Save the Date: Tu BiShvat, The New Year of the Trees

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Save the date and plan to join us for Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees!

Saturday, February 11: come at 9:30 to daven (pray) the morning service (with some special Tu BiShvat treats in it)

And/or come at 11am for our Tu BiShvat lunch seder

Bless and eat tree fruits

Experience a mystical journey through the four seasons and the Four Worlds

Rekindle your commitment to caring for our earth

RSVP to rabbibarenblat at gmail dot com or call the office at 413-663-5830.

And/or: if you use FB, please RSVP on the Facebook Event Page and share it on your own page to encourage others to come too!)

(Please bring a vegetarian / dairy dish to share.)

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vaeira.

return-to-shabbatDear all,

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

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Vaeira 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

Mission: Accepted

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Did you ever watch “Mission Impossible”? At the start of each episode, a recorded voice would announce “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” And then after explaining the mission, the voice would conclude “this tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”

This week’s Torah portion contains a scene like that, only without the self-destructing cassette tape. At the burning bush, God tells Moshe his mission: to go to Pharaoh and demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go.

Moses demurs, I don’t even know who to say has sent me! And God answers “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh — I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming. Tell them that Becoming Itself has sent you.” Moses demurs again, and God gives him some magic tricks to perform, a staff that will turn into a snake and back again. Moses demurs a third time:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָ֑י שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח׃ / But he said, “Please, My Lord, make someone else Your agent!”

At this point, God does not say “well, it’s your mission if and only if you choose to accept it.” God says, “fine: your brother will partner with you in this work — now get to it.” God gives Moshe companionship in the task ahead, but God does not give him the chance to say no.

Moshe was out tending sheep in the wilderness, not searching for a new mission in life. And then his eyes were opened to wonder, the bush that burned but was not consumed. And then he heard the voice of God telling him there was work in the world that only he could do. It’s no wonder he balked. Who can blame him?

I have empathy for Moshe’s “please, God, send someone else.” He knew his own failings. He knew all the reasons why he didn’t feel suitable for divine deployment. Maybe he liked his life the way it was, and he didn’t want to get drawn into politics and into creating change.

Maybe he anticipated that the work of bringing change would be hard and that people would hate him. Sure enough, when he first goes to Pharaoh, the initial effect is that the people’s labors are intensified, and the people curse him thoroughly. Leadership is rarely easy. Poor Moshe is disliked both by Pharaoh, and by the people he seeks to serve and to save.

“Please, God, send someone else!” Maybe you too have felt that way. Maybe you’ve looked at the road ahead and seen that it looks scary. Maybe you know your life needs to change, but you’re scared of change and of the work it requires. Maybe you know our nation needs to change, but you’re paralyzed by the enormity of the change we need.

Maybe you’ve been a parent bringing a newborn home from the hospital thinking “I am in way over my head,” or started a new job thinking “why did they hire me, I don’t have these skills,” or stepped reluctantly into leadership wishing someone else had been willing to take the banner because you don’t want the drama or the responsibility or the projections others will place on you.

Moshe didn’t get to say no to his deployment, but he did get someone to share it with him. I’d like to think that we can all find that, if we keep our eyes open. All of us can seek a colleague, a friend, a brother, a partner — someone who shares the calling and the burdens that come with it.

Moshe had that in his brother Aharon. Their skillsets were complementary: Moshe spoke to God, and Aharon had the necessary skills to speak to the people. We can take turns being Aharon and Moshe for each other. We can by turns engage with the life of the polis and the life of spirit. We can create change on the front lines, and we can create change behind the scenes. And together we can be stronger, and more, and more whole, than any of us could be alone.

We get to do the work together. We don’t get to turn away from the work at hand.

All of us are tasked with perfecting our broken world — which sometimes means healing the brokenness in ourselves, and sometimes means healing the brokenness in public life. All of us are tasked with speaking truth to power, fighting for freedom, helping the vulnerable push through the narrow place of constriction into liberation. All of us are charged with cultivating the sense of wonder that will let us hear God’s voice issuing forth from the fire, and the sense of obligation that binds us to the work we’re here to do.

Our challenge is shifting from channeling our inner Moshe — “Please, God, pick somebody else!” — to channeling our inner Isaiah (6:8):

וָאֶשְׁמַע אֶת-קוֹל אֲדֹנָי, אֹמֵר, אֶת-מִי אֶשְׁלַח, וּמִי יֵלֶךְ-לָנוּ; וָאֹמַר, הִנְנִי שְׁלָחֵנִי. / And I heard the voice of God saying “whom shall I send, and who will go forth for us?” and I said, “Here I am. Send me.”

The work is vast. Working toward redemption — whether personal or national — is not easy. But it’s what we’re here to do. When the work of change and transformation call, don’t look around to see who else might pick up the slack. Say “Here I am. Send me.”

 

Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shemot.

return-to-shabbatDear all,

Shavua 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 parashat Shemot. 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: Moses the Rookie Chaplain and the Burning Bush.

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Shemot 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 Vayechi

Dear all,

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

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

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

And here are commentaries from the URJ: Vayechi 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

Free to be – a d’var Torah for parashat Vayigash

וְלֹֽא־יָכֹ֨ל יוֹסֵ֜ף לְהִתְאַפֵּ֗ק לְכֹ֤ל הַנִּצָּבִים֙ עָלָ֔יו וַיִּקְרָ֕א הוֹצִ֥יאוּ כָל־אִ֖ישׁ מֵעָלָ֑י וְלֹא־עָ֤מַד אִישׁ֙ אִתּ֔וֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּ֥ע יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶל־אֶחָֽיו׃

Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone withdraw from me!” So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

life-files-sorry-who-are-youThat’s the verse that leaps out at me this year. And within that verse, one word: בְּהִתְוַדַּ֥ע, “he made himself known.”

The root of this word is the simple verb meaning to know. To know, to perceive, to distinguish one thing from another. This verb can mean to know someone “in the Biblical sense,” to make love with someone and thereby know them deeply. It appears here in the causative form: to cause oneself to be known.

To cause oneself to be known.

How often do we dedicate our energies to ensuring precisely the opposite? We work hard at hiding ourselves. We hide our tender hearts. We hide our fears. We hide our insecurities. Men in particular are taught to do this in our culture: to hide their vulnerability, because it makes them “weak” or “feminine.”

Or perhaps we show our insecurities, and hide our confidence and our strength. Women in particular are taught to do this in our culture: to soften, to backpedal, to hide our strength lest we be perceived as uppity or mannish or threatening.

I have been accused of being unfit for leadership because I act “too much like a man,” because I speak my mind and draw clear boundaries.

And I have been accused of being unfit for leadership because I am not enough like a man, because I cry easily and I allow myself to be vulnerable.

If we allow these binaristic gender stereotypes to persist, we can’t win. And we can’t do what Joseph so bravely does in this week’s parsha: we can’t allow ourselves to truly be known.

The stereotypes are reductive, and they’re also flat wrong.

The Jewish mystical tradition depicts God as being ultimately unitary and beyond all human knowledge, and also at the same time available to us through multiple faces or aspects. God has no gender, and yet we understand God as having both masculine and feminine qualities. God is the ultimate source of lovingkindness and compassion, and also the ultimate source of strength and boundaries.

We who are made in the divine image and likeness manifest these qualities too — all of them, no matter what our gender expression may be. We do ourselves and each other a great disservice when we insist that men are “supposed” to be strong and women are “supposed” to be gentle, that dad is “supposed” to be the disciplinarian and mom is “supposed” to be the source of comfort… and I mean this not only in our family systems but also in our organizations, in our communities, on boards and committees, in social circles.

What we are “supposed” to be is who we most deeply are. All of who we are, in our fullness, with our contradictions and our yearnings, our hopes and our fears.

In order for Joseph to feel safe making himself known to his brothers, he needs to see that they have changed. He needs to see that they have truly made teshuvah, repented from their earlier mistreatment of him so profoundly that when faced with a similar choice they would choose differently than they did when they sold him into slavery. When he sees that they have made teshuvah and have changed, then he sends the courtiers out of the room and reveals who he truly is.

Each of us needs to do our own inner work, our teshuvah work, our work of repentance and repair. We do this work not only for the sake of our own souls, but also because when we do this work, we give the people around us permission to do it, too. When we do this work, we give the people around us permission to make themselves known to us, to reveal the sweetness and the strength, the vulnerability and the courage, of who they most truly are. When we do our own inner work, we make it safe for those around us to be like Joseph: to be real and whole and free to be who we are at last.

This is the d’var Torah that R’ Rachel offered at CBI on Saturday. Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Viyagash.

return-to-shabbatDear all,

Shavua tov — a good new week to you.

And happy new year! Here’s to a 2017 filled with blessings for all of us.

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

This week we’re reading parashat Viyagash. 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: Vayigash 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