Category Archives: contemplative practice

A note from Rabbi Lori Shaller

A message from Rabbi Lori Shaller, who will be leading davenen (prayer) at CBI this coming Shabbat:
Please join me this Shabbat, Saturday, December 3 for a contemplative service. I will be on my yoga mat, suggesting movement and meditation prompts, as well as chanting some, and I invite you to bring your mat, if that speaks to you. You are also welcome to participate sitting in a chair. We will be praying the Sh’ma and V’ahavta, an Amidah and Kaddish, if there are those who want to pray kaddish. I hope to see you b’Shabbat!

A Contemplative Second Day of Rosh Hashanah


Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

You may be aware that as a Reform-affiliated congregation, we celebrate many holidays more briefly than our Conservative and Orthodox family and friends. Passover, for instance: Reform Jews observe seven days of Pesach, while Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside the land of Israel observe eight. Long ago, many Biblically-rooted holidays gained an “extra Diaspora day.”

The original reason for this had to do with ensuring that new moon and full moon were being appropriately marked, and keeping Diaspora celebrations aligned with those in the Holy Land. (If you’re curious about this, read Why Some Holidays Last Longer Outside Israel at

But an interesting thing happened with Rosh Hashanah. All of the other holidays that got an extra Diaspora day remained their original length in Israel (and Reform Judaism opted to maintain their original length even in the Diaspora)… but Rosh Hashanah became a two-day festival both in Israel and in the Diaspora. Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days no matter where we are.

At CBI we have always observed two days of Rosh Hashanah, and this year will be no exception. But this year, Hazzan Randall and I have decided to try something a bit different. Instead of simply replicating the first day’s service, this year we’ll be having a Contemplative Second Day of Rosh Hashanah. (That’s Tuesday, Ocrober 4 this year.)

The sanctuary will shift: we’ll sit in a circle, facing inward into the circle and inward into ourselves. Our use of the machzor (high holiday prayerbook) will shift: we’ll use the same book, but we’ll daven fewer words, and go deeper into the ones that we do chant and sing. Our Torah reading will shift: instead of three aliyot, we’ll have one aliyah, which we’ll enter into in a contemplative manner.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we’ll have a special table in the middle of our circle, on which members of the community will be invited to place meaningful objects. On the second day, we invite you to bring something with you that has spiritual or emotional significance, and place it on the table.

If you’re one of our second day “regulars,” we hope you’ll enjoy this deeper dive into the liturgy and the meaning of this very special day. And if you’ve never before joined us for second day of Rosh Hashanah, we hope you’ll consider giving it a try this year. The second day of Rosh Hashanah is a special day with its own unique energy. We look forward to opening that up for you this year in a new way.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

ps: here’s our High Holiday Schedule for 5777-2016, in case you need it.

and here’s a flyer for the second day.

Shabbat morning, Tzom Tammuz, and a meditation update

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends:

17 Tammuz and the Three Weeks

This coming Shabbat is a minor fast day in Jewish tradition — the fast day of 17 Tammuz (also called Tzom Tammuz — “tzom” means “fast”) when we commemorate the breaching of Jerusalem’s city walls. For those who are interested, here are a couple of things I’ve written about 17 Tammuz over the years: 17 Tammuz: the walls begin to fall (2012), Descent for the sake of ascent: the fast of 17 Tammuz (2014.)

I know that most of us in this community do not observe the minor fasts, but I think we can still find meaning in the way our calendar unfolds. 17 Tammuz begins a period known as the Three Weeks, which will culminate on Saturday August 13 with the fast of Tisha b’Av.

Although this is the week of parashat Balak (the only parasha in Torah featuring a talking donkey!) we will not read from Balak this Shabbat morning. We’ll read instead from the portion that goes with the fast day of 17 Tammuz, and enfolded into our morning service (in lieu of Torah study afterwards) will be a conversation about the Three Weeks and how their teachings about brokenness can be meaningful in our lives today.

A meditation update

On an unrelated note: once again this Friday there will be no meditation. I will be at shul on Friday! But I won’t be there in time to meditate. Thanks for bearing with me as I continue to navigate the changes in my life and my son’s shifting summer schedule. We will meditate again on August 5 (also the day of our next Kabbalat Shabbat / potluck!); I will need to miss August 12; and after that we should have smooth sailing for the rest of the summer and into the fall.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Save the date: contemplative Shabbat morning, April 2

the CBI Spiritual Life committee

and Rabbi Rachel

invite you into a deep, sweet Shabbat

of contemplation and chant


Contemplative Shabbat Morning Service

April 2 / 23 Adar II, 9:30am

Join us in going deep into silence and song.

Though we will be praying only selected “pearls” from the liturgy,

we will recite mourner’s kaddish in full.

Be There: on Mishpatim and Presence

This is the d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI yesterday morning.

24721539102_1c3ce739f2_zIn this week’s Torah portion, Moshe and Joshua and 70 elders have a mystical experience together. They ascend the mountain and behold a vision of God, under Whose feet there is the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, as pure as the very sky itself.

As if that weren’t enough, then God says to Moshe. “Come up to Me on the mountain, and be there.” And this time Moshe goes up on the mountain alone, and enters into the very cloud of God’s presence, and remains there with God for forty days and nights.

This year the phrase “be there” leapt out at me. It seems superfluous. Wouldn’t “come up to Me on the mountain” have been enough? Tradition teaches that every word in Torah carries meaning, which means there must be a reason for this phrase to be there. To me, this year, “be there” suggests a different quality of being present.

It’s one thing to climb the mountain. It’s another thing entirely to really be present at the top — or to really be present along the journey up or down. Anyone who meditates has probably noticed how hard it is to be in the moment. It’s human nature to get caught up in the past or the future, to become so conscious of remembered wounds or joys (or anticipated ones) that we miss the now. Surely Moshe had that problem, just as much as you or I do. So God reminded him: come to Me, and be there.

I was talking about this with R’ David Markus , and he asked whether I saw an anagram in the phrase והיה שם (be there.) I looked at it — and suddenly saw the beautiful teaching he had wanted me to glimpse. Rearrange the letters of והיה (“and be”), and you get the four-letter Name of God, that Name which some consider too holy to speak (and others say we “speak” every time we breathe). When we can be there, then God is there. Making ourselves fully present is how we open up to encountering God.

Shabbat is a 25-hour-long opportunity to be there. On Shabbat, we’re called to set aside our striving, to set aside the inclination to try to change things. We relinquish whatever happened last week: whether bitter or sweet, those days are over now. We resist anticipating whatever might happen during the new week to come: whether bitter or sweet, those days aren’t here yet. Shabbat is the day we’re given, each week, to be in the now. To let now be enough. To find the perfection in this very moment. To be there.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work,” Torah teaches, “but the seventh day is the Shabbat of Adonai your God; on it, you shall not do any work…” Maybe you recognize those words from the Shabbat lunchtime kiddush. The rabbinic text known as the Mekhilta asks, “Is it really possible to do all of one’s work?” Isn’t work, by its definition, something which can never entirely be completed? Rather, teaches the Mekhilta, on Shabbat we are called to rest as if all of our work were complete.

The Hasidic master known as the Sfat Emet teaches — following on that idea from the Mekhilta — that when a person truly stands still for Shabbat, peace and wholeness will descend on them, and it will be as if their work were complete. When we can relinquish workday consciousness, and our to-do lists, and the stories we tell ourselves about the future and the past — when we can be there, as God instructed Moshe — then we can touch perfect wholeness. Then it is as though our work were done. Then we can experience Shabbat as “a foretaste of the world to come.”

The mystical vision of God atop a firmament which was like sapphire, as pure and clear as the very sky, may be beyond us. And the experience Moshe had atop the mountain, surrounded by a cloud of divine presence for forty days and nights, may be even more unimaginable. But we can all follow God’s instruction to him, because we can all have the experience of Shabbat as a time to be there, to commit to being wholly present right here and right now. And right here, right now. And right here, right now.



Image: a detail from a painting by Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried, in watercolor and salt.


Shavua tov and l’shanah tovah!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov – a good week to you!

Join us tonight at 7:30 for Rosh Hashanah evening services, and Monday and Tuesday mornings at 9:30am for Rosh Hashanah morning services. On Monday we will follow services with a walk to the river for tashlich, the ritual where we cast the old year’s misdeeds away like breadcrumbs into the water.

For those who are not able to join us in person, we will be trying to share our services online via livestream again. If we are successful, videos of our services will appear on our livestream page.

This coming Shabbat will be Shabbat Shuvah, “the Shabbat of return.” This special Shabbat in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is unlike any other.

Rabbi Rachel will lead a contemplative, chant-based service on Shabbat morning.  Join us in going deep into silence and song. Though we will be praying only selected “pearls” from the liturgy,  we will recite mourner’s kaddish in full.

At 11:15, Rabbi Pam Wax will lead a special Torah study entitled “The Reckoning of the Soul: The High Holy Days through a Mussar Lens.” All are welcome, whether or not you attend the contemplative service beforehand.

L’shanah tovah – here’s to a year of sweetness for us all.


The Torah of Awakening: a Jewish Meditation e-course

What if you could transform stress into ease, worry into trust, anger into love?

What if you could open so deeply to the blessing and beauty of every moment, that gratitude becomes your natural state?

What if mindfulness were as effortless as breathing?

These are some of the questions asked by Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks. You can listen to and watch some of his teachings on YouTube — see “The Curse Is the Blessing,” Torah of Awakening.

Brian is offering a seven-week e-course in Jewish meditation and spirituality, and all proceeds benefit ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. The seven-week online course costs $21.95.


(He’s also offering a seven-week in-person course in the San Francisco Bay area, and that course can be purchased as a series of recordings for those who, like us, live far away.)

If you’re interested in deepening your contemplative practices while supporting ALEPH, you can learn more (and/or sign up) at Jewish Meditation E-Course.