Monthly Archives: March 2013

Colorful Omer-counting chart

Today is the second day of the Omer! Hooray! (Need a reminder about what that means? Here’s How to Count the Omer at MyJewishLearning.)

Here’s a handy Omer-counting chart, for anyone who needs one — the days spiral around, following the colors of the rainbow, until we reach Shavuot in the very middle of the page.

ColorfulOmerChart

And here’s a downloadable PDF file if you want to have it on your computer or to print it for your fridge: ColorfulOmerChart.pdf

(Cross-posted from Velveteen Rabbi.)

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The Omer count begins tonight!

Chag sameach! I hope everyone had a sweet first night of Pesach last night, and I’m looking forward to celebrating with many of you tonight at our second-night community seder.

Tonight we’ll begin the process of counting the Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. In an agricultural paradigm, this was the season of growing new grain to offer to God at the Temple on Shavuot, some seven weeks away. In today’s paradigm, we count the forty-nine days between one holiday and the next to keep ourselves mindful of the journey.

Freedom is tremendously important, but it isn’t enough. In order for our freedom to have meaning, we also need to enter into relationship with something greater than ourselves. On Shavuot, when we celebrate the revelation of Torah at Sinai, we’ll celebrate our entering into covenantal relationship with the Source of All. Between now and then, each day offers us a special opportunity for contemplating where we are on the journey and who we are (and hope we are) becoming.

Last year at this season I posted 49 teachings on the From the Rabbi blog, one for every day of the Omer. I’m not planning to do that again this year, but if you’re so inclined, you can go back to last year’s posts and re-read. (Here’s last year’s post for the First Day of the Omer.)

Here are four wonderful books for counting the Omer — they offer teachings, poems, meditations, and inspiration for each of the 49 days of this journey. Please consider picking one up and using it to enliven this special time of year!

And if you’d like to receive daily emails, Facebook messages, and/or twitter reminders to Count the Omer (with beautiful meditations and teachings contained therein), you can sign up for a daily notification from Mishkan Shalom — I’ve been receiving their daily Omer emails for a few years, and they are wonderful.

I wish all of y’all a sweet and meaningful Pesach, and a joyous and mindful journey through these seven weeks and into Shavuot.

Approaching Pesach and the Omer

It’s hard to believe, but Pesach begins just one week from tonight! A reminder: if you are hoping to attend CBI’s second-night community seder  (on Tuesday March 26) and have not RSVP’d, please do so immediately; we need to know how many people to prepare for.

Here are a few pre-Pesach resources for you, followed by a short reflection on this special and sweet time of year.

  • Looking for a short-and-sweet one-page ritual for Bedikat Chametz, the ritualized hunting-for, finding, and disposing-of the chametz (leaven) in your house before Pesach? You can find one here.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of the Pesach dietary traditions, you might find comfort in my recent blog post Chametz.
  • Here are Seven melodies for Pesach, some of which we’ll be using at our second-night community seder. (We’ll also use this new melody for the intention before each cup of wine.)
  • And finally: the Counting of the Omer begins on the second night of Pesach. Here are some Resources for Counting the Omer — a handful of truly wonderful books which will offer meditations, poetry, and wisdom for each day of the count.

We’re entering my favorite part of the Jewish year: Pesach and the counting of the Omer.

I love the story at this season’s heart. Once we were slaves, and now we are free. Once we were in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place — but the Source of All lifted us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Once our lives were embittered with hard labor, but now our hearts are expansive — and in our exodus from that tight place into freedom, our national identity was formed.

The story has great power. But in some way even more powerful, for me, is the way our community has clung to this story as the central narrative of our peoplehood. We are the people who understand ourselves to have been brought out of Mitzrayim, out of slavery and into freedom, and it happened not only “once upon a time” (if it even happened in historical time at all) but it continues to happen now. Each of us, tradition says, must see her or himself as though we had been brought forth from there.

Each of us has experiences of constriction. Maybe it’s fiscal constriction; maybe it’s emotional; maybe it’s spiritual. Maybe it’s postpartum depression, or depression of some other kind. Maybe it’s sickness. Maybe it’s sorrow. Pesach offer us the opportunity to recognize, and celebrate, the Source of Life Who enlivens us and brings us out of those tight and painful places.

I love the many forms the seder takes. In my own lifetime I’ve moved from the familiar old Silverman haggadah, with its gendered God-language and slightly dated illustrations, to the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach (available for free download at velveteenrabbi.com!) which features poetry, original artwork, kabbalistic teachings and an orange on the seder plate. Each seder, anywhere in the world, is a variation on a timeless theme.

There’s a Hasidic teaching which holds that on the first night of Pesach, we’re lifted up to elevated spiritual heights — we’re at the top of the mountain with God, as it were. The next day, we return to the valley again…but having experienced the heights, we have an impetus to make the arduous climb to get there again. The climb takes seven weeks: the duration of the Counting of the Omer. At the end of that time, Shavuot brings us once again to a spiritual peak.

These rhythms of peak experience and then the slow climb back up, of festival and measured time and festival again, are woven in to the Jewish understanding of how the year unfolds. Each day we’re given a new opportunity to experience ourselves as having been brought out of Egypt, as being part of the covenant community which stands even now at Sinai in some ineffable way. And the festivals don’t pop up out of nowhere on our spiritual horizon; one leads to the next.

By the time we finish these steps in our year-long festival dance, it will be almost summertime in the Berkshires — another of my favorite seasons, to be sure, though for very different reasons. I look forward to summer’s warmth and sunlight and greenery. But in some ways, the anticipation is the sweetest part: knowing that the days are getting longer, that the migrating birds will return to our trees, that the earth will green again.

Spiritually, too, the anticipation can be the sweetest part. Shavuot will come, with celestial shofar blasts and a cosmic download of Torah directly into our hearts — but before it does, we get to savor the 49 days leading up to the holiday. The days of counting offer a chance to prepare ourselves to receive the blessings which are coming.

I wish a a sweet (and meaningful) Pesach, and a joyful journey through the days of the Omer. See y’all at Sinai!

This was published in the Berkshire Jewish Voice as a “Rabbi Reflections” column in 2012.

A sweet scent: d’var Torah for Vayikra

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered yesterday at CBI. (Crossposted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


This week as we begin the book of Vayikra, Leviticus, we enter into a mystical world of flour and oil, incense and entrails. We call these things sacrifices, though that English word misses the mark of what I think the Hebrew really means. The Hebrew word is קרבנות, which comes from the root which means to draw near. The korbanot are offerings intended to draw us near to God.

Again and again in this week’s Torah portion we read that we are to make a ריח ניחח, a pleasing scent, to Adonai. I hear those words and I think of woodsmoke, fine incense, the mouthwatering aroma of good barbecue. Once upon a time we understood our korbanot as our way of putting something fragrant into the air for our invisible Deity to consume.

I like to think of the reiach nichoach created by our choices. Think about how we behave in the world, how we treat one another, whether or not we take the time for the spiritual practice of mitzvot.

Do our actions create a reiach nichoach, a sweet scent, for Adonai?

One of the offerings described in this parsha is an offering of unleavened wafers spread with fine oil — what we might think of as fresh hot matzah with really good butter. Can we make our observance of Pesach, coming up in just a few short days, a korban, something which will draw us nearer to the Holy Blessed One? Can we set the intention of eating matzah that week with gratitude that we have this practice for remembering our story and celebrating our freedom?

Can we make choices which will create a spiritual fragrance to waft up to God on high?

I’ll close with a Torah poem for this week’s portion, which you can find in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.

KORBAN

You’ll need a smoker.
Get one from Home Depot
and tighten each screw and bolt
exactly as the directions teach.

Split birch logs, and maple
kindle knobs of charcoal
fan them with cardboard
layer the hardwoods to burn.

Place the bird with reverence
then close the lid. What rises
will perfume the neighborhood,
your clothes, your hair.

Two hours later it’s blackened,
crisp and burnished, but
inside: so tender even
a butter knife cuts through…

What constitutes a drawing-near
two thousand years or so
after the last sacrifice, bull
or pigeon, went up in smoke?

It’s not the roasting that matters,
that’s just barbecue — though
maybe it’s a reminder
on some level too deep to name —

but anticipation, and gratitude.
So that what burns bright
on the altars of our hearts
sends a pleasing odor to Adonai.

Chevra kadisha resources

Many smalltown communities do not have a chevra kadisha, a “holy society” of members who lovingly wash, bless, and prepare for burial the bodies of those who have died. Here at CBI we are blessed to have volunteers who do this holy work. Our chevra kadisha was founded in 1895, and you can read more about it on the chevra kadisha page at our website.

This post contains a few resources for our chevra kadisha. We’re sharing them here both for our own use, and in case they might be useful to others.

  • TaharaPrayers [pdf] – a blessing to recite before beginning the process; also a prayer for the dead (“Ribbono Shel Olam / Source of all Being, be compassionate with…”)
  • Tahara-Instructions [pdf] – a simple one-page sheet which lists the steps of the taharah process as we practice it here
  • And here is a drawing which shows how to tie the special ש–shaped knots (below the extended-entry cut.)

May all who do this work be blessed; may all who grieve be comforted.
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Song for Nisan

Today is the third day of Nisan; Pesach is coming soon soon soon! Here’s our Song for the Month of Nisan, which we’ll sing this Shabbat at services and will sing again during the hand-washing at our second-night community seder.

This chant describes God as a fountain of blessing,  pouring blessing into our lives like water. The melody is by Rabbi Shefa Gold.

Peleg Elohim

פֶלֶג אֱלֹהִים מָלֵא מַיִם

Peleg elohim, malei mayyim (Fountain of God, full of water!)

Listen by clicking on the little triangle:

or download PelegElohim.mp3

Happy Nisan!

Join CBI for our second-night Community Seder, March 26!

Celebrate Pesach:  the Festival of our Liberation!

Join Congregation Beth Israel
for our annual community seder
on the second night of Passover
6pm, March 26, 2013

Color_SederPlate

Songs! Guitar! Good food! Friendship! Poetry! Stories!
Once again we’ll use a special abridged CBI edition of
the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach. Please join us.

Includes a non-dairy, kosher-for-Passover potluck
CBI will provide a chicken main dish; you bring the rest
cost: $18 (chai) for an individual, $36 (double chai) for a family
please RSVP to the synagogue office (office@cbiweb.org) by March 12, 2013