Forty-one days of the Omer: Foundation of Foundation

Today is forty-one days, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer. יסוד שביסוד, Yesod ShebeYesod. Foundation of Foundation.

Can you hear the jubilee calling softly in the distance? Eight more days of reflection before we reach the heights of revelation on Shavuot. Today is a day of reflection.

Contemplating all the insight that came from the previous aspects of Divine emanation. The Foundation of Foundation is the bursting forth of Divine energy through the conduit of a single human. It is the magic of communal action towards the common good. It is the human flourishing achieved in deep community.

And it all starts within each person individually. How do you experience the Divine? What have these days of reflection meant to you? Have you started to change an engrained habit? Can you see yourself more clearly now?

Last year, my Omer counting led me to try to find ways out of my stress eating. This year, my counting is leading me towards deepening my service. It’s ironic that I accepted a job as a Bar Mitzvah tutor at age thirteen without a second thought. As a rabbinical student, I’ve been wary of entering Jewish spaces as a leader. This coming year, I am committed to sharing the gift of Jewish wisdom as widely as I can.

I am also reflecting on how much I still have to learn about the core values that drive me and the way I am perceived. Two years ago, I wrote about the importance of understanding one’s personality and the journey towards actualization as reflected in the Enneagram. I want to delve deeper into those waters.

What concrete steps will you take towards expressing the depths of your foundation?

Previously on this day in the Omer

41 days of the Omer 5779 / 2018: Rooting ourselves in community.

41 days of the Omer 5778 / 2017: Personality as the expression of one’s foundation.


Forty days of the Omer: Splendor of Bonding

Today Jack graduated from kindergarten!

Today is forty days, which is five weeks and five days of the Omer. הוד שביסוד, Hod ShebeYesod, Splendor of Bonding.

I’ve had a deeply emotional week. I said goodbye to colleagues who graduated and were ordained. Strong women who profoundly enriched my studies and soul journey. I’ve reflected on how much time procrastinating and electronic distraction distance me from the people who are right in front of me. I learned a bit about the history of Jewish women in Los Angeles, and witnessed a soul-affirming excerpt from the Jewish Women’s Theatre production, “True Colors.” And on this fortieth day of the Omer, I celebrated my eldest son completing his first year of elementary school.

The foundation of my life is my Chinese Jewish family. My husband, Chung-Mau, fearlessly pursues his passion for woodworking. He has been my role model since we began dating. He had a set weekend routine of going to Saturday morning classes, which gave me the push I needed to commit to attending Shabbat services consistently (and on time). Every step I’ve taken into the depths of Judaism have come from his support. I have been dreaming of our children attending Mandarin immersion public school since we were dating and the newspaper announced the opening of a new immersion school in West LA. My dream came true in the San Gabriel Valley.

This is the Splendor of Bonding. Allowing yourself to trust other people and sink into the future you can build together. It is easy to be cynical and sarcastic. It takes strength to be vulnerable and open.

Previously on this day in the Omer

40 days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Splendor of bonding flowing freely.

40 days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: Connecting to the holy sparks within.

Thirty-nine days of the Omer: Eternal Bonding

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Today is thirty-nine days, which is five weeks and four days of the Omer. נצח שביסוד, Netzach ShebeYesod, Eternal Bonding.

Have you found your people? Are your people spread out, never quite all together in one place?

Or do you feel like few people really get you? That it’s hard to go deep with most people?

Passionate discussions

There are many things I could talk about for hours. My contempt for the end of Game of Thrones (and my refutation of the male fantasy of the superiority of masculine asceticism over deeply bonded feminine spirituality). My pursuit of a blush that stays visible all day (and my new found fascination with YouTube).

And most of all: the soul-crushing impact of poorly managed spiritual communities. The impact of the membership dues structure of American synagogues is difficult to put it into words.

Jewish community sometimes fails deeply

I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey to rabbinical school. How surprised I was to hear the call and how unsurprised people who have known me all my life were. After all, I was the first kid from the kids’ choir to be asked to join the adult choir when I was Bat Mitzvah’d. I immediately began tutoring other kids for their B’nai Mitzvah. And I was deeply involved in USY.

In the middle of my childhood, my folks requested a reduced-fee membership and the synagogue declined to give it to them. I continued working there and my folks started using my choir seat High Holiday ticket to get into services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That was the beginning of a slow, but steady slide away from organized Judaism. For eight long years, I was completely disengaged. Facing my mortality via thyroid cancer forced me to re-evaluate my life choices.

Despite having just completed my third year of rabbinical school, I still have anxiety about my eternal bond. My commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people has not wavered. Yet, the soul piercing wounds of rejection (first, for not being rich enough; then for daring to have unpopular political opinions) remain with me.

Creating communities of love and support

I get that synagogues are organizations that need money to function. I don’t expect to offer my professional abilities for free. On the other hand, I hope to be part of communities who are always equally welcoming, whether you can afford to attend a gala or you can barely afford the gas to get to synagogue. Similarly, I hope to model radical inclusion across the political spectrum. I am living proof that people can evolve: that given time, even the most engrained ideas can be transformed. And I know moral people can disagree deeply on fundamental issues. After all, that is the legacy of the Talmud.

May we all heal from the wounds of disrupted bonding. And may we make space for eternal bonding to our true selves, core values, and the foundational communities of our lives.

Previously on this day in the Omer

39 days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Eternal community and personal responsibility in relationships.

39 days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: Eternal foundation within my family and within myself.

Thirty-eight days of the Omer: Truth of Foundation

Today is thirty-eight days, which is five weeks and three days of the Omer., אמת שביסוד, Emet ShebeYesod, Truth of Foundation.

The deep truth that underlies the foundation of your life is the adult swan in the above picture. It shades you from the harsh light of alternative perspectives. It provides a soft landing for every new endeavor. A loving bed of feathers gliding on the stream of life.

Foundational truth: what guides your life?

Two years ago, I meditated into the truth that is the foundation of my Jewish journey. My psychological and spiritual health depends on Jewish wisdom and Jewish prayer. I still struggle with this truth. I challenge it and question it on a daily basis. Days like today bring me back to the full force of that reality.

Attending ordinations and graduations

Last year, I attended the Ziegler Rabbinical School ordination on the day before the thirty-eighth day of the Omer. This year, I had the holy honor of witnessing five of my colleagues transition from student to alumna. A brilliant Jewish artist, Revital Somekh-Goldreich, received a Masters in Jewish Studies. An incredibly insightful, soul-piercing sister, Dina Kuperstock, became a Jewish Chaplain. Two sisters whose voices ring with heavenly conviction, Orly Campbell and Bryce Megdal, became Cantors. And another sister, whose presence has invigorated my own studies over the last two years, Cantor Jennie Chabon, became a Rabbi.

I cried a lot today. There are so many levels of emotion involved in the completion of one’s studies. Today, Stephen S. Wise Temple’s sanctuary was filled with deep authenticity and holiness. Five women who represent so much of what Judaism have to offer: artistic engagement and democratization of text study; the next frontier of Jewish chaplaincy and creating sacred space; the voices to inspire us to reach into our depths; and the clarion call of truth and meaning.

Purpose of this counting

At the end of the day, the seven weeks of counting the Omer provides an opportunity to engage our depths in a formal way. It is a structured path to understanding what is important to you and how you are embodying those values. Now is the time to articulate your core mission statement. And to make a plan to more fully manifest that vision in your every day life.

Embracing my life’s purpose

While I want to remain humble, I also want to stop being afraid of the future I am creating. As much as I love all of the secular work I did, I am going to work deeply to allow myself to create a future where I am able to serve spiritual seekers and spread Jewish wisdom full time. I recognize that Southern California is blessed with an abundance of rabbinic supervision.

I pray to find my place in this matrix. I will pursue the truth that continuously transforms my life: Jewish ethical mysticism is the salve for my troubled soul. Instead of pretending my brokenness doesn’t exist, it allows me to honor my cracks and work towards healing. It reminds me that everything matters. Every thought, feeling, and action has consequences. May I embody the holy teachings I am learning. May I hold space for the souls around me. And may I allow space for my own transformation to continue.

How will you honor the truth of the foundation of your life?

Previously on this day in the Omer

38 Days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: The truth that is the foundation of my Jewish journey.

38 Days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Witnessing the ordination of Rabbi Aviva Funke.

Thirty-seven days of the Omer: Boundaries in Bonding

Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Today is thirty-seven days, which is five weeks and two days of the Omer. גבורה שביסוד, Gevurah ShebeYesod, Boundaries in Bonding.

Counting the Omer can bring clarity to your own vision of Lovingkindness, Grace, Boundaries, Discipline, Beauty, Truth, Endurance, Eternity, Splendor, Prayer, Bonding, Foundation, Sovereignty, and Indwelling.

This is a chance to meditate into your own road map. What values are most important to you? How do you want to manifest them in your life? Do your daily interactions align with your highest values? How can your thoughts, feelings, and actions reflect your values?

You need a clear vision of what is important to you before you can grow healthy boundaries. This isn’t about being selfish or aloof. This is about healthy bonding based on deep clarity.

Sometimes, we are afraid to assert our boundaries, thinking that this will hurt the people we are building bonds with. Or we are so separated from our true selves that we don’t understand what a healthy boundary is.

Politically, boundaries are manipulated and weaponized. Boundaries are disparaged by people claiming to speak for the less powerful. The breakdown of boundaries between poeples has led to the rise of far right political parties across the world.

Yet, deep health relies on clear boundaries. I need space for my own journey. My children need space to grow into themselves. My community needs space to feel secure and coalesce around shared values.

May you discern the boundaries you need to thrive and develop healthy bonds.

Previously on this day in the Omer

37 days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Hold space for yourself while building community.

37 days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: Discipline in interpersonal relationships.

Thirty-six days of the Omer: Lovingkindness in Bonding

Today is thirty-six days, which is five weeks and one day of the Omer. חסד שביסוד, Chesed ShebeYesod, Lovingkindness in Bonding.

My picture choice is not only a reflection of the awe-inspiring process of nurturing souls to independence. It’s true, I need to meditate on the spiritual aspects of parenting and remind myself that my journey is not the only one occurring. In fact, nothing I’m doing is as important as what I can do for the people around me, starting with my partner and my children.

The child within clings to you

Right, but that’s not the main point of this picture. Look again and think about the child within yourself. Think about all the parts of you that you’ve tucked away to create a more “adult” you. Or a more professional you. Or a more educated you. Think about all the parts of you that are buried in the shadows of you, yearning for a chance to be guided into the light.

The hand clasping your’s is the hand of infinite possibility. A person builds barriers around herself, holding inner desires and other people at a distance. These barriers are natural and help us survive growing up. But they need to be released to find real transformation.

Breaking the wheel of unhealthy habits

I’ve been chipping away at my armor for fifteen years. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I woke up to how asleep I was in my own life. It’s been a slow process — and no, I do not credit cancer with this transformation. But I do mark cancer as the turning point in my life. I realized I needed to take responsibility for creating the life I want to live. And I painfully felt the lack of spiritual guidance in my life. It took a year for me to go from that insight to joining my uncle for Shabbat services at his shul. And it took many years before I fully internalized that being of service to others, deep lovingkindness, is the foundation of bonding.

We cannot stay rooted to our ideals living in a bubble. At the end of the day, the foundation of life is our relationships. More than any words I write or read, how I act around other people is the true test of my merit.

Practically, for me, this means placing firmer boundaries on my use of social media. It means taking a moment to detox from screens and refocus on the humans in front of me. Our families deserve our full attention. Our time together is so precious, and so fleeting.

May you find the action that will manifest the Lovingkindness of Bonding in your life. And may you be deeply bonded to the child within.

Previously on this day in the Omer

36 Days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Embrace full-throated love.

36 Days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: Selfless love connects covenantal communities.

Thirty-five days of the Omer: Indwelling of Splendor

Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito… from Pixabay

Today is thirty-five days, which is five weeks of the Omer. שכינה שבהוד, Shechinah ShebeHod, Indwelling of Splendor.

I had no idea what to write tonight, so I scrolled through Facebook instead of writing or sleeping. And then, I re-read my meditations from previous years. I’d like to continue the thread I started two years ago, describing the Splendor that surrounds us and gives us life.

Everything material has a soul. Everything that can be seen physically connects to the spiritual world. When electrons disappear and reappear, they are moving through the spiritual realm. I never took a physics class – the closest I got to understanding how atoms work was AP Chemistry. You don’t have to agree that science and spirituality are explaining the same phenomena in different languages. For me, this works. The interconnectedness described in science fiction is real. We can choose to wake up to the bonds between us; or we can choose to stay asleep.

Indwelling of Splendor begins with accepting our interconnectedness. What can you do today to make space for holy splendor? How will you slow down long enough to hear splendor whispering to you?

I will bask in communal prayer and camaraderie. And then I will delve into some holy conversations on lost objects (to summarize what I learned in my Talmud class this semester). I hope it isn’t shocking that I write on Shabbat (since after all, I am posting this on Shabbat). It is one of many areas of Halacha that I have made a conscious choice to go another way. May your path to the Sovereignty of Splendor nourish your soul’s journey.

Previously on this day in the Omer

Read this first. 35 Days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: Three-fold souls and bonding with The Infinite.

35 Days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Slipping and remembering proper boundaries to allow Splendor to flourish.

Thirty-four days of the Omer: Foundation of Splendor

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Today is thirty-four days, which is four weeks and six days of the Omer. יסוד שבהוד, Yesod ShebeHod, Foundation of Splendor.

Spiritual reflection is another escape route. Like Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube, pondering ideals can be a way to let go of every day concerns. Taking a break from real life, providing sanctuary from the storm. That’s nice, but a spiritual life that does not connect to concrete reality is not enough. It will neither transform you nor allow you to discover the true depths of truth waiting for you.

The Foundation of Splendor is where the ethereal meets the material. What binds you to the life you’re living? The image above foreshadows my answer: parenting. I don’t have the words or the instincts to be the type of parent I want to be. My head in the clouds, I can’t understand why a three year-old wont follow simple directions; why talking about his dreams is so much more interesting to him than actually going to sleep to have dreams.

That daily prayer practice that I’ve been struggling to maintain — that is what brings me strength to breathe through my frustration and remember what kind of parent I want to be. I am trying hard not to lean into my instinctual reactions to toddlers. I’m great with babies and adults. Everything in between, that’s where I’m leaning into growing.

And I trust that making time, even five minutes of time, every day for spiritual reflection refocuses me on who I want to be and how I want to engage with the world. It all comes back to those morning blessings. I pray to cling to goodness and holiness and to maintain control over my Yetzer HaRa, my inclination towards destructiveness. Every hour provides more opportunities to test the strength of my connection to Splendor. Every day, I pray to fortify the foundation of splendor; making it a bit more earthquake-proof.

How do you manifest splendor in your daily life?

Previously on this day in the Omer

34 days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Making time on a daily basis for soul-nourishing, spirit-enhancing activities.

34 days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: Leaving a transdenominational rabbinical student retreat; praying to hold onto the wisdom learned.

Lag B’Omer, Thirty-three days!

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Today is thirty-three days, which is four weeks and five days of the Omer. Numbers in Hebrew are represented by letters of the alphabet. The Hebrew letter lamed ל is equivalent to 30, while gimmel ג is three. Together they make 33, and the number is pronounced “Lag.” That’s how we arrive at the extremely minor holiday of Lag B’Omer!

הוד שבהוד, Hod of Hod, Splendor of Splendor.

I’ve been struggling to compose this post. It is difficult to feel the full force of Hod with lingering post-nasal drip and coughing that makes people move away from you. (I promise, I’m not contagious.)

I marvel at Birkat Ha’Shachar, the Morning Blessings. They begin every morning service, whether on a regular day or a holiday. The journey they trace in my life is so deep. It is by meditating on them, specifically on thanking God for guiding me on my life’s journey (a poetic translation of המכין מצעדי גבר Hameichin Mitzadei Gaver). I spent a Shabbat service contemplating what if I believed the Divine could guide me, what would that guidance tell me? And that’s when I heard the calling to go to rabbinical school.

During the six years between hearing that call and committing to full-time studies, I deepened my connection to these prayers. I wrestled with the idea of girding Israel with strength and crowning Israel with glory. It took years for me to get over my (misinterpretation) of the plain meaning of that text. As someone who spent decades as a peace activist, the words twisted in my head. But once I relaxed and realized these ancient prayers are not a statement about modern geo-politics, but a plea for strength and glory for the Jewish people, I melted into collective truth.

The reality of Jewish peoplehood, of the desire for resolve to continue facing incredible odds, of continuing to exist despite anti-Jewish prejudice, is profound. Even if you’re not Jewish, it takes tremendous fortitude to keep moving forward regardless of what life throws at you. Whether that is physical illness or mental fatigue.

May I continue to feel the Divine presence in my life. May I continue to have the strength to keep moving forward and may I always remember that HaShem gives strength to those who are weary.

Previously on this day in the Omer

Lag B’Omer 5778 / 2018: What is your essential prayer for yourself?

Lag B’Omer 5777 / 2017: Yearning for meaning and depth.

Thirty-two days of the Omer: Eternal Splendor

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Today is thirty-two days, which is four weeks and four days of the Omer. נצח שבהוד, Netzach ShebeHod, Eternal Splendor.

Eternity and Splendor, the pillars of the Temple. The pillars of the structure we build to meet the Divine. What are your inner pillars? What ideas do you hold fast to when life doesn’t go exactly right? I hold onto Goodness and Holiness. Goodness, my vision of a just and truthful world. Holiness, the grace and compassion that shelter the world in a loving embrace.

It used to make me anxious and feel unworthy that my thoughts, words, and deeds were not always rooted in Goodness and Holiness. I am beginning to sink into the fact that I am an unfolding love. I maintain responsibility for my speech and actions, but I try to not hold myself to the impossible standard of perfection.

By realizing it is not possible to stay completely connected to Eternal Splendor all the moments of my life, my attachment to Eternal Splendor deepens.

Moments of Eternal Splendor

Every time I wrap myself in a tallit, a holy prayer shawl, and pray that my soul will be able to bless the Divine.

Every time I wrap tefillin around my arm and crown myself with tefillin.

Every time I wind the teffilin around my middle finger and betroth myself to the Holy One, Blessed be She, using the same words I used to betroth myself to my beshert.

Every time I sink into Ahavah Rabbah, and feel the Divine’s unwavering love for me and for the entire universe, and know that the pursuit of knowledge is wrapped in heavenly love.

Every time my person meditation crescendoes into the holy words of Elohai N’tzor, My God Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking lies.

Danny Maseng’s beautiful interpretation of Elohai N’tzor

Previously on this day in the Omer

32 Days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Is there something in life that connects you to pure holiness?

32 Days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: The holiness of community, reflected from my first experience at Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s Transdenominational Rabbinical Student Retreat.