Discipline of Gratitude: Prayer, 30 Days Omer 5782

Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5782. גבורה שבהוד, Gevurah of Hod, Discipline within Gratitude. What defines your gratitude practice? Do you acknowledge the work that goes into growing and cooking food before you eat it? Is prayer meaningful or arcane? Do you have deeper faith in spontaneous prayer? Or do you express gratitude through more physical acts?

Landscapes: Meditations into Gratitude

Forget the mass murders happening daily. (Buffalo grocery store, Laguna Woods church)

Sink into the timeless beauty of landscapes. Swim in the brilliance of skilled photographers.

Choose expansive consciousness

“There is no poverty like the poverty of consciousness.” –Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 41a, quoted in Pillar of Prayer: Guidance in Contemplative Prayer, Sacred Study, and the Spiritual Life from the Baal Shem Tov and his Circle.

How do we cultivate expansive consciousness? By making fixed times for prayer. Contemplate things that ground you. Wrestle with God. Allow yourself time to sink into gratitude.

The Baal Shem Tov taught “one needs to study and to pray with the presence of mental clarity and open awareness.” (Pillar of Prayer, 23).

“For implicit in a person’s thought is the entire Divinely emanated cosmic structure…Now, thought is the expression of the attribute of Wisdom, and speech is the offspring of thought; and indeed, thought is also [subtly] composed of letters. Thus, when one’s thought is not connected with one’s words, it is like wasting seed; for one’s words are one’s very life essence.” (Pillar of Prayer, 25).

Prayer is Unpopular

So many people are turned off by prayer.

People are afraid to invite others to join them in prayer.

Having set time for communal prayer is inconvenient and requires people to change their habits and commit to a counter-cultural act.

Yet, prayer is an equal-opportunity technology: available to every soul to help us expand our consciousness and sink into gratitude.

I am dedicated to making prayer accessible and meaningful to as many people as possible. I hope you will join me in building communal space for soul expansion.

In 14 days of the Omer, 15 days by the solar calendar, I will be ordained.

The Spiral of 30 Days of Omer…

An essay on prayer as the gratitude highway, 5781 / 2021

Reveling in the splendor of daily life, 5780 / 2020.

The discipline of splendor, 5779 / 2019.

Building a regular practice of gratitude, 5778 / 2018.

Thoughts on splendor and conversion, 5777 / 2017.

Image by Ian Procter via Pixabay.

Covenantal Love within Gratitude, 29 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5782. חסד שבהוד, Chesed ShebeHod, Covenantal Love within Gratitude. Embracing the Divine despite the the chaos around us. How can we live into our fullness?

Four years ago, I posted a translation of Psalm 13 to reflect on today. That poem prayer is rattling through my mind, challenging me to express something as profound as its sparse lines.

לַמְנַצֵּחַ מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד׃

עַד־אָנָה יְהֹוָה תִּשְׁכָּחֵנִי נֶצַח עַד־אָנָה  תַּסְתִּיר אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי׃

עַד־אָנָה אָשִׁית עֵצוֹת בְּנַפְשִׁי יָגוֹן בִּלְבָבִי יוֹמָם עַד־אָנָה  יָרוּם אֹיְבִי עָלָי׃

הַבִּיטָה עֲנֵנִי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהָי הָאִירָה עֵינַי פֶּן־אִישַׁן הַמָּוֶת׃

פֶּן־יֹאמַר אֹיְבִי יְכׇלְתִּיו צָרַי יָגִילוּ כִּי אֶמּוֹט׃

וַאֲנִי  בְּחַסְדְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי יָגֵל לִבִּי בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ אָשִׁירָה לַיהֹוָה כִּי גָמַל עָלָי׃ {פ}

Psalm 13 Hebrew courtesy of Sefaria.

The entire poem is a clear expression of my approach to theology. The below translation is based on Robert Alter, with deviations to reflect my modern sensibility.

For the lead player, a psalm of longing.

How long, Ground of Being? Will You forget me always?

How long will Your Presence be hidden from me?

How long shall I desperately seek advice, dread nipping at my essence?

How long will the forces of Chaos loom over me?

Pay attention! Answer me, Creator of Being, my God!

Light up my eyes, lest I sleep death,

Lest Chaos say, “I’ve prevailed over her,”

Lest my foes exult when I stumble.

But I in Your kindness do trust, my heart exults in Your rescue.

Let me sing to the Creator of Being, for She bountifully embraces me.

Filled Beyond the Brim with Gratitude

I know that so much is going on in the world and there is so much heartache. I know I have not fully processed these past years of parenting. I know there is more to feel and do about pandemic deaths, the racist murder of innocent people in Buffalo at a grocery store, the Jew-hatred at the heart of “white replacement theory” hatred, the death and destruction in the Ukraine by a fascist neighbor, and the impending removal of my bodily autonomy by the Christian hegemonic Supreme Court.

I choose to rebel and acknowledge that this month is full of blessing for me. I’ve finished my master’s thesis, “Inner Growth, Human Relationships, and Reaching Towards God: The Concurrent Development of Ethics and Mysticism in Early Modern Jewish Texts.” I completed my presentation on the thesis. I have roughly four more assignments to complete to finish my rabbinical studies.

In fifteen short days, I will be ordained. How could I possibly approach these coming weeks with anything but gratitude?

Theology That Grounds Me

The Creator of Being does not need to have the independent ability to act in physical reality for me to believe.

God does not need to be all powerful, omnipotent, to be real.

I cannot believe that God chose to be present in the Iron Age and then decided to recede to the background while millions were slaughtered. The God of the Bible is a human creation. God exists beyond our imaginations.

Goodness, Truth, Love, Judgment, Strength: these values lift me up and bind me to God.

May my life be lived in service to these ideals.

May my rabbinate help those around me encounter, embrace, and enhance the essence of their true selves.

The Psalter in a Jewish Key

The easiest way into Jewish prayer is the Psalter, the book of Psalms. Here are the companions on my journey into this wellspring.

The Spiral of 29 Days…

Bridging the chasm between skepticism and belief, 5781 / 2021.

Diving Light enters where we let it, 5780 / 2020.

Receive the flow from the wellsprings of life, 5779 / 2019.

Embracing gratitude and praise, 5778 / 2018.

Commit to supporting someone else, 5777 / 2017.

Image by Ian Procter via Pixabay.

Divine Presence within Endurance: 28 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the Omer in the year 5782. שחינה שבנצח. Shechinah within Netzach. Divine Presence within Endurance. When we reach beyond what we think we could handle, God is with us. When we sink into how great it is to be alive, God surrounds us.

Choosing To Be Israel, Choosing To Be A God-Wrestler

When I first returned to deep Jewish practice, my brain was flooded with “peace” activist rhetoric. I found it so disturbing to read blessings for Israel every day. It took me quite awhile to break through the anti-Jewish bias that had accumulated in my thought process. I finally broke through to understanding that the majority of the time “Israel” is mentioned in Jewish prayer, it is as a collective name for my people. And the name means God-wrestler.

God Is With Me Always

My understanding of the Divine is quite different from many people. I try hard not to attempt to convince anyone of God’s existence. Although, I am known to defend God from specious arguments. My goal in writing these blog posts is to help people sink into a more expansive understanding of God. Breaking free of childhood narratives. Diving into the mystery at the heart of the universe.

Omer Counting is about allowing space for God to enter into our daily lives. As Shabbat begins, how are you greeting the Ground of Being?

Remembering Those Lost to COVID-19

Two years ago, I reflected on the seemingly overwhelming fact that 250,000 people worldwide had died from COVID-19. Now, we are marking an even grimmer day: almost one million people in the United States have died from COVID-19. Globally, over six million people have died from COVID-19. Each person contains worlds and each death is painful. We have ripped through the fabric of humanity.

Yes, we need to endure and move forward. Yet, we must also recognize that this disease continues to hunt us. Getting sick, especially getting infected more than once, can increase long-term negative health outcomes. And people continue to die of the ever-increasingly contagious disease. I am not a health expert. I rely on county public health experts, medical experts via Twitter, and Your Local Epidemiologist to understand what is happening with this pandemic. May we never forget those whose lives were cut short. May we stay vigilant for our own health, and for the health of all who live on earth.

The Spiral of 28 Days of Omer…

Indwelling of Eternity, Becoming a God Knower, 5781 / 2021.

Indwelling of Eternity, Pausing to Acknowledge Mortality 5780 / 2020.

Shabbat and The Way hold space for the Indwelling of Eternity, 5779 / 2019.

The Truth I am Discovering, 5778 / 2018.

Physical and Spiritual Life Cycles, 5777 / 2017.

Image by JamesDeMers via Pixabay.

Foundation of Endurance, 27 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5782. יסוד שבנצח, Yesod ShebeNetzach, Foundation of Endurance. Connecting with the piece within that helps us endure these unprecedented times. Knowing our “why” that sees us through all circumstances.

Are There Cracks in Your Endurance?

Baruch HaShem, we are all alive. But are we all completely here? We aren’t fully on the other side of this pandemic. We have not processed all the experiences we’ve lived through. The rifts between us seem to be widening. Brokenness is a natural part of life. If we are living honestly, we recognize that being “only human,” means that we never stop living with brokenness.

Yet, our spiritual practice can hold space for that brokenness while moving us forward on our journeys. That’s why Leonard Cohen wrote Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem” lyrics provided by MusicMatch in Google search

We must honor the cracks within us, while never letting them overwhelm us. It is a dance between our brokenness and our growth.

Realistic Goals, Realistic Companionship

Whatever you want to do in your life, start small. Take it one step at a time and never beat yourself up for stumbling back into bad habits. Honor yourself by being a realistic companion to the Ideals compelling you towards revelation.

This Omer journey is not about book knowledge or perfectly understanding the sefirot. It is about inner contemplation, honoring the values we hold dear, and clearing away the debris that stops us from fully hearing God’s revelation on Shavuot, which begins in the evening on Saturday, June 4. Five days after my ordination. What sign posts are you moving towards in your life?

As an aside, AJRCA published my blog post on my journey to the rabbinate.

The Spiral of 27 Days…

Prioritizing People and Community, Bonding with the Eternal 5781 / 2021.

Sinking into the Foundation of Eternity, 5780 / 2020.

The foundation of my endurance, 5779 / 2019.

Aligning speech and actions with ideals, 5778 / 2018.

Cleave to the eternal truth within, 5777 / 2017.

Image via Pixabay.

Pillars of the Temple, 26 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days, of the Omer in the year 5782. הוד שבנצח, Hod ShebeNetzach, Splendor Within Endurance. These two emanations are connected to the legs of a person, and the pillars of the Temple. They hold up our ability to reach towards the Divine: Endurance / Will and Splendor. Both are connected to prophecy. What defines your life? Aside from responsibilities, what brings meaning to your life? How do you judge your journeys?

Choosing a Life of Virtue

I’ve often said that virtues sounded goyish to me the first time I heard them. The only reference point I had was horror movies which connected them to the seven deadly sins.

In reality, virtues have an intrinsically Jewish key. Early rabbinic thinkers spoke about Yetzer HaTov, the inclination towards goodness; and its counterpoint, the Yetzer HaRa, the inclination towards destructiveness. At all times, we have both inclinations within us. In every moment, we have the opportunity to choose which path to take. God is our shepherd because She guides us towards a life of Goodness. She provides spiritual sustenance, regardless of what is happening in material reality. When we denounce the dark side, the Force pulls us into harmony with the world.

Place Higher Ideals Before Me

There is a Jewish practice of hanging a Shiviti on the wall. It begins with Psalm 16:8 “I place HaShem before me always.” It draws the viewer into a meditative practice, realigning with one’s core understanding of the Ground of Being. What guides your journey? How do you connect with God? What questions do you need to sort through to have a personal relationship with the unknowable Oneness beyond all human understanding?

I choose 49 days of meditating into the sefirot because it constantly draws me back towards the virtues that I want to guide my life. I am far from perfect. Yet, I choose to place HaShem before me always. And that is enough.

Spiral of 26 Days of Omer

Connecting With the Eternal Now, 5781 / 2021.

Bringing eternity into focus, 5780 / 2020.

Bringing holiness into every day, 5779 / 2019.

Time twists, we roll, 5778 / 2018.

My core truth, 5777 / 2017.

Image via Pixabay.

Eternal Endurance, 25 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty-five days, which is three weeks and four days of the Omer, in the year 5782. נצח שבנצח, Netzach ShebeNetzach. Eternal Endurance. Allowing the expansiveness of eternity into the cells of our bodies. Setting aside the agonizing question, “why must people die?” Swimming in the pools of never-ending will.

Let Go of Yesterday

What if we forget for a day all the stories we tell about how we got here?

What if instead of haranguing myself for wasting time, I swim in the pools of now?

Aside from our responsibilities, what brings meaning to our lives?

How can we allow the Eternal into the mundane?

The Way, Halakhah

The correct direct translation of Halakhah is The Way. It is the Jewish way of living in order to make space for Eternity. Long before there were codified laws, there were schools of philosophers orienting themselves around something beyond animal sacrifice and a single holy space.

It is quite easy to denigrate my Judaism if you are basing your standards on “what you know to be practicing Judaism.” What I’ve learned, especially during this last semester of seminary, is that we are all doing Jewish. Every Jew navigates their relationship with Halakhah.

Personally, I do not believe either the Hebrew Bible nor the Talmud was transmitted to Moshe on a mountaintop. Therefore, I feel free to mold this man-made religion into the forms that make the most sense for me. This too is The Way.

Judaism is My Pathway to Eternity

People get hung up on terms like “the chosen people.” It is not a universalist approach to humanity.

I feel chosen. Not superior; but chosen.

Chosen to swim in the pools of this wisdom tradition and help translate it for today’s wisdom seekers.

What do you feel called towards?

A Book to Ground Us

The Spiral of 25 Days of Omer

Enduring Will in the Heart of a Pandemic, 5781 / 2021.

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.

Image via Pixabay.

Harmonious Endurance, 24 Days Omer 5782

Today is twenty-four days, which is three weeks and three days of the Omer, in the year 5782. תפארת שבנצח, Tiferet ShebeNetzach, Harmonious Endurance. Do you allow yourself time everyday to sink into your soul? How does the Eternal speak to you?

Moving Closer to My Destiny

Yesterday, I completed the journey of my master’s thesis, “Inner Growth, Human Relationships, and Reaching Towards God: The Concurrent Development of Ethics and Mysticism in Early Modern Jewish Texts.” I presented a twenty-one minute introduction to the focus of my scholarly interests: how Jewish wisdom develops across time. For me, the Jewish intellectual organism is a combination of ethics, mysticism, and Halakhah. One cannot be understood without the development of the other three aspects of Jewish thought. While ethical mysticism is my focus, my rabbinical school training has given me a profound appreciation for the power of The Way, Halakhah.

Choose Integrated Living

I am beyond grateful to my colleagues and professors for the gift of their wisdom. I am also grateful for the medical professionals who have helped my family and me live into this moment. I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t tell you whether a soul doctor or a physical doctor is needed. I can tell you that my life is enriched by appreciating the necessity and limitations of each form of human knowledge. May we all regain trust in professionals and may we sink deeply into our own journeys.

Reconnect With Someone You Left Behind

Maybe I’m the only one who experienced this, but I’ve had epochs in my life where different people were intensely important. I’ve lost touch with many of them. I have never regretted reconnecting with someone. See if the same is true for you. Perhaps the person you most need to connect with is yourself.

Remember that the stories we tell about our lives are a refraction of the lived experience. If your story is holding you back, gently thank it for helping you reach this day and then let it go. I cannot tell you how many personal narratives I had to let go in order to grow into myself.

Embrace Your Passion

I don’t believe everyone has to quit their day job and focus on hustling their passion into a viable business. I also know we live fuller lives when we fully embrace our passions. Did you give up drawing? Do you have a model kit waiting to be built? Do you think fondly of a previous decade when you would get wrapped up in books instead of endlessly scrolling social media? Whatever it is, try to let your passion back into your life.

Personally, I am gently trying to wean myself from my phone. I need to be less connected to the internet in order to be fully present to my life. It’s a daily struggle. It’s also why I am not forcing myself to write every meditation on the night that an Omer count begins. I’m prioritizing riding my stationary bike over this. Find something that makes your heart race and free yourself from the bonds of the present. Sink into the luscious vitality of eternity.

Spiral of 24 Days

Compassion and Empathy within Will, 5781 / 2021.

Sinking into the Eternity of this Moment, 5780 / 2020.

I need a roadmap for this thing called life, 5779 / 2019.

Wisdom, discernment, understanding, 5778 / 2018.

Courage to speak from truth, 5777 / 2017.

Books for the Journey

Image by Karl Egger via Pixabay.

Strength within Endurance, 23 Days Omer 5782

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.

The Spiral of 23 Days of Omer

Grasping Toward Discipline of Will During Distance Learning, 5781 / 2021.

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.

Covenantal Love within Endurance, 22 Days Omer 5782

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.

I cut the foreskin of my lips.

To be a conduit for Goodness, I hold my tongue.

I circumcise my sons.

They are physically part of a separate people.

With all my words, with all my being,

I choose to be a God Wrestler.

May we find the Light within,

And live into the Path of Righteousness.

Spiral of 22 Days of the Omer…

Letting Go of Bad Habits, 5781 / 2021.

Endurance during COVID-19, 5780 / 2020.

Mother’s Day Reflections, 5779 / 2019

Enduring toddlers with grace, 5778 / 2018.

Holding steadfast to my goals, 5777 / 2017.

Image via Pixabay.

Indwelling of Beauty, 21 Days Omer 5782

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.

The Spiral of 21 Days of the Omer

Indwelling of Compassion is the Heart of a Conscious Community, 5781 / 2021.

Diving presence guiding beautiful truth, 5780 / 2020.

Indwelling of Truth, 5779 / 2019.

Shabbat and clarity, 5778 / 2018.

She whispered truth to me, 5777 / 2017.

Image by Simone Coltri via Pexels.