Shavua tov, moadim l’simcha, join us for Friday Yizkor and for Shabbat morning!

Shavua tov and moadim l’simcha — a good new week, and wishing you joy in the festival of Pesach!

On Friday April 26, the seventh day of Pesach, please join us at 9am for a contemplative experience around crossing the sea. (Tradition holds that the seventh day of Pesach is the day when our ancestors crossed the Sea of Reeds. For more on this, see: The seventh day: crossing the sea.) Weather permitting, we’ll walk the labyrinth as part of our meditation and our embodied sea-crossing. We’ll conclude with Yizkor memorial prayers, an opportunity to remember our beloved dead.

Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel. Following the Reform calendar, CBI observes seven days of Pesach, so Saturday we’ll read from the first part of parashat Acharei Mot. We’ll also read from Acharei Mot on on the following Shabbat, whereupon the Reform world will be back in synch with the rest of the Jewish world.

Here are some Torah commentaries on the first part of Acharei Mot from the URJ:

Today is the second day of the Omer, the 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. The first week of the Omer is the week of chesed (lovingkindness.) Here are 49 poems for the Omer.

There are a bunch of good Omer-counting apps to help us remember to count and to reflect on the qualities we’re invited to cultivate each day; I recommend MyOmerCounter and the Omer app from NeoHasid.

The 49 days of the Omer count lead us from second seder to Shavuot. During these seven weeks, we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew. May your Omer journey be meaningful and fruitful!

Wishing everyone a sweet and liberating continuation of Pesach —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov – hope to see you at seder – and please RSVP for Shabbat morning!

Rabbi Pam Wax will be leading the Shabbat Passover service on Saturday morning. She would like to invite a striking Shop and Shop employee to speak, in order to highlight issues of oppression and workers’ rights that are relevant to the Passover story. In order not to bring someone off the picket line (if the strike is still on) unnecessarily, she would like a headcount! Please RSVP by Friday morning to pwax@bcn.net.

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Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, and please RSVP (see above.)

We also hope you’ll join us for our Second Night Community Seder on Saturday night and we hope you’ve already RSVP’d — if not, please RSVP this morning. 

This week at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), there’s a post by Rabbi Rachel about bedikat chametz, the ritual of removing leaven from our homes — including a meditation you can do whether or not you’re searching for literal breadcrusts on Thursday evening: Bedikat Chametz: Readying to Build Anew.

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat and to Michael Twitty!

Dear all,

Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel.

This week we’re hosting special guest Michael Twitty, James Beard Award-winning author of The Cooking Gene, who will share some of his Torah with us about food, race, culture, history, slavery, freedom. I can’t think of a better way to prepare ourselves for Pesach; please join us! Here’s the full schedule of his events in North Adams & Williamstown.

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

Here’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), this week written by Rabbi Mike Moskowitz who visited CBI last fall, and sketchnoted as always by Steve Silbert: Healing from the Affliction of Separation.

Here’s Steve’s sketchnote for R’ Mike’s d’var Torah. Read the whole thing: Healing from the Affliction of Separation.

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

From constriction to freedom: a d’varling looking toward Pesach

I studied a text recently that I wanted to bring to my shul on the Shabbat before Pesach. And then I remembered that this year on Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat right before Pesach, we’ll be hosting noted culinary historian Michael Twitty! (All are welcome!) So I’m sharing a pre-Pesach teaching a week early.

Each of us has a still point within us, given to us by God. So says Yehudah Aryeh Lieb Alter of Ger, the Hasidic master known as the Sfat Emet (that’s the name of his best-known book, and it’s one of the Hasidic texts I’m studying regularly this year). He returns to this idea often. Each of us has a nekudat elohut, a spark of godliness. No matter who we are, this spark in us is eternal.

And sometimes that still point, that little spark of holiness, comes to feel constricted. This can happen when we’re min ha-meitzar, in tight places. Maybe you can hear the aural connection between meitzar and Mitzrayim — life’s tight places, and the Mitzrayim / Egypt of our people’s core story. Mitzrayim is constriction that makes our soul-sparks feel crushed and insignificant.

The Sfat Emet says that in those times, this still point, this spark, becomes our internal lechem oni — “the bread of our affliction,” our smallness, our poverty of spirit. That phrase comes from the haggadah, when we say of the matzah (in Aramaic, but it’s the same phrase) ha-lachma anya, “this is the bread of our affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt…”

He’s saying that the “bread of our affliction,” that sense of impoverishment, isn’t just the literal matzah that represents our ancient poverty food — it’s also our own souls. Our souls become afflicted, become crushed into smallness and flatness like a piece of matzah. The spark of our souls can become crushed into something dry and flat and tiny. That’s bread of our affliction.

Our job, he writes, is to make that crushed, tiny point become expansive — to grow the point of holiness within our souls, to give it space. Take that in for a moment: our job in spiritual life is to notice when our soul-spark feels crushed and flattened, and to create the inner conditions in which that spark can rise and expand. Our job is to help our souls take up the space they deserve.

Pesach is a time of distilled memory. (I think this is true both as a people and as individuals — we remember the Exodus from Egypt; we may also remember all of life’s other Passovers.) Torah tells us to remember it and keep it. That’s the same language Torah uses about Shabbat, which we also “keep” and “remember.” It’s the same language Torah uses about mitzvot, too.

(Here’s a funny thing: the Hebrew letters that spell mitzvot can also spell matzot. We keep the mitzvot and we keep the matzot, and together those two keep us. As the saying goes, “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people” — and far more Jews observe some kind of Pesach than observe Shabbes every week! But I digress.)

We’re called to remember and keep Pesach as a nation and as individuals. As we retell the core story of our people’s liberation, as we remember narrow straits and escape into expansiveness, we relive the Exodus not only on a national level but also on a soul-level. Our people went from constriction into freedom, and as individual souls we do too, not once but over and over again.

Pesach — says the Sfat Emet — is meant to be our springboard into expansiveness of soul. So that our lechem oni, the part of us that feels flattened like matzah by life’s difficult circumstances, can become expansive. So our tight constricted places can open, like a risen loaf.  So our hearts and souls can expand so far from that flattened state that we can barely contain our joy.

In one of the psalms of Hallel (which we sing at festive times including the Passover seder) we sing, “min hameitzar karati Yah / anani bamerchav Yah” – from the tight straits I called to You, and You answered me with divine expansiveness. Our own tight places are meant to be answered with expansiveness: with divine expansiveness, and with our own. May it be so.

This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI this morning (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.) Offered with gratitude to her Torah study group of Bayit builders.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Tazria

Dear all,

Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel. This week we’re reading from parashat Tazria.

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

Here’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), this week written by Rabbi Evan Krame, and sketchnoted as always by Steve Silbert: Doorways.

Here’s Steve Silbert’s sketchnote for Rabbi Evan’s d’var Torah. Read the whole thing here: Doorways.

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shemini.

Dear all,

Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Lori Shaller. This week we’re reading from parashat Shmini.

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

Here’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), this week written by new contributor Rabbi Alana Suskin, and sketchnoted as always by Steve Silbert:

Steve Silbert’s sketchnote for Rabbi Alana Suskin’s essay about this week’s Torah portion.

Building for Value Conflicts: Matching Insides and Outsides

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Purim and to Shabbat Tzav.

Shavua tov! Please join us on Wednesday from 5-8pm for our Star Wars Purim (see below), and on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by our Spiritual Life chair Steven Green. This week we’re reading from parashat Tzav.

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

Also, please join us this Wednesday evening at 5pm for our Purim extravaganza!

All are welcome for Purim. Come in costume if you can (especially Star Wars costume). Bring a vegetarian / dairy dish to share. We’ll begin with general merriment and exploring the space at 5pm, have a vegetarian / dairy potluck dinner shortly before 6, and enjoy the Purim spiel at 6:30.

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel