Monthly Archives: May 2018

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat B’ha’lot’cha.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Rachel.  This week we’re reading from parashat B’ha’alot’cha. This Shabbat we’re honoring and welcoming our new Jews into our community, and will celebrate after services with a festive bagel brunch, so please join us!

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:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

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And bring you peace

blessingIn this week’s Torah portion, Naso, God speaks to Moshe and tells him to transmit to Aharon the following words of blessing to give to the people:

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ / May God bless you and keep you.

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ / May God’s presence go before you and be gracious to you.

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם / May God’s presence be always with you and bring you peace.

Two things strike me about this passage this year.

The first is the Divine game of telephone. Granted, this is a common game of telephone at this point in the Torah: God speaks to Moshe and tells him to tell us pretty much everything. But in this instance, I see an extra layer of meaning in the way the transmission comes through. God telling Moshe to tell Aharon to tell us becomes an example of a deeper truth: blessing is connective. Blessing is relational. Blessing originates with God, but we speak it into being through our connections with each other.

The other thing that strikes me is the content of the blessing. For many of us this is a familiar text. Some of us maintain the practice of saying it to our children every Friday night. In some communities the rabbi offers it as a closing benediction after every service. I say these words to every b’nei mitzvah kid who stands on our bimah. At last weekend’s conversion, I offered these words to our new Jews. These words are so familiar we may not pay a ton of attention to them most of the time.

But notice:

The text promises that God will bless us and keep us — but it doesn’t claim that God will keep us free from struggle or change.

The text promises that God’s presence will accompany us with grace — not just “graciousness,” in the sense of gracious hospitality, but grace, חן / chein, that unearned and un-earnable flow of abundance from on high — but it doesn’t claim that grace will spare us life’s ups and downs.

The text promises that God will be with us and will bring us wholeness and peace — but it doesn’t claim that “peace” means perfection or an end to our spiritual work or our spiritual growth.

Elsewhere in this parsha we read about the ritual for when spouses suspect each other of infidelity and there has been a breakdown of their relationship that may or may not be reparable. And we read about the promises of the nazir, one who makes certain commitments to God for a stated period of time. With this juxtaposition, Torah seems to be saying: the promises we make to each other as human beings may or may not endure. Our human promises may be temporary or time-limited.

But the promise that God makes to us is not time-limited or temporary. When we stand as channels of blessing for each other, when we speak these words of blessing to one another, we invoke God’s accompanying presence and grace and care. Always.

God’s presence and grace and care can’t protect us from challenges or disappointment… but they will always endure. God will always keep our souls safe in the palm of Her hand. God’s presence always accompanies us and showers us with love we cannot earn and cannot lose, no matter what. And that presence always offers us access to wholeness and peace: not through pretense, but through authenticity and realness.

Because שלום / shalom doesn’t just mean the absence of conflict. It means the presence of wholeness. And wholeness doesn’t come when we put a bandaid over our sorrows: wholeness comes when we allow ourselves to be real, in our sorrow and in our joy. Putting a bandaid over our sorrows (spiritual bypassing) is fragmentation: I feel this, but I will pretend that. And fragmentation is the opposite of wholeness. Wholeness requires us to feel what is, all of what is, with all that we are.

May you feel God’s presence blessing you and keeping you, no matter what curveballs life throws your way.

May you feel God’s presence accompanying you and steeping you in a love that can’t be lost.

May God’s accompanying presence in your life bring you wholeness, now and always.

Amen.

 

This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI this Shabbat (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Image: a papercut of this passage by David Fisher.

 

 

 

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Naso

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Rachel.  This week we’re reading from parashat Naso.

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:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Lift up your heads, and know that you count

Take a census, this week’s Torah portion tells us. שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל — literally, “Lift up the heads of the community of the children of Israel.” Don’t just count them: uplift them. Let them feel in their hearts and know in their minds that they count.

Of course, the text goes on to specify who we should count: the men. We didn’t yet have consciousness of how limited — and limiting — that paradigm is for us and for the world. But the core teaching that every one of us counts is some powerful Torah.

Today we encounter these words as we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Before we can receive Torah tonight, we have to lift up our heads. We have to take an accounting of who we are.

We have to make sure we know that we all count: men and women and nonbinary folks, Jews by birth and Jews by choice and seekers of other traditions who walk alongside us. We have to take note of every one of us, in all of our multiplicity and diversity of experience and background and heart.

Tradition says that all of us were there at Sinai — the soul of every one of us, every Jew who ever was or ever will be. And since we know that a mixed multitude left Egypt with us, surely that mixed multitude stood together at Sinai too. Shavuot is our celebration of covenant with God, and every one of us is part of that covenant. If even one soul had been missing, it wouldn’t have been complete. We all count.

Three members of this community formally joined the Jewish people yesterday. [Here’s where I was going to say some things about that, connecting them to the Torah portion – but that part was personal and is not being published online.] As of this weekend they count in a minyan: another form of counting and being counted.

Does the concept of counting ring any other bells for you right now? For seven weeks we’ve been counting days, ever since the second seder. Tonight that count culminates in revelation. Today is the final day of the Omer. According to our mystics, today is the day of Malchut She’b’Malchut — the day of immanent indwelling feminine divine Presence; the day of Shechina.

May we be suffused with awareness of holy Presence as we prepare ourselves to receive. May we prepare ourselves to be sanctuaries — so that Shechina can dwell with us, and among us, and within us, now and always.

 

This is (more or less) the d’varling I had intended to offer this morning at Shabbat services on our Hudson Valley Shavuot Retreat, had the camp not canceled the retreat. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Bamidbar and Shavuot!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.  This week we’re reading from parashat Bamidbar.

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:

We are now in the final week of the Omer. During these seven weeks, we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew.

For those who aren’t joining us at our Hudson Valley Shavuot Retreat, Rabbi Pam Wax is organizing a tikkun leyl Shavuot and will lead Shavuot morning services with Yizkor. Learn more: Two Ways to Celebrate Shavuot. And for our Hebrew school families, we’ll have From Egypt to Sinai: A Shavuot Family Adventure on May 21; I hope you’ll join us!

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Behar

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Lori Shaller.  This week we’re reading from parashat Behar.

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:

We are now in the sixth week of the Omer, the week of yesod (roots, foundation, generativity.) Here are 49 poems for the Omer. The 49 days of the Omer count lead us from second seder to Shavuot. During these seven weeks, we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew.

I hope you’ll join us at our Hudson Valley Shavuot Retreat on May 18-20 at the end of the Omer count — read all about it and register now! For those who choose to remain in North Adams, Rabbi Pam Wax is organizing a tikkun leyl Shavuot and will lead Shavuot morning services with Yizkor. Learn more: Two Ways to Celebrate Shavuot. (And for our Hebrew school families, stay tuned — there will also be a special Shavuot family program as well!)

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel