Today is forty days, which is five weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5781. הוד שביסוד, Hod ShebeYesod, Splendid Holiness of Foundation. Hod is the vessel of holiness, while Yesod is the foundation of personality and outward demeanor. Bringing together the energy of these two sephirot allows us the opportunity to root our actions in the depths of our souls.
The breadth of my being calls to me
It’s been a difficult week. Unexpected death forces me to confront how deeply each day is a blessing. I am struggling mightily with the forces within me that want to distract me from this pain with retail therapy. My husband often asks me why I’m in such a rush to finish school. Losing a professor and three colleagues, along with my beloved uncle, in the last few years deepens my reflections. I thought my desire To Finish was rooted in my ego’s need for validation. I cannot deny that is a part of it.
The underlying truth is that spirituality cracked me open in ways nothing else ever could. And I am anxious to help people waken to the souls within them. Simultaneously, the breadth of what I do not know, and how much I need to grow, takes my breath away. I’ve always been a voracious learner. I am grateful to find a calling that allows me to continue learning every day I am blessed with life.
Take a moment to make space for holiness today.
Ground yourself in the reality of splendor.
Appreciate your own breath.
Acknowledge the wonder of your body.
And revel in the opportunity to fully live into this day.
Today is thirty-eight days, which is five weeks and three days of the Omer in the year 5781. תִּפְאֶרֶת שביסוד, Tiferet ShebeYesod, Truthful Foundation. In this sixth week of reflecting on core values, what is the truth undergirding your life’s journey? Do you have a vision statement?
My vision statement
On Sunday, I wrote a vision statement in a class. Here it is:
My vision is to introduce Judaism as a path of ethical mysticism: working towards our best selves as a way to connect to the Soul of the Universe and the souls around us.
The pull of ethical mysticism
Honestly, it took me quite a long time to sink into this truth pursuing me. Typically, people describe Jewish ethics as the Mussar tradition. Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism. Most teachers focus on them as distinct paths, and most modern Mussar stems from cribbing Ben Franklin’s autobiography. (No, seriously.) The reality is quite different. From the beginning of Judaism, interpersonal morality intrinsically connected with cleaving to the Divine. This is why ethical mysticism is my calling.
I think about how I entered seminary eager to discover the Jewish definitions of the soul and shocked to discover (a) how elusive definition is and (b) we borrowed the concept from pagan Greeks. Ruminating into the fact that monotheism did not start from a recognition of our individual souls. Actually, we Israelites did not give much thought to individuals in the beginning. Identity was by clan and each human mattered only as part of the collective whole. During the Hellenistic Age, that time-frame after Alexander conquered the “known world,” Hebrews started to concretize individual identity and appropriate that pagan soul concept.
Interconnectedness or appropriation?
All of our foundations interconnect. As distinct as Jewish wisdom is, I am forever indebted to pagan Greeks.
I pray humility finds us. May we be ready to accept our dependence on other communities to deepen our foundations. Let us build pathways towards truth and beauty together.
WordPress tells me the words I use are too complicated. I continue to work on deconstructing complex ideas into easy language.
Today is thirty-seven days, which is five weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5781. גבורה שביסוד, Gevurah ShebeYesod, Boundaries within Foundation. This year, reflecting on the contours of the personality. Does it align with my highest vision for myself?
Our boundaries are misaligned with our highest potential. The mishappen gate in the picture can represent all the ways this pandemic has altered the course of lives, in ways both obvious and unknown.
Separate from ruminating on COVID-19, a personality can imprison us in bad habits, ideas, and identities. The cyncial, angry activist sees everything in the world as needing fundamental change. The consummate peacemaker can give into the whims of a tyrant until their own identity ceases to exist. Extremes in any direction lead down false paths. Flourishing occurs within the middle path, balancing all aspects of one’s personality.
This starts with a clear vision of the person you want to be. I knew the best version of myself emerged in Jewish communal prayer. I wanted to sink into that aspect of myself and moved myself, slowly, towards rabbinical school in order to better embody that aspect of me. Eleven years into this journey, I am constantly seeking further refinement. My interpersonal habits are deeply ingrained from childhood. This is why bullet journaling and the science of habits speak to me. Each year is an opportunity for me to become the best version of me I can be in this moment.
Define your vision
To understand the contours of my personality, I read about the Shadow, the Enneagram, and Neurosis. Carefully, day by day, I remind myself that who I was before does not define who I am in this moment or in the future. The grip of the story I told about myself began to loosen.
I remain a work in progress. Rather than trying to appear Perfect to my children, I admit my faults and let them know I am working to become a better parent. Just as my ability to preach is a never-completed process, so too is my ability to parent. Decide what relationships are most important to you. Clarify how you want to show up in each situation, especially the stressful ones. And hold yourself accountable to your vision.
Today is thirty-six days, which is five weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5781. חסד שביסוד, Chesed ShebeYesod, Lovingkindness within Bonding. Yesod can be described as Bonding or Foundation. The week of allowing all of the emanations of holiness to flow through me. Or the week of distracted defiance of the eternal. We each choose how to live into the week.
I choose to take the time to consolidate all of the wisdom and inspiration of the prior five weeks. This week of bonding will form a vision for my embodied experience that aligns with these supernal qualities calling me.
Transforming personality to align with values
The Sephirot describe eternal values. The stories I tell about myself can either describe a rigid personality marching through time. Or, I can emphasize the opportunities for growth in each moment. Did I face life’s challenges swimming in lovingkindness and truth? Or did I choose rigidity, judgment, and anger?
With adults, rooted in adult-level rationality, I find it easier to stay calm and open. With my children, I falter. They seem pre-programmed not to listen to basic instructions. So far, I consistently receive the following advice: stop caring whether your kid finishes his homework. For some reason, my partner and I cannot stop caring.
Nevertheless, my goal is transforming my responses to my kids away from judgment towards compassion. Perhaps I will reach my goal when they’re in their thirties.
Prayer for foundational lovingkindness
Soul of Souls, Source of Creation:
Envelop me in your Divine Flow.
Allow me the strength to be a source of lovingkindness.
Help me to reach towards my children and the world with eyes of compassion,
Today is thirty-five days, which is five weeks of the Omer in the year 5781. שכינה שבהוד, Shechinah ShebeHod, Indwelling of Gratitude.
Wouldn’t life be wonderful if we could dwell in the sacred knowing of our interconnectedness every moment? If the gratitude and splendor forever surrounding us infused every response? If instead of pandemic fatigue, we met each day with joyful excitement and wonder?
Magic wands wont save us. Belief in the power of gratitude alone cannot change us. Instead, we much do the painful work of walking towards change.
First, slow down long enough to observe what sets you off. Before I get angry, what is the spark? Before I started doomscrolling, was I bored? How can I offer myself a different response to each stimulus that leads to the same reward? This is the true work of spiritual transformation: recognizing that each day, we choose better and worse ways to respond to what is happening beyond us and within us.
May the Indwelling of Gratitude, marking the completion of five weeks of counting emanations of Divine overflow, help me transform my habits. May I emerge calmer and more deeply rooted within the speech and actions I wish to embody.
Today is thirty-four days, which is four weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5781. יסוד שבהוד, Yesod ShebeHod, Foundation of Gratitude.
It is imperative to build a bridge between how I am feeling and the wellspring of gratitude. Regardless of how stressful the day is, or how overwhelming the year is: I should root my thoughts, emotions, and speech in gratitude.
Some days, the breadth of the pandemic overwhelms me. The never-ending drum beat of What Should Be Done crashes into the reality of What Holds Me Back. This was one of those days.
Welcoming the Sabbath Bride
I pray that the Sabbath Bride will envelop me in a spirit of gratitude. Let me remember love and understanding undergird my relationships. May she help me make space for all the ways each of us are doing the best we can. Even the children who don’t do their homework and never want to go to sleep.
Today is thirty-three days, which is four weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5781. הוד שבהוד, Hod ShebeHod, Gratitude within Gratitude. That means we have reached the extremely minor holiday of Lag B’Omer!
Rather than trying to explain Lag B’Omer, let’s sink into the heart of gratitude.
Finding gratitude in a raging pandemic
Perhaps the pandemic seems waning to you, rather than raging. Thirteen months of life turned upside down can make the depth of tragedy occurring in India seem disconnected from the growing availability of vaccinations in the United States. Beyond the current horrors, the existence of COVID-19 in itself makes it far easier to root oneself in cynicism rather than gratitude.
How to stay connected to gratitude? I look at the blooming flowers outside my window. Marvel at the way my kids are growing and their bodies transforming. Watch my dog, anxious for me to join her for snuggles on the couch rather than writing this blog post.
Focus on the splendor of now
At the end of the day, regardless of what is happening in the world, there are sparks of splendor chasing us through each day. When I take the time to pause and appreciate the glory of today, gratitude fills me.
Today is thirty-two days, which is four weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5781. נצח שבהוד, Netzach ShebeHod, Eternal Splendor. The pillars of the Temple within me. Endurance within Gratitude.
My day started much earlier than normal. I had a 7:50 a.m. appointment for the second dose of the Moderna vaccine. This means I woke my husband up early on his birthday to ensure I got out of the house on time. And then, I entered the never-ending wait. At first, I did well because I brought my travel siddur, prayer book, and prayed Shacharit. I got through the entire service before entering the building because the line was moving that slowly. Then, I watched as two people behind me got through the registration process faster than me, leading me to the end of the slowest vaccination line in the building. It was so hard for me to focus on gratitude because all I could think about was how much faster I would have been out of the building if I had made it into the other line. It must have taken another thirty minutes to actual get the jab. I barely remembered to say a blessing of gratitude.
Prayer of Gratitude for Goodness
The prayer I chose to say is: Holy One of Blessing, You are the Eternal Ground of Being, Sovereign of the Universe, who is good and does good. Barukh Atah HaShem, Elokeinu Melekh Ha’Olam, ha’tov v’hameitiv.
Jews never pronounce the Tetragrammaton, the four letter name of God. We often look at the word in Hebrew and say A”do”nai, which means My Lord. It is a pale shadow of the breadth of meaning contained in The Name. HaShem replaces the four letter name of God in non-liturgical writing. HaShem means The Name. The root of HaShem is the verb “to be.” It encompasses the idea of “was, is, will be.” Which is why some people translate it as Eternal One, while others say Ground of Being. The essence of being comes from God. This is the closest approximation for an explanation of the God I believe in.
Sleep is the salve for a weary soul
At the end of the day, my inability to stay rooted in gratitude is directly connected to my sleep deprivation. This morning, I realized that the fancy pillows I bought at the beginning of the pandemic have been destroying my sleep — they’re too large and too firm and my body is rejecting them, tensing up, and wrecking havoc.
Prayer for fortitude
Holy One of Blessings, allow me deep sleep. May I enter tomorrow full of gratitude for my many blessings. May my desire to help my children’s journeys outweigh my frustration at their pandemic fatigue and homework resistance.
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days of the Omer in the year 5781. תפארת שבהוד. Tiferet ShebeHod, Beauty within Gratitude. The eve of my partner’s birthday. The eve of the day I receive my second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Mystical appreciation for the splendor of now
Anyone who has watched Outlander or read the books can appreciate the symbolism of a circle of stones with a beautiful sunset. Perhaps we too will slip through time and find our one true love. Or perhaps we will slip into the deeper meaning of this moment, gaining appreciation for the splendor continuously surrounding us.
It is terribly difficult to stay rooted in gratitude. Especially in these strange, uncertain times. Fear, anxiety, and exhaustion haunt my days. While I miss eating meals with friends, going to the movies, seeing brilliant theatre, and praying in-person in community, what I miss most is silence. The long hours of the day alone in my home, sinking into Jewish wisdom. The beautiful splendor of silence.
Of course, I can remind myself that now is also amazing. Watching my boys grow in height and knowledge. Starting to understand the the particulars of their personalities. Accepting that they’re children and I can’t undo the fact that while I was in class, they ate the edges of the birthday cake I baked. (Before frosting and before tomorrow’s birthday.)
Holy wonder for the miracle of today
Most of today will be April 28, 2021 in secular time. Such an incredible day. The birthday of the oldest member of my family. My beshert (soul mate), my Chesed (actual Hebrew name). Throughout our relationship, we have known that Chung-Mau is the lovingkindness to my strength and together, we create beauty and truth.
We also made two amazing humans. Surviving together in grand fashion. Even sometimes indulging in pop culture and junk food. Surrounded by Chung’s incredible creations.
And today I will join Chung in completing my vaccination for COVID-19. Perhaps a bit of the weight on our shoulders will begin to ease as we walk towards full-strength vaccination in two weeks.
Prayer for beautiful gratitude
Holy Source of Life, help me to embrace each moment. Let me see with eyes of gratitude. Allow me the rationality to see the beautiful possibility in every moment.
Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5781. גבורה שבהוד, Gevurah of Hod, Discipline within Gratitude.
Family pets live within love and gratitude. In most situations, their interactions are expressions of gratitude. To choose a pet is to choose to live with gratitude and service. I choose to appreciate the gift of my pet. I learn from her how to enter relationships with an attitude of gratitude.
Prayer: the gratitude path we stumble towards
Recognizing gratitude as a primary intention within prayer transformed my experience of life. At times, the structure of prayer locks me out. The traditional Jewish service in Hebrew, a language I did not understand. The prescribed length of services, especially morning services, can take three hours (though traditional weekday services are significantly shorter). Nusach, traditional musical modes, dictate how each service sounds. All of these external factors can keep a person from finding meaning in prayer. And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest factor separating progressive Jews from meaningful prayer experiences. The oppressive, anachronistic God as King language dictated by our prayer formula.
Despite all these barriers, Jews are deep spiritual seekers. Many of the earliest (and current) American Buddhist teachers are Jews who did not find mindfulness or deep meaning within Jewish spaces. I appreciate Buddhist philosophy and other paths towards mindfulness, but I have always reached towards Judaism to find my way towards living meaningfully and thinking deeply.
While traditional prayer language chafed at me for decades, the space of Jewish prayer has always resonated with me in a way that other spiritual disciplines do not. Even when I did not understand what I was saying, praying in Hebrew made more sense to me than praying in another language. Actually, in recent years, I had to teach myself how to go deeply into prayer through English words.
Prayer: the conduit for a discipline of gratitude
Judaism offers three services a day and four on holidays. Each services has a clearly proscribed set of prayers, designed to take a person on a journey inward, opening space for Divine flow and transformation. Yet, that flow cannot be found if all of the structure feels like a brick wall. Plus, making time for anything can feel oppressive.
Rather than reprimand myself for not davennen (praying) three times a day, I choose to find a new relationship with prayer. This is my minimum viable product of the discipline of gratitude:
Starting my day by thanking God for the breath that sustains me sets a better tone than immediately grabbing my phone and wandering into social media rabbit holes. Taking time to stretch and appreciate the body that carries me through the day. Thinking through my responsibilities this day as I get dressed and ready. Pausing before I put food in my mouth, to thank the Source of Life, the people who farmed the food, and the person who prepared the food. Ideally, closing each meal with a prayer of gratitude for my satiation. Ending the day with reflection and a prayer to connect myself with the Source of Life.
Prayer for the discipline of gratitude
May I find the discipline of gratitude that opens me to the depths of my being, making space to allow myself to be of service to others. And through this discipline and service, may I feel connected to the Divine flow pulsating within and around us.