Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mishpacha (Family): Tapestry or Quilt

…A Woven Tapestry or a Patch-Work Quilt…

Today, Thursday, September 27, 2012, we lay another of our family to rest.  September 2012 has been hard on my family, we’ve sent Allan and Neal into the hands of Elohim, and we all have struggled to make sense of it all.  Yet, what comes out of all this loss will hopefully be a tighter net of family, woven together by adversity and tragedy. I hope you’ll let me explain…

                What is Mishpacha”  you ask?  “Mishpacha” is the Hebrew word for family.  Here in the west we have almost forgotten what it means to be a family; we are the mobile generations, spread out across the great expanse of America, separated by time, distance and circumstances.  We are all related to those in our family, sons, daughters, in-laws, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers; aunts, uncles, grandparents; cousins, nephews and nieces….  What do we really know of one another?  Those three factors-  time, distance and circumstances- have truly robbed us of the experience of family, the closeness that should have been, till we find ourselves reduced to a facebook® post or two; and that is what we know of each other.  I speak only for myself, not putting anything upon anyone else… But this is what my family relationships have been reduced too, to my shame and sorrow. 

                To the Jew, what is Mishpacha” ? First and foremost it is “kavod”, it is “kavanah”.  The two words mean respectfully “honor” and “intent”.  If we are to look at a family, as a unit, what must first be evident in the relations we see?  Most would subscribe to the notion of “love”, that families must love one another… While this is true, love does not come without “kavod”, without honor. 

                What is honor? In our world today it is as if nothing is sacred anymore; it seems that there is nothing that cannot  be bought, that even what the world holds to as “honor” comes with a price tag attached. Yet at the heart of the word “kavod” the true definition of what honor really is comes through: it is the attaching of weight to a person, place or thing – in other words, substance and meaning. Honor brings forth kvod Shamayim or the glory of Heaven. 
Debbie Greenblatt describes it thus:

“…In a society in which nothing is sacrosanct and honor can be bought for a price, it is no wonder that we have some confusion over the definition of kavod (honor). Even our Torah sources need to be illuminated if we are to grasp the role of kavod in our lives and relationships. We learn that if you chase kavod, it runs away from you. Conversely, if you run away from kavod, it will chase you. Should we be running towards or running away? Do we want to be caught or not? We learn in Pirkei Avos (4:28) that jealousy, physical desire, and honor remove a person from the world. That makes honor seem like something we would want to stay away from. At the same time, the Navi (Yeshayahu 43:7) tells us that everything that the One Above created was created for His kavod. That certainly sounds positive. Let’s try to understand the concept of kvod Shamayim, honor of Heaven, as a key to clarifying the above-mentioned sources. Our Creator created a world in which His presence is hidden. Through our actions, we attempt to demonstrate that He is always here, that what is hidden not only exists, but also constitutes the true reality. Kavod, then, reveals what is hidden beneath the surface, and allows us to respond to the inner, truer dimension of existence. Finding that inner dimension in each aspect of Creation, and in every interaction with another person, is the way we indicate kvod Shamayim…” [1]

                It takes too long to explain it here, but the much maligned “10 Commandments” explain kavod in a way I never could, for truly they are what should be called the “10 Realities” for in them are laid out the way to honor, the way to solve all the problems we face in the world today; in them is kvod Shamayim revealed. Why is this important to us today?

               Honor is seldom taught or understood in our culture today. Ironically, it is the very solution to some of our greatest hurts and needs.  God has said that if children learn to give honor to their parents, their life will be good (the same root word is used when God created and it was "good").  In Hebrew this is a powerful concept.  The Hebrew word for honor "Kavod", literally means heavy. To the modern reader this might not make sense, until we realize that in the ancient times, the Jews bought and sold by weight. Even their money, the shekel, was based on weight. We live in a world where relationships are often based on feelings. When we say that we love someone, we are usually talking about a feeling. But the Biblical concept of love is based on the value of the object of our love.  The feeling may follow the value but honor is much more than a feeling.  Value changes your actions.

             How does value change our actions? Great value changes everything.  This is a basic precept of God's Kingdom. The Bible says in Matthew 13:44 - 46 that... “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (NKJV)

There exists a way to see the concepts written of in the Hebrew language, by looking at the ancient Paleo-Hebraic script used by Moses when He wrote down the words Elohim had given him…

If you have experienced honor from someone who sees and treats you as heavy with value, even for a moment, you will know what I mean. The Hebrew word picture for Honor agrees with the Bible about the impact of honor in our life. When we are valued we open our heart and soul. It is then we begin to see the picture of our lives as a family being woven as a tapestry is woven. Yet, picture a tapestry if you will… At it’s simplest, a tapestry is a work of art, portraying a scene, something for decoration or adoration.  While beautiful to look at, it reveals no depth, no true warmth.
  A family is more than a woven image. We love images in America, we adore our politicians, the actors, the “gangsta”, the biker, the Norman Rockwell’s, but underneath all the facades is there any weight, any depth, any honor? How does one learn of honor anyway?

The best way for a child to learn to honor is from parents that have chosen to honor each other.  The father for good or bad, teaches every child how to value their mother. The mother for good or bad, teaches them how to value their father. What happens when a child learns how to honor at home? The boy or girl will view people differently because of honor. If honor was not the foundation of the home he or she grew up in-  if the father and mother did not honor, but instead discounted the value of each other and of their children,  the result will be a person who does not know the power or reality of honor in life.

Those “10 Realities” speak of this honor. When we learn the first four realities, we learn the value of honor, of the weight of the love for Yahoveh, and His love of us. Honor opens the door of our hearts to all relationships, family, friends, but especially the Father and Son. 
 If we have not honor, we lose the foundation of our very lives.
Our Western culture lives in opposition to Yahvey’s ways, as it focuses on the individual. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of relationship and value. The concept of the Fifth Mitzvot gives us the understanding of value, of honor. The concept of honoring fathers and mothers is a Kingdom concept. Regardless of our situation, good home, or broken home, if we leave behind the wreckage and embrace the Kingdom concept, the promise of the blessings of God begin here…“…that you may live long in the land…”

So we must begin here, not as a woven beautiful tapestry, but of a patch work quilt. Our family, your family, may be separated by time, distance and circumstance, but what will hold us together is the quilt… 

The quilt doesn’t start out as small threads woven together, it starts out as small pieces, some worn, some new. Yet these pieces already are threaded together as one little whole, for isn’t that what we truly are, the sum of all our experiences?  Our mothers and fathers came together and knit their stories into one, and one by one, we were added to the quilt. As we joined with another, we added more pieces together and the quilt grew. What holds the quilt together is the threads of honor, the threads that we tell one another, the memories we have, the stories we will share, the faded pictures, the treasured mementoes, the patch here and there for yes, sometimes the quilt gets torn, but honor patches it together again. The quilt has weight; the quilt has value; the quilt has depth; the quilt has warmth.  Maybe it isn’t as artful as the woven tapestry, but it is infinitely more beautiful, for in the honor it is sewn in, love forms the three-fold cord that can never be broken. The quilt is a kingdom concept: the quilt is family, is mishpacha.  

Allan and Neal are permanent parts to our quilt. Our memories will add to its fabric, and its weight and value. We honor them as they honored each of us, no matter how removed we may have been or seemed, their lives and stories belong to us and to kvod Shamayim, the glory of Heaven. Our quilt will never be finished; there are more stories to tell, more tears to be shed, more patches to add, yet if we remember Kavod, all these will only strengthen our bonds and a stronger family will emerge. If we hold to those 10 realities, especially the first four, then there is nothing that can separate us as mishpacha. Honor begins here, in the understanding that Elohim is the Reality, and if I understand that, I can turn away from that which is false, I can understand and place value upon His Name; I can rest in His peace and Sabbath which allows me to honor…
And From there everything changes.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, sew your quilt. Sew it with tears if you must, but sew it with honor.

May Yahvey Elohim richly bless all today, and hold all who mourn in His loving hands

[1] From the article “Honor Sets the Stage” by Debbie Greenblatt, Sept 14, 2011, in Mishpacha- Jewish Family Weekly,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Garments of Praise, Ashes of Mourning

…Garments of Praise, Ashes of Mourning…

“Garments of Praise” by Robin Mark
Put on the garments of praise

For the spirit of heaviness

Let the oil of gladness flow down

From Your throne

Put on the garments of praise

For the spirit of heaviness

Your joy is my strength alone

My strength alone

Make these broken weary bones

Rise to dance again

Wet this dry and thirsty land

With a river

Lord our eyes are fixed on You

We are waiting

For Your garland of grace

As we praise Your name


Sing Hallelujah

We give all honor and praise

To Your name


Sing hallelujah

We trade our sorrows

For garments of praise

(Isa 61:1-3 ISV)

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed and

to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a mantle of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

 "Then people will call them "Oaks of Righteousness", "The Planting of the LORD", in order to display his splendor.

A good man was taken from us on September 7th; he was taken from those he loved, and them who loved him. I won’t pretend to say I knew him as well as I should have; he took care of my sister for 39 years – that is what mattered. Allan, you are missed. Rest in peace.

It is in times of great sorrow or loss that we wonder where G-d is. I know I’ve looked to the heavens and wondered why He didn’t answer my prayers, why didn’t He take away my pain and dry my tears. I’ve stood in open fields and shook my fist at Him, crying out in all my anguish till there was nothing left but the quiet sob of a broken heart, and asked once again, “Where were You?”. I wish I could answer that question, I wish I could say that there is an answer, but the truth is, I don’t have one. So why talk about it then? If there seems to be no answer, why go through the heart ache? It is because our hearts ache that we must look at the questions, for it is in the looking, the searching for a seemingly absent G-d that all the answers are found, and the one greatest response to our questions is that He was always there.

If there is pain, hurt, fear, frustration, remorse, or any other feeling you can name, He is there. You may ask “Well if He was there, why didn’t He let me know?” There are just some things that are resolved only when we go through them, and I’m sorry to say this, because it isn’t the most comforting answer I know. None of us want to go through these painful experiences, yet the Scriptures promise us that this is what life is. Yeshua Ha”Machiach (Jesus the Messiah) said:

“… In the world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33 ISV) and yet, He also said “… but be courageous—I have overcome the world!"

            Now, these words almost seem hollow to one whose world has been ripped apart by loss for courage isn’t what we want or need; only comfort can fill the void.  We want answers, we want explanations. We want G-d to justify His actions or inactions. Rabbi Aron Moss answered this question once; may I share his answer with you?

“…Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this world so unfair? Please don't tell me "We can't understand G‑d's ways." I am sick of hearing that. I want an explanation.
Are you sure you want an explanation? Do you really want to know why the innocent suffer? I think not. You are far better off with the question than with an answer.
You are bothered by the fact that people suffer undeservedly. As you should be. Any person with an ounce of moral sensitivity is outraged by the injustices of our world. Abraham, the first Jew, asked G-d, "Should the Judge of the whole world not act fairly?" Moses asked, "Why have You treated this people badly?" And today we still ask, "Why G‑d, why?"
But what if we found the answer? What if someone came along and gave us a satisfying explanation? What if the mystery were finally solved? What if we asked why, and actually got an answer?
If this ultimate question were answered, then we would be able to make peace with the suffering of innocents. And that is unthinkable. Worse than innocent people suffering is others watching their suffering unmoved. And that's exactly what would happen if we were to understand why innocents suffer. We would no longer be bothered by their cry, we would no longer feel their pain, because we would understand why it is happening.
Imagine you are in a hospital and you hear a woman screaming with pain. Outside her room, her family is standing around chatting, all smiling and happy. You scream at them, "What's wrong with you? Can't you hear how much pain she is in?" They answer, "This is the delivery ward. She is having a baby. Of course we are happy."
When you have an explanation, pain doesn't seem so bad anymore. We can tolerate suffering when we know why it is happening.
And so, if we could make sense of innocent people suffering, if we could rationalize tragedy, then we could live with it. We would be able to hear the cry of sweet children in pain and not be horrified. We would tolerate seeing broken hearts and shattered lives, for we would be able to neatly explain them away. Our question would be answered, and we could move on.
But as long as the pain of innocents remains a burning question, we are bothered by its existence. And as long as we can't explain pain, we must alleviate it. If innocent people suffering does not fit into our worldview, we must eradicate it. Rather than justifying their pain, we need to get rid of it.
So keep asking the question, why do bad things happen to good people. But stop looking for answers. Start formulating a response. Take your righteous anger and turn it into a force for doing good. Redirect your frustration with injustice and unfairness and channel it into a drive to fight injustice and unfairness. Let your outrage propel you into action. When you see innocent people suffering, help them. Combat the pain in the world with goodness. Alleviate suffering wherever you can.
We don't want answers, we don't want explanations, and we don't want closure. We want an end to suffering. And we dare not leave it up to G-d to alleviate suffering. He is waiting for us to do it. That's what we are here for…” [1]

The ones we lose are in pain no more; their suffering has ended. As we go on, as we struggle to find meaning in it all sometimes overwhelms us and causes us to miss the greater picture; G-d is reaching out to us, to help us fill the void with His presence. In that presence is a call to action, a call to be more empathetic, to use our sorrow to reach out to others who are hurting also. Yes we want comfort, someone to reach out to us, but who is better suited to help another, one who has not experienced lose, or someone who knows the pain, and can reach out with all the care and love that comes with it?

I’m not trying to minimize our hurt; I’m not trying to say do not grieve. Only time can heal the ache, though it will never take it away; nor should it. Loss is real and time only makes it bitter-sweet. David wrote of pain in Psa 38:8-10:

“…I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee. My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me…”

Yet it is here in the disquietness of our heart that we can find our answer; we trade the spirit of heaviness with the garments of praise. When it feels like the last thing you want to do, the feeble hands and the weak knees need to praise. “Oh how can I praise G-d? Didn’t He not hear me, is not my sorrow enough for Him? Why should I praise Him for my loss?” O beloved, I have asked these same questions! O beloved how my heart seemed to be tore from my chest, the spirit of heaviness and lonliness threatening to drag me down deep into the abyss… Despair and depression overtook me, crushing what spirit I had left; o beloved my soul cried out from the depths as David did:

(Psa 42:1-8 LBP)

AS the hart pants after the water brook so pants my soul after thee, O LORD. My soul thirsts after thee, O living God; when shall I come to see thy face?

My tears have been my bread day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is your God?

When I remember these things, my soul is agitated; therefore I will enter thy mighty citadel, even to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with the many people who rejoice.

Why are you troubled, O my soul? and why are you bewildered?

Trust in God; for I shall yet praise him, the Saviour of my honour and my God.

My soul is troubled within me;

therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, from the mount of Hermon and from the hill. Deep calls to deep at the sound of thy waterfalls: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer to the living God.

 And my answer was just the same as his, as my soul cried out in its pain, my lips had to speak of praise, as the tears fell, the praise rose. And slowly, yes, slowly, the presence of G-d moved in, and comfort was once again my friend. We trade the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  

For now, the ashes of mourning are enough. There is time to embrace G-d, but right now we need Him to embrace us. Even so, what I am saying is endued in the Hebrew psyche, in the form of the mourners kaddish. This prayer, though not originally used as a prayer for mourners, is most often associated with the grieving process. It’s purpose is to show that despite the loss, G-d can still be praised…

(In Hebrew)

 Yit-gadal v'yit-kadash sh'may raba b'alma dee-v'ra che-ru-tay, ve'yam-lich mal-chutay b'chai-yay-chon uv'yo-may-chon uv-cha-yay d'chol beit Yisrael, ba-agala u'vitze-man ka-riv, ve'imru amen.

Y'hay sh'may raba me'varach le-alam uleh-almay alma-ya.

Yit-barach v'yish-tabach, v'yit-pa-ar v'yit-romam v'yit-nasay, v'yit-hadar v'yit-aleh v'yit-halal sh'may d'koo-d'shah, b'rich hoo. layla (ool-ayla)*[2] meen kol beer-chata v'she-rata, toosh-b'chata v'nay-ch'mata, da-a meran b'alma, ve'imru amen.

Y'hay sh'lama raba meen sh'maya v'cha-yim aleynu v'al kol Yisrael, ve'imru amen.

O'seh shalom beem-romav, hoo ya'ah-seh shalom aleynu v'al kol Yisrael, ve'imru amen.

(In English)

Magnified and sanctified be G-d's great name in the world which He created according to His will. May he establish His kingdom during our lifetime and during the lifetime of Israel. Let us say, Amen.

May G-d's great name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, glorified, honored and extolled, adored and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though G-d is beyond all praises and songs of adoration which can be uttered. Let us say, Amen.

May there be peace and life for all of us and for all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

            In the darkness of the night, there is hope. Our beloved is gone, but if we trust in the One who saves, we will see them again. This life is full of trivial things; things that are temporal, not eternal. The economy, the political games, the left, the right; all these serve as distractions from what truly matters. The preacher said it best in Ecclesiastes:

(Ecc 12:1-14 LBP)

REMEMBER now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw nigh when you shall say, I have no pleasure in them; Before life ebbs, beauty fades, fortune fails, and poverty returns after prosperity; In the day when the legs tremble and the arms weaken, and the teeth chew no more because they are few, and the eyes are dimmed, And the ears shall be so dulled that the sound of women grinding at the mill is low, and a man shall rise up at the song of birds; and the sound of women singing shall be low; He shall be afraid of that which is high, and shall tremble in his ways, and sleeplessness shall come upon him; the almond tree shall blossom, and the locust shall be multiplied, and fragrance shall scatter, and trouble shall cease; because man goes to the house of his reward and the mourners walk about the streets. Remember him before the silver cord is cut off and the golden bowl is broken and the pitcher is broken at the fountain or the wheel is broken at the cistern, Then the dust shall return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity.

 And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed and sought out and composed many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find agreeable words; and he wrote uprightly the words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened, which are arranged by workmen and given from one master builder. Furthermore, my son, take heed; of writing many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

Fear the LORD and keep his commandments;

this is given by one Master to every man. For the LORD shall bring every work into judgment, concerning everything which is hidden and known, whether it be good or whether it be evil.

Fear Him who gave us life in the first place, and at His pleasure can demand it of us. For if we neglect so great a G-d, what will be our end? Beloved, death has no sting for those who believe, yet it’s sting is felt for all eternity by those who choose not to believe. Allan, I regret not knowing you as I should have on this earth, yet I have hope and confidence of the world to come, the Olam Ha-Ba, that we will meet again. To my beloved sister and her sons: the ashes of mourning and the spirit of heaviness are but for a time. Trade them in for the garments of praise and let the hope of the eternal be your guide, and may the shalom of G-d be upon you in due time.

May the Father richly bless you all, my beloved


[1] From the article “Why do bad things happen to good people?” by Rabbi Aron Moss, · A Division of the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center In everlasting memory of's founder, Rabbi Yosef Y. Kazen © 2001-2012 Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center
[2] * Added on Shabbat