Category Archives: guest posts

The Open Door – a guest sermon from Steven Green

Each year at CBI, one or more congregants offers the sermon on erev Rosh Hashanah. This year’s sermon was given by Steven Green, a member of our Board and chair of our Spiritual Life committee.

You are the Open Door

That beckons me in;

Peeking around the door frame,

I begin to enter into Your glory.

You move me forward, O Eternal,

to step beyond self-made boundaries:

lift my foot over the threshold

that I might abide in You.

In the house of the eternal,

I found my questions:

Waiting to be posed,

They filled me with wonder.

Sit with me, Eternal Teacher,

encourage my seeking:

as I fill my hours with Your mitzvoth,

so shall I be filled.

Send me through Your door

Stretching up to honor Your Name,

Sharing out this wonder,

Enriching myself in the giving.  

— Shabbat Siddur

Sometimes these poems/prayers from our siddur are a bit obtuse. You are the open door? And yet we have an opportunity, yet again, to experience the depth of this. But…how? And what is one to expect?

Fair to say that we are here tonight and will be here tomorrow and on YK and spend a veritable ton of time in shul. We are likely to hear a lot about teshuvah, about turning, we will beat our chests confessing sins that, well, I certainly didn’t commit. I think.

Over the next few days in shul the power of the liturgy, the relentless, the poetic, the melodic, the beautiful, the familiar words enable us to actualize one of those phrases from the piyut I just read, “Send me through Your door”. Propel me. Compel me. Enable me to go through that door.

And what might I find on the other side of that door?  Why do I want to go there? Again from the piyyut (poem), “I found my questions: Waiting to be posed, They filled me with wonder.” But how? What does it even mean to go through the door? Talk about esoteric. Ya know when I go to your house, I walk the path, see your front door and knock. You answer and open. Tonight you did the same thing as you came to this building. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur — indeed, each service here in this building — has as its primary goal to open us to a deeper sense of our connection to G!D, the imminent presence and the transcendent power. For way too long I sat in the pews of a synagogue without ever really sensing/feeling/seeing, indeed even believing that it was possible to experience…anything. How did that change? I think it starts with an intention. A desire to more deeply understand. An inchoate sense that I want this, I want what the sages were talking about. I want to have deeper, more profound sense of wonder.

People travel to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering. – Augustine

So, how do you get to this place of wonder? Sometimes it’s just a matter of a change in perspective. I experienced this last week at Mass MoCA. The Turrell exhibit is fascinating. He works in light. He has flat panels that have a light in it…I guess. The instruction is to sit with each panel for a bit. My intention at that point was to figure this out. How is this a significant piece of art? What is he attempting to do and communicate to me. I wanted to know.

From a distance I saw nothing. Walking a bit closer I noticed the light but still was curious as to why this was a big deal. And then. And then standing in front of the panel, walking around it, turning my head I noticed that there was a light, a colored light and the light was actually 3 dimensional, it came out of the flat panel and formed a pyramid in the air. But it didn’t. Yet it did. His whole fascinating exhibit challenges us in so many ways. When I changed my perspective with deliberate intent I could see and understand his art for the first time.

During this season we have the opportunity to change our perspective as to our lives. To approach our life and this season with a sense of…wonder. Plato pointed out that, the unexamined life is not worth living. This is our chance. This is our opportunity, again, this year, again, this holy-day season, again, starting tonight, to begin to see the wonder, to begin to explore the depths of our hearts, the huge waves of the currents of our lives, at the circular motion of our habits, our tendencies that bring us back, always bring us back, to the place where we started. This season allows us to look more closely, to spend a moment and set an intention, to ask the questions that in our busy lives we forget to ask, or fail to ask or are afraid to ask. This is our opportunity, again, being presented to us on that silver plate of our liturgy to explore with intent to change our perspective and to see with new eyes.

Start with an intention.

This is my goal for this season. Join me.



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!

Guest Post from Rabbi Pam Wax: Mussar Learning at CBI


To further the work with Mussar that was begun on Yom Kippur afternoon, Rabbi Pamela Wax will be offering a Torah study class focused on Mussar.  These sessions will be offered following the services she leads on the following upcoming Shabbatot: Saturdays, October 12, November 23, and December 28. They are open to all.  Please join us for services at 9:30 AM and then for Torah study at approximately 11:15 or 11:30.

Mussar is a spiritual practice meant to elevate our character by a focus on our behavior, our motivations, and the cultivation of soul-traits/middot. Through an exploration of the behaviors and intentions of our patriarchs and matriarchs in the book of Genesis and Exodus, we will consider how best to model “walking in God’s ways.”


This update also appears in the Fall 2013 CBI Newsletter.

Guest post by rabbinic student / cantorial soloist David Curiel: Turn It

Here is the sermon which rabbinic student / cantorial soloist David Curiel offered on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

L’shana tova. I am so happy to be back here with you this year. This time without a cold, but with our 10-month-old baby daughter, Dafna, spending her first Rosh Hashana here, with you. Thank you for welcoming us all back so warmly.

As we were getting ready to leave on Wednesday morning, the city of Boston took down a tall, old maple tree from the front of our house. It was sick and had to go, but all the same, we were sad to see it leave. We will miss its shade on hot summer afternoons, but not the worry of large falling branches during winter storms.

It was poignant, as Dafna & I watched, first from the porch, then from the front window, when the noise got too loud, that this was happening on the very last day of the year. That this tree, unlike the one next to it, or indeed all of us, did not make it to the new year. As Ecclesiastes, or the Birds, said, “for everything, turn turn turn, there is a season, turn turn turn, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

This is the season of reckoning with our past and bringing a new, better version of ourselves into the future. How blessed we are to be on that journey together here today.


The Torah readings this year are particularly poignant for me and my family. Yesterday, we read about Sarah’s joy and relief at being granted a child in her old age. Itzchak, meaning “he shall laugh,” a reflection, surely, of the laughter a child brings to a home, especially one long-distressed by infertility.

Today, we read the story of the Akedah–Abraham’s reenactment of what we can reasonably guess was a cultural norm of child sacrifice, abruptly stopped when he hears the voice of YHVH for the first time, saying, “you don’t have to do this–you can break the cycle and do something new.”

We can imagine the fear Abraham had been holding in: stoically marching his son up the mountain, not saying much, so as not to panic the little one.

And we can also imagine him, poised tensely over his son, hearing that voice that must have brought a quivering flood of tears of relief, the collected, unexpressed, intensity of that moment draining from his body as he collapsed momentarily over his son in a bear hug before going to collect the ram stuck in the thicket.

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Guest post from Rabbi Howard Cohen: Dog Sled / Shabbat Retreat

You are cordially invited to a DOG SLED / SABBATH retreat March 14 – 17.

DImagine yourself mushing a team of beautiful dogs through powdery snow against a backdrop of stunning mountains.

As Theodore Herzl said, “if you will it, it is no dream”.

The trip takes place in western Maine. It begins Thursday evening with meeting our mushing guides, Kevin and Polly from Mahoosuc Guide Service, an orientation and then settling into a log cabin for the night. Friday morning after breakfast we meet the dogs and head into the bush. We mush and ski into our winter camp, replete with cozy and toasty warm wall tents, in plenty of time to prepare for Shabbat. The next day we enjoy incredible peacefulness, a bit of Torah study and more mushing. Later in the day under a canopy of more stars than you can imagine we say good bye to Shabbat with Havdalah. Sunday we break camp and head back to the trailhead.

The cost of the trip which includes meals Friday through Sunday and all technical gear is 650.00. There is a small additional fee for the B & B Thursday night.

For more information contact us at or visit us at

I promise it will be an experience (in the positive sense) of a life time. I’ve led these trips for 20 years and every trip is always GREAT!

Burning Bush Adventures is the rabbinate of Rabbi Howard A Cohen. Howard has been guiding Jewishly informed wilderness for over twenty years. He is one of the regular shlichei tzibbur (prayer leaders) at CBI.

Guest post from Rabbi Pam Wax: Pam in Jerusalem

Blessings for 2013!

Chaim and I left on Wednesday night for our trip to Israel. We have rented an apartment in Jerusalem for 3-1/2 weeks. Chaim hasn’t been in over 20 years, having left Kfar Chabad as a teen and then living there again for a year in the 80’s. My last two trips in the past 12 years have been for work and certainly weren’t as leisurely as this one will be.

In any case, I have decided to blog while in Jerusalem. If you are interested in following my posts go to anytime you want to catch up on our doings, or sign up on the homepage to get the email delivered directly to your inbox whenever I post something new. The title of the blog is Pam In Jerusalem: Riffs, Reflections, and Rantings, and I imagine that is just what it will be. Read the “About” section for background info about my decision to do this blog.

I hope this finds you all well.

Guest Post: The Still Small Voice by Cantorial Soloist David Curiel

Here’s the sermon which cantorial soloist David Curiel delivered today. Enjoy!


I’m just getting over a cold. It’s okay, I’m fine: it was a warning sign. Beyond the epidemiology of the thing, it was a way for my body to tell me, in no uncertain terms what I already knew, but was denying myself: Starting the school year at two separate Hebrew Schools, starting two new classes as a student AND preparing for my first ever High Holiday pulpit was a lot to take on in the last couple of weeks. OK, I got it!


We are all repositories of deep inner wisdom, sometimes manifested in really obvious ways, but more often much more subtly. In a short while, we’ll encounter the Unetanah Tokef—the centerpiece of Rosh Hashana liturgy—and sing about the “still small voice.” While we might argue with the prayer’s theological implications—is there REALLY a Shepherd On High writing “who by fire, who by water?”—the imagery and poetry, even in translation, are both powerful and beautiful, reaching their crescendo in that “still small voice.”


This still small voice, our deep inner wisdom, is nothing less than the part of God that is within us. This isn’t to say that we’re God, God forbid! But rather, that we are a channel for God to act through us. But that still small voice gets drowned out and the channel gets clogged. You only need to turn on the TV during primetime or try driving through Boston at about 5:30pm any weekday to experience that.


But even if we avoid the obvious pitfalls—limiting our media intake, turning off our mobile devices—it’s easy to get distracted by the vagaries of the mind—re-arguing old arguments or pre-arguing potential new ones, because maybe this time, it’ll come out right.


Herein lies one of the great paradoxes of being human: we have the faculties to act out God’s will in the world, but by that same token of free will and conscious thought we distract ourselves from the things that are truly important.


And yet, our tradition equips us with a roadmap: the cycle of the Jewish year. This map signals rhythmic inflection points for great joy, disconsolate sorrow, self-examination, contrition and renewal. It is rich with traditions, food, music and all the commentary you care to discuss. But it is only a map, and as we know, there’s a world of difference between the maps we use and the world they represent. More than most, the cycle of the Yamim Noraim—the Days of Awe—draws us into that place of contact between map and reality.

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