Category Archives: Elul

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Ki Tetzei – and to Selichot!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

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

And please join us on Saturday at 8pm for Selichot, the service that launches us into the high holiday season. We’ll experience our first tastes of high holiday music for this year (both the nusach, the melody-system, that’s only used during the Days of Awe — and some of our most familiar and beloved high holiday “tunes”). We’ll also have an opportunity to engage in a contemplative writing practice that will attune us to the things we need to work on this year. Afterwards stick around for a potluck dessert reception hosted by the Spiritual Life committee (and please bring a dessert to share if you can.)

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:

We’ve entered into the month of Elul, the month that leads us to the Days of Awe. It’s traditional to pray the words of Psalm 27 during this month. (There are links to several different versions in this post.) At Shabbat services this month and during the Days of Awe we’ll be singing a new setting of verse 13 of that psalm, which you can listen to here:

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the mp3 file here, and you can find sheet music and read more about the setting and the psalm here.)

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

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Music for Elul and the Days of Awe: Lulei He’emanti

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The High Holiday season begins with the lunar month of אלול / Elul, the month that leads us to Rosh Hashanah. Elul begins this Friday evening.

Some of us enter this holy corridor of time through the words of psalms and prayer, both ancient and modern. Some find a doorway in through contemplation and cheshbon ha-nefesh, taking an accounting of our souls. And some of us find a way in through music. I love all three of these, but the doorway of music is particularly close to my heart.

Every year at CBI at this season we sing settings of different parts of Psalm 27, the psalm that tradition assigns to the month of Elul and the Days of Awe. Over recent years we’ve come to know and love Israel Katz’s “Achat Sha’alti,” and Nava Tehila’s “Lach Amar Libi,” and an adaptation of Bat Kol’s “Kaveh El Adonai / Keep Hoping in the One.”

Our shul has been sharing these musical themes each year (and the sermon themes that go with them) with Temple Beth El of City Island, the shul served by my dear friend and Bayit co-founder Rabbi David Markus. This year our shared theme for the Days of Awe is Vision, and our musical refrain for the season is a setting of Psalm 27 verse 13, music written by Rabbi David.

The words are:

לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב-יְהוָ”ה  בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים

Lulei he’emanti lir’ot b’tuv-Adonai b’eretz chayyim

Here’s a simple recording:

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the mp3 file here.)

And for those who read music, here’s sheet music:

Lulei

Here are a few different translations of this verse:

[I would not have survived]
If I had not hoped that I would yet see
Yah’s goodness fully alive on Earth.  (R’ Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l)

*

If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Jewish Publication Society, 1917)

*

though i don’t always see it
i will ever trust in your goodness
right here
right now
in the land of the living. (R’ Brant Rosen)

*

Had I not the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living… (JPS, 1985)

The first word of the verse, lulei, is a special word. It’s traditionally written with dots over and below it: maybe to call our attention to it, maybe to enhance its conditional quality, maybe to heighten its poignancy. Without the word lulei, the verse would be fairly straightforward, indicating belief that the speaker will see God’s goodness in the land of the living. With lulei, the verse could imply: do I really see God’s goodness? do I really believe that I can see God’s goodness? what would I do if I couldn’t see God’s goodness? what do I do at the times when I cannot see God’s goodness? what does it mean to have faith, or to say that God is good, or to say that the world is good? what does it mean to see goodness in the world around us?

All of these are powerful questions that can fuel our entry into the High Holiday season.

We’ll sing this setting of Psalm 27:13 at all of the services I lead between now and the end of the Days of Awe, and Hazzan Randall and I will sing it with you during the High Holidays themselves, too. I hope you will listen to it this month. Sing along with it, let it soak into you, let it run through your head and heart, and let it infuse and inform this holy corridor of time leading us into and through the turn of the year.

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Re’eh… and the month of Elul!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

The coming Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh, New Moon — and it will usher in the new lunar month of Elul, the month leading us to the Days of Awe.

Stay tuned for more on that later this week, including a new musical setting of a verse from Psalm 27, the psalm for Elul, that will carry us through the high holiday season.

Meanwhile, please join us on Saturday at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Jarah Greenfield. This week we’re reading from parashat Re’eh.

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

Here’s a commentary from Rabbi David Markus:

And here are commentaries from the URJ:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

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

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!

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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.