It’s time Jews begin counting. Start to count to correct your life. By counting, we just might convince ourselves that once we are able to leave our homes, we might want to hold onto some of these wholesome new behaviors to enhance our lives and deepen our love of living.
Today is day 20 of the Omer, that’s 2 weeks and 6 days into the journey from Egypt to Sinai, from the moment we left the dark places to the time we received the instruction (Torah) which gave us direction.
I imagine what it was like to be an Israelite during that journey. Clear that I was leaving an unhealthy place, I lacked a clear picture of where I – where we – needed to go. It would have been a period of intense uncertainty; the anxiety threatened to overwhelm.
I imagine what it is like today to be an Israelite (a Jew, a member of a Jewish family, you), trudging slowly forward on an uncertain journey. Is your wilderness trek taking you:
- Away from a dead end job?
- An unexpected layoff?
- On a search for financial security?
- Out of a home that hurts you?
- A relationship that drains you?
- On a quest to renew love and warmth?
- Toward recovery from addiction?
- Release from pain?
- On a hunt for hope and healing?
G-d of sacred moments,
G-d of endings and beginnings,
Hear this prayer for guidance and deliverance
As my life moves in new directions,
Onto new paths,
Into uncertain water.
Grant me courage as an answer to fear,
As the winds blow,
Strength as an answer to doubt,
As the storms gather,
And wisdom as an answer to uncertainty.
Grant me grace in the face of obstacles,
As fires rage,
Patience in the face of detours,
As the earth trembles,
And trust in the face of the unknown.
Grant me joy in my successes,
As the sun warms the land,
Humor in my defeats,
As the cactus opens a flower,
And acceptance throughout my days.
Grant me faith in Your guidance,
As songs lift my heart,
Gratitude for Your works,
As love lifts my life,
And joy in Your gifts.
G-d of Old,
Rock and Shelter,
My time is a blink,
My journey a puff of wind,
My life fragile and fleeting.
G-d of Secrets,
Grant me delight,
Luminous, majestic delight,
In using these blessings
In service to Your Holy Name.
© 2011 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
Question: Where are you in your transition? What do you need to pass from here to there?
Today is the 11th day of the Omer, that is 1 week and 4 days.
Today is also the day I write my 613th post on this blog. It feels like a mitzvah! A time to pause and reflect:
- Can you be at one with the universe?
- Can you stop doing and just continue being?
Shema, a central prayer recited twice daily, concludes Adonai Echad.
Some teach that this means God is one, that God is not two like the ancient Zoroastrians believed. And God is not three, like we Jews understand the Christian Trinity to really express (Father, Son, Holy Ghost equal three for Jews). And God is not many, like the ancient Greeks and the contemporary Wiccans believe. All this is true for Jews.
I prefer to translate Adonai Echad as God alone, following our Reform Movement siddur (prayer book), Mishkan Tefilah. This teaches multiple significant lessons:
- There is nothing but God. Ain Sof, as the Kabbalists express, God has no end. Everything is within God. Separation is just a way we comprehend the world. Unreal but effective. So we are part of the Oneness of the Holy One.
- Everything is connected to everything else. If God alone means everything is God, and I am within God and You are within God, then we are connected within God. It means that I am connected also with those I do not know, those I have never met and those who exist across the world and across our city. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches that the world exists within the invisible lines of connection.
- If I want to experience holiness, sometimes I should just stop acting on and in the world and just be. When I just focus on being, I might catch a glimpse, a sense, a shadow, of the is-ism of Adonai Echad. I might truly recognize that I am part of that oneness.
It is hard to do when one is running and doing. So try this. It is something I learned at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.
Sit comfortably, quietly close your eyes, and just breathe. Focus on the breath. When thoughts come into your mind, categorize them as pleasant or unpleasant. If pleasant, push them, in your mind’s eye, to the left. If unpleasant, push them to the right. Then return to focus on the breathing.
You might find, somewhere in there, that you sense the eternality of the breathe, that just in being you exist in a most profound form.
At that moment, you just might have experienced the oneness of holiness, the oneness of the Holy One.
For more mediations on living on the journey, take a look at Seeking Words Where There are None, the Omer blog of Rabbi Ari Margolis, a former Congregation Or Ami summer rabbinic intern. It is well worth the time.
RABBI’S NOTE: Our community has been following the discovery and investigation of anti-Semitic and racist graffiti with great concern, pain, and anger. Who could believe that here in Calabasas, an enlightened and open community, we would be subjected to the use of such heinous slurs?
I have spoken to the Calabasas High School principal CJ Foss and the Assistant Principal Eric Anhalt. Additionally, I have had multiple conversations with the Anti-Defamation League(ADL). In each discussion, all participants did not mince words: they offered a condemnation of the actions, an intent to take this situation very, very seriously, an openness to suggestions as to how to respond, and a desire to educate and bring healing. I was pleased to hear that Calabasas High School has already been involved, through it’s many clubs, in holding awareness days for a variety of sometimes marginalized groups.
I am exceedingly satisfied that the school district is partnering with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department and the ADL to educate toward tolerance and pluralism.
But let’s be clear, Jews are not endangered in Calabasas. We are present in all levels of civic and communal life. We have multiple synagogues and our own Congregation Or Ami sanctuary off Las Virgenes. We have good relations with other Calabasas groups, institutions, and organizations.
So while we condemn these acts, and want them to be taken seriously and responded to with teaching and justice, we take comfort that law enforcement acted so quickly and has now asked for the most serious of punishments, indictment on felony vandalism charges coupled with the hate crime enhancement. We feel confident that the school did the same with its confidential recommendations to the superintendent and the school board.
And so three 11th graders spewed hate and anger, spray-painting anti-Semitic and racist graffiti all over Calabasas High School. They were non-discriminatory with their discrimination, shooting their poisonous arrows at a wide swath of minorities. They were non-prejudicial with their prejudice, naming individuals – reportedly a mix of Jews, African-Americans, and other people – students, teachers and administrators. Their actions have been roundly condemned.
Now that the three have been caught, confessed in writing, they are learning quickly that – whatever the motives – their graffiti smut is neither tolerated nor acceptable. Still, we are unable to make sense of it all.How could our innocent, accepting city harbor such hate? Many will look for meaning in this madness, hoping to point our fingers in blame at an absentee parent or worse, an abusive upbringing.
We should also ask ourselves why these acts are so distressing. Like most vicious attacks, these use symbols, which conjure up a whole history of hatred and violence.
Writing “whites only” on a water fountain recalls America’s shameful, painful past when the color of one’s skin was used to deny the worth of one’s soul. Daily rejections of human equality were enshrined in law; random beatings and lynchings were rampant. To scrawl those words is to paint a target on every person of color. It is particularly offensive to see our children use such language to harm others.
The use of the swastika and the words “let’s triple 6 million” recall the horrific genocide of 6 million Jews and 5 million others including children, homosexuals, gypsies, and others. The swastika remains one of the most powerful and enduring emblems of religious and ethnic hatred. It recalls the time of nationalist systematic murder, and of widespread international indifference.Few anti-Semitic acts more deeply strike pain into the heart of a Jew.
Occurring during the holy days of Passover and near the holy week of Easter, and naming at least 6 individuals of diverse backgrounds and religions, this act of graffiti takes a particular type of hatred to pointedly attack others.
Why in the world did these three youth feel it was acceptable to use such dehumanizing language? Is this behavior an anomaly or, frightfully, might they be particularly egregious examples of attitudes that pervade a society that finds spewing pointedly painful words tolerable?
It is easy to condemn the graffiti which uses words and symbols that we agree upon to be historically language of hate. But what about words about which society has not yet agreed to roundly condemn? The Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century founder of chasidism, taught that often we rebuke in others what we find and hate in ourselves. Thus he challenges us, when anger fills us up, turn inward and fix our own failures.
So we ask ourselves:
It is easy to rise up and condemn others when we have been harmed. It is another thing – greatly more difficult – to move off the couch or look up from our texting to recognize the humanity of the other. Thirty six times in the Bible we are told to treat the stranger as we treat the citizen; 36 times we are reminded how dear to the Holy One are the most vulnerable.
As a community, Jew are making our way from the exodus from Egypt to the celebration of receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai. From the holy days of Passover to Shavuot.
Like our Biblical ancestors, we have a choice: Embrace the fear that kept our biblical ancestors cowering as oppressed slaves in Egypt. Or embrace the Torah, a gift of God which delineates a whole system of ethics to guide our steps.
So we thank our law enforcement and Justice systems, with whom we have very good relations, for vigorously responding to these heinous acts. We thank the school and the district for utilizing this as another opportunity to educate about pluralism and tolerance.
Simultaneously, let us expect of ourselves, at our deepest levels, that we do curb our collective inactions that do wrong to others, either through our deeds or more likely through the attitudes we harbor.
Calabasas, CA is one of the best places to live in America. We as a community need to use this abomination to teach ourselves and our children that we love our neighbors as ourselves, even the ones who look different, pray differently, and those we just don’t know.
Today is the 9th day of the Omer, that is one week and two days. We are on the journey still, to Mt. Sinai. When we arrive at the 49th/50th day, we experience Matan Torah, receiving the gift of Torah.
For Jews, holiness is not spirituality based on sitting on a mountaintop, meditating or doing yoga (although I, and many other Jews, do both). Rather being kadosh – holy in Judaism is to act in ethical ways toward one another.
A big question on the mind of every 12-year-old at Congregation Or Ami is “What will I do for my mitzvah project?”
In Judaism, the completion of a mitzvah project as part of the process of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah symbolizes acceptance of the “mitzvah” or “duty” to actively work to engage in “tikkun olam” or “healing the world.”
Mitzvah projects can benefit children, the elderly, animals, the hungry, the environment, refugees, the poor, or any other group or cause that needs help.
Despite so many people and places needing healing in our world, finding a mitzvah project that fits the individual interests and abilities of each pre-teen can prove challenging. That’s why Congregation Or Ami hosted its inaugural Mitzvah Project Fair on April 4 and 6 during its Kesher learning program.
Or Ami teens who completed their mitzvah projects in the past year presented their volunteer projects to the younger children in the temple’s Religious School program. The presenters used posters and handouts and talked with curious first- through fifth-graders about their experiences. The younger children were amazed by the wide variety of projects.
Some of the projects were training a seeing eye dog, teaching inner city children about managing money, sending handmade notes to military personnel posted overseas, playing with disabled children, caring for orphaned animals, and collecting food for the hungry and basic supplies for the homeless.
Calabasas resident Rachel, a fourth-grader, said, “My mitzvah project can be helping animals, not only people.”
Agoura Hills resident Ryan, a first-grader, said, “I can do my mitzvah project in the park.”
“By doing a mitzvah project, you are being a super mensch,” (Yiddish for “a really good person”) said Oak Park resident Jonathan, a third-grader.
In addition to showing the younger children the many handson projects they can accomplish, the Mitzvah Project Fair showcased the accomplishments of the temple’s teen members.
“The Mitzvah Project Fair also provided an opportunity for our congregation to acknowledge the great pride we feel at the important work our teens are undertaking to ‘heal the world’ and to celebrate their acceptance of tikkun olam as a lifelong pursuit,” said Debby Pattiz, mitzvah project coordinator.
Organizations that are interested in helping children “heal the world” by providing pre-teens with bar/bat mitzvah volunteer projects should leave a message for Pattiz through the Temple. (This Mitzvah Project Fair article was written by Helayne Sharon, who resides in Agoura Hills.)
May these days trekking through the wilderness provide you with plenty of time to think about how you can both talk the talk and walk the walk … of kadosh – holiness.
Today is the fifth day of the Omer, five days into the 49-day journey from Egypt to Sinai to the receiving of Torah.
We Jews are a people on the move, journeying from one place to another.
- Our existence began with a call to set forth: Lech lecha, God said to Avram and Sarai – Go for yourself from your land, from the place of your birth, from your father’s home, to a land that I will show you. With few words, God sent our ancestors off on a journey for their own benefit, on a trek that would help them find their true selves. Off they went, to find their destinies and to become a blessing.
- The transition between generations – from Abraham to Isaac – also began with a call for Abraham to take his son on a journey, three days out into the land of Moriah, to a place that God would show him. Whether for sacrifice or for a spiritual experience, this desert trek transformed both participants, encoding a terrifying experience into their hearts and our history.
- On a journey to meet up with his brother Esau after 40 years of separation, Jacob pauses for the night and awakens to find himself wrestling with something – an angel? himself? his conscience? There his name is changed from Ya’akov (the one who tries to hold another back) to Yisrael (one who struggles with God). From there he limps off to become a blessing, to assume his role as the father of a great people.
- On a journey in the wilderness, chasing after a stray lamb, Moses slows down enough to notice that a bush burns but is not consumed. There he hears God’s call: to become the mouthpiece of holiness, to speak truth to power, and to emancipate his people Israel from under the yoke of a tyrant.
- Then as a whole people, we embarked on a journey, with Moses, Miriam and Aaron leading them. Out of Egypt, up to Mt. Sinai, and later for 40 years wandering in the desert. Reborn after passing through the metaphoric birth canal of the Red Sea, our people Israel met the Holy One at the holy mountain, receiving Torah and becoming a holy people.
So many steps taken by so many of our ancestors, traveling to find themselves and discover their true calling.
How much strength they must have had to take leave of the familiar!
How courageous they had to have been to embark on a journey to the unknown!
Can we even begin to understand the internal struggle, the conversations inside their heads?
And stil, this one up and leaves (Avram). And then answers a divine call (Avraham). This one stops running long enough to wrestle with his inner voices (Jacob). And that one slows down enough to witness a miracle (Moses).
We Jews embark on these journeys not because we want to, but because journeying itself is encoded into our very DNA. Always on the move, always seeking to discover our destiny. From slavery to freedom. From pain to healing. From hopelessness to hopefulness.
What journey are you on?
Are you ready to answer the call?
God promises that once we embark, we shall become a blessing. To ourselves and others.
So take a chance. Step out into the unknown. And may your journey be blessed.
Today is the fifth day of the Omer. I am off at Congregation Or Ami’s Seder in the Wilderness. And as my wife assured me, once I ventured forth, I am having a great time!
Today is day four of the Omer. We have been traveling out of Egypt for four days.
Today we really get out into the wilderness. Well, Seder in the Wilderness as the community of Congregation Or Ami calls it. Seder in the Wilderness [pictures here and some video here] is our two day experience away from the comforts of home as we relive the exodus from Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness. Some 140 people gather together – this year at the Shalom Institute of JCA Shalom (in Malibu), in years past at Malibu Creek State Park. We camp or cabin; we play, pray and reflect within the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. We have a traditional game of horseshoes (one might argue that Pharaoh’s army, pulled by horses, used thousands of horseshoes… except that would be an anachronism – horseshoes came much later). Campfire services, a big Persian Kosher-for-Passover barbecue and a reliving the exodus program are highlights.
I hate going to Seder in the Wilderness.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being there. I just don’t like going there. As my wife reminds me that whenever I am at SIW, I really, really enjoy it. The relaxed atmosphere, the ability to sit with and talk to people, and the clean air are so refreshing. But getting myself packed and ready, moving beyond the inertia of the post-Seder, pre-SIW period, is challenging. These post-seder days I become a computer addicted, matzah-fueled couch (kosher for passover) potato. It makes me wonder:
- Would I have been one of those who just didn’t want to get off his tush and thus ended up staying in Egypt?
- Would I have been one who, once out of Egypt, began complaining about the emptiness and danger of the desert?
- Would I have gotten scared at Yam Suf (the Red Sea), with Pharaoh’s army behind us and the Sea before us?
- Would I have kvetched that we should be turning around and returning to the relative comforts of Egypt?
- Would you?
Beginning journeys can be difficult. We are more comfortable with what we know, even if it is not healthy, good for us or inspiring. The journey toward our true selves – toward who we should be, could be – is blocked by the here and now. Early in our wilderness trek, each step can be momentous, even as we feel like we are lifting weights to get our feet off the ground.
But if we step forward, step beyond our comfort zone, the journey can be very rewarding, for there is a Promised Land out there somewhere awaiting our arrival.
Here’s the traditional Tefillat Haderech, a Jewish prayer for wayfarers, for all who are embarking on a journey:
May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, emplace our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.
May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears prayer. [Listen to Doug Cotler’s musical version.]
So I journey now, by car, to Seder in the Wilderness. May you get up off your tush and step forward into the unknown but hopeful place beyond where you are. And may all our journeys be safe and inspiring.
Today is day three of the Omer. [For more on counting the Omer, scroll down to the bottom of this post.]
We are walking toward Sinai and, eyes open, begin to notice the wonders which surround us. For the ancient Israelites, these wonders included the vast openness of the wilderness, the sand beneath their feet, and the countless stars overhead. When living as slaves, they rarely had time to look up to take note of God’s creations. Now, walking forward to freedom, they – like you and me today – can witness and embrace the grandeur of Creation.
Today is also Earth Day, our annual celebration of the plane we call “home”. We live on it; we love it. We use it; we abuse it. We assume that the Earth’s resources are endless and that our needs take precedence over everything else. After all, we argue, didn’t God tell us in Genesis 2 that we shall have dominion over all the Earth?
Then we sit idly by as species become extinct, as whole forests disappear, and the deserts begin to encroach upon the land. We watch the glaciers melt; the air turn grey; and the world heat up. As we crack open the earth to feed our oil addiction, and then we sit back impotent as the oil runs amuck polluting the earth, we might recall that our responsibility from Genesis chapter 2 included caring for and protecting the earth.
Eyes open, we begin to see – really see – the wonder around us. Like Adam on the first full day after creation, we sing Psalms of praise for God’s Chesed (kindness) in allowing us to enjoy the Tiferet (beauty) of our planet.
We become appreciative of all we have around us – trees and flowers, clean air vast open spaces, hands to bold and be held by… We are simultaneously at one with and responsible for this creation. And we realize HaMakom (the Place) is God’s Place. We understand that God is in Creation, that God IS creation. [I discovered this on a road trip through 22 states in 31 days, including visiting many National Parks. Read about my experience with HaMakom.]
Today is the 3rd day on our journey. May we witness the holiness of the earth, and may it open our eyes to the holiness of the Holy One!
Counting the Omer:
As we learn in the Torah, You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu’ot for the Eternal, your God. (Deuteronomy 16:9-10). Use this Simpsons-inspired Homer Omer Counting Calendar.
We bless: Baruch Atah Adonay Eloheynu melech ha’olam asher kid’shanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al sefirat ha’omer – Blessed are you, ETERNAL, our God, the sovereign of all worlds, who has made us holy with your mitzvot and commanded us concerning the counting of the Omer.
Today is day #2 of the Omer, that counts (and recounts) the journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai. We embark onward, toward our selves.
Today, we think about kvetching and kvelling.
Kvetching is that typically Jewish act of complaining, loudly and regularly about things big and small. We kvetch about our families. We kvetch about our kids. We kvetch about our jobs, spouses/partners, the economy, the government… everything. Our biblical ancestors kvetched during their desert trek about the food, the lack of water, the danger from enemies, about Moses’ leadership. Such a typical Jewish act, and yet, kvetching is profoundly the antithesis of what it means to be authentically Jewish.
To be a Jew is to be a kveller! Kvelling means to praise. Kvelling lets others know that good things are happening. It leads us to count our blessings. We could be praising the important things: our health, our relative wealth (we always have more than others somewhere), the roof over our heads, the community of which we are part… The ancient rabbis teach us that we should say 100 blessings each day. I try to teach that we should try to count 3 or 12 or 18 things each day that are blessings in our lives. 3 or 12 or 18 things worthy of kvelling about to ourselves and others.
We have an easier time kvetching than kvelling. Yet as we journey forth toward Sinai, let’s be the blessing God intended us to be. We can make strides in that direction but counting blessings as we count the days. We can go the distance by distancing ourselves from kvetches.
Today is day two of the Omer. Begin counting your kvells! (And let me know how it feels).
We count the seven times seven weeks (or 49 days) of the Omer, corresponding with the 49 day journey of the Israelites to Mt. Sinai. Counting the Omer is a mystical journey, a journey to our highest selves. This week, we traverse through the sephirah of chesed (kindness and love).
Today is day one, the first day of the Omer.
I dedicate this first day’s journey to those who are suffering – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and particularly to a young friend who is watching her father slowly die. With overflowing chesed, I/we answer her – and all who suffer: “I see you. I hear you. I honor you.” It is about just being there for each other, being present.
Poet/liturgist Alden Solovy offers Witnessing: A Meditation which invites us to pause, to remain silent, and to offer up our precious presence. (Make sure to check out Adlen’s many, many beautiful prayers at www.tobendlight.com.)
Witnessing: A Meditation
Have you seen the teen who cuts himself with a blade?
Or the youth who sticks herself with needles?
Have you seen a father force back tears while he buries his son?
Or a mother weeping with her daughter, wailing after an assault?
Do you hear the voices of the hungry, the lost, the shocked and confused
Afraid that they may never return from the darkness?
Brother, do not say: “I’ve been there.”
Sister, do not say: “I know that feeling.”
Rather, say: “I see you. I hear you. I honor you.”
Weep with me, not for me.
Pray with me, not about me.
Walk with me, don’t lead me.
This moment is not yours to repair,
Not yours to sooth,
Not yours to ease with the false balm of words.
Have you watched your daughter kiss her mother goodbye on the deathbed?
Have you seen your home consumed in fire?
If you have, bless you.
If you haven’t, bless you.
Have you stood with your sisters and brothers,
Not needing to understand,
Not needing to change the moment,
Witnessing in silence?
If you have, bless you.
If you haven’t, this blessing awaits you.
G-d of holiness and healing,
Teach us to be present as loving witnesses
On this amazing, glorious and dangerous journey.
Help us to stay awake to love and loss,
To be present for those in need.
Help me to see, to hear and to remember –
And so to bless –
The lonely and the lost,
The bereaved and bereft,
With compassion and love.
To stand with them,
As they have stood with me,
In the darkness,
Until I could, once again, face the light.
© 2010 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.