Count to Ten: TorahCycle Yitro

Yitro 2015Many years ago, in my Your Jewish Fairy Godmother persona, I developed her Ten Commandments. I was coaching people addressing life issues like tough relationships or jobs, blocked decision-making and creativity. Developing Ten C was a good exercise for navigating the world.

As I’ve thought about them the past decade plus, they’ve pretty much stood the test of time. I would change only glib number five, and replace it with Know your values. That was the core of how I worked with folks. Because once you’re clear about what feels okay and what does not, your choices become much simpler, even in the pursuit of difficult goals.

It’s rarely a simple do or don’t, like Torah’s original Ten Commandments, handed down in this week’s reading. Most of us never think about violating Thou shalt not kill. But none of us can truly know how we’d act when supremely tested, like in the post-pandemic reality of Emily Mandel’s brilliant new novel Station Eleven, or in the Holocaust.

The original Ten C ask for obedience to a deity and offer guidelines for living together. Though it’s officially none of them, great commentators in virtually every religion say they all boil down to Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. Shouldn’t be complicated.

Something more open to interpretation, like keeping the Sabbath, gets trickier. Your way may seem like dogma to me or mine like apostasy to you. It’d help world peace to get past judging one another; but we still need to decide what our own values are, affecting a gazillion daily choices.

My painting class is illustrating for me how we shape and form, and then reshape and reform our world. It’s a good mirror for values. Each time you refine your sense of self or your vision for your life, you’re getting clearer on who you are, what you believe, what you stand for, and what you’ll act towards.

Whether you call them commandments, instructions, or suggestions, the Ten C also a useful model to clarify other subjects. What if you considered the ten rules of friendship? Of healthy eating? Of compassion and generosity?

Think about ten things that make you laugh or cry, joyful or angry. Ten things you wish you’d done differently. Ten you still can do in a way more like the now you. Ten hopes for the coming year. Ten intentions to make them manifest.

It’s an exercise I find useful when I’m stuck, whether it’s in a negative emotion, problem-solving, or even creatively stuck. It clears mental litter like the daily morning pages Julia Cameron advocates. It helps you peel away whatever’s stopping you from getting to your core, even if what you find there are unresolved questions.

Your lists of ten will reveal truths about what you really want. Themes will emerge, so don’t just toss the lists. You can’t ask for what you want until you know what it is and what you’ll do, or not, to make it real.

Knowing your values will help you find direction. It’ll help you take the the next steps and the ones after. With that compass you’re less likely to lose your path through the wilderness.

Day By Day: TorahCycle Mishpatim


This is the Year of the Grand Experiment. Living simply, with more emphasis on what matters to health, heart, and soul than to doing and stuff. Buying less,  and more consciously. Going eyeball-to-eyeball with my values, not just about money but with time, food, relationships, energy. Trying to make conscious choices in every dimension of life. Trying to live by guidelines and “rules,” notes that I wrote down last autumn, when I was contemplating what would make my life better, healthier, more creative, productive, and joyous.

The gifts that are coming towards me as I live by these rules are abundant. Some new, others I’ve sought for a long time. Some are delightful. Others challenging. When I do this experiment well, I hear them and if I hear them….That’s the rub, can I keep doing them?

I think the answer is Yes, because somewhere along the way I’ve moved from that old karmic dance routine of “one step forward, two steps back,” to its more evolved sister, two steps forward for every one back, sideways, or standing still staring into space wondering if I really can keep this process going.

This week’s reading has the great line We will do and we will hear (in contrast to a later one, We will hear and we will do). It’s a synergistic form of self-improvement. One that, like a childhood game, doesn’t matter where you jump into the circle. Just that you commit to doing. And keeping doing. Day by day.

This is the first reading in which we get lots of rules. Instructions for daily life: 613 in all coming our way, with 50+ here out of the gate. About everything from cooking to praying. Rules for behavior. But more importantly, an expression of values.

Sinai gave us the biggies, the Ten Commandments. These rules are the how-to manual for daily life.

When I work with people, coaching or problem solving, I’m always trying to get them to understand their values, and how those values influence and relate to their goals. What they’re striving for as well as their ethics and moral elasticity.

How we live daily life should be an extension of our values.

There’s a concept in Jewish mysticism of the big face and the little face: the face of the divine and our own. The little a reflection of the big. In the image, so to speak. There’s also the value of treating others as we wish to be treated.

If you cannot see yourself clearly, it will be harder to see another. Ditto to respecting, accepting, loving, having compassion for, and caring for yourself and others.

Take some time to think about your own values. Relationships, money, time, food, your body, and your spiritual practice. You can call them rules if you need a prod or an organizational tool. But in a more elevated consciousness, it’s about committing to living with ritual and with intention. About making the choice to elevate your actions by consciousness and awareness. Each choice, each moment. You may not see the face of God, but you can very clearly see your own.

What’s Your Code?: TorahCycle Va’etchanan

va'etchananOf all the voices that try to tell you what to do–both inner and outer–which do you listen to? When push comes to shove, who gets the last and deciding vote about what you do with your time, your energy, your heart? Do your best acts of kindness or your least charming moments of petty pique happen randomly or by some plan? By your intention or by a seemingly unseen hand?

This week’s reading is a curious mix of a longing unsatisfied (Moses again implores and is denied entry into the Promised Land), and a prophetic warning that those who do enter, who get what they’ve been striving for, are going to blow it, be exiled, and suffer again before having another chance to do better.

All this and a reminder that we’ve been blessed with the joys and teachings of the direct encounter with the Divine at Sinai. Remember being so filled with the holy light that you drank it in with every sense? And having been given rules, the “ten instructions” as modernist Jews sometimes wryly call them.

A decade ago I appointed myself Your Jewish Fairy Godmother. As part of the process I wanted both a good chicken soup recipe and YourJFG’s ten commandments, meant as good guidelines for coping with day-to-day reality.

There I was, eyeball to eyeball with my values. Yikes! What were they?

Wrestling with that question was fun, challenging, and worth it. The answers have stood the test of time, and did a good job for preparing me  for this iteration of me, though my KabbalahGlass 10C are different, deeper, and still emerging.

Our core values are intrinsic. They’ve evolved with our history.

You’ve lived by yours for so long now that they’ve become part of your infrastructure. Like your skeleton: unseen, but critical to how you navigate the world. You enjoy the benefits of that complex geometry without being conscious of its detailed function.

Your values are like a spider’s web. With an amazing tensile strength that supports you, and also provides a net to hold you, no matter how hard the winds of life’s vicissitudes blow at you. A slender thread to the eye, but a powerful anchor for your soul.

Note: values are different than goals. They’re not about what you want to accomplish. They’re about how you act on the road to getting there.

Your code of values is worth identifying and thinking about. Teasing them out and trying them on, seeing how they work together and suit you. It’s like finding just the right pear of jeans. Seeing how they fit and feel, naming the code that shapes and frames you.

These inner commandments are allies that’ve been helping you all along. Give them names and voice.

How do you find them? Start by asking yourself what you think they are. Then listen and take good notes.

Your answers will come in clusters of insight alternating with vaguer impressions. Your values’ nouns and verbs may sometimes seem commanding and other times elusive. But once you get them right you’ll know. You’ll feel a tingling resonance when insights are brighter and clearer. They’ll help illuminate your journey.