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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Kedoshim 5773 - Why We Run

I am thinking about the heinous crime that was committed on Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Each and every time a tortured soul chooses violence in this way we all feel more vulnerable. We feel more open - than we already are - to pain, loss and death. It is our gut reaction to minimize that vulnerability in the face of such wickedness. And yet, we cannot forget that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable is when it is possible that we experience incredible things ...

The marathon itself is an exercise in vulnerability. Each runner exposes herself or himself to her or his physical and emotional limits - in the hope of pushing oneself to higher levels of experience. To approach those limits is to spend some time ensconced in vulnerability. Each runner knowingly and trustingly accepts that a community of organizers, volunteers, civil servants, medical professionals and citizens will be present - witnessing that vulnerability and each (in their own way) helping every runner find the transformation she or he seeks by allowing for and facing that vulnerability. Without this community, the runner cannot realize that goal.

Speaking of goals, in Torah this week our spiritual ancestors are given quite a goal. In the portion of Leviticus called Kedoshim, the Israelites are charged and challenged: Be Holy - Kedoshim Tihyu. Commentators like to make note that this charge is given not to each individual (in the singular), but to the entire community (in the plural). The idea being that the state of Holiness is something that needs to be achieved - not merely among others, but with others. I like how Martin Buber might have understood this concept: “For Buber, holiness is found not in rising above the level of one’s neighbors, but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognizes the latent divinity in each of us.” (Etz Hayim Torah Commentary)

The experience of the marathon - for the community it takes to host a marathon - is emblematic of this concept of Holiness. The criminal or criminals who planted those bombs at the Boston Marathon sought to strike directly at this vulnerable and holy place of ours. Even as we reel at the images and stories from the scene, we cannot abandon that charge to ‘Be Holy’, we cannot stop seeking to realize and liberate the divinity in others, we cannot stop running marathons.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shemini 5773 - When Was Your Last Good Blush?

When was the last time you blushed? Physiologically speaking, when was the last time you were in a situation when uncomfortable circumstances caused an irregular flow of blood to your head and caused a reddish tone to appear in some form on your face (often the cheeks)? Emotionally speaking, when was the last time that you felt embarrassment or shame because of something you heard, said or did that was inappropriate, disrespectful or disgraceful??

We do not live in a society in which we blush a lot. We live lives in a more public eye - everything we do seems to get quickly and abundantly documented and shared via the wonders of the web. So, perhaps we are immune to frequent moments of shame. We live in an era that encourages (and even rewards) personal expression (the more outrageous, the better). So, perhaps a feeling like shame inhibits such pursuits and developments.

Are we evolving past the point as a species that we find shame a useful emotion or blushing as a productive physiological response to shame? Will shame and the blush go the way of the appendix - as anachronistic remnants of once useful ‘organs’? Or, do these built in ‘defenses’ of shame and the blush hold some deeper meaning or purpose for we human beings as we continue to understand our existential place.

In this week’s foray (Shemini) into the book of Leviticus, we continue wading through the accounting of the priestly and cultic laws and customs. Early on in the portion - in a seemingly innocuous line in the text - the Torah says that Moses told Aaron to approach the altar where the sacrifices were to be done. Aaron was the high priest, so it seems rather obvious that he would be the one approaching the altar. Not so obvious for the 11th century French commentator, Rashi. Rashi wanted to know why Aaron - who was the high priest - needed Moses to tell him to approach the altar at all. Rashi’s answer to his question: Aaron was ashamed. (He does not tell us why.) Not only does Rashi suggest that Aaron was ashamed (he may have been blushing, too), but Rashi teaches that Moses said something very helpful to Aaron (to help get him to the altar) and instructive to us as we consider the emotion of shame: “Why are you ashamed? For this you were chosen!” Moses (or Rashi) suggests that because Aaron was able to feel shame, that he ascended to this sacred role of high priest.

Our tradition suggests to us to consider the powerful place that shame may hold in our lives. Our spiritual development depends partly on our ability to emotionally and physically experience the impact of actions that are inappropriate, disrespectful or disgraceful. This kind of healthy shame empowers us to understand our limits and to establish healthy boundaries between the human beings with whom we share the world.