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God Loves the Stranger

The high holy days are a time of collective and personal renewal. We ask ourselves “what do we value?” “What do we cherish?” We deepen our ongoing Jewish human project of creating a just and peaceful society and living a just and peaceful life. And we inquire “what is the relationship between the inner and the outer work of transformation?” I don’t have to tell any of you. It’s not easy.

In my book [amazon:1887043314:inline] I offer a rubric, deeply rooted in Jewish sources and contemporary challenges to contemplate, inspire and deepen this work. I offer some selections from the book, below.

We meet our inner stranger when we pause. The days of awe are pause time. We meet our fears, our longings, our agitated heart and our peaceful soul. We tend to project our inner stranger on to the other, the ones we know and the ones we don’t know. The high holiday leads us to interconnection and oneness. We meet  the stranger within and without in order to rest in the One, to remember who we are and what matters. Together we walk toward that day of at one ment.

—Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg


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God Loves the Stranger: Introduction

God Loves the Stranger

—Deuteronomy 10:18

When I take these words deeply into my being, my flesh and blood, there is enormous relief. I am no longer struggling to protect the limited ideas I have about who I am. I am no longer projecting endlessly limited ideas of who you are. I am free. No one is a stranger. Everyone including my so-called enemies is an infinitely complex and precious creature. My labels, categories, and strategies to protect myself from them are paltry in comparison with their sacred mystery.

In our everyday lives, the stranger is sometimes the refugee, sometimes the person of color, age, youth, accent, small or large body, deafness, blindness, baldness, or different view, different neighborhood, different family or lover, profession, or power. There is no limit to who the stranger can be. In fact, some of our most challenging strangers may be those we live with and those we have loved or tried to love.

To see and understand this is the purpose of practice. To provide the social and cultural conditions to deepen this understanding is the purpose of all efforts toward justice and peace. The idea that God loves the stranger unites our inner work and our outer work. The inner work shines light, again and again, on the false conclusions I draw about my self. When I look carefully, calmly, through the lens of divine love, I see that I am none of these labels. I am indeed a stranger even to my own awareness. Now I inhabit this mood, this moment of joy or sadness, fear or envy, generosity, clarity, or confusion. Then it changes.

When I remember that God loves the stranger, the very category of stranger ceases to have meaning. God’s love is undifferentiated, unconfined, unlimited. It is an expression of the reality of deepest unity and interconnection of all life in the cosmos, drawn from a single source, ever spiraling, expanding, and returning. All other beings are working with their own limited ideas of who they are and who I am, just as I am working with mine. There is no difference that is substantial.

When I am receptive to the love of the stranger who lives within my own heart and mind, I can extend this love to the other, to one I think I know and to one I do not know. Without exception. This attitude aspires to create a world that is moving toward a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, a world of respect and sharing, a world saturated with the recognition of unity and love. This is a world where Black lives really matter and a refugee is received with interest, care, and empathy.

These stories and poems, teachings and meditative exercises are a product of a spiritual practice both in formal settings and in the ordinary life of a seeker, a Jewish woman in her eighth decade of life, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother who is trying to let God love her. It is my hope that they inspire you toward your own practices and your own embrace of the stranger that God loves.

(This is the introduction of God Loves the Stranger)

The Shofar and the Tears of Our Mothers

(from God Loves the Stranger)

We begin our Jewish year on Rosh Hashanah by listening attentively to hear shofar sounds. We conclude the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year, with a shofar blast. Jewish tradition equates the sound of the shofar with the cries of mothers: The mother of Israel’s enemy Sisera and the wailing of the mother of Israel, Sarah, are both represented in the sounds of the shofar. Mothers’ tears, filled with love, filled with grief, contain every conflicting emotion in the human soul. It doesn’t matter if these mothers are friends or enemies. Their pain knows no borders. It is the pain of the mother of us all, this Earth, as the glaciers melt into her tears. It is a feeling of compassion, for the mother knows no divisions and no judgments and no politics. We are not asked to resolve anything. We are asked to open to hear the pain, whether it is the pain of our own lives or the pain of the other; the pain of our enemy or friend; the pain of our tribe or the pain of the world. No matter. It is all pain; it is as wordless as the shofar and as raw. It is a series of oscillating cries— whole, broken, shattered, and whole again. It is our practice. Being with the pain, the sound— only this sound— as it reverberates in our own skin and the skin of the world. This is the healing work that engages us. It takes everything from us, and what does it ask? Most of all it asks us just to be near, to be quiet, to stand, to sit, to walk, to eat, to sleep— in kindness, faithfulness, and peace. We dedicate our practice to all who suffer in this world of endless beauty and glory. May the shofar blast of all the cries of all the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers awaken itself to the Source of Compassion that awakens the world to compassion.


Psalm 27

לְדָוִ֨ד ׀ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְהוָ֥ה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃

Awareness is sunlight in the mind. No one can take that from me. Awareness is my life’s stronghold. It absorbs all fear.

בִּקְרֹ֤ב עָלַ֨י ׀ מְרֵעִים֮ לֶאֱכֹ֪ל אֶת־בְּשָׂ֫רִ֥י צָרַ֣י וְאֹיְבַ֣י לִ֑י הֵ֖מָּה כָשְׁל֣וּ וְנָפָֽלוּ׃

The hindrances and defilements are as close as my flesh and mind, but they dissolve in the light of being known.

אִם־תַּחֲנֶ֬ה עָלַ֨י ׀ מַחֲנֶה֮ לֹֽא־יִירָ֪א לִ֫בִּ֥י אִם־תָּק֣וּם עָ֭לַי מִלְחָמָ֑ה בְּ֝זֹ֗את אֲנִ֣י בוֹטֵֽחַ׃

Even though I feel assaulted by hostile forces, my heart remains confident, balanced and patient.

אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהוָה֮ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־יְ֝הוָ֗ה וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃

I seek only one thing, one thing alone: to connect to this moment. Nowhere else. Only this. Nothing less. My palace in time.

כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֪וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה יַ֭סְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵ֣תֶר אָהֳל֑וֹ בְּ֝צ֗וּר יְרוֹמְמֵֽנִי׃

When difficulties arise, I have a hiding place in my own heart— a secret tent where I can go and feel safe, a rock to rest my head upon.

וְעַתָּ֨ה יָר֪וּם רֹאשִׁ֡י עַ֤ל אֹֽיְבַ֬י סְֽבִיבוֹתַ֗י וְאֶזְבְּחָ֣ה בְ֭אָהֳלוֹ זִבְחֵ֣י תְרוּעָ֑ה אָשִׁ֥ירָה וַ֝אֲזַמְּרָ֗ה לַיהוָֽה׃

Greed, hatred, and delusion don’t stop coming, but when they are met with a spacious heart, they don’t stick around. Leaving me so grateful, I want to sing out loud:

שְׁמַע־יְהוָ֖ה קוֹלִ֥י אֶקְרָ֗א וְחָנֵּ֥נִי וַעֲנֵֽנִי׃

Listen, world! The power of love sets me free.

לְךָ֤ ׀ אָמַ֣ר לִ֭בִּי בַּקְּשׁ֣וּ פָנָ֑י אֶת־פָּנֶ֖יךָ יְהוָ֣ה אֲבַקֵּֽשׁ׃

When I turn to face my heart—then everyone and everything is revealed. 

אַל־תַּסְתֵּ֬ר פָּנֶ֨יךָ ׀ מִמֶּנִּי֮ אַֽל־תַּט־בְּאַ֗ף עַ֫בְדֶּ֥ךָ עֶזְרָתִ֥י הָיִ֑יתָ אַֽל־תִּטְּשֵׁ֥נִי וְאַל־תַּֽ֝עַזְבֵ֗נִי אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׁעִֽי

Let this truth not be hidden from me. If only I could remember always what seems so clear right now. Wisdom would guide my every moment. 

כִּי־אָבִ֣י וְאִמִּ֣י עֲזָב֑וּנִי וַֽיהוָ֣ה יַֽאַסְפֵֽנִי׃

Awareness and compassion would be a father and a mother to me. 

ה֤וֹרֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֗ה דַּ֫רְכֶּ֥ךָ וּ֭נְחֵנִי בְּאֹ֣רַח מִישׁ֑וֹר לְ֝מַ֗עַן שׁוֹרְרָֽי׃

But I can follow the guidance of those who have walked this path before. 

אַֽל־תִּ֭תְּנֵנִי בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ צָרָ֑י כִּ֥י קָֽמוּ־בִ֥י עֵֽדֵי־שֶׁ֝֗קֶר וִיפֵ֥חַ חָמָֽס׃

Trying to stay alert to the obstacles along the way because delusion and hatred aren’t disappearing so fast. 

לוּלֵא הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי לִרְא֥וֹת בְּֽטוּב־יְהוָ֗ה בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חַיִּֽים׃

Still, I affirm my faith in the power of goodness. 

קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃

May we take courage; may we be strong; may our hearts be so filled with love there is no room for anything else! May we see the arising and passing of all conditioned things. May we open to the Unconditioned: Y*H*V*H

What Are You Asking For? A Meditation on Psalm 27

(A guided meditation on Psalm 27, from God Loves the Stranger: Stories, Poems, Prayers)


One thing I ask of Adonai, only that do I seek.

Imagine if you could ask one thing of Adonai.

Imagine if reality, life, all the power and resources in existence could grant you one thing and one thing alone.

(Pause) Take a few deep belly breaths.

For this moment let your thoughts float freely.

What would it be?

Just for now, open your mind to the endless possibilities that could be incorporated into this singular ask.

Would you ask for some thing? Some person? Health? Wealth? Power? An Experience?

Or would you ask for qualities of heart and mind? Intelligence? Skill? Courage? Patience? Honor? Freedom? Well-being? Love?

Psalm 27 is recited from the beginning of the last month before the New Year, the month of Elul, all the way until Hoshana Rabbah in the midst of Succot. It is a time of asking and seeking. It is a time to get clear.

What do I really want? What do I really seek?

The High Holy Days (and everything that leads into them) are non-historical and personal Jewish time. They are all about us as individuals. It is not so much about the Jewish people and their movement in history. It is not like Passover in that way. It is all about us. It is all up to us. What are we asking for?

The psalmist answered like this:

Shivti b’veit Adonai kol Yimei Chayai

Lachzot b’noam Adonai ul’vakeir b’heichalo.


To live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life

To gaze upon the beauty of Adonai, and to frequent God’s temple.

Do you know where the house of Adonai exists?

Can you describe the beauty of Adonai?

Do you know what it means to frequent God’s temple?


What would it mean for me to ask to live in the house of Adonai?

Is it a house with a roof, walls, and a door?

Is it a way of being? A way of feeling?

Is it a way to know that I am whole, free, loved, and safe?


What would it mean to gaze on the beauty of Adonai?

Is that everywhere or somewhere special?

Is that an internal beauty or an external beauty?

What kind of eyes can see the beauty of Adonai?


Where is God’s temple? Is it a building? A place? A time? Is it a church, synagogue, mosque, or zendo? Is it a mountain peak or jungle or a rushing river? Is it an orphanage or hospital? Is this God’s temple?

What does it mean to live in the house of Adonai?

Is it a sense of being fully alive and never separate?

Is it something like being found and returned home and never feeling lost again?

What are your questions?

What are you asking for?

Yom Kippur at Lincoln Memorial

(from God Loves the Stranger)

Today is a day of repentance, renewal, and solidarity.

Repentance in Hebrew is T’shuvah, which means turning and returning—making an about-face.

It is a most treasured human gift.

One who turns around and heads in the right direction Is respected and appreciated.

Indeed, when we say that we are lost, it is often the beginning of the journey home.

The Source of Life, the Divine Beloved, calls us to return, calls us to T’shuvah, again and again.


V’Shavta Ad Adonai Elohecha: “And you shall return to Godliness, to Goodness” it says in the Book of Deuteronomy.


“Return,” the tradition says, “the moment before you die.”

“But when will I die?” we ask.

“No one knows. So return today!”


Return from where?


Return from arrogance, fear and delusion,

Return from a false view that to say we are wrong means we are weak and foolish instead of strong and wise and loving,

From a false hope that our children and their children will not harvest the consequences of our greed.


Turn toward what?


Turn us toward remembering


Turn us toward remembering what we learn in the Book of Leviticus—when God tells us, Ki Lee Haaretz, ki Gerim V’Toshavim Atem Emadi—The land is mine—you are sojourners and resident settlers with me. Our ownership and our residency are conditional and impermanent.

Turn us toward remembering that all beings on this planet, all beings, breathe the same air, are burned by the same sun, eat from the same soil and drink from the same cup.

Turn us toward remembering that all beings on this planet, all beings, are loved by the same endless, everlasting and infinite Love.

Turn us toward remembering that there is only one body to wound, and it is ours.

Hasheveinu Adonai Elecha V’Nashuva

Chadesh Yamaynu Kekedem

Turn us to you, Adonai, and we will return.

Renew every single one of our days.

May the ancient wisdom guide us into a new world of caring and hope.

Herring and Havdalah

(from God Loves the Stranger)

It is hard to think about our trip to Lithuania without remembering the food. The best borscht I ever tasted with sour cream and boiled potatoes. I remember Regina stopping by the side of the road to pick sorrel, a green herb, and asking me, “Did you ever eat schav?” I remember the bitter schav from the Bronx. My mother would give it to my father as a huge treat: She poured it from the glass container and added sour cream. I thought it was ghastly then. But the memory is as potent as the latkes that are served everywhere with sour cream. The huge fried potato pancakes. My father loved latkes. My father was not a Litvak, a Jew from Lithuania. In fact, my mother degraded him as a Galician— a Galitzyaner— but he still liked the Litvak food of my mother’s heritage. And there were golden blintzes, too, served, yes, with sour cream. Just like my father loved. So different from my protein and veggie diet. Not zero percent Greek yogurt, but rich, delicious sour cream! And amidst the borscht and the herring in Vilna (Vilnius, as it is now known) was the pork. Pork for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Pork in every shape and color. This we did not see at home. So strange to belong so easily to a place where you never were and are remembered by so few and forgotten by so many. Strange to see so many blonde people. Tall blonde people.

Regina is known to most Jews who pilgrimage back in time to Vilna to visit the graves of their ancestors. She is the daughter of a Soviet Jewish father and a Lithuanian mom. She introduced herself to us by saying, “I am a shiksa.” Her father died when she was seventeen, and she embarked upon her life passion to know the Jews, their history, their teaching, their present, their languages. She knows the shtetels empty of Jews. She knows how to read the gravestones. She knows all the Jews in Vilna, including Fanya who is the librarian at the Center for Yiddish at the University and who fought with the partisans! She knows the Belarusian Jew who volunteers at the museum in Ponar where 70,000 Jews were shot and their bodies dumped into huge pits to store fuel that had been dug by the Soviets. There were photographs in that small museum of the eighty Jewish prisoners sent by the Nazis in 1943 to dig up the bodies in the pits and burn them to disguise the evidence. Regina took us to see the huge pits of ashes.

Belarus border to Deveniskes, Devenishuk, where Maynard’s mother was born. We searched for evidence of their home, the shul, the grave of his uncle who died at age three before his mother and her family left. It was an endless day. The sky turned grey and the air filled with moisture. When we returned to our hotel, there was more news of the war in Gaza. We said goodbye to Regina with great appreciation. We were on our own for Shabbat, to rest, to go the Choral synagogue for services, to collect our minds and souls.

Late Saturday afternoon we got a message from Regina that she would pick us up at 7: 00 p.m. for dinner. This was not an arrangement we had made or expected, but we were ready, dressed, and curious.

She arrived with a Jewish woman from New Jersey who had just arrived from Israel: She thought we would enjoy meeting each other. She didn’t have a car so we started walking. We walked beyond the tourist downtown to a residential area that did not look as well-kept: stone buildings; more litter in the streets; dogs and cats roaming. We walked for close to an hour. It was getting cool and dark. Then we reached Regina’s sister’s apartment. It was spacious and crammed with old furniture, piles of papers, pottery bowls, dishes, books. Regina played the piano for us. We noshed on cheese and bread. Her nineteen-year-old son was there, and he and Maynard talked basketball: another religion. Regina served wine and herring and said, “You might not like the herring.” I tasted it; it was so intense, I felt as if I had been engulfed in a salt mountain. It was not at all like the Vita Herring in cream sauce from the jar.

Then Regina asked if I would recite havdalah! She had a Kiddush cup. It excited her that I was a woman rabbi. We improvised the candle and the spices; I said the prayers. And I wondered: What was the havdalah, the separation? Between Sabbath and the week? Between before the Holocaust and after the Holocaust? Between Jews and Gentiles, herring and pork, Vilna and Vilnius? Or do we bless the heart as it breaks again and again? Or maybe it signified the temporary and unexpected separation between Maynard and me as we prepared to leave Vilna. He would be headed back home to Philadelphia, and I was to fly to Jerusalem.

Yet, the main symbol of Havdalah, the ritual of separation, is the braided candle. We have the experience of being separate, being strangers to each other and ourselves. But in the sacred time in which we share a meal, a kindness, or a prayer, and when we just sit and let be, in the breath, in the body, the mind reveals another truth. We are as connected as the strands of the havdalah candle. One color wax melts on and into the other. And as our wicks join together, there is but one bright light that streams forth.


More About The Book

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