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Prayer Column: Rabbi Nancy Flam

My weekday practice is inspired by the Piasetzner Rebbe’s Hashkatah (Quieting) instructions. I save my practice of prayer with the Matbeah Tefillah (traditional liturgical service) for Shabbatot, Festivals and Holidays, where the words, tunes and structure maintain their freshness.

Every morning, I sit, like a large rock on the bottom of a riverbed, watching what floats by on the current above, along the surface: thoughts, images, emotions, moods. At some point, the familiar shift occurs: a deepening and settling of mind - palpably recognized, pleasant, quiet - a resting place for soul. From here, I follow the Rebbe’s instructions to invoke a sense of kedushah (holiness) which I cultivate through word and image: “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh… melo kol ha-aretz kevodo!” (Holy, holy, holy… The whole earth is filled with God’s presence! - Isaiah 6:3), the words evoking various images (whatever happens to appear that day) of frog and strawberry, eagle and peony, the Rockies or rocks that jut out from ocean shallows. All this encompassed within the bedrock Hasidic view (none more “gashmiyus” than this!) that the world is the Divine Herself, or if you prefer greater nuance, the clothing She wears, though like the shell of a snail or the cocoon of a caterpillar, not separate from Her at all*. Bathed in this luminous sensibility, I breathe in and breathe out. And feel the whole body smile. At this point, the Piasetzner instructs a third part to the practice: to repeat a phrase to cultivate the particular middah (soul characteristic) one needs to strengthen, like faith or love. Instead, I simply open in expectation of what I think of as “sacred attunement” (per the title of Michael Fishbane’s book), allowing space for “God’s message” (as the Quakers say) to find me. This receptive stance resonates with the very last part of the Rebbe’s instruction, which is to repeat the verse from Psalm 86:11, “Show me, God, Your path.” When I feel attuned, set right, and therefore prepared (enough) to be a person in the world, I release the whole practice, get up and make myself some breakfast.


*Images used respectively in a teaching in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Ben Porat Yosef, p. 140; and the Piastezner Rebbe, Hakhsharat Ha-avrakhim, chapter 10.

Rabbi Nancy Flam

Rabbi Nancy Flam is a pioneer in the field of Jewish healing and spirituality. Having co-founded the Jewish Healing Center in 1991, she then directed the Jewish Community Healing Program of Ruach Ami: Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco until 1996.

Rabbi Flam served for five years as the founding Executive Director of The Institute for Jewish Spirituality (1999 – 2003), a retreat-based learning program for Jewish leaders, where she then worked as Senior Program Director, heading the retreat-based learning programs for rabbis and for community leaders, directing the highly innovative Prayer Project and teaching on the faculty of the Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training program. She retired from the Institute at the end of 2019.

She has served as a consultant for various Jewish organizations, especially in their early years, such as Synagogue 2000, the National Center for Jewish Healing and Romemu Yeshiva. For the past 25 years, she has also maintained an ongoing practice of providing monthly spiritual direction to many rabbis, cantors and lay people.

Rabbi Flam earned her B.A. degree in Religion (Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum Laude) from Dartmouth College in 1982, her M.A. degree in Hebrew Literature in 1996 from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and was ordained there in 1989. Rabbi Flam was trained in Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E.) at Lennox Hill Hospital and has served as volunteer chaplain at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Long Island College Hospital. Rabbi Flam teaches widely on the topics of Judaism, Healing and Spirituality, and has written on these issues for such publications as Reform Judaism Magazine, CCAR Journal and Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. She has also contributed to such volumes as Wrestling with the Angel: Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning, edited by Jack Riemer; Jewish Pastoral Care, edited by Dayle Friedman; Best Contemporary American Jewish Writing, edited by Michael Lerner; Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections edited by Fine, Fishbane and Rose; and A New Hasidism: Roots and Branches, edited by Arthur Green and Ariel Mayse. In addition, she was the Series Editor for LifeLights, a series of informational, inspirational pamphlets for the Jewish community on challenges in the emotional and spiritual life.

Rabbi Flam is the proud mother of two fabulously menschlich adult children, and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her husband, friends and synagogue community.

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