Our Torah links Passover and Shavuot by directing us to count seven weeks, and in the times of greater agriculture, to bring sheaves of barley to the place of God’s presence. For us, this counting links our story of redemption at Passover to our story of revelation at Mt. Sinai and Shavuot. The Omer, as these days are called, is also a time to take an accounting of ourselves, using tikkun middot to balance our traits such as our compassion, our inner strength, our ability to hold boundaries, or our frustration and anger. This year, members of our community who have participated in our Tikkun Middot programs share their “Torah” learnings about Tikkun Middot in their lives.
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Day 40- Today, we are inspired by the words of Kathy Kaberon:
Shtika and Sh’mirat la-shon - silence and mindful speech
A recent Facebook post said “Want to learn Jewish Meditation? Begin practicing letting the other person finish their sentence.” -Jonathan Marx?
Wow. That really hit home. And gave me the opportunity to practice the middah of shtikah and shmirat ha-lashon/silence and mindful speech (literally, guarding the tongue). I interrupt so often, and usually I’m not even aware I’m doing it.
Over the next few days I tried to pay more attention, but instead of simply trying to break the habit, I chose to look, with non-judgmental curiosity (as we’re taught in our study of middot) at what’s arising within. Why do I interrupt so frequently? Is it because I want to appear more ‘knowledgeable’ than the other, and finish their thought? Am I bored, too impatient to wait for the other person to complete their sentence? Is my time so precious that my rudeness feels justified? Will I impress others as a mind reader, demonstrating that I know what they’re thinking and blurting it out first?
It’s uncomfortable to look at myself this way, and difficult to do so without judgment. No matter what ‘reason’ I find for interrupting, it reflects badly on me. Once again, I do t’shuvah- in the sense of rebalancing my middot and turning toward my intention to listen -really listen-when someone is speaking. And when I do interrupt—as I continue to do, please know that I’m still practicing.
Looking to bring today's Middah of Shtikah and Sh'mirat la-shon into practice?
Think of a recent experience when you have found it valuable to ‘guard your tongue’? What are your inner reminders to be mindful of your speech?
Day 39- Today, we are inspired by the words of Robin Langer:
Zerizut-Approaching Life with Excitement and Energy
I have been with my middot group for 2 years now. I have noticed how the middot are working (or not) in my life. Our modern times present us with “immediate” problems that require immediate solutions. I can’t imagine wandering in the desert for 40 years-- surely the choices were much different and people were not concerned about their laundry or staying connected via the internet. I think they were concerned with just staying alive and showing up the best they could. The simplicity of showing up- in the moment- with all you have and all that you are, being present, and doing it now, is what Zerizut is about. By allowing the energy to surface, I can chose to be in the moment, purposeful, creative and flowing. By practicing Zerizut, I do it now… I make that call, or write that card, or take the necessary actions that I have been putting off, and do it with mindfulness and intention- not to get it off my list, but to give it energy focus and attention. Suit up and show up, as I say to my chavruta (middot study partner). Some times, it’s suit up and shut up. If I am truly present, it’s not thinking about what I am going to say in response to someone, but listen and truly hearing what is at the root. Showing up and responding, in the moment vs. reacting to something that triggers me, is what Zerizut means to me.
Looking to bring today's Middah of Zerizut into practice?
When do you have the instinct to delay or procrastinate? What helps you respond with alacrity? Find an opportunity to ‘balance’ these instincts to better match your intentions.
Day 38- Today, we are inspired by the words of Sue Nadel:
Seder - Order
I have been fortunate to be a part of the Tikkun Middot (practice and balance of our soul traits) programs since Beth Emet began the first Va’ad, study group, approximately six years ago. It has opened my heart to better understand and implement soul traits such as patience, justice, compassion, humility, and order. It is a blessing in my life and has gently pushed me to review and develop how I connect and interact with others, self, and with God. Rabbis teach that human beings are innately endowed with all the possible soul traits, but it is how we practice them every day that surfaces those traits in the way we live. They also remind us that we are all created, B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and should treat others and be treated in return with respect and compassion.
Learning and practicing the Middah of Seder, order, has been challenging but so helpful these last many months. Prior to the pandemic, I felt as if my life had order. I am retired and had filled my days with volunteer work, being together with friends and family, taking classes, playing with my dog, facilitating and teaching classes, reading, and … well, you get the picture. I was out and about and could go anywhere and fill my days with anything that I desired. And then it happened – the lockdown! And like all of us, my world changed drastically. I missed my family and my “framily” – friends who are like family. I became somewhat sad, lonely, and felt as though I was locked in my own home. I am blessed with all of the material things that I need and many that I desire, but what I lacked was human interaction, face to face conversations, community, hugs, fun and intellectual stimulation. After the first several months, I realized that what I was missing was the Middah of Seder – order. And I committed to finding a way to put that order back into my life even while the world seemed turned upside down.
In determining how to again create order for myself, I was drawn back into the study materials I had been using while first learning and practicing the Middah. In one of the chapters on Seder in The Mussar Torah Commentary, Rabbi Avi Fertig quotes Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Chelm stating, “A person is like a strand of pearls, with many natural abilities, intellect, Middot and exalted qualities. Order is like the clasp that holds the strand of pearls together. Without order, all of a person’s exalted qualities will be wasted and the person will be left empty.” I suddenly felt like I was in a cartoon cel with a light bulb above my head! I was missing the clasp on the string of pearls. I needed to create Seder in my life, to pull my life back together and try to create a different normal.
I am not of the computer generation, I still like pen and paper and three ring binders, but I have been brought -- somewhat kicking and screaming -- into the age of ZOOM! And what a gift I found that to be. I again connected with human beings, and while there were no physical hugs, I certainly felt them over the screen. I zoomed into a variety of classes, many of them related to Judaism. Talmud, Torah, Biblical Hebrew, classes on Blacks and Jews, Eastern European Jews, meditation, just to name a few. I Zoomed into classes taught in different parts of the country. A Wise Aging group, Beth Emet Madrichim in Training class, and Middot va’adot all came to be over Zoom. Shabbat candle lighting and Kiddush with friends in different parts of the country, Pesach Seders, birthday celebrations, informal get-togethers, continued as an integral part of my life. As part of regaining Seder in my life, I cleaned and straightened and reorganized. I bought a fire pit for my yard so that I could occasionally see people in real life around the fire. I read books that I had been wanting to read but hadn’t found the time. I took classes to paint with watercolor, and reconnected with an old friend who paints in Philadelphia. There were some difficult days and sometimes I found that I was still lonely, but practicing
Seder made a huge difference in the quality of my life. The desire for order during the Pandemic often helped me to make lemonade out of lemons. I could continue to learn, grow, communicate, teach, feel a sense of community and love, and care for my home, my puppy, and me (most importantly, myself?).
Learning and practicing Tikkun Middot has been a lifesaver for me. It was the place I turned to when I was confused about how to live in this unusual time. And the Middah of Seder – has truly been a blessing!
Looking to bring today's Middah of Seder into practice?
What ‘seder’ (order) have you created in your daily life during the pandemic? When is it hard for you to create seder in your life or when do you feel too much seder? What seder practice will you carry forward with you?
Day 37- Today, we are inspired by the words of Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler:
Savlanut is the Hebrew word for patience. Like other middot, this middah falls along a spectrum, and what is most important is to find the balance somewhere in the middle. We often say that “patience is a virtue,” but too much patience can leave a person waiting around and never producing the goal. Having no patience can lead to quick fuses of anger igniting and the damaging of relationships.
As a teacher, I often have had the experience of needing to quiet down a room of noisy students to begin a class. I have also experienced loud rooms of adults whose attention I need to capture. At one end of the spectrum, I could have lots of savlanut as I stand before the class and wait for the group to quiet down. This might take all period, or at the very least take away a large chunk of our teaching time. At the other end of the spectrum, right away I could shout to get everyone’s attention until they are silent and attentive. Besides fatiguing my voice, I suspect this does not create the basis of a good relationship, in which we begin with my yelling.
Here are two methods which I have found effective to start a lesson and preserve our respectful relationships while creating unity. Standing close to a couple of students that can hear me, I say in a regular voice, “If you can hear the sound of my voice clap two times.” Changing the number of claps, I repeat the phrase until everyone has stopped their separate conversations and is united in the clapping and listening. Another approach, which I especially like with adults, is to begin by singing a simple niggun, a wordless melody. One by one people stop talking and start singing, until we are unified in song. These methods do not take too long, and I find that they offer the right balance of savlanut.
Looking to bring today's Middah of Savlanut into practice?
Think of a recent situation that required your patience. What skills did you use (or could you have used) to find the right balance between ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ for that moment?
Day 36- Today, we are inspired by the words of Sandi Lerner:
Hitlamdut - התלמדות
My Torah goes beyond learning the sacred text, it includes the body of wisdom that is Tikkun Middot. When asked to focus on a specific middah I had a hard time choosing, especially because the more middot we study, the more I believe none are exclusive of the others. This has led me to focus on the practice of Hitlamdut. Hitlamdut is a way to challenge oneself to be mindful of everything in the world around you and how you feel about it and experience it. Maimonides believes that hitlamdut is the essence of learning Torah. Additionally, he believes that its purpose is to impact and transform our lives. By practicing a heightened self- and world awareness through hitlamdut, I find I am able to look at and listen to myself and others in a more honest way. It gives me the ability to become a constant learner and to integrate all the middot to become a stronger, more aware, and more spiritual being. This is my Torah and my va’ad and the world are my teachers.
Looking to bring today's Middah of Hitlamdut into practice?
Think of something you’ve become more aware of this year. What have you learned about yourself through this noticing?
Day 35- Today, we are inspired by the words of Elena Garfield:
B'Chirah- Making the Choice
B’Chirah. Making the choice. Setting intention. During the course of this past year I found myself waking day after day to discomfort. Anxiety. Fear.
We cocooned ourselves inside our two bedroom, one bath apartment. Four of us trying to live four full-time separate learning and working lives. Being so close all of the time was hard. It didn’t diminish our love for each other, but it did fray on our nerves. Ends and beginnings of school and work days blurred.
I will preface the following by saying this: We are unbelievably fortunate to live close to my parents home. It is a large house in which my three brothers and I grew up accompanied over the years by various foster children, international students, family members, immigrants, friends of friends, friends who became family...When my mother passed away in 2017 that house became much more quiet. When Covid hit the doors were shut even more tightly. Weekly drop-offs of groceries on the porch and a hello through the window were all we were comfortable with. As the school year began and it was clear that life would continue at home, we made a decision.
We would move “school” (also my job) to the top floor of my parents house. We would come in the door, masked, douse our hands in sanitizer, and climb the back staircase to the top floor where we each had a room to ourselves-my two children and myself since my husband works in an industry that called for more in-person work.
It gave us space. It gave us privacy. We packed lunches just as we would for school. Brought books. We created an environment suiting each of our learning styles. School was in session and we would treat it as much the same as we could.
I had an intention much deeper than solely creating normalcy for my children. A reason that not only kept us in close proximity to my children’s only local grandparent or gave us a reason to change out of our pajamas every day.
If I could physically leave my work space, my computer, my desk, the never ending e-mails to answer and reports to write...I could spend more meaningful time with my children. When we worked at home all together the lines would get blurred, voices would rise, and we had a harder time connecting even though we were always together. If I tried to get everyone to go outside just for a change of air and to lighten the burden of pandemic stress it was often a fight.
Being in a separate location allowed us to close up shop, step outside to breathe fresh air through our masks, and arrive home ready to really be together. Maybe play a board game, read a book together out loud, go for one of many many walks or bake a family recipe. At that point in the day we wanted to spend time or do something different. Together.
We were able to intentionally create closeness by having more space. I set my intention to make time to really be with my children and my father’s generosity of space helped me be able to stick to that intention. Every day. Now that I am back in person 4 days a week, and we are all out and about in more space, now I am setting my intention to continue to choose to really be together. We are all the better for it.
Looking to bring today's Middah of B'Chirah into practice?
Think of a choice you recently made. Look back and consider what your intention was as you chose. How successful were you in achieving the intention you set?
Day 34 - Today, we are inspired by the words of Jane Weintraub:
Hitlamdut- non-judgemental curiosity
Last March, my life, including my serious studio practice, was put on hold as I got used to living in a world awash with Covid19. One of the few things that did not change for me was my daily walk. The question, though, remained: how do I evolve as an artist when my activities in the world and in the studio are contracting? Hitlamdut, the stance of curiosity and openness, has been quite literally my path forward. Each day while walking, I would set an intention and document it photographically. I would pick a subject and see how many times that topic presented itself. Then I would come home and make a rather crude digital collage and post it on Facebook. Even though this does not fit in with my “serious” work, it keeps me looking and when I really look I perceive the world in a creative way. So, ‘my Torah’, that which sustains me, is forgetting for the moment about my current worries and relaxing into what is in front of me at that moment. I’m now back to meaningful projects in my studio and recognize that mindfulness whenever I am able to channel it, expands my vision.
Looking to bring today's Middah of Hitlamdut into practice?
Take a walk - a slow, quiet walk - listen to the world, notice with your eyes, allow your mind to match your feet and your movements.
Day 33 - Today, we are inspired by the words of Barbara Stock:
Anavah: healthy self esteem
Anavah: no more than my space, no less than my place
Anavah reminds me of my relationship with others, myself and my world.
How much do I value my voice? How much am I willing to dim my internal voice and make space for my n'shama, my soul voice?
How much do I open to others? How receptive am I?
And where is my space in the larger world? I am not well known as some of my high school classmates. My life choices have led me to value my place in my family, in the lives of friends and clients and in my Jewish community of middot.
Anavah invites me to question, to acknowledge the space I do not own and embrace the space I am.
Hineni--here I am.
Looking to bring today's Middah of Anavah into practice?
Think of a recent interaction you had with one or more others. How much space did you take up and how much room did you open for others?