Shabbat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim
April 23-24, 2021
12 Iyar 5781
“Lo ta’amod al dam reyecha”-You shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds. (Leviticus 19:16)
This week’s verdict in in Minnesota holds Derek Chauvin accountable for the murder of George Floyd. While Floyd’s breath was stolen from him, neighbors, people in the area, tried diligently not to stand by. They spoke up. They asked the police officer to stop. And one brave 17 year old young woman, Darnella Frazier, captured the horrific crime on video. As we’ve all seen, the police report did not reflect the reality of the circumstances. Without it, there may not have been accountability for the murder of George Floyd.
George Floyd’s death was a siren, a blaring alarm, to the assault on Black Lives in our country. The tragic reality is the assaults continue on Black Lives. And too many more. While it is good to pause and celebrate that this week’s verdict tipped the scales slightly toward justice, we can also pause to reflect on how much more work there is to do when we breathe a sigh of relief for a guilty verdict of a murder in broad daylight.
This week’s double Torah portion’s, Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, literal translation is “After death–Holiness.” It begins with Leviticus 16 including the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. A tragedy. And then it moves later in Leviticus 19 to the Holiness Code, including the commandments “do not stand idly while your neighbor bleeds” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Where do we find ourselves at this moment in time? It is “after death” Death by violence. Death of more than half a million Americans from COVID-19. Murders in the AAPI community. Murders in the Sikh community. Too many senseless deaths.
The wake up call last May has shown that we are capable of upholding the commandment:
“Lo ta’amod al dam reyecha—do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds” (Lev. 19:16)
What will it take to move from death and tragedy to holiness?
This week’s verdict was a glimpse of holiness, of justice. For now, we move between death and holiness—-striving to make the world a better place.
April 16-17, 2021
5 Iyar, 5781
This week’s double portion, Tazri-Metzora, focuses on impurity and purity, death and renewal. Two of the situations include skin disease (tzara’at) and a plague upon one’s house. This week in our country, we again reel from the plague of racism. Unlike the Torah portion where an individual has a scaly affliction on their skin, the plague today is those who choose to see one’s skin color as a reason for mistreatment.
Leviticus includes the priest examining the individual to see if they are still afflicted or healed. Our country is far from healed from the plague of racism and hate.
Daunte Wright (20 years old)
George Floyd (46 years old)
Adam Toledo (13 years old) are only three names of Black men/boys whose skin color deemed them “impure.”
Ruth Brin’s poem, Laws of Purification from her book Harvest provides insight and reflection on the challenges we face:
Though it was difficult, long ago to heal
the dread and deadly spots of leprosy,
it is also difficult to heal the deadly hatreds
we carry in our hearts today;
How shall we even recognize, beneath their bland
and persuasive smiles,
those who are diseased with corruption?
How can we banish the evil
that seeps into our own minds?
Oh Lord our God, we whose souls are blemished
and whose minds are impure, ask of You.
By what rites can we be clean again?
By what ceremony can we be cured of all our moral illnesses?
Teach us, we implore You, as You taught Moses,
the ways of righteousness and strength.
Help us to heal ourselves and to be physicians
to those who need us
Make our souls pure, as they came from You.
May this Shabbat bring healing and peace.
I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you tonight.
Tot Shabbat at 5 pm; Shabbat Service at 7 pm.
We will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day as well as Birthdays and Anniversaries.
April 9-10, 2021
28 Nisan 5781
Words. Sometimes there are no words. No words to explain what happened. No words for a tragedy. This week’s parsha includes the tragic of the death of Aaron’s sons. It was in the midst of a time of great celebration, Aaron’s ordination to the priesthood. After the sudden death of his sons, Nadav and Avihu, the Torah says “Vayidom Aharon”–and Aaron was silent.
When tragedy falls, there are individuals who want to make sense of it. Why did this happen? What is the reason? Where is God in all of this?
These same questions arise when we think about the Holocaust as we observed Yom HaShoa this past Wednesday evening/Thursday. Here is a link to the meaningful community commemoration.
Parshat Sh’mini’s lessons on tragedy reflect Jewish teachings of how we approach mourners. In this time of the pandemic we are not yet able to enter a mourner’s house, but when we do, it is customary for the visitor to wait for the mourner to speak. Blu Greenberg’s essay in The Torah a Women’s Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss, reflects on the meaning of this parsha through the personal lens of the tragic death of her son, JJ. She came to understand Jewish law (halakha’s) rule that the shiva visitor should not speak until the mourner speaks “to caution against offering a rationale for the decree of death. The deeper human religious response is to be silent, to live with the contradiction, and to affirm that we need not force meaning into tragedy. Sometimes, the deepest response of love is to be silent.”
Even if there are no words, we show our love through our presence.
May we experience the power of presence in life’s greatest joys and deepest sorrows as well as the daily experiences of our lives.
Shabbat Hagadol/Parshat Tzav
March 26-27, 2021
14 Nisan 5781
A year ago we were thrust into Passover, the holiday of freedom, while adjusting to the recent Shelter in Place. Now we give thanks to be alive a year later, mourn those who died of COVID-19, and look with hope for the future. This year has included the miracle of vaccines developed in record time.
Matzah is the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. It reminds us of our suffering (and if we eat too much we are also reminded of that). Yet its taste represents the beginning of freedom. As we reflect on this past year which was full of suffering, how will we taste what freedom means to us now? Passover occurs in the Spring, a time of rebirth and renewal. How will we renew our commitment to liberating all who are suffering? While Passover celebrates freedom, we know that with freedom comes responsibility. We are interconnected.
Passover begins the journey from freedom to revelation. Sefirat HaOmer is the practice of counting each of the days from the 2nd night of Passover until Shavuot, when God gives the Torah. There are apps and websites for counting and the Kabbalists connect each week to a specific Sefira (aspect of God).
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman and Rabbi Cindy Enger created a free workbook for the 49 days of the Omer with spiritual preparation. One starts counting on Sunday night and continues until Shavuot (May 16). Here is a link to their Sefirat HaOmer free ebook.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach. I look forward to seeing you at Shabbat services tonight and learning about Legal Ethics from Sharon Kirsch.
March 19-20, 2021
7 Nisan 5781
Shabbat Service and Installation for
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz
How many sacrifices do we make in our lives? Passing up a new job because it’s not the right time to move. Giving up personal time in order to provide support for a friend in need. What have you sacrificed lately? During the pandemic, we have sacrificed a great deal. But we do so for the well-being of all.
Last week, we ended the book of Exodus with the building of the Mishkan, a portable sanctuary for God. The root of the word Mishkan is shachen, dwell. God’s presence was in the midst of the people. How do we maintain a sacred connection with God?
This week’s parsha, Vayikra, begins the book of Leviticus and provides instructions for proper sacrifices for individuals and the Israelite community. There are offerings for sin and gratitude, guilt and well-being, providing a path to draw close to God. Offering an animal sacrifice is a foreign concept to us today. But our ancestors followed these rules to draw close to God and one another. Today, the Temple no longer stands in Jerusalem and the ancient rabbis established prayer as a substitute for animal sacrifice.
Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches in her book Torah Journeys, “The spiritual challenge of Vayikra is to make our prayer-life as powerful, as intense, and as effective as the sacrificial system was for our ancestors.”
We have learned this year that even on Zoom, it is possible to have an uplifting prayer experience. This past week I attended (on Zoom) a rabbinic convention with hundreds of Reform rabbis. We missed being together in person but it was joyous and powerful to sing and pray together, see one another’s faces, sing beautiful music, express gratitude, pray for healing and feel the communal support for one another.
I am grateful to share Shabbat with you tonight and honored to celebrate my installation with you.
March 12-13, 2021
29 Adar 5781
One year of the pandemic. One year later and we are still on Zoom. As we approach the end of the Book of Exodus with this week’s double portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, we can reflect on the journey to reach this point. A year ago we were filled with great uncertainty. As we settled into a new routine of social (safe) distancing, we strove to make meaning while providing comfort and support.
A year later more than 527,000 American have died of COVID-19 and so many others died during this time where we could not be with one another.
It’s been a long journey. And now, the light of hope is glowing brighter. What have we collected along the way? New skills? Home-cooked meals (or a desire to no longer cook at home)? Where have we found beauty in the midst of challenge?
In this week’s parsha we learn about Betzalel, whose name means ‘in God’s shadow,’ who is granted Divine skill to transform the abundant gifts of the Israelites in the desert into a beautifully decorated portable sanctuary, a Tabernacle of God. In their journey, our ancestors were filled with uncertainty. Moments of defiance and fear. And moments of intense gratitude including this portion where their gifts were overflowing. Our ancestors, recently freed slaves, managed to cultivate awareness of the Divine in their midst.
How have we managed this year? What beauty have we found? It has been a long journey. As we pause to mourn who and what we have lost during this difficult time, may we also acknowledge the moments of beauty.
Shabbat Parah Parshat Ki Tisa
March 5-6, 2021
22 Adar 5781
How do you respond when it takes longer for something to happen than you expect? If you’ve selected the simple online recipe that says 15 minutes preparation and you’re still prepping after 45 minutes, you may get frustrated. When you purchase a piece of furniture to build with the included instructions and one hour turns into six, you may want to throw it away. And of course, this past year has been a long time of waiting. The shut down for the pandemic started at the beginning of March, 2020 and here we are a year later. Still waiting to be together. Fortunately, the waiting time is hopefully drawing to a conclusion sooner than later.
This week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, includes the story of the Golden Calf when our ancestors were frightened while anxiously waiting for Moses to return from his encounter with God atop Mt. Sinai. Moses asked his brother Aaron what happened? Wasn’t Aaron’s presence enough to keep the people calm? Aaron tried to shift the blame away from himself by focusing on Moses’ long absence. He claimed that all he did was “hurl the gold into the fire and out came this calf!” [Exodus 32:24]
The Torah continues, “Moses saw that the people were out of control-since Aaron had let them get out of control-so that they were a menace to any who might oppose them. Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said “Whoever is for Adonai come here!” And all the men of Levi rallied to him.” [Exodus 32:25-26]
We as liberal Jews have been opposed by the Ultra Orthodox in Israel. Their extreme behavior in trying to limit who has a right to be recognized as a Jew and who has a right to pray at the Kotel tears apart the Jewish people. Years ago, there was a campaign slogan by the Progressive movement in Israel: Yesh yoter miderech echad l’hiyot Yehudi: There is more than one way to be a Jew.
In addition to waiting for a return to being together in person, we as progressive Jews have been waiting too long to have our conversions fully recognized in Israel. This week, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled to accept conversions by Reform and Conservative rabbis. This means that these Jews will now be eligible for Israel’s Law of Return.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, explains in an article:
“Under the Law of Return, the right to immigrate to Israel is supposed to be granted to anyone whose status as a Jew is universally acknowledged; people with at least one Jewish grandparent; spouses of Jews; and converts to Judaism. But for that to happen, of course, one’s conversion/Jewishness needs to be accepted by the authorities.”
Waiting is difficult. Reform and Conservative Jews have been waiting a long time for Israel to recognize our conversions and the Ultra Orthodox have committed to fighting against this decision. The journey is long and difficult. And we still are not permitted to officiate lifecycle events in Israel. But we will channel our frustration by continuing to work toward justice and not letting ‘out of control’ behavior prevent Israel from being a home for all Jews.
Shabbat Purim Celebration
February 26-27, 2021
15 Adar 5781
On Purim it is customary to wear a mask and cover our faces. This year we arrive at Purim, one year after the coronavirus shutdown. It’s been close to a year of wearing masks. We wear our masks to protect others and ourselves. What other masks are we wearing? When we are on Zoom we can see one another’s faces but we mask other parts of ourselves. What are we hiding? What do we want to reveal?
The congregation’s last service in the Sanctuary was Purim a year ago. One year later we continue to gather safely on Zoom. One year later –this week–we reached the overwhelming US COVID-19 death toll of more than 500,000 people. Loved ones. Relatives and friends of our congregants. Strangers. A number too large to grasp yet focusing on one individual who is loved we recognize the vast amount of pain and grief this year has brought from losses large and small. Here is a moving video by Ishay Ribo called Keter Malchuta (The Royal Crown) reflecting on this year. The title invokes images from the Book of Esther for King Ahaseurus requested the first queen, Vashti, to appear only in her royal crown (keter malchut).
But we persist and we resist and we are resilient. And on Purim we gather our strength to celebrate our survival. Esther’s name means “I will hide.” Her Hebrew name was Hadassah but she went by Esther. Here is a new poem for Purim 2021 by a colleague, Rachel Barenblatt.
WHEN ESTHER WENT IN
Esther moved to the palace.
When she went in, she left behind
the creek where she used to splash
and the friends who leapt with her.
from rock to rock; the market, bustling
with spice merchants’ songs
and the women selling bolts of cloth
with bangles up and down their arms.
Even the girls she used to know
became off-limits. Even Mordechai:
they speak now from opposite sides
of the carved harem wall, ornate
curlicues in golden stone. It’s better
than nothing, but sometimes hearing
his voice from afar hurts more
than being apart in the first place.
When she went in, she didn’t know
that hiding herself away
was her path to saving lives: parents
and children, strangers and friends.
Esther found the resilience
to stay in, stay masked, stay hidden
until the time was right to shine.
So may it be for us.
[R. Rachel Barenblat]
I invite you to shine on Zoom as we celebrate Shabbat Purim tonight. Wear a costume for the Pur-zoom parade and/or use zoom video filters. Bring your whistles from your Purim bags or groggers, pasta boxes, musical instruments or noisemaker of any kind.
Services are at 7 pm. Cantorial Soloist and Student-Rabbi Mira Weller will join me to lead services tonight!
Hag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat Morning Service
February 19-20, 2021
8 Adar 5781
Last week was Rosh Hodesh, the new month of Adar. This is the only month of the Jewish year where we are taught to be happy. In the Talmud the rabbis say, “When Adar enters, joy increases.- Mi shenichnas Adar Marbim Simcha.” But can we really force ourselves to be happy? Purim, the joyous Jewish holiday occurs on the 14th of Adar, next Thursday night-Friday. It’s a time for celebrating the victory of the Jews over the evil Haman.
This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Zachor, Sabbath of Remembrance. We are commanded to remember Amalek, of whom Haman was a descendant, to remember the challenges our ancestors faced, and blot out his name. We remember those who tried to hurt us and how we overcame adversity. What was particularly awful about Amalek was his attack on the most vulnerable members of society: the orphan, the widow and the stranger. While Amalek was defeated, he was not entirely blotted out. We can celebrate overcoming victories against evil. But, without systemic change it will not be eradicated.
As Purim approaches this year, we pause to remember where we were a year ago—-the last in person gathering before shelter in place. We remember the challenges of this past year—personal, communal, global. It is important to acknowledge our losses and the pain we have experienced.
While there is light at the end of this long tunnel—with more people getting vaccinated—-there are still challenges ahead. And, aleinu–it is upon us to take to heart and address inequities highlighted during the pandemic. One of the mitzvot of Purim is sending gifts to the needy. This week, we are also thinking of all who are facing hardship in our country from the severe weather in Texas and other states.
It is not easy to live up to “When Adar enters, joy increases.” But one way to cultivate joy is to embrace the teaching of Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors and “be happy with our lot.” We can take care of ourselves. Wear our masks. Safe distance. Help others. Rededicate ourselves to eradicating evil in our midst. And celebrate in joy.
February 12-13, 2021
1 Adar 5781
V’Eleh haMishpatim–And these are the laws is how this week’s Torah portion begins. Following the giving of the Ten Commandments last week, Parshat Mishpatim continues with a long list of laws and rules to follow.
Exodus 22:20 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Torah reiterates this at least 36 times. We who have suffered; We who have been oppressed; We know what it feels like and should not inflict suffering on others. We are taught in this portion and others to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan. Who we are as a society is measured by how we care for the most vulnerable members.
At the end of the portion, God instructs Moses to go up to God on the mountain and be there: “And God said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there. I will give you the stone tablets, as well as the law (Torah) and the instructions (mitzvot) that I have composed, so that you might teach them.” Moses arose, along with his attendant Joshua, and Moses went up the mountain. To the elders, he (Moses) said “Stay put until we return. Look (don’t worry), Aaron and Hur are with you. If anyone has any problem whatsoever, let him bring it to them.” Exodus 24:12-14
What does this line mean where Moses is told v’heheyeh sham—be there? The Kotzker rebbe teaches that this passage is about PRESENCE. God is asking Moses to be fully present. What does it mean for each of us to v’heheyeh sham–be there? Where will we encounter God? When will we be fully present for our family members and friends? When will we be fully present with ourselves? How will we ensure we remain present to care for those in need? When we are on Zoom, how many other screens are we looking at on our computer, phones and other devices? Will we truly focus on the person/people with whom we are meeting?
Life is full of distractions and we may find ourselves pulled from one meeting to the next without any time to process, decompress, rejuvenate or rest. This week’s portion, Mishpatim, contains numerous laws for establishing and maintaining a just and civil society. We need to be fully present to engage in the work of upholding laws and rules and holding individuals accountable when they are broken. Veheyeh sham—Be there and be present is how we connect with God, with one another, and create a just society.
May you be fully present and enjoy the beauty of Shabbat.
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz
Friday, January 29-30, 2021
17 Shevat 5781
Years ago, vacations by car often included a trip to AAA to get a “trip-tik”—which would have maps for your journey. Moving into a community used to involve getting maps of local towns in order to be able to find your way around. As we all know, physical maps are mostly unnecessary with modern technology and GPS.
For our ancestors leaving Egypt in Parshat Beshalach, they had a different kind of GPS. It was a God Positioning System. But it did not take them the shortest distance. Our modern map apps will indicate shortest distance, shortest time or optional routes without tolls. If you’ve been caught in a traffic jam, it’s sometimes more pleasant to drive further just so you are not stuck standing still.
In the beginning of this parsha, we learn that the Biblical GPS did not lead our people on the most direct path because they would have had to go by the land of the Philistines where they may have been afraid of the challenges they saw there. The Hebrew word for “roundabout” has the root “sov.” Sov is to spin like a dreidel.
Soon the Israelites were caught between the Egyptian Army and the Sea of Reeds. At services, we will chant the words they sang, “Mi chamocha ba eylim Adonai–who is like You God” after they crossed the sea.
“And when Israel saw the wondrous power which God wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared God; they had faith in God and God’s servant Moses.” [Exodus 14:31]
But our ancestors’s faith was fragile. They were newly freed slaves and on their own in the wilderness. As commentators note, though the physical distance from Egypt to Israel was not far, the spiritual and emotional journey was vast. Immediately after the miracle of the Sea parting, our ancestors showed their slave mentality as they needed to learn what freedom is. They complained to Moses when there was no water. They complained about missing the comforts of Egyptian food. And each time God responded to Moses, quenching their thirst with water, filling their bellies with manna. The complaining continues as the journey continues.
And so it is for us. We may have a modern GPS but sometimes it malfunctions or takes us on an unexpected route. This past year certainly falls into that category. We begin to see glimpses of freedom with vaccines yet still live with fear from the challenges before us. Perhaps we can take this time to notice the unexpected scenery and focus on safety on our journey even and especially now that it involves “sov sov sov” spinning around our homes.
I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you tonight with Cantorial Soloist/Student-RabbiMira Weller as we celebrate this special musical Shabbat Shira–Sabbath of Song.
Saturday, January 22-23, 2021
10 Shevat 5781
This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, includes the final three plagues: locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn. It then continues with the departure of the Israelites and instructions on how to remember this time (the Passover story).
“Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days no one could move about; but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.” [Exodus 10:22-23]
The Etz Hayim Torah commentary notes that this plague of darkness is unlike the others, because the Egyptians should have been able to do something about it, including light a candle. But perhaps this plague wasn’t about a physical darkness but rather a ”spiritual and psychological darkness, a deep depression…Perhaps the Egyptians were depressed by the series of calamities that had struck them or by the realization of how much their own comfort depended on the enslavement of others. The person who cannot see his neighbor is incapable of spiritual growth, incapable of rising from where he is currently. When one can see other people and recognize them as friends, the darkness has begun to lift.”
This is where we let the light of love and justice shine. Monday night’s Interfaith Community of South County’s Martin Luther King, Jr. service’s theme was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These past few days the larger community has expressed their support showing that love is stronger than hate. Light will shine over darkness.
On Inauguration Day Amanda Gorman wowed us with her poem which concludes:
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it”
It has been an intense couple of weeks. I am available to speak (Zoom, FaceTime, phone) with anyone who wishes, email@example.com.
I look forward to sharing Shabbat with you.
January 15-16, 2021
3 Shevat 5781
In this week’s parsha, we learn about God’s promises to take the Israelites out of slavery. Yet the journey to freedom is complicated. Moses, a man with impeded speech who never wanted the job of leader, must ask Pharoah to free the Israelites. Pharoah said no. Again and again. His heart is hardened, by God and also by continued behavior. We are taught, “mitzvah goreret mitzvah, avera goreret avera”–If we do a mitzvah, we are likely to do another mitzvah; if we transgress, we are likely to commit another transgression.
“Every evil act tends to harden a man’s heart, that is, to deaden it. Every good deed tends to soften it, that is, to make it more alive. The more man’s heart hardens, the less freedom does he have to change, the more is determined already by previous action. But there comes a point of no return when man’s heart has become so hardened and so deadened that he has lost the possibility of freedom.” –Erich Fromm, You Shall Be as Gods, p. 81
In recent days, our hearts have been broken open—-we have felt the pain of the insurrection. We are concerned about increased antisemitism and continued racial injustice. May our hearts remain open to society’s needs and concern to care for others.
What does freedom mean to you? Please share your one word or a few sentences response on video (adults and children). The video will be shown during Shabbat services 1/29 when we celebrate our ancestors Song of the Sea (Mi Chamocha) and journey to freedom.
Shabbat Service Shemot
January 8-9, 2021
25 Tevet 5781
This week has been overwhelming and the opportunity to welcome Shabbat is a gift. Displays of White Supremacy, Antisemitism and hatred shook our country while we sat glued to the television on Wednesday. This is an unsettling time and I want you to know that I am here for you. If you’d like to meet (Zoom) or speak (phone), please be in touch.
As this first Shabbat in 2021 arrives, my hope is that our prayers lead us to action. We are taught in Pirke Avot 2:16- Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor v’lo atah b’nai chori l’hibatel mimena -It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are we free to ignore it.
A Prayer for Our Country
“Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.”-Psalm 126:5
We are a country in turmoil.
A nation in pain.
Witnesses to domestic terrorism.
An attack on democracy.
The riddle from childhood is wrong:
Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me.
Words hurt. Words of hatred are a direct line to acts of violence.
Speak words of kindness.
Please God grant us strength to sow seeds of justice and rise up in the morning -one day-to reap in joy.
[by Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz]
With prayers for Shalom-wholeness- as we welcome Shabbat. Services are at 7 pm.