Where’s the Miracle?

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If you look very closely at the heart of this photo, you may be able to spot a miracle: among the milkweed leaves and blossoms there is a Monarch caterpillar!

My garden is crawling with these little fellows at the moment, all happily munching their way through the milkweed. The casual observer won’t see a single one of them. All that most people see are the colorful flowers and the large, weedy-looking bushes.

This caterpillar is a tiny miracle. In a week or so, she’ll find a handy spot to set up housekeeping and make the cocoon, which will look like a bright little piece of jade studded with gold. No one is likely to notice her for another two weeks, when she emerges from the chrysalis stage as a fully-formed Monarch butterfly. Then she’ll look like the miracle she is.

We pass by “caterpillars” all the time in our lives, miracles we are just too busy or preoccupied to see, miracles that are not yet very fancy. My wish for all of us this Shabbat is that we will each have a chance to see at least one such miracle in our own lives, one tiny thing that has escaped our notice.

May this be a Shabbat of peace and blessing, a Shabbat of seeing clearly!

P.S. – if you still can’t find the caterpillar, visualize an X drawn from the four corners of the photo. Look at or just above the place where the two lines cross.

Seasons of Shabbat

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Shabbat experiences are part of our lives, and they change over the course of a lifetime. The Shabbat we remember (or don’t) from our childhoods is not the Shabbat we will have as new parents. Single adults will have a different Shabbat, as will empty nesters.

There is no “perfect” Shabbat. Stop looking for it. Instead, experience the Shabbat that comes. Sometimes it will seem peaceful and holy, and sometimes the sink will stop up or the baby will wail half the night. Sometimes we are surrounded by people, sometimes we are alone.

Shabbat simply is. She comes with the sunset and will leave 24 hours later. In between it is up to us to make of her what we can, what we will.

Shabbat shalom.

Sabbath Rain

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May God come down like rain upon the mown grass, Like showers that water the earth. – Psalm 72:6

The photo above may seem dreary, but it’s beautiful to me. Rain is falling in sheets here in the East Bay, where we desperately need it. I hear that we can look forward to a couple of days of it, which would be wonderful.

I wish you all a Shabbat shalom, a Sabbath of peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi and Dog“People plan, God laughs” – there’s an old Yiddish saying to that effect. It can happen to your Shabbos, too.

This afternoon I was on the back patio doing a bit of work from home when I suddenly realized there were only two little dogs playing around my feet. Where was Gabi?

I spent the next two hours frantically trying to find her. I am happy to report that a neighbor found her  – the chip company number was on her collar, so he called them, and they called me.  WHEW.

And now Shabbat dinner is not cooked. So I’m getting takeout.

There will still be Shabbat here at Beit Adar. There will still be candles, and wine, and rejoicing, even more so because a certain little wanderer has been found. And after Shabbat, I am going to find that hole in the fence and FIX IT!

 

For My Cousins, the Jews of France

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s never easy to be a Jew. It’s particularly hard to be a Jew on a week like this, when I read about the terror of the Jews of France and the terrible murders in Paris. Even though I am safe in California, the Jews of France are my cousins. I feel this even more sharply right now because I am aware that some of my readers are French Jews. To them I say: Mon cœur et mes prières sont avec vous! My heart and my prayers are with you.

When I feel helpless, I resort to something I’ve written about before: living on the Mitzvah Plan. There is little that I can do directly for my cousins in France, but I will not “tune out” because the news is unpleasant. The Mitzvah Plan will keep me aware and centered.

The basic idea is this: with 613 mitzvot to choose from, there are always mitzvot waiting to be done, from washing first thing in the morning to saying the bedtime Shema at night. Using the Mitzvah Plan, whenever I begin to be bothered with the thought patterns of fear or depression, I look for the first available mitzvah and do it. Then I look for the next one, and I do that. I keep doing mitzvot until I feel better. I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to enjoy it, I just need to do a mitzvah.

This constant busy-ness with mitzvot keeps me from foolish or evil activities. If I am busy with mitzvot, I can be ready to help the Jews in trouble (with mitzvot!) but my activities will be bound by the commandments regarding speech.

  • I will not engage in negative talk [lashon hara] unless it is truly necessary to protect another from immediate harm.
  • I will not repeat anything about another even if I know it to be true, [rechilut] again unless it is truly necessary to protect someone from immediate harm.
  • I will not listen to or believe lashon hara. That means I will change the subject or move it to safer ground when someone else is speaking lashon hara.

So, while I may point out news reports from responsible sources to others (retweet them or post to facebook or email them to another) I will make myself too busy with mitzvot to spread opinion pieces that engage in lashon hara. I will be too busy with mitzvot to engage in conversation that speaks ill of “all Muslims” – for that too is lashon hara.

There are mitzvot I can observe that will help. Before Shabbat, I can give tzedakah to organizations that work to assist the Jews in France, Jews in Europe and organizations that fight anti-Semitism. I can send letters of encouragement to friends there, if I know anyone who may be affected. I can engage in the mitzvah of taking challah. I can pray, and feel my Shabbat table connected to the Shabbat tables of Jews who are in trouble or fear.

Some reader may be thinking, “That’s not much! Those things won’t make a big difference!” but to them I say, how can you know what difference they will make? And more to the point, if I am busy with mitzvot, I will be too busy to let an evil situation drag me into actions I will regret, and into attitudes I abhor. I will not become part of the problem, which is always a danger.

This Shabbat, my table will be larger. Even though there will just be two of us sitting there (one of us has a bad cold, so actual guests are not a good idea this week) we will be thinking of the Jews of France. We will include them in our feast, in hope that some of the peace at our table will be (or will have been) at theirs.

May the day come when every person on earth can live in peace, where none will be afraid.

Ask the Rabbi: What Should a Guest Bring to Shabbat?

Ask the RabbiSomeone typed “what to bring to shabbat as a guest” into the search engine to get to my blog this morning. I hope they found a post with the answer, but I thought this deserved a post of its own.

A gift is not strictly necessary. A thank you note, however, is the proper thing to do afterwards.

If your friends keep kosher, all of these make a nice gift to take to a Shabbat meal:

  • flowers (the safest choice by far)
  • an unopened box of kosher candy or cookies
  • an unopened bottle of kosher grape juice

If you are certain your hosts do not keep kosher, add to that list:

  • a bottle of wine
  • a bottle of grape juice
  • some small table item, like a trivet

Flowers are always your safest choice. The reason I say that is that even if you bring kosher food or drink, and you bring it unopened, the hecksher (rabbinical seal) may not be one your kosher host recognizes. If you stick with flowers, you can’t go wrong unless they are allergic to those flowers.

Do NOT take to a kosher home:

  • homemade food of any kind
  • wine of any kind
  • dishes
  • kosher food that has had the seal broken

Just take my word for it. Kosher kitchens are important to those who keep them and these things create complications, no matter how well meant they are.

Last but not least: if you don’t take something, that isn’t the end of the world. Write a paper (not email) thank-you note afterwards, and all will be well. Actual thank you notes are much rarer than wine or trivets, and they tend to be remembered for a long, long time.

Shabbat shalom!

If you have a question for a rabbi, click “Ask the Rabbi” at the top of this page, and I will do my best to answer your question! No question is “stupid” and you can rest sure that someone else wants to know, too. You are doing a mitzvah by asking!

 

 

 

 

The Torah of the Bread Machine

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The Terrifying Bread Machine at work.

I studied a bit of practical Torah today with a woman who has been my friend for years. She was my conversion mentor (not my rabbi, just a friend who showed me the ropes) and since then we have become friends and partners in teaching. I still look to her when a bit of practical home-based Judaism is tricky for me.

A year ago (a year ago!) she gave me a bread machine as a housewarming gift. I have always made bread by hand, and was suspicious of machines. I am also very busy, especially on Fridays, and so I bought my challah at the store, because I was afraid of the bread machine. I decided “Enough of that nonsense!” and asked Dawn to teach me how to use the terrifying bread machine.

Yes, I am making fun of myself. It is ridiculous for a grown woman of nearly sixty years to be afraid of using a bread machine. I am pretty sure – almost certain – that it will not blow up. Dawn assures me that it won’t. And it is not a crime to use a machine to allow me to do other things.

I know for sure the challah that comes out will be good – Dawn uses the same machine! I love her challah!

How do you get your challah? Do you bake it? Make it with a machine’s help? Buy it from a particular store? Make it with your children or friends?

Has there ever been a mitzvah you were afraid to try because you might mess up?

Anyway, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, and tasty challah however you obtain it!