further thoughts on Benjamin January
1) January’s mother, Livia Janvier Levesque, is an amazing character (and Minou is a cutie)
2) Hambly’s writing is really beautiful
3) I am fuly convinced Hambly either taught piano or knows someone who did because her depictions of pupils and their practicing (or lack thereof) are painfully accurate*
4) this mix is pretty fucking awesome
5) my crush on January is neon green and the size of Cleveland but he is too much of a gentleman to embarrass me over it
*daughter of a concert pianist turned piano teacher speaking here
reblogged from theredshoes
Every year before the Days of Awe, the Ba-al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, held a competition to see who would blow the shofar for him on Rosh Hashanah. Now if you wanted to blow the shofar for the Ba-al Shem Tov, not only did you have to blow the shofar like a virtuoso, but you also had to learn an elaborate system of kavanot — secret prayers that were said just before you blew the shofar to direct the shofar blasts and to see that they had the proper effect in the supernal realms.
All the prospective shofar blowers practiced these kavanot for months. They were difficult and complex. There was one fellow who wanted to blow the shofar for the Ba-al Shem Tov so badly that he had been practicing these kavanot for years. But when his time came to audition before the Ba-al Shem, he realized that nothing he had done had prepared him adequately for the experience of standing before this great and holy man, and he choked. His mind froze completely. He couldn’t remember one of the kavanot he had practiced for all those years. He couldn’t even remember what he was supposed to be doing at all. He just stood before the Ba-al Shem in utter silence, and then, when he realized how egregiously — how utterly — he had failed this great test, his heart just broke in two and he began to weep, sobbing loudly, his shoulders heaving and his whole body wracking as he wept.
All right, you’re hired, the Ba-al Shem said.
But I don’t understand, the man said. I failed the test completely. I couldn’t even remember one kavanah.
So the Ba-al Shem explained with the following parable: In the palace of the King, there are many secret chambers, and there are secret keys for each chamber, but one key unlocks them all, and that key is the ax. The King is the Lord of the Universe, the Ba-al Shem explained. The palace is the House of God. The secret chambers are the sefirot, the ascending spiritual realms that bring us closer and closer to God when we perform commandments such as blowing the shofar with the proper intention, and the secret keys are the kavanot. And the ax — the key that opens every chamber and brings us directly into the presence of the King, where he may be — the ax is the broken heart, for as it says in the Psalms, “God is close to the brokenhearted.”
— Rabbi Alan Lew
There is a wonderful story in the Talmud which I’ve cited here many times but which strikes me with particular force this year (2001). It’s the story of Rabbi Yochanan, who comes to give comfort to his dying colleague Rabbi Eleazar. He sees that Rabbi Eleazar is crying and he asks him why, or rather, he begins to theologize, to trot out one pat theory after another as to why Rabbi Eleazar might be crying, and why he really shouldn’t be crying after all.
Are you crying because you didn’t get to study enough Torah? Rabbi Yochanan asks. Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter how much you learned, only how sincere you were in your studies.
No, that’s not why I’m crying, Rabbi Eleazar says.
Well then, is it because you were always so poor? Don’t worry. You can’t have everything in this life, and after all, you were a great scholar.
No, that’s not it either, Rabbi Eleazar says.
Well then it must be because you lost a child. Don’t worry. This bone I wear around my neck is the bone of the tenth child I lost, so you don’t really have it so bad, do you?
No, Rabbi Eleazar says, that’s not it either. And then he cuts the ground right out from beneath Rabbi Yochanan. I am crying because of cal hai shufra d’baley b’afra - I am crying, he says, because of all this beauty which is fading into the earth. I am crying because life is impermanent, evanescent, and everything keeps disappearing and I don’t have the slightest idea why. I am not crying because of any of the reasons you suggest, and I am not comforted by any of your foolish explanations. I am crying because I live in a dangerous world, which I don’t understand. I am crying because this is a world of great beauty, which keeps disappearing on me and I don’t know why.
….All right, rabbi, so what do we do? And especially, what do we do with these feelings of despair and rage and impotence?
I think there’s an answer to these questions suggested by the ending of that story from the Talmud I started to tell you before. After Rabbi Eleazar finally tells the nudnick Rabbi Yochanan why he is weeping - that he is weeping lcal hai shufra d’balei bafrah - for all this beauty which is fading away - Rabbi Yochanan finally gets it right. He tells Rabbi Eleazar, well if that’s why you’re weeping, then of course you should weep. In fact, I’ll weep with you. Then the two of them weep together. And Rabbi Yochanan says. ten li yadchah - give me your hand - and Rabbi Eleazar gives him his hand and he is healed, the Talmud tells us.
When we acknowledge our impotence; when we acknowledge what we can’t control; when we acknowledge that we really do live in a frightening world which is always disappearing on us; when we acknowledge that we cannot reduce life and death to a pat explanation that gives us the illusion we are in control of it; when we are, in short, flush with the truth, then we can in fact be comforted by the greatest source of healing there is - the simple presence of another human being. Rabbi Yochanan said, ten li yadchah, give me your hand. He gave him his hand and he was healed.Congregation Beth Sholom - San Francisco Jewish Conservative Synagogue : Rabbi Lew’s Sermons : And I Thought in My Security, Rosh Hashanah 5762 (via theredshoes)
now this is more like it
"Past the oaks stood new American-style houses, built of wood or imported New England brick, brave with scrollwork and bright with new paint, gardens spread about them like the multicoloured petticoats of market women sitting on the grass."
- A Free Man of Colour (Benjamin January #1), Barbara Hambly