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, March 27, 2013

Pesach 5773 (Too Much)

We can be too much for our own good ...

As many of us look at our Seders in the rear-view mirror (and I hope they were joyous and meaningful Seders), we still have the prospect of plenty of Matzah in our near future. Matzah is the symbol of the Exodus from Egypt, the bread of affliction and ultimately it is the culinary actualization of a chametz free-world.

Chametz is the name for those things that do not pass the Passover test. It is the name for foods that have been allowed to leaven - to puff up, to expand or to enlarge. The foods we eat during Passover are the ones that fall in line behind the Matzah and limit their amount of puffing, or expanding or enlarging.

Let us not only think of Chametz as a culinary category, for that only touches the surface of the depth of Chametz. Chametz names a spiritual element, as well. It describes what happens to human beings when we make choices that cause 'puffing up', expansion and general enlargement that is detrimental to our collective well being. While, this kind of Chametz may be more difficult to find than the food related Chametz that we find in our pantries each year - this kind of Chametz may be more pervasive in our lives.

Now that Passover has arrived and houses around the world have been successfully searched for Chametz, it is time for another kind of search for Chametz to commence. Pay attention to the puffiness, expansion and enlargement in your life. What choices have you made that have caused an unnecessary and possibly harmful expansion of your physical world? Parts of your body or your home may feel as if there is too much of something (or many things). What decisions have you made that have caused a destructive and limiting puffiness in your spiritual world? You may be feeling emotions or harboring attitudes that have become so large that they inhibit your ability to make loving connections with those closest to you.

The fact of the matter is that in our efforts to make our way in this world and create safe and nurturing places for us and our loved ones - we can make, collect and acquire too much for our own good.  So much stuff - things, emotions, attitudes - that it gets is the way of living and loving.  Don't just spend this week eating Matzah and worrying about putting Chametz in your mouth, accept the gift and challenge that Passover offers to consider and pay attention to the Chametz that you put into your mind, your heart and your soul.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Vayakel/Pekudei 5773 (Drones Beget Drones)

This week I am wondering why I am not so outraged that Rand Paul will not shut up ... Senator Paul is engaging in a ‘Mr. Smith Goes To Washington’ kind of filibuster, protesting President Obama’s nomination to head the CIA. The point that Senator Paul keeps returning to is his grave concern that the President holds the power to order a drone strike on American citizens under ‘extreme circumstances’. I have never found myself on the same side of a political issue as Senator Rand. Nor I as I try to understand the reasons behind his filibuster, do I see a lot symmetry in this case between our political ideologies. And as outrageous as his claim and fear of drones striking Americans on American soil may be, I have studied too much history to blithely discount such a concern.

It is not at all an uncommon historical occurrence for those in power (or those who seek power) to consider their fellow human beings an impediment or threat. Such situations occur when those in positions of authority or influence stop seeing the humanity of the other human beings who inhabit the same state or community. (i.e when governments see their citizens as drones, then it is easier to send drones to deal with them - (seeing) drones beget (using) drones). Instead of seeing human beings - who contain and emanate sparks of Divinity and the Sacred, they see obstacles and threats. And then they act accordingly.

In this week’s Torah portion - Vayakel/Pekudei - we (again) have an accounting of the structure, elements and various details of the portable Tabernacle that traveled with the Israelites in the wilderness. One would hope for a more dramatic and fitting end to the book of Exodus -- the book that begins in slavery in Egypt, then sees the dramatic redemption of the Israelites and then their revelatory encounter with God at Sinai. Instead, we get a rehashing (It is the second or third time already!) of the pieces, parts and instructions for the Israelites wilderness DIY project.

Within this rehashing is a subtle, yet helpful perspective as we consider the ways that - when at our worst - we human beings tend to regard one another. The book of Exodus begins in Egypt -- in slavery. Slavery exemplifies the worst of this inability to see the divinity in the other. It is the ultimate in seeing others as things to be used or to be disregarded when their utility ends. We end Exodus in Pekudei -- which derives from the Hebrew root that has to do with ‘taking a count’ or ‘taking note of’. We end Exodus with a laborious counting and noting of each and every element of the Tabernacle.

Here I turn to Ovadiah Sforno (15th century Italian commentator) who had something to say about this counting and noting:

“ …each one of them (the articles counted) was worthy to be considered as important and to       be called by its private (individual) name, not only as part of a generic group (category). This is certainly justified (regarding) each one of the holy vessels …"  (Sforno on Exodus 38:21, translation from Sforno: Commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz)

Sforno speaks of the act of counting the vessels as a way of remembering and acknowledging their inherent worth and value. If such an approach is true of the articles of the Tabernacle, how much the more so is this concept is true for living beings? The counting of these mere vessels is an interesting contrast to the way that our ancestors were ‘counted’ at the beginning of Exodus.

... and an important reminder for us, as well. This tendency toward having trouble remembering, counting or taking note of the humanity in others is embedded deep within our psyche. We find its roots within responding to the needs and demands of surviving in the world. Living only in that perception of reality is akin to being slaves in Egypt. Expecting that our leaders and our institutions seek to honor the sparks of divinity in all human beings liberates us from that bondage. Seeking to cultivate that spark within one another enables us make the entire world a Tabernacle (just like what is described in Exodus) and to encounter the divine in each and every moment and place in our world.