Monday, September 30, 2013

Parshat Noach 
1 Cheshvan 5774 / Oct. 4-5,2013
Bereshit 6:9 - 11:32

Let it Rain (Just not too much)!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

The flood waters of Parshat Noach bring a sharp contrast to the holiday of Sukkot that just ended last week.
Sukkot is the holiday when we turn our focus to our fields and pray for rain. This is both actual – as we need rain for our food to grow – and symbolic. Water represents the flow of blessing into our lives. So whether you are in need of healing, money, or love, Sukkot is the holiday where we ask for the flood gates of mercy to burst forth. We ask that good fortune will rain down from the heavens and burst forth from the deep wellsprings of the Earth. A week after we pack up our Sukkahs and store them away for next year, we encounter the destructive flood of Parshat Noah.

In Parshat Noah, as we are well aware, God gets angry with humanity and lets loose all the waters of the sky and ground to destroy every creature that has the breath of life in it. (Except for Noah and his crew of course!) I find these contradictory themes of Sukkot and Noah perfectly Jewish. On Sukkot we pray for rain and blessing to rain on us. In Parshat Noah we are reminded that every blessing is only a blessing in moderation. Too much of a good thing just ain’t that grand!

When I think over the Torah portions from the past several weeks there is a rhythmic warning about the corruption that is inherent in having too much bounty. With the world’s economy hanging in the balance of transition, I feel particularly attuned to this message. It may very well be that the imperfect economic systems that govern our world are being forced to evolve by the tidal wave force of the current international outcry for change. Kein Yehi Ratzon! (May it be willed as such!)


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Big Bereshit BANG!

Shabbat Bereshit
24 Tishrei 5774 / September 27 - 28, 2013
Bereshit 1:1 – 6:8
The Big Bereshit BANG!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ
I want to share this very simple idea with you about the word Bereshit. It begins with the letter BEIT (ב) and is the first letter of the Torah. The letter is a bracket, or a container for all that is to come. And all that is to come is the creation of the world and the continual unfolding story of the entire universe, including your own story. That is quite a lot!

Inside the letter ב is a small little dot. The dot tells us that in order to pronounce the letter we have to squeeze our lips together and then create a small burst that makes a B sound. Try it!
Make a B sound really slowly and experience that tiny explosion.
Think about all the potential that is squeezed into the beginning of the Torah cycle, the beginning of another yearly cycle in your personal life. I imagine that the dot in the ב is a reminder of the Big Bang, that tiny intense pregnant particular from which all matter exploded from. That is the moment of starting the Torah again, the whole year is compacted into the first sound and when we speak the first word we let loose the chain of events that will lead us into the New Year.

It is a time of year to bring intention to how you embark on new beginnings. What is your mindset going into the New Year? What are some of your first thoughts and words? What are the activities that you engage in? I invite you to act, think, and intend as if you knew that your thoughts, feelings, and actions would impact your entire year to come.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Earn Your Sukkot Joy

Shabbat Chol Ha’Moed Sukkot
17 Tishrei 5774 / September 20 – 21

Earn Your Sukkot Joy
by Jon Morgan, Western Director of Moishe House Without Walls

Rabbi Eli Gewitz from had an interesting take on one relationship between Yom Kippur and Sukkot: “The number 40 (regarding the days leading up to Yom Kippur from the 9th of Av) also symbolizes the number of weeks it takes for a fetus to develop in the womb and a newborn child to emerge into the world. Similarly, during this period of 40 days, we are capable of remaking ourselves so that by the time we stand before the Almighty in judgment on Yom Kippur, we are as free of sin as a newborn child.”

And regarding Sukkot... “Normally, parents drape protective clothing over a newborn infant to shield him/her from extreme temperatures. On Yom Kippur, when our sins are atoned, we are comparable to newborn infants and therefore G-d drapes G-d’s protective shield over us in the form of the Sukkah.”

Sukkot (Booths), Chag HaAssif (Festival of Harvest), HaChag (The Festival), or Z’Man Simchoteinu (Season of Rejoicing) are all names for my favorite holiday. Not only is it a chance for me to perform mitzvot with power-tools, but I feel as though I’ve earned my joy. As Rabbi Gewitz eludes to, I think post-atonement is a vulnerable state. Since the start of Elul, we’ve contemplated ourselves, our relationship to others and to G-d, we confessed, regretted, and promised to change our ways. We’ve turned away from old behaviors and toward new ones...and that process beats us down to the point
where we can be judged as our most genuine selves. We finally reveal our soft spots by asking for, and also granting others, forgiveness. So here we stand with no grudges or sins and we deserve nothing less than to come together for eight days of joy. The true joy of Sukkot is earned.

As a side note, I’d like to point out that toward the end of our afternoon Haftorah reading from Yom Kippur, we read that Jonah erected a Sukkah after he confessed, repented, and led all of Nineveh to change its ways. However, Jonah’s rigidity kept him from being able to forgive or even feel good about completing his mission. If only Jonah had been able to forgive Nineveh as G-d did, there perhaps would have been a complete and joyous end to his story.

Instead, we read that Jonah’s experience in his Sukkah isn’t so pleasant or joyous, in fact he asks G-d to take his life. G-d attempts to teach Jonah a lesson about why he is rescinding his decision to annihilate Nineveh and we are left wondering what, if anything, Jonah learned about his inability to accept genuine repentance of others. Needless to say, Jonah’s Sukkah erection was premature.

It’s also important to remember that we must dwell in our Sukkah. Eat, drink, sleep, and carry out all wireless business in the Sukkah. Make it as comfortable and pretty as your home so it becomes your spiritual security blanket in the days leading up to Simchat Torah.

Now that we’ve been sealed in the Book of Life, may we all enjoy, internalize, and embrace the many joys of Sukkot.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Granting Permission

Shabbat Yom Kippur
10 Tishrei 5773 / Sept. 13 - 14, 2013

Granting Permission
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

As I walked the streets of Mexico City, I noticed something quite amazing. On countless occasions, as I caught the passing eyes of restaurant waiters of street cafés, taxi drivers waiting for their next fare, or security guards casing the crowded streets, I was offered an enthusiastic, “Buenos Dias!” (or Tardes, or Noches – depending on the time of day). The people of Mexico City seemed primed to offer a blessing to any passerby. It gave me a feeling that no matter what political and/or economic turmoil is at play (and in Mexico there is plenty) the fact remains that each person has the power to uplift and support another. I tested this phenomenon out multiple times. Passing someone from behind, or as they were looking down, I would say, “Buenos dias!” And without fail, like a spring release catapult, a gregarious reply of  “Buenos!” came flying back at me. I think it is a challenge to always be primed to offer goodness to another, especially when we are feeling lonely or disconnected. We all have tons of problems, yet we can snap out of our own limited stories to create an uplifting connection with another soul.

On Yom Kippur we are called together to spend a day in prayer and introspection. We take a break from eating, wear white, and wear simple footwear. Even between different Jewish groups (Sefardi and Ashkenazi, for example) where specific liturgy might vary, we commit to the same flow of prayer service. It is our sacred duty on Yom Kippur to help each other remember how connected the human community is to each other. On Rosh Hashana the liturgy crowns God as king, and on Yom Kippur we crown each other as agents of Tikkun Olam (#Repairing the World with Tessa Wells).

From a traditional and mystical perspective, we are taught that on Yom Kippur we take on excessive devotional practices so that we can resemble angles and be closer to God. Great! But,what is an angel? One perspective is that angels are messengers that transmit life energy (chayut, in Hebrew) from the Source of Life to all manifestations of life. This is like the bio-electric charge that bounds neurons to activate our physical body. As we take time to intend towards a more perfect world and inspire each other to do so, we are elevated to the status of angels. It is said that an angel has only one task to accomplish. Is it not true that no matter what dress our life story wears, underneath we are always tasked with the service of making the world around us better in some way?   

During our daily Morning Prayer services (Shabbat and Holiday included), right before the Sh’ma we proclaim that the angels “give permission, one to the other to sanctify their Creator.” How perfect a metaphor for us this Yom Kippur to show up to synagogue, not only to pray for a good and successful year, but to give permission to each other to engage in our life purpose for the next year that has just begun!

Every Moishe House, no matter what flavor of Jew you are or language you speak, is creating an environment for people to be Jewish in a way that feels meaningful and important to you. Your participants use the environment that you create to access the Jewish piece of their identity to feel more connected and empowered in their lives. As I continue my work with Moishe House, I learn that there are many young Jews that are invisible to the organized Jewish community. They do not connect to the Judaism of their families and are in a way like religious orphans. This phenomenon is for the most part not acknowledged by the mainstream Jewish community.

Like the angels do, I want to personally give all of us permission to be inspired by each other to continue to do this important work of service to the Jewish community – and by extension to serve all people and the world.

Shana Tova U’Metuka and G’mar Chatimah Tova!


Monday, September 2, 2013

Where’s your Source

Parshat Ha’azinu (Shabbat Shuvah)
D’varim 32:1 – 52
3 Tishrei 5774 / Sept. 6 - 7, 2013

Where’s your Source
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In this week’s parsha Moshe tells a story about a nation that reaches a state of such high prosperity that they ultimately become corrupt and turn away from the source of their blessing. Enough said for a powerful teaching from the Torah. Don’t you think?

This story can be seen in many different areas of bounty. The immensity of resources that the Earth has provided have been reaped to the point of depletion. Our advanced intellectual concepts of rules and regulations have been used to control and oppress. A rich global market has come to support child slavery and abusive labor practices. Moshe definitely knew what he was talking about. And such disconnection and injustice, according to Moshe, can only breed further dis-integration.   

The nation that Moshe is talking about is named Yeshurun. And it is a lesser known nickname for Israel. They both start with the same three letters – Yud (י), Shin/Sin (ש), and Reish (ר). These are the route letters for the word forward or straight. Also upright, as in upright action, meaning moral or righteous – in line with certain values. Here is my take on the name difference. In Yisrael we are Yashar with El – Straight with God, or maybe the Upright of God. In Yeshurun we are Yashar with ?? – We have lost connection with the source of our blessing. We hold our heads up high with pride with nothing to counterbalance us towards humbleness.  

One of the main themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is remembering that God is king over the universe. I do not really connect with this image. To me God as an external ruler simply does not compute. What does speak to me though is a reminder that there is something greater than my personal limited self. As we head to synagogue this Rosh Hashana to reclaim the image of God as king,  let’s coronate social, global, and spiritual responsibility.