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.
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.
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.
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.
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days of the Omer. תפארת שבהוד. Tiferet ShebeHod, Beauty of Splendor.
There are so many roadblocks on the way to a meaningful Jewish prayer experience. Theology and theodicy get in the way. The literal words of traditional prayers seem anachronistic, sometimes goyish. The intellectual brain doesn’t want to turn off. The world is exhausting and curling up with a good book or a bad TV show sound more appealing.
I know my words alone wont convince anyone that prayer is beautiful. My job is to sort out how to create meaningful prayer experiences. To open up the possibility of meaning through active participation. That is why I am participating in the Davennen Leadership Training Institute. I’m not going to wow you with my guitar skills (I have none; my hands cramp up holding a pencil). I won’t be writing new melodies. My goal is to deepen my own prayer practice and deepen my ability to create space for other people to find their way into prayer.
Personal prayer is a deeply meditative experience. It helps me rise above my immediate reactions and to hold space for other people. It also reminds me to do my duty, regardless of how I’m feeling. I suppose that is the Stoic influence of Rabbi Finley in my prayer. It goes back to my understanding of the yoke of heaven.
What does it mean to be bound by The Holy One? To accept a yoke? Is it merely a heavy burden of arcane law? Or is it a guiding force, correcting natural inclinations and moving me in the direction I yearn to travel?
I choose the ethical, mystical yoke of Judaism. Throughout the day and the year, Jewish practice reminds me of what is most important to me and who I want to be. Jewish wisdom guides my transformation. Holding space for prayer creates the opportunity to experience beautiful splendor. Emptying my mind of worries, and pop culture obsessions, frees me to dance with angels.
Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days of the Omer. גבורה שבהוד, Gevurah of Hod, Discipline of Splendor.
Unfortunately, I do not reach the depths of my being every time I pray. Nor do I feel at one with the universe. When I am disciplined and make time for prayer on a daily basis, I am most likely to get to that place, and sink in more quickly, than when I lean into my excuses.
Opening up space within myself for expansive love and revelatory splendor does not come naturally. I have to remind myself that I am worthy of becoming more deeply me. I have to remind myself that who I am today is not bound by who I was yesterday.
When you make space for splendor on a daily basis, you make space for the possibility of overwhelming change and complete stasis. I have always been a loving person building bridges to the infinite. The discipline of my splendor reminds me that the process continues to unfold.
My 2019 Omer count did not include four daily meditations due to illness (i.e. I counted without blogging). I published these thoughts today to provide myself a complete reflection of the Omer for 5779.
Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the Omer. חסד שבהוד, Chesed ShebeHod, Grace of Splendor.
We begin a new week of the Omer. While every emanation contains multitudes, Hod is a particularly amorphous sephira. The twin pillar of the Temple, Hod stands alongside Netzach, Eternal Endurance. Hod is prophecy and it is prayer. Join me in reflecting on prayer this week. It was the theme I chose last year, and frankly, it is the urtext of my journey.
Rav Chayim of Volozhin wrote The Soul of Life. The complete book was translated into English by Eliezer Lipa Moskowitz. Today, I read a few sections for my Jewish thought class. Here are some highlights:
And the matter of the word “blessed” is not an expression of attributing glory and giving praise as is commonly accepted among the masses…
However, the truth is that ba-rookh, its meaning is an expression of increase and expansion….
…that “ba-rookh ah-tah YHV”H“, its meaning is to draw forth and cause the flow of life [force] from the Source of Life to the name of the Holy One (blessed be He)…
To be blessed is to increase and expand. Expand beyond the limitations imposed on us, by ourselves and by others. Break free of the chains of bondage. Walk upright, without shame, towards the person you are.
From the wellsprings of life we come. The Source of Life is always available, and I have the opportunity in each moment to flow with Goodness and Light. I choose whether to lean into my cynicism or my sincerity. I pray that I choose Life.
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the Omer שחינה שבנצח. Shechinah of Netzach. Indwelling of Eternity.
Shabbat: the Palace in Time
Our grandest vision for Shabbat is to experience the Indwelling of Eternity. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, we build a palace in time to meet the Divine.
As with all aspects of Judaism, I have wrestled with this concept. I try to understand my guilt for Not Keeping Shabbat Like I know I Should. I try to understand the will within me that keeps me glued to electronic devices.
I sink into prayer and flow with the universe and forget my neuroses.
Wrestling with the Divine and The Way / Halacha
Rabbi Jeremy Kridel, an erudite Humanistic Jew, published a meditation on Shabbat this week. We have a fundamental disagreement in that I know the Divine exists. Nevertheless, his poem calls to me. It reminds me that everything I know about How to Keep Shabbat was created by humans. I believe the Jewish tradition, including Halacha, offers a deeply soul-nourishing experience. At the same time, I am no less Jewish if my Friday night through Saturday night occurs without the prescribed prohibitions and compulsory prayers / sanctification.
I pray Jewish prayers, I enact Jewish ritual because it is the spiritual technology that speaks in my soul’s frequency. I touch the deepest parts of myself in prayer. My soul speaks when I chant Torah and Haftorah.
Towards a Unified Existence
I am still working towards a unified existence. And while I hope my prayers will become more regular, I am consciously trying to let go of the voice within who judges me for “Not Being a Better Jew.” The Halachic way is not the only way to be Jewish. In fact, it never was. I say this not to disparage Halacha; I have deep respect for it. I say this because I want to embrace the fullness of who I am and be grateful that I can deepen myself through Judaism, as a God-knower without being a strict observer of The Way. (The Way is a more accurate translation of Halacha than ‘Jewish law.’)
It is not my Shabbat observance that I am most anxious about. I worry most about how I speak to other people. Am I learning from my mistakes as a parent? Am I helping my family deepen their connection to their own soul and the souls around them? Am I stating my needs clearly, while holding compassion and empathy for the people with whom I interact?
We shall never be ashamed
The Ahavah Rabbah, The Great Love of the Divine for humanity described in the prayer that precedes the Sh’ma, states:
“Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name, so that we may never be ashamed.”
I’ve been thinking about ולא נבוש לעלם ועד, v’lo navosh l’olam vaed, the second line of this phrase. It is a common concept in Judaism. Participating in Judaism is designed to keep us from being ashamed. Always a collective verb. Olam means world. A more accurate translation is throughout all space and time. In every tangible, measurable aspect of consciousness, we shall be free of shame.
I am determined to spend some time during this Shabbat living into this idea. Letting go of my shame and being present to the joy that surrounds me.
May we all have a bit of time in the next 25 hours for pure presence. May we make space for the Indwelling of Eternity.
Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days of the Omer. יסוד שבנצח, Yesod ShebeNetzach, Foundation of Endurance.
The world is not burning and you are important
There are plenty of shadows in the world. Plenty of real things to fear and to fight. Nevertheless, endurance requires allowing ourselves to take time to reflect on our personal journeys, which are as important as our communal life.
Ideals: where are they when things don’t go your way?
Is the foundation of your speech rooted in love? When you become enraged, are you able to contain the anger or does it seep into all of your interactions?
I have a very low tolerance for lies. I try to understand that people tell them to avoid confrontations and to protect themselves. One of the things that I am trying to understand more deeply is conflict avoidance. I was forged in fire. I am deeply attracted to cool, calm people; yet, I fear I will never fully understand the source of their power.
No one’s perfect; Lean into your gifts
In any event, the key is recognizing your essence and working with it. The Foundation of my Endurance is my passion. I have no poker face — it lights up when I’m engaged in a topic and it drifts away when I’m bored.
I cannot believe how blessed I am that my beshert believes in my passion enough to make it possible for me sink into wisdom. Still, it’s hard to stay focused on academics 24/7, especially when fighting off illness. So I am equally grateful for TV (even when it makes no sense) and makeup.
Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days of the Omer. הוד שבנצח, Hod ShebeNetzach, Splendor of Endurance.
Hod and Netzach are the pillars of the Temple. Splendor and Endurance hold up the edifice we create to interface with the Eternal One. They are drawn to one another, and rarely are discussed separately. They shimmer in and out of view. I think more has been written about them by modern seekers defining the counting of the Omer than you will find in any classical text of Kabbalah.
How do you bring holiness into your life on a daily basis?
I try to remind myself that I am not the center of the universe, or even the center of my existence, by covering my head. Either with a yarmulke or a hat (or on a rare occasion, with a headband). If you ask me about my kippah, and you’re a stranger, I’ll probably smile and tell you I wear it for the same reason a man wears one.
My head covering is my most consistent outward manifestation of my search for depth and meaning. For years, I’ve tried to have a consistent, daily prayer practice. I am deeply troubled at how hard it is for me to fulfill this desire. It is probably the reason my public meditations on the Omer are not consistent this year. Because I am staring into the abyss between who I want to be and where I am.
Perhaps I should stop writing until I sort out how to live the life I want to live. And then, I remind myself that this blog was created to be an exploration of my journey. I’m not perfect and never will be. Let’s continue reaching for splendor and eternity together.