HANUKKAH – How To Celebrate


~ Keren Hannah Pryor 

Ancient Jewish writings describe a delightful exchange between God and His people:

ISRAEL:  God, You illuminated the whole universe and then tell us to light the menorah?
GOD:  The little lights of your menorah are more precious to me than the lights of all the stars I have placed in the sky.

For You light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness. 
(Psalm 18:28)

What generally comes to mind when one thinks of Hanukkah,especially if you’re a child, is the lighting of many candles, gifts, fun games, sizzling latkes (grated potato fritters) and mounds of big, sugarcoated, jelly, chocolate, or caramel-filled doughnuts! Not a bad beginning (except for the waistline), but these are merely the trimmings. Probably Yeshua did not have these things in mind when he celebrated this “Feast of Dedication,” as it is also called (John 10:22). There is a profoundly rich spiritual core to the festival of Hanukkah; the ‘fun’ elements, however, help imprint the spiritual truths in the minds of the young and can certainly also be enjoyed by the not so young!

A wide assortment of hanukkiahs (special nine-branched Hannukah menorahs), as well as candles, are available for purchase on any Judaica website, or they are very simple to create at home. For example, one can use Play Dough, or bottle caps stuck on a wooden or cardboard base and painted, and birthday cake candles. Or simply arrange eight tea lights on a tray and add decorations. The ninth shammash, or servant, candle should be higher than the others or set slightly apart, to the front or side.

A selection of old brass hanukkiot from the collection of Avraham Ticho.



The candles are usually lit at nightfall but, if it is necessary to wait for family members to gather, any time during the night is fine. Although it will be a challenge this year of 2020, the main consideration is to have as many of one’s family, as well as friends, together as possible to enjoy the experience on any given night.

Ideally, the candles should burn for 30 minutes; during which time no work should be done – and the TV should be switched off! The blessings are said, songs can be sung, gifts given, a story read, [See my collection of 8 Stories for Hanukkah], food enjoyed and games played. It’s time to remember and celebrate the miracles of our God and to appreciate the miracle of one another.


A major lesson of Hanukkah is one that Yeshua illustrated well in his teaching:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16)

In Israel, many people light candles outside their doors in special glass boxes built to house their hanukkiah. The beautiful one pictured below, of the lion and the lamb, was seen in the Old City of Jerusalem.


More often the hanukkkiah is lit in a window indoors and facing a public street if possible. If for some reason the hanukkiah cannot be lit at a window, it may be lit inside the house on a table, where its light shines forth upon the members of the household.

Note: As the Hanukkah candles should be left to burn down each night, you will need a total of 44 candles – 36 plus 8 shammash candles.



1st Night

On the first night, place the shammash in position and one candle at the far right, as you face the hanukkiah. Light the shammash, recite the first two blessings, and use the shammash to light the candle. Then say the third blessing and prayer, followed by a song – Ma’oz Tzur, or one of your choice.

The Blessings:

The first two blessings are said after lighting the shammash and immediately prior to lighting the candles:

Blessing 1

Hanukkah Blessing 1Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, Ve-tzi-vanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.

Blessing 2

Hanukkah blessing_2Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Sheh’assa nissim la-avo-teinu, Ba’yamim ha-hem ba’zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.

Blessing 3

This blessing is said on the first night only.

Hanukkah blessing_3

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Sheh-heh-chi’yanu ve-ki’yimanu Ve-higi’yanu la’zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Hanukkah Prayer – Al Hanissim

For all the miracles you perform and for Your great salvations, and for the victories in the battles that You enabled our fathers to achieve years ago at this time,
we thank You God, our Father.

In the time of the Maccabees, when the evil Seleucid kingdom rose up
against Your people Israel
to make them forget the teachings of Your Torah and to lead them away from Your will,
You, in Your abundant mercy, stood up for them in their time of need.
You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few,
the wicked into the hands of the righteous.
And for Your people Israel You caused great victory and salvation on this day.
Then they turned to Your Sanctuary and cleansed Your Temple
and relit the lights in Your Holy Place.
You kept the lights burning for eight days,
and they established these eight days of Hanukkah
in order to thank You and to praise Your great Name. [1]

After lighting the candles and reciting the above, it is a stirring and heartwarming experience to sing together in praise of our God and Lord. Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages) is the traditional song that is sung, if known (worth learning if not). Others come to mind, such as ‘Thy Word is a Lamp unto my Feet.’

2nd Night

On the second night place candles in the two far-right positions. Recite the first two Blessings after lighting the shammash and use the shammash to light the candles, lighting the left one first.

Note: Always light the newest candle first.

3rd Night

On the third night place three candles in the three right hand positions. Recite the first two Blessings after lighting the shammash and use the shammash to light them in order, from left to right.

Follow this same procedure each night of Hanukkah… until all the lights are kindled and glowing brightly on the eighth night!

The Al Ha’nissim prayer can be recited and Ma’oz Tzur sung each night after lighting. A good tradition is to make time to read a special, inspiring Hanukkah story aloud each night. A selection of eight Hanukkah stories for children , which can also be enjoyed by the not-so-young is provided..

Light of the Spirit

As we noted last week, the nine candles beautifully reflect the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. The first is Love, perfectly represented by the shammash candle, the Servant, by which each of the others is lit. Each night the corresponding ‘fruit’ can be mentioned and reflected upon. How is it growing in our lives? How am I evidencing joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in my deeds? Their light will only shine in me if it is lit by the love of the Lord – our Shammash.


The traditional, fun game to play at Hanukkah is the Dreidel game! Judaism does not at all encourage gambling, but this is one ‘gambling’ game that is enjoyed each year. Historically, during times of persecution when the study of Hebrew and Torah was forbidden, Jewish children would learn with a teacher anyway. When soldiers would investigate, they would spin a dreidel they kept handy and pretend to be playing a local game. As it was a game of chance involving money, they would have coins on the table too. However, the actual purpose for these was to pay their usually impoverished Hebrew teacher! Interestingly, the word Hanukkah and the Hebrew word for education, chinukh, have the same root letters.

A dreidel (Yiddish – rhymes with cradle), or a sevivon in Hebrew, is a small four-sided spinning top. Traditionally, the letters on the four sides of the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hey, shin, which are the first letters of Nes Gadol Haya Sham – “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Since the restoration of the State of Israel, the last letter is replaced with a pey, for Poh, meaning ‘Here’. As the miracle of God’s light has happened in each of our lives, poh – ‘here’ – seems to be the better alternative. Nes Gadol Haya Poh!

Colorful collection of dreidels!

To play the game, players can use chocolate coins, or use pennies, buttons or cardboard pieces as tokens. Each player puts one into the “pot” in the center. If a small number are playing put in two or three each. The first player takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When the dreidel stops, the letter facing up determines:

  • N – נ – Nun – Nothing! Nothing happens; the next player spins the dreidel.
  • G – ג – Gimmel – Great! The spinner takes all in the pot.
  • H – ה – Hey – Half! The spinner takes half of the pot.
  • P – פ – Peh – Put in! The spinner puts the set number of tokens (1-3) into the pot.

Homemade dreidels are easy to make. Cut cardboard into two inch squares. Draw diagonal lines on back. Make a hole in the center with a pin. Decorate the face of the square including the four letters and/or words. Insert a toothpick and push through about one-third of the length of the toothpick. That’s it. Spin away!

Hanukkah 2 - 6jpg


1) Invitations. Invite family and friends for one or more of the nights of Hanukkah. Good way to catch up with everyone! Stipulate date and time.

2) Hanukkiah menorah and candles. Start the party off with candle-lighting, to make the room glow brightly.

3) Dreidels – for spinning contests, and chocolate coins or tokens (that can be used to ‘redeem’ M&Ms or other candies/prizes)!

4) Printed sheets with blessings and songs for the participants, if possible.

5) As a quieter time of inspiration in the candlelight, have someone read a Hanukkah story out loud. [See post – Eight Stories for Hanukkah].

6) Share words from Scripture – e.g., read a Psalm [30, 115 – 117; excerpts from118 & 119]; 1 Chronicles 16:8-13; Zechariah 4 & 14, excerpts from Matthew 2 & 5, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:8-14.

7) Small gifts to exchange (limit cost e.g. $5-). Each person brings one. Put them all in a pile, and choose numbers to see who gets to pick first!

8) Eats! Include “oily” items such as doughnuts (once-a-year treat!), latkes – grated potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream.

Creative Israeli sufganiot / doughnuts!

Enjoy – as we celebrate the Light that broke into our darkness!

The Lord is good, and He has given us light …
(Psalm 118:27)



1. Based on prayer in Celebration – The Book of Jewish Festivals, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.. NY, 1987, p 58.
2. Based on prayer in The Heavenly Party, Michele Guiness, Monarch Books, 2007, p.152

BHBW SPIRALING UP – Introduction and Special Invitation for Women


2020 – 2021

S P I R A L I N G   U P !


He leads me in cycles of righteousness for His name sake. Psalm 23:3

Dear friends and fellow-climbers,

The new cycle is fast approaching, beginning with the month of Nissan (26th March), and it is time to consider the continuation of our climb. As we move forward in the recurring cycle it is good to remind ourselves of the dual nature of time echoed in the Hebrew word for year – shanah, which is a derivative of shoneh – meaning change. Time repeats itself but in a new form. We pass through the same set appointments in time each year, yet each year offers new vision, new challenges, and new inspiration. We are trusting and expecting a sharpening and deepening of our vision and our relationships through this year of 2020!

While there will continue to be posts on His-Israel that are relevant to all, this is a special invitation to women to aim higher and fulfil their particular call in the Kingdom of God. Eight years ago, we (Keren and Cindy) met once a month online with a small group of women in order to explore and celebrate the Rosh Chodesh cycle and how it has particular meaning for women. We shared the following words, which today, I believe, continue to speak truth. May they inspire and influence our hearts as we continue our learning and spiritual journey – onward and upward!

“The monthly cycle of the moon is supernaturally linked with a woman’s cycle. As women, we have a unique contribution to make in G-d’s ultimate purpose of Creation. We have a vital role to play in reversing the curse that occurred at the expulsion from Gan Eden and in bringing a redemptive restoration of the beauty of the Garden of G-d and the Delight of His Presence. It is worthy of note that Yeshua was raised to new resurrection life in a garden and the first to see him was a woman, his beloved disciple Miryam mi’Migdal, Mary Magdalene.

As the Word made flesh, Yeshua proclaimed himself to be the Light of the world. The Word came down from Heaven to be the Light in the darkness. We can aim to be Ha’Chazarah (shel Ohr), the Reflection (of that Light), as, with His help, we shine our lights in the world and raise up praise and glory to the Source from which it came.

With each Rosh Chodesh study we aim to note the characteristics of the month and to explore feminine spirituality in the Word of G-d and the Light of Yeshua. We trust this will bring deeper understanding of our role in this crucial era of G-d’s Redemption.”


Our vision for this new cycle Spiraling Up! is to enjoy a deeper Hebraic learning experience together – with an emphasis on relaxed sharing, participation, and discussion.

How can we do this?

    1. The lunar Rosh Chodesh cycle reflects the feminine cycles of life, and each month we will focus on key topics that relate particularly to women. You will receive 4 Journal Prompts for the month, which will be the focus of our discussion. These will be posted on His-Israel’s “Being Holy Being Whole” Facebook Group page.
    2. For those who join as Patrons on our community at Patreon, Keren will lead an open forum in a monthly ClickMeeting, which will offer the opportunity to share and discuss the monthly topics. This will also be recorded and posted on the Being Holy Being Whole Patreon site.
    3. As an extra bonus, we aim to invite Guest speakers on separate occasions to share their views, skills, and creativity with us.

We hope you will consider becoming a supporter of His-Israel’s work and joining our BHBW community as a patron on the Being Holy Being Whole PATREON site.

You can explore the site at this link:



* If you decide to not become a patron at this point but would still like to receive the ‘Journal Prompts’ in relation to the the key topics for each month and take part in the group discussion please join us at His-Israel Facebook Group Being Holy Being Whole – Spiraling Up.

Below you will find a calendar of the planned topics for each month of Spiraling Up! We sincerely encourage you to maintain some form of journal as a record of your spiritual journey this year. We believe that journaling is one of the most profound ways of both recording and exploring our inner life. This can include scriptures, questions, thoughts, feelings, struggles and triumphs, inspirations, poems, sketches, doodles, etc., etc.

We are so excited to have you with us on this adventure!

Blessings of love, strength, and inspiration as we continue the sacred journey together.

May all be done for His holy Name’s sake, in love.

Keren and Cindy

Write for your Life
Explore for your Soul
To the Praise
And for the Glory of G-d!


This cycle of Being Holy, Being Whole, Spiraling Up!, will flow with a particular perspective of the three realms of Sea, Sky, and Earth. We know how mind-blowing-deep the sea is, how unfathomable the expanse of the sky, how illimitable the treasures and discoveries of the earth.

What song has our Abba built into each of them? What might they mirror in our own soul’s journey?

In the calendar you will find the corresponding months listed under each realm, and under each month the related topics to explore. These topics touch not only on the realm and the season but also the Festivals that fall within them.

Topics for Monthly Discussion and Journaling


Passover is, as it were, the “firstborn” of the biblical festivals. God set it in place when He proclaimed at the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: “You shall therefore keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year” (Exodus 13:10). As the first, Passover also sets a precedent for the purpose of the mo’edim, the set times of the Festival Cycle. Arnold Eisen describes this basic purpose in saying that they are a remembrance that we are between redemptions.

“We are commanded to recall the past, in order to remember the present – to see it clearly, to know it fully, in all its possibilities – in the light of our future [full] redemption.” [1]

These appointments with God offer unique opportunities that enable us to look back on God’s mighty deeds, to live in His light in the present, and to look forward in faith.

Passover 1jpg

Together with remembrance; rebirth and hope  also are key elements of Passover. The week-long festival is always celebrated in the Spring, when fresh new life is bursting forth after the gray confines of the winter. (Southern hemisphere readers please see footnote) [2] As we prepare for and participate in this rich and redemptive appointed time, we discover its gifts of the possibility and hope of renewal, of spiritual growth and positive change.

The festival of Passover is in fact a composite of four significant appointed times, namely: the Time of our Freedom (Z’man Cheruteinu), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot), the Feast of First Fruits (Chag HaBikkurim), and the start of the Counting of the Omer (Shemirat HaOmer).

TIME OF OUR FREEDOM – Zman Cheruteinu

Z’man Cheruteinu focuses on God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. Passover Eve, when the special Seder meal is enjoyed, commemorates the momentous events of the Exodus. The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzraim, which is derived from the Hebrew words tzar – narrow and confined, tza’ar – pain, and meitzar, meaning constriction of vision, all of which are aspects of slavery. This season of freedom reminds us that, no matter the constraints or challenges we face, our God who delivers from evil always offers the hope of redemption.

The transition of the redeemed Israelites, from slaves bound in Egypt to a people following God in the wilderness en route to their Promised Land, required movement; a movement away from and a movement towards. To gain freedom we need to be ready to move with God in the direction He leads and in the way He opens up before us, which always will be closer to Himself. At this season, let us press forward with renewed dedication to move further away from the limitations of our own ‘Egypt’ and closer towards the Beloved of our souls.

Passover 2jpg

This movement from bondage towards freedom, from exile to redemption, is recounted at the Seder meal in the form of a haggadah, a special retelling of the Exodus story. We re-enact the meal the Israelites ate in anticipation of their liberation, as directed by God, with matzah, green and bitter herbs, and a reminder of the lamb that was sacrificed. We remember that on the eve of deliverance, a Passover lamb was slaughtered by each family and its blood applied to the doorposts of the home. At this sign of the blood, the plague of death would pass by their door but would enter the houses of those spiritually bound to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, and the first born sons in those homes would die.

We also remember that through the sacrifice of the last Passover Lamb, Yeshua ben Yosef, God offered His own without-blemish, first-born son as a sacrifice for His Household. He is offering another opportunity for the nations – for Egypt – to receive redemption. All who apply this Lamb’s blood to the doorposts of their hearts are spared spiritual death as children of the Father and, as Yeshua said, can enter his “new creation” life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears [the Hebrew word indicates ‘hears and actively obeys’] my word and believes on Him [the Father] who sent me, has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death to life.
(John 5:24)

The Seder night  also is known by its biblical reference, Leil Shimurim, a ‘night of vigil, or watching’ for God.

And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching (leil shimurim) by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:41-42)

World history was critically impacted on Leil Shimurim. It was a night of great anticipation. The Israelites had seen the power of their God unleashed upon the great nation of Egypt with its gods that represented the forces of nature. He had demonstrated that all nature was in the hands of the one God and Creator of all. Now His people would be delivered and brought to Himself. The birth of His nation would prove that He also was the Master of all mankind’s history.

Centuries later, Yeshua and twelve close disciples would celebrate their last Seder meal together on another history-shaking “night of watching”. After the meal they would keep vigil in an olive grove on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. For Yeshua, as the Lamb about to be sacrificed, it would be a time of agonizing anticipation as the weight of mankind’s history pressed upon him. Would the light of Truth he carried go forth to illumine the darkness of the nations and bring to further fullness the freedom and redemption offered by his Father? Would hearts be prepared to hear?

Where were his disciples? Were they keeping vigil with him? No, they were asleep!
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter,
“So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)

Yeshua, as the Servant Messiah, would drink the cup of suffering alone. He would be betrayed by his brothers, be captured, mocked and whipped, and suffer death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans; then he would be raised to new life by his Father and open the gate of freedom for all. During the forty-nine days of the Omer that followed, the disciples would truly awaken and experience a dramatic transformation on the Jubilee day of Shavuot-Pentecost. As a result, the good news would spread like holy fire to all corners of the earth. All who received it could then sing in praise and thankfulness,

“We have been set free from slavery in Egypt.
Behold our God, who is majestic in holiness, doing wonders!
Our Father is God and we will exalt Him!
The Lord will reign forever and ever!” (Exodus 15:1-18)


Matzah is a central symbol of Passover. The first matzah is eaten at the Seder and is the staple ‘bread’ during the next seven days, when no leavened products are eaten, in accord with Exodus 13:3-8′

“Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. This day you are to go forth, in the month of Aviv. And when the Lord brings you into the land …which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; …and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory.”


Matzah is called both “bread of our affliction” and “bread of our freedom”. It is prepared with flour and water, with no chametz (yeast or leaven). On the eve of departure from Egypt, in their haste to be packed and ready to leave immediately they heard the call, the Israelites needed to bake bread that did not require time to rise. Thus it is connected with the affliction of those who were still slaves.

Leaven is often a metaphor for sin in the Bible. Therfore, spiritually as well as physically, unleavened matzah presents a perfect picture of the one who bore our affliction in order to procure our freedom. He became the “bread of our freedom”. The Lamb without sin, who was bruised, pierced, striped with a whip, and broken, that we might be healed and made whole and set free to live a truly “risen” life!



The first celebration of the bikkurim, the first fruits of the harvest, occurred on 16 Nissan, the day after the first day of the very first Passover (Leviticus 23:10-11). This was the time of the barley harvest, and on the evening of 15 Nissan the first barley sheaves would be cut, put into baskets and stored until the next day, when they were brought, in lively procession singing praises to God, to the Temple to be ceremonially waved by the priests. Together with the priest, the participants would proclaim:

“A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt …and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O Lord, hast given me.”
(Deuteronomy 26:5, 8-10)

The first barley sheaf was called the Omer, the waving of which indicated the consecration of all the harvest to God and marked the start of the counting of fifty days until the final wheat harvest, which occurred at Shavuot, Pentecost. As the ‘first fruit’ sheaves were being lifted to God, the Bread of Life that had come from Heaven was already raised from the earth as the first fruit of a completely new harvest. Interestingly, as recorded in Joshua 5:11-12, the manna from heaven that God had provided throughout the forty years of the Israelite’s journey in the wilderness ceased on that same day. From then on they would eat of the grain from the earth.

And on the morrow after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased…and the people of Israel had manna no more, but ate of the fruit of the land…

When the Father raised Yeshua from death to life, he was the first to receive a resurrected body. It was literally a new creation of God. No body had been like it before. Therefore, on the day appointed to offer the first fruits of one’s first grain harvest to the Creator, he became the “First fruit” of the harvest to come at the great and final resurrection of the dead. ( See Luke 23:56; 24:1; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 20)


The day of resurrection and new life establishes a connection between Passover and Pentecost. The two Feasts, in conjunction with Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, were holy convocations when all males, as representatives of the whole community, went up to the House of God in Jerusalem. These three pilgrimage festivals physically enacted the great sweeping plan of God to bring His people from the exile of bondage to full and universal redemption.

And you shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath [of Passover], from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath…
(Leviticus 23:15)

The festival of First Fruits is celebrated the day after the first day of Passover. The Omer sheaf is waved and, in expectation of the joyful festival of Pentecost – Shavuot, the counting of the interim seven weeks begins. This ‘counting’ links physical liberation with spiritual redemption; the bread of the earth with the bread of the spirit – the Word of God. The latter is revealed by God to His newly formed people at the first Pentecost at Sinai. It is then reaffirmed by the empowering outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God at the celebration of Pentecost on Mount Zion.

Passover 5jpg

Detail from Marc Chagall’s Blue Window



Preparation is a significant and integral part of every biblical holiday. The planning during the week prior to each Sabbath usually culminates on Friday in a bustle of cleaning, last minute shopping, food preparation and welcoming guests. Then the candles are lit and the peace of Shabbat is ushered in like a radiant, beautiful Queen. Without some advance planning and preparation this would not be possible. The same principle applies to the Shabbatot, the set-apart days, of the annual Festival Cycle.

Preparations for the annual festival of Pesach, or Passover, begin at least a month before the holiday, with a planned schedule of thorough housecleaning – the model for “spring-cleaning”! Invitations are given or received for the Seder meal, which is prepared for in fine detail.

Immediately after Passover one spiritually prepares oneself through the forty-nine days of the Omer for the powerful fiftieth day of the Festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost.

Preceding Rosh HaShana, the whole month of Elul is regarded as a time of preparation, which intensifies after Rosh HaShana with the Ten Days of Awe before Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement. In the Land of Israel, after the solemn hush of Yom Kippur, when the final soul-stirring blast of the shofar is stilled, almost immediately one can hear the tap-tapping of nails being hammered into wooden frames as families make a symbolic start on the erection of their sukkahs, or booths – the fragile temporary dwellings they will eat in, and some will sleep in, for the impending week-long celebration of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles.

Why this emphasis on preparation in the annual round of festivals? One answer is that the core of each festival is spiritual. If you’ve been to New York and haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty, you haven’t been to New York. If you participate in a biblical Feast and you haven’t grown as a person, and matured a little more spiritually, then you miss the point of the Feast. In the same way that a holiday or trip will be as successful as the preparation made beforehand, so the enormous God-given opportunities afforded in the participation of every Feast of the Lord will only be fully taken advantage of if the appropriate preparations have been made, with conscious, eager anticipation.

Even with preparation one may sometimes feel that one is simply “scratching the surface.” But, take heart; even the surface of each Feast is fertile and rich with possibilities for growing in understanding of our God and His ways. As one enters in and participates in the annual cycle of the Biblical Feasts, one realizes that it is not merely an endless repetition of “same-old, same-old.” Each time around is a new and fresh encounter, because you are not the same. Each year you “scratch” a little deeper and discover riches not imagined and come to appreciate that, with the necessary preparation, the journey on the “highway to Zion” is exceedingly joyful and rewarding.

Cleanse out the old leaven (chametz) that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:7)


As Passover preparation is time to consider, in a practical hands-on way as we “spring-clean” our homes, that we who were once slaves to the world are now willing servants of God. The extra physical effort involved of thoroughly cleaning the refrigerator and oven, sorting our cabinets and shelves, checking everything for chametz, removing all breadcrumbs, etc., etc. can enable us to empathize more with the hardworking slaves!

As one cleans out the crumbs, which seem to multiply and hide in the most unexpected places, one comes to more deeply appreciate the nature of “sin that so easily besets” and the watchful eye needed in order to conquer it and keep it at bay. The cleaning and preparation also imparts the valuable lesson that true freedom requires our effort and participation. God wants us to partner with Him on our journey through life. As we persevere in faith and become more Messiah-like, we trust that our hearts, as well as our homes at Passover, are becoming chametz-free zones.

A few Passover cleaning and preparation tips from Blu Greenberg! [3]

1. Start with the bedrooms and bathrooms first. Clean out dressers and closets; check all pockets for left over snacks etc.! Once a bedroom is declared chametz-free, no food should be allowed in. Stock up with new toothbrushes and throw out old ones before the Seder. Make sure toothbrush holders are cleaned well.

2. Begin checking pantry shelves and start using up or packing away grain products you won’t be using (such as flour, barley, grain cereals, pastas etc.) Any unopened products can be packed away and stored out of sight until after Passover. Mark the boxes/bags Chametz! so you don’t open them inadvertently. Seal off an area in a closet if necessary and also a section of the freezer for any frozen goods. Remember that whiskey and beer are grain products.

3. The kitchen is the biggest challenge. Storage cabinets and drawers should be cleaned out and wiped with a damp cloth. The week before Passover, refrigerators, freezers, ovens, dishwashers should be carefully cleaned, checking all linings, folds etc. Once cleaned, label e.g., Chametz-free zone! and they should not be used for leavened products until after Passover.

4. The transition to chametz-free products is quite a juggling act and quite an adventure. As well as “Kosher for Passover” matzah, most supermarkets today have a wide variety of products that are so marked, including delicious macaroon cookies, frozen goods and desserts. There certainly is no need to feel deprived. (A few simple and tasty Passover recipes, as well as more details on the Seder meal, will be included in Passover II.)

5. The night before Passover Eve, a final thorough search for chametz is undertaken throughout the house. To make this an adventure for children, as well as to clearly imprint the fact that Passover week is beginning, families often turn off the lights and with a candle and/or flashlight search to find any chametz. A few pieces can be hidden beforehand, in small, sealed plastic bags, in strategic places. Once found and disposed of a declaration is made:

“All leaven and all chametz which is in my possession, which I have not seen or destroyed, nor have knowledge of shall be null, void, ownerless, and as dust of the earth.”

Now all that is possible has been done and one is eager and ready for Passover!

The Passover activities may seem rather daunting and intimidating to those who are not yet familiar with them. Please rest assured that all that one does, if done in faith, even – and maybe specially – taking ‘baby steps’, is pleasing to the Lord. To whatever degree one chooses to, or is able to, observe the week of Unleavened Bread, it always proves to be a very rewarding and worthwhile spiritual experience. Whenever we accept His invitation to meet with Him, the Lord is faithful to be there.

 ~ Passover series by Keren Hannah Pryor


1. Arnold Eisen, quoted in Michael Strassfeld’s, The Festival Cycle, p6
2. For those in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, the seasonal applications present a challenge! However, the Festivals offer opportunities to keep the land of Israel in active remembrance while you appreciate the physical season wherever you may be. As you participate in the Festival Cycle you truly can say, “Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel!” in accordance with His Word.
3. Blu Greenberg, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY, 1983; 404ff.

The Liminal Space of BEAUTY ~ Cindy Elliott



Life is such a beautiful paradox.
There is no intimacy without mystery.
There is nothing to be valued if everything lies in your hands.
There is no knowledge until you loosen your grasp.
And there is no beauty until beauty conceals herself. [1]
~ Tzvi Freeman

True beauty is like a sublime breath of Heaven; like a burst of crisp, clean, thin mountain air that leaves one new to this elevated height breathless. It awakens the soul and overwhelms our entire being. It is what Tzvi Freeman calls, “A window on infinity.” It is only fully appreciated, fully seen, and fully experienced through surrender. And when you do surrender, this beauty moves you into a new space of belonging.

Beauty contains an element of the eternal. Rabbi Sholom Dovber wrote that beauty is, …“the essence of the Infinite Light extended into creation.” [2]  Think of a wondrous landscape – one that overwhelms and stills your heart, brings quiet to your thoughts and wraps your soul with belonging. That – is – beauty.

An act of kindness, the laughter of a child, a much needed hug, the unconditional love of a parent, tears, innocence, music that overwhelms your soul, the wonder of birth, a homecoming… all issue forth the fragrance of beauty. And our own simple acts of beauty – of loving kindness and compassion – they have infinite potential for releasing wellsprings of healing and creating a new space of life and belonging for others. 

Beauty surprises, at times turning shadow into day – darkness into light. It can be realized in both birth and death; more often in imperfection than perfection; as much in grief as in joy. How can death emanate a fragrance of beauty? Or grief be filled with its essence?
Can the imperfect really be more beautiful than the perfect? Maybe dark beauty, that which seems to form from the shadows, is an opportunity for faithfulness to transcend seemingly irreconcilable tensions. Maybe it is as Hermann Broch says, “The sadness and despair of beauty laid bare.” When first wounded we do tend to pull inside ourselves, to hide – and we do need a time to let the sting calm down. But there comes a  time for healing. A time to bring our hurts and wounds out of the darkness and into the light. 

You are altogether beautiful, my love; and there is no blemish in you.
Song of Solomon 4:7

The other day I was wandering along the shore collecting shells, rocks, and sticks – treasures for future creations. Each touch would stir thoughts of possiblities. I was surprised when I realized that the broken pieces called out the loudest to me. In my mixed media I love to use natural material – and it is the fractured pieces that are the most precious to me in my creating. The imperfections, the blemishes – these are really what add a depth and interest to my work. This brings to mind the first tablets, etched by the finger of G-d, broken but held precious and placed next to the second set in the holy Ark. Brokenness and wholeness – side by side in the Holy of Holies. Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas (16th century) taught that the Ark is a symbol of the human heart – brokenness and wholeness – side by side.

Leviticus 11:33 tells us that an earthen vessel that becomes tamei (impure) must be broken. Mishnah Kelim 2:1 explains:

Vessels of wood, vessels of leather, vessels of bone or vessels of glass that are flat are clean. And those that form a receptacle are unclean. If they were broken they become clean again. If one remade them into vessels they are susceptible to uncleanness henceforth. [However] when broken they become clean.

We are beings of the earth, vessels of clay. And we all are broken. Each and every one of us has a crack or two. Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Infinite Light extended into His creation.

art of the preicous

Rabbi Erica Asch tells us the story [4] of Ashikaga Yoshimasa:

In the 15th century in Japan, military commander Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke one of his beautiful Chinese tea bowls. He sent it back to China for repairs. Disappointed with the shoddy repair job, some say it was put together with metal staples, Yoshimasa challenged Japanese craftsmen to look for a more beautiful method of repair. The craftsmen examined the bowl and decided not to hide the cracks. Instead, they highlighted them, using gold seams to repair the broken bowl. The art of Kintsugi was born.

Kintsugi turns brokenness into art, making cracks and blemishes beautiful. It is an extension of the Japanese value of wabi-sabi, finding beauty in that which is damaged or imperfect. With this method of repair, the service of an object does not end when it is broken. Instead, the break becomes an essential – and beautiful – part of the life and story of the object. There is beauty in the brokenness.

The art of Kintsugi speaks of the beauty of living a life of authenticity. Of courage and honesty. Of openness and truth. Of the beauty of imperfection over perfection. It reflects that the deepest beauty emanates not from our outward appearance but radiates from our soul. We tend to think of brokenness as something ‘less than’ but the truth is the beauty in brokenness is one that overwhelms. Brokenness is holy and as broken vessels of clay we are each one of us infinitely precious in the eyes of our Abba.  

In Scripture the Jewish people are called Tzvaot Hashem, the army of G-d (Exodus 7:4). Tzava, army, is derived from the root Tzivyon, beauty [3] – Tzivyon Hashem, the beauty of G-d. We are indeed His greatest masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) – formed and knitted together in our mother’s womb by the hands of our Creator (Psalm 139:13-16) and to Him we are beautiful and of priceless worth.

Abba, embrace us with your beauty. Give us eyes to see the world bathed in the infinite and to search for the latent beauty in every soul. Abba sensitize our heart to see your strokes of beauty throughout all of your creation and to never fear the beauty that forms from the shadows. Abba, surprise us and move us toward new thresholds and into an even deeper and more intimate belonging in you.
Todah rabah, thank you Abba.


* image from Kintugi

1. “For something to be beautiful, such as a tree, or a song, it must force you to attempt to resolve some conflict, often between order and chaos, or tension and resolution. If the conflict is an irresolvable paradox, the beauty lasts forever. And that’s the sort of beauty of which life is made.” Tzvi Freeman
2. Shared by Tzvi Freeman, Is Beauty Truth?
3. See and example of this in Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:4 – beauty, desire, glory.
4. Rabbi Erica Asch, Beauty in the Brokenness

Journal Jots for TEVET – Keep Climbing!

I form light and create darkness. I make shalom (peace) and create ra (evil).
I Adonai, do these things.
(Isaiah 45:7) Woe unto him that strives with his Maker….
Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, “What are you making?”
(Isaiah 45:9).


Download – Journal Jots – TEVET

* Frank LaLou, Creation

Journal Jots for KISLEV – Keep Climbing!

“The soul of man is the lamp of G-d,” the Book of Proverbs tell us (20:27). What this means is that ultimately, our task is not to light candles, but to be candles. We have the potential to be the bits of light that help bring G-d back into a world gone dark. As the Sefas Emes puts it in discussing Hanukkah, “A human being is created to light up this world.” Rabbi Shai Held, Hanukkah, 1874


Holy Light

Download – Journal Jots – KISLEV

Journal Jots for CHESHVAN – Keep Climbing!


Like a father who stoops to play with his toddler, laughing with the child, excited over those silly things that excite a small child, yet always remaining an adult who is beyond all these games–so, too, He creates within Himself a place where in love and laughter, in compassion and awe and beauty, Man and G-d could find one another, and neither would be alone. ~ Tzvi Freeman


RACHAMIM / Compassion



* artwork by Cindy Lou Elliott

Recommended Torah Commentaries

Ben Bag Bag said, “Turn and turn about in it [the Torah] for everything is in it; and within it you shall look, and grow old and gray over it, and not stir from it; for there is no better portion for you than this.”

Every sentence, every word, every letter, every space – holy holy holy, precious, bursting with understanding and meaning, brimming with life! Oh how I want to more fully embrace and understand every word of our Abba.  

We are on the cusp of a new Torah Reading Cycle. Just the thought of stepping once again into Bereshit causes my heart to tremble with excitment. Every time I read the first words of Bereshit: Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – I know I am  once again home. 

We are meant to study, wrestle, argue, and yes even dance with Torah. Following are a handful of teachers whose insights and understandings have accompanied me in my studies and who have helped me do just that – study, wrestle, argue, and dance. They have become my trusted friends and much beloved teachers.

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek – Be strong, be strong and may we strengthen one another!

RABBI SACKS – Covenant & Conversation

This summer Rabbi Sacks completed the fifth and final installation of the series Covenant & ConversationDeuteronomy: Renewal of the Sinai Covenant. This five volume set includes a number of profound, illuminating, and inspiring essays on each Torah portion – each inviting us into a conversation with Torah. Rabbi Sacks is a great scholar, philosopher, and theologian. Deeply thoughtful, an intellectual giant, his words require deep thought and contemplation. I often find myself having to read a small portion, wait, then read again. If I were to rate this series I would absolutely give it a 6 out of 5 stars.

SCHMUEL GOLDIN – Unlocking The Torah Text

I wish we had more than 24 hours in a day so I could deeply study with more than one teacher through every new cycle. If I were able to – Schmuel Goldin’s collection is one I would include every year. With each parsha Rabbi Goldin includes a number of studies and thought provoking questions – many, if not most – I never even though to ask. An incredible, very readable work, that compares and contrasts opposing rabbinical points of view. This set is truly a gem!

RABBI SHAI HELD – The Heart of Torah

This two volume set is another favorite. Rabbi Shai Held includes two essays for each weekly portion. He draws from Torah, rabbinic commentaries, contemporary biblical and pastoral studies. He has helped me more than once to read with new eyes, given text new understanding. A very accessible and thoughtful read.

RABBI ABRAHAM ISAAC HAKOHEN KOOK – Gold From The Land of Israel, Sapphire From The Land of Israel

Each book is a collection of essays on the Torah portions, nuggets distilled from the writings of Rabbi Abraham Kook. Rabbi Kook’s writing was both poetic and esoteric and – for myself – at times very difficult to understand. Rabbi Chanan Morrison has made Rabbi Abraham Kook’s writings both accessible (translating them for non-Hebrew readers) and understandable. These books are works of beauty.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG – The Beginning of Desire, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus, Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers

I will say from the beginning that these books are in a class of their own. Beautiful, arresting, really just glorious. Each of these commentaries weaves together biblical, talmudic, and midrashic interpretations. These are reads I come back to time and time again as there is no way I can fully take in all Avivah Zornberg is communicating. Avivah Zornberg has so often set my heart on fire. 

DAVID EBENBACH – the artist’s Torah

This book by David Ebenbach has become an absolute favorite of mine. A collection of essays – one for each portion – The Artist Torah is a delightful read for the creative soul (of which we all are). Rich, inspiring, and though provoking. I have come back to this read time and time again. Pure joy – this is a ‘kind’ read that truly feeds my soul!


This five book series is one that has been on my wish list for years. I have Rabbi Hirsch’s Tehillim – a book on the Psalms that I keep out and read from almost every day. I have read that Hirsch’s Tehillim is written in a similar way to his Torah series so I wanted to include just a short note on how Rabbi Hirsch brings unique understanding and light to Scripture. His books are not a fast read – at least for myself, but they are enjoyable and beautiful. Books that one could spend a lifetime exploring.



Psalm 27

THERE ARE EASIER PSALMS: Some ring with “HalleluYah” or feature nature’s joy in field and tree; others darker, give us short and piercing cries of the heart.

But not Psalm 27. Not this poem that Jewish tradition bids us read for fifty consecutive days each year. Here, we encounter something more nuanced: the psalm of spiritual struggle, the heart that sings and weeps, the intimate wrestling match between faith and doubt that characterizes our existence…

Psalm 27 knows our pain and our joy…It is the voice of stubborn and challenged faith…it is for the obstacles without and the obstacles within. It is whiplash, journey and mirror at once…May the ancient psalm that plumbs the heart open your own.


~ Rabbi David Stern, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27, from the Foreword by Rabbi Debra J. Robbins.

Download PSALM 27 – Hebrew, Transliteration, English

Artwork: Cindy Elliot

You can listen to Psalm 27, sang by Christene Jackman posted below.

Purchase a copy at Shuv Store


Festival Cycle Dates 5780 / 2019-2020

Our gift to you for the new calendar year 5780:


As long as the days the earth endure, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.
Genesis 8:22

Simply print off, fold in three sections and glue together to make a beautiful calendar to stand on your desk…or wherever.

A 5780 prayer and blessing to you from His-Israel:

May this new year bring us all fresh passion, greater understanding, and deeper insights into the Word and will of the One who Created us in love. May we live each moment of our lives, even the most mundane, with the understanding that all moments are infused with deep purpose and spiritual meaning. And may this soulful living lead us into a closer more intimate relationship with our faithful Abba-Father.

We trust that 5780 will find your heart overflowing with the love of Heaven, your soul filled with the wonders of Heaven, and your body in constant praise to Heaven so that you may truly:
“Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

For His holy Name’s sake, in love.

Keren and Cindy

The world says that time is money, I say that time is life. [1]

Keren and I have great anticipation for the new Rosh Chodesh cycle SPIRALING UP! beginning in NISSAN – March 2020. Our journey through the Hebrew month series every year has lead myself (Cindy) to the realization that every moment, including those moments that might be thought of as mundane, are precious and bursting – full of soul possibilities, spiritual meaningfulness and purpose. If we listen, our souls “feel the brevity of it all, the beauty. It wants us to behold each day, each minute, as a precious gift that we should not waste.” [2]

When  working on the new Festival Cycle Calendar I began exploring the many Jewish interpretations, traditions and understandings of time. Jill Hammer in her book The Jewish Book Of Days tells us, “The wheel of the year is complex, wealthy with distinctions and characteristics…” 

Rabbi Trugman tells us in his book Seasons Of The Soul that “when considering…the passage of time…connected to the yearly holiday cycle…time can be experienced in one of four basic ways”:

1. Linear – past, present and future follow a chronological sequence; as each moment passes it is gone, never to return.

2. Circular – time repeats itself in phases of weeks, months, and years.

3. A Spiral – time twists ever-upwards… always returning to the same horizontal coordinate, but on a higher plane during each successive revolution. Thus, each moment of time is both completely new as well as cyclically and seasonally consistent.

4. Transcendent – above historical time all together. This is the way G-d experiences time. For, on a Divine level, past, present and future all occur simultaneously.

He explains how the yearly cycle of the Biblical feasts has the potential to catapult us from a linear, circular, and even spiral-like experience of time to a transcendent experience.

The cycle of the Jewish holidays gives us the ability to be completely connected to and engrossed in time, while allowing us to simultaneously transcend its limitations.
For those who have been privileged to experience the timelessness of Shabbat and the holidays, they know the transcendent qualities accessible on these special days if we but allow ourselves to dive into them with total abandon. Great is the reward for those who make that leap into and out of time.

Rabbi Waskow [4] teaches that these festivals, especially the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), “are a kind of national life cycle in which Passover represents birth, Shavuot represents marriage and commitment, and Sukkot represents maturity.” In this context the yearly cycle can be viewed as a mirror of our life and the journey of our souls.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. [3]

Connected also with the Divine rhythms of time, is time’s connectedness to Creation.
Jill Hammer shares:

G-d made three realms in the world: sky, earth, and sea: “In seven days the Eternal made the sky, the earth, and the sea with everything in it, and rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11). These three realms manifest through the three pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – and the days that follow them.


Shavuot is connected to the sky. The sky is…the wedding canopy of Israel…we receive the Torah from the heavenly realms. We pray for the harvest to be successful and for rain to fall. On Tisha b’AV…we pray for the afflicted and martyred…On Rosh Hashanah we contemplate the past year and consider our deeds. On Yom Kippur, we wear white…the heaven’s correspond to the dimension of the soul, and this is the season when we do the most soul work.


Sukkot is connected to the earth. On Sukkot, the fields open to give us their bounty… we dwell outside in booths…we plant crops…we celebrate the holidays of Hanukkah and Purim, when earthly actions by human beings saved the Jewish people.
We honor trees on Tu b’Shevat. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple, the most holy space of the people. On the 1st of Nisan, just before Passover, we mark the anniversary of the building of the Tabernacle. [G-d’s first physical dwelling place on earth.]


Passover is connected to the realm of the ocean. On Passover, the Sea of Reeds parts to allow the Israelites to pass from slavery to freedom…The sea represents birth; and at this season the Jewish people were born. During this time, Miriam’s well…appears in the desert. The sea, which ebbs and flows in patterns of days and months, corresponds to the dimension of time; and it is at this season that we pay the most attention to time, counting every day between Passover and Shavuot. [5]

Our Abba has written layer upon layer into the circle of the year. So much to learn, so much to discover. Rabbi Waskow describes: “More of us are experiencing a thirst for the water of our spiritual wellsprings, or hunger for [our Jewish] roots…To fill that thirst and feed that hunger means that we must open up to what the holidays can be…much more than bubbles.” [6]

1. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as shared by Rabbi Simon Jacobson in Toward a Meaningful Life, 143
2. Naomi Levy, Einstein and the Rabbi, 116
3. From the journal of John Muir (American naturalist) dated July 27.
4. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons Of Our Joy
5. Jill Hammer, The Jewish Book of Days, 14-15
6. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy, preface

Journal Jots for ELUL – Keep Climbing!

Every person has both a body and a soul,” said the Rebbe. “It is like a bird and its wings. Imagine if a bird were unaware that its wings enabled it to fly, they would only add an extra burden of weight. But once it flaps its wings, it lifts itself skyward.

We all have wings – our souls – All we have to do is learn to use them.


~Rebbe Menachem Schneerson


The Prophets (3) The God of Pathos and Passion


The God Of Pathos And Passion – 9.04 minutes


To the prophets God was overwhelmingly real and shatteringly present. They never spoke of Him as from a distance.

They disclosed attitudes of God rather than ideas about God.

God does not reveal Himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world.

It was the certainty of God’s love and mercy that enabled the prophets to accept His anger.


~ Keren Hannah


You can purchase The Prophets from Amazon.com
The Prophets (Perennial Classics)