Category Archives: Holidays

Ease into Messiness

Why Seder?

Seder in Hebrew means orderliness.

Messiness is life. Humans have been talking and writing about chaos and messiness for thousands of years. It has always been a part of our experience and motivated us to change. With determination and creativity we seek to bring about more order.

Out of chaos the Earth was formed, a few ancient myths of creation tell us, the Genesis narrative among them. The goal of these stories is to make sense of the unknown and to organize. The general thrust of these myths is that an all-knowing and powerful God takes charge of chaos and with superb wisdom was able to organize the world and guide it. (Don’t you sometimes wish your world could be effortlessly and efficiently organized like that?)

But still, even with a super powerful deity, the messy story continues. Our human experience is a chain of messes, monumental ones and smaller ones; personal, communal and environmental. To help us cope with this reality, many aspects of every religion are dedicated to organization and order. For example: rituals, laws, governance etc. They serve a purpose.

We don’t like messiness and we want to have more control because we are uncomfortable with the unknown. We like things to be more predictable, known, so they are less anxiety provoking. We don’t like surprises. Or maybe we like only good surprises. (Although, some of us rather not even experience those.) In our age, when anxiety is a prevalent condition, a pause of “Seder” of ease and enjoyment is a welcomed remedy.

When we clean and prepare for Passover with anticipation for a night of orderliness (Seder) we remember messiness is part of life, but we also remember our ability to bring about order. We are able to shape and control space and time (i.e, ritual.)

The Jewish year cycle of holidays invites us to routinely encounter themes on the map of human and societal needs. Spring holidays are opportunities for cleaning, organizing and celebrating order and openness. An invitation to remember that having order and routines can be supportive to us spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Predictability that comes with orderliness allows the body-mind to relax on all levels. It is relaxing when the amount of decisions we need to make is reduced. At the Seder we can lean back, sing, eat and enjoy. The order of the Seder, the meal and the story are basically prescribed, although many embellish on it for fun. The Seder ritual gives us the permission to effortlessly “ride” it to the end of the evening and declare it complete.

I hope you can enjoy the evening of order and ease. When we are at ease we open more fully and enjoy the mystery of life. Because, after all, life is a wonderful mystery, and with all the control we try to exercise, it’s messy and we don’t fully know. It may sound contradictory but, the more we ease into messiness, accepting life is an unknown mystery, the less anxiety we experience. In a way, reducing our angsts about needing to control everything, combined with some preparation and orderliness, allows us to relax into the mystery with more ease, and awe. That, my friends, is freedom.

I wish you a holiday of ease and contentment. Dayenu!

Does It Spark Joy? Spiritual Preparation for Passover

When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.” Marie Kondo, in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Even in the process of cleaning and organizing we examine our relationship to things, people, physical space and inner states. In the process of choosing we remember, sort through and choose. To what will you say yes, and to what will say no?

Hello Mendful Springtime!

Where spirituality meets Spring cleaning.

Cleaning for Passover is my favorite ritual of Spring. Each year I rediscover how cleaning with a purpose makes a huge difference in my life on a few levels. Preparing for the first night of Passover, the Seder (in Hebrew means order) is a journey of putting things in order. The yearly ritual of preparing is much more complicated compared to the Seder ritual, which is relatively simple and it has a script (Hagaddah books!)

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 reminder and intend to include examining the inner landscape along with the physical cleaning.

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 freedom and ease.  To remember what we cherish and remove what does not work or useful any longer. To better choose how, with who and with what we want to spend our time and resources. May you find mendful paths to more freedom and may life and all you do and have spark more joy.

I wish you meaningful cleaning and organizing, and a joyous budding of Spring’s renewal.

Welcome to Purim: Happiness is Served

A holiday dedicated to happiness and fun? Yes!
On Purim we are “commanded” to be happy and have fun. But what if we don’t feel like it? That is why it is a “commandment!” Even when, or especially when, we don’t feel happy or are not in the mood to celebrate we have to engage in this practice of having fun and being happy. Purim is an opportunity to practice shifting your mood. A valuable skill to have! The reciprocal flow goes in both directions; allowing more playfulness brings about more joy and more joy encourages more freedom to be playful.

I have shared about setting the right conditions instead of setting goals, for living the life we want. Happiness and fun work in similar ways. On Purim, we set the conditions and are  reminded about happiness.
We know from studies that smiling and laughing, even for no reason at all, changes how we feel. When we smile and laugh we set the physical, chemical, and neural conditions to feeling happier. 
Purim is an interesting combination of fun and masquerading. It works because freeing ourselves to be playful, in how we dress and behave on Purim, sets the conditions to silliness and giddiness, and that in turns contributes to more happiness and encourages more freedom of expression. Freedom of expression goes together with feeling authentic and opens us to more joy and fun.

Building a Shelter of Healing and Peace

We enter the gates of Sukkot tonight. The week long harvest holiday of thanksgiving. With the full moon rising into the cool evening air, we gather in the fragile and beautiful temporary huts (sukkah in Hebrew) to be together. With gratitude for what we have and share, this year we also enter Sukkot with a heaviness in our hearts. The horrific violence in Las Vegas has shaken us to our core. We keep in our hearts and prayers all those who have been hurt directly and indirectly by the shooting.

In tragic times like these we feel our vulnerability. Can you pause for a moment to feel your sadness and shock and notice how along with that arises a movement in the heart with the desire to heal and mend? Can you allow yourself to feel the co-arising of all these movements and feelings for a moment? How will we use those feelings as motivators to act and do more to mend and heal our hearts and our society? My hope and prayer is that it motivates us to collectively do more to keep the peace and share the love in any way we can.

Please  join us for meditation and study online and in person in Pennsylvania and at Kripalu Center. A  Mendful Path Meditation and learning is on going in Elkins Park.

You are invited to Kesher Shalom interactive gatherings.

May sukkat shalom, shelter of peace and healing spread over us and our world.

Together we build a sukkah of loving kindness and peace. Niveneh Sukkat hesed veshalom.
I wish you a joyful and safe holiday.

Blessings and Love, Rabbi Sigal

Flow like Sweet Honey

 

It’s 5778!

May the New Year FLOWWWWWW LIKE SWEET HONEY.
Pour it allover your life and soak in it to infuse everything. Everything, even the toughest and most challenging situations, sorrows and pains. Release it all into an ocean of honey; the troubles of the last year and the worries of the next, and let them melt away to be sweetened. Love and blessings, Sigal

L’shanah Tovah

 

I would like to express my heartfelt wishes at this time of turning our gaze onto a New Jewish Year. 
May it be a sweet and healthy New Year. May the year 5778 be a mendful path that brings us more ease, contentment and delight. May we share in more peace and may tranquility and friendship reside in our communities. May we experience less conflict and more understanding. May our homes be filled with the love and kindness we enjoy and desire, every day and throughout the year.
L’shannah tovah u’metukah. 
Love and blessings, Rabbi Sigal

Tashlich – Reclaiming Our Humanity

9/11, recent conflicts and natural disasters are keeping us praying for someone or someplace. Each morning I give thanks for a new day and commit to finding ways to be mendful, connected, helpful and kind.

Tragic events remind us time and time again that we are all in this together.  It highlights for us that our time here is precious and ultimately fleeting. We all take turns being in the frontline of disaster, of loss, in acute stress and in being free from acute stress and danger.

Unfortunately, sometimes we forget and withhold our love and care from self and others. We hold ourselves back from life’s joys and kindness. We hold ourselves separate, holding on to judgement and criticism instead of loving. The natural disasters of late have been bringing us closer together as we experience our fragility, first hand or vicariously.

This time of year in the Jewish calendar we review and reclaim our humanity: our belonging and sharing in the human tribe. It gives us an opportunity to contemplate how we belong and how we hold ourselves apart. For so many of us, with our lists of “should” and culture telling us we need to deny our authentic experience, we sometimes buy into a preconceived notion of what is right and should make us happy. We can lose our way even when we are together.

Why are we focusing on the denial of our human experience?  Why shame, judgement, guilt and anger? Why the withholding of love? What is in the way of feeling connected, cared for and caring?  How can we relax a bit and trust ourselves and each other more? What do we need to release? And mostly, what do  we need to forgive ourselves for? And what forgiveness can we extend to others?

Tashlich is a ritual of release that we participate in during Rosh Hashanah. I want to offer this practice of release to use during the days leading to the Jewish New Year. It can also be used anytime of year to help you release. Tashlich is traditionally done with breadcrumbs that are cast into a natural body of water. I am offering a variation on it here with imaginary or real rocks, pebbles, or other natural materials.

Any Day PRACTICE:
Imagine you are holding a stone in your hand, or actually holding one, and bring it close to your heart. Feel it as a heaviness in your emotional heart, a burden you are carrying in your chest, painful feelings or a belief. What burdens are you carrying in your heart? The rock in your hand can be something which is hard for you to let go of,  something you want or need to release. This hand gesture symbolizes your willingness to release and ask for help. You are willing  to stop carrying the worry, the secret, the shame and give it up to make room for the joys of life. Give attention to and notice what you are holding and how you are holding back within yourself and in your life. What has hardened and closed your heart? What have you been feeling shame about? How are you holding yourself separate?

Notice your breathing and relax with the closed fist by your chest until it is clear what you are holding. Begin opening your hand and prepare to release it when you are ready. Toss it, send it with kindness and care into the river of life and feel the effect of the release. Feel how the stones you release return to the river of life and find their place washed anew and cleansed. Be gentle and go slow. It may bring up unpleasant (or pleasant) feelings that are hard to face or hard to let go. You may want to grab them back or hold onto them. One by one, repeat as many times as you wish, until you feel it is working. All the things that need to be released at this time are forgiven and set free.

Forgiveness is when we forgive the hope for a better past so we can live well now and in the future.

21 days to Rosh Hashanah

How I love the beautiful nights at the end of Summer. The growing moon above is beckoning us to gather a few more sun rays and a couple more days at the beach, to store within for the approaching cold of winter. In a few days, the full moon of the month of Elul will hang in the night’s sky (eve of  Sept 5th.) It will be the last full moon of summer.

All these signs in nature are  telling us: we are 21 days away from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year 5778. (Guided Experience at bottom or here)

The invitation of the Jewish New Year is to truly have a fresh start; to review, organize and prioritize our lives and how we spend our time. To make amends, forgive, release, mend and at the end of this have a plan of intentions and goals to return to the home of our soul. A return to our true kind and loving nature. All this important work is necessary in order to clear a new path of hope to an inspired and meaningful life in the future. To truly clear a new path we must pass through the gates of  forgiveness; forgiving the hope for a better past. It’s time to release and move on.

Elul the month of one and return preceding the New Year, invites us to 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 our authentic soul and long to return, we feel the strong pull of our desire to live authentically. Even when it’s hard to manage through the work of forgiveness, the sweet memory and feeling of being whole 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.

Here are some questions and inspirations to Contemplate in the next 21 days:

How can you help yourself decide what to let go of and what to keep? What is in the way to living the life you want? What is between living authentically and what you do now? How do we leave the unhelpful habits, partly unconscious? How do we let go? What do we need to release?

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.

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

Shannah Tovah.

Retreats at Kripalu Center in December

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.

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.