War On Four Planes

Body - Palestinian bodies are maimed and slaughtered. No Israelis have yet been wounded. This is an unjust war; all the weapons lie with one side. But Israeli bodies know bloodshed too. They’ve been stabbed and blown to pieces on busses, maimed by tractors.
Heart - There is suffering for all people. Mothers and fathers who have lost children, brothers, sisters. There is anger all around, and fear. There is love all around too, but it can be just as senseless.
Mind - Politicians scheme stories to justify injustice. Histories, theologies, worldviews concocted into bizarre equations that somehow compute answers that condone violence, destruction and oppression.
Soul - There is no war. The material that composes the universe does not know the meaning of the distinctions that comprise our world, Jew, Arab, Palestinian, Israeli. This is the place from where our kinship is traced.
Dear Friends,
I am sad and angry after a day of death in Palestine. I imagine my attention to the situation in Israel and the plight of the Palestinian people has not gone unnoticed in this community. Though I hold a great love for Israel, I am convinced that it is our responsibility as practitioners of Judaism to uphold the principles of our faith in all arenas, regardless of political sensitivity. Our tradition holds that all human beings are created in the divine image, that we should welcome the stranger among us, aspire to love our neighbors as brothers and sisters. All of those values were violated today, on a day meant for celebration.
I hope to speak with great clarity, in simple statements of fact. I think it is of vital interest that our community be a home for conversation, and pioneers of a new kind of speech concerning the relationship of Judaism and Israel. We will insist that basic rights and freedoms be granted to all people regardless of ethnicity or faith. Until this is achieved whatever freedom we have is marred.
We begin this practice by refusing outright to make this into an issue of sides. There are certain principles required of decent human beings fashioning a just society. Surely the wisdom values named above are all foundational. We’ll continue to explore the intersection of spirit and wisdom with politics as we stand witness to the events in Palestine and Israel in the years to come.
I am praying, on the subway, deep in the belly of the earth, from the bridge above the water, for the safety and wholeness of all people, that the scales be tipped to compassion in those who believe humanity can be divided into camps. I hope you are with me.
Rabbi Zach Fredman
PS - I’ll be pleased to hear your thoughts

Joy HaimsComment
One Eye Laughing

Dear Friends,
Yesterday was the thirty-third day [לג lag] of the period between Passover and Shavuot known as the omer. It marks the death day of one of the great rabbinic sages, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. In mystical lore he is the author of the Zohar and the father of Jewish mysticism. On the day he was to die, he proclaimed that, ‘this day is for me,’ and before he died he gave over many secret teachings. He called the day, yom hilula, a day of celebration, of the light that he could give over. Across the hillsides bonfires are lit to honor his light.
He lived at a time when the Romans ruled Palestine, and he was vocal in his critiques of their political oppressiveness. Tension grew and the Romans sought his head, and he was forced into hiding with his son. They took hermits lives, alone together in a cave. The story goes, that in order to insure the longevity of their clothing they’d only wear them for prayer and Shabbat. The rest of the time, they’d bury themselves in holes in the dirt, and spend the entirety of their days studying the Torah. A carob tree sprung up to provide them nourishment, and a stream flowed from the depths of the cavern.
After twelve years in the cave, they heard a voice that told them it was time to go out, the Roman king had died. They left the cave and saw the people engaged in their work, farming, shepherding, playing. Rabbi Shimon was angered by their apparent disregard for devotion, and everything he set his eyes on was set ablaze. The voice told him to get back to the cave. After another twelve months they came out again, without eyes on fire.
The story is a lesson in judgment. As one devotes more and more time to a spiritual path or any conscious work, there will rise an inclination to condemn the apparent laziness of the uninitiated. God has no grace for such judgment. The task of the work is selfish in this sense; you are only responsible for your own being. But when we change the conditions of the field we inhabit, we are bound to affect all those who reside in our proximity. When he offered them fire they could only be destroyed, but when he gave them light, they have set it in its place, and it continues to burn.
Our teacher, Rabbi James Stone Goodman, often cites a source; they say of Bar Yochai that you might see him, one eye laughing, one eye crying. This is the pinnacle of being, when you can reside in all the apparent dualities at once, sorrow and joy, holy and mundane, life and death, one eye laughing one eye crying.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Zach Fredman

Joy HaimsComment
Crown of Self

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a unique Chassidic mind, a manic-depressive, who taught in wild creative parables, roosters, princes, and magic jackets – today he teaches us about inwardness. As the ancient Hebrew often does, surface language contains a treasure house of meaning. The Hebrew word for inwardness [pnimiut] is drawn from the word for face [panim] – inwardness is your face, all the many faces one can make on the inside. Inwardness – our thoughts, feelings, dreams, the conscious and unconscious mind, the world that belongs uniquely to us as individuals which the world outside can only intuit by our face.

Nachman begins with a wonderful claim, a chain of symbol associations. He says that faith and soul are nearly identical, and that neither are entities that one must accept without substantiation. By exploring our inwardness with intention we can meet our own soulfulness and feel for ourselves the root of faith.

He says that we learn about inwardness from the Ten Commandments, which begin “I am the Lord your God.” Have you ever stopped to ask what it means for God to say “I?” If you’ve made it past spirituality 101, then you’ll know we are not talking about the divine with a subjective ego, like Zeus or Poseidon. What does it mean for the all, the infinite, the vast interconnectedness of the universe to say “I?”

Then Nachman quotes a few tasty sources. The Talmud says that “I [Anokhi]” is an acronym, each letter a word, and it means, “I give you my soul in these words.” The words of the Torah become vessels to contain god’s “I,” god’s being, god’s soul – the words of the Torah, all language, reveals inwardness, just like a face.

The other source is from the Zohar, which reminds us that there are two Hebrew words for “I,” the one we learned already, Anokhi, is the grander form of, Ani, the two words distinguishable only by the letter, kaph [כ]. Why are there two ways to say, “I?” Every time we say “I” or experience ourselves there is a vastness of identity from which we are capable of speaking. There is an identity which some call the ego, and for the most part it reigns over our being. The ego is established by all that we perceive in the world outside. We see a body, waking, walking, eating, communicating with the world – this is the “I” of Ani.

But there is another way to experience the self. What happens when we speak ourselves into being from within? This is the “I” of Anokhi. The world within us is incredibly vast, inwardness ever onward without measure, doorway upon doorway. And all those who have journeyed there before will tell you that the “I” who speaks from that place knows wholeness, fearlessness, and love absolute. Inwardness is the crown of our identity. Who are you? I am father, I am rabbi, I am teacher, I am comforter, I am blessing-maker – but before all of that, I am the thoughts feelings images ideas prayers that compose my being at night like silent music only I can hear.

There is one letter that distinguishes “I” Anokhi [אנכי] from “I” Ani [אני], the vast world between ego and soul marked by the letter kaph [כ], which stands for the symbol of a crown [כתר]. Inwardness is the crown of the self. What is a crown? It is the symbol bestowed upon the one who has made the journey inward. That person has found the inner point where all souls touch, the jewel on her head, an outward sign of what her inwardness contains. It’s written all over her face, yours, mine.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zach Fredman


Joy HaimsComment
Israel, Palestine, Oum Kulthum: Syncopation and Seventy

Give this a listen while you read – https://youtu.be/_gGjGJZkafg

I struggled to persuade my soul to make peace with you
After insomnia tears and agony by your hands

It was painful what I sustained in love, by the prolonged abandonment
I don’t know what was my punishment after I accepted deprivation.

I thought maybe time has changed you with distance?
Or in agreeing to humiliation, you’d be sweeter to me.

I was the one true in my love, faithful all my life
Time sometimes with me sometimes against
But from me your heart withholds.

I told you of all those that had hurt me,
Who will I tell about you?
How pleasing you was the light of my dreams
In the moments when time was cruel …

                                (Oum Kulthum - singer, Ahmed Rami - poet, Riyad Sunbati - composer)

Dear Friends,

There were ceremonies this week on the occasion of Israel’s 70th birthday. We held an event to mark the day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and the movement into the celebration of Independence Day. I felt compelled to participate mostly to make sure that mention would be made of the hardships and occupation of the Palestinians and their continued yearning for freedom and statehood. It’s a difficult moment for all Jewish people who believe our tradition is one that holds justice and kindness in the highest regard. How do we reconcile our spirituality and our politics? The Torah does not mince words - Love thy Neighbor. But politically, people have diverse perspectives on neighbor etiquette. You could feel it in the room that night.

As the Holocaust and Israel days came over us this year, I’ve been immersed in a musical leap. Working on a new piece by the unquestioned queen of Arabic music, Oum Kulthum, I am now, for the first time in my life, feeling the rhythm of syncopated beats. Syncopation, when the melody of her phrases begins on the offbeat, quarter notes beginning on the ands, stretching over the one, two, three, four, landing with buoyancy and grace eventually back on the beat. In the suspension, with the music unresolved, the two, like lover and beloved, enemy and friend, god and soul, are near and far neighbors.

I brought my oud, this music, Oum Kulthum to the Israel gig on Wednesday night. Oum Kulthum is the greatest singer of recorded history. Her concerts were broadcast on the first Thursday of the month across the Middle East, she played for kings, and political regimes asked after her consent before taking power. She sang love songs, mighty odes stretching on for an hour or more, one poem’s lyrics repeated again and again, the wounds of love retold with increasing musical ornamentation and flashes of showmanship. When the six day war ended and the Egyptian army had been decimated by Israel, she went on a fundraising tour, playing in Morocco, Iraq, even Paris, such was her love for the cause of Palestine. Love songs crying in a political age, meaning hovering like a soul touching everywhere, self and god, place and placelessness.

Before the founding of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians, Jews had lived and thrived among their Christian and Muslim neighbors, everyone together creating the Arab culture of these great homelands, in food, art, music, and poetry. Falafel and hummus were not invented by Jews, Israelis or Palestinians, but by Arabs some of them Jewish some Palestinian. Jewish musicians, composers, and singers were among the greats of Egyptian music in the classical era, the 30’s and 40’s, just as Oum Kulthum and Israel were on the rise.

I sat in the Syrian synagogue of Jerusalem and listened to her songs, the Arabic lyrics sometimes replaced with Hebrew words, nonetheless offered up as prayers, the dearest melodies of the heart. I imagined the soldiers on the battlefields, their ancestors once collaborators and friends. There must be a few on both sides who remember Oum Kulthum. I see them in their beds at night, one headphone in Palestine another in Israel, recalling the sounds of woundedness, syncopation, and love. We will never forget, how our forefathers once sang together.

We become small, attached to self and ethnic interests when we are afraid. But don’t blind yourself to your fear, it’s ok to be afraid. The Jewish people has suffered thousands of years of persecution, and our collective psyche carries the scars of those wounds. It takes work, incredible conscious attention, to heal, as individuals and as a culture. We are the minority opinion, the singers of Oum Kulthum in the lines of Israel, those who are capable of hearing the songs of our enemies as our own prayers. Given the trauma, the divisiveness, and the stagnation there is a temptation to remain silent. We will not. There is a mighty chorus of angels who sing beside us.

Come and learn this music with me. Be not afraid to give name to Palestine, and be a champion of justice for all people. Every being created in divine imagery, my enemies, my neighbors, dancing together through the pain of love, the hardship of discord and war, the yearning for beauty and peace.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Zach Fredman


Joy HaimsComment
Evil Inclinations

Dear Friends,

The occasion of Yom Hashoah brings upon us moments for unfathomable contemplations. Within recent history, a force arose mighty and terrible enough to slaughter millions of lives. But as that terror unfolded others reacted with unprecedented courage and strength to save what lives could be saved, that some might pass through and make with the gift of life, beauty. Both the horrors and the resilience are worthy of meditation.

What makes a person, a culture, capable of such acts? Seventy or so years stand between our days and the Holocaust. Has humanity changed? Could it happen again?

I am no sociologist, and I find the evidence of their metrics inconclusive. Amid Trump’s campaign, as swastikas appeared in playgrounds, fear was stoked, and many interpreted those signs as a tsunami of anti-Semitism and a return to the days of Nazi Germany. But such interpretations are rooted in the fear planted deep in the heart of the witness, not in sociology. There is another method of survey that one might use to judge the state of the world, and its capacity for good and evil. Instead of looking without, let’s look within. And though the pool of evidence is singular, still it is vast.

The rabbis speak of an evil inclination that exists in every single human being. They ask - When is the evil inclination planted in a human being? When the fetus begins stirring before birth. Though it is called [yetzer hara] evil, this force might better be termed the self-preserving inclination. Without it, they say, we’d have no drive to build a home, to marry, to have children, to make a life. But the evil inclination is sly, devilish, manifesting in guises. It begins with simple taunts: just one more, I’ll skip that today, I’m powerless to help – and simple spider stands swiftly become the thick ropes of a wagon, little evils cascading.

Anti-Semitism, fear or hatred of any other, is not something that will ever be stamped out. All the children, for many generations to come, will continue to be born with this yetzer hara. What then will face down this unceasing threat?

We are created in the divine image. Every being, no matter their race, creeds or culture, every single one is an incarnation of God. This is the antidote. The self-preserving force within us, divides the world into camps, and places blame or justifies injustice. Every creature in God’s image – this force interprets the world from love and kinship. This premise is the root of a borderless faith that we should aspire to daily. Every being is my sister, my brother – how can I use that which I’ve been given to lift them up from their suffering. Every single one.

Can the stories of the Holocaust be healing? Can we make it out of this story more resolute in our love for the other, than in our fear of them? That’s the question we’ll ask tonight. Please join me for a mighty, necessary, ceremony of healing, song, and stories, with a survivor, and the generations that have come forth from him. (Grace Church School, 86 4th Ave,  6:30 pm).

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zach Fredman

Joy HaimsComment
Spring the Fool

Dear Friends,


Spring arrives with a snowstorm, the new moon of Aries a ram leaping the rooftops of the city. I shaved all my hair for the occasion. Sometimes the universe appears foolish. Sometimes the fool is only performing, the joker the wisest of all the advisors.


The Kabbalists distinguish two types of consciousness – the rational, logical, self-aware mind with which we regularly trot our paths, from a non-linear, mystical consciousness that has the possibility of guiding us, when on occasion, we release the tight grip of control. In those moments the possibility of inspiration from a higher source arrives. When the driver’s seat is unoccupied, someone else can drive.


That first mind, the logical self, uses all of its prior experience to interpret the present moment. And it tells itself, that the meaning of wisdom is the sum of the lessons of our life story. Our life’s purpose, accumulation. But the repercussion of using this pathway alone, is that it teaches us to disregard the repetitive phenomena of life, and to behave in places that we’ve been a thousand times, as if we know all there is to know.


This is the wisdom of the fool. Can I stand in a place I’ve stood a thousand times as if I’ve never stood here before? The fool does not leave behind all she knows, but she let’s her accumulated experience rest, as she moves to dance in a field of as if.


This is why Moses was called the most humble of the prophets. God called to him with a little aleph. Even though God had called to Moses a thousand times, Moses never assumed the divine voice would resound in his heart again. He was foolish that way. Any one else would have grown accustomed to the call. Moses’ constant attention to his own assumptions and sense of self, this humility, is the force that invites God in.


The Zen Buddhists call this beginners mind. The master pours a cup of tea for a novice. He keeps pouring and pouring the cup spilling and spilling over. The novice shouts, the cup is too full! The master says, so is your mind!


Spring is the season to be a little foolish. For a week, we’ll take on a practice of relinquishing the bread of excess, for the bread of essence. Can we take stock of all that we assume about the world, and make do with less, that we might come out on the other side with a deeper appreciation for all that we have. Matzah is called lechem oni, the bread of the humble. Humble not in terms of means. Humble in assumptions.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zach Fredman

Joy HaimsComment
Youth Seeing Visions

But after all of that, I will let my spirit pour over humanity, and your sons and daughters will prophesize, your elders will dream dreams, and your youth will see visions. (Joel 3:1)


Dear Friends,


            The images this week of children in the streets, shoes on the lawn of the capitol, prophecies on posters turning classrooms inside out, reminded me of an obscure verse, cited above, woven into a folk tune by Debbie Friedman, and the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions.

            The verse is cited in the literature at moments of overflow. When the fear arises that there won’t be enough, but by some spiritual mystery, there is of course enough, and more. This is Jesus with the loaves and fish. The Jewish tale is of Moses, he complains before god that he doesn’t have enough wisdom to carry the burden of leadership. God says to him, fine, we’ll pass some of your wisdom off to the seventy elders and they can help you.

            The Midrash gives a parable: It’s like a king who hires a worker to guard his orchard, and pays him his rate. At some point the worker asks for help, more workers to do the job. The king says sure, but the wages are coming from your salary. So it was with god and Moses. But what differs with Moses is that his spirit and his wisdom were in no way diminished even as the prophetic powers of the elders were increased from his source.

            In all worldly expressions of giving – sacrifice we make, gifts at work and at home, services we offer, whether of time, energy, or money – the giver suffers some loss by their contribution. And the gratitude of receiving a gift should be twofold, for the gift itself, and for the loss a friend was willing to absorb for the sake of the gift.

            The Kabbalists have a term though – Atzilut, and it refers to the loftiest sphere of the universe, meaning Oneness, Singularity, Identity, Withness. If a gift, in any way touches this place, then the one who gives or provides, suffers no loss in conferring what he has upon someone else. If we can feel our deep down identity, withness, connection, to everyone, then the gift is just a sharing within one great system. Such was the case with Moses, and the kids at Parkland, and all the youth turning the world over.

            Lit up by brushes with death they can feel how their lives, their time in the world, and all the work yet to be done, is bound up in the mystery of life and death and time and withness. By any small variance, the places of the living and the dead could be switched. But visions are born from that synchronicity, and this is what they’ve seen - that we are capable of giving infinitely, and suffering no loss. Like a candle that lights ten thousand other flames, still radiant.

            Many can’t see it. We believe all gifts carry loss, and so we strive after a world of bargaining, trade-wars, and bi-partisan politics. These mindsets and pursuits are futile, and they bring pain.

            When one has tasted Atzilut, and given from that place, then in the language of the Kabbalists, one has been uprooted.  Not in the sense of destruction, in the sense of replanted. We rise from the bed of another garden. Thorns and thistles rising into redwoods and cedars.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zach Fredman

Joy HaimsComment