...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two Hebrew notes

This week was very difficult at work. I'm glad that it's over. Three day week coming up: hurray! On Wednesday evening Daniel and I are taking the train down to Eugene, where we'll spend Thanksgiving with my family; we're coming back up to Portland Saturday afternoon. I haven't had a paid vacation day in a long time (not since Memorial Day last May, since I ended up working on Labor Day and Veteran's Day), and I relish the luxury of being "on the clock" while I sleep in and lounge around my parent's house for two days.

Last week in Hebrew class we heard a very sweet teaching. As I've written before, the first letter of the Torah is Bet, which is sometimes pronounced Vet (depending on whether or not it has a dot in it, I think). The last letter of the Torah is Lamed, from the word "Yisrael." Lamed and Vet together spell the word Lev, or heart--the whole Torah is written around and wrapped around the heart.

When I told Daniel that, he said, "But what if you don't love the whole Torah?" It's a good point. But I think you can love the Torah and its overall message without having to endorse all the ethnocentric and violent and misogynist stuff (in my opinion the homophobic stuff has its root in misogyny). There's this old story about the famous Rabbi Hillel. A gentile asked him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel is said to have said, "Love your neighbor. The rest is commentary." Would that that Torah be written on my heart.

Hebrew note 2: The Torah portion this week is Chayyei Sarah, usually translated "The Life of Sarah," which begins by talking about the death of Sarah and how Abraham secures a cave for her burial (you can find it near the beginning of Genesis, after the binding of Isaac). When you read it in English it begins with "Sarah was 127 years old," but the Hebrew actually reads, "Sarah was 100 years old, and 20 years old, and 7 years old." Rashi explains that it is written this way because Sarah had the wisdom of a 100-year-old, the idealism of a 20-year-old, and the innocent beauty of a 7-year-old (which Reb Aryeh admitted being a little creeped out by). In Hebrew, there actually is no word for "life," a singular. Chaim, usually translated as life, actually means lives. It's a plural, just as "mayim," water, is plural. "Chayyei Sarah" actually means "The Lives of Sarah." There is no singular life! You could take that to mean that all lives are lived together, running together like water, or part of a collective, or that on some level we live multiple lives, or that there are multiple stages in our one physical life.

If I couldn't have had my bet din and mikvah in the week of Lekh Lekha, the rabbi and I talked about how Chayyei Sarah was my second choice. I remember being struck by this idea of lives being plural last year when this we read this portion, and feeling that it resonated with my experience. I do feel that with conversion (or as my rabbi sometimes refers to it, "revelation"--drawing on Jonathan Omer-Man's idea that converts are "revealed Jews") I'm entering a new phase of my life.

(Bringing it back down to the nitty-gritty plane: who's been going through my blog entries and giving them all one star? Not cool.)