Pink Umbrellas in Borough Park

Dear Friends,

Rumi and I hopped in the car late Tuesday afternoon for an adventure. The week before I had taken up conversation with a chassidic guy on the subway and told him I was after old books that are hard to find. He said, "Eichler's!" A few days later we were on our way, and Rumi had no interest in old Hebrew books, so I promised her a new umbrella to save her from the constant wet grey of the week. "What color umbrella do you want?" "Pink!" Off to Borough Park we went in search of old Hebrew books and a pink umbrella.

I thought we'd been transported to Israel. We were the only non-chassidic garbed folk around. We found our pink umbrella in a girls' accessories shop, and then walked the few blocks to Eichler's. 

There is a prohibition in chassidic communities of studying mystical material before the age of 40. I haven't quite crossed that bar. Each time I asked for a book, beginning with a harmless commentary, ending with the high mysticism, I got another look that read something like, "What the hell are you going to do with such books?" But we weren't treated unkindly, maybe because I had Rumi in tow, and we made it home to Park Slope with some old letters from Nachman of Bratslav, the Berdichever, and Isaac Luria.

I got to study some of the ancient sources with our Bat Mitzvah twins this week, and after our time with the material they made this beautiful depiction of the hands of the high priests as they bless the people. The sources say that God's presence leaps like a dear, whenever a community rises to make a blessing, the divine spirit absconds to that place. And then she hovers, like a lover peering from beneath the lattice, her presence dwells in the spaces between the fingers of the priests.

I asked the twins, do you think God's presence can dwell anywhere, everywhere? They answered, "sure, but it concentrates some places more than others."

Be a puddle of presence! Carry a pink umbrella!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Zach Fredman

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