Today is thirty-three days, which is four weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5780. הוד שבהוד, Hod of Hod, Splendor of Splendor. That means we have reached the extremely minor holiday of Lag B’Omer!
Hod: creating a dwelling place for the Divine
According to Rabbi Finley, the energy of Hod helps us bring the emanations of the Divine into physical space. This is the energy that creates a mishkan, a dwelling place for the Divine. There is the dwelling place within our souls and there is the dwelling place in physical reality.
When I can tap into both the dwelling place within and create calming space around me, then it is possible to be a clear conduit of the Divine. This is why retreats are so effective — we enter numinous space, untouched by the mundane burdens of everyday living. We gather with friends, old and new. We create an intentional, and time-bound community. And we flow in the life-giving waters of Divine-knowing.
Retreats create space full of Hod, free of memories
I mourn for in-person community. My body rejects Zoom. Like my children, I am happy to be online for countless hours, but pretending to be connected to people on a computer screen zaps my energy like nothing else. Even getting the flu earlier this year was easier than being in class from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. I used to think there was something wrong with me personally. Now that more people are experiencing the soul-crushing reality of Zoom, I realize I am not unique. Computer screens are hard to focus on with emotional intensity for longer than thirty minutes.
Creating a mishkan within my home
So I dedicate myself to creating the dwelling place of the Divine within my home. Today, I shall clean the bathrooms and put away the laundry. Sometime this week, I shall make gluten-free pancakes and maybe even some gluten-free cookies. There will be laughter and love and lots of hugs to celebrate the Divine flowing through us and with us through these choppy waves of uncertainty.
I might even finish my courses on time within the next 1.5 weeks. It will be a miracle if it occurs, but stranger things have happened. B’ezrat HaShem. With the helps of the Ground of Being.
Today is thirty-two days, which is four weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5780. נצח שבהוד, Netzach ShebeHod, Eternal Splendor.
Sinking into the Mishkan
Today I allowed myself to be fully honest with the adults around me. I accepted the fierce embraces of my child with as much affection as he gave me. And I allowed my other child the space he needed to enjoy his new found love of computer games.
We cannot see the end of this pandemic. There is no way to know for certain what our next steps should be individually or collectively. The distance between our experiences widen.
I choose to sink into the knowledge that the eternal splendor of the Divine meets me in the dwelling place of my soul.
Stepping into today
I will honor the holiness of my physical space by choosing to create and maintain a schedule for cleaning it, and for doing the laundry in a timely manner.
Pop culture: the balm for my weary soul
The lack of purely adult space is a bit exhausting. Last night, I gave myself the gift of beginning to watch Outlander on Netflix. Perhaps one day I’ll also sink into the novels the show is based on. For now, I am grateful to watch adult humans focused on adult human emotions without robots or children being at the forefront of their dialog.
Prayer for Eternal Splendor to Reach You
May you be able to set aside all that binds you to anxiety and fear.
I pray you have moments of respite in the day ahead.
Let us come together in awe of the eternal splendor reaching towards us.
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days of the Omer in the year 5780. תפארת שבהוד. Tiferet ShebeHod, Beauty of Splendor.
Harmony in Exile
Today was the beginning of our ninth week of exile, sheltering in place, avoiding the outside world. I have not taken up any new hobbies, learned any new languages, or started playing any new instruments. I’m not even a particularly good companion to the people I share 1,400 square feet with.
Yet there are moment when I feel the hum of harmony. The perfect splendor of my tradition reveals itself daily in my studies.
We Jews are a people first and foremost. Before Christians invented the idea of “religion” (a cleaner, less ethnically driven way to convert pagans), we gathered around HaShem and the revelation of Her word. Many people think they know our early history, as it is taught to Christians and Muslims alike. Even the stories in the Hebrew Bible don’t tell the whole story. My people believed in a female god alongside a warrior god; perhaps more so given the number of female figurines found through archaeological excavation.
The men of the one unified understanding of HaShem learned to write, became the scribes of kings, and ultimately changed the course of Jewish history. Our Divine Mother peaks through in unexpected ways.
Entering the Day of Mothers
This is a hard day. Not just for those of us who had to oversee the creation of gifts to ourselves. It is a day of reconciliation: of recognizing how much we do not have, or perhaps did not have, in our relationships. Everyone deserves a deep and loving relationship with their mother. Everyone deserves to feel that their mother was the first person who loved them. Though the “mother archetype” may not even be female in your life, we each deserve that person.
If your relationship with your mother is not ideal, I see you.
Those mourning mothers who have passed from this world to the next, I see you.
Sisters wishing for just one day away from their blessed children, I see you.
The harmony of splendor embraces us all
Regardless of whether you have harmonious or disintegrated relationships with the humans in your life, the harmony of splendor embraces you. There is a mishkan, a place, within you calling you gently back to the deepest part of yourself. Your soul is there with you, aligned with the timelessness beyond time, the space beyond worlds. May your day bring you a moment of alignment with this truth.
Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5780. גבורה שבהוד, Gevurah of Hod, Strength of Splendor.
Having the strength to lead my children
It is strange time to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. To anticipate Mother’s Day while living into the eighth week of never leaving your children for very long. I am so fatigued that I avoid every non-mandatory Zoom gathering.
Thing 1’s first grade class meetings are particularly difficult. My son ran away because he couldn’t handle the pressure of creating comparisons to describe me. Having consumed neither coffee or breakfast, I had no patience for the demands to describe me as pretty and nice. It was a wretched day. Oh wait, that may have just been yesterday.
In any event, today, he wrote those sentences on the book creator app. Blessedly, he found a single image of female rabbis to accompany his final sentence. “But most special of all, my mom is as special as a rabbi.”
He also finished the other Mother’s Day project (that I had to scrounge for blank back-sides of paper to print). 2020 will not include a present from Thing 2 because I refuse to create another piece of ephemera for myself. I remain buttressed by Thing 2’s continuous requests for hugs and tickles.
The splendor of take out food
In this eighth week of isolation, we have caved into our cravings and ordered take-out. Previous weeks, one of us made every. single. meal. For Shabbat, we had the most glorious treat: freshly made spring rolls, fried tofu, tofu pad Thai, and for my husband, Chinese broccoli with tofu. If you are on the Western edge of the San Gabriel Valley, I strongly recommend nine & nine Thai kitchen in Pasadena. You could also order some books from Vroman’s bookstore for curbside pickup and have a perfect Pasadena expedition.
Grace for the lack of discipline
I usually push myself to lean into the discipline aspect of Gevurah and berate myself for not living up to the fantasies in my head. Today, I choose to have grace for myself. Perhaps in the coming weeks I will find the discipline to complete a Jewish prayer service daily. For now, I want to lean into gratitude that I am counting the Omer and chanting the Shema as I tuck my precious babies into bed.
I look at myself in the mirror a lot — strange how every bathroom sink seems to have a mirror overlooking it. I’m watching my white hair grow around my face and reveling at the way my children are growing into themselves. Praying Thing 2 never outgrows his love of tickles and hugs. Hoping Thing 1 learns to use soap in addition to reveling the flow of water when he showers by himself. And I pray we never stop loving one another.
Prayers for the Strength of Splendor
May our Shabbat, our holy day of connection with our souls and the Soul of the Universe, nourish us. I hope we feel the strength of splendor percolating in every moment. God, help us find the way to discipline our speech and remember that those around us are doing the best they can in an unprecedented time.
Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5780. חסד שבהוד, Chesed ShebeHod, Covenantal Love of Splendor.
To be perfectly honest, I avoided writing this meditation. Then I thought with dread about the possibility of falling asleep without writing it and adding it to my excruciatingly long to-do list for tomorrow. I suppose my course assignments are not that over-taxing. It’s just between primary parenting and having the attention span of a gnat, completing them is a heavy lift.
Inspo from Last Year: Undermining the notion of purely rational Litvaks
Skimming last year’s post, I recalled the depth of explanation revealed in The Soul of Life. The irony of this book, foundational to Litvak / Lithuanian Jewish culture, is how poetic, dare I say mystical, it reads. You see, Litvaks pride themselves on their rationality and deep intellectualism. They look down upon the poetic Polish Jews with their “backward” belief in amulets and Hasidism. Scratch the surface of these distinctions and realize their sugar essence. They dissolve under scrutiny.
In reality, all Jewish societies connected to rational Talmud study, mystical Zohar / Lurianic Kabbalistic study, and ethical / Mussar study. The trifold merger of the three foundational aspects of Judaism: ancient wisdom, philosophical / mystical Medieval expansion, and the nuts and bolts of being good and keeping yourself accountable to the good.
Understanding the metaphor of Divine light
Rabbi Yosef Chayyim of Baghdad explained why “light” refers to activities of The One Without End (HaShem beyond the sephirot) and the sephirot: “it is not because they are really light. Rather, it’s only because of the limitation of our intellect while it is still clothed in the physicality of the body to grasp the truth nature and the essence of the spiritual, and so it is impossible to describe spiritual actions as they are, so as to assign them a sufficiently descriptive name; for that reason they assigned it the name ‘light,’ for it is the most precious of the perceivable.” (Footnote 91, Page 45)
Not even the light of HaShem is meant as a literal expression according to Jewish mystics. They realized how insufficient language is to contain what exists beyond the physical world. And yet, they also fully embraced the physical world.
Shunning hermits, accepting the need for space
Judaism shuns hermits. Sometimes wise men may go off into the woods, or hole up in their studies. But only after getting married and producing offspring. Often, their wives financially support their mystical roundabouts. I think about this precedent when I accept that my partner takes charge of the kids after dinner to allow me to write these posts. When we believe in the work our partner is doing, it is not a burden to give them the space to continue the work. We take turns making ourselves the priority. Eventually it all gets done.
Entering the week of Splendor
We have entered a new week of Divine permutations. Hod, Splendor, focuses the prophetic speech of Netzach, creating the temple within our bodies and in our physical location wherein we engage the Divine. The Covenantal Love of Splendor is the recognition that by making space for the Divine, we create the possibility of feeling Divine reality, recognizing the truth of God, and finding our way into relationship with HaShem.
Clear the decks: letting go of an omniscient and omnipotent God
How can we clear the mental debris and make space for that relationship? Personally, I had to let go of Christian ideals binding my imagination. I no longer feel guilty for not believing in an all-powerful and all-knowing God. HaShem is no less ultimate, no less ever-present because I recognize the limitations of HaShem in physical reality. As Isaac Luria noted in his creation myth, making space for non-God shattered the vessels containing God. Material reality broke the Divine. By healing the brokenness within myself, I heal the Divine. This is why I named my blog Broken Rabbi (in training). I admit my brokenness. My fear lives with the anxiety of wondering if I can heal enough to be useful to those around me.
Everything has its place
I must start with simple steps towards creating the physical space to hold me and accompany me into relationship with Eternal Strength and Grace.
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the Omer in the year 5780. שחינה שבנצח. Shekhinah of Netzach. Indwelling of Eternity, Presence of Endurance.
Sinking into Netzach is hard during physical isolation. The only eternity that seems real is my ennui.
Seeing both mortality and eternity with clear eyes
With over 250,000 COVID-19 deaths worldwide, it is hard to stay focused on the importance of every human life and the tragedy of every death. Compassion fatigue sets in. We begin to rationalize the world as it is, rather than remembering what should be.
Tonight I forced myself to fully see the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery. Made myself fully understand the fate of an unarmed black man jogging in broad daylight in his own neighborhood. He was murdered by his neighbors. Most news stories only detail the murderers’ claim of a “series of break-ins in the neighborhood.” Actually, there was just one robbery reported in the neighborhood: a gun was supposedly stolen from one of the murder’s car. None of the stories I read contained any details of the dead man’s life.
To save a life is to save the world. For each person contains a soul and in that soul is an entire world.
The news is not providing clear guidance on the importance of each soul lost. Nor is mass culture doing a good job of helping us navigate the meaning of life and death.
Westworld v Mamet: What would you do for the ones you love?
Mostly I hate-watched Westworld this season. It is a familiar narrative. I made it through the exhaustion of watching humans murdered with abandon last season. And this entire season was devoid of emotional investment. At the end, I realized why: philosophical inquiry without soul is torture. I cannot care more for the death of a robot child than I do about the death of a human child. Being expected to have extreme sympathy for the loss of a robot child while accepting the death of a human child as a necessary, character-building, empathy-laden plot point broke me.
On the other hand, one of the last plays I was able to see live, The Christopher Boy’s Communion, placed a sharp spotlight on what it truly means to be a mother during an unspeakable tragedy. I do not claim David Mamet’s latest play is perfect. Rather, he successfully focused the spotlight on people other than a crime victim.
Westworld pretends to care about philosophical inquiry, but dismisses the notion of God. Conversely, Mamet is concrete in his belief and his spiritual foundation. If the Divine is merely a creation of men, then nothing is ultimately important. If Goodness and Justice exist beyond human mortality, then the choices we make in our lives have infinite meaning. For me, this is the difference between Westworld and Mamet: playing with infinite resources to create a world devoid of infinite meaning vs playing with finite resources to uncover the eternity underneath each moment.
Prayers to make space for the Indwelling of Eternity
May we each be inspired by our cultural consumption to swim in pools of depth. Let us find meaning in our daily grind. I pray to remember my eternal embrace of my children, regardless of how irritating I find their penchant for mischief.
Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5780. יסוד שבנצח, Yesod ShebeNetzach, Foundation of Eternity.
Today felt like an eternity
First, the anxiety of speaking in front of an entire class led to the destruction of a diorama (and clay and legos strewn across the house). Then, in the afternoon, they climbed up to the top of the closet, took down brand new Play-Doh, combined it to create mud color, and then mixed it with mounds of water. On the hardwood floor.
Tuesdays were always the hardest day of the week for me. On Sunday, I teach religious school at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday. Then I go to school 1:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. On Monday, I am in class 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Before the pandemic, I never understood why Tuesday was the least productive day of my week. Well, I suppose mostly because I had a hospital chaplaincy internship to go to and keep me motivated, so Wednesday became my day to collapse.
The long goodbye
I miss that hospital internship. Thinking a lot about hospital chaplains, patients, and patient families. Praying they are holding each other together through this incredibly difficult time. Especially since the need for community hospitals does not stop for a pandemic, but maybe people aren’t getting the treatment they need because they fear the virus.
Two more weeks of classes in my spring semester, plus a two-day “residency” (via Zoom). So I’ll formally finish at the end of Memorial Day. My son’s school year ends at the end of that week. No word yet on how classes will resume in August. This uncertainty is unnerving.
Getting beyond the grind
I could read psalms or pray.
Perhaps, I should watch movies I’ve never seen or movies from my childhood or series that are new to me.
And yet, I know I need to find firm footing. Eternity rumbles with dull continuity or provides deep pools of clarity depending on one’s perspective.
Resolving to Bullet Journal
In the past, plain bullet journaling (not artistic masterpieces, but the original BuJo), helped me gain clarity, stick to mindful eating, and remember to be kind. This is the foundation of my path through eternity that I resolve to reconnect with on the 27th day of the Omer in the year 5780.
In all honesty, there are fundamental truths in this book whether or not you stick with BuJo. The other great thing is that you don’t need to buy a planner and you don’t have to waste any pages — just pick it up when you can for as long as you can.
Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days of the Omer, in the year 5780. הוד שבנצח, Hod ShebeNetzach, Splendor of Endurance.
Netzach and Hod are the pillars of bringing the Divine into lived reality.
Having the vision to move towards the Good and the Holy: Netzach.
Creating a temple within yourself, clearing mental space and ordering physical space in alignment with that vision: Hod.
Hod of Netzach, the space that brings eternity into focus.
Allowing myself space to pray
Today, I allowed myself to sink into deep, contemplative prayer, uncovering painful and revelatory truths.
I realized how deeply my ability to pray transformed through Davennen Leadership Training Institute. Sadly, the beginning of DLTI 11 is postponed. And I do not know when I will see that spirit family again in person.
My Yetzer HaRa convinced me that prayer was not a practice I needed to seek if I could not sleep. Now I remember my soul yearns for the sweet suckle of Divine intimacy only available through the expanding flows of Jewish prayer. There is an order to the day that becomes clearer when benchmarked by Jewish services. Morning blessings, afternoon gift, evening kiss.
Prayers for my family, my friends, and the world
Pain flows when I allow myself to sink into how much I miss the other people who help me thrive in this world. In particular, I wondered when I will see Yosef again, who lives in Baltimore and gives amazing hugs. He also gave me the most amazing gift, a copy of Siddur Masorti, an egalitarian Sephardic weekday prayer book, at the end of the fourth and final week of DLTI. I am so grateful we are eternally connected through our love of traditional prayer and egalitarian space.
May we each find the way into self-reflexive meditation and contemplation that expands our souls and reminds us that we are on a journey through the splendor of eternity.
Today is twenty-five days, which is three weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5780. נצח שבנצח, Netzach ShebeNetzach. Eternity of Eternity. The pure essence of Endurance and Will.
Taking a moment to see beyond the moment
Sometimes, I catch myself observing my circumscribed life. Usually, this is easiest to do when observing fraught interactions between my spouse and children. Of course, I am apt to have the exact same reaction to obstinate fractionally formed humans as my husband. Still, from the distance of a few dozen meters, I can see the ways they are living past each other.
Du Fu’s “Song of a Painting”
In college, I took two courses of Chinese literature in translation. I have this gorgeous anthology of Chinese literature compiled by Stephen Owen. I take it with me fondly from residence to residence, never actually reading it. A talisman for when my heart cracked open to the rhythms of poetry and the nuance of understanding history through literature.
Du Fu (712-770) wrote a poem called “Song of a Painting.” According to Owen’s translation, the poem ends thus:
“Just look from ancient times till now at the greatest names of all, how all their days hardships and troubles entangled them.”
Over twenty years ago, this is what I wrote in response to the stanza: How true! The greatest names lived through difficult lives, and were stronger because of it.
Entangled in Hardships
I think now about what hardship we are living through. How difficult this is for the many families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. How many people lost their jobs, are preparing to be furloughed, and are otherwise economically affected by the physically distancing measures taken to save lives. I consider the mental strain we are all under, regardless of whether we are sheltering alone or with family or with friends. Our mouths speak the anguish of hearts often with words more vitriolic than we truly mean.
Endurance to Find the Will to Lean Into Goodness and Grace
I cannot proscribe speech or actions for anyone beyond myself. I can only resolve to choose compassion, acknowledging the experiences of those around me. By living into the uncertainty and anxiety that bubbles up around us, I can swim towards growth.
Today is twenty-four days, which is three weeks and three days of the Omer in the year 5780. תפארת שבנצח, Tiferet ShebeNetzach, Harmonious, True Eternal Will.
Sinking into the Eternity of This Moment
While it is true that there are so many aspects of me yearning to be expressed, there is part of me that never wants this moment to end.
I love my family fiercely and I love being surrounded by them. My four year-olds need for random hugs, my six year-old learning new words every day. Their father sinking into his original artistic passions for drawing and woodworking. The dog always at my side, guarding my neshama, my soul.
I will need to ease into life without their constant presence. I will need to know they are safe and not in danger of contracting a fatal illness before I am comfortable opening the doors to our home again.
Beautiful Truth Guiding My Eternal Will
Here are some truths I have learned that I try to live by:
The judgments of my ego are usually not the words the people around me need to hear.
Observing the world with love softens the edges of criticism and guides me towards being a healing presence.
No matter what they do, yelling at my kids will not make their actions more rational or make me feel more at peace.
Curses indicate weakness. True strength lies in speaking words of love and respect.
Sealing my Intentions towards my Rock and my Redeemer
I am reminded of Psalm 19. It reflects my deep desire to constantly remember covenantal love for humanity and discipline in repeating my ego’s judgments before allowing anything to leave my mouth. Urged towards remaining awake for this journey, and directing my passion towards Divine Goodness.
“Let my mouth’s utterances be pleasing, And my heart’s stirrings before You, Ground of Being, my Rock and my Redeemer.”