The Kol Aleph Blog
by Rabbi Shefa Gold
On May 23rd, I was to receive an honorary doctorate from RRC, marking my 25 years as a rabbi. Many of my colleagues joke about this and say that D.D. (this Doctor of Divinity) really stands for “didn’t die.” And yes, I am happy to be alive to see this moment. I wanted to take it seriously, though, and see this moment as an opportunity to honor the WORK that has emerged through me over these last 25 years.
When the scheduled ceremony was cancelled, I realized that I did indeed need a ritual. I am experiencing an important inner shift, stepping into the void that leads (god-willing) to something new.
I felt that it is a good time to look back at these last 25 years, with the support of my friends, students and colleagues, so that I can learn from this journey, be humbled by it, and step forward.
If you know me, you know that this was not easy for me to do. You know I’d rather do this for others. I was feeling very emotional, vulnerable, yet certain that I must ask for help and mark this moment with a ritual.
Many years ago, a spirit who called himself, “The Spirit of the Work,” came to me, and I gave him my loyalty, my pledge to believe in the possibility that however small my contribution was to the transformation of my world, I would give it my all. The glimpses of Oneness that I have received have come to me with the responsibility of living and creating from that Oneness.
On June 19th we began the ritual with these words from the Song of Songs that celebrate Unity consciousness:
אַחַ֥ת הִיא֙ יוֹנָתִ֣י תַמָּתִ֔י אַחַ֥ת הִיא֙ לְאִמָּ֔הּ בָּרָ֥ה הִ֖יא לְיֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ
Achat hi yonati tamati, achat hi l’imah bara hi l’yola’d’tah,
One alone is my dove, my perfect one,
One alone so luminous in her mother’s heart. (S.of S. 6:9)
I had gathered a minyan of my neighbors to join me along with many of my students and colleagues on Zoom. We chanted, entered a delicious moment of silence and then I said:
“As I celebrate this milestone of 25 years since my graduation from RRC and my smicha from Reb Zalman, I wanted to pause in sacred space with you my beloved friends, to reflect on the journey and give thanks for what has emerged through this Mishkan that we have built together.
This body of work that I draw on every day and then build upon, has emerged in the space between us. The work emerges out of my love for you and out of our commitment to the ‘One alone so luminous in her mother’s heart.’
We gather to pause in gratefulness, and acknowledge a miracle that is flowing. I already feel well-appreciated. I am in the process of healing the old places in me that have felt misunderstood and marginalized. With your encouragement I can step beyond some of my neurotic patterns of worry, hustle, and scheming that come from “survival brain” and step into a celebration of the miracle of flow, with grace, relaxed confidence and heart supported.”
Then, I handed the ritual over to Rabbi Phyllis Berman, who artfully and gracefully called on ten people (including herself) who each expressed some aspects of the WORK and its impact.
You can check out the ritual here if you’d like.
I was left breathless, inspired, embraced and filled with grateful awe for the community of Jewish Renewal that has inspired, held, birthed and received this amazing WORK.
May we all continue to serve God with joy and outrageous courage, leaning into friendship and loving support.
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is excited to announce a new partnership with Torah of Awakening (TOA). The purpose of the partnership is to make daily Zoom and livestreamed Jewish meditation sessions available to the broader ALEPH Network Communities. The ALEPH Network is an alliance of organizations, individuals, shuls, and more at the vibrant cutting edge of Judaism. Together, ALEPH and the network communities value heart-and-soul-centered experience, and integrate and evolve spiritual technologies to serve the needs of today and tomorrow.
Led by Reb Brian Yosef Schacter-Brooks, TOA is rooted in Jewish renewal. ALEPH’s founder, Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi (z”l), gave smicha (ordination) to Reb Brian Yosef as Minister of Sacred Music (Reb Yosef Briah Zohar, Menatzeiakh, Ba’al Tefilah) in 2012. The foundation of Torah of Awakening is Integral Jewish Meditation—a simple practice which Reb Brian Yosef guides in his daily online sessions. There are also more advanced levels of study and practice based on the Hebrew Letters. Through this partnership, ALEPH network community members can join the Torah of Awakening community at a special ALEPH member rate. Learn more and try Torah of Awakening (first month free) at the ALEPH discounted rate HERE.
“Reb Zalman has been a mentor, guide, and rebbe to me since I was very young, and the vision of Jewish Renewal that he birthed is the reason I started Torah of Awakening,” says Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks. “Torah of Awakening is an online space where you can practice in community, discover the deepest dimension of your own being, and find the Divine there.”
“Partnering with Reb Brian filled a gap in ALEPH’s current offerings,” says SooJi Min-Maranda, ALEPH’s executive director. “ALEPH is committed to spiritual transformation through a Jewish renewal lens and we hope that Reb Brian’s teachings will help further awaken our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.”
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks is a Jewish spiritual teacher and musician. He has been teaching the practice of Presence (meditation, mindfulness) and Judaism since 2006 and founded Torah of Awakening in 2016. He is the author of Kabbalah for Beginners, published by Rockridge Press, and Integral Jewish Meditation – Three Portals of Presence for Spiritual Awakening.
In addition, Reb Brian is teaching a 7-hour virtual meditation retreat for ALEPH on Sunday, June 13, called A Day of Illumination.
You can learn more about the intention behind the retreat and register HERE.
Learn more about Torah of Awakening and get the ALEPH membership discount, HERE.
Learn more about becoming an ALEPH Network Community Member HERE.
There is a radiant inner spaciousness and peace that is not only available to us, but is also literally what we already are at the deepest level. But, since the movement of life tends to hide our own essence from us, it is so important to take the time out of our normal routines to tap into Presence and give our deepest being the space to really blossom—that is the promise of our upcoming daylong retreat, A Day of Illumination, on June 13!
There is a hint of this in the Torah portion, Parshat Beha’alotkha:
בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת
“When you kindle the lamps, the seven lamps should shine toward the face of the menorah…” Bamidbar (Numbers)8:2, Parshat Beha’alotkha
The light is your awareness; the menorah is your body. “Kindling the lamps” is becoming present with the body; that’s why it says the light should shine toward the face of the menorah—when we let go of the nearly constant stream of thinking and bring awareness into connection with our bodies, with our senses and with our breathing, a profound transformation can take place.
Ordinarily, our awareness tends to be “fused” with our thoughts and feelings, giving us the sense of being a separate entity inside our bodies, looking out. But as we become more and more present for extended periods of time, our awareness can begin to recognize its own nature as vastness, freedom, and joy. We can know ourselves experientially as this vastness, and then return to our ordinary lives with a more stable rootedness in this deepest truth of who we are.
I hope you will join us for A Day of Illumination and give yourself the gift of Presence! I look forward to seeing you there!
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks
My immersion in the Song of Songs has challenged me to take on the soul work of love.
On June 5-6 I’ll be offering a mini retreat where we can explore some of what has emerged. Through practice and reflection, we’ll step up to the curriculum of placing Love at the Center. If the work delineated below interests you, please sign up and come. If you know anyone who walks this path of love and would benefit from joining us, please share this information with them. You can learn more about the Love at the Center mini-retreat on ALEPH’s Virtual Programs page.
For a taste of the curriculum of the weekend, I invite you to reflect on the following questions:
Can I receive the Divine kiss in the color of the sky? In this breath? With this step? Can I open to the gift that God is giving me in “this”?
What is calling me? What is my resistance to that calling?
Can I open to the Divine Presence that is speaking to me through this world? Can I respond with my life?
Can I let the beauty that I see open my heart? Can my loving heart open my eyes to beauty?
Can I be nourished, delighted and renewed by the fruit of Being as I receive the protection, inspiration and unending generosity of the Tree of Life?
How can I treat every relationship as an opportunity for us to call each other into the realization of my full potential? (This includes my relationships with the non-human world of rocks, trees, blossoms, birds, clouds and so forth.)
Can I catch the foxes (doubts, fears, cynicism, distrust, or worry that run wild through the mind) before they do too much damage? Can I redirect my attention towards the blessings in my life?
Can I find my fierce love and wield the sword of truth in protection of all that I cherish?
Can I touch the most vulnerable and broken place within me with tenderness, and fill those spaces with love and compassion? Can I do this work in the light of friendship with my companions on the path?
Can I rejoice in this day with all its possibilities for connection with the One?
Can I come down from the pretense of having it all together, and enter into the vulnerability of the heart in all its fragility?
Can I let myself feel the places in me that have been bruised and beaten by life? Can I express my grief and then turn towards the faith that I am held? Can I lean into that Divine embrace and be transformed by those hardships?
Can I connect with others who are on this path of love, reveal my own challenges and vulnerabilities and ask for their support? Can I offer my support to them?
Can I fall in love with “THIS” (this moment in all its amazing complexity)? Can I simply befriend this moment?
I hope you will join us on June 5-6 in placing Love at the Center!
Rabbi Shefa Gold
By Rabbi Aura Ahuvia, Chair, ALEPH Board of Directors
and SooJi Min-Maranda, ALEPH Executive Director
Where is the Place of Meeting?
We used to meet God, in the days of the Bible, in a tent named the “Tent of Meeting.” Out of Divine encounter came planning, deciding, and building. Out of sacred connection came listening, sharing, and perhaps unburdening. We can imagine it as a holy place of connection, and perhaps too, a space for holy connection.
Where is our Tent of Meeting today? Perhaps it is time to construct a new tent—one that is fashioned out of the multicultural, multiracial cloth of our times. For ours are times of broken hearts, of distance and isolation, of mutual suspicion, of unseen pain and hidden hurt. If we want to create space to heal, to repair, and to begin to grow together again, it is time for us to create a new Tent of Meeting.
Each of us has our share of pain and longing to belong—to be seen and held. The tired and worn binary paradigm of ‘Us vs. Them’ lacks not only luster but is seriously broken. We must befriend ourselves and each other in our struggles, for we are all in this experiment of living life together.
There is a beautiful story about a so-called “Field of Meeting,” from our Aggadah. Two brothers live on opposite sides of a wheat field: one married with a large family, the other alone. Each night, as the harvest was coming in, the brothers would contemplate each other’s circumstances.
The married brother thought, “My poor brother lives alone, without help for the harvest.” Out of concern, he carried a bushel of his harvest across the field that night, and left it at his brother’s doorstep.
Meanwhile, the brother who lived alone thought, “My poor brother has so much responsibility and little time to harvest. Out of concern, he carried a bushel of his harvest across the field that night, and left it at his brother’s doorstep.
Night after night this happened. Day after day, the perplexed brothers would open their door, to find a bushel of freshly harvested wheat on their doorstep. Finally, in curiosity, they ventured out one night, when the moon was full, where they met each other in the middle of the field. They hugged, and laughed, and cried with delight and caring and love for each other.
It is said that the Holy of Holies was built upon that very spot, where love and mutual concern were met. As Psalm 85 says,
קָרוֹב לִירֵאָיו יִשְׁעוֹ; לִשְׁכֹּן כָּבוֹד בְּאַרְצֵנוּ: חֶסֶד-וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ; צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
“Divine rescue is close-at-hand to those-who-know-awe, that Divine glory may dwell within our land; Loving-kindness and truth are met; justice and peace kiss.” When parts of us feel vulnerable, it makes a lot of sense to protect those parts by keeping them away from those who might hurt us. But as this psalm reminds us, it may be those very parts that are needed to build something entirely new, something extraordinarily holy.
A midrash about Amalek, the universal “enemy,” suggests that Amalek’s evil seed got scattered so thoroughly amongst humans that all of us today, disturbingly, bear a sliver of Amalek within ourselves. Our challenge is to see the holy in each other, too, just as God saw the holy in us, in that Tent of Meeting, so that we can build safe spaces together, places wide enough and supple enough to contain all of us in our wide-ranging diversity.
Hillel and Shammai, our ancient teachers, are our role models for this, for in all of their differences, they still understood that, at root, their disputes were l’Shem shamayim, for the sake of God’s glory. In fact, Shammai and Hillel readily officiated at weddings for each other’s students, teaching us that they practiced affection and camaraderie between them, fulfilling the words of Zechariah, “love, truth and peace.”
It will take quite a lot of holy courage on our part to venture out into that new field of meeting, because we don’t know who or what we’ll encounter there. And yet, our fractured times are calling on us to do just that. May we work with joyous effort to sow a field of true caring and acceptance. May it be a space/place where even those remote parts of ourselves longing to feel safe and accepted will find themselves belonging and welcomed. May we befriend ourselves and each other.
It is with pride and great delight that the ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP) announces that rabbinical student Jericho Vincent has been selected by the Wexner Foundation as a member of Class 33 of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program.
The Wexner Foundation trains and inspires leaders in the North American Jewish Community and the State of Israel. Through diverse, cohort-based educational programs, the Foundation invests in promising professionals and volunteers and gives them tools to exercise transformative leadership. Working in partnership with other foundations, philanthropists and communities, the Foundation strengthens North American Jewish life and Israel’s public sector by making their leaders more skilled, visionary and collaborative.
Through the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program, fellowships are awarded each year to outstanding individuals who seek to prepare themselves through graduate training for careers in Jewish Education, Jewish Professional Leadership, Jewish Studies, and the Rabbinate/Cantorate.
The Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program selects exceptional candidates with a strong personal commitment to the Jewish community, a record of demonstrated excellence in academic achievement and the potential to assume significant professional leadership roles in the North American Jewish community.
Mazal tov to Jericho, AOP and ALEPH!
Jericho Vincent is the third AOP student to be awarded this prestigious fellowship. Earlier recipients were R’ Shir Yaakov Feit (ordained by AOP in 2020) and R’ Zelig Golden (ordained by AOP in 2018).
More information about the 33rd class of Wexner Graduate Fellows/Davison Scholars, including Jericho’s bio, can be found here.
Learn more about the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program and the 33rd class here.