Category Archives: Uncategorized

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuvah

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Returning. Like last year, this will be a contemplative service, allowing us to go deep into our own internal landscape of repentance and return.

Of course, before we get to Shabbat, join us for High Holiday services! (Here’s our schedule for the Days of Awe if you need it. And here’s a link to a recent post containing some high holiday melodies.)

This week we’re reading Ha’azinu (when we’re not reading the Rosh Hashanah Torah readings!) If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism:  Ha’azinu at the URJ.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we’ll be reading from the story of the casting-out of Hagar and Ishmael; on the second day of Rosh Hashanah we’ll experience a contemplative Torah journey into the akedah, the Binding of Isaac. If you’d like to read some reflections on those stories, here are a few:

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Advertisements

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayeilech, and to Selichot!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Chris Kelly.

And join us on Shabbat evening at 8pm for Selichot, the service that kicks off our high holiday season! (Here’s our schedule for the Days of Awe if you need it. And here’s a link to a recent post containing some high holiday melodies.)

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

And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism:  Nitzavim-Vayeilech at the URJ.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Contemplative Second Day of Rosh Hashanah

seconddayDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

You may be aware that as a Reform-affiliated congregation, we celebrate many holidays more briefly than our Conservative and Orthodox family and friends. Passover, for instance: Reform Jews observe seven days of Pesach, while Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside the land of Israel observe eight. Long ago, many Biblically-rooted holidays gained an “extra Diaspora day.”

The original reason for this had to do with ensuring that new moon and full moon were being appropriately marked, and keeping Diaspora celebrations aligned with those in the Holy Land. (If you’re curious about this, read Why Some Holidays Last Longer Outside Israel at MyJewishLearning.com.)

But an interesting thing happened with Rosh Hashanah. All of the other holidays that got an extra Diaspora day remained their original length in Israel (and Reform Judaism opted to maintain their original length even in the Diaspora)… but Rosh Hashanah became a two-day festival both in Israel and in the Diaspora. Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days no matter where we are.

At CBI we have always observed two days of Rosh Hashanah, and this year will be no exception. And this year, like last year, we’ll be diving into a Contemplative Second Day of Rosh Hashanah. (That’s Friday, September 22 this year.)

The sanctuary will shift: we’ll sit in a circle, facing inward into the circle and inward into ourselves. Our use of the machzor (high holiday prayerbook) will shift: we’ll use the same book, but we’ll daven fewer words, and go deeper into the ones that we do chant and sing. Our Torah reading will shift: instead of three aliyot, we’ll have a contemplative Torah service experience led by Rabbi Lori Shaller.

Like last year, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah we’ll place a special table in the middle of our circle, on which members of the community will be invited to place meaningful objects. On the second day, we invite you to bring something with you that has spiritual or emotional significance for you, and place it on the table during our davenen.

If you’re one of our second day “regulars,” we hope you’ll enjoy this deeper dive into the liturgy and the meaning of this very special day. And if you’ve never before joined us for second day of Rosh Hashanah, we hope you’ll consider giving it a try. The second day of Rosh Hashanah is a special day with its own unique energy. We look forward to opening that up for you this year in this rich way.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel and Hazzan Randall

ps: here’s our High Holiday Schedule for 5778 / 2017 in case you need it.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shoftim.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

If you’re interested in Jewish teachings about the solar eclipse, here’s a wonderful compilation of blessings, teachings, and other materials assembled by my friend and colleague Rabbi Riqi Kosovske: Jewish Solar Eclipse Resources.

The new month of Elul begins tomorrow. Four short weeks until Rosh Hashanah: time to shift our inner discernment work into higher gear. If you’d like to buy or borrow a copy of See Me: Elul Poems to enrich your experience of this special month, drop by my office (I’m in on Monday and Friday this week).

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

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

And here are commentaries from the Union for Reform Judaism:  Shoftim at the URJ.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Eat, be satisfied, and bless – a d’var Torah for Eikev

Shabbath-vachalta-vsavata_07-50x402-e1433537246991I was working a few days ago with a friend’s daughter who’s becoming bat mitzvah in a few weeks. I found myself remembering a moment shortly after my own celebration of bat mitzvah.

Faced with the prospect of writing a mountain of thank-you notes. I took up my pretty new stationery and I wrote, “Dear so-and-so, thank you for the gift, love Rachel” over and over and over.

When my mother found out that I hadn’t been personalizing the notes, she made me throw them all out and start again. She insisted that I say what each gift was and why I appreciated it.

And that’s how I learned that one must be specific in a thank-you note. “Thank you for the thing, whatever it was” will not cut it. (Not for my mother, anyway.) Enter this week’s Torah portion, Eikev:

וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יָה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ

And you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless YHVH your God for this good land that God has given you.

From this springs the custom of birkat hamazon, the “grace after meals,” also called bentsching. Our tradition teaches us to offer that prayer after any meal at which bread is consumed in a quantity as large as an olive. Even for a bite-sized gift, we’re meant to say thank You.

The traditional birkat hamazon contains four blessings: for the food, for the land, for the holy city of Jerusalem, and for God’s goodness. Those blessings are adorned with an introductory psalm and a series of blessings that call God The Merciful One, plus additions for Shabbat and festivals. This is how our tradition works: a short text is embroidered with additions, and the additions become canon too.

And while it’s easy to roll our eyes at that process of accretion — this is how we wind up with long prayers: because we get attached to the new additions, but we can’t bear to get rid of the original material! — the process often yields liturgy that I truly love singing. And I do love bentsching (singing the birkat hamazon) when I’m lucky enough to gather a table of people who want to sing it with me.

Besides, one could argue that the impulse comes out of the same place as my mother’s decision to make me rewrite all of my thank-you notes. It’s not enough to just say “Hey, thanks for the thing.” If we’re doing it right, we ought to articulate gratitude for the food, and for the land in which the food arises, and for our holy places, and for the goodness of God that leads to the gift of sustenance in the first place.

Then again, it’s often our custom here to sing abbreviated liturgy. This is true in its most concentrated form when we have contemplative services. But most of the time we opt for fewer words and greater connection with those words, rather than singing the full text of what the most liturgical versions of Judaism might prescribe. Most often when we bless after a meal here, we sing brich rachamana:

בּרִיךְ רָחָמַנָה מָלְכַא דְעָלמַע מָרֵי דְהָאי פִתָא.

You are the source of life for all that is and Your blessing flows through me.

(Aramic translation: Blessed is the Merciful One, Sovereign of all worlds, source of this food.)

You have probably heard me say that that blessing originates in Talmud. You may also have heard me say that it’s the shortest possible grace after meals that one can offer — for instance, if one were being chased by robbers and needed to make the prayer quick. This is a popular teaching, though I can’t actually source it! But it shows awareness, in the tradition, that sometimes we can’t manage full-text.

For me, then, the question becomes: how do we sing the one-liner in such a way that we invest it with the kavvanah (the meaning and the intention) that the long version is designed to help us cultivate? How do we sing the short version without falling into the trap that I fell into as an overeager thirteen-year-old writing “thanks for the thing”?

One answer is to go deep into the words. This short Aramaic sentence tells us four things about God: God is blessed, and merciful, and is malkah, and is the source of our sustenance. I want to explore each of those, but I’m going to save the untranslated one for last.

1) God is blessed. What makes God blessed? We do, with our words of blessing. We declare God to be blessed, and by saying it, we make it so. (If this intrigues you, read Rabbi Marcia Prager’s The Path of Blessing — it’s in our shul library.)

2) God is merciful. The Hebrew word “merciful” is related to the Hebrew word for “womb.” God is the One in Whose Womb all of creation is sustained. When I really think about that metaphor, it blows my mind. The entire universe is drinking from God’s umbilical cord!

3) God is the source. The source of all things; the source of every subatomic particle in the universe; the source of the earth in which our food comes to be, and the hands that raised or harvested or prepared what we eat, and the source of the things we eat that sustain us.

4) And God is malkah. That word can be translated as King, or Queen, or if you prefer gender-neutral, Sovereign. But to our mystics, the root מ/ל/כ connotes Shechinah: the immanent, indwelling, feminine Presence of God — divinity with us, within us, among us.

God is blessed because we invest our hearts and souls in speaking that truth into being. God is mercy made manifest in our lives. God is the source from Whom all blessings flow. And God is that Presence that we feel in our hearts and in our minds, in our souls and in our bones. It’s that Presence — or, if you’ll permit me some rabbinic-style wordplay, those Presents — for which we articulate our thanks.

To be really grateful is to be grateful for the specific, not the general. (That was my mother’s thank-you note lesson all those years ago.) The Aramaic says ‘d’hai pita,’ “for this bread,” not just for bread. I’m grateful for this bread that I took into my body. That makes it personal, because gratitude is personal by definition.  If we don’t take our gratitude personally, then it’s not gratitude; it’s just rote words.

Our task is to eat, because ours is not an ascetic tradition. To be satisfied, because that is a healthy response to consumption. (Alexander Massey suggests that we cultivate satisfaction as a good in itself, and pray from there.) And then our task is to bless, and to really feel the awareness and the gratitude and the presence, to take them personally and make them real — no matter what words we use.

 

Image source: a challah cover bearing the words “you shall eat, and be satisfied, and bless,” available at one of my favorite Judaica stores, The Aesthetic Sense. Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vayekhel-Pekudei

Dear all,

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on  Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel — during which we will call up Isaac Hermann to the Torah as bar mitzvah!

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

Here’s a commentary from my friend and colleague Rabbi David Evan Markus: Building the Trusting Heart.

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Vayekhel-Pekudei at the URJ.

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.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Terumah

Dear all,

return-to-shabbatShavua tov — a good new week to you.

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

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

Here is a commentary from my friend and colleague Rabbi David Evan Markus; Denominational ins and outs, the new mishkan.

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Terumah at the URJ.

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.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel