What is Practice For?

Lisa Goldstein
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
Of all the Scriptural readings during the High Holy Days, my favorite is the Haftarah for Yom Kippur morning, Isaiah 57:14-58:14, and part of the reason I love it is its timing. We usually get to it in the late morning, when it is just starting to dawn on my stomach that it has not been fed and it begins to protest. Oh yes, I remember. I am fasting today. But just when I start to notice how pride arises (I am such a spiritual person, depriving myself of food and water today!) or maybe fear (what if I can't handle the fast?), Isaiah's resounding voice is heard: God is not actually interested in the fast. This day is not about the fast at all. God is interested in the ethical and moral fabric of our society, how we take care of each other, how we act out in the world.

In some ways, however, this is a false dichotomy, creating an artificial distinction between the inner life (the fast) and the outer life (an ethical and moral society). Through our practice we come to see how porous that membrane really is. As we work to develop awareness, we notice how it shines a light on our inner truth and also how non-separate we are from our neighbors and our countrymen and women. Isaiah is overstating his case for dramatic effect: these holy days, these holy practices are not solely about you. They are tools to help us cultivate the capacity to live holy lives in service of God and others.

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  Upcoming Programs:
Rabbbi Sam Feinberg
Thursday, October 27 at 8pm

Prayer Project Online Intensive Modules: 

Liturgical Prayer: Discovering Our Own Authentic Service
Rabbi Jonathan Slater
Dec. 4 - 30, 2016

Sacred Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love
Rabbi Shefa Gold
Feb. 5 - March 3, 2017

Hitbodedut: Cultivating Spontaneous Conversations with God
Rabbi David Jaffe
March 5 - 31, 2017

Contemplative Jewish Prayer: Presence, Intention, Surrender
Rabbis Nancy Flam and James Jacobson-Maisels
June 4 - 30, 2017
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Join in the expanding circle of those who share in the profound and spiritually uplifting world of Torah study with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Enrich yourself, deepen your experience of Torah study and expand the sources from which you teach by participating in the Institute's text study program. Join us in mining these sources for useful and powerful teachings, informed by a contemplative, mindfulness-based approach.

We are excited to be offering two text study options; sign up for text study this year with Rabbi Sam Feinsmith, Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg, or both!

The cost for the program is $240 for either program, or $450 for both.
Student Rate: $50 for either program, or $75 for both.
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Compassion Practice for Yom Kippur
By Rabbi Sam Weinberg
As we approach Yom Kippur, take some time to sit in stillness and imagine yourself as the High Priest journeying into your own Holy of Holies.  You can continue this practice after Yom Kippur, and adapt it to your own preferences and style.

Pause.  Breathe. Set your intention to unite with the infinite, vast, spacious Source within and all around.

Enter your inner sanctuary through the sense gates of your retaining wall, your body.  Sense what it's like to be in a body.  Observe prominent and subtle sensations of weight and lightness, heat and coolness, motion and stillness, pulsation and solidity.  Touch in with your breath.  Feel the aliveness of energy and life force pulsing through your body.  Touch in with each of your senses, noticing what it's like to touch, taste, see, smell, and hear.  Cultivate a sense of gratitude for being an integral physical cell in the earthy organism of Mother Earth.

Pause.  Breathe. Set your intention to unite with the infinite, vast, spacious Source within and all around.

Open for Us a Gate: Kavannah for Yom Kippur
b y Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell
Jordan Bendat-Appell
"Open for us a gate at the time of the locking of the gate, for day is passing.  The day will pass; the sun will set and pass; we will come before Your gates..."

- P'tach Lanu Sha'ar, from the Yom Kippur Ne'ila service

Every year at Ne'ila, as the light of Yom Kippur is slowly fading away, I am struck by the power of this simple plea: "Open for us a gate."  We ask God, desperately, to keep the gates open, but we are also raising the questions to ourselves: How do I open the gates?  How do I enter the gates?  What are my habitual ways of opening something that might be closed or closing?

There is the possibility that when something seems like it might be closed or closing that we fight against it.  We strike the rock angrily with the staff to bring forth the water, or we don't trust in the possibility that softening is actually more effective in order to "transform the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a flowing spring" (Psalm 114:8).  We may think that it is the rock or flint that we actually need-and so we seek the hard, sharp  instruments of judgment and forsake the soft, flowing, life-giving spring of compassion.

Life can harden us because it is difficult, but this same difficulty can also open and soften us.  Yom Kippur itself brings us to this fork in the road: will all the physical discomforts of the fast, the immersion in the seemingly interminable words of the liturgy, combined with the honest contemplation of my own limitations and mortality (see, e.g.  Untetaneh Tokef) lead me to close the gates of my heart or to open them?  Either is possible.
Greet Yourself Arriving: Self-Care Practice for Yom Kippur
by Shelly Nelson-Shore

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

(Derek Walcott,  Love After Love )

Whether we undertake a physical fast or not, Yom Kippur can be a difficult day-full of self-examination, challenging reflections on our action and inaction, and growing awareness of our mortality and limits. The liturgy of the day can feel harsh, and as we spend a day accounting for our souls, the impulse to judge ourselves can be overwhelming.

We invite you to set aside some time before or during your Yom Kippur practice to consider how you can care for yourself-physically, spiritually, and emotionally-during this day of practice. Yom Kippur comes to an end following the Neilah service, but the emotions raised throughout a day's observance linger. How do we make space during this day to greet ourselves with a smile? How do we make room in our hearts for the emotions and sensations that arise over the day? How do we look at the image ourselves that the soul-accounting creates, and still welcome our heart home?

The answers will be different for each of us, and the myriad ways that we make a compassionate observance of this day are equally meaningful. If fasting is part of your practice, we hope that it is both meaningful and easy. If it is not, we wish you a day of practice that is nourishing to your heart, body, and soul. May we all be sealed for blessing in the Book of Life. May your life be a feast of richness and love. 
Jewish Meditation Group Network : Building Communities of Practice  Webinar Series
from Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell Jordan Bendat-Appell
The Jewish Meditation Group Network (formerly  V'asu Li Mikdash)  is an initiative of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality dedicated to supporting all those who teach, lead or organize Jewish Meditation groups-- as well as for those who hope to begin groups. 

Our next webinar:

Hassidut and Mindfulness with Rabbi Sam Feinberg
Thursday, October 27 at 8pm ET

Please note that space for the live webinar is limited to 100 participants, so don't wait! The webinar will be made available for download after the live webinar has concluded. 

Open to everyone!

Cost: Free of charge

Missed one of our previous webinars? Visit the Jewish Meditation Group Network page on our website to download full recordings.