Watching the Pieces Come Together

It’s Friday afternoon, and Shabbat is on the way. I’m doing a last twitter and Facebook check, and I’m noticing something: the pieces are coming together.

I have a friend and colleague who has just realized that she has a special skill which some of us have been encouraging her to capitalize on for a couple of years now. It looks like it just sunk in that she’s good at doing this thing, and she likes it. And that the rest of us aren’t.

The wedding, which has been in the planning stages for months, is now, pretty much fully prepped. The plan is written, and all I have left to do is a little polishing. It’s all coming together. Time to let thing roll, and to take their course.

Often, life feel like a struggle; it feels like we are swimming against the current, trying desperately to make things happen. Then, occasionally, we look around, and see things falling into place. I wonder, how much falls into place on a regular basis without our noticing? How much happens which we just take for granted? Sometimes, I think in our struggle to make things happen, we fail to notice what happens on its own.

Just a quick thought as we head into Shabbat.

Rebekah and God: A Torah Study

I don’t usually include Torah study or sermon type things in this blog, but thought I would give it a go today, mainly because I wrote this for a different purpose and wanted to reuse it. So, in a departure from my normal style and subjects, here is a bit of Torah commentary:

In the Torah portion, Chayei Sara, which Jews all around the world will read this weekend,  Abraham sends his servant to his homeland to find a wife for his son, Isaac (Gen: 24). The servant goes and as he comes into the city, says to God, “I will go to the well, and ask for water to drink. The woman who not only offers me water, but also water for my camels, she will be the wife for my master’s son.” Immediately thereafter, Rebekah comes down to the well, She is not only of Abraham’s family, but when the servant asks for water to drink, she offers for him and his camels.

The question I ask is this: why does Abraham’s servant use the offer of water for the camels as the sign? Surely he might have asked God to indicate the girl in another way, for example, by her clothing. Or, he might have asked God to give a sign in which she approached him, rather than he asking her for water. Why does he ask for a sign in which he must first ask the question?

The servant, whom the ancient rabbis tell us is Eleazar, a servant of Abraham mentioned elsewhere in the Torah, has set up a system that ensures that Isaac’s wife will be a woman who will serve help build the family. When he asks for water, she is concerned not just with his needs, but also with those of his animals. If she will do this for a stranger, how much the more so will she be concerned with the welfare of his master’s son’s household? She responds to the need which she perceives, not just what is asked of her.

In a later, Torah portion, when Isaac is getting ready to distribute blessings, Rebekah acts to deceive Isaac and to get the blessing for Jacob instead of Esau. She organizes the family for the good of the Jewish people. She acts, without needing God to tell her to act. She sees the necessary action, and she takes it. In this way, she is exactly what Isaac needs as a wife: not a someone who communes with God, but someone who sees what needs to be done, and does it.

Shabbat and NaNoWriMo

As I’m working feverishly on my novel for National Novel Writing Month (18,000 words, thanks for asking), I’m approaching the first Saturday of the month. Which raises a question for me. Do I work on the novel on the sabbath?

On the one hand, I try not to use a computer on Shabbat, because it’s too work like. And in some ways, this writing really is work, in the sense of productive labor.

On the other hand, I’m having a lot of fun writing, and it’s a spiritual activity, especially given the spiritual themes of the novel. And, after all, I’ve got 50,000 words to get done before a deadline.

I really don’t know where I’m going to come out. There is work I’m willing to do on Shabbat (like lead services, for instance). But without boundaries, Shabbat ceases to have true meaning. Studying spiritual text is very traditional as a Shabbat activity. But writing it isn’t. I’m balancing, weighing the questions, trying to find a comfortable result.

I’m trying hard not to let the target of 50k words drive my decision. That’s not what Shabbat is about, and frankly, that drive is the most compelling reason to me NOT to write on Shabbat: the goal oriented nature of 50,000 words is very much not shabbastik (doesn’t feel like shabbat).

A more traditional Jew doesn’t wrestle with these questions. There are clear boundaries that one adheres to. For those of us who seek to live by finding our own path through the tradition, creating meaningful ways of celebrating and observing, the questions are tougher. Competing values come into play, and the decisions are up to us, not the rabbi we ask for a ruling.

For now, I remain undecided, but leaning towards writing. But tune in next week for the answer.

 

Setting Apart Time

I’m a rabbi. Yet even I struggle with celebrating Shabbat and the holidays, setting them apart the way I wish to. I don’t tend to work on Shabbat, but lately it hasn’t felt as special as I’d like it to feel. And I’m realizing that a part of this is that I don’t use all the tools at my disposal to make it special.

Jewish tradition teaches that we should begin the sabbath by lighting candles, saying a blessing sanctifying the day over a cup of wine and eating a relaxed meal. Many people also go to synagogue to begin Shabbat with a service. The end of Shabbat is marked by another ceremony, maybe 5 minutes in length, called havdalah. These rituals serve as signposts in time, separating a day of sanctity and rest from the rest of the work week. Yet recently, I’ve been neglecting all of these rituals.

Shabbat happens whether I observe the rituals or not. I even observe Shabbat by not working whether I observe the rituals or not. However the time feels different when set apart by ritual. I am able to mark beginning and end, to know when the computer must be turned off, and when I can turn it back on. These markers are important to feeling the full impact of the day, not because it changes what I do on the day, but because it changes the intentionality with which I do it. The closest comparison I can make is the difference between killing time by playing a video game and playing a video game with the intention of giving oneself a break from work. When one is consciously taking a break, one is more refreshed afterwards. The rituals of Shabbat are sort of like that.

So with all these good reasons for using the rituals of Shabbat, why haven’t I been? Habit. When at CubeSpace we got out of the habit because when we got home at the end of the week we were too tired for anything other than complete collapse. After CubeSpace’s demise, I think it just didn’t occur to us to change our pattern. But now, it is time to change patterns. It is time to engage with the rituals once again. To make shabbat rather than just letting it happen.

Year in Review: 5769

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I try to review my year. The Jewish Year coming up is 5770, and the year just ending, is 5769. Last year I started a tradition of doing that, in part, by doing a review of the year in the blog. I’m continuing that tradition this year. It looks to me like there have been 62 posts since last Rosh Hashanah. So let’s review the year.

It seems like the year was dominated by deaths and endings. These started right at Rosh Hashanah with the death of my dear friend Pam Webb. Then there was Cat Saga, starting when we adopted Shadow. It seemed an auspicious start, but by the time I took her to the vet a few weeks later, there’s already a tone of frustration (though also some pictures). After this, about 3 weeks later we decided to bring her back to the humane society, but they couldn’t take her for about 2 weeks.  Then Artemis, my most beloved cat, died. I tried to write an appropriate remembrance of her, but failed. Eva wrote her memorial to Artemis for me. I still intend to write about her one of these days, but I’m not quite ready yet. The loss of Artemis was a big blow to me this year.  Shortly thereafter, Shadow, still not coming out to visit us, was again captured and returned to the humane society.

The downside of this year really was capped off by CubeSpace folding. My first post as we were figuring out what was going on, linking to the CubeSpace blog, and other places to catch people up. The next post on the subject, was our farewell, which I posted on the CubeSpace blog and linked to. Then there was the post about my plans after-CubeSpace. My post on last day of CubeSpace was definitely sad, as was the day. And then my post, most of a month later, about moving forward. And then about my first disastrous interview for a job.

There was also some joy and celebration. Politics was definitely a significant part of this year. Election night, a super quick post. The next day, I spent some time looking at Obama and Hope and optimism. A list of things I’m thankful for in honor of Thanksgiving. Then came innauguration, which I live-blogged.

There were definitely reflections on ways I was stretching: new types of projects I was working on. And how many types of projects I was working on towards the end of this post. And how many things seems to hit all at once. And just how busy life is, and how to do lists seem to be growing, not shrinking.  How frustrating computers can be when I’m trying to stretch. Again with the whirlwind of life. And being tired after barcamp. And then trying to figure out how to organize time after CubeSpace, and mindfulness as a tool to do so. A few days later I was writing about how we use words to organize our understanding of the world.

As always, rabbinic work spurred some writing. A post about my first weekend with a congregation in Bend. Or my recurring Rabbinic nightmare of being unprepared. I talk a little about the spriritual experience of performing a wedding. A rant on the subject of the lack of marriage equality, in response to false news that Prop 8 had been overturned. A post about how I, as a rabbi, have something to say. A post about how I write, and how I write sermons. More reflections on God and spirituality were spurred by burying a teenager.

There were reflections on Judaism and Jewish Spirituality, starting with some thoughts about Yom Kippur. Also some thoughts about Shabbat, as noticed by my not observing it. Some reflections on Humility, followed immediately by a humorous view of humility. Then came Passover, and a post about Passover and the Tough Economy. Immediately following Passover, begins the counting of the Omer, and I talk about my Omer practice for the year, reading spriritual text. I then share some thoughts on theology, coming out of Tomer Devorah. I finished up the year with some thoughts on Rosh Hashanah prayer.

Reflections on Portland and nature, and seasons, and the like. Walking home from work, and how it’s different from walking to work in the morning. Also a post on walking to work in the rain. And also Portland and the Portland technical community, and the nature of electronic community. Then there was Sam Adams, and his indiscretions, and my plea for people to let the dust settle. Wonderings about how the community could pull together in the face of the economic disaster area. Followed immediately by the flowers of Portland. And then, more photos of flowers. Also a post about the CubeSpace Community as a Spiritual Community. And then a post about gratitude, and expressions of gratitude.

There was a little bit of knit-blogging, but not much. Working on mittens on a deadline. I also revisited those mittens in this post. I started a lace scarf, but really never got very far with it.

There was some deliberate humor. Thanksgiving, and how not to do it. An already mentioned post about humility. Some attempted humor about how busy I was. A Psalm for Purim amused me.

Some stuff defies classification: Preparing for my Ignite Portland presentation and the a wrap up of Ignite Portland; A survey on what you want me to blog about. A post about how Eva and I do anniversaries, not necessarily in the most normal ways. A post for the Portland Interview Project in which I interview Grant Kruger. A short film I embedded because I thought it made such a good point about religion. Some thoughts about memory. I wrote about reading introductions. A list of workshops I’d like to teach.

It was, all in all, a really tough year. I got through it with love and help from friends and family. I’m really hoping we don’t need as much help in the coming year.

CubeSpace Spiritual Community

Eva and I have one rule we try to abide by: we don’t do CubeSpace work on Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. We don’t always succeed, and there is one event a year we know we will be working: BarCamp Portland. We do this for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s a lot of fun.
  2. It’s great marketing for CubeSpace to have 350 people come through.
  3. We aren’t set up to have 350 people come through CubeSpace without us being present.

Nonetheless, it does mean working on Shabbat. Which made me think about the intersection of spiritual community and CubeSpace community.

In many ways, it feels like the CubeSpace community has become my spiritual community: it is the group that it feels “right” to spend Passover with. It is the community I share news with. It is the community I enjoy partying with (see above re: BarCamp). So spending Shabbat this way does not feel entirely inappropiate.

While there is definitely the resting and recharging element of Shabbat, there is also the celebration and joy element. This week, clearly, is going to be more about the celebration and joy. This week, will be about connecting to the community. Partying with some of the folks I see daily, and some I see only once a year, and no doubt meeting some new folks. It is the opportunity to learn something new…and maybe teach something.

Tonight and tomorrow will be a whirlwind of food, fun, friends, and general geekery. I will emerge at the end exhausted, but having had a good time. In Judaism, we most often pray in community. We most often practice spirituality in community. Today, the Portland Tech Community gathers together, and joins in a spiritual event, even if I’m the only one labeling it as such. It will involve our spirits, affect our spirits, which makes it spiritual (the fact that we’ll be drinking spirits is just a bonus).

Shabbat Shalom, all…or at the very least have a raccous Shabbat of celebration.

The Long Week

Life has been unbelievably busy. You can tell because I haven’t been blogging. And this probably wojn’t be a particularly long post, but since I’m here at Beer and Blog, I sort of feel obliged to blog, since I haven’t in the last couple of weeks.

This week has been so long that last night, as I was trying to figure out what to say at the Into Judaism class I was teaching, I was tweeting random passages from the Bible.

This week has been so long that I couldn’t keep track of the various meetings I was having or who was supposed to be in them.

This week was so long that marathoners wouldn’t have run it.

This week is so long that I can’t really come up with anything amusing to say on the subject.

In any case, it has been a humbling week, as I’ve desperately tried to do more than I really could, and discovered I couldn’t do some of the things I expected to be able to do. I got virtually no knitting done.I sat in more hours of meetings than I can count. I understood far less of what was said in those meeting than I should have.

Nonetheless, the week has ended, and Shabbat has come. And everything else is just commentary. A day of rest, a day of restoration for the soul. A day before a new week begins.

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