Shabbat Vayinafash ~ Relax into Shabbat Yitro with The Little Minyan Kehilla

A reminder to join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, January 30th, 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 themes from this week’s Parsha/Torah portion Yitro (Shmot/Exodus 18:1 – 20:23).

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.

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Coupling Yitro, Priest of Midian, with Revelation at Sinai … Deep Ecumenism, Perhaps

KAGAN-YitroThis week’s Torah portion, in which we experience revelation at Sinai, is named for Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro). Yitro wasn’t a member of b’nei Yisrael/the children of Israel. On the contrary, he was a priest of Midian, which means that Moshe not only married “outside the tribe,” he married way outside the tribe.

The opening passages of Parshat Yitro tell the story of a loving family reunion, in which Yitro, hearing what God has done for Moshe and the the People of Israel, brings his Yitro and Moshedaughter/Moshe’s wife, Tziporra, and sons, Gershom and Eliezer, to Moshe in the wilderness (presumably they had stayed in Midian for safety’s sake while Moshe challenged Pharaoh in Egypt). 

The care and respect that these two men have for one another nearly leaps off the page as Moshe tells Yitro everything that had happened. Yitro “rejoiced over all the kindness that God had shown Israel,” and he blessed God. Yitro conveys genuine joy at the fortune of deliverance and safekeeping of the Israelites in the wilderness. He then gives sage advice to Moshe on how to conserve his own energy by appointing others to help with the task of governance. A truly compassionate and ego-less teaching on how to avoid “burnout” given from one leader to another.

It is easy to imagine that our sages wanted to send forward into our wisdom tradition an important message by including this chapter with the revelation at Sinai.  In the beginning of the next chapter, God tells Moses “you shall be my treasured possession among all the people.  Indeed, all the earth is mine, but you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6). By juxtaposing these two passages, the Torah teaches that it is possible both to be “chosen” and to understand that we are all part of a greater whole.  By leaving the passages linked in one Torah portion, the rabbis reinforce the message that we are all part of one human family.  There is always something significant that we can learn from one other.

The founder of ALEPH (Alliance for Jewish Renewal), Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z’l, taught us, his students, that each religious tradition is an organ in the body of collective Sandy Pond Deep Ecumenismhumanity; our differences are meaningful, and our commonality is significant. The body couldn’t function with only a heart or only a liver or only lungs and neither could it function missing one of those vital organs, he would remind us each time we were together. He called this deep ecumenism and he shared the deep belief in ecumenical collaboration with the brightest sages of many wisdom traditions. 

“Deep Ecumenism teaches us that we can best serve the needs of all humanity when we not only respect other religious paths, but collaborate with them in our shared work of healing creation. No one tradition contains all the answers, but every tradition can be (in the Buddha’s words) ‘a finger pointing at the moon,’ directing our hearts toward our deep ecumenism kabbalahSource.” (from aleph.org) The encounter between Moshe and Yitro, immediately before revelation at Sinai, is a perfect example of the kinds of learning and sharing that are possible.  May we continue in their footsteps, building bridges between people and Peoples and, in collaboration, doing the work of tikkun olam, healing the world.

This is a slightly altered version of a piece that Jennifer Singer wrote which appeared in the ALEPH blog, KolAleph, today. Reb Jennifer is spiritual leader of the independent Kol Haneshama in Sarasota, Florida, and is scheduled to receive rabbinical smicha from ALEPH in January 2017. The artwork of the rebbe’s unfolding scroll flowing into symbols of many religions is that of the gifted fabric artist, Sandy Pond, who beautifies every ALEPH event. The kabbalistic image at the top is the work of Jeremy Kagan (American Guild of Judaic Art). Other artwork cannot be attributed at this time.

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Renewal of Life Reflected in Kabbalistic Seder of Tu B’Shvat

The Little Minyan Kehilla’s intergenerational Tu B’Shvat celebration will commence with a kid-friendly, multi-generational hands on activity at 2:45 p.m. and continue with a Kabbalistic Tu B’Shvat seder from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m..

Location: Antrim Park Shelter House, 5800 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, 43085

One of the finest examples of the renewal of Jewish ritual is found in the holiday of Tu B’Shvat. Originally, Torah’s legalistic birthday of the trees marking a time for tithing, this holiday has be adapted over the millennia to unlock its relevance to the people of many times and places. In our present climate of scientific warning and grave concern about the global ramifications of human impact on the health of our planet, Tu B’Shvat provides a spiritual practice to enrich our tikkun ~ our repair and care for the Earth.

tree-of-life72JudithShawIn the 15th Century, the kabbalists renewed Tu B’Shvat as an opportunity for spiritual enlightenment and tikkun/repair. The first published Tu B’Shvat seder revolves around eating ten symbolic fruits as a means of focusing awareness on the mystical states of being represented by different fruits, thus opening the participant to engaging in tikkun.

tubshvat.kibbutzIn the 20th Century, the early Zionists reclaimed Tu B’Shvat as a celebration of the land of Israel and its agricultural bounty. And in modern times, the environmental movement has adopted Tu B’Shvat as the holiday of nature – appreciating the natural bounty of the earth. Most recently, T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights advocacy organization, has created a Tu B’Shvat seder designed to recommit participants to the protection of human rights.

seven speciesFrom the very first year of our formation, The Little Minyan has been committed to active tikkun around environmental issues and proper nourishment of the body as well as the soul. Thus, it was a natural fit that our very first seder together in the winter of 2007 was in celebration of Tu B’Shvat. Our intentional community is unified most clearly by our shared commitment to environmental care and stewardship and Tu B’Shvat is one of our favorite shared experiences ~ one that so clearly illustrates the ways in which our Jewish wisdom tradition speaks to our present values and future dreams and desires.

Our intergenerational celebration will commence with a kid-friendly, multi-generational hands on activity at 2:45 p.m. and continue with a Kabbalistic Tu B’Shvat seder beginning at 3:15 p.m and concluding by 4:45.

Location: Antrim Park Shelter House, 5800 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, 43085; first parking lot on the right immediately after entering the park drive.

All are welcome and non-members are asked to make a contribution to nurture the seeds of our Little Minyan Kehilla and help sustain our valuable programming. Contributions can be made using the link in the upper right-hand corner of this website or in person.

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

Erev Shabbat Service (Parshat Bo) ~ Friday, January 15th

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Join the Little Minyan Kehilla for the first Shabbat of the new month of Tevet and our first Shabbat gathering of 2016. We will welcome Shabbat with song, stories and prayer. The Torah portion will be Parshat Bo, when Moses … Continue reading

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Where is God in a Hardened Heart?

This week’s Torah portion follows upon the first seven plagues visited upon Mitzrayim (biblical Egypt) which, at this point in the narrative of our journey to Peoplehood, has become our mitzrayim (narrow place). We are enslaved to Pharaoh, a power-hungry and arrogant monarch who “knew not Joseph” and has subjegated the Israelites. The opening line not only gives us the name of the parsha, Bo, but also speaks to us of a central theme of the narrative:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה כִּי-אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת-לִבּוֹ, וְאֶת-לֵב עֲבָדָיו, לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה, בְּקִרְבּוֹ

 Vayomer YHVH el Moshe bo al Par’oh ki ani hichbad’ti et libo, v’et lev avadav, l’ma’an shiti ototai eleh b’kirbo. 

And God said unto Moses: Go (Come) to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I might show these, my signs, in their midst.


The translation of the word “hichbad’ti” is most often “hardened.” This is one of 19 times in Exodus in which this word (Hebrew root: כבד), is used to describe the condition of Pharaoh’s heart and one of 9 times that God says that
God has created this condition. What are we to learn from this?  From a “literal” reading of the text, I have always wondered why God would cause a condition that would further enslave the Israelites and reek further havoc on the inhabitants of Egypt.

heart of stone - almostWhat does it mean to have a heart that is hardened, or stiffened, or made heavy, burdensome, unwieldy, onerous? (Hebrew is a rich language with many interpretations of a single lingual root.) Is God taking responsibility for creating the condition of Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness? Or are we being warned of the condition that comes to exists when a person is so full of himself and his glory that his heart becomes hard and heavy, leaving no room for God/sacred presence.

Did God withdraw from Pharaoh’s heart because there was no more room for God to dwell amongst the hubris and abusiveness within Pharaoh’s cold heart? And what about the Israelites who have been so enslaved that they have become devoid of hope and desire for freedom. Is there space for God in those hearts full of fear, anguish, and deep sadness, or have they, too, closed themselves to the flow of sacred energy?

Another possible translation that helps me see this statement as God’s resignation, even heartache, comes from the root shared by the words hichbad’ti (I will harden) and a word we know well ~ kavod (honor). If God is saying, “I will honor Pharaoh’s heart,” this heart-torahsuggests a God that creates but does not meddle in the behavioral choices of humanity, co-creators of the human condition. Thus, God offers signs in our midst to remind us of how we can soften our hardened hearts and create a different reality for ourselves.

And what of the word “Bo?” It means come, not go as it is so often translated. In many other places in this story the word “leich” (go) is used to instruct Moshe to go to Pharaoh, but here, “bo” (come). Our sages have many explanations for this anomaly, among them the sense that at this point the plagues have become so severe and Pharaoh has begun to fear God. Formerly, he was only frightened when a plague struck, but now he becomes frightened as they are announced. Thus God assures Moshe that God will be with him ~ “Come [with Me] to Pharaoh…” (Abarbanel)

The Heart of TorahIs it possible that these two parts of the same sentence are an enigmatic teaching … at once telling us that God is present with Pharaoh and the Israelites and, in the same moment, that there is no place for God in a hardened heart? This is the beauty of our Living Torah ~ throughout the generations, we are forever searching the words for meaning and finding in the scroll and in our hearts new ways to learn. Through study we renew Torah and revitalize Judaism’s teachings to open and soften and strengthen our hearts.

These musings on Parshat Bo were stirred by the deep nourishing well of my hevre – my sacred ALEPH community which gathered to celebrate Shabbat Va’era, the ordination of 5 new rabbis, 2 new cantors, and 2 new rabbinic pastors, and to learn, worship, and grow together during the annual OHALAH conference. My heart is expanded with gratitude to the Source of Blessing, my teachers and friends. Artwork: Second heart is the work of goldsmith Gretchen Raber; third is the photography of Oneinfocus.org. 

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Human Rights and Hanukkah ~ Shine the Light

Join our kehilla THIS FRIDAY EVENING at 7:30 to welcome Shabbat and elevate and celebrate the value of human rights. In collaboration with T’ruah ~ the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, we will reflect on the light that human rights champions shine in the HumanRightsShabbatdarkest corners. We will consider the ways in which our celebration of Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, can be more brightly illuminated when we infuse it with the values of justice, dignity, and equal treatment of all of humanity. Jessica and Bill will lead us in a musical and meaningful evening in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2070 Ridgecliff Road, UA. 

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Shabbat VaYinafash ~ Contemplative Shabbat Morning Service

The perfect antidote to big festive family dinners, crowded stores, and too much Turkey. Join us for a zen Shabbat morning, November 28th, when we  zen shabbatgather for Shabbat Vayinafash, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning and Torah. Jessica will create a spiritual container for an easy flow of Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation. Comfortable attire is encojacobwrestlinguraged, and, if you wish to sit on the floor, a mat, zafu, pillow or blanket. 10:00 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2070 Ridgecliff Road in Upper Arlington.

Parsha Vayishlach (B’reishit/Genesis 32:4-36:43) is this week’s Torah portion if you want to do some advanced reading and give some thought to what and with whom you wrestle … or just show up and join the flow.

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Shabbat Toldot (Generations) ~ Family; it’s Complicated!

This week’s Torah portion highlights some of the darkest stories of one of the most complicated, dysfunctional families in all of Scripture. 

rebekah-and-jacobRebecca becomes pregnant and the twins, Jacob and Esau, wrestle in their mother’s womb, a struggle that continues throughout their lives.  They are as different as night and day.  Their parents only make the situation worse: Rebecca favors Jacob; Isaac favors Esau.  Jacob, perhaps jealous of his father’s favoritism or of Esau’s physical prowess, manipulates Esau, in a moment of extreme hunger, into giving up his birthright as firstborn. Together, Jacob and Rebecca trick Isaacinto giving Jacob the blessing intended for his brother.

One of the saddest moments in the bible is when Esau discovers the deception.  The text is heart wrenching: “Esau burst into wild and bitter sobbing, and said to his father, ‘Bless me too, Father!'”toldot-laya crust

The conversation is important, because people in the bible rarely show their emotions.  Esau tells his father both how he feels, and what he needs.  Jacob does his best to comply, although he cannot completely satisfy his son.

Who has ever met a perfect family?  And if there is indeed a family that seems perfect, it’s a safe bet that, behind closed doors, it’s a different story.  But this biblical story gives us a hint of how we can begin to improve family relations.  We can ask for what we need and want.

What Esau wants is simple; he wants his father’s blessing.  In other words, he wants to be told that he is loved. We can express our desire for affirmation and love in the form that fills our needs. And we can also learn ways of meeting our own needs and desires so that when our families are not able to meet those needs and desires, we can still find ways to feel whole and loved and validated. Esau doesn’t get the blessing he wants but he does receive a blessing from his father before Isaac dies. And based on what we learn later in Torah when the brothers meet again, Esau finds ways as he ages to cope with the anger he feels toward Jacob. 

A Norman Rockwell ThanksgivingMany of us have complicated family relationships.  As we move towards Thanksgiving, let’s remember that a Norman Rockwell family is not reality.  When we strive for an unrealistic ideal, we are bound to be disappointed, even despairing and bitter as was Esau in Parsha Toldot.  How we work to understand our needs and then chose to see things goes a long way to how we find blessings.  Shabbat Shalom.

This is a slightly edited version of the weekly d’var Torah that my dear friend, Jennifer Singer, Spiritual Leader of Kol HaNeshama in Sarasota, Florida, sent to her congregants.  Just before Jennifer and I met in 2010 (at the 6th Davenen Leadership Training Institute (DLTI) at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut), our two congregations joined the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF, now Jewish Reconstructionist Communities) together in June of 2009. I continue to study, learn, and grow with Jennifer who will become Rabbi Jennifer Singer, B”H, in January, 2017. Some “family members” we select!

Artwork: Abel Pann; Laya Crust; Norman Rockwell

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Shabbat VaYinafash ~ Contemplative Shabbat Morning Service

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A reminder to join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, October 24th, when we will gather for Shabbat Vayinafash, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning and Torah. We will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church. Please … Continue reading

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Sukkot Shabbaton with Rabbi Shefa Gold

Balancing Abundance & Fragility through Sacred Chant,                         Experiential Learning & Celebration

After the intensity and depth of the High Holy Days, Jewish wisdom tradition blesses us with Sukkot ~ a festival oCZR_64f joy and celebration of bounty. Outside, in our sukkot/booths, where we can see the sky above through the canopy of this temporary structure, we acknowledge both the abundant richness and tender fragility of our lives. In gratefulness, we feast on the harvest, while inviting the wind and weather into our delicate abode. This is a full moon holiday, when we celebrate the fullness of life and notice its waxing and waning as well. It is from this place of awareness that we will cultivate gratitude and reap blessings. Participants are invited to experience the entire Shabbaton or just one component of this extraordinary opportunity to learn from one of America’s “most inspiring Rabbis.”

Event registration is required. Registration closes September 30, 2015, but splace may still be available by contacting Peggy Berger at peggybrgr@gmail.com. Questions?  Please contact Peggy Berger, Lead Organizer, Little Minyan Kehilla  peggybrgr@gmail.com.

Friday October 2: Kabbalat Shabbat Services with Oneg; Time: 7:30 – 9:30 pm; Location: Little Minyan Kehilla at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2070 Ridgecliff Road, 43221

Saturday, October 3: Shacharit/Morning Service, Lunch, and Workshop: Torah as a Journey; Time: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Location: Antrim Park Shelter House, 5800 Olentangy River Road 43085

Saturday October 3: Havdalah and Sukkot Workshop: Gratefulness; Time:  7:30 – 9:00 pm; Location: Temple Israel, 5419 East Broad Street 43213

Sunday, October 4: Sukkot: Delving into the Four Directions; Time:  10:00 am – 12:00 pm; Location: Private home – location provided to those who have registered.  

Posted in Calendar, Hagim/Holidays, Holiday Celebrations, Liturgy, Shabbat, Spiritual Seeking, Torah | Leave a comment