Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Love Your Neighbor

This week's Torah portion contains the oft-recited verse, "V'ahavta l'reacha camocha" ("Love your neighbor as yourself"). Not bad as far as Leviticus goes! During tefillah with our kindergarteners I asked them who their neighbor was? As usual hands went straight up and I started calling on children:

"The person who lives next door to me."
"The person on my street."
"Mr. Raymond my neighbor."

But it wasn't long before they arrived at a deeper understanding of the concept of "neighbor":

"The person sitting next to me."
"Someone who is close to your heart."

And then most profound:

"God, because God is all around us."

I was reminded of our recent 7th grade trip to Washington DC. Sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall spread out before us, we read the words spoken by Rabbi Joachim Prinz who spoke these words in his speech at the March on Washington in 1963:

"In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody's neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man's dignity and integrity."

I'm no longer surprised (and haven't been for some time now) that I probably (dare I say definitely) learn more from the children I teach than they learn from me. To what can the matter be compared? To the following parable told by the Maggid of Dubno, an 18th century rabbi and teacher (retold by Rabbi David Wolpe in his book Floating Takes Faith):

"Once a father traveled for miles with his son to reach a castle. Whenever they encountered a river or mountain, the father lifted his son on his shoulders and carried him. Finally they came to the castle, but its gate was shut, and there were only narrow windows along the sides. The father said, “my son, up until now I have carried you. Now the only way we can reach our destination is if you will climb through the windows and open the gate for me from within."

It occurs to me that if "neighbor" is indeed a moral concept, so too are "father" and "son."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Passover Blessing

As we approach the Passover holiday, it’s a wonderful time to be aware that one of Judaism’s most nourishing aspects is that it promotes mindfulness. From the moment we greet the day to the moment we drift into dreaming, Judaism invites us to take notice. While we might think that we recite blessings for God’s benefit, the real power of saying berachot (blessings) is the impact it makes on us: the speakers. Blessings are little mindfulness meditations that bring the richness of the universe into sharp relief. When one of our storied sages taught us to say one hundred blessings a day, I think he was actually limiting the number rather than being overly demanding; once we start counting our blessings it can be hard to stop.

Being mindful has the effect of slowing down time, of enhancing our enjoyment and appreciation of life. While many of us joke about wanting the Pesach Seder to “be over already” the truth is that we know these precious moments in time are what remain vivid for us years after the fact. Blessing, whether through the prescribed formulas or the words and meditations of our hearts, is Judaism’s way of attuning us to life’s holiness. They help us grasp the vastness of a moment, a person, a prayer.

This Pesach season may each of us in The Davis Academy community be blessed in our coming and our going. May we be blessed in our matzo ball soup and maror, in our telling and retelling, in our kvelling and even in our yelling. May we be mindful of our children and our parents, our brothers and sisters, our guests and our hosts, and may our doors be thrown open for Elijah and whoever may come. As we prepare for the many moments that await us, may our blessed mindfulness find favor in God’s sight.