Looking forward to Shabbat Shlach-Lecha

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! This coming Shabbat is a First Friday, so join us at 6pm on Friday night for a vegetarian / dairy potluck dinner followed by Kabbalat Shabbat services led by Rabbi Rachel. Please RSVP to the office (office@cbiweb.org) for the potluck so we know how many places to set at the table.

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In previous weeks we’ve used excerpts from Rabbi Marcia Prager’s Siddur for Erev Shabbat to augment our regular prayerbook; this week we’ll be using her siddur in its entirety, thanks to our Spiritual Life committee! Her siddur is characterized by creativity, translations that are attentive both to the meaning of the original and the poetry of the English, and an emphasis on opening our hearts and spirits to the unique gifts of Shabbat.

Join us also at 9:30am on Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, followed by Torah study.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Shlach-Lecha, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Shlach Lecha at the URJ.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Looking forward to Shabbat B’ha’alot’kha

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! Join us this coming Shabbat for services led by Rabbi Rachel, where we will read from parashat B’ha’alot’kha.

This Shabbat morning we will also celebrate Jordan Callahan and call him to the Torah as a bar mitzvah.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Naso, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: B’ha’alot’kh at the URJ.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Joy amidst mourning

All week I’ve been thinking about what I might say here in shul this morning. Mere commentary on this week’s Torah portion feels insufficient. How can I talk about the rituals of the nazir, one who makes promises to God — or the ritual of the sotah, designed to banish a husband’s jealousy — or even the priestly blessing that we just read together — when LGBTQ members of our community are grieving so deeply? And yet faced with the enormity of the tragedy at Pulse last weekend, my words fail me.

Into this moment of grief comes an expression of great joy. Just moments ago we welcomed a beautiful little girl into the covenant and into our community. What words of meaning can I offer to her two mothers now?

I can say: you belong here. In this community those of us who are straight aspire to be thoughtful and sensitive allies, so that those of us who are queer can feel safe expressing all of who we are.

I can say: tell us what you need. Tell us where we are falling down on the job of making this a safe and celebratory and welcoming home for you, and we will try to do better. I can say: your child will always have a home here, no matter how her gender expression manifests or who she loves.

And I can say: all of us here commit ourselves to building a world in which hate crimes are unimaginable. A world in which no one could feel hatred toward another human being because of that person’s race or gender expression or sexual orientation or religion. Can you imagine what it would feel like to live in that world?

Can you imagine a world in which the tools of massacre no longer exist? In the words of the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai: “Don’t stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them back into plowshares first.”

Our tradition has a name for this imagined world in which hatred has vanished like a wisp of smoke: moshiachtzeit, a world redeemed. I don’t know whether we will ever get there. But I know that we can’t stop trying.

And there is a very old Jewish teaching that each new baby contains all the promise of moshiachtzeit, all the promise of a world redeemed. Maybe this baby will help to bring about the healing of the world for which we so deeply yearn.

May we rise to the occasion of being her community. May we support her and her mothers. May we take action to lift them up and to keep them safe. And may we work toward a world redeemed in which all of our differences are celebrated and sanctified as reflections of the Holy One.

And let us say, together: amen.

 

These are the words Rabbi Rachel spoke from the bimah yesterday morning at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Looking forward to Shabbat Naso

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Join us this coming Shabbat for services led by Rabbi Rachel, where we will read from parashat Naso.

This Shabbat morning we will also welcome Ksena, daughter of Tara Johnson and Marissa Carlson, into our community. Ksena will receive a blessing and her Hebrew name during this week’s Shabbat morning services.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Naso, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Naso at the URJ.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Grieving the shooting in Orlando

Dear CBI Members and Friends,

On Sunday morning, as we were celebrating the festival of Shavuot — when we commemorate and re-experience the revelation of Torah after 49 days of eager counting — unthinkable violence was taking place at a nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, Florida. Even as those of us who had stayed up into the wee hours studying Torah were reveling in the pleasure of communal learning, 49 members of the GLBTQ community who had gone that night to Pulse were losing their lives.

Our tradition teaches that we must rejoice in our festivals. But what can it mean to rejoice in our festivals when we are filled with grief? I found myself on Shavuot morning thinking about the glass we shatter at every Jewish wedding, the reminder that even in our times of greatest joy there is brokenness and sorrow. Our challenge is figuring out how to celebrate life even as we grieve — and how to be fueled by our grief to work for a more just world, a world of wholeness and peace. May it be so, speedily and soon.

I enclose below a few words from my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus and myself, and also a liturgical poem written by Rabbi David (both originally posted at Kol ALEPH). May all who mourn be comforted.

In grief —

Rabbi Rachel


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal expresses horror, shock and grief for the victims of Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We stand with all – LGBTQA or straight, those who identify with any faith or with none at all – whose hearts break for the victims, for their loved ones, for a community’s peace shattered, for hope and safety shaken, for rights and dignity trampled, and for political rhetoric arousing religious hatred in its wake. We fervently pray to heal the injured, and we re-dedicate our hearts and hands to building a world in which the twin scourges of violence and hatred end.

In grief and solidarity, we offer this liturgical poem by Rabbi David Evan Markus for use in vigils and prayer services. May the Source of Peace bring comfort to all who mourn, and inspire all to build an ever more just world, speedily and soon.

– Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus
Co-Chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

The Pulse of Revelation

For Orlando, America and people of courage everywhere

This is not the revelation we awaited
After weeks of step by sand-blind step
To that mountain owned by no one,
Senses scrambled, seeing thunder.

What was to be a loving night for
Thunder’s pulse and wisdom’s echo
Became at Pulse a staccato of shots
Because they loved who they loved.

What was to be the culmination of
Fifty days of courtship after bondage
Became blood-streaked caged hunt
Expelling fifty souls from earthly bond.

What was to be a party of plenty
Lifting the omer of bounty to heaven
Became the hellfire of one Omar
Inflicted on a war-weary world.

What was to be of these holy names –
Edward, Stanley, Amanda, Enrique,
Brenda, Jean, Kim and Angel –
Magnified and sanctified in memory?

What is to be of these holy names –
Omar, Ahmed, Amir and Mohammed,
Loyal citizens of this land of the free –
Bracing for wrongful blame or worse?

What is to be of this nation, this moment,
This generation beaten and bloodied into
Protest by tweet while guns blaze and
Medics race hope herself into surgery?

What is to be of this world, slammed by
Sloshing storm tides of hateful mistrust,
Carrying the words of a politics of rage
Hot enough to boil the sea and all of us?

This is not the revelation we awaited.
It comes not in frantic texts, gunfire or death.
It comes not in body bags and funerals.
It comes not in talk show recrimination.

Let Revelation hallow the ground of Pulse.
Let its wisdom resound forever, booming as
Thunder we will see in vigils and legislatures,
Scrambling us all back to our senses

So that finally we hasten the day when
God will bless us and keep us.
God will illuminate us and give us grace.
God will turn with us and give us, all, peace.

– Rabbi David Evan Markus
The revelation we awaited – The massacre at Pulse occurred on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, commemorating the revelation of Torah at Sinai. Owned by no one – Torah came in wilderness to signify that just as wilderness is ownerless and open, so must we be ownerless and open to receive wisdom anew (Numbers Rabbah 1:7). Seeing thunder – The scene at Sinai was so awesome that it scrambled human senses into synesthesia (Rashi Ex.20:18). A loving night – In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is the spiritual wedding of God and the people, Sinai the chuppah (wedding canopy) and Torah the ketubah (wedding contract).Party of plenty – In agricultural days, Shavuot was festival of first fruits for joy (Deut. 16:11). Lifting the omer – At Shavuot, the omer (grain measure) was lifted to God in gratitude (Lev. 23:15). The hellfire of one Omar – The lone gunman Omar Mateen. Magnified and sanctified – The opening words of Mourners Kaddish. Fifty days of courtship after bondage – Tradition calls for counting the fifty days (Lev. 23:16) from Passover’s release from Egyptian bondage. God bless us – From the Priestly (Threefold, Kohenic) Blessing of this week’s Torah portion, Nasso (Num. 6:24-26).

D’var Torah for Bechukotai: the spiritual call to empty one’s cup

teacupThe last Torah portion in the book of Leviticus, Bechukotai, begins with an if/then: “If you follow My engraved-commandments and faithfully observe My connective-commandments…”

If we allow God’s commandments to be engraved upon our hearts, and if we guard the mitzvot and keep them close to us, then a lot of good things will come to pass, says Torah, including good rains and good harvests and peace in the land. But the promise that leapt out at me this year was “you will eat old grain long stored, and you will have to clear out the old to make room for the new.”

What does it mean to eat old grain long stored? To me this evokes what we’ve set aside for the proverbial rainy day. Torah seems to be suggesting that if we keep the mitzvot, if we allow them to work on us and perhaps even change us, we will feel safe consuming the resources we set aside. Because an abundant flow of new blessings will be waiting to come our way, and we won’t be able to receive those blessings until we make room for them.

Maybe some of you know the Buddhist parable of Nan-in and the teacup. Nan-in was a Buddhist monk, and someone came to him to learn the wisdom of Buddhism. Being a good host, he served tea to his visitor. He filled his visitor’s cup and then kept pouring the tea, so that it overflowed. The visitor leapt up, angry, and demanded to know why Nan-in was making such a mess. “You are like this teacup,” said Nan-in. “Your mind is already full of what you think you know. How can I pour in the wisdom you seek unless you first empty your cup?”

Sometimes spiritual life demands that we empty our granaries, that we empty our cup: that we let go of our certainties and allow new possibilities to change us.

Notice this, though: Torah isn’t saying that if we have trust in the abundance that is coming, then we’ll be able to do the mitzvot. Doing the mitzvot comes first. Act first, and trust will follow. And even if it doesn’t, act as though it does. Do the mitzvot, and then take the leap of faith of trusting that abundance is coming. The first thing we’re asked to do is to practice mitzvot. The second is to trust that the universe will repay us with shefa, with the boundless flow of blessing.

This isn’t investment advice — Torah isn’t telling us to burn our savings because if we follow the mitzvot we’ll be rewarded with riches. This is spiritual counsel. If we take on what our tradition calls ol malchut shamayim, “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven” — if we accept the mitzvot upon ourselves — then God will ask us to take a leap of faith and to trust that good things are coming.

The word malchut, often translated as kingdom or sovereignty, has another meaning. To our mystics, malchut connotes Shechinah, the immanent indwelling Presence of God. Those of us who have been counting the Omer may have noticed that the seventh day of each week of the Omer is considered a day of malchut, a day of Shechinah’s presence. When we take on the mitzvot, we’re not just accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. We’re accepting the enfolding embrace of the Shechinah.

And when we know ourselves to be enfolded in God’s loving presence — when we know that we are loved by an unending love, when we can feel the connection of that loving presence wherever we go and whatever we do — then we can take the leap of faith that spiritual life demands. Then we can trust that there will be abundance in our lives and in our hearts.

This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered this past Shabbat at CBI. Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Friday night: now with potluck!

Dear all,

A brief addendum to the post about this week’s Torah portion, commentaries, and Shabbat plans: on Friday, before our Kabbalat Shabbat (“Welcoming Shabbat”) services, we’ll begin with a potluck dinner.

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The potluck dinner will be at 6pm, and the service will follow, probably around 6:40 or so. Please RSVP to the office or to Steven Green, chair of our spiritual life committee (stevengreenlawoffice at gmail dot com), so we know how many chairs and tables to set up.

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel