Wilderness

Wilderness

Wilderness (Midbar)

מדבר

Midbar in Biblical Hebrew means Wilderness, particularly the arid wilderness of the Desert.

Central to our people’s formative experience was the life of the desert nomad described in the Torah, from our earliest patriarchs traversing the Negev to the forty years our people wandered in the Sinai. Prophets frequented the desert as a place to escape persecution as well as a space to commune with God. Two thousand years ago, the Dead Sea Sect, thought to be the Essenes, retreated to the Judean wilderness desert from the turmoil of Jerusalem and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Midbar presents two faces in the Torah. In one sense it is the opposite of the Garden; it is untamed and uncultivated, awesome and dangerous. The desert is a symbol of all those times that we lose our way and wander aimlessly, as individuals or as a society.

The other aspect of Midbar is a positive one. It represents openness, possibility, receptivity. Wandering in the desert was the paradigm of letting go and letting God. The Torah was given in the Midbar; is it a coincidence that the same Hebrew letters מדבר that spell Midbar, desert wilderness, also spell Medaber, speech? The emptiness of the desert and its vast spaces and the awe it evokes allow for communication with the divine.

Deserts are important ecosystems and supply many benefits to the earth. Three hundred million people worldwide live in deserts. We must respond to global climate change lest spreading deserts and devastating droughts characterize our future on planet Earth.

Wander this Gateway of Midbar to explore the symbol of Wilderness and Desert in Jewish tradition and in your life.

 

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

The Book of Wilderness

The fourth book of the Torah, known in English as the book of Numbers, in Hebrew is known as Bemidbar which means, "In the Wilderness [of Sinai]." On a psychological level, "wandering in the desert" can represent a state in which we have become unmoored from our lives...

Make Yourself a Desert Wilderness

Freed from slavery in Egypt, our people entered the Midbar, the desert wilderness. Far from civilization, in the shadow of a mountain, we received divine revelation amidst the sparse landscape of earth, air, fire, and water.A beautiful Midrash teaches that the open...

Desert Oasis

The desert oasis is an important biblical image. The beauty and life-giving power of water in the desert suggest a source of spiritual as well as physical refreshment. Ein Gedi, Spring of the Goat Kid, an oasis near the Dead Sea, is known as the place that future king...

Building a Sukkah, symbol of desert wanderings

The week-long fall harvest festival of Sukkot is celebrated by building a temporary outdoor hut, the sukkah, and spending as much time as possible living in it. This annual ritual re-enacts the lives of our ancestors as desert wanderers (and later as farmers...

Eco-Meaning of the Sukkot Plants

by Rabbi David Seidenberg The four species of the lulav [waved in blessing and praise on the holiday of Sukkot] represent the four types of ecosystems in the land of Israel: desert (date palm), hills (myrtle), river corridors (willow), and sh'feilah or lowlands (etrog...

BeMidbar: Finding God in the Wilderness

"My time in the desert has helped me understand why God so often seems to speak to people when they are in the wilderness." Rabbi Barry Leff And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai …Numbers 1:1 ...I’ve been spending a lot of time in the desert lately....

Guided Meditation: Miriam’s Well in the Desert

Enjoy this guided meditation on your inner Wellsprings, based on the legends of Miriam's Well, written and read by Rabbi Julie Danan. The imagery in the meditation is based on teachings from the Midrash and ancient Jewish lore. Featured Image: Natural spring mikveh...

Learning to Love the Desert

Long ago I learned to love the desert. I never saw myself as a desert person, much prefering the verdant trees and rivers of the Texas Hill Country or the piney slopes of the Rocky Mountains to what I saw as the dry ugly plains of West Texas. But living in a desert...

Environmental Apprenticeship in the Arava Desert

  In Israel, you can experience the beauty of the Arava Desert and a unique community at Kibbutz Lotan, whether at their desert guest house and spa or their environmental educational programs, like the Green Apprenticeship, in which my youngest daughter...

Wilderness Heals Us and We Heal It

Midbar as Wilderness not only protects the health of our planet, but also provide venues of emotional healing for human beings, including... Disadvantaged and at-risk inner city kids (and here's another) Veterans suffering from stress or PTSD People recovering from...

Ritual: Your verse in the Bible, and mine

יְשֻׂשׂ֥וּם מִדְבָּ֖ר וְצִיָּ֑ה וְתָגֵ֧ל עֲרָבָ֛ה וְתִפְרַ֖ח כַּחֲבַצָּֽלֶת The wilderness and the parched land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. --Isaiah 35:1   There is an old custom to conclude the Amidah (standing prayer) by...

Inspiration at a Thornbush

Moses' first encounter with the Divine in the wilderness is at bush that burns but is not consumed. According to the Midrash, the choice of a "lowly thornbush" is God's way of showing that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence can be found anywhere (Exodus...

My Mother’s Spiritual Journey

My daughter Arielle once bought me a bookmark at a local store, embellished with a quotation from Henry David Thoreou, "In Wildness is the Preservation of the World."I knew that saying from a poster that we had at our Ranch in Texas, that had accompanied a Sierra Club...

Passover in the Desert with Wilderness Torah

Passover in the Desert with Wilderness Torah  is an annual multi-generational celebration that takes the spring Festival of Freedom back to its wilderness and dessert origins. The rustic communal camping event takes place during the last few days of the Passover...

Sharing Circle: Wilderness and Desert

Wilderness and Desert Experience How do you empty your mind of clutter and find the awe? Have you had a formative or healing experience in the desert, or in any wilderness setting? What does the Midbar mean in your life, whether as an actual location or a state of...

Trees

Trees

Trees (Eitz)

עץ

One of the first things I noticed at Elat Chayyim (“Tree of Life”) Retreat Center near Woodstock, New York, were the huge trees, especially some venerable giant pines growing outside the dining area. As days went by, the trees seemed to me more than just features of the landscape, but rather as fellow beings who partook in the love of the environment, creatures from whom I could learn. It was not so fanciful when I learned that Jewish tradition compares trees to human beings. Humans seem to rule the animal kingdom while trees are the most developed of plants. Both receive nourishment from our roots and aspire upward toward the light, and as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi pointed out, both trees and human beings never stop growing. Moreover, he often pointed out that the growing edge of a tree is on the outside, and so we–and our tradition–must continue reaching outward in order to be renewed.

“For is a tree of the field human” (to withdraw before you in a siege, Deuteronomy 20:19)? The biblical verse prohibiting the logging of fruit trees during a siege can also be read literally as: “For a human being is a tree of the field” Ki ha-adam etz ha-sadeh כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה

In forests, jungles, orchards, and cities, trees are essential to life on earth, since they provide oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and remove pollutants, while also providing countless expressions of beauty, shade, food, wood, and soil conservation. 

Trees have been sacred to many cultures and religions. In Judaism, we have pomegranates decorations on our Torahs, apples and honey for the new year, citrons and palm branches to wave on Sukkot, and many other customs, texts, and motifs involving trees and their fruits.  Trees have great importance in Jewish tradition as symbols of wisdom and Torah. In mystical thought the Tree is a symbol of the flow of divine energy into the universe.

 

Join me in this Gateway of Trees to explore the symbol of the Tree in Jewish tradition and in your life.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Wind in the Trees and Ambiance at Tejon Ranch, California

Listen to the wind and the birds and insects in the trees, or if you are indoors enjoy this recording. Featured Image: TejonWest by RangerX via Flickr See the famous fruit trees of Israel, or return to the Gateway of Trees.

Gallery: Famous Fruit Trees of Israel

The five famous fruit trees of the Holy Land are noted along with two grains as the "Seven Species" (Shivat Haminim, (Deuteronomy 8:8). Embrace their bounty in artwork, Sukkah and home decorations, and foods for Jewish celebrations, especially Tu Bishvat (New Year of...

Torah Study: The Tree in the Garden

At the heart of the Bible's first story, humanity in the Garden of Eden, two trees play a central role, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life And out of the ground the Eternal God (YHWH Elohim) made grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for...

The Tree of Life: Divine Wisdom

Are we really exiled from the Tree of Life? While the book of Genesis depicts the exile from the Garden of Eden and it's Tree of Life, elsewhere Bible declares that the Tree of Life is available to us in another form.   She is a tree of life to those that hold on...

Video: Ne’ot Kedumim, Israel’s Biblical Landscape

  Learn traditional blessings for eating fruit, or return to the Gateway of Trees.

From our Sages: The Story of Honi

Honi (or Choni) ha-Ma'agel (the Circle Maker) was a second century tzadik (righteous person) who was kind of a cross between Johnny Appleseed (or Carob-Seed) and Rip Van Winkle. Honi was known for his ability to pray successfully for rain in times of drought, while...

Blessings for Fruits and Trees

Every time we eat a piece of fruit from a tree, we have an opportunity to pause and appreciate the divine force that flows through all creation and brings this delicious bounty to our lips. We can do this with a spiritual practice of saying a berachah, a blessing,...

Meditation for Mindful Eating of Fruit:

 You can make eating a piece of fruit into a meditative experience. Say the blessing and consider what a gift has come to you from God's bounty. Our Sages saw the blessing as a kind of thank-you or payment, as it were, for partaking of God's creation. I am filled with...

Tu Bishvat: The New Year of the Tree

My youngest daughter's friends were impressed that Judaism celebrates a New Year of Trees, marked by planting and honoring trees. Here’s a round-up of how to observe this special day. Tu Bishvat means the 15th Day–at the full moon–of the Hebrew month of Shevat,...

The Tree of Life in Kabbalah

In Jewish mystical thought, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life were intended to flourish together in the Garden, but human beings forsook the vital Tree of Life to pursue knowledge alone, introducing duality to the world and preventing the ideal Edenic state...

Guided Meditation on Tree of Life in Our Bodies

This is a guided meditation on the Sephirotic energy in our bodies, based on the teachings of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. According to Kabbalistic tradition, the world was created with 10 Sephirot. In  Jewish mysticism, the Tree of Life refers to much more than a...

Hugging the Tree of Life

By the end of my first retreat at Elat Chayyim, I had internalized the paradigm of living fully in the mystic’s “Four Worlds” of body, emotions, mind, and spirit and I wanted to commune physically with a  tree. I approached a great Pine (I think a White Pine) that...

Tikkun Olam: Trees and the Environment

"Planting a tree" for a happy occasion has become almost a Jewish stereotype, but it really is a huge mitzvah. The classic way to plant a tree in Israel is through the Jewish National Fund.  In over a century, they have planted 250 million trees and helped to...

Rainforests: Lungs of Our Planet

  The scenes in this video help me to see the rainforests as the lungs of our planet. The Rainforest Alliance is a network of people working together to preserve forests and the communities that depend on them, in 78 countries around the world. Learn how to get...

Sharing Circle: Trees

Trees in Your Life Join the virtual circle and share your  reflections. Did (or do) have have a tree that played a big role in your life? What kind of tree, where was/is it, and what is your relationship to it? How do you protect, enjoy, and celebrate trees? Please...

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Wind

Wind

Wind (Ruach)

רוּחַ

Wind (in Hebrew ru-ach רוּחַ, “ch” as in Bach) is invisible, borne on the air, and beyond human control. It can be gentle and restorative or powerful enough to cause great destruction. And the added mystery is that within each one of us is a tiny wind—our breath—keeping us alive from moment to moment. Ruach is the power of animation, whether stirring the branches of a tree, scattering seeds, lifting flocks of birds, or enlivening a human being. In the Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, the word Ruach can have all these meanings: wind, breath and spirit. A related word, Rei-ach, means scent, which holds the key to many precious soul memories.

Join me on this path in this Gateway of Wind and Spirit to explore the rustlings of Spirit in Jewish tradition and in your life.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Ambiance: Windy Jungle in Kauai

Featured Image: Kauai coast, by Elisheva Danan Learn about the science of wind, or return to the Gateway of Wind.  

Why Does the Wind Blow?

    Learn some Torah about the power of wind, or return to the Gateway of Wind

The Power of Wind

Winds can be fearsome and awe-inspiring. Even today, with all our advances in science and technology, we are still at the mercy of powerful winds like hurricanes and tornadoes. The prophet Jeremiah declares the weather as signs of God’s power over nature: “When His...

Splitting the Sea with Wind

Picture the splitting of the Reed (or Red) Sea. Based on the movie versions, we tend to visualize Moses raising his staff, so that the waters part instantly—supernatural special effects! But the Torah (Exodus 14:21), offers a more naturalistic depiction of the...

A Daily Spirit of Gratitue

Modah Ani 12, chant by Rabbi Shefa Gold Ruach also means "Spirit." Rabbi Shefa Gold has composed 36* chants for "Modah Ani," I am thankful, the short prayer of gratitude recited upon awakening each morning. These chants are free to download and also available in a...

Elijah: God is not in the wind

Jewish folklore portrays Elijah the Prophet (Eliyahu HaNavi) as a kindly old man who visits our Passover Seder to drink his cup of wine. In the Tanakh/Hebrew Bible, Elijah was known as a zealous champion of monotheism and opponent of idolatry. Since Elijah ascended to...

Elijah’s Spirit Shared

Another important story of Elijah the prophet uses the word Ruach in the sense of spirit. When Elijah ascends to the heavens in a fiery chariot, his student and disciple Elisha receives a double portion of his spirit.   Elijah took his mantle, and rolling it up,...

A Double Measure of Spirit

My mother Betty Hilton, of blessed memory, was a truly righteous woman who overcame challenges including early widowhood to found several spiritual groups for women. She became a leader in our local Jewish community, and ultimately served as a professional hospital...

The Holy Spirit: Ruach Ha-Kodesh

The term "Holy Spirit" is first found in the Bible and extensively developed in rabbinic understanding. The early Rabbis referred to Ruach (also spelled Ruah) Ha-Kodesh, the Holy Spirit, in two distinct ways. First, the Holy Spirit is the force of divine...

A Shabbat Experience: Relax in a Hammock

A hammock is the perfect place to hear the wind. In the hammock between two oak trees at our ranch in the Texas Hill Country, I imagined the wind in the branches as the echo of the long-gone ocean that had flowed there millions of years ago. Near Mt. Lassen,...

Song: “I Am Alive”

This chanting song by the late Rabbi David Zeller is from the teaching of Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl. He marvels at the breath of God enlivening us. And who is this aliveness I am? Is it not the Holy Blessed One?   Learn the power of meditative breathing,...

Meditative Breathing

Our breath, our inner wind, keeps us alive. I learned from Reb Zalman and from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, that the divine name YHWH represents the breath of life. The sounds of our breath are the very sounds of that sacred unpronounceable name. God is as close as our...

Breathing Meditation

This breathing Meditation is a simple way to connect to your soul and to feel the divine gift of every breath, Rabbi Julie Danan   Featured image: Great Egret, Fairfield Connecticut, Julie H. Danan Enjoy and bless a scent, or return to the Gateway of Wind

Blessings of Scent

This website can bring you a video or recording of wind's image and sound, but it cannot convey the feel of the wind in your hair, scent of a pine forest in the Cascade mountains, or the heady perfume of orange blossoms and jasmine in an Israeli spring. For that you...

Scents Feed the Soul

  Neuroscientists and psychologists tell us that the sense of smell is closely connected to memory and emotion. Scents can tie us to our traditions (the smell of challah baking or latkes frying), and to Nature and places of the soul. I remember that when we moved...

The Shofar: Holy Wind, Holy Sound

    Breath and wind are instrumental in playing the sacred instrument, the Shofar, or ram's horn (or sometimes an antelope horn) that is blown on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur as a call to repentance, a spiritual wake-up. The word shofar is from...

Tikkun Olam: The Shofar Calls to Justice

The blowing of the shofar is also a call to take action for justice in the world. Jewish advocates for social justice consider the call of the shofar a demand for righteous action in the world. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center has often used the shofar as a...

Tikkun Olam: Clean the Air

I sometimes think of streams as the arteries of our planet, forests as the lungs, and wind as the breath.Yet millions of children and adults breathe polluted air.  To live healthfully on the earth, we need to clean our air, the breath of life, both by better everyday...

Poem: Who has Seen the Wind?

by Christina Rossetti Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through. Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their heads, The wind is passing by. Share your thoughts on the...

Sharing Circle: Wind and Spirit

Sharing the Spirit Join the virtual Sharing Circle and comment here to share your experiences with wind, spirit, scent, or any of the other themes in this Gateway. A few questions to get you started: Is there a scent that has an important association or memory with it...

Mountains

Mountains

Mountains (Harim)

הרים

Growing up in Texas, we spent many of our summer vacations in the alpine loftiness of the Rocky Mountains. It was an experience of exaltation, seeing farther and feeling more expansive by going higher and higher.

Back home, climbing the bluff near our ranch afforded 360 degree views of the Texas Hill Country. Here there was a little climb, but the magnificence came not so much from being above it all, but from the sensation of being in the center, able to spin around and see all the surrounding countryside in a circle.

For our ancestors, ascending a mountain was a chance to get the perspective of being airborne. Mountains are regarded as sacred places in many religions and cultures. For Jews, formative experiences of our people took place atop hills or beside mountains. Going up a mountain, having that higher perspective, entered our spiritual lexicon. Aliyah is the language of ascent that we use to describe a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, moving to Israel, or coming up to bless the Torah in the synagogue.

Half of the human population depends on vital resources, especially water, from highly diverse and fragile mountains ecosystems. (Learn more about Mountain Ecosystems on The Encyclopedia of Earth.)

Psychologists use the metaphor of a Peak Experience to describe life’s high points and experiences of transcendence. Spiritual practice is not just about attaining the heights, but about bringing down and containing the energy from life’s summits.

Wander and climb through this Gateway of Mountains to explore the symbolism of mountains and peaks in Jewish tradition and in your own life.

Cascades Mountain Range, Charles Danan

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Soundtrack: Mountain Ambiance in the Himilayas

  Featured Image: By (WT-en) Wikid at English Wikivoyage (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Learn what the Bible says about peak experiences, or return to the Gateway of Mountains.

Torah Study: Peak Experiences in the Bible

The Bible has many references to important experiences associated with mountains: Moriah, Sinai, Nebo, Carmel, Tabor, and so on (most of them on the scale of hills). Here are four biblical themes associated with mountains and ascent: Test "God tested Abraham, and said...

Peak Experiences in Our Lives (Plus a Midrash)

"Peak Experience" is a term coined by Psychologist Abraham Maslow to describe the times of emotional transcendence in human life. "Maslow envisioned moments of extraordinary experience, known as Peak experiences, which are profound moments of love, understanding,...

Moroccan Chant of Psalm 24

  Traditional Moroccan Jewish chant, sung by my husband Avraham Danan Who shall ascend into the mountain of the LORD? And who shall stand in God's holy place? One clean of hands and pure of heart . . . Psalm 24    Featured Image: By Tommy from Arad (Chebicka...

Going Up and Coming Down the Mountain

While most people have peak experiences at one time or another, there are two challenges: their rarity and their evanescence. Peak experiences may be rare and fleeting "highs" lost in the rush of events and the passage of time. But if we can integrate them as part of...

Moses’ Peak Experience, Beholding the Divine Presence

In Exodus 33-34, Moses asks to behold God's presence, literally, "to see God's face." God responds that Moses can see God's "back" only, because no one can behold God face-to-face and live. Moses then ascends Mount Sinai alone, stands in a cleft of a rock and receives...

A Peak Experience on a Peak in Jerusalem

During one of my first visits to Jerusalem, on Tu Bishvat, the early spring New Year of Trees, my then fiance Avraham and I climbed the stairs to a rooftop on a building in Mount Zion, in the Old City. The feeling evoked my childhood ascents to "the bluff," a small...

Pilgrimage to Forgiveness

by Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, Ph.D. My husband and I are on a pilgrimage to Mt. Baker.  Yes, a pilgrimage. There’s nothing else to call it. From our home 100 miles away, we watch the mountain every day. A glaciated volcano, white giant, heavenly being, silent witness,...

Tzedakah for Mountain People (and others)

People living in the Himalayan mountain range have the highest rates of blindness in the world. This may be the result of genetic predisposition, high altitude, sunlight, diet, or a combination of all these factors. The amazing Himalayan Cataract Project brings high...

Tzedakah for Spiritual Ascent

There is a Jewish mystical concept that by the merit of giving tzedakah (or learning Torah or doing a good deed) in memory of a loved one, we can help their soul ascend on its journey (aliyat ha-neshamah) in the next world. A humanistic understanding of this would be...

Musar: Ethical Development as an Ascent

Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair says, "Heedfulness leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to purity, purity leads to separation, separation leads to holiness, holiness leads to modesty, modesty leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to piety, piety leads to the Holy Spirit,...

Sharing Circle: Mountains

Peak Experiences Have you had an experience of trial, vision, spirituality or exaltation in a mountain environment? Have you had a "peak" experiences (at any altitude)? What was it like? Do you have any practice or do anything to nurture peak experiences? If you have...

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” ― Anatoli Boukreev, Mountaineer   In memory of Ben Horne  Featured Image: Denali, Alaska. "The mountains are calling and I must go."--John...

Gardens

Gardens

Gardens

גנים

At the heart of a retreat center there is often a garden.

When I think of Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord New York (now incorporated into the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut), I picture the large organic garden. Earthy scents, warm soil, the buzzing bees lulled me into a state of peace each time I stepped inside its gate. The garden produced much of the food for the retreat center’s scrumptious vegetarian meals, and it also provided a spot for meditation, whether at work pulling weeds or sitting in stillness.

For some people, a garden is a place to grow food or flowers and connect with the soil. It’s a place to be most human because Adam, the first human being, was shaped from Adamah, earth. A garden may be a large and lavish backyard mini-farm like that of many of my friends in Northern California, a plot in a bustling community garden, a container garden on a city balcony, or a even a houseplant jungle.

Start On Your Journey

A public garden can be a place to relax and smell the roses, or perhaps be transported to another biome by strolling through a botanical garden.

In Jewish tradition, a garden is symbolic both of idyllic beginnings and a harmonious future. The earth itself is seen as God’s garden, the divine gift of humanity that we are bidden to “serve and to guard.”

Join me in this Gateway of Gardens to explore the symbol of the garden in Jewish tradition and in your life.

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Soundtrack: Summer Meadow

Continue to the next path: read some reflections by gardeners or return to the Gateway of Gardens Featured image: meadow and stream at Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pleasantville, New York, JHD

Gardeners Reflect

Gardener friends share their thoughts on the spiritual meaning of gardening... Oneness in the Garden Carla Resnick The garden is a versatile place. It can be highly tended, or let to run amok. In either instance, or in between, it is a place of infinite beauty. In...

Gallery: Growing Up in the Garden

We call my friend's enormous Northern California garden, "The Kibbutz." What a paradise for children! Getting hands dirty in the garden is healthy fun for young and old Click on the picture to activate the gallery. Return to the Gateway of Gardens.  

Eden: The Once and Future Garden

Eden represents the idealized human past...and future. The paradigm of all gardens is Eden. The opening chapters of the Torah, Genesis, present the concept of earth as a primal paradise, the Garden of Eden, in Hebrew,Gan Eden, גן עדן. There the first person, Adam, is...

Torah Study: Two Versions of the Creation Story

The Torah contains two competing or complementary accounts of how God created human beings:   Version I: Genesis 1:24-31 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their...

A Short Midrash: Don’t Mess Up the Earth

In this selection from the Midrash, God shows Adam all around the Garden of Eden and then gives him a warning not to mess it up: "To me, the sight of our Earth from outer space is not only  scientific triumph but today's most potent religious icon as well." --Rabbi...

My Garden of Eden–And Yours

My own Gan Eden was not in the East by the Tigris and Euphrates, but 90 miles west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country near a small town with the improbable name of Utopia, on the cool, green Sabinal River. My parents bought it when I was 12 years old as a place...

Sacred Song of 42

Here is a beautiful chanting song of an ancient mystical prayer whose words include the 42-letter Divine Name. to a melody composed by Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks and performed by the musicians of Chochmat HaLev, a Jewish spiritual center in Berkeley, California. You...

Feet on the Earth: Take Your Shoes Off

When Moses stood at the burning bush,  (Exodus 3:5), YHWH told him to remove his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground. If weather, terrain, and social setting permit, going barefoot can be a great way to make a fast connection with the earth (even indoors but...

Hands on the Earth: Find Your Own Garden Connection

Experience a taste of Eden by growing some of your own vegetables, fruits, or flowers. There are may ways to find your own connection to the vibrant energy of growing plants, wherever you may live. Beginner gardeners can get guidance on sites like this. Even if you...

The King is In the Field: A Meadow Gallery

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi taught a parable of a king on the way to the palace, who can be approached by everyone in the countryside with ease. His expression, "the King is in the field," characterized the late summer month of Elul prior to the New...

Bitter and Sweet of the Garden at Passover

Passover, the Festival of Spring and Freedom, is a holiday associated with food. Matzah, of course, the flat unleavened bread (I recommend whole wheat), to remind us of the unleavened bread that our ancestors baked in their haste to leave slavery in ancient Egypt,...

Farming Tzedakah: The Gleanings and Corners of Your Field

The Torah (Leviticus 19:9-10) teaches that farmers must  leave the gleanings of their harvest and the corners of the fields for the needy to come and collect This is an early form of tzedakah (justice, charity) that is elaborated on in the Mishnah, the foundational...

Shemitah: The Sabbatical Year

Shemitah, the Sabbatical year (Levicitus 25), is a revolutionary Torah commandment: every seven years the land will lie fallow and enjoy a Sabbatical year of rest and release. The land needs to rest just as human beings need a weekly Sabbath. Deuteronomy 15 adds a...

Community Gardens: Edible Towns and Gangsta Gardeners

Gardening today is becoming  one of the most innovative areas of Tikkun Olam, healing and repairing the world. Community Gardens and sharing of garden harvests help the environment and feed the hungry while fostering community. Community Gardens are springing up...

Gallery: A Synagogue Farm in the Suburbs

Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor, New York, founded the CSI Community Organic Farm on 1.5 acres at the back of the synagogue’s property. The farm offers communal gardening, a farmer's market, and donations to the needy. Chickens are raised and their...

Sharing Circle: Your Garden of Eden

Join the sharing circle to share your reflections about any of the themes in this Gateway. Did you have a special place in nature that was formative to your soul, your own "Garden of Eden"? What was it like? Do you have such a place now? Is gardening a spiritual...

CW Song about Dirt!

As a Texan, I often find wisdom in Country Western Songs, and here is one about the Adamah--Dirt! Share some of your thoughts about your own Garden of Eden or return to the Gateway of Gardens.

Light

Light

Light (Ohr)

אור

Need a moment of retreat, a micro-Shabbat? Stop and look at some natural light (or at night, go out and look at the night sky).  I have always been transfixed by light. Gazing at the dappled sunlight and shadow in a creek near my house, watching the sunlight dance and sparkle on a pool of water, or contemplating the changing hues of a sunset or sunrise, all of these rays of light seem to connect immediately to my soul.  We experience light both physically and spiritually. On a physical level, sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, growth, and for life on earth to exist. Light sets our body clocks and regulates our circadian rhythms. On a symbolic level, light has a universal meaning of goodness, awakening, and hope, associated with warmth and healing.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch, describes light as a pervasive symbol in Jewish theology and tradition, where it is “the primary link between divine and human worlds.” Since God’s first act of creation is to create light, light is associated with creative power. In mystical thought, divinity is pictured as a source of endless light: Ohr Ein Sof. Light is a symbol of Torah, “For a commandment is a lamp, and Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23). Light also has a moral association; the people of Israel are called upon to be an ethical example, “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 24:6).

 

Meander down the path in this Gateway of Light to explore the symbol of light in Jewish tradition and in your life.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

Or Zarua: Let the Light In

Light is sown for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart.  --Psalm 97:11 Original song by Shir Yaakov “Light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when it enables us to see other things. In that way it reminds us of God."...

The Creation of Light in the Torah

The book of Genesis shows the creation of light in two phases, first Light itself, then luminaries. . . Genesis 1:1-5 God creates Light: As God began creating the heavens and the earth—and the earth was unformed and void, with darkness on the face of the deep, and a...

Where to find the hidden light

The Hidden Light: It seems an oxymoron. Light shines and reveals what is hidden. How can a light be hidden, and where might we find it again? According to the Torah, light was created on Day One of Creation, but the sun and other heavenly luminaries were not created...

The Miracle of Light: Hidden in Plain Sight

I heard the following Midrash repeatedly from my teacher, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak asked Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman, saying: "Since I hear that you are a master of Aggadah [sacred lore], tell me how light was created." Rabbi Samuel bar...

Light Waves, Visible and Invisible

Learn about Light in Jewish Mysticism, or return to the Gateway of Light.

Light in Jewish Mysticism

There are many Jewish mystical concepts and doctrines that center on the metaphor of light. Classic Kabbalistic works often have names that focus on light, such as Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Brightness) or the Zohar (the Brilliance). Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite,...

Sacred Ritual: Lighting Shabbat Candles

Shabbat, the Sabbath, and Jewish holidays all begin with the kindling of lights in the home. By lighting candles, we emulate God, whose first act of creation was making light, and we reveal the hidden light by welcoming in Shabbat, a day-long taste of the Garden of...

Candle-Lighting and Personal Prayer

After completing the candle blessing is a wonderful time to gaze into the warm and peaceful lights of Shabbat, and to offer a personal prayer for loved ones or wherever your concerns are directed. This was the realm of traditional women’s prayers...

Noah’s Skylight: When Things are Dark, Allow In a Little Light

I love watching the interplay of light filtered through green leaves onto water, the sparkling diamonds of light on the gurgling stream. Light can only be appreciated as it balances and plays with darkness, with shadow.Our lives, too, have periods of light and dark....

The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year

Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our...

The Menorah: Organic Symbol of Light

The menorah, the divine lamp, is a primary symbol for the Jewish people, far more ancient than the Magen David, the Star (Shield) of David. The seven branched menorah (lampstand) of the ancient Holy Temple is widely recognized as an organic, botanical image, a variety...

Tikkun Olam: The Green Menorah

Imagine a living, green menorah as a symbol of our covenant to be guardians of God's earth. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center conceived of the Green Menorah covenant, pointing out that both the original design of the menorah and the prophet Zachariah's vision...

Light in Jerusalem

Something about the atmosphere in Jerusalem makes me feel like my feet aren’t quite touching the ground, even when my sandals are covered with dust. If people are not looking I find it hard to resist the desire to take off with a few dancing steps. Maybe it’s the...

Ode Yeshama: A Song of Jerusalem

A song from Jeremiah 33:10-11, music by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, performed by Rabbi David Zaslow and Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Tom Freeman on drums. This joyful song is often performed at weddings, or sung on Shabbat, a day that's like a wedding celebration of life. "There...

Cosmic Light

    Read more from NASA.gov on the science of understanding light at the far reaches of the universe. And about Light in Nature from the website of the International Year of Light (2015).     Time to light a candle rather than curse the...

Light a Candle; Don’t Curse the Darkness

It is all too easy to see so many situations in the world—on the local or global scale—that seem dark and bleak. Consider the old proverb, “Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Find one step that you can take for light,for healing, and do it...

Sharing Circle: Light

Hidden & Revealed Revealed Light: Has the light of a certain landscape revealed something in your soul? What experiences of light do you treasure? Hidden Light: Where have you found a "hidden" light? In learning, spiritual practice, deeds? Or perhaps guiding your...

Rainbows

Rainbows

Rainbows (Keshet)

קשת

Seeing a rainbow creates a sense of enchantment and rainbow colors in the heavens have long stirred the human imagination. A rainbow is not a physical object, but an “optical and meteorological phenomena” that shows us the spectrum of visible light, often dramatically set in the clouds or against a waterfall. The most beautiful natural settings are often the most fertile grounds for rainbows, but their magic can surprise us anywhere, causing us to pause and connect with our surroundings.

Start On Your Journey

The first option below is the suggested next step on your journey.  Feel free to browse the following paths and explore in your own time at your own pace.

The First Rainbow in the Torah

At the end of the story of the Great Flood (which begins in Genesis 6:9), God declares that the rainbow is a sign of the covenant between God and the entire earth, that God will never again destroy the earth with a cataclysmic flood. God said, "This is the sign of the...

Rainbows in Jewish Mysticism

The rainbow is also a mystical symbol. The prophet Ezekiel, in exile in Babylonia (6th Century BCE), had an ecstatic vision of God and compared the brightness of this vision to the appearance of a rainbow. Ezekiel's vision lead to the association of the rainbow with...

A Blessing for Rainbows

The Sages of the Talmud composed many berachot (blessings) to be recited for nature's wonders and pleasures, including one for seeing a rainbow (a full arc in the sky): Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, zokher ha-brit, ve-ne-eman be-vrito ve-kayem at...

Ot: A Sign

by Nessa Rapoport A Friday afternoon in midsummer, the huge sky smudged by mist yet oddly bright. I was on holiday, alone in a cafe overlooking the harbor. My excellent husband had taken the children to swim, lending me that rare gift in a working mother’s life, a...

A Rainbow of Hope

I was off from my own congregation the week after the Holidays and prayed at a lovely Reform temple in the Berkshires. Despite enjoying my break, I felt burdened by a loss of hope around the violent situation in Israel. As I prayed the Amidah, the standing prayer, my...

Rainbow Tallit

Wrapping oneself in a tallit (prayer shawl) for prayer and meditation is a beautiful way to create a sacred space, to feel the embrace of the divine. Not too long ago, all tallitot (Jewish prayer shawls) were white with black, or maybe blue stripes. Rabbi Zalman...

Sunrise Rainbow in Kailua

I awoke in Kailua, the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, to a chorus of tropical birds singing loudly and melodiously, and distant waves in the background. The scent of plumeria and the local varieties of jasmine and gardenia continually perfumed the air. I made my way to the...

Tikkun Olam: A Rainbow of a Community

The rainbow, with it's varied and beautiful refracted hues has become the symbol of diversity, including in our Jewish communities: diversity of gender identity and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and physical or intellectual ability, among other factors. The...

Tikkun Olam: Rainbow Covenant

The Rainbow Covenant & the Planet Although we often first learn the story of Noah as children, as if it is just a colorful tale of a floating zoo, it is actually a terrifying story of destruction, chaos, and survival. After Noah, his family, and the animals...

Double Magic

As if rainbows weren't beautiful enough by themselves, an amazing moment of wonder...   See an amazing waterfall rainbow at Yosemite, or return to the Gateway of Rainbows.

Amazing Rainbow at Yosemite

A hike paid off for Rabbi Naomi Levy, with this awesome view of a rainbow amid a waterfall at Yosemite National Park Whilte the rainbow blessing is traditionally for rainbows in the sky, sights like this may evoke a berachah (blessing) for seeing the wonders of...

Sharing Circle: Rainbows

What does the Rainbow symbol mean in your life? Is there a time that a rainbow lifted your spirits to a moment of enchantment or transcendence? Here's my latest: The day our first granddaughter came home from the hospital, a rainbow appeared in the sky over her...