Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem by Rabbi Danielle Upbin

Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

by Rabbi Danielle Upbin


“Jerusalem” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:


The words have gone out of here

and have entered the pages of holy books.

And yet Jerusalem has not given herself away.

There is so much more in store…

She is the city where waiting for God was born,

where the anticipation of everlasting peace came

into being.

Jerusalem is waiting for new beginning.


What is the secret of Jerusalem?

Her past is a prelude.

Her power is in reviving.

Her silence is prediction,

The walls are in suspense.

It may happen any moment:

A shoot may come out of the stock of Jesse,

a twig may grow forth out of his roots.


This is a city never indifferent to the sky.

The evenings often feel like Kol Nidre nights.

Unheard music,

transfiguring thoughts.

Prayers are vibrant.

The Sabbath finds it hard to go away.

Here Isaiah (6:3) is heard:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts:

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

No words more magnificent have ever been uttered.

Here was the Holy of Holies.


Psalms inhabit the hills,

the air is hallelujah.

Hidden harps.

Dormant songs.

(From: I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology, ed. Samuel H. Dresner p. 114)


Reflections on the Poem:

This poem speaks to me today more than ever. It captures the beauty and mystery of the Holy City – all that she is and all that she longs to be. In the wake of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), which celebrates the1967 re-capture of the Holy City from Jordan, we also commemorate the re-newed dream of a united peaceful capital of the Jewish people. It is easy to celebrate history. It is much harder to patiently endure an imperfect present – but that is our challenge as we strive for the full realization of Jerusalem’s blessed future.

Each day, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Today, my prayer includes these sentiments: May we see the day when our people are redeemed from Exile, literally and figuratively, so that we can dance together under the purple huppah of a Jerusalem sky. May the peace of Jerusalem expand to include all of the children of Abraham who seek solace within her walls.  May the newfound diplomatic engagement of the United States (and hopefully more of the international community), bring mutual understanding and a peaceful outcome.

It may happen any moment:

A shoot may come out of the stock of Jesse,

a twig may grow forth out of his roots…

May our waiting for God not be in vain. May the sacred light of the Holy of Holies touch us and our enemies with the fire of angels’ wings. May our “never-forget-thees” gather like links in a chain joining Jerusalem on High with our Jerusalem below.


#Time’s Up: Purim 5778 By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

#Time’s Up: Purim 5778

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

There is much to enjoy about Purim – costumes, revelry, gift baskets and a focus on social justice. But this “day of joy, light and gladness for the Jewish people” also has a dark side. Have you read the Megillah lately (A.K.A the “Scroll of Esther)? On the surface, the story is harmless enough – the triumph of light over darkness, the disenfranchised minority over a fickle authority, and the uncanny celebration of being in the right place at the right time. As an added bonus, Esther is funny. In the topsy-turvy world of Shushan (the stage of the narrative) a close reading reveals a tremendous amount of wit, slapstick, and tongue in cheek humor.

At the same time, Esther presents a challenge to the modern reader and modern Jew. What do we do with the overt message of unchecked violence to women so prominent in the narrative? To give a few alarming examples – consider the opening scene in which the King throws a raucous and lavish party –  the drinking game was called “No restrictions” – “…For the king had given orders to every palace steward to comply with each man’s wishes.” (1:8) – the subtext speaks for itself.  When the king orders his courtiers to bring forth Queen Vashti wearing a royal diadem, to display her beauty to the peoples and the officials (1:11), the sages suggest that the King was actually requesting that Vashti be brought in only her crown.  Vashti protested, naturally, and was subsequently banished from the kingdom. As a result of this domestic guffaw, the king’s court advised, effective immediately, that a new rule be implemented in which women would now know that “every man should wield authority in his home.” (1:22)

When you read Esther, of course it’s funny.  An academic analysis highlights the parodic insight. (Consider the JPS Bible Commentary: Esther by Dr. Adele Berlin). But Jewish communities throughout the centuries didn’t need the literary analysis to produce wildly popular, light-hearted Purim“shpiels” and parodies. The text begs for a comedic presentation.

Funny, the Megillah may be, but it’s jagged edge cuts deep. Continue reading Esther and you will find a beauty pageant drawing from the kingdom’s virgins – prodded, prepped and fawned over during a lengthy palace stay. For what occasion?  Only to suffer the humiliation of a one night stand with the king and a walk of shame the next morning. Check out JT Waldman’s chilling graphic novel of the Book of Esther, for more creepy detail than you could imagine:  The casual reader doesn’t consider whether the women in the contest participated by choice or who or what they left behind. In one frame, Waldman’s portrayal suggests a form of brutal sex trafficking.

And then there is Esther – lucky – perhaps, that this young Jewish woman was chosen to be queen. But Esther is burdened as well. She must keep her religion a secret until the right moment when this great reveal will save her people from wholesale slaughter. The reader can only imagine the humiliation she suffers and the anxiety of being a hidden Jew under a death warrant.  In the denouement of the text, Esther discovers that it is no less than the hand of God (although that isn’t explicit in the text) that guides her to this unique position to change the course of Jewish history. As her uncle Mordecai cautions: “If you keep silent in this crisis, help will come from another place…Perhaps you have attained to this royal position to avert such a crisis” (4: 14). HIs words form a timeless and stunning challenge.

Yes, Esther has a happy ending, and Purim, the holiday for which it is based, has been fodder for centuries of revelry and the emergence of Spring-time amusement. But, in the era of #Me Too and #Time’s Up, Esther’s readers have an obligation to notice and challenge the violence in the text. We certainly can’t change what is written. But we can employ the disturbing passages as mirrors for the assault that continues in our day, including objectification of women’s bodies, sex-trafficking, un-equal footing at home and at work.  If Vashti, Esther and the stolen harem girls of Shushan had a voice today, we know what their hashtags would be.

Purim need not be ruined.  We will observe the beautiful rituals and hallmarks of the holiday. We will still pay close attention to the Megillah reading – the absurd and the frightful.  But the texts that make us cringe, should push us act – not gloss-over or contextualize. Stunningly, we have the necessary call to action built into the Jewish calendar. The day preceding Purim is marked as the Fast of Esther, the only fast day named for a woman in the Jewish tradition. Esther initiated her fast as a form of spiritual preparation for the hard work that lay ahead to save her people (4:16).  But her fast is a prayer as much as it is a call to action, tethering us to the spirit of responsibility.

Esther prods us to ask ourselves: “Who knows why we are here at a time like this?”  Actually, it is a blessing to have the opportunity to change the system, to write new texts, to tell our stories. This is an unprecedented time when women can indeed do more than just fast for our cause. We are reminded that the time is now and #time’s up.  I would bet on a good Vashti costume this year – (dress included).

Jewish Roots By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

Jewish Roots

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

 This column was written in memory of Hannah Weiss, z”l, whose commitment to a sustainable environment dare us all to live better.

While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

~Taanit 23a

This powerful text prompts us to ask ourselves: What kind of planet do we want to leave for our children? How do our choices today impact our future, long term health and resilience of the planet?  These questions are often debated in the public domain, but one may be surprised to learn of the profound and authentic contributions of Jewish thought to these matters.  Over the centuries, our tradition has eloquently and creatively urged its adherents to be “environmentalists” – to be mindful of consumption and unnecessary waste, to support sustainable agriculture, to provide for the needy, and to exhibit gratitude for for what we have.

Consider another evocative text: Shimon bar Yochai taught: “if you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone says that the Messiah has drawn near, first plant the sapling, and then go and greet the Messiah.” ~Avot d’Rebbe Natan 31b

Planting a tree demonstrates our commitment to a healthy planet. Even when our long awaited spiritual redemption is at hand, we don’t forgo our personal responsibility to be partners with God. We are the dreamers, but we are also the planters. The seeds we sew will inevitably become the fruits of the next generation. Spiritual freedom is dependent on our informed choices and responsibility for one other.

Our tradition is keenly aware that our encounters with the natural world stir in us a sense of peace, wonder, and wellbeing – simple gifts bestowed upon those who are willing to accept them. Consider this passage from a mystical tradition:

“Every blade of grass sings poetry to God without ulterior motives or alien thoughts – without consideration of reward. How good and lovely it is, then, when one is able to hear this song of the grasses…” – Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav

Gently calling over a busy, loud, and over-connected society, Jewish thought invites us to do something counter-cultural like take a “tech-break” and stroll outside. We are invited to turn off the constant chatter and ‘tune-in’ to the symphony of the natural world.  Imagine getting so externally and internally quiet, as to actually hear the song of the blade of grass!

There is no better gift to ourselves, to one other, and to future generations then owning our role as the true stewards of the earth that we were created to be. As the Torah states: “The Eternal One placed the human being in the Garden of Eden, to till and to tend it” (Genesis 2:15). By making some small changes to our consumption, consumerism and waste habits, we may just be able to hear that song of the grasses from our abodes!

These are just a few of the many Jewish ideas that speak to the timely subject of “conscious living” on the planet. As we celebrate the “New Year of the Trees” this month on Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat may we be inspired to go back to our Jewish roots to plant a tree, or even an entire orchard, for the benefit of future generations.


*This blog post also appears in the Jan 27th edition of the Jewish Press of Pinellas County

“Your Light is Lifting Me Higher”


“Your Light is Lifting Me Higher”

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

This may come as a surprise, but the art of “page calling” in communal prayer, along with the requisite “please rise”/ “please be seated” is not part of clergy education. Some parishioners tolerate the interruption because it helps them follow along in the service. Others find it to be an odious aspect of ritual.

A congregant of mine overcame his annoyance by reinterpreting the cues: “Please rise” became a spiritual directive, as in – “rise up and elevate your spirit”. “Be seated” became a reminder to contemplate and restore a sense of inner peace.

“Rising in spirit” has direct impact on our Hanukkah observance as well. The Talmud (Babylonian Tractate Shabbat 21b) records a dispute between Hillel and Shammai regarding the proper way to light the Hanukkiya (the Hanukkah candelabra):

The Sages taught in a baraita: The basic mitzva of Hanukkah is each day to have a light kindled by a person, the head of the household, for him/herself and their household. And the mehadrin, i.e., those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, kindle a light for each and every one in the household. And the mehadrin min hamehadrin, who are even more meticulous, adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to the nature of that adjustment. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights until, on the last day of Hanukkah, he kindles one light. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights until, on the last day, he kindles eight lights.

The text continues to add several arguments in support of both sides of the debate, concluding that the law is in accordance with Beit Hillel:

The reason for Beit Hillel’s opinion is that the number of lights is based on the principle: One elevates to a higher level in matters of sanctity and one does not downgrade. Therefore, if the objective is to have the number of lights correspond to the number of days, there is no alternative to increasing their number with the passing of each day. (Translation: William Davidson Talmud,

Remarkably, as inheritors of Hillel’s rule, we are all mehadrin min hamehadrin, the best of the best, the ones who are “the most meticulous” in their candle lighting practice. That is, most of us add a candle to our Hanukkiya each night.  The challenge is to think about the ways in which we can do more than just add candles to our Hanukkiya.  Light is symbolic in most cultures and it holds true for Judaism as well. As we light our candles this year, I invite you to discover the symbolic meaning of the light in your life. How does the candlelight enrich your spiritual perception? Each night the candles illuminates a little more blessing in the dark of winter, pointing toward the ways in which we can aspire to cultivate deeper self-awareness. What might that expanding light mean for you this season?

One of my favorite aspects of lighting the Hanukkiya at home is seeing my family’s faces glowing in the candlelight.  The light not only makes for great photographs. It draws me into a space of gratitude. Taking time each night for the candles and for each other is a tradition that bind us together from generation to generation. My kids may look back and remember the presents they did or didn’t receive that year (After all, I still remember the “Barbie Dream House” I asked for and never got).  But I hope they will also cherish the light that I see dancing in their eyes.

I am drawn to the idea that the eight distinct flames of the Hanukkiya share a single power source – the shamash or “the helper candle”. The strength of the shamash is that it provides light to each wick without depleting its own resources. We are each a shamash, a leader and helper, capable of sharing our blessings without burning out or giving up.  At the same time, we each also receive from the Source – capable of being “lit up” in the variety of ways in which we find our own inspiration and voice. The increasing light of the Hanukkiya reminds us that we are each a candle of God, sharing knowledge and acts of love – living out the great miracle of our lives with gratitude and pride.

May each of us be blessed, at any age, “to increase in holiness”, to lift ourselves and each other up higher, just like the candles of the Hanukkah ritual. May the light that shines from within us grow throughout the holiday and for years to come.

Putting the Great and the Thank in FULL at Thanksgiving:  A Jewish Perspective

Putting the Great and the Thank in FULL at Thanksgiving:  A Jewish Perspective

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

By nature, Thanksgiving dinner, is a Jewish meal – the food, the talking…the talking about food.  Some have even argued that the Puritans were influenced by the Biblical celebration of Sukkot when they planned to have their first meal.

Thanksgiving is prototypically Jewish. In fact, we don’t really need a special day to give thanks because gratitude is an ongoing, daily spiritual practice.  Psalm 93, which is recited every Friday night opens, “It is good to thank God” Tov Lehodot La’donai.  What a simple and beautiful sentiment. Gratitude can’t be confined to a given time or place. There is no proscribed amount. It is simply good to thank God.

That being said, we end up thanking God quite a bit.  Beginning with the first words uttered in the morning (Modeh Ani), extending to the gratitude prayer recited three times a day in the Amida prayer (Modim Anachnu Lach), to every time a blessing of appreciation (birchot ha’nehenin) is stated. Blessings of gratitude are continuously uttered over a variety of foods and fragrances. We thank God for the good times (she’he’chiyanu).  Even the response to a basic question, “how are you?” is often – “Thank God”.

While giving thanks does not require a special gathering with copious amounts of food, that beloved (and/or dreaded) meal holds a special place mark in the American Jewish experience.

In order to add an even more Jewish flavor to the meal, there is much low hanging fruit (so to speak) to grasp.  For instance, reciting the Ha’motzi (prayer over breaking bread) as part of the pre-meal grace, as well Birkat Ha’mazon, a version of grace after the meal, can serve as satisfying book ends. Observing the laws of Kashrut, or incorporating the seven species from Israel into your recipes can also be a nice touch.

But in conceiving of a Jewish Thanksgiving that speaks to a wider or secular audience, perhaps a more creative menu of thanks is in order. I offer these five ideas (plus 1) to put the “great” and the “thank” in the “full” at your Thanksgiving celebration this year:

  1. Invite God to the table. I don’t mean place an empty chair at the table or anything like that. I mean, invite your guests to name and celebrate the spiritual aspects of their lives -the intangibles. Connect the dots to give voice to the ways in which God operates in your lives. The mere act of recognizing the hand or voice of God is akin to a prayer. Riffing on the liturgy to be “grateful for the gift of our lives and for the miracles that daily attend us” – the Thanksgiving meal is an opportunity to express to those dear to us, the ways in which we have grown, learned, celebrated and have become more whole since the last Thanksgiving meal.
  1. Do good. Prior to the meal or as part of your table conversation, consider engaging your guests in a community service project. There are so many ways to help. Initiate a collection of items or money to be donated. Prepare extra food to share with a shelter, or organize a hands-on experience to work on together over the holiday weekend. Creating a time to help out in the community may be a welcome counterpoint to the consumerist nature of the regularly scheduled Friday morning program. Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, requires the buy-in, not the next buy, of each and every one of us.
  1. Dwell in the past – The Thanksgiving feast is a golden opportunity to hear and share our lived experience. Thanksgiving offers American Jews a unique moment to reflect on our family’s journey to this day.  On whose shoulders do we stand? Who sacrificed for us to be here? Who was left behind?  It could be an interesting time to consider how or if our own immigration stories inform our understanding of immigration policies today.  Surely, no-one wants to have a political digression. But, in the spirit of L’dor Va’dor, from generation to generation, the images, narrative and ethos about where we came from are fodder for genuine reflection to determine where we are headed.
  1. Take Pride in your pride (that is your social unit): In Jewish life, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  The Presence of God dwells on a minyan (a quorum of 10), our tradition teaches. As families and extended families, we strive to lift each other up and help each other out.  Take a moment at the meal to focus on the collective experience of the people around your table. What good memories do you share? In what ways are you stronger together? At the same time, the meal is an opportunity to focus  on the gratitude you share for each other’s strengths and blessings.  Consider doing something joyful like placing a note under each guest’s plate with a personalized statement of gratitude.  Or play a fun game in which you create a jar filled with popsicle sticks or folded papers with the name of each guest on it.  Everyone picks a random name from the jar and is asked to share one specific statement of gratitude about the person whose name they chose.  Even if they just met that day, I am sure they will be able to come up with something good to share in the moment.
  1. Focus on the food: Some people clearly don’t need to be reminded of that. But the idea is to take a few (or many) mindful moments at mealtime to “focus in” and pay attention to the journey that our food has taken to the plate. Picture who and what was involved in producing this dinner from seed to fruition, from farm to plate, from grocery store to table. Consider slowing down the “intake” to appreciate the colors, textures, and flavor of each platter, each plate, each forkful, and each bite. Notice the arrangement of the table display and the color scheme that the host has prepared. Often when we eat, we are distracted by our conversations, the football game, our own appearance or pettiness. Thanksgiving is a time to feel overwhelmed by appreciation for the bounty of the season, but that can only happen when we create that space to do so.


Finally, don’t forget to Thank the Chef.  It was probably a lot of work and it would have been a more convenient to just go out to dinner or have pizza.  So, let the chef know – whether you mean it or not – how grateful you are for all of their efforts.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “Gratefulness makes the soul great”.  May our Thanksgiving traditions fill our souls with gratitude for the blessings of God, for each other, for the food we share, and for the memories we create.

I am grateful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!


photo credit: Liz Cohen Park


The God of the Machzor vs. The God of Mother Nature

The God of the Machzor vs. The God of Mother Nature

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin

What is our way in to the High Holidays this year? How do we greet “The Father” “The King”, “The Shepherd” “The Judge”? After experiencing the eye of the Hurricane, either behind shuttered windows or in front of a screen, we all experienced the heavy handedness of nature – a force beyond our control.  We confronted our mortality either face to face or vicariously through images of perfect strangers wading through flood waters, waiting on rooftops. The voice of God in Harvey, Irma and Maria was not the still small voice we crane to hear on the holidays.  It was the overpowering voice of the Psalms – Kol Adonai Ba’Koach. – The voice of God in strength, Kol Adonai al ha’mayim, the voice of God in raging waters. Kol Adonai hover arazim, the voice of God shatters the cedar, the oak, the palm.

When we open our Machzor (prayer book) this year, how will we relate to the metaphors for the Divine found within those pages?  To whom will we ascribe our faith? I hope that we will feel shepherded, spared the evil decree, written for a good life in the Book of Life. But we will also have to reflect on those who lost everything. What is a few days of power in comparison. Some will still feel petty that the power didn’t come on soon enough.  I hope we choose to dwell in the space of gratitude, reflecting on the grand coordinated country-wide efforts of power companies who drove a long way to send the message of Florida Strong.

Likely, through this journey of prayer, many thoughts and emotions will rise and fall, come and go. The liturgy may feel comforting on some pages and alienating on others.  We will have to ask ourselves again and again, who was that God in the hurricane? Was God in the feeling of helplessness? Or was God in the caring response after the storm? We will be called upon to feel deeply about what it means to be human in a very unpredictable world.

As we open our prayer books, I know we will all have a lot of questions for The  Majesty and the The Judge. Should we feel unheard, we may choose to direct our attention to the other aspects of the Divine hiding in the text: Our “Rock” and “Our Redeemer” – Tzureinu v’go’aleinu, our “Support” Somech Noflim, “The One Who Hears”, Ha’Shome’a, andThe Architect and Craftsman”, Ki Hinay Ka’Chomer B’yad HaYotzer.

I pray that we will allow ourselves to be present and sit with all that is. When we struggle, may we find reconciliation. When we doubt, may our faith lead us to perceive a new angle.  When we feel isolated in our thoughts, may our family, friends and fellow congregants softly bring us back into the fold.

For all of us, I hope that the experience of frailty can lead into gratitude for the blessings we have and for the good that we allow to unfold. We can choose to focus less on power outages and more on the power helping hands.  Life can go on, without all our stuff, even without electricity (although we hate to admit it). Wherever we find ourselves in the aftermath of the storm, my hope is that the symbols and rituals of the season will awaken us to a sense of renewal, recharge and readiness for whatever the New Year may bring.



How to Tame Your Fear in Elul


How to Tame Your Fear in Elul

By Rabbi Danielle Upbin


An interview with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks as the “2000 Year Old Man”:

Reiner: …What was the means of transportation then?

Brooks: Mostly fear.

Reiner: Fear transported you?

Brooks: Fear, yes. An animal would growl — you would go two miles in a minute. Fear would be the main propulsion.


Today, we have many other modes of transportation, but fear still has a way of propelling us. No matter how far we try to run or hide from it, fear has a way of catching up with us. Only when we recognize its grip can begin to tame it.

Fear has many faces. My six-year-old is morbidly afraid of E.T. Yes, the cute 80’s era Spielberg movie star puppet. She only saw the movie once, many years ago, but the image of E.T. hiding in the closet with stuffed animals has been a problem ever since. It doesn’t help that her older brothers download photos of the adorable alien for her to stumble upon as a practical joke.  Brothers are like that. To be fair, they have their own fears to grapple with. Who doesn’t? I was a horror film enthusiast growing up. To this day, hockey masks make me uneasy.

Current events have provided us with a smorgasbord of widespread fright, stoked by the headlines and social media. Remember Skokie, Illinois? When I was a kid, that event was taught as the hallmark case of free speech in America.  Now can see that history really does repeat itself. The malignant rhetoric in our society has a way of seeping in to the subconscious. I would take reruns of “Freddy” any day over the images of Charlottesville holding me hostage.

So, what do we do to prevent ourselves from getting swept up in panic?  How do we remain level-headed and uphold the values of civil society when the world seems to be toppling around us? There is a beautiful Hassidic term for that: Hishtavut, a reflexive idiom that refers to “equanimity”. I love when Buddhism and Judaism speak the same language. Spiritual truths always find their way into shared religious discourse. Certainly, we need to continue to be aware, vigilant and protective, but it is also incumbent upon us to employ the spiritual tools that are available to us. When we feel out of control, it is critical to regain moral and spiritual centeredness. Easier said than done, but not impossible.

This week in the Jewish calendar, we begin the new month of Elul. Every new month is an opportunity for renewal and resolve – but the power of Elul is distinct.  In Elul, we are directed to awaken ourselves to the spiritual work of self-mastery (another cross-religious ideal). We take an account of our thoughts and deeds (Cheshbon Hanefesh). Elul marks the time when we begin the spiritual groundwork for the New Year, right around the corner. The Zodiac sign for Elul is Virgo, the virgin, connoting a clean slate. The sign for Tishrei, one month later, is Libra, signified by the scales of balance – two vivid visuals to remind us of the purpose of our spiritual work.

Throughout Elul, we employ two powerful tools to help us navigate the process of balancing and self-refinement: 1. the sounding of the Shofar and 2. the recitation of Psalm 27.  Each of these tools holds its own potential for transformation. The Shofar is the more obvious one. The clarion call is prescribed to “wake us up” to the work of repentance, recovery, and return. Many people show up on Rosh Hashanah morning, eager to hear the call and feel the resonance of the Shofar’s vibration. Indeed, there is often a palpable feeling of anticipation and appreciation of the Shofar service, felt even more strongly when standing together as a community.

But did you know that we sound the Shofar every day of Elul? The Shofar reminds us every morning to engage in the hard work of Teshuvah – to make a visceral shift toward claiming our better selves, toward owning greater compassion and forgiveness. The Shofar initiates a psychological and spiritual turning.  Change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly and incrementally, with each blast, with each space in between the blasts, we are invited into a process of awakening.

The Shofar is the audible tether that binds us to a sense of fearlessness to be who we are in the best sense. In the Bible, the Shofar signaled the community to war. It is also a symbol of the ram that Abraham slaughtered in place of his son. It symbolizes the power of timeless faith and courage.

The daily recitation of Psalm 27 serves a more intellectual function; it is the Scriptural antidote to fear. The opening words:

“L’David – To David, Adonai is my light and my help. Who shall I fear?

Adonai is the stronghold of my life. Whom shall I dread?”

When evil people assail me to devour my flesh,

my enemies and those who besiege me,

it is they who stumble and fall.

Should an armed camp be arrayed against me,

my heart would show no fear. (Psalm 27:1-3)


Through the Spirit’s eye, we need not be afraid. Our enemies have no power over us.  As we read this Psalm, our fears dissolve into faith and fortitude. The Psalm reminds us that strength builds from within. It is developed over time through a steady course of action and thought. Courage emerges from the sense of the constancy that God has our back. A cross reference can be made to the more well-known Psalm 23:4: “…I will fear no evil for You are with me.” The Divine light illumines our path to help us determine our next step.

We read Psalm 27 throughout the month of Elul and beyond through the Fall holidays, as a spiritual practice to help us shift our perspective.  When we read these words, we are reminded that through our own light – expressed through our positive thought, speech, and actions, we experience God’s light. That light within us is stronger than torches in the night. It is stronger than the LED glow of hate speech.

My blessing for us this Elul, is that we take the words of the Psalmist to heart and confront our fears with the light of faith. Unlike the 2000 Year Old Man, we have nowhere to run. So, we might as well do the hard work.  I pray that we experience the Shofar as a wake up call to rise above the fray. Allowing the fear to get the best of us doesn’t help anyone. Instead, let’s confront it with equanimity and spiritual illumination, uniting us, people of all faiths, on the path of healing and transformation.