Down-to-Earth Spirituality

The success of this blog gave birth to the book: Bible Blog Your Life: Kabbalah for Photographing God and a new blog. Unlike the Torah narrative that begins “In the Beginning,” a blog begins at the end. This "Torah Tweets" blog displays its narrative in reverse chronological order with the most recent post appearing first. The new blog http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com was created to reverse the order of the blog posts in this blog to begin in the beginning. Both the new book and blog invite you to explore creative ways to photograph God in all that happens in your everyday life while crafting a vibrant dialogue between your story and the Bible’s story.

Postdigital Narrative on Spiritual Dimensons of Everyday Life ///// "For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp." (Deuteronomy 23:15) ///// "Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward ... does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the factory, the street, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life." (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik) ///// "It is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent, the elevation of his soul in closeness to G-d, he must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it - the world of his work and his social life - until not only do they not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they become a full part of it." (R. Menachem M. Schneerson) ///// "If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times. Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture, it will be ground-level, on the street, it'll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else." (E. L. Doctorow) ///// "The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth, to enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as an entire nation." (R. Abraham Y. Kook)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bible Blog Your Life: Kabbalah for Photographing God

From the Introduction to new book by Mel Alexenberg.  

Down-to-Earth Spirituality

Abraham rushed to the tent to Sarah and said, “Hurry!  Take three measures of the finest flour!  Kneed it and make rolls!”  Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender and choice calf.  (Genesis 18:6,7)

Abraham ran after a calf that ran away from him into a cave that was the burial place of Adam and Eve. 
At the far end of the cave, he saw intense light emanating from an opening.
When he came close to the opening, he found himself standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. 
About to enter the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent.
What should he do?  Should he trade Paradise for a barbeque?
The Bible tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making a meal for their three guests.
Abraham realized that Paradise is what we create with our spouse at home. 
Other visions of Paradise are either mirages or lies.

Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the days of your life. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
My wife, Miriam, and I worked together to create paradise in our vegetarian kitchen.
Adam and Eve had a vegetarian kitchen.
Spirituality emerged from our collaboration making a potato casserole for our guests.
We bought potatoes and scallions in Avi’s vegetable store and cottage cheese and grated yellow cheese in Bella’s grocery.    
We baked the potatoes in the microwave, sliced them into the baking pan and covered them with the cheeses. 
Miriam washed the scallions, cut them up, and sprinkled them over layers of cheese-covered potatoes.
After the casserole was baked, we served it to our guests. 
 

Photograph God in Your Kitchen 

This biblical narrative linked to revealing God in a contemporary kitchen presents the core concept of the forthcoming book:
BIBLE BLOG YOUR LIFE: KABBALAH FOR PHOTOGRAPHING GOD.   

Although its ideas are derived from the Hebrew Bible and kabbalah, its message speaks to people of all religions and spiritual traditions.  
The book begins by teaching you how to make an invisible God become visible through your creative lens.  It draws on the ancient wisdom of kabbalah to help you recognize that you have been looking at God all the time and often missed the action.  It helps you develop conceptual and practical tools for photographing God as divine light reflected from every facet of your life.

Just as a prism breaks up white light into the colors of the spectrum, kabbalah reveals a spectrum of divine light based upon the biblical passage "You God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and the [foundation] of everything in heaven and on earth” (Chronicles 1:29).   You will learn that photographing God is to creatively photograph these six divine attributes as they flow down into your life.
The second part of this book invites you to connect your personal narrative to the biblical narrative.  It guides you in creating your own blog to document how your everyday experiences reflect biblical messages.   It teaches how to find fresh meaning in your life story by relating it to the biblical story.      

Having learned how to focus your lens on God wherever you look will help you create blog narratives gleaned from your reading the Bible creatively.   

You will be encouraged to explore imaginative ways for blogging photographic sequences that link two stories – the story of your life as it unfolds and the enduring biblical story.  You will learn creative ways to write accompanying tweet texts to disseminate worldwide through Twitter and other social media. The 52 postings of the year-long “Torah Tweets” blogart project that my wife, the artist Miriam Benjamin, and I created offers a model for your Bible blogging.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bible Blog Your Life

An Invitation to Reveal Spirituality in All You Do. 
Link Your Story to the Bible's Story.

We have completed documenting our 52nd year of marriage by Bible Blogging our life together to reveal spirituality in all we did.
Now, we invite other couples who find the Bible an inspiration to celebrate their relationship by creating their own Bible Blog.
Bible Blogging can also be a meaningful way for individuals and families to reveal spirituality in their lives.
Every week, study a biblical portion and select a passage that speaks to you. 
The Torah, the biblical books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), are divided up into weekly portions.
You can see how these five books are divided up in this Torah Tweets blog and at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekly_Torah_portion.        
Create a blog posting that includes photographs of your life that week, present or past, which relates to the passage you selected.  
Add a text that links your images and the biblical passage to spiritual dimensions of your everyday life.
It can be a creative challenge to write your text as tweets limited to 140 characters.  That way, you can post your blog text on Twitter.
Our photographs here zoom in on the images from our first posting on this Torah Tweets blog.
They document our discovery of the creation of the world not more than a few steps from our home.
A cactus on our porch, plants and cat in front of our house, goldfish in the pet shop next door, our dog Snowball, and cloves in a citron.

For the theoretical background for Bible Blogging your life, read Mel Alexenberg's book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Vezot Haberakhah (And This is the Blessing) וזאת הברכה

This is the Blessing

And this is the blessing…. before the eyes of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 33:1 and 34:12)

From generation to generation, they will dwell in the Land of Israel where the wilderness will rejoice over them, the desert will be glad and blossom like a lily. Her wilderness will be made like Eden and her desert like a Divine garden.  Joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music. (Isaiah 35:1, 50:3)  


Our Torah Tweets blogart project draws to a close as we celebrate our wedding anniversary and begin our 53rd year together

On the Simhat Torah holiday, we rewind the torah scroll reading the end followed by the beginning and dance with the torah singing.
When the holiday ended, dancing and singing continued into the night 52 years ago to celebrate our wedding, prolonging joy and gladness.   

As we rewind the torah scroll to begin a new year, we link its last word YisraeL (Israel) to its first word Bereshit (In the beginning).  

The last letter Lamed followed by the first letter Bet spells "heart" Lamed Bet. At the heart of the torah, our blessings are renewed.
The last torah portion is Vezot habrakha/And this is the blessing. 

We are blessed with wonderful children: Ron, Ari, Iyrit, Moshe, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 
Moshe & Carmit with their children: Elianne and Avraham.
Ron & Miri with their children: Or, Yahel, Shirel, Meitav, Tagel, Razel.
Ari & Julie with their children: Elan and Talia.
Iyrit's children: Yishai, Rachelle, Inbal, Renana. 

Iyrit with her grandchildren, our great-grandchildren: Eliad and Tehila, the children of Inbal and Moshe Peretz. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ha'azinu (Give ear) האזינו

The Eighth Day
Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, O earth hear the words of my mouth.  May my teaching drop like rain, may my words flow like dew, like downpours upon plant leaves and like raindrops on blades of grass. (Deuteronomy 32:1-2) [In the Land of Israel, the first rain has a name - יורה yoreh. Yesterday, we were blessed by the yoreh as it quenched the earth's thirst after a dry summer.]האזינו השמים ואדברה ותשמע הארץ אמרי פי יערף כמטר לקחי תזל כטל אמרתי כשעירם עלי דשא וכרביבים עלי עשב 
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken. (Isaiah 1:2) שמעו שמים והאזיני ארץ כי יהוה דבר

The Lubavitcher Rebbe draws on Midrash to teach that Isaiah's words were spoken as a continuation of Moses' oration.
"Give ear" is listening that speaks in a tone of closeness.  "Let the earth hear" is hearing that bears the accent of distance.
Moses was closer to heaven, the source of rain, than to earth.  Isaiah was closer to earth from which plants grow to sustain all life.
Moses gave us torah, spiritual drops from heaven that create wellsprings that nourish the material blessings of daily life.
Moses could only see the Land of Israel from a distant mountain top.  Isaiah lived in the midst of the complexities of life in the Land.
Isaiah's vision of bringing spirituality down into every aspect of everyday life reaches a higher level than Moses' view from above.
Ha'azinu summarizes the torah as the Israelites are about to enter their Land. The images and tweets here summarize life today in our Land.
We repeat one image from each of the 5 books of the torah. Image 6 is Genesis reappearing as we rewind the torah scroll and begin again.
Bereshit (Genesis). The plant leaves in Ha'azinu are leaves of Bereshit. We photographed all Creation within ten steps of our front door.
Shemot (Exodus). Our granddaughter plays at welcoming Shabbat when we tune out, turn off, unplug, resting from our creation to honor God's.
Vayikrah (Leviticus). All torah is in a potato if we reveal it by carving out letters that have no separate existence from the potato itself.
Bamidbar (Numbers). Hamas charter: " Jews hide behind trees that cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him."
Devorim (Deuteronomy). In Hebrew, am segulah, a special people, is related to am segol, a purple people.
The Jewish People is assigned a special role to teach what every artist knows – that purple emerges from mixing blue with red.
Bringing the blue of sky down into the red (adom) of earth (adamah) lowers spirituality into the earth-bound world of physical reality.
Beresit 2 (In the Beginning again). On the eighth day, we become the partners of God in the continuing creation.
Miriam recycled our Sukkot etrog (citron) by pressing cloves into it, creating a refreshing scent at the conclusion of Shabbat every week.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Netzavim/Vayeilekh נצבים וילך (Standing/And Went) Rosh Hashanah (New Year 5772) ראש השנה

Multiform Unity
You are standing today, all of you, before God your Lord – your leaders, your tribal chiefs, your elders, and your officers, all men of Israel, your children, your women, and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from your wood cutters to your drawers of water. (Deuteronomy 29:9-10)  אתם נצבים היום כלכם לפני יהוה אלהיכם ראשיכם שבטיכם זקניכם ושטריכם כל איש ישראל טפכם וגרך אשר בקרב מחניך מחטב עציך עד שאב מימיך

Why does Moses detail different types of Jews when the phrase "all of you" already encompasses them all?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that the unity of Israel is created not by every Jew being the same, but by each Jew being himself. 
"Israel is one before G-d when, and only when, each Jew fulfills the mission which is his alone."
Days of teshuvah following Rosh Hashanah are days of "return" rather than "repentance."  They are a time to return to one's essential self.
The beloved Reb Zusia, an early leader of Hassidism, expressed his fear of appearing before the Almighty at the end of his days.
I am not afraid to be asked: “Reb Zusia, why have you not been like Abraham, the patriarch, or like Moses, our great teacher?”
The question I truly fear is: “Reb Zusia, have you truly been Reb Zusia?"
We watched the President of Israel Shimon Peres standing below an image of Moses woven into Chagall's grand tapestry in the Knesset.

He awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize to the esteemed University of California scientist Professor Harris Lewin.

Looking on are Ruby Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset, and Dina Berniker, Acting Chairperson of the Council of the Wolf Foundation.

We participate in the Knesset ceremony each year since Mel was appointed a member of the Council by Israel's president.
On Pesach, we enjoyed the fervent singing of Mordechai Ben-David, the elder statesman of Jewish performers.
Our son Ari and Ken Holtzman coaching Petah Tikvah Pioneers batter.  Our grandchildren Razel, Maytav, Elianne and Tagel in our home.
We marveled at dog trainers working at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.  A tractor driver passed us as we ate at a sidewalk café.
Hebrew University philosopher Martin Buber writes that the Jewish people is not formed through a static unity of the uniform,
But through the great dynamic unity of the multiform in which mutiformity is formed into unity of character.  A new year's message for 5772.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ki Tavo (When you come) כי תבוא

9/11, Cybersight, jerUSAlem
Accursed is one who strikes his fellow stealthily. (Deuteronomy 27:24). ארור מכה רעהו בסתר  ארור משגה עור בדרך
Accursed is one who misdirects the blind on their way (Deuteronomy 27:18)

On 9/11, Mel was at the graduation ceremony at the College of Judea and Samaria (now Ariel University) when he heard the horrific news.
The joy of his students, Jews and Arabs alike, was suddenly dashed by the ghastly strike of militant Islamists against the free world.
The free world must join Israel in defeating the accursed Islamists who are fighting to smother our planet with a tyrannical caliphate.  
Accursed is one who misdirects the blind on their way (Deuteronomy 27:18)
To counteract evil, we transformed a biblical curse into a postdigital blessing by creating a global artwork the gives sight to the blind.
Our son Ari joined us in producing Cybersight.  We asked people born blind what things they would most like to see if they had vision. 
We interviewed them in Israel, the Czech Republic, and United States and sent questionnaires worldwide to schools for the blind.  
We received responses from Australia, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Korea, Lebanon, Lithuania, Niger, Poland, Slovenia, Zambia, and UK. 
The amazing similarity of responses from such diverse cultures teaches us about the common vision of humanity.
They wanted to see things that they couldn't touch – from blue sky, clouds, lakes, oceans, forests, and mountains to sports events.
Through innovative technologies developed in Jerusalem, blind people could “see” pictures of these things through the sense of touch.
A grid of pin-like protrusions in a specially designed computer mouse traced the pictures on the blind person’s fingertips.
Here, we juxtapose images photographed for this blog with those submitted to our blogart project http://jerUSAlem-usa.blogspot.com.
Clouds hovering above the Sea of Galilee in Israel and the Straits of Galilee photographed from Jerusalem, Rhode Island.
A Green Mountain forest in Jerusalem, Vermont, named Jerusalem because it's the same altitude as the original Jerusalem.
Mt. Nebo, named after the biblical Mt. Nebo, photographed from Jerusalem, Utah, and the Moav mountain range east of the Dead Sea.
Moses climbed up from the western plains of Moav to Mt. Nebo from where God showed him all the Land of Israel.  (Deuteronomy 34:1)
Mt. Nebo, Utah, is nearly five times as high as the original.
Mel photographed our son Ari pitching for the Petah Tikva Pioneers in an Israel Baseball League game in Tel Aviv.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ki Teitzei (When you will go out) כי תצא

Shook Shopping

For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp. (Deuteronomy 23:15) כי יהוה אלהך מתהלך בקרב מחנך 

Seeing God walking in the midst of our daily life is the overriding theme of this entire Torah Tweets blogart project.
Mel photographed our daughter Iyrit shopping for Shabbat in the lively Petah Tikva shook (marketplace).  
We repeat here the introductory comments at the top of this blog that emphasize the centrality of down-to-earth spirituality in Judaism.
Talmudic scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his book Halakhic Man teaches that Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward.
It does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality.
It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life.
The shook, the street, the factory, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, teaches that it is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent.
He must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it from the world of his work to his social life.
His work and social life should not only not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they must become a full part of it.
American writer E. L. Doctorow in his novel City of God expresses the same thoughts poetically. 
If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times.
Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture.
It will be ground-level, on the street, it'll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else.
Zionist Rabbi Abraham Y. Kook sees individual actions combine as a symphony of Jews living together as a sovereign nation in their own land.
The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth,
To enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as a nation.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shoftim (Judges) שופטים

Green Leaves
You must not destroy trees by swinging an ax against them for from them you will eat.  Do not cut them down because the tree of the field is man's life. (Deuteronomy 20:19) לא תשחית את עצה לנדח עליו גרזן כי ממנו תאכל ואתו לא תכרת כי האדם עץ השדה


When we were first married, Mel was a biology teacher teaching about the crucial role of trees in maintaining the global ecosystem. 
He taught how trees draw water up through their roots, take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and transform them into sugar and oxygen.
The most important process in the world:
6H2O + 6CO2 + chlorophyll + sunlight yields C6H12O6 + 6O2

Without it there'd be no life on our planet. Photosynthesis creates all the food we eat and the oxygen we breath.
Judaism develops from this biblical passage the ecological laws of bal tashhit (don't destroy) that even forbids destroying a mustard seed.
Judaism celebrates the New Year of the Trees on Tu B'shavat when we begin to see the blossoming of almond trees on our drive to Jerusalem.
The Torah is likened to a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18).  A righteous person flourishes like a palm tree and grows tall like a cedar (Psalm 92).
We photographed the large leaves of the frangipani in front of our house, the bougainvillea on our porch and the ficus down the street. 
Mel reveals beauty hidden within leaves by photographing them through a microscope on which he paints with pigments mixed into molten waxes.
His encaustic painting of the cellular organization within a pine leaf cross-section enlarged 600 times shows where photosynthesis happens.
We photographed new leaf growth sprouting from an old pine tree in the park near our house and date palms in Ein Gedi.
In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, beauty (tiferet) is the innermost junction of 22 branches through which Divine light flows into our lives.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Re'eh (See) ראה

 Purple People

See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse….  God has chosen you from all the peoples  on the face of the earth to be a special people. (Deuteronomy 11:26, 14:2) ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה  ובך בחר יהוה להיות לו לעם סגלה מכל העמים אשר על פני האדמה

In Hebrew, am segulah, a special people, is related to am segol, a purple people.
The Jewish People is assigned a special role to teach what every artist knows – that purple emerges from mixing blue with red.
Bringing the blue of sky down into the red (adom) of earth (adamah) lowers spirituality into the earth-bound world of physical reality.
Those who see spiritual sparks emerging from all aspects of their lives are blessed.  It is a curse to not to be able to see these sparks.
The biblical charge to be a purple people is followed by rules for kosher eating, a spiritual practice rooted in daily mundane choices.
It teaches that spirituality mixed into ordinary material experiences can transform them into moments of extraordinary significance.
We live above a shopping center in Petah Tikva where purple jumps out at us in every shop:
Purple plums in greengrocer Avi's store. A purple vessel for ritual hand washing before meals in Shimon's mezuzah and tefillin store.
Purple shirts in Batya's menswear store. Tinkerbelles in purple boxes in Yosi's toy store.
Hamsters in purple cages in Liat's pet shop. And stamps with purple flowers in the post office.