Monthly Archives: April 2019

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Acharei Mot II

Dear all,

Because there is comfort in community. Because we are stronger together. Because we will not let hatred and bigotry win. Because we will not be made afraid to gather and to pray. Because it’s good to be together as we grieve. Because it’s good to be together as we give thanks. Because we embrace the beauty of our community, our stories, and our traditions. Because we will not be silenced. Because this is who we are and what we do, now and always. #ShowUpForShabbat — every Saturday morning at 9:30am at CBI.

This week’s Shabbat morning services will be led by Rabbi Rachel, and we’re reading from parashat Acharei Mot (part II).

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

Here’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Building Jewish), this week written by Rabbi Rachel, and sketchnoted as always by Steve Silbert: Communities of safety and repair.

#VisualTorah for this week’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog. Read the post here.

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

We’re in the second week of the Omer, the week of gevurah (boundaries and strength.) Here are 49 poems for the Omer.

There are a bunch of good Omer-counting apps to help us remember to count and to reflect on the qualities we’re invited to cultivate each day; I recommend MyOmerCounter and the Omer app from NeoHasid.

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. There will be a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot at CBI on Saturday June 8 led by Rabbi Pam Wax, and there will also be an opportunity for an overnight retreat in New York that night with Rabbi Rachel — stay tuned for more information on both!

May your Omer journey be meaningful and fruitful.

Hope to see you soon at CBI,

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Counting, listening, becoming – a d’varling for Acharei Mot and the Omer

Omerchart
A chart for Counting the Omer.

A few weeks ago I was talking about the Omer journey with my Journey Into Judaism class. Counting the Omer, you may remember, is this practice we do during the 7 weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Each week is linked with a different quality — lovingkindness, boundaries and strength, harmony and balance, endurance, humble splendor, roots and generations, and the ineffable quality we call Shechinah: presence, in the sense of Divine Presence.

Each week, and each day within each week, is mapped to one of these qualities. This seven-week journey of counting gives us the opportunity to reflect on these qualities as they manifest in us. We get to ask ourselves: how do I express chesed, lovingkindness? How do I receive lovingkindness? What kind of repair do I need to do in my capacity to give or receive love?

And how do I express gevurah, boundaries and strength? Do I need stronger boundaries between myself and toxic people or institutions in my life? Or do I need more permeable boundaries so that my relationships have better give-and-take? What kind of repair work do I need to do in my boundaries and my strength? And so on.

In my class that day, someone noted that this sounds an awful lot like the inner work of teshuvah — returning again, turning ourselves around, the work of discernment and repair in our relationship with self and God and others — that we do in the weeks leading up to the Days of Awe. And I said: yes indeed! During the Omer, we’re doing our inner work in order to prepare ourselves to be ready to receive Torah anew at Sinai on Shavuot. During the weeks leading up to the Days of Awe, we’re doing our inner work in order to prepare ourselves to be ready to enter into a new year and to stand before God on Yom Kippur.

The two journeys are parallel. And this week’s Torah portion offers a couple of connections between this journey in the spring and that journey in the fall. (This week, following Reform practice, we’re reading from the first half of Acharei Mot.)

One piece of today’s Torah portion tells the story of the scapegoat ritual, which is also read in many synagogues on Yom Kippur. Torah tells us to take two goats, draw lots and offer one goat up to God, and then symbolically confer the sins of the community onto the other goat and then send it into the wilderness. It was a way of cleansing the community of its missteps and misdeeds so they could have a clean slate and begin again.

And if that weren’t enough of a link between this season and the fall holidays, then the Torah actually mentions Yom Kippur:

וְהָיְתָ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם לְחֻקַּ֣ת עוֹלָ֑ם בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַ֠שְּׁבִיעִי בֶּֽעָשׂ֨וֹר לַחֹ֜דֶשׁ תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם וְכָל־מְלָאכָה֙ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ הָֽאֶזְרָ֔ח וְהַגֵּ֖ר הַגָּ֥ר בְּתוֹכְכֶֽם׃

And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you.

כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃

For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD.

Sefaria translates it as, on the tenth day of the seventh month which is Tishri, we practice self-denial (many translations say “afflict our souls”), and abstain from work, and atonement is made for us. But my friend and hevruta Rabbi David Markus notes that a different reading can be offered here: t’anu et nafshoteichem can be read either as “afflict your souls,” or as “answer with your souls.” (The only difference in the two words is in the vowels, which are not written in the Torah scroll.)

How different that verse feels to me when it’s an instruction not to afflict our souls, but to answer for them — to take a reckoning of who we are and who we want to be; to seek to reconnect ourselves with what matters most; to cultivate and strengthen our good qualities and seek to shed our bad ones, so that we can live out the fullest expression of who we’re meant to be in the world! (Rabbi David has written a beautiful d’var Torah exploring this teaching for AJR, and it’s now online here.).)

Answering for our souls is the work of Yom Kippur. And it’s the work of the Omer count too. Each day is an invitation to pause and notice where we are in time, and an invitation to pause and notice who we are and how we are and what spiritual muscles we need to strengthen.

Because taking a good hard look at my relationship with love and boundaries and my own strength and my sense of balance and my perseverance and my humility and my willingness to shine and my willingness to really be present — that is not a onetime task. And taking a good hard look at my habits and my practices and my excuses and the places where I let myself off the hook but shouldn’t — and the places where I don’t let myself off the hook but should! — that’s not a onetime task either.

This is the work of spiritual life. Discerning who we aspire to be. Answering for our souls, answering to our souls. And then living out our intentions of becoming the people we’re called to become. I think our tradition gives us these two seven-week windows during the year to focus on this stuff because our ancestors were human too. They knew that inner work isn’t one-and-done.

Some of us just went seven days without leaven. And that can feel like an affliction of our souls, or at least an affliction of our bodies! But it doesn’t have to be an affliction, it can be an opportunity. To realign our relationship with food. To realign our relationship with sustenance. To think about the metaphysical hametz of old stories and old hurts that we need to shed in order to be free.

Counting the Omer could feel like an obligation, just one more item to cross off the to-do list every day (or another place to fall short when we inevitably forget.) But it doesn’t have to be. It can be an opportunity.

What would happen if we made space during these seven weeks of the Omer to listen to our souls? I mean — sit still, sit in silence, or sit in prayer, or walk the labyrinth, go running, do yoga, shut off the distractions and the devices — whatever it takes to help us listen to that still small voice, the spark of divinity within?

What spiritual muscles do we need to strengthen in order to do that listening — and what spiritual muscles might our souls ask us to strengthen so that we can receive Torah anew at Sinai this Shavuot as the best versions of ourselves that we can become? 

Deep thanks to R’ David Markus for his teaching on תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם. This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI this morning, cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov, moadim l’simcha, join us for Friday Yizkor and for Shabbat morning!

Shavua tov and moadim l’simcha — a good new week, and wishing you joy in the festival of Pesach!

On Friday April 26, the seventh day of Pesach, please join us at 9am for a contemplative experience around crossing the sea. (Tradition holds that the seventh day of Pesach is the day when our ancestors crossed the Sea of Reeds. For more on this, see: The seventh day: crossing the sea.) Weather permitting, we’ll walk the labyrinth as part of our meditation and our embodied sea-crossing. We’ll conclude with Yizkor memorial prayers, an opportunity to remember our beloved dead.

Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel. Following the Reform calendar, CBI observes seven days of Pesach, so Saturday we’ll read from the first part of parashat Acharei Mot. We’ll also read from Acharei Mot on on the following Shabbat, whereupon the Reform world will be back in synch with the rest of the Jewish world.

Here are some Torah commentaries on the first part of Acharei Mot from the URJ:

Today is the second day of the Omer, the 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. The first week of the Omer is the week of chesed (lovingkindness.) Here are 49 poems for the Omer.

There are a bunch of good Omer-counting apps to help us remember to count and to reflect on the qualities we’re invited to cultivate each day; I recommend MyOmerCounter and the Omer app from NeoHasid.

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. May your Omer journey be meaningful and fruitful!

Wishing everyone a sweet and liberating continuation of Pesach —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov – hope to see you at seder – and please RSVP for Shabbat morning!

Rabbi Pam Wax will be leading the Shabbat Passover service on Saturday morning. She would like to invite a striking Shop and Shop employee to speak, in order to highlight issues of oppression and workers’ rights that are relevant to the Passover story. In order not to bring someone off the picket line (if the strike is still on) unnecessarily, she would like a headcount! Please RSVP by Friday morning to pwax@bcn.net.

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Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, and please RSVP (see above.)

We also hope you’ll join us for our Second Night Community Seder on Saturday night and we hope you’ve already RSVP’d — if not, please RSVP this morning. 

This week at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), there’s a post by Rabbi Rachel about bedikat chametz, the ritual of removing leaven from our homes — including a meditation you can do whether or not you’re searching for literal breadcrusts on Thursday evening: Bedikat Chametz: Readying to Build Anew.

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat and to Michael Twitty!

Dear all,

Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel.

This week we’re hosting special guest Michael Twitty, James Beard Award-winning author of The Cooking Gene, who will share some of his Torah with us about food, race, culture, history, slavery, freedom. I can’t think of a better way to prepare ourselves for Pesach; please join us! Here’s the full schedule of his events in North Adams & Williamstown.

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

Here’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), this week written by Rabbi Mike Moskowitz who visited CBI last fall, and sketchnoted as always by Steve Silbert: Healing from the Affliction of Separation.

Here’s Steve’s sketchnote for R’ Mike’s d’var Torah. Read the whole thing: Healing from the Affliction of Separation.

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

From constriction to freedom: a d’varling looking toward Pesach

I studied a text recently that I wanted to bring to my shul on the Shabbat before Pesach. And then I remembered that this year on Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat right before Pesach, we’ll be hosting noted culinary historian Michael Twitty! (All are welcome!) So I’m sharing a pre-Pesach teaching a week early.

Each of us has a still point within us, given to us by God. So says Yehudah Aryeh Lieb Alter of Ger, the Hasidic master known as the Sfat Emet (that’s the name of his best-known book, and it’s one of the Hasidic texts I’m studying regularly this year). He returns to this idea often. Each of us has a nekudat elohut, a spark of godliness. No matter who we are, this spark in us is eternal.

And sometimes that still point, that little spark of holiness, comes to feel constricted. This can happen when we’re min ha-meitzar, in tight places. Maybe you can hear the aural connection between meitzar and Mitzrayim — life’s tight places, and the Mitzrayim / Egypt of our people’s core story. Mitzrayim is constriction that makes our soul-sparks feel crushed and insignificant.

The Sfat Emet says that in those times, this still point, this spark, becomes our internal lechem oni — “the bread of our affliction,” our smallness, our poverty of spirit. That phrase comes from the haggadah, when we say of the matzah (in Aramaic, but it’s the same phrase) ha-lachma anya, “this is the bread of our affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt…”

He’s saying that the “bread of our affliction,” that sense of impoverishment, isn’t just the literal matzah that represents our ancient poverty food — it’s also our own souls. Our souls become afflicted, become crushed into smallness and flatness like a piece of matzah. The spark of our souls can become crushed into something dry and flat and tiny. That’s bread of our affliction.

Our job, he writes, is to make that crushed, tiny point become expansive — to grow the point of holiness within our souls, to give it space. Take that in for a moment: our job in spiritual life is to notice when our soul-spark feels crushed and flattened, and to create the inner conditions in which that spark can rise and expand. Our job is to help our souls take up the space they deserve.

Pesach is a time of distilled memory. (I think this is true both as a people and as individuals — we remember the Exodus from Egypt; we may also remember all of life’s other Passovers.) Torah tells us to remember it and keep it. That’s the same language Torah uses about Shabbat, which we also “keep” and “remember.” It’s the same language Torah uses about mitzvot, too.

(Here’s a funny thing: the Hebrew letters that spell mitzvot can also spell matzot. We keep the mitzvot and we keep the matzot, and together those two keep us. As the saying goes, “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people” — and far more Jews observe some kind of Pesach than observe Shabbes every week! But I digress.)

We’re called to remember and keep Pesach as a nation and as individuals. As we retell the core story of our people’s liberation, as we remember narrow straits and escape into expansiveness, we relive the Exodus not only on a national level but also on a soul-level. Our people went from constriction into freedom, and as individual souls we do too, not once but over and over again.

Pesach — says the Sfat Emet — is meant to be our springboard into expansiveness of soul. So that our lechem oni, the part of us that feels flattened like matzah by life’s difficult circumstances, can become expansive. So our tight constricted places can open, like a risen loaf.  So our hearts and souls can expand so far from that flattened state that we can barely contain our joy.

In one of the psalms of Hallel (which we sing at festive times including the Passover seder) we sing, “min hameitzar karati Yah / anani bamerchav Yah” – from the tight straits I called to You, and You answered me with divine expansiveness. Our own tight places are meant to be answered with expansiveness: with divine expansiveness, and with our own. May it be so.

This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI this morning (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.) Offered with gratitude to her Torah study group of Bayit builders.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Tazria

Dear all,

Shavua tov! Please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel. This week we’re reading from parashat Tazria.

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s parsha, here are a few:

Here’s Torah commentary at Builders Blog (a project of Bayit: Your Jewish Home), this week written by Rabbi Evan Krame, and sketchnoted as always by Steve Silbert: Doorways.

Here’s Steve Silbert’s sketchnote for Rabbi Evan’s d’var Torah. Read the whole thing here: Doorways.

And here are commentaries from the URJ on this week’s parsha:

Hope to see you soon at CBI!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel