כִּי לֹא תַֽמּוּ חֲסָדֶֽיךָ: “For your kindnesses never cease.”

17 11 2013

From Lamentations (Eicha) 3:22:

כב  חַסְדֵי יְקוָק כִּי לֹא-תָמְנוּ, כִּי לֹא-כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו  22 Surely the LORD’S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not.

And from the Modim blessing from the daily Amida prayer, based on that verse:

הַטּוֹב כִּי לֹא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ

You are good, for Your compassion is never-ending.

וְהַמְֿרַחֵם כִּי לֹא תַֽמּוּ חֲסָדֶֽיךָ

You are compassionate, for Your kindnesses never cease.

מֵעוֹלָם קִוִּֽינוּ לָךְ

Our hope has always been in You.

[Translation by Rabbi Debra Orenstein.]

A friend called me up today. He was about to go grocery shopping with his kids and he asked if I need anything, since he knows that I’ve been down for the count, at least was down for the count on Friday and Saturday, with a migraine. (I didn’t go to a Shabbat dinner on Friday night that I had helped organize nor to Shabbat services on Saturday.) I thanked him for the offer and told him that I was all set for groceries.

His kindness made me cry, though. I feel like no one has ever been this kind to me in my entire life. And that makes me sad. Either it’s true, which is sad, or it’s not but I’ve forgotten the various kindnesses that people have shown to me during my life, which is a different kind of sad.

Even when God’s mercy and compassion on His creations seem very limited to me (here, I’m thinking specifically of young children who lose their parents and parents who lose their young children, rather than my own suffering), the mercy, compassion, and kindness of so many human beings never ceases to amaze me.

My prayer today is that one day, may I, too, merit to show such kindness, mercy, and compassion to myself and to others! Amen.

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Hope and self-loathing

28 10 2013

I’ve posted some of my visual artwork here, but not too much. It’s time to post more. I’ve gotten back into drawing and painting in a major way recently, and it’s mostly a good thing. Maybe entirely a good thing.

There are water marks on these because I don’t want anyone to steal them. They’re also not incredibly in focus. I hope that doesn’t detract from your viewing too much. Thumbnails are below; click on each to see a full-size image.

This was one of my first (recent) efforts. It’s how I’ve been feeling about feelings/emotions lately.

Feelings

Feelings

The next two go together.

The first is how I feel so often, but I also feel like I need to put on a cheery, rainbow face and pretend that everything is just fine. I mean, really, why wouldn’t it be? The colors start out and end up straight, but bend into a rainbow in the middle on purpose. The straight, harsh lines of my life and mind often have to contort themselves into a rainbow to make myself presentable to the world.

The second is what I hear other people telling me about my life or their own, but it’s behind a thick screen of greenish, brownish, greyish gunk and I can’t access or feel it.

Life is Too...

Life is Too…

Ain't Life Grand?

Ain’t Life Grand?

Sometimes, I feel like this (piece not finished yet; maybe I’ll re-post when I’m done with it):

Hope

Hope

 

But, often, I feel full of this:

Self-loathing

Self-loathing

I adore this last one! I thought I might feel worse putting my thoughts down on paper in living color this way, but I actually feel better having drawn out those little furry monsters of self-loathing. It helps to externalize it. It is this thing that I feel; not something inherently a part of me that can’t be put down on paper because it’s so essential to my self. I was also able to hear the actual voices of various people in the little speaking bubbles that I put in there. Some are voices that seem to come from inside my own head, but others are things that I’ve heard others say about me or others and that (apparently) made a deep impression.

Future pieces may include:

  • “Desperation” (that’s what I wanted to do right after I finished “Hope,” but “Self-Loathing” reared its ugly head instead!)
  • “Anger”
  • “Failure”

I would also love to do some with explicitly Jewish content. The phrase “אִם אָמַרְתִּי מָטָה רַגְלִי חַסְדְּךָ ה’ יִסְעָדֵנִי” from Psalms 94:18 has been going through my head for some months now. (My translation: “If I say, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your mercy, God, will support me.”)





Jewish texts that spark discussion about suffering in Judaism

9 09 2013

I co-taught a class recently at a private Jewish event, about Jewish life and suffering due to mental illness (broadly defined–not only depression). We did not really discuss theology. The purpose of the discussion was just that–to discuss mental health and suffering through a Jewish lens. In retrospect, we accomplished our goal of having a discussion, but perhaps it all could have been a bit more focused. Everyone has such different experiences with both Judaism and mental health that it’s really hard to pin down something specific to talk about, beyond sharing our own personal experiences and how we have been able to–or unable to–help others.

These were the texts that my co-facilitator and I shared with the group. We used these in various ways. I would love to hear any thoughts or reflections that you may have on these texts, or on the problem that I mentioned above (of narrowing the focus of the session).

The Biblical translations are based on the new JPS (1985).

Psalms 100:2

עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־הבְּשִׂמְחָ֑ה בֹּ֥אוּ לְ֝פָנָ֗יו בִּרְנָנָֽה׃

Worship the Lord in gladness; come into His presence with shouts of joy.

 Ethics of the Fathers, 1:15

הֱוֶי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת

Greet every person with a pleasant face.

Psalms 51

יח כִּי, לֹאתַחְפֹּץ זֶבַח וְאֶתֵּנָה; עוֹלָה, לֹא תִרְצֶה.

18 You do not want me to bring sacrifices;
You do not desire burnt offerings.

יט זִבְחֵי אֱלֹקִים, רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה:
לֵבנִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּהאֱלֹקִים, לֹא תִבְזֶה.

19 True sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.

Lamentations 1:16

עַלאֵלֶּה אֲנִי בוֹכִיָּה, עֵינִי עֵינִי יֹרְדָה מַּיִם–כִּירָחַק מִמֶּנִּי מְנַחֵם, מֵשִׁיב נַפְשִׁי

For these things do I weep, my eyes flow with tears. Far from me is any comforter who might revive my spirit…

ויקרא רבה (מרגליות) פרשה ז:ב – Midrash Leviticus Rabba 7:2

וידבר האל משה לאמור: צו את אהרון ואת בניו לאמר זאת תורת העולה (ויקרא ו:אב)

[ב] זבחי אלקים רוח נשברה(תהלים נא, יט)

אמר רב אבא בר יודן: כל מה שפסל בבהמה הכשיר באדם. מה פסל בבהמה, עורת או שבור או חרוץ או יבלת אולא תקריבו אלה לה (ויקרא כב, כב), הכשיר באדם, זבחי אלקים רוח נשברה, לב נשבר ונדכה אלקים לא תבזה(תהלים נא, יט).

אמר רב אלכסנדרי: ההדיוט הזה, אם משתמש בכלי שבור גניי הוא לו, אבל הקבה כל כלי תשמישיו שבורין הן, דכתיב קרוב הלנשברי לב(תהלים לד, יט), הרופא לשבורי לב(תהלים קמז, ג), מרום וקדוש אשכון ואת דכא ושפל רוח להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים(ישעיה נז, טו), לב נשבר ונדכה.

God spoke to Moses saying: Command Aaron and his sons saying, ‘This shall be the law of the burnt offering…’ (Vayikra 6:1-2)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise (Ps. 51:19).

R. Abba b. Judan said: Whatever the holy One, blessed be He, declared unfit in the case of an animal, He declared fit in the case of man. In animals he declared unfit: Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or with a wen, boil-scar, or scurvy – such you shall not offer to the Lord (Lev. 22, 22), whereas in man He declared fit A broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:19) [to be true sacrifice]. R. Alexandri said: If an ordinary person makes use of broken vessel, it is a disgrace for him, but the vessels used by the Holy One, blessed be He, are precisely broken ones, as it is said, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit He delivers (Ps. 34:19); He heals the broken hearts (Ps. 147:3); I dwell in the high and holy place; Yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit – reviving the spirits of the lowly, reviving the hearts of the contrite (Isaiah 57: 15). A broken and contrite heart

Psalms 6

א לַמְנַצֵּחַ בִּנְגִינוֹת, עַלהַשְּׁמִינִית; מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד.

1 For the Leader; with instrumental music; on the sheminith. A psalm of David.

ב יְהוָה, אַלבְּאַפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי; וְאַלבַּחֲמָתְךָ תְיַסְּרֵנִי.

2 O LORD, do not punish me in anger, do not chastise me in fury.

ג חָנֵּנִי ה‘, כִּי אֻמְלַלאָנִי: רְפָאֵנִי ה‘–כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ עֲצָמָי.

3 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I languish; heal me, O LORD, for my bones shake with terror.

ד וְנַפְשִׁי, נִבְהֲלָה מְאֹד; ואת (וְאַתָּה) ה‘, עַדמָתָי.

4 My whole being is stricken with terror; while You, LORD—O, how long!

ה שׁוּבָה ה‘, חַלְּצָה נַפְשִׁי; הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי, לְמַעַן חַסְדֶּךָ.

5 O LORD! rescue me! Deliver me as befits your faithfulness.

ו כִּי אֵין בַּמָּוֶת זִכְרֶךָ; בִּשְׁאוֹל, מִי יוֹדֶהלָּךְ.

6 For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim You?

ז יָגַעְתִּי, בְּאַנְחָתִיאַשְׂחֶה בְכָללַיְלָה, מִטָּתִי; בְּדִמְעָתִי, עַרְשִׂי אַמְסֶה.

7 I am weary with groaning; every night I drench my bed; I melt my couch in tears.

ח עָשְׁשָׁה מִכַּעַס עֵינִי; עָתְקָה, בְּכָלצוֹרְרָי.

8 My eyes are wasted by vexation; worn out because of all my foes.

ט סוּרוּ מִמֶּנִּי, כָּלפֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן: כִּישָׁמַע ה‘, קוֹל בִּכְיִי.

9 Away from me, all you evildoers, for the LORD heeds the sound of weeping.

י שָׁמַע ה‘, תְּחִנָּתִי; ה‘, תְּפִלָּתִי יִקָּח.

10 The LORD heeds my plea, the LORD accepts my prayer.

יא יֵבֹשׁוּ, וְיִבָּהֲלוּ מְאֹדכָּלאֹיְבָי; יָשֻׁבוּ, יֵבֹשׁוּ רָגַע.

11 All my enemies will be frustrated and stricken with terror; they will turn back in an instant, frustrated.

Psalms 13

א לַמְנַצֵּחַ, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד.

1 For the leader. A psalm of David.

ב עַדאָנָה ה‘, תִּשְׁכָּחֵנִי נֶצַח; עַדאָנָה, תַּסְתִּיר אֶתפָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי.

2 How long, O LORD; will You ignore me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

ג עַדאָנָה אָשִׁית עֵצוֹת, בְּנַפְשִׁייָגוֹן בִּלְבָבִי יוֹמָם;

עַדאָנָה, יָרוּם אֹיְבִי עָלָי.

3 How long will I have cares on my mind, grief in my heart all day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

ד הַבִּיטָה עֲנֵנִי, האֱלֹקָי; הָאִירָה עֵינַי, פֶּןאִישַׁן הַמָּוֶת.

4 Look at me, answer me, O LORD, my God! Restore the luster to my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

ה פֶּןיֹאמַר אֹיְבִי יְכָלְתִּיו; צָרַי יָגִילוּ, כִּי אֶמּוֹט.

5 Lest my enemy say, “I have overcome him”; my foes exult when I totter.

ו וַאֲנִי, בְּחַסְדְּךָ בָטַחְתִּייָגֵל לִבִּי, בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ:

אָשִׁירָה לַיהוָה, כִּי גָמַל עָלָי.

6 But I trust in Your faithfulness, my heart will exult in your deliverance.
I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, excerpt from “Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud Torah,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 17:2 (Spring 1978), p. 65 (I have shared this text on this blog before)

Judaism, in contradistinction to mystical quietism, which recommended toleration of pain, wants man to cry out aloud against any kind of pain, to react indignantly to all kinds of injustice or unfairness. For Judaism held that the individual who displays indifference to pain and suffering, who meekly reconciles himself to the ugly, disproportionate and unjust in life, is not capable of appreciating beauty and goodness. Whoever permits his legitimate needs to go unsatisfied will never be sympathetic to the crying needs of others. A human morality based on love and friendship, on sharing in the travail of others, cannot be practiced if the person’s own need-awareness is dull, and he does not know what suffering is. Hence Judaism rejected models of existence, which deny human need, such as the angelic or the monastic. For Judaism, need-awareness constitutes part of the definition of human existence. Need-awareness turns into a passional experience, into a suffering awareness. Dolorem ferre ergo sum — I suffer, therefore I am — to paraphrase Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. While the Cartesian cogito would also apply to an angel or even to the devil, our inference is limited to man: neither angel nor devil knows suffering.

Therefore, prayer in Judaism, unlike the prayer of classical mysticism, is bound up with the human needs, wants, drives and urges, which make man suffer. Prayer is the doctrine of human needs.”

Wishing all of my readers a sweet, happy, and healthy New Year!





“And God Will Gather Me In”: Thoughts on Elul

31 08 2011

Today is Rosh Hodesh Elul, the first day of the month of Elul, the month traditionally reserved for introspection leading up to the holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), when our fate is signed, and Yom Kippur, when our fate is sealed.

Like so many other things Jewish (and not), I find it difficult.

I recently saw a blog post by a new blogger, Heshbon Hanefesh (welcome!), that resonated with me, and reminded me of Psalm 27, which has gotten me through some tough times in the past. This Psalm is traditionally recited, at least by Ashkenazi Jews, after Shacharit and Ma’ariv throughout the month of Elul. (I think that in Nusah Sefard, it’s recited after Minchah, instead.)

For those who have never seen it or need a refresher, here it is:

א לְדָוִד: ה’, אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי–מִמִּי אִירָא;
יְהוָה מָעוֹז-חַיַּי, מִמִּי אֶפְחָד.
1 [A Psalm] of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
ב בִּקְרֹב עָלַי, מְרֵעִים– לֶאֱכֹל אֶת-בְּשָׂרִי:
צָרַי וְאֹיְבַי לִי; הֵמָּה כָשְׁלוּ וְנָפָלוּ.
2 When evil-doers came upon me to eat up my flesh,
even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.
ג אִם-תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי, מַחֲנֶה– לֹא-יִירָא לִבִּי:
אִם-תָּקוּם עָלַי, מִלְחָמָה– בְּזֹאת, אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ.
3 Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war should rise up against me, even then will I be confident.
ד אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-ה’– אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה, וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ.
4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.
ה כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה– בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ; בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי.
5 For He concealeth me in His pavilion in the day of evil;
He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.
ו וְעַתָּה יָרוּם רֹאשִׁי, עַל אֹיְבַי סְבִיבוֹתַי, וְאֶזְבְּחָה בְאָהֳלוֹ, זִבְחֵי תְרוּעָה;
אָשִׁירָה וַאֲזַמְּרָה, לַיהוָה.
6 And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me; and I will offer in His tabernacle sacrifices with trumpet-sound;
I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
ז שְׁמַע-יְהוָה קוֹלִי אֶקְרָא; וְחָנֵּנִי וַעֲנֵנִי. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I call with my voice, and be gracious unto me, and answer me.
ח לְךָ, אָמַר לִבִּי–בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי; אֶת-פָּנֶיךָ ה’ אֲבַקֵּשׁ. 8 In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, LORD, will I seek.
ט אַל-תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ, מִמֶּנִּי– אַל תַּט-בְּאַף, עַבְדֶּךָ:
עֶזְרָתִי הָיִיתָ; אַל-תִּטְּשֵׁנִי וְאַל-תַּעַזְבֵנִי, אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי.
9 Hide not Thy face from me; put not Thy servant away in anger;
Thou hast been my help; cast me not off, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
י כִּי-אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי; וַיהוָה יַאַסְפֵנִי. 10 For though my father and my mother have forsaken me, the LORD will take me up.
יא הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ: וּנְחֵנִי, בְּאֹרַח מִישׁוֹר–לְמַעַן, שׁוֹרְרָי. 11 Teach me Thy way, O LORD; and lead me in an even path, because of them that lie in wait for me.
יב אַל-תִּתְּנֵנִי, בְּנֶפֶשׁ צָרָי: כִּי קָמוּ-בִי עֵדֵי-שֶׁקֶר, וִיפֵחַ חָמָס. 12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine adversaries; for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out violence.
יג לוּלֵא–הֶאֱמַנְתִּי, לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב-ה’: בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים. 13 If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!–
יד קַוֵּה, אֶל-ה’: חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-ה.’ 14 Wait on the LORD; be strong, and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for the LORD.

The verse that always grabbed me was verse 10: “כִּי-אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי; וַה’ יַאַסְפֵנִי”
/ For though my father and my mother have forsaken me, the LORD will take me up.

Except that, instead of “take me up,” I would say “gather me in.” As I commented on Heshbon Hanefesh’s post, all I want is for God to gather me in. Please, God, gather in all of my scattered bits. Sometimes, it feels as though bits of my life are flying off in their own directions, leaving a diminished “me” behind.

As an adolescent, I felt very abandoned by my parents, and that’s when this verse began to speak to me.

Writing now, on Rosh Hodesh Elul, I am very fearful. Not of God’s judgment, but of the process of Elul. Of it failing me, or me failing it. Of God slipping further and further away from me, beyond my grasp. I have lately had a much more difficult time connecting to Judaism, Jewish community, and Torah than I would like. I don’t really know why, or what’s going on exactly, but the severe depression of this past fall/winter has probably taken its toll on my spiritual life, which feels empty and depleted. I am often left wondering why I do all of the Jewish things that I do, in addition to what I am doing here on this earth.

I am also fearful of the shortening of the days, as Heshbon Hanefesh is. Fearful is too weak a word. Terrified is closer. I think that I have gotten progressively more and more depressed each of the past three autumns. Or maybe 1 (2008) and 3 (2010) were the worst. In any case, my psychiatrist said that seasonal affective disorder can start as early as August and that I’d better start using my light box. The bulb burned out at the end of last season and I finally ordered a new one today. But, hell. I can’t get depressed again. I can’t. I’m starting graduate school and will have a more structured environment, which should help, but also considerably more stress (both academic and financial), which may not. I’m not sure I ever really recovered from this past fall and winter’s bout.

Back to the Psalm–another verse, verse 4, has also long spoken to me, and I actually had it written on a shtender* that I bought in Jerusalem when I was eighteen: “אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה– אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה, וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ.”
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.”

I want God in my life, but I’m angry at God. I am having misgivings about organized religion. It feels like too much for me a lot of the time. I am not sure that one can have God, at least not the God I want and in the way that I want, without organized religion. I am also not sure that one can have community, or at least not the community that I want, without organized religion. Even though “community” often disappoints or infuriates or bores me, I don’t know what I would do without it.

I am hoping that I can put some thought/effort/writing into all of this, in one form or another, throughout Elul and arrive at a more satisfactory place than I find myself now.

What’s your Elul going to be about? How do you feel about Psalm 27?

[Here are some thoughts about teshuva from 2003/2009. This post wasn’t really about teshuva, interestingly enough. I’ll have to think about that some more!]

* Shtender is the Yiddish word for lectern. The one that I bought looked something like this.





“For these things I weep”: Tisha B’Av thoughts

8 08 2011
טז עַל-אֵלֶּה אֲנִי בוֹכִיָּה, עֵינִי עֵינִי יֹרְדָה מַּיִם–כִּי-רָחַק מִמֶּנִּי מְנַחֵם, מֵשִׁיב נַפְשִׁי; הָיוּ בָנַי שׁוֹמֵמִים, כִּי גָבַר אוֹיֵב. 16 ‘For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water; because the comforter is far from me, even he that should refresh my soul; my children are desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed.’

This verse appears in Lamentations 1:16, part of Megillat Eichah, which Jews around the world read tonight, on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av.

For these things I weep? No, I weep for so many other things! I do not weep for these things.

* * *

I’ve been having mixed feelings about this year’s three-week long period of mourning since, oh, the 17th of Tammuz or so.

For the first time ever, I didn’t even make a pretense of fasting on the 17th of Tammuz, the day that starts off this mourning period. (I normally try and then I eat if I feel really sick later in the day, as Jewish law dictates for these minor rabbinic fasts.) In addition to the depression that I struggle with, I also have “food issues.” Not really an eating disorder, more like disordered eating. I was trying to eat better around the 17 of Tammuz, and that meant not skipping a day of food. I was also trying to get work done, and that required coffee. So I had breakfast with coffee and went to work.

It wasn’t that I didn’t feel sad; it was that I felt sad about the wrong things, and about nothing at all. You know how you can just cry and cry and cry and not even really know why, except that it feels like the world is going to end? Like nothing will ever be okay; like everything will always be broken? So, yes, I’ve had a bit of that lately. July and August are not normally a bad time for me; they’re usually somewhat neutral.

I didn’t want to “do” the Three Weeks. I didn’t feel like trying to deflate my already flailing mood. I didn’t go out to any live concerts during this period, but, let’s face it, I don’t usually go to live concerts all that often anyway.

But what to do about Tisha B’Av? I could not really be in the mood for commemorating the loss of the Temples in Jerusalem during the Three Weeks or Nine Days, and just do the minimal, rote requirement, but ignoring Tisha B’Av is out the question for me.

כ רְאֵה יְהוָה כִּי-צַר-לִי, מֵעַי חֳמַרְמָרוּ–נֶהְפַּךְ לִבִּי בְּקִרְבִּי 20 Behold, O LORD, for I am in distress, mine inwards burn; my heart is turned within me
כא שָׁמְעוּ כִּי נֶאֱנָחָה אָנִי, אֵין מְנַחֵם לִי 21 They have heard that I sigh, there is none to comfort me…

For one thing, there are these excerpts from the first chapter of Eichah that lay forth my pain for the world to see. I know it isn’t my pain, but it is. It is all of our collective pain, since the Temple was destroyed and everything went to hell. The agony of unceasing tears and of soul-rending sighs are expressed here, and are heard by the entire congregation, which sits on the floor, in the dark, partaking in the terribleness that was and still is. In Judaism, I feel like all of the pain that ever was, still is on Tisha B’Av. That’s part of the beauty of this religion that re-enacts both redemption and suffering, each in its own time, but together, as a community. “Behold my pain!” the author of Eichah proclaims in 1:18. “וּרְאוּ מַכְאֹבִי” How often do I want to shout that from the rooftops? Often. (Hence the blog, among other outlets.)

Just as Sukkot and Simchat Torah are difficult holidays for me, because they so often proclaim the “season of our joy” just as my Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking into high gear, I find some solace in the open expression of sadness that Tisha B’Av welcomes into my community. Sadness is not only okay on this day, it’s required. Finally, something that’s easy for me! But also, the acknowledgment that sadness is a part of life, a part of our history, a part of our tradition, somehow makes me feel more a part of things, less on the sidelines, peering in through a window.

יא כָּלוּ בַדְּמָעוֹת עֵינַי, חֳמַרְמְרוּ מֵעַי–נִשְׁפַּךְ לָאָרֶץ כְּבֵדִי, עַל-שֶׁבֶר בַּת-עַמִּי: בֵּעָטֵף עוֹלֵל וְיוֹנֵק, בִּרְחֹבוֹת קִרְיָה. 11 Mine eyes do fail with tears, mine inwards burn, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the breach of the daughter of my people; because the young children and the sucklings swoon in the broad places of the city. {S}
יב לְאִמֹּתָם, יֹאמְרוּ, אַיֵּה, דָּגָן וָיָיִן: בְּהִתְעַטְּפָם כֶּחָלָל, בִּרְחֹבוֹת עִיר–בְּהִשְׁתַּפֵּךְ נַפְשָׁם, אֶל-חֵיק אִמֹּתָם. 12 They say to their mothers: ‘Where is corn and wine?’ when they swoon as the wounded in the broad places of the city, when their soul is poured out into their mothers’ bosom. {S}
יט קוּמִי רֹנִּי בליל (בַלַּיְלָה), לְרֹאשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת–שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ, נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֲדֹנָי; שְׂאִי אֵלָיו כַּפַּיִךְ, עַל-נֶפֶשׁ עוֹלָלַיִךְ–הָעֲטוּפִים בְּרָעָב, בְּרֹאשׁ כָּל-חוּצוֹת. 19 Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord; lift up thy hands toward Him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger at the head of every street.’ {S}

There is a second reason to not give up on Tisha B’Av, just yet. And that is the way that Tisha B’Av can try to pry me away from my own gaping pain and open my eyes to that of others. We don’t only cry for the loss of a building and sovereignty when we cry on Tisha B’Av. As illustrated by these verses from chapter two of Eichah, we also cry for the tremendous human suffering that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem.

One of the many, many problems with being depressed and with struggling with depression is how self-centered it makes one. I wake up each morning wondering if I will make it through the day. Will I get up? Will I eat properly? Will I shower? Will I get any work done? How will I feel? Will it be better or worse than yesterday? The self-centeredness of my distress is, itself, distressing. I can’t necessarily force my way out of it. One thing that was great about a recent vacation that I took was how it took me outside of my closed little world of dark rooms and self-loathing and out into the world.

On that note, the American Jewish World Service recently put out a prayer for East Africa, specifically focusing on their terrible famine, in connection with Tisha B’Av. More here.

I hope that this Tisha B’Av and every future Tisha B’Av will turn from a day of sadness and mourning into a day of redemption and ever-lasting happiness. And I hope that you all find your ways through this difficult and confusing day of tears, but not the tears we’re used to. I’d love to hear your thoughts.





“They shall be as white as snow.”

10 02 2010

I have long wished for a “reset” button. Something simple that I could press to start my life, or perhaps only this current period of depression, over. Something that would allow me to fall asleep one way–as my current self–and wake up in the morning either as someone different, or as the same person but with more resolve to pull myself together. Or, if not quite pull myself together, at least let go of yesterday’s failures and just start afresh. Say all you want about it “not being my fault,” lay all the blame in the world squarely on the head of a biologically-determined disease over which I have no control, but I still walk around with leaden guilt wrapped firmly around my ankles, dragged down by yesterday’s inability to get out of bed, or by last night’s episode of binge eating.

Instead of a “reset” button, I seem to have a “relapse” button, wherein I feel like I am doing better (whee! life has meaning! I am being productive! I am taking good care of myself!) and then, I wake up one morning a few days later, and, once again, I am not. I feel like I can’t get my bearings, despite trying my hardest. (Except for the days when I give up before I even get started.) It is frustrating, to say the least.

I have been hoping that this current snowstorm might function as such a “reset” button, much in the way that I sometimes hope that a weekend, a new month, a Jewish holiday, or an extended vacation will somehow function as a “reset” button, to make okay all that is not. But there is just something about snow, isn’t there? The way that it covers everything, and makes thing appear to be what they are not. The way that it envelopes the world, softening its hard edges. The way that it creates a sort of blank slate, a new world to mold and shape according to our wishes, and then a reborn world when it finally melts. There is something pure about it, and purifying.

It’s not just me. See Isaiah 1:18:

יח לְכוּ-נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה, יֹאמַר יְהוָה; אִם-יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ, אִם-יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ. 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

I try not to think about my depression as a sin, because that somehow implies that I have free will to exercise over it, whereas I am fairly sure that “free will” and “depression” overlap very little.

Nonetheless, depression and sin share enough that a metaphor that works for one may very well work for the other. Like a sin, depression is something about myself that I do not like, and it causes me to act in ways that I regret, and it is difficult to shake off. Like sin, depression sometimes feels like a crimson stain that resists all of the oxygen-enriched stain removers I apply to it, as well as the outright toxic bleach with which I scrub at it. Like a red stain, it bleeds through into so many areas of my life.

What would my “sin” of depression being “as white as snow” feel like? What would my life look like after the “reset” button of a winter storm had been pressed?

It would be fresh and clean.

It would be cold and invigorating.

It would obscure the dirt in the street below.

It would soften some of the differences between us, the way our winter coats cover us and make us all just people.

It would be alert.

It would be full of beauty.

It would contain the variation and individuality of the ever-unique snowflake.

It would help us overlook people’s imperfections in light of the sheer miraculousness of their existence.

It would create a sense of wonder in the world, and promote laughter and frolic.

It would make the ordinary seem extraordinary.

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[In unrelated news, Borei Hoshech now has a Facebook “page” as well as a Facebook “profile.” If you would like to become a “fan” of the “page,” click here! I will let people know about new posts through the page, and will also be less discriminatory against my actual, real-life friends in allowing people to become my fans.]

P.S. That last photo is a standard-issue New York City Parks Department trash can.





Psalm 116: “Return, O my soul, unto thy rest”

16 12 2009

I don’t have a plan yet for the long-term viability of this project, but, in the spirit of the “one day at a time” attitude that I am desperately trying to cultivate in myself, I had a short thought that I would like to share in honor of Chanukah, the holiday of light and the redemptive power of hope. (See this post from last year for a longer thought about Chanukah.) I also wanted to thank you all for your comments, both public and private. They mean the world to me. And, rest assured that I won’t continue with this if I decide that it isn’t good for me. I need to balance that feeling, though, with the thought that it might just actually be my best chance at (psychological, if not spiritual) redemption. Scary. (Oh, let’s be realistic, what isn’t?)

Psalm 116 appears in the Hallel that we say every morning during Chanukah.

Psalms Chapter 116 תְּהִלִּים

א אָהַבְתִּי, כִּי-יִשְׁמַע יְהוָה–    אֶת-קוֹלִי, תַּחֲנוּנָי. 1 I love that the LORD should hear my voice and my supplications.
ב כִּי-הִטָּה אָזְנוֹ לִי;    וּבְיָמַי אֶקְרָא. 2 Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him all my days.
ג אֲפָפוּנִי, חֶבְלֵי-מָוֶת–וּמְצָרֵי שְׁאוֹל מְצָאוּנִי;    צָרָה וְיָגוֹן אֶמְצָא. 3 The cords of death compassed me, and the straits of the nether-world got hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow.
ד וּבְשֵׁם-יְהוָה אֶקְרָא:    אָנָּה יְהוָה, מַלְּטָה נַפְשִׁי. 4 But I called upon the name of the LORD: ‘I beseech thee, O LORD, deliver my soul.’
ה חַנּוּן יְהוָה וְצַדִּיק;    וֵאלֹהֵינוּ מְרַחֵם. 5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is compassionate.
ו שֹׁמֵר פְּתָאיִם יְהוָה;    דַּלֹּתִי, וְלִי יְהוֹשִׁיעַ. 6 The LORD preserveth the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.
ז שׁוּבִי נַפְשִׁי, לִמְנוּחָיְכִי:    כִּי-יְהוָה, גָּמַל עָלָיְכִי. 7 Return, O my soul, unto thy rest; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.
ח כִּי חִלַּצְתָּ נַפְשִׁי, מִמָּוֶת:    אֶת-עֵינִי מִן-דִּמְעָה; אֶת-רַגְלִי מִדֶּחִי. 8 For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
ט אֶתְהַלֵּךְ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה–    בְּאַרְצוֹת, הַחַיִּים. 9 I shall walk before the LORD in the lands of the living.
י הֶאֱמַנְתִּי, כִּי אֲדַבֵּר;    אֲנִי, עָנִיתִי מְאֹד. 10 I trusted even when I spoke: ‘I am greatly afflicted.’
יא אֲנִי, אָמַרְתִּי בְחָפְזִי:    כָּל-הָאָדָם כֹּזֵב. 11 I said in my haste: ‘All men are liars.’
יב מָה-אָשִׁיב לַיהוָה–    כָּל-תַּגְמוּלוֹהִי עָלָי. 12 How can I repay unto the LORD all His bountiful dealings toward me?
יג כּוֹס-יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא;    וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא. 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.
יד נְדָרַי, לַיהוָה אֲשַׁלֵּם;    נֶגְדָה-נָּא, לְכָל-עַמּוֹ. 14 My vows will I pay unto the LORD, yea, in the presence of all His people.
טו יָקָר, בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה–    הַמָּוְתָה, לַחֲסִידָיו. 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.
טז אָנָּה יְהוָה,    כִּי-אֲנִי עַבְדֶּךָ:
אֲנִי-עַבְדְּךָ, בֶּן-אֲמָתֶךָ;    פִּתַּחְתָּ, לְמוֹסֵרָי.
16 I beseech Thee, O LORD, for I am Thy servant; {N}
I am Thy servant, the son of Thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bands.
יז לְךָ-אֶזְבַּח, זֶבַח תּוֹדָה;    וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא. 17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.
יח נְדָרַי, לַיהוָה אֲשַׁלֵּם;    נֶגְדָה-נָּא, לְכָל-עַמּוֹ. 18 I will pay my vows unto the LORD, yea, in the presence of all His people;
יט בְּחַצְרוֹת, בֵּית יְהוָה–    בְּתוֹכֵכִי יְרוּשָׁלִָם:
הַלְלוּ-יָהּ.
19 In the courts of the LORD’S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. {N}
Hallelujah.

The entire Psalm is beautiful.

Here, in the middle of the joyous Hallel, where mountains dance like rams, we admit that we are, right now, in a place of “trouble and sorrow.”

Now that I look, I see that other parts of Hallel also contain a strong element of calling out to God from the narrow place, or מיצר. For some reason, I always had the impression of Hallel being a wholly celebratory, happy sort of collection of Psalms (that I loved to hate on when depressed). I probably had that assumption because we say it at celebratory occasions, like Chanukah, Sukkot, Pesach, and Rosh Chodesh. Also, probably, because this Psalm as well as many of the others is expressing the point of view of a person who has already been saved or redeemed: “וְלִי יְהוֹשִׁיעַ.” “He saved me.” “כִּי חִלַּצְתָּ נַפְשִׁי, מִמָּוֶת:    אֶת-עֵינִי מִן-דִּמְעָה; אֶת-רַגְלִי מִדֶּחִי.” “For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.” But before today, I never noticed that some of Hallel can be read as coming from a place of deep despair.

I think that my favorite line from this Psalm is the fervent hope expressed in these distressed words from the seventh verse:
“!שׁוּבִי נַפְשִׁי, לִמְנוּחָיְכִי”
“Let my soul return to your rest!”

My soul, which was once at rest and at peace, is no longer. I beseech you, God, to return my soul to your rest, to your peace, to your comfort. Please God, listen to me, and speak to me, and, most importantly, let me hear your words and feel your eternal presence in my life.

The word, “מְנוּחָיְכִי” which comes from the root נח, or rest, has many connotations to me. Rest and comfort, but also, somehow, a loving embrace of God. Perhaps because it sounds (a little bit) like the word חיבוק, or hug. I don’t know why.

I am certainly not feeling that מנוחה, or rest, at the moment, but it’s times like these that I am so glad that I have these resources at my disposal. These words, in my lips and on my heart, with which to say:

Please, God, let me have back what I once had.

Please, God, let me have the kind of peaceful, restful soul that I imagine that others have, that may have always eluded me.

Please, God, incline your ear towards me. Be gracious and compassionate even when I cannot be. Especially when I cannot be.

And if it’s not quite true that “הֶאֱמַנְתִּי, כִּי אֲדַבֵּר;    אֲנִי, עָנִיתִי מְאֹד,” “I trusted even when I spoke: ‘I am greatly afflicted,'” well, maybe saying the words makes it so. In this case, I sort of think it does. Whatever reason I say these words, my saying them, in the midst of my great affliction, means that I still have hope or trust in God, or something greater than myself and my own deep personal pain and sorrow. I must still believe, a teeny tiny bit, in redemption, or I wouldn’t say these words.

And, finally, the words that get me every time:

ט אֶתְהַלֵּךְ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה–    בְּאַרְצוֹת, הַחַיִּים. 9 I shall walk before the LORD in the lands of the living.

I shall. Because that’s where God wants me, and that’s where I will be able to “כּוֹס-יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא” or “lift up the cup of salvation.”

Happy Chanukah!