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, June 18, 2014

Avraham Burg on the Kidnapped Israeli Young Men

I find my heart filled with anguish as I pray for the safe return of the three young Israeli men who were kidnapped this past week.  The anguish only grows as I observe the myriad of reaction from Jews, Palestinians and the rest of the world.  As I struggle to identify and express my own thoughts and feelings, I find perspective in the candor and integrity of the words of Avram Burg, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).   - R.Mo

The Palestinians: A kidnapped society
We are incapable of understanding the suffering of a society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us.
Ha’aretz/| Jun. 18, 2014 | 12:09 PM | By Avraham Burg

Our hearts are in pain over those three teenage boys whose identities we did not even know a moment ago, but who now belong to all of us. Each of them looks like my own son, the son of every one of my friends and their friends.

Like many people, I hope with all my heart that the moment will come when we see them alive among us, and that all this tension dissipates into blissful relief. I hope, with real trembling, but I cannot and do not want to ignore the silenced truth that surrounds their kidnapping.
Those three boys are truly unfortunate. They are unfortunate because of the trap of fear in which they have been captured, the uncertainty and the fact that their lives are in great danger. Our hearts are in pain, and go out to them and their families because of how, in a single moment, they had to step into the glare of publicity. And these teenagers are unfortunate because of the lie in which they have lived their lives — lives of supposed normalcy that were built upon the foundations of that greatest of Israeli injustices: the occupation.
Now let us turn from their wretchedness to our own. For us, a dramatic or traumatic event is always a very clear, refined and transparent moment. All the plans and failures, the fears and hopes, burst out.
Here are Israel's shallow prime minister and the bumbling police, the masses who cling to futile prayers and not to a moment of human peace. Here are the country's hypocritical chief rabbis, who just a month ago demanded promises from the pope regarding the future of the Jewish people, but in their daily lives remain silent about the fate of the people who are our neighbors, trampled beneath the pressure of occupation and racism under the leadership of rabbis who receive exorbitant salaries and benefits.
Suddenly everything erupts, is expressed in its very essence, emerging from the darkness into the sunlight. This is precisely the moment to examine intentions — because, as said, everything is out in the open.
First, Netanyahu’s hollowness. Not much needs to be said about it. After all, he is the one who guided all the Israeli-Palestinians talks into the tight corner of the prisoner release issue. He is also the one who, with his own words, violated Israel’s commitment to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners. He is also the one who maneuvered the Palestinian Authority into the corner of unifying with Hamas.
So what exactly is he complaining about, with his dramatic and schmaltzy comments and gestures? His immediate, conditioned, unconsidered response shows that he was just waiting for this moment, if only to say "I told you so." And now that he has, the real question surfaces: What exactly is he telling us? The painful answer: Nothing at all.
Israel's left wing, too, which is supposedly dignified, has become the gaping mouth of the carp stuffed with some sort of gray substance, lying on the Passover seder plate of the gluttonous right wing. The latter, too, are embroiled in a disgraceful fight over a piece of the pie of legitimacy that belongs to the sticky consensus.
How can it be that not one of them has gotten up and said: Everyone who is on the other side of this black line bears the responsibility. It is not pleasant, but it is the truth. And it is never pleasant, after all.
Before there is a kidnapping — why talk? Nobody is listening anyway because things are quiet. And the moment they kidnap, we must not talk (as the executive director of Peace Now said), since our kidnapped ones are gone. And once it all ends (in what could be, God forbid, a personal tragedy or a collective tragedy that nobody cares about), why should we talk? Everybody is busy once again with Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, the FIFA World Cup or the next scandal.
So this is also a pure moment of insulation. Not the insulation of homes which we are used to, but the insulation of hearts. Few people on the right and the left – except for Gideon Levy, Uri Misgav and a few other cautious and frightened commentators – are trying to grasp the deep roots of the kidnapping.
We absolve ourselves by saying, “They handed out sweets” after hearing about the kidnapping. Their happiness makes us glad, since the happier they are over our suffering, the more exempt we are from taking an interest in them and their suffering. But there is no way around it: This is a sort of happiness that demands deeper study and understanding.
All of Palestinian society is a kidnapped society. Like many of the Israelis who performed “significant service” in the army, many of the readers of this column, or their children, entered the home of a Palestinian family in the middle of the night by surprise, with violence, and simply took away the father, brother or uncle, with determination and insensitivity. That is kidnapping, and it happens every day. And what about their administrative detainees?
What is all this if not one big official, evil and unjust kidnapping that we all participate in and never pay the price for? That is the fate of tens of thousands of detainees and others under arrest, who stayed, or are staying, in Israel’s prisons – quite a few of them for no good reason, falsely imprisoned on false pretexts. The vast majority of them have been exposed to the appendages of military justice, and none of us cares a whit.
All these things have turned the topic of the prisoners into the main subject in the lives of the occupied society. There is not a single household without a detainee or prisoner. So why is it so difficult to understand their joy and our pain, fears and worry notwithstanding? It was, and can still be, otherwise.
However, as long as the Israeli government shuts all the gates of freedom, flees from all real negotiations that could solve the conflict, refuses to make good-will gestures, lies and blatantly violates its own commitments – violence is all that remains for them.
It has already been proven any number of times that kidnapping sets one free. It seems once again that Israel understands nothing but violence. What does that say about us? This response of ours — which ranges between "They deserve it" and "They are all terrorists," to "I am following orders" and "I did not know what was going on" — says more about us than it does about them.
Despite the enormous and inspiring success of Breaking the Silence (an NGO that collects testimony from soldiers who've served in the West Bank), our own total silence is still the loudest thing around us. We are willing to go out of our minds over one odd and troublesome Pollard, a lone kidnap victim or three kidnap victims, but we are incapable of understanding the suffering of a whole society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us.

This, too, needs to be said and heard during this moment of clarity — and as loudly as possible.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Take a Mountain Moment - Shavuot 5774

It may not be on your radar, but the Jewish holiday of Shavout is upon us. Historically, it is a big one ... one of the three pilgrimage festivals for which our ancestors congregated in Jerusalem at the Temple. Currently, as far as popular recognition or observance goes, it could be said that Shavuot does not reside on the Mt. Rushmore of Jewish Holidays.

Originally, an agriculturally based observance of first fruits, Shavuot also became the medium to celebrate a fairly significant event in the mythic life of the Jews - the Sinai moment. In our story that is told in Torah, the Sinai moment is where God speaks to the Israelite community directly (not through Moses as is commonly thought in the collective Jewish psyche -- or as Mel Brooks or Cecil B. Demille portrays).

For most liberal Jews this significant moment in our collective story is hard to embrace. Accepting the literal or figurative truth in the story can be challenging. For me, I certainly lean in that direction ... and yet, somewhere and somehow I do not want to completely reject the possibility of an encounter or experience that wow’s us, moves us and transforms us. When I consider the Sinai story and its implications, I understand it as our tradition’s code for expressing the possibility of encounters with the divine ... and its challenge to think about our readiness and openness to such encounters.

So, Jews around the world will focus on the Sinai moment this week. (Tuesday night or Wednesday are the actual days on which Shavuot falls this year). In the spirit of encountering the divine, perhaps you have a few moments (actually on Shavuot or sometime this week) for consideration, cogitation or contemplation of Sinai-esque moments. If you are so inclined, please use this Shavout exercise as a guide.

Mountainous Moments - A Shavuot Exercise

  • Carve out some time where you can sit, relax and reflect.
  • If you can make it a space where you can experience of bit of the majesty that is part of our Colorado mountains, better yet! 
  • Bring along something to write with (if that is something you prefer) or something to sip on (if that is something you prefer). 
  • Make yourself comfortable ... first physically, make sure you are good to sit for some time. 
  • Then mentally, take a few moments, focus on your breathing, empty your mind of what you have to do or what you did not do ... just clear out your mind of the clutter of the everyday. 
  • Let’s put aside trying to get our heads and hearts around the actual experience of the divine encounter. Let’s consider the preparation or readiness for such an encounter. 
  • Read this description from Torah about the organization of the Israelites in the wilderness (as they prepared for their spiritual journey) and the explanation of it from the Etz Hayim Torah Commentary: 
NUMBERS 2:1: The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.

ETZ HAYIM TORAH COMMENTARY: A person’s identity consists of three elements: the self (the standard); the family (the ancestral banners); and the community (the Tent of Meeting.) 

  • To sum up: Knowing one’s sense of self or place prepares one for encountering the divine. 
  • How ready are you for a divine encounter? How clear, defined or grounded is your own sense of self. Take some time to consider each of these aspects - as named by Torah - of your own place. As you do, write or draw (or some combination of these) as you process.
1) Your Standard: What does your ‘standard’ - that which represents you as an individual - look like? How do you regard yourself at this place in your life? What are your blessings? What are your limitations? 

2) Your Ancestral Banners: What does the banner or your family look like? What is the nature of your relationship with the people in your family? Which relationships are most challenging? Which relationships are most rewarding? What are the gifts of your family that you most cherish? What ‘gifts’ are more burdensome?

3) The Tent of Meeting: What does your communal tent look like? What the communities of which you find yourself? How do you participation in each of them? How do you contribute to each of them? How do your communities sustain you?

  • Imagine your standard, banner and tent before you. Name, visualize and imagine the potential Sinai moments on your current path.
  • Take a few more moments to be in the moment, reflect on what you thought about, wrote or drew. 

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad.

Listen all you Godwrestlers, 
that which you call ‘God’ is Oneness itself.