Author Archives: Ruth Schapira

About Ruth Schapira

As a Jewish educator, I hope to broaden opportunities for learning and offer new ideas. If my posts inspire you to hold conversations and motivate change within the Jewish community, that would make me very happy. I'm interested in making a difference.

Open or Closed, what word describes you?

If you had to pick one word with which to describe yourself, which would you pick?

Think a few moments about your choice and your reasoning.

In what ways might you be closed? Are you defensive when receiving feedback? Do you generally not take the time to consider other people’s opinions that differ from yours? Do you tend to judge others quickly?

How might you be open? Are you open to new ideas? To regarding others with honor? To listening to other’s opinions?

We all struggle with our tendency towards one trait or the others. Plus, we behave differently depending upon the situation at hand.

However, it is noteworthy that openness is a quality that lets in the Divine, the part of ourselves that is ‘bigger than ourselves”.

Before we approach God, we say… 

P’tach Libi B’Toratecha……………

Open My Heart to Your Teachings, Your Torah……..

Opening our heart is key to being able to absorb the messages contained in the Torah.

If you are ready to explore the messages that the Torah has for you, with me, then head over to Inner Judaism and drop me a message. I look forward to hearing from you.

To read more spiritual posts about Judaism, head here.

To read a complimentary newsletter from Inner Judaism, click here and subscribe if you want to be part of a select community of like-minded people seeking meaning from Judaism’s wisdom.

I hope you decide to embark on a journey of connection and spiritual depth. 

I look forward to being with you, exploring the Torah’s messages together and welcoming you as a subscriber. 


A Mountain of Mitzvot?

Our tradition tells us that the sole purpose of Torah is for us to refine our character, and the way toward that end is through action, namely, by doing mitzvot (commandments). Sounds clear enough, however when you consider that there are 613 commandments, it might seem overwhelming—like dealing with a “mountain of mitzvot”…but let’s delve further.

By exploring the Hebrew origins of the word, we will gain insight into its deeper meaning. The Hebrew, מצוה (mitzvah), is derived from a two- letter root “tzav” – צו which is also the root word for צות which means team or staff.

What are the implications of this, and what can we learn? Read more here….


Changing Day by Day

The rhythm of the Jewish calendar allows us to sense a deeper level of experience beyond the seasons. Soon we will be leaving the month of Av, which required us to face our national tragedies and mourn for what we lost. Entering Elul, we turn a period of the Jewish people mourning as a nation into a personal accounting for change. We are given the tools to remake ourselves.

Elul is a time expressly for soulful thinking about our true selves and who we want to be. Our tradition says that God is closest to us in this month. After the void of despair from the prior month and wondering where God was in all of our horrible losses, we find that we are in a different space entirely. God is with us, and we are hopeful. We can be renewed…. Read more about the secrets embedded in the Jewish calendar here….


Sorry…j/k…lol

Perhaps we can understand the following by examining the ways of the pendulum. In this era of constantly expanding communications (posting, tweeting, pinning, texting, and instagramming) we are also moving in the opposite direction by contracting understanding. We have more outlets for what’s on our minds than ever before, yet we comprehend each other less. Read more here…


If you’re reading this…..

Please offer your opinion, it will take < 5 minutes and you’ll receive my “Guidebook to Journaling” when you complete it. Be sure to include your email at the end of the survey.  

I have so many questions for you, but I also want to respect your time. What are you curious about learning? What are your interests in Judaic knowledge? Would you be willing to take a few minutes to complete this survey to tell me a little bit about you and your interests? In advance, thank you very much.


Torah in the Wilderness

Journeying the Omer distance, from Passover to Shavuot, allowed us to experience our ancient roots as part of Am Yisrael / The Nation of Israel, as we rejoice in the everlasting gift of Torah.

In the upcoming weeks, we will be in the book of Torah called BaMidbar / The Wilderness. The Torah was given in the wilderness, a place of no distractions, of expansiveness and silence, evoking a sense of awe for the Divine —the way it feels when you look at the rolling ocean or gaze way up at canyon walls; nature that is untouched and pure. In those moments, we become very small and lose a sense of our physical selves. It is then that we are able to reach inward, connecting to our pure spiritual souls. Losing the sense of our own importance enables us to be open to receive. It’s a great lesson for life. More on this can be found on my post “Being in the Wilderness” and on my sourcesheet on Sefaria.org.

 Two opportunities to learn together are coming up soon! Enrollment is limited in order to foster an intimate learning environment. Check below for course information and updates.

Journaling Immersive 

Have you tried journaling as a regular practice? Different from a diary…it is an incredibly powerful tool for self-discovery. If you haven’t established this spiritual practice yet, and want to experience how to jump-start your process, please join me!   Info here

The Mussar Path  

This successful mini-course begins this week! If you are not familiar with Mussar, this will offer you a healthy introduction.   Read more here


Your Light of Wisdom

Our days are rather filled “up” with day-to-day undertakings, and sometimes we barely get in all the activities we schedule in.

So where and how do we make room for study?

How can we be different today if we haven’t focused on what that even means?

After all, even one of the highest compliments one can pay to a Torah scholar is to call that person a “Talmid Chacham”…literally a student of wisdom. So, even at the highest level of scholarship, one is still a student.

Read more here…. [and subscribe to Inner Judaism to be notified of new posts!].


Omer Counting

Photo by Robin Schreiner on Pexels.com

This year, I am involving myself more personally and seriously than ever before in the counting of the Omer, the period of time between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks).

The counting of 49 Days (beginning on the second night of Passover) is like a metaphoric step ladder. We ascend the ladder in daily steps, in order to experience a spiritual transformation and to have a proper mindset before we ‘re-enact’ the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot.

In the past, I was pretty sloppy about this practice; sometimes remembering, most often forgetting, to count the passing of days. Read more here…. [and subscribe to Inner Judaism to be notified of new posts!].


Passover: The Inner Message of Freedom

Hebrew is full of secrets, embedded with layers and layers of meaning, woven from the thread of reality as Judaism sees it.

I happened on verses from Shemot / Exodus and there, two verses in particular speak to the Holiness of the Torah. Read more about what these messages say here….


The Promise of Nissan

The month of Nissan is a time of new beginnings! In the Bible, this month is also known as Aviv. Read more about Aviv’s hidden messages here, on Inner Focus, from Inner Judaism.


The Inner Meaning of Happiness

How does Judaism define Happiness? How do we differentiate between a feeling that is fleeting, and one that truly lingers and impacts our lives? Read more here, and subscribe on Inner Judaism to receive updates in your inbox. 


You can listen by writing

 
Journaling is an incredible tool that I don’t use often enough.
 

I’m not sure why we resist the practice of journaling so much.

For me, it is still not so easy to face a blank page, even after journaling for many years.

Why is this so? Well, for one, the stark white surface stares at me with the boldest indignation muttering “Go ahead, I dare you…write what you really feel, and oh yes, try to keep it short please….”

The other thing that holds me back is the deeper, darker reason—confronting myself with the parts of me that I’d rather ignore. This seems like a compelling reason to postpone. Hey, if I don’t bring up any negative feelings they don’t exist, right?

Perhaps I also find it challenging because my practice is not very regular. I don’t do “morning pages” [the creative foundational tool promoted by Julia Cameron years ago] because I am always in a rush to get the day started and more often than not, writing ends up last on my list of ‘to-do’s’ in a day.

Another reason is that sometimes it feels so self-indulgent to take even more time to write after all the other practices I do on a daily basis. (really, how can people fit it all in??)

Yet when I do write, I feel accomplished in a precious indescribable way. It’s as if I’ve given voice to the unspeakable, to the deepest part of my soul. I am emboldened to have slayed the white page monster. I am a little more at peace. And I feel brave for looking at myself the way I know I need to.

There are very real benefits to this practice, and if learning about them will encourage you to write more, then read away here, and here, and even here.

You can start writing your thoughts spontaneously at any point in the day. Try just writing even one sentence at a time. Once you unlock that gate to your inner self, it will get used to the air and come forward more often.

Try any of these 7 Journaling tips to help you get started:

  1. What you write is for you alone.

  2. You don’t need a fancy journal book. A spiral bound notebook, or composition book (remember them?), or just some stapled pages will serve the purpose. On the other hand, you might choose to go in the opposite direction. Pick the most attractive book and writing implement if it will serve as an incentive for you.

  3. This is not the place to worry about grammar or syntax (see #1).

  4. You don’t even have to begin with words. You might try doodling at first, just to loosen up your creative brain. Or use pictures to represent a feeling or mood.

  5. The next time you’re facing an issue, or a cross-roads, try ‘talking it through’ by writing.

  6. Silence the “judgey” voice that tries to critique you at the outset. There is absolutely no wrong or right in this practice.

  7. Even if nothing comes to you at first, you can begin writing “nothing is coming to me…” (guaranteed to work, let me know if it doesn’t).

Do you have a journaling practice? If so, can you share what it is? Your ideas can help others who are struggling, and we can struggle together. How about it? Offer your comments on InnerJudaism’s Facebook page.


To receive regular updates of my blog, please subscribe here, on my new website “Inner Judaism”. Mention this post and I’ll send you my “Guidebook to Journaling”. 

 


What Tikkun Olam really means

 

Tikkun Olam, תיקון עולם, literally “Repair the World” is a Jewish concept that barely needs definition. Showing up in many places, a form of these words is also recited at the end of the prayer “Aleinu”, the closing of many formal prayer services.

There, we speak of a future vision of wholeness and our ability, in the days to come, to repair the broken parts of our world within the majesty of the Source [le-taken olam b’malchut shaddai].

The message is that correcting the brokenness will not occur in isolation, but will be realized when we acknowledge our true spiritual connection with God. It is our job to bring out the sparks of holiness in our physical world.

How do we bring that idea down to the personal? In response, many people participate in “mitzvah days”, “days of service” and “Tikkun Olam” programs. We all look forward to the time when we can gather again to do this important work. But we can’t be on hold either. And when we really think about our responsibility to change the world, it can be overwhelming.

Judaism has your back. The word Tikkun appears as הַתְקֵן עַצְמְךָ in our sources and can be defined as “Repair Yourself” (also, prepare yourself). The change begins within, and that we can do now and all the time.

In Pirkei Avot [Foundational Ethics, 4:16], Rabbi Jacob says that our experience in this world is similar to our being in a corridor, a place to prepare ourselves for the next world, Olam HaBa.

A better world comes about by changing ourselves, by acting in the present moment. The actions we take might be minor, very small, but those actions ripple outwards.

Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the Mussar Movement (a movement focused on ethical behavior) in the 19th century came to this conclusion:

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town. I discovered that I couldn’t change the town. So, as I grew older, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself….
Then I can make an impact on my family…and from that, our family could impact our town. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world!” [edited]
 

The Gaon of Vilna, a century earlier, said “The ultimate purpose of learning Torah is to change your character”.

Changing ourselves can only happen when we become intimately aware of our actions. We often drift within the passing of our days, only realizing our stumbles when we’ve already fallen off the cliff of our relationships.

There are many practices, built into Judaism, that gift us with capturing moments of awareness. Becoming aware of moments before they flit away is possible through blessings, meditation, prayer, and engaging in mitzvot (commandments—there are many that don’t involve large groups)—you can choose what works for you. At their core, all involve a ‘living-in-the-present’ focus.

Ironically, when we hold onto the present in these ways, the future is within our reach. This Tikkun of Ourselves, הַתְקֵן עַצְמְךָ, can be the ripple that turns into a wave for Tikkun Olam תיקון עולם.

 

 

To receive regular updates of my blog, please subscribe here, on my new website “Inner Judaism”

Check out the new “Meditative Drawing” event here.

To experience a deeper Torah portion class, based on your character traits, learn more here. 


Your soul is speaking, are you listening?

 

Aren’t I the only one here? What’s this business about me, a soul and all this spirituality stuff?

There’s a lot of talk about soul (not the music kind). This buzz is being captured by Disney’s just-released blockbuster movie by the same name. 

So, do you feel a little out of this whole loop? Defining the indefinable is a familiar challenge (it’s hard enough to think about God, right?).

Judaism has so many beautiful teachings about the soul, so let’s examine one small way of understanding our soul.

Is the you that is reading this the inner you? How do you become aware of your own actions? Do you rethink things, mull them over in you mind? Do you replay events over and over? Who is the “you” that is doing this? Well, it actually depends. We know there are several voices in our head….and it takes time to gain a refined ability to figure out who’s talking. There’s the ego, the body, the mind—all competing for a ticket to be in the front seat of your show.

Not to mention the poor little soul struggling to get its’ own voice heard. What a cacophony.

Our egos are talking to us all the time, wanting to pretend that they are our voice. Know how you can tell? The ego’s voice is not actually very nice, it’s the one saying things like: “You’re an imposter”, “You got to be kidding me, you think that you can do that?” “I want this thing…NOW”, “I need to stay in bed…” and a lot of other unsavory tidbits.

That voice is the cruel judge, the procrastinator, the incessant advice-giver, the one who lives in fear, the snide critic, the self-centered egotist, and any other image that you can conjure up that works for you. Identifying the voice as one that speaks out of Fear not Love will help.

In time, you’ll get to recognize these uninvited intrusive guests, which is the first step in muzzling them (notice I didn’t use the word silence…it’s likely that won’t happen).

Ultimately, you don’t have a soul, you are a soul. Your soul knows what is authentically true about you, but over time, as you can imagine, that voice gets hidden under a lot of other, well, garbage. Some spiritual teachers are more delicate…saying that ‘spiritual veils’ cover the purest part of ourselves, which is our soul.

One tool to be able to discern your authentic voice is to try out Rabbi Manis Friedman’s recommendation which makes things far more simpler. Just think of your soul as having two aspects which can serve as a more trusted guide.

Is your voice telling you to be Selfless or Selfish?

When you spend a little bit of time quieting down the noise, and start listening to the voice that needs your help, the selfless one, you should gain better footing.


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To register for “Secrets of the Hebrew Alphabet” click here.

Check out the new “Meditative Drawing” event here.

 


I wonder who atheists thank?

The saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” presumes that once under the threat of death, the most avowed atheist will plead to God for help in order to live. But how about in when waking up to a freshly wrapped day? Who does the atheist thank? Perhaps nature. How about when there’s good luck? Who gets thanked then? Exactly who is the recipient of gratitude when things work out?

What about our daily experiences? Are we like the “everyday atheist” who has no need for regular interactions with the Divine?

How about when we find ourselves avoiding an accident and call out “Thank God, I almost hit that car” or when we mindlessly say “Thank Heaven, I remembered to do…” .

Are we able to pause in that moment and actually focus on our gratitude to the Creator? Or do we just move on….?

We also tend to write off happy coincidences as just ‘good luck’ or we might even thank “Lady Luck” for our good fortune. Worse, as Jews, we might mindlessly request that others “cross your fingers” (of Christian origin, referring to the cross) or “knock on wood” (ditto plus pagan origins) when we hope things will work out in our favor.

Yet, when we experience pain or are filled with darkness, we might reach out, calling out to the One Above for solace from suffering. Or when we need answers for the unanswerable. The times of intense struggle are often when we tend to reach out to a higher power, to the One who might listen and receive our pleas. Is it possible that our everyday language might be a stumbling block for us?

Our uncomfortable feelings with invoking God’s name might be due to several reasons, but one could be the difficulty in acknowledging God in language that doesn’t fit the Jewish concept of God. 

 
 
“Judaism would be better off without the phrase “belief in God.”  First, it is a Christian phrase, not a Jewish one, and it suggests that the essence of religion is faith – a Christian value.  Second, the phrase implies a certain kind of God – a God in which one either does or does not believe, probably an anthropomorphic God, a cosmic puppetmaster who sorts the bad people from the good, and makes the rain fall.”

Michaelson states that the phrase “Belief in God” should be trashed in the ‘lexicographic graveyard’.

The trap that we might fall into is thinking about God as apart from us, instead of a part of us. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about being in ‘radical amazement’ for existence itself, which is God. When we recite the Shema, we’re not just saying that God is One and not Two…we’re saying that God is All.  Everything in our lives is part of the grand wonderment that is creation. 

When we can experience life in that way, by regarding the world around us as special and sacred…and keep that within our minds even during the darkest days, we will be connecting with the spiritual deep within us. 

It means turning off our own naysaying ego that interrupts with “but that’s not realistic”, “that’s too difficult to do on a daily basis”, “who has time to focus on that all the time?”,  “I couldn’t possibly ignore all the bad things around me”, “that sounds too loosey-goosey for me”, and all the other blocks that will work their way into our path. 

Ignore those voices. Pay attention to the smaller voice inside you, the voice that is part of something bigger and greater, the part that is aligned with Love and not Fear. 

Try it. 


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Please forward to others who might be interested, thanks!