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I just got asked to do the d'var Torah at KOE this week! And Bo has such wonderful stuff in it too!

Mind you, that doesn't leave me with much prep time... but yay!

(Also, for those who are not KOE regulars, but are local, the d'var Torah has been moved to after Torah reading - unless I am somehow later to shul than I should be, in which case I will just have to do it at the end.)
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Migraine update: It lasted until the evening, and then I got it to go away - mostly - but I still fell asleep halfway through dinner, and ended up going to bed around eleven.

The upside to this: I woke up at 7 AM - after a full night's sleep. I suppose I could have gotten out of bed, but I stayed in bed til nine - at which point it got silly, so i got up... and made it to shul for Torah reading!

Interesting parsha too - in the middle of a bunch of boring ones. (Yes, yes, I know. Some of you find the building of the mishkan very intersting... not so much my thing.)It was a two-Torah week. I wnt to call it the week of the colorful cows - golden calf and red heiffer. An interesting mix. I also noticed a lot of interesting word play - for example, the fact that the ray of light from Moshe's head is described as a "keren" - also the word used for horn (hence the whole "Jews have horns" thing), but I realized that it is, more specifically, the word used for the horn of a cow - as in, the kind of horn we are not allowed to use for a shofar. So that was an interesting connection, considering the context in which the ray of light happened. There was other word play as well. the word for cow and some other word having to do with wrongdoing that was spelled with a peh and a resh - but ended with an ayin. And the fact that this is the week where the firstborn lose their status - due to the golden calf - and so there are rules about how to redeem firstborn humans and animals from temple service - which is now carried out by the levites. Interestingly, how do you redeem a treif animal? "ve'arafto." You break its neck. This was also an interesting juxtaposition with a phrase that repeats an insane amount of times this week: "am k'sheh oref" - normally translated as "stiff-necked people" I never realized it gets said so many times - God says it because he is angry. Moshe says it as an excuse. God tells Moshe to tell the people that's what he thinks of them...

Anyway, so it;s a running thene throughout the incident. It got me thinking about stubbornness, and how so many people were stubborn this week = God was stubborn about his expectations, B;nei Yisrael was stubborn about holding to the familiar - idol worship = and about getting their way from Aharon - the one non-stubborn charater - which comes actoss as a weakness - and Moshe is stubborn in defending the people, to the point of telling God to erase him from the Torah.

And ultimately, this parsha is also about compromise. Because God has to give b'nei Yisrael something tangible and meet them halfway - which he does with the cloud that they then bow to or toward. They need that manifestation, even if they shouldn't go as far as the idol. And God also compromises with Moshe - by erasing him from just one parsha and therefore only mostly forgiving the people.

Anyway, so it was interesting. And if I had to give a d'var Torah on it, my message would be: try to understand where the other person is coming from. Try to meet them halfway.

And soeaking of Torah, a thank you to [livejournal.com profile] margavriel for letting me try out his safrut tools and see how writing Torah letters is similar to calligraphy in some ways and different in others. A skill I might try to learn some day because it is fascinating to me - I guess both language and writing are of interest, then - but not any time soon.
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Has it really been 20 days since I last posted? On the one hand, that seems unreasonably long. On the other, so much has happened over the past 20 or so days that I feel like it has to have been far longer.

And now for an update:

Days 1-2: Transit Strike, alas, continues. Slightly worn sneakers carry me half an hour by foot to the alternate site I got myself assigned to (so that I could actually call it a work day) and half an hour by foot back home. Day 1 also included a detour to Teachers College (I was sort of in the neighborhood) to order a document I need in order to get my salary up to where it should be. It also included a stop at the Bank Street bookstore on the way home. Did you know they sell packages of blank dice? With label stickers? They're great when you want your dice to only go up to 3 so that your students don't win the game too quickly.

On Day 2, (3rd day of the strike, as my last post was the first day), the strike officially ended some time during the day. It did not end on a more practical level until the following day, however, so my now considerably more worn out sneakers carried me home to pack a heavy suitcase, and then outside to catch a cab so I could catch the charter bus that I rode to where I spent the next seven days...

Days 3-9: USY Convention. For those who don't know, this is a gathering of over 1,000 Jewish teenagers (was it 1,150 this year?) from all across the US and Canada for a week of learning, praying, social action, socializing, and other general fun.

Day 3: Now worn-out sneakers and worn-out feet carry me all over the hotel as I help to get ready for the teen-agers, who will arrive on Day 5. This year, I got to make signs (as usual) with schedules, room info, etc. Then Shabbat began - but I will call all of that Day 4 (a la Jewish calendar time)

Day 4: Shabbat. A very special Shabbat that I look forward to every year. This is a day when my dress shoes get to carry my tired feet and body to amazing services (because the people on staff care) and some okay meals... but the special parts are the Friday night gathering in the director's suite (some of you know who the director is - but I will give no further detail in a public entry) at which home-made dessert foods play a starring role - my own bar cookies included. This year, I was too tired to enjoy all this - but I did enjoy a good night's sleep in the cozy hotel bed ([livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer would love these beds - all poofy and squashy and down-filled. Those with allergies to down would probably hate them.) The following morning, I got to enjoy waking up when it was already light out, reading from the Torah - and pretty well, too, I think - and hearing my father teach about the weekly Torah portion - specifically about Joseph. There are times when I really love hearing my father teach, and this was one of them. He is all about group discussion, and it was pretty interesting to think of Joseph in new ways. One take on him that I really appreciated: Joseph as the equivalent of the straight-A student who wants people to like him, and thinks that boasting about his good grades is the way to get there - because he has little concept of how to be liked by others. Or something like that. Another interesting idea that came up: Maybe he wasn't in touch with his father during his time in Egypt because he thought his dad was in on the conspiracy - having sent him out to check on his brothers in the field (which leads to the pit and the sale and Egypt) when his dad knew his brothers disliked him. Shabbat also included an extra long nap.

Saturday night, it was back to work, getting everything ready for...

Day 5: USY Convention begins. The usual excitement. Plus an unusual event: family Chanukah party in Philadelphia with a combination of local relatives and cousins who were visiting other local relatives. Cousins as in three little kids who were very cute and photogenic. Yay digital camera! So the first night of Chanukah was really special.

Day 6: Convention, second day. A highlight: the keynote speaker was a family friend. She is disabled, and spoke about her experiences in USY, her disability, and her life story in general. The USYers gave her a standing ovation, and I learned things about her life that I never knew before.

Day 7: Convention, third day. Since the educational theme was disabilities, this day of social action projects, which carried groups of USYers all over the Philly area, ended with all of us at Temple University, watching a wheelchair basketball game. Then some USYers who won raffles got to try out wheelchair basketball for themselves. I got to give out boxed dinners. And then I got to help man the lost and found, which had tons of stuff in it, because things fell beneath the bleachers and had to be collected afterward.

Day 8: Fourth day of Convention. Concluded with a dinner dance. Loud and chaotic for the USYers, quieter for the staff - we ate, then began packing up - more wear on my shoes...

Day 9: Convention ended. We watched a fun video, then said tefillat haderech (the traveller's prayer) together before heading our separate ways until next year. I got to go home via NYC, so I could get my computer. Then home with my family for a few days (as opposed to at the convention with them)...

Day 10: Got to sleep in late. Put in an effort to find time for the purchase of new sneakers - except that my sister's coat made its way into that same lost and found (not via the bleachers, but because she was helping to sort the stuff back at the hotel and forgot to take her coat at the end of that) and so her coat was in a box, being shipped back to the USY office, so her issue took priority - but in the end, we got to neither.

Day 11: Quiet Shabbat with my family. After such an exhausting week, not nearly enough time to nap. Also gave my sneakers another good workout with a 30-minute walk to shul, and the same walk back. Wore my new Shabbat coat for the first time - and got snow on it! Managed to nap through an an exciting snowstorm in the afternoon. Also managed to get a ride back into the city that evening - New Years party at NU's - only she was sick, so we only saw her roommate. Fireworks from the roof of [livejournal.com profile] mbarr and [livejournal.com profile] wildblueyonder2's building - they looked small and less impressive than last year - I guess I wasn't in the same mood. Oh well.

Day 12: recovering from Day 11 - no, didn't have anything too toxic... - and also a little Chanukah get-together at [livejournal.com profile] mbarr and [livejournal.com profile] wildblueyonder2's apartment. They let me fry beignets in their kitchen. Much fun. Much tasty sugary goodness.

Day 13: last day to recuperate before returning to work. I think that was also the day I realized that wearing the sneakers was hopeless, as they had worn too far and were now rubbing my toe. Didn't do anything too interesting that I can recall.

Day 14-17: Back to work. Wearing shoes other than my sneakers. A different pair each day, as each set was rubbing in a different place. Also saw two doctors - turns out I have enflamed eyelashes - or eyelids, anyway. And $35 later (plus the appointment cost), I have a prescription cream to put on my eyelids. And was it on Day 16 that I went to Barnes and Noble and had fun buying calendars half price? A crochet calendar (as in, a whole box of crochet patterns that just happen to have dates on them) for myself, a magnetic poetry calendar, and two weather calendars for my students, since I may be teaching Earth Science next quarter. And on Day 14, I ordered new sneakers online.

Day 17 also included a trip down to JH's synagogue, and the usual hour walk back up - which my feet somehow survived.

Day 18 saw me reunited with [livejournal.com profile] rymenhild, who was here too briefly, but who also got me back in touch with [livejournal.com profile] terriqat and [livejournal.com profile] shirei_shibolim, and I followed them back to their apartment after lunch for more hang-out time. That evening, [livejournal.com profile] rymenhild was off again, and I got to see the second Star Wars movie (as in, the second one made, NOT Episode II) with friends.

I also began to crochet a mobius strip shawl. As [livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer pointed out, this is not only a fun project for me, but a way for me to understand the mobius strip a bit better.

Day 19 was mostly spent cleaning up from Day 18. And I think I did some other random stuff too...

Day 20's big highlight was hearing Neil Gaiman speak at the 92nd Street Y. He spent a lot of time speaking about the writing process, which I found useful. And he is also rather entertaining. Plus, I got three books signed (two of which I have actually read before...) I bought all three at Barnes and Noble beforehand - and the best part was, one of them, Anansi Boys, was 50% off - just begging me to buy it! So that was a really great evening.

Which brings us to today. I wonder if my new sneakers have arrived yet...
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Last night, I was walking home from a break-fast meal at [livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer's apartment and I was able to experience first-hand a thunderstorm so intense that even the sidewalks were flooded. My skirt was soaked up past my knees by the tiem I got home, but it was so amazing to see - the water flowing swiftly past the edge of the sidewalk as I searched in vain for stepping stones before giving in to the sodden socks. And the lightning flashed so often, I couldn't match each burst of light with any one crack or rumble of thunder.

Good thing it happened on the way home from dinner, though, and not on the way there...

I realize I have not posted in over a week. Closer to two weeks, really.

Life has been busy. The roommate hunt continues, but I am a bit less stressed out about it. There are possibilities. At least the apartment hunt is long over.

Meanwhile, summer school has ended - at last, a brief vacation. And today, all I got done was laundry.

As for the end of school, I felt like I finished up pretty well - at least with some of my classes. The fifth graders got to have a debate about railroads in social studies, and then in writing, I hung up the final drafts of all of their descriptive paragraphs, like a museum, and students walked around and commented on each other's writing. They really enjoyed it, I think - and I enjoyed seeing them do it. The fourth graders did one last probability activity in math. The older kids, well, the high school students had to write another essay - we did not finish up well. But the eighth graders shared their creative writing. So that went okay.

And I got to see a drama performance in the afternoon. Of course, I was not impressed. I got nearly as much out of them in my weekly Friday activity with them - the fourth graders performed for the second graders on Friday, and all enjoyed it. But in the school performance, it was stuff they had been practicing four days a week - and it was anything but polished. Oh well.

And then a good weekend - I gave the d'var Torah in shul. It was apparently precisely 15 minutes long, but I enjoyed speaking, and I hope that everyone there enjoyed listening. I spoke from an outline, so I can't post it here without putting in a lot of work.

Then the fast of Tisha B'av (The ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, the day the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed - twice.). Mostly, it was okay - except for the migraine. But a certain friend talked me into taking Advil - not that this involved much convincing - and I eventually felt better. I also got in a whole lot of Jewish learning and a really strange dream in which a girl was standing by the doorway to a balcony, only there was no balcony - only a ladder going down to an internal courtyard surrounded by the other sides of the brick building. She was really enjoying standing there at the edge of the doorway, and seemed to feel perfectly safe there.

And that about sums it up.
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On Friday night, the president of KOE (the shul/minyan/congregation where I attend services) approached me and mentioned that there might not be anyone to give the d'var Torah (words about the weekly Torah portion) at services the next morning. I told him I didn't have any ideas, but that I might be able to come up with something in a pinch.

Turns out they found someone.

Also turns out I came up with something. And since I didn't get to share it in shul, I figured I might as well post my ideas here.

See, I was thinking about the parsha (weekly portion), and the parts of it I remember. The first thing that came to mind was probably the talking donkey. I also thought about "Mah tovu ohalecha Ya'akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael" (How good are your tents, [desccendants of] Jacob, your dwelling places, [people of] Israel," because it is a line that has made it into our daily liturgy.

I thought some more about the talking donkey, and how I had once asked a bunch of ten-year-olds at camp what this section of the parsha has in common with the movie, Shrek.

Thinking of Shrek made me think about the stories I have been using in my weekly folktales and drama games class. That was when I realized that I very much had something to talk about - the story of Balak/Bilam/the donkey as a folktale. It has so many elements. A selfish/foolish king, a talking donkey, three trials - Bilam first tries to push away the servants, then gives in; he gets stopped by a talking donkey, but is then allowed to proceed; he tries to curse the people - and blesses them. Not to mention, this idea of three also applies to how many times the donkey stops and gets hit with the stick, and how many times Bilam tries to curse the Israelites.

Thinking of threes made me think not only of folktales - in which three is always a powerful number - there are nearly always three trials or three siblings or three objects, etc - but of the power of this number in Judaism, in which three is a hazakah - I don't know how to translate that into English, so I will explain the concept - that if you do something three times, it becomes a "habit" and that is the way you must do things thereafter. Or that is the way things are expected to occur thereafter. I also thought about the shalosh regalim - the three Pilgrimage Festivals, and, in particular, Pesach. During the sedder (the meal we have on the first two nights of the holiday), we have three boards of matzoh, and we have three items that must be mentioned in order to fulfil our obligations - Pesach (the lamb that was sacrificed on Passover), Matzoh, and Maror (bitter herbs). On top of that, I have heard my father teach/theorize that there are parts of the sedder that now involve four things, but that were originally three - and that a fourth was added once three became a Christian number. For example, the four sons we talk about - wise, wicked, simple, unable to ask - originally may not have included the wicked son. If you look, it seems this son doesn't quite fit the pattern - the other three want to learn, and simply do so in different ways. So this is also a time when three is a big number.

Which led me to think about freedom, because that is what Pesach celebrates, and about how we celebrate freedom with a meal that is incredibly ordered and structured. This led me to think about how structure leads to freedom. Knowing what to expect tomorrow allows us to function more freely. For example, I expect the #2 subway train to run every few minutes, and that gives me the freedom to go shopping whenever I want. If the train did not run on a reliable schedule, I would be restricted by needing to allow extra time, because I would not know how long it would take me to get to or from a place. This is a smaller example. A weightier one might be that a person who knows there will be food on the table tomorrow is freer than a person who does not know where his next meal is coming from.

I was intrigued by this idea of order being connected to freedom, and it brought me right back to the parsha, which relies heavily on this sense of order and structure. The only thing that would make it more patterned for me is if the servants had had to ask Bilam three times (which would make three sets of three). As it is, there is this sense throughout that Bilam cannot curse the Israelites because that would break the rules. It would not fit the structure of the world. Furthermore, when Bilam blesses the people, what does he praise? Their tents and their dwelling places. I can't recall which commentator (Rashi?) explains that this is because the tents were set up in ordered rows such that each tent would have privacy, because you could not look out of your tent and see into your neighbor's tent. Once again, it is about order and structure.

Then we come to the talking donkey. Here is our one break from order and structure, it seems - because since when do donkeys talk? It is a miracle, but it does not fit the way I look at miracles - though I know different people have different takes on such things. I see miracles as fitting in with the laws of nature, but being incredibly unlikely events. That is, I see the power of a miracle as being the fact that this incredibly unlikely event occurred at just the right moment in just the right place. I also see miracles as things that make perfect sense - if only we had the know-how to explain them. So how would the donkey fit into this? There is a mishna in, I believe it is Pirkei Avot, that lists things that were created in the twilight between the sixth and seventh days. Among them are some things that might occur in nature, but also some things that would otherwise violate the laws of nature as we understand them - including this donkey. To me, this offers the idea that the exceptions to the rules were built right into the system and are therefore not exceptions at all. That is, they still fit this idea of order and structure.

That having been said, the donkey also made me think about breaking order and breaking routine, but in a different way, because if I was going to give a d'var Torah, I needed to have some sort of message, so here it is: When the donkey opens its mouth, what does it say? It complains to Bilam as follows: "What have you done to me that you have hit me these three times?" When Bilam complains about the donkey's actions, stopping in the road, etc., the donkey continues in her own defense: "Am I not the donkey that you have ridden for a long time until this day, and have I ever endangered you before by taking such action?" And Bilam has to admit that no, the donkey has never done anything like this. It is only then that Bilam is able to see the reason that the donkey is being so annoying by stopping in the road - there is an angel standing in the way. The message I was going to pull from this is that when the routine suddenly changes - when people are acting differently than we would expect, it is important that we not begin by getting angry, but rather by asking what has caused such a change in behavior. Maybe there is something wrong that we should be aware of.

This is especially important to those of us who are teachers - because when a student suddenly begins acting out in class, it is important not to lose our tempers, but instead to pull the student aside and find out what's really going on. Are they not understanding the material? Has something happened at home? Are they in a fight with one of their friends? Is the classroom too hot or too cold?

Of course, this applies beyond the classroom, when we interact with all of the people around us.

And so that was sort of what I would have said if I had given the d'var Torah this Shabbat, and now I have shared it with at least a few people.

And now I know that I can think of a d'var Torah at the last minute, which means I would do even better if I had some prep time - so perhaps the next one will actually be given in shul.

Finally, on a different note: I have been posting many entries lately - catching up, I suppose, because of the busy week I had. Feel free to continue commenting on any of the entries of the past week. I am still checking those comments.

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