As Adas Israel’s Makom DC program concluded for the year, a few artists from the community were invited to share our perspective on a particular text:
Mechadesh b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh beresheet: The world is constantly created anew
The goal of this “open mic” style Torah Slam was to bring innovation into the beit midrash, as is prescribed in the Talmud. I was honored to be one of those invited to share my torah.
If you’ve ever seen the tv show Inside the Actor’s Studio, you’ll know that the host James Lipton ends every interview by asking the guest a series of 10 questions. They include:
- What is your favorite and least favorite word?
- What turns you on and what turns you off?
- What sound or noise do you love and which do you hate?
- What profession other than your own would you like to attempt, and which would you never do? And…
- What is your favorite curse word?
My answers to these first 9 would be:
But the 10th question is where things get interesting. Lipton asks, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”
Now… That’s a pretty heavy topic for a talk show, but it’s great fodder for a d’rash. Let’s get started…
If I were to arrive at the metaphorical pearly gates of our Jewish heaven, I’d hope this anthropomorphized God would greet me with a big hug, and an offer: “Hey, Lisa. Wanna help me make some cool shit today?”
“Sure,” I’d say. “But let’s start with a cup of coffee.”
After all, the Barchu says that the world is recreated anew every day. If that’s the case, God must stay pretty busy… and I’ll need all the help I can get keeping up.
As God and I drink this cup of coffee looking out the bay window of God’s dine-in kitchen, I’d take the opportunity to ask God about this daily ritual of creation. “It seems pretty inefficient to recreate the world every single day. What’s that about?”
Then, I imagine God reaching over, touching my arm, and filling me in on God’s master plans without saying another word, providing the divine reassurance that everything I need to know is already inside of me.
But back to reality.
I don’t believe the words of the Barchu is meant to be taken literally, and I, thank God, am not at those pearly gates. However, in studying this text, I’ve come to appreciate that creation is, in fact, inside of me.
As I see it, creation is a daily practice of gratitude and humility. It taking account of ourselves, appreciating our good parts — the parts we should cherish — and acknowledging the not-so-good part — the ones that aren’t serving us well. The only other step is actually making the change needed to fully express that new iteration of ourselves that we wish to create.
While my God is not anthropomorphic, I do believe God is there in my power to make change. My God is not a God who intervenes in the world to make things better, but who empowers me to find the wisdom, compassion, and chutzpah to know better, and do better, every single day.
I have to tell you though, I didn’t start off this optimistic. As a matter of fact, there were many years where I didn’t think anything would change with or without divine intervention.
See, I was a mess of a kid. My home life was tricky to say the least, and I didn’t see a way out of my pain. I certainly didn’t believe that the lonely girl whose nickname was “Ogre” and who ate lunch with her teachers had any raw material that could be salvaged, let alone molded into something beautiful or meaningful.
But some people knew better. One of those people, I’d come to find out, was my grandmother.
Grandma Mildred was a writer, too. She lived in Philadelphia nearly all of her life, and was sharp as a tack right until the end. Not a sign of dementia, no loss of memory. But every time I saw her she’d say, “What’s that? What’s that on your arm, Lisa?”
“Grandma. It’s a tattoo. You’ve seen it before. We’ve already talked about it.”
She hated that tattoo. All of my tattoos, really.
But I don’t think she’d have hated what one particular tattoo means to me. And I wish I had the chance to share its special meaning with her before she died.
On my right bicep, I have a tattoo of the lower case Greek letter Delta.
While the triangular delta you’re probably familiar with is a symbol for change, a lower case delta specifically stands for small change. Incremental change.
Before I go on, believe me when I say that the irony of having a permanent tattoo that represents change is not lost on me.
So why? Why did I decide to get a tattoo that represents change? Because after all those years spent doubting that things would ever get better, fear that my anger and resentment would ever wane, I realized that I was wrong. Dead wrong. Things could change, but only I had the power to make it happen.
It is not easy to go from an indignant post-adolescent to a humble adult, and at times it was a painful, embarrassing, and messy process. I stopped letting other people define me. I learned about these beautiful things called boundaries. When I hurt someone, I apologized and meant it. I learned that being wrong is a blessing sometimes. And I learned that making change hurts, but it’s the only way to grow.
My torah tells me that every day I am created anew. Every single day I make a conscious choice to break something in me, heal, and in doing so grow a little more. I work diligently to be a better me tomorrow than I am today. Yes – growing pains are real. But they are proof positive of that growth.
So why would my grandmother be happy with my tattoo? OK – in no universe would my grandmother be happy about my tattoos. But she would have appreciated that I finally knew the real value of change.
My grandmother, a reserved but loving woman, watched from the front row as I evolved from a messy, angry kid to a messy, angry adolescent, and she loved me anyway. Through ruined family meals, tears that could fill an ocean, knock-down-drag-out fights with my family, she sat quietly, patiently and waited. The waiting would last years.
Thankfully, time and therapy heal all wounds. A few years before my grandmother died, I had the honor of getting to know her again — this time as an adult. We’d get pancakes at the diner and talk…
But through all our discussions over all those pancakes, she never once brought up my messy, angry, younger self. I guess she knew all along that the good stuff she passed to my mom was passed to me, too, and in due time I would make something good out of it.
If my grandma Mildred is listening today, I want her to hear this: I am 100% sure God is super cool with my tattoo. (At least that one.) My God understands that some people — people like me — need a more obvious, persistent reminder of the opportunity we have for renewal every single day.
So when I meet God at the metaphorical pearly gates, after we make coffee and some other cool shit, maybe we’ll go get matching tattoos.
I hope you connected with my torah. Please share your own take on creation and renewal (or even your tattoos!) in the comments.