“Let Everyone In”

This is a story I shared at story slam on loss many years ago. I didn’t feel ready to publish it until now, when I realized that this is the story that comes to mind each time we read in Parashat Vayetze, as we do this week: “God was in this place, and I, I did not know.”

From 2010-2014, I was the Camp Director for Camp Kesem, which is for children whose parents have or had cancer. Even though I haven’t been to Kesem in many years, I’m still learning from it every day. I’m going to share a lesson I learned from Kesem two years after I left it – but to begin, I have to go back to Camp Kesem 2012. 

It was the night of the big dance party at camp. Imagine music blasting, college-age counselors in tutus and fairy wings, sparkly leggings, rainbow headbands, and a dining hall decked out with streamers, balloons, and inflatable themed decor.  Realizing I’d forgotten something in Blinn, the coordinator lodge, I left this raucous scene and headed out into the cool night.

When I walked into Blinn, I saw one of our campers, Sam, shaking and pale on a filthy brown couch. A counselor was sitting with him, her hand on his shoulder. The picture is a bit ridiculous when I think about it – a woman wearing dragon wings and neon tights sitting with an upset teenager in gold spandex. Sam’s grief was raw and palpable. His mother had died only a month before, and he hadn’t been sure if he would come to camp that year. But he wanted to try because it was going to be his last year as a camper. We tried to get Sam to respond, but he couldn’t seem to speak – just shallow breathing and extraordinary pain. He finally agreed to call his dad, who decided to come pick him up. 

I left to go find the Kesem co-chairs and Sam’s unit leaders. When I came back, Sam was lying on one of the beds in the big room in Blinn, in the dark. One by one, his counselors and fellow campers entered. I left to give them some space.

When I entered the room again later with a friendship bracelet for Sam, the entire unit was there, all the counselors and campers, circled around the bed where Sam lay beneath a sleeping bag. It was silent, with the exception of a few chords here and there on a counselor’s guitar, and it was dark, except for the glow of the moon through the window. Some of them had placed their hands on Sam’s arms, his back, and his legs. Others held onto each other. All of them were sacred in that moment, holding Sam in his grief, embracing him in the depths of his pain. Every agnostic bone in my body knows that something like God was in that room that night. The love they created in the room had its own vibration, a hum like synchronized heartbeats, like the silent voice of a community joined in prayer. 

When Sam’s dad came to pick him up, the counselors and coordinators all walked out with him. I walked back into Blinn, where one of my co-chairs threw her arms around me. “We’re doing this,” she whispered. “We’re really doing Kesem.” 

We were thrilled when Sam decided to come back to camp at the end of the week to enjoy the closing talent show and campfire, which included a ceremony for graduating campers. At the talent show, he and the other boys in his unit sang a song they wrote called “Bromance.” At the campfire ceremony, each graduating camper had a chance to share what camp meant to them. 

“This place can heal you,” Sam said, “if you let everyone in.”  This, I thought, is why we Kesem. Kesem had been with Sam in the darkness of his grief, and now we were together again, at the end of a long week, crackling and glowing like sparks around the campfire. 

On February 18, 2016, a counselor called to tell me that Sam had committed suicide. Kesem 2012 flooded my senses. The room, the darkness, their hands, the love, and the fire. The narrative that I had built in my mind, in which Kesem saved Sam from the depths of his grief, seemed to crumble around me. Kesem can’t always heal, even if you do let people in. The vibration of one night isn’t forever. A moment of redemption is only a moment. There’s only so much we can do for a camper, for a counselor, for anyone we love. 

Two days later, I facilitated an online grief group for Sam’s fellow campers and counselors. The campers were all in college themselves, many of them working at Kesem chapters on other campuses, so most of them couldn’t fly out for the memorial. Other counselors had interacted with Sam in deeper and more consistent ways, but as the camp director, I really only had the opportunity to connect with him on the night he left and the night he returned. 

I tried to move forward after that, but I still felt betrayed by my memories. In addition to grieving Sam himself, I was grieving the loss of the story I told myself all those years ago – that Kesem could heal Sam, and that for once, love really was enough. 

A week later, I went to a class at Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle, the concluding session of a course that focused on suffering and spirituality. At the start of each class, there was an opportunity for students to check in and and share anything that was on our minds before diving into the texts together. 

“I’m grieving a suicide,” I said, “and I’ve been thinking a lot this week about suffering and spirituality, so I’m glad I’m here.” 

They murmured “I’m sorries” and we entered the texts together. No one asked me to elaborate. We were there to study one of the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, the ultimate example of a man who managed to cleave to God in the midst of devastating spiritual, physical, and emotional tragedy. 

At the end of the class, the teacher invited us to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, and the words of the ancient liturgy wrapped themselves around me as we spoke them together. When several of my classmates put their hands on my shoulders, I felt my own hand wrapped around Sam’s. I remembered the hands of the campers and counselors with Sam in Blinn Lodge, touching his arms, his back, and his legs. 

We didn’t know what would happen to Sam when we gathered in the room that night, but we sat with him in the depths of his pain, and we gave him what we could. By providing silent support for me in my own grief, my classmates gave me what the counselors and campers had given Sam – a reminder that we are not alone. No matter what happens in the years that follow, their love for me was enough in that moment, and our love for Sam was beautiful that night. 

Between the Lines

I often invite grief counseling clients to write letters to their beloveds after their beloveds have died. This is a letter I imagine that Rabbi Yohanan might write to Reish Lakish, after Reish Lakish has died. This letter is based on the text of Bava Metzia 84a.

Dear Resh Lakish,

I think about you when I walk by the Jordan River. I haven’t been able to swim since you died. It’s so cold, and my body feels like a rock, heavy with the absence of you. If I were to enter the Jordan now, I, too, would descend, without your laughter to lift me.

I often wonder why you jumped in after me that day. You were a pirate, a highway robber, a bandit – what did you want with a Torah scholar? You must have known I like the chase -the challenge – just like you did. You must have seen the pirate inside of me, just as I saw the scholar inside of you. That’s why you were too weak to return the shore to get your armor. When we saw each other, in our totality – me, seeing the scholar in you, and you, seeing the bandit in me…we disarmed each other. Now when I try to see myself the way you saw me, it’s as though I can’t see at all. I have been blinded by the loss of your gaze. 

I knew I couldn’t give you my own hand, so I gave you my sister’s instead. I think she understood, even if we never spoke the truth to one another. She never protested when we spent the night protesting one another’s arguments in the Beit Midrash. How I long to wrap you in just one more line of text, to entangle myself in your words again, to push and pull and resist, to tease out one last spark of wisdom. I was an accomplished scholar before I met you, but learning with you elevated my experience in ways I never could have imagined. 

Reish Lasish, Reish Lakish, it’s all my fault. I’m a stubborn and angry fool. You knew it and you loved me anyways. I’ll never forgive myself for what I did to you. What I did to us. 

The others thought it was about the question in front of us. But there was so much more than that. The sword, the knife, the dagger, the spear, a hand sickle, and a harvest sickle, from when are they susceptible to ritual impurity? From the time of completion of their manufacture. When is the completion of their manufacture? 

What makes a sword, a sword? When does a dagger become a dagger? What makes a man into a man? A thief into a scholar? A scholar into a lover? When does it begin? When is the transformation complete? You knew your weapons like I knew my words, and we knew how to wield them against each other. But we never knew when to stop. 

Our final words slashed through the air, clanged against one another. I can hear them still. “What benefit did you provide me,” you taunted. “There, they called me: Leader. Here, they call me: Leader.” Your words cut deep into my soul. Did I not transform you, as you transformed me? As the spear is transformed at the completion of its manufacture? “I provided benefit to you,” I said, “under the wings of the Divine Presence.” I couldn’t contain my tears, so I turned away from you. If I’d known that was the last time I would see you alive, I would have held your gaze. Even a blurred vision of you, blinded with my own tears, would grant me greater clarity than I have now. 

When my sister came to beg me to pray for your recovery, my pride was too great. I couldn’t do it for me – so I couldn’t do it for her, or for her children. I’ll never forgive myself. The rabbis sent Elazar ben Pedat to comfort me, saying “his statements are sharp.” Sharp like the daggers and knives and swords of our final argument? Sharp enough to sharpen my argument, as you always did? 

No. There was no one like you. He offered me a baraita to support my opinion. To support me! I didn’t need his support, or his baraita. I needed YOU. You would have cut through my answers. You would have raised 24 difficulties against me. I would have given you 24 answers. The halacha would have broadened. 

You would have seen what I could not. You always did. And now you are gone. 

I keep calling out to you, searching for your voice in my throat. But I only hear my own.

I look for you between the lines of text in the Beit Midrash, but I get entangled in my thoughts. I can’t pull the letters apart. They blur together without you to sharpen my gaze.

I write this letter in hopes that I might find you in my pen, but I am alone. 

No one sees me. No one can reach me.

Perhaps I’ll try the Jordan River again. Maybe I’ll descend…

Searching for you until I find myself again,

Rabbi Yohanan

Letter to Rebbe Nahman

This is a letter I wrote for a class assignment partway through a semester-long deep dive into the work of Rebbe Nahman of Breslov in fall 2020.

Dear Rebbe Nahman,

The first time I met you, I was an undergraduate student at UC Santa Cruz. A dear friend had died suddenly, and then another close friend was diagnosed with cancer. When I asked my rabbi for support, he introduced me to you: a chronically depressed hasid, obsessed with death and brokenness, yearning deeply for joy, and cleaving desperately to God. My rabbi recommended Hitbodedut, so I hiked off into a redwood forest (which burned last month in a massive fire). The fire inside me fueled a flood of words, pouring from my heart in a great gush of nouns and verbs and exclamation points. I didn’t know it at the time, but you became one of my rebbes that day. I’ve never forgotten it.

We’ve connected many times since then. Your words about bringing sorrow into the dancing circle arrived for me when I was at my youngest brother’s wedding, which I officiated the day after officiating my beloved grandmother’s funeral. The dancing circle appeared for me again when it was time to give my presentation on your teachings in the History of Hasidism class, at the end of the week when I lost a pregnancy I’d yearned for. As a neo-hasid (of sorts), who shares your obsession with death, grief, and brokenness, your work has been a source of comfort whenever I’ve felt alone in the joy-driven world of Renewal Judaism. I wonder sometimes if you felt alone in the joy-driven world of hasidism too, and if it was loneliness that drove you to tell yourself (and us) that “it’s important to be happy, always.” You had to have known that’s impossible. But I understand the impulse. When you’re alone and suffering, it’s easier to say “I must always be happy,” than it is to accept your own pain.

It’s so human to push the pain away, and I love how human you are. That’s why I struggle when you try to be more than that. I don’t understand your messianism. I do (sort of) understand your belief that it was your presence that killed your son, or that your presence might kill your daughter and grandchild…it’s easier to assume you are responsible for death than it is to accept there was nothing you could have done. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how you could be filled with self-loathing (as I sometimes am), and still believe you had the power to absolve people of their sins. Were you trying to convince yourself by convincing others? I admit that I desire attention and accolades for my writing and teaching, despite my own self-loathing. Maybe that’s similar to your messianism – a desire to see yourself, and be seen, as big…when the truth is that you felt small, sad, and alone.

But here’s the thing, Rebbe Nahman, what makes you big for me – what I appreciate about you most of all – is that you wrote openly about things that made you feel vulnerable. Your words have encouraged me to be less afraid of my own, and to share more openly, even – or especially – when it’s hard. I can’t always do it. But I try.

Thank you for joining me in the woods in 2005. Thank you for dancing with me – and with my sorrow – at my brother’s wedding in 2015, and thank you for reminding me that I could bring sorrow with me when I presented your teachings in 2018. Thank you for walking the narrow bridge, for teasing meaning out of madness, and for seeking Divine Light in the Sacred Dark. And thank you, most of all, for writing about it, so that I could find my own experiences reflected in yours.

With gratitude,
Heather

Elevating Voices: Creative High Holiday Offerings

A Shofar OfferingShofar’s Cry: Sarah and Hagar Speak
This is an interpretive Torah experience for Rosh Hashanah, incorporating Hagar’s story from the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and the Akedah, which we read on the second day. This is designed to be read aloud by two people, each taking one of the parts. It would work well on Zoom as well as in person. Please feel free to use it with attribution.

A Haftarah Offering – Hearing in our Hearts: Hannah’s Story
Some prayers are spoken and some are silent. Our Amidah, our private prayer to God, is distinctive. It is whispered because it is based on the prayers of Hannah, who was infertile. Hannah ached so desperately for a child that she couldn’t voice her pleas to God. In Tosefta Brachot, the rabbis said, “Hannah spoke in her heart,” meaning that her lips moved, but sound did not escape them.

We read Hannah’s story on Rosh Hashanah. There are times when it hurts too much for me to hear it, and there are times when hearing it makes me feel less alone, and reminds me that this suffering links me to generations of ancestors who dealt with the same thing.

I was thinking about how the words of her prayers aren’t written in the text and I realized it’s because we know them by heart too. Every person who has struggled with infertility, who has miscarried, who has yearned that deeply: we know.

If you want to use this in your shul for the holidays, you’re welcome to, with attribution. The quoted pieces are from 1 Samuel. If you’re in the same place as me this year – praying with Hannah – please know that your prayers are mine as well. May the Womb of the World hear our longing this year, and may the new year bring new life to us all.

Grief in the Book of Ruth: A Letter

On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth. There are many fantastic interpretations of this story – some of them ask if Ruth and Naomi were lovers, others explore the nature of the relationship between Ruth and Boaz, and others focus on Ruth as the paradigmatic convert. In reading the story and a number of articles about it last month, I found that no one had really explored Ruth from the perspective of grief and loss. Her husband died before she left Moab, and Boaz’s wife died the day Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem. The widow and the widower marry each other. As a grief counselor, I often invite people to write letters to the people in their lives who have died. Below is the letter I imagine Ruth would write to her late husband, Mahlon.

Beloved, 

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this. I used to be certain there was nothing but nothingness after death. But now there are days when I swear I feel your eyes upon me. Before we left Moab, every laugh I heard by the water where we skipped stones made my heart skip a beat. I’ve seen you in dreams but not only in dreams. Since you died, the doorway between life and death has cracked open, leaving me with more questions than answers. I don’t know if you’ll ever read this. But I have to try. 

When I found you dead, there was so much screaming. I only realized later that the voice was my own. How could you leave me, Mahlon? After a night of gentle warmth, I woke with your cold skin resting on mine. I don’t remember much of what happened next. Orpah found me shaking you, sobbing, begging. It was too late. 

Soon, your mother was all I had left of you. When Naomi held me, I felt you in her arms. She told Orpah and me to stay behind, to return to our parents. But losing Naomi would have been losing you all over again. So I gave her the same vow I shared with you on our wedding day: Wherever you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I shall lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. We walked together to Bethlehem. 

I never planned to marry again. But two women can’t make it on our own in Bethlehem, or anywhere else for that matter. When Naomi told me to go to Boaz at night, your voice was in her mouth, telling me to take care of her. To take care of us. I’ll do what I have to do. And…there is one more thing.

Boaz is a widower. His wife died the day your mother and I arrived in Bethlehem. He’s grieving too. He never expected to find me on the threshing floor. Boaz didn’t want to make love to me. His heart breaks for his dead bride, just as my heart breaks for you. We stayed up all night talking about you and about her. Maybe, just maybe, we can mend our shattered hearts if we hold the broken pieces together. 

My dear Mahlon, I don’t know what happens after death, and I don’t know what happens now that you’ve died, but I know Boaz is asking the same questions. The doorway between life and death has cracked open, and Boaz is standing in the doorway with me. I hope you know I’ll never stop missing you, even though I am marrying him. I hope you can forgive me. I hope I can forgive myself. I don’t know if I ever will. But I have to try. 

And I will take care of Naomi, Mahlon, just as she takes care of me. Our stories are one and the same, and my vow to you – and to her – remains. Wherever you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I shall lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 

I carry you with me, always.
Yours,

Ruth

Letter from God to the Ones Who Struggle

after Song of Songs

O you who linger in the garden,
a lover is listening; let Me hear your voice.

The first time I created you,
we were alone together
in My garden

I separated light from darkness
sea from sky, and sky from the branches
who reach for her
But when I created you,
we were One.

Like an apple tree among trees of the forest, so is My beloved among the youths. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to My mouth.

Oh how you longed for My fruit
when it was forbidden
Now I long for you
And I must seek you
wherever you roam.

“I must rise and roam the town, Through the streets and through the squares; I must seek the one I love.” I sought but found him not.

I sent you away from My garden
separating one from One
I have followed you ever since
across the sea and through the wilderness
into the Land that I have shown you
into The Place you did not know

“Whither has Your beloved gone, O Fairest Of Women?
Whither has Your beloved turned? Let us seek him with You.”

My love for you is boundless
You who return My love and you who turn from Me
You who struggle, and you who draw near
You who doubt, and you who dream
all of you are part of Me.

I opened the door for my beloved, But my beloved had turned and gone.

You wrote your love for Me
on the doorposts of your house
and then you closed the door behind you

I sought, but found him not; I called, but he did not answer.

When you call out to Me from your narrow place
I will always answer, even if you cannot hear Me

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to pick lilies.

Our love began in a garden
It will grow there too
You’ll find Me among the lilies
waiting, always, to love you.

Not Alone: Parsha Shemot

You’re walking through the desert, and you’ve been walking forever. There is sand between your toes and there’s a pebble in your sandal that’s just large enough to be an annoyance, digging into your heel. You don’t stop to remove it because you are compelled, with a focus you’ve never felt before, to just keep walking. Nothing will stop you. You’ll never go back to Egypt.  But then you see the light. The light of a thornbush on fire, burning but not consumed. Where is all the smoke?

This Friday, we read the the beginning of Exodus, which includes Moses’s first encounter with God, through a burning bush. When Moses moved toward the strange burning, God called out to him. “Moses, Moses!” Moses stopped running away. Hineini, he said. “Here I am.” 

“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

You have removed your shoes, the pebble lost in the sand now. Your heart is pounding in your head and the voice is pounding with it. I AM I AM I AM, it says. Hineini, you respond. I am, too.

“R’oh ra’iti,” said God: “I have truly seen.” This is a unique construction in Hebrew. “Ro’eh” means “I have seen,” but “R’oh ra’iti,” which repeats the verb “to see,” means “I have truly seen.” “I have truly seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt,” said God. “I have heard their cry. I know their sufferings.”

Their cry and their sufferings have enslaved you too. You tried to leave them behind, you tried to run away, but somehow they came with you — their voices, their faces twisted in sorrow. You tried to escape it, but memory makes escape impossible.

God was not enslaved by the Egyptians, and yet, God knew the pain of the Israelites just by seeing the affliction and hearing their sufferings. This is empathy: to know the suffering of others, whether or not you can personally relate. According to medieval scholar Rashi, God demonstrated that God was with the Israelites in their affliction by appearing in a thornbush, instead of a more innocuous plant or tree.

“The cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them,” God said. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

God, the God of my Ancestors, I am Here, but Who am I? I am the pebble in my sandal, I am trying to escape, I have been walking because I am afraid.

“I will be with you,” God said. “I will be with you.” God didn’t say “It will all be ok,” or “Don’t be ridiculous; of course you can do it.” God truly saw not only the Israelites’ suffering – God truly saw what Moses needed too. God didn’t tell Moses “This is your job — now deal with it.” God never tried to convince Moses that the exodus would be easy. Instead, God showed Moses that he would not be on this journey alone. 

There’s no way they’ll believe you. You’re not sure if you believe you. But you’re beginning to wonder. What is the name of this Burning? What does this Light truly see in you?

“When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what shall I say to them?”

“Eheyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” God said. “I Will Be That I Will Be. Tell the Israelites ‘I Will Be’ has sent me.” 

In Brachot 9b, the Gemara asks: Why did God tell Moses to tell the Israelites that “Ehyeh, I Will Be” has sent Moses? We just learned that “Eheyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, I Will Be That I Will Be” is God’s name. “I Will Be” and “I Will Be That I Will Be” are two different names. Why the change?

The Gemara says that “I Will Be That I Will Be” means “I was with you in this enslavement, and in this redemption, AND I will be with you in the enslavement of the kingdoms in the future.” Then, according to the Gemara, Moses actually advised God, becoming the leader that God knew him to be.

“Master of the Universe,” Moses said. “It is enough for them to endure. Let the future suffering be endured at its appointed time. There is no need to mention their future enslavement.” 

You are not alone. They do not have to be alone. And they do not need to know that more suffering awaits them after this redemption.

God agreed with Moses and said to him: “Go and tell the children of Israel only that, “’Ehyeh: I Will Be‘ has sent me to you.”

You don’t know what’s coming next. But this Burning, the God of your ancestors, has r’oh ra’iti – has truly seen the suffering, has truly seen you, and has heard you. You will lead, and you will lead with this Light. 

Just as God showed Moses true empathy, saying “I will be with you,” Moses taught God about empathy by pointing out that the Israelites couldn’t hear about future suffering. God guided Moses, truly saw Moses as a leader, told Moses he was not alone, and as a result, Moses was able to see himself as a leader, someone who could provide feedback on God’s communication plan.

Over the course of this parsha, with the Gemara for context, we watch Moses transform, through empathy, from a shepherd, running away from his problems in Egypt, to a leader who partnered with God to free the Israelites from Egypt. The Hebrew word for shepherd is pronounced “ro’eh,” but it’s spelled differently from the verb “to see.” Moses went from a ro’eh, shepherd to ro’eh, see-er. 

God “ro’eh ra’iti,” truly saw the leadership in this shepherd, Moses. And God made sure that Moses didn’t have to free the Israelites alone. Once Moses saw himself as the leader that God knew him to be, Moses knew he couldn’t leave the Israelites alone either. And, finally, Moses ensured that God was not alone in the project of redemption. 

I work with young leaders all the time and I’ve learned over and over again just how important it is to tell them what I see. Once I show them I have truly seen them – that believe in them and I remind them that they’re not alone, they rise to face the challenges of their work. Recently I’ve been grateful for friends and mentors in my own life who have shown me empathy as well – giving me the blessing of being truly seen, supported, and recognized for my own leadership. In seeing ourselves through the eyes of those who love and believe in us, we, like Moses, are able to fulfill our potential. And we, too, are able to partner with the Holy One in the work of creation, healing, and redemption. 

Forever Circles

We stood in a circle in the A-Frame cabin yesterday morning sharing closing reflections. Camp Erin breaks our hearts open so that we may never close them again to the love that surrounds us. As each teen shared what they would leave behind and what they would bring home with them, I felt the presence of every single teen and counselor who has stood in that circle in that cabin with me. Four years of stories, memories, laughter, and loss. Four years of growth witnessed over the 48 hours we spend together.

It’s a weekend camp, and with the exception of the few who come to my monthly grief group, I don’t see these children again afterward. But I think about them often, and I remember the gifts they’ve given me. I remember the details they share about the people they are grieving. I remember the breakthrough moments, when they realize that they are not the only one to feel guilt or anger or relief. I remember their laughter around the campfire, and their awkward flirting with the kids in the other teen cabin. My heart remembers how their heartbeats feel when they are wrapped in my arms.

Each of them stood there with me in that circle yesterday – a circle that was bigger than the cabin, bigger than the camp, bigger than four weekends over four years of love. When we stand there together, I tell them that it feels longer than a weekend because every time we spend one hour in deep relationship with someone else, it’s actually two hours – the hour you experience, and the hour the other person experiences. Time expands to make space for the relationship that grows between two people. So when you think about all of the meaningful, compassionate, deep relationships that form over that one weekend, it makes sense that 48 hours feels more like a year. Four years feels like forever. Forever feels like a memory that lives in your bones.

There’s so much love in the world, and so much loss. There’s so much beauty, truth, pain, and wonder. I’m so grateful for the spaces in my life where I get to feel it all, where I get to stand in community with others who feel it too, where my soul awakens every moment to the magic that surrounds us. At times I’m overwhelmed with uncertainty, fear, and worry about the future. Will I ever be “settled?” Will I ever find stability? Sometimes I don’t even know if stability exists. But I do know that community does. And I know that if I infuse each of my communities with love, the magic will never leave me.

Thank you to everyone who has been in the circle with me – at camps, at Hillel, and at Isabella Freedman. In coffee shops, yarn shops, and cabins, on sandy beaches and in the redwoods. Forever wouldn’t be the same without you, and I am, forever, grateful.

Looking Behind: Parsha Vayeira

I knew I shouldn’t have done it. I know I’m supposed to live into my uncertainty, trusting that God will meet me there. Others seem to be able to do this – they experience time as a straight line, a narrative as cool and clean as an autumn breeze. My bones have always known that time is a circle, or a spiral. We are not the wind, we are the leaves as they spin, in an endless pursuit of beginnings chasing endings.

I am Lot’s Wife. You don’t know my name because they never asked my husband. People wonder now, reading my story. Back then, they didn’t think it mattered. And even now, I’m not sure it does. I’m one line in your Bible story – “And his wife looked behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” One look back. That was all it took.

You know what happened. Avraham argued with God, saying that God should spare us all if there were even 10 good people in Sodom and Gomorrah. We were judged to be the righteous few, and they told us to flee. So we did.

As it says, “God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, and God turned over these cities and the entire plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and the vegetation of the ground.”   

We were running forward but I had to look back. It was my last chance. What else could I have done? It wasn’t perfect, but it was home, and it was burning. I wasn’t perfect, but I’m only human – or was, until I became salt. Ramban wrote that I was looking to see if my daughters were following. He’s not wrong. But that’s not the whole truth either. I wanted to make sure they were with us – but I also had to say goodbye.

No one ever gets to say goodbye in the beginning. Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden. Noah and his family got on the boat as the world they knew was swallowed by water. God told Avraham to leave his father’s house and his native land, to go, God says, “to a land that I will show you, to a place you do not know.” The stories of our people are marked by loss. All of them left something or someone. And yet, no one ever asks if Adam and Eve were homesick, if Avraham yearned for his father, or for the culture and religion he left behind. Did Noah dream of the people who drowned? Maybe he did…maybe not. But he trusted God. I’ve never understood it. The past is so knowable and the future, intangible. How does anyone learn to trust?

I knew I shouldn’t have done it. But time is a circle, and the leaves on the wind are torn from their limbs before they’re ready to die. This is why I needed one last glimpse of what we left behind, even as we ran forward, away from our lives, our homes, and our stories. I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to everything I knew. Noah’s world was lost to the salty sea, but I’m the one who is made of salt now, dissolving at the mere touch of water.