Miriam Yerushalami's lovely 12-minute video meditation on receiving Torah is perfect for remembering that we receive Torah again and again, each and every day we choose it. I choose Torah today! May it ever be so!
I wrote this comment to a man in a Facebook group who simply asked, "What are some suggested readings for learning about Judaism?" Several people jumped in with suggestions, good suggestions, and even posted screenshots of book covers. Nothing wrong with all their suggestions, of course.
But I began to think about it from the perspective of the man asking a simple question. Honestly, all those books might seem like a big, overwhelming task. Even choosing one becomes a task, let alone buying it, reading it and understanding it.
That's why I dropped back to one basic, foundational question. I suggested he ask himself this question first, "Am I willing to see the Bible in an entirely different way, the way it originated over 3000 years ago?"
If a Christian person isn't open and eager to consider a different way of looking at the Bible, no book about Judaism will give them what they need. Willingness to explore a different perspective, a Torah perspective, doesn't come from a book. It comes from within the person who is longing for truth. At least that's how it worked for me.
Tablet Magazine's podcast called Unorthodox has produced two Shavuot episodes with interviews of converts, one in 2018 and one in 2019. Hearing the voices and stories of many Jews By Choice is a wonderful experience for anyone who has converted or is contemplating conversion.
Some congregations read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot because it's the story of a convert to the Jewish faith during the Spring harvest season. And other congregations arrange for people to complete their conversion process at services on Shavuot.
Ruth is a convert in the family lineage of King David, an inspiration for us all.
Join Yedidah Cohen, translator of the works of Rabbi Yehuda Lev Ashlag, and facilitator of study groups for many years, as she explores a text from the Zohar about the Holy unification on Shavuot in this 2019 video.
This text is one that many Jews study in the wee hours of Shavuot, but it's appropriate for all of us, all the time!
Join Rabbi Yaakov Zalman Labinsky in this audio recording of his talk on Shavuot, recorded in the final week of counting the Omer in 2019.
And read a whole library of two dozen posts on Shavuot at the Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash.
It seems strange to think we have to work at bonding with our own souls. Shouldn't it just be automatic? Doesn't it happen naturally, with no conscious effort on our part? No, not in this world at this time. Not really.
My own soul is a stranger to me if I don't seek it out and get to know it. Being invisible to my physical eyes, it's out of sight and mind. For me, the solution is prayer. I pray to God to help me get to know my soul, to understand it and make the best decisions for it. I want my soul to flourish and prosper as much as I want my body to be healthy.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson talks about bonding with our own soul in his book, A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer: Forty-Nine Steps to Personal Refinement - The Forty-Nine Days of Sefirah. He writes, "To cultivate your capacity to bond, even if you have valid reasons to distrust, you must remember that G-d gave you a Divine soul that is nurturing and loving and you must learn to recognize the voice within, which will allow you to experience other people's souls and hearts."
Tina Wasserman has no idea how much she has changed my life. Her famous Beet Hummus recipe is nearly always in my heart and in my home because it's my new favorite food!
If I ever meet Tina in person I will thank her and tell her the following:
1) Heating up the home-cooked or canned chickpeas really helps get a smoother hummus, mixed with the tahini before adding the other ingredients.
2) People in the Middle East don't consider hummus a dip. It's a food, eaten at room temp or slightly warm, NEVER cold. I eat it with a spoon.
3) Cooking my own chickpeas is cheap and easy, especially in a slow cooker, for immediate use or frozen and heated later for making hummus.
4) Canned beets have almost the same nutritional value as fresh, and they are harvested much smaller to fit in a can, which means they also taste better.
5) Use of a high-speed blender such as a VitaMix or BlendTec will result in a smoother hummus, in my experience.
The photo is a quote from one of the daily emails sent by Jewishmail.org. The numbered footnotes are: 1) Malachi 3:12 and 2) Kohelet 3:20.
Apparently a heat wave is expected in Israel on Lag B'Omer this year, starting at sunset on Wednesday, 5/22/2019, so people are being warned about building their traditional fires at large gatherings to celebrate the 33rd day of counting the Omer.
More than half a million visitors come to the town of Meron, site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who revealed The Zohar. Although I am not involved in the physical gatherings, I feel connected.
Reading this quote, I am reminded that Israel is a people, not only a geographic location. And I am among the people of Israel, called by The Baal Shem Tov, "G-d's land of desire."
That's us, the Jews. WE are G-d's land of desire, with great treasures within us.
Shortly after noon today, Friday May 17, 2019, I heard the news that Herman Wouk had passed away from this earth at age 103. May this blog post be an elevation for his eternal soul, this day and every day it fills the airwaves online.
I found a used copy of This Is My God many years ago, read it, hand-copied Herman's English translations of the Shema and the Shemona Esrai (Amidah) and used it to pray out loud as a Jew.
I was only eight years old when the book was published in 1959. But that didn't matter. It was right where I needed to find it, right when I needed to find it and read it.
This was years before I converted, and I didn't know many things. One of the things I didn't know was that the Amidah was a silent prayer, or softly whispered with moving lips only.
But what I didn't know didn't matter because I honestly believe Herman Wouk wrote his book and offered his English translation for people like me. I believe his love and care invested in This Is My God was the push I needed to become a Jew.
During the High Holy Days 5779, in 2018, I felt the need to thank Herman Wouk for writing his book that inspired me to convert. So I wrote him a letter and send it to a home address I found online.
But it was returned, so I put it in another envelope and sent it to the official address provided by his publisher. Oh, I pray he received my note of thanks while he was still alive!
May Herman Wouk's eternal soul and his precious heart for the Jewish people continue to inspire all my writing. blogging and posting, now and forever. And may may my gratitude serve as a continued elevation, as only Hashem understands. AMEN
Talking to other people about gratitude reminded me of my half-full or half-empty thought. To me, the answer to the question, "Half full of what?" is GRATITUDE.
Sometimes it's really hard to get in touch with gratitude. This fact is not a secret, its more like a chronic disease. Human beings tend to focus on the empty part, emptiness in their glass and in their lives.
Emptiness in our hearts is one of the most poignant vacant spaces commanding our attention and eating up our time. If we're human, we usually notice whatever we don't have first. For some reason, it's very interesting.
Making a list of what we DO have can flip the switch. It does for me!
Rabbi Daniel Ventresca makes short videos several times a week, and I listened to this 6-minute video early this morning. Then I listened to it again and again. Many times I've been reading Torah and had the distinct sense it was talking TO me and ABOUT me. In this video Daniel tells a memorable story that makes the same point - Torah is written to us TODAY. It is not merely historical and allegorical for us to learn from examples in the past.
Torah is alive in our lives today! This is not usually our first perspective, but it is living truth. I long for the day when Torah truth will be seen and known this way.
A vibrant pair of bluebirds is busily building a nest in our Texas Nextbox today. It's especially designed to allow ventilation during the hot Texas summer weather, and it's been inhabited by a nesting pair through July in past years.
Listening to the falling water in our bird fountain and watching the hummingbirds at their feeder and on Coral Honeysuckle vines growing up the front porch, I'm feeling blessed with Shalom Bayit - peace of the home - in and around our home this spring. The sounds and sights are healing, which makes me think about Rosh Chodesh Iyar beginning this Saturday 5/4/19 at sunset.
In Sarah Yehudit Schneider's Iyar article linked above she explains that learning to sit back and watch our own thoughts, "... can dissolve deeply engrained patterns at their root. It is extremely potent and cost efficient. It takes minimal effort and yields bountiful results. And, it is the special work of this month."
I am eager to explore this idea, for my own healing and for my friends and family as well.
Today is the seventh day of Passover 5779. It's been a very busy week of planting in our commercial Lemon Verbena fields as well as our big veggie garden. But it may have been even busier in my Jewish heart and soul as I absorbed some deep teaching from Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Zushe Winner.
I took notes from their videos and posted them on SolitarySeder.com because there's 'way too much for one blog post here. May the learning ever deepen and may the learning never end!
It must be the phase in my Jewish prayer evolution for me to begin to understand the famous phrase, "service of the heart." Historically, Jews offered sacrifices in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but since the destruction of the Holy Temple we no longer offer animal, grain and oil sacrifices. That part is factual and simple.
What isn't so simple is when and how Jewish communal prayers recited in synagogues developed as a replacement for Temple sacrifices. Biblical scholars and archeologists have had discussions and disagreements on this topic for centuries.
The transition from bringing sacrifices to a priest to speaking personal and communal prayers was an enormous cultural change. It didn't happen all at one time or in one place.
What matters most to me is that my prayers are a genuine service of my heart, offered humbly and respectfully before my Almighty God.
Rabbi Tovia Singer provides deeply welcoming teachings regarding the necessity of Jews to welcome others to pray as a Jew. I agree with Rabbi Singer.
Jews are called to be a light unto the nations, and to me, that includes being a light in prayer. I pray with people who are not Jewish, and they pray with me.
Essentially, a Noahide Jewish prayer is one which acknowledges God as Creator, thanks God and humbly makes requests of God, the same way Jewish prayers do. No intercessor is involved between the person praying and his or her Almighty God. That is monotheism and that is the foundation of Jewish personal prayer as well as communal, traditional prayers.
Fifteen minutes into the following 2016 video (this link is set up to begin at 15:00) you'll hear Rabbi Singer's unforgettable explanation about the responsibility of Jews to serve as a light to the nations with their Jewish prayer. He is answering questions posed by this man, a Noahide who believed he was not welcome to pray as a Jew. Those days are over for him now, and hopefully for all of B'inei Noach and others worldwide!
As Rabbi Singer tells him, and all of us watching, "Everyone who is created in the image of God MUST pray like a Jew."
The Bible gives us an historical record of some things, and makes no mention of others. Today, we have an established tradition of communal Jewish prayer. It is what we know and what we do in synagogue together. But it is not a substitute for personal prayers. Here's a good summary from my Facebook post today, an exchange between LS and me about Biblical Jewish prayer:
LS: Although there is evidence of ancient synagogues all over Israel and the talmud talks about group prayer and jewish prayer is largely group oriented.
MSL: Yes, all true. What I mentioned is also true. Archeological, historical evidence is one thing, a very important thing. But the words in Torah and Chumash are also important. There are plenty of words about animal sacrifices because that's what people did at the time. Now we don't do it. The communal prayer is a substitute for animal sacrifices, as I understand it. My point is that personal prayers were, are and will always be important.
LS: Traditionally there was not much difference between group study and group prayer. i would compare it to the followers of socrates or plato. yes, they were studying their god but it was a study into the elements of the workings of the world. Jews were largely experts on law which was developing in and around ancient babylon. the law, Torah, was largely based on proper judicial practices for fiscal and personal violations, etc. what was given to God was all part of this. animal sacrifice was part of this but only a part. there was so much more to why the Jews practices prayer in a group. the talmud documents an incredible amount about what was going on in the temple. minyans, a group of 10, were the best form of prayer for a multitude of reasons back then.
MSL: I agree with you, Lili Shane. The minyans, however, and the sages and their students were men. I honestly believe women have always been the foremost experts in Jewish personal prayer, of which Hannah is the classic example.
LS: I really like what you are doing. I appreciate your deeply spiritual approach. it is something sorely lacking in all religions. i'm not sure historical religions were really based on deep spirituality. it was a job for those ancient priests. whether they were spiritual or not affected their job position but it was highly suspect. i think spirituality may have been tied to the prophets and maybe the judges, like Deborah. but their understanding of spirituality is deeply different from modern spirituality.
MSL: For sure. My understanding of the practice of multiple wives was not entirely for the man to have more fun, but mostly because there was so much work that one woman could not physically do everything needed to feed, clothe and raise a family. Women were already busy and exhausted beyond our comprehension. Other than praying, "Please help me, Lord," there wasn't much time or energy to be spiritual. So, the men did it. It was a practical necessity, IMO, and it became a tradition.
Blogging and writing a book on Jewish personal prayer is my current adventure as a Jew. As I prepare for Erev Shabbat tonight I'm reading what other people say online about their own adventures with prayer, as Jews and people moving through their conversion process.
Keeping Shabbat is definitely something to pray about, for all of us. Some Jews do it, some don't, but most of us find our own ways to honor the seventh day of Creation. After all, it's one of the 10 Commandments, or 10 Utterances in the Bible.
Having a relationship with Shabbat has kept me going through many phases of life, and I am collecting stories from other people who tell me how it affected their lives, too.
Very often I'll choose a theme for the weekly Sabbath, drawn from the Torah portion or from what's happening in my personal life. My theme this week is Jewish prayer - what a surprise! May my prayers and the prayers of all Jews resonate and reverberate throughout this world and the next,..
Confidence in Jewish prayer also involves confidence in me, in my ability to receive help and guidance from my Almighty God. Asking God for confidence and humility is how I get the help I need to develop confidence and humility... and courage.
I heard a marketing expert say, "Action cures fear," and although he was talking about taking action in marketing activities I realized it's true about prayer, too. Taking action in speaking and writing Jewish personal prayers cures any fear we may have about praying out loud or writing letters to God. It really works!
Expressing my doubts, fears and frustrations to God is how I get cured of them. For real! It happened this week when I found myself revising some old resentments. I asked God to help me drop that old pattern of thinking and it worked. A couple days later I realized the charge of frustration was completely gone. Thank you, Lord!
Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar II, and I'm learning a lot about the potential for and responsibility of joy. I don't know the man's name in the following video posted by Naomi Greenberg on Facebook, but I will be forever grateful to him for his clear, convincing words about our opportunity in prayer on Adar II.
My personal prayers track what he explains about the window through which we may boost our prayers for all aspects of our lives, and the lives of others. Today is a day we can break through in prayer to change our mazal and be set free! Thank you, Lord for setting us free in prayer!
The Mishkan, or Tabernacle in the wilderness, is a model for each of us who makes a space for Jewish personal prayer. We have no Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and no carefully-constructed portable tent structure. What we have is our own souls housed in our own bodies.
Thinking about ourselves as a dwelling place for prayer, and for individual, personal prayer, can be a comforting thought. There was no siddur at the time of the Mishkan described in Torah; there were priests conducting ritural sacrifices. Now we have a siddur but no priesthood conducting ritual sacrifies.
Now Jews can use a siddur or speak spontaneously aloud to God, and both represent a sacrifice of prayer from their souls, their Jewish prayer Mishkan.
Shifra Chana Hendrie streamed live on Facebook yesterday, taking her participants to several holy sites in the land of Israel. It was an unprecedented accomplishment to have women posted and hosting in the various locations, including the Kotel, or Western Wall in Jerusalem.
This is a screenshot from the live-streamed event. On the left is Shifra Chana Hendrie praying during the event. On the right is a close-up of the Kotel. She took us all there, wherever we were watching on our computers, tablets and phones, all over the world. We were there at The Wall together, and we were praying together.
For centuries, Jews have prayed for the Messiah to come. Today, we can study scripture 24/7 and find thousands of opinions about the who, what, when and how of the Jewish Messiah on the web. But what really matters is what's going on in our own hearts with our Creator.
My personal thanks to Shifra Chana Hendrie for being the first person in my life to pray with me at the Kotel. Yes, I will always love her for that. Thank you, Shifra for taking us all to The Wall and praying with us there.
Maturing in my Solitary Splendor and growth of my soul isn't always obvious. But today I noticed something as I spent hours searching through 20 pages of listings on Amazon for various editions of siddurs, or Jewish prayer books.
How many other people are looking through all the Amazon listings and beginning to wonder, as I am, "Look at all the different authors and unique versions of the daily Jewish prayer book, each with its own agenda. I wonder which siddur is best for me to use now?"
Jews, and those exploring Judaism without a family or congregational bias toward a certain level of observance or religious tradition may find the process of selecting a siddur for personal use very confusing. I am certainly finding it confusing right now, but my intrepid search continues.
As Seth Godin posted today, "The only way to learn from experience is to have different experiences... to eagerly engage with with the possible."
Two of my siddurs are pictured above. Both are Avodat Israel siddurs, the left one published in 1960 and the right one in 1969. I bought them many years ago and do not use them regularly because the text is very small print.
I read through the comments on various Amazon listings today and saw people saying, "I collect siddurs," and then giving their opinion on the particular siddur listed. It struck me that my goal is not to be a collector of siddurs, although it's a wonderful hobby. I want my relationship with a siddur to be more like my truck or my garden spade, tools for my daily life.
These thoughts are giving me a signal of some new maturity in my relationship with God. Wanting to be free of the writers' and translator's agendas shows me something important - my Jewish heart longs for the personal connection with God in traditional prayers. I want a siddur to help me do that each day, even more than it connects me to centuries of Jewish tradition and modern political perspectives.
I posted this comment in a Jewish group on Facebook this morning, and it inspired me to more thought and writing. Honestly, I never thought about the annual cycles as a roller coaster until I watched myself typing these words today.
The notion of Torah portions of the five books of Torah representing a journey of the soul is not a new idea. Joel Padowitz writes the following sentence in his post called "The Good Side of Fear," on Aish.com - "Yirah really means some combination of thrill, awe, and fear."
Yirah is a wonderful Hebrew word which is usually translated into English as "fear of God." That phrase doesn't begin to convey the depth of meaning of Yirah. Tara Mohr posted about three Hebrew words meaning fear, saying, "You’ll know yirah because it has a tinge of exhilaration and awe..."
That sounds like a roller coaster to me!
There's a lot of talk and teaching about "Jewish roots." That phrase has a lot of different meanings, and I've noticed people tend to get involved in groups that share a common or at least a similar meaning as their own.
I really like this article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman called, "I Just Discovered I'm Jewish." He wrote it from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, but it's very generous and welcoming for anyone who is wondering - what and who is a Jew anyway?
The article is good, but there are 117 comments (as of today) that are at least as interesting as what Rabbi Freeman posted. This comment makes an excellent point to anybody who has discovered they have Jewish roots from a DNA test:
"Genetic Jewish ancestry doesn't necessarily mean that one is Jewish or not Jewish, but it does mean that one is genetically descened from Jewish ancestors in a way that is irrefutable and incontrovertible."
Personally, I'd suggest pairing that comment with these words Rabbi Freeman wrote in his article, describing a Jewish person, "... a light in the darkness that cannot be extinguished by the most incessant and formidable waves of change, because we are tied in an enexorable bond to our divine mission."
Solitary Splendor is my way of expressing my own light in the darkness. That's really how it feels to me. It's been years and years so far, preparing to write this book, so I am surely tied to my divine mission the way Rabbi Freeman describes it.
Ancestry.com posted the following video of a professional couple who specialize in Jewish geneaology:
Getting and staying connected to God is important to me. I've been interviewing other people on the topic of Jewish personal prayer, and I'm learning that a belief in God and a desire for connection to God are simply not important to some Jews.
Honestly, it comes as a surprise to me. The intensity of my desire, persistence and tenacity to know my Creator makes it hard to understand having no interest at all in knowing and connecting with God. Learning from the people I'm interviewing is very instructive, and it's a truly sobering experience.
In a 2011 article in Moment Magazine, well-known Jewish thinkers were asked, "Can there be Judaism without belief in God?" Their responses are fascinating, and range from No to Maybe to Yes, in much more articulate terms.
Solitary Splendor is about not only believing in God, but longing for connection to God at all times.
"Every moment there is an opportunity to bring the yearning of our hearts and the deeds of our hands to Hashem, the Creator." That's a quote from David Mark, from his post called Building The Temple Within on Breslov.org.
Traditional Jewish prayers waft up to heaven on a set schedule, using well-established words and rituals. It is understood that these prayers were put in place as a substitute, so to speak, for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed in 70 CE (AD) and there was no way to fulfill the exact sacrifices specified in Torah.
God is in charge of the Holy Temple and God is in charge of us, the people living on the Earth with only the Western Wall remaining from the last Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We can pray the traditional daily prayers and we can pray from the yearning of our hearts at all times. We are not limited in our prayers at all.
Watch Jews from all over the world visiting the Western Wall by visiting The Western Wall Webcam. Day or night, you are welcome at The Wall!