Posts Tagged ‘pesach’

Minor League Jewish Holidays

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

by Sam Glaser

A summary of every Jewish holiday:

 “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

-Alan King

“I got a job on Madison Avenue in New York…and they fired me cause I took off too many Jewish holidays!”

-Woody Allen

 As soon as the Passover seders have passed, most are happy to NOT celebrate so much for a while.  And yet, there are another six days of matzah munching and another dozen holidays in the space of a month and a half.  Who needs to work?  Several important commemorations dot the calendar during the seven weeks leading up to the anniversary of receiving the Torah, Shavuot. I felt that any description of the Jewish festive cycle must make mention of these milestones that are typically left out of the holiday hall of fame.  Therefore, for this chapter I’m cramming in all of the lesser blips on the radar so that you don’t miss out on any of the fun.

The 15/16th of Nissan:

The Passover Seders…it’s matzah time!

The 16th of Nissan:
As soon as the first day of Pesach is over we start a special period called S’firat Ha’omer, where we count the forty-nine days until Shavuot, which occurs on the fiftieth day.  Forty-nine is a crucial number in Judaism; since the number seven runs throughout the fabric of reality, logically seven squared is also significant.

In the days of the Temple a certain measurement known as an “omer” of barley was offered on the second day of Pesach. Then we would start the countdown, building up our excitement for the climactic event of human history in the year 2448, the first Shavuot at Mount Sinai. Eventually this period became associated with the various permutations of the seven kabbalistic s’firot (Godly emanations through which God interacts with the world.)  This daily roadmap of spiritual growth opportunities allows us to refine our character traits to prepare for the ultimate “kabbalah,” personally receiving the Torah.  These days we commemorate this count with a simple blessing and then a counting of our own each night.  It’s a tremendous burden to remember to count every single day…if we miss even one, we can no longer make the blessing the rest of the nights!  God forbid I miss out on a chance to make a blessing!  I’m very grateful for technology to keep me in the mix: I get an email every day to remind me and my iphone siddur concludes the ma’ariv service with a listing of the proper day.

During Rabbi Akiva’s time, the Talmud tells us that 12,000 pairs of his students died during S’firat Ha’omer since they didn’t treat each other with proper respect.  Therefore this period became associated with an awareness of the importance of achdut (Jewish unity) and a state of semi-mourning.  Celebrations like weddings, bar/bat mitzvah parties, concerts or even niceties like the joy of a shave or haircut are prohibited.  The bottom line is that what should have been a time of joyous anticipation is now subdued.  I must admit that these restrictions are somewhat of a bummer, especially for frum musicians.  With no parties or events in need of live music, many hunker down in the studio or take extended vacations, wondering how they will pay the rent come June.  The one exception to the rule is singing without instruments and thanks to this leniency, grateful a capella groups sell lots of albums this time of year.

The 17th of Nissan:

The intermediate days of Passover begin as soon as the second day (or the first day in Israel) of the holiday has ended.  Yes, it’s still officially Pesach!  The status of these four intermediate “Chol Hamo’ed” days is one of festive nature but most types of work can be done.  Our prayers are of the weekday variety with special holiday insertions, plus the addition of a celebratory Hallel, Torah reading and Mussaf.  That means that the whole week one is spending a lot of time in shul!  FYI: Chol Hamo’ed also takes place during the week of Sukkot in the fall.  Many in the working world attempt to keep their jobs intact by showing up in the office normally, or as normal as one can appear when munching matzah at the lunch break.  I think it’s best (and the rabbis agree,) if at all possible to take the time off, to relax and enjoy day trips with friends and family.  We love the fact that the amusement parks, hiking spots and beaches are empty, unless of course Passover coincides with Spring Break.  There are certain restrictions in place to keep a sense of the sacred…check with your favorite rabbi for details.  The Shabbat of Chol Hamoed is a unique collision of holiday joy and Sabbath sanctity.  The services are usually particularly sweet and are enhanced with the public reading of the evocative love poetry of Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs.

21st/22nd of Nissan:

The last two days of the week of Pesach:  These days are treated with the same restrictions as any Jewish holiday.  There are no special observances other than the pleasure of hearing the Torah portion featuring the splitting of the Red Sea read on the anniversary of our crossing.  The eighth day of the holiday is one of a few times per year that we stop to remember those loved ones who have left the earth in a short memorial ceremony called Yizkor.  Since I’m typically leading Passover programs around the country, these extra two days after a busy week of concerts for Chol Hamo’ed offer much needed r&r.  If you have the opportunity to share the final meal of the eighth day with Chassidim you will be treated to another four cups of wine and plenty of song and spirit during their annual “Mashiach Seudah.” This festive meal echoes the themes of the Haftorah reading of the day, which heralds the imminent arrival of the Messiah.

 The 26th of Nissan:

The first of the many commemorations on the heels of Pesach is Yom HaShoah.  This date was chosen by the Israeli government to memorialize the six million since it is close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, representing the indomitable Jewish spirit, even though the uprising was doomed.  Whereas the Orthodox world maintains that Tisha B’av covers all the maladies throughout history, I think it is appropriate that the Holocaust has it’s own milestone to keep the memory fresh.  While it is much more of an event in the Holy Land, Diaspora organizations typically hold memorials featuring survivor testimonials, and it is also the day that over 10,000 participants on the annual March of the Living meet in Auschwitz. I am often asked to perform songs like my Born To Remember or One Hand, One Heart songs at ceremonial gatherings and I appreciate the opportunity to help my fellow Jews connect both to the vast destruction and the miracle of our survival.

 The 1st and 2nd of Iyar:

The next special day is actually one that occurs every month.  Rosh Chodesh (head of the month) and is the celebration of the new moon/new month.  This mitzvah is the very first commandment given to the Jews as a free people in Egypt.  In other words, now that we are no longer slaves, not only are we accountable for how we spend our time, but we also have the opportunity to sanctify it.  The first month we had the chance to commemorate in Egypt was Nissan, and knowing when Rosh Chodesh occurred gave us the chronological awareness of when to take the lamb for the Passover sacrifice and then which day the seder (and exodus) would occur.  Two weeks after the full moon on Nissan ushers in Pesach it’s time for the next Rosh Chodesh, this time for the month of Iyar.

Rosh Chodesh is formally announced during the Torah service on the prior Shabbat.  Leading that “Shabbat Mevarchim” service is one of my favorite pieces of chazzanut and is always a happy moment for the community, not only for the optimism with which we greet the new month, but also because in many synagogues in our neighborhood it means that there will be a sumptuous free lunch.  One of the beautiful aspects of Rosh Chodesh is that determining the precise day was the job of the Sanhedrin; in other words, it was up to mankind to determine exactly when our sacred holidays take place.  The Sabbath comes every week but the holidays are a powerful sign of man’s partnership in the destiny of the universe.

 Rosh Chodesh prayer service includes Hallel and a special Mussaf.  Hallel is a series of King David’s Psalms that describe our national redemption, God’s love for the Jewish People and how we reciprocate with dutiful partnership and gratitude. Yes, you should buy my Hallel album to get into the feeling and memorize the words!  These poetic verses are typically sung with abandon and have served as a beacon of hope in our long exile.

The primary theme of Rosh Chodesh is the

miracle of the eternal Jewish People, how like the moon we wax and wane over the millennia but keep on shining.  Chodesh is also closely related to the word for newness, chadash.  The fact that we follow a lunar-based calendar demonstrates that we emphasize the importance of welcoming newness in our lives.  New insights, fresh inspiration, renewed hope and of course, new music.  Rosh Chodesh is also known as the women’s holiday; according to the Talmud it is a special day of the spirit given to women as a reward for their unwavering faith throughout the ages.

The 3rd of Iyar:

Yom Hazikaron is Israel’s official Memorial Day for the remembrance of those who fell in war or in acts of terrorism. Back in 1951 the Israel government declared that it was best to separate the ecstatic celebration of Independence Day from the mourning and memory, so Yom Hazikaron was moved to the day before.  One-minute sirens are sounded at the start of the day at 8pm and then again the following morning at 11am when the official ceremonies begin.  This practice of solemnity before jubilation heightens the awareness of the price paid for Jewish independence.   For Modern Orthodox in the Diaspora the two are juxtaposed at large scale public gatherings in most cities during the early evening of the third of Iyar.  Typically the events consist of an array of sweet but poorly rehearsed school choirs singing memorial dirges that segue into songs of victory.  The requisite theme colors are blue and white, local dignitaries utter sound bites of support and then everyone sings a very moving Hatikvah together.

The 4th of Iyar:

Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day is a serious party throughout the Land of Israel.  Crowds gather for concerts and dancing and proudly display Israeli flags on their apartments, cars and bodies.  BBQ’s abound and an interesting custom of bashing strangers on the head with squeaky plastic hammers has evolved.  Since we usually don’t have that day off in the Diaspora the commemorations are typically moved to the Sunday before or after with gala concerts taking place in large outdoor settings.  Yom Ha’atzmaut is an amazing time of Jewish unity since love for Israel is one thing upon which all Jews can agree.  I love seeing all my holy brothers and sisters from the four corners of the earth rejoicing together and that experience alone is worth braving the traffic and heat at the local events. Most synagogues have special morning services to commemorate the day and include Hallel to acknowledge the miraculous nature of Israel’s founding.

The 14th of Iyar:

Pesach Sheni is perhaps the dimmest blip on the annual holiday radar.  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach called it the “capitol of second chances” since its initiation came as a result of spiritually impure individuals arguing to Moses that they too had a right to a Passover celebration.  God established that the month after the official seder would be the designated time when such individuals could bring the offering to the Temple.  Nowadays most forget about the holiday until it’s time to utter the penitential Tachanun prayers in the morning service and the rabbi reminds everyone, to their immense relief, that thanks to Pesach Sheni they can be skipped.

The 18th of Iyar:

Lag B’omer is an acronym of the Hebrew letters lamed and gimel, signifying the 33rd day of the counting of the omer.  The day commemorates the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the great mystic who popularized the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah in his text, the Zohar.  He commanded his disciples to rejoice on this day and therefore parties replete with bonfires, concerts and dancing erupt throughout the world in celebration of his life and the revelation of the hidden secrets of Torah.  Also, according to tradition the aforementioned tragedy with Rabbi Akiva’s students ended on this day so most Jews welcome the end of the mourning aspect of the S’firat Ha’omer period.

My brother Yom Tov makes an annual pilgrimage to the site of Rabbi Shimon’s grave in Meron where hundreds of thousands of Chassidim dance in an all night bacchanalian frenzy.  Many save the official third birthday first haircut of their boys for this event.  Here in the States I am usually leading a citywide jam session sponsored by Chabad, attended mostly by young adults.  These outdoor gigs are always rowdy and amusing. One local LA rabbi who hired me to do his event on the beach insisted that I bring my full PA system.  I wasn’t excited about the combination of my expensive electronics, drunken revelers and sand, but I acquiesced.  Sure enough he had dragged hundreds of feet of extension cords across the bike path so that I could properly crank it up. Of course before the first note sounded the local authorities promptly put an end to this negligent behavior.  I then had to scramble to find a local friend with a guitar and endeavored to make hundreds of people happy without the help of amplification.

The 28th of Iyar:

Yom Yerushalayim commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War.  Many remember this time as the apex of international Jewish pride and unity.  For all of us who have spent time in the holy city and feel so connected and at home while wandering it’s golden pathways, we relish in this day to dwell upon her triumphs.  Religious Zionists insist that the recitation of Hallel is even more pertinent on this day than Israel Independence Day.  While not widely celebrated outside of Israel it is often occasion for public gatherings and concerts, especially on the milestone years.

The 1st of Sivan:

Rosh Chodesh once again!  That makes for a total of a dozen “holidays” for your enjoyment between the seders and Shavuot on the 6th/7th of Sivan.  Welcome to the Minor Leagues!  Whoever said “it is hard to be a Jew” clearly missed the point; being Jewish is a PARTY!  I hope to celebrate with all of you together in Jerusalem, speedily in our day.

In Search of Hidden Miracles

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

By Sam Glaser

The other night over tofu curry my wife was explaining the concept of fiscal vs. calendar years to my kids. Times they are a-changing: my seventeen-year-old Jesse just opened his own E-Trade account so that he can play the market on his own. He used to hunt bugs in the backyard; now he’s studying corporate cash flow! She told him that most individuals in the US seem to follow the January to December calendar model, making January the back to work month following a holiday vacation and a drunken New Years Eve. My dad’s swimwear business went summer to summer since we shipped everything by May and then had to figure out what to do the next season.

We then discussed that most synagogues work on a fiscal year that begins with the High Holidays since that’s when they put on the “big show” for the crowds of the penitent and do most of their fundraising. That schedule holds true in my business also since my gigs follow the ebb and flow of synagogue life. It seems to make sense to start the Jewish calendar year on Rosh Hashana, literally the “head of the year,” but indeed, that’s not how it goes in the bible. In fact, just as we are about to leave Egypt with great signs and wonders, our first commandment as a nation is to keep a calendar. Once we become free men and women, we are personally accountable for the passage of our time and must learn to use it wisely. We also have to know when the fifteenth of the month is so that we can properly conduct our national homecoming party, the seder. Therefore the Jewish year actually begins in Nissan, the month of Pesach, which makes this month, Adar, the last month of the year and both a time to party and a season of reckoning.

What exactly we’re supposed to be feeling in this final month of the calendar is concealed behind the mask of our beloved Adar holiday, Purim. Yes, it’s a great holiday for kids but the real magic requires deeper analysis. The scroll that we are commanded to read, Megilat Esther is one of the final entries in the chronology of the Jewish biblical canon and interestingly, has no mention of God’s name. We start the year with the Pesach Haggadah and it’s manifold recitations of gratitude to God for the plethora of miracles performed on our behalf. Missing from this text is the mention of the story’s hero, Moshe! By the end of the Jewish calendar year, no discussion of God and it’s all about Queen Esther. What has changed? Evidently over the Jewish year we move from emphasis to God’s revealed hand in our redemption (Exodus) to a focus on the action of individuals with God operating behind the scene (Esther). I think the message here is that God is always with us even when that isn’t clear, and that we’ve got to get into the game.

The rabbis teach that the ten plagues in Egypt transpired over a nine-month period. This was our national gestation; we morph from Avraham and Sarah’s mishpocha (family) into a great, holy nation. Over the course of the next few millennia we read about the fits and starts of our spiritual adolescence traveling to and living in Israel and then finally, by the time of Esther, we renew our covenant as adults. No more need for coercion, no more need to have Mount Sinai held over our heads, we accept the yoke of the commandments willingly and with joy, knowing that God’s intimate Presence follows us wherever we wander. In fact, the title of our text holds the answer to the puzzle of Jewish survival through this long exile: Megilat Esther can be translated as “revealing the hidden,” it’s a lesson plan in adopting a world view where we perceive God’s hand behind all events.

Therefore, the vibe of this month of Adar is to bask in the emunah (faith) that we have crafted over the Jewish calendar year. Every holiday that transpires, beginning with our national homecoming (Pesach), reenacting the receiving of Torah (Shavuot) and then the High Holidays, serves to build this invisible shield of Divine love and protection. By the time we’re getting ready for Purim we rejoice in the seemingly “God-less” story knowing firmly in our hearts that God’s grace is behind all the events in our lives. In fact, the word emunah alludes to “craftsmanship,” sharing the same root as the word “amanut,” the arts and crafts that we used to do at camp. The subliminal effect of full immersion in the Jewish holiday cycle forms a level of belief that is real, tactile, or as my Rosh Yeshiva used to say, offers “five finger clarity.”

One of the gifts of Judaism is the feeling that we are part of a big-picture national destiny, that time is marching towards a goal and we are here as Jews to do our part to bring that ultimate tikkun olam, or fixing of the world. When one is focused on a greater goal, the day-to-day mishaps become trivial. This eschatological passion has kept the Jews on track through millennia of abuse and deprivation. As Monty Python’s Black Knight might have said, “it’s just a flesh wound.” That’s because in our hearts we know we’re on an important mission as a people and that God is cleverly guiding history towards a powerful goal. When Queen Esther is given the chance by Uncle Mordechai to be the hero, he warns her: if you don’t take a stand here, our salvation will come from somewhere else. In other words, as Jews we can opt in to this great adventure or relegate ourselves to the sidelines. God will get the job done regardless. I say: let’s get on the playing field and go for it! My generation is sadly, for the most part, opting out and it is this bitter fact that keeps me packing my bags for yet another trip rather than sitting in the comfort of my recording studio.

There’s another aspect to this evolution that began with overt miracles to God’s working subtly behind the scene. Imagine that you are imprisoned and have a prison guard right outside the cell. Obviously with the watchful guard on the scene you are on your best behavior. When the guard goes on rounds, however, that’s when you can do headstands, scrawl graffiti or go back to digging that escape hole with a spoon. The God of Nissan is an overwhelming presence that limits our freedom of choice, whereas the God of Adar gives us the space to express the fullness of our human gift of choice. I believe that all history is following this same principle and more than ever we live in age where we are stratified into believers and “secular.” That intelligent people can deny God’s presence fills me with mirth. Just look at how powerful God is, like the guard on his rounds, giving us the freedom to perceive God, or not. Amazing!

I also see a remarkable shift of the power center of humanity moving from a single leader into the hands of the masses. In fact, Judaism teaches that we are on a continuous down-slope of leadership as we move farther from Sinai. But there is a simultaneous elevation of the individual as we move towards our ultimate redemption. The internet is one of the best examples of this modern revolution of self-empowerment. As of 2014 the majority of folks in the developed world have smartphones in their pockets. That means they have Google readily available for any question under the sun, not to mention the over a million remarkable apps at their bidding. When our greatest leader Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Mt. Sinai his face was glowing. His light was so bright that he had to wear a mask just to deal with the regular folk. Perhaps Moshe had to die before they went into the Land of Israel so that the Jews would learn to stand on their own two feet and become leaders in their own right. Hold up a candle in daylight and it’s light is irrelevant…but in a darkened room it can light the way. Fast forward three millennia and we have democracy, ipads and near total literacy. Our leaders may not be as monumental as those of the bible or even those of our previous generations but we live at a time when more than ever, every individual soul can shine.

The most important theme of this, our final month of the year, is that of joy. Living in a state of simple faith brings on the greatest joy. The month of Adar is the capitol of joy and Purim is its headquarters. At the end of days our sages tell us that Purim will be one of the only holidays that we celebrate. Because it’s all about joy in the end. We’re commanded to lessen our joy in the month of Av since we commemorate the loss of our national sovereignty and our beloved Temple. When Adar comes in we’re told to increase our joy. Reading between the lines reveals that we must ALWAYS be joyous. Lessening joy means we’re still serving God with joy! All the disasters foretold in our Torah occur because we forget to serve God with joy. When our service becomes a burden…look out! The true goal of Adar is seeing that the seeming “bad” breaks in our lives are all for our good, that we must accept them without despair. Jews can never despair. Gam zeh l’tova…this is also for the good. It’s one level to have acceptance. The Adar challenge is to accept pain with JOY.

Seven times every nineteen years our rabbis instituted a system of leap years to keep our lunar calendar in sync with the solar calendar. This is required because according to the Torah, Nissan, the season of our redemption, must occur in the spring. Some argue that the rabbis chose the month of Adar to double because it is the last month of the year. I believe that there is more to it. If one is choosing which month to double, make it the most joyous of months! Imagine a double Av…yuck! Furthermore, when we get the chance to go through an experience a second time we can enjoy it so much more. We may have “been there, done that.” But if we take advantage of even more wisdom and perspective the second time around it’s much more powerful. In this case, Adar 2 can double our joyful emunah!  The Talmud debates whether it is better to seize the day and celebrate Purim in the first Adar. It then concludes that it is more important to celebrate in the second month of Adar in order to maintain its thirty-day proximity to Pesach. That way our holidays of redemption at the end and beginning of our canonic saga are juxtaposed. Just like we go right from finishing the Torah on Simchat Torah to starting immediately with Breshit (Genesis), we flow from our cycle of God’s hiddeness right into a deeper appreciation of God’s light revealed.

I urge you to go to a place where Purim is celebrated with joyful abandon. If you live in LA…just walk Pico Boulevard. Take advantage of the transformative power of the four mitzvot on this special day: hear the megila, give substantially to the needy, give a few items of food as a token of friendship and eat a hearty meal at the end of the day. For many of us, intoxication gets us to a place where the heart is opened, we love more readily and tears of joy can flow. For some of us getting intoxicated is a mistake. I find that when I’ve had a few l’chaims my empathy muscle is stronger and charity becomes more natural. Maybewalk over to a 7-11 and take care of the people outside. Acknowledge the miracle of God’s stewardship in the your life. Take a stand for a friend with a gift of food, the gift of time and a patient ear. Be deeply grateful for the feeling of belongingness to this remarkable nation. Make this Purim the day you emulate Queen Esther, becoming an integral part of the solution to the issues that face our people and the entire world.

The Unbreakable Soul of Passover

Friday, March 30th, 2012

by Sam Glaser

This Rosh Chodesh Nissan I had the pleasure of culminating my eight-day tour of Florida with a Shabbaton in Cooper City, just north of Miami. Just before launching into Kabbalat Shabbat services I sang Auld Lang Syne. After all, we just concluded Adar, the final month of year in terms of the biblical count. That makes the transition into Nissan the true New Year’s Eve. As soon as the moon is full, on the eve of the fifteenth night of the first month, we celebrate our annual birthday as a nation. Some 3000 years ago we were a nation enslaved by a decadent tyrant, yearning for freedom. At the stroke of midnight that first Passover, after nine months of plagues, we emerged from the womb of Egypt to our destiny of freedom. The concealment of Adar gives way to open revelation at the Sea of Reeds and Sinai, and thanks to our remarkable custom of making an annual Seder, we still relish in the birth of the unbreakable soul of our nation.

The Seder requires that we relive the experience of Exodus as if we too left our homes for the hostile desert. The Hagada guides us through a plethora of mitzvot to be performed as we grapple with the demands of this gift of freedom. I can just hear my relatives in my ear: “we have to read this whole book, before we eat dinner? Oy vey!” Moses said, “Let my people go” but didn’t stop there. The end of the sentence, “so that they may serve me,” requires that we ask questions regarding the task of the Jewish soul. If there are no children to ask the four questions, our sages insist that adults still must ask them. The Seder’s primary purpose is to awaken the child within us and create a sense of awe and gratitude. Without curiosity and sincerity there can be no revelation. You have not properly celebrated this venerated holiday unless you have rekindled a sense of AMAZEMENT. The question is, in the era of information overload, media bombardment and iphone/crackberry addiction, how do we regain a sense of WOW in the realm of the spirit?

I think the best method is to remind ourselves that we have a powerful, unique soul, a soul that is the rider while the body is the horse. Judaism

insists that this body is no more than a meat-jacket that we must maintain with food, water and exercise so that it can continue to shlep the precious, divine soul on it’s mission. Throughout the year we indulge in petty material concerns and accumulations. Come Pesach, along with our physical spring-cleaning we have the opportunity to get down to the soul level in our worldview and interpersonal connections. Kabbalah has given us a window into the soul that is a perfect user manual that engenders pride in ownership.   For those empirical types that must see it to believe it, our tradition teaches a “five levels of the soul paradigm” that clarifies the outlines of the ephemeral self. In the interest of having a wide-eyed, openhearted Pesach, allow me to take you through the journey of these five levels, based on the teachings of Rabbi David Aaron and Rabbi Tom Meyer.

The first level is known as the NEFESH. This is an aspect of consciousness that we share with the animal kingdom. It is the basic life force, our instinct, our autonomic survival functions. But for humans it takes on a more elevated role. When we state that we were made “b’tzelem Elokim”, in God’s image, we are referring to this elevated nefesh soul level. As humans we don’t merely rely on instinct, we also have the deep-seated feeling of nobility. A dog doesn’t pee on your Persian rug in order to avoid a swat with a rolled up newspaper. We don’t pee on the rug because it’s just not the right thing to do.   An important aspect of our nefesh is our craving for meaning in our life. The worst form of torture

during the Holocaust was meaningless manual labor. Without meaning, our lives become living agony. Also, the nefesh is being expressed when we hear the voice of the conscience speaking, that fundamental, cross-cultural concept of good and evil. We know it’s inherently wrong to punch an elderly stranger in the street. Hollywood movies with heroes and villains sell worldwide because all humans share certain internal ethics. That’s our nefesh speaking. Darwinian evolutionists and physicists can’t quite explain why it’s there. But it is. And we know its voice like we know we have five fingers on our hand.

The next level is known in Kabbalah as RUACH. This level of the spirit is based in our quest for truth. It is a uniquely human attribute and words are the vehicle for its dissemination. What are we saying when something “rings of truth?” It means that our soul can intuit truth from falsehood. It’s the reason why our society rewards honesty and punishes the liar. When we hear that someone is badmouthing us with harsh gossip, it’s our ruach that is damaged. Having a good name means maintaining the integrity of one’s ruach. When it’s damaged by slander or our own personal shortcomings, it’s our ruach that is feeling acute pain. I think that’s why really great music endures forever. Our ruach soul hears it as truth, as something bigger than us, a taste of eternity.

The third level is known as the NESHAMA. Neshama is the generic Hebrew term for soul. But in this five level model, it is the idea of the power of our thoughts. We are affected by more than mere actions and words.   We have ideals. We have a sense of mission. A feeling that we have a special purpose, that each of us is

unique, in spite of the fact that we are one among billions of similarly entitled beings. It’s our neshama speaking when we pursue happiness. I’m sure scientists might have convincing theories about why we strive to feel in sync, on a mission, why we feel we are deserving of happiness.   But any true pleasure seeker does not need science to explain this universal drive. When we stop to think about it, it’s clear we have a neshama, a divine force informing our every motivation.

The next level of the soul is the reason that Passover is one of the most widely celebrated holidays. We love the traditions, songs and stories associated with our annual homecoming. We love spending time with our families and friends, engrossed in the powerful mitzvah of the transmission of our heritage. That, my friends, is our CHAYA. Chaya means life force and that of every nation is distinctive. It’s our chaya that makes Jewish summer camp so redeeming. It’s our chaya that gets us to services on Friday night. Yes, the prayers will be the same, but we just love to be with our fellow Jews and eat herring and challah. Germans have their own chaya. So do Nigerians and Japanese. One of the best examples of the presence of chaya is the way our sacred texts describe death. Our biblical heroes are “gathered to their people.” That’s right…we are all going to be gathered to our people at the end of our lives. Our chaya is that “pinteleh yid” or Jewish pilot light that gets ignited when you hear a great sermon or Chassidic story (or Sam Glaser song!) It’s your chaya that made you fall in love with Israel the first time you stroked the stones of the Kotel or walked down Dizengoff. This fourth level of the soul is so powerful that it transcends common sense in regards to the survival of the fittest; thanks to our chaya we are willing to lay down our lives for the love of country.

The top of this pyramid of the five levels of the soul is known as YECHIDA. It’s the identification with the ultimate universal soul, connecting with that entity we call God. Yechida is related to theidea of being separate, alone with another. The yichud room at a traditional Jewish wedding is when the bride and groom are secluded in an intimate space just after the ceremony. We’ve all felt yechida: those times when we are deeply connected and empowered and totally blown away. For some of us, it was the birth of our child. For others, a perfect ski run on the back bowls of Vail. Some find it in Yosemite or surfing a glassy, overhead, bowling wave. Ask anyone who feels they were saved from a potential harrowing accident by a miracle. The Seder is a fifteen-step opportunity to spend an entire night in yechida. We say the Sh’ma twice a day to remind ourselves of the possibility, just for that moment, to love God with all our heart, soul and might.

We can’t stay in the realm of yechida. We get momentary glimpses and then our ego pulls us out. Perhaps that is why experiences in nature get us there more easily…our egos are out of the way at that moment of pure awe at our wondrous surroundings. This Pesach when we mention the Jews united at Sinai, try to teleport yourself to the base of the mountain and personally witness the power of the fire, and smoke, the shofar blast and the overwhelming divine presence. Of course, in the narrative we didn’t stay in this lofty place…shortly after the revelation we were building a golden calf. Even though yechida is fleeting it is still of supreme value. Imagine you are walking in the countryside on a stormy, moonless night. True darkness envelopes you and you fear you will fall off the path. But every now and then a brilliant lightning strike illuminates the landscape. Just like you can use that flash to find your way, so too can you use your moments of “yechida memory” to guide you through times of darkness. I think God gives us these tastes of yechida to keep us close and give us comfort knowing it’s the world of yechida that our souls are destined to reach at the end of our days.

Any time I sit next to a self-professed atheist on an airplane, a short discussion of the five levels of the soul yields new vistas into feeling God’s presence, or at least into the miracle of our human complexity. I find the topic of Near Death Experience particularly convincing for the die-hard skeptics. The pioneer in this fascinating

field, Raymond Moody, interviewed thousands of individuals that “flat-lined” for over twenty minutes and then came back to life. Many report a multi-stage chain of events that parallel the description of death in Kabbalah. Commonly experienced phenomena are seeing their body from above, hearing everything that was going on and enduring a rapid review of their lives (much like the great James Brooks movie Defending Your Life.)   Some are met by loved ones and are then sent back or feel they must return to their corporeal existence to complete a task. Nearly all see or feel a powerful light that is loving and comforting. Our rabbis tell us that this is the “ziv hashechina,” the light of God, of creation. After all, the sun wasn’t formed until the fourth day…could this be the light that God stated was “good” on the first?

For the week of Pesach we eat a flat, crunchy soul food called matzah. The rest of the year it’s ok to live in the realm of bloated, leavened bread. But for this time of renewal, we go back to basics. Simplicity, humility, spirituality, in other words, the realm of the soul. This is the time to listen to our soul messages. To slow down enough to get on the universe’s schedule. To use the four cups of wine to get just a bit out of time and space so that we can enter our story, a story that is still being written. Just like a screenwriter asks for feedback from actors, God is hungry for our interaction. The rabbis gave us a Haggadah with more questions than answers and massive red herrings to pique our curiosity. I ask my readers to enter the sweet realm of childlike innocence, the place of wonderment, unguarded affection and openness. Remember the five levels of the soul and how the realm of the spirit can be even more real than that of the material. And most importantly, feel the outpouring of love of the Creator that has maintained and sustained us to reach this season once again, amen.

Ode to the 8-Track

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
by Sam Glaser


8TrackGrowing up in suburban America during the 60’s included a certain rite of passage: as you drove down the freeways, if you wanted to hear your favorite songs, you needed an 8-track tape player in the dash.  In one clunky cassette about the size of six iphones, a CD worth of material would play in gorgeous stereo. There were a few caveats.  You couldn’t rewind.  And when you least expected it, a metallic piece of tape signaled that it was time for the tape head to switch tracks.  That meant a somber moment of silence in the middle of movements, sometimes in the middle of your favorite song.  It wasn’t ideal but it was certainly more graceful than trying to balance your record player when changing lanes.


About three times a year our family would load up into our nine passenger Olds Vista Cruiser, equipped with skylights, a 450cc V8 and a trusty tape deck.On our way to Lake Tahoe, Arizona or Colorado we would sing at the top of our lungs with our favorite thirty-two 8-track tapes. That’s all that would fit in the black vinyl carrying case and that’s about all the music we owned.  We had several Beatles albums, War, Tower of Power, Carole King, Roberta Flack, Joni Mitchell, Temptations,vista cruiserShostakovich and Beethoven’s 5thsymphonies and assorted musicals.  This was also the car that became my college ride at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  A favorite collegiate pastime was stuffing the car with a dozen freshmen from the dorms, cranking the tunes and doing donuts in the Safeway parking lot on snowy nights.


I’d like to share an epiphany I had at an LA Philharmonic concert last week.  It was a perfect, sunny spring Sunday and I was knee deep in over thirty vocal arrangements for the half dozen CDs I am juggling for clients.  I was about to embark on 25 hours of background vocal sessions with some of the finest singing specialists that I know.  These sessions aren’t cheap to run and I wanted to make sure that every piece was ready to go with all the vocal parts, lyrics and recording templates prepared.  Midday I glanced at my calendar and remembered that the LA Phil was presenting a matinee of Beethoven’s 5th at 2pm.  One voice in my head said: “Sam, just buckle down and get these charts done.”  The victorious voice said: “you deserve a break today…” I hadn’t heard this immortal masterpiece in years and I couldn’t pass up the pleasure of hearing it performed by one of the greatest orchestras in the world in Disney Hall, one of the greatest concert halls ever constructed.


No, I didn’t have tickets.  And no, that doesn’t matter. There are always seats.  I have a maxim that is particularly relevant in an entertainment town like LA: you don’t get in the show if you don’t go.  In other words, “if you build it, he will come.”  I found an amazing seat for cheap just beforeDisney Hallthe show started and was treated to a few hours of symphonic bliss. Beethoven’s 5thaffects me in the most visceral way. It’s just not that I share my birthday with the great composer…I have memorized every last passage intimately and during the concert I had to force myself not to conduct.  I was even ready for that measure mid-movement when my family 8-track tape would clunk as it switched to the next section.


Here’s the epiphany.  I grew up getting to know certain pieces of music very deeply.  The power of knowing every crevice of my records or the wow and flutter of every 8-track creates an unmistakable magic when I revisit that music.  Repetition and commitment deepens the experience…and isn’t depth what we want out of life? After the concert I wandered downtown LA uplifted, recharged and filled with a sense of possibilities.  Rather than go right back to work I crossed the street and visited the Museum of Contemporary Art.  What a collection!  I must be a fan since I knew the names of most artists without having to look at the descriptions. The most powerful (and valuable) pieces of art are those where the creator limited him or herself to a certain medium and theme.  Rothko’s rectangles of sultry color. Jackson Pollack’s monochrome splatters.  Jasper John’s maps and flags.


My children on the other hand have grown up with unrefined chaos in the form of millions of YouTube videos, online games and the App Store.  All geared for a five-minute attention span.  They don’t leave home without the iPod/iPad.  Unlimited songs for free forever. And thousands more appearing daily.  It’s impossible to keep up with what’s new and knowing what’s hot is increasingly irrelevant.  There will be something hotter in a few hours.  With the landscape changing so radically everyday, there is no opportunity to make a deep musical connection.  Other than my songs, which my kids are forced to listen to just by living here, their musical diet is as fickle as KISS FM.ipad2


The repercussions are significant.  Are our kids processing relationships in the same way?  Instant satisfaction online does not translate well in “meat-space.”  A great conversation takes hours to nurture before one reaches revelatory territory.   So too with friendships, professional experience and reputations. There is no quick fix for the test of time.  If we didn’t kick the kids out of the house, their play dates would consist of observing each other texting, playing video games or watching The 70’s Show.  My son tries to hide his distraction when his phone vibrates with a new text. Over 2500 a month.  I smile as he fumbles for where he left off in the discussion.


One of my favorite rabbis, Natan Lopes Cardozo from Jerusalem, comments on the essential difference between Beethoven and Bach.  Bach was a dutiful adherent to the “rules” of music in his days.  In spite of his discipline we hear vast creativity within the confines of this Baroque construct.  Beethoven, on the other hand, broke with these accepted rules and liberated music much the way the Beatles rescued rock and roll from the doo-wop of the 50’s.  Not to dis ole Ludwig V. but there is a certain power in Bach’s approach.  Cardozo quotes the philosopher Goethe stating, “In limitation does the master really prove himself and it is only the law which can provide us with freedom.”


Does this sound familiar?  As we march from Pesach to Shavuot, echoing the steps of our forefathers on their way from Egypt to Sinai, we relive the reality that true freedom is within the confines of Torah.  Learning a musical instrument takes tremendous discipline and hours of practice.  Learning to live as a Jew takes a lifetime of study to master the instrument of the soul. Like Bach, within the yoke of our Torah, we compress our creativity; we deepen our context and explode in our human potential.


ShavuotSinai was our wedding day.  Our exclusive covenant with the Creator of the Universe. Marriage is the melding of two hearts together into an altogether new entity.  Thanks to the exclusion of all other potential mates, a couple has the chance to blossom into a symbiotic oneness.  Thanks to our willingness to discard idol worship and focus on the laws of Torah, we explode into the full blossoming of our potential as members of God’s holy nation.  It’s no surprise that Jewish law is called halacha, or path.  It’s a pathway, not a goal in and of itself.  By striving to sensitize ourselves to this path we hear God’s voice, feel God’s love supporting our every step.


Once a week we have the chance to recreate our commitment to our heavenly “spouse.” I have led nearly a thousand Shabbatons over the past twenty years. That seems to be my specialty, and anyone who has attended can testify that I take the celebration of Shabbat very seriously.   I, too, am driven to distraction, overwhelmed by data, news, economics and electronics. My friends, Shabbat is the very antidote to the iPod.  It’s the antidote to shallow connections with people, God, music, life.  Thanks to the restrictions of the day we are forced to deepen our focus on those things we can do, which are praying, eating, and spending quality time with one another.  That’s it.  Deep interactions, deep (and sometimes very long) prayers, great food accompanied by song, stories and laughter.  Shabbat serves as a bookend to a week of superficiality.   It gives context to the chaos, a refuge from the rat race.  Now I can’t imagine life without it.


Sixty years ago the 8-track tape made our favorite music portable.  A product of a simpler time, it allowed us to deepen our experience with the few dozen “desert island” albums we couldn’t live without.   It sowed the seeds for other such miraculous revolutions that allow us to keep our music close at hand.  Now I have a compass, chronograph, 12 feature films, a siddur, bible, hundreds of books, GPS, a word processor, camera, newspaper, web-browser, games and a jukebox in my pocket.  Yes, it’s a phone too.  Funny how with 1500 songs I still listen to the same 32 albums.  I have 4,300 Facebook friends but I still call my parents with big issues.  I love having choices. I don’t want to go back to my 8-track repertoire. But I’ll take my friendships deep, my food cooked with love and my God on God’s own terms.


War of Worldcraft

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

by Sam Glaser



WoWarcraftI’m trying to understand why I’m so perturbed by my kids wasting time glued to a screen. Perhaps it’s because my wife and I brought them into the world with the hope that they might better appreciate the gift of life.  Or at least ride their bikes once in a while. As adolescents they see the “real world” as the music, videos and TV shows that they voraciously consume. All the Jewish stuff they have to deal with in day school is a burden to be endured until they can get back online. Plugging in is a divine right.  After all, they will live forever, have all of their needs met and perish the thought of having a vacant minute.  In this generation you’re nobody until you have the latest screens of all shapes and sizes.  Entertainment options from Avatar to Jackass to funny pet videos on YouTube compete for their attention on aptly named iphones, ipads and imacs.


We won the battle easily when our children were younger.  We cut off our cable and except for the occasional movie night, our home was TV free.  Then something changed about five years ago.  YouTube was founded.  Bootleg websites started up with TV and film programming including feature films still in theaters. and became 24/7 outlets for their shows and suddenly the computers that we had in each room for their homework became TVs.  Battle lost.


But we had not yet met our true nemesis.  My eleven-year-old daughter opened a Facebook account to shmooze with friends, play online games and post her scores.  During her one hour TV allotment each day (ha ha!) she plays the games, watches a show and chats with mariofriends…simultaneously. I can leave for the evening and return to find her in the exact same position.  She can handle piano practice for ten minutes but as soon as it’s time to work out a tough passage I can see her desperation to unplug her brain in front of the screen.


Now I realize Facebook is for lightweights.  The real addicts have something much more powerful. It’s called World of Warcraft.  As in other role playing games, WOW allows my boys to wander an alien world populated by characters manned by players from around the world. They get credits and booty for kills and strive valiantly to get their creature up to the 85th level of power.  While it’s nice to see my boys cooperating to negotiate the game, I don’t appreciate that left to their own devices they would never leave the house.  After all, we live in Southern California.  They might as well live in Rochester.


One flaw in the gaming action is that you can’t just shut if off mid-battle.  My kids team up with other players to take down more powerful creatures and to abandon the quest is considered disloyal.  They risk losing “honor” points.  Poor parents worldwide who are calling their sons to dinner or trying to get them to brush their teeth are faced with, “not now, Dad, I can’t get away.”  That’s right, they are honoring their faceless online teammates rather than their flesh and blood parents.  Can you imagine? We hit the breaking point last week.  My oldest had once again “forgotten” he had a test, played WOW all night and then wouldn’t turn it off when my wife was going ballistic.


When we closed their account and banned WOW from our home my younger son seethed, “I love World of Warcraft MORE than you!”  Now they are sneaking out to 7-11 to buy game playing cards and hijacking any Wi-Fi they can find.   Anything to stay in the game.  We’re thinking it’s time for an intervention.  Yes, I’m exaggerating.  They’ll grow out of this, just like they did Pokemon, b’ezrat Hashem!


I think part of my opposition to this addiction is that it is so contrary to the Jewish values we desperately are trying to impart.  It’s not just the fact that my kids are annihilating virtual humanoids for fun and profit.  My wife and I try to model altruistic behavior, helping those in need, giving tzedakah, entertaining guests on Shabbat.  I run around the globe trying to increase enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit, connecting people with each other and with God through the vehicle of music. There are not enough minutes of the day to accomplish this task, let alone keep a family together and pay the bills.  Why are my kids in such great need of escape?  How can we engage them in appreciating their legacy?


The Jewish People are players in a grand scheme I call a “war of worldcraft.”  We are in the midst of a 3500 year peer-to-peer networking phenomenon unrivaled in history.  With courage and unrivaled stubbornness, we cleave to our ancient texts and way of life, hoping to rub off on those around us.  The Torah predicts that we will be an eternalLight Unto Nationspeople and remain few in number and yet will impact all of mankind by wandering the globe. I would argue that God’s Light Unto Nations experiment is working rather well; here is one of my favorite quotes:


According to historian Thomas Cahill, “The Jews started it all – and by “it” I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick.  Without the Jews, we would see the world with different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings…the role of the Jews, the inventors of Western culture, is also singular: there is simply no one else remotely like them; theirs is a unique vocation.  Indeed, as we shall see, the very idea of vocation, of a personal destiny, is a Jewish idea.”


Pesach is a time to break free of those entities that enslave us, to get back on track with our national goal of worldcraft.  Thankfully Pharaoh is gone from the stage of history, but servitude is still with us.  We are trapped in our quest for elusive wealth, societal status, vocational advancement, material acquisition.  We are badgered by bosses, teachers, parents and peers.  We are stuck in ruts of our own making, forever battling inner demons, addictions and bad habits.  We come into this holiday well aware that the issues we complained about last year will likely be with us next year.  Does that fill you with confidence that you might enjoy real freedom this year? How can we have a breakthrough this season?


The opportunities during Pesach are manifold.  By edict of the Torah it must occur in the spring.  Renewal and rebirth are in the air.  Pesach is our national homecoming.  We press reset, reconvene with our people, reprioritize.  First we have to clear out the chametz.  All that yummy challah, Oreos, single malt…it’s got to go.  The rabbis tell us that the chametz represents our ego.  Big bread = big ego.  For a week we eat humble pie.  Humility is first base.  Humility gets you on the playing field.  When we aren’t full of ourselves and our entitlements, we create a space to allow for God’s peace, for transformation.


Next we unplug. On seder night we get together with our families, have a celebratory meal, tell our story.  Anytime I’m teaching a workshop and see people drifting off, I launch into a story.  We love stories!  Make the Pesach story real, for adults and children.  Act it out.  Wear costumes. Seder PlateDemonstrate the plagues with marshmallow hail, throw rubber frogs, wear animal masks and die on the floor for pestilence.  Just like Shabbat meals, the three ingredients for a great seder are fun, fun and fun. The key line is “b’chol dor vador…” in every generation we must see ourselves in the Exodus.  This isn’t a commemoration of something that happened to distant relatives.  It’s our story in perpetuity, in every age, with every enemy of our people that seeks the destruction of our holy mission of tikkun olam.


Note that Moses isn’t mentioned much in the Hagadah. This is God’s night. Pesach recalls a time when we were in our infancy as a people.  After womblike protection during the nine months of plagues we were carried through the desert by God’s grace.  We often forget that the song Let My People Go omits the end of the sentence (that they may serve me.)  In other words, on Passover, we relate to God as a tender, loving parent. Freedom is irrelevant without Torah, the instructions for life. It’s the laws, the holy pathways that God gives us that are our true freedom.  We have a simple choice: to serve God or serve man.  Choose wisely.


The classic seder songs were chosen by our sages for good reasons. Four Questions: Ask real questions! Inspire your kids to ask their own questions. Become a seeker of good answers. Dayenu: 15 steps of the seder parallels the 15 verses of the song; breaking down our salvation into multiple steps makes us more grateful for each miracle. Chad Gadya: there is a purpose to this grand arc of our history.  L’shana Haba’ah: we’re still in exile!  Don’t get too comfortable…healing the world is your responsibility. Finally, we finish the night with the recitation of Hallel.  It’s unlike any Hallel the rest of the year.  First of all, it’s at night and it’s woven into the meal. Secondly, we don’t introduce it with the standard blessing.  Why?  Because we don’t need to set up the mitzvah of its recitation like we normally do.  On the seder night, if we’ve done the work of clearing out our ego, eating the bread of affliction, drinking four cups of wine and singing at the top of our lungs, we are in such an exalted state that Hallel is a spontaneous outpouring of praise.  As natural as breathing.


If you don’t get it right the first night, well, you get to try again the next!  Holding on to the inspiration of the seder is hard work.  Make it a powerful memory!  Be a ham, drink liberally and stay up late!  A few years back I celebrated with my family in Jerusalem.  We joined my brother and his many children for a night of music and laughter that lasted until 4am. Then my brother and I wandered the streets of his shtetl; I was dressed as Pharaoh, he was my Jewish slave and our kids followed closely as we searched for lazy Jews to beat with bulrushes.  None of us will ever forget it.


Amazing events and the resulting inspiration are fleeting.  Somehow we have to hang on to the revelations, to internalize them and allow them to transform us.  We go into Pesach overwhelmed by the cleaning and cooking, overburdened with the rat race, oversaturated by the media.  Let’s finish the week transformed and relaxed, with new focus and commitment.  Imagine getting stuck driving through a storm and walking through the dark seeking shelter. Once in a while there’s a flash of lightning that illuminates our way.  That flash is the seder.  We can use that brilliant moment to light the way through the darkness and confusion we encounter the rest of the year.


Pesach gets us back in touch with the big picture.  It reminds us to treasure humility and an open heart; that the genius is in the details: in small acts of kindness, or observing seemingly small mitzvot like not over-bakingExodusmatzah by even a moment or dipping delicate greens in salt water.  We reinforce the concept that we were redeemed and are continuously redeemed from servitude so that we may serve God with love. The crowning moment of the Exodus is the revelation of God’s will in the Torah; this profound gift necessitates that we take the time to grapple with its demands.  When all is said and done we have to sing, at the top of our lungs, from the depths of our hearts.  And most importantly, we can’t let distractions like World of Warcraft derail us from our critical goal of serving as soldiers in the “war of worldcraft.”

Better Run Away

Monday, February 28th, 2011
by Sam Glaser  

max partyMany a morning I bask in the sunlight on our front porch surrounded by fragrant jasmine, birds of paradise and bougainvillea. It’s my power spot for the Shachrit prayers.  I’m bound up in my tefillin, enveloped in my tallit and connected to the Source of all creation. This sunny spot conceals me just enough from the few passersby on our quiet street but some know to look for me and wave as I shuckle back and forth.  Our new neighbors have two adorable kids, the oldest a loquacious, blonde three-year-old with a favorite game. While I daven I can’t help but notice him try, often successfully, to run away from the house and down the street as his nanny panics and bolts after him.  Every time he gets a little farther and she freaks out a bit more.

We did the same thing with our dad.  We’d stand in front of his comfy leather easy chair and he’d trap us between his knees saying, “run away!”   We’d wait for the trap to open and before we could charge out of his grasp he’d grab us with his enormous hands and whisk us right back where we started.  Every third or fourth time we’d actually escape, sometimes with too much velocity and crash to the floor.  We’d pick ourselves up, stop laughing and try it again.

Of course I performed the same shenanigans with my own precious offspring and when they grew bigger, made an art form out of chasing them around the house.  Any Soap Soup fans know well our game of Better Run Away (Before I Grab You) as codified in the song by the same name.  The kids know that when I catch them I freeze and count, “five, four, three, two, RUN,” giving them time to escape.  As they grew older and could outrun me I devised a corollary to the game called Anger Bottle.  I drink most of the water out of a 12 oz. plastic bottle and then huck it at them with all my

sam bday cakemight.  It has to have just enough water to serve as ballast for a good throw but be empty enough that it scares the pants off them when it strikes the wall just behind where their heads were moments before.  I scream insults at them in my best Pirate tongue and we run until we’re too sweaty or until someone gets hurt. Many neighborhood friends come over specifically to have me terrorize them with my handy Arrowhead.

I’m writing this month’s essay about the evolution of this chase because I feel like the rules are shifting once again.  Now my kids are running away from home.  As far from their parents as they can get.  They aren’t quite cutting the cord completely.  But the stage is set for their inevitable escape.  I left home at seventeen.   I was fiercely independent and confident, with a love for the world, people and adventure and blithely left my three brothers and dear parents to deal with the impact of my disappearance from the family dynamic.  I was busy with Berklee College of Music, new friends and summer piano jobs in Montana and Greece.  I never stopped loving and appreciating my family, but I did so with occasional calls and postcards from the road.  My son Max is sixteen. The writing is on the wall.

I remember when it was clear to Shira and me that God did not plan on giving us any more children.  I had to make an appointment with my rabbi to share my distressed feelings of leaving the reproductive years behind.  I never stopped loving babies and still grab them any time there’s a willing parent.   My wife made it clear that the store was closed and I felt like I was just getting started!  I have a hunch that this melancholy will not hold a candle to the advent of empty nest.  I love the metaphor of the archer…as parents we pull the bow back with all our might and aim it to the best of our ability. Then we launch our beloved offspring on a lofty trajectory and PRAY for a good landing.  That sounds nice in theory…but right now I’m desperately holding on to every hike, every trip to the mall, every conversation at Coffee Bean.

My next CD is called Father’s Day.  It’s about being a dad, loving my own dad, the passage of time and the bitter sweetness of our lives.  Yes, I’m trying to get it out on the market before Father’s Day.  I have a line in one of the songs that sums up this new chapter: “I could hold your hand in front of all your friends, then I became an idiot.”  Max is hiding more.  Creating his own sense of self away from the shadow we cast.  Welcoming anywhere from

max mariachi10-25 friends over every Shabbat afternoon and hinting not to subtly that I find my own friends to play with.  He looks so damn handsome and has such a winning smile.  But that smile is more often reserved for his peers and if I want a conversation I have to bribe him with an occasional fancy meal or force him on an outing.  Even then I don’t have his full attention; I’m trying to teach him that it’s not OK to text while in a conversation with a live human.  He tries to comply until an “important” message comes through.

Jesse, my fourteen year old, is affectionate and demonstrative.  He’s as easy going as Max is willful.  He insists that he is going to be a rich doctor and build us a guesthouse for our retirement on his expansive property.   This too will change.  In fact, on our way to a recent family friend’s bar mitzvah, Jesse warned my wife and me that we were not allowed to dance.  Max chimed in, “don’t even talk.”  Thankfully Sarah was willing to party with us while her brothers cowered in shame.

I’m grateful that my kids still beg for bedtime stories.  I make them up every night from scratch; fully realized adventures, mysteries, business sagas and tales of spiritual rendezvous.  They each give me two random nouns that I must somehow incorporate into the story line.  I accept this challenge in order to keep their curiosity piqued throughout the fifteen minutes of drama. I owe them a dollar if I forget their word and I rarely mess up.  This past year Max stopped asking for stories and no longer will volunteer words.  A few nights ago I caught him underneath his covers with his headphones on during an especially intricate tale.  Like I said, the times they are a-changing.

By now you are probably wondering why I am taking you down this lonely road.  Of course, there’s a lesson in this and it’s acutely applicable at this time of the year.  You see, my friends, we are now entering Adar sheni, the final month in the Jewish calendar. This is the season when we heighten our joy and celebrate Jewish Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Purim.   We then launch into the first of the biblically numbered months, Nissan, during which we experience the week of Passover.  The Jewish year begins with the commemoration of the Exodus, reliving the plagues, splitting of the sea and revelation at Sinai.  Pesach is the holiday of homecoming and rebirth and logically occurs in the springtime.  We return to our infancy as a nation when we witnessed nine months of plagues and then were carried like a baby through the dangers of the desert, depending on God’s constant beneficence for our survival.

On the other hand, the megilah or scroll of Esther that we read on Purim is the only book in the canon that does not mention the name of God.  And yet God is surreptitiously operating behind the scenes in the formation and then foiling of Haman’s genocidal plot.  The word Purim refers to the game of chance that the villain in the saga employs to determine the date of our extinction.  This eternal tale leaves the reader with the option of perceiving either chance or the hand of God at each turn of events.  So too can we learn to see God’s presence in our own lives, both at times of turmoil and triumph.  In other words, when we reach spiritual maturity, when seemingly random events occur we might remark, “large world, well managed,” rather than, “it’s a small world.”

The Jewish year begins with revelation and ends with concealment.  Moses is God’s agent in bringing the Shechina down to earth and Esther’s name has the word “to hide” at its root.  Jewish history takes us on a journey from vulnerability in the desert to the formation of a people capable of agriculture, Talmudic discourse, defense and technology.  We spent an extra thirty-nine years in the desert because we didn’t want to leave the womb.  Our lives progress from dependence on our parents (and our Parent in heaven) to independence and as Stephen Covey would insist, ideally to interdependence where we grasp our role in the greater society.

In 1990 my father’s company went bankrupt.  This was a serious rupture in our family’s security and this forty-year enterprise was my dad’s raison d’être.   It’s highly likely that his four boys would have gone into the business. Instead, I became a full time musician and fell in love with my Judaism, eventually marrying the two in this unusual career of mine.  Two of my brothers became popular rabbis and the other brother is now a well-respected lawyer.  We don’t have the silver spoon in our mouths anymore and I think that’s a good thing.  We’ve had to fight for every last nickel and we’ve learned the value of hard work and perseverance.

In the desert we enjoyed manna from heaven and in Israel we had to perform backbreaking labor to cultivate our crops.  Adam was commanded to work and guard the Garden of Eden, not recline in a lounge chair drinking mai-tais.  To have any sense of pride and accomplishment, my children must strike it out on their own and wean themselves from the open tap of our generosity.  I fully understand the importance and inevitability of this process but I don’t have to like it.

The consolation for parents of teens is that yes, they will move out of our homes but not our lives, and that God willing, grandchildren will follow! Now when I look around my Shabbas table I am poignantly aware that in the ensuing years there will be empty places.  This sensation of always being in high demand as they compete for my attention will wane.  OK…I’m getting depressed again! I wish I had a freeze frame or at least a slow motion button on the video of my life.   Life is so good.

I’d like to offer my loyal readers the blessing that “those that

Glasers Hawaii sow in tears will reap with joy.”  Treasure your challenges and strive to see God’s loving hand in every facet of your life.  Take your spouse out on a regular date night so that when the house empties out you remember what one another looks like.  And in the immortal words of the psalmist, James Taylor, “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel, things are going to work out fine if you only will.”