“The Judaism we are looking for can be found at IJS.”

— Audrey Brooks

April 2017 Newsletter

Lisa GoldsteinAnger, Love, and the Mystery of the Omer

Rabbi Lisa Goldstein

I am looking out my window in New York, marveling at the tender green leaves and the sweet apple blossoms and wondering about one of the most counter-intuitive customs in the Jewish calendar: During this period between Passover and Shavuot, many communities practice a kind of mourning – forbidding weddings, not listening to music and refraining from buying festive new clothes. And yet, in northern climes, this is exactly when spring – in all its romantic blossoming glory – is at its peak! During Passover we read the Song of Songs, celebrating (heterosexual) erotic love and springtime! Why, then, does a more somber spiritual energy takes precedence over this bursting of new life and the possibility of coming together?

The tradition explains this emphasis on mourning by observing that it was during this season that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva perished. Imagine – 24,000! According to the Talmud, they died because of enmity between them. In fact, the Talmud says that there were 12,000 pairs of students, emphasizing their separation from each other. In some ways, this is even more shocking than the number who died, because Rabbi Akiva was the rabbi who taught about the fundamental primacy of love in God’s world. It was Akiva who taught that the greatest law of the Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself. It was Akiva who fought to keep the Song of Songs in the Bible, saying it was the holy of holies. It was Akiva who died a martyr with the love of God on his lips.

But his students did not treat each other with that love. Their disrespect towards one another was a betrayal of what Akiva’s Torah, and the springtime, are fundamentally about.

But are they really so blameworthy? What group doesn’t have its quarrels and disagreements? It is true with people who truly love each other, let alone in communities as large as 24,000 – let alone cities or countries. Was the guilt of Akiva’s students so great that they deserved death? And what are we mourning today?

These are some of the questions we are exploring this month. We are investigating anger, what to do when it arises, how to work with it skillfully. We are exploring the possibility of keeping an open heart, even in the midst of a quarrel or a disagreement. We have the opportunity to recommit to love as a fruit of our practice together. We hope you will find these teachings and practices to be timely in this world of spring and divisions and counting the Omer.

 


Rabbi Jonathan SlaterThe Journey to Sinai: Up and Down, In and Out

Rabbi Jonathan Slater

 

On the night of the Exodus, the Israelites experienced the direct perception of God.We read in Ex. 12:12, “For that night I will go through the land of Egypt andstrike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I YHVH,” and the authors of the Haggadah interpret: “I, and not an angel; I, and not a seraph; I, and not a messenger – I am the One, and no other.” In the darkness of that last night light explodes into the homes of the Israelites. They perceive the workings of the universe, the rise and fall of individuals and nations, the recompense for injustice, the thrust toward reconciliation. Beyond all comprehension, they know God.

And then, it’s gone.

They are in the wilderness, alone, uncertain, doubtful. From the pit of Egypt they have to climb once again toward light. The result of their efforts, day in and day out on the road, was the meeting at Sinai. There, again, they met God. They saw the thunder and lightning. They heard God speak directly to them, once again revealing the mysteries of the universe: this is how the world works.

That is our task in these days of the Omer as well. Each day we are invited to investigate how each of God’s divine traits, not separate from us or the world, can be obscured or revealed. Each day we ask: how does the dynamic relationship of these qualities lead me to allow God’s presence to shine through me, and how do my actions and thoughts create a barrier to that light?How can I more readily demonstrate – to myself and to others – that the world is filled with divine light, goodness, justice and compassion?

The practice of counting the Omer is associated with forty-nine combinations of divine qualities: each of the seven middot is paired with all of the others, revealing different dynamics of love and rigor, effort and receptivity, balance and connection, and awareness of the interconnection of all things. We work on two levels: we recognize that we are climbing out of the depths of our own servitude, our slavish accession to habit and forgetfulness. And, full of hope and trust, we seek to witness how the divine traits descend (as it were) from above, are already present in us and the world. We purify ourselves of the negative manifestation of these middot, and strive to become transparent to their positive manifestations.

So, as we enter the week of Tiferet, balance, beauty and truth, we can sit to ask: Where do I seek love to glorify myself, and where do I manifest love honestly, for the sake of others? Where do I see oppression or exclusion of others in the name of truth, and where can I overcome the invisible barriers that divide us one from another? How is the beauty I strive to see in the world only to make me feel better, and where does it appear even in the ugliness and pain of this world? How do I seek to enforce the truth as I see it, ignoring my own ignorance, and how can I allow beauty to be its own truth? How can I be grateful for that which I do not already have, accepting the truth as it is right now? Do I seek connections to puff up my ego, or can I connect for the sake others’ beauty? Do I seek to claim sovereignty in my life to lord it over others, or is my effort to bring God’s dominion to prevail, to see all as One?

We do this each week, in different combinations, with slightly different emphases, to purify our hearts, to become more transparent to God’s light. May we then merit seeing God in each moment, in every person, in all that unfolds as we come to Shavuot.



Working with Anger: Yoga Flow

Rabbi Myriam Klotz

 

When we experience moments of stress or trauma, our cellular memory stores these experiences even when we may forget or put these memories away from our conscious thoughts. Many mental health professionals have found that in order to heal and thrive it is essential to companion our somatic, or physical selves through what we may not be able to express or even understand cognitively when experiencing strong emotions like anger.

So, learning to channel the state of anger through our bodies in a safe and conscious way can help us stay spiritual fit and healthy. Rather than denying that we feel it or doing a “spiritual bypass”, acting “as if” we don’t feel anger when it arises, we can learn to companion our strong emotion and channel it so that we do not cause harm to ourselves or others. We can train ourselves to skillfully transform the energy of anger into a constructive force for blessing.

Here is a practice for when you notice that you are experiencing red-hot explosive anger, icy cold implosive anger or any other way that you may notice you are angry.

Name and Notice:

The first step is to notice and name what you are feeling in the body. For example, if you realize that you are speaking loudly, quickly, that your breath is short and your pulse is racing, you can pause and notice: adrenaline is pumping through my body right now; I feel very “amped up”. The practice begins with noticing what the sensations are that you are feeling.

Ground and Breathe:

Next, ground yourself in your body. Stand still, and bring awareness to your feet on the ground. Feel the heels, the balls and toe tips pressing into the floor or earth.

Bring awareness to your hands. Spread your fingers wide apart, and then squeeze them into fists and release.

Feel your stomach and chest, your neck and head. Squeeze the muscles of the stomach tightly in towards your spine, and release. Do this two-three times.

Squeeze your ears up to your shoulders, your hands into fists, and squeeze your face muscles tightly in towards your nose. Release. Repeat this two-three times.

Now take a full breath in and release through your mouth. Repeat several times. Let the breaths be long both in the inhale and the exhale.

You can repeat these grounding and breathing practices for several minutes, noticing your physical energy shifting and steadying. Now you are ready to assume the yoga posture of the Warrior, which will require you to recruit these muscles with strength, and ask you to focus your attention on the arousal of this strong energy, and it’s conscious channeling through your body and out, upon the exhales and in the ultimate release of the pose.

Warrior Pose Sequence:

When we pour ourselves into a physical form with intention it can “lead” or help shape and channel our energetic states. By assuming the strong and confident physical form of the Warrior, we can use the energy of anger to fuel the physical pose so that that energy is raised and met, but we work with it in service of our intention to channel it consciously so that it serves us constructively. As you contract and release muscles, you allow the strong somatic energies to move rather than stagnate inside you.

Warrior Prep: Star Pose

On a yoga mat or level, non-slip surface, set your feet wide apart with toes facing forward. Inhale and raise your arms away from your torso, above shoulder height. As you exhale, let the arms rest down shoulder height, arm stretching away from the body. Rotate your arms upwards so that the palms face forwards.

You are in Star Pose. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keeping them contracted, extend out through your arms all the way to the fingertips. Lift your crown to the sky and let your feet root in the earth. Open your heart as you broaden through the chest.

Assuming Star Pose, affirm that the light of the stars flows through every cell of your body and illuminates your being as a reflection of the Divine Light. It is safe to let the strong energies of anger rise up and out, held in the flow of the cosmos. Trust your strong connection to the Divine Presence that flows through stars as light and through your veins as energy and emotion.

Bring your full strength to contracting the shoulder blades and rooting your feet in the earth, now stretch your spine long again and once more extend through the arms and the crown. Open your chest and belly to the light of the stars and the healing power of your Creator. Inhale fully. Exhale, as you make an offering of your energy expressing itself strongly and broadly to this gift of Life!

Slowly release the pose by softening the shoulder blades and placing your hands on your hips. Breathe in deeply and release.

Warrior Two Pose:

Bring awareness to your right leg. Rotate it outward 90 degrees. Inhale and on the exhale, bend the knee so that it is over the right ankle. Inhale and raise your arms again shoulder height, extending them in a line that extends from the heart. Turn your head to look over your right finger tips. Your physical body is now assuming the form of the Warrior.

As you hold this pose, breathe with long, full inhalations and exhalations. Feeling the strength and aliveness of your physical self, bring awareness to your mental body. Focus your attention on these affirmations:

I am strong, safe and confident.

I channel the vast power of anger in service of love, justice and holiness.

I align my body and my mind with my most sacred and holy purpose now.

When you are ready, release the pose, and repeat on the left side:

Bring awareness to your left leg. Rotate it outward 90 degrees. Inhale and on the exhale, bend the knee so that it is over the left ankle. Inhale and raise your arms again shoulder height, extending them in a line that extends from the heart. Turn your head to look over your left finger tips.

As you hold this pose, breathe with long, full inhalations and exhalations. Feeling the strength and aliveness of your physical self, bring awareness to your mental body. Focus your attention on these affirmations:

I have the strength to channel my anger in a healthy and life-giving way.

I trust the power of the Divine Presence to hold my anger and transform it for the benefit of all beings.

I am strong, safe and confident.

When you are ready, release the pose. Stand right where you are, close your eyes, and bring open attention to what you notice. Feel temperature, tingling, lightness, alertness, calmness, or whatever arises. Take your “anger pulse”. Leaving aside the story of what happened that elicited a state of anger, get curious about the state of energy in the body, just the somatic experience, and track what is happening now and how it may be transformed.

Working with our bodies and not against them, may we find the strength, courage and compassion to engage strong emotions like anger and channel them towards transformation and healing.

 



Matot-Masei: The Breath and Breadth of Anger

Text Study on Numbers 30:2-36:13, Read July 22, 2017

Rabbi Pamela Wax

I just saw a performance of Oh, God, an Israeli play in which a depressed God enters therapy with Ella. When Ella draws uncomfortably close to the core truth of his wounds, God is on the verge of striking her dead. She showers him with praise for ultimately restraining his anger. Though we learn that it wasn’t in fact restraint that motivates God in that moment, the scene is fantastically Mussardik — watching a character on the edge of reason, on the precipice of a true tantrum, ultimately step back from acting out that rage.

Pirkei Avot (5:11) teaches us that there are four types of temperaments: one who is easily angered and easily appeased; one who is easily angered and difficult to appease; one whom it is difficult to anger and difficult to appease; and one whom it is difficult to anger and is easily appeased. This last one is called a chasid. We all know someone, perhaps even ourselves, who is not yet that pious, yet all of us likely pray that our spiritual practice will help cultivate that kind of temperament in us.

Matot, the first parashah in this week’s double portion, has little to teach about anger management and much to offer about giving anger full expression…

To download a full PDF of this teaching, click here. This study on Matot-Masei was originally written for Pitchei ha-Levavot (Heart-Openings), part of the 5776 stream of the Institute’s Text Study Program.


Letting Anger Go: A Meditation on Chesed/Lovingkindness

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

 

Sit comfortably allowing your spine to be erect and your heart to be soft.

Bring your attention to your hands resting in your lap or on your legs.

Let the palms be open and facing up.

Let the fingers soften and relax.

Let the shape of your hands show that you are open in your heart.

You do not need to hold on.

You are not in need of anything in this moment.

See if you can relax even more deeply in your hands.

In the palm, in the muscles and bones of the fingers. Let the skin be soft.

 

Pause

 

Now become aware of the exhale. See if you can feel the breath leave your body freely. Feel the breath leaving your body. Allow the breath to complete itself naturally.

Be aware: “I have no need to hold on to this breath.”

Sit for a few minutes in this posture of hesed.

If you notice contraction or tension in the body or a thought of fear or judgment arise in the mind, surround it with softness. Allow whatever is presenting itself in this moment to be fine, to be good.

 

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