Torah of “Tamei”: Laser-Beam Holiness, Not “Impurity”

[Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman had this insight and wrote this Torah teaching. She is the lead co-author of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven on the Jewish life-cycle, author or co-author of many essays and books on Torah, and a spiritual director. – AW, editor]

 By Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman

 The  Torah portion “Tazria” that we read this week begins (Lev. 12: 2-8) with the instruction that, when a woman gives birth to a male child, she's "excluded" from the community for 40 days because she's "tamei."  But when she gives birth to a female child, she's excluded from the community for 80 days because she's "tamei".  After that, she once again becomes "tahor."

 Reading this, I think about my experience as a mother who gave birth first to a male child and later to a female child. I re-member that, in the early weeks after the birth of each baby, all of my energy was focused on getting to know and understand how to respond to the needs of this new being. I thought about how it takes at least 80 very intense days to get the rhythm of sleep and awakenessof feeding and interacting with a baby before a woman can actually understand what the baby is communicating and needing and is finally fluent/fluid enough to re-enter a life before baby.

The conventional understanding of that text has always focused on why the separation-time after the birth of a girl-child was twice as long – assuming that the time for birth of a male child was the norm.

But my memory of mothering made me flip the conventional understanding. Rather than the 80 days being an "anomaly,” perhaps the normal time from a mother’s standpoint was 80 days, and the "anomaly”  was the shortening of the normal time needed for that bonding of mother and child, from 80 days to 40 days. 

Why might this shortening have been imposed? Perhaps the male society worried that a male child, left "isolated" with his mother for more than 40 days would become too "feminized" whereas they were unconcerned about the female child being "isolated" with her mother for 80 days.

This way of thinking then led me to probe the actual meaning of "tamei" and "tahor" which has, since the time of the King James translation of the Chumash into English, been most often translated as "unclean" or "unpure" (tamei) and "clean" or "pure" (tahor).  Instead, in considering those moments in life when we are completely consumed by something -- a new baby, a new love-making, a new creative development, sickness, death -- we naturally separate ourselves from the community. Then we can concentrate on that which demands our complete attention. We are "tamei" during a time of intense concentration on one aspect of our lives and separation from the other aspects. 

At other times, we are able to focus on multiple concerns, balancing them all with relative ease. Then we are "tahor", able to hold multiple identities and tasks in and beyond our home and work lives.

Both "tamei" -- that intense laser beam of concentration -- and "tahor" -- that balance that enables us to be in and out of community fluidly as appropriate -- are holy ways of being at different times of our life.  I believe these are the real meanings of these two terms that have been so poorly translated, with so much damage in particular to women, for so many hundreds of years.

Laws of political physics, 2020-2024

I have kept writing and saying that “we” as the human species and “we” as the American people are facing a profound choice – between going backward under the control of Pharaoh’s army or forward into the Unknown of the Red Sea. And I believe that the survival of democracy in America and the survival of humanity on the planet are deeply intertwined.

The choices are so big and so urgent that they go beyond electoral politics into profound issues of society, culture, religion, and spirituality. Yet they include crucial choices in electoral politics, which did not end in 2020.  Indeed, even elections and who votes in them are shaped by deep spirituality.

I will come back to that. But let me look at elections themselves, from now till 2024:


  • 1. Unless the US Senate filibuster rule is ended, at least for bills concerning voting rights, there is no way to pass the For the People bill and the John Lewis bill to reawaken and transform the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

  • 2. Unless those bills are passed, there is no way to prevent the passage of laws in at least a dozen states that cut deeply into the voting ability of Black, Latinx, and college-student communities.

  • 3. If those state laws to restrict and suppress the vote are passed, it is likely the House and Senate in 2022 and the Presidency in 2024, will be won by right-wing politicians who will renew their destruction of the world by the burning of fossil fuels and the elimination of American democracy. They will install instead an ethnic hierarchy topped by extreme wealth and corporate control, ready to use violence to suppress opposition. The voting regime of Jim Crow 2.0, and worse.
  • 4. Therefore, there is an immediate urgent goal not only of secular progressives and the prophetic religious and those deeply rooted in the Spirit; but also small-r republicans who are committed, in Benjamin Franklin's words, to “a republic, if you can keep it”; and small-d democrats who are committed, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, to government “of the people, by the people, for the people – the whole people of all colors and ethnic origins and genders and sexualities and religions and incomes.
  • 5. The immediate goal is abolition of the filibuster, at least in regard to bills embodying voting rights.


  • 6. And there is one substantive bill that may seem miniscule compared to this overarching decision about democracy, but which I think is intrinsically connected. That is the campaign for Thirty Million Solar Homes, with a special effort to provide strong federal grants to neighborhood co-ops in rural and small town and hollowed-out former industrial working-class cities as well as marginalized Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous neighborhoods. What is so special about that campaign?

  •        We cannot heal our Earth if 51% of Americans believe the climate crisis a lethal threat, and 49% think it is a hoax. Solar/ wind neighborhood co-ops in “red” America could break through the official rejection of renewable energy and the whole notion that climate crisis is a hoax that is held by about half the national elected officials.  That is one place where Spirit and Polling Booth, neighborhood and planet, connect.

  • This coverage of ALL marginalized Americans is crucial ethically and as effective politics. Those who oppose renewable energy as long as it is only ink on paper will come to support it when it is money in the bank and good jobs on the local newspaper’s front page.  (That is what saved Obamacare.)

  • 7. After these two efforts, the next major campaign must be to affect the Congressional elections in 2022 to make the passage of voting-rights bills possible. That will be extremely difficult, if the electorate has been hobbled and suppressed.

What is at stake here? The profound spiritual question:  Do “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” or only some select part of them? Our oldest, deepest wisdom says: The whole people must be fully present at crucial moments of their history, their future. 

In our ancient teachings from the Hebrew Bible, there are moments that make the answer clear: Moses, speaking to the children of the Sinai generation, insists (Deut 5:3) that they— even though they had not yet been born – stood at Sinai. Not only the physically living in the present but also the future must count. Then Torah has Moses make the convocation rhythmic and permanent by requiring (Deut. 31: 10-12) that during Sukkot after every seventh year, the Shabbat Shabbaton or Shmitah,  the whole people must assemble. Old and young, women and men, even babes in arms, must assemble to renew Torah. Much later, after the return of exiles from Babylonia, Ezra and Nehemiah convoke the whole people (Nehemiah 8)  to recommit themselves to Torah.

What does this mean for us? Last week I urged members and readers of The Shalom Center to take action – easy and simple --  for renewing democracy in  the Senate itself: simply by calling 1202-224-3121 and speaking to their own Senators. I would add, for those who can invest fifteen minutes a day, calling also – one office each day this week --the offices of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.

 What message should you bear? That the filibuster must be abolished, at least for bills to make clear that the Federal government will act to guarantee that all adults are entitled to vote.

 The Senators I named are thought to be the most likely to make the 50 votes necessary, together with the Vice-President, to limit the filibuster and pass the voting-rights bills. I urge you to ask first to speak to the Senator's staffer most involved in voting rights, and if that becomes impossible, to record your comments: your name, where you live, your spiritual or vocational connection if you are willing, and your insistence that this moment  is so crucial to our future that the whole people must be enabled to vote.

 If you want more information about the state voter-suppression bills being passed, you can check

If you want more information about the "For the People" bill now before the Senate,check the Brennan Center for Justice at

 If you want The Shalom Center to continue working for an American democracy healthy enough to heal Earth from the climate crisis, and for climate solutions able to make possible small-d democratic neighborhood-based  management of renewable solar and wind energy, please contribute $72 or more by clicking on  the maroon “Contribute” banner just below my signature.

 In writing you this letter, I am calling on my whole life-experience – as an historian of the US past, as a legislative assistant in the House of Representatives, as an active public intellectual at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Public Resource Center, as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, as a civilly disobedient activist, and as a spiritual seeker drawing on the depths of Torah. All to say that this is a crucial moment in American and planetary history: We must consult our whole society.

Thank you.

Shalom, salaam, peace, paz, namaste -- Arthur

Over-Burdened Oxen & “Eco--Kosher": This Week’s Torah

Two passages speak especially to me in this week’s Torah Portion, called “Sh'mini.” Or rather, the creative explorations of the two are what speak to me.

One is the shocking story (Lev. 10) of the High Priest Aaron’s two sons, who brought “strange fire” into their offering to the Breath of Life; and were instantly struck dead. Was their offering fatally improper? Or did they bring so much the fullness of themselves that there was no need for them to keep on living?

The Haftarah (prophetic passage) seems a commentary on that story, and its study bears a personal delight for me. So I will explore it first.

First you need to know that as the Coronavirus lock-down first took effect a year ago, my 19-year-old grandson Elior Waskow emailed me: “Granddad, you clearly know a lot of Torah. How about we make a chevrusa (partnership to study Torah) once a week?” I was immensely pleased by the invitation, and agreed. We alternated which of us would choose a passage to read from the Torah portion or its accompanying Haftarah.

When we got to Sh’mini, I chose the Haftarah (II Samuel 6). It is the story of what happened when King David tried to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city, Jerusalem, hoping to add to his prestige as an upstart king. The Ark was carried in a cart drawn by a team of oxen. The oxen “stumbled,” according to most translations. (Everett Fox says they “let it slip.”)

Uzzah, one of the guards, grabbed the Ark to keep it from falling on the ground, and was instantly struck dead. This incident has traditionally been thought to point like the tale of Aaron’s sons to the inexplicably awesome tremendum of God’s presence so that touching the Ark, like bringing “strange fire,” brought death.

But Elior, closely reading the Hebrew, interrupted: “Granddad, here’s your favorite word in the whole Tanakh!”  “What?” said I. “Shmita! Your favorite word! Release, the seventh year when Earth is released from overwork and human beings are released from debt!”  -- See, right here, “Shamtu habakar”  --“The oxen made a release!”


[The death of Uzzah by  Giulio Quaglio the Younger in a medaillon in Liubljana Cathedral (1704)]

Wait a minute, I said. “The oxen didn’t stumble. The burden of pulling the Ark was too great, the burden of adding to the king’s prestige for his sake, not God’s, was too great. They tried to release themselves from the burden, and Uzzah tried to force them to bear the burden.” For this the  Breath of Life stopped breathing, for this God’s “nose was inflamed with anger,” for this was Uzzah struck dead. For the freedom of the ox from overwork was more important than housing the Ark in a fragrant cedar palace to make the king more powerful.

In an era when we humans are overburdening many species into their extinction, does the story speak to us?

Elior's discovery transforms the meaning of the passage, and I am “tickled pink,” as my mother used to say, that it was Elior who discovered it and knew that “shmita” was one of my favorite parts of Torah. One of those moments when a whole life-journey seems worthwhile; one is released from doubt. A moment of shmitah.

The other passage that attracted me in this week’s Torah portion is the recitation (Lev. 11) in great detail of animals that Israelites were permitted to eat, and those that were forbidden. I will explore Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi’s transformative exploration of kashrut into what he called “eco-kosher” in our own day.

The biblical recitation is not random. It follows the order of creation: Air, Sea, Land. But beyond that, it is hard to discern a pattern. Perhaps we are forbidden to eat some animals because they eat other animals -- while those we may eat make us “virtual vegetarians.” Perhaps some amphibians must not be eaten because they insist on crossing between land and sea, confounding the great divisions of Creation. Fastidious folk may be surprised to know there are even six species of grasshoppers and locusts that are kosher; other species are forbidden.

Maybe what seems irrational has a higher reason: If there is no simple general rule, everyone who eats must pay close attention to the food, making sure it is sacredly permitted.

When the rabbis of the Talmud prohibited raising sheep and goats in the Land of Israel, was that betrayal of Abraham’s heritage or an Abraham-respectful response to population growth that would denude the land and destroy its fertility if herding were permitted?

Today we are beginning to see efforts to say that beef is not kosher because huge herds of cattle threaten the planet by emitting methane gas. Or perhaps that beef can be kosher but only if its animals are grass-fed and because of this diet emit very little planet-scorching methane. Who decides? Each consumer? A religiously constituted court, for each religion? A national elected legislative body? Are these three possibilities part of an escalating process rooted in public opinion?If so, do religious bodies have an obligation to apply their ethical standards and move the process forward?

Even all this applies only to food we eat with our mouths. But today, is energy “food” that we eat with our whole bodies?  

Enter Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He went deeply into the roots of biblical kashrut. “Why these elaborate rules of what to eat?” he asked. “Because shepherds and farmers had to affirm a sacred relationship with Earth; and because food was the strongest connection between human earthlings and Earth; so rules emerged that specified what is sacred food and what is forbidden food. Now few of us are farmers or shepherds, and we take from Earth energy by way of coal, oil, natural and unnatural gas, uranium,  water-power from rushing tides or flowing rivers, wind, sunlight.

 Which of these – he coined a word – are “eco-kosher”?

 Though Reb Zalman’s coinage was explicitly not about food, the power of the “food” aura around “kosher” has brought almost all exploration of “eco-kosher” to discussions of food. 

When will we start developing standards and rules about eco-kashrut for energy? Who decides?

The Shalom Center needs your help to keep looking deeper into Torah for its deep wisdom for our day. Please click the maroon “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur


Ecstatic Visions: Passover, Easter, MLK

Today is the 8th and final day of Pesach, in many Diaspora communities. It is also Easter in most Christian communities. And it is April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s most profound speech in 1967 and of his death in 1968 --  a sacred date to an increasing number of Americans. This last date in past and present will be honored tonight at 7 pm Eastern time by the reading of Dr. King's greatest speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" by a group of national truth-tellers. We will explain this third date – today – in more detail close to the end of this Shalom Report.

Both the final day of Passover and the final day of Holy Week could be described as calling forth an ecstatic vision, affirming and transcending the highest notions of political freedom and justice.

The Prophetic reading for the last day of Passover is a passage from Isaiah, including the ecstatic vision of Chapter 8:

But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse, A twig shall sprout from his stock.

The ruach [spirit /breath /wind] of YHWH [the Breath of Life] shall alight upon him:

A ruach of wisdom and insight, A ruach of counsel and valor,

A ruach of devotion and reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life].

He shall sense the truth by his reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life]:

He shall not judge only by what his eyes see, Nor decide only by what his ears hear.

For he shall judge the poor with equity And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.

He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth

And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.

Justice shall be the belt around his loins, And faithfulness the belt around his waist.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard lie down with the kid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, With a small child leading them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, Their young shall lie down together;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.

A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole, And an infant pass his hand Over an adder’s den.

In all of My sacred mount Nothing vile or evil shall be done;

For the land shall be filled with deep knowing of YHWH [the Breath of Life]

As water covers the sea.

Here even what seems like violence – striking a land, killing the wicked – is done by speech, by persuasion. By nonviolence. And then the ecstatic vision takes off entirely: in even the order of nature, of God’s more-than-human Creation, violence shall end.

For Easter, we begin with the Holy Week of nonviolent resistance to Rome. Just a few days before Pesach, a protest march from the Mount of Olives into the midst of Jerusalem, scattering palm branches  -- a sign of spring and new life, as a modern protest might wave placards of defiance. Singing songs of joy, psalms well-known to the people. Climaxing with a challenge to the official system  supported by the Empire:

         And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew            the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, ”It is written, “My house shall be           called the house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The week proceeds with a Pesach Seder where the band of resisters plan the next steps. It is infiltrated by a paid hireling of the Empire’s secret police, who betrays then to the police. Rabbi Jesus is arrested, subjected to a “perp walk” through the city, and crucified  -- tortured to death.

 And three days later, the urge for freedom surges into an ecstatic vision: the despised prisoner who dared to resist the Empire is restored to life. The normal order of nature is reversed.  And the political order is transformed as well: the crucified rabbi becomes a transcendent hero and the God of the Empire that killed him.

In Jewish tradition, ten great rabbis tortured and killed by Rome are remembered by chanting their story on the holiest day of Jewish reverence, Yom Kippur. The nearest the story comes to an ecstatic reversal of the natural order is not the resurrection of any of the ten rabbis but their “immortalization” through memory and one element of Rabbi Akiba’s death. Akiba is sad to have smiled while  being tortured, turning his torture and death into a midrash on the meaning of the Sh’ma.

Half a century ago, the nonviolent spiritual leader Martin Luther King, who resisted governmental injustice  -- racism and war --  was murdered on  the first anniversary of his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it he prophetically warned the deadly “triplets” haunting America – militarism, racism, and materialism – would ruin America if they were left to fester. Perhaps he used the word “triplets” instead of “trio” to point out they share the same DNA -- the impulse to dominate and subjugate. We have watched other forms of the same DNA – sexism, hatred of foreigners, religious bigotry, contempt for the processs of democratic elections and workers’ rights and the free press, contempt for and poisoning of our mothering Earth – bring death and despair to many Americans.

Dr. King’s ecstatic vision did not call for tha transformation of the natural world. It focused on the transformation of human society:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.

"Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

"We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."

Dr. King has been immortalized in many ways – a national holy day in his name, the creation of the Freedom Seder and its being first held on April 4 -- the first anniversary of his death—and in many instances for the last half century on a date very close. For the 50th anniversary, on April 7, 2019, a Freedom Seder held in a Philadelphia Mosque, the Freedom Seder built to a climax with the Prophetic speech of Reverend William Barber II, who drew on Jeremiah to call for a march to the “royal palace”  -- the White House --  of our own corrupt and murderous king.

And now there has arisen a new way of calling out the Prophet Martin’s truth.This very evening, a band of national leaders will take turns reading his speech about the deadly triplets. Here is how you can join in the moment:


The Shalom Center is a co-sponsor of the reading.

 With blessings of freedom and eco/ social justice, Arthur

Passover: From Marking Old Freedom to Making New Freedom

The festive nights of marking ancient Freedom are over. The active days of making new Freedom are upon us.

While we were preparing meals with matzah, the bread that had no time to rise amid “fierce urgency of now,” the lawmakers of Georgia were baking the no-bread, no-water of enslaving would-be voters.

The recipe:

  1. Cook up a law reducing to almost none the voting centers in Black neighborhoods, meaning would-be voters will have to stand in line for long long hours, to vote.
  2. Make it a crime to offer food or water to those who are standing in line to vote.
  3. Burn it all in the oven of a racist Governor, and out comes the bread of affliction, the taste of subjugation.

Georgia’s new racist election law does not stand alone. Around the country, many state lawmakers are conspiring to deny the right to vote to Black communities, Latinx neighborhoods, and young voters of all colors who are college students. (The Brennan Center for Justice reports that “In Texas, one can vote with a handgun license, but not a student ID.”)

Only a Federal law can stop this multi-state assault on democracy. Here is what we can do:

Let us make  real what we have said at our Passover Seder: “Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who thirst for freedom, drink from Miriam’s Well!”    

The House of Representatives has passed the “For the People” bill. It is now before the Senate. The bill includes two weeks of early voting so no one need stand in line to vote, as well as automatic and same- day registration. It also restores the vote to all formerly incarcerated citizens and allows people who lack photo ID to vote with sworn affidavits of their identity.  It provides for new small-donor matching system to fund election campaigns, and outlaws partisan gerrymandering.

Before the 2020 election, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and will do so again. The John Lewis Act fixes the problems the Supreme Court claimed to find when it gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the John Lewis Act reestablishes  Federal “pre-clearance” for changes in election law by any state, not just in the South, that has a history of actions that prevent racial minorities from voting.

And finally, the House has passed and again will pass a law granting statehood to the people of the District of Columbia (renamed DC for “[Frederick] Douglass Commonwealth.”

All three of these steps toward a more inclusive democracy will then face an obdurate Senate filibuster, where it takes not a majority of 51 votes but 60 to pass a law.

The Senate is already an undemocratic, even anti-democratic body. States with fewer than a million people each (Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, north Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware) are each equal to states like California (42 million); Texas (28 million); Florida (21 million); New York (20 million); Illinois (13 million); and Pennsylvania (13 million).

The six smallest, with a total population fewer than five million people, cast 12 Senatorial votes; the six biggest – total population 137 million --  also cast 12 Senatorial votes. Since the small states have very few non-white people and the largest have much more diverse populations, the bias in favor of isolated whites is even greater. And the filibuster, greatly favoring small states with many Senators who can more easily put together a blocking 41 votes, makes it still more undemocratic.

Fifty Senators plus Vice-President Kamala Harris could change the Senate rules – even abolish the filibuster altogether. But there seem to be more than 50 Senators opposed to abolition.  There is growing support for making voting rights a specially sacred cause, to forbid a filibuster on that subject, just as the Senate forbade it for confirming judicial and executive appointments.

So this what I urge all of us to do: Make two phone calls, one to each of your Senators. (Just call 1202-224-3121 and tell the operator your state, asking for each Senator. If you are from DC, not yet a State with any Senators, ask for Majority Leader Schumer.

Start by saying your name and where you live. Tell then you are calling in honor of Passover‘s call for freedom and justice, or that same call embodied in the Last Supper (a Passover Seder) of Holy Week; or to honor Laylat HaBarat (March 28-29), the Muslim Night of Repentance; or to honor the Hindu Spring Festival of Colors, or any time of compassion and justice that appeals to you.

Why mention these? Because “democracy” is not just a vote or a law, though it must include them; it tastes of spiritual wisdom stirred up through millennia of peppering the pot in every kitchen.                                  

Then urge the Senator to co-sponsor and support three bills and one rules change:  The For the People Act (S1); the John Lewis Act when it reaches the Senate; DC Statehood for Douglass Commonwealth; and a rules change exempting all voting-rights bills from the filibuster.

After you have made your two phone calls, send us an email at saying you made these calls to which Senators, and your home address. We will send you a special commemoration of your action to “All who hunger for justice, come and eat!”

If you feel drawn to help The Shalom Center pursue justice in this way, please click on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin, and send a gift to support this campaign.

And share this message with your friends, colleagues, and congregants.

May the blown-up tyranny of those who swallow up the votes of a free people vanish like the swollen chumitz in this Festival of Freedom!

Good yontif and shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

Passover Anew: Kindling Candles, Four More Questions, Facing New Plagues

Dear friends, We send you three passages for use in your Passover Seders or in your gatherings for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday. One is for kindling candles of commitment, one is Four More Questions to add wherever you wish, and one to accompany recitation of the Plagues with three outcries for the choking of our breath and a prayer for new breath, new Spirit.  Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --   Arthur


Between the Fires:

An Invocation for

Kindling Candles of Commitment


We are the generations

That stand between the fires.


Behind us

The burning crosses lit by hate

To choke our people in the smoke of terror;

Behind us the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.


Not yet behind us

The burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

Not yet behind us, the glare of gun fire

exploding in our children.

Not yet behind us –

the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

"Here! The day is coming,”

Said the Prophet Malachi,

“That will flame like a furnace,”

Says YHWH / Yahhhh --

The Infinite InterBreath of Life --

Yet for all who revere

My Interbreathing Name, Yahhhh,

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in the beating of its wings,

its rays, its winds.


“Here! Before the coming

of the great and awesome day

of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

I will send you the Prophet Elijah

to turn the hearts of elders to their youth

and the hearts of the youth to their elders,

lest I come and smite the earth with utter desolation."


Here! we ourselves are coming

Before that great and terrible day

Of smiting Earth —

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of elders and youth to each other

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.


We ourselves are coming

To douse that outer all-consuming fire.

We must light again in our own hearts

the inner fire of love and liberation

that burned in the Burning Bush --

The fire that did not consume the Bush it burned in,

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished:

The fire in the heart of all Creation.


It is our task to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.




  1. Why do we break the matzah in two before we eat it?


Matzah, the pressed-down bread that embodies the "fierce urgency of Now," was both the bread of the oppressed and the bread of freedom.

If we keep the whole matzah for ourselves, it remains the bread of affliction. Only if we share the matzah can it become the bread of freedom. We must break the matzah in two in order to share it with each other.

If we hold all our abundance, our prosperity, for ourselves, the withholding brings forth anger and resentment, guilt and fear. The abundant bread becomes the bread of affliction. Only if we share our abundance with each other can it become the bread of freedom.

If we gobble all the abundance of our Mother Earth for human society alone, leaving no space for other life-forms, the Earth will choke and curdle. Whatever bread may barely grow will bear affliction. Only if we share our air, our water, with the myriad shapes of life will all this growing birth our freedom.


If we hold our own knowledge, our own wisdom, for ourselves alone, we end up in a Narrowness that enslaves us. Only if we share our wisdom with other traditions, other communities, and open ourselves to learn from them, can our wisdom lead to freedom. [Mitzrayyim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, actually means  “Tight and Narrow Place.”]

If we try to hold the whole land for ourselves, even the Land of Israel, the land will remain a land of affliction. Only if we share it with another people can it become the land of freedom.

 And so, at the beginning of the Seder we break the matzah, and at the end of the Seder we share its pieces with each other, to eat the bread of freedom.


2. Why is there an orange on the Seder plate?

 Of all the foods upon the Seder plate, only the orange bears the seeds that can grow the next generation of our freedom. The orange first came to us as the newly fruitful gift of those who had been treated as outsiders to our community – – lesbians and gay men, Jews by choice, women, the blind and those whose minds or tongues were stammering.

 All these have sown the seeds of creativity. If these seeds flower, they will sow new generations of the unexpected.


3.Why is there charoset on the Seder plate, and why do we linger on its delicious taste? 

Because charoset embodies the delicious Song of Songs, which itself celebrates the embodiment of love among human beings and love between Earth and human earthlings. All the many recipes for charoset draw on the ingredients named only in the cookbook of the Song of Songs – – wine, nuts, fruit, spices.

 We are taught to recite the Song of Songs during Passover in order to remind us that the joy of freedom cannot be celebrated in human societies alone; as in the time of Eden, all Earth must sing for joy. Because in Eden, the Garden of Delight, we humans tried to gobble all the fruitfulness of Earth, Eden ended with an Earth turned stingy and with half the human race subjugated to the other half. Passover calls us to Eden once again, Eden for a grown-up humankind where love and freedom join in fuller celebration.


4.These are three questions. What is the fourth question?

 That is the fourth question.


Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;


Facing Plagues: Three Outcries and a Prayer  

 Can’t Breathe” 

Again and again,

With gun or choke-hold.

Police have stolen the breath of Black Americans.

The police are not merely police

For they hold a national authority

To use violence on behalf of the nation:

To serve us all, protect us all.

When they subjugate the Black community

They implicate us all, 

They make us all Subjugators, 

They make us all Subjugated.

But their misdeeds have stirred 

A great Uprising against racism.

Then when our rulers ignore the racist danger 

And pretend the danger is the protest,

The subjugation becomes still worse 


We can’t breathe.

All humanity is choking

From a virus that invades our lungs

We have left no space for other species 

And the virus leaps into our lives 

Then when our rulers ignore the danger 

It becomes still worse 

Choking our societies, our jobs, our businesses,

Our democracy. Our lives.  


Earth Can’t Breathe

All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing

Plants breathe in Carbon dioxide, breathe out Oxygen. 

Animals breathe in Oxygen, breathe out Carbon dioxide.

We breathe in what the trees breathe out;

The trees breathe in what we breathe out.

Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive. 

Nishmat kol chai, tivarekh et shimcha: Yahhhh elohenu:

Hallelu-Yahhh (x4)

The breath of all life praises Your Name;

For your Name in truth whispers all breath.

For your Name in truth whispers all life. 

YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh/ Yah, is our God.

The God of all life.

Hallelu-Yahhh (x4)

But too much CO2 is the “climate crisis” --  

Chokes our breathing.

Earth can’t breathe.

All Earth is scorched by burning fossil fuels

But Carbon Pharaohs burn their way to faster wealth.


You Who are the Breath of Life,

At Sinai You taught us,

You shall not take My Name with an empty heart.

You shall not breathe My Name with empty heart.

Every breath we take 

is Itself Your Name, 

Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.

You Who are the Breath of Life,

Heal us to breathe.


I Speak, I Who freed you from choking in the Tight and Narrow Place:

To live Broad Spaces where My breath, my wind, blows free,

No one shall rob you of My Name, My Breath, My Holy Spirit.



Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

 Text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Non-Commercial License;, which means to cite the source.

  If you are moved by any of these passages, if you dip them once or twice or more into your Seder, please make a contribution to The Shalom Center through the "Contribute" banner on gtthe left margin --  AW

The WHY of the Georgia Murders

There are at least three major theories of why there were murders in Georgia of six Asian American massage therapists, all women, plus two other people.

Racism against Asian Americans, especially worsened by Trump’s constant description of the Covid sickness as “the China virus.”

The murderer’s own theory -- that he was consumed by a “sex addiction” and felt he could purge himself of it or at least control it by killing women.

The prevalence of guns with few controls over them. 

Eco-Justice Activism: March 21, Multireligious Wisdom/ First Gathering



Dear friends, We welcome you for Spring Equinox the evening of March 21 to the first Gathering toward the Mulltireligious Institute for Eco-Justice Activism (MIEJA). This first Gathering is a free-will event, with an invitation to join with no fee or if you feel drawn  to help meet the costs, a free-will contribution of $18 or $36.

To register, please click to Http://  You will be sent a Zoom link. Please plan to enter the link at 6:45 pm EST, 3:45 pm PST, etc., on Sunday evening,  March 21, for music before the formal program starts at 7 pm EST SHARP. 

MIEJA is co-sponsored by The Shalom Center, Yerusha, and the Order of the Sacred Earth. We especially welcome Jacquelyn Patterson, the NAACP's leading expert on climate and environmental justice; Brother Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing  and co-founder of the Order of the Sacred Earth, Jose Aguto of the Catholic Climate Covenant; Pat McCabe (Woman Stands Shining) of the Native/Indigenous community; and Rev. Donna Schaper, transformative clergy of Judson Memorial Church in New York City, to join teachers from The Shalom Center, Yerusha, and OSE. 

We look forward to seeing you on Zoom at 7 pm EST, 4 pm PST, as Spring begins and we tiptoe to the edge of Passover and Palm Sunday. 

Shalom, salaam, paz, peaace, namaste! --  Arthur  

seder bok 1

Almost two years ago, shortly after the extraordinary FreedomSeder+50 that included profound teachings and prophetic speeches,  the two of us -- Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman and Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow -- decided to create a book of many new voices –- a book to inspire the future called Liberating Your Passover Seder: An Anthology Beyond the Freedom Seder.


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