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Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from Rabbi Bella Bogart

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 Bella Bogart, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

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

 

Shalom javerim. Saludes mis amigos. Con nuestra visita a Cuba todavía en mi mente, estoy muy impresionada con su comunidad.  Es un gran honor y un placer compartir palabras de Torá con ustedes. 

En este mes de “Adar” celebramos la festividad de Purim, la cual conmemora eventos registrados en el final del Tanaj (las escrituras judías: Torá, Profetas y Escritos).

La Meguilá de Ester, el rollo de Ester, es leída en voz alta en Purim. La historia sucede en el siglo IV aEC en Persia, en el reino del rey Ajashverosh.  Conmemora la salvación de nuestro pueblo de Hamán, un oficial persa que estaba planeando asesinar a todos los judíos. Sus planes fueron frustrados por Mordejai el justo y la bella Ester, que había sido elevada a ser la reina de Persia.  La meguilá (Ester 9:22) nos instruye:

לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים. 

 “Haced días de fiesta y regocijo, mandad porciones el uno al otro y dad regalos a los pobres.”

 El día de la redención del decreto de Hamán se convirtió en un día judío de regocijo, fiesta, carnaval, desfiles, banquetes, bebida y esparcimiento en general son actividades tradicionales en Purim hasta el día de hoy. Es una mitzvá enviar enviar regalos de comida a los necesitados en Purim o poner unas monedas en las caja de tzedaká.  Es también una mitzvá en Purim compartir una cena celebratoria y alegrarse. 

Los textos sagrados del judaísmo contienen las historias claves de nuestro pueblo.  En nuestra práctica espiritual interactuamos con estos textos en una variedad de niveles: podemos estudiarlos directa y simplemente, o podemos acceder a interpretaciones “místicas” y secretas. 

Una forma particularmente íntima de entrar en contacto con la Torá y las mitzvot es asumirlas como un mapa de ruta interno, un manual para vivir nuestras mejores vidas. 

En el comienzo de la historia de la meguilá se cuenta de cómo Mordejai salvó al rey de dos asesinos. La trama toma un rumbo inesperado cuando es Hamán y no Mordejai quien recibe la recompensa y se vuelve el honorado primer ministro.  Hamán toma control absoluto de todo el reino y todos los súbditos son mandados a postrarse frente a él. Mordejai es el único que se rehúsa a postrarse.

La meguilá de Ester (como buena parte de la Torá) habla del viaje de nuestra alma y de la experiencia humana. Los personajes y eventos describen las fuerzas que se desenvuelven en nosotros y en nuestras vidas. Sólo que han sido dados nombres particulares: Mordejai, Ester, Hamán, etc.  Veamos ahora la historia desde esta perspectiva.

  • Mordejai: el secreto más íntimo de nuestra alma, la parte de nosotros que aspira a la espiritualidad, queriendo sólo apegarse al creador.
  • Ester: la fuerza de la fe.
  • Hamán: egoísmo, vanidad.
  • El rey: el creador, la fuente de amor y de aceptación.

Mordejai representa nuestro ser altruista. Cuando encarnamos nuestra naturaleza de Mordejai, sólo deseamos conectarnos y servir la intención divina. No hay mejor recompensa esperada o posible. 

Cuando Hamán domina en el reino, es una metáfora del egoísmo tomando el control.  Sólo nuestro ser más elevado, enfocado en un propósito más alto puede resistir el yugo del ego. Por hemos sido bendecidos con una voz interior de Mordejai: una voz que nos recuerda quién es en verdad el “rey” y aclara a quién y qué debemos servir con lealtad, sin importar el costo.

La práctica espiritual requiere y facilita el trabajo de encontrar y reconocer a nuestro Hamán interior. La historia de Purim resalta la inevitable destrucción inherente a servir sólo al ego.

Dios no es mencionado explícitamente en la Meguilá. Somos llamados a reconocer la divinidad escondida en la historia (el mismo nombre de “Ester” significa “escondida”). Pero podemos ver la divinidad escondida en la historia, del mismo modo que trabajamos para ver la mano de Dios en todos los momentos de nuestra vida. 

Ester nos enseña el poder de una comunidad unida, al mostrar cómo todos los judíos se unieron con ella en ayuno y oración. El poder de esta unificación es lo que le permite acercarse al rey directamente y es el verdadero milagro de Purim.  En nuestra vida, la unidad comunal empodera la energía de la fe y nos da una línea directa de comunicación con la divinidad.

Les deseo las más felices celebraciones de Purim. Que las mitzvot de dar y compartir profundicen el día y que la Torá continúe enriqueciendo sus vidas. 

 

 

SHALOM, CHAVERIM. GREETINGS MY FRIENDS. OUR VISIT TO CUBA IS STILL FRESH IN MY MIND; I AM TRULY INSPIRED BY YOUR COMMUNITY. IT IS MY HONOR AND PLEASURE TO SHARE A FEW WORDS OF TORAH WITH YOU. 

IN THIS CURRENT MONTH OF “ADAR” WE CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAY OF PURIM, MARKING EVENTS RECORDED IN THE FINAL BOOK OF THE TANAKH (HEBREW SCRIPTURE: TORAH, PROPHETS AND WRITINGS).  

MEGILAT ESTHER, THE SCROLL OF ESTHER, IS READ ALOUD ON PURIM. THE STORY UNFOLDS IN 4TH CENTURY PERSIA, IN THE REIGN OF KING ACHASUERUS. IT COMMEMORATES THE SAVING OF OUR PEOPLE  FROM  HAMAN, A PERSIAN OFFICIAL WHO WAS PLANNING TO KILL ALL THE JEWS. HIS PLANS WERE FOILED BY  THE RIGHTEOUS MORDECAI  AND  BEAUTIFUL ESTHER, WHO HAD RISEN TO BECOME THE QUEEN OF PERSIA. MEGILLAT ESTHER (9:22) INSTRUCTS US  

לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים. 

 “MAKE DAYS OF FEASTING AND GLADNESS, AND OF SENDING PORTIONS ONE TO ANOTHER, AND GIFTS TO THE POOR.”   

THE DAY OF DELIVERANCE FROM HAMAN’S DECREE BECAME A DAY OF JEWISH REJOICING.   MASQUERADING, CARNIVALS, PARADES, FEASTING, DRINKING AND CELEBRATION ARE CUSTOMARY PURIM ACTIVITIES TO THIS DAY. IT IS A PURIM MITZVAH TO SEND GIFTS OF FOOD TO THOSE IN NEED, OR TO PLACE A COUPLE OF COINS IN A TZEDAKAH BOX. IT IS ALSO A MITZVAH ON PURIM TO SHARE A CELEBRATORY MEAL WITH OTHERS, AND TO REJOICE! 

JEWISH SACRED TEXTS CONTAIN OUR PEOPLE’S ROOT STORIES. IN OUR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE WE INTERACT WITH THOSE TEXTS ON VARYING LEVELS: FROM LEARNING THE STRAIGHTFORWARD, PLAIN MEANING – TO ACCESSING HIDDEN, “SECRET” MYSTIC INTERPRETATIONS. 

ONE PARTICULARLY INTIMATE WAY TO ENGAGE WITH TORAH AND MITZVOT IS AS INNER ROAD MAP; A HANDBOOK FOR LIVING OUR BEST LIVES. 

THE BEGINNING OF THE MEGILAH STORY DEPICTS HOW MORDECHAI SAVED THE KING FROM TWO ASSASSINS. THE PLOT TAKES AN UNEXPECTED TURN WHEN IT IS HAMAN, NOT MORDECHAI, WHO IS REWARDED AND BECOMES THE HONORED HEAD OF ALL MINISTERS. HAMAN GAINS TOTAL DOMINATION OF THE KINGDOM AND ALL THE KING’S SUBJECTS ARE ORDERED TO BOW BEFORE HIM. MORDECHAI IS THE ONLY ONE WHO REFUSES TO BOW. 

MEGILAT ESTHER (LIKE MUCH OF TORAH) SPEAKS TO OUR SOUL’S JOURNEY AS WELL AS OUR HUMAN EXPERIENCE. THE CHARACTERS AND EVENTS DESCRIBE FORCES THAT UNFOLD WITHIN US AND WITHIN OUR LIVES. THEY’VE BEEN GIVEN THE NAMES MORDECAI, ESTHER, HAMAN, ETC.  SO, LET’S TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT THE STORY THROUGH THIS LENS. 

  • MORDECAI  = OUR INNERMOST SOUL’S DESIRE, THE PART OF US THAT ASPIRES TO SPIRITUALITY, WANTING ONLY TO CLING TO THE CREATOR. 
  • ESTHER = THE ENERGY AND POWER OF FAITH 
  • HAMAN = EGOISM, VANITY 
  • THE KING = THE CREATOR, THE SOURCE OF BESTOWAL AND LOVE 

MORDECAI  REPRESENTS OUR ALTRUISTIC SELF. WHEN WE EMBODY OUR MORDECAI NATURE, THERE IS ONLY ONE DESIRE  – TO CONNECT WITH AND SERVE THE DIVINE INTENTION. NO GREATER REWARD IS EXPECTED, OR EVEN POSSIBLE. 

WHEN HAMAN RULES THE KINGDOM, THE METAPHOR IS EGOISM RISEN OUT OF CONTROL. ONLY OUR HIGHER SELVES, FOCUSED ON A GREATER PURPOSE WILL RESIST SUBJUGATION TO THE EGO. WE ARE GIFTED WITH AN INNER MORDECAI; A VOICE THAT REMINDS US WHO THE REAL “KING” IS AND CLARIFIES TO WHOM AND WHAT ONE SHOULD REMAIN LOYAL, WHATEVER THE COST.  SPIRITUAL PRACTICE DEMANDS AND FACILITATES THE WORK OF FINDING AND RECOGNIZING THE HAMAN WITHIN US. THE PURIM TALE HIGHLIGHTS THE INEVITABLE DESTRUCTION INHERENT IN SERVING ONLY THE EGO.  

GOD IS NOT MENTIONED EXPLICITLY IN THE MEGILAH. WE ARE CALLED UPON TO RECOGNIZE THE HIDDEN DIVINITY IN THE STORY THE VERY NAME “ESTHER” MEANS HIDDEN IN HEBREW. BUT WE CAN SEE THE DIVINITY HIDDEN IN THE STORY, JUST AS WE WORK TO SEE THE HAND OF GOD IN EVERY MOMENT OF OUR LIVES. 

ESTHER TEACHES US THE POWER OF A UNITED COMMUNITY, AS ALL THE JEWS JOIN HER IN FASTING AND PRAYER. THE POWER OF THAT UNIFICATION IS WHAT ALLOWS ESTHER TO ADDRESS THE KING DIRECTLY, WHICH IS A GREAT MIRACLE OF PURIM. IN OUR LIVES COMMUNAL UNITY EMPOWERS THE ENERGY OF FAITH AND GIVES US A DIRECT LINE OF COMMUNICATION TO DIVINITY. 

I WISH YOU THE VERY HAPPIEST OF PURIM CELEBRATIONS. MAY THE MITZVOT OF GIVING AND SHARING DEEPEN THE DAY, AND MAY TORAH CONTINUE TO ENRICH YOUR LIVES. 

 

By Rabbi Bella Bogart. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Febrero 2020: Palabras del Torá / February 2020 Torah video

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ David Markus 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 David Markus, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. The text follows, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Shalom javerim – Hola amigos!

Desde mi viaje a Cuba en el otoño pasado, la profunda calidez y orgullo que tantos judíos cubanos compartieron conmigo y con mi congregación neoyorquina se ha quedado en mí y en mi corazón.  Sigo inspirado por su orgullo, tenacidad y auténtica dedicación. Ustedes me enseñaron, a mí y a muchos miembros de mi congregación, una parte importante de lo que verdaderamente significa vivir como judíos.

La palabra hebrea javer (amigo) conlleva un significado más profundo, que también conlleva un importante mensaje sobre este periodo del calendario judío. Es algo que tenemos en común a pesar de las diferencia de cómo vivimos y también, precisamente, a causa de las diferencias de cómo vivimos.

La palabra hebrea javer extrae su significado profundo de la raíz trilítera ח.ב.ר. (jet, bet, reish) que significa “conectar” o “amarrar”.  Los verdaderos amigos no son simples conocidos pasajeros, sino que están profundamente conectados, amarrados el uno al otro, tanto interna como externamente.  De esta misma raíz verbal vienen las palabras hebreas para “unir”, “asociar”, y “pareja de estudio”. Estas son la esencia de toda comunidad.

En palabras que no puedo expresar completamente, me siento mejaber. Me siento conectado con los judíos de Cuba, parcialmente por cómo ustedes compartieron tan generosamente conmigo las conexiones entre ustedes.  Inmediatamente me hicieron sentir parte de su comunidad. Ustedes saben, intuitivamente, que construir comunidad es el secreto para la supervivencia y el florecimiento judío a través de los siglos.

Esto también tiene un profundo significado en esta época del año y en las tres fiestas judías que se aproximan, una por mes, en la luna llena del mes de Febrero (Shevat), Marzo (Adar) y Abril  (Nisán). Estas tres fiestas, en su esencia, también tratan de aquello que nos conecta más profundamente.

Primero viene Tu Bishvat.  En el 2020 comenzará en la noche del 9 de Febrero.  Coloquialmente esta fiesta es conocida como el “año nuevo de los árboles”, pero místicamente es un profundo recordatorio de que toda la naturaleza, incluídos nosotros, está unida.  Lo que pasa a cualquier parte de la naturaleza, también le pasa a la totalidad. Lo que le pasa a uno de nosotros, nos pasa a todos. En la luna llena de Febrero, tomémonos el tiempo para observar cómo toda la naturaleza está conectada.  Este año, al mirar a la luna llena, sabré que es la misma luna que ustedes ven y me alegraré en nuestra mutua conexión.

Después viene Purim. En el 2020 comenzará la noche del 9 de Marzo. Los niños judíos conocen a Purim como el “halloween judío”, celebrando la antigua historia de Ester y Mordejai, es un tiempo en el que nos disfrazamos para esconder nuestra verdadera identidad.  Los otros dos significados profundos de Purim que más me llaman la atención tienen que ver con este aspecto de la conexión. El primero es que el destino judío sube y baja colectivamente; estamos juntos en esto, del mismo modo que los judíos persas cuya angustia y victoria la fiesta de Purim rememora.  El otro es que, sin importar qué máscaras usemos en nuestras vidas, qué usemos para ocultarnos, qué hagamos para protegernos de nuestro ser más real y vulnerable, todos compartimos exactamente este impulso de auto protección. Nuestras máscaras, nuestras apariencias, no son lo que somos verdaderamente. Estamos conectados más por lo que somos internamente.

Luego viene Pesaj. En el 2020 comenzará en la noche del 8 de Abril.  Conocemos a Pésaj como la historia eterna de nuestra liberación de la esclavitud- la piedra angular de nuestra identidad judía.  Pésaj simboliza nuestra conexión con nuestros ancestros, por la promesa divina de nuestra liberación y por la celebración del Séder que es increíblemente similar en todo el mundo judío.  También conocemos a Pésaj como un llamado moderno a la justicia. Nuestra propia liberación no será completa hasta que liberemos a todos los amarrados injustamente. Estamos conectados por este llamado judío fundamental a la justicia social, a ayudar a curar un mundo con aún demasiados faraones, aún demasiada esclavitud y demasiada vulneración de la dignidad humana.

Tu Bishvat, Purim y Pésaj.  Son tres lunas llenas consecutivas de conexión.  Son tres oportunidades de celebrar las conexiones entre nosotros, nuestra herencia y nuestra comunidad.  Son tres oportunidades para construir comunidad- el secreto de la vida judía que ustedes bien conocen ya.  Son tres oportunidades para oir el continuo llamado judío a fortalecernos y juntos vivir más enteramente- por nosotros, por la naturaleza y por toda la humanidad.

Les envio bendiciones de alegría en esta temporada con estas tres lunas llenas que nos invitan a conectarnos con la naturaleza, con la comunidad y con la libertad humana.  De mi corazón para el vuestro: Jag sameaj.

 


Shalom javerim – Greetings, friends!

Since my trip to Cuba last fall, the deep warmth and pride that so many Cuban Jews shared with me and my New York Jewish community have stayed with me in my heart.  I continue to feel inspired by your pride, tenacity and genuine caring. You have taught me, and many in the community I serve in New York, part of what it really means to live as Jews.

The Hebrew word javer (friend) encodes a deeper meaning, that also encodes something important about this season in the Jewish calendar.  It’s something we have in common both despite differences in how we live, and precisely in differences in how we live.

The Hebrew word javer draws its deep meaning from the three-letter root ח.ב.ר. (jet, bet, reish), which means to connect or bind.  Real friends aren’t just passive acquaintances: they are deeply connected, bound together both inside and between.  From this same root word come the Hebrew words for “join,” “association,” and learning partnership. These are the essence of community.

In ways that words can’t fully express, I feel m’jaber / connected with the Jews of Cuba, partly because you so generously shared with me your connections with each other.  Instantly you helped me to feel like part of your community. You know intuitively that community-building is a secret of Jewish surviving and thriving over the centuries.

This, too, is a deep meaning of this time of year and its three Jewish holidays that will follow, once per month, at the full moon of each month of February (Shevat), March (Adar) and April (Nissan).  All three holidays, in their essence, also are about what most connects us.

First comes Tu B’shevat (in 2020, the night of February 9-10).  Colloquially it’s the “New Year of the Trees,” but mystically it’s a deep reminder that all of nature is joined together, including all of us.  What happens to any part of nature happens to the whole. What happens to any of us touches all of us. At February’s full moon, take time to notice how all of nature connects. This year, I will look up at the full moon, knowing it’s the same full moon for you, and I will revel in our connection together.

Next comes Purim (in 2020, the night of March 9-10).  Jewish children might know Purim as a kind of “Jewish Halloween” celebrating the ancient story of Esther and Mordechai, a time when we dress in costume as if to conceal who we really are.  Two other deep meanings of Purim that most speak to me are about connection. One is that Jewish fate rises and falls together: we’re in it together, no less than Persian Jews whose collective plight and triumph Purim honors.  Another is that whatever masks we might wear in our lives, whatever conceals us, whatever we do to protect against being most vulnerable and real, we all share exactly that self-protective impulse. Our masks, our outward appearances, are not who we really are.  We are most connected by what’s inside.

Then comes Passover (in 2020, starting the night of April 8).  We know Passover as the timeless story of liberation from bondage – our cornerstone of Jewish identity.  Passover stands for our connection by ancestry, by the divine promise of liberation, and by the seder celebration that is astonishingly similar for Jews everywhere.  We also can know Passover as a modern clarion call to justice. Our own liberation will not be complete until we free all who are wrongly bound. We connect by that essential Jewish calling of social justice, to help heal a world that still has far too many Pharaohs, too much bondage, too much affront to human dignity.

Tu B’shevat, Purim and Passover.  They’re three consecutive full moons of connection.  They’re three opportunities to celebrate our connections to each other, heritage and community.  They’re three opportunities to build community – the secret of Jewish life that you already know.  They’re three opportunities to heed the continuing Jewish call to become stronger and more whole together – for ourselves, for the natural world, and for all humanity. 

I send blessings of joy for this season, these three full moons that call us into our connections with nature, community and human freedom.  From my heart to yours, Jag sameaj! 

 

By Rabbi David Markus. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

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.

The Spiritual Life is Lonely

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“A Foggy Passage” Simon Kingsworth

The farther you progress in the spiritual life, the lonelier it gets.

The topics that used to consume you may now only arouse faint interest. (How many books did I read about “the future of the church” in my late twenties and early thirties? Hundreds. How many have I read since we moved to the island three years ago? None.)

The dichotomies that used to agonize you now all seem like artificial constructions that obscure a deeper Truth. (Is this an outward work? An inward work? Is this love of God or love of neighbor? How do you balance work with rest? Anger with forgiveness?)

The conversations that used to energize you all deflate like sad little balloons, without enough hot air to keep them afloat anymore. (In my case, denominational politics, theological esoterica, and the over-earnest discussion of “what does it mean to be the church?”)

Instead, you find that your gaze turns inwards: to the places of deepest unspoken hurt, to the deeper comprehension of self, to the wrenching, painful work of giving up all those external attachments that you thought were You.

In the process, you also discover loneliness.

I’ve discovered that there are precious few people who are able to have those conversations about matters like this, much less engage in this work with the necessary degree of maniacal consistency.

After all, it is a journey that their friends will not encourage them to take, because it can strip them of the unspoken tribal prejudices and previously energizing interests upon which friendships are based.

After all, it is a journey which our society, built upon superficial urgency and the frantic pursuit of novelty, is designed to prevent. (Don’t believe me? How many times did you check your smartphone today? And how many of times did you check it because you grew uncomfortable, bored, upset, or disturbed with something which you would prefer be left unnamed?)

After all, it is a journey which their churches, which institutionally depend on busy people highly invested in externals, simply do not have the capacity to imagine.

And the journey is hard, because the road is terrifying. From the comfortable ruts of life, you emerge into a dangerous, dark wilderness of spirit, filled with monsters of your own making. The road ahead seems like no more than a vague trail (pray to God for something as clear as a vague trail!) with the road behind always clear as day, beckoning for you to come back to safer ground.

My experience? Most people, if they don’t have journey companions, will take a few steps on that terrifying trail, and then retreat back to the comfortable territory of their familiar existence, filled with friends and jobs, religious observances and books, momentary bursts of passion brought on by the novelty of a new spiritual idea, and the steady, familiar rhythm of prejudices and interests that were formed in childhood.

The problem is that God (and by God I most specifically the Love that birthed the universe, that birthed each of us, and that lies at the truest center of our being,) can only be encountered fully in that dark wilderness of spirit.

Ideally, our spiritual communities exist so that people can find companions and guides for exactly this journey; but maintaining that communal ethos requires spiritual vigilance and produces very few institutional returns. This is why the communities that call themselves churches have turned instead to peddling a hyper-commodified mass market version of themselves, so that people may learn to possess God rather than learning to let God possess them. (This may be true for other religious and a-religious traditions, but I’ll let them speak for themselves on this count.)

I’m thankful that I’ve found a community, albeit a temporary one, that has helped me take my first full steps into the wilderness of my own soul. I also hear an echo of loneliness, sometimes even terror, knowing that soon that community will come to an end, and it is not a given that I will find other people to journey with me.

I don’t have any reassurances for me, but I do have advice for you if who have heard God’s call to walk a deeper path, even if that call is heard only in whispers.

First, step out the door on that new road, even if all you have is a backpack full of questions.

Second, find some people. Be wary of the good church people. Look for the pones hovering around the edges (or the comfortably self-differentiated ones in the middle.) Look for the ones who talk more about God and about people and less about “church”. Look for the ones who have a smiling, self-deprecatory honesty. Look for the ones who seem like actual humans, not religious facsimiles of themselves.

Finally, ask them to join you on the journey. Some will look at you oddly. Some will say “no”; or say “yes” but actually mean “no” when they realize what is involved. But remember, God is gracious, and if God is pulling you into the wilderness, then God will send you a couple of people who might dare to say “yes” along with you: people who will pick you up when you stumble, or get lost, and point you back into the darkness and say “keep going”.

Because, in the end, this is really the only journey ultimately worth taking.

It is just as the great Quaker mystic, Thomas Kelly, says,

Out in front of us is the drama of [people] and of nations, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of [people] an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history.

It is the drama of the Hound of Heaven baying relentlessly upon the track of [humans]. Is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hill comes the wiser Shepherd. For His is a shepherd’s heart, and He is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. it is the drama of the Eternal Father drawing the prodigal home unto Himself, where there is bread enough and to spare…And always its chief is – the Eternal God of Love.

THOMAS KELLY. A TESTAMENT OF DEVOTION. 1941.

 

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By Ben Yosua-Davis. Reposted with permission from A Glorious Mess.

Denominational and spiritual diversity

Many_Hands_(16859686419)Bayit’s core group of founding Builders is denominationally and spiritually diverse — and that was a conscious choice on our part. Spiritual diversity matters to us. Jewish life is made out of many different priorities and practices and ways of “doing Jewish.” From the beginning, we knew we wanted Bayit to reflect that diversity too. 

The organization’s founders have roots in, and a track record serving in, every major branch of Judaism from Reform to Orthodoxy.  Some of us are proud denominational Jews. Some of us self-identify as post-denominational or trans-denominational Jews. Some of us are both / and Jews, identifying as denominational Jews and as part of the transdenominational Jewish renewal movement. We grew up secular, religious, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox. Those of us who are rabbis attended both denominational seminaries and transdenominational seminaries. Those of us who are laypeople come from backgrounds that span the denominational spectrum too.

Beyond our denominational diversity, we’re also spiritually diverse. Some of us are mystics who write love poetry to the divine, and some of us are rationalists who find most mysticism uncomfortable. Some of us experience God through music, some through liturgy, some through philosophy, some through poetry, and some aren’t sure we experience God at all.

Some of us have spent years immersed in non-Jewish spiritual practice, including Zen and transcendental meditation. Some of us have spent years immersed in Yeshivish (a.k.a. “ultra-Orthodox”) learning. Some of us use feminine God(dess)-language, some of us use masculine-God language, some of us use gender-neutral language for the divine, and some of us do all of the above depending on situation, audience, mood, or the phase of the moon. (Just kidding about the moon. Mostly.)

Some of us daven (pray), given the choice, entirely in Hebrew. Some of us daven, given the choice, entirely in English. Some of us would prefer diving into a daf (page) of Gemara to davening at all. Some of us hold a second ordination as mashpi’im (spiritual directors) and are trained to companion others on the journey of ongoing spiritual formation. Some of us write poetry, some of us write music, some of us write blog posts, some of us write quarterly reports and nonprofit documents. Most of us fit into at least two of the categories listed above.

These various diversities aren’t accidental. As our dreams of this organization began to coalesce, we agreed that spiritual diversity was not only a strength but a necessity. 

We’re also aware that while our spiritual diversity spans a wide spectrum, we’re not yet a sufficiently diverse group on other axes (especially race, sexual orientation, and gender identity). The next post in this series will explore other diversities, including the ones where we’re still laying the foundations for future growth.

It’s fun to work with colleagues who aren’t all coming from the same place, spiritually speaking. Because we come from different denominational backgrounds, and favor different modes of spiritual practice, we’re able to recognize and meet the needs of a broad cross-section of the community. Because of our differences, we know in our bones that there’s not one “right way” to do Jewish or to do spiritual life. Because we learn so much from each other, we know in our bones that we will be enriched as we learn from all of those whom we serve.

 

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Rabbi Rachel Barenblat