Temple of Strength, 12 Days Omer 5782

Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days of the Omer in the year 5782. הוד שבגבורה, Hod ShebeGevurah, Temple of Strength; splendor within power. Today, the 27th day of Nisan, is also Yom HaZikaron LaShoah v’LaGevurah, the Day to Remember The Shoah and The Heroism, the Catastrophe when one-third of Jews were murdered during World War II.

Choosing Hope, Strength, and Steadfast Support

Life has taken many turns for all of us. No one has had time to fully process the ways in which our lives have changed in the last few years. However we approach the seasons ahead, the fragility of human life is stark and clear.

I choose hope.

I remember El Shaddai, the Source of Strength.

My belief in HaShem is not dependent on prosperity or health. Like Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, God is with me in darkness as in light.

God is my Strength

The Ground of Being is my Strength and my Shield;

my heart trusts in Her.

Psalm 28, verse 7

It is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. While I welcome all people into spiritual community, my soul is grounded in the pursuit of HaShem. I cannot tell you I know God. There is no way for me to comprehend the Source of Life. I can say, my faith in God is strong. God is my Rock and my Shield.

Building my Sanctuary for Strength

A core reason I am on the cusp of rabbinic ordination is that I feel most complete in a sanctuary. My best self bursts forward in Jewish community generally and prayer spaces specifically. This is the consciousness I work to live into throughout the day, regardless of where I am.

So today, I will contemplate how I build that sanctuary within me. How I make it possible to feel surrounded by El Shaddai, God of Protection, God of Breasts.

Sometimes, we shy away from strength. We demure and deflect. This is a week to own the power within us and connect to the strength around us. As brave Amazon workers on Staten Island reminded us, the people united can never be defeated.

Similarly, there are many people who have been hurt by organized religion and believe that individual spirituality superior to collective endeavors. Yet, the thing I have learned above all else during this pandemic is that we humans are social animals. We are our best selves in community.

Let’s reinvent our synagogues and develop the spaces we need for our individual and collective spiritual growth. Am Yisrael Chai! The people Israel live!

Spiral of Today

Overview of Yom HaShoah from 5780 / 2020.

Resources to Understand The Catastrophe in Context.

Temple of Strength, 5781 / 2021.

Pillar of the Temple, 5779 / 2019.

Share Your Truth, 5778 / 2018.

Humility in Discipline, 5777 / 2017.

Books for the Journey

Image by Oleg Magni via Pexels.

Choosing to be Guided: Psalm 25, verses 12 and 13

Whoever the person who fears the Ground of Being,
God shall guide them on the path that they should choose.
Their essential self in goodness shall rest
and their seed shall inherit the land.

מִי-זֶה הָאִישׁ יְרֵא ה״
יוֹרֶנּוּ בְּדֶרֶךְ יִבְחָר
נַפְשׁוֹ בְּטוֹב תָּלִין
וְזַרעוֹ יִירַשׁ אָרֶץ

Gender neutrality clearly separates human from Divine

I could not figure out anything to write about this couplet. The original language is written about the man and his seed. Using male pronouns seems to conflate human volition with God’s direction. Does God guide the man on a path that God chooses? Or does God’s guidance allow the man to choose the correct path? Since the same pronoun is used for both verbs in verse 12b, either reading is correct.

Transforming the English into gender neutral terms for humans and their actions allowed me to meditate into the couplet. My body completely resisted and rejected the abundance of verbs conjugated in the third person male with third person male pronouns. 

Who chooses when God guides?

The breadth of psalm 25 implies that God guides and a person chooses correctly. But that implication is hard to provide and even harder for me to connect with. The couplet doesn’t begin with “the man,” rather it begins with mi-zeh. This phrase can be translated as “who is this” or “whoever” or “whose.” When looking mi-zeh up in my Evan-Shoshan Concordance, I found another example of the phrase that clarifies and confirms my suspicions on the original intent of this couplet.

Consider the use of mi-zeh in Lamentations 3.37:
מִי זֶה אָמַר וַתֶּהִי
אַ״דֹ״נַי לֹֹֹֹא צִוָּה
Whose decree was ever fulfilled,
Unless the Lord willed it? (JPS translation)

Free will vs determinism

Herein lies the crux of the biblical understanding of human autonomy: we have free will, and all of our choices are ordained by God. I do not personally agree with this theology. Free will has ultimate meaning to me: we can choose to allow the Ground of Being to lead us. We can also choose to willfully ignore Goodness. 

Following the Divine

When we choose to follow HaShem, our essential self is at rest. This is not to say we will always prosper; or that true believers never feel sadness, anger, or grief. Rather, we are able to flow with life’s ups and downs. We can ride the wave, rather than getting pummeled into the rocks.

For me, this is what it means to be guided by HaShem. Not that my life will be perfect, but that I will be able to respond to life with equanimity. I am constantly falling off this path. And so, I return, repent, and renew my alignment with Kindness and Truth.  

May we all have the will to follow the path of kindness and truth. 

Signposts on the journey

Heart of Psalm 25: Verse 11

לְמַעַו-שִׁמְךָ ה״

וְסָלַחְתָּ לַעֲוֹנִי כִּי רַב-הוּא

For the sake of Your name, Cause of Being:
May You forgive my willful and wayward acts, though they are plentiful.

The heart of the psalm: acknowledging my waywardness, requesting pardon

Benjamin Segal states: “The central verse (v.11) stands alone.” He explains that it is a prayer for forgiveness in the singular. The second half of the verse is used as part of the Yom Kippur liturgy, which is unusual because sins are generally stated in the plural during our communal day of atonement. (Segal, p 115, 117)

Pandemic living and this season of joy

I have been so wayward during this holy season. It has been so difficult for me to stay rooted in joy. Throughout the pandemic, I have struggled to stay grounded and focused. Recently, I realized how much I miss being around other people. Past retreats I attended feel so much more meaningful in the rear view mirror.

My last time traveling was for the final week of the Davennen Leadership Training Institute in February, right before the shutdowns. DLTI supports creating meaningful prayer experiences for communities across the United States.

Last Sunday, I learned that a friend, Benjamin Telushkin, z”l, from DLTI passed away unexpectedly right before Sukkot. It is strange to bear such heartbreaking news to a community. Ben lived in NYC and our cohort is spread out across the country. So, I did not have the opportunity to have a socially distanced, in-person conversation with another grieving friend. Yet again, Zoom became our communal gathering space.

Benjamin Telushkin: embodiment of joy

It is quite easy for me to get stuck in my head, intellectualize my thoughts, rationalize my actions. In many ways, Ben was my opposite. He relished being Jewish, holding space for love to flow through him. With his wife Grace, he was creating a beautiful family.

Ben was also one of the first people I met on my way to DLTI. We both caught a ride from New York City to the Isabella Freedman Retreat center, sharing the journey with two other DLTI’ers. You never forget the first people you meet on your way to meeting 70+ new friends.

I pray Ben’s soul is released from the material world. May he ascend to the infinite with which he was constantly reaching towards. I pray his soul is able to continue its journey while also maintaining her connection with his wife and family.

Ben’s Gematria Poem:
Ipoem with the “I” in Uppercase

Resources for the Journey

“The Meaning of Life During COVID times” an interview on the study of happiness.

Image by Alexandru Manole from Pixabay

Steadfast Love and Truth: the Path of HaShem, Psalm 25, verse 10

The path of God is a narrow bridge. Steadfast Love and Truth guide me towards Goodness.

All of the paths of the Ground of Being are steadfast love and truth;
For those who guard with fidelity His covenant and His testimonies.

כָּל-אָרְחוֹת ה״ חֶסֶד וְאֱמֶת
לְנֹצְרִי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדֹתָיו

Chesed v’Emet: Steadfast Love and Truth

Is it kindness, lovingkindness, or steadfast love? How to translate the constantly morphing חסד? She pulses with life, avoiding exact translation. Chesed is the deep feeling of being held in sacred relationship: a healthy partnership, where kindness prevails.

Some translate אמת (emet) as אמונה (emunah), truth as faithfulness. This is also the root of אמן, amen

HaShem’s path is for the lowly and wayward. We are led in steadfast love and truth.

Christians and Guardians

Fun fact: נצר is Hebrew for Christian. Before that meaning was invented, it was a verb meaning “guard with fidelity, keep, observe: elsewhere of man observing the covenant.” Wikipedia has an interesting etymology connecting Nazereth with נצר.

Concentric circles of meaning. Fundamental differences separate me from my Christian friends and neighbors. Yet, the core of our spiritual pursuits is connected: striving towards the best versions of ourselves, living in alignment with God. 

Finding my way to the path of kindness and truth

I have been thinking a lot in the last week about wayward paths. How certain we can be that we are pursuing the good, aligning with the holy, when we are really elevating our egos and nestling into the death grip of the Yetzer HaRa, inclination towards destructiveness. 

God’s covenant and testimonies should lead us on the path of kindness and truth. We need lampposts along the way. Human guides to break our complacency; remind us of the lies nipping at our best intentions. And we need to be forever watchful that we do not reify other humans. No matter how charismatic our spiritual leaders are, they remain flesh and blood. 

So I return to the Ground of Being. I breathe in humility. Breathe out anxiety and fear. May I be a watchtower for kindness and truth. Loosen my ego’s grip. Accept the world as it is. Sing out testimony to the soul-nourishing, life-affirming truth within God’s path. 

Books for the journey

Image by jbauer-fotographie from Pixabay

Following God’s path: Psalm 25, verses 8 and 9

Good and upright is the Ground of Being
therefore He guides offenders on the path.
He leads the lowly in justice
and He teaches the lowly His path.

טוֹב-וְיָשָׁר ה״
עַל-כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ
יַדְרֵךְ עֲנָוִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט
וִילַמֵּד עֲנָוִים דּרְכּוֹ

Translation relies heavily on Robert Alter, in addition to the BDB Lexicon

He is God. She is God. They is God.

I did not try to remove the gendered language from translation. I purposefully want to sit in the uncomfortable truth of the patriarchal representation of the Divine embedded in my tradition. 

Acknowledging patriarchy without diminishing the holiness of Jewish wisdom makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes, assumptions arise when I alter God’s gender in prayer. I see gender as a real thing that brings meaning to our lives. Yet the Creator of Reality is beyond gender. We attach to a gendered understanding of HaShem because it is the shadow of God that can be understood by humans. Becoming aware of God’s female aspects, of the ways in which the Divine is Goddess, allows us to break free of the barriers inherent in gendered language. Once we see that all gender expressions reflect Divine love in the world, we can live into deeper reality. 

Offenders and lowly: not willful sinners

Willful sinners know they are doing wrong and revel in their waywardness. Evil resides with willful sinners. 

Offenders — people who miss the mark, but are not intentionally going astray — seek guidance. Chataim is the plural form for people who commit chait. Rabbi Avraham Greenstein explains chait as missing the mark, short of ability. 

“Sin,” has gradations in the Jewish mind. The two other levels of sin involve stronger levels of choice in rejecting God’s instruction. Avon is a willful crookedness, being stuck on a tangential path. Pesha is rebellious rejection of God. 

Similarly, the lowly did not choose to be in that state. They may have been brought low by the inequalities inherent in society. Or they may struggle with depression. 

Waywardness exists within all of us

A core teaching of The Tanya: human inability for perfection.  Perhaps once in a generation, a tzaddik exists. Most of us are beinoni: pursuing the holy, struggling daily with the Yetser HaRa, the inclination towards destruction / chaos / evil. We beinoni have a war raging within.

These verses do not describe other people: they describe my own struggle to stay on the path of Goodness and Uprightness. When I raise my voice towards my children, I stray from the path of goodness. Every time I say things I regret. Every time I succumb to despair. It is easy to stray from the path of HaShem. 

The Ground of Being awaits my return. 

Alignment with Goodness and Truth is a daily struggle. I trust that the Cause of Goodness reveals the right way to me. As I move towards holiness, the Holy One, Blessed be She, moves towards me. 

Companions on the Journey

Image by Valiphotos via Pixabay.

Acknowledge the past, focus on kindness and goodness: psalm 25 verse 7

The offenses of my youth and my transgressions, may You not recall
In Your lovingkindness recall me. You.
For the sake of Your goodness, Ground of Being.

חַטֹּאות נְעוּרַי וּפְשָׁעִי אַל-תִּזְכֹּר
כְּחַסְדְּךָ זְכָר-לִי-אַתָּה
לְמַעַן טוּבְךָ ה״

Acknowledge transgressions and move forward

Has your mind ever played the trick of reminding you of every youthful transgression you ever committed? Perhaps the person you were in your early 20s does not resemble the person you are today. Let me put it simply: I am extremely grateful the internet was in its infancy when I was in college. 

Beyond my choices in college, perhaps I should try to scrub the internet of my blogging when I was in my 20s. Given the political nature of securing employment, perhaps I should have more anxiety about my peace activism. I do not want to hide my younger self: she was forged from Jewish values and persuasive rhetoric. Fundamentally, my persona coalesced around opposition to the status quo and mainstream ideas of security and nationalism. When I woke up to how rigid and angry I was on a daily basis, my surety cracked. Making space for uncertainty, I opened the door to returning to a relationship with HaShem. 

Wrapping myself in kindness and goodness

Lovingkindness / covenantal love: the choice to be in relationship and obligated to act faithfully.  For the sake of goodness. 

Within the text of psalm 25, HaShem is asked to remember these choices when connecting with a human. To embody the psalm, I must remember chesed, the sturdy love, the kindness, I should show to my family and my society. For the sake of Goodness, I choose to rise above my baser instincts. My transgressions are not as important as my commitment to lovingkindness.

Just as I ask HaShem to overlook my transgressions, so too must I probe to the deeper meaning of living in community. What words can I say to expand the reach of goodness? How can my actions embody the covenantal love embracing me continuously?

Flow through books

Image by Nina Czapska from Pixabay.

Flowing with Compassion and Kindness: Psalm 25 verse 6

Recall Your compassion, Cause of Being,
And Your kindness;
For eternal are they.

זְכֹר-רַחֲמֶיךָ ה״
כִּי מֵעוֹלָם הֵמָּה

Compassion begins in the womb

In Hebrew, the root of compassion is womb. רֶחֶם, rechem, means womb and from that root, רַחֲמִים, rachamim, compassion forms. In the womb of the Divine, I am surrounded by compassion and covenantal kindness / love / faithfulness. 

Kindness rooted in covenant

חֶסֶד, chesed, is a truly foreign concept, thus difficult to translate. 

Brown-Driver-Briggs gives the primary definition of chesed as kindness. This seems a simple word to accept, but I am compelled to precisely define kindness, because it is often replaced by lovingkindness when translating chesed. Google / Oxford Languages defines kindness as “the quality of being friendly, generous, considerate.” Google defines lovingkindness as “tenderness and consideration towards others.” 

Rabbi Miriyam Glazer taught a course on psalms at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. In that course, she stressed that the actions implied by the word chesed rest on the covenant between God and Israel, the people who wrestle with God. 

Ultimately, the word represents the outflowing of positive energy based on a concrete relationship of chosen connection. This is why the root in a different form, חַסִיד, chasid, means a pious person. 


When I type Hebrew names of God, I try to change them according to traditional malformations to indicate the ephemeral nature of this website. So, I wrote Elokai, replacing an “h” sound with a “k” sound. The true name of God is abbreviated as ה״, which itself is an abbreviation of HaShem, The Name. Jews do not pronounce The Name. Instead, we say the word Adonai, which means my Lord. 

The true name of God is referred to as the tetragrammaton, a fancy word that means “four letter word.” The precise translation of the tetragrammaton could be “was, is, will be.” It is a form of the Hebrew root “to be.” That is why I translate it as either Cause of Being or Ground of Being.

Existence rests on HaShem. The Oneness, the point before the Big Bang, the flow of reality. These are the essential aspects of the Divine. When I sink into my soul, when I rise above my ego’s attachments, then I can begin to connect with the Cause of Being. 

Values before material existence

Ultimately, this verse reminds me of a very Jewish concept: there are things that existed before the beginning. The essential thing that existed was Wisdom (see Proverbs 8). From wisdom flowed other aspects of the Divine, including compassion and lovingkindness.

This idea of the outpouring of Divine energy, which occurred before the beginning, finds voice in Jewish mysticism, particularly Lurianic Kabbalah

Concluding with verse 7

Alone, this verse is a patchwork of words and concepts. Psalm 25 verse 6 reaches towards verse 7, surrounding it with love and acceptance. Tomorrow, with the help of the Divine, I will sink into that reality.

Beautiful books

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay.

Being led on God’s paths: Psalm 25 verses 4-5

דְּרָכֶיךָ ה״ הוֹדִיעֵנִי
אֹרְחוֹתֶיךָ לַמְּדֵנִי
הַדְרִיכֵנִי בַאֲמִתֶּךָ וְלַמְּדֵנִי
כִּי-אַתָּה אֶלֹקֵי יִשְׁעִי
אוֹתְךָ קִוִּיתִי כָּל-הַיּוֹם

Your paths, Ground of Being, lead me in.
Your ways teach to me.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me.
For You are my God of salvation.
It is You I wait for at all times.

Waiting for and hoping in HaShem

ק.ו.ה is a root that I previously thought always meant “hope.” Looking it up in the Brown-Drivers-Briggs lexicon, the meaning is “wait for.” On Pealim.com, the definition is “hope.” In the הִנֵה Biblical Hebrew Tool Box, it is defined as both “wait for, hope.” The Even-Shoshan Concordance defines it as “יחל, צפה” (not exactly useful for those of us who are not fluent in Hebrew). Those verbs have similar definitions on Pealim: “To await, look forward to, hope for” and “To watch, to await, to look forward to, to anticipate.”

Translations of this poem seem uniform in translating this root as “hope.” I am curious if waiting is the older understanding of the verb. Hope seems more aligned with a modern sensibility. Not physically waiting for HaShem’s appearance. Not expecting HaShem to change location at all. Rather, metaphysically placing trust in HaShem’s paths. 

Choosing to wait

Personally, I prefer being jarred by the consequences of “waiting.” It recognizes that I am not always prepared / aligned with the Divine. It holds space for the doubt that accompanies waiting. 

Acknowledging doubt

These paths that I fervently pray to be led on — am I always available to walk on them? What takes over when I yell at my children? Forevermore will I be able to dismiss my actions as the result of pandemic living? 

And am I sure I know the paths of HaShem? Is it truly important for me to continue slicing my way through this psalm, rather than preparing food for my family or reading books to my children? Will I have the stamina for this endeavor when my courses resume on October 18?

The solid truths guiding me

This I know for sure: the ways of HaShem help me separate from the chaos that surrounds me. I align with my higher self. I see time as a continuum, and my time on earth as a drop in the bucket of the universe. 

Truthful focus through waves of chaos

While I hold myself accountable for each of my actions, I do so gently. Each moment is another chance to let go and flow into the Goodness and Truth waiting to be seen. This is how I am delivered to the person I can become: when I believe in the reality of the Divine, I accept the reality of the world of values. 

Having strength to become more expansive. My bodily autonomy is not as important as my son’s need for security. I can push past being over-touched / almost strangled.  

Psalters, Bibles, Dictionary

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Belief, Judgment, Treachery: psalm 25 verse 3

I translate mimicking the word order placement in Hebrew, to give you a sense of how verbs may precede or follow their subject. In the case of verse 3, I reviewed multiple translations and looked up the majority of the words in the Brown-Drivers-Briggs Hebrew-English lexicon (BDB). 

כָּל-קֹוֶיךָ לֹא יֵבֹשוּ
יֵבֹשוּ הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם

Yo! All of those waiting for You will not be shamed
Shamed: those who deal treacherously in vain. 

Robert Alter points out the chiastic structure of this verse. The layout A B B A, represents a chiasm. In this case: subject verb verb subject, first verset ending with the exact word beginning the second verset.

Shame, honor, social order

I have to imagine that for the psalmist, honor was most important. Similar to the way my Chinese partner describes ’saving face’ as a paramount value in Asian culture. The shame feared in this verse is larger than the personal feeling 21st century readers may imagine. Less tied to personal guilt, or personal identity — this is societal debasement. The message is clear: believers should prosper, swindlers should not.

The poem has not yet provided insight into the nature of the Divine or what it means to follow the Divine. Those pools will flow later. The key hinted at in this early verse is that the path of HaShem is the ethical one. Google / Oxford Languages defines “treacherous” as: “guilty of or involving betrayal or deception.” BDB defines habogdim as the ones who “deal treacherously, faithlessly, deceitfully in the marriage relation, in matters of property or right, in convenant, in word and in general conduct.” 

Personal application

This chiasmus gives me infinite hope. No longer do I need to see Judaism as telling me to feel shame for every single mistake I make, weighing me down with the infinite ways I am not living up to my vision for myself. Rather, girded by my belief in Goodness and Truth, I wait for the Divine as I move towards my vision for myself. I remember I am not the worst person in the world. I can remember that in the end, my word matters and my choice to be truthful matters. Liars who manipulate for their own gain reap what they sow. The parts of me that attempt to focus my attention on anger and resentment; my Yetzer HaRa, my inclination towards chaos, will be disappointed.

Psalters, Study Bible, and dictionary

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