The book of Bamidbar is an invitation into the wilderness – and the great unbounded spirit at the center of our being. At its heart the book is a wonderful echo of poet Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one and precious life?”
For many years I have lived my life the guidance of seven nedarim/vows. This is the time of year when I explore, update and recommit to these behaviors. Since I do not live in a Jewish community, I have created a private practice for Shavuot.
In many Sephardic communities, the Torah scrolls are brought beneath a chuppah and a ketubah – a marriage contract – is read: uniting Yisrael with the Holy One.
So it has become my practice to spend the day in the forest, the wilderness, hang my tallit from the limbs of trees to create a chuppah, refresh my vows and read a Shavuot Ketubah
I begin with deep contemplation of these teachings:
Going out to meet Thee,
I found Thee coming toward me. (Yehuda HaLevi)
My heart is Thy place,
And Thou are my place. (Ibn Gabirol)
The Holy Presence says,
“My light is in your hand,
and your light is in my hand.” (G. Rabba sv Re’eh)
If you give me your heart and your eyes,
I shall know that you are mine. (T. Yerushalmi Brachot)
Then I review and sometimes revise my nedarim (vows):
- I vow to practice shmirat haloshon (guarding my tongue).
- I vow to practice mindfulness. [slow down]
- I vow to be a tzinor (connector) for love.
- I vow to have no enemies or stories about enemies.
- I vow to cultivate a steady heart.
- I vow to remember my three fold promise (eyes that see, ears that hear and an understanding heart that understands – see ketubah text)
- I vow to be mindful of the six remembrances. [Exodus - liberation is possible for all beings; revelation of Torah is ongoing; Amalek’s attack on the innocent - that we all have the capacity to harm each other and the earth in the most vulnerable places; rebellion in the desert/golden calf - it is easy to mistake what unimportant for what is important, what is unreal for what is real; and Miriam’s negative speech - the ways that speech can harm or heal; and the necessity of Shabbat/sacred pausing.] For more on the six remembrances, see This article on the Six Remembrances.
When I am done I share a dairy meal with friends and reflect on the experience.
Rabbi Chava Bahle
lives in rural northern Michigan. Formerly rabbi of Makom Shalom in Chicago, today she serves
the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse.