Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trigo Fire

They almost had it out. It was under control as of yesterday, and they thought they'd beaten it.

But then the wind came up this afternoon...and whoosh!

It is burning on the ridgeline of Capilla Peak and threatens the UNM Observatory.
Three towns are under evacuation orders: Tajique, Manzano and Torreon.

Here is what the smoke looked like above the Manzanos. The picture was taken by Bruce's colleague at Sandia, from a window in their office building. From there, it is about 50 miles south to Manzano.

I saw it as I got off the freeway at Tramway this afternoon.

I have heard this fire was caused by a couple of irresponsible turkey hunters. It burned all last week, and over the weekend. The winds died down Sunday, and by Tuesday they almost had it licked.


Such a sad little word.

They expect it to burn 6,000 acres by morning.

Carnival of Homeschooling: Visions of the Future

Remember the Jetsons?

Remember when we thought we'd certainly be wearing disposible paper suits and eating pills instead of food?

Remember the cool cars that flew?

Well, maybe that future did not happen exactly that way.

But I am communicating with you almost instantaneously on a wireless laptop!
And my calculator has more memory than the entire computer system at the IAA building in 1975! It actually had tapes on big reels behind a glass wall and took up an entire floor.
So some of those cool futuristic things really did happen.

Over at Homeschool Buzz, the current COH: Visions of the Future is up. Take a look at how some of our fellow homeschoolers envision our futures! Just imagine if Elroy had been homeschooled?

You know, I could really use that robot the Jetson's know, the one that cooks, washes up and vacuums? I want that one.
It would never roll its eyes at me if I told it to put the dirty cup in the dishwasher--not just by the dishwasher.
Sigh. A mother can dream, now, can't she?

April Walk


April is almost over, and we have not yet taken an April "Walk with Me Wednesday."
Today is the day for it, sunny and warm, but windy.
This walk takes us back into the canyons of the hidden world.

The dawn is showing over the ridge and highlighting the buds on the Mountain Mahagony at the edge of Sedillo Canyon.

This time, we took the west fork,

walking north along the bed of Sedillo Creek.

Deeper into the canyon, the sunlight

does not yet reach the dry ground.

Crossing the at the meeting with the east branch

of Sedillo Creek, we turn south again,

following the east branch back up canyon.

The canyon bottom here is rocky and thick with

vegetation that is barely greening with spring.

Still, some signs of the changing season
are apparent in the sheltered canyon wall.
Here is the spring burrow of a rodent.
Who knows? Young may be growing
in there, sheltered under the bank.

As we climb south towards the meadow,
the sun finally reaches the height
where it can shine into the canyon,
changing the forbidding feel of the pre-dawn
into a play of light and shadow across our path.

We break out into the meadow,
where deep swales of greening grass
reveal the source of the east branch
of Sedillo Creek. A short walk along
the new grass of the meadow path,
and it's home for breakfast,
our April walk complete!

Pictures by Elisheva Levin and N., April 23 and 30, 2008.

Monday, April 28, 2008

We Found It on Chupadera Mesa...!

As some of you know, Bruce and I have been looking for the perfect astronomy lot for some time. We had found a "good"--not "perfect"-- one in our own subdivision, but then some legal issues about an access road made it much less desirable for our purposes. So we backed out of the deal.

Last February, though I took N. and his friend A. to Grand Quivera on Chupadera Mesa. It was so peaceful there, and I knew the nights would be dark. But although I tried to imagine what the Spanish priest would have thought, sitting on the bench outside his church there, I did not think about it for our astronomy purposes.

Then, about a month ago, I saw an article in the Sunday paper about a sustainable development by the Heritage Land Conservancy located on Chupadera Mesa. When I contacted them, they offered us the chance to come down to look at land. To sweeten the deal, they said they'd put us up on-site overnight. Since Bruce and I have not had a weekend getaway together in over a year, we jumped at the opportunity.

So Saturday morning, we packed a Pesach lunch to-go, and headed down to Mountain Air, NM to meet our "Land Preservation Specialist" a.k.a. realtor who would take us out onto the Preserve and explain this unique concept of a private preserve/development on which people would live and work to preserve the land for multiple uses--ranching, recreation, and sustainable living in comfort and even luxury.

After a detour due to the fire in the Manzanos, and a mix-up about where to meet Charlie, we finally got into a company F-150 and were out on the land.

Our first stop was Goat Canyon Overlook in the Deer Canyon Preserve. Here, we looked out over Chupadera Mesa toward the Manzano Mountains, where the view was somewhat hazy due to the fires.

Here, Charlie talked a bit about the concept and the Heritage Land Conservancy, which is a non-profit organization. The Heritage Preserve is the for-profit arm that creates the preserves and developments. "Together, " we were told, "These organizations provide provide working examples of sustainable business practices and a set of initiatives designed to balance human needs... with the needs of a healthy ecosystem."

Here, Bruce and Charlie examine the map on a lot at the mesa top, looking for the building envelope.

The concept of a private for-profit preserve that serves the human need for quality of life interests us greatly. One reason that we are more interested in the Nature Conservancy than other "green" organizations is that many of the other groups assume that humans do not belong in earth's ecosystem. We disagree. We believe that the only way to preserve the land and live well on it is through for-profit enterprises in which people have use of (and therefore a stake in) the land they desire to preserve. We like the concept that people will take care of things that have value to them, because it enhances their quality of life.

We had looked at some lots at the base of Chupadera Mesa, and these Bruce pronounced "good" astronomy lots, but not "great."Then, nose of the F-150 pointed at the sky, we drove to the top of the Mesa.

Wow! Here we are looking south across the Mesa edge in the foreground, with the Pinos Mts. beyond, and beyond them, the tops of the Magdalena Mts. are just visible.

We knew that if we were to find the perfect astronomy lot, it would be up here! After surveying a few "great" lots,we were ready to go down again, but I suggested we take the "bumpy ride" (roads in process) across the top. There we found what Bruce called "Astronomy Row." Since these lots were platted, but not completely marked, Charlie suggested that we go to the guest house and meet up in the morning, with a GPS.

The guest houses are homes in the Phase I that the owners have not permanently occupied. They lease the house back to the company, and guests get to stay in them while looking for land.

The refrigerator was stocked with all kinds of goodies. Here Bruce is grilling our dinner on the porch. Steaks, nice and juicy. We microwaved some potatoes and vegetables, and uncorked the bottle of New Mexico Cabernet left for us.

We spent the evening making plans and gazing at the stars, as Bruce had brought his Schmitt-Cassegrain along for observing purposes.

The next morning, after we had our coffee on the porch and enjoyed the humming birds--they're back!--Charlie picked us up, armed with a GPS, so that we could look carefully at "Astronomy Row."

On the way up the Mesa, in the Open Space, two mule deer stood, watching us carefully, while I photographed them from the truck. When the truck was put back in gear, they slipped silently back into the Pinyon-Juniper woodland.

It was then on up the mesa to walk some lots.

The lots are approximately 20 acres each. Each has either a one acre or three acre building envelope on which the owners can put a house, guest-house and outbuilding. Owners can fence this portion, own animals, and even operate a small business at home. When closing on the land, the owner signs an easement which says that the rest of the land will be open for recreational use exclusively by the residents of the development, and that the land will be remediated as needed for beauty and enjoyment. The property owner also agrees to restrictive covenants that protect property values and views for everyone. Finally, the property owner enters into a Well Trust, to maintain the private wells that provide water.

On Sunday morning, we found our lot on the top of Chupadera Mesa. It sits on a corner between the main road (which will be gravel to better manage run-off) and a cul-de-sac. Here is a view along the road front, in the background are the Manzano Mts., the haze gone for the morning.

The lot sits at the crown of this part of the mesa, and the building envelope sits right on the ridgeline. It has 360 degree views, making it the "perfect" astronomy lot among all the "great" astronomy lots on "Astronomy Row" according to Bruce. Four mountain ranges can be clearly seen from here: the Manzanos, the Pinos, Sierra Blanco and the Capitans, and the Gallinas. On a clear day, one can also see the Magalenas, the Sandias, the Jemez, the Sangre de Cristos, and the Sacramentos. These are views that extend for more than 100 miles.

Here, we are looking into the more wooded area at the back of the lot from the side road that ends in a cul-de-sac.

The land is in reasonable shape--an open-meadow and trees. The plant life is mostly climax species appropriate for the place--pinyon-juniper woodland, with meadows of gramma grass. There are only a few pre-climax species, indicating overgrazing in the past.

We did look at several other lots near-by, my Engineering Geek being very thorough, but ultimately we kept coming back to this one. It had the highest elevation in the area, 7260 feet, with the best of the spectacular views.

The lot is not yet ready for purchase, because the road must be improved and electric wires and well lines must be run to the property line, so we put money down to reserve the lot until release. It will be ours to purchase when it is released.

We will not build for approximately 4 years.
Bruce will be retiring and starting his second career then, and I will done at the university and planning my third career.

But when we do, we plan for maximum efficiency and comfort--I am married to an engineer, so efficiency comes first!--with passive solar design, solar hot water, and electric, as well as rain-water harvesting and gray-water reclamation. The rain-water harvesting is required at the mesa top, the rest is strongly encouraged but optional. However, it only makes sense for our pocketbook to invest up front when building in order to recoup many energy savings over the years, especially with energy prices increasing as they are.

And of course, we plan to build an observatory. No question about that. The only question is whether it will be a dome or a slide-away roof, attached to the house or free-standing.

Bruce is looking forward to having his 'scopes permanently set up.

Four years are going to go by fast with all the planning and working we'll need to do to accomplish this dream.

Back to Normal!


Last night, when Bruce and I returned home from scouting for land (more later), we turned the kitchen back over to ordinary time, and Pesach ended at our house.

This morning, N. was gratified to sit down to his customary oatmeal and chai breakfast, with his usual dishes and on the regular green table cloth.

I love getting ready for Pesach, and I love how clean the house is after I turn the kitchen over for the holiday. But seven days of change gets wearing, especially for N., for whom routine is a sacred ritual of its own.

So here we are--back to normal.

But the kitchen and house are a little cleaner than usual.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bread of Affliction

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

It's getting to be that time during Pesach...

In the Haggadah we read in Aramaic:
"Ha lakhma anya --This is the bread of affliction,
the poor bread,
that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
All who are hungry,
let them enter and eat.
All who are in need,
let them come and celebrate the Passover..."

We stock up with matzah before Pesach.
Every year, I can hardly wait to put it in the cupboard, and cook with it, and eat it.
But it really is lakhma anya--the poor bread.
Flour and water. That's it.
It does not satisfy the way that leavened bread does.
By this time in Pesach, it seems that everyone in the house is looking for something to eat. All the time.

Matzah ball soup...with a side of matzah.
Israeli salad...with croutons of matzah.
Dessert? Chocolate covered matzah.
It is not at the seder that a person understands ha lakhma anya...

It has to do with more than changing eating habits for a week...

The counters are covered with foil.
Certain cupboards are taped shut.
Even reaching for a spoon, a knife or glass makes a person confront newness and change.

And everywhere in the house, there are matzah crumbs.

It makes one wonder why we clean before Pesach!

"This matzah, is what we shall eat..."

For seven days, no leavening, no fermented stuff, no kitniot (corn, legumes, rice).
Practically, this means no processed food.
We eat plain food, prepared at home, with pure ingredients.
Like our ancestors ate in the desert.

In the Haggadah, it is written:
"To the driven of earth we link ourselves as we fulfill the commandment: 'For seven days you shall eat matzah, that you may remember the going out from Egypt as long as you live."

The driven of the earth.
They are always looking for something to eat.
They eat the poor bread, like our ancestors ate in Egypt.

It is at this time in Pesach,
feeling hungry because the matzah does not satisfy,
eating late because Taekwondo is at dinnertime and Panda Express is a no-no,
refusing the offer of a latte from a friend,
reaching for a knife and being disoriented because everything has changed...

It is at this time in Pesach that those of us who are children of peace and plenty get a very small taste of what it feels like to be "the driven of the earth."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling: The Bag Lady?

No, not the one wandering the streets of Brooklyn with a shopping cart.

The one who carries multiple bags that represent the many different roles that a homeschooling mom fulfills in the course of the day.

Last week, in the Pesach rush, I missed the COH, but I certainly remembered that I represent multiple roles!

This week, a Coffee Shop bag in hand (I have to brew it at home from scratch), I intent to head on over to Principled Discovery where Dana has posted a very large COH In Honor of the Bag Lady!

Join me, and you might be surprised to see how many different bags are lined up in your front hallway!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pesach Reflections: You Shall Tell Your Child on That Day

Saturday Evening, April 19, 2008
14 - 15 Nisan 5768

After all the preparations, Seder day arrived.
The Seder is a Jewish teaching ritual par excellance!
We are commanded:
"You shall tell your child on that day: 'It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free out of Mitzrayim (Egypt)--the Narrow Places.' "

The Seder (which means "order") is modeled after a Greek Salon Dinner, except that each part of the ritual has been given Jewish meaning. It is organized in a special order that takes the participants from the degredation of slavery to Pharoah to the liberation of service to
G-d. It is done in this order so that each person who eats the Seder can say truthfully: "... when I came forth from Egypt."

The heavy work of getting the chametz out behind us,
there are only a few little things to do to prepare for the Seder meal.

Here Bruce and the CGP cavort while preparing a vegetable kugel--a pudding in the English sense--that goes well with the turkey and brisket, being slow roasted in the oven since Friday afternoon.

This is the fun part! Family members appear out of the woodwork and take over the kitchen once the kitchen turn-over is complete.

Ever the opportunist, Lily waits at the feet of the Chefs, hoping for a dropped morsel.

N. helped form the Matzah balls for the soup, but refused any pictures until he had put on his new shirt for Pesach.

Here, the kneidlakh are boiling away, causing good feelings for everyone. In the background, the dining table is also not yet dressed in its finery, covered with the daily tablecloth and the flotsam and jetsam of the Shabbat Kiddush (blessing over wine) and Pesach prep.

The family is off getting into nice clothes for the Seder.
We do nice clothes, but casual. This may be the Watch-night of Our People, but this is still New Mexico, where dressing for the Santa Fe Opera means ironing your jeans.

Now dressed, my children pause for a picture as they dress the table. We follow the Ashkenazi tradition of having a small plate at each place that has the boiled egg (a symbol of fertility--"...the more they were oppressed the more they increased..."), the parsley (a symbol of springtide--"Arise my beloved and come away, for lo, the winter is passed..."), the maror, which is bitter herbs ("...and they embittered their lives with hard labor..."), and the haroset, which is a sweet mixture of apples and nuts (a symbol of the mortar--"..hard labor of mortar and bricks and every kind of drudgery in the fields").
These ritual foods are eaten at appointed times during the Seder, and it is simpler to have them in front of each person than to pass them.

In the last half-hour before we sat down to Seder, I was, as usual, distracted, but I did manage to get a picture of the Seder plate during the Modern Interpolation after candle lighting. The Modern Interpolation is the pause for the requisite group picture.

The Seder plate has from top left: haroset (mortar), hatzeret (field lettuce), karpas (parsley), baytzah (roasted egg), maror (horseradish root), and zaroah (a roasted shankbone of lamb). These symbols actually form two triangles on the plate of three on the plate. The Mi'd'aryta--"from the Torah" symbols are the roasted lamb shank (to remind us of the Pesach lamb), the roasted egg (to remind us of the Hagigah,holiday, sacrifice in the temple), and the horseraddish (to remind us of the original Pesach sacrifice in Egypt--"...with bitter herbs they shall eat it"). The other three symbols are Mi'd'rabbanan--"from the rabbis." They are the parsley ( a symbol of spring), the field greens (another kind of bitter herb to eat with the matzah), and the haroset (that symbolizes both oppression and the sweet taste of hope for liberation).

Finally, we have another Modern Interpolation, the Orange on the Seder Plate. This, the CGP says, is mi'd'rebbetzinot--from wives of rabbis. It is the symbol of the inclusion of all Jews, not just male ones, in the liberation from Egypt and the giving of Torah.

The Story of the Orange on the Seder Plate
As told by CGP, who insists on it every year

Susannah Heschel hayah omeret (did say): The rabbi's wife said once that she, by making the Jewish home and studying the holy books and learning, and especially because she, too, had stood at Sinai, was also capable of being called to Torah on the Bimah (the platform from which Torah is chanted). The rabbi, ensconced among the talmidim (male students) scoffed:
"A woman belongs on the Bimah like an orange belongs on the Seder plate!"
The next Pesach, when the rabbi and his talmidim sat down for Seder, lo, there, amidst the symbols mi'd'aryta and the symbols mi-d'rabbanan, there was a beautiful orange! An orange on the Seder plate! And we, too, have an orange on the Seder plate. It is there, because I, too, stood at Sinai with my mother and my mother's mothers. And as my mother chants Torah from the Bimah, so do I. A woman belongs on the Bimah and an orange belongs on the Seder plate.
B'rukhat at ha-Shechinah she'asani isha. (Blessed is the Indwelling Presence of G-d, who has made me a woman).

And here we are, assembled to tell again the stories of our people, ancient and modern, on this day.

It was a smaller group than last year, and quieter, too. N. graciously took a turn at the Modern Interpolation, so that I could be in the picture.

That's me, immediately to the right of the lit candles.

Each year, we all learn something new from the ancient words and the modern, as we gather to re-member how each of us came forth from Egypt.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pesach Reflections: From Chametz to Matzah

The last days and moments before Pesach are always a little challenging.
All the chametz (leavened goods) must be removed from the house, and the special dishes and supplies for Pesach must be brought into the house, so that cooking for Pesach can begin in a chametz-free environment. This means the chametzdikh and the Pesadikh must coexist, but not come into contact in the last few days before all the chametz is sold or banished, and Pesach living commences with the first Seder.

This year was especially tricky, being one of those years in which Pesach commences at the end of Shabbat, which means that all chametz had to be gone by mid-day Friday, but Pesach living did not begin until sunset Saturday. The usual Shabbat fare could not be eaten this year, as we had already removed and nullified the chametz, and could not own any after noon on Friday. In years like this, I close the kitchen after breakfast on Friday, as we do that really Jewish thing of having Chinese dinner out before sunset when Shabbat begins. It works.

The turnover from chametz to matzah has a spiritual dimension as well as the practical one.
Chametz is a symbol of all that is puffed up and overblown in our lives. As we remove the chametz for this week of Pesach, physically we become disoriented from the normal routine. During the transition from one to another, we have to be mindful of all those little acts that we would normally do without thought, such as reaching for the (wrong) glass. On the spiritual level, this mindfulness is meant to lead us to a renewed appreciation of the realities of our lives, those things that are really important, after we have removed our puffed-up and often unrealistic view of our lives.

For perfectionists, the commandments and customs of Pesach can be especially dangerous, for it is very easy to miss the point of the commandments and customs by focusing on doing it perfectly.
That is clearly puffed-up and unrealistic.

The Rabbis of old must have understood perfectionism very well
because they developed rituals to help those of us in its thrall.
Rituals like the search for and the nullification of chametz.

This year, the search for chametz took place on Thursday evening, because of the intervening Shabbat before the beginning of Pesach.

I hid ten pieces of chametz throughout the darkened house.

Then the pyros--excuse me, men--of the family conducted a search for it, using a candle for light, a feather to sweep up the crumbs, and a wooden spoon to place it in the bag.

Here, Bruce is lighting the candle as N. looks on, holding the other necessary implements for this important job.

The search for chametz is symbolic of the search for and removal of all that is overblown within us, all that gets in the way of reliance on G-d. Miracles and wonders and liberation cannot happen, according to our story, until we recognize the reality in front of us. Then, like Moshe standing before the burning bush, we realize that we have been walking "sightless among miracles" all along.

The warm but finite glow of the candlelight is a symbol of the light of the soul which is carried through the house, as it is written:

"The soul of a human is a lamp of G-d, searching all the innermost parts." (Proverbs 20:27)

So it is that while searching for chametz in our houses on a physical level, we are also searching our hearts and minds, preparing for our Feast of Freedom by finding and freeing ourselves of the physical and spiritual chametz in our lives, at least for this one week each year.

And although this is a truly serious venture, like most Jewish ritual practice, it has it's joyful and lighthearted moments.

The joy comes from doing these little rituals together, becoming as children again, and from seeing the children growing into an adult understanding as the years pass.

The lighthearted moments come because the ritual itself interrupts the practical focus on preparations, causing the Ba'alat Bayta (mistress of the house), who has been absorbed and distracted by Everything That Must Be Done, to change focus. That would be me. When I change my focus from the practical to the spiritual side of Pesach, I get disoriented. This year, I forgot where I hid one piece and that led to all kinds of speculation.

N: "Mom has definitely moved to Manischewitzville!"

Bruce: "And her brains must be chametz!"

Gee, thanks for your votes of confidence!

In the end, though, we found all of the chametz--because I have a pre-determined number of pieces hidden--and proceeded with the important part of the ritual for perfectioninsts.

Of course, there is no way one can really remove every crumb of chametz or every drop of fermented stuff that has ever wafted on the air currents or been spilled and ran under the baseboards. So, as with much of Jewish ritual behavior, the point is to do your best and trust that it was good enough. It is this last part that is so hard for perfectionists like yours truly.

Therefore, after the search for chametz my intrepid "chametz busters" recite a legal formula in Aramaic nullifying any chametz we may have missed:

"All chametz in my possession which I have not seen or removed or of which I am unaware is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth."

Normally, on the day after the search for chametz, we destroy the symbolic ten pieces by burning it. Any other chametz is sold to a non-Jew over Pesach, so that we do not own any of it. We go to these extraordinary lengths, the rabbis say, because often in our lives our possessions end up "owning us."

This year, fire-danger restrictions and a high wind made that fool-hardy to the extreme, so the guys took a little hike to throw the symbolic ten pieces in the water of Tijeras Arroyo. They recited an even more widely-cast legal formula:

"All chametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth."

This formula causes the perfectionist in my soul to sit up and take notice. Once it is recited, I can stop. I have removed all the chametz I need to remove.

I spent Friday afternoon turning the kitchen over for Pesach with a free heart; thoughts of any unremoved chametz passing overhead in the monkey-mind, as passing clouds do on an otherwise sunny day.

Freed from the need to remove any more chametz, I ate a nice Chinese dinner--always kosher if eaten in a Chinese restaurant :).

Later, as we recited the Kiddish in the living room for our chametz-free Shabbat, my mind turned to the upcoming Seder.

Tomorrow, I told myself, the fun part begins.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pesach Reflections: The Slave Mentality

Today, with the heavy cleaning work done, I will partially turn the kitchen over for Pesach, and begin cooking. Tonight, we will do Bedikat Chametz--the hunt for the 'last bit of Chametz" or leavening in the house, which will be burned tomorrow on the grill and a legal formula will be recited to nullify any Chametz we have not removed or sold. The sale of the congregation's Chametz (collective and personal) to a gentile will occur tomorrow morning, and we will not own even that which is stored in our houses. Everything is being done a day early, because Pesach begins at the end of Shabbat, so we will "rest" tomorrow.

The Slave Mentality
The main part of the Haggadah--The Telling--begins with Four Questions, asked by the youngest at the Seder. And there are actually four "tellings" of "l'tziat mi-Mitzrayim"--the coming forth from the Narrow Places (Egypt).

They are:
1. Avadim Chayinu--We were slaves
(this picture from the Washington Haggadah shows the Four questions, and at the bottom of the page, is Avadim (in large illuminated letters) chayinu.

2. Mitekhilah ovdeh avadah zarah--We were idol worshippers

3. Arami oved avi--My father was a wandering Aramean

4. B'khol dor'v'dor--In every generation

These four tellings each illuminate for us some aspect of the slave mentality. For it was not only our bodies that were enslaved, but our minds. We see this in Torah, when the erev rav (mixed multitude, or better, the rabble) that came forth from Egypt heard that only hard work and risk would bring them to eretz zavat chalav u'devash--the land flowing with milk and honey. They cried:

"If only we had died by the hand of the Eternal in Egypt!
There we sat by the fleshpots, where we ate our fill of bread!
For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this
whole congregation to death!"
(Shemot 16: 3)


"If only we had died in the land of Egypt!
Or if only we might die in this wilderness!
Why is the Eternal taking us out to that land
to fall by the sword?
...It would be better for us to go back to Egypt!
...Let us head back to Egypt!"
(B'midbar 14:1-3)


"Why did you make us leave Egypt to die in the wilderness?
There is no bread and no water, and we have come to loath this
miserable food..."
(B'midbar 21: 5)

As I go about the arduous and exacting process of making Pesach, I am reminded that nothing comes for free. Not even freedom.
Our ancestors coming forth from Egypt had been enslaved and degraded from the dignity of being free human beings in a multitude of ways:

Avadim hayinu l'paro b'Mitzrayim--we were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt.
Our bodies were enslaved, and we were forced to build the store cities of Pitom and Ra'amses. Our children were not our own, but taken by Pharoah to do as he pleased with them, even to throw them into the Nile.

Mitekhila ovdeh avodah zarah--we were idol worshippers. We made the creations of our hands more precious to us than our freedom. Thus the complaining in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where the human being confronts his own power to make his life. There is no master, no 'god or government' to save us from ourselves, to do for us what we have the power to do for ourselves.

Arami oved avi--My father was a wandering Aramean; Few in number, he went down to Egypt. And there he became a great nation...and the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and opressed us; and they imposed hard labor on us. We cried out to the Eternal, the G-d of our mothers and fathers, and G-d heard us..." (Haggadah)
The rabbis asked the question: Why did it take many generations--the generations from "he went down" to "we cried out" for G-d to raise up for us Moshe Rabbinu--Moses our Teacher, and bring us out from slavery?
They say that we had to learn what handing ourselves over to serve other gods really meant.

I think we did it to ourselves.
According to our story, Joseph, as the chacellor of Pharoah, handed over the free-holdings of Egyptian to the priests of Egypt, consolidating the power of Pharoah and the priests over all of the people. He did this in order to avert a crisis, but in so doing, he created a system in which all economic power was consolidated in the hands of a few. Then as the people of Israel grew more numerous, they presented a challenge to this power, and thus had to be degraded in order to be kept from overturning this system.

And the people were content to let their freedom slip away, as they received favors for their service, until at last they were slaves in body, mind and spirit to the whims of Pharoah. This is the slave mentality. The sense that one cannot do for oneself and ones' own people. The sense that someone else must provide purpose and sustenance. In this way, power was handed over to a master, and the people of Israel became slaves.

Then, their servitude had to become harsh enough for them to remember that slavery was not their identity. They were children of those who were "avadim Adonai"--servants of the Eternal. So Moshe said, not 'Let my people go!' but, 'Ko-amar Adonai: Shelach ami v'avduvi-- Thus says the Eternal: Send forth my people that they may serve Me!'

Va-yotzei-anu Adonai mi-Mitzrayim--And the Eternal brought us forth from Egypt--the Narrow Places of narrowed lives and expectations--because we realized that we ought to be more than slaves. But even after witnessing miracles and wonders, it still took forty years--a generation died in the wilderness--to erase the slave mentality.

Slaves do not take initiative. They whine.
Slaves do not sustain their own lives in freedom. They obey orders in order to have access to the fleshpots of Egypt. Fleshpots provided by others, the price of which is liberty.
Slaves do not take risks to preserve their integrity. They worship the idols of security and safety, fearful to come into the wide and open land "flowing with milk and honey."

Avadim chayinu...we were slaves. And we sometimes still long to be slaves, so that we do not have to take the risks of making decisions for ourselves. For freedom implies responsibility for our own lives, our own decisions, our own values.

We got rid of the slave mentality at Sinai. For there we entered into a covenant freely; a covenant that bound us to G-d, who was also bound to us through the Rule of Law. No one, not the leaders, not the tribes, not the erev rav--the mixed multitude--, not even the Eternal G-d of Israel, was above this law.

Avadim chayinu...we were slaves.
Atah b'nei we are the children of freedom.
Avadim chayinu...we were slaves.
Atah avdei ha we are the servants of the covenant.

And this is why, in the end, we are commanded to remember our degradation in detail.

B'khol dor v'dor haya adam l'riyot ha atzmo ki'ilu hu yatza mi'Mitzrayim--in every generation, each person should remember having personally come forth from Egypt (Haggadah).

Why? Because the slave mentality is easy and unlawful. And freedom takes work and the discipline of law.

But the rewards of freedom are great. Thus, although we vacillated in the wilderness, it made us into people willing to take a stand and risk everything to remain who we were born to be:
Avdei Adonai--servants of the Eternal.

Chag Sameach Pesach!
Then we were slaves. Now we are free.

"How different this night is from all others...Why?"

"We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, but Adonai our G-d brought us out, with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. And if the Holy One Blessed be G-d had not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, we and our children, and our children's children would still be enslaved to Pharoah in Egypt.
Now, even if all of us were scholars, and
even if all of us were sages, and
even if all of us were elders, and
even if all of us were learned in Torah,
it would still be upon us to tell the story of the
Coming Forth From Egypt.
Moreover, whoever elaborates on the Story of the
Coming Forth from Egypt deserves praise."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Passover Time Again!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

It's almost here! So here is a wonderful Song Parody from Billy Ray Sheets.

And now, to find the "Pesadikh" plates. I know they are in a blue tub in the garage. think.

Disclaimer: To those of you on the Save the Rio Grande bandwagon.
We do not pour our beer down the drain. We could not possibly card every silvery minnow.

We try to drink our beer before Pesach.

Failing that, we have beer loving neighbors.

Now, on to more of that special brand of Jewish collective insanity that happens every year!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pesach Reflections: A Web of Women

Today began the week of serious preparation for Pesach (Passover). For several weeks, we have been doing serious spring cleaning, nested with the rest of our daily and weekly routines. This week, much of the rest of our daily routines will be dismantled, as I organize the buying of Pesach foods, the turning over of the kitchen for Pesach, and the preparation of the Seder shel Pesach--the ritual meal--at which we remember our redemption from Egypt.

As we physically prepare our home and our table for this great commemoration, we also prepare ourselves spiritually to come forth from slavery into our yearly encounter of what it means to be truly free. As it is written in the Hagaddah--Lit. The Telling--which is the book read and told at the Seder: "In every generation, you shall regard yourselves as having personally come forth from Mitzrayim (Lit. the Narrow Places--Egypt).

This week, as I spend my days removing Chametz and preparing for the Festival, I thought I'd use this blog to reflect on aspects of the story that are meaningful to me.

A Web of Women

The biblical commentator Susan Niditch says:

"The liberation of the people Israel from slavery in Egypt begins with the saving acts of women." (WTC).

The stories of our sages and our old wives tell us this: that without these saving acts of women, we would have never been part of the great story of coming forth from slavery to freedom.

The story begins with the hateful command of Pharoah:

"A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground." (Shemot 1:8-11

And so, we are told, Egypt enslaved our people Israel, and made for us bitterness and bondage. But still, the story tells us, we continued to incease and become numerous. And so came the edict of the killing of the baby boys.

In the Midrash, we hear that upon this terribly decree, the men of Israel decided to refuse to sleep with their wives, so that no children would be born only to die. But the women of Israel refused to accept this. Although enslaved, they made themselves irresistible to their husbands, so that the people of Israel would survive until G-d remembered the divine promises.

It is also said that when Amram refused his wife Yocheved, his daughter, Miriam the Prophet, told him that this was wrong, and she told him that his son would one day redeem Israel.

Thus, it was by the actions of women that Moshe was conceived and brought to life.

The Midrash also tells that Yocheved was herself a midwife, as was her daughter Miriam, and that they were the two Hebrew midwives that disobeyed Pharoah, and said: "The Hebrew women are vigorous (chayot--the root can mean wild, but it also can mean life); before the midwife can come to them, they have delivered."

These are women of no small courage, for they knew that they must lie to Pharoah in order to preserve the lives of the Hebrew sons.

And when she could no longer hide her son, Yocheved places him in a woven ark (teva) caulked with bitumin and pitch and sends him down the Nile, as his sister Miriam watches to make sure of where he comes to safety.

The story of the woven ark is written in such a way as to remind us of the other ark, the one that Noach made to save life on earth. So, too, does this ark save the people Israel.

And at the end of journey, an unexpected event. The daughter of Pharoah finds Moshe, adopts him as her own, and calls his own mother, Yocheved, to nurse him for her. This is important, because the sweet taste of his mother's milk will bind him to his people and their G-d, according to the commentators.

Further, the text explicitly states that Pharoah's daughter knew that Moshe was a "Hebrew child." Thus, she also defies Pharoah's decree of death, risking her own life to save this Hebrew child.

So it is that Moshe, the destined hero of the Exodus, is saved by the weavings of a web of women. Women who, in a dark time, look to the light; women who sustain life at the risk of their own lives, and whose defiance demeans the great king of Egypt, who is supposed to be a god.

Israel was ultimately redeemed through women's work.
Work that deals with the blood and salty water of birth, human milk, and the physical and real stuff of life.

I think about this a great deal as I scrub away the stuff of life, the grime of everyday sustenance in the kitchen, removing the leavening and making way for a new beginning of freedom.

Freedom does not come easily. It takes hard work and courage, and the strength to resist the decrees of tyranny--large and small. Like Yocheved, Miriam, the Hebrew women and midwives, and Pharoah's daughter and the women of the palace, we must recognize the power we must defy, and be more in awe of the source of freedom than of the power of tyrants. As women, immersed in the physical stuff of life--blood and birth, tears and mother's milk--we respond from a place of our power, rooted in moral and ethical reasoning, as well as an emotional response to the suffering of ordinary people who are deprived of their lives by the arrogance of tyrants.

For me, as I ponder this week in the midst of my preparations, the lesson of the women of Exodus is this: they responded not only with their reason, but with their compassion and care for human lives. They responded not only with their heads, but with their hearts. And as whole human beings, they brought forth, with their nameless labor, the freedom and redemption of a people.

As an old song goes:
"It was a web of women, a web of women,
that kept the Hebrew children alive.
It was a web of women, a web of women,
that helped the Hebrew people to survive."

(I wish I knew who wrote this. I remember only the chorus from years past. If you know, comment, so I may give credit).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April Snow and March-like Wind

A Nearly Wordless Special Edition
We thought we were done with this!

Last night, I was in town, at the university, giving presentation to my Trends and Issues class, my phone beeped. It was Bruce, worrying about snow in the canyon and poor visibility.
I had to finish my class, go pick up N. at Machon, so by the time I headed up Sedillo Hill, the snow had stopped, the pavement was wet (warm ground under the roads is a blessing) and we got home safely. We had about five inches on the ground this morning.

Dawn this morning.

The light has the springtime quality, and the clouds look like the kind that produce April Showers. And yet, heavy, wet snow covers the mountains.

The clouds, still looking like rain clouds, race above the snow-covered road construction barriers.

As the sun begins to rise above the ridge, the wind is picking up speed. April snow, March-like winds. It confuses the eye and the brain.

On the morning walk in the meadow, we plough through the heavy snow.
The Clouds on the hillside shadow the rising sun. We're back to white and gray, but there is a blue-purple springlike quality to it, that makes it different than February.

It was such a heavy snow, driven by spring winds, that it frosted the fence and the trees.
This won't last very long. The wind is picking up.

By mid-morning, the wind is blowing clouds of snow steadily to the east.
Bad weather is brewing in Texas.

Odd. We have a fire warning as well as a wind warning today. Snow and fire? Probably not.

The warning should apply only below the snowline.

It's a good day to stay inside and clean.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Charlton Heston 1923 - 2008

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Those of us old enough to, remember him like this, as

Judah ben Hur, in the 1959 Epic, Ben-Hur.

Remember the Chariot Race?

(It must be capitalized!)

And of course,
he played Moses in the Ten Commandments.
We still put it on sometime around Passover.
The effects aren't as thrilling,
but you've got to admit, he was a knock-out in the loin cloth, in the mud-pits.
Doesn't look like a Levite, but who knows?

But we might not remember him like this.
He's at a 1963 Civil Rights rally with some other actors.

And who knew he could speak like this, unscripted:

"Dedicating the memorial at a Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said of America, "We are
now engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived
and so dedicated can long endure."Those words are true again. I believe that we are again engaged in a great civil war, a
cultural war that's about to hijack your birthright to think and say what resides in your
heart. I fear you no longer trust the pulsing lifeblood of liberty inside you...the stuff that
made this country rise from wilderness into the miracle that it is."
--Charlton Heston, Speech to the Harvard Law School Forum, 1999

I grew up on his movies,
and enjoyed them all,
even the cheesiest.
Rest in Peace to a good actor.