7 Nov

Rabbi Annie was out of town yesterday performing a wedding, so we had others from Temple Sinai filling in for Shabbat service. It’s always cool when someone stands in; don’t get me wrong, I find Rabbi Annie’s thoughts inspirational, topical, and relevant. It’s just cool to see others in the congregation have just as much to offer.

Mike gave the sermon last night. He started off talking about the Akeda, (It seemed as if he’d gotten the wrong parsha!) but was only making a point relative to this week’s parsha. It was something I’d never thought about before – Why is Issac so different from the other patriarchs? The other three have epic tales of trial and tribulation. They play this supremely active roll in shaping the course of history. What did Issac do? Why is his story so different from the other three?

Mike pointed out that there was something Issac went through that NO ONE ELSE had gone through – HaShem had commanded his father to kill him. He knew this. He was bound, put on an alter, a knife lifted over him set to end his life. Issac had a near death experience.

In our day in age, we can read study after study about what this type of experience will do to a person. (Better yet, imagine what that would do to you.) Those who go through such things come out different, mainly they become much more introspective and contemplative, concerning themselves more with meaning. Everet Fox comments that Issac seems to get old before his time, and in a sense that’s true. As we mentally mature, we become less ego-centric, more aware of the world outside of ourselves and our part in it. Having a near death experience is like pushing the fast forward button on that process.

Issac was no exception: time after time when faced with aggression, he chose temperance and peace. (He was also the first to truly love and adore his wife.) He modeled those traits to his family. He showed Jacob how to love. He showed Jacob how to face issues and overcome them without resorting to violence. He literally set the stage for Jacob to become Israel.

Mike went on to postulate that, with all the issues we face today, perhaps what we need is an Issac…

I agree.


Turn it

19 Oct

A few weeks ago, my rabbi let me borrow her copy of Pirke Avot.  I had been talking about how Parsha Bereshit was one of my favorites and that it would be cool to spend more than just one week on it every year.  She grinned and said, “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.”

I smiled, “That’s pretty catchy.  Is that a saying from something?”

Her eyes lit up, “Yes!  Its from Pirke Avot!”

“What’s that?”

She jumped up and went to one of the many bookshelves in her office and began scanning, “You haven’t come across it yet?  I have a copy you can borrow!”  She plucked a little book from her shelf, found the page as she walked back to the table, and set it down in front of me:

Ben Bag Bag used to say, “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.  Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it.  Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

She said that every part of Torah contains every other part of Torah, and told the story of the man who came up to Hillel and said, “If you can teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot, I’ll devote my life to it.”  Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; the rest is just commentary.  Now, go study the commentary.”  (Some say that ben Bag Bag was that man.)

Since I began studying Torah, I’ve been astounded at its fractal nature.  Studying Stage Theory in my psych classes was my favorite and I love to watch things unfold and develop.  Genesis chapter 1 is the ultimate: its the unfolding of the universe!  But its mirrored and extrapolated on as one reads, and echoes of each verse can be seen unfolding throughout the rest of the Torah.  In my studies, I’ve come across many ideas like this.  One commentary on gematria states that the entirety of eternity can be found within Torah, and that the entire Torah can be found in the first chapter of Genesis, and that can be found in the first word, which can then be found in the first letter…

Under each saying, this book gives a little synopsis of the passage, and here’s what it said for this one: “Unlike other reading, Torah is to be studied slowly.  We read it over and over again, each time looking for new meaning in its nuances.  This is a lifelong endeavor for as our life experiences change so does our perception of sacred text.”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be writing more about this commentary.  It is fascinating.

Built to Survive

18 Oct

So, I had my bachelor party a few days ago. My brother and some buddies took me to a casino in Lake Charles. It was a fantastic time, but that place is insane! I don’t know how anyone could frequent a casino. To each his own, yeah? Regardless, I’m thankful I have such an awesome brother and such good friends.

Still, Saturday morning while we were eating breakfast, an elderly woman pulled me aside to comment on my Star of David. She said she had just come from Isreal and such a thing isn’t done by many right now. She began to tear up telling me how beautiful it was to be in a place where one could openly display such a thing without any real fear. She smiled and thanked me for wearing my Star and my faith with pride.

I was speachless. I smiled back, but couldn’t even get out a “Shabbat Shalom” cuz I was trying to absorb the implications of everything she’d just said.

Suddenly I felt shallow. Sitting there, eating a meal I couldn’t hope to finish, talking about my little world with my friends, in complete comfort and opulence, while this woman who’d seen and lived through G-d only knows what, kept looking over and smiling at me. I kept trying to think of something, ANYTHING, to say to her before one of us departed, but every time I tried, my mind was blank.

We finished and got up to leave. I smiled at her again, and bowed my head. She reciprocated. I suppose nothing needed to be said on my part.

Back home, I hugged my fiancé and our son like I hand’t seen them in forever. We are so blessed to be here. I’m so blessed to have them and to not have to worry about them.

I can’t say what, exactly, I gave that woman. Hope? Courage? Strength? Perhaps none of those. Perhaps all that and more. I can’t say what I gave her, but I can say what she gave me: I haven’t felt such a powerful wave of gratitude in a long time.

Thank you, HaShem, for opening my eyes.

מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקיים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה רבה אמונתך

Please give strength to those who so desperately need it.

Built to Survive

Angsty angst…

15 Oct

“There is nothing in the world, not even among the silent things such as dust and stones, that does not posses a certain life, spiritual nature, a particular planet and its perfect form in the heavens.” – Isaac Luria

I love this quote.  When I feel angsty or just not right, it gives me comfort to recognize the truth it contains.  I find myself going back to it when I feel out of line with work or people or family or the universe.  I’ll contemplate this before and after meditating on the Shema and it helps me to visualize the all encompassing implications of this prayer.  And I’ve been reciting it multiple times throughout the day lately.

The world is being bombarded with Scorpio right now.  Everyone I know is edge, nothing seems to be working right and everyone’s pointing fingers and being judgmental.  I understand this is all part of a process of growth: can’t fix problems that aren’t recognized, but DAMN…  When everything comes to a head at once it’s difficult to deal with.  Even those I know that are experts at staying cool, calm, and collected are noticeably less so.

It could also be that it’s just me: my vibe is being picked up by those I interact with and they’re just mirroring me… I’m getting what I’m giving.

Regardless, I’m doing my damnedest to remain even keeled and level headed, nonjudgmental and objective… and it is helping.  This morning was difficult: at every corner I wanted to snap at someone or reel at something, and I had to mentally tell myself not to.  After doing this a number of times, a wave of acceptance washed over me.  It made me think of Hashem hardening pharaoh’s heart, which only occurred after pharaoh had hardened his own heart multiple times prior to.  Once he’d formed the habit of saying “No,” he was predisposed to rejection and had no choice: G-d hardened his heart even when part of him wanted to oblige Moshe.  If we build walls continually, those walls will begin to stand on their own.  If we chip away at those walls, they will eventually fall under their own weight.  In other words, G-d takes care of those who take care of themselves.  So I will continue to bat at my ego, to force myself to be understanding when everything in me wants to be judgmental.  I will do my part and I thank Hashem for obliging me.

For more on the energy of Scorpio, click here.


It’s been a long time…

13 Oct

Wow… Well, it’s been a while.  Just to ease back in and break the monotony, here’s a video I made a while back…

October 13th… for some reason, the 13th has been pretty prevalent in my life lately.  Hmm… I think that’ll be a theme in my next post… but, until then, enjoy this!

The Dark Knight Rises

5 Dec

Today’s the Dr’s appointment. I’m a little apprehensive.

Yvonne and I watched The Dark Knight Rises the other night. I love that movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, go friggin watch it!


Watching it this time, though, it spoke to me differently. When Bane and Batman are duking it out, and Bane tells him, “Peace has cost you your strength! Victory has defeated you,” it made me think of my shoulder.


So, my shoulder. Yeah.

As I said before, I hate being injured. I’ve always just “pushed through” the pain. I haven’t worked out at all… inna long time. I’ve just been enjoying life, getting fat and happy and not really caring. Until my body started aching.

When the pain refused to go away, I figured, “If my shoulder/neck/back has a crick, I’ll just work out the kinks.” I started doing push-ups and they actually made it feel better…

Till something snapped. I fell to the floor and almost broke my nose.


I don’t know what it was (I felt it over my collar bone), but ever since I haven’t been able to use my left arm much: the strength is completely gone from my left side. I still have a full range of motion, there’s no real pain, but my triceps and lats… I can’t really contract them. And when I do, they’re extremely weak: I can’t do a 5 lb overhead triceps extension with my left arm.

That’s kinda freaky. Couple that with a tingly/tickly sensation in those muscles… I’m scared I ripped a nerve or something… I don’t wanna be a cripple…


I’m trying not to dwell on it, but it’s hard. I’m not left hand dominant, but I use my left arm for just about everything.

What to do, what to do… What would Batman do?


Well (not to spoil anything, but…), Batman basically said, “No!” His back broken, he rose again. He rebuilt his body. And if Batman can come back from a broken back, I sure as hell can come back from a messed up shoulder.

Another thing that inspires me is this video.

I mean, to me, that just says, “Anyone can do anything.”

Also, seeing how big and awesome Tom Hardy is in this movie just makes me wanna pack on the muscle I had in the Marine Corps. I miss that feeling.


So, yeah, I may not be Batman, but I will rise out of this regardless of what the Dr says today.


30 Nov


So, I’ve been reading, off and on, The Painted Veil… Among other things. The book, as always, is infinitely better than the movie. And I loved the movie. Books will always be better, I think, because they happen to you: you’re not merely an observer.

I hurt my shoulder a few weeks ago… Or longer ago than that. I can’t remember a time in the past year when my back or shoulder hasn’t ached. Still, a few weeks ago I woke up to find my left shoulder and upper back rock stiff with extremely acute pain throughout that area.

I figured I’d slept wrong again and got ready for five to seven days of coping.

But as the days drug on, the stiffness and pain just got worse. The muscles started to twitch. It was unnerving.

From everything I can tell, I somehow strained the hell out of my whole upper left side. So, now I’m on Alieve.

I hate being injured. I feel weak and useless and ineffectual. I was a Marine and could do 100 push ups without blinking. Yesterday, I almost broke my nose trying to life myself off the ground. But, I’m going to try and not be down: recovery takes time.

Still, this situation makes me think of existence, the point of it all, and all that jazz… Then again, everything makes me think of that. This disposition just casts it in a particular light. One that is readily identifiable in The Painted Veil. It’s strange to me…

As sort of dispondancy, just without the melancholy. It has a sort of disconnected taste to it, twanged with acceptance; “I can’t do shit: so be it. This is the way it is.” And that level of “whatevz” is not one I habitually ascribe to. When I do feel that way, it’s usually dismissed immediately and I move onto something else. I’m not used to existing in such a state.

And so it is. I wonder…

It makes me think that G-d must feel something akin to this. Acceptance. I mean, he doesn’t really intervene in big ways anymore. He just kinda sits and observes and watches and, if we’re lucky, we can recognize that from time to time. Those seem to be the only real miracles. I think my Rabbi said it best, “I love the idea that real miracles come from a change in perception, not a change in events.”

Perhaps we’re just little dots of consciousness playing out our lives on a subatomic particle in a neurotransmitter in G-d’s brain. 🙂

At this point, I wonder where I’m going with all this, but I already know the answer; the same place we all go with anything: no where.

In The Painted Veil, Kitty and Waddington are walking together and she tells him she seems to be searching for something, but she doesn’t know what it is. Jokingly, she asks him, “Do you know it?”

He smiles and shrugs, “Tao. Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in G-d, some of us in whiskey and some in love. It is all the same Way and it leads nowhither.”