Creation Begins with Separation

Creation Begins with Separation
by Carl Josehart

It’s my least favorite part of vacation – perhaps you have faced it as well. You return from a vacation relaxed and in a good mood and one of the first things you face is a giant pile of unsorted mail – a big, chaotic pile that can seem overwhelming to face. If you are anything like me – my natural instinct is to bring order to the chaos.

I start placing the mail into piles. Bills go into one pile so that I will later take to my home office to be paid, I put catalogues and magazines into another pile that I will later take to the den so I can enjoy them during leisure time, personal correspondence and invitations go into another pile and of course – the ever present junk mail – is separated out to go into the recycling. As I sort through the pile and organize it into categories I find that a sense of order begins to emerge from the chaos – I begin to have a sense of what is urgent or not, what is for leisure or pleasure and what is not, what requires action and so on.

In Genesis, the bible describes the creation story in much the same way. We read that in the beginning, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” From chaos God begins the process of sorting and organizing the elements of creation. God creates heaven and earth – separating creator from created. Then God begins organizing the newly created world. Heaven is separated from earth, light from darkness, day from night, the firmament and the seas, dry land and waters. Next we begin to see the differences within aspects of creation. For example certain parts of our world are set into a regular course – such as the sun and the moon moving in a fixed pattern of day and night, the regularity of the seasons. As creation continues we see the emergence of aspects of creation that can move as they please – animals and human beings. Finally there is the distinction between humans – who have free will – and all other living creatures.

Just as God makes order out of chaos by sorting and separating the different aspects of creation – human beings have given the same power to make order out of our chaotic world.

One of the ways that we create meaning is to create separate times and places for different uses. For example, objects take on special meaning – become sacred – when we separate them from all others and use them only for special purposes. One of my childhood friends came from an extended family that had created their own unique tradition. Each Passover the family who had the youngest child was sent a glass wine pitcher and small drinking glass to use at their Seder. The pitcher and glass had belonged to my friend’s great-grandmother and had been originally purchased for 25 cents – to look at them the objects themselves had no distinguishing characteristics – no intrinsic value. This pitcher and drinking glass became a cherished heirloom because, over several generations, they were separated from all other objects and came to represent the welcoming of a new life into the family and into Jewish life.

Candlesticks transform into Shabbas candlesticks if we separate them from the other candlesticks we may own and use them only to light Shabbat and Festival lights. Through this process we begin to associate them with special times and their presence helps to create a mood. Special foods can take on special meaning when we separate them from others and only use them in certain circumstances –for example matzah on Passover, apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, or latkes on Hanukkah.

In much the same way, places become special when we set them aside for special purposes. For example a building becomes a place of worship –when we set it aside and use it as a place of prayer, learning, teaching, and gathering to celebrate with member of our faith community.

In Genesis we witness the step-by-step process of God transforming chaos into a beautifully organized world that has day and night, seasons, sea, land and vegetation that supports life. Perhaps as humans we have the opportunity to create meaning in our often busy and chaotic lives by separating certain times and places from all others. If we set aside special time with the ones we love and protect it from all other intrusions we create the equivalent of “sacred” spaces in the midst of our ordinary routine.

What Makes A Moment
by Carl Josehart

Unmarked by daily use
the accouterments of daily
life become wrapped in charm
and disappear amid the
profound and pleasing

Unreachable by troubles past
so it seems
new trouble
wrapped in adventure
marks the journey
will spice up the retelling

A single seagull
sings out his song
and quickly flies to find
where friends have gone


Don’t Let the Light Go Out

Don’t Let the Light Go Out
by Carl Josehart

When the children of Israel were lost
wandering in the desert
God appeared to them
a pillar of smoke by day
a pillar of fire by night
a guide to them
a reminder to them
they were not alone

Dear God
I have been feeling lost
feeling alone
surrounded by danger
feeling afraid
missing the familiar
comfort and safety
of home
Don’t let the light go out

After the flood
destroyed the earth
God set a rainbow in the sky
a symbol
a covenant
to never again
destroy the earth

Recently it seems the rains
have come again
floods threaten the world
show me the rainbow
remind me of your promise
Don’t let the light go out

God called to Moses
from within a burning bush
surounded by flames
Mosed beheld with wonder
he realized he stood on holy ground
Moses cried out
an answer to the call
“Here I am!”

In a world ablaze with
and confusion
we join the cry
“Here we are”
Don’t let the light go out!

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I Give You Torah

To my dearest cousin on the occasion of her daughter receiving her first Siddur.
– 1/31/2017

I Give You Torah
by Carl Josehart

My darling child
many things I gave you seem
as I look back on them now
food eaten and gone
clothes you grew out of
toys you no longer use to play
But two things I gave you go with you
even when I cannot be near
I gave you love
I gave you Torah
pass them on

Thank you
dear mother
for the many things you gave me
food to nourish my growing body
an education to nourish my growing mind
love to nourish a growing capacity to care
and Torah to nourish a growing soul
here is my child
help me as I
pass them on

Mothers and the Almighty
Eternal partners in parenting
honey sweetness
from words of Torah
to nourish our young
heart and mind
body and soul
to keep them strong
even when we cannot
be near

My dear child
I look at
your fragile little body and see
the next link in an ancient chain
your expanding intellect
the storehouse to come of our national treasures
your unblemished heart
full of compassion and love
your perfect soul
full of wonder and praise
My darling child
I give you love and
I give you Torah
pass them on


Freedom is Calling


Freedom Is Calling – Let Us Go Out To Greet It

God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, with great awe, signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy XXVI: 8)

For many of us the re-telling of the liberation of the Children of Israel from bondage echoes the stories of our struggle for liberation from persecution and hiding due to our sexual orientation. As with the telling of the Passover story, it is incumbent on each of us to consider ourselves as if each one of us personally was part of all of the struggles for liberation. To remember and honor those who gave their lives so that we might face a brighter future.

Like the Children of Israel before us we come out to freedom from bondage through a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, with great awe, signs and wonders.

With a mighty hand… We are discovering our voices and our political strength

With an outstretched arm… We are reaching out to embrace our families of origin and our families of choice

With great awe… We are reclaiming our religion and finding our spiritual home

With signs and wonders …  God set a rainbow in the sky as a sign of an eternal covenant that the waters would no more become a flood to destroy life.  We have adopted the rainbow as a symbol of our covenant to one another that hatred and bigotry will no longer be allowed to flood our world and destroy the lives of our people.

This year weak and vulnerable
Next year courageous and united in strength

This year afraid and alone
Next year comforted by the warmth of community

This year in darkness and hiding
Next year in freedom and light

This year in searching for meaning and direction
Next year leading our way toward a dream of acceptance, peace, hope and healing

-Carl Josehart
Passover, 1998


Am I Samson?

Am I Samson?
by Carl Josehart

clippings of freshly fallen hair
drop like rain
around my shoulders
to the floor
where they lay like
fallen soldiers
cut down in battle

Am I Samson?
strength and honor
bound to words long since spoken
promises of another generation
severing body parts
savings other
blood born to my body
not yet my own
will I stumble and fall
chosen path
defeat in sight

Am I Samson?
savior only through
ultimate sacrifice
soul free
when body
releases it

temple fallen
world crumbled
my faith too

Am I Samson?
then who my Delilah
who will turn my head
subjugate my heart
binding me to
new words
new oaths
new faith

No Reason

My husband and I have been having some version of the following conversation on average once a day for the last twenty years.

Husband: “Do you love me?”

Me: “Yes”

Husband: “But why?”

Me: “No reason.”

One day the conversation happened in front of a friend. Shocked, she chastised me for what she thought was a callous, uncaring remark.

I chuckled, and explained that it was not meant to be. This particular exchange goes back many years to when we were planning our wedding. At the time, same-sex marriages were still rather uncommon and there wasn’t a well-developed liturgy for a couple aspiring to have a traditional Jewish wedding. A close friend, a member of the clergy himself, encouraged me to write our own service.

Although a same sex union would be rather new, I wanted the service to be anchored in tradition and be rooted in historic texts. While searching for texts that seemed to fit our relationship and personalities I came across the following text from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers):

“Any love that is dependent on something–when the thing ceases, the love also ceases.
But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases.

What is an example of a love that is… not dependent on anything? The love of David and Jonathan.” (Pirkei Avot 5:16)

I loved the sentiment, the reference to a same-sex relationship from Jewish history (whether or not it was a romantic one) and from this verse our little inside joke was born. When my husband asks why I love him and I respond, “No reason” it is my shorthand way to say that my love does not depend on any one thing or reason and therefore is not subject to change, diminish or go away.

And to be honest, I still enjoy the shocked look on people’s faces when they hear me say it for the first time. Why? No reason…


The Roots of Your Love

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Azariah would say (Pirkei Avot, 3:17)…

But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place. As it is written:

They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17: 8)

The Roots of Your Love

by Carl Josehart

May the roots of your love
run deep
to nourish and sustain you
so that even though
all the winds in the world
blow against it
it cannot be stirred from its place

May the branches of your life
and individually
crowned by healthy foliage
fed from the warm sun
providing comfort and rest
in the cool shade of its safe places

May the tree born of your love
bear sweet fruit
untroubled by periods of harsh weather
winds of change
droughts of want
floods of emotion
roots anchored deep
in fertile soil rich in love, family, friends and faith