Monthly Archives: July 2017

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Va’etchanan.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Monday night at 8pm for our observance of Tisha b’Av.

And join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Jarah Greenfield.

This week we’re reading  Va’etchanan. 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: Va’etchanan at the URJ.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

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Balancing joy with sorrow: a d’var Torah for Shabbat Shachor

BlackIt’s Shabbat Shachor, the “Black Shabbat” that falls right before Tisha b’Av. Today our experience of the sweetness of Shabbat is tempered by awareness of what’s broken, from our own ancient stories of destruction and becoming refugees to what we see and hear on the news even now.

Monday night will bring Tisha b’Av, when we’ll go deep into this brokenness — a paradoxical beginning to the uplifting journey toward the Days of Awe. In Hasidic language, that’s a descent for the sake of ascent.

But how can we now celebrate Shabbat with awareness of these sorrows?

You might ask the same question of anyone whose loved one has received a fearful diagnosis, or of any mourner, or of anyone who knows the grief of ending a marriage or losing a beloved home or enduring any kind of loss.

In Jewish tradition, we suspend formal mourning on Shabbat and festivals. But someone who is grieving is likely to still feel their grief even on days that are supposed to be joyful — maybe especially then, because the disjunction between how they are “supposed” to feel and how their hearts naturally flow can be so profound.

Shabbat Shachor offers us an opportunity to sit with that tension between joy and grief. For many of us, that’s deeply uncomfortable. It’s easier to paper over the sorrow and just be happy, or to keep joy at arm’s-length and just sit with sorrow. Today our tradition asks us to resist both of those easy outs, and to sit with the dissonance of a psycho-spiritual chord that’s both major and minor.

If you’re feeling grief, today invites you to temper your sadness with Shabbat joy. If you’re feeling Shabbat joy, today invites you to temper your happiness with an awareness of life’s sorrows. This can feel like a grinding of our emotional gears. The heart wants to lurch to one extreme or the other — sorrow or joy — not to stretch wide enough to feel them both at the same time. Resist that temptation.

On Monday night we’ll be wholly in a minor key. Tisha b’Av is a day of mourning for our communal losses: the destruction of the first Temple by Babylon, which led to our becoming refugees; the destruction of the second Temple by Rome; and a long list of other losses and griefs throughout our history. That day isn’t quite here, but we can feel it just around the corner. We can see it coming.

I’ve learned as a pastoral caregiver that every loss evokes and activates every other loss. Sitting with our historical and communal losses can heighten our sadness around personal losses: the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or a home, the loss of a relationship, the loss of health, the loss of hope. Maybe you’re feeling that way today. If not, you’ve likely felt that way before… and will feel that way again.

And yet amidst all of that loss, both present and anticipated, today we’re still called to open our hearts to the abundance and flow of Shabbat. On Shabbes we’re still invited to taste perfection. Even if our ability to rejoice is subdued by circumstance or memory, we still offer thanks today for life’s many blessings. We still open ourselves to the experience of feeling accompanied and cradled by divine Presence.

It’s not a matter of either / or — either we savor the sweetness of Shabbes, or we marinate in the bitterness of grief. It’s a more nuanced and complicated both / and. On Shabbat Shachor we affirm that our hearts are flexible enough to hold both. And what we affirm today as a community carves pathways in our hearts that will help us affirm this truth in our own ways, on our own time, throughout our lives.

Today is our communal Shabbat Shachor, the day when we sit with this balance between grief and joy as a community. But in every life there are individual Shabbatot that take place in this middle ground, partaking in sweetness and in loss. Today reminds us that even when we grieve, Shabbat can still bring  comfort — and that even at our times of greatest joy, some of us will still struggle with sorrow.

Today invites us to cultivate compassion for ourselves and for each other, knowing that everyone lives in the balance, the tension, the middle ground between sorrow and joy. This is spiritual life. This is human life. May we recognize that even at times of rejoicing, we and our loved ones may be carrying grief…and may we help each other access gratitude and joy even during life’s times of darkness.

 

Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Devarim.

 

Shavua tov — a good new week to you!

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel. The coming Shabbat is called “Shabbat Shachor” (the dark Shabbat) because it is the Shabbat immediately before Tisha b’Av, and our observance will reflect that theme — filtered through the joyous lens of Shabbat.

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

Here’s a d’var Torah from my friend and colleague Rabbi David Evan Markus that connects this week’s Torah portion with next week’s observance of Tisha b’Av and with the great “turning” we do in our lives as the Days of Awe approach: It’s Your Turn.

And here are commentaries from the URJ: D’varim at the URJ.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Join us for Tisha b’Av on July 31

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

On July 31 at 8pm join us for our observance of Tisha b’Av. Join us for a poignant and solemn evening service, featuring excerpts from Lamentations and contemporary poetry of loss and brokenness.

Tisha b’Av is the low point of the spiritual year, our communal and calendrical opportunity to delve deep into brokenness and exile — and it’s also the springboard that launches us into the High Holiday season.

From this low point, we begin the journey upward. This is what the Hasidic masters called “descent for the sake of ascent.” They knew that sometimes we first need to fall and grieve before we can be ready to heal and to rise.

For more on this holiday, why we celebrate it, and how it begins our journey toward the Days of Awe, here are words about this season in our liturgical year: Entering Av. (Rosh Chodesh Av, the new moon of Av, falls on July 24.)

I hope to see you at 8pm on July 31 for Tisha b’Av at CBI.

Wishing you blessings as we continue to move through the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Matot-Masei

Shavua tov — a good new week to you!

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel, where we will call Addie Lentzner to Torah as a bat mitzvah.

This week we’re reading Matot-Masei. 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:  Matot-Masei at the URJ.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Days of closeness, days when God feels far away

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The Jewish calendar is filled with moadim. Usually that word is translated as “festivals,” though it literally means “appointed times.” Each year we have moadim of closeness to God, and also moadim of distance from God. The Days of Awe and Sukkot are moadei shel keruv, appointed-times of closeness with God. The Three Weeks and Tisha b’Av are moadei shel richuk, appointed-times of distance from God.

That teaching comes from R’ Shlomo Wolbe, whose work Alei Shur I studied recently with R’ Jeff Fox as part of a week of “Rabbi (and Hazzan) Recharge” organized by The Jewish Studio. With R’ Jeff we also studied a text from R’ Shmuel Eidels (a.k.a. the Maharsha) that speaks of the Three Weeks as a period of growth toward fruition. Just as it takes 21 days for an almond tree to blossom, says the Maharsha, so we can understand the 21 days between 17 Tammuz and Tisha b’Av as a period of preparing for flowering-forth.

I don’t usually think of Tisha b’Av — that date of destruction and shattering — as a time of fruition or flowering. But the Alei Shur reminds us that it is natural (maybe even good?) for our relationships with the Holy One of Blessing to have an ebb and a flow, to have times of intimacy and times of distance. (Indeed: distance is often what awakens in our hearts our yearning to reconnect.) And from the Maharsha we learn that even destruction can have a silver lining, and can spark the blossoming of something new.

Today is the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the period known as The Three Weeks (also called Bein Ha-Meitzarim, “In the Narrow Places.”) Today is the anniversary of the ancient breach of Jerusalem’s city walls. In three weeks, on Tisha b’Av, we’ll re-experience the destruction of the Temples, our people’s quintessential experience of shattering and distance from our Source. (Join us for Tisha b’Av evening services at 8pm on Monday, July 31.)

In the Alei Shur’s language, these weeks are a moed of distance. They’re balanced by the three weeks from Rosh Hashanah to Shemini Atzeret, a moed of closeness and drawing-near. Three bitter weeks, and three sweet ones. We need to experience them both. The soul gets “out of whack” otherwise, if we marinate only in sorrow or if we allow ourselves only to feel joy.

What does it mean to say that this is appointed-time of distance from God? For me, it’s an opportunity to notice where and when and how I already feel that distance. Maybe my sorrows are causing me to feel distant from God: maybe I’m grieving so hard I can’t find God. Or maybe my joys are serving that function this year, if I let myself fall into the trap of spiritual bypassing — maybe I’m over-focusing on the positive so I don’t have to face what’s difficult in my life. Either way, distance from God ensues.

The Alei Shur teaches that distance from God isn’t, in and of itself, the worst thing. (Far worse is when we have fallen so out of alignment that we no longer even notice the distance.) He sees the distance as part of a natural cycle of being close and being far away — a ratzo v’shov, as it were. When I notice that I’m distant from a beloved, and let my heart feel the ache of that distance, the ache impels me to reach out and be close to my loved one again. As with a human beloved, so with the divine Beloved.

Where do you feel distant: from your beloveds, from the Beloved, from your traditions, from your Source? What are the patterns and habits that contribute to that distance? What are the excuses you make to yourself for why it’s okay to be disconnected, and what feels “at stake” when you imagine reconnecting — what are you afraid of when you imagine letting yourself reconnect?

Today we remember the first breach in Jerusalem’s ancient city walls. Where is your heart cracked-open? In what realms do you feel broken-hearted? How do you deal with the vulnerability of being fragile and breakable? What seeds might be planted in your broken places, that over these three weeks could be silently preparing themselves (preparing you) to flower into something new?

 

Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Pinchas.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you!

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Jarah Greenfield!

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

And here’s a d’var Torah from my friend and colleague Rabbi Evan Krame of The Jewish Studio: Take the Wheel.

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

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel