Splendor of Beauty refracted through COVID-19 death: 19 days of Omer 5780, Hod ShebeTiferet

Today was nineteen days, which was two weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5780. הוד שבתפארת, Hod ShebeTiferet, Splendor of Beauty.

Meditating into Beauty While People Die

An incredibly beautiful soul gave up her fight with COVID-19 today. Rana Zoe Mungin, 30, was ignored twice before finally being admitted to a hospital. So it took three attempts to receive medical care for this brilliant Black woman to be seen. And then it took the full force of the Wellesley alumnae network to get her experimental treatment to have any sort of chance at survival. But it was too late. The racism she encountered in her fight against this virus took her life. 

Read Rana Zoe Mungin’s description of her life on the Wellesley Underground, an alternative Wellesley alumnae blog. Her sister, Mia Mungin, tweeted Rana Zoe’s fight for her life. Mimi Maciel, her best friend, posted a tribute to Zoe.

Nothing tells you more about my privilege in this pandemic than the fact that I can share this story with you, take several deep breaths, and talk about anything else.

Hod: creating a place to meet the Divine

In my imagination, the Divine Mother is not waiting for immaculate living rooms and sparkling bathrooms. She is praying for us to use our eyes to truly see the souls who surround us. The people whom we do not treat as fully human. The animals whom we treat as if they solely exist for our benefit. The earth we are shattering to gather more oil, not even stopping when we cause earthquakes far from the edges of tectonic plates. 

Splendor of Beauty: Deep Resilience Honoring the Spark of the Divine within Everything

True art sparkles with the spark of the Divine.
Deep love nourishes our recognition of the Divine.
The truth of being truly seen showers us with Divine energy.
Eternity reminds us that She exists beyond and within all that exists.
Discipline gives us the eyes to see the patterns of the Divine flowing through all. 

May we honor El Shaddai, embrace the Shekhinah, and always remember the importance and worthiness of each living being.
Rest in power, Rana Zoe Mungin. 

Other thoughts on Hod ShebeTiferet

5779 / 2019: The splendor of beautiful prayer envelops me.

5778 / 2018: Awakening to the temple of my body.

5777 / 2017: The holy splendor of leaning Torah.

Touching Eternal Beauty at a Safe Social Distance: Day 18 of the Omer 5780, Netzach ShebeTiferet

Today is eighteen days, which was two weeks and four days of the Omer, in the year 5780. נצח שבתפארת, Netzach ShebeTiferet, Eternity of Beauty, Enduring Truth.

Reality in Week 7 of Social Distancing

We are in our seventh week of social distancing. My family has been particularly circumspect in our movements. Our eldest son did not want to watch the CNN Sesame Street Coronavirus town hall, but he was sure it was too dangerous to get in the minivan today to go to a farm. Eventually, I was able to convince him and he went along with his brother and father on an adventure to pick up produce and sundries at Tanaka Farms. This might be our new family adventure — finding other farms that are relatively close for curbside pick up seems to be a good way to keep our car batteries from dying. 

I am so proud of how strong my young children have been throughout this. They have not regressed much. Occasionally, I even get to sleep in. Usually, I’m woken up by the youngest climbing into bed and playing with my hair. Today was an incredible day and I had the extreme luxury of sleeping until 8:45 a.m.

Making Time for Eternity

Tonight begins another day (according to Jewish time). Eternity exists and sits patiently, waiting for me to breathe deeply and allow her the space to enter me. I can sit on this precipice and wail my anxiety. Or I can stand and hold a child, re-enacting Lion King. 

Enduring Truths of My Life

I can remember that the enduring truths of my life: My call to be attuned to my spiritual journey and the journey of the souls around me. Sacred duties: parent and spouse. The honor to be in a loving family and embracing communities. 

My prayer for today

I pray that we each have time today, for a moment, to reflect on the enduring truths that guide our lives.

May we have compassion with ourselves and each other.

Let us experience moments of deep joy and fleeting laughter.

Praying for complete healing of body and soul for all those who are experiencing illness.

May there be an easy passing from this world to the next for all those who have left this mortal coil. 


I deeply aspire to creating conscious communities. Yet, in the four years since I first read this book, I realize how aspirational this rubric is. I still think every one should read this book. I just want to be compassionate with myself for not living up to the ideals espoused within it.

In other words…

5779 / 2019: Exploring the meaning of enduring truth.

5778 / 2018: Create beautiful order to make space for grace.

5777 / 2017: Praying for enduring compassion.

Explore the Depths and Limits of Truth: 17 Days of Omer 5780, Emet of Emet

Today was seventeen days, which was two weeks and three days of the Omer 5780. תפארת שבתפארת. Beauty of Beauty. אמת שבאמת, Emet ShebeEmet Truth of Truth.

The harmonious, complete integration of covenantal love and judgment: clear-eyed truth, existential beauty. 

Truth Exists, Narrative Moves

Existential truth exists. Facts exist. There are many levels to truth and they are all extremely real. We often think if we provide enough facts, the truth of our perspective will be clarified and people will act the way we want them to act. Yet, that is never the case.

Facts do not move people. Stories move people.

Engage someone in a narrative that appeals to their values and they may change their mind. People may accept change when they feel valued.

Paradigms are as substantial as Truth

Throughout my life, I have been searching for nonviolent paradigm shifts. (This is why my Twitter handle is Social Upheaval.)

Paradigm shifts are inflection points that change the world from what it was to what it could be. It is deeply difficult to imagine the paradigms in which people used to live. Blood letting hastened many deaths. Yet, the extremely rational, scientific method for healing people for centuries required blood letting.

The inner logic of conspiracy theories is as solid as the inner logic of spiritual reflection. People are not crazy for believing stories that bring order to their lives. 

For the people living within a paradigm, they are as substantial as any factual, scientific truth. This is the reality of the human experience we must accept.

Refractions of the Divine Create Cracks in Our Stories

A dozen years ago, I was new to learning Kabbalah. I had a pediatric understanding of Judaism, and was virtually illiterate in the tradition. Wide gaps remain in my knowledge. 

The truths I allowed to sink into my soul:

  1. My past does not have to determine my future.
  2. I can choose how much I lean into the personality I built to defend myself from a chaotic world. 
  3. Inner joy and contentment is a choice. 
  4. If I am bitter, resentful, or angry with my circumstances I have two choices: learn to live with it or find a way to quit. 

Rabbi Finley teaches these core truths at Ohr HaTorah. Every day I relearn them.

When surrounded by whining, resentful children, I can lean into my anxiety at being forced to stay with them 24/7. Alternatively, I can take a break, take a breath, and lean into my empathy for how small their world has become. 

By remembering the spiritual truths I have learned on my journey, every day gets a little easier. Physical pain and mental discomfort become easier when I remember that love, justice, truth, and beauty envelop me. Divine love unfolds with every new word my son learns, every new day I am able to refrain (a little bit) from raising my voice, or from saying things I will regret.

Beautiful Harmonious Truth is Bloody Hard

Unfortunately, retreating from the real world to find the goddess within will not transform daily life for long. This is the cold, harsh reality of life meeting the gentle, overflowing nectar of the Divine. I have faith in this path leading me and the world towards wholeness. 

Wholeness requires shattering paradigms, revealing truth currently unseen. I pray the world integrates, supporting one another more completely, valuing one another dearly, embracing one another with respect and honor for the dignity and value of each human life. 

Previous Incarnations of This Day

5779 / 2019: Perfect synthesis of grace and judgment; loving kindness and discipline.

5778 / 2018: Sinking into Pure Beauty and Beautiful Truth.

5777 / 2017: Struggling towards pure compassion.

Discipline Frees the Soul to Sing: 16 Days of Omer 5780, Gevurah ShebeTiferet

Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer, in the year 5780. גבורה שבתפארת. Gevurah ShebeTiferet. Discipline of Beauty. 

Boundaries Focus Art

Penetrating the world through art requires clear boundaries. Rules are the fertilizer for great art. Cherry blossom trees cannot thrive if jumbled one on top of each other. Clear lines creates space for the roots to grow and the trees to thrive. Similarly, limits allow artists to thrive within the structure provided. 

I choose to write in the morning and evening because it gives structure to my day. An outlet for my spiraling mind, it clarifies my reason for moving forward in this day. A deep part of me would rather let go and sink into passive consumption of art. If I give into my Yetzer HaRa, my inclination towards destructiveness, I will not be satisfied. The gnawing guilt of all I “should” be doing would not allow me to enjoy the extra hours created by ceasing my own creative output.

Discipline Frees the Soul to Sing

Televised cooking competitions have introduced many of us to the concept of “mise en place,” the set up required to cook with flow. The discipline of a well-ordered work space can lead to a more well-ordered mind and a more productive day. 

There’s a reason so many delightful poems are haikus. And Shakespeare wrote sonnets.

This Shabbat We Enter Iyar, Ziv: Radiance and Budding

We begin to heal and transform from darkness to light. Flowers are blooming. The earth is regenerating. Hopefully, moments within this mind-altering isolation provide the opportunity for healing and growth. 

If you are overwhelmed with responsibilities, I see you. My words are not meant to imply that if you have not had a transformative experience, you’re surviving a pandemic wrong. Only that it is possible to take this time out of time and refract it for our own self-healing and self-growth. This is why I am reading the Book of Psalms and counting the Omer. Helping myself turn towards my vision of my life, and push away from the shouting, angry, overwhelmed person within me.

Praying for Moments of Depth and Deep Meaning

Flow within the strength of beauty, the discipline of truth. 
Recognize that I am enough, we are enough, just as we are. 
God with Breasts, El Shaddai, may the honey from the crag you offer flow freely in our house.
May we enter your holy embrace with compassion and grace.
Heavenly Queen, wrap us in the awesome flow of your brilliance. 
Remind us that material reality is only one aspect of life. 
Brilliant refractions of Divine Harmony, hold us firmly in your loving embrace. 

Previous or maybe future incarnations of this day…

5779 / 2019: Art as a meditation on Divine truth.

5778 / 2018: Setting boundaries on compassion helps everyone.

5777 / 2017: Nurture your boundaries and honor your own needs.


Something about the energy of this day reminds me of this book. The book let me know this coworker might be The One. I invited my coworker / boyfriend to a lecture at the Skirball, nervous that maybe he would think I was too Jewish for inviting him to a lecture on the Jewish origins of super heroes. His reply? Oh, hey, that’s a high school buddy of mine giving the lecture.

Covenantal Love of Beauty and Truth: 15 Days of the Omer 5780

Today is fifteen days, which is two weeks and one day of the Omer 5780. חסד שבתפארת, Chesed ShebeTiferet, Covenantal Love of Beauty. חסד שבאמת, Chesed ShebeEmet, Covenantal Love of Truth.

The week of Beauty and Truth Begins

The sephira most deeply associated with twin words, Tiferet Emet, Beauty / Truth. Here’s the truth about why I can meditate into the Omer for four years in a row and never say the same thing: the names are place-holders for a constellation of connected ideas. Human words cannot contain Divine reality. The ebb and flow between the left side, the right side, the integration of those sides in the middle column — it’s all a metaphor for the give and take of life. 

Embrace Paradox

We are pulled in multiple directions every minute of the day. Whether we are sheltering in place or rushing to work. Choosing a single paradigm and living in alignment with that paradigm brings serenity. This is the draw of fundamentalism. 

Appreciate Specificity

The transdenominational understanding of Judaism in which I swim honors the reality coursing through all ways of being Jewish. I have chosen a path that works for me. Not because it was sanctioned by a movement, but because it was sanctioned by the transformation of my soul. This is the beauty and truth I honor today: the life-changing, life-affirming experiencing of living in alignment with the Divine. The values beyond me that inspire me to be the best version of me I can be. 

Enjoy Art, Relish Beauty, and You’ll Find Truth.

Covenantal Love of Beauty: the beautiful inspiration I find in gorgeously produced landscape photography. How my soul sings when I watch a well-crafted and well-acted play. Or how my imagination soars in community when I gather with strangers to watch the most recent installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

My husband thinks I need to cut that last line. I want to be perfectly clear: pop culture is as beautiful as “high art.” I experience beauty giving birth and placing well-pigmented shadow on my eye lids. We contain multitudes and we should never limit ourselves to the boxes other people have designed.

Eternal Flames of Truth and Beauty

I pledge a covenant with the eternal flames of Truth and Beauty. See something beautiful: touch truth beyond words. Experience beautiful art: understand the truth of the human condition beyond statistics. Truth exists on many planes.

It is painful to accept how some worldviews deny basic factual truth and cling to paradigms unhelpful in a pandemic. The truth that radiates love grounds me in acceptance. People are imperfect mortals; truth is beautiful and eternal.

This day goes round, round…

5779 / 2019: Choose concrete steps towards a better you.

5778 / 2018: Poetic prose on graceful truth.

5777 / 2017: Thirty day social media cleanse.

Indwelling of Strength, 14 Days of Omer 5780: Shekhinah ShebeGevurah

Tonight, we will welcome the fourteenth day, which is two weeks, of the Omer 5780. שכינה שבגבורה, Shekhinah ShebeGevurah, Indwelling of Strength.

Strength even when Discipline is beyond my grasp

I am struggling daily to finish my own homework. It isn’t the primary parent duties that keep me from completing my work. I simply lack the discipline to stay focused on graduate-level reading for a sustained period of time. There is still much to appreciate about the strength that surrounds me and is within me. 

My family’s love is fierce.

We are a tight knit crew of four. My kids can go for minutes, almost an hour at a time, amusing themselves without adult supervision. Sure, sometimes that means they’ve opened and created a mess out of five individual servings of pretzels, but for the most part, this is an incredible gift. I have no idea what to feed them half the time, but I know they will never be starved for human interaction. 

My Yetzer HaRa is also strong.

I keep thinking about and hoping to sleep more. Yet, my inclination towards destructiveness, my Yetzer HaRa has incredible strength. She takes over the moment my children are in bed and barely loosens her grip at midnight. I am in awe of her resilience. I hope to talk with her, perhaps reason with her, rather than continuing to pretend she doesn’t exist, or worse, that she is not me. 

The call of Jewish wisdom is the Indwelling of Strength in my life.

My High Holiday liturgy class is reading the Koren Sacks Machzor. I learned a new name for my people on Monday:

Yeshurun. An alternative biblical name for Israel, signifying yashar, “upright” (Ibn Ezra, Deut. 32:15).

From the Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Machzor, p 104. 

What does it mean to be upright? For me, it means acknowledging my inner strength and being grateful for my blessings. It means that when I stray from who I want to be, I remember my vows and return to the path I have discerned for myself.

Being upright means having grace towards myself when I yell at my kids; but never becoming complacent and sinking into the yelling. 

Reminding myself that my lifetime of poor posture does not need to be my future and choosing to honor the strength of my core.

Moving past my fear and wearing my mask and walking my dog. 

Trusting that what I am doing is enough. That I am enough. That the Indwelling Presence of the Divine will gird me with strength to move through this pandemic. 

May we be the Yeshurun we are meant to be. 

Other iterations of this day…

5779 / 2019: Don’t abandon your toys in the search for truth.

5778 / 2018: Hold space for others while asserting your own presence.

5777 / 2017: Transform your understanding of the past; break free of limiting narratives.



Foundation of Strength, Day 13 of the Omer 5780, Yesod ShebeGevurah

Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the Omer, 5780. יסוד שבגבורה, Yesod of Gevurah, Foundation of Strength.

Fascinated when people cannot define themselves. Spending so much time thinking that I couldn’t imagine not having an answer to the question. And yet, the truth is, it is easy to allow the foundation of our existence to rest on the vagaries of culture, employment, and family of origin. 

Human connections: the foundation of human strength

I actually talked about this last year, so I won’t repeat myself. 

As the day of Remembering the Jewish Catastrophe recedes, ensuring the Jewish future comes into focus. I made a decision early in this shelter-in-place existence that my family is more important than my rabbinical studies. Though I am far from a perfect parent, I know for sure that my daily tickles and encouragement is more important than my assigned readings. 

I think a lot about single people, especially people who live alone. My four year-old hugs family members via FaceTime — by putting his arms around the tablet. That gesture seared in my memory as the most heart-breaking aspect of social distancing that I have personally experienced.

And all the people who have to grieve alone. Communities unable to comfort their mourners; unable to grieve as our tradition impels us to grieve. My heart breaks. 

Staying distanced will help us survive.

Our strength lies in our ability to pivot. To accept a new reality we never imagined in order to save our own lives and the lives of the people around us. The economy is not more important than a single human life. Normalcy is not more important than a single human life. 

Also, buy a pulse oximeter. It might save your life.

The core of my discernment is the vision I have for myself.

Essentially, Yesod ShebeGevurah, Foundation of Strength, the Core of my Discernment is the clear-eyed understanding of who I want to be. 

Choosing not to live in fear. Nurturing my ability for deep thinking and consuming written content continuously and thoroughly. I want to be fully present to the people around me and help create a future full of love, light, and soul connections. 

Living towards the future. And so, I will continue to be the Tickle Monster, praying for more children to bring light into this world. 

May the future continue to burn brightly in front of us, and may we have the fortitude to take the steps needed for all of us to live the tomorrow where we can embrace each other enthusiastically without fear. 

This day reverberates….

5779 / 2019: The bedrock of my strength is my family.

5778 / 2018: Building a firm foundation of strength that incorporates humans and ideas.

5777 / 2017: Reverence as the bedrock of strength.

The Catastrophe on the day of Splendor of Power: 12 Days of the Omer 5780, Yom HaShoah, Hod ShebeGevurah

Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days of the Omer. הוד שבגבורה, Hod ShebeGevurah, Splendor of Power; prophetic judgment. Today is also Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day to remember The Catastrophe, when one-third of our people were slaughtered by their neighbors.

Yom HaShoah

It is the Catastrophe. It is not an offering to HaShem completely consumed by fire, therefore it is not Holocaust. Shoah means Catastrophe. Holocaust is the Greek translation of one of the types of sacrifices my ancestors burnt at the Temple. I choose Shoah because there is no ultimate meaning or goodness from murdering babies, children, young people, parents, and grandparents for being Jewish. God does not want martyrs. God does not want humans to sacrifice their lives. HaShem is the Living God. She wants us to live. Neither lies about science claiming Jews aren’t people nor lies about human survival, claiming the economy is more important than human life are reasons to sacrifice humans. 

Stripped naked and tormented through the streets. Raping mothers in front of their children. Bashing babies against the sides of building. Sending children to gas chambers, then to crematoria. Entire societies were complicit in murdering my people. Not just Nazis. Citizens of occupied countries tormented their Jewish neighbors. A small match lights the fire, turning Jew hatred into Jew murder. 

Jew hatred and Judeophobia

A pseudo-scientific sheen on Jew hatred: Antisemitism, a fake word created by a Jew hater. I choose plain words that plainly convey their meaning. A Jew hater is a person who hates Jewish people. Judeophobia is the fear / hatred of Judaism. Christianity was created and propagated through Judeophobia. The Catholic Church encouraged Jew hatred in the years preceding the Shoah. 

These statements should not make you think I hate Christians or Christianity or the Catholic Church. I have deep respect for the depth of meaning people find in their religious traditions. The intellectual histories of our peoples are deeply intertwined. The plain historical facts remains: Christian churches and Christian political leaders throughout history have stoked the flames of Jew hatred to consolidate their power.

Choosing a living Jewish tradition

See, we Jews do not have any complete sets of Talmud from before the Middle Ages because Christian rulers were so thorough in burning our books. Our Talmud is vilified because it is the proof text that Jewish life continued and evolves beyond the plain meaning of the Hebrew Bible. Further, our understanding of our Bible has always been different and distinct from a Christian interpretation of that text. 

The Jewish imperative: Choose life.

It is quite simple: choose life. Choose human life above all else. Choose life before restarting an economy. Humans are not sacrifices to elite wealth. Humans need to transform the social contracts within which we live while we battle the Coronavirus. Choose life.

This is the most important Jewish wisdom I wish to impart: choose life. One must set aside every single aspect of living as a Jew in order to save a life. It is possible to step into the pools of meaning within a single human being and recognize the face of HaShem shining back towards you through the other’s soul. Choose life.

Am Yisrael Chai

The People Israel Live. Our oldest collective name is Hebrews. Then came Israel, the one who wrestles with the Divine. Collectively, separate from our political affiliations, all Jews are Israel.

Specifically, the modern nation-state fulfills one aspect of our collective identity — we have always been a people. The state of Israel does not speak for all of us. Not all Jews are Zionists.

Nevertheless, Zionism is the collective will of the majority of Jewish people. Our nation exists to support our continued existence. To be clear: I am not Israeli. I am an American Jew. 

On Zionism and Israel

Zionism is not a dirty word, just as Jew is not a dirty word. To use those labels in the pejorative is to be racists against Jews. The hatred of Jews is not rational. It is not solely based on theological differences. Throughout time, Jew hatred is about having an Other to blame things on. It is about distinguishing Us from Them. And it is about placing blame for all bad things on Them, the Jews. 

Our collective response to two thousand years of oppression was organizing a collective social and political identity, i.e. Zionism. It is one important facet of Jewish identity for the vast majority of Jewish people. Not all Jews are Zionists. Yet, Zionism is intrinsically related to most Jews’ identity as Jews. When I was younger, I actively participated in anti-Zionist “peace” activities. I did not root my activism in a deep knowledge of history. My activism grew from a surface level understanding of human rights. I had to break free of internalized self-hatred before I could actually davenn Birkat HaShachar, the morning blessings. I had to get over the internalized hatred of the word “Israel,” and realize it was ultimately the collective name for me and all of my family by birth. 

Remember the Dead, Honor the Survivors

Remember the people murdered in the Catastrophe. Singled out systematically like no other people murdered by the Nazi regime. Understand the Final Solution was about murdering Jews, not every undesirable person in the world.

And we must remember them as individual Jews. Anne Frank is important not because her diary is universally appealing (note that her Dad removed the sexual ruminations from the original publication). Anne Frank is important because she was a human being. More than recognition as an author, Anne Frank desperately wanted to live.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira was a brilliant spiritual leader. He is important not because it is easier to remember him as the Warsaw Rebbe or because he was murdered by the Nazis. Not because he chose to stay with his people in the Warsaw ghetto rather than allowing himself to be rescued. His writing has had a profound impact on me. He has articulated exactly the level of rigor and intensity, compassion and commitment that I seek in creating a conscious community. Even if he had done none of these things, he too should be remembered. Because he was a human being. And his neighbors slaughtered him for being Jewish.

9.5 million Jews lived in Europe before World War II. Thus, 3.5 million European Jews survived attempted murdered by their neighbors. More than just the famous ones. More than just the ones who published memoirs. Take some time to learn their stories at Yad VaShem, the world Shoah remembrance center. Or explore some of the survivor interviews from the Shoah Foundation.

The Jewish experience in WWII was unique.

Stop reminding your Jewish acquaintance of how many other people were murdered by the Nazis. We know they were murdered. We also know that no other group was systematically singled out, required in every occupied territory to register, wear badges, and be deported. 

World War II was not the first time we were forced to wear yellow Stars of David. That honor goes to England, who persecuted us, stole our property and our money, pushed us off the island, then refused to let us leave, starving us along the way to eliminating Judaism from their midst.  

The Splendor of Power I honor today is Jewish Wisdom and Jewish Resilience.

I always have trouble consolidating my thoughts on the Shoah. The Shoah is not at the core of my Judaism, nor is any aspect of the history of Jew hatred. I love the living tradition. It brings me so much joy and inner fortitude. Yet, I know that our resilience rests on generations of persecution.

The trauma of the Shoah both brought about the global conditions for recognition of the state of Israel and guided the actions of the leaders of Israel over the course of its history. And that is why Israel chose to place Yom HaShoah between the celebration of our political freedom from bondage, Passover, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Isreal’s Independence Day. 

This day exists in many ways

5779 / 2019: Stepping into the person I want to be on Yom HaShoah.

5778 / 2018: Give yourself permission to share your truth.

5777 / 2017: Hod as humility, combining it with strength.



Eternal Judgment: 11 Days of the Omer 5780, Netzach of Gevurah

Tonight begins eleven days, which is one week and four days of the Omer in the year 5780. נצח שבגבורה, Netzach ShebeGevurah, Enduring Will of Strength, Eternal Judgment.

What is your vision for yourself?

My primary question when I want to understand someone deeply is: what is your vision for yourself? Not what do you do for a living, how smart are your kids, do you love your spouse. You, the distinct, physically separate entity that is you: who do you see yourself as today and who do you want to become?

I don’t think we allow ourselves the time to sink into that question enough. People lose themselves in being of service to their community. They can lose themselves in supporting their partner or their children. We don’t cultivate enough curiosity about the world within ourselves.

The Gift of Time and Reflection

The greates gift I’ve given myself in the last five weeks of isolation is picking up a Psalter. Though, to be perfectly honest, that sounds like a completely goyish term. Like a stereotypical Jew, I couldn’t pick up one book of psalms, I had to pick up two. I didn’t go for three or four because there’s only so much time in the day, and I wanted to produce something from my daily meditation, not just sink deeper into my books. 

I’ve been feeling off kilter all day because I didn’t read a psalm this morning. I made time to put on makeup and read Facebook, but not the psalm. I’ll get back to it tomorrow. Like a page of Talmud, the daily psalm is a spiritual practice I want to use for myself; I don’t want to lose myself in service of the practice. Could I have gone to sleep earlier and read the psalm rather than Facebook? Absolutely. But it isn’t the choice I made on this Sunday, my first day back to school as a teacher (at 9:!5 a.m.) and as a student (at 1:05 p.m.). So now my day is done and I’m trying to lightly meditate into Netzach of Gevurah.

God Deciding Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?

Eternal Judgment sounds completely anachronistic. I cannot tell you how many boring Rosh Hashanah sermons I sat through as a child, reminding us that God is sitting on His throne in judgment as we pass before him, determining who will live and who will die in the coming year. If that theology speaks to you, I pray your faith is able to sustain itself through this present uncertainty. I truly wish no ill to anyone, regardless of whether we agree with one another theologically or not. 

That’s not the Eternal Judgment that calls to me.

Eternal Judgment: Knowing Right from Wrong

What calls to me is knowing right from wrong. Understanding that no matter how hard a child has worked, their Bat Mitzvah will have to be done over Zoom at this time. That it makes no sense to be together for any reason other than essential services. And that I pray that every company we have purchased things from in the past five weeks has enacted true social distancing in their distribution centers and throughout their shipping process. 

It is knowing that there is a better and worse way for me to be present with my family and with my community. I can choose whether to attend class (and frankly, whether to teach class). My children cannot choose who they live with. So I have to do everything in my power to be the best steward of their time as I can possibly be. This is the Eternal Judgment I feel weighing on me. 

Acknowledging and Living with Fear

Writing unshackles my soul from the anxieties of my ego. Weighed down by my fears. Fierce mama bear, I have no desire to send my children to camp or to school until there are treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19. I say this even though these have been the longest five weeks of my life. Yet, I am not completely wrapped in a bubble of fear. Praying people choose to continue to have children. I cannot tell you how excited I was that a woman I barely know posted a baby bump photo on Instagram. Beyond excited to see new life, to read about the struggles and joys of my friends with babies. 

So yes, I fear the end of social distancing because I have such a strong belief in the importance of every single life. That is the Eternal Judgment I hold most dear. If our retirement stock accounts lose all of their money, so be it. If that’s what it takes to keep a single person alive, it will have been worth it. That’s what the Jewish statement that to save a life is to save a world means. It is not just a catchy phrase. There is substance behind the platitude. No business, no economy, no country is worth a single life. Now, I also fully recognize the mental health toll this is taking on all of us. And I deeply understand the desire for normality to return. 

Leaning into the Enduring Will of Strength

Yet we can also take this time to find within us the Enduring Will of Strength. We can imagine a new tomorrow, by preserving through today. Do we have the strength to clean our own bathrooms? To juggle full-time work with full-time childcare? Can we make space for our colleagues and direct reports who are parents? What is the depth of our Enduring Will of Strength?

This day in other days…

5779 / 2019: My soul yearns to move toward its mission.

5778 / 2018: Recognize that your will is powerful.

5777 / 2017: Choosing clear-eyed focus on the person I want to be.

Other books that contain Jewish ideas on the Psalms


Resting in the Truth of Discipline: 10 Days of the Omer 5780, Tiferet ShebeGevurah

Today is ten days, which is one week and three days of the Omer. תפארת שבגבורה , Tiferet ShebeGevurah Beauty in Strength, Truthful Discipline.

Truthful tales of disciplining young kids right now

I had a hard time getting my kids to sleep tonight. First, I had video calls with my parents and my sister. The second call, with cousins and an aunt who is much more fun than their parents, was too much for my eldest. His feelings overwhelmed him. It was hard to get him into his PJs, hard to get him into the top bunk, and I had no clue how to get him to stop scream crying. Then his younger brother asked for a bed time story. And something about One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish relaxed him. I am beyond grateful to our family friend who started our Dr. Seuss collection.

I’m starting to tune into my kids’ emotions. They don’t have a lot of words yet for how they’re feeling. Everything about this is so disorienting and new. Yet, when they don’t think about what they’re missing, they really seem happy. They laugh and play together much better than they did when we were rushing everywhere every day. But those video calls are so darn hard. So tomorrow, we will read Right now, I am fine. And maybe they’ll even do some more coloring. This is Truthful Discipline.

We keep trying old school discipline and we keep failing. The kids screaming, us yelling or threatening to take away the few things they have left in the world. It’s a terrible spiral and such a hard habit to break. After all, authoritative punishment is something most of us grew up with. So I’m not just fighting against the habits I’ve built up in my last 6.5 years as a parent, but also throughout my life. 

I don’t even like cats

Completely allergic to them. Yet something about this picture kept drawing me back in. The beautiful composition. The soulful gaze. The dichotomy — many cultures teach that black cats are bad luck, yet this sweet kitten seems to be urging us forward into a fecund tomorrow. 

Giving my soul back to HaShem

I am reading a book for my High Holy Day liturgy course, Pathway to Prayer. It is definitely not the first book on Jewish prayer that I would recommend. (This is the third class in a three class series.) Though, if you have a background in attending High Holy Days and want to sink into the iterations of the Amidah, I am thoroughly enjoying it. I appreciate that the translation part incorporates explanatory information, which allows me to uncover traditional understandings of metaphors I have been wrestling with for many years. 

The Amidah, Standing Prayer, is the height of every Jewish prayer service. It is comprised of multiple blessings, which change according to whether it is a weekday or Shabbat or other holy day. One of the concluding prayers focuses on thanking HaShem. One of the things we are thankful for is “for our souls that are entrusted to You (while we sleep).” The footnote for this phrase explains: The Midrash (Tehillim 25) tells us that every night a person gives over his weary soul to God, and He returns it each morning renewed. It is concerning this that we say the brachah of “Elokai Neshamah” each morning.” (Rabbi Mayer Birnbaum, p25.) 

I had learned this concept in Tefillah I, which is devoted to understanding the traditional weekday morning service. Yet, something about these words in this time deeply resonate with me. I am so anxious about my weary soul that I seek out distractions from sleep every.single.night. I even seek distractions from meditating into writing this blog post. Yet, if I could sink into giving my weary soul back to the soul of the universe while I sleep, perhaps I could make a good night’s sleep as much a part of my routine as I have reading a psalm in the morning and counting the omer at night. 

Resting in the Soul of Souls

Do I completely believe my soul leaves my body when I dream? No. Yet, I can still find nourishment in the embrace of the Soul of Souls. The beautiful heart of reality, the unknowable mystery beyond physical being. My metaphysical body aches to disattach from the never-ending chattering of my brain. Swimming in the sea of dreams, I am renewed. May we each find spiritual and physical nourishment in our sleep. And may the beauty of discipline reach through the anxiety of these days and welcome you with loving arms. 

This day was much more disciplined before COVID-19…

5779 / 2019: Truthful holy discipline, Halacha: The Jewish Way.

5778 / 2018: Connecting with inner strength and deep will.

5777 / 2017: Have compassion for where you are today on your journey.

Books, Books, Books.

Right Now, I am Fine is a free book PDF download, available as an illustrated book or coloring book. It was written by Daniela Owen, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist. My deep gratitude to my colleague, Elizheva Hurvich, for alerting me to this resource.