“I have been able to find a stronger center in myself to which I can return so that I am not shaken by the daily ups and downs of congregational life.”

— Rabbi Rona Shapiro

Posts Tagged: chaggim

After the Holidays

sunrise over mountainI find it so curious that the Jewish year begins with almost an entire month’s worth of holidays, each one with its own flavor, building upon the one before.  We have the sweet awe of Rosh Hashanah, the intense internality of Yom Kippur, the joy and vulnerability of Sukkot, the ecstatic connection to learning on Simchat Torah.  It is quite a spiritual journey – and can be exhausting!  I hear many people expressing relief that the holidays are “finally” behind us.

Which brings us to that seemingly flat time of “after the holidays.”  Life is back to normal (whatever that means).  We return to the routine and the steadily increasing darkness of the Northern Hemisphere’s approaching winter.  Next week we begin the new month of Heshvan, the famous month of no holidays.  Sometimes it is known as “Marheshvan,” with a connotation of mar or bitterness.  There is no external reason to celebrate; there is nothing obviously interesting or intriguing about it.   In some ways, the whole month is the continuation of Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, which has only one unique feature in the Diaspora:  the prayer for rain for the Land of Israel.

And yet, in some ways, these weeks are actually the fruitful time of the year, not the dramatic holiday season just ended.  We get to begin living out what we thought, embodying the insights, intentions and hopes for the new year.  We get to begin translating the lofty visions into messy, ever-surprising life.  It may be dark; it may be rainy; it may be unexciting.  But moving from the potential to the actual is filled with power and possibility.

This is precisely where spiritual practice has the most to offer, in offering perspective and wisdom when confronted with difficulty and in guiding us towards more kindness, responsibility, gratitude and integrity.   It can even help us find the unexpected shining in ordinary things.  There is nothing bitter about that!

Wishing everyone a mindful transition back to the everyday!

Encounters with the Divine: Hidden and Revealed

Please join Rabbi Sheila Weinberg for her teachings on Shavuot.

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Receiving Torah

Mt. SinaiShavuot, the holiday that celebrates the gift of Torah, begins on Saturday night.  The Torah itself describes this occasion as being accompanied by dramatic and terrifying noise and spectacle:  thunder, long shofar blasts, earthquake, fire and smoke.   As I type this, I am listening to the honks and sirens on Seventh Avenue far below, and I wonder:   if Mt. Sinai were in New York City, would anyone notice if God started proclaiming?

Mt. Sinai, of course, is in the middle of the desert, a place of profound and almost absolute quiet.  Some people say that the Hebrew word for desert, midbar, means “a place of speech.”  That sounds completely counter-intuitive unless you consider that a desert is a place that is so quiet that we might finally hear the Speech that is actually there all the time.  And in fact, there are midrashim, or rabbinic stories, that say that God is always speaking at Sinai, but that on the day Torah was given, the 6th of Sivan so long ago, the desert was completely silent so that we could really hear.

Contemplative Jews (including me) love those midrashim.  To a contemplative person, silence is clearly the better context to hear the voice of truth.  It is in the silence that the noise of life can settle down and reveal the hidden wisdom that grows underneath.   So why does the Torah text itself insist that the Torah was given in the midst of so much clamor?

Perhaps it was the setting.  Perhaps it was the extreme contrast between the quiet desert and the thunderous mountain that startled the Israelites into the possibility of hearing something new.  In that case, in our noisy lives, the contrast of stillness may be exactly the thing that startles us into that same possibility.

My intention for this Shavuot is to engage in some great Torah learning, to spend time with dear friends and to eat some New York cheesecake.  It is also to find a quiet corner, even in this frenetic city, to see if maybe I can hear something unexpected and true.