The Bells We Need

Rabbi Misha Shulman
4 min readMay 27, 2022
A 400 year old tree in Vieques, PR

The question is how do we respond to such a devastating week? One answer is: with a bell. (If you have one nearby grab it, it might come in handy.)

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple days on a Zen monastery in the Catskills. Every time a bell sounds there, everything stops. Conversations pause, movement, thoughts, chewing. Instead, people breathe. We can practice that useful, grounding Zen way during the next few minutes.

B e l l

That’s only part of the answer, but if we can do that it can protect us from the spiraling emotions and fears. It can remind us that our lives are right here where we are and not over there, in the headlines. It can remind us to look around and see what is in front of us, to listen to what’s around us and to know that the leaves are still growing on the trees and the cabs are still speeding around the city even if most of them are now called Ubers.

Yesterday I met with a young Trans person thinking about their upcoming B Mitzvah. They were trying to make sense of taking on this ancient tradition whose holy book commands the execution of homosexuals and the harsh punishment of cross dressers. Part of our job as Jews, I told them, is to define which parts of the Torah may have come from a divine source that cuts through time, and which came from a limited human source. This is what it means when we say that we were given the Torah. “But why is it in there,” they ask. Because the Torah represents reality, not just the ideal. So, things like that must be in there. When we accept the Torah we accept reality, we say yes to life with all its faults.

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The bell, like the Torah is about both acceptance and the fight.

When the Temple was destroyed 2000 years ago our tradition adapted by radically transforming Jewish practice. No more single place of gathering. No more pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. And most importantly, no more animal or harvest sacrifices. Instead of sacrifices came prayers.

In the morning prayers, after the early morning reciting of the verses detailing the sacrificial service in the Temple, we find the following sentence:

May it be Your will that the speaking of these words be accepted by You as if we offered the daily sacrifice at its

Rabbi Misha Shulman

Jerusalem born, Misha has been working at the cusp of religion, art and activism since 1999. Rabbi @ The New Shul and Director of School for Creative Judaism.