5783 Musical Torah Journey

The Confrontation

Vayishlach 5783 - Na'ar Hayiti “I hate confrontation.” Have you ever heard this sentence before? Have you uttered it yourself? Knowing you have an issue you need to confront with another person - be they a family member, a friend, or a co-worker - can bring intense anxiety and fear. Humans in general are afraid of confrontation. We fear being unliked. We fear we may not be able to communicate effectively. We fear the other person may not approach the situation with as much empathy as we hope to have for them. So we try to dance around the issue or approach solutions in creative ways when deep down we know that what we really must do is speak honestly face to face.  There is a Chasidic tale told about Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi (The Alter Rebbe i.e. the first rebbe of Chabad), and Reb Baruch of Medzhybizh who were in a longstanding and perpetual state of disagreement. Peacekeepers and messengers were sent back and forth multiple times but were unable to repair the relationship,...

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The Rehearsal

Vayeitze 5783 - Hachamah First impressions matter. But sometimes we mess them up and just wish we could have a do over. Can you think of an encounter or interaction you had where you said or did something you wish you hadn’t and just want to hit the reset button and try again? This might be how God is feeling in this week’s parsha, Vayeitze. If you remember from a few weeks ago, God totally ruined a first interaction with Isaac, traumatizing him for life. Now God is gearing up for a first encounter with Jacob and just wants to get it right. So what does God do? God pulls a Nathan Fielder. Fielder, a Jewish comedian, created and released a new show this year called “The Rehearsal.” In it, he helps ordinary people rehearse difficult conversations or life events through the use of sets and actors hired to recreate real situations. The situations can be trivial, like confessing to a lie about educational history, or more complex, like raising a child. He commissions extravagant sets with...

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A Lie By Any Other Name

Toldot 5783 - Elohai Netzor What is Tefillah supposed to “do”? For me, prayer is all about figuring out how to be the best version of myself every single day. What do I need? How can I be prepared? Can I set an intention for myself every day to strive to be the best Josh Warshawsky I can be today? What is daily prayer if not an exercise in self-discipline and self-reflection? If it is doing its job, prayer awakens us to walk a life of honor, honesty, goodness, and truth.  This idea is expressed most clearly through the prayer that Mar son of Ravina would use to conclude his Amidah prayer according to the Talmud. The prayer itself was so meaningful that it was placed in almost all siddurim after the Amidah for every pray-er to say three times a day: אֱלֹהַי, נְצוֹר לְשׁוֹנִי מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה, וְלִמְקַלְּלַי נַפְשִׁי תִדּוֹם, וְנַפְשִׁי כֶּעָפָר לַכֹּל תִּהְיֶה. פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ, וּבְמִצְוֹתֶיךָ תִּרְדּוֹף נַפְשִׁי. My God, guard my tongue from evil and...

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Praying in the Field

Chayei Sarah 5783 - Eilecha Sometimes we get lost in the noise of the world around us. This is especially true now as the world feels like an increasingly scary place, and also true when we’ve been through something traumatic. Prayer allows us to tune our frequency to what is happening within and open up our hearts to possibility and hope. We don’t know how much we need this. When Isaac goes out to pray in the field, he is in a state of shock. The last time we heard his voice was when his father Abraham was about to sacrifice him. Since that time his mother Sarah has died and now he is alone. He goes out into the field filled with heartbreak. I imagine him sitting amongst the tall grasses, humming to himself, searching for comfort. But perhaps he was not completely alone. In the Torah we read, "וַיֵּצֵ֥א יִצְחָ֛ק לָשׂ֥וּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה לִפְנ֣וֹת עָ֑רֶב וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּ֥ה גְמַלִּ֖ים בָּאִֽים׃ And Isaac went forth to pray in the field towards evening, and he lifted...

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Don’t Be A Benchwarmer

Vayera 5783 - Barcheinu עָזְרֵנוּ וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ שֶׁנִּזְכֶּה תָּמִיד לֶאֱחֹז בְּמִדַּת הַשָּׁלוֹם, וְיִהְיֶה שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ וּבֵין אִישׁ לְאִשְׁתּוֹ. וְלֹא תִהְיֶה שׁוּם מַחֲלֹקֶת בֵּין כָּל בְּנֵי מִשְׁפַּחְתִּי Help us continually hold onto the attribute of peace. May there be peace between a person and their fellow, and within our own families, and may our family not be selfishly divided. TL;DR: VOTE!  The end of the Torah service at a typical Conservative congregation often feels like it drags on and on: A prayer for the congregation, a prayer for our country, a prayer for Israel, a prayer for peace, etc. Growing up, I would recite them along with the congregation by rote memory. But a few years ago, I was directed towards an additional prayer sitting nestled at the end of this long series, simply titled, “a personal meditation. The prayer is attributed to Rabbi Nathan Sternhartz, who was the scribe and chief disciple of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The...

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Going Back to Your Essence

Lech Lecha 5783 - Elohai Neshama אֱלֹהַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא. אַתָּה בְּרָאתָהּ אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. Ata b’ratah, ata yatzartah, ata nafachtah bi.My God, the soul that You have given me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me.Habits are hard to change. And when you are so used to something that you do it by rote and then something changes, the feeling can be jarring. But it also can help us experience something with new eyes. Recently I was praying with the Rabbinical Assembly’s new(ish) Lev Shalem siddur and I discovered that the order of two opening prayers had been flipped. In the Sim Shalom siddur, the blessing for the gift of our body, asher yatzar, precedes the blessing for the gift of our soul, elohai neshama, and in the Lev Shalem siddur the prayer for the soul comes first. I asked myself why? There must be a reason! Perhaps the editors of this siddur were hoping to help...

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5783 Musical Torah Journey

Starting Anew A few months ago, my music page on facebook was somehow flagged and taken down. I appealed to no avail, and a few days later I went online and the whole page and all its contents were gone. I know it may seem trivial as all social media does, but in some ways, that page had been a record of my musical and rabbinic journey over the last fifteen years.  So I’m starting anew. Every week on my new page I will explore a piece of music I’ve written in connection to and conversation with the Torah portion and where we are holding in the story of the Jewish people. Through this journey, I hope to find deeper meaning in these melodies, stronger ties to our tradition, and true relevance to the work we are doing in the world today. I’m not exactly sure where this journey will leave, though I hope it will lead to new conversations, new ideas, new relationships, new inspiration, and new music. I’d love to hear your thoughts along the way. 

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