Category Archives: Elul

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Re’eh and Shabbat Mevarchim Elul

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

This Shabbat has a special name: Shabbat Mevarchim Elul. “Shabbat Mevarchim” means it’s a Shabbat of special blessings because of the coming new lunar month (a new month begins in the following week) — in this case, the month of Elul, leading up to the Days of Awe. Here’s a teaching about the month of Elul:  Seeking the Beloved.

This week we’re reading Re’eh. If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

From Rabbi David Markus: This Too Is For Good. From Rabbi Shefa Gold: Re’eh: the Power of Seeing. And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism: Re’eh at the URJ.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Advertisements

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Nitzavim… and Rosh Hashanah!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! Join us this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services where we’ll read from parashat Nitzavim

And join us this coming Sunday evening, October 2 for Rosh Hashanah evening services. Here’s our high holiday schedule for 5777 [pdf]. (Join us too on Monday October 3 for Rosh Hashanah morning services, and on Tuesday October 4 for a contemplative second day Rosh Hashanah morning service.)

 

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Nitzavim at the URJ.


During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season (and here’s a beautiful instrumental version), and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem, which we introduced last year:

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”


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.

Balancing judgement with love: a d’var Torah for Shabbat Shoftim

Have you ever been asked the question “if you knew you were going to be marooned on a desert island, what five books would you take with you?” One of mine would be Rabbi Alan Lew’s This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. I reread that book each year at this season.

Here’s a short quote from that book, talking about this week’s Torah portion:

Parashat Shoftim… begins with what seems like a simple prescription for the establishment of a judicial system: ‘Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves in all your gates.’ But the great Hasidic Torah commentary, the Iturey Torah, read this passage as an imperative of a very different sort — an imperative for a kind of inner mindfulness. According to the Iturey Torah, there are seven gates — seven windows — to the soul: the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils, and the mouth. Everything that passes into our consciousness must enter through one of these gates.

On a deep level, says Rabbi Lew, this passage has nothing to do with establishing a system of judges and courts. Rather, it’s about mindfulness and teshuvah, that existential turning that’s at the heart of this season.

‘Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves in all your gates.’ We can’t always control what we see. Sometimes we see things we wish we could un-see, or hear things we wish we could un-hear. But we can make choices about how we respond to what we see and hear. Maybe there’s political rhetoric this election season that upsets me, or someone in my sphere who’s acting unfairly or unkindly. I can’t un-hear the offending words or un-see the offending deeds, but I can choose what qualities I want to cultivate in myself as I respond to what the world presents to me.

I can choose to cultivate lovingkindness. I can choose to cultivate good boundaries and to say “enough is enough.” I can choose to cultivate the right balance between love and judgement. This Shabbat offers an opportunity to do precisely that.

Shabbat Shoftim — “Shabbat of Judges” — always falls during the first or second week of Elul. The moon of Elul is waxing now, and when it wanes we’ll convene for Rosh Hashanah. The liturgy for that day describes God as the Judge before whom all living beings must appear. On that day the book of our lives will read from itself, reflecting the lines we’ve written over the last year with our words and our deeds, our actions and our inactions.

But before we get to Rosh Hashanah, we have three more weeks of Elul to go. Our sages read the name of this month as an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” Before we stand before God as Judge, we have the opportunity to experience God as Beloved. Tradition teaches that this month God isn’t in the Palace on high, but “in the fields” with us. We get to with the Source of All in the beautiful late summer meadows, talking with God the way one might talk to one’s most dearly beloved friend.

Because here’s the thing about your most dearly beloved friend, the person who loves you most in all the world: that person notices your flaws, sure, but they see your flaws in the context of your good sides. Your best qualities. Imagine someone who loves you so dearly that they can’t help seeing everything that’s best about you, every time they look at you. During this month of Elul, that’s how God sees each of us. That’s the backdrop against which the judgements of Rosh Hashanah take place.

This week’s Torah portion instructs us to pursue justice, and it doesn’t seem to be speaking only to those who do the work of justice for a living. This work falls to all of us. Pursuing justice, and engaging in the work of judgement and discernment, is on all of us. Where are we living up to our highest selves, and where are we falling short of our ideals? As the Iturey Torah asks, what do we want to let in through the gates of the senses, and what words and deeds and facial expressions do we want to let out?

And it’s also our task to remember that we emulate God not only when we judge ourselves and others, but also when we cultivate love for ourselves and others — in fact we are most like God davka (precisely) when we do both. Shabbat Shoftim always falls during this month of Elul, during this month of loving and being loved. The challenge is finding the right balance of love and judgement in every moment. It can be tempting to lean toward one and neglect the other, but that’s a temptation we need to resist.

Balancing love and judgement is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. If I bring nothing but chesed, abundant lovingkindness, to myself and to the world around me I am liable to spoil my child, turn a blind eye to unfairness, and let myself or others off the hook when I should be expecting better. If I bring nothing but gevurah, boundaries and strength, I am liable to be overly strict, to cross the line from discerning to judgmental, and castigate myself and others when I should be responding with gentleness.

May this Shabbat Shoftim, this Shabbat of Judges, inspire us to balance our lovingkindness with good judgement, and to infuse our discernment with love.

 

This is the d’var Torah Rabbi Rachel offered on Friday night at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Shavua tov and chodesh tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shoftim & Shabbat Across the Berkshires

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all, and chodesh tov / a good new month to all — happy new lunar month of Elul!

a6ed3d9f-3207-4167-ad3e-295f11ffd5f5

This weekend brings Shabbat Across the Berkshires. Join us at CBI at 7pm on Friday night (note: not our usual time) for a Kabbalat Shabbat service which we hope will be attended by congregants and clergy from throughout Berkshire County. This is the first time that Shabbat Across the Berkshires has happened in North County: join us! After davenen there will be a celebratory oneg hosted by the CBI Board.

Join us also at 9:30am on Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services where we’ll read from parashat Shoftim.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Shoftim at the URJ.


During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season (and here’s a beautiful instrumental version), and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem, which we introduced last year:

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”


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.

Shavua tov and chodesh tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shoftim.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you! And also chodesh tov, wishing you a sweet new month, as we have entered into the lunar month of Elul.

This week we’re reading parashat Shoftim from the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy.)return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Shoftim | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season, and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem.

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

On meteors, the night sky, and seeing ourselves in a new light – thoughts for Elul

IStock_000013878410Medium

A few nights ago a friend reminded us that the Perseid meteors were going to be visible. So around 9pm we turned off all of our lights and went outside and lay on our backs on the deck and stared up at the sky. I knew it would take a while for my eyes to adjust.

From the moment I looked up at the heavens I was awestruck by the sheer number of stars. And I thought to myself: even if I don’t see any meteors, dayenu, it’s enough, because this is so beautiful. And then I saw one streak across the sky, and it was amazing.

I know that we are blessed to live in a place that doesn’t have a lot of “light pollution” — where we can turn off our lights and really see the night sky. And I know that the reason the stars were so visible is that there was almost no moon.

Because this weekend is Rosh Chodesh — new moon. Now the moon starts growing again. This is one of the things I love about being attuned to the Jewish calendar: it means I’m also always attuned to the phases of the moon as she waxes and wanes.

The moon will grow for two weeks, and shrink for two weeks, and the next new moon is Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, also known as Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is four weeks from this Sunday. Maybe for some of you that doesn’t sound like a big deal. So what? You’re not writing sermons or preparing services, so does it really make a difference to you? I want to say today that it can make a difference — and I hope that it will.

Our tradition teaches that this is a month during which we should deepen our spiritual practices, whatever they may be. This is a month during which we look back on the year now ending. Who have you been, since last Rosh Hashanah?

What are you proud of, and what do you feel ashamed of? When were you the best self you know how to be, and when did you fall short? How’s your relationship with God these days — whatever that word or idea means to you?

If we spend these next four weeks in introspection, discerning where we may have mis-stepped and where we forged a wise path, then when we get to Rosh Hashanah we’ll experience those two days of prayer and song and story in a different way.

If we spend these next four weeks rekindling our spiritual practices — be they yoga, or meditation, or prayer, or walking in the woods — then when we metaphorically call up God on Rosh Hashanah we won’t be afraid of hearing, “it’s been a whole year — nu, you don’t write, you don’t call…!”

One Hasidic teaching holds that Elul is the time when “the King is in the fields” — when God leaves the divine palace on high and enters creation to walk with us in the meadows and listen to the deepest yearnings of our hearts. God is extra-available to us this month. What do we most need to say?

Another Hasidic teaching points out that the name of this month, Elul, can be read as an acronym for Ani l’dodi v’dodi li — “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” The Beloved, in this context, is God. We belong to God, and God belongs to us, and what connects us is love.

The stars are there every night, but we can only see them when there are no clouds and when the moon has dwindled. The opportunity to do the work of teshuvah, repentance / return, is there all year long — but some seasons of the year offer us special opportunities to see ourselves in a new light.

This is a time of month when the night sky is filled with tiny lights. And this is a time of year when we can open our hearts and souls to the light of God’s presence as we do the work of discernment and transformation. Imagine what we might see in ourselves if we take the time to let our eyes adjust.

Here’s to a meaningful Elul.

This is the d’var Torah (really more of a d’var zman, a word about the season) which I offered at CBI yesterday. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Ways to enrich your High Holiday season…starting this weekend

elulDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

This weekend we’ll enter into the lunar month of Elul — the four weeks leading up to the Days of Awe. This is the time to begin the journey of introspection and reflection which can deeply enrich your experiences of the High Holidays. Who have you been, over the last year? What are the things you feel great about, the things you’re proud of? What are the things you feel not-so-great about, the places where you missed the mark?

One tradition says that Elul is the time to work on teshuvah, repentance / repair, in our relationships with God: whatever you understand that term to mean — God far above or deep within, the Source of meaning, Love, the Cosmos, the Cosmic Parent, the Beloved, whatever metaphor works best for you. This is also a good time to work on repairing our relationships with ourselves: where have we disappointed ourselves, and how can we learn to offer ourselves forgiveness? What are we most grateful for, and how can we cultivate that gratitude in our lives every day?

If we spend Elul engaged in this work, then by the time Rosh Hashanah rolls around we will already be steeped in the themes of the season, and the prayers in our prayerbook may resonate in a different way… and we’ll be better prepared to spend the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, mending our relationships with the people in our lives. First we repair our relationship with our Source; then we can repair our relationships with each other.

Here are six ways to dive deeper into Elul:

  1. Take a few minutes every day to breathe deeply, be present in the moment, and take your emotional-spiritual temperature: how are you feeling, not physically but emotionally? What’s arising in you today?
  2. On social media check out the hashtag #blogElul, which all month long will bring you blog posts and tweets on themes of repentance and return. (This is an annual thing organized by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, a.k.a. Ima Bima.)
  3. Read an Elul poem every day and spend a few moments letting the poem soak in and seeing what it awakens in you. (In my office I have copies of my collection See Me: Elul Poems available for borrowing or purchase; you can also buy the book on Amazon if you are so inclined, and if you do so, you can get the e-book for 99 cents.)
  4. Come to Shabbat services. Dip into song and prayer with our community. You may find that it opens your heart and enlivens your spirit in ways you didn’t expect… and you’ll also get some advance glimpses of some melodies we’ll be using during the Days of Awe.
  5. Read, pray, or sing Psalm 27 every day. This is the psalm our sages assigned to this month. Here are some different versions to try:
    1. Reb Zalman (z”l)’s English translation
    2. One verse of the psalm set to music, in Hebrew, by Nava Tehila
    3. Alicia Ostriker’s psalm 27
    4. Achat Sha’alti melody by I. Katz
    5. R’ Brant Rosen’s English translation
    6. Kirtan Rabbi’s Achat Sha’alti (info) and mp3
  6. Go for a walk. Another tradition teaches that Elul is the month when God leaves the divine palace on high and wanders in the fields, waiting for us to come and walk and talk and pour out our hearts. Take time this month to walk in the fields, hike up the mountains, and silently or out loud say to God whatever you need to.

I hope that some or all of these methods speak to you. We’re entering one of my favorite months of the year. If we open ourselves to it, it can work some powerful transformations on our hearts and on our souls.

Wishing everyone an early chodesh tov — may your month of Elul be meaningful and sweet.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel