Topic: Spirituality

Light In The Dark | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Ilana Unger – Pearlstone Center Parshat Vayeishev In parshat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), lands on the third Shabbat of Kislev, we connect deeply to this Jewish month of actualization and revelation. For example: Vayeishev is the Hebrew word for “and he lived” (actualization) and nine out of the ten dreams that we read in the Torah are in this month (revelation). To recap the many things that happen in this parsha: Joseph is exiled and sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Joseph is then falsely accused of sexually assaulting Potiphar’s wife and is sent to the Pharaoh’s prison where he becomes an overseer in the prison. He is joined in prison by the Pharaoh’s butler and baker. They say they have had vivid dreams and are looking for an interpreter. Joseph interprets their dreams and accurately does so, predicting that the baker be hanged while the butler will be restored to his job duties. As Joseph is literally in a dark place in the prison, he is selfless and wants to hear and listen to how he can help the butler and baker. Kislev, which derives from the Hebrew word kesel (כֶּסֶל), means either “security,” or “trust.” Joseph seems to […]

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Turning Yom Kippur into Action

Dear friends — If you’re like me, you probably spent some of your Yom Kippur last week thinking about how to better live up to your ideals — how to be kinder, more just, more in touch with the sacred. Well, here’s an advertisement for how to put that resolution into practice. Having spent twenty-five years exploring spirituality, therapy, meditation, medication, self-help, human potential, sacred sexuality, entheogens, and a dozen or so paths to the holy, I think that meditation retreat has been the single most effective tool in the never-finished project of becoming more alive, more awake, and more invested in pursuing justice. I’m sure this isn’t true for everyone, but it has definitely been true for me and for many of the “spiritual friends” and teachers who have inspired me along the way. In my experience, no awesome spiritual state, no study, and no political action can transform the mind and heart the way that meditation does — and no amount of daily meditation can do the work of a multi-day meditation retreat. That’s true whether you’re suffering and looking for healing, or comfortable and interested in doing more with your one, precious life. Contemplative neuroscience has now […]

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Listen Ya’ll! | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Alex Voynow – Jewish Farm School  Parshat Haazinu [NOTE: Applications for the next JOFEE Fellowship cohort are open now through October 5! Apply today!] In Ha’azinu, Moses sees the Israelites for who they are: humans, scarred by 40 years of impatient wandering and in no mood to listen obediently. Moses is 120 years old and holds so much wisdom; this is the last day before his death, and he has some things to say. He has the story of his life to tell, which in his epic personal union with the Israelite people is also the story of God. He needs them to understand, like the tender, concerned patriarch that he is, how to live in God’s favor so they can blossom into the promised land and not mess up this covenant (fast-forward: oops).   What he has to say is so important that he does something that really resonates with me. Moses speaks language that heaven and earth themselves will understand, and in a language that will more likely move the people: in song. He launches into a 48-verse poem doing his damnedest to sum up his life’s spiritual learnings. I’m not going to get into it because it’s densely […]

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Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jared Kaminsky – Shoresh Parshat Shoftim The parsha of the week is Shoftim, which means Judges. As Moses nears the end of his life, he wants to ensure there is a system of governance in society. Shoftim gives detailed ordinances on many topics of law, including appointing judges, laws that kings should follow, creating cities of refuge when crimes are committed, and the rules of war. For example, the parsha states that appointed judges are forbidden from taking bribes and there must be two credible witnesses for a conviction. Another ordinance demands that kings must not have too many horses and must always carry around two Torah scrolls to remind them that G-D is above them. The Torah even provides a city of refuge for those who accidentally murdered someone to live in safety! While many of these laws do not apply to modern society, there are some important insights into preventing corruption and treatment of humankind that we can still learn from. Moses recognized that every generation has the obligation to critically examine and apply the laws of the Torah. As Jews we should examine the laws that govern the places we live and work to protect the rights of […]

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The Binary of One | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Sofia Marbach – Wilderness Torah Parshat Re’eh I set before you today a blessing and a curse; The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know. — Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Yikes! The first lines of Re’eh present us with a terrifying binary: choose to follow closely each commandment or consider yourself cursed by God. If we opt out of the choosing, what does Judaism leave for us? The text goes on to list detailed instructions for violence against those who might persuade you to worship the gods of other peoples, and against the idols of those who tended your land before. This is the kind of violence that mirrors and reinforces patriarchal systems of dominance and oppression lived today and throughout history. So how do we grapple with guidelines for patriarchal violence in our holiest book — a violence that divides us into binary understandings of the world? How do we connect to tradition as “People of the […]

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Choosing our History | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Henry Schmidt – Shalom Institute Parshat Devarim The Torah may be our past, but Devarim, the shared name both for this week’s Torah portion and for the fifth book of the Torah, is our history. What is the difference between past and history? Our past is simply a chronology of events, one after another, that bring us to the present. It is what one may observe if they traveled back in time and watched things unfold. History, on the other hand, adds important layers; history is the past we choose to tell and how we tell it. The establishment of history is an inherently political process. Whoever has the most access to public discourse or public thought typically gets to shape the narrative of the people. In the case of Devarim, this power rests solely with Moses. Though he shall not see the promised land and must cede this honor to his successor, Joshua, he still possesses the most powerful role of this period for the Jewish people: he gets to tell them their own story. After all, Devarim translates to “the words,” and these are “the words” of the Jewish people. We already know that the Jews eventually receive […]

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Why Do We Wander? | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Eliezer Weinbach – Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Hazon  Parshat Maasei Earlier this year, Isabella Freedman hosted a Moishe House retreat called “Wandering Jews.” Led by New York Times contributor Eli Reiter, twelve people in their twenties and thirties got together to discuss their experiences and wisdom regarding travel as a Jewish person. They discussed things like kashruth and shabbat observance while abroad. The question is: Why bother? When the Torah lists all the stages of the journey through the desert, as per the text from Numbers above, it really does discuss each part. All forty-two stages, in fact! The question is: Why bother? God commands that when the Jews do finally enter the land, they are to travel three times a year to Jerusalem. Wasn’t the journey to the land long enough?! Why bother?! Travel is hard. Sitting at home is easy. Hiking is hard. Watching Netflix is easy. Adventures change you. Inaction keeps you the same. Wandering is change. On a very basic level, you are moving from one place to another. But it’s so much more than that. I could quote Emerson on “roads less traveled” or Kerouac on basically anything, or any of the myriad formulations regarding […]

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Fear and Donkeys | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Henry Schmidt – Shalom Institute Parshat Balak I thought Balak was a story about a donkey. That is to say, when I sat down to write this blog post, I expected to write about the talking donkey we’ll soon meet. Understandably, a talking donkey tends to get a lot of attention. However, this time I found the ending of the parsha (Torah portion), an ending I had always overlooked, to be what especially spoke to me. Let’s start with an overview. Balak, King of Moab, sees the growing people of Israel and how they have conquered all of Moab’s neighbors, leaving Moab directly next to the potential threat of this dynamite group of nomads who seem to be on a roll. Worried about the Israelite’s winning streak, he summons Balaam, a pagan sorcerer, to come and curse the Israelites. “‘There is a people come out of Egypt; it hides the Earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then, put a curse upon this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed […]

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Mayim Chayim and Honoring our Mother | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Alex Voynow – Jewish Farm School  Parshat Chukat In Chukat, our mother dies. “Miriam died there [at Kadesh] and was buried there. The people were without water and they joined against Moses and Aaron.” ~Numbers 20.1-2 Miriam’s death gets one line, and then the narrative is quickly redirected back to the patriarchs. I was amazed at the amount of lines the Torah takes in Chukat to explicate the condemnation of Moses, the laws or ritual purification, and the military proceedings of the Israelites, while one verse is all we hear about the death of Miriam the Prophetess. Miriam provided the water. And just as in the central focus of the movement at Standing Rock, “Water is Life.” Mayim chayim. If you say mayim repeatedly, you also begin to say ima — mother. In the Torah, we lost our mother Miriam, our life source. She is barely mentioned again. So, the central question for me and for us that comes up is: whose story is this? Who wrote this book? There is an obvious reality that women were centrally important to the life and culture of the Israelites, yet they are seldom mentioned, celebrated, or mourned. I see this as the Torah’s infidelity […]

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Korach: Disruptive Visionary or Disgruntled Rabble-Rouser? | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Eliezer Weinbach – Hazon, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center Parshat Korach וַיֵּרְדוּ הֵם וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, חַיִּים–שְׁאֹלָה And they and all their belongings went down, alive, into Sheol Numbers 16:33 I was traveling once, and my tour guide, a wizened Arab, asked me if I wanted to see the pit that swallowed Korach’s followers. Intrigued, I followed my guide through the desert. After some time, through a haze of heat and mirage, we saw smoke billowing from a fissure in the ground. My guide doused a towel with some of his water, and tied it to the tip of his staff. He cautiously approached the fissure, and held his staff over the smoking vent. To my surprise, the wet cloth began to burn. As he was walking back to me, I could hear voices carried on the warm desert wind. Faint voices, singing, or perhaps chanting. Softly enough that I wasn’t sure if I was hearing anything at all. “What are those voices?” I asked my guide. “Those are the children of Korach,” he replied. “They are slowly lowered into the hellish heat of the Earth and then raised back out, rotated like a roast on a spit. When they finish […]

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