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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
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Reflections on Vayetze from Rabbi Shefa Gold

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 13:15

Rabbi Shefa Gold

Remember: The Torah is not about someone else or about some other time and place. It is fruitful and beneficial to read our sacred text as a map of the inner landscape, shining a light into this here, this now of my life.

Jacob represents the quintessential Human with all of our foibles, all of our potentials, all of our weaknesses and nobilities. The parsha begins with Jacob running away. Or you might understand his situation as being sent away. After deceiving his brother who would then become a mortal threat, Jacob has to leave. He is also sent to find family, find a wife from within the tribe. Jacob leaves and is on a mythic journey, running for his life and running to his destiny.

Torah is about the journey. I leave the place I know or I am sent. I am running for my life or I am drawn forward by possibilities. I may think I know where I’m going (from Be’er Sheva to Haran) but truly, it’s what happens along the way that matters.

I leave Egypt (the place of constriction, conditioned reactivity, slavery) and I journey to the Promised Land (the place of awakened consciousness where the flow of milk and honey sustains me). Torah is about what happens along the way.

As Jacob I am running away from the mess I have made. And I am running towards the possibilities of love, connection, family, security, abundance. Of course the mess I have made will follow me wherever I go and I will eventually be forced to face my worst and most destructive habits of mind and heart.

This is our journey. All of us must leave the familiar and step out into the unknown in order to fulfil our potential, and in order to get some perspective on who we are becoming and what we must do to heal. Like Abraham we hear the call to leave everything that we know–our home, family and illusions of certainty. That leaving may be painful. It might feel like we are being forced out of our comfort zone into a land we do not know. And yet, in the deepest corner of our hearts we also hear the invitation. The invitation to become a blessing.

Rumi describes it like this: Come, come whoever you are! Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving, come.

As Jacob I am a wanderer who is becoming a wonderer. I step into the awesome unknown of the journey. I become a worshiper, opening to God from a profound sense of vulnerability. I become a lover of leaving when I sense the invitation to awaken.

And that is what this journey we’re on is. It is a journey of awakening.

Vayetze gives us a seed moment for that awakening.

When I am truly awake, I see the miracle that was always before me. When I am awake, I am touched by the beauty and poignancy of this very step, aware that it is a part of an amazing journey. When I am awake, I experience life, and death, as a great adventure, and I am filled with enthusiasm and humor. When I am awake, I am filled with compassion for my own predicament and that compassion overflows towards all beings.

My spiritual practice is meant to turn me in the direction of that kind of awakeness. So, Jacob’s moment of awakeness is a gift for all of us as we plant the seed moment and then make a commitment to tend it with our awareness, celebration and practice. We all have moments of fleeting clarity, when suddenly we know ourselves as integral to the cosmos, and the way forward opens up. But then the moment is gone and we are lost again, stumbling through life, trying to make the right deal.

But what if that moment of clarity could be planted in us as a seed of the possible? What if we could live in the light of that lucid magical moment?

Jacob’s journey pivots on an ordinary word that just happens to be a secret name for God…. HAMAKOM, which means “the place.“ This Divine name points to the omnipresence of God. It is a word that awakens us to the truth that God is with us, everywhere.

Jacob comes to a place on his journey. The sun has set, so he takes a stone from that place as his pillow. The Stone might represent the hard place we have come to in our life. It is dark, so the only thing we can do is rest …. and dream.

The dream shows Jacob a ladder that stretches between earth and heaven, between the finite and the infinite, between our limited perspective and the Divine expanse. Angels are going up and down this ladder, showing us the way to bridge this divide. And then God gives Jacob a glimpse of the wide perspective, connecting him to his ancestors and descendants. God shows Jacob the path he must traverse and assures him that he will return. Through all of it, the important thing to remember, God reminds us is …”I am with you” (Anochi Imach)

When Jacob wakes up, he has that seed moment of remembrance, which is our seed to plant. With Jacob we remember that God is in this place. How awesome! We remember that this present moment is the house of God, and it is the gate of Heaven.

As Jacob continues on his journey, he misunderstands the Divine promise, and tries to frame it as a deal–if you give me the right food, and the right clothes for this journey, then you will be my God and I’ll give you a tenth of my riches in return. So often our relationship with God is like that. We want things to go our way, with God’s blessing. In my clearer moments, this is the promise I hear.

THE PROMISE: I will give you HAMAKOM, “the place,” the land of your life – to possess, to know, to inhabit, cultivate, refine. The awesome place that I give you is none other than the House of God – I live there at the heart of every molecule and I will shine out through the windows of your own eyes when they are open to this truth. And this awesome place is the Gate of Heaven – connecting all realms and dimensions, Heavens and Hells – connecting you with your wildest dreams.

I will give you descendants. You will be a delicate flower held up to the wind. You will be blown open, that your seeds may scatter and take root, blossoming in places you could not imagine. The winds of history and circumstance and coincidence will spread your essence, your song, your sigh, mixed with the pollens of desire, to the far corners of the world. Your fragrance will waft through the farthest garden.

Through you and your descendants, all the families of the earth will be blessed. 

I am with you. I do not promise that it will be comfortable or that you will not suffer. I do not promise that you’ll never be hungry or feel despair. I do not promise that your heart will never be broken. My promise is simply that I am with you – in your suffering, your hunger, your despair, through your wandering, your stumbling, your confusion — (I am with you), “Anokhi Imach” (Genesis 28:15) — even when you feel abandoned.

When I hear this promise, I return to my spiritual practice inspired to embrace this moment as it is, to receive it as Grace. I tend the seed of awakening by honoring moments of clarity. I honor those peak moments through expressions of awe and wonder, through creative pursuits, and by asking whoever I’m with, “Hey, did you see that; did you feel that; can we share this moment of miracle?”

Join Rabbi Shefa Gold and Cherie Brown for an incredible retreat of healing spiritual practice at SoulLift: Healing Into Action at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, Florida, January 20 – 26, 2020. You can find more information and register here.

Beloved Land and Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg Receive Prestigious Award

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 16:02

The Religious Education Association (REA) has awarded Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg and the ALEPH Ordination Program’s ground-breaking Israel-Palestine educational initiative, Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine through the Kaleidocope, the 2019 Wornom Innovation Grant for Innovation in Religious Education.

The prestigious award was announced this past weekend at the REA annual conference, which was attended by a significant gathering of Israeli religious education scholars. The conference was organized by renowned scholar and Jewish educator Dr. Hanan Alexander,  Professor of Philosophy of Education at the University of Haifa, Israel. 

Key to the award is Beloved Land’s focus on hope.

“This educational endeavor delivers a compelling innovative model for empowering Jewish spiritual leaders with sophisticated nuanced capacities to enter the contentious arena of Israel/Palestine conversation in ways that promote multi-cultural understanding, compassion and hope,” says Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg.  

“Too often the location of skewed narratives, propaganda, emotional combat, hopelessness and rage, hard but needed conversations around Israel and Palestine often remain suppressed or become fruitlessly explosive,” continues Ginsburg. “Beloved Land’s integrated academic and experiential 4-Worlds approach facilitates the caliber of educational and spiritual formation that cultivates a capacity for deep listening, ongoing learning, resilience, and a nurturing of the possibility of a more deeply shared society. As religious educators, we will not, cannot, succumb to living in a post-hope world.”

With gratitude to the Religious Education Association for this recognition, we invite YOU to also affirm hope, resilience and compassion by joining us in supporting the Beloved Land Program. For more information on the AOP Israel and Palestine Program, please visit

DONATE NOW to be part of this innovative program. You can join us with any donation, large or modest. You can affirm with us that, we will not, cannot, succumb to living in a post-hope world. Simply type in “Beloved Land” in the Comments/Dedication section at the bottom of the page.

Support the Beloved Land Program. Sponsor a rabbinic, cantorial, rabbinic pastor studentor any of our dedicated community spiritual leadersto participate in this groundbreaking training. 

SOULIFT: Healing Into Action with Rabbi Shefa Gold

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 19:33

The political situation that we find ourselves in has been filled with spiritual peril for me and for many of my colleagues and friends. My deepest intention is to love everyone, to know the whole world as my extended family. And yet, I find myself seething in outrage, and sometimes despairing. My reactivity reveals some pretty shadowy places, places in me that are yearning to be healed.

Since what I do well is lead fellow seekers in the process of transformative retreat, I decided to create the next SOULIFT especially for activists and seekers who struggle with these issues and aspire to heal the world through a journey that is also self-healing, awakening compassion and power through spiritual practices that are grounded in Jewish Wisdom.

The retreat is called SOULIFT: Healing into Action. I have called on a great teacher of activists to collaborate with me on this. Cherie Brown is someone whom I’ve long admired. She is the founder and executive director of NCBI The National Coalition Building Institute, and is expert at healing the grief, fear, and shame that get in the way of powerful, courageous leadership. 

In order to come to clarity about what needs to be done and what our role is in response to the dysfunctions of government, the poisons of public discourse, the calamities of climate change, the lack of compassion for those in need, and the policies based on fear and hatred; we each need to engage in a process of moving from reactivity to wise and loving response. 

I see this process as a spiral dance that keeps sending us towards connection, collaboration and energizing hopefulness. These are the steps that I take on this journey from Healing into Action:

1. Receiving Blessing and Coming into Gratefulness
2. Facing the Challenges and Honoring our Pain 
3. Transforming our Perception and Embracing Paradox
4. Overflow

We begin by opening to blessing, relaxing the tension and constriction that impedes the flow of breath and simple goodness. We enter into a state of gratefulness for the process itself, for the opportunity to rise to the challenge before us. 

From that place of strength and fullness, we can turn and face what is difficult, grieve what has been lost, come out of numbness and begin feeling the pain that we share. We can honor that pain by knowing that it is tied to our love and to the truth of our connection that has been shattered and shadowed over by layers of illusion. When we stop resisting that pain, we can move through it, with support.  

In the process we find our love again, and step into a wider view. As our perception shifts, we see the bigger picture and begin to know ourselves as integral to the cosmos. We expand. We embrace the paradox that this is a difficult and dangerous journey and yet, in this moment we have already arrived.

And then the spark happens. Imagine your every expression, action or gesture of Generosity as Overflow.

In that place of connection and fullness, we leave the struggle behind and open as channels of the Divine flow, trusting that flow more and more, dedicating ourselves to refining and purifying the channels that we are. We release our attachments to the outcome of our actions and begin to trust that when we are connected to Source, all that we give is the overflow. We are nurtured by the flow that moves through us. We don’t have to worry about burning out. In that realization, the spiral dance leads us back to gratefulness. 

We can walk through that door of gratitude and be empowered. We can receive the blessing of Life as an amazing adventure, and we can become a blessing as we each shine with our unique refraction of Divine light.

-Rabbi Shefa Gold

SOULIFT: Healing Into Action
Led by Rabbi Shefa Gold and Cherie Brown
January 20 – 26, 2020
The Franciscan Retreat Center | Tampa, Florida
Register Now!