Ave Maria pic.twitter.com/lb6Y5XV05a
— Ignacio Gil (@Inaki_Gil) April 15, 2019
What the World Needs Now…
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Anyone who has ever stepped into Notre Dame knows that it is like stepping into a womb. Enveloping us with a comforting presence that is a mixture of love, rapture and history, the Cathedral, the “Heart of Paris,” is a unique Christian and literary icon symbolic of human love on every level. To watch it burn yesterday was to experience a sense of loss that is best described as Exile. Watching the flames, I thought of our ancestors that believed that ultimate causality was attributed to God. As the spire toppled, collapsing upon the church in flames below during Christian and Jewish Holy Week, I allowed myself to question what the symbolism of this cauldron might be: a karmic backlash to France’s momentous yellow vests movement? A response to Europe’s underlying ethnic unrest? The darkest side of my soul contemplated whether this was a symbolic turn in the downfall of Western thought and Judeo-Christian values.
And then I saw it. Crowds gathering on the streets of Paris to not only sing, but pray, together. With rosaries in their hands, and facing the potential destruction of their symbolic spiritual center, people gathered to find new ritual spaces – in the streets. They sang together with open hearts, tears streaming down their faces, hearts and souls aligned with the words of their liturgy. Together, they found solace, and redemption, through prayer.
This Saturday night, Open Temple gathers together through the streets of Venice in search of our own collective Freedom through Food and Faith: our Passover Seder. We invite everyone – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Buddhist, Rationalist and All – to Rise to the Call of Humanity as we raise our voices in the streets of Venice and pray. For Freedom. For Memory. For Miracles.
May the Sacred Lady of Paris Endure and Remind us that the Gateway to Redemption is simply found in the Beauty that Surrounds us Always: Love.
May All of Us Find our Freedom this Passover,
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
I met someone fascinating this week – her name is Sarah Waxman, and she created an amazing organization called At the Well Project. Sarah was called. Literally. By a mikveh lady in her hometown outside of Washington DC, who thought she would make a great part of the mikveh team. (These were not the mikveh lady’s precise words). Basically, they were looking for a young person to engage other young people in mikveh education, and so, Sarah was called.
What makes Sarah exciting is that not only did she rise to the call, she dove into it and she is still submerged, coming up for air to invite us all in with her. In becoming involved in mikveh, Sarah asked herself, “why is this ritual not more celebrated?” Sarah saw the connection between the ancient rituals of cleansing and the way that most people feel out of sync, and is helping people find their internal rhythms once again through popularizing mikveh, and its corollary wisdom of women’s healing and wellness, the ritual of Rosh Hodesh – the New Moon celebration. Her efforts with At the Well are growing, having already reached four continents.
This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, concerns itself with our bodily struggles, as the P’shat (the literal translation of the text), is all about bodily emissions and fluids. The rabbis teach us that tz’ara is a kind of leprosy or skin affliction, like the scales Miriam contracted after her wanton remarks about Moses’ wife. The rabbinic commentary carries the conversation away from the ideas of impurity of body, and connects the matter to that of the soul. This week’s Torah portion is the Torah portion that acknowledges that bodies are messy, complicated, unruly and mysterious until we turn ourselves inwards and beyond to connect the external and the internal. Our internal rhythms are impacted by how we nurture our bodies, what foods we put inside of them, our daily, weekly and monthly ablutions and more.The rabbinic commentary reveals our ancestral wisdom of mind-body connection, and turns us towards methods to regain equilibrium through rituals of purification, cleansing and detox.
Atthewellproject.com totally gets that. Under the “learning” tab of At the Well’s website, is the quote: Dive deeper, with comprehensive guides to cycle tracking, the history of the female orgasm, menstruation options, breastfeeding, and more. It’s like a modern day feminist commentary for Tazria (and its companion Torah Portion, Metzora); however, At the Well Project extends their learning beyond those who identify with breastfeeding or menstruation, and invite all of us to consider our upcoming Passover cleanse. Sarah’s Holisitc Passover Detox resources are a great companion piece to Open Temple’s upcoming Passover Cleanse on April 27. On that day, 25 of us will engage in a 7-hour ritual of detox, connection, mikveh, and mind-body-soul restoration.
As this week’s and next week’s Torah portions suggest, it is cleansing time. Spring Cleaning of our homes. Of our Minds. Of our Bodies. And our Souls.
Let’s Do This. May we all regain our balance through whatever lies ahead.
With Love and Torah Light,
Become with Us
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
As the days grow longer, the signs of spring have sprung: oblong sliding ponds of light well into the early evening; bottlebrush and coral trees blossoming throughout Los Angeles; daylight breeding a giddy insouciance upon us; and that life-breeding tug to the beach to watch a sunset, our skin warmed by the penetrating rays. And yet – something feels, well, off. Where is our freedom holiday, that harbinger of springtime in the Jewish calendar? How is it possible that it is still almost one month away?!?
The Jewish calendar is a curious one. We already discussed how 5779 is a leap year, and the result is a mid-Spring Passover ritual. Open Temple’s Passover Seder Quest, on April 20, acknowledges and celebrates this unique later springtime holiday. As we take to the streets of Venice, weaving throughout time and space, we interplay with the history of our Hyksos descendants and those who treaded the streets of Venice before us.
Wait. Hyksos descendants? Huh?!?
Based on the writings of Egyptian historian Manetho, whose histories influenced the writings of Josephus, some scholars speculate the ancient Israelites are rooted in an ancient people called the Hyksos. A population of mixed Asiatics and Habirus (migrants who were most likely early Hebrews in the 16th c. BCE), they populated Egypt in the ancient world and are the closest artifactual evidence of the presence of something Israelite-y looking in ancient Egypt. The Hyksos entered into Egypt causing a great stir, and later left to dwell in Jerusalem.
If we are unsure of our true history, how might we make this ritual meaningful when we are unsure of its veracity?
Our Passover story comes to us in both the Torah and the Haggadah; neither of which reveal with absolute certainty what historically happened, but serve as more memory pieces for our “dinner theatre” Seder interplay. That’s the point of Passover – to interact with history, memory, what was, what is, and what will be. That is the power of the Haggadah; and explains why Moses’ name is not mentioned, but rather, we focus on a God concept. Passover is the holiday where Mordecai Kaplan’s concept of “God as the force that makes for Salvation” animates us – what can I become? And we are reminded in the very imprint of the Hebrew in our grandest metaphor for God – the Tetragrammaton (the Yud- Hey – Vov and Hey – is actually a contraction for the verb “to be” – God was, is and will be): that on Passover, we are asked to consider how God runs through who we were, are and will become.
Hyksos, Israelite, Jew-ishly curious or otherwise, the ritual space Open Temple creates for this journey invites you to wear comfortable shoes on April 20, bring your yoga mat and prepare yourself for a Seder Quest into memory and beyond; Open Temple Seder Quest is a group Eisodus (going into) and Exodus (going out of), as we Walk through what was, Embody what is and Enter into What Will Be.
Become with us.
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
What if we already possess Proof of Intelligent Life in the Universe? If, on a moment to moment basis, we make Contact – like Carl Sagan type Contact. Regularly. Right here. Right now.
Torah teaches us that the Tabernacle, or Mishkan, was the dwelling place for making contact; it was where the unseen revealed itself in what has become to be known as the Divine Feminine, the Shechinah. This Mishkan was not in heaven; it was a portal to the heavens. And the agency of its creation was in its construction itself; its making by the hands of a community, without sophisticated technology; individuals who sought to create a dwelling place for the experience of an unseen holiness. Together.
Midrash Rabbah teaches a Biblical folklore of seven “righteous people” who brought the Shechinah “down from the celestial to the terrestrial regions,” and names the individuals – from Abraham to Moses – whose actions directed by their hearts revealed the unseen until the Shechinah found her final resting place in the holy space of the Mishkan. To the Biblical Creative, this dwelling place represented something larger than us; it was the place of Terrestrial Contact.
It is with this inspiration that all of us at Open Temple build a holy space in Venice today.
On May 17, we are asking that you “Bring the Offerings; or, a Piece, of Your Heart” back to our local Mishkan: Open Temple. We are offering a special Shabbat service to say “I tithe a piece of my heart to you, for you have filled it with Gratitude.” It’s a time to express “Thank You for your Service, Open Temple, month after month, year after year, without asking for anything in return.” And please know: we are only asking, as we have identified through positive psychology and our own personal love practice that it is in the Giving as well as in the Receiving that we Make Contact.
Contact is about Caring. Contact is about Love. Contact is about Treating another as we want to be Treated. Contact is about Expressing Gratitude. Contact is about Facing our Fears. Contact is about Living Life Courageously. Contact is about Vulnerability. Contact is about Crying when we see Beauty. Contact is about Experiencing Empathy. Contact is about Feeling Less Alone in this World. Contact is about Creating a Space to Receive Revelation. Contact is about Gaining a new sense that Opens our Hearts, our Lips, our Eyes, our Ears, our Touch to Another. Contact is the Presence of an Unforeseen Force in the Universe Revealed in a New Moment, Assuring Us that There Exists Something Larger than Ourselves in our Presence. Contact is about All of Us.
Please Create with Open Temple on May 17, and Give a Little Piece of Your Heart. And in turn, we will continue to Love, to Create, and to Reach Out and Offer it Right Back to You.
Let’s Make Contact.
With Love and Light,
The older we get, the more our lives repeat. It seems, at times, as if the cycles of the year are eroded circles without tread, and that we slip and slide as we try to crawl out of them. The Jewish technology of the holiday cycle is an effort by the ancients to hold our grip firmly as we cycle into tomorrow girded by its regenerative and restorative wisdom. The rabbis created a cosmology of Jewish law and reason to steady us amidst the storms of time, and literally asked us to go outside and look up into the heavens to discern our place in time and space.
The rains are waning in the wake of a luxuriant calendar cycle this year; the Jewish year is long, as an entire month was added in 5779’s Jewish leap year – the month of Adar. The first month, Adar Alef, is added in a complex calendarial cycle to ensure that our calendar fixes the moon to the sun. There is reasoning attached to this addition: the rabbis wanted to ensure that Passover always fell in the northern hemisphere’s springtime and the month of Adar becomes the chosen leap month, as it is the final month of the year. Additionally, the rabbis felt an attachment to “extending the joy” of Purim, which they imagined to be the only holiday celebrated in “the World to Come,” while at the same time reminding us to “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—”
Now pull the needle from the record player.
Amalek? We’re supposed to “Remember Amalek”?!? For the uninitiated: Amalek, our tradition teaches, is the nation of evil who wish to destroy the ancient Israelites and continues in each generation to breed destruction until our ultimate annihilation. Like Wonder Woman’s Ares, the descendants of Amalek are committed to the destruction of the basic human values of Love, Justice and Unity. In the Rabbinic and modern rabbinic imagination, this is the lineage of Purim’s Haman, and also of Hitler. Why should our time of joy and “Eternal Life” attach us to our antagonist? And why should we extend our year an entire month in step with this remembrance?
I gather myself at this moment to consider who in my life is the stand-in for Amalek, and ask you to pause to do the same. That’s a radical notion, as Amalek is the original axis of evil. But, really, who is my (your) perceived shadow? “Not to be paranoid,” but is there someone out there revelling with schadenfreude at every misstep? As we ascend to Passover and its Victory Dance of Freedom, why the Rabbinic imperative this week, and these two months, to “Remember Amalek”? Perhaps it is time to look around, up to the heavens and down again, down into the dirt of our eroded land beneath our feet. Let’s look in our hearts whose beats will end one day and ask ourselves: what has calcified, ossified and moved into chaos? And let’s emerge from this reflection with a plan to enter into the cycle of life again.
Spring is almost here, and we made it through another near-death experience, according to our Jewish calendar. It’s time to see the Eyes of God in every bud bursting with flower, in every songbird as our background music, and take these teachings to heart. It’s time, with the pulse of life awakening around us, to look Amalek in the eye, and shine the light within each of us upon them, as we march steadily towards our Freedom.
Take that, Memory.
With Love and Torah light,
Weavers, Builders and Soul Journeys
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Yesterday at Open Temple, Stephanie (our fabulous Managing Director, come in and meet her!) wore a t-shirt parody of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (above). It made me think about the role of Torah in our lives – both in its pithy parody of the famed Pink Floyd album cover as well as what the cover itself illustrates.
Torah (and the Tanakh in its entirety – the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings), begins with the Book of Genesis for a reason. If we are to go on a journey, we first must understand the path from which we came. The books that follow are similarly considered ancestral stories, histories, and thought pieces of the ancient world. However, there is another element that becomes clear through this week’s Torah portion Vayakhel – it is upon us to untether ourselves with our past as we become builders of our destined future.
As white light refracts into a spectrum, each soul is a walking vessel of light with the potential to convert this light into a visible spectrum of inspiration – through vulnerability, truth-telling and found wisdom. At the time of the building of the Temple, Bezalel and Oholiab, the architects of the Temple, were considered “the wise-hearted into whose hearts I have instilled wisdom, and they shall make everything I have commanded you.” (Exodus 31:6). It is upon all of us, today, to become builders of a modern Temple through radical and real acceptance of who we are, where we came from and where we are going.
In a recent NYTimes op/ed, David Brooks identified a movement without a name and named it. The network of local connectors – creating spaces for social change through modalities ranging from community organizing to creating sacred space for small clusters of people – are the WEAVERS of our nation. Weavers are individuals who create such Temples in our society to connect others. All of us have the potential to weave and connect. The work of creating the Temple in ancient Israel, or 39 Malachot, are ancient instructions about how to build a holy space for connection. We draw from this well of creation, as today we build, thrash, grind, sift, knead, comb and weave our connections into a Temple for our Souls.
At Open Temple, we create a holy space at every service for this personal act of self creation and invite anyone interested in sharing their Soul Journey with us to come forward. A Soul Journey is a unique invitation at our Third Friday Shabbat Take Me Higher services to share one’s vicissitudes and hard-earned wisdom, to illuminate the path for others through colorful and not always glorious truths. In this moment, we are invited to turn our gaze, and ourselves (as the word for turn in Hebrew is “T’shuvah” the act of returning to our true selves), from our past and focus on the creation from all of this wisdom to the Temple of our Future.
I invite you to share your Soul Journey and the Temple of your Soul with Open Temple. I invite you to stand before the gathered community, be seen and heard with vulnerability and truth, and become a Builder of the Temple of the Soul. Each of us has an essential piece of creation. I would love to learn about yours.
With light and love,
If you are interested in sharing your Soul Journey please contact Open Temple at email@example.com.
Table for Five
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro as featured in the Jewish Journal
Several times a year, I am invited into a roundtable discussion, either livestreamed, recorded, or in print for the Jewish Journal. This week, the Jewish Journal invited my voice into its “Table for Five” where five different POVs over one pasuk (verse) of the weekly Torah Portion create a harmony of interpretations. It’s like a modern day Mikraot Gedolot, substituting contemporary rabbinic as well as prominent Los Angeles Jewish voices as stand-ins for Rashi, Maimonides and Rashbam, and refracting tradition through their modern-day minds.
Torah portion Ki Tisa moves from the closing description of the artisans building the holy space of worship in the desert, the Mishkan, into a reversal of idol worship – the ultimate affront to the very God we have been assiduously learning to worship. A foreshadowing occurs when it reminds us to observe Shabbat – to take a mindful pause in our lives as a connection point between Judaism’s past, present and future. The verse reads:
“And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: ‘Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy.’” –Exodus 31:13
Our pasuk begins with a curious conjunction; a short word, “ach,” meaning “above all,” “verily,” or most curiously, “nevertheless” — a seeming contradiction to its allied meanings. The preceding verses conclude a pericope spanning three Torah portions with detailed descriptions for the creation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. As we come to the coda of God’s magnum opus, we meet this reversal: “Only/Above all/Verily/Nevertheless, keep my Sabbaths.” The invitation into Shabbat is unclear: Are we to continue the work of creation on Shabbat or not?
A choir of rabbinic voices rises up to tame the suggested contradiction. Torah is pliable enough that we can all agree, disagree or do both with their interpretations; as well as rigid enough to create a spectrum of incontrovertible convictions.
So what are we, seemingly “The Generations” mentioned in the verse, to do? Do we guard the Sabbath like sentries of an ancient palace? Or do we simply persist through the aisles of Target on a Saturday morning, wondering what davening would be like at that shul down on La Cienega?
Verily, there are those of us who might merely meditate on the letter vov at dawn as a part of a visual shiviti meditation. Whatever expression of hallowing its presence we choose, one thing is clear: A Temple has been built, its name is Shabbat, and it is, above all — from alef to taf with a vov in the middle — the sign upon which all of this hinges. Shabbat is ours to know and make our own.
Find a way to “Do” the empty space of Shabbat. Fill it with intention, curiosity, expansion of the inner-knower. And connect with those who walked before us and as a connector to those to come.
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Sara Berman lived. Born into a European world that no longer exists, she moved to the US, raised a family, got divorced and discovered her inner Marie Kondo before Marie Kondo was even born. Sara Berman’s Closet, currently on view at the Skirball Museum, proves that even the KonMari Method™ has its roots in a Jewish Grandmother, and is a standing altar to the fastidious ways of our foremothers.
At a recent event for the “closet opening,” Maira Kalman, Sara’s daughter and renowned New Yorker cartoonist and author, emphasized the significance of the closet as a form of personal expression. In an effort to reveal her authentic self, Sara began wearing only white, and spent the last three decades of her life simplifying her wardrobe, home, lifestyle, and closet. It wasn’t so much an act of minimalism, as it was a desire to remove the barriers that inhibited her authentic self from revealing its inner elegance.
At a time when our lives are filled with clutter – from our schedules, media, bills, social media friends, and more – how do we reclaim our authentic selves?
This week, we dedicate Torah reading Tetzaveh to Sara’s memory, as it contains the final verses of the pericope concerned with all matters of building of the Mishkan, the role of the Priests and the collections in their closets and pantries. Tetzaveh gives us an insider’s view of the maintenance of the Temple — how to light a menorah; how to make a ram sandwich; and how to organize the Temple closet. In its punctilious description of all things Temple oriented, we are reminded of the God Within the Details.
Indeed, like the redolence of the herbal incense, I am reminded of Chanel Perfumes. Throughout my childhood, I remember visiting the grandmothers of my friends’ homes, and the ubiquitous presence of a large glass sculpture containing the golden liquid with its scent; it wafted throughout their homes. For a generation of woman, Sara Berman included, a signature scent was chosen in early adulthood and adopted for a lifetime. Like the incense offerings in the Temple, the scent brought with it a specific memory and meaning. Do you remember your Grandmother’s scent? In a life of clutter, we’ve lost our trail in a confusion of olfactory stimulus. Perhaps our national obsession with sparking joy through space clearing is an understated act of defiance against materialism and Search for God, akin to the simple instructions of how to light a menorah, how to dress as priests and re-introduce ourselves to simply and with simplicity enter into the Temples of our Lives. Perhaps in a world where we are all encouraged to “get out of the closet,” we need to also go back into them before coming out, and, like Sara, Maira and Marie, clean up our interior so that we can reclaim our essence and share it with the world, unequivocally, as we emerge beaming, blazing, shining menorahs of Human Light.
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Dancing. It moves the body, uplifts the fallen neshama and clears the mind. Like the Sufi spinning in accord with the constellations, Israeli dance captures a small piece of the universe within a small space for a unique period of time. If Shabbat is a Temple in Time, as Abraham Joshua Heschel famously stated, then Dance is the Discipline of the Priests.
It is clear that we are called upon to be Dancers. In Hebrew, there are no fewer than 11 words for dance – Leap! (Dalag), Whirl! (Karar) and the catch all Dance! (Raqad). We should also Alats, Giyl, Pacach, Pazaz, Chagag, Mechowlah, Machowl, and Chiyl – Twist, Whirl, Circle Dance, Dance in Company, March in Procession, Jump, Leap, Skip, Spring, Hop, Skip, Spin under the influence of joy and triumph. Yes, we should dance…we should dance our tuchuses off.
And yet, for many of us, our sedentary society has created an exilic experience with dance. When presented with a dance floor, we feel dis-ease, resistance, malaise. It is as if the barrier of entry for such a flat plain were as high as Mt. Meron.
Well, it’s time to change all of that.
Open Temple is excited to partner with Israeli Dance Choreographer and Instructor David Dassa. David is a living treasure, and the son of living legend Danny Dassa. As David explained to me one recent morning at Zinque, “there are about five dancers around the world who make their living teaching Israeli dance, and I am lucky to be one of them.” David converts the uninitiated into an Israeli dancing machine, leaving community and joy in his wake. Just look at the photo, above. Everyone dancing is smiling.
Open Temple’s core values are Creativity, Love and Truth. We believe that creativity engages all of us in something greater than ourselves. This week’s Torah portion is clear – every one of us has an offering of the heart that only we can give – and in exchange, we will experience Transcendence. The creation of a spiritual community is a covenantal relationship that promises to bring us to life. And at Open Temple, we do that – through the Art of Judaism, Music, Dance, Performance Art and the Word. Verse 25:8 in Parshat Terumah invites us to: “Asu li Mikdash v’shanti b’tocham” – Build for me a Holy Space so I may Dwell Amongst You.”
Open Temple continues to build this Holy Space as an open temple – in our hearts, in our homes, in our community. And through this opening, the Force of Life enters into us, animating us with the life force – what the Torah describes as Godliness – of what it means to be alive. This same force opens our hearts towards acts of loving kindness, it activates the mind towards positive thought, it is the force of human potential for us to enact upon. And all that it takes is that first step.
Come, Dance with Us.
with love and Torah light,