Monthly Archives: September 2016

An invitation to reflect as the Ten Days of Teshuvah approach

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Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

For the last several years I’ve participated at this season in an online project called 10Q.

10Q stands for “ten questions.” During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, those who sign up receive ten meaningful questions via e-mail. Questions like, “Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?”

Or “Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?”

Each day, participants are invited to go to the 10Q website and log in and share answers to these questions — which can be marked as “public” (in which case they’ll be visible to the outside world) or “private” (in which case no one can see them but you.)

After Yom Kippur, answers go “into the vault,” which means they get locked down and no one can see them — not even the people who wrote them. Next year, a couple of days before Rosh Hashanah, the answers are emailed back out to us — so I just got an email from 10Q with the answers I wrote to these questions last year, a kind of time capsule reflecting where I was as Rosh Hashanah approached in 2015.

I find it incredibly meaningful: both taking part during the Ten Days of Teshuvah (the ten days of repentance / return in between the two high holidays), and also rereading my responses a year later. If this sounds meaningful to you too, I hope you’ll give it a try.

I look forward to seeing y’all at CBI during the Days of Awe. (You can find our high holiday schedule in our October 2016 newsletter.)

Wishing you blessings as this final Shabbat of 5776 approaches —

Rabbi Rachel

October 2016 / Tishri 5777 CBI Newsletter

The October 2016 / Tishri 5777 CBI Newsletter is now online!

In this month’s newsletter you’ll find Notes from the Rabbi, service times for Shabbat and the Days of Awe, advance notice of a new Introduction to Judaism class coming this fall, an invitation to our contemplative Second Day of Rosh Hashanah and explanation of Yom Kippur customs, and much more.

Enjoy!

An Unetaneh Tokef for Teens of Today

written by the b’nei mitzvah class at Congregation Beth Israel

Today is the day of judgment
when we all come before You to be judged.

We all pass before You
like artisans whose work needs to be inspected.

Just as we all have to go to the doctor
for regular check-ups to make sure we’re okay,

so we all have to be checked-out by You
to make sure that our actions and our behaviors meet Your standards.

On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
and on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

Who will get good grades, and who will flunk out and stay back;
Who wil get the things they want, and who won’t;

Who will be rewarded, and who will be punished;
Who will be healed, and who will be sick;

Who will get the LEGO sets they want, and who will be thwarted;
Whose team will win, and whose team will lose;

Who will be happy with the election results, and who won’t;
Who will have a good year in school, and who will not;

Who will score a goal, and whose shots will go wide of the net;
Whose electronics will work well, and whose will stop working;

Who will be popular, and who will be misunderstood;
Who will have friends, and who will be lonely.

But teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah
temper the harshness of the decree.

 

For reference: about the Unetaneh Tokef prayer; see also Everyday I Write the Book.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Nitzavim… and Rosh Hashanah!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! Join us this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services where we’ll read from parashat Nitzavim

And join us this coming Sunday evening, October 2 for Rosh Hashanah evening services. Here’s our high holiday schedule for 5777 [pdf]. (Join us too on Monday October 3 for Rosh Hashanah morning services, and on Tuesday October 4 for a contemplative second day Rosh Hashanah morning service.)

 

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: Nitzavim at the URJ.


During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season (and here’s a beautiful instrumental version), and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem, which we introduced last year:

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”


Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Ki Tavo, Selichot, and our Cemetery Service

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! Join us this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services where we’ll read from parashat Ki Tavo.

This coming weekend brings the beginning of our High Holiday season with two very special events: Selichot services at 8pm on Saturday, and our annual Cemetery service at 2pm on Sunday.

“Selichot” means “Forgiveness,” and it is a beautiful short service designed to open our hearts and souls to the Days of Awe. We’ll begin with havdalah, sing some favorite High Holiday melodies, take some time to write down the things we need to release, and sweeten our journey into the new year with a potluck dessert reception.

The cemetery service, which lasts for about 20 minutes, is our annual opportunity to visit our beautiful Clarksburg cemetery, pay our respects to the generations of CBI members who are buried there, and pray the afternoon prayers and some memorial prayers in the “sanctuary” of the woods and headstones. Usually most of the people who come are our eldest members; I know that it would mean a lot to them if some of our younger members came to bear witness and to help us make a minyan so that we can recite the mourner’s kaddish.

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: Ki Tavo at the URJ.


During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season (and here’s a beautiful instrumental version), and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem, which we introduced last year:

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”


Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

Words we can’t un-say: a d’var Torah for parashat Ki Tetzei

Words2In this week’s Torah portion there is an intriguing passage (Deuteronomy 24: 1-4) about divorce. Torah says: when a man takes a wife and possesses her, and then finds something about her displeasing, he is to write her a bill of divorce and she is to leave his house. If she should marry a second time, and then divorce a second time — or the second husband should die — her first husband is forbidden from marrying her again.

The Sforno says that this is because to allow remarriage in this way would be a recipe for wife-swapping. Rabbenu Bahya says that this is because the woman in the story has been “known” by another man, so of course it would be inappropriate for her to be intimate with her first husband again. Unsurprisingly, these classical commentators and others take for granted the text’s apparent assumptions about gender, marriage, and power.

There’s plenty that is problematic about this passage from a modern perspective. For starters, the idea that a woman “belongs” to anyone other than herself. The presumption that divorce is necessarily initiated by the husband because his wife is no longer pleasing in his eyes. The lack of agency granted to the woman. The notion that a woman who has been with another man becomes תמא / tamei, emotionally and spiritually charged in a way that would be damaging to her first partner if they got back together again.

Not to mention the fact that the text doesn’t speak at all about how the woman in this situation feels: did she want to divorce in the first place? How about the second place? What kind of grief is she enduring, especially when the second marriage ends? Torah doesn’t say, but we can begin to imagine.

That said, I think we can glean some wisdom from this passage despite its troubling dynamics.

First, let’s remove the genderedness from it. Torah is teaching us that a marriage has to be consensual, and requires the active participation of both partners. When a marriage becomes irreparably broken for one partner, it’s no longer a consensual whole, and the partnership is broken. A bill of divorce must be written so that the partners can release each other.

Anyone who is considering taking these steps needs to know that words ending a marriage, once said, can’t be un-said. Once the marriage has been broken, even if one or both partners should later regret the breaking, it can’t be glued back together into the configuration it had before. No one should go into divorce thinking “well, if this doesn’t work out, we can go back to the way things were.” There is no “going back.” Only going forward. In our modern paradigm sometimes former partners do re-marry, but there is no re-creating the wholeness of the first marriage when it was new.

That significant words, once said, can’t be un-said is a running theme in this week’s Torah portion. The verses about divorce come shortly after verses instructing us to take care in vowing vows to God, because when we promise things to God, we have to live up to them or incur sin. It is better not to make vows, says Torah, than to make them and fail to live up to them.

Promises that we make to God and fail to sustain… we’ll come back to those on Kol Nidre night. Once we’ve said them, we can’t un-say them, but we can ask God to forgive us for our failure to live up to who we intended to be.

Promises that we make to each other and fail to sustain… once we’ve said them, we can’t un-say them either. Neither can we un-say words that end a relationship. We should take care with our words, and not commit ourselves to promises we can’t keep or to endings we aren’t really ready to face. But maybe especially during this month of Elul, we can ask each others’ forgiveness — in all of our relationships — for failure to live up to what we thought would be.

 

 

[Image source.] This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered yesterday morning at services. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Ki Tetzei

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! Join us this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services where we’ll read from parashat Ki Tetzei.

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: Ki Tetzei at the URJ.


During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season (and here’s a beautiful instrumental version), and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem, which we introduced last year:

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”


Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.