Before I learned about the Jewish tradition of spending a month preparing for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), including time for reflection, accounting of the soul (cheshbon hanefesh), offering and asking for forgiveness, evaluating our missteps and recalibrating our aim, I was always struck by how insane it is to show up to synagogue (for many the only time during the whole year) and try to cram all of this soul searching and prayer and thoughts about life and death into a few hours, communally. Most of us read from a book that often doesn’t speak our language and doesn’t feel relevant. The whole process used to feel empty. I wanted to believe. I wanted to feel something. …
Shavuot is a holiday of harvest and revelation. Like a farmer in the fields, the ancient Israelites were cultivating and growing in preparation for revelation. Shavuot invites us to take stock of what we are harvesting in our own lives.
The word Shavuot, usually translated as “weeks,” can also be interpreted as “oaths.” Now is the perfect time to think about what new commitments we want to make to our loved ones, our community, and ourselves.
Use the questions below to guide your path to revelation:
1. What have you been cultivating and growing in your life that you can now harvest? …
One of the most famous lines in the Torah, in the parsha or chapter called Lech Lecha, says: “Go you forth from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land I will let you see.” These words from God to Abraham begin Abraham’s path to becoming the father of the Jewish people and of the future religions grouped under the umbrella of monotheism. These words also describe every person’s journey.
There’s been silence for ten generations, the rabbis say, between Noah and Abraham. And then God says, “lech lecha.” The translation of these two words varies: “go you forth,” or “go to yourself,” or “go into yourself,” or “go for yourself.” Isn’t Hebrew awesome? This little line that means all of that. Go, move forward, go find yourself, go for your benefit, go from what you know, leave your comforts behind, take a huge risk, and oh, by the way, don’t worry about your destination, I’ll show you. …
When I founded the Jewish Meditation Center (JMC) in NYC, one of my goals was to create a learning community that took the practice of meditation seriously, but held ourselves lightly. Blending the sacred and silly continues to be one of my favorite practices, and leading drinking meditations is often a perfect way to introduce people to meditation and as a preparation for kiddush, the blessing over wine that we say on special occasions and holidays, like Shabbat. I first started leading drinking meditations at the JMC’s annual “Beer, Jews, and Enlightenment” fundraiser at a beer garden in Brooklyn. This was my not so subtle reminder that you don’t need to be on a mountaintop monastery to have a spiritual experience- you can be in a bar in Brooklyn and tap into the miraculous, mystical present tense moment. …
Just as the Maccabees looked through the rubble, miraculously found the ingredients for light, and rededicated the Temple (the Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication”), look into your own heart, through your own rubble, and ask yourself:
1. What brings light to my life?
2. How can I kindle that light?
3. How can I bring more light into the world?
4. What miracles have I experienced during difficult times?
5. What miracles am I trying to cultivate in my life?
6. What actions can I take to bring about miracles in my life?
7. How can I bring about miracles in the lives of others?
8. What will I (re)dedicate myself to this year?
. . .
A few people have asked me today about whether meditation helps me cope in times of disaster and dystopian nightmare and if it will help them. Here’s what I’ve been saying: When I teach meditation, I’m not that interested in how still and quiet my students can stay on their cushions or chairs. I’m not even that concerned about what they’re doing in their heads, to be honest. I think just showing up is sometimes enough. What I care most about is how the practice helps and supports them off the cushion, how they relationship with themselves and others, and how they are able to be their best selves and have a positive impact on the world. …
On Passover, we retell the most famous narrative of the Jewish people, remembering our path from bondage in Egypt to freedom. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (מצר’ם), translates to “narrow space” — allowing the holiday of Passover to be a seriously awesome metaphor. Passover is an opportunity to reflect on how we move through narrowness to spaciousness.
Use the questions below to guide your journey:
1. The story of the Exodus contains lots of miracles — plagues, parting seas, the Pharaoh’s change of heart, etc. …