Friday, March 27, 2020

Top Ten To Do At Home

I figure it's only a few days before we are all ordered to stay home because of the pandemic. Just so you don't have to spend 24/7 watching the news and the numbers increase when the lockdown happens, I'm suggesting a top ten list of things to do at home during this time of coronavirus.
1. Clean - If your office is anything like mine, things have been piling up for years. I don't mean just dust particles on the back of the bookshelf. There are magazines and journals only those of the hippie generation would recognize. There are student papers from classes taught twenty years ago. There are old letters from friends long since deceased and yellowing with age. There are enough pens and pencils to outfit a small school. And the address labels from every non profit looking for my monetary support would fill a suitcase. Clean it up! It's spring cleaning! And remember, lots of other things can go on the curb beginning April 1.
2. Do a Puzzle - Jigsaw puzzles are metaphors for life. You want to put all the pieces in the right place. It helps if you are able to assess at the very beginning what pieces you have, by turning them all over. And if you can make an outline of your life first, get the boundaries set, that can help in filling in the middle. Heaven forbid you lose a piece. We want our life to be complete. Or make it a joint project. Others have pieces of our puzzle.
3. Family - Talk to your wife/husband. Seriously! When is the last time you talked about anything but  what you were having for dinner. Talk to your children. Or write them a letter. Seriously! The kind of letter they get from the post office. Something they can treasure and read when they are old like you. If you have grandchildren, send them a crossword puzzle you make up with family history in it. They'll love it, and it will keep them busy bugging their parents with questions.
4. Exercise - Just because you can't go to the gym you can still exercise at home. There are lots of training videos on the internet. Walk up and down the stairs. Do isometrics. Walk at night when the lockdown cops won't see you and nobody will be around to cough on you.
5. Eat - This is important and you have some choices. One alternative is to eat all your favorite foods. Stock up on chips, soda and ice cream to help you deal with your depression. Another option is to eat healthy to build up your immune system and your resistance. Or, you could develop  a fast till the panic is over. It doesn't have to be a complete fast, maybe just juices or soups, or maybe fasting from lunch; just eating breakfast and dinner and slimming down.
6. Read - I haven't heard for sure whether the library is canceling the book sale scheduled for the end of the month. If it isn't cancelled, I will have to ignore the lockdown or social distancing or whatever it is to gather up my normal haul of books. Not that I need any more. Since confining myself more, I'm reading two or three at a time and discovering some wonderful finds on my bookshelves I'd forgotten were there.
7. Nap - Find or make a place to sit and read where you are warmed by the sun on the back of your neck. When you get drowsy, put the book down and fall asleep. Nobody cares, even if you're supposed to be working from home. Naps are good for you.
8. Write Poetry - I'm suggesting poetry because a novel takes a long time and nobody wants the pandemic to go on that long. Try poetry. Anyone can do the rhyming kind. It will keep your mind occupied and keep you away from the TV and computer and watching the news.
9. Smile/Laugh - This is important, probably as important as eating. Make an arrangement with a friend and call each other up once a day with a joke. Search out good jokes. Put a smiley face on the ceiling above your bed so it reminds you to smile when you wake. Stick smiley faces in odd places around the house. Laugh at the absurdities of life. If you don't sing in the shower, practice laughing there!😁
10. Inner Life - In the Institute I coordinate, we have a daily session of what we call "inner life". It's a time when we cultivate and deepen whatever spiritual or religious life we have. It incorporates silence for meditation and prayer, reflection on the wisdom from different traditions and cultures and an opportunity to share ideas and experiences with others. In the midst of a pandemic, we have an opportune moment to practice our own inner life. And instead of looking away or ignoring our reality, perhaps that spiritual discipline will allow us to look deeply into the meaning of this pandemic and what we might learn from it. 

Perhaps instead of number ten to do at home, this should be number one.

Carl Kline

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thoughts amid the corona virus...

     It has not escaped my attention that the event of the corona virus is happening between Purim and Passover. Purim, like Yom Kippur, is when we read a story about chance. The tables get turned for the better --- the Jews are saved, not destroyed. We acknowledge that fate can change at any given moment and we pray it turns in our favor. We are also headed into Passover where it took ten plagues to get us out of Egypt.  People died with each plague. We learn that we don’t sing Hallel because the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, that their lives also belong to the Holy One. Yet that story of liberation has fueled many a tradition and given many hope...
      There is a story I have read on Yom Kippur, it’s a Zen Buddhist story not Jewish one, but at time like this virus it’s offering me some perspective I’d like to share:

          One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he left his horse loose to go the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, "What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?" The farmer replied:" Maybe so, maybe not... who knows, we shall see."
     Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses, which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the old farmer's good fortune and it wasn't long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. "How fortunate you are!" they exclaimed. "You must be very happy!" Again, the farmer softly said: "Maybe so, maybe not.... Who knows? We shall see."
     At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer's only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer's son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer's latest misfortune. "Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won't be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You'll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad," they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, "Maybe so...maybe not ...Who knows? We shall see".
     Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor's army. As it happened the farmer's son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. In the teahouse, the villagers again commented "What very good fortune you have!!" as their own young sons were marched away. "You must be very happy." "Maybe so, Who knows? We shall see!", replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
     As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. "Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you"! But the old farmer simply replied; "Maybe so, maybe not...Who knows? We shall see."
     As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: "Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy", to which the old farmer replied, "Maybe...Who knows? We shall see!"
     This is how I’m approaching the virus. Yes, at the moment it seems apocalyptic, people are panicking and buying things in a frenzy, predictions of many people dying; market crashing, and the government doesn’t know what to do, etc, etc. Yet I’m at optimist at heart, and I have let my mind wander to what if:

What if the corona virus:
-Inspires international cooperation between scientists like never before, and we are able to put that to use in the future with other diseases?
-Creates new jobs we don’t yet know about?
- Inspires Israel to find a vaccine and offer it to its enemies and peace breaks out?
-Takes the bullying, warmongering, trolling, and nastiness out of people;  connects people in different ways; catapults us to the future where we see technology as a true gift to keep us safe and connected; perhaps alleviates some souls from suffering who have just not been able to exit life yet?
- Teaches us that we can cooperate across borders and then maybe find cures for plastic overload and environmental issues?
-Allows  our children to see their aging parents with more vulnerability and treat them with more respect and love.
-Permits us to use our time at home to clean our house, catch up on things, learn a new skill, and clean out our inboxes and voicemails? Or better yet, make art and music, meditate, and pray.
 -Inspires us to find new ways to help and care for each other?
- Diminishes our carbon emissions with less travel so that it actually helps the planet and puts us on the right track?
- Helps us find we are more resilient than we knew?
- Pushes billionaires step up and fund more?
-Helps the world find more compassion and solutions for the poor, disabled, elderly, mentally ill and those who need ongoing help?
 - Resets our overwork/overwhelm cycle? 
- Encourages us to learn to enjoy and love more those we are with at home?
-Means we learn how to manage anxiety? 
- Exposes the cracks in our healthcare system and we unite to fix it?
- Forces us try new recipes and waste less food since we don't want to go out and shop? 
         - Moves us to get creative and new ( younger) leadership emerges to take us to the next stage of our evolution?

 Maybe …who knows? we shall see….

Rabbi Rayzel Raphael , guest blogger, is the spiritual leader of Darkaynu In Warrington. She also offers lifecycle events and counseling in the Philadelphia, NJ and Delaware area.   She is an award winning songwriter, and the author of two children’s books- Angels for Dreamtime and New Moon.  For more information- and spiritual resources to get through these times - visit her website:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Weapons of Choice

   Talking with two friends and future teachers the other day, my understanding was deepened about a new and fearful responsibility they assume. One of them told us how she was in her practice teaching situation with her young charges when one of the children slammed a door, hard. It sounded to her like a gun shot. She confessed she had a moment of utter panic.

Of course, part of the training these days is for just such a situation and a school lockdown. You learn where to go in the room to best protect the children. I learned how the magnet on the door frame of the room we were in, when quickly removed, would lock down our room.

I pondered how we do such an unfortunate job of drilling fear into our children with practice runs in school. In my day, it was getting under the desk to be safe from a nuclear bomb (as if that would help). Now it's closer to home, so we cower in a corner to avoid the disturbed school shooter.

The other future teacher said when she starts teaching she's going to have a gun. I was astonished! This is a seemingly calm, patient, intelligent young woman. She set off a long conversation with questions from her fellow teacher friend like: where would she keep a weapon; how would she insure a child didn't find it and accidentally injure another; what was she teaching the children by arming herself? I told her my concern was that anyone who owns a weapon for "security" purposes, should be prepared physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to kill someone. Was she? Had she done the necessary homework?

We must be the most fearful society on the planet, as well as the most violent. Three pictures brought this home to me this week. The first was an 11 year old girl with her grandfather, appearing before a legislative committee in Idaho with a loaded AR-15 slung over her shoulder. Her grandfather was there supporting conceal-carry for permitted non residents. Ironically he said, "People live in fear, terrified of that which they do not understand. She's been shooting since she was 5 years old. She got her first deer with this weapon at 9. She carries it responsibly. She knows how not to put her finger on the trigger. We live in fear in a society that is fed fear on a daily basis." He said Bailey was an example of someone who could responsibly handle a gun, and lawmakers should extend that to non-residents.

The second picture was two young boys standing in the Nebraska state capital with assault weapons. One had even dressed the part with a helmet and fatigues. Apparently they were there with their weapons just to prove they could be. This in a state where it's against the law to take a protest sign into that same building.

The third picture was of Tess Thompson Talley, a trophy hunter from Kentucky. She posted a picture of herself standing in front of a rare black giraffe apparently looking and pointing to the heavens in thanksgiving. She remarked, "Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today! Spotted this rare black giraffe bull and stalked him for quite a while." Africa Digest called her a "white american savage."

     Let's be clear! There are lots of people who don't need guns to feel safe, or powerful. There are those who practice fearlessness. One such event occurred around the world this past week when Christians celebrated Ash Wednesday. This is a ritual where you wear the sign of your own demise on your forehead. You recognize that you have come from dust and you will return there as well. You're no different in essence than any other living being and your destiny will be the same.

In Buddhism there are monks who meditate on their skeleton, no flesh, just bones. It might be a humbling reality check for all of us. Confronting death, the deepest fear of the human psyche and coming to terms with it, enables one to begin practicing fearlessness in life. And if ritual practice isn't enough, one could take advice from the 1 Letter of John in the New Testament, that "There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear."

The fearless are all around us. They seldom get press. They confront a loved one on their alcoholism or drug use. They save people from fires and floods. They won't let "difference" limit their neighborliness or compassion. They won't let the depressed despair. They counsel the desperate and suicidal. They teach the seemingly unreachable. They face fire hoses and dogs and beatings in the cause of justice. They sometimes lose their lives in school or church shootings, attempting restraint on the shooter. They risk their lives in international situations of conflict. They accompany human rights workers around the globe in organizations like Peace Brigades International. They serve in the Nonviolent Peace Force to help resolve conflicts with creative nonviolent strategies. They join the UN Peacekeepers to deliver supplies to war torn refugees.

There are those who love life so much that they work through their fears, refusing to place them on another. We are a fearful people. But if we will, we can practice fearlessness. We can hold love and compassion in our hands as our weapons of choice.

Carl Kline

Friday, March 6, 2020

Of Narrative and Law - From Vitebsk to Vermont

          Sitting by the fire in the old Vermont inn as the snow swirled outside, I drifted back in time to what might have been a similar scene in late eighteenth century Vitebsk, Belarus. I had come through the swirling snows to visit Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk. My time machine was the Rebbe’s own book, P’ri Ha’aretz, Fruit of the Land. I wish I could say that I had taken the holy book with me as part of a greater awareness of what I might encounter. In truth, it is a slim volume that fits easily into my pack, thus a frequent companion when traveling. Like snow settling into intricate patterns upon the windowpanes, as though each flake has been carefully placed, meaning emerges of its own, and I soon knew with deeper insight why I had brought the book.

Finding our way on the journey, vision blocked by the snow at times, windblown across the path, transitions can be hard to follow and to navigate. 
The weekly Torah portion of our time in Vermont was Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1-24:18), in which there is one such transition, seeming to appear suddenly as a sharp turn at the base of a wooded hill. It is what I think of as a watershed portion. From the very beginning of Torah, from the first word, B’reishit/In the beginning of…, there has been a continuous flow of narrative, only three commandments, in fact, until just a few weeks and portions earlier. Most of that first large enumeration of commandments is primarily of a ritual nature, concerning the marking of Passover, helping to insure that we remember through the generations that we were slaves in Egypt. Suddenly, with the portion of Mishpatim, we encounter a portion that is almost entirely of law. As the word mishpatim is understood, most of these laws represent social ordinances, laws meant to mediate civil and interpersonal relations.

       The transition can be difficult at first, slipping and sliding a bit as we make our way. It is helpful to remember that such portions of law are also part of the narrative, also part of the journey. Since leaving Egypt, all of Torah unfolds along the way of the desert journey, and so it continues to guide along the way of our journeys as the Torah of Life/Torat Chayyim. Pausing on the trail to catch our breath, we wonder about the relationship between the narrative that has come before and this portion of law. In the way of Torah, there is no introduction or acknowledgement of a shift in tone or approach, its own teaching on the seamlessness of life, all facets as part of one whole. There is a small hint of continuity about which much teaching emerges. On the first word of the portion there is a prefix of one small letter, the conjunctive letter vav/and; v’eleh mishpatim/and these are the social ordinances that you shall set before them. The letter vav/and appears superfluous, unnecessary, and in that appearance is its mystery and teaching, beckoning, asking us to look more carefully. Teachers through time suggest that the vav is to make clear that all that has come before and all that is about to be told are all part of the legacy of Sinai, all given as part of one whole. Drawing on rabbinic teaching to the book of Sh’mot/Exodus, the great commentator Rashi notes very simply, the vav adds to what came before/mosif al ha’rishonim, thus indicating continuity.

         Of that continuity that stretches all the way back, joining us to the very beginning, Rabbi Menachem Mendel then spoke up, offering his thoughts as I sat by the hearth, warmed by two fires. Looking back to creation, with which the human narrative begins, setting the universal backdrop from which the particular Jewish narrative emerges, the Rebbe of Vitebsk teaches that from the first moment of the world’s becoming there begins a flow of chesed/lovingkindness into the world, and so it flows through time. He teaches that God created the world as an act of chesed, drawing on the oft-sung words of Psalm 29, olam chesed yibaneh/the world is founded on lovingkindness. As the narrative unfolds and social constructs become more complex, there comes to be greater need to mediate human relations in all realms of human interaction, whether economic, political, juridical, or familial and interpersonal. Rebbe Menachem Mendel worries about the danger of chesed overflowing its banks, of even lovingkindness becoming dangerous without any way of containment and focus. Torah becomes that container. He suggests that something, however good in its essence, that is entirely unbounded becomes unrecognizable and returns the world to primordial confusion. 
          As I listened, the Rebbe taught further of the role of Torah: it is the bounded container and the vessel that holds the way of blessing and reveals kindness in the world, for if there is no boundary, there is no world/she’im eyn g’vul eyn olam…. Of so much pain caused in the absence of boundaries, and in the failure to honor the emotional and physical space that is each person’s world, the world itself is threatened with return to the chaos of before there was a world, from before there was a human narrative and its laws of justice      and compassion.

As we navigate the transition that comes with the portion of Mishpatim, finding our way from narrative into law, so the Rebbe anticipates our concern, that kindness and compassion may become lost in a thicket of laws. The goal then becomes to join and unite the attribute of compassion to the attribute of justice/m’chaber u’mishtatef midat ha’rachamim l’midat ha’din…. We realize that we have not left the narrative after all. Rather, we have been given signposts along the way, laws and teachings meant to guide us in our going forward together in the ever-unfolding narrative that is ours to shape. 

Of law that is meant to mediate human relations and yet to be infused with something deeper than itself, Rebbe Menachem Mendel teaches, and to every commandment that is in the Torah is a root that is beyond its particular detail/u’l’chol mitzvah she’ba’torah shoresh l’ma’aleh b’f’ratit. As law helps to shape the narrative of human relations, so it needs to reflect the higher ideals of which the narrative tells and toward which it strives.

Flames dancing upon the hearth, I looked out at the snowflakes swirling, the beauty of creation singing to me of God’s kindness. Feeling content as one small part of a greater narrative, I sat back and closed my eyes, closing the holy book and kissing its cover, savoring the teaching that had come through time from Vitebsk to Vermont.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein