You Shall Pursue

January 9, 2014


Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 11:56 pm

Today I am grateful for my broken places. I am grateful for the reminder that I am not perfect, that perfection is an illusion, and that it is the height of arrogance to pretend that I am anything even approaching perfect. I am grateful for the opportunity to fortify myself in the cracked places, to get stronger, to grow better, and to continue on more humbly that before. I am grateful for the supportive loved ones who hold me in my broken times, and for the people who treat me with compassion even as I am disappointing them. I am grateful for the reminder that I need to treat others with compassion even as they are disappointing me. I am grateful for the opportunity to remember that we are all of us broken, and that it is my duty and privilege to hold all of the people of the world with compassion and love when they are hurting and scared and unsure. Because I have been so blessed to come through the fire, again and again, each time a little stronger, and a little more whole, than the time before.

September 13, 2013

Excruciating Vulnerability (Rosh Hashanah Sermon 2103/ 5774)

I delivered this sermon on Rosh Hashanah at my congregational internship. It is based on this post. The full text of “the Seam of Skin and Scales” is here and you can find Benee Brown’s TED Talk here.

Shanah Tovah and a gut yontif  to all of you! I want to thank you for welcoming me to your community this year and for giving me a chance to learn with all of you. Let me start this morning with a story.

There was a rabbi named Abaye, and one day as he was walking through the fields of Persia, he came upon an unmarried man and woman walking along together. And Rabbi Abaye, who was concerned for their reputations, decided to follow along behind them to make sure that nothing improper happened.

He followed them. For NINE MILES.

The couple came to a fork in the road, said their goodbyes, and walked off, the man along his path, the woman along hers. Abaye was confused; why on earth didn’t he have to intervene? Surely any red blooded man in that situation would have tried to make a pass at that woman! And then he realized; it is not ANY man, it is him, he is the one who would have tried to take advantage of the situation, and of that woman.

This discovery led to a minor mental breakdown. He curled up in the doorframe of a nearby house and began to weep, when suddenly, one of his elders happened along. And the elder passed on some sage advice. “The greatest men of every generation,” he said “have the greatest evil inclinations.”

Imagine this, a rabbi and a pillar of the community publicly crying and confessing his sins, and being forgiven, not because his sin was not so bad, but because sinning is a part of life.

Contrast that with how we talk about sin in modern America, where you are either sinful or righteous, with no in-between.

It is an understatement to say the least, that this causes problems.

How many of us know the terror of saying something foolish, doing something that will elicit scorn, or showing even a moment of weakness? We believe that because we are fallible that we have failed. We are terrified of the thought that we might not be perfect, as anything less would make us unlovable and worthless. But there is not a single person on earth who is free from insecurities, flaws, and faults; who has not, from time to time, failed to live up to his or her best self.

I watched an online lecture recently by researcher/ storyteller Benee Brown in which she speaks movingly of what she calls “excruciating vulnerability.” In the course of her research on love and belonging, she discovers that in order to feel worthy of love and belonging, a person needs to exhibit the courage to show their imperfect selves and the compassion to love their authentic selves and the authentic selves of others.

What does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah? This is our time for excruciating vulnerability Judaism gives us a week and a half every year where we are commanded to let the mask slip. We have the opportunity to show the courage and compassion that might be lacking the other 355 days a year. The yearly process of the High Holy Days marks the pinnacle in an endless process of recognizing and reaffirming that life has scarred us in a million big and small ways, and that these scars lead us to live fearful sometimes, to be less loving, to not live fully up to our ideals.

So this morning I want to ask you two difficult quesitons:

How vulnerable are we willing to be to show our authentic selves?

How willing are we to admit our imperfections to others and especially to ourselves in order to lead fuller and healthier lives?

The six months leading up to my acceptance into rabbinical school were not easy for me. During a particularly difficult work situation, I broke down crying in my parents’ car on the way home from the train station, briefly considered quitting my job and moving home, then found myself a therapist instead. I was plagued with anxiety that I was failing at everything. And since starting school, I have not learned to “be healthy,” per se. Rather, I have learned that it is okay, normal, and natural to be flawed, and that I can still be loved and accepted as I am. And, ironically, letting go of my need to be perfect and digging down into my flaws and letting them show has helped me grow more as a human being than I ever thought possible.

Giving up and letting go can ONLY be transformative if it is not a private conversation between us and God. We are expected to back up our private shame with public action, and apologize to those whom we have wronged. But how many of us take the time to dig into excruciating vulnerability, and begin to repair the breaches with those whom we love? How many of us go the friends whose pain we have ignored, or the family with whom we have low level grudges that have lasted for years, or the neighbors who we have never bothered to get to know?

And our teshuva needs to go deeper even than that.

In the Torah, the Day of Atonement is not only for the sins of Jew against Jew, it is for the resident aliens as well.

What if teshuva meant not only showing vulnerability to those whom we love, but to open our interactions with acquaintances and even strangers to vulnerability as well? How much good we could do in the world, if only we could open ourselves to the possibility that we might be wrong?

Whenever I hear people speak of the “undeserving poor,” the people who need to work harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, I hear people who are terrified of admitting that they did not earn what they have entirely by hard work, but by luck and connections as well. Whenever I hear people defend bigoted statements by saying that they are not racist or sexist or homophobic, I hear their terror at admitting that they still have growing to do as a human being.

In a country where Congress passed 22 bills between January and August, a record low, where people shoot schools, bomb marathons, and kill teenagers for the crime of walking back from the convenience store, the need to be right triumphs over the need to do right, and the consequences are disastrous for those we need to care for most.

This is why personal confrontation and confession is so important. We stand before those whom we have wronged, and tell them that we are flawed and broken. And that mutual act of recognition, of two people looking back at one another and confessing their brokenness builds a stronger bond, a bond built on honesty.

And so, we start today. God is sharpening God’s quill, taking the scrolls down from off the shelf, and considering whether we will live or die.

And I exhort you all to live. Do not hold back for fear that your repentance will be unsuccessful, because the only way to have even hope of success is through that blinding fear and doubt.

Yes, choose life, that you may live. And choose love, that you may be loved. And choose the pain cracking open that shell because, in the words of Leonard Cohen, that’s how the light gets in.

I would like to leave you with an excerpt from a poem called “the Seam of Skin and Scales” from activist and clergywoman Elena Rose. In her poetic vision, it is the monsters, the flawed ones, who inherit the earth.

It is time to look the monstrous in the eye. It is time.

It is time to say that we are beautiful in our fierceness, and that we are our own. We are not the rejected of what we can never be. We are what we were meant to be. We are not pieces of wholes thrown together incorrectly. We are not mistakes.

We are not inferior knockoffs of someone else. If our monstrousness is frightening, then it is time we bare our teeth and draw that fear close to us and stop being so afraid of our fearsomeness that we fear everyone and everything else right back.

May we all live to see the day that we are free to accept our true selves, skin and scales and all.

Shanah Tovah.


April 16, 2013

In Which I am Scared, and Sad

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:16 pm

So it’s another day, and I am still angry, and I am scared. I am scared because I saw what happened to this country after 9/11. I was just old enough to have some sense of the world, and then things changed here, and for the worst. And I am terrified, terrified, that something similar is going to happen again.

I don’t want to live in a country where domestic terrorism is dismissed as “mental illness” and we run with open arms toward jingoistic chauvinism at the slightest provocation. I am tired of my elected representatives favoring party rhetoric over meaningful change that will make the lives of the poor and disempowered better. I am so, so very tired of knowing, knowing that there are so many people who agree with me, who want peace and economic equality and dignity of work for everyone, and yet our economy is still shit and we are still killing each other. I am tired of violence, tired of hatred, tired of fear.

The voices of those acting out of anger and pain seem so very very loud. We call out for peace, and our voices are dwarfed by those who advocate for war, for violence, for destruction, for bloodshed. There is so much beauty in hands reaching out to hands, and yet so very little seems to change, to get better. When will the voice of love rise up and drown out the voice of hate?

March 7, 2013

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:10 pm

The beauty and fragility of family narrated by a brilliant kid. I see great things in store for him…

January 20, 2013

An Anthem for Healing

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:09 am

Mountain Goats- You Were Cool

December 20, 2012

Thoughts About Terrible Things

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , , , , — marleyweiner @ 4:31 am

So, this thing happened. And people died. Babies died. And I simultaneously want to talk about it, and I don’t really have the words.

Evil is real. People choose to do awful things to one another, to hurt each other, to kill each other. There are many reasons that we can talk about why that is, the culture of violence, entitlement, and domination that we live in. The insane level gun access in this country. But no matter where we point the blame, the fact is that evil is as much a part of human life as good is. We have violent, nasty evil impulses, and sometimes people choose to act on those evil impulses and bring horror into the world.

What can we do about this as religious people? Our job is twofold. First of all, we must stand as prophets against this madness. We must say: this is enough. We cannot stand by while our neighbors are literally bleeding. We must write, speak, call, until the world begins to heal.

Second, we must stand as a force for love in our community. I have my kids to watch out for; I have to keep them feeling safe and loved and supported even while we talk about this terrible thing that happened. I have friends, family, classmates, and we all need to lean on each other and love each other. We are  community, and the only way to stand against the evil in this world is by sharing our love for one another, over and over again until people truly feel loved and brave and whole. This is what God is for, to look evil in the face and say, there is a force greater than you, that will heal the destruction that you have wrought, that will fight tooth and nail to keep it from ever happening again.

Here is an organization that you can check out to learn more about fighting gun violence in Philadelphia.

As of today, there is legislation being proposed in the Senate for an assault rifle ban. You can contact your Senator here.

Blessings of love, peace, and healing for the families whose children were murdered. May you find support and love in this horribly dark time.

June 28, 2012

In Which I Look for Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 12:49 am

Finding jobs is hard. That is all. (more profound thoughts some other time!)

May 23, 2012

Wholeness, Perfection, and American Consumption

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:47 am

The six months leading up to my acceptance into rabbinical school were not easy for me. During a particularly difficult work situation, I broke down crying in my parents’ car on the way home from the train station, briefly considered quitting my job and moving home, then found myself a therapist instead. I was, during this time, plagued with anxiety that I was failing at everything: my job, my dating life, my quest toward rabbinical school, everything. And in the past year, I have not learned to “be healthy,” per se. Rather, I have learned that it is okay, normal, and natural to be flawed, and that I can still be loved and accepted as I am, even broken and damaged.


Blog at