Sunday, October 13, 2019

Igniting the flames of the Sacred Feminine: Ushpizot in the Sukkah

There are many holidays in the Jewish Calendar that I find special, but in terms of religion in the home, none are as important as Sukkot or "The Feast of Booths."  In Biblical times, during the autumn harvest when the moon is brightest in the sky, the Lord commands His Chosen People to build booths at the edge of their fields.  In these booths, the Israelite men would take all of their meals and naps in a sukkah (a three sided booth) so that they may watch over their fields during the harvest time. 

Today, it is customary among Jews to build a sukkah in their yards to commemorate this important time of the year.  It is large enough for tables and chairs for meals, decorated with art and the fruits of Israel, and thatched so that you can see the stars from the inside of the booth.  I see it as the Jewish version of Thanksgiving.

During this period of 8 days, it is important to invite guests into the sukkah to join the family for meals, rest, and study.  This seems easy enough.  But Judaism has a way of making even the most mundane task into a spiritual endeavor.  Seven patriarchs of the Jewish people are invited to join in the feast in order to bring their virtues into the home and touch the lives of all those within. 

However, with the women's liberation movement, gender equality, and the traditional roles of women keeping the religious flames in the home, many Jewish women (and men) invite seven matriarchs of Israel into the sukkah to bring their special traits to the women of the household.  We call these spiritual female guests Ushpizot.  The seven Ushipzot in Judaism are Eve, Sarah, Leah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, and Ruth.  Just as Jewish lineage is passed on through the mother, without these important women, the Israelites would have never become the powerful nation that G-d promised to Abraham.

So, what aspects of spirituality are brought forth through these women?  Let us take a brief look:

1- Eve, mother of all = passion and a deep connection to the earth
2- Sarah, wife of Abraham = nation-building and destiny
3- Leah, first wife of Jacob = motherhood, giving, and selflessness
4- Miriam, sister of Abraham and a prophetess = prophetic vision, initiative, and expressiveness
5- Deborah, judge of Israel = leadership, strength, and power
6- Esther, Jewish queen of Persia = courage, strength, and personal sacrifice
7- Ruth, daughter-in-law of Naomi = unconditional love and the ultimate expression of the Diving presence

As a liberated woman, I wish to possess all of these spiritual traits.  Who would not want that for their daughters, sisters, mothers, nieces, etc.?  Each of these traits brings us closer to the Lord, our family, our community, and our own Divine spark.  Without these spiritual matriarchs, would we even have the Judeo-Christian society in which we live?

So, in honor of the Ushpizot, I would encourage you to take the time to honor at least one virtuous woman for the next two weeks.  We need to keep their memory alive to pass on to the next generation.  Perhaps these feminine virtues will ignite your inner flame and brighten the world for millenia to come.

Friday, April 26, 2019

"Passover" Me

Tonight was the first time that I thought about this blog in years.  It seems that I have been in a state of "Passover" for almost 6 years now instead of just 7 days.  I have had time to think and reflect on life as I have lived it, and I have come to the conclusion that I, like the Israelites, have been wandering through the desert longing to see the Promised Land.

I have been "passed over" for relationships, jobs, family, good health, and friendship for almost two decades.  Every attempt to take a step forward in my situation leads to two steps backwards...or so I thought.  The past two years have been some of the darkest and most enlightening years of my life.  After moving to Georgia for a Latin teaching job, I quickly became sick with a 3-month long migraine which caused me to have to quit teaching again.  However, little did I know that I was needed at home in North Carolina.  Both of my maternal grandparents were diagnosed with cancer and placed in Hospice at the same time.  They could not care for themselves, so I became their daytime caregiver.   After my grandmother passed, I moved into the house with my grandfather.  We had always been kindred spirits, but the last year of his life was exceedingly special to me.  He and I had many adventures together, told each other stories, dabbled in art, shared books, and had many conversations on religion, history, and the importance of each in one's life.  After growing so close to him, I was devastated when he passed on to his Tiny House in Heaven.  However, I knew that he was no longer in pain and that life goes on long after we return to dust.

I soon learned that I had my own health concerns with which I had to live.  I was diagnosed with Lupus and Occipital Neuralgia along with my Chronic Daily Migraines, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and everything that those illnesses entail.  It was time to find my way back into the world from which I had retreated two years earlier.  Since then, I have found new friends, reacquainted myself with old ones, engaged in art, began keeping a bullet journal, started reading the Torah along with various books everyday, applied for online teaching positions, and am enrolled in a class to learn how to teach gifted students online.  I am also a freelance marketing director for a local business.  I have been biding my time and trying to live my best life with debilitating illnesses.

This Passover was one of the first that I have celebrated entirely on my own.  I have seen it with new eyes and a new found dedication.  I have been bereft of leavening for almost 6 years as I struggled with my lot in life.  But, the Lord has now given me manna from Heaven to allow me to subsist until I cross into the land that was meant for me.  I can see it just over the Horizon   There will be struggles, battles, famine, and feasts, but it will all be mine for the taking.  All I have to do is embrace it as it comes to me and live each day to the best of my ability.

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Tis the Season?

I am having lots of trouble getting into the spirit of the season of Thanksgiving, love, and togetherness.  I suppose that it would have something to do with my ex-fiancee leaving me a "Dear John" letter and packing up all of the belongings while I was at work last month, leaving me with about $3,000 in bills to pay by myself.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I do not have a family of my own with which to celebrate.  It could even be the fact that too much favoritism rears its ugly head in the form of gift-giving.  My family and future have been broken, and I feel like little has been accomplished this year.

Then there is the opposite side of the coin.  I have a home, a loving mother, a relatively stress-less job teaching bright, enthusiastic students.  I earned my teaching license (which I just received in the mail!).  My niece will soon be born, and my graduate school has been put on hold.  These are all blessings which I really took for granted until last year when I taught students who were homeless and had very little but that which they made for themselves.  If I look at my problems, they seem very minute in comparison.

So, for this season of giving and merry-making, I encourage each of you to look to those examples of those with less.  Enjoy the little amount of time left with our loved ones this year, put aside pettiness.  As Anne of Green Gables says, "Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it."  So let's make that our goals and aspirations for next year.  I am going to enjoy what I have and try not to dwell in the land of negativity next year.  And who knows...maybe this year it will stick!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Digital Scrapbooking Giveaway!!!

Over the next two weeks, I will be hosting a Digital Scrapbooking Suite Giveaway on my other blog site.  Feel free to check it out and enter  There are 8 ways to enter, so remember to leave a comment for each "quest" that you fulfill.  The winner will be chosen on December 24, 2011.  This will make one very special person very happy for the holiday season!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Day of At"ONE"ment

I recently celebrated Rosh Hashana with my family.  We indulged in tzimmes, carmelized apple kugel, apples and challah in honey, and offered greetings of "L'shana Tova!" wishing that each and everyone of us has a "Sweet New Year."

Last year was hard.  Very hard.  On all of us.  I find it bewildering and somewhat amusing how we all wish for a good year to come, but we do nothing to change the circumstances that lead us to the same state we were in last year (or the year/s before for that matter).  When we fall into the same situations we feel that we have been cast into the wilderness by an omnipotent G-d, but the truth is that we never left in the first place.  That is where the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur comes into play.  On the days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, we make restitution for past sins against our Creator and his creations, donate to charity, beg for sweetness, and fast, all to have our chance of a good year.  This is a custom that leaves me bereft and my soul feels deeply unsatisfied while sitting in the pews of a shul for 5 hours dreaming of food.

The truth of the matter is that I never feel that I alone am to blame for my circumstances.  I do what is right, I help others, I actively seek improvement in my life, I go to school, I say "yes" way too much, etc.  And what does it give me?  I am still sleeping in the same bed in my mother's house.  I still don't have a teaching job.  I still cannot afford to go to school full-time, and I am still without friends and a significant other.  Recently I read a book called The Fifth Mountain by the renowned author Paulo Coelho.  In the book, Coehlo writes of a poignant scene between the profit Elijah and the Lord on the Day of Atonement.  Elijah states that he has sinned against G-d, but that G-d has also sinned against him, leaving him homeless, loveless, friendless, and impoverished in a strange land.  Elijah uses this day to declare a truce with G-d.  That is where my opinion of At"ONE"ment comes into play. 

Earlier today, while reading Mr. Coelho's blog, I learned that this scene in The Fifth Mountain comes from a  Hasidic Jewish folktale.  For your enjoyment, and mine, I have included this tale in my blog.  It reminds me that we alone do not write our history or our future for that matter.  Without the Divine, we are nothing and have nothing.  However, the relationship with our Maker is symbiotic.  Without us, He seems very small and insignificant.  Today is the Day of Atonement, and I choose this day to be at "ONE" with my G-d.

On the Day of Yom Kippur
a Hasidic tale

On the day of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Elimelekh of Lisensk took his disciples to a bricklayer’s workshop.
“Watch how this man behaves,” he said. “Because he manages to communicate well with the Lord.”
Without noticing that he was being observed, the bricklayer ended his work and went to the window.
He took two pieces of paper from his pocket and raised them to the sky, saying:
“Lord, on one paper I have written the list of my sins. I have erred and there is no reason for me to hide that I offended You several times.
“But on the other paper is the list of Your sins towards me. You have demanded of me more than what is necessary, brought me difficult moments, and made me suffer. If we compare the two lists, You are in debt towards me. But since today is the Day of Atonement, You pardon me, I pardon You, and we shall continue on our path together for another year.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Love in an Elevator

The immortal words of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, "Love in an elevator, livin' it up while I'm going down.  Love in an elevator, lovin' it up til I hit the ground," seem to ring true to all of those who have felt the highs of love and the lows of heartbreak.  I have often wondered if Love is really such a bi-polar daimon.  I think that both Plato and I would have to disagree.  Love doesn't simply come and go as he pleases.  Love is a constant; we are the variable.

The thought of Love has been a concern of mine for several years.  I have recently reached the age of 30-something, and looking around me, all of those who revolve in my immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances are married and on their way to starting families.  However, just as many are on their way to divorce or are starting their second families.  I even have a friend who jokingly refers to me as his future third wife.  In an era where half of all marriages end in divorce, I wonder if I have already missed out on love or if I am just holding out for that one true love.  

Mind you, I have loved and lost just as everyone else has, but I do not blame Love himself for all of the loss:  I consider myself to be a victim of circumstance.  I have been sick for many years now, and that just doesn't allow for meeting people, forming lasting, intimate relationships, building a family, etc.  At least, that is what I thought.  After reaching that 30-something milestone, I was forced to re-evaluate my ideas of love, intimacy, and family.  I soon realized that I was surrounded by Love of all kinds: maternal love, filial love, sisterly love, even Love by and for a Higher Power.  I have Love for knowledge, Love for self, Love for my pet cat Cleopatra, Love for family, and Love for friends.  The list is long and true.  And although I may not have a significant other right now, I am open and receptive to the idea, and that is the start.  

Each of my Loves feeds my spirit and does leave me with that wonderful "high" of which Steven Tyler sings.  But, that doesn't mean that I have to experience the lows of Love.  Recently, I read an article which reminded me that Love is not a given.  Love must be nurtured in order to grow, and love must be sustained in order to continue.  It is not constant, nor does it claim to be so.  I found that the following list could be applied to every type of Love there is, and if it is meant for me to experience that true love in the future, I must know how to maintain it so that it does last forever.  I hope that you find the list as elucidating as I did.

Ten Thoughts on Romance (

   1. True love begins with both curiosity about and acceptance of yourself.
   2.  Heartbreak does more than just hurt. It opens you up to love in a whole new way.
   3.  Passion does not get lost -- just abandoned. It's never too late to find it again.

   4.  Celebrate the milestones that mean the most to you, not someone else.
   5.  Real intimacy is expressed not with more words but with meaningful ones.
   6.  Love nourishes your soul; passion ignites it.
   7.  Touch is a powerful healing tool; use it lovingly and often.
   8.  The quality of your connections with other people will carry you further than you think.

   9.  Rediscover sex as a source of life-giving energy.
 10.  Sometimes the situations that make you most vulnerable offer the greatest rewards.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reflections through Picasso

How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror?  I mean REALLY looked - not just the casual look while washing your hands or brushing your teeth.  Maybe you noticed the crooked eyebrow or that random hair that isn't in the right place.  Maybe you noticed the huge zit popping up in the middle of your forehead.  And maybe, just maybe, you noticed that you were starting to show the signs of aging that all of us dread.

Last year on my birthday, I noticed that I had started to get age spots underneath my eyes.  For a 30th birthday, this was not a present I wanted.  This year, I noticed that I no longer had the features of my youth.  But, I wondered what else does a mirror reflect.  Can we really look into our own eyes and see our soul peering back at us?  Can we see all of the mistakes and regrets written in every little line or wrinkle?  Can we see the aura that constantly surrounds us or the reflection of light that each of us disburse?  What would we see if we were looking at ourselves from a different perspective?

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I tend to be very realistic (verging on pessimistic) and straight-forward.  I try to look at every situation from a variety of perspectives, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the option which has the greatest good for the most people (like a true Utilitarian).  Today, while surfing the Milliande website, I saw a link to an art site called Picasso Head at  This wonderful little application allows a person to create a portrait of themselves in the style of the most famous Cubist that ever lived, Mr. Pablo Picasso.  For the first time in my life, I stepped outside the normal portrait of myself.  And although this little sketch took less than 10 minutes to create, it compelled me to look inside myself to see what I reflect to other people.  My mother sees me as a ray of Sunshine that brightens her day and warmly loves her.  My sister sees me as an overstressed, underpaid nerd.  My grandfather sees me as an enlightened student and teacher.  My friends see me as an honest and devoted companion.  Never once have I stopped to think what I see myself as being.

This little attempt at art and entertainment has deepened into an exercise of self-exploration.  It doesn't matter how much makeup, lotion, hair dye, or toothpaste I use in the great scheme of things.  It doesn't even matter what other people see me as.  I need to see what image I would like to portray to myself.  A plethora of titles run through my head beginning with artist and ending with zealot.  Now, I only need to fill in the rest of the alphabet.  Until then, I will take the lesson that I have learned from Picasso and try to see myself in a new light each day.  I challenge you to play on the website yourself and step in front of your own mirror.  Are you the light or are you the reflection?  Only you can decide.

Let the Sunshine In by Melissa Travis