Category Archives: prayer

An Unetaneh Tokef for Teens of Today

written by the b’nei mitzvah class at Congregation Beth Israel

Today is the day of judgment
when we all come before You to be judged.

We all pass before You
like artisans whose work needs to be inspected.

Just as we all have to go to the doctor
for regular check-ups to make sure we’re okay,

so we all have to be checked-out by You
to make sure that our actions and our behaviors meet Your standards.

On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
and on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

Who will get good grades, and who will flunk out and stay back;
Who wil get the things they want, and who won’t;

Who will be rewarded, and who will be punished;
Who will be healed, and who will be sick;

Who will get the LEGO sets they want, and who will be thwarted;
Whose team will win, and whose team will lose;

Who will be happy with the election results, and who won’t;
Who will have a good year in school, and who will not;

Who will score a goal, and whose shots will go wide of the net;
Whose electronics will work well, and whose will stop working;

Who will be popular, and who will be misunderstood;
Who will have friends, and who will be lonely.

But teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah
temper the harshness of the decree.


For reference: about the Unetaneh Tokef prayer; see also Everyday I Write the Book.

I Seek Your Face… In Everybody Else, Amen – a sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5776

One of my most consistent childhood memories is saying my prayers before I went to sleep. I can still remember the pattern of the wallpaper on the ceiling of my childhood bedroom, and the gentle dip of the bed from where my mom would sit next to me.

I would sing the one-line shema, and then say my litany of “God bless.” I began with “God bless Mom and Dad,” then named my grandparents, then named my siblings and in time their spouses and children. At the very end, I would ask God to bless “all my aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, and everybody else, Amen.”

I’m not sure what I thought it meant to ask God to bless someone. But clearly being blessed by God was a good thing, and I didn’t want anyone to accidentally get left out.

There’s a blessing called Oseh Shalom which appears throughout our liturgy. Here are the words as you may have learned them:

עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָּׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן:

“May the One Who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say: Amen.”

In many communities around the Jewish world today, including this one, another phrase is now added. That phrase is וְעַל כָּל יוֹשבֵי תֵבֱל — “and all who dwell on Earth.” Adding that phrase to Oseh Shalom is a little bit like what I did in my childhood bedtime prayers: “and everybody else, amen.”

Why am I so invested in praying for “everybody else, amen”? Continue reading

A short history of Jewish meditation

Buddhistjewishcenterv2-214x300“Would you consider teaching or writing something about Jewish meditation?” a CBI member asked me recently. “I think people wonder sometimes whether it’s really Jewish.”

Contemplative practice in Judaism has taken a variety of forms, and bears a variety of names, but it’s been a part of Judaism for a very long time. (“Contemplative practice” is an umbrella term which covers a variety of practices; meditation is one of those practices.) Let’s start here: maybe you know that traditional Jewish practice includes praying three times a day. The traditional explanation for that thrice-daily prayer regimen teaches either that we do this in remembrance of the offerings at the Temple of old, or that we do this in remembrance of the patriarchs (or both.)

We read in Torah that Abraham connected with God in the morning, Isaac in the afternoon, and Jacob in the evening, so we do the same. And in Torah, what form did that connection take? In Genesis 24:63, when Isaac went out לָשׂוּחַ / la’suach in the fields, what exactly was going on? According to the classical JPS translation, that verb means “to meditate.” So one could make the case that from the patriarchs on, Jewish prayer has always had a meditative component.

Later, during the time of the Tanna’im (the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Common Era), Jewish mystics sought to elevate their souls by meditating on the chariot visions of Ezekiel. This became a whole school of contemplative practices known as merkavah mysticism. Some of their practices were re-imagined and re-interpreted by later mystical and contemplative movements in Jewish tradition.

Meanwhile, the sages of our tradition were discussing the proper balance of keva (fixed form) and kavanah (intention or meditative focus) in Jewish prayer. Some went so far as to argue that prayer without the right meditative intention doesn’t actually count. In the days of the Tanna’im, communal prayer frequently took the form of variations on known themes, where a skilled prayer-leader would improvise new words on the existing themes of the prayers. Over time, those improvised words were written down, and by the Middle Ages became fixed in more-or-less the forms we know today. Continue reading

Blessings and teachings for Thanksgivukkah

Dear friends,

As you know, this coming Thursday is not only Thanksgiving day, but also the first day of Chanukah, making it “Thanksgivukkah.” Most people have been saying that this won’t happen again for thousands of years, though my colleague Rabbi David Seidenberg makes a compelling case that it will happen again in 2070. (He also offers a lovely suggestion for blessing our children or grandchildren who will live to see that next Thanksgivukkah.) In any event: it’s going to be a festive day twice over!

Attached is a pdf file which contains:

  • a prayer for Thanksgivukkah written by Rabbi Jason Miller
  • a prayer for the Thanksgiving meal written by me
  • a prayer for Thanksgiving written by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
  • and sheet music for a one-line grace after meals.

ThanksgivukkahBlessings [downloadable pdf]

I hope that one or all of these will bring extra joy, mindfulness, and gratitude to your Thanksgivukkah table.

In Hebrew, the name for Thanksgiving is Yom Hodu, “Day of Gratitude.” (Hoda’ah means gratitude or thankfulness.) But the word hodu also means turkey, the animal which is traditional Thanksgiving fare. So Yom Hodu means both “Day of Gratitude” (or “Thanksgiving Day”) and “Day of Turkey.” May your Yom Hodu contain an abundance of gratitude — and, for those who aren’t vegetarians, an abundance of turkey, too!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Prayer for Cemetery Committee & Chevra Kadisha

Here is the prayer for our Cemetery Committee and our Chevra Kadisha which was offered during services this past Shabbat, on Shabbat Chayei Sarah, when we read about Avraham purchasing a burial plot and burying his wife Sarah.

Dear God,

We are grateful to You for instilling in us a love of life and a respect for death.

Today we honor those who serve on our Cemetery Committee and those who lovingly prepare the dead for burial through our Chevra Kadisha. These generous members of our holy community both serve You and honor us with their dedication and loving kindness to our beloved dead.

Through their commitment to the mitzvah of kavod ha-meit, honoring the dead, they also perform the mitzvah of nichum avelim, comforting the mourners, who are assured that their loved ones have been attended to with care and respect.

We thank You, God, for our rich, loving, and wise tradition which deepens our connections to Life, to the meaning of death, to community, and to You.


The Poetry of Prayer at the Williamstown Coffee Shop this fall/winter


The Poetry of Prayer at the Coffee Shop

cup-of-coffee sefer-minhagim-1707-300x292

One Friday A Month, Oct-Feb, 2pm

Join poet & rabbi Rachel Barenblat for a monthly taste of the poetry of Jewish liturgical prayer. Each month we’ll explore a different prayer from the standard daily service, learning a bit about its origins but focusing primarily on its poetry. How do its metaphors and allusions aim to connect us with something beyond ourselves? How does reading the prayer as poetry free us to experience it in a new way? We’ll also look at contemporary / creative reworkings of these classical prayers. There will be plenty of time for questions and conversation.

If you have a favorite prayerbook, feel free to bring it, though copies of the prayers will be provided. All are welcome. If you know you’re coming, please email  so we can be sure to make enough copies. There is no tuition.

2-3:30pm, Oct. 25, Nov. 22, Dec. 20, Jan. 31, Feb. 28
at Tunnel City Coffee, Spring Street, Williamstown MA

offered by Congregation Beth Israel | | 413-663-5830 |

A message from Reb Rachel after the Boston Marathon bombing

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

What an unexpectedly painful week this has been. I know that the bombing at the Boston marathon weighs heavy on all of our hearts.

It is difficult to make sense of this kind of tragedy. But I believe that when we mourn, God mourns with us; and that when we care for one another, God is manifest in the acts of our caring hearts and hands.

A few of my colleagues have written prayers which have been helpful to me this week. Here’s how one of them begins:

God of Runners
God of Responders

We mourn the loss of life
Our cries crack through the icy spring of Minneapolis
To the blood-soaked streets of Boston.

As we remember those whose lives were taken by senseless hate
Lives and limbs torn apart in the blasts of bombs
As we remember people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds
Who seek the help of doctors and therapists, of communities and clergy
Let us open our hearts to heal and hope….

That’s God of Runners, God of Responders by Rabbi Aaron Weininger, a fellow Rabbis Without Borders Fellow.

And here is another:

On this day of destruction, we need to remember that the race is not for the swift; there is no finish line for those who seek a better world.
Neither bombs, nor blood, not death, nor destruction can deter us from running, O God.
We run to You.
We run towards a vision of perfection that is always in our sights.
We run determined to never allow hatred to obscure Your presence.
We run to build a better world.

That’s from A Prayer in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing by Rabbi Joe Black.

Both of these are powerful prayers; I hope that you may find some comfort in reading or reciting them.

The URJ has shared URJ Resources on Bereavement: prayers, ideas, and resources, including links such as “Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do,” which I highly recommend to all of the parents among us.

I have also found meaning in Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s reflection For Boston: Love & Justice, which sets this horrific act in greater historical context. And for a different sort of response, I hope that you may find something of value in my own post We find God in the helpers, which I shared at Velveteen Rabbi on the night of the bombing.

If there are resources, readings, and reflections which you are finding particularly meaningful this week, please feel free to share them on the synagogue’s Facebook page or in the comments to this post on the From the Rabbi blog so that others in our community can benefit from what has helped you.

And, most of all: if you need to talk about what this has brought up for you, I am here. Email me (my email address is once again working) or call me and we’ll find a time to connect. (If you don’t have my cell number at hand, you can call me at shul: 413-663-5830.)

I trust that in time our fragile sense of safety in the world will heal. When it does, I hope we can enter into some communal conversations about the tragedies we have witnessed during 5773 (from the Sandy Hook shootings to this week’s bombing in Boston) and about how we can respond meaningfully to these in the worlds of action, emotions, thought, and spirit.

May the Source of Peace bring comfort to all who mourn, and all who are frightened. May God strengthen us in our love for one another and for those who grieve.

I am holding each of you in my prayers and in my heart.

Reb Rachel