Friday, December 30, 2011

Vayyiggash: moving closer to reconciliation

Parshat Vayyiggash: Gen Ch. 44:1. Then Judah came near to him, and said: ‘Oh my lord, let your servant, I pray, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are even as Pharaoh.  Gen Ch. 45:1, 4 “Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried: ‘Cause every man to go out from me.’  And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  .  .  .  And Joseph said to his brothers .  .  .  ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life’”.  

The Sefat Emet says that the words “to him” in the phrase “and Judah came near to him” mean that Judah not only came close to Joseph but to his own higher nature and to God.  This spiritual transformation moved Judah to offer himself in the place of Benjamin and Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers.  Judah could only offer himself as a substitute for Benjamin; and Joseph could only make himself known to his brothers after both acquired self-knowledge.

May we be blessed to move and respond like Judah and Joseph to foster moments of reconciliation.  

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mikeitz: Cultivating understanding

Parshat Mikeitz: Gen Ch. 41:33  “ So now, let Pharaoh seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt.   

Within a few hours, Joseph emerges from two years in prison, shaves, puts on clean clothes, gives an insightful interpretation of dreams, and is elevated to viceroy of Egypt.  What had he been doing while imprisoned to prepare himself to lead Egypt?  Exactly what he advised Pharoah – he was seeking the understanding and wisdom that rested within him.  Instead of despairing or fighting against the narrow space in which he found himself confined, he turned inward and cultivated discernment.

May we also learn to respond to tight and narrow times in our own lives by seeking understanding and wisdom within.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vayyeshev: In a dry and empty place

Parshat Vayyeshev Gen 37: 24  “ And they took him [Joseph] and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty and there was no water in it.   

How many times have we ourselves been cast into a pit of desire, anger, fear, anxiety or doubt? From where does our help come in those times of emptiness and dryness?

May we, like Joseph, learn – even if it takes a lifetime -  to be forgiving of whoever and whatever has pushed us into a dry and empty place.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Parshat Vayetzei: Awesome reality

Parshat Vayetzei Gen 28: 17: “ And he was frightened, and he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."   

Is this not the entire point of paying attention – to realize that every place we stand is the gate of heaven?
May we fully feel the awe of being alive in this awesome creation.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Toldot - The wellspring of spaciousness

Parshat Toledot Gen 26: 17-22: “And Isaac departed, and encamped in the valley of Gera and dwelled there.  And Isaac dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.  And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of living water.  And the herdsmen of Gerar strove with Isaac’s herdsman, saying ‘the water is ours.’  And he called the name of the well Esek; because they contended with him.  And they dug another well, and they strove for that also.  And he called the name of it Sitnah.  And he removed from there, and dug another well; and for that they strove not.  And he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said: ‘For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.’      

Isaac called the first well – Esek – signifying an objective conflict between Isaac and the Philistines.  He called the second well – Sitnah – the anger and propensity for conflict that lies within.  He called the third well – Rehoboth – spaciousness, for once Issac became aware of the struggle within, he was able to find the means within himself for resolving his outer conflict with the Philistines.

May we find the spaciousness within to become aware of our inner conflicts, allowing new solutions to arise.   

(thanks to Rabbi Alan Lew Z’el)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chayei Sarah: Living Life

Parshat Chayei Sarah.  Gen 23.1: “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.”

Why does the Torah twice repeat the span of Sarah's life?  We live at least two lives.  The first is primarily physical, habitual and reactive.  But we also have the capacity to live with great awareness.

By telling us two times that Sarah lived 127 years, we learn that Sarah lived every year and every moment, with awareness, and with her spirit completely engaged.  
May we all aspire to this level of devkut.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vayyera: Compassion and Justice Unite

Parshat Vayyera:  Gen. Ch. 22.  The Akedah, the binding of Issac, tests the faith of Abraham, the devotion of Isaac, and the compassion of God.  In the first part of the narrative, God is referred to as Elohim, the God of Justice, five times.  In the later part, God is referred to as Adonai, the God of Compassion, five times.  At the conclusion of Ne’ilah, we say Adonai Hu HaElohim seven times.  The God of Compassion and Justice are One. 

May we be like Abraham, rising to the challenge, by being faithful but sensitive and responsive to the compassion within us.  And may we be like Isaac, devoted, yet receiving the blessings of a just and compassionate God.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lech Lecha: Moving into the open

Parshat Lech Lecha:  Gen. Ch. 12. v. 1.  Now the Lord said to Abram: “Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” The Hebrew for land, eretz, shares a common root with the word for will, ratzon.  Like Abram, we need to leave behind the land of desires,  ego, and narrow sense of self to see and feel the deeper and sacred land and present moment available to us all.   

May we have the faith and courage to leave our smaller selves and open to the unknown holy source of being.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Noah: Becoming the Ark

Parshat Noah:  The mystical tradition sees us as olam katan, a microcosm.  We are all Noah.  We are all charged with creating the conditions for the survival of all creatures – in our inner lives, and in our efforts in the world.  Not only do we live out Noah’s preparation for the Flood, we also are the ark itself.  We are the form by which we can save ourselves from the flood of desires, the push and pull of the habits of mind and heart that toss us about.  The challenge is to turn our attention to the oneness – the fullness available only from connection to all things.  Deep restful attention helps us to attain stability in a sea of change.

May we each become such an ark, weathering the storms of desire and aversion, while sheltering and nurturing creative connection to all life.  

From Rabbi Jonathan Slater’s Torah Study for the Soul: Selections from No’am Elimelekh: 2NENoah  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bereishit - Love Power

The last word of the Torah is Israel. The first word is bereishit (“in the beginning” or “at the head”.) Combining the last letter (lamed) and the first letter (bet) together,  we get a word which can be read as lev (heart.) From this we learn that love is the power that enables us to move from an ending to a new beginning.

May we look into our hearts and be moved by love to begin again.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sukkot Blessing

Listening to the wind rustling in the schach,
glimpsing the stars,
smelling the tang of the etrog,
I sit
and bless.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Shabbat Shuvah

A teaching from Rabbi Alan Lew, Z'el:
Shabbat Shuvah:  For ten days, the gates of teshuvah are open and the world is fluid.  We are finally awake, if only in fits and starts.  For ten days transformation is within our grasp. This is not a linear process, not something that takes a clear nor even discernible path.  But the gates are in fact open, and if our intention is aligned with this spiritual reality, then transformation also opens as a real possibility, even if it doesn't manifest itself right away.  

Source: Lew, Alan. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, 2003

Friday, September 23, 2011


Selihot:  As Selihot and Rosh Hashannah draw near, we remember that the month of Elul is the month of Teshuvah (return).  The first letters of the words, Ani Le-dodi Ve-dodi Li (I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine - from Shir Hashirim) spell Elul.  This reminds us that when we set aside the time and space to allow ourselves to open and return to the source of being, the sacred source of being will return to us.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Parshat Ki Tavo - hearing your heart's song

Parshat Ki Tavo - Deut. 28:2 "And all these blessings shall come upon you, and overtake you, if you hear the voice of the Lord your God."

"Listen, listen , listen to my heart's song; listen, listen, listen to my heart's song, I will never forget you, I will never forsake you.  .  ."  May we each listen to and hear the voice of our heart's song.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Elul - Psalm 27

Psalm 27:4 - "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life."

We are called to recite Psalm 27 each day from Rosh Hodesh Elul through Hoshanah Rabbah. Psalm 27 speaks of the suffering that comes upon us and the adversaries who pursue us.  Yet though it may seem that a host is encamped against us, our hearts need not fear.  May we have the faith and courage to sing praises and recognize that we truly can dwell in the eternal all of the days of our lives.    

Friday, September 2, 2011


Parshat Shoftim - Deut. 16:20 - "Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you."

R. Ashi said. "Justice, justice you shall pursue, the first (mention of justice) refers to a decision based on strict law, the second, to a compromise." (Sanhedrin 32b)

We experience and respond to ourselves, each other, and the broader world based on both the letter and the spirit of the law - from places of both gevurah (strength) and chesed (lovingkindness).  May we know when and how to use both responses as we pursue justice in our lives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Re'eh - Seeing clearly

Parshat Re'eh - Deut. 11:26 - "See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse .  .  .  ."

Parshat Re'eh begins by commanding us to "See" - to open the eyes of our heart and behold the world that has been set before us. This clear seeing is both our redemption and our blessing. Only when our vision is no longer obscured by false beliefs, fear, or the illusion of separateness, can we experience the freedom to choose the blessing that is being offered to us. We are commanded first to see, because without that clear vision, it may not be possible to discern the blessing from the curse. 

(source: Rabbi Shefa Gold- Torrah Journeys)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Eikev - Freedom from our changing moods

Deutoronomy 8:14. “and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your God, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”

So often it is our heart, our emotion, that leads us to act the way that we do, whether for good or for ill. A midrash* catalogued the many moods of the heart displayed in the Torah as follows:

The heart speaks (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ), sees (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ), hears (1 Kings 3:9), walks (2 Kings 5:26 ), falls (1 Samuel 17:32), stands (Ezekiel  22:14 ), rejoices (Psalm 16:9 ), cries (Lamentations  2:18 ), is comforted (Isaiah  40:2 ), is troubled (Deuteronomy 15:10 ), becomes hardened (Exodus 9:12. ), grows faint (Deuteronomy 20:3 ), grieves (Genesis 6:6 ), fears (Deuteronomy 28:67 ), can be broken (Psalm 51:19 ), rebels (Jeremiah   5:23 ), invents (1 Kings 12:33 ), cavils (Deuteronomy 29:18 ), overflows (Psalm 45:2 ), devises (Proverbs 19:21 ), desires (Psalm 21:3 ), goes astray (Proverbs 7:25 ), lusts (Numbers 15:39 ), is refreshed (Genesis 18:5), can be stolen (Genesis 31:20 ), is humbled (Leviticus  26:41  ), is enticed (Genesis 34:3 ), errs (Isaiah 21:4 ), trembles (1 Samuel 4:13 ), is awakened (Song of Songs   5:2 ), loves (Deuteronomy 6:5 ), hates (Leviticus 19:17 ), envies (Proverbs 23:17  ), is searched (Jeremiah 17:10  ), is rent (Joel 2:13 ), meditates (Psalm 49:4 ), is like a fire (Jeremiah 20:9 ), is like a stone (Ezekiel 36:26  ), turns in repentance (2 Kings 23:25 ), becomes hot (Deuteronomy 19:6 ), dies (1 Samuel 25:37), melts (Joshua  7:5 ), takes in words (Deuteronomy 6:6 ), is susceptible to fear (Jeremiah 32:40 ), gives thanks (Psalm 111:1), covets (Proverbs 6:25 ), becomes hard (Proverbs 28:14 ), makes merry (Judges 16:25 ), acts deceitfully (Proverbs 12:20 ), speaks from out of itself (1 Samuel 1:13 ), loves bribes (Jeremiah 22:17 ), writes words (Proverbs 3:3 ), plans (Proverbs 6:18 ), receives commandments (Proverbs 10:8 ), acts with pride (Obadiah  1:3 ), makes arrangements (Proverbs 16:1 ), and aggrandizes itself (2 Chronicles  25:19 ).

When we sit quietly, observing the changing moods of the heart, we begin to have compassion for our volatile selves. Eventually, we remember that there is something unchanging and steady that we can rest in. In that moment, we are freed from the bondage.

* Source: Thank you to Wikipedia for pointing me to the midrash!! (Ecclesiastes Rabbah <>  1:36.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Massey - return to our noble selves

Haftorah Massey
Jeremiah  Ch. IV: 1-2: The second of the three readings of admonition before Tisha B’Av, ends with the consolation:  “If you will return, O Israel, says the Lord, Yes, return to Me; and if you will put away your detestable things out of My sight, and will not waver; and will swear: ‘The Lord lives in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; then shall the nations bless themselves by Him, and in Him shall they praise.

How do we return to the Lord?  First, we must return to the most noble parts of ourselves.  Then the blessings we receive can flow to others.  May those blessings flow freely and lead to praise.  

Friday, July 22, 2011


Haftorah Mattos: Jeremiah  Ch. 2: 1-3: The first of the three readings of admonition leading up to Tisha B’Av, concludes with the consolation:  “And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus says the Lord: I remember for you the affection (chesed) of your youth, the love of your espousals; how you went after me in the wilderness in a land that was not sown. .  .  .”

May we hear the voice of the Lord, reminding us of the loving kindness within us, giving us the courage to open to the unknown.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Parshat Pinchas - Turning from anger to peace

Num 25: 10 - 13. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal.   Therefore, say, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and for his descendants after him [as] an eternal covenant of kehunah (priesthood), because he was zealous for his God and atoned for the children of Israel."

Haftorah: Kings 19:11-13. The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why is the story of Pinchas split between two different parshiot? Last week we read that Pinchas killed two people engaged in idolatry. The parsha ends. We pick up again this week to learn that Pinchas’ zealous action is rewarded with an eternal covenant of peace and the priesthood.  What was Pinchas doing in that time between killing and receiving the covenant of peace?

Midrash tells us that Pinchas and Elijah were the same person. Therefore, the haftorah gives us a clue as to what Pinchas/Elijah was doing in the interlude. He was trying to move from anger to peace. To do so, he had to turn inward and listen intently. Did he hear the
sound of silence, the continuously gentle vibration of the energy of the universe?  From carefully and patiently listening to the calm stillness within, Pinchas was transformed.

The break in the story itself teaches us something more about the place of righteous anger.  It shows us that angry action, while sometimes needed, brings the story to a halt. Anger begets only an ending.  In contrast, peace is a beginning. Peace creates a power that flows continuously from generation to generation.  

May we be granted the discernment to take strong action when absolutely necessary, and the wisdom to then let go of anger, and listen intently to find and connect to the source of peace.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Parshat Balak - the patience to see

Parsha Balak
Num 22:31-32: Then the lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in his way, with his sword drawn in his hand and he bowed and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him "wherefore have you smitten your donkey these three times? Behold I am come out to thwart you, because your way is contrary to me."

The donkey within us is a secure, strong, steady and patient force. May we be blessed to experience and act from our own donkey nature, so that our eyes will open and we will  see the angels of the Lord along our way.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Parshat Chukas

Parshat Chukas:  Ch. 20:7-9. "And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, Take the rod, and gather the assembly together .  .  .  and speak to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth water .  .  .  And Moshe took the rod from before the Lord .  .  .  And Moshe lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly .  .  .  And the Lord spoke to Moshe and Aharon,  Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, you shall not bring the congrgation into the land which I have given them. "

What kept Moshe's from entering the promised land?  What keeps us from entering the promised land both physically and in our hearts?

Happy are those who dwell in your house.  May we be blessed to realize that while smiting the difficult places within ourselves us may bring temporary peace, lasting peace arises when we allow our minds to quiet sufficiently to hear the still small voice within and to speak gently to the suffering in our lives.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Parshat Korach: Miracles of nature

Parshat Korach:  Ch. 27:23 – “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds..” 

Miracles of nature are occurring at every moment of our lives.  May we be blessed to recognize and appreciate them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Parshat Shelach Lecha: Seeing a grasshopper

 Parshat Shelach Lecha:  Ch. 12:32-33 – “And they spread an evil report of the land which they had spied out unto the children of Israel, saying .  .  .  And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”

When the children of Israel saw themselves as grasshoppers, when we see ourselves as grasshoppers, what if we were able to see not with fear, but with exquisite attention.  What if we were to carefully attend to the self that feels small and fragile? What insight would arise? 

The poet Mary Oliver shows us how to look carefully at a grasshopper:
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention...
(see Mary Oliver’s complete poem, “A Summer Day,” and the wonderful insight she gains from careful attention at

A wonderful lyrical rendition of that poem sung by Sophia Smith-Savedoff and Emily Hurst may be found at

May we be blessed to see the grasshopper and the world not with fear, but with attention, as part of this one wild and precious life.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Parshat Naso: Receiving peace

Parshat Naso: Ch. 6:24-26 -       "May God bless you and protect you.
  May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God’s face be lifted up to you, and grant you peace."

Numbers Rabbah 11:7 "Shimon ben Halafta said, Great is peace, for no vessel other than peace can receive blessing."
Another teaching:  “Great is peace, for even at a time of war we need peace, as it says, when you draw near to a city to fight against it, you shall proclaim peace to it.”

It is easy to speak of peace at peaceful times, but how much more difficult—and necessary—to pursue peace in the midst of conflict, in the midst of threat and war.

May we find a place of peace in our awareness even in the midst of great aversion and agitation.
(with thanks to Rabbi Toba Spitzer)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Parshat Bamidbar - Opening to inspiration

 Parshat Bamidbar Numbers 1:1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt…

To receive an insight, we must allow our minds and hearts to be clear, and lay ourselves open and bare like the wilderness at Sinai. However, even if we do the work of opening,  an inspiration is not guaranteed, for inspiration comes  in its own, specific time and place.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Parshat Bechukosai - Walking with God's presence

 Parshat Bechukosai:  Lev. 26:3,12 - "If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then .  .  .  I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be My people."

Take a step.  Pay attention to the sensation of your feet leaving the ground and touching the earth again.  When you are fully connected to the sensation of walking, open your awareness and ask how you feel God's presence walking with you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Parsha Kedoshim - Be Holy

Leviticus 10:2 “ You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

What does it mean to be holy, not just to act in a holy way or to think holy thoughts – but to BE holy? 

Rest in the awareness of your body doing its dance of aliveness – the breath coming in, the breath going out; the blood circulating; the mind thinking; the heart loving – and ask, what does it mean to BE?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ezekiel - Alive with breath

 Ezekiel: 4-5 “Then Adonai said to me: ‘Prophesize over these bones, and say to them: O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord:  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.  .  .  .’”

Ezekiel’s inspiration continues: There was a noise and the bones came together, bone by bone.  But there was no breath in them.  Then God said prophesize to the breath and say come you four winds and breath into these slain that they may live.  Then God said these bones are the whole house of Israel, prophesize to them saying I will open your graves and bring you to the land of Israel.  I will put my spirit in you and you will live.

Resting our attention on the breath as it fills and as it empties, we become aware of the tenuousness and the miraculousness of life itself, and the way that breath enlivens our otherwise dry and unmoving bones.

On this Pesach, may we realize and appreciate moment by moment the miracle of breath and spring and share these blessings with all of the house of Israel and all humanity.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Meditation for Passover - Softening the heart

Why is the Haggadah silent regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, while in Exodus it is mentioned along with every plague and elsewhere – twenty times in all?  Why are the plagues visited upon the entire Egyptian people, when it seems that only Pharaoh or a minority of the Egyptians are responsible for the oppression of the Hebrews?  Do we embrace collective punishment?  What can we learn about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart for our own lives?
The events in the Middle East over the last several months shatter our preconceptions.  At least temporarily, our paradigm of the good children of Israel versus the evil Egyptians from the Exodus story has receded and revealed a much more complex and nuanced reality of the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Libyans, Yemenis, Iranians, Jordanians, Syrians and other Arabic and Islamic peoples fighting often peacefully but sometimes violently for freedom against their own Pharaohs.  For once, the focus has shifted from the real and imagined struggle between Israel and Palestine to the oppression of Arabic and Islamic people by their own rulers.  We laud Nachshon in our midrash for having the faith and courage to be the first to wade into the Red Sea.  Yet equally brave and worthy of praise are the Tunisian street vendor who set himself aflame in response to the constant theft of his wares by the police, and the Libyan woman who burst into the hotel filled with international journalists to report her gang rape by Libyan soldiers.  Like the Arabic and Islamic people of that region, we seek not the illusion of peace, but peace itself.  Not the foreign minister of Libya promising a cease fire while Gadhafi’s troops continue to bomb Misrata, but a lasting end to attacks on civilians and the opportunity for genuine democracy.
Can we transcend our own Passover story?  Can we go beyond stereotypes of good and evil to an awareness of the reality before us?  Can we discern the difference between genuine Pharaohs in the world, and those we create or strengthen by hardening our own hearts?  Can we understand the distinction between the plagues over which we have little or no control, and those over which we can have a significant influence?
Let us sit.  Find a comfortable position, back erect, but not rigid, hands resting gently in your lap.  Breath in.  Feel the breadth first in your nostrils, then in your chest, then in your stomach.  Breath out.  Allow the breadth to rise from your stomach, chest, and nostrils.  Find your own rhythm breathing in and out.  Continuing your breathing, when you are ready to begin allow yourself to feel a place in your heart that is hardened   How does having this hardened place in your heart narrow your choices or keep you in Mitzraim.  Allow yourself to feel the pain and sadness of being constricted and enslaved to this hardness.  Knowing that healing begins with the open and compassionate recognition of these difficult parts of ourselves, surround the pain and suffering with warmth and acceptance.  Now invite these healing qualities to you’re your heart.  Say quietly to yourself – May I be blessed with:
Simcah (joy)
Chesed (lovingkindness)
Rachamim (compassion)
Shalom (peace)           
Continue to repeat these phrases.  Gradually, include in your blessings all other who seek to free their hearts.   
On this Pesach, may we each be blessed to soften and act with wise hearts, to live compassionately with those plagues that are real, to let go of those that are not, and to work toward a better world in which adonai echad ushmo echad - God is one and God’s name is one.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Parshat Acharei - Present to the Presence

Parshat Acharei
Vayikra 18: 2-4.
Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: I am the Lord, your God.
3. Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes.        
4. You shall fulfill My ordinances and observe My statutes, to follow them. I am the Lord, your God.

How can we be more aware of Presence?  The parsha instructs us not to live in the past for the past is a place of narrowness. Dwelling on it locks us into restriction. Nor should we live in the future. The future presents too many temptations which distract us and lead us astray.  What is left? Living in the present. Resting in now, attending to exactly what is happening in this moment  - that is what makes us feel connected and alive.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Parshat Metzora - The first step

Parshat Metzora: Chapter 14: 21. “But if he is poor and cannot afford [these sacrifices], he shall take one...”

Faced with a need to change, there are times when we feel we don’t have the energy or resources to even begin. Rather than stay stuck, this parsha teaches us to take one beginning step toward change. When we take this one initial action, a new way forward will begin to unfold. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Parshat Thazria

Parshat Thazria: There are times in life when it may be necessary to seclude oneself for a time. Tzara'at, which is usually translated as "leprosy," can be understood as a difficult inner journey that manifests as a disturbance on the surface.  Someone with this condition needs to separate from the community for a time in order to pay close attention to those inner changes, which may be the causes of outer confusion.  The blessing of Metzora comes to us as a force of re-integration, recognizing our transformation and returning us to the community. In the ritual of re-entry, two birds are brought. One is killed, to symbolize the old self that has died; and one is set free to express the new self that is born.   

May we know when separation is necessary and when we are ready to return to a new higher self and those we love.  

Thanks to Rabbi Shefa Gold for the teaching.

Parshat Thazria- Separation and Return

Parshat Thazria: There are times in life when it may be necessary to seclude oneself for a time. Tzara'at, which is usually translated as "leprosy," can be understood as a difficult inner journey that manifests as a disturbance on the surface.  Someone with this condition needs to separate from the community for a time in order to pay close attention to those inner changes, which may be the causes of outer confusion.  The blessing of Metzora comes to us as a force of re-integration, recognizing our transformation and returning us to the community. In the ritual of re-entry, two birds are brought. One is killed, to symbolize the old self that has died; and one is set free to express the new self that is born.  Thanks to Shefa Gold

May we know when separation is necessary and when we are ready to return to a new higher self and those we love.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parshat Shemini - Change

Parshat Shemini: Lev. 11:32-33 "And if any of these dead [creatures] falls upon anything, it will become unclean, whether it is any wooden vessel, garment, hide or sack, any vessel with which work is done; it shall be immersed in water, but will remain unclean until evening, and it will become clean.  But any earthenware vessel, into whose interior any of them falls, whatever is inside it shall become unclean, and you shall break [the vessel] itself.”

In line 32, the dead, unclean creature has fallen upon the outer surface of the object. But in line 33, the contamination is in the interior of the vessel. When the outside is contaminated, a gentle act (just immersion – not even scrubbing and soap) and patience (just wait until evening) are sufficient to create a change from unclean to clean. But when the inside becomes contaminated, then the radical act of breaking the container itself is needed. So too it is with us. When our garments or our skin (perhaps to be understood as our outer face or our social roles)  becomes uncomfortably touched, we need simply to immerse ourselves in something calm – perhaps chanting a psalm or saying a self-affirmation or a blessing –and then be patient that the discomfort will pass. However, when our innermost self is touched by something not alive and not kosher, we must take action to shatter the very conception of self. The deadness – the not change – that has contaminated the self, must be cleansed by a radical change, a breaking of our separate and limited self.

May we understand that change, both small and large, is continual. And may we discern those times when our best action is to be patient and wait for change to take place on its own, and when the most skillful response is to initiate change with an intentional breaking of our own patterns.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Parshat Tzav - The fire within

 Parshat Tzav: Lev. 6:1 “A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out.  .  .  .”     
Fire is a process that brings together oxygen with fuel to release energy. Such a process goes on inside of us. Our cells are continually combining oxygen that we breath in with food that we eat to generate the energy we need to stay alive. There is a never-ending cycle of creating and breaking molecular bonds to release the energy we live on. When we quietly tune in to inner sensation, we can sometimes sense a continual buzzing or humming that vibrates and pulses through the body. If this energy were visible to us as light (as it is in some organisms such as the firefly or the luminescent deep sea creatures) we would perceive each other as sparkling, flashing beings shedding light all around.

When we look deeply inside ourselves and others, may we understand and appreciate the unending, eternal, and sparkling essence that powers our aliveness.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Parshat Vayikra - Call and response

Parshat Vayikra: Lev. 1:1. “And the Lord called unto Moses (vayikra el moshe), and spoke to him out of the tent of meeting.  .  .  .”    

The phrase vayikra el moshe links the opening of Leviticus to the revelation on Mount Sinai in Ex. 24:16, the only other passage in the Torah where God “called to Moshe” in these words.  Rabbis Shefa Gold has a wonderful chant “Elecha Ya Yikra.”  To you God I call.  As we slowly and rhythmically sing these words from the depth of our being, let us call to the source of all being.  And in the silence and breadth that follow, may we hear God’s call (nekra vechanenu vaanenu). 

see: for more on Rabbi Gold's chants and chant practice: C-DEEP

Friday, March 4, 2011

Parsha Pekudei - Filled with Emptiness

Parsha Pekudei
Exodus 40: 33-34. ”He [Moses] set up the courtyard all around the Mishkan and the altar, and he put up the screen at the entrance to the courtyard; and Moses completed the work.  And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.

We have been reading for weeks about the elaborate, careful and precise preparation of the Mishkan. To what purpose? All of that skillful effort was directed to creating an empty space. Yet it was that emptiness that invited something more to dwell within.

 May our care with our practice lead to an emptying, to the letting go of self concepts, so that we become attuned to, and allow our actions to be guided by the holy presence within.

Inspired by Alison Laichter, Executive Director, Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn

Friday, February 25, 2011

Parsha Vayakhel - Giving from the heart

Parsha Vayakhel
Exodus 35:5. “Take ye from among you an offering (terumah) unto the Lord, whosoever is of willing heart, let him bring it, the Lord’s offering (terumat).  .  .  . ."  Exodus 35:21.  “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and brought the Lord’s offering (terumat).  .  .  .”

Jewish tradition distinguishes between two types of generosity: terumah and tzedakah.  The first is the giving that comes spontaneously from the heart, from neither obligation nor guilt, but from a feeling – nedivut ha’lev - that stirs deep within.

May we be blessed to practice generosity and receive the gift of the presence of God dwelling among us.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parsha Ki Tisah - A God's eye view

Parsha Ki Tisah

Exodus 33:22-23. And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen."

Rabbi Jeff Roth suggests the following meditation: Imagine that you are Moses as Moses is looking at God’s back. You are looking in the direction that God is looking. You are not just looking at God but actually looking through God, and through God’s eyes. You are getting a “God’s eye view.” What do you see?

May we merit a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Parsha T’tzaveh - Beyond the senses, into the blue

Parsha T’tzaveh

Exodus 28:33. And on its bottom hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson wool, on its bottom hem all around, and golden bells in their midst all around.

The very essence of pomegranate is its blazing, fiery, scarlet redness. It is deep red as a flower and as a ripe fruit. Breaking it open, its inner treasure of juicy seeds, nestled in the bitter white pulp of the enclosing membranes, sparkles with redness.
There is no blue in a pomegranate, inside or out. Why, then, do the instructions for the priest’s garments specify including blue wool to make the pomegranates for the hem of the priestly garment?   The obvious purpose of the bells and pomegranates is to awaken our attention and to lift us into heightened appreciation of kvod and tifereth, of honor and splendor. But the blue of the pomegranate goes even farther. It stokes our sense of wonder and our imagination. It asks us to imagine a world even more beautiful than the one we inhabit with our usual senses.

May we be inspired to risk moving beyond the known, into the realm of the ineffable. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Parshat Terumah - Giving from the heart

 Parshat Terumah – Ex. 25:2, 8 Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.  .  .  .  And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

God is everywhere and in everything.  Taking a closer look at the Hebrew, the word terumah, translated as gift, comes from the root meaning “to elevate.” The Hebrew, mikdash, translated as sanctuary, comes from the root kuf, daled, shin, which means holy.  The Hebrew for dwell comes from the root shin, kuf, nun, which indicates a moving dynamic presence, not tied to a fixed location.   What makes a place holy for us and how do we open ourselves to let God in?  

Let us dedicate our practice to giving from the heart, elevating our souls, and bringing the Holy into our lives.  

Inspired by Cantor Florence Friedman

Friday, January 28, 2011

Parshat Mishpatim - Welcoming the stranger

Parshat Mishpatim - Ex. 22:20. And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
         Ex.23:9. And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Sometimes when we look carefully at our inner life, it seems there is a stranger inside.  “Did I really say that? Am I really feeling that jealous/angry/hurt? Who is this that feels and acts so prideful/so dejected? Instead of repressing these aspects of ourselves and pushing them away, the text instructs us to “know the feelings” - to empathize with the feelings that result when we are in a tight place and see no way forward. By practicing empathy and compassion for our full self, we can befriend the strange parts of ourselves and let go of the walls we have been building to keep them out. As we stop maintaining these walls that box us in to a narrow conception of “I,”  our own mitzrayim can fall away, setting us free.

May we welcome all parts of our selves home, and may we live peacefully and free among friends, both inside and out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Parshat Yitro – Seeing the whole, perceiving the holy.

Parshat Yitro Ex. 19:2 They journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.

In one verse the text tells us twice that the Israelites make camp. The first time the verb is in the plural: vayachanu bamidbar, “they . . . encamped in the wilderness.” The second time the verb is singular: vayichan Yisrael, “Israel encamped.”

 In Present at Sinai, S.Y. Agnon quotes the M’chilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in reflecting on this verse: “When they journeyed they were divided, and when they encamped they were divided; whereas here it says ‘they encamped (Vayichan) there’ [in the singular, implying that] they had been given to feel a shared kindliness (Hanayah), so that they could love one another and thus be able to receive the Torah.” *

May we fully appreciate how our separate selves are bound up into one interconnected and united whole.
May this understanding of the whole lead us to perceive the holy.


* Source:
S.Y. Agnon, Present at Sinai [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994, p. 52) as quoted by R. Dan Levin at:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Parshat Beshallach – Wise response to fear

Parshat Beshallach – Ex. 14:13-15.  “And Moses said to the people: ‘Do not be afraid, make a stand, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today; for while you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall see them again no more forever.  The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’ And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Why are you crying to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward.’”

In the words of Rabbi Alan Lew (z’el), five steps of spiritual transformation are set forth in Moses’ instructions to the Israelites when they have their backs against the sea and to us when we feel trapped physically, emotionally, or spiritually:

Al teyrau – Do not panic.  Do not be afraid of illusions, phantoms, or terrors that are not real. 
Heetyatzvu – Stand still, face your fear, and let reality come into focus.  
Uru – See what is real. 
Tachareshun – Gather yourself.  Be in the present moment; and 
Vyesau – Get going.  

May we, like the Israelites, see our fears, know when to be still and when and how to take the next steps toward spiritual transformation.  

 Listen to Rabbi Alan Lew's talk.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Parshat Bo - Taking too much

Parshat Bo – Exodus 11:2: God said to Moses “Speak in the ears of the people: they shall ask, each man of his neighbor, each woman of her neighbor, objects of silver and objects of gold.”
Exodus 12:35-36: “Now the Children of Israel had done according to Moshe’s words: they had asked of the Egyptians objects of silver and objects of gold, and clothing;….So did they strip Egypt.”

God instructs the people to ask for objects of silver and gold. Moses goes farther and adds clothing to the request.  The people go even farther.  They take everything of value.  Some commentators explain that the silver and gold was payment for the Israelites’ unpaid labor as slaves. Perhaps. However, they take not only justified recompense, but everything. They felt so wronged, that they felt entitled to revenge. But revenge locks them more tightly into struggle. The Egyptians pursue them, maybe to get back some of the spoils. And even when the Israelites are finally free of Egypt, they are burdened by the spoils. The very first use they make of the gold is to build the golden calf, an idol.  

May we see clearly the line between seeking justice and seeking revenge.  May we see clearly the difference between our hunger to be valued, and our greed to be proven right.