1/ Nearly every Shabbat & Yom Tov since I left the pulpit I've prepared a drasha & shiur that I know I won't be able to deliver. I've described that for many artists the need to produce the art overwhelms an actual audience. The art compels them.
2/ I define art broadly to encompass every creative faculty that arises from the multiple intelligences, talents & perceptions in human capability. We know singers or painters are artists, but so is a teacher or philosopher. IMO society doesn't define an art, humanity does.
3/ Not everyone who has artistic talent or drive or vocation needs to have a feeling of compulsion. My chiddush (intellectual innovation) is to say everyone with that need to create has the soul of an artist whether they are recognized or not.
4/ One of my favorite images from @neilhimself's Sandman world is the library of the Dreaming, where every book ever imagined but unwritten is stored. In some ways it's the heart of the entire character & thus the series: the vast storehouse of stories.

5/ That image, in my mind & desire, is how I see the Beit Midrash of shamayim which has all of the teachers, shiurim & drashas that were never able to be taught. All the people kept out of the Beit Midrash, or cut down by oppression or prejudice. That's part of how I see heaven.
6/ So I prepare the shiur. And one day I trust I'll be able to teach it, either in this world or the next, and learn from all those who want to teach me, voices we've never been able to hear. The mountains of seforim burnt by our oppressors & the teachers forced into silence.
7/ I'm not part of that truly poignant history. My obscurity is enough of a choice that - as I needed to establish on YK itself - I can't allow others to be blamed for. But the art is irrepressible. And it's constantly being created and changed.
8/ Ironically, after I deliver a drasha or shiur, I find it nearly impossible to recreate what was said. What I said was the Torah I had at a time. Like a river, it's constantly flowing and if I teach at 10 am it will be different than what I teach at 10:15.
9/ Teaching aloud, in front of others, will also change the substance. The Heisenberg Drasha Principle. And the relevance will be changed by time. My pre-Neilah talk this year used imagery from this past month & that quickly loses its cogency even if it's effective for the Now.
10/ I compared #Neilah - which means the closing [of the gates of Heaven] - to the urgency of finding refuge, as we see in the recent hurricanes, the tornado & flood in my own community, and to the those fleeing the Taliban.
11/ Neilah is in many ways the focus & efficacy of #YomKippur, which is paradoxical because it's purposefully during a time when the day may actually be over. It's during twilight, between when the sun sets and when it's completely dark.
12/ On Shabbat, this time period is one of doubt. Is it still Shabbat or Sunday? So we act out of doubt but limit certain behaviors. YK is different: the ikkar of the day is davka during this, normally & nominally doubtful, period.
13/ The image of refuge and safety - so fresh in our minds from the news but also for many of us who huddled in our basements from tornadoes, basements that soon were filled with water that destroyed our material possessions - is what Neilah evokes in the liturgy.
14/ Imagine the rescuers over the horizon, trying to spot people to save, but limited by the oncoming darkness. Or the airport in Kabul, the places filling up, you are on line, vulnerable to attack and counting the minutes before the last plane leaves you to your doom.
15/ That fright & vulnerability is one of the moods that we need to feel at Neilah. But, as with the entire Elul-Tishrei period, it's mixed with another necessary message: that we are given an enormous opportunity and privilege to have a personal audience with Hakadosh Barukh Hu.
16/ My teacher Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt'l illuminates this concept in a recently (re)published shiur about the "Joy of Teshuva." We need to know our fate is in the balance but we should feel joy as well for the incredible near-guarantee for forgiveness.
17/ Rav Aharon, whom I miss every day and whose departure left an irreplaceable hole in our world - the only Gadol HaDor with a Ph.D. in the arts (English Literature) - possessed a complexity of thought that filled my pockets with wisdom, pockets I didn't even know were empty.
18/ Rav Aharon's essay takes as a given that repentance is a mitzvah and thus, like any mitzvah, must be accompanied by joy. It's worth reading in full, and I have a few perpendicular observations, but for Neilah he shows how it's fitting and expected to feel joy amid the terror.
19/ The joy of mitzvot comes from the joy that we can do mitzvot.

And for me, the terror of Neilah comes not from YK itself, but from how the day is designed to heighten our awareness of our everyday frightening, harrowing & horrifying fragility.
20/ Neilah comes after we've had our petty egos stripped away from deprivation - our hunger, our uncomfortable clothes, our standing and concentrating - all of this designed to remove the blinders of selfishness that we can be wearing all year long.
21/ I've said that the disempowered and/or the disabled have the Neilah feeling every day of their lives. They get a head start on the mood and meaning of #YomKippur. They know how life, comfort, ease, access etc. aren't given or expected. They live a life with less pretense.
22/ I describe this awareness possessed by the oppressed not as a gift, it's a pale recompense and a just, Godly, society would ease the suffering. Their pain is undesired but well-earned wisdom and many of my messages of YK aren't for them.
23/ Neilah is a time of the terror of needing to run for shelter, but should have the pleasure of knowing that the shelter is available and it comes with the grand joy of being in the presence of unconditional love. So we extend into twilight for both of these reasons.
24/ We push back the end of the day, claim the doors are still not closed, in order to have more time to ask for forgiveness based on our covenant & heritage. But we also cheat the clock so we can spend more time in the audience of Avinu Malkeinu. Both messages are key.
25/ At another time I will add notes to what Rav Aharon wrote, especially in light of the Rambam (presumed) position that teshuva isn't a separate mitzvah. For me, one joy in teshuva comes from the process of solving problems and figuring something out.

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More from @JoshuaCypess

17 Sep
1/ Since the beginning of the #TrumpCrisis, I've had ever increasingly difficult #YomKippur davening because of the burden I feel to act as a 'sanegor' (defender) for my community and for the Jewish world at large.

(This is in addition to the vast ways I need to improve myself)
2/ I'm not a gadol, a posek, or anything close to a tzadik. But after seeing so many rebbeim & gedolim openly support Trump (ym'sh), erase women from Jewish life, and encourage anti-vax shtuyot, I considered the tenuous possibility that I would need to act as a communal sanegor.
3/ With the established leadership descending into avoda-zara (DJT), shefichat-damim (COVID denial) & arayot (dehumanizing women), I needed to step up - out of safek-nefashot - and use all of my halakhic, rhetorical & philosophical ability to devise kappara for the Am Kadosh.
Read 17 tweets
15 Sep
1/ One more #NFL thing before the Day of Atonement. Last night's #MNF was very satisfying as a #Steelers fan. The ending of the game was nuts and I want to reproduce the nutty live-texts I sent to my sleeping son, not expecting it to become a saga of silliness.
2/ [11:31 PM] 55 yard FG to send it into overtime!

{Little did I know that this would be the least surprising thing of overtime. I should also add that many people expected BAL to go to the Superbowl and the Raiders to get a top 5 pick in the 2022 draft} Screencap from the ESPN app, score 27-27.
3/ [11:40 PM]: RAIDERS WIN
[11:41 PM]: wait hold up
[11:42 PM]: CORRECTION. will be at the half yard-line

{It was so exciting to think LV would get the ball and then just drive down the field and score. Of course, it couldn't be that simple. TD taken back.} ESPN screencap. 7:22 in OT, score still 27-27, LV in red zon
Read 8 tweets
14 Sep
1/ MacDonald died? Oh man.

First of all, I wish there was a website to find out if I'm allowed to publicly like a dead guy. Like a list of crimes so I know how to calibrate the right mix of sad, or happy, that he's dead.

[Please do that in Norm's voice]
2/ Certain people who're called "an [artist]'s artist" usually are extremists in that craft, and often unrecognized by all but a niche audience. In comedy, one of my areas of expertise, that doesn't always yield someone I personally enjoy.
3/ E.g. I detest Andy Kaufman's comedy because, for me, the barely disguised intend was cruelty. Other comedians work for "their time" like Lenny Bruce who I wish I found funnier than I do.

MacDonald was in that category.

(and this comment is great)
Read 8 tweets
14 Sep
1/ My son, new freshman at his high school, got the cover article in the weekly Torah journal, which was an awesome piece of nachas over #RoshHashanah

A few comments I feel I should make (and download available at this BE"H static link):
2/ I did not help him directly in any way. Despite my eager offer to discuss and/or proofread, he successfully shielded himself from my relentless, avid desire to help him with a D'var Torah.

I say this because (1) it's a really good piece & (2) all the language is his.
3/ However, as a gift to me, he did say that he learned "tautological" from our many conversations (yes!) and from my meta-perspective, I see he followed the advice I give to all my homiletics students based on my decades of speeches, articles, classes & other media.
Read 9 tweets
13 Sep
1/ A thread to catalog my stray comments about the NFL yesterday (as part of my academic 'obsessive archiving' heritage).

Overall, the #Steelers had an amazing road win over Buffalo mainly because of a stifling defense, which is fun in retrospect but during the game is stressful
2/ The comment below is actually from my sports-watching partner, my sportsman son, who is wise & savvy beyond his years.

Melvin "Boy Named Sue?" Ingram draws a holding penalty instead of getting a de jure sack but de facto it is one.
3/ BAL & NE are experts in bad-faith rulebook exploitation. Examples abound (see CBS link). 2 most common: the "Flacco Ball" (badly thrown deep pass designed purely to draw DPI) & having the OL hold on every play to DDOS the refs.
Read 11 tweets
12 Sep
61.01/ Week sixty-one, Sept. 11-17, 2021, thread begins here.

Week 60 below
61.02/ I am a fan of the professional sport of American Football and, as a child of Pittsburgh, a particular avid supporter of the #Steelers. I apologize ahead of time for some intemperate comments that may be made during the season which could be non-sequitur for non-NFLers.
61.03/ From last night at the #Mets-Yankees game, a scandal that Fox's cameras lingered on that hateful flag. Ironically it symbolizes the way 9-11 was perverted by corrupt bad-actors from day one.

Read 38 tweets

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