Monday, May 24, 2010

The Still Small Voice

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to have G-d talk to you? This morning, as I was sitting at the coffee shop with my friend, we were discussing how it takes a special kind of person to hear G-d's voice. Take Moses, for example. He heard G-d's voice all the time. They had conversations. One might even say that they wrote a book together. But, did Moses get freaked out that first time G-d spoke to him? I would have.

The last thing I need in my already crazy world is another voice in my head. As my friend said, if G-d started to talk to me, I would make a bee-line for the nearest doctor's office.

Back when G-d was having these conversations with Moses, there was a lot going on. The Jewish people were being recreated and there were laws to be written and discussed. Even with all of that going on, the world was still quieter then it is now. I can only imagine that it was easier to listen for and hear G-d's voice. Being on top of a mountain, away from the throngs of people probably helped, too.

But seriously, today's world is too busy. It is too noisy. I don't mean the sounds of traffic or people, just noise in general. In our own minds. We are too busy to stop and smell the roses. We are too busy to listen for the still small voice of G-d.

Or maybe we are intentionally tuning out G-d's voice. If G-d spoke to me today, would I want to hear what he had to say to me? I can't really answer that question. I like to think I would get a good review, but there are conversations that I have with myself that are bad enough. I am not sure I would want to have these conversations with my best friend, let alone with G-d.

But, isn't there something to be said for listening to, and hearing, G-d's voice? I don't mean in the same way that Moses heard G-d. I don't mean having actual conversations. I mean, isn't there something to be said for allowing the calm, the stillness, to wash over you and remind you that we are not really in charge.

G-d's voice is all around us, if we allow ourselves to hear it. A rose glistening with morning dew, the thundering power of Niagara Falls, the laughter of a child. All of these are full of the still, small voice of G-d. All we have to do is open our hearts, and our minds, to hear it.

I am not one to make vows or promises of what I will do the next week. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that no matter how many times I promise to "work out daily," it doesn't happen. And we all know the physical benefits of regular exercise. But, what about the mental benefits of reflection. What about the mental benefits of allowing the still, small voice to enter your mind and your heart?

So, even though I am not going to promise, I think it would be in my best interest to at least open my mind to the possibility of hearing that still, small voice. Not every day for a week; not three times a week, but just today. Just today, I am going to open my mind and my heart to listen for G-d's voice.

I don't know if I will hear it. I don't know if G-d has any need to talk to me, but just for today, I am going to look at my world, and listen. Listen with my heart and listen with my mind. Maybe I will hear a brighter tone to my children's laughter. Maybe the grass will be greener and sparkle more brilliantly in the sunlight. Maybe I will learn something about myself.

What is the worst that could happen?

Monday, May 17, 2010


I think I am a failure. No, don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those "poor me-pity me" posts. Well, I hope it isn't. I also hope it doesn't turn into one of those "be sure to tell me how much I am NOT a failure" posts. It is just a statement of fact.

I think I am a failure.

I start things and I don't finish them. Three weeks ago, I started a new article. I was so excited to write it. I felt it was going to be extremely poignant and thought provoking. But I will probably never know. I failed to finish it. I started a reading program with my oldest child. It was wonderful! We read great books and his vocabulary blossomed. Along came my daughter, and I failed to continue the reading program. I started a diet of healthy, nutritious eating. I was lured by a chocolate bar and failed to continue this dietary change.  I went through a lot of sweat and determination to change my kitchen over to a kosher kitchen. As of this writing, it has not been an epic failure.

I have been doing an "okay" job of keeping the kitchen in a kosher manner, but I have made my share of mistakes. I have also run into quite a few obstacles. There are still aspects of keeping kosher that confuse me. I get the general concepts and understand the laws, but here is the thing. I have had a hard time explaining to the family how pasta, when served with a meatless sauce, is considered a "meat" dish. There has also been some confusion related to the cleaning of the dishes. It seems that the concept of keeping the meat and dairy dishes completely separate is lost on some members of the family. I have had to "re-kosher" many a dish, after pulling both meat and dairy dishes from the dishwasher. It seems I have failed to "train" the family well enough.

Are these insurmountable obstacles? No. But there is one obstacle that I have failed to convince my husband can be overcome. That is the obstacle of cost. I did an informal study over the past month and discovered that I am spending twice as much as I was by purchasing purely kosher foods. While that may not be too big of a deal when you are a family of two, I am trying to feed a family of six and include school lunches in that budget. It is becoming difficult. The other factor that must be included is one of gas. Because there are no kosher stores in my tiny little town, I have to travel to a nearby city and it costs me in both time and gas. I have failed at keeping to my grocery budget.

What is worse is the feeling that I will be failing a dear friend if my kitchen reverts back to its non-kosher ways. I don't like the idea of failing myself, but I am really disgusted by the fact that I have failed a friend. Of course, it has not been a failure...yet. I still have not made any big decisions. There is too much guilt to just "quit."

Part of me feels like I have given this kosher kitchen thing the "old college try." And part of me is convinced that I will be seen as a failure if I stop giving it the "old college try." I guess I failed to take my feelings into account.

Obviously, the Torah states that we are to keep kosher. The rules are clearly stated, but the reasons behind those rules are missing. Many, many Jews today are spiritual, and don't keep kosher. Are they less Jewish than those who do keep kosher? At the same time, there are Jews who are observant of the laws, but never attend Temple. Are they less Jewish than those who do attend Temple?

I am Jewish, and I have always been Jewish. I was raised to believe in one G-d and to follow the Torah to the best of my ability. Am I less Jewish if I choose not to keep a kosher kitchen? My mom did not keep her kitchen kosher. Does this make her less Jewish? I have always believed that I am Jewish. I try hard to be a good Jew. But, if I make this change back, am I a failure as a Jew?

Failure may not be the best option, but sometimes, it may be the only viable option. It is becoming clearer and clearer. I think I am a failure.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Forgotten Holiday

We all have our "forgotten" holidays. In my house, it is Mother's Day. Even though I am the mother of four fantastic children, my husband tends to forget this holiday and ignore it (and me, to a certain extent) on this day. Maybe it makes me a small person, but it bothers me that I don't get even a word of recognition for the work that I do.  I guess I shouldn't look at it like that, but I do.

On the Jewish calendar, Shavuot is considered the "forgotten holiday." It falls out seven weeks after Pesach and is usually in the middle of all the secular coming-of-summer festivities. Who has time for this holiday? The thing is, without this holiday, we really would not be who we are. Without Shavuot, we would not be Jews becasue we would not have the Torah.

On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of the Torah. The Torah is the life-blood of Judaism. It gives us directions on what to do and what not to do. It tells us what we are allowed to do and what is forbidden. It even tells us which holidays to observe and how to celebrate them. But, we often forget to celebrate this holiday at all.

Oh, we are quick to celebrate the Torah in other ways. On Simchat Torah we celebrate and dance because we have finished reading the Torah and we are going to start it over, one more time. On Shabbat, we celebrate the Torah by reading it and studying it thoroughly. We feel connected to the Torah. It is a part of us. As my two-year old is quick to shout out during Saturday services, "My Rabbi has my Torah!"

Yes, the Torah belongs to all of us.

But, back to the Forgotten Holiday of Shavuot. One would think that celebrating the giving of our most important set of books would be priority one. One would think that we would go out of our way to make a fuss on the day designated to honor the very Book that made us Jews. But we don't. We brush it under the rug and often it is barely a blip on the holiday radar schedule. We always make time to make a fuss over Hanukkah, which, by the way, is not even mentioned in the Torah. But, Shavuot, which is discussed in Parsha Emor, is forgotten. It feels wrong.

The day I conceived my oldest child, I became a mother. The powers that be declared the first Sunday in May as a day put aside to honor all of those women who have become mothers. One would think that if you had the privilege to become a mother, those who participated in that feat would want to celebrate and honor you as a mother. Apparently, the powers that be agreed and, voila! Mother's Day was born.

To my mind, there is a distinct connection between Mother's Day and Shavuot. At least in my house. My husband did not wish me a good day. My children did not wish me a good day. It was a forgotten holiday.  I don't have a good reason to share as to why my family would ignore this day. I don't even want to venture a guess. It is easier to just go on believing that they really did forget the day, rather than to believe that they forgot me.

You know what, no matter what the reason, it was not a good feeling.

It did bring one thing to light for me, though. Shavuot will no longer be a forgotten holiday in my house. I'm not suggesting that G-d feels the same feeling of sadness that I felt being forgotten on Mother's Day, but there is no reason why I should test it. Shavuot is clearly named as a holiday to be observed. It is up to me as a Jewess, and as a mother, to see that it is observed.

I think it is safe to say that the Torah is the "Mother of all Books." This makes Shavuot its own Mother's Day, and it will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It is not that hard.

I am asked to do many things in my day, and I always try to do my best with each task. Some of them are easier than others. It really isn't a hardship to run to the store for a friend and if I am going there anyway, which I usually am, it is not even an extra blip on my day's radar. Similarly, it isn't really that hard to run forgotten lunch money to the school before lunch period starts. I should be up and dressed anyway.

But, some tasks require more thought, more planning, and, dare I say it, more chutzpah. When the Rabbi asked me if I would teach the Hebrew class, I was honored, but terrified. Children scare me. Even my own children scare me. I think I cover it well, and the many hours of play I have with my children helps to ease the fear. But classroom settings scare me. I think my biggest fear is having to speak to a room full of five-year olds. Lucky for me, the Hebrew students are not five. Actually, they are older, which can be scarier. Older kids have attitudes and can talk back. While I am sure you are finding my children phobias fascinating, that is not the point. The point is, the Rabbi asked me to teach, and even though it was a very daunting and difficult task, I embraced it. I have even found that I enjoy it.

There is one task for which I really need to muster the chutzpah. Several times now, the Rabbi has asked me to read the Haftorah on Shabbat. So far, I have managed to avoid it. It isn't that I don't want to do it, I would like to be able to do it, but I am terrified. I am terrified that I won't be able to learn the Hebrew well enough to get through the trope. I am terrified that I won't learn the trope in time. I am terrified that I will be in the middle of reciting the Haftorah and I will hear my children SCREAM from the other room. Then, there will be a flurry of activity as the baby comes running into the sanctuary crying her baby head off and I will lose my place and have to start the whole Haftorah over again. I have voiced these fears to my friend. She, as always, is extremely sympathetic and tells me that I don't need to worry about the kids, because she would take care of them. And as for the Hebrew, she says, "it is not that hard."

Yeah, right. Not that hard. If it were not that hard, there would be no anxiety associated with learning the Hebrew when young boys and girls begin to study for their Bar and Bat Mitzvot. If it were not that hard, I think my friend would be practicing for her Haftorah. Okay, that is unfair. I know that not everyone wants to recite the Haftorah, and that is just fine.

It isn't that I don't want to do the Haftorah. I do. But time is at a premium. When I was a girl, I had all kinds of time to study the Haftorah. Actually, I had all kinds of forced study time. I was a 12-year old girl and my only responsibilities were homework and Haftorah. Things are a little different now. (Did I mention that I have four kids?) I discussed this issue with the Rabbi. He understood. He was disappointed, but he understood. He politely waited two weeks before he handed me another tape, and told me this Haftorah was for the Shabbat of my mom's yartzeit. It is a mitzvah, he said, to do the Haftorah on the yartzeit. The rabbi is good with guilt.

And the Rabbi is good with competition. He likes to use competition as a motivator. He uses it for the kids by giving out prizes to correct answers of difficult questions. A few well-organized classroom games gets the competition juices flowing and the kids participate more. It works for some of the kids, some of the time. But, it doesn't work for me. Telling me that I should want to do a Haftorah because other members of the congregation have done Haftorahs is not incentive for me. I am not really concerned with what other members of the congregation have or have not done. I guess his point is that he wants me to know that if everyone else can do it, it is not that hard.

I can't say if I will or will not do the Haftorah. I can tell you that if I do decide to do it, it will be because I want to, not because I feel the need to compete with anoyone else or that I feel like I *should* do it to avoid feeling guilty. If I decide to recite a Haftorah, it will be on my terms.

It really is not that hard.