Rabbis Without Borders Retreat

A wonderful week in sunny Simi Valley, California for the Rabbis Without Borders Retreat. Great sessions on character strengths (assessing, utilizing and teaching towards) design thinking and innovation! Already working on my business model canvas! What a wonderful opportunity to learn and be with such amazing teachers and colleagues. @RBWCLAL

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And You Shall Be Ach Sa’me’ach

I gave this drash (teaching) in October 2011 / 5772 at Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester, MA and am reposting here to share again…

The holiday of Sukkot also goes by another name: Zman Simchateinu.

The time of our rejoicing.  This name comes from the verse in Deuteronomy, “V’samachta b’chagecha v’hayita ach same’ach” You shall rejoice on your festivals , and you shall be fully joyous. Is it not enough to be joyous – not enough to be sameach but we should be “ach sameach.” And so, I began to ponder what this means.

There are plenty of things that I enjoy about sukkot – but in thinking about what it means to call this time Zman Simchateinu, I did a kind of rabbinic thing which is to think about another usage of the word simcha and see if it might shed some light here. There are many other discussions of what simcha refers to in the context of sukkot, but I have to admit, my mind went to an entirely different context. I immediately thought of how in Judaism we call our life cycle events simchas.

Think for a moment about the last simcha you went to – was it a wedding, or a bar or bat mitzvah, or was it a bris or baby naming.  I was at a bris the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah. And like all of the brises and weddings and life cycle events I’ve been to –there was a deep, soulful, transformative joy. There were moments of anticipation even trepidation, and excitement. There was a time in which everyone held their breath, then tears and laughter, and then a full awareness that love and commitment and covenant takes a real leap of faith. And then there was a palpable transition into sheer happiness, relief, and celebration.

Those simchas are some of the most intense transitional moments I have ever witnessed. And so perhaps to be “ach sameach” is to simply to allow ourselves to feel ALL of those emotions and all of those feelings that are truly present in joy. To really experience deep and profound joy there is almost always risk and vulnerability involved. That is what the sukkah reminds us of. And there is where we find God’s sheltering presence, the sukkat shalom.

The image of the sukkah harkens back to the temporary encampments that the Israelites built in the desert.  I cannot help but also think of the tent city downtown at Occupy Boston. And I am also thinking of 2 images of Jerusalem –the temporary sukkot that fill back yards and apartment balconies, as well as the tents of the family members and supporters of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been camped out in front of the Prime Minister’s residence for years urging the negotiation for his return.  As you may have heard, the world is waiting with bated breath for his release expected next week.

And I imagine all of them are “ach sameach” in their tents — with hope, fear, and deep faith.

The sukkah we build every year for Sukkot reminds us of the joy we experience at those simchas – at some of the most powerful times in our lives.

And we also feel that sense of joy a little every day. It is the sense of truly being alive. It is such a powerful feeling, which is why we ask for God’s protection over us every night –in Hashkiveinu we literally ask for God’s sukkat shalom to be spread over us.

I bless us all to know the feeling of God’s sheltering presence in our moments of being “ach sameach.”

Chag Sukkot Sameach

On the Eve of Yom Kippur 5778 (2017)

Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) begins tonight at sundown and is considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. May we all find some spark of holiness in our lives. May we find holiness in ourselves and in others. May we find ways to forgive ourselves and others and may we seek forgiveness where it is needed, and in doing so begin to bring healing to the world. Whether you observe Yom Kippur in a synagogue or in the woods or by the water, whether you fast or not, whether you recite the words of our liturgy or the words in your heart, may you find a moment of “at-one-ment.” May your hopes and blessings for this new year 5778 be sealed for goodness in the book of life.

A post yoga blessing

After leading pre-Rosh Hashanah candlelit meditation and yoga for the Jewish Mindfulness Center of  Washington at Adas Israel on September 13, 2017, I offered this poem to the class. It’s a favorite I come back to a lot when I teach. From Danna Faulds, honorary Poet Laureate of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

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An Expressive Elul Workshop

Last night I led meditation, yoga and art in preparation for the Jewish New Year…

What a beautiful and special gathering last night to usher in the Hebrew month of Elul as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the Jewish New Year! Thanks to everyone for your presence, energy, and offerings of art and blessings. Thanks to Kirsten Elizabeth and Allie Cossman for help with clean up and to Hannah Jacobson Blumenfeld and Capitol Hill Arts Workshop!

A Beautiful Prayer for the High Holiday Season from Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny

It is the eve of Yom Kippur, and I feel I have not done nearly enough – to know my own errors, to resolve the things that pull me out of alignment with my best self, and least of all, to speak with all the people I have come into contact with this year and ask for their forgiveness.
In some cases I know I have been remiss in my behaviour.  In some cases I might not even know.
So here I am apologizing to each of you, in honesty and humility.  Please forgive me for any and all ways I have damaged you this year, whether through something I did or something I did not do.  And please forgive me for resorting to group email.  I wish I could speak with each of you individually.  That is what you deserve.

If I have made you uncomfortable in any way – please forgive me.

If I have been impatient with you – please forgive me.
If I have been presumptuous and arrogant – please forgive me.
If I have been careless with your feelings – please forgive me.
If I have pulled you into error through my own errors – please forgive me.
If I have neglected you when you needed me – please forgive me.
If my speech has harmed you in any way – please forgive me.
As we enter a new year, may we all be blessed by the bottomless source of compassion and pardon.  May we be blessed to forgive ourselves and each other, and to forgive even those we do not know, or who are no longer here that we hold somehow accountable for our suffering.  May we be blessed with complete forgiveness.
And may we, and all those we love, be sealed in the book of life, for a year of compassion and grace, of healing and connection.
Written by Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny

Freedom To Marry

As we prepare for Shabbat, I’m thinking of the two candles I will soon kindle. One for healing, love and comfort for the mourners, families and community of those killed in Charleston. One for love, rejoicing, celebration, freedom, and equality. As I bring in the light of these Shabbat candles into my heart, I send this light out into the world. Shabbat shalom to all.candle-sticks

An amazing day as the Supreme Court of the United States grants the Freedom to Marry for same-sex couples in all states.

Justice Kennedy for the SCOTUS: tumblr_nqk2zqShwa1qfmmkvo1_500

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