On meteors, the night sky, and seeing ourselves in a new light – thoughts for Elul

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A few nights ago a friend reminded us that the Perseid meteors were going to be visible. So around 9pm we turned off all of our lights and went outside and lay on our backs on the deck and stared up at the sky. I knew it would take a while for my eyes to adjust.

From the moment I looked up at the heavens I was awestruck by the sheer number of stars. And I thought to myself: even if I don’t see any meteors, dayenu, it’s enough, because this is so beautiful. And then I saw one streak across the sky, and it was amazing.

I know that we are blessed to live in a place that doesn’t have a lot of “light pollution” — where we can turn off our lights and really see the night sky. And I know that the reason the stars were so visible is that there was almost no moon.

Because this weekend is Rosh Chodesh — new moon. Now the moon starts growing again. This is one of the things I love about being attuned to the Jewish calendar: it means I’m also always attuned to the phases of the moon as she waxes and wanes.

The moon will grow for two weeks, and shrink for two weeks, and the next new moon is Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, also known as Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is four weeks from this Sunday. Maybe for some of you that doesn’t sound like a big deal. So what? You’re not writing sermons or preparing services, so does it really make a difference to you? I want to say today that it can make a difference — and I hope that it will.

Our tradition teaches that this is a month during which we should deepen our spiritual practices, whatever they may be. This is a month during which we look back on the year now ending. Who have you been, since last Rosh Hashanah?

What are you proud of, and what do you feel ashamed of? When were you the best self you know how to be, and when did you fall short? How’s your relationship with God these days — whatever that word or idea means to you?

If we spend these next four weeks in introspection, discerning where we may have mis-stepped and where we forged a wise path, then when we get to Rosh Hashanah we’ll experience those two days of prayer and song and story in a different way.

If we spend these next four weeks rekindling our spiritual practices — be they yoga, or meditation, or prayer, or walking in the woods — then when we metaphorically call up God on Rosh Hashanah we won’t be afraid of hearing, “it’s been a whole year — nu, you don’t write, you don’t call…!”

One Hasidic teaching holds that Elul is the time when “the King is in the fields” — when God leaves the divine palace on high and enters creation to walk with us in the meadows and listen to the deepest yearnings of our hearts. God is extra-available to us this month. What do we most need to say?

Another Hasidic teaching points out that the name of this month, Elul, can be read as an acronym for Ani l’dodi v’dodi li — “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” The Beloved, in this context, is God. We belong to God, and God belongs to us, and what connects us is love.

The stars are there every night, but we can only see them when there are no clouds and when the moon has dwindled. The opportunity to do the work of teshuvah, repentance / return, is there all year long — but some seasons of the year offer us special opportunities to see ourselves in a new light.

This is a time of month when the night sky is filled with tiny lights. And this is a time of year when we can open our hearts and souls to the light of God’s presence as we do the work of discernment and transformation. Imagine what we might see in ourselves if we take the time to let our eyes adjust.

Here’s to a meaningful Elul.

This is the d’var Torah (really more of a d’var zman, a word about the season) which I offered at CBI yesterday. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Days of Awe at CBI 2015 / 5776

There are no high holiday tickets at CBI; no one has to “pay to pray.”
All are welcome.

 

entering the season

Havdalah & Selichot (“Pardons”) service, Sat. Sept. 5, 8-9pm
(potluck dessert reception to follow)
Cemetary Service, Walker Street, Sun. Sept. 6, 2-2:30pm

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah First Evening service, Sun. Sept. 13, 7:30-9pm
Rosh Hashanah First Day morning service, Mon. Sept. 14, 9:30am-12:30pm
Children’s service, 10am (childcare all morning)
Tashlich (casting bread upon the waters) to follow
Rosh Hashanah Lunch at a local restaurant to follow that; please RSVP!
Rosh Hashanah Second Day  morning service, Tues. Sept. 15, 9:30am-12pm

Yom Kippur

Kol Nidre (with childcare) Tues. Sept. 22, 6-8pm
(arrive at 5:30 for music to open the heart)
Yom Kippur Morning service, Weds. Sept. 23, 9:30am-12:30pm
Children’s service, 10am (childcare all morning)
Yizkor /Memorial Service – during the end of the morning service
Introduction to Jewish Contemplative Practice, 3-4pm
Yom Kippur Mincha and Avodah service, 4-5:30pm
Yom Kippur Ne’ilah service, 6-7pm (sundown: 6:42)
Yom Kippur Break-The-Fast: after services. Please RSVP!

Sukkot

All are welcome to use our sukkah any time during Sukkot (9/27 – 10/4)

Sukkot / Shabbat Potluck, Fri. Oct. 2, 5:30pm until whenever
sleepover in the sukkah for older kids & anyone who wants to join!
Shemini Atzeret services, with Yizkor, Mon. Oct 5, 10am-12pm

 

 

http://www.cbiweb.org, http://www.facebook.com/CBINorthAdams, 413-663-5830
Congregation Beth Israel: 53 Lois Street, North Adams MA 01247

Ways to enrich your High Holiday season…starting this weekend

elulDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

This weekend we’ll enter into the lunar month of Elul — the four weeks leading up to the Days of Awe. This is the time to begin the journey of introspection and reflection which can deeply enrich your experiences of the High Holidays. Who have you been, over the last year? What are the things you feel great about, the things you’re proud of? What are the things you feel not-so-great about, the places where you missed the mark?

One tradition says that Elul is the time to work on teshuvah, repentance / repair, in our relationships with God: whatever you understand that term to mean — God far above or deep within, the Source of meaning, Love, the Cosmos, the Cosmic Parent, the Beloved, whatever metaphor works best for you. This is also a good time to work on repairing our relationships with ourselves: where have we disappointed ourselves, and how can we learn to offer ourselves forgiveness? What are we most grateful for, and how can we cultivate that gratitude in our lives every day?

If we spend Elul engaged in this work, then by the time Rosh Hashanah rolls around we will already be steeped in the themes of the season, and the prayers in our prayerbook may resonate in a different way… and we’ll be better prepared to spend the Aseret Y’mei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, mending our relationships with the people in our lives. First we repair our relationship with our Source; then we can repair our relationships with each other.

Here are six ways to dive deeper into Elul:

  1. Take a few minutes every day to breathe deeply, be present in the moment, and take your emotional-spiritual temperature: how are you feeling, not physically but emotionally? What’s arising in you today?
  2. On social media check out the hashtag #blogElul, which all month long will bring you blog posts and tweets on themes of repentance and return. (This is an annual thing organized by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, a.k.a. Ima Bima.)
  3. Read an Elul poem every day and spend a few moments letting the poem soak in and seeing what it awakens in you. (In my office I have copies of my collection See Me: Elul Poems available for borrowing or purchase; you can also buy the book on Amazon if you are so inclined, and if you do so, you can get the e-book for 99 cents.)
  4. Come to Shabbat services. Dip into song and prayer with our community. You may find that it opens your heart and enlivens your spirit in ways you didn’t expect… and you’ll also get some advance glimpses of some melodies we’ll be using during the Days of Awe.
  5. Read, pray, or sing Psalm 27 every day. This is the psalm our sages assigned to this month. Here are some different versions to try:
    1. Reb Zalman (z”l)’s English translation
    2. One verse of the psalm set to music, in Hebrew, by Nava Tehila
    3. Alicia Ostriker’s psalm 27
    4. Achat Sha’alti melody by I. Katz
    5. R’ Brant Rosen’s English translation
    6. Kirtan Rabbi’s Achat Sha’alti (info) and mp3
  6. Go for a walk. Another tradition teaches that Elul is the month when God leaves the divine palace on high and wanders in the fields, waiting for us to come and walk and talk and pour out our hearts. Take time this month to walk in the fields, hike up the mountains, and silently or out loud say to God whatever you need to.

I hope that some or all of these methods speak to you. We’re entering one of my favorite months of the year. If we open ourselves to it, it can work some powerful transformations on our hearts and on our souls.

Wishing everyone an early chodesh tov — may your month of Elul be meaningful and sweet.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Rosh Chodesh Elul and to parashat Re’eh.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

Take a moment to look up at the night sky this week and you will see the crescent moon of Av waning away to nothingness. Shabbat will fall on the night of new moon, so this weekend we’ll celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul — the beginning of the new lunar month of Elul, the month leading up to the Days of Awe!

In honor of Elul, this Shabbat we’ll begin singing selections from psalm 27. This year we’ll be using settings of two excerpts from that seasonal psalm: “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve been singing at CBI for the last several years, and also a beautiful setting of a different verse written by the folks at Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem.

Here’s their setting of one verse from Psalm 27, which is called “Lach Amar Libi” — “To you, my heart says, ‘I seek Your face.’ Your face, God, is what I seek!”

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf]

This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Re’eh (“See!”) in the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy.)return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Re’eh | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Rachel.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

Poems for Elul, the month before the High Holidays

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The moon of Av is waning. Soon, on August 15, we’ll reach Rosh Chodesh Elul — the new moon of the lunar month of Elul, which is the month leading up to the High Holidays.

Elul is a special season on the Jewish calendar: a time for self-examination, for the inner work of teshuvah (repentance / return), for repairing our relationships with ourselves and with our Source so that once we reach the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can focus on repairing our relationships with others.

Last year during Elul I wrote daily poems on themes of teshuvah and preparing for the Days of Awe. (I was participating in an internet-wide phenomenon called #blogElul — Rabbi Phyllis Sommers provides 29 prompts, and people around the world write daily responses to those prompts. My responses were poems.)

As a working congregational rabbi, I tend to find Elul pretty busy. But these poems poured out of me. Writing them gave me a touchstone, a sustaining thread of spiritual practice, which helped me connect with my own inner work even as I was preparing for the High Holidays in a practical way.

After the month was over I took some time to let the poems rest, and then returned to them with an eye to revising and improving them. I shared them with some trusted readers. And now I am delighted to be able to share them with you — in printed and bound form, and also as an e-book — in hopes that they might enrich your month of Elul, too.

SeeMe-frontcoverSee me: Elul poems

The lunar month of Elul (leading up to the Days of Awe / Jewish high holidays) is a time for self-examination, contemplation, and the inner work of teshuvah, repentance or return. Here are 29 poems, one for each day of Elul, which aim to open the reader up to awe, reflection, and the spiritual experience of being truly seen.

Print edition: $10 on Amazon | £6.25 on Amazon.co.uk | €7.98 on Amazon Europe

E-book edition: $6 on Amazon |  £4.07 on Amazon.co.uk | €5.72 on Amazon Europe

(And if you buy the print edition, you can add the digital edition for 99 cents.)

I also have copies available for sale in my office, and am happy to inscribe one for you if you would like. And, if you would prefer to borrow a copy rather than to buy one, I have some copies available for that purpose too — just let me know.

May our collective journey toward Elul be meaningful and sweet.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Eikev.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Eikev in the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy.)return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Eikev | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Dennis Ross.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Va’etchanan.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Va-etchanan in the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy.)return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Va-etchanan | URJ.

This coming Shabbat morning, services will be led by Rabbi Dennis Ross.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!