Words, Words, Words

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 16, 2018 / 29 Adar 5778

MISHNA BERURAH CLASS continues its Passover learning this Sunday, March 18TH.

Portland’s Jewish Men’s motorcycle group will be meeting for the first time on Sunday, the 25th of March. If you know someone who would be interested in joining, please let me know or send me their contact information. No requirement to be a CNS congregant.

Summary: As we begin to read Vayikra, Rav D muses on how words can be serious or silly. We can’t say anymore without a spoiler alert. After all, just like a will, that would be a dead giveaway…

Words, Words, Words

I love words. You can’t be a storyteller or a poet if you don’t. Thankfully, I am hardly alone. Of perhaps all religious traditions, Judaism is arguably the most word-driven. The Torah, of course is “the word of God.” Then there’s the Talmud, all 2,711 pages of it, and millions of pages of commentary. We utter brakhot, blessings, before eating or lighting candles or smelling a rose, all to sanctify our ordinary actions.

In the prayer, Barukh She-amar, we are taught that God created the world through ten speech utterances. This may strike the scientific-minded person as a bit too mystical, yet it’s hard to overestimate the power of words to create new realities. They move us, inspire us…and sometimes even bore us. Peace treaties are crafted of them, while declarations of war plunge two nations toward the abyss. Declarations of love, on the other hand, have often sent a couple spinning hopelessly toward marriage. Psychologists, meanwhile, ply their trade as wordsmiths of the soul.

To be a human is to live within a sticky web of words that shape almost everything we do. Words direct our lives in ways large and small. Indeed, just yesterday, the synagogue and I finalized and signed a contract committing ourselves to common cause and purpose for the next seven years. That’s an exciting and humbling world of words, tying together our present with a future we will write together as we continue to strengthen our marvelous community.

Wednesday, I met with a congregant who presented me with a book of scientific studies that profess to document how praying for someone improves healing outcomes. As someone who has read many studies over the years that both support and debunk the efficacy of prayer, I look forward to carefully analyzing the accounts contained in the book (That’s something about me you hopefully already know–my belief that science teaches us what is religiously possible, while religion teaches science the meaning, ethics and permissibility of things.).

For anyone who has watched a loved one gripped by a debilitating ailment, however, nothing can be more serious or hoped for than that their prayers do indeed help their loved ones. There is something profoundly moving when (most of) our congregation goes silent while a holy handful of us offer up the name of some precious person for our collective spiritual care.

So yes, words can be searing, deep, enlightening. There have been a handful of Trevor Noah monologues that have taken my breath away with their brilliance, such as when he shines an illuminating light on race that opens my eyes. And on Wednesday, at St. Mary’s Academy, where I had the privilege of presenting Jewish perspectives on unity and inclusion, seventeen word-pairs brought me to tears.

Here’s what happened. After listening to a fantastic keynote speaker, and teaching my session, seven hundred of us quietly filed outside the school at 10 am. There in front of the school, a large bell is permanently mounted. In our expectant silence, the bell’s clapper was struck. As its piercing toll lingered and faded, the name and age of a Parkland victim was recited. And again, the bell pealed and faded–another name, another age. Seventeen times this happened. As we remembered all the dead, the wordless bell etched itself into our hearts seventeen times more.

Yet despite all these deeply profound uses that we demand from our words, I have a penchant for bad puns, “dad jokes,” and the inanely silly. If you can’t laugh your way through the hard stuff, what’s the point? Laughter is healing, joyful and just outright fun. Plus, a few groans never hurt either. With all that in mind, you might want to know that this past week, police were summoned to Foundation School, where a three year old was resisting a rest.

Ok, not really. But speaking of education, when fish are in schools, they sometimes take debate…I know, it’s terrible. Not as terrible as this guy I know who’s addicted to drinking brake fluid, even though he says he can stop at any time. But bad none the less. Some of these word plays are downright criminal–sort of like that thief who stole a calendar and got twelve months. And even though Laura and I just celebrated our 18th anniversary, she still rolls her eyes at a bunch of my bad jokes and wonders why she said yes all those years ago. What she’s complaining about, I don’t know. I mean, when we got married, she got a new name and a dress. What’s not to be happy about?

I hope it is a light-hearted Shabbat for all of us, one with a bit more peace than maybe the world has experienced recently.

In earnest jest,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What are some of the most powerful words you have heard recently? What impressed them on you?
  2. Which words changed your life forever? Why?
  3. What’s the worst joke you’ve heard that still made you “lose it?”

After Brexit, England no longer has a kidney bank. Thankfully, it still has a Liverpool.

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

For Torah Sparks Commentary, Click Here