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!

Giving thanks in the present moment: parashat Tzav

thank-youHere’s the d’var Torah I offered at my shul yesterday for last week’s Torah portion, parashat Tzav. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


We read in this week’s portion that one who offers a korban for the purpose of thanksgiving must eat that offering on the day when it is offered.

Korban: this is the Hebrew word we translate as “sacrifice.” But the root connotes not giving-up but drawing-near.

One who seeks to draw-near to God for the purpose of thanksgiving must eat that offering on the day when it is offered.

Drawing-near to God: we can understand this yearning.

Thanksgiving: we can understand that outpouring.

But what can we make of the exhortation to eat the meat of the sacrifice on the day when it is offered, and not to set any of it aside until morning?

Perhaps this comes to teach us that one who seeks to draw-near to God for the purpose of saying thank You needs to be in the moment. Give thanks for what is, right now, and experience that thanksgiving wholly. Don’t hold some of it over until tomorrow: give yourself over to thanksgiving now.

And, a corollary: trust that tomorrow there will again be blessings in your life which merit the giving of thanks.

As I say every Friday morning in meditation: focus on the breath as it comes and goes. And when your mind inevitably drifts to something in the past, or something in the future, that’s okay; it’s what minds do. Just gently notice that, and on the next exhale let it go and return to right here, right now.

Drawing-near to God in thanksgiving seems to require that same kind of mindfulness, that same cultivated ability to be in the moment and to offer thanks from this moment. There is so much to be thankful for: right here, right now.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Tzav

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Tzav, the second portion 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 Rachel. (And of course, on this coming Saturday night we’ll celebrate Purim — don’t miss that!)

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!

Save the Dates: Spiritual Study Group during the Counting of the Omer!

ColorfulOmerChartIt’s almost Purim, and one month after Purim comes Pesach — and after Pesach comes the magical season of the Counting of the Omer!

In Jewish tradition, the period of the Omer — the 7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot — is a time for deep spiritual work, a time to take stock of oneself and refine one’s qualities and characteristics as we prepare ourselves to re-experience the revelation of Torah at Sinai.

This year, CBI is offering a chance to meet weekly during the Counting of the Omer to engage in some of that spiritual work together.  Join Rabbi Rachel for a spiritual study group which will explore texts from our tradition as a way of opening up the texts of our souls and hearts. We’ll meet in the rabbi’s study on Friday afternoons at 3pm, every week between Pesach and Shavuot, starting on Friday April 18th.

All are welcome!

Shavua tov; looking forward to Shabbat Vayikra!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Vayikra, the first portion 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!

Pekudei: lessons on sacred space and on cultivating Mystery

Tabernacle-GloryHere’s the d’var Torah which I offered yesterday at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


At the end of this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, we read about Moshe setting up the mishkan, the place where the Shekhinah would dwell — in English, the “tabernacle.” He sets up the tent, erects screens to delineate different spaces, lights lamps and makes offerings. We learn that he and Aaron and Aaron’s sons would wash their hands and feet upon entering and upon approaching the altar, a physical act intended to cultivate spiritual purity of intention. And we read that a cloud of God’s presence covered the tent, and filled the tent so fully that no one could enter. When the cloud lifted, the people would journey; when the cloud descended, they would camp.

This taste of Torah teaches us some things about sacred space. Sacred space requires careful preparation. Sacred space requires attentiveness to detail. Moshe sets up the screens in part to protect the people from the spiritual power of God’s presence; sacred space needs to be safe. Sacred space makes demands of us: that we keep the light of memory burning. That we cleanse our hands of wrongful actions, and our feet of the dust from unjust or unkind paths. This is how we set the stage for an encounter with God.

Of course, this encounter doesn’t only happen in synagogues. The labor and delivery room where our son was born felt, to me, so suffused with God’s Presence that there was barely space for people in the room. When I have been blessed to sit at the bedside of someone who is dying, I have felt God’s Presence hovering over the bed like a mother bird. Maybe you have felt that Presence at those times too — or while walking in the woods, while breathing in the charged air just before a storm, while immersing in the endless motion of the sea.

When the cloud of glory lifted, the people would travel. We can’t live in exquisite awareness of God’s presence all the time. No matter how powerful the experience — whether it’s prayer or yoga, childbirth or seeing the aurora borealis — we have to return to mochin d’katnut, small consciousness. That’s how we’re able to venture forth, to do our work in the world. And when the Presence descends again, we enter mochin d’gadlut, expansive consciousness — and we are transfixed for a time by the experience of being in the Presence of Mystery.

If Mystery can be experienced in these solitary and personal ways, why go to the trouble of building the mishkan? Because the mishkan is the spiritual technology given to our ancestors for cultivating that experience. In coming together to build a beautiful place where God’s presence could dwell, they cultivated community, and they cultivated spiritual life. A mystical experience might happen in the wilderness, or at a moment of great emotional import — but it can’t be predicted. The mishkan was our way of domesticating the peak experience. Bringing it home. Building a home for it.

In order for a spiritual practice to be sustaining, in order for connection with God to be there when we need it, some maintenance is required. If I wanted to be able to hike Mount Greylock, I’d have to exercise regularly enough that when the mountain is before me, I’d have the endurance to climb. If we want to be able to ascend to the spiritual heights of connection with God, we have to exercise our spiritual muscles regularly enough that when the opportunity for connection is before us, we have the strength and the tools we need to make that trip.

Once our ancestors practiced daily connection with God through fire: burning incense, burning sacrifices, sending a pleasing odor to God. Today we practice that connection through prayer: saying, in Anne Lamott’s words, “help” and “thanks” and “wow” until they become second nature. Today the mishkan that we tend is a Mishkan T’filah, as it were; a tabernacle of prayer. It’s the community where we practice our help and thanks and wow. It’s the altar of our own ardent hearts.

 

Image of the cloud of glory over the mishkan: found via google image search. Artist unknown. If you can identify the artist, please do and I’ll add attribution!

Don’t Miss Purim at CBI!

purim

Don’t Miss Purim at CBI!

Join us for a night of Purim revelry on  Saturday, March 15:

6pm pizza dinner (RSVP to the office by midweek so we know how much pizza to order)

6:30pm 
Costume Parade 
(prizes for kids in costumes!)

followed by our PURIM SPIEL

featuring intrigue! disguises! passion! revenge!
ably acted by a cast of CBI congregants

refreshments to follow — please bring something to share
(we’ll have cookies for all ages, and a little bit of schnapps for adults)

Our sages teach: “When Adar enters, joy increases.” The new month of Adar 2 (the month containing Purim) begins on Saturday night. Here’s to increasing our joy!