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Tefillin Tracks #1 by Neal H. Brodsky

Last night I made a chicken and rice casserole. It wasn't Kosher. Of course, I am not "kosher" from a dietary standpoint. Still that's not the point. The night before, I had lectured my visiting 93 year old father on why kashrut made sense. The idea that shellfish are "bottom feeders" nibbling off the carcasses of rotting fish, the thought not to "boil a calf in it's mother's milk." The idea that if you are to eat meat, that it be slaughtered in a "humane" way to minimize the pain of the animal, and the bio-chemical residues of stress that reach us as the "eaters." My dad is a "secular" Kohein. I am a religious one discovering how to reconcile my non-observant upbringing with my evolving Jewishly informed practices. It's a work in progress. One day at a time.

So the day I made this chicken casserole with cheese topping, I hadn't put on my usually daily tefillin in the morning. I was rushing around to get the last things of the year done, seeing clients online, paying bills, dealing with my visiting dad and his aide who was late and seemed to be enjoying sharing stories with my dad more than keeping him on the "schedule" I had planned. Clues to my misbehavior and how I might be missing precious opportunities? My dad wanted to share a book he was reading with me, to actually read it to me. This is a biography of the famous singer Paul Robeson written by his grand-daughter Susan, someone I grew up with and went to summer camp with for years. My dad played Robeson's records often when I was a child. I cry when I hear him singing "Ballad for Americans" or "Water Boy." Would this be important time to spend with my dad? Better maybe than paying a few bills that could wait a day or two? But I was too busy….something in me says in bright neon letters "NOT KOSHER."

My dad said with a bit of sadness "I'd like to share this with you if you made yourself available."

Ah. Availability. A great concept and a Jewish one at that. "Hineni- "I am here" said our forefather Abraham. Availability to God on one level, and on the human level, availability and presence to our human brothers and sisters, starting with the ones dearest to us. How about paying attention and not ignoring the clearly bright sparks that could connect us more deeply? Yes.

Which brings me to something else that sparks and fire can do if we are inattentive. Back to that chicken casserole. I was also moving at warp speed while making this for the dinner we were to share with my brother and sister in law. I didn't have the right dutch oven casserole dish which I'd promised to buy myself but didn't some weeks ago. So I was using a stainless steel frying pan in the oven to make the dish. Are you catching my drift here? As family arrived, "my just in time" approach had me lifting the cover and grabbing the scorchingly hot steel handle with my left hand. Ouch.

I have never burnt myself quite so painfully. Still, ice, calendula ointment, homeopathic remedy and the miraculous wife Judy who is the bringer of all these and so much else that is good in my life, created something of a healing miracle. This morning I realized with some humor that this left hand is the one which receives daily tefillin wrapping. So I was forced to wrap my tefillin this morning a bit more slowly and, God help me, a little more consciously. Less of a rush, no? A bit more "kosher" in perhaps my most important primary relationship with the one who lifts and powers the universe.

So today, I'm writing this missive primarily with my right hand and a few stiff fingers on my left. I've had a few good lessons for the end of one year and God willing, the beginning of a new one. A year that holds luminous promise of a journey where we may discover more about what we intend to bring to this precious life we have been given.

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