Monthly Archives: February 2012

CBI worship schedule for March

Have you ever wished that you could see, at a glance, a monthly schedule of CBI’s services so that you would know when we’re gathering for communal prayer and who’s leading each service? You’re in luck — we’re going to begin providing a flyer each month which contains exactly this information!

The schedule for March 2012 appears below; and here’s a pdf file which you can download and print to hang on your fridge or keep on your desk: March2012Schedule (pdf)

We hope to see you at CBI!

CBI Services Schedule March 2012

Meditation minyan every Friday morning, 8:15am.

Friday March 2:   Shabbat potluck dinner 5:30pm
Saturday March 3: R’ Rachel Barenblat leads services, 9:30am
with guitar, spirit, and song
11am Torah study around the upcoming festival of Purim

Wednesday March 7: Purimspiel! 7pm
celebrate the festival of Purim with puppets & merriment

Saturday March 10: R’ Pam Wax leads services, 9:30am
11am Torah study around man’s search/longing for God

Saturday March 17: R’ Rachel leads a musical service, 9:30am
with special guest Reb David Markus
harmony, new melodies, piano & guitar

Saturday March 24: R’ Howard Cohen leads services, 9:30am
“traditional”-style service (lots of Hebrew & singing)
please note: Torah study will be folded in to the service

Saturday March 31: R’ Pam Wax leads services, 9:30am
Shabbat Ha-Gadol; spiritual preparation for Pesach
11am Torah study, focusing on Mussar (Jewish spiritual/ethical teachings)
please note that Mussar classes will also be held after services on 5/26 and 6/9.

A d’var Torah for parashat T’rumah

Here’s the d’var Torah I’ll be giving tomorrow at CBI. (If you’re coming to services, you might want to skip this post!)

This week’s parsha, T’rumah, begins with God telling Moshe to tell the children of Israel to bring gifts. Moshe is to accept gifts from “each person whose heart is so moved.” The gifts — leather and wood, fabric and gold — will be used to build the mishkan, the portable tabernacle: the house for God’s presence.

The word mishkan comes from the same root as the word Shekhinah, the immanent, indwelling divine Presence. Shekhinah is the aspect of God which dwells here in creation; which dwells in us. And sure enough, in the verses we read today, God says, “let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Or, perhaps, “let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell in them.”

We build the sanctuary out of our freewill offerings, the gifts of our own hearts. And in return, God dwells not in the physical structure, no matter how beautiful it may be — but in us.

So if God dwells in us, why do we need to build the sanctuary? Continue reading

Song for the Month of Adar — and thoughts on Adar & Purim

Chodesh tov — happy new month! This is an especially joyous month on the Jewish calendar, because today we enter the month of Adar, which contains Purim. (More on that below, after the song.)

Our Song for the Month is a musical setting of the last verse in the book of Exodus (which we’ll reach later this month.) The melody was written by my friend Daniel Kempin, an ALEPH cantorial student. It is simple and beautiful, a call-and-response which I’m hoping will be easy to follow. The words appear below.

We’ll sing this as our opening song, and as our melody when we’re removing the Torah from the ark, on each of the Shabbatot when I’m leading services this month (Feb. 25, March 3, and March 17 with special guest Reb David Markus — that’s the weekend when we’ll reach the end of the book of Exodus.)

You can listen to the song online, or download it for your home computer, here: Ki Anan Adonai (Kempin). Here are the words:

Ki Anan Adonai (The Cloud of God) – melody by Daniel Kempin

כִּי עֲנַן יְי
עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם

וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ

לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל,

Ki anan Adonai
al ha-mishkan yomam

V’esh tih’yeh laila bo

L’einei kol beit-Yisrael
B’chol mas’eihem

(Translation: For the cloud of God
was above the mishkan by day
and fire was there by night
in the eyes of all the house of Israel
in all of their journeys. — Exodus 40:38)

And, as promised, here are some short-and-sweet thoughts on this new month of Adar:

“When Adar enters, joy increases.” — Ta’anit 29a (Talmud)

“The month which was transformed for them from sorrow to joy.” — Esther, 9:22

Adar is a month of joy for us because it contains Purim. Purim, when we celebrate the story of how the Jews of Shushan were saved from the plotting of the evil Haman, thanks to the righteousness of Mordechai and the bravery of his niece Esther. Purim, when we wear costumes and masks to disguise our usual selves (and perhaps in so doing, reveal some hidden facet of who we might be.)

On the surface, it seems obvious why Purim is a joyful holiday. We’re celebrating yet another story in which our people survived against all odds! Purim features costumes, silliness, and commotion. At Purim, we stamp our feet and gnash noisemakers in synagogue to drown out the name of Haman. Purim plays (called Purimspiels) often feature ribald humor of the sort rarely otherwise heard from the bimah.

And, I think there are also other, maybe deeper, reasons why Purim is a time of joy. At Purim, we celebrate surprise twists and inversions. Haman plotted to destroy us, but instead he was destroyed; he erected a gallows for Mordechai, but swung on it himself. Purim reminds us that everything turns and changes, and that we can find holiness in the surprise twists and turns of our own story.

It appears at first glance as though the Purim story is entirely about good guys and bad guys — but many Hasidic masters read this holiday as an opportunity to spiritually elevate ourselves beyond those distinctions. At Purim, we’re instructed to become so “perfumed” by the celebration of the holiday that we entirely transcend the dualism of good and evil, moving to a place where all is God.

Speaking of God: at Purim, God appears to be entirely hidden. God’s name is never mentioned in the megillah of Esther. (Those of you who’ve been reading Velveteen Rabbi for a few years have heard me say this before, but I think it is a gorgeous teaching every year, so forgive me, I’m offering it again.) It appears at first glance as though the story unfolds entirely without divine presence or divine help.

But several of the first several columns of handwritten text (in the megillah of Esther, which we read on Purim) begin with the same word: Ha-Melech, The King. The King, the King, the King. The Sovereign. The Ruler. Who is the real king in this story? Surely not Achashverosh, who comes across as something of a bumbling buffoon. The real king here is the one who is hidden, but is manifest everywhere for those who have eyes to discern: God. What greater reason could there be to awaken our communal sense of joy?

A note from Reb Rachel

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m newly-home from a few days in Texas, spent celebrating the wedding of one of my cousins (and also the general joy of sharing my son with my extended Texas clan, especially my parents, whom many of you have met at Rosh Hashanah services over the years.) It was lovely to go, and it is lovely to be back.

Some of you may have noted on your calendars that rabbinic student David Markus had been planning to co-lead this coming Shabbat’s morning service with me. Unfortunately, Reb David is not able to join us — though he will be co-leading with me on March 17, and we are both looking very forward to that! Meanwhile, this coming Shabbat will still be a special one; as a previous email noted, Bob and Barbara Bashevkin have offered to help us celebrate the 100th birthday of Hadassah by sharing some of their own stories about the organization.

I hope to see you at CBI — if not this Shabbat morning, then sometime soon!

Many blessings,

Reb Rachel

This coming Shabbat: celebrate the 100th birthday of Hadassah at CBI

Dear friends,

During Shabbat morning services on this coming Saturday, February 25, we will be celebrating the 100th birthday of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Barbara and Bob Bashevkin will be donating flowers to decorate the bimah in honor of the occasion, and will be speaking briefly about the organization.

Bob will talk about his experiences (both serious and humorous) as a surgical patient at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem last spring, and Barbara will focus on the history and mission of Hadassah, which is the largest women’s, largest Zionist, and largest Jewish membership organization in the United States.

Among its many accomplishments, Hadassah created the network that became the foundation of modern Israel’s healthcare system.  Its hospitals treat a million patients a year, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, both from within Israel and from the Palestinian territories (including Gaza) and other nearby countries, and its medical research and trauma care are known worldwide. Among Hadassah’s other activities are a technical college, programs for Children at Risk, and Young Judaea programs.

Please join us to celebrate Hadassah’s 100th birthday, a major milestone in Jewish life, and also to celebrate the weekly joy of Shabbat, a day of rest and rejuvenation for our hearts and souls.

An invitation to do good work in our community

Dear friends and members of CBI,

This week’s meeting of the Northern Berkshire interfaith clergy group focused on the work of a lay-led group in our area — an association of people of various faiths who seek to serve our community through the Friendship Center food pantry and through a system of vouchers (for food and emergency housing) made available to those in need.

The group doing this holy work is called the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative. Right now, there’s only one CBI member who’s directly involved with that group, and he’s away for the winter; I’m writing now in hopes that other CBI folks might want to get involved, as well. The commitment of time is minimal, but the benefit to our community is tremendous…and, I might suggest, the benefit to our own neshamot, our own souls, which arises when we give a little bit of ourselves to the task of helping the hungry to be fed.

If you’re interested, please consider visiting the Friendship Center food pantry at 43 Eagle Street during their next open house. The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative is planning to hold an open house from 2-4pm on Wednesday, March 21; the food pantry is open each Wednesday from 11-2 and 4-6 for people to come in, so the 2-4pm window is a time when the food pantry isn’t actively in use but we can stop in and see what the community is like and what the work is like.

(Find the Friendship Center on Facebook, if you’re so inclined; you can also check out their blog, and/or  reach out via e-mail to

The work of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative arises out of the commandment which is at the very heart of the Torah: v’ahavta l’reakha camokha, “you shall love your neighbor / your other as yourself.” Thanks for considering this mode of putting that commandment into action.

Many blessings,

Reb Rachel

A d’var Torah for parashat Yitro

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro, begins with a story about Moshe Rabbeinu — our teacher Moses — and his father-in-law Yitro, a Midianite priest. Moshe greets his father-in-law with a low bow and with kisses, both signs of great respect.

The next day, Moshe sits as a magistrate among the people all day long. By nightfall, Yitro counsels him: you can’t do this alone — the task of leadership is too heavy for you. Instead, Yitro advises him to establish a system of judges who can share the burden, and Moshe does exactly as his father-in-law suggests.

Immediately after that comes the passage we read in shul today, which tells how on the third new moon after the Israelites went forth from Mitzrayim, they enter the wilderness of Sinai. In that wilderness, they prepare themselves for revelation, and then God speaks the Ten Commandments — tradition says, not only to those who were there that day, but to all of us throughout time.

But before the commandments, before that mystical Sinai moment, God says:

If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי-וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי-לִי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ
וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ

The earth and all its inhabitants are God’s, but Torah says that we are something special. If we live in covenant with God, then we are God’s סְגֻלָּה / segulah —  precious possession or treasure; we are מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹ / mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh — a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

What can we make of this, and how does this relate to the story of Yitro with which the parsha began? Continue reading