Friday, December 28, 2012

Parshat Vayyechi

Gen 50:19-21 – “But Yosef said to them: Do not be afraid!  For am I in the place of God?  Now you, you planned ill against me, (but) God planned it over for good, in order to do (as is) this very day – to keep many people alive. So now, do not be afraid!  I myself will sustain you and your little ones!  And he comforted them and spoke to their hearts.”

Yosef, who was thrown into a pit by his brothers to be devoured by wild beasts, and later put into the dungeon by Potiphar, could have remained bitter all of his life.  Instead, Yosef was able to learn from his pain and suffering, first to gain insight to interpret dreams, later to advise Pharaoh, and finally to forgive and comfort his brothers.  How was Yosef able to do this? Over time, Yosef learned to listen to and respond from his heart, rather than his ego. While in his youth he brought an ill report of his brothers to his father. In his maturity he wept when he heard his brothers arguing over which of them was responsible for his death (Gen. 42:22-24), when he first saw Benyamin (Gen. 43:29-30), and when he revealed himself to his brothers (Gen. 45:1-2 14-15).

May we, like Yosef, open our hearts, forgive, and comfort ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Parshat Mikeitz

Gen 44:16-17. “And Judah said, "What shall we say to my master? What shall we speak, and how shall we exonerate ourselves? God has found your servants' iniquity both we and the one in whose possession the goblet has been found."   But he said, "Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose possession the goblet was found he shall be my slave, but as for you go up in peace to your father."

In the context of the several deceptions that Joseph has perpetuated on this brothers, is his statement, “But as for you, go up in peace to your father,” sincere? Joseph knows full well that they will not be at ease or at peace while returning to see their father lacking yet one more of the brothers. There seems a great gulf between Joseph’s words and actions.  The parsha ends abruptly with Joseph’s statement. It almost feels like a cliffhanger. Will the brother’s be reconciled? How will they respond to Joseph’s psychological test? Will Jacob die on hearing that Benjamin, too, has been taken from him? We are launched into the week not knowing.

How often we find ourselves in a similar situation of not knowing how things will turn out, not knowing our own true intentions, not knowing how to match up our actions, words, and best intentions. Even sitting quietly in meditation, we sometimes become lost in mind-storms or heart-storms.  By continuing to sit and observe these storms, we learn that we must cultivate a courageous patience to stay steady while waiting for an insight to arise. We saw last week that one of Joseph’s great strengths was his patience to sit and dwell with his thoughts and feelings before acting. Here, the very structure of the parsha hints that in times of great drama and turmoil, a quiet interlude can be helpful in allowing a true intention for peace to be manifested.    

May we be blessed, like Joseph, to have patience with ourselves and others, even in the midst of intense mind-storms and to reflect long enough before acting so that our intention for peace may be skillfully manifested in both our words and our actions.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Parshat Vayigash

Gen 39:7-9. “And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph, and she said: ‘Lie with me.’  But he refused, and said to his master’s wife: ‘Behold, my master, having me, knows not what is in the house, and he has put all that he has into my hand, he is not greater in this house than I, neither has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife.  How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God.”

One of Joseph’s greatest strengths was his ability to sit and dwell with his thoughts and feelings before acting, the patience learned from his time in the pit he was thrown into by his brothers and later the prison he was cast into by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  The shalshelet is the trop mark with the longest melody (about 30 notes) and is found only four times in the torah.  Joseph’s ability to struggle with and reflect on his desires within before acting is symbolized by the use of the shalshelet over the word “Vayiman” (but he refused) in Gen. 39:8.    

May we be blessed, like Joseph, to be able to hesitate and become aware of our desires before acting so that we can make decisions based on insight rather than as slaves to passion.*

*This drash was inspired by a drash given this week by Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Adas Israel).  Rabbi Steinlauf and others recently started the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington, which hosts weekly meditation sessions free and open to the public at Adas Israel on Tuesdays from 7:30 to 8:45 pm.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Parshat Vayishlach: What "I do not know" teaches us

Gen 35:13-14. And God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. Now Jacob had erected a monument in the place where He had spoken with him, a stone monument, and he poured a libation upon it, and [then] he poured oil upon it.

Rashi comments on the phrase “in the place where He had spoken with him” saying “I do not know what this teaches us.”

This is one of several places where Rashi says “I do not know what this teaches us.” Nechama Leibowitz taught* that this shows Rashi’s literal fulfillment of one of the seven marks of the wise man outlined in Pirke Avot (5:8): “Regarding that which he has not understood, he says ... I do not understand it.”

Yet why does Rashi point out here, exactly here, that there is something he doesn’t understand? Something in the text has caught Rashi’s attention. He points to the repeated statement “in the place where he had spoken to him.” He draws our attention to this phrase. He arouses our curiosity. He makes us examine it more closely. What hidden treasure did Rashi glimpse here? By saying he doesn’t know, Rashi points us in the direction of valuing the question itself, of valuing the direct experience of Torah. Follow Rashi’s example. With a sense of awe and not knowing, contemplate this phrase. Visualize the place where Israel and God spoke. Imagine Jacob’s veneration of that place. Find the place where you return, again and again, to speak with the Source of Being. See whether “I do not know” can be a springboard for wonder and discovery.

May we hold our “not knowing” with awe, seeing how questions draw us ever closer to the Source.

*Nechama Liebowitz according to Rabbi Chuck Diamon. see:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Parshat Vayeitzei
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."

Gen 32:2-3 And Jacob went on his way, and angels of God met him.  And Jacob said when he saw them, "This is the camp of God," and he named the place Mahanaim.

In his early adulthood, before he has married and established a household, Jacob has a religious vision and names the place the house of God (Beth El). Later, when he is moving his now large and wealthy household of wives, children, camels, goats, sheep, tents, he meets god’s messengers and calls the place the camp of God.  Why does he call the first place a house and the second place a camp? A house implies more permanence than a camp. Early in his life, he is seeking – and perhaps thinks he has found – an enduring way to encounter God. He names this experience a “house” to connote it’s permanence. Twenty years later, he realizes that even insights and encounters with God have a fleeting nature.

May we be blessed to hold even our insights lightly, realizing that with grace, they may be constantly renewed and refreshed.   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bereishit: Expansive Response

 Genesis 1:6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, and let it be a separation between water and water...
1:8 And God called the expanse Heaven...”

The Hebrew word “rakia” is often translated in this verse as sky or firmament, but it literally means 'spread' or 'expanse.'  Using the meaning “expanse” gives a helpful clue about how to access our own creative response to challenges. When we are in the midst of trying to create a solution to a problem, there is often a stage near the beginning when we feel we are drowning in an undefined, watery mess.  One of the important steps to finding a wise solution is to create the space to be able to consider the problem from new perspectives. Centering on our breath, taking an exercise break, listening to music, talking to a friend – these are all strategies to take us out of old habitual reactions. Creating an expansive feeling – about the problem or about the resources we can bring to bear on the problem – usually helps us respond more constructively. When we are able to find that expansive stance toward a troubling problem – the resulting relief can, indeed, feel like Heaven.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Vezot HaBerachah: The inner eye that does not dim

Vezot HaBerachah
Deuteronomy 24:7:
Moses was 120 years old when he died, but his eyes had not dimmed, and his natural powers had not left him.

“His eyes had not dimmed” refers to his ability to see wisely and clearly, namely his inner sight. “His natural powers” refers to his power to imagine freedom and justice.

As we age, may our inner wisdom, our imagination, and our commitment to freedom grow even stronger.

Friday, September 14, 2012


 Parsha: Nitzavim
Deut. 30:11-14 “ For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.   It is not in heaven...  Nor is it beyond the sea... Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.”

In this parsha, following one’s heart is a complicated process. First, the Torah warns against blessing ourselves in our heart and following our heart’s desires, lest we bring curses upon ourselves (29:18). Then we read that God will circumcise our heart and the heart of our children so that we love God fully for the sake of life. (30:6) Next we are told that the commandments are in our mouths and hearts (30:14). Finally, we are warned again that if our heart deviates and we do not listen, we will perish. (30:17). So which is it – when we look into our hearts, will we see devious desires that lead us astray, or wholesome instructions that give life? And how can we tell whether our heart’s inner promptings move us toward death or toward life?

The coming Days of Awe give us the opportunity to look deeply into our hearts. First we must allow our hearts to be circumcised – to let the outer covering of ego peel away. Then we must stay close to home – not chasing after illusions in the heavens or beyond the sea. We cultivate a sense of being open, vulnerable, yet grounded in reality right here, right now. Then we will find that we are able to speak words  - to ourselves, to others – that clarify and illuminate – that bring more life.

May this New Year give us the energy and desire to look deeply into our own hearts, discerning clearly that which we should peel away, and that which we should speak as our life-nurturing truth.
 L shana tovah.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 24:19
"When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to take it; it shall be [left] for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord, your God, will bless you in all that you do.”

This mitzva of leaving the gleanings for others is something we can only do accidentally – when we forget.  With such human shortcomings such as forgetfulness, the text suggests that the key is to accept them and turn those mistakes to benefit others.   Paradoxically, it is when we accept our flaws and allow others to benefit from them that we receive unexpected blessings.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Parsha Re'eh: Deuteronomy 13:1
“Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it.”

This passage gives clear instruction for living fully, exuberantly, and mindfully.  When performing an action, don’t add to it, meaning don’t get lost in the busy thoughts and stories that the mind spins.  Also, don’t subtract from it, meaning don’t ignore the sensory aspects inherent in each action. For instance, when eating a meal, don’t get lost in thoughts such as “this isn’t as good as the way my friend makes it” or  “this is great, I wish I could have this for dinner every night” or “I don’t have time to enjoy this because I should be cleaning up the mess in the kitchen”. Similarly, don’t subtract from a meal by failing to notice the sensations of chewing, tasting, swallowing.

By neither adding nor subtracting, but doing each action simply and with full awareness, we bring ourselves closer to re’eh  - to seeing and beholding the blessings before us each moment and every day.

Friday, August 3, 2012

VaEtchanan: Satisfaction and Gratitude

 Parsha VaEtchanan: Deuteronomy 6:10-11 When God your Lord brings you to the land that He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that He would give to you, [you will find] great, flourishing cities that you did not build. You will also have] houses filled with all good things that you did not put there, finished cisterns that you did not quarry, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant.

You will eat and be satisfied. But be careful that you do not forget God, who is the One who brought you out of Egypt, the place of slavery.

The fig tree in our backyard is giving such an abundance of figs that we are able to eat our sweet fill, give to our neighbors, and even feel generously toward the birds that get first to the very ripest figs early each morning. Yes, we planted the tree – but did we bring the rain that watered it? Did we shine the sun on it? Did we breed the cultivar that works in our climate? No. The success of our own actions rests on so much that we inherit. We live, and find satisfaction, within a rich web of natural and human actions.

May our satisfaction give rise to gratitude and wonder at the rich inheritance, both natural and human, that sustains us.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Parsha Devarim - Shabbat Hazon: filling the emptiness

 Shabbat Hazon (vision), the name for this shabbat, is taken from the Haftorah Isaiah Ch. I: 1: which describes Isaiah’s vision of disaster befalling the Israel and the possibility of renewal.  The third of the three readings before Tisha B’Av:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me;
. . . . Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly; they have forsaken the Lord, they have contemned the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away. . . . Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by floods. . . . To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? Says the Lord; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. . . .  Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
 Isaiah Ch. I:2, 4, 7, 17, 18.

How do we respond to the lamentations and fill the emptiness within and around us?  

May we be blessed to take the time and space to pause and reflect on those lamentations and that emptiness; and then be moved and heed the admonition of Isaiah to do good, seek, justice, and relieve the oppressed.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Haftorah Massei

Matot-Massei - Haftorah Massei - 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 blessings we receive can flow to others.

May those blessings flow freely and lead to praise.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Naso -

 Parshat Naso 
Numbers 6:23-26 – "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, bless the children of Israel, saying to them: May God bless you and keep you.  
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  
May God’s face be lifted up to you and give you peace.”

At Fabrangen, we teach that we are a nation of priests all capable of blessing each other.  If we look at Torah not only literally as peshat, but metaphorically as drash, remez and sod, what does the priestly blessing mean to us?  How can we allow the priest within us to bless and experience the spaciousness and timelessness within us and share that with others?  How can we harvest the fruit of that blessing - security, radiance, graciousness, and peace?  There are many paths – the majesty of words, the beauty of music, the steadiness of breath, and the sound of silence.     

May we find the path that is right for us in each moment, as we rise, as we walk along our way, and as we lie down, to help all of us as a nation of priests to experience the blessing of the infinite and eternal within.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bamidbar - listening to the wild "is"

 Parshat Bamidbar 
Numbers 1:1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…

God spoke to Moses “in the wilderness.” We can understand this to mean not that God and Moses were physically present in the wilderness, but that God used the wilderness itself to speak to Moses. We already know from Moses’ encounter with the burning bush that Moses was a very close observer of being-ness as he walked in the desert. This passage reinforces and extends the idea that insight is speaking to us from the very nature of the way things are.

Being in a wilderness is very different from being in a garden.  To create a garden, we work to shape nature to our own goals – food, or flowers or shade or a grassy place to sit.  In the wilderness, we abandon our human plans and give ourselves up to marveling at the awesomeness of creation. This passage teaches us that, rather than trying to shape our thoughts or emotions into some acceptable, pretty, and productive plan, we should simply pay close attention to the wild, spontaneous processes that move through our bodies and minds. Watching carefully and with loving acceptance, we may eventually discern the lessons that life is always teaching.

May we learn to be careful, quiet observers of the wild “is,” hearing in that wilderness whatever it is we need to learn.  

Friday, May 18, 2012



26:3 If you follow My laws and are careful to keep My commandments ...
26:6 I will grant peace in the land so that you will sleep without fear.

26:14 If you do not listen to Me, and do not keep all these commandments...
26:36 I will bring such insecurity upon those of you who survive in your enemies' land that the sound of a rustling leaf will make them flee from the sword.  They will fall with no one chasing them.

This parsha offers a stream of vivid images. The first set promise beauty, fulfillment, and peace; the second set threaten disasters as terrible as can be imagined. The Torah says that if we follow God’s laws, we will be secure and sleep soundly. If we do not listen, our anxiety will be so intense we will be in a state of perpetual post-traumatic stress disorder. I would much rather reflect on the positive promises, yet the negative images have a way of captivating attention. We want to follow the laws that produce peace. But how? What are they? As someone who does not accept all the rabbinic halacha as The RIGHT Way that can be followed without questioning, but instead inquires into the appropriateness of actions myself, it is not always clear just how to keep the commandments.

It may be useful to turn the language of this parsha around on itself. If I am beset by anxiety, then my actions may be out of alignment with holiness. If I am genuinely peaceful, then the actions that produced the peacefulness may be wholesome and aligned. This is a bit tricky, because we need to allow for the ordinary changing weather of emotions and reactions that constantly flow through us in reaction to internal and external events. Yet underneath the surface ups and downs of a day is something deeper – either a sense of safety and well-being that can support resilience even when events are difficult, or a sense of dread that the other shoe is about to drop. This deep inner sense may become a guide for discerning whether or not I am listening and keeping to the wholesome path.

 May we be guided to discern those actions that will promote safety, wholeness and peace for ourselves and for our communities.
"Parashah Meditations" article published in Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism, Issue #13, 5772/2012.  Todah Rabah to Gilah Langner for encouraging us to take our weekly musings and craft them into an article for Kerem.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Emor: Counting our words

Emor Lev. 23:10 –Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest.

This verse can be understood metaphorically.  “When we enter the land” means when we enter into a sacred or holy space. Such time and space can be anywhere and everywhere, as Jacob realized 
when he awoke from his sleep (ma nora hamakom hazeh.)  Realizing we are in the midst of holiness, we are instructed to reap the harvest of that awareness by bringing a sheaf (omer).  The word “omer” can be understood as wise speech (omer, with an aleph, as aleph and ayin can be exchanged). Thus, the fruit of realizing that we are living in holiness - in connection -  is to bring careful priestly attention to our internal speech (our verbal thinking) and to our communications with others.  Speech can elevate, but it also can desecrate, as with the blasphemer at the end of the parsha. 

May we be blessed to make the time and space to allow our minds to settle so that we can become aware of (i.e. count) our intentions and use  speech (omer) that heals and transforms ourselves and the world.*

Thanks to Rabbi Jonathan Slater for inspiration: Torah Study for the Soul:Selections from No'am Elimelekh: 30 NE Emor.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kedoshim: Love your neighbor=love yourself

Kedoshim Lev. 19:18 "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In order for this instruction to be effective, we must love ourselves in a wholesome and accepting way.  If we subjected others to the same hypercritical, uncharitable thoughts that we sometimes think about ourselves, out neighbors would not think us fair or kind. If we treated ourselves with the compassion and kindness that we deserve, we ultimately will come to be kinder and more compassionate to others.

Try this blessing exercise as a way to cultivate a loving stance towards your self: Bring into your mind someone whom you trust has your best interests at heart. With the breath, imagine this person filled with peace.  As you breath in, you sense your “benefactor” filled with peace.  As you breath out, your benefactor exudes this quality. After a few breaths, imagine your benefactor filled with happiness, and then with loving-kindness. Shalom, simcha, chesed. When you establish a firm sense of these qualities washing through your benefactor, turn to yourself. On each breath in turn imagine yourself imbibing peace/shalom, happiness/simcha and loving kindness/chesed. You might want to say “May I be blessed with peace. May I be blessed with happiness. May I be blessed with loving-kindness.” Use at least one breath for each quality. End your meditation with the intention that greater peace, happiness and loving kindness flow throughout all creation – INCLUDING YOU

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Tazria-Metzora Lev. 14:2, 5-7 "This shall be the law of the person afflicted with tzara'ath, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the kohen.... The kohen shall order, and one shall slaughter the one bird into an earthenware vessel, over spring water. [As for] the live bird, he shall take it, and then the cedar stick, the strip of crimson [wool], and the hyssop, and, along with the live bird, he shall dip them into the blood of the slaughtered bird, over the spring water. He shall then sprinkle seven times upon the person being cleansed from tzara'ath, and he shall cleanse him. He shall then send away the live bird into the [open] field.”

While the Torah speaks of a leprosy of the body, there also can be a leprosy of the heart, mind, and soul. Regardless of whether an illness is primarily physical, emotional, or spiritual, healing may require the afflicted individual to remain in isolation until he or she has recovered. Although sickness can be painful and debilitating, the isolation often required can be used for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation.

May we be blessed, like the living bird let go in an open field, to be cleansed from our illnesses and suffering and reconnect with ourselves and the community with a new sense of freedom and appreciation for life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pesach: Opening the hand and softening the heart

Deut. XV, 7-8: “If there be among you a needy man, one of your brethren, within any of your gates, in the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your needy brother; but you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wants.”

This admonition and others like it to tithe, remit debt, and free slaves that we read this shabbos (the Eighth Day of Pesach) all have their roots in tzedakah (righteousness) and rachamim (compassion).  The instructions to soften our hearts and open our hands here are strikingly different from the repeated hardening of Pharaoh’s heart throughout the exodus story.

May we be blessed with soft hearts and open hands so that we can give and receive blessings of protection, favor and peace during this Pesach season.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shabbat Pesach: Greeting the unkown

 Shabbat Pesach
Joshua 5:13-15
One day, when Y'hoshua was there by Yericho, he raised his eyes and looked; and in front of him stood a man with his drawn sword in his hand. Y'hoshua went over to him and asked him, "Are you on our side or on the side of our enemies?"  "No," he replied, "but I am the commander of ADONAI's army; I have come just now." Y'hoshua fell down with his face to the ground and worshipped him, then asked, "What does my lord have to say to his servant?" The commander of ADONAI's army answered Y'hoshua, "Take your sandals off your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy." And Y'hoshua did so..”

Joshua sees an unfamiliar man with a drawn sword and goes right up to him. Was that brave? Was that crazy? It led to Joshua recognizing that the man was an angel and that he, Joshua, stood on holy ground. What can we learn from Joshua about how to encounter the powerful unknowns in our own lives? Focusing just on the verbs, this is what Joshua does to move from a potentially terrifying encounter with an enemy to a profound encounter with holiness:

    • he raises his eyes,
    • he looks,
    • he goes closer,
    • he asks,
    • he falls on the ground,
    • he worships,
    • he asks again,
    • he takes off his sandals.
In our own lives, the unknowns we must confront show up in many forms – perhaps deep disappointment, or a terrible and frightening diagnosis, or unexpected rejection. Instead of running from these experiences or fighting to get rid of them, we might try to follow Joshua’s example, looking closely at the experience, asking the experience whether it is our friend or enemy, and listening as it reveals something unexpected.

As we prepare to experience again the flight from slavery to freedom, may we have the courage to face directly and to inquire deeply into whatever life puts before us.

Thank you to Rabbi Alan Lew z'l for teaching us this technique of looking to the verbs in the passage for insight into what the Torah is instructing. Here's a talk by Rabbi Lew where he used this technique to find a powerful instruction in the passage about crossing the Red Sea:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Shabbat HaGadol

Shabbat HaGadol
Malachi 3:23-24
Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the parents to the children, and the heart of the children to their parents; lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction.”

Much of human suffering comes from lack of understanding and lack of communication between families, communities and nations.

As Pesach approaches, may we be blessed to turn our hearts to remember, repair, and renew these relationships.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Blessing the flowering fruit trees

Plum Tree

Hasn’t every poem about your
effusion of petals
drifting softly in the wind
luring bees to bathe in
each corolla’s golden pollen shower,
already been written?

What thanks can I give  
for your generosity overflowing
into petal, pollen, leaf and fruit
so abundant that you release them
to the breeze and the birds and the earth
without regret,
but these words.


  בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֶלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹל,
  שֶׁלֹא חִסַּר בָּעוֺלָמוֺ כְּלוּם,
  וּבָרָא בוֺ בְּרִיּוֺת טוֺבוֺת וְאִילָנוֺת טוֺבִים, לְהַנּוֺת בָּהֶם
  בְּנֵי אָדָם׃

  Baruch Ata Ado-nai, E-loheinu, Melech Ha'olam,
  shelo hasair b'olamo kloom,
  ubara bo briyot tovot v'ilanot tovot,
  leihanot bahem b'nai adam

Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe,
who withheld nothing at all from the world You created 
and  placed in it both good creatures and flowering tree
 in which we can take pleasure.
(thanks to Elaine Reuben for the not-quite-literal translation.)

Vayikra: Blood, sweat and tears

Leviticus 2:13
You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices.”

From Hosea 6:6 we get inspiration for the modern transformation of physical sacrifice into deeds of loving-kindness. " For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings." But what is the salt that we should offer with those acts of loving-kindness?

Salt is used to preserve food. Therefore, its offer with a sacrifice symbolized the incorruptibility of our link with godliness. It is also a widely used symbol of hospitality. In ancient times, salt was a precious commodity – even used as money. In our time, it is so widely available, that many of us have to work hard to limit it in our diets. So salt is something that preserves, that used to be as precious as money, and that is now plentiful. In our bodies, salt is present in all of our cells, in all of our fluids – in our blood, sweat, and tears. Too much or too little salt, and our cells cannot function.

Considering all these qualities of salt, what do we learn about how to offer a “sacrifice” of love and kindness? We must give from our core selves (our blood, sweat and tears), and we must give something precious to us, but we must be measured. Too much giving depletes us. When we achieve that right balance of lovingkindness and self care, we touch into relationship-making that is sustained and pure.

May we be blessed to live lasting and uplifting lives, salted with loving-kindness and integrity.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ki Tisa: Contagious Holiness

Exodus 30: 27-29
....the table and all its implements, the menorah and its implements, the altar of incense, the altar of the burnt offering and all its implements, the washstand and its base. And you shall sanctify them so that they become a holy of holies; whatever touches them shall become holy.

What are the table, the menorah, the altar, the washstand? They are the body, the intellect, the self-identity, the capacity for attention.
What are the implements? They are the senses, the intentions of will, and bodily actions.
How do we sanctify all of these parts and processes that make up a person? By paying careful, curious attention to each moment of experience.

As we become absorbed into rapt attention to the exact moment of now, something wondrous happens. The whole “now” is experienced as complete, as holy. There is no need to push any part of the “now” away or to yearn for anything more to happen. Each moment is wonder-filled just as it is.  This is entering into the holy of holies.

Then something more happens: any new sensation that touches our experience is itself absorbed into the now.  The next sensation, and the next, and the next is allowed to flow across consciousness without resistance. Each experience is seen as part of the whole. There is no need to push away or to cling to sensation or thought. Thus, the contact of sensation becomes a holy connection to the wondrous “is” of right now.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Parshat Tetzaveh: ner tamid

Exodus 27:20 - “And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light to cause a lamp to burn continuously.”

We are each responsible for kindling and keeping the eternal light burning within us.
May we be blessed to continue to allow that light to shine and illuminate the world.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Terumah: Opening to receive God's offerings

Terumah Exodus 25:2 – "from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering..’    

Usually we read this verse as instructing us about something that we humans offer to God.  However, the language (terumahti) clearly says that  God is offering us something - something that can be taken from the inspired and generous heart. And what is it that God offers us when we are open-hearted?  Open-heartedness brings a sense of connection, a feeling of safety, and an overwhelming gratitude for having something to be able to give. Generosity begets gratitude, a gratitude we ourselves feel (rather than the gratitude of whomever has been the recipient of our generosity). This gratitude further softens our heart and inspires us to greater opening, creating a flow of connection so that we become aware of the beauty and preciousness of the incredible mishkan of the Universe in which we live.

May we be moved to act generously toward ourselves and others. And may we discern, in the fruits of that generosity, the richness of life that God continually offers us.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yitro: Delegating to foster peace

Yitro: Exodus 18:13-14, 18, 23 – “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood about Moses from the morning unto the evening.  And when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said: ‘What is this thing that you do to the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand about you from morning to night? .  .  .  . You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you, for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone.  .  .  .  If you will do this thing, and God command you so, then you shall be able to endure, and all this people also shall go to their place in peace.’    

Yitro wisely advised Moses to delegate his authority over the people to “rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”  How often do we with best of intentions take on more obligations than we can wisely fulfill in relation to ourselves and others?
May we be blessed to heed the advice of Yitro, sharing our responsibilities, so that we endure and those we encounter go in peace.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Beshalach: Escorting each other through the wilderness

Parshat Beshalach: Exodus 13:17 – “Now when Pharaoh sent away the people, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.”  

The Talmud teaches (Sotah 46b): [R. Joshua b. Levi said:] “One who is traveling on the path without an escort (leveayah) should engage in Torah . . . (Prov. 1:9)].” Etz chayim hi lamachazikim ba.  She is a tree of life to all who hold fast to her.  When we walk along the way, it is important to have an escort, friends, a holy community.  This community need not be near, but it must be close to our hearts. 

May we be blessed to be wise and caring escorts for each other as we travel through the wilderness.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bo: Facing up to ourselves

Parshat Bo: Exodus 10:28-29 – “Pharaoh said to him, "Go away from me! Beware! You shall no longer see my face, for on the day that you see my face, you shall die: [Thereupon,] Moses said, "You have spoken correctly; I shall no longer see your face."  

We carry many Pharaohs insidemany reactive habits that create pain for ourselves and for the people around us. When we face one of our inner Pharaohs, we often lock into an struggle between a part of ourselves we perceive as good and a part that we perceive as bad.  If we try to examine the habit carefully, it often responds with storms of protest: “ Don’t look at me like that! I have to be this way. There is no other way to act. You will die if you don’t have me around to protect you.” Although this inner Pharaoh sounds at first like an imperious ruler, when we listen more closely we can hear it is really more like a tantruming three-year old.  Instead of responding by getting up in the face of the habit, we can instead take it into our lap, stroke its head, and hold it with compassion for the circumstances that caused that Pharaoh to arise. Amazingly, when we take this approach, the habit’s hold over us subsides. And in that moment, the self-conception that contained a good part and a bad part, a Moses and a Pharaoh, dies as well. In its place grows a more unified, liberated and wholesome way of living with ourselves and acting in the world.

May we treat our inner strivings and restrictions with compassion and be blessed to witness the melting away of our limiting sense of self and may that compassionate work of our hands, heart and mind be established in the world.

 Thank you to Brian Arnell of Awakened Heart Project for pointing out the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh concerning how to work with habit energy. See for example: <>

Friday, January 20, 2012

Va'eira: Responding to the call of liberation

Parsha Va'eira
Exodus 6:9 - Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor.

For me, Exodus 6:9 is an intensely sad line. I picture what could have been, if only. So much misery and suffering could have been avoided if the Isrealites had heard Moses, really HEARD him, and been willing to walk out of slavery right then and there. If they had listened and heard with faith that divine strength would support their freedom journey, they would have been practically free right then. Instead Moses had to bargain and argue with Pharaoh, making it seem as though it was Pharaoh who had the power to grant freedom, when all along it was the Isrealites who needed to listen and act in accord with the divine flow.

 I see this pattern in my own life. Liberation is speaking directly to me, but I do not hear. I think the oppressor or oppressive situation must change first, when really it is I who must take the first step toward liberation.

May we hear the voice of liberation calling to us and have the faith to make one small move to meet it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shemot: What we learn from Moses' names

Parshat Shemot: Exodus 2:1-2 A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son, and [when] she saw him that he was good, she hid him for three months.
Exodus 2:9-10
.. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will give [you] your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed him.  The child grew up, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became like her son. She named him Moses, and she said, "For I drew him from the water."

Common sense says that Jochved and Amram (Moses’ parents) must have had a name for him other than Moses, which was a name that he did not receive until he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Tradition tells us that he actually had as many as ten names. Moses was called Yered (ירד), implying descent, by Miriam; Avigdor (master of the fence) by his grandfather, Chever (connector) by his father, and Yekutiel (יקותיא-ל), from the root kavei (קוה) meaning hope, by his mother. God, however, only calls him Moses in the Torah. From this we learn that although we may present various faces or roles to different people in our life,  the way to relate to divinity is from the place within us that is always flowing like water, yet is still constant and unvarying.

May we be blessed to relate to the world from that aspect of our true self that is steady and constant, yet always flowing.

for sources for Moses' names, see:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Parshat Vayyechi: The blessing of radical acceptance

Parshat Vayyechi: Gen Ch. 49:28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them, every one according to his blessing he blessed them.”  
Reading Jacob’s deathbed pronouncements to his sons can be troubling.  We call these blessings, but many of the statements seem harsh, even belittling. In what way can we see these statements as blessings?  Assuming that these were accurate assessments of each son, and assuming that Jacob delivered the statements without blame, perhaps the value is in having someone see you accurately and clearly.  Being seen completely by another person can be uncomfortable, but it is also intimate and, in some ways, freeing. It is a great gift when someone sees us and accepts us as we are.

May we be blessed to see clearly and accept our whole selves, just the way we are. And from that acceptance, may we grow.