Friday, April 29, 2011

Inspiration from Pesah 2011

Pesah practice offers fewer choices than the rest of the year. Leavened grains are not permitted, and this being true, the eating of all grains is looked at differently.

The Pesah diet offers a subtle twist towards Tzim Tzum contracting as the days are getting shorter and warmer, and fruit is starting to blossom into the abundance of summer.

It is interesting to feel the changes that result in the body, which come about as a natural consequence of this eating practice. Torah teaches, v'achalta, v'savata, u’varakhta; you shall eat, and be content, and then invoke blessing. (Deut 8:10).

The industrial revolution brought with it blessings and curses. Technology offers high volume production. Abundant inexpensive processed came about as a result. More is better. The challenge is that the the quality of nourishment can be diminished, unless great care is taken to maintain it.

For example, refined sugar is a significant source of dis-ease in our society. It is a poison, since it is depleted of any life force, vitamins and minerals*.

Essentially, sugar masks the body’s sense of contentment -- that is, the feeling of being full and nourished. I clearly remember the sense of confusion I would get when I ate sugar. I had just eaten, yet was definitely hungry only 30 minutes later. I am being guided to remove sugar from my diet.

As a result, I can now tell when my body needs fuel. It is key to maintaining the body’s sense of orientation to healthful nourishment. On the occasion that I eat sugar, I can feel my sense of contentment become altered. This masking takes away our freedom of choice – since the basis has been altered.

Have you ever seen a sugar refining plant?

I got a tour inside one by watching “Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel. They showed an enormous factory, many stories high, with huge vats and mechanized conveyor belts that moved the sugar from process to process. Hard edges, many gears. It was hot in there. Steam emanated from the vats and furnaces. Temperatures upward of 120 degrees F. Sweat streaming down the masked faces of those who dared enter. It looked unforgiving – like it would crush anything that got in its way.

The job being considered was severe -- people wearing what looked like space suits were lowered via harness on a crane to clean the red-hot blades that moved the sugar past the heating element. The blades glowed red hot, like mechanical charcoal. If left untended, the sugar would stick to the moving blades, become layered, and clog up the heating element. It looked like the person was being dropped into the bowels of hell.

A toxic assembly line for a toxic substance: refined sugar. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as it were.

Pesah is a time when we are invited to limit our food intake -- that is, to consciously limit our eating habits. It affords an opportunity to alter our personal eating habits as we re-integrate foods into our diets.

Of course, this is contrary to the way many people celebrate Pesah. Past culture has trained many that more is better. That “more” honors the holy day better. This overindulgence is a remnant, an anachronism, from a time when people did not have sufficient food to eat. It is hard, even counter-intuitive, for many to consider Pesah as a call for minimizing consumption.

The world is different today than when our parents grew up. We have learned that “less” can be “more”. A practice of consuming what is needed for nourishment supports health personally in the short term. Having said this, it is can be very challenging to shift into a mindset where "less is more". I feel differently after eating Pesah food for 8 days -- lighter, more spacious, as it were This feels good as the days continue to get shorter and we get ready for summertime. We need less food when the climate is warmer. I will try to use this to help modulate my weight this Summer.

This break from ordinary eating opens a door to the possibility of change. This is deep wisdom from our ancestors.

Consider this - if you kept Passover Kashrut, you have already done the “heavy lifting” of committing to a change.

If you did not, you can ride on the energy of the season and those who have.

After Pesah, we re-introduce foods into our diets. We can do this selectively.

What will you change this year?

Thanks to (very soon to be) Rabbi Jordan Gerson for his inspiring shiur at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, CA on the eighth day of Pesah 2011. It inspired this post.

* Refined sugar has been called a poison because it has been depleted of its life forces, vitamins and minerals.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hametz Musings

Hametz is known as the “puffy stuff” (Thanks R Jonathon Omer-man) we find in bread. Hametz expands and takes up space. Hametz restricts movement and causes narrowness (Mitzrayim). The narrowness tends to build up over time and restricts movement. This is a loss because movement is life. Life does not exist without movement.

Consider two kinds of Hametz; External and Internal. They impact each other.

Jews throughout the world seek and remove hametz in their homes in preparation for Pesah. Spring cleaning is a useful and pragmatic practice that promotes cleanliness and purity. This is an external hametz seeking practice.

The internal work is just as important. Consider – What is the “puffy stuff” that gets in the way of moving forward on my path? Are there aspects that get in my own way?

R Zalman Schachter-Shalomi teaches that the ego is a great manager and a lousy boss. We need ego to enable us to “show up”. Without ego – knowing who we are in the world – we could not share our gifts and contribute.

It is essential to know ourselves and what our gifts are.

Ego can become distorted. When we become overly self important ego can get in the way of movement. Hametz – the puffy stuff - is a cause of Mitzrayim – narrowness (that can grow and accumulate over time.)

Hametz cleaning invites us to remove unneeded puffiness in our homes and in our selves.

A zissen Pesan to all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rosh Hodesh Nissan; New Moon of Aries


Shalom Friends,

On April 5 the new moon was seen in the night sky to herald the coming of spring. This new moon ushers in the month of Nisan, The Month of Spring: liberation from the tight cold of winter - Rebirth! On the full moon of Nisan we usher in the festival of Passover!

This too, is the birth of the Holistic Jew blog. Jewish practice is largely based upon our ancestors meeting the cycles that impact Earth. This is Jewish in that we acknowledge that The Holy One of Blessing arranged Earth’s cycles of time. These patterns, then, offer skillful means to meet the Creator of these cycles.

I want to share the joy I experience meeting the phases of each day, lunar and solar cycles, and offer skillful means to help you find your own best practices to do so, through sharing of ideas and rituals. I will post a new teaching at least once a month. I hope that you will share your thoughts as they relate to these teachings.

The month of Nisan, the month of spring, is sometimes called the month of "speaking," because Passover is in this month, and the Hebrew for Passover is PESACH.

‘The rabbis extract a teaching from the word Pesach, which literally means to “pass over.” But it happens that in Hebrew the verb "sah" means "to tell;" peh is "mouth." Thus Pesach, Passover, can also mean a "mouth that tells!"”[1]

“And what a story we tell!”

On the full moon of Nisan, for two thousand years, generation after generation of Jews all over the world gather around a table to share a Passover feast, sing and tell the story Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt.’ [2] We remember Pharoah’s cruelty and persecution of our ancestors.

The Seder is a festival meal - with story telling, song, good food and fruit of the vine. It is one of the ancestral keys we have been gifted with. The Seder is a key to maintaining a Jewish identity outside the homeland.[3]

The telling of the story is so important that the compilation of songs and stories read at a Passover Seder, is called the Hagadah, which simply means “the telling!”

Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt

Can you hear the MTzR in MiTZRayim? In Hebrew, “Egypt” is not the name for the land in which Jews were enslaved --it is “Mitzrayim”. TZR means constriction, or being squeezed or tight.

Mi-TZR-ayim - The tight-narrow-place, The-Place-of-Constriction, density, the Place where no-thing can flow, constraint and binding, dis-ease. “Ayim” points to “doubling” the constraint. Some connect this with the physical geography of the country – a physical aspect of narrowness.

Our people’s liberation from The tight-narrow-place is one of the great tales of human history.

Pharoah is the ruler of Mitzrayim - the constricted place. The people of Mitzrayim consider him as a god. The root, PRAyin not only points to the Ruler of Mitzrayim; the Narrow Place, it means - troublesome, unruly, bothersome, pogrom, interruption according to the Alcalay dictionary.

The Haggadah tells us that each year as we sit at the Seder table, one should consider it as if we all had personally exited from Mitzrayim, the place of narrowness and density.

Mitzrayim and Pharaoh are archetypes that tend to play out through the details of life. Heshbon HaNefesh; soul accounting invites us to look inward more deeply and assess these patterns as they come forward in the world; personally, communally and beyond.

We begin this process with a personal assessment:

What is blocking me from being my best self? A place? a situation?

What IS the Mitzrayim I wish to personally leave behind this year? A habit, dis-ease? trait ? Entanglement?

Who is playing the role of Pharaoh in our lives?

“When we do this, we may weave our own story into the narrative of the Jewish people moving from slavery to freedom.”4


1. Mitzrayim: Where is density, constriction ?





2. Who is playing the role of Pharaoh in our lives?

A Person?

Is there an external condition causing obstacles?

Are we our own worst Pharaoh?

3. Is it useful to consider life’s challenges through this lens?

[1] Thanks to R Marcia Prager for her words on the 2011 Ohala list.


[3] In 1990, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was invited to a meeting in Dharamsala, India between the Dalai Lama and Jewish leaders to discuss how Tibetan Buddhists might "survive in exile," as Jews had done for two-thousand years. Rabbi Zalman pointed to the Passover seder and guided the Buddhists with the template of the Haggadah to help them tell their own story as This dialogue, and Schachter-Shalomi's remarkable influence upon it, became the focus of a best-selling book by Rodger Kamenetz, called The Jew in the Lotus. P 39

[4] See 1