Stream of Consciousness

Day 3 of training concluded at camp.
Did you know before you can get calluses on your fingers from playing the guitar you have to endure blisters?
Really, it’s only been three days?
Tonight was the first night I didn’t fall into my tent.
And it took me fifteen minutes to find my tent instead of thirty. I didn’t have to hunt today.
I made some new friends.
I remember almost everyone’s name. Almost 100 people.
The rule of three: there should always be three people traveling together. One to get hurt, one to stay with the injured one, and one to get help.
Getting hurt is not a requirement. Generally, we encourage against it.
Shoes should always have back straps.
Music is amazing, and infuses everything.
Seven more days of training to go.
It feels like it has already been an eternity since I got here. That’s camp.
Is it still bedtime if I’m in a sleeping bag?
Lailah tov.


Misnaged in the Woods

Here I sit in my tent, after a sufficiently long day of packing, driving, meeting new people, singing, communing with nature, farming…

What Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” does not tell us is how the narrator felt five steps into his journey on the lesser-traveled fork. He tells us that his choice had ultimately “made all the difference,” sure — but what about the immediate feelings? Was he immediately sure? Had he chosen with conviction? Five steps into the journey, did he stop in his tracks and ponder retreat to the more-common road?

Rarely have I stood five steps into what promises to be a relatively long road and known with conviction that it would make all the difference. And here I am, knowing, somehow, that my life will be changed by the experience I have ahead of me. Knowing, somehow that the change has already begun.

Today, I weeded in the farm’s edible plant forest. I watched later as seventy people sat silently, each alone but in community, in that farm. I was privy to meaningful sharing in which no one made a single sarcastic remark, no one rolled their eyes, no one was disparaging. I watched as flame emerged from only wood and friction. I taught today; but more than that, I learned.

As I sit in my tent in these dark woods, I can hear the lake rushing out to my left. I can hear the occasional animal creeping by. I am taken by the sound of small branches falling periodically on my roof.

I am surprised by how comfortable I feel to be here. I am pleasantly surprised by how calm I am. And yet, excited. More to come.

The Ocean and the Shabbat

Cape Cod Beach
Photo by Hinda Eisen, Keyes memorial Beach, June 5, 2012.

This morning, I jogged/walked the just-under-two miles to the Keyes Memorial Beach in Hyannis, MA. I hadn’t set out for it when I left the house, but when I ran into a road called “Sea Street,” knowing that I was close to the ocean, I figured there must be water at the end – so I decided to take an adventure. I’ll admit that I’ve never really been a beach person, and I wasn’t expecting to spend much time there – I expected to see the ocean, take a moment to admire it, and continue on my route back to the house. I miscalculated. Like the strong pull of an inward tide, I felt magnetically pulled down to where the soft waves were hitting the sand. Perhaps because it was a work day, or perhaps because the summer season hasn’t yet officially begun, or perhaps because it was 52 degrees Fahrenheit, I found myself alone on the sand. For a while, I walked just along the line where the wet sand turned dry. As I stared down, I saw some of the most beautiful, untrampled seashells.

After skipping over a number of large rocks in what appeared to be some kind of barrier for the creek leading under the road (shown above), I found one that was relatively dry and flat, and sat for a while. Staring out onto the horizon, I was confounded by the fact that I probably hadn’t seen the horizon in its unobstructed form, as is on the ocean, for quite some time. On land, we don’t see the true horizon much – trees, great buildings, roads, mountains, and other things all obscure our view.

At that moment, I was inspired to shevach – to praise God for His wonders. As I’m not generally the type of Jew who is inspired to Buddhist- or Hindu-style worship when I encounter nature, I turned to the b’rachot proscribed in the Mishnah.

ברוך אתה ה’, א-להנו מלך העולם, עושה מעשה בראשית.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made the works of Creation.

And as I stared out onto the water, for the first time in a very long time, my mind went completely, blissfully, blank.

What is it about nature that so inspires us just to breathe? What is it about the simplicity and vastness of an ocean vista that inspires us to praise of Divine Creation? In this world where we are so attached to our “glowing rectangles” all the time, where we sit all day plugged into computers, telephones, mp3 players and other devices, an opportunity to just sit and feel a breeze blowing across our cheek is so rare that the experience becomes that much holier.

There has been a great effort recently to encourage young Jews to unplug, with a very American Jewish bent – not because “God or Religion Says So” but because it facilitates “the value of creating sacred ‘no connection’ time regularly”  ( Current kudos go to Rabbi Danny Nevins, who published “The Use of Electrical and Electronic Devices on Shabbat” for Conservative Judaism’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, officially approved by the committee May 31, 2012 (the entire text is available by clicking on the title above). His teshuvah (responsum) expresses not only reasons not to use electricity on Shabbat, but also deals with specific issues relating to modern technology and modern uses of technology. Rabbi Nevins indicates that there are two separate issues at play: Melakhah, which he defines as “actions which result in a durable physical change,” and Shvut, defined as “actions and even thoughts which compromise the tranquility of Shabbat and erode the distinctiveness of the seventh day.” He beautifully concludes that “By desisting from melakhah, we begin to appreciate the natural resources of our remarkable world and become able to resist the temptation to define life’s value primarily in terms of our our own actions. By dedicating the day to tranquility, we dignify our lives and are refreshed for the tasks awaiting us on the six days of labor” (p. 58).

You might know that there are two versions of the Ten Commandments that appear in the Torah: one which appears in Exodus 20 (we read this on the first day of Shavuot and in Parashat Yitro in January), and the other which appears in Deuteronomy 5 (Parashat Va’etchanan). In each set, the commandment for Shabbat is the fourth. Interestingly, in the Exodus account, Israel is commanded to remember Shabbat because “in six days did the Lord create the Heaven and Earth, and on the seventh day He rested” (Exodus 20: 8-11). However, in the Deuteronomy account, the Israelites are instructed to keep Shabbat because “You shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). The Kiddush for Friday night uses both of these motifs (Creation and Exodus) in its sanctification of the day.

I have always felt that the difference between the rationale for Shabbat in these two accounts indicated a flexibility of purpose: Shabbat will always be there, but in each generation it may serve a different function for its observers. In the immediately post-Exodus generation, Shabbat perhaps served as a reminder of the One God, that God was the god of their ancestors. They had not been allowed to take a break from slavery on Shabbat; but God, more merciful than their Egyptian masters, not only allowed rest but required it. These folks did not need a reminder of the Exodus; they had just experienced it. In the next generation, the generation who would be fighting for their land and their lives in what would become the Kingdom of Israel, was charged with using Shabbat to remember that they were once enslaved, and that God delivered them – as he would deliver them now.

Perhaps in our generation, we need Shabbat to serve its purpose for us as set out in Exodus (and as indicated in Rabbi Nevins’ teshuvah) – we need Shabbat in order to remind us that God created the Heavens and the Earth. We need a day to leave our harried lives controlled by computers and cell phones and create a space in time for ourselves to recognize the godliness in the natural world.

May we all have a restful, peaceful Shabbat. May we all find time, whether on Shabbat or during the week, to appreciate the world around us, to notice something that perhaps has always been there but we haven’t seen before. And may we carry this peace with us throughout the rest of our days.