Maintaining Self and Struggle

A meditation linking God’s four-letter name – YHVH (yud-hey-vav-hey) – with the human body/soul can help focus on God’s presence and power in our lives. I have relied on this meditation since Rabbi David Shneyer taught it to me some years ago.

The variation presented here, incorporates a teaching from the prophet Micah on what God requires of us —

הִהִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַה-טּוֹב; וּמָה-יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ,
כִּי אִם-עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
You have been told, human, what is good,
that is, the traits that God expects from you:
acting justly, a passion for loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God.
– Micah 6:8 (translation from Siddur Eit Ratzon)

It is offered as support for social justice work in difficult times.

Shared here are the bones of the practice, so to speak, along with a PDF with additional graphics, 4-part Meditation, for easy carrying in a pocket or bag. Originally intended for use at the start of the day, this brief practice also serves throughout the day, especially when circumstances threaten to pull us off center, to realign with divine connection and our own strength and flexibility.

Fabrangen West tried a group chant based on this practice at the December 2016 gathering. Several participants more knowledgeable about renewal hasidus and kabbalah found connections between the sefirot and the words of the Micah verse. Further thoughts on this meditation — or on other Jewish practices for times of challenge — are welcome.

As always, “A Song Every Day” seeks comments or guest posts.

(1) Begin

Begin with meditation or chant using the four-letter name to focus on God’s presence before and within:


(2) “You’ve been told, human…”

Cycle through first half of verse, Y-H-V-H, head to legs, several times. At each reflection stage, try to release any barriers to embodying those attributes God expects; where appropriate, note areas in need of further attention:

  • (Y) Consider your humanity and connection to God. If you are feeling depleted, this is a moment to be open to the spiritual support you need.
  • (H) Is anything – distraction, anger, injury, e.g. – impeding your ability to reach for “what is good”? If so, can you release the barrier now? Or,should you set aside more time for this, to keep your reach from straying?
  • (V) Are you centered, with YHVH as backbone? What might pull you away? How are you working to stay upright?
  • (H) Are you prepared to pursue what God seeks of you? Does body or soul require attention first? Ready for more instruction? (Or ↑)


(3) “…acting justly, a passion for loving kindness,
and walking humbly with your God.”

Cycle through second half of verse, Y-H-V-H, head to legs, several times. Again, at each reflection stage, release barriers if you can and make note of areas where further attention, including assistance from others, would be helpful:

  • (Y) Are you committed to embodying the traits we are told to share with God?
  • (H) Do you join hands with others, or just push your own ideas, in acting justly? Do you need more partners, assistance? To whom can you reach out?
  • (V) Is your spine ready to stand and bend in loving kindness? Do you need help – maybe learning or rest – to avoid damage to yourself or others?
  • (H) Ready to take steps in the world, humbly with your God, and in healthy company with others, in the struggle? (Or ↑)

Brief journaling – either at this point, before closing out the meditation, or shortly afterward – can be helpful.

(4) Close

Return to a chant of the four-letter Name, preparing to bring your newly-aligned self into the outside world and the on-going struggle.



Yet More on Psalm 27 (3 of 4)

The close of Psalm 27 —

קַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה: חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה.

Hope in the LORD; strengthen yourself, let your heart take courage, and hope in the Lord [Psalm 27:14]

— is often cited as a motivational aphorism, particularly for the penitential season. This is its role in this meditation for Elul, for example.

Psalms 27:14 is employed in the Babylonian Talmud as a proof-text for appropriate attitude in prayer. The passage includes a discussion on prayer and hope, including — like the question Langston Hughes asks in “Harlem” — what happens to hope deferred.

Psalms 27:14 stands out in that it uses the second person (command) form, while the previous 13 verses are in the first person: “God is My light…whom should I fear?” etc. This raises the question: Whose heart is to hope?
Continue reading Yet More on Psalm 27 (3 of 4)

Speech, Suspicion, and Security

My God, help me remember that “just as the hand can kill, so can
the tongue,” tweet, blog, or Congressional hearing….

Update from House Committee on Homeland Security — “On March 10, the Committee will convene the first in a series of hearings examining radicalization in the American Muslim community and the community’s response to it. Additional information about this hearing will be distributed in the coming days.”

(Jump to “Meditation for Early Spring 2011”)
Continue reading Speech, Suspicion, and Security

Shoulder to Shoulder, All Faiths and Philosophies

March 7, 2011, is the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar. The new moon, with its slim light, is traditionally understood as a time of some anxiety and of hope. Prayers recited just prior to the new moon ask that the new month bring increase in a variety of areas. “At the New Moon” is adapted from these prayers and asks specifically for increased understanding and unity across communities.
Continue reading Shoulder to Shoulder, All Faiths and Philosophies

At the New Moon

Here’s a new PDF prayer supplement, “At the New Moon,” brought to you by “Rosh Hodesh Elul DC,” a loosely formed group of men and women in solidarity with Women of the Wall. (Print back-to-back and fold.) “In Solidarity/For Understanding” was developed in support of Women of the Wall by Virginia Avniel Spatz, based on traditional prayers at the announcement of the new month. Pamela Greenberg kindly offered permission to quote from her translation of the psalms. Many others contributed editorial and other forms of support.

Wherever you may be at the new moon, please share the prayer. And please let us know — by commenting here or at “Rosh Hodesh Elul DC” on Facebook — where it is being used. Women of the Wall also welcomes knowing where solidarity activities are taking place.

The DC-area group will be continuing to explore activities in solidarity with Women of the Wall and to promote cross-community understanding and religious freedom more generally. Ideas and energy welcome.

Hodesh Tov!!


As the Moon Waxes, So May Our Understanding Increase

Below is a kavanah [meditation/intention], inspired by Women of the Wall, for prayers at the new moon. Please share for individual or congregational use on Rosh Hodesh, at the announcement of the new month or at another appropriate time.*
Continue reading As the Moon Waxes, So May Our Understanding Increase

Is Thanks Ever Simple?-part 1

Or: Don’t think of a Green Hippo!

Recently, the leader of Fabrangen West‘s Birkot Ha-Shachar/Psukei D’Zimra [Morning Blessings and Verses of Song] introduced the service by asking that we consider the pshat [literal meaning] of the prayers. She mentioned a common tendency to hear (or speak) a negative edge to even the most positive sounding statements.

Everyone present seemed to recognize the tendency we were being asked to avoid. I think most of us have witnessed — if not played both roles, at various points in our lives — exchanges that goes something like this:

“That’s a nice shirt [lovely street, informative graphic].”
“What’s wrong with these pants [this neighborhood, the rest of the report]?”

Moreover, one participant explained a parallel version to her young son: “You know how ‘thanks for cleaning your room,’ might also mean, ‘How come you don’t do that more often?’ even if the mom doesn’t say that?”

And after more than a week of struggling with record- and back-breaking snowfalls, I know some of us were following “How wonderful are your works!” with a muttered, “Wonderful, sure! But don’t ‘Your works’ come in smaller packages?” Conversely, one is reminded of Tevye’s plaintive, “I know you look after all our needs… but would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”

Pshat Prayer

So, I thought the assignment to focus on the various expressions of thanks and praise in the service, trying to avoid hearing or speaking any hidden negatives, seemed appropriate. A reasonable, even simple, request.

And, with that kavanah [intention], I’m pretty sure that I managed relatively unadulterated gratitude for the first blessing: “Blessed are You, Adonai, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, You have given me understanding to see differences clearly, as between day and night.”

But, then I must have entered some sort of don’t-think-of-a-green-hippo state, as we continued reciting blessings:

“…she-asani b’tzalmo” [made in Your image] — “in Your image, with unlimited potential”* — “Well, really, I’m doing as much as I can right now!”

“…bat chorin” [free] — “free, with the ability to choose”* — “You got a problem with my choices?”

“…pokeiach ivrim” [open the eyes of the blind] — “…providing sight and insight”* — “I do SO recognize other people’s perspectives.”

…and on it went. I was failing seriously at this “pshat prayer.” It was an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, experimental result for me — but it wasn’t exactly the (simple) thanks our service leader had urged.

* We use Siddur Eit Ratzon, so these English formulations are Joseph Rosenstein’s.

Obliged to Thank

Then we came to the verse that begins “L’fichach anachnu chayyvim, l’hodot l’cha…” It’s usually translated as something like, “Therefore we are obliged to (acknowledge and) thank You…” (e.g., Sim Shalom, Metsuda, My People’s Prayerbook**).

Therefore we are obliged.…”That explains it,” I thought: Feeling obligated just isn’t consistent with simple anything — including thanks — for me, anyway. So, regardless of prayerbook contents — BTW, Kol Haneshamah and Mishkan T’filah,** e.g., don’t include this verse or the related paragraphs — maybe the awareness of obligation was making (simple) thanks impossible for me.

With this newly confused kavanah — aiming for simple thanks, which is maybe not possible in a relationship which involves obligation…and what relationship doesn’t? — I continued in the prayerbook:

L’fichach anachnu chayyavim [Because of all the blessings we receive, we are]
l’hodot l’cha, [obliged to acknowlege Your presence in our lives,]
ul’shabbeichacha ul’faercha, [to extol and to honor You,]
ul’vareich u’lkaddeish [to bless and to sanctify You,]
v’lateit shevach v’hodayah lishmecha
[and to give praise and gratitude to You.]
Continue reading Is Thanks Ever Simple?-part 1