Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Shavua tov – a  good week to you! This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Acharei Mot-Kedoshim in the book of Leviticus.

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

Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Acharei Mot | URJ and Kedoshim | URJ.

This coming Shabbat we will have services on Friday night and Shabbat morning. On Friday night, May 1, there will be a lay-led Kabbalat Shabbat (“Welcoming the Sabbath”) service and a catered dinner; please RSVP to the office if you have not already done so. On Saturday morning, May 2, Rabbi Rachel will lead Shabbat morning services.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman. We hope to see you soon at CBI!

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Tazria-Metzora.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you! This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Tazria-Metzora in the book of Leviticus.

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

Parashat Tazria

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Tazria | URJ and Metzora | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, April 25, services will be led by Rabbi Lori Shaller.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman. We hope to see you soon at CBI!

D’var Torah for Shemini: from trauma to healing

Here’s the d’var Torah which Reb Rachel offered at CBI yesterday morning.

Every year I struggle with the story of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron who brought forth “strange fire” and who were immediately consumed by a fire which came from God. On its surface, this is a story in which deviation from the established way of approaching the divine results in death.

This story does not sit well with me. But our sages taught us that entering into Torah can be an experience of entering into pardes. The word means “orchard” (and is the origin of the English word “paradise”) but is also an acronym for four layers or levels of entering into the text. Let’s go deeper, from pshat (surface meaning) to remez (what’s alluded-to or hinted-at.)

When I look at the story’s allusions, I see a story about the power our ancestors ascribed to the sacred. God is so powerful that an unmediated encounter has the capacity to be dangerous, to fry out our circuits, as it were.  It is as though God were a power plant, and Nadav and Avihu plugged in a device which wasn’t correctly calibrated. The power tore right through them and burned them up.

Many religions have regarded the sacred as dangerous. Intellectually I can place this story in that context. But when I place myself in Aaron’s shoes — and even more when I place myself in the shoes of his wife Elisheva — I am horrified. So too was Aaron. Torah tells us: וידם אהרן –– “And Aaron was silent.” The word used for “silent” connotes not only lack of speech, but a kind of existential silence.

Sometimes in the face of tragedy there are no words. Aaron’s silence hints at his grief: this is an explanation on the level of drash, telling an interpretive story around the scaffolding of the text. Torah doesn’t tell us that he felt sorrow, but we can read that between the lines; it is in the white fire around the black fire of the words, in the human context we bring to the bare outlines of the story on the page.

Later in this week’s portion we read that if a small dead animal, a mouse or a lizard, falls into an earthen pot, that pot becomes tamei — which is usually translated as “ritually impure,” though I understand it as meaning “electrified.” We vibrate at a different frequency for a while as a result of contact with blood or with the body of a creature which has died, contact with tangible life or death.

The way to make the pot pure again is to break it and glue its pieces back together. Here’s what I take away from that: contact with death can change us, but through our brokenness we can find a new kind of wholeness. In fact, in order to stay tahor, to stay pure, we need to break sometimes and then be repaired. Everybody breaks. This is the path to wholeness: not despite breaking, but through it.

The death of a child is an almost unthinkable horror. I pray that the trauma in each of our lives will be less than that. But there is no life without some sorrow. Maybe the answer is to try not to fight the brokenness, but to allow it to happen, and to cultivate trust that when we are put back together again we will be able to access the purity of heart and soul which our liturgy teaches belongs to each of us.

I don’t mean to suggest that our breaking is “good,” or that tragedy and trauma are “worth it” because we grow thereby. I couldn’t say that to Aaron and Elisheva, and I can’t say it to you. But I do think that breaking and healing are quintessential human experiences — and I pray that for every shattering, there can be tikkun, there can be healing. For me, that is the sod (the secret meaning) of the juxtaposition of these two texts: one shows us trauma, and another shows us a path toward repair.

Our tradition holds that a person who has made mistakes and then made teshuvah — has repented and re/turned themselves in the right direction again — is closer to God than one who has never sinned. Maybe a person who has experienced some brokenness and then been mended is more whole than one who has never been broken. This is the journey of being human. We grieve, and then we heal.

In the Japanese art of kintsugi, “golden joinery,” pottery is broken and then glued back together with powdered gold. The seams aren’t disguised; they’re magnified, made to sparkle. The beauty is found not despite the patched places, but in them.What would it feel like to stop trying to hide our brokenness, and instead to illuminate our beauty — not despite our scars, but in them; not despite our sorrows, but through them; not despite our seams, but celebrating our own patchwork hearts?

 

 

 

April 19: Don’t miss The Jar of Tears at CBI

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The Jar of Tears: A Memorial from the Warsaw Ghetto – one-man storytellng performance, 3pm on April 19, for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

This full length storytelling performance is based on the life of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro, known as the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Rabbi Shapiro wrote while in the ghetto and buried his writings in a milk jug which were found nearly a dozen years later by construction workers.  This telling re-imagines his sermons as journal entries; his diary to the Master of the World.

This portrait provides a window into his changing experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto and show his struggle to remain a compassionate leader even then, even there.

The Jar of Tears has been performed widely including in Warsaw Poland, and won the Charles Hildebrandt Holocaust Studies Award in honor of its artistic excellence, depth of vision and technical mastery.

About the performer:

Maggid David Arfa (Mah-geed; Storyteller) is dedicated to Judaism’s storytelling heritage and ancient environmental wisdom.  His latest CD of stories, The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Who Ever Lived won a nationally acclaimed Parents’ Choice Award .  His first CD of stories, The Birth of Love: Tales for the Days of Awe, includes ancient mythology, old world Yiddish tales (set here in the Berkshire foothills), medieval folktales and other surprises.  His storytelling performance, The Jar of Tears: A Memorial for the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, won the Cohen Center’s Hildebrandt Award for Holocaust memorial art based on it’s depth of vision and artistic quality.

David’s workshop ‘Try Stories for a Change’ helps organizations build volunteers and raise funds through authentic storytelling and listening circles.  Other workshops explore the relationships between wonder, grief, hope and activism in a Jewish context.  David earned his MS in Environmental Education from Lesley College, spent a year studying traditional texts in Jerusalem, and earned degrees from Michigan State University in both Wildlife Ecology and Environmental Policy.

David lives in the Berkshire foothills of Shelburne Falls and is the Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shemini.

Shavua tov – a (belated) good week to you! This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Shemini in the book of Leviticus.

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

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Sh’mini | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, April 19, services will be led by Rabbi Rachel.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman. We hope to see you soon at CBI!

A poem for the first day of the Omer

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Today is the first day of the Omer — the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Jewish tradition offers us these seven weeks as a time for the spiritual work of discernment, refinement, and inner growth.

Our Omer discussion group will meet every Friday at 3pm during this holy corridor of time. (Read all about it.) All are welcome.

I’ll be posting daily Omer poems on my blog Velveteen Rabbi over the next seven weeks. The first one is included here. If you’d like to receive those daily Omer meditations, you can go to Velveteen Rabbi and sign up to receive my posts via email.  (If you scroll down on that page a bit, there’s a box in the right-hand sidebar which says “enter your email address” and a button which says “subscribe.”)

May these weeks of the Omer yield an abundant harvest of wisdom and insight for all of us.

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

DAY 1: ONE STEP

The Egyptian sky
was a goddess
doing a backbend.

Once we crossed
the watery barrier
she gave way

and the heavens
became sapphire floor
beneath the throne.

And we stood
by the sea
and sang praises

because what else
could we do,
we who survived?

Here we are
again, shaking off
salt water tears

on a shore
we’ve never seen.
There’s no map.

Above us, miles
of air stretching
to kiss vacuum:

all that freedom
impossible to bear
sometimes. Too much

depends on us.
Last night’s maror
stings our eyes.

Ahead: uncharted space,
the holy wilderness
of the heart.

Take one step
into the labyrinth.
Leave Egypt behind.


Today is the first day of the Omer.

“The Egyptian sky / was a goddess / doing a backbend” — one of the deities in the Egyptian pantheon was Nut, sometimes depicted as a star-covered woman arching over the earth.

“[T]he heavens / became sapphire floor / beneath the throne” — see parashat Mishpatim and its description of the floor beneath the divine throne as being like sapphire. The idea of the sky changing as the prevailing beliefs change also owes a debt to Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky books.

Today we take our first step on the journey between Pesach and Shavuot. What are we headed toward? What are we leaving behind?

Online resources to enrich the next seven weeks

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

As I write these words Pesach is almost upon us. I can’t wait!

At our second-night seder we’ll begin a seven-week journey known as the Counting of the Omer. We count the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, linking liberation with revelation. Once these were the weeks during which we grew our spring wheat harvest to bring to the Temple in Jerusalem; today these are weeks during which we nurture and nourish an internal harvest of personal and spiritual growth.

I hope you’ll join us on Fridays at 3pm in my office for our Omer discussion group. All are welcome.

And if you’d like some terrific Omer resources which will come directly to your home computer, here are a few:

  • I’ll be sharing daily Omer poems on my personal blog, Velveteen Rabbi. The poems will draw on kabbalistic (mystical) and Mussar (personal refinement) teachings to deepen and enliven each day’s counting. You can subscribe to the blog by going to Velveteen Rabbi and entering your email address where it says “enter your email address” in the right-hand sidebar of the page. (My collection of Omer poems will see print in late winter of 2016.)
  • Rabbi Dr. Orna Triguboff will be sending out a daily email during the omer, with kabbalistic insights for daily awareness practice; if you want to be on the list, email orna@neshamalife.org
  • Rabbi T’mimah Ickovitz has the custom of sharing  a daily teaching or inspiration related to the Omer count at Holistic Jew (Facebook), and is sharing new ones this year during the Omer.
  • Rabbi Goldie Milgram will be offering daily Omer teachings online at ReclaimingJudaism.org.
  • Joy Krauthammer adds writing and art to her Omer website each day of the Omer.
  • Brian Yosef Schachter Brooks is offering an online meditation class, with an in-person Omer component, as a fundraiser for ALEPH. Read all about it: Jewish meditation e-course.
  • And Rabbi Jill Zimmerman and Rabbi Cindy Enger of the Jewish Mindfulness Network will once again be offering daily Omer emails this year; to sign up, go here: http://eepurl.com/bir5sX

May these various offerings enrich these next seven weeks and help all of us journey toward Shavuot with mindfulness, discernment, and joy!

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

omergroup