Sealed in the Book of Life

Funny story: So Yom Kippur is perhaps the most somber and important day of the Jewish year; it’s the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Day of Atonement, the day our names our sealed in the Book of Life for one more year.

And Yom Kippur is tomorrow.

But my calendar (don’t trust calendars) implied it began last night, so I began fasting, trying to think of Yom Kippur things, and then I realized, today isn’t even Yom Kippur.

So clearly, the year is off to a great start.

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Forgive Me

I want to write a profound and moving post about Yom Kippur. About atonement, about forgiveness, about redemption and revival. I want to write a poem about the pounding of my fist against my heart as I echo, in harmony with the congregation around me, the confessions of our sins. I want to paint a picture of the closing gates with such vividness my readers will forget they’re reading and think they are seeing into heaven itself.

But Yom Kippur is not about grandeur, and what else are these desires?

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Unravelling the Fabric

I once wrote about prayer. I said, in four words, don’t pray for me. Apparently two students missed the memo, because right as I took a bite into my lunch yesterday (sitting on a bench outside, enjoying the weather while I read a news story about McCutcheon vs. the FEC) two young men walked up to me and asked where I’d gotten my jacket.

Except–like last time–I knew at once it was a cover. I swallowed my mouthful, “Why, Beta Brand, of course,” I said, and waited for the inevitable questions about faith and God and all the fabric of the universe in between: “May we pray for you?”

Oh, what’s a man to do?

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2014 Goalkeeping #1

Last night I did what I haven’t done in a while: I prayed.

I have mixed feelings on what we should pray for, how we should pray for them, and even if prayer’s always necessary, but I couldn’t sleep and the words I needed just seemed to be there. I began thinking of all the people in my life right now who are struggling with sickness whether physically or mentally or emotionally, and all I could ask was for God to share his light with them, to give them what they need to heal and recover.

But my words didn’t stop there. Give them your light, I said, so they can become themselves. Not who they are today–unsatisfied with life, burdened by illness, just getting by–but the people they want to become. Because there is nothing more beautiful than watching a person achieve their potential, watching them grow into the unique and unparalleled person only they can become. And I realized, as I said these words, how much I yearn to witness this transformation in everything I do: When I lead on campus, when I tutor, when I make goals for myself.

Especially, perhaps, when I make goals for myself because when I can continually grow and learn and evolve, the light that shines from this personal transformation will always be alive–and the honesty with which I hope to see it in others will always survive. I strive to grow so I will always remember that others can grow, too.

So we’re about a month in, and what a month has it been–for better or worse, worse or better, and I think I’ve made a lot of progress (and a lot of regression) with where I want to be this year. If you recall, I went through some special efforts this year to make my goals SMART–that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. In most cases, I succeeded in doing this, but as you’ll see, in some spots I missed the mark.

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Don’t Pray for Me

The first time it happened I was standing in a shack raising money for the homeless. The two walked up to me–a man and a woman, maybe my age, smiling, too exuberant–and with their eyes attached longingly to mine, they introduced themselves and asked, “Can we pray for you?”

I’ll admit: I was taken aback. All my life the idea of “praying for others” was an insult to their identity and an affirmation of the prayer-maker’s superiority: “You’re Jewish? I’ll pray for you. You’re gay? I’ll pray for you. You’re a sinner. I’ll pray for you.”

And here were two and all they wanted to do

(an unnecessary line break for poetic emphasis)

was pray for me.

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The God Tax

During the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games last night I saw a commercial featuring our President responding to claims from challenger Mitt Romney that he’s against private business. The claim comes from a quote not too long ago in which President Obama stated, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that.”

It’s scandalous, isn’t it? Ant what’s it got to do with the Talmud?

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Food for Thought

Some themes get exhausted quickly. The Kardashians, vampires that sparkle, mocking-anythings. Other themes persists for ages. Beliefs in God–or gods–light versus darkness, Tolkien and Harry Potter. Other themes are fresh at first but as time goes on, we tire of them. We want something new. Something novel. Something we haven’t seen or read a dozen times before.

This week’s teaching is one of those themes.

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What Makes a Ritual

There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs when I go to Shabbat services: I get up early Saturday morning, I’m fully awake till halfway through the car ride, then my tiredness slowly begins to creep upon me until–right as I walk into the sanctuary–all my energy is gone and I feel like I could fall asleep right there. Ten minutes later, something miraculous happens–as if through osmosis, the energy of the environment, the sacred prowess of the place, the vibrancy of the life-borne prayers surrounding me, the Ner Tamid–the Eternal Light–hanging above the ark, begins to seep inside me until I’m fully alive with the intensity of the moment.

Then I get home and I need a nap. Go figure.

Something amusing also occurred today: Of the four Torah readers, I was the only one who wasn’t a rabbi. Go figure.

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A Sojourn of Self and Soul

The Saturday before last was the youth Shabbat at my synagogue. In other words, the majority of the service was led by youth from our congregation, mostly middle- and high-school-aged students, with a few college kids and some of the teachers at our synagogue’s congregational school mixed in. It got me thinking. About a lot of things.

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Sanctity and Solace

Maybe it’s just me.

One thing that irks me to no end is going to religious services and instead of being welcomed into a calm air of heartfelt love and prayer, being immersed in an ocean of chatter and discourse. True: Community is integral to any religious congregation, but isn’t the point to find religious fulfillment, not gossip and how-are-you’s?

When our rabbi gently whispers into the microphone, “Shh…,” people listen, take their seats, and soon thereafter such an atmosphere of selfless love is fostered and culminates in the utterance of what I’m most thankful for tonight.

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