Carmel Louis, Teacher of Mindfulness
On October 14th at 8:45 am, my watch battery died. The date is significant because it is the morning when we finally left two weeks of quarantine in Tel Aviv and held our new grandson in our arms for the first time.
As I write these words, I am sitting on my return flight home. Recollecting two magical weeks with Sagi, Sarah and newborn Carmel Louis, I can see now the significance of lacking a functioning watch.
What time was it? It was the present moment in every moment.
I have tried to be intentional for many years, studying and practicing mindfulness, even having the chutzpah to teach it. But for the first time, I experienced complete presence without working at it.
Carmel Louis was my teacher.
What time was it? Without my watch and with my phone tucked away, it was just this moment.
It was time for Carmel to cuddle in my arms, listening to me sing “White Cliffs of Dover.”
It was time for Sagi and Sarah to give Carmel a bath. (He screamed throughout!)
It was time to bless Carmel for Shabbat.
It was time to push Carmel’s stroller to the tayelet (the walkway beside the Mediterranean) to see the sunset.
It was time to take three chicken pot pies out of the oven, one for dinner, one for Josh, and one for the freezer.
It was time to sit on the balcony beside Sagi’s herb garden as Sarah nursed Carmel.
It was time to stare endlessly at Carmel Louis Fainshtain Drill, mesmerized by every expression that passed across his tiny face.
Before I post these words, I will have returned home, turned off my away message, and begun responding to my emails. I am grateful for the lessons taught by Carmel and I will maintain them as I reenter the hectic pace of rabbinic work during a pandemic.
I hope that the lessons I learned will not only stay with me, but be helpful to you as well.
- Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking means that you’re going to miss something.
- Practice doing nothing at all except for gazing at something perfect and beautiful in God’s world. If you don’t have Carmel handy, practice with the view from your window, your pet, or a loved one on Zoom.
- Be completely aware of your blessings in every moment. If you feel down or fatigued or worried (as we are apt to feel in these days), reframe the moment. Despite your experience at the time, look for and count your blessings. (Sarah described feeling so tired when she heard Carmel cry just one-half hour after a middle of the night feeding. Then she looked into his little face and was flooded with love.)
- Put your phone down and take off your watch. I know that I cannot do this in my normal days as I did for two weeks on Mapu Street in Tel Aviv. But I can do it for an hour every day. And I can do it on Shabbat.
Let me know how you do! Drop me a note anytime! What time? The present moment in every moment will be just the right time!
With blessings, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
At the intersection of life and Torah
Please, God, not this week.
I see my daily life through the lens that Torah provides as a construct in time. The parashat hashavua (weekly Torah portion), divided into seven parts, often provides daily insights and a thematic through line for the seven days of my week. There was a time when I considered the connections of my life with Torah teachings as coincidences. But that is no longer the case. Now I look for the connections, and they are usually pretty easy to find.
But this week, I don’t want the connections to be made. This week, I don’t want the story to fit my life.
This week’s parashah, Vayechi, reads: “Vayikrevu yemei Yisrael la’mut,” “The time approached for Israel to die….” After Jacob/Israel gathers the strength to bless his grandsons Ephraim and Menasheh, he offers insights into his sons’ lives, and he dies.
My grandfather Israel has reached the end of his years at 100, possibly the end of his months, maybe the end of his weeks. His children and grandchildren have given him their final blessings. His soul knows it has our blessings to be joined with his ancestors and loved ones, to take its leave when it so chooses.
But please God, not this week.
After all, Israel is 147 when he dies. My grandfather Israel is only 100.
Israel calls his son Joseph to his bedside, then fails to recognize Joseph’s children. My grandfather Israel saw his son Joey on Sunday, and recognized his grandchildren without a prompt.
Israel blesses his sons with the prayer that their offspring should multiply for generations to come, having lived only to see two great-grandchildren. My grandfather Israel has lived to see great-great-grandchildren, and has no such need for such prayers. His have been answered.
Israel dies in a foreign land, his descendants about to spend centuries in exile and enslavement. My grandfather Israel brought his family out of exile and enslavement to a land of freedom and prosperity.
Israel looks back on his life as difficult and frustrating, filled with challenges and suffering. My grandfather Israel considers himself the luckiest man alive, blessed with a wonderful life despite having lived through the Holocaust, illness and loss.
My Israel, son of Abraham has so little in common with the Torah’s Israel, son of Isaac. My Israel is a man of generosity and vision; the Torah’s Israel is a man of limited sight and spirit. My Israel is a patriarch who has been loved and respected by the generations that have followed him; the Torah’s Israel spent most of his days as Jacob, forging a twisting path through difficult relationships.
So you see, God, this week’s parashah Vayechi (“And he lived”) should stop right there as far as any connection with my grandfather Israel goes. Next week we’ll begin reading the story of Moses. As far as I’m concerned, his is a story that is a far better parallel to that of my grandfather Israel. Especially the part that we’ll read at the end of Moses’ life: “For there never arose in Israel another prophet like Moses, whom God knew face to face.”
Ken y’hi ratzon, so may it be Your will.
Rabbi Craig Scheff