Song as Prayer

Music features prominently in this week’s Torah portion. In fact, the sabbath that falls this week is called Shabbat Shira (the Sabbath of Song) because it is the week when we read a particular Torah portion: Beshalach. During this week we read of three different songs by or about three different people: Moshe, Miriam, and Devorah. 

Song of the Sea 

During this week’s portion, we read of the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reeds when fleeing from Egypt. After they reached the safety of the other side and Pharoah and the Egyptians were swallowed by the sea, Moshe sings a song of praise and thanksgiving to G-d for their deliverance. The song appears in Exodus 15:1-18. 

15ט״ו

אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־מֹשֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אָשִׁ֤ירָה לַֽיהוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם׃ 

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD. They said: I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

עָזִּ֤י וְזִמְרָת֙ יָ֔הּ וַֽיְהִי־לִ֖י לִֽישׁוּעָ֑ה זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ אֱלֹהֵ֥י אָבִ֖י וַאֲרֹמְמֶֽנְהוּ׃ 

The LORD is my strength and might; He is become my deliverance. This is my God and I will enshrine Him; The God of my father, and I will exalt Him. 

יְהוָ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֑ה יְהוָ֖ה שְׁמֽוֹ׃ 

The LORD, the Warrior— LORD is His name!

מַרְכְּבֹ֥ת פַּרְעֹ֛ה וְחֵיל֖וֹ יָרָ֣ה בַיָּ֑ם וּמִבְחַ֥ר שָֽׁלִשָׁ֖יו טֻבְּע֥וּ בְיַם־סֽוּף׃ 

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the pick of his officers Are drowned in the Sea of Reeds.

תְּהֹמֹ֖ת יְכַסְיֻ֑מוּ יָרְד֥וּ בִמְצוֹלֹ֖ת כְּמוֹ־אָֽבֶן׃ 

The deeps covered them; They went down into the depths like a stone.

יְמִֽינְךָ֣ יְהוָ֔ה נֶאְדָּרִ֖י בַּכֹּ֑חַ יְמִֽינְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה תִּרְעַ֥ץ אוֹיֵֽב׃ 

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the foe!

וּבְרֹ֥ב גְּאוֹנְךָ֖ תַּהֲרֹ֣ס קָמֶ֑יךָ תְּשַׁלַּח֙ חֲרֹ֣נְךָ֔ יֹאכְלֵ֖מוֹ כַּקַּֽשׁ׃ 

In Your great triumph You break Your opponents; You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw.

וּבְר֤וּחַ אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ נֶ֣עֶרְמוּ מַ֔יִם נִצְּב֥וּ כְמוֹ־נֵ֖ד נֹזְלִ֑ים קָֽפְא֥וּ תְהֹמֹ֖ת בְּלֶב־יָֽם׃ 

At the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up, The floods stood straight like a wall; The deeps froze in the heart of the sea.

אָמַ֥ר אוֹיֵ֛ב אֶרְדֹּ֥ף אַשִּׂ֖יג אֲחַלֵּ֣ק שָׁלָ֑ל תִּמְלָאֵ֣מוֹ נַפְשִׁ֔י אָרִ֣יק חַרְבִּ֔י תּוֹרִישֵׁ֖מוֹ יָדִֽי׃ 

The foe said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall have its fill of them. I will bare my sword— My hand shall subdue them.”

נָשַׁ֥פְתָּ בְרוּחֲךָ֖ כִּסָּ֣מוֹ יָ֑ם צָֽלֲלוּ֙ כַּֽעוֹפֶ֔רֶת בְּמַ֖יִם אַדִּירִֽים׃ 

You made Your wind blow, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the majestic waters.

מִֽי־כָמֹ֤כָה בָּֽאֵלִם֙ יְהוָ֔ה מִ֥י כָּמֹ֖כָה נֶאְדָּ֣ר בַּקֹּ֑דֶשׁ נוֹרָ֥א תְהִלֹּ֖ת עֹ֥שֵׂה פֶֽלֶא׃ 

Who is like You, O LORD, among the celestials; Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders! 

נָטִ֙יתָ֙ יְמִ֣ינְךָ֔ תִּבְלָעֵ֖מוֹ אָֽרֶץ׃ 

You put out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them.

נָחִ֥יתָ בְחַסְדְּךָ֖ עַם־ז֣וּ גָּאָ֑לְתָּ נֵהַ֥לְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ֖ אֶל־נְוֵ֥ה קָדְשֶֽׁךָ׃ 

In Your love You lead the people You redeemed; In Your strength You guide them to Your holy abode.

שָֽׁמְע֥וּ עַמִּ֖ים יִרְגָּז֑וּן חִ֣יל אָחַ֔ז יֹשְׁבֵ֖י פְּלָֽשֶׁת׃ 

The peoples hear, they tremble; Agony grips the dwellers in Philistia.

אָ֤ז נִבְהֲלוּ֙ אַלּוּפֵ֣י אֱד֔וֹם אֵילֵ֣י מוֹאָ֔ב יֹֽאחֲזֵ֖מוֹ רָ֑עַד נָמֹ֕גוּ כֹּ֖ל יֹשְׁבֵ֥י כְנָֽעַן׃ 

Now are the clans of Edom dismayed; The tribes of Moab—trembling grips them; All the dwellers in Canaan are aghast.

תִּפֹּ֨ל עֲלֵיהֶ֤ם אֵימָ֙תָה֙ וָפַ֔חַד בִּגְדֹ֥ל זְרוֹעֲךָ֖ יִדְּמ֣וּ כָּאָ֑בֶן עַד־יַעֲבֹ֤ר עַמְּךָ֙ יְהוָ֔ה עַֽד־יַעֲבֹ֖ר עַם־ז֥וּ קָנִֽיתָ׃ 

Terror and dread descend upon them; Through the might of Your arm they are still as stone— Till Your people cross over, O LORD, Till Your people cross whom You have ransomed.

תְּבִאֵ֗מוֹ וְתִטָּעֵ֙מוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔ מָכ֧וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ יְהוָ֑ה מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כּוֹנְנ֥וּ יָדֶֽיךָ׃ 

You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, The place You made to dwell in, O LORD, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands established.

יְהוָ֥ה ׀ יִמְלֹ֖ךְ לְעֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד׃ 

The LORD will reign for ever and ever!

 

Miriam’s Song

Immediately after the song of the sea, we read about the Prophetess Miriam. She led the women in song and dance throughout the night. Her song is much shorter than that of her brother but no less poignant. Miriam’s song is found in Exodus 15:20-21. 

וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃ 

Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.

וַתַּ֥עַן לָהֶ֖ם מִרְיָ֑ם שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם׃ (ס) 

And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

 

Devorah’s Song

In the corresponding Haftarah reading this week we learn of Devorah and Yael and how they helped defeat the Canaanites. Devorah was Judge and Prophetess in Israel. After her people cried out to G-d for deliverance following years of persecution, Devorah told Barak to go up Mount Tabor and battle Sisera, King Yabin’s military commander. She told him that G-d promised his victory. Barak responded to Devorah that he would go only if she went with him. Devorah agreed to go, but told Barak that because he refused to go on G-d’s terms he would not receive credit for the victory- instead, all credit would go to a woman. This is just what happened. Barak led a great victory campaign, but Sisera survived and fled. He ran straight to Yael’s tent because he thought that she was a friend. She gave him milk to put him to sleep and then drove a tent peg into his temple, killing him as she pegged his head to the ground. Yael and Devorah received credit for defeating Sisera. These events are outlined in Judges 4, and Judges 5 records the battle hymn of victory known as Devorah’s song. You can read them here.

 

These are not the only three songs that appear in scripture. What makes these songs so prominent is that they all fall into one week for reading and study. The Song of the Sea and Miriam’s song have led to a prominent Jewish prayer, Mi Chamocha (below). Miriam and Devorah are celebrated for their contributions to Jewish history and the songs they left for us. 

How does song play into your life? Do you compose your own songs and poetry to commemorate important moments in your life? Does your mood determine the types of music you listen to? What role does music hold in your spiritual life? I would love to hear from you on this. Please feel free to comment below.  


* All scripture is taken from Sefaria

Shevat- The Month of Blessing and Righteousness

  • Constellation: Aquarius
  • Ruling Planets: Saturn & Uranus
  • Tribe: Asher
  • Stone: Chrysolite
  • Color: Blue-Green
  • Symbol: Olive Tree
  • Letter: Tzadi צ 
  • Direction: North

Rosh Chodesh Shevat (head or beginning of the month) began on the evening of January 26, 2020. The word Shevat comes from ancient Akkadian. It means “lashing” and refers to the lashing rains that come during this time. Rain is also linked to Aquarius, the water bearer, in that rainwater is carried in buckets. A full water pail is said to be a sign of blessing

The month of Shevat is associated with Asher. Asher is represented by the color blue-green and the stone chrysolite. Just as it is unknown exactly what stone Leshem is today, it is unclear what exactly chrysolite it. It has most frequently been said to be peridot or topaz. Because Numbers Rabbah tells us that the stone of each Tribe corresponds to the color of their standard, the stone would need to be greenish-blue in color. With the symbol of Asher being an olive tree, it is my belief that peridot is most likely chrysolite. 

Shevat is the month of blessing and righteousness. The letter tzadi צ corresponds to Shevat. Tzadi (especially in its final form ץ) resembles a tree. The Tree of Life represents knowledge and righteousness. The letter tzadi צ also represents the tzadik or righteous person who is full of knowledge. In symbolic terms, a tzadik carries Torah to the people. The tzadik brings refreshment to our parched souls. 

Asher is a tribe of the North. Asher is meant to bear light to Dan’s darkness. In Shamanism, the north is represented by the hummingbird. The hummingbird is the archetype of an epic journey. It represents our soul and the journey each of us takes in life. Asher, the water bearer, brings us knowledge and water to help us on our spiritual journey. 

Shevat is a time to examine our lives and motives. It is time to see what path we are on. Perhaps we need to take up the pail and carry water to our parched friends and relatives. Maybe we need to embody the characteristics of the hummingbird and guide ourselves and others deeper into our spiritual journey. No matter where we are in our lives we can embrace being a tzadik. 

 

 

Leshem- A Stone Like Sapphire

Today I wanted to discuss more regarding the month of Tevet. Specifically, I wanted to discuss the month in relation to the tribe of Dan,  astrology, and gemology. I thought this might lead to an interesting recurring theme over this year. I began by looking up the gems that correspond to each month and tribe. I couldn’t find anything specific to the months but did find plenty of sites regarding the gems that correspond with the 12 Tribes of Israel. 

Anyone who knows anything about biblical history has heard of the Breastplate of the High Priest. The breastplate was set with 12 stones, each one corresponding to a particular tribe. In fact, the tribal name was inscribed on the corresponding stone. With each tribe corresponding to a month, the tribal stone would also correspond to the month. 

Easy enough, right? Well, not quite. You see, the names of the stones, as recorded in the Bible, are not the same names we use today. There are all kinds of thoughts on what the stones are/were. The stone associated with Dan was called Leshem. I have seen it said that Leshem is opal. I’ve also seen it said that it is jacinth, amber, and lapis. That’s a pretty broad spectrum in terms of gems! I decided to look to the Jewish sages to see if I could find anything out. 

According to Midrash- Numbers Rabbah, each tribe was set up with a standard, the color of which corresponded to the color of the stone. Numbers Rabbah goes on to list the colors of each tribe’s standard. For Dan, it says, “Dan’s banner had the color of sapphire, and an image of a serpent in its center.” Can we say, then, that Dan’s color is sapphire and that Leshem is sapphire? Not really because sapphire is traditionally seen as being the stone of Issachar. Numbers Rabbah says, “Issachar’s banner was blackish, and had in the center the picture of the sun and the moon.” Notice, it doesn’t say black, but blackish. Sapphire is said to be bluish-black. It is the stone from which the tablets were carved, and due to Issachar’s renown for Torah study, that gem has been associated with that tribe.  

What else can we glean from the sages? Dan’s banner (and therefore stone) was the color of sapphire. It’s not sapphire itself, but it’s the same color- blue. That rules out some of the speculations already. We are looking for a blue stone. Lapis fits, but so do many other stones. What other information can we find? In other reading, I learned that Leshem has streaks in the stone. Lapis does. Sodalite, which is similar in appearance to lapis, does as well. I decided to look at various blue stones and see if anything spoke to me. One stone that I personally never saw as a possibility for Leshem stood out. Kyanite is a blue stone with white streaking throughout. One sentence I came across really struck me. “The most desirable kyanite gemstones exhibit a sapphire-like blue color, but most stones will display noticeable light and dark color zoning, along with some white streaks or blotches.” Wow! Sapphire like blue color. Color of sapphire. 

I’ve narrowed my thoughts down to Leshem being one of three stones: lapis lazuli, sodalite, or kyanite. I turned to what I know of the spiritual and metaphysical properties of each stone to see if any of them resonate with the month of Tevet (since Dan corresponds to Tevet). 

Lapis Lazuli- known for wisdom and truth; corresponds to throat and third eye chakras

Sodalite- intuition; corresponds to the third eye and throat chakras 

Kyanite- corresponds to and aligns all seven chakras; strengthens will and vision

The month of Tevet is a month of anger and change. Last week I wrote about Tevet and change. Tevet is ruled by the liver which is seen as representing anger. Dan is seen as angry and immature but grows up to a man of maturity. Dan means “to judge”. Judgment corresponds to the evil eye, but when Dan grows up, the evil eye changes into the ayin tov. Speaking of ayin: the letter ayin means “eye”. You can read more about the meaning of Tevet here.

You could say that either any of these three stones are the biblical Leshem. After my research, I believe it to be kyanite specifically. Kyanite is a blue that looks like sapphire. It has white streaks in it. Kyanite balances all chakras (immaturity to maturity). But one last characteristic makes me think of Leshem as kyanite. Kyanite forms in blades. With Tevet being a month of hostility and change, and with Dan meaning judgment, it’s only fitting that Dan is represented by a blade. 

So there you have it. My opinion is that kyanite is the stone corresponding to Leshem. It is the stone of Dan- the stone of Tevet. With my birthday falling during Tevet, you could say that it is my birthstone. I’m ok with that. Kyanite has always been one of my favorites. 

Image attribution: By Dr. Avishai Teicher Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31148605 — Image size changed.

 

The Month of Tevet- Darkness to Light

We are currently in the Hebrew month of Tevet and the Gregorian month of January. Tevet began at the new moon in December and will end at the new moon in January. The lights of the last days of Chanukah are the brightest spot during Tevet, with the long, dark nights of winter making up the remainder of the month. Aside from those waning days of the Festival of Lights, there are no holidays during Tevet. 

 

Tevet is a month of spiritual darkness as well. The fast day, Asara B’Tevet (10th of Tevet), commemorates the beginning of the Babylonian exile when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem during the First Temple period. This was the beginning of an exile that still continues today despite the fact of the Second Temple period. Just like today, not all Jews live there and call it home. 

 

This month also marks the finality of the Septuagint- the translation of Torah into Greek ordered by Ptolemy. This 70-man translation was completed on the 8th of Tevet. We might ask why translating a holy book into a common language is a bad thing. As with everything else in life, the issue lies with intent. There would have been no problem had Ptolemy’s intention been to provide a translation so that more people could learn from the Holy Book. Instead, the sole purpose was to treat Jewish scripture as any other book- instead of elevating humanity to the scripture, he wanted to lower scripture to humanity. It doesn’t matter what scripture, if any, you follow. All scripture exists to bring humans to a loftier purpose far beyond our mere capacities. 

 

It’s all about change. Tevet marks a month of change. Change, however, doesn’t have to be bad. It can be, as we see from the 8th and 10th of Tevet. It’s also a catalyst for good. Tevet coincides with January which is a time of change. Many people use this time of the new year to make positive changes in their lives. The month is one of darkness, but we can transform that darkness into light. We can be aware of how change can create turmoil, but we can take that turmoil and chaos and transmute it for our good. 

 

Using Lunar Energy in Magic

Lunar energy exerts a strong influence on our lives and has been sacred to various spiritual traditions throughout the ages. Farmers have traditionally worked with the phases of the moon in order to plant and cultivate their crops. Working with the moon’s energy is as simple as timing your work to coincide with the phases of the moon.

Beginners can start by focusing on the two periods of the moon- waxing, and waning. The waxing moon lasts from the new moon until the full moon. This is the half of the moon cycle when the visible portion of the moon grows larger and the light reflecting off the moon is growing brighter. The energy that comes from a waxing moon is great for planting, growing, and drawing things in. The opposite half of the moon phase- the waning moon- is good for repelling things. This waning period lasts from the full moon until the new moon. During this time the visible portion of the moon diminishes, and the light is less each night.

Once you have spent time with the moon periods and have grown accustomed to working with the major energies of birth and death, you can deepen your lunar work by aligning specifically with each of the eight moon phases. How you do this will depend on your work and whether it is a short or long term goal. Short term goals can be fully realized within one lunar cycle.  

Growing Period:          

New Moon– During the dark phase of the moon begin by setting your intention.

Waxing Crescent– During the next seven days communicate the intention you set during the dark moon.

First Quarter– Approximately seven days after the new moon, we enter the first quarter when the moon is halfway between new and full. This is the period for taking action towards your intention or goal.

Waxing Gibbous– During the final period of time during this period, gather your results and analyze where you are at.

Waning Period:

Full Moon– When the moon is fully illuminated complete your work or make adjustments.

Waning Gibbous– Once the moon starts to wane share what you have learned.

Third Quarter– When the moon is once again halfway between full and new, complete any remaining work for this goal.

Waning Crescent– As the moon cycles back to new, let go of everything. Close your work and rest.

 

If your goal is something that can’t be reached in one lunar cycle you will be better served to follow a cycle as detailed below. You would repeat this cycle for as many lunar phases as necessary to reach your goal.

 

Growing Period:

New Moon– Set your intention or goal in a way that focuses on drawing something in. (ex: bring in money)

Waxing Crescent– Communicate your intentions.

First Quarter– Take action steps to draw in your desire.

Waxing Gibbous– Gather your results and analyze where you are at.

Waning Period:

Full Moon– Take the intention you set during the new moon and rephrase it to repel something. (ex: reduce debt)

Waning Gibbous– Communicate your intentions.

Third Quarter– Take action to decrease what you are wanting to remove from your life.

Waning Crescent– Gather your results and analyze where you are at.

 

Working with the phases of the moon will deepen your work by drawing on powerful lunar energy. The same energy that controls the tides can be harnessed for your own work- it just takes intention and planning. 

5 Lessons I Re-Learned in 2019

With the year coming to a close I wanted to take a look back at some of the major lessons I learned this year. I have five lessons that really stood out to me in 2019. I can’t say that I learned them this year because honestly I learned them a long time ago. But, these are five lessons that came back to me this year. I guess you can say I re-learned them. The universe does that sometimes. We don’t necessarily forget the lessons we learned, but life has a way of bringing them back around if we start living without integrating them. I’m going to use these five lessons to guide me into 2020. 

Self-Love is more than simply not hating yourself. I recently had one of my coaches (Yes, coaches need coaching too!) ask me if I love myself. My automatic response was that of course I do. Since that session, though, I’ve really been thinking about how I love myself, and the answer isn’t great. If I’m being honest with myself the way I’ve been loving myself is to not hate myself. Lack of hate does not equal love. Also, self care does not equal love for self. I stumbled across this article that gives some in depth ideas on what self love is. 

Health is more than a number on the scale. My word for the year in 2019 has been “refuah”. It is a Hebrew word that means healing. I have focused on healing a lot this year. One area I have always struggled with in terms of health is weight. I’ve always been a large girl- even so much as to use the word fat despite well meaning people trying to tell me not to be mean to myself and use that word. One thing I’ve really dealt with over the years- even now- is medical professionals resorting to fat shame me in to losing weight. Fat shaming does not work. And health is not defined by a number on the scale. There are plenty of healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people. Body mass does not determine your health. There are other metrics that are much better at defining health than how much mass you have working with gravity. This year I have started seeing a holistic doctor in conjunction with my primary care physician. My holistic doctor provides me with a much broader scope of service than I get with my primary. She has also helped me focus on general wellness as well as mental health. And guess what? I’m still fat. 

Mental health is paramount to good health. That mental health my holistic doctor is working on me with is crucial to good health. You can eat right and exercise all you want. You can be thin. You can be whatever. But, if you are struggling mentally then your physical health is going to suffer as well. Our mind directs our bodies. If our minds aren’t healthy then there is only so much we can do for ourselves physically. 

Connections on social media are not worth sacrificing mental health. Social media is a fantastic tool for connecting with others, but it’s just social media. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Even if you know your connections in real life, the connection on social media isn’t all that important to real life. I have had several real life friends who have started being less than kind to me on social media this year because I’ve started being more vocal about my opinions and beliefs. I’ve let their comments slide even when I’ve been deeply hurt. I let it slide because we are real life connections and I value their friendship. But, I am learning to value my mental health more. And, for 2020 I’ve decided I will no longer let it go. 

Life is meant to be lived without fear. Life is too short to live in fear. Our mental health depends on not living in fear. I have lived in fear for most of my life- fear of what other people would think, fear of not being loved- fear of dying alone. I’m focusing now on transmuting that fear into living my vibrantly authentic life. I will be stepping more and more out there and putting my face and voice where people can see and hear me. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that someone rejects me. But, by not putting myself out there, by being in fear of shining my truth, they already aren’t accepting me for who I am. 

What lessons did you learn or re-learn this year? What truths do you plan to take into 2020 with you? Comment below and let me know. 

~Michele Lefler

The Truth About Grief

There is a common misconception about grief- time heals all wounds. This is not true at all. Time does not heal grief. What time does is lessen the pain. Time makes grief less intense or less frequent, but it doesn’t heal. If time healed all wounds, then after the passage of a certain amount of time we wouldn’t have to worry about the pain of grief. But the plain truth is that grief never goes away. It is a wound that never fully heals.

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This photo showed up in my Facebook memories this week and I shared it to my timeline. It’s my previous husband, Jeremy, and myself at Christmas 2010. That was his last Christmas. He died in May 2011. It has been 8 1/2 years since he died and the wound is still there. It’s not a fresh wound. I don’t feel it most days anymore. But, whenever there is a reminder or any reason that I think of him, I feel the familiar twinge of pain- loss, loss for what I had, loss for what I’ll never have. Loss. Raw. Intense. Pain. And sometimes I cry.

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This photo is of my grandmother (standing with dark hair) and her sisters when they were little girls. Grandmother raised me and was my best friend. She passed away in February 1999 when I was 19 years old. I will never forget the last time I spoke to her. I was a Freshman in college and it was Saturday night. I called her while I was getting ready for a party. We talked awhile, but I was eager to get off the phone and go out with my friends. She died on Monday morning. It’s been nearly 21 years since she entered her silent sleep, but the grief still gets to me. I no longer live near where I grew up- where she is buried. My promise to myself is that the next time I go down there I will visit the cemetery, lay on her grave, and pour my heart out about the last however many years it has been.

This photo is of my current husband’s mother (on right with white shoes) and her mother and niece. Grief is not something that can be shrugged off after 30 days or a year or even a decade. When he lost his mother in 1983 he didn’t find out when it happened in May. He found out in December when the Christmas gift he sent her was returned. Since then all holidays have had something missing. He has a constant yearning to speak to her and ask her advice on everything important in his life. He truly wishes he could have a do over on so many things with her. 

We all have experienced some level of grief in life. If you’ve not lost a close family member or friend, you’ve probably lost an extended family member. Or, you’ve experienced the loss of a relationship or life dream. It doesn’t really matter. The grief is the same. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. The loss could have happened 30 years ago, or it could have happened this year. There will be moments of pain from the grief. Let it happen. Don’t fight it. Go with it. Feel it. It hurts. It’s painful. But when it passes you will feel better- lighter- cleaner. Make sure you take time during this holiday season to honor the grief in your life.

If you found value in this post please feel free to share your thoughts below or share this post with others.

~Chaya Levana (Michele Lefler)

Solstice Lights

My favorite part of the winter holiday season is the importance placed on lights. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is, or what the religious connections are, each celebration this time of year revolves around light and, ultimately, the winter solstice. 

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. For several days the sun rises to the same point and appears to stop. After the solstice, the sun begins to gradually creep higher in the sky each day, and the amount of light grows during the winter season. For someone who thrives in light, the short, dark days are hard for me. 

My two favorite ways to celebrate the return of light at this time is to kindle the Chanukah lights and to have a Yule Log. During Chanukah I am able to see the light grow each day as we light one light on the first night and add one more each day to culminate with eight on the final night. When I create a Yule Log I end up burning it after my Yule meal. I will write my wishes for the new year on paper and then add them to the log. Then, burn the entire log. I really enjoy watching my hopes being consumed by the light. 

Planning for the December Dilemma

December can be a dilemma for those of us who live in multi faith families. Christmas is everywhere! Literally, everywhere. And everyone just assumes that everyone else celebrates Christmas. Well, not everyone does. And, some people who do celebrate Christmas also celebrate other holidays as well. 

So, what’s a person to do when Christmas literally shouts from every direction? First, pause and breathe. Yes. Simply take a few moments to slow down and breathe. This simple tip works to cultivate calm and serenity in any stressful moment. You may have to do it over and over, but it does work. 

Now, the best thing you can do when it comes to celebrating multiple holidays is to know what you want. It doesn’t matter if you live in a multi-faith family, or if you are a multi-faith individual. Different faiths have different celebrations and traditions. And those differences come to a head in December. Knowing what you want is the first step. Know what celebrations and traditions are part of your faith and those that are part of your extended family. If they are the same then you don’t really have to worry about a dilemma (except for explaining to your children why you are seemingly the only ones who don’t celebrate Christmas- if you don’t). If your traditions differ from those of your family, things tend to get a little sticky. But, it doesn’t have to be. When you know what the traditions of both groups are you can formulate a plan. And that plan is key. 

Here is what my answer to the December dilemma looks like. My husband and I are both Jewish, so Chanukah plays a central role in our household. We light at least one menorah each night of the 8 nights- usually we have two. We eat latkes and jelly donuts and tons of fried foods over the 8 days of Chanukah. We play with dreidels and eat our little chocolate coin winnings. We were both raised Christian so we have a relationship to Christmas. While I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore, my family and friends do. I will celebrate with them at parties and gatherings. I enjoy their trees and caroling. My husband and I both enjoy looking at all the Christmas lights around town. They are so pretty. I personally also celebrate Yule. My favorite aspect of this is creating my Yule altar. I craft a “yule log” with candles and wood. I never leave the candles burning near the log unattended, though! Poinsettias, greenery, and nuts are a gorgeous addition to my altar. I don’t always create a Yule altar, but the times when I do seem just a little more special. 

Having a plan is key to getting through December no matter what celebrations you choose to keep. Honoring yourself within your family is important. Knowing what is important to you and why will help you to develop holiday traditions that are most meaningful for you. 

Coping With Grief at the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time, but they can be stressful at the best of times. For those of us who are experiencing grief, they can rather be a nightmare. Whether you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or the death of a dream, facing the holidays when you heart is broken can be painful. It doesn’t matter what the loss is, or how long ago it occurred, the holidays can bring the pain back with a vengeance. A few weeks ago I shared 21 ways to work through grief. Here are several more ways that I have found to be helpful over the years. Many of these are specific to holidays. 

  1. Understand that your grief is unique and not everyone grieves in the same way. 
  2. Know that there is no time limit on grief. It doesn’t matter how long ago the loss was. Your grief is still valid. 
  3. Skip the alcohol over the holidays. 
  4. Reevaluate your traditions. 
  5. Skip the holidays altogether if that’s what feels right for you. 
  6. Go all in if you’re up to it. 
  7. Make a plan for the big day(s). No matter how much or little you plan to celebrate, have a definite plan for the actual holiday itself. 
  8. Start a new tradition. 
  9. Make a donation in your loved one’s name. (Pet shelter if your loss is a pet, spouse’s favorite charity, etc.)
  10. Volunteer in your loved one’s name. 
  11. Drink lots of water. 
  12. Eat well. 
  13. Get enough sleep. 
  14. Rest. Rest. Rest. And then, rest some more. 
  15. Communicate with your friends and family about what you do and don’t want to do. 
  16. Be firm in setting your own boundaries.
  17. Light a candle in memory of your loved one. 
  18. Know and recognize the difference between grief and depression. 
  19. Seek out help from a therapist or grief coach if you need it. 
  20. If you plan to have a holiday meal, include your loved one’s favorite dish- even if it isn’t a traditional holiday food. 
  21. Reach out to people you regret having lost touch with. 
  22. Journal about your memories. 
  23. Journal about your feelings. 
  24. Use the holidays as an opportunity to donate your loved one’s clothes or other belongings. 
  25. Feel free to skip decorating. 
  26. Feel free to skip gift giving. 
  27. Feel free to skip holiday gatherings. 
  28. Don’t feel guilty about skipping things. 
  29. Go see a movie. 
  30. Spend the day at the spa. 
  31. Splurge on a gift for yourself. 
  32. Ask for help when you need it. 
  33. Graciously accept help when it is offered. 
  34. Spend less time around stressful people. 
  35. Spend more time with people who help lighten your stress. 
  36. Cry when you need to. 
  37. Understand that it’s ok to be happy. 
  38. Laugh when you feel like it. 
  39. Have a moment of silence at the holiday gathering in memory of your loved one. 
  40. Have each person present at the holiday gathering share a favorite memory of your loved one. 
  41. Skip sending holiday cards if it’s too much for you. 
  42. Practice self care. 
  43. Meditate. Pray. 
  44. Plan ahead who will do the tasks at the holiday gathering that your loved one usually did. For example, if your loved one carved the turkey, make a plan ahead of time for someone else to do it. 
  45. Put a memorial ornament on the tree for your loved one. 
  46. Dedicate a Chanukah candle to your loved one. 
  47. Make a memory box and have everyone fill it with memories of your loved one. 
  48. Gather some friends and create a memory chain- you know, those paper chains from childhood. Write a memory on each strip of paper and then make it into a new link. 
  49. Watch your loved one’s favorite holiday movie. 
  50. Buy a gift for your loved one and donate it to charity. 
  51. Hang a stocking for your loved one and fill it with memories. 
  52. Accept that the loss leaves your with an altered future. 
  53. Make new plans for the future. 
  54. Honor the loss of a lifelong dream by having a burial ceremony. Write down your dream and bury it. 
  55. Clear out a day or two and just have free time for nothing. 
  56. Talk about your loss. No matter what the loss is, be sure to talk about it. Find those people who will listen to you no matter how many times you talk about it. 
  57. Get out in nature. Go for a walk. Sit under a tree. It doesn’t matter. Just get outside and enjoy the fresh air. 
  58. Forgive yourself. 
  59. Forgive your loved one. 
  60. Forgive the circumstances that lead to your loss. 
  61. Choose hope. 
  62. Dream. 
  63. Change where you celebrate the holidays. 
  64. Travel somewhere new. 
  65. Visit your loved one’s grave. 
  66. If you haven’t spread your loved one’s ashes, the holidays may be a meaningful time to do so. 
  67. Drive yourself to holiday events so you can leave when you want to. 
  68. Leave an empty seat and set a place for your loved one at the holiday table. 
  69. Invite someone who has nowhere to go to join you for a holiday meal. 
  70. Find a support group to go to so you spend time with others who are also grieving. 
  71. Find something every day to be grateful for. 
  72. Exercise. 
  73. Don’t feel like you have to do all the things. 
  74. Do only what feels right to you. 
  75. Attend a “Blue Holiday” service for those who can’t do all the joy at this time of year.