BLOG WITH RABBI JUDIAHAVAH
Rabbi JudiAhavah DelBourgo
Your Holy of Holies
Erev Rosh HaShanah
Sept 6, 2021
A few weeks ago, I had an appointment in Playa Vista.
I needed to do some writing before my next
appointment, back in Century City. I thought about
sitting in my car in the lot where I was, but there I was
facing a tall building. But knowing the wetlands and
ocean were so close, it seemed better to seek an
expansive natural area to park. Hesitantly, I decided to
drive toward the ocean. All the way, I kept thinking, I
don't have time to get all the way to the ocean and
back. I was hoping to find a spot close by so I could
have a taste of nature and expansiveness as I wrote,
yet still have time to get where I needed to be. Soon I
could see the ocean. I found a spot with a view of that
big, blue expanse, but it was off in the periphery, the
side, and I'd have to turn to really see it. I parked and
tried, but I couldn't write comfortably and see the
ocean at the same time, so I decided to drive on, all
the while thinking I'm getting closer to the ocean, yet I
should really just sit somewhere and get my writing
done before I have to leave for my next appointment.
Yet that inner pull kept calling me to the water.
Maybe you know that inner nudge that calls you to do
the things that nourish your soul…
The next thing you know I was driving along the
ocean and realized I could drive on this road all day
and forget my next commitment. I decided I had better
pull over somewhere. I eventually found a street I
could turn up. It became clear that if I turned the car
around I would have a perfect ocean view straight
So that's what I did. I took some time to stare out into
that big blue expanse of water and found such joy in
the beauty. It seemed worth the trip to have those
moments of awe. After a couple of minutes,
miraculously, I got to work.
A few minutes later, I looked up and stared out in awe
and gratitude for the beautiful scene right before me.
Then I went back to my writing.
Another few minutes went by, and I happened to look
up at the ocean: Out in the distance, I could see the
smooth, slow movement of something glistening
gently arching up out of the water, before gracefully
disappearing back under the water. The movement
was definitely not that of a surfer, that was for sure.
Then, a couple of moments later, I saw another
silhouette nearby the first rise and fall of a smooth arc.
Soon I realized the next blurry arc to appear was the
back and fin of a …. dolphin!
Soon I could see more dolphins here and there,
gracefully coming up for air, with their backs and fins
gently arcing up out of the water and back down again
- one here, another there as they leisurely swam along
the coast. Their water reflecting off their skin causing
light to dance for a moment. It was beautiful- I was
elated! That truly made all the effort finding that
inspirational spot worth it.
How many you smiled inside or out discovering it was
a pod of dolphins?
What is it about sea mammals like dolphins that raise
our spirits and bring us delight? Is it because from our
human-centric perspective they "look" happy? So
often their face might strike us as if they are smiling.
In Aramaicm the word for dolphin or porpoise is
sasgona. There’s a midrash that got its Aramaic name
because it "rejoices" (sefaira). Dolphins certainly
know how to celebrate life. Perhaps you've seen them
playing while riding in the wake of a boat.
Besides knowing how to play and enjoy life, dolphins
have other messages for us, especially during this
Dolphins are quintessential teachers of the proverbial
action of "coming up for air". As they literally took a
breather, I took my metaphorical breather. Who of you
enjoys taking a breather at the beach? Isn't it such a
of beauty? How many of you enjoy just sitting and
meditating at the ocean? It's beautiful, right?
It's not only the surface beauty dolphins share with us:
They also remind us that there is so much more than
what we see on the surface of the ocean! There is so
much more than what we see in any situation at any
given moment. When we are looking at the vastness
of challenges we've been facing , especially during
these last 18 months during the pandemic, it's harder
to look deeper and find all the wonderful things going
on which might be currently hidden from our view.
One of the powerful Torah readings for Rosh
Hashanah is the story of Hagar. She and her son were
banished in the desert, their food and water had run
out. Hagar was convinced her son was going to die
without any water. She cries out to God -hopeless.
Then, Torah tells us- her "eyes are lifted" and she sees
a well in front of her. Torah specifically does not say
God put the well there after she cried out. Instead we
read specifically that Hagar's eyes "were raised" and
she could see the well. In her hopeless state, she
could not see the well right in front of her.
There is so much more going on than what we
actually see. The dolphins remind us to raise our eyes
and look beyond the vastness of a bleak situation.
They invite us to look for the beings and the things
that bring us awe and inspiration.
Sometimes we have to wait for those moments of
discovery, sometimes we have to seek them out. As in
Hagar's case of at first not seeing the sustenance right
before her, sometimes we have to let our eyes be lifted
so that we can see beyond what we currently face. Let
your eyes be lifted in awe, like Hagar's were. Let your
eyes be lifted to see the hidden treasures around you.
Dolphins know how to sense treasures with their
sonar. Their echolocation not only helps them thrive,
it also helps them know when a female in their pod is
pregnant. Sensing this, they will form a circle around
her for protection. They have also been known to
surround and protect pregnant humans, even in very
early stages of pregnancy. Some of you may have read
accounts of dolphins saving vulnerable humans. The
pod takes care of other members when vulnerable. It
seems Dolphins can be empathetic. They take care of
Because of some of their almost human like traits,
during Talmudic times, Rabbi Yehuda called dolphins
-people of the sea- bnei yam. These ' people' of the
sea form strong bonds with one another. This past 18
months we humans learned a new dimension of pod.
We've learned how important it is to stay connected to
our community - whether in person safely (masked
and distanced, or even outdoors and distanced, on the
phone, zoom, whatever works.)
If you've ever encountered dolphins while in the
water, you might have learned that it's extremely
important to keep one's hands at one side. Otherwise a
dolphin could feel threatened. If a dolphin sees hands
waving around, its instinct is to protect itself and it
might attack. They actually prefer people to be
swimming, horizontally, with them -at the same level,
rather than standing over them. Once again, the
dolphins have wisdom for us. In our world situation
right now human beings are so easily polarized about
a myriad of topics. We may have experienced how
differences of opinion can make us question our
connections with others. Let's learn from the dolphins
healthy pod behavior. Outside of our healthy
pandemic pod, when facing anyone in the world at
large, even when we disagree with ideas, let's keep
our "hands at our sides" rather than raise them in a
way that might be seen as an attack.
Because of their echolocation dolphins will gravitate
towards people who have mechanical implants, and
they can seem to be playfully curious when checking
someone, who for example has a metal plate where a
bone used to be. So when we see something we
believe is strange, an opinion or behavior, let's instead
like the dolphin, and use our reflective sonar to listen
during disagreements of principle alongside those we
disagree with, rather than getting "up in arms' with the
person. Like dolphins, we are social creatures. How
we handle our differences of opinion during a time
when everyone can be easily frustrated makes all the
difference. When we disagree with an essential belief
rather than the person themselves, we can practice
agreeing to disagree, without an attack on the fellows
in our greater human pod.
One more message from our sea mammal friends.
Dolphins also have a message for our inner life this
Depending on who you talk to, dolphins are
mentioned in Torah. In the book of Exodus, God
gives Moses intricate instructions on how to build the
Mishkan, the holy place of meeting where we
communed with God in the desert. God tells Moses to
make the cover of the Mishkan out of tachash skin .
It is not 100% clear to scholars what exactly tachash
is. There is controversy throughout the millennium.
Some Rabbis argued it's a specific blue color dye,
others argued it's a certain animal. Among the good
Jewish argument is a cogent case that tachash was a
Where might they have gotten dolphin skin, you ask?
There are dolphins today in the Red Sea off Eilat.
Thus, it is possible that the outer cover of this holy
meeting place with God was to be made from dolphin
What beautiful symbolism: Throughout our days, we
need moments of holy time, reflection, wonder, time
in nature, time with loved ones, like my moments
seeing that pod of dolphins. And, yet, now more than
ever, with new challenges together, we need to find
moments that feed our souls. We are also in a shmita
year, a year when the land lays fallow if we're
following our Torah 's wisdom. We need to take the
time to lay fallow to replenish, to let ourselves be re-
created in our recreation.
What brings your soul de-light? That's is what you get
to build your holy of holies with this year. Whatever
experiences bring you awe, like those dolphins that
day for me- those are the fabric that encapsulate our
holy place of communion with the Soul of Souls.
Friends, In other words, these moments and events
and people within which we find ourselves
communing with the Soul of Souls, those are the very
things that hold our personal holy of holies.
There is still another beautiful metaphor here: want to
hear it? Ibn Ezra, a great Torah commentator, said
this covering protected the meeting tent (Mishkan)
from rain. Ibn Ezra and the dolphins are telling us -
Don't let any situation "rain on your parade" and ruin
your happiness. Not a pandemic, not anything: we
must take time to create and enjoy our own Holy of
Holies. It's how we fortify ourselves and find spiritual
strength to face anything.
We all stood at Sinai and received Torah. We were all
there and we all received the directions to build a holy
Mishkan where we can commune with the Source of
All Holiness. It's a temporary movable tent of
meeting where we meet the Divine, and it's made with
whatever brings you awe. That which brings you
profound gratitude and amazement is what forms the
very ceiling -encapsulating your holy dwelling place
Make sure you take the time and energy to nourish
Traditionally we read psalm 27 read during the 40
days leading up to Yom Kippur. The Psalm posits the
idea of having only one thing to ask of God. The
Psalmist answers with a personal desire- to dwell in
God's house all the days of his life. What might it be
like to dwell in the House of the Soul of Souls all the
days of your life?
Let's build God's house with the very things that bring
us awe and deep joy and find out.
What are Our Lessons from dolphins for this New
Take time-enjoy nature and re-create
Follow inner nudge
Keep your eyes open; Look beyond what you see
Stick with the "pod" of our community. Take care of
one another. And let's also let ourselves be helped
(often harder, yet equally important.)
Let's remember to swim "alongside" those we
disagree with, even on essential matters. Let's
remember we are all in the larger human pod together,
and argue important ideas instead of arguing with
Go to your places of inspiration, go in person or
virtually, go to your loved ones safely, or go to your
Create your inner "Tent of Holy Meeting" with
whatever brings you a sense of awe.
That personal Holy of Holies will strengthen and
protect you during the coming year.
May you each be blessed with time to dwell in awe,
delight and wonder, and build of those experiences a
holy Mishkan, that will sustain your spirit. And may
you be surrounded and protected by your community
swimming around you, no matter what.
Shanah tovah u'mevorechet
A good new year filled with life-sustaining moments