Friday, February 21, 2020

"We've Got a Psalm for That!" Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb. 21


Shabbat Shalom! 

This Shabbat we welcome the first of our cantorial finalists, Hazzan Brian Shamash, who will be joining us for services and other events throughout the weekend.  Kabbalat Shabbat is at 7:30 and Shabbat morning services at 9:30 AM; both are in the sanctuary.  The schedule has been sent in another email.  We look forward to welcoming Cantor Shamash, to be followed by Cantor Katie Kaplan next weekend.

Also this weekend, join me and an interfaith panel at Ferguson Library at 3 PM, for "Religious Voices and the Climate Emergency."

Those who traveled on our 2018 Israel trip will recall meeting IDF Captain (Res.) & Golan resident Yaakov Selavan, who gave us a superb strategic overview of the Golan Heights as we watched Russian planes bombing a Syrian city just a few miles away - and saw the streams of refugees flowing to makeshift camps on the Israeli side of the border.  Captain Selevan will be speaking here in Stamford next week, on Wednesday Evening February 26th at 7:15 PM at Chabad of Stamford 770 High Ridge Road.  He is an excellent presenter, and he'll explore Israel's challenges facing the Iranian, Syrian, Russian and ISIS neighbors, and how they affect the U.S. and all Israel's borders.  

Next Tuesday's "Beyond Dispute" adult ed class at 7:30 (in the chapel) asks when is it OK to modify tradition, to go against the way it has been done for centuries.  the example we'll focus on is whether waging war on Shabbat is kosher, something we might take for granted, but in the days of the Maccabees it was a raging controversy.  Feel free to join the class, even if you have not yet registered (or register here).

We've got lots of great events on the horizon, including Shabbat Across AmericaRuth Messinger, "From Service to Advocacy," our Purim Family Celebration, the March 13 sendoff for our Cuba group, and July's Eastern Europe trip - and so much more!

Recommended Reading

- For in-depth perspective on Middle East Peace Plans, see  this interactive map by the Washington Institute.  This useful tool allows you to zoom in on individual settlements and then zoom out to see the parameters of the different plans that have appeared over the years.  And see David Makovsky's analysis, Continuity vs. Overreach in the Trump Peace Plan (Part 1): Borders and Jerusalem   

Middah Yomi: A Daily Dosage of Jewish Values for 2020

"There's a Psalm for That!"

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything. Apple has "an app for that." And we have psalms.  Psalms are under-utilized tools for restoring a sense of balance to our tumultuous lives. And there's a psalm for everything.

For those seeking to be calmed from panic or soothed from pain, there are psalms for that.  For those wanting to stay vigilant in the face of unceasing assaults on bedrock principles of justice and equality, there are psalms for that too.  I highly recommend Psalm 82, which is the Psalm of the Day for Tuesday.  I happen to lead minyan every Tuesday, and I often read a couple of verses of this poem in English, simply to remind myself of the task at hand:

In your judging,
Consider the modest, the orphan.
Find justice for the destitute
And the oppressed.
Assist the poor, the down and out.
Save them from the bullies' hands.

When I read those words, I'm not asking God to remember them for me, but rather that I remember them for God, that I become God's hands.  I seek the strength and fortitude to act on God's behalf.  

If you are looking for a sign from heaven that corruption might soon be removed from our land, there's a psalm for that too. Psalm 109 is God's way of assuring that the swamp will soon be drained, particularly verses 7-8.  If you ever want to sit behind home plate or behind the end zone holding up a biblical sign, you can trade in that ever-popular "John 3:16" for something a little more Jewish.  Hold up "Psalms 109:8," and you'll get lots of clicks - and maybe a few dirty looks.

Rabbi Shefa Gold, a leader in Jewish renewal (we use her prayer book at Shabbat in the Round) offers this companion guide to the daily psalms.  With that aforementioned Psalm 82, she focuses on the final verse in fostering mindfulness: 

Kumah Elohim Shaftah Ha-Aretz 
Arise God and judge the land. (Psalm 82:8)

She adds: As we explore the inner landscape, we find places of shadow - corners of the heart that are unhealed or hidden in shame. We call on the God-force within us to rise up, to reveal the Divine perspective so that the entirety of our inner landscape can be bathed in Awareness.

There's a psalm for Thursday too: Psalm 81: 

Sound a shofar at the New Moon.... at the moment of concealment/potential for our Celebration Day. It is a statute for Israel; it is a rule for Jacob. (Psalm 81:4-5)

Gold comments:

We live our lives in the holy cycles of exile and return, forgetting and remembering, going out from ourselves and returning again to center. We cycle between being Jacob, the ego struggling to manipulate the world, to being Israel, the one who encounters God directly. Through our calendar and festivals we attune to the cycles of the moon whose waxing and waning reflects our own spiritual cycles. As awareness of those cycles deepens, the circles of our lives become spirals, connecting the mysteries of the universe with our own Center

For Psalm 93, the Friday psalm, Gold focuses on verse 2: 

Your throne was long ago secured; beyond eternity are You! (Psalm 93:2)

And then she adds: 

As we prepare for Shabbat, we gradually release our grip on personally mastering this world. No matter how we have struggled, succeeded or failed during this past week, today we prepare ourselves now to let go of the illusion of control and surrender our cleverness to the vast Intelligence that has been in charge all along.

So if you are in need of a moment of sweet surrender and humility, Psalm 93 is the one for you.  

That psalm can also provide a moment of hope for the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of sacred aspirations over profane realities.  Which is why a perfect interpretation of this psalm was to set it to Shlomo Carlebach's Krakower Niggun, in which Carlebach envisions the souls of the martyrs of a Krakow shul returning home, dancing.  Cantor George Mordecai set this psalm to that melody, and when I returned from my first trip to Poland in 2010, I prevailed upon him (and a very reluctant choir) to descend from the bima on Kol Nidre night that year, which happened to be a Friday, and to dance.  Dancing on Kol Nidre night was not something this congregation had remotely considered before then.  And while at times I felt like Kevin Bacon in "Footloose" avoiding John Lithgow's icy stares, the message was powerful and enduring (and dare I say, liberating)- celebrating the triumph of life in the face of death, which is, in itself, the prime message of Yom Kippur.

Each of the Psalms of the Day can become anchors for moments of mindfulness to direct us and ground us before we head out on our ventures of world conquest - or simple survival.  

At the onset of Shabbat there are seven psalms chanted, known as Kabbalat Shabbat. 

For unbounded exuberance, there's Psalm 95.

L'chu N'ran'na - Joey Weisenberg and Hadar Ensemble
L'chu N'ran'na - Joey Weisenberg

Or Psalm 96, to sing a new song unto God.

שירו לה' שיר חדש - מתוך
שירו לה' שיר חדש - מתוך "פני שבת" קבלת שבת ארצישראלית = Psalm 96, sung by a group of progressive congregations in Jerusalem - 

If you are feeling supremely grateful, Psalm 92, the Shabbat Psalm, is the one to sing.

Nava Tehila - Tov L'hodot (Psalm 92: 2-3)
Nava Tehila - Tov L'hodot (Psalm 92: 2-3)
If you wish to express sheer awe in the face of nature's wonders, try Psalm 148.

Nava Tehila - Halleluya הללויה - נאוה תהילה
Nava Tehila Psalm 148- Halleluya הללויה 

To express more joy and wonder at the world around us, head right to Psalm 8

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars that You set in place
what is man that you have been mindful of him,
mortal man that you have taken note of him?

Let's look at some psalms recommended by a great Jewish spiritualist of the 19th century, Reb Nachman of Bratzlav. There are stories of how, as a boy, Reb Nachman of Bratzlav would escape to a small loft in his father's house that was set aside as a storehouse for hay and feed.  All day, he would hide himself and chant psalms.  Nachman said that the key is to be able to find yourself in every psalm.  Many of the psalms are about enemies and war. Nachman would see these as being equivalent to the war we are fighting within our own souls. 

Take Psalm 105, which is part of the collection of ten healing Psalms prescribed by Reb Nachman called the "Tikkun Ha-klali."  

Here the psalmist fires off ten staccato charges in five sentences, saying essentially: Stop feeling sorry for yourself and treating yourself like a victim.  Here's what you need to do to get out off the mat: Be thankful, call to God, sing, give praise, seek, remember, speak of the Sacred and search for the divine presence.  

Where illness or depression makes us passive, this Psalm activates us. 

Or take a look at Psalm 90, verse 12: 

"So teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  

I think about that psalm every day.  On the wall in my office is a paper cut with those very words on it. 

Our Sages said (Avot 2:10), "Repent one day before you die." The Meiri writes, "A person should really examine his deeds every day." For we can never know when that last day will be. 

We need to ask ourselves, as role models to children, what will matter more to them thirty years from now, that trip to Hawaii or that trip to Israel?  Last Saturday's rained out soccer game or bringing the kids here on Shabbat?  Plastic or paper? Native Americans, when they make a key decision, ponder what the impact will be on the 7th generation.  We need to take the long view as well, to make each day count.

We need to live in the moment but also take the long view.

Psalm 126 is perhaps the most familiar of the "Psalms of the Steps," those psalms chanted originally as pilgrims ascended the fifteen steps up to the temple.  This one is from the grace after meals on Shabbat and festivals:

When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion-we see it as in a dream-our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy.

Laughter leads to joy and joy to acceptance.

Another of those Psalms of Ascents is Psalm 130, which cries out to God "from out of the depths."  We wait, and wait, and wait, for an answer to our pleas.  Idan Raichel's midrash on that psalm has become an international hit.

Mimaamakim - Idan Raichel Project ממעמקים - עידן רייכל
Mimaamakim - Idan Raichel Project ממעמקים - עידן רייכל

Break Destructive Habits.  There's a psalm for that too.  Psalm 118 states, "Min ha-Metzar Karati Yah."  "From out of the straits I called upon the Lord."  The plural for metzar, metzarim, found often in the Bible, is equated to Mitzrayim, Egypt.  So when we call to the Lord from out of the straits, we are calling from slavery -- the slavery of habit and addiction.  See this article for more.

We are pleading for a very personal liberation.

Unity and Community:  For community to work, everyone must be willing to make difficult sacrifices.  I'm proud that Beth El has always been willing to do that. When the less affiliated see a community that works together and avoids sniping, they are much more likely to come aboard. Psalm 133 is one we all know.  "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." "Heenay mah tov u'mah nayim, shevet achim gam yachad."

Sample these videos below to see the fabulous diversity of Jewish musical expression of these immortal sentiments.

Hine Ma Tov
Hinay Mah Tov - by a dance troupe in Argentina

Hine Ma Tov .song by Israeli army
Here's a version sung by Israeli soldiers
 flying to Uganda to free hostages, 
from the film, "Mission Entebbe."

שיר עד - הנה מה טוב - מילים: מהמקורות | לחן: ידידיה אדמון | ביצוע: צמד הפרברים, 1961 - Parvarim Duo
Vintage Israeli version שיר עד - הנה מה טוב - מילים: מהמקורות | לחן: ידידיה אדמון | ביצוע: צמד הפרברים, 1961 - Parvarim Duo

Sephardic version Stefani Valadez
Sephardic version Stefani Valadez

Hine Ma Tov | Dallas Chamber Choir
Hine Ma Tov | Dallas Chamber Choir

THE MIAMI ALUMNI CHOIR - Henai Ma Tov (debut video)

Hine Ma Tov - Nefesh Mountain - a new genre:
Hine Ma Tov - Nefesh Mountain - a new genre: "Jewgrass!"

If you are looking for courage, we've got a few psalms for that.  Psalm 147 says, "The Lord gives courage to the lowly."  Many psalms speak of overcoming fear, the 23rd being the most obvious, but of the most inspirational is the Penitential Psalm, Psalm 27.  The poet asks only one thing, "Ahat Shalti ma'et adonai," that he may dwell in the house of the Lord all his days.  And the psalm concludes with a message to all of us at this precarious time - "Be strong, take courage and hope in Adonai." 

These lines from Psalm 102 speak to us at a time of illness:

O LORD, hear my prayer;
let my cry come before You.
Do not hide Your face from me
in my time of trouble;
turn Your ear to me;
when I cry, answer me speedily.
For my days have vanished like smoke
and my bones are charred like a hearth.
My body is stricken and withered like grass;
too wasted to eat my food.

Yearning for connection to Israel?  Whenever I bring a group to Israel, we stop off at Mt. Scopus on the way in and recite Psalm 122:  

"I rejoiced when they said to me, 'let us go unto the House of the Lord.' Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem."  

Psalm 128 works well too:  "The LORD bless you out of Zion; and you'll see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life; and you will see your children's children; peace unto Israel" 

Y'varechecha Hashem (May God Bless You) by the Hava Nagillah Band
Y'varechecha Hashem (May God Bless You) by the Hava Nagillah Band
Only through an intensified link to Zion can we live lives of fulfilled blessing.

Psalm 121 "My eyes look to the mountains, from where will my help come?" lends itself to diverse musical representation, from this classical choral version...

Salamone Rossi: Psalm 121
Salamone Rossi: Psalm 121 one my all-time favorites:

Yosef Karduner (2018) Shir Lamaalot ft. Ari Goldwag שיר למעלות יוסף קרדונר עם ארי גולדוואג
Yosef Karduner (2018) Shir Lamaalot ft. Ari Goldwag שיר למעלות יוסף קרדונר עם ארי גולדוואג

...or this version....
Sheva - Shir Lama'alot ~ להקת שבע - שיר למעלות
Sheva - Shir Lama'alot ~ להקת שבע - שיר למעלות

Mi ha'ish hechafetz Hayyim, we read in Psalm 34ohave yamim lirot tovWho is the person who desires life, the one who loves each and every day and sees that it is good?"

The answer is provided in the very next verse: avoid gossip, seek peace and pursue it - be a mensch!

MI HA-ISH (WHO IS THE MAN) Psalm 34: 13 - 15 English subtitle
MI HA-ISH (WHO IS THE MAN) Psalm 34: 13 - 15 English subtitle
Whatever your spiritual needs, we've got a psalm for that!

And finally...

May we be the poppy seeds in each other's hamentaschen
this year
may the world be sweet to the taste
  soft to the touch
    and moonlight to the eyes
      and redemption to the soul
may we design contests in which we all win
may we design beauty contests to which each moment
  is a contender
may we all be blessed with cousins who have our backs
  and who would fast on our account
may we recognize when we are Esther
  when we are Mordecai
and when we are Aḥashverosh
may we keep remembering to forget to remember
may we each and may all of us appear at the party of our lives
  wearing the crown of our royalty
and whatever the hell else we choose

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Embracing Auschwitz:
Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism
that Takes the Holocaust Seriously 
Now Available on Amazon!


I'm happy to announce that as of this week, my new book is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here is the link to the Amazon page

No comments: