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For Your Shabbat Table

Teddy Bear Or Eagle? America, What Are You?

This country was founded, settled, defined and furthered by people who left their homes for the unknown.  Whether or not they were religious (in the conventional sense) is (and will be) debated by those with agendas.  It is unarguable however, that the founders of this country were risk-takers -- and inherent in risk is belief.  They were, in other words, believers. 

Appropriately, the fledgling country chose for their symbol the eagle, the Biblical metaphor for mercy, majesty and redemption.   One of the presidents who personified the country's ethos -- so well they etched his face on a big rock -- was Teddy Roosevelt.  Incongruously, his legacy is cuddly, harmless, lovably ineffectual: the teddy bear.  

Not only Teddy, but the One to whom this nation pledges that it is under, has softened into someone cuddly to whom we intone pledges and sing that he bless us.  He occupies a sacred place along with honor, flag and, well, apple pie. 

He is not to make us uncomfortable.  He is not to demand how we dress, what we eat, the content of our entertainment, what we teach our children.  He is not to stick out awkwardly: at odds with what we deem appropriate.  He is created in our image.  We love him.  He is our Teddy Bear. 

The first word from G-d to Abraham is "Go from your land, your father's home, your birthplace to the land which I will show you".  No comfort zones allowed.  Leave them and only then can you achieve everything I have in store for you, everything of which you are capable.  Only by stepping outside of yourself can you grow -- and can I be your God.  From childhood on, for over seventy years, Abraham defied the mores of his society and a despotic tyrant who declared himself god.  The tyrant threatened Abraham with death if he did not repudiate his belief; Abraham did not waver.  Still, after all this, G-d told him: leave the familiar and comfortable. 

Their gods are of silver and stone, they have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, mocked the psalmist.  Not exclusively did he refer to idols from Sunday-school coloring books.  A god who makes me feel warm and protected is nothing more than abstract materialism:  a warm place to go, home and hearth.  For that matter a god who tells you to go is nothing more than an adventurer, if it is only adventure and change of scenery you are after.  But when G-d tells us to leave our laurels of yesterday's accomplishment and take on the new he is really telling us to be alive today.  

And (paradoxically) he adds that this will be good for you, you will become wealthy, prosperous and numerous. Not comfortable: good.  

Teddy bears are good; for kids; at the boys' third birthday we throw candy at him and give him honey in the shape of the Aleph-Bet because the words of Torah are sweet.  But then we move him on to meat and potatoes: study of these words "for they are our lives and the length of our days".  What is sweet at three, if allowed to linger will turn sacchariny at twenty-three -- and have fostered cavities of decay in the soul. 

Feeling warm and comfortable is not inherently bad; it becomes debilitating when it is pursued as a goal.  

Avinu Shebashamayim - Our God in Heaven. 
The majesty of the eternal calls to and resonates in a soul, 
a spark of that majesty sent to unfurl the majesty inherent in life on earth. 
To bring the majesty of heaven down to earth.  
Heaven: something greater than the comfortable and familiar.  The eagle soars there.  
The symbol of America: a nation under.

Children's Math

How long since you had to look inside a math book?  Because here's a question that might have got by you: 
A down payment on a home costs $5,000.  
Housing one brain-damaged man for a year costs $20,000. 
How many families lose homes to mental retardation? 

This extra-credit teaser comes from a Nazi-endorsed schoolbook(currency adjusted).  It was the first steps in curing society of the unneeded. Shortly after, with the country now ready, beautiful killings (euthanasia in Latin) began.   

It is comforting to think that Nazis were demons rather than humans.  But following their defeat you couldn't find an anti-Semite west of the Elbe.   When questioned by Allied troops the mayors around Dachau professed no hard feelings to the Jews. They were not demons; they were people who legalized euthanasia.  

Euthanasia makes sense.  The animal kingdom, Greek culture and Darwinism all lend their credence.   The only one withholding credence is a pesky verse in our Parsha; forbidding murder and suicide, "for in the image of G-d I have created you." An absurd abstraction in the face of home ownership.  

What is this 'image' of an allegedly formless being? 
Who are you to tell me how to spend my money? 
How to run our affairs? 
You're nothing but a stranger amongst us. 
Do you know the suffering of caring for this person? 
Must we fit your bill?  Who asked you anyway? 

Many if not most Jews of Germany did not see themselves as bearers of any message: Regardless, the messenger of a bad message must be liquidated. 

It seems so foreign: jackboots and German shepherds, J's on Jewish stores, marches in the night.  
It is so foreign, so unreal, so out of our context, so un-American. 
True, it is also the very opposite of what this country was built upon.   But. . . 

Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.  

Always an abstract, vague undercurrent feeds into, and later evolves into, bold statements and policies. Just after this verse about the murder-image thing, follows the verse to be fruitful and multiply.   The verse is repetitive and the juxtaposition so stark that the Talmud equates the lack of procreation with murder and spilling blood. Both at some level deny the G-dliness, the holiness, the sacredness of the human soul and form.   

Logic it makes.  If human image is divine then it must be furthered and multiplied.  If it is not multiplied, then the sanctity is diminished  -- and on some level -- questioned. 

The highest birthrate in the world, I am told, was in the Jewish Displaced Persons Camps of Europe following the war - a courageous and bold revocation and retort to the Final Solution. 

My father was once challenged by a woman," But I want my girls to have the good things in life, dance classes and party dresses.   You can't give them these things when you have too many kids." 

"Would your kids prefer," asked my father, "to have one sister and four party dresses or two sisters and two party dresses?" 

I have heard it said that having children could tie up free money.   
To not have a child because of financial consideration?  
Should we do the math?

Why Are you Going to Yom Kippur Eve Services?

Kol Nidre
Kol Nidre. Certainly the most attended Jewish prayer of the year. Certainly the most awesome. But why? 

The words are pretty mundane, a basic annulment for 
misunderstood, haphazardly applied, ill-advised vows 
a person may have taken upon themselves. 

There is a similar prayer recited Erev Rosh Hashanah. 
To most Jews it is unknown, or at best obscure. 
Kol Nidre everybody knows.

One of the books I know only from reviews, is a compilation of last letters from soldiers on the front -- letters to their wives, their mothers, their children, their newborn babies. 

From what I have heard of the book there is little in the way of abstract philosophy; it is all about small moments, washing dishes together, sharing a nighttime ride into town, macaroni and cheese.

This is how connections are made: small, insignificant interfaces, which could have happened dozens of times before and hundreds later, but that moment - just that moment -- became an indelible connection. 

(A mitzvah is a connection - that is the meaning of the word.)

Why did that moment take on a life of its own? 
We rarely know, and almost never care; 
we just embrace it for what it gives us. 

Standing on the outside of the relationship it may well seem overblown and corny; not from the inside.

In the collective Jewish experience the Kol Nidre stands out a recurring lighthouse in the tempest of the year, a comfort, and also a challenge that feels right for us. 

My father says that the nicest thing about Italian opera is that you don't understand the words. Comprehension can, in flourishing moments, only diminish. 

That is why comprehension, analysis can only rob a soldier's letter of the very reason we would ever care to read them. We don't know why or when Kol Nidre came to be Kol Nidre, we just know that it is. 

Niggun evokes that quality which defies analysis and breaks the heart and makes it full. 
Kol Nidre Night is a time for niggun;
Not choirs, not chanting, not necessarily understanding the words, or even knowing the tunes. 

That all is preparation of Kol Nidre, to make the Kol Nidre that much fuller. If this past year we didn't prepare for Kol Nidre - that is why we have a next year. 

So now is not a time to analyze, to dissect the moment. Don't worry if you don't understand; you'll have a whole year to learn. 
Don't worry if you're not on the right page; every page is the right page. 
Don't worry if you can't follow the tune; the tune will follow you regardless. 

Now is the time to just be there, to just be. 

For now, let us write home our letter from the war front.

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