Category Archives: Chanukah

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Chanukah!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you — and chag urim sameach, a joyous festival of lights to you!

If you haven’t yet seen the new North Adams City menorah, be sure to take note as you drive down Main Street. It’s planted in the median beside the City Christmas tree, across the street from City Hall. There was a beautiful dedication and lighting ceremony on the first night of Chanukah, which you can read about here: North Adams Celebrates Lighting of First Menorah in iBerkshires, and A First for Festival of Lights in North Adams: a Public Menorah for Hanukkah in the Berkshire Eagle. Deep thanks to Mayor Tom Bernard and to the City buildings and grounds crew for making this happen.

Please join us on Friday night at 5:30 for our annual Shabbat Chanukah Celebration & Potluck!B ring your chanukiyah and candles! We’ll sing some Chanukah songs, light all of our chanukiyot and bask in their light, welcome Shabbat with candles and song, and enjoy a vegetarian / dairy potluck (bring a dish to share) with latkes and fixings, as well as a Chanukah-themed craft project with Rabbi Jarah. Please RSVP ( so we know how many tables to set up.Here’s the Facebook event if you want to RSVP there or to share it on your own FB page.

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

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

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

And here are commentaries from the URJ:

For those who need, here are resources for celebrating Chanukah at the URJ website.

Hope to see you soon at CBI!


Rabbi Rachel

Vayeshev: letting our light shine

At the start of this week’s parsha, Vayeshev, Joseph tells his brothers about his dreams. In one dream, their sheaves of wheat bow down to his. In another, the stars and the sun and moon (maybe a representation of the siblings and the parents) bow down to him. In both dreams, Joseph’s light is shining brightly.

His brothers respond by casting him into a pit and selling him into slavery.

Sit with that for a minute. Does it sound over-the-top? Sure. But I’ll bet every one of us here has had an experience of feeling attacked, or cut-down, or cast away, because we were letting our light shine too brightly for someone else’s comfort.

Reading this parsha this year, I’m struck by the contrast between the brightness of Joseph’s internal light, and the dark pit into which his brothers throw him. Joseph’s brothers resent his light. They want to remove him from their family system because they resist and resent his light.

I don’t like to think in terms of people manifesting darkness or light — it’s so binary. I want to say that we can or should seek out the spark of goodness even in people who seem to be evil. And yet we all know that darkness is real, and that it can cause harm.

It is the nature of darkness to resist and resent light — to blame light for shining. But we have to let our light shine.

The Hasidic rabbi known as the Slonimer, writing on this week’s parsha, cites a midrash that says that Jacob is fire and Joseph is flame. And fire and flame are what can burn away the forces of negativity and darkness.

He goes on to say that we each need to kindle our own inner flame. He says we do that with Torah study, and with service (service of God, service of our fellow human beings), and with holiness. Because if we keep our inner fires burning, we can counter our own yetzer ha-ra, our own evil inclination… and we can counter the forces of darkness outside of us, too.

When we enflame ourselves with Torah — when our hearts are on fire with love of God and love of justice and love of truth — then our fires will burn brightly no matter who wants to quench our flame. And then even if others respond to our light with negativity, as Joseph’s brothers did, we’ll have the inner resources to make goodness (or find goodness) even in the times when life feels dark or constricted.

It’s our job to keep our inner fires burning and to shine as brightly as we can. That’s what Jewish life and practice ask of us. That’s what authentic spiritual life asks of us. That’s what this season asks of us.

On Sunday night we’ll kindle the first candle of Chanukah. We begin that festival with one tiny light in the darkness that surrounds us. But Chanukah comes to remind us that from one light will grow another, and another, and another. And when we let our light shine, we make it safe for others to let their light shine, too.

As the days grow darker, may we enflame our hearts with love of all that is good and holy, ethical and right. And may we be strengthened in our readiness to let our light shine.


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

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)