Monday, April 16, 2012

How many different faces does G-d have?

How many different faces does G-d have?

As we enter the period of Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer, we are even more mindful of time and its passage. We are coming out of the zone of Z’man Heiruteinu, the time of our freedom with the leaving of Egypt and the life of slavery it held for us as celebrated and observed during Pesah and now beginning to think about the waiting period for our celebration of Z’man Matan Torateinu, the giving of our precious Torah as celebrated and observed during Shavuot seven weeks later. During this time, one of the “new takes” I have decided to intentionally observe this year in my learning, teaching, prayers, etc. is the many different ways that we interact with G-d and vice versa. During the singing of Dayenu at our Seder table, I was thinking of the different tasks and actions that G-d brings into G-d’s relationship with us. Some are reflective of G-d’s caretaking and gentle manner with us as Rachmana, Av HaRachamim and as Adoshem among other names; other actions represent G-d’s need to keep us on course and be our judge and disciplinarian as G-d does as Elokeinu and Elokei Avoteinu; there are actions in which we are to model and parallel what G-d does on high (El Elyon) in our own world; and so on.

I always loved the notion that the Hebrew word for face is Panim, a plural form, because actually we all have so many different faces. We have a happy face, a sad expression, a frustrated look, and joyful countenance and so forth. We should remember that we were made in the image of ELOKEINU (as in BeTzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d we were made). Of course, the very word, ELOKIM is also in the plural, for much of the same reason. We may not always like the face we have on and we may not always feel so pleased with the aspect that G-d shows us at various intervals, but just as our ONE FACE has the capacity to show so many different emotions and feelings, our ONE AND ONLY ONE G-D shows us many different aspects and elements of our lives and G-d’s impact in our lives. We should remember that all of these different aspects and elements of G-d’s place in our lives parallels the many different expressions and faces we all have with our singular composition we name “face.” If we think of G-d in this way, then the notion that G-d is so many different manifestations to so many different people can help us in relating to G-d in our own lives and to respect that other people with their own personalities and needs are doing the same. G-d is not one static constant in this thinking but rather a multi-faceted and ever moving being, as we, the creations of G-d, are.

We are taught by Chazal (our revered Rabbis) that the miracle of Z’man Matan Torateinu (the time of the receiving of the Torah) was that with all of our various perspectives and approaches and voices, for that moment in time we were of “one voice and one heart” and that the unity of purpose at this amazing moment was truly unfathomable. May we always preserve and value our differences and the many ways in which we relate to and consider G-d while observing the vision of Zechariah, the prophet who gives us the verse we all say daily in the Aleinu, “On that day, may G-d be One and G-d’s Name be One.” One, that is, with G-d’s many different faces and manifestations; and One in our minds, as varied and differentiated as we are as well!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Who are the Four Children at your Pesah Seder Table?

Who are the Four Children at your Pesah Seder Table?

I am presently teaching a unit of study to high school students entitled Halacha and Homosexuality. It is an exploration of critical texts of our Tanach, Mishnah, Gemara, Mishneh Torah and other sources that require us to look at the texts and the laws of our Jewish system in the expansive way it appears that Chazal and even Ribbonu shel Olam would have us do while addressing an admittedly challenging issue in terms of acceptance of those into our community when we may not honestly (or otherwise) be sure what we are supposed to do. I am also dealing right now with the varied reactions that so many people in my classes and world are having regarding the invisible children and their plight, given the recent publicity surrounding this issue. Given the season, I am in the midst of planning two separate events that promote understanding between people of different faith communities. Additionally, I am presently working on creating a new school and in so doing have spent a lot of time learning about learning differences and various types of disabilities, all of which must be accommodated when considering who has the right to a proper and full education according to the State of Pennsylvania. Finally, we are also in a season in which there are many opportunities and reasons to share and care with our resources and do deeds of Tzedakah in our community and beyond – easing difficult situations for many people in poverty or suffering from other socioeconomic or health challenges.

So here are a variety of instances in which the “other” becomes us – we are connected to and/or invested in the well being of all by virtue of our deeds and our working towards inclusion of groups that we may or may not consider to be part of “us.”

One of my favorite parts of the Seder (hmmmmm, there are really so many) is the reading of the Four Sons, one so wise and knowledgeable about the things of which he is knowledgeable, one so disconnected (by virtue of which he is called wicked, with which I am not so sure I agree), one who needs things explained in more simplistic, basic terms, and the fourth who does not know enough to ask a question. There have been many suggestions that there is actually a fifth son or child, the one who does not even come to the table. What a telling group this is for ourselves as members of the Jewish community and of the world community!

Now, let’s think about these four or five ways of dealing with “the one who is different than the masses.” How many different applications could we possibly come up with, whether we are talking about the GLBTQ members of our community who may be considered to be excluded by others and sometimes by their own experiences? What about those with learning differences in our educational community, who may ask questions WE don’t understand or that seem too simple? What about members of our community with different skill sets and abilities, different backgrounds, and so forth, who may possess wisdom and insight that elude us? How do we insure that all members of our community are indeed sitting at tables and are included in the discussion? How do we bring those back who have felt excluded either by our actions or their own experiences?

As we begin to think about Pesah and the four sons and the many lessons they bring us, let us consider what they teach us and the many different applications we can employ to show that we have learned these important lessons and that we use the Seder experience to share and pass these lessons on to our children and the future generations that will ensue. Maybe we can even include this in our Seder discussion as we consider the phrase “Let ALL who are hungry (or needing us in any way) come in (to our communities and to our lives).”