A River of Stones: Day 7

Today is the Sabbath. Candles are lit. Work ceases. Quiet descends. We share a meal, share a conversation, share spiritual renewal, share our selves with each other. We walk to schul (synagogue), pray, and eat some more. Gratitude is the attitude for the day. We rest from all creative endeavors for one full day, sundown to sundown. Then, refreshed, our week begins anew.



Fifth Day and the Light is Spreading!

Day five of the Miracle of Lights!

What is “gelt” and why is it associated with Chanukah?

Gelt is the yiddish word for money. Back in the 18th century (and maybe earlier) in Poland, parents would give their children gelt to learn Torah during Chanukah. The children would save the gelt and on the last day of the holiday, each child would take 10% of the money they saved and give it to charity. In this way the children were learning Torah along with the importance of sharing what they had earned with those who were in need.

In addition to giving gelt to children to learn Torah, parents would give gelt for the children (usually boys because girls did not go to school at that time) to take to their rabbis during Chanukah, a gift of gratitude. Gelt was used for playing dreidel, too, and in early 20th century America (1920 to be exact) chocolatiers began making chocolate gelt, wrapping them in gold or silver foil, and packaging the gelt in small yellow net bags (money bags) for Chanukah treats. These treats make their appearance around Chanukah time to this day, and we are reminded of the importance of learning Torah, giving charity . . . and playing fun games and eating sweet delicacies during Chanukah!

Chanukah gelt English: Chocolate coins for Cha...
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Five Question Friday (Sort of): December 23, 2011


Not surprisingly, no questions were listed for today. Therefore I’m doing things a little different than usual. Instead of answering five questions, I thought it would be nice for each one to share five holiday traditions that you celebrate in your home. You can elaborate if you choose, or not. You decide. Since I’m writing each day about our observances during Chanukah, I will just list five of our customs and let you read more detailed descriptions in the holiday posts that have already begun to appear here.

My best wishes to all of you during these days and holiday observances, however you choose to celebrate . . . or not! Have a great weekend and I hope to see you back here next Friday. ūüôā

Five of our Chanukah traditions ~

1. Lighting the Menorah each night for eight nights.

2. Eating latkes and applesauce (explanation coming soon)

3. Reading an inspirational Chanukah story after lighting the chanukiah each night.

4. Playing dreidle (explanation coming soon).

5. Learning Torah lessons for Chanukah.


Happy holidays everyone!

Day Three and the Light Still Shines!

Why do we light the Chanukah lights the way we do?

According to the Talmud, we are only required to kindle one light each day of Chanukah. Nowhere are we told that we must kindle more lights. So why do we kindle eight lights? And why do we begin the first night with only one light, and then add a light each succeeding night?

It has long been customary to beautify a mitzvah, or commandment, when possible. Beautification is not meant to alter the meaning or direction of the commandment, rather to reveal the beauty and wonder of what we are doing. When it came to the mitzvah of Chanukah light, the sages desired that the light show the world that we celebrate a miracle that took place over eight days. The next question was how to do that.

Well, this all goes back¬†millennia¬†to the time of two men who are listed among the names of our greatest sages: Hillel and Shammai. Each was head of his own academy, or “house” of study, Beis (house) Hillel and Beis Shammai. Although both men were very learned leaders and wise men in the study of Torah, they often formed differing opinions and in true Jewish fashion, an argument would ensue. One of their more famous arguments concerned kindling the Chanukah lights.

According to Beis Shammai, one begins with the maximum potential of the light, meaning that to begin the holiday people should kindle all eight lights. On each succeeding night, one less candle would be lit signifying the number of days left in the holiday. One begins lighting with the maximum potential, and gradually decreases till the last night when only one candle is lit.

Beis Hillel on the other hand, argued we should light according to “realized potential,” or actual days celebrated. Thus, on the first night since we realize the first day, we light the one candle, the second night we light two candles, etc. until the eighth night we light all eight candles.

At first glance it appears that Hillel won the argument. But things are not always as they appear! When two men of such great knowledge and stature among Jewish religious leaders of all time form opinions on an issue, every effort is made to figure out ways in which to observe the rulings of both men. While the assembly of religious leaders voted to follow Hillel’s teaching on the Chanukah lights, the Talmud tell us that Shammai’s reasoning and analysis was generally deeper and sharper than Hillel’s. So, why do we follow Hillel’s model of lighting the Chanukiah?

The sages tell us that Hillel’s argument was good for the pre-Messianic times. We are looking ahead at how the light grows and increases the nearer we approach those days, and therefore we light each day looking forward to increased potential, adding light and excitement each day till we realize all eight days.

Shammai, on the other hand, is more appropriate for the Messianic times when the world has reached a higher level of being, or realized it’s full potential. In that case, we start with the maximum and light according to how many days are left.

Obviously we have not reached the messianic age yet, so we light according to Beis Hillel,  but we look forward to the messianic days when we can light according to Beis Shommai.

Five Question Friday: Sept. 2, 2011

Good morning, and time for another Five Question Friday. ¬†I hope your week was excellent! Ours was hectic, as many of you know, but we are both in one place now, and in a sweet little apartment that fits our present needs. ¬†So in spite of boxes and “mess,” we are confident that this is the place for us at this time. ¬†Now, on to the five questions, here they are!

1. Shoes in the house –¬†yay¬†or nay?

Yes, we allow shoes in the house. ¬†I sometimes think about how nice it would be to have everyone leave their shoes at the door, but then I would be¬†the enforcer and become a nag . . . all the time. ¬†That really doesn’t suit my personality, so it is definitely shoes in the house!

2. What do you call them — flip-flops, slippers, thongs, etc?

I’ve always called them flip-flops. ¬†Always.

3. What song are you almost embarrassed to admit you know all the lyrics to?

I don’t know about embarrassment, but I know most of the words to American Pie (but then I think just about everyone from that era knows that one.) My husband and I like to sing “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” when we are traveling. ¬†Don’t know why, but we do. Then there is “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me,” which the last time I checked, my kids hated. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that when one or all of them were whiny and complaining, I would go off into a rousing rendition of the ditty. I may have ruined my kids. I’m not sure. I am sure though, that there are more songs that I embarrassingly know the lyrics to, but these are the first to come to mind.

4. What is the best quality to have in a friend?

Best quality? ¬†That’s a tough one. ¬†Kindness, love, fun, loyalty (but not blind), honesty, support, listener, sharing, playful, laughter. . . The list is endless. ¬†It’s these qualities together that make for friendship. ¬†It’s the stick-to-it-ness of growing and learning together, sharing the ups and downs of life, being there for each other, calling each other out when need be. ¬†So many things. ¬†There is no “best quality,” friendship requires many qualities.

5. Do you know what you want for Christmas?

Since we do Chanukah, I’ll tell you a little about that holiday. ¬†We celebrate for eight days to commemorate the successful Maccabean revolt in which we regained our Holy Temple. Sadly, Antiochus and the Seleucids whom he ruled, desecrated the temple¬†and contaminated the holy oil for the menorah¬†as well (simple explanation), except for one¬†vial that contained enough oil for one day. ¬†The Hebrew people decided to burn the oil, but miraculously the lamp burned for eight days instead of the one, giving the people time to press fresh olive oil to replenish the lamp and maintain the required perpetual flame. Thus, we light candles each night of Chanukah, starting with one and then adding another each night till the last night when we light 8 candles. Historically, parents and teachers gave¬†gelt (coins) as reward to children for studying Torah during Chanukah. The dreidel game began as one way of teaching children the history of Chanukah. Other Chanukah traditions emerged through the years adding to the festivities of the holiday. ¬†Gift giving was not a part of Chanukah until recent years when Christmas became such a big celebration along with gift giving and receiving. ¬†Jewish parents wanting their children to feel more a part of the mainstream culture while at the same time maintaining a Jewish identity,¬†began giving gifts to their children each of the eight nights of Chanukah. ¬†You will most likely not find this widespread practice outside of the Western culture where Christmas and gift giving are synonymous. ¬†We do not take part in this latest custom, but we do sing, eat latkes (potato pancakes} with applesauce), read Chanukah stories, and of course, light candles.

Now it is your turn.  I look forward to seeing your answers!

Lessons in a Seashell: 2nd Time Around

Last weeks photo challenge was “Oceans.” ¬†As I hunted through photos to post for that challenge, I was reminded of one of my first blogs back in Nov., 2009. ¬†Having recently moved, I ¬†uncovered the shell which originally sparked this post, so I thought it would make an apropos repost (with minor modifications) and a couple of pictures of the shell in question. ¬†Enjoy!

Years ago, a favorite family vacation spot was the Outer Banks, North Carolina. In good weather the water is a clear blue-green and warm. The sand is hot. The sky is clear. The kids and I, once we arrived at our destination, would gather our paraphernalia, walk over a sand dune to the beach, spread out our blankets, set up our umbrellas and lie around or play in the waves all day long. The beach is where we could be by ourselves, relax, be far away from the news, the phone, the computer and other distractions.  Today, of course, our distractions travel with us, but that is another story.

My absolute favorite activity was to stroll along the sand with waves nipping at my feet looking for seashells that had washed ashore.  Through the years I acquired quite a collection.  I always looked for the most perfect, most colorful, most different, most brilliant seashells I could find.  I would take only the best and prettiest of shells.  But one year, that changed.

Early one morning, while strolling along the beach at water’s edge, I spotted a very large conch shell some distance away.¬† The shell was upside down so I first noticed its beautiful colors– sunrise colors‚ÄĒmarbling its inside. ¬†Also its size was much larger than seashells generally found on those shores. What a find!¬† But there was a problem with this shell. As I reached it and picked it up, I discovered that this gorgeous shell had a large hole in it. Normally I would reject a flawed shell such as this one.¬† As I turned the shell over in my hand and ran my fingers over its surface while studying its contours however, I began to imagine the life of this shell, more specifically, the life of the conch that once inhabited this shell.¬† Back in elementary school I had learned that shells are actually homes of animals. They are the strong outer protection of very vulnerable, soft creatures that live within its confines.

As I gazed at the shell I held in my hand, I thought about the purpose of that shell, and how it provided shelter for the life within it.  The shell protected the inner self from predators.  It was carried with the tides from briny depths to sunny beaches.  In the course of its lifetime this conch saw good weather. The ocean supplied food in abundance and salt water necessary for its survival. There were peaceful, calm, sunny days and quiet, star-filled, moonlit nights. This conch experienced a lot of good in life.  But that is not all.

The conch had been washed ashore, and as you may know, with the tide’s ebb and flow waves pound the beachРgoing out and coming in. This conch shell lying on that beach was being pounded and broken in places by the waves that had once provided its sustenance.

Something happened to this shell in the process of living.  Not only had it seen tranquil times, but it had also been tossed about on rough seas.  At times it dove deep.  At times it floated shallow. And in all that time, slowly, methodically, this shell was being smoothed and polished.  A different kind of beauty emerged in the process, something not so obvious with younger more perfectly formed shells. This shell had character.  I saw beautiful colors.  I saw a home.  I saw protection.  It took life to bring out its complicated nuances, its depth, its very real self.

After that experience, I began to look for shells in a different way. No longer did the young, flawless shells appeal to me as before. They are beautiful in their own way, but I discovered I needed to know the lessons of those shells that had weathered many storms, too. Since that day, my collection has come to include shells of all ages, sizes and shapes.  Some are broken, some are worn, some have beautiful colors, some are drab. All have done their job of protecting life.

It strikes me that G-d has provided the means for us to survive the storms of this life, too. Granted, our shells are different than that of the conch.  But we, too, will be nourished, nurtured, and pounded by life.   We may find that life at some point in time washes us up on the shores where the waves will pound us and our beliefs will be shaken to the core. Would that our shell would protect us from pain. Would that our shell would prevent sorrow.  Would that our shell would create a peaceful, harmonious environment within which to live at all times, that it would always remain intact.

We may feel worn, fractured, cracked.  But I am convinced, that as with the conch shell I found that day at the shore, the shell that G-d has provided to protect and guide us does do its job.  Our shell is Torah.  Within the Torah we discover how to live, how to protect ourselves, how to be thankful for the good and prayerful when in pain.  Most importantly, Torah reveals to us how we are to relate to each other and to G-d.  When we are shattered, Torah reminds us that G-d is still with us, still our one and only G-d.  When in times of plenty, we are reminded who has provided that plenty.  In residing in this shell provided by G-d, in abiding by the Torah, in heeding the guidance of its words, our inner selves begin to emerge: selves of compassion, selves not so quick to judge the vulnerabilities of others, selves which have become wise with age, selves which are strong for having weathered many storms, selves that are holy, selves which reflect the very image of G-d.

If you go to the seashore, keep your eyes and spirit open. You may see many seashells. Undoubtedly, most will be broken. You will see shells that are beautiful to look at, perfectly formed. You will see shells that are functional–they hold water, or healing ointment. You will see shells that are hardly shells at all. They have been pounded into shards, multi-colored slivers of membrane through which the light shines for others to see.¬† ¬†As with those shells, we too will be sustained, even if we are broken in places.¬† G-d’s presence is not only with us through all of life; G-d‚Äôs presence is around us, in us, over us and under us.¬† G-d has provided the Torah as our shell, and in residing in that shell, beauty and wonder shine forth as a beacon for others who are on this journey, too.¬† For it is in G-d that we find strength, beauty, and wisdom to weather life’s storms and enjoy life’s blessings.



Time to Give Thanks

Due to a new job, beginning graduate school, and preparations for and celebration of the high holidays, blogging has taken a back seat the past couple of months.  What  a pity.  Writing is something I enjoy doing and I’ve missed spending time with these pages.   Even now, time is at a premium but I wanted to post something…anything!  The holidays are now over, but classes start back up in a week.  Originally I intended to blog everyday during the break….didn’t happen.  But I’m here now!  So, for this post I decided to list ten things for which I am thankful.  Jewishly speaking, we are beginning a new year and this seems like a good way to start anew:

  1. Top on my gratitude list is my family.  Fortunately, I am married to a man I love and who loves me.  I will say no more because words will only dilute the immense gratitude I feel for him. My children are my joy, and have been since the day each was born.  They have grown into such caring, responsible and respectful adults.  I wasn’t always sure that would happen but now I look back and laugh at my fears.  Last, and most importantly, I am thankful to still have my parents with me.  They gave me my life.  Now in their eighties, Mom and Dad are really cool examples of how to grow old and stay vibrant!  My extended family makes this list, too.  We are many, we are far-flung, and we love each other.  What a blessing.
  2. Next, I am thankful for the gift of health.  As I age, I am feeling more aches and creaky joints, but for the most part I am healthy.
  3. I am also thankful for ‚Äúattitude.‚Ä̬† That may surprise many of you, but attitude is one of those things we ‚Äúchoose‚ÄĚ for ourselves.¬† I have the option of developing a positive attitude, or of being negative.¬† How I deal with life is often helped or hindered by my attitude.¬† I am thankful for that choice.¬† A note of clarification, however: attitude and depression are not the same thing.¬† Having the ‚Äúblues‚ÄĚ or being down in the dumps happens to the best of us, and deep or chronic depression is a painful affliction I wouldn‚Äôt wish on anyone.¬† Attitude, on the other hand, is about how I choose to face life, its vicissitudes and its joys.
  4. Another thing on my ‚Äúthankful‚ÄĚ list is books!¬† My husband and I are avid readers.¬† Our library covers numerous subjects: religion, science, art, music, history, poetry, biography, politics, social justice, novels, etc.¬† In recent years I‚Äôve returned to reading classic literature.¬† Reading cultivates creativity and nurtures a questioning mind.¬† I read to learn, to be entertained, to relax, to question the status quo, to be spiritually strengthened, for curiosity‚Ķ and¬† much more.
  5. Pets.¬† For those of you who have pets, you know what a joy they can be.¬† We are ‚Äúcat‚ÄĚ people around here, but we love many dogs, too.¬† Pets are wonderful companions even if a bit obnoxious at times‚Ķ.but then, so are we humans!
  6. Music.   What would this world be without music to fill the air.  Personally I favor classical, folk, jazz, bluegrass (the secret is out!)… not to fond of rap or hard rock, but I’m finding that some of the more contemporary artists are growing on me (such as Mattisyahu…not sure I spelled his name correctly, but music officiandos will know who I mean.)
  7. The world of nature.  When I am out-of-doors, I am acutely aware of the awesomeness of creation.  I marvel at how the world is so wonderfully and intricately made, how life is woven together on a myriad of levels, and it is beautiful.  When I take walks in the woods, or camp in a park, I am keenly aware of G-d’s handiwork
  8. I am thankful to have a job. I was unemployed for quite a while, and though this job is not my life‚Äôs calling, it is helping to sustain me (and us) on several levels as I work toward my profession.¬† I am also thankful that my husband has a job that supports us.¬† Fortunately, he likes his work and those he works with.¬† Having been unemployed for lengths of time‚ÄĒboth of us‚ÄĒthe fact that we now have ‚Äúparnassah/livelihood‚ÄĚ is a real blessing.¬† Neither of us has forgotten what it is like to be without.
  9. This one really belongs with the ‚Äúfamily‚ÄĚ list, however, there are two people who deserve their own space: Jacob and Genevieve!¬† They are our grandchildren.¬† Jacob, seven years old, is our daughter Mica‚Äôs son.¬† Vieve, one year old on July 4, is our son Tim‚Äôs and his wife Maria‚Äôs daughter. Nothing in this world brings a smile to our faces and joy to our hearts like the mere mention of our grandchildren.¬† Being a Bubbe (and a Zaide) is fun!
  10. There are a multitude of things to be thankful for, but I choose to end this particular list with something that is most important in household: our Jewish faith, heritage, and beliefs.  This is what grounds us, what connects us to G-d, what sustains us in life on a daily basis.  From the time we sit up in bed in the morning giving thanks for awaking from sleep, until we say the last Shema of the day, everything we do is guided by Torah, Tefillah (prayers,) and Tzedakah (charity.)   Every activity of the day is interlaced with brachos (blessings) and prayers.  It is a good way to live.

Obviously there are many more things for which we can give thanks. ¬†This list is a start for me.¬† I am sure your list will look different.¬† Don‚Äôt limit yourselves to just ten items‚ĶI did due to space limitations. It is good to pause from time to time for no other reason than to count our blessings and to say ‚Äúthank you‚ÄĚ to the Giver of all. Maybe you would like to make your own list, or share some of your blessings in the comments.¬† For those of you starting a new year, may this year bring hope and healing, prosperity and contentment, and may you walk the Derek/pathway with G-d as your guide.