What We Don’t know We Need

One of the prayers in our morning liturgy gives gratitude for the renewal of each day. Among the fourteen phrases thanking God for our numerous blessings, one thanks the Divine for “providing for all my needs.” Whenever I recited this blessing, I would get to that line and acknowledge that my basic needs are met and so much more.

One of my teachers opened my eyes a bit wider by suggesting “all our needs” includes the stuff of life we say we need like a “hole in the head.” In other words those frustrations, accidents and devestations that befall us that we certainly don’t ask for and would never in a million years say we needed.

I acknowledge this is dicey philosophical territory. Does someone actually need a cancer diagnosis? A viscious frenemy or relative? Or, God forbid, the loss of a loved one? No. No. No. But really horrible stuff happens — to all of us. Six plus decades playing this game called Life and I recognize the painful experiences that have surely formed me and demanded of me growth and healing. I’ve railed at God plenty for “giving” me what I not only didn’t ask for but said up front I did not need in the least. Guess what? I got some of those too. Accepting them has brought insight and ultimately understanding.

The verse “who provides for all my needs” is followed by “who guides us on our path.” Perhaps this is intentional. When we’re shunted onto a painful path a little Divine guidance just might light the way.

A Prayer for Peace

My dear friend, Laya Crust, sent this beautiful painting to me.  Her work is steeped in Jewish history, tradition and beauty.         “I was wondering what I could do with my sadness over the situation in the world,” she wrote me. “The hatred is frightening. So, I wrote out these phrases and the prayer.”

She asked me to share the prayer and her visual evocation of  the words. I am deeply moved and grateful to do so. For an additional sensory experience, here is the Hebrew prayer set to music composed by Julie Silver

If nothing else, for today, let’s be the light.

 

 

PS
Following my last post in this space, my rabbi sent me a link to an essay written by an Israeli tour guide and educator.  In his essay he offers a thoughtful and well-considered perspective on the current dispute in Sheikh Jarrah.

There’s More to the Stories

I debated when it came time to fill this drawer in the cabinet.   Do I write about the past two weeks in Israel? How can I not? Do       I offer my opinion? Possibly. Do I want to engage in a discussion of the many rights and wrongs? Toward what end? Does it enhance anyone’s now to bring war into this space? You decide.

In the end, I gathered links to articles and information that are rarely shared by the  American press.

Matti Friedman from Israel
https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/israel-insider-guide

Conflation
https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/jamaal-bowman-liel-leibovitz

How does terror benefit the terrorists?
https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/eyeless-in-gaza

Terror attacks on Jews in NYC by Palestinians
https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/palestinians-assault-jews-across-new-york

Sheikh Jarra
https://www.wsj.com/articles/almost-nothing-youve-heard-about-evictions-in-jerusalem-is-true-11621019410

Reporting on war from the war zone
https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/associated-press-hamas-gaza-lee-smith

Israeli comic rebuts John Oliver’s latest
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGqc4BsAf40

Counting the Omer

We have just passed the midway mark of the Counting of the Omer, the 49-day period between the second night of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot.  In ancient times, at the beginning of the spring agricultural season, an omer (sheaf) of barley was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gratitude offering on each of the ensuing 49 days. The Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E. ended the sacrificial system. Counting the Omer was ultimately transformed into a seven-week period of spiritual exploration. In this way, Jews have the opportunity to embark upon a spiritual journey that mirrors the ancient Hebrews’ physical journey of liberation from slavery (the Passover celebration) to the receiving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai (the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot.)

For the past month I have been part of an online group that is counting the omer, following the structure laid out by the Kabbalists of the 17th and 18th centuries. These masters assigned to each of the seven weeks one of seven earthly emanations of the Divine: chesed (lovingkindness), g’vurah (boundaries), tif’eret (splendor/balance), netzach (endurance), hod (gratitude/humility), y’sod (intimacy) and malchut (reign/responsibility). Each day of the week embodies one of these seven qualities as well. If this sounds a bit complicated and overwhelming, it is. Yet each year I engage with this process, some nuance or other becomes clearer. Progress not perfection is our motto.

The Kabbalists taught that all seven of these earthly Divine emanations reside within each of us.  One person might be quite comfortable establishing boundaries; another opens easily to lovingkindness while another struggles to cultivate endurance. The object of this inner work is to find the “sweet spot” of these character traits.  If establishing boundaries comes easily to me, do I need to examine if my boundaries sometimes become walls preventing deeper personal connections? Is my lovingkindness so bountiful that I tip over into exhaustion and resentment, or have I learned to balance giving of myself with replenishing the well? Day by day our group reads and discusses where we slip up and where we glide forward.  

We are now in the week of hod or gratitude, which in Hebrew is translated as  “recognizing the good.” Gratitude in this sense isn’t the outpouring of ecstatic thanks but instead calls on us to take a moment, many moments in fact, to recognize our good fortune. Even in the most trying of times, we are bidden to find a kernel of light to appreciate. Something my husband does might set me off until I realize how fortunate I am to have him beside me each night and to wake up to his loving hug each morning. How can irritation not melt in the face of such blessings?

Self-awarness is a double-edged sword. The more aware I become of my thoughts and my reactions, the more I realize how far I have to go. What a judgmental, impatient, ungenerous wretch I can be! In those moments I remember again and again, “Progress, not perfection.” We are all works in progress until we draw our last breath.

Over these intense forty-nine days of counting the omer, I count my blessings, count my progress, and count to ten when the need arises. Each morning, members of our group bring sheaves of hope, determination, confusion, and more with the intention that at the end of this seven-week period we will have shaken free of enough chaff to be worthy to receive the words of Torah once again. Progress, not perfection.   Yes.  

photo courtesy of: “Ripe Barley field” by allispossible.org.uk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sometimes a Daffodil is More Than a Yellow Flower

My better half raised his beautiful brows when I told him my thoughts for this week’s J-E-W. After all, this site is dedicated to Enhancing Your Now. Valid. I reconsidered, but here I am anyway. This space is just as much about enhancing my life, my now. It’s my shared world where I reflect and work things through, even the shadowy side.

I wager at least some of my Jewish readers may have looked at the yellow star of the daffodil’s back and seen another kind of yellow star, the kind Jews were forced to wear in a past that is never too distant.

We have just finished a cycle of three modern Jewish holidays collectively called the Yamim (plural for days): Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (a day memorializing soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and subsequent battles, as well as civilian victims of terrorism), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day, marking the anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948). A fourth, Yom Yerushalayim, celebrates the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem and occurs next month

I looked at this daffodil, the green stem of spine supporting the blossom. It seemed to peer at the patch of sky reflected in the small puddle nearby. I couldn’t help but think of six million murdered Jews who had peered Heavenward on a blue-sky day, and silently screamed , “Why?”

One day, one day, may all humanity look to the blue heavens, spines straight, faces uplifted and none shall be afraid.