Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Miketz and to Chanukah!

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us in bringing more light into the darkness! On Friday December 15 (Shabbat Chanukah), we’ll meet at 5:30pm.

Bring your own chanukiyah (menorah) – we’ll light them all together at 5:30, sing songs of Chanukah and Shabbat, and then celebrate Chanukah and Shabbat with a vegetarian / dairy potluck meal (bring a dish to share.) The synagogue will provide latkes made by Heather Levy and Tim Hermann, so let Heather and Tim know if you’d like to help!

RSVP at the Facebook event if you’re a FB user, or via e-mail to the synagogue if not, so we know how many chairs to set up.

If you need a refresher on the Chanukah blessings, you can find them at the URJ website here.

Also, join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Miketz, and services will be led by me.

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

  • And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism:  Mikeitz.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

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The people who partner with God

Elshaddai

In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob is given a new name — twice. Or maybe even three times. (It’s the same name each time.)

The first time comes on the cusp of his meeting with his estranged brother Esau. He is alone; he wrestles all night; as dawn is breaking he tells his opponent “I will not let you go until you bless me,” and the angel with whom he has grappled all night tells him his new name will be Yisra-El, Wrestles-With-God.

The second time comes later in the parsha. God appears to Jacob and says, “You whose name is Jacob: you shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel shall be your name.” Then Torah reiterates the name yet again, adding “and thus, God named him Israel.”

What’s up with the triple reiteration of this name? One answer is that the redactor wasn’t paying attention and he repeated himself, and said the same thing twice, and also conveyed something in multiple ways. But I think that’s a cop-out. Our tradition invites us to find meaning in these repetitions. If Torah says it three times, it must be important. What is it telling us?

It’s interesting that immediately after the third reiteration of Israel’s new name, God introduces God’s-self to Israel, saying, “I am El Shaddai; be fertile and increase, for nations will descend from you…”

Notice the juxtaposition of introductions. First God tells Jacob who Jacob is becoming: one who wrestles with the divine. (This is one of our people’s names to this day.) And then God tells Jacob who God is: אֵל שַׁדַּי‎‎ / El Shaddai. In Hebrew, names have meanings: they aren’t just sounds. So what does this divine name mean? “El” is pretty straightforward; it simply means “God.” But “Shaddai” is less clear.

El Shaddai is often rendered as “God Almighty,” but I’m not sure that’s a good translation. Some argue that the word relates to mountains or wilderness. Others, that it relates to a root meaning “destroy.” But in modern Hebrew, “shadayim” are breasts. I like to understand “El Shaddai” as a name that depicts God as the divine source of nourishment and flow. God as El Shaddai is the One Who nurses all of creation, Whose abundance flows like milk to nurture and nourish us.

In a related interpretation, Shaddai is seen as related to the word meaning “sufficiency” or “enoughness.” (As in די / dai, “Enough!” — or dayenu, “It would have been enough for us.”) El Shaddai is the God of Enoughness, the One Who gives us everything we need and then some. Perhaps the name El Shaddai can remind us that we too — made in the divine image — are “enough” just as we are.

There’s a sense of gender fluidity to this divine name, because “El” is a masculine word, and “Shaddai” (if you accept the shadayim connection) connotes femininity. Fluidity seems appropriate; after all, we call God the source of divine flow. The discipline of spiritual direction invites us to discern together where and how God’s flow manifests in the life of each seeker. God flows into our lives in different shapes and forms.

El Shaddai is only one of our tradition’s many names for God. The names we use for divinity change, as the faces of divinity we seek change.  Sometimes we need God to be the All-Mighty, our defender. Sometimes we need God to be All-Merciful. Sometimes we need God to be Friend, or Beloved, or Parent. For me, the name El Shaddai is a reminder that I can relate to God as the nursing mother Who aches to bestow blessings.

As the sages of the Talmud wrote, “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow yearns to give milk.” More than we yearn and ache — for love, for abundance, for sweetness — God yearns and aches to give those things to us. Think of someone you deeply love, to whom you want to give every good thing. Feel how your heart goes out to them: you just want to give! The name El Shaddai describes a God Who feels like that toward us.

This piece of Torah reminds us who God can be for us — and who we can be for God. The name Yisrael says it’s our job to be in relationship with God. To dance, to push back, to waltz, to fight, to suckle: the wrestle takes many forms, but the relationship is always there. Even when we’re angry with God, or when we feel as though God is angry with us, the relationship is there. The centrality of that relationship makes us who we are: the people Yisra-el, the people who partner with God.

 

 

This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered on Shabbat morning 12/2. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

 

Related: El Shaddai (Nursing Poem), 2009. (Also published in Waiting to Unfold, Phoenicia 2013.)

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vayishlach

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Vayishlach, and services will be led by me.

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

  • And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism: Vayishlach.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov and chodesh tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vayetzei

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you. And chodesh tov — a good new month to you; happy new month of Kislev!

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Vayetzei, and services will be led by me.

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

  • And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism: Vayetzei.

This week will also contain the holiday of Thanksgiving. If you’re looking for a short-and-sweet prayer to say over your Thanksgiving table, or a singable one-line grace after meals to sing after you dine, you can download a pdf called “Thanksgiving Trio” from this blog post. And/or, of course, you can always pause before and/or after you dine to offer your own words of gratitude from your hearts.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Toldot.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Toldot, and services will be led by R’ Lori Shaller.

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

  • And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism: Toldot.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Through the (double) door: Chayei Sarah

Desert-cave-james-barrereIn this week’s Torah portion, Chayyei Sarah, Avraham purchases a cave in which to bury his wife Sarah. The cave is named מכפלה / Machpelah. In English, it’s just a place-name. In Hebrew, it has a meaning.

The root of that word, כפל / k’f’l, means to double or to fold. Rashi says this teaches us that it had a lower and an upper cavern. (Others say, possibly a cavern within a cavern.) Or, Rashi suggests, it was called “doubled” because couples are buried there. Tradition teaches that Adam and Eve were buried there long before Sarah and Avraham. But our mystical tradition sees here something much deeper — pardon the pun.

The Zohar teaches that when Avraham first entered the cave, he breathed the scent of fragrant spices: a sign that within the cave was an entrance to the Garden of Eden.

For our mystics, the cave of Machpelah — the doubled cave — was two places in one. On one level, it was a physical place, a cave in the earth. And on another level, it was a doorway to another reality, a portal to the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden represents both the very beginning of time and the afterlife, the level of heaven where the righteous reside with God clothed in garments of light. Machpelah is a portal between earth and heaven, between “this world” and the “world to come,” between a reality in which we live apart from God and a reality suffused with divine Presence.

My son likes to play iPad games, like The Room and House of Da Vinci, that involve solving puzzles. Both of those games involve a mystical eyepiece, and when that eyepiece is activated, hidden things spring to life. Invisible ink becomes visible; hidden symbols and markings begin to glow. It’s as though there were another layer to reality, a realm of secrets, and only those who have eyes to see can decipher the clues to the hidden reality beneath. That’s pretty much what our mystical tradition teaches.

“Come and see,” says the Zohar. That’s the Zohar’s refrain: come and see. Open your eyes. If we know what we’re looking for, we can find ultimate reality, the presence of God. We can see that this cave isn’t just a cave: it’s also a portal. We can see that this moment isn’t just this moment: if we go through the portal of Machpelah, we simultaneously access the beginning of time and the culmination of all things.

But sometimes we can’t see what’s in front of our eyes. We get caught up in appearance: this looks like a cave, it’s just rocks and dirt. So the Zohar offers us another path in: the scent of spices, which is the scent of Eden, the place-and-time of humanity’s beginning and our most transcendent joy. Tradition says that when we smell spices at havdalah, our souls get a “hit” of the scent of Eden. Spice and fragrance are also associated with Shechinah, the immanent indwelling Divine Presence. The scent of spice, which is the scent of Eden, opens us to God.

Maybe there are scents that hyperlink you with other places and times. For me, one is honeycake baking, which immediately says “Rosh Hashanah.” Another is Bal á Versailles, my mother’s perfume. Another is rosemary on my fingers, which links me with where I grew up, and with travels in Israel, and with a friend’s back yard in California, and with a church rose garden in Alabama, and other places besides.

For the mystics, Machpelah was a trans-dimensional portal, a doorway in space and time. The physical cave of Machpelah is now beneath a building that is half-mosque, half-synagogue, and hotly-contested by all. But even in this physical place far away from that Land, we can harness this Torah portion’s invitation to be transported.

What transports you? What connects you with God, whether for you that means God-far-above or God-deep-within? What sounds / sights / sensations / flavors / scents lift you out of yourself and into connection with something greater than yourself? On this Shabbat Chayyei Sarah, what is the doorway you need to walk through to find the peace and connection and wholeness that will restore you?

 

 

This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI at Shabbat services on November 11. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

CBI November / Cheshvan Newsletter

The November / Cheshvan newsletter came out a few days ago — apologies for forgetting to cross-post it here, and deep thanks to Liz Miller for putting it together!