“The rabbi who led prayers was outstanding…felt extremely inspired in regard to praying and appreciating the meanings of the prayers and the music.”

— Lay Retreat participant Winter 2012

February 2018 Newsletter

Lisa GoldsteinTeach Me Your Way

Rabbi Lisa Goldstein

Part of my daily practice includes a fragment of a teaching from the Piaseczner Rebbe, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira. He instructed his students to work with Psalm 86:11: “Teach me, YHVH, Your way that I may walk in Your truth. Unify my heart to revere Your name.” He taught a particular melody for the verse which I learned from Rabbi Nehemia Polen. I chant it to myself at the end of my meditation and before my prayer.

When I began working with this verse, I was struck by the goal of learning to revere God’s name. I am not typically drawn to yirah, the particular combination of fear and awe that is the mainstay of so much “Old Testament” religion. Jewish spiritual masters focus on both love and reverence as the twin hallmarks of devotion and in this day and age, don’t we need more love? Don’t we have enough fear?

And yet, this verse calls to me. It is becoming a more and more compelling instruction in humility which opens the possibility of living my life in attunement to something much beyond myself that also includes myself. And it turns out that yirah is the key.

Here is how I am working with the verse as an intention for my day. When I say, “Teach me Your way that I may walk in Your truth,” I remind myself that there are so many ways to go through the day before me. I will doubtlessly encounter all kinds of people; I will probably be annoyed at some point; I hopefully will experience a little connection. However, no matter what greets me, the one thing I can be sure of is that some spark of Divinity will be present in it. Whether I see it or not is up to me. I place myself in the position of the student: teach me, God, to go through my day seeing You in everything I encounter. I don’t really know how to do this. But if I see You, maybe I will respond more wisely and appropriately.

“Unify my heart to revere Your name.” This part of the verse gives me the chance to bring a little compassion to the fragmentation of my own heart, all its distractions, its insecurities, the fragile ego that always wants more love, more affirmation. And then it reminds me that the greatness in the world is not my ego after all. It is that life force in everything, that flows in me and through me and which I seek to serve. When I can remember that, my life takes on its greatest meaning.

To me, this whole practice is a practice of humility, of remembering that the value of my day is not whether it was a “good” day or not, or whether pleasant things happened to me. The value of my day is in how I learn to see the teeming network of life that I am a part of, that I contribute to and am impacted by. Yirah, fear and awe, opens to ahavah, flowing love. I am ready for my day.

 


Guided Practice for Humility

Rabbi Jonathan Slater

Each of us has the capacity to be like God–but that does not come with the privilege to think of ourselves as God. Part of our work is to experience the dignity that comes with being created in the image of God–to be kind, just, respectful, and compassionate–while avoiding the temptation to think of ourselves as gods, depriving others of that same dignity we wish to receive ourselves. In this guided teaching and meditation, Jonathan leads us to cultivate humility while still sitting in our posture of dignity.

 


Panim Yafot on Humility:

Text Study

Rabbis Nancy Flam and Jonathan Slater

The following passage is from Panim Yafot, by R. PinchashaLevi Horowitz of Frankfort (1750-1815). He was one of the great students of the Magid of Mezritch, along with his brother R. Shmuel Shmelke of Nickolsburg. While clearly immersed in the Hasidic world, his traditional scholarship was also widely recognized, and he was called to serve as the rabbi of Frankfort. Among his students was R. Moshe Sofer, the Chatam Sofer.

In this passage, the Panim Yafot unpacks the opening verse of one of the final readings in the Torah, from Deut. 29:9. There Moses addresses all of the people of Israel arranged before him, from the greatest to the lowest. Our teacher picks up on this to offer a teaching on humility: do not think yourself greater than anyone else, because compared to God all are equal; do not see yourself lesser than any others, as that will prevent you from bringing your full self into divine service of engagement in the world.

Following this text are a few reflection questions which may help you to open this teaching up and find application in your own life.

Click to download the full teaching, with the original Hebrew and questions for reflection or chevruta study.


Tikkun Middot Practices for Anavah/Humility

Rabbi David Jaffe

A Jewish understanding of Anavah means discerning and taking the appropriate amount of space. It means being ready to serve the needs and wants of others without neglecting one’s own. It is healthy self-esteem located midway between self-abasement and arrogance. In practicing Anavah, our goals are:

  • to be mindful of our tendencies to expand or shrink in such situations,
  • to cultivate awareness in every moment of how much or how little space we are taking, and
  • to inhabit an amount of space which is appropriate to each situation.

In keeping with these goals, consider any of these practices as a way to cultivate the middah of anavah, humility.

Focus phrase:

Write a phrase on an index card, put the index card somewhere you will see it and repeat the phrase for a minute or two every morning. Sample phrases:

“No more than my space, no less than my place” (Dr. Alan Morinis)

Hineini

“Not too much, not too little”

Kabbalah:

Choose one time each day to notice how much space you are taking. This can be at a meeting, at home, in the classroom, etc. Are you taking too much space, too little space or just the right amount. Try out different settings for the kabbalah to get a sense of how your Anavah/humility is influenced by different circumstances.

Choose a meeting or time of day that you will take up more or less space than is comfortable to you. This could mean that you will be the first to speak in a meeting, or that you will not speak until everyone else has a turn. Your kabbalah could be being sillier and louder than usual with a group of people each day.

Commit to saying “Hineini” and “stepping up” at least once each day.

Cheshbon Hanefesh or Hitbodedut:

Record what you notice about the space you take up from day to day.

What impacts the amount of space you take?

What affects your ability to say “Hineini”?

These practices originally appeared in the Institute’s Tikkun Middot Curriculum.


Meditation for Balancing Kavod and Anavah

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

Take a comfortable seat.
We are going to explore balance in posture and breath
Let both legs be heavy and both arms be heavy.
As you are seated allow the right hip and leg to release to the earth.

Now allow the left hip to release to the earth.
Notice which side is heavier – right or left
There is no need to adjust anything. Just notice.

Now let your right arm and shoulder relax and release.
Do the same with your left arm and shoulder – allow it to relax and release.
Notice. Which side is heavier?

Now bring your attention to your torso, to the front of your body.
Notice if you are leaning into the front of your body.

Now bring your attention to your back, the rear of your body.
Notice if you are leaning into the back body.

Bring your attention to the lower body, pelvis and down, the part that is mutzav artza.
See if you can become aware of this part of the body connected to the earth.

Now feel your head. Feel pulled up from the center of your scalp – hashamaima.
What is easier to feel – the lower body or the sensation of being pulled up?
Just notice. No need to judge or fix, Just notice.
Does it change as you notice?

Bring your attention to your breath.
Be aware of breathing in – breathing out.
Notice breath in your nostrils.

Is there more breath in the left nostril?
In the right nostril?

Breathing in – breathing out.
Is the inhale longer?
Is the exhale longer?
Just notice.

Continue to observe balance in the breath or cycle through the various sides of the body – left/right; front/back; top/bottom until the bell rings.