Sunday, August 19, 2012

B’nai Shimon

One of the prayers that I wrote for myself, when I authored a personalized version of the Amidah[i] for my daily ritual, makes the petition that I hear my own prayers and the prayers of others. It is based on the standard appeal for God to hear our prayers, but in my attempt to make this request meaningful to one who may not be so sure about the existence of God, per se, I sought to connect to that piece of divine spark that resides within—surely that is more palatable to the agnostic who also resides within. Even with all that manipulation, hearing my own prayers is still elusive—much less hearing the prayers of others—and yet it is one of the prayers that I recite (almost) daily.

I sometimes find clues to my hidden prayers in my dreams. This morning I would like to thank my cat for her assistance in this regard. Sometimes, ironically, we cannot be aware of our dreams until they are interrupted. Mayla, as has become her recent habit, signaled her desire to leave the house at about 5:30 this morning. Technically I was no longer dreaming, nor was I fully conscious. I was in an interstitial space of restful reverie. I was gently drifting along in the wake of a dream and observing the ephemeral patterns it was leaving across the river of my consciousness. The cat’s insistence at having the door opened for her opened the door to my wakeful awareness.

In the dream I was home, clad in my pajamas. Jacob was in the house. The doorbell rang. It seemed to be a distant cousin with his toddler twin girls in tow making a sales call. I thought of Ken Ungar, though it was not literally Ken, and his twin daughters who I have seen only once in person, but who are very clearly in the image of the girls in this dream. Ken, let’s just call him that, had barely uttered a word about whatever business he was proposing, when the toddlers chimed in, talking at length about their use of some computer media. At this point my mom was there spellbound, as we all were, at the sophistication—at least to our uneducated minds—of the technology these children were able to access as effortlessly and nonchalantly as if they were playing with sock dolls. They were so sassy that I commented to my mother how they were surely related to her. I also acknowledged that they were indeed the leaders of the 21st Century (even though the Mickey Mouse Club of the 1950’s used to refer to my generation of viewers as such). Another detail of the dream was my perusing the file drawers of what appeared as one of the early architecture firms in my career. Everything was in perfect order, and yet just the thought of having paper stashed away in alphabetically arranged folders seemed highly anachronistic. (Why paper? Why alphabetically?—when there are much more logical and efficient ways to store information today!)

In my post-dream reverie I started to imagine the generation immediately ahead and the generations that may follow. I connected this thread to the generations that have preceded us and the dream my father was expressing when he typed his Rosh Hashanah sermon 47 summers ago, in 1965.[ii] While he hoped for the best—for Jews to live actively Jewish lives of Jewish study, good deeds based on Jewish values, connecting to Jews of all nations and of all times, attending and supporting the synagogue—while he prayed for all of this, he also seemed aware that for many it would not become a reality. Despite that realization, he held onto the fervent belief that Am Yisrael Chai—that the People of Israel would still live, that a remnant would always survive despite our greatest challenges.

I continued to lay in the predawn darkness wondering about these twins, the progeny that God willing will ensue within my own family, and the subsequent generations. Of what relevance would they find the words of Torah that my father crafted and that I am lovingly and optimistically preserving. Will these generations be part of the remnant of Israel to which his hope clings? Will they be able to comprehend that they are literally b’nai Yisrael, b’nai Shimon, and b’nai Yeshaya—the Children of Israel (Ballon, my grandfather), the Children of Sidney (Ballon, my father), as well the Children of Yeshaya—me!

It dawned on me that that is my prayer, that I petition that this remnant be connected to their father’s fathers (and certainly their mother’s mothers) recognizing that there is a reason we are not called b’nai Avraham or b’nai Yitzchak. The reality is that Abraham and Isaac had children whose paths led to other religions. Nor are we called b’nai Yaacov. The reality is that until Jacob wrestled with God he was not on his highest spiritual path. Only then did he receive the blessing. Only then did he become known as God-wrestler.[iii] Only then did he become the patriarch of the Jewish nation. With obvious discomfort at comparing myself to Jacob, I would at least want to see the Jacob in me that wrestles with the angel. I would go forth from that struggle limping but blessed so that I may bless, so that I may not only hear, but fulfill the prayer that my father and his father’s fathers had—simply that succeeding generations live lives imbued with the ideals, knowledge, and practice of our Jewish heritage.

[i] The Amidah is the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy. Observant Jews recite it at each of three prayer services in a typical weekday: morning, afternoon, and evening. viz. my blog for the full text of the personalized Amidah that I customized for my personal practice,
[ii] viz.,
[iii] Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (lit., wrestler with God) after he spent the entire night wrestling with a stranger—perhaps a man, perhaps an angel, perhaps God; Genesis 32:29 And [the angel] said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel for thou hast wrestled with God and with men, and hast prevailed.'

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