Friday, April 18, 2008

Soul Scrubbing

[Published here two years ago ]

My right arm is officially a hundred times stronger than my left, still burning and smelling of bleach.

The home where I am living and studying this year, Machon Alte, had a day of cleaning yesterday, in honor of the approaching holiday of Passover. Every student was given a job around the "campus."

My job? To scrub. To scrub the floor. To scrub all thirty refrigerator racks. To scrub the counters. To scrub the dishes.

As I was removing layers of grime, mold, and rotting food from the surfaces of all the items I encountered, I struggled to use my overly-exposed-to-fumes brain to tap into the meaning and purpose of all the cleaning. Learning in Tzfat, the city where the study of Kabbalah originated in Northern Israel, has taught me enough to expect more from the seemingly mundane in this world.
Learning in Tzfat has taught me enough to expect more from the seemingly mundane in this world

The Alter Rebbe is known to have spent an enormous amount of time intensely cleaning his one room house. The commandment of checking for chametz, and leavened product, (after the house is already cleaned) takes about twenty minutes, but he went all through the night - carefully guiding his candle along the floor in search of crumbs.

Clearly, there is something here that goes beyond spring cleaning.

The Alter Rebbe wasn't only searching his house. He was searching his soul. He was identifying what a person's motives should be when cleaning for Passover - checking for the crumbs and layers of dirt that could possibly be covering our soul, stopping it from shining its full light.

There are many explanations for the much dreaded Passover cleaning. But for me, the Alter Rebbe's approach stands out.

So here I am scrubbing and scrubbing. I've got my soul on my mind. And I'm talking to myself. I'm saying, "Mimi, scrub it away."

Scrub away negativity. Let your soul shine. Scrub away the suggestive powers of society. Let your soul shine. Scrub away the barriers between your brothers and sisters. Let your soul shine. Scrub away your silly insecurities. Let your soul shine. Scrub away your ego. Let your soul shine. Scrub away laziness. Let your soul shine. Scrub away meaningless distractions. Let your soul shine.

Scrub away all the layers. Reveal the light, the shine. Reveal your mission. Reveal your powers. Reveal the meaning. Reveal the light inherit in the dark. Reveal the G-dliness. Reveal redemption.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. And the whole world, too, is with me. It is Nissan, the month of redemption, and Jews of every type and affiliation are cleaning away. Soul scrubbing and world scrubbing.

The world is starting to freshen and sparkle.

Passover is on its way.

I'll see you in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rebbe, just know

Tonight, I went to a farbrengen.

While it was in your honor, I didn't feel you there.

The teacher spoke animatedly. He spoke about memories. He spoke about what you stand for.

He spoke about your "soft but like a laser" eyes.

He talked and talked and talked, but didn't say a lot.

Every word sounded like a robotic heard-before line, much in need of some fresh heart and soul to flow beneath.

I sat still in my seat, with an even more still heart.

I yawned.

I rolled my eyes.

But underneath, I ached for something within to stir.

On your birthday, I'm trying to connect with your purpose, and hence the purpose you imbued in us all.

While I may not have been moved tonight, I was conscious of it because of you.

You have placed within me a deep desire to grow and climb and constantly burst through.

You're the one that told me that when I hear truth it should enter deep within.

You're the one that told me that I should be like a flame.

You're the one that told me that the soul of a Jew is meant to be in constant motion.

And yet, while I showed up to find a renewed declaration of everything you once told me, I could not have been more placid.

So this year, I'm not sure what my wrapped gift will behold inside.

Just know, Rebbe, just know.

While I may not always look like your soldier...

While I may sometimes take my time...

While I am often hard to inspire...

Because of you, I am constantly trying to come home.

Because of you, I know that I must stir.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poem from G-d

My Miriam, my Miriam
This time, I write to you
While I may use your hands
These words you know are true

It took a while for you to find me
You counted to ten and didn't slow
You looked here and there, high and low
I watched you run, I watched you go

You looked in the trees, just ate the pear
You looked in the sky, just breathed the air
You looked in the dust, just played with the rocks
You searched the buildings, just sat in your box

An honest search you did have
But finding me did not come fast
So you cried hot flowing falls
Wondering how this could last

But I knew, my child, I knew
My daughter won't turn around
You needed my embrace
And you knew it could be found

I knew that you were coming
For many risks you did take
You encountered many cliffs
But you kept your eyes awake

Once you had walked the world
And lifted all the stones
You stopped, fell on your knees
And cried from deep in your bones

Burning tears fell while you spoke
My father, wherever you may be
Rise up, read my heart
And just speak to me

Alas, I had to tell you
From that burning fire dancing inside
I said, the search starts in you
For you know that's where I hide

I have waited there glowing
Not allowing you to go numb
Just waiting for you to tell me
Ready or not, my G-d
Here I come

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The lyrics to the tune in my head

Be a light, she says, and more than a lamp. Be flooding waters, and never just damp. Make a map of your heart, and draw it on their face. Race to the finish line, race at your pace. Lace all the colors in a sea of roaring waves. Run out of your caves, and run towards the sun. Run and run, for you'll never be done. Don't come undone. Stand tall. Taller than you are. Look far, raise the bar, but breathe in and out. This is what its about; just moving. Grooving to the beat, this feat aint so small. But give it your all, don't you sigh. Water the twinkle in your eye. Be fire. Don't melt. Handle the cards you've been dealt. Remember how you felt when you discovered it all. How you knew you found it to be true. How you flew when you held it in your hand. So take a stand. Don't forget how you left to embrace something new. Something so real, something so you.

Be you, she says, but more than just I. Be something bigger, let all ego die. Make a map of the world, and draw it on your heart. Rip the curtains apart and reveal...

...something so you, something so you.

Monday, April 07, 2008


At a Chuppah today, I learned about beauty.

The wind was blowing, but the canopy representing their future home stood still. The Chosson stood swaying with his eyes scrunched, beside the woman he would soon call his wife.

Chuppahs always makes me choke up. The niggun. The focus. The joy. The intensity. I closed my eyes to offer a personal prayer during the auspicious time that is every wedding ceremony.

I was lost in thought when a woman showed up to my left, poking her nose upwards, trying to make sight of the bride. When she finally did, she said in a loud whisper, "Wow, she looks beautiful."

I was snapped out of my dreamy chuppah state and immediately refocused on the bride. As expected, her face was still covered by cloth.

The woman's comment echoed in my head.

Beautiful? You can't even see her face! Not her beautifully done make up. Not her beautiful hair. Not even her beautiful smile. Whats so beautiful?

I focused intently on the bride.

Then I realized, this woman was seeing something else. She was talking about a different kind of beauty.

The woman saw a bride in her most private and powerful state. A bride standing under a canopy representing her new home. A bride soaked in her sincerest of blessings. She saw a bride standing beside the man that will father her children; the man that she will greet everyday until 120 years old. She saw a regal figure that will, in a moments time, become a wife.

I joined the woman and gazed at the bride, my friend whose face was completely covered. And, indeed, I have never seen someone more beautiful.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


It's like everything has led up to this moment.

All the questions. All the changing. All the sighing and wondering how its going to come together.

All the distress in not living up to my potential.

All the knowing that I am more.

I come to work. Straight to the elevator.

But he is on the video in the entrance lobby.

I hear his voice. Addressing the world. Strong, clear and direct.

He has been talking for a while, and will continue to talk for a while.

But I pass at the point where he is talking to me.

"...And if G-d expects something of us, certainly he has given us the Koach (strength) to do that which he expects."

My heart aches. Its just so simply and undeniably true.

I close my eyes as the elevator door closes.

And indeed, I am going up from here.