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

Who are we going to be?

thankful-for-kindness-generosity-appreciation-kindness“Where it’s hard to love, let’s love harder.” Van Jones
Feelings & opinions are expressed strongly. We are quickly losing our sense of decency and respect in this political climate where we stand in opposing positions and fight for what we believe is right. I am not skilled in politics, I am a rabbi, I listen to people’s hearts & stay attuned to what is whole and what is broken in our spirit and soul. I feel the acute hurt, despair, stress and pain felt by many.
The question is: who are we going to be? To be able to move forward as a civilized society and get where we want, we must listen and welcome all of us with kindness, patience, and we must, must keep destructive anger, blame and shame as methods of change and persuasion in check. 

Will we be able to exercise vigilance and actively work together to call all of us back to respect, civility and tolerance?
Can we pray together and remember our sea selves no matter what comes?
Can we hope and trust just a little? Can we remember that
generosity
appreciation  
kindness 
and dignity 
reside in our own hearts, and our hands, or no place at all? 

Can we remember that there are still beauty and love in the world for us to enjoy?
YES WE CAN!
Let’s go to the wells that nourish us, invite those with opposing views to come with us, and together drink deeply, talk, listen and mend.
I pray for peace dear friends. Peace and wellbeing for all.
Ose shalom bimromav hu yase shalom al- kulam.
Blessings and love, Rabbi Sigal

Retreat with Rabbi Sigal

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.

Soul-Centered Living

It takes courage to embrace the unknown and to find our way in new situations. Change can be scary and confusing. We must find “ground” first to calm down, so that the fear based part of the brain is not the only thing controlling our behavior. I call that part of the brain, the F brain; fear, fight, flight and freeze.
Mysticism and Kabbalah mentor us to find our soul-center so we can stay settled in the calm and peace of our soul, especially when we are feeling scared and confused. Mystical practices teach us ways to bring more calm to the body-mind and foster remembering and understanding of the underlying deep interconnection of all things. 

I am leading a weekend retreat March 3-5 at Kripalu to explore the relationship between mysticism, religion, spiritual practice, and happiness.
This holistic retreat provides a direct approach to living authentically and cultivating peace and well-being in all aspects of your daily life. I will explain complex concepts and guide healing contemplative practices that focus on reducing discontent and strengthening trust in your authentic experience. Practice transformative meditations, relaxation, and self-inquiry to point the way toward wonder, enjoyment, ease, and contentment.

I hope to see you there.
Blessings,  Rabbi Sigal
Sh’ma Meditation Retreat for soul-centered living at Kripalu, March 3-5.

Join Rabbi Sigal Online:

Contact us when you are ready for individual mentoring. Sigal has room for a few new students

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

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.