He Fell On His Face

He Fell Upon His Face


The Grandchildren’s Story

Meeting on the afternoon of the fourth night of Chanukah, a little chaotic getting started late, but all gathered and a question posed: I wonder how the grandchildren of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar told the story of their grandparents’ lives? How would the stories handed down by the sons and daughters of Abram and Hagar differ from those told by the sons and daughters of Abram and Sarai? A hint: while Jews read every year at Rosh HaShanah of the binding of Isaac, the Koran relates that it was Ishmael who was nearly sacrificed by his father. And both religions exhalt Abe for his great faith in God. Perhaps it’s more accurate to admit that both peoples live with the scars to the collective unconscious from a child-abusing patriarch. But such is the realm of mythology. Is Abram the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Titan who ate his children?

Genesis 17:1: “I am El Shaddai

Significantly, God identifies himself to Abram in His/Her aspect of El Shaddai. Often translated in poor English translations as “God Almighty”, El Shaddai is explained as God Who Said” Sufficient” (El=God; Shin = She = that; Aleph = Amar = Said; Dai = enough , as in Dayenu). It is also has the meaning of mountaintop, or breast (women’s breasts are shadayim in Hebrew). So this aspect of God has the connotation of God as nurturer, provider of sufficiency, a Feminine aspect. In the Jewish tradition, God has 72 different names, each connoting a different aspect, while in Islam, there are 99 different names. It is significant that God here calls himself El Shaddai, because later in Torah we read of God telling Moses that he appeared to his ancestors as El Shaddai, but to Moses, as Ehyeh (“I Will Be”), and it is the name of Ehyeh that Moses is to use as his password to convince the Israelites suffering under Egyptian slavery that he is their true leader.

How is this use of multiple names for the same God different from polytheistic cultures with single names for multiple Gods? These aspects are likely human projections, explanations for the forces seen and experienced in nature and in life. In Judaism, each of these aspects is referred to as a different part of the same God (as in the tale of the 12 blind men each describing an elephant differently, depending on which part of the elephant they were touching), whereas the Greeks and other polytheistic religions gave individual, autonomous attributes to each of their Gods, each acting independently from the others. In Judasim we also speak of angels, and archangels, each again representing individual archetypes and having very specific characteristics, but none worshipped as autonomous individual “Gods”. But can’t this really be considered a form of polytheistic monotheism? The key difference: the idea, from Abraham, that all these different archetypes are part of the ONE: “YHVH Hu HaElohim” . . . or if you prefer, “Hear O’ Israel . . . Adonai Echad”.

Genesis 17:3 “And Abram fell upon on his face.”

In this age of pews and nicely ordered rows of seats inside permanent structures, it may be hard to re-imagine a form of worship, outside, in nature, where one is overcome with the awesomeness of the experience of the Divine Presence, where one is so acutely aware of one’s own insignificance, that the only proper response is to throw oneself down and prostrate oneself before the Creator. This is a new move for Abe in response to his visitations from God. In the past he’s walked when God said “Walk” (aka Lech L’cha), he’s built altars to God (as when he arrived in Canaan), but he hasn’t before thrown himself to the earth in complete supplication to the Universal. Why now? Perhaps this represents a metaphor of how the human family evolved in its relationship to God, how we learned prayer, a kind of spiritual progression from the time when Adam and Chava hid when God came looking, now reflecting a full-force submission to an overwhelming sense of awe that one feels in that direct, personal encounter with Spirit. We know that Muslims in prayer routinely prostrate their bodies physically, and it has become a practice in many Jewish renewal synagogues on Yom Kippur to have not only the rabbi and cantor, but the whole congregation, fall to the ground, tallitim covering their heads, and assume the relationship of Abram to El Shaddai that we are reading about now. It is a profound, and humbling, experience. Perhaps it is one we can experience together in our mishkan at the next Joshua Tree seder?

Genesis 17:4-8: “As for Me, this is My covenant with you”

What follows is God’s statement of his part of the agreement, an amazingly legalistic statement of “this is what I’ll do, here’s what you’ll do”. First, for God’s part, He will make Abram a father of many nations, adding a Hey to his name to denote the change to Avraham – “father of multitude”. But He said the same to Hagar in the last chapter, that her son, Ishmael, would lead a great nation. How is this different? What follows is a description that describes Abraham’s seed in terms of nationhood, ownership, kings, land – the promise of the whole land of Canaan, and the personal relationship between God and those who will descend from Abraham: “I shall be their Elohim”.

Some might read into this a sense of arrogance in the “Chosen People” – who are you so high and mighty to place an exclusive claim on God? But there is nothing in the text suggesting exclusivity. The Torah is the mythology of the Jewish people, it tells our story, and therefore, now, the story of the nature of the connection between the Hebrew people and their very present and personal El Shaddai. This does not exclude other people having their own personal relationship with God – indeed our teachings say they do. Those stories would be found in the written and oral traditions of those peoples. And they are (witness Jethro Tull’s song, “My God”, on the”Aqualung” album - great album!). But in our mythology, we see here described an intimate sense of the relationship with the Beloved, with our personal nurturing sustaining God, El Shaddai.

Genesis 17:9-27. We read quickly through the rest of the chapter, describing the Hebrews’ side of the contract, because the latkes were simmering and we were all getting schpilkes to light the Chanukah candles. A few of the major lines and actions to take note of, and perhaps dive deeply into next time:

· Every male among you shall be circumcised

· . . . do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name . . . and she shall give rise to nations;

· Abraham threw himself on his face and laughed

· . . . he (Ishmael) wil beget twelve princes . . . and Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised . . .

Next meeting:

Saturday January 8, 10 AM – noon

Location: To be determined

Note: The January meeting typically also is the time we start planning for next year’s Pesach encampment at Joshua Tree, Thursday, April 21- Sunday, April 24


Hold the Dates

Passover Village will be held from Friday, April 22 through Sunday April 25, 2011. Watch for more information about location and other plans.


The Love Triangle

The Love Triangle


Connection - Separation

Personal check-ins seemed to revolve around this theme of feeling a part of, or feeling distant, and the ebb and flow between those 2 states of being. Perhaps this is reflected in a core part of Judaism, the flow between the sacred and the profane. And a key part of relationships as well, moving from close intimacy to seemingly vast distances. We wondered how this theme might be reflected in the part of the story of Abram and Sarai that we would continue today, Chapter 16 of the Book of B’raysheet.

Genesis 16:2: Abram heeded the voice of Sarai

Sarai remains childless, and encourages Abram to sleep with her maidservant, Hagar, in order that she, Sarai, might be “built up” through her. Abram listens to her, following her advice. We recall that up until this time, most religions in Middle East culture were matriarchal and goddess-based, and that the story of Abraham and Sarah is occurring during a shift in those practices. But still, for now, perhaps Sarai is effectively running the show. And the practice of having a child through a surrogate was one that was accepted, as we later saw in the story of Jacob who had multiple children by the handmaids of his wives Rachel and Leah. But given human nature, it does not mean this was an easy arrangement without conflict.

Genesis 16:5 “The outrage against me is on you . . . I became lowered in her esteem.”

As soon as Hagar and Abram “know” one another, she immediately conceives. Rashi’s commentary (no doubt reflecting his era’s views of the ideal Feminine) tells us that Hagar boasted to the women in the community that Sarai must not be so righteous as she seems since she has remained barren, and in general we sense that Hagar sees herself now in a higher status. Hagar had been a princess in Egypt, the daughter of Pharoah, and was given to Sarai as maidservant by Pharoah after his affliction with leprosy (in the “Sarai is my sister” episode). How must Hagar have felt, going from princess to maidservant for this elderly couple of a nomadic, not yet really established, Hebrew people? How liberated and restored to her grandiose idea of herself she must have felt, now having immediately conceived a child with Abram? One can sense the tides shifting, and Sarai’s sense of outrage at the turn of events. The irony is that it all happened on account of Sarai: the Pharoah is afflicted and gifts his daughter to Sarai, then the tide turns and Sarai and Abram are now afflicted on account of Sarai’s giving Hagar to her husband as surrogate. But one can feel Sarai’s pain: starting out with open heart, offering a solution that seeks the greater good, now she feels betrayed and belittled by Hagar, which establishes the root of the animosity between the 2 women that will play out to harsh consequences.

Sarai seems to blame Abram for the situation. But wasn’t he only doing what she told him to do? What man has not found himself on the end of blame after doing something for his woman that did not quite work out as well as planned? Or was Abram truly at blame? Did his actions somehow encourage Hagar’s haughtiness and the lowering of Sarai’s position? Looking back at the Hebrew text we see that it says “Sarai gave her (Hagar) to Abram as a wife”. So, while a maidservant to Sarai, Hagar is wife to Abram, a very different status, and perhaps his treatment of her as wife encouraged her shift in attitude toward Sarai. This may explain the ambiguities in the love triangle established, a confusion of roles and obligations, leading to the jealousy, rage, and hurt that resulted.

Feeling between the lines, we realize we are finding ourselves in the midst of a full-on spat between Sarai and Abram. We get the sense that perhaps Sarai, having given Hagar as wife to Abram, is actually outraged at herself for creating this mess, but projects it onto Abram. Such projections provide the fuel for the core fights in which all couples engage. Abram is caught in the whirlwind of projection and emotion, not knowing which way is up, and finally throws up his hands (or throws in the towel). Telling Sarai that Hagar is her maidservant and that she should do with her as she sees fit, he restores the original hierarchy of the threesome’s relationships. Wow, what a scene: to have been a fly on that tent wall. We imagined being in the desert next spring and play-acting this scene out, seeing what different angles and understandings might arise by doing so.

Genesis 16:8. “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Running away from Sarai’s harsh treatment of her, Hagar finds herself in the desert, by a spring of water. A messenger of HaShem appears to her and asks a profound question: from where, to where? Hagar responds that she is running away from her mistress. What is her frame of mind? What is the tone of her response? Is she sarcastic? Derisive? Depressed? Haughty? We are left to fill in the emotional content and imagine where her head is at, stumbling through the desert, pregnant, alone.

Where have you come from, and where are you going? This is the huge question that we encounter any time we are at a major crossroads and decision place in our lives, when the old way seems to have crumbled into dust, but we don’t really know where we are going. It is the question Spirit asks of us, demanding us to take an accounting of ourselves, to do so with consciousness and intention. Where have you been that has brought you to this place? What is your history? What are your family of origin issues? What wounds and traumas do you carry? And now, given that, perhaps despite that, where is it you need to be going?

Genesis 16:9-11. “You shall name him Ishmael . . . and he shall be a wild ass of a man”

Even though her ego is bruised, her sense of herself as deserving a higher position shot down, the answer Hagar gets from the angel is: yes, you are a princess, but you have actually just removed yourself from the very place where you can fully manifest that. As difficult as the position in which you find yourself may be, that is exactly where you are supposed to be. The angel tells her to return to Sarai and submit to her domination. Hagar needs to surrender her ego, return to the family, and learn the difficult lesson of humility, the lesson of the sephirah of Hod. The angel also promises that by so doing she will be, in fact, living out her soul’s destiny as princess. She will give birth to a son who will be the head of a great nation.

The text tells us that it is an Angel of HaShem (YHVH) that appears to Hagar. This is important, because it alludes to that aspect of God represented by the holiest God-name, the unpronounceable name YHVH, that aspect representing the always flowing lifeforce infused throughout all creation; the Was, Is, Will Always Be; the branches bursting forth from the trunk of a tree, reaching out, bending here then there, new directions, new growth. This is the force of life evolving into what it must be, this is the voice that Hagar hears.

Here the text and its translations gets interesting. Ishmael will be a wild ass of a man. What does this mean? We must be careful not to place modern day associations with the word “ass” on this phrase. We recall that an ass spoke to the Canaanite prophet Balaam; that an ass is the symbol of the Hebrew tribe of Issachar; that the Moshiach will arrive riding on an ass. The text also says that “his (Ishmael’s) hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him”. But the Hebrew that is translated here as “against” is actually just the letter Bet, which usually means “in”. So we could translate – “his hand will be in all, and the hand of all in him”. Perhaps this is indicating Ishmael’s role as leader, that he will be a man who engages his environment and shapes the destiny of his people. The ambiguity involved, and the choices made in translation, can lead to quite different understandings of Ishmael’s character. Ishmael may ultimately just be an expression of Hagar’s wild spirit.

One final point on the nature of prophecy and hearing voices of angels and God. Do these voices and inspirations really come from the outside, or are these inner knowings, inner shifts and realizations, that our mythology, for the purposes of mythology, like all good mythology, externalizes into the realm of Spirit encountering Human? Did Abram really hear an external voice of God telling him “Lech Lecha”, or was this his inner Soul knowing that for the full expression of his essential Self he needed to leave his place of origin? Does Hagar really hear an external voice of a divine messenger, or is the voice bubbling up from within her in this moment of her emotional distress? Does it matter?

Genesis 16:14: The “Well of the Living One Appearing to Me”, here, between Kadesh and Bared”

Hagar has had a profound vision in her encounter with the angel, and has been profoundly changed by it. We must realize she is one of the few women in our bible who receives such prophecy directly. Yet despite her clear identity as a prophetess, our mythology hardly treats her well. But she is not so unlike Sarai, aka Iscah the Seer, Sarah the Princess, and it is this close similarity that no doubt fuels the harshness of their conflict. Hagar, having had the vision, now also plays the role of many other prophets in naming the place where that vision occurred – “the well where for the sake of Life appeared to me”. The text locates it geographically, but we realize the places named have other meanings. “Hinay” – behold! it is here, between Kadesh and Bared. Kadesh of course means Separate and Holy, and is the first section of the Passover seder. Bared, with one different vowel is Barad, which means hail, the seventh plague of the Passover tale. So this well, this lifespring, this place of Life, of YHVH, lies between a rock and the holy. Or one might say that Behold! . . . life is a wellspring that happens between heaven and hell, all around us, all the time.

The chapter wraps up quickly: Hagar gives birth to a son, and Abram is credited with naming the boy Ishmael (though we know better). We are again left to wonder at what is left out between the sparse lines. How does Hagar enter the camp? How was she greeted by Abram? What attitude did Sarai take towards her? What is Hagar’s attitude now towards each of the others in this love triangle? Did she tell them of her encounter with the Malach HaShem and her transformation, or did she keep this quietly to herself? Or can they sense the change in her, and no words are needed. How do Sarai and Abram relate, now that Hagar is back? How will the story play out?

Next gathering:

Saturday December 4 (27 Kislev), the Fourth night of Chanukah; Come learn together and celebrate together! Bring drums and timbrels!

Location: Michael Chusid’s house, 4639 Balboa Ave, Encino. 91316


· 4-6: Torah Study

· 6-7:30: Potluck dinner;

· 7:30 - ?: Chanukah (4th night) Council and Celebration


Male and Female, He Created It-Them

Male and Female, He Created It-Them


Gratitude and Lovingkindness

Modeh Ani L’fanecha – we began the morning with the morning prayer of gratitude and some centering breath. This was followed by reflections on the sefirah of Hesed – the flow of love and giving. Then personal check-ins, and we were fully present.

Lamed – Bet: The Heart of Torah

We decided that rather than carrying on directly with our inquiry into the lives and relationship of Abram and Sarai, we would instead backtrack to study today’s parsha of B’reysheet, and particularly the verses describing the creation of man and woman, in order to deepen our understanding of the deeper archetypes that may be reflected in the lives of our first forefather and foremother.

Recognizing that it is Simchat Torah, we read the last verse of Deuteronomy followed by the first verse of B’raysheet. The last letter of Torah, Lamed, added to the first letter of Torah, Bet, spells the word Lev, heart – an appreciation of torah as the heart of our people. Throughout the Torah we read of the struggles of Moshe and the people, travelling through wilderness, facing internal and external obstacles, all with the goal of reaching the Promised Land. And at the end of Torah they stand on the plains of Moav, on the brink of entry into Israel. And then . . . it all begins again, all over. How profound a life teaching this is, that at the moment of arrival, at the point of achieving our goals, we never actually enter the Promised Land. It all back on itself and we begin a new cycle from the beginning. And the heart continues to pump, as we spiral further and deeper into our lives.

Our tradition teaches us that creation occurred through speech, through the use of the Hebrew letters. B’reysheet begins with the letter Bet. We understand from this that the events of Creation described in the first chapter of Genesis are not taking place in this physical world, but in the World of B’riyah, the world of Creation, conceptualization. The Bet also carries the value of 2, indicating that this universe was created beginning with the concept of 2: dualism, opposites, diversity. This raises the question: where is the Aleph? Why does the Torah not begin with the first letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet? The Aleph, silent, unity, lies before the Bet, before the world of B’riyah, before speech, in the World of Atzilut, Emanation, Primordial Thought, a world not accessible to us as human beings. Thus, from Aleph flows Bet, the first act of Creation, the first letter of Torah, the letter that puts it all into motion.

Genesis 1:26. God created the Earthling

On the sixth day of Creation, God created Adam, most often translated as Man. But we know that this was not “man”, as opposed to “woman”. This was The Adam, primordial human. Perhaps the term “Earthling” would be a better translation? The Midrash teaches us that this was an androgenous Being, containing both male and female halves, joined at the spine, facing away from each other. Adam was clearly not a single male human, as the Hebrew goes on to say “They shall rule over the fish . . . birds . . . animals . . . earth.”

1:27: He created it, male and female He created them.

Usually translated into English as “he created him”, perhaps the origin of philosophies of male superiority, sexism, etc, the Hebrew object pronoun can also indicate the neutral – it. We might instead interpret He created “Humanity (it)”. And “It” was male and female both, Them. Again, with the language of It-them, the concept of multiplicity-unity, and we remember that what is being described is happening in B’riyah, not in the world of physical reality. The verb used here for creation is Barah – “He Barah’d it/them”. So this is describing the conceptualization of the essential nature of the Human as containing equal parts of maleness and femaleness, what Jung would later label anima/animus, and new age teachers would call our Inner Feminine/Masculine. We are them – it.

Genesis 2:6. A mist/flow ascended from the land

An interesting image: mist, or in one translation, a flow ascending from the dry land. Moisture from below to water the dryness of earth to allow the next step, the formation of Man.

Genesis 2:7. And God formed the Human of Dust

The verb used here – Yotzer, to form – let’s us know we have now moved down into the World of Y’tzirah, the World of Formation. Still not in physical reality, but getting closer, more substance, as the Man of Dust is shaped from the clay of the Earth (Adamah) by Yah Elohim (the first use of the YHVH in the Torah). Removing one letter from Adamah forms Adam, He then breathed the living soul (Nishmat Hayim) into the nostrils of Adam – like a wet kiss – breathing to life the first human formed from the clay of the 2 primal elements, Earth and Water.

Discussing the imagery of being breathed into existence, becoming a Nefesh Chayah (living soul), we breathed together in meditation, allowing our breath to bring us to a calm, centered unity. A harmonica appeared miraculously, then a box of many harmonicas, and we breathed through the harmonicas in unison, each Nefesh Chayah breathing out his/her particular breath forming a single chord consisting of several separate tones (unity in diversity). And with the in-breath, we each breathed in the breath chords of the others around us, breathed in the music of their Nishmat Hayim. And so it went for several minutes, as we connected through breath and music. Imagine what it would be like to live at a level of awareness where you realize that every breath you take consists of the breaths of those around you, a replay of the Initial Breath into Adam, others breathing your Soul to life?

2:19. The Souls of the Chayot

Adam names each of the living creatures – animals of the field, birds, etc – reflecting the essence of their being in each name. We also read here that HaShem-Elohim had formed (yotzer) each living being out of the Adamah and instilled it with a Nefesh Chayah, just as he had done for Adam. This answered a question posed earlier: do only humans have the breath of the divine within them? Clearly our mythology tells us this is not the case, that every living being has a soul.

2:18 – 2:25: Woman: Ezer K’negdo

We read in 2:18 of God’s decision to divide the hermaphroditic Adam into separate male and female beings. This may now be moving into Assiyah, the World of Physicality, as Torah uses the verb Aseh in this verse – “I will make . . . “ So the male-female Adam is cast into a deep sleep and divided, removing the side, replacing it with flesh, forming Woman to correspond to Man, the words Ish and Ishah now appearing for the first time to describe these beings. We note that the word Isha (woman) is Ish (man) with the letter hey at the end, bringing us back to Abram and Sarai, both of whom had the Hey added to their names to signify their moving to a holier level. The purpose of this split into 2 is to form an Ezer K’negdo – a helper opposite/against him – for the Adam. This describes the role of couples for each other – each to form a container, a helper, a struggle-mate for the other.

The verse goes on to say how a man shall leave his parents to cleave to his wife, “and they shall become one flesh”. Separation into 2, recleaving into 1: lovemaking - the recreation of our original One-ness. This separation of male-female is described by Plato in Greek mythology as well, and can also be seen in the form of the Earth with the separation of the once united continental plates.

With these understandings we closed with a contemplation on the Sefirah of Gevurah – power, judgment, discipline, strength – which in its proper form flows always from Hesed, which precedes it. We look forward to future meetings, as we will look at the relationship between Sarah and Abraham through the lens of the teachings of B’reysheet.

Next meeting: Saturday November 13 (24 Tishri), 10 AM – noon, location to be named.


Hagar's Wail

Hagar’s Wail


Tread lightly, walk heavily

We met at the trailhead to Caballero Canyon in Tarzana, on this Shabbat Shuva, midway between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The sign gave instructions about trail etiquette, which led to an immediate dilemna. “Tread lightly” it said, as we share the trail with all types of animals, birds, and plant beings. “Walk heavily” it said, so as not to surprise any snakes who may be lurking under a bush or around the corner of the trail. So off we went down the trail, like all good Hebrew travelers who know in their bones how to live in multiple worlds of paradox, walking heavily lightly.

Tapping Wood to Stone

Stopping on the trail, halfway up the mountain, a teaching from second century, C.E., Rav Shim’on Bar Yochai, in the Zohar (translation by R. Gershon Winkler, in his book "Daily Kabbalah"):

Three sounds are inaudible to the human ear and never leave the earth: the sound of the snake shedding its skin, the sound of a soul leaving the body at death, and the sound of birthing. Where do these sounds go? They travel to the canyons where they encrypt themselves in the earth. The sound of your voice in the canyon awakens them from dormancy and evokes their powers. However, to awaken the sound of the snake shedding its skin, you must tap wood to stone. You hear these sounds as “echoes” but know that they are three sounds coming right back to you in the garb of your own voice or drumming, to empower you with shedding your old patterns, to aid you in surrendering to the uncertainty of your next step, and to guide you in birthing yourself anew.

At this time of the Days of Awe, shema: tap stick to stone and listen for the sound of the birthing of the new you being born to this year.

Nehushtan: The Copper Serpent

Nahash slithers onto our path for the third time (and for one hiker, a fourth time somewhat later when she actually did see a baby snake during the hike). We spoke about the tale of the “brazen serpent” that Moses had the people build out of copper, and placed on the top of a staff. The Children of Israel were afflicted by a plague of poisonous snakes during their travels through the Sinai, an affliction the commentators tell us that they brought onto themselves by slandering Moshe. By staring up at Nehushtan, they had to lift their eyes to the heavens, allowing them to remember for Whose purpose they were travelling through the desert. This may be the first historical record of the use of guided imagery in healing: looking at the symbol of their affliction, an illness brought on the people due to their use of forked tongue, reminded them of their role in causing their own disease – the first step toward healing. Thus returning to their proper mindset, they were able to be healed by HaShem of the plague of poison snakes.

"Turn me on, Sister Sarah" (lyric by Rebbe Soul)

Reading from Ginzburg’s “Legends of the Jews” we find evidence supporting our suspicion from our last meeting that Sarai was not a passive player in the drama in the House of Pharoah, when she and Avram went down during the famine. According to this version of the tale, it is Sarai who tells Pharoah that Avram is her brother (no suggestion that he told her to do so – in fact he tried to sneak her into Egypt without anyone seeing her!); and it is Sarai who directs a malach to strike Pharoah with a staff any time he tries to approach her, as well as brings on the plague of leprosy. Perhaps this is what the Torah means when it describes what happened according to the D’var Sarai – the word of Sarai. But Ginzburg says that Pharoah deserved the leprosy affliction? But why did he deserve it if he did not know of Sarai and Avram’s true relationship? Perhaps it was because of the way he took Sarai into his palace – by force with an army of soldiers – compared to the way Avram took Sarai away from their homeland to go to Canaan – only with her explicit consent.

Hagar’s Wail

We read every Rosh HaShanah the story of the exile of Hagar and Ishmael from the encampment of Avram, of their abandonment in the wilderness, of their miraculous survival. A few discussion points stand out:

· Erasing Hagar. It seems there are elements within Judaism that wish to erase the memory of Hagar, as if she never existed as part of our people’s history. There are reform congregations that celebrate only 1 day of Rosh Hashanah that do not even read the story of the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael. We know of at least one Machzor that even says “Abraham had one son”. A cartoon drawing can be found on-line showing a nice pastoral family scene: Abraham and his 2 sons. But only one woman. Was Hagar holding the camera? More likely she was excised as the "other" - guilty of mothering while Egyptian. http://www.g-dcast.com/roshhashanah?utm_source=G-dcast+mailing+list&utm_campaign=612fcaf157-RH2010&utm_medium=email

· Hearing the son’s cry. Hagar abandons Ishmael under a bush and moves away because she can’t bear to watch him die. She is undoubtedly bereft and distraught, or is she? An angel comes down to save Ishmael, but it is because He has heard the boy’s cry, not Hagar’s. The angel asks what she has done, what she is doing. Is there an oblique reference to her not fulfilling her maternal duties to her and Avram’s son, Ishmael? Should she have held him in his dying moments, rather than moving away and leaving him to die alone? Should she have known where to find the well of water from her prior desert wanderings the first time Sarai banished her from camp? The malach shows her the well, and Ishamel is saved, grows into a strong bowman, marries an Egyptian woman (like his mother), and becomes the Father of the Arab nation.

· A deep teaching tells us that the calls of the shofar do in fact represent the distraught wailing of 3 women in Jewish history: Tekiah represents Sarah’s wailing when she thinks Isaac has been killed by Abraham; Shevarim is the wail of Hannah, barren and pleading for the child that would later be born to her as the prophet Samuel; the stuttering notes of Teruah are the sobs of Im Cisera, the mother of the Canaanite general whose head was impaled by Yael, another of our strong Hebrew women, during Devorah’s conquest of the Canaanites during her reign as judge and prophetess. As the shofar blows on Rosh HaShanah, if we could imagine the wails of Hagar at the impending death of her only son in the wilderness, would that change our approach to the Other?


Resting under the blessing shade of the 2 oaks at the top of our hike, a round of personal sharing: where do we see ourselves as we dwell in these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when our souls’ journey has the potential to be reshaped and redirected closer to its intended path. Some of the themes mentioned:

· Uncertainty abounds

· Who will be poor, who will be rich

· Death – present in many ways, all around

· Hebrew letters – the magical and creative force in them

· The stag of certainty: He was waiting near the trees for us when we arrived at the top of the hill, asymmetric antlers, moving slowly, purposefully away from us through the brush, no fear, just Being.


In memory of those who died on 9/11, and all those who have died since because of decisions made as a result of 9/11, and all those perhaps still destined to die in the future because of decisions continuing to be made at least in part as a response to 9/11. May our leaders, and our fellow citizens, be blessed with wisdom, civility, and depth.

Next meeting: Saturday October 2 (24 Tishri), 10 AM – noon, location to be named.


You Are My Sister

You Are My Sister


Check-ins included the scent of frankincense and a reading from a modern piece about feeling the story between the words, which is what we attempt to do in this group. An attempt to bring in teachings from the Koran met with difficulty, as the use of language and story telling felt so different than Torah it was hard to access, and we were unable to pick up the thread of the story of Abraham and Sarah. It appeared clear that it will take time, and likely a Koran scholar to join us, before we can gain from that direction of study. After some further discussion of our last session, including the recognition that one of the oppressions that men have had to bear over the millenia is having to grow up knowing that their role may include that of being sacrificed in war, we picked up the story of Sarai and Abram again in Haran – midway between Ur Kasdim and Canaan.

Genesis 12:5. “Abram took his wife Sarai . . . and the souls they made in Haran”. After Abram gets his walking papers from HaShem – Lech l’cha, Go for your sake – he picks up the family, children, possessions, servants, and entire community they had assembled in Haran and prepares to leave for Canaan, where HaShem has promised “you shall be a blessing.” The Zohar tells us that Abram had to “take” Sarai through persuasion, that a man is forbidden to take his wife to a foreign land without her consent. This is the first hint allowing us to imagine how this couple must have communicated with each other, how they must have negotiated both this dramatic move and all the steps that were to follow.

The various English translations gave us “souls” or “descendents” in place of the Hebrew word nefesh. That the Hebrew uses the singular form of the noun suggests perhaps that what Abram and Sarai took with them on this journey was the communal soul that they had made together. The commentators say Abram had converted the men, and Sarai the women, to the understanding of YHVH, and it is the nefesh of this community that they made in Haran and took with them. This was a time of major spiritual transition, from the goddess and pagan worship that had been predominant in this region of the world for so long, to a new path into the unknown, led by a nascent understanding of YHVH. And Abram and Sarai were building this together. This was on the ground, nuts and bolts, community building, as the verb “ahsu” (they made) indicates the action is in the World of Assiyah (physical reality), rather than some philosophical (B’riyah) or symbolic (Yetzirah) activity.

Finally, reading the words “Lech L’cha”, we remember the melody we have created singing this in our holy tent in the desert . . . and you shall be a blessing.

12:5. “They left . . . and they came to Canaan“

The parsity of Torah is so evident here. What must have been such a momentous journey, travelling with a large contingent over many weeks to get from Haran to Canaan, is covered in just 7 words of Hebrew. What physical challenges did they encounter? How often did they argue? Who joined them on the way? Who left? We are given no clues in the text, and have to “feel” the heart of the story between the words.

12:7. “And he built an altar there to HaShem who appeared to Him.”

We read of the early journeys within Canaan, Abram et al finding their way from place to place – Shechem, Beth-el, Ai, then steadily to the South – leaving altars at each place in dedication to YHVH. What kind of altars? Simple stone? How large? Many details not included.

The verse preceding this one tersely states that “the Canaanite was in the land”. What were the interactions with the local peoples that we are not told about? Abram encounters the town of Ai early upon entry into the land, which is reflected some 400+ years later when on another entry into the land, Joshua encounters resistance and a temporary defeat, but ultimately conquers Ai. It would seem Abram’s encounter was much less violent, much more diplomatic. He was, after all, the stranger wandering into this land.

12:10. “There was famine in the land”

Throughout our history, famine was the great motivator of huge events. This is the first famine to determine the fate of the Hebrew people, forcing Abram and Sarai to journey to Egypt. This foreshadows the later famine which led to the descent of Jacob and the 70 souls to Egypt, as well as that which occurred hundreds of years later which led Elimelech and Naomi to Moab and the story of Ruth which we read last year. What modern day famines have moved/are moving us into new ways of being - if we can pay attention and move?

12.11. “See now, I have known you are a woman of beautiful appearance”

Abram initiates a conversation with Sarai with praise, with acknowledgment, perhaps even flattery. But what he is about to request of her is huge. He starts with the phrase “Hinay – Nah”, a supplication, asking please, approaching softly, intimately, respectfully. This reminds of his having to get her consent to leave Haran. There are conversations, joint decisions to be made in time of great duress. The relationship is presented to us not as one of Abram lording it over Sarai, but a partnership with respect and negotiations preceding each major step. And we take note: these are the first recorded words between Abram and Sarai, and they are words of direct relationship (Hinay, be fully present with me) and deep respect (Nah, please). Imagine the power, intimacy, and connection you would feel engaging your partner, lover, friend in this way.

12:13. “Please say that you are my sister.”

These verses led to much discussion, attempting to understand what was really going on between the ancestral couple at this critical moment. Fearful of his life as they enter Egypt, Abram asks Sarai to pose as his sister, that “it may go well with me for your sake”. Is Abram a barbaric boor, willing to prostitute his wife to save his own skin? Is he simply a coward? Or maybe they messed up here, this dysfunctional couple of ours, simply made a bad decision? Maybe they should have gone boldly and unapologetically into Egypt as husband and wife? But the outcome of this decision served to move the story of the Jewish people forward, feeling like a Greek tragedy full of dark humor, with Sarai and Abram just pawns in a cosmic manipulation – doing this for the sake of the greater plan being played out by God/Zeus.

Or are they acting from their own free will, simply trying to do the best they can in the moment of being confronted with a difficult situation? The moment between them is poignant: Abram respectfully asks her to say she is his sister, “that I may live on account of you.” But the Hebrew used actually says “That my Nefesh (Soul), will live because of you.” This may refer back to the Nefesh that left Haran with them, the entire community of souls travelling with them. How many women throughout history had to offer themselves in this way, potentially sacrificing themselves or their own personal dignity, in order that the group “over-soul” could be preserved?

So Sarai seems to be a fully willing partner in this drama, fully grounded in the fact that it is just the reality of the situation – if they are both to survive and fulfill their joined destiny, she just has to do what she has to do. But let’s not sell Sarai short. As we read between the words to feel the heart of the story, the heart of the relationship between Abram and Sarai, we can sense she was no passive player in this drama, simply being led off to be Pharoah’s concubine. We imagine instead that she acted from a position of power, with the truth and recognition of her role as Priestess/princess and Seer/Iscah, a sacred ambassador to the Pharoah of Egypt. We imagine her fully and consciously utilizing her beauty and sexuality as resources - a pact is made with Egypt that results in her own nation being blessed. And blessed they were - with sheep, cattle, donkeys, manservants and maidservants, female donkeys, and camels. All bigla’lah – on account of her.

Next Gathering: Saturday morning, September 11, Shabbat T’shuvah (the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur)

Location: Hike to the Trees, Encino hills

What: Continue the exploration of our first ancestral couple; but also hold Council on the Head of Change (Rosh HaShanah) that is presenting itself to each of us individually this year, as we dwell in these 10 sacred days of uncertainty before the cleansing of Yom Kippur.


Stairway to Heaven

The Stairway to Heaven:
From Union to Dispersion . . . to Union?

We started with check-ins, then a meditation from Reb Kalonymous Shapira’s book, “Conscious Community”. Regarding our propensity for forgetfulness, that we tend to forget who we are and why we’re here, he refers us to Deuteronomy 32:18: “You have forgotten that God gave birth to you – T’zur y’lad’cha . . . va’tish’kach”. Just knowing that you have forgotten something helps you to remember.
Leading up to the introduction of Sarai and Abram in Chapter 11 of Genesis is the story of the Tower of Babel. A curious juxtaposition to consider, as we entered our study with the words:

“The whole earth was of one language and common purpose”.  

How far from our reality is that! So immediately we know that this story is dealing with another way of Being, likely located in another World altogether. One view: this is a book by man that helps us understand the way things are. In other words, this is the book of our mythology.

“They said . . . let us build a tower with its top in the heavens . . . “

Who are they? They are not named. We find the people struggling to get to the Heavens, to the spiritual realm, and are told they were doing so “to make a name for ourselves” – had they also forgotten who gave birth to them?

“They could not hear the language of their neighbors . . .”

Hashem descends, confuses their language so they cannot understand (literally “hear”, “shema” , in the Hebrew) one another, and disperses them over the face of the earth. So this is the beginning of our lives as separate tribes, communities, nations, speaking different languages, difficulty in communications. Maybe this includes the different “languages” of men and women?

But what was really so wrong with being united in language and purpose, attempting to get back to the Heavens? Aren’t we always striving for spiritual growth, to be closer to Spirit? But it would seem that our mythology may be telling us that God had a different idea about what that striving is supposed to look like. Somehow that striving for unity is not supposed to be quite so easy as building a tower of unity together as a kind of summer camp, kumbayah experience. It’s as if God said, “Hmmm, I know I’m the one who created things this way, but this isn’t quite working out. Better switch gears to “Humankind Struggles for Unity, Version 2.1”.  

We get the sense of God kind of working through this process of creation, just as He/She hit the “reset” button in kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden, or sending the flood in Noah’s day. Is it God’s design then for us on earth, in this physical plane, that we find a horizontal union with the spiritual, rather than a vertical union as represented by the Tower of Babel? After all, Creation occurred through the actions of Elohim, the name of God representing diversity, multiplicity, chaos, and all possibilities.  
It is part of our Hebrew philosophy that awareness of the separations is what makes them holy. And does this horizontal union involve us all, somehow, coming from places of such difference - different languages, different ways of being and seeing the world - to somehow build a mosaic of connection and unity on THIS plane? That our human task is really not to build a stairway to heaven, but a fully interconnected and interdependent jigsaw puzzle of humanity? What is the common language that can help us do that? Some possibilities, of languages we all understand: tears, music, art, maybe the tekiah of shofar . . .
“Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran”

Torah next enumerates the 10 generations from Noah to Abram, ending each sentence with “and he begot sons and daughters”, confirming that the begetting of the girls is equal in each generation to that of the boys. Eventually, we arrive at the family of Terach, and are introduced to the stars of the next part of the story.

Iscah is Sarai
Abram’s brother Haran dies. Haran is the father of Lot, who comes to live with his Uncle Abram, as well as 2 daughters, Milcah and Iscah. Nahor marries Milcah, and Abram takes his niece Iscah as a wife. The commentators tell us Iscah is Sarai. Iscah means “to see” or “to gaze”, so we learn that Sarai was a seer, that she could see the future based on holy inspiration. The 2 names indicate her 2 missions in life: Iscah is the name indicating her personal greatness, as seer, prophetess; Sarai/Sarah (meaning “princess”) links her in connection with her husband Abram/Abraham to their joint mission as a couple. From the point of their marriage, the name Iscah is no longer used in the Torah, though undoubtedly her individual purpose as Iscah is now interwoven into her purpose within the couple as Sarai. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, as we read the travels, trials, and events in the lives of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah in the weeks ahead.

Why study together?
An observation on our process today. It was quite remarkable to see the faces and feel the energy of the 5 of us at the end of the morning compared to the beginning: much lighter, freer, enlivened, excited by the process we had just shared. We felt connected to the energy that has moved Jews throughout the ages to gather, in small groups together, to study Torah, to learn our stories together, the lessons they hold, both obvious and cryptic. But if we’ve done this for so long, why is it we seem no closer to that mosaic of spiritual union than we seemed at Babel?  

Maybe we’re closer than we think. Or maybe we should consider how far apart we’d be now if we hadn’t done this over the centuries? Or maybe it’s time to open up the circles, to study the sacred texts of others, with others? What does the Koran say of the meeting of Abram and Sarai?

What Kavannah? From 6/5/10

This is the first of monthly posts that will share notes of our ongoing monthly meetings, as we meet and learn together, exploring in depth a topic that will be our kavannah for our Passover Village 2011. We welcome comments, responses, and discussions on this blog. We hope to have a lively inquiry into the kavannah of choice over the next 8+ months leading into our next Pesach retreat. Anyone wanting to join our monthly gathering is more than welcome.

What Kavannah?


Present:, Dan, Larry, Devorah, Marc, , Sandra, Dale, Michael


It was clear from the checkins that there was some very scattering energy present, as we tried to gather to begin our study for this year. Every checkin, with one exception, spoke of being scattered, unfocused, at the end of a cycle where the energy was dissipated. Even chanting, breathwork, holy words holy breath, failed to fully bring us present, with ourselves, with each other. Spinning and twirling, jumping, helped a bit, and we settled down to see what was present.

Possible kavannot

A discussion over the next hour or so, slowly moving from our scattered state to more focused, on the following suggestions for possible kavannah to study together for next Pesach:

Ecclesiastes – a book of wisdom teachings, a non-narrative, through which we could explore our ancient wisdoms and learn from that of things within and about us. But without the narrative, how would we bring that into Magid?

Hezekiah – King of Judah during the Assyrian invasion which scattered the 10 northern tribes into oblivion. But for him and his defense of Jerusalem (with a little help from a Friend in high places), so might have the people of Judah been dispersed and the Hebrew people would have disappeared into the pages of history and ceased existence as an identifiable people (interesting to consider what would have been then – no Jesus, no Christianity, no Islam . . . ). Surviving a near-fatal illness, Hezekiah became a healer as well. The story of Hezekiah would lead us into the words of the prophet of Isaiah, who was to Hezekiah as Samuel was to Saul, Nathan was to David – every king has his prophet! It would also lead into an exploration of the geopolitics of the time - shifting empires, shifting alliances, strained relations between Israel and Judah – fascinating stuff. But is this the right path for us as a community now, coming off our intensely intimate experience of the Feminine this past year?

Sarah and Abraham. Masculine and Feminine, Father – Mother, HaKadosh Baruch Hu – Shechinah, union, intimacy, generosity, hospitality, relations with neighbors, polyamory, ancient wisdoms, the division of the Ishmaelites from the Yitzhakites, offerings of healing at personal, relational, communal, and inter-tribal levels. These are just some of the possible teachings that might flow from a study of the first Hebrew couple. Maybe learning the lessons within the story of our first archetypal ancestral couple could even open up a path to world peace. Im tirtzu . . . (if you want it . . . )

Conscious community. Literally risen from the ashes of the Shoah in the rubble of the Warsaw ghetto, these words from a mystic teacher offer a path to building intimate spiritual community in service to HaShem. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi said “this book needs to be translated!” Now it is. But is it right for the Pesach group? How could it be brought into our annual gathering? Maybe this calls for a different mode of study and growth, for those particularly interested in developing spiritual leadership. Some suggested they would rather read it on their own, then perhaps there will be a place and a way to delve its depths in the future. (If you’re interested , it can be found on Amazon or at Abesbooks.com – “Conscious Community: A Guide to Inner Work” by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, translated by Andrea Cohen-Kiener)

The Next Step.

Not really sure if there was absolute consensus, but the discussion clearly leaned towards the Abraham-Sarah kavannah. Over next month, it was suggested we each read or explore the story a bit on our own, and next time we gather we each bring in a piece of the story that struck us, that we would like to discuss in the group.

Next Gathering: Saturday, July 10, 10AM – Noon


Your Input is Valuable

As you may know, we’re preparing to meet on May 8th in W.L.A for a kind of ‘de-brief’ after our wonderful Passover experience in the desert, and to set our intentions and Kavanah for Passover Village next year.

We're seeking any input you’d like to offer about your personal Passover in the Desert experience and / or your suggestions about future Passover events together. Please post your comments here oln the BLOG!


Speaking from the Heart, Listening from the Heart

There have been calls from the community for a discussion of the way we use the Council process to build community, as well as a request for the poem I read in our closing circle.  Here is the poem, as a way of starting the discussion of Council.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other  

 If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.


For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood

storming out to play through the broken dyke.


And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,

but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.


And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,

a remote important region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we should consider--

lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.


For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;

the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. 

by William Stafford