Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Soul Never Repeats

We Jews have a funny relationship to counting and numbering ourselves. If you have ever been to a daily minyan, or any service, and it’s not clear if there are ten Jews present (the minimum number of Jews to have a communal service), some people count by NOT counting: they’ll go around the room and number people as ‘not one, not two, not three.’ Why this strange “un-counting?” It seems that we Jews have a kind of superstition about numbering our people. We believe that it will bring on bad consequences for the Jewish people if we directly number ourselves. And this belief is not without good justification: in the book of 1 Chronicles (Chapter 20), we read the story of how King David ordered his troops numbered with a census, and this incurred Divine wrath, and God punished the Israelites for this brazen counting. There are all kinds of theories as to why God was angry that we counted, but the fact remains: counting our people is something that we deem to be highly problematic and dangerous. Is it pretty silly that we’re still afraid to count? Is it just a bunch of superstition?

Not entirely. There’ s a powerful message in our reluctance to count and number our Jewish people. There is, indeed, something horrifying, dehumanizing, about reducing a human being to a number in any way, at any time. We need only remember the tattooed numbers on the arms of the Auschwitz inmates to remember the painful truth in this. And yet, with all of this insight and history, there is a notable exception to the no-counting rule, and that’s in this week’s Parashah, Bamidbar. It’s no accident that the English name of this book, the book of Numbers, takes its name from an official census, a counting of the Jews, ordered by none other than God! Here in this reading, we have the exception that proves the rule: Jews can’t count each other, but God can order us to count--but only in a specific way. We are to number each Jewish male by clans of ancestral houses, listing each one’s names, “Kol zachar l’gulgelotam,” every male head by head (Numbers 1:2). The Hebrew ‘gulgelotam’ literally means ‘by their skulls.’ The commentary Sfat Emet notices this interesting choice of word to connote every Israelite male—by head, by skull. He immediately likens this word to a famous line from Psalm 140: “Litvunato ain mispar,” “There is no enumerating/counting God’s wisdom.” (Psalm 140:7) In other words, the very act of numbering each Israelite male skull by skull—that literal (and disturbing!)image of skulls provides a visceral reminder that there are things about life and humanity, divine things, that defy ever numbering at all.

Every human being, every skull itself, is breathtakingly unique in infinite ways. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin famously teaches, “Kulam nitb’u b’chotmo shel Adam haRishon,” “Each human being is stamped with the visage of Adam, the original human being, “v’ain partzufeihen domin zeh lazeh,” “and yet, no two faces are alike in the world.”(Sanhedren 4:5) And Reb Pinchas of Korzec picks up on this idea in explaining an ancient Midrash: “Just as there are no two faces alike in the world, so too, there are no two minds alike in the world, and each human being functions in his own unique way, and this what the Psalm means when it says, ‘litvunato ain mispar’—there is no enumerating/counting God’s wisdom.”(Bimidbar Rabbah 21:2). God ordered us to count ourselves skull by skull to remind us, for all time to come, that what makes us ultimately human is something that goes beyond our skull, beyond the uniqueness of our face, to the depths of our very minds, hearts, and souls. Indeed, such profound uniqueness is what makes us so completely human, and also, paradoxically, so very much the image of God, beyond all concepts and numbers.

The Baal Shem Tov taught us something very interesting: when we begin our prayers in the ‘Amidah, we start with a recognition that God is “Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzhak, v’Elohei Yaakov,” The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. It could have easily just said that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without being so repetitious, but we are careful to connect each Patriarch individually with God. Why? Because, says the Baal Shem Tov, “Isaac and Jacob did not base their work on the searching and service of Abraham; they themselves searched for the unity of their Maker and His service.”[i]Each of our ancestors, and each of us, are on an utterly unique journey, a totally distinct experience of life and the Divine that no one else can fully know or grasp. It is this unique relationship to God that is our very individual humanity. Our journey with God is, in the end, the only thing that truly makes us ourselves as distinct from any other in this world.

Rabbi Pinchas often cited these words: “A man’s soul will teach him,” and explained these words: “There is no man that is not being taught incessantly by his soul.” One of his disciples asked: “If this is so, why don’t men obey their souls?” “The soul teaches incessantly,” Rabbi Pinchas explained, “but it never repeats.” [ii] This is quite a profound teaching, and it needs some unpacking: each of us goes through life with an intuitive sense of our uniqueness in the world. That’s the part of us that can never be ‘counted.’ Think about it: we all have a sense of “I am,” that is ineffable, beyond anything that we could ever fully put into words. This felt sense of “I am” is our Neshamah, our very soul. Rabbi Pinchas wants us to understand that this Neshamah, this unique ‘I am’ goes very deep, deeper than we can fathom. Our Neshama is, in fact, nothing other than an extension of God itself! And, because it is a part of God, it is connected to Infinite Wisdom. In essence, Rabbi Pinchas is teaching us that God indeed talks to us, incessantly in fact—not in burning bushes, not from mountain-tops, but from within—from the place of Ultimate uniqueness that animates each and every one of us in every moment! In other words, there is an awesome Divinity revealing itself to you, unfolding through your very life, so pay attention—Shema Yisrael!—and don’t miss a moment! And furthermore, if you can recognize the Divinity in your own soul, it will express amazing wisdom to guide you in life. It will be a source of amazing wisdom that you, and only you, can give to the world!

Reb Yissachar Dov of Radoshitz traveled to see his rebbe, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak, the Chozeh of Lublin. Arriving at his rebbe’s study, he said “Show me one general way that all of us might serve God.” “One way?” the Seer said. “What makes you think there is one way? Are people all the same that a single practice would suit them all?” “Then how am I to teach people to find God?” Rebbe YIssachar Dov asked.

“It is impossible to tell people how they should serve. For one, the way is the way of study; for another the way is the way of prayer; for another, the way is the way of fasting or feasting ; for another, the way is the way of service to one’s neighbor.” “Then what shall I tell those who ask me for guidance in this area?”

“Tell him this,” the Chozeh said. “Carefully observe the way of your own heart, see what stirs your passion for God and godliness, and then do that with all your heart and all your strength.” [iii]

Like all Hasidic stories, this one is deceptively simple. On the surface, this is a story about following your heart and your passions. But it’s actually a radical undermining of expectations. Consider what you might predict about traditional Judaism: that it’s a system of laws, of Halakhah, with proscriptions for what to do and how to act from morning till night. Judaism appears to be a religion that provides the answers to life’s questions about proper behavior and about God. Reb Yissachor Dov wants the simple answers about how Judaism tells us to serve. But the Chozeh of Lublin gives him no such simple formula. The Chozeh tells him, and us all, if you really want to know what God is all about, you’ll have to go on a wild ride—on a spectacular journey inside. It’s only by going within, that you’re going to find not only the Presence of God in there, speaking incessantly to you in your soul, but you’ll also find the answers about what to do in your life! Yes, there’s Halakhah in Judaism, and lots of laws and rules—but these laws and rules, while critically important unto themselves, are also metaphors, collective behaviors that remind us that there is indeed a Voice within, speaking to us, telling us our path to follow in life. Implicit in the Chozeh of Lublin’s teaching is the radical message that you have everything, the whole message that Judaism gives to the world, already within your own heart and soul. All the Wisdom in the whole world lives ‘in here’ if you know how to go in and find it and listen for it. And what’s more: there’s a unique version of Wisdom and insight that only you can give to the world through your experience—and that’s the very thing you’re here in this world to give over and to do!

Commenting on this very idea, the Sfat Emet tells us that every human being has their own knowledge and special understanding of God’s greatness ”k’fum darga d’yaheiv leih yadei,” “according to the rung/the spiritual level that is given to him.” In other words, we’re each on our own uniquely important rung of knowledge and action. You don’t have to know the prayers thoroughly in Hebrew, or all the laws of Judaism to find God and to transform the world—you count more than anyone can imagine; you can do that from right here, right now, right as you are in this moment! If your heart of hearts leads you to study, then study! If it leads you to prayer, then pray! If it leads you to fasting, then fast! If to feasting, then feast! If you path is to become deeply observant, then by all means, become deeply observant. If your path is social justice, then by all means march! If you heart leads you to skepticism and scientific, purely rational paths, then by all means, give over your Neshamah through science and skepticism. Do you see how this works? If we can find the courage to live according to our deepest Truth, then we live out of our Divinity, our utter uniqueness—and this, indeed, is how we truly ‘count’ in the world, by expressing our version of Lit’vunato ain mispar—the Divine Wisdom that is our humanity that is beyond any numbering and counting. All of the wisdom you need to find God, to find happiness, to be a source of joy and service to God and to others, it’s all ‘in here,’ and it’s more than anyone can ever count in a lifetime. Just keep listening to your heart of hearts and soul of souls, and remember to listen carefully, because our soul, indeed, never repeats!

[i] Newman, L.I., and Spitz, S. (1944) The Hasidic Anthology. New York: Bloch. p. 152

[ii] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters. New York. Schocken Books, 1947. p. 121.

[iii] Adapted from Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales. Woodstock, VT.Skylight Illuminations, 2004. p. 179.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Recognizing the Miracle

We all love stories about miracles--not just the parting-of-the-Red-Sea kind of miracles. We love the modern-day miracle stories: the mother who miraculously finds the strength to lift the car to free her child. The miracle cures to seemingly incurable diseases. We love stories of miraculous human perseverance and survival against all odds; the Jewish modern-day miracle in the creation and survival of the State of Israel. Each story gives us pause in the midst of our busy, distracted lives to remember that there may indeed be a dimension of something beyond our ken at work in the world. If I were to go around the room right now, almost every one of us could recount a story of a miracle that we personally experienced in our lives. We might have our doubts, but there’s something tantalizing and renewing in these stories that is irresistible. But, of course, there is also the skeptic in each of us who then notices that there are plenty of times in history and in our lives where a miracle would have been nice, but it never came. What about those people who never got their miracles? How could Judaism be a religion that affirms miracles when, in our daily experience, miracles seem to be the exception, rather than the rule?

There’s a story told about Reb Shalom of Belz, who lived in the early 19th century. A woman came to him who was in a desperate situation, in dire need of help. “I have done all I can do in this matter, Rebbe,” she said, “If I am to succeed and survive, it will be only because of God’s aid, and I can only get that with your aid. Please, Rebbe, pray to God on my behalf!” The rebbe refused, saying, “The essential thing, good woman, is to have faith.” The woman was shocked. She was a good and decent person and one in true need. There could be no good reason for the rebbe to turn down her plea for help. Taking a deep breath, the woman said, “Far be it from me to argue with my rebbe…”

“But you will do so anyway?” Reb Shalom barked. “Do you think you know this situation better than I?” “I am not a learned woman,” she replied evenly, “but I do know a bit of Torah. When our ancestors were about to be slaughtered by Pharaoh’s army at the shores of the Red Sea, Torah first says that God ‘saved’ them and only later said that they believed in God. Their salvation preceded their faith. I am no different. If God would save me now in this situation, I will without doubt have faith as well.” “What is this?!” Reb Shalom yelled. “An illiterate woman seeks to teach me Torah? No one has ever bested me in Torah study!” The woman stood and waited, neither arguing her point not turning to leave. Suddenly the rebbe’s face broke into a great smile. He laughed loudly and said “No one, that is, until now!” No one, that is , but you” The rebbe prayed for the woman’s welfare, and God granted all she needed. [i]

It’s an interesting little story about faith and miracles, where the Rebbe is reminded that we need miracles, however infrequently, to help us to have faith. What’s interesting about this story is, why didn’t the rebbe realize that at first? What did he mean when he first told the woman to have faith? There’s an implicit and shocking message hidden in this story—that if only that woman had real faith, the rebbe wouldn’t need to order up a miracle for her in the first place! That somehow, the miracle would come by force of her faith!

Another story: Reb Meir was a Hasid of Reb Mordechai of Lechovitch. He was also the occasional business partner of Reb Gershon, who was a devout Misnaged—he hated the Hasidim and their radical teachings. Reb Meir was always inviting his misnaged friend to join him on his many visits to his rebbe, but Reb Gershon’s hatred of Hasidism was so strong that he could never consent to visiting his partners rebbe. Not wishing to hurt the feelings of his friend, he would find many reasons to explain why travel to Levhovitch was out of the question. It once happened, however, that separate business matters brought both men to Lechovitch on the same day. Discovering that his friend would be in town at the same time as himself, Reb Meir once again invited Reb Gershon to visit his rebbe. Seeing no way out that would not be offensive to Reb Meir, Reb Gershon agreed.

When the two men arrived at Reb Mordechai’s house, they were ushered into the rebbe’s dining room, where he was just beginning to eat his dinner. Reb Meir urged his friend to speak to the rebbe, to ask a question, to say something, but Reb Gershon—the cranky Hasid-hater-- was suddenly in a state of pure ecstasy, and he couldn’t even speak as he stared at the rebbe. After a few minutes, they left the rebbe’s house. Reb Meir said to his friend, “What just happened to you in there?” Reb Gershon said, “I saw the rebbe eating with the holiness of the Kohen Gadol [the ancient High Priest of all Israel]!” Shocked, Reb Meir turned from his friend and ran back into the house to his rebbe. When he arrived he said, “Rebbe, here I come to see you as often as I can, and never have I seen the way you serve the Holy One, Blessed Be He. And yet my misnaged friend comes for a minute, under duress, and he sees the miracle of your eating. Is this fair?”

The rebbe said, “It is not about fairness, my friend. Your friend is a misnaged; he has to see the Truth with his own eyes. You, on the other hand, are a Hasid; you have to trust.”[ii]

Most of us in this room right now are like that misnaged—that doubter. Most of us live our lives doubting and not seeing miracles happening around us. But every once in a while, we just may see something that knocks us for a loop—something that hits us over the head and reminds us that there’s something more to life than meets the eye. And we call that a ‘miracle.’ But the rebbe reminded his Hasid that he is called to something higher—to something we call ‘bitachon,’ ‘Trust:” to trusting every day and every moment of life that the miraculous is there even if we can’t see it!

There’s a strange line in Parashat Behar in the Torah. God commands that the seventh year be a “shvi’it” year: a year where we give the land a rest and let our fields in the Land of Israel lie fallow. And the Israelites should live without working the soil at all. “But if you should ask,” says the Torah, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather our crops? V’tziviti et birkati—And I shall command my blessing,”[iii] so that your yield of crops in the sixth year will be triple its regular amount, so you’ll have the miracle of plenty of food to carry you through the sabbatical year. The Sfat Emet comments that it’s a seemingly strange question for the Israelites to ask: “What shall we eat?” Shouldn’t they have faith in God without having to ask God for the miracle? Well, explains the Sfat Emet, it’s not that they didn’t trust God--not at all. In fact, the Israelites of that generation were so close to God that it seemed perfectly natural for them to ask, and to expect what we would call a miracle of God’s extra blessing of food. Indeed, he explains, for the Israelites, their faith in God was so strong “Haya shaveh lahem hatevah vehanisim,”[iv] “That nature and miracles were the same [for them],” In other words, they trusted so deeply that everything in nature around them was a miracle, that even the experience of the so-called miraculous and supernatural was for them just another part of daily lived life.

This is the same message the rebbe was communicating to his Hasid: there’s a level of living life where the whole idea of miracles as separate and apart from daily life breaks down. There’s a way of living life where you don’t need to see a miracle to have faith. There’s a way of living life where there are no more individual miracles, because life itself—moment to moment—is nothing but miraculous! There’s a way of living life where you need only ask for the miraculous as easily and effortlessly as you expect the mundane, and notice that the miracle is right here, right now arising before you!

But how do we get to that level of living life?...

In the Talmud, Rav Yosef tells us a story: Once, there were two men who started out on a journey together to engage in business dealings. At one point in the journey, one of the men got an injury and he was prevented from accompanying his fellow on a boat to reach their destination. Naturally, the man with the injury cried out in anguish and was enraged at God for this terrible misfortune. But then, what happened? Sometime later, word got back to the injured man that the boat with his friend on it had sunk at sea, and all onboard were killed. All at once, the injured man was eternally grateful to God for the miracle of his injury! From this story, Rav Yosef teaches, “Afilu ba’al haNes aino maker b’niso,” “Even the one who has a miracle happen to him does not recognize his own miracle.”[v]

That injured business traveler, that desperate woman, that cranky misnaged, and you and I—we’re all the people who don’t recognize our own miracles. We go through life, and sometimes amazing experiences give us faith, but as soon as misfortune and illness and injury befall us, we curse God, we doubt, we lose faith itself in life, in goodness, in God. We gather up all of life’s misfortunes as our litany of proof that the miraculous experiences of life are few and far between. But there are those few amazing teachers—the Hasidic rebbes, the Talmudic rabbis—who call on us to ask ourselves the question: Isn’t Life itself—all of it--miraculous, after all? Look deeply at every loss you have known in your life: would you really do it differently if it meant losing the blessings, the goodness, the love that you have here and now? The message of Torah is that this Reality that you and I find ourselves in here and now is the best possible reality, and therefore, everything, even our misfortunes needed to have been just the way they were, and couldn’t have been different—and therefore, all of it—the good and the bad—it’s all part of the miracle itself. This is the deepest kind of faith there is in Judaism: bitachon, Trust that everything is a miracle, even when we can’t see it, even when we can’t feel, even when the whole world feels like it’s crashing down on us and betraying us—we are called on, as the Jewish people, to Trust, to find that deepest and often most hidden place of peace in our heart of hearts that knows—that miraculously KNOWS—that even this is a miracle! May we find that Trust within ourselves. May that this place of Trust within us IS our deepest Truth—and may the miracle of our lives transform our hearts, and transform the world.

[i] Adapted from Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales. Woodstock, VT.Skylight Illuminations, 2004. p. 57.

[ii] Ibid, p. 77.

[iii] Leviticus 25:20

[iv] Sfat Emet 3:190

[v] Talmud Bavli, Nidah 31a

Sunday, May 2, 2010

If We Would Only Listen for the Voice...

In the Talmud in Sanhedrin, there is a story of a rabbi named Yehoshua ben Levi who lived in the Land of Israel 2,000 years ago. He went to Meron in the Gallilee, to a cave where the great Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was buried and had spent 13 years of his life a generation before. In that cave, bar Yochai purportedly delved into deep and esoteric mysteries of God and creation. And so Yehoshua ben Levi went to that very cave years later to find his own deep insights to the ultimate question: he wanted to know when the Messiah would finally come to redeem the Jewish people and the whole world. The story goes that when Yehoshua ben Levi got the cave, he encountered none other than Elijah the Prophet himself. Now, we all know that that Elijah is the one who will herald the coming of the Messiah. So Yehoshua ben Levi asked Elijah to please tell him when the Messiah would come. Elijah said to him: why don’t you go ask him yourself! Where is he, Yehoshua ben Levi asked? He sits among the Lepers outside the gate of Rome, Elijah replied. Time and space rarely pose a problem in the midrashic stories, so suddenly, Yehoshua ben Levi is whisked to the gate of Rome. He very quickly spots the Messiah, who is disguised as a leper, but ben Levi sees through the disguise. Greetings to you, Messiah, said Yehoshua ben Levi. Greetings to you rabbi, said the Messiah. When will you come, ask Yehoshua ben Levi? Hayom! Today! Replied the Messiah. And so, joyfully, Yehoshua ben Levi goes back to the land of Israel, ready for the Messiah to come. But of course, ‘today’ comes and goes, and the Jewish people are not redeemed. Angrily, Yehoshua ben Levi goes back to the cave in Meron and finds Elijah. The Messiah lied, said Yehoshua ben Levi. Why, what did he say, asked Elijah. He said he would come Hayom, today, and he did not! Ah, replied Elijah, he did not lie at all. Elijah explained: the Messiah will come, as it says in Psalm 95, Hayom, today, Im b’kolo tishm’u: today, if you would only listen for his voice.

Tonight, we begin an auspicious date on the Jewish calendar: Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. Tonight, thousands of Jews will convene at that same cave in Meron in the Gallilee, and light bonfires in honor of the great Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who achieved esoteric knowledge there, and insights on how and when the Messiah will come. In the ancient days of those rabbis, Israel was devastated by wars and struggles against the might of the Roman Empire. Some sources also talk of a great plague that devastated Israel, wiping out 24,000 students of Torah, but on Lag B’Omer, the plague lifted, and so Lag B’Omer is a celebration of respite in the midst of dark times, a glimmer of hope in a world of suffering that longs for redemption.

If there was ever a people in the world who had a reason to doubt the goodness of life, the reasons to hope, it would be the Jews. How many centuries of wars, plagues, the destruction of the Temples, exiles, persecutions, Crusades, pogroms, the Holocaust, and terrorism—how many memories and traumas do we collectively share that should overwhelm us and turn us to bitterness? But what is amazing about the Jewish people is that none of our suffering has managed to break our collective spirit: we still continue to yearn and hope, and to affirm simkhat chayim, the joy of life despite it all. We are all collectively like that Messiah at the gate of Rome seated among the lepers, the suffering of the world and life all around us, and yet always ready for redemption Hayom, today – Im b’kolo tishm’u: if only we and the whole world could hear that subtle voice of God calling us to that redemption each and every day.

This whole time of year is known as Sfirat Ha’Omer, the counting of the Omer. Each day between Passover and Shavuot, we count the day, 49 days in all. Each day we count using the same word the Messiah used: Hayom: Today: Hayom yom echad La’Omer, Today is the first day of the Omer, the 2nd day, Hayom shloshim yamim La’Omer, the 32nd day in the counting of the Omer. Hayom, over and over we repeat that word. Our sages teach us that counting, saying Hayom each day, links up the redemption that we tasted on Passover to our ability to receive the wisdom of Torah, which we will celebrate on Shavuot. For thousands of years, our people have known that Torah contains the answers to everything: how do we bring about justice and end all the suffering and violence of this world: hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, as ben Bag Bag taught in the Mishnah: keep turning the Torah again and again, look deeper and deeper into the Torah, ki hakol yesh bah: because the answers to all our burning questions are somewhere in Torah. And at this time of year, the Omer, Lag B’Omer, we also remember the words of the Messiah himself: that the greatest Torah of all comes when we know how to listen, to pay attention to Hayom, to this day, each day, and the lessons of Torah that life itself teaches each of us.

When we learn to count each day of life as the great blessing that it is, we learn that everything we need is already here! Redemption itself is ready to come Hayom, even today! There is great Torah awaiting us in our own life experiences that we can receive when we number our days. We’re counting as a way, as Psalm 90 says, to lilmnot yameinu, to number our days: to pay attention to the present moment v’navi lev chochmah: and bring about a heart of wisdom, of Torah. As each day passes, no matter what’s happening in it, good, bad, pleasure, suffering: each day counts, each day IS Torah itself. Torah is found everywhere, in everything, in every experience of life.

The great Hassidic master Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger taught this: he said,“she’tzarich ish Yisrael leha’amin shehakol Torah; Everyone of Israel must believe that Everything is Torah: vkoach ha’asarah ma’amarot shehem b’toch hatevah g’nuzim.”and the power of the 10 commandments can be found hidden in nature itself!

The Sfat Emet, goes on to explain: precious metals like silver can be found in the soil, and must be beaten out with great effort until you have refined silver: but the fact remains, even in the filthy soil, the purest silver can be found! This is the Messiah among the lepers, the real Torah of life.

If we survive a difficult life experience, we can learn the Torah of our own inner strength to survive difficulties, the Torah of human resilience; when we suffer an injustice, we can learn the Torah of pursuing Justice at all costs; when we suffer the loss of a loved one, we can learn the Torah of cherishing the life of our surviving loved ones while we have them, as well as learning how to be compassionate to others who suffer loss. When a time comes when we must ask for help from others in the community, we learn how important it is to be a part of a community that we can all count on.

There are many great teachers of Torah all around us, many who can listen for God’s voice in their own life experiences Hayom, today. There is Shmuel Greenbaum, whose pregnant wife was killed in the infamous suicide bomber attack on the Sbarro’s pizza restaurant in 2001 in Jerusalem. Instead retreating into bitterness, Shmuel decided to create a new organization called a Tradition of Kindness that seeks to respond to all tragedy and violence in the world by promoting acts of Chesed, or lovingkindness of people reaching out to people. He’s bringing Torah into action Hayom, today: and creating a world that doesn’t meet violence with more violence, but that meets violence with deeper love and compassion.

There is Jill and Craig Levine, a Long Island couple whose son Robbie mysteriously collapsed and died playing little league baseball. In one shocking moment of running for a homerun, little Robbie had heart failure and his life suddenly ended. After months of grief and agony, Jill and Craig came to understand strength and compassion Hayom, today, and now organize yearly 5K runs, and have already raised more than 35,000 dollars to ensure that there are defibrillators in every little league field in their area.

There is Ismail Khatib, a Palestinian man whose own son was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier, but who decided to donate his son’s organs to save the lives of three Israelis who were desperately in need of organ transplants. Mr. Khatib, of course, is not Jewish. But he learned this Torah of kindness b/c another one of his own sons was once in desperate need of a liver transplant, and he learned how our ability to help one another Hayom, today, transcends religious, ethnic, and political boundaries.

Each and every day, Hayom, today, we all can learn such lessons of Torah, when we number our days. The Torah says that when we Count the Omer, we recall how we brought the the ancient grain offerings to Jerusalem, v’heveitem et Omer Reishit k’tzirchem,” bring an Omer-measure of your first harvesting” the book of Exodus says. The expression Reishit K’zirchem means the very first fruits, the first of the summer harvest.

The rabbis of the Midrash explain that the Hebrew word “reishit” or “first,” also means Torah. Each day of the Omer, we count Hayom. Each day we bring the Reishit, we find Torah as we count. For us, Torah is not just the text of the Torah. Torah is the continuing revelation of truth that transforms our daily experiences into wisdom, compassion, and justice.

With each passing day of our lives, when we live with hearts open fully to whatever arises, then life itself will be reishit kzirchem, will be the Wisdom of Torah for each of us to harvest.

The Mashiach really is ready to come Hayom! All of the strength, insight, and wisdom that we need to transform not only our lives, but the whole world is right here, right now Hayom im b’kolo Tishm’u, Today, if we but learn to listen to the Voice of God teaching us Torah through our own life experiences.