“I love this group. I wish my whole life was as loving as my life when I am at an Institute event.”

— Janice Rous

March 2017 Newsletter

Lisa GoldsteinWhere Does Truth Live? (Within Us.)

Rabbi Lisa Goldstein


The truth is that telling the truth is not so easy. The sages of the midrash wryly told that when God decided to create human beings, the ministering angels broke into factions. Justice and Lovingkindness were in favor of this new creation, saying that people would do acts of tzedek and chesed. Peace objected that they would engage in war and Truth protested that humans would be filled with deceit. God’s response was to hurl Truth down to the earth, but the other angels rushed to its defense. “Is not Truth Your seal?” they said. And quoting Psalm 85, they added, “Let truth spring up from the earth!”

In this rabbinic take on human nature, Truth, of course, tells the truth that human beings have a hard time living truthfully. But I find the end of the midrash ambiguous. Did Truth return to the heavenly abode? Or did it remain among us to instruct and inspire us? What makes it so difficult to tell the truth?

I consider times I have knowingly lied and most of them arose from an attempt to save face. The greater damage to others, however, came from the times I lied almost unknowingly because I had not told the truth to myself. In those cases, the truth was too painful for me to face. I remember certain situations in which the truth sprang up in me as a clear voice, but I didn’t want to hear it and I looked away. I pretended I did not know and somehow I did not know. The lies I told then were the most harmful because I believed them myself.

How can we get better at telling the truth? One practice emerges from the mystical tradition, in which truth is the balancing point between the endless flow of loving kindness and the firm rigor of judgement. Truth is not the opposite of kindness; instead, it can be found by holding kindness and judgment at the same time. Sometimes an insight, an unpleasant judgment arises. If I am cultivating the habit of bringing loving kindness towards my experience, I have more space to notice: Oh, here is fear. Here is aversion. Here is the unbearable. And yes, here is truth, the truth I did not want to welcome, but which has come nevertheless.

What is true in our personal lives is also true on larger scales. In our national life, truth is under attack from many sides and yet, there are also some truths about our country that have come to the surface that have long been too uncomfortable for many of us to face. I hope that the practices in this newsletter can help us turn towards these truths with courage and compassion.

Practicing Pesach: Cultivating Emet / Truthfulness

Rabbi Marc Margolius


In these days of “truthiness,” “alternative facts” and “fake news, the middah (spiritual/ethical quality) of Emet/Truth takes on particular urgency. Pesach invites us to cultivate greater awareness of the truthfulness in our thoughts and speech, and to expand our freedom to direct the sacred gift of language to promoting Emet/Truth in the world.

As my colleague Rabbi Sam Feinsmith has noted, the word Pesach in Hebrew itself can be parsed into two words—peh sach, or “speaking mouth.” According to one hasidic understanding, Passover represents the liberation of speech. As slaves, the Israelites could only utter a raw, anguished cry (Exodus 2:23); in freedom, they could sing exultantly the “Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15:1-19).

In mindfulness practice, we explore our inner life with curiosity, growing in awareness of how our ego often consciously or not drives reactive, fear-based habits. Attending to the truth of what is happening in each moment (hitlamdut), we witness more clearly the energy of this “shadow” in our mind, emotions, and body. And approaching this inner Mitzrayim, (constriction) or frightened ego, with compassion rather than harsh judgment, we experience greater spaciousness—greater freedom to shift that energy in a more wholesome or holy direction. We move with greater ease through the mouth of the Sea, into the midbar, the open wilderness. We are free.

In the swirling, powerful emotions of our political times, even those of us who profess outrage at daily distortions of language and disregard for facts may discover ourselves “bending the truth” to suit our own preconceptions and biases. Mindfulness can help us catch ourselves more often when fear generates rationalizing thoughts or tendencies to fudge or avoid the truth. We may notice inner constrictions leading us to avoid unpleasant or “inconvenient” truths that challenge our preferred version of reality. Instead of harshly criticizing such inclinations, we can honor our fear, practice self-compassion, and notice additional options to promote truthfulness.

As a specific practice leading up to Pesach, consider the teaching of the prophet Zechariah, who urges us to “speak the truth with your neighbor; judge with truth, justice, and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16). Think of the “gates” as the place within us from which thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise to consciousness. Notice reactions arising, and the speech these reactions might generate. Pause and practice sh’tikah, silence. Consider these questions: Do I really need to say these words? Are they true? Are they just? Do they lead to shalom, to wholeness or wholesomeness?

As we approach Pesach, the liberation of speech, may we be freed from inner constrictions distorting our view of reality. May we pay closer attention to our words and the extent to which they reflect that which is authentic and true. May we pause before speaking, texting, writing or posting, and discern whether to remain silent or to express ourselves through words reflecting our highest and truest selves May Emet, the Divine quality of truth, flow freely through us, and fill the cracks of this fractured world.


Be Your Awakened Heart

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg


Waking up is like doing yoga.

It takes strength, flexibility, and balance

and it is a lot easier when you breathe.

We are all yogis—spiritual warriors with hearts that keep
breaking open so that the light of God’s love keeps shining

How do we keep our balance?

It is not easy.

But we begin.

We take a stable stance on the four corners of our feet. We root
deep into the earth.

Then we let go into the greater whole, the fullness of the eternal
breath that accompanies every leap into risk.

One of my favorite images of living this life is from the autobiog­raphy of Ginger Rogers. She was the beautiful dance partner of Fred Astaire, and he was always acclaimed as the greatest dancer and she was just his partner. Her story is called: “Dancing Back­wards in High Heels.” She did all the moves he did but did them backwards and in high heels. That is a lot like our lives. Moving into the future without knowing what it will bring and yet doing it with integrity, grace, and trust.

And I guess we need to remember that we do have a partner in
this business

And we can remember that when we breathe.

we are breathed.

And we are dancing backwards in high heels.

But we are not alone.

May we feel the strength, flexibility, and balance.

May we all meet the depth of the love in our hearts.

May we all remember, again and again, that we are not alone.

May we all remember, again and again, the possibility of blessing.

Because we know that, when we bless, we become whole.

May we remember to bless a ripe tomato and a political victory—
even a very tiny one.

May we remember to bless the face of a friend after a long

May we remember to bless the salty smell of the ocean, a
beauti­ful tune, or a pure turn of phrase.

May we remember to bless a good person’s life and death, the
snow coming down and the sun coming up.

When we search our heart, we remember that the way to do
is to be.

Be who you truly are, dear friend,

be exactly who you are,

and that is the well of blessing.

Sheila’s new book, God Loves the Stranger, is a beautiful collection of stories, blessings, poetry, divine teachings, and meditation exercises, and is available now on Amazon.com.

A Meditation for a Personal Bedikat Hametz

Rabbi Toba Spitzer

Passover is ultimately about freedom and new beginnings.  The exodus from Egypt is a birth story – the birth of the Israelite people, and of a new kind of society, covenanted in love and justice.  Passover is also a spring holiday, celebrating the first harvest and the new birth of the flocks.  So part of the practice of clearing out hametz is linked to this sense of beginning, of new possibilities – clearing out the old, to make room for the new.

In many Hasidic interpretations, hametz is understood as internal obstacles and negativity, and we take this week of Passover to clear out as much of this as we can.  So another possible focus is some kind of intentional “clearing out” of those internal tendencies – selfishness; greed; excessive pride; negativity towards self or others – that are getting in the way of our own liberation.

Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches:

“I’ve been experiencing “Matzah” as the essence that we must return to, must re-discover in order to grow in purity and awareness toward our liberation. The “hametz” is the sourness, often unconscious, the residue from suffering, disappointment. When hametz is left to its own, it causes inflation which is the process whereby layers of false-self build up to protect the essential core. The trouble is that through this process we also lose access to that essence. Before Pesach the challenge it seems to me is to release those layers of false self and then to discern the sourness that gave rise to that layering, then to re-experience the essence which is the unique spark at your core…”

For our sit, we’ll do an internal “bedikat hametz,” checking for internal hametz.  When this is done traditionally, it’s playful – done with a candle and a feather.  A gentle process, knowing full well that we’re going to find something – and appreciating it when we do find it, just like it’s fun to find the hametz that’s been stashed around the house for the evening inspection.

BEGIN SIT – settle in to seat, into physical sensation, breath.

Begin to notice the small the bits of “hametz” in our experience – that which keeps us from being present in this moment. It might be desire – wanting something to be happening outside of this actual moment of experience.

Or it might be aversion – pushing away some part of our experience that is unpleasant, that we wish wasn’t happening.

There might be judgment that arises – judgment of self, judgment of others.

There might be distraction – the mind seeking something more interesting than paying attention to what is.

Whatever arises, whatever obstacle you find to just being present – imagine you have a feather, and you gently, playfully, whisk it away.  And then come back to the present moment of experience.

A desire arises – whisk!

Aversion arises – whisk!

Judgment arises – whisk!

And we do this with compassion, with an openness of heart. With each flick of the feather, a space opens up, there is a small movement towards freedom.


CLOSING:  Noting the types of hametz that tend to arise, and setting a kavvanah, an intention, for this Pesach, to let go and release it. Not forcing, just setting an intention.  The prohibition during Pesach is on owning any hametz – so let go of ownership. Understand that these inner obstacles are not you, do not belong to you, and you don’t belong to them.

This meditation originally appeared in the curriculum for the Institute’s Jewish Meditation Teacher Training program. 

Beyond the Traditional: Haggadot for All of Us

Each year, we like to offer a collection of haggadot available for download or purchase to enrich your seder practice. Some of these we have sent to you before, and others, such as the Ayeka haggadah are brand-new this year! We hope that your seder is joyful, mindful, authentic, and full of meaning, and that this Festival of Freedom helps to move us closer to the world we long for!

On modern slavery:

The Other Side of the Sea: A Haggadah on Fighting Modern Slavery from T’ruah

To help engage children with special needs:

The Gateways Haggadah by Gateways, in partnership with Behrman House Publishers, with symbols developed by Mayer-Johnson


Queering Your Seder: LGBTQ+ Haggadot – a list of resources developed by My Jewish Learning

Food and Justice:

Food and Justice Passover Haggadah by Bend the Arc

Experiential and Mindful:

The Ayeka Haggadah: Hearing Your Own Voice by Ayeka

Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

“Do It Yourself”:

Make your own Haggadah at http://www.haggadot.com/