Shabbat morning, Tzom Tammuz, and a meditation update

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends:

17 Tammuz and the Three Weeks

This coming Shabbat is a minor fast day in Jewish tradition — the fast day of 17 Tammuz (also called Tzom Tammuz — “tzom” means “fast”) when we commemorate the breaching of Jerusalem’s city walls. For those who are interested, here are a couple of things I’ve written about 17 Tammuz over the years: 17 Tammuz: the walls begin to fall (2012), Descent for the sake of ascent: the fast of 17 Tammuz (2014.)

I know that most of us in this community do not observe the minor fasts, but I think we can still find meaning in the way our calendar unfolds. 17 Tammuz begins a period known as the Three Weeks, which will culminate on Saturday August 13 with the fast of Tisha b’Av.

Although this is the week of parashat Balak (the only parasha in Torah featuring a talking donkey!) we will not read from Balak this Shabbat morning. We’ll read instead from the portion that goes with the fast day of 17 Tammuz, and enfolded into our morning service (in lieu of Torah study afterwards) will be a conversation about the Three Weeks and how their teachings about brokenness can be meaningful in our lives today.

A meditation update

On an unrelated note: once again this Friday there will be no meditation. I will be at shul on Friday! But I won’t be there in time to meditate. Thanks for bearing with me as I continue to navigate the changes in my life and my son’s shifting summer schedule. We will meditate again on August 5 (also the day of our next Kabbalat Shabbat / potluck!); I will need to miss August 12; and after that we should have smooth sailing for the rest of the summer and into the fall.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Balak.

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all!

Join us at 9:30am on Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Rachel, where we’ll read from parashat Balak.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Balak, some links follow:

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

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Chukat.

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all!

Join us at 9:30am on Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, followed by Torah study. We’ll read from parashat Chukat.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, some links follow:

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

On the cusp of promise: a d’var Torah for Shlakh

36-Israel-symbol-exampleIn this week’s Torah portion, Shlakh, ten scouts are sent to glimpse the land of promise. What they see there terrifies them. The grapes are so big that two men are required to carry a single bundle. They return to the community and report that entering this land is simply not possible: “the inhabitants are giants, and we must have looked like grasshoppers to them!”

They spread their fear to the children of Israel, and God — incensed that after all the miracles they’ve experienced, the children of Israel do not trust — declares that this generation will wander in the wilderness until they die. Their children will enter the land, but they will not. They are too caught in their own fear.

I suspect we all know what it’s like to glimpse a land of promise and then to shy away. The work it would take to get there is too vast. The personal changes required are too difficult. Maybe, like the children of Israel who came out of Mitzrayim, “the Narrow Place,” we are too shaped by our familiar constraints.

Once limits become habitual, they become invisible: we don’t even notice them anymore. We learn to live within a small space. We train ourselves not to grow beyond the box, because outside the box is scary. Outside the box the grapes are as big as beach balls. Outside the box we are afraid we will be as insignificant as grasshoppers.

Spiritual life calls us to recognize our own fear. To notice what buttons are pushed when we think about expanding beyond whatever our limits have been. To breathe into the paralyzing fear of failure, of smallness, of taking on something we won’t be able to handle. And spiritual life calls us to breathe through that fear, and to step into the unknown.

When we sing “Mi Chamocha,” the song at the sea, I often invite us to remember a time in our lives when we’ve felt like the children of Israel trapped between the Egyptian army and the sea. A time when it felt as though there was no way through. And I invite us to recognize that no matter what seas we’re facing, we don’t have to cross them alone.

We stand at the shore of the sea no less than our ancient ancestors did. And no less than our ancient ancestors, we are always at the cusp of the land of promise. A place of expansiveness, a place of nourishment and sweetness, a place of divine flow.

We will have to acknowledge our fears in order to get there. We may have to accept our own feelings of smallness. But we can choose to trust even though we are afraid. And when we do, the One Who accompanies us in all of our changes will accompany us into infinite possibility. Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so.

 

This is the short d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered this past Friday evening at Kabbalat Shabbat services. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Looking forward to Shabbat Shlach-Lecha

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! This coming Shabbat is a First Friday, so join us at 6pm on Friday night for a vegetarian / dairy potluck dinner followed by Kabbalat Shabbat services led by Rabbi Rachel. Please RSVP to the office (office@cbiweb.org) for the potluck so we know how many places to set at the table.

pnai-or-siddur-for-erev-shabbat-marcia-prager-256px-256px

In previous weeks we’ve used excerpts from Rabbi Marcia Prager’s Siddur for Erev Shabbat to augment our regular prayerbook; this week we’ll be using her siddur in its entirety, thanks to our Spiritual Life committee! Her siddur is characterized by creativity, translations that are attentive both to the meaning of the original and the poetry of the English, and an emphasis on opening our hearts and spirits to the unique gifts of Shabbat.

Join us also at 9:30am on Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, followed by Torah study.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Shlach-Lecha, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Shlach Lecha 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

Looking forward to Shabbat B’ha’alot’kha

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all! Join us this coming Shabbat for services led by Rabbi Rachel, where we will read from parashat B’ha’alot’kha.

This Shabbat morning we will also celebrate Jordan Callahan and call him to the Torah as a bar mitzvah.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Naso, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: B’ha’alot’kh 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

Joy amidst mourning

All week I’ve been thinking about what I might say here in shul this morning. Mere commentary on this week’s Torah portion feels insufficient. How can I talk about the rituals of the nazir, one who makes promises to God — or the ritual of the sotah, designed to banish a husband’s jealousy — or even the priestly blessing that we just read together — when LGBTQ members of our community are grieving so deeply? And yet faced with the enormity of the tragedy at Pulse last weekend, my words fail me.

Into this moment of grief comes an expression of great joy. Just moments ago we welcomed a beautiful little girl into the covenant and into our community. What words of meaning can I offer to her two mothers now?

I can say: you belong here. In this community those of us who are straight aspire to be thoughtful and sensitive allies, so that those of us who are queer can feel safe expressing all of who we are.

I can say: tell us what you need. Tell us where we are falling down on the job of making this a safe and celebratory and welcoming home for you, and we will try to do better. I can say: your child will always have a home here, no matter how her gender expression manifests or who she loves.

And I can say: all of us here commit ourselves to building a world in which hate crimes are unimaginable. A world in which no one could feel hatred toward another human being because of that person’s race or gender expression or sexual orientation or religion. Can you imagine what it would feel like to live in that world?

Can you imagine a world in which the tools of massacre no longer exist? In the words of the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai: “Don’t stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them back into plowshares first.”

Our tradition has a name for this imagined world in which hatred has vanished like a wisp of smoke: moshiachtzeit, a world redeemed. I don’t know whether we will ever get there. But I know that we can’t stop trying.

And there is a very old Jewish teaching that each new baby contains all the promise of moshiachtzeit, all the promise of a world redeemed. Maybe this baby will help to bring about the healing of the world for which we so deeply yearn.

May we rise to the occasion of being her community. May we support her and her mothers. May we take action to lift them up and to keep them safe. And may we work toward a world redeemed in which all of our differences are celebrated and sanctified as reflections of the Holy One.

And let us say, together: amen.

 

These are the words Rabbi Rachel spoke from the bimah yesterday morning at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)