Shirata for Jewish Prayer & Song
Sha'alu sh'lom Yerushalayim - Pray for the peace of Jerusaelm.
Number 2 - 9 of Kislev 5765 - November 22, 2004
Thanksgiving Birthday

Thank you, everyone, for your healing wishes and prayers on my flu last week. Your prayers worked miraculously, Thank God.

My birthday falls around Thanksgiving. [My Hebrew birthday was two weeks earlier this year]. I grew up in Israel where adult birthdays were metntioned, but rarely celebrated. (The only mention of a personal birthday in the Bible is that of the Pharaoh). In America, I was introduced to the culture of birthdays which I came to increasingly appreciate and honor. May the awkward I have associated with birthdays and any celebration of myself will be transformed.

Ecclesiastics 7:1 says:

	tov shem mi-shemen tov
		A good name is better than oil
	veyom ha-mavet mi-yom hivaldo
		and the death day from the birth day.

Our rabbis say: the day of birth of a person opens all the possibilities of sin. The day of death is better than the day of birth because there is no sin after it.

I have a little speculation: a birthday is really a difficult and painful day, not a day of joy, as the soul remembers its source and root, and recalls her reluctance to come down to earth. Hence, all the parties and celebrations -- we come together to help each other on our weakest days, to be happy and rejoice, so that the soul know that it's not alone. The same theory applies to our happiness with little babies and children. We rejoice in solidarity of being human. In being together we recall the intense sweetness of our home.

Over the last few years I have become sick almost every November, around my birthday, as if facing a personal day of judgment and reckoning, a little Yom Kippur. The body says, slow down, let's get a better look at what is going on. I say I really have no time for it, really. The body insists, and so we get to pray together for recovery.

Indeed, some of the birthday illnesses seem like sitting Shiva for who I used to be, reluctantly letting go of old images of who I thought I was, and grudgingly moving on to the next. During these illnesses the true glory of spiritual growth shines through the darkness, and the yearning to spend life Giving Thanks becomes more and more intense.

The Genre of Song of Song Studies

Rabbi Shefa Gold ( and her partner Rachmiel have sent me a copy of Rabbi Shefa's new CD - Shir Delight. It is a gorgeous festival of recitation, song, exiting rhythms, softness and love.

When we started learning together Song of Songs, almost four years ago, I didn't realize that there have been many people, some in the Jewish Renewal movement, who were engaged in deep learning of the Song of Songs. For example: The Song's translation by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch (1995) introduced a new spiritual eroticism to the Song. Rabbi Zalman Schechter-Shalomo and his wife Eva have taught a Song of Songs seminar at Elay Chayim in 1998 and have taped the teaching.

Rabbi Shefa Gold's Shir Delight continues this tradition. In its essence, I believe, it is a 1960s-rooted revival of sensual spirituality using the body as the main tool of liberation. There is a very creative use of tradition with a sense of excitement at the possibility of renewal. There is a perspective on Judaism as part of the family of equally-important spiritual traditions, all of which seek the same through their particular means. There is an emphasis on egalitarian values, civil rights, help to the poor and needy and on universal peace and understanding.

In contrast, the learning of Song of Songs in our little group has been traditional and text-oriented (less renewal and body-oriented), connecting to the essence of Judaism as a practice different in many aspects than other spiritual traditions, seeking glimpses of insights into Torah as story of the soul.

The Besht on Parashat VaYishlach

"Said the Ba'al Shem Tov, zt"l, that the jovial person who engages in learning Torah and prayer, that person's everyday speech regarding his everyday material bodily are not null, but become a garment for his holy speech. Both everyday discourse and words of Torah are [made of] letters. All the worlds are dependent upon the twenty-two letters of Torah. In the combination of letters there are changes. Hence, the holy words force the everyday words, turn them around and change their combinations. Combinations of Torah are created from what the person's Torah learning.

The turned-around daily words do not ascend the way Torah words do, they are only garments. Like a person who wears clothes. The person is more important then his cloths. So the soul needs a garment, and the garment does not have the same value of the soul itself, it has less of the soul's value. [Nevertheless] the words of Torah that are created from combinations of the daily worlds, and even if those everyday words become a crown through their changed combinations.

[In contrast], a person who does not go on the right path, God forbid, not learning Torah, engaging always in prohibited talk -- this person's everyday talk will serve the prohibited talk. There is no thought of the Blessed Holy One in his worship, and all the effort he does to his body is for dealing with meaningless affairs. The meaningless affairs and the other prohibited words force his daily speech into prohibited combination, and they become a crown for the Other Side, Heaven forbid!."

From Sefer Ba'al Shem Tov al HaTorah, Parashat VaYishlach 12.

My understanding of this teaching: a person who engages in holiness, can elevate and sanctify the mundane, physical and material; but the person who does not engage in holiness, harnesses the power of his mundane, physical and material activity to evil.

The Shirata Site

A second week of publishing this newsletter on I started these email messages as class notices. My friend Hershel suggested a few years ago that I add some thoughts. It has become, to my greatest joy, a publishing vehicle. I'm experimenting with the web as a way to make it open to more readers, to enable (in the near future, I hope) reader response, and as a holding place for the diverse material.

I am struggling between two concepts of the website: on the one hand, it's a personal blog-type newsletter. On the other hand, (as the domain name might suggest), it's a center for Jewish prayer and song. I'm not sure where to take it, so I'll keep working on it every week, until it suggests by itself where it wants to go. Your feedback is invaluable.

Tikkun Haklali Preparation Practice

This week we'll learn Psalm 59 and add it to our practice.

The following file contains a first draft of the Hebrew, transliteration and translation of the first five Psalms of the Tikkun Haklali.

Song of Song Class

We're on for Wed, 12 Kislev 5765, November 24, 2004 at 7:00pm. Our plan is to learn Song of Songs on 2:9 with the Malibm commentary.

There's a link to a file with all our Song of Songs work on the website.

I'd like to take a few weeks break over December-January. It would be nice to celebrate the first candle of Hannukkah together in class on Dec 8. My Mother is coming for a week beginning Dec 16, and would love to see you. Let's discuss in class when would be the best time to break.

The following file contains our translation, Malbim commentary and creative verse commentary on Song of Songs 1:1-2:9. The file size is about 450Kb.


Ronnie Serr
1725 S. Genesee Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90019
323 939 1669

It's around Venice and Fairfax -- 3 blocks East of Fairfax, Between 18th Street and Airdrome

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