Midrash of Ordinary Things

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Colors. White snow. Green lodgepole pines. Black sky. Blue sky. Pink skin. Pale coffee skin. Fur. Kep’s. Rigel’s. Hats for us bald guys. Gloves. Coats. My Chilean fjord scarf knit with love. Coffee. That first bitter taste in the morning. Eggs. Bacon. Rice cakes. Pho. The gas heater in the loft.

Continuing to study Art Green’s Radical Judaism. Read the final section of the Torah chapter yesterday morning. The power was out, our generator on, but the internet was down so I couldn’t write.

Last week Rabbi Jamie talked about midrash, a playful method of reading the Pentateuch, Its chief characteristic is finding relationships among seemingly unrelated verses, etymology of similar words, looking at individual Hebrew letters, considering their gematria (numerological significance). Green, for example, explores an Hasidic midrash that connects the ten utterances of God in the creation narrative and the ten dibrot, or ten words, that constitute what Christian’s call the Ten Commandments.

The underlying assumption of midrash is its critical feature. Everything connects, everything relates to everything else. We have to pay attention, be aware. Since, according to Green, paying attention is the ur religious task, occasioned by our nature as sentient creatures, midrash is an important tool for uncovering the occulted sacred.

Paying attention = Carey Ream’s, “See what you’re looking at.”

Midrash as a neo-pagan’s tool is my current fascination. Stars and fish. Mountains and apartment buildings. Cars and amoeba. Self and other. What is the underlying connective tissue? How are they related to each other, how do they critique each other? What can we learn from the frisson between two apparently disconnected, unrelated things?

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A midrash on space and time. Thanks for all the fish. 42. A depressed robot. The restaurant at the end of the universe. Douglas Adam gives us dialectical shock after dialectical shock. Dolphins and whales in space? Building a freeway, through the solar system? The hyper drive. A mechanical person with feelings.

The cloud slowly falling down Black Mountain. When the cloud covers the mountain is the mountain still there? How can small droplets of water obscure (or, delete) 10,000 feet of granite and basalt? What does the gradual disappearance of the mountain suggest about what the mountain itself hides? We live in and amongst mystery.

Gratitude can open us to the midrash of ordinary things. What a wonder, a matter of sacred beauty, is color, which reveals as it hides. That piece of bread, toasted, eaten, is no longer toast, no longer wheat, but is now you. Breathe. We cannot live without the second by second inspiration of a gas we cannot see, yet need desperately. Hold your breath. Know the intimacy of our connection to the world around us.

Think, too, of the intimate connection Green proposes as our new sacred narrative, our link to that first squiggly cell coughed up by inorganic matter around a sea vent or in a tidal pool. Or, press even that idea back to the formation of stars and the creation in them of elements. Extend the link with the flow of change that is our universe. Where does it go? Nobody knows.

I’m leaning into monism right now. Seeing the midrash in the everyday. We’ll see where that takes me.


Imbolc and the waning Shadow Mountain Moon

Friday gratefuls: For a return to my orbital goal post. Murdoch, bouncy and happy yesterday at Bergen Bark Inn. The Village Gourmet. Dogsondeployment.com, maybe a solution. Chocolate rocks. Jon made it to the E.R.

Moving from the bewildering and sad to the chaotic and absurd. Jon called about 10 last night from the Emergency Room. Yes, really. He’s been sick since last week and that screws up a diabetic’s response to insulin. His blood sugar got very high. He called an ambulance and had himself transported to E.R. He was afraid of dying.

We waited on his lab tests. Don’t yet know what they showed, but the docs transferred him to the hospital. We’ll see him today after Kate’s appointment with hand therapy and her surgeon. I know. Strains credulity, doesn’t it?

In other family news. Septuagenarian adds another year. Valentine’s day. Anti-climatic given recent happenings here, but there you are. The calendar ticks over despite events. 73 seems, unusual. Not sure why. An odd number. Perhaps a bit mystical: 7 and 3.

As I’m entering this phase of aging, the numbers seem to have less and less significance. Days, weeks, years. Artificial, like borders for nations. Irrelevant, too. I’m alive or not. In this moment, alive and typing.

Tom wondered in a recent e-mail about a name for our house. Our place in Andover was Seven Oaks after seven oak trees clustered on a small rise southeast of our home. In looking up matters related to Korean birthdays I found the name of the Korean mountain gods, Sansin. When I came to close on the house over Samain 2014 and on the day before I started radiation, mountain spirits visited me in the form of mule deer and elk bucks. So. Sansin. Full name, Honoring the Sansin of Shadow Mountain.

The Sansin of Shadow Mountain has blessed me through direct visitation twice. We belong here, in this place, on this mountain. I can feel the god’s presence, a massive bulking, a dense collection of ohr on which we have our home. Becoming native to this place.

Speak, Rock

Winter and the Leap Year Moon

Friday gratefuls: Kate’s improvement and her skill as a doc. Kep, his kindness. Gertie, getting up, moving around. Rigel, who prances. Murdoch, whose youthful energy keeps me hopping. The 400+ episodes of Resurrection: Ertugrul. The Pho place in Evergreen.

How can a silent God speak? Remember Art Green’s challenge to himself: Does adding the word God help or obscure? Not sure how I feel about his answer, as I said yesterday. He answers not only in the affirmative, but then uses that affirmation to retrieve Jewish civilization (as does Mordecai Kaplan), especially the Torah.

The motive force behind the evolving, becoming universe. That’s god in Art Green’s formulation. Not too far from a usual understanding of god, at least in theological thought. He does, however, state explicitly that he does not believe in the god of the liturgy, the Torah, the one god he came to know in his early Jewish immersion. (His parents were atheists and he became Orthodox for a while in his youth.) It is, I just realized, also close to Aristotle’s idea of a prime mover.

If I understand Green correctly, he answers the question of how a silent god can speak with his claim that evolution is the new sacred narrative. As the Big History idea of evolution sees it, the universe began with the big bang (the tzim tzum) and has proceeded from there to create stars, galaxies, planets, empty space, and all the processes that occur in those stars, galaxies, planets, and empty space. Big History includes all this and its eventual winking out (big freeze, big crush) or its eternal existence in its definition of history.

On earth the motive force, god, has pushed elemental matter into many shapes: rocks, water, atmosphere, and, life. God has done this silently, working through molecules and accidents, deep sea vents and tidal pools. Following evolution’s arrow (not the same as time) from the inorganic to the organic, from the simple one-celled organic to the complex, conscious human, we can see the language of this silent god.

God, this universal motive force, acting in all places at all times, speaks in granite, sea water, fertile soil, amoebas and bonobos. These are the phrases in god’s expansive book, one written in such a way that a conscious mind will wonder about it. Try to find its place among its pages.

This is the silent god asking the first question of the book of Genesis: where are you? The same question god asks of Adam and Eve after they’ve eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Where are you, human, in the ongoing dance that is this emerging world?

I’m with Green up to this point. I can hear the silent god speak. What Green contends, if I’m clear on this, is that religions are repositories of guides and signals, hints at how to commune with the one hidden within the many. They are all partial glimpses, I think, but Green’s project is to transform all religions (I’m extrapolating here.) into avenues for mystical consciousness, a direct relationship with this motive power within and among all things.

Far enough for today. The Silent god speaks. But how can religions serve as fingers pointing to this moon? Maybe tomorrow.

A God of Silence

Winter and the Leap Year Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Art Green, author of Radical Judaism. Zoom technology. Brother Mark’s insights about his work in Saudi Arabia. Gertie’s visible improvement. Murdoch. The Kep. Rigel, who prances in from the outside like she’s 3, not 11. Kate’s rebound from a tough early afternoon.

Intellectual vertigo.

“What could it possibly mean to speak of Torah as “God’s word” or “revelation” in the religious context I am offering here? I challenge myself yet again, as I do frequently, asking whether my mystical language is not merely an obfuscation of my disbelief. God is Y-H-W-H, the wholeness of Being, the energy that makes for existence, the engine that drives the evolutionary process. This is a God of silence…” p. 92, Radical Judaism, Art Green.

The vibration in Art’s challenge to himself is what I call intellectual vertigo. I feel it while reading his work, while contemplating the unusual congruence between his well-formulated, honest ideas and my own less systematic thoughts over the past 65 years.

I’ve pushed away the embrace of all major religious traditions. I know some of you have, too.

Modernism offers the empirical method as its intellectual scythe. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hutchins all wielded this scythe, believing it allowed them to cut through the obfuscation that Green fears and find nothing. This modernist versus religion cage match has resulted in a situation not unlike our current political one. Two sides, fearing and loathing the other, generating quantities of heat, but little light.

Step through the door of post-modernism, however, and a new range of possibilities occur. Post-modernism, to those of us like Art Green, raised firmly in the arms of modernism, can seem dizzying. Vertigo inducing. Art leaps the uncanny valley between Newton and Niels Bohr with mysticism.

The confidence once placed in Newton’s thought was as certain as certain could be. He deployed the scientific method, mathematics, and logic like fine scalpels, flensing the musculature, then the organ systems of our cosmos for all to see.

Einstein shook his electric hair. Not quite. Then Bohr and others developed the Copenhagen Consensus, describing a sub-microscopic world buzzing with uncertainty, with probability rather than certainty, with spooky action at a distance entailed its thought. Classical physics (modernity) and quantum mechanics (post-modernity) have not yet reconciled.

Those of us shaped as religious persons in the modern era have also failed to reconcile the older, confident dogmas of the many religions to the newer, science-affirming ways of understanding. One avenue for this reconciliation is an understanding of language as a mediator which stands between each human and core reality.

In this case any language, including the Torah, the Upanishads, the Diamond Sutra, the Tao Te Ching, the Gospel of Mark or Matthew or John or Luke, does not “reveal,” but covers truth. That is, since language is the way that our thinking manages all data, sensory data included, words and letters are a real, unbreachable (perhaps) barrier between us and reality.

When the religious instinct (I don’t know what else to call it.) imbibes from this stream of post-modernist thought, a possibility occurs not available in modernism. In modernism we’re stuck with Wittgenstein, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (Tractatus 7). If there is a reality behind the screen of language, we can’t know it, so we must be silent.

But. If we make the post-modern leap and accept a broader view of evidence, including our heart and Big History*, we can make out, as Green does, a unifier, “…the wholeness of Being, the energy that makes for existence, the engine that drives the evolutionary process.” It is this wholeness of being with which we interact in a mysterious way.

As a side note, I keep wanting to change Green’s metaphysics as I read his book. Key example above, the wholeness of being. I’d prefer the wholeness of becoming. He goes on in the next phrase to talk about the energy that makes for existence, for example.

This mystical dip into the silent world behind language, or before language, allows us contact with the Becoming, the energy that makes for existence. This is the God of Silence. Silent, yes, but in possession of all the agency that there is.

The question then becomes, if you track with me this far, how does a God of Silence communicate? How does this most ancient (or, timeless) motive force speak across the quiet. And, across the barrier thrown up by language?

This becomes the central religious question, is the central religious question. Not sure I’m fully on board with Green’s answer, but it’s a good shot anyhow. Another post and I’ll elaborate.

* “Big History is an academic discipline which examines history from the Big Bang to the present. Big History resists specialization, and searches for universal patterns or trends. It examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities, and explores human existence in the context of this bigger picture.” David Christian. (I corresponded with Christian for a while after listening to a Great Courses class he taught.)

Watch and Learn

Winter and the Future Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Alan is back from the Bahamas. Our regular breakfasts. Rabbi Jamie’s clear explanation about Judaism as a vehicle for mystical consciousness. Our Thursday afternoon mussar class. A lot of good friends in that one. MVP tonight. Friends there, too.

Got the new vegetable chopper. Ready for the next round of Israeli salad or pico de gallo.

I’m on episode 73 out of the 80 in the final season of Resurrection: Ertugrul. That means I’ve watched a whole lot of episodes. I’ve enjoyed the storylines, the immersion in an imagined Turkic tribal culture, and the sets, costumes. Are the plot holes in it big enough to swing a sword through without hitting anything? Oh, yeah. Is some of it melodramatic? Hmm. Yes. But as a story of a people committed to a cause, suffering for it, and succeeding, a good one.

Read a NYT article yesterday about M.B.Z., Mohammed bin-Zayed, ruler of the United Arab Emirates. His father, Zayed, was a pluralist and a believer in a tolerant, peaceful Islam. He opposed Islamists of all stripes. Mohammed, after a flirtation with Islamists, experienced 9/11 and converted to his father’s opinion.

MBZ sounds like a contemporary Erugrul. He has a particular perspective on Islam and has put his Emirates resources behind it. He fought the Islamists in the UAE, finding those who collabarated with bin Laden, three of the attackers were Emiratis. He had 200 Emiratis arrested and about 1,600 hundred foreigners.

He has lifted up women and the poor. He has fought in other nations for a more tolerant form of Islam. His troops are in Libya right now and have been a major force in Yemen.

Though the Saudi state is, as the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said, “…the mother and father of political Islam.”, MBZ mentors MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince accused of ordering Khashoggi’s death. MBZ wants to temper the Wahhabi stream of Islam, the one married to the founding of the Saudi state and radical in its political ideas. Wahhabi funded madrasa around the Middle East and elsewhere in the Islamic world spread its violent propensities.

Resurrection: Ertugrul showcases the Islamic love of a strong leader, a Prophet, a Caliph, an Emperor who loves his people and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe and prosperous. MBZ, like Ertugrul, has an affiliation for Sufi’s and is a Sunni.

Americans, as democrats (small d) and individualists, children of the Enlightenment, will find both Ertugrul and MBZ, and MBS for that matter, suffocating. Like the clan chieftain he was Ertugrul relied on the leaders of his tribe, beys, for authority in decision making. They met in council and debated issues before the Bey, bey of the whole Kayi tribe, Ertugrul in the later episodes, made a final decision.

The councils were advisory, though. The Bey’s decision was the one that mattered. Same with MBZ and MBS. There’s a lot paternalism and patriarchy running through Resurrection: Ertugrul and the worlds of MBZ and MBS.

Autocrats. Much like Egypt, Syria, Iran. Erdogan in Turkey. Some benevolent. Some not. I suspect much of Resurrection comes from contemporary fantasies for a return to the noble Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid. It certainly glorifies the mujaheddin, the warrior of jihad, of Allah’s Holy War. And it glorifies the strong central authority figure, Ertugrul. It could be seen as propaganda for Islamist extremists though I don’t believe that’s its intent.

I’ll miss the antics of Bamsi, the ax of Turgut, the strong swordarm and wisdom of Ertugrul. Finishing this week. Wow.

Early to bed…

Winter and the Future Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Marilyn Saltzman, who works so hard. Rabbi Jamie’s The Human Narrative class. Truly radical religion. Extra sleep this am. (writing this at 9 am. way late for me) Heirloom tomatoes. Honeycrisp apples. Metamucil. The old garden in Andover where I learned so much. The beautiful light illuminating Black Mountain.

Still tired today, but less so. Got back to the house about 9pm last night after a focus group at Beth Evergreen. The first one of several. Part of a five year strategic planning process. They put me in this group with mostly founding members and other long termers. I was the only Gentile in the room. The focus group started at 7 pm, a time when I’m in my jammies and within an hour of going to bed. Not my time for peak performance.

Felt dull on the way home. Don’t like evening meetings anymore. Used to be my bread and butter. Now I fade after 6, 6:30 pm. The pattern we’ve gotten into. Since I get up between 4:30 and 5:00, it makes sense. But it makes evening sessions requiring, as Hercules Poirot says, “…the little gray cells,” hard.

More sleep still needed, but much better.


Winter and the Future Moon

Monday gratefuls: Ruth and Jon skiing. Gabe peeling potatoes. Kate getting Murdoch upstairs. The picker at King Sooper. Having Sunday free of workout. Cleaning off my table. Organizing and preserving my paintings. Kate paying the bills. Ruth. Murdoch.

My paintings. Whoa. Like my novels and my blog. I’ve done, I don’t know, twenty/thirty paintings since I began. A few end up in the trash because I can’t bear to look at them. A few are standing out so I can look at them, review what I like about them, don’t like. The rest I put between buffered paper and/or cardboard sheets yesterday. Not sure what I’ll do with them. My novels exist in printed form in file boxes and in their revisions on my computer.

Two million words of Ancientrails rest on Kate’s old medical school desk, two thousand plus pages printed out with the wrong margins for binding. Sigh. Going to a bookbinder for an estimate and to be told how or if, if I decide to, I should layout the page for printing myself. Might give them a memory stick with all on it. Or, that might be too expensive. We’ll see.

Gabe stayed here yesterday while Ruth and Jon went to A-basin. I asked Gabe to tell me one interesting thing he’d done last week. I haven’t done much. I did see movies. Oh? Which ones? Lots of them on the Disney Channel.

Clever folks, Disney. They priced their channel, at $6.99 a month, so a kid with an allowance might choose to purchase their own subscription. Both Ruth and Gabe have a subscription.

Stirring inside. Declutter, simplify. Downsize. Example. When we moved, I kept every file I made for my docent work at the MIA. Why? Wanted to keep art as central to my life as it was when I was there. Tried several different things, none worked. And, having the files hasn’t helped either. Out they go. I also want to clean up the filing system (?) in the horizontal file which will mean throwing out yet more files.

The bigger, harder question? What about the books? Is it time to downsize my library? I’m considering it.

Doubt it will stop my book buying. That’s a lifelong habit started, I think, with those book lists from the Scholastic Reader (something like that). Sheets with books, descriptions, and modest prices. We could pay for them at school, then they would come at some other point. Sorta like e-commerce. Oh, how I looked forward to the arrival of those books. I read them quickly, too. I graduated to buying comics and paperbacks at the Newsstand downtown.

My first serious kick was all the James Bond books. I bought them one or two at a time with my paper route money. Lots of others, too. I was also reading books from the Carnegie library, too.

Got into the habit of buying books that interested me, books that followed other books I’d read. Buying books. College was hard in that I passed by the bookstore every day in the Student Union. If I went in, I’d always come out with a book or two.

Later, bookstores. Joseph had been in most of the good book stores in the Twin Cities before he hit first grade. And, finally, Amazon. Oh, right here in my own loft. On my computer. What a great deal.

Over 60+ years I’ve bought a lot of books. My interests have waxed and waned, but the books purchased during my enthusiasms remain. A few: Celtic mythology, fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, magic, Jungian thought. An ur religion focused on the natural world, not scripture. Literature of all sorts. Plays. Theology. Poetry. U.S. history. the Civil War. Art. Lake Superior. Latin and the classics. Religion.

Getting rid of them feels like betraying my curiosity. I might finish that book on the Tarot. That commentary on the Inferno? Maybe next year? What about that ecological history of Lake Superior? The work on reconstructing, reimagining faith?

Still, it feels like time to begin paring down. Will take a while. And be hard.

For each of the tags listed here, I have a small or large collection of books.

Stick to it

Winter and the Full Future Moon shining through the lodgepole pines in the west

Friday gratefuls: for the Mussar group. for the Daf Yomi, now day seven. for the chance to do the Murdoch mitzvah. for the fresh new snow. for the 12 degree weather, what they call here, Stock Show weather. for Black Mountain who watches over me from above. for Shadow Mountain who supports me from below. for the crazy people who go out on Evergreen Lake for ice-fishing. May there always be crazy people.

Kepler to the vet yesterday. No, not bites and rips from Murdoch’s teeth. Rashes and hot spots. Antibiotics and an increased prednisone load for a week or so. Dr. Palmini has lost weight and buffed up. When I asked him if he would go to the Iditarod this year. The jury’s still out, he said. It’s a long time to be gone. But, it’s fun, isn’t it? Well, some of it, but when you get up at 3 am…? He goes as a volunteer vet for the sled dogs in the race. Lots of Iditarod memorabilia on the walls of his practice.

Back to HIIT workouts for cardio. Hi intensity interval training. A new one. Slow, 90 seconds. Fast as possible, 6mph for me, 30 seconds. Repeat four times then 3 minute cool down. I increased the number of intervals and the incline, from 1% to 2%, this week. Intervals are the best workout for cardio and they take a shorter time period that most cardio workouts.

Mussar. Got caught out nodding like I understood something that was said. Had to admit it, because the conversation expected me to say something about I’d already said. Everybody laughed when I told them. First time I can recall being caught in this oh, so usual gambit of not only me, but all folks hard of hearing. Gotta work on the ear wax thing. Seems to bother my hearing aid a lot.

The quality of the day, see Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities, was perseverance. A lot of discussion, an amusing number of examples about math, not unusual in a group with literary inclinations. Perseverance is in my toolkit.

Mostly. I can write novels. Start and finish them. Not easy, often taking over a year. I did not persevere so well with marketing them, though. I enjoy, as I said a few posts back, long books, long movies, long tv series. I can start all of these and finish them. Think War and Peace, Dante’s Inferno, Spenser’s Fairie Queen, Faust, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. 10 Commandments, the Irishman, Gone with the Wind. And, Resurrection: Ertugrul. I’m finally in the fifth and last season. It only has 88 episodes.

I can make a commitment and stick to it for years, a lifetime. One of my youthful commitments was to keep reading difficult material. Stay political. College. Keep asking the fundamental questions and don’t shy away from difficult answers. Never work in a setting that compromises your values. Kate, now for over 30 years. The Woollies, about the same. Joseph, now going 39 years. Exercise, since my forties.

When I didn’t persevere, marketing and college German being the ones that come to mind, it was out of fear, I think. Fear is not a guide, it’s a caution, but I let myself get stuck in its glue at least those two times and I regret it. Anxiety grows along with fear and fear increases the anxiety. As I’m learning to be easier with myself, I’ll give myself an “I’m sorry to hear that, but you’re ok now.” bit of self-talk.

Rocking my inner boat

Winter and the Full Future Moon (98%)

Thursday gratefuls: for the Geek Squad guy who came to install our microwave. for his calling out an electrical problem. for Altitude Electric for coming next Monday. for the Geek Squad coming back next Saturday. for the first session in the Human Narrative, the Kabbalah class using Art Green’s book, Radical Judaism. for Zoom which allowed me to both here and there. Bi-location!

Kate and I have been doing sixty second hugs. As Paul Strickland mentioned in his review of a conference he and Sarah attended. What a great idea! We hug anyway, but often short ones. Sixty seconds encourages intimacy. More intimacy is welcome.

Also, we’re dancing with zero negativity. Same conference’s idea. For us, a real challenge. Not so much because we’re negative toward each other, but because both of us have minds that veer easily toward the critical, the analytical. And, we both know a lot so challenging each other’s conclusions comes with breathing. Still. I know where this concept heads and I would like to get there. So…

I describe myself as a neo-pagan by which I mean that my faith is located in this reality, not in some other, supernatural place. And that my faith reads revelation first from the ur sacred text, the book of Nature. This does not exclude other sacred texts as sources of wisdom, inspiration, even revelation, it places them second to seeing what you’re looking at. (Casey Reams) Or, being mindful. Or, deep listening. Or, respectful touching.

It also means that I’ve backed myself into an interesting corner, or, maybe, an interesting geodesic dome. If the cosmos itself reveals the sacred to those who see, the sacred underlies the whole cosmos. If the sacred underlies, is within, permeates the cosmos, then the Kabbalistic notion of divine light, ohr, waiting for us in everything begins to make sense to me.

If that makes sense to me, then the notion of an underlying unity also can come into focus. Is that unity the shekinah? That is, the feminine aspect of the divine said by the Kabbalists to constitute this material world? Not ready to go there yet, not sure I want to put a label on it. But, the idea of the shekinah does work for me at the level of analogy, metaphor.

Challenging. Rocking my inner boat. Yes.

Seven years, five months, 26 days to go

Winter and the Future Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Kate removing my sutures. Shelly for a quick and relatively painless shot of Lupron. Ali Baba for great gyros, hummus. Those who built the mountain roads. Those who built and maintain the mountain power lines. Golden Solar for installing our solar panels.

Fourth day of Daf Yomi. Only seven years, 5 months and 26 days to go. I’ve always liked long books, long movies, long tv series. Daf Yomi has a similar resonance though its length puts it in a class all by itself. Well, wait. Not quite. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the great Chinese classic novel, is well over 2,000 pages, too. It’s not, however, as dense and clever as the Talmud. It took a long while to read, but not years. Months.

Reading the Talmud, as a first-timer, is a challenging and intriguing experience. It swerves from topic to topic, sometimes in apparently unrelated ways, but seems to come back to a particular issue.

Let me give you an example. The major question since the first page has been when to recite the Shema: Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (longer, but this is the essential verse.) The affirmation of monotheism is bedrock for Jewish faith and practice.

Reciting the Shema during the night, when to do it, has taken up the first four Talmudic pages. The questions are many. When is it night? When is it midnight? When is it morning? How do we know the three (or, maybe four) watches of the night? In a time before precise clocks these were urgent questions if reciting these prayers was critically important. And, their recitation was critically important.

In the discussion about how we know when it’s midnight, one rabbi answers that David got up at midnight to pray and study Torah. How did he know it was midnight? He hung his lyre by his bed and when the north wind blew on the lyre its sounds marked midnight. On the question.

But then the question becomes one of David’s piety. Raised, I suppose, by the fact that he got up at midnight to pray and study. Several paragraphs go back and forth on the question of his piety, then we return to the central issue, how do know when to recite the night time Shema?

This may sound dry, even Jesuitical (eh, Bill?), but it’s actually lively, full of stories and a certain kind of logic chopping that I’m familiar with from philosophy. In short, I’m liking it.

Better than a Lupron shot in the butt. Which I also got yesterday.

But wait. I can hear one of the Rabbi’s say, the Lupron shot was to save your life, how is reading the Talmud better than saving your life? Because its significance goes beyond life to matters of the soul.

This is tricky for me since my belief system shuttles away from particular traditions, but I recognize the questions and love the playfulness with which they are addressed. Reading Talmud for me, like reading Torah or the New Testament is a lesson in metaphor, analogy, not in prescriptions. More on this later, too.