Today is another special episode that links back to last week. If you listened to last week’s episode where I met and interviewed and talked with my fellow artists and collaborators, then you’ll recognize some of the melodies in today’s episode which we recorded in the great synagogue in Stockholm, this beautiful art deco sanctuary that is very special. 

The theme of today’s podcast has to do with a very special ritual that is close to my heart, which in Hebrew is called havdalah, which translates as separation. The reason I’m so fond of this idea and ritual is because of attempts to provide support for the transition between the sacred to the profane. I believe that much of what we experience as suffering in our life has to do with moments where meaning, relationship, our fantasies, and our sense of ourselves breaks down. 

I’m a firm believer that progress in our lives happens when we move forward, we change, those around us change, we lose loved ones, we don’t recognize ourselves because we’re older, we don’t think the same way we used. It could even happen in just the simple moments where we feel off, can’t get our bearings, and don’t feel grounded. All this language describes times when we’re in between. 

If you’ve been following my podcast, there have been many conversations about this from different angles. My podcast recently with Dustin Atlis about Martin Buber comes to mind and Dustin talking about how Martin Buber said that we can never inhabit a permanent sense of connectivity. We’d be out of the world if that were the case. The world is full of this kind of brokenness.

The ceremony and the music that you’re going to hear in today’s podcast is intended to give a container to what is often a really tricky transition. I think we all go through it. It’s the same transition of coming back from vacation and the first day of work or even something as simple as a night out or a day off or a visit with someone you love who has to leave or saying goodbye to somebody for the last time. These are incredible transitions that we have to face and bear and integrate and hold. 

You’ll hear me talk a little bit about this ritual in the podcast but I thought I’d just give a preface to it so it’s a bit more orienting for those listening who may not be familiar with it. There’s a moment where wine, fire, and spices are used as three elements to denote this liminal space, this space in between, a movement from a time of connectivity and sacredness into the world of the banal. The first song that we will sing for you today in the podcast is called Liba. The lyrics have to do with transcending the darkness in us and how do we withstand nights, for instance, where we can’t sleep and the time is ticking away and everyone else is asleep around us and we’re kind of alone with ourselves. It’s about a sort of yearning for love to help us deal with these moments. 

Being able to hold the space where nothing makes sense, where there’s a kind of foreignness to ourselves or to the world, is really crucial because they’re always there. You might wake up and there’s a very dramatic news story, for instance. The anniversary of the Twin Towers comes to mind. These kinds of events punctuate our seemingly seamless reality which is not seamless at all. We just want it to be so we can rid ourselves of anxiety. This is a noble goal but I think that the ceremony you’re going to hear today reverses things and says, “No, we’re going to stare this kind of transition in the face.” For instance, we smell the sweetness of spices in a moment where we are transitioning out of a time of connection and into the world of the everyday. It’s an important skill and tool to be able to recognize when things do not go our way, when somebody is unavailable to us, and when the world around us is changing, and to recognize and find space to contend with, try to make sense of, and withstand those moments of absolute foreignness. 

I hope you enjoy this ride that we will take you on today from the great synagogue in Stockholm with my good friends Aviva Chernick, Marcelo Moguilevsky, and Cesar Lerner. I hope you’ll let yourself go, listen to the music, and maybe put this on in moments when things feel off and it’s hard to feel one’s direction in life. I hope it brings a kind of recognition that this is all of our stories. Maybe knowing that we have people around us and behind us in those moments when it’s hard to make heads or tails of life will give us what we need to get through and contain the uncontainable.

Show Highlights:

  • Why it’s crucial to realize that we are stronger together.
  • Why we can’t have joy without suffering.
  • The space we need to hold our pain.
  • What soothes our soul and helps us transition from the sacred to the everyday.

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Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at For all other inquiries, please send mail to


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