Beth Emet - The Free Synagogue

Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

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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.

 
Day 49- Today, we are inspired by the words of Kathy Kaberon:

As we watch the brutal events in Israel, I’m sorting through my feelings, thoughts and habitual reactions. My heart and mind feel more scrambled with every anguish-filled news update, every post from terrified friends, and my own internal confusion.


Throughout my tikkun middot studies, the basic approach remains the same, no matter which middah I’m practicing. The final step is t’shuvah: “returning to our intention to live as much as possible in accordance with our innermost values” (IJS Awareness in Action 2020). What is the value that rises above all others, that I can use as my touchstone, even today as the situation worsens? For me, it’s recognizing the value of each human life, that there is divinity in diversity…..even diverse points of view about this conflict.

So I turn to the tools I’ve been honing in my tikkun middot studies: taking a breath, noticing what’s happening in my heart, body and mind, and only then, making an ‘aware choice’. As I consider that each human is unique, I recognize that I can listen and learn more, be open to considering ideas and perspectives I’d previously rejected, and drop any certainty I held around this complex situation. I don’t need to have the answer. I need to stay open.

Tonight we go into Shavuot and ask ourselves ‘what is Torah’? For me, this year, it’s staying open to my own confusion, listening to others, and holding on to the values that guide me.

Looking to bring today's reflection into practice?

How do you stay open to new ideas /points of view when you hear conflicting perspectives?

 

Day 48- Today, we are inspired by the words of Louise Gross Motel:

S'licha- forgiveness of others

Full disclosure: Over the years, I may have had a slight tendency to hold grudges. I believed that these were reasonable reactions to something clearly upsetting that was said or done to me; and that I was entitled to hang on to this resentment, at least until I received a heartfelt apology. I thought that preserving those feelings would create a protective mechanism to ensure that the offending person never caused me pain again. What I realized at some point, however, was that the only real impact of this behavior was to keep my anger alive.

For that reason, our va’ad’s exploration of the middah of forgiveness of others had particular resonance for me. In one of our readings, a rabbi suggested that forgiving should not be equated with condoning, and that acceptance was not the same as acquiescence. In another, we were reminded that, while remembrance is a mitzvah, there is also a danger of remembering too well, and that there is a value in releasing memories to the past.

My favorite part of the curriculum on this topic was an animated video of a father and son driving to the airport. In the video, the son is explaining to his father why he is unwilling to forgive a friend who had deceived him about a job reference several years ago. As the discussion proceeds, the father urges the son to forgive his friend, regardless of who was right or wrong. The son is initially outraged at what appears to be non-supportive and wrong-headed advice. The father responds by analogizing the son’s continued harboring of rancor to allowing a “shmendrick” to live inside his head, taking up lots of space—and rent-free! The father concedes that anger is a natural, reflexive response to hurtful behavior. And yet, he adds, as human beings, we have a choice as to how long we hold on to it. We have a finite amount of time, the father reminds his son, and it’s up to each of us to decide how to spend it.

The father’s reference to choice reminded me of another concept that we have learned about in our va’ad: “the bechirah point.” This is the moment in which we have the capability to do what we know to be the right thing, and not what we feel that we want to do. It is the awareness of choice and the power to act accordingly.

I should acknowledge that, despite my increased understanding of the importance of forgiving others, I still sometimes struggle: a good friend forgot my birthday (again); a colleague made a mean-spirited remark during an office Zoom meeting (she later apologized). But when I sense that sneaky shmendrick creeping back into my head, I remember that I actually have the power to decide whether he continues to freeload. And then I evict him.

Looking to bring today's Middah of S'licha into practice?

Think of a situation that you might ‘remember too well’. Do you allow your grievance to live ‘rent-free’ in your mind? When and how might you release memories of the past? 

 

Day 47- Today, we are inspired by the words of Bob Mandell:

Zehirut- Awareness

The starting point for understanding Mussar/ Tikkun Middot is stated in Parsha Kidoshin that tells us “You shall be holy.“ Alan Morinis tells us in his book Everyday Holiness: “The Torah here reveals in no uncertain terms what a human being’s job description is. In essence we are here on earth for no other purpose than to grow and blossom spiritually-- to become holy. Our potential and therefore our goal should be to become as spiritually refined and elevated as possible“.

The question is how?
A lot of us, me included, have been what Morinis describes as “spiritual orphans“. I had no clue what spirituality was until I read his book. This opened me into the Mussar/Tikkun Middot world and brings me to what I feel is personally the most important character trait and ties all other middot together: Awareness/ Zehirut.

Clear and focused awareness is essential for the work we have to do to develop our middot/soul traits. Morinis writes In Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: “In the bright light of our own awareness, we are able to see with honesty who we are and the steps we need to take, to become who we what to be. With awareness, we can see what life is all about; without it, we stumble along in confusion.”

Mussar/Tikkun Middot is a process. It takes time. Each one of us has a different “Spiritual Curriculum”. If I want to work on a middah, I first need to be aware, then I have to work on the particular middah. There’s no shortcut. All I can do is take a step, then another, then another, and always working on it. It’s a never- ending process, it’s never perfect and the changes have to come slowly.

As Rabbi Israel Salanter is quoted in Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: “Do not be discouraged if your study of Mussar does not seem to produce results. If your study seems to make no impression at all on your soul , if your ways seem not to have changed at all, know with true faith that even if success is not revealed to the eyes of your body, it is revealed to the eyes of your mind. As you learn Mussar more and more , the hidden impressions it makes upon you gather together and have an effect.”

Looking to bring today's Middah of Zehirut into practice?

What character trait(s) do you have in your ‘spiritual curriculum’? How do you maintain your focus on your practice in ‘the bright light of your awareness’ even though it’s a ‘never-ending process’?

 

Day 46- Today, we are inspired by the words of Patrick Coffey:

Erech Apayim - Slow to Anger

In his inventory of soul-traits, Rabbi Marc Margolius characterizes anger as "heated emotion stirred by real or supposed injury or insult". On many days, anger seems close at hand. Political anger. Racial anger. Me Too reckonings and economic inequities. Road rage, and Twitter rage, and an intractable culture war. A global pandemic, a looming climate catastrophe, and in just the United States three hundred and ninety million firearms.

We have been ripped apart once by civil war, and it happens with some frequency. In the last 60 years, a partial list: Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Syria. Are we that different, as Americans? That exceptional?

I wonder what God felt, just before he sent the Flood. (Grief, we are told, not anger.)

Or Moses, before smashing the Commandments that counting the Omer prepares us to receive.

In our study of Middot, we work to cultivate mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes widely on mindfulness and defines it as "the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally". I do not know if anger is an evil middah, as some of our readings instructed. But I know it is a dangerous one. It is hard to cultivate attention when anger takes root. It is hard to do anything.

On my personal journey through the Middot, there have been other Eastern thinkers, perhaps none better known than the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible," he famously says. Followed by the inevitable, "It is always possible."

Kindness -- chesed. Could something so small tackle problems so large, and does it matter if it cannot? ("Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world," the Talmud instructs us, "And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.")

The sages tell us that we carry inside us the seeds of our destiny, and the ones we water are the ones that grow. Anger is a seed, then. Kindness, patience, compassion, humility -- seeds.

In this angry, divisive, polarized time, my middot journey has led me to be wary of anger. Its blossoms can leave us too late for awareness, unable to realize there is a choice to be made.

Looking to bring today's Middah of Erech Apayim into practice?

What seeds have you planted? Which do you water in the hopes that they’ll grow? Which have flourished despite your best intentions?

 

Day 45- Today, we are inspired by the words of Marci Dickman:

Chesed- Loving Connection

Chesed is often translated as loving connection. It is a middah (soul trait) that members of our Beit Sefer faculty study as well. When we connect to our students with a flow of caring connection, they learn more from us and we learn more from them. When learning and teaching gets hard, we can pause and consider ways to re-ignite that flow of loving connection. Of course, this is not unique to education, but as Jewish educators, it is on our mind a lot. For me, when I feel I have lost the attention of a class - kids, teens or adults - the first question I ask myself is – do I feel that caring connection toward each of the students? Sometimes I can reconnect by reminding myself of all the ways I admire an individual or by remembering a funny anecdote they did or said. By allowing myself to feel the flow of chesed move through me and out towards others, I find that I am able to reconnect and to hold a stronger bond to the person or the group. Sometimes this is hard – in teaching and in life. This year my greatest challenge is holding the flow of caring connection to those who think so differently than I do. I try to hold the understanding that wisdom comes from encounters with every person. It is hardest when a person says something that I find hurtful. Focusing on my breath helps. Taking a deep breath and not speaking helps more. And then it is up to me to respond with greater chesed rather than react.

Looking to bring today's Middah of Chesed into practice?

Notice the next time you feel annoyed and pause. Ask yourself if there is a way to bring more chesed into your thoughts and heart. Can you send care to the other(s)? Can you give the other(s) the benefit of the doubt, imagining the person is doing their best? Can you build the loving connection you sense? And then go forward.

 

Day 44- Today, we are inspired by the words of Karen Isaacson:


Savlanut- Patience

I've been studying middot for a few years, as part of Va'ad 3.5. My va'ad consists of a small group of astonishingly insightful and caring people, with two skilled and thoughtful facilitators.

Being part of Beth Emet's tikkun middot program has been a joy for me for several reasons:
It's an oasis on my google calendar: time set aside for my own spiritual learning.
It's precious time set aside each month to exhale, laugh, cry, and learn with and from a wonderful group of people.
Discussions with my chevruta [study partners] about each middah [trait] is a true highlight of the process; I have developed deep and meaningful relationships that have become very special to me.
The learnings and process have really helped me during the pandemic, and given me a vocabulary to process the uncertainty, isolation, and challenge.
I've learned helpful and practical tips to improve myself, and learned how the different traits interact.

I jokingly call savlanut (patience) my patron saint middah, because it is the trait I struggle with the most. The practice of tikkun middot has given me perspective and techniques to be a more patient person, as well as how to leverage other traits to mitigate my impatience. So, if you see me breathing deeply, closing my eyes, or counting to 5, please know that I am savlanut-ing.

Looking to bring today's Middah of Savlanut into practice?

Is there one character trait that you struggle with more than others? What practices have you tried that help you find balance?

 

Day 43- Today, we are inspired by the words of Michelle Oxman:

Anavah- humility and healthy self esteem

The middah of anavah is about maintaining a balanced sense of self--"no more than my space, no less than my space." A few weeks ago our son was home for a visit and was working on his job search. He had an offer from one company but was more interested in another company, which he thought would be a better fit. That company was moving more slowly.

I was worried that he should be handling things differently. Not surprisingly, he disagreed. Finally, I realized that I needed to apply anavah to the situation. My worries (what if he makes a mistake?) were not the issue. Our son has supported himself in another state throughout the pandemic.. What we both needed was for me to trust that at nearly 24, he could manage his own life. If he made a mistake, he had a lesson to learn, and I couldn't learn it for him.

Looking to bring today's Middah of Anavah into practice?

When have you felt that you were taking up too much space in a conversation? And when have you felt that your voice might have been stronger? What do each of those feel like in your body, heart and mind?

Day 42- Today, we are inspired by the words of Dan Kaplan:

Sakranut - Curiosity

This month my Middot Va’ad -- study group focused on Jewish spiritual/ethical qualities -- is exploring Sakranut/Curiosity. On the surface the idea of being curious seems like an easy thing to attune yourself to. I’ll just be more curious, right? Not so fast! We’re called upon in the Va’ad to tease out the deeper meaning of each Middot we study. There are many facets to Sakranut/Curiosity. One clear example from Torah is the story of Moses noticing the burning bush. Having just returned from vacation in Utah where we saw lots of charred trees in the wilderness, I can see how Moses might have missed his “burning bush moment”. If he not turned and showed focused curiosity about an otherwise common sight, he might not have seen that supernal sign. Where else in our lives might we miss “out of this world” occurrences? As if in sync with this Middah, I had been taking a digital photography course, with assignments that forced me to look at my surroundings with fresh eyes. In mindfulness practice, this is the idea of “beginners mind” or a childlike attitude where we drop our adult know-it-all attitude. It was with an intentional openness that I looked to photograph different perspectives, slices of life transformed by the direction of light and depth of field. How could I capture what I was seeing in this new way? Shooting pictures required me to be both present with my surroundings and in the role of observer, noticing shadows, movement, and composition that I normally would ignore. When we practice our innate sense of curiosity, as Rabbi Marc Margolius writes, we “rememb[er] the presence of the infinite in the finite”.

Looking to bring today's Middah of Sakranut into practice?

What moments in your life, large or small, are “out of this world occurrences” that might have been easily overlooked? What caused you to look at it with more curiosity?

Day 41- Today, we are inspired by the words of Dina Elenbogen:

Anavah and Skranut- humility and sacred curiosity

I have had the privilege of studying tikkun middot in a Va’ad (small group) for several years now. Each middah I’ve encountered has served as a valuable lens with which to view myself, others and our relationship to the world. Anavah, humility, is one I wrestle with, particularly when observing others. I judge people sometimes on how much space they take up. I am most enamored of those who are humble and who allow others their space, are better listeners than speakers, but when they have something valuable to say, will step in. In my own life I wrestle with not taking up my designated space, not feeling like I have a right to speak. Other times I fear taking up too much space. As a writer, if I don’t self-promote, I won’t sell books and no one will be aware of the words I spend my life crafting. Sometimes I take up too much space on the page. As with all middot, I try to find the right balance.

This month our Va’ad is exploring Sakranut, sacred curiosity. I’ve always thought of this as a natural part of my life. In the classroom, I encourage my writing students to tap into their curiosity, to walk down unmarked paths, to keep digging deeper to understand the meaning behind their experience. I, too, try to look beyond the surface to the many layers of my feelings and observations… except for when I don’t. Our sages instruct that sacred curiosity is sometimes simply a matter of turning our heads to look rather than turning away, especially from that which mystifies, terrifies or troubles us. Rabbi Marc J. Margolius writes about Moses who went into the wilderness to deepen his spiritual quest and in his stillness was able to see the miracle of the burning bush. Because he “turned aside to look”, he was able to see the angels of YHVH.

There are some experiences that are easier to look at with this lens than others. This month our Va’ad was given an assignment to bring in a poem or photo that speaks to our relationship with Sakranut. When I sat down to write, I realized that I’d had a dream about my mother the night before that was disturbing and brought up some childhood memories that have followed me most of my life, but that I’ve never stopped to explore. In fact, I’ve turned away from them. In the spirit of sacred curiosity, I decided to take a closer look at both the dream and the memories by writing a poem about them since poetry is the tool that allows me to go deeper. The poem brought me to an understanding of the dream and of the child that still lives in me.

Below is a short poem, not the longer one I wrote last week, but one I wrote more than a decade ago. I share it with you because it reflects what I’ve come to see as sacred curiosity.

A Confession
The thing I have failed to say
about the shrub is I have grown
to love it I have been watching

the way it absorbs
the new soil have been awakened
by the first sprouts of green

on branches that seemed too weak
for such a declaration It keeps
shouting spring and I wait

for the rain to turn it red
because inside it is a burning bush
I know this because it consumes me
        - Dina Elenbogen

Looking to bring today's Middah of Anavah and Skranut into practice?

Think of an experience you’ve had and try, as Dina suggests, to tap into (your) curiosity, to walk down unmarked paths, to keep digging deeper to understand the meaning behind (your) experience. How does it feel to push yourself this way?

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-Patience

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.

Line Circle/Sphere
   

 

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?

 

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Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

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