Spiritual discussion group to reconvene during Omer

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Pesach is approaching! And after Pesach comes the seven-week period called the Omer, the 49 days which we count between Pesach and Shavuot. This is a very special time of year, which our tradition sets apart as a season for inner work, discernment, and cultivating the qualities which will help us to be ready to receive Torah at Sinai anew on Shavuot.

Our monthly spiritual discussion group grew out of last year’s weekly Omer discussion group. I’m writing today to let you know that the spiritual discussion group will not be meeting in March — and that in April, once we enter the Omer, we’ll meet weekly during those seven sweet weeks. (Dates and times follow.)

All are welcome. Blessings to all, Rabbi Rachel omergroup

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Vayekhel-Pekudei.

Shavua tov – a (slightly belated) good week to you! This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Vayekhel-Pekudei in the book of Shemot (Exodus.) During leap years (when we have an extra month in the year), these are separate portions, but this week we read both together. return-to-shabbatIf 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: Vayeik’hel | URJ. This coming Shabbat morning, March 14, services will be led by Rabbi Lori Shaller.  Join us for Shabbat davenen (prayer) followed by Torah study — or, if we don’t quite make a minyan, we’ll do the Torah study during the service. 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!

D’var Torah for Ki Tisa: Inspiration

Here’s the short d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI yesterday for parashat Ki Tisa.

In the verses we just read, Torah tells us God has filled the craftsman Bezalel son of Uri with ruach elohim, “spirit of God” or “breath of God.” In the very beginning of Torah, we read that ruach elohim m’rachefet al pnei ha-mayim, “the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” God has instilled in Bezalel that same divine spirit which was manifest at the first moments of creation.

The craftsman Bezalel, it appears, was truly inspired. In / spired — literally it means that someone (or some One) had breathed into him. God breathed inspiration into Bezalel, and in return Bezalel led the team of artisans who made the mishkan, the tabernacle which the Israelites are instructed to build so that Shekhinah, God’s presence, can dwell within and among them.

So is inspiration something you either have, or don’t have? Either God gives it to you, or you’re outta luck? As a writer, my answer is no. Or at least — not exactly. In my experience, inspiration comes and goes, but it can be cultivated. I have learned over the years that there are practices which will help to ready me to receive inspiration when it comes. As it turns out, Jewish tradition agrees with me.

The tradition prescribes a variety of steps which we should take if we seek divine inspiration. They include deep study of Torah, diligence in fulfilling mitzvot, cultivating piousness, and cultivating humility. Doing these things is no guarantee of divine inspiration, of course… but not-doing them is probably a guarantee that if God is offering inspiration, we won’t be primed to receive.

I used to have a quote from the author Jeanette Winterson hanging over my desk. It read:

I do not write every day. I read every day, think every day, work in the garden every day, and recognize in nature the same slow complicity. The same inevitability. The moment will arrive, always it does, it can be predicted but it cannot be demanded. I do not think of this as inspiration. I think of it as readiness. A writer lives in a constant state of readiness.

I think spiritual life too asks us to live in readiness. Readiness to receive whatever comes. Readiness to experience connection with something greater than ourselves. If we keep our hearts open; if we keep our spiritual selves open; then maybe that wind from Beyond will blow into us and through us, bringing us gifts to share with our community, and gifts to share with the world.


Shabbat, unplugging, and four weeks until Pesach!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Deep thanks to all who joined us for our wonderful Purim festivities — especially to Jen Burt and her family for the amazing decorations! If you missed it, you can catch some glimpses in Len Radin’s lovely photoset on Flickr.

Perhaps you noticed the brilliant full moon last night. Purim always falls at full moon… and so does Pesach. Believe it or not, the first seder is four weeks from tonight. (Which means that four weeks from tomorrow will be our second-night community seder at CBI; I hope you will join us!)

Pesach is the time when we delve most deeply into our people’s central story of liberation. But every Shabbat we get to glimpse that liberation a little bit. Tonight we enter again into our weekly taste of freedom, a chance to stop doing and just be.

This Shabbat is special for a few reasons: one is that we’ll be honoring Bill Levy and Karen Kelly tomorrow with a special aliyah to the Torah and a celebratory kiddush, and another is that this Shabbat has been declared a National Day of Unplugging. (Click on the link to read all about it.) And, of course, this Shabbat ushers in the month leading up to Pesach, which for many of us is a favorite Jewish time of year.

Tradition holds that during the month before Pesach, one should study the laws of Passover in order to be wholly prepared for the coming festival. My friend and teacher Rabbi Arthur Waskow has re-imagined that tradition, and is using the month between Purim and Pesach to share daily teachings (from different rabbis, artists, writers, and more) about Pesach and the earth.

His intention is to revitalize our anticipation for Passover and our connection with the planet we call home. You can read those daily teachings at Purim => Pesach… where, as it happens, today’s featured teaching is by me — Shmita and interconnection.

Whether or not you choose to turn off your electronics this Shabbat (or any Shabbat), I hope that this Shabbat brings you the gifts of peace and joy.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

The March-April 5775 / 2015 Newsletter is Here!

The March/April 2015 (Adar / Nisan / Iyar 5775) Newsletter is Here! In this issue:

newslettercoverFrom the Rabbi
Service times
Shabbat and havdalah times
Meet Rabbi Lori Shaller
Special Shabbat with Gene Wein & Family
Want to Edit This Newsletter?
Don’t Miss Purim on March 4!
Second-Night Community Seder: April 4!
What Is Shmira & Why Should I Care?
A Tikkun Olam Idea: Soaps & Shampoos
A Glimpse of Senior Lunch
Summer Opportunities: Deep Ecumenism Shabbaton & Retreat near Philly
CBI Book Group: Upcoming
Second Annual Game Night
President’s Column
Donations since the last newsletter
March and April birthdays / anniversaries
The Jar of Tears: Yom HaShoah performance
…and much more!

Download the issue here:  MarchApril5775 (pdf)

Are you coming for Purim? Let us know!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

February may be the shortest month on the calendar, but it always feels longest — thanks to the snow and the cold, of which we have had more than our share this year! But spring is on the way, and one of the ways we know that is that Purim is in just a few days.

Please RSVP to Jack (663-5830 or office at cbiweb dot org) to let us know whether you are joining us for our Alice-In-Wonderland-themed Purim celebration next Wednesday evening! In your RSVP, please let us know:

1) How many are in your party (adults and children)

2) Whether you’ll be joining us for pizza at 5:30 before the Spiel

3) What you can contribute to the nibbly-foods buffet for after the Spiel

(We’re hoping for a Middle Eastern buffet this year — you might bring olives, cheeses, roasted vegetables, hummus / pita…) And of course you’re always welcome to bring hamentaschen and/or other desserts, too.

If you don’t have a costume, never fear — we’ll have boxes of costume items available for anyone who wants to augment their ordinary attire.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear a few verses of the Megillah, enjoy your fellow CBI members’ acting abilities, and ring in the approaching springtime! I look forward to seeing y’all at Purim.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel


April 4: Second Night Community Seder!

Second night community seder; April 4 6pm; all are welcome; $18 for an individual, $36 for a family; bring a kosher-for-Pesach non-dairy side dish