The Spoiler at the Passover Seder

The Spoiler at the Passover Seder

In a number of plays and movies, the central theme is a family holiday celebration, sometimes Thanksgiving, at other times Christmas.  Among the gathered family is a son, daughter or relative carrying a deep grudge.  Through their acid comments, they bring to the surface submerged hatreds and bitterness that poison the celebration.  For Jewish families the holiday celebration par excellence is the Passover Seder.  Here, too, there is often a spoiler.

The Dual Facets of Hanukkah

Every person has a public and a private personality. The public self is how we present ourselves to others. The private self is where lie our hopes, our fears and our spiritual yearnings. The emotionally healthy individual, more or less, keeps the two aspects of self in balance. The disturbed human being is unable to do so. The private self is sacrificed for the public one, or the public life is effaced and the private one made dominant.

Replays of Life

Like  the replay of a favorite CD, life often replays for us in the present events of the past. Mark Twain expressed it this way: “History does not repeat itself in exactly the same way but it does rhyme.”  As in the replay of a CD in which we adjust the CD player for a finer tone to the music and a clearer expression of the lyrics, so in life’s replay we seek to repair the mistakes and reemphasize the contributions we made in the past.

Time Thieves

time-2Are you aware of how much of your time is being stolen? It is an irreparable loss. Time is the canvas on which we paint the story of our lives. We carry this picture with us into the higher dimensions and there its analysis and interpretation determines the next stage of our journey beyond this world.
Each one of us is given so much time on earth and no more. Sometimes through prayer and miracle we get an extension. But that extension is not open ended.

Half a Matzah and a Broken World

Is half a matzah as good as a whole?

Not if one half stands for the body

And the other half stands for the soul.

The allure of the Passover seder from ancient times to the present has been its symbols and symbolic rites.  At the Passover seder the whole matzah symbolizes the two components of human life, body and soul, that should function together in an integrated way.  But in our world they are often dysfunctional. This dysfunction is symbolized at the seder by the rite of yahatz. We break the middle matzah on the seder plate. We wrap the larger piece in a napkin and set it aside to be eaten after the meal as afikomen, the after-meal desert.  In the order of the seder in the Passover Haggadah, the eating of the afikomen is called Tzafun, the hidden, i.e., the broken matzah in the napkin.

Loneliness and the Social Media

In darkened rooms all over the world, people sit before lighted screens projecting themselves to friends and unknown others in the hope of making a human connection. But the selves being projected are more artifice than truth. They are scripted selves calculated  to make an impression. Aaron Sorkin, who created the screenplay for the movie The Social Network depicting the creation of Facebook, is not charmed by Facebook or the Internet.  In an interview he stated that he has serious reservations about the way they have connected people. Sorkin concedes that these digital inventions have brought people together who would never have found one another without them. Some of them have formed meaningful relationships and happy marriages. Nevertheless, he maintains that for a sizeable majority, the cynical illusions of the social media have not brought us closer together but have pushed us further apart. The darkened room and the lit screen of the online world is a very lonely place, and it is definitely not a reflection of the real world.

Big Brother Watching Overtime

George Orwell would not be surprised. As he predicted in his novel 1984, Orwell’s Big Brother, surveillance, is working overtime these days. Not only is the government watching you, as Edward Snowden revealed, but now business is getting in on the act. Major retail and restaurant chains, seeking to fine tune their staffing and hold down labor costs, are using sophisticated software that tracks employees’ performance and sales activity. The software is integral to just-in-time scheduling systems, which help ensure that a store won’t have eight cashiers working when there’s only enough business for four.

The Miracle of Hanukkah: Less is More

In his slim volume entitled Hundred Dollar Holiday, Bill McKibben points out that the holidays of December no longer work for most of us.  When Walmart extends Black Friday to five days, and we view it with dread rather than joy, something is wrong.  McKibben urges us to back away from the mall, scale back radically on spending and recover joy in simple traditions.

The Imponderables of Life

During the High Holiday season we pray, “Remember us unto life.”  It has been pointed out that in the center of the word “life” is the word “if.” If suggests the unpredictable, tumultuous, precarious, dangerous world in which  we live. For the young people among us it represents the hills and mountains of challenges ahead in relationship, in marriage, in family, in work. The British poet Rudyard Kipling, in a poem entitled If addressed to young people has this memorable line about challenges: “If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on  you, If you can know yourself when all men doubt you, yet make allowance for their doubting too.”
For those in their middle or later years among us the word “if” suggests looking back at our lives as in Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken and asking the question: What if I had taken the other road?
In the center of the Hebrew word for life hayyim are two Hebrew letters each called “yud” representing the name of God, one yud representing God’s presence in our physical, material world and one yud representing God’s presence in the world of spirit and spirituality. The two yuds in the center of the Hebrew word hayyim meaning life point to God’s eternal guidance and love for us in every challenge and at every stage of life. It is this faith that enabled Kipling to conclude his poem with the optimistic line that despite challenges,”Yours is the world and everything that’s in it.” It is this faith underlying Robert Frost’s confident conclusion to his poem:  “Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all  the difference.”
Finally there are  the buoyant, encouraging, faith-laden words of Isaiah:
“Let every valley be raised
Every hill and mountain made low
Let the rugged ground become level
And  the ridges become a plain
The Presence of the Lord shall appear
And all flesh, as one, behold,
For the Lord has spoken.
With these words in mind let us pray on these holy days: “Remember us unto life.”

Elevators of Religion-From Cellar to Penthouse

To expand on a previous blog entitled “Welcome to Cellar Religion”: the mission of religion is to serve as an elevator lifting people from the cellar of untamed, emotional religious enthusiasm and zeal, which needs to be disciplined and purified, to a higher level. It is at the mezzanine level of discipline, reason, ethics and morality that primal religious emotion and zeal are purified. At the penthouse level of spirituality and mysticism, the religious impulse purified by reason, ethics, morality and the discipline of a daily religious practice is elevated still further. Here there develops a profound awareness that all humans, no matter their race religion or gender are all God’s children and as our brothers and sisters are entitled to consideration, compassion and love. Here there emerges a respect and an appreciation for animals, birds and nature in all its forms, even beyond our universe, as aspects of God’s creation. Here there awakens an awe and a love of God and the heavenly dimensions.