When my time is spacious -- think: lazy mornings in a rented house on vacation -- I savor the pull of tefillin on my arm. Friends and I play guitar and daven in harmony, ideally outdoors. Maybe we're even sitting on a dock with our feet in the water. The words of the siddur and the words of my heart together connect me with the Holy One of Blessing and with the splendor of God's creation.
But that's not ordinary life.
On a regular day, I manage modah ani as soon as the alarm chime sounds on my phone. I murmur morning blessings as I wipe sleep from my eyes and get dressed. I bless morning coffee with m'chayei ha-meitim, and make motzi over the English muffin I scarf while packing my son's lunch. And then there are a million things to do, and I'm in work mode. On a good day, as twilight approaches I thank God for the changing sky. At night I sing the bedtime sh'ma with my son and invoke angels surrounding. I try to consciously let go of the day, I thank God for whatever I can, I sing my own sh'ma, I close my eyes.
I'm still working on learning that the days when I interweave a few scant lines of liturgy with my worldly activities are not "lesser" than the days when I can make spacious time to just pray. I love the luxury of long song-filled prayer... and yet there's holiness in lifting small sparks, too.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, a founding builder at Bayit: Building Jewish, was named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis. A fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, she holds dual ordination as rabbi and mashpi’ah (spiritual director). Since 2011 Rachel has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel of the Berkshires (North Adams, MA). She also served as interim Jewish chaplain to Williams College and, with David Markus, as past co-chair of ALEPH. She holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is author of six volumes of poetry, among them 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016),
Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda 2018), and Crossing the Sea (Phoenicia, 2020). Since 2003 she has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi, and in 2008 TIME named her blog one of the top 25 sites on the internet. Her work has appeared in Reform Judaism, The Wisdom Daily, The Forward, and anthologies ranging from The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (Bloomsbury) to The Women’s Seder Sourcebook (Jewish Lights). Her downloadable Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach has been used around the world. She is visiting faculty at the Academy for Spiritual Formation (teaching both at two-year and at five-day retreats) and has also taught (among other places) at Beyond Walls, a writing program for clergy of many faiths at the Kenyon Institute.
For more from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, visit velveteenrabbi.com