God appears, Vayeira 5782

The weekly Torah portion, Vayeira, includes Genesis 18:1-22:24. The first two verses are as follows:

The LORD appeared to him;“וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ ה֔
by the cashew trees [terebinths] of Mamreבְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א
he was sitting at the entrance of the tent וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל
as the day grew hotכְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם ׃
Looking up, he sawוַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא
and look, three menוְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים
standing near him.נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו
As soon as he saw them,וַיַּ֗רְא
he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them,וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל
bowing to the ground. וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה׃

The first sentence includes the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter proper name of God. Rather than writing out that holy Hebrew word, I replaced it with a ה״, indicating “HaShem” — “The Name” is the way this word is referred to when not praying or formally studying holy scripture. When praying or studying, Jews do not pronounce this name and replace it with the word “A’donai,” which is usually translated as “The LORD,” though it actually means “my Lord.” The word A’donai is often used as a name of God, even written in the Hebrew text using the letters of that word (as in the formula for a Jewish prayer). It can also be used to refer to human rulers. As my Hebrew professor, Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, is fond of reminding us: context matters.

Recognizing the Presence of God

When we choose to see what is around us and within us, we have the opportunity to bring holiness into the world. Avraham Avinu, Abraham our forefather, felt the presence of God. He paused from his busy day to connect with God. The content of that conversation is not provided — instead, we swiftly move to Avraham interrupting that holy moment in order to greet strangers approaching his tent.

Getting wrapped up in myself

These two simple lines have torn me open in the last week, as I have wrestled with the implicit expectation within them. Perhaps, like me, you have heard that Judaism prioritizes welcoming the stranger. Yet, can you imagine interrupting your prayers in order to offer a stranger food and drink? When you are in the flow of creation, or in a rhythm at work — are you able to graciously stop yourself and joyfully welcome an interruption?

For much of my life, I prioritized becoming “the best me” I could be. I relentlessly pursued knowledge. I wanted to completely understand the world of work. So, when working as a secretary for a magazine, I religiously read Ad Age magazine. Then, when Twitter came along, I drank in the fire hose of information pouring through that medium.

I walled myself off from other people. Never intentionally. I listened to podcasts while walking with my kids. I read a book while waiting for a class to begin. These simple actions, which were full of good intentions, left me separated from the people surrounding me. Our current time of relative isolation woke me up to the ways in which I was already separated from the physical world.

Making space for God in the age of smartphones

So I choose to follow Avraham Avinu’s example. Whatever I am doing, it can wait. Choosing to be fully present to the people around me, deepens me. Experiencing a six year-old’s inner logic is a truly enlightening experience. You might notice that prayer is not my husband’s jam. Whereas, I’m happiest spending a full day, or a full week, immersed in prayer and study. Living into the beauty of traveling through life deeply connected to people unlike yourself can be soul-expanding. In addition to reflecting on Vayeira, I’ve been pondering how fast the last decade went by. Tomorrow is my tenth anniversary and yesterday was my son’s sixth birthday.

What does “God” mean?

I started by chanting the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. Most of the time, Jewish sources claim that there are many barriers between human experience and God. This portion begins by declaring that God, using God’s unspeakable proper name, appeared before Avraham. Do you think God was more fully present in the world during the Bronze Age than today? Do we have the ability to sense God’s presence? Looking down at our phones, is it possible to sense spiritual shifts?

Define God to make religious experience possible

For a long time, these questions never occurred to me. Stories of our forefathers did not pierce my consciousness. The Bible felt unrelated to modern life. I avoided Jewish religious practice because I was certain that I did not believe in the judgmental God of the Bible.

Until adulthood, I did not know there are a multitude of ways to describe God from a Jewish perspective.

No single set of beliefs in Judaism

Jewish understandings of the world and God changed over time. Our civilizations were influenced by the people around us. Our intellectuals constantly communicated with Christian and Muslim scholars. Since Judaism began before the Christian idea of “religion,” we are not tied to a single set of beliefs. Instead, our culture defines us. What we do distinguishes us from other people.

Thus, it is perfectly reasonable to be an agnostic Jew. Or even an atheist Jew. My goal is not to convince you to believe like me. Rather, I hope that together we can make space for questions and disagreement. 

For me, I am constantly seeking more precise ways to understand God. Yes, I want a definition of what I believe. I also need a coherent set of descriptions of God in order to sink into prayer. God is likely to be spoken about in every Jewish prayer service. So what does all the God language in prayers mean? And how does the God in prayers relate to my lived experience?

Describing God allows us to sink in prayer

Let’s try to define God.  Do you see God as directly responding to prayers?

Do you think our spiritual energy can help heal the people around us and the souls within us?

Does prayer help you connect with God?

What does the formula of Jewish prayers mean to you?

Our prayer formula begins:

בָּרוּךְ אָתָּה ה״ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם

“Baruch atah A’donai, E’loheinu melech ha’olam”

Traditionally, this is translated as: “Blessed are You, Lord, Our God, King of the Universe.” 

Those same Hebrew words can be understood as: “Source of Blessing are You, Ground of Being; Our God, Sovereign of spiritual reality.”

When we make space for alternative English translations of well-known Hebrew phrases, we open ourselves up to the worlds contained within each word. May we each find a word or phrase to meditate into this week, so that we can recognize when the Divine is appearing in our lives.

Shabbat shalom.

Go to yourself, Lech L’cha 5782

Several people at Temple Beth David let me know that my weekly d’var Torah does not have to follow the weekly Torah portion. I deeply appreciate the latitude this provides. On the other hand, the portion can be such a rich jumping off point for an important aspect of Judaism. Personally, there is nothing more important than sinking into the first lines of Parashat Lech L’cha. Genesis chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 are a synopsis of how I view Judaism.

This week, we step forward from understanding the purpose of humanity into understanding the purpose of the Jewish people. We begin with God’s call to Avram, the man who will become Avraham.

The first two verses of chapter 12, the beginning of our Torah portion read as follows:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

The Ground of Being said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃

I will make of you a great nation,

And I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

And you shall be a blessing.

We could speak for hours just on these two verses. Let us begin to unwrap this origin story by recognizing the emphasis placed on moving forward. Avram is told “lech l’cha,” which could be translated as “Go to yourself” or “Surely you shall go” or, as JPS states, “Go forth.” The first significant words in this portion are a command to begin a journey.

Perhaps, like Avraham, you have completely changed your surroundings during your life. Maybe where you’re living now is nowhere near where you were born and raised. Or perhaps you’ve taken a spiritual journey and have arrived at a completely new understanding of God. Maybe you’ve been on an emotional journey and have better insight into who you are and why you’re here. As Avraham teaches us, being willing to put aside all that you know and all that makes you comfortable is the first step towards a more expansive way of being. Going on that journey — making your ego smaller, while sinking into your deepest self — can be a way to be a blessing to the world. 

Let us also remember that this command to go, lech, is intricately connected to halacha. They share the same shoresh, which means that the same three-letter root connects the verb with the noun. Halacha  means “the way.” Lech is the command form of the word “go (on foot), walk, depart.” So, while we have come to understand halacha as an impenetrable set of behavioral rules, its origin is as an attempt to create a Jewish way of being. In fact, for centuries halacha  was not codified in a book, or described with certainty. Variations have always existed between communities. This is why so many progressive Jewish teachers consider themselves halachic Jews — they are not willing to cede the term to a particular sect of the Jewish people.

As modern seekers of community and meaning, we have the opportunity to forge our own way into the depths of the Jewish tradition. We can choose to hear the call of the Divine, to walk in the path of Avraham — to go away from what we know in order to become who we are meant to be. Avraham modeled kindness. Our next portion will begin with Avraham leaving a conversation with God in order to welcome strangers into his home. 

In this portion, several people are named by God. First, He names Hagar’s son, Ishmael. That name, Ishmael, means “God listens.” The Hebrew Bible recognizes that it was not right for Hagar and Ishmael to be treated poorly. The name is given when Hagar runs away from the camp after Sarai speaks badly about her. When God appears and names her son, she is convinced to return to the camp. Later, God says to Avram, “I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless.” This is when God makes a particular covenant for Jews. He renames Avram as Avraham. The extra “hey” is a form of God’s name, to signify that God is always with Avraham. God instructs Avraham to circumcise himself, Ishmael, and all of the males in the tribe as a physical sign of the covenant. While giving the instructions, God renames Sarai, adding a “hey” to her name as well, and she becomes Sarah. 

Here in this portion is the pure description of why I choose Judaism. It is not because it is better than other ways of living. For me, Judaism is a coherent way of approaching life: as a member of a community dedicated to walking a path of goodness and truth. I am responsible for greeting people with kindness, even if they are interrupting me. It is up to me to become a blessing for my family and my community. And it is up to me to honor my foremother and live fully into my soul’s name. My name is Sarah bat Fayge Rivka v’Moshe, and like Sarah, my goal is to help the Jewish people walk the path of goodness and be a blessing to the world. 

Shabbat shalom.

Noah, The Ark, Judaism, the World 5782

Beautiful flower representing the regrowth of the world following the biblical flood in the Torah portion Noah.

Noah and the Flood

The Torah portions in Genesis feature many narratives. Most people have a memory of this portion, unlike some of the more technical passages later in the Bible.

A refresher video in case you’re new to the story:

BimBam also offers a source sheet, midrash (a parable that expands on the text in the Torah), and a lesson guide.

So much Jewish wisdom traces back to this portion, at a deeper level than the simple story of the flood. Before we get there, a reminder: I don’t read the Hebrew Bible as history. The events described did not need to take place for me to describe the Bible as holy and worthy of my attention. As Dr. Martin Sweeney points out, at least three other well-documented flood myths arose in Mesopotamia. I imagine a catastrophic flood wiped out many communities and myths were created to make sense of the situation. This correlates with the Black Sea deluge hypothesis. Regardless of why this story exists, how can it help us live lives of deeper meaning?

An ark to save us

Noah builds an ark, teivah תֵּבָה, in Hebrew. This ark provides physical safety for Noah’s family and all of the animals who survived the flood.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, a central figure in the popularization of Jewish spirituality, reminds us that the Hebrew word for ark also means word. His meditation on this portion brings forward the worlds contained within each word we read, we speak, and we think. In the larger tradition of Torah portion commentary associated with the Ba’al Shem Tov, an entire separate book is built into the Noah section. Here is a taste of how he connects the ark with spiritual salvation:

Enter the ark! The Hebrew word for ark–teivah–also means a word. If we are beset with a flood of mundane concerns, we must enter the sacred words, so that when we pray, we enter within and attach ourselves to the very letters of our prayers. When we study, we must enter within and attach ourselves to the sacred letters of the Torah.

Portions of Light: Teachings from the holy Baal Shem Tov on Torah and Festivals, translated by Chayenu, p4.

From here, we could go into the breadth of Pillar of Prayer: Guidance in Contemplative Prayer, Sacred Study, and the Spiritual Life, from the Baal Shem Tov and his Circle.

Righteousness Throughout the World

Judaism often gets a bad rap for the particularism of our prayers. Traditionally, Jewish wisdom centered on the unique place of Jews in the meaning of the world. Let’s remember history — it was quite difficult to be Jewish. From the Romans destroying our homeland and renaming it Palestine, to Christian mobs murdering us en masse during their Crusades, to our legal second-class status throughout Christian Europe and Islamic caliphates, our leaders needed to assure us that despite the difficulty of remaining Jewish, it was extremely important to remain within the tribe.

Simultaneous with our wholehearted belief in the relationship between the Jewish people and the Divine, we have also recognized righteousness among other peoples. Early in rabbinic Judaism, we understood righteous gentiles. By observing the “Seven Noahide Commandments,” a non-Jewish person obtains righteousness and a place in the world-to-come.

The Talmud expands on the words in the Torah portion Noah.

The descendants of Noah, i.e., all of humanity, were commanded to observe seven mitzvot:

  1. The commandment to establish courts of judgment; 
  2. Prohibition against blessing, i.e., cursing, the name of God; 
  3. The prohibition of idol worship; 
  4. Prohibition against forbidden sexual relations; 
  5. The prohibition of bloodshed; 
  6. Prohibition of robbery; 
  7. The prohibition against eating a limb from a living animal.

Sanhedrin 56a:24 from Kevin Wolf’s Noahide Lawes Sefaria Source Sheet

Please remember: Judaism sees a unique need for Jews in the world. And we recognize and lift up the righteousness of non-Jews. This is why the Noahide commandments became short-hand for describing righteous gentiles.

Choosing an ark of words

What words should we cling to? Personally, I am working towards separating myself from my social media addiction. I choose to live into deep thinking. My goal: allowing space for reading books rather than posts.

Additionally, I recognize that my words can form an ark of salvation or a battering ram of destruction.

My tone of voice matters.

Will my sharp wit respond to factually inaccurate beliefs?

Shall I approach situations wholeheartedly?

Further reading

Shabbat Shuvah, 20th anniversary Terror Attack in the United States

Last night, I co-led Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Beth David of San Gabriel Valley with Cantor Orly Campbell. We tried to hold space for the spiritual meaning of both the Shabbat of Return in the midst of the High Holy Days and the twentieth anniversary of the terror attack on the United States.

Shabbat is not a time of mourning

Jewish tradition tells us to set aside our mourning on Shabbat. That the holiness of the day takes precedence over our personal grief. It is why we do not bury people on Shabbat (or any Jewish holiday). And it is why mourners are asked to leave their homes and attend services at synagogue.

Yet, even though we elevate Shabbat, we do not ignore the reality of death. The Mourner’s Kaddish is included in all Jewish services. Some holidays include a special service in remembrance of the dead, known as Yizkor. We make a point of remembering people on the anniversary of their death, their yarzheit. So, it is meaningful to hold space today to honor the anniversary of the passing of so many of our fellow citizens. 2,977 souls lost their lives that day. As Steve Buscemi elevated, we are approaching the same number losing their lives to cancer caused by helping to sort through the debris from those horrific events.

Attack on United States soil

One thing that can get lost in the discussion of the twenty years since that attack, is the fundamental reason for its significance: we were not in a major war and the United States was attacked by an enemy. While Pearl Harbor has its own place in the history of the U.S. officially entering the Second World War, that was a military target. The 9/11 terrorists were targeting the centers of American capitalism, military, and government. At no other time in our history have we come so close to seeing devastation to the symbols of our institutional coherence.

Flight 93 aimed at the White House. But the 40 brave passengers on board fought back and ultimately took down the plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Twenty years is a long time. I remember watching the World Trade Center Twin Towers burn and collapse on the Today Show. But the details are fuzzy. The Washington Post republished their coverage of the surreal day.

Not about a victim count

On Twitter, folks are quick to point out 656,318 Americans died from COVID-19, yet we have not united to tackle the pandemic. So why should the anniversary of people dying in a terrorist attack evoke more collective mourning than the deaths we are currently living through?

This is not only about the 2,977 people who lost their lives to terrorist attacks twenty years ago. This anniversary is about reflecting on the moment when our collective identity fundamentally shifted.

Remember Amalek

Deuteronomy 25:17 demands that Jews remember (zachor) Amalek, the one who attacked us from behind. It is elevated beyond its place in Parshat Ki Teitzei and is read again on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance before Purim. Haman is described as a descendant of Amalek. The Hebrew Bible connects all of our enemies in the same clan of people.

This is why 9/11 is so important. It clarified for a generation who their enemy is: terrorists. Not simply people with different beliefs, who choose to make women second-class citizens and disparage representative democracy and free market capitalism. These people make it their mission to murder us and encourage individuals to instigate terrorist attacks on civilian targets throughout the world. These terrorists are Amalek.

Islamophobia and the War on Terror

In the past, I was quite reticent to fully acknowledge how life altering this attack was to the American spirit. It was hard to hold space for the depth of pain felt by the families of the victims. Instead, I turned my energy to fighting Islamophobia and challenging the War on Terror.

Ten years ago, I wrote a resolution for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, calling on Congress to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to bring the money home for the needs of our cities. It was the culmination of my activist career. I wrote the resolution in such a way that it was debated by the Metro Economies committee, rather than the International Affairs committee. The resolution became the lens through which the media covered the annual mayors’ meeting.

I chose to step aside from activism because having that as my core identity meant that I never stopped fighting. My goal has always been to help the world become a place that is open to the breadth of human experience and to prioritize life-affirming activities. Now, I tackle those issues from a spiritual perspective.

Honor Difference, Turn Inward, Challenge Amalek

This Shabbat Shuvah, this Ten Days of Return and Renewal, I choose to honor our differences. My Judaism is quite different from other people’s Judaism. I choose not to disparage them. Our disagreements are for the sake of Heaven. My core beliefs are distinct from Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and countless other spiritual seekers. At the end of the day, my path is not about proclaiming that my way is the only way to be good and experience holiness. We each have a spark of the Divine within us. Our souls connect us across our differences.

My soul cries out for all that we’ve lost. I graduated college in 2000. I am one of the last people who did not experience terror during my childhood or formative years. My international relations courses at Wellesley College posited the end of history and the peaceful future of globalization.

I reflect on how difficult it is for me to physically be around other people. My fear of the Delta variant and my concern for the health of my unvaccinated children is more disorienting than collective memories of a terrorist attack.

Amalek: people motivated by evil intentions, still exist. My patriotism and love of the United States is built on my belief in representative democracy and our collective power to support human flourishing in our country and throughout the world. May we honor the souls around us and gird ourselves for the continuing fight.

Rosh HaShanah 5782: Allowing Grace to Transform Us

I am the rabbinic intern at Temple Beth David of the San Gabriel Valley and I had the honor of giving a sermon today, reflecting on my journey, God’s Grace, and using descriptions of the Divine as a blueprint for how we can live into the best versions of ourselves. L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah. May we co-create a good and sweet year.

A PDF of the version of this sermon that I delivered at Temple Beth David is available if you click these words.

When you rise, B’ha-alot’kha 5781

On the 18 of Sivan 5781, which is May 29, 2021, we read the portion B’ha-alot’kha, “when you rise.” The beginning of the portion refers to rising to light the menorah. Below is a drash I was honored to share with the Temple Beth Israel Shabbat minyan.

The mouthful word B’ha-alot’kha

One thing is certain about Biblical Hebrew — it can certainly be a mouthful. Our portion is named for the first significant / distinct word in the parsha. This happens to be an infinitive construct with a pronoun suffix. I do not tell you this to wow you with my grammatical knowledge. Rather to commiserate that the word can easily get stuck in one’s mouth and sound like a jumble. The prefix, בְּ, means in or when. הַעֲלוֹת is the Hiphil form of the same root as aliyah, ascent, indicating a rise in spiritual state by returning to Israel. In Hiphil, this root means to rise, elevate, bring up.

And the final ךָ means “you” or “your.” If you remember nothing else, understand that biblical and liturgical Hebrew has words ending with the ךָ sound because the author is trying to speak directly to you. 

Like many American Jews, I learned how to read the Hebrew alphabet without knowing anything about what I was saying. So that revelation about possessive and direct object suffixes was revelatory. I recognize that the text was reaching out towards me with every final ךָ. This reminds me to keep reaching towards Jewish wisdom, across language barriers, time, and other distractions.

So how can we connect with this ancient narrative of wilderness perambulations?

Focus on the triennial reading, the middle third

One way to provide focus for an explanation of this week’s parsha is to focus on the triennial cycle reading. Each portion takes a significant amount of time to chant aloud. So, we have a tradition of reading ⅓ of each portion for three years. We are in the second year of that cycle, meaning that many communities are reading the second-third of each portion this year. For B’ha-alot’kha, this correlates to chapter 9, verse 15 through chapter 10, verse 34. Beginning with the cloud of HaShem covering the tabernacle. Moving forward through HaShem’s cloud surrounding us by day, as we journeyed from the camp. 

Cloud of the Divine journeying before us

It is easy for us to find ourselves completely separated from this narrative. After all, when was the last time you saw the cloud of the Divine journeying before you?

Our tradition challenges us to sort out how we see ourselves immersed in this desert journey. How are we connected to the Jewish people and how are we connected to the Divine? What does it mean to be guided by HaShem? Do you believe in Divine providence? Does HaShem perceives every action that will be taken by humans and allows it to occur? If you do not believe in Divine omnipotence, all-powerful nature, and omniscience, all-knowing foresight can the Divine be sovereign?

If we accept our place in a kingdom of priests, what lamp are we rising to light each day? How are we proclaiming our place amongst HaShem’s people?

Halakha, The Way of Judaism

For me, the brilliance of Judaism is that we do not require our kahal, our community, to be in perfect alignment on the nature of the Divine. Our starting point: fundamentally, HaShem is beyond human comprehension. Thus, we seek to emulate God more than we seek to claim to know the nature of the Divine. How do we emulate HaShem?

Halakha means The Way. Fundamentally, it is The Way to bring Divine Light into every human act. We are all wont to forget The Way. So, we have some unique tricks to remind ourselves not to stray towards our baser inclinations.  First, the fringes on our four-cornered garment. Fewer people wear four-cornered garments, and many who do choose to tuck their fringes into pockets. We also developed the habit of wearing a yarmulke when praying. Some choose to wear it at all times when practical. All of these elements work together to allow HaShem’s Spirit to infuse our thoughts and actions. 

The final sentence of our triennial reading resonates deeply with me. So much of life is beginning to open up again, including in-person davennen with Temple Beth Israel. As we journey from our camps of safety in our homes, how can we remember that HaShem precedes us? What concrete ways can we remind ourselves and those around us that Truth and Goodness light the way on our personal and communal journeys? How can we alight within ourselves the desire to be near the Divine each day?

Focusing on humility, avanah

The Mussar Torah Commentary, published by the Reform Movement’s CCAR Press, suggests that we focus on avanah, the trait of humility. This is not irrational piety. Rather, as Maimonides suggests, it is the middle point between self-abasement and arrogance. Alan Morinis further defines this attribute in his book, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar. He says: “limiting oneself to an appropriate space while leaving room for others” (49).

I choose to see avanah as a dual command. First, to acknowledge my ego and my proper place in the landscape of human interaction. In my life, when I perceive myself as not having power, I over-extend my presence to compensate for feeling under-appreciated. Simultaneously, I must be constantly aware of the souls around me. Particularly, their need to be seen individually and completely. Acknowledging the healthy space that I inhabit and the holy space I defer to others is the cornerstone. With avanah, I humbly begin to rise towards acknowledging the light of HaShem.

Thus, on a daily basis, I attempt to rise to light my way towards alignment with HaShem. I take stock of myself and stop the internal chatter long enough to see and elevate the souls around me. With avanah we can adjust our sight to catch a glimpse of the cloud of HaShem traveling before us each day.

Shabbat Shalom.


Image by Reijo Telaranta via Pixabay.

Enveloped in the Divine Presence, 49 Days Omer 5781

We entered the forty-ninth day, which is seven weeks of the Omer in the year 5781. שכינה שבשכינה, Shekhinah ShebeShekhinah, Indwelling of Divine Presence. The last night I require myself to create a public meditation into the depths of my reaction to the refractions of the Divine.

Public ministry, personal musings

These meditations allow me to sink into something beyond the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beyond my health concerns for those closest to me, beyond my own exhaustion at pandemic parenting. Many nights, I lose myself to doubt before I drag another few sentences out of my soul.

Rather than continuing my public reflections following this post, I am going to commit to the inner journey. Building the vessel within. Allowing myself to be available for revelation, consolation, and grace.

Reflecting on these seven weeks, I am a witness to death and a cheerleader of life, personal tragedy and public conflict weigh heavily on me. My soul yearns for communal, in-person prayer as a release for all of the spiritual turmoil within.

May I feel held by the Divine Presence, as She suckles me honey from the flinty rock.

Holding space for ethical mysticism

So many Jews hold fiercely to an agnostic identity that cannot be in relation with the mystical. I pray I can explain myself in words that do not alienate people from the core message yearning to be internalized.

Therefore, let my dedication to ethical mysticism have concrete outcomes. May we serve communities. Let us elevate the ideals that guide us, above the wealth around us. I pray we trust that the connection between us is real and lasts beyond the end of life. Love, Grace, Boundaries, Truth, Beauty, Eternity, Splendor, Humility, Foundation, Presence, and Sovereignty: may the values described in the emanations of the Omer help me live into the best version of myself. May I be a vessel of honest reflection and grounded service.

Previously last days of counting…

Indwelling Divine Presence in a Pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Completion, Reflection, Expansion, 5779 / 2019.

Moving Towards a Coherent Philosophy, 5778 / 2018.

Acknowledging the Shadow Within, 5777 / 2017.

Core Books for the Journey


Image by kien virak via Pexels.

Foundation of Divine Presence, 48 Days Omer 5781

Shabbat shalom. This weekend, I am not writing for the skeptic within or the cynic beyond myself. I am writing to begin the conclusion of my Omer count in the year 5781. To reflect upon my fifth year of publicly meditating into Jewish mysticism for seven week.

Today is forty-eight days, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5780. יסוד שבשכינה. Yesod ShebeShekhinah. Foundation of Divine Presence. What are our foundational beliefs? How do we live into our core values?

Sink into this Shabbat

I chose not to castigate myself for all the ways I fail to live up to the Ideal Rabbinical Student in my head. Nor to dwell on my daily parenting fails. Instead, this season and this day is about appreciate the Creative Flow and Grace surrounding us in every moment.

My beliefs are constantly unfolding and evolving. This is the beauty of Judaism: I can continuously sink into its depths and pull out new ways of centering my spiritual practices. Yesterday, I questioned everything about my path. Today, I know for sure that my soul called me to this journey for a reason.

May we each take the time to sink into the eternity awaiting us in the slower pace of the Day of Rest. May this Temple in Time help us appreciate the people around us and the journey within.

This is Hard

A colleague suggested that I take a break next year and not hold myself accountable to daily meditations for the Omer. Publicly writing about the journey was my way into making the Omer count a daily practice. Otherwise, the ritual alone fell flat for me. Perhaps next year I will riff for a few minutes on video, rather than attempting new prose read by my husband and the dog. Let me know if this has been meaningful to you.

My Foundation: Always Learning

Regardless of the sphere of human interest, whether it is pop culture or makeup application or dense philosophical texts, I enjoy grounding myself in the wisdom of other people. In some ways, it would be better for me to continue reading about the sephirot rather than writing these blog posts. The truth is that other people can provide insights that are much more deeply grounded in the depths of our tradition.

On the other hand, I see my work as rooted in bringing a rational, feminist lens to knowledge. I bristle at the androcentric language of medieval Jewish mysticism. Halakha is not the guidepost to my Jewish journey. Nor does the Bible need to be true for me to find holiness and depth in its pages. Insight into the human condition continues to evolve. I choose to learn from neuroscientists, psychologists, and science journalists as much I learn from playwrights, rabbis, philosophers, and the redactors of the Hebrew Bible and Talmud.

Previously on the 48th night of the Omer…

Yearning for Wisdom, 5780 / 2020.

Removing Veils Obscuring Foundational Truth, 5779 / 2019.

Allowing Space for the Divine Presence, 5778 / 2018.

Persona and Shadow, 5777 / 2017.


Image by icon0com via Pexels.

Splendor of Divine Presence, 47 Days Omer 5781

Today is forty-seven days, which is six weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5781. הוד שבשכינה, Hod ShebeShekhinah. Splendor of Divine Presence. Is all this talk of God making you run for the hills? Why does mysticism and explicitly making space for God make so many Jews uncomfortable?

Journey beyond skepticism towards our souls

At the end of the day, I’m not here to convince anyone that a particular book is holy. Nor am I upset if you don’t agree with my descriptions of the Divine. What does frustrate me is how easily some Jews dismiss “mysticism” out of hand, as something so esoteric it has nothing to do with their rational, modern lives. Yet, they’re willing to sing Lecha Dodi on Friday night, welcoming the Sabbath bride with a poem written by a Jewish mystic. We seem to be living through a complete disconnect between the words on the pages of our siddurim and the words in our hearts.

These are the metaphors that connect me to my authentic self. I speak of the Splendor of Divine Presence because it reminds me that my anger is an illusion. Honestly, I worry about our mortality. Grief overwhelms me. I miss beloved colleagues, teachers, and family members. I worry about the people of Israel and Palestine. So I try to sink into this poetry to keep me from screaming in anger. Like I said, the anger is a blanket covering deep, unsettled emotions.

Humility on the journey

Today, Splendor, Hod in Hebrew, refracts the Divine Presence. A character trait often connected to Hod is humility. May I have the humility to accept that some people will never be interested in this blog.

Previously today…

Holding Space for the Divine in a Pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Creating a Relationship with El Shaddai, 5779 / 2019.

Remembering God’s Glory, 5778 / 2018.

Encountering the Eternal Flame of Knowing, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Nick Kwan via Pexels.

Eternal Divine Presence, 46 Days Omer 5781

Today is forty-six days, which is six weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5781. נצח שבשכינה, Netzach ShebeShekhinah. Eternal Divine Presence. Does the Eternal, Never-Ending, Beginning without End call to you? Personally, I felt lifted out of soul-piercing depression through the Presence and Place of Eternity, Shekhinah and HaMakom.

Spiritual response to depression

To be clear, many people find deep transformation through anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy. This blog is not medical advice and I am not advocating that you avoid your mental health needs by diving into a spiritual journey. Rather, I am sharing part of my journey.

Depression runs in my family. When I was younger, I felt the edges of deep depression and watched as it slowly took over. Several deep dives into that abyss left me feeling broken and alienated from the world. I filled myself with peace activism, hoping to build fundamental social change to alleviate the world’s problems. This volunteer work left me with little time for self-reflection, and an abundance of judgmental self righteousness.

My cynicism, anger, and depression transformed into gratitude, heartfelt pain, and eudaimonia: deep certainty of the importance of each life’s journey. Finding the Eternal Presence, making space for HaMakom in my life, made my transformation possible.

Uncovering the depths of Jewish wisdom

After my Grandma Elsie died, z”l, my Uncle Paul invited me to his synagogue. My eyes were opened to the depth and breadth of wisdom encapsulated in the Jewish civilization. Through Rabbi Finley, I found deeply rooted Jewish ethics, mysticism, rationality, and neo-Platonic ideals. After years of attending his adult education courses and Shabbat services at Ohr HaTorah, I felt the call to become a rabbi myself. I chose to attend the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, the seminary co-founded by Rabbi Finley. Five years into this new identity, my influences have expanded and my gratitude for my professors and colleagues is infinite.

Pain and suffering still exist

I don’t have answers to why humans choose to kill one another. Or why death happens. Nor why pandemics and science-denial co-exist. All I can say for sure is that the Eternal Divine Presence embraces us with comfort and love. May we become vessels worthy of goodness and truth.

Previously today…

Spiritual care during a pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Rejecting suicide, embracing Eternal Divine Presence, 5779 / 2019.

Words Create Reality, 5778 / 2018.

Breathless embrace of God and Shabbat, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Kyle Roxas via Pexels.