Torah Study: “The Torah of Rabbi Schulweis"
Shabbat: December 27, 2014 and January 3, 2015
Before I open the prayer book, or embrace myself in a tallit prayer shawl, and give praise or thanksgiving or petition, it all begins with me.
I cannot petition God without petitioning myself. I cannot pray for health or peace or love without involving myself, my heart, my thought, my spine.
I cannot pray God for peace while my arms are folded, my mouth sealed, my feet dragging.
I cannot pray for health with a cigarette dangling from my lips.
There are matters not subject to the senses
taste, sound, smell, sight, touch
Matters elusive to definition
yet known without doubt.
Known to make us cry and laugh
to move us to unimagined heights
to courage and self-sacrifice.
Experiences -- like love or God
Cannot be fingered, placed or poked.
Of such things
it is wiser to ask
not where but when.
In my arms a child is held
a nameless being
possessed of unknown potentialities.
In my arms an infant is held
Upon whom we confer in the presence of her people
A name to be known in Israel as
_____________________ bat ______________________________________________.
Child's Hebrew Name Parents' Hebrew Names
That name includes our own
We are parents and this is our child.
We are forever bound to each other.
From where did you arrive?
out of the womb of Eve and the seed of Adam.
Angels show the unborn soul
the secrets of heaven and of earth
The soul pleads with God not to push him from
the comfort of the womb.
"I am well pleased with the world
in which I have been living since the day You called me to be.
Why do you desire me to enter this impure sperm?"
The infant comes
into this world with a former wisdom,
having been shown the mysteries of the universe.
A the moment of birth, an angel struck the baby
on the upper lip, left an unexplained indented mark.
With that blow, the child forgets all it has learned
in another world.
Even on the Sabbath,
Even during festival or fast,
The covenant brith takes place on the eighth day.
What is the Sabbath or Yom Tov or Yom Kippur
But a reminder of the constancy
That entwines our life with God's.
On the eighth day our child is covenanted,
Having lived through the Sabbath,
No stranger to creation,
No passive particle
Thrown into the world.
Our child is partner,
Co-worker, "shutaf", co-creator, co-sanctifier
Of the source of all being.
Above all, teach this newborn child
To touch, to never stop. To feel how fur
Is other than leaf or cheek,
Diamond from glass, Mezzuzah from anything else
In the world. The same with Challah.
As the child grows, teach this baby to reach
The shoulder of another before sadness
Brings it inhumanly low, to stroke the hair gently
Of one younger who is weeping, one older.
Let these hands be a Yes
When Yes is the Truth, and No
"Protect my children from my secret wish
to make them over in my image and illusions.
Let them move to the music that they love
dissonant perhaps to me." (Nissim Ezekiel)
We have raised them, sculpted them, schooled them
Exposed them to our ways and our world.
Who can blame our parental conceit
Imposing our dreams on their heads
You carry our name in yours
so you are called to the Torah
the son or daughter of your father and mother.
Our names interwoven
You stand, chant, speak alone
As close to you as we are,
you are not us,
not an echo of our sound.
You are your own voice.
You are not us and we are not you.
We who have held you so tight
now let go.
a sign of our pride and trust in you.
We are not born enough.
When we were first born
we were not aware.
God has given us another birth,
a miracle of life
out of body and soul of us both.
Flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood,
drawn from the marrow of our bones.
Here, before us a unique being, unlike any
created in this world, a mystery of possibilities.
Who knows what talents, virtues, dreams
lie dormant in this tiny body soul?
Not "Who am I"
but "Whose am I".
In belonging lies the secret identity.
Who belongs to me,
To whom do I belong?
Who accepts me
Whom do I accept?
Who has claims upon me
Upon whom do I lay claim?
Who knows my failings?
Who knows the meanings
of my angers and ambitions, my fears,
My cries for love sometimes hidden past recognition?
You stand alone
while we, your parents
are seated in the congregation.
You stand on your own two feet
to lead the congregation,
to sing, to pray, to study.
They and we listen to you carefully,
They and we hear your words, your commentary.
My son, my daughter, your voice is heard,
Your wisdom addresses all of us.
You are not today as you were yesterday
Nor are we.
Something has occurred.
We sit with the congregation
You stand alone on the Bimah
You lead the congregation
You sing, pray, speak
You are not an echo of our sand
You have your own words.
The still, small voice of conscience stands alone
Stronger in you now than ever before
A blessed distance between us
You are ours but also your own.
My grandson a Bar Mitzvah
Child of my child called to the Torah
I am face to face with the future.
Geography has distanced us
I have not raised him
nor given him instruction
Bound his wounds, absorbed his sobs
rallied him to victory.
Yet from the distance
I have heard and imagined
his defeats and triumphs.
Now he is present
for me to see.
I listen to a chant, a prayer, a benediction
I too once sang.
It is over now
the chanting, the speech,
the candies, the gifts,
the band, the music,
It is the next day, the day beyond.
Now the real choice begins.
Now you are responsible, accountable
it is you who must choose.
Will you choose to live what you have spoken?
Or will those promises, rapturous sentiments
Waft aimlessly in the air, clinging to the ceiling of the synagogue?
It is over now, and I have done well.
chanted well, my voice was firm,
my speech lucid.
It is over now.
The gifts opened, the band, the music
It is the next day.
Is this a new stage
on a journey of self-discovery,
or will this beginning speedily halt?
Pour my cup of wine with thine
into one vessel
Fill the emptiness
with drink of laughter, song and love
Let us be strengthened in each other.
Our lives, like our wines, are intermingled
An extraordinary arithmetic
union without subtraction
Two persons into one
one person into two.
Fusion without coercion
merged without loss of identity.
A different chemistry in marriage.
Not I becoming you or you becoming me,
Not I absorbing you,
Or you absorbing me.
Without loss of identity,
An enlargement of each of us.
A union, not by coercion
Not by surrender or domination
But by choice and mutuality.
Did not Ruth describe our union?
"Where you go I will go,
where you lodge I will lodge,
your people shall be my people,
your God my God."
The mirror is not neutral
A cool, silver-covered surface
reflecting me impartially.
It has its own shape,
its own concave, convex bent.
No two mirrors are alike.
Some mirrors make me look
hard and gross.
However I fix my smile, it reflects
However wide I set my eyes,
it appears a squinting mean-ness.
How at the height of joy
Is a glass broken.
How in the midst of song
Intrudes the noise of shattered glass
A moment past the sacred vows
Open now to fragmented lives
Bride and groom embracing time beyond
With the final promise to each other
Carried beyond the four posts of the wedding canopy
Into the blemished world.
* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
"The whole world was created for the sake of union."
To unite the divided,
To bring together the separate.
A mysterious mathematics:
Two into one
One into two.
With another to learn my interior self.
Not in solitary revelation
With the other to whom I can say thou,
With all my soul, mind and might,
I am newly revealed.
My cup of wine poured with thine
Into one empty vessel.
Drink a new mixture,
Our wines like our lives intermingled,
Fusion without coercion,
Merger without loss,
A curious admixture,
Two into one
One into two
Union without subtraction,
Four separate poles
Too close, the cover collapses,
Too far, it will not hold.
Let there be space in our togetherness
Distance that holds together.
They say - we were not born together
we come from different families, different schools, different associations.
You are not me
and I am not you
You know me better than I know myself.
You complete my sentences, fill in the pauses
read between the lines
You are not me - and I am not you.
Yet when we are not together
my sight, my hearing, my touch are different.
the joys of nature, the amenities of life fade.
When I cry my voice trembles with fear
When I call out it cracks with anger.
How can I greet the dawn with song
when darkness eclipses the rising sun?
To whom shall I turn
when the clouds of the present eclipse the rays of tomorrow?
Turn me around to yesterday
that I may be consoled by its memories.
Were not the seas split asunder
did we not once walk together through the waters to the dry side?
I have recovered
and my heart is full of gratitude.
I have recovered
I give thanks to the
divine power as experienced in the
skill of the physician;
in the care of nurses
in the warmth of family
who held my hand in theirs.
Let me not forget those long days and nights
so that I will live out my resolve
to uplift the fallen
to help heal the sick
to loosen the chains of the fettered.
You who blessed our ancestors
at the sea and in the desert
bless these ill friends
through us Your witnesses
Give us the wisdom to impart
to them courage and hope
Let them know that they have
in our holy community
men, women and children
who pray for the skill of the physician
who pray for their recovery
of body and spirit.
Teach us to remember Thy words
out of the void and vastness of the darkness
"Let there be light".
I do not believe that sickness is divine
a malediction thrust down upon me from above
a chastisement meant to correct some
I do not believe that sickness is some
Strange compensation designed to build character.
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said
"Whoever believes in miracles is a fool;
and whoever does not believe in miracles is an atheist".
We are neither fools nor apostates
Three times daily in the midst of the Amidah prayer
Rock and Shield that saves in every generation
our souls that are given in God's tender care
Three times daily we give thanks for the wonders, and the miracles that are daily
with us evening, morn and noon.