All of Pure Heart

All of Pure Heart


It was a chilly morning in Encino, as we met together to continue our exploration of learning the ways our ancestors built their sacred community. We wrapped ourselves in blankets to stay warm, Oteh Or K’Salmah – wrapping light like a robe. There was a strong impulse to chant: Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkanotecha Yisrael. The chant shifted our study from Parashat BaMidbar to Parashat Vayakhel, and we began.

First was some confusion – are we reading Exodus Chapter 25 or 35? Chapter 25 describes God telling Moses how to build the Tabernacle. Chapter 35 describes Moses relaying this information to the people. It’s just like the process of building anything – the building exists fully in intent before any work ever begins. It is in line with the kabbalistic description of the 4 Worlds: Atzilut – inspiration, initial spark of an idea; B’riyah – Creation, the blueprint, the full building in intent, God telling Moses what to do; Yetzirah – Formation, the gathering of the supplies, mobilization of the forces to build, Moses telling the people what to do; and finally, Assiyah – Doing, physical reality, the construction of the actual physical building.

Exodus 35:1 Moses assembled the entire assembly

To put things in context, we first noted that in the immediately preceding chapter, Moses had just come back down from Mt Sinai with the second set of tablets, his face aglow from his elevated spirit, and what followed were the first instructions he would give the people from this new enlightened state.

If he gathered the whole assembly, some 600,000 men along with the women and children, how did they all hear what Moses had to say? Did they use “Stentorian speech”, a Roman technique of projecting one’s voice? Or did they use the “human microphone” method of the Occupy Wall Street movement, with waves of people repeating verbatim what the speaker says until all have heard? If the latter, can we imagine the captains of 1000s, and captains of 100s that were described in Parashat Yitro radiating out in semi-circles at different distances from Moshe, relaying the information? And what about the ability to listen? Perhaps by then the assembly had developed their listening skills, as we do through the practice of Council. Maybe there are traces of this remaining in the modern liturgical practice of responsive reading.

Exodus 35:2 Six days you will do work . . . you will not kindle a fire on the Shabbat day.

Before getting into the instructions to build the Tabernacle, Moses relates the prohibition to work on Shabbat. Why? As any builder or architect will tell you, before the physical work begins, the conditions are set. This way the workers know the parameters by which their work will be done.

Why is the word m’lachah used for work, rather than avodah or some other word? We note the root of the word is the same as for Malach, messenger or angel. Maybe then the type of work being described indicates specifically work that could be characterized as “messenger-like”, working as an agent for someone else. In this case working on things that are divinely decreed, meant to bring God’s presence actively into this world.

And why the prohibition specifically against kindling fire on Shabbat? Fire is the element associated with the North Wind, which comes from the place of mystery, or hiddenness. And fire begins with the letter Aleph, the silent letter that precedes all that happened in Torah (since Torah starts with the second letter, Bet). So the prohibition would seem to be against creating something from nothing, creating from the place of mystery. Just don’t create. There is a teaching that this also means don’t start a “fire”, as in an argument or conflict, with your husband or wife or anyone else close to you, on Shabbat.

Exodus 35:5: everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it,

The description of the materials that will be used reads like a checklist to an upscale Home Depot. The materials required – gold, silver, copper, fabrics of turquoise, purple, and scarlet – are at the same time royally ornate and yet very mundane. These are materials that are known, that the people have with them, having left Egypt with gifts of jewelry and gold and all sorts of implements. Copper, a mineral symbolizing passion, was used to fashion mirrors. The scarlet was no doubt an earthy red dye. This was to be a tent for a chieftain, no ordinary tent. Still it was not magical and miraculous, but was to be built of known stuff, not beyond the grasp of common folk, of stuff they already had. This is in line with our overall tradition: elevate the worldly around you to its spiritual level. The people would turn this tent made of small bits of precious yet worldly items, into a sanctuary which would continuously recreate the experience of Mt Sinai, where HaShem will dialogue with us. Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov . . .

Exodus 35:10: . . . every wise-hearted person among you shall come

This was not conscripted labor, this was not a command but an instruction. Only those whose heart was moved by wisdom, chochma, would come. Sefer Yetzirah teaches that the world was created from 32 paths of Wisdom, so it could only be those who were in this flow of the forces of creation who would join in the effort. The word for heart is Lev, Lamed Bet. This has the numerical meaning of 32, the 32 paths which were used to form the physical universe. Lamed Bet are also the first and last letters of the torah, teaching that the heart contains all the wisdom of Torah (or vice versa?). These are the people that would come to build the Tabernacle.

Exodus 35:21: Every man whose heart inspired him came; everyone whose spirit motivated him

Again, this was a labor of pure love and wholeness. Or was it? The Children of Israel had just experienced the incident of the Golden Calf, and thousands had been killed. Maybe they were coming out of fear? But if so, we would expect the Torah to use the word L’vav for heart, indicated a heart that was divided. The use of Lev implies that the people were truly of pure heart and intention.

This verse led to a discussion of how we can draw lessons directly to our experience of building community at Passover Village. We may put this verse on our invitation to come to PV this year, emulating the events described in Torah that only those attend who come from a fullness of heart. But what happens, and how do we deal with those who do not come, or at least do not act, from a place of full heart? Sometimes we have tasks to do, and we just need everyone on board to get it done – such as when we raise our big tent. Having structure, process, and, at times, sternness, is necessary to accomplish the tasks and is not inconsistent with the desire for working with people with hearts of wisdom. It may be likened to dealing with a kid who messed up and crashed your car – when he wants to drive again after being fully contrite and learning from his mistake, you may allow him to do so, but only under very specific rules or circumstances. Similarly, the Children of Israel are being instructed in building the Tabernacle shortly after the incident of the Golden Calf, the smashing of the divinely written set of tablets, and Moses’ return with the second set. Come with an inspired and motivated heart, which understands the need to work with others within a defined set of boundaries.

Next gathering: Saturday, December 3

· Location: To be determined

· Time: 10-2


Sukkah Reflections

A shofar, in the shape of vav, on wall of our sukkah.
After the intensity of personal introspection involving the High Holy-Days, on Sukkot we are asked to celebrate a state of joyful gratitude.

And You shall Rejoice in Your Holiday
ושמחת בחגך
V'Samachta B'Hagecha

And Be in Complete Happiness                   
והיית אך שמח          
V'Hayita  Ahh Sameach
Our ancestors apparently knew that being in a state of happiness and gratitude is like a muscle we need to "pump and work out" especially when facing inner or outer challenges.

I am count this day's blessings before I lay my head on the pillow

The few hours we spend at Devorah's blessed home filled my soul with pure libation.

Turning a shed into a mishkan with you all felt like being children engaging in holy play.

I am forever grateful to Marc who comes prepared with radical teachings that stretches the imagination and show us another way to access our divine home base.

I bless the tears that got shed, the laughter, the smiles, the caring eyes, the songs and also doing the "line dance" with the Lulav.

Bill Finn aka Billbob

When we sat by the Sukkah at Devorah’s place, our talks were interrupted by noises from the sky.  Planes overhead drowned out our teachings and sharing.  One magical moment was when unusually loud songbirds chimed in during Mark’s insights about the Great Mother, the 8 days of Sukkot, and the directions of the lulav.

As Marc began the lulav ceremony, a large palm leaf, full of nasty sharp thorns, leaped off the roof, and fell down near where he had been sitting.  Afterward, another large noise interrupted his explanation of the ritual.  He remarked something to the effect that there were forces trying to stop us.

Linda remarked that waving the lulav on the Sabbath was prohibited by halachah, so perhaps interruptions were evidence of spiritual forces at work.  There arose a discussion if we should proceed with the ritual waving. Mark decided that we should proceed with the lulav ceremony and that each person would decide for themselves about individual waving.

Afterward, I recalled a Talmudic story about a dispute between Reb Eliezer and Reb Joshuah.  Even after a succession of miracles and a Divine Voice declared Reb Eliezer’s opinion the correct one, the Sages still ruled that in favor of Reb Joshua.  They stated, "The Torah is not in heaven!" (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline'. (Ex. 23:2)" (http://www.jhom.com/topics/voice/bat_kol_bab.htm)

Even if the interfering noises from the sky were Divine Voices, it would have been legitimate to “incline” after the “majority,” and follow the opinion of our teacher, Marc. 

A congregation was faced with a serious moral/ethical issue and after a great deal of discussion asked the synagogue board and the rabbi to make the decision.  At the next meeting of the synagogue board, the issue came to a vote.  The 15 members of the board voted one way, and the rabbi voted the other.

At the next board meeting, the rabbi said to the board, "I know we voted on this last time; I know the vote was 15-1; but still I am very troubled by this issue.  Would it be alright if we asked G-d to weigh in?"

The board agreed that this would be appropriate, and all prayed for Divine guidance.  After a while, the voice of the Holy One came to the board meeting, proclaiming, "The rabbi is right!"

After a moment's silence, the board chair said, "OK, Rabbi.  Now it's 15-2."

The word "shofar" appears over 70 times in the five books of Torah. In most instances, it is spelled shin-vav-peh-resh. However the first use of the word, at Sinai, is spelled without the vav, shin-peh-resh. I intuitively know there must be teachings we can learn from this variation in spelling; I have written about some teachings, and continue to look for more.

Sitting in a sukkah, today, I learned that "sukkah" also appears in Torah with and without vav. I have written about this on my blog at Sukkot - Shofar Connection: No Vav


The People Saw the Voices

The People Saw the Voices


Today’s meeting was different than those in the past. We began with a reading from R. Kalman Shapira’s “Conscious Community” dealing with the question of the use of guided imagery in the pursuit of spiritual goals. The use of images was frowned upon by Maimodides, supporting a Jewish prohibition across the ages in creating anthropomorphic representations of God. But Ravad (R Abraham ben David, 12th century) countered that “Many of our true masters have used this technique.” Shapira encourages the use of guided imagery “to help us reach toward ideas that are lofty and transcendent.” He suggests this as a first step, necessary due to our being embedded in the material world, but that “we will eventually expand our minds to the point that we can comprehend imageless thought. A glimmering of the prophetic process will take hold, and our crude imaging will fall away under its own weight.”

With this is mind, we then embarked on a guided meditation, allowing the images to flow and move through us, as the words of Exodus, Parashat Yitro, Chapters 19:6 through 20:23 were read. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation . . .”

Following the meditation, we silently entered an artistic process, creating from simple materials (construction paper and glue sticks) an expression of our experience of the words and images we had just encountered. What follows are some individual reports of the teachings that came to us during this imaginal experience at the foot of Sinai, along with the images that were created:

Exodus 19:16 “ . . . and the sound of the Shofar was very powerful . . . “

This is perhaps the only place in Torah where the word shofar is spelled in Hebrew without the letter “vav”. For full commentary on this insight, and the piece of art that it inspired, see the link to Michael’s blog:


Another thought: Vav is the letter of connection and transmission. Grammatically, it means the word "and", and so connects two different thoughts. In the Aitz Chaim, Vav represents the 6 middle Sefirot, those that connect the Sefirot that dwell in the spirit (Keter-Chochmah-Binah) with the Sefirah of physical reality (Malchut). The vav is thus the transducer from the world of spirit to the world of physicality. Since at Sinai, we all had a direct encounter with Spirit, perhaps this transduction was not really necessary, and the Shofar did not need its Vav . . .

Exodus 20:12. “ . . . whoever touches the mountain shall surely die . . .”

When I heard these words, rebel that I am, the immediate image was of a hand, touching the mountain. The black seed on the bottom, represents the potential being sprouted, invisible, under the surface.

Exodus 19:16. “ . . . there was . . . a heavy cloud on the mountain . . . “

I was struck by the repeated reference in the Torah text to the 'clouds'
around Mt. Sinai. Were the clouds obscuring the vision the Israelites might
otherwise have had of God? Or shrouding Moses' interacting with God? 

The green land on which the Israelites stood, the brown of the Mt. Sinai,
and the white of the clouds are purposely rendered uneven and ill defined,
like all things earthly that are constantly in flux. The heavens of blue are
purposely made with straight clean edges, signifying the clarity and purpose
of Spirit. 

Then there's the tiny purple square at the top of the mountain as well as
the squares at the base of Sinai representing the Israelites waiting for
God's word through Moses ...they are hoping to be as pure and perfect as
Spirit but are still torn and ragged just a bit. 

My own experience of this special torah reading exercise was one of joy in
expressing without words (on the page, out of my mouth, or from the mouth's
of others) and without having to make or participate in the kind of
intellectual commentary that make's up most of my daily interactions. This
was a much appreciated respite from thinking too much and instead being in a
totally creative mode connected to an intention that the whole 'community'

Let's do this at the Passover Village.

Exodus 20:15. “The entire people saw the voices and the flames, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain”

This line struck me – what does it mean that they “saw the voices”? As I began to work with the art materials the mountain came first, the black pillar representing the boundaries set up around the mountain (there are some places humans should not try to go), the image of a pillar of smoke and fire connecting the world of spirit to earth, and then the 7 bolts of color that were the “voices” being seen as the words of the 10 Utterances were spoken. The blast of yellow appearing behind the 7 bolts represents the “sight” of the shofar blast. The many colored spots at the foot of the mountain, the diversity of each soul present to see the revelation, the diversity of souls forming a unified mosaic of one people. Overall, the impression was one of the beauty of diversity, of color, sight, sound, elements, all blending into a single, revelatory experience.

An interesting point . . .

Towards the end of our discussion, someone raised the point that even though we had read/listened to the reading of the 10 “Commandments”, nobody’s artwork reflected anything specific about any of those 10 declarations. Rather, they all had focused on the experience of the revelation, the sights, sounds, feelings associated with a direct experience of Sinai. Perhaps it is not the specific words that are so important, but rather the experience of direct connection with Spirit that we all shared at one moment, each in our individual way, that is the glue that holds the community of Israel together.

We closed with a reading from the Bahir, 45:3: “This teaches us that the Torah was given with seven voices. In each of them the Master of the Universe revealed Himself to them, and they saw Him. It is thus written, “And all the people saw the voices.”

Next gathering: Saturday, October 1, Shabbat Shuvah

· Location and time to be determined – likely our annual hike in Encino to “The Trees”. Our hikes of previous years have done much to connect us to earth and to each other in this special time, the time in limbo before the gates of the Days of Awe close and we step fully into the new cycle of change.


Listen, Listen!

Listen, Listen!


Twelve of us gathered this beautiful morning, with a cool and gentle breeze, and the sound of bubbling water nearby. Check-ins related to various struggles, challenges, aches, pains, losses – appropriate, since we find ourselves here in the month of Av, only 3 days from the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the first temple, and the second temple, and the start of World War I. This is the moon of Issachar, whose totem the donkey teaches how to bear burdens well, how to move into aging-saging as elders, whose flag of the black-purple night sky illuminated by sun and moon reminds us of the vastness of all that we call this life. Issachar’s donkey teaches it is not just about the burdens we bear, but about the reasons we bear them. It is not just the doing, but the intention of the doing. Or as the Rebbe of Kotsk teaches: The prohibition of idolatry includes the prohibition against making idols out of the mitzvot. We should never imagine that the chief purpose of a mitzvah is its outer form (i.e., the doing), rather it is the inward meaning (i.e., the devotion with which it is done).

From R. Kalman Shapira’s “Conscious Community”:

“Therefore, one goal of our work is going to be to fortify and expand our powers of concentration so that we can sense our connection to God more consistently”

“We have to begin by using the tool we have, namely, awareness. That is why we have chosen the name Conscious Community: our name captures our essence. We work to amplify and extend our consciousness so that our spiritual perception is not a fleeting spark but a sustained awareness. We want this precious sensibility to be so predominant in us that our bodily powers and sense come under its sway, so that our spirit is the most obvious force in us. Is every Jew suddenly physically pure when the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah or during Yom Kippur services? So we see that consciousness can operate even in a body that is not elevated and clear. Why would we not use this powerful tool?”

We started by retracing our steps from last time, beginning with:

Exodus 19:3: “So shall you say to the House of Jacob and relate to the children of Israel”

This is the simultaneous lower and higher consciousness that R. Shapira speaks to, that is embodied in the image of Jacob’s ladder with the angels ascending and descending. This is perhaps the central consciousness of Judaism: to be living at once in both worlds, in both levels of consciousness: the mundane and the holy, the imminent and the transcendant. It is embodied in the names Yaakov and Israel – we are the people who grab at the heel in our God-wrestling. It is exemplified in the question: when you turn on your computer, how are you serving the higher purpose? It is held in the stories of Hanoch, great mystic of Salem (before it was Jerusalem), who lived as a cobbler with the consciousness that attaching sole to upper leather was the equivalent of bringing together the upper and lower worlds. It was with this consciousness that he travelled into the Upper Realms where he was transmuted into Metatron, the greatest of all angelic beings.

Exodus 19:5: IF you listen well to Me (Hebrew: Im shamoah tish’m’ooh) . . .

you shall be to me a treasure from all the nations

Exodus 19:6: You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation

Hebrew grammar alerts us, whenever 2 forms of a single verb follow immediately one after the other, to pay attention to what is being said. This is an emphasis, like an underline or bold font in the text of Torah. So here, “Listen, Listen!” is saying, “Listen, then listen again”. Or perhaps, listen and be listened to. The line goes on to say if you listen to my voice and guard my covenant you will be a treasure from all the peoples, a kingdom of ministers/priests, a holy nation. These lines elicited spirited discussion for the rest of the meeting on the concepts of a punishing God vs consequences of the innate spiritual laws of the universe, chosen-ness, what it means to be a priest, and a treasure. Some of the comments:

· The “If” sounds like the conditional love of a scolding parent

· I hear a loving Goddess asking us to accept responsibility, giving instructions (the Hebrew word Im, meaning “if”, is from the root of “mother”)

· Priest = transmit the word of God to the people, like the role of modern rabbi

· Discomfort with concept that not all cultures are equal

· This is our Torah, and our relationship to the Holy One – other peoples have their particular, treasured relationships

· A central challenge of our time is the struggle of clan vs species

· The Torah IS about punishments, it is offensive – if you’re not offended, you’re not paying attention!

· I hate religion!

· We need to wrestle with the negative parts of Torah. Listen is the central commandment

· This is the Jewish concept of karma: this is how the universe works, if you don’t go with it there simply are consequences

· A fish in water is not thirsty – swim in it. If you leave the water, what do you expect will happen? (from Sufi teaching)

· Listen, then the group will experience – like a small Vision Quest

· What is the role of surrendering and just doing, versus understanding the meaning of all that we do?

· Na’ahseh v’ Nishmah – we will do and we will listen – even though we may need to humbly surrender, we still need to always be listening for the deep meaning and understanding that may follow later.

· It’s not about “if” – we are in free choice all the time. It’s hard to always access being a divine channel

· Segulah – means purple, be with your own royalty

· Reading Torah in PaRDeS (orchard) consciousness: P’shat = simple meaning; Remez = a hint that there is something deeper; Drash = the symbolic or metaphoric meaning; Sod = the hidden, mystical meaning

We are studying this year to learn from the teachings of our sacred tradition how to build conscious community. We have brought in the words of R. Shapira, miraculously coming to us through the fires and the rubble of the Holocaust, to add some flavor to the teachings of Torah that we study. In future months, we plan to cover parts of the book of BaMidbar (Numbers) which details the division into the tribes in the wilderness, how they carried individual pieces of the community purpose, how their tasks synergized into a whole, how our ancestors created and maintained sacred community. Though Passover Village has touched on these issues repeatedly in the past, we are now at a different level in the spiral path of our joint experience of reclaiming our aboriginal, Earth-based Hebrew consciousness. So, as the Nachash (snake) of Eden spiraled around the Tree of Life to offer the healing fruit to Adam and Eve that they might go out from the garden in the spiritual realms and create Eden in physical reality, we spiral to the next level of our understanding of our individual and communal journeys.

We stopped in our discussion this week, as we did last time, on the verge of the description of the revelation at Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Utterances (or 10 Words, or 10 Things, if you prefer – the Hebrew word D’varim clearly does not translate as “Commandments”, which is a Christianization of our tradition). It seems that it is not an easy thing to approach Sinai, even more than 3000 years removed. Our tradition tells us that every Jewish soul that ever was or will be was present at Sinai, that therefore each one of us was present to hear those words together. The fact that we all heard the same thing (or did we?), at the same time, was the focal point of the formation of our sacred community in the Wilderness, as it is that which we could coalesce around as a shared mission and understanding of purpose, and that which would guide the structures and activities of our community.

So, we closed with the next verse of Torah, to lead our imaginations forward until the next time we meet:

Exodus 19:7: Moses came and summoned the elders of the people, and put before them all these words that Hashem had instructed him.

Next gathering: Saturday, September 3

  • Location to be determined
  • Leadership Council will meet: 9-10
  • Torah Study: 10-12
  • Creative art workshop 12-3 (offered to those who wish to further the understanding of what we cover in Torah study through creative practice)


The Father-in-Law of Moses

The Father-in-law of Moses


We had a very small group today. To further explore our kavannah, the building of conscious community, we began with a reading from “Conscious Community”, written by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, a great Hasidic spiritual leader who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. The manuscript was hidden in the buildings of the ghetto, discovered after the war, and published originally in Hebrew, prior to its English translation by Andrea Cohen-Kiener. The Hebrew title, “B’nai Mach’sha’vah Tova” literally translates as Children of Good Thought.

“Goal of our association . . . we seek . . . to be on the level described in Torah: “You are children of God” (Deut 14:1); we want our sensual perceptions to come around to the perspective of the heart. We can actually see the presence of God, which infuses all creation. Each of us can see with our own eyes that we stand in paradise . . . This is the goal of the group.”

Exodus 18:1 “Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses . . . “

Parashat Yitro begins with the story of Jethro bringing Moses’ wife Tziporrah and their 2 sons to join Moses in the wilderness. Jethro was high priest of Midian, and had taught Moses much mystery wisdom during the 40 years Moses had spent with him after fleeing Egypt. Now he returns, reuniting Moses with his family. There is a great reunion, Moses going out to meet Jethro, bringing him in to the tent, relating the full story of what had happened in Egypt, the crossing of the sea, the travels to that point, the defeat of Amalek (Chap 17).

To be sure we don’t miss the connection, the Torah tells us 12 times in this chapter that Jethro is Moses’ father-in-law. What is the meaning of this? A reference to the 12 tribes that were experiencing a new sense of their unique character in the wilderness? R Gershon expands the teaching on 12: The Maharal (16th Century rabbi of Prague) writes that 12 is the number indicating completion of form. In this case, Jethro was kind of a renegade, radical high priest in relation to the rest of Midian. He was on his own spiritual journey of unfolding, which included his relationship with his son-in-law, Moses. Hearing of the exodus, Jethro realized this was the final stage of his unfolding, when he comes to final form (12), and realizes “this is it”. It is at this point he leaves Midian, taking Tziporrah and the 2 boys to rejoin Moshe and reunite the family in the Wilderness of Sinai. In addition, and no doubt not a coincidence, the name of Moshe has the numerical value of 12: Mem = 40, Shin = 300, Hey = 5 à 345 = 3 + 4 + 5 = 12.

Exodus 18:9 “And Jethro rejoiced . . . now I know that HaShem is greater than all the gods“

In Hebrew there are multiple words that can be used for joy, or rejoicing, Here, the verb used is y’chad, which comes from the root meaning “one” (as in Echad). Thus, what Jethro is feeling is the joy that comes from recognizing the One-ness of all that has transpired, indeed that Oneness that is HaShem. Thus his comment, that HaShem is greater than all the multiple gods known to the many peoples in that time, none of whom constituted the concept of all things contained within the Oneness. In recognizing this, Jethro makes offerings to HaShem, and he, and Moses, and Aaron, and all the elders of Israel eat bread together, thus acknowledging the Spirit that provides blessings, feasting, eating together, building the nucleus of the leadership of the community. As we read this section, 2 California towhees flew into the avocado tree near us, chirping, and generally making a minor commotion, joining the feast.

Exodus 18:17: “The thing you do is not good . . . it is too much for you “

Jethro observes Moses trying to deliver judgments of disputes for lines and lines of people each day. Jethro sees immediately this is no way to run a community. It does disservice to both Moses and the people. No man, even Moses, can do it all. There must be division of labor, delegation of duties, in order for the community to flourish. Interesting that this appears to be the process currently underway in the Passover Village – a division of duties, recognition of community structure.

Exodus 18:21 “You shall discern from the entire people . . . leaders of thousands . . . leaders of hundreds . . . leaders of tens “

It is important to have leadership that is recognized by and for the people. Jethro tells Moses that he needs to delegate leadership to judge over the people, to make judgements over the various daily disputes among people, and only bring to Moses those questions that require guidance from his special relationship with YHVH. He relates the 4 personal qualities required of those who are to lead Israel:

· Men of accomplishment/valor/courage - chayil

· People in awe of God – yir’ay elohim

· Men of truth – Emet

· People who despise bribery – son’ay batza – i.e. ethical. This concept seemed confusing, but may refer to the need to not lead or judge based on financial considerations – hence, to try to put the principal into one word, ethical

The Zohar comments on these 4 qualities of Israelite leaders, saying that those who lead all have the common characteristic of having a passion for restoration and unification. It also states that each of these 4 qualities represent one of the letters in God’s transcendant name, YHVH, while the “leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” represent God’s imminent name, Adonai,. These instructions from Jethro to Moses on the choice of leadership therefore incorporate the concept of unifying the transcendent with the imminent in the day to day business of leading the community of Israel.

Exodus 19:2: “They arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai . . . and encamped opposite the mountain”

The anticipation begins to build as the people arrive at the destination where the community identity will be forged.

Exodus 19:3: “So shall you say to the House of Jacob and relate to the Children of Israel”

Moses ascends the mountain, where God begins to instruct him what to say to the people to prepare them for the moment of revelation. He refers to them by the 2 terms, indicating that Moses is to speak to them in terms that communicate to both the imminent nature of their being (House of Jacob) and the transcendent nature of their being (Children of Israel). This reinforces the concept of leaders of Israel being all about this restoration, this unification of that which is at once both imminent and transcendent.

Exodus 19:3 “I have carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me”

In the Hebrew medicine wheel, the eagle is the spirit being keeper of the North, Tzafon, the hidden place, the place of mystery. The eagle in Hebrew mythology is also frequently associated with the protecting Feminine, as in the protective mother eagle who shields her nestlings. Thus God wants the people to remember all the help and protection that came to them from that hidden place that enabled them to reach this moment, such as when the angel of Elohim moved between the Children of Israel and the pursuing Egyptians as a pillar of cloud, keeping them separated until they could get to the sea (Exodus 14:19). All the miracles experienced by the Israelites during the course of the exodus - the plagues, the splitting of the sea, the sweetening of the waters, the mannah – all were part of being carried by the eagle, designed to bring the people into this moment of direct relationship with the Divine mystery.

Exodus 19:6: “You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”

With these words God gives the people its communal purpose: Israel is to be a kingdom of spiritual ministers, a sacred nation devoted to the connection and service of the Infinite One. The task is to blend into the Holy One (“you are unto Me”), and then reflect that to the nations in the ways that you live and the ways that you think. A truly awesome task. The important thing here is the idea of identity for the entire community. Thus, not only does each individual person have his own role to play, be it leadership as described earlier in the previous chapter or something else, but the entire community as a whole has a unified role to play in the world. This is like an organ within the body, which is made up of individual cells, each of which has its own individual purpose and function, but which also has a unified purpose which is critical for the survival of the entire body.

What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? How do we organize ourselves as individuals to serve this purpose? If we are to somehow do that, what is our relationship to others in the world who may have different individual and communal purposes?

Join us at the next study gathering: Saturday, August 6

Location: Encino


Song at the Sea

The Song at the Sea


We began today, as always, with check-ins, letting each other know where we find ourselves on our personal journeys at this time. A blessing over challah and salt for a new home, and we entered our Torah study.

The Kavannah for our study for this year: the building of sacred community. We will read portions of the books of Shemot (Exodus) and BaMidbar (Numbers) to gain insight into those factors that were important in the way our ancestors built such a community following the exodus from Egypt. Finding themselves on the eastern shore of the Reed Sea, looking back as the Egyptian chariots and their drivers were covered by the waters of the returning sea, then turning to face . . . the vastness of the unknown wilderness facing them. How did the ancient Children of Israel go from a bereft group of refugees, spiritually drained by hundreds of years of enslavement, into a vibrant, interwoven, spiritual community? What bound them together? How were connections established and preserved? What lessons does their journey from diverse multitude to unified community have to teach us in the context of our modern Western culture of polarization and individualization?

But where to begin? We elected to start with the Song at the Sea:

Exodus 15:20 “Sing to HaShem, for He is exalted above the arrogant . . . “

Moses, then Miriam and the women, lead the Israelites in song, dance, music, drumming of gratitude to HaShem for having led them out of the narrow place. So community building begins with song and dance – bodies engaging and sharing movement and sound, physical experience of communal emotion and memory. The Song at the Sea is linguistically the oldest Hebrew found in Torah, the central ring of the trunk of the Tree of Life that is Torah. As an oral culture we sing to remember – Torah sustains us with song, we are a song. We imagine our next Passover Village full of even more song, more music, more drums and timbrels than we’ve had in years past.

Exodus 15:24: “The people complained . . . what shall we drink? “

Journeying 3 days without water in the Wilderness of Shur, they find water, but it is bitter, and they name the place Marah (bitterness). We recall Naomi naming herself “Marah” as well, upon her return to Bethlehem having lost her husband and 2 sons. The people complain to Moses, there, 3 days out, with nothing but toxic water to drink.

Exodus 15:25 “He cried out to HaShem, and HaShem showed him a tree . . .”

Moses does not know what to do, and in this place of frustration and crisis, cries out. The verb Yitz’Ahk means a real, gut level crying out, an authentic deep emotion finding its way from the deepest place of Moshe, the EHYH (“I Am”) of Moshe, out to full expression, flowing out to the YHVH of Moshe. We realize how much time we might spend trying to think through a problem, struggle, intellectualize, psychoanalyze, get stuck. Here we find a different way, a calling out from a humble place of just not knowing. Another way to move when stuck: “Who do I need to be in this matter?”

By asking the question, the answer arrives. But what is this “tree” (Aitz) that HaShem shows Moshe? It may simply be his staff, the same staff that he used to create wonders in Egypt. Now God is showing him – “You have what it takes to solve this problem, it is in your hand, do this!” - reinforcing the authority of Moshe. Moses throws the tree into the water and the water became sweet. Like the trees planted by the early Zionists in Israel to drain the swamps, the living element of the tree brings life.

So what lesson does this hold for us in building community? When we face the bitter waters of community, the struggles and conflicts that naturally come when many people come together in pursuit of unified purpose, what is the living Aitz that needs to be introduced to sweeten the waters so that all may drink? One practical tool from the work with Council: when really stuck, we can do work with the “third” – what does the spirit of the Village want?

Exodus 15:25: “There he set a law and an ordinance . . .”

God establishes a law here on this occasion, a Chok, and an ordinance or judgment, a Mishpat. What is a Chok? Chet – the first letter of the words Chaim, life, and Cham, warmth, thus invoking the heated flow of life. The Kuf – for Kadesh – holiness. The role of supreme authority is to establish such laws, designed to bring the flow of life to the place of the holy.

Exodus 15:26: “I am HaShem, your Healer”

God establishes here a test, a proving ground. Listen to my voice, do justice, observe His laws, and he will not bring the diseases that he placed on Egypt onto the people. So is that it? Does Torah really hold that God sets the rules and we have to follow or He will punish us, as he did Egypt? Where does our own personal sense of what is right and wrong come into it? What about the collective sense of what is important? What is the role of the supreme authority? Or is this metaphor telling us that there are rules and laws of spirit and nature that are in place that, if followed, will lead to blessing. If not followed, consequence. This is not about a judging, spiteful deity, just the plain facts and natural laws of the universe we live in.

“The entire assembly . . . arrived at the Wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai”

Following the healing of the waters of Marah, the people came to Elim, an oasis of 12 springs of sweet water and 70 date palms. But they couldn’t stay. The mythic journey to the sacred mountain, the journey of becoming, can’t settle for the mirage of comfort and seeming abundance which is only halfway there. The Wilderness of Sin is a place of rugged rocks, baking dirt, a place in which it is a struggle to move even a short distance. We must cross it to get to where we need to go. But where are we trying to get to? We notice that the word Sinai, formed by adding the letter yud to the word Sin, can be interpreted as “my Sin”. So our sacred mountain contains our personal place of struggle, perhaps even is our Wilderness.

Arriving at Sin, the people again complain against Moshe – “at least in Egypt we had meat and bread which we could eat to satiety. Here we will die of famine”. It is difficult to go into the unknown. Much fear, uncertainty, so much that it seems better to have stayed in the stuck place of slavery.

We realize this is an initiation story of mythic proportions, a transformation story, not dissimilar to similar myths of other cultures. Each person has a personal wilderness to cross. But in this story, there is also a wilderness that the entire community needs to cross together. It is in this wilderness where we learn the natural order of how to be whole.

We’ll pick it up from there when we meet next month.

Next Gathering: Saturday, July 2

Location: Santa Monica


Maggid Mashup

During our 2011 Seder, Passover Village created an alternative ritual for telling Maggid, the story of our Journey from slavery to freedom. There is a tradition that Torah does not move in chronological or linear time. Drawing on this, we juxtaposed parts of the Passover ritual and liturgy in atypical combinations.

Counting off "Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Dalet" around our circle, we divided into four groups. Each group then took, by lot, a theme from each of three categories as follows:

Four Children:
  Simple or Naive
  Wicked or Alienated
  One that does not know how to ask

Four Symbols from Pesach Plate
  Egg (a symbol not discussed in most Haggadot)

Four Stages of Our Journey
  On the other shore of Sea (a stage not discussed in most Haggadot)

Each group then met to explore connections and meanings between the thematic elements they had drawn. The Haggadah discusses some of the possible combinations; for example the connection between Slavery and Mahror or the Pesach and Plagues. This exercise stimulated us to explore other combinations. Our four teams, for example, received the following combinations of elements:

  One who does not know to ask / Matzah / Slavery
  Wise / Flight / Maror
  Alientated / On the other shore / Pesach
  Simple / Plagues / Egg

Then, finding relief from the mid-afternoon sunlight in the shade and a breeze provided by granite cliffs outside of our campground, each team taught Maggid incorporating the elements they had drawn. Teams used different methods of story telling. In one team, each individual spoke about his or her personal interpretation. Another acted out a skit based on their assigned elements. One used psychodrama techniques to explore the feelings aroused by their journey. And another used body movement to update the archetypes in the story to the contemporary time.

The consensus among participants is that experiencing Maggid in this manner gave them a new connection to the elements of the Journey, making them feel in some ways that they had, themselves, gone out of Mitzrayim. Rather than hearing or reading someone else's story of the Exodus, we were able to tell our own stories of the passage to liberation; we "did" Maggid rather than "tell" Maggid. Further, members of the Passover Village community got to know each other in deep and profound ways by studying Torah together, and then revealing themselves on our rocky stage overlooking the desert.

This is an example of the type of creative ritual and community process that makes each Passover  Village encampment a meaningful and fun way to experience Passover.


I hear the fine stillness of the desert

Your smiles. Your songs. Your prayers. Your sweetness. These are my memories of Passover Village 2011.

The photo shows the rainbow* that graced our village.

     If God had given us Shabbat and not given us the rainbow sign,

While we work out a way to share personal messages, Passover Villagers are invited to share public messages as comments to this post.

* Actually, a rare phenomenon called a circumhorizon arc.


And Sarah Laughed

And Sarah Laughed


We gathered for another morning of study together, furthering our exploration of the relationships found in the story of Abraham and Sarah.

Genesis 18:1: “The oaks of Mamre”

Having just completed the circumcision, his own, Ishmael’s, all the men in the community, Abraham is sitting at the door of his tent amongst the shade trees (odd English translations include the “plains” of Mamre or the “terebinths” of Mamre, but the Hebrew is clearly “alon”, oak) when 3 men approach. These are known in our oral tradition to be angels, actually archangels, each with his own specific task: Michael bearing the news of Sarah’s upcoming pregnancy; Raphael to heal Abraham’s wound; and Gabriel to destroy Sodom. Despite his own pain and infirmity, Abraham leaps to his feet and goes about washing the feet and making preparations to host his guests, the quintessential teaching in the Hebrew tradition of generosity and hospitality to visitors.

A teaching by Rabbi Jonathon Omerman, related by one in the group: Abraham sitting at the door of his tent indicates the practice in antiquity of deep meditation. This brings a question to mind: did this event really happen, or was the entire thing a meditative vision of Abraham’s?

Genesis 18:6: “Abraham hastened to her tent, to Sarah . . . “

The English again misleads away from an important detail, saying “the tent” rather than “her tent”. But her tent, Sarah’s tent, is separate from that of her husband’s tent. Thus, though married for over 60 years by now, Sarah and Abraham still maintain a degree of separation that allows each his/her individuality and ability to not confuse by blending the important independent roles of the Dakar (Masculine) and Nukvah (Feminine) in our tradition. We see this throughout the Hebrew tradition: HaKodesh Baruch Hu and Shechinah are separate aspects of the Divine, yet we recognize the bliss that is involved in their union; Moses could not enter his tent when Shechinah dwelt there, only when She left; Rabbi Akiva (1st century C.E.) said that a man should not enter his house suddenly – who knows what the Feminine was up to in his absence? Thus, there is a respect and honoring of the 2 different life forces, recognizing that each has its own journey, as well as relationship with each other – like the sun and the moon. Or as Kate Hepburn put it: be married, and live next to each other.

We read of the bustling preparations for the Guests, Sarah and Abraham each with their role, and the youth (Ishmael, according to the midrash, who Abraham wanted to teach how to properly treat guests), who runs off to prepare the calf for the meal. But we suddenly realize: Where is Hagar? As Sarah’s handmaiden, she would likely have been with Sarah in her tent, but there is no mention of her in this scene. But the Torah is silent, and we are left to fill in the narrative.

Genesis 18:12: “And Sarah laughed within herself . . . “

Sarah no longer experienced the “moon” of women, so hearing Michael announce to Abraham that she would have a son, she laughed within at the idea of it. The language she uses is almost the same as that used by Abraham when he laughed at the same announcement back in Gen 17:17 – shall they really bear a child, both being as old as they are? We were told Abraham’s laugh was one of joy, while Sarah’s was a laugh of skepticism, but as we considered the scene, we were not so sure of this standard interpretation.

Another question: why is the angel speaking to Abraham, giving him this news, and not to Sarah directly? The text says “Sarah was listening at the opening of the tent, behind him”. Did the angel indeed not mean for Sarah to hear this? Is this a hint that He thought better to go through Abraham, through the relationship of husband and wife, to get this news to Sarah? Perhaps he well knew that a woman of her age, experience, and wisdom would of course be skeptical! Maybe better just to let Abe know and let events happen. Scene through our modern lens, this could be seen as a sexist, patriarchal slant in the text. But it could alternatively be viewed as an acknowledgment that while Abraham was the dreamer, Sarah was the one with both feet grounded in reality, who did not need to hear such prophecy, but would certainly know when her body was carrying Isaac.

Genesis 18:15: “I did not laugh” . . . “No, you laughed indeed”

The interpretation here is usually that God is scolding Sarah for laughing. But what if that isn’t the real story? Suppose Sarah really did laugh in joy, at the realization that her life of barrenness was truly about to end. This fact of her inability to have a child had been such a burden and source of pain and anguish that she had carried all her life, and now, suddenly, freedom from that burden and the releasing laugh of that freedom. But then, having laughed, Sarah is suddenly frightened. Isn’t this what happens? When we have that release, that sudden freedom that accompanies a deep, deep insight and growth transition, isn’t the very next step doubt? Fear? We see this in the story of Pesach as well. After rejoicing, singing and dancing at the edge of the Red Sea, the next thing the Children of Israel do is start doubting: maybe we were better off in the Narrow Place after all, at least we had meat to eat, and we knew where our water was coming from.

So imagine God here as supportive therapist, rather than judgmental, scolding parent. “You did laugh, you really did, this is real, you are changing, you are growing, there really is reason for joy and laughter!” Now we see a new message: trust the laughter, trust the moments of freedom, when your spirit laughs and your soul sings.

Next meeting:

Saturday, March 19 (Erev Purim, Full moon of Adar II – a double dose of joy this year), 10 AM – noon

Location: To be determined

16th Joshua Tree Passover Village: See postings below

DATES: Thursday 4/21 – Sunday, 4/24

LOCATION: Joshua Tree National Park

Numbers: Limit is 40 participants

COST: $72 (adults and post-Bar/Bat mitzvah youth); $36 for children; As always, less than the full amount for those unable to afford full price - let all who are hungry come and eat.