Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chapter One Proverbs
My soul appears disheveled
As I wear indecision like
Torn garments shredded
Draped over my body
and tied together in knots
Without consideration
To a design that fits me.
This is the life I have led
And yet you speak of the limits
To your wisdom
Which might be lost
If I do find new clothes?

Am I sentenced to live naked
Wandering in a void
Of lifeless energy
Devoid of your counsel
Abandoned and forgotten
As if you had cast me down
To the Sheol of the here and now?

My hands and feet bear
The scars of rusty steel traps
Which you say I set
For myself
Pealing the skin off my bones
Leaving me to hobble down the alleyway
Scrapping through the trash
Searching for the beginning
Of wisdom which right now
seems to be despair.

You talk in proverbs and proclaim wisdom
As if to celebrate yourself
While I say to you that despair
Is what humans need first
To breach the impenetrable wall
Or to puncture the morning fog
That becomes the moment of inconsolable grief and
Rage at the world and myself
Which opens a creaky old door
That I will enter and receive
The proverbial moment of insight
That has eluded me in this journey.

The soul is disheveled
And wears indecision like a torn garment,
Draped over the body,
 Tied in knots
Well suited for the perplexed
Who grow impatient for answers.
Is this the limit to your wisdom,
To let this spirit remain in tattered clothes
Never to wear wisdom’s precious apparel
Leaving this despondent one
At the city’s gates as a beggar?

  The soul is sentenced to live naked,
Devoid of your counsel,
Abandoned, forgotten,
As if you had cast it down
Into the Sheol of the here and now?
Hands and feet bear the scars
Of traps set for myself.
To catch the beginning of wisdom.

The sky rains despair
 The soul is depleted
Dried and parched
Thirsting for the dew
Of the new season
Awaiting your arrival

The soul walks out of step
Wisdom feels like a fleeting shadow
Trailing every thought and movement
Pursuing the embraceable moment
When wisdom and despair unite
Confounding the macabre designs
Of a restless night.

Poem-Chapter Two

You make wisdom sound so simple,
as if I could change myself
like a stream, reversing its course,
rolling over rocks of mistaken judgments.

You speak to me of wonder,
Is wonder a question
that swirls around,
like a pestering gnat  
until I swat it?’
 I speak to you as prey
Duped by my own designs
Where life itself has hunted
Me and I succumb to the kill.
So I petition you
 To remove the torment
Which I carry on my back each day
A bundle of discontent
Weighing down upon my spine.
Is the grimace of a contorted face,
And Blindness to everything but my own suffering,
Deaf to the sound of your call
Tasteless as I ingest your wisdom?

The Aroma of Elul-Proverbs Chapter Four

I visit the spice market in the old city
Carrying a modest pouch
Seeking out the choicest fragrances
Of aromas beckoning
As the Arab merchant cajoles
Me to enter his stall.

It is Elul and the spices emit
A sharper scent than
The rest of the year
That peppers my palate
 In this trading center
 Between confession and forgiveness
As though the time
Of repentance has
Its own flavor of cayenne
Spiced enough to evoke
A tear and balmy to
Revive the memories
Of past deeds.

God loves the pleasing odor;
The ascent of burnt offerings
Soaring heavenward
Swirling into an ecstatic prayer
Penetrating divine nostrils
Leaning back on a heavenly throne
Satiated and content with blissful countenance.

But the passerby
Gazed upon the jars
Inserting his nose
Every so gently
Into the aromas
Where each spice
Is a sanctuary
A whisper of history
A hint of rumination
A pristine temptation.

Elul is a spice of sorts
Masking the odor
Of words which reek
With intent and hide
From the breezes
That fill a room
With a foul trace of deceit.

Elul is the solitary spice
The last kernel of wisdom
Inside the human
Hiding amongst these shelves
Is the cluster of choices
The admixture of what we could be
And the scent of what we have become.

Chapter Three Proverbs
I am praying to you
For this moment of weakness
To cast the fallen branches
Down the river of shame
From which I float leisurely
Seeing that wisdom
Is not in the sky
Nor upon the land
But in the measureless undercurrents
Of life for when I extend
My hand into the ceaseless
Pathway of the lifelike waters
Pushing against primitive instincts
That spiral an uncertain conscience
Down to the very core of thought
And raise it to the summit
Of enlightened sapience
I realize that the possibility
Of being is within reach
And the conceivability
That I could change
The course of an undercurrent
In my life is as a pure
As the vision emanating
 From my eyes piercing
Through these tumultuous waters
Into the river bed
Of this troublesome tributary.

 Random Thoughts about this year’s High Holy Days
Tomorrow night I shall conduct services on the High Holy Days. I have been doing it since 1984. Most of the time I engage in a personal cheshbone nefes,  a process of  introspection of the soul, during the summer. I cannot divorce this self evaluation from the process of writing sermons which I normally do in the summer. But my schedule changed this year what with Linda returning home and moving to a new house I have postponed that process until now.
These are probably the best of years I have had as a rabbi. I am proud to be associated with my congregation. I am engaged and part of a congregation coping with significant growth particularly in the religious school. It is exciting to see more families join this congregation so that our biggest problems are how to handle this growth and the appetite people have to make our congregation a vibrant and harmonious temple. In other words we have good problems at Congregation Beth Yam.
 Given some of the challenges I have experienced in recent years, I realize how blessed I am. I am grateful to have Linda back at home and we both miss our daughter Leah who lives in Phoenix,Arizona. She is a lovely young lady. We have two dogs Emmy (bassette at 10 years old with Lymphoma) and Dia who we recently adopted. Dia is a four and a half year old pit bull who looks just like Petey from the old show Little Rascals. I call them the Drama Dogs.
Besides giving my all to the congregation, I am involved in projects that nourish my spirit and intellect. I am currently working on a Doctorate at Hebrew Union College. This is the longest term doctorate any one has probably worked on. I am working on a dissertation topic related to the field of Contemporary Jewish History and I am so grateful that my congregation is supportive of my work and realizes that they will benefit from it all.
This year I fully realize that I have to work on reducing my weight and increasing my exercise. I will work on it. I still slog away at playing the flute and had a performance with a jazz band at the jazz club in Hilton Head. That was cool. I played Gershwin’s Summertime.
I also continue to write poetry where I can express the other side of me which loves to explore, ask question and, frankly, relishes the opportunity to challenge God, myself and Judaism. I will include four poems based upon the first four chapters of the book of Proverbs. These poems were read on Slichot night last Saturday.
One of the issues I think about is all the folks on this blog list. Many of you I miss from previous days in Sacramento, Champaign and just old time friends. So many of you have been supportive of me and I wish I would hear from you a little bit more. Some of you believed in me in the tough times and I want to thank you.
I realize that I am deeply flawed in a variety of ways. I also know that I love my family and friends. I am blessed to have a mother at 91 who is as robust and sharp as any of us. May she have a good year too.  I am aware of these shortcomings and I want to assure you, my friends and family, I will work on them too.
Someone recently asked me if I still get nervous on the pulpit for High Holy Days. The answer is yes. When I do not then I it will be time to step down from the bimah. 
I realize that I try to look at the glass half full when it comes to living life. At the same time I have a dark side a side of melancholy which inspires me too. It is the side of my creativity and is responsible for me doing some of my best poetry and rabbinical work. It is not a bad thing if one knows how to work it and not indulge that side so that overtakes me.
I will officiate at the services and I shall also pray. So many of you have given me sound advice and been by my side in thick and thin. You have given me so much of your time and compassion. Thank you.
I hope to emerge from these Days of Awe spiritually renewed and feeling robust in my taking on the challenges in front of me knowing I have a lot to do. I pray that you too will take advantage of these special days of repentance and make the best out of it. We shared so many good times together and I hope you will remember them fondly.   I would love to hear from you. My cell is 843 422 8439. L’shana Tova Tikatevu.

Shalom Dear Friends,
Below I introduced this survey at our Slichot educational program before the services begain last Saturday evening. Everyone filled it out and the results led into a fruitful discussion. Are you ready for the High Holy Days? Take the survey and find out. Shanah Tova Tikatevu.
High Holy Days Readiness Survey                  
September 8th 2012
Rabbi Brad Bloom
The purpose of this survey is to assess your readiness for the High Holy Days. You will find questions that cover a broad range of issues that come up in preparation for these special days in our religious calendar. By participating in this assessment, you will determine if you feel like you are ready to participate in the experience of Rosh Hashana, the Ten Days of Repentance and, finally, Yom Kippur. The decision of whether or not you are ready is yours alone. The hope is that by filling out this assessment survey you might consider addressing those issues which tradition teaches are important for each of us to consider getting the most out of these holy days. Remember that readiness is a relative term and can be defined differently by each individual. Thank you for being honest with yourself as you answer these questions.
Section One: Social readiness
1.    Are you an invited guest or hosting guests for a Rosh Hashana meal or reception? Circle yes or no
2.    Do you have a place to go for the Break the Fast after Yom Kippur? Circle yes or no
3.    If the answer to questions one or two is no would you like to be a guest at someone’s home for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur?  Circle yes or no
4.    Have you or a member of your immediate family purchased, or plan to purchase special foods for Rosh Hashana? Circle Yes or No.
5.    Do you plan to send High Holy Day greetings i.e. a card or electronic message to family and friends? Circle yes or no
6.    Will you visit with your relatives or will they visit you for the Holy Days? Circle yes or no
7.    Will you speak to friends and or family during the high holy days? Circle yes or no
8.    Do you believe it is appropriate to dress up for the High Holy Days? Circle yes or no
9.    Have you thought about what you might wear to services? Circle yes or no
10.                       Have you thought about coordinating efforts to sit with someone or with other couples at services? Circle yes or no

Worship Readiness
1.    Are you planning to attend any of the High Holy Days services? Circle yes or no
2.    Will you review the prayerbook in anticipation of attending the services? Circle yes or no
3.    Can you identify a favorite prayer that you look forward to reciting in the services? Circle yes or no –for extra credit can you name that prayer?
4.    Are you able to put yourself in the mood for worship? Circle yes or no-for extra credit please describe how you prepare yourself for services.
5.    What kind of sermons do you want to hear from Rabbi Bloom?
a.     Current events-circle yes or no
b.    Israel- circle yes or no
c.     Ethics in our daily living- circle yes or no
d.    Spiritual challenges in our lives-circle yes or no
e.     Add any other general category of topics for extra credit
6.    Do you usually like to talk about the sermons after services? Circle yes or no
7.    Do you use any of the following terms in greeting fellow congregants? L’shana Tova or Gut Yuntif-circle yes or no
8.    Do you have a favorite ritual in the services? Circle yes or no-for extra credit please identify the ritual.
9.    Is there a moment in the services that consistently evokes strong feelings that are difficult for you? Circle yes or no –for extra credit please cite an example
10.           Do you believe you are responsible for feeling inspired at services? Circle yes or no.  If so, please explain how. If not please explain why.

Spiritual Soul-Work Readiness
1.    Can you think of someone close to you that you owe an apology to that person for your actions over the course of the past year? Circle yes or no
2.    What are the chances that you will actually ask forgiveness from that person?
a.     No chance-circle yes or no
b.    Maybe, I am still thinking about it. Circle yes or no
c.     Yes, I plan to approach that person to offer an apology-circle yes or no
3.    Can you think of someone who you know owes you an apology? Circle yes or no
4.    What are the chances that if you they did ask forgiveness that you would accept their apology?
a.     Definitely –circle yes or no
b.    Not ready yet-circle yes or no
c.     I will have to give it more thought. Circle yes or no
5.    Do you believe that God cares about whether you pray or not? Circle yes or no
6.    Do you believe that Judaism’s idea of a god who dispenses judgment and or mercy is a good thing? Circle yes or no
7.    The prayerbook says that giving Tzedakah (financial resources), Prayer and Repentance are critical mitzvoth during the High Holy Days. Do you think it is appropriate to ask the congregation to give extra Tzedakah at this time of the year? If so what would be the most important cause you would chose to donate funds to the congregation.
8.    Is there one social issue that we as a society should examine and change in order for there to be a more just world? Circle yes or no. For extra credit can you give an example?
9.    Is there a conflict on the world scene that is a threat to human rights which personally concerns you enough that you will consider in your prayers this year? Circle yes or no and for extra credit please give an example.
10.                       How would you determine if your experience over the high holy days was meaningful to you? Please cite one example.
11.                       Based upon your answers to this survey of your readiness for the experience of the High Holy Days how would you rate yourself? Please circle the answer that best fits your viewpoint.
a.     I am not interested in being ready for the High Holy Days.
b.    I am currently getting in the mood for the message of the High Holy Days.
c.     I haven’t really thought about it and generally don’t do so until I am actually in the services.
d.    I don’t usually prepare myself that way but now that I have taken this survey I will give it more thought before I attend services.
12.                       Do you have any final comments about what it means to prepare oneself for the High Holy Days? Please explain