Posts Tagged ‘spirit’

For the birds?

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

We begin this week’s portion, Ki Tetze, with the famous commandment not to take a mother bird when harvesting its eggs – or chicks. According to the sages, there is a lot more in this mitzvah for us to digest than simply debating whether such an action is cruel. Listen:

“When a bird’s nest shall happen to be in front of you… and the mother is sitting over the chicks… you shall not take the mother along with the children… so that it will be good for you, and extend your days.” (Deut. 22:6-7)

There once was a king with a large garden that needed much work: watering, weeding, harvesting fruit, and so on. He went out and hired a whole group of workers and, without telling them how much he would pay them, set them to work at the various tasks. When evening came and the work was complete, he called each one in turn and asked them what they had done. To one, he paid a piece of gold for working at a pepper tree; to another, a half a piece of gold for working at a white blossom tree; and to a third, he paid 200 zuz for working an olive tree.

The workers grew upset and complained: “You should have told us what the best-paying jobs were to begin with!” The king replied, “All the work needed doing! If I had told you in advance, you would have only worked on the best paying jobs!”

And so it is with the mitzvot: G!d has only revealed the two extremes, the hardest and the easiest. The hardest? To honor our parents. The easiest? To leave the mother bird behind. How do we know this? The reward for the first is that our days shall be long, and the second that our days will be prolonged.

Midrash Rabbah – Deut. VI:2

One obvious interpretation of this story is to compare it to the judgment some believe we will receive after we have died. I would like to suggest something different:

Some mitzvot seem easier for one person and harder for another; and of course what is hard for me may be easy for you. Which should we devote ourselves to undertaking: the hard ones? The easy ones? The answer, I think, is simply: Yes.

Study the mitzvot. They are all valuable, no matter how difficult, no matter what we imagine the reward might be. The Garden – our Earth, and the people and life upon it – needs tending, and we would do well to contribute our effort to it, without worrying about which is “more valuable.” Pick a commandment you’re not doing, study it, and give it a try. Need a good place to start? Pick up a copy of “Jewish Spiritual Practices” by Yitzhak Buxbaum, and I guarantee you’ll find something to tweak your interest – and fill your spirit.

Here’s Looking at You!

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

The Sages liked to promote a peaceful resolution of conflict, whenever possible. This peace, they knew, had to begin in the home: “shalom bayit.” So even when it was time to teach about the peace between nations, they would turn it to the need for peace between husband and wife.


“When you approach a town to do battle with it, you shall call to it for peace.” (Deut. 20:10)

This week’s portion, Shoftim, is the basis for one of the more compelling images to call for peace. Even so, there are deeper levels available to us from this “rich” tale…

The sages call to us: “Come and see how great is the power of peace!” There was a woman who was a disciple of Rabbi Meir, listening to his lessons on Sabbath evenings. One time she stayed very late, and her husband was angry at how long she had been away. “I swear that I won’t let you back in this house until you go and spit in his face!” What could she do? He was a great sage, and yet she yearned for her husband. For three weeks, she could not return home.

Then Elijah, of blessed memory, appeared to R. Meir and told him what had happened. The next time the woman came to listen, he called out, “Is there any woman here who knows the charm for a sore eye?” The woman, understanding his meaning, rose and spit in his eye; “Do it seven times!” he enjoined her. When she finished, he said, “Go back and be reconciled with your husband: tell him he asked you to spit in my face once, and you did it seven times!”

See how great is the power of peace.

Midrash Rabbah – Deut. V:15

At the simplest level we must ask ourselves: what are we willing to do to promote peace? How far will we go to help another, someone we barely know? Few of us would ever measure up to R. Meir’s performance. And yet, is he without blame?

The complete midrash speaks of the woman being absent until the Shabbat candles had gone out. Remember, the duty of every couple on Shabbat is to make love – and here she is, “studying” with the Rabbi! Even if their relationship was as physically distant as some of the other tellings make it sound, did not Meir have a responsibility not to interfere in her marital relationship? Is he not guilty of some form of seduction?

And to go deeper still: which is more important – the love of study, or loving another? How wonderful that a midrash can speak to us at so many levels through one “simple” story!

A Stroke of Insight

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Today I heard a re-broadcast of Jill Bolte Taylor on Terry Gross’ “Fresh Aire.” It led me to discover her presentation on “TED,” which you can find here. The link to the Terry Gross interview is here.

Dr. Taylor is a neuro-anatomist who had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions – motion, speech, self-awareness – shut down one by one. In the TED interview, she describes not merely the stroke, but the powerful and moving insight it gave her into spirituality and the human condition.

I have not been moved so significantly in many, many years. Watch the TED video – please.

The Maggidut of Listening

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

We had an interesting session at Vital Conversations last night; the guest spoke about his wrestling with his faith, and how when he finally was ready to truly doubt he finally began to really live.

He is, amongst other things, a professional counselor, and so some of the conversation turned to what is required to build trust, love and relationship between people; truly listening was the obvious foundation.

So what does listening have to do with maggidut – often thought of inspirational telling?

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