Sunday, December 21, 2014

Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 1

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. 
   - Muriel Rukeyser

If you're a Jewish woman who is completely content with your place in the Jewish world, my words are not intended for you.

But if you are a Torah-observant Jewish woman and there is a restlessness in your soul, a sense that things are not as they should be in your Jewish life, I am speaking to you.

I have written many times about things in the Orthodox world that infuriate me as a Jewish woman - the tendency to use collective language when referring exclusively to Jewish men, excluding women entirely, the subconscious misogyny that has otherwise progressive men making decisions that negatively impact women, the absolute disrespect of women evidenced in the women's sections of many synagogues, feeling marginalized on Simchat Torah and more.

These are all things that needed to be said, so I said them. But I am tired of saying them. I am tired of being hurt by these things. It is wearisome to be angry for decades. My soul needs something positive to rest on.

I was so often offended by what I experienced in so many Orthodox shuls over such a long period of time (e.g. having to enter through a small door in the back instead of using the main doors, not being able to see when the aron kodesh was open, not being able to kiss the Sefer Torah, not being able to dance and sing without worrying that some man was going to feel it was his right to silence me, not being able to hear the davening, not being able to see the Sefer Torah when it was raised during hagbaha, being completely disregarded in the delivery of the drasha, inferior seating, etc. etc.)  that it became all but impossible for me to pray inside a shul.

It gradually dawned on me that I'd had enough trying to accommodate myself to a model of prayer that really didn't work for me. Since so much of my discontent comes from synagogue-related experiences, I stopped going to shul. I am no longer willing to participate in an institution where the secondary nature of my presence is communicated so powerfully. I am no longer willing to be a passive participant, an audience member, in someone else's prayer service.

You're a woman who loves going to shul? Kol HaKavod. I have no issue with your choice. It just wasn't working for me. And, for the most part, I've been content crossing shul attendance off my list of Jewish experiences. But I've had a nagging feeling, a residue, of guilt. Am I being a bad Jew if I don't want to go to shul?

There's more.

I often resent the siddur. That's the truth. There are so many tefillot that were written with the assumption that the person praying is male, that it interferes with my desire to talk to God. In the morning, I am reminded of the importance of showing up to the Beit HaMidrash early. I pray in the merit of the Avot, the forefathers, but never in the merit of the spiritual power of the Imahot, the foremothers. The reference to brit mila in bentsching. Even the Shema, the central prayer of Jewish faith, references the gender-based mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin. These are just a few examples.

I have a hard time transcending these recurrent reminders that I am not male. While trying mightily to speak to God in the language of the siddur, I find myself constantly needing to reorient my gender identification. I am perpetually alert, scanning the text, asking myself, "Am I going to have to step over my un-maleness to say the words of this prayer?"

A friend for decades and fellow blogger Ruti Eastman refers to the Orthodox shul as a Moose Lodge and the siddur as their manual. In so doing, Ruti intends no disrespect, nor is she minimizing the importance of the synagogue for men as a place of communal prayer. She's using humor to remind me that the Orthodox shul and the siddur are, really and truly, part of the masculine domain. Her humor helps me vanquish the last remnants of Jewish guilt I feel about the fact that shul and the siddur don't nourish my soul.

If I'm crossing shul and the siddur off my list of Jewish activities, what then is the substance of my Jewish spiritual life?

I have long maintained that we tend to confuse the masculine trappings of Jewish worship with Judaism itself. The tools of a Jewish man's observance, including tallis, tefillin, Sefer Torah, siddur, lulav & etrog, gemara, etc., are so concrete, it's easy to identify them as essentially Jewish. And they are. But only for a portion of the Jewish people.

I can understand the actions of the liberal Jewish traditions which have deputized women to be the liturgical equivalents of men. They saw an imbalance and, assuming that communal prayer was a central pillar for all Jews, made it possible for Jewish women to be included.

I get it.

But it's not my solution.

From the ancient words of Aishet Chayil to the controversy surrounding partnership minyanim today, in the Orthodox world, our identities as Jewish women have, in large measure, been publicly defined in contradistinction to Jewish men. We often say what Jewish women don't do, but we fail to emphasize what the spiritual life of an Orthodox Jewish woman actually looks like.

Jewish women are not simply Jewish men, plus or minus a few mitzvot. And whether she is ever a wife and/or a mother, the Jewish female exists as a soul in relationship with her Creator; she needs something more than a husband and children to define her spiritual life. As a community, we have failed at articulating, much less valuing, the range of possible spiritual paths for traditional Jewish women. Lacking much of the paraphernalia that defines Jewish men, the Jewish woman's pathway to God is often so subtle that it completely escapes our notice.

I want to help us notice. I want to write about the ways we, as Jewish women, nurture our souls. I want to write about what we actually do. How we invite the sacred into our lives. How we talk to God. How we live as spiritual beings without the accoutrements that surround Jewish men. How we experience the holy. What things we say, read, think, believe, study and touch that define our Jewish lives.

I want to hear from women for whom articulating the specifics of their spiritual path is effortless, and from women for whom articulating the specifics of their spiritual path is confronting. I can tell you what I do. But I want a follow-up essay to represent a broader spectrum of women's voices.

I invite you to comment below, or to email me at rivkah30 at yahoo dot com to share how you express your soul. With God's help, and with your input, I'll have more to say about distinctively feminine pathways to God.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Pain of Exile

When I go to sleep at night, my head points towards Jerusalem. By bus, I can be at the Kotel in under an hour. By car, in even less time. My family members are all healthy and, to varying degrees, thriving. My best friend is also my husband. There is food in my refrigerator and money in my bank account. My brain and body function as they should and my soul is awake and striving. I am very blessed and I know it.

At the same time, there is a deep pain in the world. More accurately, there are many pains, many assaults on my peace of mind. The world is at the mercy of hateful, irrational, murderous enemies. Politicians would like to see my people disappear off the face of the earth. A threatening, worldwide epidemic swirls around us, as does the peril of global economic collapse. So many people hate my people. I can't bear to read the news anymore. Just scanning the headlines make me nauseous.

Among the Jews, each day I see new evidence of an alarming, treacherous imbalance of masculine and feminine spiritual energy, leading to all manner of corruption, exploitation and abuse. Much of it in the name of religious sanctity. Feh! On this point, I have restrained myself from writing more, fearing opening Pandora's box and creating an avalanche of ill will towards God and the Torah.

When I talk to my husband about these manifold pains of exile, he reminds me to look upon all this heaviness with my geula vision. So I tap into the part of me that connects with the approaching redemption of the Jewish people. I remind myself that, at the End of Days, we are being asked to give up our belief in any power other than Hashem. We must be cleansed of all idolatrous doctrines. In order to be ready to receive the power of a God-centered universe, we must cease having faith in any authority other than Hashem.

The pain of exile weighs awfully heavily on me some days. But then I remember that we're in the midst of Hashem doing His best to get us there quickly. All the chaos is meant to demonstrate that there is nothing to rely on besides Him.

When I remember, I whisper, "Ein od milvado." There is nothing, there is no one to rely on except God.

And my soul is soothed.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Learning More About Geula

Perhaps you've read or heard or seen something about the impending redemption of the Jewish people and you want to know more. Where do you turn?

I've put together this preliminary list of  blogs, books, videos and websites in English that can help you learn more. I'm sharing this catalog of resources with the hope that it makes it easier for you to learn and stay connected.

I'm definitely not claiming that this is a comprehensive list, but it is a beginning. If you know of a resource I didn't include, please comment below and I will happily update the post.

BLOGS (subscribe to receive updates by email)
Absolute Truth
Bat Aliyah
Dreaming of Moshiach
End of Days
Geula613 - last update Feb 2014
Geulah Perspectives
Mashiach's Wife
Moshiach Blog Network
Mystical Paths 
Rabbi Lazer Brody 
Rabbi Nachman Kahana
Shirat Devorah  
Tomer Devorah
Yeranan Yaakov

Avtzon, Gershon - Geulah: What We Await
Burgeman, Nechama Sarah Gila Nadborny - Princess of Dan
Fishman, Tzvi - Days of Mashiach
Kramer, Chaim and Avraham Sutton - Mashiach: Who? What? Why? How? Where? and When?
Morgenstern, Arie - The Gaon of Vilna and his Messianic Vision
Rivlin, Rabbi Hillel - Kol HaTor (The Voice of the Turtle Dove) 
Schochet, Jacob Immanuel - Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition
Winston, Rabbi Pinchas - Survival Guide for the End of Days
Winston, Rabbi Pinchas - 2016
Winston, Rabbi Pinchas - Talking About the End of Days
Winston, Rabbi Pinchas - Geulah b'Rachamim
Winston, Rabbi Pinchas - Talking abut Eretz Yisroel
Weitzman, Rabbi Yecheil - The Ishmaelite Exile

Rabbi David Bar-Hayim - Is This Achalta d'Geula?
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - Geulah b'Rachamim Music video
Geulah b'Rachamim Seminar Part 1
Geulah b'Rachamim Seminar Part 2
Geulah b'Rachamim Seminar Part 3
Rabbi Moshe Wolfson - Teshuvah: 5775 The Year of the Geulah!

About Moshiach
Geula Watch Facebook group
Moshiach on
Please Tell Me What the Rebbe Said 

If you have found this list of resources helpful, please consider making a contribution to the Raising Awareness about Redemption campaign so we can create more content that helps Jewish people understand this stage of Jewish history and prepare themselves for the geula.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Core Meaning of Geula

The mekubal and cheesemaker known as the Chalban (The Milkman)

Last night, I participated in a mind-blowing shiur given by Shimon Apisdorf in which he presented nothing less than the core meaning of galut and geula, as taught in the writings of the mekubel known as the Chalban (The Milkman). The Chalban is alive today and teaches in a kollel for kabbalists in Giyatayim. When he's not making cheese.

The shiur was over 2 hours long. It might take a bit of hubris on my part, but I'm going to attempt to summarize the essential message of the evening. It is this:

The process of galut (exile) parallels the process of death and the process of geula is its reversal.

Let's start with the process of death and how it parallels the exile of the Jewish people.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 1: In the body, the first stage of death is when the neshama (the soul) leaves the guf (the body). In the first stage of galut, the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed, removing the neshama (the Shechinah) from the corpus of the Jewish people.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 2: After physical death, burial follows. The parallel of burial for the Jewish people is physically being exiled, being sent away from the Land of Israel.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 3: After burial, worms begin to destroy the flesh. This is a process of deterioration that all are powerless to stop. As contrasted with being masters over our own Land and having our own army to defend us, the parallel is the feeling of powerlessness that Jewish people experience in exile, under foreign dominion.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 4: After the flesh of a corpse is gone, what remains is dry, unconnected bones that don't even recognize that they are part of something larger. This is the natural consequence of exile. We become focused on ourselves and we lose touch with the fact that we are part of something much larger and grander. We see only ourselves as individual ovdei Hashem.

The Jewish people have spent so many centuries thinking of ourselves as separate dry bones, that we've built walls around ourselves and our camps. These walls reinforce the perception that we have to defend ourselves from Jews who are different from us.

I want to stop and reflect on this point for a moment and say that, shortly after I made aliyah, I became aware, in a whole new way, of the significance of my place as part of the Jewish people. Yes, in America, I spoke of Klal Yisrael. But in Israel, I truly felt it.

Geula reverse the process of death and exile. So first we have to restore the body and then it is time to reconnect the body to the soul.

GEULA STAGE 1: The first stage of geula, of redemption, the first stage of reversing the exile, includes two processes that happen simultaneously.

The first process was rebuilding the tashtit - the infrastructure. As Mark Twain wrote in 1867, "Palestine is desolate and unlovely." Israel was a barren and uninviting land for close to 2,000 years while the Jewish people were in exile. Swamps had to be cleared. Roads had to be paved. Buildings had to be erected. Utilities had to be set up. Armies had to be established. The body of Israel needed to be rebuilt. Today, anyone can plainly see that the bones and the sinews have been knit back together.

The parallel process to rebuilding the infrastructure in the first stage of geula is kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles. This is the returning of the body to the Land. The Jewish people have come home. Literally.

According to the Chalban, the Jewish people have, collectively, completed the first stage of geula. Will more roads be paved? Will new buildings be constructed? Will more Jews make aliyah? Yes, yes and yes, please God. But the goals of the first stage of geula have been sufficiently achieved. We are ready to move into the second stage.

GEULA STAGE 2: Returning the neshama to the guf. In this stage, the belief that Jews are separate from one another is replaced with an awareness that Knesset Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, are all one. Geula is a waking up from the deep slumber of galut. The core issue in this stage of geula is achdut, unity, is seeing all Jews as part of the same global mishpacha.

The same idea, presented in a more Jewish context, can be found in these words from Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Israeli boys who were murdered in cold blood this past summer and one of the three mothers that Shimon Apisdorf called "today's Gedolei HaDor".

Practically speaking, in these last days before Rosh Hashana, we can (we must!) turn our attention to connecting with other Jews on a human level. Because we are all family. The Beit HaMikdash is our family home. And Israel is our home town.

The more we connect with Jews who are different from us, the more we help heal the world. And the closer we are to concluding the process of geula.

Now, who you gonna call and invite out for coffee today?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Seeing the Whole Picture

Today was one of those days when I fell in love with Israel again.This thought occurred to me in the bathroom of a restaurant.

Okay, restaurant is overstating it. It was a pizza joint. A few greasy tables out front. A tiny bathroom that hadn't been renovated in, well, in forever.

The bathroom was both cramped and, ahem... not overly clean. The lock didn't really work. Nevertheless I was so happy, because there was toilet paper. And when I went to the sink, there was running water and a small bar of pink soap.

I had a fleeting realization that something has switched in my head. Something I associate with living in Israel. I see things differently. So instead of being horrified that the bathroom wasn't up to snuff, I focused on how lucky I was to find toilet paper, running water and soap.

It's all a matter of perspective.

There's a concept that there is a heavenly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel mala) and there is an earthy Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel mata). In the earthly Jerusalem, there are crummy bathrooms and greasy tables. In the earthly Jerusalem, there are thousands of rockets pointed at Israel. There are hostile enemies at every border. There are financial struggles, small apartments, washing machines that take two hours, insanely expensive goods and not one Target or WalMart.

Having said that, when it comes to understanding life in Israel, I believe that we must see both the shel mata and the shel mala. If you only see the shel mata part of the story, you're simply not seeing the whole picture.

The Yerushalayim shel mala - the heavenly Jerusalem, looks completely different. The destiny of the Jewish people looks different. Looking at life in Israel through the vantage point of shel mata is like seeing Disney World for the first time. Looking at life in Israel through the vantage point of shel mala is like taking the 5-hour Keys to the Kingdom, behind-the-scenes tour at Disney World.

Everything looks different once you understand the whole picture.

It's my contention that it's impossible (okay, very difficult) to live happily in Israel if you only see the shel mata. If you only see the harsh realities, life in Israel can seem untenable.

It takes a paradigm shift, the openness to understand that what we see with our eyes is only part of the story.

And it's not even the best part.