Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Balak.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.This week we’re reading from parashat Balak.

This week we are particularly trying to ensure a minyan so that Rabbi Pam can say kaddish for her brother Howard z”l. Please join us for Shabbat morning services and help to constitute a minyan for Rabbi Pam. Also if you plan to be present this week please let her know by Thursday; there will be a luncheon following services, during which she will offer a teaching about her brother.

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:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

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#FamiliesBelongTogether, and what we can do

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Many of you who have spoken with me this week have described your despair at current policy of stripping children from parents in order to deter immigration. You’ve spoken to me about your shock and heartbreak, about the emotional and spiritual impact of that news recording of children crying out for parents they may never see again, about the known traumatic impacts of separating young children from their caregivers.

Recent public discourse has included the suggestion that immigrants are “infesting” our country — language which should deeply trouble us as Jews: it’s the language the Nazi party used to justify what we now know as the Holocaust, and it’s also the language Pharaoh used in Torah to describe our spiritual ancestors before setting the enslavement of the Israelites in motion. I know that many of you are troubled by this language too.

Like many of you, I am descended from immigrants who came here seeking asylum from state-sponsored persecution, which gives me an extra sense of connection with today’s refugees. Like many of you, I have been gutted to imagine what those children are going through — and to imagine the anguish their parents now face. Like many of you, I have felt sometimes paralyzed by the enormity of the injustice currently on display.

I am writing to you today to urge you not to give in to that paralysis or to its psycho-spiritual sibling despair. The need is too great. The work of creating a more just world is work in which all of us are obligated as human beings and as Jews. The call to “love the stranger, for [we] were strangers in the land of Egypt” is repeated in Torah no fewer than 36 times. Separating parents from children is the very opposite of showing love.

The ADL recently sent Jeff Sessions a letter, co-signed by 26 American Jewish organizations, arguing that taking children away from parents is unconscionable and that as Jews we understand the plight of immigrants fleeing danger and seeking asylum. On this, every branch of Judaismthe Reform movement, the Conservative movement, the Reconstructing Judaism movement, and the Orthodox movement — is in agreement. 

Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization that works toward creating a more just world, has established a petition declaring a state of moral emergency.  As of this writing, more than 14,000 people have signed it. Here’s a secular petition as well. Signing a petition doesn’t “do” much, but it can break the personal sense of powerlessness. Reaching out to elected officials is another small act that can begin to create change.

There is a custom of giving tzedakah before Shabbat in order to prime the pump for blessing to flow into the world over Shabbes and in the week to come. My tzedakah donation this week will go to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing immigrant families and refugees (including children) with affordable legal assistance.

Another possible place to direct your tzedakah this week is the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which advocates for the safety and well-being of unaccompanied kids arriving in the United States. The organization recently announced a project specifically dedicated to helping children separated from their parents at the border. You can learn more about the program’s efforts and how to donate here.

I believe that as human beings and as Jews we are called to speak and work and act against injustice wherever it arises. Separating parents from children is injustice. Please do what you can to encourage our government to end this inhumane policy now.

And please take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually as you work to better the world. For some of us that means taking a Shabbat respite from the news, or entering into spiritual practice to replenish our hearts and souls for the work to come. Creating a more just world is fundamental to who we are as Jews — and it’s work that calls us also to self-care, so that we can be here to keep doing the work in all the tomorrows to come.

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Chukat.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.This week we’re reading from parashat Chukat.

This week and next we are particularly trying to ensure a minyan so that Rabbi Pam can say kaddish for her brother Howard z”l. Please join us for Shabbat morning services and help to constitute a minyan for Rabbi Pam.

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:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Korach.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Rachel.This week we’re reading from parashat Korach.

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:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

A note from the rabbi before Shabbat

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The news this week has been difficult for a variety of reasons. In addition to the political and global happenings that may awaken our anxieties, there has also been sustained news coverage of two public figures who took their own lives.

When public figures end their lives, the 24-hour news cycle can become painful (and dangerous) for those who suffer from depression. If that is you, please know that you are not alone and that there are people who want to help you through.

For some of us, depression makes phone calls extra-difficult. That’s why there’s a Crisis Text Line – text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA to “speak” (via text) with a trained counselor. Or if you prefer phone, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is at 800-273-8255 — and the local acute care crisis line provided by the Brien Center is 800-252-0227. If you are struggling, please reach out: there are reasons to live, and people want to help you reach those reasons and hold on tight.

The prevalence of suicide in the national news right now can also be activating and painful for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Be extra-kind to those whom you know to be in that position — for that matter, be extra-kind to everyone you can. For those in need, here is an online resource with links to help those feeling suicidal as well as family members, friends, and those for whom the news is triggering.

There’s an ancient Jewish custom of giving tzedakah before Shabbat. We give tzedakah (“charitable donations,” though the word tzedakah comes from a Hebrew root meaning justice) before Shabbat in order to prime the pump for Shabbat’s blessings to flow into creation. The Jewish mystical tradition teaches that when we give freely, we stimulate the flow of abundance into the world.

I’ve chosen to make my pre-Shabbat charitable donation this week to the Crisis Text Line. If you are in a position to make a donation before Shabbat, consider donating to an organization that helps those in this most profound kind of need. A short list is enclosed below.

May Shabbat bring comfort to all who mourn.

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

 

 

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Sh’lach.

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services led by Rabbi Lori Shaller.  This week we’re reading from parashat Sh’lach.

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:

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Cloud and fire, waiting and leaping

Vayakheil-Pkudei-768x1024In this week’s Torah portion, B’ha’a’lot’kha, we read again about the cloud of divine presence that hovered over the mishkan, the portable sanctuary our spiritual ancestors built in the wilderness. The divine presence took the appearance of a cloud by day and a fire by night. When the cloud settled, we made camp; when it lifted, we packed up and resumed our journeying.

“Whether it was two days or a month or a year — however long the cloud lingered over the mishkan —- the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp.”

The commentator known as the Sforno — Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno, born in Italy in 1475 — notes that the Torah repeats this point five times. Because nothing is extraneous in Torah, these repetitions must be there to draw our attention to something incredibly important.

So why is Torah highlighting this point so strongly? Maybe to teach us something about discernment and journeying.

The journey undertaken by our ancient ancestors in the wilderness isn’t just a historical story about something that happened to them back then. (Or maybe an a-historical story.) It’s also about our lives in the here and now. And in our lives there are times when we need to pack up and move, and there are times when we need to pause and discern what should come next.

The paradigmatic journey taken by our ancient ancestors was from slavery to freedom to covenant. From constriction to liberation to connection with something greater than ourselves. We too take that journey, not once but time and again.

Unlike our ancient ancestors, we don’t have the visual cue of a giant pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to tell us when it’s time to sit with what is, and when it’s time to leap into the unknown. That’s discernment work we have to do on our own — maybe with a trusted friend, or a rabbi, or a spiritual director. (Or all three.)

The new Jews we’re celebrating this morning know something about sitting with what is, and they also know something about leaping into the unknown. Each of them spent a long time discerning who they are and what they need and whether the desire for change was motivated in the right ways. Each of them spent time beginning to learn about Judaism before making it their spiritual home. (I say “beginning to learn” because none of us is ever finished learning about the richness and depth of our tradition — including me.)

And each of them decided, at a certain point, that it was time to take the plunge. It was time to stop waiting and reflecting. It was time to embrace the next step on their journey.

In other words: they enacted precisely the spiritual journey Torah describes our ancient ancestors taking. And the same can be true for all of us.

This week’s Torah portion invites us to cultivate the quality of emunah, trust. Trust that if we’re in a period of waiting and discernment, we’ll be able to tell when it’s time to get moving and in what direction to move when the time comes. Trust that if we’re in a period of leaping, the new chapter to which we are leaping will be one of sweetness and growth. Trust that we’re headed toward a place of promise, of abundance and sweetness — and that we can always course-correct as needed.

And I think it also invites us to cultivate a quality of inner listening. Because we don’t have the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, we need to listen for the subtle movements of heart and soul.

This can be one of the gifts of Shabbat: time to discern how we are and where we are and where we need to be. It can be one of the gifts of prayer: in Hebrew, l’hitpallel, literally “to discern oneself.” It can be one of the gifts of spiritual practice writ large: learning how to listen for when it’s time to sit still and when it’s time to get going, learning how to listen for who and where God is calling us to be.

 

With gratitude to Rabbi David Markus for his teachings Waiting to Exhale and The Soul of Waiting.

This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI on Shabbat B’ha’alot’kha (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.) Image: Steve Silbert’s Visual Torah sketchnote from parashat Pekudei, an earlier moment in Torah that introduces us to the pillar of cloud and fire.