Check here first if you want to know what’s new on Wellsprings of Wisdom!
Subscribe to stay connected with occasional updates from your guide.
As a congregational rabbi, this is my busiest time of year, so new posts may be a bit slow in the coming weeks. However, you can find several holiday related posts on Wellsprings of Wisdom that I hope will add to the meaning of the season for you.
Learn about the meaning of the Shofar and listen to the call of a shofar blown outdoors. Take it deeper by learning how the shofar is used as a symbol of justice, social activism and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).
Other posts highlight outdoor, nature-based rituals of the season, such as the Rosh Hashanah custom of Tashlich, “casting off sins” into a flowing stream. Learn about the custom here. I also share about a personal tashlich ritual that I created to deal with a difficult life transition, and share photos of the beautiful Northern California creek where I performed it. While on the subject of Tashlich, enjoy a poem about a creek, “Today is Forever,” translated from Yiddish of Malka Heifetz Tussman by Marcia Falk, and shared from her wonderful book for the season, The Days Between (linked in the post).
After the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) comes Sukkot, the harvest festival, which focuses on life out of doors by dwelling in a hut called a sukkah. Here is a post about the sukkah and the holiday and its symbolism. The post links to holiday retreats in the US East and West coasts.
Wishing everyone blessings of a Shanah Tovah! Be written and sealed in the Scroll of Life for a good and sweet New Year.
In the month of Elul, leading up the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it is traditional to blow the shofar daily (except Shabbat). Here Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein sounds the ram’s horn in the awesome setting of the Grand Canyon. The shofar calls us to awaken, arise, return to our true nature and mission in life. This is also a time to prepare for the new year by giving tzedakah (charity, righteous giving), mending relationships, remembering the departed, and doing an “accounting of the soul” (cheshbon hanefesh), meaning self-reflection in preparation for the New Year. Rosh Hashanah starts this year on Wednesday evening, September 20.
It is traditional to read Psalm 27 daily to build our faith and confidence. Here is a wonderful translation by my teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of blessed memory. And here is a recording of him reading it.
Ocean Breathing is a yogic breathing technique that I learned from Marcia (Meesha) Albert at the old Elat Chayyim Retreat Center in the Catskills. While it takes a little practice, it is a wonderful calming technique, kind of like your own portable beach. Find audio and written instructions in this New Post in the Gateway of the Sea. As a bonus, enjoy a virtual trip to the beach in Australia.
Nature can be beautiful, but can also bring powerful destruction. My thoughts are with those in my home state of Texas living through the devastating floods of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. Jewish tradition urges us to pray, and also to anchor our prayers by giving tzedakah (charity, righteous giving). In that spirit, here are some place that you can donate to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey:
Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund (Greater Houston Community Foundation)
Many people find a total solar eclipse to be an incredibly spiritual experience in nature that opens them to the vastness of the cosmos. More eclipse resources, from practical, spiritual, and particularly Jewish perspectives have been coming my way in recent days, so here are some more wonderful materials for share. (Thank you to Rabbi Riqi Kosovske) for sharing several of these.)
For spiritual reflections from a Jewish perspective, I loved Dr. Tamar Frankiel’s beautiful post on Rosh Hodesh Elul (the new Hebrew month prior to Rosh Hashanah), and its relationship to the eclipse. Another inspiring Jewish resource is Sun and Moon, Together, a free downloadable e-book by Prof. Nehemia Polen and daughter Adina Polen. This “mini literary magazine” includes deep teachings for adults on the moon in Rabbinic tradition, and an illustrated story to share with children.
To continue the theme from the last “What’s New” post in more depth, you can read Rabbi Joshua Heller’s teshuvah (response) to the question of whether one should offer a traditional Hebrew blessing on seeing the eclipse–and which one to say.
Finally, here are some great general guidelines for viewing the eclipse and meaningfully and safely. For those of us who are not in the path of “totality,” there are ways to watch the celestial event remotely.
The previous “What’s New” post has blessings that can be said for the eclipse.
Many people will be traveling to view the full solar eclipse the will be seen across the United States on August 21, 2017. Here is a webpage with links to all kinds of information about this celestial event. Although traditionally, no Hebrew blessing was said upon seeing an eclipse, as in earlier generations people viewed it as a bad omen, today many people view it with wonder and find it appropriate to say a prayer from tradition. Rabbi David Zaslow recommends the blessings below.
Perhaps a blessing practice can help us to see the Eclipse in a more positive, modern light, as a fully predictable natural event that evokes awe and wonder at creation. Still, the traditional sense of the Eclipse calling us to teshuvah, to repairing and mending our ways, is always worthwhile.
Image: Photo that I took during a solar eclipse in California, 2012, using a binocular projector. (In case you needed a reminder, never look at the sun during an eclipse as you can damage your eyes. The linked article will provide some ideas for safe ways to view it.)
For more eclipse resources, read the next “What’s New“ Post.
There is a famous legend about two seas: the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) in the North of Israel, and the Dead Sea in its south. One gives; one is said to only receive. Read this new post in the Gateway of the Sea to learn the story and my personal take on the deeper meaning of giving and receiving for our ethical and spiritual lives.
The Gateway of the Sea continues to grow! I just added another Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”) post, on what we can do to help save our seas and oceans…which really means to save humanity’s future on our planet! In this post, which includes a short video, you will get ideas and guidance on how to make better personal choices for our ocean, connect with worthy organizations to support, and meet an inspirational woman and an amazing child who will inspire you to learn about and care for our ocean world.
Observing the solemn season around Tisha B’Av, we think of the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish exile from our ancient homeland. Today many Jews find new meaning in Tisha B’Av by taking this fast and this season as a time to ponder contemporary issues like the plight of today’s war refugees as well as the destruction of natural habitats on Planet Earth. At my synagogue observance, we added some poetry from The Shalom Center as a dirge for the destruction of natural habitats, such as many of the world’s precious coral reefs.
As we conclude this season of remembrance, which began three weeks ago on the very day said to be the day on which Moses broke the first set of Tablets of the Covenant, I offer this reflection on Torah and Coral in the Gateway of the Sea, based on a teaching of my late Talmud teacher, Rabbi Judith Abrams. It includes a wonderful video about Coral Reefs and a link to an organization where you can get involved.