Friday, May 30, 2014

Parashat Nasso: Counting our Numbers, Then and Now

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

At first glance, our Torah portion, Nasso, begins mildly: “The Lord spoke to Moses: Take a census of the Gershonites.”

Take a census. Count the number of people in your community. Simple enough. A continuation of what was happening in last week’s parashah, BaMidbar.

But let’s look a little deeper.

How many were the Israelites at that time? All the peoples of the Ancient Near East? Of the Earth? How many are we now?

The Atlas of World Population History estimates the world population in 2000 BCE was 27 million and in 1000 BC 50 million, the time period when the Israelites were counting their numbers.

Today’s world Jewish population is about half the entire world population 4000 years ago – something more than 13 million. The entire human population today is well over 7 billion, about 275 times what it was at that time.

Imagine if there were suddenly 275 times more dandelions, or 275 times more mosquitoes in your yard. Something tells me there would be an impact on your yard and on you.

We humans have an impact on planet Earth. We cannot help but do so, for we inhabit nearly every nook and cranny of it. We impact the soil, the water, the air, the lakes, the mountains, the glaciers, the oceans. And we are feeling the impact of our impact. We worry if the water we drink is safe. We worry about super storms. We worry about the air we breathe and the food we eat.

In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth report on the status of climate change, including widespread observed current impacts. In early May, the US Climate Change Research Program released the Third National Climate Assessment, which details the current impact of climate change on each region of the US.

Our nation’s and our globe’s scientists are telling us that climate change is real and it is happening now. It is scary. It is, in fact, so scary that it is easier to look the other way and to go about our lives. We don’t want to think about famine and drought and flood and wildfires. We don’t want to experience them, see them on TV, think about them, or consider their impact. We want to go about our lives.

But our lives as individuals and as a society are dependent on all that is causing the problems. We need fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes, to travel, to transport food and clothing, to build plastics, and so much more. As a result, each of us unwittingly becomes a player in causing the destruction of the planet. 

At the end of the instructions about census taking, our Torah portion continues:

When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged.

Are we, in the words of our Torah portion, committing wrongs against one another each time we get into our car or turn on the heat or air conditioning, putting more CO2 into the air? Are we committing wrongs against one another when we eat foods grown with the use of pesticides, some of which ran off into surrounding land and water? Are we committing wrong each time we buy a product produced in a way that pollutes the rivers or air of Bangladesh or China?

These are powerful words – “commit wrong.” But the hard reality is that there is an invisible and lasting negative impact of many of our personal actions, on other people as well as on the rest of G!d’s creation.

And so, in the words of our Parashah, we must, as individuals and as a society, confess our sins – in other words, to acknowledge our actions – and make restitution, not through payments to each other, but through deeds – to mitigate our impact and to move our society to living differently, more harmoniously in tune with the rest of creation.

We want to go about our lives, and we need to do that. But we also need to look our impact on the Earth and each other squarely in the face, and say, we must do something.

Trying to make restitution – to do something – alone can feel at times both lonely and futile – we are so small in terms of the overwhelming nature of the problems. Doing something with our family may feel somewhat more empowering and less alone. And doing something with our community can feel even more empowering. That is why the Jewish Climate Action Network came into being. Together with Eli Gerzon, now working for Better Future Project/350MA, I helped this nascent organization come into being. Those of us involved in JCAN are members of the Jewish community who are passionate about the Earth and its inhabitants and the critical need for action. We are diverse in our backgrounds and in the kinds of action we believe are important, but we are united by our care and concern for the world around us.

JCAN is focused on tikkun tevel – healing of the Earth. Our objectives include promoting awareness and understanding of environmental problems, in particular, climate change, supporting political advocacy and action for better climate and environmental policies, encouraging personal and communal change, and providing support to those working to preserve the environment.

What we cannot do alone, we can do together. And there are many things we can do, there are answers and there are ways to build a more resilient and vibrant world.

But we need to do something else, too – alone, with our families, and in our communities. We need to take care of ourselves and be gentle on ourselves, to maintain our souls and to find the strength and the courage to do the work we must do.

One of the ways that I began to take care of myself some years ago was to pray outdoors. It is currently my practice to step outside my back door every morning and every evening, and to briefly daven beneath the sky.

I am not the first to think of this. Rebbi Nachman of Bratslav prayed, “May it be my custom to go outdoors each day, among the trees and grass, among all living things. And there may I be alone, and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong.”

And Bereshit 24:63 states, “Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening,” and from this the rabbis derived our daily mincha service. Our roots are in outdoor prayer, and we can rediscover those roots. About seven years ago, I began regularly taking other people outdoors to pray, too.

During these years of praying outdoors, something has happened to me. I have always loved the out of-doors, but I have noticed that my love for the Earth has significantly grown and deepened. And as my relationship to the world around me has strengthened, so, too, has the pain I feel when I see this love of mine being trampled and transgressed, damaged and destroyed. My grief at the sight of a denuded hillside or a new building where there was once a woodland is profound. My fear for my grandchildren’s future is at times overwhelming.

I am reminded of a recent experience in the hospital where I serve as a chaplain. I sat with an elderly woman who was nearing the end of life, and I watched in awe the gentle and loving care her daughter provided, despite her mother’s confusion and vastly weakened state. I thought of words my brother said to me as our vibrant relationships with our aging mother dissolved into something very different as her brilliant mind began to slip away – “we are left with the love.”

We are left with the love.

And so, as we do for those we love who are in trouble, I must speak, and I must act. And so I am here. I am here to invite you to share with me your fears, your despair, your grief, and to tell me about the actions you are taking to conserve resources or to act communally or politically. I am here to invite you to join JCAN and other members of the Jewish community as we explore ways to act together. I am here to let you know that JCAN and its members would like to be a resource for your community in whatever way might be helpful. And I am also here to invite you to step outside and pray, and to allow that action to change you. I invite you to do this on your own, outside your own door, and I also invite you to join others from the Jewish community at this year’s third Metrowest Shabbat Retreat in Nature, a weekend of outdoor tefillah, and eating and sleeping, being and doing Jewish, and renewing our connection and commitment to the natural world. I invite you to enroll your children in the Interfaith nature camp I organized at Open Spirit in Framingham, a time for kids to explore the natural world in playful and respectful ways. I invite you to find your own new ways of connecting your spiritual and religious life with the world outside your door, winter, spring, summer, and fall.

I leave you today with two quotes from Jewish tradition. The first, from Kohelet Rabbah (on Eccl. 7:13):

In the time that the Holy One created the first human, he took him to all the trees of Gan Eden and said to him, ‘See my works, how lovely and praiseworthy they are, and all that I created, for your sake I created it.  Put your mind [to this], that you don’t ruin or destroy my world, for if you ruin it there is no one who will repair after you.” 

And from the Haskalah poet Saul Tchernikovsky:

And if you ask me of G!d, my G!d.
'Where is G!d that in joy we may worship?'
Here on Earth too G!d lives, not in Heaven alone.
A striking fir, a rich furrow, in them you will find G!d's likeness.
Divine image incarnate in every high mountain.
Wherever the breath of life flows, you will find G!d embodied.
And G!d's household?
All being: the gazelle, the turtle, the shrub, the cloud pregnant with thunder.
G!d in creation is G!d's eternal name.

And lastly, if you suddenly find 275 times more dandelions in your yard, don’t worry – if your yard is chemical free, you can eat those yellow flowers, and they make absolutely delicious fritters!

Todah rabbah and Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day 45: Tiferet b’Malchut

Day 45: Tiferet b’Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

I witnessed the Holy Shabbat marriage of Tiferet and Malchut while in Jerusalem.  Though, the funny thing is, it took me several months to realize it.  You see, I prayed with the Judean Hills, during my year of Yeshiva study in Jerusalem.  Our wonderful balconies were a great addition to our house of prayer and study, our room with a view (and a Torah).  Overlooking the hills, I could indulge my favorite non-talmudic pastime- simple gazing.  

You could imagine my delight in realizing that simple gazing was incorporated into our prayers for welcoming Shabbat.  Like congregations everywhere, for the last verse Lecha Dodi, we turned around and faced the Judean hillside.  It was then I could just gaze and gaze.  And such a gaze it was!  Purple hills dappled with the last rays of the setting sun which was kissing the earth.  I gazed, I bowed, I smiled and I prayed.  

It took over two months, to the middle of November before the question occurred.  Why was the sun still kissing the earth during the last verse of Lecha Dodi?  Miracle of miracles- they were timing the whole affair!  Insuring that sun/earth kiss occurred exactly at the right time!  Doesn’t this mythic scene make your heart want to dance and dance?  Now the work of marrying my inner masculine with my inner feminine can truly begin.  Tiferet (sun) b’Malchut (earth).  

Reflection/Action:  Did you notice I did not include exactly how long the sun kisses the earth before diving under the covers (so to speak)?  I invite you to watch the sunset, find out exactly how long the sunset lasts where you live.  Sing, dance, sit in silence, any way that will allow you to bring this experience with you into Lecha Dodi.  Did you notice that a much bigger mystical question here is ‘Do our prayers bring the sun and earth together?’ and, ‘Are there other examples of Holy Union in our lives?’  Instead of going on and on regarding these very interesting questions, I’ll leave you with this wonderfully multi-layered poem by Patiann Rogers.  

The Power of Toads by Pattiann Rogers

The oak toad and the red-spotted toad love their love
In a spring rain, calling and calling, breeding
Through a stormy evening clasped atop their mates.
Who wouldn't sing — anticipating the belly pressed hard
Against a female's spine in the steady rain
Below writhing skies, the safe moist jelly effluence
Of a final exaltation?

There might be some toads who actually believe
That the loin-shaking thunder of the banks, the evening
Filled with damp, the warm softening mud and rising
Riverlets are the facts of their own persistent
Performance. Maybe they think that when they sing
They sing more than songs, creating rain and mist
By their voices, initiating the union of water and dusk,
Females materializing on the banks shaped perfectly
By their calls.

And some toads may be convinced they have forced
The heavens to twist and moan by the continual expansion
Of their lung sacs pushing against the dusk.
And some might believe the splitting light,
The soaring grey they see above them are nothing
But a vision of the longing in their groins,
A fertile spring heaven caught in its entirety
At the pit of the gut.

And they might be right.
Who knows whether these broken heavens
Could exist tonight separate from trills and toad ringings?
Maybe the particles of this rain descending on the pond
Are nothing but the visual manifestation of whistles
And cascading love clicks in the shore grasses.
Raindrops-finding-earth and coitus could very well
Be known here as one.

We could investigate the causal relationship
Between rainstorm and love-by-pondside if we wished.
We could lie down in the grasses by the water's edge
And watch to see exactly how the heavens were moved,
Thinking hard of thunder, imagining all the courses
That slow, clean waters might take across our bodies,
Believing completely in the rolling and pressing power
Of heavens and thighs. And in the end we might be glad,
Even if all we discovered for certain was the slick, sweet
Promise of good love beneath dark skies inside warm rains.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 44: Gevurah b’Malchut

Day 44: Gevurah b’Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

Why did King David do it?  Was it pride or piety?  Arrogance or ignorance?  What possessed him to think he could dig a deep well under the temple, to the very center of the earth? Did he actually imagine THIS was the way to allow the ritual waters of Sukkot to flow and in turn bring fresh healing rains to the earth?  Self important Hubris! He had forgotten THE MYSTERY.

He dug and blindly removed the Eben Shetiyah- the Foundation Stone of the World. The waters of the deep surged upward – they were free. Instantly they rose and began flooding our world.

King David Shouted to the elders- “Help! What can we do?”

Terror reigned – a disaster of this magnitude has never occurred before.

“Answer me or we will all be lost!”

“We believe that parchment with the sacred 42 letter Name of the Holy One must be thrown into the well while simultaneously praying with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your might.  Only then will the waters of the deep return to their place, though we are not certain. This has never happened before.” (adapted from Makkot, 11a, and Patai, Man and Temple, 1947)

We cry out for the 7500 gallons of 4-methylclyclohexenemmethanol (MCHM) spilled into the Elk River poisoning all the Charleston West Virginia metropolitan area water supply.  The material safety data sheet for MCHM, though required by law to list impacts, is incomplete.  Effects of MCHM on humans are not known.  Ecological impacts have never been tested.  Gevurah b’Malchut   http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2014/0110/W.Va.-chemical-spill-Is-more-regulation-needed-for-toxic-substances

We shudder at the devastation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission reported that the accident was "a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented".  Hindering that process were a lack of regulations as well as "a collusion between the government, the [nuclear] regulators and [plant operator] Tepco and the lack of governance by said parties".  In clear language, the report said clearly that “nature” was NOT to blame.  Gevurah b’Malchut  http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22031-fukushima-nuclear-accident-down-to-human-factors.html#.U4M-dfldWJo

We shiver at the sinking of the deep water horizon oil rig, leading to the largest oil spill in US history.   We grieve the choice to sacrifice the ocean to save the shore by adding 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit.  According to EPA data, Corexit is considered an acute health hazard and ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude.  Corexit has been banned in the United Kingdom since 1998. Gevurah b’Malchut  http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/In-Gulf-Spill-BP-Using-Dispersants-Banned-in-UK

Our anger rises as we learn of Propublica’s report that BP has flouted safety by neglecting aging equipment, pressured or harassed employees not to report problems, and cut short or delayed inspections in order to reduce production costs. Executives were not held accountable for the failures, and some were promoted despite them.  BP neglected key equipment needed for emergency shutdown, including safety shutoff valves and gas and fire detectors similar to those that could have helped prevent the fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf. Gevurah b’Malchut  http://www.propublica.org/article/years-of-internal-bp-probes-warned-that-neglect-could-lead-to-accidents

Reflection/Action: They say that during the Roman persecutions, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Elazer were forced to live in a cavernous cave.  A miraculous Carob tree grew and fed them, a fresh spring flowed and quenched their thirst.  They saved their clothes only for prayer and buried themselves in the ground without their clothes, up to their necks, like root vegetables stored for winter, studying, studying and studying.  Some say the Holy Zohar was the fruit of their studies.  When they finally emerged, they were so enraged at how the world did not live according to their visionary ideals, fire flew from their eyes burning crops as they walked.  A heavenly voice called, filled with grief, stopping them with the question, “Have you become destroyers of my world?”.  They were sent back into isolation for another year.  During that time, Reb Shimon learned to control his fiery anger, though not his son Elazer.  The path of transformation for Elazer was writing lamentations, and in this way, his tears quenched his fire.   (adapted from Shabbat 33b and Reb ‘Art Scroll’ [for Tisha B’av])

If you were to write a lamentation for our world, where would you begin? Would you share your sentence here? You can read my lamentation for the terrifying oil well blowout deep in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 by writing to me atdavid@maggiddavid.net with gulf oil lament in the subject line.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day 43: Chesed b'Malchut

Shalom!

We enter this evening the last week of the Omer counting, week seven, Malchut - Sovereignty, Leadership, Kingship, Queenship. We welcome Maggid David Arfa, storyteller and teacher of storytelling, environmental educator, and teacher of Jewish experience with the Earth. Reclaiming the role of maggid has led David to leading outdoor services at the High Ledges, as well as telling stories and sharing environmental teachings from Jewish tradition. You can read about all that Maggid David does on his website

David found the enterprise of writing a week of Omer reflections a stimulating challenge, and shared these reflections on his process:

I find I am an unlikely candidate to be sharing sefirot reflections about the Omer. I’m what you might describe as a Trans-Kabbalistic mystic. I love the mythic imagery found within the history of the Kabbalah, and yet find that inner points and sacred sparks; Tikkun Olam and Tikkun HaNefesh; TzimTzum and the breaking of vessels provide plenty of inspiration for me. Up until now, I have largely ignored the sefirot- these 10 abstract principles- gateways to associative universes- describing the journey of Oneness to Word to the diversity of World. These 49 days are perhaps the most elaborate, the most arcane portrait of the sefirot we still retain in contemporary Jewish life. Sefirot within sefirot. What the heck might this mean?


You’ll find my posts are filled with personal stories, often outdoor experiences, found after reflecting on the sefirot. For the most part, I have not tried to imagine sefirot within sefirot...it just makes my head spin too much. I invite you to share your stories as well as questions and comments with our community conversation.

Shalom,David Arfa, Maggid, david@maggiddavid.net

So, let us travel this last week of our journey to Sinai with David's stories, experiences, and reflections, and then we will all gather, one week from this evening, again at the mountaintop, at the wheat harvest, at the joyous moment of receiving Torah once again. Thank you for walking beside us on this journey. May you find the last pieces of this year's puzzle falling into place in your soul, and may you feel ready and open and able to receive anew our most sacred of texts.

Rabbi Katy Allen

Chesed B'Malchut
by Maggid David Arfa

Have you ever been camping without a tent? Sleeping outside and then it begins to rain? I have. I was among the oldest and biggest trees of the world, traveling around the Pacific Northwest, studying the ancient forests with my school companions. It was a warm night; I pulled out my sleeping bag without my tent and slept under a friendly tree named Doug, Douglas Fir.

I awoke in the middle of the night. My companions were shrieking, running through pouring rain to our bus, pulling out tents and frantically trying to set them up. I was alarmed, concerned, I had no tent either,... but then I realized I was dry and the entire patch of land around me was dry. I was close enough to my Fir tree that I was spared the raindrops - they were received by the treetop and gently brought downward via branch and trunk. Rivers of awe, gratitude and joy flowed through me as I realized that I was the beneficiary of such grace and protection. Chesed b’Malchut.

Reflection/Action: Take a moment and imagine a time when you felt buoyed by the world? Have you ever picked fresh blueberries by the bearpaw full? Have you ever filtered water from a stream and drank it to quench your thirst? Have you ever had your cares lightened by a warm breeze? Have you ever experienced the miracle of rain that comes after a dry spell? What’s your story? Would you share here with all of us?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Day 42: Malchut b’Yesod

Malchut b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

The Sabbath peace is also the beginning of that peace with nature, which many people are seeking today, in the face of the growing destruction of the environment. But there will never be peace with nature without the experience and celebration of God’s Sabbath. J├╝rgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God

Reflections / Contemplation:
This Shabbat as I am rejuvenating outdoors I will meditate on this verse from the Shabbat afternoon Amidah: Our God, God of our ancestors, take pleasure in our rest.

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
Today I will make no commitments for inner or outer action.  I will only rest and be at peace with the world.

Day 41: Yesod b’Yesod

Yesod b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

 [T]he human need of the Sabbath comes to parallel the need of wilderness:  both are a gift, providing the possibility for humankind to share in the Creator’s enjoyment of the natural world.  The environmental consequences of this vision are enormous, since enjoyment presupposes respect and care.  Robert Barry Leal,Wilderness in the Bible: Toward a Theology of Wilderness

U’midbar matanah/From wilderness, a gift. --Numbers 21:18

Reflections / Contemplation:
What wilderness ‘gifts’ do I treasure?
What Shabbat ‘gifts’ do I treasure?

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action:
This week I will give myself the gift of Shabbat/rest by turning off my electronic devices and spending time outside enjoying the season unfolding around me.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Day 40: Hod b’Yesod

Hod b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

Rabbi Jacob taught: One who is reviewing his [Torah] studies while walking along the way and interrupts his study to exclaim, 'How splendid this tree is!' 'How fair this field is!' Scripture considers it as if he has forfeited his soul. --Avot 3:9

Rav Kook explains this passage as follows: The error is not that someone interrupts Torah study to appreciate nature, rather it is in regarding this wonder as an interruption of Torah study. The real error is in compartmentalizes life, isolating his inward-directed spiritual life of prayer and Torah from the outside world's beauty and grandeur. By doing so, "he forfeits his soul" – he abandons his soul's sense of beauty and its harmony with the natural universe.

Reflections / Contemplation:
In what ways have I separated or compartmentalized my need for ‘wilderness’ time and my Jewish time? 
How can I break down these divides? 
How might removing these barriers affect my Jewish and ‘wilderness’ experiences?

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action: 
Today as I sit outside for 18 minutes I will study psalm 148.  For a beautiful rendition of this psalm by two Israelis clickhere.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Day 39: Netzah b’Yesod

Netzah b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization that destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself. --Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Wilderness is a necessary condition for every revelation: Whoever would wish to acquire Torah, must make himself ownerless like the wilderness.  --Midrash Rabbah

Reflections / Contemplation: 
In what ways is wilderness necessary to my life, to my appreciation or understanding of Judaism, and to my relationship with God?

Yesterday we looked at a passage from R. Nash who suggested that the term wilderness defies definition. How do I define the term for myself in the two passages for today?

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action: 
Today I will devote 18 minutes to learning about one threat to our remaining wilderness areas.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 38: Tifereth b’Yesod

Tifereth b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

'Wilderness' has a deceptive concreteness at first glance. The difficulty is that while the word is a noun it acts like an adjective. There is no specific material object that is wilderness. The term designates a quality (as the '-ness' suggests) that produces a certain mood or feeling in a given individual and, as a consequence, may be assigned by that person to specific place. Because of this subjectivity a universally acceptable definition of wilderness is elusive. One man's wilderness may be another's roadside picnic... Wilderness, in short, is so heavily freighted with meaning of a personal, symbolic, and changing kind as to resist easy definition. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind

Reflections / Contemplation: 
What happens if you replace wilderness in the above passage from Nash with the word God? 
Does this exercise impact your understanding of the word God?
Does it alter your view of wilderness?

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action: 
Today when I go outside for 18 minutes I will focus on the many different metaphors for God and wilderness that exist and pay special attention to the ones that resonate most deeply within me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Title: Day 37: Gevurah b’Yesod

Gevurah b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

It is impossible for human intelligence to comprehend God, yet certain places may allow people to experience the necessary risk that opens them, body and soul, to what their minds cannot entertain....[l]iminal places are able, symbolically if not physically, to put people on edge, driving them beyond all efforts to control reality (and even God) by means of the intellect.  --Belden C LaneSolace of Fierce Landscapes;

Reflections / Contemplation: 
Remember an experience where you felt that you experienced the kind of risk / divine encounter that opened you, “body and soul”, like Lane talks about.

Maimonides said that prayer enables us to create a wilderness within, where a person can be alone with God. 
Do you think he was suggesting that prayer creates for us the kind of experience to which Lane refers? 
Have you ever had such an experience while praying? If so, what prayer (s) were you saying? What was the situation? Were you in a synagogue or outside with others, by yourself?

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action: 
Today as part of my18 minutes outside I will sit with my siddur and seek a wilderness experience through prayer with God.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day 36: Chesed b'Yesod

This week we welcome Rabbi Howard Cohen of Judaism Outdoors: Burning Bush Adventures to our Omer project. Through Burning Bush Adventures, Rabbi Cohen takes people into the wilderness for an unforgettable experience of God, Judaism, and wilderness, so it is not surprising that he has chosen wilderness as the theme for this week of Yesod, or foundation. Wilderness as foundation.

Prior to entering rabbinical school Howard worked for Outward Bound in Minnesota, Florida, Maine, and England. He has been guiding canoe and dog sled trips in New England for over 30 years, and he created Burning Bush Adventures in 1990. He serves as the rabbi of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Marshfield, MA, and is a New York State licensed wilderness guide, Wilderness First Responder, and a Lietenant in the Bennington Fire Department. 

During this week of Yesod, may we feel the foundations of our hearts and souls being renewed, enriched, and strengthened, as we journey through the penultimate week of the Omer, closing in on standing at Sinai.

Rabbi Katy Allen


Chesed b’Yesod
by Rabbi Howard Cohen

Yaakov Yitzchak as a child used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were not safe in his mind. There were wild animals, poisonous plants, stinging insects, bandits, steep ravines, and dangerous cliffs. He decided to discuss the matter with his child. One day he took him aside and said, “You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder, why do you go there?” To his surprise, the boy said to his father, “I go there to find God.” The father replied gently, “That is a very good thing. I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” The boy answered, “yes, but I’m not.”  --Yaakov Yitzchak, The Seer of Lublin

Reflections / Contemplation: 
What is it about wilderness/outdoors that makes it seem easier for us to have an encounter with the numinous?
What responsibilities flow from the identification of wilderness as having important spiritual significance?

A Commitment for Inner / Outer Action: 
I will enter the week of Yesod by making a commitment to spend at least 18 minutes outdoors every day this week, rain or shine. I will simply be outside observing and experiencing, not doing work of any sort.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Day 35: Malchut b'Hod

Malchut of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen

The heavens are exalted in their brilliance
as their grandeur is of You.
Each star reserves a place of dignity
and majesty to call its own
and yet all bodies are respected
lights  within Your great divine display.
Each one of us is as Your star
with  role assigned in Hashem’s greater plans.
We take our place in heaven’s script through
Torah, mitzvot , prayer by which the light we do retrieve
Illuminates our constellation.
Your kingdom here on earth is lit by You through us
as we, Your earthly luminaries extend Your majesty divine,
in sparks of holiness through daily acts
directed by Your will and created in Your love.
As we gaze above to heaven’s starlit majesty,
we touch the divine core within, the You that dwells in us.


Reflection
Am I willing to allow myself to be a creator within the divine plan?
Am I willing to commit today to clear any blocks, internally and perhaps externally, to allow my life to be a channel of divine creation?
Today I acknowledge my divine center.
Today I know I am a part of my Creator and a star of brilliant light within G-d’s constellation.

Action
Am I willing today to participate in the divine constellation as a brilliant star among stars?
Am I willing today to offer mitzvot  that will divine illumination?
Today I recognize the magnitude of what can be created with the will of G-d and that I am a part of that creation.
Today I humbly take  responsibility for the majesty of  creations and my role here on earth.

Day 34: Yesod b'Hod

Yesod of Hod
by Judith E. Felsen

Would that this evening I bring the glory of sunset,
passionate, fleeting, reflective and meaningful
to my encounters and relations.
Would that tonight I allow my connections
to be as effects of a twinkling star,
intimate, anonymous, inspiring, and elevating.
Would that today I greet all experiences with
anticipation of dawn’s sunrise, bringing possibility
and potential to the world.
Would that today I engage with noontime’s strength
offering power and will divinely directed
to serve and heal this world.
Would that today I bask in afternoon’s ease,
awaiting twilight’s new day,
connected, inspired, empowered, impassioned,
grateful to be a conductor, a channel,
a spark of light of and  for You.


Reflections
Am I willing today to combine the possibility of  experience and potential as a channel for divine will?
Am I willing to view the structure of today’s passing hours as a vehicle for bringing light to this world?
May I today offer myself as a conduit bringing  divine presence to all my encounters.
May I today honor  relationships as containers of divine light to which I contribute and for which I am grateful.

Action
Am I willing to incorporate time, space, and all that I am and bring, to enhance all of my connections?
Am I willing to bring light today to all that is created and that I create?
Today I will  contribute to my relationships, enhancing connection as  a reflection of the unity in which we dwell.