A Very Narrow Bridge

The world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid. ~Nachman of Breslov

This Might Not Make You Happy

Hey. Listen. I had kind of a shitty week.

I didn’t get enough sleep. I attached myself to a lost cause again—and lost. Phone calls were not returned. A package never arrived. Plans I was looking forward to got cancelled.

Shitty week.

Even this didn’t help:

My grandmother wasn’t worried if I was in a sulky mood about something…If I complained, ‘but I’m not haappy,’ she would tell me, ‘Where is it written that you’re supposed to be happy all the time?'” —Sylvia Boorstein (Shambhala Sun Interview)

This week we read Ki Teitzei (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 21:10 – 25:19).

It didn’t help my mood.

Here’s a rundown of some of topics covered:

  • Captured women mourning their parents
  • Hated wives
  • Lost property
  • Recalcitrant children (being put to death)
  • How to treat the corpses of the executed
  • Rejected wives
  • Slander against rejected wives
  • Adultery
  • Rape
  • Excluding the maimed from the community
  • Excluding those born outside of marriage from the community
  • Excluding certain ethnic groups from the community
  • Divorce
  • Kidnapping
  • Poverty
  • Fighting
  • Dishonesty

I am completely failing to acknowledge the fact that many of these topics are described in terms of how to show compassion as these horrible things come up.

But…you know…

Shitty week.

It turns out, though, that Ki Teitzei actually addresses my shitty week.

At the very end.

Of course.

The last verse, actually the last part of the last verse, says this: תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח Timchah et zeicher Amalek mitachat hashamayim. Lo Tiskach. “Blot out the name of Amelak from under heaven. Do not forget.” (25:19)

Amalek attacked the Israelites as they were making their way out of Egypt, when they were hungry and tired, and he attacked the most vulnerable among them. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, literally: “The Narrow Place.” Its root is also used for the word for “despair.” Amalek attacked when the Israelites were physically vulnerable. That’s bad enough. He also attacked when they were moving out of despair, which is a whole other kind of vulnerable.

He attacked when they had the potential to move into hope.

Destroying hope is the kind of violence that makes me shudder.

We are charged with blotting out Amalek’s name from under heaven (Actually, we’re charged with blotting out his memory, but I’m taking a small liberty with the text–shitty week). And we are charged not to forget.

That doesn’t help my mood.

Then I think about Elul. And I remember that I love Elul. And I remember that this is not supposed to be an easy month.

We are supposed to do both.

We need to remember. We need to remember the fear, the destruction of hope, the abject misery.

We need to remember that this journey, this being human, this spiritual path, is not always happy-clappy. Sometimes it sucks. It’s not written anywhere that we should be happy all the time.

And, guess what?

That’s spiritual too. So we remember.

But we also blot out Amalek’s name (I have mentioned it 5 times so far, by the way.) We should blot out his name because we need to remember not to do what he did. We should never take on that name. That description.

We need to remember what it was like.

Shitty week.

What is Tamim?

Have I mentioned how much I love Devarim (Deuteronomy)? Probably. I love how it wraps things up. I love it’s reflectiveness. I love how it spends so much time on what the Israelites need to strive for when they are on their own after they cross the Jordan. How it fits so perfectly with this time of year. It’s like the guide for heshbon hanefesh for our soul’s accounting.

This week is Shoftim. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 16:18 – 21:9). It’s got a lot going on. Appointing judges and magistrates, how to deal with complex legal cases, “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” Who has to fight in wars, and who doesn’t. Stamp out paganism now! Don’t be a soothsayer.

Then, right there, in the middle of the soothsayer part, this line shows up: תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה, עִם יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. Tamim tih’yeh im Adonai Elohecha. Be wholehearted with your God.

The weird word here is tamim. Is it really “wholehearted?” Is it only “wholehearted?” Other places it’s translated a lot of other ways: Innocent, complete, whole, entire, wholesome, unimpaired, having integrity, pure, blameless…the list goes on and on…and on.

Here’s what the famous medieval commentator Rashi has to say:

Walk with God simple-heartedly (bet’mimut) and look for­ward to what He has in store. Do not probe the future, but rather accept whatever happens to you simple-heartedly…

Basically, don’t keep looking for the next big thing. Don’t look for the better person to go out with or marry, don’t go looking for the cooler job, the more fashionable city…just be here for a minute, please. Be present. Be aware. Seriously, be here. Otherwise you’re just going to be miserable.

My havruta says tamim is the best way to hebraicize the word “zen.” I love that guy so very much.

He doesn’t mean the “calm” sense of zen. He means the perfectly present, open hearted, totally cool with the situation, trusting, kind of zen.

So there’s the tamim part. But there’s another word. A tiny word with two letters in Hebrew: עִם im. It means “with.”

So it’s not openhearted, simplehearted, present, innocent, trusting to God. Or about God. Or of God.

It’s with God.

If we are tamim, God will be tamim. God, the Universe, Humanity…whatever you want to call it. I say God. God will be present. That’s where God lives. In temimut. (That’s the noun form.)

Shoftim is mostly about the importance of justice and compassion.

Both of those depend upon being present.

It’s the first week of Elul. The first Shabbat in Elul. It’s heshbon hanefesh time. Reflecting time. Honest accounting time. Looking inward time.

Have I been tamim enough? Openhearted, compassionate, present, enough? Have I spent too much time looking for the next best thing? If I haven’t opened my heart to the present, why not?

Shabbat Before Elul

…The Sabbath is endowed with a felicity which enraptures the soul, which glides into our thoughts with a healing sympathy… It is a day that can soothe all sadness away. —Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, p 20.

It is Shabbat afternoon. I have been silent for hours now. The only words I have spoken today are prayers at the synagogue this morning. Walking along the trail in the park, I am still silent. I am having a silent Shabbat to see what it’s like.

It’s not easy.

I am having a hard time feeling the felicity Heschel writes about. My soul doesn’t feel enraptured. It feels alone.

As I walk, I find myself looking at my watch. But it is Shabbat and I don’t need to be anywhere at any particular time. I take the watch off and put it in my pocket.

Then my thoughts creep in: Why wasn’t I stronger? Why wasn’t I bolder? Why wasn’t I more willing to stand up for what I knew to be correct? Why didn’t I do things years ago? Why am I always alone? Why do I attach myself to lost causes and then become upset when I lose?

It is the last Shabbat in the month of Av. This coming Wednesday will be the first day of the month of Elul. I will sound the shofar at shacharit (morning services) at the synagogue. We do this every morning for all of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah. We are waking people to their heshbon hanefesh, to the beginning of their soul’s accounting.

Suddenly you are awakened by a strange noise. A noise that fills the full field of your consciousness and then splits into several jagged strands, shattering that field, shaking you awake. The ram’s horn, the shofar, the same instrument that will sound one hundred times on Rosh Hashanah, the same sound that filled the world when the Torah was spoken into being on Mount Sinai, is being blown to call you to wakefulness. You awake to confusion. Where are you? Who are you? —Alan Lew, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, p 64.

How can I be expected to wake my community when I am so unsure of where I am, of who I am? When my own accounting doesn’t seem to be adding up?

I take a breath. I let it go. I take another and let it go. And another. And another. I begin to allow my thoughts simply to be thoughts. They come up and I can let them go with my breath. I begin to listen to the sound of my feet on the trail. The crunch of the gravel, the sound of my shoes on the dirt.

The only words I have spoken in hours are prayers.

And my favorite words from any prayer come to me: עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה Ozi v’zimrat Yah vay’hi li lishuah. My Strength, and the Divine Song, and What Will Be—My Salvation.

My Strength is not trivial. I am a physically healthy and substantial man; I am filled with purpose. But that is not enough.

My Strength and the Divine Song.

Once my friend Dale brought me to the chemistry lab and showed me a machine that analyzed molecules based on where they appear on the spectrum. Each molecule resonates at a different frequency.* Essentially, the entire universe is singing. You, me, the stars, and the cocker spaniel down the street. We are all vibrating at the frequency of the molecules we are made of. The Divine Song. But even my strength and the Divine Song are not enough.

My Strength, and the Divine Song, and What Will Be.

What Will Be? Very near the end of 2013 (as opposed to 5773, which is the year according to the Hebrew Calendar), we will read Parshat Shemot (Shemot [Exodus] 1:1 – 6:1). This is a good one. It has the baby Moshe in the basket, it has the Burning Bush, and it has “Let My people go!” Some real Cecil B. DeMille stuff.

At the Burning Bush, Moshe asks God what he should say to the Israelites when they ask who sent him. God’s answer is אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה. “I Will Be What I Will Be.” God is present in every moment. This hike, the sadness I am feeling, my awareness of the sound of my feet on the trail. This moment is filled with the Divine Presence. Whatever this moment Is or Will Be.

My Strength and the Divine Song, and What Will Be—My Salvation.

On Wednesday I will sound four calls on the shofar: Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah. “Tekiah means that which is rooted; shevarim means that which is broken; and teruah refers to an image of shaking.” (Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz)

Tekia: The strength which grounds me.

Teruah: The shaking vibration of the Divine Song.

Shevarim: The brokenness we can feel in any given moment.

Tekiah: Moving from that brokenness back to strength is My Salvation.

The order of the shofar calls is not the same as the prayer. Life doesn’t always happen in order. When I hear those sounds I will hear my whole past year beginning to be laid out before me and I will be reminded that the order of the events of the last year no longer matters. Not as much as the strength with which the new year will begin.  

At the end of Yom Kippur, the final tekia of the holidays for which I am preparing will begin my year with strength, rootedness, an improved awareness of where I am, and who I am.

But I can’t get there without facing the shaking and the brokenness; the Song and the Presence. 

* Please forgive me if I have the science wrong—this was almost 15 years ago.

Benno U’veini

I was talking to Benno a while ago. Here’s some of what we said:

Benno:  Can we talk about being disciplined?

Harry: Yep.

More highlights:

“We are taught that being disciplined is about doing the things we don’t want to do, and that it’s unpleasant.”

“I am struggling with what I want vs. what I am willing to do about it…and I realized this morning that being disciplined (for me) has more to do with being thoughtful, and less about denying myself something.”

“A Lenten discipline is about being thoughtful. Not about self-denial. We make choices…we agree to those choices. That is discipline.”

“Throughout the year, we take some things on, and give things up. We make choices, mindfully.”

“I am struggling with the ‘agree to those choices’ part.”

“I am in control. I have made my choice–I can be angry at [the situation], or I can just be myself with an open heart. I have agreed to the choice.

I can also say “No” throughout my day/week/month/year. Or to respond to requests with a suggestion for something I feel would serve the project—or whatever—better.”

“I just have to hold myself to my agreements, like walking more, better, or accept that they aren’t working and make a new agreement with [myself]; if walking’s not what [I] need, what could I do instead?”

This week we read Parshat Re’eh (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 11:26 – 16:17).

It begins:

.רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם–הַיּוֹם:  בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה

Re’eh anochi notein lifneichem hayom brachah u’klalah.

“See, I give you today a blessing and a curse.”

We have choices. The parsha (Torah portion) continues (and I’m just going to translate and sort of paraphrase it):

A blessing if you will listen [for] the connection to God, which I explain to you today. A curse if you do not listen [for] the connection to God and turn away from the Path which I explain to you today…

We can choose what we want to do. We can listen for those connections, or we can ignore them.

But we need to accept our choices and live with the consequences.

The parsha goes on to give 55 mitzvot, which is kind of a lot. Actually, it’s definitely a lot if you think about them as commandments. When I was taking liberties in my translation, I used the word “connections” for mitzvot. You can see where I learned that here.

55 seems like a lot.


Discipline isn’t about being forced to do things we don’t want to do, or not to do things we really want to do. It’s about mindfully making choices and accepting what will come from them. Blessings…or curses.

It’s really 55 opportunities for mindful connection. To yourself, to the community, to God. That’s the practice.  That’s why I love being Jewish.

I’m incredibly lucky to have my Episcopalian friend to teach me Torah.

Oh, the title for this post is a pun on “Beino u’veini” which means “between him and me.” I didn’t make the pun and I can’t take credit for it.

Cowboy Up

Last week we read, in Vaetchanan (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 3:23 – 7:11), about Moshe’s plea to God to forgive him enough to allow him to enter the Land—just for a look around.

God won’t be moved. The answer is no. The answer is actually:

רַב-לָךְ–אַל-תּוֹסֶף דַּבֵּר אֵלַי עוֹד, בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה

Rav-lach–al tosef daber alai od badavar hazeh! (You have enough! Don’t speak to me about this any more!) (Devarim 3:26)

And that’s that.

Sorry. It’s just not going to happen.

This week, in Eichev (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 7:12 – 11:25), it’s time to see what the people are all about.

When they enter the land, will they be scared? Will they turn to other gods? When they experience abundance, will they forget that they didn’t do it all on their own? Will they decide they’re special? Entitled?

Will they be able to tap into the fierceness necessary, not only to conquer, but to continue to live their lives with discipline and authenticity?

What are they made of, anyway?

Moshe thinks he knows, and he’s not at all happy.

Moshe. Rejected Moshe. Moshe who got what he’s getting. Who shouldn’t bring it up again. Hurt Moshe. Moshe who’s read ahead and knows what’s coming.

Moshe who had to intercede on the people’s behalf so many times. Who fasted for 40 days–twice (and at his age) in order to receive the Torah. Who’s already buried his sister and his brother.

That Moshe.

That’s the Moshe who has to go before these people and tell them, in effect, that it’s time for them to cowboy up. These people who’ve been a pain in the ass from the first day he met them.

And then.

Then something amazing happens. Because we find out how they are going to accomplish that:

וּמַלְתֶּם, אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם; וְעָרְפְּכֶם–לֹא תַקְשׁוּ, עוֹד

U’maltem et arlat l’vavchem, v’arpechem lo takshu od. (Devarim 10:16)

Want to know how you’re going to grow up? To let that cowboy out? You’re going to open your heart and stop being stiff-necked and stubborn.

Know why that works?

Because you’re going to get hurt. That open heart is going to be broken.

You know what happens then? You learn that heartbreak isn’t the end of the world. And if you loosen your neck, if you stop stubbornly clinging to the idea that you deserve more, you’re going to realize that what you got actually is enough.

Rav-lach isn’t just “you have enough,” it’s “you have a lot.”

I need to remember this. I need to remember to open my heart and accept the abundance I have been given; the fierceness is always there.

What are you waiting for?

“What are you waiting for, Tisha B’Ab?”

My dad loves that expression. As I think about it, I’ve never heard anyone else say it. Maybe he got it from my grandfather. I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure he’s ever really considered the deep meaning of Tisha B’Av. That’s fine—it’s not his thing.

For better or for worse, it’s my thing. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this less than three hours before I have to be at the synagogue to listen to the book of Eicha being read and to begin my long fast. What I really should be doing is eating a light meal and drinking a lot of water. This is going to be a quick one—there will be typos.

I talked about Tisha B’Av last year, so I’m only going to recap:

Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) is a day of mourning and a fast day commemorating a series of tragedies that have struck the Jewish people throughout our history.

I don’t want to minimize tragedy. I am not going to minimize tragedy. I would never say this to someone who is in the midst of experiencing something tragic.


I’ve been thinking about tragedy and I’ve come to the conclusion that what tragedy is (not what it means—it doesn’t help to search for the meaning in tragedy): A radical shift in the nature of the moment.

A loved one is here and then they are gone. Buildings stood, now they are rubble. There was hope and belief and a sense of order, now there is despair, doubt, and chaos.

It appears that way from the middle.

But from further down the road it’s different.

Babylon gave us Jeremiah, and one of the most beautiful phrases in the Tanakh: Kol sasson, v’kol simhah, kol, hatan, v’kol kalah. (The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.) We sing it at weddings, filled with hope and love. And it goes on. From the ruins of Jerusalem we went to Yavne and created the Mishnah and began to focus on prayer. In our expulsion from Spain, we traveled to Turkey and Morocco and composed unimaginably beautiful music.

Things don’t go according to plan. Life is not what we imagined it would be and it feels like everything’s flying off the rails. At least from the middle. We feel no control because the reality of the moment has radically changed.  This is where we are.

And, frankly, it sucks.

Tisha B’Av is important. We should weep and mourn. We should look at ourselves and the hatred we nourish despite the fact that this hatred kills us. We should remember what it feels like to be in that place where everything has changed in an instant and we are lost.

We should recognize that we can’t always control what happens. And this is where we live.  If we accept this, we will see God in that moment. And hear the Voice of Joy, unlikely as it seems.

“What are you waiting for, Tisha B’Ab?” my dad asks.

What are you waiting for? A radical change?

“It may not happen, or it may happen in a way you never imagined,” he seems to be saying.

“There is nothing to wait for; this is where we live,” I reply.


There aren’t rules as much as there are expectations.

Neither of us is going to intentionally throw the ball into the street or the woods. It’s just not done that way. But even with our expectations, we can’t always count on the ball not sailing over one of our heads. I had a bruise on my knee for days when the ball got away from him and hit me there–hard. Catch is not a game without risks.

It’s hot and humid and we are both sweating, but this is an important game. I throw the ball to Elly with my right hand, he catches it in his glove with his left and throws it back to me with his right.

It’s late in the day, and we are getting tired. We make mistakes, but chasing after the ball is part of it because the game is about learning, not perfection.

“What happened there?” I ask as the ball passes 20 feel to my right—I’m not fast enough for that.

“I wasn’t looking at you.” comes the response.

My fancy sidearm throw flies over Elly’s head and I apologize: “Sorry–held on to that one too long.”

He laughs, “At least you’re better at sidearm than I am!”

A while ago I saw a play performed in American Sign Language. The actors, students at Gallaudet University, signed and there was a voice interpreter offstage reading all the parts. The characters repeated one line over and over: “There’s nothing to be done.”

At intermission the ASL interpreter with whom I saw the play pointed out that while the interpreter was reading the line directly from the script, the actors were always signing “There’s nothing to be finished.”

I liked that better.

Being human is hard, not hopeless. We are here, and that’s sometimes hard enough without becoming mired in how upset we are that we are limited to this hard existence. I need to remember how lucky I am to have this life at all. This life, this kid, this game. I need to remember that it’s about learning, not perfection.

It starts to rain. Soon we are soaked and can hardly see the ball.

“One more!” I shout from across the field where I’ve chased the last errant toss. I throw the ball in a long high arc across the field. Elly is ready. He watches the ball come towards him through the rain. And he’s smiling because there’s never been a bad day to play this game.

All the Stories

It’s raining this morning so we are sprawled on the couch watching a movie.

The villan has just tricked the hero into turning over his magic staff, the source of all his power, which the villan promptly breaks and then throws, along with our hero, into a deep pit.

“What will happen now?” Elly asks, matter-of-factly—we’ve done this before.

“I dunno, Habibi,” I reply. “Is it about the staff, or is it about him?”

Sure enough the hero, with the help of a friend, is able to access within himself what it takes to repair his staff and escape the pit.

He asks me if I’ve seen this movie before.

“Nah…I just know a lot about stories.” I say.

Because of you. I don’t add.

But as I watch him watching the rest of the movie, or watch him listen as I read to him, or even watch him when it clears up and we are playing catch, I realize that it’s true. It’s possible to know all the stories. Every single one that’s ever been told, or ever will be told, and it’s all because of my son. Or at least because I love him so much and because he’s been using that love to crack me open, to stop me dead in my tracks, for as long as he’s been around.

Because I’m not talking about having an extensive book collection, I’m not talking about Joseph Campbell, and I’m not talking about structuralism. I’m talking about something else altogether. Something simple but not at all easy.

I’m talking about the stories that we keep within us. In our meridians, in our nadis, in the Sephirot. I mean the Stories. The stories that connect us. That allow us to go beyond ourselves. The stories that, if we only stop for a moment and listen to them, allow us to become bigger than ourselves.

Those stories. 

Those stories are hard to access. They are harder to hear. And they are hardest to remember. Being human is hard. We want to believe so much about ourselves. So much about what’s important to us is, well, important to us, and we’re not ever going to completely get over that in this lifetime.

But. If.

But if we sense them, even for a second or a breath or part of a breath, they can help. For that second, that inhale or exhale or that blink of an eye, we can know the stories.

All the stories.

If we know all the stories, for that briefest moment we can recognize something in ourselves. We can recognize everyone else in ourselves. If I know all the stories—the same stories that you know, the same stories that include you, how can I resent you? How can I hate you for your resentment of what’s important to me?

I can’t.

I can’t because I know the stories and knowing the stories means I can see and understand your resentment. It’s the same as my resentment. Your hatred and fear are the same as the hatred and fear I’ve experienced. My anger is the same as the anger you’ve felt. We’ve heard this one before and we can see that it’s not about the staff we might carry, it’s about what’s within us.

All of us.

And it’s hard because we like our staff. We believe we need the staff of what’s important to us, the staff of our hurt and our anger, even the staff of our happiness and our accomplishments. We like those things. I downright love those things enough to horde them.

But if we know the stories we must also know how they end. And they end the same for all of us. And they end too soon for us not to at least try to listen.

Unnamed, not Unknown.

I am reasonably sure he’d say he’s just getting the bagels ready.

I accept that. That is what he’s doing, after all.

Across the room, as the rest of us finish praying through shacharit (the morning service), the guy who’s in charge of the bagels is getting the juice and milk; the jam, peanut butter, and cream cheese out of the dorm-sized fridge in the corner—and he’s toasting bagels, four at a time.

And that’s all he’s doing; he’s getting the bagels ready.

I want to say he’s doing something profoundly spiritual. I want to say he’s connecting us—to one another and to the Divine. But to name what he’s doing and to call it Significant ruins it. It makes it about me—about what I want it to be. It’s like this:

The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.  Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit.  The teachings are treated as an external thing, external to “me,” a philosophy which we try to imitate.  We do not actually want to identify with or become the teachings.
(Chögyam Trungpa: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, p13)

I was going to write about how male spirituality is different from female spirituality. How all the talks and meditation sessions and yoga classes are so dominated by women. I was going to write about how men can be uncomfortable with that, but that maybe men’s authentic spirituality is one of action without calling it spirituality. It is. But it’s not just men’s spirituality that functions that way.

I spent much of my life uncomfortable with the word “spiritual.” It seemed fluffy and goofy and for guys who run around in kaftans with heads of garlic on strings around their neck. What I really thought was that it seemed weak and unintellectual.

I always considered the source of my power to be my brain. I could name things, understand things, remember things very well and very fast. And that’s not a bad thing. Naming has its place. Think about this:

For us, the naming represents a celebration of becoming aware, of knowing the universe at a different level than we had known before. One of my favorite examples is something that today we just take for granted. It’s called the electron. But there was a time before anyone ever dreamed that such an object could exist. In fact, we know the first person who had that dream. It’s a guy named G.J. Stoney. He was an electrochemist in England, and he said, “Hmm, there’s a funny bit of possibility that there’s a bit of matter smaller than an atom.” He was a person who later actually named the object the electron. So what does the naming do for us? Well, once we know it’s there, we can start to use it. And, boy, we’re using it at the very instant with the electrons that we’re manipulating to talk back and forth.
S. James Gates (On Being, June 6, 2013)

You wouldn’t be reading this now if not for the electron. Given the fact that there are probably about seven of you reading this, that’s less important than the fact that I wouldn’t be writing this now if it weren’t for G.J. Stoney and the electron he named. And that’s really only important because this was an assignment from my havruta.

We need to name things. We need to do it to make things work. But we also need not to be so smart.

I need not to be so smart.

As a man, I am a namer. A knower. Most likely a know-it-all.

And it’s been very hard for me to let go of that. And it always will be.

But understanding and knowing are not the same thing. Human beings can understand on a level beyond knowing and naming.  We can just get the bagels ready.

Put the bagels in the toaster. They will pop up.  After that, put them on the plate.

Eleven Months Part 8: Eleven Months and a Little More.

I am sitting in the synagogue. Again.

My friend Batya is standing at the front of the congregation about to give a short talk. “Here we are, all together.” She says. “Here we are, all together…again.” She’s making a point about Shemini Atzeret, the holiday we are observing, but maybe also a point about the sheer number of holidays we have observed lately. The Jewish month of Tishrei has more holidays than any other; in the past three weeks there have been twelve days worth of holidays. We have been together. A lot. And this particular holiday is solely about being together. Again.

But, while we might be ready to have regular life back, while we are even getting tired of holidays (the next Jewish month, Heshvan, actually has no holidays at all—possibly to give us a break), we are together and I’m glad.

On September 30th I said the last Kaddish in the eleven months of observing this mitzvah for my mother.

It was the day before Sukkot began. For eleven months I went to the synagogue just about every day. I took shelter there. I allowed my heart to heal within its walls. I got back on my feet, feeling its floor beneath me. I moved through seasons. Then it ended. I read a prayer of thanks for the community, received a lot of hugs and it was over. That night, Sukkot began and life moved, at least temporarily, outside.

Sukkahs are flimsy. They are meant to be. The same ceiling that allows us to see the stars lets the rain in and makes the floor soft with mud. The walls have gaps and a strong wind could blow the whole thing over. Overnight, I moved from the solidity of concerete and stone into the uncertainty of canvas walls and bamboo roof.

Except I didn’t.

The same people were there, all through Sukkot. The same people with whom I spent an hour every morning, or an hour on Saturday afternoon praying. The people with whom I shared meals, and who waited patiently while my sense of humor returned. The same people with whom I practice yoga, or drink beer, or watch baseball. The people who taught me to tie knots and pack a frame pack for days of hiking. The person to whom I read and with whom I play catch. The person who used to read to me when I was small. And the person who went with me to a sukkah in the Occupy DC camp in McPherson Square last Sukkot. They are all here with me as I move out into the world again.

So while those who continue to say Kaddish stand to recite it, I sit and I hope I support them–hold them up as much as they held me. Because we are all temporary and so much more fragile than those structures we built for the holiday that just passed. But today we are here. Together for one extra day.