Va'ethanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11)

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.

As we do every summer, Didi and I recently spent a week at the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that it is a week of detoxifying cleansing of the body (use your imagination), eating only uncooked vegetarian food, with classes in Yoga stretching and movement every day designed to help cleanse the body and clear the mind. Didi has been going there for over 23 years and I began perhaps five years later to accompany her each year. For me it is a perfect prelude to the High Holy Days each year, for every time I spend a week at OHI it feels as if I am pushing the reset button on my own body and spirit for another year.

It is really the only time each year when I have no where to go nothing to do other than take care of myself, cleanse my physical and spiritual being, contemplate where I am in my own life, read and think about the ideas that inspire me for the coming year.

There is something very powerful about taking time for oneself. Most of us are so busy with all that we have to do and accomplish and take care of in our lives that we can almost literally never catch our breath. That is another gift of the week at OHI – I find myself so often just sitting, thinking, and slowly breathing. The simply act of slowly taking in oxygen and filling up our lungs and slowly exhaling all the tensions, worries, upsets, tangled emotions that we keep bottled up day after day and month after month is more liberating than you can imagine. And it is so easy to do – simply sit in a quiet place (yes I know that is perhaps the biggest challenge of all for some of you), close your eyes, and breathe slowly in and out, watching your breath, allowing it to fill your body and cleanse your spirit at the same time.

Jewish mystics have done the same thing for centuries, they meditate on simple yet powerful Hebrew words like “Shalom,” or “Shema” or “Ehad” or “Adonai.” Try it this week and see how powerful it can be.

In this week’s Torah portion Moses once again in his farewell speech to the Israelites (which is the entire book of Deuteronomy), teaches them the Shema once again. It is the ultimate Jewish mantra, a simple reminder that all is one, that God is not some being that is separate from us and the universe, but rather the very ground of being itself and as such indivisible and one with us and the very universe itself. The powerful lesson of the Shema has always been that the first step to a spiritual experience is to simply listen. “Shema,” – listen to the world within and without. Listen to your own breath (our morning prayer “Elohai neshama” teaches us that our souls came pure from God who “breathed” it into our bodies), listen to the beating of your heart, listen to the sounds of life all around, listen to the rhythm of the world in which you life, listen to the voice of your own longing to be connect as one with others.

Moses, our teacher (“Moshe rabbeynu”) gave us the simplest and most powerful tool for spiritual growth and self-discovery. The simple act of listening. Use it this week for your own spiritual cleansing, your own spiritual opening and self discovery, and you will probably discover that underneath all the human doing is the simple human being you were always meant to be.

(Check out, and for more commentaries, articles and books by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben).