Our community was blessed by the opportunity to learn from a gifted spiritual teacher, Rabbi Shefa Gold, during this Shabbat. Shefa taught us about the spiritual practice of chanting; teaching us beautiful melodies with inspiring words to help us access God’s love. “It’s all about love,” she taught us. What else could Judaism be about, if not God’s love? The chants Shefa has composed use short phrases from the liturgy or other sacred texts, extracting the essence from an otherwise wordy tradition of Jewish prayer. Prayer shouldn’t be about “reciting” words, about being “yotzei” (having completed an obligation), or just saying a lot of words without opening our hearts. Prayer is a practice, and the practice of meditation and chanting helps us to open our souls to open to receiving and giving love.

I think it’s hard to know what this means without actually experiencing it. With kavannah/spiritual intention fueling each word, melody and motion, we are transformed. Scraping away the mundane “stuff” of everyday life, these repetitive, uplifting chants help us to get down deeper to the realities of our soul. Chanting with Shefa was like peeling away the onion of inner defenses to get down to our core, contemplatively, reaching for wholeness. Singing with community was like being in a chorus of angels.

So when I came home tonight after two glorious days of learning and singing with Shefa, I was still feeling this when my friend called. This friend had just had major surgery, and she called to thank us for supporting her and for providing a homemade feast for her family for Shabbat dinner. She talked about how difficult it had been for her to accept help; she likes being independent and doesn’t like to impose on others. It was not her way to allow others to take care of her. But once she was convinced to allow friends to help, she was able to experience something she never would have known before – the unbelievable power of the generosity of friends. Acknowledging that this is still something she struggles over, she said it has been a remarkably transformative experience. For many reasons she knows that she will never be the same as she goes forth in her life from this trauma.

I told her that allowing us to care for her was a gift she gave to us – everyone who loves her wanted to care for her and it gave us all great satisfaction that we could do something to nurture healing for our wounded friend. It was a gift we both gave each other. I encouraged her to allow herself to be open to receiving love – hard as it was for her, it was what is true and real – we are all here to share love.

I thought about Shefa’s teachings and my friend’s emotional/spiritual challenge. We are so often boundaried by our defenses, shielding ourselves from our pain, from our fears and anxieties, and resistances. Our culture teaches us to take care of ourselves; to be self-sufficient. But our tradition teaches us to reach inwardly, through the words, melodies and experiences of prayer. It teaches us to reach outwardly by helping and loving each other. Both practices cultivate compassion. Both practices open us to receiving love – from each other and from God. When we receive love we are so much more able to freely give our love to others. What a liberating way to live.

With love – to my friend with our prayers for complete and speedy healing, and to Shefa, for teaching us to open our hearts.