealousy from his heart.  When the two met, they embraced and kissed each other.  Therefore it is written, “all the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days” (Num. 20:29).

Yes, it is tied into this week’s Torah portion as well; why Bnei Yisrael mourned for Aharon for a full month with full appreciation of his sacrifices for them. But what about truth? So, did he really lie? What did he know about what the other thought? And this was when I realized what Aharon was doing; he was being a therapist, helping the patient understand his emotions and the person he thought was in conflict with him. He was helping the person get past his stuck point-of-view.

This is what the sacrifices were about, as well, and why Aharon was the perfect person to take this role. We get stuck with our actions so often and can’t figure out a way to get past ourselves. The sacrifices were a vehicle of getting past; getting rid of our guilt; getting out of our rut. So it is only fitting that the priest who was connected to this process of moving on would be the one who was able to pursue peace between people and between us and G-d.

And that Hillel, who was known for his path of peacemaking, would offer Aharon as a role model? That becomes a lesson in itself about always looking to connect past yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously, but take the other at his true word.

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The box of matzot held at the Ari Synagogue in Tzfat, characterizing the collective nature of community
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In a synagogue in Efrat, where our grandson celebrated learning the whole Torah

muddy puddles

Our four year-old local granddaughter said that over and over the other day. It was not quite an appropriate term to use for the mixture of the water puddle created by ISHI washing our car, with our granddaughter throwing sand from a nearby construction site to the puddle. She was insistent in her use, and I later realized it comes from Peppa Pig, a show she is allowed to watch online, mostly as an electronic babysitter every once in a while. She was having the grandest of times, throwing sand that ended up, of course, defeating the purpose of cleaning the car. But c’est la vie. Clean never lasts for more than a second.

And it led me to a great insight, much bigger than the cleanliness issue.

It was about my mother. Her yahrzeit was yesterday, the anniversary of her death 11 years ago already, so I have been thinking about her a lot. I had noticed that the holiday closest to the passing of a person always informs about that person. I guess that’s why there is something particularly holy about someone who is born and dies around the same time, beyond a sense of completion of a cycle, but also a deep connection to the season. My mother died two days after Shavuot, when we commemorate the giving of the Torah. My mother never had much of an education of any sort, and certainly wasn’t given a Jewish education, which went to her brothers only (not that they did anything particular with it, either). So the drive for knowledge must signify something different for her, in my memory, at least.

What my mother taught me, today, 11 years after she passed, was her ability to handle the muddy puddles. She didn’t care about pretenses. She did care about propriety, but she knew quite enough to know not to put on airs. What you knew, you knew. What you were, you were. She knew enough fakers to keep as far away as possible, and she knew that nothing was guaranteed. If you did not please her, she would let you know, although often without speaking.

Apparently, I have inherited that from her.

Most of all, she had no need for protection from the Imposter Syndrome that I fall prey to, because she was in no way pretending that she was anything other than who she was. She tried to “better herself” by going to classes, but that was not because she had to prove anything to anyone but herself. She had to catch up with all the opportunities she wasn’t given. I don’t think she was bitter about it; it just was. (I wrote about her pursuit of travel here.) But she didn’t muddy anything about.

I am grateful for her sincerity, that she knew she shouldn’t/couldn’t/and really wouldn’t want to compete for the spotlight. Those around her who did burned out quickly enough. And yet…

Not that I’m looking for the spotlight, either! But I must admit I haven’t found my comfort level with the whole imposter syndrome. I often enough wonder about my successes, whether indeed I have worked hard enough for them. But I also get frustrated when I see so many other people who I would call frauds enjoy unwarranted success. So maybe really I’m the Imposter Police, with no power and no ability even to say the emperor’s not wearing any clothes…

Would you believe that there is a test you can take to find out if you “suffer from imposter syndrome”? There seem to be many, but this was the one I had seen last year in Science of Us column of NY Magazine.

Here’s the funny part of it all. Today I read another article on the same site: “Pretending You’re Someone Else Can Make You More Creative.

Are we searching for Creativity or Honesty? I certainly know what my mother would have answered, just by looking at her face.

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of mice and me

This is a combination of things, as most things truly are. We are just a few days before the holiday of Pesach, when the typical Jewish woman has a hard time distinguishing between dirt and the forbidden leavened chametz. I, of course, am not that. I know very well that I am doing spring cleaning. I removed the heavy quilt from our bed and washed the heavy linens. We opened our windows today, removing the bubble wrap that we had as insulation. And that was where we enter this post:

If you remove the wrap from your bedroom window, you might see the glass shelf above it leaning precariously.

If you see it leaning, you might realize that the window shifting probably was the unexplained noise you both heard the other night, but were too tired to investigate.

If you try to fix the glass shelf, you might have to find some wood to prop up the shelf, since it won’t come down, either, but you can’t take a chance of leaving it there.

If you start cutting some wood, you might as well make a platform for the computer that is on the floor of the study that has mysterious wet tiles there.

If you start looking more closely at the floor, you might think about taking the box of printing paper off the floor.

If you open that box once it’s off the floor, you might notice that it’s oddly packed and already opened.

If you remove the top of that box, you will discover that it’s not paper at all, but many many many more CD’s that you of course did not know were missing.

And if you think about things that you can’t possibly track, you think about learning the laws of getting ready for Pesach in a class 42 years ago, discussing the physical limits of searching for chametz, considering the limits of where one should search for chametz, whether a small rat or mouse might bring the forbidden food into some hidden area of the  house.

And when you think about what you learned, you remember your teacher saying, “I have two little mice who bring things everywhere”, referring, with love, to her children.

And when you think about mice and children, you might think about how mice are a convenient symbol for so many things, like well, yes, me, the country mouse (see? I wrote about it here and here and in detail here).

And when you realize that it’s all connected, you remember this post you wrote  also about giving a virtual mouse a cookie, of sorts, and you can write another tale about your adventures here in Israel, today, that all of this is not old but new for me, and perhaps I should be reciting a blessing of newness for all of this renewal, for the ability to experience limits and setbacks here in this Land, so I can be a country mouse in my country.

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what the hashtag is it all about

what the hashtag is it all about

I started an Instagram account because I wanted to follow some photographers who had been mentioned in a few places. Or maybe it was a contest for travel that I wanted to enter. Or some combination. And I started also because it was a distraction from my lost and broken camera. For whatever reason, you can only post via smartphone, so I would take my photos and post them along.

Only a few people saw them at first, which made sense, slow learning curve and all. Part of which consisted of me applying hashtags to my photos. I don’t know what draws people to different sites. Me? It’s when a general site features a photographer who I admire, so then I follow that photographer as well. But the hashtags turn out to be fun, especially doing them in English and Hebrew. After all, I found this photo of the outside of my house by searching for #tzfat, or was it #צפת?

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Looking back at my work, I think I have improved. But, as here, what is appreciated by the public is not what I value the most. That’s okay, since I do know that the game on Instagram is to “follow” someone in order to draw them to follow in return.

I am following the advice given freely by who knows who to do something artistic every day.

Wait a sec–

Oooh, I like this one:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep
Scott Adams

The next step is that I sometimes have chosen to showcase some of the Instagram photos on Facebook. And that’s where the title of this post comes in.

This is the response to a photo of us with our Israel kiddies that I sent my father:

Very good photo and a very good print.
I forgot to ask.  In your last letter, Why did you need so many #   #   #  ?  Take care . Love, Dad
I will mention here that my father is (poo-poo, kanna hara) 91 years young.
He gets overwhelmed with computers and technology on a regular basis. He also has more confidence that I will know how to fix things than I do, especially since he is working on a 9 year-old Mac, and I do PC. I wouldn’t even start to tell him how I downloaded it from a WhatsApp group photo. I guess I’m somewhat amazed that I can figure these things out, to a point.
My father also claims that every single ad in the LA Times is about hearing aids, which frustrates him to no end because his doesn’t work effectively, and his doctor says there’s nothing to be done about it. I cannot effectively prove to him that the reason he is noticing the various ads is due to his frustration, not the reality. So I understand that what is salient to him is what he cannot control. So we look for things he can control; being with people, enjoying people.
We ran into our neighbor Ima Esther yesterday on our way to a meeting. You don’t tell Ima Esther that you are late; you stand patiently while she tells you about her daughter who finally got permission to move away (not really sure what was the delay and where she went, but I didn’t want to start asking questions that would make us later than we already were), and a few other things. Her often-repeated phrase is ?מה לעשות; What can you do? in the most existential Camus (North African, after all) manner.
Que peut-on faire?
But here, of course, is the point:

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Because the 84 year-olds and the assorted under-the-attachment to technology kiddies will show you in a heartbeat what really matters. But you need them both.

On my way back home today, I was stopped by an older man who was whistling. He asked me,

“Is it okay for me to ask you a question?”

“Of course,” I answered, just a bit skeptically.

“What happened to your smile? Did you lose it?”

Of course, I smiled in return. It was a lovely way to get me to react, as opposed to how others have tried to impose a smile on my face in the past…

I told him I would be very happy to let my father know what he said.

He added, “After all, it says

Serve G-d in happiness; come before Him in singing.

 “עִבְדוּ אֶת-ה בְּשִׂמְחָה;    בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה

And he went whistling along the path.

another myth bites the dust

We are getting our sukkah space ready to put up our sukkah this year, our first in Israel. My self-appointed job was to cut back the growth from the tree which hangs over our porch as much as possible, even if the tree can’t possibly be cut back as much as needed. Part of the laws of building a sukkah requires it not to be under shade of any other kind. You have to make your own shade, independent of your environment, in order to see the stars through the makeshift roof. The rabbis never talked about nightlight pollution, but back to our story:

I cut back quite a bit, trying hard to keep it on our rooftop, but of course, one large branch and a number of other smaller ones, fell over into our neighbors’ yard.

“Oh, shoot”, I heard myself say.

I heard my neighbor shuffling below.

“I’ll come and clean it up right away. Sorry about the mess. I really tried to keep it up here.”

So I went downstairs, went outside, over to their house, and rang the bell.

No one. Rien, absolument rien. (She’s French Moroccan and they usually speak French together. Or English.)

After a while, she comes down her stairs and opens the front gate for me. I explain what we were doing and apologize for the mess. Of course, she has already cleaned up the branches that I dropped, but she clearly appreciates my efforts. She then proceeds to give me the full story about the tree.

It’s a carob tree that grew with kids of the neighborhood eating carobs and spitting out the seeds on the ground. They never planted it at all.

When did this happen? She said fifteen years ago. Even if she had said 50, I was still surprised. After all, I thought that carobs took 70 years to grow!

Yes, I know how most fruits take a while to grow, even after the tree has established firm roots and all, but the reality is that I have no idea how long that really is. That’s how far removed I am from living on the land.

Or at least having fruit trees.

But why I was dumbfounded was because of the story of Honi HaMe’agel, Honi the Circle-Maker. It’s a fascinating story that is found in the Talmud (Ta’anit 19 and 23) about a man who was asked to call for rain (why would he not have done it without being asked, I wonder), which he does in a pretty chutzpahdik way. And then he goes off on his merry way, coming upon someone planting a carob tree. When asked why he is bothering, since it won’t bear fruit for 70 years, he is told that his grandparents did it for him, so he is doing it for his grandchildren.

So it must be a fact that it takes 70 years for the carob tree to bear fruit, right?

It turns out that the idea of 70 years is symbolic of the years of the exile after  I the destruction of the First Holy Temple. (Read more here, if you wish.)

It is tied into a question that Honi asks before our story begins;

Said Rabbi Yochanan, “All the days of that righteous one, he was troubled about this verse (Psalm 126:1), ‘A Song of Ascents: With the Lord’s return of the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers. ‘He said, ‘Is there someone who can fall asleep for seventy years in a dream?’ One day, he was walking on the road and saw a certain man that was planting a carob tree…

The commentator Rashi says right there, “‘like a dream’ the 70 years of Babylonian exile will seem.”

Here’s the whole Psalm, again for context:

Psalms Chapter 126 תְּהִלִּים

א  שִׁיר, הַמַּעֲלוֹת:
בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה, אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן–    הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים.
1 A Song of Ascents. {N}
When the LORD brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.
ב  אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק, פִּינוּ–    וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה:
אָז, יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם–    הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם-אֵלֶּה.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; {N}
then said they among the nations: ‘The LORD hath done great things with these.’
ג  הִגְדִּיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ–    הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים. 3 The LORD hath done great things with us; we are rejoiced.
ד  שׁוּבָה יְהוָה, אֶת-שבותנו (שְׁבִיתֵנוּ)–    כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב. 4 Turn our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the dry land.
ה  הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה–    בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ. 5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
ו  הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ, וּבָכֹה–    נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ-הַזָּרַע:
בֹּא-יָבֹא בְרִנָּה–    נֹשֵׂא, אֲלֻמֹּתָיו.
6 Though he goeth on his way weeping that beareth the measure of seed, {N}
he shall come home with joy, bearing his sheaves. {P}

It’s all about context.

The carob tree of our neighbors is a symbol of the strength of our people in our Land.

True joy of belonging.

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what we think we leave behind

Oh not things; but experiences. And really, not experiences, but the images of the experiences. The representation of the flower. (I wrote about that here 4 1/2 years ago, if you wish to read about what I mean. No pressure.) Me, the shy one (‘way more than introvert), who won’t stick a camera in someone’s face because I don’t want to be that person. Today, while I was hanging laundry upstairs, third level up, I noticed two people who had gathered around two musicians who were practicing right below us. One of them had a camera and he swung around to take a photo of me looking down at them! I swerved quickly out of his line of fire and hopefully ruined the photo op. So why do I think I have the right to do it to others?

A few weeks ago, while walking around Tzfat, we saw a man and a kid and a baby stroller and I don’t even remember what it was about them that caught my interest. I tried ever so cleverly to take a photo of them, but felt shy and embarrassed enough that by the time I snapped one, even only with my cellphone, this is what I got:

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I did have my camera at ready today watching this woman enter the house below us. I heard her calling for someone for a while before pulling the key out of a no longer secret hiding place. I won’t reveal her secret to you here, though.

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See the woman below? She doesn’t see us.

But I wish I had my camera to take a photo of the two young girls with their older sister? Babysitter? who helped them climb over a fence of the closed-off spring below our place. But I can only describe their faces, as they looked around to see that no one was watching. But someone was.

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See the arch in the photo? That’s what they climbed down to see, or actually across from there out of your sight. Ma’ayan HaRadum, the Sleeping Spring, here in Tzfat.

This is also the spot where I was hanging laundry this morning; the guy who tried to take my photo was standing down by the blue fence on the opposite side.

Maybe all he wanted was a photo of our fish. Our neighbor told me that she likes our fish very much, but so does the cat they take care of. He thinks it’s his dinner.

Here he is, after I chased him away.

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The cat doesn’t have to try to hide away; he gets to be himself. That’s what cats do.

We can learn a lot from cats, of course.


חָתוּל אוֹמֵר. אֶרְדּוֹף אוֹיְבַי וְאַשִֹּיגֵם וְלֹא אָשׁוּב עַד כַּלּוֹתָם׃ (תהלים יח לח)
The Cat is saying, “If you rise up like a vulture, and place your nest among the stars, from there I shall bring you down, says God.”88