The Seder Plate and its meaning
A quick public service message to say you are important, you matter, you count. In the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, a census of the Jews traveling through the desert is taken, twice. At the beginning of the journey and again at its end. Funds were raised and property/assets disbursed according to the counting.
The National Faithful Census Weekend is coming up March 27-29. Please be counted. Fill out your Census as an act of community empowerment this weekend or anytime over the coming weeks. The Census can (and should!) be done from the safety and comfort of your home. It is simple, safe and secure and can be done by going to www.2020census.gov. A complete count determines Congressional representation as well as federal resources to Colorado for the next ten years, approximately $2,300 per person per year to support social safety net programs including Unemployment Insurance, Highway grants, Water Pollution Control State, Interstate, and Tribal Program Support, Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities, State and Drug Free Schools and Community Grants, Child Abuse and Neglect State Grants, National Fire Plan - Wildland Urban Interface Community Fire Assistance and hundreds more. You can see that these funds go towards a vast variety of issues important to our state and its inhabitants.
When we answer the Census, we declare that we are part of “we the people” and commit to doing our part to bring critical funding and political representation to Colorado.
We each embody the Divine image, b'tzelem Eloheem. As we continue to watch out for one another by carefully following the CDC and WHO guidelines to get through COVID 19, we ask for blessings for those who are ill, those on the front lines taking care of them: physicians, nurses, aides, transportation workers, administrators; those providing resources for the general public at stores, pharmacies, transportation sources, police and fire personnel; the teachers learning to adapt to online curriculums and student interaction; and all those who are researching, creating, assisting in the worldwide fight against this virus. We extend Mi Sheberach blessings as well as for everyone, each and every person who needs support, hope and strength to weather these circumstances. Every person counts and we give thanks we are here to participate in this counting.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Blessings and Shabbat Shalom
A Taste of Shabbat for when we are physically separated:
With Jeff returning to Colorado in time for Chanukah after our being a commuter couple for eight years, I am sharing a story written 2/2015 with the belief that my gift keeps growing.
THE GIFT OF LOVE
Leaving the doctor’s office, I climbed into the car and started down the winding parking ramp. Breathe, I reminded myself as I replayed my conversation with the physician moments before.
“See how the white here turns gray there and when we turn it this way, the opposite is true? That’s the bone marrow. This should be that color and it’s not.” His voice faded for me as he described the things it could be but probably weren’t. I heard clearly, “…of course we won’t know for sure. That’s why we need the biopsy. It’s easiest to go into the shoulder so we’ll do that and grab a few cells. Then we’ll know for sure and when we do, we’ll go from there. Of course, there’s a chance it’s something else.”
A chance it’s something else. I’d been trying to track down for a year what was wrong. This was the one year anniversary of finding out my husband of 38 years had leukemia. I had jokingly remarked then that we’d been together so long we were sharing the disease, I had the symptoms but he had the diagnosis.
I looked up and spoke aloud, “If this is how it’s going to be, You have to watch over my children.” No denial for me. I went straight to bargaining – I was good at that. It’s in the DNA. Abraham Aveinu (our father) haggled with God over whole cities. Jacob wrestled for a blessing. Moses argued about taking a job. Surely, it was ok for me to request a little attention for my family.
In a few short weeks, I had gone from pain to preparing a bucket list. Upon returning to my physical therapist for a recurrent shoulder pain, he requested an MRI. The MRI led to a complete body bone scan and now a bone biopsy for probable bone metastases.
With Thanksgiving coming up, the procedure could not be scheduled for a week. Somehow, I had to get through the holiday weekend. I was determined not to spoil the holiday for everyone. I wouldn’t say anything. That resolve lasted about thirty seconds after my getting off the plane. At the airport, my sister was too perceptive.
“It’s been a long day.”
“Ok, but what’s really wrong?”
I caved. After insisting I could not leave the family gathering without telling everyone, she also agreed to let me reveal it at a time of my choosing.
Thursday was a hustle and bustle of last minute shopping, cooking, cleaning up, and setting the table. Part of the family participated in the annual city race and my 70 year old brother-in-law came in first in his age category. Friends and more family arrived for a splendid Thanksgiving meal, followed by games and music, smiles, laughter and love.
Gathered around the kitchen table, I shared the news Friday morning with my family: siblings and siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews. My children and husband already knew and one dear friend. After the initial stunned reaction, the love and support that flowed was beyond sustaining. Then came offers to be donors, to come to take care of me if needed, to be available day or night for calls and support, the love was palpable. So much so that the third generation, just over one year old, 4 ½ and 7, picked up on the energy. They danced and gave out hugs to everyone.
That evening was filled with good food, laughter, cuddling and hugs. The 4 ½ year old drew heart pictures for all the adults and requested letters back, to which we all complied. Notes filed with blessings and love and hugs and thanks were written back, allowing everyone to find a place of gratitude.
I finally convinced my son, who had driven 400 miles to be with us and would need to drive back the next morning, to get some sleep. Towering a foot over me, he was at once my little boy and my right hand guardian. I drew power from the near commanding, “You’ll be fine,” from my eldest sister as we hugged farewell. It was an echo of mom’s, z’l’* , “I won’t hear of it. You’re going to be fine”, when at age ten and sick with rheumatic fever, I had asked if I was going to die.
Anticipating the 5:45 AM flight home, I spent the night on the couch with my second sister, talking in whispers the way we used to do as kids. Holding hands, we fell briefly to sleep before the alarm woke us to final hugs, tears and well wishes.
My brother drove me to the airport. There are big brother hugs and then there are big brother hugs. This big brother hug anchored me like the roots of a tree.
The morning of the biopsy came and my daughter drove me to the hospital at 5:30 AM. She escorted me through the halls of check-in and preparation, staying with me until the nurse came to take me for the procedure.
“Don’t worry about elevated vitals,” explained the nurse, “it’s normal to be anxious.”
“I’m not anxious,” I replied. “However, my daughter might need something.”
Facing one more, large, ominous machine, this time with my arms velcroed down so I would not move during the procedure, the last thing I heard before succumbing to the anesthetic was, “You really aren’t anxious. Your vitals are terrific.”
A few hours later, I was back home resting, thanks to my daughter. By evening, I was back to being mom, sending her home with chicken soup and knadlach to help her recover from a cold. Now there was nothing to do but wait for results. And so we did. We ALL waited.
If love and laughter, prayers and wishes can bring about miracles, I had a miracle. The reports showed no traces of cancer, no tumor, nothing of consequence to worry about. During the following weeks, I learned that scans, lab reports, symptoms of various minor illnesses and a few anomalies had converged to appear as one life threatening disease. I could go back to physical therapy and try again to heal. This time though, I would have the added strength of my entire family helping me.
Emails, phone calls, Skype calls went out to everyone. We cried, we laughed, we offered long distance hugs. I had been given the greatest gift one could know in their life time. Surrounded by family and friends, blessed with their support and their caring, I was encased in love and carried on the wings of Shechinah.
Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates the miracle of a battle, the miracle of light and the miracle of continued faith through daunting times. With the blessings of the first Chanukah candle, I knew that my miracle had arrived early, wrapped in the gift of love. Now, every morning, I awake with a new appreciation for life as I recite modah ani, I give thanks.
* Zichrona livracha: may her memory be a blessing
EREV ROSH HASHANAH 2016
We are now in the season of dedication. Dedication is the translation of Chanukah. Beyond the story of oil lasting for eight days, or of a rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks, Chanukah is a story of faith giving people strength to overcome their fear. Fear rides highest in times of darkness. Chanukah falls in the darkest part of the year, at the winter solstice. Into that dark, Chanukah brings a little light, a little faith. There is no doubt that this year the darkness is thick. Thick enough to touch - like the darkness of the ninth plague upon Egypt. It is a darkness not only of a night sky, but also of belief: belief in a way of life that once held hope for a brighter tomorrow, belief in ourselves to make a difference in the world and leave it a better place, belief in one another. Are we looking in the wrong places? Are we asking the wrong questions?
As a people, we come together so strongly when we are in crisis. How can we gather that energy and concern and keep it going regardless of our favored immediate crisis? We can realize that whether or not it is our particular passion, there are always crises to address. That alone should pull us together. For as surely as if you ignore a function of your body it will affect your entire well-being, so too, it is with a society. This does not mean we need to live in a state of abject tension and general dismay. Rather, it means we need to acknowledge that everyone has difficulties and everywhere there are problems to overcome. If we can accept that, and treat each other with kindness and compassion at all times, as if there were a national crisis, then the world, then our worlds, our lives, would become more aligned with what we claim we stand for, tikkun olam, healing the world.
There is a gift in this for us. A lovely Chanukah gift that we don’t have to buy at the store and that no one will tell you about on the TV. In fact, it will hamper the efforts of those who sell us on need and greed. For the gift is that we become more grateful for what we have. Being grateful does not mean putting on rose-colored glasses, but it does give us an opportunity to see balance in the world. Being grateful allows us to open our hearts to what we have so that what we lack doesn’t leave us so fearful. Being grateful allows us to extend ourselves to others because we need not be envious that someone has something more, we can understand that it might just be different. Being grateful allows us to be followers of Yehudah, Judah, a name meaning “I am grateful”.
This Chanukah, may the world be filled with gratitude for an ever evolving creation of which we are a part. May our lives be dedicated to bringing light and enlightenment into the world. May your homes be filled with joy and with love.
Wishing you each a Happy Chanukah and Wonderful New Year.
There’ll be sparks of light in the sky tonight
Sparks of a soul flying free
Back to its Source, the Divine spark of life
Having departed the earthly body.
No more pain, no more tears
Except for all those left behind.
Let us know that you’ve found rest
Send us comfort. Let us bless tonight
As you would have us bless each day
And one another in the way
You’ve shown us.
Bless the blades of grass that grow,
Bless the hail and bless the snow,
Bless the sun and bless the rain
Each time it falls recite, “Amen”.
The brother to your left,
The mother to your right,
Politically, physically, hold them tight
And let them know it doesn’t matter -
Because we are all part of the shattered vessel
And the sparks, the sparks will return to the Source.
Yes, there will be sparks of light in the sky tonight.
Look upon them and bless them.
Freedom takes many forms.
Bless the sparks of light in the sky tonight.
Bless the sparks.
Rabbi Birdie Becker 7/4/14 in memory of Reb Zalman z'l'
During a Friday night service discussion, the following issue arose: wouldn’t God know of an entity and cause it to occur miraculously, even if we think we know that it did not exist in biblical times? What a great question!! In this particular case, the issue centered around tzara’at, which used to be translated as leprosy and is now often translated as scales. While in this case I think the text wanted us to look at a larger message, it doesn’t negate believing in miracles.
Some will contend, that once we can explain something, that it falls into the rational realm. However, just because science can explain how DNA functions, it does not reduce the miracle of its functionality. Every time an allele or gene shifts, we are reminded of how miraculous it is when they don’t. Meteorologist help us understand weather patterns, but that certainly doesn’t help us control them or their effects. The whirlwind in Moore, Oklahoma was no less daunting than the whirlwind from which God spoke to Job. The volcanic eruption in 2011 that closed European airspace for six days, or the recent one in the Philippines that killed 5 climbers, shook the ground and vibrated in ears as did Mt. Sinai when we received revelation. The question that should be asked is, was anyone gleaning lessons?
I am not speaking here of the scientific lessons. There is no doubt that the scientist are crunching numbers and analyzing data. What about the rest of us? Are we looking around and seeing that we are connected through all these actions. The gene shifts don’t take place in a vacuum. The reverberations of earthquakes, the ash from fires and volcanic eruption, the tsunamis, the whirlwinds in hurricanes, tornadoes and dust storms have global effects. They reach into the physical reality of our planet’s life, the sustainability of our cultural patterns, the financial stability of our global economy, and the health of our humanity. Are we listening, seeing, absorbing the message or are we still sending someone else to receive the instructions while we worship at a golden calf?
Ultimately, with billions of planets, stars, and other celestial objects, we know how miraculous it is that life exists on earth. If we awaken everyday with that knowledge, we cannot help but want to connect to the Divinity within that miracle. This connection begins with knowing we are b’tzelem elohim, in the image of the Divine. There is no conflict with coming to understand the miracles and helping them to continue. It could be that that is what Rabbi Tarfon meant when he said, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” (Avot 2:21).
and I, “etc., etc., and so forth”.
Now that I’ve depressed you, let’s turn our viewpoint on its head.
Did you awaken this morning? That’s a start! You have a new day to fill with memories of your choice.
Did you open your eyes and look around? How joyous to see all the colors of the world, the designs of nature and of
Was there a roof over your head when you opened your eyes? Then you are not on the streets by choice or necessity.
Were you awakened by an alarm clock, ringing phone or other sounds? Then you can hear. Lucky you! Listen to the wind, the birds, the voices of animals and people that share your world.
Did a voice awaken you or greet you during the day? Then you have companionship in your life. Even though someone is not constantly by your side, you don’t walk through the world alone.
Were you able to wash your hands, face, body today? Then you have access to water, probably modern plumbing – for others these are miracles.
Did you have to choose which clothes to wear? Then, in addition to having clothes, you have the ability to make decisions. You have the freedom to be independent in thought and in deed.
There are blessings we recite for all these and more; blessings for everyday activities. When we bless a mundane event, we elevate it to a higher level. In that way, our normal activities become reminders of how lucky we are, how grateful we can be.
The holiday of Purim celebrates the release of the Jews from physical destruction. When we are free from the threat of physical destruction, we can turn to emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.
The holiday of Pesach celebrates the release of the Jews from physical suppression and from spiritual destruction. They became a free people able to rejoice in each day, able to recognize the designs of God, nature and man, able to listen to the trembling mountain at Sinai, able to walk together toward a future, able to gather manna, able to choose to follow the path to freedom or return to slavery.
Does this mean you don’t have the right to complain or be discontent? Of course, not. There are many who are truly in need. On the other hand, if we can learn to celebrate freedom of body, mind and/or spirit every day, life will become more joyous.
As we enter the month of joy (Adar) followed by the month of redemption, the time of freedom (Nissan), I wish you beautiful, healthy holidays. Days of delight.
Community educator, choreographer, composer, performer, Becker, M.S.W., M.Ed., M.R.S., Ph.D., serves as rabbi for Temple Emanuel-Pueblo, cellist for Apples and Honey and is a Storahtelling Maven.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ISRAEL
WOMEN OF THE WALL http://www.nytimes.com/video/2012/12/22/world/middleeast/100000001969698/women-at-the-western-wall.html