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Jewish Spiritual Resources
Below are examples of Jewish spiritual resources. Some stem from the classic corpus of Judaism, others from folkways and still others are currently being developed in Jewish communities world-wide.
Hessed/Random and Not-so-Random Acts of Kindness/Tikkun Olam
An important counter-balance to all the bad, depressing news is to focus onspecific deeds of care and lovingkindness that directly "repair the world" (Tikkun Olam.) These acts can tilt the scales, emotionally and spiritually, and support hope and resilience, if not optimism. Volunteer opportunities abound, and you can also create your own, by offering to shop or clean for an elderly or disabled community member, cooking for a shelter, cleaning a public park, or tutoring a child. These kinds of win/win opportunities can help us feel empowered, recognized, and appreciated.
Spiritual support and healing may be gained from participation in the cycle of the Jewish year. Jewish holidays and other calendrical markers embody important values and lessons, and offer texts, rituals, and ideas that can support those who are facing significant life challenges. Many examples of creative Jewish healing program draw on the Jewish year for its powerful resources of memory, experience and hope.
- Sukkot: Redemption, the Harvest, and Healing Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
- Meditation before Yom Kippur for One who Cannot Fast Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW -- 2005/5765.
- Shavu'ot and Healing Resources for healing.
- A Purim Sampler Resources for healing, March 2005
- Hanukkah: Lights in the Darkness Hanukkah resources for healing -- psalms, prayers, wise sayings and stories, December 2010
- Hanukkah: Lights in the Darkness Personal reflections on Hanukkah related to loss, divorce, the economic downturn and other topics, December 2010
- Cycle of Jewish Time and Healing Keynote address by Rabbi Amy Eilberg at the NCJH conference on Drawing Spritual Resources From the Jewish Holidays, November 2003
- A Slow Dance In Time, Grief and the Jewish Holidays A map of the Jewish holiday cycle and themes and practices that relate to grieving by Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
Below are extensive additional resources specifically for Passover.
- Passover Resources Download "The Haggadah and Healing" and "The Second Half of the Seder: Healing, Hope and Redemption"
- Passover: Out of the Narrow Straits
Resources and reflections on freedom and dealing with illness, divorce, loss and bereavement, addiction, mental illness, caregiving, leadership in difficult times, and the economic crisis.
- Holiday Resource Sampler - Volume 1 - Passover
This resource offers a compilation of programs, resources, reflections.
- Haggadah and Healing
By Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
- The Second Half of the Seder: Healing, Hope and Redemption
By Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, LMSW
- Memorials/Bereavement at/through the Passover Seder: Some Possibilities
By Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
Jokes, Humor, Smiling
Humor is one spiritual tool that has enabled Jews to endure experiences of suffering and dislocation. Comedy is about getting a new perspective, stepping back from a situation enough to play up its incongruent, ironic and/or absurd aspects. It may lend us a degree of control over our experience or it may free us up to let go of that which is beyond our control.
This is not to say that your suffering is funny, light, or laughable, but that life generally has humorous dimensions and possibilities that can help us through the rough junctures. Refer to Novak/Waldoks Big Book of Jewish Humor, or contact the Humor Project (www.HumorProject.com). Or, ask a bunch of friends or family members to talk about their most embarrassing moment
or to dress up
and so on.
- Bikur Cholim Joke Book A collection of humor compiled by the Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council that will lighten your hearts and spirits.
Laughter is a gift, and humor can be a tool to use for yourself or to
enrich another person.
Meditation and Guided Imagery
Meditation has been a part of the Jewish tradition for many centuries and in many different settings and cultures. There has been a renewed interest in exploring Jewish meditation, and thus, in most large cities, one can find Jewish meditation programs or teachers. Family and friends can also evolve their own approaches for example, by developing their own guided meditations that envision/evoke a peaceful place. Consider utilizing those CDs that have sounds from nature as background.
Few healing resources can match the power of music. Even for those who cannot read music or cannot play an instrument, hearing, singing, humming, swaying to, and otherwise giving oneself over to music is a very potent medicine for the spirit. Consider incorporating more music into your day when walking to school or work, when walking the dog, at meals, at bedtime, etc. Reach out to cantors, Jewish educators, musicians, Jewish bookstores that sell CDs and any others who can help you expand your repertoire of Jewish music and niggunim, wordless chants, that bolster the spirit.
For many religious communities, and certainly for the Jewish world, returning to Creation is an age-old, potent healing direction to take. Enjoying the woods, observing the flow of bodies of water, appreciating sunrises/sunsets, etc. can help restore a sense of peace and the possibility of wholeness and reconciliation.
Taking into account your particular situation and needs, consider integrating activities involving nature that you might otherwise not enjoy. Remember to allow some silent moments wherein the encounter with Creation is direct and unmediated by too many words a "metaverbal" or "postverbal" experience. And/or, you may want to utilize a line from Psalms as a focusing (kavvanah) meditation, or a nature prayer such as the one attributed to Reb Nahman of Bratslav. Rabbi Arthur Green, in his book entitled Seek My Face, Speak My Name, draws on our deep interrelationship with nature.
Prayers Traditional and Innovative: Speaking Out, In, and Up
Beyond our conversations with family, friends, co-workers and professionals, many feel a need to engage in another kind of exchange. In Jewish tradition, we have fixed prayer services three times a day morning, afternoon, and evening but beyond these, we should take seriously our traditions practice for individuals to call out to God in times of distress. One can compose ones own original prayer, perhaps including, but also supplementing, lines from the liturgy. Depending on the need one is experiencing, prayers can be composed to express gratitude/appreciation, confusion/searching, anger/resentment, and so on.
- A Prayer for Parenting An original prayer for Jewish parents to say, in celebrating the joys and navigating the challenges of parenthood.
- Eight Possible Ways in Which Prayer May "Work" Reflections by Rabbi Amy Eilberg on the efficacy of prayer
- Praying for Healing An article by Rabbi Nancy Flam for The Outstretched Arm, 1991, on prayer in times of illness
- Use of Prayer for Healing An essay by Carol Hausman, PhD, Coordinator of the Washington Jewish Healing Network, on use of prayer in Jewish spiritual support groups
- Healing at Bedtime: The Traditional Kriat Sh'ma Bedtime prayer and ritual that can comfort in times of illness and uncertainty.
- El Na, Refa Na La. God, Please Heal Her, Please What we can express through prayer and an approach to writing an original prayer with a focus on caregiving
- MiSheberach The traditional prayer for healing said for someone who is ill.
- Prayer for Those who Heal, for Those Who Care: Two MiSheberachs Prayers for those who are family and friends and healthcare providers
- The Physicians' Daily Prayer A prayer for physicians and other care providers attributed to Maimonides
For thousands of years, Jews have turned to the biblical Book of Psalms for solace, comfort, and catharsis, seeking guidance, meaning, hope, and reassurance - in short, spiritual healing. The Psalms offer opportunities not only for prayer but for song, community, meditation, study and much more.
Our tradition offers the Psalms as an open, flexible resource, which one may turn to, individually, in small groups or large assemblies. In considering utilizing a Psalm, consider the particular venue and the needs. Some Psalms may be too complex or difficult to be useful for certain situations, though even some of these may well contain a thought, a phrase, or a word that triggers meaningful associations/discussion.
One "re-writing" exercise that teachers have used is a modified version of "fill-in-the-blank." You can take a section of a psalm and in place of certain verbs and nouns, substitute images that may be culturally closer to home or carry more contemporary meaning or personal/familial resonance.
Ritual and Ritual Objects
Routines can be very important to the maintenance of stability and comfort. They are even more crucial during times of particular stress and uncertainty. To help sustain peoples spirits in especially rough times, new rituals or new spins on traditional rituals can become a special focal point of reassurance and reconnection. For example, some people choose to light a special candle once a week, or to add a special piece to their bedtime ritual. Even the presence, contemplation, or handling of meaningful ritual objects (candelabrum, mezuzah, passed-down prayer book, a rock from Jerusalem) may be a source of solace and support. A wide range of rituals and ceremonies are presented at http://www.RitualWell.org
Sharing Silence: Just Being There
Though this is a great challenge for many of us, setting aside time to just sit together and breathe, without doing much else and accomplishing anything, is extremely important. The son of a great sage once expressed: "I was brought up all my life among the Sages, and I have found nothing as good for the body as silence
" (Simeon, son of Rabban Gamliel, in Pirke Avot 1:17). Begin with only 2-3 minutes and gradually increase to 5, and then 7, and then 10. Make sure to find a comfortable setting and to unplug telephones, etc.
We speak of relating a story, because the process of sharing a narrative offers profound opportunities for expanding and deepening relationship to one another, to the community, to the cosmos, to God, to tradition, etc. No one story is "the ultimate one" universally helpful, unfailingly inspiring and on-target, and comforting to all; rather, the goal is to share a journey that may facilitate opening up and expressing what one has been through, and what one feels or knows. The goal of a shared "external" story might be seen as stimulating the sharing of personal "internal" stories. Dont over-analyze, but try to "travel" through a story together, as a multifaceted prism or catalyst for remembering, taking stock, and looking ahead.
Once again, in selecting stories, take seriously your own profile age, emotional states, even theology but dont be afraid to stretch a bit. Somebody once asked: "So, how many stories are there?" And, of course, there are two answers: An infinite number, or, simply, One. We need both to relate our many diverse stories and at the very same time to link them together in the transcendent Narrative.
Torah and Other Sacred Texts
The Hebrew bible is basic to Jewish life. The Jewish people are sometimes known as "The People of the Book" ( Am HaSefer). The value of text study has traditionally held a central role in the life of the Jewish people. It is believed that even if one has not studied Torah and other sacred texts, our values and spirituality in every area of life are suffused with biblical concepts and images.
Everyone can study Torah. Our name, Israel, means "to wrestle" and this is what we do with our sacred texts. Through the process of Torah study, we wrestle with the text, using our head and our hearts to glean ancient wisdom that speaks to our modern dilemmas. This text was written prior to the advent of modern medicine and science, so we seek commentaries on these texts, from our ancient history to modern time, to facilitate our exploration. We also create our own commentaries ( Dvar Torah). There is something special about coming together with others to wrestle with our questions using the vast container of wisdom, called Torah. We create holy space in the process.
Tzdakah/Philanthropy: Giving to Restore Balance
One classical Jewish response to challenging times is to contribute to a better world, through financial and/or in-kind donations. Like the acts of Tikkun Olam below, engaging in Tzdakaah can empower us precisely at times when we may feel extremely disempowered, enabling us to heal by doing something constructive. Giving money to important causes is a way of re-aligning the material with the spiritual as well as simply helping to build a better world. Some people identify different junctures of the Jewish year for different causes for example, Passover for causes that relate to liberation, Hanukkah for those that bolster identity and autonomy, Purim for those that counter persecution, Tu BShvat for environmental efforts, and on and on.
Tzedek/Social Justice and Political Action
Children and adults need to express their beliefs and values relative to social and political issues. Doing so can bring psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits. Now is not the time to withdraw but to emerge to ask, to learn, to discuss, to organize, to write emails and letters. It is healing to do our part to restore or strengthen social justice and human dignity in the world.
To sort out emotions and experiences that may be beyond words, many children and adults find drawing, painting, collages, or sculpting extremely therapeutic. One might want to focus on Jewish holidays. For example, for Passover and the themes of Oppression and Liberation, everyone can contribute to a mural or centerpiece about Freedom, and even use it as part of the Seder meal.
One Bikur Cholim group created a MiSheberach quilt with a block constructed for each person who was ill. It is used in any number of ways: as a Torah cover, for rituals, to cover someone or to put on display for special occasions. The possibilities are endless.
Wise Sayings and Quotes
Our tradition and community is rich with aphorisms that embody profound guidance and are at once timely and timeless, reminding us of truths and possibilities that may be obscured in times of turmoil and distress. These may be right to explore on your own or with family/friends, or they may simply remind you of some sources to turn to for wise instruction -- texts like the Bible (e.g., Proverbs) and Talmud (e.g., Pirke Avot/Ethics of the Fathers); writings from the sages of the Middle Ages, the Hassidic world, or from centuries of Yiddish culture, etc.
Remember to be open to discussing the "ins and outs" of these sayings -- what seems right and what is difficult, what feels helpful and what less so. Some children, and adults, may find it helpful to make an illuminated poster out of one of them; others may want to expand upon it with their own original written commentary.
- Pirke Avot Quotes Ten quotes translated and arranged by Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
- Wise Sayings: Caregiving A compilation of wise sayings that speak to issues of giving care and other acts of lovingkindness
Much has been written about the healing power of writing in a journal or diary, as it offers a container for powerful experiences, a mirror or a prism through which to sort things out, and a safe "dumping ground" for feelings that may be in some way difficult or challenging. Write a letter to oneself, to a deceased relative, to God. Write to a specific person, or about a specific topic, i.e. family, holidays, ritual objects.