Sunday, November 30, 2008

757. Snakes

No more long lists of birds; juicy tales of iniquity and enlightenment await instead. A while back I sung about the serpent and apple, and a week later stars in the sky. Up next: 23 verses about the rape of Dinah, just short of the part about her brothers' payback. As I'm still having trouble getting back to real, non-holiday time two months after the fact, still catching up on work I put off during all those weekdays of chag (and hoping the crappy economy will oblige with new work once this pile is gone), it feels good to get up early, take many deep breaths, and practice telling a great story. It's a tragic one, but the next parasha will not be--and I bet the one after that will. On Simhat Torah, little tributaries kept breaking off from the big, dizzy crowd of dancers and, hands on shoulders, winding sinuously around twirling circles of people and Torot. From the balcony the lines looked like a network of joyous, sneaky snakes, squeezing in and out clumps of flying spinners when they least expected it. I was surprised to find myself describing this ecstatic scene with a metaphor of the symbol of humanity's worst sin. The line between good and evil can be tenuous; it seems somehow fitting that I sing about infinite promise one week, and bottomless anger the next.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

756. Blindness

Five people from different parts of the world found this blog yesterday by Googling "baruch dayan emet." I am guessing this has something to do with the deaths in Mumbai, a tragedy beyond words. Today at services the rabbi spoke of Isaac's's life as bracketed by fear, the Akedah at one end and Jacob's deception at the other:

Isaac was seized with a violent fit of trembling. ' the one who trapped game and just served it to me?
--Genesis 27:33

Because Isaac was a fearful man, explained commentators, God commanded him to remain in one place and dig wells. This enabled him to look deeper and deeper, in all senses, without having to venture beyond safe walls. But it was also the reason for blindness in his old age:

Isaac had grown old and his eyesight was fading.
--Genesis 27:1

because when you never move from one place, you can't see what lies beyond the horizon. Moshe, in contrast, who brought the Jewish people far beyond all imaginable borders, had clear vision until the day of his death:

Moses was 120 years old when he died, but his eyes had not dimmed, and his natural powers had not left him.
--Deuteronomy 34:7

As the news brings more and more stories of war, hatred, and senseless murder, I wonder if we human beings will ever learn to see beyond the blindness of our own narrow walls.

Friday, November 28, 2008

755. Chair

I'm on a constant search for an ideal space in which to write. This is mainly an excuse to procrastinate, as I tell myself I can put words together only if the chair is perfectly comfy and I hear a flowing river in the background, or maybe some cooing birds, instead of the sound of honking cars. But until I find this Shangri-La, I think I've created a good interim solution. A few weeks ago I sold the hulking dust magnet of a rowing machine that sat for years in front of my bedroom window. I once tried to convince myself that if I set eyes upon this behemoth the minute I awoke, I would actually use it. This was not the case, and instead I began each morning with a large dose of guilt.

I've now moved the nostalgic, somewhat comfortable easy chair of my childhood (a big, overstuffed pillow for my back will do wonders, soon as I find time to buy it) into that space. I thought about hiring a carpenter to build a window seat, but then the chair would need to go back into the dark corner by my dresser. I like looking at it and remembering how grown-up I felt when my mother decided to move the chair out of the living room and into mine, and the afternoon I hunkered down into its graceful Danish Modern embrace, covered with throws and cushions to mask awkward and elegant wooden anorexia, to write my college application essay. Now it overlooks a wide expanse of Broadway and reminds me of all the buildings I've yet to explore.

Top photo: the chair
Bottom: Broadway (thorough a trippy windowscreen haze)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

754. Tattoo

(Is this thing on?... testing, one, two, three...)

Hello world, again.

Coming up for air, perhaps briefly or steadily. I have been drowning in work, afraid to stop and even more scared that after all my deadlines have passed, nothing else will appear in the queue. But I've been wrong about this before, so hoping the dying economy will bypass me this time, too.

Last night I had a dream that convinced me I was stuck in a rut. I was wandering in an enormous Tower Records/HMV/Virgin-type megastore (hmm, all of which have bitten the dust). I stopped in front of a wall lined from floor to ceiling with magazines on all topics imaginable--massive and overwhelming, a paper version of the Internet. My favorite sections, the graphic design/architecture/media porn titles, practically reached the sky. Suddenly I bumped into an old colleague I hadn't seen in ages, a wiry punk rock dreadlocked skateboard animator guy who is also one of the sweetest and most gracious people I've ever known. We hugged. "Wonderful to see you!"

"Hey," he said with a wink, "want to have some fun? Why don't you take my magazines to the cashier, and I'll bring yours? Let's get even more and really freak her out," he added.

It sounded like a daring and even dangerous proposition. What would people think? But I knew I had to do it.

So we raced up and down the aisles, I amassing a pile of biker, tattoo, and video game magazines, and he staggering under the weight of People and Martha Stewart. We ran up to the cash register and threw our respective stacks on the conveyor belt. The cashier looked at us like we were nuts. I smiled.

I woke up realizing it was time to charge a few bad habits and become a (relatively speaking) tattooed biker once again.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving (to those Americans who happen to be reading)! The hall outside my apartment has smelled like turkey since about 7:30AM. In a few hours I'll head downtown for my usual tradition of a movie and dinner with family and friends, much more fun than sweating over a stove. Wishing all of us what the pilgrims dreamed about: freedom, bounty, and peace.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

753. That same old post title

I can't bring myself to type "I'm still here" yet again, especially in light of my complete failure at this NaBloPoMo thing, but I am, and there's always next year. Life is boring if you achieve all your goals, right? I remain mired in work, some of it fun, the rest not, and all of it eating away at the parts of my life set aside for other things. I am grateful to have clients during this era of a sewer economy, so don't dare complain. I continue to dream about balance... I'll figure it out, because this blog has at least 753 more posts to go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

752. Words, quickly

In the excellent writing workshop I'm taking, we spend some time in class actually writing. With pen and paper (I can scarcely remember the last time I tried that). What a concept!--at first I doubted I could put together coherent sentences without a keyboard, or an hour to agonize over every syllable. Not that I'm always so slow; sometime I just type, and there it is. But occasionally I doubt my entire ability to string words together, and nothing comes out. This is a great exercise to help one get over oneself. Here's what I wrote in class tonight:

I have prepared my Torah portion completely and perfectly, but I wake up on Shabbat morning in a cold sweat--I know I will forget. I don't know why I know, but I'm sure. I remember other moments of forgetting, when the letters danced unbidden on the parchment as my yad pointed insistently, unable to spear any of the words and keep them still.

More than anything, I'm afraid of being afraid.

Shivering, I walk up to the bima. I grab the yad with both hands like a baseball bat; if I imagine it's big and heavy, maybe I will be able to keep those words in their places. I look down to find the beginning of the passage, but instead of a craggy cliff of letters I see the banks of a river, and a gentle stream of words flowing between them. The lines and curves at the edge of each line seem to stretch out their serifs and crowns in greeting to meet the others. Word by word as I chant, they take my hand and lead me forward.

Monday, November 10, 2008

751. Running in place

and never catching up. That was today, from 6AM to midnight--work still overdue from October staring relentlessly from a computer screen. Maybe soon all the deadlines I pushed in order to observe four weeks of holidays will be fulfilled, but that promised land remains far away. Meanwhile, I work like mad and live in a constant state of busy guilt.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

750. Op-ed

Not that I'm obsessed or anything, but the iPhone has completely changed my reading habits and is maybe even making me smarter. Instead of taking a week to slog slowly through the Sunday New York Times, and scan the weekday edition whenever I don't mind getting covered with newsprint, I now read everything on the go neatly, cleanly, and thoroughly, no awkward folding necessary. So I've become a bigger fan than ever of the Times op-ed columns, a number of which this past week brilliantly captured the mood of this new country we live in--and served as a sober reminder of the long road ahead:

Thomas Friedman, "Finishing Our Work"
Nicholas D. Kristof, "Obama and the War on Brains"
Judith Warner, "Domestic Disturbances/Tears to Remember"
and for a little humor, Colson Whitehead, "Finally, a Thin President"

(There are many more good ones, too.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

749. Names

Yes, this blog is still about chanting, a little of which I did today. Just 6 verses from Lekh Lekha, but nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Gen. 15:2 contained this phrase:

Vayomer Avram Adonay Elohim...
Abram said, "O Lord, God,..

Seems straightforward--except that Elohim is spelled YHVH, the tetragrammaton often used in place of the name of God. YHVH is usually pronounced "Adonai," and is pointed below the letters with the vowels of that pronunciation. But in this case YHVH had the vowels of "Elohim," and the transliteration I just cited (from my favorite Internet Cantor), also pronounces it that way.

But I was taught that in haftarah trop--ONLY haftarah trop, not Torah--two instances of "Adonai" next to each other, no matter what their vowels, meant that the second is pronounced "Elohim." Unless you happen to notice those different tiny little vowels in the Torah (a question that wouldn't be of concern elsewhere in the Tanakh), "Adonai" seems the logical pronunciation.

I didn't notice until I practiced the verses from Tikkun Simanim. There it was in parentheses: "Qere Elohim" ("chanted Elohim"). There was no note to this effect in my other tikkun or humash.

I was proud of myself for figuring it out. So I was a bit shaken when stopped by the rabbi as I chanted "Elohim" ("Only in haftarah," she whispered. "No..." I replied, unaware that the microphone picked up my protest), and after a moment of racing thoughts as I realized I couldn't really have a debate at the bima in the middle of K'riat haTorah, sang "Adonai, Adonai" and offered a silent apology to God. (Who, I guess, heard it correctly the first time.) I got right back on track and read the remaining verses just fine, which might not have happened in the past--so, in all, it was a good learning experience. I found the rabbi afterwards and told her of my discovery, and she apologized--and said she had been equally surprised to see the same word and vowels just a few verses later. Curious, I did some mad Googling last night and learned the following:

--Gen 15:2 is the first appearance in the Torah of the word "Adonai." When spelled out completely, my understanding is that it's an honorific rather than a name of God. So maybe the Masoretes, the guys who standardized the writing of the Torah, decided that the next word had to be explicitly "Elohim" (vs. a YHVH that could be mispronounced as "Adonai") to make sure the name of God was clearly distinguished?

--The exact same phrase appears in Gen. 15:8.

--There are many other instances of this spelling in the Tanakh, but I found reference to only four in the Torah (the other two: Deut. 3:24; 9:26). One day when I have lots of time I'll think about the connection between those passages...

--This type of "qere/ketiv," an instance where the written word is not pronounced as you'd expect, is called a "Qere perpetuum" and is traditionally not notated. (Other discrepancies merit little explanations in the humash or tikkun.) People just sort of knew, for a thousand years or so, how to do it. It was very considerate of Tikkum Simanim to acknowledge that times have changed.

I love all these details, which remind me of noticing shiny bits of rock embedded in the sidewalk that only sparkle when the sun hits in a particular way. Onward to 12 verses of Vayera next Shabbat, which I hope will be equally interesting, but debate-free.

748. Visceral

(Dear NaBloPoMo: The idea is to have 30 posts in 30 days, right? Well, I posted twice on Wednesday, so doubling up today only seems fair, no?)

I'm still not over the election; the glow hasn't yet disappeared. But it's more than that--on a deeply physical, almost cellular level, I feel like something elemental about the fabric of life has changed. My only experience with this sensation happened after tragedy; perhaps giving birth or getting married creates the same seismic shift in perception, but I can't (yet) compare those experiences. I'm reminded of the months post-9/11, when I had to tell myself on a regular basis that it wasn't a bad dream, and I really did live in a world where something permanent could be wiped away as cleanly as if it had never existed. Occasionally I wasn't sure if I knew the boundary between reality and imagination, since fact seemed impossible.

I had the same feeling during a small and completely benign earthquake we had in New York in 1985. It was a few months after my mother's death; I hadn't yet moved out of the apartment where I grew up, and had never before felt so unsettled and confused. I was sound asleep early on a Saturday morning and remember opening my eyes to see the knickknacks on my shelves dancing. I assumed I was having some kind of weird dream; then I felt the bed shake, and realized I was awake. It was a completely alien physical sensation, and my mind raced to define what was going on. I felt like someone had dropped me into a different universe. After a few moments my brain could function once again, and my first thought was that a nuclear bomb had been dropped and the world was ending. What does one do in this case? I wondered. I suddenly noticed the clock radio next to my bed, turned it on, and learned that we had a minor earthquake that caused no damage.

Substituting nightmare with joy, the visceral sensation felt much the same on Tuesday night. This place isn't the same place anymore.

You're out of the woods
You're out of the dark
You're out of the night
Step into the sun, step into the light
— From The Wizard of Oz

Thursday, November 06, 2008

747. Lekh Lekha: Silence and Commands

Here's the d'var Torah (borrowing generously from my post a few days ago), edited slightly for anonymity, that I just wrote in honor of ten years as a member of my synagogue:

Parashat Lekh Lekha
Silence and Commands

As I write this, the outcome is still a mystery. As you read this, a decision has been made and some people will be happy, others not, but one thing is certain: those who cast a vote will be proud to have done the right thing. To waive that right is to discard everything this country stands for.

At least that's how I answered my tenth grade history teacher when he asked: why vote? At 15, I didn't spend a lot of time questioning authority. I loved school and believed my parents most of the time, and had no desire to rock the boat. I remember raising my hand, sure that my perfect response would make me the star of the class.

Instead, the teacher pushed his glasses a little further down his nose and replied, "So what happens if you don't vote?"

What a silly question, I thought. "Then you're a bad citizen!"

"But as citizens we have the right to make any choice," he said. "And they all count, including the choice to NOT vote."

I had no answer to that. I was speechless, in fact. The idea that refraining from action could also express an opinion had never occurred to me.

My teacher's words became a convenient proof text for the rebellion of willful adolescent indifference. For years I remained ambivalent about voting, and believed my silence spoke louder as a personal statement. What better way to provoke authority than to join a majority of "undecideds" and align with a million cold stares? But as I got older I understood that there were different kinds of silence, and I was not really expressing what I had intended.

Silence can be a quiet act of connection, a joining together of community, in which the absence of words creates a powerful oasis of reason away from the noise of society—passive resistance, for example. But it can also represent the abdication of power, a solitary, selfish tearing apart. The kind of silence I misguidedly espoused was about retreating, as Emily Dickinson wrote:

Great Streets of silence led away
To Neighborhoods of Pause —
Here was no Notice — no Dissent
No Universe — no laws —

Eventually I saw that my choice to not vote fell into this category, and that I was squandering the privilege of living in a democracy.

So when I considered the beginning of Avram's journey in Parashat Lekh Lekha, I was as annoyed with him as I had once been with myself. How could he accept, without a single word of protest, God's command to wander in the wilderness? Was he afraid to challenge God, Who gave humanity the unique power to speak, assign names, make choices—to not remain silent? And did God really want Avram, an articulate, opinionated man who defied his father's idol-worshipping ways, to disavow that power? In both this story and the Akedah, I saw Avram as wasting a gift. His blind, obedient silence was as ill-considered as my past choice to not vote.

But I've come to believe that Avram's obedience was the other kind of silence, that of trust and partnership. Although the Torah gives no details about why Avram was chosen by God, midrash and Rambam assure us he proved himself worthy by struggling for years to escape persecution for his beliefs.(1) So Avram's lack of protest at that moment of command came after a lifetime of examining the question of God's oneness. Being chosen could be seen in that light as a mutual decision that initiated a reciprocal relationship.(2) Avram's silence led him down a road where he would learn, with God's help, to make the choices that were his gift and right. That's why the command was phrased as "Lekh Lekha"—go to yourself, discover yourself, and create silence within the cacophony of life to hear God's still, small voice and become God's partner.

I was reminded of my history teacher and Avram's journey when I realized that this election week, and this country's communal leap of faith as we exercised our right to vote, also coincided with an anniversary: ten years ago this weekend I walked into Shabbat morning services at [my synagogue] for the second time ever. At the insistence of a friend I had attended the Singles retreat the weekend before, one of the few non-members to squeeze in. I thought [my synagogue] was rather strange after my first visit a few months earlier and didn't plan to come back, but my friend was so enthusiastic that I decided to give it another try. Much to my surprise—shock, actually—I was intrigued by discussions of Torah that pertained to real life, and the astonishing image of people my own age welcoming Shabbat with singing, dancing, and pure joy. It was so unlike the Judaism I knew and mostly chose to ignore, a religion of inflexible rules and prayer led by old, mumbling men, that it felt like a different religion entirely. I came home from the weekend profoundly moved, and more curious than ever.

I couldn't wait until the next Shabbat morning. I knew I had to be at services—exactly why, I wasn't sure. I remember shaking with anticipation as I listened to the beginning prayers, and after about an hour the rabbis began to talk about Parashat Lekh Lekha and God's command to embark upon a journey within oneself, destination unknown. At that moment I understood the question I had been unable to articulate, and heard the answer. I wondered, just as I did when examining the duty to vote, if complying with the obligations of my religion would be a rigid constraint rather than an opportunity to grow. But I took Avram's lead, because to ignore the command would be to embrace that other kind of silence of denial and isolation. I remain grateful beyond words for this community and its leaders, a community that has taught me to listen to the questions beyond the noise, to hear and use my own voice in so many different ways, and to dare to explore paths unknown both in the world and within myself.

1. Leibowitz, Nehama, Studies in Bereshit (Genesis), Jerusalem: Alpha Press, 1981, p.118.
2. Jospe, Raphael, “Covenant and Chosenness”

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

746. A few images from last night and this morning

Taken with a phone (and I can't get Blogger to line them up quite right), but they still get the point across. From top:

1. Dessert sampler of champions.
2. Crowds starting to gather on my street corner.
3. In front of Rockefeller Center, 8:30AM.

745. Wow

It's after 1:00AM, but crowds are still cheering on the street corner 12 stories below my apartment. I happen to live down the block from a local Democratic headquarters, so the party will probably continue until sunrise. Which is fine--enough sleeping already happened during the last eight years.

What an amazing day.

I try not to be a cynic, but I've seen enough promises broken, heard more than my share of lies, and live in a city where survival means never really trusting most people who share your sidewalk, that the tendency lurks in my psyche. But tonight I'm filled with as much pure, simple hope as is possible for any person. We really do learn from our mistakes, and this country is capable of erasing boundaries and joining hands with our neighbors. Today is more astonishing to me than setting foot on the moon. I never thought I'd type these words again: I'm proud to be an American.

After I voted, I forced myself to ignore CNN for most of the day so I could get some actual work done. At 6:00PM I left for my writing class, obsessively checking iPhone-optimized news on the Times website every few minutes. Things looked a little too close for comfort by 9:00, but when I got out of the subway the streets had already begin to fill with tentatively happy faces. I decided to pick up a few groceries and then noticed crowds at the Democratic headquarters, so crossed the street and craned my neck to watch a little portable TV in the company of a hundred others on the sidewalk. Struck up a wonderful conversation with the 60s-ish woman standing next to me, who was born in Georgia, voted in Queens, volunteered all day in Manhattan, was on her way to the Bronx, and could give Rachel Maddow a run for her money. Ran into two friends from my synagogue and decided to go across the street to a restaurant, eat sinful desserts, and watch the returns on a wide-screen TV.

And that's where I sat, savoring the last few crumbs of chocolate cake, when MSNBC called it and cheers and tears erupted all over the place. We hung out for awhile to email from our phones--psychic communication couldn't have been any faster--and then tried to get back across the street to the Democratic club. But by now hundreds and hundreds had descended upon the little storefront, dancing, crying, yelling O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!--an explosion of completely spontaneous, communal joy. As if we all just woke up from a nightmare and needed to give each other a hug of relief. I stood on the corner in front of my building for many astonished minutes, every once in a while sharing a laugh of disbelief with another immobile stranger. Broadway buses tried to squeeze past the crowd, who parted only after everyone inside stuck their heads out the windows and waved. Cops arrived, got out of their cars, and just stood and smiled.

Finally I shook myself out of a state of shock and came back upstairs to watch the midnight speech, and cry some more.

Wow, and hallelujah.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

744. Sheheheyanu

I just got back home from voting. This feels more satisfying than hours at the gym, a million work deadlines completed, winning the lottery--not that I've ever won the lottery but, yes, I would trade lots of money for the right to exercise my voice as I did today. I believe this is the most important election of my lifetime thusfar. I couldn't sleep last night, afraid I would wake up late and miss the calm before the predicted storm of pre-work voters showing up in droves at the high school down the block.

And the gym was packed, even at 6:30AM. Lines moved quickly, though, and I had to wait only a few minutes. I ran into my neighbor, the one who taped a nasty note to my front door a few years ago about my kitchen garbage (don't ask), and who never makes eye contact in the elevator. But today she gave me a big smile and made sure I found the right place to sign in. (This reminded me of a story I just heard from a friend about his childhood next-door neighbor, with whom his father had an eternal feud. Every year after Selihot they opened the gate between their backyards, and kept it that way until the end of Hoshanah Rabbah, at which time they closed the gate and resumed not talking to each other for another 12 months.)

I looked at the names on the column in the voting booth for a very long moment before slowly and deliberately pulling each lever, one by one. I wanted to sear the image of that top name in my mind's eye so it would remain for the rest of my life, maybe to somehow convey the amazing sight to the souls of those family and friends long gone who never would have imagined such a thing. I thought of my mother, in particular, who as a child endured the pain of prejudice and bigotry as one of the few Jews in her town (yes, in Queens). And who grew up to have friends of all colors, backgrounds, and beliefs, and taught me that no one person can ever be better than another, and we can all achieve whatever we set our minds to. My mother would have been so proud to vote for a man who lived what she dreamed.

Although I'm a stauch supporter of the separation of church and state, I followed my rabbi's suggestion and said a prayer before I pulled those levers:

Baruch ata Adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, sheheheyanu v'kee-y'manu v'hee-gee-anu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, who has kept us in life, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.

May the coming years sustain us far beyond simple survival and trying to escape the worst, as has become an unfortunate status quo, and instead bring an abundance of joy, prosperity, and peace to this country, and to the entire world.

Monday, November 03, 2008

743. One word

I am still working, and have to get up at the crack of dawn, so only have time to post one word. But it's the only word that counts:


(Those readers in the U.S., that is. The rest of you, pray that we all vote for the right person. Who is, I believe--more strongly than I have believed anything in a very long time--Barack Obama.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

742. Peace

I spent about six hours today trying to write my d'var Torah--I am a really, really slow writer, especially when I'm not sure what I'm trying to say--and then another two hours at a Peace Feast, a dinner and dialogue at a local church between Christians, Jews, Muslim, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Listening to everyone talk about how they achieve inner peace, and how those same techniques might work to help their families and our countries coexist, I realized that the most important thing to say, ever, was "I will listen." No matter how intelligent or insightful the other words may be, they count for nothing if they lack the spirit of acceptance and tolerance.

Afterwards I came home and didn't start learning my Torah portion, six verses of Lekh Lekha assigned on Friday (I'm guessing the Bar or Bat Mitzvah bit off a little more than he or she could chew). I finally decided to be less obsessive and accept the fact that I really can learn six verses just a few days before Shabbat.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

741. Silence

It's November 1, so I'm going to take another stab at NabloPoMo--30 posts in 30 days. My head and body have taken a long time to stop spinning from the holidays, but I know that writing a few lines every day keeps me healthier than any other method of post-Simhat Torah crashing.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to write a d'var Torah for my synagogue newsletter in honor of my tenth year as a member. I've set a goal of one of these per year, and this installment (due Monday, and I've also promised to send it around to my writing class tomorrow, oy) is proving more difficult than others. I chose Lekh Lekha because it was the Shabbat when I first understood why I was Jewish and on this journey at at all. Like Avram, I had no idea where I was going--but knew I would end up somewhere good. I was intrigued, as well, when I realized the parasha fell this year during election week, occasion of another leap of faith.

For years I was ambivalent about voting; I believed my silence spoke louder as a statement (mostly in disagreement and disgust). But as I got older, I understood that there were different kinds of silence, and I was not really expressing what I intended. Silence can become a joining together of community, a calm, quiet act of connection, where the absence of words creates a powerful oasis of reason away from the noise of life. (Passive resistance, for example.) But silence can also represent the abdication of power and rights, a solitary, selfish drawing away from community. Eventually I saw that my choice to not vote fell into the latter category, and I was squandering the precious gift of living in a democracy.

So when I thought about Avram in Lekh Lekha, I was as annoyed with him as I had been with myself. How could he just go off to who knows where at God's command without a single word of protest? Didn't God give us the unique power over to speak, give names, make choices? Did God really expect Avram, a smart, articulate, opinionated man who challenged his father's idol-worshipping ways, to disavow that power--and wasn't Avram smart enough to question such a senseless order? But this was a story of blind, unquestioning faith. During the years I viewed voting as a duty, a rule I had to obey, I felt chained and silenced by the obligation, and rebelled by doing the opposite. In both this story and the Akedah, I wondered why Abram didn't balk as well in response to God's order.

Turing this question over and over these past few weeks, I've come to believe that Avram's obedience was the other kind of silence, that of trust and partnership. Being chosen by God was a mutual decision and reciprocal relationship. He was drawn to obey for the same reason I decided to keep coming to services week after week after hearing my rabbis speak aboutLekh Lekha—translated literally: go, go to yourself—that Shabbat morning ten years ago. He knew that to do otherwise would be to squander the gift of a partner and teacher, and deny the possibility of unimagined kinds of growth.

We take the same leap when we vote, and express our gratitude at the gift of democracy. Out of the silence of obedience comes action, like Avram as he set forth on that new road. We learn how to make choices and find our own voices, just as I have been discovering my own these past years.

Hopefully these musings make sense, and I'll figure out, very soon, how to write them up as a d'var Torah.