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. 

               

The heart of discipline during a pandemic: Day 9 of Omer, Gevurah of Gevurah 5780

Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the Omer. גבורה שבגבורה, Gevurah ShebeGevurah, Strength of Strength, Judgement of Judgement, Justice of Justice, Discipline of Discipline.

Is it fair to seek discipline in a pandemic?

I’m not sure. Constantly I marvel that my husband’s job works at the same pace it did before our shelter in place order. Worry sets in deeply about other parents, especially other parents of young children. Sometimes, I worry about myself. Anxiety abounds for my kids, my nieces and nephews, the other children I know. Anxious they will be sent back to school and summer camps too soon because it is so unreasonable to expect us all to continue being working adults and 24/7 care givers. Knowing people are stuck in abusive relationships. People who knew they were dealing with mental health issues before the pandemic. All of us facing the trauma of our reality. Many cogent reasons exists to denounce discipline in a pandemic.

Structure sets me free

Equally true, structure to my day is soul expanding. Knowing there is a poem waiting to be ingested, a whiteboard waiting to gather my thoughts. Accepting that my hair will always start the day as a rat’s nest. Greeting our four-year-old with love when he bangs his way into our room, climbs into bed, and immediately starts knotting my hair. Focusing intently on getting my first grader through his assignments for the day, desperate to keep him on track. Not considering the reserves I need to help both of us study; because my studies seem so much less important. Looking forward, as the day arcs towards my meditation on another omer count, another refraction of the Divine. My structure isn’t perfect. It doesn’t fit into a normal schedule. Yet it remains vital to my sanity and my incremental shift towards deeper resiliency. 

Waking up to God’s call

May be you are too distracted by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Hulu / Netflix / HBO / AppleTV / Disney+ to hear the call. Even when I start to sink into something deeper, I am called away by one of those things. Is it possible to stay connected to the path of righteousness when all you want is to be able to leave your house without a mask?

Again I remind myself that tethering myself to love, justice, truth, and beauty will make it easier to ride the waves of anxiety, trauma, sadness, and irritation that are natural side effects of sheltering at home. 

I am reminded of this verse from Psalm 12 that I read this morning. (You’ll need to purchase Alter’s Book of Psalms or The Hebrew Bible* to experience the breadth of the poem with the same intellectual distance and deep penetration that I had the honor to experience.) 

Lean onto the Divine staff while following the Divine rod. None of this is beyond us. Each of us has it within ourselves to craft a vision for who we want to be and what we need to get us there. Myself, I realized that my anger, resentment, and harmful judgment are stripped away during Shabbat morning services. Wanting to sink into that part of myself, I chose rabbinical school — both to help myself become the best version of me I can be and to help other people learn the untapped spiritual technology bursting from within Judaism. 

Don’t feel guilty for sending the call to voicemail

It took me six years to enter school after hearing God’s call. So if you need a bit more time during this traumatic experience to binge Unorthodox on Netflix or Hillary on Hulu or Picard on CBS All Access, enjoy. If Tiger King or Westworld or an 80s-movie marathon helps you survive this battle with time, enjoy. The Ground of Being is with us always. Many people have many valid critiques of Interstellar, but the part it gets perfectly is the way time bends and melds into itself. That’s why I say this day continues to exist and reference my past meditations on this particular Divine refraction. 

Did Coronavirus kill trust?

Trust has been on a precarious thread for some time. When humans stop believing in the institutions they created, trust is broken. Herd immunity was collapsing long before this pandemic because people believe their own “research” skills over scientific consensus. Verifiable truth has given way to post-modern distrust of reality. Objective facts exist and I will choose trust in those facts, and in the ever-living presence of ultimate ideals, until my dying day. 

This day exists in many ways…

5779 / 2019: The lion within pursuing me metaphor.

5778 / 2018: This is the day of the internal / eternal battle.

5777 / 2017: Finding internal discipline while losing sleep with a child who refuses to sleep.

Read a book to distract you from distractions

               

*Note to Amazon: it is gross that you categorize Alter’s translation of the Hebrew Bible as a Christian book. It is the sacred text of Jews. The Jewish Bible is not a subcategory of the Christian Bible. It is a completely different book with a different trajectory.

Covenantal Love of Strength / Discipline: Eight Days of the Omer 5780 Chesed ShebeGevurah

Tonight begins eight days of the Omer, which is one week and one day of the Omer. חסד שבגבורה, Chesed ShebeGevurah, Covenantal Love of Strength.

Entering the Week of Judgment and Discipline

Embarking on a different emanation of the Divine, which is the natural opposite and mirror image of Chesed / Covenantal Love. Gevurah connects to strength, power, judgment, and discipline. It is the power-oriented side of the tree of life, reflecting to separation. In the traditional, two-gendered understanding of humanity and the Divine, it is the feminine side of God / life.

Your rod and Your staff

One of my Hebrew teachers, Rabbi Avraham Greenstein, is a brilliant linguist with deep insight on the meaning of Jewish texts. While explaining Psalm 23, he explained the end of verse 4, “Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me.”  

Rabbi Greenstein said: “A rod keeps sheep in line. God wakes us up and reminds us that there’s a better way to do things. One leans on a staff. This represents God as support.” 

The rod and the staff are clear metaphors for Gevurah and Chesed: Geverah is the rod, keeping us in line, guiding us towards righteousness. Chesed is the staff, supporting us as we walk through the difficulties of life. Both are needed; both comfort us. 

Reality Check

It is hard to stay disciplined when living through a pandemic. I certainly can’t claim to be using my time wisely. We try to stay on top of my son’s distance learning assignments. Constantly reminding myself to lean into my covenantal love. Reminding myself to accept that my six year-old cannot finish his work as quickly as he would if he was in a classroom with a real teacher and a passel of friends.

Despite my best intentions, I am exhausted every afternoon. I never feel like I have enough head space (or quiet) to do my own homework. Then, once everyone goes to sleep, I bury myself in videos to wash away the stress of another day, continuing the cycle of sleep deprivation. So yes, I am not the poster girl of discipline.

Perhaps I can be the truth telling believer in the Love of Strength. Be gentle with yourself and honor that there is strength in simply surviving this tumultuous time. Whether you have small children under foot or just the scared child within. Lean on the staff while following the rod. 

This day exists forever

5779 / 2019: Lovingkindness in Strength in memory of Lori Gilbert Kaye

5778 / 2018: Discipline in service of a larger goal.

5777 / 2017: The pure essence of discipline is love.

Indwelling Presence of God’s Love: Seven Days, One Week of the Omer

Today is the seventh day of the Omer, which is one week.  שכינה שבחסד, Shekhinah ShebeChesed, Eternal Presence of Covenantal Love.

The Tree of Life

The Sephirot are often depicted as a tree. You can see the roots in heaven, in the worlds beyond this world at the top, while the roots in this world are at the body of the Sephirot tree, in the tenth Sephira, Shekhinah / Malchut, Eternal Presence, Indwelling of the Divine, Sovereignty of the Divine.

Grace: the Indwelling Presence of God’s Love

That part of God that is always present. Always nurturing you. The part you can suckle from whenever you need honey from the crag.

Often, the indwelling presence of God’s love is described as grace. That overflowing, overwhelming, deeply felt connection with the Divine.

Where is God during this pandemic?

And yet, I know that it is quite difficult for people to connect with God’s grace during this pandemic. How in the world can you feel God’s presence in the midst of the most awful thing that has ever happened in most of our lifetimes? A threat that cannot be stopped at the present time. That is not coming for us because of who we are or what we believe. How can I claim to understand the Ground of Being when I am afraid to walk out my front door?

The Power of Shared Experience

I cannot predict the future. I do not know when it will be safe to live as we used to live, to hug freely and with complete abandon. To touch one another, dance with one another, laugh with one another, sing with one another, cry with one another. I think about my last day providing chaplaincy care at a hospital. I sat close to a patient’s family member in the chapel, witnessing her healing prayer. I know how important the human touch is. How impossible it is to simulate being in the same room with people. I know the pulsing energy of multiple people moving in the same direction, spiritually and emotionally, together, in the same physical space.

And yet, I also know how powerfully connected we can be by shared cultural experiences, even when we have them separately. All of us realizing the power of black super heroes. All of us processing the social distancing orders of a new virus that we have no immunity from. And perhaps, many of us flexing our spiritual muscles, strengthening our resistance to fear and riding the waves of uncertainty rather than drowning.

Choose Life

I thought that meant something completely different when my world was rocked by the movie Trainspotting. (Never got through the book, but I had the poster on my wall in college.)

What I mean now is: choose a vision of yourself and the world that brings you meaning. Choose to live towards that vision every day. Allow yourself the opportunity to swim in the pools of meaning that exist everywhere, throughout all spaces and times. L’olam va’ed.

So yes, I swim in the never-ending knowledge of God’s grace. Covenantal Love does not require a Man with a Beard in the Sky taking care of the world. The sephirot are the emanations of the Divine that can be (partially) understood by mortals. We are the only ones who can save ourselves. That doesn’t mean we are the only things that exist.

This day exists in many ways

5779 / 2019: The Sovereignty of Love.

5778 / 2018: The Presence of Love.

5777 / 2017: The Indwelling of Love.

Photo by Johannes Plenio via Pixabay.

Foundation of Covenantal Love, Day 6 of Omer 5780, Yesod Shebe Chesed

Today is six days of the Omer. יסוד שבחסד, Yesod ShebeChesed, Foundation of Covenantal Love.

Rejecting the “authentic self” at work

In recent years, especially if you worked at a startup or similar “cutting edge” company, there has been a lot of talk about bringing your authentic self to work, doing what you love, and being true to who you are. Perhaps because I’m a tail-end Gen-Xer, I never found these platitudes particularly helpful. Even if I wasn’t a deeply spiritual and political person, there would always be parts of me that are not appropriate to drag along to every team meeting. I don’t need to be snarky and suspicious. I don’t need to be a perfectionist waiting for the plan with tangible, quantifiable goals before getting on board with whatever new idea (or mission statement) is thrown at me.

Just as I don’t have to bring my entire self to work, I don’t need to understand my entire self to step forward into the (metaphorical) world. My foundation, my personality and ego-self, can and should be constantly shifting. The edges should have scaffolding. (Can you see the construction at the end of this pier?)

Judaism is spiritual technology for self improvement

I am devoted to Judaism because it is the spiritual technology that allows me to become a better version of my self with each breath and each day. Every moment is a new opportunity to lean into the person I want to be. At this point, my goal is fairly banal — I’d like to make it twenty-four hours without raising my voice. I’ll let you know when it happens.

Examine your personality and ego

The week of Yesod can be the week of really examining your ego-self: your personality, your motivations, your drives, your road blocks. The aspect of Yesod within other Sephirot is the structural underpinning of that Sephira.

For Chesed this means the container that holds your belief that you are in a covenantal relationship with the Divine. Or the container that allows you to remember you love your partner and your children. Or, the container that gives you the resilience to shelter in place with a partner whom you deeply want to leave.

Be willing to break your bonds

Understanding the foundation of your covenant allows you to understand when that covenant has been so broken or abused that it is time for you to move on. This is as true of corporate bonds as it is for spiritual ones. I know how difficult it has been for me to leave, to imagine life beyond the relationships I had with my coworkers. This was especially true when I fell in love with a coworker. Breaking that tie, resting on the economic foundation provided by my fiancé, was a huge leap into the unknown. It started the process of gathering the courage to enter rabbinical school.

The Buddhist concept of holding lightly to reality, disassociating with the feelings caused by the present situation, sings in the same key as what I believe. I believe in the reality of one’s personality and ego. While I do not believe in worshipping the ego and its desires, I do see the need for a healthy ego, blalanced by connection to one’s soul and spirit.

Foundation of relationships

One’s personality shapes the foundation of one’s relationship with the Divine, with individuals, and with the world. We have a lot of time these days to be flooded by inner chatter, to numb ourselves with social media and streaming videos. Or we may be exhausted by trying to keep up with full-time work and sudden full-time childcare requirements, leaving no time for deep introspection.

Here’s what I know for sure: having a vision of the foundation of your covenants will allow you to create a roadmap for achieving your personal improvement goals. Over the last decade, I’ve leaned into my belief that the world of values exists, and it exists on a higher metaphysical plane than material reality. That means it fundamentally matters when I don’t control the tone or volume of my voice. I am breaking my connection with Goodness, I am scaring my children rather than providing a Loving Protector.

When your foundation wobbles

Don’t get me wrong — sometimes, my authoritative voice is quite helpful. I was quite surprised when I yelled at my dog and she immediately dropped the piece of chocolate bar she’d scooped up. That was an extremely appropriate use of power.

At the same time, I was properly humbled today as well. My youngest threw his brother’s iPad. He didn’t simply throw it on the ground. He threw it out of the mail slot and onto our front porch. I yelled and brought the iPad back inside. My older son reminded me that I’m learning not to yell. I’m so proud that he had the courage to say that to me in the moment. His trust in our relationship is part of the foundation of my covenantal love.

(I had previously told the eldest that just as he’s learning Mandarin, I’m learning not to yell. And that I appreciate him reminding me if and when I slip up.)

Don’t take me literally

A note about these notes: I am not an authority on the sephirot or Kabbalah. I use this spiritual technology to help myself become a better person. There is no one definition of each of these aspects of the Divine. Each of the ten sephirot represents a constellation of integrated concepts. Some systems are quite rigid in their definitions and will seem quite foreign from what I am writing about. The concert of Jewish life has multiple stages, with different artists performing on each stage. We are deeply inter-related, even if we don’t recognize one another.

Questions to contemplate

So what is the foundation of your relationship with the Ground of Being? How do you define your relationships with humans? What brings you back to center? How do you know when to let go of core aspects of your identity?

This day exists in many ways.

5779 / 2019: Internal vs. External Foundation for Love

5778 / 2018: Build scaffolding to support the love running through you.

5777 / 2017: Beginning to bond with the Omer

Hod of Chesed, Splendor of Covenantal Love 5780

Today is five days of the Omer, הוד שבחסד, Hod ShebeChesed, Splendor of Covenantal Love.

As Rabbi Finley explains how the sephirot act within material reality, Hod is about creating a beautiful setting for ethereal reality in the material world. It is about putting Enduring Will to Action. Accepting responsibility for the endless dishes and the need to clean your own bathroom and wash your clothes. It is about having a place for everything and putting everything in its place.

Seeking splendor in my fifth week at home…

After a month of social distancing, it means taking small victories where you can. If you don’t manage to clean all of your bathrooms on a timely basis, maybe you thoroughly clean one toilet. When it is the most highly trafficked appliance for a family of three males and a female, that can be a victory unto itself.

It is also about accepting the splendor of the every day. How no matter how much time you spent cajoling your child to do his daily assignments, he ended the day wanting a hug and to hear the Shema. How incredible it is to have the splendor of a deeply committed relationship to hold your place and feed your kids while you run away and pretend you still work in tech or politics for a Zoom happy hour with former coworkers.

Appreciating brief bursts of splendor

The deepest splendor I experience these days is the love of my family. The deeply tangible, fierce, sometimes painful hugs of children. And the complete lack of judgment when I go overboard in playing with the blue eyeshadows of my collection. Take time to appreciate the splendor of the every day reality around you. Try to make time to place your physical reality in a small bit more order than it was when you began reading this post. Soak into how good it is to see a well organized set of drawers.

And recognize that creating order is about making space to pursue covenantal love. There is so little room in a brain for the transcendent when one is surrounded by detritus. Give yourself the freedom of cleaning up after yourself. More than any other change I can make this week, this is the change that will reward me more than can ever be put into words.

This day continues to exist throughout eternity…

Before the day began (or just this morning, depending on what type of day you follow), I meditated into psalm 8 and the strength inherent in suckling babes.

5779 / 2019: Splendor of Love

5778 / 2018: Concretizing the prophetic vision of love

5777 / 2017: Struggling to see Hod with clarity.

The Will of Covenantal Love, Four days of the Omer: Netzach ShebeChesed.

Today is four days of the Omer, נצח שבחסד, Netzach ShebeChesed, Enduring Prophetic Covenantal Love, The Will of Covenantal Love.

The beginning of my journey

Rabbi Finley gave an overview teaching of the sephirot on Shabbat, which was streamed live on Facebook and as a Zoom meeting for members of Ohr HaTorah synagogue. That sermon reminded me of Rabbi Finley’s deep integration of Robert Assagioli’s understanding of the Will into his spiritual psychological philosophy. To be perfectly honest, I read The Act of Will so long ago that my recollection of that first-hand experience is lost and I can only offer the insight gleaned from hearing Rabbi Finley’s sermons for a dozen or so years.

Every day, we choose who to be.

This is what I know for sure: every day, we make choices. We make those choices consciously and unconsciously. Most of our days are routine and we move through the day by rote memory, thus many of our decisions become unconscious. This is part of what makes being at home 24/7 so difficult: our routines have been shattered and we are forced to choose how to engage our days with people we probably are not used to being around so much. Or alone. I can hardly imagine what you’re going through if you live alone, so I won’t even try.

When we pay attention to the choices we make throughout the day, when we bring our conscious mind to our thoughts, feelings, actions, and verbalized speech, we are more likely to use our will to move towards a better version of ourselves. For example, I’ve used foul language much more in the last month than I have in the last four years. My body is on overdrive, overly stimulated and constantly sleep deprived. And for 3/4 of the last month, I wasn’t connected to the spiritual discipline that grounds me.

Choosing love when everything feels irritating

So what Neztach ShebeChesed means for me this year is remembering my vision of the covenant I choose for my family: speaking with love and gratitude for each living thing I have the opportunity to grow with. That includes the dog who rarely leaves my side and the children who are far too young to do schoolwork without supervision (yes, it only took me a month to fully understand that one).

It means not being resentful that my husband leaves the house every weekday. And when I say leave, I mean he walks into the backyard and enters his wood shop so that he can do his job. He leaves to earn the paycheck that keeps our family from having the financial stress so many of our neighbors are enduring. So yes, my days are spent with children in a way that I have never experienced in my life. I am neither a Mandarin teacher nor a particularly good first grade English teacher (anyone else hate the thousand and one new ways to learn to read English that seem to be required these days before a kid even has the opportunity to crack open a dictionary?) But I will do my best. And we will survive.

And step by step, I will remember to use my will to limit my speech to the tone and words I wish to hear from those around me. I will remember to hold space and I will remember how devastating it is to only have your brother as a playmate. But I still won’t buy plastic junk just because my kids are convinced Ryan’s World is the best world that ever existed.

A prayer for continuous connection with HaShem

May I remember my Enduring Will to nurture the covenantal love of my family and may I connect my will to the Ground of Goodness, knowing that Was / Is / Will Be, Eyeh Asher Eyeh, exists continuously in this moment with me. 

A book to reconnect with your will

This day exists in many ways…

5779 / 2019: Enduring Prophetic Love

5778 / 2018: Live from grace / love in every interaction.

5777 / 2017: May love endure and may we honor its triumph.

Beautiful covenantal love, Day 3 of the Omer, Tiferet of Chesed

Today is three days of the Omer. תפארת שבחסד, Tiferet ShebeChesed, beautiful covenantal love. When you come home to the Ground of Being and sink into the Eternal Love of Goodness, your eyes are opened to beauty and truth that live beyond the horrors of our daily lives.

Not blind to the pandemic

I say this not to discount the suffering that surrounds us. The heaviness, the weight on our collective psyche as thousands die alone and millions experience food insecurity. I could write for days about all that is wrong with the world and all the ways political leaders have made the situation worse than it needs to be. But that’s not why we are here.  

Continuing my soul’s journey

We are here because despite the pandemic, there are those among us who are relatively healthy and who have enough security — physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically — to consider continuing our soul’s journey into depth and meaning. I am here to give myself a forty-nine day reset on life. Even as a student of religion, it is hard for me to be disciplined in my practice of religion. Between children, internship, and schoolwork — who has time to be pious in their observance? And so, my brokenness reaches out; searching the depths of all that is possible to understand all that I need to do in this moment to stay centered, to minimize yelling, and to help my family thrive.

Osher אשר: the soul-nourishing knowledge that God exists

This is the beauty of covenantal love. It is the אשר osher we chant about (ideally) three times a day. Not happy, happy, joy, joy. Rather, אשרי Ashrei is the deep, soul-nourishing knowledge that God exists, God’s love exists, and living in alignment with Goodness and Truth gives you strength and surrounds you with beauty.

A binding prayer

May we each find our way to a sacred covenant that binds us to the best version of ourselves, that guides us deeper on our life’s journey, and that allows even our darkest days to have glimmers of beauty and truth. 

This day has existed and will exist

5779 / 2019: Balancing the energies of overflowing love and clarifying boundaries.

5778 / 2018: Harmonizing all-encompassing love and discipline

5777 / 2017: A prayer for the fortitude to emulate harmonious love.

Two Days of Omer 5780: Gevurah in Chesed, Discipline in Covenantal Love

Today is two days of the Omer, 5780. גבורה שבחסד, Gevurah ShebeChesed, Discipline / Discernment in Covenantal Love.

Explaining God without shutting anyone out

This picture reminds me how little discussion of the nature of God was included in my religious education as a child. I learned what Conservative Judaism was, and how much better it was than Reform Judaism. Clear mandates on how to be a Good Jew, which totally confused me. I felt no one was following the Conservative understanding of Halacha, the Way, the Jewish understanding of how to live to increase goodness and connection to the Divine.

So I don’t really know how to talk about God with my kids (age four and six). And I hesitate to focus on HaShem with adults. Because I think the depth of my conviction can be quite off-putting. And it is confusing that even though I am clear on what I connect with, that doesn’t mean I can’t be in community with other people.

Evil lurks beyond Gevurah

Right, so since the Omer is all about meditating into aspects of the Divine, I figured my posts shouldn’t ignore that aspect of the Sephirot. Gevurah can be translated as strength, and is connected to God’s judgment and some would say wrath. The Sitra Achra, Other Side, split off from Gevurah and is the home of the Yetzer HaRa, inclincation towards destructiveness, and all other negative, life-shortening aspects of human nature of global reality. Sort of the Upside Down world of the Kabbalah.

I’m not talking about the vengeful God you may think I believe in…

Now many Christians are convinced that Jews worship a vengeful God, that Gevurah is the only aspect of God we found through our Bible and our communities. There are a lot of traditional prayers that beseech God to act in favor of the righteous and to avenge the pious. Perhaps because that is an understandable reaction to being constantly murdered and expelled by your Christian neighbors. But I don’t have faith in God’s ability to change the course of history and that’s not what I’m meditating into today.

The reality is that HaShem has provided a path of discipline within covenantal love that helps me become more of the person I want to be. I have always been Jewish, though for most of my life I did not have the words or understanding of how to do Jewish in an authentic way.

Remembering the spiritual discipline at the heart of my covenantal love

Even now, in my fourth year of rabbinical school, I completely lost my way when we were all thrown into social distancing. I barely tread water my first three weeks of full-time parenting and full-time graduate school attending. And recently, I remembered that the discipline of covenantal love is the brilliant sapphire path towards the Divine. What do I mean in plain English? Waking up and journaling. Deciding to work my way through the Book of Psalms. Keeping myself on track by posting those journal entries on Instagram. (Getting all the way to the computer is too much for me. I enjoy writing on my new dry erase board.) And then thinking through what I want to accomplish each day — which, to be honest, has become less and less each day, which helps to keep me sane.

So that’s it. Remembering to read Jewish texts each day. That’s the discipline of covenantal love that brings me back to my higher self and guides me towards loving myself, the people in my house, and the world in the way I want to be present to life.

I mean yes, prayer and community and exercise and eating well, those too can be part of one’s covenant with oneself and with the Ground of Being. But I haven’t figured out how to have a consistent daily prayer practice, and my son hates video calls so I’m trying to maintain some distance from community for the sake of Shalom Bayit (peace in the house), and I haven’t focused on exercise since I had my first kid, and worrying about what I’m eating is the farthest thing from my mind these days.

A brief prayer

L’chaim! To life! May we all find the discipline that helps us manage the stress of living through a pandemic. May we sink into love in healthy ways and may we know that there is strength in our empathy. May we not tune out from compassion fatigue, but may we also not feel guilty for needing endless Youtube videos more than we need endless news updates.

Books bringing me joy

                 

This day happens often…

Two days of the Omer 5779 / 2019: Clear vision beyond existential anxiety

Two days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Healthy boundaries in love

Two days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: boundaries in love? (the year of beginner’s mind)