Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Loneliness Paradox

On October 5, 1965 Rabbi Sidney Ballon ז״ל delivered a Yom Kippur sermon on loneliness. He asserted that it is an inevitable condition of life for every one of us, and that rather than to deny it we can use it consciously and constructively in several ways. We can use it to increase our empathy for others, allowing us to appreciate the blessing of friendship all the more. We can use it to generate greater creative expression, as do many artists. After offering a few other observations, he concluded his address by saying that loneliness may be a gateway to faith. He quotes the author of the Psalms, David, who exclaimed “Adonai ro-ee, the Lord is my Shepherd!” This, of course reminded me of the “last sermon” of my brother, Jeff ז״ל, when he too exclaimed with conviction, “Adonai ro-ee!”

In an era where such faith seems unapproachable for so many of us, how can we use the lesson of our family’s great teachers? I search for a theological statement that is so clear and compelling that I can live by it, and moreover, share it in a meaningful way with others. The analogies of the Bible are indicators of the palpable faith of our ancestors, but serve only to reinforce the distance between ourselves and the God with whom our ancestors professed to abide.

When Sidney Ballon preaches about loneliness as a path to connection I’m intrigued by the suggested paradox. It resonates for me in its recognition that regardless of how many people and activities and social networking media we surround ourselves with, we are all inherently alone. It makes me realize that in the occasional moments of lucidity that I may experience—those moments when I feel deeply connected to the Universe—that paradox is very much at work. Our spiritual quests, even conducted in the company of our communities, are ultimately solo activities.

Thinking once again of the words of David, that Jeffrey and Sidney before him found so meaningful, I have the choice to dismiss these words or to let them inspire me to move further along my lonely walk through life’s shadows, searching for the strength, hope, and courage that they so expressively reflect. I am not sure whether it is as much a search for this strength or a search for my own metaphor to describe it. We may be subject to the belief that because there are no adequate words to describe a phenomenon then the phenomenon may not truly exist. That summarizes for me the challenge of faith in the modern age. Logic and science demand definition of the subjects they address. Religion and spirituality, by their very nature, address the issues that defy such definition. Hence we must detach from the insistence to define the indefinable and just open our hearts to accept whatever partial evidence, whatever inadequate metaphor, whatever inexpressible inkling presents itself. Even if we do not possess the courage and the poetry of a David or a Jeffrey to shout, “Adonai ro-ee,” let us be inspired by those who do. Let us remember and honor, and love them through living our lonely lives ever accompanied by their spirit.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Hated It

“I hated it.”
Those three little words, in response to my therapist’s question, “How did you feel about being the rabbi’s son?” were the key to unlocking a decades long battle with my father. You see, as simple a phase as it may be, when I uttered that response it came as both a great surprise and a great relief for the first time in my life to become conscious of this truth. 
It was around the same time—early 1991—that I discovered Robert Bly’s so-called “Men’s Movement” which also served to help reshape my relationship with my father— at that time about sixteen years after his death. I consciously began a new journey toward connecting with him in a way I had not done since I was very young, if I had ever done so at all.
Several months after my cathartic moment in therapy, I was back East with a few friends from high school whom I had not seen in many years.  I told them of my startling revelation. To a person they all shrugged and laughed, saying, “Of course, Doug, we all knew that!” I was left wondering why it had taken me over forty years to figure it out for myself.
That was over twenty years ago, and what began as a trickle of acceptance and a portal to filial love has become a gushing fountain as I pore through the archives of Dad’s sermons. They represent more than a scholarly walk through time. They bring him to life through a rich exposition of his most passionate concerns about Judaism and life itself.
A few nights ago the topic of emotions came up in my men’s group (that incidentally has been meeting almost weekly since shortly after I discovered the Men’s Movement). I mentioned how I had discovered this hidden emotion—my hatred of being the rabbi’s son. One group member asked me to say more about what I hated. In another moment of self-discovery I responded that it was less about the pressures of being a focal point of community expectation and more about the fact that he was out serving them so much that he seemed absent in my life.
Then it hit me—one reason that I am luxuriating so in reading these sermons. Day after day, night after night, I reach out for him and he is there. I pick up the pages that he held in his hands. I carefully release the corroded paper clip that he so casually adhered to these pages decades ago. I sit or lie back and read his words. I quickly discover with each four or five or six-page packet whether he is routinely responding to the duty of delivering his weekly message, or whether he has tapped into a deeper wellspring of fervor on a topic that emanates from his core beliefs. Either way, I hear his voice. He may have been talking to a sparse gathering in Columbia, South Carolina in 1939 or to an assembly of soldiers on Keesler Air Field in Biloxi, Mississippi during the early years of World War II, or to his thriving congregation on Long Island in the fifties and sixties. Regardless of the original audience, in these moments he is speaking solely to me. I have my daddy all to myself, and I love being his son.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


It was a trifecta of sermons. The three sermons that I read in the wee hours this morning took on greater significance because of the special circumstances of last night's Shabbat service, but each was powerful in itself.

Yesterday was November 11, 2011—the 37th anniversary of my father’s death. We went to shul to recite the Mourners’ Kaddish. In addition, there was a guest speaker, a brilliant and devoted young man who now heads up our region of AIPAC—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He spoke passionately about the need to continue to communicate with our legislators about supporting Israel. He was introduced by a politically active member of the shul who inserted a few words about the significance of Veterans Day and honoring those who have served to defend our country.

After services I got into a conversation with one of the congregation's leaders about the joy I have experienced reading my father’s sermons. I mentioned that it was one reason I don’t dread insomnia—because I always have some great reading to turn to until I tire enough to fall back to sleep. That notion was realized at about 4:30 a.m. when I awoke with a very active mind. I needed to jot down a few ideas lest I lose them. Then I turned to the bins of sermons. I have been reading them in reverse chronology for the most part. This morning I withdrew a file folder simply labeled in penciled capital letters: PRE-LEX—meaning an unsorted collection from the years before my father’s 1948 move from his first pulpit, Tree of Life Congregation in Columbia, South Carolina, to his subsequent position at Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, Kentucky.

I took the yellowed folder and placed it on the dining room table where I sat for about an hour absorbed, once again, by his heartfelt messages. Three sermons stood out—not only for their rhetoric or historical significance, but also because they so closely connected with the themes established earlier in the evening.

In chronological order, the first was dated December 12, 1941. It’s opening words—

Since last we met for Sabbath worship, a great shock has come to our nation. As a result of a sudden and treacherous attack by the navy of Japan, as a result of the declaration of war upon us by Germany and Italy, our government has been left with no choice but to declare war in return and to throw itself fully and actively into the world struggle which began a little over two years ago.

What ensued, in part, was an expression of his regret that the nations did not see fit to disarm after the First World War. His ardent pacifism was clear. At the same time he realized that the current call to arms was unavoidable. He urged his congregants to remain calm, to be prepared to make great sacrifices to protect our “precious heritage” such as “the foundation and guarantee of American democracy” afforded by the Bill of Rights. These were not empty words for he later served as an Army Air Force Chaplain first stationed at Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi and later traveling from base to base across North Africa.

To read his words of patriotism and service were a true reflection of Veterans Day.

The second sermon, dated January 30, 1948 began with the reading of an urgent telegram that he had received:


He decried the “hypocrisy and treachery” of the British and the complicity of our own government in arming the Arabs and denying the same for the Jews of Palestine who had been granted statehood by the United Nations. His words—“It is the duty of American Jewry  to keep public opinion informed and to make its exertion of feeling known to its congressional representatives and the State Department.”—were strikingly similar to those we heard last night, sixty-three years later.

The third sermon is one that literally had me in tears as I read parts of it to Debbie this morning, for it was a reflection of a third aspect of last night’s service—the recitation of the Mourners’ Kaddish. His words:

My dear friends, during the Middle Ages it was the custom for dying fathers to leave their children not only a will disposing of the physical assets of the parent, but also something called an ethical will in which the parent offered to his offspring some advice with regard to their future behavior and some thought about life in general....

He offered these words on March 26, 1948, the evening of his final Shabbat in Columbia, South Carolina. He continued, “A departing rabbi, I believe, is likewise expected to leave some profound last words—an ethical will to his congregation.” Then he modestly expressed doubt about his own profundity though it was very present. He touched on three traits of Jewish character that he wanted to call to the attention of his congregants. The first was to love one’s fellow Jews, with special attention to the needs of the tattered post-war Jewish community abroad. The second was to maintain a loyalty and strong sense of identification with “the sweep of Jewish history as it has traversed the centuries.” He added, “The good Jew feels strongly his roots in dim antiquity. He cherishes deeply his ancestry going back to the days of Abraham....” He feels a connection to and identifies with the entire journey of our people—past, present, and future. My father's third concern was about American Jewry. The great centers of Jewish life of the past—Babylon, Spain, Poland—had given way to America, and that we “must carry the torch” and “accept the responsibility” of sustaining our “intangible values of culture and religion.”

These were valuable messages, but the coda was what moved me the most.

As I leave these thoughts with you I should like to add a word of caution of a more personal nature. I should like to refer to a number of remarks I have heard from good people who are my friends and who think they pay me a great compliment by these remarks, but who actually leave me somewhat saddened by them. On several occasions I have heard the remark that now that I am leaving they would not have such great responsibilities [within] the Synagogue, because they really had either joined or contributed or were active out of a sense of friendship for the rabbi personally. ... I appreciate the friendship and I cherish it, but if all that I have been able to leave with you is a sense of personal friendship then I have failed, because my ministry has sought to instill in you...the qualities and the feelings that I have already described to you.

He went on to implore them to support and learn from his successor. Then added,

Build your new Temple and fill it with your prayers and your love. And carry on for your sake, and for your children’s sake, and for the sake of all Israel. I would hate to think that I have given to you these years of activity only to have these efforts go to waste. And you will be paying me much more of a tribute by carrying on your efforts than by informing me that after all, it was only for me. Carry on I say to you as my parting wish. Carry on—remembering always that:
It is a tree of life to them that lay hold of it
And all the supporters thereof are happy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Am Alive!

The following is the message I delivered on Rosh Hashanah to residents of the Lytton Gardens Senior Community in Palo Alto and then, with some changes, to fellow congregants at an alternative Kol Nidre service at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City. To give credit where credit is due, I was inspired by the theme of my father's 1949 Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon in which he examines the Zochreinu prayer and raises the question, "What is this life that we pray for?" We answer the question in very different ways. Nonetheless, it is very sweet to draw from the well of his knowledge and spirit.
During the Holy Days we insert a prayer into the Amidah. It has four short phrases, each ending in the word chayyim—life!
Zochreinu l’chayyim, melech chafeitz bachayyim, v’chotveinu b’seifer ha-chayyim, l’ma-ancha Elohim chayyyim.
Remember us for life, Sovereign who delights in life, And inscribe us in the Book of Life, For Your sake, God of life.
Why do we pray for ourselves to be entered into the Book of Life? Even though we all may seek longevity, I doubt that many of us pray literally to be inscribed in a Book of Life. We are speaking in metaphor, and it’s this metaphor I would like to examine with you tonight. Let’s explore three questions: first—who, metaphorically, is doing this inscribing—that is to whom are we praying? Secondly—when is the inscription rendered—does it really happen during the ten Days of Awe? And finally—what is this Life that we are praying for—is it mere survival?
Question 1. Who is doing this inscribing?
If you’re like me, you don’t envision a God sitting in judgment, weighing our merits, and inscribing our fate in a heavenly journal. So, to whom do we reach out for salvation? I’m sure that among us there are many different answers to this theological question.
My response is that rather than reaching out, I find prayer a reaching in—to the spark of Divinity that is within me. I choose to believe that that spark, that energy, is in each of us, in all of life and is what connects us one to the other and indeed to all Existence. If there is any truth to this, then when I pray to the Divinity within me, I am simultaneously praying to the Divinity within you and in all of Life for support of my greatest longings. Therefore, to answer my question of who is doing this inscribing, I would have to say each of us possess that power.  
That brings us to Question 2. When is the inscription rendered?
We say these prayers annually, but is this decree of life or death rendered once a year? Many of us have worked in organizations that conduct an annual performance evaluation. This may have some benefits, but the concept has its flaws as well. A good manager won’t wait until the end of the year to provide feedback. She will continuously acknowledge what’s working to reinforce those behaviors and make immediate corrections of things that need improvement. 
Likewise, our inscription in the Book of Life cannot effectively be an annual review. Though we set aside this special time for reflection once a year, self-reflection, forgiveness, and the desire to change are most effective when they are part of a daily, not an annual, practice. Indeed, we write our own story every day. We render a continual verdict that we bestow upon ourselves by our daily thoughts, words and deeds.
If we were to pause each day to truly take stock, then we would inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life. Each time we stop to appreciate the miracles of daily existence, we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life. Each time we stop to express gratitude for our abundance, we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life. Even when we face great challenges—and we all do at one time or another—each time we stop to recognize and accept our challenges as part of life rather than to become distracted by anger, resistance, and self-absorption we inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life.    
Think how we could put ourselves in the Book of Life every day if we were to take even a few moments for quiet contemplation. I invite you this Yom Kippur, and really at any time, to do this. Just sit quietly, and observe the thoughts you are drawn to. See to what degree you sit in judgment about yourself or others. Listen for your own prayers and the prayers of others. Exercise gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness for all, yourself included. Where there is growth there is life, so consider how you might make changes in your life to continuously grow and improve.
The answers, therefore, to our first two questions are: we are doing the inscribing and we are doing it continuously.  
This brings us to our third and final Question. What is this Life that we are praying for?
Ignoring for a moment some of the modern medical, ethical, and legal debates about what constitutes life, if we talk about the most common understanding of our physical existence—our hearts, lungs, and brains all functioning in good order—would mere survival itself be sufficient to answer our prayer or does life mean something more to us ?
For some, especially if we are plagued by illness, physical existence may be our primary concern. For that, however, do we not seek the counsel of doctors and therapists rather than listen to shofar blasts, ancient prayers and words of Torah?
I offer that at the very least, for those of us who are gathered here at this Kol Nidre service, it seems we may be seeking more than mere survival. We also want a life of connections—connected to others in meaningful relationships, connected to society by contributing to it in meaningful ways, by performing acts of righteousness and loving kindness.
There are other connections as well. Most of us flourish when we are connected to the beauty of the natural world. We seek intellectual connections through great works of literature and the arts. We seek emotional connections through loving words and touch.
Ultimately we seek spiritual connections as well, through all of the above, or through maintaining our awareness of our place in the continuous chain of the generations, or through finding that Divine spark of which I spoke earlier—the Divinity within each of us that connects us to all of Life.
The answer to my three questions now read: we are doing the inscribing; we are doing it continuously, and the Life we are praying for is one of spiritual connection.
What if we now rewrote the Zochreinu prayer not as a plea to an external judge, but as a reminder to ourselves? Instead of asking: Remember us for life, we might pray May we remember that God and Life abound in each of us.
Instead of addressing Sovereign who delights in life, we might invoke: May the Divine power within each of us delight in our Life.
Rather than to recite the plea: …inscribe us in the Book of Life, we might urge ourselves: May we live our lives to continuously be connected to each other and to the Source of Life.
And finally, instead of praying: For Your sake, God of life, we might pray: For the sake of the Divine Spirit that is in us all.
That is my prayer for us tonight.
In closing, I’d like to offer another way to express the awe of recognizing the miracle of our lives and the spiritual essence within, using a melody and words recorded by the great spiritual leader Rabbi David Zeller, of blessed memory. You already know the tune. It was the beautiful niggun that we chanted at the beginning of our service this evening. There are actually a few simple words that go with this tune that capture the essence of what I am trying to impart. Zeller’s words succinctly declare, “I am alive! I am alive! And who is this aliveness I am? Is it not the Holy Blessed One?” 
Please join Dan and me now as we put these words and this melody together.

[To hear a sound clip go to]

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Can Call Me Yesh!

It’s traditional for Jews to have Jewish names that we use at sacred occasions—such as when being called to the Torah or when signing a ketubah (marriage certificate)—while for virtually all other aspects of life we are called by our civil names. When we receive our Hebrew name, which is essentially a spiritual name, it is usually conferred as part of a ritual—circumcision for boys, and in modern times through a variety of naming rituals for girls. By contrast, our secular names are typically generated through the mundane filing of bureaucratic paperwork.

Today I engaged in a legal process with relatively little precedent, at least among my peers. With the help of the courts I inserted my spiritual name into my civil name. The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara decreed that henceforth Charles Douglas Ballon shall legally be known as Yeshaya Douglas Ballon. This raises a number of questions that I will try to answer not only for others but for myself as well.

Why did I do it?
To answer this requires a little background starting with the oddity that, contrary to Jewish tradition, my mother named me after her living father, Charlie. To avoid confusion—or perhaps to create confusion—she then proceeded to call me only by my middle name, Doug. I don’t think I even knew Charles was my first name until I was well into grade school. Not surprisingly, I have always bristled whenever I have been called Charles.

When I was eight days old I was given the Hebrew name Yeshaya Dan ben harav Shimon. Yeshaya, meaning Isaiah; Dan, as in the tribe of Dan; ben harav, son of the rabbi; Shimon, my father’s Hebrew name, the equivalent of Simon.

Friends and family know that I started asking to be called Yeshaya, at least in spiritual circles, only about four years ago. They probably don’t know—as I had all but forgotten myself until I opened some old journals recently—that as far back as the 1980’s I was contemplating using my Hebrew name, and doodled imagined business cards with Yeshaya ben harav Shimon and other variations of my name.

Thoughts about changing my name persisted. Ten years ago, shortly before my mother’s death, I was so taken by the spirituality that was emerging from her in her final days that I then added her name to my already lengthy Hebrew name, becoming Yeshaya Dan ben harav Shimon v’Yonit. For me that was more than a tribute to my dying mother. It also gave me a sense of wholeness, an integration of the attributes of both of my parents—two extremely different personalities that I had long struggled to harness within myself.

Taking the plunge to being called Yeshaya in circumstances other than during Jewish rituals is part of a long tale of my spiritual odyssey that I won’t recite now. On the other hand, my recent use of Yeshaya arose in a discrete, spontaneous act. In May 2007 I was checking in for a workshop at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut. When they handed me a nametag to fill out I thought, “What the heck? We’re all Jews here!” and I wrote the large block letters Y-E-S-H-A-Y-A. For several days I was called Yeshaya. I loved the sound of it, and never turned back.

Having adopted the use of the name Yeshaya in one part of my life did not necessitate a legal change—so why do that, and why now? At the most mundane level we can thank the TSA—the Transportation Security Administration. In their often-nonsensical folly to tighten the noose around terrorism they recently enacted a rule that a person’s name on an airline ticket must exactly match one’s government issued ID. Since my driver’s license and passport read Charles Douglas Ballon I could no longer book tickets merely as Doug Ballon. Remember how I said I bristle at being called Charles? That also applies to airline ticketing kiosks asking me if I am Charles Ballon. Increasingly banks and computer forms and various agencies have been forcing the issue of my name. With Yeshaya now in play, using it officially seemed like the path of least resistance. I am not discounting the possible intangible elements to the change, but clearly the TSA pushed me over the edge.
What is the significance of it?
This is a much harder question to answer. It would be presumptuous to offer that the use of my Hebrew name in some way reflects any higher spiritual evolution on my part. However, adopting its use in the last four years, at the very least, parallels my increased desire to move along this path. During this period I have engaged in far more Jewish study than previously, and I have extended myself through greater service to the Jewish community. The effect specifically of inserting Yeshaya into my civil name remains to be seen. I won’t be changing my IDs until September after I return from some travel previously booked as Charles Douglas. When I start to see the new name on my driver’s license, credit cards, and tax forms, etc. who knows how it will effect me.

Legally marrying my primary Hebrew name, Yeshaya, with my preferred English name, Douglas, has power of its own. As when I added my mother’s name to my father’s, it is another form of integration. In this case infusing my entire life with Jewish consciousness. In a way it’s like taking a vow. It’s putting my Yeshaya consciousness up front causing me to take greater note of who I am.

Every name change in the Torah occurred at a moment of transformation in the life of one of our ancestors. Having the TSA push me into this is a far cry from God renaming Avram to Abraham or the angel blessing Jacob and naming him Israel. Nonetheless, the precedent has been established that our names are a reflection of the responsibility that we carry going forward in the world. It will be my self-imposed challenge to live up to my new name.

Some things won’t be changing. My Facebook page has already read Yeshaya Douglas Ballon for months. For the foreseeable future I expect to continue to be called by my middle name at work as I have always been. I hope not to chastise friends and family (too much) who do the same, although they should know I increasingly find the sound “Doug” to be a bit jarring, while “Yesh” (pronounced yay-sh) is music to my ears.

Is there a reason to create a ritual around changing one’s civil name?
Several persons suggested having a ritual around this. My first response was that I had already had a naming ritual on the eighth day, and that this “naming” is a civil action not requiring more than a judge’s decree. But I listened to my rabbi and other spiritual advisors. Inserting the spiritual into the secular is a significant act worth sanctifying in some way. This morning I attended the mikvah. Tonight a few of us read some poems, recited the sh'hechiyanu, scarfed some cookies and ice cream, and told stories about our names. On Shabbat I will be called to the Torah, and be asked to share a few thoughts about my name with my fellow congregants. Writing this blog is another way of marking and sharing this day as special.

Yesh Indeed!
“Yesh Indeed” is the name of my blog. Most men named Yeshaya, when choosing a nickname, go by “Shai” or “Shaya.” I would be remiss if I failed to mention the sweet way my now daughter-in-law (then my son’s girlfriend) offered a nickname for Yeshaya that seems to be uniquely mine. When I met Alana she politely stated, “I understand you want to be called Yeshaya. That’s a lot to say. Would you mind if I call you “Yesh”? Yesh means “there is” in Hebrew. In Kabbalah it’s paired with the word “ayin” which means “there is not” much as Yin is paired with Yang in Eastern thought. These words are sometimes more freely translated as “something” and “nothing.” Yesh is also an exclamation of delight in Modern Hebrew parlance. How could I refuse? Having Yeshaya morph informally into Yesh provides yet another facet to my evolving identity. Now I’m really “something!”

If I were to summarize this entire story while standing on one leg it would be this: Yeshaya Douglas Ballon—Yesh—is who I am, who I have always been, and who I hope to become.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Selected Group

Having just perused my father’s sermons from 1971 through 1974 a couple of things are happening. First of all I am surprised that he so assertively voices his opinions on a variety of topics. Maybe I shouldn’t be. He was a man with clear convictions. I listened to him voice these convictions over the course of many years. Perhaps I took it for granted at the time. And it’s not that clergy today don’t also make their opinions known. Perhaps it is his tone—you might call it a bit preachy. It seems just a bit less evenhanded than the tone of today’s clergy. Perhaps it is a reflection of an age when things seemed more black and white. Now, not only do we deal with so many nuanced shades of gray, but at least for some, we couch our words with more of an ecumenical approach. I don’t see a lot of that in Dad’s words. He is clearly a Jewish/Israel chauvinist. He loves his people and what they stand for. He stands by them and defends them from most criticism. He is willing to acknowledge some failings, but ultimately is a staunch advocate for the land, the religion, the people.

In the early reading I see a few themes emerging, namely Israel, anti-Semitism, and the religious apathy that threatens the survival of Judaism. He cites a lot of history. He loves to report on the writings of great Jewish thinkers past and present.

Now that I have gotten a taste of some of his last words I am considering how to proceed. One option is to continue moving slowly backward through time, looking carefully for precursors to his latest thinking. I am inclined to do that, but another file is beckoning me. There are quite a few files devoted exclusively to High Holy Day sermons. Among these is one titled, “Rosh Hashana – Yom Kippur – NCT (Selected Group)". I remember how Dad would spend most of the summer cozied up to a stack of books and articles. It may have been somewhat of a burden to anticipate the demands of writing the four sermons of the year that the entire congregation would hear. At the same time, I imagine it was his greatest pleasure to immerse himself so deeply in Jewish, ethical, historical, and political thought. He was a scholar. During the summer “hiatus” NCT--the Nassau Community Temple--pretty much ran itself. Dad was the Jewish chaplain at the Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp in the Catskills. For the most part he had eight weeks of uninterrupted study. Unlike the weekly Thursday night cram session, for his holiday sermons he had the luxury of time to deeply consider the themes he wanted to address, the scholars and texts he wanted to quote, and the words he chose to use to deliver these critical messages. To see a file that he deemed as “select” among all of his holiday sermons intrigues me greatly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Win One for the Planet

Deep breath.
Back to reality after the splendid weekend of Jewish community, rest, joy, prayer, meditation, yoga, walks in the woods, pickle making, amazing food, and--oh, yes!--the magnificent bike ride.

The ride itself started Sunday morning, bright and early, from Winchester Woods retreat center in Occidental. We read the travelers prayer in Hebrew, English and Arabic. I had the honor again to sound the ram's horn to signal the start.

Chilly and clear skies were very welcome after last year's frigid deluge. The experience was very different, having only some strong winds to battle on the first day. It was much more conducive to savoring the scenery under these circumstances. Many more smiles. And a few more miles, too--taken to avoid the most killer ascent from last year. We rode out the Bohemian Highway about 12 miles to Route 1 on the Pacific coast. My only regret was that we only went along the shore about 8 miles before heading back inland--no better way to take in the coast than rolling along the green bluff overlooking the beach, black rock outcroppings pushing up from the foamy surf, with expansive deep blue sea and sky beyond. The climbs were still sufficiently challenging, and had their own beauty. Surprisingly, the much anticipated final descent into the valley on Sunday was regrettably rigorous given the head wind we encountered. Nonetheless, months of preparation seemed to have had the desired effect--not just the muscles, but the breathing, and the mental resolve--all carried me through.

After close to 60 miles we arrived at Walker Creek ranch--a Marin County educational farm. I settled in, and then took a brief tour--fed willow leaves to some goats. The sheep preferred to stay at a distance. We sampled bits of the organic garden that school kids from all over the state get to work on during their week-long visits to Walker Creek. If you've never tried raw rhubarb, I recommend it! (not the leaves--they're toxic--just the stems. One of our evening activities was a viewing of the documentary Flow--"a case against the growing privatization of the world's dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel." This is clearly a topic that warrants further examination.

Monday, a shorter ride--about 45 miles. Not as much climbing. Less windy. A bit less scenic mile for mile than Sunday, as we went through suburbia on the way to San Francisco. Nonetheless, riding into Sausalito is always exciting. Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge--especially fun on a clear, crisp day. I'm not sure we were supposed to ride through as much of the Presidio as we did on our way to Temple Emanuel, but the scenic route we took offered some views of the city that I had never seen before.

When it was all done the memory of the intense grinding, pedal after pedal, seemed to magically disappear (except for a little soreness today). What we were left with was a profound sense of appreciation for the privilege of being with such a unique community--diverse in many ways and united in our love of Judaism and repair of the planet. Grateful for Hazon--Nigel Savage's vision that is unfolding before our eyes--working to create sustainable communities throughout the world. Grateful for the Hazon staff, the volunteer crew supporting the ride, our fellow riders, and of course to all of the contributors. The full expression of gratitude came as we stood in a circle in the temple courtyard singing the Shehecheyanu prayer--thanking God for our lives, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this precious moment.

Your contributions propelled me to the top of the donation chart for most of the last five months. Two days before the ride, a fellow rider was so tired of seeing my name at the top of the list that she contacted her friends and offered her personal matching fund for additional contributions. I am content being at number two knowing that we inspired others to give more generously. My "competitor" and I got a laugh out of it and became friends--a win-win-win, with Hazon, or I should say the planet, being the big winner.

Thank you so much for your support. And yes, for a few stragglers--donations are still being accepted at


Sunday, May 1, 2011


It’s like standing before a giant buffet, a banquet of the most appealing and appetizing delicacies, wondering where to start. One could say that I decided to go for dessert. Intuitively something in me felt moved to “begin with the end in mind”. I opened the two thin files—the one marked “SERMONS – BRUNSWICK ’74 – ‘75” that I mentioned previously, and a companion, “SERMONS – BRUNSWICK – H.H. [High Holy Days]”

One motivation was simply to see what themes I would find there that might be foreshadowed in earlier work. As it turns out there was more to that concept than I might originally have thought. After all, there Dad was, in new pulpit with a new congregation and with a file of thousands on previously written sermons. Why not recycle a few old gems? —Which in fact he did as it turns out. I don’t want that to sound disparaging and certainly not unethical. In fact the clues that these folders leave behind demonstrate Dad’s talent and integrity. I was impressed that when he faced the challenge of speaking to his new congregation for the first time he sought inspiration from similar first in his life. In the same manila folder as his first sermon for Temple Beth Tefilloh (TBT) of Brunswick, Georgia in 1974, there beneath it was the first sermon he delivered to the Nassau Community Temple (NCT) in 1951, as well as the first sermon he delivered in the new sanctuary constructed by NCT in 1960. Those might have been too difficult to find since they were singular events in time. Perhaps more impressive, in a time before Google, was that his very last sermon, delivered on November 8, 1974 coincided with the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, and Dad was able to dip into his archives and pull out a sermon about Weizmann that he had delivered December 12, 1962!

Each of the three sermons that I am considering to include from the brief Brunswick era owes its roots to earlier words that Dad had written. This is evident because in each case he has both the original as well as the edited TBT version in the file. Moreover, he has carefully noted the date and the location in which he gave these sermons. In the case of a “recycled” sermon there are two dates and locations noted. In some cases he took pieces of several older works and combined them in a new way to create a hybrid that he must have felt better matched the new audience and occasion. It is apparent that he did not choose to just pull out the old sermon and blindly redeliver it. It is clear, from the editing that he thoughtfully and contentiously adapted it to the new circumstance, or in some case simply improved the prose from a stylistic perspective.

As I delve further into the files I may find further evidence of  “recycling.” Then again, I have heard somewhere that rabbis tend to only have five sermons that they repackage time after time. I suspect I will see a few themes emerge in that respect.

I must add that when I opened the first file folder, and read the first sermon that lay on top of the pile, when I discovered that it was the first sermon Dad delivered in Brunswick, I was struck by its clear, simple, eloquent and hopeful message as he embarked on this new venture. It occurred to me that I had begun with the end in mind, but for him it was a new beginning. I liked seeing him tie the threads of his earlier sermons into the tapestry of his new congregation. In a way it reminds me of the custom on Simchat Torah of reading the final words of the torah and immediately beginning to read it from he beginning anew. Quite literally, some of Dad’s High Holiday sermons were indeed delivered as his last at NCT and his first at TBT. One can only wonder, as his understanding of his new community grew, whether he would have continued this practice or found himself moving forward with new thoughts tailored to his new surroundings.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Terrible Way to Start

This is a terrible way to start. It’s Friday afternoon. I have almost completed my regular work, not quite getting to two important emails that will have to wait until after Shabbat. My sense of what I do and what I don’t do on Shabbat stems from a very clear set of standards that Dad, if not imposed, at least made very clear. I have long established that working on Shabbat is a “don’t do”. For some years in my youth, what I would do included going to the Nassau Community Temple in West Hempstead, Long Island, New York for the regular Friday night service. “Friday night is temple night.” “As Israel has kept the Sabbath, so the Sabbath has kept Israel.” These concepts are ingrained, and yet, even in my youth I had limits to which I observed Sabbath law.

As a mid-Twentieth Century, New York suburban, Reform Jewish teenager, there was as much I was ignorant about these laws as defiant of. At the same time I do have a sense that I attended many Friday night services—perhaps even willingly. In a way I might not have even been conscious of then, the temple was my home with a huge extended family. That is where I could be with and see my father in action. That is where I could connect with his voice in its sweet, intelligent, caring reverence. That is where I would sit sometimes in rapt attention, sometime in a fit of the “church giggles” with my mom in the middle of the fourth pew from the front on the right, week after week, year after year.

One of the things I ponder now is how much of my father’s words will seem familiar as I read them. I know I will hear his voice in every syllable, but will I be taken back to the time and place where I first heard those very words? The anticipation is building, the curiosity, the longing for that connection is palpable.

My Shabbat ethic is squaring off with my anticipation. Late Friday afternoon. Just back from a long bike ride. I could be picking up a few things for dinner, setting the Shabbes table. Preparing for, if not an evening at shul, at least a quiet night home with Debbie. But no. Anticipation—a need to roll into action overtakes Jewish law. I search for some rationalization. The one I usually use to justify all sorts of violations is the precept that saving a life takes precedence over the restrictions of Shabbat. Isn’t opening the blue bins, in a sense, a resurrection? Aren’t I preserving my father’s life by reviving his words, preserving them, sharing them for perhaps generations to come? Even I am not buying that specious argument. Another thing I am not doing is making Shabbes dinner and setting the table. I am overcome by the intense desire to go out to the garage, dust off the two remaining bins out there, and bring the whole lot of papers into the house to sort and inventory them before I start the long process of reading them.

Instead of putting candles in the shiny candleholders on the dining table, I pick them up and set them aside so I can use the broad surface to sort the musty paper-laden folders. If that isn’t a piece of ironic effrontery. Shameful. As I watch my hands set the candlesticks aside, and make way to do this work, I can sense what may have been a common occurrence for my father as he observed his youngest child—a wrestling match between pride and dismay.

I pry off the lid of the first bin. The files are tightly packed together. I look for one that I can easily grasp—“NCT ’55 – ‘56”. Many of the files are marked similarly, with the initials of the Nassau Community Temple and an academic year. I grab a fatter folder—“SERMONS – PRE-LEX”—prior to our move to Lexington, KY in 1948. That would cover the first ten years of his rabbinate. There are two such fat files. Maybe somewhere in all of these is his first sermon as a congregational rabbi. “HIGH HOLY DAYS 1952-1960” “PASSOVER SERMONS”  “LEXINGTON – 1949” “INVOCATIONS  - SPECIAL PRAYERS” “THANKSGIVING” “RADIO & TV – NY” Eventually I come to “SERMONS – BRUNSWICK ’74 – ‘75”. Dad did not live to fill this folder. He died on November 11, 1974. Somewhere in this file is his last sermon. He didn’t know it when he wrote it. The mystery of mortality stares me in the face—the spectrum of a man’s life. Later I find a draft of Dad’s seminary thesis—from student, to rabbi, to gone—all in within an arms reach. An indescribable sensation runs through the core of my body as I contemplate getting further acquainted with this material, with this man.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Three Blue Storage Bins

Three blue storage bins have been gathering dust in my garage for decades. They are among a total of twenty-four bins that cover most of the wall above my workbench. Several containers are regularly accessed. They have wrenches and drill bits, nuts, bolts, and nails; or paraphernalia associated with one Jewish holiday or another. Some of the boxes rarely get opened. These three bins haven’t been accessed since I filled them—that is, until last week.

Thirty-six and a half years ago, November 1974, I rescued the contents from incineration. My father had died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart disease. My mother was ridding herself of his accumulated possessions, including his files. Almost all of the papers ended up in flames in a rusty barrel in the Brunswick, Georgia dump. For some reason—mostly unknown to me then as now—I decided to hold onto his sermons, most of them dutifully typed on his Royal portable typewriter virtually every Thursday night for the better part of thirty-six years.

Dad received his ordination from The Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1938. I don’t think he had a pulpit that first year, but it’s possible he performed services somewhere.  It must have been in 1939 that he arrived as rabbi of the Reform Jewish Tree of Life congregation in Columbia, South Carolina where he began his weekly preaching.

The exact contents of these boxes are still unknown to me, but his words, his voice beckons. Anticipating the centennial of Dad’s birth a year and a few weeks from today I have decided to embark on a challenging marathon of perusing this collection and selecting significant samples of it to publish in his memory. I hesitated jumping right into the project until I heard back from the archivist of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In response to my query he informed me that the CCAR would indeed be very interested in receiving the collection when I completed my task. There were few if any admonitions about how to handle the documents—mostly words of encouragement.

The little I have observed of the sermons so far makes the project very enticing. There are many manila folders with his familiar penciled handwriting with such topic headers as High Holy Days, Marriage, Family & Home, Sermons 1972-73, etc. It’s an adventure—like traveling to a distant land in search of a treasure, or better yet a lost loved one. I can’t anticipate what I will learn about my father or myself, what lessons in Judaism or ethics or social action will unfold. I don’t know how many I will be able to read or how much he will repeat his pet themes over the years. So much to discover! 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tribute to My Brother

Weatherly Heights Baptist Church
Huntsville, Alabama
Monday, January 24, 2011

At Jeffrey’s 60th birthday party I read the single poem that I am most proud of writing. It’s a poem that Jeff loved as well, and I think you will see why. It expresses the admiration and the love of a little boy for his big brother, and the wistful yearning for deeper connection with his brother that the boy felt later in life.


He had a Schwinn Roadmaster
the kind with the fat tank
along the crossbar
that held batteries and
had a little round chrome button
to sound the horn

Some mornings
he let me sit sideways
along that crossbar
he seemed so big and strong
to pedal for the two of us
as we headed for the
Chestnut Street School­
a first-grader and
a big sixth-grader

That was the last time we were going
in the same direction at
the same time
the last time we were on
the same path

We’ve traced one another’s
footsteps here and there
crossed paths on other occasions
often out of synch
going to or coming from
different places

There were places
           of learning
           of worship
           of recreation
           of work
           of living­
a cat’s cradle
of our travels
           our quests
through space and time

How glorious
to recall
a September morning
when we were going
the same way

I stand here today not only with gratitude for that September morning, but with eternal gratitude that in the years that followed the writing of this poem, and especially in the last two and a half years, Jeff and I made the time to consciously walk the same path at the same time.
No greater example of this was the “home and away” visits to one another’s spiritual retreat centers. In the summer of 2005 I asked Jeff if I could join him for his annual foray to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina where he would meet with colleagues for a week of study and fellowship.  It was a treat to spend time with him driving through the wooded highways, or sitting shoulder to shoulder in morning prayers, or taking in a scholarly lecture. Best of all was just hanging out on the porch at night with an array of snacks and beverages, chatting with Jeff and his rabbi friends.
In October of 2009, with both his speech and his walking somewhat compromised, I nervously asked him if he would consider coming with me to a Jewish Men’s retreat—at a place in the Berkshire Mountains of Connecticut that I have come to love as a spiritual refuge. I can’t remember why I was so hesitant and unsure, because Jeff accepted the invitation at once. We met in New York City, celebrated his 67th birthday with Ann Lois and other family members, and then the two of us headed up the Hudson Valley to camp.

As  he did everywhere, Jeff instantly became a beloved and treasured member of this ad hoc community of fifty men. I really don’t recall that either of us did anything so special, but it was ironically gratifying to discover that within this group of men who had gathered in search of virtual brotherhood, two actual brothers would be so greatly admired for simply being there with and for one another. 
The single moment that I will most treasure occurred during the Sabbath morning service. Quite unexpectedly I was summoned to come forward to carry the Torah around and through the congregation before it was to be read. As is the custom, as I passed each man, he would take the fringes of his prayer shawl and touch the sacred scroll, then touch the cloth to his lips and kiss it. When I reached Jeff, in addition to touching the Torah and kissing it, he touched my forehead as well and drew the fringes to his lips with a kiss.                                                                  
How glorious to recall an October morning when we were going the same way as brothers!
In August of 2008, Jeff had been given what some considered a cruel and tragic “death sentence” but he didn’t seem to look at it that way. For him it was a chariot ride—a golden chariot drawn by winged horses—sent from heaven for his final ascent. He would savor the ride with such appreciation of his days, that he invited everyone along the way—friends and family and even strangers—to climb aboard and share the sheer joy of being alive. For two and a half years we all were on the same path—a path of hope, a path of faith, and most of all, a path of love. My brother shared every mile of his journey with every one of us. As sad as we are to see him reach his final destination, we all rejoice in the treasured gifts that he bestowed along the way.
The last time I saw him, I pulled up a chair to sit close as he chatted with great animation late into the night, well past his normal bedtime. He asked to study the Twenty-third Psalm.
“What does it mean,” he probed the Hebrew text, “Adonai ro-ee, lo echsar. (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.)?” “...[people] say they know this, but none of them [really know] any of it!”
Lo echsar! (I shall not want!) Lo echsar! Lo echsar! he kept exclaiming.
He wanted us to know that he felt the guiding hand of the shepherd and that he was lacking for nothing. It was an amazing teaching from a man barely able to make his simplest thoughts understood. It was a final declaration of faith—as far as I know, his final sermon. In studying the Twenty-third Psalm, as Jeff requested, I discovered these words of Rabbi Harold Kushner who says that part of the psalm’s message is our ability to “make God look good by the way we live our lives so that others will be inspired to follow us and walk in God’s ways.” 
Jeff made God look very very good. Jeff was an inspiration. Jeff’s cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy followed Jeff all the days of his life. Rabbi Jeffrey Lewis Ballon, harav Yisrael Lev ben haRav Shimon, my brother, Jeff shall dwell in the House of the Lord and in our hearts forever.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Shepherd’s Hand

Debbie and I were concluding our planned three-day visit to Columbus, Ohio—home of our daughter, Becca and her husband, Josh. We had gathered on Sunday, December 26, 2010, the eve of our fortieth wedding anniversary, with our other children—Shira from Chicago, and Jake from New York City with his wife, Alana. The event was joyously successful beyond our expectations. Everything seemed to come together perfectly.

The mere fact that we all arrived was a miracle in itself. A week or two before our travel day, Jake and Alana were notified that they had been unceremoniously moved from the mid-morning flight that they had booked to a seven a.m. departure— less pleasing to them by far. Disgruntled but compliant, they left their Manhattan apartment in darkness to get to the airport. How fortunate it turned out to be, as a blizzard soon descended upon New York stranding thousands of people for days. They were among the last to depart that morning, thus allowing our celebration to take place on schedule with everyone present.  

As we contemplated our scheduled departures from Columbus later in the week, it seemed like it would be clear sailing ahead. The warming trend in the weather was reassuring. Shira departed on schedule Wednesday morning. Jake and Alana followed suit Wednesday afternoon. Deb and I would stay through Thursday afternoon so we could spend some time with Josh’s parents, Steve and Cheryl, with whom we have become good friends.

All was good. We had a great visit. Wednesday night we parted company with Becca, Josh, Steve and Cheryl and headed to our hotel. Just then I received an email from my sister-in-law Ann Lois, from Huntsville, Alabama, giving me an update on my brother Jeff’s condition. He himself is a miracle, long outlasting the dire predictions of his neuro-oncologist. Nonetheless, his brain cancer—or its treatment—has had a deleterious effect on his speech and mobility. The latest news is that his kidneys are showing signs of being compromised as well, with the possibility that kidney failure might ensue. I called Ann Lois to get the details. We spoke nearly an hour. It was around midnight when we hung up.

I prepared to go to bed. Deb may already have nodded off when my phone rang with a recorded announcement from United Airlines informing me that our Thursday afternoon return flight had been cancelled! I immediately called United to see how we would make it home, and learned that there were no seats available until Saturday, January 1. This was preposterous. I was on the phone another hour searching every possible option from several Ohio airports to nearly every California airport—nothing! Reluctantly I allowed the agent to book us on a New Year’s Day flight at 6:10 a.m.—routing us backwards to Washington/Dulles, then on to Chicago, and finally San Francisco. Yuck!

At the end of the call, my curiosity prompted me to ask the reason for our flight cancellation. They told me it was due to an impending ice storm in Chicago that would not allow our plane to get to Columbus for departure. That seemed specious, given how far in advance of this supposed storm they were canceling the flight.

As I settled into bed, my mind was churning over the grim news of my brother. I wondered how and when I would see him again. I also was preoccupied with the logistics of extending our stay in Columbus two days. Eventually I fell asleep. When I finished my fitful night I felt the lingering awareness of a dream. The only part that I could recall involved someone leaning over me, whispering something about Jeff. That seemed to be all I needed, upon coming to full consciousness, to be inspired with an idea that only seems obvious in retrospect. Since we would not be getting home before Saturday, and since we had essentially accomplished all that we had set out to do in Columbus—what if United could get us to Huntsville to spend these two extra days of our trip there? This would give us the unanticipated opportunity to visit Jeff and Ann Lois.

When the temperature that day proved to be in the forties in Chicago with the mere chance of rain, I knew for sure that United had not leveled with me all along. I called the “friendly skies” again and offered the agent the opportunity to make amends by rewriting our Columbus-D.C.-Chicago-San Fran return tickets to take us to Huntsville immediately and home to San Francisco on Saturday at no additional charge. One more hour listening to Rhapsody in Blue on the phone, and the deed was done.

Oh, there were some subsequent occurrences that seemed more like curses than blessings—such as arriving at the Columbus airport and discovering that the acquiescent agent had not written the ticket in the prescribed manner, thus making it nearly impossible to get our boarding passes. As the clocked ticked away the minutes before our flight, a hapless airport attendant finally allowed another agent to press the magic keys to fix the problem.

From there we ran through the airport, barging ahead of the security line, dashing to the most distant gate, only to discover that I had somehow been cleared though the initial identification check without a true boarding pass. Apparently and inexplicably the TSA agent had initialed my itinerary card. The boarding attendant was unsympathetic. They were minutes from closing the door and he demonstrated no concern that I was standing before him without a boarding pass. There would be no way I could retrace all my steps and get back in time for the flight. He just impassively said he had to deal with other customers and seemed to derive pleasure from exacting as much anguish from us as he could before nonchalantly printing out a new pass for me and allowing us to board. Whew!!!  

Of course inconveniences such as these quickly pale in the light of my brother and sister-in-law’s daily struggle with his increasing infirmity. His simplest acts have become major undertakings enabled largely by the enduring patience, strength, and determination of Ann Lois. Many of Jeff’s abilities have diminished. He either has had some mild strokes or the lesions have affected his ability to move about freely and to communicate clearly. Every action, every utterance is an effort. Often at issue is whether to use a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair for his transport—all viable options under certain circumstances, although increasingly, the wheelchair seems most appropriate.  He is most comfortable sitting in a new motor-controlled recliner. Often he lies back in it idly playing with the up and down buttons—seeming to exercise control over the small part of his universe that succumbs to his will.

His understanding of the world about him varies—or at least our understanding of his understanding does. Occasionally his words are sharp and clear—more often not. Sometimes unintelligible. Sometime nonsense. He has been disinhibited for much of his illness—anger, frustration, sadness, joy always on the surface. He is also still amazingly clever and funny at times—knowing when he has broken through the dim translucent wall surrounding him, making the silly grin that we used to see so often.

Thursday night, after dinner, I pulled a chair alongside his recliner and patiently panned for meaning in his intermittent stream of ramblings. He was able to clarify his intent somewhat. He definitely wanted a copy of the twenty-third psalm that I quickly found in a weathered Rabbi’s Manual in his office. He seemed to be asking me to study the psalm with Adam Stein, a recently ordained rabbi and young friend of our family since birth.

“What does it mean,” he probed, “Adonai ro-ee, lo echsar. (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.)?”

“...they all say they know this, but none of them [really know] any of it!”

“After I’m the home, at the house...even once...a little bit of...a lesson—it must be done....”—a clear mandate not only to read the Twenty-third Psalm at his shiva, but to study it as well.

Lo echsar! Lo echsar! (I shall not want! I shall not want!)” he kept exclaiming.

His lesson seemed to be that people want more and more. If they really felt the protection of the Lord as their shepherd they would want for nothing. Some of his words suggested that he was criticizing young rabbis, but I suspect this was as much a commentary on his own life as much as the next generation. Jeff, throughout his illness has often quoted the Twenty-seventh Psalm as a reflection of his condition—“Though armies be arrayed against me, I will have no fear.” Now, as the traditional mourners’ psalm seems increasingly imminent, I believe he truly feels the guiding hand of the shepherd and knows what it is to want nothing more.

It was an amazing teaching from a man barely able to make his simplest thoughts understood. Jeff chatted with great animation for about an hour, late into the night, well past his normal bedtime. His words cause me to reflect on my own “wants” and the effects the shepherd’s hand may have had on this very trip—flights moved ahead, flight moved back, seemingly what we least wanted becoming what we most needed.

Was it the shepherd’s whisper that spoke to me Thursday morning and inspired me to turn the inconvenience of a cancelled flight into an opportunity to share precious moments with my brother? By what divine providence did we come to witness acts of loving kindness such as the extraordinary efforts of Ann Lois who everyday defines the word mitzvah with her unrelenting physical and emotional support of her husband. How did it come to pass that we were present to hear the garbled words of a rabbi and teacher striving to give one more lesson?

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Now I must study.