Category Archives: Pesach

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat and to Pesach!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat and festival services led by board member Steven Green. Please note that services will be in the classroom this week, as the sanctuary is already set up for our second-night seder.

During Pesach we take a break from the regular round of Torah readings, and instead read special Torah readings assigned to the festival. Here’s a short d’var Torah on the special reading for Shabbat Pesach:

And join us on Saturday evening at 6pm for our second night community seder! Hopefully you’ve already RSVP’d so we know you are coming.

May this week leading up to Pesach bring you blessings, and as Shabbat and Pesach arrive may you find yourself ready for transformation.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

 

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Hametz, fire, and miracles: a d’var Torah for Shabbat HaGadol

Bread-fireIt’s Shabbat HaGadol: “The Great Shabbat,” the Shabbat before Pesach. The Shibolei Haleket (R. Zedekiah b. Abraham Harof Anav, d. 1275) explains, “on the Shabbat before Passover the people stay late into the afternoon… in order to hear the sermon expounding upon the laws of removing leaven…”

Everybody ready to listen to instructions for kashering your kitchens?

Just kidding. Though I am going to talk about hametz, and this week’s Torah portion, and teshuvah, and miracles.

The word חמץ / hametz comes from lichmotz, to sour or ferment. Hametz is grain that has fermented. When we left Egypt, we didn’t have time for natural sourdough to leaven our bread, so we baked flat crackers and left in haste. Torah offers us two instructions 1) eat matzah as we re-live the Exodus, and 2) get rid of leaven. The matzah part, we’ll do during Pesach. The getting-rid-of-leaven part, we have to do in advance.

Today is Shabbes, our foretaste of the world to come. Today we do no work. We rest and are ensouled, as was God on the first Shabbat. But tomorrow, and in the weekdays to come, many of us may be doing some spring cleaning as we prepare to rid our homes of leaven for a week. Of course, getting rid of leaven doesn’t “just” mean getting rid of leaven. It can also mean a kind of spiritual housecleaning.

Hametz can represent ego, what puffs us up internally. The therapists among us might note that ego is important: indeed it is. Without a healthy ego, you’d be in trouble. But if one’s ego gets too big, that’s a problem too. The internal search for hametz is an invitation to examine ego and to discern what work we need. Some need to discard the hametz of needing to be the center of attention. Others need to discard the hametz of not wanting to take up the space we deserve.

Another interpretation: hametz is that within us which has become sour. Old stories, old narratives, old scripts. Old ideas about “us” and “them,” old angers, old hurts. Look inside: are you carrying the memory of someone who made you angry? Are you holding on to old grievances? Search your heart: what’s the old stuff you need to scrape up and throw away?

That’s where this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, comes in. This is the ritual of the burnt offering, says God. Keep the fire burning all night until morning. And every morning, take the ashes outside the camp, to a clean place. Notice that removing the ashes is mentioned right up there with burning the offering. Because if the ashes are allowed to accumulate, they’ll choke the fire.

The spiritual work of keeping our fires burning belongs to all of us. It’s our job to feed the fires of hope, the fires of justice, the fires of our own spiritual lives that fuel our work toward a world redeemed. Keep the fire burning all night: even in our “dark” times, when we feel trapped, even crushed, by life’s narrow places.

The thing is, over the course of a year our fires get choked with ash. Disappointments and cynicism and overwork and burnout keep our fires from burning as bright as they could be. This week’s Torah portion reminds us to clean out our ashes. (It’s no coincidence that Tzav comes right before Pesach.)

Pesach offers us spiritual renewal. Pesach invites us to live in the as-if — as if we were redeemed; as if we were free; as if all of this world’s broken places and ugly “isms” were healed. But in order for our spiritual fires to be renewed, we have to clean out the ashes. We have to get rid of the hametz, the schmutz, the ashes and crumbs and remnants of the old year that have become sour and dusty, in order to become ready to be free.

Ridding ourselves of the old year’s mistakes and mis-steps in order to begin again: is this making you think of any other time of year? If this inner work sounds like the work we do before Rosh Hashanah, that’s because it is.

I learned from my teacher and friend Rabbi Mike Moskowitz that we work on our imperfections both during Nissan (now) and Tishri (the High Holidays), and we can dedicate one to working on our “external” stuff and the other to what’s hidden or internal. The Megaleh Amukot (Rabbi Nathan Nata Spira, d. 1633) wrote that these two months of Nissan and Tishri correspond to each other, because during each of these seasons we’re called to seek out and destroy hametz in body and soul.

Another link between Passover preparation and the teshuvah work of the new year: this season, too, is called a new year. Talmud teaches that we have four “New Years”es. The new moon of Tishri is the new year for years. The new year for trees, Tu BiShvat, is in deep winter. The new year for animals is on 1 Elul. And then there’s the new moon of Nisan, ushering in the month containing Pesach… and this entire month has the holiness of a Rosh Chodesh, a New Moon. This whole month is our springtime new year.

Right now the moon is waxing. The light of the moon can represent God’s presence — sometimes visible, and sometimes not, but always with us. Right now there’s more moonlight every night, and we’re invited to experience more connection with holiness with each passing day. Our work now is to clean house, spiritually, by the light of this waxing moon — in order to be internally ready to choose freedom.

When you think of a miracle, what do you think of? Maybe the parting of the Sea of Reeds: that’s a big, shiny, visible miracle from the Passover story. But hope growing in tight places is also a miracle. The fact that we can make teshuvah is a miracle. The fact that we can grow and change is a miracle. The fact that we can do our inner work and emerge transformed is a miracle. This is a month of miracles — as evidenced by its name: the name Nissan comes from נס / nes, “miracle.”

On Thursday night, some of us will hide crusts of bread around our homes. We’ll search for them by the light of a candle. And then on the morning of the day that will become Pesach we’ll burn them, destroying the old year’s hametz. Whether or not you engage literally in that ancient custom of bedikat hametz (searching for / destroying leaven), you can do that work spiritually. (And we’ll begin some of it together during our contemplative mincha service this afternoon.)

What is the old stuff you need to root out and discard in order to walk unencumbered into freedom?

How can you “carry out the ashes” so the altar of your heart can become clean and clear, ready to burn with the fire of hope, the fire of justice, the fire of new beginnings?

 

This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI this Shabbat (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

On “keeping the Pesach,” and gradations of practice

Xmatzah1_0.jpg qitok=9eX4cdDO.pagespeed.ic.SlytqcygAaPesach begins three weeks from tomorrow, and maybe some of you are considering “keeping the Pesach” this year. Maybe you have some anxiety about what exactly that means, or how to do it, or whether you’re going to “do it wrong.” What is keeping the Pesach?

In Exodus 12:15 we read:

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses.

At its simplest, “keeping the Pesach” means 1) eating matzah and 2) removing leaven. In some Jewish contexts there are clear guidelines for how to remove leaven from one’s home, and you either follow them or you don’t. But here at CBI there are many gradations of practice. I don’t see “keeping the Pesach” as a binary. I see it as a spectrum.

At one end of the spectrum, you go to a seder or two, but otherwise your dietary practices are unchanged that week.

At the other end of the spectrum, you remove all leaven (and items made from the five leaven-able grains) from your home, and eat only natural foods (fruits and vegetables don’t need a hechsher, a kosher certification marking) or foods certified as “Kosher For Passover” by a trusted rabbinic authority, and you eat on special plates that you reserve only for this week of the year, plates that have never touched a leavened grain.

There’s a lot in between those choices. For instance:

1) You might choose to avoid bread for a week. Just leavened bread. If you would look at it and say, “Yep, that’s bread,” then don’t eat it. In that case, you might still eat pasta (after all, spaghetti isn’t bread). You might still eat breakfast cereals made from grain (they, too, are not bread.) But your diet would shift enough that you would notice, all week long, that this is a special time.

2) You might choose to also avoid not only actual bread but also bread-like things, from bagels to English muffins. Even sweet muffins, like blueberry or pumpkin muffins, are leavened — so you’d avoid them too. You might choose to avoid beverages that have fermented, like beer or kombucha. In this case too, the pastas and the cereals might still feel okay to you, but the class of foods you’re avoiding would be a larger one.

3) You might choose to remove from your home all things made from the five grains that our tradition considers “leaven-able.” (That’s wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye.) If water spilled into a container of flour and you left it there, the flour would eventually grow its own sourdough starter, which means that flour is “leaven-able” — it is capable of becoming leavened under the right circumstances. Anything made from leavenable grains, you would remove from your home for a week.

4) You might choose to eat special “kosher for Pesach” pasta… or you might avoid it because it looks like and acts like “regular” pasta, and you want your diet this week to feel different.

5) No matter what your dietary practices are, you might choose to get a set of special Pesach dishes, to use during that week only, and to remind you that this is a special time, a week that is set-apart from ordinary life.

6) You might choose to eschew kitniyot (corn, rice, beans, and peas — which have long been part of Sephardic Pesach dietary practice, but used to be forbidden in Ashkenazic practice, though today they are accepted in Reform and Conservative communities)… or you might embrace them wholeheartedly.

All of these are legitimate Jewish ways of experiencing Pesach. (My own family of origin spans that spectrum from one end to the other.) My invitation to you is to choose consciously what you want your Pesach practice to be this year… and to pay attention not only to the contents of your pantry, but also to your heart and soul. Whatever practices you take on should (ideally) serve the purpose of awakening you to the festival and its meaning (at least some of the time.)

The Jewish renewal practice of hashpa’ah (spiritual direction) invites us to ask: where is God for you in this? (If the “G-word” doesn’t work for you, try: meaning, or holiness, or love.) How does this experience connect you with something greater than yourself? How will this practice renew your heart and soul — how will it align you with holiness — how will it open you up to transformation?

The haggadah teaches that it’s incumbent on each of us to see ourselves as though we, ourselves, had been freed from slavery. Pesach comes to teach us that we can experience liberation from our narrow places, from life’s constraints and constrictions. Pesach is about leaving slavery and taking the first steps toward covenant. It’s about taking risks, leaping when the time is right, venturing into the unknown even though it’s unknown. It’s about crossing the Sea and finding ourselves in an unfamiliar wilderness on the other side. It’s about new beginnings, and spring, and trust, and hope.

The word chametz (leaven) comes from the Hebrew l’chimutz, “to sour or ferment.” In one Hasidic understanding, chametz represents the internal puffery of ego. Chametz can mean all of our old narratives, our baggage, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how the world works. Chametz can mean our own sour places, the old psychological and spiritual and emotional “stuff” that we need to clean out and throw away in order to be ready to experience freedom. Whatever you’re doing with the literal chametz in your pantry, ask yourself: what is the internal chametz I need to throw away before Pesach begins?

Whatever your Pesach dietary choices are this year, may they bring you more fully into awareness of the holiday and its meanings, and may they open you more fully to transformation.

 

Related:

 

Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

It’s one month until Pesach! Here are two amazing programs we hope you won’t want to miss.

Dear all,
I hope your Purim was wonderful!
From Purim to Pesach there is one month — and sure enough, the first seder is four weeks from tonight.
We have two amazing events coming up at CBI for which I hope you’ll join us. One is a Shabbaton (a Shabbat retreat) over the Shabbat before Pesach, March 24-25, featuring special guest Rabbi David Markus. And the other is our second-night community seder on Saturday March 31.
Please plan to join us — and please RSVP as soon as you are able so we can plan appropriately!
Information on both is enclosed.
Blessings to all for a sweet Shabbat,
Rabbi Rachel
Shabbat HaGadol: Prepare Your Heart & Soul for Freedom
Facebook event page where you can RSVP if you’re a FB user
(if not, please RSVP by emailing cbinadams@gmail.com)
Shabbat HaGadol (1)
Second Night Community Seder
Facebook event page where you can RSVP if you’re a FB user
(if not, please RSVP by emailing cbinadams@gmail.com)
Seder2018

Shavua tov, moadim l’simcha, looking forward to Shabbat Shemini!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you!

And: moadim l’simcha — wishing you a festival of rejoicing on these days of Pesach!

Monday is the seventh day of Pesach, the day when tradition says we crossed the sea. (For more on this, see: The seventh day: crossing the sea.) Join us at 10am for a short meditative and poetic service with Yizkor led by Rabbi Pam Wax, a chance to remember our beloved dead.

Also join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services. This week we’re reading Shemini. 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: Shmini at the URJ.

Wishing everyone a sweet and liberating continuation of Pesach —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Pesach and to Shabbat Shirah!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

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

This week is Pesach, so our Torah reading will be the reading for the Shabbat which falls during Pesach. It will also be Shabbat Shirah (the “Shabbat of Song”)! If you’d like to read some commentaries on Torah and Pesach, here are a few:

Hopefully you’ve already RSVP’d for tomorrow night’s Second Night Community Seder. If not, please do so immediately — we’ve already set up tables (thank you Jen Burt!) and we need an accurate count.

If you’re still looking for a haggadah for Pesach, here is a link to mine, which is available as a free download: Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach.

Wishing everyone a sweet and liberating Pesach —

Rabbi Rachel

Save the Date: Second Night Community Seder

second-night-community-seder

Don’t miss our Second Night Community Seder!

Tuesday, April 11, 6pm

$21 for adults, $9 for kids

if you can donate more, please do, so that all who are hungry can come and eat

Please RSVP to the office by April 3.

(And if you’re a Facebook user, feel free to also indicate that you’re coming on the Facebook Event Page!)