The Default Position of Joy
What has surprised me most about being a parent is not the sleepless nights or the discovery that sucking on a pacifier should be added to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, what has surprised me most is a baby's utter capacity for Joy.
Surely, like most children my daughter cries, howls, whimpers, grunts, and gets fussy. However these are all intermittent against a backdrop of pure joy. I am by no means a child expert (in fact it is the opposite everything is entirely new), but it seems to me that happiness is the most complex and developed of emotions for this little one. Because she is so very new to the world she does not seem to feel (or at least make known) other feelings such as shame, acceptance, anger, courage, or any of the many other emotions that older children and adults outwardly experience.
She is tired or hungry so she simply cries, but when she is not crying her eyes smile with a deep joy and laughter. Her default position in life is joy and I only wish it will stay that way forever. It is much more difficult for adults to set our default positions in life to a place of pure happiness or wonder. Even when we are not respoding to something hurtful, we all too often subconsciously adjust our default settings to angst, anxiety, pain, or anger. For a baby, if there is no immediate hunger or exhaustion or pain what else is there but pure joy? Judaism encourages us to constantly refresh the lens with which we view the world.
Every morning we are instructed to pray Elohai Neshama She-natata Bi Tehorah Hee - The soul that You The One have given me is pure. We are reminded to reset our mental homepage from wherever it has strayed to a place of inherent joy and return to our own souls wonder of youth.
Blood Stained Torahs-Shabbat Morning Sermon 3/9/08
3 torah scrolls we read from today
3... this is very rare
One for the parsha of the week Pekude
One because it is Rosh Hodesh, the new month
And one because today is Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special shabbatot leading up to Passover.
3 torah scrolls we read to today, as an expression of our simcha, our joy, because the month of Adar and Purim with all its joy is here.
But this was not a joyous week for the Jewish people, as students, teenagers who were sitting together studying torah in our sacred city of Jerusalem, were murdered by a man who walked into their yeshiva and opened fire. 15 year olds and 16 year olds, who were already growing up too fast - living in a land whose existence is always threatened - their lives were destroyed.
The students at this yeshiva were planning a Purim party but yesterday they planned instead a funeral. They thought they heard fireworks to celebrate the new month which brings in the celebration of Purim but instead were horrified to realize what they were hearing was by no means fireworks, it was gunfire.
And when I read about this account I thought of the poetry of the ancient author of psalms, I recalled a phrase we say so often in our services, and I have said so often in my own life calling out to God:
Hafachta Meespadi L'machol-Li - You turned my mourning, my grieving into dancing, - you turned my sackcloth into robes of joy-you turned my mourning into dancing
And I thought about how in this case it was the opposite for those young boys their dancing, their celebration was turned to death and mourning. And then the picture of other young boys dancing in the streets of Gaza celebrating the attack came into my mind and I could only feel how sick and sad it is that our mourning is their dancing, and their dancing has become our grieving.
Because the killing took place in a Beit Midrash, a house of study, the holy books of our tradition were found littered throughout the room. The eight students were buried with torah scrolls that were now no longer fit for use because they were stained with blood. What a haunting image...torah scrolls stained with blood. Torah scrolls- the narrative, the inspiration, the song of our people...
Buried into the earth.
And I can only speculate that is exactly what the murderer hoped to achieve.....to bury our torah, to bury and destroy and silence the living song of our people's story.
Today we have taken out of the ark 3 torah's.
Today, right now, we will sing the song of our people's life and history from three sifrei torah. Normally we take out and lift up high 1, today we lift and sing from 3 torahs, and so will our downstairs minyan, and we lent out a torah this weekend, and this morning our torah study group poured through the text..today is a day of torah.
There are many responses, so many political responses to argue about, and there are noble and vital responses of sending tzedakah and organizing local support.
But today on this Shabbat, our response must be to align our lives and enter into and deepen our relationship with the very thing this murderer sought to destroy, our Etz Hayyim, our living torah.
Yesterday it was buried
But today we take out and sing from 3 sifrei torah
We must commit to being in relationship with our torah, to make it come alive and be relevant for today...it is our parents torah, our great grandparents torah and most importantly it is our torah....and I don't mean only to sit and study, I mean to make real in our lives the ideals, the hopes, the values, the interactions between our ancestors and the mystery they called God that have been recorded in our scrolls. The words are not merely Hebrew letters on parchment but are symbols of relationship and love etched into the collective memory of Am Israel, the people Israel.
There are those who wish to bury it, to rid the world of our torah and our people.
But today we take out and sing from 3 torahs.
We commit to making this love song between God and man a reality in the lives we lead, we commit to manifesting the compassion and justice that the torah stands for into acts of compassion and justice and we refuse to allow our narrative of peace to go buried into the dust. May the memory of those lost forever be a blessing and may the knower of all souls send blessings of healing to those families in pain.
And we will pray to see as we are already witnessing today that our mourning moves to dancing, yesterday morning I sang songs with our foundation pre-school students who were dressing up for Purim and are blessed to not know headlines, today we daven and sing together and our Bat mitzvah leads us with pride and poise and sings out from our scrolls the message of our people, the message of our God, a message of peace and coming together as a community.....Shabbat Shalom.