Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Monday, March 30, 2009


U. was paying taxes and ND asked to play with the calculator. When the display said 0.11 she pointed to the ones and said, "That's Dad. That's Mommy." Then she pointed to the 0 and said, "That's me." (Actually, she said her name.) When U. pointed it out to me, ND changed her mind and said the little M in the corner of the display was her after all.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

It Starts Early

When ND was a baby I gave her an old broken computer keyboard.

Last night, just around when Shabbat was ending, she went over and pushed a few buttons.

"I check email," she said.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Holy Cow! I mean...



Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another Drash: Ki Tissa

After last week's post-Purim post I have been getting antsy to figure out how to improve my shul relationship before Pesach. I have been thinking and talking to people about this and I'm happy to say, Hashem has been giving me some fabulous signs.

But first, the drash...

I always forget that Ki Tissa contains within it one of my very favorite moments in all of Torah.

The story:

1. Moshe is about to bring down the luchot (the 10 commandments) when Hashem gets angry and says the people have messed up and have created the golden calf. Moshe calms down Hashem and asks for the people's forgiveness.

2. Moshe goes down and actually sees what the people are doing. He is so upset that he breaks the luchot and argues with Hashem about having to lead these people.

3. Moshe asks to see Hashem's glory. Hashem protects him with a cloud (like the mask I talked about in the last drash... covering a part of Hashem with another part of Hashem) then passes by.

4. Hashem recites to Moshe his own attributes of mercy.

5. Moshe then goes back down to the people with a new set of luchot, his face glowing.

I love this so much... they seem like a married couple. One is up when the other is down when trying to figure out how to parent these difficult children, and then there is this incredible moment of intimacy.

What I never really thought about before is that it ends with Hashem teaching Moshe that forgiveness and, I think, love are the tools they both need to lead.

Lately I've been totally fed up with my shul. It contains some lovely people who I like very much and who can create a certain sense of commuity for each other. But it's no secret that it's a highly materialistic community. Very boys' club-ish and with very little concern for either halakhah and spirituality. That's not to say that they do anything un-halakhic, but I don't really get anything out of going to shul.

I spoke to a good and wise friend about this recently and told her that when I go to shul I just think angry and judgemental thoughts. She said, "Then don't go to shul." That permission was great and I think I'm going to stay away from there for awhile.

But I want SOMETHING. Not every week, but I'd like somewhere to go to feel a little lift from someone else. The best of all worlds would include finding a friend with whom I could study Torah on Shabbat one on one.

Also, I have been reminiscing so much about Portland and how it is hard work to be Jewish there. So I decided maybe I needed some hard work.

So yesterday I walked to the Chabad in the neighboring town called Tenafly. I had been there for the morning megillah reading and felt braver about going into a place I had at least seen before. U. wasn't feeling great but didn't mind staying home with ND.

The walk took 35 minutes at a brisk pace. I'm a little sore today. The place is not a perfect fit for me. I didn't get a chance to talk to anyone. The davening took a LONG time and I wanted to get back home so I skipped out before Kiddush.

But it was lovely. The davening was sincere and inspiring. The rabbi spoke a number of times too. Most of what he said contained so much kavannah. It also was inherently sexist, anti-non-Jew and several other things that are not modern ways of thinking. But I could see the fire behind and within it. I didn't have to listen to every word, just take the sentiment.

I'd like to go back for important things now. I'd like to stay home on most Shabboses and go to Chabad when what I'm looking for is a communal spiritual experience, or rather, one brought on by an external community. I won't go there regularly because it IS too long for me to sit and I WILL get frustrated with the community if I get to know it too well.

But in the meantime, I have the opportunity to forgive my other community for what it isn't and to just consider them friends again.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Purim Drash

This year I read The Malbim Esther from start to finish over the Shabboses leading up to Purim. I was really struck by the desire for power. Particularly the beginning section was fascinating as I've never really understood or knew what to do with what we're supposed to learn funciton Ahashverosh's dysfunctional marriage to Vashti ending in her execution.

The Malbim explains verse by verse just how much of a power-seeker Ahashverosh was... moving the capital to Shushan so as to avoid using previous' kings' laws as precedence, having a party where he treated everyone as near equals except himself etc.

As part of his rise to kingship he had married Vashti to gain power over certain lands. But at his big party, he wanted to show that he'd only married her for her beauty, or rather, because he wanted to, and that her power was meaningless. No wonder she refused to come. It had nothing to do with either physical vanity or even being asked to come naked. She was ordered by lower officials to do what she said, and she wouldn't buy into it.

The king didn't even want to have her executed, but his advisors made him realize it was necessary if he was to keep order in the kingdom.

Ahasheverosh is all about wanting power and stuff. And he's so entranced by Esther who refuses both of those things. When she is first brought to the palace, she refuses to ask for her allotted gift. Accepting a gift would mean she was agreeing to come to him rather than being forced.

Is his attraction to her because she has something she'll never give him? (In Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling is often described as having a kiss in the corner of her mouth that no one could ever get except Peter Pan. Is it like that? The one thing being denied him intrigues him?)

Either way, if you watch the workings of the palace, everyone is concerned about power from Ahashverosh on the top to little Charbonah on the bottom who observes Haman's plan to build a gallows and waits for just the right moment to tell the king in order to get his promotion.

Mordechai becomes powerful by the end of the story, when Esther puts him in charge of Haman's household, but neither he nor Esther ever seek power or honor for themselves.

It is with all of this in mind that I am entranced by the image of Esther when she enters the king's room, at a risk to her life, to invite the king and Haman to a series of banquets at which she will eventually beg for the Jews to be saved from Haman's plot.

Before I go into detail, a side note here... when Esther communicates with Mordechai about what to do, she says, "If I perish, I perish." I think in a certain way she really did die when she entered the king's chamber. That is the point at which she had to let go of her own personal needs for good. By approaching the king, she gives up a chance to withhold herself from him. And the reason she does it, which we'll see in a moment, is selfless. Her legacy has lived on for hundreds of years, but her own life is over at that point. There is nothing left for her personally.

In any case, the beginning of chapter 5 opens with "Esther was robed with majesty."

Those words evoke dignity, true honor, selflessness and divinity. This is a woman with a true purpose. I'm inspired and want to learn how to hold myself in that way, advocating for what I believe to be right without my ego holding me back.

To take it to another level... the megillah is a book that never mentions G-d's name. Instead G-d is referred to more subtly with each use of the word "Melekh" or "King." In fact, the megillah we read from last night -- (I organized the women's reading this year with with a couple of others who in the end said I did the most, by the way, and it went quite well) -- is a special kind that has the words spaced just right so that "Melekh" appears at the beginning of every column. It's stunningly beautiful just to look at. I know that the references to "Melekh" are meant to allude to Hashem, but I've never been able to figure out how, since Ahashverosh does not have qualities we normally attribute to Hashem.

Instead, it occurs to me that the image of Esther asking for help here, is an instruction towards prayer. She has thought carefully about what to say. She believes it to be right. She has dignity and self-respect while at the same time leaves her ego behind. Forget for a moment that she is walking towards the mortal and power-hungry king. She is also praying and the task before her is as large as if she were walking up to Hashem directly.

The whole world is a mask. There are times when I feel so isolated and alone, wanting to be closer to Hashem but so far away. I felt it this morning in shul when I went to hear the megillah reading. I tried out a new shul and I kept feeling that 1. I had few true friends here in Englewood. 2. On the women's side I wasn't dressed nicely enough to be "one of them" and didn't want to be. I missed my grubbier earthier friends and acquaintances out west. 3. The shul was beautiful and the leadership was nice (the rabbi made me feel secure that he was guarding the halakhah carefully), but I had to trade it for a women's section that was more separate from the men's than my regular shul. I sometimes think that my neshama has always really been on the men's side of the mechitzah, but my body forces me away, and I much prefer life otherwise as a woman because it feels so foundational and true for me. 4. I'm never really happy in a group of people anyway so who am I kidding? I don't think I'll ever have a community where I'm happy. I'm too judgmental and awkward. I don't even like physically staying still in one place as long as I have to in shul, so maybe that's not a place I can expect to feel inspiration. I belong more with children, with one other soul at a time, or alone in nature.

The shul is one path to Hashem. But the work in this world holds so many others. And anything can be a mask to uncover Hashem's oneness. I feel it most when I'm at work. I don't know if it's because I get a high from being busy or if teaching is sacred. I suppose it can be both. In the business world, work is sacred when things are done ethically and halakhically.

I like to think of Esther now as having the power to unmask. Not only does she unmask Haman's plot, but she knows how to gently unmask Hashem and bring Hashem's power into this world. This is a way we can all approach the world.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

What Do You Want To Bee For Purim?

I had a lovely princess dress for her, but yesterday she refused to put it on. So I sent out an email call to a local shul yahoo group asking for help. By today I had 2 teachers and one parent at my shul bring me costumes we could try and many others tease me for my posting. I also got a note from someone with the costume below which ND agreed to rather than be a fairy princess, ballerina, cowgirl or Winnie The Pooh.

Anyone know how to rotate this image? In the meantime, I guess you just have to rotate your monitor or your head!

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Sunday, March 08, 2009


Thanks to Hashem as well as to a great deal of obsessive intention, humility and work on my part, my life is at a really great balance right now.

I don't need to go into the details. I've written before about how I'm feeling with family and work and even the opportunities to write and play music.

Every now and then I face people who feel resentment towards me because they are not in a comfortable place with their own balance either because the work is too heavy or because they personal mechanisms for dealing with it are not working for them.

I feel sorry at those times for those people and find myself wanting to help. (With two people in particular I see that trying to help will lead to my being burned and their continuing to be unhappy and unaware of my efforts to help.)

I think sometimes I feel guilty or embarrassed because I think that doing so will help them.

But it doesn't. It's only up to them to find ways to fix this... by changing the patterns in their lives, their hearts or through prayer and being open to help from Hashem.

I say all this with the recognition that Hashem could take this balance away from me, but hopeful that Hashem would also provide the tools to help me make sense of it.

And if I'm to be completely honest, I feel resentment when others resent me. This is their issue, not mine. My work is to separate myself from it just as much as they need to.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Scary Bunnies

I was on my way to the basement to use the exercise bike when I heard ND crying this morning.

I went up to get her back to sleep and she cried, "I don't like bunnies!"

I'm simultaneously amused and touched by what must have been a nightmare.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Another Snow Day!

They announced it last night, even before the snow had started to fall. By morning they were justified.

It couldn't have been better timing. I was feeling like I was coming down with something, and my friend, Joel, from Oberlin and then later from Vancouver was staying the night on his way to a conference in Connecticut. The plan was that I'd get to talk to him for a few hours that evening, but that would be all the visiting time. Instead, we had all morning.

I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming summer and figuring out how to deal with the unstructured (and unpaid) time and how to be okay with it instead of becoming depressed or anxious. It's not hard on a snow day to just melt into the moment. Harder when the sun is out.

I'll just have to make a lot of plans!

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