Four Worlds

 4worldsWhen you hear the phrase "the Four Worlds," what comes to mind?

Maybe you think of action, emotion, thought, and spirit. 

Maybe you associate the four worlds with the Tu BiShvat seder, which is often organized as a journey through the four worlds.

Maybe thanks to Tu BiShvat you associate the four worlds with the four seasons of the year, or with the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire. 

Maybe you associate the four worlds with the four letters of God's holiest name, יהו׳׳ה.

Or maybe the phrase doesn't mean much to you, or leaves you confused. 

The four worlds paradigm is core to Jewish renewal as I've experienced it over these last many years. For a while now I've been wanting to craft a short, (hopefully) clear explanation of the four worlds to share with y'all.

There's a new page on the Bayit website that I hope will serve this purpose: The four worlds.

If you're familiar with the four worlds: does this description work for you?

If you're not familiar with the four worlds: does this description make sense to you?

If you have questions, we'd love to hear them. Let me know!

 

Related: A teaching from Joel Segel on equalizers of heart and soul, 2016


New from Bayit for Purim: Esther + #NeverthelessShePersisted

UnnamedJust in time for Purim, Bayit is releasing something new, created by founding builder R' David Markus.

Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Purim Tribute for Women's History Month

Here's what R' David wrote about it:

This trope mash-up of Esther and the 2/7/2017 Congressional Record (“nevertheless she persisted” silencing of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren) commemorates Purim and Women’s History Month at a time when society especially needs brave truth tellers to hold back the tide of hate.

Purim affirms Esther’s stand against official silencing, abuse of power, misogyny and anti-Semitism. At first an outsider, Queen Esther used her insider power to reveal and thwart official hatred that threatened Jewish life and safety. We celebrate one woman’s courageous cunning to right grievous wrongs within corrupt systems.

The archetype of heroic woman standing against hatred continues to call out every society still wrestling with official misogyny, power abuses and silencing. For every official silencing and every threat to equality and freedom, may we all live the lesson of Esther and all who stand in her shoes: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

If you click through to the post on the Bayit Builders' Blog, you'll find a soundcloud recording of the two texts in Esther trope, and also an annotated script in case you want to chant this in your own community. Find it here: Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Purim Tribute for Women's History Month.


On building and making our tradition our own

Logo-twd-header...The Talmud draws a connection between children and builders. (The connection relies on a Hebrew pun between two words that sound almost the same.) All of us are tradition’s children, inheritors of richness from those who came before us. And all of us can be tradition’s builders. We have the opportunity (maybe even the obligation) to take up our tools and build the Judaism that the future most needs...

That's from my latest essay for The Wisdom Daily, on building and making our tradition our own, written in honor of my Bayit co-founders. Read the whole thing: Why Judaism Feels Like Home To Me


Building together, and the rotating rebbe chair

Bayit-logo-fullcolorWhen the seven of us came together to form Bayit, we brainstormed not only the kinds of projects we want to take on, but also the kinds of structures we need to build in order to support the work. Our bylaws offer a governance structure that's not quite like anything else I've experienced elsewhere, and I'm super-excited about it (because yes, I'm the kind of geek who gets excited about nonprofit governance!) It also feels emblematic of much that we hope to do and be.

Bayit has seven Founding Builders. At any given time, we have a board chair and vice-chair, as is standard on most boards of directors. We also have a secretary and a treasurer, and an ethics chair who leads our ethics committee, and those latter three roles last for a year. But the chair and vice-chair roles will rotate quarterly. We all get a turn.

At our December Senior Builder meeting we picked a first board chair, and the next person down the alphabet gets to be our first vice chair. In late March, the vice chair will become chair, the next person in line gets to be vice chair, and the first chair gets to be a regular founding builder like everyone else. It's also built into our bylaws that anyone who wants to do so can "pass," so no one is obligated to serve in the chair or vice-chair role if it's not a good time for them to take that role on. But everyone is entitled to a turn. Serving as board chair is something each of us gets the opportunity to do.

Bayit's founding philosophy is that we're all builders. That's core to our vision, both within the organization (in how the seven founding builders relate to each other, and to the other folks who collaborate and build with us) and in the organization's relationship with those who (we hope) will embrace and use and adapt and respond to the resources we'll provide. We want to live our values and to model mutual empowerment and healthy collaboration. As we rotate board roles, we each get the opportunity to grow in different ways, and to collectively take responsibility for balancing our skill-sets and energetics around the board table and across the organization.

EMPTY-CHAIRWe made this choice with loving awareness of one of the stories people like to tell about Reb Zalman z"l, the teacher of my teachers: the story of the rebbe chair and the Shabbes tisch. (I've told this one before, but it's worth sharing again.) Reb Zalman used to hold a regular "tisch" on Shabbat. A tisch (טיש‎) is a festive gathering around the table, often featuring food and a l'chaim (a toast) and singing and hearing the rebbe give over some Torah.

At the beginning of the tisch, he'd be sitting in the "rebbe chair" at the head of the table. And when he was done teaching, he'd ask everyone to rise, and all move over one seat, and whoever was then in the rebbe seat became the rebbe, and whatever they had to teach, the table received with the same attentiveness they had given to Reb Zalman. And so on, and so on, until everyone had had the opportunity to sit in the rebbe seat and to experience being in the rebbe role.

A rebbe, taught Reb Zalman z"l, doesn't have to be a singular individual in a position of power. Rebbe can be a role we fullfil for each other, a role into which each person is nurtured and nourished to grow.  The person "in the rebbe chair" isn't the permanent vertical top-down leader. The person occupying that leadership role is meant to be a fount of inspiration and collective guidance -- and that inspiration and guidance can, and should, and arguably must, come through each of us in turn. This means it's the job of each of us to honor our own rebbe spark -- and also to let it go so that the flow can come through others, too. 

Each of us can be the rebbe, and can honor the rebbe spark in the others around the table. Each of us can be empowered to lead, and to support others in leadership. Each of us can be a builder of the Jewish future of which we dream. That's part of what I understand Reb Zalman's vision to have been, and that's the activating philosophy behind Bayit. So tell us: what do you want your Jewish future to be, and what tools do you need in order to bring that vision to life? 

 


How to celebrate Tu BiShvat (and a renewed haggadah from Bayit)

Haggadah-coverTu BiShvat, the "new year of the trees," is coming at the very next full moon, the night of January 30. If you'd like to celebrate Tu BiShvat at home with friends or family, it's easy to do -- and it's a beautiful holiday that can open the heart to growth, renewal, and sweetness. Here's what you need:

1) Tree fruits. Ideally, you need at least one fruit in each of the following categories:

  • tree fruit with an inedible shell (e.g. oranges, bananas, nuts, coconut)
  • tree fruit with a pit or seed (cherries, plums, apricots, olives)
  • tree fruit that's edible all the way through (figs, mulberries, apples, pears)

You can use fresh fruits, or dried. You can have one fruit in each category, or several. You can opt to try a new fruit that you've never had before, and say the shehecheyanu for trying something new. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.

Some also have a custom of sipping a nip of either maple syrup, or etrog vodka, at a certain point in the seder. If either one of those appeals to you and is accessible to you, lay in a supply of that as well.

2) Grape juice or wine, both white and red. You'll need enough for four symbolic cups: one white, one white with a bit of red in it, one red with a bit of white in it, and one red. (Since you'll be mixing the liquids to create different colors in the glass, I don't recommend using expensive wine or juice for this purpose, but that too is up to you.)

3) A haggadah that will walk you through experiencing the four worlds and consuming the symbolic tree fruits and wines / juices that facilitate each step on the journey.

There are a ton of haggadot for Tu BiShvat online, and I've shared several here over the years. Here's the one I'll be using this year, co-created by myself and my fellow Bayit co-founder Rabbi David Markus (it's an update of the one we created and shared a few years ago):

It's a digital slide show, intended to be projected on a screen. If you'll be a small group around a small table, you could just page through the slides on your laptop. 

That's all you need! If you want to be minimalist: three pieces of tree fruit, two bottles of juice, and a haggadah. If you want to be maximalist, you can arrange a table laden with tree fruits and even decorations: bare branches representing winter, leafed-out branches from the florist, photographs of trees, whatever calls to your heart. 

Living as I do in a place where this time of year is deepest midwinter, I've come to love this holiday as a first step toward the coming of spring. I hope you'll explore Tu BiShvat and see what it opens up for you, emotionally and spiritually. If you do use our haggadah, let us know what works for you and what doesn't -- we're eager to hear. Leave a comment at the Bayit Facebook page or ping us @yourbayit on Twitter and let us know your thoughts!

 

You can also find this haggadah archived on the Spiritual Resources page at Bayit.


Coming in 2018: Beside Still Waters from Bayit and Ben Yehuda Press

UnnamedOne of the things I'm most excited about in the secular new year is a new publishing partnership between Ben Yehuda Press -- the press that published Open My Lips, and will publish Texts to the Holy this spring! -- and Bayit: Your Jewish Home, the new nonprofit organization I recently co-founded with six colleagues and friends.

The first book published jointly by Bayit: Your Jewish Home and Ben Yehuda Press will be Beside Still Waters: A Journey of Comfort and Renewal, a volume to support the journey through grief and remembrance, and you can pre-order a copy now.

 

Download Small-logo

One of the things I'm already loving about working with Bayit is that the Senior Builders span the denominational spectrum. I serve a Reform-and-Renewal shul; one of my fellow Senior Builders comes from the Conservative movement; another serves in a Reconstructionist context; still another comes from Orthodoxy. We have roots in, and connections to, all of Judaism's major denominations -- as well as to the trans-denominational world of Jewish Renewal. I'm hopeful that those roots and connections will help us collectively meet needs that aren't otherwise being met in the Jewish world. We're beginning our work with three keystone projects -- Publications, “Doorways” (a curated lifecycle resource), and a "Builders' Blog" (exploring how real innovation "works" in the Jewish world) -- and there are others in the pipeline about which I'm equally excited. 


This Publications project arises out of several things that are important to me: serving as a conduit for the flow of Jewish Renewal texts and materials into the world, and the editorial work that was my passion before I entered rabbinical school. I couldn't be more thrilled about this first book that we're bringing to print, and about the fact that it's coming out in partnership with Ben Yehuda Press.  Here's a description of the book:

Beside Still Waters: A Journey of Comfort and Renewal invites a timeless journey both classical and contemporary, spanning illness, death, grief and remembrance.  This volume offers individuals and communities an easy-to-use, emotionally real and textually elegant companion for aninut (between death and burial), shiva (mourning’s first week), shloshim ( first month), yahrzeit (death-anniversary) and yizkor (times of remembrance).  It includes resonant new translations, evocative readings, complete transliterations, and resources for circumstances often overlooked in other Jewish texts (miscarriage, stillbirth, suicide, when there is no grave, abusive relationships, etc.).

Developed in Jewish renewal’s trans-denominational spirit, Beside Still Waters is crafted for use in synagogues inside and outside the denominational spectrum, in hospitals, chaplaincy and pastoral contexts, funeral homes and home observances.

The volume features contributions from some of my favorite writers, artists, spiritual directors, and liturgists, among them Trisha Arlin, Alla Renee Bozarth, Shir Yaakov Feit, Rabbi Jill Hammer, Rodger Kamenetz, Irwin Keller, Rabbi David Markus, and the teacher of my teachers Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l. (Some of my own work also appears in the volume as well.) The full contributor list is online here (and also at the bottom of our book announcement on FB.)

You can pre-order a copy at the Ben Yehuda website, and you can read more about the book via the announcement we just posted on Facebook.

Thanks in advance for sharing my joy!