Forty-nine days,
wandering in the wilderness
newly-birthed to
moving toward
where the Holy One
will entrust us with
the Teaching.

     So little time
     to bring in the harvest,
     to gather the sheaves
     that nourish our bodies
     as Torah sustains our souls.

Forty-nine days
to learn to walk,
so little time,
to grow —
from frailty to strength,
from enforced servitude to joyful service.

     Each day we count
     one more day.
     Each day we add
     one more sheaf.
     Each day we are
     one day closer
     to the Mountain,
     one day closer
     to sacred embrace
     trembling hearts.

Teach us,
God of the Mountain,
God of the Teaching,
to cherish each day,
that our hearts
may be filled with
Your Wisdom,
that our
souls may bring
our freedom harvest
to You,
that our hearts
may receive
Your abundance.

—Rabbi Leila Gal Berner


Prepared by Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D.
With the assistance of Franna Ruddell

In the days of the ancient Temple, when many of our people were farmers, we counted the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot as days between the Spring barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest at Shavuot. But once the Temple was destroyed and we scattered to the four corners of the earth, we continued to count the days of the Omer even though most of us were no longer farmers. Why did we continue to count these harvest days? What meaning could they now have for us in a non-agricultural society?

The time between Pesach and Shavuot is also the seven-weeks between our liberation from Egypt and our receiving the Torah at Sinai — seven weeks, so very little time for a people who thought of themselves as slaves to become a free people — confident, strong, unified and ready to receive the Torah. These forty-nine days could be a time to prepare ourselves emotionally, spiritually and intellectually for the greatest challenge of our lives as a people and as individuals– the acceptance of Torah. Though perhaps our people were not completely ready to accept Torah (who of us ever really is?), though they still had a lot of work to do in their journey towards becoming a truly free people, these seven weeks gave them a chance to begin the work.

Today, when most of us live in our cities far from green farm lands — we may use each of the forty-nine days to begin (or continue) our own spiritual work. We may use this time to meditate, to reflect, to try to truly understand what personally accepting Torah is all about.

There is also something powerful about conscious counting and the acknowledgement of each day. Each day as we wake up — to say: “Today is the 10th day, the 11th day, the 25th day” and so on — is to say: I am lucky to be alive for this 10th, 11th, 25th day! I am blessed to have one more day to live and breathe and think and meditate and pray and love . . .

In a wonderful way, each day of the Omer offers us the possibility to say “Shehechiyanu” — we thank God who has given us life, who has sustained us and who has offered us the opportunity to reach this particular day. In Psalm 90:12, we ask God to “teach us to number our days, so that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.”

The Omer offers us a chance to literally “number our days” and consciously look at each moment of our day and try to live it to the fullest — with dignity, with integrity, with kindness and love and compassion, for ourselves and for others. The Omer offers us a chance to open ourselves to new wisdom and old teachings, to stand again at Sinai ready, once again, to receive Torah. In anticipation of Shavuot, May this Omer season be a time of spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth and openness for each of us.


In the feminine gender:
B’rucha at YAH, Eloheinu ruach ha-olam, asher kidshatnu b’mitzvoteha v’tizvatnu al sefirat ha’omer.

In the masculine gender:
Baruch ata YAH, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav v’tizvanu al sefirat ha’omer.

Blessed are You, our God, Soul-Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your teachings and has guided us to count the Omer.

This year, 5784, the counting of the Omer begins at the end of the second seder, on the evening of
April 23, 2024, which begins the first “day,” and ends on June 10, 2024

The first day – April 23

The Israeli poet, Leah Goldberg, of blessed memory, wrote:

“Teach me my God, a blessing and a prayer
On the mystery of a withered leaf
On ripened fruit so fair
On the freedom to see, to sense,
To breathe, to know, to hope, to despair.

Teach my lips a blessing, a hymn of praise
As each morning and night
You renew Your days,
Lest my days be as the one before
Lest routine set my ways.”

** As I begin to count the Omer, how can I keep my meditations about standing again at Sinai from becoming too “routine?” How can I stay mindful, conscious of the challenge ahead of me? As I contemplate my life as a woman, a Jew, a human being, challenged once again by Torah’s teachings, how can I make sure that I continue to see, to sense, to breathe, to know, to hope, to despair?

The second day – April 24

Rabbi Devora Bartnoff, of blessed memory, taught that living with the Divine Presence enables us to struggle courageously with our angels, and to know when to say ken yehi ratzon (Thy will be done).
** How will I know when to wrestle with my angels and when to “let go and let God,” submitting to the Divine will? What do I need to consider to help me find clarity about the right path?

The third day – April 25

An anonymous teaching: Each day as we wake up — to say: “Today is the 1sth day, the 3rd day, the 25th day” and so on — is to say: I am lucky to be alive for this day, and the next and the next. . .I am blessed to have one more day to live and breathe and think and meditate and pray and love . . . In a wonderful way — each day of the Omer offers us the possibility to say “Shehechiyanu” — we thank God who has given us life, who has sustained us and who has offered us the opportunity to reach this particular day. In the Psalms, we ask God to Teach us to number our days o that we may acquire a heart of wisdom. The Omer offers us a chance to literally “number our days” and consciously look at each moment of our day — and try to live it to the fullest — with dignity, with integrity, with kindness and self-compassion, with love.

** How can you each day number your day and evaluate the value/worth of your time??

The fourth day – April 26 Today is Erev Shabbat

“First a spark
then a candle glow.
I watched you at sunset time
eyes sparkling in the Shabbat light. . .
Another generation’s candlesticks
receive the next generation’s lights.
And somewhere in the middle
we stand, holding hands
with yesterday and tomorrow. . .”
— Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

** How can I bring the glow of Shabbat into my home, into my life? How can I link myself to generations past and yet to come? What is the precious legacy I have inherited from my people’s embrace of Shabbat? How can I give this gift to myself and those who come after me? How can I hold hands with yesterday and tomorrow?

The fifth day – April 27 Today is Shabbat

Jessie Sampter, of blessed memory, a Zionist educator in the 1930’s, taught: “My heart went out seeking the God of my people. In thousands of homes, those white candles burned. Tonight I joined an invisible congregation.”

** Who is your ‘invisible congregation?’ When you close your eyes to think of the Jews with whom you might be united in spirit on this Shabbat, who might you think of? Are they nearby? Far away? If they are nearby, perhaps it is time to invite them for a Shabbat dinner? If far away, perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone to call and renew connections. Are they no longer alive in the physical plane? Perhaps it’s time, on this Shabbat to sit and remember them, or tell a story about them so that the white candles burned tonight are part of a deep, heartfelt invisible congregation.

The sixth day – April 28

Judith Plaskow, author of the important book, Standing Again At Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, teaches: “ As I see it, the goal of a Jewish feminist approach to God-language is to incorporate women’s Godwrestling into the fullness of Torah by finding images that can communicate and evoke the experience of the presence of God in a diverse, egalitarian, and empowered community of Israel.”

** Where do I fit into a diverse, egalitarian, and empowered Jewish community? As a woman, how do I find my voice in the cacophonous symphony that is Judaism? How do I share my own Godwrestling with my Jewish sisters and brothers? How do I find the Jewish communities that will nurture me while I Godwrestle?

The seventh day – April 29

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: In gematria, Hebrew numerology, the word ko’ach (strength) equals 28. The word yedid (friend or beloved) also equals 28. Yedid consists of the word yad (hand) repeated twice, also equalling 28. What may we learn from this? That when one walks yad b’yad (hand-in-hand) with another, one is blessed with a yedid (beloved friend), one gains ko’ach (strength).

** From whom do I gain ko’ach (strength)? Who is my most beloved friend (yedid)? How can I take her/his hand (yad) and give and receive strength? What saps the ko’ach (strength) from my yedid (beloved friend)? How do I remove that which weakens us and our friendship?

The eighth day – April 30

Fanchon Shur, a performance artist who creates Jewish spiritual dance teaches: “I learned a faith by touching earth, I learned a faith by listening to breath move through me. . . the faith I found was in my own body as spiritual truth, and my felt “thought” or symbol creation has me imagining my own body as goddess, as earth, as Shechina (the indwelling Presence of God).”

** Where do I learn my faith? Is it by touching earth, by gazing at sky? By feeling wind? By listening to breath within my own body? By singing? By dancing? And when I find my faith, do I feel Shechina? And if I haven’t found my faith yet, where do I begin to seek her?

The ninth day – May 1

In her 19th-century book, The Spirit of Judaism, Grace Aguilar, of blessed memory, taught: “. . . Prayer is the language of the heart, needing no measured voice, no spoken tone.”

** What is my own most authentic form of prayer? Do I feel most comfortable in prayer with a Siddur (prayer book) in synagogue, or when I am singing, or chanting, or breathing or silently meditating, or walking quietly in the woods, or walking by the sea, or hiking in the mountains, or. . . or . . . I know that to pray is to be in connection with the Soul-Spirit of the World, that whom some of us call God, Adonai, Shechina, Ruach Ha-Olam, Elohim. . . What is best for me?

The tenth day – May 2

Poet Merle Feld teaches: “The bottom line of a spiritual journey is to be able to experience yourself as someone of real worth.”

** Do I experience myself as someone of real worth? What does “worth” mean to me? How do I measure myself? Against what standards? Do I compare myself to others, or do I look within and I come to understand that the Holy One created me just to be me — and that is enough? Am I able to look within and do an honest cheshbon nefesh (inventory of the soul) and identify that which is of real worth in me? If not, perhaps I am still looking for the ‘bottom line’ in my own spiritual journey . . .

The eleventh day – May 2

Rabbi Naomi Levy teaches: “What did Moses do with the broken tablets? The ones he threw to the ground when he saw the Children of Israel worshipping the golden calf? . . . Legend has it that inside the Ark stood the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and right beside them there rested the broken tablets which Moses had shattered on that fateful day. . . Sometimes we forget this simple truth: The broken pieces of ourselves are often our best teachers. It is from them that we learn our strength. It is from them that we learn compassion, wisdom and understanding. . .”

** Where are my broken pieces? What is shattered within me? How can my brokenness teach me and guide me — toward compassion (for myself, and others), toward wisdom, toward understanding? What is strong within me because of my broken places?

The twelfth day – May 3 Today is Erev Shabbat

Meri Blye Kramer tells of her teacher who wrote of camping near the ocean many years ago. Days later he could still “feel” the waves. This is like Shabbat – it continues to undulate into the days of our week.

•• “How can we continue to feel the waves of Shabbat after it’s over?” How do we continue to feel the Divine Presence after a particularly powerful connection?

The thirteenth day – May 4 Today is Shabbat

Rabbi Leila Gal teaches: All of Life is a quest for balance. As Jews, we are taught that there is work to be done, so that we might heal our broken world, that working for healing is a sacred obligation.
And our sages also taught us that when we are weary, we cannot mend, that when our inner resources are exhausted, only rest will help us regain our strength and balance. God has given us the gift of Shabbat — a chance to replenish our bodies, minds and souls — so that during the rest of the week we might work more effectively for tikkun, so that we might make whole what has been broken.
•• Can I find a way to replenish my body, mind and soul? Prayer? Nap? Yoga? Reading? Music?

The fourteenth day – May 5

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell teaches: “We are writing the new [Torah] text tradition with our lives.” Rabbi Julie Greenberg comments: “What is the Torah we want to give to our children? We are teaching Torah daily by the way we solve problems, stand up for justice, take care of one another, protect the earth, put out love and kindness and persistence and forgiving…”

** What part of the new Torah text will I write? What can I add to the new Torah-writing of our own time? What can be my unique contribution? What do I need to do to bring “my” piece of Torah into the world?

The fifteenth day – May 6 – Yom HaShoah

Anne Frank, of blessed memory wrote in her diary, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

** How “good” am I? In what ways can I work for the healing of the world so that all will come out right in my time?
The sixteenth day – May 7

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg tells the story of an elderly woman who was suffering from progressive senility. The woman was losing words until she could speak only two words —”unexpectedly” and “temporarily.” Rabbi Weinberg explains that these words are profound – so much is unexpected in life and physical life is indeed temporary. Things change from instant to instant – and life is no different.

** How do I deal with the unexpected? How do I live well with the reality of life’s temporariness? How do I deal with change? How might I cultivate a way to live life in the moment to its fullest, richest and deepest? How might I learn to need less permanence, and how might I spiritually and emotionally learn to live a life that best serves me in responding to the unexpected?

The sixteenth – May 8

In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen teaches “It is possible to become so attached to something or someone. . . that we move forward blindly, looking over our shoulder to the past rather than before us to what lies ahead. The Torah tells us that as she looked back, Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. I suspect that many of us have had this happen to us without our realizing we have become frozen, trapped by the past. We are holding on to something long gone, and hands full, are unable to take hold of our opportunities for what life is offering.”

** What am I holding on to from my past? Are my hands so full of the past that I cannot embrace the future? What do I need to learn to let go of past encumbrances? What must I change in order to let go? From what or whom must I release myself in order to embrace my life in the here-and-now, in order to move forward to my life in the future?

The seventeenth day – May 9

In her book, God Whispers, Rabbi Karyn Kedar teaches: “To dream is to create first in the heart, then in the mind, and then in the world in which we live.”

** What are my dreams? How do I feel them within my heart? What insights do I get from my dreams? How can I bring the best of what I dream into the real world in which I live?

The eighteenth day – May 10 Tonight is Erev Shabbat

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: It is traditional on Sabbath Eve for a Jewish husband to bless his wife with the words from Proverbs 31:10-31 that speak of her as an “Ayshet Chayil” — a woman of valor in which he extols her attributes as an excellent domestic wife. American Jewish poet, Ruth Brin, teaches in her poem entitled “A Response to Ayshet Hayil for Sabbath Evening — The Wife to Her Husband

“A good family is a special, a wonderful thing: people who trust each other/who care for each other.
A good family means people who listen/who open their hearts and their minds to each other/
Each member of the family is an important person/each with responsibilities to the other. . . /
A good family is a divine blessing/to be treasured and enjoyed. . . “

Shabbat is a time to show our deep gratitude and appreciation for the blessing of family.

** Do I remember to bless my beloved(s) — my spouse/partner? my children? other family members? Do I take opportunities to bless them,, to treasure and enjoy them, and to let them know how much they mean to me? Do I have a tradition in my home each Shabbat of blessing those I love and encouraging them to bless each other?

The nineteenth day – May 11 Today is Shabbat

Rabbi Bonnie Koppel tells the story told to her by a woman who lives in an East Coast city: “During one of the terrible snowstorms, I called everyone on the street and told them to bring whatever they were cooking and come for dinner. We didn’t choose each other, but now we supported each other. Since I’ve lived on this block, two people have died, and I saw them carry the bodies out of the house. Four babies were born, and I watched them carry the little ones in. When I’m sick, my neighbors do my shopping. I will put it bluntly: I consider it a spiritual experience to pick up garbage on my block.” . . . The Talmud says, “O khevruta o metuta”, which Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer loosely translates as, “Give me community or give me death.” . . . On Shabbos, we join in community in shul. Leon Wieseltier, in his amazing book, Kaddish, writes ‘Shul is a warm word, a Jewish word. I have always found it to be the friendliest of Jewish words, even when I have spurned its friendship.’

** Do I have a Shabbos ‘neighborhood,’ a shul community in which I consider it a spiritual experience not only to pray with my fellow Jews, but also to visit them when they are sick, to celebrate with them when their children and grandchildren are born, to mourn with them when they lose their loved ones, even to pick up their garbage when they need it? Do I need such a community? Do I seek it? If I yearn for it and am missing it, where can I find it?

The twentieth day – May 12

Hannah Senesch, of blessed memory, a young Hungarian Jewish woman, came to Palestine where she reveled in the natural beauty of the Land. Later, she parachuted back into Nazi-occupied Europe to try to save her fellow Jews. She was caught, tortured and killed by the Nazis. In happier days, she wrote this poem, Halichah L’Kaysariya – A Walk on Caesarea Beach (also known as Eyli, Eyli):

“My God, My God, I pray that these things never end —
The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters,
the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart.”

** Do I give myself enough chances to feel the sand under my feet, to hear the sound of the waves, to sense the rush of the waters on my body? Do I feel thrilled by the sound of thunder and the flashes of lightning that light up the sky? Do these wonders of Nature fill my heart with awe at the magnificence of
the cosmos? Does my heart fill with a sense of kinship with this, God’s earth?

The twenty-first day – May 13

In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen teaches: “Anger is . . . a demand for change, a passionate wish for things to be different. It can be a way to reestablish important boundaries and assert personal integrity. . . [and] anger becomes a problem for people only when they become wedded to it as a way of life.”

** What am I angry about? What is the good anger within me, the anger that seeks healthy change, the anger that sets appropriate boundaries, the anger that helps me to assert my pride and personal integrity? How can I transform that kind of anger into positive change? What is the destructive anger in me, the anger that keeps me from letting go of things best released, the anger that is cruel and harmful to others, the anger of which I am ashamed? And what must I do to release myself and others from this kind of anger?

The twenty-second day – May 14 – Yom Ha’Atzmaut

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a day of celebration. But this year, with a war raging between Hamas and Israel, there are tears and death and tragedy in the Land of Israel. While we are determined to celebrate the independence of the State of Israel, we say, early, from the Pesach Haggadah, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” and we work for the hungry – the people of Gaza who are on the brink of starvation and famine.

** How can I work to help the people of Gaza while also supporting the peace loving people of Israel and celebrate Israel’s independence?? We will pray for a time of true independence from war and deprivation, independence so that Israelis and Palestinians may join hands in shalom/salaam – true peace.

The twenty-third day – May 15

The comedienne Gilda Radner, of blessed memory, once said: “I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.”

** How can I live my life more honestly and consistently, in a way that doesn’t “itch,” in a way
that is most consistent with who I am, and best “fits” the texture of my personality, my soul, my

The twenty-fourth day – May 16

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: “In traditional Jewish practice, when reciting the morning Sh’ma, we gather the four corners of the tallit (prayer shawl) together as we recite the words: ” havi-eynu l’shalom meh-arba kanfot ha-aretz ” (bring us safely from the four corners of the earth). This is our prayer for unity and safety for the Jewish People. It may also be understood as a prayer for the unity and in-gathering of all humankind in harmony and in peace. “

** How can I be an “in-gatherer,” and bring people together? How can I be a tool for unity and harmony, for loving coalescence? From dispersion and spiritual “diaspora,” how can I help myself and others come “home” from the four corners?

The twenty-fifth day – May 17 Tonight is Erev Shabbat

The American Jewish poet, Marge Piercy, writes in her poem, Shabbat Moment:

“A scarf trailing/over the lilac sunset/fair weather clouds/cirrus uncinus/silk chiffon./ Twilight softens the air/whispering, come/lie down with me.
Untie the knots of the will./Loosen/your clenched grip/barren hills of bone./Here, no edges to hone/only the palm fallen/open as a rose about/to toss its petals.

What you have made/what you have spoiled/let go . . .

** Can I untie the knots of my own will — just for these twenty-four, twenty-five hours of Shabbat? Can I loosen my clenched grip and hone no edges and just let go and let Shabbat enter within me? Can I truly find my way to Shabbat shalom?

The twentieth-sixth day – May 18 Today is Shabbat

Rabbi Shoni Labowitz of blessed memory teaches: “In silence, we are able to hear the inner voice of God speaking to us. . . Let us not view silence as confining or constraining: . . . let us sense it as an opportunity for. . . accessing awareness, our own language, and our own words of promise and anticipation. . . We can witness ourselves walking those words into living actions and enlightened service. . . In silence, the ego is still and the soul echoes our entrance into the inner chambers of God. . . .

On Shabbat, the noise of the week can be stilled, the din of doing is replaced by the quiet of being. At moments, there can be holy silence.

** Can I allow enough silence into by Shabbat day to enable myself to listen for God’s inner voice? To enable myself to listen for my own inner voice? What will these voices teach me? What new music will I hear if I open myself to holy silence?

The twenty-seventh day – May 19

A heart-breaking story is told that during the Holocaust that a German guard at the border of a neutral country asked a child, “Are you a Jew?” “Yes,” answered the child. “Jews are not admitted to this country,” snapped the guard. “Oh, please let me in. I’m only a very little Jew.”

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: “During the Holocaust, Jewish children came to believe in their own inferiority. The message was hammered into them each day. Today, even when we are free to live as proud Jews, we often try very hard to assimilate into non-Jewish culture so that we do not seem “too Jewish,” too different. Sometimes we are like the little Jewish children of the Holocaust, begging the larger culture to, “please let us in. We are only very little Jews.” This is internalized anti-semitism. As individuals, we often believe that we have flaws that don’t merit acceptance in the larger social group. This is internalized self-hatred.

** Am I aware of my own self-hatred? In what ways do I try to “pass” in the larger culture and be more acceptable to the larger social group? How can I combat my own internalized oppression — as a Jew, as a woman? What inner work must I do to love myself, in the uniqueness of who I am, in my wholeness?

The twenty-eighth day – May 20

Rabbi Laura Geller teaches, “There is a Torah of our lives as well as the Torah that was written down. Both need to be listened to and wrestled with: Both unfold through interactive commentary.”

** When I engage with the written Torah text, do I bring the Torah of my life to my engagement? Do I read/study/learn/listen to/experience the written Torah personally, in a way that the stories in the scroll relate to my own life story? Is my autobiography in interactive dialogue with the Torah text? Do the trials and tribulations of Torah’s characters in any way parallel mine? Are the dramas of my own life found within the pages of Torah’s dramas?

The twenty-ninth day – May 21

Psychotherapist and teacher of Jewish Spiritual Direction, Barbara Breitman teaches: “We live in an overly psychologized, narcissistic culture that tells us we have to love ourselves before we can really love anyone else. I do not think that is true. A spiritual perspective, a Jewish perspective teaches us that we are called upon to love others whether or not we can yet fully love ourselves. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ — love your neighbor as you would like to be loved. This is teshuva (inward turning and repentance). By loving others, we heal ourselves. By looking into the hard places, the ugly places, making ourselves transparent to God and other people, asking for forgiveness, we open our hearts and a miracle can occur.”

** What inner work must I do to be able to truly love others, even when I do not yet fully love
myself? What hard and ugly places within me must I dare to encounter, so that I can become
more open, more “transparent,” to God and to others? For what must I forgive myself? From
whom must I seek forgiveness? And what is the teshuva that I must do so that I might welcome
the miracles into my life?

The thirtieth day – May 22

Gluckl of Hameln, of blessed memory, a 17th century Jewish business woman, taught: “We have only our holy Torah in which we may find and learn all that we need for our journey through this world to the world- to-come. It is like a rope which the great and gracious God has thrown to us as we drown in the stormy sea of Life, that we may seize hold of it and be saved.”

** Do I reach out to grasp at the “rope” that Torah offers? Have a read the Torah slowly, seriously, with serious questions, seeking out study companions and teachers to glean its wisdom? Can Torah be for me, if not a savior, at the very least, a source of wisdom and a valuable guide in my journey through life?

The thirty-first day – May 23

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: When God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to build a sanctuary in which the tablets of the Law and the Torah will be placed, the Holy One asks for more than just a storage place. God’s words are: “Let them make Me a sanctuary (mishkan) that I may dwell within them.” [Exodus 25:8] The word mishkan comes from the same Hebrew root as Shechinah, the Indwelling Place of God, often associated with the Divine Female. Thus this ‘sanctuary’ that the Israelites are instructed to build is more than just a structure, it is an internal spiritual “home” in which God dwells among us, a kind of spiritual Mother-Space, a Holy Womb.

** Do I have an internal spiritual home where God dwells within me? Do I have a sense of God’s closeness to me and within me, a spiritual Mother-Space, a Holy Womb? Do I know (and really believe) that I hold within me a spark of the divine? Or — do I feel spiritually “homeless?” Does God feel very far away? Have I truly opened my heart and my mind and my soul to the Holy One, the Soul-Spirit of the World? Have I built my own mishkan? If not, how do I begin?

The thirty-second day – May 24 Tonight is Erev Shabbat

Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa’s daughter was lighting the Shabbat candles, and was upset. “What troubles you, my daughter?” her father asked “This is the one night of the week when you can be serene.” She told her father that she had mistakenly poured a can of vinegar into the Shabbat lamp instead of a can of consecrated oil. “I am afraid that the flames will sputter out,” Rabbi Hanina looked at the strong fire and comforted her, “Do not worry, my daughter. God has already made sure that the oil will burn, and will also make sure that the vinegar burns too. ”As he had predicted, “the vinegar burned through the night, and all the next day until it was time to bid farewell to the Sabbath and light the lamps of a new day.” —Talmud, TractateTa’anit 25a

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: Perhaps even from “vinegar” (that which is sour in our lives)
sweetness might come. Sometimes we enter Shabbat tired and bitter after a long, hard week,
but if we let the sour and bitter drip away, Shabbat might actually work it’s magic!

** What are the “sour” or bitter parts of my life from which some sweetness might come, the
dark places, from which light may come, if I can just taste the sweetness of the Shabbos wine
and feel the candles’ shimmer?

The thirty-third day – May 25 Today is Shabbat

Israeli composer, Naomi Shemer, of blessed memory, wrote in Song of the Grass:”

“. . . Know this, /that each and every shepherd/ has a unique melody of his own./ Know this,/ that every blade of grass/ has a unique song of its own,/ and from the song of the grass/comes the melody of the shepherd./ How beautiful,/how beautiful and pleasant it is/when one hears their song;/it is very good/ to pray among them/and in joy to serve the Ineffable./And from the song of the grass/the heart becomes filled/with longing. . ./And from the song of the grass/comes the melody/of the heart.”

** Do I walk enough among the grasses and hear their melody? Does the melody of my own heart harmonize with theirs? Do I go out into the meadows enough to hear the songs of the wild chanting in rhythm with the cadences of my own heart’s songs? Shabbat gives me a chance for the walk, for the song, for the listening. Will I take the chance?

The thirty-fourth day – May 26

Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso teaches: “[At the Red Sea]. . .the tradition of Miriam was so strong among the people that it could not be suppressed. A remnant of her voice remains with us. When we sing her song, we remember Miriam, who encouraged her people to sing and to dance on their way to freedom. We think of our own journey into uncharted landscapes and of the song inside each of us waiting to be sung. Like Miriam, without knowing the steps, we take a chance and dance.”

** What is my own personal “Red Sea?” To what am I enslaved, and what obstacles must I conquer to liberate myself? What is the song inside me waiting to be sung? I don’t yet know the steps of freedom’s dance, but can I take a chance, a leap of faith — and dance my own dance of liberation?

The thirty-fifth day – May 27

Esther Broner, Jewish feminist writer, author of A Weave of Women, The Telling and Mornings and Mourning: A Kaddish Journal, teaches: “Honor thy friends, for thou art an accumulation of them.”

** What of my friends is in me? What of them do I reflect? What of me do they reflect? Have I been a good friend? Am I openhearted and supportive of my friends? Do I seek them out when I truly need them? Am I there for them when they need me? Do I keep in touch with friends who are geographically distant? What do I need from my friends? And do I let them know what I need?

The thirty-sixth day – May 28

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg asks: What would happen if we looked at Judaism as a spiritual practice instead of a set of rigid commandments? What would happen if we removed the term “command” and translated mitzvah as “intention” or “commitment,” as a structure that offers the opportunity to awaken to the presence of the divine? What would happen if we said the many practices in Judaism are there as guidelines or directions, and each person is responsible for his or her own soul? . . . We have extraordinary guidelines in how to rest, how to celebrate, and how to mourn. Our spiritual practices deal with how to relate to nature, money, children, and old people. Our practice teaches us how to embody abstract words like respect, remember, sanctify and appreciate.”

** What kind of Jewish spiritual practice would be best for me? How can I “embody” abstract words like respect, remember, sanctify and appreciate in my own daily life? How can I best reside in my spirit in the ways that I rest? How can I best dwell in my heart-space in the ways that I celebrate? How might my spiritual practice sustain me in the ways that I mourn?

The thirty-seventh day – May 29

The Israeli poet, Leah Goldberg, of blessed memory, once wrote:

The road is so beautiful, says the lad.
The road is so hard, says the youth.
The road is so long, says the man.
The old man sits on the roadside to rest.
Sunset colors his beard a reddish gold.
Grass gleams with evening dew.
A late bird sings unbidden. . . Will you remember how long the road was, and how beautiful?

** As I grow older, do I remember all the beauty I have experienced in my life, or do I dwell too
often on the long and hard road? Do I stop to recall all the wondrous times I have experienced?
As I grow older, will I recognize the blessings of old age? Even as my body may become frail, will
I recognize and honor my own life’s wisdom, my journey from mere aging to “sage-ing,” (in Reb
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s words). How will I celebrate all the treasures old age will give me?

The thirty-eighth day – May 30

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches that when Moses becomes exhausted in leading the Israelites, he learns a lesson about leadership from Jethro: “. . .when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he [Jethro] said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone. . . ?’ Moses replied to his father-in-law, ‘It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another. . .’ But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you: you cannot do it alone.’ [Exodus 18:14—18]

** Do I usually try to “do it alone?” Do I take on too much responsibility — at work, for my family, for my friends? Do I think that if I don’t do it, it can’t be done properly? Do I know how to share leadership and responsibility with others? Am I wearing myself and others out because I cannot delegate responsibility? How do I let go, share the burden of responsibility, empower others, and save myself?

The thirty-ninth day – May 31 Tonight is Erev Shabbat

Canadian Jewish poet, Carol Rose, writes:

this is where/i come alive/this every friday night/at sunset/with candles/ welcoming me/from weekday cares/
this is where/i reconnect/with children/lover/friends/a world at war with itself/my resting place of wine and loaves/
this double portion/of long ago/gathered/around my sofa/with a good book/and loved ones praying/for peace in Jerusalem.

is where/i return/always/ to the Sabbath/dancing my way back/to ancestral chambers/joy/encircling my heart.

** Do I “return always” to this in my heart, joy encircling me? Or is this a dream, an illusion? Is this what I want? If so, how do I nurture a life in which the dream becomes reality?

The fortieth day – June 1 Today is Shabbat

Marlene Marks, writes in a short piece called “A Single Mom Does Shabbat:”

“When I was married, I made an elaborate Friday night meal. . . . Running to the dining room table, I I shove a week’s worth of mail to the side. I take the store-bought Challah out of the bread box and set it on the silver platter alongside the candle sticks and wine cup. Samantha takes out the candles. Having forgotten to buy wine, I pour Sundance Cranberry Juice into the goblet, hoping God will forgive me. “Come on, Sam, let’s do Shabbat, “ I call to my daughter, now engaged in her three-thousandth viewing of Jaws. Getting no response, I go after her and slam the tube off. “O.K. Kill the lights!” I say. She hits the switch and we’re in darkness. For a brief moment, Samantha and I look at each other in thanksgiving for the week that’s past. We say the prayers over the wine and bread and offer a quarter to our charity box for the poor. She eats her fix sticks in the living room watching Jaws, I eat my baked potato in the dining room, setting my plate on a pile of bills. By 8:30 we are both asleep. . . In the perfect Shabbat, each person blesses the other. . . the parents praise their children as worthy descendants of Abraham and Sarah. Single Mom sits down by Samantha and nibbles on the little girl’s carrot. The killer shark has returned. “I love you,” I say. The little girl nods. “I love you too, Mom.” One holy moment is good enough.”

** Shabbat can’t always be perfect. “Life” with all its aggravations often intrudes, whether we are single moms or not. But “one holy moment” can be enough. Against all odds, can I make one holy moment? Can I remember to seize it and recognize it and give thanks for it?

The forty-first day – June 2

When Moses first tries to convince Pharaoh to let the children of Israel leave Egypt, he says, “See, I will strike the water in the Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood. . .” [Exodus 7:17] When Pharaoh remains recalcitrant, God brings down more plagues against Egypt and “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.”

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: The plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heartmay be seen as a metaphor for an internal process that we each experience at difference times in our lives. We might ask ourselves:

** What are the feelings, situations or relationships that ‘plague’ me in my life? Are they of my own creation because my own heart is ‘hardened? Do I even know what is ‘plaguing’ me? How can I soften my own heart? What internal spiritual or emotional journey must I embark upon to discover my own inner plagues and liberate myself from my own inner “Egypts?” What or who do I need with me on my journey? On this fortieth day, I recognize the symbolism of this number — 40 years my people wandered in the wilderness. Will it take me that long to reach my own personal ‘promised land?’

The forty-second day – June 3

Etty Hillesum, of blessed memory, a young Jewish woman voluntarily went to Westerbork, a Dutch concentration camp, in order to care for her fellow Jews. She was later deported to Auschwitz where she died in September, 1943. Her life represented the embodiment of true altruism. She wrote the following words: “We carry everything within us, God and Heaven and Hell and Earth and Life and Death and all of history. The externals are simply many props; everything we need is within us. And we have to take everything that comes: the bad with the good, which does not mean we cannot devote our lives to curing the bad. But we must know what motives inspire our struggle and we must begin with ourselves every day anew.”

** Are there ways that I might embody true altruism? Am I clear about what motives inspire me in my life? Are my motives noble or selfish? Do I have faith that everything I need is within me? And how do I call forth my inner resources to give me the strength to do the work I must do in the world?

The forty-third day – June 4

In a Rosh Ha-Shana sermon, Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell taught: “We reach out to others through our own pain, both in spite of it and because of it. . . For many of us, it is easy to write a check. to send a donation. . . but have we lost the power of direct connection? Do we have difficulty translating our commitment to tikkun olam into everyday acts? . . . This day [Rosh Ha-Shana] is a day of listening, perhaps with a new severity, a renewed attention. Can we listen to one another with the same attention that we accord to the shofar? . . . Might we be able, maybe for the first time, to listen to our own voices and hear our own truths? For when we can hear our own breathing, our own heartbeats, the sound of our own blood pulsing
through our veins, then we can begin to hear the essential humanity of those around us. . .

** What must I do to get more in touch with myself? With my own truth? With my most authentic inner voice? And if I am able to get more in touch with myself, how can I cultivate and nurture more empathy within me? And if I am able to nurture more empathy within me, how can I reach out more directly to those around me — and build deeper human connections, deeper bonds of empathy? How can I translate those deeper connections into healing action, into a valuable and real contribution to tikkun olam?

The forty-fourth day – June 5 Yom Yerushalayim

Rabbi Leila Gal teaches: There are two concepts of Yerushalayim – Jerusalem. The heavenly City and the earthly city. In the Heavenly City, there is peace, harmony and tranquility between all peoples. In the earthly city, the woes of the world dwell, with those who live in her praying and yearning for the earthly to descend upon the ciy.

•• What can I personally do to help bring the heavenly City to earth? Through my ethics, my actions? My kindness? What must I need to do rather than just yearning?

The forty-fifth day – June 6

Carol Howell teaches: “It’s a hard thing to mourn someone you love. But a harder thing still, I think, to sit shivah for the living.”

** Has there ever been someone you loved, or someone with whom you were very close, from whom you are now estranged? A friendship lost through conflict? A family member with whom there has been a disconnection because of a long ago misunderstanding or perceived offense? A person for whom you cared deeply, whom you have ‘written off’ for whatever reason? Does the pain fester? Is the wound still unhealed? Perhaps the time for re-union is coming as you approach Sinai once again. Perhaps as you turn once more toward Torah’s wisdom, you will find in its teachings the kavannot (spiritual intentions) of forgiveness and shalom and shleymut (wholeness). Perhaps, just as the Holy One could say to Moses, salachti ki-d’varecha – I have forgiven, as you have asked, after the people of Israel had sinned, you can find it in your heart to forgive and to seek forgiven and to end estrangements.

The forty-sixth day – June 7 Tonight is Erev Shabbat

American Jewish poet, Charlotte Anker, wrote in 1966, “The Sabbath:”

What do I/Whose child eyes glowed with envy/at the sight/Of fir trees strung with Christmas light/Know of the Sabbath? . . . How should I/Who, rebel-masked, scorned Friday evening’s candle/glow and outstretched hands/And asked, “Why can’t we simply be Americans?”/Observe the Sabbath?/Yet through some process science still endeavors to define,/One day I looked on four millennia carved by chance or some design/And said, “All this is mine.”. . . At last, I stood with Moses on the mountain, heard/God’s will expressed./And when He said, “On this day ye shall rest,”/I was impressed,

** Do I experience the ambivalence of many an American Jew? Did I as a child rebel and ask “why can’t we simply be Americans?” What is it about Judaism that draws me back? What is this indefinable process that draws me to claim “all this is mine?” What is that I claim as mine? Will I stand with Moses and rest?
Will I embrace Shabbat?

The forty-seventh day – June 8 Today is Shabbat

An anonymous Jewish woman teaches: “On Shabbos afternoon, though we don’t always go to shul, my beloved and I are very religious about two things — we rest our bodies and we study together. After our Shabbos nap, we pull out some kind of “schtickel Torah,” “a little piece of Torah” as we call it — anything from which we can learn about something Jewish. It can be the Torah text itself, or a book of poetry of Jewish content, or we listen to a piece of music with a Jewish theme, or we sometimes watch a film with a Jewish theme. Sometimes, we will read traditional Jewish commentaries on the Torah or something from the rabbinic literature. And then we do what Jews have been doing for centuries — we discuss, and we argue — and we learn.”

** What about me? Is there a beloved, or a friend with whom I can pull out a “schtickel Torah” each Shabbos and learn? Wouldn’t it be fun?

The forty-eighth day – June 9

Anne Frank, of blessed memory, lived in Amsterdam as a young girl. She wrote her famous Diary while in hiding in from the Nazis. She died in Bergen Belsen concentration camp at the beginning of March, 1945.
Anne Frank wrote: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world!”

** What are you waiting for?

The forty-ninth day – June 10 – Today is the last day of the Omer.

“God said to Moses: ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and be there.’ [Exodus 24: 12]

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner teaches: Jewish tradition teaches that there is no insignificant or superfluous letter or word in the Torah. We are also taught that Torah uses an economy of words. Thus, when there is something “extra” – a redundancy, a repetition, we are advised to pay close attention. “Come up to me and be there.” Isn’t there a redundancy here? Why didn’t God just say — Come up to Me on the mountain? Why the addition of the phrase, ‘be there?’ Perhaps God is saying that Moses must bring his whole self — his body, his mind, his soul up to the mountain. Perhaps God is telling Moses that he must be fully ‘present’ in order to integrate the whole experience.

** Am I usually fully ‘present’ to the experiences of my life, or is only part of me really awake
and aware?
Am I present in body, but not in spirit? Am I able to truly listen and hear the music of that
intricate and complicated symphony of my life — or do I miss many notes and many nuances?
How do I bring my whole self to all that I experience in life? What new gifts will I discover along
the way?
What new music will I hear? Are there things I must change in my attitude, my approach to life,
my actions, my reactions that might help me be fully present to all that Life offers me?

As we each stand once again at Sinai this year, may we bring our whole selves with us
And may we each be truly present
to the gift that Torah brings to us
each and every year.

Reflections for Elul – in anticipation of the year 5783
written and compiled by Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D.

ELUL: אלול: אני לדודי ודודי לי — ani l’dodi v’dodi li 1
“I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me.”

Who is “my beloved?” – usually we think in romantic terms – intimacy – a lover.

I suggest that the beloved is the Holy One, and the Holy One within us — ourselves! Elul is a time to come back to the wholeness (and the holiness) of ourselves, to love ourselves so much that we seek to heal our broken parts, that we seek to mend the fissures with others, that we seek to be at one with the One. These days are, when each morning the shofar is sounded as a wake-up call, we are meant to stir ourselves to the sacred work of renewal in all the four worlds of body, mind, emotion and spirit. Each day as the shofar wails its whole and broken notes, we are to listen, listen, listen with our heart’s song 2 to the stirrings of our own hearts. Let us listen well.

When the Holy One spoke to Abram and told him Lech Lecha,” 3 take yourself and go to a Land that I will show you, Abram set out on a journey to a terra incognita, an unknown land. As we begin our Elul journey, let us explore the new “lands” of the spirit and soul to which we will journey in this month. What territories of the heart do we need to travel through to prepare ourselves for the great Days of Awe that will be upon us soon?

Rosh Chodesh Elul

Elohai neshama sheh-natata bi tehorah hi. . . “My God, the soul that you have planted within me is pure.” On this day, may I see the good and the godly that is within me, and when I am disappointed in myself, may I seek ways to live up to my best essence. May I also see the good and godly that is within others, and when I am disappointed in others, may I seek ways to discern the best essences of others.

2 Elul

Nachamu, Nachamu ami – “Comfort, take comfort, My People. 4 ” The first week of Elul is part of the seven weeks of consolation, which began with Tisha B’Av, and the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple. It is a time when the prophets like Isaiah comforted the people and promised that God’s love would return to them. In difficult times, we too, can take comfort in God’s love manifested in myriad ways — in the love of our family, friends and even in the loving glances of strangers. We are never alone. May I remember to seek the comfort and love of those all around me. How can I learn better to give and receive comfort?

3 Elul

In the Aleynu prayer, concluding most services, we accept responsibility to work for the healing of the world — l’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai — for “healing the world through the majesty of nurture.” 5 In this month of Elul, let us be students of nurture — let us learn how to nurture ourselves, others and the planet better. How can we become more accomplished nurturers?

4 Elul

There is a Hassidic saying that “there is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” Let us explore our own broken hearts – what wounds must we learn to live with, and from what afflictions of body, spirit or soul can we heal?

5 Elul

Shabbat is here once again! When the sun sets, I will be enveloped in an embrace of supernal love. Carter Heyward once wrote: Love is a conversion to humanity…the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life.” May I learn to dance on this eve of Shabbat and feel both Divine and human love in its full depth.

Erev Shabbat, 6 Elul

“Join a community. Only in this way can your work be made universal and eternal.” [Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch] What communities have I built for myself? On Shabbat, we are meant to spend time in community – in synagogue, with family, with friends. What do I need from community, and how can I offer the best of myself to my community? In what ways can I deepen and enrich my sense of community? In the coming

Shabbat Day, 7 Elul

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” So taught Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Let us ask ourselves: What amazes me on this day?

8 Elul

“In the future, we will have to account before the Creator for all the pleasures that we wanted to enjoy, were permitted to enjoy, and had the opportunity to enjoy, but didn’t.” (Rabbi Zechariah – Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin, end of chap. 4). In enjoying my life, my ability to face adversity is strengthened. Elul is a time to love myself, to face adversity and inner challenge and take account before our Creator. Let me try to enjoy life more and face those challenges which I must face with strength.

9 Elul

Rabbi Lewis Eron once wrote: Here are snipped parts of his beautiful poem:
Rosh HaShanah never comes at the right time;
It is always too early or too late.
Rosh HaShanah always comes before we are ready
To put aside our past and lay our burdens down.
Rosh HaShanah always catches us by surprise.
Showing up with a Shofar blast
So we stop, turn and listen
To the arresting voice within and around us…
May I listen to the “arresting voice” within me. May I listen deeply, and may the lessons I hear teach me well, so that I may act on their truths.

10 Elul

The world you live in and the life you lead can be either Hell or Heaven. It’s totally up to you. In first-century Israel, during the violent and oppressive rule of Rome, the Israelites asked Ruchumai: ‘Rabbi, where is Paradise?’ He replied: “Here.” (Sefer Ha-Bahir, Mishnah 31) What will my attitude be in the New Year? Will I live in Heaven or in Hell?

11 Elul

“I offer thanks to You, Sovereign Source and Sustainer of life, Who returns to me my soul each morning faithfully and with gracious love.” — Morning liturgy. Each morning, an observant Jew wakes up with words of gratitude. In this time of Elul, let us awaken and do a cheshbon nefesh (an inventory of the soul) about what we are thankful for and let this list stay with us during the day. When we remember our gratitude, it is easier for us to sustain the big and small challenges of the day, and endure them, and walk into the New Year with a sense of purpose and thankfulness. What are we grateful for on this day?

12 Elul

Shabbat will soon be with us! Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l, taught (after the teaching of Rabbi Elliot Ginsberg) that we should intend to cast from ourselves the otherness in which we dwell most of the time. When we put on our Shabbos garments we then draw upon ourselves an additional level of holiness. Reb Zalman continues: “The lawyer or broker who wears jeans on the Sabbath is making a statement about resting. [She] has taken off [her] professional role and donned clothes in which [she] can loaf at [her] ease. Others might put on special garb to enhance the delight of heart, mind, and soul. . .” 6 Dress in your most Shabbat-celebratory clothes! If I am in ‘formal’ clothes all week, I will dress down! If I am in ‘casual’ clothes all week, I will dress up! On the Days of Awe, we dress in special clothes as well – I will make garments my delight in the holy days and in the holy spark within myself!

Erev Shabbat, 13 Elul

“It is good to thank The Holy One, and to sing to God’s celestial Name! To speak in the morning of God’s kindness and Her faithfulness in the night!” (Psalm 92) — if I “let go and let God” on this day, I can truly relax, and delight in the joy of a day of true replenishment of body, mind and soul. I can become a playful being, a soulful being. What a gift indeed is Shabbat!

Shabbat Day, 14 Elul

We are taught in the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Bava Metzia 58b): “If a person is truly penitent and sorry, one must not say, ‘remember your former deeds.’” Do I have trouble “letting go” of old hurts? Do I have difficulty forgiving and putting past events aside? Do I stubbornly remain locked into the past? What inner work must I do to be able to release the past into the past and accept God’s gift of the future?

15 Elul

Naomi Hyman wrote: “Why do we find the names of the daughters of Zelophohad listed not once, but four times? This is to teach us that when we speak up for ourselves we claim the right to name the world as we see it. And we would add: we name the world as we would want to see it. In these troubling times, may I envision a world filled with abundant justice for women, men, people of color, people of all genders and people of all economic stations — and may I work every day to bring this world to reality.

16 Elul

Sometimes I feel bored, even jaded with life. I think, as Ecclesiastes wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun.” And then I read the words of Reb Nachman of Bratslav: “Every moment is a new beginning, every act is your very first. Never regard your action as if it were the second or fourth or hundredth, but always as if it were the very first time you have ever done it.” (Likkutei HaMaHaRaN, Ch. 62:5-6) 7 I wake up! My mind sparkles with a newness, a freshness, a small but palpable rebirth! May I learn this lesson as I take each step in this New Year!

17 Elul

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches that “love is a verb.” “How do you love people? You do things which don’t necessarily benefit you…In this sense, every favor can be the beginning of love or at least its repair. Each favor is a gift of self that says ‘You mean more to me than me. It may not understand your motive; it is enough for me to know that you desire it.’ In these days of Elul, I will resolve to offer more love into the world.

18 Elul

There is a Jewish teaching that God created the world a hundred times before the one in which we live. It’s kind of like our own selves. We invent and re-invent ourselves all the time. May the “self” I invent this year be authentic, honest, loving and caring. May it be true to my best essence. So help me God.

19 Elul

When you encounter an obstacle to your journey toward God, know that God is hiding within the obstacle waiting for you” (Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Likkutei HaMaHaRan, Ch. 115). (Included in op. cit., p. 166) When I encounter obstacles, I need to remember that I have the capacity to overcome them and that God is with me. I need to put one foot in front of the other and face the challenge(s) confronting me. Together, God and I will prevail.

Erev Shabbat, 20 Elul

Teach me my God, a blessing, a prayer
On the mystery of a withered leaf
On ripened fruit so fair
On the freedom to see, to sense,
To breathe, to know, to hope, to despair.
Teach my lips a blessing, a hymn of praise
As each morning and night
Your renew Your days,
Lest my days be as the one before
Lest routine set my ways.

— Leah Goldberg, Israeli poet

How can I bring the blessing of Shabbat “non-routine” into the regularity of my weekdays and bring the quiet thoughtfulness of Shabbat into these Elul days?

Shabbat Day, 21 Elul

The poet Adrienne Rich once wrote: “To say yes over and over, to our integrity, we need to know where we have been, we need our history.” As Jews, as human beings, we must examine our histories — and seek to heal what must be healed and redeem what must be redeemed. Without our histories, we are rootless.

22 Elul

In the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 32b), we read: " Four things must be done with zest: Torah study, good deeds, prayer, and one’s daily task. [Talmud Berachot 32b]

What have I done most zestfully in the year that has passed? What might I do to enjoy life more fully? How do I integrate my Jewishness, my humanity, my spirituality and my professional life in a more healthy and organic way. so I can rise up each morning able with sincerity to say "Ma tov chelki!” How good is my portion (in life)?

23 Elul

The Jewish poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker writes: “I tell my students that they must write what they are afraid to write; and I attempt to do so myself.” To Ostriker’s words, I would add, we must try to live in ways that we are afraid to live — with absolute honesty, integrity and wholeness. This is often difficult to achieve. The great Days of Awe call us to this task.

24 Elul

Diane Arbus once said, “My favorite thing is to go where I have never been.” This applies to the most profound parts of one’s spirit and one’s soul. Elul calls us to delve deep.

25 Elul

A Hassidic teaching: Reb Zusya of Tarnopol was being pressured by his colleagues to make a certain decision, to act in a certain way, which went against his own best instincts. This is what he said in response: “When I come to the gates of Heaven and stand before the Holy One for judgment, God will not ask me, “Why were you not more like Moses?” The Holy One will ask me, “Why were you not more like Zusya?” Elul and the Days of Awe call us to authenticity.

26 Elul

As I enter Shabbat this week in Elul, I remember that Shabbat is “a taste of Olam ha-ba (the world to come) and may I remember yesterday’s reflection – and pray on this day, when I can taste a redeemed world, at Shabbat’s end, of my commitment to work for that world.

Erev Shabbat, 27 Elul

When the first humans approached the first Shabbat, they did not know that the world would not end. They feared darkness and death — and then at the end of Shabbat a new day dawned and the world continued – Life continued! On this Shabbat, may I experience rest and regeneration and may I prepare myself, in this last week of Elul for the continued deepening of my contemplation of personal repair and tikkun haneshamah (healing of the soul) as I approach the great Days of Awe.

Shabbat Day, 28 Elul

With the New Year, we have a chance for newness within our heart, a newness that can change the course of our lives. But change is often frightening, and sometimes we are not sure that we are indeed ready for it. “What will this new heart be like?” we wonder. “How will this purified heart change the persons we are?” “Will the very structure of our lives change as our spirits are renewed?” So much uncertainty comes with change. As we stand at the threshold of a New Year, we pray for the valor to face uncertainty, the courage to truly change what needs to be changed, and the faith to welcome the new spirit that is within us.
— Rabbi Leila Gal Berner


Erev Rosh Hashanah, 29 Elul



As we approach the High Holy Days, the month of Elul offers us an opportunity to begin our own self-exploration and self-evaluation. We can focus on our own actions in the past year and begin the process of teshuva (inward turning).

First, before we can really look deeply into our own souls, we must find the ways that we can begin that process, we must each identify the methods and techniques that help us look within. We might ask ourselves the following questions:

• What helps me identify my successes and my failures?
• What makes it easier for me to let go of my own anger towards those who have hurt me? What helps me to forgive them?
• What gives me the strength to ask for forgiveness? How do I do that?
• What helps me to allow myself to be forgiven by others?
• What helps me to allow myself to forgive myself?
• What have I done well in the year that is ending? What have I done this year that makes me feel proud?
• What have done not so well in the year that is ending? How can I do better in the coming year? What must I change – in my actions, in my reactions, in my inner self?
• What are my truest and most fundamental values? How do I live in the coming year in a way that is most consistent with those values? – in my actions, in my reactions, in my inner self?

• What is most important to me about my life –
— as a Jew?
— As a spouse or partner?
— as a parent?
— as a child?
— as a sibling?
— as a friend?
— as a co-worker?
— as a human being?

How can I live in the coming year in way that most enriches and deepens me in these different aspects of my life?

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner

Rabbi Leila Gal Berner was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and holds a second ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (of blessed memory). She received her doctorate in medieval Jewish history from UCLA. She is Dean of Students of the ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Ordination where she teaches biblical and medieval history, feminist thought, and midrash. Dr. Berner has taught in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University and George Washington and Emory universities, and Swarthmore and Reed colleges.

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