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From the Rabbi

 From the Rabbi

 From the Rabbi: December 27, 2021

                                                           

In American football parlance, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” First attributed in 1953 to coach John Thomas of the Green Hornets and later Knute Rockne of Notre Dame, the theme is clear. Times have been very difficult, and the beat of stepping up our game has rarely been louder.
One of the greatest Jewish scholars and inspirational coaches of the 21st century was Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the UK; may his memory be for a blessing. Among his vast writings, Rabbi Sacks wrote about the imperative to live our lives wisely. In 2018 he wrote about the ten life-changing principles that we have the power to fine-tune. His words resonate with my soul, and  I will be practicing this right along with you. With deep gratitude to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, we collectively prep for 2022. 
The first is to give thanks. He taught that it is a fact that we will face tough challenges in our lives; however, before we become swallowed up by them, practice gratitude. Make your gratitude list before you go to sleep. Even while suffering, some things make the situation better. Happy people are generally those who practice articulating those things that are good.
The second is to share with children, grandchildren, and friends ideas on how to live a good life. Rabbi Sacks taught that material gifts are lovely, of course, but the things that truly matter are the values we share. Do something with loved ones that align with your best ideas and goodness. Experiences exceed wrapped packages.
The third is to be a lifelong learner. We can join a book group, take a class online, or, when safe, attend a class in person. It is especially meaningful to learn with a friend. Learning keeps our minds sharp and our hearts open. Curiosity keeps us vibrant.
The fourth is not to compromise our Judaism in public. He taught that there is much value to being consistent in our Judaism. Own and be proud of your Judaism. When we live with self-respect as Jews, we are viewed with respect.
The fifth is forgiveness. The Torah reminds us not to hate our sibling in our hearts. Life is short, and forgiveness benefits us when we release resentment and grudges. Let it go already. It is much better for our health to release whatever it was that made us bitter. One exemplar of this is in Genesis, where Joseph forgave the cruelty of his brothers. Not only does Joseph live in peace, but the Torah also gives him the name Joseph the righteous.
The sixth is don’t speak negatively about others, even if it is true. Lashon Harah is actually about truth. When people gossip, even if true, it undermines and dirties the soul. Instead of speaking negatively, be silent.
The seventh is to keep Shabbat. It has been around for nearly 3,000 years. Shabbat has been a private island of happiness for the Jewish people. It requires self-control to avoid the phone, the laptop, the shopping, and the errands. It takes commitment to show up for ourselves and one another on Friday night in person or on zoom. Using baseball terminology, “we” are now up at-bat. 
The eighth is to volunteer. The best medicine for depression is to extend ourselves to others. Judaism teaches that the door to happiness opens outwards. Give tzedakah. Show up to help. The beautiful word for unselfish love is chesed.
The ninth is to create moments of joy. Happiness comes from an external stimulus, sweet but finite. Joy is different from happiness, says Rabbi Sacks. Joy comes from the inside. Joy happens when we notice a break of sunshine after days of fog. Joy is what happens when we compliment someone, smile at someone, or smile inside thinking about a good moment in our day. 
The tenth is love. The essence of Judaism is about love. We are to love G-d with all our hearts. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to love the stranger, for we were once strangers. When we show love to others, we are also filled up. 
These ten suggestions from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are to be practiced slowly and gradually. They are an essential set of workouts as we boldly step into the year 2022. Certain things will always be out of our control. However, attitude and spiritual mindset are very much under our control.

 

With strength, confidence, shalom, and love,
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

_______________________________________________

 From the Rabbi: December 24, 2021

                                                                             

What is the most American thing a Jew to do on Christmas? We go out for Chinese food, a custom as American Jewish as apple pie.

It seems that the custom started as early as 1935 when a  man named, Eng Shee Chuck brought Chow Mein on Christmas Day to the Jewish Children's Home in Newark, N.J. Others suggest there was an even earlier cuisine alliance starting in 1899 when the American Jewish Journal criticized Jews for eating at non-kosher restaurants and singled out Jews who flocked to Chinese restaurants.

Jews eating Chinese seemed like a match made in heaven as Chinese food rarely contains dairy hence avoiding the meat and dairy debacle. For more observant Jewish people, there are some dishes that are avoided altogether, however in general, Chow Mein on Christmas has been seen as a comfortable and tasty response to the holiday.

A Chinese restaurant always seemed like a safe and welcoming place for Jewish people who generally feel like outsiders on Christmas eve. The custom is now so well-known it’s been researched, parodied, and was once even referenced by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her 2010 nomination hearing. Responding to a question by Senator Graham about where she was on a particular Christmas, Elena Kagan responded, "Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant." (June 29, 2010)


According to Ronnie Fein, a writer for The Nosher,  the custom was born from a  feeling of immigrant solidarity that began around the beginning of the 20th century and was cemented after a particularly deadly and vicious anti-Semitic pogrom in Kishinev (in what is now Moldova) in May of 1903. John Singleton, a Chinese businessperson, was so outraged at the cruelty and violence that he planned an event to raise money for the surviving victims. He and three other Chinese merchants held a benefit performance of a play at a theater in New York’s Chinatown. After the play, several Jewish men spoke about the common bond between the people, noting Russian atrocities against both Jews and Chinese. The actors in the play spoke Chinese. The Jewish men who spoke did so in Yiddish.

A Chinese dinner followed. There is no record of the menu but apparently no pork or shellfish was served, out of respect for the Jews.

For your Shabbat dining pleasure to accompany what you order via CBS from Panda Express, here is a recipe for Hot and Sour Soup, thoughtfully adapted for our enjoyment.

Hot and Sour Soup

  • 6-8 dry black Chinese mushrooms
  • 1 small boneless half chicken breast, about 6 ounces
  • 8-ounce can bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
  • 6 ounces firm tofu
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch mixed to a paste with water
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 to 2-1/2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Directions

  1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water. When the mushrooms have softened, rinse them, discard the fibrous stem, if any, and shred the mushrooms. Set aside.
  1. Shred the chicken, bamboo shoots and tofu, and set aside.
  2. Finely chop the scallions and set aside.
  3. Beat the eggs and set them aside.
  4. Mix the cornstarch and water together.
  5. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, and salt, and set this mixture aside.
  6. Bring the stock to a boil in a soup pot. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the chicken and bamboo shoots. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and the soy sauce mixture. Cook for one minute. Add the tofu and stir gently to distribute the pieces. Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the pot and stir the soup gently, cooking for about a minute, or until the stock thickens slightly.
  7. Gradually pour the beaten egg into the soup. Stir gently with chopsticks to break the egg into pieces.
  8. Turn off the heat. Stir in the sesame oil.
  9. Pour the soup into a tureen and top with the scallions.

Pin on Chinese New Year Fun What is the Meaning of Chai | A Celebration of Life – Alef Bet by Paula

To life and good fortune!

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler


 [NW1]

From the Rabbi: December 17, 2021

December 17th, 2021 – 13 Tevet 5782

                                                                                                                                       

Parashat Vayechi: Why Be Jewish?

There are a variety of reasons how and why people identify with Judaism. We identify as Jews because we may have been raised in a Jewish home and one or both of our parents were Jewish. If our ancestors were Jewish, we are proud to carry it on in our live.

We may identify as Jewish because we chose to convert to the religion out of a desire to attach to the heart, the theology and spirit of Judaism.

We may identify with Jewish because we fell in love with a Jewish person. We may identify with Jewish because something tugs at our heart and mind about Judaism although we chose to remain linked to the religion of our childhood.

We may identify as Jewish because we are “other” meaning that we identify because we are a minority, and we are proud of that. Along those lines, we identify as Jewish in part because of anti-Semitism and our refusal to give up or give in. We may have been bullied in school ostracized from clubs or social groups, so that our “other-ness” has become dear.

We may identify as Jewish because we align with Social Justice and the message, the doctrine of Tikkun Olam, to heal the world, loudly beats in our heart.

We may identify as Jewish because we really love Jewish food, and given the boxes: white bread or bagel, we check off the bagel box, every time.

We may identify as Jewish because we love the learning, the Torah, and the writings. We may identify as Jewish because of the music, and cultural history. We may identify as Jewish because the spirituality makes sense, moves us, and endlessly inspires us.

We may identify as Jewish because we love the fact that it is a mitzvah to discuss, question and even argue constructively for the sake of heaven. We may identify as Jewish because we love our attitude and use of comedy as a creative response to suffering.

We may identify as Jewish because of the State of Israel and we align with vision of having a Jewish homeland.

We may identify as Jewish because our soul belongs with the Jewish people and we are right here, where we need to be, either by birth or by choice.

We may be Jewish for a combination of these reasons.

When you think about your own life, what are the key reasons that most deeply pull you to Judaism?

In this week’s parasha Vayechi, this issue comes up when our second patriarch, Jacob is very old and is about to give his deepest blessing to his grandsons, Manasseh, and Ephraim. Manasseh is the eldest of the two boys. Torah dictates, especially in the book of Genesis, that the eldest son receives the big blessing, the one that supersedes the younger.

Under the watchful eye of his son, Joseph, Jacob sits upon on his bed, stretches out his arms to bless the boys’ heads. He places his right hand, the powerful big blessing hand on the youngest child, Ephraim and his left hand, the less powerful blessing hand on the eldest, Manasseh.

Joseph tries to stop him, upset at what he sees as the incorrect protocol. The text says, “va’yay’rah,” meaning, that it was bad, evil, definitely displeasing, so he reminds his father sharply that it is the eldest who receives the big blessing. However, the Torah says that Jacob, “vayee’mak-ayn,” he refused saying, “I know the older will become great, yet his younger brother shall become greater, and his legacy will fill the nations.”

What did the patriarch Jacob foresee? We look at the names of the two boys, Manasseh, the first born was described earlier in Torah as “God has made me forget all my hardship and my father’s house.” Ephraim’s name is described as “God has made me fruitful.” Manasseh’s name derives from the root Nun, Samech, Hey meaning “to be tested.” Ephraim’s name comes from the root “Peh, Resh, Hey, meaning, “fruitful.”

Jacob was making a statement so long ago that resonates all the way to this very moment. Both aspects of identification to Judaism matter; both the I am Jewish because I have been tested, as well as I am Jewish because of the fruitful, flourishing , creative delight.

From the Manasseh stream, we jokingly say about holidays such as Chanukah, Purim, and Passover, “they tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat.” At the same time, there is the Ephraim stream that fills us with what is flourishing in of itself.

In that spirit I want to conclude with an excerpt of an email I received this week from a new member to CBS and her insight on watching her pre-school age child interact at Neshama, our religious school. She writes to Ester and to me,

“I wanted to reach out to you both and let you know how completely magical it has been to be welcomed into the community. Our little one adores Neshama, you all make it such a beautiful and supportive experience. As a mother, it is a dream come true to see my child running not the synagogue as it were a second home. All that you do and put into really makes a huge difference.”

We pray that the blessing of Ephraim continues to blossom and bear sweet fruit in the life of our community. And let us say: Amen

 

 

From the Rabbi: December 10, 2021

Shalshelet

 

Thunderous. Pausing. Making the right decision.

 

Of all the trope cantillations in the Torah, perhaps the most fascinating marking is found in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev. The melody is named Shalshelet. It looks like a lightening rod, placed directly above the word, and sounds like an arpeggio sung three times. Torah students respect this trope for two reasons. First, it’s hard to learn and once mastered, they feel like a singer. Second, this crème de la crème cantillation mark is exceedingly rare showing up a mere four times in the entire Torah. Delighted are the B’nai Mitzvah students who have Shalshelet in their parasha. These elite Torah chanters stand a little taller and chant their Shalshelet with an inner glow often making it integral to their D’var Torah (Torah speech).

Torah Trope - Congregation Or Atid

Spiritually Shalshelet is referred to as Mar’imin u’Mafsikin (Mesorah Gedolah, Levicitus 8:23) Mar’imin means thunderous and Mafsikin means pausing, describing the melody in psychological terms. Shalshelet is about uncertainty, upheaval, and eventual resolve. Maimonides taught that “one who hesitates but, in the end, makes the right decision is on a higher level than one who acts without hesitation.” He explained that there are times when we are called upon to complete tasks that may not be in our immediate personal self-interest, however ultimately, when we make the correct decision, it is worthy of praise.

 

This week’s thunderous, pausing, and right decision making Shalshelet deals with physical temptation and restraint. Joseph, one of Jacobs 12 sons has been through the wringer. He was a dreamer who taunted his brothers with dreams of his superiority which led them to throwing him into a deep pit. In place of leaving him there to die, the brothers sold him off as a slave to the Ishmaelites and he wound up in Egypt working for the wealthy Mr. Potiphar. Mrs. Potiphar took a liking to Joseph and in no uncertain words let him know of her desire. While we will never know what Joseph was thinking when she demanded his amorous attention, we do have proof of his decisive refusal. The word, “But he refused,” in Hebrew v’y’mah’ein” is emblazoned with Shalshelet letting the reader know that Joseph was struggling with inner demons. Genesis 39:8

 

וַיְמָאֵ֓ן וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֵ֣שֶׁת אֲדֹנָ֔יו הֵ֣ן אֲדֹנִ֔י לֹא־יָדַ֥ע אִתִּ֖י מַה־בַּבָּ֑יִת וְכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־יֶשׁ־ל֖וֹ נָתַ֥ן בְּיָדִֽי׃

But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has placed in my hands.

 

You may be wondering about the other three examples with the mysterious Shalshelet?

 

One concerns the tricky character of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Lot needed to escape Sodom and Gemorah because  these towns were going to be destroyed. Through the character of an angel, (a Biblical messenger of G-d) Lot, along with his wife and two daughters were commanded to leave. Lot’s delay to exit may have been fear based, or perhaps his comfort level with sin clouded his better judgement. In Genesis 9:16,  Shalshelet looms above the word “still he delayed” suggesting Lot’s anguish.

 

וַֽיִּתְמַהְמָ֓הּ ׀ וַיַּחֲזִ֨קוּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֜ים בְּיָד֣וֹ וּבְיַד־אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ וּבְיַד֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י בְנֹתָ֔יו בְּחֶמְלַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה עָלָ֑יו וַיֹּצִאֻ֥הוּ וַיַּנִּחֻ֖הוּ מִח֥וּץ לָעִֽיר׃

Still he delayed. So the men (angels) seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two daughters—in Adonai’s mercy on him—and brought him out and left him outside the city.

 

The next example concerns Abraham’s servant Eliezer who was sent to distant Mesopotamia to find an appropriate wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Eliezer was apprehensive how to fulfil the sacred vow he made to Abraham. The Shalshelet above the word “And he said” hints at the wailing cry in his heart as he remembered the precise conversation with his master Abraham. Genesis 24:12.

 

 

וַיֹּאמַ֓ר ׀ יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶ֕סֶד עִ֖ם אֲדֹנִ֥י אַבְרָהָֽם׃                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And he said, “Adonai, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham:

 

 

The last Shalshelet citing concerns Moses struggling to overcome his personal feelings verses what G-d’s command. G-d told Moses to ordain his brother Aaron and Aaron’s sons as priests. Commentators explain that elevating his relatives’ status was beset with apprehension. Earlier on, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avinu made a tragic error when they tried to perform priestly ritual, not to mention his brother singlehandedly encouraged the Israelites to build a golden calf. In this dramatic moment in front of the entire Israelite community, G-d orders him to ordain fallible family members. Shalshelet rises above the word “and it was slaughtered” referring to the sacrificial animal and the impending sacred performance. Leviticus 8:23

 

וַיִּשְׁחָ֓ט וַיִּקַּ֤ח מֹשֶׁה֙ מִדָּמ֔וֹ וַיִּתֵּ֛ן עַל־תְּנ֥וּךְ אֹֽזֶן־אַהֲרֹ֖ן הַיְמָנִ֑ית וְעַל־בֹּ֤הֶן יָדוֹ֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֥הֶן רַגְל֖וֹ הַיְמָנִֽית׃

and it was slaughtered. Moses took some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.

Often when people become involved in an endeavor that does not bring gratification or what they prefer, they struggle to do the right thing. Rabbi Avi Weis, founder of Choveiveh Yeshiva, teaches that the rare Shalshelet helps us remember that the Biblical characters were not unlike us. They felt similar inner conflicts and struggled to reach past their lower inclinations. Rabbi Weis concludes, “when we reach beyond ourselves and primal self-interest, we are able to reach the heavens.”

As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, and the lurching of holiday commotion let’s welcome Shalshelet to help navigate the thunder, bless us with pause and ultimately guide us to thoughtful decisions.

Shalom,

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

 

From the Rabbi: December 1, 2021

Chanukah: a Real Dedication of our  Inner Temple

 

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism made a powerful connection between Chanukah and the Torah portion B’ha’alotecha (Numbers Chapter 8:1-2) Both Chanukah and this section of Torah focus upon the act of spiritual lighting.
He noted that the Torah word for used for “lighting” the Menorah was the same root as the word “to elevate” as the root of B’ha’alotecha is linked to the word Aliyah.

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2) Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you light the candles, the seven lamps … 
 
  
:אוַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר  

בדַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַֽעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙
:מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת
  
The Baal Shem Tov asked, “Why does the Torah use the word “b’ha’a lot’cha – elevate” the candles when you assume it should use the word “l’had’leek – to light”?  Because one who lights candles must also bring light to himself or light to herself. Someone who elevates the candles must also elevate himself, elevate herself.” Through the act of lighting, we become that light and are elevated.  

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav in his book Likutei Maharan writes:
This time of year is a time of renewal and rededication. It is the darkest time of the whole year, but it is also the time when the light is returning. It is a time of making the temple within you, once again clear and wholesome enough to become a dwelling place for the Divine to manifest within you. We become a container for pure Light by purifying ourselves.  The way to receive the Divine light is by sanctifying our mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and thoughts. The seven openings of the head allow us to rededicate ourselves to our inner temple.

Hana Matt, a Berkely based teacher of world religions and spiritual direction teaches how lighting the Chanukah candles enables us to cleanse our inner temple. Her instruction is that as we light our candles, we elevate and interpret Rabbi Nachman’s message. Through the mindful remembering of the candle’s purpose, we create a very powerful opening for G-d’s light within us.

The first candle represents the mouth and reminds us to pay close attention to the words we communicate. To sanctify the mouth: avoid falsehood and speak only the truth. Offer words of kindness and empathy. This sanctification of the mouth also includes the healthy food we take into our mouths.

The second candle represents the nose. When we are about to be irritated or impatient, we are reminded to draw up a deep breath, as thought drawing up through our nose deep patience from the well. This practice enables us to show compassion for someone who angers you, the highest level of calming frustration.

The third candle and fourth candle represents our two ears. To sanctify your years: listen to the words of the wise, the teaching of the sages. Hear spiritual teachings. Be careful about what your years are taking in such as trivial, shallow or derogatory intake. Deep listening to what is being said beneath the surface helps cleans our inner temple.

The fifth candle and the sixth candle represent our two eyes. Sanctify your seeing involves not observing yourself or others with critical eyes, for this way of looking has a negative effect on yourself and the other person. Judge yourself favorably, giving yourself the benefit of the doubt and the same applies to judging another person favorably. Pay attention to the judgements we place on others as well as ourselves. Explore judging others more favorably. According to Rabbi Nachman, how we “see others” affects that person. We can bless someone through the way we see them.

The seventh candle represents our thoughts. Be aware of your thoughts during the day and watch how many of them are negative. This is the darkest time of the year and we can watch how our thoughts also can turn to the dark side of things. Be careful not to waste your thoughts. Cultivate a sweetening of the negative thoughts which allows us to develop gratitude. We become more mindful that even the mundane acts we do be attached to G-d. Bring that Divine connection with you into the car, as you eat, as you wash dishes. See how this transforms the action at hand.

The eighth candle is linked to the radiance within us. Once the seven gates have been opened by your working on each one, then the Transcendent wisdom and Divine Light flow and we begin to radiate. The Divine Abundance now pours into us unimpeded, and we become luminous like the candlelight.  This is what we are doing symbolically by lighting the candles on Chanukah.

With joy and light to everyone as we rededicate ourselves.

Chag Sameach- Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler
 

 

From the Rabbi: November 4, 2021

In the Genesis narratives, our ancestors bravely took steps to become who they were meant to become. Abraham responded to Lech L’cha, to go toward his truth and leave behind what used to define him. Rebekah and Isaac chose one another sight unseen and in doing so, found lasting union. Jacob walked his path, not always an easy one, and was blessed with the new name Yisrael, translated as one willing to wrestle with G-d, to be triumphant with G-d. Each was courageous in becoming and living their authentic lives.

In a similar way, manifesting that which already exists deep inside, is the sacred path of a Jew by choice.

When a person chooses to become Jewish, it is understood that this person’s soul already knew the course it needed to pursue. Some know when they are young children. Others become aware of their spiritual yearning toward Judaism as adults. The journey toward Judaism is called Gilgul Ne’shama, the transmigration of innermost soul. Some Jewish mystics view conversion to Judaism as a Jewish soul finding its way home.

 

Rabbi Alan Maller wrote in the Times of Israel: “I always inform people that most non-Jews who become Jewish already have a Jewish soul. This Jewish soul could never make sense of the trinity and always resented the claim that good people who do not believe in Jesus are not going to heaven. Their Jewish soul attracts them to Jewish people. This Jewish soul is in a Gentile body because it is a Gilgul; a reincarnation of an ancestor who was Jewish and for some reason became disconnected from the Jewish people some 2-7 generations previously. Some people who become Jewish are new souls who are here for the first time. The others are simply returning home where they belong.”

This Friday, November 5th at our 6:00 p.m. in-person Family service we welcome Henry Henridge Holloway - Yakir Daniel ben Avraham, and Sarah. Yakir Daniel has completed the Introduction to Judaism and the completion meeting with three rabbis, called Bet Din.  Throughout these many months of covid, he participates in CBS zoom Shabbat services, Torah Study,  the CBS Food Fair, and learns Mussar, Jewish Spiritual Ethics. This past week Yakir Daniel immersed in the mikveh at Beth Jacob Synagogue in Oakland, witnessed by CBS President, Bob Bennet.

Yakir Daniel writes:

“Judaism did not beckon me with a resounding roar; rather, it spoke to me as a gentle whisper. I felt a connection to the Jewish people. I was drawn to their uniqueness, history, strength, adaptability, resilience, achievement, sense of humor, and social justice work. I sympathized with the othering of Jewish people and viewed them as a culture of outsiders with a unique and attractive sensibility that came from their diverse history. Jews were ancient people with an ancient religion and language that continued to inspire others. Jews were strong; they survived countless attempts at eradicating them, more than any other cultural group in history, and most remained steadfast in their cultural identity. Jews have demonstrated intelligence, creativity, and innovation, especially, in the arts, sciences, and in academia, where they rose to the top through hard work and determination. Despite the grotesque things that have transpired against the Jewish people, they remained a proud people, who demonstrated a willingness to be a voice for the voiceless and an ally for the oppressed and underprivileged, such as Rabbi Robert Marx, who died this year at 93, and marched with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights.”

Please join me this Friday as we joyfully welcome Yakir Daniel ben Avraham v’Sarah. We are blessed that his ne’shama, his innermost soul has brought him to his Judaism and to CBS.

Shalom,

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: October 29, 2021

 Rabbi Nancy Wechsler                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

24 Cheshvan 5782                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Chayei Sarah: Blessed with Everything 

I have been thinking about the verse in this week’s parasha Chayei Sarah that creates a spiritual conundrum. The text says that Abraham was “blessed with everything”, in Hebrew, Adonai barech et Avraham ba’kol. Later the same parasha, we learn that Abraham died at a good old age, mature and content, the Hebrew for that word is savei-ah, meaning content, sated or filled up. 

On a purely literal level it would seem that Abraham was blessed with everything and died content. Our first patriarch seems to have had an easy and lovely life. 

However, we know that is was not always easy and not always lovely. There was serious suffering. He had experienced ten significant trials. Maimonides2 lists them as follows: 

1. G-d tells him to leave his homeland to be a stranger in the land of Canaan.3 2. Immediately after his arrival in the Promised Land, he encounters a famine.4 3. The Egyptians seize his beloved wife, Sarah, and bring her to Pharaoh.5 4. Abraham faces incredible odds in the battle of the four and five kings.6 5. He marries Hagar after not being able to have children with Sarah.7 6. G-d tells him to circumcise himself at an advanced age.8 7. The king of Gerar captures Sarah, intending to take her for himself.9 8. G-d tells him to send Hagar away after having a child with her.10 

9. His son, Ishmael, becomes estranged.11 10. G-d tells him to sacrifice his dear son Isaac upon an altar.12 

Abraham had plenty of trauma and suffering. How is then, that the Torah says that Gd blessed Abraham with everything, and that he died, content? 

Suffering can either use us, or we can use our suffering. There is not a single Biblical role model who did not suffer in his or her life. They become our role models due to how they transformed their suffering, allowing them to become worthy of Gd’s grace, to become a br’acha, a blessing. 

It was only because they permitted their trials to assail them for the benefit of their soul’s growth, that their merit, in Hebrew, zechut, continues to shine into our lives. 

In a midrash from the 2nd century called Midrash Rabba we learn that when a person is tested, it is less about the test and all about how that person manages the test. In the following example the rabbis compare a tightly closed vial of incense to a life that has not been tested. No one can smell the beautiful fragrance when it closed. Only when the vial of incense is opened, or broken open, can the scent permeate. 

It says that Rabbi Berekia said: What did Abraham resemble? Abraham resembled a vial of myrrh closed with a tight fitting lid and lying in a corner so that its fragrance was no disseminated. Yet, as soon as the vial was take up, opened up, exposed to heat, its fragrance was disseminated. Similarly, the Holy One said to Abraham, Lech L’cha, Travel from place to place and your name will become great in the world. (Genesis Rabbah 39:2) Through the unexpected upheaval, Abraham’s essence became known. 

Another teaching from the sages about transformed suffering is where the individual accepts the suffering and has faith that something good will come from it. This parable is also from the 2nd century and is in the Talmud, Tractate Brachot 60b and features Rabbi Akiva. 

Once when Rabbi Akiva was traveling, he had with him a donkey, a rooster and a torch. When he could not find lodging in town, he had to sleep in the woods. He said, “All the Gd does, is for the good,” When the donkey and the rooster were eaten by wild animals, he said, “All that Gd does, is for the good,” When the torch was blown out by the wind, he said, “All that Gd does is for the good.” 

The next morning, Rabbi Akiva learned that bandits had destroyed the town overnight. He realized, that had he found lodging in the town, or had the bandits 

seen his torch or heard his donkey or rooster, his life would have been in jeopardy. Rabbi Akiva exemplifies that his misfortunes, were actually for the best. 

Another famous Talmudic story about the mindset of transforming suffering into good is Nachum ish Gam Zu, a nickname for an individual who reacted to misfortune with unyielding optimism. It is related that in later years Nachum’s hands and feet became paralyzed and he was afflicted with other severe physical ailments. He bore his troubles patiently however, and even found some good in then. That is why we say Gam Zu L’Tova, this too is for the good. 

Today I spoke with someone who is out of town and in the ICU. She is getting better but it has been a difficult road. She laughed however when she told me that she likes that she is in room 22, because in Jewish folklore we have custom of making a spitting sound, 22, to keep the evil eye far away from us. She said it made the nurses laugh. 

No one wants suffering, however, when it happens, the suffering uses us or we can use the suffering to grow. 

A contemporary teacher of this is the 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who statement of faith called the Serenity Prayer has helped millions of people transform feeling like a powerless victim, into a people with save’ah, serenity and 

sanity. While very well known for those in recovery, it is a “suffering transformer” and can be utilized by anyone. 

I can imagine Abraham saying such a prayer during times of his suffering. 

Gd grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The Courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We could spend a long time talking about the three parts to this prayer. For now: 

Accept the things I cannot change means that we accept the negative or terrible thing has happened. Accepting that it has occurred does not mean that we ever wanted it to happen. It means that we accept that it has happened. 

The courage to change the things I can, means that there are things that I can do. This takes courage when certain situations deplete our desire to do anything. We are asked to think about if there is any action at all that we can do to help. Big or small. 

And the wisdom to know the difference means that we can discern between the acceptance of the negative thing from the “what we can do.” 

When we think about Abraham’s hard life and the fact the Torah says he was blessed ba’kol, with everything and died with savei’ah contentment, it is no 

longer a a conundrum, because we realize that Abraham’s life embodies the ability to transform his suffering. In this way, his life will always be blessing to us. 

We would like to show you a short video that packs into a few moments a deep insight into how faith works in our lives. 

 

From the Rabbi: October 12, 2021

 May we repair the world through

promoting peace and justice among all people,

through social action, tzedakah, and acts of lovingkindness.

 

 

Dear Friends,

We speak of Tikkun Olam frequently. The phrase is understood to mean “repairing the world” however the term has broader implications about our very purpose in being alive and our relationship with God. In some sources, the term is about the physical world, such as providing food for the hungry, and safe places for the unhoused. For others, it is linked to the fully realized dream of fixing the world under the rule of God.

One place we find the Tikkun Olam phrase is in the Aleinu prayer recited toward the end of every service since 1200 CE. The sentence reads: “l’takein olam b’mal’chut Shaddai” which indicates the goal of Jewish existence is to establish the world under the rule of God. We interpret this as we “fix the world” by helping make Godly qualities extend to all places. In the 16th century, the Kabbalistic teacher, Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed taught that we are obligated to assume a partnership with God to repair the world. According to folklorist and author Howard Schwartz, the Lurianic creation is summarized as follows:

 

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring the world into being, to make room for creation, God contracted Godself by drawing in God’s breath, forming a dark mass. Then God said, Let there be light (Gen. 1:3) and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light. 

God sent forth the ten vessels like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. But the vessels—too fragile to contain such powerful Divine light—broke open, scattering the holy sparks everywhere. 

     Had these vessels arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. Instead, God created people to             seek out and gather the hidden sparks, wherever we can find them. Once this task is completed, the             broken vessels will be restored, and the world will be repaired. 

According to the Lurianic creation vision, our lifelong task is to find and gather these mysterious, elusive sparks of light. When we perform a mitzvah, we separate the holy from the not holy and release the light within. Every time we help share a burden of suffering with another person, we are allowing more light to infuse the world. Kabbalistic myth helps fire our imagination as we strive to fix what is broken.

At CBS we derive great meaning in Tikkun Olam; indeed it is fundamental to our mission. Our children in Neshama Religious school learn about and participate in Tikkun Olam. Our B’nai Mitzvah program emphasizes the importance of each young person devoting time to creating a “Mitzvah Project.” Our monthly Social Action Shabbat and workshops, highlight things that need fixing in our world by inviting activists to teach and guide. We don’t engage in Tikkun Olam simply because it is good to be good, we do these things because we exist. Our participation in Tikkun Olam is an opportunity to be God’s partners. As the prayer says:

 

Baruch atah Adonai
Eloheinu melech ha'olam
                                                               Shenatan lanu hizdamnut l'takein et ha'ol                                                                                                                                                       Blessed are You Adonai                                                                                                                                                         
Our God Sovereign of the Universe                                                                     Who has given us the opportunity to heal the world.

 

This coming Friday night on Zoom we have the opportunity to become more aware of the work done at Loaves and Fishes. Loaves & Fishes is a charity in Sacramento dedicated to feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. It is a fully private charity that does not solicit or accept government money. Every day they provide a noon meal to 600-1000 homeless people. Joe Smith is the Advocacy Director for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes. Before assuming this role, he served as Friendship Park’s Assistant Director for Loaves & Fishes. Before coming to Loaves & Fishes, Joe experienced 5 ½ years of living on the streets of Sacramento, San Francisco, and Reno. This shared experience with people experiencing homelessness makes for a unique, powerful, and meaningful bond. The Advocacy Director’s responsibility is to speak on behalf of the homeless and poor at every opportunity.

 

Along with our guest speaker, members of our CBS Band, Shabbat with a Beat will be playing live from the Sanctuary! Due to the technical skill and magic of Rick Snyder, you will be able to zoom into the vibrant music of CBS along with the vital message of Joe Smith.

At this service, our upcoming Bar Mitzvah, Edan Cohen will be sharing with us about his Bar Mitzvah Project which is connected to Loaves and Fishes, and how we, his CBS family can make this successful. As we ease along the month of October, we are well aware of next month’s Thanksgiving holiday. Every year, CBS is an active participant in donating lots of turkeys and Thanksgiving fixings to the Arden Food Bank. Our glorious cheerleader for Thanksgiving Food Donations, Robin Gillet has been experiencing health setbacks and we pray, that as CBS rallies this year to bring more donations for Thanksgiving, it will manifest healing energy. After Food Faire, stay tuned for when we can bring fixings to CBS and top our best Thanksgiving donations.

From the Rabbi: October 4, 2021

 

 Hello friends,

     My son Max is currently working in Europe and wanted to tune into High Holidays in a time zone that kept with his waking hours. He tuned into Australia. He shared with me that as the Rabbi in Australia offered prayers for the world, he specifically mentioned praying for the United States because of the restrictive and backward turning of reproductive rights in our country. It was the first time Max had heard someone praying for America the way we normally hear prayer leaders offering prayers for third world countries in crisis.

This is a crisis. The Supreme Court refused this past Wednesday to block a Texas law prohibiting most abortions which makes it the most restrictive abortion measure in the nation. Justice Sonia Sotomayor write in her dissent that “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”

Many states have passed bans, but the law in Texas is different as it was drafted to make it difficult to challenge in court. It makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape. The measure violates the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v Wade.  Other states such as Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah, also have restrictive abortion laws.

In Texas, the law allows private citizens to sue providers and anyone lese who helps a woman terminate, including those who give a woman a ride to a clinic or provide financial assistance. Private citizens who bring these suits do not need to show any connection to those they are suing.

The reason why the restrictive law in Texas affects us is that life is sacred in Judaism.

Banning potentially life-saving medical procedures and interfering with a patient’s decision-making and moral agency runs contrary to the Jewish commandment to protect life. This belief, combined with biblical and rabbinic emphasis on human dignity, has led the Reform Movement to view the life of the pregnant individual as paramount, placing a stronger emphasis on protecting existing life than on potential life (Exodus 21:22-23).

Furthermore, the rabbis tell us that a physician’s job is to heal, and if they withhold medical care, it is as if they have shed blood. “The Torah has granted the physician permission to heal, and it is a religious duty which comes under the rule of saving an endangered life. If he withholds treatment, he is regarded as one who sheds blood” (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 36:1). Regressive state laws that prevent physicians and other providers from providing health care is in direct opposition to this sacred duty.

The Reform Movement’s positions on reproductive rights are grounded in the core belief that each person should have agency and autonomy over their own bodies. Our advocacy around abortion access is inspired by the Jewish value of Kavod ha’briyot, respect for individual dignity. This same sanctity underscores the vital need for medically accurate education, affordable family planning service and high-quality women’s health care.

If this message aligns with your values, contact Congress. Urge members of Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). Let them know you are aware of the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal health insurance coverage of abortion with very narrow exception, disproportionately impacting low-income individuals.  Give tzedakah to organizations that support reproductive justice such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdoff. Justice, justice, our responsibility to pursue.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: September 27, 2021

Dear Friends,

A new year has begun, and it is time to dive into Jewish Learning. CBS will be offering zoom classes and in person classes.

Saturday Morning Torah Study: 9:00 am – 10:15 am with Rabbi Nancy Wechsler. Join us for a collaborative exploration of the Torah and its meaning for our lives.  ZOOM. No fee

Sunday Morning: 9:00 a.m.  – 10:00 a.m.  
Beginning Hebrew with Carry Cohn IN PERSON (A minimum of 5 students are necessary)
6 Classes - $136 (Oct 3,10,17,31 Nov 7,14)

Sunday Morning:10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.  
Mussar with Rabbi Nancy Wechsler ZOOM (Previous Mussar classes required)
6 Classes - $136 (Oct 3,10,17,31 Nov 7,14)

Monthly Rosh Chodesh: First Thursday of the Month 6:00 p.m.   – 8:30 p.m.
Torah Learning and Challah Baking with Rabbi Nancy Wechsler IN PERSON We will study the parasha, study the theme of Rosh Chodesh and leave with a freshly baked challah for Shabbat. Takes place in the Social Hall. 
RSVP required $18 per session (Oct 7, Nov 4, Dec 2, Jan 6, Feb 3, March 3, April 7, May 5, June 2)


Wednesday Lunch and Learn:  Coming in December with Rabbi Nancy Wechsler. In Person. The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith. The Kuzari is a Medieval Treatise on Judaism by Judah Halevi. Purchase your book online and get a running start. 6 sessions  - $72 (December 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, January 5). Bring your lunch.

This is what we are looking at thus far, and if there are things you would love to study, please let me know. We can make it happen at a time that works for you.  If not now, when?
Shalom,
 
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: September 13, 2021

 Dear Ones,

     Long ago after the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, the rabbis asked the question of how we could manage spirituality without a physical location. They answered that our homes could become a “mikdash m’at” a miniature sanctuary, a holy place. Over the past eighteen months, we have become accustomed to this shift of creating sacred space at home, but I wanted to remind us of some ways to further elevate the sanctity of our upcoming Yom Kippur, Wednesday, September 15 thru Thursday, September 16th.

These ten suggestions collected by my friend Rabbi Elyse Goldstein (Toronto CN) are meant to help us enhance the High Holy Day experience at home while creating a communal atmosphere for us all.

1. Choose your prayer space carefully in advance by spending a few moments of individual contemplation/family discussion. Do not wait for the last minute!

2. Once you have chosen your space, say a blessing or kavannah (“intention”) over it to mark it as your mikdash m’at. Suggestions of verses and blessings are given below.

3. What chair will you sit on? Put a cushion or festive pillow on it, or drape it with a tallit, special piece of fabric, or scarf. 

4. Change where you put your computer from a workspace to a contemplative space by covering the desk or table with a white tablecloth, white runner, or white placemat, and a vase of flowers.

5. Find meaningful objects to grace your space. On Yom Kippur, you can place cherished mementos, family heirlooms, and photos of loved ones to surround you. If you own a shofar, put it where it is visible. To participate more fully in Yizkor, make sure you have a yahrtzeit candle and matches available to light.

6. If possible, move the computer space back so that you are “watching” the screen more than “manipulating” it. Consider connecting your computer to a TV screen so it feels less like a work device.

7. Try to limit or disconnect auditory distractions. You can turn off your email and text message ping sounds, and/or close your email program and other apps so you can be fully present during the service.

8. Wear clothing that makes you feel as if you are entering a spiritual space. Kippah and tallit are welcome if they help you express a connection to this special worship.

9. Be sure you have your machzor with you, just like on past High Holidays when we gathered. You can still pick up the Machzor for Yom Kippur from the CBS office or download the Machzor on the CBS link.

10. Make it a habit to join the online services we already offer now. Praying as any other activity becomes more comfortable and “natural” when we practice it.

We all appreciate the time and effort it takes to make our mikdash m’at a truly holy place. Our individual effort impacts the rest of the congregation.  May it add joy and meaning to your Yom Kippur. 

Note that for Sukkot, on Monday, September 20 at 5-6, we will have a drive-through in person Sukkah celebration and Simchat Torah, Tuesday, September 28th at 5:00 we will march with our masks, outside at CBS.

I wish you a wonderful and meaningful Yom Kippur and look forward to the joy of seeing your faces on zoom.
G’mar Chatimah Tova, wishing you a good sealing for health, happiness, and peace in the Book of Life.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler


Verses and blessings to help create your sacred space/mikdash m’at:
1.     Numbers 24:5
מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your sacred places, O Israel!

2. Birkat Habayit (home blessing):
בְּזֶה הַשַּׁעַר לֹא יָבוֹא צַעַר
בְּזֹאת הַדִּירָה לֹא תָבוֹא צָרָה
בְּזֹאת הַדֶּלֶת לֺא תָבוֹא בֶּהָלָה
בְּזֹאת הַמַּחְלָקָה לֺא תָבוֹא מַחְלוֺקֶת.
בְּזֶה הַמָּקוֺם תְּהִי בְרָכָה וְשָׁלוֺם
Let no sorrow come through this gate.
Let no trouble come in this dwelling.
Let no fright come through this door.
Let no conflict come to this section.
Let there be blessing and peace in this place.

3. Exodus 20:21:
בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ
In every place where My name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.

4. Exodus 3:5
כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
Indeed, the place on which you stand is holy ground.

5. Psalms 121:8
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃
Adonai will guard your going and coming, now and forever.

6. Pirke Avot 1:4
יְהִי בֵיתְךָ בֵית וַעַד לַחֲכָמִים, וֶהֱוֵי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם, וֶהֱוֵי שׁוֹתֶה בְצָמָא אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם:
Let thy house be a house of meeting for the wise, sit at their feet, and drink in their words.

7. The last line of the blessing said at havdala separating Shabbat from weekday can be used to “separate” this sacred space:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל
Baruch atah Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol.
Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between holy and ordinary.

From the Rabbi: August 10, 2021

Dear CBS Family,
I am writing to you from the beauty of Netanya, Israel. Netanya is on the coast and my morning walks take place on the sand.  Along with the soft crashing of waves and the sweetest songs of birds, and a plethora of stray cats, these past mornings I have heard the Shofar sounding. I stop in my tracks and follow the Tekiah, Teruah, and Sh’varim codes. I think of our CBS Shofar blowers, Ella Varano and Eli Swatt, and how the sound of their Shofars awakens our spirits to return to our truest selves. I cannot wait to hear them throughout our High Holy Days.


I have been enjoying the bliss of being with both of my daughters; Eliza who is a lone soldier, chayelet bode’dah, and my younger daughter Lily. We visited Eliza’s apartment at the Raanana Absorption Center which lone soldiers call home.  Very different than in the United States Army, Israeli soldiers come home every Shabbat unless they are required to “close” Shabbat on their assigned army base. The compound in Raanana is a cement campus that also serves as home to new immigrants.


I had the opportunity to meet some of Eliza’s friends in the IDF who have come from various places in the world. They come because something about Israel passionately fills their hearts. They are dedicated to becoming fluent in Hebrew and physically strong to fulfill their assignment. Interestingly not all lone soldiers are Jewish. For those not Jewish, part of their unique track is the requirement to take Nativ, the Orthodox introduction to Judaism program.  After the course, they can choose if they wish to convert.


Each lone soldier has a host family who welcomes them on Shabbat when they are off base. The host family attends the important ceremonies and helps them navigate the often-confusing medical services and bureaucracy of Israeli life. I was deeply moved to meet the wonderful family of five who now claim Eliza as part of their family.


Navigating the Israeli culture is not always easy, and the metaphor of sabra fruit is relevant. On the outside, the sabra fruit is inedible. It has sharp thorns. On the inside, however, the fruit is sweet. Cheerful smiles walking down the street are infrequent, however, in an instant, should a problem occur, the response would be immediate and absolute. Regarding faces, masks are worn in all shops and restaurants. Some wear masks outdoors as well.


Soldiers are the children of everyone. When a soldier is recognized as being a lone soldier, the appreciative reaction is moving. The Israeli understands that a young adult who comes without family to serve in the Israeli army is something very special. One person told me that the lone soldiers are like angels.


This past Shabbat I attended in-person services at a small Reform Synagogue in Netanya called Kehillat Natan-Ya. They allowed about 15-20 people into the small Sanctuary and the rest attended on zoom.  Their rabbi, Rabbi Nof explained that he was unsure what was going to take place at his shul for the Chagim but shared the resilient spirit that no matter what, our Jewish spirit would be blessed, renewed, and inspired.


Throughout the last 18 months, each of us has had to grapple with what we need to survive and thrive. We leaned in, we nurtured relationships across physical space and even found new ways of connecting with Judaism. Because of our resilience, we will continue to be there for one another and find true ways to create CBS Sanctuary whether in person or on-screen. Despite how much we long for in-person connecting, we have learned that sacred space is far more than physical proximity.
As we walk this holy month of Elul, let us express gratitude and include everyone on our journey. I look forward to celebrating Selichot with you Saturday evening, August 28th.


With love from Israel,
Rabbi Nancy

From the Rabbi: May 13, 2021

Dear Friends,

Like you, as I watch the events in Israel unfold in the news, I am at a loss for words. So much violence, so much hurting, so much fear I imagine those in Israel and in Palestine must be experiencing right now. I pray that G-d protects all those who are experiencing this violence.

This week my eldest daughter Eliza started basic training in the Israeli army.  She asked me to include the Palestinians in our prayers for peace. The situation between Israelis and Palestinians has been tangled for a millennium. Tension has flared badly, and we pray for a de-escalation of everyone, and every place involved. Always, we pray for peace.

Adonai, You have protected Israel in the past. You have protected Israel throughout history, and you will not fail to do so now. Please shelter all people from harm, get families to safety, and shield them with your peace and protection. 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers, sisters and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of Adonai,
I will seek your good.
(Psalm 122:6-9)

Pray for peace. 
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: May 9, 2021

Dear Friends,

We come to the seventh and final week as we count up to Shavuot, this week the week of Malkhut. Malkhut’s identity is the summation of the other sephirot. It is the culmination of these ideas coming into physical reality.

Perhaps an easier way to envision Malkhut is “how we show up.”  After the education we receive, both formal and life learning, what is the effect? How are we changed from lessons hopefully learned? 

Malkhut, from the Hebrew word ‘melech’ meaning king, is linked to ‘kingdom.’ At the same time in the mystical tradition, the sephira Malkhut has an additional name, Shekinah, the feminine aspect of G-d.  Shekinah is a Talmudic concept representing   G-d’s dwelling in the world. As Malkhut/Shekinah is the recipient of higher sephirot, it carries the character of taking full responsibility. 

Webster's Dictionary defines “accountability” as “the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions.” Accountability doesn't mean punishment. Accountability is a willingness to accept responsibility for our own actions.

The matriarch Rachel is the Biblical character who represents Malkhut. We are most like Rachel when we model the way we want to see all people treated. According to the Kabbalah, it is Rachel who spiritually hovers near us. She guards us when we feel disconnected, or when we are physically in exile. The rabbis teach that compassionate Rachel demonstrates responsibility by looking out for all of us, her children.

Questions to ponder in the 7th week of the Omer, Malchut.

What are some areas in my life where I take healthier responsibility due to processing certain life experiences?

What are some areas in my life where I am not taking as much responsibility as would be fitting?

What one thing can I try this week that will bring me to greater accountability. 

With blessings in this 7th week of the Omer.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: May 2, 2021

Dear Friends,
In the Sephira chart, Yesod is located near the base. It is seen as a vehicle allowing movement from one thing or condition to build.  The word Yesod means "foundation." 
             
  

Imagine someone building a home. Even if made of the finest material and advanced building techniques, it will sink into the ground unless it is anchored to solid bedrock. That bedrock is Yesod, the firm reality upon which things are built. The Biblical character linked to Yesod is Joseph.

A few reminders about Joseph’s spiritual journey.
Initially, we meet Joseph as a boastful and sassy young man. It was through suffering that he transformed his life into one of blessing.  We remember that Joseph was sold by all his brothers, except Benjamin into slavery. After many years there was a famine, and his brothers’ journey to Egypt to procure food. 

By now Joseph is Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and when his brothers arrive beseeching food, he recognizes them, but they do not recognize him. 

His behavior towards his brothers shows his capacity to accept life and his gratitude born from pain. He has released resentment for his own churlish behavior and is willing to forgive his grown siblings for theirs.  Through Joseph’s spiritual maturation, the family reunites resulting in the foundation of today’s Jewish people. Joseph is; Yesod connector, the anchor and restorer of harmony.

We integrate this sixth week of the Omer by reflecting on Joseph’s character. He had impeccable integrity. When he served in the affluent Potiphar’s house, he was so honest that he was made overseer of the entire estate. Even when Potiphar’s wife made repeated overtures toward him, he avoided temptation. While he was framed and thrown into prison for this complicated scenario his demeanor was respected.  Joseph was released from prison because of his gift of dream interpretation among the prisoners. 

Joseph showed deep humility when he told the Pharaoh that his ability to interpret dreams was not because of his efforts but entirely due to G-d.  Joseph was prudent in saving for the future. He managed the seven years of plenty so that the seven years of famine could yet sustain the people and livestock. Above all was his ability to forgive those who wronged them.

Practice for the Sixth Week of the Omer: 
Choose one of the Joseph characteristics that you want to work on this week.  Pay attention to interactions on zoom, with business and close friends and family through the lens of one of these foundational characteristics. Consider writing the word you want to focus upon on a small piece of paper and tape it to your laptop. 

With blessings in the sixth week of the Omer.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: April 25, 2021

 

            

The fifth week in the counting of the Omer: Hod

Dear Friends,

In the counting of the Omer, from the second night of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot we journey through seven weeks of the mystical grid of Divinity called the Sephirot. Week five is the week of Hod, the trait of contained nobility. Qualities of Hod include majesty, splendor, reverberation, prophecy, surrender, temimut (sincerity), and steadfastness. The Biblical person linked to Hod is Aaron, older brother of Moses and Miriam.

A little review of Aaron’s spiritual journey.

Aaron was not always the epitome of steadfast splendor. In the book of Exodus when Moses took longer than expected in returning from Mt. Sinai, the Israelites revolted. To manage the chaos, Aaron told the Israelites to take gold rings from their families which he then took and cast into a mold, making the jewelry into a calf. 

Fortunate for Aaron, the lesson learned from mismanaging chaos became an opportunity to transform himself. 

Years pass and Aaron is the one who accompanies a less than secure Moses in negotiating with the Egyptian Pharaoh. He articulates the words that Moses cannot. Later, in the wilderness Sanctuary, Aaron faces tragedy. His sons Nadav and Avihu who were training to be priests, act recklessly by offering unrequested sacrifices and die. Aaron holds himself together, neither breaking nor blaming. Despite personal loss, Aaron continues to perform rituals as a conduit between the Israelites and G-d. By doing so, he models how we can manage loss and continue to live. 

More than any other virtue, Aaron is an anchor of peace.

The Talmud explains:
"Two people were having a quarrel. Aaron went and sat with one of the disputants and said to him, 'My son, look what your friend is saying; he is distraught and is tearing his clothing.' The disputant says, 'Woe to me! How can I look at my friend and see his shame as I am the one who has wronged him.’? …" (and Aaron is doing the same with the other disputant) "When the two met each other, they hugged and kissed in reconciliation" (Avot D’Rabbi Natan, version A, chapter 12).

This week we look at Hod, the Sephira of contained glory, and think about how we can better manage life’s triggers with steady calm. 

"Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron – a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace …" (Pirkei Avot 1:12).

Shalom,
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: April 20, 2021

 

Congregation Beth Shalom

It’s about today. It’s about tomorrow. And all tomorrows.

Today, a jury found Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis, MN, police officer who knelt on George Floyd's neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds guilty on all charges.

It is monumental that our American conscience woke up and spoke.

While today's verdict provides a critical measure of accountability, there is so much more we must do to achieve true justice in this country. This verdict does not change what we know all too well. White supremacy still exists.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism wrote, “The racist systems that have endured for more than 400 years perpetuate the brutalization of People of Color – including all too often, by law enforcement. Today’s verdict can and must affirm that those who take human life callously must be held accountable for their actions.”

Today, we saw public accountability. The verdict of guilt cannot change the fact that George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and too many others, should be alive today. And simply being alive is not enough, we must work to break the grip of the old American caste system that prevents us from achieving true justice. 

We breathe a huge sigh of relief that the jury was able to see clearly. At the same time, this moment of clarity is not the end, but a thunderous drum to rededicate ourselves to stay awake to create a world where Black people can be safe and free to live.

Our prayer is that today’s verdict will ignite the hunger for a safer society where justice is equally allocated to absolutely everyone irrespective of socioeconomics, race religion, or gender. Thank you to the many officers who have not and would not do these atrocities and work every day to protect us.

Today’s verdict is monumental. But it is about tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: April 18, 2021

 


Netzach/Endurance
Choose to take another step. Choose to keep going.
Netzach/ Endurance resides on the Right Column of the Sephirot chart, just below Chesed (lovingkindness). A repository and storehouse of positive energy from Chesed, Netzach radiates the desire to stretch beyond where we are right now. Netzach represents eternity and is representative of the right brain where the creative process takes place.

Everyone has willpower and determination which can be further developed.  We have the capacity to endure much more than we can imagine and to prevail under the most trying of circumstances. Endurance can show up as our ability to withstand something difficult. Endurance can show up as determination to improve something about ourselves. Endurance can show up as patience as we try to slow reactivity with a thoughtful response. 

We may be aware of activities that build physical endurance.

 

  • Brisk walking or jogging.
  • Yard work (mowing, raking)
  • Dancing
  • Climbing hills​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • Swimming​​​​​​​
  • ​​​​​​​Yoga

​​​​​​​
We may be less aware of activities that build spiritual endurance.
​​​​​​​

  • Prayer.  Pray by yourself. Pray with other people. Ask G-d to give you strength in something you are trying to do. 


“The Holy One goes before you and will be with you; G-d will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  Deuteronomy 31:8
 

  • Patience. Patience with yourself. Patience with others. The Hebrew word for patience is Savlanute, from the word meaning to carry something. A porter is a Sovel, one who carries something heavy. When we work on being more patient, we can imagine ourselves carrying something heavy just a little bit further. This Talmudic example shows how much Endurance in the form of patience is valued:


Rabbi Preida had a student to whom he would have to repeat each lesson four hundred times before he understood it. One day [Rabbi Preida] was required to leave and attend to a certain matter involving a mitzvah. Before leaving he taught [the student] the usual four hundred times, but he still did not grasp the lesson. Rabbi Preida asked him, “Why is today different?” [The student] answered him, “From the very moment they told master that there is a mitzvah matter for him to attend to, my attention was diverted because every moment I thought that now the master will get up and leave, now the master will get up and leave.” Rabbi Preida said to him, “Pay attention, and I will teach you.” He taught him again another four hundred times. A heavenly voice emanated and asked [Rabbi Preida]: “Do you prefer that four hundred years be added to your life, or that you and your generation merit the life of the World to Come?” [Rabbi Preida] replied, “That I and my generation merit the life of the World to Come.” The Holy One, blessed is He, said to them. “Give them both this and this.”[1] [1] Eruvin 54b, translation by Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud Bavli, New York: Mesorah Publications.
 

  • Controlling impulses. G-d centered spontaneity is a blessing, ego-based impulsivity can be hurtful. Finding your center, reminding yourself of a text, can assist in tapping into the virtue of Netzach/Endurance. 


“Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed” – “Know before Whom you stand” Talmud (B’rachot 28b).

Endurance changes our character. It’s not just about crossing the finish line, it’s about who we are when we do.

Shalom,
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler

From the Rabbi: April 13, 2021

 


Dear Friends,
We are in the third week of the counting of the Omer. This week, the essence is called תִּפְאֶרֶת Tiferet, meaning harmony, beauty, and balance. In the Kabbalistic chart of the Sephirot, Tiferet is in the middle of the traits of compassion (Chesed) and strength (G’vurah). In our deeply polarized world, the timing for honing communication skills has never been better. 



I recently read about a group called Aristotle’s Café that highlights the way people communicate across a broad spectrum of ideologies.  Their goal is to enhance discourse through listening, respectful words, and empathy. Given that our emotional capacity is frequently tested, and triggers are everywhere, the theme of finding balance in conversation makes sense. 

Communication often takes place at the kitchen table. Kitchen tables tend to be small. They’re cozy. They beckon us to gather around and sit a little closer to each other. The meal can be simple or fancy, the dishes paper or porcelain. The only thing that matters is that we take time to gather and talk. A functioning kitchen table gives us a chance to unplug from our electronics and plug into one another. 

In Hebrew, the traditional expression said when food is served, is B’tay-avon, בתיאבון. It means ‘hearty appetite.” Try out the expression at your kitchen table and notice how heartiness of conversation enhances your meal.

B’tay-avon,
Rabbi Nancy

Mon, January 17 2022 15 Sh'vat 5782