Saturday, August 10, 2013

Walking the Thin Line: Elul 5773



“I, I Am the One that comforts you; who are you, to be afraid of man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass. . .?”

--Haftorah Shoftim, Isaiah 51:12


“Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue . . .”

--Parashat Shoftim, Devarim 16:20


“Walking the thin line, between fear and the call; one learns to bend and finally depend on the Love of it all.”

--Noel Paul Stookey, For the Love of It All

The month of Elul started last Monday at sundown, on Rosh Chodesh, the sixth New Moon from the New Year for months.

My Elul dream this year came late, on Wednesday night, and without clarity or drama. In fact, I really don’t remember it at all, except that I dreamed of the current rabbi at our former synagogue, and of a neighbor in need of help finding a lost cat. I awoke to Tippy, my guardian Border Collie cross, pawing at my shoulder in the middle of the night. She feels it is important to awaken me when something unusual is going on. I went out to see an elk buck with eight points standing in the meadow in the deep darkness under a setting Big Dipper handle. Tippy did not bark at the elk this time; she seemed to think the elk belonged exactly in that place. She just wanted me to know he was there and awakened me to see him standing.


I don’t have a ready interpretation for the fragment of a dream or the meaning of seeing the elk standing in his place. Their significance escapes me, except that as I stood gazing at the elk in the starlight, I remembered that it was now Elul

This Shabbat, as the Engineering Geek and I sat down to study Torah, I was struck by two statements that jumped off the pages and into my mind, one from the beginning of the Parashat of the week, and one from its Haftorah. As I turned them over in my mind, I realized that the two of them together represent that place I have been for the last half-decade: I have been “walking the thin line between fear and the call” as Emmy Lou Harris sings in the Paul Stookey song, The Love of it All.


The Torah portion for the first Shabbat in Elul is Shoftim, which means “judges” or “chieftans” in Hebrew. In the first paragraph, which deals with how judgment must conform to justice, we read:

“You shall make for yourselves judges and officers in all your gates, which Adonai your G-d gives you, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment: you shall not pervert justice; you shall not respect persons; neither shall you take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the  eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land that Adonai your G-d is giving to you.”


צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof

The call at the beginning of the Month of Elul—the beginning of the season of our turning, is to pursue justice or righteousness. In Hebrew, the words are the same. Justice means to make a judgment according to honor, standards or the law, meting out to every individual what is right according to his or her rights and actions. Our rabbis taught that there is the justice of the streets—the righteousness with which we must treat every person—and the justice of the courts. If we fail to act with justice in all of our dealings on the streets, then justice must be adjudicated in the courts. In his commentary on the Torah, Joseph Hertz, Ph.D., who was the Chief Rabbi of Britain in the early 20th century, points out that in this sense, the Hebrew understanding of justice differs from the Greek. He wrote that in the Greek, justice implies:

“[A] harmonious arrangement of society, by which every human peg is put into its appropriate hole, so that those who perform humble functions shall be content to perform them in due subservience to their betters. It stresses the inequalities of human nature, whereas in the Hebrew conception of justice, the equality is stressed.”

--Soncino Press Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary, J.H. Hersch, Ed., p. 821

This is the case because in Hebrew thought, every human being is made in the image of the Eternal, and his life is unique and precious, possessing, as he does, a spark of Infinity. Therefore, as Hersch continues, every person has “the right to life, honor and all the fruits of his labor,” (p. 821). For this reason, Jewish Law demands that every human being be treated with honor in the streets, and with righteousness in the courts.

But if the call of Elul is to justice, then the burden of answering it is fearful, as the prophets show us. For to behave with righteousness towards everyone in the streets and to mete out equal justice in the courts, flies in the face of social conventions and political correctness. One must honor truth, consider the facts, and render judgment accordingly in all dealings. One may not condemn the rich man because he is rich nor excuse the poor man because he is poor (“you shall not respect persons”), and one may not base how one treats another on gifts or flattery (“you shall not take a bribe”). For this reason, acting with righteousness and justice is likely to get a person in trouble socially and legally in an unjust society. And as we currently live in a society that no longer makes judgments based on righteousness and law, but does so on the exigencies of political correctness and the whims of men, acting with justice is a difficult and dangerous thing.


And herein lies how I, among others, have been “walking the thin line between fear and the call” as we recognize the truth of what is being done to our civil society and to its values and law. For in my determination—made every Rosh Hashanah for the past four years—to honor the truth and act righteously, I have said and done things that have earned me the anger and contempt of friends and acquaintances. Sadly, this has ended many friendships that were based on my former habit of ignoring the reality of growing differences between our worldviews. Some of the ways in which those friendships were ended, and the accusations leveled against me, have cut me to the core of my being.

And in my weaker moments, I am afraid that in stepping out beyond the lines of political correctness and social  and legal convention, I will be harmed not only socially, but financially and/or physically. Because making a stand for plain old justice in a world of collectivist notions of “social justice” is no longer simply bad form, but with the oppression of the surveillance state and the police state being created and solidifying with terrifying rapidity, it is downright dangerous. Speech and action that now can cost one her dignity, property and perhaps, her liberty, may soon cost one her life.

And that fear causes me temporary confusion and wrong action. It creates doubt in my mind and silence in my mouth. And so the Haftorah Shoftim, the fourth in the seven Haftorot of Comfort, also comforts me:

“I, I Am the One that comforts you; who are you to be afraid . . ?

“. . . And where is the fury of the oppressor? He that is bent down shall speedily be loosed; and he shall not go down dying into the pit. Neither shall his bread fail.”

I know that I am one small person. I know that I can err in knowledge, and that I have indeed done so, espousing bad causes and supporting bad means in the name of what seemed to me at the time to be good ends. Moreover, I have obstinately continued in bad courses because I did not have the courage to admit that I was confused, or lacking in knowledge, or that I was downright wrong. And in so doing, I have excused the guilty and harmed the innocent. Of this, I am not proud. 

But to paraphrase Julian of Norwich:

He did not say “You shall not screw up.” He did not say “You shall not be discouraged.” He did not say:\ “You shall not be harmed.” But he said: “You shall not be overcome.”

I suppose what that means is open to interpretation. To me, it means that trials and troubles, and even harm are not the worst thing. The worst thing is to lose one’s honor and integrity; to lose one’s identity and one’s very soul. And if I persist in finding righteousness and doing justice, turning and returning again to walk the thin line, then despite any shame or harm done to me, I will remain who I am, and that is the greatest value to me.

The name of the month of Elul is an acronym in Hebrew that stands for Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li—I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. Elul is the point of turning and returning again in the dance of Shekinah, She who dwells with Israel in our exile, in our eternal betrothal with the Master of the Universe. And here, in my own dwelling place, Elul is the point of turning and returning again in my dance as a Jew, longing all my life for that moment of loving kindness, that betrothal of righteousness and justice, that Place, that shelter in the rock, where I get a glimpse of all of G-d’s goodness passing before me.


“For the Love of it all, I would go anywhere; to the ends of the earth, Oh, what is it worth, if Love would be there?

Walking the thin line, between fear and the call; one learns to bend and finally depend on the Love of it all.”


It is the love of it all—of life and being—that unites the call to justice and righteousness with the will to overcome fear and fills my heart with strength for the journey. And year after year, I turn and return again to the call in the dance of Elul. I come again to Makom, the Dwelling Place of Israel, only to know that I have been here, walking the thin line, day after day, year after year.


So. Maybe I can construct the meaning of Tippy’s silence as she brought me to see the elk. He was standing within his place, his Makom. And so am I, walking the thin line. Here, in this place between fear and the call, is Makom, the Presence of the Eternal. As Israel learned in her exile, as Isaiah reminds Jews to this day in the first Haftorah of Comfort:

הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

Hinei eloheichem

Here is your G-d.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lie in August’s Welcome Corn!

     “Join in black December’s sadness, lie in August’s welcome corn, stir the cup that’s ever blending with the blood of all that’s born . . .”

-- Jethro Tull,  Cup of Wonder, from Songs from the Wood


Pesach took me by surprise and then there was a long silence on this blog. So many things happened in April and May and then summer was upon us, and now the Monsoon and the first hints of autumn are already showing themselves here in the high country. Elul is also upon us, early this year just as Pesach was. But in order to begin looking to the year ahead, I need to look back at least a bit to see what brought me from there to here.


April, Come She Will:

Northern Flicker Female III The post-Pesach Spring Term was divided between Freedom Ridge Ranch and the house in Sedillo. Both the Cowboy and I were taking classes, he at CNM and me at UNM. In April, we drove up to Albuquerque every Monday morning and returned late Thursday night. It was a hectic busy time, make more do-able by the increasing light and warmth, although it was a cool spring in New Mexico.

In April, I:

  •   Edited a dissertation for my Ruby Slipper friend, doing both APA Style formatting, grammar and spelling, and helping with writing style.
  • Worked on a literature review for a class I was taking, as well as a research proposal and presentation.
  •   Enjoyed down time hanging out at Barnes and Noble in Albuquerque, and began planning the summer work at the ranch.

May Days:DSC01283

The term ended for the Cowboy and I at the end of April,  and he returned to the ranch and stayed. However, I was still back and forth there, and on up to Aurora, Colorado, mostly on Libertarian Business.

In May, I:

  •   Helped plan and attended the LPNM annual convention, where I was termed out as Vice Chair and began a term as Secretary. There was a lot of politicking involved this time as we had a take-over threat and I really wanted our current Chair to remain Chair, although he wasn’t so sure.
  •   Continued final editing on the Ruby Slipper’s dissertation, which reported a kick-ass study he did.
  •   Drove up to Aurora one weekend for the Libertarian State Leadership Alliance meeting, held in conjunction with the Colorado State Convention. This was great—more relaxed than the bi-annual National Convention—there was plenty of time to talk to Libertarians. It always feels like coming home!
  •    With the pressures of committee and comps preparation over for the semester, I had a chance to spend time with Excel Manufacturing friends after a long hiatus.
  •   At the ranch, we welcomed our only baby calf of the spring (we had shipped some of the older cows and the bull earlier in the year). We also had water-pipe problems and had to work on the system, and install a new French drain in the irrigation system as well. We got the fencing complete for the greenhouse/garden area.

June is the Hottest Month:

DSC01337 June is hot and dry in New Mexico. Every living thing begins to long for water, and people slow down. We had several weeks of very hot weather, and late in June, temperatures climbed to a record 106 degrees. During late May and June, we had a number of serious wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona, and we saw some smoke at the ranch and in Albuquerque.

In June:

  • I picked up my nephew, the Illinois Boy, at the airport as his parents moved to Texas and he came to try out life at the ranch. Once he adjusted to the altitude, he took to it very well.
  • The day I picked up the IB, I had a long talk with my realtor, and we brought the price down for the Sedillo house, my beautiful Hobbit Hole. It was a painful decision, but important. We knew we needed to sell the house.
  • On the second Friday in June, I thought I saw lightning as I was setting the Shabbat table. Dry lightning is common in June, so I thought nothing of it. The next morning, I woke up with a floater in my eye. I called Eye-Doc Randi that afternoon, and the short of it is that I had a vitreous detachment, requiring numerous trips to Albuquerque and UNM Eye Clinic for monitoring.
  • We started fencing for a new horse pasture, and the Cowboy was really happy to have the IB’s help. The IB also learned to ride a horse, drive cattle and drive the tractor. We will make a cowboy of him yet!
  • I went riding every week with a friend, JL, another Jew in the Republic of Catron. She was a wrangler for years in Arizona, and passed on some of her riding expertise to me.
  • The Cowboy broke his hand while driving cows, and spent five weeks in a cast. Or he was supposed to, anyway!



Glorious July:  DSC01358

July was truly a wonderful month, because the Monsoon  came right on the Glorious Fourth and stayed through the month. We got 3.53 inches of precipitation for the month, several of them in cloudbursts that re-arranged the landscape.

In July:

  • We celebrated the Glorious 4th small-town style, with a parade and BBQ. Yours truly was honored to read the Declaration of Independence right after the choral presentation of patriotic music.
  • The IB settled in, helping me dig retention basins around the trees, and we started a garden.
  • The Cowboy spend several weeks working cattle at the York Ranch, but that ended in mid-July because the Monsoon had not yet hit the Continental Divide Country, and they shipped their cattle to a ranch in Texas for better grass.
  • I qualified for my Concealed Carry Weapon license, shooting the EG’s Glock .40!
  • The Cowboy removed his cast prematurely at the York Ranch, cutting it off himself, because it was getting gnarly. He’s definitely a Cowboy.
  • The IB had to return to Illinois to take care of some business late in July and we weren’t sure if he was coming back.
  • In the same week, Eye-Doc Randi found a small tear in the retina of my right eye—the one with the vitreous detachment—and I had a week in Albuquerque, playing appointment tag with an over-worked retina specialist.
  • In the same week, the IB decided to come back—with resome gentle pushing and bribery from his mother and grandparents, and I arranged the flight.
  • In the same week, we had a real gully-washer and frog-strangler, that washed away half the county. We have a new micro-topography here at the Ranch.


Lie in August’s Welcome Corn: 

Morning After Rain IIIAnd here we are at the end of the first full week of August. Time speeds when there is so much to accomplish and so many things happening.

The country looks like spring does elsewhere, all green and gold with water falling from the sky, running, trickling and making mud for the dogs to play in and trucks to get stuck in. The IB, gone barely two weeks, did not recognize the place.

And the day I picked him up at the airport, we got an offer on the house. Monday, that was. We dickered Monday evening to Tuesday afternoon. We came to agreement just after I had a good interview for a part-time staff position at CNM, a position I applied for in the Disability Center.

Whoo-hoo! The house is under contract. And, sniffle, we must now say good-bye to that era in our lives.

And just in time for Elul—the season of our turning . . .

But that’s another blog.