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When Do You Shine Brightest? (a Monday post practice post) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

This is the post for Monday, November 29th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

*

– quoted from the speech “Is Theology Poetry” as printed in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis

Yes, it is strange (and some might even say disrespectful) to start off a class about Chanukah with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In my defense, the first day and second night of Chanukah this year coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the author (born Clive Staples Lewis, November 29, 1898) and, as I’ve mentioned before, his faith and career as a Christian apologetic have roots in some of the same elements we find in the story of Chanukah: Judaism, Torah study, and Greek philosophical discourse. But, more to the point, this particular quote, from a speech “Jack” presented to the to the Oxford University Socratic Club (November 6, 1944), speaks to the connection between light, faith, and how we see the world based on the light of faith. In turn, it also highlights how our beliefs shape our behavior – and these are all, very much, themes related to Chanukah.

Light and the symbolic meanings of light have been celebrated since the beginning of time and by every culture on the planet. During the darkest times of the year, people celebrate light as well as the symbolic meaning of light overcoming darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have a whole long list of winter celebrations that start around Halloween and will continue into the beginning of the new secular year. This year’s celebrations started with Samhain (October 31-November 1); which was followed by Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights, (November 2-6); and now Chanukah, the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, which started at sunset on Sunday. The highlight, some might even say the culmination, of the Chanukah story is “the miracle of the oil,” the miracle of light. However, the fact that there were eight nights and eight days of light when there was only enough oil for one day is just one of many miracles in the story – and one could argue that it’s not even the final miracle.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

*

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

*

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

More often than not, I question where to begin this story. For some, it makes sense to start with Matīṯyāhū and his sons, the ones who would become known as the Maccabees, and how they defied the orders of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But, I like to put certain actions in context – which means going back over two hundred years to the rule of Alexander the Great who, in the 4th century BCE, conquered Persia and expanded the Greek empire – an expansion that included the Jewish people.

Alexander’s attitude towards the Jews and their faith is sometimes described as “tolerant.” He didn’t really care what they did or what they believed, because he didn’t see them as a threat. Life was hard if you were a Jew under the reign of Alexander the Great, and even under the rule of many of the Greek kings that came after him. It was hard to make a living and you would face harassment and bullying, but you could do you (as we say these days).

Of course, some people wanted an easier life. Known as Hellenic Jews, these people changed the way they dressed and wore their hair; the things they ate; how they talked; and what they talked about. They even changed the way they practiced their faith. They stopped observing the Sabbath and (publicly) studying Torah. They stopped circumcising their male children or devised ways to hide the circumcision. This last part was necessary, because of there were many aspects of Greek life that required men to be nude. However, by the 2nd century BCE it wasn’t enough to hide who you were. King Antiochus made it illegal, under penalty of death, to be Jewish or to practice the faith. He also created situations, like appointing High Priests and building a gymnasium outside of the temple, that made it harder for people to hide.

It’s one thing to keep the faith when doing so just makes things a little uncomfortable. It’s another thing altogether to keep the faith when doing so could result in your death. Yes, I know; throughout the history of religion there has been religious persecution and there have been people who kept the faith despite that persecution. But, whenever it happens, I think it’s a bit of a miracle.

To understand why people keep the faith, sometimes it’s helpful to understand what the believe. Definitely, in this case, to really understand the Maccabees and the gravity of what they did, we have to understand what they believed – which means getting into a bit of Torah… and, eventually, going back to the beginning of time.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

*

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

So, in the beginning of the Abrahamic creation story, there was God, there was heaven and earth, there was water, and there was “the spirit on the water.” There was also emptiness and darkness. Then, depending on how you translate or interpret the text from the Hebrew Bible (which is also the Christian Old Testament), God either created light with a command or predicted the existence of light. Either way, in the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word is ohr (“light”) and Chanukah begins, every year, on the 25th of Kislev. (Similarly, Christmas occurs, every year, on the 25th of December, but that’s a another story.)

Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed this creation story, believed in God and the power of God, and lived their lives according to their faith. They were priests who studied the word and the laws of their people and, therefore, observed the commandments and the commanded holidays. Of course, if you look at VayikraLeviticus 23, where the appointed festivals and holy days are outlined, you won’t find any mention of a festival of light. Neither will you find mention of Chanukah in the similar list located in DevarimDeuteronomy 16. After all, the word chanukah means “dedication” and that doesn’t happen until later in the story.

What you will find instead, at the beginning of VayikraLeviticus 24, is a commandment to “take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually” and detailed instructions on how the menorah should be publicly displayed (24:1-3). You will also find, at the end of DevarimDeuteronomy 16 and the beginning of DevarimDeuteronomy 17, commandments on what not to do; instructions to investigate reports of transgressions; and instructions on punishments. Now, I am not going to support or condone the instructions on punishments. I am just pointing out that they are there and that Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed in these instructions.

When the father was told to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused. When a Hellenic Jew stepped up to perform the desecration in his place, Matīṯyāhū killed him. His actions meant that he and his family had to flee to the caves in the wilderness. Others followed them – and I don’t just mean physically. They also followed them spiritually. In the caves, the people studied Torah, observed the Sabbath, and kept the faith. They were a light in the wilderness.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

*

– quoted from the song “Shine” by the Maccabeats

At some point, someone suggested that this father and his sons, this band of brothers, should take on the Greek army. Now, keep two things in mind. First, Matīṯyāhū and his sons were Kohens, they were priests and scholars. They weren’t warriors or athletes, like the Greeks. In fact, one could say that they were the polar opposite. Second, the Greek army at this time was (reportedly) the biggest and best trained army in the world. Remember, they were the army of a people and a culture that prized physical prowess. So, it was kind of ludicrous to consider going up against them.

Yet, take them on they did… which brings us back to their beliefs and the power of their beliefs.

Remember, the earlier commandments on setting up temple, observing the Sabbath, and all the different ways of keeping the faith were codified within the context of God leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Matīṯyāhū and his sons may not have been physically ready for the battle, but they were mentally and spiritually ready. They knew the wilderness and they knew the Torah. They knew that in ShemotExodus 15, their ancestors sang of the power of God. They knew that story included the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!” (S-E 15:11) And that, at least that first part, became their battle cry.

They put the initials of the battle cry on their shields and banners. When Matīṯyāhū died, Judah, the son he left in charge, became known as Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus, in Greek). While there are several other explanations for the name and for the meaning behind the name, the one I learned first was that Maccabee (the acronym) sounded like the word for “hammer” and so the people in the revolt became known as God’s hammer. For seven years, the hammer came down on the mighty Greek army and eventually defeated them. This, depending on how you count, is the second or third miracle of the story: the light breaking through the darkness.

“But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?

*

And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:

*

For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven.”

*

– 1 Maccabees 3:17-19 (DRB)

The Maccabees returned to the temple and found it was completely wrecked. Everything forbidden had taken place. There were idols and evidence of sacrifice. The menorah was not lit and bottles of olive oil had been shattered and in other ways desecrated. Cleaning up the temple became the new battle. Rededicating the temple became the new mission. In the process of cleaning up and restoring the temple, they (miraculously) found one vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest. Who knows how old the vial was? Who know who found it? Doesn’t matter. It was another miracle.

It would take several days, over a week, to make the oil required to light the menorah as detailed in the Torah. Using the one vial of oil they found would be a symbolic gesture – one might even call it a sign of faith. But, it wouldn’t fulfill the commandment, because they wouldn’t be able to keep the candles “continually” lit. They had to make a choice: wait or do what they could do.

They decided to do what they could do. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit. As I point out each year, going into the first day and the second night – even the second day and the third night – people might have thrown the word “miracle” around lightly. After all, there was always the possibility that someone had measured the oil incorrectly and there was more than expected in the vial. (We won’t get into the odds of that happening or the odds of that particular bottle being the one that wasn’t violated.) However, as the nights and the days progressed, there was no denying that “a great miracle happened.”

Letters on dreidels (outside of Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש)

Letters on dreidels (in Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and pei, (פ)

– Hebrew letters symbolizing the phrases (in Hebrew) “A great miracle happened there” and “A great miracle happened here”

Every year, people celebrate the miracle of the oil and commemorate the rededication of the temple. Part of that celebration is a game that involves spinning a four-sided top, a dreidel. Each side contains a Hebrew letter that represents a word. While many people only think of the dreidel in the context of modern celebrations, the practice of spinning the top actually dates back to the time of the Maccabees. It was a way for children (in particular) to study in secret.

Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) next to their door or in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith. In some traditions, each person lights their own individual hanukia – again, in a place that is visible. Lighting the candles is a sign a faith, a sign that people are keeping the faith, and after all this time, that is itself a miracle.

Lighting the candles in as public of a way as is possible is a way to see someone’s faith and, also, a way by which the faithful “see everything else.” If you look at a hanukia you will notice that it is different from a regular menorah. The primary way it is different is that there are nine candles instead of seven. I know, if you are unaware of this, you’re thinking, “Wait. Aren’t there supposed to be eight candles?” One would think that, except for the fact that the eight candles (and lighting them) are part of a mitzvah (“commandment”). Therefore, they can’t do any other “work.”

The ninth candle, the one that is set apart – either out to the side or on a different plane than the others – is a worker, an attendant, a caretaker: the Shamash. It is the candle that lights all the other lights and, in Orthodox homes, it is the light by which people read the Torah and play the dreidel. It is the light by which people see.

Take a moment to notice, in this story and in all the other light related stories of this dark season (even the ones from faiths that don’t share roots), to notice there is always a worker, an attendant, a shamash or caretaker of the miracle. There is always someone who is the source of light. Whether that light is goodness, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, or joy there is always someone shining bright. And if we see that world in that light, by that light, we all end up living a better world.

Before I start the recording for the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, I always offer a prompt question (for anyone who chooses to answer). The loveliest thing about these prompts isn’t the question though; it’s the answers. This Monday the question was, “When do you shine brightest?” Part of me asked this question because light always seems brightest when surrounded by darkness. So, part of me wanted to know when people felt it was darkest and maybe even a little bit of information about how they shine.

But, I rarely explain how I think about the question, because if I did the answers might not be as lovely. This week, for instance, everyone who answered mentioned the means by which they shine brightest. There were great answers. All of them were great answers – and great reminders. As we head into the darkest part of the year, your answer is a reminder to consider what helps you shine. Then do what you need to do to shine brighter… because the world needs your light.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

*

– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

### YOU WILL BE LIGHT ###

Giving Flowers for Now & for Later (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Movies, Music, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. Happy Equinox to all!

 

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 21st. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“Don’t let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone.”

 

– quoted from the 2005 University of Maine Commencement Speech by Stephen King

As more and more people pass away at an early age, especially those whose deaths are tragic, we hear the old saying that we should give people their flowers when they are living. Although I can’t find the original source, Anne Frank is often quoted as writing “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.” How scary is that? I mean, to me, the idea that someone could come to the end of their days – or live all of their days – not knowing how much they are loved and appreciated is very scary and unsettling. The human heart can hold a lot of love and a lot of kindness, even a lot of courage, wisdom, and generosity. But, the human heart can also hold its fair share of regret, fear, judgement, hatred, selfishness, self-centeredness and inconsideration.

The aforementioned “negative” sentiments may or may not seem really scary to you, but think about how they are expressed in the world. Then think about how those expressions in the world manifest in books by Stephen King. Born September 21, 1947, Mr. King is an acknowledged expert in horror, suspense, supernatural fiction, who has also written crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels. His (65-and-counting) novels and hundreds of short stories and novellas (like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, from 1982), as well as non-fiction work and have sold hundreds of millions of copies, won hundreds of awards, been adapted into movies and comic books, and creeped the living daylights out of people all over the world. And, it doesn’t matter if you use his first novel, Carrie (1974) or Pet Sematary (1983) or Misery (1987) or (one of my favorites) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), every Stephen King story starts with a “what if” and then proceeds to give us a glimpse into the best and the worst parts of the human heart. And the worst parts can be really scary.

Of course, there is more to Stephen King than scary stories. He is also a musician who has collaborated with artists like Foo Fighters and Bronson Arroyo, as well as John Mellencamp, and played guitar for the Rock Bottom Remainders. He is also a husband, father, grandfather, a Boston Red Sox fan, a philanthropic (and political) activist, and a recovering addict. In addition to inspiring two of his own children to become published authors, he has written books on writing and reportedly “donates [millions every year] to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment,” schools, and arts-related organizations. He and his wife Tabitha King (neé Spruce), who is also an author and activist, support Maine charities and communities through their foundation. They also own a radio station group.

While I haven’t read everything he has ever written, I am a Stephen King fan and I appreciate his work and his life – and I appreciate how both have made me think about my work, my life, and the world-at-large.

“Either get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

– quoted from the film the novella “Rita Hawyworth and Shawshank Redemption: Hope Springs Eternal” by Stephen King

 

Like Stephen King, Herbert George Wells was born on September 21 (in 1866) and was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction including works of history, satire, biography, and autobiography. While his work also is full of social commentary and glimpses into the human heart, when most people think of H. G. Wells, they think of science fiction like The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), War of the Worlds (1897), and When The Sleeper Wakes (1899). Also like King, Mr. Wells suffered an accident that severely injured one of his legs and left him bedridden for an extended period of time. There are several obvious differences between the two accidents, including the fact that Stephen King’s happened when he was a successful adult writing about writing; while young “Bertie” suffered his accident as an eight year old. But, the very advice Mr. King gives in On Writing – to read as much as possible – is the very experience that led Mr. Wells to write (a hundred years later).

H. G. Wells got people to think. He got people to think, “What if…?” He inspired authors and scientists like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Carl Sagan, Ursula Le Guin, Sinclair Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Margaret Atwood. He predicted a world war, the atomic bomb, and wrote about a “world brain,” which was basically an encyclopedia accessible by the entire world through another of his fantastical ideas (let’s call it an electronic web). He also wrote about aircraft, tanks, space travel, and satellite television that had not yet been invented.

He was also a husband and a father, possibly even a grandfather; however, with all due respect, he seems to have been more of a philanderer than a philanthropist. While some of his actions set women back, he predicted the sexual revolution and, perhaps, even inspired it. Again, I haven’t read all of his books – or indulged in all of the movies, radio plays, and comic book adaptations – but I appreciate the worlds that he built and how they make us think about the world we are building.

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

 

– H. G. Wells

My third bouquet of gratitude flowers goes to Leonard Cohen, also born on September 21 (in 1934), an award winning musician and poet, whose songs are psalms, sacred songs, for the human heart. A Companion of the Order of Canada (CC) and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (GOQ), he started out as an author or poetry and prose, who even had some of his drawings published with his written words. His professional music career didn’t start until he was in his early thirties; however, despite what some might consider a late start, he proceeded to create fifteen studio albums in nearly fifty years and wrote songs that would become chartbusters for himself as well as for singers like Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright (who is the father of Mr. Cohen’s granddaughter), and Jennifer Warnes. He also inspired bands likes Nirvana and U2, collaborated with Phillip Glass, and co-wrote (and/or had music featured) in several films, including the rock musical Night Magic (which he co-wrote with composer Lewis Furey).

Mr. Cohen was a father, who collaborated with his son on an album and his daughter on a musical video and on one of his world tours. While he studied (and practiced) Zen Buddhism as an adult – and was even ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk – Leonard Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family with a rich religious heritage and observed the Sabbath “even while on tour and [performing] for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.” He never seemed to shy away from political and social commentary, in his music or in his life. In fact, some of his efforts to support peace efforts and reconciliation in the Middle East were met with discussions of boycotts and, ultimately, withdrawal of some supporting organizations. Despite those discussions of boycotts, however, his 2009 performance in Tel Aviv, Israel (which occurred towards the end of the High Holidays that year) sold out within 24 hours.

Leonard Cohen had style and grace that was evident in his dress and his demeanor, as well as in the way he performed. For instance, there is a powerful moment in the recording of a live performance of “Anthem” (a moment possibly captured by his daughter Lorca) when Mr. Cohen introduces his band to the audience. This is something that is pretty typical for most Class A musicians when they are on tour, but the way it happens at this performance in London epitomizes what it means to give someone their flowers while they are still living. Watching the footage is also like watching a mutual appreciation society in action. The gratitude is a living breathing thing being exchanged between all the people on the stage.

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

 

– Leonard Cohen

 

Living and breathing gratitude is a key element in my practice this time of year, because giving thanks is a critical aspect of happiness. In fact, “expressing gratitude” is recommended by experts like Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in Positive Psychology and the author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and A Clash of Values: The Struggle for Universal Freedom, who use to teach a class at Harvard University called “Happiness 101” (also known as Psychology 1504). In his class and through his research, he offered the following 6 very practical tips for cultivating happiness:

“1. Give yourself permission to be human.

  1. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.
  2. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.
  3. Simplify!”
  4. Remember the mind body connection.
  5. Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

I share these tips this time of year, because Monday at sunset marked the beginning Sukkot, which many people consider the “Season of Happiness,” because they view the instructions in the Bible as a mandate to be happy. Since the instruction is to be joyful, or rejoice, about things that have yet to happen – blessings yet to come – one has to wonder: How can we be “independently happy” and celebrate something that hasn’t happened yet?

That’s a good question, and the tips above are some of the really good answers. Especially, if you allow your gratitude to ride the waves of your consciousness, almost like a traveler in a time machine.

“‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.’”

 

– quoted from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

 

Portions of the following were previously posted on October 4, 2020 (see “Sukkot” link above).

In the Torah (and the Christian Old Testament), there are a list of commandments and, mixed into that list, are certain dates the faithful are commanded to observe. We think of them, in the modern context, as “holidays” and they are filled with ritual and tradition. Sometimes the mandate is general and left to interpretation (like when it says in Deuteronomy, “‘… and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.’” Other times, however, it is very specific about who, what, when, and even where. Sukkot, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is one of the times where the details are specific – even when they appear vague.

For seven days, 8 in the diaspora, people within the Jewish community and people who observe the commanded holidays, eat, sleep, socialize, and sometimes work in a temporary shelter. The shelter, a sukkah, consists of three walls of any material and a roof made of natural fiber. (Natural being something grown from the earth.) I mentioned last year that it is a holiday that seems tailor-made for the times we find ourselves in – when it is still recommended that people gather outdoors in small groups, maintain a little social distance, and wash their hands. I reiterate this, not to make light of the tradition or the circumstances we find ourselves in; but to reinforce the wisdom of the rituals and the traditions – as well as the fact that things can be sacred even when they are not perfect.

“Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

 

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”

 

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

 

– quoted from Devarim  – Deuteronomy (16:14 – 15)

 

One of the significant things about Sukkot is that it is a time for people to come together regardless of their circumstances, gender, religion, or political affiliation. It is a time for all to remember challenges of the past; while also celebrating better days ahead. Another especially noteworthy thing about Sukkot is the symbolism behind the rituals. For instance, one of the points of being outside in the most basic of shelters, exposed to the elements, is to remind people of the time when their ancestors were living in simple, temporary shelters when they were exiled in the desert for 40 years. It is also a good time to remember how much we have – as well as the fact that we could be happy with less. Sukkot is a reminder that life can be full, even when it is simple and bare-boned. It is a time of appreciation and it is also about accepting the present moment.

That last part – accepting the present moment – is easy to overlook. However, the commandment specifically states that the celebration occurs in a place chosen by God. In other words, we might not be where we want to be or where we thought we would be. (Hello, 2020 & 2021!) This is something I point out every year, but it was especially pointed out to me in 2016, when the creamery, where I held my 2015 Sukkot retreat was no longer available… and again, in 2017, when it was no longer as easy to schedule time in the church where I held the second retreat… and again, in 2019, when the church camp I had planned to use experienced a fire and had to cancel the bulk of their season. And now, here it is 2020 (& 2021) … once again, things are not as we planned – despite the fact that CP graciously offered to help me plan a 2020 retreat. On the face, it might seem that we are “destined” not to observe this time – and yet, we do, every year… just not necessarily in the place that we thought.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

 

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

 

The Talmud says:

 

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 2.5 for 09212021]

NOTE: YouTube has music from the original movie version of The Time Machine.

 

### Thank you for all that you do! Thank you for just being you!! ###

Anyone Can Follow the Recipe: Resist. Dissent. Persist. September 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Faith, Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, Life, Loss, Men, New Year, Pain, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

Yoga Sūtra 2.38: brahmacaryapratişţhāyām vīryalābhah

– “When walking in awareness of the highest reality is firmly established, then great strength, capacity, or vitality (‘virya’) is acquired.”

So, just to be up front, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about sex today.

As a point of clarification, I will point out that when many people in the West talk about brahmacarya, the fourth yamā (“restraint” or universal commandment) they talk about it as celibacy – which is more of an effect of the practice than the practice itself. This idea occurs, first, because it is hard to see the practice. Since it is hard to see what is going on inside of someone’s head and heart, we look to see the outward effect and, in this case, it means that the Sanskrit is sometimes translated as “continence,” which is the control of one’s bodily fluids; specifically as it relates to the bladder and bowels. Then the explanation gets extended to fluid exchanged during sex. This is all relevant; however, it’s also like saying monks shave their heads so they don’t have to wash their hair.

In truth, brahmacarya is more literally translated as “following G-d” or “chasing G-d.” I, more often than not, will explain it as conducting one’s self with the awareness that everyone and everything are connected. In other words, the fourth external restraint or universal commandment is to think, speak, and act justly and divinely.

So, today, I’m going to talk about a couple of people who lived their lives justly (even righteously) and divinely – and with an awareness of how we are all connected. The fact that one of these individuals was Jewish and that some believe the other should be recognized by Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) as “Righteous Among Nations” is not a coincidence. According to the Jewish tradition, today is Rosh Hashanah, “the Head of the Year” and the beginning of the High Holidays, also known as the “Ten Days of Awe” or “Ten Days of Repentance” which culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is one of the holiest of times on the Jewish calendar. Additionally, for many around the world, it is the only time during the year when they attend services. It is a time of reflection, remembrance, and repentance.

It is also a time of preparation…. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, we remember: “The Notorious R. B. G.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), who died yesterday (Friday, September 18th) and Calvary Captain Witold Pilecki (also known as Tomasz Serafiński) who allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis today in 1940, in order to report the truth about what was going on in concentration camps like Auschwitz.

Let’s start with Calvary Captain Pilecki, who served as an officer in the Polish Army during the Polish-Soviet War (1919 – 1920) and during World War II. As part of the Resistance to Nazi Occupied Poland, he co-founded the Secret Polish Army (along with Lieutenant Colonel Jan Henryk “Darwicz” Włodarkiewicz and Lieutenant Colonel Władysław “Stefan” Surmacki ), which eventually became part of the Home Army. When Germany invaded Poland at the end of 1939, very little was known about the concentration camps, but Captail Pilecki had a plan. His idea, which was approved by his Polish Army superiors, was to come out of hiding during a Warsaw roundup in order to be arrested and shipped to Auschwitz, where he could organize the resistance and report on the situation from the inside.

“I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.”

– Witold Pilecki’s statement to the judge after his sentencing, May 15, 1948

He was given a false identity card and was arrested on September 19, 1940. Arrested with him were 2,000 civilians, including journalist and historian Władysław Bartoszewski (who was designated “Righteous Among Nations” in 1965). After being detained for two days, “Tomasz Serafiński” was assigned number 4859 and shipped to Auschwitz, where he would document the difference between the way the Nazis treated Jewish people versus non-Jewish people and the escalating move towards genocide. During his two and a half years at Auschwitz, Witold Pilecki would form Union of Military Organizations (ZOW), a resistance organization within the camp, which set up intelligence networks; distributed extra food, clothing, and medical supplies; boosted morale; and prepared for a possible Home Army coup. At one point, ZOW was even able to construct and use a secret radio receiver and help at least 4 Polish men escape (with one of Witold’s reports).

“Witold’s Report” (also known as “Pilecki’s Report”) was information that was regularly smuggled through the Polish resistance to London and even to the British government. It provided the outside world with the first “official” documentation of the Nazi’s atrocities. For much of the war, however, the reports of genocide were considered too unbelievable.  As the Nazi’s plans became more and more obvious, and as his calls for the Allies to bomb the camps were denied, Captain Pilecki realized he was running out of time. He was receiving word from the outside that the Allies supported the idea of a prisoner insurrection –which he too had one time suggested. However, by 1943, those inside were too weakened to mount an attack. He thought could be more convincing in person, so he put a new plan in motion.

After he escaped in April 1943, Captain Pilecki wrote “Report W,” outlining the conditions of the camps, as well as details about the gas chambers, the selection process, the crematorias, and the sterilization experiments. His report was signed by other escapees and included the names of ZOW members. He continued to work and organize the resistance, while also expanding “Report W.” He participated in the Warsaw Uprising and was reassigned to Italy, but eventually returned to Communist-controlled Poland. In May of 1947, he was arrested by Communist government and tortured, but he would not reveal other members of the resistance. He was eventually “tried” and executed. His most comprehensive version of the “W Report” (from 1945) was published in 2012 as The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery and his life has been the subject of a number of books, songs, and articles.

“Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
Who will be made humble and who will be raised up?
But teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah [return and prayer and righteous acts]
deflect the evil of the decree.”

– quoted from the poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”)

Even if you are not Jewish, even if you’ve never attended services during the High Holidays, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of the words from the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”). It begins with the belief that on Rosh Hashanah G-d writes people’s names and fates in the “Book of Life” and that book is sealed on Yom Kippur. Then there is a litany of fates. Some people will go to services specifically to hear the poem, some will avoid it (as parts are explicit and can be triggering). Many of the fates are included in a beautifully haunting song by a young Leonard Cohen – which will stick with you! However, outside of the tradition, people don’t really focus on the end of the poem, which highlights the fact that (in theory) we have 10 days to ensure our name and fate are sealed favorably. The end of the poem outlines three key elements to the observation of this holiest of times. These three key elements can also be described as key elements to living a good life.

Supreme Court of the United States Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived a good life. She was a trailblazer who’s life, legacy, and style –as a lawyer, a judge, a woman, a working mom, a wife, and a fitness wonder – is the reason she’s “notorious.” She had the ability to stay open-minded, even when her mind was made up, and to hear out people with opposing views. “We are different, we are one,” a line from the opera Scalia/Ginsberg, perfectly sums up her close friendship with the ultra conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and also her approach to how the law should be applied. In some ways, she was small, quiet, and unassuming. In other ways, she was larger-than-life,” determined to keep dreams alive,” and defiantly righteous.

She had what can best be described as “the ultimate partnership” or “an atypical 1950’s marriage” with her husband Martin “Marty” Ginsburg. During their 56 years of marriage (until his cancer-related death), they raised a family while she made sure he graduated from law school despite his first bout with cancer and he campaigned for her to be nominated to the federal court and SCOTUS. She was the highest ranking woman in her graduating class at Cornell University and only one of nine women (with about 500 men) enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956. She had made Harvard Law Review, transferred and graduated (at the top of her class) from Columbia Law School, taught law at a major university, argued before the Supreme Court, and endured anti-Semitism and sexism by the time her name was put on the short list for the Supreme Court.  She was the second woman and the first Jewish woman appointed to SCOTUS and one of eight Jewish justices who have severed on the USA’s highest court.

“I have a last thank you. It is to my mother, Celia Amster Bader, the bravest and strongest person I have ever known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”

– quoted from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s SCOTUS nomination speech, June 14, 1993

Celia Bader died of cancer when the young high school cheerleader known as “Kiki Bader” was just about to graduate from high school. Because she was a girl, the young teen was excluded from some of the traditional Jewish mourning rituals – a fact that would fuel her desire to see change in the world. While she did, eventually, turn back to the faith of her youth, I don’t know how devout Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was; so I don’t know for sure the part that prayer played in her life. As to the other two elements, however, we see them again and again in her story.

Teshuvah is Hebrew for “return” and also “repentance.” In truth, the two translations go hand-on-hand, because to repent is to return to G-d, community, your true self. First as a Civil Rights lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and then as a Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the business of returning to the spirit of the law and the Constitution. She was also in the business of giving people, companies, and the country an opportunity to be better than the worst versions of ourselves. Many people find it ironic that so much of her early work, work that strengthened the rights of women, was actually on behalf of men. To me, though, that work is reminiscent of Captain Witold Pilecki, who wrote, “When marching along the gray road towards the tannery in a column raising clouds of dust, one saw the beautiful red light of the dawn shining on the white flowers in the orchards and on the trees by the roadside, or on the return journey we would encounter young couples out walking, breathing in the beauty of springtime, or women peacefully pushing their children in prams — then the thought uncomfortably bouncing around one’s brain would arise . . . swirling around, stubbornly seeking some solution to the insoluble question: Were we all . . . people?”

“I tell law students… if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

 

 – United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (quoted from The Mercury News, Feb. 6, 2017)

 Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “righteousness,” “righteous acts,” or “charity” and comes from the word tzedek, which means “righteousness,” “fairness,” and “justice.” Now, Biblically speaking, references to charity are related to harvests. While it is easy to see how helping someone less fortunate is righteous; how is it justice? The answer is found in The Notorious RBG’s own words and actions. The answer is also found in Jewish tradition where there is an obligation to do what one can to “heal” or “repair” the world – and there is no arguing that Justice Bader Ginsburg did her part. Again and again, she worked to fix what was broken in our legal system and ultimately in our adherence to the spirit of the Constitution.

“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.

You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.”

Devarim – Deuteronomy (16:18 – 20)

Pardon me, while we jump to October.

In the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy contains a list of observations commanded by G-d. They are pretty specific and in chronological order. Then, at the end of the list, after Sukkot, the “Festival of Booths” – which includes the commandment not to come empty-handed – there is an interesting passage that is directly tied to being blessed. And, that order to establish a fair and justice society are the words Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had in her office: “Zedek, zedel, tirdof” (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue”).

Out of context, the words seem simple and obvious. Of course, those words would resonate with a world-renowned judicial expert, But, go back; look again. What the Bible tells us is that we have an obligation, a responsibility, to pursue what is just and fair. Go back; look again at the poem. The poem tells is that our fate is sealed (in a positive way) when our thoughts, words, and deeds are in pursuit of what is fair and right. Not for a second did the Brooklyn-born and raised R. B. G. take those words for granted.

Sunrise

Sunset

In my family’s religious and cultural tradition, a person’s birth is marked as “sunrise” and their physical death is marked as “sunset.” Growing up, I was also surrounded by people – Jewish people – who’s new day dawned at as the sun set. The dichotomy was always oddly beautiful to me: a reminder that something is always beginning as something ends. For obvious reasons, I felt sick when I heard that Justice Bader Ginsburg would not be going into the New Year with us. Like my maternal grandmother, she battled cancer for a long time and so, sad as I am for her family, her friends, and the world, I am grateful she no longer has to deal with the pain.

There are many people, from many demographics, that may be asking, why right now; trying to make sense of something that is hard to believe. I think, though, that this is not the time to question or reason. This is a time to celebrate and grieve. Celebrate a woman who was blessed with an inspirational life. Remember how she lived in a way that defied convention and established a way of being that some people take for granted. But, never take it for granted. Plan how you can live life on your terms – in a way that is fair and justice, righteous and inspiring. Divine.

“… don’t give way to emotions that sap your energy, like anger. Take a deep breath and speak calmly.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, sharing advice from her mother, in a 2016 “CBS Sunday Morning” interview with Jane Pauley

This week’s sūtra indicates that there is power in following in the footsteps of the divine. Another translation, however, indicates that when we achieve that power (from following in the footsteps of the divine) we have “the capacity to transmit knowledge.” The Notorious R. B. G. did both. In 2016, she not only share wisdom from her mother, Celia, but also mentioned advice from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (the first woman on the high court) who essentially shared the secret to serving on the high court while dealing with cancer: use your time wisely.

When we look back, we can clearly see that the Notorious R. B. G. spent her whole life following good advice, while transmitting knowledge and wisdom. Let’s do the same; and move forward.

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2002 interview with NPR

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 19th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

“We have a vibrant and energetic body and are firm and confident.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.38 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

She definitely fits the description above!

“People ask me, ‘When will you be satisfied with the number of women on the Supreme Court?’ When there are nine.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2016 “CBS Sunday Morning” interview with Jane Pauley

### MAY YOUR NAME BE WRITTEN & SEALED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE ###