Archive for April, 2013

Day 13 Counting the Omer 2013 Yesod she b’Gevurah

Foundation within Discernment

The Mishnah states: “Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omed: al haTorah, v’al haAvodah v’al Gmilut Chasadim” The world stands upon three things: Torah, service/devotion/prayer and good deeds. These form the foundation which guides our actions, today and every day. Life goals and our family/community structures rely on foundational principles, principles which guide by letting us know appropriate boundaries. Today we focus on how our spiritual paths rely on a strong foundation in text, tradition, experience, teaching, guidance, and culture.

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Day 12 Counting of the Omer 2013 Hod she b’Gevurah

Splendor within Discernment

Holocaust Remembrance Day

As we remember the splendor that has been lost along with those millions of lives, the knowledge and memories gone with those who perished, we commit ourselves to fighting injustice and prejudice.  Prejudice is built on overgeneralization, the opposite of true discerning.  One way to describe Hod is as splendid diversity — certainly it was a splendid diversity of children, women and men who died in the Holocaust.  As we remember them today, we are grateful for their lives, their legacies and their leadership.

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Day 11 of Counting the Omer 2013 Netzach she b’Gevurah

Endurance within Discernment

Endurance, persistence, perseverance…all ways to describe continuing effort. When we overcome obstacles by applying stamina, whether physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual, we become more strong (strength being another description of Gevurah!). Think of how the quiet, constant flow of a river wears down stones, or goes around them and still gets downstream. Just as stones are not barriers to water applied over time, the barriers we seem to encounter in life can be gently eroded. Building up strength slowly, as every person in physical therapy, rehabilitation or an exercise program knows, is most effective. As Day 11 coincides with Shabbat this year, we celebrate the spiritual stamina that has kept us, as a people, strong over thousands of years.

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Day 10 Counting the Omer 2013 Tiferet she b’Gevurah

Harmony within Discernment

Without harmonizing influence, even the most well intentioned discernment can become a source of prejudice and intolerance. Harmony and balance provide stability — think of the music of harmony and balance of dance — together they support the kind of spiritual equilibrium that facilitates wise choices, the actions of Gevurah.

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Parsha Shemini Drash April 2013

Parshat Shemini

Torah Reading for Week of March 31-April 6, 2013

“The Temptation of New Beginnings”
By Rabbi Min Kantrowitz

Parasha Shemini, constituting Lev 9:1-11:47, is unusual in many ways. This is the only parasha named after a number–eight! Why is ‘eight” important? And what does the number eight have to do with the two important thematic issues that constitute the majority of this Parsha– the mysterious deaths of Nadav and Avihu and the detailed laws of kashrut (keeping kosher)?

We know that seven is the number of completion in Jewish tradition. There are seven days in the week and the seventh day is Shabbat, the day of rest. In traditional Jewish weddings, the bride circles the groom seven times under the chuppah (wedding canopy). In Jewish funerals, the procession from funeral coach to gravesite stops seven times. The number seven figures prominently in delineations of Jewish time — the seven weeks of Counting the Omer, and the Sabbatical year marking the seventh year when the land rests and is renewed. But what about eight? Just as ‘seven’ refers to completion, ‘eight’ is associated with new beginnings. A brit milah (circumcision) is conducted on the eighth day of a young boy’s life, after completing a week as an ‘unaffiliated’ infant, he is brought into the covenant and his new life as a Jew begins on the eighth day. After the 49 days of counting the seven weeks of the Omer, the 50th day, the beginning of the eighth week is Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving Torah…marking a radically new spiritual beginning!

Leviticus 9:1 tells us that Aaron and his sons have spent seven days being ceremonially prepared by Moses for their new priestly duties. The seven day training period having been completed, on the eighth day they step into their new roles.

New beginnings offer opportunity and freedom. The next section of our Parsha illustrates the potential dangers of freedom, as Nadav and Avihu, two of the four sons of Aaron who has just been invested into priestly service, perform some undefined ritually inappropriate act, and are killed. Be careful with new beginnings, this parsha is telling us. Whether religious zealotry, misguided ritual passion or strong drink were the contributing factors is irrelevant. The fact is that new opportunities have both positive and negative potential. We are being reminded to handle new responsibilities thoughtfully, considering implications and understanding boundaries.

The parsha continues with details about kashrut, the “fitness” of the food we consume. It details which kinds of animals and insects are permitted, describing their physical characteristics with anatomical details that are to help us discern what is and is not appropriate food.

Why do these details about kashrut follow the story of Nadav and Avihu? Their story is a warning about the potential dangers of a spiritual journey; Nadav and Avihu were explorers who overstepped their bounds. It is fitting, then, to follow this narrative with the laws of kashrut which are designed to guide our steps … to set up boundaries within which we can safely explore. Having experienced the tragic consequences of actions based on passion without appropriate limits, the necessity for boundaries becomes clear. The last verse of the Parsha reminds us: “To distinguish between the impure and the pure.”

New beginnings are exciting, but can be dangerous. Recognizing the wisdom of boundaries can help keep us spiritually nourished and safe. May we all step into our new beginnings well trained, spiritually prepared, and honoring appropriate boundaries.

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Day 9 Counting the Omer 2013 Gevurah she b’Gevurah

Discernment within Discernment

Gevurah implies setting boundaries based on what we discern. As anyone who has raised children, trained a dog or nurtured a home garden knows, appropriate boundaries are necessary for healthy growth. Recognizing the usefulness of restraint is a sign of maturity — emotionally and spiritually.

One personal example today. The 6 year old dog we rescued from the shelter a few weeks ago gets nervous and starts shaking in some situations. We discovered, however, that as soon as we put a leash and collar on him, he calms down. It is as if he knows he is safe when there are clear boundaries — and someone else is setting them! With boundaries discerned and set Charley is a happier dog….and so are his humans!

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Day 8 Counting the Omer 2013 Chesed she b’Gevurah

Gevurah is sometimes be translated as ‘Judgment’, which is then sometimes understood as ‘Judgmental’!  I think of Gevurah as Discernment–why?  The process of judging is one of thoughtful, careful examination to determine where truth lies, or what the implications might be of a certain decision.  It is not a process of deciding ahead of time what an acceptable outcome, opinion or action might be.  When we are judgmental, we pre-judge–we decide before examining the subtleties, the mitigating factors, the context or the history.  When we discern, we look at situations with magnification, with a multiple lensed approach.

Today, Chesed she b’Gevurah, we peer through the lens of everlasting care, using that flow to help us focus on whatever it is we need to discern.

For me, some small computer problems delayed today’s posting…but with loving kindness toward myself and my computer, I discerned the problem and this  is now ready to post!!!

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Day 7 of Counting the Omer 2013

Malchut/Shechina she b’Chesed

One week! In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of completion. Shabbat is the seventh day, when we rest, recuperate, integrate, praise, love and prepare to grow. The marriage ceremony incorporates seven circles. We stop seven times on the final journey from funeral coach to gravesite, marking a completed life, escorting someone to their final rest. We mark a complete week of counting, starting this seven week journey by immersing ourselves in the endless flow of lovingkindness. Malchut/Shechina brings it all together into manifestation. May our awareness of endless love be as complete as possible this seventh day of counting

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