Writings

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During the Art & Visioning workshop I led on January 1, I had a few moments to sit down and breath and do my own art work. The room was full of participants working on their own images and visions - drawing, writing, searching for images that spoke to them. My teachers in Rabbinical School used to tell us how inspiring it was when they would walk into the Beit Midrash (the house of study) and see all of the students studying together in chevruta (with a partner) translating texts, deciphering meanings, studying commentaries. The room was abuzz with students trying to figure things out, make sense of things, understand each other's opinions and reasonings for how to read a line of text as a statement or a question. The sights and sounds of the Beit Midrash inspired my teachers and reminded them why they loved learning Jewish texts so much.

For me, I have a similar experience as a teacher. When I have led a group in meditation or contemplative reflection and vision and then I given each person an opportunity to write or create art and I see each person inspired by what they are creating -- that's one of my favorite moments as a teacher and as a rabbi. It reminds me of being a student in college, in the art studio at the Residential College at the University of Michigan, a young Arts & Ideas major. I loved being in the art studio where each person was working creatively on their own project yet all of us were in there collectively. I liked the quietness of people focused on the work of their hands. Perhaps there was some music on in the background and maybe a hushed conversation here or there or a question to the teacher. There was a quiet reverence in the room of creativity happening in real time.

During the Art & Visioning workshop I looked around to see everyone working and I was filled with that sense of inspiration, of creativity and flow. Once everyone seemed to find their art supplies and were tucked into their own pieces I sat down to create my own.

For years I've practiced what I call "Art Meditation" - not unlike a walking meditation or mindful eating, there is an activity at hand in which I am fulled immersed. I have a practice I come back to over and over again of creating tree collages. I find different scrape of paper and tear them into small pieces and different shapes. I arrange them to form the trunk of the tree, the branches, the leaves and flowers, and either roots or grass that firmly ground the tree into the earth. I come back to the image of the tree every time - it's a meditation on the tree -an image of something completely grounded and rooted, it's strong, and yet it also changes with the seasons. The tree is rooted and solid but it also reaches out, the leaves change and turn with the seasons, the fruits grow and bloom and the flowers blossom in the spring time. It reminds me that the only constant it change. Sometimes I choose paper based on the colors I am feeling, or another motif speaks to me, or there are images in the paper that I build into the story of the tree. Sometimes the roots are a mirror image to the branches.

At this time of year, when it is is cold and snow covers the ground in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it is hard to imagine a tree with flowering buds. The cherry blossoms that grace the tidal basin in Washington, DC seem like a faint memory. This may be so, but in the Jewish calendar, we celebrate the month of Shvat and the holiday of Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees. This year year Tu Bishvat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) falls on Monday January 21. We celebrate it at this time of year because the very first almond trees in Israel begin to flower in Shvat.

There is an adage I come back to again and again: "the seeds that are planted in Shvat bloom in Nissan" which means the seeds planted in the month of winter bloom in the month of spring time. I love to think about this metaphorically each year and ask myself what are the seeds of intention I want to plant right now so that they will bloom this spring? This tree is an art meditation on this intention of planting seeds now so they will bloom this spring.

My intention for this winter and spring is to lead a monthly art and spirituality workshop that gathers in time with the new moon. I hope to plant the seeds and nourish the seedlings of this opportunity which will allow students and seekers to express themselves creativity and bloom in their spiritual and creative practice. I hope you will join me at this special series.

Happy New Year!

We had a beautiful New Year's Day Art & Visioning workshop with 30 people who came to get creative! The room was filled to the brim with energy and inspiration. Thank you to everyone who participated for your presence and support of each other's visions for the new year ahead. I hope to see you again soon.

If you weren't able to join us but would like to do a private session with me including visualization, art & writing, or if you need any help, guidance, or support in identifying your intentions or creating a life where you can live directly from your intentions, please reach out. I am working with clients for spiritual coaching and private learning, as well as launching new workshops and classes this year designed to nourish and support you in body, mind, and soul.

Each month, I post a teaching for the Hebrew month. Each Hebrew month arrives with the new moon and has different themes and attributes connected with the season and the holidays of that month. See below for this month's wisdom for the new moon of Shvat and planting seeds in the New Year. Catch up with my writings, upcoming events, and other news on my website, www.tasmancenter.org, and follow on instagram and our Facebook page.

With warmest wishes and blessings,

Rabbi Sarah

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According to the Jewish calendar, each month begins on the new moon or "Rosh Chodesh" in Hebrew. This time is an opportunity for learning about the wisdom of that month and setting an intention. Each month has attributes and characteristics that often correspond to the season or the holidays that fall during that time.

The month of Shvat begins at night on Sunday, January 6th, 2019 with the new moon, and is also observed and celebrated during the day on Monday, January 7th.

Though the month of Shvat is still in the midst of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrate the New Year of the Trees with the holiday of Tu BiShevat on the 15th of the month (on the full moon). This holiday celebrates the first blossoming of the almond trees and is a time for planting seeds.

An old adage teaches that the seeds planted in the Hebrew month of Shvat, will bloom in the Hebrew month of Nisan (a few months away in the beginning of springtime).

What seeds of intention are you planting in your heart and in your life? How will you nurture them to grow and bloom?

New Years are opportunities to check in with yourself, to take stock and do some reflection and to also set intentions. But I am not a fan of "new years resolutions" which often come from a place of self-judgement, self-criticism and self-restraint. These resolutions often set us up to be hard on ourselves.

Rather than setting a resolution, I see each New Year - and each new month in the Jewish calendar - as good times to set intentions. Living in alignment with the cycles around the sun, and each cycle of the moon, can be very powerful and help us feel more centered and grounded in our lives. Each new year or each new moon gives us a chance to either recommit to an intention you set earlier or set a new intention.

The Hebrew word for intention is kavannah, which comes from the verb l'kavven, which means to direct your heart. So my question for you this year, is how do you want to direct your heart? How do you want to feel in your day-to-day life? How do you want to be? What are your core desired feelings? And then once you have identified those words and ideas, let yourself make decisions and choose from there.

Let your intentions direct your thoughts and actions.

What are you intentions for 2019?

I'd love to hear what your intentions are for this year.

If you need any help, guidance, or support on identifying your intentions or creating a life where you can live directly from your intentions, please reach out! I am working with private clients for spiritual coaching and learning, as well as launching new workshops and classes this year designed to nourish and support you in body, mind, and soul.

With warmest wishes and Blessings,

Rabbi Sarah

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Warmest Wishes for Winter Solstice and Shabbat Shalom!

Winter Solstice has long been one my favorite holidays. Truth be told, I don't do well with the cold and darkness of the winter season, but there is something hopeful to me that in once we get through to Winter Solstice - the shortest day and the longest night of the year - the days will once again get a little bit longer. The knowledge that the days will grow longer, even if just by a minute per day, helps me psychologically. I am not alone in this feeling. This time of year can be incredibly difficult for many people. Read more about the Talmud's take on Seasonal Affective Disorder on my website.

One of my favorite quotes for Winter Solstice comes from the TV show Northern Exposure. This show was a Tasman family favorite growing up and has special resonance for me since I served as the rabbi of a small Jewish community in Fairbanks, AK in the summer of 2011. I felt much more at home than Dr Joel Fleishman in the TV show. In the show, one winter, Chris Stevens, who is at once a disc jockey, preacher, poet and, artist, creates an enormous sculpture in the town square out of all of the lights he can find. His opening kavannah (words of intention), which is one of my favorite quotes, reads as follows:

Goethe's final words: "More light." Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry: "More light." Sunlight. Torchlight. Cande light. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." "Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on!" "The night is dark, and I am far from home." "Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come." Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.

Check out the scene on YouTube.

Wishing you and your families light, warmth, connection, hope, healing, and joy.

Warmest wishes, Shabbat Shalom, and all my best for a bright 2019,

Rabbi Sarah Tasman

Winter Solstice is this Friday December 21, 2019.

Winter Solstice has long been one my favorite holidays. Truth be told, I don't do well with the cold and darkness of the winter season, but there is something hopeful to me that in once we get through to Winter Solstice - the shortest day and the longest night of the year - that the days will once again get a little bit longer. Even the next day, even if the sun sets just a minute later, if the next Shabbat comes in just a little later, it helps me psychologically. I am not alone in this feeling. This time of year can be incredibly difficult for many people.

In the great compendeum of Rabbinic Literature, The Talmud (Avodah Zarah, 8a), there is a story about Adam the first human being. "When Adam -- who was created in the beginning of the year, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (e.g. on Rosh Hashanah) -- noticed that during the first three months of his life, the days were getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is to me! The world around me is being darkened and is returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this must be the kind of death which has been sentenced to me from Heaven!' He took upon himself to pray, fast, and look within. After eight days, he noticed the Winter Equinox (the Tekufat Tevet or the season of the month of Tevet), and saw that indeed the days were beginning to lengthen again. "So this is the way of the world!" he exclaimed, and he celebrated for eight days." When I read this, I thought, wow. The rabbis who compiled the Talmud must have really understood Seasonal Affective Disorder. This was also another way thay they thought about Hanukah.

This is also how I think about Solstice, that it's an opportunity to celebrate the light, a way to reinforce the light in the darkness at this time of year (a continuation of Hannukah this year since Hannukah came earlier in December this year).

It is believed that Winter Solstice has been celebrated since the Neolithic period (12,000 years ago). According to Wikipedia, Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. For more information check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice

Even if you no longer live in an agrarian society, what does Winter Solstice mean for you? What does it mean to be aware of the cycles and the seasons in this way?

How do you mark the passage of time?

Warmly,

Rabbi Sarah

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According to the Jewish calendar, each month begins on the new moon and is a time for learning about the wisdom of that month and setting an intention. Each month has attributes and characteristics that often correspond to the season.

The new moon and new month of Tevet fall December 8th and 9th.

The new moon of Tevet always fall at the tail end of Hannukah making Hannukah the only holiday to span two months. Just as the moon is at it's darkest, our candles burn the brightest. There is also a beautiful Sephardic custom to celebrate the Festival of Daughters on Rosh Chodesh Tevet in honor of Judith the heroine whose story is associated with Hannukah,

This month, how might you honor the women in your life? How might you promote gender equity in your world?

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 re-dedication was enacted with the lighting of the 7 branched menorah in the Temple. Later, because the 7 branched menorah was not supposed to be outside the Temple (Talmud Menachot 28b), and in connection with the symbolism of the Talmudic version of the story when the last tiny cruse of oil miraculously lasted 8 nights (Talmud Shabbat 21b), an 8 branched Hanukkah holding 9 candles, aka a Hannukah menorah, was instituted.

I'd like 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. There are times I wish the Hannukah candles burned longer, but alas. We must savor the light while it does last.

You may 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”). Perhaps you find this a comforting, freeing, relief that gives you permission to take advantage of not working and to just enjoy the candles, (or perhaps a bit of both -I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions), I admit, I am inspired by the opportunity and idea of compulsory rest and reflection.

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 a variety of reasons.

Here is my challenge for us:

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. 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 also take time so that you can practice this recognition of the sacred individually and yet, together. Be encouraged and supported by each other's 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 star 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 aa 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 hashtag #redidicatehannukah . This may inspire others! And I want to see what you’re doing too! Please tag me so I am sure to see your post and can offer you encouragement and support.

Good luck! Warmest wishes and blessings for Hannukah,

Rabbi Sarah