Today is twenty-three days, which is three weeks and two days of the Omer, in the year 5782. גבורה שבנצח Gevurah ShebeNetzach, Strength within Endurance. Sometimes, it feels like we have no more reserves. The will can sag under the weight of the world. Lean on God’s staff, keep following Her rod.
Mother’s Day and Bodily Autonomy
I met a mother today who asked, “how can we focus solely on flowers and good wishes when the rights of all women to bodily autonomy are being stripped away?”
Until she said that, I had no idea what was weighing me down today. If you are being weighed down by the irrationality treating women subhuman at the same time that one function of procreation is being venerated, you’re not alone.
Process Personal History, Create Incredible Art
I cannot think of a better ending to Mother’s Day than taking some time alone to ingest culturally important art. It was such an honor to be at Jenny Yurshansky‘s final artist talk walk-through of her exhibition at the American Jewish University, “Legacy of Loss: There Were No Roses There.” (Reservation required to see it, through May 12.)
It is so incredible to reconnect with someone you knew in junior high. Someone who has pursued her dreams throughout her life and is such an inspiration. I got chills at the beginning of her talk, realizing how important it would have been to my beloved history professor, Dr. Bob Levy, zichrono livracha. Jenny has a gift for bringing alive the stark reality of Jewish otherness and statelessness. She epitomizes strength within endurance.
I pray her exhibition is put up in museums across the country — people really need to grapple with everything she discusses: from identity to nationalism to refugee status to the ethnic reality of Jewish identity.
Today is twenty-two days, which is three weeks and one day of the Omer, in the year 5782. חסד שבנצח, Chesed ShebeNetzach, Covenantal Love within Endurance. My Will to be a conduit of Covenantal Love is eternal.
The Week of Netzach: Eternity, Endurance, Will
נצח, Netzach, is a noun that means eternity. The shoresh, the three letters of the noun are also the Hebrew root for winning. This is a week to begin creating concrete manifestations of our path toward spiritual liberation. After three weeks of heady meditation, now is the time to determine how I want to act in the coming year. How will I create the will to embrace eternity?
I wrote the above paragraph last year. This year, I want to add another layer of reflection: How have I endured the trials of living? How can I honor the strength it took to reach this point?
Within Eternity, Grace Beckons
Within Jewish circles, it can be easy to focus on doubt and lack of belief. It is hard to reconcile how “the chosen people” have been chosen for discrimination, less-than-human status, and death throughout most of recorded history. We have been useful servants of kings, until they coveted all of the wealth procured through our service. And actually, even when elite Jews were court Jews, the vast majority were extremely poor and relied on the communal redistribution system for basic necessities. So, how do you believe in a God that allows the Shoah, the Catastrophe, to annihilate one-third of Jews?
For me, the answer is simple: the Bible is a holy narrative, but not a history book. God’s providence does not create certainty that things will go right for the righteous or wrong for the wayward.
Grace is not about allow God to take the wheel in my life. For me, flowing with Grace allows me to align myself with the ideals that guide my life, the ideals that are reflected in the sefirot specfically, and Jewish mysticism generally. I choose to live into Covenantal Love because it allows me to be a conduit for Love.
Covenantal Love Called Me to Eternity
I could tell you the specific moment when God called me toward the rabbinate. Yet that story is only a half-truth. The reality of my life is this: I am always happiest in Jewish community. My soul sings in Jewish prayer. I come alive most fully through Judaism and I am so blessed to be a part of it.
I find universalism a strange concept. It is really a Christian concept, though perhaps it also exists within Islam. It is definitely a hegemonic concept. Yes, Jewish messianic idealism proclaims that at the end of time all people will acknowledge HaShem and proclaim the oneness of God. But our worldview isn’t focused on that time in the future. And we don’t proselytize. Yet, somehow, our unique relationship with God has become a cudgel, used to denigrate our unique existence.
The reality of “God’s chosen people,” is that we had to believe in a unique reason for being in order to survive centuries of persecution. We need a mission in the world in order to continue living our counter-cultural lives.
Today is twenty-one days, which is three weeks, of the Omer in the year 5782. שכינה שבתפארת, Shekhinah ShebeTiferet, Indwelling Presence of Beauty. Do you feel the Beautiful Mother within you? Can you acknowledge your inner beauty?
Reflecting on the Journey
I don’t spend a lot of time explaining why I write these meditations or what I hope to accomplish by counting the Omer. Perhaps because there are plenty of apps and books that provide that explanation. Perhaps because I’ve been busy doing other things.
Counting the Omer is something I learned about at Ohr HaTorah. Rabbi Finley’s explanation of the sefirot, a dozen years ago, was centered on three: Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet / Emet. Part of the reason for my meditation is to allow myself access to the breadth of the lower seven sefirot from my own vantage point. I take values extremely seriously and I find this practice helps me sink in. These sefirot ground me and they remind me to align myself with HaShem in all that I do, all that I think, all that I feel, and all that I say.
The Beauty Within
It can be hard to love ourselves completely and unconditionally. We are constantly bombarded with messages to Improve Ourselves.
This year, I am trying to have a more gentle Omer count. Acknowledging the various dimensions of each sefirah without castigating myself for following short of my Ideal Image.
I have heard people say that in order to prioritize the beauty within, one must ignore the external. That somehow it is a moral choice to avoid makeup and other beauty products. Personally, I don’t see one’s appearance as intrinsically connected to one’s morality. On the other hand, makeup and its accoutrements is not the focus of the beauty I have been seeking this past week.
I am enough. You are enough. We are enough. And we radiate beauty by being grounded in the Indwelling Presence of the Divine.
Today is twenty days, which is two weeks and six days of the Omer, in the year 5782. יסד שבתפארת. Yesod ShebeTiferet. Foundation of Beauty. אמת Emet, Truth, is another name for the sefirah we are meditating into this week. In my heart, I know that the foundation of beauty is truth.
The Authenticity of Beauty that Pierces the Soul: Truth
We all have intuition. Whether its the music that we like or the speaker whom we connect with: some things call us in while other things repel us.
I am a person called towards truth. I don’t care for artifice. I am not interested in production values. I connect with soulful praying and inspiring art.
When I feel bonded with beauty, it is because the truth has reached out and forced me to take notice.
How do you bond with beauty? What is the truth reaching towards you at this moment?
May 5, Cinco de Mayo, Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day
Jewish days begin and end at sundown. So, I am counting the 20th day on what is still May 5, 2022 in my time zone. Which means it is still Cinco de Mayo, but it is not Yom HaAtzmaut. Mexico declared victory over French colonialists, though they lost a subsequent battle with the Second French Empire. Still, it is a significant day, particularly honoring Mexican American culture.
Israel’s Independence Day was on the 5th of Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), though it rarely falls on that day because it moves to avoid occurring too close to Shabbat. I could say a lot more about the importance of Israel and its legitimacy. Jews are the only indigenous people to return to their land and reclaim their self-determination. For a small piece of the story, please see my previous reflection on moving from “peace activism” to progressive Zionist.
Two Palestinian suspects from Jenin in the West Bank attacked civilians with axes and knives.
I cannot imagine the inhumane ideology that leads people to murder other humans.
Israel Is Not an Apartheid State
The most vicious lie I ever swallowed was the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. It is based on the false notion that Jews are “imperialist colonizers.” Fundamentally, all of this rhetoric is upheld by anti-Jewish bias in mainstream culture. I could go on, but there’s just too much…
Religious, Cultural, and Individual Liberty
I try avoid heated rhetoric that inflames conversations. Yet, the leaked Supreme Court document overturning Roe v. Wade is such a quintessential piece of Christian, patriarchal hegemony, that it is hard for me to deny the relevance of saying the thing in this moment.
The cells in my body do not have rights separate from me.
The “soul” is a concept formed by pagan Greeks and is not part of the original intent of the Bible.
The poetry of the Psalms should never be the basis of law. No Jewish law is decided based on the words of poetry in the Bible. It seems barbaric to strip poetry of its nuance and pretend that it was intended as the basis for legal decisions. Further, the Hebrew Bible itself upholds the personhood of pregnant people and the distinction between pregnancy and human life.
So yeah, my culture and my religion stand firmly on the side of privacy, bodily autonomy, and a religious imperative to support pregnant people’s ability to make their own decisions about their bodies.
I think this is why I enjoy The Business from KCRW: the process through which artists create their work is endlessly fascinating. I’m looking forward to having more time to explore culture once my studies are completed this month.
Today is nineteen days, which is two weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5782. הוד שבתפארת, Hod ShebeTiferet, Splendor of Beauty. My feelings on the world have not changed. Abortion is healthcare. Banning it is part of Christian hegemony. Ukraine deserves to be free and its people safe. Over a million people have died in the United States from COVID-19. Ongoing death and longterm illness are problems we are collectively refusing to acknowledge. Right now, I am going to put those things aside and meditate into beauty.
There is something about water that is so appealing to the human soul. There is a reason we continue to be drawn to waterfronts, despite our knowledge about climate change.
Holding space for beauty
A key aspect of Hod is bringing forward into reality a space for God to reside. Netzach and Hod are connected to the legs of the human body. They are the pillars of the temple within. As pillars, they pull forward the sefirot that precede them.
For example, my husband is an incredible artist who designs furniture unlike anything you can buy in a store. (He even holds a patent for a table design.) This is a man who understands how to honor the splendor of beauty. It is why he designed our Ketubah, our wedding invitations, and our wedding program. And why, when I told him that actually, the makeup space he created in our bathroom would limit the lifespan of my makeup, he took up the challenge and designed a vanity for me. (Nevermind that yes, you read correctly — when we redid our bathroom, space was saved for an Ikea-built makeup station, with my grandmother’s mirror on the wall and surrounded by lights.)
I have learned the splendor of beauty from Chung-Mau.
Appreciate Beauty in All Its Forms
Every human is beautiful. Every soul is unique.
Getting lost in a television show, whether a soap opera or a documentary, is appreciating beauty.
Letting music lift your soul or comfort your brokenness is appreciating beauty.
Oh and a concert, or a festival — goodness, it’s been many years since I’ve let music wash over me that way. Such splendor of beauty.
Watching a film in a huge theatre or on a small screen is beautiful.
Going to the theatre and seeing actors perform — whether a drama, a comedy, or a musical — is beautiful.
Attending an art exhibit. Or going to an artist talk (!!) is splendor of beauty.
May we allow ourselves moments to sink into the splendor of beauty today and everyday.
Today is eighteen days, which was two weeks and four days of the Omer, in the year 5782. נצח שבתפארת, Netzach ShebeTiferet, Enduring Beauty, Eternity within Beauty.
Having the Courage to Honor Beauty Always
Beauty gets a bad rap.
It is said to be ephemeral and materialistic.
Yet, a well-balanced equation is beautiful.
And art transforms the soul in a way science can never touch.
What Is Within Beauty / Tiferet?
This sefirah is also connected to compassion and truth. These three ideals are superimposed on top of one another. The balance of Chesed and Gevurah resides in Tiferet. Covenantal Love / Grace / Flow meets Strength / Boundaries / Discipline and create Beauty / Compassion / Truth.
The Enduring Beauty I seek to honor in all my thoughts, feelings, and actions is the miracle of every living being. The soul within and the spirit reflected through their actions. This is the source of my patience and my empathy.
Balance, Wholeness, Contentment
Enduring Beauty is perfectly balanced between love and discipline. She holds firm to her ideals, while being gentle with herself and others.
This year, I challenged myself to create seven meditations on a single side of each sefirot, even though they all contain a constellation of ideas. So for Tiferet, I solely wanted to speak about Beauty. I was going to ignore Compassion, which has a womb at the root of the word. And I wanted to ignore my other favorite aspece of this sefirah, Truth, which is so deeply embedded in how I approach the world. Perhaps I could knock out a few paragraphs on the essence of Beauty in the morning when the exhaustion has dissipated a bit?
Abortion is a Human Right. Reproductive Healthcare is Healthcare.
Roe v Wade was decided on the basis of the right to privacy. This Twitter thread provides an overview of the rulings that could be overturned based on throwing out this settled precedent.
Roe v. Wade is based on the 'right to privacy.' If the majority opinion by SCOTUS suggests that the constitution does not protect the right to privacy… that affects a WHOLE lot of other decisions. Buckle up – this is the beginning of a lot of potential ugliness. A thread.
Most critically, I want to say: my bodily autonomy is not up for debate. I am not moving from the fact that whatever healthcare a child-bearing person decides to make, that is a decision they choose alone. Every single person has the right to make their healthcare decisions for themselves.
I could tell you my own experiences with abortion, but I shouldn’t have to do that to convince someone that my body is my own business and child-bearing people are human beings who should not be treated as incapable of making their own healthcare decisions.
Religious Liberty is Secondary
To be clear: Jewish law is not made on the basis of poetry. The Psalter is not the origin of our law code. Within our Bible, it is *very* clear that life is always more important than potential life.
Also, since “conservatives” are so enamored with the idea of “original intent,” let’s remember that the concept of the soul did not exist when the Torah or the Psalms were written. Reading soul-language into the Bible is a retroactive continuity decision after Jews came in contact with Pagan Greeks and decided to appropriate the soul-concept into their civilization.
I oppose placing Christian theology above individual bodily autonomy. I oppose government deciding what healthcare human beings can choose to receive. And yes, I completely agree with the majority of rabbis throughout the centuries who have prioritized every woman’s life above the potential life that she may be carrying in her body. A woman can choose whatever medical procedure or medication is needed to protect her mental and physical health.
On the Beauty Front: A Magnificent Art Exhibit is Closing
Circling back to Tiferet ShebeTiferet, the Beauty within Beauty of the 17th day of the Omer.
Jenny Yurshansky‘s incredible exhibit is up for the next ten days at the American Jewish University. As explained in the Los Angeles Times review of Yurshansky’s solo exhibit, it is a timely piece that looks at what it means to be a refugee. She has one final artist talk scheduled for Mother’s Day and you don’t want to miss it if you’re in the LA area.
I have the distinct honor of knowing Ms. Yurshansky, as we went to junior high school together.
Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer, in the year 5782. גבורה שבתפארת. Gevurah ShebeTiferet. Strength within Beauty. Art nourishes the soul, strengthening our bodies to face reality with inspiration, communal understanding, and conviction.
Art Strengthens Us, Creating the Ability to Face the Unknown
Today I was wandering the library. In our small town, the library is a fraction of the size of the amazing Central Library of Los Angeles. Nevertheless, while browsing the biography section, I ran into two books I own: Paris Letters and A Paris Year, written by my former coworker Janice Macleod. You really should read Paris Letters: it’s an incredible and incredibly realistic memoir of making a decision and changing the direction of your life.
This is what art does: it creates relevance and deepens our understanding of our collective past, present, and future. I learned more about the Great Depression from The Grapes of Wrath than from any history book. My soul is expanded by every art museum I walk into. And the power of theatre and cinema to transport us is undeniable. So is the soundtrack of music for our journeys.
May you find time today to sink into art and relish being alive.
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.
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” —