A Gratefulness Guide to Jewish Festivals

‫ושמחת בחגיך‬ Rejoice
in your Festivals

Rabbi Henry Glazer


Table of Contents
With gratefulness to:!3 Introduction!4 Rosh Hashanah-Jewish New Year!5 Yom Kippur -Day of Atonement!19 Sukkot-Festival of Booths!29 Rosh Hodesh - The New Month!48 Hanukkah-Festival of Lights!51 Purim- Festival of Lots!74 Chag Haʼ Pesach-Passover!80 Yom HaʼAtzmaut-Israel Independence Day!107 Yom Yerushalayim -Jerusalem Day!111 Shavuot-Festival of Weeks!114 Tisha BʼAb-Ninth Day of Ab!123


With gratefulness to: My many teachers, from my “zeide” Dovid Tanenbaum-my grandfather, ‫ ,זכרונו לברכה‬of blessed memory, to my current teacher, Rabbi David Ingber, ‫ ,יבדל לחיים ארוכים‬may he be granted long life, founder and rabbi of Romemu, whose wisdom and warmth have enriched my understanding of the beauty of the festival, and helped shape many of the components of this book. My family, whose very presence has transformed everyday into a ‫“ ,יום טוב‬yom tov,” a good day.

‫רוממו‬ elevate

The Jewish people has been blessed with many sacred occasions celebrated or commemorated at various times during the year. Most originate from as early as Biblical times while some have their origins as recently as 1967. (Jerusalem Day) Most are occasions of joy; others commemorate tragedies and calamities for which we can only weep,fast, pray and feel sad. No matter what the mood or feeling of these moments, I believe they represent occasions during which we can cultivate our attitude of gratitude; each sacred occasion contains the seeds of wonder and gratefulness which deserve our attention and full mindfulness so that each moment can emerge as one invested with holiness and the awareness of the divine in our day to day experience. This book should be seen as a companion volume to others that have been written about Jewish festivals or occasions of national commemoration from many other vantage points. My intention is not to present a comprehensive guide which includes the origins, practices, customs, activities and philosophies attached to these special experiences. Moreover, the minor fasts of the Jewish calendar have been omitted; it was felt that their inclusion would have created a redundancy of the subject of fasting which is discussed when related to the occasions of Yom Kippur -the Day of Atonement and Tisha B’Ab, the ninth day of Ab, both 24 hour long days of fasting. Minor fasts-The fast of Gedaliah, the Tenth of Tevet, the Fast of Esther and the Seventeenth of Tammuz -are all fast days that begin at sunrise and end at sunset of the same day. My purpose is to focus on one dimension of Jewish sacred time (not including the Sabbath which I explore in another volume-Sabbath:A Day of Gratefulness.).That is, to shine some light on the gem of gratefulness that adorns the crown of each unique Jewsh occasion. To assist the reader I have incorporated color, pictorial images, song and poetry to the process of interpretation. This is a humble first step.The path of gratitude discovery stretches out before you to explore and to extract the endless gems of gratefulness embedded in each step of the holy day experience/ I pray that the following pages will enrich your spiritual journey to the recognition and experience of gratitude in your lives and to a growing awareness of life’s miracle and giftedness.


Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah-Jewish New Year

‫ר‬ ‫א‬ ‫ש‬ ‫השנה‬

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, can be a time of great anxiety, worry and sadness. At a moment of transition, from the closing of one year to the beginning of another, we encounter this change-over with understandable concern and uncertainty. The year that has passed may have been one of failure, loss and disappointment.The time ahead is an unchartered terrain of possibility. As we face the unknown of tomorrow, we can be filled with feelings of fear and insecurity.This psychological response to changes in the seasons is reflected in our tradition's prayers and teachings which remind us of the precariousness and the fleetingness of time, the transience of all things, and the impermanence of life, drawing our attention to ways by which to prepare for the New Year spiritually in order to meaningfully confront the exigencies and challenges of this particular season. The day itself is known as ‫ -יום הדין‬the Day of Judgement, on which God is portrayed as a Judge of all our actions, inscribing our lives in either the book of life or the book of misfortune, even death. Our liturgy spills over with supplication for forgiveness and for the suspension of any verdict of guilty by the divine court. It is little wonder that we approach this period of time often overcome by apprehension, even dread. Is this all there is to the grandeur of Rosh Hashanah? I think not! It is my intention to convey to the reader a dimension of this festival that is often overlooked or patched over by the many threads of excessive uneasiness and fear. Examining the contours of the day from the perspective of our traditions and rabbinic literature I hope to arrive at an appreciation of the beauty and joy of this day in which we recognize and acknowledge our deepest sense of gratefulness for the gift of life bestowed upon us by the Creator. Not only trepidation but thankfulness could and should permeate our hearts and minds as we welcome the New Year on the Jewish calendar.


Rosh Hashanah

A Song for the New Year Never mind the transient days, the years in micro-time. We have forgotten the unanswered mail, the special birthday the lucky number, the ache, the tear. They forget us, these tokens of the past, suspended in mercurial slots of time. If we tether ourselves to something secure like an idea if it has a good tune, carve it on a rock or a tree rooted deep in the earth that would do the trick. Better still, try me. Hook yourself to me and we can hold each other afloat for as long as the melody plays. Lets try. Natalie Lobe, Poetica Magazine, 201,p. 27.

‫הימים חולפים שנה‬ ‫עוברת‬ ‫אבל המנגינה תמיד‬ ‫נשארת‬

The days pass, another year goes by, But the melody remains. (Modern Israeli song)


Rosh Hashanah

The Talmud says: “‫ -” רבי אליעזר אמר-בתשרי נברא העולם‬Rabbi Eliezer said: In Tishrei (the month of Rosh Hashanah) the world was created.(TB Rosh Hashanah 10b). In simple terms, the Jewish New Year celebrates the birthday of the world. On this day we are summoned to recognize that all we are and all we have, the totality of existence, had their beginnings on this day. How can we not be grateful? Birthdays are happy and gratitudefilled occasions because of the gift of the one who is celebrating her day of birth. We proclaim our joy and acclaim the source of that gift.


Rosh Hashanah

‫אברהם-שרה‬ ‫יצחק-רבקה‬ ‫יעקב-רחל ולאה‬

Abraham-Sarah Isaac-Rebecca Jacob-Rachel and Leah

The Rabbis continue to point out, in a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude, other events and happenings of great deliverance and rejoicing as well. “Rabbi Eliezer said:Whence do we know that the Patriarchs were born on Tishrei? Because it says, 'and all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto King Solomon, at the feast in the month of ethanim,' that is, the month in which the mighty ones (ethanim) of the world were born.” (TB Rosh Hashanah 11a).The ancestral, spiritual models of Judaism derive their existence from this day, this beginning time of a new season of life and spiritual growth and discovery. Without these spiritual giants, and their partners-Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah- the foundations of Jewish thought and practice would be non-existent.. They showed us, through the narratives of their lives, the path of divine living. For this too, we articulate our gratefulness; for their heritage and their gift of inspiration.


Rosh Hashanah

“On New Year Joseph went forth from prison.” (TB Rosh Hashanah 11a). Based on this Midrash, one can say that Rosh Hashanah is a time of freedom, an opportunity to break out of the shackles of constriction and self-limitation by feelings of despondency, self-deprecation, insecurity, guilt or fear. Like Joseph, the New Year can be viewed as a moment of great opportunity for a new beginning of service to others and the nurturing of ourselves and others. Joseph served his sentence; it was time for his release. Rosh Hashanah reminds us that once we have paid our dues we are free to move onward. There is no further need to prolong our imprisonment. For this, we are deeply grateful.

In an expansion of the above notion of freedom on Rosh Hashanah, the Talmud continues : “On New Year the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt.”(TB Rosh Hashanah 11b).Freedom is celebrated,not only on Passove, not only for the individual or the elite, but is seen as a gift of all humanity, a collective gift for which this day invites us to experience a sense of gratefulness.


Rosh Hashanah

To symbolically, even sensuously, set aside the somberness of the day, the custom has arisen to partake in the eating of an apple with honey to sweeten our senses and revive our awareness of the pleasure and delight contained in simple and sweet things that abound around us. Needless to say, honey elicits the reality of two other precious gifts in Jewish life, the Torah that has been compared to honey,“ Your laws are... sweeter than honey;”( Psalm 19:11) and the land of Israel, a land flowing “with milk and honey.” ( Deuteronomy 26:9)

‫..זבת חלב ודבש‬ ...Flowing with milk and honey


Rosh Hashanah

Isaac Survival and Laughter
Punctuating the solemn landscape of Rosh Hashanah is the inspiring figure of Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son born in the later years of Abraham and Sarah’s lives. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we read of Isaac’s birth, a gleeful time in the lives of our firsr patriarch and matriarch. That sense of celebrational joy is abruptly interrupted by the awesome terror of the Binding of Isaac.The trauma of the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his own father taunts our sense of security and trust; our hope and optimism unravel and for a few moments, as Isaac’s life hangs in the balance, we can imagine the precariousness of our own lives. But, Isaac is spared; the ordeal is a test of Abraham’s faith and commitment to God. Isaac survives. At the end of the chapter the Torah tells us of the birth of children to Abraham’s brother, one of whom is Rebecca, the soon-to be wife of Isaac. Isaac marries, raises a family and starts a prosperous new life. Isaac emerges as the paradigm of the survivor, one whose very identity is rooted in the meaning of his name ‫“ -יצחק‬yitzchak”-one who will laugh. All of us are survivors. For some, survival is close to miraculous because of the severity and harshness of its circumstances. (An poignant illustration is the phenomenon of Holocaust survivors and their families.) Nevertheless, the reality of life’s challenges confronts us all with the task of surviving . What remains is how we survive? Judaism, and Issac as one of its spiritual patriarchs, declares the power of laughter as a divine gift of survival. When we read and contemplate the life of Isaac, and encounter our own on-going challenges of the past and those that will unmistakably emerge in the future, we take strength from this capacity, and experience gratitude for this uncanny and universal gift.We are also reminded of the potency of laughter to lift our spirits above the din and despair of so much that overwhelms us in facing the problems of living.

let him laugh ‫י‬ ‫צ‬ ‫ח‬ ‫ק‬

“The laughter of man is the contentment of God.” -Eugene P. Bertin


Rosh Hashanah


Rosh Hashanah is a period of -

‫“-תשובה‬teshuva”-lit.returning, changing,
rediscovering the authentic and morally appropriate approach to a meaningful and rewarding life. In other words, we are reminded in many ways, especially through the lengthy liturgical service, that as human beings we have been endowed with the capacity for conscious change and full awareness of our lives and our world. The act of ‫”-תשובה‬teshuvah”- holds the possibility of creative, reflective, purposeful turning-both turning from and turning towards. Of all the gifts of human life, the spiritual and psychological possibility of change is perhaps the most distinguished. This knowledge of one's ability to alter one's life is a source of the greatest empowerment of the human spirit. For this, Rosh Hashanah offers us the opportunity to say “thank you” and experience the day with gratitude and joy. The cultivation of gratefulness is a potent path in the process of Teshuvah. Opening our hearts and minds to the awareness of the good and the gifted in life enables us to change internally in a significant way.The more gratitude, the less rancor and bitterness; the more thankfulness, the more generous our responses to others and to ourselves. The more praise, the less reproach. ‫ ,תשובה‬teshuvah, ‘turning’-toward the best in ourselves, toward God-the ‘best ‘ in the Universe, is fueled by the power of gratitude.


Rosh Hashanah

Other popular aspects of the day's celebration likewise enhance our capacity to stand grateful in the presence of God. Family and community assemble in large numbers, perhaps the largest of any other occasion on the Jewish calendar. Synagogues are crowded and family tables are surrounded by joyful and grateful families. Rosh Hashanah announces the gift of family and community and awaits our grateful response. Besides prayer, cessation from work, and several folk customs ie.‫-ת ש ליך‬Tashlich, the symbolic casting of sins into a body of water, there is only one singular Biblical requirement of this day, the sounding of the ‫-ש ו פ ר‬shofar. From being regarded as a spiritual wake up call to the eliciting of hopes for redemption- since the Shofar, according to tradition, will herald the coming of the Messiah- the Shofar is rich in historical associations and personal memories. At the same time that its sounds evoke disquietude, they elicit hope and faith as well. The Shofar harkens back to the story of the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, an episode of deep controversy in the Torah, one which seems to suggest the willingness of a sainted father to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac as a demonstration of his ultimate allegiance to God.The narrative terrifies us as we contemplate the possibility of human sacrifice emerging out of the holy words of Torah. Our Rabbis remind us that the sounding of the Shofar recalls Abraham’s astounding demonstration of radical devotion to God. In place of his son, a ram is offered to God inspiring our people to make use of a ram's horn to further reinforce the impact of our ancestors' merit in strengthening our appeals for leniency before the High Court sitting in judgment on this Day of Judgment. The mystical tradition understands the Shofar as emitting sounds that connect with the pure sound of God. Consider the following exegesis of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, a great Hassidic leader in Poland from the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. He quotes the Talmud which relates that the angels asked God :“ 'Why do Israel not recite Hallel before You on Rosh Hashanah?' The Holy One answered: 'Could you imagine the King sitting on the throne of judgment with the books of the living and the dead before Him-and Israel singing praises?' ”1 The Sefat Emet goes on to say: “We have learned elsewhere that from each mitzvah a Jew performs, an angel is created. Now Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are indeed holydays; they are 'appointed times.' The hearts of

Rosh Hashanah

Israel are filled with joy at these times, but they cannot articulate that joy in the form of the Hallel, the psalms of praise recited on other holy days. But because they have such longing-even though it cannot be realized-the angels are created anyway. And perhaps these angels are even higher than those created from the actual saying of the Hallel-since thought ( ie. sound ) is higher than speech. Maybe this is the true meaning of shofar. The Holy Zohar says that there is an outcry within the heart that the lips cannot speak. So too is the Shofar hidden, as in the verse-'I will answer you in the secret of the thunderclap'(Psalm 81:8), and also the meaning of the verse:'Sound the shofar on the new-moon, in the hiding of our festive day.'(vs.4)This is also why there is supplication in our prayerbooks that refer to the angels who emerge from the shofar sounds.”2


Rosh Hashanah

Hallel is the quintessential prayer of gratitude in the liturgy of the Jewish people.Comprised of chapters of Psalms that ring out with refrains of Halleluyah, it expresses praise as a means of articulating gratitude for the gift of Jewish festivals.As is pointed out by the Rabbis, the solemnity and anxiety of Rosh Hashanah interfere with the full and open expression of such praise. Yet,what do we do with Israel's longing to praise God for hearts filled with festival joy? How do Jews say thank you even when aware of the pall of judgment that hovers over them at this time? The Sefat Emet profoundly understands the Shofar as an instrument of praise, replacing the Hallel, even surpassing it in its intimacy with the divine Source of things. Not words nor melodies of song but sounds of human breath channeled through the horns of a ram represent the purest and most authentic ways of communicating with God. Sounding the shofar, taking our breath and guiding it through the horn of sacrifice and giving, is a way by which our anguish is expressed in the particular sounds of “Shevarim”-‫-שברים‬the broken notes and the “teruah- ‫ -תרועה‬the staccato, wailing sounds, which then give way to the“tekiah,”‫ ,תקיעה‬the unbroken and solid sound reflecting the prospect of hope and confidence , a sound that rises above the wailing of broken heartedness. The series of shofar sounds reaches a crescendo in the “tekiah gedolah”- ‫תקיעה גדולה‬the long, protracted, unified and uninterrupted sound which conveys the survival and endurance of the human spirit.3 The sound of shofar is pure, un fragmented, whole, intact which becomes divided by humans as we parse these sounds into letters and words, everyday language. These sounds echo the silent sounds of the heart, the outcries of anyone who sincerely raises her voice-without words-in complete faith and openness before the throne of the Holy One, sounds trying to cleave to its source, the life-force, the inner flow of life.without division or differentiation. So powerful are the sounds of the shofar, the


Rosh Hashanah

breath of the human heart, that they too create angels as emissaries before God. Hassidic literature is replete with stories of simple, uneducated people whose wordless prayers reached God because of the pure outcry of their souls. It is told that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bereditchev interviewed a great many candidates for the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. He asked each one: What will be your kavanah, your inner intention and thoughts when you sound the shofar? One said that he would use the prescribed meditations that are found in the writings of the early Kabbalists while another said he would concentrate on the ten meanings of the Shofar that are found in the writings of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, and another said he would focus on the various interpretations found in the midrash, rabbinic, homiletical exegesis. Others gave similar answers all of which did not satisfy the rebbe. Finally he came to another candidate who said the following: “ I am a simple Jew.I do not know Kabbalah, I cannot remember the ten interpretations of Saadiah Gaon and I do not understand the symbolism of the Midrash. But I have four daughters who have reached the age of marriage and I am unable to provide dowries for them. So when I sound the shofar I will have my daughters in mind. I will be thinking: Ribono shel Olam!Lord of the Universe! I am hereby fulfilling the commandment that You have ordained. I ask You to give ear to the sound of this shofar and I beseech You to help me fulfill my obligation of providing dowries for my daughters. This was the one whom the rebbe chose to sound the Shofar. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak knew that the outcry of this simple man's heart would find its way to the Presence of the Holy One. Rosh Hashanah thus highlights the human capacity to experience pain and despair but also transcend these dimensions of

Rosh Hashanah

hardship and rise to the heights of confidence and connection to the Source of all things. How grateful we can be for the knowledge that hope and possibility are contained within the power of one's breath, the thread of all living things. Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur) is perhaps the one singular time when we ask ourselves the fundamental question of human existence and meaning. In a real sense it is an occasion for asking ourselves: Who am I? This opportunity for self-evaluation and introspection is a cherished instrument of the human mind and heart, one which can only enrich and strengthen our lives. While this process may bring with it discomfort, even pain, its rewards are transformative and inspiring. Again, as a counter valence to a dominant theme of the High Holydays which emphasizes human frailty, transience and insignificance, I offer another, often ignored dimension of our tradition, one that emphasizes the nature of the human being as the acme of God's creation.The Hassidic tradition in particular shines a dazzling light of joy and gratitude for the instrinsic sacred dimension of all human life. Again, in the words of the Sefat Emet-”There is a holy point in the heart of every Jew. This is the living soul of which it says: 'God has implanted eternal life within us.' ”4 What is man/woman? What does Rosh Hashanah instill in our consciousness about who we are? We are the carriers of divinity, fashioned in God's image, the bearers of a pure soul that is returned to us each morning, refreshed and renewed. Our task is to tend to our inner selves in such a way that we preserve and heighten its holy radiance and beauty. This awareness helps us set aside worry and fear, and imbues us with a recharged sense of hope, joy and optimism.We feel grateful that such spiritual strength is within our grasp.

‫וחיי עולם‬ ‫נטע בתוכינו‬

And planted within us Eternal life

Yom Kippurt

Yom Kippur -Day of Atonement

‫י‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ם‬ ‫כפור‬


Yom Kippurt

Yom Kippur-‫יום כפור‬
“Mark, the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement.

It shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall practice selfdenial...”( Leviticus 23:27) “On the Day of Atonement, eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on sandals, and marital intercourse are forbidden.”( Mishnah Yomah, Chpt.6, mishnah 8) . It is well known that the Day of Atonement is a fast day. Additionally, other basic physical pleasures are forbidden-washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and intimate relations. Indeed, the day appears as a burdensome one, a day of deprivation, a day on which one cannot feel much pleasure or satisfaction. Can this day be one on which we discover gratefulness? One would think that the opposite is true. In fact however, perhaps this day, of all the festivals, is the one for which we can be most grateful. This day is a Yom Tov-A 'good' day, a festive occasion, joyful in its essential spirituality and soulfulness. “R.Simeon B. Gamliel said: There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of Ab and the Day of Atonement.”(Mishnah Taanit 4:9) Unlike other fast days that are sad and mournful occasions commemorating the tragedies of our history ie. the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the end of Jewish sovereignty on the land of Israel, with Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the hebrew month of Ab) as the most prominent, Yom Kippur emerges as a day of self-denial for entirely other reasons. Perhaps the finest distinction between the other fast days and that of the Day of Atonement is best illustrated by the Hassidic interpretation of this day. “The pious Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apt (19th century) used to say: if it were in my power, I would do away with all the fast days except for the fast of the Ninth of Av and Yom Kippur. On the Ninth of Av(which reminds us of destruction of holy places and people) ver ken essen? Who can eat? And on Yom Kippur, ver darf essen? Who needs to eat?” We need not eat on the Day of Atonement because our tradition tells us this day is suffused with purity and simplicity, spiritual awakening and

Yom Kippurt

elevation, so that we are compared to actual angels who need no food or drink, but only the opportunity to praise the Holy One. We wear white on this day, the kittel, a simple, white linen robe during prayer, to further symbolize our state of spiritual cleansing and wholeness. This marvelous teaching originates in a deep understanding of Yom Kippur's uniqueness. On this day there is no separation between the haves and the have nots; we are not judged by the amount or quality of our food; our clothes don't differentiate us in terms of style and current fashion; our physical appearance is of secondary importance and our sexual prowess is also set aside as a factor in who we are. We are stripped to our basic realities as mortal human beings and discover in that essentiality a relief and a sense of oneness with the world. No ritual object is available to us with which to lend support to our pleas for forgiveness. All we have is ourselves, our community, our voices, hearts and minds. And while this barren context for worship may raise anxiety, knowing that objects external to ourselves are unnecessary emboldens and empowers us to exercise the fullness of our spiritual selves in our encounter with the divine invitation to do “teshuvah” and to seek atonement. All we have to do is know that the day is a temporal dimension in our lives that is offered as an opening to the possibility of atonement, change and renewal. This remarkable gift of penetrating self awareness certainly warrants a feeling of gratitude and spiritual joy. It is difficult to ignore the anxiety and uncertainty of life.The liturgy makes it quite conscious for us in the following words: ‫מי יחיה ומי ימות‬ ...‫מי בקצו ומי לא בקצו‬ ‫מי ינוח ומי ינוע‬ ...‫מי יעני ומי יתעשר‬ Who will live and who will die, Who in the fullness of years and who before his time,

Yom Kippurt

Who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted Who shall be impoverished and who enriched... These ringing sounds of fear and insecurity fill our hearts with dread and trembling. It appears as if we are destined to lives of ill ease, confusion and the anxiety of not knowing what will befall us next. How can we be grateful? But the prayer service concludes with a climactic statement of great hope and promise:

‫ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה‬
‫מעבירין את רע הגזרה‬

Teshuvah-repentance, Tefilah- prayer and Tzedakah-deeds of justice and compassion,
But can remove the severity of the decree.


Yom Kippurt

Note that the prayer does not indicate that the three spiritual responses to life- repentance, prayer and compassion -will necessarily “prevent” or “remove” a malevalent decree or reality that is beyond our control. At best, they represent approaches that can attenuate the severity of the decree, that can infuse us with a sense of equanimity and balance in the face of those challenges of life that are harsh, unfair, and painful over which we can exercise no influence or control. All we can do as human beings is cultivate a posture of spiritual strength and flexibility that will allow us to deal with all unforeseen circumstances with a sense of inner calm, hope and faith. We examine each response in the hope of understanding their application to our own lives. 1.Teshuvah: ‫תשובה‬ Literally, “returning” or “turning away from” or “turning towards.” Traditional understanding of this term sees the turning as away from wrongdoing and vain pursuits toward paths of greater goodness, toward God. From a more psycho-spiritual point of view, we can interpret the returning or turning as an inner movement toward one’s authentic self, symbolized as the godly part of who we are.No matter what transpires in our lives, there is an intact piece of the divine within us that sustains us and allows us to perceive life as a precious and valuable gift. However intangible and unidentifiable, the soul carries highest importance, frequently being identified with the principle of life and divinity. 5 The ‫”-נשמה‬neshamah,” soul, inner breath of God, is that: “unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarassment, free of fear and worry, an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace...to know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity....but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it.” (Mark Nepo) We are ever thankful for this piece of divinity within us. 2.Tefilah: ‫תפילה‬ Prayer is the second fork in the road to spiritual awareness and the perception of the divine. Multifaceted, it originates from many sources within the human soul. It is not uncommon to understand prayer in terms of petition-we feel needy, frightened, vulnerable and we reach out to that which we consider to be a Source of our help and rescue. Believing that the Universe can embrace us protectively and lovingly is a great comfort to the human soul.


Yom Kippurt

Perhaps a gateway of authentic prayer can be best understood in the following words of Mary Oliver, from her poem,”Praying.” “It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones, just pay attention, then patch A few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak. 6
Mary Oliver


Yom Kippurt

Not petition but praise, expressions of gratitude for the plentitude of life, is a powerful avenue of exercising spiritual freedom in the face of a decree that may bring harshness and suffering. Praise is the way of the human heart to open itself to the beauty and preciousness of life and stretch our perceptions to encompass an infinity that belongs ultimately to God, an infinity that we were blessed to share, if only for a moment. Prayer is a way of seeing the world from God’s point of view. “Prayer takes the mind out of the narrownwss of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy....To pray is to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainents. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”7 3. Tzedakah: ‫צדקה‬ Popularly understood as charity or philanthropy, the term I believe can encompass a deeper and wider spectrum of concern for others. In fact, compassion and love can be viewed as the soil out of which deeds of generosity and kindness can emerge and flourish. Compassion is intertwined with gratitude and its verbal or silent expression in the form of prayer. Beginning with gratitude in our minds and souls, we seek a way to express this deep perception and discover prayer. Beyond words, gratitude beckons us to reach out to others with a sharing of our gifts, recognizing that they ultimately belong to God. Gratitude flows out of the realization that life and all its manifestations are a gift. For the gift to yield its blessings and benefits gratitude is indispensable. This triangular spiritual foundation can be seen as an extension of a more basic formulation found in the Ethics of the Fathers- “The world stands on three pillars-Torah, service of the heart, and acts of loving kindness.” (Ethics of the Sages 1:2) In the vocabulary of Rosh Hashanah, Torah may be equated with Teshuvah since the ultimate goal of Torah is the achievement of a return to the Ultimate reality in our lives. “The activity of reading the Torah is the activity of self-creation.”8 The service of the heart is indeed prayer,whose locus is the human heart. God desires the heart-‫”-.רחמנא ליבא בעי‬rachamanah liba ba’ei.” Finally, tzedakah,whose focus is the giving to others in need, can be easily associated with acts of loving kindness. Thus, we are grateful for the spiritual dimensions within our souls and the wisdom of Judaism that both have the power of allowing us to see beyond the

Yom Kippurt

fleeting moment with its decrees of the irreversible and inevitable and touch a place of love, redemption, hope and eternity. The Art of Forgiveness: ‫מחילה‬ Yom Kippur celebrates the gift of forgiveness . A Hebrew term, rich in meaning and semantic associations, is one of several which suggest the notion of forgiveness.The word -‫“-מחילה‬mechilah,” contains another Hebrew word-‫“ - מחול‬machol,” which is translated as dance. To forgive and to be forgiven can be seen as a spiritual dance of freedom that stretches not only the body but the soul beyond the boundaries of the ordinary as it reaches towards redemption and liberation. How is this “dance” arrived at? Another Hebrew root word arises to give us a inner path to this challenging process. ‫“ ,חול‬chol”-”ordinary” or everyday, or

‫“,חלל‬chalal”- vacuum, emptiness. To achieve the

ability to forgive, an internal process of “emptying” needs to take place. Perhaps this is the intention of Yom Kippur as a day of “cleansing” or purification.The heart opens to embrace a view of the divine, the unity and “latent feeling of solidarity with all humankind.” The ego’s constriction is released and emptied, allowing for the gentle infusion of intuition’s tender touch.According to the Lurianic idea of tzimzum-contraction, God contracted Himself to create a space in which the world with all its imperfections, could be created. This empty space is the realm of human presence, devoid of God, as it were, the space for forgiveness that emanates only from the human heart. Upon further analysis, the word-‫ מחל‬embraces other word configurations.‫,חמל‬chamol, to have compassion; ‫,לחם‬lechem, bread or food; ‫ ,חלם‬chalom, to dream. Emerging from the richness of these semantic suggestions connected to the word for forgiveness is the spiritual capacity to recognize the gift of forgiveness as the very substance and sustenance of the human soul and the dream which provides an incubator for the eventual arising of human love in the new morning’s light.



Yom Kippurt

A central feature of this day is the experience of remembering the dead.The custom of lighting the 'Yahrzeit', anniversary, candle was originally associated with this day, and the ‫-יזכור‬Yizkor' service is one of great spiritual significance. It is a mournful moment; we revisit loved ones and feel their absence. Perhaps we experience the guilt and disappointment of imperfect relationships, of unresolved issues harboring conflict and misunderstanding, of lost or overlooked opportunities to love more compassionately and deeply. We are blessed with the spiritual opening to seek forgiveness not only from the living but from the dead as well. After all, how could our loved ones not respond with compassion and kindness if our appeal to them is sincere and filled with longing? Yizkor evokes sadness and loss, the tears of grief and sorrow. However painful, it offers us the unique gift of spiritual cleansing, of inner release and catharsis.Without these moments of missing loved ones, our humanity would shrink to empty indifference. Memory at this time expands our sensitivity and invites us to extend our gratitude to those who have walked the paths of life before us. Gratitude to previous generations is a form of moral memory, an act of remembering that goes beyond mere nostalgia and sentimentality and translates itself into a posture of greater generosity, kindness and compassion.We do the right thing when we remember gratefully. We pay our loved ones the highest honor when we transform our grief into gratitude. Gratitude allows us to emerge from our mourning reassured and strengthened, reconciled and renewed, to continue our lives more hopefully and lovingly. In the context of remembering, the Day of Atonement incorporates a liturgical narrative that tells us of acts of spiritual heroism, a response of martyrdom, of rabbinic ancestors who surrendered their lives rather than surrender their faith in the study and practice of the Torah. Together with the Ten Martyrs of the Roman period, we include an entire history of heroes whose deaths serve as a form of atonement. We stand in awesome reverence and gratefulness in the presence of their memory and thank them for their sacrifice which enables us to enjoy greater freedom and well-being.


Yom Kippurt

With the conclusion of the day we sound the Shofar. The prolonged blast of ‫',תקיעה גדולה‬tekiah gedolah'- is sounded as a declaration of confidence and strength .As we depart hurriedly to our homes to celebrate the break fast we rejoice in the assurance that the slate of our souls has been wiped clean . We can now begin writing a new and more worthwhile script than the one that accompanied us until now. How grateful we feel for this resurgence of hope and trust in the goodness of the coming new year!

‫לשנה הבאה בירושלים‬

Next year in Jerusalem



Sukkot-Festival of Booths

‫ס‬ ‫ו‬ ‫כ‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ת‬


No Jewish festival is more readily identified with gratefulness than Sukkot, the festival of Booths. It is referred to in our liturgy as ‫- זמן שמחתינו‬time of our rejoicing The central experience of the period is the achievement of joy. It is the Jewish thanksgiving that celebrates the final harvest of the year prior to the rainy winter months of dormancy and inactivity. It is the last of the three pilgrimage festivals on the Jewish calendar.(the others being - ‫ פסח‬and ‫-שבועות‬Passover and the Festival of Weeks.)
“After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you

shall hold the feast of Booths for seven days.You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and your daughter, your male and female servant, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow of your community.....you shall have nothing but joy.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)

What kind of joy does the Torah consider in the context of celebrating Sukkot? Obviously, in the presence of bounty we cannot help but feel joyful and secure.I believe however that another dimension of joy is introduced by the Biblical text's enjoining of the observance of this festival.
“You shall rejoice before the Lord your God with your son and

daughter.....at the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name.”(Deut. 16:11) The fullest experience of rejoicing is arrived at in the “presence of the Holy One,” in the place where we encounter the dwelling space of the divine.In ancient times, the physical location was the central sanctuary in Jerusalem, thus the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on this occasion.On a spiritual level, wherever we experience the divine in our life and acknowledge the blessings bestowed upon us by the Source of all things, we rejoice in a particularly powerful way; we rejoice from the place of gratitude. Gratefulness awareness is enhanced and translated into ethical action as we share our celebration with those who are without property and /or impoverished and without financial support- the servant, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. Sharing enriches our sense of rejoicing, and expands our gratitude for the opportunity to repair the world with what we have.



“We live by the conviction that acts of goodness reflect the hidden light of

His Holiness....It is within our power to mirror His unending love in deeds of kindness, like brooks that hold the sky.9” It is not feasible in the mind set of Judaism to celebrate in isolation, away from family, friends and community, apart from others who need us. To have been blessed and to share that blessing is a source of deep and lasting gratitude.

Sukkot could be considered the most colorful of all the holidays.It is graced with artifacts that I consider are designed to concretize and formalize our deep seated feelings of gratitude at this time.The two major material, ritual items are the Sukkah, the hut or booth in which Jews dwell during the Sukkot period, and the Four Species of vegetation that are held together and accompany the worshipper in her prayers.

‫ושמחת‬ ‫בחגיך‬

rejoice in your festivals



The Sukkah-The Booth
“ You shall live in booths seven days; all

citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43) The Sukkah is a fragile hut with a leafy roof (leaky when it rains), the most vulnerable of dwellings. The roof is covered by twigs or slats, all of which are natural; no material that is man-made is permitted. Openings let in starlight and gusts of wind and rain. One may ask: How do we arrive at gratefulness in a surrounding so vulnerable, so unprotected, so transient? Is not a place of security that offers sturdy walls and roofs of protection from outside elements not the preferred space from which to derive gratitude? Isn't the bigger, stronger and more elegant home the one we yearn for? Yet, the frail sukkah is the required space during Sukkot in which to experience the deep sentiments of thanksgiving and gratitude. Being in a temporary dwelling, the rabbis tell us, is a way of understanding that dwelling is temporary. Perhaps the words of Rabbi Arthur Waskow could shed light on this apparent paradox. “ For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness. Pyramids, air raid shelters, Pentagons, World Trade Centers. But the sukkah reminds us that we are in truth all vulnerable...even the greatest oceans do not shield us; even the mightiest buildings do not shield us; even the



wealthiest balance sheets and the most powerful weapons do not shield us.There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us.The planet is one interwoven web of life.The command to love my neighbor as myself is a statement of truth. For my neighbor and myself are interwoven ...Only a world where we all recognize our vulnerability can become a world where all communities feel responsible to all others....if I realize that the walls between us are full of holes, I can reach through them in compassion and connection...”( Written as a meditation on the eve of Sept.11, 2011, that emerged from two images in the author's mind-the proud, massive and skypenetrating Twin Towers on Manhattan's edge, and the utterly vulnerable sukka to be built during the festival of Booths.)

The sukkah teaches us a profound spiritual truth. It is only through our awareness of our own vulnerability and that of others that somehow we can arrive at a reality of greater compassion and wholeness. Cracks in our walled hearts let in the light that shines from its divine source. Through the openings in our souls we gain a glimpse of the sorrow and pain of others, and that sight softens our hearts to allow tenderness to shine through. Vulnerabilty is a great gift-without it we would lose our humanity, nay, our divinity. The sukkah thus becomes a sacred space into which we invite all guests to share our harvest, and as we do we grow ever more grateful for open hearts and open hands.




An auxiliary practice associated with the sukkah is that which invites us to beautify this humble space-‫“ -נוי סוכה‬noy sukkah.” This practice is subsumed under a larger religious approach to spiritual activity which calls upon the practitioner to adorn and beautify all items that are used in the performance of holy deeds -‫”-הדור מצווה‬hidur mitzvah.” Esthetic beauty transforms the religious act into one of moral beauty, as each deed is performed as a response of gratitude to the Source of all blessing. “Thus the Absolute reveals itself not only to the metaphysician but also to the gazer upon beauty. Birchot Ha-shevach, blessings of praise and adoration, perform the feat of relating the beautiful to the eternal, truthful and good.The term shirah-song-in the Halakhah signifies the ..outpouring of a grateful soul seething with longing and yearning for the beloved who is lovely and full of grace....God is extolled and adored because He is beautiful.”10

‫זה‬ ‫אלי‬ ‫ואנוהו‬
‫אני והוא‬ I and He

This is my God and I will adorn Him.


The Four Species

The product of hadar trees -‫אתרוג‬Etrog The branches of palm trees‫ -לולב‬Lulav The boughs of leafy trees‫-הדס‬myrtle. Hadas The willows of the brook-‫-ערבה‬Aravah
“On the first day you shall take the product of

hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the lord your God seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40)



Is there an organic connection between taking four items which grow from the earth and the expectation and enjoinment of rejoicing in the presence of the Holy One? What does one have to do with the other? One can tangibly feel, see and smell a sample of the bounty that originates from the earth created by the Ultimate Giver. Thus the rejoicing is sanctified as a response of inner gratitude for the gifts of the earth. As we pay attention to the items themselves our consciousness of nature's richness is enhanced and deepened eliciting an inner experience of thankfulness and gratitude. These items have evoked many figurative and symbolic associations and interpretations. Our Rabbis indicate that in the aftermath of the high Holydays, the ‫”-לולב‬lulav,” becomes the kingly scepter by which favor is granted to the king’s subject.We reach out with the lulav to draw in all the favor and goodness of the King of Kings, to touch horizons and heavens and gratefully acknowledge the wide abundance of life. The Midrash continues to expound on some daring and imaginative exercises of Rabbinic exegesis. “ A further explanation-'the fruit or product of a stately(hadar) tree'-this refers to the Holy One Blessed be He, for it is written in this regard ,' You clothed Yourself in splendor and stateliness(hadar) (Psalms 104:1); 'fronds of a palm tree(tamar)'-this refers to the holy One Blessed be He, for it is written, 'the righteous (one) will flourish like the palm tree(tamar)'(Psalm 92,13); 'a branch of a leafy (hadas-myrtle) tree'-refers to the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written,'He stands among the leafy trees (hadasim-myrtles)'(Zechariah 1:8); 'and willows of the brook(arava)', this refers also to the Holy One Blessed be He, for it is written, 'Extol Him who rides the clouds-( aravotlike arava, willow); the Lord is His name.'(Psalm 68:5) .(Leviticus Rabbah, 30:9). God Himself is held in the taking of the four species! The Midrash continues with drawing analogies between the four species and the Patriarchs-Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, adding Joseph as the fourth member of this special group of ancestors. Included in the foursome of ancestors associated with the four species are the matriarchs-Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. What emerges from this extraordinary feat of interpretation is the spiritualization and anthropomorphization of four ordinary products of the earth. It is as if the divine Presence is contained in the earthly products of the land, an explanation that borders on a pantheistic understanding of God. This radical insight only reinforces the amazing depth of Sukkot to elevate our minds and hearts to an awareness of the divine inherent in all


natural things and to derive from this awareness an immediate sense of gratefulness and joy. The association of the four species to holy ancestors is likewise a means of transforming the simple availability of the earthly and ordinary into sources of inspiration and accessibility.This too contributes to our ability to grow in gratitude for this ritualized act of attachment to our past and articulate our gratefulness for their being an essential part of role models in the history of our people. The Rabbis of the Midrash were deeply and intimately connected to the rituals of Judaism. After all, in their view, these practices were given by God! Thus they examined a range of phenomenological possibilities associated with these items. In a later passage the Midrash, from their understanding of the intrinsic characteristics of each of the four species they drew analogies to the diversity within the Jewish community. “The fruit of the stately tree(etrog) was compared to one segment of Israel (which observes its Judaism optimally)-as the etrog has both pleasant fragrance and good taste, likewise are there Jews who both study Torah and practice deeds of loving kindness; the branches of the palm tree which has taste but no fragrance is compared to Jews who study Torah but fail to perform good deeds; the branches of a leafy tree, the myrtle, has fragrance but no taste; similarly there are Jews who perform good deeds but do not study Torah; and the willows of the brook that has neither taste nor aroma, and this brings to mind the Jews who are lacking in both Torah and the performance of good deeds.” (Leviticus Rabbah 30:12). Aware of the deficiencies of some segments of the Jewish community the Midrash prescribed a way by which to create a more vigorous and strengthened community. “Let them bind together in one bundle, for it would be unforgivable to allow the less perfect members of Israel to simply disappear out of existence; thus( binding all together) the more devoted segment of Jews will atone for the imperfections of those less loyal and when you create such unity and integrity, I will be elevated.” The gift of belonging and the recognition that everyone has a unique place in the Sukkah of the divine is a profound reason for gratitude. Regardless of achievement or innate ability, every Jew, every


human being-if the Midrash is applied more liberally- need not feel isolated, insignificant or worthless in the sight of the Holy One . God is elevated not because of the uniformity of the ideal -all Israel being 'perfect'- but rather as a result of the willingness of the more able to help the less able, out of a sense of unity and mutual responsibility. In progressive fashion, beginning with an analogy to God and continuing the process of association to Israel as a community, the Midrash concludes by comparing the Four Species to the individual human being and her/his physiological composition. Quoting a verse from Psalms, we read: “ 'All my limbs shall say, Lord, who is like you?' This verse refers to the spine of the lulav as analogous to the human spine; the myrtle, the hadas points to the human eye, and the willow, arava, can be compared to the mouth while the etrog brings to mind the human heart.” Thus, the bringing of the the Four Species in hand while reciting the Hallel prayer, the special prayers of praise on the Festivals, is tantamount to the full engagement of the human body in the act of praise as well. Perhaps this anatomical analogy elicits greater awareness of the blessing of our bodies making the response of bodily praise through the Four Species more natural and authentic.


The Torah prescribes that we “take” the palm branch together with the myrtle and willow branches alongside the “etrog,” the citron, in our hands.Tradition has evolved a specific manner in which four species are waved, namely, in six different directions as part of the act of “taking. This form of “shaking” is called -‫“ -נענועים‬na-n-oo-eem.” We wave the lulav to the east, north, west, south, upwards and downwards.The message of these movements is clear-God is everywhere.


‫ו‬ ‫ם‬


‫ע‬ ‫י‬


According to kabbalistic tradition, a seventh point is added to these wavings. The beginning and ending point of each of the wavings is the heart.Thus the locus of the divine is not only distant from us in the far away reaches of north, south, east and west, into the upwardness of infinite space or the endlessness of that below us; but God is to be found in the intimate stirrings of the human heart, especially one saturated with an awareness of God rooted in deep feelings of gratefulness for the “allness” of life and existence.



On the Sabbath of Hol Ha-Moed Sukkot, the intermediary days of Sukkot, it is customary to read ‫-קהלת‬Kohelet-Ecclesiastes, in the synagogue. How can that be? A cursory reading will reveal a blatant contradiction between the theme of Kohelet and the mood and meaning of Sukkot? : ‫הבל הבלים הכל הבל‬ “Havel havalim hakol havel”-futility of futilities, all is futility! Ecclesiastes begins with this despairing statement about life, regarding life as simply a recurring cycle of sameness and inevitability. All striving, ambition and human effort is folly. How depressing! Nothing seems to be of any value to the author of this extraordinary book, and yet it is part of Holy Scripture, read in the synagogue on Hol Hamoed Sukkot, regarded by the world as not only great literature but also a masterpiece of religious writing. Kohelet sees whatever we consider to be of value and worthwhile as absurd. Physical pleasures, wealth, power, fame, even wisdom, are useless achievements; the ostensible ideals of justice, loyalty and hard work, mere illusion. While a standard traditional interpretation understands the reading at this time as an attempt to hold back excessive rejoicing on the assumption that it may lead to levity and result in religious infractions, I prefer to understand the reading on Sukkot differently. Furthermore, I suspect that lurking beneath this common interpretation is an underlying, unconscious psychological fear of being too happy, as if such emotion or sensation carries with it the foreshadowing of doom and calamity in our lives. If we examine the text of Ecclesiastes, joyful gratitude emerges as a central motif of its composition.We read the following: “Therefore, I praise joy-simcha, for there is no other good for man under the sun but to eat, drink, and be joyful, and have this accompany him in his toil during the days of his life which God has given him beneath the sun.”(8:15) “I know of no other good-tov-in life but to be happy while one lives; indeed, every man who eats, drinks and enjoys happiness-u’reay tovlit.recognize the good-in his work, that is a gift of God.”(3:12-13) What makes the joy of everyday, ordinary human existence so joyful? Has not Koheleth utterly rejected any hope of satisfaction not only from routine human activity but also from the extraordinary, the uncommon attainment


‫הבל הבלים הכל הבל‬

of wealth, wisdom, fame and power? How then can one rejoice and find meaning in the simple and ordinary pleasures of life -food, drink, toil and the sun shining in a clear blue sky? To understand Koheleth I believe we must look carefully and attentively to the source of such joy…’which God has given him’… … ‘that is the gift of God’… Gratefulness for life in its most elemental components is the gateway to a sense of joy and meaning in life. The awareness of our good fortune in being alive constitutes a fundamental validation of life’s indefinable value and worth while ness. For simcha to be experienced as the fullest joy, conscious mindfulness of life as a gift from God is a sine qua non. It is not the quantity of acquisition or attainment but the quality of thankfulness embedded in our response to each and every gift that we enjoy under the sun. Why do we read Koheleth during Succoth? It is the time of our rejoicing,’zeman simchataynu,’ a period of harvest and bounty, our Jewish Thanksgiving. Can you think of any more appropriate book than Koheleth to recite in the synagogue at this time? I cannot.

“ Futility, futility all is futility”(Eccles.1:2)

‫אין טוב...כי אם לשמוח ולעשות‬ ‫טוב...שיאכל ושתה וראה טוב בכל‬ ‫עמלו מתת אלהים היא‬

only worthwhile thing ...is to enjoy and do what is good...whenever a man does eat and drink and sees the good in his efforts, it is a gift from God.” (Eccles. 3:12-13)
If we pay attention through the looking glass of gratitude beyond the clouds of ostensible absurdity and oblivion; if we find it in our hearts and


prayers to recite daily-modeh ani lefanecha-I thank You- for the sunshine of each and every day, then our lives will reflect the light of simcha-the joy that is joined to the heart’s capacity to say ‘thank you.’ This ultimately is the message of Sukkot. Sukkot reaches ultimate rejoicing in the ceremony performed in the ancient Temple known as ‫“ -שמחת בית השואבה‬simchat beit hashoeivah”-the water drawing celebration. The Mishnah describes it as follows: “1. ....They have said:'He that never has seen the joy of the Beth haShe'ubah has never in his life seen joy. 2.At the close of the first festival day of the Feast (Sukkot) they went down to the Court of the Women ...there were golden candlesticks there with four golden bowls on the top of them and four ladders to each one candlestick, and four youths of priestly stock and in their hands jars of oil holding a hundred and twenty logs which they poured into all the bowls.3.They made wicks from the worn out drawers and girdles of the priests and with them they set the candlesticks alight and there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light of the Beit ha-Shue'bah.. 4.Men of piety and good works used to dance before them with burning torches in their hands, singing songs and praises..”( Mishnah Sukkot 5:1-4)

Clearly, the level and intensity of rejoicing was quite elevated suggesting that a letting go of the human heart to release utter joy is desirable on this occasion and a persuasive source of gratitude to be experienced and made aware of on this festival.



Sukkot-A Time of Unity and Interconnectedness:
Thanksgiving is a universal human response to the gift of the harvest's bounty. No group of people anywhere does not, in some fashion, celebrate the blessings of a fertile earth and a bountiful world. Jewish tradition, in the context of Sukkot, unmistakably perceives the interconnectedness of all people under the sovereignty of the Holy One, the Creator and Provider of the world. Thus the understanding for the bringing of seventy offerings to the altar in Jerusalem. “Rabbi Eliezer said: These seventy sacrifices of bulls are brought for whose sake? For the sake of the seventy nations of the world.”( TB Sukkot 55b) In the opinion of the traditional commentaries, such as Rashi, the function of the sacrifice is to bring atonement .Since Sukkot is a time of judgement for the entire earth, Israel brings these offerings for the sake of the world's atonement so that all people may receive blessings of bounty throughout the year. Gratitude engenders moral awareness and concern; out of the depth of gratitude unfolds a sensitivity and empathy for all people of our planet. We are grateful for our interconnectedness to all living things.


Shemini Atzertet- The Eighth Day of Assembly: A Day of Intimacy
Attached to Sukkot yet independent in identity, the final day of the weeklong period of Sukkot is defined by its numerical sequence, the eighth day. No unique rationale is offered by the Bible for its observance. Simply, “On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupation.You shall present a burnt offering...one bull, one ram, seven yearling lambs, without blemish.” (Numbers 29:35 -36) “...the Sukkah and the water-libation, seven days...”(Mishnah Sukkah , chpt.4, mishnah 1). Water emerges as a central and indispensable focus of attentiveness during Sukkot. Because of the connection to the produce of the land and the final harvest of the year, great concern for the rains of winter occupied the hearts and minds of ancient Israel. Water libation rituals were carried out in the Temple during this week as expressions of hope that the new year would be blessed with adequate and appropriate rainfall.




On this day, the last day of the festival, we recite prayers for rain‫ -תפילת גשם‬in the synagogue. Again, what surrounds us is often unrecognized, taken for granted. Intellectually we need little reminder of the value of water in our lives. But to attain a heartfelt awareness of water's preciousness and its value to human life, the rituals of Sukkot highlight blessings related to water in the expectation that greater inner gratefulness for this vital part of God's gifts to humanity will be forthcoming.



The Talmud provides us with a poetic understanding of this day as another source of gratefulness. “ The one bull offering(brought on the Eighth day of Assembly) is offered for whose sake? For the sake of the singular nation (of Israel). This can be illustrated by the case of a king who commanded his servants saying: Make for me a large feast.(The seven days of Sukkot during which offerings are brought for the world). On the last day(The Eighth day of Assembly) he said to his favorite one: Make for me a small festive meal so that I will derive pleasure only from you.” (TB Sukkot 55b) The final day of the festival has not specific ritual or practice of its own. At best it is the continuation of the Sukkot festival with its invitation to rejoice and praise. “ Prayers of Hallel, praise and rejoicing are carried out all eight days. How do we understand this? It teaches us that we are obligated to praise and rejoice and honor the last day of the festival as the other previous days, even though there is nothing stated in the Bible about this type of observance.” ( Mishnah Sukkah 4:8) The last day is stripped of the many physical and external trappings of the Sukkah holiday. It leaves us starkly alone in the presence of God. All we share is ourselves, our joy and our gratitude. It is the moment of greatest intimacy. All that God wants of us on this day is ourselves, our hearts that have the capacity to feel joy and gratitude.This is the most desirable of all gifts.



Simchat TorahRejoicing with the Torah

On the final day of the Sukkot period, we celebrate the annual completion of the Reading of the Torah by dancing and singing with the Torah scrolls in our arms. The ending and beginning segments of the Five Books of Moses are read to indicate continuity of Torah as the eternal gift of the Jewish people for which we are boundlessly grateful. Our gratitude finds embodied expression in dancing, singing and clutching the Torah closely to our very bodies.


Rosh Hodesh

Rosh Hodesh - The New Month

‫ר‬ ‫א‬ ‫ש‬ ‫חדש‬

Rosh Hodesh

The Jewish calendar is based on the cycles of the moon.Each beginning of the month represents a “miniature New Year” celebrated with a special animal offering in the ancient world.It is not regarded as a full festival,with cessation from work and elaborate rituals to mark the occasion.Nevertheless, on this day special prayers are recited especially the Hallel, prayers of praise for the joy and gladness associated with time’s renewal.Because of its monthly character, it has been associated with the monthly menstrual cycle of the woman and has emerged as a women’s festival in Jewish tradition. The moon is the arch typical symbol of the new month.The pattern of waxing and waning in luminescence mirrored in the lunar cycles has elicited much spiritual commentary. Many understand this natural process as reflecting the natural processes inherent in human and Jewish experiences. We go through cycles of suffering and darkness but the human heart recognizes the possibility of renewed light and the return of joy and brightness in days ahead. the capacity to hope, anticipate change and renewal, is a priceless, singular gift bestowed upon us by the Source of all things.Thus, on Rosh Hodesh,we celebrate gratefully in our regognition of life’s intrinsic capacity for newness and renewal.The word ‫“ -חדש‬hodesh”-month, is the same word for new-”hadash.”


Rosh Hodesh

“On your new moons......and there shall be a purification offering to the Lord.”(Numbers 25:1,15). This is the only place in the Torah where this phrase, “purification to the Lord,” occurs, and has led the Sages to interpret the construction of the phrase somewhat differently. Not “purification to the Lord” but “purification for the Lord.”This of course raises the question:What does God need purification for? How can God sin? The Talmud explains that this takes place on the New Moon as an apology to the moon for having made it smaller and less important than the sun.(Talmud Hulin 60b) Imagine God apologizing, seeking purification, forgiveness! If God can do it, is it not incumbent upon us to emulate such spiritual expansiveness and seek purification in our own lives? Interestingly, this Rabbinic insight highlights the nature of Rosh Hodesh as a day of spiritual reconciliation resonant of the High Holidays, the beginning of the New Year! Again, Rosh Hodesh emerges as a powerful time for gratefulness awareness as we recognize the human blessing of forgiveness and change.



Hanukkah-Festival of Lights

‫ח‬ ‫נ‬ ‫ו‬ ‫כ‬ ‫ה‬


Hannukah- The Season of Miracles

The two festivals defined as times of “miracle-awareness” are Hannukah and Purim. Only on these two occasions do we recite the following during our prayers and blessings: ‫ -על הניסים‬al hanissim- “ for the miracleas...which You helped our ancestors achieve in days of old at this season.-‫-ב ז מ ן הזה‬bazman hazeh”-lit .in this time. This phrase, “at this time” can be interpreted in several ways, each highlighting a different dimension of the wonder of Hannukah. One, we remeber an historical occasion that took place at this season and we experience gratitude and thansgiving for that distant event. Another interpretation, one found in several of the more recent translations of the Jewish prayer book reads as follows: “since that time until now.” Implied in this latter translation is the gratitude shared for the continuity of miracles up to our time and a declaration of praise and acknowledgement for the reality of miracles in all of life.Thus, we stand grateful not only for some distant event but for an awareness of on-going and current unfoldings of wonder in our lives. A third interpretation is somewhat more philosophical. The great Hassidic lover of Israel, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bereditchev, writes in his classic work-‫-קדושת לוי‬Kedushat Levi-that there are two types of miracles.One category describes events above and beyonf the constrictions of time, the temporal dimension of life.The Exodus from Egypt is given as an illustration.The other type of the miraculous occurrence takes place within the framework of time, within the parameters of natural unfolding and evolutionary processes. Hannukah is such an occasion.11 For the author of Kedushat Levi, the miracle of Hannukah is superior in spiritual significance than a miracle outside of time.The reason given is related to the joint partnership between God and the human in exercising the miraculaous dimension of life.10 In the story of Hannukah, the victory of the Maccabees over the larger and stronger adversary represents God’s intervention in the efforts and heroism of the Jewish people. On Hannukah, we become more consciously aware of this wonder of human life, where the divine and the human merge together to create a


reality of marvel and wonder. The notion of religious freedom and the right of people to worship without penalty or interference which Hannukah celebrates, represents a human ideal actualized by the heroic efforts of individuals guided by a vision of freedom and human rights. This majestic idea and the struggles accompanying its realization are commanding reasons for which to articulate and feel a profound sense of gratitude and indebtedness. The key item of the holiday is a light, a candle or cruse of oil, ‫- נר‬NER in Hebrew. The central ritual or mitzvah is the lighting of the candles incrementally from day one until the eighth day. An essential characteristic of this act of kindling is its complete non-utility. On Hannukah, light as something that enables activity, is suspended. A different purpose for light is arrived at. After kindling the lights we declare its purpose:“We may not put them-the lights-to ordinary use but are to look at them”.We look with our eyes and hearts to again recognize the miracle of human existence and Jewish survival. We also pause to meditate, in the reflection of these tiny sources of light, upon the brilliance of life’s fullest blessings. If one were to reverse the letters of light in Hebrew-NR-‫-נר‬the word spelled would be RN-‫ רן‬the root word for “to sing.” Light is a silent song, indeed a dance of color and luminescence. Gazing upon a little light flickering in the darkness is a gesture of profound spiritual significance. We are one with the tiny flame, sparks sprinting into the shadows , bringing light into the darkness, the soul’s inextinguishable energy, its refusal to die . It is not surprising that Jewish law decided that the correct pattern of candle lighting should correspond to the School of Hillel, and not Shammai. Shammai the realist ordained that we begin with eight lights and diminish the candles or amount of oil until there is enough for only one day.This is the way


of the natural world-the flame consumes the wax /oil so that it lessens over time. Hillel’s way, the accepted Jewish way, is to start with a small amount and increase it to the fullest measure.Why? In performing things of holiness, of the spirit, we dare not decrease the intrinsic sacredness of light and all the beauty and blessing it represents.The human spirit, a reflection of God, is limitless and without end. “In matters of holiness, we never descend, but ascend.”(Talmud Shabbat 31b) And it is not the quantity of light that counts. We are told that a large light ie. a bonfire does not qualify as an acceptable Hannukah light. Perhaps the smallness is what gives Hannukah its power. The armies of Hellas were large, mighty, over- powering; Israel was small, physically feeble, with only the wee flame of faith in the power of the human spirit. As lights play a pivotal role in Chanukah, so do letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Like numbers, letters contain rich spiritual meaning in all aspects of Jewish celebration and study. Hebrew words can be arranged in various ways to suggest significant symbolic associations. Like arranging flowers in a bouquet, tradition has encouraged imaginative configurations of letters in its conviction that the Hebrew language is a sacred tongue that reflects unlimited possibilities enfolded in these letters and words. The word for the holiday-Hanukkah - is constituted by two separate words-“Chanu”-‫- חנו‬and “Kah”, ‫ -כה‬each translated as the following-“They rested or camped”, Chanu, (on the) 25th, Kah, Kaf=20=‫ ,כ‬while h(ey)=5=‫. ה‬Hanukkah occurs on the 25th of the month of Kislev. The first word –“Chanu” I would interpret differently; it is related to another Hebrew word-“Chen,”‫ ,חן‬grace or favor. Thus Hanukkah could be understood as the occasion of special grace, benevolence or love, “They were graced on the 25th.” Returning to the notion of the miraculous on Hannukah, I would suggest that a perception of life that regards everything from the perspective of

‫מעלין בקדש ואינן מורידין‬


grace and love is a way of discovering the miracle in all of life. Feeling the grace, the gift of life, is being blessed with a sense of ‫משלי כ:כז‬ being given to with special favor and concern. We all desire recognition, favor and being loved. The child by the parent, the wife by the husband, the employee by the employer, the actor by the audience. Hanukkah’s miracle is the message that the ancient struggle for freedom is a gift bequeathed to all generations as an undying expression of the capacity of humanity and God to grace the world with compassion and love.

‫נר יי נשמת אדם‬

The letters for oil in Hebrew-“SHMN”-‫ -שמן‬when rearranged spell-“NSHM”-‫-נשם‬breathe or breath. Again, the association embedded in Hebrew’s sacredness, evokes a sense of the divine in material things. Oil , SHMN,‫ -שמן‬a fuel for light, warmth, and the emergence of energy, is entirely dependent on oxygen, on

The human spirit is the lamp of God

the breath, on “NSHM.”-‫.נשם‬ Proverbs 20:27 The principle of the everlasting, the indestructible, the enduring associated with the cruse of oil that burned beyond its physical capacity of one day but for eight days is a clear reiteration of this symbol for the miracle of life’s expansive quality which never diminishes to extinction but somehow grows and unfolds dynamically like the universe itself. In the mystical tradition of discovering God in all things, the letter rearrangement of “SHMN”-‫ -שמן‬illustrates our ability “to behold the infinite in everything finite.” Light and breath, the essence of living reality become the basic ingredients for the life of the human soul and spirit as well.Hannukah’s use of the ordinary, the product of the earth, and a tangible act of doing , point to the reality of the extraordinary, a heavenly source, a spiritual gesture of understanding and intuition. “And in the beauty of the jar is the oil captured between olive and light. Bend your ear to the jar and hear the creative resonance of the innermost center.” Rivka Miriam 12


GRATEFUL FOR THE FIRST LIGHT I can’t help but draw a numerical connection between Chanukah and the lyrics of a song which will be chanted not when there is snow on the ground but when spring starts to release its liberating softness and warmth. The song I have in mind is sung at the Passover Seder –“Who Knows One.” Each stanza asks the question, to children, of course, whether they can identify vital parts of Jewish tradition in relation to their numbers or numerical value. It seems almost natural to understand, at least poetically and associatively, the significance of the eight candles of Chanukah by looking through the lens of this charming children’s chant. Moreover, perhaps the consideration of these numerical references will allow us to gain a better sense of newness and freshness with each of the eight nights of the holiday. We begin, I believe with the most important night, the first one. Who knows One? Why is the first night so vital to the miracle of Chanukah? Its relevance is obvious- One is Our God, Creator of heaven and earth. What does Oneness mean? Why is the Oneness of God so pivotal to the entire structure and enterprise not only of Chanukah but of Judaism as a world outlook and religious culture? The answers are limitless. I am grateful for the following. “We are fashioned in the image of Oneness. We reflect Oneness; we each refract it through the prism of our particularity. Each of us is a fraction of infinity. But a fraction of infinity is itself infinity…I am a unique creation; yet my most basic physical substance, my quarks and atoms, are identical with the substance of the antelope, a redwood, a distant star…Each person expresses the oneness in her own way. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov- God wants to be served in all possible ways…the world is teeming with God. Since God is in everything, one can serve God through everything, by raising the sparks.” The one candle, the Oneness of all, the Oneness of God. As we kindle each light, are we liberating the sacred sparks from the intractable darkness in so many parts of the world? As we ignite the first light, we think of “ECHAD!”-‫ . אחד‬Unity of God is power for unity of God with all things. He is one in Himself And striving to be one with the world.” Abraham Joshua Heschel



GRATEFUL FOR THE TWO LIGHTS While one is essential to our striving for unity, this number suggests a sense of inescapable loneliness. God was alone and He created the human. Adam was alone, and “it was not good for man to be alone.” We come to the first couple, the first relationship, the first hope for the easing of loneliness and the creation of community. Love arrives as do difference and strife. As long as we stay in touch with oneness, our sense of togetherness with the other can stay strong and sacred. As long as we recognize the oneness of God in the other, we are never alone. Who knows two? Customs vary-Ashkenazim point to stone tablets; Sephardim are inclined to remember people of flesh and blood, brothers, at the same time icons and heroes, Moses and Aaron. I prefer people, not only those who are larger than life. Ordinary people as companions, the sharing and giving and loving that grow from at least two. This partnership gives rise to gratefulness, thankfulness for the light of being together with another, holding hands and facing the future never alone.As we light the second light we grow grateful for those companions who bless our lives.



Grateful for the Third Light
Who knows three? The three lights on the Menorah elicit the association to the three Patriarchs of our spiritual history-Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They represent the pillars of our past upon whose presence, memory and unique spiritual attributes we stand and to whom we remain indebted and thus are able to continue our tradition on the firm foundation of our forefathers. The merit of ancestors that we draw upon in prayer to bolster our own sense of spiritual worthiness is a powerful reason for feeling grateful as we kindle the three “patriarchal” lights. Not only do we share in a contemporary community whose minimum number is two, suggested by last night’s candle lighting, but we are also an integral component of a vertical community that stretches back to the beginning of Jewish time. We are never alone if we link ourselves to the past connecting to the chain of a cherished Jewish heritage and tradition. As we light our candles or the wicks swimming in olive oil, we quietly thank Abraham for his hospitality, compassion and courage, Isaac for his reverence for the Divine and Jacob for his sacred struggles and ability to find God even when shrouded in the lonely darkness of encountering the mystery of the unknown . ..



GRATEFUL FOR THE FOURTH LIGHT Three is not enough! However sturdy the three legs of a tripod, to guarantee groundedness you need four legs. We arrive at the feminine dimension of divinity, the four Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Midpoint in the process of en-lighten-ment, perhaps we find our spirits lagging. The tripod starts to tip, the flame flickers in the passing wind of a cold wintry night. Will the fire founder, flit away, leaving behind a dying ember? Mothers,wives and sisters restoke the fires, breathing life into smoldering ash as they caress, nurse and nurture. The bearing of arms is no match for the power of a woman’s breast. Weapons of iron and steel melt before the wonder of the womb. Maccabbees we praise , and so we should. Have we forgotten the Judiths who transcend the gentle trace of a woman’s touch to breathlessly behead the drunken enemy of Israel ? The Hannahs of history , whose sons surrender to the altar of sanctification, so that the Divine name never be extinguished from the imagination and hope of the human heart ? We add women to our Menorah, ascending on the ladder of the holy, those concealed from view behind the flaps of desert tents, awake and attuned to the nuance of every surprise, however serendipitous, never failing to fill in waterless wells with the tears of deference and defiance. And so we cradle in our hearts the memory of matriarchs, gratefully, lovingly. As we kindle the fourth light, taking strength from the miracle of the feminine side of all of existence, we continue to witness the luminescence of the days ahead.



Grateful for a somber Fifth Light
Since 1978, the fifth day of Hannukah has transformed itself from the

carefree delight and magic of childhood to the subdued moment of sad memory. On the fifth day of Hannukah, my father died. Thus, the flickering shadows of the fifth light fuse into the dancing reflection of a yahrzeit lamp ; miracle and memory merge. The number five brings to mind the books of the Torah, five in all. As Torah teaches, so do fathers. Those who are scholarly instruct their sons in actual Torah; those without formal education, convey matters less of the intellect and more of the heart. My father, a working man all his life, shared with me the lessons of a grateful and contented soul. Beyond the Torah of a simple life, he taught his children the Torah of decency, hard work, and respect for others. His proudest pedagogy was the love of melody and song. His wonderful tenor voice filled our home with sacred sounds- those of the prayer book, opera and popular song. Not a moment goes by today without my mind echoing resonance of the singing voice. On each and every fifth night of Hannuka I say thank you to my dad. May his memory continue to adumbrate with melody.



GRATEFUL FOR THE SIXTH LIGHT Without the six orders of the Mishnah-the early law codes of Rabbinic Judaism- the Torah would remain static, incomplete, inapplicable to a changing world. The reference of six pertains to this monumental work upon which the entire structure of Talmudic law and lore is founded. Mishnah means to study, to review, to interpret, to change. At the heart of these creative activities is the striving for order, for meaning, for significance and predictability. Chaos is inimical to human growth. Thus the six orders of the Mishnah, our point of consideration on the sixth day of Hannukah, heightens our gratefulness for the capacity to bring order to chaos, to recognize the patterns and symmetries of the world and of life. The Sabbath is ushered in by reciting the Kiddush, the blessing over wine. We begin with the words-“It was evening and it was morning, the sixth day;” creation was complete, leading to its culmination in the sanctity of the Sabbath day. The precursor to the peace and serenity of Sabbath is the creation of an orderly universe, a psychological and spiritual frame of reference that allows for human joy and limitless blessing. On this sixth day of light we thank the Author of order for the gift of perceiving the patternsof life that make our lives manageable and meaningful and opens the way for greater flashes of soulful illumination.



Grateful for the Seventh Day
The audience ranged in age from five to a hundred and two .The Daughters of Miriam, a facility for the elderly in Clifton, N.J., was hosting a Hannukkah celebration. A five year old was visiting her greatgrandmother; the others, those who made this place their final home, sat in seats or wheel chairs, many slumped over by the fatigue of a lifetime of struggle and survival. I was there as a teacher of third graders from the Gerrard Berman Day School of Oakland, N.J., together with the music and home room teachers, and eight of our 8-9 year old students. We had come to sing Hannukkah songs, and like the lights of Hannukkah, bring a little light of life’s sweeter memories into these residents’ precious few remaining Hannukkahs . As one resident put it to me with a mixture of poignant sadness and joy: “These children remind me so much of my own great grandchildren!” She was among the fortunate few; so many others were utterly alone. With the shyness typical of children in the public presence of adults unknown to them, uneasy and nervous in front of scary old-age, their voices nonetheless rose, charming and cherubic , sprinkling dry and dusty souls with the dew of a refreshing chorus of comfort and hope. Intermittently, smiles stretched to gnarly hands as dry bones were raised to fill the air with clapping sounds of celebration and renewed life. I wanted this event to be more than a performance of active young people entertaining the passive old. I wanted both children and elderly to discover the capacity to span the chasm of time, to interact and touch one another in a brief encounter of human togetherness and care. When the songs were over, I asked for volunteers among the elderly to sing for their young visitors. A momentary expectant hush fell over everyone. Then a hesitant hand rose. A portly gentleman, snowy tufts of white hair jutting out from under his stylish sports’ cap, asked to be recognized. “What song would you like to sing?” I asked. Several moments passed. Would it be a romantic tune of the 30’s? A favorite Yiddish song? A religious chant learned in childhood, perhaps? “ God bless America,” he announced robustly. There was hardly a single quivering voice that didn’t join in. The song was sung with the exuberance and strength of delegates at a political convention. Suddenly, the room came alive. I couldn’t help but think: Of all the songs in the repertoire of


the human heart, this group of elderly Jewish Americans, with a sprinkle of others of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, experienced a moment of rebirth from the strains of a melody hardly heard anymore today. Here was an audience , by and large of an immigrant generation, all of whom endured economic hardship and depression, some of whom fought in the battles of the Great War ( the number of males was as expected, quite sparse compared to the number of females), all of whom carried within their meandering memories the melody and lyrics of an abiding love for their home of opportunity and freedom. I witnessed a generation, soon to disappear, who would go to their graves with the love of country as rare today as fresh air and clean water . For a few flickering moments, I was moved by the magic of unadorned and grateful patriotism. A song, relegated today to school assemblies and patriotic prayer gatherings in houses of worship, illumined the dark passages of a cynical and critical heart. The powerful innocence of this song resurrected this ‘valley of dry bones!’ Whether five or ninety-five, I believed then that we all, for so fleeting a moment, understood the meaning of Hannukkah. Is this not the essential lesson of Hannukkah, to kindle lights amidst the darkness that shrouds our world and our hearts with fear , hatred and hostility ? Is freedom not , after all, the burning desire of America and all that it represents? “God bless America!” At the risk of slipping into sentimental nostalgia, my heart ached for an earlier and simpler time. But the song ended. The Hannukkah lights went out .And I was left with mere memories, traces of a truth so quickly forgotten.



GRATEFULNESS FOR THE EIGHTH, THE LAST LIGHT OF HANUKKAH While the song Who Knows One continues to the number thirteen, Hannukah concludes with the number eight. The eighth day of life is the day of circumcision for the Jewish male child, a sign of visceral and anatomical attachment to the Covenant with God. Eight represents too a realm of the beyond, a space outside of the natural span of seven days, the basic unit of time corresponding to the completion of the Creation of the world. Thus eight suggests the transcendental, that which knows no end. While we may be saddened by the conclusion of Hannukah and all its moments of miraculous celebration, the last light-the eighth-assures us that the noble, the sacred, the good of life are essentially un extinguishable since they occupy a place of eternity, a place beyond time. May the lights of Hannukah continue to warm our hearts and bring joy and the recognition of gratefulness to all .



To the tune of “I had a little dreidel” I did a little mitzvah. I did it all alone, in honor of Hannukah Myself and not a clone We all can light a candle not only on the menorah whatever you can handle if it helps- its from Torah Refrain: O just a tiny flicker, whatever you can make sadness go away quicker, if only for a few a little bit of sharing a nickle,dime or two, as long as its with caring no need for hullabaloo Each one of us a hero Like Judah Macabee no light is ever zero, Just one it takes you see




we’ll eat potao pancakes, a jelly roll or three, and hope outside for snow flakes oh what a joy it’ll be the dreidel we will spin, waiting anxiously, wondering who will win oh please let it be me



The Hanukkah light offers an experience simlar to that of seeing a remote star; It reminds us that there is a light behind the vast and awesome cosmic drama...the distant star does not point directly at the glory of God, but it does tell us of a God, who, in His transcendent recesses, guides the world.

Joseph B. Soloveitchik



Tu BʼShevat-New Year of Trees

‫ ו‬ʼʼ ‫ט‬ ‫בשבט‬



‫ט”ו בשבט‬
‫חג האלנות‬ The Fifteenth of Shevat The New Year of Trees

I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree
Joyce Kilmer



‫ארבעה ראשי שנים‬ ...‫הם‬
‫באחד‬ ‫בשבט‬ ‫ראש השנה‬ ‫לאילן,כדברי בית‬ ‫שמאי‬ ‫בית הלל אומרים‬ ‫בחמישה עשר בו‬ There are four New Years...On the First of Shevat is the New Year of Trees according to the School of Shammai The School of Hillel say: The Fifteenth of the month.
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 2a



The Sabbath which precedes Tu Beshevat, the New Year of trees, is known as the Sabbath of Song -”Shabbat Shirah,”‫ .שבת שירה‬On this Sabbath we read from the Torah the Song of Moses, a poetic outpouring of gratefulness in the aftermath of the rescue of Israel at the Sea of Reeds (The Red Sea). We sing when hearts are full to overflowing. When sadness occupies the heart, our songs are lamentations, wailing sounds of despair. When hearts burst with joy and optimism, our throats warble with waves of glee and celebration. The Psalmist urges us to "sing a new song"-Psalm 98. These words are recited weekly during Kabbalat Shabbat, the service of welcoming the Sabbath .Is the Psalmist’s invitation that we sing a song with new melody and lyrics each week humanly possible? If not, how can we understand the notion of newness when it comes to song? The answer I believe is embedded in the phrase that follows-"for He has performed wonders." Singing a new song is a musical expression of recognizing the wonders of life. When we acquire this awareness, our song, no matter how old the melody or words, takes on the freshness and exhilaration of singing something new. Awareness of the dynamic renewal of life that surrounds us at all times is the impetus for articulating gratefulness through a song of gratefulness. When the Torah is returned to the Ark the congregation chants: “It is a tree of life to those who uphold it (the Torah)..."Renew our days as of old “ It is told that Mordechai M. Kaplan,the founder of Reconstructionism would whisper an additional prayer at this time-"Und a bissel besser"and a little better. It is no accident that Tu Beshvat, the New Year of trees follows the Sabbath of song. Each sapling embraces the life-giving capacity of nature to nurture a seed into a strapling tree that touches the skies; each tree is testament to the marvel of the human habitat; each leaf lifts its heart in a lilting tune of praise to the Creator of all things.A song is a poem of gratitude. This Shabbat, we sing with joyful hearts, acknowledging with humble praise the myriad and infinite gifts of God's amazing universe.



Tu Beshevat is celebrated by eating a variety of fruits, especially those grown in the land of Israel, by planting trees in Israel and by raising our consciousness regarding our responsibility to our natural environment. There are no special prayers in our liturgy; however, the mystical tradition has introduced a Seder-like experience by which the fruits of the tree are acknowledged as sources of nuturance and joy. The seasons of the years their changes and individuality- are likewise given special attention with an awareness rooted in gratitude. It is also a time for stories about trees. One story, a children's story, is a favorite of mine. I would like to share it with grown-ups as well. Once upon a time--all good stories start that way--there was a tall oak tree whose leaves almost touched the stars. It couldn't resist any chance to boast about his height and might. Alongside him was a tiny apple tree. One day,the apple tree complained to God, crying out that he could not reach the stars like the mighty oak tree. He was too short and could barely see the sky. He felt terribly inadequate and inferior. "Why wasn't I made as tall and strong as the oak?" he asked tearfully. God in His wisdom and compassion bent over the little apple tree and plucked one of the apples off the branch. He took a knife, and sliced the apple in half. When the apple tree had dried its eyes, God showed him the apple's core; lo and behold, at the center was the shape of a star. "See," God said. "You



have your own star in each apple." When the apple tree saw this he broke into a big smile and understood how lucky he was. Since then he was able to hold his head high, feeling at times even taller than the mighty oak. Each of us has the star of a soul deep within us, a soul that makes us special and unlike anyone else. Tu Beshvat reminds us again to be grateful for who we are, and thank the Giver of all things for the gift of our own, special stars.

Praise and blame, pain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a great tree in the midst of them all. (Buddha’s Little Instruction Book)



Purim- Festival of Lots

‫פ‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ר‬ ‫י‬ ‫ם‬


Purim is a controversial holiday.You might be surprised by this assertion given how much fun and how beloved a holiday it is , especially for children. After all, who but a curmudgeon would object to partying as a way of celebrating an experience of deliverance and rescue? Who could object to having a carnival with costumes, the exchange of food packages and reaching the pinnacle of celebratory intoxication-with the blessings of the Rabbis- to the point of losing any sense of discrimination between the villain and hero of the Purim story, Haman and Mordechai? Is it not a psychological victory to throw all caution to the winds-especially with rabbinic sanction and under its supervision, and experience a moment of guilt-free letting go of restraints and simply having a great time? However, there are serious voices in the Jewish community that attempt to temper this extreme form of celebration. It is felt that such behavior is unJewish, bordering on the pagan! Nonetheless, Purim is regarded by the talmud as a holiday that will outlast all others; its message elicits great gratitude that has the power of surviving the passage of time and circumstance. What are we grateful for on Purim? If the story is true and reflects the reality of Jewish life in the Diaspora, we are grateful for being rescued from annihilation. This gratitude is unmistakable and quite dramatic. Furthermore, we can be grateful for the chance to have fun, an opportunity not always available to us, something that lightens the burden of our existence. In my opinion, Purim essentially is a time to celebrate and acknowledge one overarching historical reality of the Jewish people-its survival. No other people has succeeded to survive as a distinctly creative entity in spite of all odds, as the Jewish people. So salient is this characteristic, that at a gathering of Jewish leaders not long ago, the Dalai Lama expressed his deep interest in understanding the nature of this Jewish experience in order to glean some insights on the dynamics of survival in circumstances that logically would make survival virtually impossible-homelessness, powerlessness, discrimination and persecution. He, of course, asked the question against the backdrop of the Tibetan struggle for its independence from the hegemony of the Chinese regime. The Story of Purim is a paradigm narrative of Jewish survival in the Diaspora. In spite of imaginative interpretations and mystical exegesis


prevalent among commentators trying to suggest the hidden hand of God, an honest reading of the Book of Esther leads one to conclude the utter absence of any intimations of supernatural intervention. Stripped bare of any theological implications-no mention of God in any shape or form is made throughout the bookwe are left with a story that unfolds within the realities and circumstances of history and the nature of Jewish precariousness in the Diaspora.While many point to one passage as a disguised yet suggestive reference to God's perennial availability , words spoken by Mordechai to Esther in the face of her refusal to appear unannounced before Ahasuerus- “ ...if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter...”(Esther 4:14), I believe that this statement merely reflects the unyielding trust that Mordechai had in the survivability of the Jewish people no matter what Esther would decide. There is little question that the fate of the Jewish people was questionable at best; they could be done away with at the mere whim of a monarch or despot. Without a homeland, a government or military structure with which to defend itself, the Jew had very few options for successful survival. Yet the Jew survived! How? This mystery continues to fascinate us and fill us with wonder. What is the answer of the Book of Esther to this question? With the cunning, courage and daring of its leaders. Mordecai emerges, like the many “Court Jews” that followed him, as a presence attuned to the workings and intrigues of palace politics. He pays close attention to all that transpires around him, observing carefully the interactions of the many players for power within the confines of the royal court. He overhears the plot to kill the king, reports it, and in this way injects his loyalty and indispensability into the fabric of the court's political unfolding, winning the favor of the king. He is cautious about making his Jewish identity public recognizing that Jewish vulnerability can easily be taken advantage of, and insists that Esther conceal her identity from the king as well The tools of his trade are subtle, the use of any and all possibilities for successful interventions with the source of power, the king, exploiting the king's weakness for wine, wealth, women and his need to compensate for his impotency with a semblance of masculine decision-making power. Interestingly, a close look at the text reveals that Ahashuerus never makes a


decisionwithout first consulting advisors. He ostentatiously exhibits his affluence and possession of beautiful women in order to gain an authoritative respect for his kingly masculinity. Esther daringly makes use of her physical beauty, charm and appeal, to win her way into the king's heart and thereby gain entry to a vulnerability that can be effectively manipulated in order to reverse his decisions which in fact were not his but Haman’s. Like so many of her Biblical predecessors who commanded power by cunning and manipulation, Esther has no choice but to do the same if she is to rescue her people.There was always risk and great danger to all such efforts but no other recourse remained. Additionally, another source of Jewish survival skill was the cooperation and participation of the entire people. When Esther demands that the people fast, mourn, wear sackcloth and cry out in preparation for her daunting challenge of confronting the king, no where is it indicated that the object of this public act of mourning and grieving was God! No prayers were recited; only wailing and crying filled the homes and public places of their communities. This outpouring represented an act of public solidarity and support, perhaps a gesture of reaching out to the general public for some attention, consideration, even support. A Jew who felt the sorrow of his fellow Jew was indeed a “good” Jew, offering her concern and empathy as a means of bolstering the community's strength.What else could the average Jew do? Protests and demonstrations are political realities of the 21st century but were beyond the consciousness of ancient Persian civilization. The people lived the dictum of the Rabbis-”He who shares in the sorrow of Jerusalem will one day join in celebrating its joy!” Jews survived this way throughout its history. Of course faith in God and the promise of a Messianic future played a central role in its capacity to maintain hope and strength in the face of such insurmountable hardships. But for the author of Esther, survival was the ability of the people to withstand all the uncertainty of tomorrow with a deep sense of trust in itself and its leaders. Without such sources of leadership and loyalty, the Jewish people would find itself without any hope of selfpreservation as a people. The Book of Esther is a bold, straightforward narrative of the precariousness of Jewish existence in the Diaspora. The anxiety associated with living in exile and not knowing the outcome of tomorrow was


mitigated and made tolerable by the determination of the Jewish community to learn how to navigate the perilous waters of a hostile and unpredictable world around them. The Purim story is such a story of successful and skillful political maneuvering that rescued an entire community from annihilation. For this moment and the many others, we are grateful and pay tribute to the fearless leaders of our people who risked their lives and those of loved ones to provide an anchor of some security in the ocean of stormy exilic existence. How much more grateful can we now be with the State of Israel restored and constantly strengthened as the homeland of the Jewish people once again.

‫מגילה‬ ‫משלוח מנות‬ ‫מתנות לאביונים‬ ‫משתה‬
Megillah-Scroll of Esther Exchange of food baskets Gifts to the poor Banquet with beverages



‫ליהודים היתה‬ ‫אורה ושמחה‬ ‫ששון ויקר‬
(8:16 ‫)אסתר‬

The Jews enjoyed... light gladness, happiness honor



Chag Haʼ Pesach-Passover

‫ח‬ ‫ג‬ ‫ה‬ ‫פ‬ ‫ס‬ ‫ח‬


Passover-‫חג הפסח‬
It is said that Passover is the most popular of all Jewish holidays. It seems that anyone can find a place at the Passover-Seder table, whatever one's personal relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. Why? Perhaps because Passover is the most ancient of Jewish holydays, the first collective Israelite celebration in the Bible, marking among other things, the emergence of the spring season and a moment of renewal and new beginnings and possibilities. It was the Jewish New Year in Biblical times. ‘This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months... (Exodus 12:1) “Observe the month of Abib-‫ -אביב‬and offer a passover offering to the Lord your God for it was in the month of Abib-‫ ,-אביב‬at night, that the Lord your God freed you from Egypt...for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress...so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.”(Deuteronomy 16:1,3-4)



SPRING-ּ ‫אביב‬
“For now the winter is past...the blossoms have appeared in the land...the song of the turtledove is heard in our land The green figs form on the fig tree the vines in blossom give off fragrance, Arise, my darling, My fair one, come away!” (Song of Songs 2:11-13)



Another possible explanation for Passover’s popularity is the fact that family is so indispensable to Passover’s fulfillment, especially with the Seder experience where the magic of Passover is shared with those most loved members of our life,our children.

‫מה נשתנה‬ Mah nishtanah” How Different?
The child-centeredness of Passover elicits memories of special carefree and loving memories of childhood. No other festival expects the child to ask questions of one's elders nor demand that the child search for the Afikomen, the piece of Matzah without which the Seder cannot be completed. While the traditional preparations in the home, a complete change-over in the kitchen environment and the many restrictions regarding the eating of leaven products can be quite arduous, nevertheless, the newly- formed environment creates a special warmth and magic all of its own. This ambience, with a totally different menu, is deeply embedded in many memories, and calls forth the desire to celebrate Passover and re-enact our personal past in our newly formed families of today.

“Each shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household” (Exodus 12:3)


Most religious traditions require a blessing before we eat; Judaism adds the obligation of blessing after we eat. This prescription is based on a Biblical passage from the book of Deuteronomy:"When you have eaten your fill , give thanks to the Lord your God." More literally the phrase is translated as :"You shall eat, be satisfied and bless your God." It is a commonplace that once we have eaten and feel satiated, the desire to think of the source of our satisfaction disappers from consciousness. We are not inclined to think of spiritual nourishment at that time. When the belly is full, our souls seem to slumber. For this reason, our tradition enjoins us to awaken our souls "to give them an opportunity to express their yearnings, their cravings for God."( Breslov Haggadah) On the other hand, perhaps the Biblical reference to "You shall be satisfied" points to the feeling of gratefulness as a prologue to blessing. When we feel grateful ie. satiated, fulfilled, we are then spiritually inclined to acknowledge the ultimate source of this feeling of well-being, and to bless God.

‫ואכלת ושבעת וברכת‬ You shall eat and be satisfied and bless...



Perhaps above all rationales of connection is Passover's remarkable commitment to the concept of freedom. It is ‫“ -זמן חרותינו‬zeman herutaynu”-the season of our liberation, our redemption, our freedom. The freedom celebrated encompasses the political and social rights of Jews and all people everywhere; freedom for us is the freedom from want, from external and internal oppression. As Americans, this Jewish concept resonates with clarity and profound familiarity.


“I will free you” “I will deliver you” “I will redeem you” “ I will take you”
(Exodus 6:6)

‫והוצאתי‬ ‫והצלתי‬ ‫וגאלתי‬ ‫ולקחתי‬
(ֹ‫)שמות ו:ו‬

‫ח‬ ‫ר‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ת‬

The political Egypt of ancient history-‫“ -מצרים‬mitzrayim”- is related to the Hebrew word which means constriction or narrowness and can be understood as a challenge to widen and deepen our minds, hearts and souls so that we liberate ourselves from the narrow and stifling constrictions of fear, anger and mistrust. Passover offers us a sacred climate in which we can discover and cultivate our inner psychological and spiritual sense of freedom as well.



We reach for the freedom of the heart that can be understood as the central idea of the Festival--it is enough-we are grateful for each and every gift bestowed upon us by the Source of All life.

“Day, Day-enu”(3) “Dayenu, Dayenu” “Dayenu” Freedom-When enough is more
than enough.


It is my belief that a central gateway to inner freedom is that of gratefulness. Each of the languages of freedom mentioned above can be understood as a stage in the spiritual journey from the perspective of being separated, of seeing the world as a place of dual realities between the subject, the ego and the outside world, the object, to a consciousness of unity, eventually witnessing the world as a place of integration and unity. Each expression of freedom is a way of realizing the evolutionary spiritual growth embedded in the human spirit.



The Festival of Passover is referred to as zeman herutaynu-‫ -זמן חרותנו‬the season of our freedom; ‫ ,חֵרות‬heyrut, the Hebrew word for freedom, encompasses the meaning of harut-‫ ,חָרות‬translated as inscribed, imprinted, etched into. In other words, what is implied in this term is the notion that freedom is intrinsic to the human soul. Passover thus becomes a challenge to reach into the inner soul and rediscover or retrieve the dimension of freedom that lives deep within our very being. Freedom is the soul’s signature; the spiritual journey demands the removal of barriers that stand in the way of our gaining access to this deeply recessed part of our souls. Rumi, the Persian poet of the soul, understands the meaning of love in similar fashion: Your task is not to seek love But merely to seek and find all the barriers That you have built against it. The same can be said of freedom; we build barriers against it, barriers born of fear-fear of death, fear of not having enough, fear of not being enough, fear of being happy. An antidote to these fears is gratefulness; when we cultivate our awareness of life as a gift freely given, instead of our enslavement to greed we learn the liberating power of gratitude; we recognize our thankfulness for who we are rather than being trapped by the compulsion to be perfect; rather than the fear of and the fixation on, tomorrow, we feel the joy of the moment; we discover the capacity to shed the chains of paralyzing guilt and embrace instead the redeeming possibilities of gratefulness as the impetus for doing the good and the compassionate in life.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Melodie Beattie, Grat



A Dayenu Ditty If I could only wiggle my toes And know something that no one else knows,

If I could bend my knees, And see what everyone else sees,

If I could raise my arm, Holding back from doing harm,

If I could twiddle my thumb And scratch my bum

If I could bend the wrist And my ankle twist,




If I could hear my belly growl And wipe away a scowl

If I can slide off the bed And not land on my head

If I can hear birds chirp and release a gentle burp

If I have my teeth to brush And get dressed in a rush


And let’s not forget, Hands and face that get wet,




I cannot overlook, How little effort it took To open my eyes And for my belly to rise



Heart going pitter patter It’s no some small matter

Breathing in, Breathing out, I can sing I can shout

Roof over my head, Simply alive and not dead.

I can do it all and so much more To be grateful is the door


To our joy, our longevity Happiness and serenity.

Dayenu-we declare
We thank God for our share.

‫ב‬ ‫ח‬ ‫ל‬ ‫ק‬ ‫ו‬




Who is rich? One who is Happy with his Portion (Teachings of the Sages 4:1)



A contemporary application of Dayenu:
1. LIBERATION: “Had He taken us out of Mitzrayim-‫…מצרים‬ Dayenu-‫”! דינו‬ now 2. THE NEGATIVE: “Had He carried out judgments against the Egyptians…Dayenu:-‫”!דינו‬ Think of someone or something you do not like; is there any redeeming quality in the relationship to that thing, person or experience that can make you grateful for it? 3. RESCUE: “Had He divided the sea for us…Dayenu:-‫”!דינו‬ Is there an experience of danger that you or a loved one were rescued from for which you are grateful? 4. SUSTENANCE: “Had He fed us manna…Dayenu-‫”!דינו‬ What is the source of your livelihood and what aspects of it make you particularly grateful? Consider one aspect of freedom that you enjoy




5. SABBATH-LEISURE: “Had He given us Shabbat-‫…שבת‬Dayenu -‫”!דינו‬ If you could select one feature of your day-off above all others, what would that be? 6. WISDOM: “Had He given us the Torah…Dayenu-‫“ !דינו‬ Can you single out one idea, thought or words of wisdom without which your spiritual life would be incomplete? 7. HOLY SPACES: “Had He led us to the Land of Israel,,,Dayenu‫”!דינו‬ What place do you consider a refuge and sacred in

which you encounter the best in your inner life.



“Tell us, O poet, what do you do?

I praise;
But those dark, deadly devastating ways/ How do you bear them, suffer them?

I praise.
And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze, How can you call it, conjure it?

I praise.
And whence your right, in every kind of maze/ in every mask, to remain true?

I praise.
And that the mildest and the wildest ways/ Know you like star and storm? Because

I praise.”



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


“Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. Where to turn? Where to begin? So much to do, so much to correct...Jealousy. Anger. Pride. How do we get rid of them? Gossip. Bickering. They embitter our lives . Unbridled physical desires, so compelling! How do we control them, redirect them, They embitter our lives... Sometimes we simply want to become better people, better Jews ... It’s too much to deal with at one time. We must find one path, one attribute to give us the proper perspective, to show us the right way out of the maze of confusion and fear. Hallel is this response, the golden way to awareness of the divine. To praise God is to overcome illusion and to touch Reality." (Breslov Haggada)




In the Hallel service, the Psalmist asks:

”Mountains, why do you " " And hills, why do you

skip like rams, jump like

lambs? (Psalm 114)
The Hallel, comprised of psalms, reflects the power of human imagination; it is within the framework of the ‘poetic’ that we arrive at the wisdom of the heart and reach our spiritual destination which is gratitude and thanksgiving.



A Prayer for Dew-‫תפילת טל‬
In the midst of sultry summer months, the tiniest amount of moisture is a blessing. Thus our attention is directed to the approaching period of rainlessnes in Israel and we stretch our hearts heavenward and pray for some relief, grateful for the natural pattern of dew’s appearance on the chilly ground each morning.

‫לברכה‬ ‫לחיים‬ ‫לשבע‬

For blessing For life For abundance



On Passover, words are plentiful. Prayers, songs and stories abound.-At our Seder, the communal /familial repast on each of the first two nights, we share a myriad of words, the story of passover, the story of our search for freedom. Some sages saw in the Hebrew word for Passover-‫פסח‬“Pesach”- a conflation of two other Hebrew words,‫“ -פה‬peh,” mouth,

‫תזל‬ ‫כטל‬ ‫אמרתי‬ May my speech distill as the dew

and ‫“-סח‬sach”-speaks, suggesting that the essence of Passover is the experience of communicating in words the miracle of freedom. The image of dew on Passover reminds us that for our words to be received by others, especially the young to whom we transmit the story, they need to reflect the gentleness and softness of the dew. We are grateful for the compassion contained in our hearts and conveyed on the wings of our loving words.

He makes the dew descend
(prayer book)

‫מוריד הטל‬


Counting of the Omer

Sefirat Ha’Omer-Counting of the Omer

‫ס‬ ‫פ‬ ‫י‬ ‫ר‬ ‫ת‬ ‫ה‬ ‫ע‬ ‫מ‬ ‫ר‬


Counting of the Omer

“ When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest.He shall elevate the sheaf before the Lord for acceptance on your behalf...And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering-the day after the sabbath-you shall count off seven weeks; They must be complete; you must count until the day after the seventh week-fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord.”Leviticus 23:10-16)

‫שבע שבתות תמימות‬ Seven complete weeks ...
The day after Passover, until the festival of SHAVUOT, was the period during which the grain harvest was brought to the Temple as a gift offering prior to its consumption and use. Not only did this period coincide with the spring time but was linked to Passover to teach us to see it,like the Exodus, as an instance of God’s benevolence. Today, we count daily from Passover until Shavuot, indicating the number of days and weeks in the context of the Sefirah-counting-period, until we arrive at a total of 49 days -7 weeks. We thank God for the freedom from slavery on Passover and link that process with the celebration of freedom for spiritual enlightenment symbolized by the revelation on Sinai of the Torah during Shavuot. Each day is counted in excited anticipation of the eventual arrival of the great day of Sinai, the day of the Giving of the Torah. Kabbalists understood the period of forty nine days as a spiritual progression from impurity(Egypt) to purity, (Sinai)


Counting of the Omer

‫היום יום אחד‬ ............. ‫לעמר‬ ...‫מח‬ 48 ...‫מט‬ !49
shavuot Celebrate “hayomness”-”today-ness” Live in the moment

‫א‬ 1 ‫ב‬ 2 ‫ג‬ 3

‫ש‬ ‫ב‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ע‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ת‬

‫ה‬ 5

‫ד‬ 4

Today is the first day of the Omer.........

Counting of the Omer

‫ל”ג בעמר‬ 33rd day of the Omer
The period of the Omer. coinciding as it does with the springtime and early summer, brought many icidents of violence and death to the Jewish community throughout its history.Wars were conducted during this season of dryness and warmth.Thus, this period evolved into one of public mourning; for example, marriages were suspended during this time. According to tradition, one day emerged as a day absent of Jewish suffering-The students of Rabbi Akiva did not die either in a plague according to the Talmud or at the hands of the Romans in th eopinion of others. For this reason, the 33rd day is celebratory; weddings are held, and celebrations of a public nature are held. Foe children it becomes a day of experiencing the outdoors with physical activities appropriate to the one’s natural surroundings.Games involving bows and arrows are used as a memory of the alleged use of these hunting weapons by the students of Torah who studied in secret while ostensibly engaged in outdoor activities with bow and arrow to dupe the Roman authorities who prohibited all Torah study. We are grateful for our people’s devotion to study, for their sacrifice at the hands of men of violence and for their capacity to confront adversity with courage and hope


Holocaust Day

yom hashoah-Holocaust


‫יום‬ ‫השואה‬


Holocaust Day

‫יום השואה‬ Holocaust Day
The 27th of Nisan marks the commemoration of Yom Hashoah-"Holocaust Day." Jews the world over set aside time, thought and feeling to remember the atrocity of the “scientific” attempt to annihilate the Jewish people from the face of our planet.Using modern technology, contemporary advances in administration and management, and the trappings of a rational legal system and a new-found philosophical framework, Nazi Germany embarked on a global effort to rid humanity of the living presence of the Jewish people and of Judaism. Six million innocent men, women and children were exterminated. This carefully deliberate and thoroughly planned and executed program of mass murder and genocide was conducted painstakingly and persistently, every day of every week, for an endless period of almost five years. The world knew, but did little, if anything, to halt the slaughter. Feigned ignorance, rationalization, indifference, politics as usual, perhaps disguised anti-semitism, were all mustered to mask the enormity of this crime and resulted in a response of indifference and inaction. As one who is committed to the spiritual practice of gratefulness, can I respond to the Holocaust from this perspective as well, or does any spiritual response that is life enhancing and positive vanish in the smoke of the crematoria? Is the only response to the Holocaust grief, unmitigated misery and loss, nightmarish remembrances and the determination to never allow this to happen again? Without question, if we are to preserve our humanity, we dare not ignore our capacity to mourn and grieve; to remember and try to understand is another compelling moral obligation of confronting this tragic human horror. It can not be emphasized enough that an unrelenting lesson of the Holocaust is -"Never Again"- We are duty bound to do everything humanly possible to prevent such a blight on human history from ever happening again. Furthermore, from the vantage point of Jewish survival, never will we allow ourselves to fall into the pit of powerlessness and vulnerability that will invite others to make us the victims of human cruelty and brutality. Sixty years after this hellish happening, can we touch any aspect of gratefulness in its aftermath? Perhaps the answer lies in how we answer the following hypothetical question. Would you prefer to be the descendent of the Nazi perpetrators or

Holocaust Day

the progeny of the victims, the son, daughter, grandchild, nephew or niece of an officer of the S.S. or a Jewish family member of a rabbi, doctor, tailor, or school child, gassed at Auschwitz? I am grateful that I am victim rather than perpetrator. Our prayers remind us-"Ashreynu ma tov helkaynu." How fortunate we are, how good is our portion, our lot in life! In spite of the unbearable losses, suffering and inhumanity inflicted upon us, we can be spiritually and morally grateful for bearing this tragedy with honor, with a determination to persist in our loyalty to our heritage and to our people and remain faithful descendants of our illustrious ancestors, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and the countless thousands of students, saints and scholars upon whose shoulders we stand with the pride of a faith and history that has brought such immeasurable blessing to this world. I am grateful for the thousands of Holocaust survivors who have taught us the lesson of how to rebuild a meaningful and successful Jewish life from the ashes of destruction and death. I am grateful for the small yet so powerfully important and inspiring acts of courage and human goodness of the "Hassidei umot ha'olam"-the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives and the lives of loved ones. to save a small remnant of Europe's Jews. Finally, I am grateful that I belong to a people who despite being reviled and despised even today, stubbornly refuses to surrender to the dark forces of evil, of violence, of hatred and bestiality, but who persist in learning and growing and helping and serving, defending and protecting the values of human decency and compassion wherever they may be. I am grateful that in the shadow of this most monstrous of the many calamities of the twentieth century, my people rose up to create a new civilization on a tiny, ancient, God-given strip of land known as Israel, where a vibrant democracy, not perfect but struggling, is committed to improving and bettering the lives of so many, Jew and non-Jew alike."Ashreynu, ma tov helkaynu"-How grateful we should feel at this time of the year. Amidst tears of anguish we live as a proud and decent people,imperfect yet committed to the principle of compassion and peace


Holocaust Day

‫אני‬ ‫מ‬ ‫א‬ ‫מ‬ ‫י‬ ‫ן‬ ani ma’amin..

I still believe...


Israel Independence Day

Yom HaʼAtzmaut-Israel Independence Day

‫י‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ם‬ ‫העצמאות‬


Independence Day


Israel Independence Day

"We thank You, for the miraculous deliverance,for the heroism and
for the triumphs in the battles of our ancestors in those days at this season." These words are recited in many congregations on this day of Israel's birthday. I imagine that most of us are familiar with these words because of their association to Hannukah and Purim;indeed,the Orthodox do not recite these words today;in the thinking of those whose perceptions are fixated only on the glories of the past,‫ -על הניסים‬al hanisim-the miracles were performed only in the distant past,and these sacred words are not to be uttered for “miracles” of contemporary significance.But, as is the case of all prayer, I believe that we are bidden to recapture, recognize and rediscover the miraculous in our personal and collective lives now as well. Similarly, for us to fully grasp the wonder of Israeli independence, we must look backward in time-‫בימים‬ ‫”-ההם‬Bayamim ha-haym”-in those days-so as to renew our sense of gratefulness and wonder at the uniqueness of that historical event. Beyond the current cynicism and indifference of so many, the “al hanisim” prayer summons us to once again enter into an experience of re-enactment, of re-living, re-membering, the original moment of Jewish national resurrection by reciting words of memory and renewal. "In the days that Your children were returning to their borders...the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing from the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble...You gave them courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge and to free the land of its armed invaders... For all these blessings we shall ever praise You." The past beckons us to rediscover the reason for the anniversary celebration of Israel. So mired are we in the intractable and dangerous deadlock that stands in the way of peace, that our hearts are closed to the marvel of Jewish renewal on the land of Israel, a renewal of autonomy in all aspects of human life; a renewal of pride in achievements that encompass every field of human endeavor-from the arts to the sciences and the world of commerce; a renewal of the Jewish spirit and ethos as an eternal people. Can we forget for a moment that the gates of Israel are open to every single Jew no matter the circumstances or status of that individual? How can we not be proud knowing that millions of our brothers and sisters have been rescued because of Israel? Moreover, Israel has been a haven for refugees of other nationalities, whose only criterion for entry into the land was the human need for protection and refuge.

Israel Independence Day

Sixty three years is quite a short span of time in the life of a nation; it is still middle age for individuals living in our modern age when life expectancy has soared! Yet, so much has been done -so much has been built, restored, strengthened and revitalized- as a result of the heroism of our people and the goodness of the Source of life. How can we not be grateful? How can we not praise and rejoice, singing songs of hopeful renewal and further growth toward that eventual messianic moment of peace and well-being for all? Go back to 1948-bayamim ha-haym-and remember- in that memory Israel lives-AM YISRAEL CHAI!

!‫עם ישראל חי‬ Israel Lives!....

‫כל עוד בלבב פנימהנפש יהודי‬ ‫הומיה‬ ‫ולפאתי מזרח קדימה עין לציון‬ ‫צופיה‬ ‫עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו‬ ‫התקוה בת שנות אלפים‬ ‫להיות עם חפשי בארצנו, ארץ‬ ‫ציון וירושלים‬ The Hope-Hatikvah-‫התקוה‬

Israel Independence Day

Kol od ba-lay-vav p’nima,nefesh yehudi homi-ya Ulfa-atey mizrachkadima,a-yin l’zion tzofiah od lo avdah tikvateinu,ha-tikva bat shnot alpayim Li-h’yot am chofshi b’artzeinu Eretz Tzion v’yerushalayim As long as Jewish hearts yet beat And Jewish eyes turn longingly Eastward Our hope of two thousand years is not lost: To be a free people in our own land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem


Jerusalem Day

Yom Yerushalayim -Jerusalem Day

‫יום‬ ‫ירושלים‬


Jerusalem Day

‫עשרה קבים יופי‬ ‫ירדו לעולם‬ ‫תשעה נטלה‬ ‫ירושליםקדושין מט‬

Ten measures of beauty descended to the world; nine were taken by Jerusalem (Kiddushin 49b)

Jerusalem Day

‫כ ’’ ח אייר תשכ”ח‬ June 8,1967
The Six Day War resulted in the physical reunification of Jerusalem under the sovereignty of the State of Israel. A historic moment, the realization of centuries of yearning, this event carries with it continued tension and hostility between Jews and Arabs. The city of unity and peace is experienced by too many as a place of division and enmity. Amidst the tension of this holy place one seeks out the gratitude for its potential possibility as a place of peace and compassion. “You are not a shrine, a place of pilgrimage to which to come, and then depart.Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem,” said Rabbi Nachman.”( Abraham Joshua Heschel) Jerusalem that shines of gold all shades of brass and golden glow for every string that sings your praises I am the bow Yerushalayim shel zahav shel nechoshet v’shel or Halo lechol shiratich ani kinor

‫ירושלים של זהב‬ ‫ושל נחשת ושל אור‬ ‫הלא לכל שיריך‬ ‫אני כנור‬


Festival of Weeks

Shavuot-Festival of Weeks

‫ש‬ ‫ב‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ע‬ ‫ו‬ ‫ת‬


Festival of Weeks

SHAVUOT Revelation-Giving of the Torah ‫זמן מתן תורתנו‬ Zeman MatanTorateinu”

‫א‬ ‫נ‬


Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox lowed...the sea did not roar, creatures did not speak-the whole world was hushed into breathless silence; it was then that the voice went forth: “I am the Lord thy God.”(Exodus Rabah 29.9)

The written Torah has a completely different account of the context of divine revelation. The Book of Exodus relates:"As the third day dawned there was thunder and lightening and a dense cloud upon the mountain ...and Mount Sinai was all in smoke...and the whole mountain trembled violently...the blare of the horn grew louder and louder, as Mose spoke God answered in thunder..." (Exodus 19:16-19)


It can be claimed that there is no contradiction between the account of the written word--nature's dramatic eruption, and that of the oral Law, the dominance of silence. One could have followed the other. First there was the spectacle, then the silence. I would like to think however, that both settings represent ways by which the human soul experiences revelation. I prefer the understanding of the Oral Law. Some need the dramatic, the overwhelming, the overpowering to recognize a divine reality. The sensational has wide appeal. However, the Rabbis’ keen spiritual insight led them to understand that the most fertile and receptive soil in which revelation can be planted and grow is the soil of silence. Words and spectacular natural phenomena, while striking and impressive, circumscribe the orbit of heavenly revelation.



Festival of Weeks

‫ל‬ ‫א‬

Once a word is spoken or recorded, its meaning takes on a specific definition, often inhibiting a wider and indeterminate range of possibilities. Likewise a passing natural phenomenon- stirring and majestic as it may be, often leaves only a fleeting memory A silent hush, by contrast, is a realm of infinite possibility, a space in the mind and heart in which God's voice can be heard with the greatest clarity-neither words nor natural sound interfere with a communication that is utterly pure. Many of us are uncomfortable with silence; we grow restless, even anxious. So filled are we with sounds-from others, from sources of mechanical communication-TV, cell-phones, I-pods, computers etc. that silence is equated with lifelessness, with emptiness, with a sense of utter emptiness. Perhaps it is this spiritual setting of silence, of emptiness, that is the most fertile for spiritual aliveness and fullness. The Rabbis remind us that the deepest revelations take place surrounded by the sounds of silence. As we express our gratefulness for the sounds of Torah, so do we experience gratitude for the gift of silence.

do not

Festival of Weeks

On Shavuot, the status of teacher is elevated to its

highest pinnacle. God, the Giver of the Torah is the Master teacher as well, and the recipients of Torah, the Jewish people, are God's students. I had just returned from the graduation exercises of my lovely little shul in Annapolis. Simple, genuine and dignified, the ceremony was quite warm and moving. Everyone felt like members of one family and each one experienced the pride of every student's accomplishment as if he/she were everyone's own child. One remark struck me in a particular way. It was an expression of a teacher who sorrowfully had lost a beloved daughter to cancer only a few short months ago.Yet, devoted as she is to her six and seven year old students, she persisted in teaching with an open mind and a cheerful heart. "Whenever I teach, I return home happy.(That makes my husband happy, too.)" What a wonderful criterion for success as a teacher. Not the amount of knowledge one imparts, neither the level of grade; but the feeling of joy that both student and teacher experience as a result of this sacred activity of study. One may ask:Why is this festival defined as the “Time of the Giving of the Torah?” After all, according to Rabbinic legend, the Jewish people received the Torah willingly and unconditionally.(There is another opinion that suggests that the acceptance of Torah was coerced!)Thus, to demonstrate Israel’s courage and commitment, perhaps the name of the festival should have been-”The time of Receiving the Torah?” A meaningful answer resides in our understanding of this holy day as one of extraordinary gratitude for the gift of Torah. Some have asserted that this holyday,while not as popular as Passover or Sukkot, the other pilgrimage festivals described in the Torah, is nonetheless the most important. Because this occasion marks divine revelation in the form of Torah as a gift, spiritually the identity of the Jewish people has been forged through its encounter with Torah throughout the generations.That is, without this gift, the unique


do not


Festival of Weeks

challenge of the Jewish people as a potential source of spiritual enlightenment to the world would have been impossible. Furthermore, the response of receiving the Torah with an open heart is always available to us. Revelation is on-going because our awareness of the divine is an eternal process for which we are profoundly grateful.

remember ‫זכור‬ observe ‫שמר‬
The Sabbath,especially, is a weekly gift which can be relished as a moment in which we can touch the divinity of life by “remembering”and “observing” the many sanctified possibilities inherent in the experience of the Sabbath, in essence a day of “gratefulness.”


Festival of Weeks

Shavuot as the time of giving the Torah celebrates not only the formal teacher in our lives-the trained professional or rabbi, but in fact brings our attention to the most powerful and influential teachers of all-our fathers and mothers. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that :”The father is obliged to....teach him (his son) Torah.....” (TB Kiddushin 29a) Additionally, those who teach Torah are regarded as surrogate parents. “ ‘Your children’-(by this is meant) your pupils.You see that pupils are always called sons, as we read, ‘You are the children of the Lord your God.’(Deut.14:1)......and just as the pupils are called sons, so is the teacher, father.”(Rashi on Deut.6:7) On this day we recognize all those who have taught us Torah in its widest sense-those who somehow enlightened our minds, elevated our souls, strengthened our bodies ,and softened our hearts.

‫כבד‬ honor

Festival of Weeks

Question: What

do the Rabbis of the Midrash and the Dalai Lama have in common?
Answer. “ Rabbi Zeira said: The Book of Ruth (read on Shavuot) contains neither the laws of purity or impurity, nor an enumeration of what is permissible or forbidden (ritually); it was written to instruct us how great the reward for those who bestow kindness on others.(Ruth Rabbah,2,14)

The Dalai Lama said:”This is my simple religion.There is no need for
temples; no need for complicated philosophy.Our own brain, our own heart is our temple: the philosophy is kinndness

‫תורה תחילתה גמילות חסדים וסופה גמילות חסדים‬
(‫)סוטה יד,א‬ “...Torah begins with an act of compassion( it is written:‘and the Lord made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin and clothed them ‘[Genesis 25:11] and ends with an act of compassion (as it is written:‘and He buried him(Moses) in the valley.)”[Deut.34:6] “ {TB Sotah 14a}

do not murder do not commit adultery do not steal do not swear falsely do not covet

‫לא תרצח‬ ‫לא תנאף‬ ‫לא תגנב‬ ‫לא תענה‬ ‫לא תחמד‬


Festival of Weeks

On Shavuot,we read the book of Ruth-Ruth is the embodiment of gratitude. Unlike Naomi her mother-in-law who is filled with bitterness upon her return to Judea, Ruth is ever loyal, loving and grateful. Naomi proclaims-"Call me Mara (bitterness) for Shaddai has made my lot very bitter. I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty." Indeed Naomi returns to Judea empty handed, a widow who is childless. All she has is Ruth. But Ruth too accompanies Naomi without anything, anything but her loyalty and love for Naomi. She is a foreigner, a widow, without parents or children. Yet, never do we hear a word of complaint, an outburst of self-pity or bitterness at her new-found God. Each gesture of kindness toward her or her mother-in-law is greeted with profound gratefulness and humility. Upon receiving special consideration from Boaz, her soon to be husband, she declares:"You are most kind, my lord, to comfort me and to speak gently to your maidservant-though I am not so much as one of your maidservants." What is the source of her gratefulness? Nothing is evident in the story. All we know is that Ruth lives her life compassionately. Her selfless giving is, I believe, the genesis of a posture of gratefulness. The more she shares the greater her gratitude. The Talmud insightfully recognizes in her name the source of her spiritual strength. "What is the meaning of Ruth? Rabbi Johanan said: Because she was privileged to be the ancestress of David who saturated the Holy One Blessed be He ,with songs and hymns." Ruth was the great grandmother of King David, the one from whom will emerge the Messiah himself. How radical! How fascinating! The Jewish Messiah will originate from a gentile woman, a widow, a stranger to her newly discovered people and land. Yet, one overriding characteristic made her the ideal ancestor of the Messiah. Her name-Ruth- derived from the Hebrew-‫"-רוה‬ravoh," to saturate, to satiate, to fulfill, points to a woman of undiminished gratefulness. Not only did her descendant David saturate God with his Psalms, but Ruth herself saturated God with her experience of grateful "fullness." Her gratefulness and compassion were her gift to God, a gift that pleased and delighted the Almighty beyond all measure. As we cultivate greater gratefulness in our lives, perhaps this will pave the way for the Messiah's eventual arrival ; we await his coming: let us wait gratefully


Festival of Weeks

‫$# " ! אשר תלכי אלך‬ ‫$# " ! " ( ' & ! $# " ! %... עמך‬ ‫עמי ואלהיך‬ (‫אלהי )רות א:טז‬ For wherever you go,I will go... your people shall be my people.and your God my God.(Ruth 1:16)


Ninth of Ab

Tisha BʼAb-Ninth Day of Ab

‫ת‬ ‫ש‬ ‫ע‬ ‫ה‬ ‫באב‬


Ninth of Ab

‫תשעה באב‬ The Ninth of Ab

Unlike the fast of Yom Kippur, the fast day of Tisha B’Av is a day of sadness and mourning, experienced with all the deprivations of Yom Kippur-fasting, avoiding the pleasures of sexuality and physical comfort by not wearing leather shoes or engaging in grooming practices that are otherwise part of our daily routine. But the rationale is entirely different. Tisha BAv is a moment of remembering loss-the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, the loss of Jewish sovereignty, the loss of a homeland and the onset of 2000 years of exile. It marks the beginning of a history of much pain and persecution. How does one garner gratitude from this experience? In fact this day summons forth the natural response of complaint and grief, the very opposite of gratefulness! After all, when we witness so much unfairness, so much unnecessary suffering and genuine victimization of the poor and the powerless, is there no legitimate reason to raise our voices in protest and complaint? Perhaps the ability to “kvetch”- to complain, to vent our unhappiness and protest what we perceive as unfair in our lives is a healthy outlet which could lead to an awareness of gratitude for what is. Often “kvetching” is like a cleansing of our feelings and thoughts which block the flow of positive energy in the world and inhibit our ability to connect to that for which we can be grateful. There are times we have to get the negativity off our chests. To paraphrase the Bible-“There is no man on earth who does not “kvetch” or at least have the desire to do so.” It is so natural to complain, entirely human. Because of the ease by which we can complain the challenge of seeing the world gratefully becomes even greater and more daunting. In fact, one can argue that to transcend our proclivity for “kvetching” is in some way a spiritually heroic act; after all, whenever we resist or overcome natural obstacles or hurdles in our lives, we arrive at special moments of personal achievement that can be regarded as significant steps of human spiritual advancement.Tisha B’Av, the fast day of mourning, sadness, protest and anger hearkens back to experiences of “kvetching.” . According to the Rabbis, during the ancient trek of our

Ninth of Ab

ancestors through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, the spies sent out by Moses returned to the Israelite encampment after scouting

the Land of Canaan and, gripped by fear and negativity, complained bitterly to God claiming that the Land of Israel was beyond their grasp, beyond the possibility of conquest, and that they would all perish in the wilderness.That day of complaint was was the Ninth of Ab. The problem with “kvetching” is that it has the power to create the static that interferes with the clear communication of life’s blessings and goodness. Judaism never succumbed to despair or ‘kvetching!’As a matter of fact, the Sages inform us that precisely on this day of tragedy and darkness the Messiah will be born. From within the grip of grief is the glimmer of light and hope, the awareness of which can reinforce our hearts with a feeling of eventual gratefulness. SIx days following this day,we celebrate the Fifteenth of Ab-Tu B’Av; just six days after commemorating destruction and tragedy we are bidden to let go of our “kvetching,” no matter how legitimate, and reach out to the experience of “dancing in the vineyards,” a metaphor for the sweetness and joy of life’s many gifts. The Talmud relates :” R. Simeon B. Gamliel said:There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of Ab and the Day of Atonement...The daughters of Jerusalem came out dancing in the vineyards

Ninth of Ab

exclaiming:‘Young man, lift up your eyes and behold what you are choosing for yourself(as a wife).. .Beauty is deceitful but a God-revering woman is much to be praised.” (Mishnah Taanit 4:9) The first Sabbath after Tisha B’Av is “Shabbat Nachamu” the Sabbath of Consolation.Thereafter, each of the seven Sabbaths following Tisha B’Av extends words of comfort and strength from the words of our ancient prophets The challenging gift of this period of Jewish time is to discover the strength to make our way from the “kvetching” of desolation to the “grapes of gratitude” in the vineyards of tomorrow’s promise


‫עלה ראש הפסגה ושא את עיניך‬

“Go up

to the summit of Pisgah and raise your eyes to the west, north, south and east, and see with your own eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan...” (Deuteronomy 3:27) We have come to the end of our journey through the Jewish holidays.Hopefully we have caught sight of the many wonders contained in these sacred moments, and as a result, have experienced a deeper sense of gratefulness for the gifts of sanctified time.

To be human is to desire; to be human is to recognize that we can never fully cross the Jordan to our highest hopes, hopes which ultimately belong to God. We can, however, lift up the eyes of our hearts and minds to gaze upon them from afar, sensing their beauty, their pleasure, their holiness.The lens of gratefulness allows us to see more clearly, to observe the mountains and valleys of our dreams thankfully and lovingly, and know with greater certainty that others will follow who will tread closer and closer to the Promised Land of human fulfillment and joy.This knowledge is, perhaps, our greatest source of gratefulness.



GREEN, Arthur,The Language of Truth-The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, JPS,1998, pp.345

2 3 4 5

Ibid.p.345 Ibid. p.344 Ibid.p.343

HILLMAN, James, Re-Visioning Psychology, Harper-Perennial,1975, p.69
6 7

OLIVER, Mary,Thirst,Beacon Press, Boston, 2006, p.37

HESCHEL, Abraham Joshua, I Asked for Wonder, Crossword Press, 1986, pp.21,22

Avivah,The Particulars of Rapture,Doubleday, 2001, p.314

I Asked for Wonder, p.86


YITZCHAK OF BEREDICHEV, Kedushat Levi, Part 1, Jerusalem, p.94

Sicha-Continuing the Conversation--http.//sichaconversation.org/

12 The

Koren Mesorat Harav Siddur, Koren Publishers-OU Press, 2011,p.938)
13 The

Particulars of Rapture,Doubleday,200, pp.170-171.


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