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.


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!

“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.

Modeh Ani: “Renewed Every Morning”

12 11 2008

The words “שֶהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה” “for you have restored my soul with mercy,” are not easy for one who has difficulty believing that her soul is taken away at night and is returned in the morning.

Fortunately, the end of the Vilna Gaon‘s commentary on Modeh Ani (in סידור מאורי הגר”א) points out another possibility. First, he explains the traditional belief that every morning, we get a new נְשָׁמָה, or soul. However, when he quotes, as his proof, a verse from Lamentations (3:23), he goes in a different direction. That verse is not about our souls being new every morning, but, rather, about God’s mercies being renewed every morning.

I’ve included both that verse and some surrounding verses, since I find them to be particularly beautiful.

כא זֹאת אָשִׁיב אֶל-לִבִּי, עַל-כֵּן אוֹחִיל. 21 But this do I call to mind, therefore have I hope. {S}
כב חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לֹא-תָמְנוּ, כִּי לֹא-כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו 22 The kindness of the Lord has not ended, His mercies are not spent.
כג חֲדָשִׁים, לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה, אֱמוּנָתֶךָ 23 They are renewed every morning–ample is Your faithfulness!
כד חֶלְקִי יְהוָה אָמְרָה נַפְשִׁי, עַל-כֵּן אוֹחִיל לוֹ. 24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ I say with full heart; ‘Therefore will I hope in Him.’ {S}

(Lamentations 3:23 also seems to be the source for the phrase “רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ,” the last two words of the Modeh Ani that I wrote about here.)

According to the Vilna Gaon, just as God’s mercies and compassions are new every morning, so are our souls. I wonder if I can try to think about that when I wake up every morning, and burn that as fuel, as it were, to propel myself out of bed in the morning.

The phrase “כִּי לֹא-כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו,” “His mercies are not spent” reminds me of a line from MaimonidesMishneh Torah:

וּמְצֻוִּין אָנוּ לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכִים אֵלּוּ הַבֵּינוֹנִיִּים, וְהֶם הַדְּרָכִים הַטּוֹבִים וְהַיְּשָׁרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “וְהָלַכְתָּ, בִּדְרָכָיו” (דברים כח,ט).  [ו] כָּךְ לִמְּדוּ בְּפֵרוּשׁ מִצְוָה זוֹ:  מַה הוּא נִקְרָא חַנּוּן, אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה חַנּוּן; מַה הוּא נִקְרָא רַחוּם, אַף אַתָּה הֱיֵה רַחוּם…
רמב”ם, משנה תורה, הלכות דעות, פרק א, הלכה ו

We are commanded to walk in these middle ways, and these are the good and straight ways, as it says, “And you shall go in his ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9). Thus we learned to interpret this commandment: Just as [God] is called compassionate, so should you be compassionate. Just as God is called merciful; so should you be merciful…
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 1:6

I feel that just as it is  important to emulate not only God’s kindness to others in our interactions with others, it is also important to emulate God’s mercy and compassion on us when we relate to ourselves. When I wake up in the morning, and finish Modeh Ani with the words “שֶהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ” I will try to remember both that we get a new chance each morning, just as God’s mercies are renewed each morning, and that we are allowed to be compassionate and kind to ourselves, just as we praise God’s ever enduring mercy.