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Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The Torah sometimes refers to Sukkot simply as חג, holiday, because it is the holiday -- the day of ultimate celebration.  On Yom Kippur we sob our hearts out, and on sukkot we feel the release that comes after the flood.

Sukkot is supposed to be a holiday of singing and dancing.  But today, I was sobbing with joy.
 זה היום עשה ה', נגילה ונשמחה בו
"This is the day God made, we will rejoice and be happy on this day!"   For this is the day Gilad Shalit returns home to Israel.

The Egyptians required a televised interview of him before releasing him to Israel.  Watching this young man's composure through heartless questions about his feelings during captivity, I think the state of Israel may have found a future leader.

אבן מאסו הבונים היתה לראש פינה
"The stone that the builder's despised has become the cornerstone."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shop Vac

Jonathan Coulton  wrote a powerful song, Shop Vac.  Watch this video clip.  Jarrett Heather's animation is outstanding, and besides you will need it to appreciate this blog entry.

Coulton thought his song was about "suburban angst" -- he said so in a different video clip.  Having just returned from the most passionate city in the world to the lawns and houses of Palo Alto, I can relate.  

But guess what?  I know people who live in Jerusalem, and others in New York City, who feel much as Coulton describes, but they believe their escape is to the suburbs.  They may be right, and Coulton may be right, too.  Where you live can strongly impact your happiness.  

On the other hand, it is also very easy to blame something outside of ourselves for our inner miseries.

One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs describes similar unhappiness, but maybe with a little more honesty.  Listen to "Dangling Conversation" here.

Relationships are hard, much harder than most of us imagine when we embark on them.  Paul Simon complains, "I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand."  To reach past his lover's shadow and feel her hand, he must first reach through his own shadows and confront whatever ugliness is there.  Most of us cannot bear the pain of that confrontation, and so instead we run to the basement and the Shop Vac, or the coffee shop and Robert Frost.

Perhaps the wife nags and nags: about the clothes he leaves lying on the floor (does he assume she'll pick them up?), his failure to be home in time for dinner, his failure to notice anything nice about her.  Of course he doesn't notice; he doesn't hear her.  He does not want to confront his own selfishness, and certainly not his own sexism.  (Sexism was his parents' problem, not his!)

Perhaps the husband has been stonewalling her for years.  What is wrong with him?   Why can't he relate!?  But has she looked in the mirror and seen the anger smoldering inside?  Has she seen the ugliness of her anger, and how he flees from it?  Easier not to look. Easier to retreat quietly, upstairs to the TV, or to Emily Dickinson.

The problem is suburbia.  The problem is the city.  The problem is all the fake friends (suggests Coulton): as we get older, sincerity becomes harder and harder to find.  But taking a sincere look at our own darkness  -- our anger, our depression, our greed, our cruelty -- is too hard for most of us.

On Yom Kippur, we stop hiding behind suburbia.  We call it as it is:  חטאנו, we have sinned.  Not "he", not "she", not "them".  We, Us, I have sinned.  Yes, they have sinned too.  But there's nothing I can do to change that.  I can only change who I am.

When we face our shadows, and admit our own role in getting us to where we are and where we want to be, an amazing thing happens.

ויאמר ה', סלחתי כדברך
God said: I have already forgiven, just as you spoke.