Monthly Archives: December 2016

On being enough, the “inner accuser,” and letting our light shine

רָנִּ֥י וְשִׂמְחִ֖י בַּת־צִיּ֑וֹן כִּ֧י הִנְנִי־בָ֛א וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֥י בְתוֹכֵ֖ךְ נְאֻם־יְה

“Shout for joy, daughter of Zion! For behold, I come, and I will dwell within you, says Adonai.”

That’s the first line of the special haftarah reading for Shabbat Chanukah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7, which I chanted many years ago at my bat mitzvah.

I’ve remembered that opening line all these years. But there’s much in this haftarah from Zechariah that I didn’t remember. For instance, Zechariah’s vision of Joshua, the high priest, standing before God as though on trial, with השטן / ha-satan, “the Accuser,” there to accuse him. But God rebukes the accuser, says that Joshua is a “firebrand plucked from the fire,” and makes his dirty garments white as snow.

Then an angel wakes Zechariah and asks what he sees. Zechariah describes a vision of a golden menorah, mystically fed by a stream of flowing oil direct from two olive trees. Zechariah asks the angel what this means, and the angel tells him, “‘Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit alone’ — so says the God of Hosts.”

The vision of the golden menorah may be why these verses are chanted on Shabbat Chanukah. They evoke the miracle: the oil that should not have been enough to keep the eternal flame kindled, but somehow it was enough. Or maybe the miracle is that our forebears took the leap of faith of lighting the eternal flame in the first place.

These verses evoke, too, our sages’ decision centuries ago not to include the story of guerilla warfare in our sacred scripture. The Books of Maccabees, which tell the tale of the insurgency against Antiochus, are not part of the Hebrew Bible. When we tell the story of Chanukah, we tell the story of the miracle — the oil, and the faith — not the story of insurgents fighting soldiers. “Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit alone.”

What we have, what we are, is enough — even at times when we fear we don’t have enough to offer. Even when all we have are the tiny sparks of hope we nurture and carry in our own hearts. We read in Proverbs that “The candle of God is the soul of a human being.” Our souls are God’s candles. It’s our job to be the light of the world. So far, so good. But what do I make of that perplexing passage earlier in the haftarah, the vision of Joshua and ha-satan, the Accuser?

This year I read those verses as a parable about internal reality. I know what it’s like to hear the words of my inner accuser. That voice tells me that my mis-steps disqualify me from being the person I want to be. Who am I to claim to be a servant of the Most High when my garments are so shabby — when the life I try to weave is so riddled with mistakes, disappointments, inadequacies? That voice reminds me of all the good I intended to do in the world that I failed to do, the loved ones whose suffering I cannot alleviate, the problems I cannot fix.

But the Holy One of Blessing sees me otherwise. God sees me through loving eyes. God sees my good intentions, even when I don’t live up to them the way I wish I could. God sees my struggles and my griefs not as a sign that I am failing, but as the refining fire that burns away my illusions. God says to my inner accuser: this soul is a burning branch plucked from the fire of human circumstance, and her yearning to do better and be better is what enables her light to shine. God says to my inner accuser: see, I forgive this soul’s mis-steps, and I make the garment of her life as white as snow.

Each of us has that inner accuser… and each of us can experience redemption from that voice when we remember that we are seen also through loving eyes. If you believe in a God Who sees you, then those loving eyes are Divine. If you don’t believe in that kind of personalized deity, then those eyes may be those of someone in your life… or they may be your own eyes, when you take the leap of faith of seeing yourself the way you wish your dearest beloved could see you.

In Zechariah’s vision, Joshua’s garments become white as snow. Just so for all of us. When we do our own inner work to try to be better, our tradition teaches, we are forgiven. And the sorrows of the old year, the stains and smudges on our life’s “garment,” do not disqualify us from hoping for better in the year to come. On the contrary: it is precisely with awareness of our mistakes and our sorrows that we are called to hope for better — to kindle the light of hope even when reason would argue otherwise.

Our task is to let our light shine, and to trust in the One Who ensures that what we have, that what we are, is enough to meet whatever comes.

 

This is the d’var haftarah that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI earlier today, on New Year’s Eve Day which is also Shabbat Chanukah which is also the anniversary of her bat mitzvah. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Advertisements

The CBI January 2017 / Tevet 5777 Newsletter is Here!

The CBI January 2017 / Tevet 5777 Newsletter is now online!

In this month’s newsletter you’ll find Notes from the Rabbi, service times for Shabbat, First Friday Potluck and Shabbat Services, words from our Board President, information about a county-wide havdalah in January, our new Help Wanted column, and more!

Read it here.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Miketz.

return-to-shabbat Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel.

This week we’re reading parashat Miketz. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Miketz at the URJ.

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.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Chag urim sameach – joyous festival of lights!

2096474062_6299f4858e_z

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Tomorrow evening after we make havdalah to end Shabbat, we’ll light the first candle of Chanukah. Chanukah reminds us that we can kindle light even in the darkest of times — indeed, the darkest of times is precisely when we must encourage the  lights of our hearts and souls to shine.

In anticipation of Chanukah, here is some wisdom from some of my teachers:

Rabbi Shohama Wiener writes: “Concentrating on watching the Chanukah candle lights shimmer is a way to take in light in a time of darkness, and a reminder that always we must take in spiritual light in order to give light—that is, to transmit light through us from its truest source. If we do this spiritual practice and fill with light, then naturally we will transmit that light to others.” Read the whole post: The Lights of Chanukah – Receiving in Order to Give.

Rabbi Marcia Prager writes: “Stories of the origin of the dreidl suggest that the toy and its “gambling” game were used by Chanukah celebrants living under the Roman occupation to circumvent Roman edits forbidding group gatherings, and thereby plan acts of resistance… The great Rebbes of Eastern Europe elaborated on these themes, using the lessons to offer guidance on the inner work we must undertake when we wish to grow spiritually. Reb Nachman of Bratzlav, the great grandson of the Holy Baal Shem Tov, offers this unusual teaching on the dreidl: The dreidl,  he says, is a symbol Creation itself. Why? Because all existence is like a rotating wheel.” Read the whole post: The Dreidl: A Simple Toy – Or Is It?

And Rabbi Shefa Gold writes: “Chanukah celebrates the re-dedication of the ancient Holy Temple, the place where the infinite meets the finite, where the spark of God bursts into flame within us. Each year we recall the “great miracle that happened there.”  And that same miracle is happening inside as we heal the desecrations we have suffered and re-dedicate our lives to Holiness.” Read the whole post: The Inner Practice of Chanukah.

On a more practical note, here’s a page of Hanukkah Resources from the URJ, including how to light the chanukiyyah, blessings and songs, and more.

May you be filled with light as this holiday unfolds. Shabbat shalom and chag urim sameach — wishing you a joyous festival of lights!

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vayeshev and to Chanukah!

return-to-shabbat Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Jarah Greenfield.

This week we’re reading parashat Vayeshev. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Vayeshev at the URJ.

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.

This coming weekend, when we make havdalah to bring Shabbat to its close we will usher in the first candle of Chanukah! If you’d like some explanatory or inspirational reading for the Chanukah season, here are a few pieces:

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vayishlach

return-to-shabbat Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, where we will mark Human Rights Shabbat.

This week we’re reading parashat Vayishlach. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Vayishlach at the URJ.

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.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

In this place – a d’var Torah for parashat Vayetzei

c4f767653e18511c3a2ad131b105f7d3In this week’s Torah portion, our forebear Jacob is on the run from his twin brother Esau. He lies down with his head on a stone, and he has a dream, or a vision, of a ladder rooted in the earth with its top penetrating the very heavens. On that ladder he sees angels moving up and down continuously, traveling between earth and heaven and earth again. When he wakes, he exclaims “God was in this place, and I — I did not know!”

I can’t think of a more appropriate Torah portion for our New Member Shabbat. As I look around the room at all of your faces, I know that God is in this place for sure.

Finding God in this place is what we’re all about. Not only “this place” in the sense of the synagogue building, though we are blessed with a beautiful building and it is easy to feel the presence of the Holy when we gaze through these enormous windows at the willow tree and the mountains.

Some of us find God in this place via davenen, which is to say, prayer. Davenen is a Yiddish word. But the Hebrew word for prayer is להתפלל, which means to judge oneself. Some of us find God here by entering into prayer, and in so doing, coming to know ourselves more deeply. What arises in me as I bless the creator of light this morning? And what will arise in me as I bless the creator of light tomorrow morning, or next Shabbat, or the Shabbat after that? As we pray together, we witness our own subtle movements of soul. As we say and sing these familiar words we connect ourselves with the community and with our tradition, and maybe we find God in that connection.

Some of us find God in this place via service — not the “service of the heart” that we know as prayer, but service of others. Those who gather here each month to cook meals for homebound seniors as part of our Take and Eat crew find God in dedicating their hands and hearts to feeding the hungry. Those who bring childrens’ pajamas to our collection box, so that those who can’t afford warm winter sleepwear for their children can rest easy knowing that their kids are safe and warm on the coldest nights… those who bring toys to our gift collection box, so that those who can’t afford gifts for their kids this winter can rest easy knowing that there is something for them to give… in serving others here we make this place holy, and maybe we find God in that.

Some of us find God in this place through Torah study. Whether that means sitting here in the sanctuary discussing the weekly Torah portion, or studying a text during the kiddush after services, or participating in our book group, or taking part in our Introduction to Judaism class — all of these are forms of Torah study, and all of these are doorways to noticing the presence of God.

Look around the room and recognize that God is in this place. God is in this place because we make this place holy with our choices, with our study, with our service, with our prayer.

One of our tradition’s names for God is המקום –– “The Place.” God is in every place where people truly meet one another. God is in every place where people pray, and in every place where Torah is learned. We read in the Mishna (Avot 3) that wherever two people gather and study Torah together, the Shekhinah is with them. Shekhinah is one of our tradition’s names for the immanent, indwelling Presence of God. Sometimes we experience God as transcendent — up there, out there, far away, too vast to imagine. And sometimes we experience God as immanent — right here, with us, even within us. In Torah (Exodus 25) we read ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם — “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” Or maybe it means “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them.”

We have made a sanctuary here in northern Berkshire. May it be a place where God dwells with us and within us. May we always wake to the presence of God in this place, in this moment, in this interaction, in this breath. May each of us be a blessing to this congregation, and may this community be a blessing for each of us, now and always.

This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered on Shabbat morning. Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi. Image by Albert Houthouesen.