Tag Archives: Rabbi Tarfon

A Woman Awash

My Matrilineal Mothers, My great, great grandmother celebrating her 100th birthday

This picture inspires me, every day. I look at the faces of these Eastern European Jewish women, these warrior women, who endured, or whose progeny endured pogroms, violence, poverty, plagues, the Shoah, and who knows what else. They not only endured it, some of them survived to pray and to make family, connections, friendships, partnerships and eventually me and my children. We are the seedlets from their wombs. I love their strong proud faces, their soft smiles and the looks of endurance, the crags carved into their faces. And, and…none of them are a size four! All of the women pictured here are zaftig, even the birthday girl/woman/crone. These were women of girth and ground. Women who stood their ground and who worked and lived hard. This is my lineage.

Perla Barchilon, age 19 perhaps, she was married to my grandfather Jaimé at the age of 16. He was 20. She had five sons, who lived, and was a painter in Morocco. She’s in my blood as well as my children’s.

I have this Sephardic lineage running through me from the line of my father and his family. That lineage is more exalted and wealthy, and this line comes with art and rich stories. I know more about the men in this lineage. But I knew my grandmother Perla bat Doña Aicha Bendavid v’ Don José Barchilon, zichrona l’vracha, and her artwork is all over my home. My grandfather Chaim or Jaimé Cohen ben Don Aaron Cohen v’ Dona Sol de Ohana, z”l was the patriarch of my life and in their Moroccan home I learned to cook, to appreciate rich colors, smells and the life of warmth and passion that Morocco is. That lineage flows through my blood and I consider myself more Moroccan than any other nationality. My father’s grandfather was the head Rabbi of Tangier.

The Eastern corner/wall of my sanctuary/cave/meditation room, with a painting by Perla bat Aicha, z’l, of a Morrocan street.

Somehow, I’m here/Hi Ney Ni. I hope I make it to 100 and have grandchildren or great grandchildren standing behind me and a giant cake full of candles, like the matriarch above. I’ll be very ready to go at that point, but my death date or pull date, as I like to call it, is in the hands of the Divine. While I’m here on this earth, there’s lots and lots to do. There is also so much information, data, waves of images and messages, emails, texts and Instagram posts, tweets, alerts, podcasts, zoom chats, protests to attend, meals to cook, medicines to make and folks to help die and folks to help heal and…..it goes on.

As Rabbi Tarfon z”l who lived and died in the first century B.C.E. says:

You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it; if you have learned much Torah, great shall be your reward, for He who hires you will surely repay you for your toil; yet the requital of the pious is in the future.

from Pirkei Avot a text written down based on oral teachings in the first century B.C.E.

So, I’m not obligated to finish this work, but I am not free to desist from it either. This is not just my mantra, it is the mantra of most of the hardworking, justice seeking, world healing folks I love and connect with. The English translation here is not reflective of the feeling that the Hebrew has or the poetry of the teaching.

The future quoted here is Olam Ha Ba in Hebrew. This translates more closely as The World to Come, which could be tomorrow or in a thousand years. It’s in the hands of the Creator or you, what the World to Come is, it’s a verb form, a world that is coming, it’s not yet here, but it’s on the way. If you are able you can feel it, or sense it. The veil between this world/Olam Ha Zeh and Olam Ha Ba is very thin for some of us.

I long for Olam Ha Ba, sometimes with such an ache in my being that the tears and sobs flow out of me for hours. There’s just too much damn suffering, ugliness, meanness and stupidity down here on this planet for me to bear sometimes. And yet, bear it I must. I cannot bear it though, if I watch the news or listen to the news or imbibe the news in any form currently available.

I’m afraid I’m going to be burned at the stake for admitting that I do not participate in the news cycle. I don’t own a television, I don’t stream CNN live or watch the Trevor Noah Show or listen to NPR or Rachel Maddow or NBC, CBS, BBC, etc… you get my point. I get plenty of news from all of the people in my life who share tidbits with me. I generally know about something big within hours of it happening. Sometimes a day will go by before whatever “news” crisis, on the planet folks are spinning about, circles around and reaches me. I do not let the currents of world events, as reported on by others, who often wish for me to be hooked by their versions of the story, dictate my direction or life.

That being said, there is a trusted source of information that I am completely involved in. That makom/source is my cellular core knowing. This knowing will literally take me down to the ground when there are mass deaths or huge traumas on the planet. I have an internal weather vane that is tuned to certain frequencies. In the last two years, I’ve gone to ground in a huge way, before the news informed the world of these horrors. When Covid hit this world in a big way, I was already in a cave of my own making. I curled up in a ball, like a fox or a bear and I hibernated. I do this when I need to replenish or when the waves of the world hit me like a tsunami.

I could barely get out of bed for months, not because I was physically sick, but because the pain of the thousands of people dying in fear and alone was a tidal wave for me. I’m very sensitive, not really the right word, to death, my internal channel is tuned to the other side. When there are mass events of death, I feel it, not because I’m watching the news coverage about it, because I don’t do that, but because I’m just wired that way. I was bone deep tired and unable to rise up. I was sheltering in place before that was actually called for.

So, I went to ground, curled up in my cave/bedroom. I emerged very infrequently to eat an apple or take a bath. My husband had to fend for himself mostly. He’s used to my weird and wild ways. He would lie down next to me and tell me he loved me and ask what he could do, if anything. Mostly, he just accepted me and loved me. He is an Agnostic and doesn’t believe in a Divine Creator and cannot comprehend 98% of what I tell him I am experiencing. Miraculously, he doesn’t need to understand me, or take me apart and make sense of me, to love me. He’s just wired that way, wired to love me and I’m wired to love him and it works, amazingly well.

My mensch and I, photo taken by my Beau-Pere Kenny’s very talented sister Ellen Weissberg Whyte.

When I touch my man or am held by him, all my cells align and take a kind of deep breath. It’s a truly profound experience for me and it still happens to this day, 33 years since we first kissed, I feel the current of wholeness course through my body. It makes my toes curl, my heart race. I am giddy and soothed all at the same time.

There’s nothing subtle or mild about me or how I feel, love, pray, and live. I’m a lot to handle and as the husband of a dear friend of mine once said about me. “Jeez, could you have some f—–g enthusiasm already!” Which I translated as the usual, you’re just TOO MUCH!

And, I am too much, for a lot of folks, which isn’t really important, because I’m used to that now and I’m in really good company…but back to my cave. I didn’t share the depth of what was going on for me with anyone besides my husband. A few folks were worried about me since they weren’t seeing my posts and I was generally absent from so many activities online and elsewhere. Even when I’m in my cave, I still take care of what has to be taken care of, what is mine to take care of, like my parents and my children. Or when someone’s son in my community was murdered and they needed support to get their son’s body washed and prepared for burial, according to Jewish tradition. They needed to witness and lovingly wrap their beloved in a shroud with prayers during Covid. Everybody worries about you and thinks you’re crazy for extending yourself and endangering yourself to make that happen. But, this is exactly the kind of thing that pulls me, like a magnet from underneath the covers or the depths of my sanctuary cave. The call to serve and to do what is mine, not someone else’s to do.

The other call that came in, when I was deep in the depths of the pain of the world, was when George Floyd, z”l, was murdered. It was like an electric shock to my system and I just jumped out of my bed and started cooking and making medicines and cleaning and doing everything I could, in what I like to call Full-On-Nicole fashion. Even though the pain was searing, the call to make kindness alive and to help folks feel heard and seen and loved during this time of trauma and exposition of the true nature of our society, was stronger than the need to be curled up feeling the anguish. For me, the call came in and it came in loud and strong and clear.

George Floyd , zichrono l’vracha, by Marjorie Feldman, framed by Howard Feldman

I didn’t see the death of this man on the news. I felt it in my bones. I am a woman awash with the world’s doings. Life on this planet, the life of this planet is not something I am separated from, none of us are. When there is harm or grace, we all feel it. Whether it is a slight blip in our heart-beat or it takes us down to the ground, or out to our studios, or into the streets, we are all part of the same story.

In my tradition we say a prayer called the Shema, we say it three times a day. It cannot be completely translated. It’s a call to being and a chant and a reminder. The prayer itself is just a few words, but it is followed by a few paragraphs of prayers reminding us that if we adhere to this teaching the rain will fall in its season and the cattle will be happy and all will align, but if we fail to heed this call and we worship idols (like the television, entertainment industry, sports games, the stock market or the Kardashians) the rain won’t fall in its season and there will be famine, plague and basically consequences to our NOT taking care of each other and the planet. This is not the Holy One cursing us, this is us cursing ourselves, causing the damage by not heeding the call of the Shema.

Listen, Hear, All you tribe of Israel, all you who wrestle with the Divine, the idea of the Divine, Hear this, all of you who struggle to make the world a place of decency and kindness, who stumble and fall down, who make mistakes, but get back up again, and again, listen you tribe of humans of all colors and religions and creeds and genders,


We are all One, the Divinity is All One, is all encompassing, is everywhere at all times, holding us, watching us, shepherding us, rooting for us, wailing for us and with us as we stumble and fumble about. The Creator is with us and is through us and is us.

This call to Listen, to Hear, which implies you are directing yourself towards something perhaps not always loud or obvious, something that requires your active attention; this is something that I cannot ignore. I’ve always been a being who feels the blood trickle down my leg when the person next to me falls down and the skin on their leg cracks open, I get this in my body, it’s not an idea in my head, it literally fills my head and body like a gong sounding through my whole being.

I am awash in the feelings of this world and often of the next world as well. Sometimes folks who’ve crossed over are looking for support or help, especially if they died suddenly or violently, or they just have something they need to communicate before they move on to their next bathing of light, where they can be awash in the Creator’s love for them. Sometimes folks here on this earth are in so much pain it leaps out of their bodies and finds its way to me.

So, crazy as this makes me look and sound to those of you in the world who cannot see the dead moving through the room, like a waft of steam rising from a tea cup, or who don’t recognize the connections between things as being all part of some giant and unwinding narrative we are players in, I am very much affirming, again and again, that I am a woman awash in all of this.

Why do I need to assert this? There are many reasons, but the strongest call right now has to do with wanting to witness for folks that you can be fully awake, aware, and open, and also closed, quiet and taking care of yourself. There is no one way to serve. Maybe you need to go to ground, take a sabbatical or a break or just crawl under the covers for a week or months. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are depressed or mentally ill. It might just mean you are a human feeling the throbbing heart of our times and needing to be with all of what that is. Or maybe you do better going to a rally or a protest or writing hundreds of postcards or keeping track of all the lies and stories on the screens so that you can be a witness to what is actually being said. As long as it doesn’t poison you and make you forget how to enjoy the buds on the trees or the way the Holy One paints the sky each night, or the smile of your beloved, or just that we’re all in this together, imbibe away.

We’re most of us in good, good, really good company. We all have work to do that is uniquely ours. I hope you find your way through and into the places you need to be in and that you notice when your engagement with the “news” takes you away from loving, living and giving.

The real news is this, we are here on this earth for an eye-blink, even if we live to be a hundred years old, and while we are here, we have a task to continue working on, the work of making the world a better reflection of the love, kindness, intelligence, justice, harmony and Oneness it was meant to be and it is becoming, even if we cannot see its emergence yet.

My Mother’s mother Isabelle, bat Minnie, zichronah livracha, May her Memory be for a Blessing, my mother Helen Redman and little baby me. The mothers’ blessings passing through me back to the original Mother of us All, a long line and an amazing legacy of women successfully giving birth and surviving to make it to this moment and this time. I’m so grateful to all those who have come before me. May I live up to my lineage.

Rest and Digest ummmmmmmmmm not something I am used to doing

Moi/me in my pannier in Paris asleep and digesting yummy mommy milk. Nicole Asleep in her Basket by Helen Redman -1964
Moi/me in my pannier in Paris asleep and digesting yummy mommy milk. Nicole Asleep in her Basket by Helen Redman -1964

Rest and Digest

Normally I don’t need to do either of these very much. I’ve never had digestive issues, nor have I needed much rest. Normal is no longer the norm for me. I’m in a cycle of slowing down, being tired and actually for the first time having a little trouble digesting. For someone who has been bouncing around like Tigger or Wonder Woman for almost fifty years, this is a “sea change.” It is not one I am excited about, but also not something I feel I have any control over. I just can’t do the mind over body calculus anymore. The effects of life lived at this pace and level are catching up to me.


There are a number of factors connected to all of this, some of which I will write about in greater depth in one of the many books currently growing in my mind. Part of my need to rest is absolutely related to this impetus to create and the gestations that are going on deep in my being. I’m no longer birthing children, but I am beginning to  grow several longer and larger projects, and just like children evolving inside of me, energy and resources are required.


Some of the fatigue is related to my ongoing thyroid trials and tribulations (more details to come in the future on this). There are physiological reasons for my fatigue that are real and complex. I am addressing these and have been looking at them for the last year,  with great concentration, time and in-depth. Solutions are not just emerging from all my efforts, and how hard I’ve been scratching, experimenting, researching or trying different medicines and regimens. The reality is still somewhat occluded. Occluded realities require time and energy to navigate, so this is tiring and very time-consuming.


The other piece of my fatigue is about being in Peri-menopause, heading towards home plate and hoping to soon be done with bleeding away so much of myself every month. The loss of blood I go through and have gone through every month of my life since I was twelve, (except for when I was pregnant), is of epic proportions. I’ve been anemic as a result most of my life and have to supplement with iron, iron rich foods and generally crave meat in a very insane way a day or so before I start bleeding. I am often down and literally need to be in bed, for the first two to three days of my cycle.


So, all of these factors are playing a part in my need for sleep and calm and time to digest. It was my acupuncturist, Lupine Wread, who told me “You need to Rest and Digest.” She is helping me understand that I am in a new phase and that I have basically exhausted my parasympathetic nervous system from years of giving and doing for so many folks. Normally, I just source from the earth, from The Divine and from my husband (I am a secret vampire), but lately that hasn’t been enough and my sympathetic nervous system is now saying, “sorry girlfriend, we can’t just run the show anymore without you taking some serious down time.” I just cannot run, run, run anymore, and that is okay.


There is a gift in this, when I am not feeling like a slug. I like slowing down and the need for it is so clear that I cannot ignore it. I just don’t have the electrical capacity to go, go, go anymore. I may get some of that back as my systems get sorted out and after I have spent serious time resting and digesting. I may not. I am so much more internally focused right now and I know this is not just something happening to me.


It is a function of entering the “crone” or early crone, phase. I’m moving towards being an older woman. In September I’ll turn 50. I know there are women running marathons into their 80s and I hope to be doing a lot of wondrous things between now and whenever I leave the earth. But, this is a time of slowing down before I take the next curve in my  path onto roads unknown in my life. My youngest will be graduating from high school come Spring of 2015 and there will be no more children to raise or instruct or guide in my home. I will be free to pursue my own path without needing to address the needs of others quite so much.


Of course, serving the Divine, is my always path, so I will be addressing whatever needs come up related to that, which, of course means other peoples’ needs. The difference will be in how I skillfully manage to do that.

Skillfully Trampoline Jumping in my youth
Skillfully trampoline jumping in my youth

In Buddhism they use the term skillful means (Upaya) to describe getting somewhere more efficiently. You do not acquire “skillful means” quickly, they come with practice, guidance, and time to, yes, REST and DIGEST. Not only food, but ideas, and concepts and feelings need time to settle and move through me and all of us really.


I used to be into the Aikido kind of metaphor, where you take what is coming towards you and move it along, flip the energy over. The problem is I was never an adept at Aikido or any martial art. I am a sponge, a big fat wet and sloppy sponge. Being an Empath means I take in all the emotions, feelings and things around me and I process them through my body. I do not move them around me, I receive them inside of me. Changing that pattern seems pretty impossible, so I have worn out lots of my systems, without meaning to and now I am navigating this body territory in new ways.

I also have to say that environmental factors play a part in all of this. I will write much more on this in the book I am gestating. For now though, I want to be very clear that I do not believe that any of us are exempt or safe from the degradation and wounding and polluting of our waterways, soils and planetary systems.

There is nowhere to hide and our bodies cannot escape, no matter how much organic food we eat or how many miles we run or how often we see the doctor or acupuncturist. We are all subject to the reality on this planet and no one gets away from the toxins and injustice here on this earth, even if it looks like they are “getting away with it or from it.” There is a cost for everyone, body, soul, heart and mind, one of your systems will be impacted or all of them.  We all have different capacities for handling toxins, some folks more than others, but all of us are exposed and injustice and harm wreak havoc on all of us because we are all ONE being.


See my poem Witch Hunt for a poetic take on this.


I always tell folks that my soul and spirit are permanently rejuvenated and rejuvenating. The thing is, my body is not. It is finite and has limits and challenges and I have to address those skillfully. I am not into judging myself or others for their body choices (at least not the ones that don’t harm others). You will face my wrath if you endanger others with your choices, but otherwise, we all have narratives and story lines we follow with our lives and bodies that are unique and personal.


Skillful means for me, means recognizing that I have to take my body and its needs a little more seriously now than I used to. I have to address “rest and digest” and actually do those two things more skillfully. I have no desire to do much of anything else right now, with the exception of my desire to pray more. I just cannot run and jump to the constant calls for action that are all around me. I am no longer available in the same way. Luckily, others are and can be and, I am not the only one who can be of service in situations. This is part of the story too, recognizing that I only need to do my part, not everyone’s part.


Across a few thousand years in time the voice of Rabbi Tarfon of the Talmud teaches and reminds me and all of us that:


“The day is short, there is much work, and the workers are lazy, but the reward is great and the Owner is pressing.” He added: “You are not duty-bound to finish the work, but on the other hand, you have no right to waste time from it; if you have learned much Torah you will receive great reward; your Owner is to be trusted that He will reward you for your efforts, but be mindful that the reward of the righteous is in the World to Come.” –

This passage is a translation: by Nissan Mindel.  There are lots of teachings in it. It is important to remember when looking at ancient texts that all Torah and teachings from others require perspective and explanation and contemplation. I have had the opportunity to study this teaching for years and years and it always yields fruit for me. The section, right now, that I am attending to is the idea of not being duty-bound to finish the work. I have not wasted my time or been lazy. I have to trust a little to others and learn more Torah. I need to rest from doing and digest teachings slowly in time so that I can be a skillful practitioner in a BODY for the next fifty years or so, B’ezrat Ha-Shem (with the Holy One’s Help).

May you benefit from whatever resting and digesting I manage to do that is of service to the greater good of Tikkun Olam (mending of the world). I wish you and all those in need of space and time, the space and time to also rest and digest!