Monthly Archives: June 2012

D’var Torah for Chukat: How Moshe is like an overtired parent

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, Miriam dies and the Israelites are without water in the desert. Midrashic tradition connects Miriam with a well, often understood as a wellspring of Torah and insight in addition to water; when she dies, the well disappears. The people, predictably, begin to kvetch. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? We’re going to die out here!”

God tells Moshe to assemble the community, order a rock to yield water, and water will arise. But what Moshe does is a little bit different. He assembles the people, he says “Shall I get water for you from this stone?!” and he hits the rock with his stick. Water does arise, and the people drink — but God is angry, and for this transgression Moshe is barred from entering the promised land.

God is angry, tradition tells us, because Moshe didn’t trust him. God promised that if he spoke to the rock, a miracle would occur — but Moshe brings sarcasm and violence to bear, instead. “What: am I supposed to get water from a stone?”

I believe that the reason Moshe doesn’t enter the Land is that the journey is more important than the destination. It’s important to have a destination to strive toward, but the real work of the spiritual path is to find holiness in the journey itself. That said, this week I’m interested in Moshe and why he whacked the rock with his stick.

As the mother of a sometimes willful toddler, I feel empathy for Moshe as he listens to the people moan and wail. He’s dedicated himself to caring for these people and helping them “grow up” from a slavery mindset to one of freedom and covenant, but do they appreciate him? No: they take every opportunity to yell at him, to stamp their little feet and sit down on the sand and refuse to budge.

Moshe is burned out. And in a moment of exhaustion and overwhelm, he responds to the people’s negativity with negativity of his own: whaddaya want me to do, dammit, squeeze water from this stone? Maybe as he looks at the stone he’s thinking of his own heart, which right now is feeling dry and unwatered, baked hard as rock.

I like to imagine God’s response as a kind of karmic corrective. “Hey, Moses, if you’re going to talk to the kids like that? You need a time out. You’re coming back to Me.”

This year, I find in this parsha a message about self-care. If we ensure that our own emotional and spiritual needs are met, then we become able to respond to those who need us with generosity and compassion. That’s when we can use words to work magic — to cause sustenance to flow where none was there before.

This is the d’var Torah I offered at last night’s religion committee meeting. You can find my other divrei Torah on this portion in the Velveteen Rabbi Torah Commentary index.

A message from Rabbi Pam Wax: “The God Survey,” and this week’s Torah study

If you read the recent issue of Reform Judaism Magazine, you may have seen an article about God beliefs written by my colleague Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro in Springfield, MA. You can also access the article here:
Following that article is a short and fascinating survey called “The God Survey a survey of the personal God beliefs of Reform Jews,” the results of which will be reported on in a future issue.  Thus far, over 1000 people have taken the survey. If you haven’t yet filled out the survey and would like to be part of the official results, the RJ magazine staff asks that you please take a couple of minutes to complete it.  To take the survey, go to  It’s fascinating, and will really make you think — I was surprised by some of my own answers, and hope that we can use some of our time during Torah study on Saturday, July 7 to discuss it further.

Additionally, Torah study that day will include a discussion about angels and particularly the angel of death in Jewish tradition. This will include the showing of a short and fascinating “Mockumentary” about the Angel of Death that will provide a lot of food for thought. If you can’t make it for the Shabbat service, feel free just to come for Torah study at approximately 11:15 AM on Saturday, July 7.

Reminder: First Friday Potlucks at CBI

First Friday Potlucks at CBI!

On the first Friday of every month, there is a family-friendly potluck (or “Shabbat-luck”) at 5:30pm. Kids of all ages (including grown-ups!) are welcome. Bring a vegetarian or dairy dish to share; we’ll provide the challah, grape juice, and candles to bless.

Upcoming First Friday Potluck dates:

July 6 — August 3 — September 7 — October 5 – special Sukkot / First Friday joint potluck (weather permitting we’ll dine in the sukkah!) — November 2 — December 7

Feel free to RSVP to Leehe Shmueli ( so we’ll know what you’re bringing… but feel free to come even if you don’t RSVP; the more, the merrier! Join us to ring in Shabbat with joy!

Poetry reading with Merle Feld on July 22

A poetry reading
with Jewish poet
Merle Feld

Sunday, July 22

In the CBI sanctuary
refreshments & book-signing to follow

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from Merle Feld, a widely published poet, award-winning playwright, peace activist and educator. She is the author of Finding Words, (URJ Press, 2011) and the highly acclaimed memoir, A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition (SUNY Press, revised edition 2007).

This program is co-sponsored by Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.

53 Lois Street, North Adams MA 01247 | 413-663-5830

CBI also offers a Friday morning meditation group and Shabbat services every Saturday morning; learn more at our website,

Reading R’ Alan Lew before the Days of Awe

One of my favorite books to re-read during the lead-up to the Days of Awe is This is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Rabbi Alan Lew, may his memory be a blessing. I know the High Holidays seem very far away, but they’re not — not to me, anyway! This book begins with reflections on how Tisha b’Av prepares us for the Days of Awe, so I’d like for our first meeting to be before Tisha b’Av (which this year falls on July 28.)

If others are interested in reading this book and meeting a few times to discuss it, I would love to do that!

Here is the proposed schedule:


Saturday July 21 — we’ll discuss the first three chapters of the book over a brown-bag lunch at 11:30 as our communal Torah study that day (feel free to come at 9:30 for Shabbat morning services beforehand!) Those chapters are:

One – The Soul Stretches Out to Contain Itself: A Map of The Journey

Two – Everywhere He Went, He Was: Heading for Home: Teshuvah

Three – I Turned, The Walls Came Down, and There I Was: Tisha b’Av


Either on Saturday 9/1 or Saturday 9/15, with a brown-bag lunch, after services (I’ll do whichever date is best for the majority of participants.)

Four – The Horn Blew and I Began to Wake Up: Elul

Five – This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: Selichot

Six – The Horn Blows, the Gates Swing Open, and We Feel the Winds of Heaven: Rosh Hashanah

For the final chapters of the book, which cover the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur, I’ll encourage members of the discussion group to meet on their own in “hevruta” — groups of two or three — to discuss these chapters sometime during those Ten Days.

Seven – What the Soul Does While the Gates Are Still Open: The Ten Days of Teshuvah

Eight – The Soul Hears Its Name Being Called: Kol Nidre

Nine – Death and Yom Kippur Atone

Ten – The Gates Clang Shut: Neilah

Epilogue – The Stars Are Shining On My Head: Sukkot

If you are interested in taking part, please let me know (rebrachel at cbiweb dot org) and order yourself a book! (Here it is on Amazon.)

The 4th of July at CBI!

CBI’s Annual Family July 4th Picnic
4:00 p.m. July 4th @ CBI

Rain or shine!

BBQ hamburgers, hot dogs and veggie hot dogs will be
provided, as well as soft drinks

Please bring a potluck dish or dessert (non-dairy, please) or wine or beer

Also, please bring your lawn chairs
and any outdoor games you like.

Let Joanne know what you plan to bring.

Hope to see you there!

Shabbat Across the Berkshires brings Cantilena to Hevreh


Berkshire Jewish Music Festival presents
Shabbat Across the Berkshires

Friday, June 15, 7:30pm
Hevreh of Southern Berkshire                

The Berkshire Jewish Music Festival will present a Shabbat evening service featuring old, new and rarely heard music from the Friday evening Jewish Liturgy. The service is free and open to all religious faiths, and will be held on Friday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m.

Cantor Robert Scherr, the co-director of the Jewish Music Festival and a chaplain at Williams College, has collaborated with Andrea Goodman to bring this unique event to Berkshire residents of all religions as a showcase of the great traditions of synagogue music. Cantor Scherr will join the choir the Choir in presenting monumental of works by the great composers from the European school of music (Rossi, Sulzer, Weill and Lewandowski) and the American school (Benji-Ellen Schiller, Ernst Bloch, and Sol Zim).

Now in its eighth season, the Cantilena Chamber Choir is the Berkshire region’s leading a cappella group.   Most recently the Choir appeared in a special presentation produced by WGBY TV in Springfield called “Together in Song,” a celebration of choral singing in Western New England. The Choir is a 2011 recipient of Choral Arts New England’s Alfred Nash Patterson award for its most recent concert “Music in the Berkshire Museum.”

The Cantilena Chamber Choir is under the artistic direction of Andrea Goodman who is also the Director of the Northern Berkshire Chorale in Williamstown and the Saratoga Choral Festival, an annual summer concert series for chorus and orchestra in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Enjoy this special celebration of Shabbat, adorned and illuminated with song!