Category Archives: Chanukah

Miketz: Letting yourself dream

OriginalThe beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, describes two of Pharaoh’s dreams. First he dreamed about seven healthy cows who got devoured by seven gaunt cows. Then he dreamed about seven healthy ears of grain that got devoured by seven thin gaunt ears. Disconcerting images.

Both times, he woke and realized he’d been dreaming. And then one of his servants remembered the fellow named Joseph, languishing in prison, who was able to interpret dreams. And so Joseph was released from prison, and brought to Pharaoh to help him understand the meaning of his dreaming.

The teacher of my teachers, Reb Zalman z”l, wrote:

When my daughter, Shel, was 8 years old, she asked me, “Abba, when you’re asleep, you can wake up, right? When you are awake, can you wake up even more?”

(– Expanded Awareness and Extended Consciousness)

The answer, of course, is yes. Yes, we can wake up more. We can wake from complacency. We can wake from routine. We can wake from taking things for granted. We can wake to hope and to wonder. That’s the good news. The frustrating news is that such awakenings are rarely permanent. We wake from complacency and recognize that if we want a morerighteous world, we have to build it… and then we forget. We wake from routine and recognize that being alive is a miracle… and then we forget.

This is spiritual life: being awakened into awareness, and then falling out of awareness, and then awakening again. None of us can live in a perennial state of gadlut, expansive consciousness. The great thing about the fact that we keep falling asleep is that we can also keep waking up. We’re designed to keep waking up. I posit to you that being “asleep” isn’t actually a bad thing. Spiritually, maybe we need the oscillation between forgetting and remembering. And maybe being “asleep” helps us daydream.

Pharaoh was troubled by his dreams. We’ve all had that experience: a recurring dream that sticks with us long after the day’s first cup of coffee. We wonder: what is the dream trying to tell us? What does it mean? My friend and teacher Rodger Kamenetz, author of The History of Last Night’s Dream, teaches that dreams aren’t “texts” to be “interpreted.” Rather, they’re landscapes of feeling. They can give us deep access to our emotions. (If this interests you, learn more about his practice of dreamwork.)

I wonder what would happen if we approached our waking dreams the way Rodger suggests approaching our sleeping dreams: entering the emotional landscape of the reverie, with a trusted guide and companion, and seeing what we can learn from that exploration of our yearnings. Waking reveries are different from nighttime dreams, but I think we should treat our daydreams with the same presumption of depth and meaning that we bring to thinking about the dreams that play out while we sleep.

I think our daydreams can tell us a lot about what we yearn for: not what we think we’re “supposed” to want, but what our hearts and souls actually crave. Maybe we ache for love, or for comfort, or for justice, or for being fully uplifted in all that we are. But most of us are taught, in a variety of ways, not to credit those yearnings. What would happen if we chose to wake up: not from those dreams, but with those dreams? What would happen if we brought our daydreams more fully into our waking lives?

We always reach parashat Miketz at this time of year. I imagine there’s something different, psycho-spiritually, about reading Miketz in Australia or Argentina where right now it’s high summer. Where I live, this is a season of deepening winter. Long nights, short days, battening down the hatches… Winter’s a great time to hunker down and pay attention to our dreams — the sleeping ones, and the waking ones — to see what they tell us about what we fear, and what we love, and what we yearn for.

What do you dream of: for yourself? For your family, whether blood or chosen? For your community? For your world?

If we allow ourselves to face our yearnings, we also have to face fear that our yearnings might not come to pass. The dreams of our hearts are tender. (If you’re going to delve into them, I hope you do so with a trusted guide, maybe a therapist or spiritual director.) When Joseph helped Pharaoh understand his dreams, Pharaoh made decisions about the future of his nation (and ours, too). What changes might we make if we took our own dreams seriously — the sleeping ones, and the waking ones too?

May this winter give you us space and safety we need to look at what we yearn for… and may we find the inner reserves of fuel we need in order to make those dreams come true.


With gratitude to my hevruta partner for opening up for me these connections between Miketz and dream.

Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.


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

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us in bringing more light into the darkness! On Friday December 15 (Shabbat Chanukah), we’ll meet at 5:30pm.

Bring your own chanukiyah (menorah) – we’ll light them all together at 5:30, sing songs of Chanukah and Shabbat, and then celebrate Chanukah and Shabbat with a vegetarian / dairy potluck meal (bring a dish to share.) The synagogue will provide latkes made by Heather Levy and Tim Hermann, so let Heather and Tim know if you’d like to help!

RSVP at the Facebook event if you’re a FB user, or via e-mail to the synagogue if not, so we know how many chairs to set up.

If you need a refresher on the Chanukah blessings, you can find them at the URJ website here.

Also, join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30amWe’ll be reading from Miketz, and services will be led by me.

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

  • And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism:  Mikeitz.

Wishing you blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

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.)

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

Join us on Friday night for a special Kabbalat Shabbat Chanukah!

2095701991_ea1a2059d5_zDear CBI members and friends,

Chag urim sameach — wishing you a joyous festival of lights!

This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Chanukah, and we’ll celebrate on Friday night at 5:30pm with prayer, song, a potluck feast, and plenty of dreidel-playing.

This year we’ll be interweaving a few of the songs of Shabbat (“Shalom Aleichem,” welcoming the angels of Shabbat into our midst, and an abbreviated “Lecha Dodi,” welcoming the Shabbat Bride to join us) with songs of Chanukah.

Bring your own chanukiyah; we’ll kindle all of them together before we light the Shabbat candles.

Because I know of at least one mourner who needs to recite kaddish on Friday night, here will be an opportunity to say mourner’s kaddish in community before we close with a final Chanukah song and move to our potluck feast.

If you have not yet RSVP’d to the office, please do so as soon as you can so we know how many potatoes to peel! And if you’d like to help cook latkes, let us know that too; Tim Hermann has graciously volunteered, and I’m sure he’d appreciate the help.

If you want to refresh your memory on melodies, some are enclosed below.

As we kindle the lights of Chanukah, may we rededicate ourselves to the work of bringing light where there is darkness, and fanning the flames of love and hope wherever we go.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel


Shalom Aleichem, melody by Shneyer, as recorded here by Cantor Jeff Klepper:

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the audio file.)

Lecha Dodi:

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the song online: Lecha Dodi.)

Chanukah Oh Chanukah

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the song online: Chanukah Oh Chanukah.)

Maoz Tzur / Rock of Ages

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the song online: Maoz Tzur)

Miketz and Chanukah: letting your light shine

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered at CBI this morning. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

The first thing Joseph does, when summoned from Pharaoh’s dungeon, is shave and change his clothes. Presumably he does this because it’s not appropriate to appear before the ruler of the land in rags… but given the importance of clothing in the Joseph story, I see something deeper.

Remember his coat of many colors. Remember the garment which he relinquished to Potiphar’s wife in escaping from her clutches. Remember Tamar, who disguises herself in a cloak in order to orchestrate justice. Clothing in this story is symbolic of internal reality.

As a child I learned from my mother that how we dress gives us an opportunity to show respect for others. We dress nicely because that’s a way of showing the people we meet that they matter. Surely that’s part of what Joseph is doing at this moment in his story.

I also learned from my mother that how we dress can impact how we feel inside. When I’m not feeling great, sometimes brushing my hair and putting on lipstick can help me perk up and feel ready to face the world. That may have been part of what Joseph was doing, too.

And another thing he may have been doing is adjusting his outer appearance so that it matches what he knows about himself inside. A number of Hasidic teachers speak about the tension between pnimiut, what’s hidden deep inside, and chitzoniut, the external face one presents to the world. We each carry a divine spark inside. That spark connects us with the Holy One of Blessing.

That spark is the source of our light; as we read in psalms, “the soul of a person is the candle of God.” As we kindle candles, God kindles souls. If we’re willing to be kindled, we can carry divine light into the world. But we each get to choose whether and how to reveal that light.

For me, one of the challenges of spiritual life is trying to ensure that my external face matches my internal light. Deep down, I’m always connected with God. But can I manifest that reality in the face I show to the world? Am I willing to risk letting my inner light shine?

Because it does feel like a risk sometimes. This world doesn’t always reward those who let their light shine. I could be laughed at. I could be sneered at. I could be told that I am delusional, or naive. Someone could lash out at me because they don’t like my light.

One of the primary mitzvot of Chanukah is pirsumei nes, publicizing the miracle. This is the origin of the custom of putting a chanukiyah in the window or in a public place — because we’re not supposed to keep it hidden, we’re supposed to let the light of Chanukah shine.

As we’re supposed to let the light of our souls shine. Whatever clothing we wear, whatever persona we adopt, it’s our job in this world to be human candles. To shed light in the darkness, wherever we go.

When do you feel most able to let the light of your soul shine through?

Who are the people who help you cultivate that feeling?

Where are the places, what are the practices, which help you shine the most?

This Chanukah, will you rededicate yourself to letting your light shine?


A note from Rabbi Rachel before Chanukah

1011a4Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Tonight we’ll enter into Chanukah. Many cultures and traditions feature a festival of lights at this time of year; Chanukah is ours.

There are a lot of different stories we can tell about Chanukah. One story is about resisting tyranny, and clinging to our right to worship God as we choose. Another story is about resisting assimilation — and also about the shadow side of that resistance, the divisive violence which can occur when a group of zealots thinks everyone else has assimilated too much. A third story is about light in the darkness, and about taking a leap of faith, and about miracles. Maybe you will not be surprised to learn that the third story — the one about light, and faith, and miracles — is the one which speaks most to me.

These are dark days in more ways than one. On a literal level, our days are brief at this season and this latitude, and I know that I will breathe a sigh of relief once we reach the winter solstice this weekend and the days start getting longer bit by bit. But on a more metaphysical level, there’s a lot of darkness in the world. Injustice and discrimination, systemic racism, recent revelations about torture in this country — not to mention the personal dark nights of the soul which can arise because of depression, or the loss of a job, or an illness. Sometimes the world may seem too dark to bear.

Chanukah comes to remind us that there is always light in the darkness. Not only that, but the light is ours to kindle. When we make the choice to give our hearts to hope instead of despair, we kindle light in the darkness. When we make the choice to build a better world instead of allowing the petty tyrannies of injustice to triumph, we kindle light in the darkness. Bringing light to dark places is within our power, every day.

I love the miracle of Chanukah because it is so small. Passover reminds us of a huge miracle, the parting of the Sea of Reeds. Shavuot reminds us of a huge miracle, the revelation of Torah at Sinai. But Chanukah’s miracle is tiny. It’s human-sized. It lies in people choosing to have faith, and to kindle the light representing God’s presence even though they didn’t think they had the resources to keep it burning.

We all have moments of fearing that we may not have the internal resources to keep the light burning — the light of justice, the light of compassion and kindness, the light of awareness. Chanukah comes to remind us that what we have is enough; that what we are is enough.

And Chanukah comes to remind us that the miracle of bringing light into the world requires us as well as God. We have to make the conscious decision to kindle the light, to ignite our hearts, to be light-bearers in the world even if we fear we aren’t up to the task. Once we take that first step, the Holy One of Blessing will spread and magnify and sustain that light.

May your Chanukah be sweet and filled with light.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

ps: if you’re looking for some good reading about Chanukah, I recommend the following excellent posts: