Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shoftim

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a (slightly belated) good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Shoftim in the book of Deuteronomy. 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. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

return-to-shabbat

This Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services 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 extend thanks to our member Helene Armet for the beautiful home-baked challah!

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

Entering Elul

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

On Tuesday evening, August 26th, we’ll enter into the new lunar month of Elul. Elul is a very special time on the Jewish calendar; it is the final month of the old year, and it’s our time for the spiritual “ramp-up” process which will prepare us for the Days of Awe.

In Hebrew, the name Elul is spelled אלול. These four letters can be read as an acronym for the phrase Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” That’s a quote from Song of Songs. In this context, the Beloved is God. Elul is the month when we remember that our relationship with God is quintessentially a relationship of love.

Jewish tradition teaches that during Elul, “the King is walking in the fields.” This is the month when God departs from the divine palace and wanders in the meadows, among God’s people. In this metaphor, it’s presumed that during most of the year God may be difficult to access (like an earthly king in his palace, protected by guards and by layers of beaurocracy) but during this month, God is right here with us, all of the trappings of royalty discarded, ready to listen to us as a friend listens to another beloved friend. What would it feel like to wander in the beautiful fields (perhaps right here behind our synagogue sanctuary) and speak quietly with God, knowing that God is listening with compassion and with love?

This is the month when we deepen our practice of teshuvah, repentance or return. Teshuvah is the spiritual work of looking closely at our actions and emotions, our thoughts and our souls, and discerning where we’ve missed the mark and how we could do better. Some sages teach that the month of Elul is the time to apologize and repair our relationships with other human beings, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) we can focus on repairing our relationship with our Source.

There’s a custom of blowing the shofar every day during the month of Elul. The shofar is a kind of spiritual alarm clock; when we hear it, it’s meant to wake us up! If you’re not able to blow shofar (it’s not among my skills, for sure), you can listen to someone else blow it.

Embedded, above, is a YouTube video of someone blowing shofar for Elul. And if you have a smartphone, and want to hear the shofar this month on your phone, there’s an app for that: here’s a Shofar app from RustyBrick (for iPhone and iPad) and here’s Mighty Shofar (for Android phones.)

If you’re looking for materials to help get you “in the mood” for teshuvah, for self-reflection, and for the coming Days of Awe, I always recommend Rabbi Alan Lew’s This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation.  And/or, feel free to borrow or buy a copy of Elul Reflections, a paperback collection of the Elul meditations I wrote last year during this holy month. (I have several copies in my office, and if I’m not here when you drop by, there are also copies on the bookshelf right outside my office door, with a little sign indicating that you can help yourself to a copy.) I have six copies to lend out; if you want to buy one, they cost $8 in person or on Amazon.

One final Elul custom is reading psalm 27 every day. There’s a gorgeous translation of the psalm in Psalms In A Translation for Praying, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l (may his memory be a blessing.) And/or, you can hear or sing Achat Sha’alti, an excerpt from that psalm — “One thing I ask of You, I earnestly pray for — that I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life, knowing the beauty of You, and dwelling in Your holy place.” What does it mean to dwell in God’s house? Maybe it means recognizing that wherever we are, that place can be a holy place, a place where the divine presence can dwell, if we only open our hearts. Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Re’eh

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a (slightly belated) good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Re’eh in the book of Deuteronomy. 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. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

return-to-shabbat

This Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services will be Rabbi Rachel, and we will celebrate Cole Filson as he is called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah.

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

An Evening with Haviva Ner-David

Don’t miss…

An Evening With Haviva Ner-David

Monday, August 25
7:30pm

Knesset Israel
61 Colt Road,
Pittsfield MA

 front-coverRabba Haviva Ner-David is an author, pioneer in Jewish women’s post-denominational thinking, wife, and mother of seven living on Kibbutz Hanaton. She is also a dynamic speaker coming to share the experiences and thinking which led to her latest book: Chana’s Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women’s Rituals of Baking, Bathing and Brightening (new from Ben Yehuda Press).

All genders are invited to join us for a talk followed by light refreshments and an opportunity to chat with the author and get books autographed.

 

co-presented by Congregation Beth Israel, Knesset Israel, and Rimon: Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality

Interpretive haftarah for Shabbat Hazon

Here is the translation of the haftarah for Shabbat Hazon (“The Shabbat of Vision,” the special Shabbat immediately before Tisha b’Av) which we read and discussed at CBI today. It was translated by ALEPH rabbinic student David Aladjem.

 

Haftorah for Shabbat Hazon  

An Interpretive Translation of Isaiah 1:1-27
David Aladjem

The vision of redemption
The vision of peace
The vision of the Prophet Isaiah
Of Judah and Jerusalem reborn.

Hear me, oh earth and heavens
Hear me, my children and the Children of Israel
We all know that G’d is our Parent, Friend and Teacher
But – oh how quickly – we forget.

Rather than turning from evil to do good
We rush to do evil
Even when we could do good
Even when we could heal the world.

And what do we reap from our lust for evil?
A bruised body, heart and soul.
A desolated world
Burning up through our desire for more, ever more.

Yet we ask, why have You forsaken us?
We have brought our sacrifices
We have done Your bidding
Yet You do not answer us.

Really?
You have always thought only of yourselves
Not of others’ needs
Not of what might be right and true
But only of what is easiest to do
And that which puffs you up with pride.

Come, let us learn together
You can act justly and heal this world
Clothe the homeless, feed the hungry
Defend the powerless
That is My desire.

Turn your hands to My work
And I will give you all that you desire
Food for your bodies
Contentment for your hearts
And love for your souls.

On that day
Zion will be redeemed with justice
And all will dwell within her walls in peace.
Jerusalem will again be
My holy city

And war and destruction will never come again.

Dvar Torah for Shabbat Hazon: listening to the holy space between

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered this morning at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


שָׁמֹ֤עַ בֵּין־אֲחֵיכֶם֙ וּשְׁפַטְתֶ֣ם צֶ֔דֶק בֵּין־אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵין־אָחִ֖יו וּבֵ֥ין גֵּרוֹ

Hear out your fellow man, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger.

This line leapt out at me this year. Literally the first phrase means “Listen between your brothers.” Listen to the different perspectives of your brothers, your kinsfolk, those who are part of your tribe. Because even your kinsfolk will have diverse opinions and perspectives. And it’s important to listen not only to “each side,” but also to the Torah of the in-between, the space between their perspectives in which is held the truth that multiple truths can coexist, that “you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right.”

Our mystics teach that each letter of Torah is holy, and even more holy is the white space of the parchment which contains the letters and the infinite possibilities between them. The lived Torah of every human experience is holy, and even more holy is the space between us, the space in which we can choose to interact with lovindkindness and compassion, even when we disagree. Maybe especially when we disagree. It’s easy to relate in an I/Thou manner which acknowledges the full dignity of every human being when we’re on the same side. That becomes a lot harder when our disagreements are impassioned and heartfelt.

Listen between your brothers, and bring justice and righteousness to bear on how you respond. Bring tzedek to interactions between your kinsfolk, and also to interactions between your kin and those who are different from you. If someone of our community is in a disagreement with an outsider, an “other,” we’re still called to treat both parties with tzedek, justice and righteousness. Imagine the ultimate “other,” the kind of person who are you naturally inclined to mistrust and to doubt. Now imagine one of “those people” disagreeing with one of “us.” Now imagine what it would mean to respond to that disagreement with justice and righteousness, instead of with anger and fear.

The space between us is holy, like the parchment surrounding the letters of Torah. Because on white space, anything can be inscribed. It’s infinite possibility. The Torah, midrash says, is written in black fire on white fire. The white fire is the blank parchment; the white fire is the endless universe of our interpretations and commentaries. The white fire is the space between us, and the space between us is holy. But how often do we fill the space between us with the stubborn insistence that one party is right and the other party is misguided? That one party knows the truth, and the other party is deluded?

As we approach Tisha b’Av, that day when we commemorate calamities from the shattering of the first tablets of the covenant, to the destruction of both Temples, to the expulsion from Spain, to the Chmielnicki massacres, to the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto, to every brokenness we experience in the world even now… As we approach Tisha b’Av, knowing that the fear, suffering, and devastation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are at an extreme… As we approach Tisha b’Av, it is our job to remember the holiness of the space between us. To treat one another with justice and righteousness, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, even when our perspectives differ.

 

Ranana Dine on religious symbols and BRCA

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Those of you who had kids in our Ne’arim (“Youths” — our 5th through 7th grade b’nei mitzvah prep program) class this past year had the chance to meet Ranana Dine, the Williams student who taught Hebrew to some of our beginners and also tutored our three bar mitzvah boys in Torah reading practice.

Ranana is spending the summer engaged in research at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, and her research project was inspired by her time at CBI. She recently published a blog post on the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s blog which explains how her work at CBI sparked her research. I thought her work might be interesting to many of you, so I’m sharing a glimpse of it here. Here’s how her post starts:

When I began teaching Hebrew school this past year, I never imagined the experience would inspire a major research project. Each week, I would arrive at the small synagogue and try to get 11-year-olds to think that the Hebrew language was cool by playing them music by Idan Raichel (alas, they seemed to prefer American rap music). While this experience was interesting and challenging on its own, it didn’t quite inspire my academic imagination like my school readings on feminist Biblical scholarship or American landscape painting. But as I returned each week to teach about the letter yud or play hide and seek with Hebrew vowels, I could not help but occasionally find myself in the women’s restroom. And there inspiration struck…

You can read her whole post here: Should religious symbols be part of the BRCA Discussion? (The BRCA gene test is a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes in either one of the two breast cancer susceptibility genes, mutations which are more common among Ashkenazi Jewish women than in other populations.)

Ranana will be studying abroad in the fall, but we hope that she will lend her expertise and her energy to CBI once again in early 2015.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel