Recorded December 19, 2019
Recorded December 19, 2019
Recorded December 12, 2019
Recorded December 5, 2020
Recorded November 21, 2019
In honor of this week’s Rosh Hodesh Shevet, Open Temple presents to you WOW: Women of the Walmart
The American religious landscape has changed dramatically over the past several decades. While regular church, synagogue and mosque attendance has been on the decline since the late 1970s, a Pew Research Center study this year has found that the biggest generational dropoff has occurred with millennials — young adults born between 1981 and 1996. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports on why.
Link to the full story here.
Thursday, October 31st: Noah and Keshet Judaism.. Listen Here
Thursday, October 24th: Creativity in Bereshit. Listen Here
Thursday, October 17th: Sitting in the Shade of Emunah Listen here.
Thursday, October 3rd: Redeeming Judgment. Listen here.
Many of us are wound so tightly by the state of the world, we’ve developed a tendency to be reckless with other people’s emotions — yet very protective of our own. Twitter has become the platform for call-out culture, Instagram the medium of choice for the humblebrag, and Facebook a dark den of repressed judgments while tapping “Like.” Yet, we crumble inside — not angry, but fragile birds — when anyone casts these judgments our way.
It seems we have this entire process backward — working from the external to the internal. We judge others until we, ourselves, are called out by neologisms such as microaggression (interpreting seemingly innocent comments as racial or personal biases) and disinvitations (calling off a speaking engagement at college campuses for fear of offending a population). In an all-out race to the finish, it seems no one is left with impunity. So much of the darkness of the world today — broken relationships, anger, repression and depression — is traced to our inability to understand the complex value of judgment in our society and how we can use it as an instrument of growth for ourselves and our community.
To further complicate the loop of negative feedback, we have created institutional systems that inculcate and perpetuate these processes of calling out others before cultivating personal accountability — beginning at the youngest of ages and continuing through higher education. Troubling upticks in depression, anxiety and suicide rates suggest the impact of adopted pedagogies such as Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and higher education’s policies of trigger warnings and emotional reasoning replacing evidence-based theories have not improved the internal process of self-regulation.
As we stand before the holiest of days in our religion, when we are asked collectively to account for our personal sins and transgressions, is it possible to make a spiritual 180-degree turn when the cultural momentum continues to call out others rather than ourselves? How might the Jewish technology of the High Holy Days be the antidote to our national moral decay?
Yom Kippur, our holiest observance of the year, is the perfect example of to’cha’cha, or rebuke, as the space we enter into is modeled after a courtroom.
As we enter the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), the time has come to remember that Judaism demands personal accountability, sobriety and knowledge of oneself. The tasks of these days are ritualized and ordered; a review book (machzor) leads us through ritual behaviors that include praying, reciting poems, recounting legends, public confessing and personal assessing. We consider the days we have lived as well as the limited days allotted to us. Within this short span of 10 days, God and our community require us to judge ourselves as we stand before our ultimate Judge.
It is significant to note that in the Reconstructionist machzor, the Yom Kippur readings for the Mincha (afternoon) service have been changed from the laws of sexual prohibition (which might invite some #MeToo call-outs) to Leviticus 19:1-18, also known as the Holiness Code. This code of conduct expresses essential teachings on human behavior that build upon one another toward the Golden Rule, which implores us “to love your neighbor as yourself.” An essential step in achieving this behavior is in the penultimate verse of the reading, Leviticus 19:17, which states, “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account.”
In other words, before we can love others as ourselves, we must look inside ourselves, the homes we are building and the children we are raising; we must look inward, into our own hearts and family systems. In addition to the requirement “not to hate,” we also are required to “reprove,” which is another form of judgment. Is there something significant that this first step — to judge oneself — is a requirement before we can achieve the essential teaching of the Golden Rule?
A Morality Play
The Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a bastion of positivity and a source of Chassidic Jewish wisdom, has a teaching in the name of his father: “Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights.” Indeed, Yom Kippur, our holiest observance of the year, is the perfect example of to’cha’cha, or rebuke, as the space we enter into is modeled after a courtroom. We take the Torahs out of the ark and witnesses hold them as the bailiff, or chazzan, recites the opening words of the ritual courtroom, nullifying our vows. We rise before a judge, we anticipate entering, and are led through a 25-hour communal practice of self-reflection and self-abnegation that demands a chastening of not only the body, but the mind and soul. We subsist on nothing but breath, in a dress rehearsal of our own deaths. We collectively look inwardly, and invoke the presence of our ancestral martyrs, matriarchs and patriarchs, as we stand as a totality of the human experience.
The prolific works within the machzor ask us to reflect upon our promises and nullify them; consider how we will die as well as how we live; and places a collective guilt on our hearts for both our own complicity of as well as the transgressions of our fellows. Yom Kippur requires the nullification not only of our own vows but of our identities, as we attach ourselves to a cosmic community of all those who came before us and all those who will come after. It is a 25-hour near-death experience that prepares us for the final moment of judgment in our lives, so that after going through it (if we are lucky) 70 or 80 times, we are prepared as best we can be when meeting our Maker. The machzor is a morality play of poetry, leitmotifs, biblical allusions, storytelling, prayers and pageantry. We are the primary players. No one is distinguished above another, as our mortality is highlighted as the grand equalizer. But how many of us enter into this ritual theater prepared to do this work?
Today’s Yom Kippur: Escape From Purgatory
“For the sins between man and God — Yom Kippur Atones; For the sins between man and man, Yom Kippur atones only when one has appeased his fellow.” (b. M. Yoma 8.9)
It is a complex time to be a Jewish American. The entrenched bipartisan divide and disdain for one’s fellow in today’s political circus is rooted in the early 1970s and came into contemporary formation in the early 2000s. Political scientists call this dissolution “affective partisan polarization.” Our two major political parties should be thought partners, but instead wield their power to undermine each other. This animus is reminiscent of the rabbinic story of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem due to sinat hinam (hatred of others).
Not insignificantly, Judaism evolved through the loss of temple worship and emerged from the ashes with a renewed commitment toward pluralism. Any Talmud page illustrates the diversity of opinions that became a core value in Jewish thought. This tradition reflects Judaism’s unique example of not only preserving minority opinions but preserving the process of disagreement (machlochet) on the page, as well. Our beliefs ask us to hold many different opinions at once, as a part of a mental and moral calisthenics we cultivate in order to understand others. Our ability to judge one another is a fundamental tenet of Judaism — from Moses challenging God, through the diversity of Jewish voices heard in any café on the streets of Tel Aviv. Disagreement is an essential part of critical thinking. It also is the training ground for our inner moral debate.
Yom Kippur is the day our internal moral debate weighs in on the scales of justice. Following hours of public confession, the climax of the Yom Kippur Musaf liturgy repeats the leitmotif of the Uneh Taneh Tokef prayer — a graphic Grand Guignol horror poem that began at Rosh Hashanah, asking who will be inscribed (in the Book of Life). It returns on Yom Kippur for the final seal of “how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die.”
On Yom Kippur, we return to stand as a flock before our shepherd, none without blemish, all equal in our fated verdict. Through the intermediary days, we engage in acts of repentance to repair what is broken between human and human before we return to the synagogue on Yom Kippur to repair our transgressions between ourselves and God. The authors of the siddur prepare us with valuable soul work of how to lead a good life. Taken together, the three acts of teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah command the power of “removing the Evil of the Decree.” “Repent (personal accountability), pray (self-regulation) and act righteously (have a system of justice). Perhaps these are guideposts for us to find a way back to humanity.
The High Holy Days are a time when we stand together, each of us broken in our own way, and begin to put the pieces back together by acknowledging our personal brokenness is a primary part of what is wrong.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, wrote “The Righteous Mind” in 2012 with the ambition of sensitizing Americans of the biases that affect everyday moral thinking. His follow-up book, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” identifies the pitfalls in our education system that continue to inculcate a culture of intellectual and moral failings. Together, they studied the impact of the 1980s’ and 1990s’ political-correctness movement on educational systems, and how its commitment to diversity devolved into what has become a cultural movement whose “primary concern is the emotional wellbeing of every student” as opposed to the intellectual development of every student. Haidt and Lukianoff view the political-correctness movement as “a movement which sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), while also challenging the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, and seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives.”
They assert the current movement on college campuses “is largely about emotional wellbeing. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.”
The result of today’s political correctness 2.0 is a litany of behaviors working their ways into popular culture from campus life. These include vindictive protectiveness (turning campuses into values-neutral “safe spaces”); microaggression; disinvitations; and trigger warnings (a system of red-flagging students for potentially offensive or difficult subject matter). These and other “values neutral” behaviors are supposed to protect the emotional well-being of today’s students.
These nascent trends over the past decade have found their ways into our national conversation, most recognizably through the #MeToo movement, and disinvitation and call-out behavior. What they share is the willingness to censor and judge others supersedes a process of self-reflection, self-regulation and personal accountability. They also contribute to a public health crisis, as emotional-reasoning behaviors supplanting critical-thinking skills on campus is perceived as leading students to an intrepid belief system. Many students are stringently divided, as illustrated on both sides of the Israel debate on campus, and are resistant to learning from people with whom they dislike or disagree; this leads to limited adaptability and character resilience. Rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide gravely express the negative-sum output of an emotion-based system of reason.
As we near Yom Kippur, could this insight recast the words of judgment in the Uneh Taneh Tokef prayer: Who will live and who will die? If campus statistics of rising self-inflicted harm and the national need for deans of health and wellness are any indications, withstanding, understanding and integrating a system of judgment is a matter of life and death.
Haidt and Lukianoff identify the origins of these anxieties as rooted in the current political climate. An unanticipated impact of “affective partisan polarization,” they assert, is why “students arriving on campus today are more desirous of protection and more hostile toward ideological opponents than in generations past.” Entrenched moral biases rooted in emotional reasoning perpetuate the downward spiral of self-interest and moral indignation. When all our attention is about the behavior of others at the expense of our own moral and character development, the result is “teaching students how to think pathologically.”
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
SEL refers to the process of developing social and emotional skills in the classroom. It is a catchphrase for a method in secular education that introduces learning around emotional intelligence. Another way of looking at it is to consider that secular education — not rooted in a religious moral system — requires some kind of structure to teach children empathy, compassion, cooperation, tolerance, diversity and other emotional intelligence.
Over the past five or six years, a trend toward SEL has overtaken core curricula. Many people have children or grandchildren whose schools and teachers are trained in these methods. These methods are steeped in controversy. Some are recasting what might seem a well-intentioned curriculum to teach children about tolerance and empathy as a controversial method of dubious implementation, reinforcing racial biases and ripening the opportunity for intersectional politicking.
The Jewish Response
I contend that SEL and other forms of emotional-intelligence education have their roots in Jewish values — with one clear distinction: While both seek to improve critical thinking skills and the ability to favorably judge others, Judaism adds the imperative to judge ourselves rigorously. Nowhere is this as clearly illustrated as it is in the High Holy Days liturgy, whose leitmotif arguably is the melodies and chanting of the 13 attributes of God throughout the 10 days of observance: “Yah, Yah, God, compassionate and gracious. Slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations. Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and who cleanses.”
Torah teaches these words came to Moses from God as a way to remind of God’s essence after the Israelites’ collective transgression of the Golden Calf. The prayer and its melody are a haunting awakening of the need for teshuvah through a personal reflection of our behaviors as refracted through godly attributes.
So much of the darkness of the world today — broken relationships, anger, repression and depression — is traced to our inability to understand the complex value of judgment in our society and how we can use it as an instrument of growth for ourselves and our community.
Where Judaism espouses a relationship between the community and a God concept, SEL classrooms collapse the hierarchy and create a sense of egalitarianism through teachers and administrators. Lateral and seemingly anti-hierarchical systems of individualism replace traditional forms of authoritative presence; for example, teachers, administrators and students are all called by their first names. Students are tutored and drilled in critical thinking founded in genderless, colorless, distinctionless and impossible neutrality, which perpetuates and ingrains a values-neutral, “bias free” bias.
Education trends have interesting trickle-up impacts. What was a curricular trend in the past becomes a management problem in the workplace 15 years later. While SEL bears striking differences to “participation trophy-ism” (everyone’s a winner!), a latent concern is its impact on education. What are we to make of a practice that asks 5-year-olds to rely on their own inner sense of right and wrong before their self-regulation mechanisms have fully developed? Might these methods escalate the already acute rise of child and teen anxiety?
According to statistics, the youth suicide rate appears to be the highest it’s been since the government began collecting such statistics in 1960. Is this an anomaly? Do we blame it on the usual suspects: social media, broken homes, or access to violent images and technology? Or might this public health crisis be an indication we are missing something essential in the way we educate our youngest citizens? Yom Kippur, as a spiritual calisthenics, an intellectual boot camp, an emotional reckoning, revisits us every year to offer another way.
If campus statistics of rising self-inflicted harm and the national need for deans of health and wellness are any indications, withstanding, understanding and integrating a system of judgment is a matter of life and death.
Congregation Bias: Be. Judged. Now.
But there’s a catch.
Walk into most synagogues and a paradoxical problem arises: Either everyone is speed davening through the service and attempting to say every word, which makes it doubtful the levels and layers in each and every word is conveyed; or everyone is pretending to say every word, with most people not having any idea what is being said, or the congregation is offering immediate gratification vis-a-vis a call to social action — which may or may not have anything to do with what is required of us on Yom Kippur. How can we surmount these denominational quirks to penetrate the essence of what is asked of us?
Surprisingly, the answer to this question is a salve to wounds of depression, a unifier of difference, and a transcendent and loving presence: music. It seems liturgical song captures the most penetrating ritual moments. The music of our liturgy connects us as kol echad — one voice. We sing “Anu Amecha” and we feel a solidarity with others in the room. We chant “Al Chet” and pound our hearts as a rhythmic section of percussion instruments. There seems to be a kind of epigenetic memory switch attached to our goosebumps and tear ducts when hearing the opening notes of “Kol Nidre.” Our inner moral acumen knows why it has come to services as the sun sets into the 10th of Tishrei. We are there to turn and return, and hold ourselves accountable. This truth — beyond calls to social justice, call-outs to disappointing politicians or outcries of inequality — is the grand equalizer.
Judgment Is a Core Jewish Value
The process of going through Yom Kippur completes a circuit that began on the 9th of Av. It began when we looked inward and asked ourselves, “What is broken in my life?” and continued through the 30 days of Elul, when we gave voice to our examined brokenness through the first public cries of the shofar. We are living through emotional times, as the Yamim Noraim ask us to be emotional. We are meant to cry for those who have died, see our society’s shortcomings and understand our complicity in this mess. The High Holy Days are a time when we stand together, each of us broken in our own way, and begin to put the pieces back together by acknowledging our personal brokenness is a primary part of what is wrong. It is upon us — each and every one of us — to get our lives right before turning to fix anything else.
Pirkei Avot 6:6 lists 48 reasons why Torah supersedes the priesthood and monarchy. Among the qualities listed are insights into foundational Torah values: critical give and take with friends, fine argumentation with disciples, clear thinking, loving reproof and judging with the scales weighted in one’s favor. These are values that exercise subjective reasoning, self-criticism, complexity of thought and disagreement. In short, no “values neutral,” emotional reasoning or mental filtering required. Just a sharp “kop.”
Yom Kippur arrives like a crown on this kop and reminds us to use it wisely. We are thrust into a 25-hour ritual that is an action, a doing that completes a circuit of behavior that began with our self-reckoning with personal misdeeds and our agency in them. Between Rosh Hashanah and through Kol Nidre, we engage in teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah to rectify personal wrongs, deepen our prayer and practice charity with one another. Yom Kippur completes the circuit of these behavioral exercises through communal confession, petition, benediction and imploration. We emerge more self-regulated and self-knowing.
It is an internal and intimate self-assessment done in a public choir, a call-out culture in the first person plural. It demands we learn the following words before we learn any others: “For all of these things, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, atone for us.” Only then, can we learn the true meaning of standing before God on Yom Kippur in America in 5780/2019 to be the revelation and embodiment of “e pluribus unum.” Out of many, Echad. One.
Rosh Hodesh Elul 5779: The Hurricane Within.
Open Temple offers Daily Kavanot, or intentions, to guide us through the 30 Days of Elul. Open a New Page. Begin the Soul Journey. Find the Eye of the Storm.
The First Entry:
We Ask Ourselves: What am I working on?
1 – Between Myself and My Concept of Godliness (ben adam l’makom)?
2 – Between Myself and Others (ben adam l’chavero)?
3 – Between Myself and Myself (ben atzmi l’atzmi)
2 Elul Kavanah (intention):
We are on the Road to Find Out. Whether we are on the Playa at the Burn, Zipping down Venice Beach on a Bird, Picking up Take Out at Erewhon, or Snuggling at Home with our Children, these are the days to Move through Space with a Sense of our Inner-Place. If we are Out-of-Sync with our Inner Rhythm, this is when Dis-Ease sets in. Take the 30 Days of Elul out to Reset, Rewind and Renew. #OpenTemple #Elul #HighHolidays#BeginAgain
“Every person must prepare him/herself for thirty days beforehand with repentance and prayer and charity for the day when one will appear in judgment before G-d on Rosh Hashanah…During Elul, one should devote less time to study and more time to fixed periods of introspection and self-evaluation.” – Mateh Moshe
3 Elul Kavanah:
Create Your Spiritual Curriculum: Know Your Soul.
What is our life’s work actually about? Really, why are each and every one of us here? Identifying our life’s purpose – be it discovering we have an innate gift for music, or learning about a family truth that opens up a new healing journey, or feeling connected to our creative lives as artists or entrepreneurs or parents – is the core of a Spiritual Curriculum. Our Spiritual Curriculum is our Spiritual GPS, and Torah is the Technology that Fuels it. Take a moment out to reflect upon Life’s Purpose and Begin Again.
4 Elul: Spiritual but Not Religious Edition
Do we go to Soul Cycle for Soul and Shul for Soul Crushing Oppression? Are we suspicious and judgmental of the behaviors of a group of men wearing black hats walking down La Brea? If so, we are blinded by the lens of the Religion of Humans. When we experience religion as a limitation, we are caught in a man-made trap. Enter Torah (or any great art). Freedom is Divinely inspired. We Find our Freedom when we cultivate an access point to the Source. Torah is one of the guides to get us there. So is Dance, Art, Music, Love Making and Laughter. For the Jew-ishly curious, the access points to HaBoreh are endless. A return takes the smallest opening to begin. Just the size of a pinhole…and the Gates of T’Shuvah will crash open like a Chariot of Horses Blazing through it. #FindYourCreator #BegjnAgain #OpenTemple
5 Elul: 5780 Kavanah
אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי,
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה, וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ.
One thing I ask from Yah, one thing I desire
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
To behold the graciousness of every breath and to enter God’s sanctuary.
Say it. Be it. Live it. Every day.
6 Elul 5779
Netzach. The attribute tied to the first week of T’shuvah. It’s endurance that gets us to the finish line, not perfection. It’s about being all in. Healthy Ambition is our inner drive to attain our place in this world as a vital sacred piece perfecting towards the world’s wabi sabi imperfection. Just do you but DO YOU, Do You?
7 Elul Shabbat Pause
Radical Amazement is our ability to apprehend all that surrounds us with a Sense of Wonder that evaporates the Ego Mind.
As we prepare for the Yamim Nora’im, take a moment for some Soul Journaling, for some Selfless Knowing and Connecting. The King is in the Field of Eternity, and we Unplug to Plug-in…to Ladybugs on Milkweed.
8th Elul 5779:
Open up for me the eye of a needle and I will open for you the most expansive corridors of the Great Hall.” -Midrash Rabbah.
It’s about will. It’s about grit. It’s about if we want to move from exile to freedom through radical forgiveness. The balance of the Jewish year finds equilibrium in a dance between Freedom and Creativity. One fuels the other. Both originate from The Source. Our Source is wholly accessible as long as we make ourselves available to It. Clean out the Soul. Accept the Offer. Crawl through the Eye of a Needle. And Begin Again.
9th Elul 5779
Elul is about Waking Up the Soul. And it’s also about converting Shadows, Rivals, and Adversaries into Redeemers. Rafa and Medvedev went head to head for five plus hours after two grueling weeks of competition. In Medvedev’s closing statement, he owned up to his “less than stellar” moments as the “bad guy of the US Open” and openly admitted at the Open that “I Make Mistakes.” With humor and candor, he offered this as his closing remarks. In front of the world.
And that’s exactly what we are all supposed to do during this month of Elul. Every day after we hear the Call of the Shofar, we are to confront our imperfections and make amends publicly as our first step to T’Shuvah. Like Medvedev. And like this:
“If I have done anything to hurt you, either knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me. I make mistakes. I also want to do T’Shuvah and make amends.”
Sports inspire. And while most of us will never compete in front of the world stage, all of us compete in front of who really matter. To great sportsmanship this Elul. #JustDoTshuvah. #USOPEN. #MazelTovToTheBothofYou
10 Elul 5779
Elul: Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li
I am to My Beloved and My Beloved is to Me.
It’s the way he looks at the fish that made me fall in love with him. His curiosity for all things living and how this gentle gaze reveals his gentle soul, gentle character, gentle man. On this 10th Day of Elul, I consider the awakening of The Return through our compassion, curiosity and love. How do those we love, those who gaze upon us with wonder and compassion ignite in us a feeling of radical acceptance that emboldens us to look upon our darkest shames with love and forgiveness? T’Shuvah is all about the process of shining a flashlight upon our shadows. And our Beloved is the one who holds space for this journey without judgement. This Elul, Be a Beloved.
Yom Kippur will be over one month from today. On Yom Kippur, we are asked to “Pull back the Veil between Ourselves and Eternity” and to Receive Visitation from Those who Dwell in the Beyond in our Yizkor service as we contemplate the evanescence and temporal nature of life. Yom Kippur is a Near Death Experience and T’Shuvah prepares us for a Final Exit Rehearsal. The uneh taneh tokef prayer asks:
“Who will live and who will die?”
Who will die? …All of us.
Ah, yes…but who will really live?
קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני יה אלוהיכם
You Shall be Holy, for I, Yah, your G?d is Holy.
What does Kadosh/Holy mean? Separate? Different? Set aside? Kadosh is one of those words in Hebrew that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand.
The pursuit of holiness means understanding that our bodies are vessels of holiness. Moreso, our bodies are ritual objects, matter consecrated to a higher cause.
What did I do today to dedicate my Holy Vessel? How do I honor my Kli Kadosh/Holy Vessel? What do I do with this gift that is the temporary home of my soul?
Elul is about return, T’Shuvah. Our bodies are our way station. Holiness is activating the Divine Sparks within as we reckon with the path we have paved On a Road to Nowhere.
Photo: Open Temple board member, Natasha Shamis and Rabbi Lori raise some Holy Sparks at Equinox Sports Club.
13 Elul 5779
Venice Canals Edition.
Turtles live long, very long lives. These turtles in the Venice Canals are kept by our neighbors. Acquired when their kids were young, our neighbors are now empty nesters. And yet, the turtles endure. Day after day, the neighbors bring the turtles out in the morning and retrieve them in the evening. As the day turns, the turtles meditate in the blue pool, children walk by – most unsuspecting of these little lives just over the fence, day inand day out. That’s how simple life can be: sun up, turtles in the kiddie pool. Sun down, turtles in the tank. In the midst of it all, we all move through the noise and haste.
The rabbis teach that Elul is the time of awakening. The Shofar blasts are a war-cry – “Awaken, Slumbering Humans, to the Lives We are Meant to Lead.” And, just like a turtle, the essence of this teaching, the essence of our collective destinies, is to merely BE where it is that we ARE and to Rise to the Call when Bid. #Simplicity #Nichutah #Calmness #ShabbatShalom
15 Elul, 5779
To experience the High Holidays is to Dwell in a Liminal Space in Time. Liminal Spaces are Portals Between Two Worlds, and in the imagination of rabbis, sci-fi writers and dreamers, they are the Portals to the World Beyond our Being. One of my teachers, Alan Morinis, went on a Soul Journey to reclaim his Jewish roots, and in the process reclaimed his own personal Mussar (Jewish Ethics) practice, and helped translate different teachings from that practice. One is an interpretive text on the practice of Heshbon HaNefesh itself, appropriately titled “Heshbon HaNefesh” (1812, Lvov, Ukraine). Credited to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin, Leffin creates a disciplined practice to deepen our self-knowing. The practice is simple, and useful in preparation for our experience of the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe).
Take a moment to write 10 qualities that we wish to transform. Then write a phrase that attaches itself to that quality. For example, if our practice is to focus on Humility, we might write: “No more than my place, no less than my space.” Focus on that quality for a day, a week, or two weeks. Each night, let’s audit and assess our behaviors through that lens – don’t judge or celebrate, just bring awareness to the interaction with that quality (middah). In time, work through the entire list. For High Holidays, we’ve got 15 days – perhaps choose 3 and spend 5 days on each. What’s your middah? Write it Below. I’ll begin with mine…let’s begin to turn the knob beneath the full moon glowing, reminding us that we’ve only 15 days until we Open That Doorway to Eternity and Dwell There…
16 Elul 5779
Tonight, Joel and I heard Marianne 20 speak. I am not, by nature, a political creature, and as a rabbi, I am publicly agnostic about the topic. However, she said something beautiful:
“Living in Alignment with Eternal Principles empowers you and allows you to Transform the Material World.”
The work of Elul is about this transformation – what are the Eternal Principles that empower you to achieve it? Love? Truth? Creativity? Those are mine. They empower me to soar, and help keep my time management in check. Anything outside of these core values are unnecessary gains. Because of them, I need very little. For Love, I go to my family and friends. For Creativity I go to playfulness, ritual and curiosity. And for Truth, I use all of my senses and receive. No credit card required. And the external impact is even greater. Love is the force of rebellion, a tsunami of defiance. Creativity fuels resilience and endurance. And Truth is my compass to navigate through the maze of absurdity and confusion.
Love + Creativity + Truth = A Recipe for Rebellion.
Hitbodedut, Mashal and Can you Find the Bird in the Tree?
Meditation and Metaphor: we are getting closer to opening the Machzor and reviewing our year before our Creator Concept. How do we relate to it’s encyclopedic roller coaster of prayers? Chassidic stories bring 18th century innovations in narrative form to the rabbinic mashal (parable), and provide insight into how to experiencerabbinic language as well. They reflect so much more than verbal puzzles, and capture seedlings of an emergent understanding of human psychology and behaviorism. So, too, our High Holiday prayerbook.
This tale is credited to the Besht, the Baal Shem Tov, our Chassidic master whose disciples recorded his stories. The Besht was known to go out in nature in a practice called hitbodedut, “self-seclusion,” to talk out loud and meditate to God.
On this 17th of Elul, May we all Take the Space we need to enter into the Fields and Find Divinity. It is all within us; Elul means “search” in Aramaic. As the moon begins its disappearing act, and with the waning of its nightlight, May All of Us Welcome the Dawn of the Yamim Nora’im, and seek out the inner glow of its Or HaGanuz – the hidden light, within.
Seek it Out.
A parable from the Besht:
The great Chassidic master Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov would pray for many hours every day. His disciples, who had long concluded their own prayers, would form a circle around him to listen to the melody of his prayers and feast their eyes on the spectacle of a soul soaring in meditative attachment to its Maker. It was an unspoken rule amongst them that no one abandoned his post until their master had concluded his prayers.
One day, a great fatigue and hunger befell them. One by one, they slipped home for a bite and a few moments rest, certain that their master’s prayers would continue for several hours more. But when they returned, they found that he had finished praying while they were gone.
“Tell us, Rebbe,” they asked him, “why did you conclude your prayers so early today?”
The Baal Shem Tov answered them with a parable: Once, a group of people were journeying through a forest. Their leader, who was blessed with a keen eyesight, spotted a beautiful bird perched atop a tall tree.
“Come,” he said to his companions, “I wish to capture this beautiful bird, so that we may delight in her song and gaze upon her wondrous hues.”
“But how can you reach this bird you see,” asked they, “the tree being so high and ourselves held captive by the ground?”
“If you each climb up onto the shoulders of your fellow,” their leader explained, “I will climb on to the shoulders of the topmost man and reach for the treasure that beckons to us from the heights.”
And so they did. Together, they formed a chain reaching from the earth toward the heavens, to raise their leader to his aspired goal. But they soon wearied of the exercise and went off to eat and rest, and the man who had sighted the bird tumbled to the ground.
20 Elul 5779
Reflections on Jewish Circuit Works.
Cybernetics: the science of communication and control theory that is concerned especially with the comparative study of automatic control systems (such as the nervous system and brain and mechanical-electrical communication systems).
The High Holidays is a Spiritual Cybernetic. It Completes the Process of a Circuit: of a Year around the Sun, of the relationship between Self and the Other and Awareness and God Concept. In Morei Nevuchim, The Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides spends time defending the role Halakah (Jewish Law) has in our life. In essence, Maimonides seeks meaning in Jewish Law, for him Natural Law, as a completion of the Circuit Between God and Human. Through Exercising our Awareness of Divinity, we Cultivate Divinity.
The High Holidays are a Cybernetic Experience. Without it, our Circuits are left to find another Disciplined (or Undisciplined) Practice of Connection. While there are many out there, I offer this: none have been so lovingly cultivated for so many thousands of years as the process found in the pages of our Machzor and the experiences it offers us to Create.
5780: A Soul Odyssey is Open Temple’s offering of this Circuit. It’s a wild ride filled with reflection, action, irreverence and reverence. And we’ve only space for 50 Souls in our Way Out Ride into Spiritual Outer Space.
This New Year – Make Contact.
21 Elul Shabbat Shalom Edition:
Joy is Simple and Attainable.
It helps us accept ourselves.
Turning to 5780: Orange Crush It.
22 Elul 5779
Psalm 27 is a curious one.
We begin reciting it on 1 Elul, and continue every day through Shimini Atzeret. The plea is an ancient one – grant us beneficence, Yah, continue to sustain us through your fecundity and plentitude. The prayer is purported to connect us to the earth – We seek to live through this near death experience of the High Holidays as an offering to affirm our livelihood through the long winter ahead.
This year, I feel differently about my place in this prayer. I feel as if this prayer is about the way I am sustained through every breath. And from that constant, I am reminded of the dwelling place of God in my life – my every breath. This is my house, all of the days of my life. I breathe it in – I am sustained.
And then, with each exhalation, I am reminded of the corpse I am without that animating force. I am left with this house of my soul, and I ask myself – what vessel am I? What actions outside of that exchange and cleaving to God am I responsible for? The breath leaves me, and, for but a moment, I experience a Demi-Death; a powerful and subtle reminder of what lies before all of us.
Psalm 27 reinforces our focus this time of year – all of us are animated by a force beyond our apprehension; and it is upon us to seek out its presence in every breath through our tiny apertures to apprehend.
Forgiveness in the plural on High Holidays:
I ask for forgiveness from anyone I hurt willingly or unwillingly. I ask of this on Facebook as an additional tentacle in my journey of contrition to return. I ask for the child I was and knew not, the teen I was who didn’t care to know, the young adult I was who struggled to find out. I ask for the woman I have become who hasn’t the time. And I ask for the woman I will one day be that no one will notice.
And why do I ask? For my soul to finally, at long last, get things right. So this one can do it differently.
I am sorry. We are sorry. Please accept our offering. And May We Return to The Source.
24 Elul 5779
Every day Creation is renewed:
wake up and see
In the spreading light of dawn
The world and all it contains
Coming into being new and fresh,
Filled with divine goodness and love.
—words by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, taken from Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Vehagim
25 Elul 5779
Psalm 27: A part of our liturgy for the past 25 days, I repeat its entreaty:
“One thing I ask of God: to Dwell in the House of Godliness All of my Days.”
A direct answer to this plea: Live locally. Every footstep taken en route to work, to shopping at the farmer’s market, to taking my girls to the beach park, plants our feet in “the House of Godliness.” Living locally is the direct line and the best route to creating a Holy Life. It fills the soul with friendship and purpose. It’s the best way to stay carbon neutral, and for me, spend time with my kids and husband, and make sure my puppy is getting her walks in. Most of all, it gives my life purpose in my every moment, every breath, every step.
This photo is a favorite. I received the Spirit of Venice Award three years ago for organizing Open Temple. My motivation for Open Temple grew out of a desire to create a spiritual center for the Jew-ishly curious and those who love us in Venice that will take deep roots and service Venice for generations to come. We continue to build this dream, and are now more robust than ever, having served over 5,000 people last year. This honor is truly better than an Emmy, Oscar and Tony combined! To “be seen” by our neighbors is the greatest honor of all; and in return, we see, love, care and provide for each other. That is what living locally and dwelling in the House of God means to me.
AND – Abbot Kinney Festival is this Sunday! A most wonderful day in Venice! Visit Open Temple’s booth near Milwood and AK Blvd. We’ll be offering Bark Mitzvah for your pups at 2 pm. Plenty of swag, surprises, kisses and High Holiday tickets sales. AND – a community service kicks off Rosh HaShanah that night, this Sunday (!), at 7 pm – open to all, and a family service at 4 pm for people with Kids under 7. Learn more about our High Holidays at Opentemple.org. Spread the love, share the light!#OpenTemple #AbbotKinneyFestival #AWOL
26 Elul 5779
“The primary role of teshuvah, which at once sheds light on the darkened zone, is for us to return to ourselves, to the root of our souls. Then we will at once return to God, to the Soul of all souls…It is only through the great truth of returning to ourselves that each person and the people, the world and all the worlds, the whole of existence, will return to our Creator, to be illumined by the light of life.”
– Rav Kook
It’s getting close. The Turn. The Return. The Brokenness is palpable. I had a neighbor say that she feels that this is really a kind of “Age of Aquarius” moment…and she works at one of the big LA Talent Agencies, meaning, it is being felt everywhere. The darkest corners are being outed by light, the darkest of souls are calling out for T’shuvah, an awakening of thousands of years, generations of cries, of Beating on Chests, of Repentance, of Return. I will sound a great Shofar and declare that we need to awaken. I will own my stuff – and please call out what I am blind to. I will make it a better year than the one before, as I don’t have many left. And I will cherish each and every moment in between as they are so fleeting as I embrace the evanescence of being. 5780, I feel you coming; I see the dawn approach, cracking through the darkness. One…Two…Three…Jump~
27 Elul 5779
27. It’s a journey with Psalm 27. Every day, turning it and turning it to return. The psalms earlier verses begin with “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, whom shall I dread?”
First off, strike off that English word – Lord. What is that supposed to be? A paltry stand in for the quizzical word, so profoundly unknowable that it is called “The Tettragramaton.” For all of us shedding an anthropomorphic God concept, the Hebrew language offers an endlessly ponderous stand-in: Yud and Hey and Vov and Hey. A transcription of the word breath, a contraction of the verb “to be” a language puzzle. What a perfect metaphor for this curious life force that sustain. When I think about it, isn’t it just incredible, that in all of the history of the world, that another object hasn’t yet smashed into us, pulverizing our planet like an Atari Asteroid (moving into 5780 – the 80’s are back, and so are its metaphors!).
I continue with my morning Psalm: Hear, O Life Force, when I cry aloud, Have mercy on me, answer me.
…in the vastness of the dark matter that surrounds us, there is, no doubt, much yet to be revealed. It was merely 121 years ago that particle physics began with Newtonian disciples apprehending the mechanics of atoms as possessing subatomic particles. We are always new in uncovering the unknown.
3 days left until the turning. May we turn with curiosity, humility and a wonderment of what is out there – and within as well. May our ability to apprehend what is broken within illuminate the darkness.