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  • A Man?

    Imbolc and the 77 Moon

    Shabbat gratefuls: Snow. Cold. Winter Storms. Bringing Water we need. My own tiny Aquifer. A steel blue overcast Sky. Black Mountain gone. (I suspect it’s still there, though) Lodgepole Branches gathering Snow. The Supreme Court. Alan. Relationships. My life’s focus these days. Including with myself. Bereshit. Mishpatim. Parshas I’m studying now. That Shabbat feeling. Candles.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: The Eye

    One brief shining: The Lodgepole out my window has Branches focused toward the east, toward Great Sol’s return appearance after a Mountain night; on Their west side, where Their colleagues grow, the Branches never emerged, the same true for Others who face out toward the open air with an eager reach, why waste energy where it’s all shade anyhow?


    Been thinking about sexuality and aging. Yes, I know about the rising instances of STD’s among those in their seventies, geez guys and gals. Come on. Not my point. Good for them except for the no protection part. No, I’ve been thinking about myself and others like me, not an insignificant sized group I imagine, who have had their genital sexuality compromised by surgery or drugs. Or, indifference. Yes, it happens as many of you know.

    In my case a prostatectomy and subsequent radiation, drugs, and two years of chemo have left me nonfunctional sexually. Been the case since 2018 or so. Kate’s illness made this less of a problem than it could have been. I know. TMI. Maybe. Nobody’s gonna hold you down and make you read this. However I know I’m not alone and I feel like this lacunae in our common conversation needs fixing. I mean, we’re all adults here, right?

    In the case of those us who have had androgen deprivation therapy (adt), a usual treatment in the case of prostate cancer, the goal is to push testosterone, which feeds the cancer, as low as possible. The standard is the level of testosterone in a man who has been castrated. Testosterone goes low, so does the sex drive. My T score has been around zero for the last 9 years.

    Doesn’t mean I don’t have desire. It’s rare, but it does happen. Yet even so the combination of low testosterone and other chemical insults mean I can no longer get an erection. Factor in fatigue from a funky thyroid, now remedied, and fatigue from the adt drugs and the chemo. Not a lot of energy of any kind, let alone sexual energy.

    However, all this is prolegomena to the main thought. That is, what does gender mean in such a situation? I’m a man, a cisgender male. Heteronormative in my desire. All my life. And happily so. Yet what am I now? In effect I have been chemically castrated. My sexual drive gone. And even were it not, a real inability to function as I had for my adult life until cancer.

    Who am I now? Am I a eunuch? Am I still a man in the strict biological sense? What do these losses mean for me as a man? I’m not sure. I feel the same in most ways. Yet I also know I’m changed. Not the same as I was fifteen years ago. Am I now a solitary, a hermit not only by emotional inclination but also by biological reality?



  • Angel

    Samain and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Friday gratefuls: Alan. Joan. InSpire concerts. Bread Lounge. Bastiens Steak House. DAM. Heidi Saltzman. Irv. Kippahs. Mussar. Great Sol. The sacred surrounding us, above us, below us, within us, around us. Like Water vapor in the Air. Supporting us like the Granite and Gneiss of Shadow Mountain. Energizing us like our morning coffee. Mezuzahs on my front door, my back door, my bedroom door. Moving between spaces, thresholds, liminal spaces. A sacred moment. My son arriving on a 747 from Calcutta 42 years ago today. His wonderful life.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: My son

    One brief shining: Turned off the electric menorah with all eight lights plus the shamash going dark, watched the bright blue beeswax candles burn down on my crystal menorah after saying the Hanukah prayer for the eighth time, finished with my first Jewish holiday as a Jew, feeling my Jewish identity grow and strengthen, as it does when I touch the mezuzahs on my door frames, put on my kippah.


    42 years ago tonight. At midnight. A 747 landed in Minneapolis. The night was bitter cold, well below zero and it had come from the warmer geography of the Indian subcontinent. Within were two nuns in blue and white habits each carrying a wicker basket with two tiny babies. When they deplaned and came to Raeone and me, we were suddenly, immediately, right then parents. Oh. My.

    My son (whose name I don’t use for security purposes for him.) lay next to the boy who would later become Willie. By happenstance a work friend, Luann, had also adopted from India and her son was in the basket next to ours. Not sure how she did it but Raeone made off with the wicker basket. Which she still has. What happened to the other two I don’t recall, my gaze and attention fixated on the 4.4 pound body of OUR baby. Would we kill him? His body, wrinkled and brown, looked too small to survive. And we were responsible? Yikes!

    The short answer. Almost. At the time I drove an orange Volkswagen, the original bug. Which, from time to time, including this time suffered from frozen gas line syndrome. We sputtered to a stop a mile or two from the airport on our way home. The bug immobile. Oh, oh. Fortunately for my son and Raeone, Luann and Willy came by, recognized my car, stopped and took them to our house in Minneapolis.

    Me? Not so much. 15 degrees below zero and windy. This is, btw, before cell phones. A truck stopped. A Latino man got out. I explained. He offered to tow me to our house. Thank God. He had a tow rope in his truck, hooked it up and I rode with him.

    He came inside with me to see my son and warm up a bit. His name? Angel. As I said above, the sacred surrounds us.


  • Saturday

    Summer and the Herme Moon

    Sunday gratefuls: Honor. Kavod. Mussar. Weighty. We are holy souls. Sacred. Revelation. Community. Havurah. Interest groups. Anavah. Humility. Israel. Korea. My son, his wife. Her sisters. Murdoch. Investigations of our orange bitter lozenge of the mind. Smart phones. The Trail to Cold Mountain. Writing. Acting. Acting class. Eudaimonia. Vince. Luke. Leo and Gracie. Ann. Han Shan.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Oppenheimer

    One brief shining: Parting the insect curtain with its magnetic strip lets me enter a place where Cat says Hi, Charlie! and other waiters and waitresses smile, the owner too, and I go to the 2 top or a booth depending on the business of the day order a cup of coffee and open my book right now Two Koreas while I wait to order two eggs over easy, crisp bacon, sliced tomatoes, and toast.


    Started yesterday at Aspen Perks. Where the wait staff knows my name. Not the best food, but the best company. OK food. Quieter than Conifer Cafe, closer than Primo’s. Massages my need for human connection. Have wanted to see Pete and Murphy since our conversation a month or so ago, but they’ve not shown up since or our times have not coincided. Though. It’s a small town. I’ll run into them again.

    Still reading the second of my two histories of contemporary Korea, The Two Koreas. Written by a journalist it has reportorial style. Not the depth of Korea’s Place in the Sun, anecdotal with a first draft of history feel. My preference is Korea’s Place in the Sun but reading the two of them cements names, dates, places. Have let the Korean slide while focused on The Trail to Cold Mountain and reading these histories. May return to it in August.


    The rest of the day yesterday I read and learned lines. Three pages down. Two more to go before I hit Han Shan’s poetry of which I’ve already learned 5 of the ten. May make it before class on Tuesday evening. Figured out a way to separate Herme and Gaius. I turn my right shoulder, then my whole body to the side. Herme. The opposite with a brassy voice. Gaius. I think it’ll work. The seeker though. Haven’t figured her out yet. An Asian woman, mature, accomplished. Knows what she wants. But not pushy. Haven’t gotten to her lines yet in what I’m memorizing. Will focus on her then.

    Made a pan seared Halibut fillet. So good. Veggies. For dessert, a creme brulee truffle from Sugar Jones. For my light reading, The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier. Sky Castle, the K-drama. Bed. A solid day with before going to sleep thoughts about whether the sacred connects into a whole other world or whether it’s location and instance specific. About how revelation could be auditory. About doing laundry today, Sunday. And what to make for breakfast. As the edible hit and I drifted away into the arms of Morpheus.


  • The Sacred

    Summer and the Herme Moon

    Thursday gratefuls: Two Koreas. Korea. Seoah. Flying to Incheon. All appliances good for 220. Adapters. Next chapters. Fourth Phase. Facing aging straight up. Happy, but real. Joyous and knowing that death comes next. Burn away everything but love. Start now. Look for the sacred wherever you can find it. Speak your revelation with confidence. Do not go silent in the face of mystery.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Psilocybin

    One brief shining: Once upon a time there was an old man who lived on top of a Mountain in a rust colored cedar sided house with blue solar panels and tall Lodgepole Pines and gray white Aspens who wrote early in the morning, then read all sorts of books, had meals with his friends and family, talked to others over the internet, watched TV, slept in the cool Mountain nights, and was happy.


    Still thinking about revelation. Picked up an old Mircea Eliade book yesterday, The Sacred and the Profane. As important to my thinking as Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy. Different takes on the religious experience but the main phenomenological writers in a long stream of theologians and historians of religion. Realized in reading the first chapter again that I’m approaching the religious experience in the same way as they do. What’s going on here? What’s it like? How have humans made meaning out of these encounters. Set aside dogma, charisma, bureaucracy, observance, ritual or at least bracket them. What’s common about the devotee’s of the world’s religions if anything? Not syncretism, nothing to do with what the religions say, but all about what they do.

    I’m not interested in as broad a sweep as that though, I have no academic journal mouths to feed. No. I’m wanting to make as much sense of my own experiences as I can. Eliade reminded of a missing element in my look at revelation. The sacred. Or whatever it is. The what that is revealed. Is it in fact one thing? The Sacred? Or is it multiple things? Is it even a thing? If so, of what quality? And the epistemological question, how do we know what we know about it? Is it out there? Or, in here?

    Let’s go back to that Rainy Night Watcher. Did his appearance reveal something out there? Or, something in me? Or, both? Does see what you’re looking at always mean take in information about what you see in as unfiltered a way as possible. Or, does it mean, how do you interpret what your eyes take in? In the instance of the Rainy Night Watcher there were two actors. The Elk and me. Did he see me as a glimpse into the other world? That of the creatures in metal who long ago invaded his territory? Or, did he look at me with wonder and awe as I looked at him? In wonder and awe.

    For the moment I’m going to come down on the side of the sacred as a thing, a hidden dimension of our World, of our cosmos, too. Consider the quantum realm. Consider the opposite, the macro realm, the Universe as a whole. Consider the spectrum of data our senses cannot experience. Consider the mystery our inner lives are to others whom we know, even those whom we know intimately. Does the sacred reside in any or all of these? Still on the journey. This most ancientrail.



  • Thursday

    Spring and the Mesa View Moon

    Thursday gratefuls: Grif Gunnurson. Massage therapist. Alan, back from California. Mussar today. The Bread Lounge. Evergreen Market. Snow already melting. Love. Kate. Ruth. Gabe. My son and his daughter and their dog. The Ancient brothers. Diane. Mary. Mark. My treadmill. Anytime Fitness. All my wild Neighbors.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Travel

    One brief, shining moment: Israel and Korea and lbm’s, all journeys I plan to take this year, this mesa view year when I can see so far, forward to the 90 year old man I will be and back to the 67 year old man who moved to Colorado with those he loved and whom he has now lost to death, all gathered in one man this April day, a 76 year old man who remembers and who lives now and forward.


    Mesa view. Tom suggested this. I moved to the Mountain and now all of those who moved with me have died. So has Jon. Though I stand alone in that narrow, but very real and important sense, I am healthy and eager. Life far from over. Travelin’ shoes beginning to jitter in the closet. This is the Mesa view. Seeing far in all directions.

    I could also call it, will call it, the threshold view. A certain fogginess lifted. Baggage stored in a place of non-interference. The fourth phase, the final phase separated now in two. Then. And, now. Then. Before Kate and Rigel and Jon and Kep died. Now. When I stand on the Mesa, hand over my eyes to shade the sun, see into the distance more clearly.

    The door, death’s door which opens both way, has opened up for me again, this time toward life in the fourth lane, headed toward the final exit. And what a wonderful, exciting feeling it is.



  • An Afternoon Sadness

    Samain and the Holimonth Moon

    Tuesday gratefuls: Tor. Orion. Kate, always Kate. The morning Sun on the Lodgepoles. Kep outside at 3 am, wandering. Trump referred for criminal prosecution. And, probably not for the last time. Merry Christmas. Congress funds the government. Gabe and his legos. Ruth. Hanukah. The 2nd day. Those Maccabees. Tom and the Winter Solstice. The World Cup. F1. Baseball. The MLB ticket. Sports. Waiting on the Cold Air. Grief. Sadness.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Tor


    Yesterday afternoon. Back to pruning. Clearing off the wire shelving in Kate’s former sewing room. The last of her stuff still untouched. A long rectangular box. Heavy. Lifted it off the top shelf. Tor. Oh. Shot to the heart. Tor my beautiful boy. A wheaten Irish Wolfhound. Friend to Orion. Our last two I.W.’s. Petting him each night before I went to bed thinking I wanted to touch him one last time alive. He had a bad heart and dropped dead in the area behind our Andover garage. Oh.

    Clearing off some of Kate’s stuff I found a note from a reunion, a classmate’s after message. Loved being pulled down for a second kiss. I’m afraid I disappointed Kate. Not as passionate as she was.

    Tor’s ashes and that note coming right after hit me pretty hard. Grief and regret. There are some things you cannot fix. Felt like a punch to the chest. An hour plus later. Still sad.


    Going into the great darkness tomorrow. Perhaps appropriate. Fated. The dark night, the longest night. Since the summer solstice, we’ve lost a little light each day. Till now the days are short and the nights dominant. A Great Wheel time to be sad. For sadness. For inner work. For falling down the Great Well of inner space. Until. Until. We hit the world ocean of the collective unconscious. Swim in those waters.

    All the mourners slip down that Great Well for a time. Return to it when they lift a favorite dog’s ashes off a shelf unknowingly. Are reminded of their shortcomings as a partner. Other feelings rush into the space. Shame. Loss. Anger. Abandonment. Fear.

    Waiting for the light. Which comes. Not in the Spring. But on the day after tomorrow. As the days grow longer, bit by bit. So does clarity about these emotions. Set them in the context of life, of flawed humanity. No I was not all that Kate wanted, but I was much of what she needed. As she was for me.

    These moments have become rare, but not gone not completely. Love is a many splintered thing and grieving its loss one of the most complicated acts in life. No, that’s not right. Love is never lost. Grieving the loss of the beloved. The tactile mutuality. Sitting across the table talking. Lying in bed together. Visiting other nations, other cultures. Together across years and decades. That’s what’s lost.

    The descent into darkness and the gradual return of the light. A fundamental message of the Great Wheel. A message of life-death-life-death-life and again as long there is time and life. Before the Sun goes red giant. Until.

    Happy Hanukah and a very Merry Christmas.



  • Wild

    Samain and the Holimonth Moon

    Sunday gratefuls. Erev Hanukah. Gabe. Deciding which presents to open first. Avatar: Water. Pakeha. Cold weather coming. Kep. His blind life. Beau Jo’s pizza. Gabe’s teenage boy appetite. Rabbi Jamie’s adult class on Hanukah. The death of P-22. Vince and Frank Zappa. Kep on the grippy rug. That red alert call at 2 am. For the wrong city. Wellington Paranormal. Next to last episode.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: A grandson’s love


    The death of P-22. This article in the LA Times tells the story of P-22. In case you didn’t know it. A Mountain Lion that wandered into Griffith Park after crossing several freeways ten years ago P-22 became, as LA seems to require, a celebrity. Here’s another article about P-22 in the Washington Post.

    Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation said:

    “I sat near him, looking into his eyes for a few minutes, and told him he was a good boy,” wrote Pratt, who said goodbye to P-22 before he was euthanized. “I told him how much I loved him. How much the world loved him.”

    And, quoted later in the article: “He changed the way we look at L.A. And his influencer status extended around the world, as he inspired millions of people to see wildlife as their neighbors…”

    I understand. Here in the Mountains our wild Neighbors continue to evoke awe and wonder no matter how long your residency. Driving yesterday Gabe and I saw more than fifteen Mule Deer at various points along the road. The rule in the Mountains is this. Where there are Deer there are Mountain Lions. I’ve never seen one though Kate did.

    Coming home from MVP Wednesday night I saw a flash of light, slowed and saw a healthy Red Fox gazing at me from the hillside. As I drove home, I thought about him slipping into the night Forest on the hunt. We humans are diurnal, sleeping at night and active in the daytime (most of us anyhow. though the electric light has altered our behavior a lot.) The nighttime Forest is difficult for us navigate. Dr. Astrov from Uncle Vanya, “You know how, when walking in the Forest at night, when you see a light you forget the darkness and your fatigue, the thorny branches hitting you in the face…” Many fairy tales have their story set in the dark Woods.

    Mountain Lions are crepuscular hunters, dawn and twilight. Ambush predators they lie in wait on rocky outcropping or on a tree branch. As P-22 did, Mountain Lions will eat pets. A Dog run up here without a top? Box lunch.

    Our wild Neighbors throughout the World remind us of the thin veneer we have created with civilization. The Arctic cold slumping south this next week may highlight this again in south Texas. Remember the sudden crisis in the Texas electrical grid in February of 2021? Bet it’s not fixed.

    We fantasize ourselves as separate from the lives of our wild Neighbors, but that’s all it is. Fantasy. Without the roof and walls of our homes, the heating or cooling they provide, the provisions available in grocery stores, without electricity or gas or fuel oil. Back to nature. Without my motorized chair or a pedal powered bicycle Denver is as far away for me as it is for that Black Bear I saw this summer.

    Dystopian movies and novels, of which there have been many as we head toward a possible Climate apocalypse, foreshadow the survivalists nightmare come true. And that nightmare is. A return to the Wild.

  • When will we ever learn?

    Samain and the Decided Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Prostate cancer. P.E.T. Scans. Water up, dude. Dry brining the tenderloin roast. Thanksgiving. Kep. Fingerless gloves. Ruth in Colorado Springs. The Walmart shooting victims. The Walmart shooter. Creativity. Cool Nights. Reading. The Glass Bead Game. Movies. Seventh Seal. Poems. The Road Not Taken. Velveeta hair and clown tie. Jared Polis. Pete Buttegieg. Elizabeth Warren. Ukraine. All my friends and family.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: P.E.T. Scan


    Yes. Today I have a P.E.T. scan. A special sort, like the axumin. Special in two ways. First, it will decide definitively whether I have bony metastases. Second, it will cost me over $1,100. My 20% share of the tracer plus a co-pay. I’m going into it with no sedative. It’s an open-sided machine and my head will only be enclosed for a brief period of time. I should be ok. Comfortable clothes, no metal. Worth the money to avoid general anesthetic. Though I didn’t have a choice. Have to drink lots of water.

    Feeling a bit stressed. Thanksgiving. Claustrophobia. Cancer. But just a bit. The worst stress of the three is Thanksgiving. I don’t entertain very much. I want the tenderloin roast to come out well. My pie, too. This is a first try at the new family constellation after Jon’s death, too. Claustrophobia is a buzz kill in so many ways. But I can manage it for brief periods of time. Cancer. Well. To paraphrase my friend Judy, “This beast may kill me, but not today.”


    Another session with Robin. Cleared the table for Thanksgiving in Kate’s old sewing room. Moved photographs out of that room. Got rid of a lot of boxes, trash. Which I took out to the road today for Shirley Waste Removal. This was the last session with her until the first of the year. She’s taking December off to be with family and see a bathroom remodel through. Going to go through the whole house with her. Making progress. Feels good. Winnowing. Pruning.

    Got back the second bid for painting today. Surprising. It’s a thousand dollars less than the first one. And from Greg Lell. Whom I want to use anyhow. Doug has not called yet with his bid. I won’t decide until Marty comes and helps me choose paint colors. I may have her help me in positioning furniture, too.


    Walmart employee kills 6. Chesapeake, Va. Walmart sells guns. I’m choosing to think right now that we’ll find our way out of this whole mess. Why? Not sure. A new feeling since the elections. Maybe it’s the chrysalis effect talked about by Phillip Slater. Thanks, Tom, for the book. More on this later.




  • Azrael

    Fall and the Simchat Torah Moon

    Sunday gratefuls: Judy. Death. Cancer. High Winds. Snow coming. Moderate Fire danger. Hawai’i. Jon, a memory. Kate, always Kate. Golden. Clear Creek Commons. Decision making. Mini-splits. Fatigue. Friendship. Kabbalah. Creativity. Ode. Tom. Bill. Paul. Kep. Emily. Shirley Waste and Septic. Ruby, who keeps running. Blizzaks. Ruth and Gabe. Ali Baba’s gyros. Adapting. Politics. Climate change.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Judy


    Azrael. The angel of the fourth phase. A visitor with whom I’ve become well acquainted over the last couple of years. In Islam a leaf falls from the tree beneath God’s throne. A name written upon it. Azrael then has forty days to separate the soul from the body.

    Pneumonia Kate often said is the friend of the elderly. Azrael. When she realized her time had come, Kate invited Azrael to visit. Death is not an enemy. Not a tragedy. But a completion. A sign that life has finished and the journey after has begun. Whatever that journey may be.

    Got a text from my friend. I’m in home hospice now. Could you come visit in the next two weeks? Of course. How about tomorrow? I’m leaving town for Hawai’i on Monday. Would 11 am work? Of course. I’ll see her then.

    She and I have shared a cancer journey. We inquired about each others surveillance numbers, treatments. She often said this beast will kill me but not today. That day comes closer. Her leaf has fallen, perhaps a while ago.

    When I got her text, I sat in my chair and cried. And cried. Azrael may not be an enemy, but the disappearance of people we have known and loved will always hurt.

    Where do they go, those who die? We know this for certain. They leave us behind. No matter how good the death or how bad they are gone. That smile. That touch. Those memories. The wonder and the pain. That soul lifted out and gone.

    My mother’s memory a blessing now. Even my father’s now, too. Kate a companion of the heart, her wisdom still teaching me. Jon still a conflicted absence, but sometime, some day what will remain is his love for his children, his gentle manner toward life, that art he made from the beaten and discarded metal left by the road. Judy, her food. Her sharing. Her kindness. But still. All will be gone.

    I wish them all well on their journeys whatever they may be. And I hope that when I join them others will wish me well too.


    Drove over to Golden yesterday to look at Clear Creek Commons. I went on a Saturday. The leasing office closed. I couldn’t get in. Will do when I get back from Hawai’i. On first impression it looked more enclosed than I’d imagined though it is smack downtown and overlooks Clear Creek. Imagining myself in it I felt claustrophobic. Compared to the open space around me on Shadow Mountain. No Lodgepoles. No Mule Deer. No Elk. No Mountains or Foxes. No Aspen.

    Though. I adapt well and have lived in a similar environment in Irvine Park in St. Paul and near Loring Park in Minneapolis. Happily. Not by any means ruling it out. Each place has its initial negatives. Hawai’i the lack of friends. Minnesota its brutal winters.

    My turn as the theme master for my Ancient Brothers and I chose the theme of decision making. How do you make decisions? What were the best and the worst you’ve made? Wanted something that was existential for me. Decisions are for me.

    One matter I’ve not taken into account well enough, I think, is my continuing fatigue. I may not have the energy for a new start in Hawai’i or a house anywhere.


  • Where am I going?

    Fall and the Sukkot Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Diane. Coming to help me prune. Jogging. Sleep. Acting. Chekhov. The Seagulls. Cool. Shirley Septic and Waste. Kep. Poor guy. Bumping into stuff. Ukraine. Putin. Missiles. Will. Minnesota. Hawai’i. ? Lab draws this morning. Flu shot.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Hawai’i


    Picked Diane up at the Federal Center Station of the RTD yesterday afternoon. Drove back to the Natural Grocers where we picked up supplies. Apples. Aloe Vera juice. Organic fish sticks. Mixed vegetables. Raspberries. Blueberries. Bananas. Tomatoes. Lettuce. Headed back home.

    At the Natural Grocers we got into a conversation with the cashier. Where’re you from? San Francisco. Here. Oh, I’m from Hawai’i. Oh, I’m moving to Hawai’i. What Island? Oahu. Oh, I’m from Oahu. The North Shore, where all the surfing is. Yes, I’m going to that side, too. Oh, Kailua, Kane’ Ohe’? Yes.

    Diane picked up on my answer and asked about it, given my recent blogs. Oh, just trying to bond with the cashier, I said.

    More I thought about it though I realized Hawai’i is still top of mind when I think about moving. And, I’ve been telling people I’m moving to Hawai’i for quite awhile now. An interesting, unbidden piece of information about the move.

    Not sure what it means. If anything. But there you are.


    Mussar tonight. My turn to lead. Anavah. Humility. A key idea in mussar is taking up the right amount of space. That’s the idea of humility. Neither self-deprecating nor self-aggrandizing, being who you are.

    Here’s a Rabbi’s take on anavah.*


    How do you experience anavah in your own life? Do you ever take up too much space? Too little? If so, why? How can you create a you that takes up the space you deserve?

    One of my favorite stories from the Torah. Jacob and the Angel at the Jabbok Ford.** I see it as an example of anavah. Jacob wrestled with God/the Angel/a man to determine the right amount of space between him and the sacred.

    One interpretation is this. Jacob was on a journey, fleeing his brother Esau. He had divided his livestock and servants in two, reasoning that he might escape with half his wealth if his servants encountered Esau. God had come to him in a dream and told him to go to the land of his fathers and God would be with him.

    As they crossed the ford of the Jabbok River, Jacob stayed behind. While he was alone, a man came and wrestled with him. Jacob was alone as a result of his struggles with his father-in-law Laban and his brother, Esau.

    Jacob had experienced rejection by his father-in-law and his own brother. He had fled them. Who was he now? Was he a man who fought with his closest relatives, made them angry, divided his family? Or, was he a man of the sacred, following a path that was his pilgrimage?

    That night beside the river at a ford, places known for their magical qualities, Jacob had to decide who he was. He struggled within himself, trying to decide whether he was a bad brother and a bad son-in-law or was he a good man who had done what was necessary?

    In that struggle he learned that he was neither. Or both. When the inner jihad was over, he had a new self-awareness. he was now Israel, for he had experienced the sacred within himself and survived to gain a clear identity, an authentic Self.


    *Just as the Torah begins with Parashat B’reishit, Mussar practice begins with the middah of anavah. All other middot are accessed through this core character trait. The middah of anavah is essential for living with integrity. When we think of humility, we may imagine someone who is the picture of modesty and meekness. However, in Mussar, humility is not defined as being so humble that you disappear; rather, it is about having all of your character traits in balance so that the inner light of the soul shines pure and clear as originally intended. As Mussar teacher Alan Morinis puts it, “Being humble doesn’t mean being nobody: it just means being no more of a somebody than you ought to be.”
    …In our own lives, we hide our authentic selves from the truth of our lives. When we live out of balance, despite the fact that we may be falling apart on the inside or on the outside, we betray our lives. We take up either too much or too little space; either we take away space from others, or we abandon them when they need us. Our sacred connection to anything important—our families, our communities, our work—all suffer when we neglect to live life with anavah in balance. Celebrated with intention, Shabbat provides the time, space, and opportunity to reconnect to our core essence, reacquire a sense of proportion, and connect anew with the people and projects in our lives with both humility and presence. Anavah, approaching our lives with humility, means not taking up too much space in the Garden, not trying to fool others with some disguise of our true selves; but to honestly offer our truest selves to the people and work we encounter in our lives. Humility: Shabbat as a Return to Our Authentic Selves” by Rabbi Michelle Pearlman and Rabbi Sharon Mars in Mussar Torah Commentary, p.3, 6


    **22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.24 And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”28 Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”29 Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peni’el, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penu’el, limping because of his thigh.32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh, because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh on the sinew of the hip.