Setting: The stage is in complete darkness. A pinspot shines center stage.
Voice #1 (an ethereal voice from emanates all corners of the theater): Are you proud to be a Jew?
Voice #2 (from darkened stage): Yes
Voice #1: Did you become Bar Mitzvah?
Voice #2: No
Voice #1: Do you celebrate the holy days?
Voice #2: No.
Voice #1: The what are you so proud of?
Voice #2: That I am a role model for young Jewish kids.
Voice #1: But you are a cheater and an unapologetic wrongdoer.
Voice #1: You need to ask for forgiveness.
Voice #2: I've already done that.
Voice #1: Yes, but you have to really mean it.
Voice #2: I am genuinely sorry for what I have done. (pause) How's that?
Voice #1: Works for me. But what you have done needs asking for forgiveness from those you have hurt. This is not a sin Beyn Adam v'Makom, but rather Beyn Adam V'chavero.
Voice #1: Sorry, I should have known that you wouldn't get that reference... you need to do teshuva.
Voice #2: What do I need to do to a shoe?
Voice #1: T'-shu-va...you need to apologize to the people you have hurt, not me. And it's the perfect time of year to do teshuva.
Voice #2: Perfect time of year? You're right about that! Pennant races, the playoffs...
Voice #1: Oy, I need this like a loch en cup. Listen my friend, this is taking much more of my precious time then I had planned, which is pretty impressive, since to me a second is like a hundred million years. (He laughs)
Voice #2: What the...?
Voice #1: (as an aside) Gevalt, he doesn't even know our jokes!
Here's what I suggest - you'll talk to a rabbi. I'll set up a meeting with you and one of the greatest rabbis who ever lived, The Rambam. Why didn't I think of that before? Mr. Braun, go and learn. As for me, I'm going to vacate this space and do some tzimtzum.
Voice #2: Tzim...tzim...Tzimmes! I know what THAT is!
Voice #1: (as an aside) Maybe there's hope for this child yet.
Setting: Rambam's study - Two chairs are set facing each other, angled towards the audience
Rambam: What is your Hebrew name young man?
RanBran: Uh, I don't know sir.
Rambam: You don't know or you don't have one.
RanBran: I don't think that I have one. I don't know.
Rambam: OK, then we'll give you one when the time is right. Now, tell me why you have you come to see me? You have a reputation for being powerful, but travelling 900 years into the past is pretty impressive by any standards. OK, let's get started, I only get 3 hours of sleep a night, and my time is precious.
RanBran: I was told that I need to shoe something?
RanBran: Yeah, that's it, teshuva.....what's teshuva?
Rambam: Hmmm... Hillel might have been able to distill it down to 140 characters, but I'm going to have to give you a longer version.
RanBran: I have nothing but time, 65 games worth.
Rambam: What was your sin?
RanBran: I got nailed for taking PEDs. (Rambam looks at him quizically) Performance Enhancing Drugs - PED's are a banned substance in my profession.
Rambam: You're a gigolo?
RanBran: (shocked) No! A baseball player, and a pretty good one too. Have you ever heard of baseball? Haven't you ever heard of me?
Rambam: Baseball? Of course, for the Torah says "in the big inning.." (He winks)
Rambam: Gevalt, he doesn't even know our jokes.
Voice #1: I know, I know. (Rambam nods in agreement)
Rambam: And truth be told, I've never heard of you, because only the Holy One of Blessing can look into the future. Let's get to why you're here. You want to, or, anyway, you need to do teshuva, correct.
RanBran: I suppose so...
Rambam: Here are some ways to do it. First, you could change your name.
RanBran: What? Change my name, to what?
Rambam: To anything other than the one you use now.
RanBran: And how does that work exactly?
Rambam: It's as if to say "I am another, and I am not the same person who did those deeds."
RanBran: (excited) That could work. (to self) Imagine, two busts of me in the Hall of Fame.
Rambam: Well, maybe not then. This is really about the supression of ego and I might need to send you to Freud to deal with that. There is something else you could try. You could exile yourself from your place.
RanBran: You mean get traded? I'm not the GM, and I like Milwaukee.
Rambam: Changing places would humble you. Like we find in the Talmud, "if a person finds that an evil urge is overpowering him, he should go to a place where they don't recognize him, wear dark clothing, and wrap himself in black.
RanBran: (looking dejected) I already feel like an outcast.
Rambam: OK, let me suggest one more possibility. How about giving tzedakah? (RanBran looks puzzled) Charity. Giving charity would avert the severity of the decree.
RanBran: You mean they might reduce the number of games I have to sit out if I give some money to charity? How much would I have to give? I lost 40% of my salary.
Rambam: How much do you make
RanBran: 10 million dollars a year.
Rambam: (long silence)...........Mr. Braun, do you acknowledge your sin?
Rambam: Do you regret doing it?
Rambam: Do you resolve never to do it again, even if the opportunity presents itself?
Rambam: Finally, have you asked from forgiveness from those you have hurt?
RanBran: Well, not exactly....
Rambam: Go do it!
Setting: The RanBran's home office - The RanBran is dialing a cell phone.
RanBran: Hello , I 'm trying to reach Wes Aldridge.
Aldridge: This is Wes Aldridge. Who is this?
RanBran: Mr Aldridge, this is Ryan Braun. I am calling all the Brewer season ticket holders to apologize and ask for your forgiveness.
Aldridge: (pauses) C'mon, who is this really?
RanBran: It's Ryan Braun Mr. Aldridge, and I'd like you to ask that you consider forgiving me for my actions. I am really very sorry.
Aldridge: Well, if it's really you, then I must tell you Mr. Braun, that I can't do that. You cheated the game. In fact, I've packed up your memorabilia and intend to keep all of it out of the sight of my grandsons.
RanBran: I'm sorry you feel that way. Mr. Aldridge, would you mind if I called you back sometime to see if you changed your mind?
Aldridge: Do what you want.
RanBran: Thank you for your time, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to atone for my mistake.
(He snaps his cell phone closed) Yes! Now I only have to call him back two more times and I'm home free!*
Rambam and Voice #1: That he knows about??? (RanBran winks to audience)
(Lights to black)
* According to Jewish law, once you sincerely ask for forgiveness three times you no longer carry the burden.
One way that I understand teshuvah is as the process through which we re-align ourselves - with our community, with G!d, and with ourselves. Every year my understanding of how to do teshuva grows and deepens. I'd like to share two teachings I am taking with me into the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, which begin tomorrow evening. Two teachings intersect on what it means to re-align and return to ourselves. The first is from a likely source, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the holy land. The second is from an unlikely source, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
Rav Kook teaches:
כל אדם צריך לדעת, שקרוי הוא לעבוד על פי אופן ההכרה וההרגשה המיוחד שלו, על פי שרש נשמתו...
Every person must know that he is called to serve in a way that is compatible with his unique
way of knowing and feeling, true to the core (root) of his soul...
Beautiful. Each of us was born with a unique life to live and only we alone can accomplish what we were created to do.
Rav Kook continues:
חיב אדם לומר בשבילי נברה העולם
A person is required to say, "the world was created for me."
Now this phrase from the Mishna (Sanhedrin 37a) is often translated 'the word was created for my sake', which is what is means here. But perhaps Rav Kook is engaged in some wordplay. For if we break the preposition בשבילי down to its component parts, noticing that the word שביל, meaning path, is embedded within, we could translate it as "along the path that is mine" (and mine alone). How liberating. The world was created with my path already in it, and there are things along that path that only I am able to rectify, including of course, myself.
When we recognize the truth of this, Rav Kook teaches that "this humble greatness validates the person and leads him to the higher wholeness which stands and awaits him, and as he takes steps on this confident way of life, on his own particular path, on his own unique 'route of the righteous ones', he will be filled with life courage and spiritual joy, and G!d-light will be revealed to him."
My friend and colleague Rabbi Nadya Gross has this little gem next to the photo on her Skype ID, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." Each of us has our own unique calling, our own unique path. Wow, you mean that I do not have to compare myself to the accomplishments and life journies of others. Of course, living life like that is a challenge.
A few mornings ago during my daily davvenen (divining?), I couldn't help but notice a finch hovering above the sunflowers in my garden. When the finch took flight into the distance, I wondered, "How does she know where to go?" Indeed, how do I know where to go?
One way is through my daily spiritual practice, which if I am so blessed puts me in a state of receptivity to guidance from the "true core of my soul", guidance that is intended for me and me alone. When I follow that guidance, I am doing teshuvah, re-aligning myself with what I sense to have been G!d's dream for me from the beginning. Perhaps before the beginning.
Has Rav Kook's name ever been mentioned in the same breath as Robert Hunter and The Grateful Dead? This could be a first. These lyrics are from the song Ripple, written by Robert Hunter, which lovingly express some of Rav Kook's mystical teachings, clothed in a melody by Jerry Garcia as sweet as apples and honey. Enjoy.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of man.
There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.
(Everybody sing: lai la lai lai lai...) Nice...the song ends with a niggun!
Shana tovah U'm'tukah - a sweet and song-filled new year to you.
Much love and blessings,
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and