Today is forty-four days, which is six weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5780. גבורה שבשכינה, Gevurah ShebeSchechinah, Strength of Divine Presence.
Shabbat: vessel of Strong Divine Presence
Traditionally, many aspects of modern life are set aside on Shabbat.
Others meld cultural norms of the majority culture with their Jewish expression. Or perhaps ignore the call of Shabbat entirely.
Shabbat exists whether or not we choose to mark her presence.
She is the weekly vessel of Divine Presence. Shabbat calls out to us in every seventh second of every minute of every hour of every day.
Choosing life during the pandemic
Life is a series of choices. We can choose to face this entirely novel situation with clear-eyed belief in the strength of the scientific establishment. We can choose, as Jews who believe saving a life is superior to all else, to align ourselves with public health experts urging caution.
With the strength of Divine Presence, we can gain the fortitude necessary to weather these long days, and months without physically seeing our communities.
I expect to spend the High Holy Days as I spent Pesach — surrounded by my immediate family. Yet, I do not know when I will be able to hug my extended family; never mind my larger Jewish communities.
Choosing to wrap myself in my tallit, reminding myself that I am always supported by the Strong Diving Presence.
Today is forty-three days, which is six weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5780. חסד שבשכינה, Chesed ShebeShechinah. Covenantal Love of Divine Presence.
Falling into the Warm Embrace of the Divine
We have entered the final week of the Omer. The taste of spiritual revelation is in the air. Shavuot is coming.
The Many Faces of God
Shekhinah, the Divine Mother, goes by another name: Malchuyot, Sovereignty. She goes in drag to spaces where women are not allowed. She pretends that sovereignty has a permanently male connotation. The gendering of the Divine and the holy language is another veil concealing and revealing aspects of truth. When we connect with a gendered God, we are connecting with the aspect of the Divine we need to cling to at this moment. We are not seeing the totality of the Ground of Being, since the Divine is not only beyond gender, She/He is beyond words. At Her core, the Shekhinah, the Presence unfolds as Ain Sof, Without End.
Complete certainty in the existence of the Divine
3,581 Californians died from COVID-19.
95,087 people in the United States died from COVID-19.
334,621 people in the world died from COVID-19.
Still, with complete certainty, I know the Divine exists.
These forty-three days I have been describing aspects of the Divine. Ways of seeing the Shekhinah, the Presence, in this world. I can pray for healing without expecting an old man in the sky to grant my wishes. I know my prayers help the healing process, just as I know I can choose to be a healing presence.
The pandemic is not a hoax. Scientists are real heroes.
I have little patience for claims that we must go back to normal. That amorphous mental health concerns are more real than documented physical health concerns. I know the world is suffering psychologically and spiritually. Going back to generic in-person encounters without a vaccine is a death sentence. Not just for people with underlying health issues; but for countless people felled by this powerful virus.
With a dose of Stoicism, I choose life. I choose mourning the loss of in-person community in the short term in order to ensure its continued existence in the long term. If I am to contemplate the Divine, surely I can accept a few months or years of disruption to the life I expected. Surely we can create new paradigms through which to navigate this new world.
Falling into the loving embrace of the Divine Presence
When I remember She is calling to me in every moment, I remember the core of me.
Knowing why I place a yarmulke on my head: my attempt to learn humility in the presence of Infinity.
May you be touched by Divine covenantal love today. I pray Her Presence pulses within you and helps you radiate warmth.
Today is forty-one days, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5780. יסוד שביסוד, Yesod ShebeYesod. Essence of Foundation.
The bedrock of you
What bonds you to this life and this time?
Always, shall an earthling revere The Cause of Being, privately and publicly. Acknowledging the truth, and speaking the truth in her ego / personality / core self.
Rabbi Finley introduced me to these lines from Birkat HaShachar. Of course, like most of Jewish prayer, it was written in the masculine. I have transformed it in my mind in Hebrew and English to the feminine, both to allow myself to fully embody it and because the patriarchy of received Judaism must be shattered in order for its essence to grow.
The Sovereignty of the Divine is a core theme of Rosh Hashanah. Like all holiday themes, it reflects how we should live each day of our lives.
Beyond myself, there is something deeper, wiser, eternal to which I cling
The aspects of the Divine refracted in the sephirot are ways of understanding God within time and space. There is nothing all-powerful or all-knowing about the Divine in time. God is not in control of me or the universe. God is the Ground of Being upon which we tread.
We can choose whether to live in alignment with the overflowing goodness and pulsing love calling us towards our best selves.
Choose how we react to the daily stress of life. How to handle the dull, ever present stress of the pandemic.
This is the way.
More than a catch phrase from The Mandalorian, that statement describes my attachment to Judaism.
The best translation of Halacha is not “Jewish law,” It actually means “the way.” Halacha is not the way I travel through Judaism, but Judaism is the way I travel through life.
Choosing to become a rabbi
It’s the question people most often ask me. The breadth of my story of becoming a rabbinical student is so long and so personal.
Here is the essence: I awakened to the depth of meaning within the Jewish civilization. I saw past the veil of pediatric religion spoon-fed to me in my youth. I came to understand that a Jewish worldview is much broader and more expansive than a code of laws. Jewish contributions to philosophy, ethics, and mysticism enliven me.
I want to know more about what it means to be human.
Living into the Jewish responses to the human condition.
Helping others learn more from our vast libraries of thinking.
Supporting communities become the best versions of themselves.
And having an excuse to keep buying books.
These are the reasons I chose to make a mid-career transition to the rabbinate. How are you living into your core self?
Today is forty days, which is five weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5780. הוד שביסוד, Hod ShebeYesod, Splendor of Foundation.
Hod is the vessel which holds the refractions of the Divine that preceded it. How we carry forth the Source of Goodness, the Ground of Being. Yesod is the foundation of our exterior self: the personality and perspective we bring to the world.
The strength to endure isolation
Even those of us who are sheltering with other people are experiencing isolation.
Many of us are living into the reality that large communal gatherings will not be happening for quite a long time. How can we move forward without our beloved communities?
Today is a day to reflect the solitary journey. To gird myself with the splendor of Divine knowing. Relishing how deep knowledge can transform the prison of my personality.
Choosing to create a holy vessel
I choose to let go.
Allowing my son to play with my hair throughout the day; accepting the lack of personal space or ability to control my own body.
Deciding to meet rebellion with patience rather than anger.
Relishing the laughter and chatter amongst my boys.
Enjoying home cooking and delicious take out.
Staying in touch with family, reaching out to relations I never knew.
Sinking into the splendor of grief; the depths of our bonds
I will not hide from my feelings and pain.
I grieve the extended family vacation not occurring this summer. The swimming lessons put on hold for another year.
The conversations silenced mid-sentence by death.
Chatter stifled by terminal diagnosis.
We will wade through these troubled waters. Some of us will not make it to the other side. Together, we shall rebuild; more reflective and resilient than we were two months ago.
Today is thirty-nine days, which is five weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5780. נצח שביסוד, Netzach ShebeYesod, Eternal Bonding.
Eternal Family Bonds
I joined my mom on a cousins’ Zoom call. Everyone on the call was related to my maternal grandfather and his many siblings. Papa Jack Margolis was the most important man in my life throughout our time together. My bond with him is so deep that I named my first-born in his honor.
It was such a weird thing. I do not recall ever meeting, in person, any of the people on the call. And yet, I am sure we were together because we all had fond memories of deli food and swimming at the same aunt and uncle’s house. They had the coolest house, with an open floor plan and dolphins carved into the bottom of their pool. It was magical.
I wish I could give my kids a summer full of swimming with their cousins.
Eternal Intellectual Bonds
I had my last history class today. It was supposed to be a day of reflection on a year of learning from the inimitable Dr. Bob Levy with Bob.
Unfortunately, it had to be time to reflect without Bob. He passed away completely unexpectedly and we are among the last people who had the honor of being his students. I cannot tell you how many books he referenced over the last year and said, “You have to have this.” Over time, I stopped writing down the names — afraid of tempting myself into even more overflowing shelves. But today, I had to buy some of them. If Bob thought they were important, then I need them on my shelves. (I ordered them used via Abebooks, along with a few Kindle samples. I will share Amazon links below.)
Eternal Spiritual Bonds
Our souls are intertwined with one another, whether by blood or by spirit. Bob’s love for all the strange corners of Jewish civilization. Papa Jack’s love for his mother and his eight siblings. Together, we are bound towards healing and wholeness. May we never forget our common humanity, our common origin, and our common conclusion.
Today is thirty-eight days, which is five weeks and three days of the Omer in the year 5780. תִּפְאֶרֶת שביסוד, Tiferet ShebeYesod, Harmonious Bonding.
What binds you to life during this pandemic?
My four year-old scream crying for an hour. Refusing to eat a single sauce-drenched carrot slice.
The six year-old focused intensely on computer games. Willing to take a brief respite for the Tickle Monster.
Older husband, mocking my attempts to take a break from writing my finals to watch Netflix, whilst the four year-old insists on hanging out with me. Remind me that there would be even less room for my casual indulgence if there were more souls to tend in our home.
Relentlessly Pursuing Divine Sovereignty
The yoke of the Divine calls me.
She gently pursues me, whispering in my ear the pleasures of sinking deeply into my truth self.
Choose to be an echo of God’s grace.
Honor the eternal soul within and the eternal souls surrounding you.
Choose life, above all.
Continue to live and relentlessly support the holiness of the life that surrounds you. Remember this clarion call to support the lives around you.
Today is thirty-seven days, which is five weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5780. גבורה שביסוד, Gevurah ShebeYesod, Boundaries in Bonding.
How in the world do we maintain boundaries with the people we are sheltering with? Do you ever feel like there is enough space for you admit the chatter? If you are sheltering alone, are you several weeks past caring about flattening the curve? Do the boundaries feel completely oppressive to you?
Intentional Daily Activity to Reconnect with My Soul
Clear intentions allow me to hold clear boundaries.
And yet, with the collapse of all that was normal, what is possible now?
What I know for sure: connecting to a daily activity that reconnects you to the things that matter to you is the key to riding the waves that will come with this pandemic.
Counting Omer creates space for me to breathe, though it strains my relationships with the people in this house.
Chanting prayers breaks my Yetzer HaRa’s destructive grip on my tongue.
Shuckling, swaying to allow the Divine energy to flow through every part of my being, reminds me who I am.
Recognize our limits
Whether you are deeply lonely because you are sheltering alone. Or you cannot hear yourself think because of the noise and humans around you. Honor that these are not normal times.
Do not give up on the quest for inner clarity and the healthiest personality possible.
One step at a time, we will move towards clear boundaries and displine in our bonding and our personalities.
Today is thirty-six days, which is five weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5780. חסד שביסוד, Chesed ShebeYesod, Covenantal Love of Foundation.
One’s personality can be described as one’s foundation. It is the prism and prison through which we see the world. In this week, I will endeavor to discuss how the sephirot are refracted through personality.
Connecting to Covenantal Love
It is so easy to separate ourselves from the Divine. To see ourselves as completely separate from the Soul of Souls, the Ground of Being. Even worse, we get wrapped up in other people’s definitions of HaShem and declare “I don’t believe in God.” Every time I hear that, I want to say “explain what you mean, because I probably don’t believe in that god either.”
We also have a hard time accepting covenantal love. As if accepting a formal relationship with HaShem excludes other people from having such a relationship. Or worse, perhaps we think our type of relationship is the only true way to connect with the Divine.
Choosing Words Wisely
The deepest way I try to reflect covenantal love in my daily life is to choose the words I say and write. Let me admit, my ability shattered in the first weeks of sheltering in place. My ability to write has often backfired against me. Some would say I speak too freely about my personal life on this blog, and thus limit my future job prospects.
I only know one way of being: truly honest, though with socially appropriate barriers to my personal depths.
When I say that my goal is to not raise my voice nor use language that I do not want to hear from my children, it is not because I have never done those things. It is because I have experienced being on the other side of that. And I have witnessed how my anger only adds to my childrens’ disregulation.
Moments of Prayer
I am trying to build up my prayer muscles. For now, I will say that prayerful moments and contemplative meditation on holy texts are gifts from God. May we all accept those gifts graciously.
Accepting our own limits
I cannot change my deep focus on my own studies. Nor can I change the number of gatherings I did not attend because I was in class or studying. I can only look forward and choose to be more mindful about creating space for all aspects of my life. I have never been more conscious of what a gift human contact is. It may be a long time before I am comfortable attending in-person gatherings. I am preparing now to be fully present at those events by focusing my attention on the humans I am with now.
Today is thirty-five days, which is five weeks of the Omer in the year 5780. שכינה שבהוד, Shechinah ShebeHod, Indwelling of Splendor.
My meditation last year brings me comfort as I try to wrap my head around the tragic loss of my beloved history professor, Dr. Bob Levy.
Bob Levy: Passionate Lover of the Jewish People
No one has ever lived who loved the Jewish people as fiercely as Dr Bob Levy. I have never experienced anyone as passionate in his lectures. His whole body became enflamed with outrage every week, with every catastrophe and slight he had to explain to us. Every expulsion and mass murder of Jews for being Jews. Every new iteration of Jew hatred and Judeophobia. And how we kept rising. When they murdered our babies, stole our sons for their army, forced us to choose death or conversion, somehow, we survived.
Bob Levy: Progressive Defender of Zionism
Nowadays people mock Zionism and claim we can’t possibly be connected to our land because at one point Zionists wanted to move Jews to Africa. Bob mourned that it never came to fruition. Accepting space in Africa meant moving Jews en masse out of Europe. For people feared more killing would occur. Imagine if we left before the Shoah. That is why Bob mourned it so much. And he had such pathos for Herzl. In his lecture about the Uganda Affair, he described it thus:
Herzl was focused on Rescuing European Jewry – not gradually over decades, as his practical and cultural Zionist opponents wanted, but immediately. This desire for immediate refuge, took him to accept the British offer of part of Uganda (now Kenya). “The Uganda Affair” was so scathing that the stress has been surmised to have killed him. The controversy’s resolution was laden with dire and tragic consequences for the Zionist movement itself.
My lecture notes, December 8, 2019. Dr. Bob Levy speaking on “Autoemancipation, Jewish Socialism, and Early Zionism”
I fear that the weight of physical distancing, compounded with underlying health problems, was too much for Bob. Our great lover of the Jewish people was crushed by the inability to be with us. Yet he leaves behind countless students and colleagues who learned so much from him.
Divine Mother spread Your Wings of Splendor over us
Remind us that though we cannot hug one another, nor wail together over this incalculable loss, we are all together spiritually. May Bob’s students and his student’s students and their students live for a thousand generations. Let us all feel in our bones the deep connections of the Jewish people. For we must proudly support one another. And may some of us carry on his progressive political perspective.
The photo on this post was taken at the beach in Tel Aviv by Richard van Liessum via Pixabay. May we all be as passionate as Bob was about Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael. (The people of Israel and the state of Israel.)