October 19, 2018

He’s Leaving Home, Bye Bye – A poem for Parsha Lech Lecha by Rick Lupert

Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and
from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.

My main question is, if I leave,
will my father repurpose my room?
I’ve given him no indication I’ll be back
and he’s still bitter about all the dust
in his workshop.

Though it was in the making of this dust
that this deal came along. I should
pack all my things as a courtesy.
He’ll need the space when
all the false gods
come to visit.

They grow up so quick I imagine him saying
as I look to see what’s behind the curtain.
I’d wonder if my mother will miss me too
but no-one ever mentions her name –
Like she doesn’t even exist.


And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,

and I will aggrandize your name

I’d like to see my name in lights.
I’m not sure I deserve it, but
just once let the stars spell out my name.


And Abram took Sarai his wife…and all their possessions that

they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired…

How does one acquire a soul
beyond the one we’re lucky enough
to have returned every morning?

Do we even have space for
a second or third? How do we
carry them? What do they eat?

Do souls make small talk?
Do they even talk? Do they
have possessions of their own?

Abram, the soul shepherd,
traveling to a promised land –
His name not holy yet.


[Abram] said to Sarai his wife, “Behold now I know that

you are a woman of fair appearance.

You’d think this would be
the first thing he’d notice
or maybe he did and waited

until this road trip to say anything.
It’s superficial but nice to hear
anyway, sometimes. Even as a

precursor to a warning.
As a safety measure to save
his own life –

To make sure everyone
gets where they’re going.
Sarai, you are of fair appearance.

See how they’ve been
dealing with this since people
started writing things down?


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 “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.

Weekly Parsha: Lech Lecha

One verse, Five Voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

Your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. – Genesis 8:11


Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinics Studies, AJU

Jewish tradition places great significance on names. With the addition of just one letter, at the age of 99, Abram becomes Abraham and his transformation to the father of many nations is confirmed. 

At the same time, Abraham is not the only biblical figure whose name is changed. Sarai becomes Sarah; Jacob becomes Israel. Joseph, Joshua and Esther all experience name changes. With these models, a long-standing custom emerged to introduce a name change after a grave illness or other life-changing moments. 

So important is naming that rabbinic Midrash teaches: a prophecy. From one’s name comes his/her destiny. As one is named, so too is his/her reputation. In the Book of Samuel we read, “K’shem ken hu — like his name so is he.” 

Ashkenazic Jews name children after those no longer living, while Sephardic Jews name children after the living — both hoping and praying that the child will be endowed with the positive traits and strong image of the one for whom she/he is named.

In the end, it is up to each one of us to be worthy of the name we have been given — to create a good reputation, to live in kindness, compassion and commitment, and to remember the lesson of Ecclesiastes: “A good name is better than fragrant oil.” Ken yehi ratzon — so may it be.


Rabbi Michael Barclay
Spiritual leader, Temple Ner Simcha

The addition of the letter Hei into Avraham’s name occurs at the end of this week’s Torah portion, but to understand it, we need to look at how the portion begins. God tells Avram lech lecha, “Go to/into/for yourself away from your land, your family and your father’s house, to a place that I will show you.” These first words to Avram define their relationship and are the essence of the entire portion. We are commanded to go into ourselves, away from what we know, to a place of God’s choosing. Be still. Meditate. Listen. Receive.

Sefer Bahir teaches that God added the Hei so that “all parts of Man’s body should be worthy of life in the World to Come” (Bahir 8). This is based on the Talmudic teaching that Avram was first given mastery over 243 limbs (the numerical value of Avram), but with the Hei, he mastered all 248, the additional ones being two eyes, two ears, and his sexuality (Nedarim 32b). These five are the ones which most easily distract us, and make it difficult to focus on spirituality. 

With God’s covenant of placing the Hei in Avraham’s name and Avraham’s commitment of circumcision, Avraham removes himself from the distractions of what he sees, hears and is attracted to. Instead he deepens his spirituality, masters his appetites and becomes worthy of a true life. Like Abraham, may we all be blessed to have God’s name present in every word, action and experience of our lives.


Miriam Yerushalmi
Author, president of SANE

Each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet possesses a particular life force and power. Kabbalistically, the three lines of the letter Hei represent thought, speech and action — the totality of human functioning. 

One meaning of the root word Hei (spelled Hei-Yud), is “to break” (free). Significantly, God implanted the Hei into Abram’s name after commanding him to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house, to set out for an unknown destination. By breaking away from his past and hearkening to God’s command, Abram would fulfill his potential and become Abraham the Patriarch, father of multitudes.

The Hebrew word eretz (land) comes from the root ratz (to run), which is also the basis of ratzon (desire). Running indicates a desire to go somewhere. If this desire is not directed toward a spiritual goal, it may deteriorate into escapism, distracting you from reaching your true potential.

Your “birthplace” represents your genetic predisposition to a particular temperament. Your “father’s house” is your family background. Abram was raised by idol worshippers in an environment alien to and devoid of the spirituality his soul sought.

By adding the Hei, HaShem empowered Abraham to shed his past and to lech lecha, to go to his true self, to become the progenitor of a great nation.

This is a lesson for all humanity: God, with his unlimited powers, grants us unlimited ability to conquer our past, change our inborn temperament, and discard limiting beliefs and distracting habits, in order to reach our true selves.


Rabbi Ari Segal
Head of School, Shalhevet High School

This pasuk suggests a shift in Abram’s very nature. Something changes when Abram becomes Abraham, when he adds the “ha” to the name of his youth. The shift is toward fatherhood, not just of a single child or family, but “of a multitude of nations.” (Using the English, we might call this Abram’s “aha!” moment.) But what does this “ha” mean, that such a small sound established Abraham as one of the greatest patriarchs in history?

Well, “ha” is not a random syllable. It is a word, which, when used in Bereishis 47:23, means “to give to someone else.” “Ha” is a word of inherent generosity, a word that implies selflessly and ceaselessly providing for the needs of others.

“Ha” is what it means to be a parent. In adding that word of giving to his name, Abraham came to embody the care and sacrifice that defines the experience of parenting. And the implications go further. Parents are invested with considerable power as leaders of their families. As Abraham becomes the father to the people who will be a leader among nations, the truest characteristic of parental leadership is embedded in his identity. 

A leader is not the person who wields the most power, but rather the one who exhibits the most graciousness. The person who gives the most of his or her time, energy, resources and spirit — he or she embodies the generosity inherent to leadership, be it of a family, a community or a nation.


Sara Brudoley
Torah teacher and lecturer

Our sages taught us that before the creation of the world, HaShem created the Hebrew letters and concealed in each one unique spiritual powers. When HaShem wants to show Avram a practical path to transformation, so that he may fulfill his destiny and disconnect from his past, he adds the letter Hei to his name.

He is part of HaShem’s name, and so HaShem imparts a piece of himself unto Avraham, instilling in him great new powers. 

The name Avram means “father of Aram” — the country he came from. Now, as Avraham, he is to be the spiritual father of a multitude of nations, and in fact, the whole world. The power of the Hei is the ability to manifest things from the theoretical into the actual.

It’s the power of giving birth, and indeed Yitzchak is born after Avraham and Sarah receive their new names. Hei also signifies prosperity, healthy ego, steadfastness of principles, strong leadership and gentle sensitivity.

Avram is further commanded to circumcise himself in order to be whole. Rashi explains that Avram is not in control of five parts of his body: two eyes, two ears, and the head of his male organ. HaShem adds the letter Hei (which has a numerical value of five) to his name, bringing the total numerical value of his name Avraham to 248, equivalent to the 248 parts of the body, and the 248 positive commandments. HaShem thus makes Avraham whole, and ready to fulfill his mission.

You Otter Build an Ark – A poem for Parsha Noach by Rick Lupert

You Otter Build an Ark - A poem for Parsha Noach by Rick Lupert

Now the earth was corrupt before God,
and the earth became full of robbery.

I’m not sure if I’m reading the Torah
or the news. Or if all of this robbery

I see on the news is just the criminals’
attempt to reenact the beginning of times.

Just the other day I saw the water driving
up the road typically reserved for not water.

It took houses and confidently parked cars
with it. It took the eyes of the believers

by surprise. It took the word tsunami and
threw it up against the memory of

an ancient promise.

 

Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood

I appreciate the confidence but does it
come with instructions? I can barely build

something from Ikea without subsequent
days of blisters, what with my lack of the

right tools and my general preference to
hire people who know what they’re doing

to do the things I don’t know how to do.
And who am I to take the Earth’s resources?

What will the gophers do once I’ve
taken all their wood? And, as an aside

isn’t it amazing that, back at the beginning
of history, there were already gophers?

 

And I, behold I am bring the flood, water upon the earth
to destroy all flesh in which there is the spirit of life

This isn’t the direction I would go in
but I barely deserve a capital I when I say that.

I never liked that so close to the beginning,
they just finished setting the scene, the whole thing

gets destroyed. And all the people on it.
Talk about awkward conversations at the

neighborhood party – Oh, you weren’t told to
build an ark. Oh, can I borrow all your gopher wood?

 

and of all living things of all flesh, two of each you shall
bring into the ark to preserve alive with you

I can relate to this more than you know.
Every time an animal of any kind comes onto T.V.

a lion, an elephant, a friendly chicken, a family of otters,
I turn to Addie and say We need one of those for our house.

No is usually the answer that comes before I
even finish the declaration. I relate to God, the

lover of animals. The One who couldn’t go into the
pet store on kitten adoption day, without coming out

with a box full of them. In a way this is how I am
preparing for the flood. Otter chow in stock

ready for the waters to rise.


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 “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.

Like, is this really all happening again? – A poem for Parsha Breisheit by Rick Lupert

The Earth was astonishingly empty

Like a blank canvas
Like no-one had thought darkness and light
needed to be different
Like a flyover state
Like someone bumped into something
and said I should
really do something with this.

Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water,
and let it be a separation between water and water.

Like the water was too close to the water
Like the invention of the reverse canal industry
Like this should be the base ingredient
for everything
let’s stir this up

And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering
of the waters He called seas

Like you get to be the Guy who names everything
Like everyone will need either shoes or a boat
Like when I say everyone, you should know
at this point, there was no-one.
Like a population explosion is going to need
a place to hang its hat

Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens,
to separate between the day and between the night

Like the separation between night and day
was the original dimmer switch
Like the biggest things in the sky are
not always the closest
Like I can stare directly at one, but not the other
Like the gravity of this situation is
just coming together

And God created the great sea monsters,
and every living creature that crawls

Like the word monsters wasn’t inserted into
the beginning of the oldest text
just to keep our attention
Like anyone can tell you this wasn’t
the very first genre fiction
Like our fear of monsters was seeded
at the very beginning

Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness

Like He’s either talking in the royal We or
there are some characters we
have yet to be introduced to
Like this isn’t the very first evidence
of Vanity
Like you could make a self portrait
that could take on a billion
lives of its own

And [God] abstained on the seventh day from all His work

Like the two day weekend doesn’t
extend Shabbat beyond
its natural boundaries
Like a forever pillow that stops in
every week
Like the vacation they told you to take
before you were born
but never do
It’s 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 “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.

What’s Happening: Skirball Harvest Festival, Anat Hoffman Speaks and more

FRI SEPT 28

UK Underdog

“UK Underdog”
A young Jewish boy in London transforms himself from bullied underdog to martial artist, boxer and community leader in Steve Spiro’s autobiographical solo show, “UK Underdog.” The playwright is the president and co-founder of the nonprofit Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team (START Rescue), which focuses on relocating dogs and cats from high-kill shelters in California. All profits from the world premiere engagement will be donated to anti-bullying and animal rescue organizations. See ticket website to choose a charity. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 28. $25. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 960-7788.

SAT SEPT 29

“A Night in the Catskills”
Whether you’re an alter-kacker who remembers when Jerry Lewis was a tummler at Brown’s or were too young to experience it and want to see what all the tumult was about, “A Night in the Catskills: A Borscht Belt Variety Show” promises a fun-filled evening of music and comedy. Not a re-creation of the shows that  brought Jewish families up and down the East Coast to Grossinger’s, Brown’s and Kutsher’s, “A Night in the Catskills” features new music and variety performers that nod to the classic Borscht Belt traditions. All that’s missing is heartburn from the dinner buffet. For those who want a real up-close-and-personal experience, onstage seating is available, which gets you right in the thick of things, with a table for two and a bucket with Champagne, wine or soda. 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $40-$50, Onstage seating, $55. El Portal Theater, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200.

SUN SEPT 30

Family Yoga with Doda
If you’ve ever taken a Yoga class, you’re familiar with the “child pose.” With this program at American Jewish University, parents and children can become trees, mountains, cobras and downward dogs. Led by Mollie Wine, a certified Yoga Yeladim instructor who leads AJU’s “Grandma and Me” program, this beginner’s class mixes stretching and meditation techniques — which Doda Mollie says helps calm the “meshugge monkeys” in your brain — with Jewish traditions and stories. Open to parents, grandparents and children ages 7-12. 11 a.m. $20. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Dr., Bel Air. (310) 440-1572.

Skirball Harvest Festival
The Skirball Center invites you and your family to celebrate Sukkot at its daylong event. The museum’s hillside campus becomes a socially conscious market where you can wander and taste the harvest from Southern California’s artisans, farmers and craft beer brewers. While the food is locally sourced, the music spans the world, from the bluegrass band Big Bad Rooster and Indian bhangra ensemble Blue13 Dance Company to Afro-Cuban folkloric dancer Kati Hernández with the KimBámbula Cuban Ensemble. You also can learn Israeli folk dance from David Dassa and take part in interactive community art activities. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $5 (includes museum admission); members and children under 2, free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz
A humorist and social chronicler who has been called (more than once) a modern-day Dorothy Parker, Lebowitz’s work has been must-read since the 1970s, when she wrote a monthly column for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and published the books of essays “Social Studies” and “Metropolitan Life.” Part kvetch, part Cassandra, Lebowitz — a regular guest on Conan O’Brien’s and Bill Maher’s talk shows — is a keen observer of politics and mores with a unique and trenchant voice. She’ll be in conversation with KCRW’s Matt Holzman, followed by an audience Q&A, kicking off the “Words and Ideas” series for CAP UCLA. 7 p.m. $29-$59. Theatre at the Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles. (213) 623-3233.

“So Healthy Together”
Suicide is becoming an epidemic in the United States, as the suicide rate has risen nearly 30 percent over the last decade. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are struggling with some form of mental illness or depression. In response to this crisis, Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom has organized “So Healthy Together: A Community Response to Mental Health Issues and Suicide Prevention.” The yearlong program launches with a panel discussion led by Farkas with Dr. Steven Siegel, chair of USC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Dr. Brigid Mariko Conn of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; and Susan Auerbach, Cal State Northridge professor of education and author of “I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother’s Quest for Comfort, Courage and Clarity After Suicide Loss.” After the discussion, representatives from mental health organizations, including Didi Hirsch, Teen Line and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will be available to answer questions and provide more information. Farkas hopes the program will lead to “a positive, healthy and resilient” com-munity. 1-3 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

MON OCT 1

Fischmann Family Lecture
Decades after the Holocaust, Loyola Law School professor Stanley Goldman learned his mother may have been rescued from the Ravensbrück concentration camp. This discovery led to years of research and a book, “Left to the Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Bargain That Broke Adolf Hitler and Saved My Mother.” It is the story of how Norbert Masur, a German Jew, returned from the safety of Sweden to barter for the release of the Jewish women imprisoned at Ravensbrück. Goldman discusses the book with Michael Bazyler, professor of law at Chapman University. A kosher dessert reception follows. 7 p.m. Free. Roski Dining Room, University Hall, Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-2700.

WED OCT 3

Fighting for Her Rights
Israeli activist Anat Hoffman speaks at Reconstructionist congregation Kehillat Israel. She has been arrested multiple times for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall and is an opponent of forcing women to change seats on airplanes to accommodate Orthodox men. Born on a kibbutz and a graduate of UCLA, Hoffman has spent much of her professional life campaigning for religious pluralism in Israel. Thirty years ago, she founded Women of the Wall. She is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

THU OCT 4

“The Silence of Others”
The documentary “The Silence of Others” highlights the 40 years of suffering endured by Spaniards during the dictatorial reign of Gen. Francisco Franco. The film, which screens at the Museum of Tolerance, was six years in the making. Executive produced by Pedro Almodovar, it follows compensation-seeking survivors as they battle the contemporary Spanish government. 7 p.m. $10 members, $12 general. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2505.

Miri Mesika

Miri Mesika
Israeli pop singer Miri Mesika performs at American Jewish University. Born 40 years ago in Herzliya to a Tunisian-Jewish father and an Iraqi-Jewish mother, Mesika, known for her romantic and emotional music, gained public attention following the 2005 release of her debut album, “Miri Mesika,” produced and mixed by her husband, Ori Zakh. 8:30-10 p.m. $70-100. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777.


SIMCHAT TORAH EVENTS

SUN SEPT 30

Leo Baeck Temple
Visit Leo Baeck Temple for one of the most joyous nights of the year. Celebrate the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle. The entire Torah will be unrolled into a great circle, and visitors will dance with the sacred text. The celebration concludes with ice cream and Israeli dancing. 6-8 p.m. Free. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

MON OCT 1t

IKAR
How’s your endurance? The IKAR congregation holds six hours of Simchat Torah programming for all ages — “a night of few words, big hearts and lots of fancy footwork.” To mark the end of the annual Torah reading cycle, many synagogue attendees will receive aliyahs and be invited to dance around the sanctuary with the rare honor of holding the Torah. For the first 90 minutes of the evening, children age 5 and under can engage in diverse activities. 5:30-5:45 p.m. arts and crafts; 5:45-6:15 p.m. Simchat Torah service; 6:15-7 p.m. dinner; 7-11:30 p.m. dancing with the Torah. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Adat Ari El
Bring a vegetarian or dairy picnic to Adat Ari El and participate in an energetic Simchat Torah musical service with the N’ranena Band. Party with the Torah and enjoy ice cream and Israeli dancing. 6 p.m. dinner; 7 p.m. tefilah celebration. Free. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426. RSVP to the link above.

Roseanne: Between the ‘Sacred and the Profane’

From left: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Roseanne Barr and David Suissa discuss “Is America a Forgiving Nation?” (Photo courtesy of World Values Network)

On Sept. 17, the night before Erev Yom Kippur, at the same time as the 70th Primetime Emmys Awards ceremony, comedian and actress Roseanne Barr was participating in a discussion titled, “Is America a Forgiving Nation?” 

Appearing at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Barr addressed the event that torpedoed her career: In May, Barr wrote a racist tweet about former President Barack Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. 

During the onstage discussion at the Saban with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, which was moderated by Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa, Barr said the fallout from the tweet, including ABC’s cancellation of its hit reboot of her show “Roseanne,” was devastating.

“It was so hard I thought I was going to die,” the 66-year-old said. “And it physically defeated me, and I was just leveled. And still it has been two months … but I still can’t. I feel like I have been psychically attacked and I have trouble staying awake. I went into a really bad place.”

Barr said her tweet arose from frustration with former President Barack Obama’s administration’s handling of the Iran deal, among other things. 

The sympathetic audience of close to 200 people applauded when Barr said, “I apologized for the hurt it caused people, but also I tried to clarify it and this has been quite a battle in which the right to clarify what I meant has been denied to me.”  

“That’s what I regret,” she added, “that I was not absolutely clear in what I meant.”

Boteach, who has been a friend of Barr’s for 20 years, and regularly studies Torah with her, said he reached out to her in the wake of the fallout, because of the strength of her Jewish character. 

“I wish people could be exposed to the depth of the conversations that Roseanne and I have had over the past few months,” he said, “because America knows Roseanne as an extremely funny woman, who created one of television’s most successful sitcoms and last season dominated the ratings, but what they don’t know is what a profound student of Torah she is. I mean, profound.” 

Boteach added, “She is a phenomenal, ferocious lioness for the Jewish people, and she deserved our steadfast support while making it clear she should make this right, because we Jews have values.”

Much of the evening centered on Barr’s commitment to Judaism. Raised in a Jewish home in Salt Lake City, Barr said Judaism plays a central role in her life. “My main passion and joy and compulsion is the study of Torah,” she said.

When Suissa asked how Barr reconciles her love of Torah with her irreverent comedy, Barr said her life is a balancing act between “the sacred and the profane.”

Dancing with the scroll

To turn the page in a book
All you need is one hand,
A motion like a tiny rainbow.

On a screen, kal v’chomer,
A single finger-swipe
Will suffice.

But a Torah scroll
Is heavy, its
Wooden handles
Remember the tree they
Came from, its parchment
Still marked with the patches
Of a once-living animal. 

And when you stand
To chant from the scroll,
Your body curved at the top
Like the letter vav,
You feel the tree, the animal;
You feel the hours of love
Some forgotten scribe poured
Into this small patch of the world,
Marking it with letters
To make it infinite, from the
Simple meanings to the
Secret ones, from the first
Stirrings of creation to the mountain
Where Moses saw, but did not enter,
The Holy Land. 

In fall, the time comes
To rewind back to the first bet
Of beginning, that letter open
Only to the future. We open
The ark, we gather;
You cannot turn a scroll alone.

Each year we perform this dance,
Holding the stories God gave us
With the bodies God gave us.

We wrap the scrolls like babies
And carry them into the streets.

Then our feet begin to move, too.
With a story this heavy, this beloved, 

Who can read without dancing?


Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher. Her most recent book of poetry is “Fruit Geode” (Augury Books). 

The Final Singalong — A Poem for Haftarah Haazinu by Rick Lupert

Since I spend so much time singing ancient Jewish words
with the children of the San Fernando Valley, I was so pleased

to see King David wrote a song…like Moses before him
wrote a song. A song I thought you’d never hear on the radio

because of it’s staggering 945 word count with no refrain at all,
until I realized they’ve been playing the 2633 words of

Alice’s Restaurant for decades, not to mention the encyclopedic-
lengthed 5083 words of R. Kelley’s Trapped in the closet.

Why can’t we set the whole thing to music and demand
heavy rotation? Is that what David had in mind? Is that why

he included the word nostrils twice, so it would have
more of a quirky pop-appeal?

This is the last song of the year. A duet with Moses who
sings posthumously. They were the first two to do this.

To sing of strength. To sing of the source of our comfort.
Their songs are our songs and we are still collecting

the royalties. This music, our inheritance. I say always
end with song. Ideally one everyone can sing.

We’ve got one more chapter before we start this
whole thing over, and sometimes because of the

peculiar ways in which the days of the week land
on the calendar, we don’t even read it. We find ourselves

at the beginning again, wondering how we got here.
So sing this song. Repeat parts of it to extend this cycle

beyond its natural boundaries. And ha-azinu…listen.
Let all the voices go into your ears. They’ve been

echoing from generation to generation, ever since
they first left Moses and David’s lips.


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 “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.

Using the Bully Pulpit on High Holy Days

Editor’s note: Over Rosh Hashanah, local rabbis spoke on a variety of topics, but three in particular took aim at the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration. Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica made national and international headlines when he excoriated his former congregant, Stephen Miller, now Trump’s senior adviser. IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous received a thunderous standing ovation after her 30-minute sermon pointing out how unwell our country is but that it’s not too late to build a new America. And Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple spoke about the “daily cocktail of anxiety” we see in the news and how the Unetane Tokef prayer can help guide us in these troubled times. Below are edited excerpts from their Rosh Hashanah sermons.   

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels: An Open Letter to Stephen Miller
I was once your rabbi. When you were about 9 or 10 years old, your family belonged to Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica. You attended our religious school.

The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my/our Jewish message. I understand that you were a major contributor to the zero-tolerance policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions initiated to punish and deter desperate families from coming to the United States by separating children from their parents at the border. That notion is completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.

Mr. Miller, the policy that you helped to conceive and put into practice is cruel. What you would have learned from me is that ours is a spiritual path that is focused on one task: bringing the shattered pieces of the vessel in which the universe was born back together in both a literal and spiritual repair — a healing of transcendent influence and impact. Mr. Miller, Judaism is a way of responding to the mundane and the unexpected, always seeking the response that is at once the most just and the most merciful. We Jews have chosen our history to be our mandate. We choose to recall and emphasize our most ancient ancestor, Abraham, as a “wandering Aramean,” i.e., a refugee, an immigrant. We choose to remember and underscore that the quintessential experience of the Jewish people is both the slavery in and the exodus from ancient Egypt. We are all refugees, Mr. Miller.  

Honestly, Mr. Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate families at our southern border. It’s not that we can’t reverse what you’ve done. We can, we are, and we will. 

We’re not going away, Mr. Miller, and whether you identify now as Jew is not really my concern. What is troublesome is that some of my colleagues and others are concerned about what I might have taught you when you were a member of our community. I can assure you, as I can assure them, that what I taught is a Judaism that cherishes wisdom, values honed over four millennia, wide horizons and an even wider embrace. 

Is there still time, is there still a chance that you might change your attitude? That’s up to you, Mr. Miller. I will never give up hope that you can open your heart.

In the meantime, I will act in accordance with the values that our tradition conveys, values that go beyond the superficial and time-limited expediencies of your allegiance to party and a temporal leader, and I will engage against you in a machloket l’shem shamayim, a struggle for the sake of all that is righteous, not merely what you may deem as right.

Know this: Regardless of whether the Trump administration decides to be accountable, we are choosing to be accountable. We believe, as Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us so precisely, “In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.” Because we want this society to remain free, we will continue to act. Someone needs to clean up this mess and, in concert with many others, it will be your long-suffering, uncomfortable Jewish people.

Do you know the Yiddish word mensch, Mr. Miller? In Yiddish, a mensch is a fully-constituted, human and humane being. In Hebrew it parallels to the word ish. Hillel the Elder taught us: “B’makom she-ein anashim, hishtadeil l’hiyot ish”. (Avot 2:5) In other words, “In a place where no one is acting like a mensch, be one!” That’s what we will be doing, Mr. Miller, because that’s who we are. We can only hope you will decide to join us.

Read more of his sermon’s here. 


Rabbi Sharon Brous: Building A New America
We are not well when racist dog whistles today sound more like bullhorns, when Black athletes are scorned and penalized for engaging in nonviolent protests against police violence. When the Justice Department actively works to roll back civil rights achievements of previous administrations

Yes, it’s a victory that only a dozen pathetic Nazis showed up to march in [Washington,] D.C. on the anniversary of Charlottesville, but friends — they’ve moved from the streets to the ballots! There are now several avowed white nationalists, Holocaust deniers and Nazis on the ballot in state and federal races this fall. Organizations that monitor hate groups say it’s clear that white nationalists feel emboldened when the president himself advances their agenda every time he discharges an insult about Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans. No, we are not well.

We are not well when there are one or two shooting incidents in American schools every single week. When middle schoolers report being afraid to return to the classroom because they’re scared they might get shot. And when the Secretary of Education toys with the idea of allowing states to siphon federal funding intended for the arts and music, mental health and technology programs instead to the purchase of guns for teachers. We are not well.

“Oh, keep your politics off the pulpit!” they say. 

As if our Torah is not an inherently political document. As if the story of slaves rising up before the most powerful ruler of the ancient world to demand freedom and dignity is not a political message. 

This I know: Our Torah did not survive thousands of years only to be muted precisely the moment its eternal message matters most. We make a mockery of our tradition when we suggest that the way we live in human society, the way we treat one another, the way we care for — or neglect to care for — the least among us is outside the scope of religion.

What we need is not to return to a time of mythical greatness. We need to build America anew, equipped to hold us in all our diversity and complexity. 

Yes, we are unwell, but we can — and we must — build a new America.

And it’s already happening. This year, we witnessed the beginning of a nonviolent revolution, as a million students walked out of their classrooms and took to the streets. This army is led by 16-year-olds who, while hiding under desks and behind file cabinets, saw their friends shot. Who saw the sickening inaction, the hypocrisy and complacency of our elected officials, and stood up to insist that if the grown-ups wouldn’t do it, they would bend the arc of history themselves.

Our children are in the streets shouting, Pasul! Pasul! It’s not kosher! This is old America, the America of greed, corruption and hatred, of systems built to protect and sustain white supremacy, to entrench power in the hands of the few and keep guns in the hands of the many. It is foul and corrupted. And unlike us, the grown-ups, these kids won’t even consider that change is impossible.

It is their passion that will lead the way to a new America. It’s their moral clarity. Their fidelity to the truth. Their chemical allergy to hypocrisy. They are leading, and we need to stand behind them now, with the full force of our political, spiritual, intellectual and material resources. To do anything less would be a gross abdication of moral responsibility.

There may be a time when it really is too late to redeem America. Thank God, we are not there yet. 

The new America won’t come easily; we’re going to have to fight for it. 

We will rebuild this nation with love. There is a new America being born, and it is fierce, gorgeous and fair. It is built on justice and mercy, and it makes room for everyone. 

To usher this new America into the world, we — every one of us — will need to be brave, brave, brave. 

Read, listen or watch the full sermon here.


Rabbi Steven Z. Leder: Double Down on Your Relationships
I suffer from anxiety. It is very real and sometimes very frightening. It can ruin parts of days, weeks, months and years. As a rabbi, I see so much dysfunction, so much hurtful gossip, so much cancer and death that it is hard not to feel like I’m next.

And, of course, there is the news. That daily toxic cocktail of mind-boggling instability, criminality and drama in Washington, tweeting and testing the very fabric of democracy itself — wildfires, Putin, Assad, Iran, North Korea, global warming, Mueller, racism, corruption, sex scandals, immigration cruelty, floods, homelessness — over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And tonight we’re supposed to wish each other a shanah tovah? Really? Yes. Really.  

Our ancestors put celebrating on Rosh Hashanah ahead of the past remorse we face on Yom Kippur. First comes hope in the future, then the muck of our past. And believe me, the sages knew a lot more about anxiety than we do. Consider the Unetane Tokef prayer we say on Rosh Hashanah. The one that asks, “Who by water? Who by fire? Who will be troubled? Who will be needy? Who shall live and who shall die?” That prayer was written at least 13 centuries ago.  

Life 13 centuries ago was nothing but anxiety. Rape, murder, muggings, death by fire or flood or plague or starvation or war were regular, daily occurrences. But our ancestors had a different, more powerful prescription for managing their anxiety and fear. I try to use it every day. Remember how that prayer ends; what comes after that long list of terrible things to worry about in the coming year? It ends with three simple things that can get us all through. “But teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (generosity),” says that wise prayer, “Ma-a-virin et roah ha-gezarah (will make whatever comes next year easier to live with and through).” 

This was the ancient rabbis’ simple, three-part formula for surviving in their time, and it can be ours, too. First, teshuvah — repentance. And what is repentance really, other than trying to make things right with others? Our ancestors lived in small villages, where the key to survival was the quality of relationships with a handful of people who really mattered. Are we any different? Do any of us have more than a small handful of people in our lives who really matter?    

So double down, says the Unetane Tokef. When you are in pain, when you are lost, when you are afraid — double down on your relationships. Cherish them. Nurture them. Whoever you came here with tonight or called to wish a shanah tovah, that person by your side right now, he loves you, she loves you, he will shelter you when the rain falls, she will hold you when the darkness is too dark to see. No one endures suffering better alone. Tend to your relationships with teshuvah. Do not let the centrifuge of life’s stresses whirl your family and your friendships apart.

Double down. Make things right with the people you love. For only love can lift us from our suffering and our fear. Click here to read the entire sermon. 

When Life Hands You Etrogs

Photo by Deborah Danan

It wasn’t exactly the pampering honeymoon I’d had in mind. With no electricity, no running water and no bathroom to speak of, this was about as rough as it gets. The view, however, more than made up for the lack of luxury. Our accommodations, a two-room mud hut, were nestled in the Dumdir wadi between two mountains in the Anti-Atlas range in southern Morocco. 

There is plenty of greenery in the valley, where the land is more fertile and an aqueduct cuts a path between the mountain on one side and a 700-foot drop on the other. The Anti-Atlas mountain range is a sprawling terrain stretching some 300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara Desert. 

Two very valuable trees are indigenous to this area. One is the argan tree, whose seeds are the source of argan oil used for cooking and, increasingly in the West, for cosmetics. The second is the citrus medica, or as it is more commonly known by Jews around the world, the etrog. My husband, Tsvi Dahan, deals in the latter. It has been his passion — and in good years, a source of livelihood — for the past two decades.

The story of the etrog is thousands of years old and almost as fascinating as the Bible itself. It is a tale replete with rabbinical disputes, historical debates and no small measure of scandal. Capturing the passions of many men throughout the ages, it is small wonder that the Talmud likens the etrog to the human heart. Many Jews hold the belief that the etrog was also the forbidden fruit that led to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. 

The story of the Moroccan etrog harks back to the first century C.E., when Jews first settled among the Berbers in North Africa after being exiled from the Holy Land following the destruction of the Second Temple, right through to present-day Brooklyn, N.Y., amongst Satmar Chasidim, who continue to wear the modest clothing and black garb of their 18th-century Eastern European ancestors. 

It is the day before Yom Kippur, 2017. Tsvi occupies a tiny storefront on Lee Avenue in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. With jeans and a knitted kippah, he is clearly an outsider and will not make many sales. Still, quality trumps quantity in the Moroccan etrog industry, and Tsvi’s merchandise is nonpareil, allowing him to demand upward of $50 per fruit. A man enters. He examines the wares, gingerly picking them up one by one. He selects a yellowish, slightly corrugated etrog for closer scrutiny, using a magnifying glass and a lamp. 

“It is totally clean,” Tsvi tells him proudly. 

The man’s sidelocks sway as he nods his head in agreement.

“And look at the shape. Completely symmetrical and with a gartl,” Tsvi says, referencing the belt worn by Chasidic men. 

Tsvi Danan inspecting Etrogs.

Satmars covet an etrog with a slim waist that dips inward, resembling a Coca-Cola bottle. They also insist on it having as few marks as possible. 

Blemish-free is the holy grail of etrogs, but achieving it is more the realm of a horticulturist than an etrog farmer. For Tsvi, it’s mostly a matter of trial and error.  One year he’ll spray his trees with extra pesticide to deter insects, while another year he might try growing the etrogs in gauze bags to prevent dents from rogue branches. 

Apart from ritual use by Jews as part of the four species on Sukkot, the etrog’s other main use is in perfumes, and for that they don’t need to look pretty. 

Tsvi’s grandfather from Marrakesh learned the etrog trade from his mother and uncle. He then bequeathed his knowledge to his six sons. In 1998, Tsvi and his twin brother, Gadi, were employed by their uncles to help with the harvest in Morocco during Elul. That was also the year I met Tsvi. I was 16 and Tsvi was the soldier and medic accompanying my summer camp in Israel. It would be another 14 years before fate would cross our paths again and we would fall in love and marry. 

The following Elul, the twins decided to go it alone. In the years that followed, they would fail, many times, and lose a lot of money in the process. 

In 2007, Tsvi wrapped up a master’s degree and quit his job at a bank to go and spend time in Dumdir. For two months, he lived on the mountain with minimal contact with the outside world, learning the etrog trade from the ground up. He kept scrupulous notes in a journal. 

“I immediately felt connected to a past that is very rich,” he said. “When I was in yeshiva, I studied the Talmud tractate Sukkah and [in Morocco], in this place that is so far from everything, I got to encounter what I’d learned firsthand. It was amazing.”

During his time on the mountain, Tsvi met Bila’id, a local Arab from whom he leases a field. For 10 years, Bila’id has been Tsvi’s full-time employee for the year-round cultivation of the etrogs.  

Bila’id is a Shleuh, part of the Berber subgroup that dwells on the mountain and has been growing etrogs for Jews for centuries. In 1995, the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, considered a Torah giant of the last generation, sent a delegation of rabbis and experts to the Anti-Atlas canyon to verify the kashrut levels of the etrogs. The findings, which included a total absence of grafted trees, led Rabbi Eliashiv to conclude that the lineage of the Moroccan etrog had remained unbroken for close to 2,000 years, making it unique in the world. 

“Capturing the passions of many men throughout the ages, it is small wonder that the Talmud likens the etrog to the human heart.”

During our honeymoon, in April, 2016,  we spent a great deal of time with Bila’id and his sons. Our voyage to the mountain took us by car through Assads, the main village in the area, and then up serpentine mountain roads to Tamgersift. From there, we were forced to park and ascend the mountain by foot. The path was treacherous, only a foot wide at parts, with a steep precipice to the left. We trekked for an hour before reaching Tsvi’s field, but thankfully it was mostly in the shade — no small mercy since temperatures can reach as high as 127 degrees. 

My backpack grew heavier with every step but I refrained from complaining. The people I was with are tasked with carrying a few thousand etrogs down the same way to be inspected and sorted by Tsvi into categories ranging from 6 to 1 — with 1 being the most exquisite  etrogs — before being shipped to New York, Los Angeles and Israel. In the hut, Bila’id served me Moroccan tea with generous helpings of sugar. 

At the top of the mountain, there is a plateau with five hamlets. Once upon a time, two of the hamlets were exclusively Jewish while two others were Muslim. The fifth, Tignidin, is where Bila’id grew up, and it once had a mixed Jewish and Muslim population. Some of the Jews converted to Islam, but most left for larger cities like Casablanca in the 1930s and ’40s. 

The Jews of Tignidin owned the land in the Dumdir wadi and when they left, they gave the fields to the Arabs, Bila’id said. In return for looking after them year-round, the Jews promised the Arabs a permanent livelihood by coming back every year before Sukkot to purchase etrogs.   

Photo by Deborah Danan.

Bila’id has been growing etrogs for the past 30 years. “When I see a beautiful etrog, it makes me happy,” he said. Asked what he thought of the Jews and their strange commandments, he said, “The etrog is a symbol of goodness. This is how you serve God. You believe that if you have a beautiful etrog, your whole year will be beautiful. We try to stop the etrog from getting diseases, or becoming damaged by a thorn or a flying creature.”

Such notions, while sweet, are largely fanciful and have no real source, Tsvi said, adding that during the times of the Temple, the lulav, palm branch and etrog were used to pray for that year’s rainfall, which in turn represents livelihood. On a personal level, he continued harvesting and selling etrogs, despite its many pitfalls, as his way of  serving his Maker.

“In [a] regular job, [you] have a salary and that’s it,” Tsvi said. “But when it comes to growing [the etrogs], I am reminded constantly that everything is from Him. I can invest hundreds of thousands of shekels and have it all disappear in a flash when a drought causes the fruit to drop from the trees prematurely. I am completely at God’s mercy.”

When I Grow Up – A Poem for Haftarah Vayeilech by Rick Lupert

When I grow up I want to be a rose
I want them to compare my roots to trees.
My branches too. I’ll be on the cover
of all the magazines. Pages with
just the word blossom.

When I grow up, I want the shade
I provide to shield everyone from
the harshness of mid-day light.
I want nostrils to open wide in
anticipation of my arrival.

When I grow up, I’ll never
run out of fruit. The hungry and
the righteous will walk in my circles.
The rebellious too. Though their actions
will make them stumble.

When I grow up, anger will be
only temporary. Love, forever.
My foibles will be considered texture.
My sins, tossed into the ocean.
When I grow up, if I grow up

It’ll be like Woodstock again.


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.

Turn my Oy to Joy – A Poem for Haftarah Nitzavim by Rick Lupert

Oh, consolation
I’ve got seven weeks of you.
Oh, holy hug

Oh speak up those
watching over me
Oh Right Hand

You so strong
You smite the enemy
You clear the stones

You un-desolate
the Holy home
Oh, Jerusalem

We’re coming for you
Oh, Jerusalem
I can hear your watchmen

Look how our enemies hunger
Look how our red clothes turn white
Look how our children’s children

til the soil, bloom the desert
sing when they land
kiss the ground.

Oh, consolation, Oh, holy hug
You turn our oy to joy
You make me want

to read this text again.
I am standing.
I am ready.


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.

I Need a Camel Like I Need an Umbrella – A Poem for Haftarah Ki Tavo by Rick Lupert

These are the benefits entitled to us, according to
the prophet who speaks on behalf of the Benefit Giver

A gross darkness [shall cover] the kingdoms

Eww. The implication here is we are not part of the kingdoms
and a whole special light will, hopefully, light that grossness
right out of the realm of our perceptibility.

your heart shall be startled and become enlarged

I’m no heart-ologist, but is this medically sound?
I realize You’re the One who invented all this biology
but I had a cat die once and the veterinarian told me
his heart was too big. So as long as you know
what you’re doing.

A multitude of camels shall cover you.

A couple things here: Would it be alright if I
stick with an umbrella, or a blanket, or even just
the clothes I’ve got on. Living in the shadows of
camels feels weird to me. Also, if you have to go
in that direction, I’m not that big and think only
one camel will suffice.

All the sheep of Kedar shall be gathered to you.

Okay. You make it sound like that’s going to be
a lot of sheep. I’m not allowed to feed the outside cats
anymore as that’s how it started with the five we have
inside now. Can I just pay a fee to make sure the
sheep are taken care of, or go to someone who
has unlimited room for sheep?

to bring to you the wealth of the nations

This sounds great! I’ve got a lot of funds I’ve been
meaning to get going. There’s already the meager
college fund for our nine year old. But then there’s the
move to a nicer neighborhood fund, and the buy a
hybrid car fund (I’m only thinking of the planet).
All the wealth of the nations could really help out here.

And you shall suck the milk of the nations.

OK, is this mandatory to get the wealth? I feel most
humans are lactose intolerant after we’re weaned
from our mothers. The whole Got Milk campaign feels
like a bit of a sham. Oh Creator of biology, is this
the phlegm you had in mind?

I shall make your rulers righteousness

This sounds great right about now. The news keeps
reminding me, our rulers don’t even know how to
spell the word righteous, let alone act in a manner
that lives up to that word.

Your sun shall no longer set, neither shall your moon
God will be an everlasting light.

Is this what it’s like in Alaska? I hear black-out curtains
is doing a killer business up there. I’m going to visit
just to get a taste of what You’re offering. I’ll think of you
when I see the Aurora Borealis.


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.

They’ve Got Pants Just for Floods – A Poem for Haftarah Ki Teitzei by Rick Lupert

Promises are easy to forget when the Promiser
has hidden Their face. This is why sometimes

we wear pants that are too short, in case Noah’s flood
comes again, despite the occasional rainbow reminder.

It’s a fear we’ve taken so seriously you’ll find hundreds
of results on Amazon if you search for “flood pants.”

I’m glad someone’s making money off our lack of faith.
We’re told God’s wrath was only there for a moment

as we wept on the wrong side of the Babylonian border.
But a Biblical moment is long enough for an entire generation

to die out in the desert; for riverside city after riverside city
to have to appeal to FEMA for post-rain relief;

for millions to die at the hands of people with radical ideas.
It’s easy to see why we sometimes feel forgotten.

We’ve got two more weeks of divine consolation
before the cycle begins again.

Don’t hide Your face from us. Just a glimpse
will keep us in line.


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.

Direct Contact – A Poem for Haftarah Shoftim by Rick Lupert

Oh, how we’ve changed.
An Exodus ago we saw a light so bright
and asked Moses to be the one to
do the looking.

Now, an Exodus later,
we’re inconsolable by human voices,
even those who wrote the famous books.
We need personal contact with that Light.

We need a hug from the Almighty.
We need to know it’s going to be okay.
We need to know the cup of weakness will
be put in the hands of those who made us wander.

Our sons and daughters are fainting in the streets
we need a Divine rain to wake them up.
Nothing Noah-like…rainbows not required.
Just a splash on the face in this corner

we’ve found ourselves in.
Wake us up in Babylonia with news that
the freeway to the promised land has been paved.
We’re ready to shake off our dust and roll.

If it’s not too much trouble, we’d like the drive
to be casual. None of this flat bread on our back
kind of situation. No time to pack the collectibles.
Give us a moment to say our farewells

to put in the forwarding address
to update the paint so we don’t lose our deposit
to tell the unclean, we’re so sorry, this wasn’t
going to workout anyway.


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.

Everything’s Alright, Yes, Everything’s Fine – A Poem for Haftarah Re’eh by Rick Lupert

the earth is My footstool

This explains the smell in my neighborhood.
I don’t mind doing double duty as comfort
for the Almighty, but, please, Isaiah,
what’s the holy sock situation?

he who slaughters a lamb is
as though he beheads a dog

I couldn’t agree more. Enough slaughtering
of anyone with any amount of legs. That’s
personification, if you know what I mean.

Will I bring to the birth stool and
not cause to give birth?

I don’t want to put actions into Your mouth.
The truth is, You might do anything other
than what I’d like You to do. This is Your show.
We’re merely the ones You, sometimes,
see fit to console.

and your bones shall bloom like grass

This feels like something I’ll need to involve
my doctor and landscape maintainer in.
Those two have never collaborated,
to my knowledge, but I expect they’ll
blend it together like music and poetry.
I sense an elevation coming on.

For behold, the Lord shall come with fire

This explains what’s happening in California.
I’m not sure this is the kind of consoling we’ve
been looking for. When you look at our map,
it’s all orange and then the ocean. You’re
going to have to do more to convince me
this is a sign of the impending okay-ness
of everything.

…for their worm shall not die…

Finally! Something
for the worms!


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.

COVER STORY: Forging Happiness

What is the Jewish Take on Happiness?

In trying to divine an answer to that question, I decided to examine what the Bible says on the subject. But first, I asked around to get a sense of what my fellow Jews thought.

“Who was the happiest character in the Bible?” I asked.
“Somebody was happy?” went a common reply.
“Define happy,” went another.

Here the problems start.

The Jewish tradition as presented in our founding texts, the Bible and the Talmud, is not a philosophic, reflective tradition. Generally speaking, Jewish scholars began to theorize on such subjects when confronted with the Greek philosophic tradition. Our greatest philosopher, Maimonides (1135-1204), openly admitted his debt to Aristotle and the Greek tradition. The Jewish tradition has a lot to say about “happiness,” but for definitions, we should start with the Greeks and their interpreters. 

The Greek word most often used for what we would call happiness is eudaimonia, which literally translates as “good spiritedness” but is often interpreted as “human flourishing” or “spiritual well-being.”

There is an ongoing study of “happiness as spiritual well-being” today that one could say is flourishing. The “Pursuit of Happiness” course at Yale University, developed in response to the perceived unhappiness of the student body, contains an excellent history of how happiness has been understood across cultures and throughout history. The course, a version of which is available online, reaches back to the thoughts of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; contemplates the philosophy of Buddhism; analyzes the views of American psychologist Abraham Maslow and Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl; and probes recent research rooted in neuropsychology, among other things. It then recommends practices that will lead to happiness.  

The consensus gathered by the course is that happiness as well-being is not found in a passing moment of pleasure or gratification, but rather is derived from a sustained sense of living a life of meaning and purpose through some activity “generated from the soul.” In other words, those who profess deep well-being don’t arrive there only from good fortune or anything generated from the outside world. A person can be wealthy, loved and admired, but despite it all, be miserable. Good fortune might set the stage for deep well-being, but does not guarantee it. 

The biblical adjective ashrei and hence the noun osher line up very well with the greatest teachings on authentic happiness, how authentic happiness has been understood through the ages and to the “positive psychology” movement today.

One of the most important contemporary thinkers on happiness, psychologist and educator Martin Seligman (whose teaching is rooted in Aristotle), says happiness consists of finding your “signature strengths,” honing them and using them effectively in the service of some higher purpose. For example, a person might discover that they find their greatest meaning in life through parenting. Being a good parent is not easy; great wisdom and virtue are required. There are pleasurable and even blissful moments, but a person’s signature strength as a parent might be manifested in how they handle moments of upset, disappointment or crisis. Having a sense of purpose and knowing that you are channeling that purpose into your life and the lives of others with wisdom (knowing what to do) and virtue (being able to do it) can create a life of extraordinary well-being.  

The Hebrew term for what Seligman calls “Authentic Happiness” (one of his book titles) — is osher (rhymes with kosher). In fact, the Hebrew translation of his book is titled “Osher Amiti” — “True Osher.”

However, the word osher is rare in the Bible; much more common is the adjective ashrei. 

From the Bible’s perspective, who has achieved the attribute ashrei? Anyone familiar with Jewish liturgy knows the answer: “Ashrei yoshvei veitekha” — “Ashrei are those who dwell in Your abode.” (Psalms 84:5)

Ashrei is usually and inadequately translated as “happy,” “fortunate” or “praiseworthy.” Let’s dig into the use of the word a bit, and then venture a translation.

Let’s start with who “dwells in God’s abode.” 

“Oh God, who shall dwell in Your tents; who shall inhabit your Holy Mountain? One who walks unblemished, doing justice, speaking truth in his heart . . .”  (Psalms 15:1-2)

Who else bears the attribute?

Ashrei is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is absolved. Ashrei is the one to whom God does not ascribe iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deception.” (Psalms 32:1-2)

Ashrei is the one whose strength is in You, (Your) set paths are in his heart. For those who pass through the Valley of Thorns, He has placed a wellspring; enveloping it with the blessed pools of the first rain.” (Psalms 84:6-7)

Ashrei are those on a wholehearted path, who walk in the teachings of God. Ashrei are those who guard God’s testimonies, who seek him with all their heart.” (Psalms 119:1-2)

A couple dozen more sources could be adduced, but the constellation of biblical verses containing the word ashrei suggests that dwelling in the abode of God refers not, of course, to actually living in the courtyards of the Holy Temple but to a type of spiritual consciousness. In that state of consciousness and generated from that state of consciousness, one lives a wholehearted, righteous and moral life. In that “abode,” one seeks and lives by the moral teachings of God. In that state of consciousness, one’s inner state is not defined by the outside world. The world out there might be dark and scabrous, but deep within, one lives wholeheartedly with the Divine. 

It should be clear: Ashrei does not (except in two cases) refer to the ritual law. As we know from Isaiah Chapter 1, God is disgusted with a person who observes the Sabbath and new moons, but who tramples on the poor. Ritual observance might be true, but it might only be superficial. Ashrei refers to a person who seeks God in the heart and whose inner life is connected with the moral law. God sees through superficial lip service. Whatever one’s level of observance, the appellation ashrei refers to moral character. 

“The path [to happiness] I teach involves four elements: vision, focused intentionality or will, skill and enlightened reflection.”

The biblical adjective ashrei and hence the noun osher line up very well with the greatest teachings on authentic happiness, how authentic happiness has been understood through the ages and to the “positive psychology” movement today. Moments of gratification and joy in life are good, but authentic happiness is defined by living in a sustained way with a sense of meaning and purpose, and living out God’s moral law. Ashrei, then, refers to something like this: living consciously and actively aligned to God’s teaching. 

The biblical notion of ashrei does seem to go against the grain of some of the more exalted religious ideas of happiness, reserved for the elite. Buddhism and the religious teachings of Al-Ghazali, Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas refer to a transcendent experience of ultimate reality. The adjective ashrei seems to eschew that notion. Ashrei refers to something that is not mystical and is not reserved for the elite. Ashrei means speaking truth in the heart, being moral and being conscious of the Divine, even in moments when life is especially hard.

Ashrei is about you.

 * * * * *

With all this in mind, let’s return to my opening question: Who was the happiest character in the Bible?

The answer seems clear: Job.

Let me explain.  

First, please understand that I see the Book of Job, and the Bible in general, as literature, not a chronicle. Even the historical sections are written with the pen of literary genius. The Book of Job is such a literary gem, and was written with a purpose. The characters — God, Satan, Job and Job’s erstwhile friends — are literary creations, created to reflect something profound about the human condition. Job, in his suffering, represents every person who has suffered terribly and been told that God (or the Universe) is just, and that therefore they must have done something wrong. 

Job is introduced to us as being from the land of Utz (Advice). He is blameless and upright, reveres God and turns aside from evil — in short, ashrei. 

From reading Chapters 1 and 2, we know that Job has not sinned. The profound sorrows inflicted upon him are the result of a wager between Satan and God. Satan bets that Job is moral and reverential only to derive God’s blessings (Satan seems to have read the books of Deuteronomy and Proverbs). To prove that Job will remain moral and reverential, God permits Satan to afflict Job by taking away all of God’s blessings. After suffering unspeakable catastrophes, Job endures the eloquent if misguided arguments of his friends that he must have sinned. Job argues back over some 30 chapters (see Chapter 13 for the summary). Job insists: Yes, God is just, but I have not sinned. Job finally demands that God must answer (Job 31:35). 

Job did not fold — he insisted on the truth that he spoke from his heart.

God finally does speak, out of a whirlwind. However, God sidesteps the question as to whether Job deserves his misfortune, and instead questions Job, saying, “Who is this who gives darkened counsel (machshikh eitzah), words without understanding?” (Job 38:2) God then fulminates about God’s own power and wisdom. After this magnificent oratory, God asks, “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty give instruction? The one who reproves God must answer!” (Job 40:2)

Job admits he is deficient in knowledge (that’s his whole point): “What can I answer God? I’ll put my hand over my mouth and say no more.” Job said it once and he won’t say it again. It might have ended there, but God, is not done with Job and goes back to the awesome-power theme. God wants Job to admit that God has fearsome power — which Job does not deny. And God seems to want Job to infer from that power that he, Job, must have sinned. Job makes no inferences; he wants the truth and holds the line. 

Job finally takes his hand down from his mouth and issues his challenge. Now, what follows here are some of the most misinterpreted lines of the Bible. I want to thank Jack Miles, in his masterful book “God: A Biography,” for helping me to see these verses clearly, thereby changing the way I read the book of Job.

In Job 42:1-6, Job begins: “You know that you can do anything, and no purpose of yours can be withheld.” (The original Hebrew text says “You know,” not “I know.”) 

Job then paraphrases God’s ridicule of Job back in Chapter 38:2: “(You, God, ask:) Who is this who gives darkened counsel without understanding?” I, indeed, said things I did not understand, mysteries of which I had no knowledge.”

Job says, “Listen, and I will speak! (Job is paraphrasing himself from Chapter 13:6-7.) Job, now mimicking God from 38:3, says, “I’ll ask the questions, and you answer!” 

So Job now answers, in perhaps one of the most breathtaking verses in the Bible: “I heard about you, but now my eye has seen you. And I am disgusted, and I pity humanity.”

The Hebrew: Al ken em’as (“Therefore I am disgusted”), ve-nichamti (“and I pity”) al afar ve’efer (“upon dust and ashes,” a biblical metonym for mortal human beings).

Job has seen God, and seen through God. Job realizes that God cannot provide an answer as to the reasons for his suffering. Job realizes that, at least in this case, God is not just. Job is disgusted, perhaps for defending God so passionately. And Job pities the humanity subject to this God. 

How does God respond to this stunning and stinging rebuke? God says his wrath now burns against those who argued with Job! God tells Job’s interlocutors that they now must offer sacrifices and that Job will now pray for them, “for I will favor him because he did not join in your perversity, for you did not speak to me correctly, as did my servant Job.”

In essence, God finally admits that all those who said God was just and Job must have sinned were wrong, even perverse. The truth is extracted from God because Job, despite horrible calamity and suffering, does not “curse God and die” (as Job’s wife had recommended). Job holds the line. Job has honed resilience in the service of truth. 

There is another chapter in the Bible where God submits to a challenge — in the story of the daughters of Tzelofachad in Numbers Chapter 27. The daughters argue that the Torah’s inheritance laws are unfair. God accepts their claim and changes the law. As is written in the Sifrei (a midrash on the book of Numbers and Deuteronomy):

God says, “The Daughters of Tzelophachad did well in bringing their claim, for this is how the text is written on high. Ashrei is the one whose words are admitted by God.” (Sifrei on Numbers 27:7)

We can add to our definition of who merits the term Ashrei: one who demands of God an answer, and God answers.

Job was fearless and relentless. Job walked through the valley of death and darkness. Job traversed the Valley of Thorns. Job was indeed blameless and upright. He revered God enough to demand an answer. Job turned away from evil, but evil pursued him from an utterly random encounter between God and Satan. Job did not fold — he insisted on the truth that he spoke from his heart.

By any definition, ancient or modern, Job is the happiest character in the Bible. 

In sum, what is authentic happiness from a Jewish perspective? Living by your values, no matter what.

* * * * *

Yale’s Pursuit of Happiness course provides great wisdom on the nature of happiness and the practices instituted to achieve it. The Jewish tradition provides profound guidance on cultivating authentic happiness, as do other spiritual and religious traditions. So why are so many people so unhappy?

We know that internal happiness ultimately does not come from anything outside of us. Knowledge about authentic happiness won’t make you happy. Even the practices themselves won’t produce happiness, in my opinion. For example, one can act kindly but unconsciously expect gratitude. One might be committed to a full night’s rest but be deprived of it by night terrors. You may be committed to mindfulness and transcendence but have your thoughts interrupted by constant and painful distractions.

During my life, I have seen many wisdom and happiness programs come and go. I sadly predict that, five years from now, Yale’s approach will produce barely a yawn and most people will be working on the next new thing.

What is missing from all the wisdom and happiness programs that I have seen, ancient to modern, is this: attentiveness to the problems of psychological resistance and inner destructiveness, and to the deficiency of the will to fight them. 

If we look at the Book of Job as an allegory of the inner life, we all have a God and a Satan — divine and destructive elements — within us.  Sometimes our inner lives resemble the specter of Job. We aim to be upright and blameless, yet carry within us forces that can destroy us and hurt others. 

In sum, what is authentic happiness from a Jewish perspective? Living by your values,
no matter what.

As Genesis 6:5 tells us, our inner lives are continually influenced by thoughts shaped by evil. I list 10 such forces in my basic teachings in spiritual psychology: anger, resentment, unresolved grief, despair, guilt (including irrational obligation), shame, fear, anxiety, envy and destructive desire. I can list 10 more, but you get the idea.

What is it that banishes us from the house of God, makes us unable to transform the Valley of Thorns into a wellspring, makes us afraid and alone in the valley of darkness and death, stops us from living moral and upright lives, and prevents us from speaking the truth and standing up for it at all costs?

Human nature.

Solve that, and you can write a manual for happiness. 

We, the non-elites who are unable to detach from all into a life of compassion, or achieve bliss by pure knowledge of the Divine, will have to muddle through. You might aspire to the middle path between the extremes, as Aristotle and Maimonides suggest, but those extremes don’t let go so easily. 

I’ll share with you my approach to authentic happiness, to osher, eudaimonia.

The main practice — one not covered in the happiness course — is struggle, spiritual warriorship. If you don’t face and fight the destructive forces within, and if you don’t fund your decisions with prodigious amounts of will, all this work will get archived to some neglected corner of consciousness. 

The path I teach involves four elements: vision (chazon), focused intentionality or will (kavanah), specific skills (m’yumanut) and enlightened reflection (haskel).

Vision: First, one must have a clear, detailed vision of the person one wants to become. We ought to be able to list the virtues we want to acquire or strengthen, and the flaws we hope to diminish. “Wanting to be a better person” is not enough. We can yearn for authentic happiness, but we have to acknowledge in a detailed way the flaws we want to diminish. We should also have a clear and honest understanding of what our envelope for transformation is, and what that transformation would look like in relevant situations. In our tradition, the literature of Mussar (roughly, Jewish moral psychology) is a treasure house of wisdom regarding virtues to hold and flaws to release.

Intention or will: One must have a clear, strong intention or will to acquire those virtues and to struggle against forces within us that want to keep us trapped in our patterns of destructiveness. As in most difficult work, the will evaporates when we encounter resistance. We have tremendous will for so many things that might come easy to us — our work, our leisure, our political passions, controlling (or hiding from) others. The will to be a better spouse or parent, for example, often dissipates in the face of hurt, difficulty or the complexity of being morally present, in a sustained way, to another human being — or to God. Mastery of the will is required. 

Specific skills: One must acquire the specific skills for acquiring or strengthening virtues, weakening flaws and facing down the shape of destructiveness within. There are specific interventions for each of the 10 flaws listed above, but these interventions and rewiring of consciousness require daily, sedulous work. I have notified many counseling clients that if they don’t engage in a daily practice, I can’t work with them anymore. They can’t just stand there peering through the window of the house of God. They must batter down the wall impeding their entry. 

Enlightened reflection: And last, for now, we need a certain enlightened, evaluative reflection, the practical knowledge to set markers of behavioral change, inner and outer. We must be able to measure and reflect on our work, to protect us from yet another act of self-delusion. 

There is a Jewish idea of authentic happiness, and there is a path — often rocky and dark and inhabited by demons that will our demise. Find your inner Job and suffer through the pain of resistance to live a life of truth. That is the Jewish path to happiness.


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy of Jewish Religion, California.

The Divine Ink of Forever – A Poem for Haftarah Eikev by Rick Lupert

You have to take the good with the bad.
The ups with the downs. The sickness with the health
The exile with the occupation.

You have to understand sometimes
you’ll spend time apart, sometimes you’ll
spend time together when you’d rather be apart.

Sometimes, the two of you in the same room
is better than a free chocolate fountain. Better than
a perpetual pool-side vacation.

You have to know sometimes you’ll feel abandoned
when it’s really just a matter of scheduling. Sometimes
you’ll want more of the air to breathe yourself

and there’s the other party taking up their
share of oxygen in the very same room. Sometimes
you’ll have to change the diaper when you were

the last one to change the diaper and you were
sure it couldn’t possibly have been your turn.
This is a partnership. This is ongoing.

It couldn’t be any more forever than this.
That ring on your finger, that pillar of smoke
you followed in the desert. That Ketubah

you signed is still hanging and you can see it
on the wall, all the way back home, all the way
from this exile, all the way reminding you

that ink you used – It’s divine.
It never erases.
It never will.


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.

And Now I Know There are Fields of Cucumbers Somewhere – A Poem for Haftarah Devarim by Rick Lupert

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz

Everyone has a father, or had a father
who hopes they’ll grow up to match or
increase their success. Little did Amoz
know his son would have a whole book
named after him we’d be reading for
thousands of years after his own children
were gone.

An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master’s crib

…but Israel seems to have trouble
remembering the great Father in the sky
who, literally, laid down the law for us to
read and refer to on the daily.

And the daughter of Zion shall be left like a
hut in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field

It never occurred to me there were entire fields
of cucumbers, but now I realize there couldn’t
be any other way. I understand the isolation implied
by stationing oneself in a lodge in the middle of
a cucumber field, but I’m having trouble wanting
to do anything else.

You shall no longer bring vain meal-offerings,
it is smoke of abomination to Me;

We keep stopping by the House of the Book
with our offerings, like the modern day Jews
who show up only on Yom Kippur with the
cutest baby goats we can find only to learn
it’s not working anymore. The Divine is
not seeing past the bribe. Is not willing to
erase the behavioral debt.

Your New Moons and your appointed seasons
My soul hates, they are a burden to Me

This isn’t good news. Wasn’t it You who
made the moon, and us who just waits for it
to show up every night? This is the kind of
paradigm shift that shakes the foundation
that makes us sit up in our sins
that makes a Jerusalem fall.


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.

Ancient DNA – A Poem for Haftarah Pinchas by Rick Lupert

When I had not yet formed you in the womb, I knew you
Jeremiah 1:5

Jeremiah – still, still, still not a bullfrog
afraid of his Father, cowers like a child
afraid the words that will emerge from
his mouth, will be the words of a child,

has forgotten Who put the words in there
has forgotten Father has known him
since the womb, since before the womb.
A bond formed by an incomprehensible

fusion of holy DNA. Jeremiah, the
forever child, sees the almond tree
Father planted, sees the bubbling pot.
Sees the trouble brewing in the north.

Is given the confidence to prevail there.
And so too it is with our children.
Our children who we know since
before they the womb. Our children

whose words we parse like scientists.
Our children whose DNA is our DNA.
We just travelled through the south,
through cities our northern friends said

we should boycott, whose people we
found to be more friendly than family
only to arrive home and reacquaint

ourselves with the ancient trouble
in the north. Trust your ancient DNA
when you go to where you go.
The north shall rise again.


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.

I am a Remnant of Jacob – A Poem for Haftarah Balak by Rick Lupert

I am a remnant of Jacob.
His blood and flesh, part of
my blood and flesh.

I see him in my toenails and
whenever I need a bandaid.
I am a remnant of Jacob.

Whenever I go to Temple
I begin to see how I can
piece him back together.

I am a remnant of Jacob.
I’ve got Egypt and Canaan
coming out of my nostrils.

I’ve got memories of
cities destroyed for my kin
the other remnants of Jacob.

I am a remnant of Jacob.
I don’t know from graven images.
If you ask me to do sorcery

I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I am a remnant of Jacob.
I hold memories of promises

to be lifted above my oppressors
to have my enemies vanquished
to be made like rain upon the soil.

I am remnant of Jacob.
Call me Jacob when you see me.
I’ll know what you mean.


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 Globalist Strikes Again – A Poem for Haftarah Chukat by Rick Lupert

In the midst of the troubled centuries
After we arrived in the promised land
Before a king arose to organize us all

We were still figuring out our borders
Using our theological claims to orchestrate
the ongoing holy land-grab.

Our God, the One God is better than
your god, the no-god. I can’t imagine
telling my Van Nuys neighbor

I’ll be taking your house now.
Leave the door unlocked, and try not
to mess up the lawn on your way out.

Wasn’t it enough we were taken out of
slavery? Isn’t freedom enough of a gift?
Why do we need what’s theirs?

And now, thousands of years later
I’m thinking of of Jephthah – The man
with too many h’s in his name.

The man who you don’t want to set loose
in a Palestinian neighborhood, lest he
return with the keys to their homes

and an airspace filled with flying rocks.
Nothing is simple about the details.
Except the one in which we are all

flesh and blood, no matter which side
of the human-drawn lines we are on.
I think of this as I fly over the

vast empty spaces of the world and
watch the news about how people
still can’t get along.

I’m sorry your family didn’t want you
Jephthah. Every little boy deserves
to be nurtured.

The globalist in me prays for
an atlas without country names.
A world without passports.

The primary human interaction
holding hands…everyone given
all they 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.

Salvador Litvak: Can Talmud change your life?

Hollywood filmmaker and Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak recounts his journey of how one moment of learning Talmud led to a million followers on Facebook.

“What we learn from the students of Hillel is that you should be able to state the opinion of your opponent in a way your opponent will say, ‘yes, that is my opinion.’ When you do that, you are opening a door for him to say ‘I feel heard. Now I am willing to hear what you have to say.” -Salvador Litvak

Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak

From left: David Suissa and Salvador Litvak

Check out this episode!

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.