By: Jennifer Woodward
|It is so easy to get wrapped up in this world’s events; easy to assign blame to the person, thing, event that is right in front of us. But, that'|
PLEASE, DON'T SHARE MY STORY
By: Jennifer Woodward
|Mom's words penetrated straight to the heart: “If you are willing to share your smiles with people, why are you not willing to share your tears?”|
PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION
By: Jennifer Woodward
|There's a big difference between doing our best and being happy with the results and between striving for perfection and being disappointed when we never attain it...|
PLEASE KEEP CALLING ME
By: Jennifer Woodward
|A person can ignore Hashem's wakeup calls, but they only get louder and more alarming. Isn't it better to heed them and to live a much bett|
ROCKIN' AND ROLLING
By: Jennifer Woodward
|Sometimes things happen in life that become seemingly-perilous boulders in our life, blocking the path to truth and totaling dis|
By: Jennifer Woodward
|Being trapped by my old religious beliefs clutter is no way to grow. Being overwhelmed by the tremendous gap in my k|
We’ve been doing a lot of reorganizing of our home space lately. Digging into the corners and cupboards – analyzing the contents for need and usefulness – questioning why we’ve kept some things for so long. My tendency is to lean toward the minimalist lifestyle – born from moving 13 times in the first 10 years of our marriage. At one time we had paired our household items down to the point that I could wake up in the morning, pack everything, move, and be sleeping in our beds with everything unpacked and put away that evening. To be at a place in life where we are settled and “feathering our nest” if you will, feels a bit disconcerting and all the stuff that goes along with that feels overwhelming.
What, to many people, looks like regular household items looks to me like clutter piles. They grow and accumulate almost unnoticed until it feels like they are literally everywhere. A book that I want to read, mail that needs gone through, a craft project started and waiting to be finished, the blanket from couch in the office from that morning it was a little chilly, pictures framed that need hung, piles of magazines - dayby day, sometimes even hour by hour, the clutter accumulates. It’s a regular project to go around the house, room to room, putting things back where they belong or removing them from our home altogether.
I recently tackled my office closet. This is the catch all of keepsakes and other stuff, not well organized and overfull. I dug and pulled and stacked the contents out of the closet onto the floor space around me… until I realized I was trapped by a wall of stuff to the point of needing assistance. It felt hopeless. I was giddy with exhaustion from the effort and the strange predicament I’d ended up in. I realized I tried to do too much all at once.
You may be wondering why I’m sharing my clutter conundrums with you. Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a lot of religious beliefs clutter rattling around in my brain as well. Concepts and ideas gathered over years of xtian services and teachings, secular media, and random conversations that just kind of hang out there in the corners of my mind, coloring my point of view and clouding my understanding.
From time to time I will be reading a lesson or listening to a shiur and a comment will be made that rouses the dust around that old religious beliefs clutter and makes me stop. “What?! But that is not what I “know” – Where did that come from? That doesn’t register with anything I’ve ever been taught! How could it be that what I “know” is so very different from what the Rabbi is telling me?” It is in these times that I realize that, although the majority of my beliefs have been realigned with the truth, there are still areas where I need to do some work. I have all of these mental and emotional cupboards and closets where I’ve stored beliefs that just appeared so true and useful that I needn’t reexamine them. Wrong.
We are taught by Rebbe Nachman of Breslev about removing our own intellect and connecting to the tzaddik of the generation. When I think about this and try to apply it to my life I often feel like I did when cleaning out that office closet – Digging out all of the concepts and understandings in order to make room for this new knowledge can and has actually blocked me up. I become trapped in the stacks of old understandings – trying to analyze and compare the old information for usefulness – questioning why I’ve held onto these beliefs in the corners of my mind for so long without holding them up to the light of truth.
Being trapped by my old religious beliefs clutter is no way to grow. Being overwhelmed by the tremendous gap in my knowledge of truth is not helpful either.
So, where does that leave me? When I engage my emuna I know it leaves me exactly where I’m supposed to be. If my desire is to know truth, then Hashem will lead me down that path at the pace that is appropriate for my level. That may mean some days I’m able to clear out large swaths of old “knowledge” in light of a new level of truth that I’ve learned. It may also mean that there are times when I’ll get stuck and have to spend much time working through those old understandings, digging deeper, until I finally reach a point where I’m ready for the truth.
For me the trick is to keep at it - Everyday. Concept by concept - through personal prayer, continued learning from my Rabbi and Spiritual Guide, and never ever giving up.
By: Jennifer Woodward
|Before I learned about emuna, when I thought I was down – doing the things that the world told me were stuffy and boring – I was actually up...|
I’m a visual person – I like graphs and lists and pictures and doodles in the margins of my pages… or all over my page sometimes. Writing draws me in and allows my true voice to speak as I silent the noise of the world from my mind. It is a meditation of sorts I suppose. As I stare at the blank journal pages I often do not know what I’m there to write, I simply know I need to write. Often the pages will start out with something simple, the weather, the time, even stating that I don’t know what to write, is generally enough to open the floodgates and the words flow onto the page with little effort. I will read what I have written, repeatedly sometimes, thankful for the opportunity to express that which I did not even know needed acknowledgement.
As Hashem has led me to Breslev and Rabbi Nachman’s teachings of personal prayer I realize that my basically life-long need for expression through writing was my soul yearning to connect with its Creator. It is of no surprise then that my personal prayer sessions take on a very similar pattern of my journaling. I am there, staring at this beautiful blank page of opportunity to speak with my loving Father in Heaven not always knowing what I’m there to say, simply knowing I need to talk. And so I start and eventually the floodgates open and the words come forth. There are times at which the words stop like a comfortable pause in a conversation with a trusted friend, times when the only option is to sing, times when the tears flow, times when there just isn’t enough time to say everything that needs to be said, and times when the words just won’t come at all no matter how long I try. I find that my attitude is a major determining factor in how the time goes.
I experienced some attitude challenges lately, attempts from the evil inclination (EI) to pull down my attitude into deeply negative thoughts and feelings. I was frustrated and tired of fighting the negativity – I wanted to give in and just accept that I was in a “bad mood”. I felt stuck – as if I’d slid all the way back down into the muck and mire that Hashem had so lovingly pulled me out of. I didn’t feel like praying, I didn’t feel like writing – each night I was excited to go to sleep just so that I could “shut off” for a short time.
Then I remembered a lesson I had heard from Rabbi Brody – he spoke of the downs being a necessary part of the ups. I envisioned a slingshot with the shot being pulled not only backwards but also down in order to shoot the shot in a beautiful upward and forward arc as it headed for its target.
Visualizing my life as a line graph in which my emotional / spiritual ups and downs where charted I could identify a bold separation line – life before emuna and life after emuna.
Here’s the interesting thing with viewing this chart from an emuna perspective: it showed my earlier ups and downs all catawampus.
Before emuna, when I thought I was up – doing the things the world told me where good and right and fun – I was actually very far down. And when I thought I was down – doing the things that the world told me were stuffy and boring – I was actually up.
Now, after emuna, my perspective on the causes of ups and down is so very different. As I looked at my ups and downs after learning emuna I could clearly see how each time I felt myself going low Hashem cared for me and prepared me for the inevitable upward movement. It was so clear that this process is all for the very best!
“Oh if I had known this lesson earlier in my life I would have been saved so much strife” I thought. And then I remembered that that “before emuna” time – all of those years – was also a part of this amazing life slingshot. That first moment of learning about and embracing emuna was the instant of release from the drawn back sling and the beginning of my journey upward and forward towards my life’s target… my life’s mission.
THE RIGHT WAY
By: Jennifer Woodward
|How easy it is to become disheartened when we’ve worked so hard on something like a negative character trait and yet things still appear to be such a mess...|
My dad is Italian and my mom is Scott-Irish. Based on that perspective alone, to say I have a bit of a stubborn streak would be putting it mildly. I was also raised to be independent and practical but was given a strong sense of the importance and value of dreaming and reaching for [beyond] the stars.
These concepts my parents instilled gave me the basis for truly believing that nothing is impossible and I’m stubborn enough to hold onto that belief.
Although these traits have been a huge blessing to me, I’m sure my parents paid a high price for encouraging and fostering them in me since I was an (overly) confident and stubborn youth.
One of my Dad’s very favorite stories to tell is of him having a discussion with me when I was quite young. He told me how to do something, I said I was going to do it another way. He said no, do it this way and I responded (in all of my pre-teen somewhat snarky wisdom I’m sure) with “Dad, there is more than one right way to do things!”
I do still believe that in statement though with a slight modification. My right way may not be anyone else’s right way, and that’s okay.
My family lives on a small piece of land I call our farm… although our only livestock is only 6 hens we raised from chicks this spring together with the neighbor’s sheep that come through our shared fence to help keep our grass down.
My husband and I have been contemplating the sloped ground leading to the chicken coop and the inevitable muddy conditions this winter would bring. From our analysis the muddiest area would be in the same place where we would need to stand to gather eggs each day.
The right way to fix this situation would require quite a bit of money, a delivery of a dump truck full of gravel, a lot of 1700# concrete blocks, borrowing a tractor, and many days of work over several weeks. The quick way to deal with it would be to dump a yard of gravel right by the chicken coop, spread it out and go with it as-is this winter… putting the “right way to fix it” on next year’s improvement list.
We opted for the quick way and brought home a yard of gravel in our little trailer. Armed with a wheel barrow and shovels we stared at the situation. The quick way would patch the situation and make it work for now. But the truth is it wasn’t the right way … it wasn’t our right way. So, we borrowed the tractor and dug into the (still ongoing) project.
As I look at the project now in its half-finished state, it isn’t pretty. The ground is torn up and raw, the gravel has been compacted into a path and we are waiting on the concrete blocks. The grass around the project is flattened with tractor tracks pressed into the soft earth. The whole area is a mess and looks much worse (and more muddy!) than when we started. But here’s the thing, we are not disheartened about its current state because we have a clear vision of what the completed outcome will be. Its current state is actually exciting because we can see the change, see how far we’ve come and how much work we’ve put in. We know we are making progress every time we work on it.
The whole project made me think about the spiritual “projects” we are all working on. How easy it is to become disheartened when we’ve worked so hard on something like a negative character trait and yet things still appear to be such a mess. We still exhibit the trait, perhaps at times the trait even shows up even worse than before we started. Thoughts of throwing in the towel, or even, G-d forbid, thinking that things were better off and “prettier” before you started working on yourself are easily entertained.
We each have our own spiritual paths, our own right way of getting to where Hashem is leading. The time to really invest our time and energy in following those paths is right now, today. Putting it on next year’s improvement list won’t work and shortcuts won’t work – they may even cause us more work in the end.
When you are mired down in the heavy work, in the not so pretty work, in the work you would rather throw some gravel on and deal with later – remember to be stubborn enough to know without a doubt that Hashem loves you and that this process is all for the best - and be a dreamer enough to know that the beautiful outcome will be so worth the work.
By: Jennifer Woodward
|Mother? Wife? Entrepreneur? The person I am is not the person I aspire to be. That could be a very depressing thought. But it can also be very motivating...|
WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT ?
By: Jennifer Woodward
|People question Jennifer time and again: "What's a Noahide?" As such, she is constantly answering those questions for herself over and over again, digging deeper|
My father walked up to my husband as we finished up work for the day. We had just placed 14 concrete blocks that weighed approximately 1700# each – a very physically tiring job on a regular day and this day was full on winter weather conditions. We were cold and tired but satisfied from a job well done.
As I went about gathering tools my husband and father begin a discussion that started out with my father asking “why would you do all of this?”
The question rang in my mind as the answer could be simple – these blocks, once backfilled and compacted, will keep the driveway from sloughing off – or the answer could be complicated and multilayered. It has to do with long range plans for the property, future growth and development, creating something that will last beyond the current season.
The question had a similar feel to one I’d received about a month ago during a business dinner. As seems to often happen, my choice of food (or perhaps it is my choice to not eat certain foods) brought questions from my dining companions. After explaining my religious / spiritual position as Noahide (and answered the regular questions about what that means) the next most common question arises – “But why would you choose to do that?!”
As a Noahide I am not only searching for the path, our path, but I also find that I often end up being the person introducing the concept of Bnei Noach to many people. To date, I have not used the term with any person and had them know what I was talking about. Honestly, it’s all a bit overwhelming and feels like a huge responsibility to have the correct words to explain what being Noahide is all about.
I never know quite when I’m going to be questioned and, even after all of these years, I still find myself a bit tongue tied. My first inclination is to go with the simple answer that I’ve boiled down to “I am not Jewish, but I follow Judaism as it relates to non-Jews”. Most people will respond with some variation of “OH, so you’re Jewish but you haven’t converted yet.” Then they dismiss the conversation as they feel they’ve properly labeled me and whatever behavior that caused them to ask in the first place. This is not the impression I wish to leave people with and yet this is where the conversations often end due timing or lack of interest.
At times I’m able to pursue the conversation further – to explain that I don’t need to convert, that I / we all have a special place with beautiful mitzvoth to perform, relationships to build and important work to do in the world. It is at this point when I get blank stares and the “But why?!” questions. Why would I take on certain dietary practices? Why would I abandon the xtian holidays? Can’t I just celebrate the xtain holidays in a non-religious fashion? Why would I take on all the extra work and effort this religion takes?
I can’t say I always have the best answers. I’ve been stumped by questions many times, unable to articulate a proper answer. Often times I wonder why Hashem sent the person to question me – couldn’t they be introduced to Bnei Noach by someone better than me? Someone who can share quotes from Rabbis, lead discussions in Torah, and debate theological concepts. I’m just a woman of simple emuna who knows beyond knowledge that Hashem loves me, has a job for me in this world, and that His Torah is truth.
But, as always, Hashem does everything for the best. The people question me and I in turn must take a deeper looking into my beliefs. I must answer those questions for myself again and again. In doing so, I dig deeper into the knowledge of the truth of this path. The questions clarify the distance of this path show me how far I have come and how far I have yet to go. It is through this beautiful process of questioning that one begins to understand the complicated answers.
If I am not voluntarily questioning and trying to learn and grow through my own initiative, Hashem sends me a messenger to start the questioning process for me.
In the USA, we are now into the winter holiday season. The opportunities to be tagged as “different” have been abound recently as we declined tree cutting parties, skipped the house decorations, and had to deal with the awkward questions such as “is your son excited for Santa Clause?” Although I pray to have the “right” answers that people need to hear, perhaps the bigger opportunity for growth is not in my “educating” people about Noahides but rather in searching for/remembering the answers myself.
By: Jennifer Woodward
|The stories of Rabbi Nachman, the lessons of Rabbi Arush and advice of Rabbi Brody built a path upon which I could find firm footing and discover my place as a daughter of Hashem|
Up until the age of 16, I was pretty much a tomboy growing up on a farm with a pretty strong independent streak. I’d been dating my then boyfriend, now husband, for about 3 months and suddenly the baby bug hit. I was still the independent farm-girl tomboy but now I also wanted a baby… bad.
Marriage didn’t happen until after boot camp and tech school for him, community college and career start for me. I was 21 and he had just turned 22 on the day we married. Oh the plans we had… and hoping for 12 children to boot. Neither of us came from large or particularly heavily religious families – yet we both had a strong desire for many children and belief in the Creator.
It’s been almost 25 years ago that that baby bug first hit, almost 20 years since that beautiful March day when we got married. We’ve been blessed with years of growing and learning and loving… and about 4 years ago we were blessed with our beautiful, kind, gentle son.
Being a parent is the most unbelievably wonderful, humbling, challenging, and prayerful endeavor I’ve ever experienced. I type this at the end of an incredibly long and trying day – I felt a failure after how I’d handled the parenting needs required of me today. In fact, I felt completely lost as a parent. You know those times when something happens and you have no clue how to respond? That was today…. Over and over and over again. And every response I tried failed… miserably.
After handing the bedtime duties over to my dear husband, the first time I’ve needed to do that in 4 years, I stood at our glass door staring out into the moonlit night with tears streaming down my face. The negative thoughts rolling through my brain threatened to crumble my spirit. I felt defeated as I thought of the lessons I’d learned inThe Garden of Education and how I’d utterly failed at properly utilizing (or using at all) Rabbi Arush’s advice with today’s challenges.
Five years ago I came to Breslev. Spiritually lost and hurting, the stories of Rabbi Nachman, the lessons of Rabbi Arush and advice of Rabbi Brody built a path upon which I could find firm footing and discover my place as a daughter of Hashem. I was welcomed, encouraged, challenged and supported as I sorted out what it meant to be Bat Noach. I learned the principles of emuna and began to implement them into my life – a continual and life long process that gave me, among many other things, the understanding that everything happens in perfect timing.
The 15+ years we waited for our son was perfect. Indescribably hard, but perfect nonetheless. Hashem, our loving Father, knew when we were ready. He knew this challenging day I’ve had (and the others before it and the lessons yet to come) would come and I would need the emuna and learning I’ve gathered over these last 5 years to pull out of the negative space I’d fallen into tonight. I found myself repeating a statement I say often when negativity threatens “Negative thoughts are sent by the evil inclination (EI) to steal my joy. That won’t happen!” I may not have handled this day correctly, I may have failed the parenting tests today, but I certainly am not going to allow the EI to pull me down into despair.
After a while the tears stopped and I found myself smiling. Hashem is so good. I have so much to learn and I will try, with Hashem’s help, to grow and do better every day. I know parenting is going to have its challenging days, but it is also the most beautiful thing. And, knowing that Hashem allows our children to be our mirrors, to show us what we need to work on, I can say that after today, I have a whole list of items I need to work on and talk with Him about during my personal prayer sessions.
And guess what… even after days like today… I’ve still got that baby bug… bad.
REACHING OUT TO NOAHIDES
By: Jennifer Woodward
|You may feel like you're walking alone and questioning your decision to strike out on this trail. Have confidence in your quiet voice that tells you you are on the right path...|
Shalom my sisters, my brothers.
I call out to you today to wherever you are in the world and in your journey. Know that you are a beloved child of the Creator.
This life is full of questions, many designed by the evil inclination to distract you into minutia instead of focusing on finding your truth... your path... your purpose... your mission.
I implore you to focus on love - it is the answer to the questions to the degree that we can comprehend in this life. The Creator loves you more than you can imagine and you are exactly where you are supposed to be at this moment. Everything is coming together in perfect timing and know that everything is for the good - despite our limited ability to comprehend.
Do not allow yourself to slide into depression. Lift your eyes to the sky and give yourself permission to wonder in amazement at the beauty and intricacy of creation. Know that you have an important role to play - your mission to complete - in this world. Allow yourself to believe it from that place beyond intellect... the place where the real you speaks with a quiet voice that is all too often drowned out.
The path the Creator has laid before you may be so different than anyone else you know. You may feel like you are walking alone and questioning your decision to strike out on this trail. Have confidence in your quiet voice that tells you you are on the right path...the path to truth.
Honor the journey that has brought you to this point. For many of us the road has been somewhat less than smooth and yet we felt drawn to break away from the crowd and find out where the road went. As we started our journey many of our companions stopped or turned back and yet we kept going and keep going forward despite not knowing the destination. Each footstep rings of higher truth and so we must continue forward.
This is our journey - individually and as a whole. There is a reason why so many are awakening to the truth of the Creator at this time. Despite how it may feel, you are not alone. Be strengthened.
Reach out - we are waiting for you to connect in your own time and in your own way when you are ready.
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Jennifer invites you to participate in a regularly held Noahide on-line study group that reviews the garden series books of Rabbi Arush. You can contact her firstname.lastname@example.org for dates and time