Jerusalem in snow
Thursday, January 8, 2015
A reminder that Friday night services now begin at 7 PM. With Cantor Fishman on vacation this week, I’ll be going solo - with a special focus on silence and mindfulness (see below). In addition, we’ll be having a special family service led by our 5th and 6thgraders at 6, with a Disney theme, including prayers sung to Disney themes (I’m tempted to dust off my Lyin’ King Purim parody that I wrote years ago). I’ve seen some of the material and it’s really creative! Great for the whole family.
Next Friday night Cantor Fishman will be bringing musical guest Avram Pengas, a world renowned musician specializing in guitar and oud. Plus, join Mara and for a special Oneg Shabbat at our home after services. Looking ahead, circle January 30 on the calendar for our Shabbat service downtown.
Other than Shabbat, I hope you can join me at three big events next week. I’m really looking forward to the first session of my “Hot Topics for Cold Months” series on Tuesday night, this time focusing on Judaism and Gun Violence. On Wed. at noon, ourLunch and Learn series on Pirke Avot continues. And on Thursday evening, our interfaith “Learning and Latte” will step aside for this month for an interfaith community conversation, Moving Beyond Racism, featuring Mayor David Martin.
Also, our new LGBT group had a preliminary meeting this week. The next meeting will take place on Thursday evening, Jan. 22 at 7:30. A Havdalah / social event is also on the calendar, set for March 7 at a Harbor Point location. Save those dates! More info to come.
And don’t forget our Israel trip - see the itinerary and other info here. We would love to have you join us this July.
Holy Silence, January Cold, Jerusalem Snow, Heschel and “Wild”
Jerusalem in snow
“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way....It offers a silence. It offers a solace. It offers a perspective.”
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
“The deepest language of the soul is silence.”
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, quoted in the current issue of the digital journal Sh’ma, which features some stirring essays on silence.
Over the holidays, I went to see the excellent film “Wild.” In this week’s portion of “Shmot,” the book of Exodus begins with Moses embarking on a similar journey - remarkable similar, in fact, as he retreats to the silence of the wilderness to escape family trauma (his estrangement from the Egyptian court) and personal calamity (his murder of a taskmaster) in a tortured and tortuous journey of self discovery.
The great conservationist Aldo Leopold spoke of January as an ideal month to explore the outdoors, despite the cold, because, with so much of nature in hibernation, there are few diversions. As I walked across the frozen tundra of my lawn this morning and heard little but the crunch of ice beneath my feet, I could understand what he was getting at.
He writes, in his classic, “A Sand County Almanac,” “The months of the year, from January up to June, are a geometric progression in the abundance of distractions. In January one may follow a skunk track, or search for bands on the chickadees, or see what young pines the deer have browsed, or what muskrat houses the mink have dug, with only an occasional and mild digression into other doings. January observation can be almost as simple and peaceful as snow, and almost as continuous as cold. There is time not only to see who has done what, but to speculate why.”
January, then, is a time when we can pause, meander and reflect. The cold forces us to go a little more slowly (unless you are in Green Bay or Foxboro, that is), and the snow blankets the world with a coat of mystery. It coated Jerusalem with a few inches just this week, and for a fleeting moment, the tumult of the region was replaced by silent stirring, with the only noise being children at play.
Friday marks the yahrzeit of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose contributions to the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s was apparently airbrushed out of the film “Selma,” which opens nationally this weekend. Heschel spoke out against silence, both human and God’s, in the face of injustice. But Heschel also understood the power of silence in prayer. Long before mindfulness became a fad, he practically invented the concept of wonder for the 20th century Jew, living in an increasingly urban, complex and noisyworld.
Here’s what he wrote about prayer, nature and silence:
“To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers - wiser than all alphabets - clouds that die constantly for the sake of His glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.”
...In a sense, our liturgy is a higher form of silence. It is pervaded by an awed sense of the grandeur of God which resists description and surpasses all expression. The individual is silent. He does not bring forth his own words. His saying the consecrated words is in essence an act of listening to what they convey. The spirit of Israel speaks, the self is silent.
...Twofold is the meaning of silence. One, the abstinence from speech, the absence of sound. Two, inner silence, the absence of self-concern, stillness. One may articulate words in his voice and yet be inwardly silent. One may abstain from uttering any sound and yet be overbearing. Both are inadequate: our speech as well as our silence. Yet there is a level that goes beyond both: the level of song. “There are three ways in which a man expresses his deep sorrow: the man on the lowest level cries; the man on the second level is silent; the man on the highest level knows how to turn his sorrow into song.” True prayer is a song.
That’s our unofficial mission statement here - to cultivate silence, and to transform it into song.
On Friday night at 7 PM, we, like Robert Frost, Moses and Meryl Streep will also travel “Into the Woods” - I mean the wilderness (got my movies mixed up), with quotes by Cheryl Strayed and others. Let’s see if we can’t experience some meaningful moments amidst the holy silence.
And on Shabbat morning, we’ll deepen mindfulness with a discussion of the portion through the eyes Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, as described in the new book, “A Partner in Holiness.”
"It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts." K.T. Jong
Have a peaceful - and quiet - Shabbat.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman