Covenantal Love within Beauty, 15 Days Omer 5782

Today is fifteen days, which is two weeks and one day of the Omer 5782. חסד שבתפארת, Chesed ShebeTiferet, Covenantal Love within Beauty. Beautiful things: whether visual, musical, poetic, prose, and living beings. Their beauty is touched by the covenantal love of HaShem. The art of nature and the art created by natural beings is enlivened by covenantal love.

Soul, Spirit, Still Small Voice

Let’s begin where most people agree: we discuss eras of time and say “there was a spirit of the age.” We understand what a politician means when they say “this is a battle for the soul of the nation.” Some of us are familiar with “heeding the call of the still, small voice within.”

What are all of these words pointing towards? Is there a clear definition that distinguishes one from the other? Where does the concept come from?

Pagan Greeks gave us the concept of the soul. I love telling people this because for me, this knowledge shattered the sharp distinctions in my mind between spiritual traditions. Neither Judaism nor Christianity would have a belief in the soul and the soul’s journey without pagan Greeks generally, and the Hellenistic Age that began with Alexander the Great.

For me, this factoid confirms that whatever we call the deepest part of ourselves, it is a universal aspect of being human. When we make space for the soul, our lives get calmer and our minds rest easier.

The Divine Births Beauty

Every creative innovation, every well-balanced equation, every artistic flourish is birthed by HaShem. It is the physical manifestation of the cosmic unity of all that exists. We are all made of star dust. May we make time to relish this every day.

Welcome the Overflow of Covenantal Love

The Jewish prayer formula is an ancient magic trick. It is a conduit. A way to make ourselves receptive to the Covenantal Love pulsing towards us. By acknowledging the Source of Blessing, we become infused with blessing. We are turned towards Goodness and gracefully stay anchored to the Divine spark within.

Spiral of the 15th Day of the Omer

Lovingkindness within Compassion, 5781 / 2021.

Concrete steps towards liberation, 5779 / 2019.

Graceful truth, 5778 / 2018.

Limiting distractions, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Quang Nguyen Vinh via Pexels.

Indwelling of Strength, Day 14 Omer 5782

Today is the fourteenth day, which is two weeks, of the Omer in the year 5782. שכינה שבגבורה, Shekhinah ShebeGevurah, Indwelling of Strength.

You are my Rock

כִּי־סַלְעִי וּמְצוּדָתִי אָתָּה וּלְמַעַן שִׁמְךָ תַּנְחֵנִי וּתְנַהֲלֵנִי׃

For you are my crag and my bastion, and for Your name’s sake guide me and lead me. (Robert Alter translation, Psalm 31:4).

This right here is the reason I am a Jewish spiritual leader. Allowing God to guide me and lead me. My hope is to open gateways to God. The path of righteousness, the path of justice, the path of truth: they are all the same path and the are all guided by HaShem.

May we all have time this Shabbat to sink into the Strength within us and the Rock Who guides us.


The image was taken by Archie Binamira and found with Pexels. This beautiful photo of a real mountain in the Philippines reminds me of the Pixar short, “Lava” —

The Spiral of Today

The Divine Mother showers us with Strength and Perseverance, 5781 / 2021.

The Upright Ones, the Yeshurun 5780 / 2020.

Don’t abandon your toys in the search for truth, 5779 / 2019.

Having boundaries can be generous, 5778 / 2018.

Let go of limiting narratives, 5777 / 2017.

The Psalms Open Us to God

Reflecting on A Bissel of Judaism

For the final class of the Bissel of Judaism series, we reflected on the journey we’ve been on and how we’d like to use this information in the future individually and as a community. The conversation was specific to Temple Beth David, so I did not publish it on YouTube. Here is the portion of the class where I summarized the journey we’ve been on in this series of classes.

Resources

A Bissel of Modern Judaism

Over the last several months, I led a course at Temple Beth David on “A Bissel of Judaism.”

Please enjoy the video of the class on Modern Judaism. I owe so much of my knowledge to Dr. Bob Levy, his memory will forever be a blessing. Also important was the course I took on 21st Century Judaism with Cantor Dr. Jonathan Friedman. And of course, all of the discussions and retreats I have attended on the future of Judaism.

Resources

History of Reform Judaism

CCAR Platforms

Jewish Federation SGPV Keynote Speaker, Dr. Steven Windmueller on the “Current State of the Jewish Community:”

Foundation of Strength, Day 13 Omer 5782

Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the Omer, 5782. יסוד שבגבורה, Yesod of Gevurah, Foundation of Strength.

El Shaddai: my Rock and my Redeemer

Contemporary Judaism shies away from focusing directly on HaShem. God is so unknowable that we often take Her out of the conversation. We want to be so inclusive that we don’t want to offend people who don’t believe in God. Absolutely, Jewish community does not have a belief litmus test. Yet, I would be lying if I ignored the Force at the center of my life.

Still, it has been difficult to write my meditations this week. I get worried about offending people. Once, I was accused of being a Christian missionary because my words were enflamed by God’s grace.

Nevertheless, this is a truth that keeps nipping at me.

Tzuri v’Go’ali. צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי my Rock and my Redeemer.

These words from Psalm 19 conclude the personal prayer written by Mar son of Ravina that is recorded in Berakhot 17a (a section of Talmud). Mar son of Ravina was my first teacher. In the prayer books I grew up with, the only poetry left in the English translation was his prayer. It pierced my soul from the first moment I was able to read it. Every time I read it, my heart is transformed. I had a particularly emotional response to this phrase at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center for Davvenen Leadership Training Institute.

The Foundation of my Strength is God

To be clear, God is my Rock. The sure foundation to all that I do and all that I aspire to be.

I am a conduit to spirituality because HaShem is near to all.

We are all worthy and we are all needed.

Love permeates the universe. God gives us the strength to live into it.

God is my Redeemer

Every day, every hour, every minute: I have the choice to turn towards God.

God redeems me.

God assures me that my habits do not define me.

God reminds me that my better nature is my true nature.

God redeems me from my inclination towards evil, my Yetzer HaRa.

God has given me the gift of life.

May you feel God’s presence

May today be a day when God consciousness awakens you.

May you know that you are loved just as you are.

May you know you have the strength needed for life’s journey because God is with you.

Shabbat shalom.

The Spiral of Today

Foundation of Strength in Family, Community, and the World: 5781 / 2021.

Human connections are the foundation of strength, 5780 / 2020.

The one with an adorable photo of my kids, 5779 / 2019.

Find the rock of your strength, 5778 / 2018.

Beginning to stumble onto this path, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Frank Ravizza via Pixabay.

Temple of Strength, 12 Days Omer 5782

Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days of the Omer in the year 5782. הוד שבגבורה, Hod ShebeGevurah, Temple of Strength; splendor within power. Today, the 27th day of Nisan, is also Yom HaZikaron LaShoah v’LaGevurah, the Day to Remember The Shoah and The Heroism, the Catastrophe when one-third of Jews were murdered during World War II.

Choosing Hope, Strength, and Steadfast Support

Life has taken many turns for all of us. No one has had time to fully process the ways in which our lives have changed in the last few years. However we approach the seasons ahead, the fragility of human life is stark and clear.

I choose hope.

I remember El Shaddai, the Source of Strength.

My belief in HaShem is not dependent on prosperity or health. Like Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, God is with me in darkness as in light.

God is my Strength

The Ground of Being is my Strength and my Shield;

my heart trusts in Her.

Psalm 28, verse 7

It is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. While I welcome all people into spiritual community, my soul is grounded in the pursuit of HaShem. I cannot tell you I know God. There is no way for me to comprehend the Source of Life. I can say, my faith in God is strong. God is my Rock and my Shield.

Building my Sanctuary for Strength

A core reason I am on the cusp of rabbinic ordination is that I feel most complete in a sanctuary. My best self bursts forward in Jewish community generally and prayer spaces specifically. This is the consciousness I work to live into throughout the day, regardless of where I am.

So today, I will contemplate how I build that sanctuary within me. How I make it possible to feel surrounded by El Shaddai, God of Protection, God of Breasts.

Sometimes, we shy away from strength. We demure and deflect. This is a week to own the power within us and connect to the strength around us. As brave Amazon workers on Staten Island reminded us, the people united can never be defeated.

Similarly, there are many people who have been hurt by organized religion and believe that individual spirituality superior to collective endeavors. Yet, the thing I have learned above all else during this pandemic is that we humans are social animals. We are our best selves in community.

Let’s reinvent our synagogues and develop the spaces we need for our individual and collective spiritual growth. Am Yisrael Chai! The people Israel live!

Spiral of Today

Overview of Yom HaShoah from 5780 / 2020.

Resources to Understand The Catastrophe in Context.

Temple of Strength, 5781 / 2021.

Pillar of the Temple, 5779 / 2019.

Share Your Truth, 5778 / 2018.

Humility in Discipline, 5777 / 2017.

Books for the Journey


Image by Oleg Magni via Pexels.

Eternal Strength, 11 Days Omer 5782

Today is eleven days, which is one week and four days of the Omer in the year 5782. נצח שבגבורה, Netzach ShebeGevurah, Eternal Strength.

Accepting The Power Beyond Words

The Eternal Strength pulsing through the universe cannot be articulated in words. It cannot be put into a neat box. For the most part, I do not ask HaShem to do things. I do not have a human relationship with the Divine and I do not blame God when things go wrong. In fact, I get very frustrated with the notion of a so-called “law” of attraction. Jews have not attracted persecution throughout our history. We did not ask to be sent to die in gas chambers or work as slave labor to build the Colosseum.

So what is the Eternal Strength I am aligning with today?

The Desire to Live.

The Will towards Goodness.

The Discipline guiding me towards my best self.

The Boundary that protects me: holding me firmly. I know that whatever happens, ultimately my soul is bound up in the Web of Life and I choose to be a conduit for the strength needed to love, to create, to flourish.

May you feel bound to the Eternal Strength willing us towards our best selves.

May we together create a world worthy of being enveloped by the Eternal Strength. God is the most powerful force in the universe. May we be conduits of the Eternal Strength.

Psalm 18, verse 3

The Ground of Being is my crag and my bastion,

and my deliverer, my God, my Rock where I shelter,

my Shield and the Horn of my rescue, my Fortress.

Based on Robert Alter’s translation.

Other ways to understand the 11th day of the Omer

Enduring Strength: Choose to be a Force for Good in the World, 5781 / 2021.

Eternal Judgment, 5780 / 2020.

Enduring Discipline: Clarifying My Vision, 5779 / 2019.

Your Will is Powerful, 5778 / 2018.

Clear-eyed Focus on My Path, 5777 / 2017.

Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible


Image by Fabien via Pixabay.

Beautiful Strength, 10 Days Omer 5782

Today is ten days, which is one week and three days of the Omer in the year 5782. תפארת שבגבורה , Tiferet ShebeGevurah Beautiful Strength.

God’s Strength in Heaven

I often imagine HaShem as The Rock when meditating into Their Strength. Benji Elson, in Dance of the Omer, reminds us of another image: the waters above and the waters below, that flow through the Jewish imagination. He tells us that the word for heaven, shamayim, contains both fire and water, because the fire of the sun and the waters of rain are contained within it.

Do sunsets inspire you? Or do they remind you how much pollution is in the air, causing most of the beauty we see in city sunsets?

I am not a person who spends much time in nature. Yet, it is landscape photography that sinks me into the depths beyond the mundane. Overflowing Source of Blessing, thank you El Shaddai, for this gift.

El Shaddai: God of Breasts

Our Protector, the one whose blessing we seek on our doorposts with mezuzot, is El Shaddai, God of Breasts. Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, creator of Lab/Shul, recently posted about El Shaddai on Instagram.

This reminds me of my meditation into El Shaddai during the Omer in 2019 / 5789.

The Divine Mother yearns for us to understand Her. To recognize that She is not distinct from the Divine Father, though She appears separately and has been hidden for millennia. By accepting multiple gender expressions for the Divine, we understand ourselves more. We reconnect with the rejected aspects within. And we help to heal the brokenness of the world.

Do Not Fear Strength

Balanced, Harmonious Strength. The ability to protect the innocent, care for those in need, and lead people towards the future.

The Strength within each of us can see us through whatever happens. I cannot tell you why unspeakable things happen every single day. Evil exists. Bad choices are part of free will.

The Beautiful Strength to endure whatever happens emanates from HaShem.

May El Shaddai watch over you. May we together create the peaceful world we wish to live in.

The Book Chatting With Me This Year

Spiral of 10 Days of the Omer

Compassionate Discipline: Returning to The Way, Ascending Higher. 5781 / 2021.

Resting in the truth of discipline, 5780 / 2020.

Truthful discipline: Halacha, the Jewish Way, 5779 / 2019.

Inner strength and deep will, 5778 / 2018.

Compassion in discipline, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Antony Trivet via Pixabay.

Prayer for Ukraine

The Ukrainian people are fighting against Russian imperialism.

Ukrainians are fighting for their right to live.

They fight so that they are not raped, tortured, and murdered by the Russian army.

I pray for peace.

I pray for the peace that can only come when a people defend themselves.

I pray that heavy weaponry from the United States and elsewhere arrives speedily.

I pray the Ukrainian army has every plane, every tank, every bullet it needs to stand up to evil.

I know this prayer is jarring, so I do not presume to pray on behalf of the kahal.

May the Ukrainian people of all ethnicities and all religions be safe and secure. May those who have fled the war be supported. May all refugees of all nationalities be helped.

May we have the strength to fight evil. May we never turn our backs on people who fight evil.

May Ukraine’s sovereignty be honored and her people return.

May God strengthen our resolve. May democratic and free people remain united in support of Ukraine’s defense.

May victory come speedily and soon for Ukraine.

Slava Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine.

Slava El Shaddai. Glory to God, the Source of Protection.


Composed for the AJRCA minyan, April 25, 2022.

Image by Michael Jahn via Pixabay.

Strength within Strength, Nine Days Omer 5782

Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the Omer in the year 5782. גבורה שבגבורה, Gevurah ShebeGevurah, Strength within Strength, Judgement within Judgement, Discipline within Discipline.

God is The Rock.

She holds us steady when we falter.

We lean on Her staff.

Her rod guides us back to our best selves.

HaShem Tzuri, God is my Rock.

Hold Judgment Lightly

Judgment lightly held is discernment.

Discernment leads towards awakening.

Awakening grows change.

Change creates space.

Space brings harmony.

Harmony expands flourishing.

Flourishing recognizes revelation.

Stay tuned…

Later today, I will post my final words to the AJRCA community minyan, also reflecting on Gevurah ShebeGevurah.

The Spiral of 9 Days of Omer

Strength Through Presence, 5781 / 2021.

The heart of discipline during a pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

The lion within pursues me, 5779 / 2019.

Internal battles, 5778 / 2018.

Spiritual discipline and parenting a toddler, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Julius Silver via Pixabay.