Teachings and Intentions

How will you dedicate your Hannukah?

The Hebrew word Hannukah literally means dedication, referencing the (re)dedication of the Temple over 2500 years ago after it was desecrated and destroyed in the battle of the Maccabees against the army of Antiochus. The rededication was enacted with the lighting of the 7 branched menorah in the Temple. Later, because the 7 branched menorah was not supposed to bit outside the Temple (Talmud Menachot 28b), and in connection with the symbolism of the Talmudic version of the story when the last tiny cruze of oil miraculously lasted 8 nights (Talmud Shabbat 21b), an 8 branched Hannukiah holding 9 candles, aka a Hannukah menorah, was instituted.

But I want to offer another way of understanding that word dedication.

Perhaps while the candles are burning, we take the opportunity to just be. Just be in the moment, in the present. Hannukah is a holiday but it's not like Shabbat or other chagim (festivals) where we miss school or work. In this way, Hannukah integrates the sacred and the every day. Perhaps Hannukah can be an opportunity to remind ourselves the power of integrating small rituals into our daily lives, to bring more holiness into our routines.

According to the laws of Hannukah, women are to refrain from work while the Hannukah candles are burning. Reasons for this are two fold: firstly the candles are intended simply to celebrate and publicize the miracle of Hannukah and must burn for a minimum of 30 minutes and are not to be used in a utilitarian way to provide light for work. Secondly, this was seen as a reward for women to be exempt from work while the candles are lit, in honor of the heroine Judith, whose book along with the book of Maccabees is not in the Hebrew bible but is part of the Jewish apocryphal literature), but is a female heroine associated with Hannukah.

Perhaps this is why most Hannukah candles only last 30 minutes, unlike most Shabbat candles which last hours providing light all night and are often still burning when it’s time for bed. Sometimes I wish the Hannukah candles burned longer too, but alas. We must savor the light while it does last.

Whether you find this practice of women’s exemption from work while the candles are burning to be sexist (implying they should be working all the rest of the time and that’s the only time they have “off”) or whether you find this a comforting, freeing, relief that gives you permission to take advantage of not working and to just enjoy the candles, or whether you feel both feelings (I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions), I’m inspired by the opportunity this idea invites.

Whether or not you see yourself as “exempt” from work while the candles are burning or whether this idea is an invitation for exploring your spiritual practice, let’s use the time while the candles are burning as sacred time. So many of us don’t always get to take sacred time for ourselves for whatever reason.

So here's my challenge for us:

Perhaps we dedicate Hannukah, or the light of the candles, or the 30 minutes when the candles are burning to ourselves.

How might dedicate your time? Here are 8 suggestions:

1. Curl up with a blanket and your favorite novel or book of poetry

2. Do some stretching or yoga poses

3. Meditate by the candle light (new to the practice? I recommend Calm or Headspace).

4. Have a nourishing meal with friends or a loved one (or just sit down to eat)

5. Take a bath

6. Journal about your dreams - the ones you have while asleep and awake. Or take the time to think about your core desired feelings for winter - how do you want to feel over the next few months and let that be a guide for decision making and scheduling for this season. Or carve out some time for thinking about the end of 2018 and transitioning into 2018

7. Revisit any intentions you made for 5779 back at Rosh Hashanah (remember those?) and use the secular new year to recommit or pivot your goals.

8. Dedicate each night to someone. Ever notice when a yoga teacher invites you to dedicate your practice to yourself or someone else? That feels special. It’s a way to sending positive vibes, loving energy, healing prayers toward someone else. It feels good. Maybe you dedicate your candle lighting each night to someone you love, someone you miss, someone who inspired you, someone you appreciate or someone who is in need of healing.

You may have read previous blog post on the Hannukah Dedication Challenge and thought: oh yes, I want to do this! I love a challenge. Bring. It. On.

Or you may be thinking, that’s nice but I can’t do that. I can’t take time like that every night of Hannukah. I have responsibilities to my family and work and other commitments. Yes, of course we all do. This isn’t something easy. But a lot of important things we do aren’t easy. So it may take some planning.

Here are some tips suggestions to help you make this more doable:

Think about the things that get your time and energy every day. You deserve to put some of that time and energy back into your own wellness, nourishment, self-care and spiritual practice. That’s not being selfish. You’re a cup that needs to be refilled, not an endless stream.

  • Take a look at your calendar in advance. Block off 30 minutes each night during Hannukah for this. Add it to your google calendar or write it in your paper calendar. Considered this time sacred.

  • Set a daily timer or reminder. When you hear it, set aside what you’re doing and give yourself permission, encouragement and appreciation for taking this time for yourself.

  • If you can’t do it right at sundown, find another half hour that evening or that day and block it off.

  • Talk to your partner, parents, a friend or roommates to help you. Maybe you celebrate with your family or friends and then make sure you carve out of the time later that night or earlier that day for yourself. It may take some juggling in your schedules. If you have childcare duties, consider asking a partner, parent or a friend to help you make the time to do this - maybe you trade off so you can each have 30 minutes to yourself.

  • Encourage your partner or kids or roommates to do it to so that you can have this time individually but together. Be encouraged and supported by each others practice.

  • Can’t take 30 minutes? Try it for 20 minutes each day, or 10 minutes each. See what it feels like to give yourself this time EVERY DAY.

  • Struggle with a daily practice? That’s ok. Find an accountability buddy or give yourself a gold start each day you do it.

  • Take note. What might it feel like to replace 30 minutes of screen time with 30 minutes of doing whatever refills your well?

In the age of Facebook and Instagram it can be easy to use social media a distraction. However, it can also be a tool for motivation, accountability and support. How so? Take a photo of yourself, your book, your cup of tea, your journal or art supplies before or after your 30 minutes and use hastag #redidicatehannukah . This may inspire others! And I want to see what you’re doing too! Please tag me so I am sure to see it and can offer you encouragement and support.

Good luck! Warmest wishes and blessings for Hannukah,

Rabbi Sarah

Like the winter festivals of light in cultures all around the world, Hannukah, falls at the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only are the nights growing longer but they are darker too moving towards winter solstice. Additionally, Hannukah falls on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, at a time when the moon is waning in a further darkening night sky.

Hannukah encourages us to literally light a fire in the darkness, to kindle light at the darkest time year -- or for those in the southern Hemisphere for whom Hannukah falls in the summer time (what?!) the lighting of candles has a similar yet inverse meaning of celebrating, growing, and expanding light.

For so many of us, the winter brings with it seasonal affective disorder and depression. A poignant yet anachronistic midrash (rabbinic story) tells of Adam, the first human, who grew so sad the first year of his life as the light was decreasing at this time of year until the holiday of Hannukah provided some much needed light. The story of Hannukah itself, though not in the Hebrew Bible, records the military victory of the Israelites, and the retelling of it in the Talmud (the rabbinic compendium of Jewish legal discourse) layers on the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 nights as a foundational narrative of hope for the Jewish people.

For these reasons, the themes of Hannukah are at once universal, communal, and yet personal as well.

The personal act of the lighting the candles, adding one each night, is to see the light increase when it would otherwise be decreasing at this time of year, can be very meaningful.

I have memories of my grandparents coming to spend Hannukah with me and my siblings when were kids growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut. Even today, when I close my eyes and see their faces illuminated by the glow of the candles, it brings tears to my eyes.

The practice of pirsum ha'neis (literally “publicizing the miracle” of Hannukah) of placing the Hannukah menorah in the window, is to proudly (often defiantly or dangerously) display the lit candles to passersby. In doing so we multiply the lights in the reflection of the window as well, and offer the light of hope and renewal to those around us.

May the lighting of your Hannukah lights increase the light in your heart and in your soul.

Rabbi Sarah

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With the new moon, we begin the Hebrew month of Kislev. Just like the moon, we go through phases and cycles. Pausing to notice where we are in the moon cycle gives us an opportunity to check in with ourselves. One thing I love about the practice of observing, celebrating and learning about Rosh Chodesh (the Jewish wisdom of the new moon), is that there is so much connection: the themes of the month often connect to the seasons and as well as what is going on in the Jewish calendar and year cycle.

With the new moon of Kislev, we can really feel a shift towards winter as the nights grow longer and darker as we move towards Hannukah on the 25th of Kislev. One major theme of Kislev is tapping into and kindling dreams, both the ones that happen when we sleep and the ones we envision when we're awake. Every Torah portion this month contains dreams.

What have you been dreaming of lately?

What are the dreams you are nurturing this month?

I know many of us are still reeling from this mornings news about the shooting at Tree of Life Or L'simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh that happened this morning. The last I heard 11 were killed including 2 police officers. As far as I know, everyone that I know in Pittsburgh is safe, but of course, they are shaken.

It's something that affects so many us - if not all of us. While it happened to their community, and they will be working to repair and heal from this devastating trauma, that pain ripples out from their community and touches us all. Whether we are Jewish or not, whether we live in Pittsburgh or not, whether we knew the victims or their loved ones or not. It touches us because we are human and human life is sacred. An act of hatred like this cuts so deeply into the sense of shalom (peace) and shalem (wholeness) that we strive to create and cultivate in our lives, for ourselves and our families, and in our communities.

Tomorrow, Sunday, October 28th, I'll be joining Pleasance Lowengard Silicki, Rita Stevens and lil omm yoga for a community gathering. I'll be offering some opening words of comfort and blessings for healing. Please join us if you are in need of a space where we can hold each others pain. We are opening this gathering to anyone who wants to join us.

If you want to join us, we are gathering at 3pm-5pm at the BOLD Center in Tenleytown.

Come in comfy clothes to stretch and move, bring a yoga mat and a journal.

4000 Chesapeake St NW, Washington, DC 20016

Feel free to just join us, no RSVP necessary.

If I can be of support to you at this time, please let me know.

Rabbi Sarah Tasman

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Cheshvan is the month following all the holidays that occurred over the last month during Tishrei. There are no holidays other than Shabbat this month, giving us a chance to return to the rhythms of our daily lives.

For this reason, it's a time when and is considered a time to get back to real life, when the real work of being our best selves begins.

It's also a time of Autumn, when we notice the trees shedding their leaves, the wind picks up and nights grow darker in the northern Hemisphere

What are the daily practices that help you live as the person you want to be, or support you?

What's the real soul work you need to commit to?

Wishing you a meaningful month of Cheshvan,

Rabbi Sarah

The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) though Yom Kippur (the day of attonement) are called the 10 Days of Teshuva or the Yamim Nora'im, meaning the 10 days of return or the 10 days of holiness/awesomeness. That name, Yamim Nora'im is where the phrase High Holy Days comes from, or more colloquially, High Holidays. Additionally, the Shabbat (Sabbath) in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called as the the Sabbath of Return, or Shabbat Shuva in Hebrew.

What does Sabbath of Return mean? This can raise a lot of questions. Who is returning? Why? What for? Is it just about humans or what about G*d? The way that I think about is this: It's all of the questions and all of the possible answers. It's the earth turning, it's the seasons changing, it's people returning to synagogue each year, it's G*d turning G*d's attention back to us when we turn our attention to G*d, it's us turning towards ourselves to take an honest look at our lives, it's each of us coming back to our families or loved ones, or coming home to our truest selves.

I'll add one more meaning. This afternoon, before getting ready for Shabbat, I dusted off my yoga mat and rolled it out. I got back on my mat, and immediately my body sank down into a child's pose and just started breathing. It's like I hadn't been breathing until I stepped back onto the mat. My breath deepened, my body, moved, I began to sweat, I picked up the pace and then slowed down again. As I began to move through my asana (movement) practice, my breath synced up with the movements. Inhaling as my limbs expanded, exhaling as my body contracted.

A thought arose during my practice. Wow. It feels so good to come back to my practice. Truth be told, it had been a while, so I didn't know what to expect. Spiritual and physical practices ebb and flow, but it had really been while. But I was almost surprised how good it felt just coming back to my practice.

And then, another thought arose: Shabbat Shuva.

Shabbat of Return.

Returning to my yoga practice, turning to my self-care, returning to my body and breath. It felt so good to be doing this just for myself. Something purely for my own physical and spiritual health.

After my practice, I laid on my mat a little longer instead of getting up right away after savasana (final resting pose). I put on one of my favorite Kirtan (Sanskrit chanting) songs, Baba Hanuman, by Krishna Das, and I just allowed my body to move and breath. My hands moved like a conductor, then swam through the air. I lifted my legs as though I was dancing while still laying on my back. I just enjoyed my body moving in any way it wanted to. I didn't think too much except to notice how free, peaceful, and joyous I felt.

Shabbat Shuva.

Coming back to my practice.

Coming back to myself.

Coming back to my soul.

And maybe that's what Shabbat Shuva is all about.

However you get there, it's about returning however you need to.

It's about returning to your soul however you get there.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Sending blessings on this last Shabbat of the Jewish year 5778 as we prepare to enter the new year 5779 on Sunday evening, with the start of Rosh Hashanah. May you find new growth, deep meaning, joy, creativity, and love in the coming year.

Monday, September 10, 2018 - I'll be leading family services for the New Synagogue Project. The service will include a guitar, fun songs, a story for Rosh Hashanah, shofar blowing, and apples and honey. It's not too late to register for services (tickets are free/donations appreciated) with this start up congregation in Petworth. The main service is led by NSP's founder Rabbi Joseph Berman and guest Rabbi Monica Gomery (classmates of mine from rabbinical school!). Visit their website to sign up: https://newsynagogueproject.org/

Looking for some Rosh Hashanah resources you can use at home with friends or family? For funny, irreverent, secular-spiritual resources to download from JewBelong.com, click here.

For easy to use/print free Holiday booklets from InterfaithFamily to use at a meal or gathering, click here.

If you are looking for a full body ritual to prepare yourself fully for entering the Jewish New Year, or spiritually getting ready for Yom Kippur, or another life transition, consider making an appointment to at the mikvah for a ritual immersion in water. Visit adasisrael.org/mikvah for more info and to schedule. (Please note, the mikvah is not open on Shabbat or Jewish holidays).

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Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is said to be eclipsed or covered over by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which falls on the first night of Tishrei. This also starts of the 10 Days of Awe (the High Holiday Days) culminating with Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement or At-one-ment.

Tishrei is so full of one holiday after another - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which are followed by Sukkot, the week long Harvest holiday and ancient pilgrimage festival, and ending with some additional festival days of Shemini Atzeret and Hoshanah Rabbah (said to be days of great supplication - so if you didn't get all your prayers by Yom Kippur you still have time), and end in Simchat Torah, celebration the conclusion and restarting of the yearly scriptural reading cycle including holding and even dancing with the Torah.

This new month and the new year invite us to see ourselves a anew, to celebrate and to take stock of our lives. We are also given the opportunity to let go the past year.

How will you let go of the past and celebrate the new?

What is holy in your life?

What fills you with awe?

Shanah Tovah U'Metukah / Blessings for a Good and Sweet Year,

Rabbi Sarah

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This Sunday is the full moon of the month of Elul, my favorite month of the calendar because it's all about spiritual preparation. It's the time for starting to look towards Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Sunday, September 9. For tips, suggestions, resources for writing prompts and reflection questions, read my most recent blog post on Rosh Chodesh Elul.

What can the full moon tell us?

In the Jewish calendar, the new moon is the first of the month and the full moon is the 15th of the month. The full moon or the 15th is half way through the month. Looking up and noticing the full moon of Elul reminds us that Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New year is in 2 weeks!

For those of us who always feel like the Jewish High Holidays sneak up on us no matter how late they are, you may be thinking, ONLY TWO WEEKS?! You may be busy with the end of summer, getting back from vacation and the start of the school year, new job or family responsibilities, and overall feeling like it's a crazy time of year. Well it is.

For others, you may be thinking, oh, good, I've still got two whole weeks to get ready. That's still two weeks of summer, labor day, and time do some journalling and intention setting for the New Year. And figure out how you want to observe and celebrate the high holidays this year.

The full moon of Elul is reminder to set aside some time to be in nature, reflect on the year gone by, and check in with yourself. Check in with your self-care, your habits, your relationships - and - think about where you need to let go, reach out, or make amends. Then, notice what you feel like. Do you feel lighter, freer, more grounded, more ready for what's next? Does this process allow you to make some space in your life for what you really want?

So, we've got two more weeks til Rosh Hashanah. As one of my coaches, Pleasance Silicki, teaches: you've got all the time you need. In fact you've probably got more time than you think. You've got 168 hours each week, how do you want to use those? Just make sure you're using your time in the way that is best for you and your life.

How will you use your time during the next two weeks of Elul?

Shabbat Shalom and warmest wishes,

Rabbi Sarah