Shavua tov! Looking forward to our pre-Pesach Shabbaton!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from the Torah portion known as Tzav.  And stay with us all day for our Shabbat HaGadol Shabbaton with visiting rabbi and scholar Rabbi David Markus as we prepare our hearts and souls for liberation!

Shabbat HaGadol (1)

If you’re joining us on Saturday, please let us know what you’re bringing for the Shabbat lunch potluck (vegetarian / dairy dishes, please) — you can RSVP to the office (

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

Here are a few commentaries from Rabbi David:

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

Hope to see y’all at CBI this coming Shabbat!

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel


On “keeping the Pesach,” and gradations of practice

Xmatzah1_0.jpg qitok=9eX4cdDO.pagespeed.ic.SlytqcygAaPesach begins three weeks from tomorrow, and maybe some of you are considering “keeping the Pesach” this year. Maybe you have some anxiety about what exactly that means, or how to do it, or whether you’re going to “do it wrong.” What is keeping the Pesach?

In Exodus 12:15 we read:

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses.

At its simplest, “keeping the Pesach” means 1) eating matzah and 2) removing leaven. In some Jewish contexts there are clear guidelines for how to remove leaven from one’s home, and you either follow them or you don’t. But here at CBI there are many gradations of practice. I don’t see “keeping the Pesach” as a binary. I see it as a spectrum.

At one end of the spectrum, you go to a seder or two, but otherwise your dietary practices are unchanged that week.

At the other end of the spectrum, you remove all leaven (and items made from the five leaven-able grains) from your home, and eat only natural foods (fruits and vegetables don’t need a hechsher, a kosher certification marking) or foods certified as “Kosher For Passover” by a trusted rabbinic authority, and you eat on special plates that you reserve only for this week of the year, plates that have never touched a leavened grain.

There’s a lot in between those choices. For instance:

1) You might choose to avoid bread for a week. Just leavened bread. If you would look at it and say, “Yep, that’s bread,” then don’t eat it. In that case, you might still eat pasta (after all, spaghetti isn’t bread). You might still eat breakfast cereals made from grain (they, too, are not bread.) But your diet would shift enough that you would notice, all week long, that this is a special time.

2) You might choose to also avoid not only actual bread but also bread-like things, from bagels to English muffins. Even sweet muffins, like blueberry or pumpkin muffins, are leavened — so you’d avoid them too. You might choose to avoid beverages that have fermented, like beer or kombucha. In this case too, the pastas and the cereals might still feel okay to you, but the class of foods you’re avoiding would be a larger one.

3) You might choose to remove from your home all things made from the five grains that our tradition considers “leaven-able.” (That’s wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye.) If water spilled into a container of flour and you left it there, the flour would eventually grow its own sourdough starter, which means that flour is “leaven-able” — it is capable of becoming leavened under the right circumstances. Anything made from leavenable grains, you would remove from your home for a week.

4) You might choose to eat special “kosher for Pesach” pasta… or you might avoid it because it looks like and acts like “regular” pasta, and you want your diet this week to feel different.

5) No matter what your dietary practices are, you might choose to get a set of special Pesach dishes, to use during that week only, and to remind you that this is a special time, a week that is set-apart from ordinary life.

6) You might choose to eschew kitniyot (corn, rice, beans, and peas — which have long been part of Sephardic Pesach dietary practice, but used to be forbidden in Ashkenazic practice, though today they are accepted in Reform and Conservative communities)… or you might embrace them wholeheartedly.

All of these are legitimate Jewish ways of experiencing Pesach. (My own family of origin spans that spectrum from one end to the other.) My invitation to you is to choose consciously what you want your Pesach practice to be this year… and to pay attention not only to the contents of your pantry, but also to your heart and soul. Whatever practices you take on should (ideally) serve the purpose of awakening you to the festival and its meaning (at least some of the time.)

The Jewish renewal practice of hashpa’ah (spiritual direction) invites us to ask: where is God for you in this? (If the “G-word” doesn’t work for you, try: meaning, or holiness, or love.) How does this experience connect you with something greater than yourself? How will this practice renew your heart and soul — how will it align you with holiness — how will it open you up to transformation?

The haggadah teaches that it’s incumbent on each of us to see ourselves as though we, ourselves, had been freed from slavery. Pesach comes to teach us that we can experience liberation from our narrow places, from life’s constraints and constrictions. Pesach is about leaving slavery and taking the first steps toward covenant. It’s about taking risks, leaping when the time is right, venturing into the unknown even though it’s unknown. It’s about crossing the Sea and finding ourselves in an unfamiliar wilderness on the other side. It’s about new beginnings, and spring, and trust, and hope.

The word chametz (leaven) comes from the Hebrew l’chimutz, “to sour or ferment.” In one Hasidic understanding, chametz represents the internal puffery of ego. Chametz can mean all of our old narratives, our baggage, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how the world works. Chametz can mean our own sour places, the old psychological and spiritual and emotional “stuff” that we need to clean out and throw away in order to be ready to experience freedom. Whatever you’re doing with the literal chametz in your pantry, ask yourself: what is the internal chametz I need to throw away before Pesach begins?

Whatever your Pesach dietary choices are this year, may they bring you more fully into awareness of the holiday and its meanings, and may they open you more fully to transformation.




Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Choose life: what Ki Tisa teaches us about Shabbat

32195101210_e641d2e4fa_zThe Israelite people shall keep Shabbat, observing Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God ceased from work and was refreshed [or: was ensouled].

That’s in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa. Many of us know these words because they have become a part of our Shabbat liturgy, as the prayer we call by its first word, V’shamru. We sing these words on Friday nights and on Saturday mornings before kiddush.

Immediately before these familiar verses, there is another instruction to keep Shabbat as a sign between us and God. But this one contains some more challenging language:

You shall keep Shabbat, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a shabbat of complete rest, holy to God; whoever does work on Shabbat shall be put to death.


The medieval commentator Rashi (d. 1105) clarifies that the death sentence only applies if the person does work on Shabbat in the presence of witnesses, AND if the person was warned, immediately before doing the work, what the penalty would be. This is a pretty common rabbinic move: taking something in Torah that startles us with its harshness, and adding qualifying stipulations that make it much harder for the harsh law to be applied.

The Sforno (d. 1550) is less apologetic about the starkness of this command. He writes that anyone who deliberately desecrates Shabbat thereby denies God Who created all things including rest. Someone who performs secular tasks on Shabbat has clearly lost consciousness of what Shabbat means, and therefore deserves execution. You make your choices, you live with the consequences.

I agree with the Sforno that our choices have consequences, but I read these verses a little bit differently. I see them not as prescriptive, but descriptive.

Another way to translate “מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת,” usually rendered as “will be put to death,” is “he will surely die.” This passage comes to teach us that one who doesn’t honor Shabbat, who doesn’t honor the holiness of resting from workday acts and workday consciousness, will bring themselves closer to death. One who works constantly, and lives in a state of workday consciousness 24/7, will be deadened thereby.

Every week when Friday night and Saturday roll around, we make choices. Will we disengage from work, and from our worries, and from 24/7 cable news, and from all the things that make us feel trapped like rats in a maze? Will we set aside our burdens and welcome the presence of that extra Shabbat soul enlivening us and enabling us to take a full, deep breath? Will we affirm that connecting with our deepest selves and with our Source matters more than our to-do lists and our deadlines?

That’s the choice. We can let Shabbat transform us, or we can stick with the rat race. And if we choose the endless rat race, we’re going to wind up feeling dead inside.

Choose rest. Choose Shabbes. Choose life.


This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered this morning at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)



Bayit: Your Jewish Home and CBI

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m writing to share with you some news about a new endeavor in which I am involved that I think will be terrific for CBI!


Bayit: Your Jewish Home is a nonprofit organization I recently co-founded with several colleagues — including CBI’s own Steven Green! The word Bayit is Hebrew for “house” (hence the tagline “Your Jewish Home”), and we want to help people feel “at home” in their Judaism in renewed and renewing ways. Our goal is to give people the tools they need to build the Jewish future, and to empower everyone to take their Judaism into their own hands. I’m deeply excited about Bayit, and about bringing the tools that Bayit creates “home” with me to CBI.

Bayit’s initial keystone projects include a few things that I think will directly benefit CBI. We are diving into the world of Jewish publishing, collaborating with Ben Yehuda Press to release a volume for mourners called Beside Still Waters. That volume contains materials for before death, for the time between death and burial, for shiva (the first week) and shloshim (the first month), yahrzeit (death-anniversary) and yizkor (times of remembrance), and more. I’m looking forward to using that book in our community as we accompany and comfort those who mourn.

Bayit is also launching an Innovation Pilot Program that will entrain 10-20 congregations across the continent and across the denominational spectrum. We’ll create innovative community experiences, and seek responses from participants to discern “what works.” Assuming that the Board approves, CBI will be one of the participating communities. Bayit’s offerings will be keyed to the Jewish festival calendar, and participating communities will get to offer feedback to help improve these rituals, practices, and experiences — participating in meaningful spiritual R&D.

There are other projects on Bayit’s to-do list, among them a website of curated resources for lifecycle transitions, a website of curated resources for spiritual seekers (think The Jewish Catalog, updated for the 58th / 21st century), and more. And: we want to know what you most need. What tools would best help you feel like you have ownership of Jewish tradition and practice? What resources do you most need in your Jewish life? What can we build together with you that would help you feel more “at home” in Judaism and in your spiritual life?

I think the work I’m doing with Bayit will facilitate a variety of ways for me to better serve you as your rabbi. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds.

Bayit doesn’t yet have an email list, but we have a website, and we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to follow us in any of those places. And tell us what you want to see us build! (Our doors are always open, and given that two out of the seven Founding Builders of Bayit are CBI members, y’all have a particular “in” — nu, reach out anytime.) I look forward to bringing Bayit’s resources and programs here to CBI to enrich and enliven our practice, and to helping all of us at CBI feel “at home” in our Jewish lives and in the life of the spirit, now and always.

Blessings —

Rabbi Rachel

Reprinted from the March CBI Newsletter.

It’s one month until Pesach! Here are two amazing programs we hope you won’t want to miss.

Dear all,
I hope your Purim was wonderful!
From Purim to Pesach there is one month — and sure enough, the first seder is four weeks from tonight.
We have two amazing events coming up at CBI for which I hope you’ll join us. One is a Shabbaton (a Shabbat retreat) over the Shabbat before Pesach, March 24-25, featuring special guest Rabbi David Markus. And the other is our second-night community seder on Saturday March 31.
Please plan to join us — and please RSVP as soon as you are able so we can plan appropriately!
Information on both is enclosed.
Blessings to all for a sweet Shabbat,
Rabbi Rachel
Shabbat HaGadol: Prepare Your Heart & Soul for Freedom
Facebook event page where you can RSVP if you’re a FB user
(if not, please RSVP by emailing
Shabbat HaGadol (1)
Second Night Community Seder
Facebook event page where you can RSVP if you’re a FB user
(if not, please RSVP by emailing

The March Newsletter is Here!

In this month’s newsletter you’ll find information about our Religious School, Passover, March Shabbaton, and Bayit, a new initiative the Rabbi is involved in.  There are also reports from our February events, plus our event calendar, Notes from the Rabbi, the President’s Column, Shabbat candle lighting information, and more …

CBI March 2018 / Adar 5778 Newsletter

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Purim – and Shabbat Ki Tisa!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Weds evening at 5pm for our Flintstones Purim: Yabba Dabba Do!

Purim 5778

Join us also on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from the Torah portion known as Ki Tisa.

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: Ki Tisa.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel