Welcome to Mo-Drash ... the weird confluence of the Jewish tradition of Midrash and me!

What is Midrash? Literally, the word derives from the Hebrew root that expresses interpretation. Figuratively, it is the process by which Jews read between the lines of our sacred stories and seek insight from what we discover from each story, verse, word, letter and stroke of the pen.

Who am I? My name is Adam Morris, but known by many as Rabbi Mo. I spend a lot of my time serving in the role of rabbi, but I am also a husband, a dad, a runner and a 'weekend' craftsman (among other things). I try to move like Abraham to find my Place ... to wrestle like Jacob to know my Place ... and to snicker like Sarah to keep me in my Place.

B'makom she-ani omayd (from The Place where I stand),
Rabbi Mo

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Me and the Virgin Mary - Day #39

One of the traditional implements in the Elul toolbox is the regular reading of Psalm 27. And so I tuned to the Psalms (that spiritual iPod of Jewish tradition) and checked out what Psalm 27 had to say to me today. Verse 9 grabbed my attention as David (King David to you and I) says to God: ‘Don’t hide Your face from me.’

Now, I am not ready to at this point into my Elul Exercise to get too deep into the God thing, but underneath that idea in this verse there is something for me to get my teeth into. This line implies that there are indeed essential things hidden beneath the surface of the lives we live. While we may not see them, we do want to see these things. We need to do something to be able to see, even just a bit of that mystery beyond our current vision. We need to clean up the mess and the disorder and create some cleanliness and order in the space around us to better see what lay beyond.

Which brings me to my encounter this morning with the Virgin Mary. (Just bear with me.) The move of Temple Micah's Religious School to the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School this year requires the moving of cabinets, books and supplies to that space. During each visit I have made to the school in the past months I observed new things about our new locale. I remember during one of my early visits noting how the actual amount of ritual symbols I expected to see in a Catholic school were less than my expectations. During this morning’s visit - dressed to shlep and shvitz while I lugged the boxes and cabinets to their new home - I stopped to consider one of the symbols that does preside in the school: a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Now, my caveat of ignorance is that I think it was the Virgin Mary, but I fully admit that I could be incorrect. However, no matter who this rather warm and inviting symbol was supposed to be, it made me think of Mary - who in the canon of the Christian sacred story - is Jesus’ mother. One of the important elements of that story is that Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. As a Jew I have never been asked to accept or even understand this concept, this article of faith. My approach to it has been simply to honor and respect it as significant to someone else’s faith and religious understanding. Of course, that doesn’t mean I have not tried to understand it …

I considered her and her story and let go of what I could not logically grasp. From there concepts and conditions like innocence, purity, simplicity and even mystery came to mind. Perhaps, from a Christian perspective the arrival of Jesus on the scene needed those elements. Jesus’s arrival needed a clean slate, a lack of pretense and politic or a sense of wonder and possibility. Whether I believed this story or not, I could certainly understand the way that such conditions create space in our lives for the Sacred to enter. Perhaps David's was not an admonition, but more or a invitation: 'Come on in ... don’t hide your face from me.’ … How do we create such conditions? … What do we need to do to enable ourselves to see what may be hidden from us?

Coincidentally (if you believe is such things as coincidence) I came back to the synagogue and began to do some of my own housecleaning. I was already dressed for it and the afternoon had opened up appointment wise - so I began to attack the hallway of lost supplies and my office itself. Each year at this time I have the need (I can physically feel it) to clean up the physical mess and disorder in the spaces in which I spend so much time. I examine what I have laying around, on my bookshelves and in my desk and cabinets. I decide what to discard (probably some untouched and forgotten items that last year I determined I should keep because I might need them). I place things in new places or decide to keep them in the old ones to help increase my efficiency and my enjoyment of that space. In the order that follows I can actually see the top of my desk and easily find things in my drawers … there is room in my space to see what I did not see before. And then, I am ready then to take on the work involved in the New Year.

One of the forms of Jewish meditative practice guides the practitioner to focus on emptiness or nothingness. This emptiness or nothingness is called ‘Ayin’ -- loosely translated as ‘that which is without any-thing’. Perhaps it is a part of the nature of the human being that there exists a kind of divine Mystery that lurks just a bit out of our awareness and reach. To see it, feel it, experience it or simply know it we must takes those first steps toward re-ordering our space and making room for some simplicity or emptiness. We need to clear our heads and our hearts and create a bit of pure, unadulterated nothingness … and then pay attention for how the Sacred begins to fill that space.

No matter if that space is the desk in front of us or the space within, it is time to get to work.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Elul Exercise - Day #40

Elul.  Sounds like a beginner tongue twister, doesn’t?  It’s not.   It’s the name of one of those months in the Hebrew calendar, one of the few during which a holiday doesn’t fall.   Elul is month number 6 in that calendar.  And yet, due to the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the Hebrew calendar it gets plenty of attention.  Elul is the last month the year (5771 in our current case).  It’s 29 days are a prelude, a walk-up, a pregame, a prologue (well, you get the idea) to the New Year.  Throw in the succeeding ten days of teshuvah and Elul frames the 40 day period before the most holy day of the year - Yom Kippur.  

Elul (which begins this year on the 31st of August) is not some holiday deprived month of the Hebrew calendar, but oh, so much more …
  • The Marahal of Prague (the same sage if Golem fame) taught that  "All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession."
  • We are taught that the 4 letters of the name Elul are an acronym for an oft repeated (especially at weddings) phrase in the Song of Songs (6:3): "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me."   In this Elulian scenario - one ‘beloved’ is you or I and the other ‘beloved’ is The Sacred.  
  • Our tradition suggests that after Moses trudged back up the mountain to remake the scrolls he so carelessly ‘dropped’ on the golden calf that he remained on he mountain for 40 days - from the 1st of Elul until the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur).  What was he doing up there other than tablet carving?  Seeking whole-hearted forgiveness and reconciliation with The Holy on behalf of the the people of Israel. Ever since then the month of Elul serves as a pretty good time to seek and cultivate mercy and forgiveness.
  • And then there is that number 40 cropping up and again and again … 40 is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah's Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh ― the ritual purification bath ― contains 40 measures of water.  Tradition teaches us that the Holy One is more accessible during the 40-day period beginning with the start of Elul and culminating in the first ten days of the month of Tishrei, ending with Yom Kippur.   If you can get past the ‘King’ metaphor, consider this mystical understanding of these days as when “The King is in the Field.”   King in the palace, not too accessible.  (guards, knights, advisors, jesters, etc.)  King in public out to inspect how things are going in the kingdom, an entirely different story.  (‘Your majesty, did you see that joust last night?!)  Elul is the time - in this mystic construct - that the Sacred is a little more accessible to you and I and we need to take advantage of it.  The mystics prefer Isaiah’s way of expressing it: "Seek God when He is at hand; Call upon Him when He is near" (Isaiah 55:6).
Here is what I am going to do (or at least try to do) to help me look into my soul a bit more deeply, to seek out the Cosmic Beloved of mine out there, to seek and cultivate forgiveness and to be in the field with the ‘King’.    Each and every day of these forty it is my intention to write something about this sacred process of reflection and renewal that our traditions bids us to undertake each year.  With great humility, I offer these writings to you in forms of daily blog posts.  Not only do I want you to help me in staying true to my daily exercise, but perhaps my own ramblings about such Elulian themes, may be of use to you as you endeavor to take your own path of reflection, and renewal this New Year.  

So, read the daily blog posts, follow the blog, comment and share what you think ... hopefully in some way my Elul Exercise will be a help to your own.  

And, whatever that exercise may be, may you have a great workout this New Year.