Follow by Email

Monday, August 24, 2015

Please share with anyone who might be interested!

Ecclesiastes - A Most Unusual Book
A New Class for Fall with Rabbi Avigail Nord

The book of Ecclesiates (Qohelth) is described by Biblical scholar Michael V. Fox as, “A strange and disquieting book. It gives voice to an experience not usually thought of as religious: the pain and frustration engendered by an unblinking gaze at life’s absurdities and injustices.[1]

We read Ecclesiates each year on Sukkot. It is the source of familiar texts, including the well-known lines, “To everything there is a season and time for every matter under heaven.” Yet many of us are not familiar with the challenging and thought-provoking subject matter of the book.

You are invited to join in an investigation of Ecclesiates. We will look at the origins of the book, its relation to the rest of the Bible, its fascinating philosophy, and how we might apply these ideas to the ups and downs of our daily lives.

What a great way to begin the New Year of 5776!

For more information, or to register, email Rabbi Gail at or call the Sharei Chesed Office at 763-545-8800

Class Dates: Wednesdays - September 30 through November 4
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: Sharei Chesed Synagogue, 1712 Hopkins Crossroad, Minnetonka, MN 55305
Cost: $42/person for 6-week class (Session summaries will be recorded and available online for paid participants if you need to miss a week.)

[1] The JPS Bible Commentary—Ecclesiates, Jewish Publication Society, 2004

Friday, May 1, 2015


The link above will lead you to a heartbreaking story about a rash of youth suicides on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. A plethora of social ills are involved in these tragic events, including unemployment, addiction, and abuse. But the article points to another cause of despair amongst these young people – bullying and other forms of speech-related harassment, including online nastiness. Heaping this pain, which most of us have experienced, on top of so many other issues, could just be the proverbial “straw” which crushes the spirit of these young people.
            Here are a few points to ponder concerning harmful speech:
·      If a story about another person is true but negative or hurtful is it OK to share?
·      If the story is both true and publicly known is it acceptable to share?
·      What, according to Jewish tradition, is the worst form of tale bearing?
·      Is listening to or reading hurtful speech as bad as spreading it?
            Lashon hara is a Hebrew term meaning “evil tongue” (lashon = tongue; hara = evil). It refers to harmful speech about another person. Even those who are familiar with the concept of lashon hara may not know that it specifically pertains to truth told with harmful intent. Lashon hara is a serious sin in the Jewish tradition. The Torah says that Miriam, the prophetess and sister of Moses, was stricken with a skin disease when she spoke ill of Moses to their brother Aaron. And there are many other admonitions against this sin in the Torah, the Talmud, and other Jewish teachings.
            By contrast, hotzaat shem ra ("spreading a bad name”) refers to lies spread about another, and is an even more serious sin than lashon hara. The Jewish teachings are hard on gossip and gossips, generally. And the one who listens to gossip is considered equally guilty, or even more so. In a sense, if we refuse to listen to hurtful speech, we protect the one spoken about, as well as preventing the gossiper from sinning.
            But in the world of the past and the world today, the damage done to lives by hurtful speech is enormous.
            Perhaps a little self-examination is in order. When was the last time you spoke ill of someone? Listened to gossip? Read a scandalous posting online? Or even more unthinkable, posted something unkind?
            We can all do a better job of monitoring speech, or of not reading unpleasant postings about others online. I know that I can. But what can we do when someone begins sharing gossip with us? It can be awkward. At times I have said, “It would be better to take that up with (the person being talked about)”, or simply said, “I don’t care to hear that.” Or you can just smile and walk away. Yes, the gossiper might be offended, but in refusing you to listen you are doing an act of great kindness, and contributing to a kinder, gentler world!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Of Jack Black, Shavuot, and a Jewish Grandmother
April 10, 2015

Below you will find a very long URL leading to a conversation between musician/actor Jack Black and talk show host Conan O'Brien. The snippet was gleaned from a broadcast earlier this week.
Although he professes to be an atheist, Jack Black and his wife were recently looking to enroll their 5-year-old in a Hebrew school for Kindergarten (yes, they are Jewish). In attempting to make a good impression during the interview, he played up their commitment to Jewish practice in the home, speaking of using his grandfather's Haggadah for their seder, and singing a snippet of Chad Gadya.  Mr. Black spoke of feeling the judging eyes of other parents waiting to enroll their children in the Hebrew school. Mr. Black is a highly talented comedian, and the incident is presented in an amusing manner, yet it certainly might be offensive to some. I suggest suspending judgment.
In reflecting on the story, I see the possibility of spiritual transformation for Mr. Black and his family, as well as for all of us who fall into the habit not living our Judaism from the heart.
Next month comes the holiday of Shavuot when we read the well-known line from Exodus 24:7, "na'aseh v'nishma", "We will do and we will learn". The traditional interpretation suggests that doing comes first, followed by an understanding of the value and meaning of the practice, followed by a spiritual integration.
I was recently told a moving story by a Jewish grandmother who had not practiced Judaism in her adult life nor passed the practice on the her children. Her 12-year-old granddaughter had become interested in Judaism during an out-of-state cousin's bat mitzah. The granddaughter, on her own, found a synagogue and asked her mother and grandmother to attend with her as she studied for her own bat mitzvah. They did, for her sake, but in the process found themselves being spiritually moved and opened by their attendance at services. The granddaughter had her bat mitzvah, the mother has learned to read Torah, and the grandmother is involved in a women's spirituality group.
Watch out Mr. Black! You, too, may be transformed.;_ylt=A0LEVvq6zidV8H0ATzonnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTB0b2ZrZmU3BHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1lIUzAwMl8x?p=jack+black+conan&tnr=21&vid=C189348918DCCF9CC5EFC189348918DCCF9CC5EF&l=156&

Monday, April 6, 2015

Counting the Omer - Week 1 - Compassion

Welcome to a new blog posting! The blog will focus on spiritual health and well-being through a variety of teachings and practices. While my personal spiritual path centers on Judaism, I also integrate wisdom from a variety of other traditions, so you are warmly welcomed, whatever your perspective.
"Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12.
After sunset this past Saturday, April 4, began the 49 days of counting the omer, a practice with a long history in Judaism. In one sense, it refers to counting the days until the barley harvest, omer being the traditional measure used for the grain. The 49 days comprise the time period between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot. This practice is referenced in the Torah at Leviticus 23:15-16, with regard to the timing of sacrifices.
Now, I don't have even a single stalk of barley growing in my little backyard veggie garden. While I enjoy eating barley, harvesting barley is of no significance in my life, and most likely not in yours. And offering sacrifices of grain and animals has long been eliminated as a practice within Judaism.
So why count the omer? Because it can provide a deep and meaningful opportunity for spiritual growth and reflection. Here's how . . .
Below you will find a chart of what is known to Jewish mystics (Kabbalists) as the Sefirot. These are attributes of God, as well a pattern for our lives. Energy flows amongst the Sefirot, in pattern reminiscent of the Chakras, as taught within Hinduism. 
The top three Sefirot - Keter, Hokhmah, and Binah represent a reality inaccessible to us living in this world. Therefore, we focus on the bottom seven sefirot, one for each of the seven weeks of the omer. Week 1 focuses on Chesed, or lovingkindness.
This brings to mind the verse from Psalm 90 quoted above. "Teach us to number our days." During this first week of the omer, I will be focusing on walking in full awareness of all the opportunities for love and compassion which come my way. I plan to make every day count!
If you would like to join me in counting the omer, here's the blessing to recite each day:
Baruch atah Adnonai, elohaynu melech ha'olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu al sefirat ha'omer.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, You make us holy through Your commandments, commanding us to count the omer.
Then the day is stated: "Today is the first day of the omer." After the first six days, the day and week are both stated: "Today is the ___day of omer, which is ____ week(s) and ____day(s)."
I like to count the omer at bedtime, light a candle and spending a few moments in contemplation on the day past, expressing gratitude for all that God has brought my way.

Your comments are welcomed. More to come . . .