The Day of Hate Mitzvahs

I once heard a story about a woman who had been asked to make some cookies for a fundraiser. She didn’t especially want to volunteer but felt obligated. As she baked the cookies, she grumbled and groused, and complained. When the cookies were done, she asked her husband if he wanted some.

“No way.” the husband replied, “Those are hate cookies and I want no part of that.”

Today I was doing a favor for a friend who made it not very easy to be gracious and loving in the execution of the favor. And the whole way there, I just kept reminding myself to be gracious and loving, to do a loving Mitzvah, not a Hate Mitzvah.

I’m not sure if I succeeded. Although I did succeeding in trying to convince myself that I wanted to do a loving Mitzvah. When I got back, there was a message in my texts from the same person I wrote about in Friends. A word we use every day. Most of the time we use it in the wrong way. It was a “hello, how are you message,” and I had to beat off my first, impulsive “fuck you,” reply with a stick. And then I had to sit with the idea that maybe I wasn’t as okay as I was thinking if that was my first reply.

I considered my “death by a thousand papercuts” kind of day; nothing that he would consider severe, I”m sure, but that added up to a general air of suckitude. I gave some politely neutral reply while I considered further the idea of a hate mitzvah. I wonder if there’s really a such thing as a hate mitzvah. Like do you need to do a mitzvah from a pure and loving place or is it sufficient that you’re doing the mitzvah. Is it actually more blessed to do a hate mitzvah (if there is such a thing) because you’re breaking your nature and doing good in spite of all the millions of other things you’d rather be doing. The Rambam talks about how easy it is to do good when you have no inclination to do bad and how special it is when you break your nature to do the good in spite of personal feelings and inclinations.

So maybe from that perspective, it’s okay to do a hate mitzvah once in awhile…

Psalm 116: The Conclusion/Psalm 117

I need to backfill the middle of Psalm 116, but I wanted to get these thoughts down. I’ll go back and listen to my Clubhouse room replay for last year (not yesterday) to refresh those Psalm 116 thoughts.

The final lines of Psalm 116 are the Psalmist standing up and declaring in front of EVERY AUDIENCE the Psalmist can think of, the praise of G-d. The Psalmist lists all the public spaces in which the Psalmist intends to praise G-d and declare the greatness of G-d and to thank G-d for the blessings the Psalmist has received. It brings me back to that place in Psalm 115, where we list all the people who should praise G-d (The House of Israel, The House of Aaron, Those who fear G-d…) and now we know where they, we, I, the I that is the Psalmist should do these things. In Jerusalem, in the courtyard, in the presence of His people. All the public spaces where the house of Israel, and the House of Aaron, and those who fear Hashem will be so that they can hear me.

And why? Psalm 117 tells us.

So they can join us. Psalm 117 is an invitation to the entire world to join us in praising G-d. Come in, everyone and share this space of praise and glory with me. Why? Because G-d merciful, and G-d truth is beyond generations and beyond time, and eternity.

The Psalmist invites all of us, in all generations, in all times, in all locations to join in this symphony of praise. This generational legacy of praise. As we look into the past and prepare for the future, we are all enjoined to recognize and appreciate the presence of G-d in the world.

Psalm 116: Part 1

So I know I’m late on this week’s post, but now with Clubhouse replays, I can review the Psalm chevrusa before I post, so it will be super fresh, despite being late. Interesting.

I can post the link, but you do have to have a clubhouse account and the app to take advantage of the replay, so I’m not sure it’s worth it.

We spent awhile talking verse 1 because there was so much in it.

I love the L-d because He always listens to my voice and my requests


I am filled with love because Hashem is listening to my voice and my pleas.

I love that Hashem is listening to my voice and my pleas.

not BECAUSE, but an assumptive knowledge based relationship. I already know that Hashem is listening to me and I love that about our relationship.


I love that Hashem WILL listen to my voice and supplications. Always. Today and forever.


I love that Hashem should hear me.

How and when is Hashem listening to me? What does it do to me in the moment of now to know that the future me is heard. That I am always and will always be heard. How is that transformative of my experiences today to have this underlying certainty of being listened to.

This is the most intense form of therapy almost. Where I can, in any situation, know that my prayer will be heard and my cries will be acknowledged.

(The multiplicity of these ideas brings to mind another Bujold quote. The Mother has given a message to an acolyte to give counsel to Cazaril. The message is “Tell my Daughter’s faithful courier to beware despair above all.” That’s it? Cazaril complains. Well, the acolyte clarifies. She might have said courtier, or castle-warder, or captain, or all four. It’s all blurred in my mind. We know, as Cazaril does, that all four were meant. And that’s the incredible beauty of language and poetry that merges the spiritual and the physical. All of these things are meant. Just as Shamor and Zachor (remember and guard) the Sabbath were uttered together so that the people heard both simultaneously, just as the 10 commandments were carved entirely through the rock but easily readable forward on both sides of the tablets. The miracle is that we can connect to all the ideas given in the poetry. Not one explanation, but all of the them encompass the ideas that teach us and move us forward towards understanding and connection.)

The Ibn Ezra brings the idea that “G-d is loving with hearing my supplications” very responsive.

How much I love G-d because he hears me -vs I am filled with love for G-d because he hears me, -vs- I am filled with love for G-d because he does things for me, or I feel close to G-d because He listens to me. Because I love Hashem, He hears my voice and loves me reciprocally. I show love to G-d, and G-d listens to me with love, and I love that. A cyclic loving relationship that replenishes itself.

That’s VERSE 1, you guys! That’s how we started!

The reason why I’m filled with love is because G-d has turned an ear to me, he has not turned his face from me. on of my days. on my days including the nights also? In my days is the days only? In of the days including Moshiach?

Why does verse 2 seem to repeat the idea of why Hashem loves us through listening to us. At this part in our service, we remind ourselves that Hashem is listening. We’re not disconnected from the process, we’re involved and this is an interactive process of connecting to G-d through the Hallel service. And we’re about about the midpoint and this reminder that we’re in a reciprocal relationship is meant to remind us to wake up and stay engaged because Hashem is listening.

You can read it as on the days I call to You or you can think about it as in the days in which I’m alive, which is really suggested as the Psalm continues.

When I found myself encompassed by the labour pains of death and the torments of Sheol overtook me, I found trouble and sorrow. When we talk about the pain of death as a labor pain, meant to be more transformative. This is not an encompassing final death. This is a transitional pain that’s meant to take us away from the trouble and sorrow and deliver us to something better.

In this moment, I am in sorrow and pain and trapped, like I’m back in Egypt, where I was a slave, but I will not always be there. I do not have to be stuck there forever. I can transition beyond that.

But I will call on the name of the L-rd, please G-d, rescue my soul!

At the beginning, I don’t have something to plea for, but if I did, I know that G-d would (in the future) here me. Here we are, two lines in the future, and now I have something to pray for. I am in distress and I need salvation. And I have that confidence from the earlier verse that my prayers will be heard.

We talked about אנא/ענא how these words both have elements of plea and supplication and mean the exact same thing. I mentioned an idea that occurred to me as we talked that may be totally farfetched about how Aleph is in the beginning of the alphabet and Eyen is in the middle. and this shows that you can come in to any part, in any place and time, as long as you’re alive. (obviously there is no third word that beings with a letter at the end of the alphabet because as we learned in the previous Psalm, praise of G-d is reserved for the living. The dead cannot praise G-d or testify to G-d’s greatness.)

On the days when things are depressing, we call upon Hashem to deliver our souls, but even in that moment, I still approach Hashem from a place of praise. The praise language which we was have been using all of Hallel so far when things are good, we still use that same praise language even when things are bad, even when I’m encompassed by death, and in sorrow and travail, even then, my mouth is filled with praise.

I called out G-d because he is gracious and righteous compassionate. (verse 5), but this this language is a restatement of some of the attributes of Hashem.

So the Story of Dinah and Shechem

I have very tangled feelings about this story . I decided ages ago based on some of the commentaries that Dinah was a willing participant and the reason she didn’t want to return with her brothers was because she loved the prince and wanted to be in that relationship. And the commentaries say that her daughter was adopted out in Egypt and became the wife of Joseph. (ew, for so many reasons.)

There are a lot of commentaries on this, because it is such a difficult story. Every aspect of it is difficult.

The truth is we don’t really know. We don’t know who Dinah was or how she felt. I realized as I was listening to the Rabbi talk, that I always wanted her to not be a rape victim, because that’s what I wanted. I wanted to believe her relationship with Shechem was her choice and her will and her desire. But I have no way of knowing. I started with the idea that well, the Bible is going to be judgy and say that any relationship not sanctioned by her father, was obviously rape. But what if the Torah is telling it exactly like it was. And what if we understand that way.

What does that mean to a young woman of that time who was raised to be proper and modest and was mostly around only her family? A giant dysfunctional, but mostly loving family. What if I accept that the Torah is telling the simple truth. Or what if it’s more complicated. What if Dinah was that sweet 14 year old who meets that crafty 25 year old who tells her that she’s so much more mature than other girls and he loves her. What if he does the same stuff that older men like to do with younger women to seduce them with their own inexperience of the world and make them feel special.

And then afterwards, after, according to the Mefarshim, he decides he loves her and wants to marry her.

I don’t know who Dinah is. I don’t know what she wanted. I don’t know what type of man Shechem was. I can’t decide how much to trust this account because it’s so simple. It lacks so many details. Are Shimon and Levi hotheads who were so jacked up they killed their sister’s love? Was Shechem a romeo? A lothario? A seducer? A rapist? We don’t know definitely any of these answers. And the commentaries on this are all over the map for that reason.

And so we don’t know. Is this a complex story with nuance and layers, and multiplicity? Or if this a very simple one, with clear heroes and villains. I am mentally comparing this to story of Sodom where the clear villains wanted to rape (but did not get the opportunity) the people/angels who came to Lot’s house. Very clear villainy. The text here uses simple and clear language. So maybe the ambiguity is coming from me. Shimon and Levy were there. Maybe I should trust that they knew what the hell they were doing when they destroyed everyone who participated in, wished to perpetuate, or stood by while their sister was raped.

The kindness should be for the woman

I was starting to write a very different blog post, but then I was in a room on Clubhouse (Chabad of Clubhouse club) talking about the weekly portion of Torah. For anyone who doesn’t know, the first 5 books of the Bible are called Torah and they are read in a weekly cycle that begins on Simchat Torah and concludes on…well, Simchat Torah, actually. This week’s portion includes the story of Dinah and after the class someone asked if the Rabbi didn’t think the reaction from Shimon and Levi, the brothers who utterly destroyed the city of the prince who took their sister, was a little excessive.

Okay, first of all, the Torah does consider it excessive. All my life, I learned that Shimon and Levi were considered hotheads. Joseph is going to split them up in a few weeks so they can’t destroy of all Egypt while waiting for Benjamin. In his final blessing, Jacob curses their anger and he splits them up. So, I would say generally, the Torah does give us the impression that these good old boys will always take vengeance too far.

The Rabbi however, went a totally different way. He said that that we can see in scripture why they did what they did. It says in the scripture that they brought Dinah home. And why does it say that? Obviously they brought her home! That was the whole reason they were there, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it have been obvious that they brought her home? And the commentaries say that it is specifically mentioned because she refused to go with them. She was ashamed and upset and felt degraded. She felt there would be no shelter for her, that people would be talking about her defilement and her pregnancy. And so her brothers destroyed the city and left no one alive who could gossip about their sister.

“But shouldn’t they have shown kindness and mercy to the people of the city.”

(I’m paraphrasing the Rabbi’s response) Should they have shown kindness to the people who stood aside? Should they have shown kindness to the people who watched and did nothing as a young girl was stolen from her family and violated repeatedly? No! That’s not Jewish ideal. The kindness in this case belongs to the woman. She is the one who deserves the kindness and the mercy. Not the rapist. Not the bystanders. And in Shimon and Levi’s mind, this probably wasn’t nearly enough to make up for what their sister had gone through. It was just the best they could do.

I didn’t realize how much I needed someone to say that.

But, the questioner persisted, Doesn’t Jacob reprove them?

He does, the Rabbi replies, he says, why would you make you make trouble with the neighbors for us? And they reply, because no one treats our sister like that. And the conversation ends there. Because, really, what else is there to say?

And let me just say too, that I have some very complex feelings about this story which I take up in a different post. I don’t want to dilute this one.

Edited to Add: This morning, this story came across my news feed.
The judge said that he prayed over it. Maybe he should have opened his Bible and read it instead. Or listened to the Rabbi. Kindness belongs to the victims. Not the perpetrator.

Psalms 115: Part II

Oh, we had an amazing Psalms room that I will not be able to do justice here. I’m already sad that my words will not capture the moments and I haven’t even started trying yet.

So we talked a bit about why this Psalm is traditionally (in Jewish liturgy) broken up into two separate sections. As part of that we split the Psalm up and talked about the different sections.

The opening lines set the scene and the first part of the Psalm talks about the difference between them (those who worship idols) and us. They ask where is your G-d and we tell them, and talk about the idols that they worship. We conclude that section with a call to those people who do not worship idols (I typed that as idiots. Which is hilarious. But I fixed it anyway.) the House of Israel, the House of Aaron, and all of those who fear G-d.

Having called those people and exhorted them to stand strong in their faith, we now bring all these groups together as a community for the second half of the Psalm which is traditionally sung in synagogue as a group, and even before the modern synagogue service, it was a song as a call and response (AKA responsive reading); so it has always been considered a communal gathering of those people who are the House of Israel, Aaron, and those who fear G-d coming together to create (or channel), spread and receive blessings.

So linking together, joining together, is a recurring idea that is going to flow through this Psalm. Each verse in the second part of the Psalm echos and flows from the verse before it into the verse after it which builds to the final crescendo in which we bless G-d, henceforth and forever in a cyclic bond of reciprocal blessings. Let’s see how we get there:

From verses 12 and 13 – May He bless the House of Israel, Aaron, and those who fear G-d from the smallest to the largest.

Which we’re on that subject, of the smallest and the largest, let’s talk about the blessings increasing, for us and our children. The word increase is Yosef who was the first born of Rachel, beloved of Jacob. This kind of allusion (practical allusion, because she picked yosef as a name because she wanted to increase her children, so it’s not a coincidence) As we have gone from one child, Yosef, to two, Yosef and Benjamin. And had we have gone from 12 brothers, to a nation, so should we increase in blessings and merits continually, actively. And in the responsive reading, that would be the congregation’s blessing for the service leader. Who then responds, blessed are you by G-d the maker of Heaven and Earth.

To which the congregation understands that the Heavens are the dominion of G-d; echoing the sentiment from verse 3 of the Psalm that our G-d is in the Heavens doing the work of G-d; while the earth is given to mankind, who are doing a myriad of different things including asking “Where is their G-d” (verse 2). The earth is where the dead descend to, which brings us to our next verse talking about how the dead cannot praise G-d and neither can those who go down to silence. Who are the silent? If we look back at 5, we can see that the idols have mouths but cannot speak, and verse 7, they make no sounds with their throats, and verse 8; who makes them shall become like them and also those who trust in them. They lack the voice and the capacity to praise G-d.

And we culminate with the idea, as we raise our voices and sing in harmony, that we will bless G-d now and forever, closing the circle of reciprocity in which the idol worshiper cannot stand; doomed forever to silence as they are.

The Rabbi who is learning with us also brought out the idea that those who do not praise G-d while they are alive will go down to the grave in silence and not be allowed to praise G-d even after death because they did not take the opportunity to do so while they were alive. This brings to mind the idea of Pharaoh hardening his heart until at a certain point, he was no longer able to unharden his heart. I think there’s a commentary which eludes me at the moment that up until the 5th plague, he could have let the Jews out of Egypt, but after that, G-d hardened his heart so he would no longer have the free will to choose to let them go. And I think this may go back to that idea. As long as you are alive, you have the choice to serve G-d, but if you choose not to, after you aren’t alive, you no longer have the choice to serve or not serve, you are excluded. That was a pretty chilling thought. We didn’t end with it. Thankfully.

We talked a bit about the tradition of exchanging blessings, such as the priestly blessing, and the blessing of the children on Friday nights, and how we bless the mother of the household on Friday night.

There may have been more going on, but that’s all I have time for and springs to mind immediately. It was a great class.

Psalm 115; Part 1

There was a lot in this Psalm and we only did part of it. So it will continue.

I don’t even know what order to do things in. We had so many thoughts.

So I guess first there’s the first verse which sets us up, “not to us, L-rd, not to us, but to Your Name, give glory for your love (which I’m going to talk about a minute) and your truth.

So first there’s the repetition of to us, that emphasis.

Then there’s Your name again, which has so many different ideas around it. Including evoking Psalm 113, which also talks about defining G-d by the name, instead of saying the name.

and then love and truth.

During the class I had three translations in front of me, the Alter, the Richard Levy, and the Koren. And they each translated that word, חסדך, differently. (when I typed it into google translate, just to paste it here, I got a fourth translation) The three I had in front of me were love, covenantal love (which is something that Levy has previously explained and I think we’ve discussed in past Psalms posts), and kindness. (Google uses grace; which I would call the intersection of kindness and love) That’s a lot of nuance to throw into a single word and it calls to mind that moment of Guard/Honor as a single word when G-d gives us the Sabbath in the 10 commandments. Here instead of two words simultaneously to produce a single commandment, there is one word with fragments to reveal a multiple of ways in which G-d connects to us. Truth can be translated as truth or faithfulness; steadfastness.

Verse 2 we discussed from two different angles. On the one hand, the nations are taunting saying, “Where is your G-d?” a stark contrast to the previous Psalm when the entire earth beheld the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the other hand, that word “na” added to Ayeh ( איה נה) is typically understood as a plea. So maybe this is a plea. Like when Jonah’s companions beg him to pray to G-d for their salvation, as they are praying. Maybe this is a plea for G-d to return more fully to a revealed state. (which actually plays very nicely with what’s coming)

And we answer them, “Our G-d is in Heaven.” You can’t look and ask where? You just have to know and accept that G-d is there. Rabbi Shmully talked here about how this really emphasizes the faith that contrasts to the previous verse. They’ve forgotten the exodus. They’re stuck in that “what have you done for me lately mentality,” but we are faithful and steadfast (there are those words again!) and we remain committed to Our G-d in Heaven. And we don’t ask where and demand a manifestation. But we know that the power of G-d is with us.

The next verses 4-7 talk about the idols. They have physical attributes, but can’t use them; they can’t affect the world. G-d has no physical attributes, by contrast, but affects the world constantly. These verses are meant to mock the idea of worshiping a idol that is powerless. That is the work of human hands. Can you make something you can’t control? And if you can control it, how could it be a G-d, something that is more powerful than you are. We think of something like money. People worship money and aspire to it, but we can create and destroy money, we can hoard it or sell it, or give it away. How much power does it have? Does it have more power than the people who created it? And the people who interact with it daily? How much power does it have if the value changes continually? We also talked a little about how we can feel like the statues; as if we are stuck and fixed and cannot interact with the world, unable to speak or move, but if we focus on the idea that we are beyond the idols, that we are attached to G-d and beyond physical limitations, we can move past the paralysis.

“Those who make them shall become like them, and also those who trust in them.” Oh my goodness. I had a lot to say about this. I feel like one of the problems with social media is that we tend to elevate certain ideas and people and then our hearts become hardened and we cannot be flexible or open to anything different. I’ve seen this so much, especially around the pandemic and different political opinions. This hardening of the spirit as if we ourselves were turning to the stone idols we follow.

We had a lot of say about Verses 9-11 as a group as well. Typically in a list, I complained, you’d see it ordered smallest to largest. Or sometimes largest to smallest, but this list, is ordered medium, smallest, and largest. (Yisrael, Children of Aaron (kohanim), and those who fear Hashem (not just Israel necessarily but all the nations.) It’s not ordered by size, suggested Rabbi Shmully. It’s ordered by holiness. At the lowest rank, the regular Jews; the children of Israel. Next, those who serve in the holy Temple because they are elevated by the service, and finally, those who fear Hashem, not because it’s expected by birth, or position, but because it is the calling of their heart above and beyond any expectations. We talked about this relating back to verse 1: Us, the covenantal love, and the truth. Or even perceiving Israel as the glory of G-d, the Kohanim as the covenantal love, and those who fear Hashem, as the truth. Or playing with that idea of the multiple meanings of חסדך with each group being out a different aspect of meaning for the word; whether it’s love, covenental love, or kindness. I’m kind of loving that G00gle used grace because it does feel very resonate with me that in return for the voluntary association with those who fear G-d, that G-d’s return for this is an aspect of grace or kindness.

Airing the Grievances

I saw an odd writing prompt journal today. It was a Grievance journal, and it included writing prompts like “What did you want to say today, but couldn’t?” and “What sort of curses would you wish upon your adversaries?” and “What the biggest ways others waste your time?” (Spoiler alert: Other people’s time wasting isn’t a patch on my ability to waste my own time.)

Part of me thinks I would enjoy such a writing, and most of me is repulsed by it. I just don’t like putting negativity out into the universe. I love the idea of getting it out of me. And they recommend you burn the book when you’re finished, thus releasing it. I couldn’t do that. I can never burn words. It hurts my soul. I did a craft with crappy old books and even that was a wrench.

But it does seem stupidly cathartic. So I’m reflecting on what it would be like to keep a journal like that.

Friends. A word we use every day. Most of the time we use it in the wrong way.

Normally I title my posts when I start them. It find it helps ground a little and gives me something to focus on. But after rejecting three titles for this post, I decided to just start typing and see what happens.

Part of the problem is that I’m not sure what I’m feeling or what I want to say. I’m overjoyed for my friends that they were blessed with their 6th child recently. But it emphasizes to me how little I have. I saw a meme earlier about how if you try to do something, that puts you ahead of all those people who aren’t trying. But that’s not exactly true, is it? Achieving pregnancy is seemingly effortless for some people. Who do a fraction of what I do. A hockey player may not wish to run, but when they do run, they’re definitely going to be faster than me, even as I train and strive.

Today someone tried to make me feel bad because my problems aren’t as severe as other people’s. Since I wasn’t actually attempting to complain about my problems, I don’t feel actually feel bad. But, you know what, fuck you anyway for trying to trivialize what you thought were my problems. If they’d actually been my problems and I was really upset about something, I don’t fucking care that you think it’s stupid. You demand that I be there to support you in your problems, but are dismissive of mine? You don’t think my problems are important? That’s fine. People rarely think other people’s problems are important, but if you want to cling to your shred of “I support people because I care,” bullshit, then keep those “ugh. this is stupid.” thoughts to yourself and be present in the moment for me. (not that I needed this person to be present in the moment for me, because I already know that this is not a person to whom I expose my vulnerabilities. )

Fuck, I need better friends. Maybe that’s the real title of this post.

Psalm 114 – Learned with non experts

I’m so loving my Psalms study! It’s definitely different being on the other side of the microphone, where I’m leading a study group, instead of listening to a Rabbi read and propose ideas, but my co-leaders are amazing and studying in a group, with a group dynamic, and lots of ideas and commentaries, and other people’s perspectives and experiences really adds so much.

Rabbi Shmully really summed up it up for me when he said that although these are words we say all the time, especially, Psalm 114, where there’s a very popular tune and it’s often sung in its entirety, we so seldom get a chance to really think about what we’re saying.

This particular Psalm tells a story. And the visual imagery in the poem and the language of the poem is meant to pull you into that story and make you part of the experience. To relate back to my previous post, we say that at Passover Seder, you’re meant to feel like you personally left Egypt. This is a poem that can help you do that, because….

It immediately starts with “When Israel when forth from Egypt…” you’re meant to be swept immediately into this story that has already started. Your scene is set in a single clause. Imagine yourself there going out of Egypt, at the Red Sea. And the rest of our story is what we experienced there. I’m just going to try to hit some of the highlights.

When Judah leads the way out of Egypt, in the person of Nachshon, the first person to jump into the sea, creating a destiny worthy of a dynasty of Kingship,the ultimate fulfillment of Moshiach.

When waters all over the world split to testify to the glory of G-d? Or in fear of G-d that they would be asked to break their nature. And all these images of the hills cowering like baby sheep, and the mountains rocking. It’s hard to tell from the imagery whether it’s joy or fear. But one of the commentaries brought out the idea that of the mountains throwing up it’s rock like confetti in joy for the revelation of G-d and the claiming of the Jewish people. I’m never going to be able to read this Psalm without imagining the carousing mountain with it’s rockfetti.

And the Psalm then flows into the next image connecting water to water, a recurring bond between the splitting the red sea, and rock that released water to feed Israel in the dessert, and crossing of Jordan river with Joshua. And the language around it. All those Mems connecting Mitzraim (Egypt) with Mayim, and finishing with a flowing fountain (מִזרָקָה) of mems (חַלָּמִישׁ, לְמַעְיְנוֹ-מָיִם).