Tag Archives: Elul

Nitzavim-It is Not in Heaven

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Dancing with the Torah at my Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth El, in Eureka, CA on September 15, 2001. All photos in this post were taken by my dear friend and Mussar sister Amanda Devons.

The teaching below is one I gave about the piece of Torah that I was born under. It’s called Nitzavim and reflects who I am. My Bat Mitzvah was four days after 9/11. Some of my family couldn’t come because planes were still not flying then. Other members got in cars and drove for days. The Temple was full beyond capacity with friends and family and the larger community looking for a place to mourn and be together in the face of the horrible events of 9/11. On Shabbat, Jews have the practice, which we’ve maintained for thousands of years, in the face of pogroms and horrors, as best we can of praising and finding good and resting from ugliness and violence on the Sabbath. I remember my mother remarking that perhaps this was why we were still around, because we found a way to have joy and goodness despite everything.

I’ve been following Greta Thurnberg’s massive impact lately and was remembering my sixteen year old self. Back at Boulder High School in 1979. a long time ago, my friends and I started a club called “Students for a Positive Future.” We were trying to do what is happening now. Of course, if our movement along with so many others’ who have been trying to do what is happening now, had been remotely effective, Greta and her generation wouldn’t be facing the horror they are making everyone face up to now. As, many of you know, this issue is not new or trending. Scientists have known about this for over fifty years. Spiritual people, tribal people, dreamers, artists and visionaries have known all of this as well for a very long time.

It is not impossible to make change, it is not too late. Nitzavim written thousands of years ago, states that if we ignore doing the right thing, there will be consequences. When we don’t care for each other and the earth, this action brings about the curses mentioned in the Torah in Nitzavim. When we honor each other and the earth, Blessings will ensue and miracles and change. I wrote this 18 years ago. I’ve been advocating what I shared then about this reality for my entire life. I will continue to advocate this way for the rest of the days I’m granted on this earth.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

D’var Torah Nitzavim

by Nicole Andrée Barchilon Frank/Shoshanah Adamah Cohen 

September 15, 2001 ~ Elul 27, 5761

Wisdom, Joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with Joy, Wisdom and Hope or Misery, Greed and Violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.”

Nitzavim is rich; it has a wealth of beauty and delight in it. I was powerfully moved when I learned that Nitzavim was my Torah portion/Parsha; the one I was born under 37 years ago in Paris, France. My whole life has been a journey towards joining the core of my heart to my mouth and actions. The Torah is not just a book to me, but a Holy Living Presence in my life. My birth Torah parsha reflects who I am and who I can be in this world.  As Rabbi Mordechai Gafni teaches, each of us has a “soul print,” our own unique essence. Nitzavim is one such reflection of my soul, and sharing my Torah here with you, is my invitation to you, into the heart of my soul.

My choices here today are an affirmation of who I am and how I am choosing to connect to the whole of creation in a covenental way. There are many kinds of relationships and ways of maintaining them. My relationship to my Judaism, profound and deep as it has been in the past, is shifting today. In my lifetime, no one person has insisted that I take on this tradition. This lack of coercion has been a great gift, allowing me to enter into my Judaism without prior wounding or dissatisfaction. No one asked me to observe the Mitzvot or to come into this covenant. It has always been a choice, for which I bless my parents. And yet, I hear my ancestors speaking in my heart. I felt compelled to learn Hebrew, I feel connected to my Jewish family in my kishkas. I have needed to touch the Divine in a uniquely Jewish way. To do that, I have had to learn Torah. Today, I share my Torah with you, with my ancestors and with all those who are here in other than physical form. I am making physical my bond, my covenant, my dedication and my commitment to Torah on this 27th day of Elul.

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Receiving a Blessing from my sister by Love/Choice Terret Smith, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg is smiling in the background here.

The great French 11th Century Torah commentator Rashi reminds us, at this point in our biblical story, that we are being bound to Holiness a second time by our presence before Moses on his dying day. Remember that Torah time is different than our time. Moses’ final day was a biblical day. It went on for quite a long time. Rashi quoting Verse 9 states the following about this day:

“YOU ARE STANDING THIS DAY [ALL OF YOU BEFORE THE LORD] –This teaches that Moses assembled them in the presence of the Omnipresent on the day of his death, in order to initiate them into a covenant.”

Moses initiates us into the covenant on his final day. Rashi also teaches that The Holy One is undertaking to make a second covenant with us,

“THAT THE HE MAY ESTABLISH YOU TODAY FOR A PEOPLE UNTO HIMSELF–He undertakes so much trouble (in making another covenant with you) in order that He may keep you for a people in His presence…. because he has promised it unto you and sworn unto your fathers not to exchange their descendants for another nation. For this reason. He binds you by these oaths not to provoke Him to anger since He on His part, cannot dissociate himself from you.”

Not only are we being bound, but also the Holy One is being bound to us. The very nature of creation is woven into the fabric of you and me.

This beautiful weaving is different in Hebrew than it is in English. For many of us it is difficult to connect with the Torah in English. It is only in Hebrew that it has become embodied and exciting for me. Two years of Hebrew studying in between dishes and child-rearing is by no means enough. I’m still a beginner, but a beginner with a deep desire to continue learning. In our tradition, each Hebrew word of the Torah is itself a tree bearing fruit. There is a root within each word and each root has branches. We are invited, once we know these letters deeply, to explore their branches.

The Kabbalists and great Torah Scholars do this all the time. The word Yisrael is often translated as the one who wrestles with the Divine. The Hebrew word Yisrael is often used concurrently to mean the Jewish people or the Holy Land. Shoshana Cooper teaches that if we play with the letters of the word Yisrael, we can get the word Sari-el. She reminds us that our biblical mother Sarah was a priestess in her own time and had the name Sarai prior to joining herself to Abraham’s El. Women today can claim Yisrael as their name too, because it can mean the El of Sarai. This Sarai El for me is part of the word Yisrael. I am connected through my biblical fore-mothers and forefathers as well as through the action of being a wrestler or dancer with the Divine. There are many ways to refer to Holiness in the Torah. There isn’t one word for the Divine Being.  There are feminine words and masculine ones.

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Reuven Moore/Reuven Uri ben David v’Feygela, May his memory continue to be for Blessing, reading from the Torah at my Bat Mtizvah.

The very beginning of this parsha says all of Israel, those who are present and those who are not present, are included for the final binding as they were for the original Holy Sharing at Sinai. The workers and the priests, all of us, those not yet born and those already gone are included. What does it mean when the Torah says all of us are present, even those who are not physically present are included in the covenant? What is this saying about the nature of creation and the universe? The Torah is revealing here one of her deepest mysteries, asking us to enter into a world that is not easily accessible, yet nevertheless present for us.

This task is still not too far away though, “it is as near to us as our hearts and our mouths.”  On one level this is simple. It has been understood by generations of Jews. It refers to a different sense of time, of responsibility and of oath taking.  The time referred to here is both linear, and circular. It extends forever inward as well as outward. It includes the past generations as well as the future ones. This notion of time is difficult to understand because many people still think of time as only linear and forward directed.

The Torah is not only the first five books of the Bible. The Torah is also considered the body of Jewish thoughts, writings and rulings over time and in time. From the beginning of time beyond our ability to know is Torah. In linear time the Torah includes the knowledge and work of several thousand years. Since ancient times sages and students have been wrestling with these teachings. We have brought these words into our hearts through prayer, meditation and deep thought. We have and still do respond and enter into dialogue with the text. This is the fundamental characteristic of a living tradition. However, despite the wide range of Jewish thought, I believe, there is one Divine code for Jews. It is the one pattern, one DNA, one underlying order to our universe. It is the Hebrew Torah.

That Hebrew Torah speaks not only about relationships in time, but also about our responsibilities in time and across time. In his book Of Water and The Spirit, African Shaman Malidoma Patrice Somé talks about his people’s sense of time and obligation. He points out that, in his tribe’s belief system, he must redeem the actions of his ancestors. If his ancestors hurt another person and that hurt was not resolved or healed in the past, it is likely his life will be affected, and he may be called upon to create resolution. This is a radical concept for many.

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Receiving my parents’ Blessings. Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg jumped in their car and drove up from San Diego to make it to my Bat Mitzvah right after 9/11.

This African tribal belief is like many Native American beliefs about time, responsibility and our place on the earth as well. And let us not forget, as Jews, we are a tribal people. Nitzavim reminds us that if we fail to keep our obligations or we fail to follow the teachings, not only will we pay, the earth itself will become barren.

The Torah can be read as an environmental code book. The land must rest, just as we must. Fruit bearing trees are never to be cut down in acts of war, animals are to be treated with compassion and concern. Lack of foresight, vision and respect for our planet leads to ruin. This parsha both cautions us and guides us. It asks us to be both respectful and to use our hearts as guides about how to live.

If I am responsible for the mistakes and woundings of my ancestors then I have a lot of work to do, especially if they weren’t good people. Likewise, I reap the benefits of their goodness and grace if they were devoted to good works and loving-kindness. Conversely, if my great great grandchildren will be paying for my mistakes, then I really want to be careful about what I do. I want to step gently on the earth and work very hard to do no harm. My children reap pain or grace based on my choices.

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Pictured here are: Ethan, my youngest who was four years old at my Bat Mitzvah, my husband Kevin’s only time attending Temple Beth El, he carried Ethan around for hours while I waxed poetic; my G!d-daughter Aleta was sporting fuchsia hair for the event! My nephews Owen and Soren are also here in the front row with me. Their mom, my sister by Love/Choice, Calryn Aston got in a car from Boulder, Colorado and drove for three days to make it to my Bat Mitzvah in California. They found out on the drive about 9/11.

This parsha describes in detail what will happen to the person who thinks he or she can do lip service to this covenant. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 29: verse 22, we hear of the earth drying up “all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing.” This is the result of not living correctly. This is not some myth, this is the reality of our planet. Those who study and understand the earth, know we are in deep trouble. Too many of us live out our lifetimes as if it were the only one that mattered.

In our prayer service though, we sing of another way. We sing L’dor Vador “from generation to generation. The first letter of the Torah is a Beit, the last letter is a Lamed. These two letters create the word Lev. On Simchas Torah, what do we do? We read the last letters and immediately follow them with the first letters, so we create the word Lev/Heart. This teaching about Torah being in our hearts is woven throughout. We are nothing without our hearts.

NicoleMaren
This photo was taken right after Kevin’s mother gave me a powerful blessing, I call her my Mother in Love (because we have such a loving and good relationship). Luckily, she had come out earlier from Tennessee so she didn’t have to miss out and neither did we!

All of this is very close to us, “exceedingly so.” I found Rashi’s teaching on this fascinating. He teaches that even if it were in Heaven or far away, we would be obliged to go seek it and do it. Why are we obliged to seek out the correct path or teaching? This takes us back to our fundamental crossing over or acceptance of the covenant. Being bound to the covenant means it is a part of us, and if we were somehow separated from a part of us, we would need to go looking for it. This teaching also is about Teshuvah as I mentioned earlier. Returning to our center, our originally glorious soul is the way of Torah. It isn’t far away, yet it can seem impossible to reach. Following the correct path means flowing with the current of life instead of against it. It means walking gently on the earth. Being tender with each other becomes an imperative. By doing this, we find that we are connected to Holiness and that we have chosen Life, the honoring of this uniquely complex and beautiful world.

The Holy One has given us a chance to be partners of a sort. Our ways of speaking and being in the world can either be linked to our hearts and leading towards life-affirming choices. Or we can be apathetic, not actively engaged. As Sam and Pearl Oliner’s research shows this is an unfortunate and all too common path. Being a “bystander” can lead to a lack of caring that promotes violence and all the “isms” in our world. We are being asked in Nitzavim to listen to our hearts and to bind our mouths, our expression of self, to the true knowing of our core. Doing this reminds us that we are responsible and capable and that our actions and words have power.

Learning to recognize the Hebrew words and to chant the trope was a completely terrifying and daunting experience at first. My fear of singing goes back to an Elementary school teacher who told me I couldn’t sing and put me in the “B” choir with one other kid. It was too awful and after a few classes full of her impatience and disdain, I gave up. I found my voice again while pregnant with Shira, determined to sing to my child. My voice has surprisingly undergone a transformation while learning to chant trope. With practice, perseverance and help I’ve felt the beauty and the music of the Divine’s teaching flow through me. It became possible to bind my heart to my mouth. By engaging with my tradition and working on my Bat Mitzvah I made a deep connection that carried through from my Lev to my mouth to you!

When I first heard Hebrew as an 18-year-old woman, my whole being was affected. The moment was timeless, as if I were a gong, which had just been struck, the vibrations have carried me through to this day. In The Book of Blessings, Marcia Falk speaks my heart when she says: “English is my s’fat eym “mother tongue,” but Hebrew is my s’fat dam–the language of my blood.”

So, too for me, Hebrew is my s’fat dam. Learning these letters is a way to encounter the source material of my being. This day is the culmination of years of study, of my blood pounding out a steady rhythm of longing for the Divine, for Holiness and for a language that truly speaks my heart.  Thank you for being here as witnesses to my process. I am deeply grateful for all of you who have traveled far, both physically and spiritually; for all of you who have helped me to get to this moment and especially all of you who continually support me in my life and choices. I am a very lucky and Blessed woman. I pray that all of you will find the language and messages of your hearts and be blessed with people to share with and be supported by as I am by all of you.

Amen

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On the Bima right to left: Arnie Herskovic, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Phil Lazzar, Issac Barchilon Frank, Kevin Frank, Shira Barchilon Frank, Nicole Barchilon Frank and Roz Keller.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bibles/Torahs: Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. The Living Torah. Jerusalem: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733; Scherman, Rabbi Nosson Editor, and Contributing Editors: Rabbi Yaakov Blinder, Rabbi Avie Gold, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The Stone Edition, TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, 1996.

Other Works Cited: Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972,  Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. The Schocken Bible: Volume I. New York: Schocken Books, 1995., Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. Oliner, Samuel P. and Pearl M. The Altruistic Personality, Rescuers of Jews In Nazi Germany. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan, Inc, 1988; Somé, Malidoma Patrice. Of Water and The Spirit. Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994.

Quotes to put in text: Sherman, Rabbi Nosson & Contributing editors. The Stone Edition TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, p. 501; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733.p. 144; Ibid., p. 144. Ibid., p. 144.;Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972. p. 125.; Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994. p. 21.; Oliner, Sam & Pearl. The Altruistic Personality. 1988; Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. p. xv.

In addition to all of my beautiful friends and teachers at Temple Beth El, I have been  Blessed with so many Special Teachers who have helped me find my way. I can only acknowledge some of them here. I hope you will get the chance to experience their teachings: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (May his memory be for a Blessing), Frida Kahlo (May her memory be for a Blessing) Devorah Mann (May her memory be for a Blessing),  Emma Goldman (May her memory be for a Blessing) Anne Frank (May her memory be for a Blessing)   Etty Hillesium (May her memory be for a Blessing) Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (May his memory be for a Blessing), Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi,        Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, Rachel Heller, Malidoma Patrice Somé, Rabbi Gershon Winkler,  Rabbi Marc Gafni, Noam Heller, Gloria Steinem, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Judith Mohling, June Jordan, Rabbi David Zaslow, Rabbi Shefa Gold,              Elie Wiesel, Fatima Mernissi, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Rabbi David Cooper, Marge Piercy,      Marcia Falk, Shoshana Cooper, Alice Walker, Ellen Frankel, Rabbi  Margaret Holub,            Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Starhawk, Kendra Moshe, Rabbi Marcia Prager, Ross Albertson,        Louise Erdrich, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevitt, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Leonard Peltier, Nawal El Sadawi

A Wedding, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Some Serious Earthshaking and a Moving Memorial~Welcome to Elul 2017!

Beth and Kraig
Stunning and kind and and beautiful soul, the bride Beth Weissbart Wasik, my God-daughter and her new handsome, strong, kind and good husband Dr. Kraig Wasik Photo by: Studio B. Benton photography

Sandwiched between times and trips to take care of my father, I had the tremendous honor and privilege of officiating at the wedding of one of my God-daughters. I’ve only done this a few other times. It’s a very intense thing to be the person spiritually responsible in a setting like this. The folks getting married are the important ones and honoring their needs and wishes takes a fair amount of time, insight, and emotional and spiritual presence of mind.

I was quite anxious about whether I would be able to pull it off. In addition to my fears about doing something wrong or looking bad, in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous bride and groom, holding this kind of energy and being the person who represents the energy of Holiness is a calling I take very seriously. We all carry Holiness and no one is more or less Divine. Not everyone recognizes this and when you are the designated driver for any event that is a Life-Cycle, one like a wedding or a funeral, it takes preparation, incredible control, no small amount of guts and some kind of crazy. I’m pretty good at most of these, but the incredible control part is something I have to really work at.

So, I asked my husband to help me monitor certain behaviors of mine that I didn’t want to bring to the fore. This meant I needed to be extremely sober and to make sure I didn’t drink more than two glasses of wine at any of the events. I was on duty and having a relaxing fun time was not what this wedding was about for me. Did I mention the wedding was at a vineyard? Did I mention that I love good wine? Did I mention that I’ve been working extremely hard emotionally, physically and spiritually to navigate the territory of my father’s health, the death of my belle-mère and spending about five minutes with my husband in the last six months? Oh well, wine is just some grapes that have fermented, NOT!

It went really well, better than I could have expected. I managed to do what I wanted to do and to serve the bride, groom and their families. I had a good time once all the pieces I was responsible for were executed properly. Folks were generous in their praise of my service. That felt really good and validated that my preparation and presence of mind, heart, body and spirit were in attunement.

I always and only want to be the vessel for the Divine.

This means clearing out my ego and my version of what is supposed to happen. This can be a little dangerous. I can’t get so plugged into the flow of Holiness that I’m tripping out (this happens for me a great deal of the time). It’s a balance of walking with what is at hand, holding my heart and hands out and up to Heaven and asking for the Shefa/Sweet Holy flow of energy to dance into my words and actions. It means grounding myself deeply into our Holy Mother Earth and feeling the pulse of the planet.

Feeling the pulse of the planet!

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Photo by NASA from Total Solar Eclipse in August 2017

Tuning into the pulse of the planet is not any kind of walk in the park ever, but especially right now, it’s a truly earth-shattering time. At this particular moment, in our collective history, Our Mother is speaking a very specific kind of language. She’s amplifying the message and giving us hurricanes, fires (I normally live in Northern California which has been on fire and smokey for weeks), earthquakes and flooding. Our planet is not just talking right now, she’s keening and wailing and doing everything she can to help us wake up and correct our behaviors.

In Elul, we blow the Shofar to crack open our hearts to literally break through the carapace-like hard shell we call Klippot that has covered up our tenderness and our heart. It’s the most ancient warning device, call to battle, earthquake alert system. It’s piercing, you cannot ignore it, it cuts through all illusions and it’s loud.

I saw a very powerful piece of footage from Mexico City during the earthquake there. It was late in the night, because I was unable to sleep. Often, this is because, I am attuning to the planet when I’m not attending to someone. It’s just not easy to sleep when there are hurricanes and earthquakes and folks all suffering as a result. My prayer practice is about feeling the hurt and crying and breaking open more and more. It’s about asking the angels to go, to go quickly to anyone in need. It’s about just using every possible strategy I can think of to help ease the suffering on this planet.

In the footage, a man from the news was reporting on some sports event when all of a sudden this piercing and very different kind of siren started blaring. He was calm and explained, in Spanish, that this was their early warning system, that an earthquake was immanent. As the footage continued things got more shaky and eventually he got up from his seat and instructed folks to get to safety and the camera crew went to the window with him and looked out on the city. This was, of course, not a safe place to be, but these were news reporters. It was night and you could see the shaking from the camera movements and the lights of Mexico City went out in huge swaths. It was terrifying and impressive and amazing and horrifying and the sound of the electronic shofar was blaring for the whole time.

So, this is the time we are living in and it’s a privilege to be alive. We get to have opportunities to serve those in need and to work on mending what is broken. It’s not a task, or a burden. It’s a calling and a hunger that comes from our collective shared body, the body human, the planet body and our shared common heart, split and shattered into 9 billion people, but still all part of the same organ.

And, we’ve been in worse situations. I mean a few billion years ago, when the stuff of creation was zooming around our universe somewhere, in our relative spatial neighborhood, one large something hit this planet and almost broke it in half. Luckily for us, that huge hit generated a big chunk that became our moon.

We weren’t in human bodies, at that time, but talk about seriously intense climate change. This was the mother of all events for our planet. Mammoth, magnificent and tremendously destructive forces have always been part of the story of this universe. It might feel like we aren’t spinning around an axis in an orbit around the sun in our galaxy, which is a tiny grain of sand in the Holy One’s hand full of billions of other grains of sand, but we are indeed doing just that.

We are star-dust, billion year old star-dust:

Joni sings this better than I could ever say it. It’s as true now as it was then. What is our duty, our obligation, our responsibility at this time of tumult and disaster? The “same as it’s ever been, same as it ever was.” It’s our job to do the work, to take care of each other, to take care of the planet, to pursue justice, to love with hurricane force winds, to storm surge the forces of violence, injustice and cruelty and to eliminate them with acts of loving kindness and imagination and art so deep and so connective that all that’s left of the landscape of hate is some tiny debris that is no longer toxic.

This is also the work of Elul, the month in our Jewish calendar when we really examine ourselves and our actions and we make amends and corrections. The time is now and the urgency of our collective engagement, across all the false divides that separate us or make us think we are anything other than one being sharing one heart, cannot be emphasized enough. And, believe it or not, it’s really not that hard. It’s exhausting to do this work and it’s humbling, in an often devastating way, but it isn’t across the ocean or in the heavens, it’s in our hearts and our mouths and we can do it.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

Wisdom, joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with joy, wisdom and hope or misery, greed and violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions, if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness, must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.” ~Deuteronomy 30:14

None of us wants to see our ugly sides, our broken parts, our lack of generosity, our lack of calm, our indifference, our resistance to what we know needs to be done. None of us like being informed that we’ve messed up, missed the mark. None of us wants to learn that we failed to protect those we love or that we are addicted or that we’ve hurt another person or the planet just by being alive and human and a person who is fallible. Nevertheless, it’s a very simple turning; T’shuvah (to return/to turn/to pirouette) that can make all the difference. When we turn, the rabbis say, the Holy One and all the forces of goodness and all the Angels rush, they rush, like a blast of strong wind to push us and assist us and to help us in our work. So, all we have to do is turn/return.

On that note, I’ll end with a very powerful and personal moment of profound healing and mending a true Tikkun from the memorial for my belle-mère, Judy Barchilon, May her memory be for a Blessing. My mother Helen Redman and I haven’t been able to engage with each other very much since I’ve been on back and forth duty between California and Colorado. My carbon footprint has been huge, in order to be present for my family. This means that, eco-groovy, organic-only, always trying to use my own bags and water bottle me is actually a big part of the link of the problem in the climate change chain. I am as responsible for climate degradation as someone who actively pollutes or dumps toxins into a watershed. My actual carbon footprint is very large.

I’ve traveled between my current home and my former home, by air, more times than I can count since March of this year. Doing so has been the only way I could be part of taking care of my father, my brother, and my heart, and it’s a mitzvah /commandment/obligation/Holy request that I have no problem doing. Honoring my mother and my father is not optional or problematic. It’s work, but it’s like breathing, I cannot fathom doing anything differently. On the other hand, doing so in the way I am means that I’m contributing to the very problem I’m trying to help eliminate. Arrrgggh it’s so hard being human!

So, to honor my mother, I asked if her if she could re-arrange her travel to Boulder to overlap with my current stay with my father. In this way, we could see one another and I could connect with and love on, and be loved by her. She also felt a call to come to the memorial for Judy and to support my brother and I. She asked me to ask my father if he would be okay with her coming and he said “of-course.” This is really all due to Judy.

I’m not going to go into the history here. You can read my beau-père Kenny Weissberg‘s book Off My Rocker, for one version of the story.  My parents separated when I was seven years old and it’s been a long and very painful journey for me and for my father and my mother and brother also. A lot of time and therapy have been involved, on my end. Their divorce also brought and brings profound gifts, like my belle-mère Judy and my beau-père Kenny. My mother and Kenny have now been together for 46 years. They just celebrated their anniversary at the end of July.

I hate the word step-anything. My relationship is a step different with Kenny than it is with my biological father, but Kenny Weissberg is and has been an amazing father to me and grandfather to my children. He’s every bit as much my family as my biological father is. Judy, also, while not as close or long a relationship was had with her was family. She made my father whole and for that she will always be beloved by me. This is why I prefer the French terms, which mean handsome-father and beautiful-mother, instead of step-father or step-mother.

So, my mother came to the memorial for her ex-husband’s wife. At the end of the evening, which was incredible, I noticed my mother and father talking and I could see the care and love flowing between them. This was something I have not ever witnessed. I was six years old and truly have zero actual memory of them being together. Somewhere, in my cells, I remember, but I don’t have any memories of my parents together. There are lots of photos, but the memories are not there. So, this was and continues to be a ripple of healing, goodness and love for me and for them and for my brother and my children and all those who are connected to any of us.

The beauty of any and all tikkuns/healings/mendings is that they are not of this world, or time alone. They transcend time, and space. They transform the past, present and future. A true Tikkun is a movement in time, dropped into the river of Light of the Divine, which accesses the flow of Shefa into all places of wounding, it can literally change everything.

May you trust that the gates of Heaven are truly open and that the flow of Divine Love is strong and continuous and there for you, so much so, that you can take the risk of doing what is most hard for you to do, of being brave and facing what needs facing and making the corrections and changes that need making so that there is more good going into our world than brokenness.

L’Shana Tova u Metuka/A Good and Sweet New Year to you, and Big, Big, Big Mama Nicole Love to all of you reading this and all of you who are part of my support system of likes, loves, emails, and prayer, as well as all the health practitioners who work with me and on me to keep this body of mine moving through space and time so I can take care of those I love. You are part of why I am who I am and can do what I do so thank you!

Mom. Dad. Judy Memorial
My mother Helen Redman and my father Jacques Barchilon taking care of each other at the memorial for Judy Barchilon, Wow, wow, wow!

 

Mikveh, Movement and Me

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Big Lagoon, where Mikveh and I Meet

I have broken ice on a small stream to immerse myself, I have soaked in a steaming warm hot-tub to immerse myself, I have and do slip off my clothes and immerse fully into the Big Lagoon, or the Pacific Ocean, regularly. I do Mikveh, Mikveh does me, we meet in the

מּים חיים   Mayim Chayim/Living Waters

 

A mikveh is a Jewish ritual immersion in living waters that transforms you from one state to another. From ritually unclear or ready to clear and ready, from the everyday weekday to the Holy Sabbath Day, from non-Jewish to Jewish, from single to married, from married to single, from broken to whole, from old year full of mess to new year full of hopes and promise. Women and men are supposed to immerse whenever they come in contact with their own blood or seminal fluids before they are intimate. Often people think it is only women who are required to immerse, but men are required to as well. We also do mikveh after caring for and preparing the dead for burial, as a transition from death back to life. The Mikveh is Magic and transformative. Many folks do not understand real Magic, which flows from the Divine and the creations of the Divine: waters, winds, earth, plant beings, animal, stone and human beings all hold sparks of this magic.

 

Because Mikveh is a gift from the Holy One and involves immersion in Mayim Chayim, which are waters that are alive and flowing (streams, creeks, seas, rivers, lakes, lagoons, rain-fed cisterns that fill a pool and move through those pools back out into the ground, stream-fed ponds, and of course, large bodies of water like oceans), it is connected to the origins of creation and to our origins. We swam in living waters in the wombs of our mothers, all of us did. When we return to living waters, we get to be reborn, re-watered, renewed and reimagined. Mikveh is critical to my life and has been for over thirty years, when I first learned about it and started engaging in it consciously.

 

I’ve always been drawn to living water and used to jump into any creek or stream I encountered while walking in the Rocky Mountains as a young girl and woman. Because my Jewish education began when I started dipping my own feet into it, at the age of 18, I had not encountered this tradition until then. I still was doing it though, just not knowing why and what I was doing. This has to do with my tribal cellular connection. The part of me that is my bloodline and core connected across eons to a specific lineage and way of engaging with the planet and the Divine.

 

I try to always do a mikveh on Rosh Chodesh Elul,/the new moon that begins the month of Elul. I always do a deep 40 day process connected to the beginning of the month of Elul, which just began, and which ushers in a time of contemplation and preparation and work before the release and rejoicing of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I invite other women to join me at the lagoon where I swim, I have done this for several years. There were five of us this year. I’m not attached to how other folks interpret or engage with the particulars of a ritual action. I lay out what is traditonal, give folks a chance to orient themselves around that and make their own decisions about how much or what they can or are comfortable with doing.  I’m all in, when I do it, most of the time I go full-throttle traditional.

 

What is traditional? One is supposed to be naked, free of all jewelry, make-up, nail-polish or other kinds of body make-up. Scrubbed clean of all dirt. The mikveh is not a bath or a shower to get clean in. You come to it clean, with all your knots combed through, if you have long hair, like me, and with nothing but your clean body, as if you were a baby in the womb. Just as free and innocent as a child swimming in a healthy womb enviornment, you completely immerse yourself three times or seven. You offer a prayer of thanks to the Holy One for the immersion and for the Living Water. There is always someone there who witnesses you to verify that you were fully immersed, no fingertips or toes were above the water line, for at least one full second, you were totally surrounded by living water. You spread your legs and open your arms, you fully allow the water to find and enfold all of you. You are transformed.

 

I’ve done mikveh without a human witness, when I’ve asked the angels to witness me and I’ve done mikveh with many women present to witness me. The witnessing is an important part of the process. The acknowledging of your shifting, or your intention, of your immersion and transformation are part of the bond to it and confirm that you are indeed engaging in sacred action.

 

When I am in water, I pray.

As I move through whatever waters I find myself in, I am engaging in deep prayer for all, including our planet, our rivers, and all who depend on this earth. I surround all of those I pray for with love, light, warmth, healing, whatever hopes they have shared with me or pains I try to focus on those when I pray for others.On Sunday, September 4th, I turned 52, this is my Gregorian Calendar birthday. My Hebrew birthday is always two days before Rosh Hashanah, so the 27th of Elul and the piece of Torah I was born with while swimming in the living waters of my mother’s womb was and is always Nitzavim.

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Big Lagoon on a sunny day, where I swim and pray.

I am trying to be on a mini-silent retreat right now, only talking or engaging with others when necessary. This is a new part of my Elul practice and for my own well-being. I really need to minimize contact with everyone for my own internal process. It feels necessary to be on retreat after the last few whirlwind months of my life. It is common to fast from various things during Elul. My choices for this month are to work on more silence, fasting from chatter of all kinds and I am also fasting from wheat and meat and entertainment and using my kindle/ipad for books or movies.

I am working on dealing with ESSENTIALS and the PRESENT moment as much as I can.

My mother’s older sister, Aunt Jean, in Florida, is in Hospice care and is not feeling good as she moves closer to the other side. I have friends going through extremely difficult and life-saving/changing surgeries and navigating hard, hard challenges and transitions. I am pretty sure this is always the case for people on this planet, my circle of care is just large, and I’m an empath so I feel these realities deeply in my cells and bones and core.

I am needing a great deal more space and quiet than ever before. I have made a sea-change since being away on my retreat in Ireland. I want to be present for folks, but can only really do so, from my prayer practice and from my own center of quiet and calm, at this time. It’s been an extremely intense adventure for our family over the last four months. Having space alone with Kevin, with my prayer practice, and with myself is what I need right now.

I hope this month of Elul will be noursishing, healing and calming for me and for those of you engaging in whatever journeys or transitions you are in. I will connect with folks and activities, as I am able, from within my cocoon.

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In my eleven year old self, cocooning. This photo was taken by Francesca Woodman, 40 years ago, but it expresses my mood right now.
I’m wrapped up in my home, re-making it into a space for Kevin and I, who have never been alone without children, since we got together 28 years ago.
In Stillness and Light,
Nicole

Most Secret

The View from my Most Secret cabin at Sunset
The View from my Most Secret cabin deck September 2012

Breaking down, broken down, into the pieces of self, the shards of who I am. These remnants that I need to explore here and now. My process very personal, but somehow still needing to unwind and offer some of it here in this public space. This place here is pretty perfect ground. I am at the Vajrapani Institute about an hour outside of Santa Cruz. My cabin is named “most secret.” I love it for many reasons, not least of which, is that very little about me has ever been “most secret.” To prove the point, here I am sharing from “most secret.”

 

I hope you enjoy the humor in this as much as I do. There isn’t much else about this process that is funny. It’s actually been pretty brutal, which feels right. This kind of self-examination and introspection, that anyone on a spiritual path has to engage in, is a fundamental step. It precedes and follows all progression. For me, it is a yearly cycle tied to my community and the religious calendar I am aligned with. I do the work alone, but I do it with several million other Jewishly engaged folks. So, I’m alone, but not really.

 

All of my faults are faults others have, but they are my unique shards of self. Each one of them has some sharp edges and while looking at them I am pierced and I bleed. I am breathing heavy and crying and working, working and my heart is pumping fast and I feel it pounding against my chest. There is such pain here, especially around the wounds I’ve generated in those I most love. I can’t talk about that here. That content is most secret because it isn’t just mine to share. I can only talk about the things that don’t involve someone else or that someone else has given me specific permission to share.

 

Or I can talk about this process. I want to scream from the mountain tops and howl and shout and rant and rage: “Figure your mess out, do it now! What are you waiting for? Can the planet take anymore of our obtuseness? Can those we love put up with more of our obliviousness and take one more hit to the heart? Have all the homeless and hungry been fed? Are the wars over? Can’t someone please make it all stop?”

 

The suffering on this planet, right NOW is so immense, black hole size large. What is one small drop of my self-examination and correction in the face of this? It’s a small offering against the tide of a very large current. Especially, if it is just me making the effort. But, it isn’t just me. Everywhere I go there are people making this effort. Every person who wakes up a little more, who extends a little more, who tries a little harder and who grows their heart muscle a little more is making this journey with me, and we are making a difference.

 

Even in the random novels I read, the not religious ones, the ones just for pleasure, there are offerings and reminders that link me to this time of truth seeking. This little bit came to me while taking a break from self-examination (as if the Holy One will ever let me off the hook): “Truth is everything. We do not know it, we do not know how to get it, we do not have it in our possession, God will zap it on us like a police warrant as we arrive breathless at the gates, it is entirely beyond us, truth, bloody truth, but it is everything.”¬­on Canaan’s side by Sebastian Barry; Penguin Books 2011. This wonderful novel is one of the “advance uncorrected proofs—not for sale” books that I get from Northtown Books. I highly recommend it. It was very lyric, topical, painful, lovely and so moving. It’s been on my shelf for a year and came out last August, so it should even be in paperback by now and I am grateful I read it.

 

Then I also read this text: “Our tradition regards regret for past wrongdoing as an essential step on the road to t’shuvah and self improvement. This is why Elul, the month preceding the Days of Awe, is regarded as one of introspection or cheshbon ha-nefesh literally, “an accounting of the soul.” It is this inner examination that leads to regret for those shortcomings that have prevented us from achieving our God-given potentials. This regret, in turn, propels us to make restitution for the wrong we have done, to effectively turn to our higher selves and, hence, behave in improved fashion in the New Year.” A Faithful Heart—Preparing for the High Holy Days: A Study Text based on the Midrash Maaseh Avraham Avinu by Benjamin Levy: UAHC Press 2001

 

Shards spread out before me, they make a pretty mosaic mess. I have lots of mending to do. The hardest work will require profound changes in how I live my life. It isn’t enough to do this haphazardly or partially, at least not for me, not as I approach fifty, not with the suffering on this earth as it is. I just don’t have a sense of endless time to work with. I know I can’t save the world, despite my always having wanted to. I’m no longer twenty and thinking I can do everything that needs doing. I’m coming up to fifty and looking at what is left for me to do that is doable. I want to be effective, not just effusive.

 

I’m listening right this second to one of my favorite songs, by Rabbi Jack Gabriel. It just came through my headphones as I typed the previous sentence: “These are the desires of my heart, have compassion, do not disappear, Eyla hamda libi, hosana vi’alna titaleyv.” In the song, the lines are repeated multiple times and it has a quality of longing. This saying is from our prayerbook, and in the original it is a plea for the Holy One to grant us pardon. I love this rendering though.

 

So, before I disappear, my heart desires compassion.

Compassion writ large!

Another funny moment among the shattered and piercing ones here is that, for the last few years, I have been signing my letters and emails not just “Love, Nicole,” but “Big Love, Nicole.” As I walked in the door to the Vajrapani institute, for the first time, I neglected to notice the sign on the other side of the door. My daughter, who was with me for the first two days of my retreat, pointed it out to me. It was a picture of their founder Lama Yeshe with the words “Big Love” in cursive written across his chest. It is the saying of this place and one of the Lama’s teachings. So, everywhere here, there is the feeling of Big Love.

 

I can definitely get behind that!!!!

 

Gathering up the final remnants and making a neat little pile to examine further, there is one last crucial piece. All the rabbis I’ve read agree that it is important to say what you’ve done wrong, to name your mess/your shards out loud. It is not enough to just put them in a journal. Posting them on facebook won’t count either! I am not talking about confessing to another person or restitution here, but the first part, the preliminary part. After you’ve broken down and found your shattered parts, name them and ask for forgiveness out loud from whatever you believe in. If you do this exercise, I promise, profound changes in you will unfold. And, even if you don’t have any specific belief, call out anyway. Practice believing in a force of loving kindness and BIG LOVE that has your back and knows you intimately and has compassion for you. Practice trusting that you can change and that the world will have less suffering. Practice really makes perfect, and the more practicing we do, the more perfected the world will become.

 

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Nicole shares with you from two worlds, her home, and also from her quiet “most secret” cabin in the mountains outside of Boulder Creek, California, in the haven of quiet and Big Love that the Vajrapani Institute created. She sends you strength of purpose and great gobs of love to do your part of the work.

 

This piece has been adapted but it was originally published in the Arcata Eye, September 26, 2012 ©Nicole Barchilon Frank