CHALUMOT – DREAMS – Cindy Elliott

A Word for the Month of KISLEV – A MONTH OF DREAMS

When the white eagle of the North is flying overhead
The browns, reds and golds of autumn lie in the gutter, dead.
Remember then, that summer birds with wings of fire flaying
Came to witness springs new hope, born of leaves decaying.
Just as new life will come from death, love will come at leisure.
Love of love, love of life and giving without measure
Gives in return a wondrous yearn of a promise almost seen.
Live hand-in-hand and together we’ll stand on the threshold of a dream. [1]

What would the world be like without dreams? Life immersed solely in materialism is coarse and bleak. It lacks the inspiring grandeur of expansive horizons; like a bird with clipped wings, it cannot raise itself above the bitter harshness of the present reality. We are only able to free ourselves from these shackles through the power of dreams.

Some foolishly take pride in being ‘realists.’ They insist on taking into account only the present state of the world – a partial and fragmented view of reality. In fact, it is our dreams which liberate us from the limitations of the current reality. It is our dreams that accurately reveal the inner truth of the universe.  [2]

Sefer Yetzirah 5:9 tell us that Kislev is ‘the month of sleep’, it is also considered ‘the month of dreams.’ Maybe that is because our bodies are physiologically attuned to the seasons. In Kislev as the days grow increasingly shorter and the nights increasingly longer, many of us grow increasingly lethargic. With the faded light and so much of nature resting, we tend to follow suit. We move less and sleep more and with sleep comes dreams.

Or, it could be that Kislev is called the month of dreams because within the Torah portions for this month, Va’yetze, Va’yeshev, and Miketz, we read about dreamers and nine of the ten dreams recorded in Bereshit.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman [3] said, “One must live with the times.” Rabbi Yehudah Leib, Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s brother, later expounded on what his brother meant: “‘One must live with the times’ means that every day one should ‘live with’ and experience in one’s own life the Torah portion of the week and the specific section of the week’s portion which is connected to that day.” [4]  So maybe Kislev is a time to examine and give consideration to the thoughts, the images, and the sensations that fill our minds as we sleep.

Not all our sleeping dreams are a revelation from Heaven – but all our dreams are under the sovereignty of our Creator. Many of our dreams may stem from what and who we choose to occupy our mind on that day (Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8) and the meditations of our heart (Psalm 19:14, Luke 6:45). Other’s may spring from our hopes, joys, fears, or disappointments – fragments of our lives – even a releasing of a day’s frustrations. Or, we can humorously consider, they could simply be triggered by indigestion!

Rav Chisda [5] said that a dream that is not interpreted / understood is like an unread letter. As long as it is not interpreted it cannot be fulfilled. So maybe it is worth giving our dreams a moment of thought. But a word of caution, dreams do not always track the truth reliably. Our brain works differently while we are sleeping. The part of the brain that controls logic and rational becomes relatively inactive while we sleep – so our dreams can be stimulating and emotionally charged, but, completely irrational. Berakhot 55a tells us that just as it is impossible to grow grain without straw, so too it is impossible to dream without nonsense. One thing we do know from Scripture – G-d does at times speak to us through dreams. And maybe at times it is simply to stir our soul or quicken our spirit.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook taught, “The dream is the conception of one’s direction which sent from heaven for the purpose of activating one’s energies lying dormant in the soul.…Dreams serve as a boost from G-d helping to develop the quality of the soul of man.”  [6]

But really – what are we to make of this month of dreams?

He reveals mysteries from the darkness
And brings the deep darkness into light.
Job 12:22

Remember as a child how a dark room sent your imagination into hyper-drive? Maybe Kislev – a time of ephemeral darkness – could be to us a hyper-sensory space in time. Light illuminates, it makes things more visible. Light is about optics. But Kislev is a month of darkness. Darkness has less to do with optics but everything to do with other senses. Maybe Kislev is a space to become truly sensitive to those things that are understood and seen more vividly in the dark or with our eyes shut. Maybe it’s a time to wake up and dream.

But what about nightmares?

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Proverbs 3:24

[Abba], I am Yours and my dreams are Yours. I have dreamt a dream and I do not know what it is. Whether I have dreamt about myself, or my companions have dreamt about me, or I have dreamt about others, if they are good dreams, confirm them and reinforce them like the dreams of Joseph, and if they require a remedy, heal them, as the waters of Marah were healed by Moses, our teacher, and as Miriam was healed of her leprosy and Hezekiah of his sickness, and the waters of Jericho by Elisha. As you have changed the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so too, change all my dreams into something good for me. [7]

All of us know how truly disturbing it is to be startled awake by a nightmare. Heart pounding, adrenaline racing, sweaty and weak. Rav Yehuda said, “Three matters require a plea for mercy to bring them about: A good king, a good year, and a good dream. These three…are all bestowed by G-d and one must pray that they should be positive and constructive…A good king, as it is written: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord as the watercourses: He turns it whithersoever He will” (Proverbs 21:1). A good year, as it is written: “The eyes of the Lord, thy G-d, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). And a good dream, as it is written: “O Lord, by these things men live, and altogether therein is the life of my spirit; wherefore You will restore my health to me [vataḥlimeni], and make me to live” (Isaiah 38:16). [8] The word taḥlimeni (restore, health) is derived from the word cḥalom, dream. May G-d turn all our dreams to good, healthy ones!

Shaina metukah ve’Chalumot Paz!
May you have sweet sleep, and beautiful, golden dreams!

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Creator of the Universe. Thank you for making us dreamers. Abba may you be both the wellspring and the inspiration of our dreams. Breathe Your dreams into our hearts and minds and Abba bind firmly upon our hearts those dreams that are from You and meant for our good and for the good of others. May we spend our waking hours filling our hearts and minds with what is good, right, and holy so when we sleep we can dream in league with You. Abba as we kindle the lights of Hanukkah, please rekindle our dreams.

Wake Up and Dream

in the dark wintery light
winter’s shadow unfurls and clings
to bare branches
and faded grasses

sparse beauty
bare-boned landscape
nature resting
winter yawns

aah…a contagious yawn

in the watery light of slumbering
safe and warm in Your embrace
Abba I am listening
I sleep
but my heart is awake*

sing over me your songs**
and sow Holy seeds
of lovingkindness
Divine intentions
deeds and desires

at the threshold of wakefulness
before my dreams begin to fade
let those seeds sprout roots of remembering
and kindle Holy Sparks
illuminating the darkness

“A little light dispels great darkness!” ~ Baal Shem Tov

~ Cindy Elliott

* Song of Songs 5:2
** Psalm 42:8

Photo Credits – shutterstock.com

1. Graeme Edge, The Dream
2. Rabbi Chanan Morrison, Sapphire from the Land of Israel, 279
3. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745-1812, was the founder and first Rebbe of the Chabad branch of chassidism, known also as the “Alter Rebbe,” “the Rav,” and as “Baal HaTanya”. He is the author of Tanya and Shulchan Aruch HaRav, a code of Jewish law.
4. As recorded by Yanki Tauber in Living With The Times
5. Rav Chisda (C. 290 – C. 320 CE) was a Amoraim of the third generation. Amoraim – one who told over teachings of the oral Torah – Jewish scholars of the period from about 200 to 500 CE.
6. Midbar Shur 222-6, 231
7. Prayer for dreams recited during the Priestly Blessing, Talmud, Berakhot 55b
8 Berakhot 55a

The Scent of Rain / Ha’Rei’ach shel Geshem – Cindy Elliott

A Word for the Month of CHESVAN – A Month of Fragrance

The Bostoner Rebbe once taught: “… it is especially effective to pray when it is raining.” With a twinkle in his eye, he would say, “When the Creator is giving out b’rachot (blessings), take advantage of it.” [1]

*
I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill, I will send down showers;
there will be showers of blessing.
Ezekiel 34:26

Rain, a Divine blessing from Heaven – living water essential for life. Rain is a miracle from the Hand of our Creator, each droplet of water formed into separate drops of rain (Job 36:27). I really like the Septuagint’s rendering of this verse from Job, “And the drops of rain are numbered by Him, and shall be poured out…” Unfathomable!

Living off the Gulf of Mexico, we had rain every day of Sukkot this year. One afternoon while sitting in our sukkah I was amazed at how each raindrop captured the light. It was like little drops of glory and blessing descending from the Clouds of Glory. It is as impossible to count those raindrops as it is to count the entirety of the glory and the beauty of G-d.

Rabbi Tanchum Bar Chiyah said: “A day of rain is greater than the day on which the Torah was given. For the giving of the Torah brought joy to the Israelites, whereas a day of rain brings joy to all nations and to the entire world, including the animals and beasts.” [2]  But realizing that too much at once can be dangerous and destructive, we pray that rain will be for a blessing.

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d,
King of the Universe,
Who creates spices of fragrance. [3]

There is something so peaceful in watching a gentle rain falling to meet the earth. And when the rain is heavy, it is a wonder – a wet curtain draped by Heaven Himself. But I think even more stirring than the sight of the rain is it’s scent – that sweet earthy fragrance that tells us the earth has been, or is about to be, nourished. For me it is the smell of the holy – of heaven kissing the earth. It is that scent so powerful and moving that Job tells us it causes even the stump that has died in the soil to bud and put forth shoots. [4]

I do realize that it isn’t actually the rain that smells but it is the oil released from the earth into the air. When the humidity rises, water fills the pores of rocks, stones, and soil. This water flushes the oil from the stone and releases it into the air. Add a small wind, and the scent spreads. Could it be the same with our hearts? When the rain of Living Water falls on our thirsty hearts, it cleanses, refreshes, nourishes and causes us to grow. It softens and saturates our hearts, releasing the heavenly, sweet smelling fragrance of our intimate knowing of Adonai to those around us.

But thanks be to G-d, who in the Messiah constantly leads us in a triumphal procession and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of what it means to know Him!
For to G-d we are the aroma of the Messiah, both among those being saved and among those being lost. To the latter, we are the smell of death leading only to more death; but to the former, we are the sweet smell of life leading to more life. Who is equal to such a task?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Blessed are you Lord our G-d, Creator of the Universe. Just as you took the Israelites to a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from Heaven, a land that You care for and continually keep your eyes on [5] so too are our hearts. Abba, may your Words drip as rain, filling every crevice of our heart and causing us to be a vessel that overflows. Let the fragrance of You be released from our hearts to those around us. Amen.

Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!
May my teaching drip as the rain,
My words flow as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass.
For the name of Adonai I proclaim;
Give glory to our G-d!
Deuteronomy 32: 2-3

Abba,
saturated
astonished
pregnant with wonder
filled to bursting with gladness

thousands of thousands
myriad of myraids
a gazillion
bajillion times
thank You
thank You
thank You for Your rain!

Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, And righteousness spring up with it.
I, Adonai, have created it
.

Isaiah 45:8

 

* Photo Credit – all photos from shutterstock.com

1. Rain in Jewish Tradition Culled from The Jewish Sourcebook on the Environment and Ecology by Ronald H. Isaacs
2. Midrash Shocher Tov on Tehillim 117
3. Orach Chaim 216:2, with Mishnah Berurah 16, A blessings recited over any good aroma.
4. Job 14:9
5. Deuteronomy 11:10-12

ZAKAR זכר / Remember – Cindy Elliott

A Word for the Month of TISHREI – A Month of Remembering

THE SCENT OF MEMORY

When nothing else subsists from the long-distant past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered…the smell… of things remain poised a long time, like souls… bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.  ~Marcel Proust

Out of the Land of Heaven
Down comes the warm Shabbat sun
Into the spice-box of earth. [1]

Rabbi Moses Mendelssohn tells us that, “The sense of smell, in the Holy [Hebrew] Language, corresponds to the power of memory in the soul, for the idea of memory is the remaining impression in the soul, after the tangible experience has passed.” [2] We see a glimpse of this in havdalah [3], a ritual marking the departure of Shabbat and the ushering in of a new week. As part of the havdalah ceremony, we breathe in aromatic, sweet spices with hopes to carry the sweet scent / memory of Shabbat into the days until we can once again welcome in this sacred ‘sanctuary of time’ [4].

For the rabbis the Bible was not only a repository of past history, but a revealed pattern of the whole of history… They knew that history has a purpose, the establishment of the kingdom of G-d on earth, and that the Jewish people has a central role to play in the process…they had learned from the Bible that the true pulse of history often beat beneath its manifest surfaces, an invisible history that was more real than what the world, deceived by the more strident outward rhythms of power, could recognize. [5]

In Biblical Hebrew there is no word for history, but there is a word for remember, zakar. Author Yosef Yerushalmi tells that, “Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people.” Why is that? Maybe it is because as Rabbi Sacks says, “The guardian of conscience is memory.” And what was Israel told to remember? Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your G-d, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees…(Deuteronomy 8:11). For Israel was called to be a kingdom of priest and a holy people, nowhere was it suggested that it become a nation of historians. [6]

In the Bible, ‘remembering,’ particularly on the part of G-d, is not the retention or recollection of a mental image, but a focusing upon the object of memory that results in action. [7]

Calling to mind that Hebrew is an action language ‘to remember’ is much more than a mental exercise. It is to bring to mind and take to heart. In other words, your remembering leads to action, that is acting on behalf of the one brought to mind. We see this many times over in Scripture in G-d remembering; G-d remembers Noah and brings a wind over the earth [8], “I [G-d] will remember my covenant…never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” [9], G-d remembered both Rachel and Hannah opening their wombs [10]. And we see that often with G-d ‘to remember’ is connected with compassion. Miryam, the mother of Yeshua, reminds us of this,

He has sustained his servant Yisra’el,
remembering his compassions.
Luke 1:54

Zakar draws a powerful word picture:

Fall is the time of gathering in the harvest and collecting seeds for the coming year. The Talmud calls these days “seedtime,” when in Israel seeds are planted for the coming year. [11] This is also the time that many of us turn over the soil of our garden, preparing the earth for future seed. Using both a tool and our hands we open up the soil and expose what lies beneath.

Remembering does the same thing. Remembering calls to mind those things that have been buried, covered, or simply forgotten. But it is only with the Hand of our Father that our hearts can turn over our thoughts, uncover memories, and expose what may be hidden or forgotten – and bring about both teshuvah and healing.

You shall live in booths for seven days…
Leviticus 23:42

The art of remembering is especially relevant to the celebration of Sukkoth. During the festival of Sukkoth G-d commands us to live in booths – to remember when we were sojourners in the desert. But what exactly are we remembering?

He spread out a cloud for shelter and fire to give light in the night.
Psalm 105:39

Rabbi Eliezer refers to these booths as Ananai H’Kavod, the ‘Clouds of Glory’ with which G-d guided and protected the Israelites during their time in the wilderness. Though Rabbi Eliezer’s language is beautifully poetic – and supported by Scripture – it may cause us to forget that though guided and protected by the ‘Clouds of Glory’ this wasn’t an easy time for the people of Israel. The reality was one of homelessness, of wandering, and insecurity.

In our act of remembering we build a structure that is frangible and flimsy. We construct a roof made of a thin layer of leaves or thatch and dwell in it for 7 days. On Shemini Azeret (the eighth day) we dwell in this fragile structure and pray for rain.

For 358 days of the year, the majority of us have a solid roof over our head. We have heat, air, a bed, food… And in those 358 days of security – we begin to forget. But for these seven days of zeman simchatenu, our time of joy, we live in this frangible structure and are reminded how truly fragile life is and in remembering Rabbi Eliezer’s words, are reminded that we are always, always, always sheltered in the shade of G-d, always in His presence. He is always our security, we are never forgotten. Radically loved by G-d! And, we joy!

The beautiful little flowers, Forget-Me-Not, plead negatively for love, please don’t forget me! But in Hebrew the Forget-Me-Not flower is called zikhrini. It is considered a positive plead when one asks their beloved to “remember me.” I have read that David Ben-Gurion [12] used the classic phrase from Jeremiah 2:2 at his wife’s funeral.

Zakharti lakh hesed ne’urayikh
.
I remember the love and kindness of your youth.

While in the sukkah may we remember (zakar) the affection and promises of Our Beloved. May we be reminded that our Abba remembers us, even though at times we may forget Him.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.”
Isaiah 49:14-16

remembering
I turn the soil in my heart
to expose what is hidden
concealed in the darkness

but I have been lazy
allowing clutter to fill my mind
engaging distractions
and now these rememberings
some true, some  junk
some outright lies
they are ever fighting and pushing
wrestling with each other

so much drama

Abba, I need a master gardener

Let your hand
turn the soil of my heart
and together
may we work through my thoughts and my memories
separating truth from lie
and as I remember You*
Your words
Your truth
I can remember who I am

no drama
no theatrics
just truth

renew my heart
uncover
expose
lay bare
and bring to Light
all that needs healing

fill my heart Abba
with what is good
what is right
what is truth

engage my heart Abba
with what is noble
and has eternal worth

Search me, G-d, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me along the eternal way.
Psalm 139:23-24 ~ see also Hebrews 4:12-13

* We cannot know who we are without first knowing G-d. It is only through the Light of G-d that we can come to know our deepest identity – no masks, no excuses, no lies. Through His Light we see our wounds, our emptiness, our weakness, our selfishness, our sins…we also see our true worth, our chosenness, our value, our possibilities, and the inalienable fact that we are a much loved child of G-d.

1. Leonard Cohen, Out of the Land of Heaven, The Spice-Box of Earth, 70
2. Rabbi Moses Mendelssohn, Commentary to Exodus
3. Havdalah means separation or distinction in Hebrew.
4. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 29.
5. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 21
6. Adapted from Yoself Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 10
7. The JPS Torah Commentary, 56.
8. Genesis 8:1
9. Genesis 9:15-16
10. Genesis 29:22, 1 Samuel 1:19
11. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzi’a 206b, as shared by Jill Hammer in The Jewish
Book of Days
12. First Prime Minster of Israel.

TESHUVAH – TOHU VA-VOHU

A Word for the Month of Elul – A Month of Teshuvah

*

Now the earth was unformed and void – tohu va-vohu, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the murmuring deep.
Bereshit/Genesis 1:2

The murmuring deep is a “poetic translation” from the Hebrew tehomtehom – deep waters or a deep abyss. Avivah Zornberg shares in her book, The Murmuring Deep, that tohu is echoed in the word tehom and that:

the Hebrew root hom covers meanings like humming, murmuring, cooing, groaning, tumult, music, restlessness, stirring, panic… the first creative act is therefore to create silence – it is not that silence is broken, but silence itself breaks, interrupts, the continuous murmuring of the Real, thus opening up a clearing in which words can be spoken. Speech and silence are created together.

The Targum translates tohu va-vohu as “waste and empty” [1] yet Rabbi Obadja Sforno’s  [2] read of tohu va-vohu is as something which had potential, the potential not yet having materialized, been converted to something actual [3] – illuminating.

With these thoughts of tehom and tohu va-vohu it is interesting that Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, better known as the Sefat Emet [4], taught that the letters of teshuvah tav-shin-vav-vet-hey (תשובה) make up the phrase tohu va-vohu with the addition of the letter shin (ש). And the shin – it makes all the difference! We find the letter shin often inscribed on mezuzot representing the name Shaddai – a name of G-d often understood as G-d Almighty or the All Sufficient One.

[5]

“In the beginning, G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” And what is the first thing G‑d said? “Let there be light!”
But isn’t that strange? What’s the point of turning on the lights when there’s nothing yet there to see—and no one there to see it?
So here’s a secret: The original Hebrew doesn’t really read that way. It’s better read as “When G‑d was about to create heaven and earth . . .”— meaning, before G‑d had even started – at that point, He set a mandate: “Let it be light.”
He set the purpose and meaning of everything about to be created: That it should become light.
That explains why, after He creates each thing, G‑d looks at it and “sees that it is good.” It is good, because each creation has its own unique way to shine that light. [6]

Before our Creator shaped our world there was tohu va-vohu, an unformed, noisy chaos. G-d’s silence and words broke in and spoke light. Not light as in the luminaries but a light that sustains and elevates life. And G-d’s desire is to do the same in us. To take those places of tohu va-vohu and touch them with His life-giving Spirit creating a new “real” – something beautiful and good.

In this month of Elul (as well as with every moment of our lives) G-d is holding out to us the gift of teshuvah – a gift of unbelievable chessed (loving-kindness). His Spirit is moving over our hearts wooing us to rest – to quiet and to allow the work of teshuvah to tear down, to rebuild, to heal, to redeem, to restore, to repair, and to create anew.

During the month of Elul may we be intentional with teshuvah, the art of return. May we be encouraged as we remember that, as artists often experience, just before a new creation takes form there is tohu va-vohu. Before that first spark of inspiration there is often a period of darkness, confusion and doubt.

As we search our hearts – and perhaps find ourselves plunging into some murky waters lingering in our soul – may we allow the shofar (the loving voice of Adonai) to pierce beneath the surface, break into these deep waters, shatter our confusion and wake us from the murmuring deep that has lulled us to sleep. May we cry out and turn back to our Beloved – to return to an intimate belonging. May we joyfully receive His new creation in us – new hearts inscribed by the finger of G-d Himself.

HOLY WOW!

teshuvah
the breath of Elohim
long and slow
ever patient
hovering over our hearts

a whisper
wooing us
to dance with the Eternal

a miracle not to be rushed
a moment to be held sacred
made a living memory
one to be danced new
again and again and again

a divine dance

Beloved and beloved
face to face

holy wow!

~ Cindy Elliott

*All photos are from shutterstock.com unless otherwise noted.

1. Targum Onkelos on Bereshit 1:2
2. Obadja Sforno was an Italian Rabbi born in 1475.
3. Sforno on Bereshit 1:2
4. A Hasidic Rabbi born in Warsaw in 1847.
5. Photo Credit: C.R. O’Dell (Rice University), and NASA/ESA
6. Tzvi Freeman, Let There Be Light!

THE ART OF STORY LISTENING Part 2 – G-D, THE ULTIMATE STORYTELLER – Cindy Elliott

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G-D – THE ULTIMATE STORYTELLER

Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt…the great grandfather of Abraham Joshua Heschel…[said] “Each man” “must view himself as still standing at Sinai, ready to receive the Torah. Why? Because for G-d there is no past, present, or future. He is still giving the Torah. So it is up to man, each man, to receive it.” The Apter Rebbe saw himself standing there at Sinai every day of his life. He also saw himself in the Temple in Jerusalem… [1]

The Rabbis of the past were great story tellers weaving stories with layer upon layer of meaning. Their stories were succinct and meant to teach. Yeshua himself wove stories of rhetorical power. His parables were pedagogical creations inviting the listener to not only actively listen but actively connect. His stories forced the listener to both seek and draw out their own solutions. But knowing his Father should we expect anything less?

Like Father - like Son.

In the month of Av we look at the greatest storyteller of all time – Avinu , the one who invites us to enter into His Words. To think, dream, and breathe them – to make them our life. Unlike the father in Inkheart [2] who had the amazing gift to bring characters out of their books, our Father has the astonishing gift to bring us into the timelessness of His story – past, present, and future.

All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You without money, come, buy, and eat! Yes, come! Buy wine and milk without money – it’s free! Why spend money for what isn’t food, your wages for what doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will eat well, you will enjoy the fat of the land. Open your ears, and come to me; listen well, and you will live… Isaiah 55:1-3a

HaShem, the greatest storyteller of all time. He created the entire universe by the power of His words. The stories He tells and the words He authors are chayah devarim – Living Words. And these Living Words – G-d doesn’t just author them, He enters into the words Himself. G-d physically steps into His story – teaching, engaging, celebrating, supporting, struggling, loving, grieving, connecting. He stands in the fire, enters the water, hungers, weeps, waits, laughs, dances, sings, is exiled… but paramount – He invites. G-d invites each of us to enter His story, to walk in the Garden, climb the mountain with Abraham, eat the pascal lamb, to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai, to sojourn in the desert, to sacrifice at the altar, rejoice at the Temple, to drink the new wine, to have compassion on the widow, to feel the mighty wind and the shaking of the earth, to see the fire and to hear the still whisper – that still whisper you only can hear if you are listening. We are invited to enter into His story – all the past, present, and future promises!

And G-d goes a step further. He not only enters His own story and invites us in – He invites us to partnership – to partner in the work of creation (Genesis R. 11:6). To partner with him in tikkun olam – healing of the world. The sacred art of story listening is just one way we can partner with G-d in bringing healing to this world.

TIKKUN OLAM AND THE ART OF STORY LISTENING

They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath (ruach) at all in their mouths. Psalm 135:17

From the very outset we pay scant attention to what they say to us, because we are so impressed with the importance of what we have to communicate to them, that we are just waiting for an opportunity to break in and take up the role of speaker again, hoping, of course, that they will prove good listeners.” [3]

The noise and confusion of our world can be overwhelming and many of us have learned to tune things out. Without a doubt, a certain amount of tuning out is wise; however, making it a habit can impoverish our ability to listen. At times this penurious ability to listen can create an ever-widening hole in our lives – and bankrupt our relationships. Other times we become part of the clamor, reacting, rather than listening, and instead of an ever-widening hole we build an ever growing wall.

Needed more today than ever is the sacred art of story listening. The ability to step out of our preoccupation with self and focus on others. Listening – compassionate listening, not to add your response but to pour out your love with a hearing heart. The ear of our heart open, the spirit of G-d breathed out in your being fully present and available.

“Here I am – this is me in my nakedness, with my wounds, my secret grief, my despair, my betrayal, my pain, which I can’t express, my terror, my abandonment. Oh, listen to me for a day, an hour, a moment, lest I expire in my terrible wilderness, my lonely silence. Oh, G-d, is there no one to listen.” ~ Seneca, Kosovo Survivor

“The need to tell our story to ‘the rest’, to make ‘the rest’ participate in it, had taken on for us, before our liberation and after, the character of an immediate and violent impulse, to the point of competing with our other elementary needs. This is first and foremost an interior liberation.” ~ Primo Levi, author of ‘Survival in Auschwitz

All of us, of every age, need to have our story heard by someone who is truly willing to listen. And really listening, being fully present, it is one of the kindest gifts we can give another. Your quiet, focused listening is a gift of affirmation that speaks to another and says, “You matter.” It not only nourishes another’s soul, it can be the catalyst for healing.

A good listener is a witness, not a judge.

Elie Wiesel said, “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” We can see a glimpse of this understanding from the Shema:

**

Notice in this first line of the Shema the oversized ayin (ע) and dalet (ד). Together they spell the Hebrew word eid (עד), witness. Sacred listening is to record, to be a witness. It means helping another to step out of the solitude of their own heart and to bring their hurt into the light. The sacred art of story listening doesn’t mean giving answers or explanations. It means being willing to be a companion on another’s journey, even when that journey means to wait with another in their silence while they find their words.

And sometimes, sacred listening is simply giving another the space to work things out, a safe space to be honest. But this art of story listening isn’t easy.

A Cuban proverb reads, “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” Rabbi Dov Ber Sheuri, the second Rebbe of Chabad expresses so colorfully the challenges of the art of story listening:

[When] asked why chatting with Hassidim exhausted him. He explained that when a hassid speaks to him, he must shed his own garments and don the hassid’s garments so as to listen well. When he considers the problem, he must shed the hassid’s garments and don his own so that he understands well. When he shares his advice, he must once again shed his own garments and don the hassid’s garments so that he communicates well. It is no wonder that he is exhausted after changing garments three times in a single audience. [4]

To perfect this art takes intention and commitment. It requires self-control and focus. It absolutely takes humility as listening requires making space for someone other than yourself.

But this art has immeasurable potential.

This sacred art of story listening is a creative force. It can truly be the difference between life and death.

Anna Redsand shares a story of Victor Frankl: [5]

One morning at three o’clock, the phone jangles Viktor Frankl awake. The woman on the line had called because she had decided to kill herself, but before she did, she wanted to hear what Dr. Frankl might have to say about it. He talked with her for half an hour about her choice…at last she agreed to come and see him…When she reached Dr. Frankl’s office, she told him it wasn’t the arguments that had helped her. She had come because, even when he’d been awakened in the middle of the night, Frankl had listened.

YOU ARE A TORAH SCROLL

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know. Genesis 28:16

In one of the barracks several hundred Jews gathered to celebrate Simchat Torah. In the shadow of shadows? Yes – even there. On the threshold of the death chambers? Yes – even there. But since there was no Sefer Torah, how could they organize the traditional procession with the sacred scrolls? As they were trying to solve the problem, an old man – was he really old? the word had no meaning there – noticed a young boy – who was so old, so old – standing there looking on and dreaming. “Do you remember what you learn in heder?” asked the man. “Yes, I do,” replied the boy. “Really?” said the man, “you really remember Sh’ma Yisrael?” “I remember much more,” said the boy. “Sh’ma Yisrael is enough,” said the man. And he lifted the boy, clasped him in his arms and began dancing with him – as though he were the Torah. And all joined in. They all sang and danced and cried. They wept, but they sang with fervor – never before had Jews celebrated Simchat Torah with such fervor. [6]

As children of G-d we have a collective story, but, we have individual stories too and there is something to be learned from every person. Without both the telling and listening to those our Abba brings across our path, we may never know all the fullness of understanding HaShem desires for us. Rabbi Kushner shares: [7]

Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching.  Some seem to know their Torahs very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them.  Some are long, some short.  Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words, and still others can only be spoken through gesture and example.  But every soul has a Torah.  To hear another say Torah is a precious gift. For each soul, by the time of his or her final hour, the Torah is complete, the teaching done.

What a beautiful picture of our Father’s ahavat olam - eternal love for us!

Your story is unique. Your thoughts, your dreams, your desires. The things you have learned and endured. Your times of wrestling and times of joy. It has eternal worth and is a precious gift to be shared. And just as precious is the story of another.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk when asked how he became a Hasid said he become one by sitting at the feet of an old man in town who told him stories, “He told what he knew, and I heard what I needed to hear.”

Abba, Father, may our mouths and our ears be sanctified and used to Your praise and for Your glory!

 

May we hear the call for help of the lonely soul;

And the sound of the breaking heart. . . .

May we hear You, O G-d…

Amen! [8]

 

* Anagram Bookstore – Words Make Worlds
** Yaniv Ben-Arie, flicker

1. Peninnah Schram, Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another, from forward.
2. Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
3. Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Worker.
4. Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, The Art Of Active Listening
5. Anna Redsand, Viktor Frankl A Life Worth Living, 113-114
6. Elie Wiesel, A Jew Today
7. Rabbi Kushner, G-d Was In This Place and I, I Did Not Know, 179-180
8. Jack Reimer, Likrat Shabbat Prayerbook, 74-75

THE ART OF STORY LISTENING Part 1 – LEV SHOMEA – A Listening Heart – Cindy Elliott

A Word For The Month of Av – A Month Of Listening

G-d, blessed be He, created the world with the scroll, the scribe, and the story. [1]

*

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw danger threatening the Jews in his community, he would hike to a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, a miracle would happen and the crisis averted.

Later, when his student, the famous Magid of Mezritch, needed to do the same thing, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again a miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe- Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be enough.”And still, a miracle happened.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his chair, his head in his hands, he cried out to G-d: “Oh, Holy One! I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I can’t even find the place in the forest! All I can do is tell the story, and this will have to be enough.” And it was. [2]

I love a good story. Not one that just tickles my ears but one that engages. One that reaches deep and makes my belly laugh, starts a fire in my heart, and causes my spirit to dance. A story so powerful I forget to breath.

Some of my most cherished memories are late nights and long undisturbed days of reading stories with my daughter. Hour upon hour of losing our sense of time and space – transported out of our world and into the pages. At times closing our eyes to see. And long after we closed the cover – a good story continued living in our hearts.

This love I have for a good story, I think most of us share. But the difference between a good story and a great one? I think it has to do with the storyteller / the author themselves. With a great story, the storytelling has a purpose – a ‘why’ behind the story – and a fire in their heart that not only feeds the story but moves the storyteller to share.

We will not hide from their descendants; we will tell the generation to come the praises of ADONAI and his strength, the wonders that he has performed (Psalm 78:4).

As people of the Book, storytelling and story listening play a big part in Jewish tradition. From the stories of Scripture, to the Talmud, Hasidic tales, midrash… all are meant to, as Rabbi Nachman of Bratslov has said, wake one up. Stories so powerful they leave one laughing, crying, cheering, inspired, stirred, moved, challenged…changed. But that change requires one to fully realize the importance of listening.

A midrash on Exodus 18:1 stresses the importance of listening:

Before the Torah tells us, “And G-d spoke,” we must first learn what it means to listen. Unless there is an ear to hear, even the most powerful message from the mouth of G-d Himself is lost. For that reason, “Jethro heard,” precedes the giving of the Torah. [3]

The art of story listening, to really hear a story, this is both an art and a service of the heart.

A LISTENING HEART – LEV SHOMEA לב שמע

Set limits, pull back, set aside time for rest, move from chaos to focus, say no, listen to what you’ve been ignoring, make room for what you’ve been longing for and you will uncover the true meaning of the word “full.” [4]

Who of us hasn’t imagined stumbling upon an old dusty lamp, giving it a rub, and POOF! out pops a genie offering you three wishes – anything you want! Anything! I love letting my imagination wander down those trails of folk and fairytales, finding great adventure in their pages. But surpassing by leaps and bounds the wonder and adventure of any fairytale – even Aladdin’s magic lamp – is a true tale we find in the book of 1 Kings.

The Creator of the Universe comes to Solomon and says, “Choose what you want.” Anything, absolutely anything! “Is anything too hard for me? Imagine it – ask for it – it is yours.” When faced with this great decision, Solomon choose lev shomea – a “heart that hears” or “an understanding heart.” Shomea is from the root shema, which means much more than hear. It means to hear, listen, obey, and respond. According to the Targum it also means to accept. [5]

Shema - a sacred listening - a listening that is active and lived out.

We live in a broken world with broken lives, broken hearts, broken homes, broken relationships. But G-d is wanting to take those broken pieces and rebuild; to heal and restore, to redeem. In this month of Av – as we focus on Avinu – our Father – and healing, creativity, and hearing – may we perfect the sacred art of story listening – a listening that is a conscious choice. A listening one does with the ear of one’s heart. May we pull back where needed, make space for what really counts, move from chaos to focus and enter into the healing Words of Avinu, our Father, knowing His Words can create in us a new heart and a new world. [6]

WHEN A STORY IS A PRAYER

Abba
there are times
my heart is too heavy
too fat
too overwhelmed

is that why you gave us words

so when all that anguish and pain
becomes too much
and it smothers
and suffocates
and presses down
You touch the heart of a story listener
who comes and says
breathe

Abba
how that spark of Heaven
that story listener
must be your delight

breathe

the invitation that opens up a floodgate
breathe out words
breathe in life
a pouring out
a pouring in

with the outpouring of my soul
words so full and fat of pain
somehow
just a very small amount
but just enough
of that overwhelming
is shared
and the burden is now carried by two instead of one

and as my soul
pours out
again and again and again
and a story listener gathers up
again and again and again
and Abba you pour in
again and again and again
we become a cord of three strands

unbreakable

Abba
toda raba – thank you
that you give to each of us
the gift of being a storyteller
that gift of pouring out
not just our hurts and pains
but your glory, your wonder, your love

and Abba
toda raba
that you give each of us
the gift of story listening
that gift of flowing in
not just to make lighter the pain of another
but to let flow in
your glory, your wonder, your love

and toda raba Abba
that you are
beyond any doubt
the greatest Storyteller e-v-e-r

You pour Living Words
into our heart and soul and spirit
and create life

and toda raba Abba
that You are
beyond a doubt
the greatest story listener

that those times
when I open my mouth
but cannot form words
Abba you hear within the silence space of my breathe
not only my words
but you hear the source from which they spring

those times Abba
you alone are my story listener
You hear my words
You know their source
pouring out
again and again and again
and Abba you
gather up
again and again and again
and it is enough

 

* all photos are from shutterstock.com

1. Yitzhak Buxbaum, Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism, 215, as quoted by Rosemary Horowitz in Elie Wiesel and the Art of Storytelling, 125
2. Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest
3. Rabbi Zev Leff, The Art of Listening
4. Rabbi Naomi Levy, The Jewish Book of Grief and Healing: A Spiritual Companion for Mourning, 91
5. Targum Onkelos, Devarim 11:13
6. By G-d’s Word the world was created. And our words, much like our Creators, create worlds also. They have the power to frame/reframe space, our own as well as others.

THE EYES OF YOUR HEART – עיני הלבבות Cindy Elliott

HEBREW WORD FOR TAMMUZ – Being Holy ~ Being Whole

The trees stand like guards of the Everlasting; the flowers like signpost of His goodness – only we have failed to be testimonies to His presence, token of His trust. How could we have lived in the shadow of greatness and defied it? [1]

Wonder, or radical amazement, is a way of going beyond what is given in thing and thought, refusing to take anything for granted, to regard anything as final. It is our honest response to the grandeur and mystery of reality our confrontation with that which transcends the given. [2]

 

THE EYES OF YOUR HEART – – עיני הלבבות

I pray that He will give light to the eyes of your hearts, so that you will understand the hope to which He has called you, what rich glories there are in the inheritance He has promised His people.
Ephesians 1:18 CJB

John Gill shared in his commentary on Ephesians that “the eyes of the heart, or minds” is a Rabbinical phrase often met with in Jewish writings. [3] We see this phrase used by the author of Ephesians. But what does it mean?

I think most of us would agree that there is something more than just our natural seeing – there is also a spiritual seeing. We experience that ‘seeing’ every time we read the Word and the Word springs to life. It is the seeing when we slow down and really look at creation and recognize the fingerprints of the Creator and the beauty of His creation. It is the seeing when we look at a fellow human being and say, “I’ve seen the face of G-d.” It’s what the psalmist meant when he said, “Open my eyes, so that I will see wonders from your Torah.” Moments when eternity breaks into our heart – those moments – ultimately it is G-d’s work in us – His gift.

In this Rosh Chodesh cycle of focusing on healing and creativity we might say that seeing with the  eyes of the heart is the art of beholding. Beholding the holy, the sacred – beholding G-d.

In Hebrew the word behold is hinneh הנה, a word that according to TWOT [4] means “Look!” “See!” It is a word that emphasizes the immediacy, the here-and-now-ness. When we read it in Scripture it is G-d saying “Look!” “See!” “This is important!” Something that should cause an intake of breath – absolutely it should catch our attention – and without a doubt it should cause us to stop.

And G-d’s “Look!” “See!”  are all around us. Our world is full of G-d’s emphasis of immediacy, the here-and-now-ness that He doesn’t want us to miss. “Look!” “See!” the opening of a new flower, the pure laughter of a child, that first cup of coffee each morning, the sloppy wet kiss from a puppy, the smile of a stranger, the hug of a friend, the light of Shabbat candles… Baruch HaShem!

There is a dawn of wonder and surprise in our souls, when the things that surround us suddenly slip off the triteness with which we have endowed them, and their strangeness opens like a gap between them and our mind, a gap that no words can fill. [5]

Holy, holy, holy moments of seeing, of understanding. Moments when we shift from the obvious and look with great care. Not so much seeing new things but seeing with new eyes, new understanding – unlocking a shock of how truly inadequate our awe for G-d’s glory has been – unleashing a flood of gratefulness and praise.

Georgia O’Keefe said, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” Beholding takes time. This art requires us to slow down. To step out of the rush and madness of life and into a service of wonder.

Is not listening to the pulse of wonder worth silence and abstinence from self-assertion? Why do we not set aside an hour for devotion to G-d by surrendering to stillness. We dwell on the edge of mystery and ignore it, wasting our souls and risking our stake in G-d. [6]

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe. Abba may we learn to cultivate the art of beholding, the art of looking, seeing, waiting in Your Word, in this world, with each person we meet, in every situation. May we hear your hinneh – your gift to us. And may we respond Abba with hinneni – Here am I! Abba, You who surpass all glory, open the eyes of our hearts that we may see the testimonies of your goodness all around us. And with that opening of our eyes may we live in such a way that our lives will be a living testimony to others of Your presence – Your goodness and love, of Your hope – bringing life and healing. Amen

Deep Cries To Deep

I have always loved watching the sea dance
and listening to the ocean breeze speak eternity to my heart

The shore
it has alway been our special place
ours – my Abba’s and mine

I think I inherited this love of the shore from my Dad

Even after a night of work
my Dad would take my sisters and I down to the seashore
we would watch the first sliver of light rise over the waters
and even then I think I knew it was Holiness breaking in
embracing me, warming my heart

Even now
it is the one place without fail
that Holiness always always always
shines bright
the one place
I always feel His embrace
and the eyes of my heart can see

On those days when I am the only one
wandering on the shore
not a person, not a ship in sight
it is as if I am wandering on the edge of the universe
looking out over an immense expanse
the first breath of creation and the ongoing breath of eternity
roll out like a scroll in front of me
leaving me breathless

At times when there is a storm
one that reaches up from the deepest darkest depths
stirring up the lumbering giants
that rise and crest
and crash onto the shore
with the clash of cymbals and the crash of the drums
I run to the shore, to the water’s edge

Breathing deep to calm my spirit
whispering calls to Holiness
listening with the eyes of my heart

There it is
the heartbeat of my Beloved

Whew

That’s when silence really sings

Deep cries out to deep,
the sounds of the opened sluices of heaven;
all Your breakers and your billows
have swept over me.
By day Adonai will command His Hesed / Lovingkindness
and at night, His resting place will be with me;
This is my prayer to the Almighty, G-d of my life.
Psalm 42:8-9

Photo credits – shutterstock.com

1. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 341
2. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, ”Who Is Man, 78-79
3. Zohar in Deut. fol. 119. 3. Jetzirah, p. 22. 78. Ed. Rittangel. R. Levi ben Gersom in Gen. fol. 14. 3. & Philo de opificio Dei, p. 15. and Bechinat Olam, 260.
4. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr, Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Workbook Of The Old Testament
5. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Holy Dimension, 329
6. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 341

Reglei Elohim / G-d’s Feet / Legs  – Cindy Elliott

HEBREW WORD FOR IYYAR – Being Holy ~ Being Whole

*

My three-year-old son was watching me pray one day, trying to imitate my movements, pretending he was also praying. Then out of the blue, he blurted out, “Daddy! I just saw G-d’s feet.”
I didn’t know what my immediate response should be to this, but quickly I decided that truth was my best option. “Yehuda,” I said, “You couldn’t have seen G-d’s feet. G-d doesn’t have feet.”
He seemed startled by that, but all he said was “Oh.”
A couple of minutes went by and then he tugged at my sleeve. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and, smiling sweetly, said with total conviction, “But I saw them.” [1]

Our first encounter with Divine feet is in Genesis 3:8, “They heard the sound of the Lord G-d walking in the garden…” At face value we may imagine G-d in the cool breeze of the evening having a relaxed stroll through the garden. But, if we look at the Hebrew in this verse we see a glimpse of something more:

Vayishmeh’oo et kol ADONAI Elohim mithalech bagan.

Mithalech is a form of the verb “to walk.” When we read walk we very reasonably assume feet – after all – if we say someone is walking we presuppose they are walking on their feet. But in the case of Genesis 3:8 the noun kol (translated as sound) is also the Hebrew word for voice. Author Aviya Kushner [2] asks the question, “who is “walking” – a being or a voice?”

The problem here is not just the translation of one word, kol, but how to translate it in combination with mithalech… This particular grammatical construction of the three-letter root for the verb “to walk” is used for doing something repeatedly. If holech, or walk, in the present tense, means to walk from point A to point B, then mithalech means to walk from point A to B to D to C – walking back and forth, walking repeatedly, or without a particular destination in mind… What mithalech means is that you can hear the voice of G-d from all directions in the garden.

The same verb form of G-d walking in the garden is used of G-d’s presence in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

**

For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have walked (mithalech) about in a tent, even in a tabernacle.
2 Samuel 7:6

They heard the voice of ADONAI, G-d, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze (leRuach hayom).

The evening breeze is the Hebrew word Ruach (Spirit, wind, breeze, breath, – also at times depicting emotion) [3] hayom (the day) – So ADONAI was walking in the garden in the Spirit, wind, breath, or maybe even the emotion of the day. G-d came each day to the garden to meet Adam and Eve in the moment – each day Adam and Eve would meet  with the Spirit of ADONAI.

***

Bless ADONAI, my soul! ADONAI, my G-d, you are very great; you are clothed with glory and majesty, wrapped in light as with a robe. You spread out the heavens like a curtain, you laid the beams of your palace on the water. You make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind. Psalm 104:1-4a

This breeze, breath, wind…is the same Spirit (Ruach) that moved over the waters in Genesis 1:2. It is the same breath that was bestowed on man by G-d in Genesis 2:7. It is the same Wind spoken of in John 3:8. And, it is the same Spirit that filled the hearts of Yeshua’s followers on Shavuot in the upper room in Jerusalem!

They heard the voice of ADONAI, G-d, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, so the man and his wife hid themselves from the face (panim), of ADONAI, G-d, among the trees in the garden.

But on this day, instead of meeting ADONAI face to face, Adam and Eve hid in shame among the trees of the garden. Our Abba, in His immeasurable affection, called out with the voice of a loving father in search of a precious son, “Adam, where are you (‘Ay – Ayekah)?”.

Adonai, G-d, called to the man, “Where (‘Ay) are you?”

Looking at the Hebrew ‘ay, gives us a picture of our Father’s heart. Ayekah is translated in Genesis 3:9 as, “Where are you?” but it is a rhetorical question, a heartfelt cry. This adverb is related to the Ugaritic (Northwest Semetic Language) oy. [4] G-d’s call to Adam resonated with sorrow.

I often wonder what would have happened if Adam had responded in teshuvah (repentance).

Nonetheless, Genesis 3:8-9 deeply touches my heart. I may not hide when G-d calls, but there are times I don’t engage. Times I am simply distracted. Our Abba calls out, “Cindy, where are you?” and I am preoccupied with life. I am busy choosing good over best and sadly there are times I am simply missing the mark and avoiding G-d all together. My heart is filled with some grievance, my mind focused on misdeeds, my energy spent on the temporal and I miss the breeze of G-d’s Spirit moving over me, and if I were not so preoccupied I might even hear His deep breath-filled sorrowful, ‘Oy’.

E-v-e-r-y day we are invited to share in the fellowship of loving and just being loved by our Abba. Weekly we are invited to breathe deeply of His shalom, monthly to stand in awe and wonder, throughout the year to dance and celebrate. From the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:14) G-d set up holy appointments – intimate times to meet with us. Baruch HaShem!

The voice heard walking in the garden by Adam and Eve – is the same voice that can be heard walking in our homes. The same Spirit that moved over the face of the waters, hovers over us even now. Just as Adam and Eve had an encounter with Divine feet, we can too.

****

The heavens are my seat and the earth is My footstool.
Isaiah 66:1

Ilana Kurshan gives an amusing picture of G-d’s feet/legs in reference to Isaiah 66:1, “I imagine G-d sitting on a divine throne up in heaven with legs dangling down to earth. Any time we sin when we are alone, we are in fact bumping up against G-d’s feet.”

There’s a interesting midrash on Isaiah 66:1:

Whoever commits a transgression in private, it is as though he pushed away the feet of the Divine Presence, as it is stated: “Thus said the Lord: The heavens are My seat, and the earth My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). If one believes that no one can see what he is doing in private, it is as though he said that G-d is absent from that place. He is therefore compared to one who attempts to remove G-d from His footstool. [5]

Divine feet – gently nudging, softly whispering, encouraging and giving us the freedom to push away if we so choose.

Going back to where we started and the young boy who told his father he had seen the feet of G-d. How is that possible?

It is possible in those precious alone moments with G-d. In moments of awe and wonder, moments of tenderness and love, of kindness and hard work. Moments of grief, laugher, tears. So very much during moments of teshuvah. We both see and show G-d’s feet when we are walking out G-d’s truth and living out G-d’s love for all mankind.

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe. Thank you for the goodness and love which you make known to us every day! Abba sometimes I do miss the sound of Your feet, Your presence, as I am preoccupied with things that seem so important but in retrospect really are not. Abba please give me Heaven’s eyes that I may see that which has  eternal worth and Heaven’s heart that I will share the eternal with others. Amen.

*****

G-D’S LEGS / REGLEI ELOHIM

G-d’s legs
Like the letter vav
A divine hook
Binding together heaven and earth.

Seated in the heaven’s
You walk among us
My body, your tent and dwelling place.

My heart
Knows the voice of your feet
I hear their call
And I rush to follow.

You walking,
Leading
Like two pillars you go before me
Leading me back to the Garden.

End Notes:

1. As with the Hebrew meaning, Strong’s Concordance gives both feet and legs as translations for regel H7272

2. We first see the letter vav in Genesis 1:1:
In the beginning G-d created the heavens and (vav) the earth
By joining the heavens and the earth there is an implication of the connection between spiritual and earthly matters.

photo credits:

* Shutterstock
** Yoram Raanan, Garden of Eden Sukkah
*** Elena Kotliarker, Angel Wings
*** shutterstock
**** Elena Kotliarker, Under The Wind

1. David Aaron, Seeing G-d, 21
2. Aviya Kushner, The Grammar of G-d, 70-71
3. Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, Reference 2131a
4. Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, Reference 75
5. Rabbi Yitzhak, Hagigah 16a

Wise Hearted / Chakham Lev – Cindy Elliott

HEBREW WORD FOR IYYAR – Being Holy ~ Being Whole

[1]

Infinite G-d seeks human heart to build a home together.

The angels glare in envy as the breath of G‑d descends below to become a human soul. Ripped out of the Infinite Light, it squeezes itself within meat and bones to experience that passion which belongs uniquely to earth below – and channel it towards its Beloved above. A new sort of love is born, a novelty to the cosmos and to its Creator: a fire within the human heart upon which the animal roasts, transformed to the divine. [2]

This midrash from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s always, always, always takes my breath away. How unfathomable a love. Such an incomprehensible desire. Beyond imagination – a heart fashioned small enough to fit in the body of a man yet big enough to be a home for the Eternal. Truly a marvelous thing!

Hebraically the heart is much more than the seat of emotions, it is also the seat of intellect and thought. It is the center of our values, character, attitudes… it is the irreducibly definition of who we are. Our heart is revealed in our thoughts, words, and deeds and is the deepest essence of our personhood. Though even the highest heaven cannot contain G-d (2 Chronicles 6:18) – when invited in – our heart is the place where G-d has chosen to make His home. It is where we respond and connect with our Abba.

In this new Rosh Chodesh cycle where we are looking at creativity and “Being Holy; Being Whole” – the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) is a special moment for us to have a glimpse into the hearts G-d chose to partner with Him in this act of creation.

Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. (Exodus 25:2)

Scripture tells us that the contributions for the building of the mishkan were to be gifts, “from every man whose heart moves him.” In other words, the contributions were to be freely given. No force, no threats, no taxation. As Walter Brueggemann puts it, “Constructing an adequate place for the holiness of G-d is indeed human work, wrought in generosity.” [3] In other words it was to be a sanctuary constructed from the depth and breadth of the human heart. But the actual builders were to be wise-hearted and the women who spun the wool were to be nasa liban otana bechochmah – “those whose hearts lifted them up in wisdom.”

And every wise hearted among you shall come, and make all that the Lord hath commanded.
(Exodus 35:10 KJV)

It starts with Moses calling everyone who is “skilled” (Exodus 3:10) to come and make the various pieces that will become part of the mishkan – and one of the important things here is the way that “skill” is expressed in Hebrew. The Hebrew used in the Torah is chakham lev, which literally means “wise-hearted,” from the root word chokhmah, or “wisdom.” And so it’s not just about having good hands, say – it’s about something more profound than that. It is said that when G-d created the earth, G-d did so with chokhmah. It is no small thing, therefore, to demand that the people making the elements of the mishkan be chakham lev.

But what exactly is wisdom?

I have given you a wise (chakham) and understanding (binat) heart. (1 Kings 3:12)

From a spiritual perspective understanding of the heart is more important than that of the mind…binat ha’lev, “understanding of the heart.” The translation here is important. This is not the same as “an understanding heart,” which is outwardly focused and could be called empathy. It is rather “understanding of the heart,” which is inwardly focused and reflects spiritual intelligence, or what might be called wisdom. [4]

We know from Scripture that wisdom comes directly from the Lord – The Lord grants wisdom (Proverbs 2:6) – and from a right relationship with the Lord – The fear (awe) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111.10). This heart of wisdom comes through a right relationship and an intimate knowing. We see a beautiful picture of this in the name of the man G-d choose as the chief builder for the mishkan – Bezalel.

[5]

Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri…I have filled him with the Spirit of G-d in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship.” Exodus 31:1-3

Bezalel means “in the shadow of G-d.” So Bezalel lived in the shadow of the Eternal. A shadow is the reflection of the person or object from which the shadow is cast. When the person moves, the shadow moves. For the formation of a shadow, a light source is needed; and the closer one is to the light source the bigger the shadow that is cast.

We see also in the name of Bezalel’s assistant – Oholiab – a hint of relationship. Oholiab means “The Father is my tent.”

The pictograph of heart – lev / לב makes clear how important it is to have a right relationship with the Father.

Lev – heart – means the authority within.

The Hebrew word for for dog is ke’levk’ meaning “like” and lev meaning “heart.” So in Hebrew a dog is “like a heart.” The Hebrew word for puppy is k’lavlav and is considered a onomatopoeia for the sound of the heartbeat – so a puppy is “like a heartbeat.” Our little heart – Kirby – rescued my husband and I while we were still grieving the loss of a much loved furry baby and after our only child had left for college.

Though a dog’s heart is much different than our own – I have learned from our little heart how essential a right and close relationship is to “authority within” – within the heart / within the home. Training took time (and no Kirby is not always brilliantly behaved). We’ve had a fun time or two, such as when this little one chewed something that ended with a stay over at the veterinary hospital or when he decided to do a dumpster dive – a.k.a. our kitchen trashcan – that ended with a plastic container wedged on his head. However, this little heart has chosen to live under the shadow of my husband’s and my protection and to walk (well…most the time) by our rules and directions. This trust and submission only grew as we invested our hearts and love into this little heart of ours.

Blessed are you O’Lord our G-d King of the Universe. May we truly understand what it means to dwell in your shadow, in the secret place of intimacy with you. May our hearts rest in the place of your presence, the transforming power of your love, the unfathomable offering of your friendship. Abba may you be the shadow that overshadows us as we interact with others – as you did with Peter [6] bringing much needed tikkun olam to this broken world. Amen

 [7]

ETERNITY IN THE HEART

Heaven is Your throne
The Earth is Your footstool
The highest heavens cannot contain You
Yet You make Your home
In the innermost chamber of my heart

Awaken my heart Abba
that I may love wholly
Stretch my heart Abba
so that I may give with unbound desire
holding nothing back

Abba may my heart be infused with your wisdom
Filled to utter fullness of You
Engulfed in Your Love
And connected to a purpose
Far beyond my own

Infinite and finite
Eternity and the present
Becoming one in Your loving heart
Fusing the eternal and the instant
Making my life a place that holiness can dwell
Holy, holy, holy.

~ Cindy

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, eternity he has set in their heart…
Ecclesiastes 3:11

1. photo credit: shutterstock.com
2. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, Human Passion and the Envy of the Angels
3. Walter Brueggemann as quoted by Rabbi Shai Held in The Heart of Torah
4. David Ebenbach, the artist’s Torah, 99
5. photo credit – Israel Tourism photo by VuTheara Kham
6. Acts 5:15
7. photo credit: shutterstock.com

Holiness In Words / Kedushah b’Devarim – Cindy Elliott

HEBREW WORD FOR NISSAN – Being Holy ~ Being Whole

By the word (dabar דבר) of the Lord the heaven’s were made.
And by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Psalm 33:6)

Genesis Rabbah 1:1 records that the words G-d spoke to create the world were none other than the Torah itself:

In human practice, when a mortal king builds a palace, he builds it not with his own skill but with the skill of an architect. The architect moreover does not build it out of his head, but employs plans and diagrams to know how to arrange the chambers and the wicket doors. Thus G-d consulted the Torah and created the world, while the Torah declares, “In the beginning G-d created,” ‘beginning’ referring to the Torah, as in the verse, “The Lord made me as the beginning of His way” (Prov. viii, 22).

Be that truth or tradition, we know that the power of G-d’s word manifested itself in creation. G-d spoke and everything we know came into existence. He breathed and the cosmos was made. And everything is held together by the power of His word.

To the Hebrew mind, the Universe is represented as the writing or active speech of G-d.[1] Alive and active, G-d’s dynamic word is able to both penetrate and break the heart of man. (See Jeremiah 20:9 and Ezekiel 36:26)

“Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?”
(Jeremiah 23:29)

With our Western mindset we often understand words simply as vehicles to convey meaning or understanding. We do not realize that our words – often spoken carelessly or in haste – are imbued with deep and affecting significance. Our words have the possibility to bring about new realities in another’s life:

As Hans-Georg Gadamer writes,
‘Greek philosophy more or less began with the insight that a word is only a name – i.e., that it does not represent true being. Hebrew dabar, on the other hand, refers to word, event, and thing, which reflects a unity between the word and the world such that to interpret the word is to understand reality and vise versa.'[2]

Created in the image of G-d, our words have the ability to create life or death and Rabbi Heschel would argue even to destroy the gates of G-d’s Word:

There is no understanding the G-d of Israel without deep sensitivity to the holiness in words. For what is the Bible? Holiness in words. And we destroy all the gates of the Bible by the ongoing desecration of the power of the word. The effect, I believe, is that we are all engaged, all involved, in the process of liquidating the English language. Promiscuity of expression, loss of sensitivity to words, has nearly destroyed the fortress of the spirit. And the fortress of the spirit is the dabar, the word. Words have become slums. What we need is a renewal of words.[3]

In this month of Nissan we are focusing on good and holy speech. With that focus in heart, the pictograph for dabar – word – is illuminating:

dabar / word – the pathway or door into the House of HaShem (YHVH)

Messiah Yeshua is from the tribe of Yehudah יהודה (Judah). Yehudah is spelled with the same letters as YHVH – יהוה, with the addition of one letter – the dalet – door. The Word enfleshed told us himself He is the door/gate for the sheep – bringing us into the presence of Adonai – always directing our path, always turning our hearts to the Father. May our the words do the same!

Therefore be imitators of G-d, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Messiah also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

HERE I AM. SEND ME

Abba touch my lips
With a burning coal
And purify my words

And with my words
Light a flame
And spill light into the world

And with this flame
Cause a blaze
That warms and blankets with hope

And with this hope
Be a candle
More than wax and wick
Spreading Your fragrance

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:6-8)

 

* photo credit – shutterstock.com

1. José Faur, Golden Doves, XXV as shared by Richard Hidary in Rabbis and Classical Rhetoric: Sophistic Education and Oratory in the Talmud and Midrash
2. Richard Hidary, Rabbis and Classical Rhetoric: Sophistic Education and Oratory in the Talmud and Midrash, 28
3. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays,275

SELAH – סלה – A Holy Interruption ~ Cindy Elliott

*

’Womb to world’ is a startling moment for a baby. After months of being surrounded by warm amniotic fluid, cuddled in a strong protected sac and limited by the walls of the womb, the little one is suddenly pushed forth from this safe, familiar place and thrust into light. Baby is bombarded by stimuli, and startled by how far he can stretch his limbs. We as parents are there to help our little ones through this transition. We swaddle them, hold them close, coo to them, comfort, and to our best effort meet their every need. We hush and woo them to their new world, holding them in a soft, patient embrace telling them of the wonders and delights – the sights, sounds, smells, taste, and the love, oh the overwhelming soul hugging love that awaits them.

Rest – Pause!

For the mother the birthing process can be both intense and beautiful. For myself, I found the hardest part in the long laborious pushing stage was the rest, or pause. I’m not talking about the natural wax and wane of the contractions, but those times when for various reasons we are told to stop. Stop – breathe – rest. Yet our muscles and brains are screaming push, push, push. A painful, at times burning rest – not done in vain but one that is for life. A rest that helps lead to that moment when the flood gates open and out bursts an indescribable gift! It’s a gasp of breath moment – that first moment you see your child. Holy… holy… holy.

This “womb to world” / birthing process is something I’ve experienced more than once as I have made a deliberate effort to rest and pause while reading Scripture. That being still before G-d and, at times, being hushed and held in the patient embrace and relentless tenderness of G-d as our Source of all Wonders, startles my mind and delights my heart. Sometimes it’s a painful moment as I am pushed out of a place of comfort. But, every time, it is a holy moment. A moment that transforms my life entirely, a moment in which there is nothing but a gasp of breath – a gasp of worship.

I can best understand this transformational pause in one intriguing Hebrew word – Selah.

Selah – a word seen frequently in the Psalms and less than a handful of times in Habakkuk – is challenging to translate. The Talmud (Eruvin 54a), as demonstrated from Psalm 48:9, says that selah means forever. Ibn Ezra [1] understood selah to mean “true and certain,” functioning in a similar vein to an Amen –  “so be it”- to what preceded it. Radak [2] saw selah as a musical notation – a lifting up of the singer’s voice. Rabbi Raphael Hirsch comments: “Selah is a notation at the close of a thought directing one to reflect upon its enduring significance.” [3]

Any and all of these understandings of selah make it a holy interruption – a threshold for change. A place where you pause, reflect, ponder, and let G-d’s living word flow deep into your soul and allow yourself to sink deep into His heart. Sometimes it is this deliberate quiet, this intentional stillness, that lifts your heart toward Heaven.

Many times when we read Scripture we come with preconceived understandings and expectations that stifle the flow of Living Waters. Other times we come with a familiarity that dulls our heart and crowds out our curiosity. Making a practice of a deliberate rest breaks up the breathless flow and allows us to breathe and create space for G-d to reveal His truth to us. These deliberate rests allow the Living Word to shape our souls and set deep realities and understandings within us.

The pictograph for selah – סלה  is astounding:

Selah – what comes from lifting up something of VALUE.

**

Be Still And Know That I am G-d. (Psalm 46:10)

Selah is a holy invitation to stop – breathe – rest. It is a whisper from G-d to not miss out on what’s important. Selah is a moment that births transformation – being both undone and remade.

We have a beautiful example of “selah in time” with the weekly celebration of Shabbat. Every 7th day the Creator of the universe invites us to stop – breathe – rest and spend 24 hours breathing in His word, His presence and celebrating and delighting in His creation “expressing glory in the presence of eternity.” [4]

Proverbs reminds us to number our days – not because our days are short [they are] but because time is sacred. When my daughter was born I felt the Lord urging me to take off my watch – as if in that holy moment He was whispering to me – don’t miss out on one precious minute – time is fleeting. How thankful I am that I listened and, 28 years later, my wrist is still absent of a watch. For me that absence is a reminder – a selah – to stop – breathe – rest – to slow down and be present in every moment – to not miss out on what’s important.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel had it right when he said, “Labor is craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination.” Selah is a holy rest – a sacred art.

Blessed are you Lord our G-d, who created rest. Abba may we learn to stop – breathe – rest and know the wonders and beauty of being your child. Abba may we embrace the sacredness of rest and welcome holy interruptions.  Selah

 

Photo Credit:

* Yarkovoy/Shutterstock.com
** Copyright Marla Jean Clinesmith, used by permission. www.hebrewwordpics.com

1. Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164)
2. Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235)
3. Noted in From His Holy Mountain, SELAH, by Dr. Eugene Narrett
4. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Shabbat

Man + Woman = Fire ~ Keren Hannah

 

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The Hebrew word for man is ish (א’ש,) spelled aleph, yod, shin. Remove the yod and you are left with the letters aleph + shin, which form the word esh (אש) meaning FIRE.

The yod is the first letter in G-d’s Divine Name YHVH ( הוה’ ). In removing the yod (‘) from ish (man), that is, if the Divine Presence is removed from man, he is left with the FIRE of his natural passions.

Similarly, the Hebrew word for woman is ishah (אשה), spelled aleph, shin, heh. Remove the heh,  also a letter in G-d’s name YHVH ( הוה’ ) and, once again, you have esh (אש), and only FIRE is left.

The yod and the heh together spell YAH, another form of God’s Name.

Man and women together are (א’ש ו אשה). When a man and a woman come together in marriage and don’t bring Yah, the Divine Presence of G-d, with them they are only fire and fire (אש ו אש).

A fire can be productive in providing passion, warmth and light or, if not controlled, can bring great destruction. With the loving balance and guidance of the Divine Presence of G-d in the marriage of a man and a woman, the fire remains constant and bright but does not consume.

HalleluYah!

 

In His Name ~ Keren Hannah

HASHEM – YHVH

In His Name

YHWH

His Name – His signature as an artist, as Creator of all, can be found in everything He has created. His Name is there if you look intentionally and have eyes to see. As His children, as human beings, we carry His name in a very important and special way.

YHVH – Yod – Hei – Vav – Hei   

We  physically carry the shapes of the Hebrew letters of His Holy Name.

The yod neatly fits your head.

Your arms fit the shape of the  hei.

The elongated vav represents your spine.

And the final  hei fits the shape of your legs.

 

We literally carry the letters of His Name with us. Each person is a work of art signed by the Great Artist. Dwight, my husband, and great teacher, (z”l – of blessed memory) used to say that when the angels see a person approaching they say, “Make way, Make way! Here comes someone bearing the Holy Name of God!”

The very first line of the prayer Yeshua taught His disciples is,
“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.”

In our daily living we either honor and bring glory to that Name or else we debase or dishonor it. Fittingly, in all Creation, only man has that choice.

What does the term ‘hallowed’ mean?

To hallow or honor God’s name is the exact opposite of profaning the name of God –
to bring dishonor to God’s name as opposed to sanctifying it.

The concept plays an important part in our Father’s process of the restoration of all things. He has promised, in effect, just as He delivered the Israelites from Egypt: “I’m going to restore you as a people.” This promise can be applied to His people Israel, an individual person, a congregation, or a community. Why the restoration? His reply: “…because I want My Name to be honored among the nations.”

From the very beginning, the purpose for every restoration, every redemption of God, has been in order that His Name might be honored and lifted up. Again, in effect, just as He said to the Israelites, He says:  “You have profaned it through sin and weakness but I’m going to do something through you. Through each one who bears My name, My name can be honored, be sanctified, and hallowed.”

What can we understand from this? It’s our responsibility to show His name as holy–Kadosh. God is the Redeemer, the Restorer of all things good, but the responsibility that accrues to us is how we carry that Name, treasure it, and enable it to be seen as holy in the world.

Another question arises. How do we make His name holy? How do we hallow and exalt His name? Yeshua came to show us how through his every action; illustrating how this involves our bodies as well as our minds and spirits. Our deeds speak His Name, from something seemingly small – such as a smile to a beggar, a kind word to one in distress, using one’s gifts and talents to bless others, dealing openly and honestly in our work situations, and honoring the elderly – to something visibly bigger such as doing a great deed of charity, excelling in ministry, or gaining fame as an artist or musician. If the motivation of our every action is to honor our Father and bring glory to His Name, all we do will bring Him great pleasure and will be of eternal value in His eyes.

Baruch HaShem! May His great Name be blessed indeed!

Jerusalem day 2