7 haiku for parsha Shelach (it’s our own personal fringe festival) by Rick Lupert


I
Spy instructions: Check
out the land we may invade –
Also, bring back fruit

II
Any excuse to
go back to Egypt – Life was
hard but familiar

III
Once again God is
talked out of killing us all
by a mere human

IV
Seize the day or you
could end up wandering the
desert forty years

V
A recipe to
serve bull to God is
here if you need it

VI
Even the Lord likes
the smell of homemade bread as
much as the next guy

VII
These hanging fringes
keep the light of the righteous
always by my side


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 haiku for parsha Beha’alotcha by Rick Lupert (Apparently you can have too much quail)


I
All the things in place.
Levites shaved head to toe. Time
to leave the mountain

II
Now the Levites are
hallowed, because the first born
built a golden calf

III
Oh good, there is a
second Passover in case
we need more Matzah

IV
A lifted cloud says
it’s time to go – Importance
of weather reports

V
Freedom has its one
year anniversary – Just
decades more to go

VI
Let the meat-centric
complaining begin – Not to
mention the tough walk

VII
She may have talked smack
but a sister is family –
Please God, heal her


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

Jewish Publication Society. Left to right: Aaron Koller (Yeshiva University), Ben Sommer (Jewish Theological Seminary), Tamar Kamionkowski. Photo from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Translating the Torah for today


What difference does a translation make?

If we take the Torah seriously, a lot. Whether we believe it was given directly by God to Moses, or just that it’s the foundational text of our identity as Jews, we want to get it right.

Most of us today can’t read Hebrew very well. It’s a defect we share with the ancient Jewish community in Alexandria, where scholars translated the Torah into Greek because many Jews knew little or no Hebrew. That produced the Septuagint, the first known Torah translation.

And linguistic translation is only half the battle. Even if we can read Hebrew, we often lack the knowledge required to interpret Biblical passages. We don’t know the historical context, so we miss references to ideas, people, and events that were obvious to people in Biblical times.

Robert Alter gives an excellent analogy in his book The Art of Biblical Narrative. Imagine, he says, that archaeologists a thousand years in the future find a dozen 20th-century movies that are Westerns. They notice a pattern: in 11 of the films, the heroic sheriff can draw his six-gun faster than anyone else in the movie. In the 12th film, however, the sheriff has a crippled arm. Instead of a six-gun, he uses a rifle that he keeps slung over his shoulder.

As 21st-century viewers, we easily recognize the conventional storyline of the first 11 films. We see that the 12th film intentionally departed from it. But future archaeologists don’t know about the conventions. Therefore, they posit the existence of an undiscovered source film, Q, from which the first 11 films (Q1 to Q11) were derived. They believe that the 12th film comes from a different cinematic tradition, and perhaps from a different region of Los Angeles.

Like the archaeologists, we often must guess at the conventions in the Biblical text that were obvious to people of that era. Note that in this case, it makes no difference whether God gave the Torah to Moses or it was assembled by human editors. To communicate the message, either source would have used conventions and references familiar to the people of the time.

A good translation won’t solve those problems completely, but it can help by providing notes and alternative phrasings.

Historical change didn’t stop with Biblical times. A lot has changed since 1917, when the Jewish Publication Society of America (JPS) issued its first English translation of the Torah.

  • In 1915 (before 1917, but close enough), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson held a White House screening of the film “Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and was a nationwide box-office hit.
  • In 1920, American women got the right to vote.

 

Change has continued since 1962, when JPS published its second translation of the Torah:

  • In 1964, the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination.
  • In 1969, Yale admitted its first female students; Harvard followed in 1977.
  • In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws against homosexuality; in 2015, it struck down state restrictions on gay marriage.

 

Translation doesn’t simply match words in different languages. It reflects our culture and assumptions. We shape each translation for our own era, and in turn, we are shaped by it. For the Bible, we need to know how the translation affects the message.

That was one focus of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) symposium, “The Future of American Jewish Bible Translation,” held April 30 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. It commemorated the 1917 JPS translation, whose goal was “to combine the Jewish tradition with the results of biblical scholarship, ancient, medieval, and modern.”

In the hundred years since then, the goal hasn’t changed but many other things have. New discoveries have confirmed our challenged our copies of the text. Before the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, our oldest Torah manuscripts dated from the Middle Ages. Dating from a thousand years earlier, the scrolls often confirmed and sometimes challenged our existing text.

Similarly, changed social and religious attitudes make us ask new questions about the text. When the text says “man,” does it mean males specifically, or people in general? How should we translate passages that we find morally unsettling?

One approach to troubling passages is “converse translation,” which changes or even reverses the meaning of the original text. It was used as long ago as the Septuagint and ancient Targums (interpretive retellings of the Biblical text). In spite of its historical pedigree, converse translation had few fans at the JPS conference.

“The classical rabbis often read against the text to offer an ethical ideal unsupported by a ‘plain reading’ of the Bible,” said Leonard Greenspoon, one of the conference speakers. However, he added, “Bible translators have a responsibility to call attention to morally difficult passages. Notes can be effective for that.”

Audio and photos from the symposium are available on the Jewish Publication Society’s YouTube channel.

7 haiku for parsha Naso by Rick Lupert (in which everyone brings the same gift to the party)


Bonus introductory Haiku

Kick back with some wine
unless you’re a Nazir – This
the longest Parsha

I
And so forever
the Gershonites will carry
the curtains around

II
Numbers from last week
spill into this week – I was
told there’d be no math

III
Our obligation
to vocalize our sins came
before Catholic booths

IV
This Priestly Blessing
from ancient desert to our
millennial hands

V
Everyone brought the
same gift to the party – Good
then – Awkward today

VI
Seven more people
showed up with identical
gifts – and no receipts

VII
Finding God proving
difficult – look for the voice
between two angels


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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 portion: Lessons about responsibility


Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

Joshua-Holo

Joshua Holo

It seems that if you scratch the surface of the latest political debate in the United States about federal funding for many governmental programs, you will find a bedrock philosophical disagreement about responsibility. Specifically, we fundamentally differ among ourselves about the balance between individual and collective responsibility as reflected in public policy.

Whatever you do, don’t look to Torah for guidance in this debate — unless you are willing to confront the maximalist, most demanding position, which puts both poles of American political philosophy to the test. Parashat Naso insists on at least five models of responsibility, falling relatively neatly across the collective-individual continuum.

First, we find the enumeration of the census process, which gave us the name for the Book of Numbers. In this procedure, the various tribes and clans march out in precise order, each to be counted according to God’s prescriptions. Additionally, each clan undertakes duties: Gershonites are porters, Kohathites attend to the Tent of Meeting, etc. Here, clans bear the burden of service for the benefit of the entire people, at collective cost, which we learn in Parashat Terumah.

Straddling the individual and the collective, personal cases of potentially contagious diseases are subject to removal from the camp by the general population. “Instruct the Israelites to remove from camp anyone with an eruption or a discharge and anyone defiled by a corpse” (Numbers 5:2). God authorizes all people to remove individuals, in light of the shared risk.

At the most individual, social level, Parashat Naso lays out basic tort law. When one wrongs another person, the offender “shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged” (Numbers 5:7).

The gamut extends even deeper, into the most intimate relations between husband and wife. Here we find one of Torah’s most troubling passages, in which a woman suspected of adultery must undergo the crudest of ordeals. After preparing a “bitter” brew, the priest recites a formula — almost an incantation. “If no man has lain with you … be immune to harm from this water of bitterness that induces the spell. But if you have gone astray … may the LORD make you a curse and cause your thigh to sag and your belly to distend” (Numbers 5:19-21). Adding insult to injury, the woman must accept these terms and reply “Amen, amen” (Numbers 5:22).

Perhaps at the most individualized level of responsibility possible, the Nazirite owes fealty to none but his own vows and, of course, to God. In the course of fulfilling this now-defunct practice of temporary asceticism, the Nazirite must abstain from drink and not cut his hair. In avoiding dead bodies, additionally, he cannot even attend to his own parents, should they die (Numbers 6:7).

The possibilities go on throughout Parashat Naso. Like all of Torah, which is predicated on mitzvot, or commandments, the examples all assume a sense of obligation. From the purely pious perspective, poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson had the right sense of it: “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” That is to say: Responsibility can sustain only so much questioning before it demands its answer. From a more pondered, less urgent life-and-death perspective, Torah simply urges us to remember that we cannot dodge the full spectrum of our obligations.

At heart, we believe that our philosophical preferences are correct, simply because we do. When we argue, however, we try to cite sources as if to prove those preferences. In doing so, we effectively choose where we fit more comfortably on the spectrum of responsibility.

However, if we Jews honestly query the text of our tradition, we will find that too many variations on the theme ultimately cancel each other out; Torah does not land on collective or individual responsibility. It demands all of the above, which leaves us back where we started in our debates about public policy: with our preferences.

Parashat Naso asks us to get past those preferences, and it leaves us with an imperative: We bear many shades of responsibility, and our job is to rise to them all.


Joshua Holo is dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles.

Seeking Torah in the City of Angels


In a city that seeks to capture the perfect image, I recently found myself wondering how to picture Shavuot, which begins on the evening of May 30. For the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, I wanted to find a location that would bring this revelatory event into my daily focus.

Though Shavuot often is associated with an image of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, I was looking for something that was more expansive. I wanted something that showed how the Torah was everywhere — especially in the City of Angels. I wanted to see if the angels, who according to the Talmud initially objected to God giving the law to the Jewish people, would now lend me a hand or a wing — or whatever it is they have.

My idea was inspired by a custom many celebrate on Shavuot: staying in to study all night, called Tikkun Leil Shavuot (repairing the eve of Shavuot). The practice relates to a midrash that teaches that on the morning the Children of Israel were to receive the Torah they overslept and needed to be awakened by Moses. To make repairs for our somnolence, we now show we are awake by studying, especially the beginnings and endings of the 24 books that comprise the Tanach — an acronym for Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).

But instead of sitting down to pages of textual study, I wanted to turn to the streets to demonstrate my awakening, my readiness to receive, by finding visual counterparts or representations of the scriptural passages — a photographic tikkun. The world of Torah was all around me, waiting to be studied. All I needed to do was open my eyes and focus my lens.

Setting out to find my “text,” I began driving around my familiar Sinai — the urban landscape west of downtown Los Angeles and east of the 405. At first, amid the visual clutter, I was overwhelmed. The “words of the prophets” might be “written on the subway walls” in the music of Simon & Garfunkel, but on the streets of Mid-City L.A. you are more likely to find looming billboards for TV shows.

Then I had my moment of revelation: If I could find Moses the Lawgiver — and not just Charlton Heston’s handprints and footprints in the courtyard of the TCL Chinese Theatre — it would be a good start. After all, it worked for the Israelites. Remembering a recent visit to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I found him in the form of a stone statue seated incongruously in the hospital parking lot, at the corner of George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive.

Seeing Moses with the law under his arm, I could not help but think of Torah and Sinai and, yes, the giant sculpture of the Torah affixed to Sinai Temple on Wilshire Bouelvard in Westwood. Having made that connection, more Bible imagery began to pop up from the streets around me: the words of the prophet Jeremiah; a reference to the Book of Kings; a reminder to pursue justice, from Deuteronomy.

As for the angels, they were everywhere, too, turning my head, lifting my search, leading me on my way.


A bit of Torah on the streets of L.A.

1. Moses climbing Sinai
“Angel Wall” (detail) by Barbara Mendes
2709 Robertson Blvd.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain.’ ” Exodus 24:12

2. ‘American Gods’ billboard and angel wings
7769 Melrose Ave.
“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:2

3. Mezuzah with inscription
Fleishik’s, 7563 Beverly Blvd.
Inscription: “A cry is heard in Ramah.” Jeremiah 31:15

4. Angel
640 S. San Vicente parking structure
“For He will order His angels to guard you wherever you go.” Psalms 91:11

5. Torah — L’dor vador
Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd.
“Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children.”
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

6.  “Fear of God is the Start of Wisdom”
Baba Sale Congregation
404 N. Fairfax Ave.
Proverbs 1:7

7.  Moses
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center parking lot, Gracie Allen Drive and George Burns Road
“Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.”
Deuteronomy 34:10

8. “Justice, Justice, shall You pursue”
Workmen’s Circle Cultural Center
1525 Robertson Blvd.
Deuteronomy 16:20

9. Ethiopian Jew
“Not Somewhere Else, But Here” (detail) by Daryl Wells National Council of Jewish Women, 360 N. Fairfax Ave.
“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

10. King Solomon
Marciano Art Foundation (former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple)
4357 Wilshire Blvd.
“… Solomon began to build the House of the Lord.” I Kings 6:1

7 haiku for parsha Bamidbar by Rick Lupert (in which everyone counts and is counted)


I
Four books in and we’re
counting everyone because
everyone does count

II
The biggest desert
festival – God headlines for
six hundred thousand

III
We hope you like the
direction you’ve been given –
yours for forty years

IV
Tabernacle chores
given to post golden-calf
Levites – Second chance

V
You’ve made the inner
circle Levites! North, south, east
west. Holy roadies.

VI
Attention newborns
You need not apply – Counting
just one month and up

VII
It takes a skilled son
of Kohath to properly
wrap up this Holy

7 Haiku for Torah Portion Behar-Bechukotai by Rick Lupert (There are a LOT of Jewish laws)


I
Every seven years
free the slaves, or better yet
don’t have slaves at all.

II
This land is your land
this land is my land, but no
this land is God’s land.

III
Property values
differ inside and outside
the walls. Real estate.

IV
All we have to do
is follow the laws of God
to get many perks.

V
It doesn’t look so
good if we reject those laws.
Let’s start with disease.

VI
And the Lord spoke to
Moses, laying out contracts
no lawyer present.

VII
Be strong with these laws
these many laws and we are
sure to be strengthened.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Emor by Rick Lupert (again with the showbreads…)


I
Stay pure, priests. No dead
people. And for the High Priest
we’ll need a virgin.

II
It feels like the guy
with mismatched limbs gets a tough
break in this story.

III
Rejoice animals!
You will not be castrated!
No ugly ones though.

IV
and for the rest of
us, there are holy days to
observe and to count

V
We still atone but
how do we offer a fire
to the One above?

VI
After the heavy
we go into booths. The air
and sky shelter us.

VII
Twelve showbreads on the
Shabbat table. I hope the
judges pick the best.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 haiku for Parsha Acharei-Mot-Kedoshim by Rick Lupert (resist your urge to combine animals)


I
Only the High Priest
has ultimate back stage pass,
Holy of Holies.

II
On the seventh month
on the tenth of that month, it’s
self-affliction time.

III
You know it’s pretty
serious, when they tell you
again – don’t eat blood.

IV
It’s not a good time
to bring up gay marriage. The
Torah steers us wrong.

V
As exciting as
a llama-leopard might be
you may not make one.

VI
When one says they feel
descended from Abraham
we love them like kin.

VII
So many things to
do and not to do. Bottom
line is be holy.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 haiku for Parsha Tazria-Metzora by Rick Lupert (Plus a comforting video that involves potatoes)


I
How can a birth make
a woman unclean? When life
begins, it’s holy.

II
Priests with no degree
in medicine use their eyes
to divide the sick.

III
Road Trip! cried the man
with the discolored skin as
he left the city.

IV
Any excuse to
shave my entire body.
Plus give me two birds.

V
Of course if you can’t
afford two birds, discount fowl
are available.

VI
May have to tear down
little boxes when covered
with ticky-tacky.

VII
In encouraging news:
if you jump in the pool, all
will be forgiven.


And here’s a friendly poem video that focuses on potatoes which I hope you’ll find comforting after the imagery in Tazria-Metzora:

New Potato by Rick Lupert


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 haiku for Parsha Shemini by Rick Lupert (Rejoice, there is no rice that is forbidden!)


I
So much to give up
before the thing we want will
descend upon us.

II
Look, up on the sky,
A cloud of holiness. We
could use that today.

III
I can see the Lord
is pro-the death penalty.
Sons burst into flames.

IV
These words read like the
menu at Kentucky Fried
Chicken – Legs and thighs.

V
Got to know when to
hold ‘em, Aaron tells Moses
explaining a sin.

VI
Line up, animals!
Some of you can be eaten,
and some of you can’t.

VII
Snakes and insects on
the forbidden foods list, but
not Forbidden Rice.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Tzav (where the priests learn to love meat) by Rick Lupert


I
Before anything
clean the ashes up from the
altar. Day begins.

II
Don’t forget to tip
your priest well. They can’t live on
all this meat alone.

III
In case I wasn’t
clear last week, do not eat blood.
It just ain’t Kosher.

IV
You know you’ve arrived
when your costume designer
is Moses himself.

V
Not a good day to
be a bull. Oh, how complex
to welcome our priests.

VI
Unleavened bread and
a ram’s thigh – recipe for
sanctification.

VII
Seven days covered
in oil. Both a fantasy
and mandate from God.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Vayikra (in which your sin is dealt with) by Rick Lupert


I
Any good book starts
with a long discussion of
animal innards.

II
A fistful of fine
flour – we’ve come so far in
how we measure things.

III
Deep fried, gluten free,
and no honey – This is how
the Lord likes to eat.

IV
Reading this is like
going to medical school.
P.S. Don’t eat blood.

V
We use every part
of the disassembled bull
to atone for sin.

VI
Why do animals
have to pay for human sin?
He sprinkles the blood.

VII
Why do animals
have to pay for the ancient
sin of Jewish guilt?


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

14 haiku for Parsha Vayakhel-Pekudei (involving a major construction project) by Rick Lupert


Vayakhel

I
An all staff meeting.
Building instructions given.
Not on Saturday.

II
This tabernacle
funded by all the people.
The first Kickstarter.

III
A miracle! This
over-funded project is
with the artists now.

IV
Here in the dream lab
curtains are connected and
loops of wool appear.

V
Planks and sockets and
cubits. This is what it takes
to build a Mishkan.

VI
The holiness is
in the details. A golden
Menorah appears.

VII
Who doesn’t love to
see a project completed.
Now, the inspectors.

Pekudei

I
Let’s name all our kids
Bezalel, so that they may
become artists too.

II
Priests looking for the
latest accessories – look
no further: ephod.

III
Pomegranates and
bells. Twisted blue. This runway
will be off the hook.

IV
Laying out the wares
Moses gives them a blessing
for a job well done.

V
With all the pieces
the Mishkan is almost here.
Assembly required.

VI
Like a complex set
of Ikea instructions
Moses builds it all.

VII
A cloud comes. Not one
of gloom and rain. This is the
cloud that strengthens us.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

REUTERS/David W Cerny

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei: The ark that wasn’t there


Vayakel Moshe — and Moses gathered the whole community of Israelites and said unto them, these are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do.

— Exodus 35:1

For centuries, Jews have gathered to hear and embellish the stories of Torah in accordance with the perspectives of the time. I would like to add a “Malibu midrash” to our portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, a true story titled “The Ark That Wasn’t There.”

In this week’s parsha, Moses again recounts the directions for building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. “Let them make Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them,” God instructs Moses (Exodus 25:8). The directions for the menorah, the ark, the furnishings and even the priestly garb are described to Moses in minute detail. All of the senses are combined to echo the beauty of God’s creation as heaven is to be grounded on earth in this mikdash, holy space. 

Before the sanctuary in space is to be completed, however, God reminds the Israelites to remember to observe Shabbat, our sanctuary in time that always is accessible, every seventh day. No assembly required. We have always had a “date night” with God, if only we will observe the Sabbath.

The instructions for intimacy with God in time and space are interrupted by the story of the golden calf. It appears that the Israelites are not yet ready to engrave God upon their hearts in faithfulness and love. The gold of the ark is traded for the gold of an idol.

In our subsequent portions of Vayakhel-Pekudei, it becomes evident that the repentant Israelites clearly need a building project. Again, they are reminded to first observe Shabbat: “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest” (Exodus 35:2).

Bezalel, a man endowed by the Creator with “a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft,” is chosen as master craftsman (Exodus 35:31). At the center of the Holy of Holies was an ark of acacia wood, with a cover of pure gold. Two cherubs were of one piece with the cover, their wings spread out above and their faces  turned toward each other, and it is there that God “will meet with you … from between the two cherubim on the top of the Ark of the Pact” (Exodus 25:22).

Here, in the space enclosed by the wings of the cherubs, heaven and earth are to intersect. In this void, this emptiness, the voice of God, the bat kol, will be heard.

It was no small matter, then, to finally dedicate the ark that was to crown our new sanctuary here in Malibu 11 years ago. Our Bezalel, chosen after an arduous committee process, was an artist who, in fact, was a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. He was a superb craftsman, with an exacting eye for detail.

A year after the building was completed, we finally scheduled an inauguration of our precious ark with a gathering of the entire community on Shabbat. As the day grew near, I visited the artist’s studio and saw the ark doors, lying on the table. “Just a balancing problem,” I was told. “Don’t worry, it’s a few small details.” The next morning, an hour before the ceremony was to begin, I received an ominous phone call. There still were details to be worked out. The ark was not going to appear.

I ran into the sanctuary and set up a small screen, draped with cloth.

“Where’s the ark?” Cantor Marcelo Gindlin whispered as we took our places on the bimah.

“Don’t worry,” I said, pointing to the panels behind me. “Let’s get started.”

Vayakhel. A large crowd gathered, with all of our board of directors and major donors sitting in the front rows. We made our way through the service, and at last it was time to “install” our ark.

“Please rise if you were among the donors to this project,” I said. “You are the doors to our ark, providing both opening and protection.” About 50 people stood.

I then asked all those who had read Torah that year to rise. “You really hold the Torah within you. Please remain standing.”

I then asked our board to rise, our Eternal Light, as our choir sang words of Torah.

Soon everyone was on their feet, singing and clapping. I then asked people to give one another a blessing. The room grew quiet and a holy silence descended. Here and there, a heavenly voice could be heard.

“But what about the ark?” someone shouted.

“Oh, that ark,” I responded. “Ah, it’s not quite ready yet. But each one of you is really a holy ark, making a space for God to dwell. The real ark is in the human heart.”

No assembly required.


Rabbi Judith HaLevy is the rabbi of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue and a past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. For more of her Torah commentaries, visit mjcs.org.

7 Haiku for Parsha Ki Tisa (God’s got “back”) by Rick Lupert


I
An artist hired
for a major project. Here
is my half shekel.

II
Three thousand idol
worshippers executed.
Lesson of gold calf.

III
Moses is selfish.
He tries to sign God to an
exclusive contract.

IV
God’s got back…and that
is all any human will
be able to see.

V
The One with thirteen
merciful attributes has
got our stiff necked backs.

VI
You should not cook a
kid in its mother’s milk. Don’t
worry. They mean goats.

VII
Moses comes down the
mountain with the new tablets.
Hide the molten gods.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Tetzaveh by Rick Lupert


I
If you’ve seen Raiders
of the Lost Ark. A lot of
this is familiar.

II
Four rows of three stones
one for each tribe. Beware the
Breastplate of Judgement

III
If you do not like
to wear a uniform, then
don’t become a priest.

IV
If you put on the
uniform you should expect
a consecration.

V
If you, impending
priest, like sprinkles of blood you’ll
love this ritual.

VI
Burn the lamb, burn the
lamb. That’s twice a day. Do it
for the Holy One.

VII
All the incense they
used to build this place. It was
like Venice Boardwalk.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Terumah with Rabbi Dovid Asher


Our guest his week is Rabbi Dovid Asher, leader of the Keneseth Beth Israel congregation in Richmond , Virginia. Rabbi Asher studied at Yeshivat Shaarei Mevaseret Tzion in Israel and received his ordination from Yeshiva University. As part of his rabbinic training, he had several internships including Young Israel of East Bunswick, Riverdale Jewish Center, and Aish NY. Concurrently, he received a Master’s in Mental Health Counselling from Pace University.  After marrying Aliza, Rabbi Asher joined the Gruss Kollel, an affiliate of Yeshiva University in Israel, whereupon completing his studies they moved to Chicago to take part in a fellowship that focused on community education. In addition to his studies, Rabbi Asher has worked in various administrative positions for Aish, NCSY, and Yeshiva University.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) – is largely dedicated to the detailed instructions for the building of the holy Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Our talk focuses on the idea of order and structure as a prerequisite for holiness.

7 Haiku for Parsha Terumah by Rick Lupert (Ladies and Gentleman the Showbread!)


I
Let them make for me
a sanctuary. The first
Jewish contractors.

II
This bread is so cool
it gets its own show. It’s still
in syndication.

III
Six golden fingers
will light the way. Don’t forget
the purple curtains.

IV
No wall on the east
side of the Tarbernacle.
Learn from that Orangy.

V
How many curtains
does it take to get to the
holy of holies?

VI
If you encounter
an altar with four horns. Odds
are God is close by.

VII
It is a good time
to invest in copper and
all materials.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Mishpatim by Rick Lupert (Treat your donkeys well.)


I
The Torah says let
your slaves go after six years.
I say don’t own slaves.

II
Eye for eye, tooth for
tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
and so on and on.

III
Virgins. Animals.
So many rules on who you
can’t get jiggy with.

IV
You don’t have to tell
me twice to help the donkey
of my enemy.

V
I wonder if the
gluten free worry about
the unleavened feast.

VI
Anyone you meet
could be the one who was sent –
angel among us.

VII
Up he goes to write
down all that has happened and
all that will happen.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Yitro (it’s the really big show)


I
At Mount Sinai, a
family reunion. The
whole story is retold.

II
You can’t do it all
Jethro tells Moses.
Learn to delegate.

III
Moses chose men of
substance so they could judge the
people at all times.

IV
We’re finally at
the mountain, this kingdom of
princes and holies.

V
Are we prepared for
the thunder and lightning
of revelation?

VI
The big show begins.
We get a top ten list to
end all top ten lists.

VII
The sound and light show
left us shaken and afraid.
We were not prepared.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

Wisdom is the Antidote


In the last two weeks or so, I have read a great deal of statements made by Jewish organizations and rabbis dealing with our immigration policy and the merits of compassion, protest and defiance.  I’ve seen Facebook posts by liberals and conservatives that contain words in all caps.  In general, I’ve seen many statements but listened to little conversation.

I would like to add a different note to this conversation.  The quality we are missing from dialogue today is wisdom.  Wisdom is the key corrective measure to our brokenness today.  Movements and mob mentalities usually feed off of emotions rather than rational thought.  The Jewish community should not get sucked into partisan warfare and bullhorn politics just because it feels good.  We should worry less about feeling good and concern ourselves more with acting prudently and elevating discourse.

We, the Jewish People, are commanded by the Torah to follow the path of wisdom.  Deuteronomy 4:6 states, “Observe them (the laws) faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, ‘Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.’”  We should be elevating the national dialogue, not feeding into a bipolar system consisting of executive orders and mass defiance.  We can choose a third way – the path of wisdom.

Last week, I listened to an interview with legal expert Alan Dershowitz, who explained that Attorney General Sally Yates should have outlined the constitutional legalities and illegalities of President Trump’s executive order on January 27th limiting immigration before she resigned.  Yates was not a hero for resigning.  Our national dialogue, and the responsibilities of her job, required her to bring forward her legal arguments into the public domain.  Dershowitz observed that Yates made a mistake and made “a political decision rather than a legal one.”  I would argue she made an emotional decision, rather than a rational one.

Rational thought had its day in court last Friday. US District Judge James Robart in Seattle heard the case and ruled to suspend the executive order.  Then, the administration challenged Robart’s ruling.  Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Robart’s decision.  Whether or not one agrees with the outcome, the US legal system functioned exactly as they are expected.  The courts decided this issue according to legal reasoning and logic rather than hysteria.  I believe the rabbis of the Talmud would have preferred judicial arguments as well.

President Trump nominated Neil Gorusch for the Supreme Court.  Emotions aside, I believe he is qualified.  I heard Rep. Nancy Pelosi describe him as “a hostile appointment” by President Trump.  Even if that’s true, he is still qualified.  President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.  I believe he was also qualified for the position.  Garland never even received a confirmation hearing.  The Republican majority in the Senate acted as immaturely as Yates.  They made an emotional decision and covered their ears rather than argue the merits of Merrick Garland’s nomination.

How long can this amazing country last without dialogue or compromise of any kind?  Is no rational conversation about immigration and safety possible?  One that acknowledges the fears and merits of immigration.  Is no rational conversation possible about Supreme Court nominees?  Is it better to vilify every judge in the entire judicial system until nobody is left?

We as Jews are commanded to heed the words of God and the Torah, not to faithfully observe the positions of a single political party.  Too often today it seems like I am speaking with a Jewish Democrat or a Jewish Republican.  If we are more loyal to policy than to values, then why even attend synagogue?  Why not just worship the political party platform?

The Torah is bigger than politics.  It is bigger than policy.  And it has to remain so for the sake of the future of the Jewish People.  The Torah challenges us to navigate through ideas that make us feel good and make us feel uncomfortable.  That is the Divine wisdom of the Torah.  We continue to read it and study it and debate the Torah every week as a community.

We are required to bring wisdom into the conversation, not accept the indecency of today’s shouting.  We must reject our current broken political system and raise the level of intellectual conversation.  As Deuteronomy teaches, our conduct must inspire others to look at us and say, “…that great nation is a wise and discerning people.”

The Jewish People have always offered the world a model of wisdom.  Our Talmud models heated debate that produces a synthesis of ideas – a well-reasoned compromise.  Now is not the time to descend into extreme partisanship.  That does not benefit the future of the Jewish People.  Now is the time to offer our neighbors the antidote to the stagnation and shouting that has enveloped us.

As we say every time we open the ark to reveal the Torah, “Blessed is God who gave the Torah to Israel in holiness.”  God gave us the Torah and now we, as American Jews, must share it with those around us so that we can reason, can reach compromise and can once again seek solutions to our communal problems – together.

7 Haiku for Parsha Beshalach – Just like at Universal Studios


I
If only they had
stopped and asked for directions.
Less than forty years.

II
Tough choice: Succumb to
approaching Egyptians or
walk into the sea.

III
Walls of water, and
a cloud pillar protects us
from the swords behind.

IV
Egyptians think the
space between water walls is
for them too. It’s not.

V
One of our oldest
traditions began in the
desert – complaining.

VI
Manna encased in
layers morning dew. A
sandwich from Heaven.

VII
If your parents said
not to talk to rocks, you should
refer them to God.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Bo – Sure, let’s put blood on the door.


I
No, Mister Pharaoh
You can not keep the children
as security.

II
First the locusts, then
a darkness, so pitch dark, it
embarrassed the night.

III
Maybe the cattle
in exchange for freedom? No
conditions at all.

IV
It will happen at
midnight, Pharaoh is warned. God
invents Rosh Chodesh.

V
I’d paint anything
on my door if it meant I
could live through the night.

VI
Midnight came and the
firstborn went. There’ll be no time
to let the bread rise.

VII
Remember this day
with nothing leavened and put signs
on your hands and eyes.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a 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 20 collections of poetry, including “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 “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.

7 Haiku for Parsha Vaera (in which frogs get a raw deal)


I
In case you have been
waiting for slavery to
end, your time has come.

II
A surprise flashback
makes us nostalgic for the
children of Jacob.

III
Moses gets a pep
talk, and a sidekick. Aaron
will do the talking.

IV
You’re not going to
impress anyone turning
your sticks into snakes.

V
The unsung heroes
of Exodus, are surely
all the poor dead frogs.

VI
Pharaoh is tired of
plague after plague but God’s
not done showing off.

VII
Be careful Pharaoh.
Your fickle mind and hardened
heart won’t always heal.

The life-death continuum


Parashat Vayechi is an opportunity to meditate on the proximity of life and death. In the traditional Torah scroll, Vayechi — which describes the death of Jacob — and the parsha preceding it, Vayigash, are written with no space between them. This unusual phenomenon is called a “closed portion” (“parsha setuma”). Juxtaposing the two so closely could be read as a statement about the contiguousness of mortality and its seeming opposite, immortality. Might this hint at a non-binary understanding of the life-death continuum? 

The paradoxical meaning of the Torah portion’s name strengthens this speculation. Like the parsha Chayei Sarah (The Life of Sarah), which is about the death of Sarah, this portion tells of the death of Jacob, yet bears the name Vayechi (And he lived). Its narrative concerns the death of the patriarch, described as “being gathered to his kin” (Genesis 49:29), and the prophetic blessings (often more like damnings) he gives his sons, seemingly in his effort to continue to influence them beyond his death.

Upon hearing of the death of a beloved, tradition would have us rend our garment and cry out to bless “God the True Judge” (“Baruch Dayan Emet”). However, belief in God’s Truth at that moment may be a tall order. It is more likely that those of us in that position have, in the words of T.S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it towards some overwhelming question.”

And that question is: Where is the deceased? Where does the soul go? And where is God? My answer: They have become one. 

People often think that Judaism is mute on the subject of the afterlife, but they are mistaken. Hints are everywhere. Not only in the names of parshiot, but in lines we study each morning, when we speak of our acts of lovingkindness nourishing us in this world (olam hazeh) and being stored up for us in a kind of piggy bank in heaven (keren kayemeth b’olam haba). 

Another clue is in the prayer we say for the deceased. Not the Kaddishwhich has too many resonances with immortality for this column to contain, but the El Male Rachamim, recited at the funeral, during shiva, and at Yizkor (memorial) services in the years to come. It addresses the “God of Compassion,” imploring that the deceased find deserved rest under the wings of the glory of the divine presence. Entering the word “rachamim/compassion,” we find its root: “rechem/womb.” This implies that the lifetime is a journey from womb to womb, and indicates our earthly task: to stay aligned with the attribute of compassion that infuses this world (olam hazeh) and the next (olam haba). 

We are told that when we say Kaddish, we effect the purgation of the souls of those we have lost. The Zohar tells us, “If not for the righteous in prayer on the other side, the world would not exist for one hour.” Does this not imply a continuing dynamic connection between the worlds?

People always ask me if Judaism believes in life after death. My glib response is that Judaism doesn’t believe in death. I’ve been saying that for years, but I think I have come to understand it only recently. I used to think in terms of the dream scene in “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Grandma Tzeitel comes from the other world to warn her great-granddaughter from marrying the butcher, Lazar Wolf. I had a sense of deceased souls as always hovering. 

I see more now. In Hebrew, the word for “soul” (neshama) and the word for “breath” (nashima) are almost the same. I think this refers to that continuous wind that goes in and out of us. When we breathe in, filling those spaces between the matter that is our bodies, it gives us the illusion of being separate selves, but the continuity of the breath/soul, in both time and space, is much more the truth of the universe. 

Through prayer, meditation and yoga, I have viscerally experienced what I think the Shema has been trying to tell us: Oneness is all there is. I have felt the curtain between life and death — past, present and future — dissolve. In my flesh, I have come to believe that the boundaries are artificial. 

After all, we’re mostly empty space. If we get down to our atomic selves, we discover that we generally consist of holes with tiny, tiny bits of matter spinning through. 

However, since we value matter above all and identify with what we see in the mirror, what we can touch and smell and hold in our embrace, we face death with terror. The hardest human task is transforming the impermanent physical connection with those we love to the spiritual connection that is everlasting.

As Prufrock said: “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit.” 


Rabbi Anne Brener, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and spiritual director, is a professor at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

‘Stand up already,’ God is calling to you


“Then Judah approached him and said, ‘Please, my lord,
let your servant appeal
to my lord, and do not be
impatient with your servant,
you who are the equal of Pharaoh.’ ”
(Genesis 44:18). 

Years before, when his brothers wanted to kill their egocentric younger brother Joseph, Judah stepped forward suggesting they instead throw Joseph in a pit. “An important action that saved Joseph’s life,” Judah would say to try to console himself in the years since. “I did my best.”  

Yet his half-action, which ultimately led to Joseph’s being sold into slavery and his father, Jacob, being sold a devastating lie, led to enduring suffering. Even Judah suffered, sure that the deaths of his own children somehow were tied to that moment of sin.

Now, Judah stood before Pharaoh’s prime minister — in truth, his brother Joseph, but he did not know that at the time. This powerful man sought to hold the youngest brother, Benjamin, as a hostage until Judah and his brothers returned with their father, Jacob. In that moment of truth, Judah stepped forward to protect his brother. Reconciling with the dishonesty of his past, Judah embraced a new truth. “I must do better. I must save Benjamin.” Judah offered himself up as a guarantor instead.  

Bi adoni,” Judah said. Usually translated as “please, my lord,” connoting humility before a powerful human ruler, “bi adoni” is understood by Sefat Emet, the late 19th-century Polish Chasidic rebbe, as “bi Adonai.” Sefat Emet notices that hidden within the letters of Judah’s name (Yud-Hey-Vav-Dalet-Hey) is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of the Holy One (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey), an unpronounceable word usually vocalized as “Adonai.” “God is within me,” Judah said.

Sefat Emet imagines that as Judah stood before this all-powerful human ruler, he finally acknowledged that there was a truth greater than his own survival. As we read in the Talmud (Shabbat 55a), “Chotmo Hakadosh baruch Hu emet” (the signature of the Holy One, blessed by God, is Truth). Judah remembered a truth, buried deep within himself, that the Holy One was within him.
In that moment, Judah stood courageous. He rediscovered his backbone. No longer would he take half-actions to save face (literally, to save his face and his very life). Where once Judah cowered before the crowd, now he stood up to the very seat of human power. 

In that moment, Judah made teshuvah, repenting for harmful actions taken years before. Faced with an analogous situation, he found the strength to push his ego aside, to let go of his own worldly concerns, and to act on the truth implanted within him by the Holy One. 

We each face moments like that. When protecting ourselves, holding our own needs or safety as the priority, no longer can be sustained. When we who, like Judah, need to face our own self-deception and to stop persistently lying to ourselves. 

These are moments when we, like Judah, need to face the hidden truths in our lives — the uncomfortable ones — about our moral failings, the declining health of our beloveds, the disappointments in our children, the struggles within our family, the dangers facing our nation and our world. These are the moments when, like Judah, we remember “bi adoni,” that God is within us, calling to us to take a stand, to stand up, to stand for something. 

Back in Torah times, Judah allowed his brothers to tell his father a lie: that Joseph was killed. He lied to himself that he had done all he could at the time to rectify a complex, dangerous situation. Because of their collective weakness, their father aged quickly and suffered greatly. Because of his specific weakness, Judah always felt that his own children died before him. Wholeness and peace came only later, when he finally faced the truth and stood up to protect
others.  

When will you face your truth? When will you stand up and say, “bi adoni — our God, who is Emet – truth, is within me.”  

Don’t wait too long. The truth awaits you. Your loved ones, your country, your world need you. 

So go ahead. Say it: “bi adoni.” 

Now go live it. Live like God is counting on you. And may we all walk the paths of truth.


Rabbi Paul Kipnes is spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas. He and his wife, Michelle November, are authors of “Jewish Spiritual Parenting” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015). He blogs at paulkipnes.com and tweets @RabbiKip.

A brief history of Nittel Nacht


On the upcoming first night of Chanukah, Chasidic and some observant Ashkenazi Jews will forgo Torah study, choosing instead to play games or pursue other leisure activities. Why? Because this year, Chanukah begins on Christmas Eve, otherwise known as Nittel Nacht, when certain customs forbid partaking in learning from Torah.

“It’s something of obscure origins,” David N. Myers, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA, said of the Christmas Eve tradition. “My best guess is that it emerges out of the tension-filled relationship between Judaism and Christianity in medieval Ashkenazic lands.” 

Myers said the custom started around the 16th century, but tensions between Jews and their Christian neighbors began much earlier, highlighted by a text that emerged as far back as the 11th century, called “Toledo Yeshu.”

“It was a work that showed the history of Jesus,” Myers said. “It was a collection of accounts of Jesus’ illegitimate birth and deviant behavior, and was one of the most widely spread works in medieval Ashkenazic culture. It reflected the disdain the Jews had for Christian origins.”

The Jewish people at that time observed Nittel Nacht as a way to avoid experiencing any pleasure or joy on the day when Christians began their celebration of the Christian messiah’s birth, as well as to ensure that no glory would be given to the day. While abstaining from Torah study, they also would eat garlic to ward off evil spirits and play cards, Myers said. 

Depending on a Jewish community’s tradition, Nittel Nacht takes place from noon or nightfall until midnight, either on Christmas Eve or on Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany — when Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate the story of the Magi, the Three Wise Men, visiting the baby Jesus — according to Rabbi Reuven Wolf, director of the Maayon Yisroel Chassidic Center. Sephardim don’t keep Nittel Nacht, Wolf said, because they mostly lived among Muslims. 

Other interpretations of the tradition hold that Jews living in Europe were fearful on Christmas and would often cancel yeshivas, which is why Nittel Nacht was instituted.

“It used to be dangerous to go out on this night,” Wolf said. “[Observant Christians] would go to church, hear sermons about how Jews were Yoshke (Jesus) killers, and so it wasn’t safe for the Jews to go outside. If that’s the case, then there’s no room for [Nittel Nacht] to be kept today because that isn’t a worry or fear anymore.” 

Instead, Wolf pointed to the kabbalistic spiritual aspects of Nittel Nacht as a reason for honoring it. He said that the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn, stated, “Whenever we study Torah, we generate spiritual flow and positive energy. On this night, the powers of impurity are extremely strong. Being that they are extremely strong, if we generate extra holy energy, instead of it being a positive influence on the world, unholy forces can grab it. Then, it’ll be used to strengthen the unholy.”  

To explain this further, Wolf cited the story of Jacob and Esau: “Yitzak wants to bless Esau to help fix him. Rivka realized that if Esau was given this extra dose of energy, instead of using it for good, he would have taken it and further strengthened his corruption.” 

Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, co-director of the Chabad House at UCLA, brought up a diary entry attributed to the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe as to why Nittel Nacht is significant to Chabad Chasidim. “It says he would not be pleased with people who would not be able to refrain themselves from studying Torah on that night, for those few hours between nightfall and midnight,” Gurevich said. 

At Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights, N.Y., the custom is for students and followers to cancel study and do something lighter. “They hang out and play games like chess,” Gurevich said. “This is unconfirmed, but there is a picture of the Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) playing chess with his father-in-law (the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn). People say it may have been on that night.”

While many people studying in yeshiva will take a break to have fun, Wolf said that he and other Jews who can’t dedicate all their time to learning will be doing chores and normal, everyday activities on Nittel Nacht. “I wish we would all sit and study every minute,” he said. “You can do anything, and hopefully it’s good to do things that need to get done anyway.”

With Nittel Nacht on the first night of Chanukah this year, Gurevich said he will be participating in both.

“The first night is always very exciting,” he said. “We’re not supposed to study Torah [on Nittel Nacht], so we can just tell stories. Those can be very inspirational. We’ll tell stories about Jewish pride and identity.”

Letters to the Editor: Torah Portion, Donald Trump


Please Put the Torah in Torah Portion

The well of Jewish wisdom is infinitely deep, and our people thirst for knowledge of our tradition. Would it be too much to ask that all of our learned rabbanim you invite to give us divrei Torah eschew personal experience and stick to the actual portion of the week with the commentaries of our sages?

Cantor Gary Shapiro, Congregation Beth Israel, Los Angeles

How Far Jews Have Come

I appreciated Danielle Berrin’s “Jewish Families in the White House” (Nov. 9) because it shows that by having a president who has a Jewish daughter, it shows how far the Jewish people have come. We were once in concentration camps, treated as less than everyone else; soon we’ll have a Jew in the first family. It shows how Jews are not less than the other nations. 

Elinor Massachi, Encino

What Trump’s Victory Means

Dear David Suissa: You and Rob Eshman don’t seem to get it. We elected Donald Trump to do precisely the things he said he’d do. We put him in specifically to deliver major change we so desperately need. So please, get over this idea of “WHEW! Thank goodness he didn’t really mean all that” and “What a relief, things will soon be back to normal.” I know you “progressives” love normalcy, and you’re the most stubbornly resistant to change. As such, you totally miss the purpose of this historic election. How very “conservative” of you.

Aric Zoe Leavitt via email

In his op-ed (“Trump’s Victory a Win for Traditional Jews,” Dec. 9), Rabbi Pini Dunner seems to celebrate the Trump election as a victory of “traditional values” over the “corrosive progressive agenda.” On the same page, there is a cartoon by Steve Greenberg in which our president-elect leads a team of early humanoids to destroy the forces trying to tone down hate, consumer rights, the environment, health coverage and public education.

Are these some of the “corrosive forces” that our “traditional values” must fight against?

I congratulate your editorial team for placing these two items on the same page.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Dunner’s op-ed that Trump’s victory is a win for traditional Jews is bordering on delusion. Trump nominated a man to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who was suing the EPA and connected to the oil industry. Tell this traditional Jew how breathing polluted air and drinking foul water is good for us.

Rick Edelsein, Los Angeles

Like Dennis Prager (“Please Keep Calling Us Racists and Misogynists,” Nov. 16), I choose to believe that most of those who voted for Donald Trump are neither racists nor misogynists. But clearly a sizable and vocal minority are.

Emboldened by things said, and never repudiated by the president-elect and his supporters, they are spewing hate and threats more openly and frequently; harassing Muslim Americans, Latinos, African-Americans, Jews and women — online, on the streets and in schools. Sadly, I’m hearing firsthand accounts.

Mr. Prager, I trust that “they” are not part of the “us” you refer to in the headline on your piece. And per your recent contention that America is “the least racist country in recorded history,” you will expect the president-elect and his team, and all proud conservatives, to denounce such behavior unequivocally, specifically and consistently. 

As we enter a new chapter offering an even greater opportunity to see how conservative policies serve us as a nation, maybe there’s room for teshuvah across the spectrum.

Michael Zucker, Culver City

Reactions to Castro’s Death

Doesn’t Dennis Prager know that history is the only objective judge for historical events and people making those events (“A Question for Progressive Readers,” Dec. 9)? I was born and spent most of my life in a totalitarian regime, so I know better than most Americans what life in such a regime is like. All statements you quoted in your column from those leaders are opinions. All except the last one from President-elect Donald Trump are diplomatic because they are coming from leaders who are, above all, diplomats.

Now, to answer your question: I agree mostly with President Barack Obama’s statement being the closest to history’s right to be the best judge. “History will record and judge the … enormous impact … ” is a world-class leader’s statement.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles