Welcome Warm Months!!
We are now on our Summer Hours. Saturday Shabbat Services at 10 AM
by Maggid David Arfa
How do we endure? How do we persevere for the lang haul,
over decades? I remember how giddy I was during Earth Day 1990. I
graduated from Michigan State with my brand new Bachelor degrees in Environmental Policy and Wildlife Ecology while at the same time, I saw Earth Day go mainstream! Newsweek, Time and dozens of other
magazines had glossy covers with real information about the state of the Earth - forest, oceans, farmland, toxics, extinction and even climate change! In my euphoric haze, it seemed to me that environmental education was to the 1990’s as ‘plastics’ were to the 1960’s. Lists of simple changes were selling like hotcakes! The world seemed ready. I conveniently ignored my confusion when my Valedictorian speaker squawked excitedly about how she can now go out and buy all sorts of new things...stereo’s, clothes, cars…
Cognitive dissonance was easy - sure, no one paid much attention to the 50 difficult things to save the Earth list, however did that matter? After all, a certain prince, er, senator, wrote the truly smart and visionary
book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. He had entered
politics after taking classes in divinity school and working as an
investigative reporter! And then he actually became vice president and a
heartbeat from the presidency! We were one step away from the Garden of
Eden, weren’t we?
Needless to say, Mashiach, the Messiah, did not come. I find I am
a sucker for leaders who espouse hope, and yet, when I allow my hope to take up residency inside their heart, I find myself eventually forsaken. Why is it so easy to deny our inner source of hope, (as easy as a hand blocks the sun says the Baal Shem Tov)? How do I learn to listen, as Emily Dickinson did, to the hope with feathers perched in my own soul?
Could the prayerbook be seen as a hope manifesto? A healing remedy
for daily endurance and perseverance. After all, it is filled with gratitude,
wonder, love, emotional honesty, interconnectedness, presence, silence, grief and a fierce yearning for personal and collective redemption. How does the prayerbook manage to send us into our days with renewed hope in our hearts? What does the prayerbook teach about hope?
Well, to open one facet of this diamond that is the prayerbook, have you ever noticed how the powerful images of past national redeemings are
placed strategically? For instance, crossing the sea and becoming freed from slavery is placed in the redemption blessing that comes just after the Shema. When the grind of daily actions begins to overwhelm, our zeal begins to flag, and we think our days will just go on and on with the same old drudgery, the same old cranky conversations without ever getting to redemption, bam- the Rabbis remind us of the success of past redemption. It happened before and it can happen again.
Remember, they seem to say, that our world is a non-linear system,
and our tomorrow can be very different from today. No one knew the day before the Berlin Wall came down, and yet everything changed. No one could predict a musical genius named Stevie Wonder would enter the world, and everything changed. No one could predict that the small shrew like mammals living under the feet of the dinosaurs would evolve into the robust bush of mammals we see today! Who really knows what tomorrow will bring? Netzach b’Malchut.
Reflection/Action: What redemptive memories do you carry that inspire you socially or politically? Reb Nachman of Bratslav asks us to also remember personal redemptions - along with redemptionby sea...especially at Pesach. To remember and share personal stories about surviving a life-threatening illness, fire or other calamity. What stories of personal redemption do you carry?
For me, I remember being 17 and illegally riding in a camp car with 5 other camp counselors. It was during session break and no campers were around. We were driving 50 mph, which was way too fast for the dirt road we were on.The road turned left; we did not. Miraculously, we skidded off the road into the only open patch of field along that roadside - all the rest of the roadside was forest trees. Hope renewed. How about your stories of redemption? Here's to the power of carrying on. Netzach b'Malchut.
Day 45: Tiferet b’Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa
I witnessed the Holy Shabbat marriage of Tiferet and Malchut while in Jerusalem. Though, the funny thing is, it took me several months to realize it. You see, I prayed with the Judean Hills, during my year of Yeshiva study in Jerusalem. Our wonderful balconies were a great addition to our house of prayer and study, our room with a view (and a Torah). Overlooking the hills, I could indulge my favorite non-talmudic pastime- simple gazing.
You could imagine my delight in realizing that simple gazing was incorporated into our prayers for welcoming Shabbat. Like congregations everywhere, for the last verse Lecha Dodi, we turned around and faced the Judean hillside. It was then I could just gaze and gaze. And such a gaze it was! Purple hills dappled with the last rays of the setting sun which was kissing the earth. I gazed, I bowed, I smiled and I prayed.
It took over two months, to the middle of November before the question occurred. Why was the sun still kissing the earth during the last verse of Lecha Dodi? Miracle of miracles- they were timing the whole affair! Insuring that sun/earth kiss occurred exactly at the right time! Doesn’t this mythic scene make your heart want to dance and dance? Now the work of marrying my inner masculine with my inner feminine can truly begin. Tiferet (sun) b’Malchut (earth).
Reflection/Action: Did you notice I did not include exactly how long the sun kisses the earth before diving under the covers (so to speak)? I invite you to watch the sunset, find out exactly how long the sunset lasts where you live. Sing, dance, sit in silence, any way that will allow you to bring this experience with you into Lecha Dodi. Did you notice that a much bigger mystical question here is ‘Do our prayers bring the sun and earth together?’ and, ‘Are there other examples of Holy Union in our lives?’ Instead of going on and on regarding these very interesting questions, I’ll leave you with this wonderfully multi-layered poem by Patiann Rogers.
The Power of Toads by Pattiann Rogers
The oak toad and the red-spotted toad love their love
In a spring rain, calling and calling, breeding
Through a stormy evening clasped atop their mates.
Who wouldn't sing — anticipating the belly pressed hard
Against a female's spine in the steady rain
Below writhing skies, the safe moist jelly effluence
Of a final exaltation?
There might be some toads who actually believe
That the loin-shaking thunder of the banks, the evening
Filled with damp, the warm softening mud and rising
Riverlets are the facts of their own persistent
Performance. Maybe they think that when they sing
They sing more than songs, creating rain and mist
By their voices, initiating the union of water and dusk,
Females materializing on the banks shaped perfectly
By their calls.
And some toads may be convinced they have forced
The heavens to twist and moan by the continual expansion
Of their lung sacs pushing against the dusk.
And some might believe the splitting light,
The soaring grey they see above them are nothing
But a vision of the longing in their groins,
A fertile spring heaven caught in its entirety
At the pit of the gut.
And they might be right.
Who knows whether these broken heavens
Could exist tonight separate from trills and toad ringings?
Maybe the particles of this rain descending on the pond
Are nothing but the visual manifestation of whistles
And cascading love clicks in the shore grasses.
Raindrops-finding-earth and coitus could very well
Be known here as one.
We could investigate the causal relationship
Between rainstorm and love-by-pondside if we wished.
We could lie down in the grasses by the water's edge
And watch to see exactly how the heavens were moved,
Thinking hard of thunder, imagining all the courses
That slow, clean waters might take across our bodies,
Believing completely in the rolling and pressing power
Of heavens and thighs. And in the end we might be glad,
Even if all we discovered for certain was the slick, sweet
Promise of good love beneath dark skies inside warm rains.
Day 44: Gevurah b’Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa
Why did King David do it? Was it pride or piety? Arrogance or ignorance? What possessed him to think he could dig a deep well under the temple, to the very center of the earth? Did he actually imagine THIS was the way to allow the ritual waters of Sukkot to flow and in turn bring fresh healing rains to the earth? Self important Hubris! He had forgotten THE MYSTERY.
He dug and blindly removed the Eben Shetiyah- the Foundation Stone of the World. The waters of the deep surged upward – they were free. Instantly they rose and began flooding our world.
King David Shouted to the elders- “Help! What can we do?”
Terror reigned – a disaster of this magnitude has never occurred before.
“Answer me or we will all be lost!”
“We believe that parchment with the sacred 42 letter Name of the Holy One must be thrown into the well while simultaneously praying with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your might. Only then will the waters of the deep return to their place, though we are not certain. This has never happened before.” (adapted from Makkot, 11a, and Patai, Man and Temple, 1947)
We cry out for the 7500 gallons of 4-methylclyclohexenemmethanol (MCHM) spilled into the Elk River poisoning all the Charleston West Virginia metropolitan area water supply. The material safety data sheet for MCHM, though required by law to list impacts, is incomplete. Effects of MCHM on humans are not known. Ecological impacts have never been tested. Gevurah b’Malchut http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2014/0110/W.Va.-chemical-spill-Is-more-regulation-needed-for-toxic-substances
We shudder at the devastation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission reported that the accident was "a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented". Hindering that process were a lack of regulations as well as "a collusion between the government, the [nuclear] regulators and [plant operator] Tepco and the lack of governance by said parties". In clear language, the report said clearly that “nature” was NOT to blame. Gevurah b’Malchut http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22031-fukushima-nuclear-accident-down-to-human-factors.html#.U4M-dfldWJo
We shiver at the sinking of the deep water horizon oil rig, leading to the largest oil spill in US history. We grieve the choice to sacrifice the ocean to save the shore by adding 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit. According to EPA data, Corexit is considered an acute health hazard and ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude. Corexit has been banned in the United Kingdom since 1998. Gevurah b’Malchut http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/In-Gulf-Spill-BP-Using-Dispersants-Banned-in-UK
Our anger rises as we learn of Propublica’s report that BP has flouted safety by neglecting aging equipment, pressured or harassed employees not to report problems, and cut short or delayed inspections in order to reduce production costs. Executives were not held accountable for the failures, and some were promoted despite them. BP neglected key equipment needed for emergency shutdown, including safety shutoff valves and gas and fire detectors similar to those that could have helped prevent the fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf. Gevurah b’Malchut http://www.propublica.org/article/years-of-internal-bp-probes-warned-that-neglect-could-lead-to-accidents
Reflection/Action: They say that during the Roman persecutions, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Elazer were forced to live in a cavernous cave. A miraculous Carob tree grew and fed them, a fresh spring flowed and quenched their thirst. They saved their clothes only for prayer and buried themselves in the ground without their clothes, up to their necks, like root vegetables stored for winter, studying, studying and studying. Some say the Holy Zohar was the fruit of their studies. When they finally emerged, they were so enraged at how the world did not live according to their visionary ideals, fire flew from their eyes burning crops as they walked. A heavenly voice called, filled with grief, stopping them with the question, “Have you become destroyers of my world?”. They were sent back into isolation for another year. During that time, Reb Shimon learned to control his fiery anger, though not his son Elazer. The path of transformation for Elazer was writing lamentations, and in this way, his tears quenched his fire. (adapted from Shabbat 33b and Reb ‘Art Scroll’ [for Tisha B’av])
If you were to write a lamentation for our world, where would you begin? Would you share your sentence here? You can read my lamentation for the terrifying oil well blowout deep in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 by writing to me email@example.com with gulf oil lament in the subject line.
We enter this evening the last week of the Omer counting, week seven, Malchut - Sovereignty, Leadership, Kingship, Queenship. We welcome Maggid David Arfa, storyteller and teacher of storytelling, environmental educator, and teacher of Jewish experience with the Earth. Reclaiming the role of maggid has led David to leading outdoor services at the High Ledges, as well as telling stories and sharing environmental teachings from Jewish tradition. You can read about all that Maggid David does on his website.
David found the enterprise of writing a week of Omer reflections a stimulating challenge, and shared these reflections on his process:
I find I am an unlikely candidate to be sharing sefirot reflections about the Omer. I’m what you might describe as a Trans-Kabbalistic mystic. I love the mythic imagery found within the history of the Kabbalah, and yet find that inner points and sacred sparks; Tikkun Olam and Tikkun HaNefesh; TzimTzum and the breaking of vessels provide plenty of inspiration for me. Up until now, I have largely ignored the sefirot- these 10 abstract principles- gateways to associative universes- describing the journey of Oneness to Word to the diversity of World. These 49 days are perhaps the most elaborate, the most arcane portrait of the sefirot we still retain in contemporary Jewish life. Sefirot within sefirot. What the heck might this mean?
You’ll find my posts are filled with personal stories, often outdoor experiences, found after reflecting on the sefirot. For the most part, I have not tried to imagine sefirot within sefirot...it just makes my head spin too much. I invite you to share your stories as well as questions and comments with our community conversation.
Shalom,David Arfa, Maggid, firstname.lastname@example.org
So, let us travel this last week of our journey to Sinai with David's stories, experiences, and reflections, and then we will all gather, one week from this evening, again at the mountaintop, at the wheat harvest, at the joyous moment of receiving Torah once again. Thank you for walking beside us on this journey. May you find the last pieces of this year's puzzle falling into place in your soul, and may you feel ready and open and able to receive anew our most sacred of texts.
Rabbi Katy Allen
by Maggid David Arfa
Have you ever been camping without a tent? Sleeping outside and then it begins to rain? I have. I was among the oldest and biggest trees of the world, traveling around the Pacific Northwest, studying the ancient forests with my school companions. It was a warm night; I pulled out my sleeping bag without my tent and slept under a friendly tree named Doug, Douglas Fir.
I awoke in the middle of the night. My companions were shrieking, running through pouring rain to our bus, pulling out tents and frantically trying to set them up. I was alarmed, concerned, I had no tent either,... but then I realized I was dry and the entire patch of land around me was dry. I was close enough to my Fir tree that I was spared the raindrops - they were received by the treetop and gently brought downward via branch and trunk. Rivers of awe, gratitude and joy flowed through me as I realized that I was the beneficiary of such grace and protection. Chesed b’Malchut.
Reflection/Action: Take a moment and imagine a time when you felt buoyed by the world? Have you ever picked fresh blueberries by the bearpaw full? Have you ever filtered water from a stream and drank it to quench your thirst? Have you ever had your cares lightened by a warm breeze? Have you ever experienced the miracle of rain that comes after a dry spell? What’s your story? Would you share here with all of us?
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
The Sabbath peace is also the beginning of that peace with nature, which many people are seeking today, in the face of the growing destruction of the environment. But there will never be peace with nature without the experience and celebration of God’s Sabbath. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God
Reflections / Contemplation:
This Shabbat as I am rejuvenating outdoors I will meditate on this verse from the Shabbat afternoon Amidah: Our God, God of our ancestors, take pleasure in our rest.
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
Today I will make no commitments for inner or outer action. I will only rest and be at peace with the world.
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
[T]he human need of the Sabbath comes to parallel the need of wilderness: both are a gift, providing the possibility for humankind to share in the Creator’s enjoyment of the natural world. The environmental consequences of this vision are enormous, since enjoyment presupposes respect and care. Robert Barry Leal,Wilderness in the Bible: Toward a Theology of Wilderness
U’midbar matanah/From wilderness, a gift. --Numbers 21:18
Reflections / Contemplation:
What wilderness ‘gifts’ do I treasure?
What Shabbat ‘gifts’ do I treasure?
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
This week I will give myself the gift of Shabbat/rest by turning off my electronic devices and spending time outside enjoying the season unfolding around me.
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
Rabbi Jacob taught: One who is reviewing his [Torah] studies while walking along the way and interrupts his study to exclaim, 'How splendid this tree is!' 'How fair this field is!' Scripture considers it as if he has forfeited his soul. --Avot 3:9
Rav Kook explains this passage as follows: The error is not that someone interrupts Torah study to appreciate nature, rather it is in regarding this wonder as an interruption of Torah study. The real error is in compartmentalizes life, isolating his inward-directed spiritual life of prayer and Torah from the outside world's beauty and grandeur. By doing so, "he forfeits his soul" – he abandons his soul's sense of beauty and its harmony with the natural universe.
Reflections / Contemplation:
In what ways have I separated or compartmentalized my need for ‘wilderness’ time and my Jewish time?
How can I break down these divides?
How might removing these barriers affect my Jewish and ‘wilderness’ experiences?
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
Today as I sit outside for 18 minutes I will study psalm 148. For a beautiful rendition of this psalm by two Israelis clickhere.
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization that destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself. --Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Wilderness is a necessary condition for every revelation: Whoever would wish to acquire Torah, must make himself ownerless like the wilderness. --Midrash Rabbah
Reflections / Contemplation:
In what ways is wilderness necessary to my life, to my appreciation or understanding of Judaism, and to my relationship with God?
Yesterday we looked at a passage from R. Nash who suggested that the term wilderness defies definition. How do I define the term for myself in the two passages for today?
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
Today I will devote 18 minutes to learning about one threat to our remaining wilderness areas.
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
'Wilderness' has a deceptive concreteness at first glance. The difficulty is that while the word is a noun it acts like an adjective. There is no specific material object that is wilderness. The term designates a quality (as the '-ness' suggests) that produces a certain mood or feeling in a given individual and, as a consequence, may be assigned by that person to specific place. Because of this subjectivity a universally acceptable definition of wilderness is elusive. One man's wilderness may be another's roadside picnic... Wilderness, in short, is so heavily freighted with meaning of a personal, symbolic, and changing kind as to resist easy definition. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind
Reflections / Contemplation:
What happens if you replace wilderness in the above passage from Nash with the word God?
Does this exercise impact your understanding of the word God?
Does it alter your view of wilderness?
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
Today when I go outside for 18 minutes I will focus on the many different metaphors for God and wilderness that exist and pay special attention to the ones that resonate most deeply within me.
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
It is impossible for human intelligence to comprehend God, yet certain places may allow people to experience the necessary risk that opens them, body and soul, to what their minds cannot entertain....[l]iminal places are able, symbolically if not physically, to put people on edge, driving them beyond all efforts to control reality (and even God) by means of the intellect. --Belden C Lane, Solace of Fierce Landscapes;
Reflections / Contemplation:
Remember an experience where you felt that you experienced the kind of risk / divine encounter that opened you, “body and soul”, like Lane talks about.
Maimonides said that prayer enables us to create a wilderness within, where a person can be alone with God.
Do you think he was suggesting that prayer creates for us the kind of experience to which Lane refers?
Have you ever had such an experience while praying? If so, what prayer (s) were you saying? What was the situation? Were you in a synagogue or outside with others, by yourself?
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
Today as part of my18 minutes outside I will sit with my siddur and seek a wilderness experience through prayer with God.
This week we welcome Rabbi Howard Cohen of Judaism Outdoors: Burning Bush Adventures to our Omer project. Through Burning Bush Adventures, Rabbi Cohen takes people into the wilderness for an unforgettable experience of God, Judaism, and wilderness, so it is not surprising that he has chosen wilderness as the theme for this week of Yesod, or foundation. Wilderness as foundation.
Prior to entering rabbinical school Howard worked for Outward Bound in Minnesota, Florida, Maine, and England. He has been guiding canoe and dog sled trips in New England for over 30 years, and he created Burning Bush Adventures in 1990. He serves as the rabbi of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Marshfield, MA, and is a New York State licensed wilderness guide, Wilderness First Responder, and a Lietenant in the Bennington Fire Department.
During this week of Yesod, may we feel the foundations of our hearts and souls being renewed, enriched, and strengthened, as we journey through the penultimate week of the Omer, closing in on standing at Sinai.
Rabbi Katy Allen
by Rabbi Howard Cohen
Yaakov Yitzchak as a child used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were not safe in his mind. There were wild animals, poisonous plants, stinging insects, bandits, steep ravines, and dangerous cliffs. He decided to discuss the matter with his child. One day he took him aside and said, “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder, why do you go there?” To his surprise, the boy said to his father, “I go there to find God.” The father replied gently, “That is a very good thing. I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” The boy answered, “yes, but I’m not.” --Yaakov Yitzchak, The Seer of Lublin
Reflections / Contemplation:
What is it about wilderness/outdoors that makes it seem easier for us to have an encounter with the numinous?
What responsibilities flow from the identification of wilderness as having important spiritual significance?
A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
I will enter the week of Yesod by making a commitment to spend at least 18 minutes outdoors every day this week, rain or shine. I will simply be outside observing and experiencing, not doing work of any sort.
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Malchut of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
The heavens are exalted in their brilliance
as their grandeur is of You.
Each star reserves a place of dignity
and majesty to call its own
and yet all bodies are respected
lights within Your great divine display.
Each one of us is as Your star
with role assigned in Hashem’s greater plans.
We take our place in heaven’s script through
Torah, mitzvot , prayer by which the light we do retrieve
Illuminates our constellation.
Your kingdom here on earth is lit by You through us
as we, Your earthly luminaries extend Your majesty divine,
in sparks of holiness through daily acts
directed by Your will and created in Your love.
As we gaze above to heaven’s starlit majesty,
we touch the divine core within, the You that dwells in us.
Am I willing to allow myself to be a creator within the divine plan?
Am I willing to commit today to clear any blocks, internally and perhaps externally, to allow my life to be a channel of divine creation?
Today I acknowledge my divine center.
Today I know I am a part of my Creator and a star of brilliant light within G-d’s constellation.
Am I willing today to participate in the divine constellation as a brilliant star among stars?
Am I willing today to offer mitzvot that will divine illumination?
Today I recognize the magnitude of what can be created with the will of G-d and that I am a part of that creation.
Today I humbly take responsibility for the majesty of creations and my role here on earth.
Yesod of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
Would that this evening I bring the glory of sunset,
passionate, fleeting, reflective and meaningful
to my encounters and relations.
Would that tonight I allow my connections
to be as effects of a twinkling star,
intimate, anonymous, inspiring, and elevating.
Would that today I greet all experiences with
anticipation of dawn’s sunrise, bringing possibility
and potential to the world.
Would that today I engage with noontime’s strength
offering power and will divinely directed
to serve and heal this world.
Would that today I bask in afternoon’s ease,
awaiting twilight’s new day,
connected, inspired, empowered, impassioned,
grateful to be a conductor, a channel,
a spark of light of and for You.
Am I willing today to combine the possibility of experience and potential as a channel for divine will?
Am I willing to view the structure of today’s passing hours as a vehicle for bringing light to this world?
May I today offer myself as a conduit bringing divine presence to all my encounters.
May I today honor relationships as containers of divine light to which I contribute and for which I am grateful.
Am I willing to incorporate time, space, and all that I am and bring, to enhance all of my connections?
Am I willing to bring light today to all that is created and that I create?
Today I will contribute to my relationships, enhancing connection as a reflection of the unity in which we dwell.
Hod of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
Would that I be one with wind as self unseen,
to live on earth with no resistance to Your will.
My seamlessness would then leave only joy
as winds of service flowed through able willing limbs
devoted daily to Your love, each day inspired by divine decree.
As one with Torah, I am not the self to which I cleave,
instead perhaps as wind, I am an unseen element of Elohim.
Instead, perhaps as wind, I pass through moments here,
an element of nature, grateful servant of Your laws,
an elemental joyous current of Your love.
Perhaps today I may allow no resistance in my connection with divine will.
Perhaps today I will yield to Your greater will.
Perahaps today I will be less and You will be all.
Might I today perform a mitzvah, chant a prayer, study Torah with all my mind, heart and will?
Netzach of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
It is not any power over that I seek
but strength of my surrender To Your will
and trust in all Your ways.
In that it matters not if I am as a subtle breeze
or mighty roar of gale force might, as both Your winds of power
and Your gentler breaths do speak of You.
I can only yearn that practice of Your Torah/mitzvot
with devekut, ahavah, all longing of my deepest prayers
assists in clearing channels that prepare me daily
as an empty vessel through which
Your winds of heaven flow.
Am I today victorious over the winds of emotion, desire and will which I experience as ruling me?
Am I today triumphant over inner barriers, defenses and rationalizations which may lead me to misdirect my actions as unbridled winds may cause unwanted effects?
May I today allow myself to feel the power of the truth of Torah as the wind upon my back empowering my action.
May I today recognize, acknowledge and embrace the experience of such a wind empowering me now and always?
Tiferet of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
Just as the winds of earth carry Your seeds to scatter
so did Your servant Jacob bring the seeds of Torah to distant lands
carrying the message of Your embedded light to all.
Today the force of Torah, mitzvot, prayer encircles earth as does the wind
awaiting harness and our yoke, embodiment of beauty
and Your will through every choice.
Like Jacob, may I flow as wind, now channeled by Your laws,
directed by Your will, and empowered by Your might
bringing harmony and light to sites of darkness.
May the beauty of an open mind, willing heart, bended knee
and love’s devotion carry me aloft upon Your winds
in service as one who sows the seeds of all Your harvests.
Am I willing to allow myself to let the winds of “that which is meant to be” guide my path?
Am I willing to develop myself by harmonizing lovingkindness and discernment to become a more effective emissary of Torah’s peace?
Am I willing today to embody right thinking in compassionate action to crack shells/defenses of darkness so that “the light comes through”?
As a child of Israel, am I willing to accept this as my purpose here on earth?
Gevurah of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
Through constriction, Your compassion does give heaven
earthly form we can perceive, containing, shaping
life in every moment with Your blessing.
In miracles of nature we behold Your face reflected
while a breeze of summer and harsh winter winds
both do contain Your presence and Your essence.
Gales and zephyrs hold ein sof concealed as every gust
reveals the truth and lessons of G-d’s will to those who clearly see.
In the face of wind and perfect stillness
perception through Your Torah transforms senses into portals
which allow what is not needed to be cast away.
Being smaller can be greater as Your breaths of nature
suggest we not engage in that which does not house Your peace.
As a spark aflame in currents of Your love, I am a light aloft in You
by saying “no” to all but that which is Your “yes”.
The winds of force as well as stillness all speak of Your direction.
In constraint there is “no” , and there, a concealed blessing, “yes”.
Can I see restriction and contraction as making a container for divine light?
Am I willing to recognize withholding as loving at times?
As I feel or view the effects of wind, can I sense the unseen divine force which shapes and contains all of nature?
As the wind is transparent and leaves its mark through what it touches, can I see my actions as divine marks of “Leave No Trace”, only peace?
Am I willing today to make a mark that is unseen yet yields that which is greater than itself?
Am I willing to be of “less is more” and embody being like the wind today?
Am I willing to accept and apply discipline as a form of love and kindness?
Am I willing today to act as a windmill performs, containing, constricting and directing wild winds in its path for good use for all?
Those of you who have followed the Ma'yan Tikvah blog over the years have read Judith Felsen's exquisite and delicate poetry and have experienced her deep spirituality.
Judith has many talents and trainings, including having a Ph.D. and being a N.Y.S. licensed Clinical Psychologist. She is an avid student of Torah and Jewish mysticism, a board member of the Bethlehem (N.H.) Hebrew Congregation, Mount Washington Valley Chavurah, and Neskaya Center for Movement Arts, a hiker, dancer, runner, poet, author, Appalachian Mountain Club information volunteer, trail adopter, and kitchen crew staff. She holds certificates in hypnosis, neurolinguistic programming, hypnocoaching, sacred plant medicine, and is enrolled as a student in the Rabbinic Seminary International. Judith is married, and lives on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest with her husband and two large dogs.
This week, Judith shares her responses to the Divine Attribute of Hod, meaning splendor, majestic beauty, and gratitude, and she intertwines the weekly sephira of Hod with each daily attribute, and also with images and thoughts about the heavens - the sky, the stars, the Sun, and the Moon.
As we travel with Judith through this week of Hod, may we find our awareness of the amazing splendor and majestic beauty of the universe increasing, and may we feel gratitude growing within our hearts day by day.
Rabbi Katy Allen
Chesed of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen
Your great expanse of endless heavens , twinkling with transmissions
is a reminder of Your message, Your constant presence here on earth
and the imprint of Your love ever flowing within my heart.
Your canopy of Love, this ceiling of Your worldly abode recalls to us
that You forever sprinkle sparks of kindness through this world
which we retrieve to light our lives on earth as paths for sharing care.
By day, the clouds and sun and perhaps the shimmer of the moon
remind me that Your loving guidance
and Your paths of peace are never distant.
By night, Your twinkling bodies offer mirrors
of Your blessing and connection with our source.
Your everlasting care, compassion and connection
are encoded in the blanket of Your heaven’s comfort
as each body made divine, the Sun, the Moon, the stars with clouds and sky
all emanate reminders of Your presence and that we are home with You
while dwelling in this world which You have made for us in Love.
Is it not so that in our own way, each of us find the heavens uplifting, comforting and stabilizing? In this way, might we allow ourselves each day to be reminded that we are not alone, but part of a divine universe and a spark of perpetual love? The beauty, inspiration and guidance reflected in the celestial sheltering we perceive above is a mirror of G-d’s love within, of which we are a part and a channel. Abundance and gratitude for a joy beyond this world reflected here in daily deeds is a reminder of G-d’s imprint on our soul and out identity with G-d.
Considerations for the Day
Am I able to see the sparks of love which flow through me as connected with the celestial sparks of G-d’s luminaries?
Am I willing to recognize and acknowledge that Divine compassion is ever present and a choice I make moment to moment?
Am I willing to release the frustrations and barriers which block the flow of love as I reflect on the presence of the stars and sun behind the clouds and the moon’s ongoing journey through expansion and diminishment.
MALCHUT and NETZACH
A Kingdom of Lasting Values
Children love to play King and Queen.
They set up their palace under the dining room table,
Bring in the dolls and stuffed animals,
Put on a crown,
And order their subjects around.
Little do they know that
As they grow, they will be building
A real kingdom of their own.
The kingdom is based on pillars of value
They learn from their parents
If they are lucky:
“We do not hurt each other”
“We help out whenever we can”
“We always try to do the right thing”
“If we make a mistake, we correct it”.
If they are lucky
They also learn about G-d,
Who has more to say about right and wrong
And loves their innate capacity for
If their souls are undamaged,
Their growth will be guided
By desire to do the right thing.
Their struggle is to know what that is
And how it fits with independence
And self interest.
Then life will become their teacher.
Through innumerable interactions – people, environment, self
Through innumerable successes and innumerable failures
Through innumerable difficulties and mistakes
Through realizations and learning and adjusting and starting over
Maybe through praying,
A kingdom of values is built
Which strengthens with time and experience
and confers authority on a life.
That kingdom, that authority, is Malchut.
Netzach is the lasting quality of those values
That reflect the goodness of G-d.
Malchut and Netzach
What more could we want for our children?
By: Lois Rosenthal
YESOD and NETZACH
I. A meteorite from the vicinity of Mars
heads in our direction and
enters Earth’s atmosphere.
The meteorite is carrying organic compounds
picked up on its travels
as many meteorites do.
The organic compounds react with Earth’s oxygen,
burning and producing carbon dioxide, CO2.
One particular molecule of CO2 drifts about
in our atmosphere.
After a while it ends up in a sunlit meadow
and collides with a blade of green grass.
A chloroplast in this blade of grass
captures the CO2 molecule.
A photon too is captured and photosynthesis begins.
The CO2 converts to glucose.
The glucose is food for the grass.
Along comes a flock of sheep.
One particular sheep eats our blade of grass.
The carbon in the glucose formed through photosynthesis of the CO2 from the carbon compound brought in from Mars
is incorporated into the sheep’s muscle fibers as protein.
The sheep is slaughtered in a Kosher slaughterhouse
and served at a Passover Seder.
You happen to be attending this Seder, and
you enjoy a dinner of lamb.
And now the carbon in the lamb’s muscle, which came from the glucose formed in the blade of grass by photosynthesis using the CO2 formed by combustion of the organics carried from Mars by the meteorite
is in you!
We truly are one with the universe!
II. The next day, wanting to work off the dinner,
you go for a brisk walk.
To power that walk,
your body converts glucose to CO2 plus energy
in a process called respiration.
The particular molecule of glucose with the carbon from the meteorite
is converted to CO2
which enters our atmosphere.
The wind blows. The earth turns.
The CO2 travels about in the atmosphere.
It ends up in a vegetable garden in a far-off land.
The CO2 molecule collides with a leaf of chard.
The chloroplasts in the leaf capture the CO2 along with a photon;
photosynthesis produces glucose in the leaf.
Along comes a human being who harvests the leaf and
eats the chard for dinner.
And now the far-away human has within him
carbon that was within you.
We are all connected!
III. Some parsley in the refrigerator,
left over from the Seder,
has organic molecules whose carbon atoms,
once combined with oxygen as CO2,
were snatched from the atmosphere by photosynthesis.
The carbon dioxide came from Ireland
where a man just recently burned a block of peat
to heat his house.
This peat, being compressed layers of dead vegetation,
had been decaying for some 2000 years.
Eating that parsley gives you molecules with carbon atoms
from plants that were alive
when the choir was singing in the Second Temple.
We are one with the ages!
when we cease to live,
as all the living do,
decomposition will produce CO2
which will enter Earth's atmosphere.
The CO2 will wander about in the atmosphere
until it is converted at some future time
to glucose by photosynthesis
to be food for another life,
which will then carry carbon
that had been part of us.
Yes, we are one with eternity!
Something to Think About
Carbon was incorporated into our solar system when the planets coalesced from supernova dust. On earth, carbon continually cycles between its main chemical forms, carbon dioxide and glucose, relying on photosynthesis for the energy (sunlight) needed to propel the chemical reduction of carbon dioxide to glucose. Carbon is stored in benign form (glucose) in earth’s vegetation and as carbon dioxide, dissolved but acidic, in earth’s waters, where too much is destructive to sea life. The excessive amount of carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere overwhelms the ability of earth’s vegetation, itself diminishing, and earth’s waters, which are becoming acidic, to safely store it. Thus it builds up in the atmosphere causing greenhouse warming. The solution - decrease combustion, increase vegetation – is obvious scientifically but politically almost impervious to implementation. There are those fighting long and hard to find political routes to solutions, as so well shown in Divrei Earth Week 1. May they be blessed with Netzach and our unwavering support.
HOD and NETZACH
We go about our earthly business,
Concern ourselves with right and wrong;
We love our neighbors as best we can
And do our best to walk with G-d.
Then every once in a while
On a dark night
We may chance to look up, and
The magnificent glory of the heavens
Is revealed to us
As a dome so enormous as to encompass all humanity
A rich brew of sparkling points draws us in;
In every direction, lights, patterns, depth.
We are so small, sitting as we do on an arm of the Milky Way,
We are so large, comprehending somehow our place in the universe
We are so blessed, that an ordinary night in an ordinary life
Presents to us this vision of glory.
And for our birthright gift:
It is and will be there always
And nothing is required of us
But just to look up
by Lois Rosenthal
NETZACH and NETZACH
Be the sun, shine
Warm those nearby
Draw people to your hearth
Offer safety and offer life
So others may find knowledge
Understand each other
Comprehend the world
And not be afraid
Thrilling yellow, cold piercing violet
And green, of course, the green of growth
How could we be glad without colors?
Moment by moment, day after day, eon by eon
Produce heat, light, and color
From source without end
And when your warmth is shut out
Your colors painted over in black
Continue in netzach
Then you will live in the image of G-d,
Who shines His face upon us and gives us peace
by Lois Rosenthal
This week, we dip into poetry for the week of Netzach, the Divine attribute of endurance, perseverance, and fortitude. This week's reflections were written by Lois Rosenthal, a member of Temple Tifereth Israel in Winthrop, where she teaches Hebrew School and tutors b’nai mitzvah students. Lois is also a member of the CREW Poets chapter of the MA State Poetry Society. She is retired from Santa Clara University, where she held an academic position in chemistry.
As we journey through the week with Lois, may we gain trust in our ability to endure and to persevere, with kindness, with strength, and with dignity.
Rabbi Katy Allen
TIFERETH and NETZACH
Beauty Perceived and Lasting
Many blessings are given
It is said
To those who follow the Law
Who navigate life
By Judaism’s guideposts
Intending to do right
Also said (or it should be)
That many blessings come
To all who so much as take a breath
Blessings unearned and unsought
We are blessed with a mind
That is nourished by starlight
Takes pleasure in spectral hues
Feasts on designs found on flowers and birds
Relishes musical scores
Who knows what really is “beauty”
Who knows why we treasure it so
We only know that it brings us delight
And fullness which lingers within
With age our bodies lose power
Eyes and hearing may dim
Yet this pleasure-response to beauty
As part of our fiber, endures
GEVURAH and NETZACH
Heroism That Perseveres
A dictionary of modern Hebrew translates gevurah as “heroism, strength, or heroic act”. Ask any marathon runner, or indeed anyone from Greater Boston, about the gevurah evident in Boston at last year’s (2013) marathon. People running without hesitation towards the explosions, making tourniquets from their own clothing, lifting heavy steel barriers to free trapped people, carrying the injured, etc. etc, etc.
In a dire emergency, people lose their usual hesitations, doubts, and ruminations. They act from their G-d given urge to use their strength to help those in peril. That is gevurah - strength coupled with the impulse to use it in service to others; in other words, heroism. Gevurah is built-in to our being. It is an aspect of G-d manifest in us, and we have seen it in action.
Netzach, perseverance/endurance, is the long term follow-through to gevurah. Imagine changing from a healthy runner to an amputee in one afternoon with no warning. After surviving explosions and surgeries, an individual has to find a way to come to grips with the enormous loss and turn towards recovery. Then comes the long, painful rehabilitation process.
We wonder how people can possibly keep going through all of this. We wonder if we ourselves could do it. They can do it, they are doing it, and so could we, because the capacity for netzach is within us. This gift from G-d manifests when giving up is not an option, failure is not an option. Read the stories of people injured at last year’s marathon. Their paths are not straight and are full of pain and suffering, and yet they continue. Netzach.
What could be more powerful than gevurah and netzach combined? Strength used in service of others and continued through whatever arises and for as long as necessary. With these two attributes of the divine in each of us, nothing is beyond us.
Notes added after the 2014 Marathon: Witness the redemptive effect of gevurah combined with netzach. The display of both strength and endurance by the runners was overwhelming - a Marblehead woman out in front setting the pace for 20 miles, an American man winning (first time since 1983), new records being set, the women’s wheelchair race won by an individual who started life orphaned and disabled in Russia. Who could help feeling G-d smiling down on Boston with good weather and a tailwind? Last year, evil and destruction entered our sphere. This year, healthy strength, power and endurance were everywhere in flower, and now we can shout Yes! and breathe easier. The human spirit of goodness has prevailed and we can go on.
CHESED and NETZACH
by Lois Rosenthal
Every act of kindness
Reflects the essence of G-d
The way the moon
Reflects the light of the sun.
Each exchange of kindness
Endows both giver and receiver
With an inner ray of light.
They remember this
And long to experience it again.
A recipient of kindness
Is inclined to treat another so
And thus learn how strongly
The inner ray pulses with the offering.
One who has given kindness
Will later, though perhaps reluctantly,
Come to accept a kindness
And experience a different quality of light.
And so it is that acts of kindness
Generate further acts of kindness.
Chesed can expand and fill the earth
And, like the sun and the moon,
Light our way forever.
Something To Think About
Acting with kindness is not always so easy. We each have our own needs, resentments, reactions, anger, etc that can color or even control our every interaction. Plus we have an image to maintain and limitations on understanding each other. A lot can be learned about kindness by paying attention to people’s interactions.
The ultimate expression of Tiferet; Malchut of Tiferet, is the nobility of compassion.
Words like sovereignty, dignity, enhancing status and boosting up – like Brend
an Graham’s lyrics, “You raise me up” – come to mind. Michael Jacobs, in his book, Counting the Omer, asks of this day: do our actions create dignity in those we intend to help?
I am reminded of Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Tzedakah. There are many ways to help people, and many ways to give charity. But what is most noble isn’t charity, it is righteousness and justice. Rambam said this is expressed at its greatest level when we support another by endowing him with a gift or a loan, or by teaching her a trade; by finding him employment, or by entering into a partnership with her, to “strengthen his/her hand until s/he need no longer be dependent upon others.” In other words, the greatest nobility in compassion is achieved through enabling others to become self sufficient.
In many cities and rural areas in our country, the number of people who live in poverty is staggering. Here in Chicago, one out of every six people is food insecure, not knowing where they will find or how they will pay for their next meal. Millions of Americans live in food deserts – neighborhoods in which it is too far to walk to a decent grocery store to get healthy fruits and vegetables.
The good news is that urban gardens are cropping up (no pun intended!) all over the United States. A wonderful movie called Growing Cities came out last summer, in which two young men, Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette, took themselves on a road trip to learn about urban farms all around the country. Both born and raised in Nebraska, they noted that they live in a state which consists of farm after farm, but almost none of those farms were growing food for people to eat. The crops were all corn and soybeans that were processed into feed for livestock, fuel, or the ever-ubiquitous junk food.
Dan and Andrew drove all over the nation; to Berkeley and San Francisco, Seattle, Milwaukee, to New York where urban gardens took shape on rooftops, to Boston, Michigan, Atlanta, Louisiana, and of course, to Chicago. Gardens grew every fruit and vegetable imaginable. Some added bees and goats to their bounty. In some farms all the food is given away – nothing is sold. Others belong to the workers, others still sell their produce for a profit. Many have additional space that they offer to people to grow their own food, so in cities like Seattle, where there is a high percentage of people living on SNAP aid, fresh food now supplements their diets.
In Chicago, abandoned buildings and empty lots are being transformed. With more than 20 acres of vacant lots throughout the city, Ken Dunn of City Farm makes agreements with land owners to take this unused land and protect it, beautify it and make useful. John Edel, through using aquaponics to grow food, created 125 jobs in Chicago in his urban farm called “The Plant.” His project is replicable so that it can be implemented by others.
Whether farming with children in schools, taking up unused land, or pioneering a rooftop farm, there are many ways we can get involved in designing gardens where they are needed, and empower people through education and management to cultivate fresh, healthy food for themselves and their families.
Action: An urban garden is a grand project, one that you might be up to or one that may seem beyond your capacity. The idea behind it, however, can be pioneered in many different ways. How can you bring forth another’s sovereignty? Perhaps you would like to start a block garden in which each resident shares his or her expertise and grows something specific. You may prefer to get involved in your city’s planning process for sustainability. Perhaps there is a local program in which you can share your expertise with someone who can become more self-sufficient through your training. Whether your outreach is to a community or to an individual, find a way today to ennoble another through your compassion, helping them to feel the dignity of their own sovereignty.
The foundation of compassion
Did you ever notice how you walk differently on the beach or the forest than you do in the city? By the sea we usually remove our shoes. We want to feel the sand in our toes. If we walk close to the shore, the sand is firm from the ocean. It holds us up, but our feet sink in a bit, molding the earth with our steps. When the water washes over our feet they sink in even deeper. In the forest, our shoes mold to the earth as well, but less so. We can feel the softness of the soil underfoot, cushioning our steps and inviting our muscles to stretch fully. Contrast this with the concrete of the city. A phrase that comes to mind is, “pounding the pavement.” While this expression is often used to describe one seeking a job, it is an accurate description of what our feet do on concrete. They literally pound into the cement. We either tolerate the contact or seek shoes with soft souls, arch supports and plenty of rubber to keep us from injuring our joints.
While we look to build the foundations of our homes and businesses out of concrete and iron, which are fixed and rigid, they are rooted into the earth, which is malleable. It is ironic that even these materials come from the earth. We too, come from the earth, as we learn in Genesis 2:7, “God formed the human – adam – from the earth – adamah – Adonai formed the human from the dust of the earth. God blew into its nostrils the breath of life, and the adam became a living being.”
Dust of the earth… This might be sand. Or topsoil. Isaiah 64:8 says: “O Adonai… we are the clay and You are the potter, we are all the work of Your hands.” This theme is repeated in our Tanach and in our High Holy Day liturgy so we remember: We are from sand. Or topsoil, or clay.
So when we are considering the foundation of compassion, we must find a way to be compassionate with that which has formed us; that which composes our very essence. We must find, recover or enhance our compassion for the earth.
Action: Because the connection between Yesod and Tiferet includes bonding, today is an excellent day to examine the activities in our lives that bind us to the earth. It provides the opportunity to build new links and repair old links. What new links will you forge? What old links might you mend? These may be as old as a memory from a special time at the beach or in the forest, or it may be as ancient as reconnecting with the Source that created you.
How do we find and maintain humility in our compassion?
Nature is an abundant force. Those who swim the ocean know just how powerful an undercurrent can be. Those who have witnessed a wildfire jumping across a six-lane freeway can only feel miniscule, as well as terrified, at its indomitable force. In moments like these, how can we help but feel humble? The more intimate our relationship with the earth, the more humbled we become.
Gardening is an exercise in humility. It is wonderful to reap the benefits, and feel like a proud mama when what you plant comes to fruit. But any urban or rural farmer, any backyard grower tastes humble pie each season when the seeds that you diligently planted don’t come up. Or worse yet, they sprout, but then, as in the case of some of the seeds I started indoors last month, there was too much humidity under the clear dome cover, and the seedlings died. Then there are the seeds that come up, like the celery and cauliflower I have planted each year, but never get big enough to harvest, or aren’t strong enough to grow heads. Humbling.
Let’s not forget the sunflowers that grew from their tiny seeds into majestic, 10 foot tall plants, with stems that looked like tree trunks. Their heads waved in the sunny breeze sporting gorgeous seeds. With a ladder and the hands of neighbors, we covered those heads with nylon netting until the seeds would be ripe enough to pick. And the squirrels ate through every single nylon cover. They had a feast, as represented by the empty sunflower hulls lying in piles on the earth under the now-empty heads. Frustrating, and humbling.
I do very small gardening, but friends of mine have field after field, acre after acre. They share with me the issues of the winter that was too warm that caused a proliferation of insects the following summer. Or the spring that was too wet and therefore delayed the following planting season. Then there was the summer that was too dry and hot, making plants wilt, toughen, or worse, simply die off. All of these can occur in the same climate zone, affecting the planting and the bounty of the harvest. Yes, gardening is humbling.
And yet, isn’t it Tiferet’s very truth that God’s majesty as expressed in nature is simply beyond our control? God says to Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?... Do you know who fixed its dimensions… set its cornerstone?... Who closed the sea behind doors when it gushed forth from the womb?… Have you ever commanded the day to break, assigned the dawn its place so that it seizes the corners of the earth?” (Job, Chapter 38)
In the face of the splendor, might and supremacy that is God’s created universe, the only honest response is humility.
Action: Take time today to be in God’s creation. Whether observing a tall tree or the industrious ant, new spring growth or the strength of the wind, feel its immensity and your gratitude for being a part of this wonderful net of life that is God’s handiwork. As you feel your humility, I invite you to recite the following prayer from the weekday Amidah:
“Adonai, our God, make this a blessed year. May its varied produce bring us happiness. Grant blessing upon the earth, satisfy us with its abundance, and bless our year as the best of years. praised are you, Adonai, who blesses the years.”
Endurance in Compassion: Rabbi Simon Jacobson asks: “Is my compassion enduring and consistent?”
When we sit down to a meal, do we think about where the food has come from? Judaism teaches us to say a brachah – a blessing – for that food. We may or may not take the time to do that, and even if we do, do we stop for a minute and think about the origin of that salad or how that bread came to our table? Barbara Kingsolver focuses on this idea in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I was struck by a conversation she relays to a friend, telling her that the potato plants were coming up. Her friend hadn’t seen a potato grow. She said, “What part of a potato comes up?”
Kingsolver’s response was, “Um… the plant part… Stems and leaves.”
To which her friend replied: “Wow… I never knew potatoes had a plant part.”
How much of what we eat do we take for granted? Whether we don’t know what the plant looks like, or where it grows, who grows it, how it gets to our table… This goes beyond vegetables and fruits as well. Even the boxed food we eat, the dairy, eggs, meat and poultry we purchase, have their roots in the plants that are harvested to make the cereals and cookies, or those that feed the animals that then become part of our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether we are aware of it or not, the earth keeps on producing all that we eat. God, in God’s enduring compassion, continues to provide for us.
The second paragraph of the Shema, while a difficult text, says is that if we love God and serve God with all our heart, soul and might: “I [God] will favor your land with rain at the proper season, in autumn and in spring, and you will have an ample harvest of grain and wine and oil. I will assure abundance in the fields for your cattle. You will eat to contentment.” (Deuteronomy 11:14-15)
Just like that. All God asks is that we love God and follow God’s commandments. God’s compassion endures, as we learn in Psalm 100: “God’s compassion and loyalty are eternal; God’s faithfulness is for all generations.”
Do we love God? Do we follow God’s commandments? God commands us to care for the earth. One way we are asked to do that is through observance of the sabbatical year, in which the land gets a rest and during which all may eat of it, regardless of ownership or economic strata. Observing a rest for the land, however, assumes that we have a relationship with that land. Have we forgotten that the potato has a plant part?
In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13, God is having a conversation with Adam and Eve. The midrash goes like this:
When the Holy One created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)
God’s commitment to our abundance is enduring, yet God needs and demands our partnership. Is our compassion for God’s earth enduring? Are we keeping our part of the covenant?
Action: Make an enduring commitment to the enduring abundance that God provides. Here are some choices as to how you might accomplish that: Say a prayer before your meals in which you trace your food back to the earth that grew it and the people who tended it and helped to get it to your table. Nourish the soil through composting. Rest a piece of your land, or help work to keep natural lands protected. Begin an urban garden or urban forest. Or create your own action and share it with us.
Could there be anything more harmonious, anything more joyful, than the compassion of compassion? This is Tiferet of Tiferet.
The truest compassion has no limits. It is as Isaiah spoke:
You shall indeed go out with joy, and be led forth in peace.
Before you mountains and hills shall break into cries of joy,
And all the trees of the wild shall clap their hands.
– Isaiah 55:12
When I walk in the forest and I feel the leaves crumble under my feet, when I sit on a rock and absorb the light filtering through the trees, I am in a state of joy much like the mountains and the hills. I can feel the trees clapping their accolades. I experience a sense of wholeness and holiness for God’s creation. I experience this as such a gift that I want to, need to, must give back. This is why I plant.
Certainly, planting is work. It’s not just the starting the seeds indoors or placing them in the soil. It’s ensuring the earth is rich, with compost, with worms that aerate the soil, with the right pH and the right mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It is laying the soaker hoses and water lines and making sure that each plant has enough, but not too much, water. It is watching for pests and removing plants that crowd out desired growth. It is leaving some produce for the wild creatures, but finding ways to make sure the rabbits and squirrels don’t eat all the goodies. It is monitoring the heavy rains, the immense heat, the dry spells and the sudden cold nights. It is lifting and shoveling cubic yard after cubic yard of soil, compost and cocoa hulls, pushing the wheelbarrow from spot to spot to build and renew the earth. It is mulching and weeding, and the stark disappointment of annual plants that die unexpectedly mid-season and perennials that don’t make it through the winter. Each is a part of me, like a dear friend or family member, in whose well being I am completely invested. While I love the food the garden provides, the rapture comes way before the harvest, simply from seeing things grow: The carrots have sprouted! Look at that baby cabbage head, and check out the artichokes! The delight must be shared with others: “Have a cucumber, and here are some tomatoes. Got a minute? Can you help me stake up these sunflowers?” I must communicate the grace of these growing things to others, hoping that they feel even a ray of their beauty.
For every breath of air, for every beam of sunlight, for every plant or animal that adorns my plate, for the oceans that roar and for the night that sparkles its jewels of stars, I am in awe. I have so much gratitude. How do I give back to God? How in the world do I say thank you? I plant. It is my way of giving back to God. See God, all that you give to me? Here is my time, my heart, my cultivation. I give back to you and all the creatures that you created, helping to continue to nourish the miraculous web of life. Thank you for my life, and for all the life that surrounds me.
Psalm 96 tells us:
Let the heavens rejoice; let the earth be glad.
Let the sea and all it contains exult.
Let the forest and field sing for joy
For Adonai comes to rule the earth… justly… with faithfulness.
Action: How do you selflessly express your compassion for all of God’s creation? Where can you extend kindness to that which nourishes us from the earth, a kindness beyond what you’ve experienced previously? Find some way to express this boundless compassion today, and feel the joy it brings.
Compassion that is disciplined and focused.
Recently I was rear-ended at a red light. I was more stunned than anything else, and getting out of my car, the thought that was foremost in my mind was the time I lived in Los Angeles and was the victim of a hit and run. My immediate focus was, if nothing else, to get the license plate and make of the car in case my assailant was planning to take off. And I got right on the line with 911.
Stepping out of my car I was greeted by a young man who pleaded with me not to call the cops. It seems he was not only driving his mother’s uninsured car, but he was driving without a license. Why? Because their single-parent family couldn’t afford either one. I felt my twin aspects of Din and Rachamim – Judgment and Compassion – waging a quick war with one another: If the cops came, this 20-year-old from an economically borderline family was going to go to jail. What would his opportunities be after a turn in county? Certainly more limited than they were at present. On the other hand, what if he was giving me a line? He promised to find a way to be responsible for the repairs, but what if those tears disappeared the moment he took off, laughing to himself that he really got away with that one!
The struggle went on inside me as I was waiting for the police to arrive. It was rush hour and the streets were jammed. We spoke back and forth. I got his name and address, his mom’s name, and his phone number. I knew where he lived. Even if he lied about that, with his license plate number written down, I knew I could find him.
“Get in your car and drive away now before the cops arrive,” I finally blurted out. “I will call you and we will figure out how you will pay for the repairs.”
He thanked me and drove off. I made another call to 911 and told them their arrival wasn’t necessary.
My “friend” told me that he was unemployed, but had a tax refund coming. The plan was that we would speak after I got an estimate for the repairs. I called him the next week and asked him to meet me at work, which he did. I thought of the teaching in Deuteronomy that we never keep a worker’s garment overnight even if he is indebted to us, because it is all he has. Taking his whole tax return, which would have covered about half of the repairs, felt wrong. So I made him an offer:
“I am asking that you give me half of your tax refund, because I imagine you need some money to live on. Then I want you to work with me in my garden for an hourly rate until you work off the debt.” I explained to him that I grow food, having turned my yard into an edible landscape. He said ok, and he’s now been working with me for over a month. The first couple of times he came late. I pointed to my neighbor the cop who lives across the street, letting him know that this agreement was something he needed to take seriously. He’s been early ever since. He was frustrated when his large hands had difficulty planting tiny carrot and celery seeds. He much preferred watermelon, which have substantively larger seeds. He has never eaten a winter squash, and last week had his first asparagus ever. “It tastes like a stem,” he said. We ate them fresh from the garden. I told him they were usually steamed or cooked in oil or butter with seasoning, but when they’re that fresh, eating them raw is a treat.
I don’t know if my new friend will become a gardener. I don’t know if he will come to like asparagus or squash or any of the other myriad fruits and vegetables he will be cultivating and trying this season. I do know that he has a sweet heart, with a kind spirit, a sharp mind and a fun sense of humor. I hope that I can inspire him to make a positive, proactive choice to use his life for good, and that his experience in the earth will stay with him in some way.
Action: In what earth-related activity can you apply your compassion in a disciplined way that links Tiferet and Gevurah? According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this is good day to plant above ground annuals, like kale, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. Set a focused goal and plant with the kavannah of feeling in harmony with the earth.
Week three of the Counting of the Omer is the week of Tiferet, and in the context of Tiferet, Rabbi Robin Damsky will be sharing thoughts about gardening. Rabbi Damsky is the rabbi of West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, IL, and the proud mother of Sarah. In her spare time she promotes tikkun olam - repair of the world - through her garden.
Tiferet is the Divine Attribute of compassion, harmony and truth. Rabbi Damsky quotes from Spiritual Guide to Counting of the Omer, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, the following reflection for us to consider throughout this week:
Tiferet – compassion, blends with and harmonizes the free outpouring love of chesed with the discipline of truth, which is neither love nor discipline, and therefore can integrate the two. Truth is accessed through selflessness: rising above your ego and your predispositions, enabling you to realize a higher truth.
During this week of reflections on Tiferet, Rabbi Damsky will be considering truth, harmony, and compassion - in the context of her garden. Let us share in her journey, as she focuses on the harmony that is possible between us and the earth: how the earth nourishes us, and how, through our kavaanah - our intention - in planting and cultivation, we can help her to continue to do so.
May we find our hearts opening wider during this week, and may we find Tiferet imbuing our lives.
Rabbi Katy Allen, Ma'yan Tikvah
Day 15: Week 3, Day 1 of the Omer – Chesed of Tiferet
by Rabbi Robin Damsky
In the late afternoon of Erev Pesach I left my home to head to my seder as light hail was falling. Odd, I thought, a little early for the ten plagues. As the evening progressed, our group would pause now and again to look out the window at the accumulating snow. A good inch was sitting on my car by seder’s end. Yes, it’s late in the season for snow, even by Chicago’s standards. But issues of climate change have been covered well by others in this blog. I was thinking of the asparagus.
One of the first crops to grace us in the fragile days that are just past winter but not quite spring, the fronds poked up their heads the week before. That snowfall killed some of the baby stalks. I wonder if the harsh winter contributed to the fact that many of this year’s stalks thus far are too thin to gather. Nevertheless, one rainfall early this week and more stems are popping up. My first harvest was seven spears, tossed into a sauté/fried rice dish with brown rice, quinoa, herbs and eggs. Delicious.
Chesed of Tiferet demands of us that we examine the love aspect of our compassion, ensuring that it does not come across as pity. In looking at my asparagus bed, it brought to mind the following verse in our Torah in this week’s parashah:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I, Adonai, am your God. (Lev. 19:9-10).
The same text, almost exactly to the word, appears just a few chapters later, in a reading, that synchronously, we just read on Pesach: Leviticus 23:22.
Why leave the corners of our field for those who are hungry? It is a way to preserve their dignity; allowing those in need to eat without them having to ask for help. At the same time, we are exercising our care and compassion through a selfless act. We till the land, we plant the seeds and work the soil, knowing even as we plan our garden that a percentage of it will be dedicated to those who are in want.
One of the names we call God is Ha-Rachaman, the Merciful or Compassionate One. Within this name is the word “rechem,” which means womb. The womb is the source of all life, and God, as Ha-Rachaman, wants all life to be nourished with grace. As we read in the Ashrie prayer: “You open your hand; Your favor sustains all the living. Ha-Rachaman knows that there is enough sustenance for all.
Action: I have shared some of my asparagus with those who have less, and will continue to do so from my garden throughout the season. Are you planting this year? Maybe even a pot of herbs or tomatoes? If not, can you do this today metaphorically? I invite you to share some of what you “grow” with others in a way that is compassionate and selfless while honoring others’ self-respect, so you can personally experience the Chesed of Tiferet.
Day Seven of Week 2 (14th day of Omer): Malchut in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson
Malchut is about dignity, and the final manifestation of the intended change. But it is also about sovereignty and authority, and if necessary, assessing if the recipients of such change are deserving and judging if they will utilize it wisely. It could only have been unimaginably difficult for G-d to mete out justice in the form of punishment to those of His creation. Similarly, it is tough for us to judge others, and our own detrimental leanings and inclinations as well. That's where the discernment of Gevurah can help us to realize the impediments that lie along our path.
With Gevurah, characterized by the strict adherence to law and meting of justice, and Malchut, dignity, together they are about restraining the urge to shower goodness upon those who are unworthy or could misuse such gifts. Although G-d's actions of punishment were meant for the bettering of humanity, they have lasting repercussions, and it is our duty to continue to improve upon our past transgressions. We do this during the first 33 days of the Omer, which is a period of mourning recalling the tragic deaths of thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, as the Talmud explains, because they were disrespectful toward one another. Lag B'Omer, the eighteenth of Iyar, with "Lag" meaning the number 33 in Hebrew, signifies a break in the plague. During the 33 days leading up to this day, we hold no weddings or events with dancing, play no music (purely vocal music is allowed), and don't get haircuts or shave. And we try to find ways to treat others with great respect. In this way, we try to make a "tikkun," a spiritual correction in ourselves and the world. That is the ultimate form of dignity, especially as we are attempting to repair not only our own sins, but the sins of our past brethren.
It is only through proper homage and penitence for the mistakes of the past, and after we have assessed whether or not the intended recipients are deserving, that we can then move to manifest our aims.
The shmita year in agriculture provides for a healing from past transgressions in relation to the earth, such as overuse of the soil and its elements, over-irrigation, over-production. We give the earth a rest, and find other ways to sustain ourselves and others with respect. Then we can move forward in our manifestation of feeding ourselves and others from a dignified and renewed beginning. Giving the earth a rest is a powerful and difficult to imagine task. Here are some ideas from 7seedsproject.org about how to renew the shmita culture and change the way we relate to the Earth:
We are counting down the days to Passover, to our journey out of slavery and into freedom. And then, on the second night of Passover, we will begin counting in a serious way, we will begin counting the Omer.
With the Counting of the Omer count seven weeks of seven days - 49 days - from crossing into freedom to receiving the Torah, from redemption to revelation, from Passover to Shavuot, from the Sea of Reeds to the Mountain of Sinai, from the depths of despair to the heights of joy, from physical enslavement to spiritual freedom, from the barley harvest offering to the wheat harvest offering, from the food of animals offering to the food of humans offering. We count 49 days.
In Jewish mystical tradition, each of these seven weeks is equated to one of seven Divine Attributes. During each week, we also travel through these seven attributes day by day. In this way, each day represents a combination of two attributes, and throughout the 49 days we experience every possible combination of the attributes, 49 different combinations, so very many ways of considering the sacred, and our connection to it.
This year, seven of the writers of our Earth Etudes for Elul have each agreed to write seven Omer reflections for Ma'yan Tikvah. We are grateful for the immense thought and effort that each of these writers has put into their work. As always, they have woven some aspect of the natural world into their writings. And also, as always, you will see great variety from week to week - we begin with hard-hitting science, and then the week after switch to poetry. You will read political views, thoughts on personal growth, ideas on how to get closer to the Earth and closer to G!d, as each of the writers expresses her or his innermost feelings and pulls you into her or his personal world. I invite you to journey with us, and to see where our writers' reflections will lead us.
The first week of Omer reflections begin on Tuesday evening, April 15. They have been written by Rabbi Judy Weiss, and in addition to the Divine Attribute of Chesed, which is the focus of the week, she also focuses on the oceans and climate change. Rabbi Judy Weiss lives in Brookline, MA, with her husband Alan. She teaches Tanakh, and volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Passover is almost here. We are counting the days.
Day Six of Week 2 (13th day of Omer): Yesod in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson
Yesod is about foundations, the base of support from which to enact these desired changes. And foundations are bonded together, which reflects Yesod's other attribute of bonding.
With a firm foundation, a springboard that is also a grounded platform, we can join with like-minded others in a disciplined, Gevurah effort of healing, rebuilding, and preparing our agricultural systems toward a more sustainable future.
"Yesod is the final filter in which the test of your sincerity is measured by the degree of integrity your change reflects," the Chabad website states. "[t]he change in me will express my truth—the truth I want to be (the Hebrew word for truth= Emet, constructed of the letters Alef, Mem and Tav all of which have bases—“legs” that allows them to stand firmly on their own)."
Aish explores Gevurah, or "strength" as usually understood to be G-d's punishment of the wicked and judgement of humanity. It is the foundation of stringency, absolute adherence to the letter of the law, and strict meting out of justice." However, Aish continues that Gevurah goes far beyond strictness and judgment. "When G-d said, 'Let there be a firmament,' the world kept stretching and expanding, until G-d said, 'Enough!' and it came to a standstill." Human interaction is both defined, and limited. It's up to us to make our interactions just, effective, and inspiring.
In agriculture, we work with the foundation of the earth, its fields, valleys and surfaces. Through careful action, we produce the crops that feed and bind us together in sustenance.
Action: Reflect upon the different types of the Earth's surfaces, and the varied crops that each yields. Relate them to the different aspects of strength that we receive from each crop. Imagine the power and strength that we are also receiving!
Day Five of Week 2 (12th day of Omer): Hod in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson
Hod stands for humility and acknowledging limits. In concert with the restraint and discernment of Gevurah, you might want to lower those expectations. But don't, because Hod is also associated with splendor and glory.
Sure, change can be difficult, and there is a certain comfort to same old same old. But it doesn't have to be huge, insurmountable change, either. Eminent environmentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote that the journey was as important, and even perhaps more important, than the destination.
"In Scripture, gevurah and the plural gevurot refer to YHWH's capability of acting like a warrior," writes Michael Zank, who cites YHWH's slaying of the Sea monster Rahab, which led to "the establishment of the protected order of 'natural' life and the acclamation of YHWH's kingship in the assembly of the gods," and "the act of salvation at the Reed Sea (kri'at yam suf), another combat with the element of water but now in the context of history, establishing 'cultural' order in the covenant of Sinai." Zank feels that G-d's feats can help people recognize what he calls "their shameful lack in covenantal trust and truthfulness," and he writes of associations of such heroism of Gevurah with "the angel of salvation...or with the time or figure of messianic redemption.... [t]he enigmatic nature and wherabout of his power of historic salvation are likely to have given rise, after the hurban, to the rabbinic coinage of "The Power" (hag-gevurah) and its usages."
Be the power! Take those small steps to help sustain and preserve our planet.
Action: Write Letters to the Editor about environmental issues. Think about joining a Community-Sponsored Agricultural (CSA) group, and how you might help to link a school, food pantry or synagogue to the CSA.
Day Four of Week 2 (11th day of Omer): Netzach in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson
It all begins with ourselves. And Netzach signifies trusting in ourselves by summoning both strength and confidence (Gevurah) and facing challenges that can come from within. Thoughts or feelings can either inspire and empower ourselves, or stand in our own way. Netzach is associated with perseverance, endurance and victory. So hang in there, and don't be your own worst enemy! And remember, it's never too late to change - ourselves, or our environment.
By calling up some of Gevurah's focused restraint, discipline and discernment and Netzach's determined perseverance, we can plant our crops, eat locally, share our bounty, and succeed!
"The week of Gevurah gives us the opportunity to reveal, embrace, and more deeply understand our inner and outer strengths," states the website of the Kehilla Community Synagogue of Piedmont, California. "As we count the Omer, we will see that Gevurah is essential for the health and well-being of our personal lives, our communities and the world."
According to a March 29 article on Massachusetts farming by Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, there are about 7,700 farms inMassachusetts that employ about 12,000 workers, contributing about $492 million to the state's economy. They help to preserve more than half a million acres of land as open space, and being small, don't utilize big factory-farm practices. Only one uses cramped "battery cages" for hens, and none use pig or veal crates. And those farms, which are mostly small operations, don’t employ the objectionable practices of big factory farms. Thirty-two percent are owned by women. There are eight buy-local organizations in the state, and Boston Area Gleaners is has about 700 volunteers who pick surplus crops and distribute the food to low-income communities. Indeed, the "buy local" movement has become a social phenomenon, with a notable proliferation of farmers' markets, restaurants featuring local fare, the revamping of school menus and programming to promote local foods, farm stands, pick-your-own produce sites, and community-supported agriculture. And why not? The food is fresher, you know where it came from, it tastes great, and by eating local, you help support the local economy as well as Massachusetts cities and towns.
In addition to eight seasonal farmers’ markets currently operating in Greater Boston, an indoor, public local food market is set to open in 2014 on Blackstone Street in downtown Boston. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s website includes a map of local food sites and other information, but according to Lehigh, supermarkets and grocery stores, need a "nudge."
Action: Think about how you might help to get more local produce onto supermarket shelves. Imagine becoming involved in a local agricultural project and helping to expand their programming into a local school. The aim will be to empower young students to lead their families toward healthier and locally-grown diets.
Day Three of Week 2 (10th day of Omer): Tiferet in Gevurah
by Susie Davidson
The aspects of Tiferet are harmony, compassion and mercy. "Tiferet is a blueprint for change, and how your plan for change takes into account the need for balance—both internally and with others.” (Chabad.org) In order for our desired change to manifest, we need reserves of Gevurah's discipline and careful planning. We need its restraint as well, so as to keep our plans attainable and effective. “How far and wide will the change be? When is the change best timed for? And do you need and have support?” It is about formulating your plan and putting your determination into actuality.
Tiferet is about the self-love and determination that help one to achieve and manifest our goals - and balance. These aspects can be most effectively combined with the restraint and discipline of Gevurah.
Agriculture certainly entails harmony in the layout of the rows of planting, the balance of crops, the melding of varied harvested foods. Each sheath of a grain is harmoniously designed. Agriculture requires compassionate, careful planning in order to treat the Earth with respect. Here, I recall the Torah-directed mitzvah of Shmita – letting our fields rest once every seven years. This aligns with the seven days of this week of the Omer.
With great discipline, and restrained, carefully-planned action, we can work the soil in a thoughtful manner to grow the barley and grains and all of the gifts of produce that will sustain and enrich our bodies and minds.
Action: Study biblical methods of farming, and contrast with modern machine-driven, pesticide-oriented agriculture. Think about or research ways by which we can improve these modern systems so as to reflect original methods of growing our food.
List hazardous by-products of modern agriculture, and suggest ways that they might be mitigated through other methods of production. How can we spread these ideas, perhaps through online petitions aimed at agricultural conglomerates and corporations?
by Susie Davidson
Day Two of Week 2 (9th day of Omer): Gevurah in Gevurah
Focus, discipline, restraint, determination, careful measure - times two. This is steadfastness in the face of challenge. Michael Zank, who teaches biblical studies at Boston University's Department of Religion and is Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, writes in his book Approaches to Ancient Judaism that the epithet Gevurah “refers to that which makes the hero (gibbor) a hero.” Zank writes that the root gv”r, in biblical as well as rabbinic literature, is associated with masculinity.
Gever meaning "man," and gibbor, "hero" – that's one powerful combination that to me is not gender-specific. We can all possess this power and utilize it in ways that benefit the planet and its people. Power has different connotations. In physics, it is the amount of energy consumed per unit time. We power all our technological devices with energy sources. Power, in the social sciences and political spheres, signifies an ability to influence peoples' actions and behavior.
In agriculture, power plays a role in farming equipment and the man- or woman-power needed to work the soil and produce its bounty.
Clearly, there is a danger of abusing power to control, rather than influence. It is best to influence others by good example. Zank goes on to link Gevurah to “the power of horses and...the manly deeds of kings and G-d.” He states that he relates "power," to the Greek abstract noun dynamis, as it was comprehended by Greek-speaking ancient Jews. “When translating the divine epithet (hag-gevurah), I render it as 'The Power,'” he writes.
Actions: So what do we do with all this power? This 9th day of Omer is opportune to performing an action for the good of the earth. Organize a public event, promote an environmental cause. In a disciplined way, plan the action carefully, so that it will be most effective.
It's spring! Envision yourself leading a workshop on organic gardening, or giving a talk on how we can personally counter climate change in our daily lives and behavior. List earth-friendly ways of living that we can adhere to with discipline and power, acting in our own way to save the planet.
This week we welcome Susie Davidson as she writes about Gevurah in the context of agriculture, intrinsic to the human relationship with the Earth. Susie is a poet, journalist, author, and filmmaker who writes regularly for the Jewish Advocate, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Cambridge Chronicle and other media. She has also contributed to the Boston Sunday Globe, the Boston Herald and the Jerusalem Post, and Ha'aretz. She has written three books about local Holocaust survivors. Susie is Coordinator of the Boston chapter of The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and a board member of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action.
As we travel with Susie through this second week of the Omer, from Chesed to Malchut, may each of us feel our strength increasing and becoming more solidly embedded in our hearts and souls. Welcome to Week Two of the Omer.
Rabbi Katy Allen
An omer, which literally means a “sheaf,” is a unit of measure. In the Temple days, it was a grain offering, specifically, barley. As stated in Leviticus 23:15, we count these units for 49 days, or seven weeks, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot. Passover marks the Exodus from Egypt, but we were not truly redeemed from slavery until we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, now celebrated on Shavuot. The counting period is a time of preparation for the Torah, the greatest object and culmination of our desires.
The sefira of the second week is Gevurah. Gevurah is characterized by restraint, discipline, and discernment, and measure, which is most appropriate to the context of the Omer. The word gevurah is composed of the root letters gimmel, bet and heh. These letters also form the word gever, which means “man,” and geveret, which means “woman.” Other words that share the root letters include "hero," "strength," and the protagonist character in a story.
Day One of Week 2 (8th day of Omer): Chesed b'Gevurah
Compassion and loving kindness combine here with restraint, discipline and discernment – with a measure of barley or a harvested grain. What is more basic to nourishment than recently-harvested grains? Just last week, a friend made me a pot of barley, onion and lentil soup. Right away, I can relate to and appreciate the measure of counting that our biblical ancestors adopted to fulfill this mitzvah and this aspect of agriculture.
“If love (chesed) is the bedrock of human expression, discipline (gevurah) is the channels through which we express love. It gives our life and love direction and focus.” (Chabad.org) Gevurah also signifies respect and awe, and a healthy love includes respect. Discipline and measure. Focus. Health. There's that barley soup! Barley soup is intrinsic to Jewish cookery. If we are measuring our behavior, we are also measuring ingredients for sustenance, in this case, nutritious food needed for survival, harvested from the earth, and shared out of loving kindness. In making this offering, we are tending to the sacred earth we were given, while helping others to be healthy, to thrive, to be strong, and to attain the greatest state of being.
Chesed is love in all its forms. We love the earth, and each other through feeding and nourishment, which, for a mother and for the mother in all of us, is a supreme form of love.
I see restraint, focus and discipline as crucial practices utilized both in tilling the soil, planting, irrigating and producing crops, as well as in the preparation of a recipe of healthful and energy-giving ingredients - as opposed to throwing processed junk food on someone's plate. Our food is the basis of our health and endurance. “We are what we eat” is a truism that manifests in our behavior toward others and toward our planet. Food is a form of love, it was given to us by G-d, and in all of its forms, is holy. The fruits of agriculture involve working with G-d's earth, respectfully harvesting its bounty, preparing the harvested ingredients, and sharing this prepared food with others. When we share nutritious grains together, we are one. It is a very high form of care and respect.
Actions: Exercise and practice – plan a carefully-measured recipe of healthful grains and other natural ingredients that you could serve to others for an upcoming gathering. Research how you might begin to grow some of your own food – even in a window-box garden.
Love these essays and want to read more? Missed a couple days and need to catch up? Click here for more!
Need to revisit or catch up on Rabbi Katy's letters? Click here for more.
Outdoor Shabbat Morning Service
Saturday April 26
Pine Brook Conservation Area
Meet at the cul de sac at the end of Forty Acres Drive, Wayland
We'll take a walk through the woods and by the water, with stops for prayer and song. Come prepared for the weather, and if you'd like, bring a reading or a snack to share.
Introduction to Jewish Prayer
Rabbi Katy & Gabi's House
Do you have questions about Jewish prayer? Why pray? What is the prayer service all about? What is the meaning of the prayers? What is the meaning of the words? Does it matter if I pray in English or in Hebrew? This class addresses these and other questions about Jewish prayer. Each session is devoted to three topics: prayerbook Hebrew, the structure of the prayer service and the meaning of the fixed prayers, and what prayer is, why we might want to pray, what to expect (or not) from prayer, and how to approach prayer. We use Prayerbook Hebrew the Easy Way. A traditional siddur is helpful. Additional readings are provided. The ability to recognize Hebrew letters is needed to understand everything, participants who want to learn to read Hebrew or to participate without doing the Hebrew are welcome.
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Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope provides a home for those seeking an alternative way of encountering Judaism through outdoor services, intimate study opportunities, care of the environment, and tzedakah. We hold Shabbat services, holiday celebrations, classes, and High Holiday services in the woods.
Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope
237 Old Connecticut Path
Wayland, MA 01778
Phone: 1 508.358.5996
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Retreat 2012 Photos