Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat B’shalach.

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

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from the Torah portion known as B’shalach, and services will be led by Board member Steven Green.

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

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

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“Come to Pharaoh,” and whom we choose to serve

Come-here-pleaseThis week’s Torah portion is called Bo, for its opening words ויאמר יהו׳׳ה על–משה בא על–פרעא / Vayomer YHVH el-Moshe, “Bo el-Paro” — “And God said to Moshe, ‘Come to Pharaoh.'”

Most translations say “Go to Pharaoh.” But the Hebrew is pretty clearly “Come.” For me, the difference between “come” and “go” is that the first one connotes “the place where I am.” If I say to my son, “Come here, I want to talk to you,” I’m asking him to come where I am. If I say “Go over there,” I’m telling him to go to the place where I am not. So when Torah says Bo el-Paro, I hear God saying, “Come here to Pharaoh — to the place where I also Am.” (This is not my own insight — Zohar scholar Danny Matt sees this as an invitation to “come” into God’s presence, too.)

We might prefer to imagine that God is not with Paro. Pharaoh is the exemplar of toxic power-over. He regards the children of Israel as subhuman. He describes them with words that connote vermin swarming. He’s ordered policies that literally kill all of their male children. And yet with this one simple phrase, Torah reminds us that there is no place devoid of God’s presence. Not even the place where Pharaoh is.

The next thing we read in Torah is a bit troubling: כי–אני הכבדתי את–לבו / ki-ani hich’bad’ti et-libo, “For I have hardened his heart.” Whoa, hold up: God hardened his heart? Wouldn’t it have been easier for God to simply soften Pharaoh’s heart so that the children of Israel could be set free without all of this drama?

But if we look back at last week’s Torah portion, we’ll see a different phrase. Last week, Moshe and Aharon spoke to Pharaoh, and Paraoh hardened his heart and did not listen. Three times we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not listen, before we reach this mention of God hardening his heart. (Many of our commentators observe this, among them Rashi.) I think Torah is teaching us some deep wisdom about the human heart.

The heart flows in the ways to which we habituate ourselves. If we practice gratitude every morning, even on the days when we’re not “feeling it,” we can train the heart to incline toward gratitude. If we practice compassion toward others, even on the days when we’re not “feeling it,” we can train the heart to incline toward compassion. And if we practice hardening our hearts — maybe by telling ourselves that “those people” aren’t our problem; they’re a different generation, or their skin is different, or they dress differently or pray differently or speak a different language — then we train our hearts to incline toward hardness. Like Pharaoh’s.

Torah says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharaoh had already hardened it, time and again. I think God just got out of the way and let Pharaoh continue being who he had already shown himself to be. That doesn’t mean God isn’t with him. We don’t get to say that God is only “on our side.” But it does mean that Pharaoh’s made his choices, and there will be consequences.

That’s verse 1.

In verse 2, God continues that the purpose of the signs and wonders — the ten plagues and our subsequent liberation — is so that we may teach all the generations to come the story of the Exodus. This is our core story as Jews, and we tell it in our daily liturgy, in the Shabbat kiddush, and in the Passover seder.

And in verse 3, Moshe and Aharon say to Pharaoh, how long are you going to be like this? Let God’s people go so that we may serve God. In God’s words, שלח עמי ויעבדני / shlach ami v’ya’avduni, “Let My people go that they may serve Me.” The root ע/ב/ד means service, both in the sense of the service the priests performed in the Temple of old (and the “services” we attend today) and in the sense of serving God with our hearts and our lives and our being. As we read earlier this morning, “Everyone serves something; give your life to Me.

Everyone serves something. The question is, do we serve Pharaoh — emblem of commercialism and and overwork, dehumanization and xenophobia, all of which are still perfectly alive and well in our day — or do we serve something else?

Judaism invites us to choose “something else.” Judaism invites us to make the profoundly countercultural choice of spending 25 hours each week disengaged from work, not only physically but also intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

Judaism invites us to say: there is something more important than all of our making and doing and achieving, and that something is Shabbat rest. Not just “taking a nap,” though the Shabbos schluff is a time-honored tradition, but opening our hearts and souls to the weekly rejuvenation that becomes possible when we disconnect from workday consciousness and open ourselves to something beyond ourselves.

Judaism invites us to set aside the worries of the workweek and take a deep breath that goes all the way to our kishkes, all the way to our insides. On the seventh day, Torah teaches, שבת וינפש / shavat va-yinafash — God rested and was ensouled. (We sing these words in the prayer V’shamru each week.) When God rested from creating, God’s-own-self became ensouled in a new way. So do we.

May this Shabbat be a time of real rest and re-ensoul-ment. May we be reminded of the things that are more important than our budgets’ bottom lines. And may our lives be lives of service to God — and to the spark of divinity manifest in every human being with whom we share this earth.

 

This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI on Shabbat morning (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Bo and our Shabbaton

Shavua tov — a good new week to you. Happy Martin Luther King Day! If you’d like to hear excerpts from the “I Have a Dream” speech set to haftarah trope by Rabbi David Evan Markus you can do so here.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from the Torah portion known as Bo, and services will be led by Rabbi Rachel.

And join us after morning services for our daylong Shabbaton! Here’s our schedule for the day:

9:30: morning davenen

11-12: potluck Shabbat lunch (bring a vegetarian / dairy dish to share)

12-1: What we talk about when we talk about God

1-2:30: Sense of Wonder (David Arfa)

2:30-3:30: Jewish contemplative practice (Steven and Rose)

3:30-4:30 Eit ratzon (“a time of will”) and holy time – teaching, poetry, and song

4:45: Havdalah (sunset 4:43)

All are welcome to join us for some or all of our Shabbat of learning and togetherness.

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:  Bo.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

If you will it…

26230028_10213916856688417_2297923387648617796_nRecently I’ve been following a series of stories online, hashtagged #HolyWomenHolyLand — written by a group of six rabbis and five pastors (all women) who have been traveling together in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Their updates have been heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. They’ve met with parents from the Bereaved Parents Circle, with Women Wage Peace — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, religious, secular, settler, Arab, Israeli. They’ve met with leaders and activists and ordinary people on all “sides” of the conflict. They’ve visited holy sites together. They’ve eaten and prayed and wept and learned together.

And one of the messages that keeps coming through, in their tweets and their Facebook status updates and their essays, is that women in Israel and Palestine insist that they do not have the luxury of losing hope. In the words of Maharat Rori Picker Neiss:

It’s easy to look at the state of the world and despair. It is far more radical to cultivate hope — and to take action toward the world of our hopes instead of the world of our fears. But that’s the call I hear emerging from the rabbis and pastors who went on the #HolyWomenHolyLand trip…

…and it’s the call still emanating from the words we just heard from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King z”l, who dared to dream that some day the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners would sit down at a table of brotherhood.

Our own core story, unfolding in Torah even now, teaches that we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt and our enslavement left us with kotzer ruach, shortness of spirit, such that we couldn’t even hope for better. We got hammered down, like bent nails. (Here’s a beautiful sketchnote illustration of that by Steve Silbert, based in a d’var Torah by Rabbi Sarah Bassin.)

Dr. King was talking about the literal descendants of slaves and slave-owners, not about the mythic, psycho-spiritual sense in which each year we recapitulate the journey from constriction to freedom. I don’t want to elide or ignore that difference.

But I think there’s a way in which in America today many of us have that kotzer ruach, that constriction of spirit, that Torah says our ancestors knew. There’s injustice everywhere we turn. How do we cultivate hope when our own spirits may feel worn down by sexism and racism and bullying and gaslighting and bracing ourselves to hear the next horror story in the daily news?

Last week’s Torah portion told us that our ancestors cried out in their bondage, and their cry rose up to God, and God answered. The first step toward change was crying out. When we cry out, even from a place of hopelessness, we open ourselves up. Maybe just a little bit, but in that little opening, the seeds of hope can be planted. We can tend those seeds in each other.

Theodore Herzl famously taught, “If you will it, it is no dream.” The quote continues, “If you do not will it, a dream it is, and a dream it will stay.” The first step is to dream of a future that is better than what we know now. The second step is to will that future into being — to build and bridge and act to bring that future into being — so that what now is only dream will become real.

We can’t afford to lose hope, any more than our sisters and brothers in the Middle East can afford to lose hope. Dr. King’s vision calls out to us: it is as necessary today as it was the day he first penned the words. May we be inspired to live in his legacy and to build an America, and a world, where everyone can be free at last.

 

This is the d’varling I offered this morning at CBI (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

I offered these words after chanting excerpts from MLK’s “I Have a Dream,” set to haftarah trope by Rabbi David Markus, which you can glimpse as the image illustrating this post. Deep thanks to R’ David for sharing that setting;  you can hear a recording of the whole thing and see the annotated haftarah on his website.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vaera

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

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Va’era and services will be led by Rabbi Rachel.

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:  Va-eira.

 

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shemot

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you. And shanah tovah, a happy secular new year to all!

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Shemot, and services will be led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

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:  Sh’mot.

 

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov; looking forward to Shabbat Vayechi

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

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Vayechi, and services will be led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

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:  Vay’chi.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel