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Nov 20, 2007

Torah Portion: Genesis 28:10 - 32:3 Haftarah for Ashkenazim:Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 Haftarah for Sephardim: Hosea 11:7 - 12:12

Ya'akov... Last year I would have written about how horrible Ya'akov is as a character - a cheat, a fraud, a sorcerer, liar, coward, thief a great manipulator in general and someone who uses G-d for his own ends. I would have been right. But describing him as an honorable sceptic, an agnostic, and a true believer would be just as right. Ya'akov in his basic make-up is extremely human.

"If G-d does this... I will acknowledge..." Bereshit 28:20-21

Ya'akov starts his adult life with a session of bargaining with G-d.

He is running for his life - from his enraged brother whom he, just few days earlier, has cheated out of his birth-right (enthusiastically assisted by his mother) - towards the homelands of his mother, uncle and grandfather. On the way there, according to the Sages, (Sanhedrin 95b) he is surprised by an early sunset and decides to go to sleep. Dream. Ladder. Angels. G-d making a speech. Grand Designs and Spiritual Experiences.

"Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!" Shaken, he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven." Bereshit 28:16-17

Interestingly enough, Ya'akov's exclamation isn't specific about WHAT G-d he is speaking of. He is clearly aware that "G-d" is present there. This, however doesn't convince him. To Ya'akov grand visions, dreams and spiritual incidents are not sufficient "proof" or reasons to accept G-d's presence in one's life. A far more prosaic G-d is what he will put his trust in. A G-d who keeps him fed, clothed and safe is what Ya'akov is looking for. He knows that spiritual experiences cannot do that. Although he acknowledges that G-d can be and is present in visions, dreams and grand spiritual events, what he will trust in is not visions, dreams and spiritual incidents, but a G-d who will take care of him on a daily basis.

"If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father's house — the Lord shall be my God." Bereshit 28:20-21

Here's the bargaining point, the matter which is more important to Ya'akov than the dream he just had - daily divine action as opposed to occasional divine revelation. He accepts the latter, but is seeking the former.

This point ask a question of us. Ya'akov, in all his complex humanity, asks US which is more important to us: Daily Divine action or Occasional Divine Revelation? What do we seek? Signs and Symbols or the Fatherly love and care expressed through having our daily needs met?

If we look closely at the story of Ya'akov we see that he gets his grand designs and spiritual experiences as a side dish to a main course of daily care. In fact when he finally accepts the G-d of his fathers as his own, he is not only fed, clothed and safe - he is fat, rich beyond belief and living safely in the midst of his large family.

A funny thing about Ya'akov is that while G-d is running on idle in the background, just making sure that events follow the plan approximately, Ya'akov is very much the maker of his own fate. He gets what he wants and needs through his own hard work, ingenuity and humility, backed by an unspecified trust that his bargain with G-d will pay off in the end. He doesn't get fat, rich and safe by sitting on his backside waiting for grand visions, signs. He gets there through hard work and trusting a G-d he is not at all sure is his.

He puts in the legwork and lets G-d do His bit - the daily care.

Amen

This article, including artworks and photos is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/ Silly Old Bear and is NOT public domain - unless otherwise specified.


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Posted: Nov 20, 2007 5:11pm
Oct 2, 2007

onthewingsoflove.jpg

Parasha: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 Haftarah:Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10 - Sefardim reads: Isaiah 42:5 - 42:21

Focal Point: Bereshit 4:1-5, 10-16 - What's Bothering Kayin

"And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said: 'I have gotten a man with the help of HaShem.'And again she bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto HaShem. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And HaShem had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell....[...]And He said: 'What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground. And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. Then thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be in the earth.' And Cain said unto the L-RD: 'My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the land; and from Thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth; and it will come to pass, that whosoever findeth me will slay me.' And the L-RD said unto him: 'Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.' And the L-RD set a sign for Cain, lest any finding him should smite him. And Cain went out from the presence of the L-RD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. "

It's pretty understandable, Kayin's anger and depression. Who wouldn't be angry and depressed if one's best effort at showing appreciation and gratitude, was spurned? Kayin's problem isn't with G-d or with Hevel. Kayin's problem is that instead of taking responsible for his own feelings and turn to G-s with a simple question: "Why, what's wrong?" he looks down and inward, at his own anger, depression, feelings of rejection and fear of inadequacy, away from G-d. Because he feels rejected and inadequate, he feels lonely - to alleviate that loneliness he seeks out his brother. But instead of alleviating his pain, the sight of Hevel flips Kayin's mind, and Hevel becomes the reason why he feels rejected by G-d. It's more than he can bear and in his anger and fear, he murders his brother. Was Kayin's anger and fear wrong? Or his offering? No. But the way he dealt with the situation was. Kayin went first - offering to G-d the best he had from his crop. Then Hevel did the same - only with a twist - to me the 'he also' implies that Hevel offered grain, fruit and such, just as Kayin, but then Hevel added to the offering of grain and fruit some of the "firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof". Seeing Hevel's offering, so much more abundant than his own, Kayin is suddenly struck by fear that G-d won't accept his offering - this is the "but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect" - it's all in Kayin's mind!

To G-d Kayin's offering was fine, just as fine as his brother's, which to me is implied in the events that follow the murder. When Kayin realizes what he has done, he exiles himself from G-d "Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the land; and from Thy face shall I be hid". There was never any need for that, G-d never said that - He said that Kayin would be exiled from farming the earth, not from G-d's presence. On the contrary, when Kayin adds to his punishment that he will be outlawed and that every man will be against him, G-d says 'Not so, I will make sure that no one kills you for this!' So in the eyes of G-d Kayin's offering was ok, Kayin was OK. But to Kayin it wasn't good enough. What he had to offer wasn't good enough compared to Hevel's offering, and the price Kayin paid for his low self-esteem was even more fear, the loss of his brother and the self-inflicted loss of his G-d.

Poor Kayin! Fearful and shame-ridden, he turns away from the only source that could have saved him and his brother - G-d - Had he turned towards G-d with his feelings of shame, fear, inadequacy, envy, anger and rejection, he would have found a G-d ready to say: 'Not so, you are my child just as much as Hevel'.

The other side of the Story is that of Hevel - and the lesson of not shaming a fellow in public. By adding to his offering what was not inherently his to offer (the fruit of the earth) he shows off, and creates the implication that what he offers G-d is better than that of Kayin. The price he pays is steep, but on the other hand they say that shame is the killer of the soul - something that becomes quite clear through the re-actions of Kayin. Did Hevel draw death upon himself? No, but he wasn't an innocent victim either - his need to show-off, to be better, to best his brother, became his own downfall.

So where does this leave us?

From Kayin we learn that it's better to look outward and upward when we feel downcast and doubtful, than inward and downward, we risk missing the loving and caring words and help from our Father and those friends around us. We are never so bad off that G-d doesn't want us, that is just our stinking thinking that speaks. We are so much better of sharing with others what is on our minds than holding it in.

From Hevel we learn that showing off and besting others at their expense is just another expression of pride that goes before downfall. We also learn that using others to shine causes them shame, and shame is the #1 soul killer, and we might just end up in deep shit as a result. If we share our good fortune, try and make others part of our success, we will in the end be richer than before.

Amen

This article, including artworks and photos in this Blog is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/Silly Old Bear and are NOT public domain - unless otherwise specified.

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Posted: Oct 2, 2007 3:02pm
Oct 1, 2007

kopia-av-phoenix.jpg

Parasha: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 Haftarah:Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10 - Sefardim reads: Isaiah 42:5 - 42:21

Focal Point Bereshit 2:15-17; 3:1-3

And the L-RD G-d took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the L-RD G-d commanded the man, saying: 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.' [...]Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: 'Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?' And the woman said unto the serpent: 'Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.'

I have always found the traditional (Xian) interpretation of this story fishy to say the least. It seems that Chava was set up here. First of all - she wasn't present when the command not to eat of the Tree was given - in fact she didn't even exist yet! Secondly G-d didn't command her - He commanded Adam, who creates the first "gereizah" and adds "...neither shall you touch it..." when he passes the command on.

Chava really didn't stand a chance. She probably has already tried touching before the snake creeps up and talks to her, and nothing happened, which is as it should be, since G-d never said "...neither shall you touch it...", so how can she trust that the "eat and die" part is true - her only source of this is Adam - if the "no touching" just proved to be a lie? It turns out that it isn't bollocks - but who is responsible and in what way?

Chava has traditionally been made to bear the guilt alone - both Jewish and Xian Traditions have in some way or other based a misogynist world view in this singular idea, that it was all Chava's fault.

Tradition has made Adam an innocent victim of Chava's "female viles", and that according to the Story is simply not an accurate image. It turns out he played a very crucial role in this domestic drama. He sets himself up as the authority of the Law, and causes his wife to have reason to distrust what G-d has actually said, adding to G-d's command in a manner that makes clarity of Torah difficult to reach.

Chava on the other hand does try the limits of what she perceives to be the Law - that it wasn't the Law doesn't change the fact that she tested it. She feeds her own doubt by not turning to G-d and ask for a clarification when part of what she thinks is the Law turns out to be untrue, instead she assumes that all she has heard is untrue, and throws out the baby with the bathwater.

Both are equally culpable according to the recorded events, and in the eyes of G-d they certainly are.

What's in this Story for us?

Don't mess up Torah - if it's clear and understandable - don't try and make it "clearer", chances are you'll just make a mess that causes someone else to stumble. Don't make additions to Torah, It works fine as It is.

Check the facts for yourself, don't trust Authorities blindly, just because you love them or they seem sensible. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater - yes, some things you hear may be nothing but bullocks, but that doesn't mean everything similar is bullocks too.

Amen

This article, including artworks and photos in this Blog is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/Silly Old Bear and are NOT public domain - unless otherwise specified.

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Posted: Oct 1, 2007 5:09pm
Oct 1, 2007
Creation

Parasha: Genesis 1:1 - 6:8 Haftarah:Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10 - Sefardim reads: Isaiah 42:5 - 42:21

Focal Points: 1:1-5 - Creation that continues

1 When God began to create heaven and earth —

Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'arets.

2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water —

Veha'arets hayetah tohu vavohu vechoshech al-peney tehom veruach Elohim merachefet al-peney hamayim.

3 God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

Vayomer Elohim yehi-or vayehi-or.

4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.

Vayar Elohim et-ha'or ki-tov vayavdel Elohim beyn ha'or uveyn hachoshech.

5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.

Vayikra Elohim la-or yom velachoshech kara laylah vayehi-erev vayehi-voker yom echad.

----

"In the beginning of G-d's creating..." that's what the very first line of Torah says. Literally. This to us indicate two things:

Creation is an ongoing process and G-d didn't create out of nothing.

G-d creates out of that which is already in existence. This is good news to us - this means that G-d can use whatever chaos and deformity we are at the moment to make something great out of, and that we don't have to despair at being slow to learn or taking our time to "get it" - G-d's creative work is an on-going process, so we don't have to worry about a timetable.

"...with darkness over the surface..."

G-d starts out His creating in darkness and then He decides to make a counterpart to Darkness - Light.

This is important for us - because for most of us life up till now has been much on the Dark Side, we too started out in darkness. We need Light to counterpoint the Darkness of our unmanageable lives. So G-d creates Light, makes distinct lines between Light and Darkness to separate them from each other.

Notice that He doesn't remove Darkness, He makes a special room for it - "Night". Now, if He is G-d, then why on earth didn't He just get rid of Darkness and go completely with Light? Perhaps because without each other Light and Darkness would be meaningless. Creation needs both to function, and so do we.

Darkness in our lives works much like Night in nature - it provides dew, moisture that feeds/waters nature, inspires it to grow. If nature never experienced Night/Darkness, it would very quickly be scourged to dry dust by the Light/Day. That same way we need to soak up "moisture" from Darkness in our lives in order to grow during the times of light. We too would be scourged to dry dust if all we ever experienced was light.

And G-d saw that it was good...

On the other hand - the Light that explodes onto the scenery in v.3 is a Light that leaves no shadows. To that Light we are totally transparent. That is good, because it means that G-d knows exactly what He has to work with, so that in the end we become exactly what we are supposed to be - not what we might have been if the Light had been just any other light.

So the to-and-fro between Light and Darkness has another function - every now and then we need to be completely transparent in order to find the areas in ourselves that needs working on. At those times, Darkness is the Sweet Shadow in which we can rest between turns at digging in ourselves.

Whether we are in Light or Darkness - we are exactly where we are supposed to be, in the middle of G-d's Continued Creating

Shabbat Shalom!

This article, including artworks and photos in this Blog is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/Silly Old Bear and are NOT public domain - unless otherwise specified.

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Posted: Oct 1, 2007 12:37am
Sep 26, 2007

Torah Portion: Leviticus 22:26 - 23:44 & Numbers 29:12 - 29:16 Haftarah Zechariah 14:1-21

Focal point: Vayikra/Lev 23:34

"Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days."

"Sukkot reminds us that ultimate security is found not within the walls of our home but in the presence of God and one another. Indeed, there is a midrash that says that sukkot are not buildings at all but the glory of God. This holiday helps us understand that sometimes the walls we build to protect us serve instead to divide us, cut us off, lock us in.

The walls of our sukkot may make us vulnerable, but they make us available, too, to receive the kindness and the support of one another, to hear when another calls out in need, to poke our heads in to see whether anybody is up for a chat and a cup of coffee. In contrast, our walls of concrete and steel can enslave us in our own solitude and loneliness. Sukkot reminds us that freedom is enjoyed best not when we are hidden away behind our locked doors but rather when we are able to open our homes and our hearts to one another." From Kolel

This ties in very nicely with what I quoted from Alcoholics Anonymous when I wrote about G-d, Promises and The Days of Awe:

“That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that G-d is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p83-84)

On Yom Kippur we had a close encounter of the third degree with G-d during which we looked at who we are, what we have been and how to go on, and now on Sukkot we are asked to trust that G-d is going with us into the New Year, just like He went with the People during the forty years of wanderings in the desert. In fact we are to physically build that trust as we build the sukkah, and dwell in it for seven days, eat in there and invite our friends into our sukkah to share with us. And we are to visit others' sukkot and share with them.

The sukkah is a fragile building, but as it is made of tree branches it is also resilient. It gives some protection from view, but that's it. Trust is the same, it does give protection - inner protection - because when we trust, G-d, ourselves and others we build strength and wholeness, we learn to deal with the past, let go of it and move on with our Program trusting that G-d will care for us like He took care of our ancestors.

In one of our Bed Time Prayers we say: "Spread over us Your Sukkah of peace, direct us with Your good counsel, and save us for Your own Name's sake."

There are many versions of this line - some have say "wings" others say "presence" - but I like this version best, because it indicates something tangible, a structure, and since it's G-d's it's constant, it's always there for us, to take shelter in and learn more about what trust and wholeness is.

Amen

This article, including artworks and photos in this Blog is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/Silly Old Bear and are NOT public domain - unless otherwise specified.

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Posted: Sep 26, 2007 6:52am
Sep 21, 2007

"If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that G-d is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them." (Alcoholics Anonymous p83-84)

"This Phase" of course refers to working the 12 Steps of Recovery 1-9.

Note that it says, "before we are half way through..." - what's half-way through 9? 4.5 - so perhaps we are teetering on the edge of Step 5 - what an excellent opportunity to do our 5th Step right before Yom Kippur, so that we can turn to G-d having cleaned out all that old shame, fear, guilt about what we have lived through! Regardless what we decide to do, the result will be a renewal.

Another angle:

"When you make any vow to the L-rd your G-d, you must pay it without delay...If you refrain from making a vow, that is no sin for you; but you must be careful to perform any promise you have made with your lips." (Deut. 23:22)

I seldom make promises to G-d, but I sure make them to myself all the time - and somehow I think Torah here is talking about both kinds of promises. Promising things and not keeping them, forgetting that I made that promise - somehow I and G-d always end up with the shorter end of the stick in the Promise department. They get shuffled out as "not important". But Torah says that they are. One reason for this is that broken promises, or non-fullfilled promises erodes our trust and our sense of self-worth. Constantly making little promises to oneself and not following through is demoralizing. Torah abhors broken people, so Torah creates a mitzvah - "Follow through also on the vows you make to G-d (and yourself)."

Yom Kippur has a very specific formula to take care of the erosion of our souls tha comes from making all those little promises, commitments and resolutions to ourselves and G-d that we failed to honor: Kol Nidre.

The Ashkenazi version, which has "from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await)" rather than "from the last Day of Atonement until this one", in my mind is rather useless in terms of having any healing properties, so I will quote the Sefardi version:

"All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called 'konam,' 'konas,' or by any other name, which we may have vowed, or sworn, or pledged, or whereby we may be bound, from the last Day of Atonement until this one, we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths."

This is said 3 times - so it should give us plenty of time to let go of all those failed promises made to ourselves and G-d, during the past year, so we can step into His Presence and get straightened out, so our recovery can continue unhindered, that we may be all we can in the time until the next Yom Kippur.

May our sealing be for life, goodness and healing!

Amen

Video: Kol Nidre

This article, including artworks and photos in this Blog is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/Silly Old Bear and are NOT public domain - unless otherwise specified.

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Posted: Sep 21, 2007 1:11am
Sep 9, 2007

There is a Jewish Tradition to leave an Ethical Will - a summary of one's values and ethical principles to those left behind at one's death - as a means of comfort to those bereaved and a reminder of oneself, that they can keep and return to any time they need and want. The Ha'azinu may very well be just such an Ethical Will - Moshe Rabeinu's Ethical Will. If so, it's one angry Leader/Teacher leaving his Students an earful for their bad manners and lack of learning skills!

Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:1 "Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!"

Why would Moshe call on the Heavens and Earth to listen to him, when it is clearly stated in Deu 31:30 that he spoke "in the ears of all the assembly of Israel"? The Sages, as are their want, point out the obvious - that Moshe needs the Heavens and the Earth as witnesses against Israel: "And it will be when these many evils and vicissitudes befall him then this Song will testify before him as a witness..." Deu 31:21 In a way Ha'azinu is sort of a exposee over the History of Israel:

"The Mesiach Illmim, one of the early commentaries on Rashi, offers a cogent insight here. He points out that the Ha'azinu Song is divided into four sections.

 

  1. G-d's kindness to Israel (verses 3-14)
  2. Israel's rebellion (verse 15- 20)
  3. G-d's vengeance against Israel(verses 21-35)
  4. G-d's vengeance against Israel's enemies (verses 36-43)"
Ok.
  1. G-d gives out all kinds of gifts and asks for loyalty in return. Check.
  2. Israel decides they wanna eat the cake and keep it too. Check.
  3. G-d gets mad and gets back at Israel for their disloyalty. Check.
  4. G-d looks around and finds the REAL reason for Israel's disobedience - the Gentiles. Check.

Doesn't look right, does it? No, it doesn't look right, because it isn't. Moshe's Great Speech, although Prophetic and accurate from one basic point of view, is wrought with his own bitterness. He is not going to lead Israel into the Land of Promise, because HE is being made personally responsible for one simple mistake, that was the result of frustration over being pressured by the ever complaining People - and here the entire people get to go where G-d promised, despite the fact that they have been a worse pain in the behind than Moshe ever was. After all, isn't this song proof of that? You can hear Moshe's embittered "Why them and not Me?" from his "Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth!" "Judge the fairness of this! Tell me this is fair, tell me I am getting a fair hearing and a fair deal!"

Ethical Will Lesson #1 Life is not fair, deal with it!

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Posted: Sep 9, 2007 5:11pm

 

 
 
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