Passion, Balance, Deerskin, Holy Ground

“Passion, Balance, Deerskin, Holy Ground”
January 10, 2015

 “Remove your shoes for the place on which you stand is holy ground”  Shemot (Exodus) 3:5

The story of Moses and the burning bush is part of today’s parshah, and with the beginning of the book of Exodus our minds turn to thinking about this year’s Passover Village.  The story of the bush - Moses noticing something happening, going to check it out, that act bringing the Holy One down to engage him in his life task, his purpose - teaches us how to live a life lived of consciousness of each moment.  To live passionately is to notice those signs that are there to guide our soul’s quest, to live a life of passion and engagement.  But it is up to us to notice, to respond, to not hold back or shrug off the signs, or the moments may be missed.  These “bush moments”, which can any moment in any place represent a life force, noticing implies opening up to the possibilities of meeting our soul’s destiny, being available and open is the key to living the passionate life, where every moment is a life force moment.

We stand on holy ground at all moments, the sands are shifting, take off your shoes and get a foothold, be present both at the periphery and in the midst of spirit.  The Hebrew grammar of the term “holy ground” is odd.  Adamah (ground) is a feminine noun, yet is modified by the masculine adjective Kadosh (rather than the feminine form, k’dushah).  We know that such grammatical “errors” in Torah are signs of deeper meanings.  Is this phrase implying that to be present, really present, as in the ‘”Hineni” that Moshe speaks at the call of the bush, means to bring together the Masculine and Feminine within us, and to recognize those Masculine and Feminine forces that are always around us and bring them into balance?  As the kabbalists’ prayer “L’shem Yichud” implies, are we to always be acting for the unification of the divine masculine (HaKodesh Baruch Hu) and divine feminine (Shechinah) in all we do?  Is that what it means to stand on Holy Ground? 

Deer: the M’eel Ha’tze’dakah (mantle of the balancing forces)

The text of “Magic of the Ordinary” describes a mystical mantle worn by our ancestors that was made of deer skin, that was used for shamanic rituals.  Deer is described as an animal of passion and zealousness.  Other associations with deer were shared: vulnerability, alertness, gentleness, young love as in “Song of Songs”, their seemingly mystical quality of appearing and disappearing in the forest.  Deer as spirit revealed, then spirit re-veiled.  Personal stories of encounters with deer, involving dying parents, human hunting of deer, and forest encounters.  Deer is tender yet strong, can come and go, speaks to us of the balance of the 2 ways one can choose.  As a child, did you tend to hold back for fear of revealing yourself, or plow forward and sometimes reap the consequences?
This year’s discussion is bringing up new realizations and questions, such as: how do animals operate in the world?  What is their presence on the earth, independent of their relation to humans?  What is the meaning of bow-hunting deer as pests right in the middle of mid-western towns?  How does that compare with balanced “mitigation” efforts to control wolf populations?  How does one interpret the observation that wolves respect red cloth flag boundaries set up by Montana ranchers to protect livestock?  Are the flags serving as scarecrows, like the red wrist string some wear to keep out the evil eye (aka big bad wolf), or do wolves consciously recognize the boundaries established by humans using the flags and consciously  determine to respect them?   Why do we need to build rockets and go into outer space when we have the possibility of understanding alternate life forces, even our own pets, that are right in our midst?

In our study of the animals, have we skipped a step?  Perhaps we need first to more fully understand our connection to earth – to rivers, trees, stones – then look at animals in this same context as examples of how they relate to earth.  In PV, can we explore and better understand how to reach the good point of balance in walking on this earth with the passion and respect that can lead to the burning bush moments?  Can we live as B’nei Ad’maht Kodesh? - Chidren of the Sacred Ground?  Ideas for this year’s Village bubbled up: should we come to the village with an animal power/totem in mind to explore; should we set up a meditation walk that might lead us to break into clans based on our connection to animals; should we speak in council from the essence of the animal that we carry; should we make animal masks together?

What about animals that scare or repulse us, such as, for some, snake?  How do we understand our individual reactions in the context of teachings of our tradition regarding snake as trickster, or healer?  How do we understand the “way of the snake on rock” (“Derech nahash ahley tzur”, Proverbs 30:19), which perplexed even Solomon the Wise? And what of the human animal?  What is implied in the teaching from Ezekiel’s mystical vision of the Chariot and the Hebrew medicine wheel, that the human represents one of 4 positions, the South, in relation to Buffalo (West), Eagle (North), and Lion (East)?

Rooster, hen, dove, and eagle – Perek Shirah

The ode to earth and all its beings known as Perek Shirah closes the chapter on animal powers in “Magic of the Ordinary”.  We read of the 7 calls of the rooster, showing a gradual awakening, moving from direct spiritual connection to one of earthly purpose.  The call of rooster, like the call of shofar, a call to lift up your heads, awaken, be present.  What does it mean to lift up the heads of gates?  We recall that shepherds would often serve, in the physical presence of their bodies, as the gate that enclosed the herd.  So rooster rouses the shepherd to lift his/her head and begin his/her earthly task.

The dove is a bird of truth that speaks of oppression, speaks to the truths of living in a difficult universe versus a falsely sweetened world view.  This relates to our relation to the natural world as humans: what have we lost by so distancing ourselves from the natural world through the comforts we have created?  Yes, it is nice to have a hot shower after a week in the desert, but do our homes with their conveniences do us a disservice in removing us from more direct contact with the natural forces around us?  How can we notice the burning bush when the incandescent lights illuminate even the darkest moments of the day, pulling us out of rhythm with the natural changes in time, light, season, temperature?  And yet, would we deny ourselves the home furnace for heat in the winter, electricity to power our computers, departments of water and utilities, given our societal structure?  Or is this really a time to reappraise all these relationships and ask ourselves: where is my burning bush, and what is it trying to tell me?

Where dove speaks with a rather inward, reflective voice, eagle is bold and strong, even cocky.  Dove perhaps sees the cup as half empty, eagle as half full.  We ran out of time to explore more – will have to pick up at this point next time.

Next gathering:
Saturday, February 7, 10AM – Noon, Marc’s house.  Following our study we will begin our planning of PV , so anyone wanting to participate in that process is encouraged to come. 


Ravens and Doves

 “Ravens and Doves”

December 6, 2014

“This too, opposite the other, the Creator (Elohim) made”  Kohelet (Ecclisastes) 7:14

We met in the Valley again to continue our exploration of animals in the Hebrew tradition.  We picked up where we left off in the animal powers chapter in “Magic of the Ordinary”. 

“A raven shouted to him “Turn back! Turn back!”  (Babylonian Talmud Gitin 54a)
The passage speaks to the crow or raven as “contrary”, as in if a raven tells you to do something, you should do the opposite.  Except of course, when it is telling you the truth, as was confirmed in this case by the dove.  Personal experiences with raven and crow: crows are grating, can see how they represent go the other way; Crows in their nest make different sounds depending on their intention – e.g. when they encourage their babies vs warn of danger; crows/ravens are intelligent, purposeful; I try to talk to birds, “caw” “caw” – they either treat me as an intruder, or completely ignore me.  This led to a general discussion of how can humans learn the language of the birds and other animals.  It must involve quiet and contemplation, something akin to indigenous healers who will sit at the foot of a plant to hear its song and its instructions on how to use it for healing.  There are stories of Jewish mystics through the ages who knew how to speak to animals.  Is this something we can relearn?

“The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning . . . “  Kings I:17:1-6
The opening into the discussion of raven brought to mind the story of Elijah, who escapes from King Ahav, and hides out in a wadi east of the Jordan, where YHVH has commanded the ravens to feed him, which they do.  So perhaps the raven is the familiar of the Hebrew mystic/prophet, nourishing him from the other worlds?    Why does the text tell us it is East of the Jordan?  East is the direction of new beginnings, and this is the beginning of Elijah’s story in Tanach, which will lead to teachings that will last  for the ages from the story of his life: his vision quest on Mt. Sinai, his ascent to Heaven, and his role, stated each year in the Passover seder, as harbinger of the Moshiach age.

Word play:
  • ·       Raven – Orev (ayin-resh-vet)
  • ·       Evening  = ayin (aleph-resh-vet)
  • ·       Arab – Aravi (ayin-resh-vet-yud)
  • ·       Hebrew = Ivri (ayin-vet-resh-yud, from avar (to cross over, ayin-vet-resh)

So each of these words has equivalence, either directly from the 3-letter root Ay-R-V, or through the equivalent value of the gematria (numerical value of the letters 70+2+200 = 272 = 11 = 2 = the principle of duality, or opposites, or, contrary).  So the contrary raven speaks to the blending of opposites (as in erev, evening, place where day blends to night;  similarly from the same root is the word for West, Ma’a’rav, the place of blending and healing, where the sun sinks and brings on the night, where the opposites are blended and integrated and made whole (i.e. healed).  And opposite peoples, Aravim and Ivrim, can the raven hold a secret that will help us recognize our sameness?  Is the Erev, the evening, the time of the raven, the time to paradoxically both distinguish and blend? 
Frustration, anger: “Animals are so much better than humans, I am sick over the news of the lack of indictments for the killing of young blacks by white police.  Animals don’t kill for politics or hatred or prejudice, or anything other than natural balance.”  Crows have the ability to recognize human faces, as the experiments with the upside-down Nixon mask demonstrated.  Humans seem to have an inability to see the humanity of other humans not like us – unable to recognize other races.  This is seen in the story of how the Israelites rejoiced at the drowning of the pursuing Egyptians, until they were admonished by the Holy One: “how can you rejoice when my children are dying?”

Other comments on ravens, doves, and other birds of Tanach
  • ·       Dove: truth-teller, dove of Noah.  Dove may be the earthly counterpart to the more spirit-world raven.  The raven knows where the food and water are (Elijah story) – that’s an important animal!
  • ·       Vulture: the Ayit that reconciled the ritual of the pieces, that Abraham performed in Genesis 15:9-11.  Also the Nesher (usually translated as “eagle”).  The vulture is a purifying machine, a “death eater” that never itself takes a life.
  • ·       From “Medicine Cards”, Native American associations with crow:  First hand order of right and wrong.  Omen of change.  Lives in the void.

·       Study of the animal realm goes right to the heart of the question of “what does it mean to be indigenous?”  It means to be “of the land”, and the understanding of the animal spirits and our relation to them goes right to the meat of that concept.

They said “you did not tithe your harvest to the poor”.  Jerusalem Talmud, D’mai I:3
An odd story of mice infesting the storehouses of grain until Rabbi Pinhas ben Ya’ir listens to them and they tell him in their chirpy language that it is for the above reason.  The mice, if we could listen and understand, tell us of the rightness, or not, of our relation to earth and the instructions from Torah of how to live a life of proper balance and harmony.  Talking mice?  There are many instances of talking animals (e.g. the donkey of Balaam), stones, trees in the Jewish texts, prompting the exclamation, “they should teach us that in Hebrew school! . . . so we could see what mouse has to say!”  There is a perfection and simplicity in nature that we humans lack.  Language adds something to humans, leads to meaning, a way to touch each other.  But modern people can learn and be taught to listen differently, to hear what the birds have to say when we’re out on silent spiritual quests, if we can reconnect again with Adamah, earth, in ancient ways.

The concept of listening, deeply listening, is core to the Hebrew way of viewing existence.  Shemah Yisrael – listen you who wrestles with Spirit – YHVH Eloheinu – the Infinite One is the Creator who encompasses all diversity – YHVH Echad - that Diversity IS Unity.  And: Im shamoah tish’ma’ooh – if you will listen, REALLY listen, to all the teachings that tell you how to be in right relation to Spirit and Earth, then the rains will fall, and the fields will produce, and all will eat and be satisfied.  Ki Tov – it is good, it is sufficient.  Our tradition teaches us animism, that all is alive – there is an angel associated with each blade of grass! – just as all earth-based traditions. 

From the perspective of the indigenous Hebrew tradition, it is clear that the One God is not a separate Being, as the misdirection of “Judeo-Christian” history has led us to believe, but rather the Shemah is meant to teach us that the One IS the Diversity. 

Next gathering:
Saturday, December 20, all day retreat.  Times and location to be announced.

Saturday, January 10 – a special event;  
·       10 AM – noon: Torah study
·       Noon: Pot luck lunch

·       ~1 – 3: Screening of “Aluna” – the teachings and warnings of the Kogi people, indigenous to the mountains of coastal Colombia, who have descended after millennia of maintaining their separateness, to tell us (their “younger brothers”) of the impending destruction of the Earth Mother that Western mind is perpetrating.  This is a profound film with a profound message for our times.

Hyenas, and lions, and leopards, oh my

November 1, 2014

“Hyenas, and lions, and leopards, oh my!”

We gathered in the Valley, the morning after the first blessing rain of the season.  May the rains continue and bring relief to our parched land and trees and living beings.

 Placing the copper plate and Circle of Friends in the center, with objects to the 4 directions, we began.  Check-ins included fear and danger, joy and joining, and dreams of swirling tarantulas and a dead squirrel.  We heard of a beloved pet’s medical journey seemingly back from being sick and dying, and the new cat, Kippur, hung out with us, going to and fro as we settled into study of the animal powers chapter in “Magic of the Ordinary”. 

The chapter opens with an odd telling of a discussion in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metzia 24a) describing that if an object is taken by a lion, hyena, bear, or leopard, it is to be considered lost to the owner, and even if someone recovers it, it does not get returned to the owner and remains in the finders’ hands.  This is not true of all animals.  For instance, if something is taken by a dog, or donkey, and is recovered, it must be returned to its owner.  So what is it about these animals?  It was suggested they are wild, carnivores, and that the item is recovered only through the intermediatry of these fierce animals.  The animal power transforms the property, and that property law could be used to explain the nature of animals.  Or by American law, the concept of abandoned property may be similar to that invoked here, whereby if one of these animals grabs your property it can be imagined to be abandoned to that animal being.  Or perhaps the person grabbing it from the jaws of one of these animals deserves to be rewarded for his courageous efforts. 

  • ·       Lion: new beginnings in the East.  The lion taking the object thus transforms it to a new way of being, alchemically.  We are forced to let go of attachment to allow for the new beginning.
  • ·       Hyena – here we surrender the lifeless
  • ·       Bear – grabs and stores up energy for the winter hibernation
  • ·       Panther – the alchemical energy of suddenness, pouncing at the time that is right for it.

The discussion turned to the personal and the real, as we wondered how this teaching relates to the story one of our members told in check-in.  Was it hyena energy, or leopard, that had caused the distress?  Or neither?  Perhaps this was rabid dog energy, not to be at all confused with what we were looking at today. 

El Nah Rafah Nah Lah . . . R’fuah Sh’lay’mah
Deep grief entered the room and called for healing chants and prayers.  Our PV torah studies seem to have shifted from simple study together to a time when we gather to share our lives, our griefs, our joys, our challenges, in community with those who over the years we have begun to know so well, and care about so deeply.

Next gathering: Saturday, December 6, 10 AM. 
Save the Date: Saturday, December 20 – plan all day gathering, study, hike, Chanukah celebration

All the beasts will teach you . . .

Sept 27, 2014
All the beasts will teach you . . . 

For our annual Shabbat Shuvah hike, we met in the field at entrance to Temescal Canyon Park.  Three 4-leggeds hiked with us, a bit rambunctious in their greetings to each other, and, at times later in the day.  Still, it was good to have their energy with us as we combined our usual Shabbat Shuvah reflections with our ongoing inquiry into the understanding of the animal beings within and around us.
Check-ins were held under an expansive oak tree in a clearing a bit of a hike into the canyon.  Medical and health issues predominated, and it was clear a healing circle was called for, and was held at the end of the gathering.

To give us a bit of focus on our work with the animals, we read a few paragraphs from Chapter 3 of Reb Gershon Winkler’s book, “Magic of the Ordinary”.  In this chapter he expands on his discussion on the Hebrew Medicine wheel and the 4 Winds (4 Directions), naming and referencing primary texts to illucidate the meaning of the animals that are found in each of the directions.

Ezekiel 10:1: The vision of the chariot includes the verse which aligns each of 4 animals with a primary direction.  Thus, Lion to the East, Human to the South, Buffalo (water buffalo or ox) to the West, and Eagle to the North.

Job 12:7  “All the beasts will teach you . . .  This verse is aligned with Native American and other indigenous traditions that understand the way of the animals to be a primary teaching for human beings to know how to live in right relation to the earth and each other and all relations.  Indeed, there are Hebrew teachings that speak even more overtly to this point:   ADD        The point was made that to really learn from the animals, one must be amongst them, must be quiet and must listen . . . if one does so in these times one might become aware of them yelling to us about climate change.

Buffalo/ox/bull – (Hebrew: Shor)
Deut 33:17:
The Bull/Ox/Buffalo is identified as the keeper of the West, the place of merging and blending, where day blends into night, life into death, the place of healing, the archangel Raphael (healer of God).  The bull is a herd animal, a merger   In Moses’ blessing of Joseph, he speaks of the majesty of the ox, one of its major qualities.  Though the English translation using the word “gore” in speaking of the ox raises images of violence, the Hebrew and the contextual meaning of the full verse speaks more of making an opening, bringning together, weaving, and speaks of the buffalo in terms of majesty (Hadar, which is the energy of the sephirah Hod), nobility (the word for horn, keren, may be used to signify crown), strength, power, and may have to do with protection of the people.  The verse speaks of the Karnei r’eim – the horns of an oryx, a large antelope and the totem of the tribe of Menashe and therefore related to the ox/buffalo (the totem of Ephraim).  A dream image shared: a large male oryx, a protector at the edge of his herd, facing down a lion, each animal recognizing the power of the other and coming to a nonviolent, respectful relationship with each other.   

Isn’t the bull associated with the Hebrew letter Aleph, someone asked?  No, that’s the alephant, another answered.  And we moved on. 

Lion (Hebrew: Aryeh)
Hosea 13:7.  I am become like a lion to them 
Though the verse literally refers to devouring the people around the time of the exile, metaphorically the energy of lion (Aryeh) may help us to awake from our stupor to devour our delusions, like a lion.  Lion holds sthe East, the place of new beginnings, where the sun rises and we move forward on new adventures and paths. 

Eagle (Hebrew: Nesher)

Eagle is the keeper of the North, the place of mystery, hiddenness.  The eagle is a messenger, and brings us to spirit, as in the verse from Parashat Yitro (Exodus    ): “And I carried/will carry you on the wings of eagles, and brought/will bring you to me”.  Eagle is also referred to in Hebrew tradition as protector, especially the female eagle, as in protection under eagles’ wings, or the commentary from Rashi that the mother eagle carries her young on her back to protect them from arrows being shot from below (though this seems not an actual behavior of eagles, and may be more reflective of Rashi’s fantasy, or if we give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a dream or wisdom teaching). 

Like a Spider's Gossamer Web

Sept 6, 2014 Study Group

“Like a spider’s gossamer web”

    At Marc’s new abode with mezuzah /blessing of home first!

Center of Circle with set with a Mandala of Directions: placed on round copper plate; Center=community candle “Circle of Friends” holding hands; south=bowl of water; west with volcanic rock from Joshua Tree for earth; north with incense for fire; east with owl wing for Air, outer circle west Oryx horn, north with deer antlers, east with ram’s horn, south – no specific Hebrew reference, so rabbit fur for innocence.  

Discussion about maintaining the presence of Torah in our study: If we focus on animal totems separate from Torah reading focus or using other references, reminder to return to Torah. Use of torah references from Chaim’s table to go deeper with an animal.  Tanach has been a source for our readings over the years including Torah, Writings (Ketubim) and Prophets. We can foray into other realms and refer back to Torah references of the animal, Torah is always present and we ourselves, each individual, are Torah too!

There was a suggestion regarding study of ‘cattle’ or livestock as this is mentioned frequently in Torah.  Need for sacrifices. Goats, sheep.  The Presence of animals was integral to daily Hebrew life on many levels, and is reflected in Torah/Tenach.  Our lives were immersed with animal life providing a range from livelihood, relationship, identity and symbolism.  We experience the powers of domestic and wild animals.  The Torah references animals in terms of what the animal does or produces and used metaphorically.

There was expressed in the group a need for expressing our own personal connections with animals, as a ‘totem’ or how we are moved by experiences and identity with animals and their qualities. The need to return to our indigenous Hebrew souls is important part of our exploration.

 Oryx horn passed around – speed round -We went around the circle as many times as needed for everyone to speak names of animals that are present in our lives, place their energy in the circle.

Focused in on spider: Job 8:8-8:14. …’the hope of the impious whose trust is like a spider’s gossamer web.’ Denotes fragility in life when piety is absent. Also, spider webs are literal traps, denoting being trapped by trust in in something other than the Divine.  This is a negative connotation, a weakness reference of delicacy of web, yet others noted that spider webs are also in reality one of the strongest things in the world, with engineers trying to imitate its qualities. (not to mention it’s refined beauty). .  Spiders are wondrous in many ways. A web may be destroyed today and be recreated the next day – tenacity and continuous revival/survival.

But also there is a positive/strong quality of Protection by the spider with the Midrash of David in Judea, fleeing from Saul’s desire to kill him due to his Jealousy of David’s charisma and popularity and deep friendship with Jonathan (possible homosexual reference?).  While hiding in the cave, Saul’s army passes him by due to spider web created across the cave entrance – creating the illusion of implausibility of David hiding in that cave - (similarity - passed over homes by angel of death during Egyptian loss of first born). The spider has protected him – a Divine intervention. And it was more than protection, it was also doing what was right (morally and per destiny?). We needed David to survive for the fate of our people.  Reference also to Charlotte’s Web wherein she protected using her web.  So, Spider/Akaveesh (H) the word implies “conquer or manage”, also weave/agile/swift. The spider is both strong and fragile. Weaving a web displays a management of desires.

There’s also a non-animal, yet another cave story in Samuel relating to King Saul, when he, as the first King, fell asleep in a cave during his search to kill David. David discovered him asleep but did not use this opportunity to harm him, instead tearing Saul’s garment, counting a coup over Saul, i.e. ‘ I was at an advantage, could have ended your threat to my existence, but chose instead, to show you mercy and spare your life.’  This is a Kindness with power, and a hidden overcoming of being driven by fear. 
Our first king, Saul was desired by the people, to be like other nations, but the prophet Samuel warned against this. It was also mentioned that Saul was moody, implying a mental illness i.e. Mood disorder, or paranoia.

We briefly looked at Kelev/dog who has been with humans since prehistoric times. The word implies heart (k’lev literally means “like heart”).  Mentioned in Deuteronomy as part of the phrase “a harlots hire, and exchange for a dog” are not used for an alter offering, as they were an abomination representing ill-gotten gains. Dogs could be trained to be vicious therefore a public menace.

Implications for our sense of animals as reflected through Kashrut. Animals may not be eaten for both being poorly or highly regarded. (bottom feeders, intelligent/beautiful/useful alive) As well as customs such as not eating the wing tips on chicken as it represents the spirit and freedom of the animal. Discussion of Kashrut (wild/domestic), the animals we mentioned in our speed round for future study.


I see us as explorers

I see us as explorers 
coming together
dwelling as villagers
in communion 
with nature 
with spirit

in stillness, 
in song
in drum beats and dance
in shofar blasts
in whispers of the heart

reaching hands
raising arms
blessings source
pulling tight
and learning when to release.
  -- Rina


Kabbalah and Ecology

Lauren D. has recommended Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World by Rabbi David Seidenberg. the founder of neohasid.org. She says the book will support our study this year of the animal world as well as our overall interest in earth-centered Judaism.

Critics have written:

"This is a careful but exhilarating examination of ...our fraught relationship with the more-than-human world."

"...makes a persuasive case for a reverent embrace of all creation as the divine image..."

"...moves the dialogue of Judaism and Ecology forward in remarkably
fruitful ways."

It can be pre-ordered from Cambridge University Press (use discount code KEDMS14 for 20% off).


Reflections on Passover Village 2014

Since returning home, I, too, have been reflecting on our Passover experience. And I’ve been floating all day, feeling as if I’m somehow lighter, higher, a more spiritual being than I was before last Thursday; feeling that I’m more connected, at one with the entire Jewish community. And all day an idea has been floating around my head. We all know that we are to view ourselves as if we had actually left Egypt, but I think that we all did more than that.  I think that we were not only acting as if we were in exile, I think we actually relived  the drama of the Exodus. I don’t know how this is possible, but if one believes that the Exodus is deeply engrained within our psyches, that we have a  collective unconscious, and that spiritual energy is unleashed during this time period, a reliving becomes possible. 

Since returning home, I’ve been reading about Passover; and the more I read about Passover, the stronger my belief becomes that we were “channeling” our ancestors, that we were not only playing out roles, we were not merely acting as if, but we each became an ancestor, that somehow their ancient souls entered our bodies, that some of us became Moses, and others became Aaron. And Miriam - several of the women changed into her, savior of our savior, challenger of the holy man who would lead us to the Promised Land.

Many of us became the complaining Israelites – dissatisfied, bitter, and fearful that our needs would go unmet, that we would not be protected, that our leader would fail us, and that we would be abandoned by our God.

And we were slaves.

And we were stuck in our narrowness.

And we were unholy.

Also, in our tent were the Jews who remained behind, terrified to leave, fearful of the unknown; lacking faith in our leader, lacking trust in our God.

And the Egyptian mothers who begged us to save their children’s lives were crying at our locked doors. But the plague passed over our homes; and we did not shelter them.  Perhaps Pharaoh was present as well, his heart hard like stone.  

Yes, we fulfilled our obligation to tell our story to our children, but we did more than that: we became the story. We became the children. And we each became the child we held inside of us for so long: the buried child - hurt and scared, and alone. And we desperately longed not to be alone.  We longed to be connected to a community, to belong to a family we never had.

Some say that each year at this time God gives us this opportunity to free ourselves, to be able to reach our spiritual potential, and a chance, if we take it, to be transformed.

Since returning home, I feel transformed. I feel as if I’ve traveled a long way, and journeyed to a new land. And in this new land everything feels different, but everything also feels the same. 

Everything seems strange, but everything also seems familiar. I feel shaky and insecure, but I also feel strong and secure. And it feels as if I am somewhere else, somewhere deeper, somewhere past and ancient. But it feels as if I am also here in the present, in my life now, but now I am no longer alone:  I am a member of the Village.

Offered by Ellen K.


Registration and Agreements

We are now accepting reservations to join the Passover Village 2014 (5774 by the Hebrew Calendar). Spaces are limited and are available on a first-come basis.

DATES AND TIMES: The 2014 Passover Village Retreat officially begins at 9:00 AM on Friday, April 18th through 11:00 am on Sunday, April 20th.

Ideally, arrive as early as Wednesday or Thursday, April 16th or 17th in time to set up your personal campsite and enjoy a relaxed afternoon and evening or more of rest and fellowship and "Village-making."  Allow 1.5 hours minimum travel time by car from Los Angeles; arrival before dark will simplify campsite setup (very dark by 8 pm on these dates).

If you cannot arrive on Wednesday or Thursday, arrive early enough (7 or 7:30 am) on Friday morning to set up your personal campsite and join the Opening Council at 9:00 am.

LOCATION: This year we will be gathering in the Angeles National Forest (specific location with registration), a pleasant drive about 90 minutes from Los Angeles and less than an hour via a two-lane paved highway (HWY 2) from the La Canada-Flintridge area.  The group camp at 5000' elevation is similar in amenities to last year's site in Joshua Tree (which was at 3000' elevation) but in the forest vs. the desert.  Any passenger car can easily make the trip as the elevation gain is very gradual and the road is in good condition (and if your car made it up the steep grades from Palm Springs to Yucca Valley, it will be just fine here).  Bonus features include running water available right in the kitchen area and a large communal fire circle.  And, there's a great spot for our community mishkan (tent). 


* As mentioned above, our group site has running water in the kitchen area. 

* Multiple picnic tables and a community barbecue pit  

* Pit toilets like Joshua Tree will help us feel more or less "at home."

There are sites for individual tents scattered throughout the group site.

* This is a family-friendly site, however it is in the National Forest and precautions are advised for the occasional bear (not as likely during our busy season, but possible).

* As mentioned above, this site is NOT a very short drive from stores, motels or B-&-B accommodations.  While these are available in La Canada/Flintridge, note that each trip to or from the Village site will require a 45- to 60-minute drive each way and is not recommended.

* Exact location and directions will be provided after registration.  Please don't plan to "just drop by."

ACCESSIBILITY: The campground is accessible via road. The outhouses meet ADA requirements for accessibility. Most of the campsite is sandy or loose soil, making wheelchair mobility difficult. But as during our exodus from Egypt, when the infirm and disabled were carried, we will accommodate special needs.

UPDATED COST FOR 2014: To encourage participation of families with children, this year our requested donation is $72 for adults (13 and over), while children 12 and under will be free! Following the tradition of "Let all who are hungry come and eat," no one will be turned away for lack of funds.  Firewood will be provided for us by Michael Chusid so no need to purchase and transport one bundle per person as before!  Thanks, Michael!

MEALS: Meals provided by Passover Village will be "kosher-style" and free from leaven. Vegetarian options will be available. Let us know of any other dietary limitations.

Friday Night: An outreach to some past Villagers who might like to coordinate a Shabbat meal and/or service will be forthcoming.

Saturday Night: The Seder dinner on Saturday night will be catered.

Other Meals and Snacks: Bring food and kitchen/cooking items for your own enjoyment. (Meal-time sharing is encouraged.)

We agree to respect and care for ourselves, each other, the community and the land. To safeguard the freedom and sanctity of time and space in the Passover Village, the Leadership Council has endeavored to balance the needs of individuals with those of the community. To that end, the following updates are effective with Passover Village 2013.

By registering for this retreat, attendees also agree to the following:

Photography and Recordings:
-- When we are gathered In Community with a common focus or, "In Session," put away cameras and recording devices.
-- When we are not gathered as a focused community, having lunch, talking with others, etc., photos and recording are allowed within bounds of respect, privacy and permission: Be discrete, non-intrusive, and respectful of all participants when taking any photographs or recording; some may prefer not to be photographed or recorded at all.
-- Do not publish photos or recordings in public media
-- If unsure about a photo or recording, do not take or publish it.
Personal Displays and Self Promotion:
In the spirit of a retreat, so that we might leave behind the things of the day to day world, please do not bring personal displays or promotional items into community areas.
Thank you!

REGISTRATION: Send payment plus your name(s), phone number(s), email address(es), and the age(s) of child(ren) if applicable. Please let us know where you heard about Passover Village and what attracts you to our event. Make checks payable to Larry Richard.
Mail to:
Larry Richard
2118 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 594
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(Larry's cell:  310-560-6004)
 Must be received by March 31st to confirm your space.
IMPORTANT: To help with planning, please let us know when you register:
* WHAT DAY and TIME you plan to arrive

* NUMBER IN YOUR PARTY (ages of all 17-and-under children, must be accompanied by parent)


CARPOOL AND PARKING: Updated February 5, 2014.
We encourage carpooling; let us know if you can offer or need a ride.
Parking is limited in the group site parking lot.  

(EXCEPTION:  if you choose to camp in a nearby individual "family site" (non-reservable, first-come/first-served and a short walk from the group site) parking for one or two vehicles will be included in the cost of your family campsite).  

Overflow parking is available nearby but each vehicle must display a valid $5-per-day Adventure Pass.  As a Village, we will provide the prepaid Adventure Passes as needed 

LEADERSHIP: Throughout the year, a Leadership Council -- with help and input from other community members -- keeps alive the spirit of Passover Village and plans and organizes our gatherings. Members of the Leadership Council have taken on facilitation of various aspects of Passover Village (with some others' tasks to be decided):
  • Dan Brumer
  • Laurie Burton
  • Michael Chusid
  • Sandra Goodman
  • Larry Richard
  • Devorah Miriaam Cohen 
  • Avram Wagman
  • Marc Weigensberg
  • Rina Daly 
VOLUNTEERING: It takes a village to make a village. Will you help organize or lead…?:

Baking matzah
Making haroset
Assembling the Seder plate
Bringing music, song, and ruach (spirit)
Preparing a teaching, creative activity, or ritual
Planning a meditation walk
Mentoring our "young warriors"
Bringing the fruit of the vine
Leading part of Seder
Repairing tent
or whatever your calling.

The Passover Village will offer a chance to immerse and spend time in these ancient forms as we recreate aspects of the Exodus, celebrate community and share in the traditional "non-traditional, expanded, experimental, enhanced and engaging Passover Village Seder!"  We invite you to revisit the excellent study notes posted by Marc throughout the year to begin your Passover Village experience right away!    You will find them elsewhere in the blog pages.

Michael at (818) 219-4937

Larry at (310) 560-6004


     We have spent our year since the last Passover Village studying the reign of Solomon -- his accession to David's throne, his wisdom, and -- most significantly -- his construction of the Temple.

     We asked ourselves, "What would it take for each of us to build a temple?"  A peaceful spirit, a dedicated soul, an intention to consecrate a space, a willingness to live in the purity of the moment, the sanctity of a breath, a gift from the heart
 – all these.

  And, we asked ourselves, "What is a temple?"  A building, a tabernacle, a tent, a human body, a human mind, a human soul -- all these.

  We will join our wandering ancestors as they end their wandering and settle into a place, and we will try to live up to the responsibility of creating, defining, and maintaining a holy space.

NOTICE: Outdoors activities and camping are inherently dangerous. By participating you agree to accept all risks to yourself and property, and to hold harmless the organizers of and participants in Passover Village.

Revised 2014-02-05 Dan B.

What to Bring


Individual Needs – Recommended items for each person (adults and children)
  • Water and bottle (suggest 1 gallon per person per day for drinking and cooking, plus more for washing; tap water is available on site)
  • Basin for washing
  • Tent (rainfly and groundcloth if required)
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Clothes layered for warm/cold, wet/dry/windy conditions (incl. gloves, hat, thermals, etc.)
  • Hiking boots or sturdy shoes
  • Hat with wide brim for shade/protection from sun
  • Umbrella or poncho for (rain or shade)
  • Pocket knife
  • Personal “medicine” (necessary prescriptions plus any spirit needs)
  • Personal hygiene items (incl. biodegradable soap - “Campsuds” does it all!)
  • Sunscreen!
  • Large towel(s)
  • Firewood (1 bundle per person)  Michael is bringing enough wood for all - Thank you, Michael!
  • Camp chair, carpet, or pillows to sit on. Space around the perimeter of our tent is limited; avoid wide chairs or that have flaring arms or legs. We encourage you to bring carpets or pillows so you can sit close to the earth and recline.
Per Family or Household – for (individual/family meals and prep)
  • Cooler and ice
  • Camp stove and fuel
  • Pots, pans and cooking utensils
  • Dinnerware: Plate, Bowl, Cup, Silverware (all reusable please – no paper)
  • Cloth napkin
  • Food and Drink:  Saturday Night Seder dinner is catered. Bring all other food and drink for yourself and household. Sharing is encouraged.
  • Please leave bread and bread products (“Chametz”) at home. Bring matzo instead!
Optional and Encouraged
  • Sunshower (water heated by sun)
  • Drums, shofarot, and other musical instruments
  • Brightly colored cloth, etc. to decorate camp and tent
  • Your own Haggadah, Teachings about Pesach, Shabbat, and Nature
  • Lantern (battery or canister-style preferred.  Flames should be in glass or metal container to resist tipping or contact with combustibles.)  Fire safety is a top priority.
  • Songs, stories, poems
  • There are some restrictions on use of these campsites including vehicle length. If you are planning to arrive in a long RV, bus or truck, contact National Forest Service for limits: http://www.fs.usda.gov/angeles
  • Car pooling is encouraged.
  • Make arrangements for family pets to be cared for at home (not in camp)
List updated 2014-February-05 by Dan B.


Time to reserve for Passover Village 2014

Passover Village will convene our vernal celebration of freedom at 9:00 AM on April 18. We encourage you to arrive at the campsite the day before, however, so you can get settled, relax, and enjoy fellowship.
While this has been a dry season, the pine forested site is lush in comparison to our usual desert campsite.

During 40 years in the desert, our Hebrew ancestors moved from campsite to campsite. In that tradition, we will go into the San Gabrial Mountains, to an Angeles National Forest group campsite about an hour's drive north from Pasadena, CA at 5,000 ft. elevation.
A paved and well maintained road leads to campground.
These photos are representative of the terrain in which we will be camping.
We are blessed to have such beautiful vistas so close to the City.
The semi-shaded campsite is well appointed with drinking water, clean latrines, a large group fire ring with benches, parking, a commodious cluster of tables for dining, a variety of tent sites and space to spread out. The Israelites should only have had it so good.
View like this sunset are possible from our hilltop campsite.
The information under the START HERE button is still from last year, but will help you know what to expect.  Check back soon for additional information.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons and used under Creative Commons license.


Keeper of the Covenant and the Lovingkindness

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Keeper of the Covenant and the Lovingkindness . . .

Check-ins brought us very present with our stories of crime, illness, job loss, and other events that have transpired since the last time we sat together. 

I Kings I, 8:1  “Solomon gathered together the Elders of Israel – the heads of the tribes, the carriers of the ancestors”
At first glance it is unclear who Solomon is gathering.  Are these 3 different categories of leaders among the people – elders, tribal heads, ancestor-carriers?  However, close look at the Hebrew shows no letter vav between these 3 descriptors, suggesting that the latter 2 are defining characteristics of an Elder of Israel.   Thus, those who can be called “Elder” are the leaders in their tribes who carry the ancestral legacy.  Thus, an Elder is one who carries the ancestral traditions, offering the gift of that knowledge to the community.  We may consider ways to manifest this at our PV gathering this year – perhaps in the section of the 4 Questions?  Or the 4 Children? 

I Kings, 8:5.  “. . . offerings too abundant to be numbered or counted”
It is clear what physical offerings to Spirit were made back in the ancient times.  The offering of animals was a standard practice, and at this dedication of the new Temple, the offerings were astounding in number, unable to be counted.  This was how we communicated with Spirit.  While the animal sacrificial rites were predominantly transformed into prayer during subsequent centuries of Jewish history, we wonder what still may remain in the Hebrew tradition in the form of physical offerings, and what their role may be in these modern times?  Native Americans offer tobacco, or cornmeal in many personal ceremonies as a way to seek relation with Spirit.  Is there still a role, or similar physical ritual, that persists in the Jewish tradition that plays the same role?  Is such a physical offering necessary, when we have such rich prayerful ways to approach the Divine?  Does use of prayer alone keep us separated from our earth-based connection, aspects of God that are all around us at all times? 

I Kings, 8:13 “ I have surely built a house of habitation for You . .  . ”
The Cloud of the Shechinah rolls into the Beit YHVH (translated into English as “temple”), and the Cohanim have had to leave, unable to stay and serve in the Presence.  It is a bit unclear: did the Cloud fill only the Holy of Holies, or did it roll out of the Holy to fill the entire Temple?  Solomon uses here the feminine form of the pronoun “You”, a fact of considerable import that is lost in the English translation, as it is clear the Cloud is Shechinah, Divine Feminine, intimate dwelling Presence.  The Hebrew also indicates in its grammatical way, without bold font or underlines, that Solomon is emphasizing his accomplishment in building the Temple.  Hard to know his mindset, 3000 years later, but is there a hint of youthful arrogance present in this statement?  Solomon was only 16 years old when the building of the Temple began, and the construction took 7 years, so he is now a man in his early-mid twenties.  

A more mundane explanation for the cloud: the smoke from all the burning sacrifices filled the Temple and the Cohanim had to leave because they couldn’t breathe or see!

I Kings, 8:23 “ . . . there is none like You . . . guardian of the convenant and the the lovingkindness . . .  ”
Solomon raises his palms toward the Fire-Water Place (Shamayim – typically translated as “heaven”) and addresses YHVH directly and profoundly on behalf of all the people.  He opens with this acknowledgment of YHVH, God of Israel, as the keeper of the covenant (The B’rit) and love (The Hesed).  But what is The Covenant, and what is The Love?  There have been a number of covenants God has made with the Hebrew people and their predecessors: that which was made with Noah to never again destroy the earth; with Abraham, that his descendants would inhabit the Land and be as numerous as the sands on the edge of the sea; with each individual male child at the age of 8days; and most recently with David – that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Judah.  So, which of these is being referred to?  Or is there something much more personal being referred to here?  A possible explanation: the covenant is that which Creator makes with each individual Neshamah that comes to this physical plane and embodies in order to do the work for the completion of creation on this level.  Is the lovingkindness then that which follows as necessary, and what is so profoundly present, to allow us some space for our human flaws, errors, and distractions that keep us from fulfilling that Covenant?  When we say the Ahl Chets on Yom Kippur, are we not appealing to that Hesed, for that reason – acknowledging that we have really not kept up our part of the bargain.  And YHVH in the role of great gentle loving One, accepts our prayers like a parent consoles a teenager who has just stupidly totaled the family car, and allows us to get back on the bicycle and keep trying.  Perhaps this is the covenant and the love that Solomon is acknowledging. 

I Kings, 8:28 “ . . . prayer, supplication, and cry . .  . ”
Solomon uses three different words for prayer, suggesting 3 different ways to pray, 3 deepening levels of prayer. Tefillah – the standard text of the prayer;  T’chinah – a supplication, special plea, perhaps one that one has no merit to justify; Rinah – a cry out, from either joy or pain.  Are we aware of the difference in these modes of prayer?  Are we familiar with their uses and the feelings behind them in ourselves as we use them?  How does our connection with YHVH differ when we use these 3 forms of prayer? 

Final Discussion: Losing My Religion?
The idea was expressed that this event, the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem, may mark the beginning of the end of Earth-based Judaism.  What was once a tribal people living in intimate connection with earth, with the knowledge that God could be found in the stones and trees around them, that God could be wrestled with on the edge of a river in the dead of night, would no longer be the same.  This was the actualization of the warning from Samuel: that if you have a king, you will become like other nations and will stop being individually close to HaShem.  So now, the personal altars are outlawed, and the connection to the Divine is through a single structure in a single place determined by a single individual.  The Temple of stone, unmovable, a place you must go to for worship, perhaps too grandiose in its use of precious metals and other precious materials, compared to the simplicity of the fabric-covered and enclosed Tabernacle that could move amongst the tribes, reminding us that God really doesn’t need such fancy digs.  Whose idea was this Temple anyway?  Apparently David had the initiative, but God held him back from building it.  Was this a delaying tactic that didn’t quite work out, just as Aaron had tried to pacify the rebel crowd by allowing the Golden Calf to be built in the hope that Moses would return from the mountain before the line of idolatry had been crossed?  Could the building of the Temple by Solomon, rather than representing the crowning achievement of  a people dedicated to service of Spirit, instead actually represent a Cheyt, a missing of the mark, a break from the covenant between Soul and Creator that was actually intended? 

 Feelings were strong, as we discussed these ideas - anger.  resentment.  alienation.  Does the Jewish focus on the Temple, even to this day, border on idolatry?  Is it not a movement away from the idea that the Presence is everywhere?  In today’s temples and synagogues, do we rely too much on our rabbis and cantors, no matter how knowledgable and respected they may be, to be our interlocuters rather than maintain the stance of the mystic – to have that individual relationship with the Holy One?  Do we rely too much on buildings of concrete and steel, ornaments and stained glass, rather than on a simple path by the creek, or a small altar of stones? Can attention to earth-based, elemental practices bring us back to the covenant and the lovingkindness that was initially intended?

Another way to consider the issues:  Perhaps the timing of switching to a more institutional form of Judaism was intentional by Divine calculations or necessary in order to establish and/or maintain a certain State of the Emerging Culture, that was not ready with David and was then appropriate under Solomon. Though there is definitely a loss to mourn with no longer having a close and personal and creative connection with haShem and ritual design, perhaps there would have been unwanted developments. Change is rapid in those early personal stages. Perhaps something essential had to be captured and passed on to coming generations before it evaporated or became distorted.  When change is again needed we "Return" to earth based ways as the Baal Shem Tov did with Hasidism, allowing a direct connection with the divine that did not require stuffy education, and the poor had access, nature was important.  But then they became static too.  It is a cycle to be recognized throughout our history, or perhaps an expanding spiral, change followed by rich practice, then rigidity, then realization of what's missing and rebellion for revitalizing change. We may be now on the cutting edge of current Return and the beginning of a new, beautiful cycle. Our mourning is an occasion for celebration, as it marks the recognition and reconnection with our soul needs as a people. 

Next Meeting: Saturday, February 1 – location TBA.