Thinking “Analog”

These middle days of Sukkot are called chol hamo’ed, literally, “the ordinary [part] of the sacred.” We never use the English because without an explanation, it makes no sense.

A better “translation” might be “Not completely sacred, but not completely ordinary either; instead, a mixture of both”: sacred, because these days are part of Sukkot; but ordinary, because only the first and last days of Sukkot week are altogether holy.

All of which raises the problem of how to treat things that are “both/and” rather than “one or the other.”

Take the issue of funerals, for example. Jewish law advocates burial as quickly as possible, lest we have to watch bodily decomposition (common in hot climates during Talmudic times) and look away in disgust (a violation of the Jewish value of respecting the dead). Holidays, however, entail a countervailing obligation to rejoice.  So burials on Sukkot are postponed a day. Immediate relatives will probably be saddened anyway, but Jewish law obligates everyone familiar with the deceased to attend the funeral (again, to respect the dead), and they should not have their joy ruined by a funeral on a holiday.

So far, so good; but chol hamo’ed is partly sacred (funerals are prohibited) and partly ordinary (funerals are required). So on chol hamo’ed, we compromise. We do the funeral to respect the dead; but we shorten the service, to minimize the lessening of holiday joy.

At stake is the larger philosophical question of whether to measure experience digitally or by analog. We prefer digital readouts that measure things with convenient precision. But life is really more like old-time analog devices: mercury thermometers and clocks with sweep hands — sliding from one exact temperature, time and distance to the next one. Digital measurements convert messy analog imprecision into satisfying (but unreal) certainty. As our culture goes increasingly digital, we risk thinking that life is digital too – a set of clear-cut choices between one certainty and another. In truth, however, life is like chol hamo’ed — a messy mixture.

Rabbinic thinking, generally (not just for chol hamo’ed), recognizes this messiness. Talmudic debate often cites contrary opinions, and then applies them both — not universally, but for different circumstances, because “one size” never “fits all.” In matters of unclarity, it asks, b’mai askinan (“What are we dealing with here?”), a request for the conditions where the rule applies. Rules need not hold universally. Rules regularly conflict. Very few answers apply across the board.

Fanaticism is the faulty assumption that the world is “digital” like our readouts, altogether black or white, no complexity allowed. Take criminality: Criminals are criminals, and should be punished; but they may also be first offenders, juveniles, mentally impaired, or Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. Thinking digitally, his single-minded pursuer, Inspector Javert, applies justice absolutely, missing the intricacies of the case. So too in politics: good people who differ on principal ought to see that real life demands sometimes one position, sometimes the other, and oftentimes, mixtures of both.

We even picture God (on these High Holidays just past) as a mixture of justice and mercy, not just one or the other. Beware of extremists who simplify a world as if they know more than God.

The next time you attend an important meeting, watch how people vote. Some of the people sitting around the table will pause reflectively to weigh the issues, and then thoughtfully raise their hand. Others will raise their hand so ferociously that they risk disconnecting their arm from its socket. Here’s a rule of thumb: mental health varies inversely with the ferocity behind the way people throw up their hand to vote.

Life’s serious issues are usually dilemmas: the meeting place of two opposite and potentially valid positions – cases, that is, of chol hamo’ed  messiness: not a misleading digital readout making it one thing or another, but an analog mixture of them both. To be sure, we need to vote our conscience in the end, but, generally speaking, with at least a little humility.

 

 

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Not Knowledge But Wisdom

We confuse knowledge with wisdom. “Knowledge” derives from demonstrable facts: the facts of science, for example, which no serious and informed person can reasonably reject. We may debate alternative interpretations, but the debate will be demonstrably knowledgeable.

Some knowledge arrives less scientifically: how we know someone loves us, or the way a brilliant portrait catches the essence of its subject. These things too are “knowledge.”

Wisdom is something else altogether. It is insight into living deeply and well. All the knowledge in the world need not add up to wisdom, and wisdom can come from someone with no formal education whatever – “out of the mouths of babes,” as the saying goes (from Psalms 8:2, actually).

Religion converts knowledge into wisdom. A scholar may be exceptionally knowledgeable about the Talmud. The same scholar becomes your rabbi , however, only if that knowledge supplies wisdom also.

The S’lichot  service, this Saturday night, anticipates the High Holidays that begin just a few days later. We label them “high” because of the wisdom, not the knowledge, they provide. Take sermons, for example. Packed only with knowledge, they fail. What we want from sermons is wisdom, that we may live better.

So too, High Holiday prayers offer wisdom, rather than knowledge. Sh’ma koleinu  (“[God], hear our voice”), for example, is a central S’lichot  prayer. The searcher after knowledge questions scientifically if God can really hear, and, if so, how God does the hearing. “Renew our days, as of old,” the prayer continues. The seeker after knowledge is skeptical: Can we really recover the days of our youth?

As knowledge, these prayers fail.  God is not a super-human being with extra-sharp hearing; and the past is really “passed” – it is unrecoverable.

Yet the prayer remains “true” as wisdom. “God,” said theologian Henry Slonimsky (1884-1970), “is the Friend we suppose to exist behind the phenomena.” Behind the phenomena, note! Beyond what science studies. God is, alternatively, a “power making for righteousness,” according to Matthew Arnold, whom Slonimsky liked to cite, and who influenced Mordecai Kaplan to define God as “the power that makes for salvation.”

Wisdom relies on proverb, poetry and metaphor: language that is evocative more than it is descriptive. That God should “hear our voice,” Slonimsky insisted, expresses “the demand of the human heart” that our voices of pain and aspiration deserve being heard.

“How tragically inadequate the response,” he conceded, knowing full well that prayers may not be “answered.” But nonetheless, “we are so convinced of their utter righteousness, we will not take no for an answer.”

Here lies the wisdom of the High Holidays: the insistent cry of the human spirit. We are not so constructed as to be slavishly accepting of anything less than what this spirit instinctively demands: righteousness and justice, truth and goodness; we will fight to the end that these may prevail.

That same human spirit, however, is part and parcel of the universe, part of evolution itself, as if something about the universe is supportive of the spirit’s insistence. That “something” is the “Friend behind the phenomena” in Slonimsky’s words, the “power making for righteousness” for Matthew Arnold: what we normally call God.

The seemingly endless praying on these Days of Awe add up to more than the meaning of any given prayer. The experience as a whole reaffirms not just what God wants from us but what we demand of God: Yes, “righteousness” above all! Yes, “justice” and “truth” too. The human heart is certain of these certainties. It is our very nature to live with purpose derived from the promise that these will triumph.

We acknowledge (“knowledge,” that is) that our trials and tribulations may persist even after the prayers are over. But the wisdom of prayer is no less certain. Our lives are not for naught; we are part of something greater than whatever it is that pains us. We have a voice that demands being “heard”; and yes, we can feel ourselves renewed “as of old.”

Government of Checks and Balances: But With an Interesting Twist!

Americans are not the first to devise a constitution calling for the separation of powers. The Torah too legislated institutionalized checks and balances – but with an “interesting twist.”

In keeping with antiquity, the executive branch was a monarchy, but in Israel’s case, a limited monarchy, a king who was subject to the rule of law, and chosen from among the people (Deut. 17:15)  — lest he rule with no empathy for the ruled. Also, he could not use his position to amass excessive wealth, especially horses – what we would call his own private militia, a natural proclivity of kings, says Ramban. Kings had to maintain their own written reminder of these limitations (17:18-19), which, says the Talmud (San. 21a), they were to carry with them wherever they went.

Ancient Israel had yet to envision a democratically elected legislature, but its priestly class was a legislature of sorts; it could not actually vote in new laws (as we do) because the Torah was assumed to have all the laws the people needed. But priests could “interpret” old laws to get new ones, a practice the Rabbis extended, with their doctrine of an “oral Torah” that supplemented the written one.  Like the king, priests too were hemmed in by limitations: having no landed patrimony of their own, they were supported by, and dependent on, the Temple offerings brought by the people (18:1).

The Torah also demands an independent judiciary with the necessary complement of law-enforcing officials, including police with punitive authority to enforce the law (Rashi, 16:18). Hence this portion’s name (16:18), Shoftim (“Judges”) but, more properly, Shoftim v’shotrim, “Judges and Officials” — what the celebrated TV series called “law and order.”

In matters of punishment, however, the people are to appeal to the “judge,” not the “police” (17:9). The judge decides what the police can do – a principle important enough for the Torah to demand it explicitly in every generation (17:9). Worrying about romantics who might bypass the judiciary of their time as being inferior to the judges of “the good old days,” the Torah expressly empowers judges of every era. “They are all we have,” says Rashi; “We must obey them.”

So there you have it, all in this week’s portion: an executive (a king, but chosen from the people, for the people); a legislature (a priesthood, dependent on support from the people they serve); and a judiciary (with attendant police power, but no independent police force that might abuse its power).

Still, even a good system of checks and balances can break down, so we get this “interesting twist”: a fourth element called “prophets.” All ancient people had prophets, but not like Israel’s, individuals who operated outside the system to bring conscience to bear on everyone else. Institutionalized power abhors conscience, however; it prefers the predictability of routinized bureaucracy. So in time, prophecy came to an end: in the commonwealth established after the return from Babylonian exile, the priests and monarch simply declared prophecy over and done with.

The Rabbis too distrusted individuals claiming direct revelation from God.  But anticipating history’s need for independent conscience, the Rabbis gave us an alternative to prophets: every single citizen, you and me. They then demanded that the citizenry be informed: hence the centrality of study in Jewish culture.

And finally, the Rabbis demanded responsible exercise of that informed conscience by every single person. When the Torah says, “Establish law and order,” it adds “at your gates” and “for yourself  [singular]” (16:18) – leading Sefer Yetsirah to identify “the gates” as the gateways to every person’s senses, our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The ultimate gatekeepers of justice are informed citizens, who monitor what is said, heard, seen, and even smelled.

The biblical prophets are gone, leaving every single one of us to take their place. Even the best of governments fail if we do not attune our senses to catch the telltale signs of moral rot right in our own back yard.

 

For the Love of God!

A Protestant pastor remembers preaching a sermon on loving God and being interrupted by a congregant who blurted out, “Love God? Look at the problems God causes: devastating illness, hurricanes. earthquakes. And look at the problems God doesn’t prevent: wars, cruelty, persecution. Sure, this is stuff human beings bring about, but God just lets them happen. Love God you say?”

Jews don’t talk about loving God as much as Christians do, but it is our problem too, because the Sh’ma itself (Deuteronomy 6:5) commands us: “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.”

How indeed can you love a God who allows such human suffering? I once worked with a woman who wore a T shirt saying “Life is a bitch and then you die.”

Traditional commentaries, like the Malbim, answer the objection by comparing God to a physician who causes a little pain now to avoid worse pain later – either in this life or the world to come.

But you have to believe in two things for that to work: a God who can and does reward the righteous; and an afterlife for the reward to happen. And nowadays, most people disbelieve both.

Yet these very same people may still wallow in the equally medieval notion of an all-powerful super-deity who ought to micro-manage our everyday affairs but doesn’t. If you still picture God that way, then you are stuck with the problem, and I don’t know any way around it except to remind you that almost 1000 years ago, Maimonides urged us to stop imaging God as a human being like ourselves, and adopt a more sophisticated idea of the divine.

But more sophisticated views of God come with more sophisticated questions – like the fact that love is an emotion, and you can’t command emotions the way you do behavior. That’s why Judaism deals in deeds. You can be expected to do what is right, whether you like it or not, but how can you be asked to dredge up love that just isn’t there?

S’fas emes provides the classical answer here: Love really is  there, he says — hardwired deep inside us; we just have to work at finding it. His answer follows classic Hasidic cosmology of a universe where sparks of divine light are trying to escape the morass of darkness that infiltrated the universe at the moment of creation. Finding love of God within us is like releasing the light from its darkened jail cell.

Still, suspecting I have love buried deep within me is not the same as being able to find it, and then to identify with it enough to overcome the insistent feeling that “Life is a bitch and then you die.” You can command behavior; but not emotions.

So Torah commands behavior, but Torah is more than commandments alone; it is also stories and poetry and just plain deep-down wisdom from an age-old tradition. What makes little sense as a command may still be great advice. “You shall,” here, may mean, “You really ought to,” as in, “You really ought to love God, you know, because, otherwise, you end up wearing the ‘Life is a bitch’ T shirt, and that’s a terrible way to greet each day.”

Maimonides, on one hand, and Einstein, on the other, gave up on God as a puppet master pulling the strings of our everyday lives. God is not even a “someone” at all. God is the cause of all causes, the ultimate sustainer of the natural order, an integral part of the universe. To love God is to appreciate that universe: to admire its beautiful sunsets, find the good in others, and marvel at equations that describe the laws of nature.

A positive outlook cannot be commanded, but it is really good advice: and it comes with its own T shirt: “Someday we will die, but appreciating the world meanwhile is a gift worth living for.”

The Frontier of Anxious Identity

 

This address was delivered on May 16, 2017 as an acceptance of UJA-Federation of NY’s “SYNERGY Award for Synagogue Change”.  SYNERGY established this award to recognize individuals who have developed innovative strategies that help synagogues adapt and thrive by meeting the changing needs of the Jewish community.  In doing so, SYNERGY hopes to underscore the value of doing this work and inspire others to step into this space. Rabbi Hoffman was the recipient of this first of its kind award along with fellow honorees, Amy L. Sales, Ph.D., associate director and senior research scientist at Brandeis University; Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, director of Rabbis Without Borders at Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; and Isa Aron, Ph.D., professor of Jewish education at HUC-JIR Los Angeles.

 

How honored I am to be here, among you, my valued colleagues — you who share my commitment to synagogues as the singular Jewish institution for American Jewish survival. No other institution comes even close to providing what Jews need to flourish in our time. We know from Jewish history, that Jews have flourished when, living in freedom, we have ridden the cultural waves of the host cultures in which we found ourselves. 16th-century Polish yeshivas, for example, were the Jewish equivalent of the Polish Renaissance, Cracow University and Copernicus. Rashi wrote sacred commentary, but so too did his French neighbors, the Christian school known as Victorines.

What, then, has been the American cultural wave, if not a commitment to that unique form of religious life known as Congregationalism. In America, congregations matter.

A second American phenomenon was the separation of church and state, depriving congregations of government support, and demanding that they innovate. American history is replete with religious competition, old churches that fail, and new ones that blossom. With 19th-century American expansion, for example, congregations formed denominational bodies so as to franchise member churches as the frontier moved ever West and South. Isaac Mayer Wise watched Unitarians do that at a conference in Cincinnati, and then put out a call for a Jewish Movement that we now call Reform.

In our time too, we must understand the era and the innovation it requires.

The foremost challenge of our time remains the passing of Jewish ethnicity, the idea that Jews are automatically conjoined at the hip by language, history, and memory – everything from Jewish food to Jewish foibles. Without doubt, that era is gone. Sociologist Marshall Sklare predicted it as early as 1955, when he studied synagogues and called them the Jewish equivalents to ethnic churches, likely to disappear within a generation or two. As ethnics, Jews belonged to synagogues as a matter of civic duty. But why belong now, when the language of the folk, Yiddish, is largely forgotten; when the new Jewish food is sushi; and when over 50% of the Jewish community will be born to at least one parent who has no Jewish memories at all. When Jewish ethnicity acquired a land (Israel) and a language (Hebrew) it became nationalism; living in America without the immediacy of either one, ethnicity becomes nostalgia, and as they say, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

We all know the polls that show heightened interest in spirituality. When Synagogue 2000 was new, I used to say, therefore, that the secret to innovation today was an infusion of synagogue spirituality. I still believe that, but I have come to see that the situation is more profound. At stake is the changing nature of identity itself.

The generations that knew Stalin and Hitler; that set records in attending college and winning Nobel prizes; that thrilled first hand to the miracle of Israel’s rebirth — that generation identified fully as Jews. Jews with no memory of any of this may also be happily Jewish – but happy being other things as well.

There’s the rub: for ethnic Jews, Jewish identity was “a given” bestowed by birth. We were Jews not just by religion but by habit, culture, food, and humor. With modernity, we added in nationality – we were Jews by religion but Americans by citizenship. Nowadays, we have added other things: gender, politics, vocation and even avocation. “I am an American, a husband, a lawyer, a tuba player, and, I guess, a Jew,” a young man told me not so long ago. The age of ethnicity has become as age of fractured identity, where we struggle to decide what aspect of identity takes priority and when.

But identity comes layered. Our surface identity is what we answer to officially:  our name, address, and social security number. Deeper than that is our list of passwords, the things people hack to “steal our identity.” Deeper still are the roles we play: mother, friend, professor, volunteer, feminist, and runner. Young men and women today face the question that never would have occurred to me: how important in all this is being Jewish? And what exactly does Jewish identity do?

The answer accesses the deepest level of human consciousness: our identity as a self. Strip yourself of job, marital status, and all the rest, and what is left, when you gaze into the mirror? When we die, and can show up for none of it, how will we be eulogized? Or while still alive, what deepest lessons do we pass on to our children. This deepest self is what philosopher Charles Taylor calls “the self in moral space”; what another philosopher, Daniel Dennett, calls a “center of narrative gravity.” Who are we, when we think of ourselves as the central character in our life-narrative? What is the most important story we tell about who we think we are? What is left when we age and find slowly that all else is gone?

In this age of anxious identity, everything stands or falls with these centers of moral and of narrative gravity – something that synagogues alone can provide. Spirituality is more than just yoga, quietude, and self-care. It is the deepest satisfaction we get from the discovery that we do indeed have a core identity: that we are part of an eternal story that began before our birth and will continue after our death. The search for spirituality is, therefore, centrally bound up with the search for core identity: again, something synagogues alone are naturally outfitted to deliver – because core identity comes not in isolation, but through a community that connects us to something larger than ourselves: a set of ultimate principles; a master narrative in which we are a character; And a language with which to speak the deepest truths about them both.

Looking back on the several decades of synagogue transformation, I see two streams of intervention. The first is understandings borrowed from secular life: business schools, consultancies and organizational development. The second is the effort to transform what synagogues actually do: learning, say, or worship. Without doubt, these still matter – profoundly. But there is now this new frontier as well, the Frontier of Anxious Identity, the sense that even synagogues that run with all due organizational efficiency, even those that attend carefully to education, pastoral care, worship and so on, even they must inevitably fail if they do not think of themselves differently than ever before.

Synagogues must be not just relational but deep. They must self-evidently stand for something profound, and have the language to express just what it is they stand for. They must promise a moral and narrative core that gives life meaning.

May we go from strength to strength.

Beyond Bonfires: LaG Ba’Omer

We think of holidays as marking historical events; first come the events – then the holidays, to remember them: July 4, for example, to remember American independence or Passover to recall the Exodus from Egypt.

But sometimes holidays come first, and only afterward collect reasons for their being.  Take Lag Ba’omer, for example (it falls this Sunday).

Lag Ba’omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period of “counting” – sefirah, in Hebrew — from Passover to Shavuot. Tradition associates the sefirah with mourning: we do not marry then, for example.

The earliest explanation for the mourning goes back to a rabbinic legend according to which a plague wiped out 24,000 (or 12,000 or 3,000, depending on the source) of Rabbi Akiba’s students during the sefirah. But ninth-century Jews, who already did not marry then, did not know why. The 9th-century Gaon, Natronai, is the first to connect it to the story of the plague.

The idea of some months being inauspicious for marriages goes back to the Romans, who banned weddings during May and early June (roughly the sefirah period).  Jews probably picked up the Roman custom, and then centuries later wondered why. Natronai connected it to the Akiba legend.

Lag Ba’omer is a holiday break from that mourning. But even Natronai still knows nothing about that. Lag Ba’omer is first mentioned by Abraham Hayarchi of Provence (1155-1215) quoting Zerachiah Halevi  of Spain (1125-1186), who says he saw it in an older unnamed Spanish source.

It was not just Jews, however, who interrupted periods of mourning with a holiday break. Medieval Christians mourned Jesus’ impending death throughout Lent, for instance, but observed a day of celebration in the middle of it. By the time of Zerachiah Halevi (12th century), Jews had adopted that custom too, but connected it, conveniently, to the legend of the plague ending on the 33rd day.

Other customs followed: lighting bonfires, and playing with bows and arrows, for example. These too were not originally Jewish. They were May Day ceremonies that Jews adopted and applied to Jewish time. In the 16th century, Sefardi Jews in Israel began visiting the grave of Shimon bar Yochai, the 2nd-century sage said to have written the Zohar. Visiting the graves of saints was commonplace among non-Jews in the area too, but again, the custom was reinterpreted with specifically Jewish meaning.

Lag Ba’omer thus collected one custom after another, some of them originally Jewish, others not – all of them efforts to give meaning to a day that people observed but were not sure why.

There is good reason to retain such days. They act as magnets, not just for customs and mythic explanations, but for channeling human aspiration at its best. At our best, we remember those who have died, honoring them by visiting their graves; at our best, we moderate our appetites in communal recollections of tragedy, but design similar occasions for communal celebration. At our best, we gather to celebrate greatness, and remind ourselves of what counts for greatness altogether: not military might, or worldly achievement (for instance) but learning (Rabbi Akiba’s students; then Shimon bar Yochai).

But what do we do in America, when Bar Yochai’s grave is far away; bows and arrows are childplay; and bonfires are impractical, impossible or even illegal. I take my cue from Maimonides, who did none of the above, but likened the Omer to our love affair with God. Remembering God from Pesach, we count the Omer as if anxiously numbering every day and hour in anticipation of being with God again on Shavuot.

Maimonides denied all personhood to God, but maintained, nonetheless, that God’s presence is real, patently at work whenever we know freedom and creativity, learning and loving.

This Lag Ba’omer, I will set aside routine, at least briefly. I will envision Akiba and the Zohar and maybe even a crackling outdoor fire reaching up to heaven to remind me of my rendezvous with God. I am never alone. I am part of eternity.

Parashat Sh’mini: The Holy Power of Hands

I have two tales about hands.

The first concerns the hands of my college president. When we ordain our rabbis and cantors at the Hebrew Union College — an annual event, scheduled this year in just a few weeks’ time — our president lays his hands on each candidate’s head or shoulders.

In theory, the idea goes back to Deuteronomy 34:9, where we hear of Moses laying hands on Joshua, Moses’s successor. In actuality, rabbinic ordination with the laying on of hands is altogether a modern innovation. But never mind. That’s what we do. The idea is sound, the practice unforgettable.

We call it s’michah, a word also used for sacrifices. The priests of old practiced s’michah — laying hands on the sacrifices before offering them to God. Moses tells Aaron, “This is the thing that God commanded you to do, that God’s presence may appear” (Lev.9:6). But the Torah does not say what “thing” Moses has in mind, so Italian commentator Obadiah Sforno (1475-1550) explains, “It is the laying on of hands.” Hand-laying is as central to Temple sacrifice of old as it is to my college’s ordination today: and for the same reason — not that rabbis and cantors are “sacrifices,” God forbid, but because the touch of human hands is how “God’s presence may appear.”

The second tale of hands comes from a sign I saw the other day: “Need a Handyman? Call me!” As someone who fixes nothing without making it worse, I always need people who are “handy.” Yes, “handy”! They too lay hands on things — hands, however, that mysteriously comprehend the inner life of gaskets, cams, cogs, and cranks. They unmake and remake complex machinery — make the old look like new.

By contrast, my college president’s hands — like the hands of the Temple priest — do absolutely nothing. They just sit there, utterly inert, untrained and unmoving. They are mere vessels for the work that God does through them.

Our Yom Kippur liturgy is insistent on that point: “God reaches out a hand” it says. But God has no actual hands, for God has no body at all. When priests or seminary presidents lay on hands, they do so on behalf of God, that God may reach out through them.

So too, Aaron’s descendants, the kohanim of today, reach out hands to offer the priestly benediction. Many people bless their children that way, too — or, nowadays, increasingly, even one another. In all these cases, the “hands” are not what we call “handy.” They are untrained. They accomplish nothing on their own. The people being blessed do not get put together differently; they are exactly the same as they were before. But there is this difference (a big one): they may sense they have been visited, through those outstretched hands, by the hand of God.

God visits the earth through the magic of human touch, as sacred a thing as there is. Like all things holy, it too is open to misuse — as when we warn, “Hands off,” or feel violated when someone touches us against our will. But also like all things holy, nothing bestows the certainty of hope and comfort better than the human touch, properly applied, by those we love: a friend at our bedside, their hand on our own; a soft embrace when words cannot assuage our pain.

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo captured the magic of creation by the hint of two hands touching: the hand of God from whom life flows, and the hand of Adam, the first human being to receive God’s life-giving force. We humans, ever after, can do “what God commanded… so that God’s presence may appear.” We too can lay on hands for blessing.

When explanations only make things worse, when words ring hollow, when we have nothing to say, we can reach out, God-like, feeling hope’s promise flow to those in need. God shows up best in the warming touch where two hands meet.