May it be Your will, HaShem, my G-d, that just as You have helped me complete Tractate Middos, so may You help me to begin other tractates and books, and to complete them; to learn and to teach, to safeguard and to perform, and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teachings with love. (excerpt from the completion blessings for Tractate Middos)
What does it mean to fulfill the Torah’s teachings with love?
I’m sitting in the waiting area at LAX, my redeye to Boston delayed. Annoying, but I’m grateful that I finally have a moment to write an AT post. The past two weeks have been intense: mixing sound on Saving Lincoln, which means balancing 300 tracks of dialogue, score, and effects. Also prepping publicity materials. Continuing review of visual effects. Constantly making choices that have to be right.
I missed several dinners with my kids, though I usually made it home in time for the bedtime ritual. Combined with the morning routine, we had some quality time, but maybe it’s not enough. Perhaps I missed precious minutes with my kids that we can never recover. A different and heavier sort of pressure.
Meanwhile, Daf Yomi rolls on. I usually read early in the morning, before the kids are up. This week, I finished the penultimate tractate of the Talmud, Middos, which describes the Holy Temple in rich detail, as well as the daily order of the Kohens’ service there. It’s so visual and descriptive that one can get lost in the details. But it’s just as easy to glide over them and absorb nothing. What a waste that would be. Yet another kind of pressure.
Excitement is building toward the Siyum in August - a celebration of learning at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, 100,000 Jews expected.
I’ve been asked to produce a documentary about the Talmud. I feel like I’m too busy to write this little blog! How can I possibly undertake such a task? And yet, if not me, whom?
It’s all aswirl in my head, but the thought that pierces through, and that I must write about, is the concert I attended last week in Alan Broidy’s living room.
Nina and I joined about 50 other guests for an intimate performance by Neshama Carlebach, daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, z"l. Reb Shlomo was known as the singing rabbi - his melodies have spread throughout the Jewish world, and are now incorporated into services and rituals of every denomination. Uplifting, haunting, rallying, celebratory - he created tunes for every occasion and mood. What they all share, however, is a quality of always having been there, as if he discovered the songs rather than wrote them. A remarkable man who loved G-d and shared that love with his “holy brothers and sisters,” by which he meant all of us.
His music was a big part of my first film, When Do We Eat? In the process of making that happen, I spoke with Neshama on the phone a few times, and we included one of her songs on our CD. I never met her in person, however, until last week.
It cannot be easy to follow in the footsteps of such a spiritual and musical giant as Reb Shlomo, but Neshama does it. Her name means “soul” and oh my, hers is a special and holy neshama.
She sang beautifully. We were all captivated, singing along and clapping when appropriate, mesmerized when silence was better. What struck me most, however, was her light. Neshama loves G-d. She gets that we are all inside G-d, all part of G-d. And so she loves G-d by loving us. Words don’t really capture the feeling - they sound hippy-dippy when I reread them. But in her presence, I felt connected with the Shechinah, the female aspect of G-d’s presence.
To be less mystical about it, Neshama has the courage to proclaim her love of G-d in public. That’s not so easy in modern, educated society. One of the most brilliant guys I’ve ever known - valedictorian of our high school and now a renown scientist - recently told me how pleased he was to be an atheist with a capital “A.” Small “a” is for people who just don’t believe in G-d. Capital “A,” he tells me, is for people who’ve reasoned their way to a statistical certainty that there is no G-d.
I imagine he’d earn great praise at an academic cocktail party, and perhaps on the Op-Ed page of most major papers. Neshama, on the other hand, sings to the choir. When Alan invited me to the concert, he said, “You seem like the sort of guy who’d be moved by a Neshama Carlebach concert.”
“Absolutely,” I answered.
We know each other from synagogue. He’s seen me sing with all my heart. I’m not a good singer - I just do it anyway because it brings me closer to G-d. I love G-d, and I try to tell Him so every day. I don’t say it much in public, however, and I even feel a bit exposed as I write these words. Perhaps because I spend so much time among people like my valedictorian friend. G-d talk is scary to Americans who are not connected with faith, and I can’t say I blame them. They don’t want to be told whether and how they should worship. That kind of freedom is what America is all about.
It’s a shame, however, that so many intelligent people reject faith a priori based on a few limited experiences of bad religion: empty worship, irrational prejudice, smug condescension - all these can be found among G-d’s followers and it’s a turn-off for people who are sincere in their hearts and simply haven’t had good faith-based experiences.
I just wish some of them could attend a Neshama concert, because she fulfills the Torah’s teachings with love. Palpable love.
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Salvador Litvak wrote and directed the Passover comedy and cult hit “When Do We Eat?” His current film, “Saving Lincoln”, explores Abraham Lincoln’s fiery trial as Commander-in-Chief through the eyes of his dear friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.
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