Welcome to the Garden — Shalom שלום

Welcome to The Garden

haGan    the garden  הגן

You have found the garden where I share my essays, poems, thoughts and sometimes music.  A garden is a place where things grow, die, blossom, hide, surprise, struggle, comfort, and are reborn.  The garden in our yard feels like how I imagine Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden) might have felt like – a place for renewal and resourcing.  I hope you find visiting The Garden a healing place for you, too.

I will share my experiences of joy and heartbreak as I work as a hospital chaplain and rabbi, as well as love and support my partner who is one of the most amazing and interesting woman I know, and, is living with cancer.

I am moved as I accompany people as they explore their spiritual lives, grieve the death of both of my parents (Mom died January 5, 2013, Dad died January 5, 2015), offer my leadership as a rabbi taking people on a Jewish spiritual journey, love my daughter, reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide, and enjoy the precious moments life gives us.

I will share with you what is on my heart, my anger, what moves me, and the questions that are very much alive within and often spill gently and not so gently out.

I will offer healing thoughts and prayers. I hope to hear yours.  Ultimately, this is all about healing. (You may not have access to sound files if you use Internet Explorer.  Just use a different browser if you have problems.)

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Chaya’s Garden moving to my new website! rabbichayagusfield.com

Please note, Chaya’s Garden blog posts will now be coming on my new website. rabbichayagusfield.com. Check it out! You will have the opportunity to continue to follow the blog there. If you want to get updates on classes and groups you might also want to sign up for my email list.

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The Blessings Needed

Look inside, past the barriers of shame, shyness, desire

There is a yearning for Blessings Needed.

Look past your guard, despair, independence.

Taste the yearning for Blessings Needed.

It takes more than a mere glimpse or intention to know.

Hear Our Voice

Sh’ma Koleinu,

Riding on this prayer, I am closer to knowing

Hear, smell, taste.

The Blessings Needed

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I Remembered

I remembered how the quiet wraps me with grace and feeds

No, nourishes and tends,

Slows the rushed urgent places.

The quiet wraps me with a place- Hamakom

The Source of All Blessings

All those needed, and all those we hope for

I remembered, and heard the Breath of Life holding up the quiet

And nourishing Her

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New Website Coming in the next few weeks

Hi Everyone, I want to make sure I don’t lose those of you who are “following” me which means you automatically get my writings from this blog (chayasgarden) into your email box. Word press doesn’t give me a way to know who is a follower (unless you have commented). For awhile chayasgarden will be forwarded to the new site, but not forever. (is anything forever?)

Please drop me a line with the subject: “keep me on your blog” so I can collect your emails to make sure you can find me on the new site! cgusfield@gmail.com. THANKS Chaya

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Rabbi Chaya Gusfield offers Individual and Group Spiritual Direction. (Currently on Zoom). New Group on Tuesday mornings starting soon.

Individual Direction offers a monthly precious hour to sit with and deepen your experience of the connection you have, or yearn for, with spirituality as you know it.   I have space for a few more people to accompany in this process. Contact me to learn more.  cgusfield@gmail.com.

Group Spiritual Direction is where we gather in small groups of five to discern and to witness where the Spirit/God/the Sacred lives in our daily experience.  Small groups create communities engaged in holy listening to one another by using contemplative practices, Jewish sacred texts accessible to all, niggunim, sharing and writing from the heart, and allowing the creative unconsciousness to flow. 

I will be starting a 5 session group, meeting on Tuesday mornings beginning Feb. 9 at 10 a.m.  The focus of this group will be prompted by Jewish music, teachings and texts from Torah, psalms, Talmud, liturgy, and music about healing and resilience. Please contact me, Rabbi Chaya Gusfield, for dates, fees, and how to discern if this group is what you are looking for at this time.  If the day/time is not good for you, but you are interested, let me know as I am planning other groups at other times and would be delighted to put you on my waiting list.   If you have any questions, please contact me and we can talk!  These groups are for people from all parts of life (you do not need to be Jewish or have a Jewish education). Groups do fill, so please contact me by January 10.  cgusfield@gmail.com.

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This is All We Have

This is all we have, this moment, this pen, this room.

This is all we have, the sound of the trucks coming to fix a leak next door.

This is all we have, my beloved sleeping in my bed, tired from the struggle of worry.

This is all we have, the memory of an apple crumble made with butter, not margarine.  And friendship.

This is all we have, the memories of times with my parents, now dead, regrets lingering, hoping for a chance for a do over. an opportunity to try again.

This is all we have, the moment of laughing at a word.

This is all we have, gratitude as medicine, knowing we didn’t lose our home in the fires. Breathing and choking the reminder that others did.

This is all we have, looking for the birds and the animals, wondering where they are.

This is all we have. Laundry.

This is all we have, the light coming in the window, massaging the eyes, warming the body, helping us to see.  The blue sky. Tears.

This is all we have.

This Bay tree, offering her leaves to our spaghetti sauce.

When in doubt, tell the truth

It’s all we have and then try again

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Approaching a Pomegranate

The color, invites you in.

Begin by cutting the top and bottom off and then scoring the peel.

If you don’t know what scoring is, imagine you do.

Like an orange, open it in sections.

Listen to what the seeds are saying. Each seed an instruction from God. 

Compost the rotten parts.  There are always rotten parts.

Pomegranates bleed, spit, and splash their juices everywhere with abandon. Everywhere.

Periodically notice the fantastic chaos of vibrant red on your recipe, the floor, or on the table.


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New Class starting in December: Jewish Liturgy (prayer) As Medicine, Unpacking prayer through study, writing, and sharing in a small group

Starts in December, every other week

Five two hour sessions with R. Chaya Gusfield on Zoom

Pick which time slot works for you.  Each time slot will be limited to 6 people.

Join either the Monday OR Tuesday group.

Monday evenings at 6:30 p.m.  PST


Tuesday mornings at 9:30 a.m. PST

$180 for five sessions paid by Venmo or check

If interested, contact Chaya at cgusfield@gmail.com or 925-212-7943.

See: chayasgarden.wordpress.com for more information on Rabbi Chaya Gusfield as spiritual director, teacher, and writer

Once registered I will ask you for your 2 favorite prayers or prayers you would like to unpack more deeply, and the class will be designed with some of those in mind if possible.

Dates for Monday evenings: Dec. 7 Dec. 21, Jan. 4, Jan. 18, Feb. 1

Dates for Tuesday mornings: Dec. 1, Dec. 15, Dec. 29, January 5, (skipping Jan. 12 and 19th), Jan. 26

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Yearning: Rosh Hashanah 5781 teaching

Shana Tova: The word for longing or yearning in Hebrew is GAGU’IM.  I love that word.  It sounds like what it means.  Gagu’im. It is an important concept for us to explore this historic year. I believe many of us have been in a constant state of gagu’im/yearning.  If we can tap into the experience of Gagu’im more consciously, Reb Zalman said our prayers during this time of RH and the High Holy Days, and at anytime, could be more meaningful. I understand his invitation to mean that praying from a place of gagu’im could be healing to us, and others, in ways that might surprise us, and carry us through this challenging time.

We are also grieving.  So much loss in our collective world experience and in our individual lives.  I don’t need to elaborate all the losses. We know.  Many of us are crying out in grief, “How can there be a God that allows such suffering? “Where is God when the entire world is upside down with the virus pandemic and the pandemic of racist violence which continues to be so prevalent and on a dangerous rise?”  Many might respond, “God is in the hands of the health care workers, or the people who deliver our much needed food, or with those who protest in the streets against white supremacy during this Great Racial Reckoning”.  And they would be right.  Just as my answer to the question of where was God in the SHOAH has often been, ”in the hands of the righteous gentiles”, or “God was crying/suffering alongside those who suffered.”  The idea that God was crying with us comes from the tradition that when our center of worship, the second temple, was destroyed 2000 years ago, the rabbis asked, “How could God have allowed the destruction of our people’s center of worship?” Although they struggled with answering this question, they found ways to continue to feel connected to God as a  comforting presence to help us through that very profound moment in history. A moment which could have destroyed Judaism.  Instead Judaism survived, albeit in very new and different ways.  The rabbis taught that the Shekhinah, the presence of God, literally lived in the ancient temple.  When the destruction happened, she went into exile with the Jewish people, with us. As we feel the suffering of injustice, the Shechinah feels the suffering of injustice.    As we cry, she cries with us.  At a time when we were grieving the destruction of our entire way of life, we were taught that the Shechinah was with us. Even exiled with us.

The rabbis continue to see the presence of the Shechinah in our lives as the center of much of Jewish practice.  This personal presence motivates us to study, to pray in community, but it also helps us understand that we are not separate from the suffering we witness. Right now we are witnessing a lot of suffering and have serious concern for future suffering. Unemployment, illness and deaths from the virus and from increased poverty.  We are witnessing the murder of black people and the frightening response to the protests by the state.    By understanding that we are not separate from the suffering we witness, the hope is that we will act to affect good in the world.  It motivates us into action.  It keeps us from ignoring the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed.  

So, if we know that the Shechinah is with us during these pandemics, why do so many of us we feel so bereft, alone, and hopeless? A story which might help us answer this.  It might surprise you.

About 5 weeks into the pandemic, I couldn’t feel the presence of God, the Shechinah, or any hope at all.  I was overwhelmed with the profound individual and collective grief.  Even as I prayed with very sick people in the hospital and prayed with their grieving families, I felt deep inside that God had been kidnapped and I felt alone.  I yearned to find God.  But I had no idea how to begin.  I was frozen.  Prior to this time I had a very expansive experience of God.  From Adonai, to Ruach Ha’olam, to Shekhinah.  I knew that God was the Source of All and experienced in as many ways as there are words.  However, at this low point, I only experienced the God who had been kidnapped as Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Haolam, God, Our God, King of the World.  The whole world. And I wanted to find Him. Maybe I was going back to my childhood where that was my primal only way of experiencing God. My chevruta, my study partner who has known me for many years, was quite surprised that I was talking about God as being kidnapped.  He was shocked that I couldn’t feel God in the ways people were coming together helping each other out, or in how the earth was healing from slowing down.  In contrast, the image I had was that God was in a very remote cave somewhere and there was no map to find Him.  Yes, I felt alone and abandoned.  I felt the world had been abandoned.  Yes, I was grieving, yet the yearning, the yearning was also there wondering where God was.

I was in a state of gagu’im.  I was longing to feel something greater than myself.  In addition to acknowledging and experiencing our grief, tapping into our yearning can be a key to our resilience.  And maybe more. 

I call this yearning ITSELF God or HaMAKOM, the place. The place where all exists. It is the force that moves, awakens, transforms, accompanies.  It is the force that heals and motivates me to be a healing force when I can. Yearning is its own answer to the question of where is God in this suffering? When I remember that my yearning is the key to feeling the Shechinah here with us, I can take the next step.  I take the next step to finding the maps to find God, to take them out and study them and then go on the path to find that cave.  Melech Ha’Olam will become more than just the King, but the Source of All, HaMakom, the place.

My prayer for us today is that when life feels hopeless, we can remember that beneath hopeless, is the yearning for hopefulness.  Let me repeat that.  Beneath hopelessness is a yearning for hopefulness. When we find that yearning, it will be our guide. With each step we take, we will be able to remember and actually feel that the yearning itself is The Source of All, that many call the Shechinah.  And she is sitting right here, right now, crying with us, celebrating with us, and walking us through this time.

And let us say, AMEN 

Take a moment and reflect: What are you yearning for?  Where is your yearning living in your body? 

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We always say I will be the one who will be standing when she dies.

There are so many assumptions in that statement:

  1. She will die.
  2. She will die before I do.
  3. I will be able to stand.

We think we know the path, the plan

Yet there have already been so many silences when we expected sound

So many sunny days during a torrential storm.

Then, of course, great pandemics,

Bringing a box of uncertainties.

How many pandemics does it take to remember we don’t know anything about standing?

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