I came across a post on Facebook this week that I sat with for a long time and then hesitantly re-posted. It’s by a woman named Leah Solomon who lives in Jerusalem. I don’t know her, I’m not even her Facebook friend. But we have friends in common and she works for Encounter, an organization that brings Jews and Palestinians together to listen to one another. I read her words and I want to share them with you in their entirety.
The best parts of life are the surprises.
Here we have a story of surprise. The scouts are surprised that the Promised Land is a frightening place, with looming giants. Why would Gd, whom they trusted, promise them a land like this, with these terrifying people in it?
I had a chance on Thursday to talk to our member Jared Dougall, who’s 18 years old, one of my son Benji’s closest friends (they met at Yachad), and is living and working in Tel Aviv these few months, taking a break from his first year at the University of Michigan. Jared is a really smart, thoughtful intellectual, and he and I have had many conversations over the years about Israel/Palestine, as well as all about American politics.
Lucy, what a beautiful d’var Torah. I love that you connected rest to freedom, Shabbat to Shmita to Yom Kippur to Yovel (Jubilee). I love that you brought us two evocative teachings about t’ruah, the shofar sound that, according to the Mehilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, is the sound of breaking chains of slavery, and according to Ketav v’haKabbalah, the sound of fellowship and friendship.
One of the curiosities of pandemic life in our synagogue is that time is jumbled, juxtaposing Torah portions that would never otherwise be read together. Today we contemplated Bereishit, the first parasha in the Torah, with Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, today’s double Torah portion which, as Jane taught us, is at the very center of the Torah. This creates for fascinating possibilities of analysis.
Abbie and Benny, beautiful and important Torah.
Benny, I think you’re right. A few days ago the Park Slope Patch reported that a full fifty percent of this neighborhood is at least partially vaccinated. CBE now has a reopening task force making plans for how and when and with what precautions we will reopen services and programs to members in person. We’re all pretty eager to do the things we couldn’t do for the last thirteen months.
Mouna, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us this morning. You took on important themes including your thoughts on God, and the flexibility and ongoing evolution inherent in Judaism. As you have heard, our 5th graders are here today, they are just beginning their journey towards B’nei Mitzvah and as part of that journey they are going to receive their Chumash, or Torah book in just a few moments. I am so glad that they specifically heard both what you had to say, and how you built your remarks, incorporating Torah study and commentary, Jewish history, and your own experiences and ideas.
This Shabbat, this seventh day of Pesach, we read from Parashat Beshallach in the Book of Exodus. We read of our people’s departure from Egypt, the pursuit of Pharaoh and his many chariots, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and the triumphant Song of the Sea once we’ve crossed to the other side.
Cleaning Out the Chametz in Our Houses and Ourselves
Sometimes, the Jewish calendar aligns perfectly with the natural cycles of life. Like in the winter, how our Chanukah candles bring light to the darkest days of the year. And we celebrate Sukkot, the harvest holiday, when the farmers’ market is full of fall produce.
Today is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat, the Shabbat before Passover. This is the Shabbat when historically our people would settle in to services because it was the longest sermon of the year, all about how to halakhically prepare your home for Passover. That is not what we’re talking about today. Instead, we’re talking about Light and we’re talking about Shame.
V’im Kol Adat Yisrael Yishgu: Standing with the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community
My family recently moved from Gowanus to Crown Heights, so we became avid users of the Buy Nothing Facebook Group for our old neighborhood. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, it’s a forum that people use to give things away or request something for free. It’s a way for communities to share what they have, make less waste, and offload things they are done with that might find a new home with someone who needs it.
On the Anniversary of the Pandemic: The Scraps with Which we Build
Vayakhel-Pekudei 2021, Rabbi Stephanie Kolin
Wow, we’ve been building the Mishkan for a long time. For chapters and chapters, we’ve been getting the instructions for how to build the Tabernacle, our traveling sanctuary in the wilderness.
There’s a guy in Texas who owns a furniture company. His name is Jim Mcingvale. Maybe you’ve seen some reporting about this story. He has this huge warehouse store and when it became clear that Texans were in serious trouble, without electricity or heat or water, he opened his store to anyone who needed refuge. Seniors and kids sitting on his mattresses and recliners. Children curled up on their parents on his couches, watching his televisions. He’s not even worried that their shoes are all over his furniture. He was worried that they were alone and freezing and afraid and out of options with no one to come help them.
In my family, we occasionally need to talk about consequences. We have an almost four year old who I hope you will all get to know in time. She’s awesome. And she, like many almost four year olds, sometimes makes questionable decisions.
Why is asking for help so hard? Why do we resist it so much?
Russell, your d’var Torah explored this parasha and the issue of Pharaoh’s hardened heart in a totally original way, as you explored the terrifying feeling of being out of control in our emotions. You showed us that not only is this a universal human experience, it is an experience that the Torah tells us God shares with us. And you questioned whether it was okay, whether it was moral, for God to artificially impose or exacerbate that experience within Pharaoh.
Joe and Sylvia, your divrei Torah today are aiming at the questions of what is true and what is right. Joe was asking what caused the ten plagues, a question that could be answered scientifically (whether through scientific theory or archeology), religiously, or literarily, through text criticism. This is a question of what is true.
I felt the need to speak to you this morning, though it was not part of our original plan. I felt the need to speak to you in the week that the Reverend Doctor Raphael Warnock, John Lewis’s pastor, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr was baptized, gave his first sermon at age 19, and served as pastor for the rest of his life—the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Reverend Warnock became the first Black Senator from the state of Georgia. I felt the need to speak to you in the week that Jon Ossoff, John Lewis’s intern, became the first Jewish senator from the State of Georgia.
Among the silver linings of this terrible time through which we have been living has been the opportunity to be part of the CBE community since last March.. I am grateful to Rabbi Timoner for allowing me to share some thoughts with you this Shabbat.
We need dreams. Hanukkah ended yesterday, and the longest night of winter is still ahead. Vaccinations began this week, thank God, but it will be many months until we can enjoy their protection. Dreams will be what carry us through the long, dark winter. Dreams are our light in the dark.
It’s not an accident that Hanukkah encompasses the longest, darkest nights of the year. That’s because it contains the new moon closest to the winter solstice, combining the lunar calendar with the solar calendar for maximum darkness.
What are we doing when we pray?
My guess is that this is a question that many of you have asked yourselves before. Presumably if you’re here this morning, many of you find something within prayer that’s worth drawing you away from other holiday weekend festivities.
Among the clergy at CBE, I am probably the least likely to ask the question: What are we doing when we pray?
Last night was a sad night for a lot of people. Even if you made a full meal and had your family around you, even if you zoomed in with family and friends all around the country or world, few of us were able to gather with the joy and feeling of fullness, with the full mishpacha we would usually enjoy.
Aaron and Sam, I love that you wrote one d’var Torah together. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone do that before, and it was as if your medium was your message. And your message, about the particular closeness of twins, was a great way to approach a question for all human relationships and really all human existence.
Hannah, I really like how you brought us so many different Rabbinic perspectives on Abraham’s motivations in this parasha. I also think that your idea that Abraham was trying to feel equal to the Hittites is smart and perceptive. I was particularly taken by the idea that Abraham was trying, through his actions, to secure God’s promise that the land would belong to him and his descendants forever.
Norah, you taught us that we are descendants of Abraham, meaning that we live in the tradition and by the example of our first ancestor, who had the courage and temerity to stand up to ultimate power. And that means that living in his lineage obligates us to do so as well. Yes.