The Second Election – A Poem for Haftarah Korach by Rick Lupert


When the election was not convincing

When the litmus test is whether or not
he stole a donkey

When thunderstorms had to be brought in

When the words peace and slaughter
appear in the same sentence

When a physical king is installed to
separate us from the divine

When the ancient chads are hanging

When we need to be convinced again
Someone is on our side

When our candidates have not robbed us
or oppressed us

When we have to check our hands to
see if they’re still full

When the wheat calls to us to
rip it out of the ground

When the thunder is so frightening
we ask to not die

When we have done all the evil and
are still met with a heart
bigger than a holy land

Then, and only then will a human
occupy the palace
speak on our behalf
make the rain go away


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Widows, Orphans, and Strangers at the Border


“You will not undermine the justice due to a stranger or an orphan and you will not seize the widow’s garment as collateral.” Deuteronomy, 24:17

“Fathers and mothers have been humiliated among you, strangers have been cheated in your midst, orphans and widows have been wronged among you.” Ezekiel 22:7

“There is no greater or more glorious joy than bringing joy to the heart of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers.” Maimonides, Hilchot Magila v’Hanukah, 2:17

On June 11, U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions ordered immigration judges to cease granting asylum in the United States to fugitives from domestic abuse and gang violence. This act should shock the conscience of every American, but for Jews it is a particular outrage.

Why does our Torah, echoed by our prophets and sages, exhort us repeatedly to care for the orphan, widow, and stranger and warn of catastrophes for those who ignore the call? In the patriarchal society of the ancient Hebrews, widows, orphans, and strangers were people without protection. They were socially naked, vulnerable, and, according to Jewish values, owed the community’s help.

Vulnerability is no shame in Judaism. We are all “the weak.” We are temporary, puncturable, fleshy creatures, puny even by mammalian standards. We are not made, as tigers are, to hunt alone. We are made to form communities, to speak, and to care. Our founding story of slavery and redemption reminds us of that mutual dependence and obligation which offers whatever glory humans can attain.

Women and children who live in countries where domestic abuse and violence are not taken seriously by authorities and where everyone but the most privileged is subject to impressment by brutal gangs are “members of a particular social group” with a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The Geneva Convention of 1951 and U.S. law allow such people to find asylum here.

Yet, when such families present themselves at the border of our country, they have been pulled apart. Children are yanked out of their parents’ arms and forced into detention without explanation, often by people who cannot communicate in the child’s language. They are kept away from parents for months at a time, inflicting trauma that will reshape their brains and wound their hearts for a lifetime. This has been happened to all border-crossers and asylum-seekers since May when Attorney General Sessions declared a “zero tolerance” policy for every person who is caught or who presents themselves without documents at our borders. Previously, such families could remain together until the parents could make their case in court. This brutality does not reflect ‘how things have always been,’ it is a terrible new policy of the current administration.

Now Attorney General Sessions has said that women who have been beaten, raped, mutilated, or threatened with death by domestic partners and been routinely ignored by authorities in their birth countries don’t count as persecuted people who need our help. He has said that teens who have been threatened with torture, including sexual violence, if they themselves do not aid the perpetrators of such violence cannot count on us either.

We American Jews cannot allow this to stand. The fugitives from patriarchal violence who arrive at our borders are the widows, orphans, and strangers of our day. They are precisely the people we are commanded to help—those who, because of their position in society, are denied the political means to defend themselves where they are. We whose ancestors found sanctuary here are obliged to be the welcoming neighbors for whom those ancestors prayed.

There is much we can do. We can support a bill introduced by our state’s Senator Diane Feinstein, the Keep Families Together Bill along with the Help Separated Children Act (S2937) and S2468, which provides free counsel for children in immigration court. We can call and write the office of the U.S. Attorney General. Every day. We can march today with Families Belong Together.

We learn in Gittin 61a that, “The Rabbis taught, we support the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, and visit the non-Jewish sick with Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, because of the ways of peace.” We also act on behalf of the widow, orphan, and stranger, no matter where they are from.

The Woman Who Lived in a Wall – A Poem for Haftarah Shelach by Rick Lupert


In the fields of oppression
thousands of years after the fact
they sang of the famous battle

Joshua, Jericho…and inside
those walls that came down
a righteous woman

Shielding our inside men
from the king’s would-be captors.
She paid attention to the news

Heard the tale of the parted sea
The lands whose inhabitants had
melted away.

She knew which horse to bet on.
Our secret agents hid on the roof
covered in stalks of flax.

Sent the counter agents
to the river, chasing phantom spies.
A debt paid with a scarlet thread

meant to work like ram’s blood
during a flyover. A life for a life.
Go tell it to the mountain.

Then to Joshua.
Joshua whose face knew Moses.
Joshua would fight the battle.

The battle that still
comes out of our smallest lips
like a song.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

No-one’s Out of Order When the Lord is Your Lawyer – A Poem for Haftarah Behaalotecha by Rick Lupert


This is the Holy mashup between
Law and Order, and Project Runway
we’ve all been waiting for.

The Lord God, Adonai, Holiest of holies
doing time as a trial lawyer, argues
in favor of the laws that

wouldn’t exist without Her, Him, It,
They, Them, Spirit, One, Guru, Fire,
Trial Lawyer in the sky.

Joshua on trial for failing to
dress up for the occasion. Covered
in filthy garments. Accused of

breaches of decorum, visual civility,
lack of respect via no-time to do
the laundry. Might smell too.

The Solicitor on High waves a
magic finger and Joshua is like
a newborn who the nurses

have taken away and polished.
A headdress to rival a Pope’s
laid on his head. (Maybe this

is where those who dress the Popes
got the idea?) It’s divine trickery,
changing the accused’s situation

in the middle of the trial. But if
You’re the One who makes the rules
surely you can bend them too.

There are bigger fish to fry.
And by fish we mean Jerusalem and
maintaining the eternal favor.

A strange candelabra to build
with seven tubes and seven lights.
You may not know what it is

but if you ask, the angels will ask
if you are asking what you are asking.
Be humble about it.

They just want to make sure
you’ve asked the right question.
So you have the information you need.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Good News Comes from Angels – A Poem for Haftarah Naso by Rick Lupert


The unnamed wife of Manoah is the real story.
Just referred to as his wife or the woman.

She is the one whose barren womb
is filled with prophecy.

She is the one who must abstain for
months from wine and

all the good stuff, while her gift,
her burden, the boy whose hair

must never be cut, grows inside her.
By default she calls her husband

when the angel arrives. I’d mention
his name again, but, hardly seems fair.

She is the one who comforts
her frightened husband when the

angel exits through the fire.
The angel who never

told his name. The angel who
refused to eat. She is the real story –

This women, this angel, this
protector of life, who

met a stranger in a field, who
called him an angel.

Good news comes from strangers.
Open your doors, women and men.

You never know when your visitor
is one of them.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Forbidden Love in the Desert – A Poem for Haftarah Bamidbar by Rick Lupert


In the desert I spent forty years and
they tried to count me like grains of sand.

In the desert I was tempted by gold and fire.
I became a harlot and its male equivalent.

In the desert I was called to task and had
all my clothes removed.

In the desert I couldn’t take the heat. I rushed
to those who had given me bread.

In the desert my way was blocked by thorns.
My children never knew their fathers.

In the desert my corn and wine were taken.
This happened when it was supposed to.

In the desert everyone saw what I really was.
The fig trees were laid to waste because of me.

In the desert the names of false gods were removed
from my mouth. They were not spoken again.

In the desert the sand and the Sky reconciled
We got married again. I was just one grain of sand.

You can imagine who the Sky was. We said
this is forever this time.

In the desert we’ve since put up buildings, but
we still live in the desert. We still struggle with

our Number One. In the desert we stray, but
we always come back.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The Lord Now Offers Dialysis – A Poem for Haftarah Behar-Bechukotai by Rick Lupert


Only lies have our fathers
handed down to us

Jeremiah’s in a sour mood again and
our behavior is the issue. My father was
absent so I can’t say this has been
handed down. He’s back now so I’m
not saying I need sympathy either.

Can a man make gods for himself,
and they are no gods

What can’t we do with today’s technology?
I could make a statue, a meal, a building,
a God. I have the gift of everything’s possible.
Though what I do in my tent by myself
has little effect on anyone else.

you have kindled fire in
My nostrils that shall burn forever.

And for this I apologize. I can only
imagine the discomfort, or at least the
mundanity of the same scent, every day
until the end of Your nostrils. A familial fire
breeds ashes, and there is a history worth
not repeating.

I, the Lord, search the heart,
test the kidneys

There is so much more to the science
of creation than Your magic. Oh Holy Doctor
oh First Responder, oh Sacred Dialysis,
oh they never mention the capillaries
at the synagogue; But here You are
confirming them.

The cuckoo calls
but has not laid

Would someone please get the cuckoo
another cuckoo of its preferred gender.
Is there an app for this? In what direction
does the cuckoo swipe? Would someone please
answer the cuckoo when it calls?

Heal me, O Lord, then shall I be healed;
help me, then I shall be helped

I realize I have to keep my part of the
bargain. Your emissaries keep telling me
I’m not keeping my part of the bargain.
That’s why I’m reading this Book. Every word,
every day, until my eyes no longer work.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and the Power of Evil


One of the most endearing elements of superhero stories is that the good guy always wins, but in the real world, that’s not always the case.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

That’s why the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War” is so shocking, because Thanos — the bad guy — wins. I keep thinking about sweet Peter Parker, moody teen Groot, and all the other casualties of the Infinity Gauntlet. But most of all, I find myself thinking about how Thanos — the embodiment of evil — could win. There has to be a mechanism within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that explains this.

I think the answer is in the Torah in the story of Korah’s rebellion. Moses and Aaron led the Israelites from Egypt to the Holy Land. Moses was the de facto king and Aaron the high priest. Korah, a Levite, led a rebellion challenging the authority of his cousins Moses and Aaron to exclude him from the priesthood.

A contest of competing sacrificial fire pans determined the victor. The moment of truth arrives and God commands Moses and Aaron to separate from the group. Then, a Godly fire consumes Korah and his rebellion forces. Adding insult to injury, the ground opens and swallows them whole.

Reb Tzadok of Lublin (1823-1900) writes that God commanded Moses and Aaron to leave the area because the rebels had a special power that could have defeated them. Had they stayed with the group, they, too, would have been consumed by the fire. The good guys would have lost.

One who has pure intentions and is willing to give everything he or she  has to a holy cause — even a cause that is not correct — is given this superpower.

What were the rebels special powers? Reb Tzadok says it was their pure intentions and willingness to sacrifice everything for a holy cause. Incredibly, the rebels wielded this power even though they were wrong. One who has pure intentions and is willing to give everything he or she has to a holy cause — even a cause that is not correct — is given this superpower.

That explains Thanos. He had to exchange the life of a true love for the Soul Stone. His adopted/kidnapped daughter Gamora laughs when she hears this condition because she believes that Thanos is so evil that he has no true love. But Thanos begins to cry and it quickly dawns on Gamora that she is going to be the sacrifice. Thanos throws her into the abyss and the stone appears.

Thanos is not purely genocidal. He is a utilitarian fundamentalist. He truly believes that it is best for the universe that he erase half the population. We call this a holy cause.

Thanos was willing to sacrifice his true love for the sake of his holy cause. There’s great power in these things. Thanos completes the Infinity Gauntlet and with a snap of his finger uses his power to murder fifty percent of all living things, leaving us to marvel and mourn the loss of several beloved superheroes. Such is the power of giving everything we have to a holy cause.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

I Hear the Third Temple is Hiring – A Poem for Haftarah Emor by Rick Lupert


I’m going through the list of things required of priests
for jobs in the third temple and realize I’m, probably,
not going to get the job.

I’m okay with not letting my hair go wild, but that
definitely rules out my son who, if you mention
the word haircut is ready to join the other team.

(the team of people who don’t cut their hair.)
I’m okay with not going near a corpse. Honestly
I have so little to talk about with dead people.

But with wine so intertwined with my every
Jewish movement, I don’t think I can roll with
its prohibition during priestly duties.

I’m okay with not eating things that died of
natural causes, but to be fair, I already make
a point of not eating things that were killed.

I’m not sure I’m okay with wearing a linen hat
instead of a wool one. Just feels like we’re getting
awfully picky with the uniform.

I can’t say it’s an issue for me to only marry a
descendent of the House of Israel as I think I’ve
already got that covered. Do they take

married people into the priesthood? I don’t see
anything about that in the job description.
I’m a little concerned about the salary too.

I see the point about not receiving anything but
God. I’m all for God’s presence but I’m not sure
the bank will accept that as a mortgage payment

and, though I’ve never tried to buy a sandwich
using only the Lord as collateral, I’m not sure that
would go well. Is that like a higher level of Apple Pay?

Finally, it seems like it may be a risk taking this job at all.
I don’t have the heart to tell the search committee, there
may never be a third Temple.

And even if there was, if they’re going to put it
where I think they’re going to put it, I’m really not
willing to relocate. Can I telecommute?

My third temple comes when people lift their voices.
It comes when song spills from their breaths.
This is the holy place I will build.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Age 70 Is No Time to Slow Down


Screenshot from YouTube.

In “As You Like It,” Shakespeare has Jaques recite a famous monologue on the ages of man: a mewling, puking infant, whining schoolboy, amorous lover, devoted soldier, wise judge, second childhood, and then death.

How very different from our own tradition’s listing of the ages of man and the stages of life in the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot, (Ethics of the Fathers):

“At 5, the study of Torah.
At 10, the study of Mishnah.
At 13, subject to the commandments.
At 15, the study of the Talmud.
At 18, marriage.
At 20, pursuit of a career.
At 30, peak of achievement.
At 40, wisdom.
At 50, able to give counsel.
At 60, becoming an elder.
At 70, the fullness of years.
At 80, special strength.
At 90, a bent back.
At 100, gone from the affairs of this world.”

Our sages saw life as revolving around study, spiritual awareness and meaningfulness. Not for us is the quip of an anonymous wit who described life as spills, drills, thrills, pills, ills and wills.

Today, I turn 70. It’s a great blessing to reach 70.

One can look back on a long span of life’s joy and achievements. Still, it’s hard for me to believe.

I don’t feel old.

I am grateful to be healthy, to have energy and passion for both my family and my work.

The Talmud relates that during the period following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the sages of Yavneh wished to appoint Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah as head of their academy. A brilliant scholar, respected and beloved by his colleagues, he had one shortcoming: He was too young. Perhaps he was thought not to have enough experience of the world. Perhaps it was considered inappropriate for a mere youth of 17 to sit as head of the venerable rabbinic sages of Yavneh.

So the Talmud relates that a miracle happened. One morning, the rabbi awoke to find that his hair and his beard had turned a snowy white. He now looked like an elder. When his colleagues saw him with his hoary head, they felt comfortable asking him to become the head of the academy.

Not for us is the quip of an anonymous wit who described life as spills, drills, thrills, pills, ills and wills.

What a great combination — to be both young and old at the same time.

The secret of being young and old simultaneously is maintaining hope, looking ahead, openness to new ideas, and overcoming gloom and failure by focusing on the brightness on the horizon.

Someone once told me that you don’t stop laughing when you get old. You get old when you stop laughing.

I do not have words sufficient to express my joy and pride in my six children and their spouses. They have made my life so worthwhile and satisfying. Parenting them is the best thing I have done in my life. Their children are the lights of my life. As savta to 18 wonderful grandchildren, each so different and so precious, I know why we have the proverb that says “grandchildren are the crown to the aged.”

I would like to be the opposite of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah. I am a woman of 70 (without gray hair or a beard) and yet, with the help of the Almighty as I enter this new stage of life, the time of fullness of years, I hope to retain my sense of curiosity, enthusiasm, optimism and spirit.

I don’t wish my life and the things I value to contract, but rather to take on new dimensions all the rest of my days.

Sydney Alderman Perry, now 72, retired in June 2016 as executive director of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven, Conn. In February, she was named interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.

A version of this story appeared on the Jewish Federation of Greater New York’s website in 2015.

What Retirement Meant in Ancient Times


Photo from Flickr/Pug50.

Sooner or later in life, nearly everyone needs to stop working for a salary. Yet retirement is a trauma for many.

There is still much debate about whether mandatory retirement is good — for institutions or for people.

As people live longer, with many remaining healthy and active into their 70s and beyond, the issue will stay with us. Interestingly, it arises in the Torah and was discussed by the rabbis in the Talmud, and has been ever since.

The Torah defines the age span during which Levites are to perform their tasks in worship and in transporting the Tabernacle in the Sinai Desert, from age 25 until 50. After that, they may no longer perform the official functions but they may “assist their brethren,” meaning, effectively, they were kept on in a “consultant” capacity.

The rabbis were troubled by this. They said the mandatory retirement age for Levites applied only in the desert, where heavy physical labor was involved. In the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Levites’ main jobs were to sing in the choir and guard the gates, they could continue to serve until they “lost their voices.”

Maimonides was more concerned about forced retirement. He ruled that even after a Levite can no longer sing, he may still guard the Temple gates.

How one spends one’s free time, during working life and in retirement, reveals a lot about a person.

Regarding the priests, the Torah makes no mention of age. It speaks only of physical blemishes as disqualifying factors. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that the period of service ran from puberty until old age. In defining old age for this purpose, the rabbis chose a subjective standard rather than an arbitrary age limit — until he trembles.

The question arose again in regard to judges, who, in many jurisdictions, are appointed for life. The Talmud says that “an old man may not serve on courts hearing capital offenses.” It does not define what old means. Maimonides, again concerned about forced retirement, adds one key word in his codification of this law — a very old man, which delays retirement.

The standard explanation given for disqualifying the very old from cases involving the death penalty is that they are not considered sympathetic to young people.

Over the generations, Jewish authorities generally followed the more flexible approach. Jewish professionals — rabbis, cantors, ritual slaughterers — were to be employed until no longer competent.

In the State of Israel, too, such age limits are common.

Retirement itself can be a challenge, as was pointed out two centuries ago by the English writer Charles Lamb following 36 years as a clerk at the East India Company: “I am no longer clerk to the Firm. I am Retired Leisure. I am to be met with in trim gardens. I am already come to be known by my vacant face and careless gesture, perambulating at no fixed pace, nor with any settled purpose.”

“Perambulating with no settled purpose” is the fear of many a person whose spouse or parent is about to retire.

The modern Orthodox rabbi and thinker Nathan Lopes Cardozo warns against “taking it easy and falling into the pit of idleness.”

Retirement, he points out, offers many opportunities for spiritual growth, but many challenges, as well. He recalls the talmudic insight that three measures of a person’s character are b’kiso, “his pocket” (wallet), how he uses his money; b’koso “his glass,” how he handles drink; and b’ka’aso, “his temper,” does he control it, or it him?

The source includes a fourth test offered by one of the sages, b’sachako, most often translated as “his laughter,” but interpreted by Cardozo as “his play,” — his leisure time. How one spends one’s free time, during working life and in retirement, reveals a lot about a person.

The recent growth of stimulating activities and programs for retired people is an appropriate response to a growing retired population.

This essay was edited by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson and Deborah Silver at American Jewish University for aju.org.

Living Life Fully — Even If You Don’t Make It to 120


The world is getting older — not just the cosmos, but the people in it.

In the West, at least, younger people are reproducing less and older people are living longer.

In North America, Europe and Israel, the percentage of people over 65 is expected to rise markedly in the coming decades. It was projected recently that in Europe by 2025, there will be as many people over 65 as there will be in the workforce.

Jews, as usual, are part of these trends. The senior segment in Jewish communities (the United States, Israel and Europe) is 20 percent, slightly higher than the general populations, and growing rapidly.

Medical advances help life expectancies to rise, and with people settling all over the globe, leaving parents alone in their hometowns or in retirement areas or facilities, the care of the elderly has become both a big business and a big headache, for families, community organizations and governments.

The Bible presents pictures of old age both idyllic and starkly realistic. Leaving aside mythical characters like Methuselah, who lived 969 years, we are told that Abraham lived till the ripe old age of 175, marrying another woman and having six more children after Sarah died.

The zkenim (elders) were an important group for the social/political hierarchy and a source of guidance for the individual. Yet the infirmities of age also were well known. The psalmist’s painful plea, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; when my strength fails, forsake me not,” is included five times in the Yom Kippur liturgy. As appealing as it sounds, we Jews do not pray, like Bob Dylan: May your hands always be busy,/ May your feet always be swift. May your song always be sung, / And may you stay forever young.

The human body does not work that way. Seeking to stop the natural processes would constitute a tefillat shav, a “useless prayer,” what psychologists might call denial.

Of course, such is not the approach of modern society. There are people and industries, from branches of the medical profession to major pharmaceutical companies, which thrive on the desires of people to disguise gray hair, to remove wrinkles, and to keep bodily appearance and functions youthful.

Interestingly, the Torah offers three prescriptions for long life — honoring one’s parents, not taking a bird’s eggs in the mother’s presence, and the use of honest weights and measures.
The Torah is concerned more about how we behave toward others than how we look to them.

If we take the Talmud literally, we have only our own forefathers Abraham and Jacob to blame. “Before Abraham there was no old age, and before Jacob there was no illness.” Until Abraham, people simply lived their lives, features constant, until their time came. “People who saw Abraham thought he was Isaac,” the Talmud continues. “People who saw Isaac thought he was Abraham, so Abraham prayed for old age, as it says, ‘and Abraham was old, advanced in years.’ ”

Abraham was doing just the opposite of trying to stay young. Looking old invited respect; age was a sign of wisdom. Jacob prayed for illness, the Talmud explains, because he wanted a period of notice before death to call his sons in and bless them. Little could Jacob have imagined that the few days that he requested could, by our time, extend to many years, despite physical and mental deterioration.

Abraham did the opposite of trying to stay young. Looking old invited respect; age was a sign of wisdom.

Modern medicine can take credit for many miracles. But for the incapacitated, these advances have extended old age, not life.

In Greek mythology, the Sphinx sat outside of Thebes and asked passersby: “What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?”

Many unfortunates died for not solving the riddle, until Oedipus gave the answer: “Man, who crawls on all fours as an infant, walks on two legs as an adult and with a cane in old age.” Life neatly divided, like Gaul, into three parts.

“All the world’s a stage,” Jaques says in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” “And one man in his time plays many parts. His acts being seven ages.” Man becomes elderly in the sixth, where he begins to lose his charm, both physical and mental, and shrinks in size and stature.

The rabbis predated Shakespeare by over a millennium. In Pirkei Avot, they delineate 14 stages, the last five devoted to the “Third Age” and reaching the finish line: “At 50 [one can give] counsel; at 60, [one is] elderly; at 70, [one reaches] old age; at 80, [one has] renewed vitality; at 90, [one has] a bent body; at 100, [one is] as good as dead, having passed and ceased from the world.”

The numbers here are a literary device; the physical and mental states alluded to can happen at any age. In our world, insurance companies and social welfare agencies have “ADL (Activities of Daily Living) tests” to determine disability or who “needs assistance,” the ability to dress oneself, feed oneself, use the toilet. The Talmud did, too. One is considered “young and healthy,” as opposed to “old and sick” if he can “stand on one foot and put on and take off his shoes.”

Aging, on the one hand, presents opportunities. “Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be, / The last of life, for which the first was made,” Robert Browning, wrote in the poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” in about 1862. Many are able to finally pursue hobbies and learn new disciplines.
On the other hand, old age presents challenges. Matthew Arnold responded to Browning with a far more melancholy view of age: “Ah, ’tis not what in youth we dreamed ’twould be,” (“Growing Old”).

Those who wish their friends live “to 120,” as Jews commonly do, might consider whether they really want this fate for those dear to them.

This essay was edited by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson and Deborah Silver at American Jewish University for aju.org.

What? Milk in My Chocolate for Shavuot?


I can’t tell you how many people tell me sheepishly that they prefer milk chocolate bars while others gloat over their dark chocolate preferences. Israel’s Elite chocolate produced a charming video of children tasting chocolate for the first time. It messages that only adults can understand the sophistication of dark chocolate, leaving milk chocolate to untutored naifs. Shifting the Israeli palate from milk to dark defies the famous image on Elite’s red cow wrapper.

The Shavuot celebration coming in May, with its emphasis on dairy foods, seems like a good time to take a look at this milk/dark chocolate controversy. Fortunately, the “Torah” of chocolate has shifted. Today’s craft and artisan chocolate makers smooth over the divide by offering dark milk chocolates. These are chocolates that mix milk solids with cocoa content in the 40 to 60% range, yielding a smooth mouthfeel and rich taste.

Milk chocolate is regulated by food standards and vary around the world. For instance, be aware that the minimum percentage of milk solids required by the FDA runs around 12% while the requirement in European Union countries is 15%. The FDA only requires 10% cocoa solids in those milk chocolates. That means there are a lot of other ingredients in that treat.

For those with dairy allergies, the FDA does not require producers to identify traces of dairy which may be picked up on the production line. Indeed a recent FDA study showed that three in four dark chocolate products contain dairy without identification of such on the label. If you really need to know about the milk in your chocolate, look for a formal pareve, vegan or dairy free certification.

So, why milk chocolate? To celebrate the gift of Torah at Mount Sinai when our ancestors were too busy preparing for the revelation to eat anything but easily prepared milk foods, of course.

A Conversation – A Poem for Haftarah Acharei Mot-Kedoshim by Rick Lupert


Did I not bring Israel up
from the land of Egypt?

I think that was You.
They keep telling me
over and over that
it was You.

I will destroy [the sinful kingdom]
from upon the face of the earth.

Is there a way we could teach
without destroying?

I will not destroy the
house of Jacob

I have every confidence this
delights the descendants of
the house of Jacob, and
terrifies the missing descendants
of everyone else.

I will scatter the house of Israel
among all the nations

I know you mean this as
a punishment, but it feels
kind of briar patch to me.
There’s nothing I like more than
to see the spectacles of
other nations.

I will close up [David’s] breaches,
I will raise up its ruins

We’ve all been wanting to
say something about David’s
open breaches, but no-one has
had the balls. As for the ruins,
thank You for that too. Construction
costs have made the project
inaccessible to us.

Behold days are coming, says the Lord,
that the plowman shall meet the reaper

I had a feeling about those two
and I can’t wait to see what comes
from their collaboration.

and the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall melt

How will this affect the property values?
We’re so fond of the hills and…well, I
guess it will make the bicycles easier
to ride. Would it be alright if we
gathered the wine drippings for
our own purposes?

and they shall plant vineyards
and drink their wine

I didn’t mean to interrupt. I see You were
just getting to the details about the wine.

and they shall no longer be uprooted from
upon their land, that I have given them

I’m ready to lay down my hat.
I’m ready to put my feet in the dirt.
I’m ready to re-familiarize myself with this gift.
I can’t thank You enough.
This is the system the banks
never told me about, but my
father-in-law has been speaking of
this whole time.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Prevention Is Primary, Jewish Tradition Teaches


Photo from Freestockphotos.biz.

Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God — for one cannot understand the Creator if he is ill — therefore he must avoid that which harms the body. He must accustom himself to that which helps the body become stronger.

— from the teachings of Maimonides

Contemporary Western medicine has focused on the treatment of diseases rather than prevention.

Judaism’s historic approach is fundamentally different from that of modern medicine. Although treating sick people is certainly a Torah obligation, Judaism puts a priority on the prevention of disease.

The foundation for the Jewish stress on preventive medicine can be found by considering this verse in the Torah:

“And He said: ‘If you will diligently harken to the voice of the Lord, your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you which I put on the Egyptians.’ ”

Rashi explains: “It is like a physician who says to a man, ‘Do not eat this thing lest it will bring you into danger from this illness.’ ”

What are the implications for modern medicine? Just as God’s healing role in the above Torah verse is to prevent illness, so, too, a physician must emulate the Divine role by emphasizing the prevention of illness.

It should not be assumed that the Torah places the entire responsibility of maintaining good health on physicians.

The following anecdote about Maimonides is instructive:

During the period when Maimonides served as the royal physician of the sultan of Egypt, the sultan never became ill. One day, the sultan asked Maimonides, “How do I know that you are an expert physician, since during the period that you have been here I never have been ill, and you have not had the opportunity to test your skills?”

Maimonides concluded that “we learn that the ability of a physician to prevent illness is a greater proof of his skill than his ability to cure someone who is already ill.”

The Torah indicates another moral obligation that might demand physicians take a greater interest in preventive medicine: “Do not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.”

The Sages indicate that if one sees a person drowning or being attacked by robbers, he or she should do everything possible to rescue the person.

It would seem, therefore, that physicians should put far greater emphasis on preventive medicine, advising their patients about dangers related to high-fat diets and other lifestyle choices.

It should not be assumed that the Torah places the entire responsibility of maintaining good health on physicians.

Our Sages said the major responsibility falls on the individual.

Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch explains the mitzvah of guarding our health: “Limiting our presumption against our own body, God’s word calls to us: ‘Do not commit suicide. Do not injure yourself. Do not ruin yourself. Do not weaken yourself. Preserve yourself.’

“You may not … in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit’s activity. … Therefore, you should avoid everything which might possibly injure your health. … And the law asks you to be even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other transgressions.”

Judaism regards life as the highest good. We are obligated to protect it. An important Jewish principle is pikuach nefesh, the duty to preserve a human life.

Jews are to be more particular about matters concerning danger to health and life than about ritual matters. If it could help save a life, one must (not may) violate the Sabbath, eat forbidden foods and even eat on Yom Kippur. The only laws that cannot be violated to preserve a life are those prohibiting murder, idolatry and sexual immorality.


A longer version of this essay originally appeared in the Fall 1999 issue of Emunah Magazine. Author and activist Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen died in 2011. Richard H. Schwartz wrote “Judaism and Vegetarianism” (Micah Publications), the case for vegetarianism from a Jewish perspective.

The Lost Wallets of My Past – A Poem for Haftarah Tazria-Metzora by Rick Lupert


A camp empty of people
but full of silver and food

Oh the wallets I’ve left
in public places

how attractive they must
have been to the empty

pocket eyes. What lives
could have changed

save for the honesty
of finders?

Like the four men in
the north. The ones with

the heebie-jeebies on
their skin. They ate their

fill. They hid a portion
but the guilt of famine

led them home to
doubting ears, to acres

of empty stomachs.
A story vetted

The enemy had indeed
left their buildings.

I never considered my
empty wallet a prophecy.

I never considered
finders keepers

losers just accept you’ve
made a difference.

The sounds of
phantom chariots

make me give until
the hungry come home.

This is the trickle down
of my ancestors.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

This is Why We Took Archery at Camp – A Poem for Haftarah Shemini (Machar Chodesh) by Rick Lupert


You’d think, if you were the king, you
wouldn’t worry too much about your lineage
especially if you had a son who

as things went back in the days of kings
would automatically ascend to your throne.
Yet Saul, whose son’s best friend was David

who, if you know your history, is the most
sung about Jewish king of all time, was
deeply concerned the family line would

stop with him. Him meaning Saul, whose
son Jonathan warned his best friend, the future
King David, who hadn’t even heard the

name Goliath yet, through a secret code
of arrows, and, in particular, the way and
distance in which the arrows, would be shot

really wasn’t into the idea of David as the
future. I mean why spend so much time grooming
Jonathan for the Job if someday David was going

to get crafty with a slingshot and then be
given the keys to the kingdom? Not that
Saul had any idea about this yet. I’m just

writing this with the benefit of thousands
of years of knowledge – in particular the
knowledge that David was the future thing.

So arrows were shot, and instead of
coming ‘round the palace for the hope of
a feast, David takes the warning of his friend

(a real prince of a friend) and just gathers
up the arrows and probably dines alone
rather than face the death-wrath of

Jonathan’s dad. Good friends hug. Good friends
kiss. And the future king lives on forever
in the hearts of our people.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin: curiosity and other values


Prolific author Joseph Telushkin discusses some of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world, including a need for more curiosity.

“If people are only going to read things that reinforce what they believe… they’re going to end up demonizing the people that disagree with them.” -Joseph Telushkin

 

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

David Suissa (left) and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (right) discuss the values of Judaism

Check out this episode!

Telling Time in the Wilderness


Photo from PxHere.

We often have tunnel vision when we’re in a difficult place. “I just need to get through this,” we say. And it’s true — whether it’s biblical Egypt or a rough patch in our own lives, sometimes we need to focus our resources and attention on getting ourselves safely to the other side.

But once we get through, where are we?

Occasionally, we jump straight into a new chapter of life feeling fully resolved and at peace. But more often, when we exit crisis, we land squarely in transition. We find ourselves wandering in the wilderness, just like the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt.

My college professors in the ’90s were fond of the phrase “liminal space” — that threshold betwixt and between, neither this nor that. This term was so common that I began to suspect this love of liminality was an academic trend. Perhaps border spaces had been disregarded for years and only now were being rescued from obscurity?

But, of course, my postmodernist professors were not the first to pay attention to liminality. In fact, the fourth book of the Torah takes place almost entirely in liminal space. In English, the book is titled Numbers, but in Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, literally, “in the wilderness.”

I’ve long been captivated by this image of rotting manna. What can it teach us in our own times in the wilderness?

In Bamidbar, an entire generation finds itself newly freed from oppression, but also newly uncertain about its day-to-day life, not to mention its future. No longer fearing for their lives, the Israelites begin to discover things about themselves that could not emerge while they were still struggling just to survive.

For example, the Israelites discover that when faced with physical discomfort and uncertainty, their mood quickly can turn from joy to petulance. They also begin to feel out the heights and depths of their spiritual lives — from a new relationship with the Divine, who leads them in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, to experimenting with idolatry in the Golden Calf episode.

Some of these lessons must have felt good in the moment; others were likely excruciating. All of them were crucial in the formation of a tribe.

In the same way, when we find ourselves in a liminal space after a crisis, we encounter parts of ourselves that surprise us. After a move; or in early parenthood; after initiating a necessary breakup; or having recovered from the initial stages after a loss — at these times we learn things about ourselves that can be discovered only in the wilderness.

During this time, we also are open to profound spiritual lessons because we’re liberated from our routines and with them, our complacency. The manna that fell from heaven during the Israelites’ journey is a perfect example of this. It is as if God is saying, yes, you need to eat, and I will help you with that, but you also need to learn to be less anxious, and I will help you with that, too.

And so, according to tradition, the manna appeared each morning like dew, it tasted like each person’s favorite food, and — my favorite part — if they gathered more than one day’s supply, it simply would rot. (Except for Fridays, when they could gather two days’ worth to avoid working on the Sabbath.)

I’ve long been captivated by this image of rotting manna. What can it teach us in our own times in the wilderness?

To me, the deepest teaching of the manna is a teaching about time.

We must be present in the moment, for time cannot be saved or stored. It can be experienced only as we live it, as it runs through our fingers.

When this mysterious, magical food appeared one morning, the Israelites asked, “Man hu?” (“What is this?”) This is where the name “manna” comes from — it essentially means, “What?”

The spirit of “what,” of open-minded inquiry, is the spirit of the wilderness. In walking out of our bondage, we also leave our preconceived notions about ourselves and the world. We are like children, looking around us, asking, “What is this?”

Perhaps that question itself is the secret heart of our being. Perhaps it is all we truly have.


Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

Still in the Minor Leagues – A Poem for Haftarah Tzav by Rick Lupert


Passover is coming and
baseball season is nigh and
it is the Big Shabbat

and I’m not one to typically
reference baseball in anything
but the text tells me

Malakhi was a minor prophet
and for some reason I’m picturing
a group of them, who couldn’t

quite make it to the majors
but are still proud to put on
the uniform and shout the

words of the Lord, because
apparently, we haven’t been listening
to them, and the idea that

there’s anything divine is
starting to sound suspect, and
maybe if Malakhi does a

good job reminding us of
the consequences of our actions
or inactions, he’ll get to

play ball with the original
Brooklyn Dodgers (and how is it
that I know that the Dodgers

are originally from Brooklyn
when most of my knowledge of
baseball stops after the part

where I know how to spell the word)
or maybe Moses will sit him
down for a private luncheon

to feel him out and see if
he’s ready to join the big leagues
and put on the big prophet pants

or if he’s going to need to
keep hitting the streets, (or dirt
roads as it probably was back then,

reminding us that the time is now
and the oven is still burning like
an oven and pretty soon Elijah’s

going to walk in the open door
and drink from the cup set aside
just for him.

That’s all a minor prophet could want –
to be welcomed into a home where
a special beverage was

waiting for him this whole time.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

He-Goats and Ephas and Hins (Oh, My) – A Poem for Haftarah Vayikra by Rick Lupert


Oh, ancient text, a new month is coming
and you have special things to tell me.
Special things, with words so smart
I’ll have to look them up.

Words like ephah, which spell-check
doesn’t like, but which dictionary.com
assures me exists. Same with hin.
It seems spell-check is not ready for

ancient Hebrew units of measure
and honestly, I’m not sure I am either.
As a Jewish American, I still freeze
any time someone tells me a temperature

in celsius. Not literally freeze, as in
the water has solidified, but freeze, as in
my body has stopped moving while
my brain catches up.

Let us not even mention metric,
which I hear is better than whatever
it is we are using, but which the
Anglican kings never got on board with.

Oh, ancient text, I struggle every week
to find a common language to filter your
lessons into my twenty-first century sensibility.
I understand the words new month

but wonder why they come up in
the middle of March. There’s a different
Jewish way for everything. I want the
lunar calendar to kiss the sun on the lips.

Honestly, I’d prefer not to kill any
lambs, or he-goats, or bulls. You may
have a different word for bushel, but
I’ve got a different way to atone for my sins.

Nothing is set on fire and I may exit the
holy tent through the same door I entered.
Blasphemy! Oh holy text, I hope you
don’t mind that I address you directly.

I’m not giving up on you yet.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The Garden is Coming – A Poem for Haftarah Vayakhel-Pekudei by Rick Lupert


Passover’s coming and we’re
going to need to take a shower.
You can’t show up to your in-laws

smelling like sheep. And this
is all coming directly from the One
in a rare direct address to the us.

The us who have been scattered
among the nations.
The us who
use profanity like it’s reverse food.

The us who are coming around to a
sanctification. The us who are going
to get to see the old neighborhood soon.

The us who are going to get a sprinkling
of clean water. The us who are going
to get hearts of flesh, which

begs the question, what are they
of now? Was it stone? How did our
blood get anywhere if it was stone?

The trees we’ll benefit from –
you’ve never seen so much fruit.
Our crumpled buildings, risen again.

We’ve talked about the desert blooming
but, really, you won’t be able to see the
sand amidst all the blooms.

The words desolate and famine will
become words we only remember
but never use. Even the corn

is getting a talking to by the only One
who speaks its language. It’s going to
be like Eden up in this.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

When Bulls Collide – A Poem for Haftarah Ki Tisa by Rick Lupert


Let barbecue decide your faith –
On one side, Baal, four hundred and
fifty men, the type who might melt
down jewelry and worship anything,
Their bull – cut into pieces and
laid on altar.

On the other, the Prophet Elijah,
famous from all the songs, repping
the Lord, a similar cut-up bull on display,
only wetted down to make it tougher,
his inevitable victory, all the more
impressive.

The challenger’s up first –
praying to Baal for smoked meat
They get nothing. They hop on
their altar in response to the nothing.
It’s uncomfortably close to Easter to
not mention the hopping.

Elijah, after a bit of unbecoming
tauntery – does his thing in the manner
which it should be done. God takes
notice and rains fire from the sky.
Who’s up for steak? I mean, not me.
I’m a vegetarian but

the victory is clear. The Kingdom
in the north has been worshipping
a bunch of Baal. Meanwhile in the south
Elijah hasn’t forgotten the lesson of
the Golden Calf. It’s his name we
call for when the sun sets

on Saturday nights, and the pain of
six days of temptation begins. It’s his name
we call for after the last taste of Matzah
closes our celebration of Freedom
It is the Lord who cooks my tofu.
I look for fire from the sky.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

I Forget What This Poem is About – A Poem for Haftarah Tetzaveh / Shabbat Zachor by Rick Lupert


Shabbat of Remembrance –
I’m having trouble remembering
all the things I’m told

my biological DVR should hold.
I have a vague memory of
standing at a mountain

but the details of what
I was supposed to do with
Amalek’s sheep are fuzzy.

Kill them all? Can that be right?
That doesn’t sound like me.
Is this why Saul almost lost

his anointed job? Because he
wouldn’t kill the sheep? I had to
look up the word prostrate

because I forgot what it meant
or maybe I never knew. I can’t
put my face on the floor for

every mistake. It’s so dirty like
the floor of the sea was, which I
remember every time I

put on my shoes. Or dirty
like the gallows after Haman and
his sons hung there for days.

I eat a three sided cookie
to remember this because
nothing paints a picture like food.

Haman and his great great
no-one really knows ancestor Agag
their names written on our shoes.

Our mandate – to wipe them
from our memories, as every year
we remember them.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The First Construction Project – A Poem for Haftarah Terumah by Rick Lupert


It took four hundred and eighty years
after leaving Egypt until God gave us
the measurements we needed to
build the Holy Temple.

King Solomon got the Job.
He was only the third Jewish King.
We followed the charismatic until
the situation on the ground caused us

to formalize the situation with his
grandfather, Saul. Jerusalem was
barely the capital, and we’re still
having trouble setting that in stone.

His dad, David, was too busy
writing poetry under waterfalls near
the Dead Sea to take on a major
construction project and, I guess

the previous few hundred years
we were still glancing nervously
back across the Jordan River for
signs of chariots.

I wonder what happened with
the desert’s Tabernacle before
Solomon’s stones and planks
took to the mountain?

I wonder if they imagined that
thousands of years later, this
holiest of structures, and its sequel
number two, would only be

remembered by the words we
read on Saturday mornings?
Occasionally a shovel reveals
a clue. I walked up a staircase

made of stone once. I sang a song
of ascent
. I crawled through tunnels
and looked in every dark crevice.
One cedar plank was all I needed.

Even just a splinter.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Keep Shekels In Your Pocket – A Poem for Haftarah Mishpatim by Rick Lupert


Jehoash was seven years old when he became king.

Can you imagine? I ask my wife
if our nine year old were suddenly
in charge of everything?

Like Johoash who was
only seven when he was given
all of Israel to rule.

I can’t imagine ours is up to
the job of keeping the sink clean
let alone the whole house

and certainly not the neighborhood
or the city at large, or any of the
other names we give to the

areas of land that are separate
from others because of borders
we created.

Every adult human who
has ever drawn a line on a map
used to be nine or seven.

I guess eventually we
all get there, especially if we’re
born into the job.

Poor Jehoash, who wasn’t poor at all,
but still managed to lose his childhood
to our kingdom

Who told everyone to
keep an extra half shekel on hand
because once a year

that half shekel was going to
leave your hand, to make room for
another and gather with

all the other half shekels
to fix the walls, and keep the
sinks clean.

I tell our nine year old to
keep change in his pockets
because you never know.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The Man with the Coal-Covered Lips – A Poem for Haftarah Yitro by Rick Lupert


Isaiah, the self proclaimed one with the unclean lips
takes coal in his mouth (it’s not so easy to give up

coal when it goes so far back) given by angels
with six wings each (behold the angel hierarchy

we thought they only had two) and takes on
the work of passing on the Words. (Capitalized

on purpose…these words come from the
Holiest Mouth.)

Remember when the Israelites saw the Light?
There were commandments and a mountain involved.

It was too bright and they complained couldn’t
someone else put their eyes on that light?

Years later Isaiah volunteers for the job.
He will speak of the woes and inevitable failings.

He with his coal-covered lips and no-wings
whatsoever. He’s got a whole book out and

thanks to its inclusion in a larger volume,
he’s literally one of the best selling authors

in human history. We’re constantly quoting him
holy holy holy – Get up on your toes when

you say that. The person in front of you is
probably too tall anyway. You’ll want to see

the view of the desolate cities, the empty houses,
the old cousin of the cashew tree which no-one

has seen for a millennia. And that’s where we stop
unless your Ashkenazic. Then there’s extra reading

for you. A whole other section in which
everything turns out okay.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Torah Heroes Had Special Needs


Before we begin to explore specific ways we can fully welcome people with disabilities into our Jewish communities, let us take a brief look at how our tradition has viewed people with disabilities in the Tanakh, in Jewish law and in Midrashic literature.

Many of our great leaders had various disabilities.

Isaac became blind in his later years — “When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see ….” Jacob had difficulty walking and became blind. Our matriarchs also were not portrayed as perfect; Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were barren, and Leah is described as having had weak eyes.

Even Moses, the leader of the Jewish people, is portrayed as having some type of speech disability: “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that you have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” In the next verse God answers him:

“Who gives man speech? Who makes him unable to speak or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, The Holy One? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and will instruct you what to say.”

In the Babylonian Talmud … [t]hese texts speak to the value of respecting, accepting and empowering people with disabilities.

God encourages Moses to be successful in leading the people of Israel, even with his disability, providing a powerful example of how individuals with disabilities can not only be included but can make significant contributions to our community.

A great leader does not need to be physically perfect.

There are also textual examples guiding the community of Israel to treat people with disabilities in a respectful way. “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am The Holy One.” This example provides textual support for the critical importance of making our schools, congregations and Jewish communal institutions physically accessible to those with disabilities.

Modifying our physical environments with ramps, and making accommodations for those with visual and hearing impairments are important paths to take when approaching the inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish life. A further verse in Leviticus states, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the Babylonian Talmud, the rabbis emphasize that all Jews are responsible for one another. These texts speak to the value of respecting, accepting and empowering people with disabilities.

Many of the examples about the status of people with disabilities in rabbinic legal literature portray the conflict that the rabbis might have had between strictly interpreting certain aspects of Jewish law and taking into consideration the possibility of being more lenient in other instances.

Finally, in Midrashic literature we find that, as today, the rabbis had differing opinions and attitudes about people with disabilities. Some offered interpretations pointing to the fact that disabilities were part of God’s overall plan, focusing on the ultimate justice of God. It was also believed that certain righteous individuals could intercede and change the plight of people with disabilities. We can see that the rabbis of the time struggled to understand the causes of various disabilities and to find meaning in what they interpreted as the suffering of people with disabilities.

Excerpted from a presentation by Lenore Layman, “Opening the Gates of Torah: Including People with Disabilities in the Jewish Community,” which originated at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Arise, Arise and Rock Out! – A Poem for Haftarah Beshalach by Rick Lupert


I was so pleased to come across
the story of Deborah and find out it
culminates as a musical.

Praise! Praise Deborah
Utter a song.

And she does. A lengthy one
of Don McLeanean proportions.
This is Israeli Pie or

Devorah’s Restaurant, if you prefer.
It goes on and every detail of
every victory is sung.

It’s epic.
It’s Biblical rock and roll.
It’s milk instead of water.
It’s stakes through temples.
It’s men who refuse to fight
     without women by their side.
It’s curses and blessings.
It’s chariots and swords.

It’s Deborah, our Deborah
staked out under her palm tree
on a mountain, doling out wisdom
and instruction and judgement.

It’s all of us taking the time
to sing a song, like Miriam did before
to recount our history
to take stock of what
we’ve got going on.

How much of history do
we know better thanks to
the rock operas of our day?
Give me a test on Joseph
or even the American Revolution –
I’ll rap my way to an A+.

We’ve been uttering songs since
Deborah sang of Harosheth-golim
Since Moses sang his way
to the edge of the Holy Land
Since Miriam put on the first Woodstock
on the far side of a closing sea.

Arise arise Devorah!
We’ve got the best seats
in the house.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Moses, Miriam, Origami


Photo from Pixabay

One Shabbat morning, to help explain the Torah portion, I taught my congregation how to fold a simple origami model.

Let me explain.

Parashat B’shalach, which we read this week, recounts the most miraculous moment in the history of our people: the parting of the Red Sea. What’s remarkable is how we responded, both at that moment and throughout our history.

The passage after the crossing begins Az yashir Moshe, “Then Moses sang.” This is the first record of anyone singing in the Torah. In fact, the passage is so associated with music that it’s universally known as Shirat Hayam, Song of the Sea.

After the song, we are told that Miriam took up her timbrel and danced. This is the first record of anyone dancing in the Torah.

This playful spirit even inspired the scribes who wrote our Torah scrolls. In every Torah (or Bible or prayer book) the words of this passage are arranged in an unusual way: The text is broken up with two wide spaces per line, alternating with three wide spaces per line.

Some observers say it’s an ancient pictogram, conveying its meaning through its resemblance to a physical object. What object? A brick wall, symbolizing God’s holding back the waters as the Israelites passed through on dry land: “the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:29)

There’s another interesting dimension to this passage. When it’s chanted in Ashkenazi synagogues, we use a special melody for some of the verses. These verses are chanted antiphonally — that is, alternating between the reader and the congregation.

Imagine for a moment how the scribe who came up with this pictogram felt. “I could write these words in paragraph form, but instead I’m going to arrange them like bricks in a wall!” What about the person who first devised the unique tune for chanting the passage? “I’m going to use a different melody, and involve the congregation in the chanting!”

Thousands of years after the experience of that remarkable event, an inspired scribe responded to it with a wonderful pictogram. And a Torah chanter interpreted the song by composing a singular melody and an innovative way of involving the congregation.

Like Moses and Miriam, the scribe and the chanter responded in spontaneous and heartfelt ways. But now these innovative practices have become routine. Our scribes utilize this same pattern in every scroll, and publishers re-create it in every Bible and prayer book. Our Torah readers chant the same melody for this passage year after year: millions of recitations over hundreds of years, in the same melody.

If we perform actions only in the prescribed way, we are missing out.

Don’t get me wrong. Traditions can be wonderful. There’s great satisfaction in knowing that you have performed a ritual in the prescribed manner. There’s also great value in heritage, in absorbing and passing along received wisdom.

But if we perform the actions only in the prescribed way, we’re missing out. Like the ancient scribe and Torah chanter, each of us needs to find our own way to connect to the sacred, to respond creatively to the defining events of our history. When we do, something miraculous happens inside us, enabling us to experience the sacred as our ancestors did.

Here’s where the origami comes in.

As an origami artist, I was inspired to create a simple model of the Red Sea parting. After teaching my congregation to fold the model, I invited members to hold it close to their eyes, gaze through the passageway and imagine that they themselves were present at that sacred event, proceeding forward between walls of water.

How did they walk? What did they hear? What did they see? What could they smell? What were their thoughts and fears? Did they feel the presence of the Divine?

In that moment, the people in my shul experienced a kind of transformation. They were able to connect to our sacred history. Just as Moses and Miriam did, just the Torah scribe and the Torah chanter did.

While tradition has the power to connect us to countless generations past, our personal response to the sacred through the creative arts has the power to engage and transform us individually. Both are essential for a full spiritual life.


Joel Stern is the author of “Jewish Holiday Origami” and many other papercraft books

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