Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Contemporary Miracles

During this season of holidays, parties, family gatherings and shopping, it's often easy to overlook the origins of the very things we're celebrating. In the Jewish community, it's the Festival of Lights, or Chanukah (however you want to spell it). We're celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the evil Roman army and Antiochus. We're also celebrating the fact that some oil that was only supposed to last one day ended up burning for eight days - long enough for the Jews to keep the eternal flame in the sanctuary lit until replacement oil could be secured.

There is a great deal of religious symbolism found in this story, and we commemorate it in different ways. There are the themes of light, of the triumph of the small over the mighty, of the perseverance of faith and of the miracle of scarcity somehow being overcome through faith. We eat potato latkes and eat soufganiyot - foods that contain lots of oil. We light the chanukiyah and say the prayers. We spin the dreidl containing the letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin which remind us that "nes gadol haya sham" a great miracle happened there.

It makes me wonder, though... why is it that all of the miracles that we talk about happened in ancient history? Did God disappear for some reason? Or is it more a question of our perspective, of the eyes through which we see the world? Is it possible that miracles stopped happening because we stopped looking for them, or recognizing them when they occur? Could it be that miracles happen all the time, and that we're too busy on our Blackberrys and iPods to notice them?

I was reading a poem this morning by the Israeli poet, Zelda, where she talks about how nature provides signs of the existence of something larger than ourselves:

A light, sudden bird

prepared my soul for the song of the grasses.

There was something startling

in the blue of the sky.

I was amazed that the treetops

swayed gently

with no shadow of fear.

I wanted to flee from the white sky

but the small garden showed me signs

that His mercy had not ceased.

Perhaps by spending some time in nature, or in silence, we can learn something about our own true nature. And we will see that life is full of innumerable miracles in our own time, perhaps hidden just below the surface of "ordinary" reality.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you have something to add to the discussion, I invite you to visit my blog page and let me know what you think.

I'm looking forward to spending this upcoming weekend in CT. I will be doing services on Friday evening and Saturday morning and concerts on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Please check the show listings below for more details.

Speaking of modern miracles, my college a cappella group, The Tufts Beelzebubs, will be appearing tonight and (hopefully) tomorrow night and Monday on the NBC show, "The Sing-Off." Check your local listings. If you enjoy a cappella music, or the show, "Glee," you will definitely get a kick of this show. And remember to vote for the Bubs if they make the finals. =-)

In song,


*Please note that all "Shows" listed at Temple Solel are actually Shabbat Services, unless otherwise notated.

"'Bridging The Gap' wins Best Jewish Album of 2009 in the Just Plain Folks Music Awards!" — Just Plain Folks

"Todd's song "You and I" (peformed by saxophonist Michael Lington) reaches #2 on the Smooth Jazz Charts!" — Billboard

"Todd has the voice of an angel. His heart is pure, and he has a unique spirit that wanders into the soul and inspires all who are privileged to hear him." — Craig Taubman

"Your CD is a triumph and is easily one of the best Jewish releases of the year." — Sam Glaser, Jewish Artist

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Practicing Life

It's hard to believe that we're coming to the end of another calendar year. It seems like the days just fly by. When I was younger, each day seemed to stretch on forever. I remember having a hard time going to sleep without knowing what events were planned for the coming day. These days, it seems difficult to find the time to do all of the things that I WANT to do, while keeping up with the things I HAVE to do.

I realize that one of the most important things I can do with my time is to prioritize those things that really matter to me. I just finished reading a book called "Talent Is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin. In it, he explores what the determining factors are for excellence in any given field. What he finds is that regardless of any myths we have been told about being "born with a gift" in a particular area, without exception it is those individuals who put in countless hours of practice, research and study in a given field are the ones who rise to stardom and notoriety. But beyond just putting in the hours, the type of practice that these people do pushes them beyond their current abilities and outside of their existing comfort zone. They have to be willing to fail repeatedly in order to achieve their highest ambitions.

What would it be like if we applied this philosophy to our relationships? What if we had to go beyond what we knew we were capable of in order to communicate with and support the ones we love? Or what if we applied this same philosophy to the workplace? How many of us are willing to put ourselves out there for possible failure and rejection in order to stretch the boundaries of our professional life? How much time, effort and risk are we willing to put into these areas of huge consequence in our lives?

Perhaps the more important question is: what if we DON'T take the risks needed to become the best possible spouses, siblings, parents, creators, workers, human beings we can be? Is playing it safe really that safe in the long run? I encourage all of us to think about not just the time we are putting in, but also how much of our SELVES we are putting into our everyday activities. Perhaps we would be richer for the experience...

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you have something to add to the discussion, I invite you to comment on this post and let me know what you think.

For those of you on the East coast, I will be traveling to Connecticut in a couple of weeks and then to Boston at the end of January. Please check the tour dates below for more information. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

In song,