Writings

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As we move into week 5 of counting the Omer, we welcome the attribute of hod - humility and splendor.

Recall a moment of splendor in your life? What did it feel like, taste like, look like? Return to this memory anytime you need to.

How might you cultivate additional moments of splendor in your life or someone else's?

Recall a time when you felt humbled. What what did you learn from that. Are there situations in your life now that require humility?

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As we move into week 4 of counting the Omer, we welcome the attribute of netzach - endurance, fortitude, and ambition.

Recognize the endurance you have within you. You have reserves of it.

How are you utilizing it and replenishing it?

Where in your life do you see examples of fortitude?

In what situations would you like more?

Does the ambition you have inside you need a break or need more encouragement at this time?

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Chodesh Iyar Tov! Happy new moon and new month of Iyar. This is a month of healing. Consider what healing you need, and what healing you can send to others. Wishing a month of renewal, health, healing, resilience and hope. Shabbat Shalom!

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Tonight we move into week 3 of counting the Omer, and we welcome the attribute of tiferet - beauty, harmony and compassion

Notice beauty in all of its many forms today. Use these questions for reflection, meditation or journaling.

Where in your life is there harmony? Where you would like more harmony?

How can you cultivate more compassion for yourself at this time? Where do you see examples of compassion in the world? Where could we use more compassion in our world?

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As we move into week 2 of counting the Omer, we welcome the attribute of Gevurah - strength, structure and boundaries.

Consider your boundaries and the structures you have in your life.

How do your boundaries support you?

Where in your life right now do you need to strengthen your boundaries,

or relax them a bit?

How does gevurah interact with the other values in your life at this time?

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This first week of counting the Omer is associated with chesed or loving kindness.

Consider when in your life you've experienced loving kindness: what did it feel like, how did it manifest?

Where do you want to cultivate more loving kindness in your life right now?

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From the second night of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot, we count seven weeks of the omer. Each week is associated with one of the mystical sephirot or divine attributes. We have an opportunity to consider each of these attributes and our relationship to them.

Each of the following are prompts for reflection, meditation, writing and creative expression. Each week contains multiple questions, choose one or two that feel resonant or challenging and answer those or think about them over the course of the week.

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Dear Friends,

Happy Rosh Chodesh / New Moon and new month of Nissan. This is the month when we feel the transition into springtime and celebrate Passover.

At the seder meal we ask, "how is this night different from all other nights?" This year, we have many more answers than we normally do. Everything feels different. Many of us are filled with anxiety and uncertainty, scarcity and fear around health concerns and financial (in)security. It seems hard to wrap our minds around having a joyous feast when so many of us just trying to make sure we have our basic needs met and are trying to stay healthy or care for loved ones. We will experience Passover in a new, pared down, simpler way. Rather than celebrating with traditionally large groups and large meals, we’ll be home with immediate family or alone, perhaps connecting over Zoom. We'll make do with the food we have. It will be very different this year in so many ways, but Passover at its core will still remain.

Our Passover symbols and themes are complex and hold contradictions, fitting for a time like this. At the seder we hold space for and embrace the dualities of slavery and freedom, confinement and expansiveness, life and death, bitterness and sweetness. Matza, the flat dry unleavened bread we eat at the seder meal is both the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom and redemption. The charoset, the sweet mix of nuts and fruits, is delicious yet symbolizes the mortar with which the ancient Israelite slaves built the pyramids. The sting of the marror, the bitter herbs, is combined with the sweetness of the charoset. The karpas, the fresh greens, are a sign of spring, are dipped in salt water, a symbol of our tears. Beitzah, the roasted egg symbolizes both rebirth and sacrifice, the cycle of life and death and the life that goes on even after death. And so on...

I believe that in every generation, the Jewish community has had to find ways of celebrating Passover in times of scarcity and uncertainty. This is not new, even if it is new for us individually. Every year we read the Torah and experience the holidays through the lens of our own lives and whatever we are going through. This year, these themes take on new meaning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Celebrating Passover in difficult times and circumstances has always been an act of resilience and hope.

I am holding space for all of these emotions and feelings, all of these themes and symbols, all of these dichotomies and contradictions. I pray for the health and safety of all people. I offer gratitude to the health care providers, care givers, delivery people, grocery store workers and everyone who is at risk as they are helping others. I offer my virtual support to those trying to work from home and take of their kids at the same time, to those stuck in quarantine in an unsafe situation, and to those struggling from the economic and financial blowback of the pandemic, and sympathy to those whose loved ones are sick or dying.

If you're looking for resources for hosting a virtual seder this year and experiencing Passover during the Covid-19 pandemic, check out:

https://18doors.org/additional_passover_resources/

With wishes for a Shabbat Shalom, peace, health, and safety.

Rabbi Sarah

The Talmud teaches that when the month of Adar arrives, joy increases. (Taanit 29a)

This is such a curious statement. Does this mean that Adar is automatically a more joyful month that any other month? Does it mean that any challenges or difficult things we've been going through will just automatically transform in to joyousness? I don't think so. The sages teach that one meaning behind joy increasing in Adar is because of the holiday of Purim that falls during Adar and that we start preparing for Passover in Adar. The increased joy refers to Purim and Passover, our spring holidays. Both Purim and Passover are holidays of redemption, survival and freedom - and thus in the minds of the sages, these are joyous holidays, and in celebrating or preparing for them joy increases.

However, both Purim and Passover are complex holidays - yes they are joyous but the stories of both holidays are also violent, cruel, and complicated in some ways. So I prefer to focus on a different understanding of why and how joy increases in Adar.

I see the notion that our joy increases in Adar as a challenge -- an opportunity to become more aware of joy and to increase our chances of experiencing joy. I also believe that the main mitzvot or commandments of Purim can help us increase our joy - if we think about them in an expansive way.

1. One of the mitzvot of Purim is to send sweet gifts to friends or family called "Mishloach Manot". Often kids in religious school make little bags of hamentaschen Purim cookies and a piece of candy or fruit to give to classmates or family. Or families send them to their neighbors. I didn't grow up with this practice but I think the intention behind it - the concept of a sharing something sweet with those you care about - is really important. Even if you do not do the traditional mishloach manot, think about taking some time this month to reach out to those you care about. Send cards or notes or call the people who are important to you and give them a sweet message and see how joy it brings you and the other person. If you don't celebrate Valentines day, maybe this is a nice way to send some love.

2. A "Purim Seudah" or festival meal is another one of the mitzvot of Purim. Even if you don't have a traditional Purim meal, think about setting some time aside this month for some special meals with friends or family. Maybe you eat something sweet together, or cook together, or just have tea and share your news or reconnect. Having a sweet moment together, reconnecting with those you love, and making sure that the people who are important to you know you appreciate them is a beautiful way to increase our own feelings of gratitude and satisfaction.

3. One of the other mitzvot for Purim is called "Matanot Le'evyonim" which literally means gifts to the poor. This comes from the statute that you must make sure that even those poorest in your community have enough to have a Purim feast or meal of celebration. Even if you do not know who the people are in your community that are in need, this is a good reminder and opportunity to think beyond ourselves. Take some time this month for increasing acts of service or charity, or making a donation to an organization that provides for people in your community. Recognizing our blessings and sharing with others can be another beautiful and sacred way to increase our own gratitude and joy this month.

4. The fourth mitzvah of Purim is hearing the Megillah (scroll of the story of Purim) read aloud. To me this is problematic in a lot ways because not only because not everyone can hear but also because the book of Esther that is read on Purim is more actually more Brothers Grimm than Disney fairytale and doesn't really inspire joy for me. However, an expansive way to think about this is to learn or read for the sake of personal growth or pleasure. Maybe there is a favorite book you had a child that brought so much joy. This is a great time to find that book and re-read it. Or maybe there is a book you've been wanting to read for your own edification or to learn something new. The value of learning is one of the most important Jewish values. Or maybe you love to read for pleasure and haven't had much time so perhaps this month you make some extra time just to get cozy with a mug of your favorite warm beverage and get out that book you've been wanting to read.

5. The last one I will add is not one of the traditional mitzvah associated with Purim but something else I will encourage you to do this month to increase your joy. Tap into your creative side! Think about the ways you might have really enjoyed getting creative or messy as a kid and let yourself experience that again. Or maybe there is a new medium you've wanting to explore. See what can happen with you give self a chance to express yourself in new ways! (Of course, there are lots of ways to be creative with both Purim and Passover from costumes to performances and writing your own songs to act out the story).

There are many other ways to increase our joy. What are the ways in which you might find more opportunities for joy this month? How might you increase your awareness of joy or share it with others?

Wishing you a meaningful celebration of Purim no matter how you celebrate and month of increased joy!

Rabbi Sarah

For the Month of Shevat, not only did we have a wonderful Align: Art & Spirituality session but I also had the opportunity to teach a session for FedPro, the professional conference for Jewish Federations of North America which gathered hundreds of Federation staff and leaders from around the country.

I led a session called Planting Seeds in Shevat, which was a chance for participants to engage in mindfulness meditation, reflection, creative visioning and sharing with a chevruta partner about an area of personal or professional growth they are focused on for the next few months. Rather than setting long term goals, I encouraged them to focus on a short/medium term intention for the season, something they could nurture and nourish so they would see the growth this spring.

Want to try this creative visioning exercise for yourself? Check out my Tree of Vision exercise in At The Well project's Monthly Moon Manual for Shevat!

May the seeds that are planting in the month of Shevat (in winter) bloom in the month of Nisan (spring time!).

Warmly,

Rabbi Sarah