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Spiritual Vaccines

 


 

Spiritual Vaccine #15 Breathing is Easy without a Knee on One's Neck

Breathing means so much more to me now.

To sit and focus my mind,

To master my emotions and fleeting thoughts,

To grapple with distractions, inattention, the grocery list…

seem today privileged positions.

To breathe freely without the stricture of fear and hate.

Anxiety and overwhelm are true and real and somedays they won’t back down

without a pitched battle of will. 

Yet today I look at the virtual weight on my chest and discover I do not have to rely on someone else tamping down his preconceived notions of me for me to open my lungs and mouth and inspire. 

No, that work is entirely up to me, which doesn’t always make it easy, but it does ensure the work is entirely my own. 

What a gift.  What a privilege.  What a joy to know that even as I stress, it is up to me to break free.

 


 

Spiritual Vaccine #14 - Ballads

One of my favorite songs from summer camp when I was really young was this:

 

“One dark night

When we were all in bed

Mrs. O'Leary left the lantern in the shed

And when the cow tipped it over

She winked her eye and said

It’s gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight

Fire!

Water!

Save my baby!

Jump lady jump!”

 

Oh we sang this song with such glee.  And there was even a contest.  They would divide the campers into 4 groups, each one assigned one of the last exclamations at the end of the stanza and the group that could sing theirs the loudest won! 

Group 1: “Fire, fire, fire!” 

Group 2: “Water, water, water!”

Group 3: “Save my baby!  Save my baby!”

Group 4: “Jump lady jump!”

 

Little did we know, or was it taught, that this little ditty was a parody song of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which 300 people were killed, 3.3 sq. miles of Chicago was destroyed, and 100,000 people were left homeless.  It was written by a journalist who was looking for a “charming” way to share the story of this horror.  Apparently, in a moment of utter tragic-comedy, the city of Chicago pardoned the fictional would-be arsonists, Mrs. O'Leary and her cow, for their crime.

And did you know that Chad Gadya is a song built upon a series of comparisons that follow the Jewish people through its history of being attacked by a litany of nations? Every Passover, we sing about the one little goat (the Jewish people), that is attacked by a cat (Assyria); the cat is then attacked by the dog (Babylonia), that ultimately attacks the kid as well; then the stick (Persia) and the cat; the fire (Macedonia), etc. down to the cat; then comes the water (Roman Empire), the ox (Saracens), the slaughterer (the Crusaders) and finally the angel of death (the Turks) and so forth… until the ultimate Divine Retribution, wrought by the Holy One Blessed be God, making, apparently all of our suffering as a people, worth it. 

Without too much commentary, on either of the above, songs clearly play a role in helping us process tragedy.  And what’s so fascinating about them is the way they hang on, long after the effects of violence or rage or anger or hatred have seemingly subsided. 

And today, 8 weeks+ into the Coronavirus, what songs will we sing?  What songs will remain long after this disease is as forgettable as the common cold or flu?  What lessons will we have learned?  What stanzas, choruses and verses will we have brought to life by the ways in which we sing today?  The beauty of these songs is that they are full-throated efforts in not hiding from the truth.  It’s true that the Great Chicago Fire should live in infamy so that we remember the tragedy of loss.  And it’s true that Chad Gadya should be sung at every Passover Seder, much like the way we remember/forget Amalek by blotting out his name and refusing nonetheless to NOT shout it from the rooftops.  “This did happen!  This is indeed happening!  Millions of cases of the Coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of deaths, we cannot turn the tide without fundamentally illuminating ourselves, and thus the world.”  What are we willing to do?  How much and how often? Answer these questions in the positive and we’ll have a ballad for the ages! 

In the face of the German Blitzkrieg, Winston Churchill declare that we are “protagonists on a vaster scene and champions of a high and invincible cause.”[1]  We must strive for better.  We must keep ourselves and our families safe AND remember that part of the reason the Coronavirus is such a cunning enemy, is because we are so terribly exposed.   On Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat preceding Purim, we read an extra bit of Torah that reminds us of our enemy, Amalek, the first tribe to attack the Israelites following our Exodus from Egypt.  Amalek attacked the necheshalim acharaycha, the weak ones that had fallen behind.  Of course, Amalek should, and has throughout history, gotten his due, however, he poses an existential question to the “us” of every generation since.  “Why did you allow the necheshalim (the weak ones) to fall behind in the first place?  Those who are acharaycha/nu (behind them/us) are, as the wonderful linguistics of Hebrew teach, our responsibility  (Achrayut = Responsibility).  Why have we indeed? 

This is the song we must begin to sing!  We are not alone.  We are not islands in the sea.  We are connected deeply to all and everyone.  If a virus can travel undetected and find its way to any human being anywhere in the world, could there ever again be a doubt, that we are all created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image)?  Not the exalted version of this calling, but the very base and banal one – none of us is in essence, innately better or worse. We are all the same.  Let us sing a new song, one that reminds us each and every day that we are, all of us, protagonists of a vaster scene and champions of a high and noble cause.  Let us keep singing these kinds of songs, until our children’s children have the privilege of forgetting what they were about.

 

[1] Quotes Kennedy and Martin are from Eric Larson, The Splendid and the Vile


 

Spiritual Vaccine #13 Look for the Bubbles

By Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

“Look for the Bubbles”

From my 4th floor perch

The tree tops form a glistened horizon

Behind them, sunlight’s orange rays stand in for vacant foliage

Orange against green with a slight blue tinge rising above

Birds chirp, water pipes gurgle and flow

My son’s medals clink against the wall as I operate in this space not built for this

Dens become offices, bedrooms…executive meeting suites

Kitchens…command centrals,

Garages and driveways, outdoor sanctuaries

 

The pandemic, if even just the most rudimentary intrusion, has invaded our radar

So very many of us have curbed our lives

Upon the discovery that the outside world can be very scary indeed

Leadership bumbling, except for those nearest to me

I find the news either depressing or evasive

And the recognition that we have a long journey ahead stifles my imagination

 

I want so much to call upon the Prophets

Who awaken us to our better selves

To be just, express mercy and walk quietly with faith…

But what starts as a walk-about becomes a maze

And finding our way… the greatest challenge of all

Faith that I have the capacity to create a better tomorrow guides me for now.

 

What are our north stars today?  Right now?

New ones indeed are in need

We keep fighting against the tide

Soon we will have to float or get pummeled

When you find yourself underwater

Breathe out and follow the bubbles upward.

Sleep my dear one, the tree tops will glisten once again

Spiritual Vaccine #12 - "Treatments for the Soul"

No matter the situation,

new is exciting

Not necessarily good and not necessarily nice,

Often not either

But exciting because “the new” gets our blood pumping

We are forced out of the rut

The “no cause” for alarm life that may characterize your day

If only how it feels

No surprise, no swerve, no all of a sudden almost impact

With another car that awakens a weary driver from something akin to sleep-walking

(or should I say “sleep-driving”?)

The new, the novel, always present doors # 2, 3 & 4

When just a moment earlier, we were convinced that door #1 was our only choice

But after a while, doors 2, 3 and more cease to deliver us to a brand-new view

Maybe it’s the glare of the bright sun that beams but overwhelms

Maybe it’s the fear into which we retreat because Mitzrayim (Egypt) is still home

And so we forget that childlike surprise and wonderment meant for awakening our drive

To see the gift of time as one that disappears with no regret

It doesn’t care if you don’t use it, infinity is where it's set

But infinity isn’t ours, at least not for this model of human being

So time is of the essence, let’s get up and get going

Surely there are people whose ears would ring with joy

If you reached out to them today just to say hello

There are tasks and chores and hobbies galore

That give form to the essential shapelessness of our time

“Oh the places you’ll go,” Dr. Seuss wrote

Of course coronavirus wasn’t part of his trope

But reinvent the world, your world, you can and you must

I know it is difficult to hold the future in trust

But this is where faith matters most of all

Investing in yourself for tomorrow is how you heed the call

God is in the details of all that you can do

Especially those things that can matter

Im tirtzu ein zo agada

If you will it, it is no dream.

 


 

Spiritual Vaccine #11 - Mi Shebeirach

We’re walking upon a new road

One that we’ve really never walked before

And with each passing day, it seems

The truth of our situation is one we cannot ignore

 

Every single thing I watch and remember with great cheers

Is so much tied up in connecting with my family and my peers

Sharing, embracing, standing appropriately close

Seems a distant past, even clinking glass for a toast

 

Why this moment worse than all the rest?

Considering history’s dealing out all matters of unwanted pest?

Perhaps it is our ignorance that Katrina and Harvey didn’t break

Natural disasters, crises reveal, they assuredly do not create.

 

So prayer, it occurs to me, may very well be a needed next step

With so little most of can do to bring healing to the depths.

Of our society, it pleads for a health and a saving grace

Could this be a clarion call for love for our human race?

 

I don’t know but what I do know is this

10 minutes of prayer at noon is no near miss

I have watched many of you on line in recent days

Tune in, eyes shut, faces soft, the quiet you have found, it pays

 

Reconnecting with one’s wholeness, one’s joy and shunning contempt

Are the crucial prescriptions from which no human is exempt

If we are to make our lives and each other’s count

By mattering and growing and connecting with spiritual fount

 

So please join me starting tomorrow for ten minutes at noon

Together we will breathe, pray and meditate connected via Zoom

I will welcome special guests as often as I can

To add to this ten minutes of rooting ourselves, enact this daily plan

 

What else do you have going on from which ten minutes won’t be a bother?

The commute and carpool time alone, is a boon to so many mothers and fathers

All of us have found time we were sure that we had lost

Let us give ten minutes to prayer, I promise the profit will well outway the cost.

 


 

Spiritual Vaccine #10 - "Dayeinu for our Time"

Michael Strassfeld, the author of the First, Second and Third Jewish Catalogs is the author of this "Dayeinu for our Time." Years ago, I had the privilege of studying with Michael at a rabbis retreat. He is a gifted scholar and spiritual teacher. May you find enhanced meaning in this wonderfully moving and heart-breaking Dayeinu. Our sages taught, "There is nothing more whole than a broken heart." 


 

Spiritual Vaccine #9 - Essential


 

Spiritual Vaccine # 8 - Well You Gotta  Have Faith

by Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

March 30, 2020

 

Faith is the act of the faithful it seems

To many, however, it’s the stuff of pipe dreams

An imaginary force who will hear your plea

As you humble yourself, bending or bowing on knees

 

Faith is the blind expectation that a plan is in place

Requiring “simply” that we show a good face

And trust that our destiny was plotted long ago

All we have to do then is be here for the show

 

But the truth is never as simple as we’d like

Life is language lived out, our obligation, to type

And yes type-o’s abound, pages thrown into the trash

When another day gets jilted, our teeth we must gnash

 

For there are some for whom faith is a boon

To make it possible to start each new day just as soon

As we can muster the energy with trust and with love

That infinity rests far deeply here than up above

 

Jacob declared, Achen!, God was in this place and I knew it not

He awoke to discover that his presence was sought

Out by the Divine whose presence was laid bear

In one moment, eyes opened, face soft, still scared

 

Of what might be down this new patch of road

It's rough, and it's potholed, already from carrying this new load

Can we muster up our courage and act?

Discovering the many tools, we would swear we have lacked

 

But alas, Achen!, what we find in our tool shed

So many more lessons we’ve lived, overcoming our dread

You know that you have deeper wisdom within

Call upon it for the sake of all of us, if not now when?

 

Anger or rage or righteously indignant

We’re no help to anyone in our independence

Inter-dependence, now that is the way

Each of us can find a new way to say

 

Help me, my friend, and I believe I can help you in return

I need this, your time, your love, for these things I yearn

Have faith my child, for you can find love and live love in new ways

Dig deeper to discover how to LIVE through this phase

 

With wholeness and love and care, have good faith

That you and I have been invited into this space

It's better than the alternative, we all often quip

But it's so very true, how easy these words slip

 

Practice faith my dear ones, that we can always respond

With grace and with kindness and with patience in one

Breath at a time, taking steps with good care

To live life with hope and with faith in the midst of this scare.


 

Spiritual Vaccine #7 -  a Guided Meditation by Dr. Ann Friedman


 

Spiritual Vaccine #6 - Little Kids

Please do not read this aloud or listen to the recording if your young kids are in earshot.  Love, Rabbi Scott

The world is a scary place.  I can only imagine what it might feel like to tell your child that the park and other kids and the playground aren’t safe.  Not because of what mean kids or adults might do, or the broken bone you could get from falling or hitting your head, but because of the invisible monsters that can attack when you least expect. But oh by the way, don’t worry, its almost for sure that you won’t get sick.  But you could make your mom and dad or grandma and grandpa sick.  A child’s mind is the habitat of the invisible and their imaginations are the grandest pallets ever invented.  So be careful what you say and what you listen to or watch when they’re around.  They’re only ever just a few frames shy of completing a comic strip in which they can become anything they imagine.

“Little Kids”

By Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

We used to have little kids

Who fussed and mussed and made a mess

Who cried and whined and didn’t know how to dress

They laughed and they giggled, sang and played pretend.

And I remember when I’d return from work and they’d make a bee line for the door.

“Daddy’s home!” 

I would enter and they’d want to play but my wife wanted me to help

And so I’d beg all their leave for a moment to don my “OK clothes.”

“Ok, I would say, I’m here to play”

And help is what I did!

But also played, played a ton

With our two little boys

Who for a few short years, would believe I created the sun.

It was so exciting (and challenging and frustrating and rewarding) but often exciting

Because they were “first-timers”

First time to walk and to run

First time to hit a ball and swim in the sun

First time to burn themselves on a stove

First time to fall on rocks in a cove

First time to hold hands and first time to wash them

And the many first times it took for them to admit that they hadn’t

Rookies, they were, at life so grand

I can remember the moments when they each took their first stand

On an issue they believed in, so hard and so fast

Insisting, just like they’d seen their old man try to last

But of course, they also saw him fall and offer “I’m sorry”

I didn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I hadn’t listened to the whole story

Our little kids grew into versions of the men

They’re still growing to be, I ask sometimes, “Exactly when?”

But so proud of them we are

The little kids who they were emerge at certain times

When they’re scared or ashamed or fearful of what may come

It's easy to forget that the concerns of adults

Are the least of their worries, they yet have quite a few more layers to molt

That I forget that the lives of these little kids so dear

Keep happening to young children, year to year

And right now, there are folks who are raising those little ones

In a world scarier than any of the ones I imagined

So don’t forget that your little ones are the most vulnerable of us all

They don’t have calendars, or plans, or retirements, what a ball!

But they do have powerful little imaginations, it's how their brains work

Protect them from exposure to the far too many ways we adults act like jerks

We should act as if we are guests in a children’s world, at least at times

A rule of thumb I too often forget but remember as the wind chimes.


 

 Spiritual Vaccine #5 - Gate A-4

"Gate A-4" By Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.” I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.

“Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?”  The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.” We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie. Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands— had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Spiritual Vaccine #4  Timing is Only One Thing

Spiritual Vaccine #3 - What Can I Do?

I feel alone God

Please infuse my spirit with the strength to seek out another who is as well.

I feel confused God

Please inspire my humility to accept that it isn’t only me.

I feel deflated God

Please help me find my breath again such that I can breathe hope into someone else.

I feel blessed God

Please strengthen my efforts and belief that when I share my blessings, they only grow in response.

I am alone

At times loneliness is what I feel

Wondering who is thinking of me

On whose mind do I dwell?

But then I ask myself, who dwells upon mine?

And what can I do for them?

 

The willingness to try to walk in the shoes of another

And to ask ourselves, “How might this feel?”

Is the real gift of being created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image

The poetry of Torah reminds us that each of us is made from the same mold

Anyone who has ever felt happiness can imagine that of someone else

Anyone who has ever felt pain can imagine this too

Will we get it exactly?  What it means to feel as someone else does?

No of course not, but this should not belie that we CAN always imagine what someone else is enduring

To say otherwise is to cut ourselves off from being human

From being fragile and imperfect

Like the Leonard Cohen song reminds – the cracks are the ways the light gets in.

Spiritual Vaccine #2 ...a "Two-Step" for Dancing Your Way Into the Day

Step 1:

Read and reflect on these beautiful and poetic and prayerful words.

 

A Prayer of Hope During this Pandemic

by Rabbi Naomi Levy

 

We are frightened, God,

Worried for our loved ones,

Worried for our world.

Helpless and confused,

We turn to You

Seeking comfort, faith and hope.

 

Teach us God, to turn our panic into patience,

And our fear into acts of kindness and support.

Our strong must watch out for our weak,

Our young must take care of our old.

Help each one of us to do our part to halt the spread of this virus

 

Send strength and courage to the doctors and nurses

In the front lines of this battle,

Fortify them with the full force of their healing powers.

Send wisdom and insight to the scientists

Working day and night across the world to discover healing treatments.

Bless their efforts, God.

Fill our leaders with the wisdom and the courage

To choose wisely and act quickly.

Help us, God, to see that we are one world,

One people

Who will rise above this pandemic together.

 

Send us health God,

Watch over us,

Grace us with Your love,

Bless us with Your healing light.

Hear us God,

Heal us God,

Amen.

Step 2:

Click here to listen to our wonderful cantorial soloist, Hannah Madeleine Goodman, who has very lovingly recorded for all of us the Mi Shebeirach prayer. When the news, the worries and concerns overwhelm you, find a quiet spot, breathe into this moment, flood yourself with images of beauty and joy, and then let this recording wash over you.

Spiritual Vaccine #1  ... Prayer Isn't Magic 

Prayer isn’t magic

No, it’s something far more impressive

It’s the medicine we can take without a script

But rooted in script for generations gone by

Prayer is the balm

that doesn’t smooth over our roughness

No, it just embraces it,

making life a bit more gently rode.

Prayer is most definitely not perfect

But certainly not either is life

It recirculates and generates energy back to itself

Back to its source, of which We are its center

Its times like these when prayer

Can offer a hint of the divine

A moment that might actually make us blush

As the good Dr. H alludes

Prayer is, each day of the week,

A letter unto the Creator

Making us ever mindful that we are

So much a little part of the

biggest number of them all

Infinitely, our lives dwell in a mystery

despite our insistence to the contrary.

 

Tue, October 20 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781