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 (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.

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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 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

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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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Eco-Kashrut, Wellness, and Ritual ~ A 21st Century Perspective on Parshat Shemini

The ritual sacrlambifice chronicled in the book of Leviticus/Vayikra could turn many of us (so removed from the meat that magically appears on our tables) into vegetarians, especially if we were to construct in our minds a big-screen, motion picture (a la Charleton Heston, perhaps?) of the animal sacrifices described in vivid detail. For many, the entire book of Leviticus is so difficult to digest (pun intended) that my seminary offers a class entitled Learning to Love Leviticus, taught by the extremely talented Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan. And yes, I did learn to; and yes, I still struggle with a great deal of this text. How wonderfully synchronous that when I was asked to guest lecture for a course entitled “Religion and Environmental Values in America,” the requested topic was Food and Faith and the week of the lecture just happened to be Parshat Shemini! “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” is one of my favorite quotes attributed to Albert Einstein.

In enumerating the mitzvot that create the basis for the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), one can get a bit lost in the animal sacrifice. However, Rabbi Arthur Waskow explains it this way: 

How did biblical Jews get in touch with God? By eating and choosing what to eat. Not by murmuring prayer; when Hannah did that (I Samuel 1:13), the priest thought she was drunk. Why by eating? Because in the deepest origins of Jewish life, the most sacred relationship was the relationship with the earth. For shepherds, farmers, shmitaorchard-keepers, food was the nexus between adamah, the earth, and its closest relative, adam, the human. So ancient Jews got in touch with God by bringing food to the Temple. With our bodies we affirmed, “This food comes from a Unity of which we also are a part: from earth, rain, sun, seed, and our own work. It came from the Unity of Life; so we give back some of it to that great Unity.”

In addition to establishing our relationship with the Earth, Genesis notes repeatedly that we are created b’tzelem Elohim/in God’s image. Even one who rejects biblical accounts of creation in favor of scientific evidence of our evolution appreciates the miraculous and complex nature of the human body. Whether we focus on maintaining health and wellbeing from a purely practical perspective, as a physical fitness enthusiast, or as one who believes the body is a sacred vessel housing our spiritual essence, caring for our bodies is a responsibility to be taken seriously. Thus, making careful selections about how we fuel our bodies is a principle we can all swallow, whether or not we observe kashrut. 

Regardless of our relationship with Jewish dietary laws, we feel our best, physically, when we health vs. fastare making healthy choices about what we select to fuel our bodies, including how and where our food was grown and how it came to our tables. We further consider whether our water comes from a plastic bottle or a recyclable one, and how a restaurant treats the people who work there or who harvest the tomatoes on its hamburgers. In many ways, the laws of kashrut are about delineating among food sources – making careful selections about what food we place into our bodies. In some ways, it could be likened to selecting organic, locally grown, carefully prepared foods rather than highly-processed fast food.

The eco-kashrut movement birthed and fostered by Reb Zalman, z”l, and sustained by other prominent Jewish leaders and grassroots activists, is addressing modern environmental, social, and ethical issues around food growth, sourcing, and consumptionJodiK.overthefence as well as sustainability. This level of care and attention to our food, its preparation and consumption has always been a guiding principle of the Little Minyan Kehilla. Whether in the way we approach a potluck or oneg Shabbat or in celebrating the work of our members and like-minded organizations*, our kehilla vibrantly lives our Jewish values through our commitment to the Earth’s health and sustainability.

The biblical commandments at the root of kashrut were designed to remind the People that all life is sacred and to help the People feel close to the Divine. In limiting consumption of mammals to three species – cattle, sheep, and goats – perhaps these laws were conceived to reduce the amount of meat we eat and encourage a healthier diet that included more fruits and vegetables – a diet that our modern doctors encourage. Although prayer replaced animal sacrifice, we still can choose to use our food and consumption rasberriespractices in a ritual manner. Every meal, even a snack, has the potential to be a sacred ritual, appreciating the Source of bounty, acknowledging those involved (in planting, raising, harvesting, slaughtering, packaging, transporting and preparing our food), and requesting continued blessing for wellness.*

*this is a shout-out to so many of our members whose work and ways of living place environmental consciousness and sustainable eating practices at the fore. Special kavod/honor to Little Minyanites Jodi Kushins for her energy and efforts (, and Michelle Moskowitz-Brown (

* A beautiful setting of praise and appreciation by Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel can be found here along with other selections for blessing offered by Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and Hazon.

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Shabbat Vayinafash ~ EnSOULing Ourselves, Observing Shabbat

A reminder to join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, March 19th, 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 Church. … Continue reading

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Shabbat Vayinafash – Re-Ensouling Ourselves as We Enter Shabbat’s Sanctuary

A reminder to join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, February 20th, 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 Church. … Continue reading

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Mini Minyan’s March Mitzvah Month ~ NOT Just for the Kids!!

Mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) are commandments. Traditionally, we talk about mitzvot as the commandments in Torah ~ 613 in number and some, relating to notions that many 21st century Jews would suggest are archaic and irrelevant today.  But when you talk about “doing a mitzvah,” most of us will say it is the opportunity to do something kind, just, tikkunolamlogocolor-2addressing the greater good. This is something we aspire to do daily, even multiple times a day. Mitzvot give meaning and depth to our lives. Following our inclination for good leads to tikkun olam/repairing the world. This essential part of being Jewish and living Jewishly is a key component of educating our children – by example as well as through our Mini Minyan Youth Education Program.

Our parents have created another exciting Mitzvah Month of programming (special kavod/honor to Emia Oppenheim, Emma Loss, Paul Eisenstein, and Jodi Kushins). Please join our Mini Minyan families and other members of Little Minyan Kehilla for any of the following activities. 

March 6 from 1-3pm: The Humane Society of Delaware County, 4920 State Route 37, East, Delaware, OH 43015  – At HSDC, we will start with a short, informative program for the kids and brief tour of the building.  We will then divide into three smaller groups and take turns rotating between the kitten room, the cat room, and the dog area.  Our job kid and puppyhere is to pet and play with the animals to help them feel safe and loved while they are waiting to be adopted–you can even read to them (books available at the shelter).  Please bring an item to donate from the shelter “Wish List” at!wish-list/chih.

March 13 from 10am-Noon: Clintonville Resource Center, 14 W. Lakeview Ave., Columbus, OH 43202 – At CRC, we will be helping with their breakfast service and clean-up, and we will also tour the facility.

March 20 from 11am-1pm: Canine Collective, 11144 US 42 North, Plain City OH 43064 – At Canine Collective, we will learn about their dog rescue and then help them with a few of their daily dog care tasks, such as sorting leashes and collars, stuffing Kong toys, laundry, and walking and playing with some of the dogs.  For this event, we are asked to bring several paper towel rolls to donate.  Also, plan to pack a lunch and we can all have lunch together afterwards.

March 27 from 10am-Noon: Glen Echo Ravine, 510 Cliffside Dr., Columbus, OH 43202 – At Glen Echo Ravine, we will clean up the pathways and creekbed.  Please bring at least 2 garbage bags and gloves.  Rainboots and “grub” clothing you don’t care about are recommended.  We will meet by the stairs to the Ravine on glenechoravinethe east side of the park.  The stairs are off of Indianola on the eastern side of the road between Glen Echo Drive and Olentangy Street.

Questions?  Please contact Emma at or 614-804-5508 (cell)


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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 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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