Category Archives: Holidays

Fascism and the Book of Esther

It’s purim! A holiday of masquerading and fun. But before we dress up and celebrate can we reflect for a moment on a serious matter? 

The Book of Esther is a story about Ahasuerus, a pleasure seeking King asleep at the helm, and Haman, an “evil” Prime Minister who conspired to kill the Jews. Esther, a Jew, was crowned Queen for her extraordinary beauty and foiled Haman’s evil plan with her smarts.

In the story Esther saved the Jews with two moves:

1. She identified the threat with the help of her uncle Mordechai; Haman’s evil plan.

2. She devised a plan to stop it; to open the King’s eyes to Haman’s evil plan.

Esther had the courage to see the situation clearly and not deny or hide from the painful truth of what is coming. Even though her life at the palace was pleasant and she could have ignored and deny the threat by saying it was “fake news,” she didn’t. Instead, she took a huge risk by telling the King about it, confronted Haman and save the Jews. 

This is a unique story because antisemitism’s harmful effect was foiled before it devestated, and Haman, the Antisemitic leader was hung. In history usually much harm was caused before it stopped. This year it’s not hard to see this story as a mirror to our times with the growing antisemitism and fascism in the world. In history both are intimately interrelated.

I am writing here after reading Fascism: a warning by Madeline Albright who writes at length about examples of fascism in history and now. She tells about her own experience meeting dictators and she warns that fascism is dangerous because it doesn’t arrive overnight. She writes “it implements itself little by little plucking the chicken one feather at a time.” Change happens slowly and gradually and before we know it, it’s fully here and democracy is gone. 

In her opinion we may be overly trusting democratic governments to be able to withstand the pressures and avoid a change to fascism. In fact, there are many examples to show how changes happened insidiously in governments, and are happening now.

Because fascism grows with influence little by little it’s hard to detect it. It’s hard to fight against it. We also look with disbelief at the situation and want to trust and believe democracy will prevail. 

You may ask, as I do, what can we do? I don’t know exactly how or what we can do, but I know we must respond to mend the situation before it is too late. We cannot be paralyzed by disbelief and idly hope for the best while we do nothing. We all need to be like Esther. Open our eyes, stop denying the truth and combat the forces of antisemitism and fascism. Esther asked everyone to pray and fast, to stand with her, to give her support to have the power and be the unlikely leader to foil the threat. Esther, a pretty woman who has no authority or standing in the hierarchy of leadership except for being beloved to the king, led against Haman, a leader with power who’s plans to cause harm had to be stopped.

May we all be like Esther.

“If not you, who?  If not now, when?” 

Variation on Hillel quote by Rabbi Sigal

Blessings and prayers for a mendful world.

Happy Purim! Rabbi Sigal

Two opportunities to retreat with Rabbi Sigal Mendful Living Retreat at Kripalu Center in June and September.

The Light of Meditation Skills

Why do we make more time to do inner work in the cold and dark winter months? Why should we sit quietly and meditate and make time for our body-minds to simply “be”? 

During the winter season we are free of the many outdoors activities and can become more alive from the inside out and contemplate in stillness. Winter is the time for deep inner mendfulness and the best time for increasing our enlightenment by enjoying quiet, meditation, dreaming and imagining.

Let’s begin with an analogy. Shining a flashlight in a lit room doesn’t show as well as when we shine a light in a dark room. We can see better and discover new things when we shine a light into darkness. Darkness serves us well because it provides a good contrast to light, to the already seen world. The “dark” areas in our brains,  areas we only seldom visit and unknown areas altogether, also provide a good contrast and a rich ground for new discoveries and insights.

We celebrate light in the dark winter months because the darkness naturally calls for it. Light is a symbol of hope and life, at a time not much is growing in the cold fields. We celebrate fire, light and heat that warm our bodies and gladden our souls. 

Lighting Hanukkah candle for 8 days as a metaphor for our spiritual work.

We begin Hanukkah candle lighting with only one light and we grow the light each night by adding one more candle. At the beginning with one little light in the darkness we can see a lot. But soon, we become accustomed to the light and the thrill of “seeing anew” diminishes. We progressively light more candles each night because we need more light to see anew, to look deeper and farther. When we add lights, we create a change in the environment that enables us to perceive differently and with more clarity. 

This process of adding more light is a good metaphor for a meditation practice. We practice different methods of meditation to add more awareness, more seeing and more clarity. We learn to focus and as a result we increase the ability to see clearly. Like increasing the light, meditation skills grow more each day we practice, and our ability to concentrate, stay calm and steady grows. We become deeper seers. Becoming skillful in meditation requires patience and practice. Like lighting the candles for eight days of Hanukkah, with meditation the light of awareness grows slowly and mending ensues. 

I hope to meditate with you soon.

Light and blessings, Rabbi Sigal

Retreats at Kripalu

Gratitude to Remedy Entitled Attitude

It turns out, giving thanks and giving in general is good for you. It is good for your overall well-being—mentally, emotionally, and physically.

In Jewish tradition, the first thought we are guided to have upon waking is Modeh/dah Ani, which means I am grateful. It makes sense! The morning, before other thoughts and activities take over, is a powerful time to pause and thank. When we have regular time to say thank you and put our focus on what we appreciate, the many precious gifts of life, our thoughts are conditioned for more joy and fulfillment throughout the day.

In a society where personal entitlement is the norm, giving thanks is a necessary remedy.

Privilege and feeling entitled have a shadow side. They often cause personal suffering and interfere in relationships. It’s easy to find things to complain about. And, as we complain, we grow our sense of entitlement and, with it, disappointment grows within us, and causes unnecessary suffering. What I mean is that when we are disappointed, when we wish things were different for us, it is because we are sometime expecting something and feel deserving of that thing. (I am talking about the arrogant attitude of have the “right” to things that are not real necessities.) Our society has conditioned us to be entitled consumers: The customer is always right, while humility, patience, and considering others’ needs is not emphasized as much.

Giving time to thank, practicing gratitude, and developing a desire to benefit others can remedy our own suffering. Sharing from our abundance, giving, and cherishing are deep practices that lead to happiness and contentment. The opposite of the attitude of gratitude is entitled attitude. The entitled attitude is feeling the world owes you something, that you deserve to have all your expectations and desired fulfilled, or else you are miserable and disappointed. We give thanks to help ourselves and others with these entitled feelings, and gain perspective by focusing on what we have and less on what we don’t have.

A simple practice: Give yourself a moment now to name a few things you are thankful for. Include giving thanks in your daily routine. It’s best if it’s done at the same time daily. Notice how you feel when you remember the things that you are grateful for and the people that you appreciate.

Give yourself & others “me” time and “us” time to mend.
Mendful time is what many of us need most, especially in this hectic holidays season.

Give Gift Certificate for Personal Mendful Mentoring with Rabbi Sigal (contact us)

December 23-25  Wisdom of Kabbalah: A Retreat for Inner Peace at Kripalu
December 28-30 Mendful Path Retreat for Mending Heart and Soul at Kripalu

HAPPY THANKING and HAPPY GIVING!

Flow like Sweet Honey

 

It’s 5779!

Everything is waiting for you. Everything.

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, Rabbi Sigal

Yom Kippur Services

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.  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.

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 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.

Celebrate the Holidays in a Welcoming Community 

Reserve your seats for the High Holy Days 5779 HERE

Retreats at Kripalu Center in October and December

Tashlich – Reclaiming Our Humanity

Each morning I give thanks for a new day and commit to finding ways to be mendful, connected, helpful and kind.

Disasters, difficulties and personal hardships are natural challenges of life. We come together in community and friendship and create safe space  and rituals to lighten the load of pain and reduce suffering. TO make meaning and bring comfort and solace to one another. We are reminded time and time again that we are all in this together.  Difficult situations also highlight for us the inescapable truth: our time here is precious and fleeting. We all take turns being in the frontline of disaster, of loss, in acute pain and stress and, we also have our turn in being free from acute stress and danger.

Unfortunately, sometimes when stress arises we withhold our love and care from self and others. We hold ourselves back from life’s joys and kindness when they are obscured by suffering and we are in a survival mode. We forget to reach out and hold ourselves separate; maybe holding on to judgement and criticism of self, situation or others. We can be loving instead if we could only remember it’s available to us. Difficulties and societal upheavals bring us closer together as we experience our fragility and loss.

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 (the Jewish New Year September 10th.) 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.

Join us for High Holy Days Services and Tashlich

Freedom, Not Perfection

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Please mark your calendar and plan to be with us:

1. Spiritual and intimate High Holy Days in the Philadelphia area.

2. Choose from three retreats: Mendful Living, Wisdom of Kabbalah or Mendful Path, at Kripalu Center in MA (Dates: October 17-19  and December 23-25 and 28-30)

Freedom, not perfection

How can we celebrate this country on July 4th?

How can we love this country and celebrate freedom when so much is wrong?

At every moment in time some things are “wrong” and they need mending. The motivation to change, fix, build, and mend is seeded in those very wrongs. Celebrating the independence and freedom of a country is to acknowledge it’s past and present successes while, at the same time, asking how we can help and work toward bringing more freedom to more people.

It’s Complicated: Being in any relationship is complex, dynamic, and challenging. An individual’s relationship with a country is no different. We wish it was easy and that the country’s stated ideals were lived reality, but they are not. Ideals are theoretical points of perfection we aim toward. Reality, on the other hand, is living in the process–the messy process–which is definitely not orderly, static or perfect.

When our government shifts from right to left, and left to right, some of us are left out. Our government is a duopoly, which leaves us divided at every election. At every election a vicious cycle plays out, some of us are in favor when our chosen elected officials are in office, and some are the loser and out of favor.

As an analogy, we can think of the government as a parent who plays favoritism. But this parent is an inconsistent parent who changes their mind about which child is their favorite every few years. It’s confusing and inconsistent. It’s great when we are the favorite, but it hurts when we are out of favor. We feel abandoned, alone and scared. This bad parenting turns the children against one another and breaks up the family. No family is perfect and no country or government is immune to dysfunctional dynamics.

We are One Family. The nature of duopoly is to divide us, but we need to paddle against that force to keep the family together. We should stop and remember that we all want unconditional love and acceptance. We should celebrate freedom and independence today by remembering what is beautiful, good, human, just and kind, instead of focusing on the negative.

We all want to feel that we matter, are cared for, and are treated with justice and kindness. When we are divided, when any of us are treated without care, it hurts. It hurts not just individuals and groups, but all of us as a whole. When children were separated from parents at the border we all felt the pain as our human fabric was tearing. It is simply hard to imagine how a person could follow orders and take a child–any child–from their parents because of some administrative law. The image it conjures is that of separating families at concentration camps during the 2nd World War. Didn’t we say never again?

As people, we share land, air, water, humanity, love of our children, and love of each other. We are still a family. The ones who ordered the separation, those who separated the families at the border, and those who were separated, are all one family.  A dysfunctional family perhaps, but still a family. We must stay united in our love and be willing to help each other within our borders and beyond them. We must stay on the edge of mending and reach out to one another lest we fray our human fabric even farther.

Our Liberty Bell can still ring freedom, but it’s not perfect, it’s cracked.

Leonard Cohen sings: 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in!

What is your imperfect offering? What can you do to make our great country better? For you and for all others? For those who are Born In The USA and those who are Coming to America.

Love and light, Rabbi Sigal

Ease into Messiness

Why Seder?

Seder in Hebrew means orderliness.                                            Receive our newsletter

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.