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Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah

Illustration by Steve Silbert

This new collaborative offering from Bayit’s liturgical arts working group comes to bring light in dark times. Here you’ll find new liturgy (including an “Al HaNisim” looking back on the miracles we haven’t yet lived into being, and a “Hanerot Hallalu” for this pandemic year), evocative poetry (on finding light without a chanukiyah, on kindling lights alone, on the windows where we light our lights and the Zoom windows where the pandemic allows us to gather, and much more), and meditations on Chanukah through all five senses, all accompanied by heart-opening artwork. This collection was co-created by Trisha Arlin, R. Rachel Barenblat, R. Dara Lithwick, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, R. Jennifer Singer, Steve Silbert, and Devon Spier, and is intended for use by individuals and communities across and beyond the denominational spectrum.

Download the whole collection:

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah [pdf]

 

Above you can see a glimpse of one of the illustrations. Here are tastes of a few of the poems, prayers, and meditations contained in this collection:

From “Hanukkah Poem #1,” Devon Spier:

i figure the day before Hanukkah
is the right time to begin
a new time
in inhuman history…

From “Hanerot Hallalu for 2020,” by Rabbi Dara Lithwick:

This Chanukah we honour those whose light has shone throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the helpers who despite the tohu and bohu, the chaos and confusion, trauma, fear and disinformation have served and continue to serve, illuminating our communities by their commitment and caring…

From “Al Hanisim: Future Miracles Unfolding Now, ” by Rabbi David Evan Markus:

In the days of Stacey Abrams, Jacinda Ardern, William Barber, Anthony Fauci, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Lewis, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, peoples of the Earth had forgotten Your teachings and transgressed Your ways of justice. Greed corroded truth. Ignorance mocked science. Fossil fuels burned without end, defiling Your temple of nature. Zealotry and corruption flourished, defiling Your temple of democracy…

From “Rededication,” Rabbi Rachel Barenblat:

It’s not like the Temple, sullied
by improper use and then washed clean
and restored to former glory.
This house is tarnished by familiarity…

From “My Maccabees,” by Trisha Arlin:

…This year
My Maccabees
Wore masks
Washed their hands
Kept their distance
Stayed home…

From “Chanukah of Stars,” Rabbi Jennifer Singer:

The year I had no hanukiah
No candles
Not even a match
Because I had let the last cigarettes crumble in a drawer…

From “Second Calendar,” Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz:

There is a Jewish calendar for those who came late.

Until Tuesday afternoon,
One might prolong the shabbes
For all those still in need
Of a second soul…

 

Download the whole collection:

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah [pdf]

And find all of our liturgical collaborations here: Liturgical Arts for Our Time.

 

    

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, Rabbi Jennifer Singer, and Devon Spier. Sketchnotes by Steve Silbert.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

 

Shalom javerim.  Espero que sus Altas Fiestas hayan sido dulces y significativas.

En este mes, llega la fiesta de Simjat Torá, cuyo nombre significa “la alegría de la Torá.”  Cuando leemos la Torá todos los sábados, leemos todas las porciones de la Torá salvo la última, la cual se llama “Vezot Haberajá”, “ésta es la bendición.”  Esta porción final de la Torá contiene la última bendición que Moisés da a los Hijos de Israel y la muerte de Moisés mismo.  Esta porción no es leída en Shabbat, sino en Simjat Torá.

Y al leerla hacemos algo inesperado: pasamos inmediatamente del final de la Torá al comienzo.  Pasamos de la muerte de Moises a final de Deuteronomio directamente a la creación del Cosmos al comienzo del Génesis.  ¿Tal vez se pregunten por qué?

Una respuesta es que la muerte de Moisés es una historia triste.  La Torá nos dice: “Nunca más se alzó un profeta como Moisés.” Moisés fue nuestro más grande profeta, y ahora se ha ido.  Los sabios de nuestra tradición no querían dejarnos en la tristeza de esa pérdida.  Así que nos instruyeron a seguir inmediatamente con el comienzo del Génesis. Esto nos recuerda que esa pérdida no es el final de la historia– de ninguna historia. Todo final ofrece un nuevo comienzo. 

Otra respuesta es que al conectar el final de nuestra historia con el comienzo de nuestra historia aprendemos algo profundo sobre la tradición judía y sobre la Toŕa misma.

La última letra de la Torá es lamed, la cual termina la palabra Yisrael, nuestro nombre como comunidad y como pueblo.  La primera letra de la Torá es la letra bet, la cual comienza la palabra Bereshit.  “En el comienzo”, o “en un comienzo” o “al comenzar Dios a crear el cielo y la tierra…”

Cuando viajamos del final de la Torá al comienzo de la Torá, la última lamed y la primera bet, forman la palabra “lev”, “corazón”. El corazón de la Torá encontramos el amor.

Esta es una metáfora. ¡Y también es la simple y llana verdad! El verso que aparece en la mitad del libro medio del rollo es “amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo.”  Esta es llamada a veces “la mitzvá del Creador”.  Todas las 613 mitzvot vienen de Dios, pero esta ocupa un lugar especial en la tradición porque es, literalmente, el corazón de la Torá.  Esta mitzvá evoca el acto original de creación de DIos – un acto motivado, dicen nuestros místicos, por el amor y el deseo de estar en relación con nosotros.

En Simjat Torá conectamos el final con el comienzo y encontramos “lev”: el corazón amante de la Torá.

Hay amor en nuestros finales y hay amor en nuestros comienzos.  Hay amor que nos conecta con la Torá y amor que nos conecta los unos con los otros.  Hay amor en nuestro ocuparnos los unos de los otros y ocuparnos de nuestras tradiciones.  Como Rebekah Langus nos enseñó cuando visitamos Cienfuegos el otoño pasado, la labor de mantener una comunidad judía es una labor de amor.  Si nos ocupamos de nuestros semejantes y de nuestras tradiciones en soledad, corremos el riesgo de caer en el resentimiento y el cansancio.  Pero cuando nos ocupamos los unos de los otros y de nuestras tradiciones con amor, entonces este cuidado nos eleva colectivamente. 

En Simjat Torá, nos alegramos por el amor por nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos por el amor que llena nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos en nuestra habilidad de comenzar nuestra historia de nuevo al comenzar un nuevo año.  Y nos alegramos en la habilidad de superar el dolor para poder comenzar de nuevo, del ir del caos a crear algo nuevo con nuestros corazones y nuestras manos.  Esta es la tarea de la vida espiritual, y es la labor que ustedes conocen muy bien. 

Aun cuando comenzamos con ruptura, pérdida o caos, podemos construir algo mucho mejor con amor.  Tal vez ésta sea la bendición a la cual hace referencia el nombre de la última porción de la Torá: Vezot Haberajá.  No importa cuántas peŕdidas tengamos en nuestra historia, no importa cuáles sean nuestros desafíos, siempre podemos comenzar de nuevo, juntos, con amor. 

Que así sea en este nuevo año, para ustedes y para todos nosotros. 

 

 

Shalom chaverim! I hope your High Holidays were meaningful and sweet.

This month we reach the festival of Simchat Torah, whose name means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” When we read the Torah week by week, we read every Torah portion except for the final one, which is called V’Zot Ha-Brakha, “This Is The Blessing.” That final Torah portion contains the final blessing that Moses gives to the children of Israel, and it contains the death of Moses. We do not read this Torah portion on Shabbat. We only read it at Simchat Torah. 

And we do something strange when we read it: we move immediately from the end of Torah to the beginning. We go from Moses’ death at the end of Deuteronomy directly to the creation of the cosmos at the start of Genesis. Maybe some of you are wondering: why? 

One answer is that the death of Moses is a sad story. Torah tells us “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses.” Moses was our greatest prophet, and now he is gone. The sages of our tradition didn’t want to leave us in the sadness of that loss. So they instructed us to move directly from there to the start of Genesis. This reminds us that loss is not the end of the story — any story. Every ending can also be a new beginning.

Another answer is that in linking the end of our story with the beginning of our story, we learn something deep about Jewish tradition and about Torah itself. 

The final letter in the Torah is the letter lamed, which ends the word Yisrael, our name as a community and a people. The first letter in the Torah is the letter bet, which begins the word B’reishit, “In the beginning,” or “in a beginning,” or “as God was beginning to create heavens and earth…” 

When we move from Torah’s end to Torah’s beginning, the closing lamed and opening bet form the word lev, “heart.” The heart of Torah is love. 

This is a metaphor. And it is also plain truth! The verse that appears in the very middle of the middle book of the scroll is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is sometimes called The Mitzvah Of The Creator. All 613 mitzvot come from God, but this one occupies a special place in the tradition because it is literally at Torah’s heart. This mitzvah evokes God’s initial act of creation — motivated, our mystics say, by love, and by the desire to be in relationship with us.

At Simchat Torah we link ending with beginning and find lev, Torah’s loving heart. 

There is love in our endings and love in our beginnings. There is love in what connects us with Torah, and love in what connects us with each other. There is love in our care for each other and our care for our traditions. As Rebekah Langus taught us when we visited Cienfuegos last autumn, the work of sustaining Jewish community is the work of love. If we tend to each other and our traditions out of duty alone, we may become resentful and depleted. But when we care for each other and for our traditions with love, then that care lifts us up together. 

At Simchat Torah, we rejoice in our love of our shared story. We rejoice in the love that fills our shared story. We rejoice in our ability to begin our story again as we begin a new year. And we rejoice in our ability to move from loss to starting over, from chaos to creating something new with our own hearts and hands. This is the work of spiritual life, and it is work that you know well. 

Even when we begin with brokenness, or loss, or chaos, we can build something better together with love. Maybe this is the blessing referenced in that final Torah portion’s name, V’Zot Ha-Bracha. No matter what losses are in our story, no matter what challenges are in our story, we always get to begin again, together, with love. 

May it be so in this new year, for you and for us all.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Ushpizin: liturgy for Sukkot in time of covid

Sukkot this year will be unlike any other. Some of us won’t be able to safely build a sukkah; others will find in the sukkah the outdoor safety that indoor ventilation doesn’t provide. What does it mean to invite ancestors when we can’t invite guests in person? With what, or whom, (or Whom!) are we sitting when we dwell in our sukkot this year — whether our sukkot be literal or metaphorical? What structures can we build liturgically and spiritually to protect us in these vulnerable times? Four liturgists from within and beyond the denominations collaborated on this set of offerings from Bayit to accompany us through this year’s festival. Here are excerpts; you can download the whole collection at the end of the post.

 

0. This Year’s Sukkah – With Words, by Rachel Barenblat and David Evan Markus, with illustration by Steve Silbert:

We build this year’s sukkah with words. Our words keep us company.  We read the words of this Teaching: this Teaching gathers us in…

1. Invitation to the Builders / Invitation to my Virtual Sukkah by Trisha Arlin:

…You are invited,
Builders of our past sukkot
In the backyard, the park, the roof:
Every year
You put up the walls
You hung the decorations.
Where are you this week?…

2. Far Away So Close by Rachel Barenblat:

…How can I welcome Abraham
and Sarah, David and
Rachel, when I can’t welcome
my own neighbors?…

3. UnSukkah by David Evan Markus:

We don’t build our sukkah with nails
Sharply hammered into sturdy place.

We don’t build our sukkah with roof shingles
And sustainable solar panels for midnight light…

4. In the Open by Sonja Keren Pilz:

Vulnerable
Under the open sky.

The air gets thinner;
Canadian geese fly by…

5. Sitting in Emptiness by Trisha Arlin:

On Sukkot, we sit in the sukkah:
In an empty room
Porous walls
Holes in the ceiling
No door…

6. Sit With Me / Not Alone by Rachel Barenblat:

…The safest companion in times of covid:
Myself. Or you, Holy One:
dressed for the season in worn jeans
and flannel shirt, and maybe flip-flops
reluctant to let summer end…

7. Sitting neither Here nor There by Sonja Keren Pilz:

We used to sit, huddled together,
Sharing blankets, often too cold.
We used to drink,
Hot tea or cider,
Passing the water, the soda, the coke…

8. Tomorrow Again (for Shemini Atzeret) by David Evan Markus:

This is the breezy feeling I hope to remember
Starting tomorrow when beginning begins again

Pulsing reborn from the jumble of these many months
Left on pandemic ground to decay as pungent compost

For the first daring shoots of next year’s who-knows…

9. Simchat Torah, by the ensemble together:

We dance by ourselves.
We dance in our living rooms with Sefaria on our phones.
We dance in the falling rain.
We dance cradling toddlers, or dogs, or emptiness…

Download the whole collection here: Ushpizin [PDF]

 

Prayers by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi David Evan Markus, and Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz. Sketchnote by Steve Silbert.

Megillat Covid: Five Offerings for Tisha b’Av

Here are five offerings for Tisha b’Av, each available as its own downloadable PDF. They are intended for both personal and communal use, and can be used singly or all together. Any of them could be read on their own, or as a prelude to Eicha / Lamentations. The final one has been set to Eicha trope.

 

Crying Out by R’ Rachel Barenblat draws on images from the pandemic and asks the question: who will we be when the pandemic is gone? Here is a brief excerpt (you can read the whole piece in the PDF file below):

Lonely sits the city once great with people —
her subways now empty, her classrooms closed.
Refrigerator trucks await the bodies of the dead
wrapped in sheets of plastic and stacked like logs.
Mourners keep a painful distance, unable to embrace…

Along the Lines of Lamentations by R’ Sonja K. Pilz is similar to a cento (a poem that repurposes lines from another poem), as it consists primarily of quotations from Eicha, re-contextualized by their juxtaposition and by this pandemic season. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

We were laid waste (2:5).
We were stripped like a garden;
Ended have Shabbat and festivals (2:6).
Our gates have sunk into the ground (2:9).
Elders sit silently;
Women bow their heads to the ground (2:10).
My eyes are spent;
My being melts away (2:11)….

Jeremiahs without a jeremiad by devon spier offers fragmented lines evoking our fragmented hearts in this time of pandemic. About her contribution, devon writes:

To be used to cultivate an embodied COVID megillah reading that honours the fall of Jerusalem and the ebb and flow of our bodies in the months of the Coronavirus and related social distancing. 

To honour that for those of us with pre-existing conditions (our own frail, flimsy, fabulous humanness, our addictions, chronic health issues, years of unfelt griefs suddenly flung to the surface…each of these), we can wrap our whole selves in the scroll of this weeping day. And we can arrive, just as we are.

I would frame this as a kavannah as lines of ketuvim (lines of poetical post-exilic writings) the speaker can read before beginning chanting to set an intention. Or, the lines of this work could also be read throughout the chanting, as the verses I cite appear throughout the first chapter of Eicha. 

‘V’ha-ikar…” and the essence: Pause for the moments you feel the most human. Feel. And insert the words of this piece exactly where you are. From the lines of this intention and a gentle remembrance on this solemn day where we still face ourselves, our ancestors, our communities and each other, in and beyond, always, with hope: “Jerusalem is me is you.”

Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

lamentations
for those with pages
of unwritten loss
lamenting
Jerusalem
and everything else
they never had
but Are
somehow
we are…

Alas by Trisha Arlin evokes the full journey of Eicha, from weeping for the city in distress to remembrance and the promise of change. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

…Eating, Sleeping, Walking
Alone
TV, Facebook, Prayer
Alone
Coughing, Crying, Dying
Alone

Alas, loneliness!
I am so frightened.
I weep and who will hear me?…

Remember by Rabbi Evan Krame evokes the end of Lamentations, beseeching God to remember us and to let us return. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

God! Remember what we had? Consider and see our situation!
Our future went to strangers, our houses no refuge.
We are like orphans, without a leader, our mothers worry like widows…

Here also is a recording of R’ Krame’s words sung in Eicha trope, recorded by Rabbi Jennifer Singer.

Together these five offerings make up this year’s “Megillat Covid,” the scroll of our mourning and our search for meaning during these pandemic times. Each is available for download as a PDF file here:

MegillatCovid-Barenblat-CryingOut (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Pilz-AlongTheLines (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Spier-Jeremiahs (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Arlin-Alas (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Krame-Remember (PDF) and audio recording by R’ Jennifer Singer:

 

And here’s a sketchnote of R’ Krame’s words, created by Steve Silbert:

 

Contributors:

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is a founding builder at Bayit and author of several volumes of poetry who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi.

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz, PhD is the Editor of the CCAR Press. She taught Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual at HUC-JIR in New York and the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University, and authored one book, some articles, and many poems, midrashim, and prayers. Her work has been published in Liturgy, Worship, the CCAR Journal, a number of anthologies, and online.

Devon Spier is a rabbinic student, an author, and a visual poet theologian (proemologian), who both weaves and teaches others to weave their stories through poems, prose and theology of digital images.

Trisha Arlin is a liturgist, performer and student of prayer in Brooklyn, NY.  She is author of Place Yourself: Words of Prayer and Intention

Rabbi Evan Krame is a founding builder at Bayit and co-founder of The Jewish Studio.

Steve Silbert is the Bayit builder behind VisualTorah and Sketchnoting Jewishly.

 

Mah Nora HaMakom Hazeh – a chant for (digital) sacred space

One of the challenges of convening a group for prayer over Zoom is shifting gears into sacred space.

How can we sanctify the space where each of us is planted, knowing that as we shelter-in-place during the pandemic, our desks or dining tables or coffee tables serve purposes both secular and sacred? The table from which I’m joining the Zoom call might be the same table where I paid bills an hour ago, or folded laundry, or homeschooled my kid. How can we skillfully make that space feel holy when it’s time for prayer?

And how can we sanctify the placeless place of the Zoom room itself? A Zoom room doesn’t have the comfort or majesty or familiarity of a synagogue. We may associate Zoom spaces with committee meetings and other secular activities, not the sacred purpose of prayer. And a Zoom room isn’t a “place,” exactly, any more than the internet is a “place.” How can we make that “place” holy and fitting to hold a community gathering in prayer?

At a recent digital Shabbaton convened to explore these questions, we used this chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere for both of these purposes. We sang it as a call-and-response. (Participants were muted, but the two of us sang the back-and-forth, inviting the community to sing along with the response half of the chant.) We sang it explicitly to sanctify the physical place from which each of us was calling in and to sanctify the Zoom space.

We used this chant as our melodic and thematic throughline. We sang it at the start of services, during the d’var Torah (The Mishkan’s Next Digital R/Evolution, on this very theme), and again to close the service and seal our time together. The call-and-response linked us together across nine different states and two different countries. And the words reminded us that where we are is holy — where we are in the world and in our homes and in our bodies, and where we are in the space of the internet and our hearts’ interconnection.

 

מה נורא המקום הזה/ Mah nora hamakom hazeh

How awesome is this body!

How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this journey

Through time and space.

 

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, try going to this post directly at yourbayit.org/makom/.)

 

Chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere. Her albums include Wild Earth Shebrew, Halleluyah All Night, Torah Tantrika and This Bliss; find her music at her website.

 

 

Post by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus.

Being Real, Digital Edition

Once there was a toy rabbit who yearned to become Real. He loved his Boy, and he was loved by his Boy. And when his Boy fell ill, the toy rabbit was his constant companion.

When the Boy recovered, the doctors said the rabbit was contaminated and needed to be burned. In that darkest night, as the rabbit waited, he wept a tear. And from his tear a flower grew, and from within the flower came the Shechinah. She told him that as he had become real to the Boy who loved him, now he would be real to everyone.

Okay, in the original telling it wasn’t Shechinah, it was a fairy. Close enough.

So in this sacred text — which, as you probably know, is a children’s book by Margery Williams called The Velveteen Rabbit, from which my blog takes its name — the way one becomes Real is through loving and being loved… and through the actions fueled by that love, especially accompanying someone into the darkness of illness and loss. That sounds about right to me.

Becoming Real requires empathy. How can we safely feel empathy in these times of pandemic when there are so many reasons to despair? And how do we accompany each other, as the rabbit accompanied his Boy, when we are physically separated or quarantined?

That last question is the easiest for me to answer: we accompany each other however we can. Write a letter, send an email or text, make a phone call, meet over video… If nothing else, hold the other person in your heart and stretch out your soul to connect with theirs.

During this pandemic we’re learning how to be in community even when we are physically alone. On the second night of Pesach, I sat alone with a Zoom screen in front of me — and R’ David and I co-led a seder for our communities, and it felt real. It wasn’t “as-if” — it was really seder. I imagine many of you had similar experiences.

I remember being a child, getting a long-distance phone call from my parents, and feeling amazed that they could be so far away and I could still hear their voices. There was a bit of a lag, as our voices traveled beneath the ocean, but that didn’t matter.

Remember the miracle of long-distance phone calls? Or the first time you ever saw a loved one’s face over video? Or: imagine reading an email and feeling that a loved one is with you. Or reading a blog post that makes you feel understood. Or texting with a friend, carrying their words and their presence on your smartphone throughout the day.

Our vernacular separates between the internet and “RL,” real life. But connections forged or sustained online are real, just as our davenen together tonight is real.

An emotional and spiritual connection — with another; with community; with our Source — can be real no matter what tools we’re using to create or sustain it. The bigger challenge is being real in the first place. The Velveteen Rabbit reminds us that being real requires openness and empathy enough to companion each other in tight places.

Sometimes it’s hard to be real when someone is suffering. It’s hard to sit with someone in their sorrow. The word compassion means “feeling-with” or “suffering-with.” Being real asks us to feel-with each other.

Sometimes our own struggles prevent us from being real. When my son was born I suffered from postpartum depression, but I told my doctor I was fine, because I was ashamed and I didn’t want him to really see me. That fear kept me from being real.

Sometimes it’s hard to be real with God. Because I get trapped in katnut, in my small human mind. Or because the words of inherited liturgy feel empty. Sometimes prayer can feel like a long-distance call where I’m not sure anyone’s picking up on the other end.

But authentic spiritual life asks us to be real. Our prayers aren’t just words on a page, they’re pointers to lived emotional experience. To really pray the words of Ahavat Olam, or to remix them anew, I have to feel unending love streaming into creation.

And, I also have to be careful about how I channel unending love. Authentic spiritual life asks me to open my heart — to my yearnings, to the needs of others, to my Source — and it also asks me to maintain boundaries. In the language of our mystical tradition, it asks me to balance the overflowing love we call chesed with the healthy limits we call gevurah.

Authentic spiritual life asks us to feel-with each other even during pandemic, even during this time of rising awareness of how systemic racism harms Black and Indigenous People of Color, even in times of personal grief. If we refuse to feel with each other, then we break that nourishing human interconnection that is our obligation and our birthright.

We need to feel, without spiritual bypassing, while maintaining a container strong enough to hold safely. This inner structural integrity can help us build systems and structures of integrity in this world that so needs repair. And that includes our Jewish communities, too: we need to be real in order to build a Jewish spiritual future worthy of the name.

And we need to be real for the sake of our own souls. I’ve learned that the flow of creativity requires me to be real: with myself, with God, with you. The posts and poems and prayers that seem to resonate most are ones written from that place. I think they speak to people deeply precisely because they’re real. It’s my responsibility to cultivate sufficient gevurah to write about what’s real in a way that’s safe for me and for my readers.

In seeking to strike that balance, there’s risk — and there’s also reward. As we read in Mishlei, “As water reflects face to face, so the heart reflects person to person.” (Proverbs 27:19) When I’m willing to be real, others are real in return. You meet my honesty with yours, my heart with yours, my words with yours, my prayers with yours.

Reb Zalman z”l used to say that we all have our own unique login to the Cosmic Mainframe. “To log on to God,” he said in 2004, “we need only awareness, because God is there all the time, making your heart beat.” That login is open to us even in quarantine. We just have to be willing to be real at the table, the meditation cushion, the Zoom screen.

And our connections with each other and with community are still open to us even in quarantine. Online life, online davenen, online friendship: these aren’t “virtual reality.” They’re as real as we allow ourselves to be.

 

Offered as a keynote teaching at the 2020 Clear Vision Reb Zalman Legacy Shabbaton at Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland, Oregon — designed to dovetail with the Shabbat morning d’var, given by R’ David Markus, on The Mishkan’s Next Digital (R)Evolution. Reprinted from Velveteen Rabbi.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.

Mayo 2020 Palabras del Torá / May 2020 Words of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ Rachel Barenblat from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. The text follows, in Spanish and then in English.

Shalom javerim.  Espero que estén tan bien como puedan estarlo en este dolorosos momentos de pandemia.  Ocupan un lugar en mi mente y en mi corazón. 

Este es uno de mis tiempos favoritos del año.  No sólo porque finalmente ha llegado la primera en el lugar en el que vivo, sino porque en esta temporada estamos en un viaje de marcar el tiempo juntos.

En la segunda noche de Pésaj, comenzamos a contar el Omer.  Contamos el Omer durante 49 días.  Hace mucho tiempo, comenzábamos estos 49 días con una ofrenda de cebada, y terminamos estos 49 días con una ofrenda de trigo: los primeros frutos dados a Dios.  Después de la destrucción del Templo, aprendimos a entender estas siete semanas como un tiempo de preparación para recibir la Torá en el Monte Sinaí.  Nuestra cosecha no es dada en grano, sino en el crecimiento interno de nuestros corazones y nuestras almas.

Para nuestros místicos, estas siete semanas se convirtieron en una oportunidad para reflexionar sobre las siete cualidades que compartimos con nuestro Creador.  Jésed- amor abundante. Guevurá – límites y fuerza.  Tiféret – harmonía y balance.  Netzaj – duración y persistencia.  Hod – humildad y esplendor.  Yesod – nuestras raíces y nuestra capacidad de generación.  Maljut – nobleza y presencia.  Cada semana y cada día de cada semana, está dedicada a una de estas cualidades.  Cada día del Omer iluminamos una faceta diferente de este trabajo interno que estamos llamados a acometer. 

Cada noche, la cuenta del Omer nos invita a hacer una pausa y notar dónde estamos en el flujo del tiempo.  Bendecimos a Dios quien nos hace santos al conectarnos-ordenarnos y quien no manda a contar el Omer.  Y decimos, en voz alta, el número que corresponde al nuevo día que comienza.   Amo esta tradición porque me invita a notar el paso del tiempo.  Me llama a estar presente en el momento. Y me invita a pensar sobre estas siete cualidades- amor, límites, balance, duración, humildad, arraigo, presencia —- y cómo debo incorporarlos en mi vida.

En estos tiempos de pandemia, creo que necesitamos estas siete cualidades aún más.  Necesitamos amor para motivarnos a seguir.  Necesitamos límites saludables para mantenernos seguros.  Necesitamos balance entre nuestros anhelos y nuestros miedos.  Necesitamos perseverar.  Necesitamos ser humildes.  Necesitamos ahondar nuestras raíces. Y necesitamos estar presentes con los demás y con Dios, aún cuando estar presentes es doloroso.

Al final de este viaje de trabajo interno llega Shavuot: el aniversario del día en el que recibimos la Torá en el Monte Sinaí.  Contar el Omer conecta la liberación con la revelación.  Fuimos liberados del lugar estrecho para un propósito:  recibir la Torá y estar en un pacto con Dios.

Todos estábamos juntos en el Monte Sinaí: cada alma judía que ha existido o existirá.  Contar el Omer es como contar los días que faltan para una reunión familiar.  En Shavuot, nos levantamos para recibir la Torá nuevamente: dondequiera que estamos, quienquiera que seamos.  Aunque no podemos encontrarnos en persona, por la pandemia y por las muchas millas de distancia que nos separan, nos encontraremos en el Monte Sinaí con el espíritu y el corazón.  Que tu viaje del Omer sea significativo y dulce.


Hello friends. I hope you are doing as well as any of us can be in these difficult times of pandemic. You have been much on my mind and in my heart. 

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Not only because it is finally spring where I live — but because at this season, we’re on a journey of marking time together.

On the second night of Pesach, we began counting the Omer. We count the Omer for 49 days. Long ago we used to begin those 49 days with an offering of barley, and we’d end the 49 days with an offering of wheat — a first-fruits offering given to God. After the Temple was destroyed, we came to understand these seven weeks as a time of preparing ourselves to receive Torah at Sinai. Our harvest now is not grain, but the inner growth of our hearts and souls. 

For our mystics, these seven weeks became an opportunity to reflect on seven qualities that we share with our Creator. Chesed – abundant lovingkindness. Gevurah – boundaries and strength. Tiferet – harmony and balance. Netzach – endurance and persistence. Hod – humility and splendor. Yesod – our roots and our generativity. Malchut – noility and presence. Each week, and each day within each week, is dedicated to one of these qualities. Every day of the Omer we illuminate a different facet of the inner work we’re called to do.

Each evening, the Omer count invites us to pause and notice where we are in the flow of time. We bless God Who makes us holy in connecting-command and Who commands us to count the Omer. And we say, aloud, what number the new day will be. I love this tradition because it calls me to notice the passage of time. It calls me to be present in the moment. And it invites me to think about those seven qualities — love, boundaries, balance, endurance, humility, rootedness, presence — and how I want to embody them.

In this time of pandemic, I think we need those seven qualities even more. We need love to keep us going. We need healthy separations to keep us safe. We need balance between our hopes and our fears. We need to persevere. We need to be humble. We need to grow deep roots. And we need to be present to each other and to God, even when being present is hard. 

At the end of this journey of inner work comes Shavuot: the anniversary of the day when we received Torah at Sinai. Counting the Omer links liberation with revelation. We are freed from the Narrow Place for a purpose: to receive Torah, and to be in covenant with God. 

We were all there at Sinai: every Jewish soul that has ever been or ever will be. Counting the Omer is like counting the days until a family reunion. On Shavuot, we will all stand together to receive Torah anew: whoever we are, wherever we are. Even though we can’t convene in person — because of the pandemic, and because of the miles between me and you — I’ll see you at Sinai in my spirit and in my heart. May your Omer journey be meaningful and sweet.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Bringing Sketchnoting to the B-Mitzvah Classroom

The first time Steve Silbert sketchnoted one of my divrei Torah, I was enthralled. The things he chose to highlight showed me what he found interesting in what I had written. His images uplifted my ideas in a new way. His sketchnote, rooted in my d’var Torah, was also its own piece of Torah creativity. That first sketchnote was my introduction to the spiritual technology of Visual Torah, now one of the tools Bayit offers for building Jewish life and practice. 

In 2019 Steve came to Bayit’s rabbinic innovation retreat to teach the art and spiritual practice of Jewish sketchnoting to a denominationally diverse group of rabbis, most of whom insisted that we couldn’t draw. Steve taught us that sketchnoting is about ideas, not art, and that anyone can do it: even us. By the end of that session, all of us had taken a crack at sketchnoting… and I had a vision of using sketchnoting to uplift my Hebrew school teaching. This year, I invited Steve to join my b-mitzvah class remotely, to teach the basics of sketchnoting to my students.

  1. Educating the Educator

The first step in bringing sketchnoting and Visual Torah to my b-mitzvah classroom was the workshop that Steve led at Bayit’s rabbinic innovation retreat. Because I had that experience of learning to use sketchnoting myself, and also because I’d spent a year watching Steve create Visual Torah for a full cycle of parshanut blog posts for Builders Blog, I had some understanding of sketchnoting and Visual Torah as both spiritual practice and learning tool. 

For anyone else who wants to bring Steve and this practice into your Hebrew school classrooms, I would strongly recommend some one-on-one sketchnoting learning with Steve first. Especially if he’s in the room remotely / via videoconference (as was the case here), it’s important that he have a hands-on partner in the room who understands sketchnoting both spiritually and pedagogically.

 

  1. The Runway

The week before his visit, I asked my students and their parents to reread the Shema and V’ahavta and to make a list of five things in that prayer that they thought were important.  

Each Monday I email my b-mitzvah parents to let them know what we’ll be learning that day. On the day when Steve was going to visit our class, I explained to parents that a digital visitor would be introducing sketchnoting, a spiritual technology designed to give their kids a new way of engaging with Torah and a new way of engraving their learning on their minds and hearts. 

 

  1. The Classroom Visit

My students seemed bemused at having a guest teacher appear on my computer, but they got used to it quickly, and treated Steve as though he were sitting at our table. 

First Steve took us through a visual vocabulary exercise. Each student had a pad of Post-It notes and a Sharpie marker. “Draw what comes to mind when I say the word ‘idea,’” he told us. “Don’t overthink it, you have ten seconds, go.” Most of us drew lightbulbs. One person drew a thought bubble. (Almost everyone chooses one of those two images for that word, Steve told us.)

“Okay, now draw ‘house.’” We drew little boxes with triangular roofs and maybe a door and a window. “Draw ‘love.’” We drew hearts. Each time we tore off our post-it notes and stuck them to the whiteboard, we noticed that we had drawn variations on the same theme. Though none of us consider ourselves artists, we share some basic visual vocabulary. We have simple pictographs in mind for basic words — door, hat, flower — and we can convey those in images. 

Then Steve gave us a set of Jewish prompts: mezuzah, Torah, hamentaschen, Ten Commandments, Shabbat candles. It turns out that we have shared visual vocabulary there too. 

And then we moved into the Shema and V’ahavta. We talked through the lists of five things that each student had considered “core” in that prayer. Some ideas were common across everyone’s list and others were more individual. 

Still working with post-its, we took a crack at drawing each of the five items on our lists. And then we placed them on a page, with the shema in the center and the five ideas circling around it like spokes on a wheel. Because we were working with post-it notes, we could rearrange our items at will.

By the end of the class, each student had a draft of a sketchnote exploring the core ideas of the Shema and V’ahavta.

 

  1. Re-Inscribing

A few weeks later, when we returned from winter break, we re-inscribed our sketchnote learning. I took the students through the basic visual vocabulary and basic Jewish visual vocabulary exercises again, to remind them that this is something they can do. 

Then we engaged in the same sort of exercise with the blessings before and after an aliyah of Torah. Questions that came up included: how might we depict God on a Post-It note? How about chosenness? “From among” all peoples or “along with” all peoples? And then each student arranged their Post-It notes to create a sketchnote of that prayer. 

 

  1. Did it “work”? (Yes.)

The sketchnoting lesson with Steve kept my students active and engaged. In that sense it was an immediate success. 

A few weeks later, I asked students what had stayed with them about studying the Torah blessings. They volunteered the images they had drawn. Having put pen to Post-it, they retained the core ideas they had depicted.

Studies have shown that writing or drawing something by hand inscribes it on the brain in a different way than reading it or even typing it. Sketchnoting these prayers gave my students an opportunity to engage using a different part of the brain than usual. And translating these prayers into images and rendering them with their own pens gave my students a different sense of ownership than just learning to read or sing them. (As one student said, “now that I put it on a Post-It, it’ll really ‘stick’ with me!” And that has turned out to be true.)

Based on the success of these experiments, I have other sketchnoting plans. We’ll sketchnote mitzvot, spiritual practices, the b-mitzvah journey. Based on what I saw in my classroom, I’m certain that Visual Torah and sketchnoting deepened my students’ engagement with the tradition. I can’t measure “how much” it impacted them, but I can see that it did.  I’m excited to see what will flow next from their pens.

 

by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat with Steve Silbert.

Innovating, learning, recharging

Cross-posted from Velveteen Rabbi: reflections on this year’s innovation retreat.

 

Innovation retreat 2020

Within moments of arrival we’re talking about how fulfilling it is to learn from each other across the denominations. R’ Evan Krame (The Jewish Studio, Bayit) has designed an icebreaker wherein we withdraw slips of paper from an envelope, each containing a quote, and relate the quotes we’ve drawn to our hopes for our time together. One of the quotes I draw reminds me of the importance of collaboration, and how we can build the Jewish future together better than any of us could build alone.

We study design thinking and innovation with Steve Silbert (Bayit). We talk about the needs we’re trying to meet in the community contexts where we serve (and how do we even know what the needs are?) We talk about buy-in and safety, how to measure whether innovative solutions are working, iterative change (come up with a solution, try it, measure what worked, refine it, try again), rightsizing our questions. We dream follow-up conversations, workshopping ideas, adapting, trying again.

R’ Jeff Fox (Yeshivat Maharat) teaches us mussar (character refinement) and halakha. We learn that our job as human beings is to feel-with others, and to help others carry their burdens. We learn a teaching of R’ Simcha Zissel about tension between imagination (flowing freely) and mind (operating within limits). How does the dialectic between flow and limitation drive innovation? How do we operate from the stance that fundamentally what it means to be a Jew is to ease the suffering of others?

R’ Mike Moskowitz (Bayit, CBST) brings texts about the tension between individual and community. We learn about when it’s okay to delegate someone else to perform a mitzvah, and when we should be wholly present to bring our unique light. We talk about doing mitzvot because we genuinely love the One Who asks us to do so. We leave that session with the framing question “What can I do that no one else can do?” — a way to prioritize our limited time and energy as we try to repair this broken world.

There are so many conversations. We talk about congregational dynamics, about who we serve, about projections and transference, liturgy and melody, best practices in teaching and b-mitzvah education, our work’s challenges and joys. Even aside from the formal learning we’re here to do, the immersion in conversations with wise colleagues is impossibly nourishing. I keep thinking of the Mandelstam quote I drew at the start, about how we can build together what we couldn’t build alone.

We span all the denominations of Judaism, so early on in the retreat we negotiate how to daven together. Davening in a community like this — where we all care about the words, and we’re all dedicating our lives to serving the Holy and serving the community that serves the Holy — is the best medicine there is for my heart. Especially when the davening involves harmony and song, which it always does. There is nothing better, for me. It feeds a part of my soul that is not fed in any other way.

Monday morning we read from Torah. At each aliyah, there is a glorious cacophony of words — some of us using the traditional words, some of us using a more inclusive variation, some of us using the Reconstructing variation; masculine names for God and feminine names for God; all woven into one tapestry of melody and heart. When we sing the words for returning the scroll to the ark, “renew our hearts as of old,” my heart cracks open. It’s ineffable, it’s like water after a long thirst, it’s grace.

The change agency panel features R’ Debbie Bravo (Makom NY), R’ Jeff, and R’ Mike. R’ Mike talks about trans inclusivity in Orthodoxy and about answering people instead of questions. R’ Jeff talks about ordaining women in Orthodoxy, change agency and design thinking, and navigating opposition. R’ Debbie talks about values, community, and how to walk our talk on welcoming. We talk about the loneliness of being a change agent, and about where we find practical and spiritual support.

Shoshanna Schechter (Charles E. Smith) teaches about understanding Gen Z (b. 1997-2012) before we teach them, about navigating Jewish learning and screen time, about kids’ resistance to prayer across all the denominations and how we work with that. We talk about how increasing anxiety among teens impacts our b-mitzvah teaching, and how we teach Jewish values (especially to kids who may be allergic to that term.) That leads us into a conversation about innovation in b-mitzvah prep.

We spend some time sandboxing #MenschUp values education for b-mitzvah learning. We use design thinking and its built-in iterative processes to begin brainstorming how we might co-create learning tools that would help kids meet some of the challenges they face today. What can we do with the “periodic table” of Jewish character traits to teach kids of all gender expressions? What would it look like to build tools for this work in a consciously trans-denominational way?

Over the course of the gathering we experience deep text study and davening and singing. We experience innovation learning, text learning, best-practices learning. We partake in late-night game play and laughter.  We grapple with how to innovate wisely and well, and how to meet real needs in the real world. After two days together I’m leaving with a re-filled rabbinic tool box — and maybe even more importantly, a re-filled sense of connection to this calling, and gratitude for the opportunity to serve.

 

Shared with deep gratitude to this year’s innovation retreat planning team, on which I served alongside R’ Debbie Bravo, R’ Jonathan Freirich, R’ Evan Krame, R’ David Markus, and R’ Alana Suskin. Related: last year’s innovation retreat report.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.

Enero 2020: Palabras del Torá / January 2020 Torah video

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ Rachel Barenblat from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

 

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. The text follows, in Spanish and then in English.

¡Shalom javerim y buenos días amigos! El mes pasado celebramos la fiesta de Januká.  El próximo mes nos traerá Tu Bishvat, también conocido como el “año nuevo de los árboles”.  Pero Enero es un mes en espera. Un festival ya pasó y el otro todavía no ha llegado. 

Esta pausa entre fiestas es parte de nuestra vida espiritual también.  Nuestra vida espiritual no consta sólo de experiencias cumbre cuando la comunidad se reune para las fiestas o una celebración.  Por supuesto que éstas también son parte de nuestra vida espiritual. Pero los tiempos tranquilos, los tiempos de espera también son parte de nuestra vida espiritual.

La vida judía – como toda vida espiritual- tiene un ritmo natural de avance y retroceso.  En hebreo decimos “ratzó vashov”. La vida espiritual avanza y retrocede como la marea. Tanto la marea alta como la baja son parte del ritmo natural del mar. Igualmente, las cimas y los tiempos tranquilos son igualmente parte del ritmo natural de la vida espiritual. 

Amo a nuestras fiestas y los rituales que las acompañan.  Pero también amo los tiempos tranquilos. Estos me recuerdan que puedo encontrar santidad y apoyo en las pequeñas tareas que forman parte de mi día a día.  Estas pequeñas prácticas son parte de las herramientas que la tradición nos ofrece para construir vidas judías con sentido. 

Creo que es importante que estas prácticas no nos exigen venir a un sitio especial, o usar objetos especiales o incluso hablar en hebreo.  Somos judíos donde quiera que vayamos, no sólo en la sinagoga. Somos judíos sin importar en qué lenguaje estemos hablando o rezando.

Acá les presento mis dos prácticas favoritas.  Estos son sus textos y las melodías que las acompañan. Pero creo que lo más importante, más que las palabras o la música, es el movimiento del corazón.  Estas son dos de las herramientas esenciales de mi caja de herramientas espiritual. 

La primera de ellas es agradecer a Dios al despertarme.  Hay una oración tradicional para este fin llamada el Modé Aní.  Esta se encuentra al comienzo de la mayoría de los libros de oración / siddurim: “Te agradezco, mi Dios vivo y duradero, por haberme devuelto mi alma. Grande es tu fidelidad.”

Amo esta oración porque me recuerda que estar vivo es un regalo. Y me recuerda que aunque puedo haber cometido errores ayer, Dios tiene fe en mí para ser mejor hoy.  Amo la idea de que del mismo modo que buscamos tener fe en Dios, también podemos creer que Dios tiene fe en nosotros. 

Si no conoces las palabras tradicionales, o estas no resuenan contigo, puedes adoptar esta práctica con las palabras de tu propio corazón. Cuando te despiertes en la mañana, toma un momento para cultivar un sentimiento de gratitud.  Una vez esto se volvió un hábito para mí, hizo mis mañanas más luminosas. 

Recitar el Shemá antes de dormir es otra herramienta espiritual para el tiempo corriente. Primero hacemos una pausa y meditamos sobre nuestro día.  Resolvemos mejorar mañana y dejamos ir los errores y afanes del día- tanto los propios como los ajenos. 

Y después decimos el Shemá, un recordatorio de la unidad de Dios y un recordatorio de que somos parte de la unidad del Universo.  Hacer esto todas las noches es una forma de mantenimiento espiritual diario para el alma. Y, en mi opinión, también me ayuda a conciliar el sueño más rápido. Mi corazón se aligera.

Amo como estas prácticas en la mañana y en la noche enmarcan mi día. Me ayudan a comenzar y a terminar mi día con un sentimiento de conexión. Y me recuerdan que las cosas pequeñas pueden ser más grandes que la suma de sus partes.  A pesar de sólo tomar unos pocos minutos, su impacto es profundo. 

Meses como éste, sin grandes fiestas, nos vienen a enseñar (y a recordarnos) que toda la vida es vida espiritual.  Meses como estos nos recuerdan que nuestra vida espiritual está compuesta de simples acciones cotidianas. Todo lo que hacemos es parte de nuestra vida espiritual, o puede serlo, si prestamos atención.

Estas pequeñas prácticas diarias son algunas de nuestras herramientas judías para ayudarnos a prestar atención.  Nos despiertan, no sólo del sueño físico sino del sueño espiritual. Con ellas podemos construir vidas judías ricas y significativas no sólo durante las fiestas sino siempre. 

 

Shalom chaverim y buenos dias amigos! Last month we celebrated the festival of Chanukah. Next month will bring the holiday of Tu BiShvat, known as the “new year of the trees.” But January is an in-between month. One festival is over and the next has not yet arrived.

This pause between holidays is part of spiritual life too. Spiritual life isn’t only the peak experiences when communities come together for holidays or lifecycle celebrations. Of course those are part of spiritual life! But the quiet times, the in-between times, are also spiritual life.

Jewish life — all spiritual life — has a natural ebb and flow. In Hebrew, we say ratzo v’shov. Spiritual life ebbs and flows like the tide. High tide and low tide are both part of the natural rhythm of the sea. Peak times and quiet times are both part of the natural rhythm of spiritual life.

I love our festivals and the rituals that come with them. But I also love the quiet times. They remind me that I can find holiness and sustenance in small actions that are part of my every day. These small practices are among tradition’s tools for building meaningful Jewish lives. 

And I think it’s important that some of these practices don’t require us to come to a special place, to use special items, or even to speak Hebrew. We are Jewish everywhere we go, not just at synagogue. We are Jewish no matter what language we use to speak or to pray. 

Here are two of my favorite daily practices. There are texts and melodies that go with them, but I think the movement of the heart is the most important thing, more important than any special words or tunes. These are two of the most essential tools in my spiritual toolbox.

The first one is thanking God when I wake up. There’s a short traditional prayer for this purpose, called Modeh Ani. You can find it in most siddurim / prayerbooks: “I am thankful before You, living and enduring God. You have restored my soul to me; great is Your faithfulness!”

I love this prayer because it reminds me that being alive is a gift. And it reminds me that even if I feel like I made mistakes yesterday, God has faith that I can be my best self today. I love the idea that just as we seek to have faith in God, we can also believe that God has faith in us.

If you don’t know the traditional words, or if they don’t speak to you, you can do this practice with the words of your own heart. When you wake up in the morning, just pause and cultivate a sense of gratitude. Once this became a habit for me, it made my mornings feel brighter.

Saying the Shema before sleep is another spiritual tool for ordinary time. First we pause before bed, and reflect on the day. We resolve to do better tomorrow, and try to let go of the day’s hurts and mistakes — both mistakes we made ourselves, and mistakes made by others.

And then we say the Shema, a reminder of the Oneness of God and a reminder that we are part of the great unity of the universe. Doing this every night is a form of daily spiritual soul-maintenance. And I think it helps me fall asleep more easily, too. My heart feels lighter.

I love how these morning and evening practices bookend my day. They help me begin and end each day with a sense of connection. And they remind me that little things can add up to more than the sum of their parts. They take only a few minutes, but their impact is deep.

Months like this one, with no big holidays, come to teach us (and then to remind us) that all of life is spiritual life. Months like this one remind us that spiritual life is made up of simple everyday actions. Everything we do is part of spiritual life… or can be, if we pay attention.

And these small daily spiritual practices are some of our Jewish tools for helping us pay attention. They help us wake up: not just from literal sleep, but from spiritual sleep. With them we can build Jewish lives that are meaningful and deep: not only at holiday times, but always.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.