Category Archives: Holidays

Paving a Mendful Path with Questions

Elul the month preceding the Jewish New Year is dedicated to returning to love and peace. Elul begins Tuesday night August 22nd.

How do we orient back to love, balance and peace? What can we do to shepherd ourselves back to wholeness and kindness? What will help us turn and return? And what calls us, despite the disappointment and dispart,  to again, begin the process of Teshuvah?

You may think: why are you asking so many questions, it’s  not Passover.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

Questions are vehicles born of curiosity to carry us back home to wonder, peace, appreciation, hope, innovation and joy. Some of the biggest discoveries and inventions happen after long periods of asking and contemplating. 

At this time of year we count down the days through the month of Elul to a New Jewish Year. We pave a MENDFUL PATH as we open, realign, and balance our lives with what we love and with our heart’s desires and purpose. We ask and consider what we and others love and need. We ask how can we help, serve, live more fully. We ask new and old questions and contemplate possible answers and responses.

Questions are so important in the process of mending and healing that I am thinking that Maybe we can declare this new year of 5778 A YEAR OF QUESTIONS! To dedicate our attention to opening to new possibilities, to ask new questions, to become unstuck and more free. Asking, conversing, connecting, and more actively offering fresh ideas to solving core problems and see in new ways our lives and our world.

In Kabbalah, mindful mysticism for soul-centered living, we are invited to venture to the unknown and risk, yes risk, trusting in the mystery.  Kabbalah is a way to ask questions with curiosity seeing beyond the veil of what is known, into new fields of  possibilities within our souls, our lives, world and universe.

I invite you to explore the landscape of your soul and your life, and inspire your heart to occupy itself more fully in Elul (Aug 23-Sept 20) through this process with self-inquiry and care preparing for a new year. May we be inspired to open our hearts and ask elucidating questions, be extra curious and open, contemplate possibilities in conversations with others, meditate, reflect, identify patterns, think and act mindfully, and experience new levels of healing and mending.

I wish us a wonderful time of discovery and falling in love with yourself and your life and all your beloveds and all the beauty and joy you can experience. Ani ledodi ve’dodi li, I’m my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. 

Blessings, Rabbi Sigal

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Find New Passover Freedom

Spring welcomes us with sunshine and new colors. Life is infused with hope again. Passover is the holiday of Spring and freedom. It is also the holiday of new beginnings, asking questions and telling stories. It is time to come together and share with others. We eat unleavened bread (Matzah) as a reminder to let go of old “sticky” habits. Here are some Passover ideas to bring to Seder .Enjoy!

1. Ask New Questions
Although it is fun to sing the traditional four questions and do traditional things, many people become bored and tune out. To generate engaging discussions around the table try to ask new questions. What questions would you ask? What questions other have? For example: Name four highlights related to new beginnings in the last year? What are some of the experiences or events that are related to freedom and what are those related to oppression in the last year?

2. Put the Say in Say-der (Seder)
Hagadah, the book we read at the Seder, literally means to tell. This year try more telling and less reading. For example, use the the four cups of freedom to talk about the stages and kinds of freedom. The Hebrew name of the holiday Pesach, as pointed out to to us by a Hassidic Rabbi, can also be understood as related to telling. If we divide the word in to 2 words: Peh-sach, it means mouth-speaking/telling.
Give yourself the permission to leave the usual script and improvise on the many themes of the holiday.  Dare to be dramatic! For example, tell stories about your own life and talk about world events in the last year that relate to the themes of freedom and bondage. 

3. Becoming Less Sticky or Stuck
If Passover is the holiday of freedom and liberation, why is the food we eat is binding? With the awareness of sustainable and healthier lifestyle, our diet is also an expression of our choice to be more free. Some people are adapting a gluten free diet, which in my sensibility relates to the Passover theme of freedom and becoming less sticky.
We know now that some foods are “sticky” (hence called glue-ten) and cause inflammation. Over the years I have adopted a Passover diet rich in vegetables, fruits and protein and less grain. I especially try to consume less Matzah.

4. All are welcome – Kol Dich’fin
Kol dich’fin, in Aramaic means all are welcome. When we make plans for the seder each year we ask, who else can we invite? On this holiday of freedom we ask how can we be the force of good and share in our liberation? We count our blessings and extend our thanks by sharing an evening with people who we don’t know well, or people who are alone, had a hard year and can use the invitation to feel more free for one night.
We care and share with others with the tradition of kol dich’fin, all are welcome. We let people know there is always room at our table. Small gestures; opening our doors, sharing a meal with others, are actions to help heal and repair our world.

Does It Spark Joy? Spiritual Preparation for Passover

In the popular book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, we read “When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.” This is where spirituality meets Spring cleaning.

Cleaning for Passover is one of my favorite rituals of the holiday. Each year I rediscover how cleaning with a purpose makes a huge difference in my life on many levels. Seder, in Hebrew means order. We have an order to the ritual when we gather around the table at the start of the holiday after we clean and prepare.

Passover, or Spring cleaning, can be a transformative endeavor even before the holiday begins, if we do it right. Scrubbing, removing, discarding, cleaning and rearranging our living spaces has the potential to refocus and give us a new sense of freedom and ready us for something new. All this physical work can however obscure the opportunity to attend to our inner clutter of thoughts and beliefs, unless we use the process as a vehicle and intend to include the inner landscape along with the physical.

It is hard to let go, but you’ll be glad you did. Marie Kondo suggests an efficient process by which we can select the things we want to keep. She suggests we use this simple question as a filter criterion, “Does it spark joy?” While Kondo’s book is primarily focused on how to tidy up one’s physical environment, her guidance can be metaphorically superimposed over the concept of clearing out inner clutter as well.

Marie writes, “There are several common patterns when it comes to discarding. One is to discard things when they cease being functional—for example, when something breaks down beyond repair or when part of a set is broken. Another is to discard things that are out of date, such as clothes that are no longer in fashion or things related to an event that has passed. It’s easy to get rid of things when there is an obvious reason for doing so.” Marie invites people to ask themselves, “Does this item spark joy?”
Let’s begin to clear our environments and attend to inner clearing   so we could forge a path to our freedom and ease.  remember what we cherish and remove what does not work or useful any longer. Choosing how, with who and with what we want to spend our time and resources. May we find the path to freedom and may it spark joy in all we do.

I wish you meaningful cleaning and organizing, and a joyous Spring holiday.

FDR’s Four Freedoms for Passover

Let’s begin with a question: 
What is the most reoccurring number at the Seder?
I begin with a question about numbers because the Seder is a night of questions, and also of numbers. We ask four questions, tell about the four children and drink four cups of wine. 
The four cups of wine at the Seder are the four stages of liberation:
1. becoming aware of oppression  2. opposing oppression 3. imagining alternatives  4. accepting personal and communal responsibility to act for freedom.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in his 1941 state of the union address spoke of the four freedoms we should protect anywhere in the world.  They are: 
1. freedom of speech and expression 2. freedom from fear 3. freedom from want 4. freedom of religion. 

Passover1Passover(Pesach in Hebrew) is the holiday of freedom. Hag ha’chayrut! (Hag = holiday, Chayrut = freedom) 
The Seder is a celebration of freedom. We sit around the table and tell stories of oppression and liberation “as if we are coming out of Egypt.” In Hebrew Mitzrayyim literally means narrow places. 

Something New: May I suggest that instead of just blessing and drinking we use the occasion of drinking the four cups of wine to pause and bring to the table, literally in this case, a discussion about the four stages of libration and FDR’s four freedoms? What do the four freedoms mean to us today? How do we guard and express them? Which one is most important now, and why? 

Lastly, sharing a funny video about Seder. It makes me laugh just thinking about it. Watch and enjoy!
In light of the video a reminder.  We can eat vegetables (salad, potatoes) after we say the blessing of Karpas early in the Seder. It will be a more pleasant experience to all with some food.
I wish you a wonderful Passover and a delightful spring.

Seeding a Soul Inspired Life

The time has come to seed the garden of your life with new soul inspired seeds.

Tu Bishvat (15th day in the month of Shevat) is almost here.  Under a full moon next shabbat we will celebrate Tu Bishvat (Friday night 2/10.) I hope you can make time to quiet down and contemplate seeding soul inspired seeds. What hopes and dreams are hidden in your soul this winter? What do you sense and imagine could bloom in your life when Spring arrives?

Tu Bishvat is a celebration of trees and nature. The trees are very internal this time of year. Perhaps they are too are dreaming and growing with strength. Readying themselves to burst with beauty in Spring.

Why do we take time to do inner work? Why should we sit quietly and meditate and simply make time to be? Because like trees even before the thawing and the blooming, we become alive from the inside out. Now is the time for deep inner growing; dreaming and imagining.

THE PRACTICE:

We begin by imagining the fruits we want to bring to fruition. What will you grow? Sit and become quiet to reflect on what you love; discern the desires of your heart. What is your heart’s desire?

Now, when you have a sense of what are your soul inspired seeds, your heart seeds, write them down. You may discover seeds you didn’t know were hidden within. You may want to make a list of them and read it over to see which are the ones with more pull. Keep the list and choose to reflect more on 2-3 of them. Attend to them. Nourish and water these seeds. Try to make time for dreaming and listening carefully to each.

Identify the necessary conditions to help your heart seeds grow and come to life. What are the approach you need to apply? What are the attitudes and actions you will take, or avoid, to support the growth?

Don’t rush. It is still winter. on Tu Bishvat the trees only begin to wake up and the sap begins to flow. Be patient and generous like a tall and strong tree. You have plenty of time to seed and germinate until Spring (Passover.) Don’t rush. Take all the time you need, but remain focused.

May your heart seeds germinate, take root and grow well. May they grow into a beautiful Spring garden and reward you with the delicious fruits and fill your life with beauty and peace. Enjoy!

I hope to see you soon at the Meditation Gatherings in February and Meditation Retreat at Kripalu, March 3-5. Please see dates and information below.

Many blessings, Rabbi Sigal

How to let go and be turned

horn_and_pomagranite

Hashivaynu e’lecha ve’nashuvah  Come let us turn, return, and be turned to the one.

 

After Teshuvah, the willful work of turning and returning, we let go of preconceived notions of what we are and how life should be. We breathe, relax and allow life to unfold for us. The more we allow ourselves to be turned, the more we are home.

Our attempts at prayer for help, as it is with any action, is motivated by our belief, laden with guilt, that we need to do something and that belief causes us to never let go or relax. We are always doing, trying, controlling and seeking to get better, farther, etc. Most often we forget to stop after we ask to feel the effect of our “doing” and to let help, joy and life in. We are habituated to do and we rarely surrender long enough to be turned and be at home.

The Jewish New Year is here to remind us to wake up and stop the doing and the trying so we could be turned. At the beginning of a new year, willing to be transformed and with hope we stand at a new beginning pregnant with possibilities. We pray and ask to be turned and retuned to the home of our souls. (You may have more specific prayers in your heart for happiness, health, peace, prosperity etc.) I hope you can stop doing and listen deeply and pray for an opening in the heart, so you could be turned to more fully appreciate the gift of this life.

With humility and with hope in our hearts we allow ourselves to fall into the mystery of it all and enjoy the ride guided only by our desire to love this life before it is too late.

Shuvah, it’s time to come home.

Besefer haim tekateyvu vetechatymu. May we all be inscribed in the book of good life.

I wish you and yours a sweet and healthy new year and wonderful holiday celebrations.

Blessings, Rabbi Sigal

Forgiveness, the return

The full moon of Elul is hanging in the night’s sky beckoning us to come home. We are two weeks away from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

To truly have a fresh start and return to the home of our soul we must forgive. We forgive the hope for a better past so we can live well now and in the future.

We have been turning our attention toward home with Elul practices. We spent time at the wellspring of our hearts remembering what we love, what is important to us and what brings us alive. When we remember home and long to return, we feel the strong pull of our desire to be home. Even when it’s hard to manage through the work of forgiveness, the sweet memory and feeling of being at home with ourselves and in the world encourages us to do the work. We trust our stamina and commitment to do the work of forgiveness so we could live our highest aspirations and honor the desires of our hearts more each day. (if you missed it see: Shuvah, it’s time to come home post)

This week we reflect on: What is in the way? What is between home and us? How do we leave the unhelpful habits, partly unconscious? How do we let go? What do we need to release? How do we decide what to let go of and what to keep?

Madison Taylor writes: “One of the hardest things in life is feeling stuck in a situation that we don’t like and want to change. We may have exhausted ourselves trying to figure out how to make change, and we may even have given up. If we tend to regard ourselves as having failed, this will block our ability to allow ourselves to succeed. We have the power to change the story we tell ourselves by acknowledging that in the past, we did our best, and we exhibited many positive qualities, and had many fine moments on our path to the present moment.”

Each year we are given the opportunity to review our lives and renew our resolve to change. The New Year is a call to open to the possibilities, the help and the hope to make the changes we need to make to live more fully from the heart. When we honestly and kindly review the past year, we make it possible to open to new ways in the new year. Welcoming an inner shift to allow us to get out of the cycle we’ve been in that’s been keeping us stuck.

After the reviewing it’s time to open the heart with forgiveness. To loosen the knots of shame, blame, regret, self-hatred, not good enough and other sticky patterns of thinking and feeling. All those feelings and thoughts about ourselves and others keep us separated from the home of our soul; our joy, ease and fulfillment. 

Practice:

Imagine you are holding a pebble or a stone in you hand, clutching around a painful feelings or beliefs. Notice what you are holding on to. What has hardened and stuck to you? Notice your breathing. Now, begin opening the hand that has been holding on for too long and inquire to see what is in the pebble you are holding on to. What feeling, belief, resentment, blame… invite the hand to open and release it. Toss it, send it with kindness and care, and feel the room it leaves behind. Feel how the stones you release want to return to the river of life. Be gentle and go slow. It may bring up unpleasant or pleasant feelings with it. Acknowledge it is hard to let go and make a change, even in our imagination. Breathe, notice the space and feel. It will take time to become comfortable being with space after the release, because it is new and unfamiliar. You can repeat several times and make time to practice this daily in the next two week.

We release the past and open to new possibilities in the new year.

Join us for inspiring and musical High Holy Days services in Abington, PA.  We meet at the beautiful Abington Art Center.      Details

Freedom to Inspire Your Heart

Reflections on Independence Day

Thirty years ago when I moved to the US, I organized my travel to arrive in time to celebrate Independence Day in Philadelphia. It may seem silly now but it was important to me then. I wanted to celebrate the 4th of July with thousands of people at the special concert by the Art Museum’s steps, and view a spectacular fireworks show.
Celebrating freedom and life has always been important to me. As I reflect on the past, I can see how the threads of yearning for freedom and living in freedom are woven into the fabric of what I do and teach. Those threads shimmer through and guide what I write, sing and create. Freedom is in the choices I make in how I mother, cook, mentor, lead, officiate, teach and rabbi.
Today, I reflect on the words of the Declaration of Independence and how many generations are connected through history to the values of our society. As the founding leaders of this country and all leaders ever since, I am thinking how to inspire our hearts to be free and open to the joy of life. I hope that between beach and barbeque you can make time to contemplate what inspires you.
It works well for me to celebrate freedom at the beginning of the summer because, as I do every summer, in preparation for the Jewish New Year in the fall, I contemplate and connect to what inspires me. I also mindfully include activities I enjoy. Making a priority to spend time with family, friends, beauty, fun books and travel. I also make time for retreat and quiet to feel and breathe, and allow flourishing in the landscape of my soul. What do you do at this time of year? Maybe you can navigate taking more time to do what you love and need to best care for yourself.

High Holy Days services at the beautiful Abington Art Center in Jenkintown, PA.

I am here to support you. Please contact me with questions and to explore personal mentoring to bring more balance into your life.

How to keep perspective and hope?

The view from the mountain

On this Shabbat evening and the evening of Shavuot holiday, beginning tomorrow night, we continue to strive for peace and the next level of reconciliation among all people. We resolve to not give up on working toward making the world better for all inhabitants. On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. We glimpse from the high point and ask not to shrink our hope into the painful details and despair. We respond with kindness and contemplate wisdom. 

Sad about the violence in Tel Aviv I am reminded how fragile is the calm and our sense of freedom. I’m also encouraged by how caring, courageous and resilient the response has been. I reach to one of the luminaries of Jewish thought, Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz z’l for inspiration.

He taught there is no religious meaning in history. There is only an endless struggle for justice with a desire to help alleviate human suffering and fight against natural disasters and human made disasters. This endless effort gives our lives meaning. The human courage and ingenuity to invent and reinvent ourselves, endlessly, is the story of history. We are all in this eternal process together.

Thankfully, the impulse to help is greater than the urge to destroy. We mostly focus on the good.

May we resolve to be the champions of peace in the eternal struggle for the good. May we choose inclusive over exclusive as we remember our deep interconnectedness. May we hold up caring for all humans over religious righteousness which separates and causes us more suffering than we inevitably and naturally have to endure. 

Listen to Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz in his own words here: clip

Labor day weekend September 2-5 Retreat at Kripalu with Rabbi Sigal Inspire Your Heart Kabbalah of Turning and Returning

Playing Hide and Seek

How long have you been hiding your dreams and aliveness?

What desires are you denying yourself?

What are you afraid of?
Spring is a time to stop hiding and take a leap of faith. Look at nature around you and see how trees bloom and bulbs sprout without any effort or angsts. To spring forward like flowers do, we need to trust and not let worries and fears stop us. Think for a moment: What have I really wanted to do, but held back because of one reason or another, which stopped me from living fully and from fulfilling my dreams?
Revealing and concealing play important roles in our lives, in our stories and traditions. Life is a mystery and that is what makes it interesting. God and spirit are also unknown and they are too interesting because of that. Mysterious elements in all things keep us curious, engaged and yep, also guessing and amazed.
This week we celebrate the holiday of Purim (Thursday March 24) and read the story about Queen Esther (her name means hidden.) We dress up in costumes, which are revealing and hiding somethings about ourselves at the same time. This year, it also happened Easter is this weekend; marking the resurrection of Jesus and children will be looking for hidden colorful eggs with hidden sweets.
In both holidays we tell stories about hiddenness and salvation. The experiences of being lost, hidden and in despair are met with being found and saved. We can all relate to this motif. We all want to be found, seen, and live authentically and freely, but fears may stop us. In our spiritual seeking, and seeking friends, connections and meaning we long to be found. We long  to stop feeling separated and we want to stop hiding. The stories we celebrate this week can be helpful to us if we explore them as myths about human needs and conditions. The spirit is hidden and the storeis focus on the human side, not on God.
Life, turns out, is a mystery. The hidden and the revealed are playfully woven together. On Purim we can let what we usually hold back be more in the forefront. Playfully and temporarily we enjoy showing some of what is hidden. What can you playfully reveal about you, your life, your ideas and dreams? What will make you laugh if you trusted and revealed some of the mystery you are?