Shabbat Ha-Gadol, A Ritual Before Pesach, and our Omer Spiritual Study Group

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I wish you an early Shabbat shalom! The Shabbat which begins tonight is called Shabbat Ha-Gadol, “The Great Shabbat,” because it’s the Shabbat which comes immediately before Pesach. I hope you’ll join us tomorrow morning for services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

Bedikat Chametz – Removing Leaven

On Sunday morning, the Hand in Hand families will be participating in the ritual of bedikat chametz, ritually removing leaven from the household. Heather and I will “hide” crusts of bread around the synagogue; the kids will find them, and using a feather and wooden spoon will brush them into a paper bag, which we will (safely!) burn in the barbecue grill outside after making a special blessing.

This is actually a home-based ritual, not usually done at the synagogue. If you’d like to do this at home on Sunday or early on Monday, here is a short-and-sweet ritual (one poem, plus the blessings) which you can download: Bedikat Chametz [pdf].

Also, if you’re looking for some different ways of thinking about the mitzvot of eating matzah and avoiding chametz, you might enjoy this blog post from last year: Chametz.

Counting the Omer – Spiritual Study Group

On the second night of Pesach, we begin Counting the Omer, a journey of counting the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation. In Jewish tradition this is a time for deep soul-searching and meaningful internal work, so that we can be wholly ready to receive Torah at Sinai once again.

I’ll be leading a spiritual study group during the Omer, which will meet in my office on Fridays at 3pm during the seven weeks of the Omer — starting next Friday, the Friday during the week of Pesach. All are welcome, though I’d appreciate it if you could let me know if you might join us, so I can print enough copies of the handouts.

No books are required for the Omer group, though if you are interested in picking up one or more good Omer resources, I recommend Rabbi Yael Levy’s Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer and Rabbi Min Kantrowitz’s Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide. And if visual art speaks to you more than does text, try D’vorah Horn’s Omer Series of paintings, available on beautiful printed cards for $36.

I wish you a sweet Shabbat ha-Gadol and a meaningful journey into Pesach, the season of our liberation!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Acharei Mot

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Acharei Mot in the book of Leviticus. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on the Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) will be Rabbi Pam Wax. This is a special Shabbat — the Shabbat right before Pesach — and is called Shabbat HaGadol, “The Great Shabbat.” All are welcome; please join us!

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service host. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

D’var Torah for Metzora: Plagues, cleansing, and Pesach house-cleaning

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered at CBI yesterday for parashat Metzora. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


In this week’s Torah portion we read instructions for what to do if an eruptive plague arises on someone’s house. What does it mean to say that a house is afflicted by a plague, or something like a plague?

The description in the Torah text suggests that the plague is akin to mold, described like a disease in the walls. It is as though the house itself were alive and susceptible to infection. We could imagine that this Torah portion speaks merely of this kind of problem: when your house has termites, call the exterminator — when your house has leaks, call the roofer — when your house sprouts mold, call the priest.

But I think there’s something deeper here. What did William Shakespeare mean when his character Mercutio cursed, “a plague on both your houses”? For Shakespeare, a house meant a household, a family. If we read the Torah portion through this lens, the stakes are higher.

Sometimes, Torah says, a house needs to be scraped clean and then plastered again. And sometimes, even that isn’t enough — it’s a kind of mere whitewashing, and given opportunity, the problem will erupt again.

As we prepare to gather with our families and friends around the seder table, what are the places where our “house” needs to be scraped clean and then replastered? What’s the old emotional stuff we want to scrub away? Are we willing to do the work of removing what’s encrusted on the surface of our family relationships, and to expose what lies beneath?

In our broader community, what are the places where a plague has grown too deep — where merely cutting out a few problematic pieces won’t stem its spread, and we need to destroy the structure and build anew? Maybe it’s the plague of racism, or the plague of militarism, or the plague of ignoring someone else’s narrative or point of view. Are we willing to tear down what no longer serves us in order to build something different, something as-yet unknown?

At this season many of us are engaging in literal housecleaning. Maybe it’s that impulse toward spring cleaning which arises when the temperatures start to hover well above freezing. Maybe it’s the old pre-Pesach tradition of scouring every surface and getting ready to relinquish our hametz, our leaven, which the Hasidic tradition says can represent the puffery of ego.

As you clean for Pesach, consider this other kind of housecleaning, too. What behaviors or habits or patterns do you want to place in quarantine? What emotional dynamics in your household do you want to scrub away in order to meet the season of our liberation fresh and new?

I’m also posting this as a contribution to #blogExodus, a carnival of posts and tweets and updates on preparing-for-Passover themes, created by Rabbi Phyllis Sommers. This is for yesterday’s prompt, “Prepare.”

Blogexodus

 

A note from Rabbi Rachel about the hospital closure

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I have returned from my trip to Israel to the news of the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.

This is a blow to northern Berkshire county on many levels. Our community is losing jobs, we are losing our hospital and our easy access to medical and emergency care, and our sense of trust and certainty is shaken.

Along with other area clergy, I am doing my best to learn what we can do and how best to proceed. If you want to talk about any of this and what it’s opening up for you, I am here; call or email and we can make an appointment to connect. If you need a dues abatement in the wake of this financial news, our treasurer Sue Hogan is available to help on that front.

This news comes as we are moving toward Pesach, the holiday when we re-experience our freedom from the constrictions of Mitzrayim, “the narrow place.” In order to reach this freedom, tradition tells us, our ancestors had to plunge into the Sea of Reeds although the waters had not yet parted. Only when one brave soul named Nachshon ben Aminadav stepped into the waters did they recede.

May we partake in Nachshon’s courage and faith, and as we move forward into this new world, may the waters part so that we can reach the other side of this difficult situation in safety. Like our ancestors crossing that sea, we are in this together; may we find comfort and strength in our togetherness.

Chodesh tov; wishing you a joyous new month of Nisan.

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Metzora

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Metzorah  in the book of Leviticus. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on the Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years (some written when Metzorah was read as part of a joint portion with Tazria:)

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) will be Rabbi Rachel. During this service we’ll offer a special welcoming blessing for our new members who have joined in recent months. All are welcome; please join us!

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service host, Darlene Radin. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Tazria

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Tazria  in the book of Leviticus. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on the Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) will be Rabbi Hoard Cohen.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service hosts. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shmini

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Shemini in the book of Leviticus. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on the Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) will be Rabbi Pam Wax.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service hosts. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!