Thursday, October 27, 2005

a dream

Last night I had a very strange dream, which I happen to know simply means that I drank too much liquid before going to bed, but I think it's really funny.

I was working with a conversion student, and I waws very pleased with him, because he told me that he had been praying the Amidah (a daily prayer which most people don't actually pray every day, let alone the three times a day one ought) every other day ( remember this person wasn't even officially Jewish yet!), and I was answering some questinos about it some of the different blessings in it.

After we finished the discussion, I was walking with him to his apartment where he was going to lend me some rounds of pita bread. He was explaining to me that someone had told him I wanted the bread to go to the mikvah ( purifying waters - literally living waters - mayim chayim) with my son. I was quite indignant, since first of all, what on earth would I do with bread at a mikvah? and my son -a toddler- doens't have any reason to go the mikvah.

In any case, I was explaining to him that I just wanted the bread to make a motzi on (to say the prayer before eating a full meal, for which bread stands in as the representative of what makes something a full meal). As I was explaining this, I realized I needed to use the bathroom, so I went to find his, in his apartment.

I went in, and I was looking over the magazines stacked on the back of the toilet tank, and I noticed among a bunch of professional photographic magazines, one called This is the Torah produced by National Geographic. That was actually the point at which it occurred to me that I should shake myself to make sure that I wasn't asleep, which of course, it turns out I was, and needed to actually get up and go to the bathrom. This was rather a disappointment, as I was extremely curious what would appear in the magazine....

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The wholeness of the broken: Yom Kippur 5766

Dr. Naomi Remen tells the following story:
One of the angriest people I have ever worked with was a young man with osteogenic
sarcoma of the right leg. He had been a high school and college athlete and until the time of his diagnosis his life had been good. Beautiful women, fast cars, personal recognition. Two weeks after his diagnosis, they had removed his right leg above the knee. This surgery, which saved his life, also ended his life. Playing ball was a thing of the past.
These days there are many sorts of self-destructive behaviors open to an angry young man like this. He refused to return to school. He began to drink heavily, to use drugs, to alienate his former admirers and friends, and to have on automobile accident after another. After the second of these, his former coach called and referred him to me.
He was a powerfully built and handsome young man, profoundly self-oriented and isolated. At the beginning, he had the sort of rage that felt very familiar to me. Filled with a sense of injustice and self- pity, he hated all the well people. In our second meeting, hoping to encourage him to show his feelings about himself, I gave him a drawing pad and asked him to draw a picture of his body. he drew a crude sketch of a vase, just an outline. Runing through the center of it he drew a deep crack. he went over and over the crack with a black crayon, gritting his teeth and ripping the paper. he had tears in his eyes. They were tears of rage. It seemed to me that the drawing was a powerful statement of his pain and the finality of his loss. It was clear that this broken vase could never hold water, could never function as a vase again. It hurt to watch. After he left, I folded the
picture up and saved it. It seemed too important to throw away.
In time, his anger began to change in subtle ways. he began one session by
handing me an article torn from our local newspaper. it was an article about a motorcycle accident in which a young man had lost his leg. His doctors were quoted at length. I finihsed reading it and looked up. "Those idiots don't know the first thing about it, " he said furiously. Over the next month he brought in more of these articles, some from the paper and some from magazines: a girl who had ben severely burned in a house fire, a boy whose hand had been partly destroyed in the explosion of his chemistry set. His reactions were always the same, a harsh judgement of the well-meaning efforts of doctors and parents. His anger about these other young people began to occupy more and more of our session time. No one understood them, no one was there for them, no one really knew how to help them. He was still enraged, but it seemed to me that underneath this anger a concern for others was growing. Encouraged, I asked him if he wanted to do anything about it. Caught by surprise, at first he said no. But, just before he left he asked me if I thought he could meet some of these others who suffered injuries like his.
People came to our teaching hospital from all over the world, and the chances were good that there were some with the sorts of injuries that mattered to him. I said that I thought it was quite possible and I would look into it. Within a few weeks, he had begun to visit young people on the surgical wards whose problems were similar to his own.
He came back from these visits full of stories, delighted to find that he could reach young people. He was often able to be of help when no one else could. After a while he felt able to speak to parents and families, helping them to better understand and to know what was needed. The surgeons, delighted with the results of these visits, referred more and more people to him.
Some of these doctors had seen him play ball and they began to spend a little time with him. As he got to know them, his respect for them grew. Gradually his anger faded and he developed a sort of ministry. I just watched and listened and appreciated.
My favorite of all his stories concerned a visit to a young woman who had a tragic family history: breast cancer had claimed the lives of her mother, her sister and her cousin. Another sister was in chemotherapy. this last event had driven her into action. At twenty-one she took one of the only options open at that time, she had both her breasts removed surgically.
He visited her on a hot midsummer day, wearing shorts, his artifical leg in full view. Deeply depressed, she lay in bed with her eyes closed, refusing to look at him. He tried everything he knew to reach her, but without success. he said things to her that only another person with an altered body would dare to say. He made jokes, he got angry. She did not respond. All the while the radio was softly playing rock music. Frustrated, he finally stood, and in a last effort to get her attention, he unstrapped the harness of his artifical leg and let it drop to the floor with a loud thump. Statrtled, she opened her eyes and saw him for the first time. Encouraged, he began to hop around the room snapping his fingers in time to the music and laughing out loud. After a moment she burst out laughing too, "fella, ," she said, "If you can dance, maybe I can sing."
This young woman became his friend and began to visit people in the hospital
with him. She was in school and she encouraged him to return to school to study
psychology and dream of carrying his work further. Eventually she became his wife, a
very different sort of person from the models and cheerleaders he had dated in the past.
But long before this, we ended our sessions together. In our final meeting, we were
reviewing the way he had come, the sticking points and the turning points. I opened his chart and found the picture of the broken vase that he had drawn two years before.
Unfolding it, I asked him if he remembered the drawing he had made of his body. He
took it in his hands and looked at it for some time. "You know, " he said, "it's really not finished." Surprised, I extended my basket of crayons towards him. Taking a yellow crayon, he began to drawn lines radiating from the crack in the vase to the very edges of the paper. Thick yellow lines. I watched, puzzled. He was smiling. Finally, he put his finger on the crack, looked at me and said, softly, "This is where the light comes through"

I doubt that this young man, many years ago, before the craze that kabbalah has become, had heard of the doctrine of the shattered vessel. But one of the most powerfully affecting ideas of the mystics was precisely this that brokenness is not only a flaw: it is also a potential. And that even, sometimes, brokenness is becasue of something so powerful and holy that it has to escape, to be let into the world of the actual from the world of the potential.
The cosmology of the kabbalists is one of complexity and strangeness: God must pull back to make room for imperfection, because perfection is lonely; God's holiness is so powerful that it shatters the vessels that are themselves imperfect, leaving pieces of holiness scattered around the universe: an act of weakness leading to great beauty, like a shower of sparks from a campfire, and we, human beings are also vessels of imperfection and beauty, full of holiness, and whose brokenness can be made into a gift to God.

Source?Vayikra Rabbah 7:2
Midrash Raba tells us: R. Alexandri said: If an ordinary person makes use of broken vessels, it is a disgrace for him, but the vessels used by the Holy One, blessed be God, are precisely broken ones. God loves broken vessels,. "And God's favorite vessel? The human heart. God is most alive in us, not when we are full and satisfied, but when we are empty, cracked open, when we are brokenhearted.
Moses was our most brilliant leader because he knew that our hearts must be broken again and again throughout our lives, in order for the God of Life to reach us.

The stories the rabbis tell come to teach us that when we examine our flaws, when we come to understand them, they can become a source of strength and beauty.
There is an old Jewish folktale about a king who owned a valuable ruby, one of the rarest and most perfect in the world. One day the diamond fell and a deep scratch marred its face. The king summoned the best gem experts in the land to correct the blemish, but they all agreed they could not remove the scratch without cutting away a good part of the surface, thus reducing the weight and value of the ruby.

Finally one expert appeared and assured him that he could fix the ruby without reducing its value. His confidence was convincing and the king gave the ruby to the man. In a few days, the artisan returned the ruby to the king, who was amazed to find that the ugly scratch was gone, and in its place a beautiful rose was etched. The former scratch had become the stem of an exquisite flower.

When we talk about brokenness, we aren't talking about sins, rather, we are talking about the things which draw us toward sin -our Yetzer Hara, our inclination towards evil. But the rabbis understood, too, that the yetzer hara isn't really itself evil. It is also, according to them, the urge to procreate, to start a business, to build a house, all of which are good things. But ultimately at its core, these things are driven by one force: desire. Desire is not bad, but it is a kind of brokenness. Desire is longing, it comes from a feeling of emptiness. And at its heart, it is also the opportunity to invite God in.
In the book of Genesis, there are two creation stories. In the first, the first human being is not male or female but a creature of two sexes, which God then separates into two creatures, which forever now long for one another. But why did God do this? Perhaps one answer is that the adam, the earth creature, was too perfect. Although the Torah suggests that the adam was lonely, and looked among all the other creatures for a match, and was unable to find one, it seems to me that God created the Adam as a partner for Godself, a friend, as it were, but then the adam was too self-contained. The Adam wasn't a good match for God because in itself it was complete like God. So how was God to have a partner who would turn to God? God realized that something would have to be taken away from the adam, some piece would have to be missing, so that the adam would go searching, would develop curiousity and love and longing. In that longing for another human being also resides the longing for God. All brokenneess is a reflection of that original brokenness.

But we seek to cover up our essential brokenness in all kinds of things: possessions, power, money, sex: desire is not a bad thing - brokenness is a necessity for connecting to God, but only when we are able to face it. If we want to connect to God, if we want to be a vesssel for light, its not enough to simply be broken, we need to act to channel where the light goes. If you just let the brokenness be, unexamined and undirected, the light goes out, we become bitter, or selfish. What we want is a conduit, not a shattered vessel. Brokeness can be turned to holiness by making a stem of a rose from a scratch, not in leaving the scratch as it is.

The midrash compares the Torah to water: In the midrash on Song of Songs, the rabbis
give many many examples of places where the Torah is compared to water. I want to
mention just a very few:

îä äîéí îùéáéï äðôù ùðà' )ùåôèéí èæ( åéá÷ò àìäéí àú äîëúù àùø áìçé
åâå' ëê úåøä ùðà' )úäìéí éè( úåøú ä' úîéîä îùéáú ðôù
Just as water restores the soul, as it says, But God cleaved the hollow place which was in Lehi and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk... he revived (Judg. XV, 19), so does the Torah [restore the soul], as it says, The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul (Ps. XIX, 8).

åîä îéí éåøãéï èéôéï èéôéï åðòùéú ðçìéí ðçìéí ëê úåøä àãí ìîã á' äìëåú
äéåí åá' ìîçø òã ùðòùä ëðçì ðåáò îä îéí àí àéï àãí öîà àéðä òøáä áâåôå
ëê úåøä àí àéï àãí òéó áä àéðä òøáä áâåôå
Just as rain water comes down in drops and forms rivers, so with the Torah; a person learns two halachahs to-day and two to-morrow, until he becormes like a flowing stream. Just as water has no taste unless one is thirsty, so the Torah has no taste unless one labours at it.

This midrash teaches us a powerful lesson. It begins by quoting,
åÇéÌÄáÀ÷Çò àÁìÉäÄéí àÆúÎäÇîÌÇëÀúÌÅùÑ àÂùÑÆøÎáÌÇìÌÆçÄé åÇéÌÅöÀàåÌ îÄîÌÆðÌåÌ îÇéÄí åÇéÌÅùÑÀúÌÀ åÇúÌÈùÑÈá øåÌçåÉ
But God split a hollow place that was in Lehi, and water came out; and when he drank, his soul was returned to him and he revived (Judges 15:19) it is from the breaking of the stone that water comes in this midrash. We are being asked to imagine what it is in the world that makes us open to Torah: and the answer is "the place where God breaks us."
Our souls are returned to us from the place where they were broken.The imagination of the midrash is giving us a vision which draws for us a picture of Torah as water that heals, the flow of water literally vayechi - makes us live, but that water cannot flow until we allow ourselves to be split open.
But how are we to open ourselves to that possibility? The reverse is true as well: while we certainly can't live without that water of Torah, the midrash continues, we also cannot just leak! thus the rest of the midrash comes to teach us that we have to work at making ourselves the kind of person from whom water can flow once we are broken, and that means that we have to already have a place for God to slip in.. The midrash says, "Just as rain water comes down in drops and forms rivers, so with the Torah; a man learns two halachahs to-day and two to-morrow, until he becormes like a flowing stream. Just as water has no taste unless one is thirsty, so the Torah has no taste unless one labours at it."
If Torah is life giving water, and it cannot come forth from us unless we are broken, there is still more than one kind of brokenness. This is how Russians drink tea (I vaguely remember seeing this operation in my grandmother's house as a little girl). You pour hot tea into a glass over a spoon. You can't pour the tea without the spoon, because without the spoon, the hot liquid was too much for the glass, and it would shatter. We need the spoon, a guide, something to keep the temperature from being too hot. The beginning of the universe was an act of beauty in its shattering, and the sparks that were freed are ours to collect, but that shattering was almost too much for the universe. That kind of shattering destroys rather than heals, which is why God needs Jews to collect the sparks through our mitzvot and return them to God. Our former sports stars' drawing of the vase didn't after all, have a shattered vase, but a cracked vase - it still held together enough that it's contents didn't go
flying out in all directions. The man himself did, in the end, hold together; he was not completely shattered.
If our brokenness is an unwaware kind of brokenness, then it isn't the kind of crack that allows Torah to flow in, rather it's a shattering akin to pouring hot tea into a glass without a spoon. Torah is our guide, our spoon, it lets the hot liquid come into the glass drop by drop, so that the vessel holds and is not destroyed. The Torah builds us "two halachas today, and two tomorrow - we have to chip slowly away at ourselves, to find a way to let the Torah in so that the water can flow out.

"Teshuva, tefila and tzedakah" says our liturgy during these days of awe, "maavirin et roa hagezeira ..."
but that doesn't mean repentance, prayer and charity, avert the evil decree, but rather something more specific. Teshuva means turn: not simply to return ourselves, but to turn our viewpoint. In social work (I know this because I'm married to a social worker) this is called "reframing". The situation you're in looks terrible, but what can you get out of it? Your flaw looks insurmountable, but how can you make it a strength?
Tefila, is not just the English "prayer" but from the word to examine oneself. Turning, reframing can't happen without some self knowledge. Our sports star couldn't see that there was light to be brought into the world through his crack until he had stopped thinking of only himself. He had to begin thinking of himself in an entirely new way, and it didn't happen by accident,. It could have gone either way - he might have turned into a bitter, lonely old man, forever dwelling on what he had had and what had been stolen from him. Instead, he can now see that while it would be wrong to say his disease was a blessing, he can say that it made him a better person, one more aware of others, and a person who acts in the world for God's ends, and not just his own.
And tzedakah. Of course this does mean charity in the sense of money as well. Part of Jewish obligation is helping those without by sharing with them what we have. The
tzedakah fair we have every year (coming up Nov 6th!) is an opportunity for everyone in the community to show how generous the people at Adas are in that way - by walking and raising money for Anne Frank house we are able to help in profound ways the people in the community. But that's not all of what tzedakah is: in Latin, Charity is from caritas, which is a gesture of affection. Tzedakah, however, is an obligation to do justly. We don't do to make ourselves feel good, but because it is rquired by God. Because it is the just thing to do.It's not enough to reframe for oneself and come to think about oneself. One has to turn one's actions outward, and not just with giving money, but by making the world a place in which God shines forth from every crack. It took turning our sports star's anger towards the benefit of others, and helping them with their anger that his flaw became a rose, that his crack became a place for light to shine forth. Notice the gem in our story did not cease to have a scratch. The scratch is always there, but wisdom turned the scratch into a rose. It took work, action to make something new of that scratch.

At this time of year, when we need to examine our selves: do cheshbon hanefesh - take an account of our flaws and take responsibility for them, we are at the moment of redemption. Human beings are by nature broken creatures. All of us are flawed, and all of us have the capacity to turn those flaws into a conduit for holiness. The task of Yom Kippur, and really of every day of our lives, is to shuv- turn, or "reframe" your flaws, your faults, so they become virtues. If you tend toward competitiveness, become competitive about giving more tzedaka; if you tend toward short-temperedness, try to direct it as righteous indignation at things that are wrong in the world. Each of these flaws is a facet of our longing for God. When our former sports star found a way to make his anger at his cancer become instead anger at how ill people were treated, and then finally, a task that he took on to
change how people who had gone through trauma were treated, that brokeness became a
place for the light in him to shine forth, for the water to flow from him, and revive those who drank. On Yom Kippur we stand before God, exposed, intimate and naked. God grants us this moment to see that our individual brokenness is at its heart, all one - it is a piece of the longing God instilled within us for Godself. The vessels used by God are broken ones. For it is only the broken who can make themselves whole.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Utefila, u'teshuva u'tzedakah

Shabbat 156b

From Samuel too [we learn that] Israel is immune from planetary influence. For Samuel and Ablat were sitting, while certain people were going to a lake. Said Ablat to Samuel: ‘That man is going but will not return, [for] a snake will bite him and he will die.’ ‘If he is an Israelite,’ replied Samuel. ‘he will go and return.’ While they were sitting he went and returned. [Thereupon] Ablat arose and threw off his [the man's] knapsack, [and] found a snake therein cut up and lying in two pieces — Said Samuel to him, ‘What did you do?’ ‘Every day we pooled our bread and ate it; but to-day one of us had no bread, and he was ashamed. Said I to them, "I will go and collect [the bread]". When I came to him, I pretended to take [bread] from him, so that he should not be ashamed.’ ‘You have done a good deed,’ said he to him. Then Samuel went out and lectured: But charity delivereth from death; and [this does not mean] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.

From R. Akiba too [we learn that] Israel is free from planetary influence. For R. Akiba had a daughter. Now, astrologers told him, On the day she enters the bridal chamber a snake will bite her and she will die. He was very worried about this. On that day [of her marriage] she took a brooch [and] stuck it into the wall and by chance it penetrated [sank] into the eye of a serpent. The following morning, when she took it out, the snake came trailing after it. ‘What did you do?’ her father asked her. ‘A poor man came to our door in the evening.’ she replied, ‘and everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him. ‘You have done a good deed,’ said he to her. Thereupon R. Akiba went out and lectured: ‘But charity delivereth from death’: and not [merely] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.

From R. Nahman b. Isaac too [we learn that] Israel is free from planetary influence. For R. Nahman b. Isaac's mother was told by astrologers, Your son will be a thief. [So] she did not let him [be] bareheaded, saying to him, ‘Cover your head so that the fear of heaven may be upon you, and pray [for mercy]’. Now, he did not know why she spoke that to him. One day he was sitting and studying under a palm tree; temptation overcame him, he climbed up and bit off a cluster [of dates] with his teeth.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

SAturday, fourth of July weekend, Washington D.C. You can do the math if you want.

Talmud Bavli Shabbat 156a

It was recorded in R. Joshua b. Levi's notebook: He who [is born] on the first day of the week [Sunday] shall be a person without one [thing] in him — What does ‘without one [thing] in him’ mean? Shall we say, without one virtue? Surely R. Ashi said: I was born on the first day of the week! Hence it must surely mean, one vice. But Surely R. Ashi said: I and Dimi b. Kakuzta were born on the first day of the week: I am a king and he is the captain of thieves! — Rather it means either completely virtuous or completely wicked. [What is the reason? Because light and darkness were created on that day.] He who is born on the second day of the week will be bad-tempered — What is the reason? Because the waters were divided thereon. He who is born on the third day of the week will be wealthy and unchaste. What is the reason? Because herbs were created thereon. He who is born on the fourth day of the week will be wise and of a retentive memory. What is the reason? Because the luminaries were suspended [thereon] — He who is born on the fifth day of the week will practise benevolence. What is the reason? Because the fishes and birds were created thereon.He who is born on the eve of the Sabbath will be a seeker. R. Nahman b. Isaac commented: A seeker after good deeds. He who is born on the Sabbath will die on the Sabbath, because the great day of the Sabbath was desecrated on his account. Raba son of R. Shila observed: And he shall be called a great and holy man.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Your souls are Holy: Rosh Hashanah 5766

Can someone please tell me what a chasiddic rebbe looks like?

(Pause. Take answers)

Okay, so let's see, a chassidic rebbe looks like this:
long gray beard, payyot - sidelocks- black clothes, black hat.Oldish. Well, I do have a black hat, but.... I just look really awful with a beard.

When I began rabbinical school, our then assistant-dean Rabbi Eddie Horowitz told me
that he knew that deep down I was a chasid. I thought this was -let's just say, very unlikely, given my background in philosophy of science, I was about as rationalist as rabbis come. It turns out however, that in the end, it was he who was right. The transformation -or perhaps I should say, revelation- of this inner chasid was a long time coming, but since arriving here, it has become clear to me just how right Rabbi Eddie was.

What finally convinced me of the truth of the mystics is my yearly struggle to understand why so many people - people who never otherwise come to shul- come to
High holiday services. If someone is going to come, come on shabbat morning, which is beautiful, and comfortable, and comradely, and may get you an invitation to lunch. Or come on Purim, which is fun, even raucous, or Simchat Torah, which is joyful. Or if you're into the intellectual pursuits, come for a tikkun leil shavuot, when you can pack your brain full and eat cheesecake to boot.
To a rationalist, this high holiday phenomenon is inexplicable. Oh, I know that lots of rational explanations have been floated: guilt, habit - all kinds of things, but the truth is that none of them make sense. They could just as easily apply to all kinds of other things in Jewish life, and yet they don't. Let's face it, there's no obvious reason to come on the high holidays. They're not especially fun. At least on Rosh Hashanah you get to eat, but it's the day on which nations are judged - awesome, even scary - and certainly not raucous. And Yom Kippur is a fast day. And it's long.
That's what a rationalist says. I used to dream about giving a sermon in which I said: okay, all of you who come just for the high holidays, just go home, and come back on another holiday. But I finally realized why I've never given that sermon. It's because Rabbi Eddie was right, I'm a secret chasid, and a chasid understands something that no rationalist can. You're here, not because of guilt, and not because of habit. You're not here because your mother belonged to this shul, or because you want your kids to marry Jews. You're not here for the food, and you're not here to see the folks you haven't seen in a year.You're not here to get your money's worth from your dues. You're here because your souls are holy. They are precious.
Some of you may think that you've come for one of the reasons I've just
mentioned. Some of you may be wondering what the heck drags you out here year after
year. But it's not really a mystery to the chassidic heart. Our midrash suggests that sometimes our motivations are hidden even from us.That what seems to be one thing is really something quite different, and that what seems to be ordinary, may really be something quite sublime.

Midrash Songs of Songs 6:18 says:
18. THY TEMPLES ARE LIKE A POMEGRANATE SPLIT OPEN. ...Moses began to praise [Israel] them, saying, ‘Even the emptiest among you is as full of religious observances and good deeds as a pomegranate of seeds.’...

Rabbi Dov Baer commented, "...the fear of Heaven, in Torah, Mitzvot (obligations),
charity, prayer and repentance of the heart etc, may be found in each and every Jew
according to his capabilities, as stated, “Your nation are all righteous etc”. "

That's a pretty broad statement. "Your nation all are righteous." After all we know that there are lots of Jews who aren't such good Jews. They cheat, lie or steal, they murder or take drugs or beat their wives, they eat non-kosher food or worship money as if it were a god. So how could Moses say, ‘Even the emptiest among you is as full of religious observances and good deeds as a pomegranate of seeds?"

Yet, our midrash is suggesting something very important.

Pick up rimon from a Torah....

See this? It's called a rimon; it's shaped like a pomegranate ( which is what a rimon is called in English) Although the Menorah and star of david are ofte thought of as THE symbols of Judaism, really, the symbol of Israel is this: (hold up rimon)Punica granatum, stylized, you see it everywhere in Judaism. In Arabic, the pomegranate is called rumman, the fruit of Paradise. Muslims say," People who eat pomegranates will have their hearts filled with light for every pomegranate contains one seed from heaven" This Muslim saying is an interesting one, for it is not dissimilar from an idea of the Jewish mystics.

The kabbalist Chaim Vitale holds that pomegranates contain 613 seeds - one for each
commandment, mitzvah, to which we are obligated - perhaps it's true. Certainly that
would explain why it is the decoration of choice for a Torah, which also contains 613 mitzvot - commandments. It is royal in color: a purply red; shaped like a heart, it is sweet and full of juice and it wears a crown: these things are representative of Israel as well, and it is particularly fitting today on Rosh Hashanah to ask how the pomegranate also tells us something about Rosh Hashanah.

The new year, the day of judgement of nations, also has these qualities: royalty - as we stand before God, hopes for sweetness and juice, and of course as the head of the year, it wears a crown. But most of all, the pomegranate is shaped like a heart. It is this which makes it so rich a symbol. Inside this heart-shaped fruit lies hundreds of seeds, all those seeds which are good deeds and mitzvot, commandments. But these seeds, like the thoughts of the heart, the motivations of a soul, cannot be seen from the outside. In fact, even once the fruit is cracked open, you can only see part of what is there. Like the soul, the pomegranate hides its sweetness. The seeds are surrounded by veils - you know, all that bitter ivory skin to which the seeds cling - but it's not completely opaque - you can see the ruby glow behind it, and know what's on the other side. There is only one way to see the seeds, to tear away the bitter veils that hide them.

The Mei Hashiloach, comments on a verse we read the second day of Rosh Hashana,
"In the seventh month on the first of the month..." Bamidbar/Numbers 29:1
he explains, ... (Bamidbar 2) "[ The Zohar's discussion of Genesis refers to the two creation stories in the Torah. In the first one it says that Chava - Eve- was taken from the side of Adam. Adam is understood by the rabbis to be not a man, but a creature of earth -which is what adam means- a creature of two sexes, one on each side. At that time,] when humanity was of the "two faces," male and female were connected as one." This means that there was no veil separating the creation and the light of the blessed God (i.e. gender in torah is allegorical...) And all of creation had an explicit understanding that all who separated from the Torah were as much as separating from life itself. So from this kind of understanding there is no room for human service. Yet the blessed God wants to improve His creation and he desires that humans will have a way to serve Him. For this reason there was nesia, the separation of "female" from "male", on Rosh Hashanah. And this separation is as it is written (Beresheit 2:21) "And God cast a deep slumber on the "man" (earth creature) and he slept."

This means that that he created a veil separating the creation and the light of the blessed God. Thus, humans must tear away the veil and understand as it was before separation... much the human works in Divine service to tear away the veil, that is how much that person will see the connection that they have with the light of the blessed God as it was before the separation.

The human heart is impenetrable to the eyes of other humans, but God also hides behind a veil. Like the pomegranate, the beauty that is there is hidden, glowing and sweet behind a bitter skin that must be deliberately removed to find what it is we seek. In this, humans are the divine image: we are mysteries that seek to be discovered. But it is also important to note that there is a reason for the veil - it isn't just a difficulty to be overcome for no reason. The veil is there in order that we learn to serve God. The veil is a doorway to doing mitzvot, commandments.

The rabbi continues, "As we read in the Torah- 'Blow the shofar in the month, in the covering of the new moon on the day of our festival,' all the other festivals occur on the full moon, meaning that blessed God turns to His creation, that His creation should have an understanding of His light. But on this festival it is "in the covering" as it says in the holy Zohar (Shoftim 275b), "That the moon covers itself," meaning that the creation does not recognize the light of the blessed God. And by performing the mitzvah of blowing the shofar, a human may connect his apprehension of this world with God's primordial will.

So, on other holidays, God allows us a glimpse of the divine joy of the universe, but not on Rosh Hashanah. On RH, the veil remains intact. On RH, we have an additional veil between us and God -until the shofar blows, and if we have prepared ourselves, the glory of God is revealed to us.

We see that within the pomegranate, this holy fruit, we still can't see all that there is. Things remain hidden from us. And this is one reason that the souls of Israel are attracted to RH. Today, the sound of the shofar tears away the veil and we can see for a moment the true light of God. In the moment of holiness, in the sound of the shofar, our souls blaze with light. So we can understand how it is that mystics say that the pomegranate is a fruit filled with light, that there is within it a seed of heaven. Within each soul, there is also a seed of heaven. No matter how far we have fallen away from tradition, there is a seed of heaven within us.
This is why Jews come to shul in droves during the days of Awe. The rabbi's
statement is a remarkable statement: no matter how far away we are from God at that
moment, no matter how far we have drifted, if we truly are willing to open ourselves up, if we truly are willing, the spark in our souls will jump forth when we hear the shofar, and God's light will evoke light within us. Because, no matter what we tell ourselves our reasons are, in truth, it is our souls longing to be discovered, to have the veils ripped away, to blaze forth with light. To have the seed of heaven within us discovered by God. And also to experience the moment in which God's veil, too is ripped away in a moment of mutual intimacy.
And we also know, deep down, that that can't happen by accident. We know, in
our hearts, that the places in this world where we can be stripped away are few. That the world is not a safe place for intimacy, that connecting to God requires such a deep intimacy that baring ourselves takes an act of courage, that to ready ourselves for that act of courage may take a lifetime. And so we come to the synagogue hoping that this year will be the time. That the shofar will blow, and tear away our veils, at the moment when God is revealed in the world, and we will be ready.
But many of us are disappointed. year after year we return, and we find ourselves leaving as we came, bored, struggling, returning to our every day lives untouched by the malchut, glory, that is supposed to suffuse us on these days. We have been scoured by the world, and rather than leaving us ready to shine with light, we are simply abraded and raw.

So how can it be that the holiness of our souls can be revealed this year? How can we fulfill the desires of our hearts, the desires that perhaps we don't even know? To answer this question, I want to pose to you another. Why be Jewish?

Not so long ago, we didn't have a choice. The outside world made us stay with our own kind, whatever that might mean. We were persecuted. We lived segregated. But that's no longer true. We have risen to the heights of freedom, and we can do whatever we want. For a while, it was enough to say we had a culture, but that proves to not really be true: at best we have many cultures, but without mitzvot, we have seen, culture fades and is replaced by a bland sort of liberalism, so that can't be it. Judaism is not a simple political postion. In fact, it's not even a complicated political position. It is, rather, a deep truth about the universe.
Our souls, my friends are holy, but holiness is not something that is, it is
something that does. If we want to find that kernel of heaven within us, it requires work.
A Jewish soul is not had for the asking - it is a gift. .Why be Jewish? Because God wants us to be Jews. The veil is there for the purpose of being torn away. The kernel of heaven is within your heart, waiting to be discovered because that light is a gift to the world. You are a candle waiting to be lit.
God saw that the human ability to have a relationship with God was weak and so created a system to help us. God offered the Torah to many nations, but only Israel accepted it - and for good reason, look, we've survived thousands of years of hard work, and persecution on top of that.- the rabbis of the talmud recognized how difficult it is to be Jewish. Spiritual work isn't easy. Of course, you don't have to be Jewish to connect to God, but it's stupendously difficult to truly do - it's like wanting to be an Olympic gold medalist - it takes a lot of training, and a lot of practise. The big difference of course, is that there's no limitation on the number of medals handed out. We may not all get the gold, but potentially we all could, if we were willing to work hard enough for it. That's why the world needs Judaism: we're here to offer an example and a tutorial. You are essential Without you, Judaism's message cannot be carried out.
But there's more. That revelation is not for us alone. Today we balk at the idea of being chosen. Chosenness sounds elitist and creepy. But our holy souls recognize something else, a deep truth about Judaism: The world needs Jews. Judaism has a mission, and that mission is essential for the world. God created the covenant to care for the spiritual needs of all the world and all its people. The Jews didn't accept Torah just for ourselves, but on behalf of the entire world. Even the land of Israel was given on the condition that we give the highest commmitment to God and Torah, and to the moral and spiritual guidance that God provided for us through halacha, the law.
The Mei Hashiloach also says, regarding one of the verses that we read about Abraham on RH, ...that " Elohim tested Avraham" (Ber. 22) He comments, the whole matter of a miracle is because man forgets. For on the day that Adam was created, he saw the ocean raging and swelling, and his reaction was as if he
was witnessing the miracle of the splitting of the sea of reeds (at the exodus) Yet since man is a forgetful creature, and has become accustomed to the nature of this world and the motion of the sea, when finally the sea of reeds split it was seen as a miracle. A miracle is only when man is woken from the forgetting, which causes him not to see that everything is coming from the blessed God. yet when one witnesses a miracle, he wakes up and sees this.
Ps. 36: 10. says, " For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light shall we see light." Rosh Hashanah reminds us where to look for the kernel of heaven within us: In God's light, we will see our own light. But in order to see God's light, we have to reach out to God in intimacy and love. For God has implanted the seed of heaven within us, but it is up to us to light it up.
In the rush of the everyday, we have forgotten that our souls are holy. So we need Rosh HaShanah to remind us who we are. The blast of the shofar is here to remind us that every moment is a miracle, every soul is holy. The blast of the shofar tears away the veils of the universe to remind us that when we leave here, we have the opportunity to ignite the world with light, if only we are willing to do the work it requires.That work is the work of bringing God into the world through mitzvot. The work is not easy. But without mitzvot, your souls remain dormant, forever longing, and never leaping into flame. Your souls are holy, but to shine, they have to be polished every day. Remember who you are:
You are the Fruit of Paradise.

Chag sameach. L'shanah tovah. May you be inscribed in the book of life, the eternal book, The Torah of the universe.