January 202o Newsletter
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.