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Using Ritual to Help Us Cope

09/10/2021 01:43:54 PM


Using Ritual to Help Us Cope

Where you are today?

Not geographically, but spiritually.

What words do you have to describe your spiritual state?

Take a moment and put in the chatbox how you are feeling. 

One word. 

Wherever you are, however you are.

Check in with your body. 

Check in with your soul. 

Does that word fully capture everything you are feeling?


Is that word enough?

Is it enough to describe where you are at this moment? 

Is it enough to express how you are truly feeling? 

Often words are not enough.  They are finite and we have a part of ourselves that is connected to the infinite.

When words are not enough, we turn to ritual.

Ritual gives voice to the abstract feelings of our soul. 

When words are not enough to fully express our state of being, we turn to ritual to express that which is beyond articulation.

The blowing of the shofar is the gold standard of giving voice to sensations we have trouble articulating.  Each blast serves an inner spiritual purpose.

Terua, consisting of nine short blasts; it breaks up the damaging emotional powers inside us, with abundant relentless noises.


Shevarim, the three short broken blasts, denotes our own feelings of brokenness.


Tekia the single unbroken blast allows us to articulate beyond the verbal our desire to be powerful.  The sound of the shofar unites our rational brain and our instinctive brain. 


We assert our inner state of being not through words but through nonverbal sound.

This year explore the power of ritual to deal with the problems of the world.  Whether these rituals are found in Judaism or stem from your own imagination is not important. What is important is to use the tool of ritual to help you get through the hard times.


I’d like to take a moment a conduct a meditation, a ritual, that was recently taught to me by Rabbi Rex Perlmeter.  You do not have to do anything you are uncomfortable with, but I invite you on this journey with me.

“Now take a moment and press your feet to the floor,

anchoring yourself, and come fully into your body.

Notice the state of the body.

allow your eyes to close if that is comfortable for you. If not, perhaps just limit the field of distraction by lowering your eyelids enough to allow vision to become a little bit blurry.

Go back to the sensation of the soles of feet against the floor.

Allow awareness to travel up the legs through to the pelvic region if you are seated.

Allow awareness to travel on up through the spine, feeling the strength of its support behind you.

 Gently roll your shoulders up and back and down, lifting the chest and opening the heart space, gently.

Allow awareness to travel up through the face.

The back of the skull, up through the crown of the head

Now be aware that for a moment we may remember that we are both held by the entirety of the universe and contain it.

And all of its potential for holiness,

Perhaps take one good deep breath.

Drop your attention into the breath, noticing the experience of this body, breathing and being breathed.

 Don’t think about your breath But notice the experience of the in the out, noticing the feeling wherever it may register in your body.

In the belly.

Rise and Fall of the chest.

In the coolness and fluttering of the nostrils, wherever it may be that you can zero in on the experience of breath, or whatever anchor is at the heart of your own contemplative practice.

And just stay with that focus for a few cycles.

Notice if distraction arises and it will, that is just the way of the mind.

And we're inviting the mind to remember that.

It need not always flit from place to place.

But we can notice when it has flown away and then bring it back to the next breath.

Take a moment now, just to check in with yourself, once again. Where am I at this moment,in this mind heart, body.

Where is it?

What is it experiencing?

What does it ask?

Fill this moment with compassion and acceptance.

Now count down from five with me and rejoin me.”

We just performed a meditation.  Put into religious terms, we conducted a ritual. 

Ritual is a tool of self-compassion.

“Ritual can help us control anxiety and doubt.  Ritual can help us overcome fear and uncertainty that come with big changes and life events. It helps us feel in control when the going gets tough” (Laurie Santos).

Performing a ritual might not make it rain, or make us rich, or allow us to hit a baseball, but it is powerful, and it will help you this coming year as we continue to struggle with the effects of a pandemic that we hoped in July was over but which still confronts us as we move into the future, into 5782.  There might be no correlation between a ritual and the tangible outcomes we hope for in life.  However, there is a connection between ritual and our spiritual well-being. 

While our ritual has changed the last two years in many ways, its function has not and cannot change.  Allow the ritual of this high holidays to help you find your orbit in the universe.  If you are feeling like you are reeling through space, untethered from the cosmos, discover that the simple rituals we will do are still serving their purpose.

It is not the ritual that is powerful, but the meaning we ascribe to it.  That meaning can be ascribed over zoom, or in your home, just as well as here in the Temple.  Rituals assist us in feeling better, provide us confidence to venture into the unknown. 

This pandemic, while frustrating, disappointing also allows us an opportunity to discover that ritual does not have to live here in the synagogue but can live in your home as well.   Instead of fighting the anger, fear, confusion, find a way to express the situation you find yourself in this year and see what wisdom you can draw from it.

We cannot always control our physical space, but we can gain a sense of control over our inner spiritual well-being.  Be attentive of opportunities to use ritual to help you through the coming year.

When God is asked who God is, God responds by saying “I am that I am”.

This is a clal hatorah, a fundamental principle of Torah, and life:  You are who you are.  You are where you are.  Be there and feel no shame for it. Use the ritual of the high holidays to allow the sacred you to enter the unknown world of 5782 with power and confidence.  Know that there will be ups and downs.  good days and bad days, but that you can handle it all.

In order to help you all I would like to provide a resource for ritual.  The resource is the book of psalms.  150 poems to help shape the soul.  The recitation of psalms is an ancient Jewish practice to help us deal with and understand the world.  I would like to close with a famous psalm, Psalm 23.  Traditionally said at a funeral, Psalm 23 is not merely a ritual we use to help us deal with death, but a formula for how to live our lives feeling balanced and whole, in a state of Shalom, wholeness and peace.

For one last time tonight, close your eyes and listen to the words of Psalm 23:

"God, You are my shepherd, I lack nothing. You make me lie down in green pastures, You lead me beside still waters, You restore my soul. You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me! Your rod and your staff, they comfort me! You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in Your house forever. Amen."

Shanah Tovah!

You can’t control the outside world.  You can’t make someone wear a mask or get a shot if they do not want to do it.  But you can influence how you let the world make you feel. May 5782 be a year of keeping your head while all around others may be losing theirs, then the world will be yours.

Sat, December 4 2021 30 Kislev 5782