“The presence of the Divine is manifest within a place of joy.”
Jewish Wisdom and Wellness
Jewish wisdom has an immense amount to teach us about being well. From ancient teachings to modern-day practices, we are encouraged to cultivate qualities to enhance our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.
The ancient kabbalists describe a system of Four Worlds—Assiyah/עֲשִׂיָּה (physical/world of action), Yetzirah/יְצִירָה (the heart/world of emotion), Beriah/בְּרִיאָה (the mind/world of intellect), and Atzilut/אֲצִילוּת (the intuitive world of spirit)—as a template for the divine world and the human experience.
Aligning all of these worlds/levels in our self-care brings us to shlemut/wholeness and well-being. Thus, Jewish wisdom teachings and practices support us to live flourishing, resourced, integrated, resilient lives with a joyful sense of balance and well-being. Guided by this understanding, the Peninsula Jewish Community Center (PJCC) and Embodied Jewish Learning, created Shalem: A Jewish Wellness Initiative as a way to provide people with podcasts of practices for well-being infused with Jewish wisdom. Below is a taste of our work for the quality of simcha/joy.
In this (second) month of Adar, we celebrate the holiday of Purim and we are invited to experience the deepest and fullest simcha, joy. This is not merely a feeling of relief at overcoming our enemies or the revelry accompanying the reading of the megillah. For the Jewish mystical teachers of the early hasidic movement, opening one’s heart to simcha was the foundation of a spiritual life. The Zohar, the central book of Jewish mystical teaching, says, “The presence of the Divine is manifest within a place of joy.”
Mindfulness Practice for Simcha
In Jewish wisdom, simcha is the joy of being. It may arise in a moment of stillness in the presence of beauty or amazement, or even in the day-to-day experiences of being present to the mundane activities of life—doing the dishes, the rising and fading away of emotions, the awareness of passing thoughts—noticing it all without struggle or judgment. As the 16th-century Mussar work Orchot Tzaddikim teaches, “The trait of joy comes to a person through the enjoyment of great tranquility.” In the podcast below, we invite you to engage in a meditation practice and experience with us the joy of relaxing into the luminous awareness in which everything is happening.
Embodied Practice for Simcha
Of the many words for joy in Hebrew, simcha connotes happiness, cheerfulness, festivity and joviality—an energetic feeling of lifting up the spirit. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, a hasidic rebbe in the 18th century, speaks of divinity in the body as a life-force, hiyyut, in our hearts, which spreads out to all of our limbs. We can also think of simcha in this way, as a free-flowing joyful energy, or life-force, that expresses itself through all of our being. In our podcast on simcha, we invite you to engage in a physical practice of energetic movements and to experience our bodies as a source of fluidity, playfulness, and joy.
Subscribe to our podcasts on Itunes or listen here for meditations and here for embodied practices related to Middot/character traits. Or join us in California this spring for Cultivating Equanimity on May 10–12, 2019, a weekend retreat offered by the Peninsula JCC, Embodied Jewish Learning and the Addison Penzak JCC.
Rabbi Lavey Yitzchak Derby serves as Director of Jewish Life at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center and brings with him a distinguished background as a former rabbi of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, California, a past faculty member of the Wexner Heritage Foundation and CLAL, and as a graduate of the Rabbinic Leadership Institute of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He has lectured extensively across the country on subjects ranging from rabbinic and Jewish thought to Kabbalah, Hasidism and contemporary Jewish spirituality, and is trained as a Jewish mindfulness meditation teacher by the Institute of Jewish Spirituality. Lavey is the eighth generation descendent of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, for whom he is named, and comes from a family line of rabbis that traces back to the 16th century.
Julie Emden, RYT-500, Halprin Practitioner, is the Founding Director of Embodied Jewish Learning in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is passionate about awakening the body as a gateway to inner knowing and guides others in somatic explorations of Jewish wisdom teachings as a resource for living in balance and wholeness. A graduate of five fellowship and teaching certification programs related to her work as a Jewish educator, Iyengar-based yoga instructor and movement/expressive artist, Julie has two decades of experience guiding others in exploring Jewish wisdom, text and practices via the body in a variety of settings. Embodied Jewish Learning offers classes, workshops, online learning, retreats, teacher trainings, individual coaching and strategic guidance for Jewish Wellness Initiatives throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.