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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Closing Time - Day #1

Yom Kippur has arrived and so does this artificially created window of opportunity to reflect and return.  It is artificial only because thousands of years ago, human beings determined that this time of year was the right time of the year to try and make at-one-ment.  Truth is, we can (and do) engage in this kind of reflection all of the time-- it is not something that we simply and completely turn off for 11 months or so and then turn back on.

Let's face it, though ... it is difficult, draining and unrealistic to be so thoughtful and reflective all of the time.  Our world would not allow it, there are things we really need to do ... we have not chosen a monastic, solitudinal life.  We have chosen to live, thrive and enjoy this world - nothing wrong with that, as long as we do not ONLY pursue that end.

There is something that is anything-but-artificial about this time and the feeling of some kind of window of opportunity or focus that is closing soon and will not reopen for a while.  Perhaps it is the repeated use of this time for centuries, even millennium, by our spiritual ancestors - the same way a slow, constant current of water can soften, smooth and even carve out the roughest of rocks or the way that an unpaved path in the forest will become a path with the constant tracking of millions of pairs up feet.  The space is smooth and well carved out, that path is clear and defined ... here for us to use, to go to that deeper place that is often out of our reach.

Pay attention, though.  The gates at entrance to that space and that path are beginning close.   Take advantage of the space to which they have afforded you precious access ... use that time and space to its fullest and prepare your self for the opportunities and challenges that will become part of the year ahead.

Thus ends my Elul Exercise for 5772 ...and yours, as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Size Doesn't Matter - Day #2

Steve Jobs' life impacted a startling proportion this world in which you and I live.   Even if you do not own an Apple product, that product that you do not own impacted the way we human beings in the world communicate, create and cogitate.  Not many people can say they can leave this kind of legacy behind them -having made such a distinctive mark on the culture of the world; having whole industries react to your newest ideas; having impacted the lives of billions of human beings.  It is humbling ... and a bit intimidating.

Mr. Jobs died during these ten days when Jews around the world are considering our own impact and legacy in the world.  None of us (okay maybe one or two of us) will ever come close to approach the size and scope of Steve Jobs' impact and legacy.  As incredible as the sheer breadth of his impact may be, we cannot fall into the mode of measuring our own impact and legacy the same way.   Impacts and legacies can reach millions and even billions, but that is not the true manner to measure such things.

The wisdom from Talmud comes to mind: Destroy a soul and you destroy an entire world, save a soul and you save an entire world. (Sanhedrin 37a) Size does not matter when it comes to legacy and impact ... Jewish tradition calls us to do our best and seek to be great in our corner of the world.  The depth and breadth of legacy and impact comes from how we live within each moment, each choice and each relationship.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Gap Between Theory and Practice - Day #6

I do not remember much about Western Civilization II in High School (my school's fancy title for 'History' class).  I do remember more than I do about Tooth Fairy visits.  (See Day #14)  I do not remember much about Western Civilization, but I do remember my charismatic and idiosyncratic teacher and former Major League pitcher, Mr. Seelbach.  I do not remember much of the facts and dates that may have been part of that curriculum, but I do remember a concept he taught us - one that I have found transcends any one historical moment or era.  Mr. Seelbach felt it important to teach about about the 'gap between theory and practice.'  He explained it in the context of political science theories or social constructs - instructing us on the value of such theories and of the complexities of practice.   I have found the 'gap between theory and practice' practically in every corner of life.

I experienced this gap between theory and practice just this past Wednesday as I prepared for Erev Rosh Hashanah services.  There I was, on the precipice of one of the biggest days of my personal and professional career.  I was getting ready lead and hopefully inspire my community during a time in which all would hopefully reflect on the ways that we might act to make our world a better place.  I was taking the very private time that I need before I play an important role in a very public time.  And so goes the 'theory' that was in place for this Erev Rosh Hashanah day.  The practice was the gentleman who wandered in off of the street.  The front door was open - as is the Church's practice to do when their office is open - and he wandered into the church looking for money and/or food. Except, no one was in the church office, and so when we wandered down the hall ... he wandered into my nicely kept ritual.  He told me his story and he looked the part of the story he told me ... he just wanted money to get some food.

And then I stumbled in the widening gap between theory and practice. I wanted to help.  I was also perturbed that he would 'bother' me on this day of all days during 'my' time.  I looked for some grocery coupons, which I could not find.  I know from experience that we cannot give out money to people who just show up.  We (the synagogue, and the church for that matter) are all about helping people, but giving people money off the street creates a culture in which people continue to come back looking for this kind of support, which we are not set up to give in any long-term fashion.  I considered, again, the irony of him showing up on this day in this place with our banner that reads 'Do Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly' and my reaction being fuzzy on all three of Micah's guidelines.  That thought led my mind went down the suspicious direction - wondering if his story was a true one, if it was actually food that he sought to obtain with any money I might give him.  I looked him in the eye, told him that I could not help him today ... and he went on his way.  I felt the gap between theory and practice, slowly but surely, sucking me down into its deep, dark innards.

The exchange was unsatisfying at best, depressing at worst.  The man left with nothing, because I had nothing that I would give him.  I am pretty sure my 'theory' would have me give him something, but the actual 'practice' left him empty-handed.  I put the encounter out of mind enough for me to do what I needed to do, but here I am still a bit haunted, embarrassed and even puzzled by how I could have narrowed the gap, even slightly.

Was it a sin? It does not feel like a sin to me, in the sense of dramatic, ten-commandment, soap-opera-worthy kind of sin.  However, if I think of the translation of the Hebrew word for sin - chayt - which means 'missing the mark' - I sure feel like I missed the mark in that moment.   For me, I have many more moments like this one that cause me consternation.  Moments like this one are the ones from which I keenly I wish to learn and grow.  I find myself in moments in which I have an ideal that names the spirit of how I want to act, but in the moment as I try to translate that spirit to real action or words - I, well, just miss the mark.   Sure, there are many factors that contribute to the gap between my theory and practice - as Mr. Seelbach taught me, there is great complexity in actual practice.  Yet, I feel that in the midst of those complexities that I could be better about executing the part over which I have control.

In a few days when I formally and informally spend time in vidui-confession, it will be these kinds of moments, these kinds of 'missing the mark' that will occupy my thoughts and feelings.  And in the year ahead,  I will be trying to - even if ever so slightly - reduce that gap between theory and practice.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Look at the Pretty Tree - Day #8

Last year's B'nai Mitzvah class gave a High Holyday Torah cover as a gift to the synagogue.  So, we used it for the first time on Rosh Hashanah.  Technically, I used it for the first time earlier in the week when I was getting things ready for the New Year.  I have had occasion to see it/use it a few different times so far at different times of the day ... and it was, in a fashion, different each time.

The mantle is an off white, almost cream color with a large tree as its main image.  The roots and trunk of the tree are embroidered with a solid, simple dark golden, brownish hue.  The 'leaves' that surround the branches are of a translucent  thread that seems to be on many colors - gold, brown, greens, oranges -- and depending on the time of day and kind of light in the room it looks different.

I love the balance of elements on the mantle that some stay the same and some change, too.  There are so many metaphorical, interpretive paths I could take with such a piece of art ... the one that jumps out at me is the existence of that dynamic tension between what is fixed or set and what is fluid or changing.  Our tradition names this dynamic tension as an important element of the prayer service.  It calls the fixed or set end of the spectrum: kevah.  It names the fluid or changing end of the spectrum: kavanah.  Think of it in this way:  the keva may be the fact that Shema is always said at a certain time with the same words during a prayer service; the kavanah may be the way that the Shema is sung or interpreted during that same service.

It seems that this spectrum of keva and kavanah and their dynamic tension are not limited to the prayer service. Our entire world works and evolves along the grades of this spectrum.  Ask any artist of any kind about the importance of studying and understanding the traditional forms of their 'art'.  Then, ask that same artist about the creative process and how it is all about changing something either around those forms or in response to those forms.  The same plays out in any field - medicine, law, science ... there are set forms that help define the structure of a paradigm; but then transformation comes when doctors, lawyers, scientists figure out a way to be creative and play with or beyond those established forms.

And of course, we live on the grades of this spectrum as well.  We need and thrive on a certain set-ness or fixed-ness about certain elements of our lives.  We also need (and possibly crave) that energy that derives from change, fluidity and creativity.  Understanding our own place on the keva and kavanah spectrum - where we are most comfortable and where we experience growth and transformation - is an essential element to living as mature, grounded individuals whose lives feel meaningful, joyous and rich.

Take advantage of these last few days before Yom Kippur and take a look at the 'mantle' that covers your own sacred story and pay attention to what parts are made of keva and what parts are made of kavanah.