Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shema in the Sound Booth - Shavuot

I wrote this piece last year (2012), after attending and helping out at WAREHOUSE SHABBAT

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about standing at Sinai. As Shavuot approaches, I am reminded of the notion that we all stood at Sinai together as we received Torah from God. You were there, and you were there, and you too. You were standing right next to me as we got those sacred instructions. Don’t you remember? It was a very long time ago. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering we were all there together, too.
I also have a really hard time learning how to really bring in Shabbat. It’s not that I don’t make time for it – quite the opposite. I’m a rabbi. I celebrate Shabbat (almost) every week. But, I’m often so concerned with the details and orchestration of the service I’m leading that I don’t ever truly let myself go and relax and feel all the things that I like to help others feel. I espouse peace and rest and worship, but the truth is that I am working. And while I love the work that I do, it’s hard for me to find moments of holiness, of connection, of true release. Just because I’m a rabbi, it doesn’t mean that spiritual enlightenment comes any easier for me.
A few weeks ago, I offered to step in and help my friends run Warehouse Shabbat. I was familiar with the service after seeing it a few months ago at a convention, but I was eager to see it in its natural habitat – a hip lower east side bar on a Friday night filled with young Jews. The food was delicious. The drinks were great. The crowd was really a fun group and the band sounded awesome. But I was there to work. I tucked myself back into the sound booth with Billy (the sound guy!) and focused on the laptop in front of me, prepared not to miss a stitch with the slides, videos, and supplemental images and prayers I was about to help conjure up.
And then, something incredible happened. I let go. We began singing the Shema, slowly and quietly. No instruments, just our voices. It felt singular. I was scared of it, at first, but this feeling washed over me until I was completely consumed. We continued singing, chanting almost, a mantra of our people. And the voices around me exploded. The instruments layered their sound with ours. I was transformed. I stood there, in the sound booth, eyes closed, body swaying, and I was no longer there. I was standing at Sinai and so were the people around me. They always had been. I just couldn’t remember it until at that moment when I was lifted up and struck. Our voices were like a chord that penetrated history, penetrated time and space and place, penetrated our very being. It didn’t matter that I didn’t really know these people in the bar around me. I did know them. In that moment, we connected, we took our places once again at Sinai and together we received Torah. Our voices were one.
And then, it was over, almost as quickly as it came on. I sat down, and I played the next video.
But something about that moment changed me. It renewed me. It taught me. Community is everywhere and accessible all the time. We just need to open our eyes and our ears to the people around us. Judaism also surrounds us, in every moment. We just need the right tools to access it. Music, prayer, intention. But we also need to not get so wrapped up in always trying to make it happen. Sometimes, we just need to let go. Sometimes we cannot be afraid of letting go. Sometimes, we cannot worry about where we are, or who we are with, or what we are doing – we just have to be open to what we are given and the experience before us.
I might have been singing Shema in the sound booth that night, but I will always feel as though I was REALLY standing at Sinai, opening up my heart and my eyes and my ears to God and to the Jewish people. It might have started with my voice, but your voice was there, and yours too, and even yours. I remember now. I remember.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A question of moral responsibitlity

Often times, the greatest questions of morality and character do not reflect how to achieve happiness or whether something is definitively right or wrong. Rather, the challenge comes from our moral responsibility to care for others, to care for our cherished but broken world, and how to partner with God in continuing the daily renewed work of creation. The Jewish tradition teaches that even the poorest among us is capable of giving to others - whether through time, action, or intention.  In that way, we understand that we are  all privileged and imbued with a spirit that is capable of giving. Moreover, it is is our moral and ethical responsibility, as privileged human beings of God's world, to share in that responsibility to promote equality, to advocate for social justice, and to mend our world. As it states in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, "If among you one of your fellow humans should become poor, in any of the towns of the land which Adonai your God gave to you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hard and give them what is needed, whatever it may be."

As religious and spiritual beings, it is not enough it simply pray for good and expect it to come. We must be continuously committed to the hard and, often, difficult work of speaking up and speaking out and taking action so that all of God's children can live in harmony in our world. Then, and only then, will it be possible to think about calling this place Eden, once again.