Speaking to the Rock ~ The Power of our Tone and Body Language in Speech

This week, Chukat, in our cycle of Torah, we remain in the wilderness/B’midbar (also know as Numbers) continuing both the journey of learning “the rules” of behavior and right relationship, and the physical Rocky Mountain Highjourney of travel from slavery in Egypt to the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. I have just returned from traveling both with “my People” ~ B’nei Yisrael (an intense week of study, prayer, and communal living with rabbinic, cantorial, and pastoral students and teachers in the ALEPH ordination program), and, in Colorado’s glorious, vast, and mountainous wilderness. As I read Torah this week, I experience the words of Parshat Chukat through the lens of my recent experiences.

I note how quickly and intensely we learn when we are away from our everyday surroundings and in “the wilderness” (even if that wilderness is a college campus). We are much more reliant upon one another. Our proximity and potency of experience escalates all of aspects of relationship, both good and bad. Our separation from home (literal and figurative) ~ from familiar practices, people, daily rhythms ~ heightens our awareness and sensitivities. We are, in the same moments, more receptive, expanded and open, and more tired, ornery, and likely to shut down, receding into our individual comfort zone’s and our own narratives.

Shabbes at CSUWhen we are in mochin d’gadlut (expanded consciousness) we connect with the sacred within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and within and between all things. We vibrate in right relationship and open even more to giving and receiving.

God’s disappointment with the harsh behavior of Moshe ~ striking the rock (an act of anger) rather than speaking to it (an act of faith) ~ is so great that this act becomes a deal-breaker for Moshe entering the land of Israel despite the quality of his leadership and perseverance. This reaction to Moshe’s display of mochin d’katanut highlights the value placed on the quality of our speech and the powerful, spiritual, and creative nature of our speech. We can use our speech to bring forth such nourishment and abundance, kindness and faith. Or, our speech caP1040012n pour forth with anger, harshness, pain, and destruction.

We are flooded with far too many opportunities to observe the kind of speech that comes from mochin d’katanut (from small, angry places within us) in our communities (real and virtual), and on national and international levels of monologue and dialogue. PIMG_3471arshat Chukat gives us a window into the value and importance of mochin d’gadlut and how, through expanded consciousness, grace and thoughtful speech we can be sustained even in the most difficult of times.

May we be blessed with the insight to know the difference and the practices (middot) and patience to draw closer to expanded consciousness before we speak. And, when we fail, may we have the courage to seek forgiveness for the hurt we have caused and the genuine desire to err less frequently as we evolve.

Shabbat Shalom,

Words of Spiritual Leader Jessica K. Shimberg; photos by Jessica, Bonnie Cramer, and Randall Miller
Posted in ALEPH, Eco-Judaism, Family, Parshat, Shabbat, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Shabbat Vayinafash ~ Refresh, Relax, Re-Ensoul

A reminder to join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, June 25th, when we will gather for Shabbat Vayinafash, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning worship and Torah. We will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian zen shabbatChurch.

Join Spiritual Leader Jessica Shimberg for a gentle flow of Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation around themes from this week’s Parsha/Torah portion as we continue to wander B’midbar (the Hebrew name for this book of Torah which means in the wilderness and is more widely called Numbers).

This week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha, finds the Israelites wandering and whining, unable to process the enormity of the change that accompanies their new-found freedom and the work it entails. Even with the miraculous manna they receive in the desert, the former slaves wistfully recall the host of foods they had as slaves – cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics (Little Minyan’s Matt Cristol wrote a beautiful D’var Torah for his bar mitzvah last summer on this parsha and the narrowness of vision that accompanies fear and discontent.)

Rabbi Elliot Kukla, in his 2008 Dvar Tzedek (a weekly offering from American Jewish World Service) on Parshat Beha’alotcha, quotes contemporary writer William Bridges in describing the difference between situational change and psychological transition:

Change is your move to a new city or your shift to a new job. It is the birth of a new baby or the death of your father… Change is situational. TransitionTransition on the other hand, is psychological.   It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life.

This is also the parsha that brings us the profound words of healing – El Na, Refah Na La/אל נא רפא נא לה/God, please, heal her please – expressed withHealing-Flag-Single-241x300 such simplicity and deep yearning that we use them regularly in our prayers for healing and in the words of heart-opening that invite us into Kabbalat Shabbat (Yedid Nefesh). We will explore the Biblical story that gives rise to these words and the healing we can find in taking time to forgive ourselves for ugly unkindnesses we have thought or uttered (about others or about ourselves) and the ways in which prayer can be healing and assist us in transition and growth.  

You may wish to bring your own chumash. Comfortable attire encouraged, and, if you wish to sit on the floor, a mat, zafu, pillow or blanket. A light lunch will follow our worship.

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May the Countenance of the Sacred Gaze Upon You and Grant You Peace

Zichrono livracha, we say when we speak of the dead. May their names be for blessing …

This has been a week filled with a level of pain and grief and outrage that we can barely begin to process. So filled with noise, negativity, and a nearly mind-numbing litany of rapidly changing, glacially unchanging news. The voices of politicians and pundits and “experts” of every stripe and color wash over us like sludge thick with the smell of smug – analyzing and assuming and antagonizing as they go. And this is just the liberal media …

AND … there are the voices that strengthen us with hope; the voices that remind us of the instinctually loving ways that live deep within and at the surface in so many of us. The story told on the Senate floor of the teacher in Newtown, Connecticut who died with her body surrounding a student who 061316love is love orlandovigiladored her; or of the mother who was celebrating her son’s 21st birthday, and, as the Orlando shooter turned toward them, died protecting her son from the bullets sprayed toward them. And the voices that remember the voices of those whose lives were cut tragically short this week ~ kind co-workers, courageous friends, inspiring classmates, and beloved children.

The voices of my friends and colleagues* remind me of the tremendous strength, courage, intellectual power, creative talent, and political savvy of the LGBTQ community and its many allies. This is a community that has lgbtaccomplished so much in my lifetime. And I take comfort in knowing that this is a community that will continue to help us to connect with the best and most authentic in ourselves and continue to inspire us to do better in our religious, educational, political institutions and beyond. This is a community that lives and breathes inclusivity in ways that so many of us aspire to be inclusive and welcoming.

Susan Loy Priestly BenedictionThis week’s Torah portion, Parshat Nasso (Bamidbar/Numbers 4:21-7:83), begins with a census taking, spends some time with ancient practices of discerning and making ritual reparations for wrong-doing, before coming to what is best known and most well-used within this passage of Torah. God tells Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons about how to bless b’nei Yisrael (the children of Israel). Say to them, God says:

May God bless you and protect you ~ יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ      

May God deal kindly and graciously with you ~ יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ

                                    ~ יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם                                                            May God show favor upon you and grant you peace

For many of us, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddist, Hindu … it is in times of great turmoil that we reach out for some spiritual toe-hold. We
turn to our religious wisdom tradition for some way to soothe our aching hearts and weary heads in the face of chaos that feels over-whelming and nonsensical. This week, although peace seems so far away, a sense of the sacred, of a tent big enough to comfort all who are in mourning, all who feel violated, all whose sense of security has been shattered, may these words of blessing buoy us and lift us to move forward with purpose, with action, with grace, and with peace.

Join members of The Little Minyan Kehilla throughout the weekend for 689906c8-6a63-4941-b3a2-546c141298b6Columbus’ Pride events. We will gather as a community on Saturday evening for havdalah at the Columbus Commons with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and the Indigo Girls.  For more information, contact us at 614.459.9593 or littleminyan@littleminyan.org.

*These beautiful words of blessing were offered by Rabbi Sharon Mars this week in Columbus at a vigil remembering victims of Orlando at Trinity Lutheran Church:
“Before I offer these concluding words of benediction, I’d like to refer to what Lin Manuel Miranda said the other night upon accepting his Tony award:
‘Love is love is love is love…’
God of Love,
Source of Love,
Creator of Love—
Hear our voice.
You have commanded us to love You—
V’ahavta et Adonai elohecha—
With all our heart,
With all our soul,
With all our might—
B’chol levavcha
Uvechol nafshecha
Uvechol me’odecha.
But then all these things
Happen to your creatures, O God,
And we are left speechless.
Hate seeks to eclipse love,
And we are made afraid.
Violence tries to blot out peace,
And we are struck dumb.
We fumble for words
Because they are all we have
We grasp for straws,
We gasp for answers.
And then,
Before we can collect our thoughts,
Before we can bury our dead,
Before we can form a syllable of protest,
All these words spill off some of the tongues of those in fear
Intended to wound those of us who live by love.
God of Love,
Use Your powers of love
So that those ugly words should find no ears to fill.
Use Your powers of love
To ensure that instead of empty platitudes
There are full-voiced multitudes
Demanding safety and acceptance,
Commanding peace and love
For our dance clubs,
For our bathrooms,
For our classrooms,
For our courtrooms.
Let us not be satisfied
By moments of silence for long.
Let us be satisfied instead
By moments of loud and proud cries of love,
Insisting on the right to love
Whomever we choose to love,
Wherever we choose to love.
You whom we call Adonai,
You whom we call Allah,
You whom we call Jesus,
You who called us to love each other—
Help us to love ourselves.
Help us to love those who cry out in need of love
For themselves.
You command us to love You
In order to multiply the love of acceptance,
The love of mercy,
The love of justice
In the world.
Now command each of us
To follow Your love
To its natural conclusion:
A world dignified by love,
A world magnified by love,
A world sanctified by love,
A world we are proud to live in
And allowed to love in.
May Your words of love be in our hearts,
God of love,
As we seek to improve upon the world You birthed into being,
The world which we were birthed into
To fill with love
In partnership with You .
Let that love
Whisper to us when we walk by our way,
Anchor us when we sit in our homes,
Soothe us when we lie down,
Strengthen us when we rise up.
And when we raise up our voices
To insist on creating the world we wish to see,
Let that love seep into every pure heart
Across this blood-saturated and tear-stained land.
Let that love find its way into every mind
Which chooses love over fear.
Let that love build bridges
Of understanding and healing
So that Your word has the final say:
Love your God.
Love each other.
And we say:

Posted in Calendar, Family, Human Rights, LGBTQ, Liturgy, Shabbat, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Revelation on the Farm ~ Receiving Torah in Community

Sunday, June 12th from 1:00 to 4:00 at Over the Fence Urban Farm

Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage festivals in Torah, has its roots in agrimages-4iculture, although it is liturgically and, in celebratory customs, linked to the revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai. Torah teaches of a holy celebration on Yom HaBikurim ~ the day of first-fruits is to occur at the time of the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), the completion of counting the seven weeks of the Omer (barley harvest)*. The express purpose of this celebration is gratitude for the abundance of the season’s wheat harvest.

As an agricultural people, the ancient Israelites experienced Shavuot as an opportunity to honor the connection between earth, God and human labor. However, with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., our land-based People became dispersed among nations. Over time, Shavuot was “reconstructed” by our great sages to serve as a celebration of the revelation of Torah at Sinai rather than a land-based, Temple ritual less relevant to a land-less People.

A great gifJordana Klein mount sinai - receiving the Torah (1)t of our wisdom tradition is the encouragement we are given to read and reread, interpret and reinterpret Torah, finding the relevance within the wisdom both in its black letters and the white open space that surrounds them. In this expanse, we can, once again, reconstruct this festival of celebration and gratitude with room enough for BOTH agrarian appreciation and Divine revelation.

In our kehilla and in our neighborhoods and surrounding lands, many of us garden or connect to the earth in a significant way. If we don’t have our own farm, we may attend a farmers’ market and connect with someone who directly sows, grows, and harvests the food we eat or the flowers that beautiful our homes. We are in tune with the rhythms of the environment as we learn, once again, to pay attention, care for, and appreciate the Earth. This is the Torah of the Earth.

In this spirit, we will gather on Sunday, June 12th from 1:00 – 4:00 pm at the pok choy over the fenceurban farm and home of Little Minyan member, Jodi Kushins, in Clintonville. Over the Fence Urban Farm, with its first fruits (and vegetables and chickens), is the perfect place for us to open to the revelation and gifting of Torah. There will be an opportunity to help in the garden too, so bring your favorite gardening gloves!

Please bring “fruits” to share (veggies, fruit, cheese, and other snacks) with all who gather. In addition to food, you are invited to bring any variety of your “first fruits” to share with the gathered community. A poem, a song, a story, a piece of artwork, or a treasured gift that has inspired you.

See you at Sinai!


*Bamidbar/Numbers 28:26, and first described in Shmot/Exodus 23:16
Artwork: Receiving Torah at Sinai, Jordana Klein; pok choy photo, Jodi Kushins
Posted in Calendar, Eco-Judaism, Family, Hagim/Holidays, Holiday Celebrations, Mini Minyan, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Tikun Leil Shavuot ~ Torah and Tannins

Tikun Leil Shavuot ~ Saturday, June 11th, 10:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. ~ Torah and Tannins (Red Wine, Black Tea, Dark Chocolate)

On Shavuot, we celebrate what chazal (our rabbinic sages) called Z’man Matan Torateinu, meaning the time when our Torah was gifted (to us). Although a most important Jewish holiday, many of us (North American progressive Jews) have minimal knowledge of Shavuot, its meaning, customs, and significance. Perhaps this has something to do with a modern sense of discomfort with the torah-gift-to-the-world-211x300“credibility” of the Torah’s narrative of God giving Torah on Mount Sinai. However, as we know, stories don’t need to be factual to be true. Allegorical mythology is a powerful method of conveying deep wisdom and basic truths by which we can guide our lives. Through this lens, one can both appreciate the gift of Torah and the story of its gifting (the narrative we are given in Sh’mot/Exodus and its prolific commentary throughout the ages). 

Judaism is as much a story-telling wisdom tradition as it is a tradition rooted in laws and principles. We learn much from our stories, and even more from the sheer number of them and the fact that they freely contradict one another. Contrasting ideas are appreciated and valued. Midrash (commentary) around the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai tells that every person heard God’s voice differently, each according to that one’s ability to comprehend (Sh’mot Rabbah Giving-of-the-Torah5:9). Another midrash teaches that the Voice went out to all the seventy nations of the world, each in its own language (BT Shabbat 88b). Yet another midrash tells that nothing, not the sea, no animal, not even the angels made a sound; “the whole earth was hushed into breathless silence” when the Voice (God) spoke (Sh’mot Rabbah 29:9). The plain language (p’shat) of Torah gives us a different understanding of what was actually heard (Sh’mot/Exodus 19).

Diversity of interpretation is one of the greatest treasures of Judaism. Throughout history, our sacred books (“Torah” in the larger sense of the word) have recorded the debates of generations of thinkers, demonstrating that disagreement and creative understanding are all part of the process of trying to discern the truth and value in these ancient words.

In keeping with the theme of divergent and convergent opinion, our tikun leil Shavuot this year will focus on this question: What does it mean to, at once, be a diverse and a unified People? We will do a bit of exploration of the books of Ruth and Naomi. Dr. He Qi
Ruth and Nehemiah using an article by Dr. Jacob L. Wright and Prof. Rabbi Tamara Eskanazi as a jumping off point. Please click here and download this article and bring it with you on Erev Shavuot to Jessica’s home. If you need directions, please contact littleminyan@littleminyan.org.

Ruth and Naomi interpretation by Dr. He Qi, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary

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Walking in the Light of God ~ Parshat Bechukotai

The following is an offering from AJWS (American Jewish World Service) authored by Lisa Exler and originally published as part of the AJWS weekly Dvar Tzedek series in May, 2011.

Walking—putting one foot after the other—is, for many of us, our most basic vehicle for navigating the world. Yet we probably don’t put much thought into it. We’re more concerned with where we’re going than how we’re getting there; and unless we’re on a hike, we rarely think of walking as an end in itself, or count it among our blessings.

But walking takes on new meaning in Parashat Bechukotai, which is perhaps best known for its list of blessings and curses that God vows for the Israelites—blessings if they observe the commandments, and curses if they fail to do so. The blessings are curiously framed by the image of walking. The passage opens with God stating the condition for receiving these blessings: “Im bechukotai teileichu—If you walk in
desert walking womenaccordance with My laws and observe and do My commandments.” And the section concludes with God’s promise to walk, in return: “V’hithalachti b’tochechem—And I will walk in your midst, and I will be your God and you will be My people.”

The section of blessings could have ended there, with the final inspiring blessing being one of reciprocal relationship and intimacy between God and the Israelites. But it doesn’t. Instead, it ends with the following verse, a seemingly superfluous description of God’s role in the Exodus, which, significantly, also includes the image of walking: “I am Adonai your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from being their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk uprightva’olech etchem komemiyut.”2

A midrash explains that the word komemiyut, upright—which appears only this once in Torah, means “with a straight spine and unafraid of any creature.”3 In other words, God reminds the Israelites that they are no longer oppressed slaves living in fear; but rather, dignified people who can stand tall and walk proudly and are free to choose their own paths. The Israelites’ ability to walk upright, which they attained through their experience of the Exodus, was the necessary precondition for the other “walkings” described previously in the text—walking in accordance with God’s laws and God’s reciprocal walking among the people, bestowing upon them the blessings of rain, food, peace and fertility.

These biblical “walkings” are clearly metaphors for dignity and the covenantal relationship between God and the Israelites; but around the world today, there are many who are literally walking—to school; to fetch water and firewood; to escape conflict, persecution or natural disaster—in search of blessings like those God promised to the Israelites. Unfortunately, many of those who go on foot in the world face significant obstacles. Not yet liberated from their own Egypts—poverty, marginalization and oppression—they struggle to walk “upright.”

In South Africa, many children walk over 30 minutes each way to school, often encountering violent crime and unsafe roads and pedestrian paths.4 More than a year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, over one million people still live in camps for internally displaced persons, where women and girls are regularly attacked while walking along unlit paths to latrines at night.5 In Darfur, women face similar dangers as they walk long distances to procure water and firewood for their human hands worldfamilies. In the words of a resident of Kuma Garadayat village in North Darfur, “For years we have been afraid of being attacked while fetching water and collecting firewood; it is not always possible to move in groups and we are often escorted by men or UNAMID peacekeepers.”6

Despite these challenges, people are finding ways to walk with dignity. In Haiti, for example, AJWS partners Earthspark International and KONPAY have distributed thousands of solar flashlights to women in IDP camps. The women have used them to light the paths to latrines and other vulnerable areas, thus reducing the incidence of violence and rape in the camps. The flashlights have also led to community organizing, as the women have initiated safety patrols and peer-counseling programs and are teaching each other income-generating activities.7

As we seek to support people around the globe who are walking amidst all kinds of challenges, we should be guided by the lesson of Parashat Bechukotai, that the ability to walk upright and unafraid is a precondition for attaining life’s blessings. As Peter Uvin, Professor of International Humanitarian Studies at Tufts University, explains: “When people are deprived of their freedom, live in constant fear, cannot move or work as they wish, and are cut off from the communities and the lands they care about, development has emphatically not taken place.”8

Let us work to secure the human rights of all, honoring the Divine image in which each person was created. In this way we will truly achieve the final blessing promised to the Israelites—God will walk among us.

Lisa Exler is Director of the Curriculum Project, a joint initiative of Mechon Hadar and Beit Rabban Day School, where she is the Director of Jewish Studies. Previously, Lisa served as a senior program officer in the experiential education department at American Jewish World Service, where she developed and managed a range of educational materials to promote the values of global citizenship in the American Jewish community.
1 Leviticus 26:3 and 26:12.
2 Leviticus 26:13.
3 Sifra Bechukotai 1:7.
4 UNICEF and The Presidency, Republic of South Africa. Situation Analysis of Children in South Africa, April 2009. p. 69  http://www.unicef.org/sitan/files/SitAn_South_Africa_2009.pdf
5 Amnesty International. Aftershocks: Women Speak Out Against Sexual Violence in Haiti’s Camps, 2011.
6 “North Darfur Water Project Helps Protect Women From Sexual Violence.”IRIN, 27 April 2011. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=92597
7 Haiti One Year Later: Grassroots Response to Tragedy. AJWS. Also see: “Gender-Based Violence Against Haitian Women and Girls in Internal Displacement Camps.” MADRE, 7 April 2011.
8 Uvin, Peter. Human Rights and Development. Connecticut: Kumarian Press, 2004. p. 123.
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Many Moments for Teshuvah ~ Counting the Omer Amidst the Words of Achrei Mot

What? Teshuvah. Why would we be talking teshuva now? We are many moons away from the Days of Awe. Yes, and … Teshuvah (turning from errant behavior or unhealthy patterns; for years, translated from the Hebrew by many prayer books as “repentance”) is not reserved for the season of preparation and participation in the Days of Awe (Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur). Judaism builds into our liturgy and practices daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal opportunities for turning from our mistakes and re-aiming our intentions. It is our responsibility or option (depending on our level of engagement) to find and integrate these opportunities into our self-reflection and self-direction.

One of these opportunities for attunement (and atonement, where needed) is the practice of Counting the Omer (S’firat haOmer). Although many do this counting traditionally* as instructed in Vayikra/Leviticus 23:15, others choose to use the Kabbalistic practice of counting drawn from the writings of the RaMaK (Rabbi Moshe Kordevero, 16th century). The Ramak read the root (ספר) of the word “s’fartem” (you shall count) in Leviticus to mean more than just counting. He wrote that “sefirah” means both “mispar,” Sfirat HaOmernumber, and “sipur,” telling a story. A third meaning of this root is “sapir,” sapphire, and the word we use for the different spheres of human and divine characteristics is “s’firot.” Thus, counting is also an illumination of the story of our emotional characteristics using combinations of seven of the s’firot (the lower seven). Seven s’firot over the course of 7 weeks allows for 49 different combinations. A number of modern resources can be found on our resource page and at neohasid.org (see omer counters on our sidebar).

This week we read a parsha (Torah portion) from the center of the book of Vayikra or Leviticus, thick with prohibitions and, for many, a difficult “rule book” to read, especially through our 21st century lens. Parsha Achrei Mot contains the words our sages determined we would also read on Yom Kippur, our holiest day, the day filled with teshuvah and deep introspection.

The words of Achrei Mot are filled with a very visceral depiction of the cultic ritual of sacrifice on this holiest day and follow on the heels of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, after their questionable use of holy symbols and space. First, the process of preparation that Aaron, the high priest, must follow to enter the most holy place – instructions for his purity anUKdT8878714d that of his garments and offerings. Elaborate descriptions of the sights and smells and the sacrificial animals follow. And, in great detail, both the use of blood (the life force) in the sacrificial process of atonement, and the penalties for its misuse. And then, more washing and purification instructions followed by the rules on sexual relationships that have been so painfully used over the years by those who wish to limit “holiness” to exclude certain holy and loving relationships.  

In his commentary on Lev. 16:29-31, which establish the 10th day of the 7th month as Yom Kippur, Rav Joseph Soloveitchik distinguishes between “atonement” and “purification”. Atonement, he states, involves restoring our relationship with God and “relies on God’s willingness to love and to accept imperfect people.” Purification involves removing the stain of our puritymisdeeds from our character (our personality, in Rav Soloveitchik’s words), and is reliant on “the capacity of those imperfect people to improve.” In counting of the omer, we can use the s’firotic emanations to illuminate and retune our inner emotional landscape and outer manifestations of our personality. Thus, at this halfway point from the Days of Awe 5776, we have the opportunity to recalibrate on our way toward 5777.

*The traditional practice of counting the omer involves recitation of a blessing followed by an enumeration of the day of the omer and the number of weeks and days that have been counted, and a recitation of Psalm 67 and Ana B’Koach.

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“I Believe” – A Meditation for Yom Hashoah

This beautiful piece by  was posted on the Rabbis without Borders website in 2012.

Yom Hasho’ah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins tomorrow (May 4th) evening at sundown. Many of us will light a yahrzeit candle and pause to remember. And many memorials will include Yom_Hashoah_candlethe singing of Ani Ma’amin — “I believe.”

The text is fairly well-known: “I believe, with perfect faith, in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he may tarry, I will wait for him.” The context is verywell-known. It was this text that some Jews sang on their way to their deaths during the Shoah. The well-known Modzhitzer niggun nearly perfectly captures the longing, the hope, and the horror of those moments on the trains, on the platforms, on the journey to the gas. He tarries…and we wait.

What does it it mean to say “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah” while everything around you suggests otherwise? What does it take to sing it under the most trying of circumstances? Had circumstances been different, were I living there instead of here, then instead of now, would I have been among its singers?

I cannot know, but I can hope. Better yet, I can prepare. I can try to live each moment well, forming habits of the heart and soul that will lead me to do the right thing, instinctively and reflexively, when the chips are down. And as I practice, I come to realize that faith in the Messiah is about having faith in the human capacity to connect to Other, to Self, to God. When we do those things, we bring what our Tradition calls Y’mot Hamashiach that much closer.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz concludes his Faith after the Holocaust with two pieces of testimony from that time and place, seeing in them reason to believe. He tells the story of

Abraham Seidman, the Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto, the kind of Jew whom Judaism produced in every generation in tens of thousands, a pious, modest, hardworking pater familias at the same time scholarly, not in a professional sense, but simply because it was the duty of every Jew to study and know the Torah. He had been taken from the Ghetto to the Umschlagplatz to be sent to Auschwitz. There was still some time before the transport was to leave. How did Abraham Seidman spend the few remaining minutes? He wrote a letter to his children taking leave of them forever and asking them for forgiveness should he ever have offended or hurt them.

And Berkowitz also tells this story, first-told in Rabbi Michael Dov-Ber Weissmandel’s Min Hametzar, regarding Itzik Rosensweig:

Itzik was a Jew somewhere in Slovakia, a Jew like Abraham Seidman in Warsaw. He made a living by raising poultry. One day he and his family were squeezed into the cattle cars, in which hundreds of other Jews were pressed to suffocation. In the car there was despair all around him; outside a celebrating population of former neighbors was jeering at him and deriding him. He begged them: Please go to my house and give food and water to the poultry. They had nothing to eat or drink all day.

Where is the Mashiach for whom we wait? He lives in Abraham Seidman, showing himself to be, for one shining moment, a perfect parent. He lives in Itzik Rosensweig, answering baseless hatred with a display of compassion and wholeheartedness for the ages. He lives in those Modzhitzer Hasidim, singing their faith with full hearts, performing the ultimate act of Kiddush Hashem Barabim, sanctifying God’s Name for all the world to see. He is always at hand. When we are be’emunah shleimah, in a place of wholeness and trust, feeling safe and secure no matter what is happening around us, then Mashiach lives in us.

And so…

Ani Ma’amin – I believe.

Be’emunah sh’leimah – with a faith that is whole. With a faith that emerges from my own wholeness, the clear sense of just what is, right now.

B’viat hamashiach – I believe with a faith that emerges from the clarity of this moment, that all moments can be this moment. Clear. Perfect. And I believe that the clarity and perfection is precisely what is called mashiach.

V’af al pi sheyitmah’meyah – And though that clarity is fleeting, though the moments of perfection are few and far between…

Im kol “zeh” – With every moment that passes, every “now,” every “this”…

Achakeh lo – I seek to open to that possibility, waiting, and working, and hoping.

B’chol yom, sheyavo — Every day, every moment, let it come to pass.

Posted in Family, Hagim/Holidays, Liturgy, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam | Tagged | Leave a comment

Let My People Go! The Dark Side of Chocolate


During Passover, we retell the biblical story of our liberation from slavery. So central to Judaism is this theme of exodus from slavery and journey toward freedom that it is part of our daily liturgy, the predominant narrative of Torah (told through all but Genesis), and the purpose of the Haggadah (Hebrew for “the telling”). And essential to the ritual telling of our People’s story at our passover-1Passover seder each year, is the way in which we situate ourselves within this narrative. Torah tells us to share this story with our children as if it were happening to us at this very moment (“… it is because of what God did for me when I came forth from from Egypt.” Exodus 13:8).

For too many children, slavery is not as remote as a biblical narrative, oChild-Labor-Make-Chocolate-Fairr even as distant as American history. The documentary film, The Dark Side of Chocolate, investigates the slavery, trafficking and dangerous conditions that persist for the thousands of children who work in the cacao fields of West Africa that supply many of the major companies producing the chocolate we consume.

With materials from Fair Trade Judaica, the Little Minyan Kehilla will gather during Pesach, on Thursday, April 28th, 7:00 p.m. (location to be announced) to experience the film together and engage in a bit of study and activism. We will sweeten the evening with a sampling of fair trade chocolate. Please let us know if you intend to participate by calling 614-459-9593 or sending a quick email to littleminyan@littleminyan.org so that we can plan appropriately; however, if you happen to learn of this opportunity at the last minute, don’t let your failure to RSVP stop you from showing up. There is always room at the table …slaverys_bitter

Posted in Calendar, Eco-Judaism, Hagim/Holidays, Holiday Celebrations, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Preparing for Passover ~ Shabbat HaGadol

Join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, April 16th, when we will gather for Shabbat Vayinafash, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning worship and Torah. We will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant zen shabbatPresbyterian Church.

Join Spiritual Leader Jessica Shimberg for an easy flow of Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation around preparing for the journey from Passover to Shavuot.

You may wish to bring your own chumash. Comfortable attire encouraged, and, if you wish to sit on the floor, a mat, zafu, pillow or blanket. A light lunch will follow our worship.

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