Song of Songs in Nature; Put Love at the Center

Spring at New York Botanical Gardens, Julie Danan

The Jewish Fall holidays are over, and I’m celebrating Spring! I just posted a slide show of some of my favorite original Spring photos that you can watch in the Gateway of Seasons. I made it to share in an online program to launch “Love at the Center,” a new initiative by Rabbi Shefa Gold, who is a wonderful teacher and pioneer of the contemporary spiritual practice of Chant, You can learn more about bringing love into the center of your spiritual practice, and subscribe here to receive a weekly email with a chant from the Biblical Song of Songs, the love poetry of the Bible. In the Song of Songs, springtime in the Holy Land is the setting for a love story that can apply to our search for love: human love, love of the soul, love of the Divine. In my husband’s Sephardic tradition, the entire book is chanted weekly before the Sabbath Eve prayers.

Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, means so much to me on many levels. For centuries people have read this sacred book in different ways: as sensuous love poetry, religious allegory, or mystical secrets. The great Rabbi Akiba taught centuries ago that this seemingly secular book is really the Holy of Holies.  My own deepest spiritual experiences have taught me that while most of us look for love as individuals, and all religions and cultures search for the Divine Thou – – we are often searching outside ourselves for something deep inside us, as close as our breath, pulse, and heart.

The Divine Beloved, the ultimate lover whose face we all seek, is as close as our heart, in our own face and in the face of everyone and every creature we meet. My teacher Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi inspired my explorations of this Song. He composed beautiful music for some of its verses, and often repeated a Hassidic teaching from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav on Song of Songs 5:2: Kol Dodi Dofek—”the voice of my Beloved is knocking,,” In Hebrew dofek is pulse and God is as close as our pulse.

For centuries theologians exalted the soul over the body. But for me, the greatest love story is the love of body for soul and soul for body. And on the cosmic scale, it is the love of the Transcendent for the Immanent, bringing Heaven and Earth together.

 

The spiritual lessons of Songs of Songs are also found in the living sanctuary of the earth, where Nature herself is the other beloved of the Song. Please enjoy the photo show, and then I hope you can get out and enjoy some nature in any season!

Springtime: Song of Songs in Nature

I made this slide show of my original photos for the launch of “Love at the Center” by Rabbi Shefa Gold. Click here to receive a weekly chant from the Biblical Song of Songs, and put Love at the center of your heart. The program took place after the Jewish New Year 5781 (2020), so fall was arriving as I contemplated spring and the cycles of nature. The photos are from New York state, except for the redbuds and cyclist, from a February visit to Northern California, where spring comes early.

Return to the Gateway of Seasons

Passover Inspiration on Wellsprings of Wisdom

 

Passover Seder Plate, JHD

As Passover approaches, be sure to check out these Wellsprings Pathways (posts) that relate to themes of the season:

Splitting the Sea With Wind looks at the Biblical account of the Exodus and invites us to explore the nature of miracles.

MIriam’s Well explores a famous legend related to the Exodus, of MIriam’s miraculous desert well. After you read it, you can enjoy a Guided Meditation on the theme of Miriam’s well and finding your inner resources, and consider having a Cup of Miriam at your Seder.

I will be one of the leaders for an online creative gathering about Miriam, Saturday night (ET), March 20. Sign up here.  

 

And also related to the Seder, explore this pathway about the Bitter and the Sweet of the Garden for your Passover table. Learn about different customs and interpretations of the Passover bitter and sweet symbols, and how to make them from locally grown foods.

At Passover, we read the Biblical Song of Songs. Learn more about this book of Biblical love poetry, with new chants by Rabbi Shefa Gold.

Enjoy a video of Passover in the Desert, a new-old way to celebrate Passover with an outing with Wilderness Torah, an organization devoted to discovering Jewish spirituality in the outdoors. And journey with Rabbi Barry Leff to explore Israel’s Negev Desert, Finding God in the Wilderness like our ancestors.

Speaking of the outdoors, here are a couple of pathways that focus on the spring itself:Kibbutz Flowers by Daphna Rosenberg

Passover celebrates freedom and the rebirth of spring. Experience a bit of springtime in Israel with this Gallery of the Mediterranean Sea in Israel in Spring by Daphna Rosenberg.

Finally, for a fresh perspective on the organic cycle of the Jewish Year, The Reason for the Season, by Rabbi David Zaslow, shares the story of his trip to Brazil with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and a consideration of when the “Festival of Spring” should be celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere.

Wishing you a joyful and liberating Passover season!

 

Here is my slideshow of nature photos, in the spirit of the Songs of Songs to welcome spring!

 

 

The Myth of Moon, Reinvented Over the Ages

The Myth of Moon, Reinvented Over the Ages

The midrash about the Moon’s diminishment in the previous post did not remain static over the centuries, but was reinvented to reveal new meanings. Explore the changing face of this ancient legend in depth, through this fascinating article by Melila Hellner-Eshed, the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem. It’s a bit longer than most of our pathways, but well worth the read.

‘Of What Use is a Candle in Broad Daylight?’ The Reinvention of a Myth

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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 David hid out from King Saul (I Samuel 24:1-2).

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Bitter and Sweet of the Garden at Passover

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, with no time for the dough to rise. The other tastes of Passover have their own associations, bitter and sweet. Eating these symbolic and seasonal natural foods helps to literally internalize the Seder’s message of freedom.

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Talk to the animals; listen to Nature

Talk to the animals; listen to Nature

Grackle talking at Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Julie Danan, 2018The Bible relates that King Solomon was known as the wisest of men. One verse suggests that he was able to converse about–the more-than-human world:

יְדַבֵּר֮ עַל־הָֽעֵצִים֒ מִן־הָאֶ֙רֶז֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּלְּבָנ֔וֹן וְעַד֙ הָאֵז֔וֹב אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֹצֵ֖א בַּקִּ֑יר וַיְדַבֵּר֙ עַל־הַבְּהֵמָ֣ה וְעַל־הָע֔וֹף וְעַל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ וְעַל־הַדָּגִֽים׃

He [King Solomon] discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he discoursed about the beasts, the birds, the creeping things, and the fishes.

I Kings 5:13

Although most commentators insisted that King Solomon’s communications were about nature, the Aggadah, Jewish legendary tradition, took it more literally: the King Solomon, in his great wisdom, could actually speak to the animals and plants in their own languages.

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