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The mission of Hebrew Seminary is to train rabbis and Jewish educators to serve all Jewish communities, including the deaf community. Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since our founding in 1992.

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Dungeons,Dragons & Divinity

D

JEWISH MYSTICISM: MAKING IT REAL FOR YOUR LIFE   
Dungeons, Dragons & Divinity: Playing Games for Spiritual Growth, Exploration & Healing Rabbi Menachem Cohen

Tuesday, February 23 @ 7-8 pm CT   

When we meditate, pray, do yoga, chant, and encounter sacred text, we enter a space where the rules of daily living are suspended. We have an experience and leave transformed. The same happens when we play games, where this transformative space is called the magic circle. Participants in this session will learn and experience how roleplaying games (like Dungeons & Dragons)—where players create a character with abilities, personality, and powers, and go on adventures such as finding lost artifacts and rescuing kidnapped villagers—can be used to create these magic circles where transformation happens.
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Menachem Cohen is a spiritual director, rabbi, and tabletop game designer, who has played roleplaying games for 40+ years. Much of his work is in the design and use of games for spiritual work and addressing existential questions. He received his rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Seminary in 2003, and is currently Professor of Spirituality and a member of its Board of Directors.  The Forward selected him as one of America’s most inspiring rabbis in 2016.

How One Rabbi Uses Roleplaying Games to Build Community

Spirituality is only one tool in this community leader’s toolkit for bringing people closer together. Character sheets are another. WIRED, 01.21.2021.

AT HIS BAR Mitzvah in his Reconstructionist Jewish synagogue, Rabbi Menachem Cohen hoped to be saved. “I was waiting for God to plunk me on the head and take me on a spiritual trip. A spiritual acid trip, without ever taking acid,” he says.

It never happened. Many of us, especially in our pandemic-induced exiles, hope to be pulled away on a hero’s journey, the term coined and explored by the literary scholar Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The arc fits into many media, from books to popular films. According to Campbell, the myth is that the “hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

We all want to be the person elected to go out and slay the dragon. Unfortunately, we are relegated to our humdrum work lives.

Cohen started playing Dungeons & Dragons at age 10. After his coming of age ceremony, Cohen was hoping to be called away the same way a hero would. “I was playing D&D and was interested in Big Magic. Fireballs, teleporting, flying, psychedelic spiritual journeys.” But his coming of age ceremony was less than magical. “I read from the Torah and made mistakes and no one noticed.” The ritual consisted of parties and monetary gifts.

He strayed somewhat from Judaism after that, seeking but not finding in religion the magic he found instead in role-playing games.

After years away from home, he returned to his home city of Chicago in 1994, pulling up to his mother’s house on the night of Rosh Hashanah, brought back by a job as a sign language interpreter at a temple for the hearing impaired. Soon thereafter, he was introduced to The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz, a Jewish Buddhist. The bestselling book captured the ongoing relationship between Jews and Buddhists. “I saw that the esoterica I was longing for in the world was in my backyard,” Cohen said.

The magic he sought he discovered in the every day, in prayers and rituals. It was not Big Magic, but small magic. The wonders in the ordinary. He got more involved in the Jewish Renewal movement, attending retreats and week-long gatherings. Cohen eventually took a 4-week intensive on Jewish shamanism, and soon started blending games with his religious practice.

In one of our Zoom calls, Cohen told me the Old Testament story of Bathsheba and David: The Ancient Jewish king saw Bathsheba bathing and desired her so much that he ordered her husband to the front lines of battle, where the man died. David then took his widow for himself. Nathan, the prophet, reached out to David and told him a story about a poor man with only one sheep who he loved like a child, and a rich man had a huge flock of sheep. The rich man then took the impoverished man’s sheep to serve a guest he cared little for. When asked for his reaction, David says the rich man should be punished. 

“Nathan, I always imagine trying not to smile, says, ‘You are the man.’” From this allegory, the king realizes his mistake. “The fictional distance of the story lets David not throw up his ego and defenses and see the truth. And Nathan keeps his head.” This biblical anecdote sets up a framework that leaders and therapists could use when playing role-playing games.

In academic game design theory, there is a theory called “alibi.” According to a paper by Sebasian Deterding, a researcher at the University of York in England, “Adults routinely provide alternative, adult-appropriate motives to account for their play, such as child care, professional duties, creative expression, or health. Once legitimized, the norms and rules of play themselves then provide an alibi for behavior that would risk being embarrassing outside play.” These adult-appropriate motives allow us the separation we need to tackle important issues, or explore ourselves in a way that we’d normally be too defensive to do so objectively.

As Cohen puts it, “It’s not me. It’s just my character looking into, say, my dead parents.” Cohen uses stories to help people get over personal blocks. Someone who is going through a crisis can explore fictitious storylines to explore questions from a healthy distance. Then, they might discover things and learn about themselves along the way. “You can build neural pathways to help release your issues with imposter syndrome.”

Since playing D&D as a child, he explored independent games that offer more flexibility in character creation. He discovered a group game called Dreamchaser, created by Pete Petrusha, and Cohen is adapting it for one on one use. “As soon as I saw this game, I saw how I could use it for personal, spiritual issues.”

At the beginning of the game, each player gets a bunch of notecards. To start, they each write a goal, or dream, on a card. For example, Overthrow the Empire, Befriend a Dragon, Live in the Woods. Then the group votes and picks one to be the Dream for the game. Let’s say they pick Befriend a Dragon. It goes in the middle of the Dream Map. Then each person picks a role, let’s say Hunter/Tracker, Linguist, and Astronaut. Now I know there are an astronaut and dragon in the game. After this, they pick Milestones that would make the game interesting for them. No one gets to veto these, but the group discusses what order to put them on the Dream Map around the Dream. The Milestones and Dream make up the map for the adventure. Players then finish their characters, giving them skills, strategies, health points, etc. Then we set out!

Cohen contacted Petrusha and started beta testing the game with small groups and at board game conventions. Cohen and Petrusha fielded questions from social workers and therapists on how to use the game in their work. Eventually, Petrusha hired Cohen as lead designer, to adapt the game for one-on-one use in short one-hour sessions. Patients can make the dream or goal a central issue—something they are personally working on. Players can play as themselves or play as fantastical charters, like a wizard or a fighter pilot.

“They can use play as metaphor,” Cohen says. There are also similar tactics to help clients on the autism spectrum.

His goal, in his rabbinate, is to help people one on one with their spiritual and emotional journeys. He also works on himself using games. “As a rabbi, the question of serving comes up a lot. What does it mean to serve?” He creates and then plays characters that serve their deity without any questions just to see what that feels like. He also plays characters who have no gender and were gender non-conforming. “I’ve explored myself and who I am in this world in numbers of ways through the characters I have created. I learned I could be a man without limit, without society’s constraints.”

There are also ways of exploring community-building and growth. Cohen mentioned two games, Dream Askew and Dream Apart. Askew is about a queer enclave trying to survive amid an apocalypse. According to the game’s site, players have to find a “place to live, sleep, and hopefully heal. More than ever before, each of us is responsible for the survival and fate of our community.”

A part is about a shtetl—a village of Jews—in 19th century Europe. According to a 2018 Tablet magazine review, “A ragtag bunch of shtetl-dwellers (who seemed to all have a lot of tsuris, from a runaway daughter to a failing marriage) discovered the body of a gentile in the Jewish part of town and feared suspicion would fall on the heads of the Jews. And so, we set out to find who the man was, and who had killed him (and to hide the body, of course).”

As we enter yet another month of our own slow-moving, personal, isolated apocalypse, we too can use games to explore our journeys and build communities, hopefully leaving our exile, eventually, more complete people.

Eli Reiter is a consultant, writer, and educator. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Esquire, and the Washington Post, among other outlets. Read more at elireiter.com.

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 Menachem Cohen (he/his, they/them)
Spiritual Director, Rabbi, Tabletop Game Designer www.whatmakesyoucomealive.net

Spring Semester 2021
February 8 – June 3, 2021

Spring is Zooming
and Talmud, Zohar and the Angels
are calling you!

Make plans today to answer —
see class details below.

Spring Semester 2021
February 8 – June 3, 2021
(No Classes March 28 – April 4; May 9, 16-18, 30-31)

Wednesdays                  
12:00 – 1:30
Translating Isaiah, Cantor Rabbi Michael Davis
An in-depth study of Isaiah’s language in Hebrew and in English translation

Thursdays
11:00 – 1:00 
Eclectic Teachings of the Eclectic Talmud
Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub
Curriculum guided by students’ curiosity, past studies and the times we live in. This is an ongoing class, all are welcome.

Sunday
1:30 – 3:00
Zohar: Beresheet — In the Beginning
Reb Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin
This is an ongoing class, all are welcome.

3:15 – 4:45 
Angels, Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, Rabbi Shari Chen,
Rev. Rick and Mary Mercer
I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t want to see an angel. Rabbi Chen and I always bring angels down to be with us when we pray with people. This semester we will teach a Jewish vision of the angels- what they look like- where they come from- how God sends them on different missions. We will share Judaism’s vision of angels and how we can be a channel for angelic healing. This class will be taught by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and Rabbi Shari Chen – teaching a Jewish interpretation of angels following the sources. And we are blessed to have Reverend Richard and Mary Mercer joining them to teach a Christian interpretation of the angels. Aren’t they the same? Come and study with us to find out!

All classes are online.
All classes described above are open to rabbinic
and non-credit students.
With pre-registration, tuition for non-credit,
non-enrolled students is $150.
Hebrew and other classes are available for enrolled students.

Fall Semester 2020

October 5, 2020 – January 21, 2021

All classes are online.

For more information info@hebrewseminary.org.

Tuesdays 12:45 – 2:15pm          Cantor Rabbi Michael Davis
Begins Oct 6
Reading the Tanach as a Whole

I once had a teacher of Talmud. He had devoted his life to the study of Talmud. The breadth of his knowledge was encyclopedic. He told us that once his students brought him an end-of-year gift. Before he opened the wrapping his students told him: Rabbi, we know how much you love Talmud. So, we bought you a book that collects one volume all the biblical verses quotes throughout 2,000 years of Rabbinic literature. Every single verse that appears in Mishnah and Talmud, Midrash and Zohar, Medieval and Modern commentators – it’s all in this book!”

So, our rabbi opened the wrapping and holds it up for the class to see It was a Tanakh!

There is a point to this quip. We are so used to reading Tanakh through the Rabbinic lens that we are only vaguely aware – if that – of most of the rest of Tanakh that are not Torah readings, haftarot, liturgy or otherwise included in the rabbinic canon.

The purpose of this survey course is to read all of Torah, Nevi’im and (the non-wisdom parts of) Ketuvim as a whole.

Goals of the course are: 
To become conversant with the Tanakh as a whole.
To develop an understanding of Rabbinic editing of liturgy and the lectionary.
Students will be expected to read the assigned selections and discuss them in class.

Rabbi Davis will present reflections and commentary on the material.


Wednesdays 12:00 – 1:30pm
Rabbis Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and Shari Chen
Begins Oct 14
Pirke Avot

Rabbis Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and Shari Chen will discuss the early ethics of the Talmud, as presented in the classic Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, written circa 300 CE. Traditional and mystical commentaries will expand your understanding of Pirke Avot and reveal its timelessness and importance in the world today.

Sundays 1:30 – 3:00 pm            Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin
The Zohar on Beresheet — In the Beginning
Begins Oct 14


This Semester we will continue to delve into the beginning of the Holy Zohar, with teachings tied to Creation and the theme of “Beresheet“–“in the Beginning.”  We will learn from the wonderful Pritzker Edition translation by Daniel Matt in English by focusing on the nuances of the original Aramaic text and relating it to our current life.

Please join us as we begin our journey back to our own origins, with purposeful intent to recognize where we came from and where we are holding now.


Sundays 3:15 – 4:45 pm            
Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer & Reverend Rick and Mary Mercer
A Jewish and Christian Perspective of the Book of Psalms
Begins October 18

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and Reverend Rick and Mary Mercer will interpret a number of the 150 Psalms of David to open a conversation that will include a lively and free-flowing debate in support of understanding both the Jewish and Christian interpretations of the texts.  

In Christian commentaries, the Psalms of David forecasts the advent of Jesus. (Jesus is descended from the lineage of David.) Reverend Mercer is associate minister of the Missionary Tabernacle Baptist Church of Evanston, and Mary Harris Mercer is superintendent of the Missionary Tabernacle Baptist Church of Evanston Sunday school.

Join Rabbi Goldhamer and the Mercers for an entree to understanding how the Jewish and Christian traditions are similar and unique. At the same time, you may find that  you expand and fine-tune aspects of your own personal theology.  

Fall Semester 2020
October 5, 2020 – January 21, 2021
(No Classes Oct 11; Nov 26-29; Dec 20 – Jan 2, 2021)

Open to non-credit students ($150)

October 5, 2020 – January 21, 2021

Study the Wisdom of the Sages Online With Hebrew Seminary’s Contemporary Thought Leaders.

Within the vast inner-spaces of the human body and soul lies divinely inspired possibility. Read and reflect with us. Virtually walk hand-in-hand with the great minds of yesterday and discover new creative and compassionate paths for living today and tomorrow.

Register for one of our classes by June 19 and take advantage of our special online summer registration rate of $100; bring a friend for an additional $50.

Let your mind play this summer!

Summer Semester 2020
22 June 2020 – 23 August 2020

                                    Classes Open to the Public

Tuesdays
         
2:00 – 3:00         Rabbi Daniel VaisrubProfessor of Talmud
         The Art of Talmud
         text from BT Avodah Zarah 40b-41a

We will journey our way through a fun Talmudic sugya on Judaism and Art History. Side trips include visits to Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rome, Troyes, and Ramerupt.

Topics include:

Intro: what is the Talmud, and why should I care?
Ancient idolatry, modern idolatry
Judaism emerging in the midst of a Graeco-Roman civilization
Judaism as layered, emerging tradition
Reading and rereading our ancestors’ teachings
Changing circumstances, changing practices
History of Science — Tosafot, Maimonides, Alexander the Great, and flat earthers
Art and philosophy: what does it mean for something to mean something?
Post-modernism and the Talmud: did the Talmud really beat European philosophers by 1200 years?

Sundays
         1:00 – 2:30         Rahmiel Hayyim DrizinProfessor of Kabbalah
         
Studies In Zohar
This class will examine classic Zohar sections that appear in the beginning of the Holy Zohar, using Daniel Matt’s wondrous translation as a side text.  Continuing from last Semester, with context provided for new students, we will move through the Zohar with an eye towards meditative connection and personal transcendence. 

For questions and to enroll, call 847/ 679-4113 or email, info@hebrewseminary.org

EGG Meditation

by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Chaim Vital, borrowing from the early mystics, teaches that the EGG represents the one who attains self-realization – a symbol of truth.  Chaim Vital also learned the following meditation from his teacher Isaac Luria, who taught that this meditation brings you to a conscious at-one-ment – at one with health, clear mind, with the awareness to see the Divine Light within, to experience contact with the large “I” of the Universe, with Hashem and to reunite Hashem with the small I, the Shechina within each one of us.  This meditation, when practiced regularly, results in strong health improvement. Doing this meditation regularly will strongly enhance your awareness of Hashem within you, as well as the Shechina, joining with Hashem.

  1. Sit relaxed, feel flat on the ground. Let your arms drop to your sides.
  2. Breathe in slowly and gently through your nose, and through your mouth. Recognize that you are breathing in the breath of God.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do this three times.
  4. Now breathe deeply through your nose down to the lower abdomen. As you exhale, feel all tension leaving and your body becoming more relaxed with each breath. You will feel yourself become lighter and more euphoric, with each inhalation and exhalation. You will feel a slight electrical charge, flowing through the terminals of your fingers and your toes, and right below the surface of your scalp as you exhale.
  5. All these feelings are the feelings of SPIRIT moving through you. There is no need to let it flow out of you. Feel it well up within you. Continue breathing deeply down to the lower abdomen and exhaling.
  6. Imagine a slow series of waves moving through your head. Focus on the waves, and be aware of the waves as they slowly move downward, into your throat, through your spine, through your chest, through your arms and hands to your lower abdomen, through your legs, to your feet.
  7. Now, inhale and exhale. Imagine these waves going through your entire body from head to toe. Stay conscious of your breathing.
  8. Now, visualize yourself within an oval-shaped egg, filled with clean, clear bubbly light. This subtle light is emanating all around you. You are in the oval-shaped egg with the light emanating all around you, and now this light creates a shell around you, a shell composed entirely of light. You are experiencing a light within a light. You are actually seeing your true self, with light emanating forth.
  9. Now, imagine yourself standing or sitting. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply, through your nostrils, the breath of God, and exhaling out through your mouth. You are now becoming one with the light of the shell around you.
  10. Yet, you can always, at any time, separate yourself from the shell. For example, now step out of the shell. Go back in the shell. Now separate from the shell and move out of the shell. The shell has a living consciousness. You and the shell can be one. But you and the shell can also seem like two. You and God are one. And yet, when we pray to God and look at one another, we seem separate from one another and separate from God. And so, move out of the shell. Feel free, feel joyous. And then move back into the shell. Remember the shell too has a living consciousness, as you do.
  11. When you go back into the shell, you bring the consciousness of the shell into your physical being.  When we see one another as separate from one another, or when we pray to Hashem, we bring the consciousness of Hashem into our physical being.
  12. Whether you are one with God, whether you are in the shell, or whether you feel you are separate from God, praying to God, the small I praying to the Large I, you still let the consciousness of God back into you.  Feel God within you, whether you are in the shell or out of the shell. God’s consciousness is always mixed with your consciousness.

When you remember this, when you live knowing this, your health and your spiritual health are highly enhanced. This mean, when you talk outside and share outside and lead prayer outside or do mitzvoth outside, even though you feel separate from God, from the shell, know that God is always within you.  Practice feeling this and living by this.  

This meditation of the Egg and your rebirth is Isaac Luria’s and Chaim Vital’s way of teaching that we are always being reborn in God.

Elevator Meditation

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Here is a short meditation to rid ourselves of anxiety. We have all been going though an anxious time recently, worrying about COVID-19.  

  1.  Close your eyes.  Breathe in through your nose, and out through your nostrils three times.  
  2. Join me in saying this: “TRUST IN HASHEM WITH ALL YOUR HEART. DON’T DEPEND ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.  ACKNOWLEDGE HIM IN ALL YOUR WAYS. THEN HE WILL DIRECT YOUR PATHS.’
  3. Now put both your hands on your heart and say to yourself silently, as a mantra, again: “TRUST IN HASHEM WITH ALL YOUR HEART. DON’T DEPEND ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.  ACKNOWLEDGE HIM IN ALL YOUR WAYS. THEN HE WILL DIRECT YOUR PATHS.”
  4. What does this mean?  Don’t worry:  Acknowledge Him means Praise Him. Say blessings. If I trust in Hashem, He will direct my paths.
  5. Now, see yourself entering an ELEVATOR at the 15th floor.
  6. Press the button G for ground floor.  
  7. Visualize the doors closing, and the elevator begins to descend.  See the panel of numbers on the wall of the elevator.
  8. As you pass each floor , the floor numbers light up – 14, 13, 12, 11…..
  9. Visualize and feel the elevator reach the ground floor. The doors open and you emerge from the elevator –your anxiety is gone.  You are anxiety free.
  10. Breathe in through your nostrils and out through your mouth three times.  When you are ready, open your eyes.

Spring 2020 Classes

Classes Open to the Public

Principles of Kabbalistic Healing

Sundays @ 1:00-2:30 pm

Taught by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Based on Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer’s two Kabbalistic healing texts, This is For Everyone & Healing With God’s Love, Rabbi will teach Kabbalistic healing practices that he has used throughout his ministry with great success.

Enrollment in the Principles of Kabbalistic Healing is open to the public as well as Rabbinic students. This class begins on February 16th.

Studies in Zohar

Sundays @ 2:30 -4:00 pm

Taught by Rahmiel Drizin

This class will examine classic Zohar sections that appear in the beginning of the Holy Zohar, using Daniel Matt’s wondrous translation as a side text.  We hope to continue the work from last Semester, moving through the Zohar with an eye towards meditative connection and personal transcendence.  The first class on Feb 2 meets 2:00-3:30 pm.

Sermon and Song

Tuesdays @ 12:45-2:15 pm

Taught by Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Since the early years of the Reform movement some two hundred years ago, the Jewish prayer service has been co-conducted by the Rabbi and the Cantor. Word and music are interwoven in prayer. At the same time, the modern era elevated the sermon as a central component of every service.

Following the Christian model, the sermon was the sole responsibility of the rabbi. In recent new years, a new paradigm is developing with cantors delivering traditional sermons or offering “sermons in song”.

This course will explore the possibilities of integrating liturgical and other music into the sermon and teaching parts of the service. This class begins February 4th. Call Hebrew Seminary for prerequisites 847/ 679-4113.

Translating and Interpreting Kabbalistic Texts

Wednesdays @ 1:00-2:30 pm

Taught by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Translating and interpreting Kabbalistic texts and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov + Degal Menachem Efraim as well as other Kabbalistic practitioners of the middle ages and early modern times. This class begins on February 12th. Call Hebrew Seminary for prerequisites 847/ 679-4113.

Hebrew Seminary Spring Semester
February 2, 2020 – June 4, 2020

This is Our Cue to be Thankful

January 202o Newsletter

Sefer Assiyah
The Book of Making

In late November, Hebrew Seminary and Congregation Bene Shalom partnered to host an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. It was a heartwarming afternoon in affirmation of life and unity and gratitude. Attendees donated small toiletries that combined together made 150 Dignity Kits for refugee support in partnership with HIAS/ Immigration & Citizenship.

Hebrew Seminary Executive Director Alison Brown shared the following moments of gratefulness:

If I could teach only one thing to a child it would be to give thanks, to experience and express gratitude … Oh wait I can! We just had a new grandchild. For five years my widowed son did not date. But within 3 months of meeting Meghan they were married and now have a new baby to keep their 8-year-old company!

The baby is 5 weeks-old. When he cries and I can’t figure out what he wants, I walk, holding him in my arms while he squirms all over the place.

I hold onto him gently and tightly, wondering how long I can continue to keep hold of him. I want to sit down, but he is restless so I keep walking, kissing him on his cheeks each time his soft face comes around again towards me.

This is my cue to be thankful.

I am thankful for the milestones. I am thankful for the everyday.

In the Jewish tradition we begin a blessing by saying Baruch Ata, blessed are You. We ask You to bring down divine abundance. In the Jewish tradition we are asked to express gratitude to God 100 times a day for His abundance.

In our tradition, all blessing is about being mindful of what we are sensing, doing, thinking and saying. The purpose of a blessing is awareness, experiencing and honoring the present abundance, Her abundance. 

I am thankful and aware of the hallowed space in time each morning when I read, meditate and pause to watch the world through a stately, thin evergreen, two stories high, foreground to an oak tree, limbs outstretched continuing to hold dappled tawny leaves that wave summer goodbye.

This is my cue to be thankful.

In many forms of mysticism, creation’s true state is non-existence. The only way a created being can exist is if there is something continually creating it, to counter its natural state of non-existence. Baal Shem Tov, an 18th century Jewish mystic and healer from Poland, cites the verse, “Forever, O G‑d, Your word stands in the heavens.” The Baal Shem Tov explains that, unlike human speech – which once spoken is gone – Godly ‘speech’ is everlasting. This means that the Ten Utterances used to create the world continue to stand, constantly re-creating the world.

A modern metaphor for this is to turn on a lamp. This creates a circuit, causing electrons to flow back and forth through the circuit, and the light to go on. But merely flipping the switch is only half the story. In order for the light to stay lit, there must be a constant renewal of energy, for the moment the energy runs out – poof – out goes the light.

An unsettled baby, a morning where many little things go “wrong,” the sickness of a loved one, or your college-seniors taking the first three days of their Thanksgiving break at an Anime convention in Wisconsin as their parents and their dog wait in Illinois, won’t always make sense.

To quote Netflix, “We neurotypicals are the only species that put an extra layer of meaning on top of what’s actually there so it makes more sense to us.”

Life squirms. To get their needs met, kids try to escape what they perceive to hold them back to find some kind of order and homeostasis. This has survival value and at some point we learn to surrender, to be with WHAT IS. Lift yourself out of the story; life is waves or particles, as quantum mechanics explains. A wave has a crest, a peak and a valley. The definition of light is light and dark and vice versa. The definition of good is good and bad and vice versa. Be present to it all.

See God in everything and you will truly be thankful.

At some point a baby learns to crawl, and when well rested, well fed and dry, crawls to investigate with the intention to see, to experience something they see. At some point an adult going through life’s changes and challenges learns to practice, and with intention, to Be. We learn to accept our mind’s propensity to value, to good and bad every little thing and with intention we let go to see what is actually there. Eventually we take our self out of the story and actually see each other and the world around us. And we thank You God for constantly recreating the universe, you, me, our loved ones and the stranger.

God is the reference point, not me.

God is within me constantly renewing me and supporting my intentions.

“God is the simple feeling of Being itself,” writes Zen Buddhist Alan Watts echoing the mystical traditions, including Judaism and Kabbalah.

Our new baby at four weeks old was laid on a mat for his first “tummy time.”

He quickly knew to push himself up on his hands and arms, to look around. It took effort to will himself into the world. He pushed, turned his torso to the right and the left until he tired and collapsed onto his tummy, one push-up closer to growing his consciousness of the just-as-it-is beauty of the world.

To reconnect with the feeling of Being itself try this brief meditation:

Close your eyes. Breathe in and out three times.

Feel your feet on the ground.

Feel your hands on the chair and your self seated in the chair.

Say to yourself, “I am here.”

Say to yourself, feeling yourself right here, right now, “I belong here.”

May you find the intention, to push yourself up, to look around and simply experience the world’s ever changing beauty.

This is our cue to be thankful.

Hebrew Seminary’s post-denominational program is grounded in traditional and Kabbalistic Judaism. We believe in one God that is both transcendent, He from whom abundance flows, and imminent, living within us, She whom empowers us with divine energies. Please visit us to learn how you can access this abundance and energy for personal growth and in service of family, community and humankind.

Life in the Divine Presence!

Sefer Assiyah September 2019

In This Issue:

  • Teachings and link to photos from our summer event
  • Mazel tov to recent graduate Rabbi Dr. Rivka Glick!
  • Invitation to our Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

This summer our Hebrew Seminary community explored and reflected upon the Jewish practices of Mindfulness, Kavvanah, and Meditative Focus: the Three Roads to Prayer and Daily Living. Hebrew President, Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer began the program teaching us how these three techniques work together to bring us closer to God.

“Today we will discuss Meditation and Mindfulness and Kavvanah. Yes, I know when I meditate I strongly feel the Presence of God. Yet, meditation does not make me holy. I am already holy. You are already holy.  Meditation does not make you into someone else. Meditation allows you to be who you are.

The Torah, Leviticus 19, already says we are holy. There is no becoming. Meditation does not make you holy. You are already holy.  Psalm 46:11 teaches us “Be still and know that I am God.”  Meditation allows you to be who you are. If you are still, quieting your body, heart and mind, then you will know that the “I” or the Self that you are right now is a manifestation of God.

The English word “meditation” comes from the Latin word “medi,” which means “center” That’s why people talk about getting centered when discussing meditation. You touch your center. We also know it is also getting in touch with the center of all life.

Each practice takes time to create the space to experience and even hear at times the Infinite Alef or Hashem.  Jewish Meditation lifts each one of us to the One. And it brings us back to being one with one another.

Each meditative practice must be done with kavvanah.  Jewish prayer begins with kavvanah. To pray with kavvanah means to pray with focus, intention and meaning, because the root of kavvanah in Hebrew is kaven, which is from the verb kaf vav nun, meaning “to direct.” So kavvanah on the simplest level is “meaning” or “AIM.”

There are three ways to practice kavvanah in prayer.  The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilla. To do prayer with kavvanah, you need to internalize the words – which means, you need to know the meaning of the Hebrew words that you are praying. The second component of kavvanah in prayer is recognizing that one is praying to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer. A third element of kavvanah is recognizing that one is praying in the Presence of God – just like it says above us on our Ark , “Know before whom you stand.”  Mindfulness, Meditation, Kavvanah – three roads that lead to prayer. Each different and yet each the same.”   

Executive Director Alison Brown, our second presenter, shared Rabbi Goldhamer’s meditation, “Become a Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah.” This meditation, based on Ezekiel 36:26 and found in Rabbi’s book Healing with God’s Love and at hebrewseminary.org, is an example of a guided concentration meditation. Here attention is focused on the Holy Spirit, Ruach HaKodesh, “and a new ruach I will put in you.” Meditations such as this trigger a relaxation response in your body. Practiced over time this ability to relax changes your response to stress. Focusing on the kavvanah, the intention of becoming one with Ruach HaKodesh is a two-for-one meditation. You develop your relaxation response and experience an expansive, holy refuge in consciousness.

Most days we rush to and from meetings and projects, scurrying texts and emails in between hoping to get out the door at some elusive point for social gatherings and appointments. Still, in the present moment God awaits. In the Presence lies our cultural inheritance. Our forefathers tended flocks, pausing regularly to meditate in green pastures. This cultural inheritance is what scientists call gene-culture co-evolution. Language and social awareness prompted natural selection to guide the development of our brains and nervous systems.  Our inherited pastoral consciousness may be a gifted propensity that, with kavannah, with intention, we can experience, enjoy and wire to more reliably fire. This present moment consciousness can stride to the forefront and embrace you wherever you are.

Recently my grandson was under the weather. He was lying on the couch with my son when Jagger said, “You can cuddle with us Cocoa!” The present, the Presence of love embraced me. This was a Shehekheyanu, God helped me reach this moment, lazman hazeh, at this holy time. Pay particular attention to the rewarding aspects of these experiences, big and small. Be grateful for them, focus on the feelings surrounding them, and call them up when you need them to support your well-being in trying times. Shehekheyanu moments strengthen neural associations, they make memories, and they change our genes.

Another example of a concentration meditation, practiced by 16th century Jewish mystics in Safed, is gerushin. Practitioners read or recite from memory a single word, such as Shalom, or several verses of Jewish text for unstructured meditative explorations, or to connect with sages past, to help solve a problem or to guide daily life.

As an example, at Hebrew Seminary’s event I shared Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1: Mishnah 15. I recite this text with kavvanah in hopes of becoming this person:

            שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע. אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת:

Shammai used to say: make your [study of the] Torah a fixed practice; speak little, but do much; and receive all men with a pleasant countenance.

G-d dwells in the shared place within and between us. It is known that turning up the corners of your mouth, a cheerful countenance, opens your heart to the moment, our shared space and the Presence.

Rabbi Dr. Roberta Glick, our third presenter, spoke of how she enters the world of prayer and blessing:

And just as we read the same Torah portion each year and   derive different meanings from it, because we are different. We see different things in the same words. Similarly, when I prayed daily with this mindful focused more poetic intention, kavvanah, of connection, oneness, love, it made me stop and pay attention to how I was at that moment, what I felt, what I needed. Like taking your temperature. When I took this mindful pause, I indeed found that I was different each day. The formal liturgy became my anchor. And the words, albeit the same, took me to different places, and evoked different feelings, each day. Commitment is also essential to spiritual practice; you have to do the work, the homework, even when you don’t feel like it.    This is what taking on the yoke of heaven means to me: commitment. Like in any love relationship. But is prayer these personal emotions, or the communal recitation of fixed words? It is both; and we need both. “Sometimes words lead us to feelings; sometimes feelings lead us to words” Heschel elegantly stated.

I enter prayer with this type of consciousness. The soul is always praying. Prayer is a love poem, an intimacy of the soul and G-d. It’s an opportunity to step outside our self, and to connect to the perfect. It’s a clarification of ourselves: who we are, our needs and desires, if we look deeply within our self.  It’s looking in the mirror and seeing who we really are. Tefillah as Self-examination. Self-Judgment. Again, Rav Kook: Prayer does not change G-d. Prayer changes us.

Roberta’s insight into prayer is an important reminder of prayer’s power and embracing space. She adds:

        In prayer, we create our image of G-d, our imagining G-d as we need, Lover, Mother, Father, Fountain of life, Healer, Judge, All Being, Ain Sof, Echad. Therefore, I suggest that the greatest creation of all is the human consciousness.  Judaism has to be one of the most imaginative creative religions. Our words create our consciousness; hopefully they are seeds of lovingkindness, generosity, justice and compassion. Torah and the siddur are our spiritual guides, our spiritual tools. Torah is G-d speaking to us;     Prayer is us speaking to G-d. And the connecting thread is love, as we try to sacredly attune to the Divine. Tune in.

Mazel tov to Rabbi Dr. Rivka Glick, awarded smicha by
Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer on Sunday, August 25, 2019!

In 1204, the greatest teacher of Jewish thought and law passed away in Egypt. His teachings, initially in Spain and then in the Middle East, became revered the world over. What makes his teachings super unique is that Maimonides, or Rambam as he was called, was also the greatest physician of his time. He was the greatest physician and the greatest Rabbi of the 12th century. He wrote and taught the world over on medicine and Jewish thought. Rabbi Dr. Rivka Glick continues in the tradition of being a physician/surgeon and a scholarly Rabbi. Her thesis discussing the presence of God in our life continues in the tradition of the great Maimonides. Mazel Tov and thank you. – Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.

Mindfulness, Kavvanah, and Meditative Focus: the Three Roads to Prayer and Daily Living photos can be enjoyed on our website hebrewseminary.org!

Be nochahut, be present and enjoy this expansive moment.