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Omer Count – Day 4

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day four of the Omer. Hayom yom revyi laOmer.

Today is Netzakh be Khesed, conquest within love, victory within kindness.

So, someone promised you a gift. At least, you’re pretty sure they promised you a gift. A bracelet, say, that would signify the depth of your relationship, one that is special and beautiful and important not just in itself, but in the meanings that every aspect of it carries. The two of you have known each other for a long time, you have a lot of shared memories and a lot of future plans together. You’ve talked about this bracelet a lot and you helped pick it out. You made sure it was gold because that’s worth more and you have a mild allergy to silver, you know the meaning of each gemstone in the bracelet – this one for strength and that one for celebration and this other one because it’s a birth stone. You know why it’s important and with your special day (birthday? Valentines day? New Year’s Eve?) coming up, you are ready to receive the gift.

That’s when they tell you that they’re hoping you’ll help them wrap that bracelet, in time for that special day, because it’s for So & so who is very special to them. It’s lucky they have such a good friend as you, because you helped pick the perfect gift and isn’t it good that you picked gold because did you know, So & so is allergic to silver! Your heart breaks.

Victory in kindness is when, very very slowly, you smile, say “sure” and proceed to beautifully wrap that bracelet.

Today, I hope to meet misunderstandings with grace. I win when I am kind despite disappointment.

Travel Blog 8

I was off again. Starting from that disastrous off-turn that I made onto a railroad track, I was sure this time would be different. I was going to follow that trail, so help me, and not veer off. It would be fun! This was still back in September and there were surprising gifts of late flowers along the way. You know, no matter what, these hikes – be they short city hikes, long ambles through country roads, windy trails or anything else, really – have been a sheer delight.

Resisting all temptation to follow the little trail, I walked along to the big road instead. Sigh. See, here we are. The big road. But at least there’s the sign telling me I’m going in the right direction. That’s good!

The road was indeed just as boring as I thought it would be. Until, that is – I looked up! Would you look at that sky? Gorgeous, right?

Before long, however, I found myself walking near some very beautiful places – and familiar ones. I had made it to Hamilton! Truly, there’s beauty in very little things – both people made – like this RBG flower bed and natural like these fall flowers at the side of the road.

Here’s the railroad I found myself walking on that other time. It looks much better from above – in fact the whole view is panoramic and not at all awful. Then down the stairs to the hike under the bridge – I’ve actually hiked this bit before but never officially like this. It was pretty cool. Hamilton hikes are gorgeous, I must say.

The trail under the bridge is lovely – full of little tiny picturesque moments. Are you getting a twisty trail feeling? I always do. And of course – it’s nice to know you’re going in the right direction!

The fall coulours do a lot to accentuate the beauty of the day, but then – argh! I’m back on the street again. It’s a pretty street, but it’s still a street.

But wait – is that a park with woods right to the side? So much for sticking firmly to the trail this time. (I still used google, but did go a bit off trail.)

It was so pretty though! I found myself in the woods and as everyone knows, I totally adore the woods! Whether the tiny mushrooms in the various tree stumps or the sky peering through the tops of the trees, there is nothing about a wooded path I don’t like. I know these are tamed and groomed and manicured woods compared to the real thing – but for a few glorious moments, I let myself forget and enjoy the beauty.

All good things must come to an end and this hike did too. I finally came out of the hike to a very nice grassy area which was also conveniently close to where I was going. Double win.

About 4 more km walked brings us to 28 km and completes the Burlington-Hamilton journey. Onward, ho!

Trip 8 Blog









Omer 40

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty, which is five weeks and five days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim she hem hamisha shavuot ve hamisha yammim  laOmer.

Today is Hod be Yesod, gratitude within sexuality, thankfulness within intimacy

Oh, I don’t think so! When the parents are controlling, the kids are disrespectful and the partner is doing things in exactly the way that I don’t like, the last thing I want to do is be grateful. It’s going to have to be some very, very special persuasion that causes me to say thank you – or, hey, anything good – on days like those. I don’t feel like expressing gratitude and so, I don’t. This negative mood and attitude totally shows – and is totally ugly. People respond in kind, and it leads to more controlling parents, disrespectful kids and contrary partner.  This is a feedback look – and those aren’t good things, sometimes leading to disasterin a situation like that.

How can I break this loop? The day has insight. Today, I’m going to have to put my irritation aside. I’m going to need to say “good thing I have kids that complain because some peope are childless and super about it”.  “I’m glad I have controlling, parents because many of the parents of my peers are passing away”, and I’m glad my partner is acting in that irritating manner because it is good to have a partner who cares enough to say something.

Gratitude helps. It helps me refocus on the positive aspects of the situation, helps me to see others in a more positive way, and helps me to act in a more positive manner. This causes others to respond more positively and suddenly I have more reason yet to think of positive thngs they do that Iead to gratitude. Hmmm…that feedback loop seems way more useful!

Today, I remember to be grateful for family. I know it will lead to greater intimacy.

Omer 38

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day thirty eight, which is five weeks and three days of the Omer. Hayom yom shloshim ve shmone she hem hamisha shavuot ve shlosha yammim laOmer.

Today is Tiferet be Yesod, beauty within family, truth within intimacy

It’s nice when the little things work out. When you are thinking something and suddenly, your friend says that very thing. When you start a sentence and your friend finishes it. When you want something – and your partner brings it. It’s wonderful to have that connection that goes beyond words and into love. It’s nice and it’s real and it’s beautiful. It takes years of hanging out, of just doing thte next thing, of thinking of each other and truly listening to what the other person says to have it happen. It’s rare – and sometimes huge periods of time happen where it isn’t there or at least I don’t notice it – but it’s totally worth while.

Today, I notice the beauty in the the comfort and fit one can have with true family.

Tishrey 3 – (#BlogElul 27 – Bless)

“I put before you the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life.” is one of my favourite lines in the bible. It is also a very beautiful song. But what is a blessing? Some see it as just a wish – like when we say “bless you” after someone sneezes, to wish them health. But people are very clear that a curse is more than a bad wish – it can actually cause a bad wish to happen. So is a blessing a good wish that can actually happen? The dictionary takes another view. It says that blessing is making holy. Except – I don’t need holy sneezes. None of it makes a lot of sense.

The line above makes sense however. It makes sense on a visceral, emotional level – the level at which Yom Kippur, if done right, should make sense. Yom Kippur is supposed to make the blessing and the curse just a bit more obvious – to peel back the layers of common sense and every day living and let me see what behaviours of mine cause good wishes to myself and others and which do not. If it doesn’t do that – if it doesn’t make me feel abashed, determined, sad, excited, humble, proud, ready and willing, then it hasn’t done its job.

What did I learn from Yom Kippur this year? I have a short attention span, and am easily bored. I enjoy repetition – but only up to a point. We went to a more religious service – and I didn’t always have the God connection that I rely on Yom Kippur to bring. So, I’m not sure that it did the job and heled me to choose blessing rather than curse.

I will have to keep trying. I see my bad habits glaring at me since I started watching for them – “ha,” they seem to say “you chose the curse that time.” It feels almost impossible – not through the many repetitions of song and story, not through checkmarks on a page, not through earnest prayer – to be rid of them. In fact, all that happens is, over the course of the day, I get more and more defensive and less and less able to accept my errors and I start justifying the most ridiculous things in the most ridiculous way.

Luckily, there is another holiday that follows Yom Kippur and that one worked better at helping me choose the blessing. Sukkot was beautiful this year. It was exactly what Sukkot should be – a holiday where love of God and love of goodness brought so much joy that choosing blessing was easy. During Sukkot, sometimes, I forgot about everything and just chose to do the right thing because it felt good. That’s a rare thing. When I can do the right thing – not because I have to, but because it feels fantastic. So, I will try to use that – to hold on to that blessing throughout the year. This year, for the first time, I understand why those books of right and wrong, good and evil, aren’t closed until Simkhat Torah. Because if it didn’t happen through the gritted teeth hard work of Yom Kippur, one can still choose life through the joy of Sukkot.

This post – probably my last Elul blog of the year, as it’s Kheshvan tomorrow – took me a month to write in snippets. It’s disjointed, and has more flaws than most posts do. It reminds me of our sukkot. It reminds me of my family. There may be rough or ill-fitting bits. There may be confusion, it may take forever (most things that I do take forever), it may not make perfect sense – but it expresses joy, and it reaches for blessing.

Elul 16

#BlogElul – Pray

When I start and end the day with prayer, when I start and end each meal with prayer, when I pray for some of the things a person is supposed to pray for, I notice my world more. Seriously, I see things more clearly when I pray. I know right from wrong better. All of a sudden, because I took the time to have that moment, I can resist temptation just a tiny bit, and give myself the drive to do a bit more than I thought I could. This is why I pray – it is a conversation with God, which grounds me, focuses me and makes me more capable.

A song of the holidays that I used to enjoy (it was written by a local Kingston artist so I haven’t heard it for a while) had the words “my prayers flow inward; my prayers flow upward; my prayers flow outward.” That rings true to me. My prayers have those three aspects, I feel.

When God is my best self, a quiet voice that inspires me, my prayers flow inward, reminding me of that part. My prayers become a chance to listen and talk to my conscience, my inspiration, my creativity. I can do more when I pray like that. If I am having trouble praying, it is probably a symptom of the fact that there’s something I don’t want to face so I’m not looking. (Of course, sticking fingers in my ears while chanting na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you” is not a working long term strategy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use it sometimes.)

When God stands for ritual and tradition, connection with my ancestors and descendants, when God is the grounding force in my life, my prayers flow “upward” to connect me to that source. This is where I get strength, energy, courage. My prayers are a chance to meditate, to take a step away from work, to find calm, maybe to find the ability to fall asleep. My prayer gives my life structure and meaning when my prayers flow upward. I am a comfortable part of all that is.

When my prayers flow outward, I become more responsible and more responsive. God is now what I see in another’s eye. God is the love that flows between us, honouring us both. When I recognize every person as being in God’s image every day, I am inspired to do more to care for others. I can begin (slowly and ultra reluctantly – mostly I don’t wanna!) to put others ahead of my selfish desires and needs.

In my opinion, one of the most perfect prayers, found as part of the Shabbat prayer is “sabeynu mituvekha, vtaher libeynu l’avdekha be-emet” This is a request prayer, and it’s one I like, because I need it so much.

Sabeynu – satisfy; fulfil; let what we have in life be enough. Help us to feel gratitude for what we have and to realize how good life is. If life isn’t good, show us where we can find that satisfaction. Help us to see the glass as half-full and to enjoy the fact that it’s not completely empty – or if it is, that we have a glass at all! As usual, this is an “us” prayer (note the ‘nu’ ending, people) and ensures that we do it together. One of our sources of satisfaction is other people.

MiTuvekha – of Your goodness; from Your kindness; with the Good that flows from You. Help us all to see what’s real, to focus on the good that comes from God and not on the ephemeral everyday things we seem to grasp for. This is God’s way of reminding us that the miracle is birds and children, loved ones and kittens, fresh vegetables and gardens – and not calculation of dollars and cents, video games, or whatever our obsession is. There is goodness in this world – in being with others, in helping people, in smiles and laughter. We prioritise God’s goodness and we recognize it.

VeTaher – purify; make holy; clean – this is where repentance and change are related to cleaning, to purifying. We remove the things that block us. No more dirt, no more grime, no more petty thoughts and little negative ideas. No matter how messed up are feeling are, we take the time to try and clean them up. But this is a request. Sometimes we need help with this. We ask God to do this job – to remove that which makes us impure from us.

Libeynu – Our hearts; In ancient Israel, this word was also the word for “mind”, as they believed knowledge and thought was in the heart. So, it is our thoughts and feelings, our desires and our loves, our dwelling on irrelevancies, our worries and angers, our hatreds and needs that we are asking for God’s help with. We want pure hearts – we want thoughts and feelings that correspond to the very best of us.

L’avdekha – to serve; Notice how it always comes to service? We serve God – the God within us, the God within others, the God in the world. It sort of clarifies priorities – take care of myself, take care of other people, take care of the world I live in. In this way, I serve God. This prayer is said on Shabbat, and it’s our request so that we can rest properly. The point of both God’s goodness and our ability to think and feel is to make the world (us included) a better place.

BeEmet – in truth; in faith; with honesty and sincerity. We pray for it to be real, something we believe. We pray that our goodness, like God’s becomes more than pretty words, that it is tangible in action. We pray that our outward selves more and more remember our deepest inner selves and that we are accountable for what we commit to. This, the final word, is the hardest for me in the prayer – it reminds me that there is a lot I must do if I am to be true to what I say.

Today, I pray for truth, for guidance, for purity, for strength. Today, I pray to hear the God within and without. I pray to be satisfied. I pray to serve. I pray that the words I say in prayer become reflected in the actions I take.

Elul 2

#BlogElul – Act

It’s theatre – all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts (a bit of Shakespeare from As You Like It). We take ourselves so seriously sometimes! As if everything we do matters intently, as if these lines from the Unetaneh Tokef that we will say on Yom Kippur aren’t reality, aren’t fundamental “Our origin is dust and our end is dust, we spend our lives earning bread. We are like a clay vessel, easily broken, like withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shadow, a fugitive cloud, a fleeting breeze, scattering dust, a vanishing dream…”

So, today, we can – I can (one of these days I’ll learn not to speak for everyone else) take a step back and realize that I don’t actually have to take myself so seriously! I’m just acting, in a play. It’s a good play, and important and fundamental, but it’s only a play. I can stop fretting about being good or evil or this or that, and just focus on figuring out my cues, learning my lines and enjoying the performance as much as possible while being part of it. (The scenery is breathtaking, and the props are pretty cool.)

Of course I make mistakes! Everyone says their lines wrong sometimes. I keep the performance going, faking that I said it right, and that gets me through a daily show sometimes. However, I know I need to practice correct responses to cues, and so I do and then, my next performance is even better. Remembering that I’m acting lets me to let go of hubris and hopelessness at the same time. How can I have false pride in something that’s just a role, with lines and situations pre-created for me which I just have to play out well? (I can have real pride in my abilities as an actress, of course.) Why feel hopeless when this is only a play? I might feel annoyed when something happens to a favourite on a show, but I don’t have a hissy fit about it.

Seeing my life as an act also lets me look at how I can improve. I act like the woman I want to become this year, even if it doesn’t always feel real. I can act supportive, accepting, hopeful, hardworking, or temperate even if I feel selfish, frustrated, overwhelmed, lazy and greedy. Now, I’ve heard people say “that’s being fake!” Is it, though? Or is it being an actor, on this beautiful stage that is the world I live in. Acting the right way, following the steps of the dance regardless of how I’m feeling at the moment, that’s a core Jewish value.

Today, I act. I pray that this year, God helps me make the play a comedy (She does, but usually at my expense) rather than a tragedy. I enjoy the role I get, and I work to do a good job playing my part. Who knows? I might just become that character – I better make it a good one.

Tisha B’Av

So, the temple has fallen down again. Our regular life has been shaken up and we are bereft – there’s a space where the ordinary; the way we connect to God once was, and now we need to reinvent the faith. It was such a big moment in Jewish history, that we reenact it again and again so that we can experience it ourselves. We pile other stories of sadness and realise, that in our own lives, we build temples. Temples in the air, temples in our hearts – temples of structure and normalcy, that we use as our conduits to living a good spiritual life, that we use as our connection to what we call God. No matter whether we are Jewish, have a different faith, or are atheist, there are the elements of our lives that we rely on, that we hope will be there from year to year, that we don’t even always think about or realise the full importance of until they’re gone.

Maybe this is a necessary start to the cycle of introspection and realisation, self-work and refocus, teshuva and a new way of doing things that comes with the High Holidays. I’ve blogged on Tisha B’Av before (and I’m probably getting repetitive because I deliberately don’t look at my previous posts when writing these) but I know I need to do so again. Because this is real, and it is part of my yearly cycle. Every year, no matter how carefully I try to build war-proof temples that WILL NOT FALL, or how much I promise myself no temples at all this year, a temple falls down.

It could be anything – a lost wallet or necklace, an ending to a relationship or even a marriage, a death of a close one, a move, the kids growing up, a school, park, synagogue or other institution not being what you remembered when you were a kid, a fire or break-in, an illness, disappointment in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals, or even brand new goals that disrupt normalcy and are hard to achieve. All of these happened this year to people I know and care for, and possibly, some, to myself as well. Some are minor, some are major, but all reconfigure what is true about life and the way I live it.

So, I start looking at ways I can reimagine my faith. Maybe I stop connecting to God through that person? Do I need a new person as my confidante? Maybe I stop utilising that institution. Is there another one that will work better, or do I break away from institutions entirely? Maybe I just replace my wallet -but this might be the opportunity to get that 3-D spider man one I’ve always wanted.

The temple is gone. Despite my dislike of change, there’s nothing but rubble where once it stood. The new development won’t get unbuilt to give me back that corner of wilderness, and my kids won’t get smaller, move back in and need bedtime stories again. Dead people stay dead. I mourn, because big or small, the losses of this year are real, are legitimate and it’s OK to be sad. I take as long as I need to grieve, because that’s important.

(Explanation of Tisha B’av: Jews occasionally need practice showing emotion. We have days of joy and merriment, but we need a day where there are rules about sadness too. This is an opportunity for us to be sad.We remember all the sad things that happened to the Jewish people – the destruction of our temples, the death of our elders, the pogroms and expulsions, the devastation and despair and loneliness and hopelessness and helplessness and loss. We sit on the floor. We fast. We don’t hug or sing or swim or dance. We don’t distract ourselves with the everyday. We allow ourselves to just be sad.)

But as I eat my eggs at the end of the day, I think about the potential involved in eggs, a cycle of rebirth that is phoenix-like in its glory. The Jewish people used the destruction of the temple to build a faith that can be celebrated in a small corner of a small village by ten people with a book. They built a faith of song and dance and love and fun and rules and order and learning and practicality and story and life. They built something new that was not just good – not as good as the temple, not a replacement of the temple, not a patched up version of the temple – they built something completely new, and as a proud Jewess I can say – something glorious. How can I build some thing new this year? What do I do to make something glorious?

This year, I want to start looking for the glory now, today. I open my heart to possibility, because I know I need it. I say, “I will not be trapped by the patterns of the past that have stopped working.” I stop above all building the negative anti-temples of despair and hopelessness. I reach out to God wherever I can – I reach for glory. I celebrate Tisha B’Av fully, acknowledging the disaster in my life and then, painting the past beautiful but over, I move on to my glorious future.

Because it is definitely time to get a new glow-in-the-dark Dora the Explorer wallet, right?

Omer – Day 1

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom ehad laOmer.

Today is day 1 of the Omer.

Khesed be Khesed

It is day 1 of the Omer, kindness within kindness. Today, after two days of wonderful Seders, I celebrate! The kindness of people helping, of people accepting, of people enjoying what I offer when I run or host a Seder fills me with joy. The deeper kindness of people who have no reason or obligation to do this – who do this only because they love me – that fixes broken places and builds strong bridges. Today, as I start counting the Omer, I do so in joy.