Living as a Jew in December, Vayechi 5782

This week, our portion is named “Vayechi,” which means “he lived.” I’d like to take a few moments to discuss how this verb is formed, because it sheds light on the internal perspective of our Bible. Often, a verb in the Bible begins with a vav. This can indicate a conjunction – that’s a fancy word to include “and,” “but,” “however.” On the other hand, it can be a “reversing vav.” So, yichi without the vav indicates an ongoing action, or an action that will take place in the future. With the vav, we know that it was an ongoing action in the past. This is the brilliance of the Biblical mind. Their concept of time was not the same as our concept. Their verbs, their actions, are not in the past, present, or future. Rather, actions are completed, they are occurring now, or they may occur in the future. The stream of time in Biblical Hebrew is more fluid than the finite breaks of modern grammar.

This perspective also helps us understand the internal purpose of the narrative we are completing this week. For Israelites, there was never a need to record Exactly What Happened. That concept of history is not part of the BIble. Rather, each story is meant to help us deepen our understanding of our present moment and our connection to our spiritual community. 

The weekly Torah portion, VaYechi

With this background in mind, please listen to the first sentence of this week’s Torah portion.

Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt, so that the span of Jacob’s life came to one hundred and forty-seven years.

וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם שְׁבַ֥ע עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה שָׁנָ֑ה וַיְהִ֤י יְמֵֽי־יַעֲקֹב֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבָּעִ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָֽה׃

Why do we need to know that Jacob lived in the land of Egypt, in Eretz Mitzrayim? What does it mean to live? And why did our forefather’s life end in Egypt rather than in the Holy Land?

Mitzrayim: the narrow place, the place of constraint

Here’s where the Jewish mind and a strict understanding of Hebrew grammar differ. The folk etymology of the word Mitzrayim connects it to Maytzarim, which means “distress” or “constraints.” This is why you may hear me describe Egypt as the narrow place within us. Whether or not the two Hebrew words are actually connected, the Jewish mind has built on the similarity between the words to build worlds of meaning into our text.

So Jacob lived in the narrow place before he died. He didn’t have the hero’s journey of going through difficulty early in life and then experiencing complete peace before dying. Instead, he left the promised land and saw his family prosper in exile.

Jacob experienced a taste of our lives. For the most part, being Jewish in America, in this part of the diaspora, is not a cause of tsuris. Our daily lives are not filled with aggravation or chas v’shalom, fear, because of our Jewish identities.

Reflecting on December as a Jew

And yet, December in particular can be a time of increased awareness of our difference from mainstream American society. I want to be clear that I do not harbor any ill will towards Temple Beth David families who choose to celebrate Christmas. Rather, I am reflecting on what the season has meant for me, as an individual and as a mother.

My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas and helping our kids navigate this season has been a growth opportunity for me as a parent and as a spiritual leader.

I experience tension during this season. On the one hand, I am patriotic and love my neighbors. On the other hand, I am choosing to stand aside from the Christmas celebrations.

For our family, Santa Claus has loomed large over the past week, as Santa and Mrs. Claus visited our children’s public school on Wednesday. This tension, between deep gratitude for the fullness of our lives, and acknowledging that we live in the Diaspora, is reflected in the way Jacob’s life ended in physical security, though spiritually disconnected from our people’s homeland.

We must choose to fully live in each moment. Life is not always easy. Holding onto our separate identity as Jews can be difficult. Yet, ultimately, it is the most soul-nourishing gift we can give to ourselves and to our children.

Back to the Torah: blessing our children

Let’s return to the first sentence from our Torah portion.

Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt. The Midrash points out that he lived in Egypt for as long as Joseph lived with his family before being sold into slavery by his brothers. Before he dies, Jacob blesses his male offspring. He begins by blessing the children of Joseph. Jacob provides a larger blessing to the younger child, Ephraim, than he does to the older child, Menasheh. And it is from his words that the practice began to bless Jewish children at the beginning of Shabbat. Traditionally, we tell our boys “may God make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.” We tell our girls, “may God make you like Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.” What does it mean to bless our children?

That was the first question I was asked when I started rabbinical school. In truth, I dropped the class. I realized I could not wrestle with questions about Jewish practice until I started being more diligent in doing Jewish. So, I started to bless my children on Friday nights.

First, we light Shabbat candles. Then, we bless our children. After invoking our ancestors, Ephraim and Menasheh, we chant the priestly blessing. Next, we sing Shalom Aleichem, to welcome angels into our Shabbat experience. We conclude the sanctification of Shabbat with the Kiddush that Cantor Orly chanted for us this evening.

Blessing other people is an act of faith

Blessing other people is an act of faith. It is our opportunity to humbly open ourselves up to the unknown. For me, it is an opportunity to invite God into our lives. We pray that each of our children are able to truly live into the deepest part of themselves and to become who they are meant to be. I am not literally asking my kids to become the leaders of tribes, with my younger son outshining my older son. Rather, I am hoping that they will live into their Jewish souls and become the fullest version of themselves.

Our weekly blessing is a reminder that each child is a vessel of holy light. The souls we are blessed to know are shadows of the Divine. This is what it means to believe that we are all B’tzelem Elohim, we are all made in the image of God. 

Embrace how we each reflect the Divine

Welcoming Shabbat is not just a time to bless children. It is also a time to kvell about all of our family members. This is why a traditional prayer book includes the Eshet Chayil passage from Proverbs 31 as part of the Friday night at-home rituals. Eshet Chayil means “a woman of strength.” We are proud of how strong our family members are. We appreciate the unique gifts each member of our community brings to this world. The ability to make a living matters. Friendships matter. Our dedication to our community matters. Each of us matters in the deepest sense of the word. We are each shadows of the Divine. We each have the opportunity to bring light into the world and to truly live. May we each embrace our journey and allow ourselves the opportunity to sink into our deepest selves. 

Shabbat shalom.

Indwelling of Bonding, 42 Days of Omer 5781

Today is forty-two days, which is six weeks of the Omer in the year 5781. שכינה שביסוד Shekhinah ShebeYesod, Indwelling of Bonding. May my meditation be in honor of my teacher and friend, Yaniv Dotan. His memory will surely be a blessing and a source of deep faith and passionate conviction throughout all time and space.

Today is the marriage of all gender expressions within us. Shekhinah is the embodiment of the Divine feminine, and Yesod traditionally is the “creative” power of the masculine. Without modern biology, rabbinic Judaism assumed that the life force emanated from men, while women were seen a empty vessels. Let us move beyond simplistic, flawed understandings of biology and gender. May the breadth of possibility encapsulated in the Indwelling of Bonding connect us to the Source of Life.

Entering Mother’s Day

This seems like an ideal emanation for Mother’s Day. Recognizing that parenthood and childhood looks different for everyone. Whether you had a good relationship with your mother, or never had a mother, may this day honor the nurturing instinct in all of us. I pray we each have people and a community with whom we bond deeply and unequivocally.

May we recognize the spark of the Divine within each living thing. Let us honor our innate holiness with circumspect lips and open hearts. I pray a large smile and warm embrace envelop you today and every day.

Reverence for HaShem

Yaniv believed completely in the reality of the Divine. His faith in the Divine, and in the Hebrew Bible, was unshakeable. His certainty that our lives matter. Conviction that our depths matter far more than our physical appearance. I pray that all of Yaniv’s wisdom helps us face the future with dignity and determination.

Previously today…

Honoring our physical vessels, 5780 / 2020.

The foundation of being is ever-present, 5779 / 2019.

Sovereign bonds in life, 5778 / 2018.

Bonding with the Immanent Divine, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Kanenori via Pixabay.

Boundaries within Foundation, 37 Days Omer 5781

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.

Books for the journey

Previously today…

Boundaries during COVID-19, 5780 / 2020.

Boundaries in Bonding, 5779 / 2019.

Don’t lose yourself to the crowd, 5778 / 2018.

Discipline in interpersonal relationships, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Tim Hill via Pixabay.

Lovingkindness within Bonding, 36 Days Omer 5781

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,

rooted in love.

Books

Previously today…

Covenantal Love in Personality, 5780 / 2020.

Nurturing the child within, 5779 / 2019.

Embracing full-throated love, 5778 / 2018.

Selfless love and covenantal communities, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Monika Iris via Pixabay.

Indwelling of Gratitude, 35 Days of Omer 5781

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.

Previously today…

Grieving the profound loss of Dr. Bob Levy, may his righteous memory forever passionately envelop us, 5780 / 2020.

Splendor gives us life, 5779 / 2019.

Allowing Splendor to Flourish, 5778 / 2018.

Bonding with the Infinite, 5777 / 2017.

Still reading…


Image by Pixabay via Pexels.

Foundation of Gratitude, 34 Days Omer 5781

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.

The book I’m reading

Previously today…

The Enneagram and Personality Types, 5780 / 2020.

The Ethereal Meets the Material, 5779 / 2019.

Pursuing Soul-Nourishing Activities, 5778 / 2018.

Praying to Carry a Retreat Forward, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Pok Rie via Pexels.

Endurance within Gratitude, 32 Days Omer 5781

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.

Previously today…

Pop culture as the entrance to eternal splendor, 5780 / 2020.

Rhythm of Jewish prayer opens eternal splendor, 5779 / 2019.

Connecting to pure holiness, 5778 / 2018.

The holiness of community, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Dan Fador via Pixabay.

Beauty within Gratitude, 31 Days Omer 5781

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.

Books for diversion…

Previously today…

Pandemic reality, Mother’s Day, 5780 / 2020.

The yoke of the Divine holds beautiful splendor, 5779 / 2019.

Prayer uncovers deep truth, 5778 / 2018.

Soulful community creates beautiful truth, 5777 / 2017.


Image by John Nail via Pexels.

Enduring Will, 25 days Omer, Netzach ShebeNetzach

Today is twenty-five days, which is three weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5781. נצח שבנצח, Netzach ShebeNetzach, Enduring Will. The ability to reach beyond the inclination towards destructiveness and accomplish your vision. Ultimately, deciding to keep on your upright path, despite the many ways the real world fails to live up to ideals.

The pounding voice of external reality

The farther inward I go, the deeper I feel the pain around me.

Black and Latinx children and adults dying from encounters with the police.

Horrific abuse and murder of Asian neighbors.

Skeptical refusal to accept the public health imperative to wear masks in public.

Sharp clarity regarding white skin privilege. Others firmly rooted in the denial of structural racism.

Splintering anger between those who assert “white Jews” exist and those who define themselves as “white-passing” Jews.

The divisions within us are real and growing. Yet, these are only social differences. We build our identities around material world views, never allowing for the possibility that our enemies share our enduring concerns.

Counting the Omer orients me towards the Eternal and Enduring. I waffle between wanting to share the metaphysical thoughts inspired by the day’s count and feeling drawn into the never-ending struggle to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

Live into the truth pursuing you

I do not know how to compel a child to complete their homework. Clearly, yelling is not the answer. It is unclear to me exactly what is. So we plod along, praying that tomorrow the child will find the internal inspiration to complete his work.

I pray for the Enduring Will to complete this school year without pressure on my children or my spouse. May I have the focus to begin writing my thesis and the willpower to continue the journey. I pray the constant distractions that surround me daily are thwarted by my growing clarity and will.

Previously today…

Entangled with Eternity, 5780 / 2020.

Bat Kol, The Still, Small Voice of the Divine, 5779 / 2019.

The companionship of Will, 5778 / 2018.

Holy, enduring, eternity, 5777 / 2017.

Really, truly good books


Image by Chavdar Lungov via pixabay.

23 Days of Omer: Discipline of Will, Din ShebeNetzach

Today is twenty-three days, which is three weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5781. דין שבנצח, Din ShebeNetzach: Discipline within Will.

Mondays have gotten harder in our house. The weight of Zoom elementary school is heavy in our house. My patience wears thin. My whole being yearns for a return to normalcy.

Prayer through this eternity

Heavenly Mother, grant me the strength to hold my children through the last few months of the school year.

May we have the discipline to complete our homework.

Muse of joyful learning, may you return to our home.

Let us remember this time is fleeting.

Dude, books

Previously, I wrote more copy…

The strength of eternity in the midst of COVID-19, 5780 / 2020.

Disciplined endurance to accept who I am, 5779 / 2019.

Finding will, changing habits, 5778 / 2018.

The source of evil, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Mali Maeder via Pexels.