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


We enjoyed such delight in the depths and wonder of Heschel’s words last summer that it will be a worthwhile enterprise to revisit this collection of his inspirational thoughts this year!

Join His-Israel each week this summer and be inspired and challenged as we share words, thoughts, concepts and inspirations of this special teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (z”l – of blessed memory).


I knew that I guard in my breast
a heaven-gram
for the world,
that God has reserved for Himself
every moment of my life.*


Dr. Susannah Heschel speaking of her father – especially vital in this year, and decade, of the peh – the mouth, in the biblical Hebrew calendar

“Words,” he often wrote, “are themselves sacred, God’s own tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness–or evil–into the world.”

He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.


“Words create worlds,” he used to tell me when I was a child, “and they must be used very carefully.” Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. “The Book of Proverbs reminds us,” he wrote, “that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”


~ Excerpt from the introduction toMoral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity’ Essays by Abraham Joshua Heschel


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wore many hats. He was a philosopher, a human rights activist, a Rabbi – teacher, interfaith bridge builder, a writer, a theologian, a poet…

There is not enough grandeur in our souls
To be able to unravel in words
The knot of time and eternity.
One should like to sing for all men,
For all generations…
There is a song in the wind
And joy in the trees.
The Sabbath arrives in the world…



Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (2nd from right) in the Selma Civil Rights March with Martin Luther King, Jr. (4th from right)


Heschel later wrote, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”


Heschel in his study



Rabbi Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel.

From Duke University Libraries




*Abraham Heschel, Between Me and the World

** Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath


THE OMER – Counting Up to Revelation


Teach us to number/count our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

Counting the fifty days from the second day of Passover to the Jubilee day of Pentecost, or Shavuot, is called Sefirat Ha’OmerCounting the Omer. Two questions immediately spring to mind: “What is the Omer?” and “Why should we count it?” The Hebrew word omer literally means ‘measure.’ Biblically, it is associated with the offering of the first sheaf of the barley harvest in the Temple on the sixteenth day of Nissan, which is the second day of the festival of Passover.

And you shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath, 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; then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord (Leviticus 23:15-17).

The date of the Festival of Shavuot/Pentecost or Weeks is set according to this date. Forty-nine days, or seven weeks /shavuot, which gives the festival its name, are counted and Shavuot is celebrated on the fiftieth day. The Greek term related to the word fifty is pentekostei, from which we derive the English name Pentecost. These concepts – the “measure” of the omer, the counting of days, the symmetry of the weeks – instill within us an awareness of the balance, harmony and stability of God’s appointed times. Nothing is haphazard or insignificant. The biblical calendar is a measured walk through time that is made holy by His Presence with us.


The question remains, “Why should we, in our modern times, count the days between Passover and Pentecost?” We can find answers to the question on many levels. When, for example, we consider the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel we see that this is the time between the first harvesting of the barley crop and the final grain harvest of the wheat. It is a critical time for the grain farmers; indeed for the nation, as bread is a staple food. Each day the growing crops are carefully checked, the weather is anxiously observed, the days to harvest are counted. If anything fails, a famine could ensue. How does this apply to us today, however? We can buy bread ready packaged, even sliced, every day!

Let us consider the important spiritual application Yeshua made regarding bread, when he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of Y/H/V/H.”

At Passover the whole sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest is waved as an offering to God, chaff and all! Passover is the season of Deliverance. We receive the gift of salvation from God’s mighty outstretched arm and, as those enslaved to sin, all we can bring before Him as an offering is ourselves, with the chaff of our sin and all! Then, we immediately set out on our journey of freedom and new life. Every day we learn something new. God draws us, with great longing, ever closer to Himself.


When the Israelites were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, they needed to be set free from an engrained slave mentality. After witnessing the miracles of God and proclaiming Him as their God and King, their passage from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai was a time of preparation. Their minds were being renewed in order that they might receive the great revelation of God that awaited them at the mountain. So it is with us. When we are redeemed from sin and death by our Father’s loving grace, through the perfect sacrifice of the blood of the Passover Lamb, we need a season of transformation – a renewing of our minds and hearts – before we can stand in the place of greater revelation of the glory of God. We must consciously move forward on our journey, covered by the cloud of His mercy, before we can stand at the Mount in the fire of His glory.


The walk from redemption to revelation is not a random wander. God is a God of purpose and order. His greatest gift to His children, after the gift of life, is the potential and the ability to change and to grow as we learn of Him and follow His ways. After his crucifixion and resurrection at Passover, Yeshua appeared to his disciples and taught them through forty days of the Omer. He then told them to wait in Jerusalem until Shavuot, when they would ascend the Mount of the House of God and would receive the “promise of the Father” that would empower them to do all they were called to do.

To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, saying, “…you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit, …you shall receive power when the Spirit of Holiness has come upon you” (Acts 1:3-5,8).

The disciples spent the days after Yeshua’s ascension waiting purposefully for the power that the Father had promised. We are told that they “…with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Power is a serious responsibility. A good parent, for example, will not give the keys of his or her car to an underage or untrained child. As we grow in knowledge and understanding through the study of His Word and walk in faith after the Shepherd of our souls, our Father enables us to more effectively exercise the power of His Spirit of holiness.

True freedom that has worth, reality and meaning is only found through the Word of God and the power of the Spirit of holiness given at Shavuot. At the first Pentecost on Mount Sinai, God gave His eternal Word, the Bread of Life, to His redeemed people through Moses and sealed it on two tablets of stone. At the Pentecost on Mount Zion, through His Word made flesh in Yeshua, the fire of the Holy Spirit rested on the disciples and sealed the Word in their hearts, and filled them with power to bear witness to the Risen Messiah.

Those redeemed, as a “new creation” in Messiah, are assured of two things on the journey of faith: (i) Yeshua is with us. He said, “…I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and (ii) our Father God has provided us with all we need for the journey. He has given us the map and instructions in fine detail in His Word, and the power, the comfort and the counsel of His Spirit of Holiness. It bears an awesome responsibility to realize that the same resurrection power by which God raised Yeshua from the grave is available to us, working in us and with us.

Counting the Omer, the significant days between Passover and Pentecost – Salvation and Revelation – reminds us that our journey of faith is a daily walk, and we must actively participate with our Father in it. He provides us with the “raw materials”, comparable to the sheaf of first fruits waved at Passover. At Shavuot, however, two freshly baked loaves of bread are waved as an offering. The production of loaves of bread that sustain life – the harvesting, winnowing, grinding, mixing, kneading, baking – requires man’s efforts. If we work with Him, we can joyfully offer our Father the “two fragrant loaves” of the fruit of our labor at Pentecost.



Traditionally, the count of the day and the blessing is said in the evening, but if this is missed it can be done during the following daylight hours.

Blessing to recite:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu al Sefirat ha’Omer. Ha’yom, yom echad [sheni, shlishi…] ba’Omer.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us through Your commandments, and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is the first [second, third…etc.] day of the Omer.

It is advisable to print out calendar pages, or have a means of checking off the days as you count from the first evening through, the fiftieth day, when the festival of Shavuot is celebrated.

As our focus is centered upon the Scriptures, it is traditional to read through Psalm 119, a few verses a day, during the Counting of the Omer. The psalm is divided according to the 23 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the AlephBet. The Word of God is made up of combinations of the individual letters and each one is considered holy. This is also an opportune time, therefore, to study some Hebrew!


Thou hast made known to me the ways of life;
Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy Presence.
(Acts 2:28)

As we count the days in anticipation of the revelation of God at His appointed time this coming Pentecost, let us also meditate on the direction of our lives and the influence we are having on those our Father has placed in our path. May we allow Him to reveal the “chaff” that is stubbornly clinging to our lives that we may repent of it and release it. As we walk and work with the Lord through this season, may the Spirit of holiness give us “clean hands and a pure heart” that we may ascend the mountain of the Lord at Shavuot and receive all He longs to share with us (Psalm 24:3-5).


~ Keren Hannah


5780 / 2020 Counting The Omer Calendar


Sefirat Ha’Omer – Counting the Omer between Passover and Shavuot


“The number seven is code for two things in the Torah – wholeness and holiness – and it’s the base unit for the way sacred time is arranged in the biblical view. The seventh day is the day of rest. When the priests get the tabernacle ready to be G-d’s house, they do a seven day ritual to prepare. Harvest festivals last seven days, and a baby boy gets seven days in the world before undergoing circumcision. When we count the Omer, we count seven sets of seven, each week building on the one before, like a spiral staircase, helping us to make the climb up to wherever it is that revelation happens for us.”*

Download 2020 Omer Calendar

 *Rabbi Sara Brandes, What’s an Omer, and Why are We Counting Them?


Chana Zelig*

The Israelites were about to go free. Nine of the ten plagues had already taken place. The tenth, they knew would be the last… Moses gathered the people and instructed them on the preparations they were to make. By any standard it was an epic moment.

For 210 years the Israelites had been in exile. They had experienced suffering, slavery, and attempted genocide. Now they were about to begin the journey know to history as the Exodus.

What would Moses say? He might have spoken about freedom, or the promised destination, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” He might have chosen to speak about the arduous journey that lay ahead…

Instead he spoke about children, and the distant future, and the duty to pass on memory to generations yet unborn. Three times he turned to the theme:

And if your children should ask you, “What is this rite you perform?” you shall say… (Exodus 12:26-27)

And you shall tell your child on that day, “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went out of Egypt.

(Exodus 13:8)

And if in that time your children should ask you, “What is this?” you shall say to him… (Exodus 13:14)**

Download:  DIY PESACH

                              INCLUDES A PASSOVER SEDER HAGGADAH!

* Chana Zelig, Pesach
** Rabbi Sacks, The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, pg. 16

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

Mamzer – Not Quite Acceptable – Cindy Elliott

We currently live in a world that seems on a never ending cycle of unkindness. We are no longer one family, but live many separate lives. Many are marginalized or isolated. Those who make the most noise seem to set the rules for who belongs and who doesn’t.

Today I spent my morning with Ray Vander Laan listening to his teaching on Timothy The Unlikely Disciple. My words here are a patchwork of paraphrase with a sprinkling of creative wonder. My hope is to cause us to consider the truth that if we are looking to anyone other than our Creator for belonging and defining who we are – we are living a false reality. Our Abba has called us His children, who are we to argue?

Paul came down to Derbe and went on to Lystra, where there lived a talmid named Timothy. He was the son of a Jewish woman who had come to trust, and a Greek father. All the brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; so he took him and did a b’rit-milah, because of the Jews living in those areas; for they all knew that his father had been a Greek. Acts 16:1-3

As the son of a Jewish woman and a Greek father – Timothy was a mamzer. According to the Talmud, mamzer is a blended noun which brings together mum (meaning defect) and zar (meaning strange or alien) or ‘a blemished pedigree.*’ According to Strong’s Concordance, mamzer is from an unused root meaning a mongrel. In modern Hebrew it literally means ‘a bastard.’

So what did this mean for Timothy?

Mamzers were not considered a legitimate part of the community and therefore were not permitted to go into the Temple Courts. He would not have been circumcised on the eighth day as a Son of the Covenant. No respected Rabbi of the time would have taken him on as a disciple. He would not have been accepted as a future son-in-law by a Jewish family, and his children would have carried the stigma of his status even to the tenth generation.**

Ostracized – is it possible that the other children called Timothy names and refused to play with him? Did people turn from him, afraid to associate with a mamzer? Did others cast slurs on his mother?*** Such a heavy weight for a young boy to live under. And imagine the heavy heart of his mother Eunice. Every time she saw the hurt and shame on her son’s face she knew that the mockery and rejection was from no doing of his own but the result of a choice she herself had made.

And then Rabbi Sha’ul, one who sat at the feet of one of the greatest rabbis of all time – Gamaliel, arrives in town. Had Timothy, his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois heard rumor of something Rabbi Sha’ul had spoken, “There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman…?” Did that mean there were no mamzers either?

Sha’ul saw something in Timothy that stirred his heart to take him under his wing. Not just under his wing as a student but into his heart as a son. Could you imagine what this meant to Timothy? No more exclusion, no more shame.

What a rain of healing must have fallen from Heaven and embraced the heart of Eunice. All those years of watching her son be rejected; all those years of hurting for her son. Who hadn’t heard of Rabbi Sha’ul, star pupil of the great Gamaliel? And now he had chosen her son to sit at his feet, to be covered in his dust, and to be called his son.

To Timothy my true son…(1 Timothy 1:2)

Which of us has not known what it is like to be seen as a mamzer  – in some way not quite fully accepted? And yet by the grace of the Father we are called His children.

See what love the Father has lavished on us in letting us be called G-d’s children!
For that is what we are. (1 John 3:1a)

In the Kingdom of G-d – there are no mamzers. Fully accepted, overwhelmingly loved, full of purpose and potential, absolutely necessary, each a radiant soul!

May all that is unforgiven in you
Be released,

May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities,

May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.

– John O’Donohue

May you know without a doubt  that you belong!

* Yevamoth 78a
** Genesis 17, Deuteronomy 23:2
*** For a fuller understanding of what it might have meant for Timothy to be a mamzer see The Attitude towards Mamzerim in Jewish Society in Late Antiquity by Meir Bar-Ilan

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!
In Him who loves us with an infinite love,

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.


Last, but not least, is Keren’s classic A Taste of Torah. A Taste of Torah is a much loved friend of mine. I want to include a link to a fuller review of Keren’s book:

A Taste of Torah

Keep your eyes open for – hopefully, and b’Ezrat HaShem, with the Lord’s help – a new publication of A Dash of Drash this year by FFOZ.