My new ministry is called Holy Sparks! Our doors are open and seekers are welcome, whether Jewish, Jew-ish, Jew-friendly, or Jew-curious. Here, we offer the Jewish experience of learning, wisdom, and sharing the warmth of being community. We believe that Judaism is one way of bringing more light, love, joy, goodness, peace, and equality into the world. We do this by fully living from the core values we find in the Jewish “instruction manual for living,” which is called the Torah.
The word torah comes from yarah, meaning “to point, to show, indicate, to teach, instruct.” The basic concept is “instruction” or “teaching,” not law. While the word “torah” has sometimes been translated as “law,” the emphasis is on instruction, not legalities. Our Torah contains stories and examples passed down through the ages, sharing inspiration, guidance, wisdom, and instructions we can use to become our best selves and make the world a better place.
So, what is the Torah trying to teach? How does it instruct us to live righteously? The Talmud reminds us that “the Torah cannot be acquired except in fellowship” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 63b). This means that our Torah is a living document, that WE become Torah. Our living Torah teaches us about core values. Core values serve as a guide, a moral compass for how to live our lives, and make decisions. We know that repair of the world begins with ourselves, and that our community is to be a model of the world we wish to create. These core values offer guidelines for being that community.
1. B’tzelem Elohim: Created in the Divine Image. We each reflect the divine and infinite potential in our being human. We honor the dignity of all persons. With Kavod, honor, we acknowledge that all of our actions have consequences, both to ourselves, to others, to the world, and to the planet.
2. Gemilut chasadim: Acts of kindness. Literally, “bestowing kindnesses.” We give of ourselves, and we approach all people and situations with a deeply kind heart. The Dalai Lama says, “Kindness is my religion.” Without acts of kindness, any religion becomes empty and meaningless. We regard Pikuah nefesh, preserving life, as a deep act of pursuing gemilut chasadim.
3. Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa (“you shall not stand by idly”) v’tzedakah (charity through time, talent, and treasure). We stand by… We take a stand for human rights, and a stand against oppression and inequality. We stand with the oppressed by initiating intentional interventions and supporting grassroots leadership, and by offering a hand-up for long term changes, and a hand–out in the aftermath of human-made or natural destruction, always seeking long-term solutions when possible. We embrace tzedakah, giving for the betterment of others and the world.
4. Torah lishmah: Love of learning. Lifelong, engaged learning, inspiring spiritual and intellectual growth, and encouraging critical, independent, and creative thought and expression. We embrace knowledge of and appreciation for the wisdom, spiritual depth, and ethical guidance found within Judaism and Torah.
“Ki tavo chochmah b’libeycha, v’da’at l’nafsehcha yinam”: For wisdom will enter your mind and knowledge will delight you.” We invite wisdom and learning to delight us! While the core of Judaism offers a unique religious tradition, we are open to integrating wisdom from other traditions. We delight in wisdom and learning!
5. Tikkun Ha’Nefesh v’Teshuvah: Repair of the soul, and turning. We cannot begin to repair the world until we have begun the repair of our own selves. We build our own character first. We embrace being the change we wish to see in the world. We are works-in-progress, always in the process of becoming what we might be as our best selves. Teshuvah is the capacity to change and grow, in order to be of greater service to help transform the world.
One way towards tikkun ha’nefesh is through hashpa’ah, spiritual growth and direction. Spiritual growth is a life-long process that requires ongoing commitment, practice, study, and guidance. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
6. Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World. Our work to cultivate our best selves leads us to acts of kindness to others. We actively engage in making the world more compassionate, equal, and peaceful. Mechadesh b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh beresheet: The world is constantly created anew, and we do what we can to make the world, and society, better.
7. Simcha v’ hakarat ha’tov: Joy and gratitude. The Jewish approach to life calls us to balance our work of repairing ourselves and the world with a sense of humor, gratitude, and soul contentment. The meaning of life is to give life meaning, to find purpose, to live with a heart filled with joy and gratitude.
8. V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha v’ahavat ger, love of others and loving the stranger. We are called to be deeply committed to pluralism and inclusiveness. We unite through shared values, and cultivate respect and knowledge inspired by our differences. Judaism teaches us to acquire a taste for complexity and contradiction, to live with paradox. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that “We are closer to G!d when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.”
9. Kehillah v’avodah: community and service. We become a caring, vibrant community by our avodah, the spiritual work we do to find sacred connections to G!d, community, and self. We engage in the work of avodah to bring order, beauty, meaning, and insight into our lives and our community. Our welcoming kehillah, community, is a safe place to share our faith and our doubt. It empowers us to question, think independently, engage meaningfully, and collaborate. We elevate one another, and thereby elevate the world. Our Holy Sparks! community encourages and supports our personal transformation through music, laughter, prayer, learning, and living our core values.
10. Lech l’cha: Go forth (literally, “go for you” or “get to yourself”). The Torah’s overarching story is one of journey. From its opening pages in Eden, to its closing chapters, we read story after story telling us of journey, exile, wandering, seeking for a land of promise in which to settle. We are not settlers; we are seekers, wanderers, but we are not lost. Our real place is in Torah, that living Torah we find in our hearts, where the stories of old come alive for each of us today on our own journeys.
We are always moving from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from constriction and narrowness into expansion. To be human is to know wandering, to go forth in search, to “get to ourselves,” to journey within. Our journey within is not a race to the finish line; we may not even know our destination. The journey itself is the task.
What stories do we tell ourselves, do we choose to live by? We share our stories with one another, we journey together. We are faithful to the task of seeking.